Characters in this post
View character profile for: Cassandra Jones
View character profile for: Jaxx/Bif Biggles (Away)
View character profile for: Evelina Stone (Away)
View character profile for: Dr Jade Black
View character profile for: Jamie Eastlick
After examining the print Jamie looked around and found the pattern and said, "Hmmmmmmm. It looks like a few humans and a robot were here not long ago. Perhaps we should follow them to see if they are friendly or foe." Cass nodded as she replied, "Yeah well it seems to be our only lead thus far."
She shrugged and gazed around the other Dwarfers. Like her, they all looked dishevelled; slicked with sweat and smeared with mud and dirt. To her consternation, Cass noted that they were all looking expectantly towards her for her lead on this.
It wasn't something that she was entirely comfortable with.
She shook her head and looked away, feeling a fraud and way out of her depth.
Sure, she had thrown her weight around while Jay was ill, and had taken command out of necessity; but Cass was far happier manipulating things from the shadows and controlling everything behind the scenes. This wasn't some space cadet camping trip they were on, and if she made the wrong choices here, people could die.
The idea terrified her.
Cass wasn't sure if that made her a good or a bad leader.
Did Jay ever feel like this, she wondered. He'd always had a very up-front and hands on approach to leadership, which gave the impression that he didn't; but there had been a couple of occasions when she had torn his logic apart to question his dictates and he had looked as uncertain as she felt at the moment.
Maybe she should discuss this with him - Assuming, of course, that he was still alive.
She mentally chided herself for this. There was nothing to suggest that Jay was anything but alive; and besides which, it would take a hell of a lot more than a war machine, bristling with weapons to cause him many problems – or so she hoped.
Jamie interrupted her reverie "And?" he asked, folding his arms and raising his eyebrows.
Cass couldn't help the faint smile that played across her lips at this. These buggers were beginning to get to know her. She cleared her throat "My main concern is the robot"
"What of it?"
"Well, it's not Artemis, is it? – He floats"
"Huh. Good point" Jamie grunted, his brow knitting into a frown.
"How old are these tracks?"
"They're about a day old. Maybe less"
"Whoever made them might still be around. We should proceed with caution and assume these are hostiles" Cass paused and gazed around the overgrown and ruined camp "It might be worth searching some of these buildings as well - There might be supplies here that we could use"
"Sounds reasonable" Jade hefted her pack and looked between the others "Shall we?"
The group moved off in watchful silence after that, with Jamie taking point and following the tracks, meandering through the ruined camp.
"I'm sorry about last night" Cass murmured as she fell into step beside Jade.
"About?" the doctor gave her a sidelong look and raised her eyebrows.
"About what I said. The nyctophobia"
"Oh, don't worry" Jade wrinkled her nose "You were tired and not thinking straight. I've had much worse in my time as a doctor – Patients are rarely as grateful as you'd imagine"
"Well," Cass shrugged "I'm sorry" she paused to glance around and make sure nobody else was listening before she continued "What happened, anyway?" she asked "I was out in the jungle with you and the next thing I know, I'm waking up by the campfire. I didn't fall asleep on you, did I?"
"You were dead on your feet" Jade soothed
"Yeah, but what happened?"
"Well..." Jade paused to consider her words carefully. She took a deep breath "You just kinda... drifted off, so I carried you back"
"That's embarrassing" Cass huffed, deciding against making things worse by mentioning that she had woken to find Jade more or less spooning her.
"Like I said: Don't worry"
"Everyone saw, didn't they?"
"You were absolutely exhausted Cass"
"Yeah, but I'd have preferred not to have made an arse of myself"
"Look - It's not a big deal" Jade gave her a winning smile "Don't make it into one. We were all concerned about you"
Cassandra's expression softened at this "Thanks for coming after me" she conceded "I'm not sure if I'd have -" The soft chime of her terminal interrupted her and she hurriedly fished the device from one of her pockets.
"Hey, I've got something" she called to Jamie, beckoning him back as she scrutinised the display "Some sort of short range homing beacon..."
"Which direction?" he asked, turning to regard her.
"It's over there" Cass pointed
"The direction these tracks lead?"
"I think it's Artemis" Cass frowned in distaste as she tapped away at the display
"You sure?" Jamie queried "Is it broadcasting his call sign?"
"No – Just that fucking awful, antique funk that he insists on listening to"
"Ah" Jamie nodded knowingly "That'd do it"
"What's up?" Eve asked as she and Jaxx caught up "Something happening?"
"Yeah, I think Artemis has been here" Cass eyed the woman coolly. She had been trying to get five minutes alone with Jaxx to discuss the way Eve had treated him, but thus far, they had had proved inseparable. They seemed happy enough together, but she wanted to be sure.
"Cool" Jaxx beamed "I was, like, totally wondering where the little fish tank dude had gone"
"It's just a homing beacon but I think it's his"
"Let's make a move" Jade said, all businesslike "He might have activated it because he's injured"
"Damaged" Cass corrected as they turned to resume their trek "And if he is, he's fucked - We don't have the tools we'd need to repair him"
The group continued through the ruined and overgrown camp with a growing sense of foreboding; a mood which only heightened when Jamie called a halt a couple of minutes later.
"There's something up ahead" he reported, his voice low and tense.
"What?" Cass frowned down at her terminal "I'm not getting anything; just wildlife"
"That's exactly the thing" Jamie nodded "Listen"
The group fell silent for a moment, taking in the shrieks and whoops filling the air around them.
"Those are howler lizards" Jamie explained "They're scavengers - Normally nocturnal. Something big must have died to bring them out during the day"
"Maybe it's one of those dinosaurs?" Eve suggested
"We call them the Harlausla" Jamie said, gently rolling the 'R' "Maybe. Let's go and see, but be careful not to get too close; the lizards aren't big but they're aggressive and can give you a very nasty bite"
They crept forward after that, each moving as stealthily as they could through the undergrowth, with the chittering and squawking of the lizards getting louder and louder as they approached. The air, too, swarmed with insects; no doubt attracted by the scent of death ahead of them.
"What the fuck is that?" Cass breathed as they spied a huge, pallid corpse through between the trees and ferns.
Jamie frowned "I've no idea"
He led them closer, taking care to keep downwind of the lizards so as not to provoke them; the group eventually coming to a halt some ten or so metres from the ruined corpse that the small dog-sized lizards were feasting on.
"I don't like the look of that thing" Jamie murmured, slowly shaking his head "I've never seen anything like it"
"It gives me the creeps" Eve nervously slipped a hand inside one of Jaxx's "I'm just glad it's dead"
True enough, what was left of the creature, whatever it was, was the stuff of nightmares; all pale, mottled flesh and black, viciously sharp claws and spines; it was like a biomechanical study in tortured flesh. By chance, the head of the animal was turned towards them, and from their vantage point they could see that the beast had no eyes; just two pale, fleshy bulges, set above a maw filled with hundreds of dagger-like teeth.
"Those are plasma burns on its body" Cass murmured, pointing towards the charred wounds cratering the creature's corpse. It didn't look like it had gone down easily.
"Are you thinking that Jay did this?" Jade asked
"Well, he had a plasma rifle" Cass shrugged "But it could just have easily been one of the troopers we've encountered"
"Urgh, whatever dude" Jaxx's voice sounded funny from him tightly pinching his nostrils "This smell is making me feel sick - I'm, like, totally vegetarian, remember? Can we go?"
"Sure" Cass turned away from the nauseating scene "There's nothing for us here"
Leaving the lizards to their feast, the group circled around the creatures partially devoured corpse and continued on their way towards the source of Artemis' homing beacon. They found the device , hung on a wall next to a crudely sketched Blue Dwarf insignia, in one of the overgrown shelters, a short time later.
"Yep" Cass nodded at the wall "That's Artemis all right" she turned to regard Jade inspecting the skeleton slumped across one of the command consoles in the little room with them "Cause of death?"
"A shot to the head" Jade pointed "There's an entry wound on around this side of the skull; this big hole at the back is the exit wound"
Eve grimaced "Creepy"
"Let's see if this is working" Jade activated the audio journal, on the console next to the corpse.
"This is Artemis, we've found an underground facility that we believe may have the answers to some of what's wrong with this planet, and maybe even a way off. The final logs mention starbugs in the bunker, I don't know if they're still there, but it's worth a shot. Plisken, Sven, Arien, and I are going inside the bunker to look around. There's weapons and armor in the armory near the center of the camp, grab some and meet us inside, I'll turn on my beacon. Artemis out"
"Who are Sven and Arien?" Jamie asked
Jaxx shrugged "Maybe they're, like, Plisken's friends or something?"
"It's as good a theory as any"
"Bunker..." Cass murmured, swiping a hand across her terminals surface "Bunker, bunker... Got it - There's a lake about half a kilometre from here; there's an entrance to an absolutely massive subterranean structure nearby"
"That'll be where everyone else is" Jade nodded
"We should check it out" Jamie agreed
Cass shrugged "We could do with a starbug to get the hell off this rock and we need to find everyone else - I don't see that we have much choice in the matter"
"Do you think that dead monster could have come from down there?" Eve asked
"That's what I'm concerned about" Cass scowled down at her terminal as it chimed another alert, her eyes widening in horror as she absorbed the data "Shit! We need to get out of here" she blurted "We've got company!"
The distant sound of rapidly approaching aircraft could just be heard in the shocked silence that followed.
What should we do about an airborne assault?
Jay, Plisken and Tara killed the critter that was attacking them, but what have they been up to since?
What's Artemis been doing down in the bunker? - Anyone want to get us down there?