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He slipped the memory card into its slot and then closed the lid on the player. Wray had heard the recording six times already, and had already picked over every single detail.
"Hey Vilky, how long until we are there?" He asked.
"Fifty six minutes," Vilky replied from the cockpit.
Fifty six minutes is plenty of time, Wray thought. He could listen to it once more, what could it hurt... maybe he'd hear something he missed.
LAST RECORDING FROM SCORPION ONE - AUDIO LOG
S1 - "King Dimitrius"
S2 - "Hummel"
S3 - "HotDog"
S4 - "Dustrega"
Radio log begins playing
S1: "Scarab, we're on board, I'm closing the ramp now and will meet you in the cockpit in a moment"
SCARAB: "Roger, I'll put us into quantum while you make your way up here."
S1: "Thanks for picking us up on such short notice."
SCARAB: "No problem, it's been a while man."
S1: "Yeah, it has."
SCARAB: "When did we see each other last?"
S1: "Two years ago, Daymar."
SCARAB: "The contract over that remote settlement, right?"
S1: "That's right."
SCARAB: "Did those families end up okay, the ones we were able to save?"
S1: "I'm pretty sure."
SCARAB: "Good, I wish we could have killed a few more of those bastards who kept them there like that. I can't believe people like that still exist in the 30th century."
S1: "Looks like we're approaching Omicron 9 now."
SCARAB: "Okay so what are we doing here and why couldn't you just take your own ship again? I don't mind getting paid up front like this, DSC always treats me right, but what's the deal? You mentioned it was time sensitive?"
S1: "One of our industrial mining teams hasn't reported back to command in over 24 hours. Their flight report indicated they intended to survey an asteroid in this system. We were asked to investigate because we are closest to their last known position and our ship lacks the scanners and communications power that yours has. And you're one of the best pilots I know."
SCARAB: "So this could be a faulty communications thing on their end?"
S1: "We're hoping so, it is very unusual for this particular team to go silent like this. These guys set a pretty good example of what it means to be "punctual", they're not often late or held up by excuses. We're assuming some kind of engineering failure and since my team is multiskilled, we're best suited and positioned to assist".
SCARAB: "I'm getting a faint reading here about a hundred and fifty million out. Looks like a transponder signal on the civilian frequency. Uh, ...Neptune?"
S1: "Yup that's their ship, where's it coming from."
SCARAB: "Large body directly in front of us I'm guessing it's your asteroid. We should see it here soon, once we get through this helium cloud."
S1: "That must be it."
SCARAB: "Jesus that's a big sucker. It could be a moon, shit I'm amazed the rest of the asteroids aren't orbiting around it."
S1: "Are we within local coms range yet?"
SCARAB: "Uh, we're getting mild interference but we should be."
S1: "Neptune from Scorpion…"
S1: "Neptune, this is Scorpion 1 on civilian band. Glumm, Trin, if you read me, copy back."
S1: "What's our eta to the transponder signal?"
SCARAB: "About fifteen minutes at impulse, looks like it's on the lit side of the asteroid too, thankfully."
S1: "D, do you copy."
S4: "LLLL-ima Charlie, send it, boss."
S1: "Get the guys kitted for support deployment, we might have to help Neptune repair their coms problem. I'll be down in a few minutes to brief."
SCARAB: "Okay, but just to be clear, I'm not expected to leave the ship on this gig, right?"
S1: "Don't worry, I'm sure this'll be quick. Let me know once we're on final approach. I'm headed down to the hold"
SCARAB: "Will do."
S4: "Hey Boss."
S1: "Hey D."
S4: "We're almost ready. Hummel's tuning his tools in the shop and HD's in the head."
S4: "Any word from Trin or Glumm, I see their transponder is echoing now. Do we know if they're still alive?"
S1: "We don't know anything yet, just that they're not responding despite our hails."
S4: "Neptune? Glumm's ship right?"
S4: "Now I see why it might be hardware failure. That thing's a piece of junk."
S2: "Hello Dimi."
S1: "Hummel. Is your pack fully charged? We need to be prepared to repair both their power system and the communication wave-guides themselves. Worst case, we'll need to cut through the ship to get them both out if they're experiencing a full power problem and life support systems are failing."
S2: "I'm ready."
S1: "Good. Where's Hot Dog?"
S4: "What's that smell?"
S3: "Hey sorry, that took longer than expected. Let me get my suit on, I have to synthesize a few bags of blood before we head out. Gimme two minutes and I'll be ready."
S4: "Dude, what did you eat? Christ, it smells like something died in your stomach!"
S3: "Hey those burritos were delicious, I regret nothing. Hehe."
S1: "Settle down. We'll be landing near the transponder location in five minutes and making our way to Neptune on foot. It'll probably turn out to be nothing, but the fact that they aren't communicating is concerning. Weapons slung, pockets full of parts, and heads in the game. Start thinking about the situation and be ready for anything no matter how exciting or boring.
S1: "Scarab, how's our approach?
SCARAB: "Hey King, we're 20,000 out. Say… this thing is putting off some bizarre readings though. I'm picking up gravity levels three times what they should be for an object of that size. Also, it's got an atmosphere, there's a nasty boron-particulate storm happening near your transponder's location too.
S1: "Can we land?
SCARAB: "Uh, I can get you on the ground, but I can't stay on the surface, those boron particles will eventually destroy my intakes and maneuvering thrusters. It'll likely limit visibility to a few meters for you guys as well."
S1: "That's good enough, once we're down you can loiter in the area and we'll call you when we need you. Sound off, scorpion are you ready?."
S4: "I'm Ready"
SCARAB: "I'm on final approach, be down in two. Lowering ramp."
S1: "This storm is likely going to affect our communications. Scarab are you recording our audio?"
SCARAB: "Have been since you set foot on my ship."
S1: "Okay good."
SCARAB: "Touching down..."
S1: "Scorpion… Go!"
S3: "3 on the ground"
S4: "4 on the ground"
S2: "2 here."
S1: "Scarab we are off the ship and braced on the surface, you are clear to dust."
SCARAB: "Lifting off, I'll orbit and try to keep an eye on you from above the storm. Check in every so often okay?"
S1: "Scorpion 1, out."
S3: "Which way do we go?"
S4: "Can't see shit. This dust storm is thick as hell."
S2: "I've got it, Neptune is 152 from our position, six hundred meters, equal elevation."
S1: "Neptune, this is Scorpion, we are six hundred meters to your 330 and approaching. Glumm, Trin, do you copy?"
S2: "I'm not reading any movement in front of us for several thousand meters."
S1: "Okay let's make our way there. Hummel, take point with that scanner"
S3: "Do you think this storm has something to do with the coms failure?"
S4: "Maybe, Maybe their main drive failed."
S3: "That's certainly possible, I mean, this is the Neptune we're talking about. Didn't Trin used to own it before Glumm?"
S4: "Yes, then he lost it to Glumm in a game of cards if I recall correctly. Or something like that."
S3: "But what would stop them from communicating for so long. I mean they've got batteries and the emergency coms in the escape pods. Why not use those?"
S2: "That's a good point"
S4: "I dunno dude. I'm hoping it's nothing."
S1: "Hummel will all these boron particles affect our armor?"
S2: "Technically yes, but it'd take several days of constant exposure to cause any significant damage. We should be fine."
S3: "Hey I think I see it."
S4: "Yeah, there it is. That's definitely Glumm's ship."
S3: "Looks like the ramp is up."
S2: "The exterior lights are on and the wave-guide appears to be intact, that's a good sign."
S1: "Scarab, we've found Neptune, we're going aboard now."
S1: "Hummel, on the panel. Can you lower the ramp?"
S3: "I'm not picking up any heartbeats other than our own, even on the ship, but the storm could be affecting my sensor."
S4: "Didn't that thing once think the coffee machine had a heartbeat? It doesn't seem very reliable."
S3: "That's only because I didn't yet know how to properly tune it.
S1: "How's it look Hummel?"
S2: "This is a Sentry 3 security panel. I can get us through it, but it'll set off the emergency alarms inside the ship."
S1: "Do it."
S4: "Well at least Glumm didn't skimp on the security, the rest of the hull however…"
S3: "I've got a bad feeling about this."
S4: "Really dude?"
S2: "I'm through, ramp's opening."
S1: "Trin, Glumm if you can hear us, we're coming on board."
S4: "Should we have our weapons out?"
S1: "No. There's no threat of anything yet."
S3: "Those flashing lights are giving me a headache already."
S4: "The ship is depressurized?"
S1: "That appears to be the case."
S3: "Why is the ship depressurized? Hey I can treat extreme exposure to cold, hypothermia, even severe frostbite, but a zero oxygen environment? I don't have any cures for people who are sick with that."
S4: "I hope they're in their EVA suits..."
S1: "I'm sure they are. Lets split up and search each deck, I'm headed to the cockpit to turn off the alarm. Hummel, get to engineering and see if you can get life support back online. Dustin, Hot Dog, search the rest of the ship. No weapons, I want no accidents."
S4: "Roger that."
S3: "This is really weird, I wasn't expecting the ship to be depressurized."
S4: "Yeah seriously, as if the corrosive metal droplet storm outside wasn't bad enough, we very well might be searching a death ship here. Where the hell are Trin and Glumm?"
S3: "Well, we know they're not sleeping. One, this is three, we're in the crew quarters, no sign of either of them."
S1: "Copy, I just got to the cockpit, turning off the alarm now."
S4: "Food's in the fridge, there's no signs of struggle anywhere in the gallery I can see. I do notice Glumm has an affinity for durians however, yuck!"
S3: "I'm in the infirmary, nothing here either. All of their medical supplies are still behind the glass and I'm not finding any recent medical entries in their medlog. Last one was two weeks ago when they left fleet and had to go through routine quarantine. Nothing unusual about that."
S4: "Heh, maybe they faked their own deaths to collect the -OH SHIT!"
S2: "Life support systems are back online, ship is repressurising."
S4: "Warn us next time Hummel, I almost crapped myself!"
S3: "I love the way that feels. It's like a hug and plunging feeling at the same time."
S1: "Hummel, anything out of the ordinary in engineering?
S2: "Negative, coolers are active, power cells are active, communications array is integral and there are no incomplete repairs."
S1: "So there's nothing wrong with their communications system. That leaves one possibility."
S2: "They were able to respond, but were unwilling or prevented by some other means."
S1: "That's what I am thinking. Meet me on the bridge, I need help accessing the ship's logs."
S1: "Hot Dog, Dustin, get to the cargo hold, see if anything has been brought on board."
S3: "Okay on my way."
S4: "Meet ya there."
3 minutes of silence
S2: "Dimitrius, I found their logs. Looks like they scanned this section of the asteroid and located something. Mmmm… it… it looks like they set several waypoints around this area and finally landed here."
S1: "Did they make any video logs or anything? Any indication as to what they were doing or why the ship was depressurized?"
S2: "No, I only have access to their ship's event logs, they didn't log any recordings or concerns. My guess is they thought they were on a routine mission."
S1: "Okay, so they searched for something and found something they expected to find. Can you tell what it is they found?"
S2: "Negative, their mineral scanner pinpointed a general area, but there's no detailed analysis on what's actually there."
S4: "One, four."
S1: "Send it Dustin."
S4: "Hey boss I think we may have found out what happened to them, but you're going to want to see for yourself."
S1: "Where are you? The hold?"
S1: "We'll be right there."
2 minutes of silence
S1: "What's in those cargo containers?"
S3: "They're sealed, it looks like normal ore containment, but we can't figure out what's inside them. There is a mineral signature on the container infopanel, but I have no idea what this information means."
S1: "Strange, I would imagine they would mark it or document their findings. They're usually pretty methodical about this stuff."
S4: "I found records in the hold security video log. You should have a look. Here they are."
S3: "24 hours ago?"
S1: "Yup that's Trin and Glumm returning in the rover."
S3: "They have something with them."
S4: "Looks like a bunch of small containers."
S1: Okay, so they dropped it directly into the ore containment… and now they're getting back into the rover and off they go down the ramp."
S3: "Doesn't look like they were in a hurry."
S1: "Okay so they took one of the rovers to go visit one or more of the waypoints they set, they found something, they brought it back, put it in this container and then what, went back out? Why wouldn't they process it immediately. Usually the only time they skip processing is when the mineral is volatile, but Hummel, your scanner would passively detect that right?"
S2: "That's right, as a matter of fact it looks like the rover is still within Neptune's scanner range. I can see her parked two clicks out. Do you want me to send you the coordinates?"
S3: "I want to know what's in these containers. Hummel can you make sense out of this console? "
S4: "Yeah, I kind of don't want to know at this point."
S2: "I can tell you that whatever it is, it's very small and very heavy assuming I'm reading this meter correctly. This container has a weight limit, and apparently whatever's inside it is almost maxing out the weight limit, but it's only taking up 1/1000th the volume. That means whatever's actually inside this container is approximately the size of a watermelon but it's heavier than it should be, even for a volatile mineral."
S4: "That's one heavy fruit."
S3: "Maybe it's not a mineral?"
S1: "Scarab, Scorpion, we need transport from our position. Can you pick us up at Neptune. LZ is clear within 100m?"
SCARAB: "Hey King, I've got ya. But we have to be quick, this storm is angry and getting angrier. If it gets much worse you may be stuck there until it lets up."
S1: "Let's get down the ramp, Scarab is almost here."
S1: "Scarab, we're onboard, take us to the cords I just transmitted to you."
SCARAB: "Okay, we're on our way, should just be about forty seconds."
SCARAB: "It's a cave it looks like. I'll set you down just to the left of the entrance, sixty meters."
S1: "Copy, we're ready."
SCARAB: "We're down."
S1: "Lets go."
S1: "Scarab we're on the ground, you can dust."
SCARAB: "Lifting off."
S1: "Weapons out, ready low Scorpion. You're on point Dustin, take us to the cave entrance"
S4: "If I can find it, I can barely see in front of my face."
S2: "I can see the rover, it's parked just outside the cave entrance straight ahead of us."
S3: "Okay this time I'm sure this thing is working correctly, the heartbeat scanner detects nothing aside from us."
S1: "Check it anyway."
S3, S4: "Roger"
S3: "I'll cover, you get the door."
S4: "Ready? Opening. ...nothing inside, no damage or anything."
S2: "They just parked it and went inside the cave. It's been here a while, powercell is completely drained and the boron is starting to chip paint off its body."
S1: "Dustin, back on point, take us into the cave."
S2: "Dimitrius, there's, uh… I'm picking up concentrations of lead in the ground around us, we'll likely lose coms with Scarab if we go more than a few meters in there."
S1: "Can you leave your pack at the entrance so we can use it as a relay with Scarab?"
S2: "Yes with limited range, but if it's not connected to my suit's power source it will only last about half an hour."
S1: "Hopefully we won't need that long."
S1: "Scarab we'll be relaying coms to you through Hummel's compack. Can you confirm the signal relay on his frequency?"
SCARAB: "I've got you five by five, Dimitrius."
S4: "What's it look like in there?"
S3: "Pitch black."
S4: "This is all kinds of nope, miners are crazy man, what the hell were they thinking, what did Trin and Glumm find in here. Super quantanium? Why not tell us right away so we could come help them mine it?"
S1: "Switch to infrared."
S3: "I hate infrared."
S1: "Keep a few meters between us and lets move in. We're on tac guys, keep it easy and quiet, Dustin double check anything remotely resembling a contact, Trin and Glumm could still simply be having communications issues."
S4: "I've seen this movie before, I'm sure there's a good explanation for everything, and it includes monsters with tentacles that have lasers attached to them or something like that."
S2 Whispering: "Did you hear that?"
S1 Whispering: "Hear what?"
S2 Whispering: "...nothing, nevermind."
S4 Whispering: "Up ahead, you see that?"
S1 Whispering: "What do you see?"
S3 Whispering: "There's light up ahead."
S1 Whispering: "Hummel"
S2 Whispering: "Nothing, scanners clear."
S1 Whispering: "Hot Dog"
S3 Whispering: "No heartbeats other than our own. Not sure if the lead is affecting the sensor or not."
Smacking sounds heard.
S3: "Yeah it's working, but I can't scan more than about 150 meters in any direction. We're alone. Thank god, I'm turning off this stupid infrared."
S4: "I see.... tripods. They have lights on them."
S1: "Yeah they're Trin's, I've seen those kinds of survey flood lights before. We used them on Aberdeen years ago."
S3: "Wow there's a lot of them. What were they trying to illuminate? What's that on the wall?"
S4: "Is that… no."
S2: "It looks like a mineral vein, except I've never seen one that looks like that before."
S4: "There's another one over here, it goes all the way into the ground."
S1: "Any sign of them? Spread out and search the area, but stay within my line of sight."
One minute of silence
S3: "Did you hear that?"
S1: "There are footprints in the sand over here, two pairs. They lead deeper into the cave. Hummel come here and look at these. I think this might be Trin's bootprint. Can you scan them?"
S2: "It'll take a minute for the scanner to process, my suit is slower without my power pack. Notice the footprints are not very deep though, that means they weren't carrying anything."
S3: "They wanted to be light so they could move faster, look at the stride, they're practically running."
S4: "Yeah but from what? ...did you hear that?"
S1: "I did."
S2: "I did too."
S4: "What the fuck is that sound?"
S1: "Safeties off, guys, weapons yellow."
S4: "It's coming from the direction we just came from. Covering!"
S2: "Towards the front of the cave."
S1: "Scarab, scorpion, we're picking up a strange audio sound. Like a ticking or a scratching. Is there anything around us that we should know about?"
S3: "Wait there's something else. Out past the footprints. What is that?"
S4: "Is that the storm making that sound?"
S2: "I don't think so. It sounds like it's coming from inside."
S1: "Scarab do you read me through the signal relay?"
SCARAB: ".....arely coming throu… repeat…"
S4: "It's gotta be the storm, we didn't pass anything when we entered. Look up there's dust starting to fall from the ceiling. Is that more boron?"
S1: "Scarab do you read me?"
S3: "Did you see that? Just beyond the light. The dust is starting to coat it."
SCARAB: ".....ultiple signals… ...s be carefu…"
S4: "Hot Dog, where are you, it's hard to see beyond all of these flood lights."
S1: "Scarab resend last, multiple what, over?"
S4: "Boss, there's something behind us, multiple sounds. It's coming from the cave entrance! Hummel, shotgun."
S2: "I'm over your shoulder."
S3: "Standby, there's something moving here..."
S1: "Three, I've lost sight of you, what do you see, where are you?"
S3: "Yeah, right there… is that. Who's over there?"
S2: "Dimitrius, something's closing on us from the cave entrance."
S1: "Hot Dog, what's your 20 dammit, I said sound off!"
Audio begins to get choppy
S3: "FREEZE! Stay where you are and identify yourself, ...do not come any closer, I am a security operator with…. authorized by the United Empire of Earth to use deadly force to protect myself and my …, I said stay where you ...are!"
S1: "Hot... Dog Where Are You?!"
S3: "I said... don't come any closer!"
S1: "Who... you talking to?!"
S3: "Stop! ....DON'T!"
Several gunshots can be heard through choppy audio
S4: "I see his muzzle…. flash, he's further down ...path, ….past ….footprints!"
S2: "w....the f ….is that?!"
S1: "..fall back further into..."
More gunshots can be heard.
Several minutes of silence
SCARAB: "Scorpion I'm losing you. You're too far into the cave."
SCARAB: "Scorpion, I've lost connection with your relay. I think it's power is low. Scorpion? Dimitrius are you there? Dimi?!"
Wray rolled it around his fingers quite easily, much like he would a quarter. Cold, sleek and almost slippery, he felt its contours and then set the round down on the table next to his revolver. He preferred the simplicity of a magnum, the ballistics and mechanical reliability felt more visceral to him than an energy weapon.
Dimitrius and his team could take care of themselves despite what he had heard on the recording, he knew this with a conviction, It's just, he didn't want to have to think about it too much.
But… if scorpion one couldn't handle whatever it was, then what chance did scorpion two have? What was he about to put his own team up against. What happened to Dimitrius, Dustin, Hummel and Hot Dog, who or what were they engaging in that cave? Were Trin and Glumm still alive? Were any of them?
It had already been 36 hours since Neptune had gone missing and 9 hours since DSC received the recording from Scarab, they'd mobilized immediately and had been in transit for four hours at this point.
All he could do was wait.
Inside his chest he felt a momentary rush of intense indignation that someone or some-thing would dare threaten or cause harm to his outfit, ...to his friends.
Only 22 minutes left until they reach Omicron 9.
Outside the window, stars sped by in streaks and the ship stretched farther towards a distant, unknown horizon.