Chapter 04: The Ingress

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They gathered in an airlock, sitting on the benches or leaning against the lockers, listening to as much as enduring the steady rumble of the ship as it passed through the atmosphere of Arctica. Trent and Drake sat beside each other on a bench, smoking a pair of cigarettes. Trent looked around. Everyone was there now.

"I'm sorry I couldn't get through the security," Trevor said.

"Not a problem. Now we just have to walk through half a mile of negative sixty snow," Stephen muttered.

"The suits will protect you, no problem," Sergio replied.

"What kind of defenses can we expect?" Trent asked.

"Drone guns," Trevor said. "There's a pair of them mounted outside the main entrance of the primary building. They're supposed to track only intruders, but they're in full-fire mode and are completely unresponsive. They pack a pretty heavy caliber. Even these suits won't be enough to fully stop a bullet."

"Fantastic," Drake muttered. "What about wildlife? Anything out there that's lethal besides the weather?"

"No, nothing," Sergio answered.

Trent noticed a note of tension in his voice. He was lying...but what about? Was there wildlife? Only that didn't seem to be right. Maybe he was lying about additional dangers. Maybe something that might have come from the research outpost itself.

Suddenly, the rumbling subsided. Trent stubbed out his cigarette on his armor, dropped the remains in one of the pockets and grabbed his helmet. After sealing it in place, he ran a thorough suit diagnostics check.

By the time the ship fully ceased its turbulent rattling, the check came back positive. Everything was go. Full power, full air, seals intact. Trent wondered how long he would have to stay in this, how many hours...or days.

There was a final, solid thump from below as the ship settled itself onto the frozen plains. Everyone stood up and secured their helmets, running their own diagnostics. When they finished up, there was a general shuffle towards the airlock. It was large enough for everyone to fit, even in their suits, although it was a little cramped.

Trent waited for the airlock to cycle and thought about last night. Tristan had been very good, very enthusiastic, even very vocal. He'd worked hard to please her, because, well, it just seemed the decent thing to do. Being a lazy partner in bed was like being a lazy mercenary. Although rarely did it get you killed.

The exterior door of the airlock opened and immediately the bay filled with freezing winds and fat snowflakes. Trent and Drake were at the front of the crowd and it seemed decided that there they would remain, pulling point duty.

The pair moved down a cargo ramp and stepped into the snow. Their boots disappeared up to their ankles. They began walking, using a holographic compass on the head's up display shown over the inside of their visors to keep on point. They were just under a half-mile away from where the display said the entrance to the compound was.

Several minutes were consumed by the shrieking winds. The speakers in their helmets automatically cut down on loud sounds, but Trent turned his down to almost zero, unwilling to fully cut himself off from the outside world. Everyone communicated via radio at the moment, anyway. The group made it a little over half their journey without anyone uttering a word. Finally, Stephen broke the silence.

"How big is this place?" he asked, his voice thin and tinny over the radio.

"That's none of your concern. We'll act as your guide once we get inside," Sergio replied.

"And if we get separated? Lost?" Drake asked.

"Make sure that doesn't happen. God, I thought mercenaries, of all people, would understand the need for secrecy," Sergio replied.

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