Chapter 13: Ashen Skies

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This was why he was so paranoid about his relationship with Drake. He was actually pretty happy. The relationship was still in its infancy, but so far, it was going really well. They spent a lot of time together, shared enough interests that they could connect but had enough separate interests to show each other new things, the sex was great, they hadn't had a serious fight yet...like his worries about bad luck, it all felt a little too perfect.

He was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

As he set to work going over his armor and his weapons, Eric tried to put all of this out of his head. It wouldn't do to be distracted like this during the mission. Instead, he decided that he should try to get to know the new guy, not just for his sake but for Drake's as well, neither of them knew Stacker all that well. He was relatively new to the group.

"So, Stacker, how'd you get wrapped up in this? Hawkins said you asked for this posting," he asked as they all worked.

"I did ask," he replied. "I was in the Marines for ten years, then another fifteen in Spec Ops. Heard a rumor about this outfit and started asking around, eventually got in touch with Hawkins. He was...vague about the nature of the job, but he said it was insane, dangerous, I'll probably get killed. But it's got really great pay so I figured, why not?"

"I see," Eric replied. He had other questions, but at that moment, the rumbling of the ship, which, up until then had been subdued and steady from atmospheric reentry, became a lot more powerful and uneven.

Drake stopped what he was doing and marched over to the comm panel. "What the hell's going on up there, Weller?"

"Remember how Hawkins advised you to push the engines of this thing to get back faster? And how we didn't take the proper amount of time to do maintenance and repair on the engines? Well, yeah, that's biting us in the ass now," Weller shot back.

"How bad?"

"Not too bad...I mean, I think. I'm fairly sure I can put her down."

"How the hell sure is fairly sure?"

"You know, fairly sure. Maybe like sixty percent."

"Sixty percent sure?"

"Maybe like seventy."

Drake sighed. "Just put it down as quick as you can."

"Fine."

He turned and marched back over. "Suit up," he said. "If we have to bail out of this mess, it'll be better to do it with a full outfit. We don't even know if the atmosphere is breathable."

Eric abandoned his final check, since he'd already performed an extremely thorough one earlier and had found no flaws, nothing to worry about. He quickly started pulling on his suit of power armor. It wasn't something that was supposed to be done quickly but he'd gotten good at it. The ship continued to tremble around them as they prepped for the mission. By the time he'd gotten his armor on, the trembling had subsided into something more steady. Still enough to be worrying, but at least it wasn't getting worse.

After finishing a check of his suit and getting confirmation that all was well, Eric did a quick check of his guns and ammo. As he finished that up, the ship stopped moving. All became still and silent. Eric surveyed the armory.

The others looked ready to go.

Drake patched the group comms channel into the ship's. "I take it we made it down?" he asked.

"Yeah, we made it. But we're in shit shape and we're a little farther from the location than we wanted to be. Also, a couple more pieces of news. One bad, one annoying, one weird," Weller replied a moment later.

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