Monday, 6 October 2014

In which I 'do' The Ice Bucket Challenge

Hello little used blog!

Anyway, a few weeks ago, like many of you imagine, I was tagged to do the Ice Bucket Challenge. Now the problem with that is that our house is being taken apart and put back together at the moment, so even locating a bucket, let alone filling it with ice and tipping it over my head in our junk-strewn garden, presents a bit of a challenge.

But, I wanted to do my bit, so I've done something I can do and written a silly adventure story called 'The Ice Bucket' challenge.

For charity I have donated to the Booktrust, and if you enjoy what follows, perhaps you'll give some thought to doing the same. You can find them here.

Anyway, enjoy.

The Ice Bucket Challenge

Jonathan Oliver

The launch vessel inserted the ships into the atmosphere of Cyros-4, injecting them into the planet’s thin skies like an ovipositor laying eggs. Paulo jumped as the grapple released the Ice Bucket and it dropped into the chute. Three back from pole position wasn’t a bad place to be but his gut still clenched when he saw the Stormcaller streaking across the planet’s upper reaches ahead of him. Before he could dwell on it any further, gravity kicked him in the chest and he was falling through the clouds.

“You’ll die in this you realise?”
               “Yeah, might do.”
                “I mean, virtually no insulation... You do know how cold Cryos-4 is, I hope?”
                “It will cut down on the resistance. It all balances out.”
                “You’ll be an iceberg in seconds.”
                “The heat from the burn will make sure that doesn’t happen.”
                “And what is it that you’re burning, exactly? Brewed it in a bathtub did we?”
                “Something like that.”  
                “As an official I recommend that you don’t enter this craft for the race.”
                “Well, I’m going to, now are you going to give me that waiver to sign or not?”

It might have been Paulo’s imagination, but he could have sworn there were dents in the Ice Bucket’s hull from where the grapple had handled it. No breaches, however. For a while he let himself tumble towards the planet, managing to focus on the HUD despite being buffeted against his restraints.
Stormcaller was holding its position, two ahead, and Bitterwood was streaking up the ranks behind. While he fell Paulo was overtaken twice, but that was all within acceptable margins. Once he hit the big red button, the game would really be on.
                The cold began to bite even through the thick layers of his padded flight suit. He wouldn’t toggle the interior heater yet, however; he needed to conserve energy for as long as he could, because when Paulo did finally burn, he would really burn.
                He tuned into the race commentary, pleased to hear that he was already confounding the pundits.
                Ice Bucket is falling. The ship that Paulo Underhill was told not to enter for the race looks to have failed already. Will the Ice Bucket hit the dirt before Mr. Underhill can bail?”
                Crashing to earth at terminal velocity wouldn’t necessarily be a bad death; the view on the way down was certainly pleasant enough – the vast natural ice sculptures that made up the planet’s surface towered miles into the air; he could make out herds of elephant-like creatures in the distance slowly plodding towards the pure black water of a lake. Yes, this would be as good a grave as any. But he wasn’t here to die.
                The breach alarm sounded and Paulo scrabbled around his seat for the tape. He’d brought it at a stationer’s onboard the launch ship. Admittedly it wasn’t designed for patching ships’ hulls, but Paulo had sunk almost his last penny into entering the race. His eyes were beginning to water by the time he got the thick plastic tape over the hissing rent in the Ice Bucket’s hull. He quickly checked his oxygen levels – not ideal, and now with an interesting chemical chaser, but not enough to be lethal.
                “This is your five second countdown.” The ship’s computer said. Well, not technically the ship’s computer, rather a recording Paulo had made on his tablet, but it did the trick.
                “And Paulo Underhill is about to hit the dirt!” came the race commentator’s excited babble over the airways.
                “Two seconds.”
                The countdown stopped as the incoming call chime sounded. Paulo looked at the tablet to see that it was his mother. “For fuck’s sake! Not now,” he said, and hit the big red button.

Experimenting with different types of fuel had proven to be a risky business. None of the Earth fuels would burn hot enough for what he had in mind, and the mineral that would be ideal for his purpose was only to be found on one small rock on the very edge of the galaxy. But Paulo knew people who knew people and so the necessary materials – shipped across many many lights years, diverted around the intervening tax authorities via a series of little-known wormholes – finally made their way into his hands.
                Paulo, however, knew shit about refining fuel. The creature who told him it knew what it was doing had managed to blow itself to smithereens in the process, taking out a good-sized chunk of the surrounding city block with it. When Paulo did find the right alien for the job, there was so little of the remaining materials left that he feared that he wouldn’t be able to fuel the Ice Bucket at all. However, this time his ‘man’ had come up with the goods; the highly illegal, potentially unstable goods.

The ice that had formed on the inside of the viewport was finally beginning to melt and Paulo’s breath no longer misted from his mouth. The good thing about saving on insulation was that the heat from the fuel’s burn was making the interior of the cockpit nice and balmy warm. A little too warm as it happened; Paulo was tempted to strip off his jacket, but once the fuel was spent the cold of the planet would quickly creep back in.
                A shape streaked past the view-port on his left and Paulo checked his HUD to see Stormcaller far back in his wake. There was no one ahead of him now and, as expected, the race commentary was picking up on his remarkable recovery.
                “From certain death, to lead position, Paulo Underhill has turned it around. Never in the history of the pole-to-pole Cryo-4 race have we seen such a remarkable recovery! Will this inexperienced and incredibly dangerous new racer take the coveted prize?”
                Paulo was certainly banking on it. Which was why he was more than a little crestfallen when the fuel feed cut out and his engine fell silent. He certainly still had enough to push him through to the finish, but for some reason the fuel was no longer getting to the engine.
                On a planet just a touch warmer than Cryos-4, his velocity may have been enough to get him over the finish line, but now the race official’s warning came back to haunt him.
                You’ll be an iceberg in seconds.”
                Paulo’s breath plumed thickly in front of his face. Both viewports were now entirely frozen over and one of the exterior cams — the one that hadn’t shattered — showed a sheath of ice covering his ship. The name he had chosen for his craft now felt less funny than it had at the time of the christening.
                Not that it made a huge amount of difference as he dropped like a stone towards the planet’s surface.

The landing jets, at least, were working. They kicked in seconds before the Ice Bucket crashed down into one of Cryo-4’s infamous black lakes. Paulo looked to where he had taped the hull breach and was rather surprised to see that the makeshift seal held. The lake wasn’t deep, so it didn’t take long for him to sink to the bottom. Thankfully, the liquid of the lake didn’t eat into the material of the hull. Not that this brought a great deal of assurance as he contemplated his fast-approaching demise.
                However, something one of his friends had once told him about Cryo-4 chose that moment to ping into his head — specifically the unusual chemical composition of the black lakes; one of those chemicals in particular being of rather essential bearing on his predicament; a potentially useful catalyst.
                The fuel remaining on board the Ice Bucket may not be getting to the engine any time soon, but if Paulo could vent it into the lake, the resultant explosive chemical reaction may be enough to blow him out of the water. Then again, it may just see him torn apart.
                Paulo checked on the HUD and saw that he was still, fractionally, in the lead.
                He mustn’t fail. Someone very special was relying on him, and though they were light years apart, a win for her would mean much-needed freedom. Technically, he didn’t have to be alive to qualify for a win; in fact, there was nothing in the rules about the ship being in one piece, it was really just a matter of getting enough of it over the finish line.
                So Paulo only hesitated for a moment before channelling the remaining fuel into a vent and ejecting it into the lake.

Though the resultant explosion didn’t kill him, it did destroy the lake’s flora and fauna for a 5 mile radius. The devastation that he had wrought on Cryos-4’s biosphere didn’t feature greatly in Paulo’s thoughts as his craft was blown out of the lake and hurled – like a boulder thrown by an angry giant – at the icy shore. The bottom third of the Ice Bucket was sheared away by a rocky projection, and Paulo just had time to bring his legs up to avoid losing his ankles and everything below them. The cold that immediately invaded the ruptured craft meant that he could ignore the pain from the scrapes and grazes he received as he tumbled across the ice, an almost pleasant numbness shielding him from the worst.
                Once the Ice Bucket rattled to a stop, Paulo toggled on the race commentary and found he at least had the warmth of victory to sustain him.
                “He’s done it! Paulo Underhill has crossed the finish line, in a way never before seen in all three decades of the race. Now the only question is: can the rescue ships reach him before the cold finishes him?”
                Paulo hunkered down deep into his flight suit. There was just enough power left in the ruins of the craft to toggle on the three bar heater bolted to the hull.
                There was nothing to do now but to sit and wait, and hope that he got to hold that trophy before hypothermia kicked in.