Red Claw – Extract #2


Day 18

(From Dr Hugo Baal’s diary.)

June 40th

Sergeant Anderson has decreed that from this point on, no scientific work is to be done. No animals or plants are to be studied. No findings are to be discussed. All conversation should relate to personal matters or rostered duties. Shop talk will be punishable by flogging, or beating, or other humiliating things which I do not care to discuss in this journal.

Each of us has a full set of rostered duties, including cooking and cleaning. My particular responsibilities concern the food supply. I am expanding the AmRover’s synthesising tanks, and I am also tasked with the job of determining if we will ever be able to eat New Amazonian meat. But even this job cannot be done scientifically, at a microbiological level. I am simply told to thaw out some rat embryos, grow them fast to adulthood, then feed them dead Rat-Insect and Grophers to see if they live or die. This is empiricism verging on the practical; it’s no job for a trained Scientist.

Private Tonii Newton and Private Clementine McCoy are in charge of security. They have installed motion sensors at key points around our cavern and its environs. Concealed laser and plasma guns have been put in place. Buried mines can be exploded remotely. Sergeant Anderson fears a renewed attack by the Doppelganger Robots, and so we are on a permanent war footing.

Mia Nightingale and Dr Mary Beebe are tasked with ensuring the oxygen supply. They will be seeding catalysts in the ocean which will convert water to oxygen which will then be conveyed to shore via a network of pipes. Each of us has a slow release oxygen cylinder embedded in our lungs, which can sustain us for weeks without air. But without nanobots the task of removing and replacing the oxygen implants is beyond us; and so from now on we will be using the oxygen tanks on our body armour exclusively. No more taking off our helmets to feel the breeze on our cheeks; we will be breathing bottled air all the time now.

David Go is acting as Sergeant Anderson’s liaison, passing on his orders and interpreting his needs. This is a real lickspittle job for which Dr Go is eminently qualified.

I am plunged into total despair. I do not mind danger, I can endure pain, I don’t fear death; but the thought of spending the rest of my long life on this planet without ever being able to do proper science fills me with horror.

There is so much, so very much wonderful work to do here. And instead, all we’re going to do is survive.


Day 19

(From the diary of Dr Hugo Baal)

Jun 41st.

Today I dug a great big hole in the jungle, which is going to be our latrine. Sergeant Anderson had first shit. The Sergeant believes strongly that we have to conserve our supplies of absorbent underwear, and that the queues for the AmRover toilet are becoming untenable. So the Sergeant has decided that the vehicle’s toilet will be reserved for senior ranking officers, i.e. himself, and from now on the rest of us will perform all bodily functions outdoors. Some of us have argued that we risk contaminating the New Amazonion ecosphere with our alien (to it) micro-organisms, but Sergeant Anderson responded to that concern with disdain, and imaginative invective.

Hence, the hole.


Day 20

(From the diary of Dr Hugo Baal)

June 42nd.

We cut down many trees, and at the end of the day, I had my first Number 2 in the new latrine. It is really quite an elegant construction; a series of hardplastic benches with holes in their middle leading to a central cesspit, viz, the great big hole I dug.

However, the undergrowth is already growing back, and Rat-Insects are poking up through the earth. So I cauterised the soil with sulphuric acid, and put up a big sign: DO NOT STAND NEAR THIS AFTER DEFECATING. Dr Hugo Baal, MSc, PhD, FRS.
I saw many creatures in the course of my work on the latrine. Flying insects and mammalian octopods and birds with horns and such like but my mood was so bleak that I made no notes about them. I am so fucking tired. The highlight of my day was having a shit in the new latrine, and not having my arse burned off by acid.

And I -

Octopods?

Did I really see octopods?

Surely not. So far all the terrestrial animals we’ve seen have been tetrapods.
It’s dark, I’m tired, I need to sleep.

I am so fucking tired. I have lost my will to live. My will to -

Octopods? Yes, they were! Yes, I’m definitely right.

Hmm. I wonder if –

No. Forget it. Sleep. Tomorrow is a -

This is puzzling me. Why didn’t I take a photograph! Why didn’t I look closer? Birds with horns, who gives a damn, but land animals with eight limbs not four means –

I have to know more. But I can’t –

Sergeant Anderson won’t –

Hold on – he doesn’t need to know. I could –

Yes.

That’s it. I can –

After all, I have a torch. I have a plasma gun. I have body armour. Perhaps…

 

I’m back.

It is 5am. I have just returned after four hours in the jungle in the dark. It’s a wholly different experience, you know. The jungle is a gentler and more wonderful place, once the sun has set.

And this was a good time to go hunting for eight-limbed things. It turns out that the octopods are mainly nocturnal – there are thousands of them out there! – and they are also bioluminescent. So I played a hunch, and laid a trail of sulphuric acid, which they followed and ate. The acid made them glow more brightly. Sweet, n’est pas?

The octopods are endlessly varied. Some are furry, some have scales, some have pale soft skin like a small baby. Some glide from tree trunk to tree trunk. Some scurry through the undergrowth. I must have seen more than a hundred different species – different species, nay, different genuses! They are playful, and they wholly dominate the night-life of the jungle. But you have to be patient. I spent an hour waiting for the first octopod to appear. And then it flipped in front of me, rolling cartwheels, like a hamster in a wheel, glowing scarlet and silver.

This of course represents a wholly different evolutionary line. This planet is no dull Earth, with its relentless catalogue of terrestrial tetrapods – for dinosaurs, humans, birds, dolphins, they are tetrapods all! All descended from the same lobe-finned bony fish that took to the land and miraculously conquered the world.

But here, the octopods and the tetrapods survive side by side, one occupying the day time, the other, the night.

Perhaps the octopods were once arboreal lung-fish, clambering along branches into the midst of the jungle for food then retreating to a watery home – until slowly the jungle became their home. While the tetrapods echoed the classic evolutionary line of Earth and so many other planets, of being swamp dwelling fish with adapted fins and lungs that, one day, discovered the joys of the land.

Perhaps too the octopods were once deep-sea dwellers – hence the bioluminescence – and then found that the ability to light up the jungle darkness secured them an evolutionary niche??? (!) ?

We have been two years on this planet and I have just discovered – single-handedly! – an entirely new Superclass of animal life.

This has been a ghastly period. Many of my friends are dead. We face, I believe, certain death on this godforsaken planet, pursued by monsters, led by fools. I am fatigued beyond all measure, my arse stings because I just accidentally kicked over a carton of sulphuric acid near the toilet hole just as I was voiding myself, and I am bored and angry and frustrated.

But none of this matters. I am the first to find the New Amazonian octopod.
And I can hardly speak for joy.


Day 21

(From the diary of Dr Hugo Baal)

June 43rd

Disaster upon disaster! I overslept and had to be woken with a mild taser blast, which has left me with a runny nose. No one is interested in my accounts of and photographs of and theories about the octopods.

And despite the sulphuric acid, the vile undergrowth has grown back over the cesspit, and the soil itself appears to have moved, so we can’t find the damn thing any more, and the earth all around where it might be is infested with millions of small furry creatures which vomit some kind of green slime when you go near them. We plasma blasted the ground to a depth of ten feet, then dismantled one of the cabins in the AmRover and rebuilt it on the purged earth.

However, I cooked lasagne for the whole team and it was generally acclaimed. We each drank a glass of wine fresh from the AmRover’s food synthesiser. In the night, I suffered badly from stomach cramps. I woke at 3 am and wrote this diary.

I miss my old life.

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