Creeping Death

“…So that’s the bulk of what we know.” The woman with the different coloured eyes who Marius now knows is called Eris, seemingly because her parents must have been astronomers, says in conclusion after having recapped what they know either from what they’ve seen or done since they awoke from cryo.

“Huh…cruel joke.” Marius says chuckling to himself.

Eris, Marine and Jed stare at him unable to understand why the merc is laughing at a time like this and having been told that the four of them are the only survivors. Or at least, the only ones that they know are alive for no other reason than because they are out of their pods walking about.

According to Jed there are about three or four more pods that might have survivors in. But without power they had no way of checking on them to be sure.

In response to that Marius had assured them that you won’t need power to get them out, if they’re alive. The trio had been shocked to learn that and had asked how. Marius, being the man he is, didn’t provide a detailed answer. Rather, he’d simply tapped on the side of his nose with one of his index fingers in a gesture that is essentially: that is a secret and for me to know and you to witness. Eris, Marine and Jed had found that most unhelpful and exchanged frustrated glances though concluded to say nothing.

“So Marius, the mouthy merc, what do you think we should do?” Eris queries a little more than a minute later. She is wearing a fake smile and bats her eyelids as if she’s flirting, but isn’t.

“Huh funny. Well first we need to get the rest of those tombs open.” Marius begins before Marine interjects to query, “Tombs?”

“Cryo pods.” Jed says translating so that Marius, who had no intention of doing so, won’t need to.

“Oh.” Marine exclaims before noticing the slow blinking stare from the merc which is evidently a silent command of shut up. In response, the woman with green hair down to just below her eyes, which are blue, falls silent, gulps, averts her gaze and then waits for what she hopes will be a continuation of the conversation and not her being screamed at. A couple seconds pass in silence and then Marius does indeed continue.

“Once we crack them we’ll know how many of us ‘survivors’ there really are.”

“Do you have to say it like that?” Jed queries confidently. However, that confidence is short lived and evaporates when Marius glares at him because this is now the second interruption following them claiming that they, apparently, wanted to hear what he had to say. Yet, so far have let him get no more than a few words out before cutting him off. Marius hates it, even though he knows it’s only happening because they’re frightened. To that he’d say, buck up, swallow the fear and move on. It’s the only right thing to do. Trembling won’t fix where they are and what’s happened. Nor will being squeamish, which he can just imagine all of them being if they are faced with a sight that they might soon glimpse. That sight he’s referring to being the remains of a very dead fellow colonist whose guts are on the outside instead of the in. Thus far they’ve been fortunate in as far as the colonists they know are dead have either been missing, tomb and all, or been obvious because of their tombs being impaled or crushed.

“And once we know we can start making plans.” Marius continues following a second longer pause to see if anyone else had anything else they felt was imperative and needed to be added. They didn’t which signalled to the merc that they’re learning, slowly.

“That’s it. That’s your big plan?” Eris exclaims in shock expecting a lot more from a merc than this fraction of a plan containing no detail.

Marius shrugs in reply not really bothered whatever expectations she set that have now been dashed as she should never have set them in the first instance.

“I thought you’d have some grand speech detailing a plan that might get us out of this…this…” Eris blurts before suddenly finding herself incapable of finding the right word for how she wishes to convey what she is attempting to say.

“…shit. That’s the word you’re looking for Eris. Don’t be afraid of it. Embrace it. Cause all of you are going to have to embrace things you never thought would ever have to be done by your own hands.” Marius’ voice is cold, harsh and severe like the weather outside the remains of the Dorian Three is starting to become.

“I don’t like the sound of that.” Jed utters with a gulp before and after his statement that are nowhere near as quiet as perhaps he thought they might be.

“He’s just trying to scare you Jed. Don’t panic.” Eris assures before giving Marius a look that indicates he’s supposed to help placate their fears. But he doesn’t. Rather, he doubles down on his honesty and explains, “No, what I’m speaking is truth. We’re stuck on some rock without food, supplies, tech, machines, suitable shelter, anything. Do we even know if this rock is the one we’re supposed to be on?” Marius pauses for a response he doubts will come and he’s right it doesn’t, which is why he soon continues. “Exactly, I thought not. So we can’t expect rescue either. And with the Dorian in the state it’s in there is no way we’re getting off this rock using anything that might, and I say might because even that’s a stretch, be usable from this heap of scrap.”

“You’re not helping.” Eris spits not wanting to hear anymore from Marius if all he’s going to spout are what he calls truths.

“I’m not here to help. I’m a merc, security, or whatever the fuck else you wish to call me and my reason for having been on this ship before it decided to crash like a fly might against a windshield on a hyperway.  We’re fucked. That’s the truth. You all need to know it and accept it, because there is no one coming out here to save our asses. We’re on our own. The quicker you come to terms with that the quicker your chances of survival go from zero to slim and maybe, just fucking maybe, a little higher than that too.” Marius doesn’t hold back. He lays the reality bare without any sugar coating or tact. He’s blunt. He was trained to be and makes no apologies for it.

Following the rant of truth from Marius no one says a thing. Instead, they sit there stewing and panicking as they are forced, bar Marius, to come to terms with the despair and horror of what their lives have become. Jed breaks first and begins to weep. Tears stream down his face, narrowly avoiding becoming held up on the lower edges of his glasses in the process. Marine shuffles over to comfort him but in doing so she too cracks and begins to cry. Eris meanwhile snarls and then turns to stare at Marius, her eyes judging and angry. The merc however shrugs it off without a care, so Eris spits. Her spit, dotted with flecks of blood, splatters his heavy combat boot. Marius smirks and snorts impressed. He didn’t think any of them had it in them to show their true feelings, but it seems he was wrong. Maybe, just maybe, Eris has a hope of getting through this. Jed and Marine on the other hand are still lost. If they don’t escape that maze of emotions soon they’ll be dead weight and Marius won’t carry dead weight even if it turns out everyone in those three or four tombs are still salvageable and competent. He doubts they will be, and yet it is him who finally breaks the silence as he announces, “We need to split those tombs now before the weather gets worse.”

“Why does it matter?” Marine mutters her question through tears, which she has begun to wipe away with a section of one of her sleeves.

Jed meanwhile just stares at a spot on the ground. He isn’t crying now. He isn’t doing anything. It doesn’t even look like he’s breathing, but he is. Marius in that moment puts Jed firmly on the, he isn’t going to make it list. He doesn’t say it though. He doesn’t need to. At least he doesn’t have to yet. When that time comes, which seems more likely than if, Marius will say it and if needs be take care of the baggage. It isn’t a pretty job or even a nice one but its how you survive in whatever wilderness they are stuck in.

“Well there’s a big fucking hole in the wall so I’d say if the weather continues to degrade like it is we might not make it through the night to get them out of those tombs.” Marius replies without an expression on his face.

“Let’s get to it then.” Eris says as she stands following a short awkward silence. Her enthusiastic tone is meant to motivate those around her into action too, bar Marius. She really couldn’t care less if the merc is motivated or not and doubts he needs such things. He seems intent on survival even if he is crushing what little spirits those around him still possess. To him that might seem rational and necessary, but to Eris it comes off as cruel and sadistic.

However, the response Eris gets for her enthusiasm is decidedly more muted, though Marine slowly scrambles back to her feet and then once upright pulls on Jed’s arm attempting to get him to follow suit. Four vigorous yanks of his arm later the man with the glasses and scruffy blond hair complies. The expression on his face remains defiantly bleak however. As a result of the downtrodden mood,  Eris grabs a hold of Marius’ arm and turns him away from Marine and Jed as they both begin to shuffle defeatedly back toward the massive gaping wound that is torn in this section of what remains of the Dorian Three. The hole is what the survivors are currently using as their entry and exit point to the wreckages interior.

To Eris’ surprise Marius doesn’t make an attempt to worm loose or break free. It’s what she’d expected and yet he is rather compliant as they step out of line of sight, hidden by a mass of bent and twisted metal that once used to be part of one of the colonists intended personal quarters. After all, the Dorian was, when it was in one piece, never big enough to carry enough for the colonists to build an entire town upon first arrival. Because of that the intention was that the starship would come to land, never able to depart because of its design limitations, and then be used as an early mass shelter with separate rooms, mess hall, recreation area, as well as housing for the vehicles and machinery that had been onboard. Where they are now however no one, not even Marius, can say. Though, his assumption is that they’re almost certainly piles of mangled metal without anything identifying features that would permit anyone the ability to discern what they might have once been.

“You need to change your fucking attitude Marius. They aren’t mercs. They’re people. And they’ve just learned that everything is a fucking disaster. So you pointing out how hard survival is going to be will only contribute to breaking what little spirit they might have left in them.” Eris sneers quietly encase Jed or Marine come creeping up on them. After all, she might know Marius is right but that doesn’t mean she wants Jed and Marine to be aware of that or what they are saying to one another.

“It’s called motivation through reality.” Marius replies flatly.

“Bullshit. No one likes reality. No one wants to be a part of it. And I’m not asking you to lie and sugar coat things. I’m asking you to keep your mouth shut. How a merc doesn’t understand the concept is beyond me. Is that why you’re here, you couldn’t follow orders?”

Marius mulls her words over, ignoring the jab. At any other time he’d tell her to go fuck herself with a pipe over a barrel, but the last thing he wants is more of a headache than he already has. And it’s not a concession that she’s right. It’s just playing along until things go south and whoever is still left breathing comes to him desperate to be able to last, even if only for another day. That’s the thing about human survival instinct, it’s selfish and in the end a person will always go with what, or who, ever can increase their chances even if death is inevitable. Damn whatever friends, family and especially complete strangers who they’ve been stranded with. In truth, the bonds between strangers are the first to fail and when they do he’ll still be there to say I told you so, save whoever thinks they’re worth it, if he agrees that they do deserve to survive to, and then move on. Because of that Marius relents and grunts, “Fine. I’ll play the good soldier.”

“Thank you. I appreciate it. I really do. Now we better get moving and catch up to Jed and Marine before they start…” Eris trails off unsure in truth what they may start doing. Perhaps nothing. Not because of any malice but because they clearly are not in any state of mind to think coherently or logically at the moment.

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