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Something hidden

It's winter outside. Inside, we trudge through endless, snaking red tunnels, each splintering into a dozen dead-end branches. The walls smell like blood, even through the filters, although it must be centuries since the beast died. A red moss, as rich in iron as the old blood that feeds it, clings to the perfectly round tunnels.

There are three of us. We were five when we began, but Kakarta's suit gave out one night, and she never woke up. The monitoring system didn't even alert us. Cheap fucking exo-suits. Arcturus Interplanetary Research: doing the the very least for their contractors on a daily basis. We'd have packed it in there and then, but the drop-ship wouldn't be back for another two months, and we didn't much fancy spending the rest of our time camped out on the tundra. I wish we had.

It's winter outside, not that that means much here. Cassandra has been enveloped in planetary winter for at least 12,000 years. Its megafauna survived the apocalyptic climate shift by entering deep hibernation, but as their stored energy reserves ran out, even the great reptiles - it's hard to resist calling them dragons - became nothing more than frozen monuments to the death of their world. We were lucky to find this one. We've called her Beauty. She must have bled out quickly - we found the gaping wound in her thigh. That's how we got in.

There are three of us, because Imani hung herself last night. We don't know why, but I have my suspicions. I've been monitoring the air my suit's pulling in. This is a nitrogen-oxygen world, so Arcturus (hah. AIR) didn't equip us with breather sponges. Instead, our suits just draw in external air and heat it up to a comfortable temperature. There are supposed to be filters. Okay, there are filters. But I think the moss spores are smaller than they're equipped for. Hell, I don't think the filters are really designed to separate out bio-contaminants at all.

It's winter outside, and we're trudging our way through Cyclopean caverns that form the circulatory system of an alien reptile. Our xenobiologist would have been thrilled, if she were still alive. They say the hearts of these things are full of rare-earth metals. That we - or rather, our employer, to which we are indentured - will be rich if we can make it to the heart. We came in at the thigh, and we've made it as far as the great web of veins that fed blood to Beauty's stomach. I've begun to hallucinate, and I think the dragon is still breathing.

There were three of us, but I'm alone now. We should have left as soon as we realised that the moss might be affecting our judgement. Chang and Hadjipavlou didn't listen to me. Too busy talking about mining and chemical extraction to listen to a botanist. There's treasure hidden in Beauty's heart, but I don't want to take it from her now. My tracker tells me I'm past the lower lung. I only hope that I make it to the heart while I can still see. I carved out Chang's heart before she froze completely. The moss glowed where shards of blood fell onto it. Somewhere, in the secret dark, I'll find our dragon's treasured heart, and bring a small, frozen jewel to add to it.