Ice Breaker, page 1
Chapter One: Ice Planet
Chapter Two: Nasty Men
Chapter Three: Alien Eyes
Chapter Four: A Nice Trophy
Chapter Five: Green Slime
Chapter Six: A Storm Coming
Chapter Seven: Real Danger
Chapter Eight: Big Momma
‘Whoa, check it out!’ said Luke as the shuttle came in low over the planet’s surface. He was looking through the viewport next to his seat and just couldn’t stop grinning. ‘I’ve never seen this much snow… this is going to be so cool!’
Dazzling whiteness stretched away as far as he could see, snow covering the uneven ground, making it look like a giant rumpled duvet. In the distance stood a mountain range, great rocky peaks rising above huge, glittering glaciers. The shuttle itself was crowded, the seats occupied by the thirty kids of Primary One, Luke’s class, all of them wearing thick hooded coats and sturdy snow boots.
Their teacher Clarke was at the controls. He was a hologram, a perfect replica of Albert Einstein, complete with wild white hair and a droopy moustache.
‘I don’t know about cool,’ muttered Luke’s friend Yasmin. She shivered as she peered over Luke’s shoulder, a frown on her brown face, her jet-black hair pulled back tightly in a ponytail. ‘I’ll bet it’s absolutely freezing down there.’
‘It’ll be cold all right,’ said Yuri, the flame-haired and freckled member of the trio. He was sitting in the last seat of their row. ‘But it won’t be absolutely freezing. Absolute zero is defined as being minus 273 degrees Centigrade – ’
‘Er… thanks for the scientific heads-up, Yuri,’ Yasmin said quickly, before he could really get into full geek-lecture-mode. ‘I’m just glad I put on plenty of layers. In fact I’d much rather have stayed put in our nice warm spaceship.’
‘Well, I wouldn’t,’ said Luke. ‘I can’t wait to land and have some fun.’
Luke was tired of living on a spaceship, however warm it was. He and his schoolmates and their families had been stuck on the Buzz Aldrin for ages. They had escaped from a terminally polluted Earth and were in search of a new home somewhere else in the galaxy. But so far they had found nothing except barren worlds they could never live on, and hostile aliens of one kind or another.
Then a few days ago they had come across a new star system with several planets circling its weak sun. Luke’s mum was Captain Riley, commander of the Buzz Aldrin, so he knew the ship’s science team had scanned the planets. The results had been mostly disappointing. Only one was capable of supporting life, but it was too cold to make a decent home for the remnants of humanity.
Everyone on the Buzz had been very glum – until Luke had his brainwave. He had asked his mum if they could spend some time on the ice planet – a few days of winter sports and fun would do them all a lot of good. Mum had agreed it was a great idea, and said the science team could also set up a research station to investigate some rather strange readings the scanners had picked up.
A rota had been organised, and today it was Primary One’s turn to fly down in the shuttle from the Buzz to the planet. Now their flight was nearly over.
‘Check your seatbelts, everybody!’ said Clarke. ‘We’re about to land.’
Luke just had time to glimpse the purple domes of the research station before the shuttle’s thrusters started kicking up a cloud of snow. Seconds later there was a slight bump as they touched down. Clarke switched off the thrusters and opened the rear door while the kids unbuckled their seatbelts. Soon they were streaming off the ramp and onto the surface, Luke, Yasmin and Yuri in the lead.
The friends skidded to a halt and stood for a moment gazing at the scene in front of them. Luke closed his eyes and breathed in the cold, sharp air, so unlike the awful, endlessly recycled stuff they had to put up with on the Buzz Aldrin.
Suddenly something very cold and wet smacked straight into his face. He wiped his eyes and saw Yasmin grinning at him, another snowball in her hand.
‘Score one for me!’ she said. ‘Maybe it’s not so bad down here after all.’
‘Right, you asked for it!’ said Luke, laughing. He scooped some snow into a big ball and threw it at her as hard as he could. Yasmin ducked, and threw the snowball she was holding at him. Yuri laughed too and pelted both of them, and of course the rest of the class joined in, chucking snowballs at them and each other. Everyone was having a terrific time – everyone except Clarke.
‘Children, behave yourselves!’ he shouted, his head fizzing as a snowball passed through it. ‘There will be plenty of time for games later. We’re supposed to check in at the research station first and hear how the science team is doing.’
‘No thanks!’ yelled Yasmin. ‘This is fun – and that sounds really boring!’
‘Speak for yourself, Yasmin,’ said Yuri. ‘I’d like to talk to them, actually.’
‘You won’t be doing much talking once I hit you with this,’ Luke yelled. He had put together a monster snowball, and now he threw it. But Yasmin jogged his arm and it missed Yuri by a long way. It flew over the red-haired boy’s head… and smacked into the face of a man who had appeared behind him.
‘Whoops!’ said Luke, and laughed. But the man looked very cross indeed.
The man was big and ugly. He had a broken nose and the cold, cruel eyes of a snake, and he was wearing a strange outfit – a greasy old baseball cap and a long grey coat, his chest criss-crossed with ammunition belts full of cartridges. They were obviously for the rifle he carried slung on its strap over his shoulder.
Luke saw that the man had a couple of mean-looking friends with him – a pair of smaller men, one totally bald, the other’s face covered in a thick black beard. Both were dressed in much the same way as the first man, both carried rifles – and both were scowling. Luke gulped, and took a step backwards.
‘Er… that wasn’t meant for you,’ he said, his voice squeaky. ‘Sorry.’
‘You will be, sonny,’ snarled the man, angrily wiping the snow from his face. But he glanced over at Clarke and seemed to change his mind about whatever he’d been thinking of doing. ‘Come on, lads,’ he muttered. ‘Let’s leave these brats to their stupid games.’
He turned on his heel and headed for a small, tracked vehicle parked nearby. His friends gave Luke one last nasty look, then scurried off as well. The three men climbed into the car and it rumbled away, crushing the snow beneath its tracks, dirty black smoke pouring out of its exhaust.
‘Who the heck was that?’ said Yuri. ‘He was like a bad guy in a movie.’
‘That’s probably what he wants to be,’ snorted Yasmin. ‘His name is Quint. The bald one is called Leon, and the one with the big beard is called Biff.’
‘Oh, so that’s Quint!’ said Luke. ‘I heard my mum talking about him the other day. As far as I can make out, she doesn’t think he’s a very nice person.’
‘You can say that again,’ muttered Yasmin. ‘I’ve heard lots of bad stories about him – he’s a real troublemaker. And where did they get those guns?’
‘They’re hunters,’ said Luke, remembering something he’d heard his mum say. ‘Or at least they’d like to be. They must have brought the guns and that filthy old car from Earth.’
‘Well, I certainly hope they don’t find anything to hunt here,’ said Yasmin. ‘I hate the idea of nasty men like that killing defenceless animals.’
‘Hear hear,’ said Yuri, nodding seriously. ‘I’m with you on that, Yasmin.’
‘Me too,’ said Luke, scooping up some snow. ‘Now, back to having fun.’
‘Er, I don’t think so,’ said Yasmin. ‘Clarke is rounding everyone up.’
Yasmin was right. Clarke had got the rest of the class under control, and soon he was marching them away from the shuttle and towards the purple domes.
Their visit to the research station turned out to be interesting – for Yuri. The science team was in the largest dome and was led by the Buzz Aldrin’s elderly chief engineer, Asimov. He was happy to explain to the children what they were doing, and waved his long, thin arms around as he showed them all the bleeping machines they had set up, his hair even wilder than Clarke’s.
‘So have you found out anything more about those strange readings, Mr Asimov?’ said Yuri. Yasmin nudged Luke and rolled her eyes. Luke smiled.
‘Excellent question, young man,’ said Mr Asimov. ‘We’re pretty sure they’re coming from something organic, but we don’t know exactly what. Now, if you just follow me I’ll show you the fascinating rock samples we’ve collected…’
Asimov headed to the other side of the dome, Clarke and most of the class trailing behind him. Yasmin pulled a face and hung back, and Luke did too. He had seen Chung, Mum’s second-in-command, and wanted to talk to her.
‘Hi, you two!’ she said, smiling at Luke and Yasmin, pushing back her dark hair. In front of her was a screen showing the area behind the dome where the science team’s hover-jeep was parked. ‘Not interested in rock samples?’
Yasmin and Luke laughed, and they talked for a while. Chung told them she had already been skiing, and that the nearest hills were great for snowboarding.
‘Sounds good,’ said Luke. ‘But I hope we don’t bump into Quint and his pals anywhere. I don’t understand why Mum let them come down here at all.’
‘She couldn’t really stop them, Luke,’ said Chung with a shrug. ‘I suppose they’ve got as much right as anyone else on the Buzz to get some fresh air.’
‘They haven’t got the right to go round killing living creatures,’ said Yasmin. ‘Guns are evil, and I don’t think they should have been allowed to bring them.’
‘Don’t worry about it too much, Yasmin,’ said Chung. ‘If you ask me they’re all talk. Besides, we haven’t yet found any living creatures they could shoot.’
Yasmin was about to say something else, but then the metal floor beneath their feet started to shake. Luke and Yasmin looked at each other in alarm.
‘Hey, what’s with the tremors?’ Luke said nervously. ‘Is it an earthquake?’
‘We don’t think so,’ said Chung, frowning. ‘But that’s the third time today.’
Luke felt uneasy. Maybe there was more to this planet than met the eye.
The shaking stopped as suddenly as it had begun, much to Luke’s relief. It did have one good result, though. Asimov announced that Primary One’s tour of the research station was over, as the science team had to analyse what had happened.
‘At last!’ said Yasmin. ‘Please sir, can we just go and have some fun now?’
‘Yes, Yasmin, of course,’ said Clarke, giving her an indulgent smile. ‘I’d like to say a couple of things about safety before you head off, though. Kids, wait!’
It was too late. The whole class stampeded out of the dome, even Yuri, with Luke and Yasmin in the lead. Within minutes the three friends were trudging through the snow, making for the nearby hills Chung had said were good for snowboarding. They kept up a snowball fight along the way, Yasmin proving to be the most powerful and accurate shot, the boys having to work together to have any chance of beating her. After a while they reached the top of a hill.
Chung had lent them her snowboard, and Yasmin decided she should have the first go. She was pretty good too, flying down the steep slope, Luke and Yuri whooping their encouragement. She made a perfect stop, curving round and sending out a spray of snow like a surfer on a wave. Then she came running back up the hill and threw the board onto the snow in front of Luke and Yuri.
‘Who’s going next?’ she said, panting. ‘Bet neither of you can do better.’
‘Er… I wouldn’t argue with that,’ said Yuri. ‘So you can count me out. I’m more comfortable with my laptop than with one of those. Over to you, Luke.’
‘No problem,’ Luke said, trying to sound confident even though he felt quite nervous. He wasn’t going to let Yasmin – a girl – get one over him. ‘OK, then,’ he murmured, stepping onto the snowboard and pushing off. ‘GERONIMO!’
He moved quite slowly to begin with, but soon he was whizzing down the slope, his cheeks burning as he sliced through the freezing air. It was fantastic, a really great sensation, and he couldn’t help grinning. Yuri was cheering him on, then yelling something about watching out for the huge rock at the bottom of the slope. Suddenly Luke’s grin vanished – he didn’t know how to stop!
The rock was getting closer, looming in front of him, so Luke did the only thing possible – he dived off the snowboard, landing head first in the snow, rolling over and over until he finally came to a halt. He lay groaning, surprised he was still alive, his top half buried in a snow drift that seemed to be moving.
Luke quickly raised his head, worried he might have started an avalanche – only to find himself being stared at by a pair of unblinking, very alien eyes.
They belonged to a chunky, foot-long, millipede-like creature with a ridged grey hide and dozens of tiny legs. For a brief instant alien and human continued to stare at each other – and then the creature started moving towards him. Luke squeaked in panic and struggled to free himself completely from the snow, but ended up on his back – and watched horrified as the creature flowed onto his chest. It opened a wide mouth, revealing a set of sharp-looking teeth.
Fear paralysed Luke’s limbs and he closed his eyes, terrified of what the creature was about to do. Then he felt something rough and wet on his cheek.
‘Awww, I think it likes you!’ he heard Yasmin say. ‘How cool is that?’
Luke opened his eyes and saw that the creature was licking his face with a long, green tongue. He sat up and tried to push it off, but it was harder to shift than an eager puppy, and soon his face was dripping with alien creature spit. Yasmin and Yuri were standing over him, Yasmin with a soppy look on her face, Yuri making notes on the laptop he’d whipped out of his backpack.
‘Well, don’t just stand there, you two,’ said Luke. ‘Get this thing off me!’
‘It’s not a thing, Luke Riley, it’s a living creature,’ snapped Yasmin, glaring at him. ‘You could have killed the poor animal landing on top of it like that.’ But then she smiled. ‘Mind you, the way you dived off was pretty funny…’
‘Too right,’ said Yuri, and they both laughed. ‘You looked ridiculous!’
Luke got to his feet and wiped his face, scowling. But he couldn’t keep it up for long – he was already starting to like the friendly little alien creature. It was rubbing its chunky body against his legs now, purring and making soft yip-yip noises. He couldn’t imagine it ever being threatening or hurting anybody.
‘You two can laugh all you like,’ said Luke with a shrug. ‘But I’m the one who’ll go down in history as the boy who discovered life on this planet.’
‘Not if we get to the research station first, you won’t!’ laughed Yasmin.
She ran off, Yuri laughing and following, the creature flowing away after them. Luke sighed and picked up the snowboard. But he paused, sure he had seen the huge rock moving slightly. Then he shook his head, and trudged on.
Behind him the grey, ridged rock moved again, like something uncoiling…
A Nice Trophy
On the walk back to the research station Yasmin decided the alien was female, and named her Milly because she resembled a huge millipede. Luke and Yuri liked the name, and they also liked the way Milly scampered along beside them making her little yip-yip noises. In fact they were all having such a good time they burst into the research station laughing, and almost fell over each other.
‘Whoa, cool your jets, kids!’ said Chung, holding up her h
‘A completely new life-form!’ said Yuri, grinning. ‘We discovered her in – ’
‘What do you mean, we?’ said Luke indignantly. ‘I’m the one who found her.’
‘Crashed into her, more like,’ Yasmin said, bending down to stroke the little creature. ‘She’s called Milly and she’s really cute. Can we keep her, Chung?’
‘I don’t know about that,’ said Chung. ‘We’d better let Asimov and his team have a look at her first, just to be on the safe side. Come on, they’re over here.’
Chung headed to another part of the dome and the kids went with her. Milly, however, insisted on stopping to examine almost everything she saw. In the end Luke had the clever idea of tempting her to keep moving with one of the high-energy snack bars Mum had put in his backpack. It immediately did the trick, Milly following the treat obediently and gobbling it up with obvious pleasure.
Asimov was running scans of the planet’s weather, but the engineer quickly turned his attention to Milly. Soon he was putting her through a whole series of tests. She wasn’t too keen on his machines with their bleeping and flashing lights, and Luke had to bribe her with more energy bars to stay put. But he really liked the way she nuzzled at his hand when he gave one to her.
‘Fascinating,’ said Asimov at last, peering at Milly. She was sitting on the table in front of him, happily demolishing another energy bar. ‘I’d say she’s in the opening stages of a metamorphosis.’ Clarke and Yuri nodded but Luke, Yasmin and Chung looked blank. ‘Changing, like caterpillars into butterflies,’ Asimov added. ‘And as with that kind of life-cycle back on Earth, she could turn into something very different. Still, we’re fairly sure she’s harmless.’
‘That’s all I need to hear,’ said Chung. ‘OK, kids, you can keep her for now.’
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