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“But beyond that, I know as much asyou did. We will keep exploring and gathering scientificinformation.If nothing happens, we will return to base in three months, if notbefore. Meanwhile, we can organize baseball teams or something,” Isaid. Lieutenant Blackjack Curry raised hishand. When I recognized him, he stood up. Blackjack got hisnicknamefor being an excellent blackjack player. He was good in poker androulette too. He could have made a career of professional gambling,but he liked adventure. “Excuse me, sir. From what Iunderstand, Ms. Morganthal is a very intelligent woman. Cunningtoo.And shrewd. But she gave no indication of what this mission wasabout? None whatsoever?” “None whatsoever. If she knew, Ithink she would have told me. We’re friends, and our friendshipgoes back a long way. Whatever the Federation wanted checked outhere, they held it close to their chests.” “Probably nothing,” Blackjack said.“When could the Federation ever keep a secret?” “Once in a while,” I responded.“That’s all I have to say. Wish it was better news. However, Iwas advised the hologram is up so you can amuse yourselves bywatching the greatest baseball games in history.” “Or watching Lt. Alvarez take ashower.” The whole squad laughed, including Lt.Carli Alvarez, a tall, strikingly beautiful brunette. She lookedbacktoward the soldier who made the comment. “In your dreams, Ritter. The hologramdoesn’t have me in its settings.” “Great. Frozen world and defectiveequipment,” Ritter said. After a few more grumbles, the squadbroke up. I was glad our supplies included ample amounts of liquor.Kayli Neugen, our Cajun Asian astrophysicist, walked up andsaluted.We were a military unit but tended to be flexible about a greatmanythings. If Kayli saluted, it was an indication that she wanted aserious talk. I saluted back. “Can we go topside, sir? I’d liketo discuss a few things with you.” “Would the cold, barren nothingnessfacilitate our conversation?” She merely grabbed her Arctic orangecoat and put it on. Roughly translated, that meant yes. I put on myArctic coat, my goggles and followed her. The surface of the world hadn’tchange much. Except maybe the wind howled even louder than it hadpreviously. Tons of snow and ice still stretched as far as the eyecould see. Towers, perhaps five feet tall, of blue ice dotted thelandscape. With the howling breezes, I didn’t want to know what thewindchill factor was. Even in my thermal suit, I could feel thechill. “Logan, this is not normal,” shesaid. “Of course it’s not normal. Mostlivable planets have items such as trees and grass and oceans andtemperatures that range from 30 to 90 degrees on most days. Mostplanets have polar regions only in the polar regions,” I said.“This is one vast North Pole.” “It was not always like this. We knowthat. At one time this planet had an atmosphere very much likeEarth.” “A million years in the past Earthlooked different too.” “That’s the problem. When we firstarrived I thought some terrible event had happened a long time agoand scarred the planet. Until then, the planet was a paradise. Orifnot a paradise, the weather was a lot better than this.” “So, what happened?” Kayli shook her head. “I don’tknow. I’m an astrophysicist. I’m not a meteorologist. Perhaps weshould have brought some climate specialists along on themission.” “None of those guys or girlsvolunteered.” “Belen could have persuaded one. Shehas a way of twisting your arm, but in such a nice way you don’tknow you’re being pressured.” She crossed her arms. “Anyway,something changed here and something cataclysmic happened. And it’sstill happening. You have noticed this planet is the fourth fromthesun in the solar system?” “For what it’s worth, yes,” Isaid. “It’s only about half a millionmiles farther from this sun as Earth is from our sun. Just a halfmillion miles.” I was getting cold and grouchy. “Cajun, I’m getting tired of thisworld and we’ve only been here two weeks. So please, remember thatI have great respect and affection for you when I ask, ‘So what?’Are we charting out a trip?” She chuckled, and the chucklescontinued until her whole body shook. “How does Astrid put up with you?” “I don’t know. I’ve asked myselfthat many times and have never arrived at a satisfactory answer. Imerely attribute it to the grace of God.” “Well, I reciprocate the respect andaffection and, for that reason, I won’t smack you.” “Thanks. Besides, you’re notsupposed to smack your commanding officer. He’s really a very niceguy.” “The reason why the mileage isimportant is because the sun should be melting this ice and snow.Interms of what we know about the laws of physics, this planet shouldbe like Earth in terms of climate. There should be two poles, oneonthe north and one on the South, with most of the rest of the planethaving moderate temperatures. This planet is contrary to all thelawsof physics we know. That’s why it makes me very, very uneasy. Ilike the laws of physics and astrophysics. I am comfortable withthem. With physical laws, you know what will happen. You canpredictoutcomes based on those never-changing laws. But this planetchangeseverything.” She pointed down toward the ice we were standing on.“The ice and snow should be melting. According to my calculations,this should be summer on this planet and the temperature should beabout 85.” “Could your calculations be off byabout a hundred fifty-five degrees?” “No. It looks like an ice age has hithere. The Earth has experienced ice ages, but there was always ascientific reason for it and there was scientific reason why theicemelted and faded away. I see no scientific reason for what ishappening on this planet. Or not happening. Something is stoppingthesunlight from hitting this planet, or deflecting it, or something.The temperature is 70 below when it should be 85 above.” I thought for a moment. “That doesn’tmake me feel any better,” I sighed. “That is… disturbing.” “Darn right.” “But I fail to see how it affects ourmission. Of course, I admit that I’m still not sure what ourmission is.” “If the Federation is behind this —and I’m guessing it is — the team to send to this planet would bea shipload of scientists. This is a scientific puzzle of thehighestmagnitude. So why didn’t they? Send scientists, that is.” I shrugged, although I thought I knewthe answer. “Shall I answer my own question?” “Sure, Cajun. Go ahead.” She turned and looked directly at me.“They didn’t send scientists because it would have been toodangerous for them. So they sent us.” Yes. Guess so. Chapter 3 We stood silently and looked out intothe blue ice surface. Flakes of snow flew by and smacked our Arcticjackets and our faces. With my gloved hands I wiped my Arctic mask. “There’s one more thing,” Cajunsaid. “Oh, shucks! There’s always onemore thing, isn’t there?” “Sometimes it seems that way. When Iarrived and started investigating, I assumed the cataclysmic eventthat caused the ice age happened hundreds of years ago. Now I’mchanging my mind. Logan, I don’t think that event occurred hundredsof years ago. Or even a year ago. Whatever did this, it was donerelatively recently. Two months. Maybe a month ago.” I frowned. I looked around, but therewas nothing to see. “Cajun, my respected colleague. Evenwith my limited knowledge of advanced science, I know that’simpossible. If this planet was like Earth in terms of climate andweather, it could not have turned into frozen barrenness in just afew months.” “What if it did?” “I know you’re in contact withscientists on theIntrepid and they’ve been runningcalculations. So what could possibly explain such a thing?” “I don’t know and neither do they.But I think it’s logical to believe that what occurred here was nota natural phenomenon. As I said, this is contrary to all physicallaws.” I groaned again. “I think I know yourdestination, but I don’t like where you’re going. Care to take adetour?” “This is a wild guess, but I think wewill find the inhabitants of this planet and their civilizationbelowthe ten miles of ice.” “Tell me they destroyed themselves.Tell me they were trying some incredible experiment with theweatherand it backfired and annihilated the planet. Please don’t tell mewhat I think you’re going to say.” “No, the inhabitants here did notdestroy themselves. This was an attack. An attack that somehowwipedout the planet's surface and caused an ice age to envelop thisworld.An attack that stopped the very rays of the sun from hitting thecrust. An attack that we can hardly imagine, much lessunderstand.” “You’re full of good news today.”I crossed my arms and leaned back against the entrance door. “Sosome aliens attacked Sandeling and wiped out the population and theplanet for that matter. The questions is: where are they now? Oursensors didn’t pick up any life here. Not just human life. Nobirds, no fish, no insects. No nothing. So the aliens can’t behere. Why did they attack? What’s the benefit in freezing an entireworld? Why would they do that?” “I have no idea, but it was done.And if the inhabitants of this planet had enemies, the chances arethe Federation has new enemies.” The entrance door opened and BlackjackCurry stuck his head out. “Major, you better come look atthis.” “An afternoon matinee?” I said. “Not quite.” We rode the elevator in silence.Cajun’s theory of a recent attack at least accounted for all thefunctioning machinery and the lack of dust in the undergroundcorridors. The temperature underground was pleasant, and thelightingand ventilation systems still perfectly working. It looked likesomebody had left home in a hurry, forgetting to turn off thelights.I followed Blackjack as he walked through the winding tunnels. Hestopped when he stood at the front of a vast cavern. It must havestretched for three miles. The rock walls were pulsating andflashingwith colors. An odd hum came from the walls. For a second the roomseemed to jolt, as if hit by an earthquake. “What’s happening?” I said. “Have no idea,” Cajun said. “Blackjack, get me Dr. Fincus. He’sover in the science section.” “Yes, sir.” The bright red color faded and thewalls flashed burgundy instead. The humming waxed and waned. Iblinked. For a minute the walls seemed to be fluid, as if they weremade of elastic. They expanded and then constricted. The colorschanged into a dark blue. “Oddest thing I’ve ever seen.” “Can this be a natural occurrence?”I said. “I’d put the odds on that at aboutninety-nine percent against.” I clicked on my mic. “Headquarters,this is Ryvenbark.” “Yes, sir. This is Ryan.” “Mr. Ryan, is there anything showingon our scanners? Is there anything showing on anything?” His reply was immediate. “No.Everything looks calm here. I’m in contact with the ship too. Theirscanners are registering nothing.” The noise had transformed to a low humaccompanied by purple flashes from the wall. The voice came frombehind me. “You wanted to see me, major?” I looked around and spied Fincus, headof our science section. His nickname was Panther because he enjoyedwide, open spaces. I don’t know where he picked up the name, but ithad stuck. He was six-three with a thin build and a face akin todarkmahogany. “Yes. I want you to tell me what’sgoing on.” “I don’t know. This is not the onlysection that’s lighting up and humming. We have another one on thefifth level. Same thing. Walls are flexing and singing,” he said.“It’s strange.” Cajun’s hand grabbed my arm when adark figure appeared. It was only a shadow, but looked human. Twoarms, two legs, a torso and a head. But like a shadow, it blinkedaway. It popped up a second time and then faded. About ten yardsbeyond the original figure, a second shadow appeared, but only forabout three seconds. Then disappeared. A third shadow appearedaboutten yards to the right of the second, but it too dissipated. The hum gradually lowered intonothingness. All the shadows vanished. The colors stoppedflashing. “Guess the show is over,” I said. I turned to Cajun and the Panther. “Iwant some answers. So why don’t you two get busy and find me some?I want to know what has just happened.” Three minutes later I was at our smallcommand headquarters and told Mr. Ryan to patch me into ourcommunications system. For all our advanced technology, the systemsputtered and coughed before Ryan gave me the thumbs up tospeak. “This is Major Ryvenbark. We are nowon full alert. You will consider this a battlezone. I want everysoldier armed while on duty. We are seeing some strange thingsoccurand I want to make sure those strange things do not become deadlythings. Report anything suspicious to Sgt. Rabelais. That is all.”I turned to Ryan. “Can we get in touch with the Federation fromhere?” He shook his head. “Not with thisprimitive communication system.” “Then patch me into the ship.” Two seconds later Captain Ian Liddlepopped up on a screen. He saluted. Which I thought was a nicegesture, but unnecessary. “Captain, dispatch a shuttle ship ifyou would. While I’m on the way up, get in touch with theFederation. I want to talk to them.” The screen went blank. Sgt. Rabelaiswore his ragtag grin when he walked up. Ian Rabelais Stone was a veteran of toomany campaigns to mention. And a very good friend. I had never metatougher, or more intelligent soldier. On more than a dozen planets,many enemies of mankind died because Rab had shot or knifed them.Hehad a closetful of medals and deserved every one of them. “I heard about the singing walls,”he said. “Humming walls is more like it. Keepthings in order until I get back. This shouldn’t take long.” “Think the Federation knows somethingit isn’t telling?” “I don’t know. It wouldn’t be thefirst time. When you’re a bureaucrat and sit behind a desk, thereare two great errors you can make. One is you’re sloppy andincompetent and let secrets slip. The other is you guard them tooclosely and don’t reveal what you should. Few deskmen can walk downthe middle of that road. Of course there is another possibility.Perhaps our friends in the Federation just don’t know anything. Itwouldn’t be the first time for that either.”
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