The safety pod’s almost completely circular bench is hard and there is no room to stand up with the table in its otherwise empty centre. Detective Torvinne Bergholm has to find a distraction from the discomfort.
She ups a holographic screen from the seam in her spacesuit’s forearm and stops short of activating her favourite games. That would be rude if her murder suspect and interviewee, Oona Campbell, were to open the door unannounced. So she reads her case notes: the suspicious death of Mike Benson, found near this mine’s face with his helmet’s faceplate smashed in, which had led to total air loss in his spacesuit. Locals, here on Miranda, had put the cause of death down to ghosts: clearly ridiculous. Hence the constabulary sent her all the way from Earth to investigate. Good job she likes weirdo puzzles.
She rereads Oona’s profile. Instead of, as expected, working alongside him, Oona said she had to get away from the mine’s face and was sitting in this pod to calm down at the time he died. Why would a practical, level-headed person be deterred from earning drilling premiums? Especially as this mine is a safe one. There was that word in the report again, ‘iceborne’. What the hell did that mean?
The pod’s door slides to one side. Oona stands in a thickened brown spacesuit with the denting from too many years of mining. Her platinum blonde hair tied tightly back enhances the strain on her face. Her eyes dart uneasily towards where the brown rock gives way to the greys and whites of the mining tunnel’s smooth ice. Oona drops onto the bench next to her and hits the switch to close the door.
Torvinne slides round the bench out of Oona’s way. Her screen auto-switches off. “You okay?” she asks through their comms.
Oona shakes her head. “The ice, it’s not right.”
“Any particular patch?”
Oona glances at the door. “All of it.”
Torvinne is not sure what to say next. Finally, “Was it like this when Mike died?”
“Is that why you returned to this pod then?”
“Had to.” Her gaze is drawn to the door.
“What’s wrong with the ice?”
“You’re not Mirandan. You wouldn’t understand.”
Torvinne is stunned into silence. This behaviour is way off profile. Worse, it is the kind of erratic nervousness that leads to accidents, something no fellow miner will tolerate. Yet clearly on this Uranian moon they do. The anomaly makes her nervous. The common theme is ice. “You’re iceborne, aren’t you? What does that exactly mean?”
“You wouldn’t believe me.” Her hands start fidgeting.
Oona becomes still and turns to lock eyes with her.
Torvinne’s training kicks in. She smiles quietly in a way to give reassurance.
Oona lifts her hands with her palms facing Torvinne. “See these pads on my fingertips?” They look like a cat’s paw pads transferred to human fingers, only pink and flimsy. Torvinne nods.
“I feel the ice-song through them,” Oona says.
This is nonsense, but Torvinne forces her face to keep the same smile. “What’s an ice-song?”
“I knew you wouldn’t…” Her eyes grow wide like she’d heard something, but the pod is silent. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
Torvinne’s training lets her down. She feels a frown scrunching up her face. “Why?”
“The ice here. It’s all wrong. Like it was at the mine face, but getting worse.”
They are back to the start of their conversation, Torvinne feeling even more confused. “What exactly is wrong?”
“The notes it sings. Deep and rapid. Not good.”
“But you can’t hear it in here?”
“Can feel it in my bones. We must go.” She grabs Torvinne’s arm, digs her fingers in and pulls at it.
The miner is so agitated that there is no way she will get any more information out of her. “Go. I’ll catch you up.”
Oona opens the door and bolts out. “Hurry.” She is already running up the rock tunnel.
Torvinne bangs her fist on the table before moving round to stand up. Outside the pod, her attention is drawn to glints from the ice, reflections of the light from her spacesuit as she moves. She touches its surface. Thrum, thrum, thrumity thrum. She snatches her hand away and stares at her gloved fingers. Her spacesuit’s material is thin, built for agility and speed, not shielded protection like the miners’ suits. She touches the ice again. Thrum, thrum, thrum. This must be the ice-song. She lowers her hand and stares back at the hard bench inside the pod that has been secured to the tunnel’s ice wall. Vibrations can go from the ice, via the fastening and pod’s outer casing, to the bench. Oona could have felt those, her suit acting as an amplifier. Facts start to build into a pattern.
An invisible, increasing force nudges and then pushes her up the tunnel, away from its ice section into the rock section. What the devil? It is familiar, yet she cannot place it. She hears a tap beside her. She looks round. Nothing. Another tap, this time from below. She looks down. Again nothing. Tap, tap, tap. The force, it’s a wind, something only an Earth-born would readily recognise. Here in a vacuum?
She turns to run after Oona. There may not be enough time, she thinks. Instead, she dives into the pod, crashing against the table, closes the door and sits up. Pain hits her midriff. There is going to be a beautiful purple bruise there for the next few days.
Rubbing her hands over her spacesuit to check for damage, she feels a pinhead-sized blob sticking out on her left shoulder. She squints at it: clear and hard, like ice made from pure water. It takes her a few seconds to work through its implications.
She knows why Mike died: he was not iceborne, which was why he had stayed at the mine face when Oona left. She knows how Mike died: by a ghost, more precisely a very strong gust throwing a projectile, like that blob of ice, into his faceplate. She knows why Mirandans failed to identify the cause of death: iceborne pull the miners out of the tunnels before any wind develops. She deduces where the wind and ice-song must come from: compression collapse of the ice, blasting out pockets of sealed-in gas. It all fits neatly. She smiles.
Riding out the ghost storm is now her main priority, which means staying put. Her lesser one is the plod-work to pull together the bulletproof argument of how Mike died. She might as well get started, she thinks, and opens her arm’s screen to dictate a report.