Fire and Ice
Posted on December 31st, 2009 by T'Kirr and Ian Blackthorne
T’Kirr and Ian Blackthorne
T’Kirr dropped her bag in the corner and looked around the rustic cabin. There was a small dinette outside an even smaller kitchen. A sofa piled with blankets faced a cold fireplace that dominated one wall. The drapes were pulled back from the windows on two other walls, and she could see snow built up on the outside sills.
“If we couldn’t find a temperate climate away from the infestation, I would have preferred we return to Atlantis.”
A fine mist of snow swept in as Ian shut the cabin door behind him. The unbroken chill of the air in the room caused their breath to condense as they exhaled. “The cabin was a gift from the colony administrator, and besides, the cold can have its advantages.”
Unzipping her bag, T’Kirr pulled out a small breatheable cylinder and placed it on the kitchenette table. The dragonfly-like insect inside appeared to like the cold as much as she did and was keeping quite still on its little stick. She then stepped over to the fireplace, rubbing her hands up and down the arms of her heavy coat, and peeked into the wood cradle. There were only two pieces left.
“We’re going to need more firewood.”
Crossing to a closet door, Ian opened it and rummaged for a moment, finally emerging with an axe. He held it up as if it explained everything to her, and it likely did.
T’Kirr nodded her approval and bent down, placing the two logs in the fireplace and lighting them. “This should warm it up while we’re gone.”
Ian approached the table and picked up the cylinder, examining the insect inside. “Bugs. All this way to find bugs we can’t seem to get rid of. These little things could ruin the colonization effort for years to come.”
“We couldn’t know what the summer season would bring.” T’Kirr opened kitchen cupboards, looking to see if anything had been left inside. “We’ve just discovered them. Scientists need time to work on a solution.”
“Yes, time.” He replaced the cylinder on the table. “Speaking of time, it won’t be long before those two logs are gone, so we’d better get some wood.”
T’Kirr nodded and moved to the door, but before she opened it, she paused with a thought. Moving back to the table, she picked up the cylinder and walked it over to the hearth. It wasn’t too close, but the insect would definitely feel the benefits of two logs. “It will be dark soon as well.”
Ian hefted the axe onto his shoulder and grabbed the two log-carrying harnesses from beside the cradle, passing one to her. “There’s a couple of trees already down a bit out into the forest, up the mountain. I found them when I got this place.”
“Lead the way.” T’Kirr opened the door and followed Ian out into the snow.
The fading light cast long shadows through the snow-covered trees that covered the mountainside. The slope up was gradual, and the snow on the ground came up to their boot cuffs, occasionally collecting in drifts as high as they stood. A persistent wind made a constant noise, bringing instant color to their exposed cheeks; Ian’s, pink, and T’Kirr’s, green. Trudging off through the packed powder, the cabin soon grew distant below them, and the only sounds that could be heard were the wind, the crunching of the snow beneath their boots, and their breathing. Now and then, the relative silence was punctuated by a clump of snow falling from a tree branch above, dislodged by the wind and its own weight.
As the shadows grew deeper and the path narrowed, T’Kirr suddenly heard something. She immediately reached out and stopped Ian with a hand to his shoulder. He looked at her questioningly, then listened with her.
A tiny branch snapped somewhere off to their right, a short ways up the slope. Ian whispered, “I sense something… feral.”
T’Kirr’s eyes shone wide in the low light as she pulled close to Ian, watching and listening. Her nose was mostly frozen, but she picked up the faint scent of fur and heavy hide that tainted the crisp air. She whispered, “We should go back.”
Silently pulling a phaser from under his coat, Ian resolutely answered, “We need firewood.”
A massive dark shape abruptly came around the fat trunk of a tree, its feet scrabbling noisily against its roots. It loomed closer, but didn’t appear to yet notice them.
Ian slowly pointed and aimed his phaser.
T’Kirr gripped his elbow, urging him to lower his arm. Ian looked at her in confusion and lowered his phaser, but he kept his finger on the trigger.
The large creature grunted once, disrupting the silence. It shuffled across the path ahead and disappeared into the brush, snapping twigs as it went.
The pair waited in silence, listening. After a few minutes, T’Kirr whispered, “I don’t hear anything. I think it’s gone.”
Ian nodded his agreement, the sensation of the beast’s wild thoughts growing distant. “It’s not much farther now,” he said, finally breathing easier as he put away the phaser.
Sure enough, they soon came across two fallen trees, dried from lying there for several months. They made their way towards the higher portions of one tree, and Ian began chopping off the smaller branches. Once they were separated from the tree, he chopped them into sections short enough to carry, and then split those into halves by standing them vertically on a rock for a final overhead cleave. T’Kirr picked up the pieces and tucked them into the harnesses.
Catching his breath by leaning on the axe, its head down in the snow, Ian gestured to the two laden harnesses. “That’ll do us easily.”
They descended a ways down the mountainside in silence, just in case the bear creature was still around. The trees thinned somewhat nearer the cabin. T’Kirr adjusted the harness on her back. “These insects are growing in population every day. For all we know, it could continue through mid summer, and construction would be stopped completely.”
“We could shield the entire colony, but setting up the generators would take a month, at least.”
“I don’t know that the compound we’ve synthesized will be any faster. It appears to be sufficiently resistant to the insect’s corrosive secretions, but replication trials have proved unreliable in sustaining its molecular structure. Transport from the nearest existent supply this far out would take just as long.”
Flickering orange light from the fireplace streamed through the windows as the cabin’s welcoming door drew near. “There must be something here, naturally, that has evolved a resistance to these bugs.”
“Quite possibly, however we shouldn’t rush science.” T’Kirr picked up her pace, eager to put down the harness and get warm. “It seems whatever method we pursue, we will have to be patient.”
“That much is certain.” They reached the door and hurriedly entered the cabin’s warm embrace. The fire had dimmed somewhat since they’d left, but it was noticeably more comfortable inside nonetheless. Ian added a few more logs as they unloaded their burdens onto the wood cradle, and soon, an inviting blaze filled the fireplace.
T’Kirr passed by the hearth and peered inside the insect’s cylinder, expecting to find the creature more active now that it had warmed up, but something was wrong. “Apparently, our certainty was premature.”
Ian joined her at the fireplace to see what she’d discovered. “What’s happened?”
“I’m not sure, but the specimen is most certainly dead.” After retrieving her tricorder from her bag, T’Kirr scanned the insect. “I don’t believe it was the cold.” She frowned and consulted the readings.
Eyeing the dead bug in the jar, Ian asked, “Any way to determine cause of death?”
She paused before answering, reading her scanner. Then, with an air of scientific curiosity only a Vulcan can properly portray, “You’re smelling it.”
He took a deep breath and then the answer was clear. The only thing that had changed the smell in the room since they arrived was the fire. “The smoke from burning the local wood?”
“Yes. Traces of the chemicals from the smoke have oxidized the exoskeleton. I recognize the change to the secretion’s molecular structure as well.” T’Kirr met Ian’s eyes. “You could say it burned from the inside.”
“Excellent! Record everything and we’ll hand it off to Vinland’s scientists when we return. Hopefully we can synthesize the effect without having to keep a bonfire going at the center of the colony.”
T’Kirr began collecting more detailed readings and logging points of relevance. While she worked, Ian hung a kettle of water above the fire, and began preparing the meal they had brought with them. It was simple fare, but appropriate for the setting: a pair of pre-made salads, sandwiches with meat for him and without for her, and potato soup that Ian hung next to the teakettle to heat. When the kettle whistled and the soup bubbled, he called to her, “Get it while it’s hot!” T’Kirr peered over at Ian when he called, but resumed her work, a scientist in her element. When she wasn’t finished five minutes later, Ian picked up her hand and began to pull her away from the hearth. “Scientists have to eat too, especially after lugging firewood all that way.”
“Must I remind you this information is vital to the future of this settlement?” She argued, but the glint in her eye showed her amusement.
“I brought Vulcan tea.”
T’Kirr noted the tea, but she didn’t thank Ian verbally. Instead, she let slip her mental barriers enough for him to pick up on her approval. She hadn’t really thought about it when she did it and found it easier than normal. Perhaps it was a mark of trust they had built upon for so long.
The couple seated themselves at the little table and ate, content to be together in their cozy warm cabin on the snowdrifted mountainside. After their meal, T’Kirr checked on the insect, which was still dead. She ran another set of scans and was about to begin a comparison against the previous readings, but Ian had other intentions. Once again pulled away from her tricorder, T’Kirr turned.
She had assumed Ian had just been fluffing the pillows. She found instead that he had expanded the sofa into a bed and created an enormous pile of blankets. “I told you the cold had its advantages.” Ian squeezed her hand in his. “I know how much you like to be warm. Have I ever been one to let you down?” He smiled at her, his eyes alive in the firelight.
“T’Kirr perked a canted brow at him, which managed to take on a seductive quality. “No, you haven’t.” She slid her free hand up Ian’s chest and met his lips with hers in a sweet kiss.
Minutes later, both had shed their clothing in favor of the refuge of blankets and warmth of each other. Firelight flickered across their faces, the crackling sounds soothing company in the otherwise muted cabin. T’Kirr lay with her eyes closed, reveling in the feel of Ian’s fingertips as they glided across her back and up her arms. She opened her eyes when Ian shifted and pulled her arms up and over their heads. As their fingers intertwined, Ian felt the engagement ring on his fiancée’s hand and smiled. “I see you didn’t take everything off.”
T’Kirr gave Ian one of her looks of mild bemusement. “It would be illogical to risk losing it.”
Ian chuckled, fingering the ring fondly. “I can’t argue with that.” He pulled one of his hands free and stroked a thumb over T’Kirr’s cheek, gazing lovingly into her eyes. “Warm enough yet?”
She paused, gazing back, then pursed her lips. “Perhaps.”
It took a moment to infer from her words and flutter of her lashes, but Ian caught the meaning behind it and raised an eyebrow of his own. “I can make you warmer.”
T’Kirr realized the implications immediately. “The cold does have its advantages.” She leaned in close, brushing his lips with hers. “I think I like this one the best.”