Authors: Casey Calouette
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Military, #Space Opera, #Action & Adventure, #General
Trial by Ice
by Casey Calouette
For my Son, may your future be more amazing than I can imagine.
I’d love to hear any feedback you may have. If you enjoyed the story tell your friends, leave a review, and help spread the word.
You can find more about the author at
or follow him on Twitter @titaniumtrout.
Copyright 2013 Casey Calouette
All Rights Reserved
William Grace awoke to a world of agony and ice.
He drew in a deep breath and coughed in a hacking fit as the air seared at his lungs. Pain echoed throughout his body. He blinked the snow out from his eyes and wiped away the grit and tears. He shivered uncontrollably.
The wind swept granules of snow across the landscape. Broken rock was mixed with sheets of steel, alloy, and smoking wreckage. Small drifts formed in the wind eddies before, and after, the large pieces of wreckage. An occasional gunshot broke the sound of the frigid wind. Around him was nothing but the gray and the bleak.
He stared into the sky. It was white with gray clouds crawling low. A tendril of black smoke crossed over him before sliding away in the wind. He sat up slowly and looked himself over. His pants were torn, his knees a mangled mess of burnt skin and meat. He could sense bruising and tightness through his chest. His whole body felt a tender ache.
I must be in shock,
he thought a moment after. The wind blasted into him as he stood slowly. He fell forward and screamed in pain as the frozen rock gashed against his raw knees. The bitter wind pushed at his back as he caught his breath.
What the hell happened?
William stood once again, slowly, and looked around. The wreckage field was strewn as far as he could see. The featureless landscape was now only broken by large snow drifts and debris. He staggered slowly forward and leaned against a piece of hull. The edges were rough, bent and gouged. He pulled his hand back as if burnt, the cold had seared his palm. He hissed and looked at the chilled flesh. He needed more clothing or he was going to freeze to death.
He should have felt more, he should have felt scared, or angry, but all he felt was alone. Alone and cold.
A gunshot danced along the crisp wind. William turned and scanned around. He saw no one. He stumbled towards the noise and set his head down against the wind.
He came upon the first mangled body a few meters later. The legs were missing yet everything else looked like the man was asleep. William glanced around and saw no one. He reached down and touched the body, it was cold like frozen steel. This should have bothered him—he knew it would have a day ago—but not today. He sat slowly next to it and stripped off the jacket. The man was in full drop gear.
The corpse wore a heavy jacket with webbing strapped over it. His helmet was cracked, but a thick liner was inside. William took both and left the webbing. He saw a handgun strapped to the man’s chest and took it out. He tucked it into a pocket and put the jacket on. It was cold. He looked around and shivered a bit less.
He began to walk away and stopped. The edge of a red and black case poked out from beneath the corpse. He rushed back and ripped it free. Nanite patches. He smiled and wiped his nose. He sat again and smiled at the corpse. The box contained combat nanites, each patch good for a few hours. Stimulants, pain suppressors, antibiotics, antivirals, clotting agents, and reconstructive bots. He fumbled to remove the lid and grasped a patch with his frozen claw-like hand. He couldn’t get it open.
William paused and took a breath. He gripped the liner with his teeth and pulled with his good hand. The lining shimmered as it was activated by the oxygen. He smoothed it on the side of his neck and felt the initial sting. The burn softly slid into a dull itch. The pain in his knees subsided and he relaxed. A wave of darkness slid near his vision before allowing the light to settle back in.
He looked over at the man and back to the box on his lap. Clark. His name was printed on the container. The man would have gone instantly unconscious when his legs were ripped off. The nanites would generate a coma-like state when trauma reached a certain massive level. William wondered how long Clark had lived. He watched the snow fall on the corpse before another gunshot snapped him out of his trance.
William would have laid in a nanite coma except Naval personnel didn’t get patches for drops. He was supposed to be above, cozy, warm, sipping a cup of coffee, and preparing to get back with the fleet. It would just be one more event to add to his log for his exam. He didn’t even know what happened—they came in low after the blink and
: he was on the ground. Cold. In shock. Alone.
He shielded his eyes and looked around. He saw another man lying next to a piece of wreckage. His arms were at odd angles across his chest and deep burns blackened his face. William saw the bone and cartilage poking out from the char. He turned away. He looked back and saw the chest rise slowly and go back down.
William shambled closer and lowered himself. He could pull the patch off, or he could leave the man to his chemical coma. He looked around to the bleak landscape and saw no one. His medical training was brief. He watched the man and decided to let him sleep—he was too far gone to walk or awaken in anything but agony.
He patted the unconscious man's webbing and opened small pockets until he found a silver and black mylar sheet. It crackled as he unfolded it into the wind and laid it on the man.
I’ll not let him freeze to death,
he thought. With the edges tucked, he stood. Another gunshot echoed. Was that ammo cooking off? He stumbled towards a small rock-strewn hill.
On the other side lay a partially crumbled dropcap. The inertial stabilizers and cargo pods were bent and mangled, while one entire side was crushed like an egg. Bodies were scattered around the outside of the capsule with some heaped on the inside. A bitter black smoke leaked from a side hatch. A single man stood near the edge of the crushed capsule with a black handgun at his side.
William felt his heart rise and was about to call out when the man raised the handgun and shot a soldier in front of him. The uniform of the man was Naval. No nanite patch. He was surrounded by ground troops who were all unconscious from the shock trauma. William fumbled for the pistol and walked forward.
Around him were bodies, some mangled and destroyed, others serene and bruised except for a bullet wound to the head. Some were untouched a bit further away. Survivors.
The man stumbled forward and looked around. He wore the uniform of a Naval Surgeon. William checked his handgun and seated the caseless clip.
“Sir! What are you doing, sir?” William called out through clenched teeth.
The man turned slowly. His face was pale, gaunt, stretched and his eyes were blank. The tip of his nose was ashen white with a tinge of black. The man blinked rapidly and swung his handgun in a wide arc.
“We’ve no supplies,” the man said in a hoarse voice.
“Sir, put your weapon down.” William knew he had to stop this. The surgeon was in shock, hypothermic and most likely near death. He tightened his shaky grip on the weapon and walked closer.
The man shook his head wildly and screamed like an animal. His fists balled and his knees quaked. The wind took the rage and slid it off and away.
“Damn you! Damn you!” the surgeon called at nothing, and everything. His eyes were wild and he kept favoring one side. He turned and pointed the weapon at a blonde woman in full combat gear who lay tucked next to the capsule. One side of her face was bruised and raw like a smashed melon.
William stood ten meters away and raised the handgun. The alloy was crisp, and frigid. His fingers froze as he pointed it at the man. “Drop it, sir, drop your weapon. We can help these people.”
“We can’t even help ourselves!” the surgeon called out through clenched teeth. The handgun shook wildly and erratically. The surgeon fired at the woman and missed. The bullet smacked into a rock with a crack.
“I’ll shoot! Drop it, dammit!” William yelled through the gritty snow. He’d never shot a man before. He knew he had to, but the man was a surgeon, he needed him alive.
“Sir, set the weapon down. You’re in shock. Just lay it down.” William spoke slowly through shivering lips. His fingers ached from the cold. The trigger burned and his joints ached.
The surgeon turned his head and locked eyes with him, spinning his arm around slowly with the weapon extended and pointing it at William.
William shot. The pistol mechanically cycled a fresh round. A tiny puff of smoke rolled out of the action. The surgeon dropped, blood rolling out from a wound just below his chest.
The surgeon looked at the wound in his chest and back to William. He took his pistol, put it into his mouth, and fired.
“No!” William screamed. The red mist drifted into the snow behind the Surgeon. William stuffed the pistol back into his pocket and blew warm air onto his hands. He walked over to the corpse of the doctor and kicked him squarely in the guts. “Fuck!”
“Hey,” a dim voice called out through the wind.
William spun around and shielded his eyes from the wind. He stumbled and caught his balance before he fell. He looked up again and saw a man walking towards him in full combat gear.
The man wore a heavy gray coat, goggles, and a gray face mask with holes punched in it. The holes were surrounded by a fuzz of frost. A stub carbine was anchored to the webbing in the center of his chest. As he approached, he raised a gloved hand and slid the goggles up. Bright blue eyes peered at William.
“I’m not alone,” William said simply. He looked to his side and sat down.
“That’s how it looks,” the man replied. “I’m Sergeant Crow. Have some trouble?”
William nodded and tucked his hands under his arms. “Midshipman Grace. Ship’s surgeon lost it.”
Crow nodded and walked over to a corpse with a bullet hole in the cheek. He slid the heavy mittens off the man and tossed them to William.
“Thank you.” He tucked his frozen fingers into the fleece lined mittens. His fingers warmed slowly.
“Orders, sir?” Crow asked.
The moment began to set in. William was no longer “Midshipman Grace” studying for his exam and preparing for his next fleet posting. He was now in command, even if it was just two of them. Suddenly he realized that a whole lot of lives depended on what he did, and
There were people alive, maybe a lot, and if he didn’t do something, they would die. They might die even if he did.
“Crow, are you hurt?” William stood slowly and walked towards the crumpled dropcap. He eyed the debris for logistics canisters.
“Bruised up, sir.”
“We need shelter, anything.”
Crow walked towards the smoldering capsule. “Give me a hand, we need to pop this open.
William hurried to Crow’s side and the pair pried open the canister. It dropped with
when the springs let loose. In front of them were boxes, bins, bags, and every manner of gear possibly needed along with a sea of small white balls used as cushion.
“There we go.” Crow leaned forward and tugged on a large brown case. It was marked ‘Shelter-Inflatable-10 man’ in orange letters. A patterned circular ID code was centered below it. The pair pulled it out of the pile and heaved it away from the dropcap.
William released his grip once he realized he wasn’t doing any good. Crow tugged it out.
“Pop the side, drive the first anchor in. Pull the green tab, wait for it to inflate, then drive the next anchor. Do that ‘til you get around it all and pull the final tab, that will inflate the top.” Crow dropped the case on a patch of clear ground.
“Sergeant, we’ve got people alive. About one hundred meters back I left a man in a thermal blanket. We’ll start dragging them here.” He pointed behind the small hill to where he had found the man. William turned back to the case.
Crow nodded and began to walk briskly.
“Sir?” Crow stopped and turned.
William wanted to say something, anything, to bond with him.
Crow locked his blue eyes on William and nodded. He dropped the goggles down and walked forward.
William pounded the slender stakes into the frozen dirt and gravel in slow methodical thumps. He managed one or two strikes before he had to take a break. Each strike drove the rod an inch into the frost. The frozen dirt fought every single bit.
The men worked in silence. William pounded, tore, clawed, and fought to get the shelter set. Crow slid men and women near to where the door of the tent would be. Each worked as quickly as they could. William looked over to the growing line of unconscious survivors covered under the blankets. He had to work fast.
A light hand startled William. He turned and fell painfully onto his back. A man in full white body armor with a large gray backpack stood above him. His face was obscured by a neoprene mask. The man held out his hand to William.
“Who are you?” William asked.
A soft voice replied, “I’m Sebastien, let me take over.” Sebastien gripped his hand and pulled him to his feet.
William nodded. “I’m Grace.” He walked slowly, painfully, over to the mylar-covered wounded. The clanging of the stakes grew loud and steady. More men had died while he worked. He simply pulled the mylar over them. He sat at the end of the line. The fatigue, and the nanites, were catching up with him.