Authors: Adam Christopher
The others kept quiet too, no doubt feeling the same, thought Grec.
Then her thoughts were interrupted.
I’m sorry about Khouri.
Palladio again, inside Grec’s head. She drew her knees up to her chest, and watched the reflected glow of the heatsticks dance on the smooth wall of the cave.
I know you were close.
She closed her eyes, willed the Psi-Marine to shut up.
But look, she’s out there.
Grec held her breath.
We’ll find her, trust me. And then—
Grec pushed herself up from the cave floor, stepped towards Palladio, and pushed his chest. He slipped backwards on the smooth floor and hit it with a crack.
Shut the hell up!”
Spittle flew from Grec’s mouth. “And get the
out of my head.”
“What the fuck are you doing?” asked Palladio from the floor.
Furusawa stood. “Kat, what is it?”
Grec sighed and waved at Palladio. His eyes were wide, his mouth in a surprised O.
“Nothing. Absolutely nothing,” said Grec. She glanced around. The others were staring at her and the Psi-Marine on the ground. Grec shook her head, then went to join Bowen at the cave entrance. Bowen glanced sideways at her, nodded, then returned his attention to the darkening world outside.
Khouri was dead. She knew it. That voice
the one that had reported in after they’d rebooted their psi-fi the first time
, she knew it. They’d all heard it, but she
. It had been different. It was something else. Psi-Corporal Maryam Khouri wasn’t out there, waiting for rescue. The other Psi-Marines, Bowen and Palladio, hadn’t been able to find her with their minds, which meant one thing.
She was dead. And Alonso too. Eaten by the monster under the snow.
Grec jumped. The First Sergeant was standing next to her. Furusawa glanced at Bowen, then turned away, indicating for Grec to follow.
“Are you okay?” asked Furusawa.
“I’m fine, Sergeant. No problem.” But Grec’s voice was small and quiet, and even as she spoke she knew that she wasn’t fine, not at all.
“I’m sorry about Psi-Corporal Khouri. I knew you were close.”
Grec felt the heat rise in her face. She had to hold it together. She was a Fleet Marine. She swallowed, and asked: “You think she’s dead? Alonso too?”
Furusawa chewed her lip, but didn’t speak. Grec leaned in closer.
“What the hell is going on, Sergeant?” she whispered. “Was Anderson right? Are you following a different set of orders?”
Furusawa raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure I follow, Private,” she said, her voice still low but her tone suddenly formal.
“Because,” said Grec, “I’m starting to believe him. This S-A-R is bullshit, Sergeant.”
“Private Grec, I—”
“So what the fuck are we doing here?”
Grec met Furusawa’s eye. The sergeant seemed to be holding her breath.
Then Anderson called out from the back of the cave.
Furusawa turned and walked away. Grec swore under her breath and followed.
Anderson held his tongue between his front teeth, grimacing as he made a delicate adjustment inside his helmet. He twisted one tool clockwise, and his face was lit from below by the familiar glow of the Fleet HUD. Grec knelt beside him and peered into the helmet, watching as the visor displayed scrolling pages of code as it went through a forced reboot.
Furusawa nodded and folded her arms. “Good work, Anderson. Fix the others, then we can get going.”
Grec’s jaw dropped. “Where the hell to? We need to get back to the drop zone and wait for extraction.”
“We can’t go back,” said Bowen from his position at the cave entrance. He indicated the pitch black outside with his rifle. “Not with that thing out there, whatever it is. Not at night.”
Grec waved him off. “With the suits back online the dark doesn’t matter. We’ll be able to see it before it sees us. We’re goddamn Fleet Marines, remember.”
Bowen shook his head. “It’s taken Khouri and Alonso already,
Grec stormed to the cave entrance and yanked on Bowen’s shoulder. “Yes, I do remember, you son of a—”
The cave was filled with a buzzing sound. It was sharp, loud, washed with static and echoed off the hard walls, floor, ceiling. Grec and the others look around in surprise, and saw Anderson squinting into his helmet, still on his knees. He twisted a tool, and the noise died as abruptly as it had started.
” Anderson dropped his helmet to the cave floor.
Bowen looked at the others “What the hell was that?”
“Some kind of interference,” said Anderson. “Maybe deliberate jamming, I don’t know. It’s swamped the psi-fi. We’re still screwed.”
Furusawa crouched on the cave floor, and stared at the heatsticks.
“It was on the emergency radio too,” she said.
Grec nodded. “And the comms before that.”
Bowen and Palladio exchanged a look, then Palladio tapped his temple. “We heard it too.”
“Shit,” said Furusawa.
Grec moved to her pile of gear at the back of the cave and pulled out the geophys wand. She turned it on and the row of lights blinked on at once, then went out. A moment later, they began to pulse. There was no sound, but as Grec held the scanner up, the other marines gathered around, staring at the wand. The lights flashed to the same rhythm as the buzz from Anderson’s attempted repair. The comms specialist shook his head.
“That’s a hell of a jammer.”
Grec gave a thin smile. “Works though, doesn’t it? It’s knocked us out, totally. Left us helpless in a cave.” She looked up at the sergeant. “Do your mystery orders cover this?”
The two stared at each other for a moment. Out of the corner of her eye, Grec saw Bowen and Palladio exchange a worried look. Then, finally, Furusawa shook her head. She turned to Anderson.
“Break out the lightspeed field transmitter. We’ll contact the ship, get an evac. This isn’t part of the mission at all.”
” said Anderson, before turning to his corner of the cave. He flipped his pack over and began pulling out the heavy-duty transmitter.
Grec stood and folded her arms. She nodded at the sergeant. “You going to tell us jarheads what these secret orders are?”
“No,” said Furusawa, then she raised her rifle and walked to the cave entrance, indicating to Bowen that she would take over the watch.
* * *
One side of Grec’s face was warm. She shifted, the sensation of her skin sticking to something hard and smooth helping to rouse her.
Wake the fuck up.
That, and Anderson whispering in her ear, his breath hot. She opened an eye and pushed herself more upright against the curved wall of the cave.
“Darwyn? What is it?”
Grec looked around. Palladio and Furusawa were asleep on the other side of the cave. A fresh pair of heatsticks had been snapped at some point and rested against the back wall, which had grown very warm indeed. Near the heatsticks, it looked as though the ice floor of the cave had melted a little, the dark of the rock below showing through.
Anderson stood back, and smiled. Grec watched him, then rubbed her face.
“They’re out there, see,” said the comms operator. He pointed to the cave entrance. “Alonso and Khouri. They’re fine. They’re just waiting for us to come out and join them. You coming or what?”
Grec blinked. It was still night outside. She felt groggy. The cave was stuffy, the heatsticks having done a fine job of keeping them from freezing to death.
Then she noticed the problem.
She pushed herself to her feet, and took a step towards the unguarded cave mouth. As she moved, Anderson stepped between her and the entrance.
Grec indicated the cave entrance with a nod. “Who’s on watch?” she asked. “You?”
Anderson closed his eyes and slowly shook his head. “Don’t you
, Kat?” he said. His smile vanished, replaced by an expression that was tight and angry, one that Grec didn’t like. Anderson took a step forward and Grec instinctively took a step back.
Then Anderson looked away and tilted his head, and the smile came back. He nodded. Grec felt ill. He was listening to something. But, surely, he wasn’t listening to—
“Yes,” said Anderson to the air, then he turned back to Grec. “It’s bullshit.
Anderson waved his arms, indicating the cave, the sleeping marines. “This. All this. Bullshit. Search and rescue? Search for what, huh? Rescue who? Rescue
is who. But it’s fine, it’s okay. I’m dealing with them.”
Grec shook her head, then went to wake the sergeant. Anderson had always been edgy, but he was cracking under the pressure. Grec wondered when his last Fleet evaluation had been. Surely he must have been due for a new one, one that would take him off active duty.
As she bent down, Grec noticed more of the floor had melted. More than that, it looked as though someone—Anderson, presumably—had been digging into the softening ice on the other side of the cave, revealing something black and long, part of the rock of the actual cave floor. There was something about it that made Grec curious. She moved closer to get a better look, but Anderson grabbed her arm and pulled her back around to face him.
“Get off,” she cried out, pulling away. Anderson’s grip was tight and as she struggled just got tighter.
bitch,” Anderson said. He turned towards the cave entrance, pulling Grec after him.
Anderson turned his head. Furusawa was crouched on the cave floor, a pistol in hand, aimed at the marine. Nearby, Palladio was awake, his eyes open and fixed on the scene, although he hadn’t moved from his position on the floor.
“Don’t you fucking
?” Anderson let go of Grec, who scrambled back to the others. Anderson didn’t seem to notice. Instead, he pointed again to the cave entrance. “They want us out there,
Come on! We have to go, now, or we’ll blow the whole mission.”
Grec glanced down at Palladio. The Psi-Marine slowly raised himself up. Anderson pointed at him.
“It’s their fault, you know?” he said. “They’re doing this. But I’m dealing with it.”
Furusawa kept the pistol level. “Dealing with what, Marine?”
Anderson waved his hand. “Them. Those fucking freaks.”
Palladio held his hands up. “Hey now, I don’t know what you think is going on, but—”
It’s okay, Kat.
The voice in Grec’s head was new, but familiar. The relief she felt was instantly swamped by something else: fear. Cold, vertiginous fear.
Grec looked at the others. They’d stopped fighting. They must have heard it as well. Palladio shook his head.
“It can’t be her, can it?”
Grec opened and closed her mouth a few times, unable to find quite the right words. She wanted Khouri to be alive, to be out there somewhere on the snow plain, lost but dug in, knowing that all she had to do was stay put and conserve power and keep warm and the others would collect her later. The Fleet left no one behind, not now, not ever.
A different voice. Furusawa flinched.
Gunnery Sergeant Alonso.
“Palladio,” called Furusawa. “Talk to them.” At the other end of her steady pistol, Anderson stood and smiled, his eyes closed.
Palladio crouched next to the sergeant.
“Why not?” asked Grec.
“Because,” said Palladio, looking up. “Khouri is dead—I can’t sense her. And Alonso isn’t a Psi-Marine. It can’t be them.”
Khouri’s voice again, echoing inside Grec’s head. Furusawa turned to her, her face pale.
?” said Anderson. He leapt forward, grabbing the pistol from the distracted Sergeant’s hand. She made a grab towards him, then backed off as she found herself covered by the marine. Anderson waved them all together, until the trio were backed against the rear of the cave.
“Anderson, come on,” said Furusawa.
, said the voice in Grec’s head that sounded like Alonso, but wasn’t.
“We’ve got to finish the
,” said Anderson, rictus grin on his face, his free hand rubbing the side of his head.
“Darwyn, what are you doing?” asked Palladio, one hand reaching out to his teammate.
Come outside, Kat
, said the voice in Grec’s head that wasn’t, couldn’t have been Khouri. When the voice spoke, there was a buzzing in the background. The weird interference; the jamming signal. And beneath that, other voices—two, three, four—voices that Grec didn’t recognize, all saying the same thing.
Anderson’s aim wavered, then he pulled the gun up and rubbed the heel of his hand into the other side of his head, stretching the skin around his face. His eyes were closed in pain.
“Make them stop,” he said. “Make them
Furusawa nudged Grec with her elbow. Grec glanced sideways, met the sergeant’s eye, and nodded. She tensed herself, ready to rush forward with the sergeant to disarm and disable Anderson.
“Now,” said Furusawa. She powered forward. Grec went to move, but stopped. Furusawa came to a halt, the pistol in Anderson’s hand nearly touching her forehead.
“Make them stop,” said Anderson. His face was red, tears streaked down it. “Please, make them
Grec held out her hands. “Drop the gun, Darwyn. Come on.”
Anderson shook his head, then it drooped, his eyes closed, and he moaned in pain. Again the gun hand moved up as he rubbed his temple.
“You don’t get it, do you? Any of you?” he laughed, and pointed to the corner of the floor that he had dug out during the night. “We’re sleeping with the dead and you don’t even get it.”