Chapter 15: Blood & Steel

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Something was rubbing Drake the wrong way.

They'd gotten through the airlock and had hunted down a general access terminal without any more trouble from the locals. But that was just the problem. Erebus had to know they were there, it had to know where they were coming in through. So why wasn't there a legion of freaks here to mow them down or melt them or blow them away? Why these empty corridors and rooms? Even stranger was this map he was looking at.

It was inconsistent as hell, and that made him even more nervous. So far, it seemed to resemble the rough outline of the structure he'd viewed from below, so at least that wasn't a problem. Probably. The thing was, several of the locations were labeled, which didn't make sense enough by itself. Why would Erebus need to label anything? It was a damned AI, it had photographic memory and it was controlling everything in this facility. But to make matters stranger, some of the labels were in German, and French, and some language he didn't recognize.

Was it just screwing with them?

"So what do we do?" Weller asked.

He looked over at them, then back to the map, considering it. They seemed content enough to put him in charge of the operation. It was funny to him how that was very rarely actually decided. It was funnier to think that he was a fucking career mercenary and a bunch of Spec Ops personnel were letting him run the show.

"We'll try to keep it simple," he replied. "This is...apparently a storage bay for spare parts of, among other things, vehicles. Eric and Weller will go there and track down the parts we need to fix our ship. Stacker, Porter, you're with me. We're heading for what I hope is the command center. If we can manage it, I want to run a BioScan and see where that gets us. If Allan or anyone else is here, it should really help cut down the time on finding them. Questions?" There were none. Everyone seemed in agreement with his plan.

"Good. Then let's go. Good luck," he said, looking at Eric and Weller. Eric replied in kind and, after they finished studying the map before them, headed out. Drake watched him go, frowning, miserable and frightening thoughts beginning to surface in his mind.

"Come on," he muttered, leading the others out of the room and down the corridor beyond, making for the control room.

He was thinking of Trent.

During the vast majority of his life, throughout his career as a mercenary, he'd lived under a kind of permanent cognitive dissidence. In his mind, he knew that no one escaped death forever and that one false move could result in death for either of them. You had to accept that if you were going to survive in a job where you grabbed a gun and went to war every other week. But in his heart he believed that both of them would either go out in a blaze of glory together or live forever. In the deepest, darkest part of himself, Drake never truly thought that he would have to live in universe where he was alive and functioning but Trent was gone.

Looking back on those dark, harrowing months after Trent's death, Drake was honestly surprised that he was here, now, alive and relatively sane. It felt like nothing short of a miracle. But he also knew the reality of the situation was that he was simply adjusting to life after losing someone crucially, critically important to him. In a way, it felt like his soul had been maimed. And that was the core, perhaps, of his fears now.

That he would be forced to endure a second maiming.

He wasn't honestly sure if he could survive that.

Up ahead, Drake heard heavy footfalls. A distraction. Perfect. No more time for thinking. He switched his rifle to three-round burst and quickly covered the distance in between his current location and a four-way junction. He waited, listened, trying to determine where the footfalls were coming from. Obviously not dead ahead, because he'd be able to see them. He waited, determined that they were coming from the right. He peered cautiously around the corner and spied a pair of big metal motherfuckers coming his way.

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