Mara stared out of the crawler at the ground below. She'd never been this far from Elysium before, never been this high before. From here, the rail lines spiraling out of Elysium to its many tributaries looked like thin bands of wire, stretched taut over the red Martian plain. An ore train was pulling in from Albor Tholus, cars loaded with hematite stacked up behind the engine, like beads of oil sliding down a string. To the far north, she could see a dust storm sweeping towards them, a band of red rolling down from the pole.
The crawler bounced as it went over a dip in the path. Sitting next to her, Dee cursed, her words faint in the thin atmosphere. They'd passed the dozers leveling the new road half an hour back; this far up the mountain the path was nothing more then a suggestion.
There were a dozen of them sitting in the crawler's open bed, clad in gray issue parkas, over fur died Orphans' Guild dark brown. The others were staring at their feet, or at nothing in particular, their faces obscured by black air masks linked to the crawler's air supply. Their Pod Master, Tir, rode in the pressurized cab, of course.
She looked north again. The dust storm seemed bigger already. She'd never been Outside for this long before, and she wasn't sure if she should be worried or not, but the ominous orange-brown blotch made her shiver. She inhaled deeply, the air in her mask smelling of sweat and rubber.
There were stories, of Orphans who went to bases outside the city and never returned, rendered down into components for the Bioengineers' Guild or used in experiments by the Neurologists. She was pretty sure those were just stories...
The crawler stopped, and she realized they'd arrived. A few dozen meters ahead an airlock emerged from the mountainside. Beyond it there was a half-finished concrete dome, Constructor crews hurriedly securing tarps over it against the coming storm. There was a faint pop as the crawler cab depressurized, and Tir jumped out, waving them down. She held her breath and pulled the mask off, her eyes stinging slightly as they met unfiltered atmosphere. She and the others dropped off the side of the crawler and followed the Pod Master into the airlock.
The airlock was big enough to fit all of them at once. On the other side was a long underground hall, ten meters high and wide and at least forty long, still showing the signs of ongoing construction in pallets of crated supplies. A dozen floodlights hung from the ceiling, illuminating the center of the hall brilliantly but leaving the sides and corners in shadows. “Wait here,” Tir ordered, heading down the hall.
Mara leaned against the cavern wall. It was warm enough in here that she was uncomfortable in the parka. “Wonder if they'll feed us any time soon,” Dee muttered.