"Special Assignments Detail"
A 5-Part Tale of Horror and Heroism Under the Fortuna Glacier
by David Reeder
Episode 4: Casualties
The pressure was back in my brain, like something had my skull in a vise. I swear I could hear something howling in my head.
We'd almost made it back before one of them grabbed Leroy and yanked him off balance. He sprawled down on the ice, hard. I was fumbling for a fresh magazine and Mark was still shooting, but I could hear his head crack when it hit the ground.
"Do something!" I could hear Horton yelling frantically. "Blow it up!"
Blow it up. Right. We didn't have any hand grenades or explosives of any kind. Hell, it had taken a special hearing to justify why we'd wanted bean-bag rounds for the shotgun -- the only shotgun -- in the department! The last budget had ixnayed damn near everything we'd asked for.
Leroy looked unconscious.
"Eric!" Mark called, running towards the tentacle that had Leroy. Graywolf was following, reloading as he went. "How are we on that bird?!"
"Warming up the rotors now!" came the reply. I could hear shooting from behind us as he came across the net. "Airborne in two!"
"Johnny's dead," Macha said flatly, then, "Where do you want me?"
"Stay where you are!"
Albert hacked the tentacle in half with that big-assed knife of his, momentarily freeing Leroy, who still wasn't moving.
We pulled up short. There just wasn't anything else we could do. Three or four more of the damned things had Leroy by the legs, the waist, even his head. They dragged him over the lip of the crater and he disappeared from view.
"Shitshitshit!" Mark snarled. His oath was made all the more emphatic because of the dangerously low voice in which it was uttered. "We've lost Leroy," he broadcast simply.
I didn't know quite what to think. Chances were, the entire staff of the facility was dead. Now we'd lost both the Redshirt brothers.
What a disaster. As bad as it was for me, it was sure to be worse for the others. They'd known them better, had trained and worked with them longer.
I myself would probably be taking things a lot worse once things calmed down. As soon as the adrenaline wore off.
And that damned pressure on my head would stop.
It felt like my brain was going to pop. It was getting hard to concentrate. I was nearly back to the hangar doors before I realized that my magazine well was empty and I need to insert a new one.
Mark continued to withdraw, and we went with him grudgingly. No one wanted to abandon Leroy, but what choice did we have? Perhaps distracted by its seizure of our former teammate, the loathsome creature we knew now to be down in the pit was no longer reaching towards us. For the moment at least. Its tentacles were still flailing about, and none of us had any doubt but that it would be after us again shortly.
"Steve, what's it look like back there? We secure?"
"For the moment boss," he said. He sounded out of breath.
Inside the door, Mark set us up in a hasty defensive posture, using a crushed vehicle, a pallet of water bottles and some stacked shelving for cover. Graywolf and I covered the pit. Steve and Erik covered the room. Mark hunkered down in the middle with Doc Bosoms, who hadn't used her gun yet because it wasn't silenced. There was still the very real threat that we could bring the roof down on our heads.
I felt little or no pity for Bill Horton, whose panic was clear to see. If it hadn't been for his own arrogant determination to personally witness our failure and prove our uselessness he wouldn't even have been there. I had to make a conscious effort not to blame him for Johnny and Leroy's deaths.
"Dammit, O'Kelliher!" he was saying, evidently trying to steady his nerves with volume and castigation. "If the helicopter's en-route, then let's go! Let's get the hell out of here!"
"It's not that simple, sir," Mark said mildly. That's how I knew he was starting to lose his temper. "We can't be sure that thing won't follow us, or may come all the way to the chopper. We don't know if it's intelligent or not. If the bird can't pick us up right away, or is delayed, I don't want to be hanging around in the open with that thing loose."
"Well, block it off then!" He was bordering on hysterical. "Shut the doors and we'll run for it!"
Mark shook his head. He didn't flinch when Eric dropped another one of those pus-colored starfish things, but I did.
"The door opens from both sides," he said. "If it comes to that, that's what we'll do, but I'm trying to think of a way to slow it down or hold it up."
"Well, for God's sakes!" Horton nearly screamed. The tentacles were crawling our way again. There was more movement in the pit, an unwholesome stirring of something vast, moving slowly. "Use a machine-gun on it, or a hand grenade or something! Blow it to hell!"
Mark finally rounded on Horton, teeth gritted with barely-masked fury.
"Mr. Horton," he grated, "the weapons we're carrying are the absolute heaviest that the Miskatonic University Security Department has in its possession! There are only enough to equip one detachment at a time. While we're down here on our 'misdirected and unnecessary flight of Walter Mitty fancy' -- your words sir, not mine! -- the other two teams are making due with a pistol, expandable baton and OC spray. The last budget submitted to your appropriations committee made it very clear as to what equipment we thought we might need in just such a contingency as this. Your reply, your handwritten reply, made it equally clear how unnecessarily and ridiculously militant our request was! Now SHUT YOUR MOUTH or I will have one of my men restrain you!"
Horton was dumbstruck. He just stood there, mouth opening and closing like a fish with nothing to say.
"--ought to throw him to the squid critter to keep it busy while we haul ass!"
That was Steve. I agreed with him.
Doc Bosoms was massaging her temples. She'd stripped off her balaclava and her face was unnaturally pale.
"We're going to have to do something soon," she said tautly over the net. "That thing's doing something to our heads. It's like a spike in the top of my skull."
IA IA Fh'tagn Shudde-M'ell
Now, I've never had a migraine before, but I'm guessing this was what it felt like. My knees had gone rubbery and my vision was starting to swim. My head hurt so bad I didn't trust myself to talk, and I was pretty sure I was gonna puke. Mark was thinking furiously. Then evidently he made up his mind.
"Everyone unass your MRE. Gimme the heating element."
What the--? I had no idea what he was thinking, but I did as I was told when my turn came. We all carry one of the vacuum-sealed military meals as part of our standard kit. I had the unenviable task of fetching Johnny's out of his gear, trying not to look at his bloodied face as I did so. It was all I could do not to fall over while I knelt there.
He grabbed the little green plates, tore them out of their wrappers and shoved them down inside a big water bottle from off the pallet. He'd already emptied it most of the way out. When he was finished there were seven heating elements crammed down in the bottle.
We crouch-walked to the doorway, ready to blast the first tentacle that came near.
That's when I saw what was in the pit...
Back to Episode 3: Contact
On to Episode 5 (conclusion) :Fragged
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