Author : Rob Burton

He lifts the stained snow to his visor. Tiny mechanisms sample the stuff and, after sterilizing it (though that was hardly necessary at such low temperatures), sprays it as an aerosol into his nose and mouth. A tiny readout in his visor confirms his suspicions. ‘Waste dump’, he informs the others over the communicator. ‘They are lazy or foolish. Perhaps both.’

One of the others intentionally lets ‘Disgusting animal’ slip over the comms. He tries not care. Still, they live in the filth of cities, hoarded together like rats their very air a stinking fume. He’s had to share the tight, closed systems of a planetary transport with them and their sweat and filth for weeks. Sanitised urine was nothing.

He’d been brought as a guide to dark, icy Ganymede. Over-equipped as the folly of the rich men who employed him would have it, he knows he could survive indefinitely in this suit and on the life seeded onto this once sterile orb – though the others hardly recognise its existence. They all could, if they weren’t such fools, live by the life that, like him, loves the ice and the cold that is retreating so fast from their own world. Cold and ice these men treat as an enemy to be conquered.

They love their little wars. They use their murderous potential for nothing. They crave the opportunity to unleash it. They mutter discontentedly as they progress, doubtful of his ability to read the signs that to him, though subtle, are everywhere. They joke about kicking him into a crevasse.

In the dim starlight the entrance to the base is indistinct, covered with re-frozen ice that only he can tell apart from its immediate surroundings. The base itself clings to the underneath of the ice sheet, at the border with the water layer. Its location could not be found from space, so many miles beneath the ice, and the vehicle that had brought the relief crew was itself sunken far below the surface.

On Ganymede, in order to hide something you merely have to heat it up and let it melt into the ice for a while. An energy–expensive process, but warfare seems to ignore the energy rationing that has made so many lives a misery. People seem to believe that it is more important to cause human misery than prevent it, for a reason he could not understand. With a little waste of power, smaller things – like personal transports – might disappear forever into the ice to the eyes of those unused to it. He has to throw a snowball onto the area above the entrance to mark it for the soldiers.

They click their weapons into firing positions. Their leader uses an electronic eye that he trusts more than his own senses to look for its kin about the entrance. Finding none, he sends two of his command forward to set the melters. They should uncover the entrance in a matter of hours.

Their guide turns to go.

‘Where are you going?’

‘Away’, he simply states.

‘What? Don’t; you want to go home?’

‘My contract pays out to my family at the point that I deliver you to your target.’

‘But you are our guide…’

‘…and I have guided you. You are the paid killers, not I.’ He doesn’t add that he considers them ill-prepared and unlikely to survive.

‘Where will you go?’

‘Do you care?’

‘Let’s pretend for a moment that I do.’

‘This is a world. I intend to get to know it before you ruin it too.’

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