Pendulum Ch. 27: Lights In the Sky

The golden sky had turned blood red some time ago. It had taken forever and must have happened gradually, almost unnoticeably, but Deirdre had taken a nap during that time, and the difference popped out immediately. What also stood out was their change of locations. She had awoken to the sound of the closing airlock, and Adams stood in the entrance, holding a large pack. He lowered it in slow motion. Nobody offered help. It had probably not been the first one, and if he had rejected any help, it would make sense.
Deirdre rubbed her eyes. Her hair was a mess, but that was fixable. The lack of a proper shower, though, was an actual problem, one for which there was no solution right now. What the Wisp had in sanitary facilities was limited to a toilet, human-sized. If one of them was in distress, it would be the doctor. He barely even fit in the narrow chamber. Deirdre shook her head. There were a thousand things to think about. This was one of the unnecessary ones.
She reached out to Cailean, but the Cu Sidhe was already too far away for any kind of communication. She could barely feel his presence to the north, toward the mountain range.
“That was the last one,” Adams said, and took off his helmet. His face was covered with sweat, and he had shadows under his eyes, but the smile was one of relief. He looked at Deirdre. “I can conduct my research anywhere, so I’ll leave the course to you.” He paused for a moment, then added, “Your hair looks wild.”
Yeah, she’d bet. No need to point it out to her. She put on a formal smile.
“I’d like to move closer to those mountains over there,” she said and pointed at the distant foothills.
He loosened the clamps around parts of the exoskeleton and nodded, obviously in thought, already far away.
A loud, explosive cough from the other side of the Wisp startled her. The marine tech writhed over the console he was working on, both hands in front of his mouth.
“Corporal Hill, are you all right?” Murray shot up from his seat and took three hasty steps. He put his hand on the tech’s shoulder and frowned.
“Doctor, he’s coughing blood.” Another cough, this one decidedly wetter than the first, shut him up.
Dr Maon stood up from his seat in the med unit and opened the door.
“Let me take a look.”
His facial expression was unreadable at the best of times, when his beard covered the lower half of his face, but it was completely closed when he stepped out of the small compartment and into the main room. Adams only noticed when he passed him by, but steered his attention back to the pack he was opening. He had assembled most of his lab equipment and arranged it in the corner right next to the toilet.
Another bout shook the young tech, and Murray supported him with his large hands, that still looked tiny, compared to Maon’s giant excavator shovels.
The doctor grabbed the wrists of the young man and pulled them away from his face gently. They glistened in a deep red that almost shimmered black in the red light that shone through the front window. The doctor removed a small device from his pocket and held it in front of Hill’s forehead.
“Is he okay?”
Deirdre couldn’t like the Lieutenant’s voice, no matter how often she heard it, but she’d have to get used to the thought of having him around for a few weeks. Well… not if she could find a place of power soon and open a gate for them.
“I can’t tell yet. Help me get him to the med room, please.”
The two men took the tech between them and walked him over to the small compartment, whose door still stood open.
Deirdre stared out the virtual window. The Wisp was currently parked, on a spot in the plains that looked the same as everywhere else. The mountains were still too far away to serve as a frame of reference. They must have moved, and quite a distance, but there was no way of guessing how far they’d come. Adams having picked up the last of his loads, it must have been considerable.
Not far ahead, another group of tall mushrooms towered over the reddish flat. Their cones soaked up the red sunlight, as if to consume it, but even she knew fungi didn’t do that. A rock formation to the left stood out. It wasn’t covered by whatever lay over the land like a carpet; naked rock, grey and weirdly smooth, definitely different from how it would have looked on earth. Parts of it even reflected the sunlight, which gave the whole crag a red aura. But not the rocks fascinated her. A swarm of glowing objects in the sky had just passed the Wisp overhead and flew in a formation at a breakneck speed.
“What’s that?” Deirdre asked no one in particular.
“Curious. I think I’ve seen them before, but not so many.”
Adams had come closer without her perceiving his presence. He had turned into a part of the background, doing his own thing, utterly uninvolved in his surroundings, but now he seemed intrigued.
“They’re going in the direction I wanted us to drive.”
Both of them stared at the display and followed the swarm’s path. Sixteen of them—if she had counted correctly; they were already too far away to try again—moved together in a V-formation.
“Like migratory birds,” Adams said, his gaze distant, and ran a hand through this black hair that reminded her of the blood the tech had coughed out.
She turned around again, but there was nothing to see. The doctor’s broad shoulders barred the view on the hospital bed, and Murray paced back and forth in front of the transparent wall.
“Birds. They were an animal kingdom of its own, before the third extinction event,” he said, and his voice now mirrored the distance in his eyes.
Cailean’s presence was clear and strong, and he had stopped moving. No doubt, both were in the same direction. The birds, or whatever they were, now disappeared over the ridge, and Adams stepped forward. He slumped into the seat Corporal Hill had occupied and manipulated the console. The display changed. A section widened and took over the whole screen. There they were again, close enough to recount. Sixteen, she had been right. But more than that was hard to distinguish. What shape they were, and what was behind the glowing shine, was impossible to see. Adams scoffed, and the display returned to its default mode. The Wisp jerked and sped up at a slow rate.
“Let’s see what there is in that direction,” he said, and the vehicle went into a wide curve that aligned it new.
Cailean’s position was unchanged. Was he waiting for her? He’d better. If she lost him here on this unknown planet, who knew how long it would take to find him again?


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