The nervous silence in the truck was broken by the sound of men on a faint channel crying out in pain, begging the God-Emperor for mercy he either did not possess or did not see fit to bestow upon them and crying for the loving arms of mothers that they would never see again before final gurgling to their demise. “Oh shit.” The driver hissed to himself as everyone in the truck was suddenly alert. Something out in the ice and the howling winds had found them and was coming for them. At this pace they were all just a meal being served in the tin cans that they called the convoy. If they didn’t move now they would die. Screams of the damned and dying kept echoing through the vox like malevolent ghosts and Juliette gripped the flamer that lay squarely across her lap tighter. She began to grind her teeth and some part of her wondered why she felt relieved that her fears had not been misplaced. At least she wasn’t going crazy.
Juliette couldn’t tell whether the drivers own nerves or the orders to pick up the pace forced him to put their truck up at least two gears higher and cause the engine to growl with the sudden change of pace. Either way the convoy, which had previously been slow and cautious in order to minimalize casualties, was not picking up a pace such that if anyone was left behind, they were at the mercy of whatever faceless monsters were coming through them through the blanket of snow and hail. Juliette noticed that the driver closed his eyes and was muttering a pray, or something. “Hey!” Juliette snapped her hand lashing forward and striking his arm. “You’ll have time enough for piety once we reach the refinery. Concentrate on the bloody path!” The driver looked shaken, but at least he kept his eyes open while he muttered a prayer Juliette was certain would go both unheard and unanswered. No one would save them but themselves now.
The convoy lurched forward at alarming pace, like a wounded animal desperately trying to escape a far superior predator. Juliette ignored the driver’s desperate prayers, and kept an eye out of the window, waiting for some creature to emerge snarling with blood cooling on its vicious claws. The only creature she could picture was the one she had first fought. She saw it lurking in the shadows, just about to pounce on her. The image of it had been burned onto Juliette’s psyche. Her fingers curled a little tighter around the grip and shaft of the flamer as the thought of the creature surfaced again and Juliette forced herself into focus, however fragile that state was.
A resounding crack echoed through the truck and the world fell away to the side. The sudden change of orientation sent Juliette into the firm embrace of her seatbelt as the ground beneath them gave way. Out of the window Juliette could see that the truck was tilting at the wrong angle to the rest of the world. “Shit!” She swore loudly as the truck fell away with other parts of the convoy. The initial fall forced the truck to roll lengthwise and Juliette’s seatbelt pinned her into her seat. The windows broke and splintered from the impact of rolling. The snow banks fell with the vehicles and stopped the truck rolling more than once. The truck was still sliding though, and with Geminar’s terrain they could likely be about to slide right off a cliff.
After a few seconds of sliding helplessly with the snow and ice, the truck dropped into something. The impact sent Juliette into the tense seatbelt once again, almost certainly leaving a bruise running from shoulder to hip and across her waist. Her flamer had been thrown from her lap to the other side of the truck, but it seemed mostly intact. Juliette undid her seat belt and got out of the truck. She walked to the front to have a look at the driver. He was slumped over the steering wheel, immobile. Tentatively, Juliette touched the man’s neck. No pulse. She pushed him back into the seat and felt his chest. Several of his ribs were broken, probably on impact with the steering wheel. Likely, his internal organs were punctured by the splinters of his ribcage. The very bones meant to protect him had likely killed him. He’s obviously undone his seatbelt while they were sitting still and had been too busy praying when things had gone to hell.
Juliette pulled him out of the driver’s seat and let his limp body fall into the snow. As she looked around, she realised that he was far from the only one. Most of the men and women who had fallen with the ice were dead; flattened by falling vehicles, crushed on impact or speared by broken ice as hard as steel. There were a handful of others crawling from ruined vehicles or from under snowdrifts, but far too few. Juliette was surprises to see even a few sentinels had made it. At least she wasn’t alone again. But they were all in big trouble if they didn’t move soon. Only a quick look upwards told her that this was a skate tunnel, and with the stench of this much dead, likely they would not have long before some found them.
Juliette kept looking round, and noticed that at the far end of the cave there was a blast door. The ships that made up the Geminar’s crust were usually buried much lower than this, but it did give Juliette an idea. Likely, skates wouldn’t have been able to breach it, and those damn xenos were unlikely to have found it. It would likely offer a temporary safety from any roaming skates, and hopefully the xenos too. There might be a powerful vox system that they could salvage and talk between the base and the refinery. Also, there might be some salvageable material they could use or take back to base, if and when the convoy made the return journey. Hopefully they made it. Juliette had to stop herself again. It would be easy to slip into despair if she thought about the possible fate of the convoy. *Focus on the moment* she told herself. *Do what you need to stay alive just a little longer.*
Her spirit steeled, she opened the vox. “Everyone, sound off. Whose still out there!” Names started slowly travelling to her, and she did her best to learn them. They needed to know and depend on each other if they were going to make it through. “I’m Juliette…” she said after everyone had spoken “…but you can call me Jewels, if you don’t already. We need to get out of this tunnel. Skates could come back at any moment, and we don’t want to be around when they do. We also can’t get topside for a bit. So, I say we head into the bowels of that ship. It’ll offer us some safety from the skates and whatever else is after us, we can check if it has any supplies we can use, or a vox system we can salvage to contact either the base or the convoy. If you don’t like that idea…” Juliette paused, but she wasn’t quite sure why.
“…then you are more than welcome to try and go it alone. The rest of you, on me. Bring everything you can salvage from our fallen comrades, we’ll need it all. I’m the truck driving towards the blast doors.” Juliette took all of the equipment she could off the driver; his gun, his pistol, his grenades. She took it all. It wasn’t going to help him where he was now. She threw it irreverently on the other front seat and then placed her flamer on top of it. She turned the engine on and smiled with the throaty growl it responded with. By all accounts, survivors and working equipment was more than she would have had any right to expect. The truck’s wheels spun as it moved away and covered the dead in snow, putting them out of sight as much as Juliette tried to put them out of her mind. They would have time to mourn when this nightmare was over. Now it was just about survival, and grief served no purpose there…