“It’s a square.”
Silv heard correctly but wanted clarification. “What do you mean a square?”
“Probe One has just completed a second sweep over your location,” said The Captain, sitting comfortably in the Vitalis Express orbiting KIC10905746 C. “We’ve now got a clearer picture of what’s down there. The anomaly’s actually a large geometric shape, fifty metres wide, just north of your location. In fact, there is a grid of quadrilateral structures underneath a kilometre of nitrogen ice.”
Looking over at Denis, Silv felt vindicated. “Was I right in choosing this dormant glacier for a first landing?”
“Could be naturally occurring formations,” said Denis.
Silv decided not to argue. The majority of the planet’s glaciers seemed to be grinding their way towards the equator, where they evaporated slowly under the distant K-type sun. If ever a warmer climate existed, the solid nitrogen under their feet would have been the planet’s atmosphere and the geography, shaped by it. Moving glaciers, after millions of local years, would have wiped out any evidence of such an epoch.
They climbed into the Quadra, a four-sailed sledge available to the Vitalis Express crew, and using the icy southerly winds, they slid towards a featureless horizon.
“How are we going to get verification?” said Denis. “Whatever those formations are, they’re a kilometre down.”
Silv had a theory. “There’s hundreds of crevasses riddle inside the glacier. The data from Probe One’s first GPR mappings indicate that they are all interconnected. This ice sheet isn’t as dormant as we thought. It’s expanding outward.”
They rode the Quadra onwards, into the bleakness, until the captain of the Vitalis Express said to them, “You are now above the start of the fracture.” Denis planted thermoplates, melting a passageway to the cavity beneath them. Using the Quadra’s wrench to lower themselves into the icy caverns, they began the journey down a moderate but jagged slope, lasting an hour before they hit the misty bottom. They trekked for three hundred metres, following a creek of steaming carbon monoxide until Silv spotted the opening of another fissure, its slope steeper than previously experienced.
Denis unpacked the climbing tackle and rigged it for their descent. Via the light provided by the atmosuits, Silv noticed layers of green watermarks staining the ice. “Copper. Reacting with the layers of oxygen.”
The bottom opened out into a vast chasm. They marched into the void, the ground sinking like mud until they came to a shallow lake, its surface, a black mirror.
“Look,” said Denis pointing to a shape beyond the shadows.
Silv waded into the pool of boiling nitrogen, thankful for the engineering behind the atmosuit.
“Wait,” Denis, seeing Silv’s resolve, ventured forward.
They came to a wall-like outcrop, protruding just half a metre out of the emerald liquid. Silv touched it, noticing a rough and serrated aspect of the material. “It crumbles slightly, but it’s pretty solid.”
Denis inspected the blue surface. “It looks like coral.”
Silv felt the euphoria subside inside his chest.
“It’s a natural phenomenon,” yelled Denis, frustrated. “Some kind of copper oxide.”
“We are wasting time,” said the captain, “get back here, that’s an order.”
Silv looked beyond, at the platform, arising out of the subterranean sea. “I veto,” said Silv, climbing onto the structure. “This thing has spires, look.” “He looked back and waved Denis up. “Something built this.”
Denis joined the Quartermaster, hiking to one of the tapering towers and grabbed a section. It crumbled into his hands. “It’s ancient. Probably not much left.”
“Intelligent civilisation or just some biological organism?”
“I don’t know yet,” answered Silv, looking up at the cathedral of columns. “Don’t send down any crew unless I give it the go-ahead.”
Silv and Denis explored the green and blue crystalline edifice for the next several hours, finding nothing but empty shadows until they discovered the pit, perfectly square, bottomless.
Denis held out his rangefinder, “Eight hundred and sixty-four metres. This structure is huge.”
“Made of copper,” added Silv. “There’s gotta be some ancient relics down there.”
“I don’t know,” replied Denis, sounding genuinely sceptical. “This planet must have suffered some kind of climate event, causing its entire atmosphere to freeze up. We are down over a kilometre. No structure this high could withstand such weight.”
“What are you saying?” Silv took out a pick and began scrapping the ledge, expecting to rub up the lustre of the metal, but failing to do so.
“I don’t think this structure is…,” began Denis but was cut off by a black, slimy blob spattering onto the pirate’s helmet.
Silv saw the creature lift its globular, headless torso, raised on a multitude of neurotendrils, which spread down and wrapped around the rest of Denis’s body. Another fell from above, latching itself to Denis, and another. They seemed to be leaping off the spires. Silv looked up at the sea of black moving down the immense construction.
The sound of a million slaps echoed out from the pit.
When the struggling, disoriented Denis stumbled into the gaping hole, Silv, mind stunned with horror, sprang to life, dashing toward the direction of the crevasse. By the time Silv jumped down into the lake, the entire platform was inundated by a swarm of slithering neurotendrils.
Silv ran across the sludge and up the ice ravine, the nightmare sounds growing louder by the second. The cliff climbing equipment awaited, but as Silv pulled at the rope to begin ascension, multiple climbers rappelled down. They were the crew from the pirate ship, Vitalis Express.
“Wait!” yelled Silv.
The hissing echoes penetrated the atmosuit.
When the captain descended, Silv screamed, “What are you doing?”
The cavern vibrated.
“We’ve got heavy equipment coming down, so clear the way.”
“I’ve got all hands on deck,” said the captain. “We haven’t much time, but we should be able to leave this ice cube with some kind of valuable relic…” The captain paused, noting that the darkness beyond the night, had turned into a mass of glistering black.