Commander Gustafson made a gruff gesture toward the aquamarine iceberg that loomed over the relatively small, silver Space Command landing craft. "I hope you're satisfied, Kendall. Now that we've landed on the Planet of the Frozen Spiders you'll be able to study more enormous arachnids than any space arachnologist in history."
Above them, the unearthly, alien planet sky was quickly turning a pinkish sunset color interrupted with occasional streaks of creepy beige clouds.
"It's like a dream come true," said Kendall, speaking through the microphone embedded in his Coated Aluminum Inter-environmental Space Heat Suit, the only patented space suit equipped to provide enough artificial warmth for humans to survive the sub-zero temperatures on the frosty Planet of the Frozen Spiders. "That dream that I had when I was at Space Academy, of stowing away on a bulbous, warp-speed, co-ed cargo ship and landing in just my overalls and cap with a bug-collecting kit on the Planet of the Frozen Spiders."
"Ha, ha. The dreams of youth," said Gustafson. He kicked a small chunk of jagged ice that lay by his boot. "Now you've got a serious business in front of you, Kendall. If you collect enough data we can solve once and for all the mystery of why these uncanny, intelligent space spiders colonized the remote, wintry environment of the Planet of the Frozen Spiders."
Kendall was barely listening, running along the ice like a young prisoner just freed from a juvenile detention ward and permitted to jog through a freeway underpass spraying graffiti at will. "Look at this one! A Red-Bellied Emperor!" Kendall stared in wonderment at the elongated spider's hairy red legs and the cleverly crafted spider space helmet that had permitted the oversized arachnid to survive the long, long, icy winter. Now it was trapped, petrified in the uncompromising ice, like a small gnat you would capture as a boy and put in a blue plastic ice cube tray and then pull out to look at later in the afternoon when the freezer had done its work of entrapping the helpless gnat in a clear frozen rectangle, and then perhaps later take out again to inconspicuously drop in your dad's Scotch and soda sometime after dinner.
"Good thing it's frozen, or we'd both be spider chow!" chortled Gustafson. He had made a detailed study of space leadership at Space Academy, where he'd majored in Boisterous Camaraderie, and it was no accident that he sprinkled his stern exhortations with good-humored ripostes. Nothing boosted morale like a Commander with a healthy sense of humor.
Kendall ran up to an icy spire that jutted out of the ground like an ambitious space stalagmite attempting to penetrate the pink atmosphere.
"Atop this spire!" he shouted. "A frozen Beetle-Nosed Sapphire Nugget Spider." Kendall was as impetuous and enthusiastic as a young, easily swayed farm boy who'd been cajoled into a game of spin the squirrel by a misguided, unshaven woodsman.
Gustafson was affected in spite of himself. He usually had as much interest in spiders as he did in the anthracite production figures of Romulan 20. But he jogged gamely up to where Kendall stood, pointing at the barely visible figure of the especially blue nugget spider, where it perched in frozen seeming guardedness at the very tip of the knife-like stalagmite.
"Hot chowder," said Gustafson, also in spite of himself. "That's a crazy looking bug."
Kendall knew immediately that he had to possess the nugget spider for his collection of far-flung spider specimens in the Lorvetta Gallery, named after his rail-thin, raven-haired ex-wife, who still wore her trademark purple lipstick and green raincoat. She was a she-surgeon of the heart, a vaguely French and entirely sensual space vixen who made Kendall's ears prick up with erotic longing whenever she burst into her inimitable rendition of the Hattenbat Song. "Hand me the Thaw Gun," he blurted out with scientific eagerness.
"I'm entranced by that crazy, spire-perching bug as much as you, Kendall. But I have to caution you..."
"Damn it, Gustafson!" Kendall turned a frowny face on him. All the little-boy glee was suddenly gone from his expression, vanished like the powdered laundry detergent that whisks down the little drainage holes at the bottom of a washing machine. "I didn't travel at Moto-Photobotic speed across eight galaxies to listen to your mealy-mouthed precautions. Hand me the Thaw Gun."
Gustafson shrugged and reached into the hard plastic, igloo-white equipment case slung over his shoulder on a battleship gray strap. The Thaw Gun had been especially engineered by a team of anti-arachnid weaponry specialists at the Space Command Weapon Designory. Its finely attuned laser would cleverly melt the water on the Planet of the Frozen Spiders while leaving the precious alien spider-flesh unharmed.
Kendall aimed the Thaw Gun in a nearly vertical position, straight at the crispy, ice-plated nugget spider. "Come home to Papa, Beetle-Nosed Sapphire Nugget."
"Who'd ever thought bagging a dead spider could thrill a man so?" asked Gustafson rhetorically, rubbing his hands in apprehension.
In a matter of second-fractions, the bubbling, sizzling noise of ice that had lain untouched for countless man-generations came rushing down to Kendall's and Gustafson's ears.
Kendall gave a space-shout of triumph. "It's working! The Thaw Gun! It's working!" In his weapon-based glee, he let loose, darting the Thaw Gun back in forth in a geometric spasm of efficacy.
Gustafson clapped him on the back. "Way to go, Kendall! Wait til the babes at space camp see you marching into the commissary holding that one."
Gustafson was in mid-chortle when the thawing Kendall had performed on the nugget spider came into full effect. The still-paralyzed arachnid slid off its formerly icy perch, plummeting down toward the explorers. Its hard, petrified spider-body slammed mercilessly through Kendall's space suit with the air-traveling force of any large, frozen spider body hurtling down the equivalent of twenty stories in an uninterrupted freefall.
The statue-like arachnid ripped massive holes in Kendall's protective suit, and sliced, with its eight frozen legs, through Kendall's back, until blood spurted out of his arachnologist body like pulpy tomato juice forced through a water fountain, soaking the white ice in its crimson fruit hue.
Gustafson wailed and kneeled in a spasm of outrage at the injustice of the interplanetary spider gods. "You cruel beings of mischance and bad fate! How curtly you cut short this poor spider-lover at the height of his research glory!"
Gustafson lifted his fists to the heavens in protest as a giant chunk of stalagmite ice broke away from the pillar, loosened by Kendall's wild thawing gyrations. As the hundred-pound ice chunk crashed onto Gustafson's head, he fell beside Kendall's body, the two gradually taking on their own eternal, petrified positions on the flat ice plain of the Planet of the Frozen Spiders.
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