Still looking for a way out, he hurried up the tunnel. It sloped noticeably upwards now, so much so that Jason often had a hard time finding his footing on the slick surface of the ice. He struggled up the passage for a good half-hour before he saw that the ice around him was starting to glow faintly, and Jason knew he must be getting close to the surface. He came upon a final bend and found something he wasn’t expecting – a door.
Fortunately the large metal hatch was open. It was so big he would have had trouble opening it even if he had been able to find the latch on the outside. It wasn’t a human ship, of that he was sure. The design was different from anything he had ever seen. There were no lights or signs anywhere, but clicks and hums continuously assailed his ears from every direction. It just felt alien and wrong.
These creatures apparently liked the cold. The temperature inside the ship was as cold as it had been in the ice tunnels. The area was half filled with those squid-fish he had seen the crab harvesting earlier, encased in blocks of ice for storage and transport. It appeared as though he was in the cargo hold.
He had greatly underestimated the crabs. They were not animals or even simple primitives. These beings were an advanced technological race, and from what he could see of the ship, a space-faring one as well. He must have stumbled upon their equivalent of a fishing trawler. or perhaps this was what they did for recreation. It was hard to judge the motivations of so alien a species without more information.
More urgently than ever, he had to get out and warn the rest of his crew. He made his way up a ramp that ran up one side of the hold. It led to a passageway that ran the spine of the ship. At one end was what he assumed was the bridge. There were a number of what could be buttons or switches, all laid out in organized arrays, but he could make no sense of their functions. The thing that struck him immediately, however, was the lack of any windows. It made sense – no eyes, therefore no need for windows. But there was also no way out. He would have to keep looking.
He went back down the long passageway towards the rear of the ship. Occasionally he would pass a door but they were all sealed shut. The third time he found a door he decided he would try to open it. There was a panel with three depressions in a vertical line. He jabbed his finger in the top hole and nearly fell over in pain. A sharp electric jolt had run through his body at the first contact with the button. Determined to get through, he pulled a screwdriver from his belt and stuck that in the hole. After a couple of taps the door released and slid open. It was a storage room filled with cartons and unfamiliar objects, but there no other way out.
The next one he tried was a short corridor with another hatch at the far end. This had the promising look of an airlock. The control panel here had a dozen different buttons in a three by four array. He jammed the screwdriver into top left corner but nothing happened except for a loud buzzing noise. Jason tried another one at the far right and then another until the door behind him closed. He continued to jab at the console until the outer hatch finally popped open and slid out of the way.
The storm had passed while he was underground, and he could see clearly for the first time in weeks. He looked out to see he was at the top of a large dome partly submerged into the open wasteland below. Snow and ice from the storm had covered the outside of the ship so that it resembled just another large snowdrift. With its natural camouflage and an ambient temperature barely higher than the outside, it was no wonder their scans had never picked up these creatures. As he looked across the horizon he saw a dozen more humps that might have been other ships. There might be millions of these creatures lurking beneath the surface and we would never know until they decided to fight back against us, the invaders.
He walked to the edge of the doorway and peered down the side of the ship. It was a long drop to the ice below but the ship sloped outwards making a descent feasible. And there at the bottom of the slope was the answer to his dilemma of how to get home. A rover was parked at the base of the dome almost directly below him, most likely belonging to the poor souls he had met earlier. Finally a lucky break. All he had to do was slide down the outside of the hull and he was home free.
His moment of celebration was cut short as the sound of powerful engines erupted overhead. Coming from behind him at supersonic speed, he had no warning until the other ships had already passed him by. They were smaller and sleeker than the cargo ship, probably fast response military vehicles. By their trajectory, they were headed straight for the outpost.
With no time to think, Jason launched himself down the side of the cargo vessel and plummeted down at a reckless speed. He crashed into the snow piled at the bottom, winded and sore, but otherwise unhurt. Once he had scrambled inside the rover, he snapped on the comm unit.
After his escape, the rover felt like a safe haven and he paused to consider his next move. Even knowing that an attack on the base was imminent, there was little the paltry few security officers could do against three armed cruisers. By the time he could convince someone to listen, the ships would already be overhead. If he warned them now, all he would do is risk giving away his own position. He switched the radio off. He was on his own now.
By the time Jason got to the base, the fighting was long over. He was sure he could cobble together a shelter from the rover and the remains of the base. With any luck he could hold out until the next supply ship came in six months. Maybe if he was very quiet, the crabs wouldn’t bother with a single human huddled in a pressure dome trying to stay warm.
How many times had mankind wiped away a species or an entire ecosystem just because it didn’t suit our needs, he thought. We had the arrogance to think we could do anything we wanted with this planet, but now it’s fighting back. That was the way with bullies. There’s always someone bigger to knock you down.
He only hoped that humans tasted as bad to the crabs as all the food on this planet tasted to him.