Creeping Death

“I’ve found it! I’ve found it!” Jed shouts as he rushes over to Marine, Eris and the bored lazy Yelena, while Marius continues to trudge back toward camp after a scouting run of the surrounding area.

It’s been a little more than a standard human day and a half since the night they lost Cyrus and nearly froze to death, but somehow they’ve survived against the odds with only a fire and each other for warmth.

“What have you found?” Yelena asks not really interested as evidenced by her tone of voice which is flat and monotone.

“The machinery like our excavators. I know where they are!” Jed sounds joyous and looks it too, which is a far cry from how he’d been before starting to tinker with the tracking module that is currently nestled in the crook of his arm.

“That’s fantastic Jed. Can we get to them?” Marine sounds almost as elated as her bespectacled fellow survivor as she stands with a smile splitting her face from ear to ear.

Marius wishes he felt the joy he can see on Marine’s and Jed’s faces, and would if not for how thick the icy snow, he has no other way of describing it, that had slowed his scouting run to a crawl. Because of his diminished pace he’d only managed to cover a little less than half the ground he’d intended too.

The merc hasn’t’ a clue what the chatter between the other four Dorian Three survivors is about, but he knows he’ll soon find out.

“That’s still quite a way Jed.” Is the first thing Marius hears as he gets close enough to reliably say that he has rejoined the group.

The statement comes from Eris who clearly doubts that Marine and Jed should look as happy as they do.

“But we have to try.” Jed replies without context and because of that Marius, not wanting to be lost for several minutes, utters, “Is someone going to fill me in?”

“Yeah, I will, seeing as this is my discovery. Oh it’s so exciting!” Jed replies before going off on a tangent.

“What is?” The merc queries in an attempt to stop Jed going down whatever rabbit hole he is about to and instead keep him on task.

“I’ve managed to use this tracking module and invert the carrier signal.” Jed explains giving details the merc really isn’t interested in, even if what the bespectacled man has done is clever, which it is.

“So?” Marius doesn’t see what the big deal is as they’re alone on this planet, which they are all pretty sure is definitely not the ball of rock they were supposed to be on.

“So, it allowed me to run a trace and I’ve found our excavators, among other things.” Jed pauses to take a breath and then continues. “They’re a little over fourteen miles away.” Jed finally giving Marius the context and details he needed to actually be able to be a part of this conversation.

“Eris is right, it’s a long way.” Is the mercs blunt response which catches Eris completely off-guard.

“But Marius, excavators; we can dig in and finally escape the cold without being subjected to sleeping by a fireside wondering if it’ll be enough to stop us from dying in our sleep.” Jed says clearly in no way dissuaded by Marius’ distinct lack of enthusiasm for the idea he’s presented.

“This planets ground isn’t easy to cover and with the days only seeming to last four hours there is no way you’ll make it anywhere near that far before the temperature plummets and you run the risk is freezing to death out in the open.” The merc explains flatly.

“We have to try.” Marine says adding her own two cents worth of blind optimism.

“No, we don’t. We really don’t. We lost Cyrus for nothing so what is the point in trudging across open ground to something we don’t even know is still intact?” Yelena counters having finally entered the conversation instead of lazily staying at the periphery of it.

“If it was wreckage then I wouldn’t get a blip.” Jed assures confidently.

“Are you sure about that Jed? Is this your area of expertise?” Yelena questions pointedly.

“Well, no.” Jed admits before following up with, “But it’s better than sitting here and waiting to die like you are Yelena.”

“You have no idea what I may or may not be waiting for.” Yelena fires back without making any attempt to hide her irritation. Likely because she knows that she is being judged and thinks this group have no right to judge her.

“If you’re waiting for rescue it’s not coming. You know that. So stop waiting for it.” Is Eris’ addition to what is undisputedly now an argument.

“Fuck off Eris!” Yelena spits attempting to square up to the woman who is of a similar height and because she’s hit a nerve.

“Zip it, all of you!” Marius thunders loudly to silence the pointlessness of what is happening here. His eyes judge each and every one of them who should all know better than to carry on like they are. It’s what you expect from children, little kids, and they only do it because they don’t know any better. Once they do they stop.

“Right, now that you’ve all stopped bickering I’m going to tell you what we’re going to do. No, we are not going for that blip. Sorry Jed, but it’s just too far with the little we have and with too many uncertainties about the state of what we might find. We made that mistake once, that’s on me, and it cost us Cyrus. I’m not repeating that mistake. So what we are going to do is build whatever we can in a cave I’ve found maybe a half mile from here, in that direction.” Marius points over his left shoulder with the thumb of the same hand. He then sniffs, already able to feel the air cooling. It’s a worrying sign, especially with the nights being, he thinks, eleven standard human hours long. It might mean the days are getting shorter which is incredibly frustrating and will almost certainly force them to delay making the cave he’s found their shelter for another day. He knows the four souls before him won’t like having to sleep in the freezing cold for another night as icy-snow creeps in around them, but their choices are limited and survival is all that matters. Not egos, opinions, relationships or anything else that people, other than him, are used to holding as the pinnacle of their existences.

“Who died and made you the boss man, merc?” Yelena spits, quite literally, at Marius’ feet.

The merc ignores Yelena’s clear attempt to incite his rage, which if she’d seen him angry he doubts she would be willing to test, and instead answers bluntly, “No one. But seeing as I’m the only reason any of you are still alive, you especially Yelena, you might want to listen. If you don’t then fine, suit yourself. Just don’t expect me to save your ass when shit hits the fan again, and it will I can assure you that.”

Yelena storms off like a child.

“Yel…” Marine begins to call after the infantile woman only to be stopped by Eris who shakes her head from side to side.

Eris thinks its better they let Yelena go, so she can calm down and regain her faculties. In the mood she’s in Marine will only get her head bitten off, or worse by Yelena.

“Marius, please. I know I was wrong before but…” Jed pleads, hoping he can talk the merc round.

“Sorry Jed, it’s still no. Not this time. Maybe once we’re more established. Have a few more days under our belts and our living out of that cave I found. But until then there’s just too many unknowns. We don’t even know what the terrain will be like that far out.”

“It might be flat, plains.” Marine chimes in lending support to Jed and his suggestion. If was evident anyway that she liked the idea, as ill-conceived as it is.

“Or it might be filled with crevices or sinkholes. Hell even underwater is a possibility. You both know that.” The merc counters.

“We get it though, you want something to look forward to, but this isn’t it. Not yet.” Eris adds now that Marius has finished. She is trying to soften the blow of the mercs blunt refusal as she’s worried not doing so could see them fracture and factions form in their small group.

“Huh…fine.” Jed says visibly deflating as he finishes his sigh of exasperation that soon sees him shuffle off, shoulders slumped in disappointment.

Marine goes to say something but decides better of it and then rushes off after Jed leaving just Eris and Marius together as the temperature continues to decline steadily. It won’t stay steady for long. Soon, a couple hours probably, it’ll be plummeting toward lethality.

“You did the right thing.”Eris offers attempting to comfort the merc, but for what reason she cannot say. Usually he is the last on her mind to consider the feelings of. In fact, she isn’t sure he really has feelings. He’s too blunt and direct for them has been her conclusion to this point and as far as she knows that still is her conclusion and yet she feels compelled to offer sympathy to him in this moment.

“I know. But they’re right. We’re not going to make it.” Marius replies bluntly.

“Don’t be a defeatist.” Eris says with a critical tone. Any indications of her prior sympathy for the man evaporated due to him failing to soften in any meaningful way.

“I knew it the moment you, Marine and Jed dug me out of that junk pile and told me what was what.” Marius admits.

“You never said. That’s not like you. But you shouldn’t admit defeat now. We beat those odds. We’ll beat them again.” Eris sounds confident but not naturally so. It’s a forced confidence that she likely isn’t aware Marius can see through with little effort. It’s a talent of his but not one from his merc or corps days. That particular talent of his is an innate one he’s always possessed and throughout his life has been both a blessing and a curse as a result.

“At some point we all have to acknowledge reality and stop dreaming, even if the only reason you partook in the dreaming was for those around you.” Marius mutters the words in a tone Eris has never heard him use before. She goes to ask him what he means, but it’s too late to say anything as he’s already trudging off. For him the conversation is over with more important things to consider.

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