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Life Arts

Short Story: "Under an Icy Sky"

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"Uh-huh. The one that killed your mother had a high-density battery -- the kind made with resin, for powering the neuroleptic laser it immobilized her with. I think that when it got wet, the mutant microbes started to eat away at it. Kind of turned it into a time bomb. But we're wasting time here. What we need to do is rig up a remote controller. These drones have an array of chipcams that feed the nav system. We can route the metafeed here and pipe it into that headmount over there." He pointed at a unit on a nearby shelf. "There's an open source controller around here that I can use to drive the thing. But we also need someone to control the lights and the main vid, so the experts can get a good look at the ice. Phoebe, I think you ought to handle that part. Alphon, do you have any experience evaluating the stability of an ice structure?"

"No, but if that drone has a polarizing filter on the vid, I can fake it."

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"I'll see what we can do."

While Ferd conferenced with some members of the hacker collective and the Greenland rescue ops facilitator, Alphon started rounding up equipment that Ferd hurriedly pointed at, and Phoebe tracked down the manuals that went with it. Because there was a large area to examine, several other members of the collective were mirroring their preparations. The folks in rescue ops were also in contact with the facilities manager at the resort. She was having all of the hoverbots prepped, which included topping off their fuel cells, and attaching a remotely controllable polarizer to the main vid lens. Resort staff would have to command those from inside the cave, so everyone would also be staying in voice contact to keep their hands free.

Rescue ops were still setting up at their end, so the three had some idle time to kill. At first, they all just sat there quietly, the noise of their preparations replaced by the quiet thrum of the 3D printer. Alphon spoke first. He'd absently pulled out his phone, and was flipping it over in his hand for a while before he realized what he was doing. "Tell me something, Ferd," he said, holding up the device. "How come you leave your phone on? Can't they track you with it?"

"Not this kind. We've got our own cell network piggybacked on the majors. The protocols they use are riddled with holes, and we just took advantage of a few of them. Hackers, remember? Remind me to get you one."

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Phoebe filled the next long silence. "That picture you were studying, Alphon. What do you know about it?"

"Not a lot. Ferd told me about it. He said it was taken when your mother opened her first maker lab. He thinks it's kind of special. Anyway, after what happened, I needed a way to connect with her, and that seemed to fit the bill."

She tried to hide her smile. "It wasn't just the lab that she was happy about. I was about ten when that was taken. It was the first time my parents let me come down here. God, it was like stepping into the best amusement park you can imagine. It's what I remember best from my childhood." The gleam in Phoebe's eyes, which to Alphon mirrored what he'd seen in her mother's picture, abruptly faded. It was as if a foul memory swept in and stole the passion from her heart. "Especially after--." She broke off, visibly relieved, when the alert tone sounded.

They'd patched everything in already, so when Ferd flipped on the feed and put the headmount on, he smiled as the drone's synthetic triD surround view synched with the thought-control gaming interface he was wearing, and turned to look around the workroom where the virtual "self' he was hooked to was sitting. Alpon and Phoebe watched the forward array of vidfeeds on a set of displays they'd arranged to look like the view out of a cockpit. It was dim, but you could see two members of the resort staff opening the door to the outside, which was really the inside of the mammoth ice cave. There was one additional display, which showed the real triD feed from the main camera, and it was the one that Phoebe could steer by gesturing at the cockpit, courtesy of some expert hacking.

"Okay," Ferd said. "We're good. But I don't think I'll ever be satisfied with rendered gaming worlds after this."

As he guided the drone slowly out past the doors, Alphon and Phoebe watched what could have been mistaken for the feed from an instrumented tour guide showing remote visitors around a campsite at dusk, or would be if we lived under a blue sun. It was a gentle, indirect light, enhanced by purplish bioluminescent markers lining the paths that led out from the door.

Phoebe reached into the cockpit's sensor zone with just thumb and two fingers extended, and angled her hand up. The main camera followed, showing a full-depth view of the impossible sky. The glistening lower surface of the ice just hung there, weightless, about thirty feet up. Reflected light from the complex glinted off bits of it here and there, but there were also dark sections that jealously guarded any inkling of what secrets they held. She gazed at the spectacular view, and smiled. "Mom, " she said, breathless, "I wish you could have been here to see this."

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As Ferd maneuvered the drone further into the cavern, two others came into view, each of which had a boxy protrusion over the outboard lens concentrator -- the hastily rigged polarizers that Alphon had asked for. "Okay, guys," he said, "could you please engage the polarizer for us?" A few seconds later, the image darkened a bit. "Now slowly rotate it." As they did, the pattern of glints and darkness changed. "Good, good. We're set at this end."

Once all of the drone operators were organized, they headed for what had been the grand entrance to the ice cave complex, but was now a jagged slope, blocks of ice and hard-packed snow that ran up to the roof.

"Oh, geez," Ferd said.

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Ever since I learned to speak binary on a DIGIAC 3080 training computer, I've been involved with tech in one way or another, but there was always another part of me off exploring ideas and writing about them. Halfway to a BS in Space Technology at (more...)

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