It’s dark by the time they finish burying the body.
Sykkuno lays the last layer of moss and leaves on top, stepping back to look at their work. It’s the best that they could do without any digging equipment with them, and it just felt wrong to leave them out in the open even after all this time. Neither of them had spoken a word in hours. He had needed the time to process everything he’d heard, and try to make some sense of it all.
Corpse stands beside the mound, head bowed as he looks down. If he’s speaking, it’s too quiet for him to hear, and he leaves to give him a final moment of peace, going back to the bikes.
Looking upwards at the night sky, he could forget that he wasn’t on Earth. The thick cover of clouds obscures any light from nearby stars from shining through, leaving just a blanket of darkness above him. The only thing missing to truly replicate the earth night sky would be the reflection of city lights against the bottom of the clouds, staining the sky with an unnatural green and orange cast.
Behind him, he hears the footsteps of Corpse as he comes out from the trees, joining him at the bikes. Sykkuno swallows.
“We need to tell the others,” he says.
Corpse stops, looks at him.
Sykkuno continues, “I’m not going to keep secrets. There’s too much division already, I’m not going to cause more of it by keeping information from them.”
“Telling them isn’t going to be doing me any favours,” he replies with a subtle shake of his head.
“Being honest will give them more reason to trust you. They’re right to be cautious when you won’t tell them anything.”
“They’ll want to see the body we just put to rest for themselves. Or even worse, they’ll go looking for the others,” he disagreed.
Sykkuno stared at him. “You don’t want to find your crew?” he replied, quietly surprised. He felt a pang of sympathy in his chest for them, abandoned.
“And risk spreading whatever was wrong with them? No.”
Sykkuno blinked. “You think it could be contagious?” he asked.
“I have no fucking idea, and I’m not risking you to find out,” he snapped back in reply, pausing for half a beat before adding, “All of you, your crew. It’s not worth it.” He sighed, rubbing at the sides of his face, slipping his fingers underneath the edge of his mask to massage at where it would be digging into his face.
“You’re thinking of the worst case scenario. I don’t want anything bad to happen to them either, but,”
Corpse sighed, interrupting him, “But,” he echoed.
Sykkuno bit down on the inside of his cheek, nodding, “But, then it’s even more important that we tell them. If there is something dangerous on this planet, they deserve to know.”
There was another heavy sigh, and he shook his head. “I can’t change your mind that it’s a bad idea?” he asked.
“We’ll explain everything to them, everything that you just told me. They’ll understand,” he insisted.
Corpse rubbed at the back of his head, looking out in the direction of the dropship. He didn’t seem convinced, hands fidgeting with the sleeve of his suit, fingers picking and searching for loose threads to tug at. Still, he nodded his head, accepting. They’d ride back and gather everyone together to talk.
The team all needed it, he thought as he climbed up onto his own bike and got it started up, waiting for Corpse to do the same before they kicked up the stand and started back in the direction they’d come. They didn’t just need to hear Corpse’s story, but it would be a good thing to get everyone together again, on the same page again.
Maybe it was just him, overthinking things, making things a bigger deal than it needed to be, but it felt like everyone was splitting off into their own little teams. Pleasant enough on the outside, but secretly distrustful of others. Maybe that was just Rachel’s words making him paranoid, maybe there wasn’t anything going on with the other’s and he was just making this all up in his head as he’d lay in bed at night and over analyze every brief moment of conversation he had with everyone.
He shook his head at himself, refocusing. It didn’t matter in the end, if he was right or wrong. Being honest with everyone was the right choice to make. The chance that it would help protect them was greater than the chance of putting them into danger like Corpse thought.
The ride back he goes over what he’s going to say in his head, scripting out the conversation, picturing everyone sitting together in the common room. He thought about what everyone would probably say, any questions they might have to throw back at them, any doubts they might have on Corpse’s story, figuring out the best responses he could. He’d worked out the introduction by the time they were pulling the bikes up outside.
Tina’s the first person he sees, waving at them from outside HAB-B. Sykkuno waves back as he gets off the bike and heads over.
“You’re back late,” she says in greeting. Ah, he hadn’t planned out his response to this yet.
“Oh, yeah. We, we got distracted,” he replies.
Tina just grins. “Oh yeah? Time flies when you’re having fun,” she replies, her eyes darting over Sykkuno’s shoulder to Corpse, who’s wheeling the bikes under cover, then back to Sykkuno.
He just nods. Nervous. Why is he nervous? “Actually, there’s something we wanted to talk to everyone about. Can I meet you in the common room in about fifteen minutes?” he asks.
The teasing smile drops from her face immediately. “Is everything okay?”
“It’s okay,” he promises. There’s no reason to make her worry early for no reason. “I’ve got to ask the others, if you see anyone on your way could you let them know?”
“Yeah, I’ll tell them,” Tina says, and Sykkuno thanks her before heading off. Corpse follows in step beside him.
“You’re really sure this is the right decision?” he checks with him again. Sykkuno nods, and after a moment, Corpse nods his head too. “Alright. May as well get it done with,” he says, and hits a button on his communicator, opening up a line to speak with the entire crew to ask them all to meet. Well, that saves him from going around and finding everyone in person.
Walking together, Sykkuno twists his hands in front of him, knotting his fingers. “Thanks, by the way,” he says.
“It’s alright, I just figured it was easier than looking around the entire site.”
“I mean, thanks for trusting me. For going along with it,” he clarifies.
“I guess telling you the whole story was the part I was the most nervous about. You accepted it, makes it easier to tell the others too,” he says, and exhales. “I will be taking it personally if anyone decides to shoot me though. You only get one free shot before I start getting pissed.”
“No one is going to shoot you!”
Corpse hummed, and Sykkuno could hear the humour behind it. Whether it was genuine or if he was just masking how nervous he was, he didn’t know. A smile still slowly creeped onto his face too, and he turned his head away from him as they walked so he wouldn’t see.
They reach the common room together first, and Corpse leans with his good shoulder against the wall. “So,” he starts, “Have you ever been shot?”
Sykkuno scoffs. “What? Of course not.”
“Wh- Why would you ask that?”
Corpse shrugs and regrets the movement immediately with a wince. “Just wondering. Team building, getting to know each other.”
“That sort of thing is usually asking what your favourite colour is, not whether you’ve been shot at,” Sykkuno hides his smile.
“I know, but I already know your favourite colour so I need to start going deeper.”
He raised his eyebrows, surprised. “I don’t think I’ve told you that,” he says.
Even if he can’t see Corpse’s grin from behind his mask, he can feel it in the cocky way he tilts his head to the side. “It’s green.”
Sykkuno’s eyes widen. “You’re just guessing.”
“It was a fucking good guess though,” he replies, sounding pretty pleased with himself for getting it right. “You’ve got a green cover on your keycard, and I’ve seen you wear green socks a couple times. You bought the cover yourself, and the socks were probably a gift, so. Green.”
His eyebrows are still raised, impressed and maybe just a little worried that he could be so easily read. “Okay, Sherlock. You guessed it just from that?” he shakes his head and Corpse chuckles quietly.
“Yeah, maybe it was a little bit of luck too,” he admits. Corpse looks at him, reaching out to wipe something off his cheek with his thumb. “You don’t look as pale as you did when we got off the bikes,” he commented.
Sykkuno could feel the ghost of his touch still on his cheek even after he had pulled his hand away, and was sure that colour was definitely rising to his face now. He was fine, maybe a little anxious, maybe a little exhausted mentally from the day, but he was fine. Across the room he sees movement, and he turns his head to see Ludwig and Rachel coming in, Poki in tow behind them. Each has varying looks of concern on their faces as their eyes meet, and Sykkuno puts on a smile to reassure them.
Really, this was a good thing. They’ll know more about Corpse, know that he isn’t a threat to anyone, and they’ll all be better prepared when doing travel further away from the drop site! Those were all good things.
Jeremy is next to come in from across the room, Lily with him. Lily looks tired, rubbing under her eye with the heel of her palm before she spots Sykkuno looking at her. Getting to his side only takes a few seconds, and she nudges his shoulder as she wriggles into the space between him and Corpse.
“I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever,” she hums to Sykkuno. Corpse takes a side step away from them and sits down.
“We saw each other at breakfast, Lil,” he replies, and she shakes her head.
“Not the same. I know we don’t really get days off, but I swear you’ve been working way too late at night. Every night,” she says. Sykkuno smiles and ducks his head, feeling like he’s being scolded even as she loops her arm around his elbow.
“Feels like a waste to do paperwork during the day,” he mumbles an excuse and she sees right through it.
“I’ve seen you burn out before, you’re going to do the same thing again if you keep pushing yourself so hard. Your mom is going to be upset if she sees you’ve got bags under your eyes again.”
He pauses, unable to come out with an excuse to get out of that one because he knows it’s true. “They’re not that dark, are they?” he asks.
Lily scoffs a gentle laugh at him, poking him in the arm. “They are. Let me or Tina do the boring paperwork sometime. Y’know, delegate. Then I’ll lend you some of my eye cream.”
As if summoned, Tina enters into the room last, going straight over to Ludwig. Corpse pushes his chair back to stand up again, addressing the crew.
“Sorry for the short notice but thanks for coming everyone. That’s everyone, right?” Corpse says, doing a headcount around the room with his finger.
Tina’s worrying the bottom of her lip as she speaks up, “I couldn’t find Leslie,” she says. “I looked in her room and the med bay but she wasn’t there.”
“Wasn’t she writing up something in one of the HAB’s?” Jeremy asks.
“I thought she went out with Corpse and Sykkuno again,” Rachel says, looking around.
Poki shakes her head. “I only signed out two bikes today, nobody else left the dropsite but those two.”
Now everyone’s eyes are back on them again. Sykkuno feels something in his throat and coughs with his mouth closed. “She probably just didn’t hear the message over comms,” he mumbles, looking down to his wrist.
“Who was the last person to see her?” Rachel asks.
The room goes quiet. Everyone stops and thinks.
“She ate breakfast with us, didn’t she?” Ludwig offers up eventually.
There are nods and mumbles of agreement, and then silence again.
“Nobody else has seen Leslie since breakfast? No one?” Jeremy almost sounds angry. He waits for a reply and gets nothing. “Is her communicator online?”
Everyone’s head drops to their wrist as they rush to check. Surely, Sykkuno thinks, he would have noticed if one of them had gone offline. His hunch is correct, her name is still lit up in a reassuring glow of green.
Rachel is the first to make the call. “Leslie? Leslie, can you hear me?”
Sykkuno holds his breath, unconsciously leaning forwards over the table towards Rachel.
There’s not even the crackle of a response from the other end, and Rachel tries again. Jeremy looks to Ludwig and says his name to get his attention. “Can you get her location?”
Ludwig makes a face, “I can get an approximation-”
“Good enough. Do it.”
He nods his head sharply and leaves the room. Sykkuno looks around behind him for Corpse and spots him with his back against the wall, drumming his fingers against his palm. Unwinding his arm from Lily’s, he goes to his side, taking his head and stilling the frenetic movement. “Come with me. We’ll take the bikes and find her,” he says.
Corpse lifts his head and looks to him, hesitating.
Sykkuno blinks when he doesn’t move to come with him straight away, and he drops his hand. Taking a step back, he turns around to look at Jeremy. “Get Ludwig to send the location to us,” he asks, and the captain nods his head.
“I’m coming too,” Rachel says, and both Tina and Lily agree.
“Make sure to take the charged bikes, the flashlights drain the battery faster,” Poki speaks up before she leaves to help Ludwig. Sykkuno thanks her before rushing back outside to where he had just stored away the bikes for the night.
Rachel is swearing under her breath as they start the bikes up, and Sykkuno bounces his leg as he waits for Ludwig to send them through the location. When he does, he realises that he hadn’t been lying about it being approximate.
“Sorry guys, but it’s a start. I’ll work on getting it more accurate but this will get you started. It’s, uh, not close,” he says through the comms line.
Sykkuno feels sick looking at his wrist. A two square mile patch of forest, nearly an hours ride from the drop site. She must have been walking for hours… Why? Why leave? How could she have got so far out and so lost? The thick darkness of night wouldn’t make it any easier to navigate, and he just hopes that she’s stopped for the night and waiting for the sun to rise again.
“Sy?” Rachel checks, and he looks over as she pushes her bike up beside his and throws a leg over. “You sure you’re okay to come?”
Sykkuno doesn’t hesitate, nodding his head. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he promises. Rachel eyes him, before she must decide that having his help was better than nothing, and nods. They both start up the bikes, Tina and Lily pulling out in front as they drive forwards towards the thick sea of trees.