Pre * De * Cede: Chapter 6
Beta, Gamma, and myself began to suit up to head outside. Delta joined us to help with the suits under the pretense of being helpful, but was rather more interested in the workings of the radio equipment once again.
“Like I guessed…” He hummed to himself, fiddling with the instrument plate at the front of one of the spare suits. “There is an antenna sewn up into the neckline.”
I helped Beta adjust the cuffs that had rolled inside his suit as he was putting it on. “Will we be able to maintain contact?” I asked.
“Depends on the conditions, and if it is a straight shot.” Delta shrugged. “I’ve adjusted the wavelength of the local dish here to give us the best range at a decent enough quality. Alpha, your suit should work as a transponder for the others. I only worry that it won’t then give you all enough power to respond.”
“What if something goes wrong?” Beta examined the inside of the dome of his helmet, still in his grasp.
Gamma cleared his throat. “We’re going to be sticking together. Nothing that can’t be solved is going to happen. Right, Alpha?”
“Right.” I answered before I had a chance to think of any random possibilities.
The airlock was only big enough for two at a time. I allowed Gamma and Beta to enter first. As the second set of doors opened for them, I watched silently as Beta found his footing in the loose sand before I set the helmet upon my head.
Beta had already aligned the compass as I joined them outside. “Two kilometers.” He pointed “That way.”
I adjusted the airflow to my suit down the tiniest bit. “Let’s not waste any time then.”
“Beta, we are following you.” Gamma directed him.
I watched Beta attempt to nod inside the suit. He took the first step away from his mound of anxious footprints that had already appeared in the dirt. I went directly after him, with Gamma taking up the tail.
Beta’s gaze moved exclusively between the compass hanging from his suit, and his feet, which remained in perfect parallel motion. I glanced back to Gamma and the retreating station in the distance.
The land before us appeared deceptively flat, but looking back, it was obvious to see our three sets of footprints climbing and falling over the dunes and hills. The even sunlight filtering through the low clouds and the tint of our helmets made the landscape seem to continue off in a uniform wave of reddish brown. My breath became elevated and my knees ached, telling me that we had mounted an incline. That is when I saw it.
The wide structure seemed not too different from the station, save the even simpler, boxy construction. “Beta-” I called him to attention. “Look up, would you?”
Beta took my instructions as a warning, and in turn, he stumbled and halted in place, nearly causing me and Gamma to run into each other. “Oh, there it is.”
The radio cracked on again. “-You see -t?” Delta’s voice spoke to me.
“We see it, Delta.” I confirmed.
“Repeat, you- break-g up -tty bad.”
“We are here.” I said again, hoping to get the message across through the poor transmission. I marched up beside Beta, who was intent on picking the tiny particles of dust off the metal housing of the compass.
“Let’s go, then, Beta.” I called him to attention again.
“Oh, yes-” He shot up.
Gamma had already began to march out in front of us. I glanced back, confirming that our path home was still visible in the form of our footprints rising and falling over the dunes.
Gamma was circling the structure as we approached. “See anything good?” I asked. He had his hand on the pouch on his belt, fiddling with the velcro.
“I may see if I can salvage some spare wire I can use to splice in a fix for that short we had.” He shrugged, his finger pointing to a panel on the side of the structure.
“We still need to get inside.” I warned him. “Don’t damage any systems that may be still running.”
“Fine, fine.” Gamma shrugged. “I’m still going to take a look around the outside. You two see if you can find the entrance- saw something on the other side.”
“Come, then, Beta.” I pulled at his shoulder.
I dragged my hand across the surface of the structure. It was smooth, save for the even bumps of the rivets holding the panels of metal together. At the side of it, we found, as Gamma predicted, an entrance of sorts.
I pressed the material of my helmet against the small, round window looking inside. Beta mumbled something behind me. “See anything?”
“Only my reflection. Maybe… there’s another door inside?” I felt my hand down to the obvious handle on the right of the hatch. It was built to accommodate the extra space of the glove’s bulky material.
“You’re right, Alpha. There are likely some systems running in this thing, still.” Gamma spoke up, still out of sight somewhere on another part of the structure.
I gave the handle a hefty tug. It moved outward with a good deal of force. The bottom of the doorway dragged through the few inches of sand beneath it. Inside was another door as expected, made entirely of a clear material. The inside was dark, causing my and Beta’s reflections to peer back at us. I looked back to Beta for confirmation. “If it is a air lock of some sort… it will only fit one.”
Beta gave me a bow of his head. “You go first.”
I planted my first foot inside, shaking free some of the dry material from outside that had clung to the white fabric. After getting the rest of my suit within the confines of the compartment, I yanked the door shut. It gave a satisfying click, even through the thick material of the helmet. The radio murmured with a crunch of static as it struggled to maintain connection.
The second door was much easier to open. I found my footing on the uneven floor, tilted to the side at a slight certain angle. “You next, Beta.” I called out, also signaling him with a hard knock to the frame of the metal doorway.
Beta got the door open and stepped inside, his face attempting to find my shape deeper inside the dark. “You’ve got it. Make sure it’s closed tightly.” I directed.
Beta hurriedly yanked the door closed on himself before shoving the second door open with equal speed. “Not… too bad.” He moaned.
I finally gave my attention to the interior of the structure. The faint light from outside cast a glow on the tall metal ribs leading from top to bottom, and in between, boxy metal crates held in by fabric straps.
“Gamma, do you read?” I attempted to make contact.
“Copy.” He returned, a bit of static enveloping his voice.
“These suits have lights, don’t they?”
“Yeah, uhm…” He began. “There should be a button by the neck seal, up on your… left.”
I followed his instructions, finding the hard rectangular switch where he described. The light flipped on from a fixture just above the back of my head. The beam followed as I shifted around to read the now visible labels etched and inked onto the cargo. Beta’s light flipped on soon after.
“Dry rations.” I studied the first container in my field of view. I attempted to undo the strap holding it in place, but the tips of my fingers could not manage to release the clips.
“This is useless.”
“There’s a lot of stuff here…” Beta hummed to himself, his light scanning up and down the wall.
“Beta…” I pondered aloud. “If there was an airlock, there must be breathable air in here, right?”
Beta’s light turned up in my face, blinding me for a moment. “Doesn’t… sound like a good idea.”
“We’ll work faster if we get out of these gloves at least.”
“I’m keeping mine on.” He refused to budge.
I felt at my neck-piece and the seal from the helmet resting on top. I blinked at Beta before twisting it from its locking position, allowing me to pull it off. The air inside the compartment was vaguely warm. I let go of my held breath and attempted to inhale.
“Is he okay, Beta?” I heard Gamma’s voice asking jokingly through the speaker.
Beta released a giant sigh. “Yes…”
I shoved my helmet on the floor, propped up so the light would cast a glow across the room the best it could. Beta relented and pulled off his helmet and gloves with me. We began to carefully take apart the stacks of supplies from the top-down and place them by the doorway bit by bit.
“Hey, Alpha?” Beta spoke up as he continued to pass boxes my way.
“How… do you manage to stay so confident, through all of this stuff? It’s like… we don’t know anything.”
“I don’t know as much as the others.” I admitted with a shake of my head. “Its just… doing what you have to do.”
“But… you’re supposed to be our leader, right? You… woke up first, after all.”
I paused to force some of the crates into a neat stack that would be able to stand up on its own while I attempted to find my words. “All I know… is that I have to trust the others and what they say. I guess… I’m here to be the anchor and make sure that everyone keeps a level head.”
“I’ve been trying.” Beta paused, passing another box as I became ready. “Keeping a level head, that is.”
“That is a good thing. Not just for you, but for all of us.”
There was a sudden, loud knocking on the door outside. I caught a glimpse of Gamma poking his head in view of the window. Over the sound of the crates being jostled about, we had forgotten about the speakers in our helmets. I picked mine back up and re-initiated the radio feed.
“About time.” He huffed. “Found an exterior compartment with something for us. Something with wheels.”
The cart folded out onto four robust wheels and a wide platform to stack several boxes wide, and at least a few tall. Gamma had come inside to see the volume of things we had taken down and placed by the door. He also stumbled upon a control panel Beta and I had not seen in the dim light.
“Seems we can depressurize this whole container safely.” He described, shining his headlamp around the engraved labels. “We won’t have to take the supplies out bit by bit through the lock.”
“Sounds good to me.” I nodded.
Gamma turned back to us and tapped on the clear material of his helmet. “Suit up.”
I shoved the helmet back into the seal, locking it in place for myself before making sure Beta had done the same. He gave me a thumbs-up. I double checked the amount of air reading on the dial on my wrist as well: 62%. “Give it a go, Gamma.”
A faint pair of orange lights lit up beside the doorway. There was a faint humming around us, followed by a loud click of the locking mechanism outside. Gamma was then able to push the inner door outward, followed concurrently by the exterior one.
I sucked in a slow breath. “Easy enough.” I sighed out. The cart was awaiting us. Gamma stepped out first and turned back with his arms outstretched.
“Let’s get some of them going.”
The cart lacked any sort of powered mechanical system to aid us in our return to the station. Between the three of us, we took turns switching between the tow rope and making sure the crates were balanced. The low bed rocked back and forth over the uneven ground, the tires bouncing ever so slightly as they traversed the divots and hills.
The station was just coming into view when we heard the static of the long range radio return to our ears. “Delta?” I attempted contact. “Do you read?”
“About time.” The first words were from Zeta. “Delta’s been attempting to boost the signal best he can. You’ve just been out of range, I kept telling him.”
A second voice was heard from a distance through the speaker. “Is that them?”
“Here’s Delta now” Zeta chimed in again.
“Delta-” I began just as the waves were filled again with another’s commotion.
“I hope you got everything there, cause being that far out of contact is plenty worrying.”
Gamma cleared his throat loudly. “We’re back at the lock now, so you can quit worrying and help us get some of this inside. If you want, we can work together on getting more power to the system. “
The chatter halted for a brief moment before Delta’s voice returned. “Epsilon says he wishes to help too.”
About a third of the retrieved supplies fit into the airlock, along with one of us squeezed into the chamber, shoved to the corner. Beta was the first to head in with everything he was able to manage. The two others helped by clearing out the lock and making way for the next group of items. Gamma went next, followed by myself.
The section of the station was filled with roughly-sorted crates, some spilling out into the neighboring room. The three of us relieved ourselves of the suits while the others began to decide where the supplies would go. Even Zeta came out to determine if anything belonged to her.
“Let me remind you that it would be in our interests to continue with our manifests with these new items.” She said, turning some of the crates her direction. “This is everything, I hope?”
“A little more than half.” I announced. “Decided to get everything not labeled rations first, so that you all may get something of interest to your work.”