Priority Message

It came from beneath the ice dear God what was that thing it came from beneath the fucking ice!

Waverly Thompson ran for her life over a frozen rock-littered waste the color of burnt molasses. Her heart raged in her chest as it failed to satiate her oxygen-starved muscles, but her scramble didn’t slow. It wasn’t oxygen that was driving her; it was sharp and hysterical terror.

Hernandez was dead, mercifully. When that…thing…got a hold of her it blew out her helmet like it was bubble wrap and, if the horrendous freeze frames of Waverly’s memory were to be trusted, her head was just a lifeless pulp when it pulled her body under. But Talbot was still alive. His long shrill screams continued in Waverly’s headset. They came one after another in endless repetition like the tide; he only paused long enough to inhale and then went right on screaming until he’d emptied his lungs again. It was accompanied by an unidentified sound like tearing open couch cushions.

Waverly wished he’d please just die, for both their sakes.

A thick amber haze hung like a curtain from sky to ground over Arrakis Planitia. Sticky hydrocarbon droplets covered her visor, and she kept wiping the dew away in messy smears with her gloved hands. Almost there. She could see the dark outline of the hab emerging from the mist. She stumbled over her own feet trying to sprint faster and tumbled forward. She jarred her shoulder and bit her tongue something fierce—she may have just lost the tip—and hot blood mixed with the sticky runner’s-spit in the back of her throat, but she didn’t care. She just had to get out!

She heard a sudden pop! followed by a sick gurgling, and Talbot finally went quiet.

Waverly staggered to her feet without even a glance behind her and closed the gap to the hab, cutting around to the suitports on the other side. She aligned her back with the dock on the hab’s exterior—it took a few tries but finally clicked into place—and she began to pull herself out of the suit and into the hab, first sliding her arms free and then using the pull-up bar. Her hands were slick with sweat and trembling with adrenaline, and she kept losing her grip and slipping off. She managed to get her butt up onto the deck and collapsed. Lying on her back with her legs still dangling in the suit, she called out to the hab assistant between shallow gasps and around her swollen tongue. “Hab, send priority message to Earth.”

There was a loud pop and a windy sucking sound from her suit that quickly came to a stop, like there’d been a seal breech that was quickly plugged. Something cold and wet and muscular slid up her right leg.

“Okay, Waverly, begin message.”

“…ease God no! Nooo! Get the fu—” thud-thud-thud riiiiip “—UUUUCK GAHHHHHH—” whomp-klaang “—OOHHHHHH—” snap-squelch-crack-snap…

“Okay, Waverly, are you satisfied with your message?”

“Okay, Waverly, are you satisfied with your message?”

“Okay, Waverly, are you satisfied with your message?”

“Okay, Waverly, your priority message to Earth has been sent.”

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