Stuffy in her hazard suit, the team scrambled around in the jet, gathering equipment and suiting up.
She glanced at Lucas.
“I keep saying, the random selection was a bad idea,” his voice came through their linked comm. system inside their helms.
Their suited commander called out names. Each person stood at the exit hatch.
Finally, “Iris Brooks,” he said.
She shifted her metal equipment case, flashed Lucas a smile and joined the line. Last, Lucas took his place behind her.
“I’m Sergeant Vance Redmond, team commander. We’ll depart shortly and head for the crater. No bullshit from anyone today. We are far from the Dome, and I won’t hesitate leaving you behind if you make my job difficult,” with a gloved hand, he tapped a weapon strapped to his suit belt, “There’ll be a base tent near the ridge. I want you back there by 1600 hours. Late and we’ll leave. Stick to your teams and don’t lose your guard. Get moving.”
Iris glanced at the digital clock display on the inside of her visor; 1400 hours. Just enough time to get in, collect samples, and head out.
The sealed hatch opened, sucking the heat from the cabin out into the darkness.
Redmond set up a base tent 10 minutes’ walk from the jet.
Iris set off with Lucas and their assigned guard, helmet lights swaying through the dust and icy darkness, dead Earth crunching beneath their heavy boots.
They climbed the crater ridge, gloves struggling to find grip and slid down to even ground below, picking up their pace.
The ridge’s incredible mass could be seen against the faint orange glow seeping through the dusty clouds above, while darkness blanketed all else.
“We’re here,” Lucas said.
Iris’ gaze dropped to the ground. Loose stones lay strewn. She knelt, opened her case, clumsy with the gloves and nerves, and collected different rock and earth samples. The beam from her helmet glinted against crystal dust.
She heard Lucas’ feet crunching a few steps away.
Something slammed into her side and she fell, clutching her sealed case.
Struggling upright, Iris glimpsed two dark figures in the flash, struggling against Lucas.
“Run!” their guard yelled.
“No!” she started toward Lucas.
“Samples…” Lucas forced out between grunts, “go!”
The guard grabbed her as he ran.
“We can’t!” Iris cried out. Glancing back, she saw them fall, “Lucas!”
Still running, halfway back to base, Redmond joined their comm. system, “Brooks?” he demanded.
“Attacked…Lucas…” she said between breaths.
“Attackers were cloaked, I couldn’t fire, I risked hitting him,” the guard said.
“Did anyone follow?”
“Lucas had both.”
Iris sat, half un-suited, the jet racing back to the Dome. She felt numb.
Redmond said they couldn’t go back.
She wasn’t allowed to argue.
If only she’d stopped. The guard could’ve helped him.
She closed her eyes and the fight flashed in her mind. She couldn’t stop picturing a shimmer in the air behind Lucas as they fell.