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Beneath the Glacier

A 5-Part Tale of Horror and Heroism Under the Fortuna Glacier

by David Reeder

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Episode 5 (conclusion): Fragged


I HAD A QUICK, NAUSEATING GLIMPSE of a heaving, bilious mass of protean flesh trying to heave itself up out of the darkness.  Then my mind, gibbering in primordial horror, refused to look anymore and I shunted my eyes away.

To this day I cannot recall what it was exactly that I saw down there. But I break out in a cold sweat and start having a crippling anxiety attack whenever I try to think about it.

"Everyone take aim at the ceiling right above the pit," Mark said.  "On my cue, dump everything you've got into the ice.  Albert, you watch those things and take care of them if anything gets close."

Then he started shooting and we all followed suit.  The M-4 has a tremendous rate of fire.  It didn't take but a couple of seconds, literally, for Mark and Steve and I to empty an entire thirty-round magazine into the ice above the pit.

"Graywolf, reload with slugs," Mark ordered brusquely. "Bole, cover the pit.  Steve, put another magazine into the ice."

Mark and Steve repeated the process, this time joined by Albert.  A twelve gauge slug weighs a full ounce and is somewhere around .70 caliber or more. We were gouging big-assed chunks out of the ceilng.  Tiny cracks started shivering out from them like a spiderweb.

Then Mark threw the bottle with the MRE heaters in it as far into the room as he could.  It was really starting to swell.

"Everybody out!"

We ran like hell, snatching up Eric and Susana on our way by.  Behind us came a dull, soundless, throbbing moan that crashed in pulsing waves through my skull.  Mark slapped the controls on the door as we moved through them and they began to close.  By the time I was clambering back up the ladder I had lost most of my faculties.  It took a supreme act of will to remember how to climb the rungs.
Nevertheless, somewhere deep in the bottom-most recesses of my mind I felt a faint glimmer of hope.

Mark had been thinking.  He'd done it right.

Oh, it had been a gamble all right. A wager that our rounds wouldn't immediately collapse the ceiling.  He'd been hoping that we'd just weaken it without causing a cave-in.

It remained to be seen if we'd weakened it enough.

Sh'Guth Shudde-M'ell.  Pti'PH'thafagne Fthagn

Hunger.  Weak monkey-things.  Mewling primitive-minds.  Hunger.

They'd woken it up, those stupid bastards that had been down here.  Woken it up and it had eaten them, or driven them mad.  I could almost pity them, running around with nowhere to go, helpless and deranged and rabid, trapped by the flesh-scouring winds and the ice in these ancient caverns.  Hunted and eaten by a bloated, betentacled thing that had been a thousand thousand years old before the first monkey ever picked up a rock to use as a tool.

But not us.

The mental yammering had reached a crescendo something akin to white sound.  I could no longer see, was just following the sounds of my running teammates.  I was staggering and nearly fell, but I pressed on.  I was determined not to be left behind.

CLANG!  The creature had wrenched the doors to a halt and was heaving the upper parts of its cyclopean bulk through.

Crack-crack-ack-ack-crack!

That was Doc Macha's gun.  No mistaking the sound of those little bitty 4.7mm rounds.  I wondered through a haze what she was shooting at.  I was past caring if she set off an avalanche or cave-in.  Hell, maybe the noise of that together with the crash of the doors getting slammed apart with everything else would help.

Mark had done it right.  MRE heaters are small plastic rectangular plates.  They're impregnated with a chemical that reacts with water, creating heat.  The water quickly boils in the package, creating steam and gas -- you heat your meal by sliding it into the plastic up against the plate.  It's long been a favorite sport of bored GIs, making MRE bombs.  You put a heater in a bottle with some water and screw the cap down tight.  The steam and stinking gas it put out would be trapped in the bottle, building up pressure and popping the cap off or blowing the sides out.  The bang is a lot louder than a firecracker.

I set one off on a helicopter pad once, when I was stationed up at Camp Casey in Korea.  Back when I was young and stupid.  I'd used four heaters, and the noise it made when it blew was called in by a guardpost a quarter of a mile away.

Mark had used seven.

Sh'Guth Shudde-M'ell

I stumbled again and this time I wouldn't have gotten up if Horton, surprisingly, hadn't hooked me under the arm and dragged me to my feet.  I could hear the Doc gasping, and could just barely see her staggering along ahead of me.  Mark had a fist hooked in her harness and was all but dragging her.  He looked like he might collapse at any moment himself.  Steve and Eric were stumbling against each other up front, trying to help each other along without much success.

Albert must've been behind me -- I could hear the slide ratcheting on his shotgun.  How he managed to walk, let alone shoot, I'll never know.

BOOM!  The reverberating noise of the bottle exploding under the pressure of all that trapped gas was nearly drowned out by the roar that followed.

The roar of thousands of tons of shattering ice and falling snow, collapsing from the arch that had held it aloft for a millennia.

Roaring and falling and crushing, sweeping everything before it away in a ponderous, unstoppable monolithic rush.

!!SH'GuTH SHUDDE-M'ELL!!
!AAAAIIIIIEEEEeeeeeeeeeà..!!

That did it.  We could sense the creature's struggles, futile despite its immensity and incomprehensible strength.

The creature's last mental scream was more than I could take and I dropped like a marionette with its strings cut.  I could hear the others thrashing around on the floor nearby.  A blood vessel burst in my eye.

AAIIiiieeeeeeeeaaaaaa--

At first I couldn't distinguish between the roaring in my head and the ear-shattering thunder of the Fortuna Glacier collapsing in on itself.  After several torturous and unfathomable minutes the skewering agony began to subside, however, and I was soon able to see.

Barely.

Blurrily.

I climbed slowly to my feet.  Mark was already up, though leaning against the wall.  Doc Bosoms was up, too.  She'd shucked her gear and tottered over to check on Eric and Steve, who were sitting up and groaning.  I noticed, as she bent down to them, how tight the movement pulled her flightsuit over her chest and rear.

Guess I was gonna make it.

I helped Mr. Horton to his feet with a nod of thanks for his earlier help, then went to check on Albert.  His chin was bloody where he'd bitten through his lip trying to maintain his sanity, but other than that he seemed to be okay.

"Gkuipeptai," Mark said quietly.

"Gesundheit," Eric and Steve echoed, even more weakly.

"Did anything follow us out?"

Graywolf shook his head, then winced at the stab of pain the motion produced.

Doc Bosoms turned away from Eric and Steve, a feeble thumbs-up motion indicating they were fit to move, if not healthy.

"Eric, where we at on that evac?"

Gascon was rubbing his eyes.

"Just checked, boss," he said tiredly.  "Ten minutes out."

We'd made it all the way to the front office room.  Everything behind us was a crushed mass of mangled equipment, crushed supports and uncounted tons of fallen ice now.

"Well," Horton said in a very subdued voice.  "We made it."

"Just barely," Mark agreed, "but in this case it counts."

We sat there for another several minutes, blinking stupidly and trying to adjust to what had just happened.  Presently Mark slung his weapon and started to shamble forward.

"Everybody's brother, everybody's lover, I wanna be your lifetime friend."

Eric was trying to sing as he walked towards the door that would lead us to the waiting Chinook.  His voice was a bit like the croak of a frog.

"Crazy as a rocket, nuthin' in my pocket, I keep it at the rainbow's end."

Steve didn't sound any better than Eric did, but he was trying.

"O'Kelliher," Horton said gravely.  "I wouldn't have believed any of this if I hadn't seen it myself.  Hell, I was here and I still don't believe it."

He rubbed his forehead, and spat on the ground, managing to even look a bit rueful. "I think," he went on, without meeting Mark's eyes, "that we should perhaps hold an emergency meeting of the budgetary staff to reconsider the funding for the SAD program -- SADD2 in particular."

Well.  How do you like that.  Too late for poor Johnny and Leroy, but you know what they say about the gift horse.

I still think Horton's an asshole.

"Use it if you need it, don't forget to feed it, can you picture THAT?!?"

The End.




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Beneath the Glacier (also known as "A SADD2 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 it, natch.)