"They came from a long, long way away. All they need is a toe-hold on our planet."

page

1

Baja Station was the loneliest place on Earth, as far as Dr. Robert Eskiel was concerned. Some jokester had named it, no doubt, as the station was as far away from the Baja Peninsula as one could get without going into orbit. And it was colder than hell was hot. At 87 degrees north of the equator, the Earth's north pole was only a short tractor drive away, and temperatures seldom rose above freezing, even in the dead heat of mid summer.

Well, this wasn't summer. In fact, Autumn equinox was many days past, and deep winter was just around the corner. The sun was nothing more than a splash of crimson and gold that shone on the horizon, far to the south, and would not fully rise again for another three months. Right now, the temperature was twenty Celsius degrees below zero, rather mild for the season really, but dropping all the time. Tomorrow it would be colder. And still colder the day after. All too soon, the sun would be nothing more than a memory, and Baja Station would be submerged beneath fifty feet of ice and snow. Blizzards would rage above their heads for weeks at a time, while the good doctor and his comrades were socked away inside the camp's metal domes, kept warm by the station's tiny nuclear reactor.

This would be his last chance to be on the outside for a long, long time. Despite the chill that seeped through three layers of clothing and underwear, and two heavy coats, the doctor reveled in the white, featureless landscape. It was a picture of nothingness that reflected from the silvered surface of his ice goggles, but it was more interesting than the prison he would confine himself to for the next sixteen weeks.

A helicopter's main rotor blades thumped the air, reaching Eskiel's ears through three thick hoods and a woolen cap. He looked up, turning his gaze reluctantly away from the beautiful southern skies. It was the supply chopper bringing in the last of their winter stock.

Buffeted erratically by the gusting winds, the strange, insect-like bird waddled back and forth before its skids made contact with the icy ground. The 'copter's twin jet engines whined down to a slower speed, but didn't die out altogether. The pilot was obviously unwilling to kill his turbines, only to have them freeze up for the winter. Being trapped at Baja Station was probably the last way any sane man would want to spend his winter, and Sam, the pilot, was no exception. Dr. Eskiel smiled, and couldn't blame him.

After Sam reduced the pitch to his main rotor, and thus the frigid downwash from the blades, Eskiel made his approach, his head ducked instinctively. A wide side door was thrown open with a metallic clang, sending cascades of ice sliding from the aluminum skin of the machine. Sam and his co-pilot could be seen sitting at their flight controls up front, still flipping switches and setting throttles, or whatever it was that helicopter pilots did to keep their mechanical beasts alive. Another man, a short, broad military type by the name of Ruford, started tossing wooden boxes into the snow, without so much as a 'How do?' . Well, that wasn't Ruford's style, considered the doctor patiently.

Stepping up to the open door, Eskiel removed his outer mittens and pulled down the muzzle covering his mouth and lower face. "Hey, Sam!" he shouted above the sounds of the jet engines, "How was your flight?"

"Miserable!" responded the pilot, turning slightly in his seat and removing his own headgear. "We lost one of the engines halfway here, and almost turned back. If it wasn't for the weather, and the fact we got it restarted, we would have!"

"I'm glad you made it! This was our last chance for re-supply!"

"Yeah, I know! You got a storm system moving in that's gonna hit this place like an atom bomb! As it is, I'm not sure we'll get back to the icebreaker before it sets down! And it doesn't look like it's going to let up for several days after it gets here! The sky watchers say it might blow two weeks straight, maybe more! That'll take you past sundown!"

"I hope you're going to be alright!" shouted the doctor, his tone edged with genuine concern. "I'd hate to think you lost your life just to bring us a few hamburgers!"

"Don't sweat it, Doc! What kind of guy would I be if I left you and the other penguins up here starving all winter long?"

Eskiel laughed, though the sound was lost in the downwash. "Is there any mail for the station?"

Sam snapped his gloved fingers, which didn't make a sound, "I almost forgot!" He opened a compartment in the console between the pilot seats, withdrawing a large manila envelope. "There's a few dispatches from the University, a few letters for the crew, and something special in there for you from Vera!" Vera was the station's communications liaison aboard the research vessel, Casper, an icebreaker that was home to Sam and his whirly bird. "If you ask me, Doc, she's some kind of sweet on you! Maybe you should keep her up here at Baja with you! You'd be warm all winter, at least!"

"But what would my wife think?"

...(More Reading Here)