“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you.”
-March 31, 1988, Vicinity of Earth
This was intolerable! Planetary assimilation was not supposed to be like this. These samples, these... 'creatures' had defied The Mind's plans for far too long, destroying countless constructs, daring to retake ground that had already been assimilated. Worst of all, they had the audacity to cut it off from the rest of its selves.
Every attempt to move forward with the assimilation had been met with obstacles at every turn, and now the upcoming movements had to be altered, postponed,or outright canceled. These new samples had made sure of that. They were like the others, but... different. They used 'machine things', just like the other intelligent samples, but they weren't the same, they were made of different substance, non-living stuff. Some of their machine things were similar to ones encountered before, and they were certainly capable of being killed. The eight-hundred destroyed machine things lying broken in assimilated territory proved that.
This didn't change the fact that The Mind would have to do something about them.
Millions of queries and answers moved back and forth throughout the mental corridors of The Mind, and after some deliberation, a decision was made. The original samples of this world would simply have to wait a little longer, these new samples were more of an immediate threat.
-3:14PM April 14, 1988, Brantley Lake Refugee Camp, New Mexico, United States
Surveying the small patch of ground, Norman dropped his sleeping bag to his feet, it rolled about a foot away before coming to a stop.
“Is this where we're gonna camp?”
His sister was standing right next to him, she had dropped down into a cross-legged position on the ground. She had a surprisingly cheery expression on her face. He gave her a smile of his own.
It had been a tough two weeks. They had managed to just make it out of Pensacola before things got too messy, then they ran out of gas somewhere around Alabama. They found shelter with other refugees, slept out on the side of the interstate, in school gymnasiums, & abandoned houses, scrounged food from abandoned grocery and convenience stores or got it out of the back of army trucks. Then they found themselves there, on an old camp ground, now a refugee camp.
He hadn't seen any of his friends since that day, probably wouldn't see any of them ever again either. Most of his belongings were gone, he'd been living off of two meals a day, sometimes fewer, none of them had showered since Black Wednesday, and now this was their home. He was tired, his feet hurt, and he just wanted to lay down and not think about any of that shit for the rest of the day.
Mom and Dad were standing behind them, about thirty feet back. They were hugging, he could see the look on his mother's face, he could tell she was crying. Then he looked down at Jessica, she was looking at a pair of kids playing fetch with a golden retriever. He suddenly decided that his feet didn't hurt so badly after all “hey kid, why don't we see what kind of food they have here?” he said.
She looked up at him “yeah, maybe we can get hot dogs or something!” she exclaimed with an enthusiastic look back up at him.
Dropping his knapsack to the ground, he helped her up to her feet and they headed off in search of something to eat.
-9:27AM April 17, 1988, McMurdough Station, Antarctica
Faces passed her in the hallway. They were the faces of empty people, hollowed out shells. Almost from the moment she arrived at the base, it had become clear that there was something horribly wrong there.
Aside from new arrivals, everyone at the base all had varying degrees of “dead eye” as she called it. The staff who worked exclusively at McMurdough didn't have it too bad, though they all looked to be suffering at least mild cases of depression with a slight touch of ...something unsettling about them. The people who went out to the dig site looked practically dead, their skin taking on a pallid appearance, their eyes sunken into the sockets, many of them looking like they hadn't eaten in weeks, or that the only thing they ever did was eat.
That was, except for the 'security staff.'
The men who she saw walking barely concealed patrol patterns throughout the base, with obvious bulges in their jackets. It wasn't hard to spot where these guys came from, the way they carried themselves, and examined their surroundings. Some were obviously ex-spooks; NSA, CIA, take your pick, others were former special forces, SEALS, Delta, even one or two Force Recon. They weren't suffering from whatever everyone else was. They seemed to be of healthy weight and complexion, but something else was wrong about them. She couldn't get her brain around it, but something just felt... wrong about them.
She passed one of them just before rounding the corner. His gaze methodically shifted around the area, scrutinizing everything in his surroundings, scanning for targets. Clarice recognized the look, and she had spent years teaching herself to do the same thing without looking so obvious.
What was obvious however was the jittery looking man who she had spotted about three days after she had arrived. He was presently following her down the corridor, and he was doing a horrible job of trying to look innocuous. His name was Kevin Doherty, a paleoarchaeologist from Harvard, he worked on processing samples shipped in from the dig site, and had made relatively regular trips between McMurdough and the site. At least that's what the personnel records said.
Whoever he was, he probably wasn't one of them.
It was about time she figured out just what his intentions were.
Rounding another corner, she picked up her pace and made a beeline for the storage room at the end of the corridor. Pushing through, she left the door slightly open behind her, then hid in the corner.
It had occurred to her that this “secret admirer” was actually a real pro, and that he was putting on the amateur facade in order to lull her into a false sense of security. In such a case, being this sloppy would be a hell of a way for her to go out, but such obvious bait was not likely suck in somebody so skilled. If he was for real, he would pass up the obvious lure and wait for her to come back out.
In about fifteen seconds, she knew what she was dealing with.
Slowly, the door opened, and in poked the head of her pursuer. He was fortunate that she had decided that he wasn't much of a threat, otherwise his face would have an extra couple breathing holes in it.
Entering the room almost all the way, the older man reached for the light switch, Clarice decided to act right then.
Like a tightly wound snare, her hands flew out, one latching onto his outstretched wrist, the other onto the shoulder of his sweater. In a single fluid motion, she twisted his wrist around behind his back and thrust him into the opposite wall, simultaneously, she reached out with her left foot and kicked the door closed.
Her victim let out a cry of alarm upon being seized, and then one of pain as his arm was forced into a position it was not meant to be in, then a third one as his face slammed into the wall. Releasing his shoulder, she pressed her forearm into the back of his neck, pushing him into the wall harder “ow! Please, you don't have anything to worry about from me!” he exclaimed as she forced him down to his knees “p- please! I- I just want to talk to you!” she ignored his protests and proceeded to kneel down, placing her knee on top of his ankle, taking care to keep most of her weight off of it.
She leaned in “feel that? I'm gonna break your ankle” she whispered in an icy cool monotone.
“Please, no! -Ow!”
She cut him off by pulling back on his shoulder, then shoving him back into the wall again “shut up!” she shouted.
Interrogations were not her specialty, but she knew that torture was not a reliable way to gain information. Fortunately, that wasn't what she was after. She could do her best to keep him off balance, see how he reacted, help her determine if he was trained or not. This was not the way she would like to go about this, but she just didn't have the luxury of time.
Slowly, she started to put weight on his ankle “OW! Please! P- Please! I'll do whatever you want! Please!” he pleaded with her.
Letting up just a bit, she leaned in again “why did Estevez send you?” she asked.
There was a pause “what? I don't-” he groaned in pain as she started to apply pressure to his ankle again.
In his position, she would have reacted in one of two ways. Either she would play along, see if she could get her interrogator to give away some information, or she would try to keep up the facade. If her opponent seemed to be a calm and cool operator, she would go with the former, if he seemed to be sloppy or overly emotional, she would try for the latter.
She pulled him back from the wall “cut those fucking lies! I told him I was going to make the drop next week, no earlier. I will make you seriously pay for his impatience!” she shouted, allowing anger to seep into her voice, then she pushed him back again.
“Ow! Please! I don't know any Estevez, I wasn't sent by anyone, I promise!”
Suddenly she got up off of his ankle, released his wrist, and grabbed him by the shoulders, forcing him to spin around and face her. She looked him over, and saw the look in his eyes. The way they stared back at her in utter terror, the tension in his muscles, he seemed legit. He was either incredibly good, or he was for real.
Softening her expression, she backed away from him and kneeled on the floor “it's OK Kevin, you can relax, I'm not going to hurt you” she said reasssuringly.
His expression changed from one of pure terror to an odd mix or fear and confusion “but- but-?” about a dozen questions must have been going through his mind, at least.
She decided to answer what must have been the most pressing one “sorry about the scare, I spotted you following me and I had to be sure” she explained.
“Sure, sure of what? I don't understand. Who is Estevez?”
“None of your concern right now” she said with a dismissive gesture “why were you following me?”
Kevin looked down at his lap, then around the room, almost as if he expected there to be someone else in there, hiding “I- I uh, I wanted to make sure you weren't one of them” he said.
“The security staff?”
He nodded “it's not just the guys with the guns. It's the administrator, he's got people all over the base and down at the dig site” he explained,
Clarice nodded in comprehension, she had seen the passengers of the 'supply flights,' Those planes were supposed to be loaded with extra supplies for the dig site and nothing else, but she had managed to spot the groups of people boarding and unloading from them. The fact that whoever was running the show didn't seem to be making more than a cursory effort to conceal these people meant one of two things: Either they didn't know that they were leaving themselves open to detection, or they knew that they didn't have to worry.
Something told her that the latter case was true. A possibility that she didn't much care for.
“Yeah, I know who you are talking about, but there is a DoD run project out at the dig site, there's bound to be plenty of extra security and secrecy. What makes you so paranoid?”
He shook his head “no, it's worse than that. You haven't been out to the dig site, you haven't been here as long as I have, seen the things I've seen” he said, letting out a long ragged breath “the last marshal didn't listen to me, I think he was involved with them, or maybe he just didn't want to believe it, I don't know, but you have got to listen to me, there is something very wrong here. We shouldn't be here” he looked down at his hands, as if he expected to see an answer to his problems there.
“You're not making any sense, what do you mean? It's just a bunch of old artifacts, they're being used to help win the war.”
He let out another ragged breath “NO. You. Must. Listentome.” his words ran together frantically “I thought the same thing when I got here eight months ago. I was ecstatic, the largest archaeological discovery in history, and evidence that everything we know about human evolution may be wrong, but...” he trailed off.
She grabbed him by the shoulder “what? Are these guys stealing the artifacts? Performing human experiments? What?” she was starting to get frustrated. She was a spy, not a therapist.
A strong gust of wind blew outside, causing the building to shudder slightly. He jumped, pulled out of whatever trance he had “no...” he shook his head “yes-” then he shook his head again “it's more complex than that.”
“I was cataloging biological samples, and at first I was intrigued. They were very different from anything that I had seen before, but I soon realized that they were not natural, there was something very wrong with them. I started asking around and talking to other departments, the artifacts... They were... off.”
“The inscriptions they had translated described unbelievable horrors. And the deaths...”
He trailed off again. Clarice sighed, she just didn't have time for this. They needed to get out of there before someone noticed them “what deaths? What happened? Tell me” she shook him again, this time with more force.
Again, he managed to pull himself together “yeah, right. Uh, well there was the occasional suicide. Some guys slit their wrists, others got into dangerous chemicals, some just walked out into the ice and froze to death. That was bad enough, but the murders were something else entirely.”
“I knew one of the clerks in data entry. Jake Watson was his name. Me and him had lunch together almost every day. He had a wife and kid, talked about them all the time. He actually seemed to be one of the few guys that didn't let this place get to him.”
Kevin paused and stared off into the distance again, but he didn't stop for long this time “one day he snuck one of the pick-axes from excavation, and killed one of the maintenance staff with it. They found him in the mens' room. Said it looked like he had been working on the guy for a good hour, just hacking at his head. They had to use fingerprints to confirm his identity, dental records weren't much good.”
“That wasn't the worst though.”
He started shaking then, and he looked her in the eye. His expression sent a chill down her spine. He continued “About three months ago they found something down there in the ice. 'Ross Magnetic Anomalies' they called them. I heard the others talking about them, describing them as best they could, but nothing anyone can say will prepare you for what they are actually like. They're just... wrong. Shouldn't exist...” he trailed off.
She considered her situation for a moment longer.
“And the people, ever since we uncovered them, something has been happening to them, changing them” he cut off her train of thought.
She had been trying to get as much intel as she could, but whoever was running security around the dig was good, and she had a hard time trying to find any holes in the security at the site. A tall order without being able to do any recon of the site itself, and most everyone who came out of the dig site seemed incredibly reluctant to talk about what was going on there, both because of the imposed secrecy and because of whatever it was they were digging up out there.
She'd seen the documents and materials that Brad had brought back, she'd even managed to catch a glimpse at some of the artifacts brought back. Some oddly shaped stone tablets, some grizzly looking fossils, but nothing particularly menacing. The only things that really had her worried was the frighteningly effective security, a constant sense of unease that she had never been able to shake from the time she landed, and the massive number of mysteries that she had yet to even begin to solve.
Whoever was running things there knew what they were doing. They knew that despite the dig site being far more sensitive, McMurdough was the single point of entry for it. Everything and everyone that went to the dig site and subsequently left it, passed through McMurdough.
She didn't know much about archeology or scientific research, but she did know that strict security did not do much to facilitate it. So, the best way to accomplish their goals and secure the dig site were to keep a firm grip on McMurdough, and that they did. Security personnel flew on every flight out to the dig site, access to the site was strictly limited and controlled by 'the administrator' and his staff, and her cover as a US marshal granted her absolutely no access whatsoever.
Clarice did not like the option being presented to her right then. Mr. Doherty wasn't much good at maintaining discretion. She wouldn't be surprised if the powers that be were intercepting all of his outgoing mail out of simple precaution. It went without saying that he was certainly on the radar of whoever was running security there, and if she started using him as an asset, it was highly likely that she would soon be too.
Despite that being the case, she knew that there were few choices available to her, and she did not like this one in the least either, but the longer she was there, the more likely it was that she would be found out, security there was too good otherwise.
A moment of further deliberation and she made her decision “I need to get over there and see for myself” she said.
He met her gaze, a wary look in his eyes “you don't want to-” he started to say, but she interrupted him.
“Like you said, I have to see for myself. If what you say is true, then I have to inform my superiors at the Marshal's Service about this.”
Kevin looked as though he was reconsidering, but didn't seem fully convinced “if I can't rely on you, then I may have to file a protest with the Administrator, indicating that I have been informed of criminal behavior at the dig site” she said, then gave him a knowing look “and the source of my suspicions” she finished.
She saw the horrific realization take shape in his mind “you can't! I- I think they'd kill me!” he protested.
Clarice shrugged “I can't do much without any evidence, and all I have to go on is your word. Without any other options, I'd have to go through normal channels” adding a tone of resignation to her voice.
After a moment of silence where it looked like the poor man might actually have suffered a nervous breakdown of some kind, he finally responded “I think I know a way.”
Kelly's dreams had taken a turn for the unpleasant ever since she had arrived in Antarctica. This made for fitful sleep, and in turn did not help with her constant feelings of unease. She wasn't sure if Doherty was completely off his rocker, but she couldn't deny that there was something fundamentally wrong there. Something beyond the secrecy and stiff security.
That being the case, she did not much mind being woken from her sleep by the sound of something moving in her room. Reflexively reaching for her weapon, she drew it and aimed it toward the dark figure at the foot of her bed.
“That won't be necessary” said the unseen intruder.
Clarice was skeptical to say the least “no more necessary than breaking into my room in the middle of the night” she responded.
The figure began to move. Her finger tensed over the trigger “I would request that you not kill me” he said “I simply wish to shed some light on the situation” he requested as he slowed his motions.
Her vision cleared as her eyes adjusted, allowing to make out more details on the figure, he didn't appear to be holding any weapons, she decided to loosen her grip on her weapon “alright” she simply said.
He reached over to the switch and suddenly she could see who she was dealing with.
The gentleman before her was a middle aged man, in his forties, salt-and-pepper hair, clean shaven. She recognized him as one of the anthropologists assigned to the dig, Tom Harper was his name. She suddenly had the feeling that all of her information on him was grossly out of date.
Returning both of his hands to an up-raised position, he had a conciliatory look on his face “if you really want to keep pointing that thing at me, then feel free, but I would appreciate if you would put it down, I mean you no harm” he said.
She considered it for a second. He managed to enter the room without waking her. He probably could have taken her weapon as well. A second of further consideration and she relented, lowering the firearm.
Lowering his own arms, he gave her a nod “much thanks” he said with a smile.
“So I'm guessing that you are no anthropologist, and that your name is not Tom Harper.”
“And I would guess that your name is not Jennifer Stein, nor are you a Federal Marshal.”
Sitting up, she slid out of the bed, motioning him to sit in one of the small chairs at the other end of the decidedly cramped room.
Sitting down across from the visitor, she placed her gun on the small table in front of her “to what do I owe this visit?” she asked not taking her hand off of the weapon. She was uncomfortably sure that his timing had something to do with her meeting earlier in the morning, she wasn't going to let him know that though.
He sat back and folded his arms “I gather that you are planning a trip next week, I'll need you to pick something up while you are there” he explained.
“But why-” she stopped herself, shaking her head, then started again “ok, let's back up a second. What was it that gave me away?” she asked. She wouldn't be able to accomplish much more if her position had been compromised.
He cast a wry grin in her direction “I wouldn't feel so bad, it wasn't you so much as it was the fact that my employers and yours have both been looking into the parties that are running the dig. I wouldn't worry though, without that little hint, I'm not sure that I would have been able to sniff you out, you've quite good” he explained.
Nodding as if to convey a sense of reassurance, her gaze went up from down at the table to meet his “you've been here longer than I” she said, noting the same pallid, sickly appearance that all long term residents on this continent seemed to have “and you have regular access to the dig site, aside from having me stick out my neck on our behalf, why would you need me to do this?”
“My situation here has a time limit on it, after the events of Black Wednesday, my employers are in a far more tenuous position than they used to be, and as with them, so goes my exit strategy. You however, I gather that you must have some options in that department still available.”
She raised an eyebrow at that one “I wasn't aware that the Soviets-” he cut her off.
“I'm not working for the Soviet government. My employers are somewhat less... provincial in nature.”
Her eyes narrowed “alright, so what exactly is it that you want?” she asked, finally coming to the main point.
He reached inside of his jacket and retrieved an envelope “there are two items in particular that I need you to obtain” he said, sliding it across the small table.
As if expecting it to spring on her like some kind of trap, she picked it up off of the table and opened it. Contained within were two things, one was a Polaroid photo, the other looked like an ancient piece of paper. She pulled out the paper first. It was about the size of a playing card, with ragged edges, it appeared to have been ripped from a larger sheet. One side appeared to have some kind of ancient script scrawled upon it, written in some language she didn't recognize. On the other side was what looked like an old woodcut.
The image on it depicted a pair of skeletons standing over what appeared to be a pile of dismembered limbs. Their arms were outstretched in an upward motion, possibly in supplication, and above them was what appeared to be some kind of abnormally shaped object, defined by jagged interlocking edges.
Her eyebrow furrowed as she retrieved the photo. Upon seeing what it depicted, her eyebrows rose again. It depicted a strange metal case, possibly cast iron, bearing some resemblance to a pelican case, almost cubical in proportion. Its surface was adorned with some sort of complex interlocking pattern, swirling lines and angular jagged edges, all somehow fitting together in the same composition. It was hard to tell from the photo, but it appeared to be no more than a foot across.
He didn't bother to wait for a question “the artifact goes inside the case, that's how they are storing them” he explained.
She looked up at him “you said two items” she said, a question as much as a statement.
Nodding in response “the case is one of the items. When you obtain it, you'll want to open the case to make sure the genuine article is contained within. Only open it for a few seconds, then keep it closed. DON'T touch it, whatever you do” he was adamant,
“Only a few seconds, even that long may be damaging” he pointed a finger at her.
Not knowing what to make of his cryptic references, she placed the photo down on the table “what exactly is it? And why do you want it?” she inquired.
“To answer your second question, I don't want it. I want you to take it with you when you leave.”
He didn't give her enough time to respond to that before continuing “As for your first question, all I can tell you is that it is the stuff of nightmares. Do not take it lightly” he gave her a penetrating look, and for the second time in less than twenty-four hours, she felt a chill run down her spine.
-3:28PM April 21, 1988, Washington, DC, United States
A cool breeze sent a shiver through Roger's bones. The shiver wasn't entirely because of the temperature, or rather not entirely because of its physical effects. He knew why it was so cold that time of year, and he didn't much like the reason. Of course, of all of the things for him to be worried about, an abnormally cold year was the least of his worries.
Making his way down the sidewalk, he made sure to keep a watchful eye on passers-by. His experiences in the past year had taught him that a good dose of paranoia could be a healthy thing.
The people out there on the street with him were oblivious. They were busy scurrying about, heading off to their jobs or home, maybe running errands. To be sure, they certainly had fear. The collapsed building a block down the street was an ever present reminder of the world they all inhabited now.
He stumbled slightly as he attempted to sidestep a sizable pile of rubble, another reminder of the new world. He was glad that they had managed to clear the bodies off the streets in DC. He'd heard that there were still remains laying around in Boston and Seattle, and there was even still fighting going on in Saint Louis.
...Saint Louis, Mobile, Dallas, Cardiff, Mumbai, Cuba, Northern China, the entire Gulf Coast.
His briefcase felt as if it weighed a ton. The documents contained within it were enough. There were holes in it, it had been hastily assembled, but the overall gist was undeniable.
'At present, with all information at hand, the conclusion of this war is in doubt.'
He had spent years at the start of his career wondering why so many of his colleagues felt the need to write their reports in such clinical terms, even when discussing things like megadeaths from nuclear wars, artificially induced famines, or chemical warfare. Now he knew.
It was one thing to discuss these things in the abstract, but when analyzing them as if they were real possibilities that were all too likely to actually happen, it was too damn hard to write these reports in any other way. The horror of these analysis was so damn hard to take in emotional terms.
After a few seconds, he finished crossing the street and walked up to the front door of the post office.
Open finally after almost a month being closed at least they've got the mail going again he thought as he stepped through the door.
He'd never seen the clerk behind the counter before, the man looked ancient, easily seventy years old. Postal service must have been really short staffed if the were digging up guys like him.
Passing by the elderly clerk, he headed over toward the mailboxes, and with little fanfair, he unlocked the box.
There wasn't much inside. A flier from a mattress store, a circular from the local Shoprite. He was amazed at the fact that despite everything that happened, junk mail still managed to flow like sewage. He crumpled and tossed the offending articles into a nearby wastebasket, then moved onto the remaining three articles. Two were financial statements, he'd file them in the appropriate places when he got back to the office. The last was a small, nondescript, white envelope.
Taking the three articles, he brought his briefcase over to the table on the other side of the room, opening it up, he tossed the envelopes inside. Then popped it close and headed back outstretched
Three hours later he was sitting in his study, a glass of gin in his hand. He took a sip, letting the warmth fill his mouth and run down his throat. The briefcase was sitting on his desk, he contemplated it while he took another sip.
Deliberating for another minute, he placed the glass on the desk, pulled the briefcase toward him, entered the combination, popped open the latches, and opened his briefcase.
He stared at the envelope for another second further, then retrieved it, slipping his finger inside, he tore it open and pulled out its contents.
The Carnival Cruise Lines brochure staring back at him was largely unremarkable. A pair of coupons had been cut out of the back page, a pair of perfect squares. Furrowing his brow, he pondered the importance of the message, then flipped through the brochure.
Three small scribbles.
He didn't have a lot of time.
-3:24PM April 24, 1988, Ross Archaeological dig site 04, Antarctica
Despite doubling up on her parka, she was still freezing. She still continued to flex her muscles, making sure to keep the blood flowing.
The oil drum was not a particularly comfortable place to spend seven hours, especially not one that was being flown in the unheated cargo hold of a C-130 flying across the Antarctic.
That being the case, it was hardly the most uncomfortable thing she had ever had to do in her long, unscrupulous career. She as still getting impatient though. Doherty was over an hour late.
Almost as if on cue, she heard the sound of footsteps outside the drum, she tensed, ready to spring into action. The footsteps got closer, finally coming to a stop right next to the drum. Her hand tensed around her weapon, ready to draw it. Hands worked on the outside of the drum, seconds ticked by as she waited.
The lid popped off, and she looked up, her weapon drawn, ready to perforate any potential enemies.
“Wait! Don't shoot!”
Kevin Doherty was staring back at her with wide eyes, terror filled them.
Pushing herself up out of the oil drum, she spit out the mouthpiece on her oxygen tank. Surveying her surroundings, she realized just why she was so damn cold. The entire room was hewn from the ice.
“Why don't you shout a little louder?” she said, annoyed as she climbed out of the drum and re-holstered her weapon.
He put up his hands in apology “sorry” he whispered.
Not wasting any time, she dumped the air tank back inside the drum and then sealed it up again. Turning to face him “alright, lead the way” she said, gesturing him toward the door.
Despite having it described to her from multiple sources, she was awed at the sheer scale of the dig site. The research facility was easily as large as McMurdough, and almost entirely tunneled out of the ice.
More shocking than that were the people. If she had thought that the personnel at McMurdough looked sickly, the people at the dig site looked... worse. For sure there were still the folks who made regular trips between McMurdough and the dig, but the others, there were others that didn't even look quite human.
Their skin wasn't just pallid, it was green and oily, and their eyes...
She couldn't quite get a good look at them, but there was something different about them too.
She spotted someone in security round the corner up ahead, and a second later when Doherty stiffened up, she could tell that he did too. Worse, so would anybody else who cared to pay attention.
She saw it happening; the distance closing between them, Doherty's movements got more jittery, the other man cast an extra glance in their direction, the wheels started to turn in his head, and then they had his attention.
She had hoped that Doherty would have made it until they had gotten the package. Murphy would have his way.
Passing the other man with no incident, as soon as they rounded the corner, she put her hand on his back and pushed him up to the next door “open it” she commanded.
Almost as if he was waiting for the order, his hands worked the access panel, sliding his access key and then entering his code. They were through the door in less than two seconds.
Despite the dim lighting, the resin countertops and ventilation hoods told her that they found themselves in some sort of lab, it was currently unoccupied.
He spun around and faced her, a look of confusion on his face “what happened?” he asked.
She drew her weapon “we've been spotted” she explained, scanning the room.
“But, but how can you tell?”
She gave him a knowing glance “it's what I do” she said.
He nodded, accepting her answer “well what do we do now?” he asked, nervous.
“Where exactly are we?” she asked.
He paused for a second, thinking “um, sub-level three, chemistry lab two, they use it for basic chromatic analysis of rock samples” he explained.
She nodded “artifact storage, how much farther?” she eyed him with a stern look.
Another pause, this time he mouthed some kind of mental puzzle solving “two more levels down, about halfway across the level” came the answer.
The beginnings of a plan started to form in her head “anything behind those doors?” she asked, indicating the two other doors on the other side of the lab.
He seemed surprised, as if noticing the doors for the first time “uh, one leads to an equipment room, the other...” he thought further “...core sample storage, I don't-” she cut him off.
“Can you get out through either one?”
He paused again, pondering the two doors “no- I mean, yes. There is an elevator down to the drill room on SL-23” he answered.
Grabbing him by the wrist, she led him across the room and dragged him through the door into the core sample room. The sound of the electronic lock on the other side of the room buzzing hit her ears just as the door closed behind them.
They passed dozens of rows of freezers before coming to the sizable elevator doors on the other side of the room. She pressed the button, and open they slid.
The interior of the elevator car was quite clean for something used to transport minerals, she was expecting some kind of dingy cargo elevator. As the doors closed behind them, Kevin turned to her “what the hell are we supposed to do now? Artifact processing is all the way up on SL-5, and SL-23...” he trailed off before she had a chance to stop him. The look in his eyes showed a fear that was about something more than the people pursuing them.
She pressed on, shaking the thought aside “if they catch us, we won't be able to get very far, much less off this continent” she said, fixing him with a penetrating stare.
He was shaking now “-but SL-23...” again, he trailed of, staring in every other direction as if expecting some unseen enemy to spring forth and kill them.
Again, the look in his eyes was disconcerting “what's on sub-level 23? Other than the drill room?” she asked, not sure she wanted the answer.
He didn't reply, still looking around the elevator, seemingly unwilling to look her in the eye. Losing patience, she grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him “tell me!” she shouted.
Seemingly brought back to this reality “it's one of the entrances to the dig site” he started to explain.
“If we hope to get back up to the higher levels or out of the complex, we will have to go through the city. I've only been there myself a couple times, but the place is wrong.”
The look in his eyes made clear that he was scared of things in that city at least as much as he was of the people after them, maybe more.
She'd read the descriptions, even seen some of the photographs. They were disconcerting to say the least, but she had learned that coming face-to-face with the things in and related to that city down under the ice was something altogether different.
Suddenly she was starting to wonder if taking their chances with the security goons back there was not a better idea after all.
She reholstered her weapon “when those doors open, you need to stay calm. We can't guarantee that we won't avoid detection before getting out, but the longer we manage to avoid drawing unwanted attention, the better our chances will be. Do you understand?” she explained, her voice was icy calm.
She stared him in the eye “do you understand?” she asked again.
Doherty took a slow, deep breath “yeah” he said with a nod.
After what felt like an eternity, the elevator came to a halt and the doors slid open. She led him out into a rather wide corridor, three parka-clad men were standing in front of them. She was so intent on getting to their destination, she almost missed the MP5s slung over the shoulders of two of them.
Reacting instantly, she shoved Doherty back into the elevator, then drove her fist right into face of the closest man. Spinning away from the aim of a freshly drawn Desert Eagle, she planted her elbow directly into the temple of the next nearest opponent, feeling a popping sensation on impact.
The third man had managed to bring his MP5 to bear, and not waiting for him to pull the trigger, she dropped down and delivered a determined kick to his ankle. The sound of a shattering ankle bone preceded the man falling over onto the floor with a loud cry of pain.
Suddenly two hands were on the back of her parka, pulling her up back onto her feet, and before she had the chance to respond, he had wrapped his arms around her upper arms, spinning her around to face one of his comrades who approached her with a drawn knife.
Kicking up off of the floor, she delivered a sweeping kick to the knife-weilding goon, hitting his wrist, knocking the knife out of his grasp. Without waiting for her feet to reach the floor again, she let her weight pull her downward, against the grip of the man behind her, then planted her feet on the floor and pushed back as hard as she could, knocking him off balance and backward. More prepared for the move than he was, she managed to plant one of her feet between his legs and hooked it behind one of his ankles.
He tripped, pulling her with him. She let her own momentum drive her head back into his face, and she heard another loud crunch as his nose shattered. He let out a loud grunt as the air was forced from his lungs.
Feeling her chance to break free, she rolled to her right, free from his hold and across the floor. Not losing a beat, she came to a stop, and in the same motion, went up to her knees, weapon drawn, took aim at the second closest assailant, who was trying to regain his own balance. She squeezed the trigger twice, causing his chest to explode in a red mist. She swung her weapon down to the man with the shattered ankle, putting two bullets in his head, then back to the one who she had broken free from, and put two more in his head.
By the time her first target hit the floor, all three men were dead.
Weapon still drawn, she surveyed the corridor, searching for new targets. Confident that there were none, she got to her feet and walked over to the now closing elevator doors, Doherty was cowering inside the elevator. She reached out toward him “come on, we don't have much time” she said, offering a hand.
He looked up at her, then peered out into the corridor, then back up at her. He hesitated for only a second before taking the proffered hand. She helped him to his feet, then out into the hallway.
Not wasting any time, she checked her weapon, then holstered it, grabbed the nearest body and dragged it over to the elevator, leaving a crimson streak on the floor as she went. She laid the body out, halfway on the floor and half inside the elevator, then proceeded over towards the nearest idle submachinegun.
Scooping the weapon up off of the floor, she mentally crossed her fingers as she removed the magazine, and examined the rounds: .40 S&W.
She drew her own weapon, ejected the magazine, transferred six rounds from the banana clip, discarded the remaining ammunition, then inserted the magazine back into her own weapon, giving a reassuring click as it slid home.
She looked back up at Doherty “alright, let's move.”
The city was impressive, much in the same way a mass grave was impressive. Lit by hundreds of work lights arrayed along the winding streets, hanging from buildings or mounted on stands, she wondered just how they had managed to excavate such a massive void out from under the ice without it collapsing.
She'd had a strong sense of unease almost from the moment she had landed at McMurdough, but after setting foot inside the dig site she felt as if the shadows themselves were watching her. The 'artwork' of the locale was bizarre; strange patterns which seemed to blend together, even the buildings themselves seemed to flow into each other. She knew it was just the shadows, and the fact that they were in a hurry, but the carvings and reliefs seemed to move and flow, almost as if they were alive. Twice they had found themselves accidentally circling around to a place they had already been.
They rounded one particular corner, then headed down an alleyway before coming to what looked like some kind of community gathering area, various stone obelisks of differing sizes, covered in markings were scattered about the area, the middle of the clearing had an irregularly shaped pyramid in it, maybe ten feet tall, uneven steps going up the sides.
The entire city made her feel uneasy, but this place felt particularly wrong. The two of them hurried across the area, and circled the pyramid.
She stopped and looked at Kevin who stared back “I didn't say anything” he said.
She scanned the area, no apparent signs of life.
Pushing the thought aside, she started up again.
About a half mile or so further, and suddenly they came to a solid wall of ice, a hole had been drilled in it, wide enough for a car to drive through. About a half dozen people were loading items onto a cargo dolly.
Doherty turned to her “follow my lead, don't say anything” he said.
She raised an eyebrow “excuse me?” she said, surprised.
“Look, I'm sure you could kill your way across the whole complex, but I'm thinking it would be easier to avoid that.”
Putting her arms up “knock yourself out” she said.
He walked toward the group of people, she followed behind. One of the nearest people looked up and let out a loud grunt, immediately drawing the attention of the others as well. It was then that she realized that they were some of the 'different' people she had seen back inside the complex.
Surprisingly, Doherty didn't break stride “pardon me, but we are trying to make it to the processing center at site two, the tram from site three is down, would it be alright if we cut through the RMA-3 chamber?” he said. Clarice was impressed, he actually seemed convincing.
The other five all stared blankly at the two of them for a second, then turned to each other. Exchanging a series of incomprehensible grunts and gutteral noises. After a few seconds of 'deliberations' the lead one faced Doherty, let out dismissive sounding groan, then went back to its business, as did the rest of them.
Turning back to Clarice, Doherty gestured toward the tunnel “let's go” he said.
As they made their way down the darkened ice tunnel, Clarice cast a quick glance back in the direction from where they came “what the hell happened to those people?” she whispered.
“This place, the things from it, they change people. If you spend too much time here, it will change you too.”
He didn't say anything else.
She didn't bother to ask.
For several more minutes, they walked in silence before he spoke again “before we get there, I must warn you. The RMAs, even for this place, they are wrong. Don't look at them for too long, and don't waste time inside the chamber” he paused before giving her a look “we don't want to spend a single second longer in there than we need to.”
Again, she didn't bother to ask any more questions.
Of all the things found at the dig site, the Ross Magnetic Anomalies as they had been called were some of the least well described. Doctor Maye's notes were surprisingly scarce on the subject, it seemed like the people running the dig site were particularly concerned about them. What she did know wasn't too reassuring: they gave off a mysterious magnetic field that died out suddenly at about a five hundred meter range, they stood over one hundred meters in height and ten wide, they manifested strange optical effects on people around them, and they were so far impenetrable to all known forms of analysis.
Suddenly she felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up on end. Seconds later, she started feeling a faint sense of disorientation and nausea, the lights also seemed to grow dark too. Taking a look behind, Clarice couldn't see more than fifty feet behind her, even with lights lining the sides of the tunnels every five feet, they seemed unable to penetrate more than a couple feet into the darkness “what-” she tried to ask, but he cut her off.
“We're almost there, don't stop or slow down for anything. I mean it.”
Looking ahead again, she saw that the end of the tunnel was finally coming into view, barely thirty feet away, visibility was getting worse, the further they got. It seemed even colder somehow too, and she realized that their footsteps no longer echoed through the tunnel.
As they approached the mouth of the tunnel, she thought she could make out something beyond, even a hint of movement.
When they finally exited the tunnel, it opened into what seemed to be a massive chamber with something in the middle. It was huge, and soared up into the darkness. Somehow she could see it reaching far beyond the edge of the darkness. There seemed to be surface details, features all over it, ornate and complex in nature, endless patterns, bending in on themselves.
There was one, big, problem: it wasn't there.
It wasn't that the thing was black, or hard to see, or invisible, it just wasn't there. All of the lights inside the chamber cast no shadows on it, nor reflected back from the surface, in fact it didn't seem to have a surface at all. It was as if someone had literally cut a hole in the very fabric of existence and left nothing in its place.
Then there was something there staring back. It was her. She was naked, she had no eyes, blood was leaking out of the empty sockets and dripped from her outstretched hands, they were held up in front of her, a pair of mangled eyeballs sitting in the palms of her hands, almost as if she was presenting them as a gift. Her mouth was spread in a broad smile, almost an ecstatic grin. Suddenly Clarice could make out something behind herself. It was a city.
The buildings were on fire, collapsing in on themselves. Giant tentacles of dark fleshy substance reached up into the sky, they pulsated and shifted, knocking over skyscrapers like they were scale models. The sky... it was different, there weren't any stars, there were nothing but swirling changing shapes and colors, kind of like an oil slick, except there were colors up there that she didn't know were possible, other things floated up there too. Creatures, objects, she didn't know what they were, but they swirled and moved with the colors up there. Screams echoed off in the distance, and Clarice looked back down at the city below, the streets were full of bodies, mutilated and distorted, torn apart, limb from limb.
There were living things down there too, some looked like people, they were tearing each other apart, eating the dismembered body parts. Some of them looked like the changed people with pale green skin, their bodies either incredibly thinned out or bloated to monstrous proportions, others things looked like horrible mutations of other animals, merged together into strange mixes of different species.
Then there were some that looked like nothing she had seen before. Their skin was of some sort of horrid pulsating green and brown consistency, with a variety of different limbs and tentacles sprouting from their bodies. Others seemed to consist of nothing but giant blobs of protoplasm slithering through the air or on the ground, scooping the other creatures right up off of the ground and ingesting them violently.
She was now looking at herself from a different angle, she felt the sensation of strange appendages reaching to grab her naked flesh, it was the end, she welcomed it, the joy of death would finally come to her. She looked back at herself, standing in a large chamber of ice, weapon drawn. A pair of figures approached her. She whispered her own name.
The thing that had her positioned itself, moving her body, it violated her, penetrating every possible orifice, she shuddered in a mixture of pain and pleasure and horror and revulsion and pure ecstatic joy.
It ate her, it fucked her, it consumed her entire being.
She was back in the chamber again, Doherty was shouting at her, he was shaking her by the shoulders, a pleading look in his eyes. Something was moving behind him, it was running toward them.
She shouldered past him, aimed her weapon and pulled the trigger twice. The thing before her shuddered as the two rounds slammed into its chest. She fired again, this time aiming for its head. Blood and bits of brain and skull exploded out from the points of impact. After what felt like a hundred shots, the thing stumbled and collapsed onto the floor, sliding toward them. Sidestepping the body, she ejected the mag and popped another one in its place, then turned her attention toward its companion. She emptied another mag into it as well, dropping it just before getting within reach.
She looked down at the freshly killed thing as she reloaded, there she got a good look at it. Its skin was indeed a greenish pale, covered in what looked like a thick sheen of some oily substance, dark red veins clearly visible below the surface, its eyes stared back at her lifelessly. She could see then what was so different about them, the irises were a pale yellow, with a strange swirling pattern within them. The pupils were square in stead of round. The teeth were elongated and sharp, a dark blue tint to them.
She brought her attention back to Doherty “I told you not to stare at it, we gotta get out of here” he said.
Nodding, she agreed, and they jogged toward the tunnel entrance on the far side of the chamber. The light inside the tunnel quickly started to get brighter as they got further from the chamber.
There were three of the people-things there when they exited, strangely they only gave the two of them a passing glance.
They made their way through the rest of the city, all the wile the images from the chamber filled her mind. She did her best to distract herself, but she just couldn't put them out of her mind.
The rest of the trip to the elevator room was rather uneventful. A few passing glances from the 'changed' people they passed, but no other run-ins.
Likewise, the trip up the elevator was quiet, she looked at him “how do we get from the elevator to artifact storage?” she asked.
He stood there in silence, the wheels in his mind working, then “we're going to get off at artifact processing, when we exit we take a left and follow the hallway until the second right. Follow that until we get to the fourth door on the left. That'll be artifact processing” he explained.
Clarice processed the information, committing it to memory “alright, when those doors open, I'm going to go fast, follow right behind me” she fixed him with an intense stare.
He nodded back, leaving the rest unsaid.
Giving her own weapon a quick inspection, her trigger finger tensed as the doors opened. Facing her was a single man, an MP5 clutched within his hands, raised up to his eyes, ready to fire. It was close. She just barely managed to beat him.
She pulled the trigger, oblitering the man's left eye. He let off a quick burst of four rounds himself as he fell back, they hit the ceiling harmlessly, sending bits of it tumbling to the floor kind of like a gentle snowfall over the now dead man.
She scanned the room as she stepped over the body, careful to avoid slipping in the expanding crimson puddle.
The hallway was surprisingly empty of enemy personnel. Half jogging down the corridor, they rounded one corner, again there were no targets present.
Just before rounding the final corner, she poked her head around for a fraction of a second. There was a single sentry standing beside the door. He appeared to not have noticed her.
Judging the distance to be about thirty feet, she slid around the corner, weapon at the ready. Two pops, and the sentry fell to the floor, dead.
Doherty worked the controls on the access panel, sliding his key card through, they were inside artifact processing in less than two seconds. There were three researchers inside the room, they looked up from their work at the two intruders. She reached inside her parka, pulled out a walkie-talkie and flipped it on. She looked over the three other people, they looked a quite sickly, but none of them were 'changed.'
Brandishing her weapon “I suggest that you leave if you care to live” she ordered, then pressed the transmit button on her walkie three times. A loud boom shook the room, prompting the original occupants to flee. Tossing the walkie onto the floor, she led Doherty toward the seven rows of shelves across the room. Counting off the aisles, she turned down the third one, then counted the sections until she reached the fifth one.
Finding the shelf marked “R-7” she spotted the item in question. It was a little larger than she expected. She gripped the handle and pulled it off of the shelf. It was lighter too. Setting it on the floor, she popped the latches on the odd looking metal case, and then opened it.
The item inside bore a resemblance to what was depicted on the woodcut, though she wasn't quite prepared for the reality. It was approximately cube shaped, a mix of what looked like obsidian and iron, and some unidentifiable red substance. Its surface was a mixture of weird swirling patterns, almost organic in nature, and jagged interlocking edges, almost like sharp teeth, clenched together in the mouth of a predator, but far more menacing.
As she looked at it, it almost seemed to start moving. Suddenly remembering what she had been told, she closed the case, and sealed the latches. Pressing the case into Doherty's hands “come on” she ordered. He complied obediently, following right behind.
As they made their way to the exit, the corridors seemed entirely devoid of life, Clarice guessed that whatever diversion that 'Tom Harper' had planned did its job quite well, or perhaps...
They burst out into the frigid Antarctic evening, coming face to face with a waiting UH-1, its rotors already spinning.
Better then FedEx she thought wryly as they crossed the helicopter pad and ambled up into the passenger compartment.
Hopping in ahead of him, she turned and faced Doherty, delivering a quick jab to his face. His forward momentum did most of the work, he collapsed down onto the frigid concrete below, a bewildered look on his face “what- why?!” he shouted at her.
She placed a foot on his wrist as she pointed her weapon at him “I almost believed it you know!” she shouted at him over the sound of the rotors and wind
“What? Believed what?”
She shook her head “You are pretty good, but our exit was just too damn easy, you also seemed to have forgotten your performance partway through the mission, my hat is off to you!” she said in a mock complimentary tone.
Before he got the chance to respond, she pulled the trigger, putting a bullet in his brain. She reached down and retrieved the case from his now lifeless hand.
She then hopped into the helicopter “what was that about?!” shouted the pilot as the helicopter lifted off.
She put one of the headsets on and sat in the copilot's seat, setting the case on her lap “I thought that the folks running security here were good, I was not mistaken” she explained, casting a glance back toward the body on the helipad.
An hour later she was hopping off the freshly landed helicopter, her mysterious benefactor leading the way. Just after they crossed the helipad, he reached inside his windbreaker and pulled out a remote control with a button on it. He pressed the button. A deafening boom erupted from behind her, and suddenly her back felt warm. A strong gust of hot wind pushed her forward, almost causing her to lose her balance.
Once inside, they paused for a second, trying to catch their breath. 'Tom' reached inside his parka and produced another remote detonator “We don't have a lot of time, once I set this off, you've got to head straight for the air strip” then he pressed the button. The building was shaken by an explosion.
He produced a computer disk from inside his parka “your employer is going to need the information on this disk. It's not much, but it'll be enough to get started” he explained. She took the disk in her hand, and when she looked up, he was holding a brick of C-4, he placed it on a crate up against the wall.
Furrowing her brow she gave him a perplexed look “they will hunt you to the ends of the earth looking for that. I have to sow enough confusion here to prevent them from figuring out what exactly happened” he explained.
“Have to leave a body for them” he explained “hopefully they will think that the infiltrator was killed in one of the blasts” he smiled at her “if you survive long enough, I hope you get a good seat. The apocalypse should be a nice show” then he turned and pressed a button on the detonator.
She didn't bother to reason with him, and headed off.