Chapter 01: Back From the Brink

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Laura felt another tremor of turbulence ripple through the frame of the jump ship. She tried to tune it out for just a moment, instead focusing on the coffeemaker in front of her. She just wanted a cup of coffee. They'd been in the air for just over twelve hours now and she was starting to get genuinely worried. There were so many questions that still needed answering, things that had come to light over the past half day that made an already shitty situation significantly shittier, and for two minutes she simply wanted to shut it all out and just drink a cup of fucking coffee. It was still being made. Another tremor ran through the jump ship.

She was still vaguely surprised that the ship even had a coffeemaker. It was a jump ship that had been remodeled as an emergency medical transport, a life-flight model meant to zip out somewhere and fly someone who was in the process of dying back to the medical facility they'd left. The coffeemaker had been stashed in a tiny niche behind the cockpit, in between a pair of slim lockers that held all manner of emergency medical gear.

Despite her best efforts, thoughts kept breaking into her mind. Worries, fears, doubts. She glanced over to her left, into the cockpit. The only two people to make it out of the Charon Region, as far as she knew, besides her, sat silently. What if it was all for nothing? What if the others, if John, had died just so that they crashed and burned somewhere on Dis? The thought of his body up there in the polar regions, freezing, a large hole in his head...

The coffeemaker chimed sharply, bringing her back to reality.

Laura sighed softly, grabbed a Styrofoam cup from a small shelf above the maker and poured herself some coffee. Another bout of turbulence shuddered through the ship, slopping some hot liquid onto her wrist. She hissed in pain and set the pot and the cup down, grabbing for some paper towels and wiping her wrist off. The pain was bad but also a little muted and faraway. She was absolutely exhausted. She'd gotten very little sleep lately and although they'd been in the air for twelve hours now, she'd dozed fitfully for maybe two of those hours. What little sleep she had gotten had been riddled with nightmares of pale flesh and black blood.

And of things eating her alive.

She took a moment to down the coffee. It was almost scalding hot but she needed something to wake her up anyway. When it was done, she set the cup down and turned back to the cockpit, stepping into it.

"Do we have any good news?" she asked.

"Nyet," Viktor replied. He sounded as tired as she felt.

It wasn't as if she'd expected some miracle to happen in the five minutes she'd spent away from the cockpit, but she felt crestfallen all the same. Now that she was focusing on the situation again, she couldn't keep from thinking about how hopeless their plight seemed. After everything that had happened up north, in the frozen wasteland that was Charon Region, she, Viktor, and Turner had escaped, heading off towards civilization. hadn't worked out that way.

First of all, they couldn't raise anyone on the radio. There was nothing wrong with the onboard gear. There was, apparently, something wrong with the rest of the world. A massive communications blackout was, for whatever reason, in effect. Originally, the plan had been to touch down at the nearest sign of civilization.

Unfortunately, the nearest sign of civilization turned out to be a small mining colony that was on fire. They'd opted out of landing there for obvious reasons. From there, they'd decided to keep searching for signs of life. Over the next several hours they'd found only more burning or obviously overrun colonies, outposts, and towns. This had ultimately led to a very obvious problem: they were running out of power.

If they didn't set down soon, the ship would make the decision for them.

And now there was nothing. Nothing on the scanners or the horizon. They were just below a thick gray cloud cover. It had been on the verge of raining for hours and miles now. They'd flown over a great deal of desert landscape and now had come to a greener, more lush environment. But there still weren't any good locations to set down and not have to hike for days through potentially undead-infested territory.

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