Creeping Death

“It’s so cold.” Jed stutters as chills run up and back down his entire body while in his hands he has a bent and buckled length of metal. What it once was is anyone’s guess really seeing as it looks like every other piece of metal that once formed a part of the colony starship, Dorian Three.

“Just keep pushing.” Marius orders keeping to his promise of not going full blunt merc even though he feels right now would be the perfect time to and might see them make progress on cracking open the last tomb of the four with potential survivors in.

Of the three seconds they have cracked so far, all of them in slightly but irritatingly different ways, they have added only two more souls to their pitiful band of beating the odds-ers. Eris had clearly been knocked down a peg or two by reality because she currently refuses to say much at all. And though Marius is sick of Jed’s whining about the plummeting temperature, which he is not wrong about, he has to admit that the bespectacled man has perked up, or at least seems more vocal. That could be the fault of the cold, but with them having two, might as well be newborn, souls amongst them who Marine is explaining the circumstances they now find themselves in to, the merc is content on taking what he’s getting from those around him. After all, it could be much worse than it is, bar maybe the cold.

“Fuuuuuuuuuuck.” Jed exclaims as he puts all his weight behind the length of metal he’s using to attempt to lever the lid of the cryo pod open.

Sadly, the lock won’t budge and until the second pod, whose occupant was very dead and did indeed have his guts hanging out as Marius thought might be the case, no pod had suffered a hinge failure either. It seems this pod isn’t going to suffer that fate either. Though, whether its occupant will be in one piece is anyone’s guess. To be honest Marius had been expecting worse odds than they’ve had thus far and even for all his cynicism isn’t willing to call whether this occupant will be a useless slab of meat or a living one.

“I can’t keep this up.” Jed admits after another attempt that sees him bent double in the wake of, breathing laboured as his fingers glow red from a mixture of tightly gripping the metal section and the cold that is chilling him to the bone.

“Yeah, take a break.” Marius orders as Eris sidles up to the merc and suggests, “We need to get some warmth in us. If we don’t…” She trails off and that brings a smirk to Marius’ face because she was about to say exactly what he’d been getting at hours earlier with his brutal honesty. He knows the irony is not lost on Eris who does a half-roll of her eyes and then scurries away leaving Marius to follow in her wake with Jed soon at his side examining his hands.

“They’ll be fine.” Marius assures not wanting the man to slip back into whatever cavern of despair he’d been in prior to this.

“You mean if we get some warmth?” Jed fires back sounding decidedly more Marius than the merc would have ever guessed possible for the bespectacled man with scruffy blond hair.

“Yeah, that’s right.” Marius confirms with a smile and a slap on the back of Jed’s left shoulder. The merc is proud that he’s got through to at least one of them before things inevitably get worse. And that was before the changing weather that even he would have to admit is bitingly cold and a real threat to their chances of survival.

What he isn’t willing to tell the others, just yet anyway, is that they won’t get much more time to try and crack that tomb with the temperature dropping the way that it is. And if it sinks too far into the minus degrees they’ll have to gather round as big a fire as they can manage and then huddle to share body warmth. That’ll condemn whoever is in that tomb to death, as cryo cold is in no way like that of actual climatic cold. He can already imagine how the conversation will go, but this is where survival of the fittest, or in this case most determined and free from being in a small box, will start to kick in. Marius doubts his honesty will make him any friends, not that he cares or wants that, but nor can he say who will and will not side with him. Except for one, Eris, he knows will rail against the idea of condemning someone, who they don’t actually know the status of, to death.

By the time Marius and Jed join Eris, Marine and the new pair, who the merc doesn’t know the names of, there is a small pile of burnable bits and pieces. Marine is bent down next to the scraps struggling to get the pile to light using a break-burn survival stick that’s in her hands. It’s a sad sight to see the failure as break-burns were developed specifically to light material and create a fire. Yet, Marius isn’t surprised the break-burns are failing at their simple job. They often do, which is why he carries a more tried and tested alternative, a lighter.

The merc fishes the small silver metal block out of one of his pockets. It had once been engraved, nothing special just some logo or another he can’t recall now, but which over the years has been rubbed smooth from all the use it’s gotten. Plus some nervous fidgeting to kill time and occupy his hands.

Still, he shouldn’t have the lighter on him. No personal effects are allowed in tombs. But Marius hadn’t seen the harm before he’d slipped inside and is rather glad he refused to obey now they’re in the mess they’re in. If he hadn’t they would be in dire straits, and yet he makes no attempt to pass the lighter, refilled the night before departure, to anyone. Rather, he drops down to one knee.

His change in stance draws everyone’s attention as he rolls some paper between his thumb and forefinger creating a fuse and then flips the top half of the lighter back to expose the mechanism inside. It’s old, archaic but simple, and because of that it lights first time he strikes it. A small group of spluttering sparks are thrown out and then a relatively small flame begins to burn where his finger had just been before the strike.

Marius wastes no time in putting the flame to the rolled paper. At first the paper burns from the heat and then a second later it actually lights. Marius snaps the lighter hinge back to the closed position and then cups his hands around the small but steadily growing flame. He can feel the eyes on him but ignores them entirely. Getting this right and the fire burning is what matters, not the staring eyes of those he’s stuck in this increasingly inhospitable place with. Rushes of ice cold air blast through the gaping hole in the carcass of the starship. They threaten to expel the flame and force them all to suffer slow miserable deaths, tut Marius’ care and tenderness in nurturing the small flame soon pays off and sees the fire spread until a few minutes later the whole pile is ablaze.

The merc sniffs, because of the cold attacking his nose, then exhales, to see his breath, and finally smiles. The heat from the fire is already beginning to dispel some of the energy sucking power of the cold. But he knows it won’t be enough and so feels compelled to grab a few nearby pieces of detritus and roll them before finally adding them to the pile to burn.

“Is this going to be enough?” One of the new pair asks concerned. He has a shaved head, like Marius, but over cautious brown eyes that dart from one person to the next as though they expect to be attacked at any time. Marius knows the type, on edge and unpredictable. He’ll have to keep his merc eyes on that one just to be sure they don’t do anything rash that might get them all killed.

“No. But from what shit is lying around we should be able to build it up so that it is. So long as it doesn’t start raining that is.” Marius can’t help it and doesn’t even realise he’s been overly blunt. Thankfully, Eris is too thrilled by the warmth of the fire they now have, as well as the energy sapping cold, to kick up a fuss.

“Do we have to wait to pile it on or…?” Marine queries but trails off never finishing her question as she rubs her hands together desperately trying to get warmth into them.

“Depends how quick you want to warm up.” The merc replies with a smirk that none of them see because they are too busy tossing debris from around where they are stood, which will burn, onto the fire to help it grow.

Nine or ten minutes later the fire is roaring loudly, casting a ring of heat around the six souls who refuse to move from where they are positioned for fear that they may be met once more by the biting cold they each loathe.

“We should go back to the pod and see if we can crack it.” Jed mutters finally feeling warm.

His teeth do chatter in anticipation of the cold he may soon be forced to endure once more and as they do he unfolds himself so that his arms are no longer wrapped around his legs which were pressed as close to his chest as he could manage.

“Is it really worth it?” The other of the new pair, a woman with clearly dyed black hair that only sits on the top of her head and which is pulled back into the shortest ponytail Marius has ever seen, offers much to the surprise of Eris, Marine and Jed.

“What do you mean?” Marine queries with a blinking stare and without having made any attempt to answer the woman’s question.

“Well, come on, it’s freezing here. Cryo pods don’t handle this weather. Chances are whoever is inside is already dead. Why risk our lives to save a lost cause?” The woman continues unashamed by what she is flat out stating as she is given looks of judgement by Eris, Jed and Marine.

“Is this your doing?” Eris demands accusingly now that her angry eyes are on Marius, who simply raises his hands as if to say, in silence, I’m innocent here.

“Why would it be his doing?” The new guy amongst them queries confused.

“Marius here is a merc. Can be decidedly….” Jed begins but cannot finish as he can’t find the right word to conclude his statement.

“…blunt.” Eris concludes on Jed’s behalf without taking her eyes off Marius or blinking.

“Well, Yelena is right. We don’t know if anyone is even alive in that pod so why risk our own skins to find out?”

“If we’d have thought like that then you two wouldn’t be here right now. Are you saying we were wrong to help you? Cyrus? Yelena?” Marine exclaims outraged by the selfishness Yelena and Cyrus are exhibiting as her eyes flit between the two newest additions to their group.

“That’s different.” Yelena assures.

“How is it?” Jed blurts challenging the poorly worded response.

“I think what Yelena and Cyrus mean…” Marius says attempting to stop this escalating further, but for the first time knowing the two new additions names. “…is that it was the circumstances that were different. They’re right. They were. None of us can argue that it was significantly warmer when we set about cracking their tombs open.”

“So you think we should damn whoever is in that pod?” Eris asks with an accusatory tone meant to shame the merc. If she thinks that’ll work on Marius then she has a lot to learn about him because it won’t. But she’s asked for his opinion and so he is going to give it.

“No. I think we should try again. But there has to be a limit. Ten minutes. In this cold if we haven’t cracked it by then it won’t matter and all we’d be doing is wasting our own lives.”

Eris is shocked by Marius’ words. She was sure until this very moment that he’d put Yelena and Cyrus up to this. When, she doesn’t know, but still she was convinced of it nonetheless. He still could have and this might be part of some ploy, she thinks to herself. It’s possible, theoretically, and yet she casts the notion aside. He’s a merc, not a genius, and such things don’t fit with the man as he’s shown himself thus far. It could be a mask meant to throw you all of guard, she thinks again in opposition to herself. No, his personality isn’t a mask its real, of that Eris is sure and why she utters, “I agree. That’s fair.”

“I want Jed and Cyrus though. It’ll be easier with three of us.” Marius demands without hesitation.

“What? I don’t want to go be a part of…” Cyrus begins to protest only to get a hard stare from Marius that stops him dead in his tracks.

“And why are you only taking the men to help you? Are we women too weak for your liking? Or just a distraction you can’t cope with?” Eris’ words are meant to embarrass or incite an emotional reply from Marius but do no such thing.

“Yeah, you’re too weak. Physically, I mean. I need muscle, strength, and from what I can see of you three and your muscle mass you don’t have what I need to have even a slim hope at cracking that tomb. Is that a problem?” Marius replies with a blunt, honest tone and a lack of facial expression.

Eris says nothing in reply. Rather, she chews on the inside of her bottom lip as she mulls over whether she believes the merc. Why she doesn’t know as it is clear he isn’t lying, but she does anyway until finally she breaks the silence that has awkwardly hung in the air to say, “No. You take whoever you need. We girls will keep the fire going and ourselves warm until you get back.”

“Good. You do that.” Marius murmurs as he rises back to his full six foot two inch height, sniffing.

“Yes sir.” Eris mutters under her breathe as Marius, Jed and Cyrus trudge off back toward the ruins of the cryo suite.

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