Chapter 15: Darkening

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Greg had held on to a very, very small hope that somehow, someway, the greenhouse would be more appealing than it sounded, given the current variety of enemy he was facing down. Unfortunately, as he left the scientist's dormitories and opened up the door that led to the greenhouse, he saw how overgrown the area was with green tendrils. He stood in the doorway, hesitating, staring into the antechamber that served as a security checkpoint in between the two sections. It seemed he was getting closer to the origin of the plant life. If he had to guess, he'd say he was just unlucky enough for it to be coming from the excavation site.

With a soft sigh of frustration, trying to bury the fear that was crawling icily around in his guts, he gripped his rifle tightly and took a step into the room. Then another. Overhead, thick green glop dripped from the tendrils. He did his best to avoid it, sidestepping and ducking as he crossed the room, building up speed as he went. No Creepers, so far. No mercs, either. Greg studied the tendrils in quick snatches of glances as he moved across the room. They were getting thicker, some of them as big around as his bicep.

They didn't seem to be moving, for whatever reason. Greg suddenly had the wholly unpleasant thought that they wanted to lead him in deeper, towards some central mass, perhaps, that was hungry. He shoved the thought aside. Either way, it didn't matter. The artifact was down there and that's where he needed to go.

Greg reached the opposite door and opened it up. A puff of green mist came out and he started coughing. Great, now it was in the air. Something caught his eye on the wall nearby as he stumbled away from the door, covering his mouth. A filtration mask, mostly untouched by the green crap. He grabbed it, wiped it off on his uniform and fitted it into place over his mouth. Taking a few steps closer to the door, he stopped holding his breath, breathing cautiously. There was a slightly foul taste to the air, but it was breathable.

He also grabbed a pair of goggles off the wall and slid them on.

Greg tucked his rifle up against his shoulder and set off into the greenhouse. It was a broad, low room with powerful work-lights hung from the ceiling. Most of them were broken or covered by the foliage, drowning the entire area in a miserable gloom. The floor was covered with glass-domed grow chambers hooked up to all manner of monitoring gear and high-tech workstations. Most of the glass had been broken open, the plant life gone crazy, growing free of the chambers, all along the floors and up the walls to the ceiling.

Some of them were still intact, though. Greg paused to study one, wondering what, exactly, they had been trying to do. He imagined they'd cut off pieces of the original plant, tried growing them, discerning what made them tick. After a moment, he stepped away from the intact chamber. He'd never have the patience to be any kind of scientist or researcher. Not to mention, he probably wasn't anywhere near smart enough to be one. That thought led to another, unhappier one. Despite how afraid he was, how nasty his environment was, Greg was beginning to enjoy himself. It was that strange, buzzing kind of feeling that felt a little like he'd swallowed live electricity. The feeling that meant he was really alive.

Greg knew it was one of two main reasons Kyra had left him. He couldn't stop taking stupid risks. And, even worse, now that he had gone through everything that had happened on Dis, on the snowy planet, and here, what was considered a 'stupid risk' to the average person was no longer interesting enough for him. He had tasted excess, and now everything else was boring by comparison. What kind of way was that to live your life? How long before he took an incredibly stupid, suicidal risk and it didn't pay off and he died?

Something moved, deeper in the room, throwing Greg out of his thoughts. Or, if he was really dumb, he could go off on a tangent in the middle of hostile territory and get snuffed that way. Greg tracked the shape as it stepped into the light. A Creeper. It cut loose with a sharp, nasty sounding hiss that sent a chill of anticipation down Greg's spine. He squeezed the trigger. A three-round burst cut through the ugly thing's skull. Its brains escaped its ruined cranium in a misty spray and the thing went limp, flopping to the floor.

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