Episode 1: Out of the Darkness

“Hey boss?”

Charlane “Char” Lee-Thompson shifted her rifle. “Yeah?” Linc hadn’t said a damn thing in two hours. Char was about ready to fall asleep to the sound of her own boots crunching in the thin snow. Why had she agreed to switch shifts with Leander?

“Did you hear that?” Linc asked.

Char paused mid-step and glanced over. Through her night-vision goggles she could see Linc, also in goggles, standing still with his rifle clutched in front of him and his head tilted to one side, facing the fence.

Fort Situk was it night power-saving mode. Not a pin-prick of light shone from the metal and concrete walls of the building beside them. The nearest city was 200 miles away. Before she’d come up here she’d never seen such dark and she was damn sure that when their year-long security contract was up she wouldn’t miss it.

The wind turbines swished in slow circles above their heads.

“What did you hear?” Char asked after a minute.

“A yell, I think.”

Char tapped the button on the silver pod attached to her wrist and activated her comm. “Spurgeon, come in.”

His voice came softly over her ear bud a moment later. “Yeah, boss.”

“Were you guys yelling at us?”

“No, boss.”

“Were you dicking around?” Char asked wryly.

“No, boss.” Spurgeon sounded confused.

The other two soldiers were almost half a mile away on the other side of the compound. Char doubted Linc would have heard Spurgeon and Jesse if they screamed like banshees.

But then, it was pretty quiet.

“He says they weren’t shouting,” Char said to Linc. She scanned the barren Alaskan landscape beyond the fence, a low plain that swooped up into towering foothills.

“Maybe it was nothing,” Linc muttered. “I’m pretty, um… tired.”

Char sighed and took a deep breath, filling her lungs with smoky air. Ever since the wind had shifted to the west, the sky had taken on a bronzy hue and the air reeked like burning garbage. Leander had speculated it was Tokyo burning. The Federated American army had bombed the shit out of the Russo-Chinese city two weeks before.

They walked on and finished off the half-mile stretch of chain-linked fence, paused for a moment at the empty corner turret, and turned back.

“Wait.” Linc held up his hand. They were just about back to where he’d made them stop before.

“I didn’t hear anything,” Char said.

“I saw something.”

Linc pushed up against the fence, cupping his hands around his goggles and peering through darkness. Suddenly his body jerked.

“Boss, there’s a guy out there.”

“What?”

Linc pointed.

Char followed his jutting finger. For a moment she saw just the uniform green area that represented snow. Her eyes locked onto a slow movement, a blob crawling along the ground. A head came up, and though there was no way it could see her, they seemed to lock eyes.

“Yeah, that’s a person,” Char said. She lifted her comm to her mouth. “Tower, I need a spotlight on the south side right now.”

“Copy that,” someone responded. A moment later, the white light burst from the tower. Char clawed her night vision goggles from her face and pressed her face against the fence.

A blood-streaked face lifted from the snow.

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Char grunted as she and Linc set down the stretcher on the table in the infirmary.

Ice-white bare feet hung off the end of the bed. Char tucked the blankets back around them as Leander bounded through the door.

A soft groan came from within the blankets.

“Where the fuck is the doctor?” Char snapped.

“He’s not answering his comm,” Leander said.

“Then go to his—“ Char cut herself off. “I’ll get him. Warm this guy up. Now.”

The doctor’s room was near hers in the command pod. Char strode down the hall, shedding her heavy gloves and hat as she went.

In the dim hallway, Char pounded her fist on the cool metal of the doctor’s bedroom door and leaned up against the wall.

Nothing.

Char lifted her hand to make the door shake, but it swung open.

“Yeah?” the doctor stood in the door panting. He was shirtless and blurry-eyed. His hair hung in a fuzzy braid over his shoulder.

Heat suffused Char’s cheeks. “Answer your goddamn comm, Seth!”

Heat suffused Char’s cheeks. “Answer your goddamn comm, Seth!”

“What?” Seth glanced back into the dark room.

“You’re needed in the infirmary,” Char snapped. “Put some clothes on.”

“Oh.” The faintest flush came to his cheeks. “I’ll be right there.”

The door closed.

Char cringed and made a sharp about-face.

Well that’s not fair. So the guy had started working out in the last five years. So guy was aging like Italian wine and she was aging like a grape in the sun. She didn’t have to light up like a Christmas tree.

This would be so much simpler if you were dead like Leander’s ex, Seth.

Char sighed.

“Where did he come from?” Leander asked as Char burst back into the infirmary.

“Beats me,” Char sighed. “He was crawling when we picked him up. Scans show nothing, no planes or anything.”

Leander had the man covered in several blankets.

The door opened behind them. Seth sidled in beside her, pulled aside the blanket, and revealed the nearly-naked form of a man. Blood was frozen in vermillion rivulets from a circular wound in his concave stomach. His spindly legs spread from a tattered short-like garment. One thigh was splattered with blood. His toes and fingers were grey-white, but the rest of his skin hadn’t much more pigment.

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The man’s head lifted weakly. His teeth bared in a rictus.

“Shh.” Seth laid a hand against the man’s forehead, pressing back against the stretcher. “Easy, friend.”

“Linc, there’s a bin of hot-water bottles in that cupboard.” Seth pointed with one hand as he swiped a stethoscope from the counter. “Turn the tap as hot as it will go and start filling them, please.”

Linc clumped to the sink in his heavy snow boots and pulled off his gloves.

As the water gushed into the sink, Seth already had his stethoscope against the man’s chest. He spoke in low soothing words to the man, whose eyes were shut. He put a thermometer in the man’s ear for a moment, then glanced at it.

“Boss.” Leander shook out her long, black hair and pulled it back with a rubber band. “What do you want me to do?”

“Send another drone up and call Erwell,” Char said. “Dr. Thompson,” she turned to Seth, “is there a community this man could have walked out of?”

Seth tucked a hot water bottle into the man’s armpit and didn’t make eye contact. “The closest village is more than two hours by truck. It would be a heck of a hike for someone in this shape.”

Char ran her teeth over her bottom lip.

“Erwell will flip.” Leander screwed up her face. “But I can take her. I’ll call her and then take over your shift, kay?”

“Yup.”

Leander headed for the door.

“Report to me what she says,” Char called after her.

As fast as Linc filled hot water bottles, Seth packed them around them around the man, who had gone still.

Seth stood for a moment, listening to the man’s heartbeat.

“Bad?” Char asked.

“Odd,” Seth said. “Just odd. Not sure what’s going on yet.” He blew out his breath. “I need to look at his wound.” He folded one blanket back over their patient’s chest and one down to his hips to expose a twelve-inch circular wound across his belly. The blood had melted and smeared into streaks, and around the wound the skin was mottled purple-black.

“What made that?” Char circled around to stand on the other side of the table. She watched Seth probe the wound gently. His black eyes narrowed.

“It looks like a cross between a circular saw cut and a giant bug bite,” he muttered. “There’s a puncture in the centre.” He folded the blanket back to expose the man’s thigh. “And here’s another.”

His deft fingers explored the wound. “There’s something in there,” he said. His lips pressed together in concentration. “Some kind of slim object.” His breath whistled through his teeth. “That’ll need to come out. I need to get these cleaned up and stitch him. Will you give me a hand, Char?”

It was the first time he’d called her by name since she’d arrived. He kept calling her “Captain Lee-Thompson.” It was kind of a dick move. She didn’t have a rank any more—being a private security contractor should’ve made that obvious.

“Of course,” she said.

He pointed toward the sink. “Scrub up and put on some gloves. I’ll get your help closing these wounds. Linc?”

“Yeah, doc?” the younger man turned, holding the last hot-water bottle.

“There’s a basin on the top, left-hand shelf. Fill it with warm water please.”

By the time Char had scrubbed down from hand to elbow and donned gloves, Seth had instruments laid out and the last remaining shreds of clothing cut off the patient. The blanket was neatly tucked for modestly. He tugged on gloves and began to swab blood away from the wound.

Char leaned in. “It does look like a circular saw cut. There’s tiny teeth marks.”

“Did you notice—” Seth lowered his voice “—he has two extra ribs?”

“Did you notice—” Seth lowered his voice “—he has two extra ribs?”

Her eyebrows shot up. “What?”

Seth dropped the swab into a stainless-steel bowl and took a new one. “There’s something imbedded in his chest. They look like magnets. Six of them. They’re completely scarred over, so they’ve been there for a while.” He tossed the swab into the bowl. “Stand by with the forceps please.”

Char’s hand hovered over the tray of instruments for a moment before she selected the forceps.

Seth held out his hand and she placed them in his palm. He settled the gripping edges around the shard in the wound and pulled on it steadily.

The object began to emerge, gleaming white beneath the blood. Seth pulled, yet it kept coming. Two inches three inches, four.

“Oh!” Char said. Linc had turned to watch.

It came free, an eight-inch spear of hard material, tapered to a perfect point.

“Woah,” Linc said. “What is that?”

Char glanced down as blood gushed from the wound.

“Char, middle cupboard, bottom shelf. Tourniquets and hemostatic sponges now.” Seth jammed his hands into the flow of blood.

For a moment, all was motion as Char slid in beside Seth and took over pressure for him so he could snap on the tourniquet.

With hands slippery with blood, Char fumbled to hand him hemostatic sponges.

The tide quickly became an ooze and stopped. Still, by the time the wound was tightly bound, Seth and Char were splattered with blood.

Seth leaned both hands on the table. “What the hell?” he breathed. “That’s not where the femoral artery is.”

He stood panting for a moment.

“If he has arteries where he ought not to,” Seth said, “and if he has extra ribs, do I dare give him blood?”

He took the patient’s vitals again, squinting at each result he got.

“I’ve got time to test this.” Seth stripped off his gloves and went around the corner into the next room. A moment later, he returned with vial of solution. He put a drop of blood into the glass tube and held it up to his eye and waited. After a few moments he blew his breath out.

“It’s not registering as any of the blood types,” he said.

“Which means what?” Char said. “They, uh, they don’t do human experiments around these parts do they?”

“I didn’t think so,” Seth said under his breath. “I can’t give him a transfusion. His vitals are still relatively strong. He’s warming up. He could pull through.” He paused. “But what in hell is going on?”

He sighed. “Linc, I’d take that tub of water now.”

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