|This article, DT 2020: Keep Steady, was written by Distant Tide. Please do not edit this fiction without the writer's permission.|
Damn, there was the regret of not bringing Althea on this wayward journey into the deep frontier. The stubborn AI was a godsend in times like these.
Andra winced as she set Merlin’s cryogenic pod to cycle, listening as the cold and nanite machinery went to work in preserving his sickly form. She refused to take her eyes off his cracked and sunburnt skin caked with dry sweat and brown-indented splotches. The Jiralhanae-born disease was taking its toll, Spartan or not. Finally, as the humid crystalline obscured the soft facial features she long cared for, she let out a single despairing gasp.
The exhale was a primal mix of emotion and distress: frustration, fear, doubt, tire, paranoia. Everything she bottled up during the day-and-a-half ride by gravitonic-Revenant to where her sickly charge parked his military corvette. Andra slipped on a brave face as she tried to find a doctor for Merlin, and then his ship when that did not pan out – hiding away all her questions of why he left her or hid out on a dust ball like Conquer.
She wandered by a false-window, cueing it to display the landscape outside. Desolate, unforgiving, inhospitable. The seasons-long, violent dust storms of this hellish place buried entire cities in sand. Andra nearly missed the corvette’s half-buried form as they drove around the locale given by the ship’s encrypted beacon.
Looking past the screen’s visage, she made out her own reflected facial features. Sand-blasted brown curls, a deep slash scar across the left cheek, hastily painted black eyeliner wrapped around half-closed blue eyes, with bags. She was slouching again, tilting her head forward and to the right. She could feel the strain in her neck, a reminder of how long she remained upright. How long has it been since she sat down, laid down?
She nearly had a heart attack when brown golems started shifting in the sands outside, ghoulish faces of dead humans, Covenant, and other unknown aliens sprinting and closing in on Merlin’s desert hideaway. She closed her eyes and not for a second longer. Opening them, the figures were gone – just sand swashing by the camera feed.
She clinched at the false-window frame, grasping the metal retainer to steady herself. Her entire body vibrated, centered on her weary spinal column. She really should sit down…
No, she couldn’t afford that. It wasn’t safe here – her sleep, her dreams could never be safe again.
But… She would probably die herself if her brain didn’t recharge… could she risk it? No, she wouldn’t do it. She spotted a bench in the hall, adjacent from the cryo bay and stumbled her way over. Setting herself down, she leaned back against the cold titanium wall and breathed, at least enough to concentrate in that moment.
Once settled, she patted herself down looking for that paper box, and the lighter. She found them and promptly drew an over-doped stim stick to her lips and torched the end of the cigarette.
She took a deep inhale of the synthetic drug and laidback, feeling the ‘peace’ return as everything stopped shaking. Safe again, for another twelve hours – from the Silent Garden’s monsters.