insurgentsShe was a woman, a human! She stood there in the light of the open hatchway, hurriedly working the action on a chemical flechette rifle, and cursing in a language not-quite Spanish. Frustrated, she banged on the underside of the rifle, finally activating a new magazine. She looked up at me with a quick snap of her head.

Her eyes were brown and deeply impatient. She was tall and wiry with sharp features, pointy fingers, and a swath of short black hair swept back. Her face, her poise, her gestures all had a controlled but elegant intensity, like hot smoke in a bottle. For an instant, she regarded me with either a sneer or a half-smile. I couldn’t tell which, until she opened her mouth.

“You!” she shouted. “Move!”

I jumped from the sheer volume she commanded and quickly crawled to the edge of the compartment opening. She grabbed me by the collar of my shirt with one hand and jerked me free of the hatchway. I tumbled across the snow and ice, shocked by the sudden rush of cold. My fingertips screamed out at the touch of the frozen landscape. As I scrambled to get to my feet, my collar snapped tight to my neck, choking me, as she pulled me up off the ice.

“I can get up…” I protested, coughing, spitting.

“You can’t,” she said. “You move too slow.” With a yank, she pulled me around to the side of the fallen vehicle where her team was recovering from the brief fight. With a rough shove, I was pushed up against the vehicle and held there. My injured shoulder buzzed with fresh pain.

A man was sprawled on the ice, covered in blood, a deep penetrating wound in his chest. He coughed and rocked his head back and forth. Another man, down on one knee, hovered over him, speaking to him in calm words.

Two of the other team members were engaged in securing the immediate area, rifles up, scanning the landscape around the overturned vehicle. Both of them were dressed in tactical gear and bits of civilian clothing. Both carried high power, long-range EMD pulse rifles. They were non-lethal, except at close range. One of the two men was a mountain of a man and stood like a shield before one that was fallen.

“We have him, Dada,” the woman told the man attending to their injured companion.

He looked up at me with sharp, inquisitive eyes and then back to the woman. “Ghia, get cover on him,” he said. “Pili,” he shouted to the mountain. “Over here.” Pointing in my direction.

“Yeah, boss,” Pili replied, turning and lumbering toward me.

I flattened myself against the overturned vehicle as Pili moved his huge frame directly in front of me. In his large shadow, I felt safe. Safe as I’d even been. But still, I didn’t know who these people were or what they intended to do with me. Am I trapped, captured again?

All around was the immensity of the frozen landscape. It was truly arctic, inescapable. We were on the outskirts of a glittering city, against a backdrop of a snow-covered mountain range. Dozens of glass and steel buildings towered at the heart of the city. They were hundreds of stories high and massive at the base. A wide expanse of smaller buildings surrounded the central towers. The city was immense.

Bellingshausen. It was like nothing that I had ever seen before. In all my knowledge and memory, it didn’t exist. This was new. This was different. Was this truly Antarctica? How could this be possible? When?

Quinn was squirming on the blood-soaked ice, wincing and shaking in pain. Dada leaned further over Quinn, who began speaking in quiet tones. Dada listened attentively. Then they both looked up at me. Ghia shot Pili an anxious look and then glanced back at me. She lowered her rifle and rushed to Quinn’s side, shouting his name. Dada tried to hold her back. She pushed through.

“Parker, get her back in line,” Dada shouted to the other sentry. “We have to keep this area secure.”

As Parker backed his way up to Ghia, she quickly kneeled next to Quinn. Ghia’s hands trembled as she touched him softly on his shoulder. Quinn spoke and ordered her to cover me. She shot me an angry look. Parker insisted that she fall back in line and pulled her to her feet with a rough jerk.

Ghia shook off Parker’s grasp, shouldered her rifle and stormed back to her position. She glared at me angrily. I felt frustrated, confused.

Looking away from her fierce gaze, I saw that Quinn had lifted his head and was making a feeble gesture toward me. I stared back. “I expected that you would be different.” Quinn said in a trembling voice, causing all to turn and look at me.

I was shocked. “How could you…” I began, but my words were cut short as Quinn began to cough, gurgle, and shudder. Dada gripped his hand tightly. Blood spurt from Quinn’s mouth and covered his neck and face. The pale red stain on the frozen surface beneath him began to grow.

“Quinn! Quinn!” Dada shouted. “Hold on, my friend!”

“We have to move. Get him up!” said Ghia.

“Agreed,” Dada replied. “What do you see out there, Pili?” he added.

“Nothing moves, nothing on the scans,” replied the big man.

“That doesn’t mean anything,” said Parker, harshly. “They’re like nasty little insects. They’ll be crawling out of the walls in no time.”

Ghia turned to me. “What did you bring with you?” she said with an angry scowl. “What is it that makes you so damn important?”

“Enough of that!” shouted Dada.

“I… I had some information… from my ship,” I replied. “It’s on a data patch device.” I pointed to the vehicle behind me. “They took it. It’s there in the cabin. They took it from me.”

Dada snapped his fingers twice and pointed Parker over to the vehicle. “Get it out and get it safe. We’re not going away empty-handed on this one.”

“I’m on it,” said Parker, who dropped his rifle to his side and moved to climb up to the hatch atop the vehicle. Before he could reach the top and get access to the cabin, a heavy impact struck the ground a few meters from the vehicle, exploding and fragmenting a huge patch of ice and snow. Parker was thrown from the side of the vehicle. All scattered for cover. Dada threw himself to the ground near Quinn. Ice fragments rained down heavily.

From his prone position near Quinn, Dada shouted, “Parker, get me an update quick!”

Parker stood and scanned the area. “I don’t know, Dada. It could be a single, maybe multiple hostiles. No time to wait and see! We need to go now!”

“We need that information…” said Dada, but his words were cut short by another impact. This time the impact was closer. An explosion of ice filled the air with razor-sharp shards of hard-pack ice.

Parker brought his rifle up to his shoulder and stared through the optics. “Damn it, I can’t see anything, Dada. They’re out there, well hidden. I say that this stage of the mission is over. We pull out now and relocate.”

“You heard him, people. We move now,” said Dada. “Pili, pick up Quinn. We’ve got to get to safety.”

“Yeah, boss,” said Pili moving away from me. He slung his rifle over his shoulder and reached down to pick up Quinn. He stopped suddenly and then reached to turn Quinn’s head to one side. A large chunk of ice had caved in the right side of his skull in the explosion. Quinn was dead. Pili looked up. The rest of the team had already taken notice. “He’s gone, Dada.”

Ghia screamed, loud but brief. It was an explosion of rage and pain. Dada rushed over and grabbed her by the arm. “We have to move and cannot bring him with us, Ghia.” Dada said.

Ghia shook his hand away. “You can’t just leave him here!”

Dada looked at her with sympathy and then turned away. “Parker, we’re leaving him. Tell me you have a nanopat injector.”

Parker lowered his weapon, let out a breath, and reached for a pocket inside his vest. “I do,” he replied.

“Set it off. Dissolve him. We have to go.”

Ghia turned to Parker and shot him a pained look.

“I’m sorry, Ghia. Dada’s right… and so are you,” Parker said. “We can’t take him. And we can’t leave him here. When the nanoparticles are done, there won’t be anything left for them to keep.”

Parker pulled a gray tube from his inner vest, snapped off the cap and slid out what looked like a black stim injector. It had a number of red cautionary symbols imprinted down the length of one side. Ghia didn’t take her eyes off Parker, even as he activated the device, ejecting a thick needle from the bottom. Parker leaned over Quinn’s body, paused for a moment, and the plunged the needle into the side of Quinn’s neck. The device made a soft hiss.

Ghia turned a hateful gaze toward me. “You’d better be worth this, whoever you are.”

“I’m sorry,” I began. “I don’t… ”

“That’s enough, Ghia,” said Dada, interrupting me sharply. “We move out now. We will deal with this later.” Then, turning to me, he paused and asked “Who are you, by the way?”

“Maxim. My name is Maxim.”

“Maxim, we have a short climb to another vehicle that’s hidden. We’re going to get you back into the city to a place that’s safe. We’ll get you some medical attention. After that, you’re on your own. Questions?”

“Just one,” I replied. “What time is it?”

Dada looked at the mission counter on his rifle and replied “It’s about 01:30 right now.”

“I meant, what year.”

Dada made a side glance to Parker and then looked at both Ghia and Pili. They were silent for a moment. “It’s 2086, Maxim. What year did you think it was?”

“I didn’t know,” I started. “When I left… well… I only made it back one-hundred years.”

Parker and Pili looked at each other with raised eyebrows. Ghia stared at me with a deeply-confused expression.

“Maxim,” Dada replied, solemnly. “I think that you’re exactly what we’re looking for after all. Let’s get you to safety.”

[Communication Relay: 07MAR2086 Alexander Island, Antarctica]