Brain freeze

Alien creature in the snow
Image: Mike McRae

Written by Tom Dullemond

We’d only lived on Terminus for a week and seen nothing but blizzards. Finally, it was a clear cold day, and mum’s company had just delivered the latest snow tractor.

My brother Jenner had a license, and after we got bored chasing snowbeavers into their burrows, he suggested we take the tractor for a spin.

“It’s safe. The satellites give us GPS tracking.” He swept his arm across the vast, flat, icy plain. A few dull mountains broke up the horizon, but apart from the tall snowbeaver mounds dotting the countryside, it was a sheet of white. A dark smudge on the horizon hinted at another storm. “There’s nothing the latest technology can’t overcome, bro.”

He revved the engine and we roared out of the compound. Snowbeavers camouflaged perfectly against the flat ice leapt awkwardly out of our way, their splayed feet and flat broad tails flapping comically. They looked a bit like ducks made of ice that had gotten stuck under a steamroller.

We’d been driving for only five minutes when I glanced at the navigation screen. The grey storm was a bright smear of yellows and reds. A counter estimated it would take an hour to hit our position: plenty of time.

I craned my neck a little to look at the other screen. Jenner said, “Ground sonar readings. Spot hidden crevasses. It’s the only way you can safely–”

Something shuddered and the map froze. A big black smear appeared in front of us, and in seconds, we were right on top of it. I looked outside, but everything seemed normal; and then the ground started to tilt forward, like a giant white plate.

I woke up to ghosts screaming in the dark, realising moments later the terrifying howling was a storm. The cabin emergency lights were on. It looked like we’d sunk about two metres into the ground.

I noticed Jenner was already awake, pushing buttons and mumbling at the screens. The map was blank; there was no way the satellites could see us with that storm.

“Don’t worry,” Jenner said. “The base computers have the latest tech. The rescue team will come soon.”

“But they can’t go out in this! We’ll freeze before–”

“Helllloooo there!” The words were stretched out by the wind, but they were clearly outside. I couldn’t believe it.

I rubbed some warmth into my face and put a mask on. Sticking my head out into the storm, I expected a black buffeting wasteland. Instead, it was the most amazing sight: a path of lights zigzagging into the darkness.

A figure standing against the haze of flying ice pulled his facemask aside and yelled, “Hey! Got a message from camp saying you were stuck nearby. Bit snowy out, so couldn’t send a limo.”

The rescuer had placed electric lamps at the foot of beaver mounds. From here, we could see only three or four. Tiny, flat shadows skittered around them.

“Snowbeavers build those mounds to shelter out of the storms,” the man shouted. In his hand, he held a strange-looking trumpet. “If you scare off the beavers and follow them as they run away, you’ll never hit a crevasse; they’ve got some sensors in their paddles to help them across the snow. Crafty little things, aren’t they? What do you think?”

I thought about the expensive computer and engine freezing behind us. “I think maybe mum needs to make giant snowbeavers, instead of more tractors.”


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