02

 

“Follow the plan,” she repeated, felt her teeth begin to chatter.

Dorian signaled his assent. Althea gingerly got to her feet. She shivered, rubbed her arms, thought figures and scales in her mind. In a beat, a new wave of radiating warmth came from within as her NANs responded.

She glanced around for the station’s primary controls, spotted a vaguely mushroom shaped mound near her, perhaps two sixes away. She started in that direction, stepping carefully across the slick, ice coated floor.

“Dorian, it’s too cold here. Didn’t we arrive at the proper site?” There weren’t supposed to be ports in either of Elysium’s arctic zones.

The port’s address information is a close approximation of our data, he told her. Perhaps there has been a shift in seasonal weather patterns.

Althea reached the mound. She activated the torch bracelet on her wrist, white light brightening the grey of her bodysuit’s sleeve, projected photons revealing what she’d suspected: underneath the thick, translucent coating were the station’s primary controls.

She looked them over, frowning.

The wide, slightly angled, waist high surface was totally covered in ice. Every access panel on it was thickly coated to nearly a double two, a handbreadth easily. Beneath, the surface lights did shine faint and dull – active – but inaccessible. The only way to get at them would be by smashing or melting.

All around, the walls had a far thicker coating, glittering with frost. It all looked too solid, too permanent.

“No, no, no, this ice looks way too thick to be seasonal.” Althea felt a mounting anxiety. It wasn’t at all how she expected Elysium to be.

Was this the memorial world at all? She began to wonder, to doubt. Better to know sooner than later.

She performed a three-point check on the relative gravity, finding it noticeably weaker than expected. She considered the content of the air, started swearing under her breath. There were trace elements that could not possibly be present the Elysian atmosphere.

“It’s all wrong! None of this matches Elysium at all!” Dorian had warned her arrival wasn’t a certainty. She should have listened to him. But– all the marking symbols on the panels were obscured by the ice. “What planet is this?”

Do you want me to scan deeper?

“No!” she commanded sharply. “Too risky. I’ll break through the ice, access the board manually.”

My formula failed you.

No!… No.

“Dorian,” she implored. “It was a long transit, and our information is over two hundred anna off pattern.”

She paused for a moment.

“You did tell me there were no guarantees.”

He didn’t deserve the blame. The transit had been her choice, her decision. Althea took in a deep breath of the bitterly cold air, felt her thoughts clearing, echoes from the transit fading, gone. She glared at the iced-up controls, despondent.

What do you want to do now? Return to your port and try another formula?

And only improve her chances by a tiny fraction? With not even a cursory response from the world’s Macro, she was free for at least some investigation. They should have enough time to reactivate the portal and get out without any risk of it following them back.

“No, not yet.” It wasn’t too cold, she decided, to spend a little while looking for answers. They could easily triple their chances with new spatial data. “We need to find out where we’ve ended up.”

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