Authors: Tobias S. Buckell
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Suspense, #General, #Global Warming, #Suspense Fiction
And she wasn’t giving up a lifetime’s dream. Not on a fling. Not after everything she’d been through.
Yet it still hurt to make that decision, to turn away from a path.
There was a car behind her. The lights grew brighter as it pushed closer.
The bike had slipped down to half the speed limit as it groaned up the hillside. Anika moved aside to let the car pass. But as the headlights almost blinded her, she sensed, like a rat about to be hit by a striking snake, that the car was veering off to hit her instead of passing by.
At the last second before it struck, Anika whipped the bike left, crossing the centerline as the car clipped her instead of running her down.
The bulk of the vehicle rushed past, buffeting her and slamming into her leg. The mirror smacked into the small of her back and a wheel caught the back of her tire.
She wobbled, fighting to control the bike, then let it slide as gracefully as she could manage out from underneath her.
Anika hit the road on her left thigh, the bike now sideways and skidding on the asphalt with her. Sparks flew, metal screamed and groaned, but due to her low speed, the slide was manageable.
The bike spun off the road into the shoulder and up the hill, catapulting and smacking into a boulder.
Anika slid to a stop, bouncing into scree and dirt, cursing half-remembered childhood Igbo and Hausa phrases, and then finally English again as she realized she’d scraped to a stop.
Her leathers were ruined. A patch on the left thigh had come clean off; the skin underneath was ripped and shredded. Her left palm ached; she might have sprained the wrist, she thought. But after a second of flexing, she decided it was just badly bruised.
Now she was angry, not scared. She ripped her helmet off and looked at the car. It was a BMW, with tinted windows, that skidded to a stop down the highway.
“What the hell do you think you are doing?” she shouted.
The driver got out. A muscular, tall, dark-haired man in a gray suit. He had a gun, which he raised over the roof of the car and pointed at her.
Anika bolted for the large rocks and scree, using them as a cover.
Three puffs of dirt and cracked rock exploded from the ground around her, near misses, as she zigged her way deeper into the natural maze of large rocks.
She was out here, very alone. And with no sidearm of her own.
That very large guy in the cheap suit was going to hunt her down. She was sure of that. She had a limp, she was tired, and he had the gun.
Anika kept moving, her mind racing, as she scrambled over loose rock and raced for bigger boulders to use as shields. She wasn’t going to be able to keep running much longer, though. She needed a weapon.
She picked up a fist-sized rock, square-ish, with some sharp points. But bashing his head in would require getting close. And with that gun the chances of doing that were low.
She pocketed the rock and doubled back, circling around him as quietly as she could.
Her pockets had nothing but the rock, Vy’s business card, and the phone. No one she could call would get here in time to save her.
Then she felt the rope key fob.
The paracord that made the fob was just six feet of standard parachute cord, thin and strong. It was knotted up into a compact little rectangle that took a few seconds to tug loose as she crouched her way from boulder to boulder.
A long time ago, a cousin of hers taught her to build slingshots to bring down birds on a dusty plain out in the countryside. For a Lagos girl, it was like a foreign land, a slice of her own country that seemed to leap out of the history books.
She never got the hang of making a sling, but she could wrap the rope into quick, half-remembered knots around the rock.
Now, with a crude mace built on the run, she found a spot where she’d make her stand. She walked back along her footprints in the dirt and gravel, letting them look as if they led off behind another large boulder, then she hid behind the other. She grunted as she jumped sideways toward it, trying not to give herself away. Then she waited.
It didn’t take long. She could see her attacker’s elongated shadow cautiously skirting toward her. “Tell you what,” the man shouted in a strong German accent. “It doesn’t have to be like this. Give me the data backup and I’ll leave you be.”
Anika began twirling the rock. Softly at first, as she didn’t want it to make a sound yet. He was lying. If his first move was to try to run her down, he still wanted her dead even if she made the trade.
He stepped into a valley between two smaller knee-high rocks. He looked at her trail, and then stepped forward.
Anika gave the rock an extra burst of speed with all her upper body strength. The rope made a whooping sound, and she aimed it right at his head.
He glanced over, at that moment, sensing the movement out of the corner of his eye. He wasn’t quick enough to block her attack, but he instinctively pulled the gun up to aim at her. The large rock just grazed his head and smacked into his gun hand.
“Fuck.” He fired, the bullet kicking up dirt and rock, but the impact knocked the gun out of his hands.
Anika yanked the bloody rock back to her, swung it under her arm, and spun it twice around her head and then let it go again.
He’d instinctively stooped to try and pick the gun up, but now raised his cracked, bloodied hand to block the rock arcing toward his head. He only partially managed that; it hit him hard in the temple, staggering him back.
Anika yanked on the rope, retrieving the rock for another go, but now he charged her. There was blood in his right eye, so it was a clumsy tackle, but when he collided it knocked the air out of her.
She gasped, but didn’t spend any energy trying to fend him off. She could hear the words
being hissed, and she wasn’t sure if they were in her head or if she was saying them out loud. He punched her in the gut, forcing her to try to double up, but she couldn’t. His weight kept her pinned down, the rocks digging into her back, her ribs creaking from the weight. His hot breath filled the air around her as they grunted and struggled.
Anika freed her arms as he repositioned himself astride her to strike again and swiftly wrapped the paracord twice around his neck, got it looped three times around her hands, and pulled as hard as she could.
His eyes bugged out and he reared back, trying to pull at the thin, slippery cord as she choked him. The bloody rock tied to the one end dangled and slapped her arm as he struggled.
He bucked back again, so hard and far that he lifted her upper body off the rock as she gripped the paracord for all her life.
Then he stopped trying to pull the rope off and fixated on her. He threw her back down against the rock, smacking the back of her head against it.
She didn’t let go. He punched her sides, but lying on top of her, he couldn’t get much of a swing in. It hurt, fuck it hurt, but she was still choking him, and the punches got weaker.
Then he rolled off her, throwing himself around to try to break her wrists free of the rope.
Anika wasn’t having it. As battered as she was, she understood deep down that only one of them was walking away from this encounter. And the only way for it to be her, was for her to keep the cord wrapped around his throat.
He was dragging her along the rock as he tried to pull free, and she managed to get on his back, pulling on the rope from behind like she was a jockey.
For the first time she could take a full breath.
Her sight returned, and she felt dizzy. But she pulled even harder on the rope. They toppled over together.
They were lying side by side in the dirt, moss, and scree, like spooning lovers. She had her knee in the small of his back, pushing herself out away from him, her rope-knotted hands just behind his neck, her triceps straining from pulling so hard. Blood stained the sides of the rope and skin peeled off her palms.
It was as if she were trying to pull the rope
The man had one last burst of energy in him. He stood up again, yanking Anika along with him on his back. He staggered toward a rock, then spun and threw his back, and Anika, at it with all his strength.
Pain burst through her spine and up her skull, and she screamed but held on, wrapping her legs around his waist and pulling tight with every bit of strength left to her as he did it again.
But this time, after throwing himself against the rock in reverse, he slumped forward.
Anika, wrapped around him, rope pulled tight, just hung on and waited.
She could feel the bruises and throbbing pain slowly washing over her. There wasn’t a limb, a muscle, or any part of her that didn’t scream for mercy.
There were tears of fear and relief to be alive coursing down her cheek and onto his neck. The sweat on her skin began to cool, and the cold air made her shiver.
For another ten minutes she lay there, making absolutely sure her attacker would not move again, and then she let go and flopped onto her back.
There were rope burns on the palms of her hands. The red lines and blood ran from the chewed-up brown of the back of her hands to the pale of the front.
She held them up in the air in front of her face and stared at them, and then at a single star up in the twilight summer sky of the Arctic.
Eventually the pain subsided enough that Anika could sit up, but with a gasp. Unsteadily, on her hands and knees, she crawled over to the dead man.
Who knew about the backup? She’d told Yves. He’d reported up the chain while they were in Resolute. Commander Claude knew, of course.
With shaking hands she checked the dead man’s pockets to see if she could figure out who he was. No wallet. She found his holster underneath his left shoulder. There was no ID in that either.
None of the suit pockets had anything in them.
But his left trouser pocket had a small business card, a small phone, and several hundred euros cash. She looked at the silver money clip holding the cash, but it was blank.
She kept the cash, and then flipped the business card over to read it.
Michel Claude’s name was stamped over the United Nations Polar Guard seal. And it was his contact info.
“What does this mean?” Anika muttered, sitting back down abruptly. “What…”
She ran a hand through her dirtied hair. Take a deep breath, she thought. Slowly. It could just mean this man talked to the commander.
Or it could mean Michel had wanted her killed.
Someone had cleared the
in Greenland, and if Tom and Anika had checked their data first, they wouldn’t have bothered to train the scatter camera on the ship. Anika had assumed it was a bribe. But maybe someone inside the UNPG was involved in this, somehow.
Maybe that’s why her scatter camera data had gone missing. And why people were hunting for the backup.
“Oh shit,” she whispered. Maybe Tom hadn’t died of exposure. Maybe he’d been killed.
Someone didn’t want people to know that the
had been shipping something radioactive.
She had to be really careful, now. It was going to be best to take this information to the police. Someone not in the UNPG.
Only someone with a contact in the UNPG could have known that she had the data backed up, so she couldn’t trust anyone there.
She patted herself down for her phone, while wondering what it was the
had been carrying. Just nuclear waste? Was that enough to kill someone for? This felt bigger, somehow.
There had been a few stories about people killed over illegal dumping activity, caught up with the wrong people. But that was overseas and far away. But going after UNPG pilots? Whoever was doing this was willing to risk a lot.
Well, they picked the wrong UNPG pilot, Anika thought.
She pulled her phone out. Pieces of screen and plastic shell fell between her fingers onto her lap. The electronic guts spilled out.
Where was the phone she’d taken off the dead man? She found that.
Jenny. She needed to talk to Jenny.
“Jenny? It’s Anika, I need a minute.”
“Anika?” Jenny asked on the other side, her voice tiny and cracked in such a way that it hurt more than Anika’s current pains.
“What happened? We were talking to him.”
“He collapsed later. It was too much of a shock for his heart, they said.”
Anika bit her lip for a long moment. “This might sound weird, but, did you know the doctors and nurses in the room?”
“That…” Jenny also paused. “Are you okay, Anika?”
“I’m okay. I’m sorry. I know it’s weird to ask you. I know you volunteer there sometimes.”
“Yes, I knew them all. They all took it very hard.” Jenny lapsed into quiet crying again.
“I’m so sorry,” Anika said. “Listen, Jenny, someone tried to run me off the road and kill me. I don’t know who, or why, but I think it has something to do with why Tom and I were shot at. I promise you, I’m going to figure out who did this to us, and I swear I’m going to make them pay. Somehow.”
“Oh God, Anika, just be safe. Be safe. I don’t want any more people to die. I don’t think I can handle that.”
“I’ll be okay,” Anika promised, before she hung up. “Don’t worry about me.”
Tom hadn’t been murdered in the hospital. That was a small relief. But the men who’d arranged all this had something to do with the attack on their airship, and that had ultimately killed him. They were still responsible.
Anika took a deep breath and limped her way around the rocks she’d used as cover back down to the road.
Karl’s bike lay upside down, front wheel mangled, the frame bent.
For some reason that left her feeling helpless and broken. Karl had always been good about lending the damn thing to her whenever she let her car lose its charge. She almost depended on the damn thing.
Nothing she took for granted as stable in her life even existed anymore. The bike: mangled. Tom: dead. Jenny: broken. Michel: maybe involved in trying to kill her.
In a short few days, everything had just been yanked away from her. The entire life she had built. Like it didn’t even matter.