"Special Assignments Detail"
A 5-Part Tale of Horror and Heroism Under the Fortuna Glacier
by David Reeder
Episode 3: Contact
Fhtaghn Shudde-M'ell Fhtagnh N'ggheeà.
Gaping, empty sockets stared up at us blankly from a contorted face. Dried blood ran like crusty tears down his face from the ruin. There was more of it on his fingers and under his nails, indicating he'd done the damage himself.
"How long?" Mark asked Doc Bosoms. She shrugged.
I sure do like it when she does that.
"Two days," she said. "Maybe three. Could be a week. Hard to tell in this cold without an autopsy."
Everyone was keyed up now. The jocularity was fading quickly.
"There isn't enough damage there to have killed him, either."
"Looks like he was terrified."
"Yeah, or insane."
Mark looked at her quizzically. So did I.
"My guess is he died of exposure after going into shock."
Horton had finally deigned to join us and had gotten a look at the body. "What happened to him?!" he asked, horrified.
O'Kelliher's lips compressed to a very flat line. "He died."
Horton didn't have an answer for that. Surprise, surprise.
"All right, boys, keep it sharp! We've got to move to the far end of the cave. Gascon, Guerrande, keep what you've got until we reach the other end, then we'll provide overwatch to bring you in."
We moved across the cavern slow and careful, leaving the body where it lay. We had to be cautious. The place was full of stacked crates, machinery, even vehicles like snowcats and tracked tractors. Most of them were wrecked or damaged in some way, but any one could've been hiding a threat. We passed them off, one to the other. Even Doc had her PDW up and ready, picking up a threat area.
Once we got to the huge door on the far side we locked everything down until we could bring the other two across.
This door was a lot bigger. Like the motorized door on an aircraft hangar. We'd just started checking it out when Guerrande came over the net urgently. "What the hell is that?!"
I spun around and looked to where he was covering with his rifle. "Gawd Almighty!"
Whatever that was, it was ugly. It was scrunched up in a hollow spot on the ceiling. It looked vaguely like a diseased starfish, albeit a starfish three feet across. I threw my rifle up and looked at it through my ACOG sight.
It was even more loathsome up close. Writhing cilia like a thousand squirming centipedes squirmed underneath its 'arms'. Some kind of mouth was underneath it. The teeth looked like lumps of leprous cartilage.
Then it turned loose of the ceiling and started drifting down towards us. Like a kite floats.
Guerrande wasn't waiting. He put two bursts into
it and blew it apart. Chunks of decidedly unhealthy looking flesh
rained down in a mist of pus-colored ichor.
We stared at the mess for several heartbeats.
"Mr. Horton," Mark said tightly. "What exactly were they digging for here?"
The self-righteous representative of the Dean's Council, he of the scathing tongue and the condescending tone, had nothing to say.
"Mr. Horton?" the TL prompted.
He looked over at me wide-eyed and white-faced.
"P-p-puh-pre-Cambrian life--" he finally stammered.
"This just gets better and better."
"It's a bug hunt!"
Ep, ep-eethahuràG'uuuhh'Kaahhgggh R'lyeh
"Wonder how much this is gonna cost," Guerrande said. O'Kelliher shot him a warning look.
On the inside of the door someone had spraypainted the words I've climbed Mount Voormithadreth. Immediately below it what appeared to be the dried and frozen remnants of someone's brains. Like someone had leaned back and blown the top of his head off against it. There wasn't a body though.
This was just getting better and better.
Really cautious now we opened the big bay doors. A blast of cold air swirled through them and I shivered.
"Johnny, stay on the door. Watch the chamber -- and keep an eye on the ceiling!"
We entered the ice cave in a modified porcupine, two guys up front, one more on each of their shoulders to cover out at an angle and one inside the wedge looking up. I followed this last one -- it was Gascon -- with Mr. Horton (who looked like he as at least somewhat in a state of shock). Doc Bosoms brought up the rear. In this formation, moving really slowly, we made our way into the cave.
The footing here was more treacherous. Loose chunks of ice were piled everywhere. Frost-covered ice stalactites speared down from the ceiling, which looked like nothing more than packed snow and, of course, more ice. Even the walls were translucent, without a trace of rock or dirt to be seen. The place was huge. You could have dumped a small football stadium in it. Our voices, hushed though they were, echoed with a ghost-like sussuration across the chamber.
Fhtaghn Shudde-M'ell Negg'h
"What the hell was that?" Graywolf asked tautly, scanning the room with his muzzle.
A minor pain made itself known at the base of my skull, kind of a pressure. I had to fight off a momentary bout of vertigo. Looking back, I saw Susana press her hands to her temples.
She felt it too.
The little witchdoctor at the base of my neck started to jump up and down waving his spear and yelling Ooga booga booga, time to go!
In the middle of the chamber, like a wide-open mouth, was a huge, gaping hole plummeting straight down into the ice. I mean straight down. The walls were sheer and slick. I moved up beside Graywolf and we both shined our lights down into it. It was deep. Like a well sunk waaaaay down into the heart of the glacier. Our lights were lost in it, swallowed up. I noticed then that there was a chilly breeze blowing out of it into the chamber.
Suddenly something moved down there, a subtle coiling of black in black. I felt a sudden cold lump settle in my belly and had to fight off the urge to turn and run like hell.
"Did you see that?" I asked.
"Saw -- sumthin'--" Albert muttered back.
"Lummel. Gkuipeptai," O'Kelliher called.
"Gesundheit," someone whispered, but you could barely hear it.
Then, before we could answer, Johnny started screaming.
It was like the wail of a soul in torment.
"Everybody out!" Mark barked, and we started back for the door. Everybody but Leroy, who was sprinting towards his brother. Mark cursed.
"Graywolf, Gascon, go with him!"
We couldn't all go racing back that way. Too dangerous, too slick. We wouldn't be able to respond to threats if they presented themselves. Eric and Albert, however, took off at a dead run.
"What the hell's going on?" demanded Horton, some of his bluster coming back. "Where are they going?"
I couldn't help it. I lost my temper.
"Whatsamatter?" I snapped at the pompous sonuvabitch as we high-tailed it. "Didn't you hear that scream?"
He just looked at me blankly. I don't think he understood what was going on.
N'Negh E'Negh R'lyehà
My head was starting to hurt again.
Even silenced, there's no mistaking the sounds of an M-4 firing on burst. Or a shotgun. The boys had gotten into something up there.
"Contact front! Contact front!"
We got to the doors in time to find Graywolf kneeling and feeding shells into the magazine tube underneath his shotgun. He'd already emptied it. Eric was standing over him, covering the room. Steve, who'd been a little ahead of the rest of us, had joined him. Both their faces were pale, and there was a pile of brass around their feet.
Leroy -- well, Leroy was wrestling with Johnny, trying to keep him from clawing his eyes out. His face was already bloody, but the damage didn't appear too severe.
"Doc!" he cried out pleadingly as she ran up. "Doc!"
"Bole! Help her!" Mark yelled. "Somebody give me a sitrep!"
Albert racked a round and fed one more into the magazine, then stood up. "Those starfish things," he snarled . "And something -- else."
Doc Bosoms was kneeling over Johnny, trying to sedate him. He wasn't having any of it.
F'Tahgn N'egg E'Mell!!
His eyes widened and he started to scream. I swear, he was foaming at the mouth!
"He's tachycardic," Doc snapped. "Tachy with a heartrate greater than two hundred. He's going to arrest!"
"Johnny!" Leroy yelled at him. "Snap out of it!"
I was holding his arms while she worked. Leroy was looking on anxiously.
"Redshirt!" O'Kelliher was shouting. "Do your friggin' job! Steve, watch the cave!"
Guerrande ducked back around to watch behind us. Leroy reluctantly took his place.
"O'Kelliher!" Horton bellowed, plainly terrified.
"Get us the hell out of here!"
Mark ignored him.
"Gascon," he said, peering intently around. "Get on the horn. Call for an extract soonest. Advise possible casualties."
Eric switched over and started to raise the pilot who, weather permitting, was supposed to be waiting on us on the ground at Grytviken.
Johnny had stopped screaming. Now he was making some kind of mewling noise that made my skin crawl.
"He's not responding to anything!" Doc said, more to herself than anyone else. Her green eyes flashed. She looked pissed. "If I can't get his heartrate down, or figure out what's causing it, we'll gonna lose him."
I hate being helpless.
"Lummel, hold him. There's no time for an IV. I'm gonna mainline the Lidocane."
I grabbed him and did my best to hold him still. It didn't look good. There were fresh clawmarks on his face and skin under his fingernails. He'd torn his gloves off and his fingers were turning blue.
Shudd'e M'ell Negg'h!
"Shit!" Steve yelled behind me. He started shooting. "Contact rear!"
I spun around fast, leaving Johnny to Doc Bosoms.
O'Kelliher turned with me.
Guerrande had emptied an entire magazine -- with good reason. He was reloading as I turned.
My curse was punctuated by the sound of Steve slapping his bolt forward. A long tentacle, like a squid's or something, had uncoiled from down in the well and reached across the cavern to wrap itself around him. That put it over thirty meters long! Guerrande's bullets had chewed gaping chunks out of the side of it, but it hadn't let go. Writhing movement towards the pit told me it was about to have company.
Mark and I started shooting in that direction as it started to drag Steve across the ground.
"Graywolf!" Mark bellowed.
The Kiowa was hustling past me before the word was out of our TL's mouth. Leroy came with him. Steve was now halfway to the pit, us flanking. We were all still shooting.
Albert put the barrel of his Mossberg up against the sickening ochre-and-gray flesh. Poomph! Poomph! Two rounds of buckshot, eighteen .32 caliber pellets in all, tore the tentacle in half. The severed end flopped onto the ground while the rest recoiled and Steve started disentangling himself. More wriggling cilia of various sizes, at least two as big as my arm and one wider around than my waist, started reaching out of the pit...
Back to Episode 2: Entry
On to Episode 4 :Casualties
Beneath the Glacier (also known as "A SADD Day") is copyright 2002 by
David Reeder. It may not be copied without permission of the author
except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read