Winter in Paradise

T.C. Archer
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Plush furs, big mittens, and fuzzy boots weren't what Kelly signed up for when she'd joined the Provisional Army. Wind cut dry and cold though her furs and hood. Staggering against the force of the blast, she saw no tracks—as expected. Thankfully, footprints weren't needed. She would follow Grayson's nav-track as far as it lasted. She bent into the wind and trudged forward.

It had taken only thirty minutes to realize he had moved faster than her, likely because she fought the additional wind resistance of her furs. She hoped that was the reason he had worn only his skin-tight enviro-suit. That would mean he hadn't intended to die out here as she'd first thought, but would activate the disruptor, then return to base before his suit depleted and she awoke.

But he'd miscalculated. At his rate of travel to where his signal dropped off the grid, it was clear he wouldn't make the round trip. He had obviously come to the same conclusion. Rather that sticking to the valleys, his path had become straighter, over rises and between ice-cliffs. She had turned on her goggles' heat vision earlier, hoping to meet him on his way back home, but everything -- ground, air, and sky -- was a uniform cold. If he suffered from hypothermia, he could already have lost his way and be miles off course.

Between gusts, she called his name. She scanned for heat and walked and scanned and shouted. On a planet of five million, only she and Grayson occupied this two-hundred mile square of frozen wasteland in Onyx's western hemisphere.

Hopelessness settled deeper with every unanswered shout. Several times, she had seen a warm object materialize only to rush forward and find it had been an illusion. Another figure took form up ahead. Kelly trudged forward, expecting to find her imagination had conjured another illusion. The apparition grew. She put the targeting graticule on the form and the temperature readout jumped. The heat was real. She pulled her weapon.

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