Times were rough in his line of work. Hair care products just weren't selling as they used to. And fighting for custody of his only son wasn't cheap. So, after some pondering, Morris decided to become a freelance scientist. It was a thriving and exciting way of life, being a mercenary. Morris decided it was as good a job as any and certainly much better than staying unemployed.
Living in an industrial and war accustomed continent, he didn't find it hard to become a scientific mercenary. In fact, a few days after he'd posted his ad on the underground job market, offering scientific expertise in the field of chemistry 'no questions asked', he got an anonymous phone call asking him to show up at a certain building at a certain time in order to get hired for a certain six-figure-paid job. After checking his bank account and probing his fridge, Morris decided to undergo such a shady interview. The pay was tempting and his stomach yearned for something more substantial than gulps of air. So he went to the interview. Deep down the idea of being a mercenary thrilled Morris. He longed for a change of pace in his life; like many middle-aged men, Morris wanted a spot of adventure before becoming too ancient to even eat by himself.
In an obscure office of an obscure firm with an obscure man, Morris gladly accepted the job and was introduced to one Dr. Kyle Prai, a renowned scientist in the field of primitive archeology. Tall, pale, eyes framed by glasses and a cigarette pressed between his lips, Kyle seemed a bit detached of what happened around him. Stuffed inside his white gown, Kyle stared apathetically through the stained window.
At first, Morris assumed that they had both been hired under the same conditions: not knowing anything of their fate and working strictly for the money. Morris also believed that they would work as equals, one not being superior in rank to the other. How gullible was Morris. In fact, Kyle knew more of this expedition than any other. He was one of the main organizers and funders of the whole expedition. His only interest in Morris was his expertise in the chemistry department, something that his mind could not compute in the least nor had any interest in. It seemed that Morris was hired 'just in case' the need for a chemist arose.
Another member of this party was added a few days later. Lifus Alas was a genius in the field of mechanics that had refused to join the party at first, due to his busy schedule, but the sudden multiplication of the number of zeros on the check they dangled in front of him had ultimately proved too tempting. He was a kind and trustworthy man, plump and pinky, or so he seemed. A person, much unlike Kyle, to whom one could talk to.
On the day before the assignment was to get underway, Morris was finally briefed on his mission. The party was to head to Liger. Any attempt of exploration of this frozen continent had been strictly forbidden by the Kaner sect, the main religious and political power in the region and for this reason alone, the government of a very wealthy Bralian country organized an expedition to investigate it. If it was forbidden, for a reason it had to be. Hidden away somewhere could lurk a secret that the Kanerians didn't want to share.
At this point Morris was too late to jump ship. Some very conspicuous agents had already gone to his house and packed everything they felt was necessary for the dear doctor to take on his journey. Morris was too frightened to complain about the breaking-and-entering. And even if he did feel like raising an objection he didn't have a chance. The bulky men escorted him to the barracks where he was to sleep. He was to spend the night in the company of his fellow crew members to tie up any loose ends before they set sail.
Very apprehensively, Morris conceded to all of this. He never did like the cold and the mere thought of himself out there in the barren frozen desert that Liger was told to be chilled his soul and his mind raced in search of a way out. During dinner that night, Morris met his guides: two very cheerful and slightly inebriated Austeres. Even though the continent of Austere was a strict follower of the Kanerian sect rules, Moi and Koi were more than happy to escort them to a place so much like home.
Moi and Koi were brothers, twin brothers at that. Fine gentlemen. The simple face they shared reflected compassion and friendship at every smile, sentence and burp. Behind their rural rudeness, a wisdom gained only through experience guided their line of conversation. They talked for hours about the weather, frost-beasts, their kids' college tuition, women and paychecks. And that part of the conversation was what interested Morris the most. It seemed they were all getting paid as much as him. Which was odd because mere guides usually receive mere guide-like checks and hired scientists usually get 'erudite' compensation. But Morris did not make a fuss; the fact that they were all getting paid the same could even be advantageous, he thought. The pay was obviously to secure their commitment to the "cause" and Morris wanted nothing more than to have committed guides to keep him alive in the unknown.
Sitting on his bunk, holding his mug half-filled with blank, cold coffee, Morris observed the movements, actions and reactions of all the members of the group. Kyle was seemingly focused on his studies and Lifus screamed at his phone asking the soul on the other side for patience. Moi and Koi were blissfully gurgling down a bottle of grape-juice. It was all so different from what Morris was accustomed to. This environment, these people, this very place he was in; all was alien for Morris and all things scared him more than he liked to admit to himself.
Uncomfortable with this feeling bubbling in the back of his head, Morris placed his mug on the floor near his boots, laid down and turned to the wall. He had chosen to sleep on the ground floor of a bunk bed; he«d never liked heights or the cold. He started thinking that, in the end, he was a man unfit for many things but, as is the way of the world, those things always turn up to haunt you.
How dunce felt Morris as he was slowly dragged off to sleep. The Austere laughs echoed in the room, the occasional screams of denial from Mr. Alas orchestrated by the taping of his shoe on the linoleum. How dunce felt Morris when he thought of what laid ahead of him and all of it for money. How dunce indeed.
Next morning came and Morris felt as unconfident as he did the night before. He did his best to hide this from his team-mates. After all, they were all full-fledged scientific geniuses that had volunteered to be pioneers of a new continent. They would be risking their lives to have their names forever engraved on the annals of history. For all this, Morris' image of himself as a simpleton had to be masked by a confident and joyous mask.
They were all loaded to an army truck that took them to the military base. The plane stationed there was to take them to the furthest region of Brawl. From there, they were catching a boat (cargo vessel, non-military crew) to the shores of Liger where first camp had already been set the week before to welcome them. From there on it was up to them. Morris was also in charge of the team's health. Why didn't they hire a field doctor? he wondered. The motto seemed to be 'the less, the merrier'. So everybody was expected to multitask.
The truck ride was calm and peaceful. Everybody kept to themselves. Some comments sallied from time to time regarding the hard rain that poured over the entire region but nothing else. On his part, Morris dreamed of his son, that freckled 8 year old boy whose mother was vehemently forbidding him to see. How it would be so much better to be with his boy than going on this crazy assignment. But no more tears, no more regrets thought Morris. If he was doing this it was for his son.
The exterior of the base was deserted. The party hadn't much time to lurk around or ask questions as Kyle took over as the leader he was. He directed the group to the plain and carried most of the bags and crates that contained equipment and supplies himself. Morris carried his personal case and his appointed equipment. It wasn't much so Morris was the first one to retire inside the belly of the cargo plane. "Need any help?" he yelled over to Dr. Prai as he arrived with another crate followed by the two Austere guides. "No. Just stay put, we're almost finished." He was soaking from head to toe, his white gown dripping soundly, spawning a puddle wherever he lingered. His cigarette remained lit against all laws of physics. He needn't raise his voice to overcome the deafening roar of the rain either. Morris stood there for a second to admire him go about it.
Ignoring Dr. Prai's advice, Morris jumped back into the rain to help poor Dr. Alas who seemed to have bitten off more than he could chew. Together the two scientists quickly loaded what was left of Lifus' equipment and the plane began shutting the massive steel hatch. Everybody took a seat and strapped themselves in.
Morris was a natural born flyer. In his youngest years Morris had dreamed of becoming a bird and spend hours flying over his city, discovering nooks and crannies to steal himself to, places discovered only from above. In his teens, he changed his dream to becoming a commercial pilot. He wanted to share his love for flight and help people get to where they needed to go. But his sight made it impossible for Morris to take off. Being extremely nearsighted, the only thing that Morris could fly was a kite. As he had always excelled at chemistry in school a chemist he became. And that was the end of Morris' childhood dream. But one thing remained: his passion for the sky and his boldness in flying.
After take-off, Morris hastily freed himself from his binds and checked on his equipment to make sure that nothing had gotten damaged in the transport or because of the rain. Lifus seemed surgically attached to his phone for as soon as he got the chance, he dialed the same number again and proceeded with the insulting and furious shouting. Moi and Koi smoked together to relax their muscles from the stress of the flight. Kyle stared out the window and smoked. At his feet a puddle had formed from the water that dripped still from his all-terrain white gown. Morris tried but he could not see his eyes. The sun's reflexion on his glasses gave Kyle an eerie expression.
Morris found himself standing near his open crate staring at Dr. Prai. He closed the crate and sat near the mysterious doctor. "Need a dry gown? I've got a spare..." As Morris showed his generosity and sympathy, Kyle continued to show his hardheartedness. "No, thank you. I do not part with this gown," was the only answer Morris got.
He rethought his choice of seat and went to chat up the twins. If you do the math, two happy faces are better than a gloomy one. In time he agreed to have a few puffs from their pipe and whatever was in it made Morris feel a bit too joyous and sleepy. And so he dozed off for the rest of the plane ride.