Base

Being the only woman here was a stupid idea, and I’m still blaming the captain.

I’m watching both suns set out through the window. Not long now.

The base is like a submarine. Or a hot air balloon. Trust me on this. Okay, I’ve never actually been in a hot air balloon, but it’s the nearest thing I can think of. Only on land.

The red sun wobbles and melts as it touches the horizon first.

I light up a cigarette, and shiver as the extraction system swirls air around me. I hug the greasy patches on my arms. We’re not washing the clothes much now. Supplies are low – we’re relying on the recyc transformer more and more.

It’s been ages since a true night, a long one. The suns run on different times (and our standard day doesn’t fit either of them), so there’s always some light around. But it messes you up. And a true night, well…

The white sun turns pink, and disappears.

Before the light completely fades I see shapes out in the twilight.

We’re scouting for signs of the enemy up here on the Slopes. Okay, scouting isn’t the right term … we’re cooped up in a tin can, bolted onto a rocky hillside. It’s too cold for any human to last more than half an hour outside, but that doesn’t matter, as the air’s too thin anyway. There’s a suit, but the few times the guys have been out in it, well … there’s nothing to go out for. We scout not on the frozen rocks, but on the electromagnetic spectrum, on the radar, on our screens, on our headsets.

We’re supposed to be here for the wildlife. I don’t think anyone on our side would believe that, never mind the enemy – there’s no fucking animals for a start. Maybe we’re supposed to be geologists or something. I forget.

The captain wanders in. I know it’s him without looking. (Living in close quarters with four other people, you just get to know these things. Sometimes I can tell who it is before they open the door.) He sits down and leans against the metal table, and lights up like me. Now I look at him, with his dirty brow and lined, unshaven face. He eyes me slowly, and we both turn away. He was hardly a pretty boy when we got sent out here – when he demanded that I came with him – but he’s lost something, something in his eyes.

No-one’s laughed in weeks.

‘How’re Brookes and Scott?’ I break the silence. My voice is pretty low these days. Must be the cigarettes and the recycled air.

The captain barely flinches. ‘Downstairs playing cards. Gambling Rick’s locker. Again.’

Scott and Brookes are the other guys, pretty typical macho men. All smiles and backslapping when we came out. It’s been about six, maybe seven months now. Needless to say they calmed down a bit, even before Rick lost it and went crazy.

The captain blows smoke slowly. He’s a big guy too, but older, more together than the others. He thinks things through.

‘They found some more love letters to you,’ he says, holding them up grinning. He tosses them on the table at me. Aye, sometimes he puts a lot of thought into saying thoughtless things.

‘Thanks, I’ll read them later.’ Tired. The captain leaves it at that.

Rick took the suit about 4 or 5 weeks ago. He’d been on edge for a while, we could all see it, but no-one thought … no-one realised. Brookes just fell asleep on watch, and he’d gone. We tried radioing him for days. Gave up. The frequency was blocked at first. After 6 days we only got static.

The darkness outside the window is absolute, proper pitch black. We’ve got a large curved window, and I know what the view looks like like the back of my hand … but with the yellow light inside, there’s nothing outside, just the shifting black gloom.

I’d been wondering why the captain did it. Leaving his door open like that. I mean it looked so innocent, accidental, like he just forgot or something. But he’s too sharp for that. He knew the others were busy. He wanted me to find it.

‘How long has it been since we had contact?’ I say. My throat’s dry. ‘From HQ?’

He stays fixed still. He wanted me to find the dead instruments, the empty logs.

‘A couple of weeks. Bit less.’

I blew out smoke. He’d probably hoped it was a glitch. I certainly do. But two weeks … fuck.

I’d feel a lot happier if I knew there was some top secret reason for this arctic tin can, if one of the others was a, a special forces agent or something. At least then, like, HQ would’ve kept this place secret, kept it from getting into enemy hands. But there isn’t. I’m here to scan airwaves. Someone should know I’m here.

The war’s been going a year and a bit now. Last thing I heard it was still stalemate. Last thing the captain said anyway.

The recyc transformer should sustain us indefinitely. But I’m in a base with three men, and no exits. I’m going to have to start making decisions.

A shape glides past in the dark.

Base

jezkemp

Rotherhithe, London, United Kingdom

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Artist's Description

A dark, tense short story set in an arctic base.

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