True to her word, Mac woke me as the sun crept over the horizon. We stepped outside, both with hands wrapped around mugs of hot coffee.
The camp was starting to wake. Others stood outside like we did; Mac waved to the twins as they stretched in front of their hut.
I yawned. The cot was not the most comfortable, but it beat the rocky night I spent at Argyre by a long unit. It almost made up for the expedition I was about to undertake.
I saw Hargrove walking toward us. I waved, happy to see a friendly face. For the first time in weeks I felt as if I knew people, as if I wasn’t alone. It was pleasant.
“Good morning,” she said, and I nodded.
“Packed?” asked Mac. I had woken to find a backpack loaded with material waiting for me. Mac wouldn’t let me off carrying anything, writer for the Star or no.
“Yep,” Hargrove said, “Forsyth and Forsyth too. We’re ready to march when you are.”
“The twins are coming?” I was happy to hear it, though my face must have said otherwise as Hargrove started laughing.
“What’s so funny?” said Mac. I’d forgotten she was not present during my awkward introduction to Galle West.
“Nothing, the twins just gave our friend here a little trouble yesterday.”
Mac grunted, rolling her eyes. “Of course they did.”
Again, I realized my rudeness. “Kelly,” I said, and stuck out my hand at Hargrove.
“Nora.” We shook warmly. “But friends call me Hargrove. It’s how I introduced myself years ago, and it’s stuck ever since.”
I nodded. I was, and still am, glad I escaped the nicknames from university.
“Are we bringing anything special?” Hargrove asked.
Mac thought for a minute. I could see her ticking items off a list in her head, then—
She snapped her fingers. “Digger,” she said, and Hargrove nodded. She moved away to fetch the equipment, but before she could go far, a dark shape appeared at the trailhead.
It came down slowly, following the same route I had the evening before. It did not trip.
Hargrove came back. “Now who could that be?”
Mac looked at me. I shrugged. “I work alone.”
We watched as the figure moved closer. The camp was alive now. Everyone seemed to be an early riser, with various projects occupying them from dawn until dusk. Traffic to the mess hall thickened, and a haze grew above it as excess heated air was funnelled out.
The shape came closer, resolving itself into that of a man. Tall, gangly, and swaggering. I shuddered.
“Nordon,” I said with all the venom I could muster. I would have spat on the ground if I were not in company.
“Who?” Mac said, turning to me.
"Philip Nordon,” I sighed. “He’s a writer for the—for the Dwarf.” I didn’t mention what I thought of that particular periodical, again because I was in company.
Mac rose an eyebrow. “Interesting.”
“Indeed,” I said, for what else was there to say?
I drained the rest of my coffee. Mac took my cup back into her hut and brought out our packs. Hargrove stood by me, watching the camp, watching Nordon. We were in companionable silence.
He was in no hurry. I could tell Mac was more than ready to leave, only waiting out of politeness for the guest. I had the impression Mac was in charge at Galle West, though there were no titles or true responsibilities. Others seemed to look to her for instruction, and it was she that stepped forward as Nordon approached.
“Hello,” she said, “I’m Doctor MacKenzie. Are you looking for someone?”
“Yes,” Nordon said. “You. I’m working on a story for the Dwarf, and—” and then he saw me.
I stepped forward stiffly, but did not shake his hand. “Nordon,” I said, as polite of a ‘hello’ as I could stomach.
“Fontanne,” he said, equally cool.
He turned back to Mac, eyes now narrowed. “I’m writing for the Dwarf. A bit of a biograph on the geologists out away from civilization.”
I grunted. It wasn’t exactly my take on the story, but it was near enough to cause me damage. Nordon would undoubtedly find a way to ‘take inspiration’ from my work, and release his earlier than I could.
“Well, there’s plenty to choose from out here,” Mac said. She sounded as if she did not care. I hoped she did, for my sake. I saw Hargrove cross her arms.
“Yes, of course—only I was hoping to have an interview or three with you in specific. You have quite the record, Doctor, and I’d like to use some of your experiences in my piece.”
Mac shrugged. “A few discoveries, nothing much. No more or less important than the work anyone else does here.
“Listen,” Mac said, leaning closer. “We’re about to leave on an expedition. Why don’t you hang around the camp for a few days, and we’ll talk when I get back?”
Nordon glanced at me. “I see you’re taking Fontanne with you,” he said, as if it mattered. “Why don’t we pool our resources? I’m no stranger to hiking.” My eyes widened. The man’s boots were hardly sullied, even after the long walk from the rover stop. How could he keep so tidy? I looked down at my own feet and was dismayed to see them caked with dust and dirt.
Mac shrugged. “Can you carry a pack?”
Nordon nodded, looking sideways at me. My mind raced for a solution to my impending discomfort, but it did not race fast enough. Hargrove handed him a pack.
“Here,” she said, “take this and meet us on the North side of camp in ten minutes. You can leave your things over there.” She pointed toward a small, dirty hut. It looked unused and cold, and I was flattered Mac had invited me to share hers.
Nordon slung one strap around his shoulder and started off, carrying his luggage as if it were weightless. I remembered the strained exhaustion settling in my arms from carrying my own belongings.
Mac turned to me. “You don’t like him?”
I sneezed, though out of irritation or the dust I do not know. “How could you tell?”
“You looked as if a wrong word would send you over the edge.”
I reddened. “Right. No, I don’t like him. He has a habit of turning up at the last minute and stealing my work.”
“Does he not get enough material on his own?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “but he certainly finds mine appealing.”
“Hm.” Mac grunted, then shouldered a bag. “Well, let’s hope he’s not interested in the weather.” She started walking North.
“I’m not—” I began, but I had to grab my bag and catch up, and by that time Mac was already talking again.
“Make sure the twins have that digger ready,” she said to Hargrove. “And I want it on the sled. I don’t know why they forget things are easier than they think.
“Right, boss,” Hargrove said, and rushed off toward the twins.
“I’m not her boss,” Mac told me, still walking. “I don’t know why they insist on calling me that.”
“Maybe you’re just bossy,” I said, and she laughed.
“Maybe I am.”