Authors: Tobias S. Buckell
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Suspense, #General, #Global Warming, #Suspense Fiction
And for what?
Some goddamned nuclear waste?
Now that she wasn’t distracted by fighting for her life she started shaking from delayed fear. She leaned over a boulder and threw up. Bright fruit juice and rum splattered against gray rock.
She’d never drink a Belladonna again, she thought, wiping her mouth with the sleeve of the torn-up jacket.
Leaning against another rock to steady herself, she considered dialing emergency services, then decided to call Karl and apologize for the bike.
It was something she had to do, she felt.
“Karl? Karl, it’s Anika.”
There was a long silence on the other side. She guessed he was waking up, slow to understand what was going on. It was three in the morning, after all.
But then Karl exploded. “Jesus, Anika, Jesus, there are people over at your place ripping it apart.”
Anika slid down into a crouch against the boulder. “What?” she whispered. “Tom?”
“They say they’re UNPG MPs and that you’re in some sort of trouble,” Karl said. “Please, let me hear you say it’s bullshit.”
“It’s bullshit,” she repeated numbly.
“I figured. They’re being tight-lipped and following orders from somewhere else. I don’t know the details. The commander wants to talk to you. They got here fifteen minutes ago. Where the hell are you anyway? I didn’t tell them you were on my bike. Probably not smart, but, shit.”
“The bike,” she said, looking across the ground at it. “Karl, I’m really sorry about the bike. Someone just tried to run me over.”
“Run you over? Forget it,” he said. “We can fix it later. Where are you?”
Anika pulled the phone away and looked at it. Was it too paranoid to assume they were being listened to? Or just paranoid enough? She put the phone back to her ear.
“That rope braid on your keychain?” Anika said.
“It saved my life. Thank you.” She ended the call. If her commander was caught up in this, or someone in the UNPG was out for her, going back to her place or reporting in for duty was off the list of options.
She groaned as she stood up, steadied herself, and then staggered toward the BMW. The driver’s side door was still open, light spilling out onto the highway. The key fob dangled from the parking brake between the front seats.
A car passed, then slowed down and pulled over ahead of her and the BMW.
A heavyset woman leaned out the window and looked back. “Hey, was there an accident? Are you okay? Do you need me to call for help?”
Anika coiled up the rope, with the stone still on the end, and tossed it onto the smooth leather passenger’s seat. “Yes, the man in this car tried to run me over,” she called back to the concerned woman.
She was thinking about the time she had ejected over some Cameroon rain forest during a training flight. Akinjide, her copilot, had broken a leg landing three miles south of her. She’d lashed him to a travois and dragged him through a hundred and fifty miles of muddy jungle until they’d stumbled across a logging camp with a working radio.
That had been a test of her will. Every day, dragging Akinjide’s useless weight along behind her. Not daring to eat anything she didn’t recognize, fearing it would poison them. Drinking muddy water.
She wasn’t about to be broken. No, the Arctic hadn’t thrown her yet.
But she was thinking that maybe, just maybe, she should have listened to her dad and tried to get a job flying sightseeing tourists around New York. They have airships there, he’d said. Why go to the cold?
Anika slid gingerly into the driver’s seat of the BMW and adjusted the chair forward.
“Are you stealing that car?” the woman asked. She had gotten out of her car and was standing on the side of the road.
Anika found the window controls and rolled the passenger side window down. “Yes. You should call emergency services,” she shouted, and pulled out onto the highway, leaving a very confused-looking good Samaritan alone on the road.
She had a destination firmly in mind: Commander Michel Claude’s home.
Commander Michel Claude looked exhausted as he entered the door of his little base cottage along with a gust of cold air.
He hung his coat up and ditched his gloves in a bin on a stand near the door. Removed his holster and gun, car keys, and a wallet, and set them in a large terra-cotta dish on the stand, and then he made his way to the small kitchen.
The fridge light filled the cottage with an eerie glow as he grabbed a soda, popped it open, and then moved to the couch.
He sighed and began unlacing his boots with one hand, pausing only for an occasional sip.
Until the faint sound of Anika cocking his own gun made him freeze.
“Commander,” Anika said softly. “I don’t want to use this. I’m really sorry, but…” she dropped the paracord, now minus the bloody rock on the end, over his shoulder.
“What do you want me to do with this?” he asked.
“Please tie yourself up.”
* * *
They faced each other over his coffee table, the gun dangling off her hand in her lap, resting on the shredded leathers.
“You stepped over a line,” he said softly, holding his bound hands up to point at her. “There’s no going back. Pointing a gun at a superior officer is not something you get to undo! You understand that?”
“Someone ran me off the road and tried to kill me. Before that, someone tried to shoot me out of the sky. I don’t care about
or going to jail, right now, Commander. I want to know who got my copilot killed. And I want to know who is trying to kill me right now because I have that scatter camera data.” As she said that she carefully set his business card down on the table.
He looked down at it and frowned. “What’s that?”
“Your business card.” Anika tapped it for emphasis.
“Yes. But why are you putting it on the table?”
“It was on the guy who tried to kill me.”
Anika raised her eyes up from the table and met the commander’s. She didn’t blink or look away until he frowned and looked back down at the card. When he slowly blinked and looked up at her, she wondered what he saw on her face. Sincerity? Or could he not see past his situation? Did he think he was looking at the face of someone who’d snapped?
Or was he surprised to see the face of someone he thought would be dead by now?
She couldn’t help but assume he wasn’t involved. He was the damned commander, after all.
“Do you understand what I am asking you?” she asked, crisp and steady, enunciating each word like her old English teacher.
“All you had to do was come to us. If you truly think people are trying to kill you, all you had to do was come to me. We’d protect you.”
Anika sighed. She was beaten up, bruised, and exhausted from exposure and lack of sleep. “Commander, whoever is doing this is
the Polar Guard.”
He glanced back down at the card. “It’s not me. Anyone could get my card.”
She gingerly pulled her legs onto the couch. She felt like she could just sink right on into the soft material and keep on sinking. A deep, hungry gulf of tiredness threatened to drown her in sleep. It was all she could do to remain alert, his gun in her hand. Stabbing pain, from the road rash, from bruises in the fall, where the assassin had punched her and slammed her against the boulder, from the chafed palms of her hands where she’d clung to the rope, all of it built up into a crescendo of hurt that left her shaking.
“Commander, someone cleared the
in Greenland, and I’m starting to think that was so that none of our spotters would think to give it a second scan for radiation,” she said. “I should have thought to try and get to a computer with clearance to follow that piece of the paper trail, before I went to Resolute. And then there’s the fact that my scatter camera data shows the radiation, but the readings backed up by satellite in the main UNPG database say something different. And then, tonight, someone tried to kill me for that scatter camera data.”
Claude sat for a long moment.
“Look,” Anika said, holding up her arms and raising her shirt under the jacket. “I didn’t just wipe out on my bike, someone tried to kill me tonight.”
“So you want me to help you find out who cleared the
“That’s it, then I leave.”
He held up his hands. “If you’ll let me stand up and get to my laptop, I can look up who cleared the ship for you. But you realize what you’ve done here? There is no more UNPG for you. This will be reported to the police.”
“I can’t trust anyone right now.” Anika pointed to his hands. “I won’t be untying you.”
He shrugged. “I’m a hunt-and-peck typist anyway.”
The laptop was in a leather satchel, and Claude carefully set it up on a small table in the middle of the kitchen.
It hurt to stand, Anika thought. She leaned against the table as Claude slowly logged in, typing with both hands bound and one finger extended.
“Do you have any painkillers?” she asked.
“Left drawer, facing the microwave.” Claude’s face was underlit by the bluish glow of the screen.
She turned to look in that direction and Claude jumped at her. He knocked the gun aside with his clubbed fists. It smacked the tile floor of the kitchen and skittered across the floor.
He shoved her back against the fridge, and Anika felt raw panic. Stupid mistake. He was going to kill her. He hadn’t been interested in looking anything up, he’d just been buying time.
Anika kneed him in the groin, and as he collapsed, she fought free. But he recovered and tackled her feet. Her cheek slapped the tile as she fell, dizzying her.
The kitchen briefly contracted to a point in her vision, and she sucked air as she tried to yank away.
“Don’t fight, damn it, Anika,” he grunted as she kicked him in the face.
She didn’t waste air on words, but grabbed the edge of a cabinet to pull herself onto the carpet. This was another fight-or-die situation. She was going to fight.
He yanked her back onto the tile by her feet. She was too bruised, too tired, to really stop him. She reached deep into her physical reserves, but all she could do was jab at his throat as he yanked her around and into a choke hold.
She flailed and kicked to get free, but his arms were bound. Once he had them around her, all he had to do was hang on.
He was going to kill her in much the same way she’d killed that other man tonight.
Slowly, Anika stopped kicking his shins.
And then, the stale air in her lungs overwhelming her, she slipped off into the painless dark.
It felt good, in that last second, to stop fighting and just surrender. She’d never done that before.
The smell of ammonia bubbled, then ripped through Anika’s sinuses to sledgehammer her awake.
She gasped and sat up, coughing and spitting, her eyes watering, shoving the small capsule someone had underneath her nose away with her hands.
Both her hands, she realized muzzily, because they were handcuffed.
A Polar Guard MP unwrapped a blood pressure cuff from her upper arm and folded it back into a small emergency medical kit he had on the floor of an SUV.
“Where am I?” Anika asked, her voice husky. She put her handcuffed hands up to her throat, feeling the bruising and tenderness where she’d been choked.
She took a reflexive, deep breath of cold, sweet air, and watched it puff out with all the apparent satisfaction of a smoker hitting a first puff early in the morning.
“On this fine morning, you’re on your way to lockup,” the MP said. Anika realized that the vehicle was in motion. She sat up with a grunt. All those bruises and pulled muscles screamed at her.
The road underneath changed from paved road to gravel. A familiar-enough transition. Anika could see the tips of base housing units.
“You’re getting court-martialed, at the least,” Claude said from the front of the SUV.
Anika pulled herself a bit higher, using the backs of the seats. “What about the attempt on my life for the data?” she asked. “And Greenland? Did you find out who cleared the
? I don’t care what happens to me, just please don’t drop this.”
The MP driving the car looked over at the commander. “Damn. She sounds sincere, sir.”
“I know.” Claude’s voice sounded tired.
“Do you want to wait and let the big guys toss her place, or you still want to check it out?”
“Keep driving,” Claude said, and he pointed out the window. “There.”
They turned down the road and slowly approached Anika’s home, gravel crunching under the tires, and then stopped.
“What are we looking for?” the driver asked, as he opened the door.
“I don’t know.” Claude glanced back at Anika, then stepped out. “But we need to make sure she isn’t working for someone, or with someone.”
Anika rubbed her face. What was Claude up to? If he was genuinely not interested in killing her, then all this made sense. Or it could be he was looking for the scatter cam data.
She’d already made so many mistakes. She needed to think darkly, to assume the worst. And to plan for the worst.
What if he were planting something, and trying to get her locked up to get her out of the way?
And what was she going to do about any of it from the back of the SUV with handcuffs on?
Michel Claude and the driver opened the back of the SUV. “Come on, Addison,” Claude grunted, waving out the MP who’d acted as her medic. They kept their distance, and they had their guns in hand.
It wasn’t like Anika was going to be able to fight her way out through three armed men.
Particularly not in her current shape.
She watched the MP crawl out and stretch as he stood on the gravel, and saw the driver hand him his gun back. They were being very careful around her.
They shut the car door on her and walked off.
There were no handles on the inside to open it. Anika looked out. The three men were spreading out, one going around to her back door. Commander Claude and the driver approached her front door, guns ready.