Under Ice
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SCPF Ceresian Outpost 1-INMAN

2049-03-17, Anno Terra

Maintenance Technician Willis was annoyed. And confused, somewhat, and incredibly tired. Also slightly hungry. Generally filled with a cavalcade of unwelcome and unpleasant emotional states. As a Technician, he had a certain set of responsibilities, a list of things to keep in order. Various different parts of the outpost it was his job to keep running. He was annoyed because he'd just found that one of those responsibilities contained a corpse.

Willis tapped the transparent wall of the algae tank, and watched as the bloated creature slowly rotated behind it. The word Nulocun floats to the surface of his brain, which he guesses must be what it is. Deforisae nuloca. They're weird things, large bulbous sacks squeezed within a cartilage cage, propelled by two tentacles as long as trucks. Live their whole lives in the subterranean abyss, flashing colourful messages to one another in the dark. He flips open his tablet and runs up a search — apparently, this one was called [●●|»|], and was the co-owner of a large tank complex downstairs, along with the rest of its siblings. Not quite sapient, not quite hive-mind, and with faces like the bastard offspring of a threshing machine and a fountain pen, the native Ceresians had lived within the planet for a very, very long time. Every time he looked out of the windows on the lower decks, the great black submersibles that drifted through the gloom reminded Willis of just how far from home he was.

He sighed, and leaned back against the wall, watching the dense greenery waver under the harsh blue light. He really didn't want to have to flush the tank to get the thing out, and going in via the top would mean plunging through several dozen metres of ice-cold algal bloom to get to it. The growth would probably do its thing and break down the body in a couple of cycles, but it would be too risky to eat any of it until it was sterile again. To most humans, extraterrestrial life was a gastronomic experience best left unexplored. Willis taps his fingers on one of the pipes that crisscrosses the wall, and tries (through a fug of sleeplessness) to work out a plan. Step 1, he reasons, should be to tell someone. Someone more qualified to deal with it. Someone in Bioresources, perhaps, or one of the Race Relations specialists who visit every few months. Maybe even one of the doctors on the offworld station. Once he'd done that, Step 2 would be to get the thing out.

Willis was proud of the plan. It was elegant in its simplicity, simple in its elegance. A platonic ideal of what a plan should be. Tell someone about the thing, and then perform the action necessary to remove it. "No margin for error there", he thinks. "Clear as day".

It was a good plan, and it was therefore unfortunate that, once he'd dragged his sore, overall-covered body back to his quarters, he fell into slumber almost instantly.

The body of [●●|»|] was not discovered until morning. Perhaps if Willis had had a better alarm clock, or had simply been a more productive member of society, subsequent events would have turned out differently. Or perhaps not. Time is funny like that.

"Oy. Oy, Will, get up. Move, you fat lump, there's a fuckton of people outside who want to know what the hell's going on. I've got half a mind to join them."

Falling out of his bunk with a thud, Willis stares upwards at the grinning half-face of his coworker and immediate subordinate. Long ago, a botched surgery left her missing a large area of skin, and now her blue-tipped hair stuck up around a plastic covering that stretched from her crown to her jawline, replacement eye blinking in the simulated early-morning light.

"Good morning to you as well."

Shuffling to his feet, he edges around the piles of dirty clothes and pizza boxes that litter their shared quarters and presses his hand to the door. It creaks open, and he sticks his head around the door to see a flock of people milling about, taking photographs and shouting at one another. Willis tries to edge out quietly, but slips, and finds himself stumbling headfirst out into their midst.

The group goes silent, and a dozen heads turn to watch him in simultaneous disapproval.

"Maintenance Technician Aaron Willis?"

He nods slowly. The man who spoke, a tall fellow in a slightly shabby suit, pinches the bridge of his nose.

"For Gods' sakes, put some trousers on."

Fully clothed, washed, and shaven, the two men walked side-by-side along a long, sloping corridor that plunged deep beneath the Ceresian surface. Every now and then they'd meet a sharp corner, bending left at around 120°, and keep going, following the spiral ever further beneath the outpost proper. The colony itself clung to the bottom of the dwarf planet's icy mantle like a limpet, and the corridors swayed disconcertingly as the fluid inner layer shifted and flowed around it. In the distance, the lights of Nulocun cities flickered yellow as the crustaceans they were built on dragged their bulk across the landscape.

It was quite a sight to behold, and the suited man said so. Willis shrugs. "If you like that sort of thing, I suppose. I personally prefer a sky over my head."

The man chuckles. "Understandable. I'm stationed back home, and nobody gets out a whole lot any more. The change of scenery is nice."

'Home', Willis noted. Wherever you were, wherever you were born, Earth was always 'home'. As the duo turn another corner, he decides to cut to the chase.

"Look, sir, no disrespect, but what's all this about? There's nothing down here but secondary algae pools, the gravity well, a couple of substations and the vehicle bay. I-" He pauses. "There's not anything else down here, is there?"

"Depends what you mean by 'else'. Certainly, there's nothing else physically present down here, but who knows what kind of malevolent influences dwell in the bowels of the deep?" There was a glint in his eye now. The man was clearly one who enjoyed his ghost-stories.

"Oh, I think I get it. It's a test, right? To get me to confess?"

"Confess to what, may I ask?"

"I didn't kill them, if that's what you mean. I just found them when I went to do my daily rounds."

The man seemed genuinely confused. He ran a hand through his hair — black, but greying prematurely judging by the rest of him. Couldn't have been more than 30. "Killed who?"

"The squid. Uh, Nulocun. Long-green red-fades-magenta red. And I didn't kill them. Just found them."

"Fuck. Oh, fuck." His face now a picture of alarm, the man places his hand on Willis' shoulder and presses something into his palm. "You, kid, need to learn to shift responsibilities. Won't last a minute here if you can't." He turns and starts running in the opposite direction, jacket flapping behind him like a cape. "Head to the bottom! And next time there's a murder, bloody well tell someone!"

Willis looks at the oblong in his hand.

Richard Miguel, Freelance temporal consultant

No. 9, C-Block, Foundation Site-94, England, EARTH

Walk-ins Monday through Thursday, Fridays by appointment.

Email: dickmiguel176@scppublic.com
Phone: █████-███-███

"There's no time like the present"

He pockets the card absentmindedly and stares out of the window. What kind of person censors their own phone number?

Nothing better to do, he strolls off down the corridor. Above him, unheeded, alarms begin to blare.

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