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Authors: Tobias S. Buckell

Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Suspense, #General, #Global Warming, #Suspense Fiction

Arctic Rising (9 page)

BOOK: Arctic Rising
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Anika crawled out of the back of the SUV over the rear bench seat, grimacing in pain with every movement, and checked the doors. Unsurprisingly, no latches again. And there was a metal grid bolted behind the front seats.

On her back in the seat, she thought for a second.

If she escaped, or tried to escape, it made her look guiltier.

But then, she didn’t know whether her commander was trying to lock her up for life or just following the book.

She gritted her teeth and kicked at the window.

Nothing happened.

Again, she tensed and kicked with her heels, and thought she heard a faint cracking sound.

She took a deep breath, and as her feet struck the glass again the world exploded in pieces of glass as every window in the vehicle blew out.

For a split second she didn’t understand. Then the waves of heat roiled through the vehicle and debris started raining down, plinking off the roof of the car like a spatter of hail in a quick, brief storm.

When she sat up she saw the fiery frame of her house slump slightly. Debris smoldered, scattered out onto the road and several rows of houses back. Shattered windows slumped in frames, some tinkling to the ground well after the explosion.

Off-duty base people were stumbling out of their doors and looking around.

Anika reached out and used the outside door handle to open the door and step out. Something squished under her feet and she looked down.

It was a severed forearm, white bone sticking out of the bloody end, ropy muscle fibers limp on the gravel.

She stumbled forward, falling to her knees.

“Claude!” she shouted. “Commander Claude?”

This was nearly incomprehensible and apocalyptic and, somehow, even worse than some lone gunman trying to kill her on the highway. And she realized now that Claude hadn’t intended her any harm. He’d been following the book. A good man had walked right into a mess left for her.

Someone had rigged her home with explosives.

God. She repeated that to herself: someone had rigged her home with explosives!

Those “MPs” that Karl told her had been here previously.

“Claude!” she shouted again. He’d been standing behind the one MP, the driver, when she last saw him. Covering him.

She heard a groan, maybe a whimper, from somewhere nearby.

On her hands and knees, Anika scrabbled her way over to the remains of her front door and pulled it off Claude. She gasped. There were burns everywhere, the man was hardly recognizable.

But the pale eyes recognized her.

Someone crunched across the gravel. It was Karl. He was in boxer shorts, sandals, and a simple white shirt, his breath puffing in the air as he ran over. From the expression on his face, it was clear he was in just as much shock as she’d been. “Anika?”

“It’s the commander,” she yelled at him. “Call an ambulance! Now!”

Karl hesitated, looked down, flinched, then ran back to find a phone.

Anika turned back to the badly burned body of the commander. Claude was going to die, and it was going to be her fault. There was no way people weren’t going to think she did this.

“Commander Claude, what was the name of the man in Greenland?” she asked, staring right into his eyes. “Did you look it up?”

His breath was raspy and irregular. He stirred, and then groaned. No doubt the pain was unimaginable. Anika found tears in the corners of her eyes for doing this, instead of leaving him to die in peace, but she leaned in closer. “I’m begging you, sir. Greenland. For both our sakes.”

He kept panting for a long moment, until finally, his lips moved. Anika leaned in until they were almost touching.

“Braffit,” Claude hissed.

Anika waited for more, but it became clear from the faint gurgling in the back of his throat that this was all Claude could manage. She pulled back. “Thank you,” she whispered. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the flat shard of plastic the scatter camera data was on. His good hand curled around it as she pressed it there.

If he lived, then maybe he could put it to good use. If he didn’t, then the world would assume she killed him, and not even the scatter camera data was going to do her much good.

He closed his eyes, and the whistling breathing slowed.

There were sirens in the distance.

Anika stood up and shielded her face with her handcuffed hands, approaching the burning remains of her home. She found the scorched, ruined, limbless body of the driver. The smell of burned flesh left her nauseous, the heat from the fire crackled and licked at her.

But she found the keys to the SUV on the man’s belt.

They burned her fingers, but she yanked them clear, gritting her teeth, and staggered back to the vehicle.

The hot keys turned the car on just fine, despite the handcuffs. After a moment of leaning over to awkwardly yank the shifter into drive, she accelerated out. She saw Karl in the rearview mirror, watching her leave.

She tensed and lowered her hands to the bottom of the wheel as she passed the emergency crews whipping their way down the road toward the base. But they paid her no mind, trying to get to the pillar of smoke as fast as they possibly could.

 

14

She didn’t see another batch of police until she reached the stretch of road where she fought her would-be assassin. They stood around the edge of the road near the track marks of the car she’d stolen from him.

Lights from the ambulance rapidly strobed against the back of her eyeballs as she glanced up in the rearview mirror of the MP’s SUV.

But no one even looked up or back at her, not bothering to wonder why there were no windows in the SUV, why her hair was being blown all over the place. She steered into what felt like a gale, a storm of her own making, but was just the unprotected blast from driving nearly fifty miles an hour. No one wondered why she was shivering and hunched over the wheel.

Ten miles down the mountain from them, Anika slowed and pulled to a stop along the shoulder of the road.

She took a deep breath, as if she were trying to inhale the entire vehicle out of existence, shuddering from the effort. She placed a hand against the door pillar to brace herself.

Well, here it was, she thought. She was on the run for real now. A suspect. Innocent men had been killed.

All because she wanted to double-check the port-of-call clearance on an old freighter.

“Shit!” She punched the wheel with both of her handcuffed hands. Then she punched it even harder, ignoring the stabs of pain from bruises. “Shit! Shit.”

She smacked her head against the back of the headrest. Why hadn’t she listened to Tom? Why bother with a double check if they were already cleared?

Why not just sit up in the sky and take it easy.

Why had she had to push it just that much further?

She let go, then kicked the brake pedal, and the car lurched and stopped again.

She screamed up through the open sunroof at the stars, a yawp of frustration, rage, lost choices, and fear.

Then Anika looked around until she found the phone she’d taken from the dead man’s pocket. It had been put in an evidence bag by the shifter.

“Vy … I’m sorry to call you so early in the morning, but I need your help,” she said in a flat voice, pulling her elbows close to her sides to try and warm herself up, but still shivering.

*   *   *

Vy had her come around to the back of The Greenhouse. A large Russian bouncer, Chernov, let her in through a service door and pointed at an industrial lift in the gloom, surrounded by boxes of alcohol. It was eerie to be in The Greenhouse and not hear music thumping. “Come with me,” he said. He glanced down at the cuffs, but didn’t say anything. None of his business.

The steel floor of the lift shuddered as it rose. Gated doors passed them slowly by as they ascended through to the fifth floor.

Chernov slid the gate aside, and they walked down a corridor. He opened the last door for her, and Anika stepped into Vy’s private office.

Unlike The Greenhouse, Vy’s office was plant-free. Wood panels darkened the whole place, and a large, computer-free desk dominated the center of it. Small leather couches were scattered around, carefully positioned in front of the desk and facing it.

In a meeting in this room, it would be clear who was in charge.

There were no personal effects. No pictures, no motivational posters. What kind of decoration would a semilegal drug dealer choose anyway? Anika wasn’t sure.

“Where’s Vy?” she asked. Chernov had taken up a position near the door, hands folded in front of him, a blank stare on his face.

“Soon,” he grunted. He smiled at her. “Violet, she likes you very much, I think.”

Anika sat on one of the couches, then leaned back into it and sighed. “Why do you say that?”

“You are not buying or selling from her, and she still lets you into the office. And you are very pretty, yes.”

The door opened. “Chernov, be quiet,” Vy said. Anika struggled to stand, but Vy pulled a small ottoman over and sat in front of her. “Jesus on a Popsicle stick, you look like shit.”

“I’m sorry,” Anika said.

Vy reached for the handcuffs and held her hands. “Don’t apologize. Chernov, get the damn bolt cutters, what are you waiting for, a formal invitation?”

Chernov shrugged and walked out the door, hulking his way down the corridor.

“Who did this to you?” Vy asked. “I have a few more Chernovs I can round up. We can fuck whoever did this up, they won’t ever want to lay a hand on you again.”

Anika squeezed Vy’s hands. “He won’t be a problem anymore,” she said. “I killed him.”

Chernov coughed from the door. They both looked at him, and he held up the bolt cutters.

Vy looked back at Anika. “Chernov’ll keep his mouth shut.”

Chernov grinned as he got the bolt cutters’ bottom blade in between Anika’s wrist and the first cuff. “It’s wax in my ears. Violet always yelling at me, yes? Do this. Do that. Don’t you hear what I am telling you, big stupid man.”

The cuff cracked apart, and Chernov grunted in satisfaction. He turned his attention to the other hand.

Vy kept holding Anika’s hands as she looked at the Russian bouncer. “Chernov smuggled himself to Baffin aboard a sealed shipping container with a shitload of scuba tanks to keep him breathing. He was trying to reach Alaska, but he miscalculated; the crew of the ship luckily heard him banging. He jumped overboard a few days later in some survival gear he found and floated to Baffin, where some friends of mine fished him out of the water. He’s been following me around like a puppy ever since.” She ruffled his hair.

“Woof.” Chernov smiled as he freed Anika’s second hand, and held up the mangled pieces of the handcuffs.

“Make those disappear,” Vy ordered, “and come back up with a doctor who’ll work for cash and owes us a favor.”

“There’s med student, um…” Chernov frowned. “Edward. He’s home from Montreal. Yes. He will do.”

And then the Russian ambled off to make arrangements.

*   *   *

Vy had some oxycodone and gave two to Anika with a bottle of water. By the time “Edward the med student” showed up, out of breath and blinking, the worst of the pain had receded into the background. Anika was struggling to stay awake.

Edward, still a bit pale and sweaty, no doubt from only having had left The Greenhouse a few hours before, swallowed. “I really shouldn’t be doing this,” he said as he sat on the ottoman Vy had pulled up to the couch.

Vy sat on her desk, feet folded, watching them. “It’ll be cash.”

Edward licked his lips and looked back at Chernov. “I could get in a lot of trouble practicing without a license…”

“You have bigger trouble if you refuse,” Chernov grumbled, folding his arms. “We solved problem for you. Remember that problem? Now you solve problem for us. This is how it works.”

Edward brushed a stray blond hair back behind an ear and leaned forward. Anika looked at his green eyes as they flicked over her, taking in the bruises. He took her hands in his, examining her torn-up knuckles.

Then he was looking at the scrapes on her thighs. Had her breathe in and out while he listened, ear flat against her back, then her chest.

She hissed when he pushed at her ribs, one by one.

He leaned back. “Bike accident, then a fight?”

Anika nodded.

“I’d hate to see the other girl,” he said.

She didn’t bother correcting the automatic assumption in his statement, but she saw Chernov quirk an uncharacteristic smile.

Edward focused on the marks on her neck. “Someone tried to strangle you, too.” He frowned. “This wasn’t a bar fight, was it?”

“No.” Anika rubbed her neck.

Edward’s demeanor shifted. “Listen, if this is domestic abuse, you need to report it.”

“It wasn’t domestic abuse,” Anika said. She swam in a world of near sleep due to the painkillers. She wished Edward would hurry up.

Edward didn’t believe her, but turned his attention back to her ribs. “I don’t think anything’s broken. Bruising, strains, maybe a slightly cracked rib—either way the advice is the same. I’d take it easy. Get to a doctor as soon as you can, get some X-rays. What painkillers do you have, Violet?”

Vy rattled a fluid list of names and finished with, “She’s already had some oxycodone.”

“That’s more than necessary. Make she sure takes something anti-inflammatory as well. Ice the ribs. Rest. Above all, she needs to take it easy. The abrasions aren’t too bad, I can clean them off. Get some antibiotic cream on them. If there’s anything too deep, bandage it. I don’t see anything that needs stitches.”

“So she’s okay?” Vy asked.

“She’s going to hurt tomorrow, but yes, she seems okay. But she really, really needs to visit a real doctor. Understand?”

“We’ll clean her up.” Vy nodded at Chernov, who grabbed Edward’s shoulder.

“Time for us to leave,” Chernov said, and led Edward out.

The door closed, and Anika heard Vy moving about. But the sludge of painkillers and exhaustion spun the room slowly around her. Anika lay back into the folds of the couch, sinking further and further into it.

Vy crouched next to her, whispering into her ear. Light glinted from a pair of scissors. “You know you’re in a safe place, right?”

BOOK: Arctic Rising
8.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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