Trial by Ice
Author:Casey Calouette



    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 from his knees and back. 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 began to form 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, 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 looked 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 began to strip 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 mans 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 felt himself relax. 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 for. 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 poof. 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. Good god, he thought, the man is alive.

    William shambled closer and lowered himself down. 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 again. 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. 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 which cracked.

    “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 were 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 blond 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 10 meters away and raised the handgun. The alloy was crisp, and frigid. His fingers began to freeze 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.

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