Let it Snow
Being stranded on an ice planet without his beloved computers was a fate worse than death for Lieutenant Adrian Stannis. But did he have to be stuck here with Bryce? The man was his assistant and a constant whiner.
They had been left on this planet for a one-week scouting mission to explore some interesting readings that might indicate a new source of rich cetium, the main fuel source for the Empire’s deep space vessels.
The Sedener had been called away to a neighbouring solar system to rescue a group of scientists trapped when an avalanche buried their research facility. The ship would be back in a week and at Adrian’s insistence, had left enough supplies for twice that long. Of course, this was before their shuttle developed a coolant leak and exploded the day after the ship left. They had salvaged what they could. Mainly food supplies from the galley, but all the scientific equipment and emergency supplies had been reduced to twisted bits of rubble.
“Whoever did the decoration around here sure could’ve used some help,” stuttered Bryce as his teeth chattered. “They don’t have enough white.”
Weapons Specialist, Bryce, was a carrot topped man with the friendly manner of a perpetual con artist. Even with the thick white cold weather jacket, complete with internal heater controls, he was still freezing. His gloved finger tapped the embedded instrument panel on the left side, just at the shoulder. “The damned thing must be broken,” he grumbled. “I never trust these old suits.” He pulled the hood closer around his face.
At least Kali was here. Their resident medic and sole alien, though she was more human than not, was a reasonable, competent person, one of the few Adrian got along with on the ship. Well, the only one really. He found himself calmer when she was around and more able to handle Bryce trying to make a nuisance of himself. She did have the disturbing ability of being able to read human emotions, courtesy of her Tellaran heritage, but no one was perfect. At least he wasn’t Tellaran, or she would be able to read his mind.
Kali must have sensed his irritation because she tried to explain, “Bryce is nervous and it makes him feel better to have interaction with people, even if it means irritating you. He needs the human contact.”
“I’m not a means of therapy,” grumbled Adrian as he wrapped his arms tighter around himself and absently wondered if it would be more efficient to share body heat. Of course, there would be no personal connotations, he reminded himself firmly.
Kali had tried to convince her grumpy crewmates that the situation wasn’t that bad. They’d found a deep cave to shelter in, their rations were adequate if not appetizing, and they had each other. Adrian agreed with the first two parts at least.
Even with their environmental suits on the highest setting, it only staved off the worst of the cold on this miserable lump of ice masquerading as a planet. At least that was what Bryce, the constant whiner, called it.
White stretched out as far as the eye could see. Jagged mountains of ice, like sparkling jewels in the sunlight, rose from the stark landscape. They’d found a series of caves running the base of one of them and settled themselves in. A heater rod provided warmth and chemical lighting rods provided illumination, bringing out a rainbow of lights from wild crystalline structures lining the walls. Nothing valuable to Bryce’s disappointment, nor scientifically interesting to Adrian’s regret.
Rubbing numb hands together, Bryce complained, “Adrian, it’s cold.” He accompanied this by jumping up and down energetically. In his white suit, this motion made him look like a deranged and overly medicated rabbit.
Adrian sat stiffly, his back against a flatter section of the crystalline wall, his arms crossed protectively across his chest and a sullen look on his face. Even his snarl sounded colder than normal. “Tell me something I didn’t know.”
Bryce looked towards the mouth of the cave. “It’s snowing outside.”
“Is that meant to be funny?”
“No. I mean, it’s really snowing.” Bryce got up and went to the cave entrance. Something round and white hit him in the arm. “Hey, what’s the…” He brushed the snow off his suit.
Kali chuckled and lobbed another round packed object at him.
“Oh, it’s a snowball fight!” Bryce exclaimed as he scooped up a handful of fresh snow. All of a sudden, thoughts of being stuck in freezing temperatures were lost as he joined Kali. His boots crunched in the virgin whiteness, and the snow was powdery soft in his hands as he moulded it into proper snowball fighting form.
Adrian’s face was expressionless as he watched silently from the mouth of the cave. They should be trying to find ways to survive the freezing temperatures, not engage in pointless frivolities. The two of them did seem to be enjoying themselves, which was more than he could say for himself. He turned to go back into the cave when something hit him square in the back. A growl formed at the back of his throat as he turned around and said warningly, “Bryce!”
“It wasn’t me!” Bryce said innocently. He held up empty hands to show him, which really didn’t help. Adrian knew him far too well and was not buying it. Bryce said, “It was Kali.” He pointed at his grinning crewmate who had another snowball in her hands and was about to lob it in his direction.
Kali said encouragingly, an effect which was somewhat mitigated by the ready projectile in her hands, “Adrian, come and join us.”
The computer genius’s manner was as cold as the planet they were stuck on. “I’m not very keen on winter sports even at the best of times.”
Bryce said, “Oh, come on, Adrian. What else is there to do?”
“Anything, except this.”
Kali could tell that something was bothering Adrian. She came up to him and asked gently, “What’s wrong?”
His answer was curt, “Nothing.” Despite all of his efforts to block her, Kali still had a habit of being able to read him that made Adrian uncomfortable.
“Then why won’t you join us?”
“I see no point in engaging in an unproductive activity.”
“But you play chess and other games on the ship.”
“Those are different. They exercise the mind.”
Kali looked at him curiously. “Adrian, have you never done anything. Just for fun?”
Adrian was still as an ice statue as he stared at her, almost as if he couldn’t understand the question.
Kali’s eyes widened slightly as she repeated, “Adrian, were you never allowed to do anything, just for fun when you were young?”
The walls behind which he hid himself had become a prison that he had never been able to break free from. An answer squeezed painfully from a throat that had suddenly become too tight. “It doesn’t matter.”
Bryce’s mouth dropped in surprise as Kali put her hand on Adrian’s arm. “It does matter, Adrian. Why don’t you try it? You might like doing something for no reason other than to have fun.”
Bryce said encouragingly, “Come on, Adrian. You might like it.”
“I highly doubt that,” said Adrian.
Bryce challenged, “Well how do you know if you don’t even try it? Unless…you’re afraid that you might like it.”
Adrian scoffed, “Your anaemic attempts at reverse psychology will not work on me.” Many had worked on him, the best. Such a transparent and clumsy effort was insulting.
Bryce grinned. “Well it was worth a try.”
Kali said perceptively, “I think Bryce’s right. You are afraid, and it’s not just about having fun, is it?”
Adrian’s jaw tightened and his eyes flashed with something Kali didn’t quite understand. He said, “Very well. As you are all so keen to have me try this, I will. But do not expect me to enjoy it.”
Kali said, “That’s all we ask.” She handed him the snowball her snowball, dropping it into his reluctantly lifted hand. Adrian looked at it speculatively, as if he were studying it’s imperfectly formed spherical shape, judging its weight and projectile capabilities.
Without warning, he threw it at Bryce, hitting him in the head.
“Hey! Ouch!” shouted Bryce as he rubbed his injured indignantly. He was sure a bruise was developing already. A great big one.
There seemed to be a sliver of a smile on Adrian’s lips, but it was hard to tell in the glare of the snow.
The snowball fight re-started in earnest. After a while, it was clear that Adrian was very good at throwing things at Bryce. For some reason, none of his managed to hit Kali. Bryce thought this highly biased snowball fighting.
That night, as they all lay down to rest, Adrian stared up at the uneven ceiling of the cave, trying to count the colourful spires that stuck out in strangely aesthetic patterns. Bryce’s gentle snores were the only sounds besides the intermittent dripping of water and the howling of the wind outside. Adrian was tired but more relaxed than he had felt in a long time. It was a pleasant change from the restless nights that normally plagued him.
Despite his efforts to the contrary, he did enjoy himself today. He would never admit it to the other two, and for some reason, neither of them had asked him afterwards.
He had fun. With them. It wasn’t a matter of need or functionality. It had not been a life or death situation. It had nothing to do with achieving anything.
“But you did achieve something today, Adrian.”
Adrian turned his head and saw that Kali had propped her head on her hands and was watching him. His guard instantly snapped into place as he sat up and regarded her warily. “I thought you couldn’t read human minds?”
Kali sat up as well. “I can’t. But I don’t need to with you.” Her eyes searched his, as if she was looking for something.
Adrian knew what she was implying, but he wasn’t ready to pursue it. He said instead, “You should get some rest, Kali.”
“Did you have fun today?” she asked.
“I…” Normally he would have a ready response to any situation. Something impersonal, factual or dryly witty. But Kali was asking a personal question. She wanted to know how he felt. Adrian did not like talking about feelings. Normally, emotions were alien sensations that he couldn’t understand. Even when they were his own.
Adrian also didn’t lie. Machines didn’t tell falsehoods. They might not tell the full truth if the right questions weren’t being asked, but lying was something foreign to a machine, and to him.
“It wasn’t an unpleasant experience,” he said carefully.
“I’m glad. There are other experiences that could be ‘not unpleasant’.”
Adrian suddenly found a need to cough. It was getting warm in the environmental suit. He lifted up his arm and reset the temperature controls a bit lower. “I’m certain you could find some.”
“Do you think they’ll be able to teleport us back to the ship tomorrow?”
“The weather disturbance has lessened.”
Kali’s face fell. “Oh. I almost wish it hadn’t.”
“You don’t want to leave here?”
“I also had fun today.”
“I see,” he said gravely. “You could always find sources of amusement on the ship.”
“Maybe ones that you wouldn’t find unpleasant too?”
Adrian hesitated. “That is a possibility. You should get some rest.”
As they both lay down to rest, any further thoughts were hidden from each other in the silence of the cave.
Kali sighed and closed her eyes. For a few brief moments, the tension had lessened in Adrian’s eyes and the walls had slipped lower, just a bit. Only for a few moments, but it was progress. She settled into a content sleep.