Brett sucked a lungful of cigarette smoke, harsh Vietnamese tobacco exhaled out in viscous tendrils that disappeared quickly in the updraft from the chasm. He found the hot brackishness oddly pleasant. He wondered when he would quit the habit after years of fruitless attempts.
The soldier laughed, iron-brittle in the winter air. Smoking would not be what killed him, he knew. So it really held no consequence for him. If anything killed him (and these days, one was never certain that death was final) it would be the stellar black below his dangling feet. The black, or some nightmare that dwelled within.
It was otherwise quiet there on the Rim. His platoon mates were dead, or nearly so, and scattered around behind him. The lucky ones died swiftly, before they glimpsed the horrors sweeping out of the depths into which Brett stared. The not so lucky died screaming their throats raw, plucking at their faces in vain. Brett wondered why he had been spared. There was no telling if he was blessed with fortune or if some other, greater terror awaited him.
His face went slack. The cigarette dangled from a bruised and bitten lip. Perhaps it was blood that held it so, the mere whisper of adhesion holding it in place. The soldier barely noticed. His thoughts were muddled, a smear of action and terror dulled by shock. Cold was creeping in. That minor circumstance troubled him more than he wanted to allow. If the suit was failing, well, then he truly stood not a chance.
A shiver passed up his spine, electric and cold. Training took over. His right hand tightened around the grip on his only remaining weapon, a late model projectile thrower that had turned out remarkably effective against the things coming out of the dark. A tactical refinement that now seemed to come too late to do much good. Brett sighed again. The intake of metallic air, tinged with the smell of alien rocks, brought his mind back to the helmet resting against his left hip.
"I should put it on," he said to the corpses and the darkness, "Gotta be safe." He chuckled.
The sun was going down. That meant the things would be on the move again soon. He thought he heard whispers rising up on the chasm breeze. "Just wind," he told himself. The hairs still stood up on his neck. He flung the cigarette into the void. Sitting still for a few heartbeats, he began to gather pebbles in his left hand. The stone was greenish, with an odd shimmer that was accentuated by the bluish light of the sun.
He filled his hand, then poured the pebbles into a small cone. He picked up a pebble and cast it into the chasm. "I coming for you!" he barked into the blackness. The wind seemed to slow with a minute change in direction. He chucked another pebble into the void.
His voice began to echo. The wind slowed, stopped, then reversed direction. More pebbles flew, vanishing completely in the featureless void. The voice, if that is what they were, grew louder. The sibilant chorus sounded to Brett like the mutterings of lunatics. He thought he heard screams, one of which he could have sworn was something calling his name.
Shadows on the rim lengthened. The soldier cast in a final pebble. There was a shriek from below, rising on the ice-cold wind that had once again changed direction. Something down there laughed.
Brett picked up his helmet, settling it on the grit and blood-encrusted rim that served as the locking seat. The suit powered up, LED's blinking to full go status mode. Only the ammo indicator had dipped into the warning red zone. The supply was woefully short.
Brett sighed. Nothing was to be done. It was move or die. He leaned forward. The suit power surged in anticipation. Brett grinned, a wolfling all alone. "I'm coming for you," he whispered.
The groans and gnashings in the dark grew louder. Brett pushed up and out, leaping off the rim with the gun pointed forward. He dove into the chasm without a sound, swallowed up as if he never existed. There was light, but it never made it past the rim. The things in the dark embraced the soldier, and sang of his courage for millennia.