Recap: Eric and Anna are part of a team charged with surveying and evaluating the world gates that are scattered throughout known space. However, not everyone agrees with their mission, and after a disastrous encounter on Tantalus IV, the two find themselves on the run. After being separated for a time, they are now back together- but have just been captured by a strike team sent to take them down. This isn't any strike team though- it's headed by a man named Andreas, who happens to have a history with Eric. A history neither wants to talk about...
There were five of them left. Andreas was in the lead, talking quietly to Eric, and Anna followed at a short distance, replaying the last few hours in her mind. None of them had expected things to go south this fast- just a few short hours ago they'd been fighting Andreas, and very nearly dying for it, in some alien ruins in the ass end of nowhere. Now they were heading back to those selfsame ruins, in search of who knows what. Gillian strode next to her, silent, while Riggs brought up the rear guard.
It had all started with Russell- one of Andreas' men- getting sick and quickly succumbing to something that had caused him to go berserk, killing another trooper. Andreas had put him down, only to have Taylor start acting funny not long after. They'd barely dealt with him when Teague- the one she'd shot in the leg- also went berserk. The strike team was down to three now, including Andreas, and the balance of power in the group had shifted ever so slightly. Andreas was still nominally in charge but he and Eric were acting as equals now- she knew there was a history there- and she was watching Gillian very closely.
Gillian didn't say much, but she didn't miss anything either, Anna could see that right away. Riggs was technically second-in-command but she could see that Andreas also relied on Gillian a lot. She didn't bother trying to engage her in conversation; besides they had more important things to worry about. Like whatever was causing these episodes of madness. A pathogen, some life form- but it came on awfully fast. Wouldn't the techs have been aware of something like that? They'd been here more than two years.
She wondered idly what Andreas and Eric were talking about as they approached the tower, their boots squelching from passing the river. It hadn't been long ago they'd been shooting at each other, but emergencies make strange bedfellows. To be honest she was glad to have a little back-up, although she'd be even more glad to get out of here. Preferably without carrying some alien pathogen back home. As they reached the entrance Andreas and the troopers checked their weapons and Eric took her hand in his.
"You okay?" he asked.
"I'm fine," she smiled, although to be honest she wasn't sure. There was something... a fluttering maybe in her mind, almost like a leaf touching your skin as it skitters past on the wind. Just for a moment... not worth mentioning. Probably just nerves. Weird though.
Eric was looking at her oddly.
"Eric, I'm good," she insisted, forcing a smile. "Let's do this and get out of here. What do you think we're looking for?"
"Well," he said, scratching his chin, "it's not unheard of for the Precursors to ... collect things. Samples, exhibits even, from many worlds. They're always secure, I've never seen their systems fail. and to be honest, there's so little we understand. How their systems still run after millenia. But... it's possible they had a pathogen and... it got loose?"
Andreas snorted. "Fancy that. And just when we happen to be here."
"Andreas, we've been all through that," Eric said with a sigh. "We had nothing to do..."
"I know. Forget it. Focus on the task at hand- what are we going to find down there?"
"Well. The other technician is still unaccounted for. I've been in a few of these underground lairs and they're amazingly advanced- you see geothermal taps, systems we don't understand at all, some are quite immense. I don't imagine this is one of the bigger ones, given the size of this outpost, but I don't really know."
"So we're winging it," Andreas said drily. "Wonderful. Alright, here's the deal. We go down as five, everyone watch everyone's back. No splitting up. If anyone gets funny, they get a shot of this." He gestured at Gillian, who had syringes in her hand. "A little knock-out juice. And if that doesn't work, torch 'em."
Eric looked at him sharply.
"Sorry," he said with a smirk. "No time for sentimentality."
"Yeah right," Eric muttered.
"Alright, let's do this." Andreas passed through the entrance and the others followed. All was the same as they had left it, including fallen troopers and blood smears on the walls. Eric and Riggs went up to clear the upper levels while Andreas peered down the ramp- he didn't go too far down, Anna noticed. When Eric and the trooper returned they all took a moment. No one was in a hurry to go down there, after all. Finally Andreas said "Riggs, take point. Everyone stay together, don't get funny. Remember your training. If we have to fall back, we fall back in tandem, no one rabbits. Got it? Alright, Gillian watch our backs."
They descended the ramp nervously, and there was the technician they had found, still where they had left him. Anna suppressed a shudder as they passed his body. Then they were down into the darkness, the lights from their rifles piercing the gloom. The ramp went about thirty meters before leveling out, and they could see several passages leading into the darkness. Anna marveled at how their machines kept running, after all these years. Do we really want to know more about the Precursors? Sometimes she wondered.
Andreas looked at Eric, then indicated the central passage, which led down again. They went down, their boots still squelching a bit, and the air got noticeably cooler. Anna could see branching passages, and there was a blue glow from the alien symbols that they often found carved into the walls, as well as the humming machinery that was present. Before long she was feeling a little overwhelmed, thinking of all the rock over her head, and how she didn't belong here. And there was that fluttering again, the barest touch of something... but what?
She looked over at Eric and was startled to see him stumble a bit. He looked over at her and her heart went cold. He didn't look so good.