Eric didn't want to wake. He was tired, and in pain. A lot of pain. It had been a hard day. He wasn't too clear on the details of that day, but he knew that it had been hard. Possibly the hardest day of his life. So he kept his eyes closed.
But that damned alarm was so insistent. And it awoke within him a slow dread, a feeling that he was missing something, something vitally, crucially important. And yet...even then, he did not want to open in his eyes. In his present state, somehow, Eric was aware of the fact that some great loss had occurred, some tremendous tragedy that he wasn't sure he could handle if he had to face it head on. Right now, he didn't know what had happened, and he was afraid of the knowledge, afraid that it might mean the end of him.
Ever insistent. But it wasn't an alarm, he slowly realized. At least, not an alarm meant to wake. No, it was an alarm meant to indicate...
His oxygen was bottoming out.
Eric opened his eyes. He found himself staring at...nothing. Slowly, nothing became a dull, flat, gunmetal gray. He became aware of his head's up display. There was a flashing red icon, a bar that was almost empty.
He sat up, or tried to, and grunted with effort as he shoved something off of him. A crate. It tumbled slowly away from him in the low gravity. Autumn! It all came rushing back to him. Had she made it out alive? He remembered her screaming and the explosion. He was almost certain she was dead, and he didn't know if he could handle that, but there was the slim chance that she could still be alive. Eric shifted painfully to his feet. By some miracle, his faceplate remained intact and his suit seemed to have held up fine too.
He faced the door that he had been thrown through some time ago. How long had he been out? For the moment, he ignored his bottoming out oxygen, lurching forward. He had to see, to know the truth. Was she alive or dead? Was he alone or not? He made his way into what remained of the armory and all at once the cold, hard truth hit him.
Autumn was dead.
He saw the remains of both her and the two creatures she'd taken with her when she had triggered the explosives. Eric expected some kind violent reaction to the knowledge. Screaming, punching something, vomiting.
Instead, there was nothing. He felt suddenly cold and dead inside, as lifeless and barren as the asteroid he strode across the surface of. For a moment, he simply stood there, staring, feeling a distant pain in his chest, a hollow agony that was as far away from him as the stars above that he couldn't see, blocked by the ruined hull of the Discovery.
The chime of his oxygen warning brought him back to the world, at least partially. Numbly, he began to search the area for an oxygen reserve. He moved on autopilot, not really thinking or feeling anything at all. Around him, the world was pale and mute, even more so than it had been before. There was nothing in the ruined armory but he found an emergency reserve of atmosphere in the storage room he'd just come from.
He hooked up to it and drained it. Just in time, too. He had maybe ten seconds' of oxygen left in his tank. Once he emptied the reserve, Eric moved slowly back into the armory. He carefully picked through the remains of the room, searching for anything that he might be able to use in his fight for continued survival.
There wasn't much.
He only managed to scavenge a few extra magazines of armor-piercing ammo and a single grenade to add to the other one he'd found. He pocketed this, then left the armory, pausing only once in the doorway and looking back on the scene of bloody, ruinous destruction. She was gone. She was really gone forever.
YOU ARE READING
The twelfth novel in The Shadow Wars. Eric Starck is a man adrift. After fighting in the Systems Wars that ravaged the galaxy, he's spent the past three years drifting from one job to the next, never quite feeling comfortable. The latest in a long l...