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  1. ValentineDavis21


    The rewrite is finished. I will be working on the second part in the next month or so. Please read this one and let me know what you think. It's very different from the first draft.
  2. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 30

    Is this a good dreadful or a bad dreadful? If it's bad, feel free to elaborate. I want to know what I can improve on.
  3. Does anyone have ideas where I could post my novel Cold Hell to get more exposure. I've started posting on Wattpa and Prolitfic and have been searching on reddit.

    1. Brayon


      Nifty. Unless you're going for it to be paid, then Amazon, but you wouldn't be able to do KU.

    2. ValentineDavis21
  4. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 30

    Thank you so much for the compliment. It encourages me to keep going.
  5. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 30

    For a strong moment, Dinah considered turning the gun on Danni and blowing his brains out. She’d been wanting to do it all day, no - the last couple of days. But then she would have to deal with Everest. Her squire had completely turned against her and now stayed at the little shit’s side like a loyal dog. I hate you, she thought, seething inside. Her fingers tightened around the grip of the gun. I hate the both of you. But then the doors to the lift opened and Dinah found herself staring into the darkness on the other side of the doors. It was thick, oppressive, seeming to press in on them from all sides. The only illumination came from the small lights in their suit helmets. She had looked at the screen with Danni and seen what he’d seen, but the resolution had been too dark and too grainy - it could not prepare her for the sight she was seeing now. She felt her heart catch in her chest. She forced herself to take deep breaths, taking in the air hissing gently into her helmet; it had a plastic taste to it. The darkness within the control room still made it hard to tell exactly what she was seeing - or maybe her mind simply couldn’t comprehend it. Humanoid shapes lay all around the reactor, hands tucked neatly beneath their heads like dreaming children. Some of them still wore the clothes of the scientist who’d worked here, or shreds of it, and some wore nothing at all. She searched the faces that were within range of her vision, looking for signs of awareness but there was none. One of them twitched, clearly dreaming. But of what? And there were the pods, growing along the reactor and on the sides of the walls. What were they? They frightened her more than the abominations ever could, filling her with the same primitive dread one might feel towards insects, but there was also something about them that fascinated her. “I can hear it.” The sudden crackle of Danni’s voice within her suit startled Dinah. “Hear what?” she asked. “The city - it’s right below us. It’s like listening to a humming or droning sound...and there’s voices...” His voice sounded dreamy. “They’re talking but I can’t understand what they’re saying. Let’s go. Stay close.” Danni led them into the darkness. … The voices spoke in a language he’d never heard before. Danni was quite sure it was alien...but the words, the way they wound together and flowed so easily. It was quite musical. There really is such a thing as ghosts, he thought. Reluctantly he blocked out the voices and forced himself to focus on the task at hand. He tried to avoid the puddles of blue-grey gunk covering the floor. When his foot did touch the puddle, it made a wet, squishy sound; pulling his foot away was like trying to pull it free from molasses. He was thankful of the droning noise coming from the reactor; it silenced any of the noise they might’ve made. So far they had made it without waking any of the aliens up. Brantov’s steady voice directed through the maze of sleeping bodies, past the reactor itself. He thought he saw one of the pods twitch; Danni made sure to steer well clear of them. His sixth sense told him they were particularly dangerous. He stopped once to look over his shoulder. The lift seemed far away, further than he would have liked. Keep moving, he told himself. Don’t stop. “You’re close to the computer,” Brantov said. “It should be right in front of you? Do you see it? It’s next to the control panel.” The control panel took up a whole wall: buttons, switches, and glowing numbers. Next to it, sitting on a desk was a computer monitor. There were more vines growing all over it. Danni felt his heart sink. He relayed this information to Brantov. “I’m going to see if I can cut it away. Everest, Dinah, I need you to watch my back.” He pulled his knife out and reached out cautiously towards the vine. He sensed no danger from it unlike the pod. He gripped it firmly with a gloved hand and sliced at it with the blade. The vine was tough, harder to cut than it looked. He had to give a good tug before the sharpened blade sliced all the way through the vine. Dark fluid leaked from the end as it bled all over the desk. Danni threw it to the ground with a grunt. To his surprise the computer monitor booted up when he shook the mouse. “It needs some sort of password. Do you have it?” “Just a minute.” There was a pause. Danni forced himself to remain patient despite the fact each second spent in this room was suffocating. Finally Brantov came back with the password. Danni typed it in. The flicker of a smile touched his lips: He was in. “As of right now all safety measures are in operation to keep the reactor from overheating - this would be the control rods. Without the control rods in place the reactor will start to overheat until - ” “It explodes,” Danni said grimly. “That is correct.” Danni thought he heard a slight smile in Brantov’s voice. “How do I control the reactor?” “Normally by using the controls on the wall panel. Someone thought to make it easier by being able to use the computer. Thank God for small favors, eh. I can take you through the process.” “I’m ready.” For the next minute Danni worked, tapping keys and clicking the mouse while Brantov calmly walked him through the procedure. So far things were going smoothly, though Danni didn’t dare let himself hope. He knew from personal experience things could go wrong at any second. Sure enough just as the whirring sound coming from the control rods had begun to die, he had a flash of premonition. He turned his head. Dinah was standing several feet away by the reactor, facing him. She seemed to be unaware of the pod behind her. He watched as something within the pod moved, the outer layer - he didn’t want to think of it as having a skin - rippling as if alive. Then the layers peeled back, forming four triangular layers. White, translucent tentacles popped out from within the mouth of the pod with a skin-crawling whipping sound, and wrapped themselves around Dinah’s helmet. She gave a loud shriek before she was being pulled out by the pod. The pod growled hungrily, reminding Danni of a demo . Danni resisted the fear and disgust warring inside of him. With a knife in hand, he approached the pod and a struggling Dinah. She was screaming, trying to pull the tentacles away with her gloved hands, but the limbs were too strong. Even as she tried to dig her heels into the ground the tentacles tugged her closer. Cracks had begun to appear on the faceplate of her helmet. Why do you want to save her? a voice whispered in the back of his mind. Strangely, it was Juan’s voice. You’d be doing her a favor by letting it have her for a snack. Or are you so determined to redeem yourself? “Dinah, I need you to stop screaming,” he said firmly, forcing calm into his voice. “I’m going to cut you free. And I need you to hold very still. I have to do this quickly.” She looked at him, eyes wide with fright. “Don’t let it kill me.” Why? She’d watch and let it devour you if the shoe was on the other foot… “Everest,” he said, “hold her while I cut her loose.” The big man set the rifle down within reach and gripped Dinah’s shoulder firmly. “I think I saw one of those things move.” “Keep watching as best you can. The sooner I cut her free the sooner we can begin getting out of here. Brantov, are the control rods still operating?” Danni began sawing through the tentacles. In the back of his mind he wondered what would happen if the pod decided to switch its interest to a different prey, or if the other pods decided to start attacking. “The control rods are shut down. It won’t be long before heat in the reactor begins to rise. We need to get out of here and get as far away as possible.” The tone in Brantov’s voice had become very urgent. “I understand.” Danni’s breath was fogging his visor as he continued to cut through the limbs. Dark fluid leaked from each tentacle. The pod made a sharp squealing sound each time, but the plant-like creature showed no signs of wanting to let go. “I don’t know if you can tell through the camera but we’re kind of dealing with a fucking situation right now. Be ready to run your ass off when we come out of the lift.” He finally cut through the final tentacle. The pod shrieked this time, a sound that didn’t just pierce through the glass of Danni’s helmet but through Danni’s soul - the pain it felt was the same as his own if he were to be in pain right now, and this flabbergasted him. Alas, in all reality, of extraterrestrial origin or no, it was a fucking plant. The sound seemed to echo throughout the room, triggering the other pods. Danni, Everest, and Dinah, Dinah now free, watched with mirrored expressions of dread as all the pods around the reactor opened their mouths and began to scream. “It’s time to go,” Danni said. “Get to the lift!” The trio broke into a run with Danni in the lead. Already the creatures slumbering around them were shifting, beginning to rise to their feet. It wouldn’t belong before they were surrounded with no way to get out. Already one of them was stepping in the way to intercept them. Danni maintained his course, charging straight towards it. He aimed his rifle and fired. The salvo of bullets shredded the aberration’s elongated head; it dropped to the floor with a heavy, wet thud. Finally at the lift, Danni slammed the handle of his gun into the lift. The monsters were swarming towards them, tripping over one another to get to their prey. The control room was filled with the sound of fire. Everest and Dinah were both firing their weapons, effectively taking out the enemy with well placed shots. The lift doors had finally opened enough for them to step inside. The doors had just begun to close when one of the creatures dove desperately towards the elevator. One of its appendages shot through the door and wrapped around Danni’s leg. Before he could yank his feet free it tightened and yanked. His legs went out from under him and the rifle fell from his hands. Everest’s fingers closed around both of his wrists. For a moment Danni hung in the air, the subject of a tug-of-war game before the doors cycled close, slicing through the limb enclosed around his leg. Danni grunted as Everest pulled him to his feet. The appendage twitched frantically on the floor. Dinah cursed and stomped down on it with a wet splat. The appendage curled in on itself, then stopped moving. … Brantov was ready to go. Danni’s pack hung from one shoulder. Okja could be heard screeching impatiently inside. “I checked the cameras,” said Brantov. “The doors are clear - they just left. I don’t know where they could have gone.” “Then I think we better take our chances and run while we can.” Dinah pulled her helmet off and set it on a chair. She was relieved to have the damned thing off. She would be even more relieved when they’d left this place. What was I thinking in bringing us to this place? she thought. She was still shaking from her experience with the pod. She could still hear the wet squeak as the tentacles wrapped themselves around the glass visor of her helmet, still feeling the sick nauseating sense of helplessness. The feeling had been constant over the last couple days - she wasn’t used to feeling in danger. She glanced at Danni. He didn’t notice. He was more in his element then she was in her’s. And here I thought he was the lone type who didn’t want to lead. But he had stepped up, kept them going, kept them alive. She’d been wrong about him. She remembered how she’d thought about shooting him and felt another emotion she hadn’t felt for anyone but Natalia: guilt. Twice now he had saved her life, once at the clinic and again just moments ago. He didn’t have to do so, not after she’d manipulated him for her own purposes. Not after she’d sent Mikael to kill him. She had been wrong about so many things lately. She’d fucked up so many times. And it had taken several near-death experiences for her to finally realize it. If we ever make it out of here I have a lot to make up for. … Ulana’s body remained where they had left it. She leaned against the steps as if she had been waiting this whole time, her blue eyes staring at nothing. The sight was eerie and filled Danni with great sadness. He wished he could stop long enough to close her eyes - at least then it would look like she was sleeping. Had there been time he would have stopped to do so; in a perfect world she wouldn’t have died at all. But this was not a perfect world and there was no time. The seconds were ticking. There was no way to tell when the reactor would explode; and even if they got out of the building they wouldn’t necessarily be safe. They still had to get far enough away to be out of range of the blast. And no matter how much he might want it to be so, he knew blowing up the facility and the alien city beneath it wouldn’t make up for his sins, the damage he’d caused on Earth. The horde wasn’t far behind them. Danni could hear them. He knew they were coming up from the elevator shaft. There would be at least a hundred of them. He forced himself to keep running, determined to survive. Why he was so determined, he didn’t know. It wasn’t as if he had much of an existence waiting back for him in Clan Wuxia. He would spend the rest of his days in this cold hell, looking at the same ugly sky. But he knew the real reason: He’d watched his mother wither away slowly, the madness eating at her. He’d always felt she’d given up. I’m not going to give up. Not like that. Not like her. So he kept running, kept pushing himself even though he was past the breaking point. Even once they were outside, he didn’t stop. Not even to breathe in the fresh air. The truck was still waiting for them like a faithful dog. He was glad to see it. “Get the truck started!” he shouted at Everest. He turned to face the facility. Dinah and Brantov ran past him. Dinah stopped. “Aren’t you coming?” Danni could hear the engine turning over but it wasn’t starting. He glanced back towards the facility. The door of the hatch tore open two abominations burst through, snarling like wild animals. “I need your gun,” he said. She handed it to him without hesitation. “Get in the truck,” he said. “Don’t worry about me - you’re stuck with me whether you like it or not.” He turned to face the two monstrosities. They’d risen to their feet and were lunging towards the truck. More were coming out of the facility. He emptied the remaining half of his rifle into the horde, then the rest of the handgun; several alien creatures fell into the snow. He couldn’t ignore the feeling of satisfaction each buck of the weapon brought; like them he had been made into a killing machine. He hadn’t started out as one, just like them, but had been changed all the same. In between these moments he’d spotted something lying in the snow: some sort of tool. He grabbed it and hefted it out of the snow. A pick axe. Not the most effective weapon, but it would do. Everest had finally got the engine of the truck running. He honked his horn twice to let Danni know: Time to move out. He grabbed a hold of a handhold and stepped onto the back of the truck as it began to crawl away; with the other hand he held the pick axe. A creature tore across the snow after the truck. The sight made him think of a dog chasing after a mailman. The image made him grin, and hurt a little, made him homesick for Earth. You would see dogs chasing after a mailman on Earth. The abomination had caught up to the truck. Now with it no longer in the close confines of the facility, it could move at full capacity which was faster than anything a human was capable of him. Danni cursed. He knew the fighting wasn’t over with yet. Carefully he began to climb the back of the truck, holding onto the handholds as tightly as he could. The truck had picked up speed. The wind slapped at him, numbing his cheeks. He gritted his teeth, grunting in pain. Despite the gloves he wore his hands kept freezing to the metal handrails. He felt flesh tear every time he pulled his hands free. The abomination leapt onto the back of the truck. it climbed far easier than he’d managed, crawling on top of the truck within seconds. Danni waited until it was within range before he swung the pick axe with all his might. The sharp end of the pickaxe glanced off the side of the creature’s face. It screeched more out of anger than rage. Its appendages flashed towards Danni’s face. He expected to feel the mouths of the limbs tear into him but at that moment the truck hit a ridge, pitching him off the side of the truck. His heart jerked. He waited to feel the back-breaking impact of the ice but he caught the edge of the roof with both hands. He dangled precipitously, feet scrabbling for purchase over two feet of empty air. Finally he found it. The muscles in his neck and forehead were visible as he pulled himself up. He grabbed the pick axe before it could fall into the snow. The creature attacked again but this time he was ready. He sidestepped its dangerous limbs, swinging the pick axe, this time hard enough to knock the creature down. A third, final swing buried the sharp tip into the top of the creature’s head. When he was sure the creature was no longer moving, Danni kicked its corpse into the snow and threw the pickaxe after it.Moving carefully he slapped the side of the passenger’s window with his hand. Once the door was open he let himself inside. The cabin was cramped with four people but Danni wasn’t complaining. Okja was peeking at him, head poking out from the top of his pack which Brantov was holding in his lap. We’re alive, he thought with a tired but relieved smile. We’re - He saw the explosion in the side mirror. It was reflected in the mirror as a mushroom cloud of fire and smoke that billowed out towards the sky. It was almost beautiful to see. Everest, he knew, had seen it too through the rearview mirror. “Go faster,” Dinah ordered. Her voice was tight with fear. “I’m going as fast as I can.” The ice rumbled all around them. Danni watched the shockwave approach through the rearview mirror. He felt for a seatbelt but his fingers found none - the seatbelts had been removed. Of course they had, he thought grimly. What a stupid thing not to have. Slowly what was left of the burning facility fell through the hole in the ice until Danni could no longer see it. The hole was getting bigger, spreading towards them. The truck was going at ninety miles an hour, as fast as it could go. Was it fast enough? I don’t know, Danni thought. I don’t care. He felt at peace for the first time in a long time. As it turned out the truck was fast enough. He wasn’t sure when the sound of the ground falling away had stopped, only knew it when Everest had brought the truck to a stop. The group got slowly out of the truck. They approached the hole in the earth several yards away from the truck, no longer of two different clans for the moment. Everything they’d endured had been forgotten at the sight of what lay before them. All at once Danni remembered his dream, how the ice had split open to reveal the beating heart of the planet, how Adwele’s voice had come to him floating on the wind, telling him not to go any further. He took in the alien structures with their biomechanical exteriors. Every building had a different shape. Tracks spanned between the buildings. Dust and burning embers and flying drifts of snow rode the wind, making everything glow. There was simply too much for any human eye to be able to take in or describe. The city whispered to him in its alien language, louder than it had been in the control room of the facility. Still he had no idea what it might be trying to say to him. He knew the others couldn’t hear its voice; to be the only one was a curse. No one said anything. No one could speak. Danni turned at the sound of tires grinding through snow. Two trucks had stopped beside them. People armed with guns filed out, marching through the snow at them. He felt himself tense, ready for another battle. He didn’t know how much more his body could take but he knew he would go down fighting. They had Mureen tattoos on their faces just like Brantov. Dinah walked towards the oncoming group, hands raised in surrender, prepared to negotiate. The woman coming towards her with a bandana obscuring most of her face, butted Dinah with the handle of her shotgun. Dinah went down in a spray of drifting snow. A large man came towards Danni with hate in his eyes. He held a dangerous looking machete in his hand. Danni waited until the man was almost on him before attacking. He disarmed the man of his machete and twirled so that he was now behind him. The blade flashed through the air, slicing through the man’s hamstrings. Danni turned yet again only to hear the crack of gunfire. He felt a burning pain in his shoulder, felt the force of the shot blow him off his feet. He landed in the snow beside Dinah, already beginning to lose consciousness. His last thought before hands lifted him roughly to his feet was, We didn’t destroy the city. It’s still there, still standing. It’ll happen again. It’s only a matter of time.
  6. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 29

    Danni unfolded a large blueprint of the facility across the table, flattening out the creases. He could feel the mixture of weariness and impatience of the group standing around the table, their eyes dull with sleep. He’d woken everyone up; it was time to come up with a plan and get everyone moving. We’ve done enough sitting around and bickering. He tapped at the square representing the security room. “What’s in this room?” he asked, looking at Brantov and Ulana. “It’s where security guards were stationed. They watched and listened through the cameras to make sure no one tried to smuggle information out of the research station,” said Ulana. “Adwele was worried about people at the colony finding out about this. He wanted to keep it a secret for as long as he could, fearing it would start a riot or a coup.” “Are there any weapons?” “Some. Mostly just pistols, a few shotguns. Nothing special. What we had didn’t prove to be very useful when the infection broke out and people started dying.” Ulana rubbed at her eyes. Her face had grown paler. “Anything will be better than what we have now. Everest and I have some ammo left but it’s not much. And between the two of us it would be more difficult to watch everyone else’s back, so the more you are capable of defending yourselves the better. What’s in the control room?” “”The reactor. It powers the whole facility.” “Is it powerful?” Danni asked. “Quite,” said Ulana. “As I said, it powers the whole building and the drill we used to tunnel through the ice.” “Can we blow it up?” Silence enveloped the room. Everyone was looking at him but no one was saying anything. Brantov was the first to speak. His voice shook with barely suppressed anger. “How can you suggest such a thing? Do you not realize what we’ve found here? We’ve discovered something Earth could only dream of finding.” “People have died because of this discovery - people will continue to die if we don’t stop it.” Danni smirked sardonically. “But of course, Brantov, you don’t give a shit. To you human life is insubstantial as long as it furthers the gains of science. We can use the computer to override the safety parameters on the reactor: this would cause it to heat up until it exploded. Can we blow it up or can’t we?” He looked to Ulana. “There’s just one problem: That’s where their nest is.” she said. “Nest?” said Everest, speaking for the first time since Danni had asked him to come into the room. Ulana nodded. “It makes sense in a way. In the control room, is another room. The airlock. You go through the airlock to get to the caves, so they’re closest to the city.” “There’s no other ways to blow up the station?” Danni said. “We would have to fight our way through.” Dinah shook her head, muttering something under her breath. Danni couldn’t quite make out what it was but it sounded like, This is insane. Like Brantov, he knew she didn’t agree with the idea of blowing up the city. They’re both crazy, he thought. Neither of them care about anyone else but themselves. Who lives or who dies. Just as long as they get the power they want. “It needs to be done,” Everest said. Danni nodded his thanks in the man’s direction. Having one person’s support was better than having none at all. For the next two hours Danni and Everest continued to work on coming up with a plan, poring over the map. Ulana provided input, offering her knowledge of the facility. What her feelings were on blowing up the facility were not clear to Danni; he got the feeling she would do what needed to be done to survive. They were able to reach a consensus: the plan was to take the stairway all the way down to the security floor which was underground. While the journey was certainly long, with plenty of risks, the chances of detection were less likely than if they were to use the lift, which could make too much noise. Night had begun to fall when Danni and Everest began working on taking inventory of their ammo. Danni had two magazines for his handgun and three clips for his rifle. If it was regular flesh and blood men they were fighting he would have been comfortable with the amount of ammo, but these creatures were much harder to kill than the average man. He would have to make every shot count; and while he hoped to find weapons in the security room, he didn’t want to get his hopes up. It was completely dark when Danni and the others were ready. The room stunk of fear. Brantov and Ulana had spent a week in this room, safe from the horrific monsters that roamed the facility. In many ways it had become their refuge. Now they were leaving it, going on a mission that could very well kill them. But with Ulana he also sensed determination. She would, he now knew, do what needed to be done. Danni himself was not impervious to fear no matter how hard he worked not to show it. The thought of fighting their way deeper into the compound, getting closer to the city, terrified him. He had encountered the once-human monstrosities twice now - he’d seen how strong they were, how durable. And he kept thinking about the thing Ulana had shown them. I don’t want to turn into that. I’d rather die first. He went into Adwele’s office. Okja was in her cage. He opened the door of the cage and held out his arm so she could climb up to his shoulder. The monkey’s fur felt soft and warm against his face. He scratched the side of her face gently. “You’re coming with me,” he said, before putting her in his pack. He left it open enough so she could breathe. “I’m frightened,” he admitted to Everest. They had all gathered in front of the door leading to the stairwell. “Me too,” the big man said. “If I get infected I want you to kill me,” said Danni. “I want you to put a bullet into my skull - without hesitation.” “I will,” Everest promised, without hesitation. The group left the safety of Engineering, beginning their journey towards the bottom of the facility. ... They almost made it down to the security floor without bumping into any trouble. Almost. Danni felt like he was melting from the inside out he was sweating so profusely. His back and thigh muscles burned as if someone was cutting bits of them away with a hot blade. They’d climbed down four flights of stairs and had another two to go before they made it to Security. Everest and he kept having to stop so the others could catch up. Mostly it was Brantov and Ulana who fell behind, sometimes by a flight and a half. Danni kept having to grit his teeth to keep from telling them to hurry the fuck up. Such was the case when one of the creatures came around the corner, alien limbs snapping and flailing through the air. Danni saw the movement coming from the corner of his eye and lashed out with a kick. The move was sloppy and poorly aimed but was strong enough to send the creature stumbling back a few steps. Danni aimed straight at its face and let off several shots. The report of gunfire was deafening in the confined space. The rifle bucked against his arms. Blue-green fluid flew from the creature’s wounds. The creature bellowed, a deep-pitched agonized sound that assaulted Danni’s hearing. From what he could see the creature was now more alien than human, greatly resembling the corpse Brantov and Ulana had shown them. Danni whipped out a knife and dove forward, burying the blade of the knife through one of the creature’s eyes to the hilt. Fluid leaked from the wound. The creature’s legs and appendages twitched with waning life before going completely still. No sooner had he pulled his knife free, another was blurring towards him. Everest shoved past Danni hard enough to knock him into the wall. White fire flashed from the muzzle of his weapon. Each flash revealed one terrifying detail of the creature’s anatomy after another: the bone-like exoskeleton, the fingers of the hand which had fused together to form claws. A limb flashed towards Everest’s face. The big man ducked out of the way, moving faster than Danni would have guessed him capable of. Danni used the moment to charge in from the side, pulling out his pistol. He pressed the heel of his boot against the creature’s chest until it was pinned to the wall. The burning smell of gunpowder and a contrasting aroma not unlike rotting fruit filled his nostrils as he fired half a magazine into the alien. He turned around just in time to see a dark shape drop from the air. A third creature landed in the space between Everest and Ulana. Before Everest could raise his rifle and fire more shots, the creature was on top of the Mureen clan woman. The mouths of the appendages tore through clothing and flesh as if she were made of nothing more than paper, burrowing into her, lifting her off her feet which kicked helplessly. Endless amounts of blood fell onto the white floor. The groaning sound coming from her mouth and the scream of despair Brantov let out made the hairs on the back of Danni’s neck stand on end. Danni and Everest both lifted their weapons. The rifle in Danni’s hands felt incredibly heavy. Together they unleashed a barrage of fire that shook the alien’s body before it dropped to the ground, taking Ulana with it. The woman did not move. “No,” Brantov moaned. His face was beet-red and slick with tears. He tried to kneel on the ground, reaching out to touch Ulana, but Danni grabbed a hold of him. “I’m sorry,” Danni told him. Okja was screeching madly from the pack on his back. “She could be infected. We have to move.” Before the doctor could protest, he shoved the man in front of him. Already he thought he could hear the approach of more creatures. The next minute was a mad dash that seemed to last longer than it did. At last they reached the hatch leading to Security. Danni slammed his hand into the pad and ushered the group forth before the hatch had completely opened. A horde of the aliens were charging into view, too many for Danni to count; their shoulders scraped along the walls of the hallway. Danni and Everest unleashed a number of shots. One creature went down, another following it as their limbs became entangled. “Inside!” Danni shouted. He could barely hear his own voice due to the concussive ringing in his ears. “Everyone inside!” He and Everest backed through the hatchway. The remaining creatures were almost on top of them, quickly breaching the shrinking distance between them. At last the hatch closed with a hiss. Multiple bodies slammed into the door from the other side but it seemed the door would hold. Danni lowered his weapon, forcing himself to breathe. He unzipped his jacket, wanting to expel the internal heat radiating from his body. The handle of the rifle was slippery with his sweat. He looked over the rest of the group: Dinah was leaning against the wall, panting; Brantov had sunk into a computer chair, sobbing quietly into his hands. Upon looking at the scientist the reality of Ulana’s death hit Danni. He hadn’t known the woman, couldn’t even say he liked her. But he felt he was to blame for her death. After the close call on the lift when they’d first entered the facility it had been his idea to take the stairs; he’d hoped the stairs, while a longer journey, wouldn’t have drawn as much attention. Still, there was no time to punish himself now - assuming they were able to get away from this hellhole he would do that later. Ulana’s death only spurred his motivation to destroy the facility and hopefully eradicate any future chances of infection. Everest stood by his side, a reassuring presence. Danni went to the grieving scientist and put a hand on his shoulder; for the moment the compassion he felt towards the man outweighed the hate. “I’m sorry about Ulana. I know you cared about her.” “She was my second chance,” Brantov said. He lifted his head to look at Danni with dripping eyes. “I didn’t get a chance to say good-bye to my wife on Earth - after she found out about the kind of work I’d been doing as a scientist she wouldn’t even see me one last time. I thought I would never find love again - until I met Ulana.” Everest cleared his throat. “I don’t mean to interrupt but those creatures are still trying to get in.” He hooked a thumb over his shoulders where the thumps and groaning of metal could still be heard. “We need to keep moving.” Danni nodded before turning back to Brantov. “I know it’s not much of a consolation - but we can avenge her memory and the memories of everyone who died in this building by blowing these things to hell. I promise, I’m going to do my best to make sure that happens, even if I have to give my last breath to do it.” The security room was small with a bank of video screens that looked into every room and corridor of the facility. One monitor showed the creatures standing outside the hatch to Security. They pounded their inhuman claws into the metal relentlessly, punching dents into it. They never stop, Danni thought. They don’t get tired like we do. They’re like machines - killing machines. And if he let himself, he could feel their mindless need to get inside, to kill and infect and invade. Their intent was the same as every parasitic being that had ever existed. He blocked them out. There was one screen which caught his eye. Towards the bottom it said CONTROL ROOM. It was hard to see what was going on in the room as it was dark inside. He thought he saw movement but couldn’t be sure. He could make out a long cylinder in the center of the room; he was willing to bet it was the reactor. Tendrils of blue-grey matter grew along the side of it. He squinted. What the hell? The vines seemed to be coming from pods, but it was hard to tell what they looked like beyond their shape. And he could see the shape of bodies littered around the metal grid of the floor. Creatures. Too many to count.They were sleeping. And we’ll have to find a way to get through them in order to blow up the reactor. Danni could see no other way. The abominations had them boxed in; the only choice they had was for their group to fight. There were two lockers drilled into the wall, locked shut. A lanyard with a passcode hung from a hook. Danni snagged, praying it would work, praying there were weapons inside. Instead he found three suits. They resembled hazmat suits, made of a thick white material, with heavy boots, and a helmet with a protective faceplate. “Engineering made those for the expedition team Adwele sent down,” Brantov said. His eyes were red but he was standing on his feet, seeming to have regained his composure. “No one had any idea what was down there at the time. We thought they would provide protection.” “You thought wrong,” Dinah said tactlessly. Brantov shot a glare her way but said nothing. Danni found himself respecting the man for not allowing himself to be provoked considering the loss he’d just experienced. “It’s better than nothing.” said Danni. “It looks like there’s some kind of...vegetation...in the room. There’s something growing along the side of the reactor. For all we know the contagion could be airborne.” “There’s only three suits,” said Dinah. “The suits are equipped with radios inside the helmet,” said Brantov. “That way everyone can communicate with each other. But I think it’s safe to say one of us will have to stay here.” “That will be you,” said Danni,”assuming you know how to walk us through controlling the reactor.” Brantov nodded. “I can.” Danni felt his face drop when he opened the other locker. There was nothing inside, no weapons or ammo. The chances of them getting out of this situation alive looked more unlikely than ever. It’s a risk we’ll have to take, he thought. It took fifteen minutes for Danni, Everest, and Dinah to struggle into their suits. The suits themselves were heavy and restrictive, especially around the shoulders. The helmet made Danni feel trapped; the air tank fastened to his back was heavy. The gloves made his hands look fat. He handed his gun to Dinah. “I take it you know how to shoot a gun?” he asked her. “Of course.” Her voice crackled through the radio attached to the inside of his helmet. “There’s only one clip of ammo. Make the shots count. Everest are you ready?” “Ready.” Danni found the steadiness in his voice to be slightly comforting. He felt better knowing he had someone to watch his back; he realized, absently, that he found himself trusting Everest more and more. The only way to get to the control room was by lift. The group gathered in front of the door. Brantov gave Danni, Everest, and Dinah sad looks as if this was the last time he’d ever see them. Maybe he was right. “I’ll be by the radio at all times to give you the instructions. Just be careful. Once the reactor begins to heat up we’ll only have a short time to get out and get a safe distance away.” “Just do me a favor and make sure you keep an eye on Okja,” said Danni as the trio stepped into the lift. The scientist actually smiled. “Will do.” The doors to the lift shut and began to take them down into the closest thing to Hell Danni wanted to see.
  7. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 28

    I was tied to a chair in a dark room. The only light came from the flashlight held in my face. Juan stood just feet away, his face dark with rage. Cookie and Tinkerbell stood in the background. My head ached. Blood covered the side of my face from where Juan had hit me, already crusted over. "How did you know they were coming? Who did you tell?" Juan's voice was low and dangerous. Why? Why was he doing this to me? I had given him the data at my own expense. Was that not proof enough he could trust me? It hurt the way he looked at me. It was like looking into the eyes of a completely different person. "I didn't call the cops." "Then how did they know where to find us? You ran after me and told me not to run towards the door." "I don't know how they found us." My voice trembled. My eyes stone with tears. His anger washed through me like fire, but worse was the sting of betrayal and hurt he felt. I tried to shift in my seat. The rope had been knotted around my wrists so tight it bit into my flesh. I glared at him, suddenly furious with myself. "I saved your life you stupid fuck…" His fist crashed against my face, followed by the sound of crunching bone. My face bounced off the back of the chair. For a moment everything was black; my ears rang. I could feel blood flooding into my open mouth, warm and tasting like copper. "Come on, don't do this, man." Tinkerbell's voice, pleading. "Why did he give us the data we need if he was going to call the cops?" I shook my head, trying to clear the disorientation. "Because he's fucking paranoid, Tink. He's got to find someone to blame for everything else going to shit. I knew because I had a premonition. I get these feelings sometimes, when something bad is getting ready to happen." I continued to glare at him. I was getting a perfect view of the person he truly was. He was not the person he had led me to believe. "What are you saying, that you're psychic?" Juan's face was scrunched in disbelief. "Something like that. " He laughed darkly. "If you believe that then you're crazy." "Don't believe me? All you have to do is take my hand. I'll show you." Maybe it was the tone of my voice or the look in my eye, but for a moment he looks doubtful. He scowled, coming around the back of the chair. He pulled out his handgun and pressed the muzzle against the back of my head. "You better not try to do anything funny or I swear to God, I'll blow your fucking brains out." I felt his fingers touch mine, warm and slightly calloused. I wrapped my fingers around his, remembering the night of my eighteenth birthday, the transference that had transpired between my mother and I. How she had shown me the fear and the pain and the madness she felt; how small and insubstantial she’d felt in a small universe. You want proof, I thought, teeth gritted. Here’s your proof. I gathered all my thoughts, ordered them the best way I could, like a movie, and pushed them into Juan as hard as I could. I felt Juan hiss, felt him try to pull away, but I dug my fingers into his flesh as hard as I could. I want you to see, I told him, speaking through my thoughts. You think my life is so privileged - you think it’s so great to be me. Let me show you. No, he begged me. I could hear the fear in his voice. Please - I showed him the loneliness I’d felt my entire life, the love I’d yearned from my father and never received, the weight of his expectations. I showed him what it had felt to watch my mother slowly wither away as the madness ate at her, the fear that one day I could very well go through the same thing. I’m sorry, he said, trying to pull himself free again. I could hear him sobbing. I’m sorry I hit you - Tinkerbell and Cookie were looking at me with wide eyes, their bodies tense. Juan was sputtering. Saliva drained from his trembling lips. “What are you doing to him?” Cookie said. She took a step towards me. “Step back,” I warned her. ”You touch me and I swear to God, I’ll turn him into a vegetable.” Cookie must have believed me because she stepped back until she was resting up against the wall. Speaking through our connection, I said to Juan, You’re not sorry. You’re just afraid. You should be. I can make you feel things you never imagined feeling. I can drive you insane. You ever fucking hit me again and I’ll make you wish you were dead. Do you understand? Yes, yes, just make it stop - I released his hand. He stepped back, sobbing. “Do you believe me now?” I spat. My nose burned. He nodded. “Yes.” “Cut me loose.” He pulled a knife out from his jacket pocket. The rope tightened against my flesh as he sawed up and down. A second later the rope fell away. I rose to my feet. Tremors passed through my body as I looked around the dark room. It appeared we were in some sort of basement. A flight of wooden steps led up to a door. Without waiting to see what the others would do, I climbed up the steps. If they wanted to kill me, then let them kill me. Either way I’d had enough of the situation. The door opened easily enough. I stepped through into a darkened hallway. The headlights of a passing car illuminated my surroundings. The house I stood in looked like it had been empty for quite some time; the air smelled of dust, the floorboards beneath my feet covered in dust. The front door was right there, just feet away. All I had to do was walk through it, then I was free, I would catch a cab and go home… My hand was on the knob when the basement door flew open. “Stop!” Tink shouted, running towards me. “You can’t go out there!” “The fuck I can’t,” I snapped. “I’m done with this.” He slammed the door shut. “You don’t understand. The authorities are looking for us. They’ll have seen you at the warehouse.” Movement shifted behind him as Juan and Cookie closed the basement door behind them. Juan glanced at me morosely, then looked away. Somehow he seemed to have shrunk, as if I’d stolen something vital from him. Maybe I had. Maybe I’d shown him too much. I wondered what would have happened if the transference had gone on longer - would there have been consequences? It occurred to me for the first time I could use it as a weapon. “What are you going to do if I were to leave?” I demanded. “Are you going to break something else? Are you going to shoot me?” Tinkerbell gulped uncomfortably, and looked to Juan. Juan had knelt down on the wooden floor, staring down at his knees. “Tink,” he said without looking up, “get on your computer and see if you can find us a way out of here. Cookie, check Danni’s nose.” Cookie obediently crossed the room to me. She reached out to touch my forehead. I stepped around her. ”Stay the fuck away from me. I want to go home.” “You can’t,” she said gently. “You’re stuck with us now.” Barbed threads of panic began to wind their way through me. “What do you mean I’m stuck with you?” The softening of her face and the look of pity and fear in Cookie’s eyes were all somehow worse than what she’d just told me. “You’re a fugitive.” You’re a fugitive - you’re a fugitive - you’re a fugitive. Her words brought the reality of my predicament to full focus. I was an enemy of the law. I’d traded in the only life I’d ever known for this little ragtag group. I slid down the wall until I was sitting on the floor. I felt completely numb. My mind started and stopped like the overwhelmed processor of a computer, unable to compute and break down the information it was receiving. In the end I only had myself to blame; but there was only one person I wanted to take my rage and terror out on so I looked at him, lips trembling. “Do you know what this has cost me? Do you know what I’ve given up just now? And all you can do is sit there looking like a stupid little boy. Fuck you...Fuck you.” I gritted my teeth. My fists were curled so tight the nails bit into my skin. It was everything I could do to keep from launching myself at him in blind rage. “I fucking hate you...” I could feel his shame building for getting his team into this mess, for bringing me into it, and for hurting me. I wanted him to feel it - I wanted it to haunt him. Tinkerbell looked up from the small portable laptop in his lab; his face was lit by the blue-green glow emanating from the screen. “I messaged Ryker. He just answered back. He’s transferring us to Mexico.” For the third time Juan’s face shifted, from resignation to shock. “Why Mexico?” Tink shrugged his shoulders. “He’s not sure. He probably wants us to focus on another mission until things calm down again. Like I said, he’s not giving us information.” He glanced at me. “But he wants us to take Danni with us.” “Why?” Cookie asked. “Says at this point he could be a valuable asset. After all he was able to get the data we needed from Aamodt Corp.” They were talking about me as if I wasn’t here. Great. Thanks to my being psychic I’d totally isolated myself. And now I had to go to Mexico with them. There was no telling what would happen when we got there. The idea of going to Mexico terrified me. It wasn’t a place most people wanted to go to. The country had been degrading steadily for the last two centuries. Its people lived in terror, never knowing what was going to happen from one moment to the next. In the twenty-first century a wall had been erected between the United States and Mexico to keep the criminal activity in Mexico from bleeding into the United States. For the most part it kept everything contained but immigrants and criminals were still finding ways to get through. Not only was I a fugitive, but I would be a prisoner and a terrorist as well. I would have no choice but to comply with Juan’s group and this Ryker. My moral compass had slimmed down to only one goal: My own personal survival. “When do we leave?” Juan asked. “We’re to meet a contact here at the pier in Roc City. He’ll be here in three days. Until then we lay low and hope the authorities don’t find us.” “Fuck.” Cookie laughed, not in humor but in fear I think. “This is going to be fun.” … I can barely describe what the next few days were like or how I felt. To say stuck in a dream doesn’t quite cut it. In another reality might be closer; a reality that was completely separate from my own, a reality in which things had gone terribly wrong. For three days we stayed inside, not speaking. A dank, oppressive silence had stretched throughout the house. I had to sink deep into my mind to keep from going insane. I would tell myself maybe going to Mexico wouldn’t be so bad. While I was well traveled, I hadn’t yet been outside the United States. I had nothing but time to feel guilty and hate myself for the choices I’d made. No one but Juan ventured out, and he only did it to get food. Most of the food we ate was canned, heated up by a small portable stove. At night I slept on the floor. Tink and Cookie would offer me blankets to try and make it more comfortable but I refused - I wanted to show them I wasn’t going to give in, that I was more than capable of enduring the situation. And I wanted to make them feel guilty for distrusting me. Juan continued not speaking to me - as if pretending I wasn’t there. I was grateful for the distance, because if he had spoken to me I would have said some very unkind things in response. My nose hurt, sometimes more sometimes not at all. Mostly it would just ache. Every time it did I would use it as an excuse to keep being angry at Juan. To keep hating him. It was my hate and rage that kept me going, and it would be my source of energy for the next two years. We left on the third night, taking a bus to the pier. We had to wear our face scramblers - that’s what I had begun to think of them as; I know it’s a ridiculous name but I simply couldn’t think of another - and stick to the back, where it was the most packed. We got off a few blocks away from the pier, another rundown area of the city. Most of the buildings had been abandoned for decades, rotting from the inside out. This side of town belonged to the homeless and the forgotten, the souls the world had forgotten about - they were almost as undesirable as the criminals exiled to the penal colony on Planet Redemption. Those lost souls could be seen wandering the trash-filled streets now, their faces streaked with dirt, their clothes darkened by dust and filth. None of them gave our group a second glance. With my oily hair and crooked nose and sweaty body, I passed for one of them. The only relief came from the salty gusts of wind coming in from the Atlantic. We reached the docks. The ships anchored to the port looked as if they had been there for ages, listing lazily in the frothing water. Algae grew up the sides. Only one ship looked newer, like it hadn’t been aged. An Asian-looking man dressed in dark nondescript clothing stood over by the docks, marked by the burning ember of the cigarette he held in his fingers. He watched us approach without expression. Juan addressed him by name. “Cypher.” “Juan.” They clasped hands in greeting. Cypher made the same gesture with Cookie and Tink. He just skimmed over me before looking back at Juan. “This place looks like a shithole.” “Not as bad as the shithole we’re heading to.” Juan said this casually and his face revealed nothing but I could feel the fear as if it seeped from his pores. “Well I got the boat. It’s going to take a couple of days and I don’t want to get held up by patrols on the water.” He looked at me again. “Now I recognize him. That’s Danni Aamodt V. How did you get him involved…?” “Just something we picked up along the way,” said Juan.
  8. Does anyone on here ever get burned out when it comes to a story they're working on? It happens to me all the time when it comes to working on a novel. It's like everything else with my life: I start out really strong in the beginning and in the middle, but the closer I get to the end the more I struggle. This is why so many of the projects I've posted on this website haven't been finished...because I've lost interest and just can't figure a way past it. Thoughts? Advice?

    1. Timothy M.

      Timothy M.

      No advice, but I know how you feel. :( 

  9. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 27

    They are very barbaric people who have been living under very harsh conditions; for them this is all they know.
  10. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 27

    The change in Danni's demeanor was sudden and disturbing; it was like watching the face of a cliff crumble and fall into water had Everest ever witnessed such a thing. His face, the lips pressed thin, the eyes widening in an almost comical expression of shock, plateaued, becoming flat and seemingly expressionless. Everest had seen it before several times. It happened when someone's mind cracked under the weight of something it couldn't handle. So when Danni reached for his gun, Everest was not surprised. By the time Danni took aim, the movement was quick and fluid and completely natural, Everest stepped in the way, grabbed Danni's arm, and pressed him up against the wall. “Don’t,” he said. Danni tried to wrestle his hand free. “Get the fuck off me, Everest!” he growled, breath tense. Every muscle in his body was tense; his body vibrated with rage. “We need him,” Everest said. Danni’s other fist flashed towards his face. The movement was quick and precise, hitting Everest beneath the chin. The blow was hard enough to make his head fall back. Danni wriggled like a worm, almost broke himself free. Everest bore down on him. Danni may have been small and quick, but he couldn’t outmatch Everest’s strength. “Quit it!” Everest roared. His hand sliced down through the air, knocking the gun from Danni’s hand. He kicked it towards Dinah. “Damn it, you idiot, quit it!” A mechanism in Danni seemed to have been triggered for he stopped struggling as suddenly as he’d started. His head fell back against the wall. To Everest’s surprise he realized the younger man was crying. His shoulders shook with unsuppressed emotion. Everest didn’t know what to do or what to make of this side of Danni, which he’d never expected to see. Everest released him. “Are you done?” he asked. “Fuck you,” Danni said. His voice was empty, without feeling. His face flattened into a hard slab of ice and the vulnerability he’d shown just seconds ago was gone. Something inside Everest shuddered at this new shift in Danni’s demeanor. Three times Danni had flitted from psychotic rage, to despair, to empty apathy. He stalked out of the room without looking at anyone. Everest scooped up the gun off the floor. “You saved my life,” said Brantov. He actually looked shaken. “Thank you.” Everest gave him an icy look. “I don’t know what would cause Danni to react so violently towards you without being instigated to do so, but whatever the reason I’m sure it’s valid. If it wasn’t for the fact we need answers I’d just shoot you myself.” Whether he meant it or not, Everest didn’t know, but he felt satisfied when he saw a refreshed expression of fear on the man’s face. Several minutes later Danni came back into the room. He did not so much as spare Brantov or anyone else a second glance; it was as if the man ceased to exist. He leaned against the wall, looking out the window. He crossed his arms over his chest. He looked smaller than ever. Small and dangerous. Everest watched him, confused. He was still trying to process everything Brantov had said. Aamodt? Why does the name sound so familiar? He knew he’d heard the name somewhere before but couldn’t think of where from. More confusing yet was the depths within Danni’s character that had been revealed. He was quite possibly the most dangerous one in the room. Dinah interrupted the tense silence. “Are there any more survivors?” Dinah asked. “No,” Ulana said; her voice shook slightly. “It is just the two of us. A few people tried to make a run for it, to get help, but we don’t know what happened to them.” “Delivery day was almost a week ago,” Dinah said, clearing her throat. “Adwele didn’t show up...Now I know why. We found his body as well as the bodies of two of your clanman. They were in a truck.” “You speak of Ben Trask and Boris Vasiliev,” Ulana said. “And you said Adwele too? What happened to them?” “They’re dead,” Dinah said without hesitation. “We had to kill them. They attacked our colony. They were infected.” Ulana’s reaction was immediate: Her face melted into a reaction of despair. She sunk onto one of the sofa’s, as if someone had knocked her over. Brantov went to her side, wrapped his arms around her, and said something softly in Russian while Ulana sobbed into his lab coat. “I’m sorry,” Dinah said. She didn’t sound sorry at all, Everest thought. More and more he was starting to think Danni was right about her. “He was such a good, good man,” Ulana crooned. “I know.” Brantov kissed her forehead and rocked her back and forth, as if trying to comfort a frightened child. “What happened here?” Dinah asked after a minute. “Before he died Adwele told us about how he discovered the city, but not about how the outbreak happened.” Brantov looked up. “I’m just a doctor here. I’ve only been on the project for a few months and the information I have is scarce. All I know is a week ago, after years of drilling through the ice, we finally reached the caves. Adwele sent a team of men into the caves to explore the city and see what they could find. Only one came back - we think they were killed. We kept him in the lab, which also serves as a medical facility and quarantine zone.” “Was he the cause for the outbreak?” Dinah asked. “Yes.” “What happened to him?” Brantov’s smile was humorless. “Perhaps it is best I just show you. Come Ulana, it will be alright my love.” He led them out of the rec room, down the hallway, towards another hatch. An animalistic screeching sound stopped Danni in his tracks. He peered around, speaking for the first time since his murderous episode. “What was that sound?” “That would be the monkey, Okja,” said Brantov. For the moment he seemed to have decided to leave the incident in which Danni had tried to kill him, in the past. “Adwele’s enigmatic pet monkey?” Dinah smiled. Danni peered into the room from which he had heard the sound. The monkey stood on a perch inside of a large cage; the cage was placed on top of a wooden table. The monkey turned and looked at Danni curiously with dark brown eyes, as if silently begging to be let out. Tufts of white fur stuck out from the side of her face; a similar white stripe streaked down her back. Beside him, Everest could only stare in surprise. While he had heard stories of the mythic monkey seeing it for himself was equally a shock. Its hands and face were so...human. “We are very closely related to them,” said Danni. He smiled, looking amused. “Even more so than cows. Scientists even believe we come from them.” “And they have these all over Earth?” “Not all over,” Danni said sadly. “Except for the few kept in zoos they are extinct.” He approached the cage. Everest hovered behind him, uncertain. “Do they bite?” Danni smiled at him again from over his shoulder. “Maybe if you stick your finger through the cage. But their omnivores which means they don’t eat meat - luckily for us.” He cocked his head to the side slightly, as if listening to someone speak; someone Everest could not see. Danni’s face saddened. “What is it?” Everest asked. He felt himself tense automatically. “She knows,” Danni said, “something is wrong. That Adwele has been gone for a long time. She’s worried about him.” “You can sense this?” Everest asked. He still found himself marvelling at Danni’s psychic abilities. “Yes. Okja is a very emotional creature. She’s also very hungry.” "There's a baggie beside the cage," said Ulana. Her cheeks were still ruddy from crying but she seemed to have pulled herself together. "It has pieces of dried banana in them. Okja loves them." Danni found the plastic bag and opened it. He pulled out two thinly sliced pieces of banana and poked them through the bars of the cage. Making a small chittering sound unlike anything Everest had ever heard before, he watched the monkey take the dried fruit from Danni's hand and nibbled at it. ;"The poor thing is probably starving," said Ulana. She brushed past Danni. "I'm going to let her out. Don't worry, she won't hurt anyone." She unlatched the door. Okja ventured cautiously outside of her cage, a chunk of dried banana puffing her tiny cheek out. The expression of weariness and wonder was so human, Everest thought - and adorable. She looked at Danni, then hopped gracefully through the air, climbing up the side of Danni’s coat and perched on top of his shoulder. She chittered at him once more. Ulana laughed, her almond shaped eyes narrowing down to crescents. “It seems she likes you - really likes you.” “Can we go to the lab now?” Dinah snapped impatiently. “I get the monkey is cute and fascinating and all, but time is of the essence.” Danni gave her a perturbed look. “Okja and I were having a moment.” “I really don’t give a shit,” Dinah snapped. “I don’t want to be here any longer than we have to!” “Fine.” Danni sighed, looked sideways at the monkey, and smiled. “But the monkey is coming with me.” … Brantov led the group into the medical part of the facility, a large white room that made Danni think of the clinic back in Colony Wuxia. Brantov stopped in front of a wall of square metal freezers. “Be prepared...what you see might shock you.” Dinah scoffed, seeming to share Danni and Everest’s thoughts: After everything they had seen how could anything else shock them? They were wrong. The thing lying on the tray was no longer human: the thumb and index finger on both hands had fused together as well as the ring and pinky finger. Eel-like limbs hung over the side of the tray, protruding out from holes that had been punched through the flesh of the ribs. There were more limbs coming from its back. The body itself was emaciated, as if its victim had starved before death; the arms and legs were longer than humanly possible. The face was still human for the most part but the head had elongated. Danni was so stunned he’d forgotten about Okja; the monkey clung to his jacket, resting comfortably in the crook of his arm. She was amazingly light. The silence stretched on. No one else seemed capable of speaking. The sight frightened Danni to his core. He was truly looking at something extraterrestrial. “This...thing...was a man?” he managed to croak at last. Brantov nodded gravely but said nothing. Danni wanted to deny this, to tell the man he was crazy. But how could he after everything they’d witnessed? “How long did it take for him to change?” Dinah asked. Her voice was soft, not the authoritative bark Danni associated with her. “Five days - a week at most.” Brantov scratched at his beard, the scratch of nails on bristles audible. “It seems to take longer for the change to occur when they’re alive. When they are dead it’s much more rapid.” It made sense. The two men from the crashsite had already changed while Adwele had still been undergoing his mutation. What the hell had the men who’d gone down into the excavation site found? “Do you know what caused all of this?” Dinah asked. Her eyes were wide with hope for answers. Everyone was watching the doctor. Brantov shook his head. “I know you came here in search of answers. Unfortunately we do not have many. Adwele was hoping to get answers when he sent the team down in the lift. All I can tell you is something attacked them - all of them. Look at this.” Making sure not to touch the skin of the body, he pointed at the dead thing’s throat. There, discoloring its blue-grey flesh, was a bruise that seemed to wrap all the way around its necks as if something had tried to strangle it. Danni shuddered. I’ve seen enough for today, he thought. All at once he felt exhausted to the point he didn’t care about it any more. They’d been going since the beginning of the day. The only thing that had kept him going was the need to survive - and the will of survival could only take one so far. The body had very real, very solid, very human limitations. But the exhaustion he felt wasn’t just from today nor was it just in Danni’s body. This nightmare had been going on since he’d woken up on the frozen ice planet. “Do you have any way I can take a shower?” he asked, threading his fingers through Okja’s fur. “How can you be thinking about taking a shower at a moment like this?” Dinah snapped at him. “I haven’t showered in three days,” he said. “I’m sweaty, I stink, and I’m tired. I’ll be more equipped to deal with things once I’ve had some sleep.” “We have a way you can take a shower,” said Ulana. “We have wash rags, towels, and plenty of soap.” Her hostility seemed to have disappeared for the moment in wake of the current situation. “I can show you where the showers are.” The showers were in one big room, half a dozen showerheads to one side. Each head was separated by a concrete partition. In exchange for a wash rag, a towel, a small bar of soap and shampoo, Danni handed Okja to Ulana. He was reluctant to part with the monkey; her small, furry presence had been a comfort. He felt a strange, inexplicable connection with the monkey. Once alone it took Danni a minute to figure out the water temperature. He had to turn the nob several times before the water was warm enough to his likings. He let out a silent groan when the hot water touched his skin. I could stand under the water for hours, he thought. He had just begun to scrub his body when Everest stepped in, naked. “Hope you don’t mind if I join you,” Everest said. Danni looked him up and down unabashedly. “Not at all.” He continued to watch as Everest turned the spray on. For a long time they were silent, simply enjoying the silence and the relief of becoming cleansed. Then Everest asked, “Do you think we’ll get out of here alive, Danni?” “Do you want me to tell you what you want to hear or do you want me to tell you the truth?” Everest chuckled. “I don’t imagine you’ve ever been the person who tells people what they want to hear.” “Maybe we will,” said Danni. “Those two people have survived here for several days. I’ll try and think of something to get us out of this but I’m not going to be able to do so until I get some sleep. I will tell you this, I’m not leaving until this place is up in flames.” Everest studied him intently from across the room as he lathered soap across his chest. “Why do you care so much about what happens to the people of this planet?” “It’s not just the people of this planet I care about,” Danni said. “What if this infection gets to earth somehow? Slim chance, but it could happen. What could happen if the transport comes back with prisoners and they realize there’s no one to meet them?” Images of disaster passed through Danni’s mind. He wanted to say more but was too tired to be able to form the words. The inside of his head buzzed with exhaustion. “I’m sorry I hit you,” he said instead. Everest grinned. “Remind me not to get in your way again.” His face turned serious. “Is it true what Brantov said? About who your father is?” “It is. I didn’t tell anyone because I thought it would only make things more dangerous for me. There are a lot of people on Earth who don’t agree with sending people to a penal planet - you could imagine what they’d do to me if they knew. My family was the one who surveyed the planet and made it possible.” “It doesn’t matter to me.” Everest slowly crossed the room. Steam wafted around them, beginning to fill the bathroom. “And I don’t care about the things you did on Earth. I know you’re trying to make up for them now...that’s why you care.” “Yes,” Danni said, glad someone else had said the words so he didn’t have to. Now standing directly under the spray, Everest pulled Danni into his arms; they embraced, water sliding down their mingled bodies. After a moment Danni lifted his head, smiled, kissed Everest once and said, “If we are going to die I want us to make this moment count. Are you up for it?” Everest turned him around and pressed him up against the tiled wall. “I’m always up for it.” … Everest was still asleep when Danni woke up. They’d shared a pallet on the floor made of blankets and towels. Danni’s back was stiff from sleeping on the hard surface of the floor but he felt better after having slept for a few hours. Now it’s time to stop asking questions and start coming up with a plan. He found Dinah sleeping on a couch in the rec room. Good. The less she heard of his plans the better. He still didn’t trust her. Even now, after everything she’d seen and everything her decisions had cost her, Dinah was still only thinking about herself. He kept hoping the recents events would change her but also knew deep down inside, like most humans, she was incapable of changing. Her stubbornness and narcissism made her every bit as dangerous as the creatures they were fighting against. He found Brantov and Ulana in the medical lab. They immediately became silent when he entered the room. Ulana’s face was red with distress, evidence they’d been having a strenuous conversation when he’d entered. Whatever they were talking about, it wasn’t his business. I have enough on my plate as it is without adding eavesdropping to it. Ulana got up from the chair she’d been sitting in. She smiled cautiously at Danni as if he were a dog ready to attack. “We have food if you are hungry. Cereal with powdered milk.” “Cereal would be nice.” He waited until her back was turned before adding, “You don’t have to be afraid of me Ulana. I’m not here to cause trouble.” Her back stiffened at this. She turned slowly. Her voice was low when she spoke. “You understand nothing, do you? Our peace treaty has existed for almost two hundred years - and it has been there for a reason. So there is no raping and pillaging until there’s nothing left. By being here, you and your people have broken the treaty. It has never been broken before.” Danni clenched his jaw. “Your clan leader broke the treaty when he dug an alien fucking city out of the ice.” He stood before a computer and wiggled the mouse to wake it up. The computer was password protected of course. He looked at Brantov. “What is the password?” “Why should I give it to you?” Brantov asked suspiciously. “What do you intend to do?” Danni sighed, annoyed. “I intend to come up with a plan that will get us out of here alive.” … Calvin glanced at Natalia. She sat in the seat next to him, head leaning against the seatback, dozing silently. He didn’t blame her. Last night had been rough trying to sleep in the truck: uncomfortable and cold. Still it would have been nice to have someone to talk to. Not only was he tired of staring at the same boring landscape but his nerves were stretched tight to the point of snapping. They’d spoken little on the journey. Calvin sensed Natalia was every bit as scared as he was, probably thinking about what they would find at the research station...this was assuming they made it to the other side without getting caught by Clan Mureen first. If they did make it would they find their friends alive, or would they only find a massacre? It was only now Calvin realized he didn’t have a plan; once again he’d let his emotions get the best of him and it was going to get them both killed. Too late to turn back now. We’re almost there. He was in the middle of passing through a procession of seracs and pressure ridges. He drove slowly, cautiously, at twenty miles per an hour. A caterpillar’s crawl. A constant voice screamed in the back of his mind to go faster - time was of the essence. But he forced himself to stay calm. The last thing he needed was to get themselves stranded miles away from civilization. He’d brought heat lamps but those would only keep the cold at bay. Their chances of making it back to Camp Wuxia would be very slim. And we won’t be good to Danni or the others if we’re dead. There it was! The marker splitting Clan Wuxia’s territory from Clan Mureen. He looked over at Natalia. He didn’t want to wake her up but now was a time when he needed her. Slowly easing down on the brake, he brought the truck to a stop and shook her gently. She lifted her head, blinking at him through darkened eyes. “We’re here.” Her eyes fell on the marker, a small beacon half submerged in snow. White light flashed from a lense. “If you don’t want to go any further now is the time to tell me. We can turn around and go back.” He watched her face intently. “What’s the point in turning around? We came this far didn’t we?” He gave a final sigh. I gave you one last chance. Once we’re over the border there’s no going back. He hit the gas pedal and they passed the border. No sooner were they a mile into Mureen territory when Natalia sat up straight awake, eyes wide with fear. “Fuck me. Oh God we are so fucked…” Under more typical circumstances Calvin might have been shocked at Natalia’s sudden use of profanity, but there was a platoon of trucks, about six or seven of them, headed straight towards Calvin’s truck, leaving a trail of exhaust fumes in their wake. Calvin contemplated turning the truck around. In the back of his panicking mind he knew there was no chance he could get them back over the border in time. He slammed on the brakes. Their only hope was that these people would ask questions first before shooting. He slammed on the brakes. “What are you doing?” Natalia squeaked. “I’m going to try and see if they’re willing to have a civil conversation. Stay in the truck.” Calvin climbed out of the truck on legs that felt made of air. He walked several paces away from the truck and stopped. The platoon of vehicles came to a stop. Several men marched towards him with rifles upraised, their shouts muffled by their breathing masks. Calvin kept his hands held up, doing his best to look as non threatening as possible. “Who are you?” asked the man in the middle. He was clearly the leader for the other men and women in the group looked to him for instruction. He spoke with a clipped accent Calvin was unfamiliar with. “You are Clan Wuxia! You have violated our treaty by coming over our border!” Black eyes bore into his with hostility. “Please,” Calvin pleaded. “I know about the city Adwele found beneath the ice - the alien city - ” Before he could finish, the man slammed the handle of his rifle into Calvin’s face. The force of the blow knocked him onto his ass. He could feel blood running from his nose. Was it broken? Disoriented, he looked up just in time to see the man standing over him. “Please,” he managed to say one more time before the handle of the rifle crashed against his head once more.
  11. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 26

    At first Calvin had been worried about Danni, but now that worry had turned into outright panic. He backed away from Danni’s door and stepped out into the night. The weather had calmed down for the moment; several groups of people were walking in between the dormitories, either going to the pub or the sauna. After four days of being cooped up due to the blizzard, the people of Clan Wuxia wanted to let off some steam. Calvin scanned the hooded faces, looking for the familiar glint of blue eyes, the flash of blonde hair caught in the beam of a light; hoping against hope. But of course none of them were Danni. Calvin already had an idea of where Danni had gone but didn’t want to admit it. Because if it was the truth then the chances of Calvin being able to make up for the terrible things he’d said to his best friend were very slim. When Danni didn’t answer the door the first day or come to the processing plant, Calvin initially assumed Danni was upset with him - and why wouldn’t he be? But then Rhys, the man Danni and he had helped when the cow gave birth, had told him he’d seen Dinah, Danni, and Everest get into a truck. “It looked like they were packing some pretty heavy weaponry,” Rhys had said. “Did they say where they were going?” Calvin asked. He remembered how his mouth had gone dry, as if all the saliva in his body had dried up - the same way it felt now. Rhys shook his head. “Nor did they say what they were doing or when they’d be back. But judging from the way they were armed it must be serious. Maybe it’s a good thing we don’t know.” Now Calvin bit his lip. Danni had to have said something to somebody, or maybe Everest had. There was no way they would leave without telling someone. Surely not. He was determined to find out. Guilt as much as fear and determination kept his mind spinning, trying to come up with a plan. Someone has to know something. I can’t leave things the way I did with him. Oh God, what if something happens to him and he thinks I hate him? There were only two people he could think of to ask; he hated himself even more for only just now thinking of them. First he would head home long enough to warm up and get something to eat. He’d been running all day, nonstop. To his immense surprise his mother was standing at the stove when he came home. She wore a long blue, shabby bathrobe; her salt-pepper grey hair was tied into a tangled ball on top of her head. When she heard Calvin come in she looked at him with a keen awareness. She actually smiled at him. “Calvin, you look about frozen to death. Want me to fix you some hot chocolate, baby?” Baby came out sounding like baba. “That’s okay,” he said, looking at her dispassionately. He no longer felt hungry. He should have been ecstatic she was up and walking around, but his heart had gone cold. He didn’t even feel angry towards her, just numb. “You’re up and walking around, Mama.” She chuckled, easing herself slowly in the chair across from him. She winced as she did so but she still looked good-humored. “Today must be one of my good days. Lord knows I don’t get them very often.” “Hmmm.” Why did Calvin feel nothing but callousness towards this woman? Was it because Anastasia had raised him most of his life, working her ass off to take care of him? Was it because the accident at the processing plant had taken her mother away from him the same way it had taken Steig Evreux’s leg? “Did you just get home from work yourself?” Minerva sipped at a mug of hot, herbal-smelling tea. She looked at him avidly. It was so strange to see her up and walking around, not fast asleep and oblivious in her threadbare armchair. ‘’No,” Calvin said grudgingly. “I’ve been looking for my friend.” “Your friend?” “Yes, Danni. We work at the processing plant together.” She nodded. “Are you worried about him?” Calvin let out a sigh, forcing himself to stay patient. “I’ve been trying to talk to him for the last couple days but he hasn’t answered his door or shown up for work.” “I’m sure he’s fine,” she said with a cheery smile that showed rotting teeth. Are you mad, woman? Calvin wanted to say to her. Still in your own little world? Clearly you’ve forgotten how things are here on Planet Redemption. They haven’t changed. He knew she was incapable of understanding. Perhaps the accident and years of drugs had rotted her brain beyond repair. He felt a pang of sadness for the woman sitting before him. Had it not been for the explosion at the processing plant things could have been very different. Anastasia wouldn’t have had to work so hard to keep their little family afloat. Minerva wouldn’t be just a husk who was only aware of things half the time. There’s no sense in waiting for the dead to come back to life - not when there’s someone out there who needs you, who isn’t just a waste of time. Calvin felt this was something Danni would have said to him, a bit of advice from his endless repertoire of wisdom. “I have to find him,” Calvin said more to himself than to his mother. “Won’t you stay and keep me company until your sister gets home?” The look of desperation and loneliness on his mother’s face tore at his heart for a second. He almost gave in. “I’m sorry.” Calvin backed towards the hatch. ”I have to find him.” He went to the first person on his list: Steig Evreux. Unfortunately the old man was no help. He leaned against the hatchway, looking at Calvin helplessly from behind his wire-rimmed glasses. “You know where they’ve gone,” Everest’s father said, looking around to make sure no one was listening. “To go investigate the alien city Adwele said he discovered underneath the ice.” Calvin sputtered, exasperated. “But that’s fucking insane! Why would they do that? Not only would they be walking in blind but they’d be crossing the line, violating the peace treaty. Who knows what shit that would start.” “What can we do?” Steig asked. The helplessness in his voice made him seem small and feeble, something Calvin hadn’t seen him as, crippled or no, until now. “I don’t know.” Calvin hung his head, feeling very tired. “Probably nothing.” Steig smiled, stepping forward to place a hand on Calvin’s shoulder. His touch was surprisingly steady and warm. “Why don’t you come in and keep an old man company?” Calvin backed away, overcome with guilt. The wind had been taken from his sails. “I’m sorry, Steig, I don’t mean to be rude but I can’t. I think I’m going to go to the brothel and have a drink or two.” And so he left the old man standing there, looking after him in silent surprise. Ten minutes later Calvin reached the brothel. The inside was packed, pungent with the spicy smell of booze and warm bodies pressed together in a tight space. He smelled sweat, mixed with the same meaty smell from the sauna. He pushed his way past the thrashing bodies, flashing lights, and teeth-rattling bash of the music. Prostitutes lingered in the corner, some of them half naked or wearing nothing at all; one of them, a woman with pink hair bared her breasts at him, making duck faces. She screamed something after him when he didn’t pay her any attention; of course he couldn’t hear her over all the commotion but he knew it was something profane. He ordered himself a drink, ready to feel the burning sting of whiskey numb his gullet. Calvin was about to down it when he noticed the person sitting next to him from the corner of his eye. It was Natalia, the head of the clinic. She was staring morosely at something he couldn’t see; she held a glass half filled with amber liquid. He gawked, surprised. Natalia was the last person he would have expected to get wasted at the brothel. All the times she had come to his apartment to check on his mother she’d seemed like the kind of person who would much rather be in a quiet place, where she was in control, rather than a chaotic place like the brothel. She looked back at him with eyes that looked bloodshot - it was hard to tell exactly with the lighting. She leaned forward so her lips were almost touching his ear; when she spoke he could smell the whiskey fumes on her breath. It made his eyes water. “How’s your mother?” she asked. Her words were garbled. “I guess she’s doing good. Today she was up and walking around. I can’t remember the last time she did that.” Natalia nodded, apparently happy with the news. “You look like shit!” he shouted back. She nodded. “Feel like it too.” She held her glass up as if to make a cheer. “Bad times.” Calvin didn’t want to push her too quickly, not when she herself looked so miserable, but the need for confirmation of Danni’s whereabouts took precedence above all else. “Where did Danni and the others go? I haven’t been able to find him for the last couple of days and we’re starting to worry. I said some pretty awful things the last time I saw him. I’d give anything to take them back.” Natalia nodded emphatically; her lips sagged at the corners. “We all say things we regret...and unfortunately we’re capable of doing a hell of a lot worse. I’m not innocent either.” Calvin could tell from the glazed look in her eye she was starting to lose the thread. He’d seen it on his mother’s face many times. He wanted to slap her. Instead he grabbed her arm. She looked at him, eyes wide, but made no move to pull her arm away. “Where did they go?” Natalia squinted at him as if only now truly seeing him for the first time. “You know where they went - to that place Adwele talked about. Didn’t Danni tell you?” Calvin felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. He’d heard this from Steig of course but without confirmation he could deny it; Natalia had just confirmed it...and he could no longer deny it. He felt himself nod shakily. Now Natalia pulled her hand away. She drained the rest of her glass, coughed once, and set her glass down, waving for the bartender to pour her another drink. Her expression was one of great misery. “I don’t know when they’ll be back - if they’ll be back.” Having lost the last of his patience, Calvin waved the bartender back. “She’s had enough! Don’t let her have another fucking drink!” He grabbed Natalia's shoulders and shook her so hard her head flopped backwards and forwards. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you!” he shouted at her through gritted teeth. “I know you’ve been through a traumatic ordeal, believe me I have too! Two of them in less than two months! I know you broke up with Dinah - big fucking deal! Now she, Danni, and Everest are walking into a death trap and no one else but you, Everest’s father, and me know what’s going on. They have no back up. What’s going to happen if they need help and can’t get anywhere because they’re stuck? Are you just going to sit here and get drunk off your ass?” Her face crumpled up. She was in great pain, not physical but mental and emotional. Her body was shaking so hard he could literally feel it vibrating; perhaps Calvin had done more damage than he’d meant to. Tears streaked down her reddened cheeks like liquified diamond. “What am I supposed to do? I’m just a clinician.” “I don’t know what we can do,” Calvin said. “Probably not a lot. We’ll all probably just end up getting killed - but it’s better than just waiting. Don’t you think?” Her head bobbed in a shaky nod. “Yes. If we’re going to die I’d rather it be sooner rather than later. But how would we get to them? It takes two days just to get there. Do you even know how to drive a truck?” “Uh...a little bit.” Calvin chuckled. “Do you?” “Some,” she said. “I’m not great at it.” “We’ll figure it out along the way,” Calvin said, trying to be encouraging. “It’ll be better than doing nothing.” “Yeah,” Natalia said, “and it might be the last thing we ever do.” … Danni felt as if someone - a particularly cruel someone - was pushing hot nails through his eyeballs into his brain. His stomach cramped and for a terrible moment he thought he was going to shit himself. He squinted, half blind. The colors around him were blurred, as if he was seeing everything through a filthy lense. At the moment he was half-blind and deaf. The emotions whirling around him numbed all senses except feeling. If he could, Danni would have exchanged all five of his senses not to be able to feel emotion at all. He had to lean against the wall to keep his balance. He saw brief flashes of images, too quick and loud to truly be able to make anything out of them. He thought he heard Adwele’s voice but couldn’t be sure. After a moment, he fought it, crawling through a minefield of terror and agony. A small fraction of it was his own but the rest of it belonged to people he’d never met. Because all of those people were dead. At last his vision cleared completely and he found himself gaping, his face matching the wide-eyed expressions of shock on Everest’s and Dinah’s face. They faced a long corridor with white steel walls; the floor beneath their feet was made of metal treading. Lights flickered from above them. Wires hung from a tear in the ceiling like innards hanging out from the sliced belly of a pig. Worse yet were the smears of blood marking the walls. One of them started as the shape of a hand before turning into a bloodless streak almost half a foot long. But there were no bodies - not that he could see so far. The absence of dead bodies frightened him more than anything. The scene assaulted him with a dizzying sense of deja vu. No one seemed willing to step forward. We could turn back, get in the truck, drive away, and try to forget we ever saw this place, Danni thought. But he knew he couldn’t. Not if he was going to try to keep the infection from spreading throughout the rest of the planet. Danni took the first step in front of them. “Hello?” he said, his voice barely louder than a whisper. Behind him Dinah hissed, a cat-like sound that made him think of air being sucked through a tiny hole. He waited, feeling a vein pulse in his forehead. Nothing moved to attack them. He glanced over his shoulder and nodded at Everest. All clear so far. Everest nodded and he stepped off the lift, with Dinah tiptoeing uncertainly behind him. They moved down the hallway as a trio. There were more drops and puddles of blood on the floor. It ended at the elevator and moved backward in the direction they were heading. Follow the blood red road, Danni thought. For the first time he noticed a video camera in the corner of the ceiling to his left. A red glowing dot marked the fact it was recording them. Was anyone watching them on the other side? Judging from the look of the place the chances of finding survivors were very slim. He stopped beside a desk. The desk was oddly neatly organized with pencils, pens, paperclips, and slips of paper for notes stashed inside a slotted wooden tray. A computer monitor took up most of the space, the screen dark. The computer monitor was nothing fancy, a twenty-first century model - still Danni marveled at the sight of it. He’d seen two at the clinic but it was still strange to see one on Planet Redemption. He was still trying to process the design of the place. It was a fortress. The people of Planet Redemption were more than just barbarians. Danni nodded at the desk, communicating to Everest his intention to search it. Everest nodded, rifle pointed at the hatch ahead of them. There was only one at the end of the corridor. Aware of every passing second, Danni pulled the computer chair and quietly pulled open the drawers of the desk. Inside were files and binders: on the tabs of the files were summaries written by security guards, who sat at the desk monitoring who came in and came out. Inside the binders were what appeared to be instruction manuals, passcodes, and protocol lists as well as a map of the compound. The pages were laminated and hole punched. Danni removed two of the pages - the map and a page of passcodes - and slid the binder back in the drawer. He contemplated taking the binder with him but then decided he didn’t need another thing to carry. Should something happen he would need both hands to be able to shoot his rifle at all times. According to the map in Danni’s hand, the hatch led to the mess hall on the second floor. He found the appropriate six digit access code and typed it in. The hatch opened with a deafening hiss of air. At the top of the stairs Danni, Everest, and Dinah were greeted by another chaotic scene. The mess hall was a large room. Towards the back was the kitchen, separated by a long chrome countertop. A hatchway marked the kitchen. Blood splatters and what looked like the work of absurdly sharp claws marked the hatch, tearing all the way. With an almost human moaning sound, the hatch slid halfway open before falling back down again. Chairs and tables had been flipped over. The smell of rotting food and spoiled milk made Danni’s nose twitch. Still no signs of bodies or of the aberrations. This isn’t right - where the hell is everyone? “I think we want to head here,” Danni said, pointing at a blue level pentagon. “They’re both on the same level two floors above us.” Dinah and Everest peered over his shoulder at the map. “What are the two floors beneath us?” Dinah asked. She squinted slightly. “Security and the control room..” Danni thought he saw a crafty glint in her eye. He wished he could tell what she was thinking but there was too much activity going on in the room already. His brain was filled with a smoke screen of static; the radio waves of her thoughts simply couldn’t break through. He made a mental note to watch her closely. He tried not to think about the actions he might have to resort to should she do anything to force his hand. He glanced at Everest: would the man stay out of his way or would he only make it more difficult? I hope not. “We should take the lift,” Everest said tensely. “I don’t like the idea of climbing up three flights of stairs. This just doesn’t seem right to me. Where is everyone?” “My thoughts exactly,” said Dinah, casting a glance around the room. “There’s signs something bad happened: there’s blood, overturned chairs, and everything else but no people.” To Danni the answer was obvious. He only had to think of the Adwele and the two dead men they’d found in the truck on Delivery Day. How long ago it all seemed now. Even though he was only in his mid-twenties - late twenties if you counted the year he’d spent on ice - he felt much older. We’ll find them soon enough, Danni thought. Or they’ll find us. … The lift jolted and shuttered. Danni forced himself to take deep breaths, his eyes fixed on the ceiling above his head. Everest leaned towards him. “Are you alright?” “I will be,” Danni said through gritted teeth, “when we do what we came here to do and get the fuck away.” Everest leaned back. Danni’s eyes swivelled to Everest apologetically; a fresh sheen of sweat had broken out on his forehead. “I’m sorry. It’s just you have no idea what it’s like being here. I can hear a thousand tiny little voices but can’t understand what they’re saying. And I keep seeing brief flashes of what happened but they’re so jumbled together and quick I can’t make sense of them. It feels like my head is coming apart - ” He stopped suddenly, looking up at the ceiling. The premonition was quick; he saw a flash of red in his mind’s eye and felt goosebumps break out on his skin. He grabbed his rifle and pointed it at the ceiling of the lift. “Everest, something’s coming,” he said. He waved a hand at Dinah. “Get back against the wall as far as you can.” “What is it?” Everest asked. “What do you think?” Danni said impatiently. Just then the lift stopped with a dying groan and the flickering lights died, leaving them in darkness. Danni was already prepared. He pointed a flashlight at the ceiling, face pale and eyes wide with fear. His throat felt dry as if all the fluids in his body had dried. Just then there was a loud thump as something landed on the outer top of the lift. Dinah cried out, a hand cupping her mouth. Her expression reminded Danni of a fish out of water, flopping around helplessly to get back in the water. The sound of several more feet struck the top of the elevator. Danni thought he heard the sound of barbaric growling coming from outside. The ceiling shook as something tried to break through. “Dinah, see if you can get the elevator doors open,” Danni said through gritted teeth. Dinah threw herself across the elevator and slammed her palm into the green OPEN button. The doors slid half open, revealing a large slab of concrete. Half a foot up was the lab floor. “I think I can fit through!” Dinah cried. “Do it!” Danni shouted, ducking as a spray of glass showered down on him; he felt a stray shard slice his cheek hard enough to draw blood. “Hurry it up!” With a terrible screeching sound part of the roof was pulled apart by human hands. A human face snarled at him, the eyes filled with empty malice. Writhing appendages shot through the hole towards him. Danni ducked, stepped back, and fired his rifle twice. The reports were deafening in the small confines of the elevator. The shots hit their target in the face; the aberration fell back, out of sight, taking it’s sentient limbs with it. The creature was replaced by a woman. Her face had begun to mutate, grey-blue moss covering her cheek and forehead, the skin turning into the same color. Danni squeezed off three more shots before his rifle clicked dry. He cursed, glanced towards the others. Everest was hoisting Dinah up effortlessly. “Go!” Danni shouted when Everest turned to him expectedly. “I’m okay.” He slung his rifle back over his shoulder and pulled out his handgun. Blinding red-white fire filled the darkness, illuminating faces that then fell away under the damaging barrage of fire. Once Everest was clear of the lift doors, Danni flung his weapons through them and pulled himself dexterously out of the lift just as several bodies dropped into the elevator. They ran across the large room towards the door when it suddenly opened. Danni stopped as a man stepped through the door, dressed in a white lab coat. Everest was raising a rifle, about to shoot, when the man raised his arms and shouted, “Wait, I’m not infected! I can take you to safety!” Everest put his rifle down, looking at Danni, eyebrows raised. Danni looked over his shoulder. The infected were beginning to pull themselves out of the lift. There was no time to come to a real decision for it had already been made for them. “Lead on,” said Danni. The man nodded and turned through the door he’d just stepped out of. He slammed it shut behind them. “Without a passcode the door has hinges that clamp shut,” he informed them. “They’ll have a hard time getting through it.” “You’re sure?” Dinah demanded in an authoritative voice. “They seem to have no trouble tearing through elevators.” “It will at least buy us time to get to engineering,” said the man; he spoke with a strong accent. “The lab is on the same floor with a reinforced steel door. It’s kept us safe.” Us? He’d said us, Danni thought, which meant there was more than one survivor. Maybe they were in luck after all, though he didn’t dare let himself hope too much. However many survivors there are we’re now just as stuck as they are. The man was looking at him funny through the lenses of his small glasses. He was short, with reddish-blonde hair and almond-shaped blue eyes. A beard covered the lower half of his face. Danni was sure he’d seen him somewhere before but couldn’t think of where - the man had a tattoo of an M on his face, which meant he was a clansman Mureen. Was it possible Danni had glimpsed him. At the moment it didn’t matter. The man turned and led them up the stairs. The muscles in Danni’s legs and back groaned at the prospect of more climbing, but he pressed on. After passing through another door they entered another large room. The diesel smell of oil was strong. Tools lay on metal tables with equipment in various states of disrepair. A middle-aged woman stood expectantly in front of another door, her bright green eyes filled with a mixture of excitement and fear at the sight of the new arrivals. “You’ve come to help us?” she asked, then stopped when she saw the tattoo on Everest’s and Dinah’s face. She looked to the man who had led them to safety. “What in God’s name are Clan Wuxia people doing here, Brantov?” The man shrugged. “For now it is not important, Ulana. It can wait until we have more doors between us and the infected.” He walked at a brisk place, stopping before another hatch - this one was wider and much thicker than the others they had passed through - and quickly typed in a passcode. The woman named Ulana cast the people of Clan Wuxia one last lingering glance of suspicion and malice before following Brantov into the beckoning hallway beyond. Danni and his group followed. The door closed behind them with a heavy droning sound, before hissing with a finality Danni hoped signified safety. The group passed several offices, the interiors dark. Danni was relieved to see there were no splashes of blood or the insidious blue-grey filament that was capable of mutating the infected. At last they stepped into a recreation room complete with two sofas, a round table, kitchen, sink, oven, refrigerator, and counter space. The two sofas had been turned into beds with white blankets draped across the top and pillows resting up against the arm. A large window dominated the wall to their right, showing a clear view of the frozen valley in which the station sat; considering the horrors they’d witnessed since stepping out of the lift on the first floor, the view was quite arresting. The room was comforting in its illusion of domesticity. Despite the dire situation they found themselves in, the man and woman did not look hurt. Though there were dark circles under their eyes, they looked quite clean. The same could not be said for us, Danni thought. He could smell the stink of his own odor and his hair felt oily and itchy from going multiple days without being washed. The sense of relief he’d felt was quickly replaced by anxiety as battle lines were drawn across the middle of the room: the people of Clan Mureen stood on one side closest to the sink, the people of Clan Wuxia on the other. “I think you people have some explaining to do,” said Ulana. “What the fuck are three people from Clan Wuxia doing here? You must have crossed the border, which means you’ve violated the treaty.” Dinah puffed her chest up, looking indignant and self-important. “I am the clan leader of Wuxia...” Ulana cut her off with an acid-green look; her German accent sharpened derisively. “Lady, I don’t really give a shit. I just want to know what you’re doing here.” Shit came out sounding like sheet. Danni chuckled, doing his best to make it sound like a cough. Finally someone beside myself is putting Dinah in her place, he thought. He stopped. Again he noticed Brantov watching him. "Is something wrong?" he asked a bit too harshly. "At first I wasn't sure it was you - or perhaps I just didn't want to believe it - but now I am sure it is you, Danni Aamodt the V." Danni felt a violet streak of alarm pass through him; he knew this man for sure but could not remember how. He flipped through the catalogued pages of his memory but came up blank. Brantov smiled a bit smugly; when he spoke his voice was soft and sure. "You don't recognize me? Don't worry, I won't hold it against you even though you ruined my life - then again, I suppose it's hereditary. Your family is quite good at ruining peoples' lives." Danni could feel the eyes of everyone in the room on him. His mind floundered helplessly, trying to make sense of what was happening here. "Who are you?" he asked, his voice a hoarse croak. Brantov's smile hadn't left his face, but only seemed to grow wider, more crafty. "Still don't remember me? Let me try to jumpstart your memory? It was two - maybe three years ago in Mexico. I was the assistant of Ustin Yegrovich. You and your little ragtag team of miscreants broke into the building, and you shot him right in front of me. I felt his blood splash my face…" Mexico...two years ago...Ustin Yegrovich… These words echoed inside Danni's mind, bouncing off the wall of a cave. He remembered. He remembered. A heavy, hot weight sunk to the bottom of his stomach. He felt his hands clench into fists and his eyes narrow in on Brantov like the scope of a gun. "You son of a bitch," he said. Then he reached for his handgun and aimed it at Brantov's head.
  12. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 25

    I took a deep breath and tried not to think about the time or what I was about to do. So far everything had gone as planned. I had planned the heist - I couldn’t help but think of it as the heist - while my father was away on a business trip in London. He would be gone for a few days, leaving Uncle Charlie in charge of things. Uncle Charlie had left for home an hour ago. Against his wishes I’d insisted on staying a bit later to get ahead on paperwork. He’d smiled at me with something like pride and said, “You may look and act like your mother but you have the work ethics of your father.” Like a bitter seed, his words had taken root in my belly. With each passing minute it grew. I thought about what Cookie had said when Juan took me to see the warehouse, about only being motivated by anger towards my father and getting cold feet. Getting revenge on my father was one thing, but what about Uncle Charlie who had shown me nothing but kindness and love? Who else would this endeavor I had volunteered to undertake effect? It wasn’t too late - I could still back out of this. Fuck what Cookie thought of me. Better yet fuck what Juan thought. These were the things I tried to tell myself. But in the back of my mind I knew there was really no backing away. I had come too far already to turn around now. Just as the heavy weight of guilt was trying to stop me in my tracks, some unnameable force was propelling me forward. I glanced at my watch. I had just a few minutes before the security shift would begin. I grabbed the bag I’d brought with me and unzipped it. Inside were a number of things Juan had given me which I would need to hack into the building’s mainframe. I slid a flesh-colored listening device into my ear so Tinkerbell could walk me through the process. I stuck what TInkerbell simply called “the face scrambler” behind my ear where it wouldn’t be seen and slung the bag over my shoulders. “Tink, can you hear me?” I asked. “Loud and clear,” Tinkerbell’s voice said, so loud and clear it was as if he was actually standing next to me. I found this strangely comforting. “Can you see me?” I asked. “Yes, I can see you. You’re standing in your office. Are you ready?” “I’m scared shitless,” I said, wiping away the sweat from my forehead. “I totally understand.” There was no condescension in Tinkerbell’s voice. “Just think, after this we’ll be out of your life. You’ll never have to worry about seeing us again.” I tried to find something to say in response but couldn’t. With the exception of Cookie who I was starting to think would never come around, I wasn’t sure I wanted Juan and Tinkerbell to leave Roc City. For the first time in my life, despite my initial feelings of guilt and fear of being caught, I felt like I was doing what I was meant to do. Or at least I was doing something worthwhile. And of course there was the vivid memory of the night Juan and I had shared in my room. With the planning of the heist taking up our time we hadn’t been able to share such a moment a second time, but the passion between us was still there, shared in lingering glances. I shook the thought from my head. There was no way our little moment of lustful passion could continue; it had been a mistake on both our parts. It was too perilous. It was time to go. I left the office, nodding politely at the security guard as he passed by. I stepped into the elevator. My body was so stiff it felt as if my insides had turned to wood. It was rumored the building’s mainframe was in the basement, where all the corporation’s important data was kept: receipts for business transactions, files for every employee that had been hired since Danni Aamodt Senior had founded the company; enough information, Juan assured me, to incur a strong investigation into the corporation’s affairs. In order to be able to get into the basement you had to have a keycard and four digit access code. I’d snagged Uncle Charlie’s from his desk and memorized his access code. I slid his card into the slot and typed in the code: 4736. I pressed the button for the basement. The elevator began to make its descent to the bottom of the building. “You doing okay?” Tinkerbell asked, voice crackling with concern in my ear. I jerked with a start. I’d forgotten he was there, listening in. I could picture him sitting before his computers, face illuminated by the soft glow coming from the screens. “I’m in the elevator now, heading for the basement.” “Good. You’re right on time.” I resisted the urge to ask him what Juan and Cookie were doing. Were they listening as well? I would have felt better if they were here with me; they knew what they were doing better than I did. This whole operation seemed to rest on my shoulder. The elevator came to a stop. The doors opened. I almost felt my jaw drop. The room I stood in seemed to cover the whole bottom floor of the building. Before me were rows and columns of drives as tall as I was going back as far as the eye could see. Cool air was filtered into the room through vents. The hum of electricity coming from the harddrives reminded me of a buzzing hive of bees. “I’m in the basement. There’s all these harddrives. This place is huge.” “You’re looking for the main module. It would be in the very back.” I gulped, walking past the harddrives. I spotted several video cameras as I headed towards the back of the building and hoped the device behind my ear was working to conceal my identity. The module was in the very back of the basement just as Tinkerbell said it would be. It reminded me of a large rubix cube; the sides glowed with blue light. Wires the width of my wrist snaked from the cube, connecting to the harddrives. The cube hummed louder than the harddrives like a sovereign industrial god. A few feet away from it was a computer kiosk. “Okay,” I muttered to myself. I slid the backpack off my shoulders and set it firmly on the ground. I pulled out the pad and approached the kiosk. Once the pad was connected to the kiosk via a cord, I said, “Alright Tink, I have the pad connected to the module.” “All you have to do is pull up the files and download them all onto the pad. It should be easy peasy.” Once again I typed in Uncle Charlie’s access code. After a few minutes the process of downloading the files began: a white bar popped up across the screen with the word DOWNLOADING blinking up above it. Beside that: EST. TIME 1 HR 15 MIN. “You have to be fucking kidding me?” I said. “What?” Tink said, sounding nervous. “It says it’s going to take over an hour to download.” “Well if it takes an hour then there’s nothing you can do but wait.” I lifted my hand to slam it into the screen of the kiosk. I caught myself and curled it into a fist at my side instead. “You make it sound so easy, Tink. Right now I’m the one doing all the hard work. If someone comes in and catches me I’m going to be screwed.” Tink sighed heavily. “I know it’s nerve wracking. But you have to remember how much information is on that thing. Centuries worth of data, since Danni Aamodt Sr. found the company. If anyone’s coming I’ll tell you in enough time to get out of there. But for now there’s simply nothing else you can do.” I sighed. Might as well sit down and catch my breath. Fretting wasn’t going to help. I sat down, making sure I was out of sight should someone decide to come down - the chances of this happening, I told myself, were very unlikely; not even the security here had a pass to get in, so what the hell was I freaking out for? The basement was pleasantly cool. Air rattled from the vent above my head, onto the back of my sweaty neck. “Why did you join ELF?” I asked Tink. He laughed shortly. “Because life sucks...the world sucks, and I want to make it better.” “That’s it?” I was unimpressed; I’d hoped there would be more. “What, do you want me to tell you my whole life story?” Tinkerbell said wryly. “I like stories. Besides I’m going to be a sitting duck for the next hour. I need something to make it go by faster.” “Sorry, my life story isn’t that interesting - not like Juan’s. Hollywood needs to make a movie out of his life...” I noted the respect in Tinkerbell’s voice and found myself nodding in agreement even though he couldn’t see my face. “You’re part of an eco-terrorist group. Something had to inspire you to join the cause.” “I didn’t grow up as an orphan if that’s what you mean.” Tinkerbell was chomping on something, making the device in my ear pop and crackle. “In fact my life was pretty typical. I was the stereotypical nerd the jocks used to make fun of and the girls didn’t want. Sure, high school was traumatizing but I got through it unscathed...mostly. I never would have joined ELF if it wasn’t for Juan.” “You mean he recruited you?” I asked, feeling jealous. “Yes, same as you.” I felt my lips curl into a smile. I was willing to bet our orientation into joining ELF’s mission had gone completely different. “Did he shock you with a taser and then tie your arms to the bedpost afterwards?” “Uh, oh...That must have been very awkward.” “I actually liked it.” Twink made an exaggerated gagging sound. “Okay, bro, that’s just gross...way too much information. Don’t think I have an issue with gay people because I don’t...I’m just going to shut up now.” An hour later the pad made a sound indicating the download process had finished. I got to my feet slowly, sore after so long of sitting on the hard tiled floor. I slid the data pad and other equipment back into the bag. Once outside I allowed myself a moment to breathe a sigh of relief. For the first time today it didn’t feel like my chest was trying to collapse onto itself. Juan and Cookie were waiting for me across the street, the same spot where Juan and I had done our stakeout. I climbed into the backseat, feeling a euphoric sense of accomplishment. The heist had been easier than I expected. Far too easy. “Did you get it?” Juan asked, glancing at me through the back seat. “I did.” I managed to keep my face straight. I handed Cookie the bag. “Everything’s in there.” The look of surprise on Cookie’s face made all of today’s trouble worth it. … The hush in the warehouse only made the uneasiness I felt more pronounced. What if I hadn’t succeeded? What if the downloading process had gone wrong? I wasn’t the only one feeling the pressure: Tink kept wiping beads of sweat from his forehead. “Okay,” he said, hooking the data pad up to the CPU. “Let’s see what we have here.” He pulled up a window with thousands of files; he scrolled down endlessly for several minutes. He sighed, swivelled in his chair around to face Juan. “I think it’s safe to say this is everything we need.” Juan, who had had his arms crossed the whole time, put them down at his side. I watched the tension in his forehead ease, like watching a hill turn into flatland. “This is a lot of fucking information,” he said. “Too much. It would take us months just to go through it all.” “We don’t have months,” said Cookie. “At least not here. We’ve already taken enough risks as it is. But...” she looked at me with a small smile, “I would say some of those risks were worth it.” “What are you going to do with the data?” I asked. “Upload it for everyone to see,” Juan said. “Everyone will be able to access it...and then what they do with the information is up to them.” “That’s it?” I said skeptically. “As much as the public might like people to think, we’re not guerillas,” said Cookie. “Our main tactic is to air out the dirty laundry of companies we think are corrupt. Companies who work on projects like the one we saw at the warehouse in Tootulu and the bigger corporations who fund them like Aamodt Corporation. The thing is Aamodt Corporation just so happens to be the biggest of them all. Our organization’s hope is if we take your father’s company down then they all fall down. They like to present themselves as being this philanthropist corporation when really they have a lot of bullshit they keep locked away in the shadows. What would happen if we told people the truth?” “So you’re giving people a choice?” “Yes,” Juan said, not without a touch of pride. “If we didn’t, if we just made decisions for people, then how would we be any better than the people we’re up against, who censor the undesirable bits?” It made a lot of sense; it reinforced my decision to help them. I only hoped they were telling the truth. I nodded. “Okay.” Juan turned back to Tink to give an instruction when the lights went out, engulfing us in darkness. It was so sudden it took my mind a few seconds to register what had happened. I was blind; the blackness was so thick I couldn’t even see my hands in front of my face. “What happened?” Juan’s voice, coming from somewhere to my right when he had been on my left just a second ago, sounded calm and authoritative but I could feel the tension in him. In all of them. The warehouse stunk with the smell of fear. “The power’s gone out,” said Cookie. “No shit!” Juan snapped impatiently. “But why?” “Don’t piss your pants just yet,” Tinkerbell said. I think he was the calmest of us all. “The backup generator should be coming on any minute.” Sure enough several flood lights came on with heavy clicks. I blinked against the sting in my eyes. Tinkerbell was still seated in front of the computers; Cookie stood over by the weapons rack: and Juan stood near the front of the warehouse, near the door. The next thing I knew I was running towards Juan, telling him to get away from the door. I didn’t know how, but I knew something bad was getting ready to happen. It was like the feeling I’d had when being followed by the two men in the alley several years ago only much more powerful and immediate. “Get away from the door!” I grabbed a hold of him just as the door exploded outward, flying towards us. The shockwave from the explosion sent us flying towards the ground. If it weren’t for pure luck the edge of the door would have decapitated the both of us. We fell to the floor in a tangle of limbs. I managed to rise on my hands and knees. My body hurt in a thousand places. Alarm bells were going off in my ears. I looked over my shoulder. Cans of teargas were being thrown across the floor. Dark figures dressed in metal black armor were marching into the warehouse like wraiths through the noxious green fumes. Cookie and Tinkerbell crouched behind a wall. One of the soldiers aimed the muzzle of their assault rifle in Cookie’s and Tinkerbell’s direction. I had just enough time to throw myself over Juan, who had been in the process of standing up, before the cacophonous rattle of machine gun fire erupted. The wall where Cookie and Tink had been standing disintegrated like wet sand. Motes of plaster drifted through the chaos. I grabbed Juan’s arm and yanked him to his feet. Cookie’s white face appeared briefly. She threw something through the air - a grenade. Less than two seconds later there was a blinding flash of light. Several of the men fell back, disoriented by the flash. It bought the four of us enough time to run through the back door. Things were happening so fast there was no time to think. Adrenaline pumped through my body. I darted after Juan and the others, my feet leaving prints in clumps of soft, wet soil. I was vaguely aware of the thrup-thrup-thrup of helicopter blades. I was so consumed with running I wasn’t aware Juan and the others were hiding behind a rusty overturned truck until Juan grabbed my arm and yanked me into its shadow. He looked at me, eyes wide with fear and suspicion - suspicion towards me. “You knew,” he said, voice tight; his fingers dug into the flesh of my arm. I could barely hear his voice over the racket happening around us, but I didn’t need to. His emotions dug into me like sharp spikes, drawing blood. “How the fuck did you know? Did you sell us out?” Before I could answer Cookie shouted for us to move it. Cookie led the way to a battered pickup truck. Tinkerbell jumped in the passenger’s seat, Juan and I in the back. Cookie grabbed the keys from the visor above her head. A second later the engine sputtered into life; she slammed on the gas pedal and the truck jerked forward hard enough to throw me back against the seat. There were lights and the sounds of sirens everywhere. It was all very disorienting. Twisting the steering wheel frantically, Cookie brought the truck around. No sooner were we zooming down the street, I felt cold metal press against the temple of my head. A gun. Juan was pressing a gun to my head. “You sold us out,” he spat. Flecks of spit hit my face. “No, Juan,” I said, wondering how my life had turned into such a nightmare. “I didn’t - ” Before I could answer I felt the gun crash into the side of my skull. Then everything stopped.
  13. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 57

    Thank you. There is a sort of prequel called A Different World. Some things have been retconned. I will be doing a rewrite in the future, but if you are interested, feel free to give it a look.
  14. ValentineDavis21

    Kill Code

    They journeyed north, past the mountains, where the land became jagged with sharp edged seracs and pressure ridges. The spiked wheels that had been added for the truck's long voyage, which according to Everest could take up to three days, kept the tires from slipping and skidding on the ice. "Clan Mureen's territory is two hundred miles in the opposite direction of the Pavilion. It will be a difficult journey. We'll have to stop during the night to let the engine cool off," Everest explained. Danni said nothing, hoping the wariness he felt at this information didn't show on his face; while he knew the mission they were taking would be exhausting and perilous, he was not especially looking forward to sleeping in the cold like this. The truck crawled past thick patches of ice; Everest drove at a careful forty miles an hour. Danni sat in the middle of the cabin, sandwiched between Everest and Dinah, who stared out the window, staring at something only she could see in her mind's eye. Her emotions were as grey and stormy as the sky above them, a mixture of anxiety and self-loathing; Danni knew she hated herself for how she’d treated Natalia. He felt little sympathy towards her. Between her and Everest and his own emotions, the inside of the truck felt smothering. And there was nothing except for the occasional sip of bootie Everest companionably passed between the three of them to help distract Danni. Several times Danni slipped unaware into something vaguely like sleep, only to be jolted awake when the truck shuddered. Images would develop deep in his mind, the beginning of a dream starting to form, only to disperse like wispy clouds of smoke when he opened his eyes. After the third time this happened, he ground his teeth together, biting back his frustration. Between the heat emanating from the rattling heater and the smothering atmosphere within the cabin, he felt as if he was suffocating. He yearned to step outside into the cold, even if it was just for a minute. Smoke had begun to rise from underneath the dented, scratched hood of the truck. By this time darkness had fallen, silver shafts from the three moons, reflecting off the expanse of black ice. Everest slowed the truck to the stop. "I guess we're stopping for the night. Will you grab the tent out from the back of the truck while I check the engine?" Of course Dinah gets to sleep in the more comfortable confines of the truck, Danni thought bitterly. Still he nodded, following Everest out into the cold. He reached into the back of the truck and pulled out a duffel bag. He took a moment to look at the sky where stars glimmered like specks of diamond. It doesn't matter what planet you're on, Danni thought, his breath pluming out in drifts of smoke, the stars look the same. He felt a small sense of comfort at this. He walked several feet away from the truck and began setting up the tent, digging the pegs into the snow. Everest's shadowy outline looked like a wraith illuminated by the rays of the headlights. It took several minutes for Danni to get the tent erected. Despite the boots and the multiple pairs of socks he wore, Danni's feet were numb and his teeth chattered together. At first the cold had felt refreshing after hours of being in the stuffy cabin of the truck but now it felt his blood had frozen in his veins. Twice he threw a resentful look at Everest; he knew Everest was worried about the engine - the vehicles on Planet Redemption were over a hundred years old - but they could get the tents up faster if they both worked on it. You're just tired, he told himself. Tired and cold. You'll feel better when you warm up and get some sleep. He stretched blankets and sleeping bags across the bottom of the tent. He didn't know if it would provide extra warmth but at least it would give some more cushion against the solid ice. He dug out two battery-powered space heaters and set them on the edge of the tent. Danni was curled up in the sleeping bag fully clothed when Everest unzipped the flap and ducked into the tent. A draft of cold air blew in brushing against Danni's face. Once more Everest's shadow loomed against the tent wall, darkening one half while the other was bathed in the warmth and glow of the space heaters, their coils glowing with neon orange heat. "You did good setting up the tent," Everest said as he settled into his sleeping bag on Danni's left. "It's a wonder," Danni said in a voice thick with exhaustion; he could feel the fingers of sleep pulling urgently at him. "My fingers were shaking so bad. Good night, Everest." "Good night Danni." Danni closed his eyes and began to dream. He dreamed of a monster that looked like a man but wasn't. Breathing appendages burst from the man's stomach in a shower of blood and torn flesh, writhing with a menacing, alien life of its own. He saw splatters of crimson on white walls and tiled floors, saw the corpse of a young woman barely more than a girl. He stood on a planet made of ice, amongst towering seracs and glaciers, and heard the deafening pulse of something beating beneath the ice like a heart. "There are dead things beneath the ice," Adwele’s voice said warningly from the sky, bringing with it the crack of lighting, which struck the ground around him, splitting the ice apart as if opening a chest plate to reveal the beating organ within. "They've been dead for centuries, millenia; they've been dead long before we came here, long before we were even born, before our planet even existed. But they will thaw, they will awaken, and if they do they will engulf every living thing in the universe and turn it into something monstrous. You must not go any further." Within the hole that had opened up, Danni could see the alien city, perfectly preserved beneath the ice. The buildings were truly extraterrestrial in design. Some of them were tall and towering while others were smaller, made with a mixture of bone, biomaterial, and metal; it made Danni think he was in a nightmarish H.R. Giger painting. This is what exists beneath the ice? he thought, pinned beneath the weight of nightmare terror. It can't be undug, it needs to be destroyed or at least left untouched. But deep in his soul he knew this wouldn't happen: it was the nature of the human race to flirt with its own self destruction. … The next day was the same as the last. They traveled for most of the day until darkness fell; then Everest stopped the truck to check the engine while Danni worked on setting up the tent. It wasn't completely dark however; tonight they camped underneath the dancing lights of the Aurora Borealis. To Danny, who knew of the phenomenon, it recalled quite suddenly the night in which Juan had shown him the warehouse - how he had slipped through a netherworld of light and shadow, how the notion had filled him with terror. He had the same thought now, only this time it was true: he truly was in another world. To him the lights looked like spirits, having decided to visit the world of the living for one night; maybe in some cultures this was exactly what the phenomenon was about. It was beautiful to look upon and rather benign; he thought he spotted the pale glimmer of Dinah's face watching from the warm refuge of the truck through the windshield. "Beautiful isn't it?" Everest said from beside him. Danni had been so lost in thought he hadn't even sensed the man's movement. "Yes it is," Danni said after a moment. "Probably the only beautiful thing on this planet." "Not the only beautiful thing," Everest said with a glimmer in his eyes. Danni smiled, hoping it was dark enough Everest couldn't see the heat that rose to his chapped cheeks. To change the subject, he asked, "Why are the colonists on this planet split into three clans?" "To reduce the bloodshed. When the first colonists came here it was survival of the fittest. The people raped and murdered each other for food, supplies, the things needed to survive despite the fact there was enough to go around." The chuckle coming from Everest's throat sounded like marbles rolling around the inside of a jar. "So someone came up with the bright idea to split into three colonies...and while it may have created a tenuous sort of peace there's an animosity between the clans that has existed for the last three generations?" Danni's voice was edged with bemusement. "Hmmm" Everest nodded in confirmation. "Human behavior doesn't change no matter what planet you put them on," Danni said with derision. He looked at Everest, his hair appearing silver rather than gold in the moonlight. "Earth is dying because of human nature. Have you heard of global warming?" Everest shook his head. "Let's go inside the tent and I'll tell you all about it. If I stay out here any longer my blood will turn to ice." Inside the warmth of the tent, Danni explained the causes and consequences of global warming: the burning of the ozone layer due to pollution; the extinction of wild animals; the burning of the Amazon jungle and wildfire. Everest listened intently without asking questions. "The terrorist group I joined, I used to think they were just criminals like everyone else, using extreme methods to create chaos," Danni said, clearing his throat. "They were trying to save the planet while it could still be saved; they recognized how primitive the human race is, how selfish. I joined because I was miserable with my life and because I wanted to escape it. Being here, on this planet, with what we're about to do, brings it all back into focus." "Are you saying we're primitive?" There might have been a slight, almost imperceptible curve to Everest's mouth. "Yes," Danni answered without hesitation. Silence stretched between them yet the conversation had not yet stopped; something passed between them via eye contact - what it was Danni could not say. "You haven't gotten your tattoo yet," Everest said. "There hasn't been time. Besides what difference does it make? So what if I'm a member of Clan Wuxia or Lukas or Mureen? I'm here to serve a life sentence just like everyone else." Everest chuckled. "What?" Danni said, surprised, curious, and nervous all at once. "Nothing...it's just I've never heard anyone talk the way you talk. I was there when you were delivered. I knew when it turned out you were the only one they'd transported there was something different about you...that you were going to be trouble." This time Everest laughed, not unkindly. He stopped, looking at Danni intently. "I don't think I'd seen anyone look more beautiful than when they pulled you out of the chamber." Danni knew, suddenly, how bad Everest wanted to fuck him in that moment; and Danni knew he wanted it too, just as much if not more. They crossed the tent towards each other, having to crawl. Even with the padding beneath their knees the ground still felt hard and uneven - as long as they sat on the sleeping bags the tent was quite comfortable and warm thanks to the space heater. Their bodies were outlined in shadow and the glow from the heaters. Even while on his knees, Everest towered over Danni. He had to lean down to be able to kiss him. This time they kissed without the hesitation or awkwardness of the first time. Everest cupped Danni’s face, his hands calloused and warm. Danni stripped off his jacket and then his sweater. His eyes were reduced to half slits; though he moved intently, there was a dreamy look on his face. Once they were both undressed, Everest scooped Danni easily up into his arms and stretched out across the tent with Danni straddled across his lap. He was amazed at the lightness of the other man. Danni’s lips traveled from his mouth, down his neck, drifting hungrily towards Everest’s chest. A fiery need burned in his chest, burning him, eradicating all self control. Danni’s sexual prowess had always been at odds with his more reserved nature. Perhaps this was because the feelings of pleasure from the other person could be as elevating and addicting as any drug. He could feel Everest’s pleasure now, a neon mixture of blue and green. The spicy man-smell of his sweat and dark salted with grey chest hair only aroused Danni more. He felt Everest’s nipples pucker and harden beneath his lips. The deep, raspy grunts coming from the man’s throat, punctuated by the occasional “Fuck”, reminded Danni of the pleasurable sensation of being in control; at the moment he was the one with the power. At last he lowered his mouth to Everest’s hardened, engorged cock and teased the crown of the head, which poked out from its sheath of foreskin, with the tip of his tongue. Everest’s response was intoxicating: he dropped his head back against the sleeping bag, groaning again as if he was being tortured with pleasure. His powerful back arched . His fingers became entangled in Danni’s hair, traveling with the up and down bob of Danni’s head. This time Danni did not object to being touched. He could feel himself edging towards orgasm. He sat up and gently lifted Danni’s head to kiss him once more before gesturing for Danni to lay on his back. Danni found himself looking up at the ceiling of the tent; he could still see the lights of the Aurora Borealis glimmering above the tent’s roof through the canvas. He felt as though he were floating, his soul untethered from his body, free to soar away. His legs rested on Everest’s broad shoulders while Everest serviced him with his tongue. Danni’s fingers scratched lightly at the sleeping bag beneath his back. He closed his eyes, body racked by sensations so pleasurable he couldn’t bear it. “Fuck me,” he said, his voice light and whispery. “I want you to fuck me.” Everest made a “Hmmm” sound that might have been confirmation. He lifted his head, sitting straighter with Danni’s legs still placed on his shoulders. Everest ran a large hand along the length of Danni’s body, from chest to hips, feeling the smoothe milkiness of his flesh. He felt the visible notch of each rib. His body was so graceful, hardened only slightly by cords of compact muscle. “You’re beautiful,” Everest said. He slipped two fingers inside Danni’s mouth, wetting them with Danni’s spit, then began to stroke his cock, wetting it. “Are you ready?” Everest asked. “Yes,” said Danni. Danni sucked in a breath as Everest began to push into him. It had been a long time, longer than he could remember, since he’d been entered like this. He was as tight as he had been the very first time. Everest continued to push until he was all the way in; his eyes never left Danni’s face, as if he was trying to capture it forever. Everest shifted once more so he was now laying on top of Danni, his face hovering only inches away. It was everything he could do to keep his self-control, to keep from fucking Danni fast and hard. He eased in and out of Danni. They kissed, their tongues entangled together, glistening with saliva. Their bodies were slick with sweat. Danni uttered a gasping sound. The sound seemed to reverberate through Everest like vibrations traveling down a tube. He almost let go then and there - only an indomitable will and temporary control over his body stopped him. He wanted to hold on, to savor this moment for as long as he could. This could be the only time I get to experience this, he thought. Danni, eyes still closed, clung to Everest, wrapped his legs around the man’s waist so they were one. He loved the heavy weight of Everest’s body pressing against his, pressing him against the ground. He jerked himself off, lips pressed together to form a straight line. When he came, spurting his juice against his own stomach, Everest came with him in almost perfect synchronization. Everest rested on top of Danni, chest heaving like a bull who has spent the last of its energy. Danni could feel his hot breath on his skin. At last, as if just now remembering Danni’s existence, Everest pulled out and collapsed into the spot next to him. They exchanged looks. Danni could sense Everest trying to gauge his emotions. “What are you thinking?” Everest asked. “Nothing,” Danni said. “For once I’m not thinking anything. How about you?” He smiled. “Was it everything you thought it’d be or did I disappoint?” Everest reached over and gripped Danni’s face in his fingers. He tilted his head and kissed him. “You didn’t disappoint.” “Good.” Danni’s heart continued to flutter with butterflies. “We better get to sleep. We have a big day ahead of us.” He woke up at sunrise the next morning, sweating and pleasantly warm. He turned to find Everest looking at him. “How long have you been watching me sleep?” he asked. “About an hour.” Danni scoffed. “You’re not falling in love with me are you?” He meant it as a joke but after he said it he frowned, wondering. What was this going on between them? Was it two men who were attracted to each other just having sex togther or could it be something more? “You said it yourself, we could be heading towards the point of no return,” said Everest. “I want to enjoy myself while I can.” “Well...” Danni arched a blonde eyebrow teasingly. “We could go another round?” … With half a day’s daylight to spare, they passed the border between Wuxia and Mureen territory; the border was marked by a beacon, a pole with a glowing red tip. Danni could sense the fear within Everest, a tense, maddening silence thick as smoke. What made it worse was he didn’t know what to expect - and neither did Everest. Up until now the treaty had never been violated. “How will they know someone from another clan has crossed over their border?” he asked his two fellow Wuxia members. “We’ll know when they’re in sight of us, when it’s too late,” Dinah answered without glancing away from the window. Danni did not like the sound of this. For the first time he realized how truly out of depth they were - particularly himself. He’d only been on the planet for a few months. He was still trying to figure out the working of things. There were some things about the people of Planet Redemption that made sense to him, like the lack of weapons, and other things that didn’t, like the separation of clans and colonies. Surely they were all in the same fight to survive this harsh planet as best they could. He recalled what Everest had told him in the tent last night: When the first colonists came here it was survival of the fittest. The people raped and murdered each other for food, supplies, the things needed to survive despite the fact there was enough to go around. The peace treaty was meant to reduce this but to Danni it just seemed tribal; it made the people of Planet Redemption look all the more primitive. Everest had been driving for a few hours when they began to make a rise over a large hill. The squire kept looking at a small slightly clunky looking machine that kept track of coordinates. “We should be getting close,” he told Danni and Dinah. Danni closed his eyes, forcing himself to stay calm. The hill kept rising. He felt as if at any moment he might plummet through the air, suspended only by gravity. At last they reached the top of the hill, looking over a large valley pocked with pressure ridges and seracs. In the center of it was the research station Adwele had mentioned. By Planet Redemption’s standards it was an impressive sight. Towering, it appeared to be embedded in the ice, a column of steel and glass; the side of the station hugged the wall of ice and rock behind it, clinging to it like a tick. Solar panels reflected the sun from the top of the building. Trucks, bulldozers, and drills were scattered around the station, half buried in snow like submerged gravestones. There wasn’t a person in sight. Except for the fluttering of blue tarps flung over supply caches as if trying to preserve the dignity of dead bodies, nothing moved. Danni half expected for people to come running out of the station, armed with weapons, either demanding to know what people from Clan Wuxia were doing in their territory - or maybe they wouldn’t start asking, but would simply start shooting, riddling the truck with gunfire. But no one came. Everest looked to Dinah questioningly. She nodded once and they began to descend into the valley. Danni gripped the dashboard, littered with discarded wrappers of oat bars and bunched up cigarette butts - Dinah’s mess. The truck lurched forward. Unlike Everest and Dinah, Danni didn’t have a seat belt to keep him from flying forward should the truck lose its traction on the hill. He could all too easily imagine himself crashing against the windshield as the truck plummeted towards the ground. They made it safely to the bottom of the hill. Danni wasn’t ready to breathe a sigh of relief yet. He felt a sense of foreboding curling in his stomach like a frightened animal. He knew somewhere beneath the station, beneath the ice, was the alien city he’d dreamed of. Being close to it brought it back to him: the ground splitting open to reveal the extraterrestrial structures, preserved by the ice, Adwele’s voice warning him from the sky as if from beyond the grave. With a screech of brakes, Everest brought the truck to a stop. The truck engine idled a bit before dying. The wind moaned. Danni’s heart trembled in his breast. His eyes stared at the research station with a superstitious caution. No one in the truck seemed willing to get out. Dinah was the first to take the initiative. She slowly opened the door and got out, gripping the handrails of the truck to keep from slipping. The steps beneath her were slick with ice. The multiple pairs of gloves she wore protected her hands from sticking to the metal. Danni watched her look around, eyes squinted against the sun. For the moment the gloomy skies had retreated. “I think it’s safe,” she said. Everest got out of the truck. Danni reluctantly followed him. He would feel better when he was able to get his hands on a weapon. Everest handed him a rifle. Danni checked the clip to make sure it was loaded; while the gun was older than what he was used to using, he was familiar enough with it to know what to do. He slid a 9.mm pistol into the holster belted to his pants with several clips and magazines of ammo. It had taken all of his considerable negotiation skills to be able to talk Rowe into giving him what he needed for the trip. Danni had a feeling they were going to need it all. He grabbed another pistol from the duffel bag and handed it to Dinah. Her eyes widened in surprise; her reaction would have amused Danni under different circumstances. “Just in case,” he said. “I hope you know how to defend yourself if we get into trouble because I’ll be damned if I’m going to risk my life for you.” He mostly said this just to piss her off. It seemed to work. She clenched her jaw as if biting back a nasty reply, but took the gun, sliding it through the loop of her belt. “Are we ready yet?” she snapped impatiently at Everest. He was in the process of sliding several shells into his shotgun. “Eager to get us killed?” Danni muttered casually out of the corner of his mouth, rewarding himself with another blue-eyed glare from Dinah. Now that they had their gear they began walking across the valley towards the station. Snow and bits of gravel crunched and churned beneath their boots. It was impossible to move quietly. Danni ground his teeth together, his muscles tensed. What if there were infected people inside the building and they heard the approaching party? The remoteness of the area around them was more nerve wracking than anything. If something were to try and attack them though he could at least shoot it down with a salvo of bullets. Dinah looked at him. “Do you sense anything?” He stopped, looking at her impatiently. “Why would I sense anything?” She scowled. “You’re psychic are you not?” Danni entertained the fantasy of shooting out her legs. “Right now I’m sensing all kinds of things. We’re standing on top of a city extraterrestrial in origin, remember? There’s nothing good about this place. You wanted to check this place out, remember? Keep your eyes open.” They reached a pair of thick metal doors at the front of the entrance. There was a keypad next to it. The doors looked sealed tight. Everest looked at the keypad. “It looks like we need a four digit passcode to get in. The doors look like they’re not coming open without it.” Dinah cursed under her breath. Danni, feeling encouraged, had to keep from smirking. If the doors weren’t coming upen, it could only be a good thing. It meant whatever was inside couldn’t get out. “We should leave,” he said. “We didn’t come all this way just to turn around,” Dinah spat at him. “There has to be a way in.” “Have you always been this fucking stupid?” Danni asked her. “Or are you just so determined to get what you want, everyone else can get fucked? If whatever’s in there gets out - and we still don’t know what’s in there - it could spread through the whole planet and kill everyone.” “I agree,” Everest said to Danni’s surprise. Dinah turned her fury on her squire. “Oh, you’re on his side now are you? Was he that good of a fuck?” Everest's shoulders straightened; his face went scarlet with rage. Danni had seen the look on the man’s face before and knew it didn’t bode well for the recipient. Forcing himself to take a deep breath, he stepped in between Everest and Dinah. “We shouldn’t be fighting like this,” he said looking between the two. “Adwele said there could be survivors in there. And just as much as we need to keep the infected from getting out we need to see what’s going on. It needs to be dealt with.” Everest’s shoulders relaxed; he made a snorting sound not unlike a bull. “You’re right,” Dinah agreed after a moment. “Now is not the time. Danni, I thought you were trained how to hack through firewalls and other security measures.” “A little bit,” Danni said without much enthusiasm. “I can give it a try.” Danni pulled the knife from the sheath attached to his belt. There was a metal panel screwed into the wall a few feet away from the keypad. Using the blade of the knife, he worked at the screws with nimble fingers. With both hands, he removed the panel and set it on the ground. He scanned the nest of wires inside. What a mess, he thought. He reached cautiously into the panel, pawing at the wires. Let’s see if the magician still knows his tricks, he thought. For the next five minutes he played with the wires, cutting, disconnecting and reconnecting. In the back of his mind he hoped he wouldn’t be able to fix it. To his surprise there was a beeping sound from the keypad, followed by the clanking sound of moving gears, then the double doors slid open to reveal a lift inside. “I knew you could do it,” said Dinah. “Ladies first.” Danni smiled galiantly, nodding towards the lift. The lift looked uninviting to say the least. The walls and ceiling were splattered with blood. The lights flickered on and off. The nightmare ride to hell, Danni thought. He wrinkled his nose at the meaty, coppery smell inside the lift. He took a deep breath to keep the bile from rising up his throat. After everything I’ve been through over the past few years you’d think I would be used to the smell of blood by now - but there is no getting used to it. He frowned at the buttons. “What is it?” Everest asked. “There's a two floors beneath this one,” said Danni. "They go underground." And I think I know what they lead to, he added silently. Everest caught his meaning. "I don't want to go down there - however curious I might be I don't want to see it." Like a cluster of clouds clearing to let the sun through, Danni's face flattened with relief. "Neither do I. So we're going up." “Just press the damned button will you!” Dinah snapped. Her face had turned a pale shade of green. “I don’t want to be on this fucking lift anymore than I have to!” Danni pressed the button labeled with an UP arrow. Danni caught a glimpse of the truck they’d arrived in before the lift doors slid shut. He wondered if they would make it back to the truck or if they would fall prey to the tragedy that had occurred here. The elevator lift gave a sudden jolt that reverberated through the floor, and then they were ascending. The fear Danni felt left a metallic taste in his mouth. The walls buzzed with an invisible energy, strong as a static charge, left behind like an ugly stain. He knew if he touched the wall he would see exactly what had happened here. But I don’t want to see. I don’t want to know - not really. The lift gave one final rattling shake before coming to a complete stop. The doors slid open.
  15. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 23

    Calvin sat across from Steig Evreux, the tip of his tongue sticking out from the corner of his mouth, in an expression of the deepest concentration. He was fully convinced the bastard who thought of Chess meant it to be a mental torture device rather than a game of fun. Yet Steig insisted he learn to play, stating it was good for the mind; and so for the last two days they'd played back and forth, one game after another. And every time Steig beat him. It seemed the old man was about to beat him yet again. Calvin could see it now; he was surrounded. Steig could finish Calvin off with his queen or pawn. Calvin had lost his queen half a dozen moves ago. The only reason why he hadn't given up yet was due to stubborness and the fear of humiliation. To Steig's credit the old man seemed to have an endless amount of patience. Not once over the past few days had he ridiculed Calvin, who was not used to this sort of treatment; everyone lost their patience with him sooner or later and labeled him a lost cause. After nearly two minutes of blandly staring at the board, Calvin sighed heavily, and said in a subdued voice, "You win...again." Steig smiled in that patient unpatronizing way of his. "Don't just give in. Even if you know you're going to lose and the game is over, it is best to see it through - even if it's just to say it's finished." "Alright," Calvin said grudgingly. What the hell, he thought to himself, it's only a game. He gripped the wooden Chess piece between his thumb and index finger, just beneath the crown. Lines had been indented into the wood like wrinkles on an aged face; once upon a time, maybe a century or two ago, this piece and all the other pieces had been polished and smooth with newness. "This particular Chess board has been in my family for four generations," Steig had informed Calvin fondly as he lifted the faded, slightly dusty lid from the box and set it down on the table. "It was given to my father, Martin, by his father. For the first time, with a feeling of warmth and affection towards the old man, Calvin realized Steig had shared something quite special. Something a grandparent or parent would share with a child. He set the king down on the next white spot. Eyes twinkling behind the lenses of his glasses, Steig took his queen and gently knocked Calvin's king over. "Checkmate," Steig said. Calvin stretched, making the chair he sat in creak. The game was finally over. Though it had gone quickly it seemed to last forever. Having seen the look on the younger man's face, Steig said, "Do not fret over it. Chess is a complicated game that has been around since the sixth century. I'd tell you the history if I didn't think it would bore you to death. It took Everest forever to learn and even then he never got truly good at it. My son has never had the patience for such things." As if the mere mention of his name had summoned him, the door opened and Everest stepped in followed by a second man. Calvin sat rigid in his chair, frozen as he watched Everest stoop over his father and hug him. "Sorry I was gone for so long," Everest said quickly to his father, glancing at Calvin distractedly. "I tried to get back before the blizzard hit but it was too late. We ended up having to take shelter in the clinic until it passed." "I'm fine," Steig said, cheeks coloring with embarrassment. "I've had Calvin here to keep me company. Poor lad got lost in the blizzard and was just fortunate enough to find himself outside my door." "Calvin?" said a familiar voice. Calvin looked at the second man and realized it was Danni. Calvin had been so focused on Everest he hadn't realized the man who had come into the apartment was Danni. With a full length blonde beard, tinged with red, Danni was almost unrecognizable. He was further surprised when Danni heaved him to his feet and seized him in a hug. "I was worried about you," Danni said, voice soft with relief. "Are you okay?" "I'm fine." Calvin said as he patted Danni on the back. He managed to wiggle out of his friend's embrace. "Where the hell have you been?" Danni and Everest exchanged strange, knowing looks across the table. Something had happened to them while they were gone, Calvin realized, and judging from the way Danni's shoulders bunched up and his fingers curled into fists it hadn't been good. "It's a long story," said Danni. "I'm starting to wonder if you were attacked by the same thing I was," Calvin said before he could stop himself. He felt as if his Adam's apple had grown to twice its normal size. Danni's eyes shot to his, wide and startled. "Attacked?" Steig turned his gaze from Everest to Calvin while his son was watching Danni closely. The room had grown uncomfortably tense. "You didn't tell me anything about being attacked. You said you were lost in the snow." Calvin smiled apologetically. "I left that part out. I didn't think you'd believe me." Even now he wasn't quite sure what to believe; the man who had attacked him hadn't just been raving mad. He looked at Danni. "It was one of the men from the crash sites. I was walking home when he attacked me." As he spoke Calvin remembered crawling underneath the building, burrowing his way through the snow like a frightened insect. It was a memory he didn't want to recall. Danni nodded grimly. "It seems we have some catching up to do." "I'll put on some tea," Everest said, gesturing for Danni to pull up a chair. Calvin watched the two of them; something had changed between them since they'd left the Pavilion on Delivery four nights ago. Before they had been enemies but now something was different. Whatever had happened at the clinic had brought them closer. Were they friends now? The thought made Calvin's teeth grind together. He didn't care what Steig said about his son, Calvin couldn't let Everest's prior association with Mikael go. While Everest stood at the stove making tea, Danni explained what had happened, starting with when Everest and he had gone back to the site of the accident. "The two bodies were gone," he said. Calvin shuttered but said nothing. In his mind he was wondering what time he'd been attacked. Had Danni already been on his way back to the colony by then? Danni continued, going over what Adwele had told him. "Something underneath the ice?" Steig's bushy eyebrows were drawn together. "Did he say what it was?" Danni shook his head slowly, holding a large steaming mug of tea in his hands. The solemn, distant look on his face only reminded Calvin of how he himself was feeling: Everything had a surreal quality to it, as if everyone in the room was still perhaps asleep, only they were all sharing the same lucid dream. Correction, the same lucid nightmare. "He was talking so fast and the infection had spread through him to the point I think his mind was in the severe stages of degradation. So I touched him...and what I felt was completely alien. Extraterrestrial. Whatever Adwele and his people at the mining station found, I think it's extraterrestrial in origin." There was a long space of awkward silence in which none of the four men in the room said anything. Calvin wondered if they were all thinking the same thing with the exception of Steig who knew nothing of their experiences except what he was hearing. Only Danni had been brave enough to say it aloud. "I suppose it's possible," Steig said doubtfully. "But the first colonists settled down on this planet almost two centuries ago. Why are we only discovering something now, after all this time?" "I agree," Danni said, puzzled. "When you say it like that, it sounds logical. When Aamodt Corporation surveyed this planet you'd think something would have to come up on the sensors. But what Everest, Calvin, and I encountered was anything but human. You would have had to be there and see it for yourself to know what I'm talking about." Oddly enough Calvin found himself, along with Everest, nodding in agreement. "What happened with Adwele?" Steig asked, giving Danni a long, considering look. A dark expression crossed Danni's face. "I killed him. I tried to do it as painlessly and quickly as possible by injecting air bubbles into his bloodstream: An embolism." Almost two hours later Calvin and Danni left Steig's, stepping out into the grimy air. Though temperatures had risen and the sun was out, there was no such thing as natural warmth on Planet Redemption. In his mind, Calvin replayed the long, meaningful looks Danni and Everest had exchanged. Calvin would have chalked it up to paranoia on his own part if it hadn't happened multiple times; even Steig had noticed. No matter how he tried, Calvin couldn't shake the sense of anger and betrayal he felt. "So are you and Everest friends now?" Though Calvin had tried to keep his voice sounding friendly and conversational, it shook with barely suppressed rage and accusation. They were wading slowly through the snow, heading back in the direction of Danni's apartment. A rare beam of slanting sunlight hit his face, making his blue eyes gleam through his long golden eyelashes. Even now, when Calvin was so angry he felt he could hit Danni, his friend looked beautiful. Perhaps this was part of why Calvin was so angry with him. Jealousy. "Yes, I suppose we are," Danni said slowly. "So while I was crawling underneath a building to keep from getting mauled, and nearly freezing to death, you were getting chummy with the friend of the men who raped me?" Calvin's words came out in a viscous, barbed rush meant to cut and draw blood. They had stopped in the middle of the street and were now facing each other as if about to duel; several yards away a tractor was pushing piles of snow aside. "I had no idea how much danger you were in," Danni said wearily; his skin was flushed from the cold. His shoulders sagged. He sounded tired and slightly defeated, as if the exhaustion he felt went bone-deep. "I wanted to check on you but by the time we got back to the clinic the blizzard had already hit. We were snowed in. As for my being friends with Everest, I didn't mean for it to happen. Without him I don't think I would have survived." "Did you fuck him?" Calvin asked before he could stop himself. His voice shook. He stood slightly hunched, physically preparing himself for the truth. Danni clenched his jaw. His eyes pierced Calvin's warningly. "What I did with Everest while we were snowed in is none of your fucking business." Danni's angry reaction was proof enough for Calvin. Why else would he act so defensive? "You did, didn't you?" Calvin could feel tears streaming down his cheek. His nose had begun to run, the snot thin as water. "How could you when you know how I feel about you?" A mixture of emotions showed on Danni's face: guilt, sympathy, uncertainty. He stepped towards Calvin, hardened snow crackling and crunching beneath his boots. He reached out to lay a gloved hand on Calvin's arm, but Calvin slapped it away. He took several steps backwards. "If you want to be friends with him, that's fine - you can forget about being friends with me. I'm going back to my mom's." He stormed away, leaving Danni to stand alone in the cold. … Dinah stood in the corner of the room watching Natalia pack a duffel bag full of clothes. She knew she should try to find some way to make amends, to stop Natalia from leaving, but she couldn't find the right words. When did I fall out of love with you? she thought, looking at her muse. When did I become so lustful for power that my heart became numb to all else? Some part of her, Dinah knew, still loved Natalia of course. She would always love Natalia for Natalia was a part of who she was. Without her, Dinah would not be who she was today. Natalia had influenced her personality every bit as much if not more than her father had. But Dinah also knew she had to let Natalia go to be able to do what came next. Which was why for the past three days, back at the clinic, she had closed herself off from the others to grieve over the death of what they'd had. Deep down Dinah wanted to believe there was a chance she could rekindle her relationship with Natalia: if she just apologized, if she just retraced her steps to the Dinah she used to be. But it was much more practical to think the rut she'd gotten them in was irreversible - somehow it made their breaking up somewhat less painful. "Where will you go? " she asked softly. She stood with her arms crossed over her breasts. Natalia sniffed, turned, wiped at her nose with a bunched up napkin. Her eyes were bloodshot red from crying. "I'll probably just stay at the clinic until I can figure something out. Don't worry about me, I'll be fine." Dinah nodded. she tried to make herself feel something other than numbness, anything at all. She tried to find the strength to reach out and grip Natalia's arm with her hand, to say the words that needed to be said and make the promises that needed to be made to fix this. But it was as if her emotions had been sucked out through a funnel, into oblivion. Natalia, she thought, I'm so sorry I let it get like this. Words she didn't have the ability to say out loud. "You'll come to me if you need anything? Anything at all?" Natalia nodded. She pursed her lips. Fresh tears welled in her dark eyes. Slowly her face tensed; it was like watching the ground split open to reveal chaos. "God dammit, Dinah, what happened to us?" she cried. "We used to be madly in love with each other. It used to make my skin tingle and my body tremble when you touched me. I used to look at you in awe. I used to ask myself how a woman like you could ever fall for someone like me. But now when I look at you, it's in terror not awe; and when you touch me I feel nothing. I feel like I've fucking died." "We both have," said Dinah. Natalia nodded again in the acceptance and finality. "You're going to that place, aren't you? The place that Adwele mentioned. To see if there are any survivors, and to see what he found." Dinah knew it would only insult Natalia's intelligence to deny this; they knew each other almost better than they knew themselves. "Yes." "You'll take Everest with you? And you'll be careful?" The fact of how well the two women knew each other was only further emphasized by the fact Natalia didn't try to talk her out of it. "Of course. Wherever I go, he goes." Natalia slid her arm through the strap of her duffel bag. "I'll see you later then." And she stepped up to Dinah to kiss her. Her lips were dry and chapped but they still possessed the taste of Natalia. It was as their lips touched that Dinah realized, startlingly, how wrong this all was. She stared after Natalia, eyes wide and wet. "Don't go," she said pleadingly, but Natalia had already closed the hatch of the apartment they had shared for years behind her. Some hours later after night had fallen, Dinah laid in bed with a bottle of whiskey held in her lap. She had found the bottle after digging through her closet. She recalled her father had been a huge whiskey drinker - he'd been the type of drunk who would drink anything he had on hand, but whiskey had been his absolute favorite. Dinah herself had a bottle of whiskey or two stashed somewhere, one of them being at the clinic. It had helped make the three days in which Natalia had been snowed in a bit easier. Even now it created a pleasant warmth in her belly that temporarily replaced the bouts of numbness and misery. Dinah Fezald didn't consider herself to be an alcoholic; she didn't think she fit the standards. She didn't need a drink every day. In fact she was able to go many days without having to have a single sip. She certainly wasn't like Everest who took sips from his canteen whenever he thought she wasn't looking - there was a difference between watching and knowing. The fear of succumbing to the temptation to drown those emotions she couldn't handle in booze had hovered over Dinah for many years. Even now she heard a small voice in the back of her head say, I should not be drinking; this is not the right way to deal with things. She could only imagine what her mother would say. It didn't matter. They hadn't seen each other in years. After the death of Joseph Fezald their relationship had died. Dinah was good at politics, at being a good leader when it came to making decisions and doing what needed to be done, but she lacked the finesse needed when it came to maintaining intimate relationships. Somewhere, always around or perhaps inside her, there was always the looming threat of giving in. Why couldn't she have a drink whenever she wanted? I'm clan leader god dammit, she thought. I've certainly earned the privilege. She reached over to set the bottle on the dresser, almost missed the mark and nearly dropped it on the floor. Managing to keep a hold of it, she set it securely back on the dresser. She had just collapsed back on the bed when there was a rap at the hatch. "Who is it? " she demanded in a slurred voice. "What do you want?" The hatch slid open with an airy hiss. It was Everest. He stepped in, closed the hatch behind them, and scanned her over. He spotted the bottle of whiskey sitting on the dresser. There was only a fifth of the liquor left. "Having a party? " he asked. "Yeah." Dinah managed to get herself up into a sitting position. "Want to join me?" Everest shook his head only once. "No thanks." She speared him in place with a look of drunken suspicion. "Don't tell me you're going to make another futile effort to quit again?" "Not quit. Maybe slow down." Dinah scoffed. "Whatever." Everest shifted uncomfortably on his feet, clearly wanting to get to business. "I spoke with Rowe to secure us better weapons. I figured we'd need better weapons considering where we're going. Not only are we breaking the treaty by going into Mureen territory but we don't know what we'll be dealing with." "Good. Did you make sure to get something suitable for Danni?" Everest frowned. "Danni?" "Yes, Danni." Dinah flashed him an irritable look. "I want him to come too." "Why?" "Why do you think? You've seen how good at killing he is. He took on those two things at the clinic with very little help from us." She sneered at her squire knowingly. "But you don't want him to come, do you? Your beautiful little blonde boy. Don't think I haven't noticed how you look at him - how you look at each other. You can keep one another company on the cold, long journey. Talk to him. Convince him to come with us if that's what it takes. We leave at first light tomorrow." … Everest stood outside Danni's hatch. He raised his fist, about to knock. Lowered it. Raised it again. This isn't right, Everest thought even as he rapped on the door. Dinah shouldn't even be asking him to go. Yet here Everest stood, about to do the asking because he always did what someone else told him to do. No mind of his own. On the other side of the hatch he heard the graceful padding of bare feet on the carpet before the hatch slid open. Danni stood in the doorway, wearing a white sleeveless tank top and gray sweatpants. The outfit showed off his lean but fit body. Everest had to restrain himself to keep from taking another up-and-down look. "Hey," said the younger man. He sounded exhausted, as if he had just been through a strenuous ordeal. "Hey. Are you okay?" Everest had surprised himself by asking the question. "Calvin and I got into a fight. Now he's going back to live with his mother and sister. Other than that I'm fine. Did you need something? " Was it just Everest's imagination or was there a hopeful look in Danni's eyes. Here goes. "Dinah is going on an expedition to the mining camp Adwele mentioned to see if there are any survivors. She wants you to come along." "Okay," Danni said without hesitation. "When do we leave?" Early the next morning, Everest and Dinah were loading their gear into the truck: bags of food, camping gear, and weapons. Several passersby stopped to peer at them curiously. Why did it look like Dinah and Everest were about to go off and start a war? Maybe because we just might be starting one, Everest thought. Several of the more courageous clan people who felt comfortable enough with Dinah asked where they were going. She negated them deftly with a smile and said, "Just clan business. Nothing anyone needs to worry about." Everest's stomach was tied up in knots. He kept scanning the faces in front of him, hoping he would spot Danni coming towards him; each time his heart plummeted when the man didn't appear within his sight. It seemed Dinah and he were doing this without his help. Breathing in the smell of diesel fuel blasting from the rusty tailpipe of the idling truck, Everest threw the last duffel bag into the back of the truck and looked one last time to appease his growing disappointment. His heart went from plunging deeper to soaring within a single beat. Danni was walking towards the truck with a duffel bag slung over one shoulder and a Winchester rifle slung over the other. He wore a black winter hat over his hair. He seemed to have come very prepared for whatever dangers they could be facing. "I didn't think you'd make it," Everest said. He turned towards the back of the truck as if checking to make sure everything was loaded properly so Danni couldn't see him smile. "I made a last minute deal with Rowe. I wanted to make sure we had plenty of weapons and ammunition." Everest didn't like the sound of this; making a deal with Rowe could lead to bad consequences if the person didn't have what it took to pay up. Danni shrugged nonchalantly; his breath plumed out in clouds of white mist. "I'll be okay assuming we make it back." Despite the fact Danni'd said it in such a matter-of-fact way, Everest felt a chill go up his spine as he was reminded of what they were about to do. The thought of encountering more of the abominations made his bladder feel incredibly full. He was scared, yes, but the thought of Danni comforted him. Now we have a little more of a chance, he thought. Danni set his duffel bag in the back to join the rest of the supplies. When he turned around to face Everest he looked completely serious. "I want to be clear on something. I have my own reasons for going on this mission. I'm going to prevent this thing from spreading any further. I don't know if this matches up with Dinah's plans. I do know you tend to do whatever she tells you to do because you're loyal to her. I'm warning you, I will do whatever it takes to keep this pandemic from spreading throughout the rest of the planet. If it comes to that you don't want to be standing in my way." "I won't," Everest said. But whether he was telling the truth or not he didn't know.
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