alleyway_attackerThe city had retreated indoors. In the lonesome alleyway, I stumbled around in the snow and ice, battered by the wind. It was a red night. The sky was black and the lamps overhead shone a dark crimson light – a warning sign, perhaps. Stay off the streets.

The red-tinted lamps gave the snow and ice that covered the ground and building sides a bloody, criminal appearance. In the sinister half-light of the red lamps, the door I emerged from was barely visible, nothing more than a rough shape cut into the wall. Fearful of perishing on the frozen red landscape, I panicked and jammed my fingers into the outline of the door, straining, pulling, and trying to find a way back in, until my fingertips tore and bled. No re-entry.

As the wind howled past, I pushed my back into a shallow alcove and let out a huge breath. In the red light, it looked like a cloud of blood vapor. The wind blew the cloud down the alleyway. My face and hands were already numb from exposure, my fingers felt like blunt icicles. I began to shake uncontrollably.

My cold, leaden hands could barely work the collar and the fasteners to the jacket, as I tried to pull it tight around my shivering frame. My thumb found the cuff of my jacket and the embedded thermologic controls that activated the heating elements. I pressed the activator until the coat came alive. I pulled the hood over my head and jammed my hands into the coat pockets. Warmth. For the time, I would survive. In these elements, however, continued exposure meant death.

For the first time, I was able to look up and around at the city that had consumed me. I scanned the dark red landscape and architecture. Bellingshausen.

The city stood tallest at the center and cascaded downward as the buildings spread out into regions of concentric circles to the furthest border. I saw all manner of concrete and stone, wood, glass, metal, and strange composite materials. The buildings were laid out with unexpected twists and turns. There were sharp angles and rounded corners. This was an ill-planned collision of architectural styles and forms and materials. No sane planning, designing, and construction process would have given rise to this architectural madness.

From my location the tall towers at the center looked like a soaring ice sculpture, with shooting spires and jagged edges that towered impossibly into the sky and loomed ominously over the lower regions. Around the central towers were organic glass and metal shapes that appeared to bubble up from the ground. In the outer regions, no two buildings were alike. The entire city was an abnormality, strange but beautiful.

I tried to imagine myself living in this place, under the greenish-gray thumb of the LMOs. Unacceptable. This was Antarctica, no place to be. If the LMOs wanted it, they could have it. But before I left this place, I had a small score to settle with one LMO in particular.

In the distance, a faint thrumming noise came from above the howling wind. I peeked out of the alcove and looked up. The sky was anguished. White torrents and leaden streaks blew rapidly above the sanguine confines of the red lamps. I drew a slow breath and pulled the heated coat tighter around me. The noise grew louder. As it neared, it became a distinctly mechanical, pulsing sound. I squinted against the wind-swept snow and ice particles and saw six electric-blue spots descending from the sky. They crackled with power. I drew back. From the size and formation, they could only be part of an anti-grav vehicle, skimming the rooftops of the city. A patrol vehicle.

The pulsing and crackling noise erupted into a high, whining blast from above, as a small transport craft dropped into a slow course over the tops of the buildings above me.

I made myself small, pushing deep into the alcove. I watched as the craft came to a hovering position over the alleyway fifty or sixty meters away, kicking up a whirling flurry of snow and ice on the ground below. A powerful beam of light erupted from the bottom of the vehicle and prowled across the ground, searching. My heart thumped. A nervous churn started in my guts.

I heard a confusion of voices and shouting. The craft continued to hover and the beam of light centered on the ground directly below. A series of quick mechanical barks sounded. An alarm. From the bottom of the craft, a line with three figures descended to the street level. Two of the figures were big, human shaped – LMO sentries. They carried rifles. The third figure was four-legged, an animal – large, muscular, and dark.

Fear seized me. Only sixty meters away were two large LMOs and one hunting animal. I buried my mouth in the coat collar and fought to control my breathing, for fear that the cloudy vapor would give away my position. In this lonely stretch of the city, at this time of night, the only person of interest was me. I watched them, sizing them up, listening.

The two LMOs stood in the light. I could see that they wore much the same tight-fitting tactical gear as the LMO squad that pulled me from the ship. They also wore headgear. In this environment, they probably had enhanced communications, audio and vision. They stood for a time, holding on to the line from the ship for support against wind. They appeared to be speaking, coordinating movements. They pointed up and down the alleyway. I shuddered with anxiety. I could not fight all three without a weapon.

Overhead, mechanical barks sounded again and the light beam from the craft flickered out. The hovering vehicle cycled up the propulsion engines with a whine and streaked off into the dark sky. One of the LMOs let the animal loose. The creature made a series of throaty, guttural cackling noises followed by a high-pitched scream and began dashing from one side of the alleyway to the other, oblivious to the punishing blizzard around it. It made my skin crawl. One LMO took off after the beast, tracking its movements, walking away from my location.

The other lone LMO raised a rifle to its shoulder and began scanning the alleyway with long sweeps as it advanced down the alley toward my hiding spot in the alcove. The hunt was on.

I pushed into the alcove as tightly as I could manage and turned off the heating elements in the jacket. I pulled back the hood and unfastened the front, allowing the cold air to rush in and envelop my body. I fought the urge to shiver. If the hunter came for me, I wanted to be cold, dark, and invisible until the last moment.

The LMO swept the alleyway cautiously and I marked his pattern. The sweep he was using would bring him within a few meters of the shallow alcove. When he saw the darkened space, he would have to treat the recessed area as a potential threat. I slid to the ground. Just inside the shadows, I made myself into a tight ball and waited. If trained well, the LMO would approach the side of the alcove “rifle first” and sweep from the far end to just over my head. From that vantage point, I would be quick and lethal.

I heard the footsteps. I heard his breathing. The sound grew both nearer and softer. The LMO was cautious. I took a long quiet breath. The barrel of the rifle appeared and I flew into action.

From my crouched position, I sprung out, left hand pushing the rifle barrel up and away. The rifle came loose and tumbled through the air. The LMO instinctively looked up, showing me his throat. Mistake.

With fingers curled under, I twisted my upper body forward and delivered a brutal knuckle strike to the front of the throat, crushing the windpipe. The LMO bent forward, and let out a sharp gurgle. Without hesitation, I stepped in and slid my hand underneath his jaw up to the crook of my arm. I locked my arm into a tight hold with my free hand, jerked savagely upward and fell backwards into the alcove. The weight of the LMO’s body snapped its neck as we hit the ground.

The LMO shuddered once and a breath escaped its mouth with a low wheeze. I held on tightly, squeezing as firmly as I could. The body stopped moving, beating, breathing. It was done. Dead.

I released my grip, pushed the body to the side of the alcove, and got to my feet. My heart pounded and I took a few deep breaths. Cold as I was, I could feel the perspiration beading up under my clothes. The LMO’s head rested at an unnatural angle to the shoulders.

Disgusted, I spat at it.

After a moment to breathe and gather my wits, I pulled the LMO’s body to rest tightly against the back wall of the alcove. The remaining hunting party would return soon. Dressed as they were, this could be no prolonged sweep and the patrol transport craft would also be back for a coordinated pick-up. I had to leave this area.

I ran into the alley and seized the fallen rifle. I had never seen one like it. It was a short-range energy or pulse rifle of some sort. I slung the weapon over my shoulder and went back to the alcove. The dead LMO carried communications, enhanced vision technology, and a set of earbuds. I pulled everything of tactical value off the creature. I stripped it of the blade it carried as well.

In the distance, I heard the beast returning. The guttural cackling noises followed by the high-pitched scream gave me a prickly sensation up and down my spine. My fear began to swell again. The body would be discovered. I couldn’t outrun the animal. I scanned the dark alleyway for anything, anywhere.

In the distance, up the alley from the advancing hunting animal, was a flickering light that caught my eye.  It was a dim bulb, pale green, pulsing softly in the dark. It was maybe twenty or thirty meters away. It wasn’t there before.

As I stared at the green light in the distance, I heard more noise from the beast. Closer. I took my chance, moving swiftly across the alleyway to the far wall. The wind gusted suddenly, tearing through the alley. The last fifteen meters were a struggle against the blowing wind and shards of ice. As I moved toward the flickering light, the wind changed directions and I was blasted into a rolling, tumbling scramble, almost overshooting the target. I slammed against a short barrier in front of the entryway. My ribs took a beating but the hot pain felt oddly comforting. I grabbed the top of the barrier and flipped over. I could now hear the animal and the shouts of the LMO behind it. They were too close.

I looked up and saw that the green bulb was part of an access panel outside a small rounded doorway. The pale green light shone steady. Unlocked.

Getting to my knees, I pressed myself against the wall and put my hand out to the pale green light. It was round and warm. I pushed the bulb into the face of the panel and a door in the wall slid open with a long grinding sound. Beyond, there was nothing but darkness. I crawled through and the door shut automatically behind me. A light on the interior access panel turned from dim green to red. Locked.

Was I safe? Or was I trapped?

I got to my feet and put my ear to the door. The walls were thick. I couldn’t even hear the howling of the wind. If the hunting party moved past the doorway, I heard nothing. If the discovery of the body elicited shouts or gunfire, I still heard nothing.

My eyes adjusted to the darkness illuminated only by the dim red light from the access panel. I could see that the room was a maintenance facility. Pipes and ducts and wiring emerged from dozens of areas across the ceiling and walls. There were numerous terminals and panels and instruments. All were dark. The air smelled of dust and electricity. A low hum came from seemingly everywhere. The unlocked room was a mystery… but it was warm and dry and seemingly safe. I flexed my fingers and felt sensation return as sharp tingling.

I felt my way across the room to a far wall, put my back against a warm pipe, and slid to the floor. Physically and mentally exhausted, I wanted to keep my eyes open and focused on the door and any further danger that might appear. I shook my head and blinked several times.

To stay alert, I played through the new knowledge I had gained since landing at Bellingshausen. A world gone strange. People enslaved. Spegg in charge. Anger swelled. Frustration.

Unbelievable.

I had been told that Bellingshausen was the last habitable place on Earth. My home, Japan, and all that I knew… was gone. Here, the crawlers chasing us through the underground were biologically-engineered horrors. The city above was a hostile environment, patrolled by armed LMOs and hunting animals. The people here, perhaps the last of the humans, groveled and cowered under the vile machinations of Spegg and all his filthy transgenic conspirators.

Spegg – that deranged creature – helped devise and construct this horrible place. The madness that covers the plains, fills the city, and crawls deep below is all part of his disturbed mind. But Spegg, crafty and crazy as he may be, had help with all this.

I looked at the dead LMO’s blade and turned it over in my hands. Dark, dense carbon… fantastically sharp. Perfect.

Whoever the Director and Wayne Robertson were… they too shared in the blame. Along with Spegg, they too would soon be called to a harsh reckoning. This, I decided, was to be true.

Soon, the exhaustion overwhelmed the anger and I slept… the dark blade gripped tightly in my hand.

[Communication Relay: 10APR2086 Alexander Island, Antarctica]