The two turbines of the aerotransporter whirred vigorously as the craft flew over a series of wooded bluffs. The five passengers and the two crew members in the cabin were gently shaken by the vibrations of the turbines, which swallowed gulps of cool night air to spit out hot jets.
The raindrops hammered the metallic skin of the aircraft, which approached its landing zone after a tow-hour flight in the dead of the night. The convoy of three aerotransporters descended and hovered above a group of small hills covered by tall grasses. The sky was dark and through the small windows faint glimmers shone in the distance, lost through the vegetation. The aircraft, which had flown in formation until that point, separated, the multicolored strobes of the two other vehicles vanishing behind the rainy curtain. The interior of the cabin was dark and loud; everyone was quiet. At the beginning of the flight, they had been ordered limit all communications. From time to time, the chatter of the flight crew came from the flight deck, muffled by the turbines almost instantaneously.
The craft descended further, hovering in place. Mechanical rattling alerted the passengers as the landing gear was being deployed. At the same time, a pair of very bright searchlights flooded the area beneath. The turbines whirred louder and louder as the outlines of the flattened grasses drew themselves in sharper detail. One of the passengers lifted his head, peering at the black, cloudy sky above, only to notice what seemed like a flash of bright light. He turned towards the others, in search of a reaction, but there was no reply.
Jacz thought that the others would be just as tired as he was. A few hours ago, he was comfortably sleeping in his bed, under the warmth of the blankets. The call woke him up.
‘Who is it?’ asked Jacz with a sleepy whisper, eyes barely open.
‘Mister Jaczek’, sighed a voice. The voice had something inhuman in its tone, appearing very dry and to the point. Formal situations used his full surname, which surprised Jacz. ‘A unique event will occur in a few hours. Meteorological satellites detected an important group of… matter, which shall crash to the surface in a concentrated area several hundred kilometres from your position. We have prepared your method of transportation which will take you to the crash site. They are waiting.’
‘But the MeteoSat data didn’t show for any… debris… in orbit. I think you are mistaken, whoever you are. Actually, who are you? Why am I being called this late?’
‘Mister Jaczek’, the voice continued, ‘there is no mistake. We know of your position in the analysis of the MeteoSat data for weather services. You cannot refuse, because after your awareness of this event, we must be certain that others will not know of this information. We are not asking you to participate in the recovery, we are ordering you.’ The voice was chilling, yet calm and calculating, without the slightest hint of emotion.
‘So you leave me no choice… you know, I should be reporting you to the authorities, but I’ll trust you on this.’ Few people knew his job. And oddly enough, he felt no danger coming from the inhuman voice. What was there to lose for him?
‘A car is waiting outside.’ The call stopped, the communicator blinking silently in idle.
Jacz prepared a small bag as quickly as he could, carefully placing his tablet, and scrounged for some clothing that would keep him warm and dry. He exited his minuscule apartment and reached street level. That time of the year and in the middle of the night, not many people could be found outside, as the metal carcasses of the cars were shedding whatever heat they scrounged during daytime. The trees began shedding the large leaves of the warm season in favour of small needle-shaped leaves during the yearly hibernation.
A black car was parked next to the sidewalk, under the orange streetlights. The engine was purring quietly. A silhouette was visible inside, the face obscured by the dark windows. It seemed to turn towards Jacz as a door opened. Jacz entered and placed his bag next to him. He tried peering more closely at the silent driver, but all he could see was the reflection of a pair of circular glasses.
‘Mister Jaczek, an aircraft awaits at the local airport. We will arrive there within half an hour.’ The voice was not the caller’s, but the clear tone lacked any discernible warmth. ‘I cannot reveal more.’
The car rushed through the small streets of the residential district before entering a main road. They were leaving the metropolis behind, the surroundings darkening as buildings became sparse, leaving all the construction sites and jumbles of cranes in the city’s halo. The black car did not stay long on the road, engaging a smaller path surrounded by trees. A few concrete structures haphazardly lined the path. Jacz tried to close his eyes to get a bit more sleep, but the various questions with no answer kept him awake.
The aerotransporter touched down and the shock absorbers slid along their supports as they took the craft’s weight. The co-pilot entered the cabin. The other passengers were more alert, looking around themselves. Red low-visibility lights illuminated the cabin as Jacz was gazing at the other passengers. Two men and two women were seated alongside him. One of the women was trying to read something from her tablet, her lowered face glowing from the screen. A flight helmet hid most of her features. To her left, the other woman was trying to see something through the window. Upon noticing that Jacz was observing her, she turned towards him.
“Hell of a way to wake up,” she whispered as her eyes scanned the cabin. “Hi, I’m Neda, by the way…”
“Pleased to meet you. Jacz.”
“So do you know why we are here?” inquired the man next to Jacz. He was wearing a pair of thin rectangular glasses. The man’s shirt was crumpled and a few lingering droplets of humidity fell from the raincoat on his knees. “Sorry, I forgot to introduce myself. Zidek.”
“There was a phone call a few hours ago,” said Jacz, hesitant if he should continue. “Something about crash and space debris…”
The other woman took her gaze away from the screen and was observing the others, her eyes brightly lit by the machine in her hands.
“A crash from space? None of the satellites I’m tracking showed anything about debris in orbit. No space traffic is expected in this area either, so what the heck are we doing here?”
“A few minutes ago, I thought I saw a bright flash through the clouds. I have no idea what this is all about, or even what I have to do with some supposed space debris,” declared Jacz.
“We have landed.” rang out the pilot’s voice from the flight deck. “Take your possessions and exit through the rear of the craft. We have five minutes to clear the landing area.”
Before he finished his phrase, hydraulics hissed in the far rear of the cabin. The silhouette of the co-pilot and a series of containers were lit by floodlights. The co-pilot pushed a few switches and the bulky crates slid along rails, crashing softly on the grass outside. The sky was no longer as dark, but the masses of clouds still floated above.
The five passengers took their bags and exited through a side hatch. They could feel the warmth of the hot jets. As they distanced themselves from the aircraft, the cold rain poured on them once more. They ran along the grassy slope to further themselves from the strobes. The last crate thudded on the grass as the rear door shut itself. The aerotransporter lifted off the ground, twirled once before gaining altitude and rumbling westwards. Somewhere further in the distance, the lights of another aerotransporter briefly shone towards them before zooming in the clouds. The rumble of the turbines quieted down as the luminous points in the sky faded. For a few moments, there was silence. Not a sound to be heard. The patter of the rain on the coat returned Jacz to his present location. He started adjusted to the dim light, the silhouettes of his colleagues appearing next to him. He made a brief motion with his hands towards the containers, and the group advanced towards them.
The three metallic crates, of equal size, had been placed in a neat row. On one side, a tiny red emergency indicator cast a red glow on the grass. One of the men turned on a flashlight and inspected the crates, looking for the opening. He circled the object then placed the flashlight on the ground. Jacz approached the man while the three others sought a way to open a second container.
The opening was locked by a group of handles and instructions on the container’s capacity. The shiny metal surface did not have a unified paint scheme or any identifying features, which was odd considering it was standard practice to identify the owner. The handles were set to the open positions as a rattling noise clinked inside. Jacz took the lamp to light the interior.
There were wheels exposed beneath a drab tarp, resting on two traction strips used for stability during transport. On both sides of the small vehicle, smaller crates of assorted sizes were strapped to the walls.
“Looks like some kind of off-road vehicle,” said the man. “Look, there even appear to be additional synthoil drums for refuelling. I have no clue on what we’ll find out in those smaller boxes, but I guess we’ll soon find out.”
“Let’s get those other containers open first,” replied Jacz.
Jacz and the man turned towards the other container just as it was being opened.”
“An industrial suit!” Looks like our task will need some force!”
The suit slid out along the traction strips, on a flat pallet held by metal wires. Rain began falling on the exposed exoskeleton, of human shape, destined for a controller within its robust frame. Small dots of rust coloured the silvery surface, accreting around the joints. The controller harness featured a pair of headlights at the front, while the electronic inputs and a screen formed the instrument interface. Attachment points enabled the controller to be bonded to the exoskeleton, for precise and direct control of each joint. Both arms ended in long, flat pincers, controlled via multifunction gloves, hardwired into the suit.
Jacz moved towards the back of the suit, to glance at the engine powering the contraption. The air intakes, the turbine and the exhausts were all placed above the cylindrical fuel reservoir, attached solidly via a robust frame to the rest of the exoskeleton. The communication antenna, which would be carried folded on the left, was missing. Jacz entered inside the container to see the rest. A few fuel cells for the suit, as well as the materials to install a small outpost, namely power generators and communication and sensors. More boxes were anchored to the walls.
The third container had some construction equipment and add-ons for the buggy and the suit. A few tool boxes opened during the trip, tools spilled all over the floor. In one corner, several bags of rations had been tightly attached. Once the inspection was over, one of the now-empty containers was selected as the base, providing great water-tight cover against the rain pouring outside, and work began on installing the equipment. A secondary tent was constructed at the entry, increasing the dry area and connecting with another container. The metal beams creams and the tarp dripped constantly despite their efforts, but it would have to do. A flash of light caught Jacz’s eye, as he rapidly turned to face the source.
The bright beam of orange light pierced the cloudy cover and began flashing brighter and brighter, so bright that it began lighting the uneven ground over which it travelled. On another slope, Jacz saw a metallic reflection, but didn’t pay much attention. The object raced above their basecamp with a deafening roar, prompting them to duck and cover their ears. An incandescent column followed the object, the heat briefly warming the rain before vanishing in the night. The flash vanished behind a hilltop, and a few instants later a luminous glow engulfed the contour. The explosion rattled the ground beneath them as a loud crackle ripped the sky.
Jacz’s heart was racing from the violent spectacle, as he gazed back at the crash site where a column of smoke was now rising. More lights began appearing from the same direction, rapidly becoming fireballs, though appearing smaller than the chunk which had just crashed. He tried gazing more closely at one of the objects, his eyes unable to adjust to the vibrant brightness, while his legs were begging him to run away. Despite his instinct, he felt nailed to the soil, unable to move a single muscle in his legs, unable to react to the celestial torch. A halo of red surrounded a something smaller within.
The humid air became warm, the fireball seemingly heading straight for them. In a few moments, they could’ve sworn that the raindrops had turned to steam above them, as they felt intense warmth on their clothes and exposed skin. The rumbling noise, threatening to rupture their eardrums, forced them to cover their ears as best as they could, mouths wide open. Even the grass below seemed to feel warm. Jacz managed to win over his instinct and turned towards the fireball which had just passed over them, ending its trajectory on the neighboring slope.
A raucous detonation cracked the air as bright sparks raised off the ground, the shockwave pushing the grass away from the impact. The sphere of humidity crossed the sky, pushing Jacz to the ground with force. Blocks of earth lifted off alongside the sparks, raining in clumps over the white flash. Then, darkness engulfed the scene and smothered it in silence, a few snakes of fire falling to the ground before dying out, drenched by the rain. A few small fires lit the dark crater, tiny stars in a sea of vegetation.
More whistling crossed the sky, a bit further away, as dull thumps reverberated across the damp soil for another half an hour, time during which the group continued unpacking, using the suit and a winch installed on the small buggy. The contents were revealed to be an array of microscopes and composition samplers, along with their analysis units. Among the crates were several old communicators, seemingly forgotten inside the container for an undetermined period, which were distributed. Jacz checked his screen for any satellite coverage, but the indicator remained blank. Odd. The communicators had to do, as none of the tablets registered any connectivity. Two portable lamps were installed at the entry of the container, next to the humming electrical generators.
Jacz was moving a spare wheel when a hand gripped his shoulder.
“Hi, I’m Neken,” said a man behind him as Jacz turned to face him.
“Jacz.” His thoughts drifted elsewhere, still focused on the crashes, as his heart began beating faster, fighting fatigue with adrenaline.
The man was wearing a drenched waterproof cap, wearing long clothes, a style very reminiscent of the old terraformer outfits. He was quivering, rolls of warm breath fading away from his wet face.
“We finished unpacking the stuff in the shelter. But, uhh… we have no instruction on what to do here, in the middle of nowhere. From what we have, I’m guessing that we’re looking at chemical compositions, but that’s not my domain.”
“Nor is it mine. I work in meteorology.” Jacz lowered his voice, reducing it to a hissing whisper. “What just happened wasn’t supposed to be, or else I wold have known.”
“I work on collecting info from expeditions in the west and transmit them to several places. You know, with that recent storm that cost a few lives…”
“Yeah, I heard about it.” Jacz remembered the reports a few months back of severe electric storms that swept a string of faraway mining outposts. “You think we have to recover samples from those meteorites?”
“I hope so; I think they’ll shed some light on what this circus is all about, because I’m starting to lose patience.” Neken’s tone had risen, and he tried to regain some composure by erasing a line of cold sweat that ran along his cheek.
Jacz left Neken and went to start the buggy. The small vehicle came to life with a violent roar as a pair of bright headlights shone ahead on the shifting wet grass. It was decided to use the industrial suit to retrieve the samples, and the bulky suit was loaded onto the vehicle’s platform, strapped as tightly as possible to not fall off. The woman with the tablet chose to stay at basecamp while Jacz, Zidek, Neken and Neda headed towards the crash site.
“So nothing new on what we’re doing here?” asked Neda as she tried to keep her waterproof cap from sliding as she looked at the other members. Seeing the others focused on the difficult walk over the uneven terrain, she no longer expected an answer and merely focused with the task at hand.
Streaks of water ran along her rounded face, while her curious eyes scanned the burning crater ahead. The descent along the slope had been short, but the climb along the next slope began feeling itself in their legs, as the crater grew bigger. The suspensions of the buggy creaked under the weight and undulating terrain, rocks jutting out of soft mud.
As they approached the crater, they walked beside a long trench dug by the meteorite as it buried itself into the ground, trying to keep the buggy from sliding down into the damp soil. Zidek, who was driving the buggy, slammed on the brakes and the steering wheel to control the buggy, fighting the terrain, who threatened to swallow their only motorized transport. Jacz walked behind, scanning the landscape, pale orange glows dancing along the curtains of rain. For a moment, there was a flash of light, farther in the distance. Not a fire.
Jacz rubbed his eyes and peered closer in the same direction. The small beam of light shone again, shifting towards a neighbouring hilltop, where a second light flashed briefly. They were being watched.
The group of four reached the edge of the smoking crater, flames covering a black fragment the size of a small car. The egg-shaped object had fragmented on its left side, as small shards were burning beside it. Through several holes there was a thick smoke billowing away, while the rain dully pattered on the rough, charred texture. Small puddles had already formed around the object. Recovery would be a pain.
Neken was strapped inside the exosuit, placing his legs in the control harness. He buckled a belt across his chest and then slid his left arm into the machine’s arm. The turbine whined as it warmed up, whistling as it spooled and spewed hot air behind it. The floodlights in front of the suit lit up, casting a blinding white aura on the grass. Neken’s fake was cast in a blue glow as the instruments and control displays came to life. Neken began moving the arm, slowly, as the bulky mechanical contraption obeyed his inputs. He awkwardly took a step, then another, before trying out the left pincer. He tapped the keys inside before sliding his other arm.
The rusted joints squeaked as he tried to move them, but the movement remained fluid and the suit responsive to each command, its operator sighing with relief, a sound drowned by the whirr to the powerplant behind him. The suit approached the crater’s edge to examine the terrain below. Equipped with wide footsteps for low ground pressure, the suit slipped inside the crater, the metallic claws gripping the damp, spongy soil.
The three others accompanied Neken to the edge, but felt it was too risky to pursue further below. Jacz had the idea of checking the radiation from his spot, as a simple precaution, but his initiative faded away as he saw the halos of the headlight shine brightly on the meteorite.
There were cuts in the black objects, which seemed to reflect in neon green glows, emerging as bright scars from the charred outer surface. The exoskeleton identified a piece the size of a palm half-buried in the ground and approached to extract it. A small static surge travelled from the fragment to the pincer, which closed by itself in an instant, surprising Neken. He gave it another try, gripping the piece and turning it towards the other so they could see.
Still clutching on the sample, he climbed out of the crater. As he approached the others, they could now see a fine mist emanating from the objet, sizzling with each falling raindrop. Zidek rushed to the vehicle, returning moments later with a sterile container. The smooth metallic container, not larger than a suitcase, opened to reveal a silvery cylinder in its center, sealed by several mechanisms and affixed to two handles on its edges.
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen a container like that. Good hiding spot for candy during field expeditions,” remarked Neda with a grin. “So Jacz, can you carry this to our makeshift lab, and I guess we’ll come back shortly as well, okay?”
Jacz wanted to reply, but felt hesitant and simply nodded. There were too many questions weighing down his mind, and he wished to not raise their stress by mentioning what he had seen earlier. He took the container as Neda headed for the crater.
The all-terrain vehicle was several meters away, and the remaining three seemed busy with installing more equipment, while glancing at the crater from time to time. Jacz approached the vehicle, walking slowly, trying to hide his footsteps and shallow breath in the whine of the turbine. The headlights were on towards the group, concealing his shadow.
He placed the container on the grass and crouched next to the automobile, scanning the others’ actions. His hand slid along the chassis and stopped on a metal box affixed with wires. He carefully opened it, the slight squeak only audible to him. Inside, he found a pair of thick protective gloves. Jacz took the gloves, closed the box, and went back to the container. He slid into the darkness and hurried away, trying to gain distance as fast as possible. As he walked, various thoughts flooded him, as his mind’s eye saw the mysterious lights again. Did they know what he was doing? And who were they to begin with?
Once out of sight, Jacz stopped. He gazed around, trying to pierce the dark patches of sky, in search of the slightest luminous spot. The hillside now hid him from the crater and basecamp. He placed the container on the ground. Rain pattered on the flat metal, hammering away. He lit a small lamp, as low to the ground as possible. The tiny blue light melded with the verdant green of the grass. He shut down his communicator, stuffing it in a pocket.
Jacz opened the container, the locks protesting as the clinked. The black fragment was inside, protected by a yellowish foam. He took a glove and carefully extracted the item. No smoke came out of it this time. He approached it to his face, focusing on the side that had less mud. Most of the outer surface seemed burnt out, completely charred, but Jacz noticed something more curious.
Small indentations ran along a corner, placed in a half-erased rectangle. In the middle, it seemed like an arrangement of lines, vaguely similar to some kind of letter. Without a magnifier or a microscope, there was no way to be certain of what he was seeing. And yet… his eyes abandoned the indentations for a brief moment, as he noticed a row of faded rectangles running along the surface. Taken by surprise, his breath halted, the mist that rolled from his mouth having stopped. The faint forms were cracked, probably due to the re-entry, and without a closer inspection, these shapes could’ve gone unnoticed.
In the distance, towards the camp, he thought he saw a pale glimmer reflect off a lone tree. For now, the inspection would suffice. Before placing it back inside, Jacz smeared the inscriptions in mud. The container was once again closed and the tiny lamp shut off as he headed to basecamp.
As he approached, he could hear the quiet hum of a generator. The woman was busy at a table, inputting a series of commands in a composition analysis unit, which she hooked to the detector part. Water dripped from the cap she had left on the table, barely hitting her personal tablet. As she turned to continue on another task, she noticed Jacz’s wet silhouette.
“Definitely not the best night to do this kind of work,” she remarked with a low tone. Tired.
“Sorry… I do not think we have been introduced. Mina.”
“Jacz. We collected a sample, and placed it in a sterile container, Jacz replied as he presented the metal box. “The others should join us soon.”
“Well, they have just finished installing the lighting and the rest of the stuff. They told me to contact you, because they said that they couldn’t. I may have forgotten to do that…”
A droplet of sweat rolled over Jacz’s cheek, before diluting itself in the raindrops beading his skin. He had no reasons to worry, it was impossible that she knew more than him. But what if that wasn’t the case?
Jacz handed the container to Mina and left the shelter. No one seemed to suspect anything. Maybe it was the fatigue wearing everyone down. Still, he had to be wary. He closed his eyes and listened.
Behind him, Mina unlocked the box and extracted the piece with a pincer. She placed it on a plate, measuring its radioactivity. The device beeped, but chirped steadily, indicating that it was not dangerous. She sighed after discovering a small energy field surrounding the sample. With a thin jet of plasma, she hacked a minuscule fragment and inserted it in the composition analyser.
“Strange, the database doesn’t find an element or alloy resembling this. I just checked, the reference seemed complete before I did this. This doesn’t make any sense.”
Jacz reopened his eyes and returned to Mina. She was looking at him and swiftly made a beckoning motion.
“I’ll let the analysis run longer. In the meantime we can remove some of the mud. Would’ve been helpful if it was already clean,” Mina smiled.
Using alternating microbursts of air and water, the mud was removed with difficulty, clinging to the charred shell that had formed, and Jacz left some faint traces around the markings. From a quick glance, one would only see random scrapes and gashes. Natural-looking. The fragment was dimensionally scanned from all directions. Once synthesized, they would have a highly-detailed virtual model of the piece, allowing further visual analysis without needing the original. A common procedure, as she described it, extensively used in paleontology and biology, likely her field. Jacz wondered if it could have any use to his meteo sats. Neken’s voice crackled.
“We finished scanning the meteo… object. Unremarkable radiation emissions, a strange field around it.” A pause. “Things are a bit more complicated. This meteorite looks more like a capsule. We found what appear to be exhausts for maneuvering thrusters.”
Jacz felt his heartbeat accelerate. The discovery raised more questions than answers. Mina left her workstation and precipitated towards the communicator, which she now clutched vigorously.
“A capsule? I saw the piece you sent back, but calling it artificial?” She lowered the communicator, muttering a quick thought to herself.
“We could look at the piece more closely, while we’re waiting for more details from them,” Jacz intervened. “I thought I saw something abnormal on its surface…” He wanted to say more, but said no more.
“Neken, we’re waiting for you to come back. Leave the material that we can bring back later, it’s not an immediate priority.”
“Acknowledged.” The voice crackled one final time.
The communicator remained silent. Jacz and Mina were both looking at the fragment, one thinking how to reveal the discovery and the other wondering how it was part of a spaceship. Both trains of thought were stopped by a distant crackle. The noise slowly began building up in intensity, then remained constant.
“Is it possible to save all the data?” Jacz asked, hesitant. “I am not really trusting the recorders we have been provided.” He remembered his tablet, which was still in the luggage he had prepared after the call. Retrieving it, he made a wired connection to the data units. He had to copy all of the findings.
Outside the small building, the sky was getting a bit clearer, as the morning’s twilight began dancing towards the direction of the coming sunrise. The precipitations had become finer, transformed into a swirling mist carried by the wind.
“Jacz, I made a copy on my tablet. It would be appreciated if we could communicate the results, I’m sure that you…”
He turned to see Mina, who had just finished cleaning a side and stopped mid-phrase. “These results could degenerate the situation,” she declared with horror, “it’s almost as if we have been sent to collect debris from some secret crash. But why us?”
She took a picture of the indentations, hooking up with Jacz’s tablet. In the glow of the screens, what appeared to be letters did not resemble those of any language they knew of, which they agreed could be an interesting clue for the identity of the crash’s origin.
The distant crackling, constant up until this point, started growing louder. A pair of floodlights pierced the humid morning air and continued advancing towards basecamp. The lights approached head-on in the sky. A dark shape emerged.
The black helicopter was now visible, the blades slicing with fury the inert mist. The shockwaves sent the grass to the ground, lit by the blinding lights. The shrieking whine of the engines pierced the generator’s hum. The aircraft hovered in the air for a few moments, observing the two who were now staring at the sight.
It touched down on the hilltop’s small plateau, as a human figure slid outside the aircraft to approach basecamp. In the camp’s lights, the figure was clad in a pilot suit, similar to the aerotransporter’s crew. The face was hidden by a black flight helmet, completed by a pair of orange lenses on which data trickled. The bulky suit carried a small portable oxygen tank at the waist.
The boots crushed the soft grass as it approached them. He stopped at the edge of the small building.
“Miss Mina, Mister Jacz, your experiment has concluded. Prepare your luggage swiftly and follow me.” His tone was direct, filtering through the helmet’s communication system. Jacz and Mina looked at each other, stupefied, then faced the man:
“Where are the others? What exactly is happening?” Jacz asked.
“The others are also being evacuated. All extracted samples remain here. We cannot provide more information. Now, take your luggage and follow us to the aircraft.” The pilot abruptly turned around and headed back towards the helicopter.
The two followed his instructions. Before leaving, Jacz made sure that his tablet contained the data. Once home, he could start digging for information. As he left, Mina glanced towards the pilot to make sure that he wasn’t watching, then leaned to Jacz and whispered:
“The analysis is complete. No result, the material is not a known compound.”
Jacz furled his eyebrows, but erased the expression quickly, and focused on keeping his heartbeat from racing any further. They had to be on some kind of crash site for a military experiment, and he wasn’t sure what would follow. It was highly improbable that they had been selected at random. If it was so, they wouldn’t have been surveyed so closely by whatever glimmered in the hills. Were they part of the same organisation? Why civilians? The questions raced through his mind, each
barely able to form as a newer one appeared, and yet there were no answers.
They embarked the helicopter through a side hatch, and the crew asked them to secure the luggage in a storage bin beneath the floor. The blades began turning with power as the vehicle lifted off. The interior was basked in darkness, faint reflections off the metallic interior emanated from the cockpit lights. Through small rain-covered windows, Jacz saw the basecamp and all the unpacked equipment they were leaving behind, the dim lights still on. He tried gazing through the heavy clouds in search of other vehicles, but the helicopter quickly reached the cloudline, obscuring everything in an even tone of grey. Unable to stop himself, he felt his eyelids lower, his respiration calming down and plunging him into a much-needed deep sleep.