by Niall Dittbrenner

The room inside the hull was brightly lit with bland colors of baby blue and beige, paint was chipping in some of the corners because of its age and lack of care. The windowless room smelled of mold and dust bunnies, though there were none to be seen. There was a low and consistent hum that could be easily tuned out, but was there nonetheless. There was one more person in the mess hall, seated with the relaxed and confident looking woman at one of the tables, a colleague by the name of Lloyd.

“Hey, Lloyd, lob me some syrup.” 

“Yeah. Sure thing, Bentley.” 

“Bentley, just get up off your ass and get it yourself,” the sound of a creaking door flooded the room as a deep voice uttered dryly.

“Oh, hey, Vinson,” Bentley grinned cherrily, “come on have lunch!”

“Speaking of–” Vinson was cut off by Bentley.

“Speaking of lunch, Lloyd! Get Abbot why won’t you.” Vinson looked at Bentley with a confused scowl.

“Christ, alright your majesty.” Lloyd bowed to Bentley comically, she responded by saying farewells in the most regal way she could manage. As Lloyd left elegantly, Bentley looked toward where the last of her acquaintances stood.

“So, Vinson. How’s the misses?” Bentley raised a brow and smirked, holding her head in a basket made of her hands.

“It’s not tea time, Bentley!” He yelled from in the mess hall’s kitchen,

“Oh! Are we talking about Vinson’s lass?” A soft yet gritty sounding woman sat next to Bentley. 

“No!” Vinson yelled again. “Yes, Abbot,” Bentley turned and smiled to the woman with the red cross on her shoulder, “come on, Vin, she may not be the full quid but she’s lovely.” 

Don’t call me that… I am surprised she can put up with me being sent overseas so often.” Vinson sat across from Betley and poked at the waffle on the paper plate in front of him.

“Ay, but she does! You’re a lucky bloke.” She pointed at Vinson with her plastic fork.

“I… guess.” Vinson was shaken from his thoughts by a deep and loud groan and slam coming from outside the boat. The person who was most affected by this was Lloyd, he whipped his head around trying to pinpoint exactly where the sound was coming from.

“Guess we’re almost there?” Lloyd calmly looked around to see if anything had fallen over. “Sounds like the ice is getting thicker. I keep getting spooked!” He laughed.

“Hmm… I’ll go out to the bow and see if anything’s wrong.” Abbot quickly stood up and briskly walked out of the room.

“C’mon, Abbot! You didn’t eat!” Bentley shouted over Lloyd’s shoulder. “Ah, alright then. Guess we should follow her.” Bentley got up and strolled over to the still waving door that Abbot walked out of, Lloyd followed close behind. The last one was Vinson, he finished his waffle and left the now empty mess hall.

“Oh, I guess we’re almost there.” Lloyd flinched as the ship groaned again.

“Zeta 4, Ostracized Lands, prepare for arrival at 0900, I repeat, Zeta 4, Ostracized Lands, prepare for arrival at 0900.” Bentley took a look at her watch, noticing it was about 8:50.

“Ah, guess following Abbot was a good idea.” Bentley shrugged. Bentley led the way to the helideck, the resident helicopter suddenly started whirring while a woman, the overseer, rested her arm on one of the doors 

“Get in, kiddos,” the overseer smirked and helped load the group’s supplies into the belly of the vessel. As the group of four loaded onto the aircraft the overseer started to debrief them.

The deafening whirring of the helicopter almost drowned out her voice. “Alright, kids, you know the M-S Dolst protocol?” 

“Contain and comprehend.” Lloyd had to yell over the sounds, but what he said was a fairly decent summary. The overseer only had to nod before they started hovering on the rocky shoreline and they started to unload. The overseer nodded to Bentley as they flew away.

Bentley tilted her head to the group as they loaded their bags onto their shoulders, passively telling them to follow her. The group made their way to the top of a ledge near the sea where they were left to work. They set up their two tents, ate dinner, called in for the night, and they were up bright and early the next day. The dawn was dull and dismal as they crawled out of the tents. Lloyd was the first awake and he started the day by setting up a small campfire for cooking and melting the fresh snow that’d piled around them in their sleep for coffee. Soon after the water started steaming Abbot and Bentley crawled out of their tent.

“Lloyd? What in the hell are you doing up this early?” Abbot rubbed her eyes and stretched as best she could in this weather.

“Getting coffee ready early.” 

“Aha! Coffee in the wops!” Abbot smiled as she excitedly grabbed the disposable cup from Lloyd and took a sip. “Thanks, mate.”

“Oi! Fang me one!” Bentley briskly ran to the two. “Someone should wake up Vin.”

“I told you to stop calling me that.” Vinson walked up to and sat next to the group. “We need to send someone out on an expedition to see if it’s somewhere near us.”

“Now? Quite early dontcha think?” Bentley cocked a brow and tilted her head at the idea.

“Well, we only have three days here, we need to optimize the time spent here,” Abbot responded quickly.

“Who put you two in charge?” Bentley cocked a brow, looking intently at Abbot and Vinson.

“I’ll just go, guys,” Lloyd piped in, obviously made very uncomfortable by the animosity, “It’s my first mission, I should be doing the most work.”

“Good idea, Lloyd! Go on, pull your socks up and start packin’!” Abbot and Vinson were almost visually upset by this, but the two of them didn’t intervene.

Lloyd left on the expedition later that morning, as he left he told Abbot that if he didn’t move from a spot in ten minutes then go look for him. lo and behold, the tracking device that was on Lloyd’s coat stopped moving for a solid fifteen minutes. Abbot was pacing thinking about what they should do, Vinson was sitting and fidgeting, and Bentley was sitting comfortably next to the tents. “It’s just a GPS failure. He’ll be back, don’t worry.” Bentley shouted, obviously annoyed.

“It’s not that simple, you nonce.” Abbot was packing materials in a bag, Vinson caught along to what she was doing and started packing too.

“Oh please, he’s not an ankle biter! He’s passed selection, he’s a tough kid, just give it a few more minutes and if he doesn’t come back then Abbot and I’ll go find him.”

“We’re going, Bentley. And you’re coming with us.” Vinson grabbed Bentley’s sleeve and tore her from the spot where she was relaxing.

“Fine! Fine! We’ll have it your way. But I’m telling him that you two didn’t believe in him.” The trio set off to the location where Lloyd’s tracker stopped working; but when they got there, there was a sight to behold. The tracking pin was set carefully in a small divot in a rock face. There was no sign of Lloyd. Abbot had to take a second to kneel on the ground and think. Vinson stood in place staring at the tracker with a blank expression. Bentley was standing a bit up from the group yelling for Lloyd and almost begging him to come back.

“Abbot he’s not here. We have to report this,” Vinson spoke, sounding indifferent.

“Vin, Lloyd is lost. We either have to find his corpse or find him alive to report that that thing did it,” Bentley hissed, whipping her head around.

“I told you to stop calling me that,” Vinson snarled, stepping up to the shorter woman.

“Ladies, ladies!” Abbot rose to her feet. “We don’t know if Lloyd is dead, we don’t know if it’s that thing we’ve been sent out to find, we don’t know anything besides the fact that the tracker is sitting in the mud collecting dust.”

“What’s your point, Abbot.” Bentley furrowed her brow.

“If he did see that thing then it might be spinning yarn from his head, or maybe the tracker fell off the nonce and he’s still looking for it. He’s got a knife and a gun, we all do. He’ll be safe”

“So what? He’s just wandered off and we’re just means to sit here and have a coldie while we wait?” Bentley waved her hands. The group sat and argued for what felt like forever before a stone tumbled from the rock face. Nobody paid attention to it. Then, a larger stone thundered down. This caught the attention of Abbot, who looked up and gasped. 

“Hello!” Lloyd was standing at the top of the albeit short cliff face. “I’m up here.” 

“Get the hell down from there!” Vinson yelled up to him. “You can climb, c’mon.” Lloyd climbed down without saying a word or complaining a bit. he stepped foot on the ground and looked at the group the air of hostility changed to fear. Lloyd’s eyes were wide and bloodshot and his clothes were torn, much too torn to be warm enough in this weather.

“I—I saw her.” 

“You saw what?” Bentley hissed between gritted teeth

Her,” Lloyd enunciated.

“You saw it?” Abbot asked, tilting her head.

“It? No, she’s… she’s beautiful,” he responded.

“Fuckin’ ‘ell mate speak up!” Bentley shouted. “The report isn’t going to write itself!”

“You, you… I…” 

“Spit it out, kid.” Bentley slammed her hand onto the now slimy permafrost. 

“She wants…” Lloyd was now kneeling onto the wet ground beneath him, gripping his chest as if he was trying to staunch a wound. His eyes looked as if they’d pop out of his head.

“I said, speak up!” Bentley roared. Lloyd’s face was wet and bruised but he grinned a grin that spelled fear and disdain.

“Bentley stop.” Abbot grabbed Bentley’s shoulder and spun her around so she could face her.

“He’s withholding information.” 

“He’s a kid! Don’t go berko on him because you fucked up the protocol and made him do something he’s not qualified to do,” Abbot said with an angry fire, waving her hands.

“He volunteered. If you felt bad for that kid then you could’ve went with him,” Bentley retorted.

“That kid was meant to stay and conduct research with Vinson, You and I are on the expedition team.” The two’s ardent bickering lasted for longer than it should have, all the while Vinson was kneeling next to Lloyd.

“Hey, do you need help walking back?”

“No… no, I’m fine. I don’t need any help.”

“Ok, dumbass, if you want to collapse in the snow then that’s your problem.” Lloyd giggled as Vinson grabbed his arm and pulled him up.

“You aren’t exactly the epitome of hotep, Vin.” Lloyd looked up at Vinson, his eyes were glazed over and his mouth was curled in a half-smile. Vinson only responded by furrowing his brow, not necessarily out of disgust but more in confusion, he asked himself if this was some sort of midwestern slang? Lloyd smiled wider as a response. “She has big plans for you.” 

The sharp taste of metal met Bentley’s mouth and nose as she looked over the murky horizon, a blizzard may be on the way. Hopefully a short one. The group reached their camp, but the glorious warmth was short-lived as the whipping wind and snow ate at their tents and whispered to the four. The only person who listened to these whispers was Lloyd. He heard their beckoning. The conversing souls nipped at his face and fingers, leaving only numb pin-pricks in their wake. He let the moon lead the way, and never looked back.

When the group woke up, they were baffled to see that there was no sign of their youngest member. They searched all around, searched for footprints, for scraps of clothing, or even a body, but they found nothing. The person that was freaking out the most was Bentley.
“The kid is dead!” Bentley howled.

“Calm down. He might just be on another expedition.” Abbot emphasised her words. Bentley didn’t respond. She gave Abbot a nasty stare, rage and fear danced in her eyes as her head filled with thoughts.

“Cool it…” Vinson hissed, rubbing his temples with his gloved hands. “I need to recon or else your sorry tushes’ are gonna die.” Bentley felt the buzz of angry words dance on her tongue as she looked at Vinson then glanced back at Abbot.

“Fine. Fine! We’ll listen to you. Because we always listen to you.” Bentley stormed off, probably off to cool herself off with the surplus of snow around them.

“Thank you, Vinson,” the gritty voice spoke softly. He hummed in response before he looked over at the woman sitting next to him.

“You know, Vinson is my surname,” he said matter-of-factly. 

“I know.” She paused. “What’s yours?”

“My surname?” he blinked in confusion.

“No, drongo!” she laughed heartily. “Your first name.”

“Ah, so you’re flirting with me!” Vinson joked playfully, the two of them shared a long and well-needed laugh. “It’s Harvey,” he finally responded.

“It’s Isabel,” Abbot responded calmly. Vinson nodded and turned his head back to what he’d been focusing on before.

Vinson finished doing recon on the area and sent the two of the original expedition team on the second exploration. 

Vinson waited for a long time, until around five PM, until he heard footsteps crunching snow behind him. 

“Hey. Come with me,” Bentley murmured. “You don’t need to bring anything.” 

“Oh, hi Bentley,” He responded.

“C’mere.” She beckoned to him with her hand. Vinson shrugged and walked over to Bentley, the two of them walked a little ways away, to where they could barely see their bright tents over the beige snowy terrain.

“So, why’d you bring me out here?” Vinson questioned.

“Abbot is dead. She was– she was in the way.” Bentley’s eyes were hooded and she stared up at Vinson, looking at how he’d respond.

“What?” He stared at her, his eyebrows raised and his ears wide open for her to repeat what she said.

“Abbot is dead,” Bentley enunciated, her eyes glazed over. “I had to.”

“You what?” Vinson felt like he had to clean his ears, what on earth was she talking about?

“She’s dead,” She repeated “Abbot is dead! S-she had to go! I had…”

“You killed Abbot? You. You…” Vinson’s eyes watered and his head swirled with thoughts. “Y–you monster!” His eyes glowed once again as he spoke. “Did she tell you to? Did your small monkey brain tell you she was expendable?” He trailed off but his intentions were still fresh in the words he mumbled. He lifted his hand high and slammed it into the soft snow he was kneeling in.

“L–Look, Vin, this is merely a–uh– a setback!” Bentley kneeled down so she could be at eye level with the man. Her hands waved frantically as she spoke, as if she needed to convince a nation. Blood was roaring in Vinson’s ears, loud enough that he could barely hear Bentley

“A setback?” the bridge of his nose crinkled with rage. “Abbot was just a setback to you?”

“Abbot was a fraud!” Bentley yelled, making Vinson jump. “She’s in cahoots with whatever killed Lloyd!” Vinson scowled, he was baffled by the things that she was speaking.

“Was she?” Vinson’s mind was still racing, thinking about what he should do.

“Yes!” Bentley tried to affirm her suspicions by trying to make it seem like she knew everything.

“Fuck… Fuck!” Vinson’s legs stiffened and his hands wobbled, he didn’t know what to think anymore. “You scumbag!” He looked at Bentley, then he looked at his hands, then back at Bentley. The whirring snowflakes pushed all around them, making focusing on anything difficult.

“C’mon…” Bentley’s eyes were slitted, Vinson was barely able to see her gray eyes. “Don’t make me…” Vinson stood up. He had nothing left to lose, the lands were not going to let him leave and neither was she. The look that Vinson gave Bentley sealed his fate, she’d made her conclusions.

“You traitor! You…” Bentley’s words stopped as if a fly flew in her throat. She fiddled with the holster at her hip and yanked her 7 shot pistol out, pointing it at his forehead. Vinson was stone-faced. Then, almost as quickly as it was pulled out, an ear-blasting shot sounded and sharp pain met his stomach. He kneeled, he clenched his ribcage where the bullet hit, not trying to stanch the wound but more trying to stop the pain. He removed his hand and saw the hot, bright red blood caking his palms.

“Bentley…” Vinson stammered, his eyes wide. He walked up to the trembling woman, reaching down to the small hunting knife sheathed in a pocket in his pants. He grabbed the hilt and drove the blade through Bentley’s throat. Bentley fell to the ground, blood pooling in her hand. She collapsed backwards and choked as it clogged her throat. Vinson looked at her, his own pain making it hard to breathe. He nudged her with his foot and kneeled over to turn her on her stomach when she didn’t respond. There was an obvious border between the pale snow and the crimson liquid as Bently was drained of life. Vinson’s legs wobbled but he carried himself back to where he thought the tents were. He thought he almost made it when his knees buckled and he keeled down into the cold earth below him. He gazed up and thought to himself, he hadn’t felt this floaty in a long, long time. Moments like this are meant to be peaceful, and hey, it kind of was. Small gales of wind stirring every hair on his body, the tang of copper scented wind flew through his nose as he breathed and shuddered. His stomach fluttered with both pain and pangs of fear. There was something large, pale, and… beautiful looming over him. The jumping butterflies of pain had now left his wounds and now he was lying peacefully. Whelp. That’s that, Goodnight Abbot, Lloyd. Bentley… Goodnight… You.

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