The Secret Beneath the Ice
An Aravinda Short Story
by Andrew M. Crusoe
A STUNNING WORLD
A crisp chime echoed within the command bay, and Oonak’s eyes flashed open. He was a tall man of indeterminate age, and his light brown skin contrasted starkly against his silvery uniform as he sat in the command chair in the center of the room.
“Sleep cycle complete. Vital signs and ship systems are nominal.”
Memories of the last few weeks rushed back to him. Even though Oonak had only known Navika for a short time before they’d departed, the ship was now second nature to him. Of course, he wasn’t entirely surprised. He had long reveled at how effortless and natural it was to converse with a thoughtship solely through his mind. And when it came to thoughtships, Navika was a rising star.
From the outside, Navika was a three-sided ivory pyramid about seven meters in height, and from the inside it was more spacious than anyone could ever guess. That is, if one was lucky enough to ever see Navika at all, for the ship was outfitted with the most advanced cloaking systems Sumanas had ever created. It was necessary, they had said, for the critical mission Oonak had taken on. And for many days now, Oonak and Navika had slipped almost completely undetected across vast swathes of the western spiral arm of the galaxy.
“Any sign of the Enemy?” he asked.
“Negative.” Navika replied. “It’s possible they haven’t made it out this far. However, I recommend once again that you spend your sleep cycle in your quarters. Falling asleep in the command chair is not recommended for an optimal sleep cycle. You know that as well as I do.”
“Indeed, but I have my reasons.”
“Irrelevant. By ignoring my advice, you are putting your mental alertness at risk. You cannot allow what happened to Lorelle to disrupt your focus now, Oonak. Need I remind you that the Sumanas High Command have put their complete faith in our ability to conduct this mission and return intact? After all, there is no one out here to help us.”
“Of that, I am exceedingly aware. And please do not mention Lorelle. Why do you do that? You somehow consistently bring up the one subject that I do not want to focus on, especially during a mission of such importance.”
“What subject is that?”
“That is blatantly false! I seek only to understand any weaknesses you have and to adequately compensate for them. That is why I ask you now: why have you repeatedly ignored my recommendation to sleep in the appropriate place?”
For a moment, Oonak regretted that the mindcap allowed him to have long conversations with Navika in the space of only a few seconds. In times like these, he found Navika’s insistence irritating and would have preferred to hear the ship’s crisp voice echo throughout the cabin instead of within his own mind.
“Logically,” Oonak said patiently, “by sleeping here, I reduce my reaction time should they attack while I am asleep. If we see them, I do not want to be anywhere else.”
Navika was silent. The wall ahead was completely transparent now, and a pale blue dot was just visible against the expanse of stars before them.
“When will we be within range?”
“Three minutes, sixteen-seconds.”
Oonak sat in silence for some time, admiring the world as they grew nearer. As more details filled his view, he couldn’t help but notice similarities to his own world, except that it was much bluer. Oceans ruled most of its surface with a spattering of a few continents as their only rival. Yet, there was more. Now that Oonak was closer, he noticed a wealth of island chains scattered throughout the planet, some clustered around continents and some amidst the vast oceans. These archipelagos were not unlike many he’d seen before, except something was different.
He strained to figure out what it was.
And then his perspective shifted and he saw one simple and remarkable difference: the forests that covered them were a radiant shade of blue.
“Intriguing…” The word left Oonak’s mouth slowly so that it seemed to float in the air for a few moments. “Navika, can you confirm that what we are seeing is non-verdant flora?”
“Affirmative. Foliage hue ranges from cyan near the poles to near indigo at the equatorial regions.”
“Is there anything similar in Confederation records?”
“Yes, but it is exceedingly rare. It seems we have stumbled across a rare gem.”
“Indeed, it seems we have. Can you confirm Hatchling Status?”
“Confirmed. No timespace signatures detected. However, I have detected hundreds of active cities, including observational and communications satellites in varying orbits around the planet, although nothing remarkable. No one on Avani will ever know we were here.”
As magnified views of various cities below flashed into Oonak’s mind, his understanding of the planet grew, and as his understanding grew, the more excited he became. Here was a compassionate civilization. Everywhere he looked, they strived to create a balance between their own technology and the surrounding environment. The Enemy would never harm this place. Oonak would make sure of this.
“Quite a stunning world, isn’t it?” A wave of conviction swept over Oonak in a way that he hadn’t felt in a long time. “We are going to meet them someday. Mark my words, Navika. We are going to meet the Avanians. They will join the Confederation. My intuition tells me nothing else.”
“Oonak, I’ve just detected an intense epsilon pulse emanating from the surface of the planet. It’s possible that such an intense burst could disrupt the cloaking field.”
“Move out of range so that—”
And then everything around him exploded with light and noise.
The wave of fire impacted onto Navika all at once and with such force that for a moment Oonak thought that his head might explode. The view around him became overlaid with a frantically blinking red grid as Navika searched for the source of the attack.
As Navika did this, the planet appeared to spin in circles all around them, and an alarm rang throughout the ship. Oonak strained to recover a stable orbit when another volley of plasma hit them like a massive, unstoppable wave of rolling thunder. Amidst this wave, three sharp beams of light honed in on the ship.
Oonak knew Navika would dynamically balance the shields to prevent any fragmentation, so he focused on stopping their tailspin while he searched for a target. Yet, he found none. Why hadn’t Navika detected any vessels yet?
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that shield cohesion was weakening near one of the pyramid’s tips. But before he could do anything, the three beams had cut into that part of the ship, causing a small fragment and hundreds of tiny particles to fly off and begin falling down to the ocean far below. Never before had Oonak heard such an urgent sound ring out around him. It was almost as if the ship itself was wailing in pain because it was no longer a cohesive whole, and the imbalance sent them into an uncontrollable descent.
“The epsilon pulse from the surface of the planet has now ceased. However, we sustained significant damage before my diagnostic systems went offline.”
The planet whipped around Oonak’s vision a few times per second now.
“Can you stabilize our descent? The attack seems to have stopped.”
“I’ve already tried. Impulse systems are unstable. We will enter the planet’s atmosphere in 20 seconds…”
Oonak could see from the mental link that it was completely quiet outside now. Their attacker had vanished. But how was that possible? The weapons used against them should have left traces of their attacker’s location.
“Navika, we cannot land here. This is a Hatchling World.”
“We have no choice. Initiating emergency safety measures.”
Oonak felt his harness tighten slightly. From the mental link, he observed that the impulse drive was responding intermittently, allowing Navika to slow their tailspin and guide their descent toward a small, icy continent below.
“Navika, is that—”
“The southern pole is the safest landing zone in range. Impact in 60 seconds. I will attempt to make our landing as smooth as possible, though with the damaged impulse drive my maneuvering options are limited.”
The world spun around Oonak slower now. Below, the icy continent revealed itself to be covered in jagged peaks and impenetrably thick blankets of snow.
“Our approach velocity exceeds recommended limits, and the impulse drive has now failed. I’m sorry, Oonak. There is nothing else I can do.”
For a moment, Oonak wondered if he would die here, on an alien world so far from home. But it didn’t feel right. This wasn’t where he was meant to die.
Outside, he could see that they were heading for a snowy valley between two icy ridges. Their monstrous shapes reached up to the sky like ancient relics, raw and uncompromising.
“Impact in 15 seconds. Initiating last-resort protocol now…”
The transparent walls went dark and bulged out in stark contrast to their usual flatness. In a flash, the walls were so thick and puffy that they were touching Oonak’s elbows and knees, but now they were as soft as pillows.
A million sounds assaulted Oonak’s senses at once. He felt as though the ship itself were about to shatter all around him in a cacophony of light and sound.
And then, all turned to darkness.
When he opened his eyes again, Oonak had no sense of how much time had passed. The command bay looked as though a tornado had swept through. The walls were still opaque, and dim emergency lighting filled the cabin.
The transparent dome above Oonak’s chair was bent to one side, and the walls were still slightly inflated from the last-resort protocol Navika had taken. In fact, just about everything was out of place. Even one of the kavasa berry containers had flown out of the compartment beneath the passenger bench and broken open, scattering dozens of indigo berries on the floor.
“Navika, are you there?”
Oonak listened carefully, but all he could hear was an eerie wind outside of the ship.
He felt his head. No blood.
Still, there was silence. Oonak didn’t like to admit it, but Navika was the only reason he stayed sane during these last few weeks. Originally, the mission had called for a third, but the attack on Sumanas had changed all of that.
Now, that number might grow even smaller. If he lost Navika, how would he ever survive in this unforgiving place? Surely the cloaking field had failed by now. What would stop whoever attacked them from finishing them off?
Oonak pushed these thoughts out of his mind and took some time to scan himself. He found some cuts but no broken bones. The last-resort protocol had saved him. And now, he would repair Navika. He must.
Slowly, Oonak got up, walked behind the command chair, and placed his hand to a pad beside the door. To his delight, the door slid open.
Beyond the door was the largest room on the ship, the central node where Navika’s nucleus was kept. Oonak looked up and studied it. The sphere was still radiant, though less so than before, and each of the braided cables that led out of it appeared to be intact.
Except for one.
If that was the reason Navika wasn’t responding, there might be hope after all. With this in mind, Oonak headed back into the command bay, picked up one of the kavasa berries, sat down, and took a deep breath. If he made a mistake now, it was likely he would never hear Navika’s voice again.
Some hours later, Oonak was confident that all of the connections to the nucleus had been restored. The nucleus now hung near to the floor, and with confidence, he spoke directly to it.
“Navika, can you hear me?”
“Navika, you must hear me. Your nucleus is showing activity, and I have confirmed that all connections are restored. Please, if you can hear anything, respond.”
Oonak waited and watched a few flecks of orange light fly around inside the sphere.
“Navika…” Oonak placed his hand on the nucleus and closed his eyes.
“Navika, I’m sorry.” Now purple and green flecks of light joined the others. “I’m sorry about what I said before. You do not focus on death. You were correct. I was allowing Lorelle’s memory to distract me.”
Oonak removed his hand and looked deep into the sphere, and to his delight, Navika’s voice filled the room.
“You apologized,” Navika said. “Lorelle would be proud.”
It struck Oonak that this was the first time he’d heard Navika speak in days. Normally, he would simply use the mindcap, but now that he heard Navika’s crisp voice reverberate within the cabin, he realized that he had come to miss it.
“Navika! I thought I might have lost you. Are you all right? Are you cohesive?”
“No, and I will not know the full extent of the damage until my diagnostic systems are back online. However, I can report one fact with certainty.”
“Oonak, I lost something back there.”
The image of the three white beams flashed into Oonak’s mind, and he tried to resist the feeling of anxiety that was growing within him. No one could be allowed to examine Navika’s technology. Oonak didn’t want to think about what could happen if it fell into the wrong hands.
“Were they the Enemy we seek?”
“Unknown. I detected no trace radiation before the attacker vanished.”
Oonak was silent for a few moments.
“We must retrieve that fragment.”
“Not possible. Not until my long range sensors are back online. Oonak, it probably landed in the ocean anyway. It’s extremely improbable that—”
“Irrelevant. You know what Spacefarer Code dictates, Navika. We must find it. Even if it’s at the bottom of the ocean, we must recover the fragment.”
By the following day, Oonak had repaired Navika’s diagnostic systems. This accelerated their recovery dramatically since, once he knew what exactly had failed, it allowed Navika to activate some of his self-healing properties.
Meanwhile, Oonak finally lifted the veil on the command bay walls to see the freezing landscape that surrounded them. Not unsurprisingly, they were partially embedded within a sheet of ice, and snowcapped peaks towered all around them. Thankfully though, the sky was mostly clear, revealing an immaculate starscape above him.
“Oonak, as I’ve been running a complete self-diagnostic on my systems, I’ve been studying the flight logs, and I stumbled across something that I think you’ll find warrants further investigation.”
“What did you find?”
“When we impacted onto this icy shelf, it created a shockwave which echoed deep beneath the ice. According to my logs, the shockwave echoed within a massive hollow chamber below our current location.”
“Is it a natural formation?”
“Uncertain. However, from the data I gathered during our descent, it appears that this area is completely uninhabited.”
“Can we burn our way out?”
“I can only guarantee one blast right now. However, I calculate that the impulse drive alone has a high probability of freeing us from this ice sheet.”
With great care, Oonak moved the ship forward, creating a squeaking noise and hairline fractures in the ice which soon turned into large cracks. He moved back again, and the sound of shattering ice flooded his ears.
As he moved the ship upward, the shattering sound continued to fill his ears as huge chunks of ice twisted and fractured all around him. By the time Navika was a few meters in the air, all of the ice had broken off, and large crevices had formed in the sheet below him.
“Navika, I have an idea. You said that the hollow chamber was directly below our current location, correct?”
“I want you to prolong this single blast by reducing its power, enough power to melt the ice but no more. Do you understand?
Once again, a red grid appeared around him, and he focused on the widest crevice in the ice. A fraction of a second later, a bright beam of violet plasma illuminated the crevice, and Oonak kept his gaze on the spot until the crack began to widen slowly. Gradually, he moved the beam further down the crevice until other cracks branched off from it like dozens of spiderwebs forming at once. And then, unceremoniously, a large chunk of ice broke off and disappeared into a hollow space below.
Oonak smiled for the first time that day and guided the ship through the opening, soon finding himself in a massive underground cavern. The moment Navika realized the darkness of the space, he illuminated their path, revealing a series of passages which led deeper into the planet.
“I am detecting a faint energy signature farther down one of the caverns. However—”
“Place a waypoint on the source of the energy. If someone is hiding down here, I want to know who it is. Perhaps they know something about who attacked us.”
“Oonak, in our crippled state, I recommend that we wait until weapon systems are fully online before we continue.”
“We have impulse power. We can improvise. Place the waypoint.”
A red triangle appeared far off in the distance, about one klick from their current position, and soon they were gliding silently through tunnels of rock and ice that knew neither time nor the light of day. While they navigated the tunnels, Oonak’s mind drifted back to their attacker. How could anyone stay completely hidden in the midst of such firepower?
“Full self-diagnostic is complete. But I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news.”
“I am never afraid of the truth, Navika. Tell me.”
“The good news is: we won’t die. Life support systems will recover completely. However, the timespace drive and timespace comm are completely offline. Even worse, they are damaged beyond repair. Oonak, I regret to say that we have no way of continuing our mission or signaling for help. Unless we find that this planet’s technology is far more advanced than it appears, we will be stuck here, with no possibility of escape.”
Ahead, Navika illuminated the source of the faint energy that they had detected. It was a large ring-shaped structure between two columns set atop a rocky pedestal, and all of it was coated in a layer of ice, perfectly preserved.
It looked ancient.
“Perhaps you are right, Navika. Perhaps we shall never leave Avani.” Oonak stood up and observed the strange relic carefully. “Or perhaps we have been guided here, after all. Set us down near the structure. I’m going out.”
Thank you for reading this prequel to “The Truth Beyond the Sky,” the first book in the Epic of Aravinda series. If you have enjoyed this prequel, I would be extremely grateful if you would take a few minutes to write an honest review on Amazon.com. And to continue the journey, check out “The Truth Beyond the Sky” on Amazon.
with a galaxy of gratitude,