Episode 209: Avalanche

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Present: Maer, Terri, Bobby, Jay and Tony
Air date: 29 Sep 2009

Monday, 29 Apr 2520
Berkeley Spaceport, St. Albans
Red Sun (Zhu Que) system
12:30 hrs, local time

It takes us fourteen days to get to St. Albans, including the stopover we made to drop cargo (cosmetics) on Persephone along the way. St. Albans is everything it’s reputed to be: small, snowbound, and cold. Very cold. Landing at Berkeley Spaceport at noon sees the mercury at a balmy 50 below (Fahrenheit). Christian fills us in on the history of the planet as we made out descent. It was originally terraformed to be the ultimate ski resort planet and for certain the mountains and the weather made the perfect combination of snow and ski slope. The profitability of the tourist trade took a sharp downturn when berkelium was discovered in the mountains in sufficient quantity to merit mining.

Berkelium, as the techies amongst the crew know, is the critical component of the linked pairs of monopoles used in maintaining the Cortex links across the Verse. There’s no going without it. The tourist trade took a backseat to necessity and the resulting seismic disruptions the mining causes killed what little tourism remained, as avalanches made it too dangerous to be on the surface in the mining areas.

There are artifacts from St. Alban’s salad days as a winter playground to the rich and ski-mad: Berkeley Spaceport, the transportation lines going up into the ski slopes and the installation called The Lodge, where Dr. Kell Lawrence currently resides and is conducting his research in the TSE cure.

And the reason for our visist, Lem, is still alive and with us. We land, pay our port costs and refuel the Gift. We take stock of our weather appropriate gear and some of our crew come up short: with the noonday temps at 50-below or lower, there’s no going outside our ship without courting instant frostbite. Christian suits up and buys what is needed, and thus properly prepared for the elements, we leave our ship with Lem and buy our tickets for the train line that goes to The Lodge.

We aren’t the only passengers waiting at the train station. There are four others with us: An old gentleman in a ratty greatcoat and expensive gloves and boots visible behind cuffs and hem. More people arrive, some in what looks like body armor. One person, in the semi-uniform of jumpsuit, walks in and informs us that we’ll be heading off to the mines in one hour. When we point out that we’re expecting the train for The Lodge, he adds the train goes there, too. And then says no one goes to the Lodge unless they’ve got the TSE and are desperate enough to try the crackpot doctor’s cure. Lovely. Our tickets purchased, we stand in the station and wait for the train to arrive. The ‘train’ isn’t actually a train, but a tracked vehicle towing tracked cars. Given the amount of snowfall and the mining disturbances, laid track of the traditional variety would get buried or broken in short order. Surface travel on caterpillar treads is the best option. It pulls up to the platform outside and things start to happen.

The two in the pseudo-body armor go to a back room and return with a push cart loaded with four strange-looking devices. They are roughly barrel-shaped, appear to be of NewTech materials and slapped all over with warning labels—“radioactive” being one of them. They are bound for the mines, apparently. Looks like our train trip is going to be an interesting one. The barrels are trundled aboard the train. It turns out that the barrels being loaded aboard are Quantum Paired Dipole Oscillation Laminar Limiters, nicknamed Qupie Dolls and they’re used to limit wavelength leakage, something especially important with Cortex communication equipment.

The boarding call for passengers sounds about ten minutes later. We go through the exit door of the waiting room and we find we’ve stepped into an airlock connected to the train—sparing us a trip into the frigid weather outside. Inside the airlock we encounter a couple of armed guards and a surprise: It’s Frank, the little-seen second engineer of the MakeMake, he who had locked himself up in the engine room when everything went south during the aborted take-over. We’d left him on Jiang Yin with JJ Jeffries after helping out the colonists. Christian is quick to greet him.

Christian: Hey, howya doin’?
Frank: (not recognizing him) Oh….just… great as you can see.
Christian: So, this is your job now?
Frank: (remembering now): Is that the MakeMake you came in?

He points at our ship outside on the landing pad. He sounds incredulous and we’re reminded how many changes our ship’s gone through since we’d taken ownership.

Christian: It’s Summer’s Gift now, but yeah.
Frank: (amazed) I’ll be damned.
Rina: (jerking a thumb at the weather) Dude, I think you already are.
Christian: (to Frank) As it turned out the Potemkins did steal it. And the original owner gave it to us.
Frank: (dubious) You’re not….planning anything are ya?
Arden: Planning anything?
Christian: Oh no, no-no. We’re here to see a man about a thing.

Rick can’t resist yanking Frank’s chain.

Rick: We’re gonna take over this ice planet.
Christian: (to Rick) Will you shut up? (to Frank) No, we’re not planning anything.

Frank looks very nervous, nonetheless. Not that we can blame him, considering what went down the last time we were all together. Mutiney, crewmen spaced, the Captain killed…..all after we walked aboard. It looks like Frank found working for Corone Mining on St. Albans less injurious to his health than engineering on the MakeMake. Who can blame him? Our career on Summer’s Gift could hardly be called smooth.

Frank: This might not be the best job in the world but it’s been relatively stable.

Christian is quick to reassure him that we’re not up to trouble but are here strictly for medical purposes, going to The Lodge. Which admission backfires.

Frank: (horrified) You’re not one of those crazy people? You don’t mean that you, you were eating brai—
Christian: No, no. Oh no.
Frank: What other medical purposes are there?
Arden: Their son is infected.
Christian: My son, yes. Who’s in suspended animation.

Frank’s expression goes yeah, right again and Nika breaks out laughing. It’s just too funny and her laughter just jacks up the surreal quotient to the conversation that much higher. Arden claps his hand on Rina’s shoulder and pushes her a step forward.

Arden: And may I introduce the mother?
Christian: (confirming it) Our son.

Suspecting he’s the butt of an elaborate joke, Frank lets the entire matter drop.

Frank: Whatever. I don’t wanna know.
Christian: Don’t worry. I promise if any trouble starts, it won’t start with us.

Nika just dissolves into laughter at that one. Arden remarks that this isn’t reassuring anyone and Nika gets a grip.

Rina: (to Frank) And you remember our pilot?
Christian: And did you hear that Potemkin’s brother got arrested?
Frank: (settling) No, I didn’t hear that.
Christian: Yes. He got arrested for—
Rina: Human trafficking.
Arden: Smuggling.
Christian: Human trafficking.
Arden: And other things.
Frank: Interesting. I should’ve heard something about that because I had some money on that.
Christian: And the Captain got drunk and fell on a grenade.
Frank: I remember that.
Arden: That’s not what happened, but okay. Whatever.
Christian: Actually, I think he was drunk at the time.

Nika starts to giggle again.

Rina: (to Nika) I can’t take you anywhere.
Frank: Well since we’re all agreed there’s not going to be any trouble, you’ll allow me to check you for weapons.
Christian: Sure.
Nika: Yes, we have weapons.
Frank: Okay, you’re gonna have to surrender them before we leave.
Rina: (hinked) Will we get them back?
Frank: Sure.
Rina: At the end of the trip?
Frank: That would be the normal time. (Off Rina’s look.) We’ll put them on the train. We have a special locking section on the train.

Rina acquiesces and gives up her gun, her three clips and her combat knife. The others in our party follow suit.

Frank: And now that’s done, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to go back outside and board the train from the rear. Because we have the Qupie Dolls up front, we can’t have you passing through the train for the passenger car.

There are two cars between the engine cab and passenger car and the airlock we’re in is right behind the engine cab. The car aft of us must be where the Qupie Dolls are secured, rather like valuables in a locked baggage car on a conventional train. We troop out into the weather and make our way to the rear entrance on the rear car. It has an airlock design to conserve the interior heat, and it’s blessedly warm when we all take our seats.

The ride on the train is pretty rough, thanks to the winds and the weather outside, and the view out the windows is pure white. Virtually nothing can be seen beyond the swirling snow. There is no food provided for the day-long trip to The Lodge, though food may be brought aboard by the passengers, and there is no entertainment beyond old country-style hits on the PA system. So we end up talking to the passengers to kill the time.

We strike up a conversation with the older gentleman we’d seen earlier in the station waiting room. He tells us his name is Cole, he’s from Londinium, and this is his second trip to St. Albans. He skied here once back when it was still solely a ski resort. He tells us that the weather didn’t seem so bad back then, but once you get into the higher skiing elevations, the weather all but disappears. We’re low enough in altitude that weather is all we’re going to see.

As if on cue, we feel a rumble and a shift under the train. Seismic. Must be the mining operations wreaking their usual minor havoc. The train stops for a moment and when the shaking stops under us, it trundles on. Our conversation continues.

On further observation, we suspect that Cole has had access to age-reduction technology and at a time when it wasn’t entirely perfected, hence his older appearance. He’s certainly in great shape, muscular in a wiry fashion. By his own admission, Cole says he’s older than he looks and that he’s fortunate enough to have blastomere organ implants and biosculpted muscles to continue his health into his later years. It’s only recently that those measures have come to naught by contracting TSE. While he speaks, he pulls out an ampoule of medicine and drawing up the cuff on his arm, he reveals a NewTech armband with a docking port for the meds. Cole flips a small cover, inserts the ampoule and closes everything up. Self-medicating couldn’t be simpler. Task done, he goes on to say how he contracted the disease when he does not engage in risky eating behavior is beyond him. He reaches into a pocket and shows us what he habitually eats—seaweed wrapped vegetarian bundles, chock full of vitamins and nutrients his body needs, carefully prepared by specially trained dieticians and chefs. The best money can buy. Yet all his precautions against age and ill health have been for naught. He has TSE and the only option he has left is to find a cure. Or at least a method to stave off the worst effects as the disease progresses.

The demographic of the other passengers only highlights how the TSE disregards the boundaries of age and race, personal health and wealth, places of origin and residence, gender and education: An old Oriental woman, tended to by her thirties-something daughter, already suffering some of the more debilitating effects of the disease; a two healthy younger fathers with their ill 4-year-old little girl. All unrelated, unknown to each other, and all of them connected by this fatal disease.

The two dads tell us that their daughter contracted the TSE from contaminated protein and that she came down with it in a pretty commonplace way: in an effort to get a picky youngster to eat, her parents used the protein paste to form fun food shapes their daughter liked. Had it been any other year, the practice would have posed no danger. And indeed, there’s no way of knowing how long this gambit of the dads had been in place. Certainly no one in this modern age would suspect their food to be dangerous and an innocent ploy to get a child to eat has tragically backfired.

Certainly the stories are the stuff of great documentary value and Jake is still recording everything with a small portable camera. And so we travel on, staving off boredom with conversation. A little farther on, another seismic shake makes the train rattle…and it doesn’t stop but grows stronger. A roar like a thousand freight trains breaks through the storm sounds outside and the wall of white beyond the windows parts to give us a glimpse of what’s coming.


We barely have time to scramble into our seats and strap in. It broadsides us, lifting our tracked vehicle off the snow like a chip of driftwood on an incoming wave. And like that chip of driftwood, we’re riding the tumbling edge of the massive flow. Inside the train cabin, the ride is horrendous—we’re shaken and rattled like the proverbial pebbles in a tin can. But for our harnesses, we’d be battered to death on the fixtures. The avalanche has our train in its grip, carrying us off the beaten path, careening us downslope at breathtaking speed. We have no way of driving free of it, we have no way to steer in the seething snow. The power fails, the chassis groans and the squeal and snap of ripping metal carries through the roar. We can do nothing but be carried by the wave and hope it does not suck us down to our deaths.

We ride. We breathe. And we pray.

The avalanche loses momentum, slows, and stops. The last rumble fades, swallowed by the hiss and howl of the storm blowing outside, and everything slithers to a halt.

Emergency power comes to life as we blink in our shock, stunned by the ride and the realization we’re still amongst the living. The cabin has a ten-degree list to the side and those on the upslope side of the cabin release their belts carefully. Thanks to them, we weren’t tumbled around like socks in a dryer but injuries accrued nonetheless. Many of us are banged up and some are bleeding.

Christian looks rocky, sporting a bloody goose egg on his head but he’s so far still conscious. The rest of us are in little better shape, sporting bumps and bruises. No broken bones or dislocations, thanks, but still pretty banged up. The other passengers are hurting too. The old woman, who’d been introduced as Mai Wu, is unconscious: she’d hit her head pretty hard on the ride down. One of the dads is out cold. Cole is shaky, having been thrown bodily across the cabin, bleeding but conscious. Arden unbuckles from his seat, grabs his medical bag, and starts the business of triage.

Christian and Nika get the forward door open and sees that our car is still connected to the rest of the train. The rear wall of the car ahead of us offers no hope for better, however. There is no door connecting us to the other car’s compartment, it being the sealed car the Qupie Dolls—and our weapons—are locked away in. If we’re to make contact with the others on our train, we’ll have to take a walk outside and gain access to the other cars externally. The accordion joint that seals the two cars together is ripped in places and the wind blows wickedly through the holes. The temperature inside our cabin instantly drops lower and Christian shuts the door to conserve our precious remaining heat.

It becomes quickly apparent to Arden that the old woman is the most critical case. Surgery is called for. The vicious cold outside is chilling the cabin down quickly and Arden’s fingers are losing their agility. He fumbles and nicks a vital blood vessel with his scalpel, and Arden scrambles to save his patient. Twice he nearly has succeeds, twice the blood vessel gives way catastrophically around his repairs….and despite his best efforts, the woman dies. Now Arden has a dead patient on his hands and is covered in blood…blood quite possibly capable of infecting everyone, including himself, with TSE. We gather everyone away from the old woman’s body and Arden cleans up the blood as best he can, but there’s little he can do with the limited supplies we’ve got.

We take stock. We have a few bandages and alcohol swabs in the cabin’s supplies cabinets but no food or blankets. We have no weapons. We have a few tools, mostly what Rina habitually carries in her pockets and her tool pouch around her waist. She has nothing like her full complement on the Gift, but she does have her hand-held mini blow torch. It’s possible she could make a campfire with it, but anything we could spare to burn—the seat cushions and the stuffing—would be toxic and we’d asphyxiate inside of minutes.

We have a dead woman. The old woman’s daughter is still conscious. One of the dads has come around with a little first aid and the little girl is huddled inside her other dad’s coat, held close to keep her warm. We may not have been able to save the old woman, but aside from our obligation to ourselves, we have other innocents with us who need help.

Above us is an escape hatch, rigged to open by explosive bolts. Once blown, there is no way to close it again and we we’ll have ruined the weather tightness of our cabin. Leaving by the hatch is right out.

However, with only emergency power going to lighting and no heat pumping through the vents, there is no question of staying. We will have to evacuate or die a slow death by freezing. We have other people in the other cars, but no one is answering our hails on the intercom. The others might possibly be injured, but also possibly alive and able-bodied and marooned with a broken intercom at their end. If we could join forces, we might be able to salvage one of the cars and ride back to civilization. If nothing else, we may be able to gain a higher position on the mountain and call for help via our comms. But until we leave the car and inspects the rest of the train, there is no knowing what we’ve got to work with and what our chances of survival are.

There being nothing for it, Rick and Cole force the rear exit doors open to investigate the train and our overall situation. The two men get the interior airlock doors open. Once they pass through, Nika follows them and shuts the doors behind them to keep the rest of us from freezing to death. Cole puts his expensive muscles to good use and by dint of much straining and groaning, he and Rick wrestle the exterior doors open. They are immediately confronted with a wall of snow. We’re buried in the leading edge of the avalanche…but the downward side of our car’s windows are clear. Air and sky cannot be too far away.

Cole dives into the snow bank in like a badger digging out of his den. The man is incredible, ferociously going at it, and Rick and Nika can only stay back and give him room. Eight feet of snow later, the old man wins free to the wind howling outside and shouts his triumph to the heavens. He may be old and he may be dying, but damn, he isn’t dying decrepit and meek. Rick scrambles through the tunnel Cole has dug and inspects the train.

All four cars are still here, mostly upright, and in one piece. He keys his ear comm on and relays his findings to the rest of the crew inside. Before he can do more than tell us what he’s seen, Cole grabs him roughly by the collar of his coat.

Cole: Hey!

Rick turns and sees the old man’s expression and realizes what’s happened. Cole has ‘gone Reaver’. The disease has taken him and the man is now out of control. Cole has the drop on Rick and slams into him.

Nika hears the ruckus over her ear comm and recognizes trouble. She scrambles up the eight feet of snow to tunnel entrance. She wins free of the tunnel and squints into the wind and the swirling snow and spies Cole whaling away at Rick. Nika clambers over through the drifts to help fight Cole off. Meanwhile, Rick is still blocking Cole’s blows as best he can and struggling to get clear of his reach. He’s taken some damage and is wavering on his feet. Cole lands another blow and it takes Rick out full length in the snow, out like a light. Nika gains Rick’s side and Cole growls, beast like, in her face and she gets a god look at him. Cole had somehow taken broken window glass and embedded it into his flesh.

All the more reason to get the hell out of the man’s reach. Nika throws herself on Rick and drags him toward the tunnel, yelling for backup. Nika feels Cole’s hands on her and quick as a flash she eels out of her longcoat, leaving the garment in Cole’s grasp as she manages to slide and roll herself and Rick down the tunnel toward the half-buried train car. They both fetch up against the car and Nika’s screaming for Rina to open the frakkin’ door.

Nika: Open the door! REAVER! OPEN THE DOOR!

Rina gets the doors open and when Nika has everyone safe inside, she slams the inner doors shut. The outer doors are blocked by the ice and snow. And once the inner doors are secured, we all grab something we can use as a weapon in case Cole comes for us. To a Reaver, we’re nothing more than a boxed lunch and right now, we’re looking mighty tasty.

Christian does his job of keeping people calm and Arden goes to work reviving Rick with what little he has to work with. Meanwhile Nika and Rina suss out their options to make the car Reaver-proof.

There’s not much they can do. Bracing the inner doors will be difficult, since they slide to the side like elevator doors. A bar jammed against the handle and the jamb to either side is the best they can expect. Overhead is windowed escape hatch, fired by explosive bolts. Once opened, it cannot be closed again and should Cole somehow fire it from the outside….

Rina: Great. If that happens, maybe we could play piñata on him as he drops down. Nika: We’ve got nothing in here that’s gonna work.

Rina gets busy with her pocket tools, dismantling the grab bars and stanchion poles from their anchors to give everyone a club. It’s vandalism of public property, but there’s no one going to argue the point. Not now. All we need now is the piñata.

Rick revives thanks to Arden’s efforts and staggers up to his feet. We pause and take stock again. We’ve one dead, one Reaver, and four civilians in addition to ourselves. The odds aren’t looking to great, but we’re still alive and kicking. That’s not nothing. However, the car has no power and there is no heat and no food. We cannot stay—the cold will get us if the hunger doesn’t, and the cold is working faster. It’s already colder in the car than when we first became marooned. We have to leave the car and catch up with the others on the train, find either a car with power to crawl out on, or a car with power and working comms to yell for help. But that means we have to go outside where Cole is waiting to munch us.

Cole is a Reaver, but he’s also mortal. We can, if we work together, incapacitate or kill him. There is no killing the weather. We make sure all our earcomms are working and synched, and get ready to go outside.

Arden: Is Cole even still out there?

At which point, Cole plants his bloody face flat against the windows outside and snarls at us in true horror movie fashion.

Christian: Yeah, he’s still with us.

Rick waves to Cole in a fit of macabre humor and Rina swats him.

Rina: Do NOT feed the bears.
Rick: All I wanna know is how we’re gonna kill this bastard.

All we know is that Cole is slowly freezing to death and is likely lucid for the entire process. Or as lucid as anyone in his condition can be.

Our plan is quickly drawn up. We need to get the power restored to our car if possible and if not, we need to get the engine car up and running. That’s Rina’s job and she’ll have to go outside to do it. Rick and Jake will accompany her to keep the Reaver off her so she can do it. Christian will stay behind with the passengers and help Arden keep them safe and calm. Christian asks for Rina’s duct tape and uses it to tape up the overhead hatch, preventing anyone from seeing through it. It won’t stop Cole but it might slow him down long enough to let us know he’s there.

Meanwhile Nika respectfully asks the old woman’s daughter if she may borrow her mother’s jacket to stay warm. Working carefully to contain the blood and spatter hazard, Nika dons the old woman’s coat with mixed feelings. Nika will no longer risk immediate death from exposure, even as she risks contracting the disease from contact with the blood and brain embedded in the garment. Nice. And to conserve everyone’s body heat, Christian gets everyone to huddle close together.

Rick, Rina, and Jake ready to leave. Christian makes sure the scouting party has their priorities straight—get to the first car that has power and restore power to our own. If they can get to the guards in the armored center car and get our weapons back, fine, but the power must come first. If the guard won’t open to us, we push on to the engine car. The scouting party pops the braces on the inner doors and they step into the icy world outside. The doors behind them shut and they crawl through the tunnel into the open….and exposing themselves to Cole.

Now it’s just a race against time and the elements, before death by exposure or Reaver, as the party tries to find the other survivors and a way out of our predicament. Nika stands guard just outside the doors, in case we need to come back quickly. Arden will stay inside holding the doors closed. Christian keeps the rest of the able-bodied busy ripping up the seats for the insulating stuffing inside them.

Rick’s out the tunnel first, with Rina and Jake waiting behind him. The wind is whipping up the surface snow but Rick can still see tracks left by Cole. And his blood. Both are everywhere. Following the evidence with his eyes, he can see Cole’s going to be hovering in the general direction we need to go. No conveniently wandering off deliriously into the trackless wilderness, no. His tracks actually go under the train at one point, where the man has crawled into the slanting airspace beneath the train. A great spot from which to ambush passersby like us. Rick relays this information and we plow on anyway.

When Rina draws even with the car’s couplings she takes a look at the undercarriage and sees the drive train and the power lines are irrevocably shorn. There is no way we’ll restore power to the car or even get her to move. We will have to contact and salvage another car in the train if we’re going to survive and get out of here. We push onward. We come even with the middle car, the armored car with the Qupie Dolls and we see nothing but blood smeared on the windows inside.

We hear something stirring inside, despite the wind and as we watch, we see a bloody hand slap the window. Cole’s bloody face appears an instant later and not all the visible blood on him is his. He smiles a feral smile and there are … things … in his teeth.

The guards inside are toast.

For the moment, Cole is trapped inside the car with the dead guards. Rick gets on the roof to attack him from the car’s escape hatch. If Cole tries climbing out, the escape hatch will be a bottleneck allowing us to piñata him on all sides.

Sounds like a plan.

It doesn’t go very well. Rick’s first bow doesn’t do much to slow Cole down while climbing out the hatch. It’s all about containment at this point, so Rick swings for Cole’s leg to make the Reaver to fall back inside the car. This time Rick is successful and Cole falls to the car floor nine feet below.

At which point Rina gets the door to the airlock open. Rick and the others warn her to watch out for Cole. She goes inside, checks to see the doors to the Qupie chamber is shut tight. The door on the left is shut as well and its window is smeared with a red substance. The airlock itself is empty of any compartments or lockers where our weapons could be stashed. Rina announces to the others what she’s found—and not found—and her plan to push through the forward section of the car to find our weapons and gear. At least this way, she’ll be protected from the weather and it would be marginally harder for Cole to get at her. Meanwhile Rick calls Jake up to the roof of the car to help him whack Cole back down if he tries to escape the car.

Nika asks Rina over her earcomm if she needs help raising a response in the front cars. Rina agrees and Nika leaves Christian and Arden with the rest of the passengers, and heads out into the cold. Rina starts hacking through the door in front of her. It takes her seven minutes.

Nika walks forward to the engine car and sweeping the ice and snow from the windows, she sees the driver of the train. The woman is unconscious and bloodied, having hit her head on the equipment. Nika climbs up on the roof of the car to see if she can spot anything else of use inside.

Jake warns everyone that Cole is coming out. Rick and Jake ready their makeshift bats. They connect and this time when Cole goes down, he falls off the top of the train into the snow. Now Cole is loose. Jake warns everyone of the roaming danger and we keep our eyes peeled. Looking inside the two men see that the guards are indeed dead and one of them looks like his face was taken off with a shotgun. The shotgun lies on the floor nearby. The other apparently died of a broken neck from the crash. The room below holds supplies as well as bodies. Rick jumps down and checks out the shotgun. It’s loaded and still works. He climbs back up.

Nika and Jake agree to split up, hoping to lure Cole back where we can see him so we can pick him off. Jake steps into a deep hole hidden by the snow….looks like Jake is now Reaver bait and Nika moves up onto the top of the train to get the drop on Cole. Rick moves along the roofs to join her. Cole pops up and Nika attempts to jump down on him to take him out. She jumps beautifully, misses and now she’s on the snow, on foot, near a Reaver.

Not her best day ever.

Meanwhile, Rick’s still slipping along on the roof, trying to get to Nika. And Nika is swinging her improvised club to keep Cole at bay. Arden has been following the commotion over the earcomms and now he leaves the passenger car to join the fight. If nothing else, he can distract Cole so the others can get a drop on him. . Rick is in position above Nika and he yells at her to run. Nika turns to get out of the way and Cole manages to land a blow on her. She staggers but manages to get away and out of Rick’s line of fire. Rick lines up a shot and shoots. He hits and Cole is still up. Cole in turn manages another hit on Nika. She’s wobbly from the cold and the blunt trauma from Cole’s blows but she’s still up. She claws through the snow to get out of Rick’s way.

Meanwhile, Rina is still inside the middle car trying to get past the door to gain the forward compartment. She can hear her friends taking damage outside and works harder on the locks—if there are weapons beyond the door, she can grab them and help.

Rick fires and hits Cole. Cole staggers but is still up. And now Arden’s close enough for Cole to grab. Cole deals Arden a glancing blow. Arden ducks out of Rick’s way and Rick shoots again. Cole stumbles and it looks like he’ll go down….but he manages to stay up, despite his wounds and the punishing cold.

Rina calls over the earcomms, asking if they need her in the fight. The others tell her to keep working. And outside Cole keeps swinging, and hits Arden. We’re all starting to feel the effects from the cold and it’s making us slow. Cole doesn’t seem to feel it at all. The cold finally gets too much for Nika and she falls unconscious to the snow. The rest manage to hit Cole and this time, THIS time, Cole goes down and stays down.

Dead as a doornail.

Apparently, Reavers are either alive or dead, and there’s no lessening of their ferocity in between.

Rick ditches the shotgun, its job done, and extracts Jake from the hole. Rina calls out for an update. Arden renders first aid to Nika to revive her. Arden drags her inside the middle car to shelter her from the weather.

Rina gets that door on the train open. She goes inside, looks for weapons. Finds none. Goes to the doors to the engine car and for once doesn’t have to do anything to get them open. Inside the engine car is the engineer, the woman dead from her injuries. Frank is there and he’s unconscious but alive. Crossing her fingers, Rina starts the engines and they start right up. There’s only power to the front two cars and we quickly move everyone into the car behind the engine. Rina cannot find the locker where they’ve stashed our weapons and quite frankly there’s no time to look for them. We drag the body of Cole into the rear car with the old woman’s corpse, decouple the engine and the tender car from the rest of the train, and we power our way out of there.

We make our way through the snow and the weather to the Lodge, there to inform the proper parties what has happened so they can go back and claim what is theirs.

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