03-12-2007 03:00 PM
I love your story! And look forward to reading more of it
I could hear a "dun dun dun" in my head when Kirk didn't tell anyone he was bitten. This is turning out great!
03-12-2007 09:31 PM
“You okay man?” Jones asked him. Kirk’s face was looking pale and he was sweating hard. Could he be getting heat stroke?
Jones watched him out of the corner of his eye. Fine? Yeah right; “fine” didn’t leave you gasping for breath.
“Kepper, come relieve Kirk. I think the sun is starting to get to him,” Jones said, bringing the three of them to a stop.
“I SAID I’M FINE!” Kirk lashed out. Jones and Emmett both flinched and everyone stopped to look at him.
“Sorry,” Kirk said quickly, turning his face away, embarrassed. “I—maybe you’re right. I think the sun is getting to me.”
Kane nodded. “Everyone take a five minute break; we could all use it.”
Jones wanted to snort. Apparently the sarge wasn’t looking at Siverine when he said that. She’d been carrying Emmett’s pack for them, but had yet to break a sweat. Then again, she had been living in this place for a while; it was probably an experience similar to extreme boot camp.
Jones helped Emmett lay on the ground while Kirk went off a ways, taking a long drink from his canteen. Siverine came over to look at Emmett’s leg and Jones quickly looked for an exit. He could handle Siverine and even the giant dog—his uncle raised mastiffs—but the smaller one that looked like it had been taxidermy freaked him out. And as I just his imagination or what the dog getting more white on it?
Lancaster landed hard on the ground and Jones joined him.
“How’s the leg?” he asked, opening his canteen. It made him think of the blood that had been stored in Siverine’s canteen and he hesitated and tasted to make sure he still had water.
“It burned and my head hurts some,” Lancaster muttered. “And I keep smelling urine.” Jones offered him a drink. “Thanks. I still need to wash that ant taste out of my mouth.”
“Was it nasty?”
“Not really, but the thought of it is.” Jones agreed with a smile and took back the canteen. “So how’s your little sister doing?” Lancaster asked and they were still talking about their families back home when Kane called for them to move out again.
“Where’s Kirk?” Jones asked, looking around. He wasn’t with the rest of the group.
“Did he go off to pee?” Kepper asked.
Lan set down Duke. ‘I’ll find him,’ the massive dog said and lopped away.
“Lancaster,” Siverine said, coming over to them. “Here, eat another.” She held out another ant body and Lancaster groaned. “It will make your headache go away and the burning in your leg fade. You can eat one now and suffer through until tomorrow or take two and be better by the time we stop for camp.”
“I guess it’s a toss up,” he muttered, but took two of the large ants. Part of Jones was curious to see if they really tasted all that back, but a stronger part decided he could live without knowing.
Lan’s sudden, loud, insistent barking alerted everyone to danger and everyone took off running except Emmett.
“Kepper, stay with Emmett,” Kane shouted as the rest of them hurried over the hill.
Jones almost bit his tongue when he saw Kirk, his shirt ripped off and his gear scattered around. At first he thought it had been Lan, but then realized Kirk was holding scraps of his shirt in white clenched fists. The large dog stood away from Kirk, head low as he watched the man carefully.
“What’s going on?” Kane demanded.
“The ant poison. He must have been bit and didn’t tell anyone,” Siverine said. They slowed as they drew closer. Kirk’s head jerked toward them. The fever in his eyes and face were obvious and flecks of white foam clung to his lips. Siverine stopped and just looked at him.
“Well don’t just stand there, do something!” Lancaster shouted at her. “You still have a bunch of those ants.”
The look she shot him was as cold as ice. “The Bloodlands don’t give second chances,” she informed him. “Here you are forced to be responsible for your choices. He choice to ignore my help and now he has to live with it.”
Her head snapped away and Lancaster’s cheeks went red. Then she started to walk toward Kirk who as heaving breath and pulling on his hair.
“Siverine?” Kane took a step toward her.
“Stay back. The Bloodlands may not be forgiving, but I’m not going to give up just yet.”
She slowly eased her way closer and reached out a hand. Kirk’s fingers raked across his face and then he looked at her with wide, unsettling eyes.
“Kirk, I know it hurts. Your head feels like it’s going to explode and that ants are crawling inside and out of you. It might not be too late. Here,” she pulled out four ants, “eat these.”
Kirk looked at her and reached out a hand. Then he suddenly lunged, hands clenching like claws for her throat and mouth opened like he was going to bite her.
Lan pined him in a heartbeat, the dog moving faster than Jones thought possible. Massive paws pinned down Kirk’s chest and shoulder and his jaws snapped as he barked in Kirk’s face.
‘I’ve killed for less than that,’ Lan growled, his teeth bared and close to Kirk’s neck.
On instinct Jones raised his gun and aimed. The next thing he knew Siverine was in front on him, the barrel held tight in her hand, holding it to her own chest.
“What the—” Jones was startled by her brash actions.
“If Lan was going to kill him, he’d be dead already,” she told him. While still holding the rifle barrel, she looked at Kane. “I’m sorry, but he’s too far gone. You can kill him or let him go. By nightfall he’ll have forgotten he was every human. If he lives long enough, the Meryani might find him and remake him to be something humanoid, but the mind that made the man you knew is gone.”
“There has to be—”
“Didn’t you hear me? There are very, very, very few second chances here. There’s nothing anyone here can do to help him unless you want to put him out of his misery.” She let go of the gun and started to walk away. With on final growl Lan leapt back and followed after. Siverine paused and looked over at Lancaster.
“And to think, it could have been you,” she said. Then she walked away to leave the soldiers to their decision.
03-13-2007 04:28 PM
Poor Kirk, but that's what he gets for not listening to Siverine I guess
You only made a few grammatical errors but you can fix those up when you do your next draft, just keep writin' that story!
03-13-2007 11:04 PM
Harrison and his men had the bags of remains in a close pile and stood next to them as the helicopter lower to the ground. Harrison waited and watched.
The chopper came low, the door swung open, and a soldier reached out to take the first bag as Fields and York held it up.
The chopper came within a foot of the ground and stayed.
Harrison’s eyes were fixed on the bottom of the chopper.
“Harrison!” Daniels shouted. “Come on!” Harrison looked up. The other soldier was holding up the side of one bag, waiting as Fields and York handed their third bag up. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing; sorry.” Harrison grabbed his end and lifted, but one eye kept low, hoping the helicopter would land.
“Smith!” he shouted at the pilot. But the man who looked back wasn’t an acquaintance of his.
“Where’re the others?” one of the men asked.
“Retrieving survivors,” Harrison told him. “They’ll be back in ten days,”
There was a moment of hesitation and Harrison again looked down. Why wouldn’t they land?
“Right. Are you coming back now?”
“Yes.” After the bags were loaded, the men stepped up into the chopper and took off.
Harrison’s clenched his hands into a fist. Damn; that woman—Siverine had been right.
Now he was worried.
By the next day Emmett could walk by himself with only Jones to lean on and Kane and Lancaster were over any side effects of the poison. The grass grew taller until it was above their heads. Lan kept at a leisurely walk so no one would get separated.
Or so it was commonly thought.
“Sergeant Kane,” Siverine suddenly spoke up. “Did you see the Jurassic Park movies?”
“Do you remember that scene in one of them where they are running through the tall grass and the raptors are picking them off?”
“Yes,” he said cautiously. “It’s in the second one, I think.” An eerie feeling started to creep through the suddenly nervous men. This grass did look an awful lot like that scene…were there dinosaurs here too?
Siverine stopped and looked at him. “This, is nothing like that.”
Kepper let out a heavy sighed as Lancaster ground his teeth.
Kane chuckled. “You’re going to scare me into an early heart attack.”
But she wasn’t done. “This is worse. Here, you can’t run from what stalks in the grass.”
The relief proved only fleeting and everyone started to feel that chill return.
“What is it?”
“Ernest? Is this another joke?” Lancaster demanded.
Siverine’s look intensified the chill. “I can’t say its name, so I call it Ernest after an old boyfriend. He senses the tiniest movement, so if he gets close, hold as still as you can. He can’t see, taste, or smell, but he can sense. You can even piss yourself, just so long as you don’t move.”
“How do we escape it then?” Kane asked.
Siverine looked at him and then jerked her head around. She turned back toward them profile and slowly lifted a finger to her lips.
“He’s here,” she whispered and every man slowly started to freeze over. They strained to listen, but any sound was covered by the wind rustling the grass. Or so, they thought until they realized that there was no wind.
Kepper gasped and all eyes snapped in his direction. At first they only saw grass waving, but then realized it wasn’t grass; it was scales. A snake like body moved closer; only it was huge—the body was five feet in diameter, but moved stealthily and easily through the grass.
The head was like a snakes except for a shorter snout and the line of its’ mouth was almost four feet long. Its eyes were smoky grey and unseeing, but somehow still looked like those of a predator.
The men all fought not to shake and did their best not to breathe. Kane looked at Siverine and, oddly enough, was comforted by the steadiness he found there. It helped her relax. At least until Ernest’s looked right at him. The mouth slowly opened and rows of sharp, shark-like teeth moving like cilia, inviting his prey inward.
Kane help his breath and willed his heart to slow down as the teeth wiggled. Kane heard a sound as Siverine let out a long breath her teeth. Ernest turned from him and moved onto her. The mouth closed and he quickly lost interest in the sound Siverine had made. Kane must be doing something to attract his interest since the snake creature turned back toward him.
Saliva started to form on Siverine’s lips. Slowly, she moved her mouth and in a quick motion, spit at Ernest. He tensed when her spittle hit his side and then was gone, quickly and silently.
“Let’s go,” she said, the moment Ernest had disappeared into the grass again.
“What—what just happened?” Jones asked. The men were reluctant to move now that their legs had frozen in position.
“Ernest hates rain. When I spit on him, he thought it was the first of the rain.”
“You’re serious?” Lancaster asked. “It was fooled into thinking it’s going to rain?”
“It is going to rain,” Siverine said. “Which is why we have to move. When this rain storm hits, these grasslands will turn into marsh. We need to be somewhere safe before this rain comes—this kind of rain is a blessing on a cursed land.” She looked at Kane. “Heaven and hell will clash and we’re in the middle of it.”
03-14-2007 08:09 PM
“We hadn’t anticipated making another trip into the Redlands,” the officer admitted. “But there are civilians and our men out there, I’m sure it won’t be a problem.”
Maybe it was because he was getting paranoid, but Harrison wondered why there would ever be a problem? Why was he mentioning that?
“Tell me, did you see anything weird while there?”
The hairs on the back of Harrison’s neck started to stiffen.
“Yes sir. A lot.” He started talking about the camp, massacre site, the ruins city, and the bloodthirsty inhabitants. He never mentioned Siverine or her dogs.
“What of the female civilian? Rumors from the others is she’s crazy. Do you think she is?”
“No sir. She might be cautious and odd, but not crazy. She’s managed to survive in that place—while I don’t question her sanity, I’ll admit that her behaviors are different. I attribute any questionable mentality to her time spent in the Redlands and for all she’s experienced.” The chopper hadn’t landed—he couldn’t question her sanity any more. He was reminded of Siverine’s distinction between alive and surviving.
“I see. I take it you don’t want to be part of the retrieval team; the others have already asked not to be sent back.”
“No; I promised Sergeant Kane I’d come back for him and I intend to keep that promise. Please allow me to return.”
The official eyed him strangely. “Very well. Swing by the medical unit for a quick check-up; with exposure to an unexplored place, we don’t want to be spreading any foreign diseases.”
Kane double checked the knot at his waist. Thick, heavy, black clouds were rolling closer to them. He was still surprised that Siverine had been able to foretell the coming rain a day in advance. At first he’d been worried about Emmett keeping up in the oncoming storm that Siverine said they’d be running through, but yesterday she had taken the mud cast off and he had made a full recovery quickly. It may not be as easily as he used to, but he’d keep up. Just to be on the safe side, he was tied between Kepper and Lancaster, with Jones bringing up the rear. Kane was the first of the soldiers. There was only one person left to tie to the chain.
“Siverine.” He walked up to her, almost to the end of the ten foot of slack between him and Kepper. “You ready?”
“Is everyone secured?”
“Everyone but you; the rest and tied to the rope, like you said.” He took the end of the rope and wrapped it around her waist, making sure it was snuff and comfortable on her hips. “How’s that?”
“So long as you don’t outrun me, it won’t pull on you.” He looked at Lan. “Ready, big guy?”
‘Don’t worry about me,’ Lan said. Kane had never put much thought into how Lan could talk with Duke in his mouth—probably intentionally. He almost wondered if it was more like ESP and the mouth movements were just for show. ‘This isn’t the first storm we’ve weathered.’
“I guess you’re right.”
Lan raised his nose into the air. Siverine looked at Kane, her face slightly flushed.
“It’s time. We need to be moving when the rain hits. Tell the others not to stop, no matter what they see.”
Siverine had her hand tied to Lan’s collar with her braided belt. There was about ten feet of rope between her and Kane. If he could help it, he wanted to keep a lot of slack on that line. At ten foot intervals, the soldiers were spread out on the rope. Emmett’s gear had been distributed to the others—not that any of them had much left either. The trip was depleting their food and water and all non-essentials were on a rise the other side of the ant field. Most of them were down to under-shirts and wife-beaters and those were sweat-stained and turning a reddish color. Kane’s regular shirt and jacket were packed deep so they wouldn’t get wet during the storm. That way he’d have something dry afterward and could also offer Siverine something dry as well—it was impressive that she was able to make the journey living off the land, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a dry shirt.
They started at a quick walk—luckily the land before them looked flat enough. Siverine said there were shallow ravines and caves along the way, but Lan would guide them through.
They could hear the approaching rain and started to move faster. Along with the usual sound of rain, there seemed to be a hiss; like water on a hot pan.
There was very little transition. One moment it wasn’t raining, them three random drops, then it was pouring; like he’d suddenly stepped into a shower. They were drenched within seconds. Kane couldn’t help but thinking that at least they could all get cleaned up a bit this way.
At first the ground fought the rain, so the chain was running in ankle deep water. When enough water had built up, the ground would finally crack and let the water pour in. At first the cracks were only a few inches wide and as long as his arm, but they started to get bigger so he had to watch less of Siverine’s back and more of the ground to make sure his foot didn’t go in one.
They started to weave their way trough outcroppings of rocks and caves. The water ran off the rocks in small streams. After a moment, Kane came to realize that it looked like blood trickling off the rocks.
He squinted against the rain that was washing down his face, spraying water away with every exhale and trying not to drink too much on the inhale. He stayed close enough that he could see Siverine. Even had the rain had become too heavy for that, he was certain he’d see Lan’s large pale fur in anything.
He was getting the hang of avoiding the cracks—mostly because they were no new ones forming. He started to look ahead more and that’s when he noticed them. Shapes in the rain. Human shapes.
A slight pressure at his waist made him realize he’d started to slow down and he picked his speed back up.
That’s when he noticed another shape in the rain. Something smaller, black, running along side Siverine and Lan.
03-14-2007 10:12 PM
Just a couple of new observations that you can save for later since you are obviously on a roll with your rough draft and I don't want to slow you down. Your gift for description remains strong, and you have a flair for dramatic endings that reminds me of Edgar Rice Burroughs' _A Princess of Mars_, where each chapter tends in a cliff-hanger.
1. It's been a bit hard for me to keep track of all the characters--Silverine, Kane, Harrision, soldiers, and dogs, even though you name them. Even the snake gets a name. There are just a lot of them, and I was thinking we don't have to know them all, unless they are going to be going along for a long ride together (like a trilogy!). Perhaps you could use a little Star Trek and have a couple of "red shirts" killed off without us having to know little more than that they were soldiers killed in the line of duty.
2. Where does all the ant food come from when we never see the soldiers or Silverine killing any ants?
3. The transition from desert to vigorous grasslands is abrupt and in the absence of some kind of water source (i.e., a river or stream) hard to imagine.
4. One of the things that makes a desert is that there isn't any soil, which is mostly decomposing plants. Deserts are mostly sand, so using some for your homeopathic medication. Now if you have your characters transitioning from the desert to dried grasslands or patches of grassland, then you can have soil to use, or better yet, some kind of dried moss with anti-biotic properties. That's what a traditional poultice is usually made of.
Don't let these quibbles slow you down; keep writing and you can fix any problem in your second draft.
A more serious thought, I think, is the thematic reason for this story. Other than survival, what's this a story of? What point are you trying to make? Why should I read about Silverine and her dogs? Or the Bloodlands? So far that's a question that your story hasn't answered.
03-15-2007 11:59 PM
Kane waited as Siverine untied her hand from Lan’s collar and flexed it for a while to get it working again. Her fingers were still a little stiff since it seemed to take her a while to get the knot undone and Kane ended up waiting for her after freeing himself.
“Here you are,” she said once she finally got it off. “I’m glad you were all able to keep up.”
“Emmett struggled for a while there at the end, but Lancaster was able to help him. Oh, hang on a sec.” He opened his pack and dug in. Perfect, it was still dry. “Here. If you want to get out of that wet shirt for a while.” He held out his sage green shirt for her.
“Thank you, very much, Sergeant Kane.” She took his offering and they both stood there for a while. Kane was trying to find the right words to ask her—
“Am I supposed to change in front of you?” she asked, interrupting his thoughts.
“Ah, no. Sorry.” He grabbed his pack and the rope left discarded on the ground by everyone and went to join the men.
“Hey,” he said as the others striped their shirts, socks and boots, some putting on dry jackets and others bare-chested as they laid their clothes out to dry. “Did you guys see anything? In the rain?”
There was a moment of silence until Lancaster said, “Sorry, can’t say as I had the view of her you did, Sarge.”
“That’s not what I meant, Eric!” Kane shouted.
“I think you embarrassed him,” Emmett said. “Does he look a little red to you?”
Kane glared at them.
“Relax, Dallas,” Jones broke in. “They’re just teasing because they don’t want to acknowledge what we saw out there.”
“How could you miss it? There were so many of them,” Kepper added, wringing his shirt out. Everyone as quiet for a long moment.
“What—what were they?” Emmett finally asked.
“The Andimeryani,” Siverine said, walking into the camp with Lan at her side. Kane’s shirt was big on her, her own shirt hanging over her arm. “What you saw were the ghosts of the original inhabitants of the Merabyoyo; the ones who killed themselves off and taught it how to be the Bloodlands.
“The Bloodlands does create its own rain, but every so often clouds from the north bring outside rain. When a bit of heaven touches this place, it reveals the souls that remain and taint it, unable to move on. Their sins are so grievous that they can’t abide moving on—thus the outside rain acts like a holy water and reveals this place’s secrets as it momentarily washed away the taint.”
“What happened to the Russian voodoo?” Lancaster asked. “That’s the theory I was rooting for.”
“The radioactive ghosts show their form in pure rain; how’s that?”
“Thank you. I’ll sleep better now.”
“You’ll sleep easier tonight. The ground isn’t the only thing that doesn’t like the rain. All the creatures and abnormalities will stay hidden away until at least noon tomorrow.”
“So does that mean we get to sleep in?” Emmett asked.
“It means we can make good time without worrying about trouble—we’ll get an early start,” Kane said. Every day that went by was another day the last survivor was left unfound. There were some mild grumblings, but everyone took that as a hint to turn in.
“Hey Siverine,” Kane stopped her as her started to walk away from the camp. “I wanted to ask you…” he hesitated, still now sure how to say it.
“Yes, Sergeant Kane?”
“Well, during the rain storm, I…I thought I saw Duke running next to you.” He felt sort of stupid for bringing it up. He knew Duke wasn’t dead—at least he knew Siverine and Lan said he wasn’t—but Duke had never shown himself to be mobile.
Siverine looked at him and was silent long enough to make Kane feel even more self-conscious for asking. “He was,” she finally said. “When rain like that falls, we don’t need his eyes to watch over us. Duke and Lan are the way they are because that’s how they can best protect me. When it rained, Duke didn’t need to, so he ran with us.”
“Then where is he now?”
“Returning to the state that allows him to be the most helpful.” That only confused Kane more, but he’d asked enough stupid questions today. “You should get some rest; like you said, it’s going to be an early start.”
Lancaster looked up as Kane came back alone.
“Huh. And here I thought you’d gone to get your shirt back—figured it wouldn’t have been longer to get her out of it,” Lancaster said, ignoring Kane’s glare.
“Next time we run into flesh eating ants, I’m throwing you in.”
03-16-2007 12:09 AM
As for your other questions, if I told you that, I'd give stuff away. As I've said before, most of my reading is for enjoyment. I'm hoping there's still enough curiosity as to what the big picture is and secrets and holes to keep the reader interested. I do make strong points--I think--about the importance of memories as the roll they play in defining who and what we are--this point will be driven deeper to come. There are a few other parallels to aspects of society and religion, but I'll let you figure those out as you will. I guess another reason to read is hope--hope that everything will work out and the characters can find an end in which they are happier. There are different things to hope for, but I'm afraid if I say more, I'll give something away.
03-16-2007 03:06 AM
Can't wait for the next installment
03-20-2007 12:25 AM
The secretary looked at him, what he held, and then picked up the phone.
“Dr. Haines, there’s a gentleman to see you.” After hanging up, she looked at Harrison. “Dr. Haines will be right out.”
“Thanks.” He stepped back from the counter and looked down the hall. He as dressed in civilian attire. There were still nine days before he would go back to the Redlands and he needed to figure some stuff out. Luckily, he knew just the person to give him some insight on why the science community had been interested in Merabyoyo and maybe understand some of the weird stuff there.
He smiled when he saw Dr. Haines and the smile was returned.
“Hey Rick; I hadn’t expected to see you back so soon.”
“Just couldn’t wait to see you again, Kevyn.” He’d always though Kevyn Haines belonged on some show like CSI. She was the kind of sexy scientist doctor that would fit on something like that. She had an amazing body and the longest, most incredible legs he’d ever seen. Almost every time he looked at those legs he heard the jingle “Just wait ‘til we get our Haines on you.”
“Here.” He handed her the bouquet of daffodils—those were her favorite. “I was hoping I could persuade you into having lunch with me today.”
Kevyn smiles as she took the flowers. “Sure. Let me go tell my assistant.”
“So, what favor are you after, Rick?” Kevyn asked over her oriental salad at a corner café.
“What makes you think I’m after a favor? Why can’t I be here just to spend time with the most beautiful woman in the world?”
“You brought me daffodils.”
“That’s because you love them.”
“Exactly. You bring roses when you want romance and sex, daisies when it’s more casual and fun, orchids to cheer me up, and daffodils when you want a favor.”
Harrison shoved a fry in his mouth. Damn doctors too smart for their own good anyway.
“It was going to be roses, but I’ve come across something weird and hoped you might know something,” he admitted. With a sigh, he told her everything he’d seen and heard in Merabyoyo. He felt like he was telling her about some science fiction book he’d read rather than what had actually happened to him.
‘Even if she does think I’m not a nutcase, she may never sleep with me again,’ he thought as he finished his story. Kevyn has stopped eating to listen to him, very intent on what he as saying. He took a drink of his soda as he waited for her to digest.
“Rick, what you’re saying is scientifically unheard of. I’d say it was impossible, but if you really saw it, then apparently it is.” Good. At least she believed him. “I do remember hearing about the Redlands research team, but you had to apply to go. I seem to recall hearing that while the majority of the team were credible, none of them were exceptional, except for the man leading the team, Dr. Damus Fisher. He’s a genetic biologist. I think he’s the one who put the team together.” She took a drink from her Italian soda as she thought. “I can’t help but feeling that I should remember something else about him, but I can’t put my finger on it.”
“I only have a week before I have to go back for Dallas; I need to learn as much as I can about that team and any information on the Redlands.”
“That’s the thing, Rick; that team was going there to study and learn about it. Merabyoyo is a giant mystery. That’s what the selling point was to get so many people on the expedition. They would have been the first scientists there to discover—no, wait. There was another team, come to think of it. It would have been five years ago or so. When Merabyoyo was very first discovered.”
“Really? Huh.” He thought for a moment. “I don’t remember hearing much about it.”
“Rumor is that’s because some was able to keep the media pretty quiet about whatever happened. Even medical and scientific journals only mentioned it. Ever since that team went in, everything’s just been done via satellite and remote.
“You said you had a week, right?”
“Let me do some digging and see what I can find. Give me two days.”
Harrison nodded. He knew he could count on Kevyn—if for no other reason than scientific curiosity.
“That’s fine. I need to make another stop.”
03-21-2007 08:54 PM
“I’m hear about Siverine Nicholson. Could I possibly see her desk?”
“Siverine? Is she alive?” The pen she’d been holding went flying across the counter and to the floor as she bolted up. “We’ve all been so worried. You’d think for a news room we’d know more, but Mr. Right can’t get any information.”
“She’s alive,” Harrison assured her. “And her dogs. I was part of the team that went to retrieve her party.”
“Then she’s home?”
“No. She’s still there helping half of the team rescue the last survivor. I’m going back in a few days to bring her and them back.”
“Oh. I’m glad her dogs are well; she’s so fond of them. I’ll show you her workspace, if you’d like.”
She led him into the newsroom—it was much quieter than Harrison had thought it would be. Siverine’s desk had a few messy piles of papers on it an a few trinkets. Harrison looked about—things seemed normal. There was a picture frame and he picked it up and felt a knot in his stomach.
“Mr. Harrison?” he turned around as a man walked up to him. “I’m the editor, Chuck Right. I’m told you wanted to see me.”
“Yeah. It’s about Siverine Nicholson.” Harrison kept the picture in hand, gripping it out of shock and confusion.
Chuck seemed stunned a moment. “You—you’ve seen her? Siverine’s alive?”
Harrison wasn’t sure how to interpret that. Siverine seemed to think her boss wanted her dead, but it looked like concern on the man’s face rather than disappointment.
“Yes sir. At least she as a few days ago when I saw her last.”
“Please, come into my office.” Chuck had a real office and he shut the door once Harrison was in. “So, how can I help you?”
Harrison hadn’t put the picture frame down and slipped it in his back pocket. “I was wondering about why you sent Siverine to Merabyoyo. She’s one of only two to have survived a massacre and has been fighting to stay alive with the help of her dogs.” He didn’t think a newspaper man needed to know how the dogs with her now were so different from the ones in the picture.
“She’s a fighter,” Chuck said, nodding his head. He sat down, his complexion looking pale. “I’ve been so riddled with guilt since communications were lost. I’m the one who sent her there. If anything happened to her…” he rubbed his face with his hand. “It would be all my fault.” He looked up at Harrison, seeming a little shaky. “Siverine is a top reporter, but so difficult and stubborn. I thought by sending her on assignment to the edge of the map, I’d get a little reprieve from her. If I’d known something like that would happen, I would never have considered it, no matter the migraine she gave me.”
Harrison went to the front of the desk. “Siverine is of the opinion you sent her there to die because you wanted her out of the way,” he said, keeping his voice low.
“What?! Never! I’d fire her before that. The news is known for being ruthless, but not heartless.” Chuck lost all color in his face as his eyes went wide. Wide with innocence.
“I’m not accusing you sir; it’s just what Siverine told me. But she’s been through a lot, so I can understand why she’d be paranoid. Perhaps you can tell me how it came to be that she of all people ended up there.”
“She was being a pain, as usual. Like I said, I wanted her out of my hair for a while. Only select media were offered the opportunity to go with the research team. At first I wasn’t interested in it, but Siverine reminded me that day of how honest she is—regardless what she’s supposed to write. I remembered how hushed things had been about the first team that went back—someone didn’t want that information leaked. It must have been someone with good connections because no one published more than a paragraph about it.
“One of the powers of the media is that we sort of control what happens. If no one reports something, then it didn’t happen. Whatever happened to the first team—someone wanted to erase any evidence that it had happened, so it was barred from the media. To me that means there’s much more there than meets the eye. I knew if anyone could find it, Siverine could. And she’s not a person you can put a gag order on.”
“Why send her dogs too?”
Chuck snorted. “Those mutts are everything to her. I was afraid she’d get too distracted and worried about them if they didn’t go. I sent her on assignment for two weeks before and started getting crap articles from her about day nine because she kept worrying about them. I had to go check on them for her and she still wouldn’t relax. If I want Siverine at her best, she has to have the dogs.
“Honestly, I thought that by telling my contacts that they would turn m down flat. But the man in charge willingly agreed to the dogs going along.”
“You’re going back, right? Sara said you’re going to be bringing Siverine home.”
“Thank goodness. Please, tell her that I’ve been worried sick about her. We all have. I never sent her there to die. I want her to know that.”
“I understand.” Either this man was a superior actor, or everything he said was true. “One more thing.” He pulled the picture from his pocket. “Do you know how long ago this picture was taken?”
“About five months ago. She was always bringing in new pictures.”
“I see. Thank you for your time. I promise to pass your message onto Siverine when I see her next.” Chuck nodded and Harrison started to help himself out.
“Claire knows where she lives. I think Siverine would like it if you were able to meet her with some of her things. She always tried to dress nice; I’m guessing after months of the same, dirty clothes she’d appreciate something clean. Let her know I told you to do that.” The thought that Siverine thought he’d sent her to die had really shaken him.
“Thank you. I’ll do that.”
03-23-2007 12:34 AM
“Help yourself and look around. I haven’t dusted for her, so things are a little dirty. I’m gonna water things while we’re here.”
Siverine had pictures everywhere. In the second bedroom he found old journals under a guest bed and some scrapbooks of trips. It was hard for him to look at the pictures of her dogs because it only drove home how much they’d changed. And Siverine too. He didn’t see one picture with her having curly hair. Not like she did now. It was so strange to think that the woman he’d met in the Bloodlands was the same as the one on the walls.
She and the dogs really had changed.
“Memories are the most valuable thing here,” he heard her voice in his head. Harrison looked around at the pictures and albums. By the looks of things, she valued those memories too.
Without thinking about it, Harrison grabbed some duffel bags and boxes and started to fill them with anything that might have some memory to help Siverine remember about life outside the Bloodlands. Her journals, an album, clothes, a few trinkets, whatever would fit. He wrapped the breakable things in her clothes.
He was shoving her pillow into the bag when Claire found him. At first he thought she’d try to stop him, until she said, “She likes to write; you should take some of her note pads and pens too. Especially the orange one; she got that from a friend in California.”
The trunk and half the back seat was filled as Harrison closed the trunk. Claire had helped him pack and load up with Siverine’s stuff, hardly exchanging a word. She picked up something off of the yard as he came around to the front of the car. She held out the well-chew rope twist and Harrison tossed it on top of a box and shut the door.
“Thank you,” he said, still wondering why he was doing this.
“Tell me something; why did you help me? I could be taking this junk off to be pawned for all you know.”
“Maybe, but I feel this is the least I can do for Siverine.” She hugged herself and looked at the ground for a moment. “I overheard you and Mr. Right. Chuck means well and I’m certain he didn’t know such terrible things would happen, but he’s still human.”
“What do you mean?” Claire was looking uncomfortable.
“The—the first research team that went to the Redlands. When they came back they sort of…disappeared. Everyone except Dr. Fisher, the man who led the second team. There were rumors circulating for a while that strange things were happening with the first team, but those were silenced quickly. As much as Chuck might be worried about Siverine, I know he’s more worried about his own sin even more. Two weeks ago, her name was taken off of the payroll. As if he—or someone else—knows she’s not coming back. And even if she does, I’m sure things will be different. I had a cousin who came home from war and he was completely changed. His wife divorced him and he moved far away. I’m afraid the same will happen to Siverine. Even if she does make it home, will she still be the Siverine we knew? I guess by helping you, maybe she’ll at least retain enough of her old self that she won’t forget about us.” She finally looked him in the eye. “Tell her—tell her that we miss her and hope the best for her. I’m glad to have met her.”
Harrison nodded. “Will do.”
They boiled water for a thin stew that night, mixing field rations and a tuber Siverine had dug up. Apparently they’d been parallel to a river for the last few days, but never knew it since they didn’t have to cross it. The rain had swollen the river so much that Siverine had to reroute them—for some reason nervous about it. Then again, come to think about it, she’d been getting more jumpy and jittery.
Kane leaned against a rock as he thought back and realized that since yesterday, Siverine had been growing more and more anxious and quiet. To the northwest was the dark outline of the mesa they’d reach tomorrow. “Doctor” was at the top. Kane was looking forward to finishing the mission and getting everyone home safely.
The fire made the red rocks around them look orange. Siverine had brought them to another outcropping on a small rise that lifted about the stunted grass of the plain before the mesa. Actually, Lan had brought them. Siverine…well, she just seemed out of it more and more.
Kane jumped when Lan nudged his shoulder with his nose.
‘Please come with me,’ the massive dog said. Kane glanced at the other men sitting around the fire—trying not to be obvious about staring at him and failing—before following Lan into the dark.
“What is it?” Kane asked as the fire from the camp disappeared behind the rocks.
‘It’s Siverine. She’s worried and scared. I cannot comfort her because it’s for me that she’s so worried. Please go to her and help her feel better. You are here to protect her; she needs assured of that.’ Lan stopped suddenly and picked up Duke before turning around and going back to camp. Kane was confused for a moment until he saw Siverine laying on the ground near the foot of the rise.
“Hey; you start gazing?” he asked as he walked up to her.
“Not really. The sky seems further away here. Just thinking.”
Kane sat down next to her. “Anything you want to talk about?” Siverine didn’t answer. “Lan is worried about you and I’ve noticed you’ve been acting differently the last few days.” She sat up, but kept her focus on the ground. “What’s coming up that has you so concerned, Siverine? You don’t blink against flesh eating ants and giant snakes; to see you getting skittish now is starting to worry me.”
“It’s—it’s not something Meryanish that has me…concerned.” She confessed, but not ready to admit she was scared.
“Then what is it.” He reached out and put a hand on her shoulder. “I can’t do anything about it if you don’t tell me.”
“I don’t want to face him,” she said, her voice soft. “He’s worse than anything else. He’s responsible for everything bad that’s happened.”
Siverine’s body started to tremble. “The doctor. He’s the one who had everyone killed. And, if he catches us…” Her bottom lip started to shake. “He’ll take Duke and Lan and experiment on them. He’ll torture them and end up killing them. And me too, because this place has effect me.” She buried her face in her arms as she started to cry. “He wants my dogs. I can’t let him have them, but I can’t—I—”
Kane scooted closer and hugged his arms around her shoulders, holding her to him.
“I won’t let him hurt you or the dogs,” Kane promised, barely able to overcome his shock. The doctor they were going to “rescue” was responsible for the deaths of the rest of the team? Why? How?
Unfortunately, Siverine was in no condition to answer such questions. He wasn’t too proud to admit that it worried him even more to see her so shaken and crying about this.
“I won’t let anyone hurt you or Lan or Duke,” he said, hugging her close so she was crying on his shoulder. “I’ll protect you. We all will. We came to save you; and that’s what we’ll do.”
He wasn’t sure if she believed him or even heard him. Siverine clung to his shirt and let herself be held. Kane didn’t let go. Not until after she’d cried herself out and fallen asleep and for a while after that.
“What’s going on?” he whispered to her. “What happened here?”
Even in sleep her face was pained.
03-27-2007 12:02 AM
Kane looked up at the almost vertical mesa cliff. This was the way up—according to Siverine. Despite the exhaustive climb ahead, she promised it was the safety way. With Emmett’s leg not back to a hundred percent, it would be a slow climb. They would be using the ropes again with Kane leading, followed by Siverine, then Lancaster, Kepper, Emmett and Jones. As the biggest, Jones and Kepper were responsible for keeping Emmett from plunging to his death. Kane just had to find a way up and luckily, Siverine already had one mapped out and explained to me. There were cliffs and ledges every so far up the mesa that they would all be able to rest on with two or three people per ledge.
Siverine was rubbing some paste made from the pulp of grasses and some native beetle—or maybe it was a mouse, he wasn’t certain—on Emmett’s leg that would make it easier for him to climb.
‘Sergeant Kane.’ He turned around and saw Lan standing nearby. ‘May I speak to you for a moment?’
Kane nodded and followed Lan away from the group and right next to the mesa.
“What is it you wanted to—whuuf!” The air was forced out of Kane’s lungs as Lan jumped up, pinning Kane against the rock with his forepaws.
He brought he nose very close to Kane’s face.
‘I cannot go the way you can. I’m entrusting you with Siverine safety. Should anything happen to her, I will kill you. I’ve killed for her many times before and, much like the Bloodlands, I know not mercy.’
“I won’t let anything happen to her, you have my word,” Kane said, unable to take a full breath.
Lan brought his face even closer and started to bare his teeth. ‘If something does, I’ll have your throat.’ He pushed off Kane’s chest and shook himself. ‘But I will trust you. I won’t leave so easily if I did not.’
“Leave? Aren’t you going to wait for us?”
‘No. I will meet you at the top. Duke will go up with Siverine. Watch and guard them. Don’t let the doctor have them.’
Kane nodded. “You know, it’s hard to tell who worries about who more, you or Siverine.”
‘She is the only mother I can remember. She’s cared for me my whole life. The least I can do is love and protect her.’
“I’ll watch over her, Lan.”
He didn’t nod. The massive lab just turned and loped away, heading south.
Kane had sweated through his shirt within the hour. It hadn’t dawned on him that this was the east side until after he’d climbed the first 100 meters and realized the sun was on his back. It hadn’t gotten any better because now the sun was directly above him, burning his scalp and making it hard to look up to see the next hand hold. Siverine was close behind him, but when he’d last looked back, it looked like Emmett was struggling.
He reached the next ledge and decided to take a break there.
“Hey,” Kepper shouted, “I can’t help but notice, but the river is east of here.” Kane had noticed that too; the higher they climbed, the easier it was to see the lay of the land.
“So?” Jones asked, almost right at Emmett’s heels.
“When we started out, we headed east—almost due east. And it almost looks like there’s a city south of here.”
“There is and yes, it’s Kariokyarya.”
“So we made a wide loop?” Jones asked.
“Yes. Going straight would have taken less than half the time.”
“I’m hoping there’s an explanation,” Lancaster grumbled.
“The entire Meryani nation lives between here and there. Had we tried to come that way, you would have run out of bullet within the hour and be overwhelmed or dead two minutes later. The route I took you was the safest, fastest way.”
“That was the safest?” Lancaster asked. “Remind me not to ask for the scenic tour, then.”
Kane chuckled and looked for his next handhold. He’d warned the men that the doctor was hostile and they’d agreed he would be taken alive to be judged for his crimes.
He suddenly stopped and looked around. How would they get a prisoner down this cliff? How would they keep a prisoner from giving them away to a giant snake?
He glanced back at Siverine as he started to climb again. Come to think of it, she hadn’t said anything of a return trip, whether or not their route would be the same.
“Hey,” he shouted back down. “There’s a ledge up here. I’m going to reach it and take a break.”
“Sounds good,” Jones shouted back. “There’s another near enough for us to rest on too.”
Kane gave Siverine a hand and pulled her up on the ledge next to him. Three would fit and it looked like Lancaster was going to be joining—although taking his time about it.
“Siverine, I was thinking,” he started to say as Siverine loosened the rope that had Duke tied to her back and settled the stiff dog in her lap. “Are we going to try going back the same way we came? It will be a harder trip with a prisoner.”
Her long delayed reply was enough of an answer.
“I thought so,” he said. “You don’t think there is any going back.”
“Not for him,” she said sullenly. “He doesn’t deserve to live.”
Kane sighed. He could hear Lancaster grumbling as he stubbed a finger.
“I think it’s about time you told me what happened. Everything. What did the doctor do and how everyone else died.”
Siverine looked at Duke for a moment and put a hand on his head as she closed her eyes.
“All right. I’ll tell you.”
03-28-2007 12:39 AM
“As this was all happening, everyone in the team slowly began to change. Mine was my hair broke off and got curlier and curlier. Lan’s was probably the most noticeable change. After the first two and a half weeks, the changes became even more obvious, but for some reason, no one wanted to acknowledge them. For some reason they explained the changes away or outright ignored them.
“Just before the third week, the first person started to disappear. Another a few days later. First the natives were blamed, and then my dogs were. They would admit Lan had grown only when it suited their suspicions. After the third disappearance, everyone was so on edge and a couple wanted to kill Lan and Duke. I knew it wasn’t them, but I’d already learned that no one would listen to sense or me.
“Lan and Duke finally learned the truth and we decided to escape that night before the entire camp turned on us. We snuck away and watched from afar.”
Siverine took a deep breath and gently petted Duke’s head with her fingertips.
“That night the Meryani were caught trying to kidnap another person. There was a confrontation, but few of them spoke well enough to understand each other, so it was just gestures and yelling. They thought that when the doctor arrived, everything would be fine and he could clear things up.
“Then, the doctor told the Meryani to slaughter everyone.
“The three that had been kidnapped earlier were brought back, all cut up; especially their faces. They were left with the other bodies so it would look more like a massacre. When he finally did the head count, the doctor realized I wasn’t there and neither were the dogs. He told the Meryani to bring the three of us back—alive if possible, especially the dogs.
“That’s when I decided to hide in the ruins. But the doctor wasn’t about to give up and about once a week or so the Meryani would do a sweep of the city and surrounding area for us. That’s how we were forced into other areas and how I learned the lay of the land.”
“So tell me something,” Lancaster said as he pulled himself onto the ledge with them. “Why is the doctor after you? Is he just trying to finish the job?”
“He’s trying to finish a job. He wants to experiment on us since we exhibited the most change. That’s why he had those others kidnapped; he wants to experiment on live subjects to learn the secrets of Merabyoyo so he can recreate them for his own purposes.
“We were almost caught once, but they didn’t know Lan could talk ad we were able to escape. However, after that the doctor only became more adamant that he capture us.”
“Then why were you in the ruin?” Kane asked. “Isn’t that a bit close?”
“Yes, but I can’t let him get away with what he’s done. This isn’t my first trip so close—I had to know what he’s doing so I could figure out a way to stop him.” Siverine bowed her head. “The only problem is that in getting close enough to stop him, I’d be putting the dogs and myself within his grasp. There wouldn’t have been much stopping him from capturing up and running his experiments until we died.”
“Great,” Lancaster drawled. “So we’re on our way to save a crazy scientist. Oh joy.”
“There’s no saving for him. I’d rather you kill him and remove the body; the Bloodlands don’t need more of a taint.”
Kane put his hand over hers. “I can understand why you feel that way, Siverine. But it’s not our place to pass judgment or sentence. I swore to get the survivors out alive; that’s what I’ll do. We’ll retrieve him and deliver him to be judged. He’ll pay for his crimes, but killing him or not isn’t our place to decided.”
Siverine kept her eyes lowered as she made some non-committal noise. They didn’t understand, but they would. They only had to see what awaited them at the doctor’s lab to realize that it didn’t matter if passing judgment were right or wrong; that man deserved to die.
03-29-2007 10:31 AM
It was from Rick. In the subject line it read “I need a favor, babe”.
She opened the message and read. Then she sat back and bit her lip as she re-read, her eyebrows started to bunch together as she frowned.
Despite his size, Lan moved quietly and quickly. No one ever saw him until it was too late—so late in fact that of the four he’d killed so far, none had had a chance to scream.
The Meryani had never seen a dog before him and Duke, so they thought of him as the ghost of some large warrior reincarnated. Maybe they thought he was a lion since sometimes a lion would wander into Merabyoyo.
Regardless what he was, they knew what he did; he killed any who thought to harm Siverine. Not that that stopped them.
It was so sad and ironic. Even the people who had lived her for generations had not yet realized the secrets of the Bloodlands. Perhaps Siverine didn’t even fully realize it, but he and Duke had learned that Merabyoyo granted wishes in its own twisted way. The dogs had always been with Siverine and their only desire was to protect her. Unknown to them, Merabyoyo sensed that desire and gave them forms and abilities to make it possible. Lan grew large and strong and developed the ability to speak and think like a human while Duke became able to see the ghosts that roamed the land and learn all its secrets and poisons. Even Siverine’s hair curling had been from Merabyoyo trying to fulfill a desire.
Perhaps this place wasn’t as corrupt as it seemed, it was just the corruption of the people who lived here that made it like this.
Lan crept through the shadows of Meryani houses—mud shacks was more like it. He hid behind rocks and wove his way through a labyrinth of caves, rocks, and houses, avoid the residents as best he could, but not hesitating when one appeared in his way.
Screams and shouts plagued his ears. Men laughing and women screaming in rape, the cry of a birth and the child thereafter, a fight resulting in dismemberment. He tried not to flinch at every female voice. He didn’t entirely trust the human male to protect Siverine. If she was captured, those screams could be hers. Lan would rather kill her and himself than let that happen to her.
He fought back a deep growl. If Sergeant Kane let her get one scratch…
A man was pissing on a rock and turned when he heard something scuff against a rock. He opened his mouth to scream, but Lan’s large paws knocked his head into the rock and split the skull open. He sniffed once to make sure the man was dead—with minimal gore, it was hard to tell with a Meryani.
Lan was close to the main body of the camp now. One paw stepped in the blood pooling around the corpse as he passed and he left two footprints before disappearing into the shadows once more.
The corpse and prints were discovered shortly.
Kane stopped as he felt three sharp tugs on the rope. He waited for Siverine as she quickly climbed closer.
“We have to be as silent as possible from here on up,” she told him, her voice low. “It’s only another 100 meters. Stick to the shadows and be very careful once at the top. We’re not right next to the doctor’s camp and lab, but close enough.”
Kane nodded. “Got it.”
“I’ll tell the others.”
Shouts and yells echoed up the canyons and ravines the snaked up the south side of the mesa. A man with an angular face and brow-length brown hair looked up from the body he’d been examining. All the blood had drained from it a while ago, so his hands were relatively clean.
He listened for a moment and then a small smile crept across thin lips.
“It seems we’re to have company,” he said. “She must think I am unable to look in more than one direction.” He looked over his shoulder. “I’m almost done here. You watch the back.”
“As Master bids,” a man said and a human shaped shadow uncurled from the wall.
04-04-2007 06:58 PM
“Be safe,” she whispered as she set the stiff dog down. She gently stroked his head and blinked a few quick times before leaving him there.
Kane looked up as he and Lancaster pulled Emmett up. He raised his eyebrows, but didn’t say anything.
When the last man made it and the rope re-wound, they all looked at Siverine.
“This way,” she said softly, leading them away from where she’d left Duke.
Lan crouched lower in the crevice as Meryani ran around confused outside. Not only had his appearance stirred up the camp and confused everyone, but it would keep the Meryani from the doctor’s camp. They didn’t want to go to him only to say the ghost dog had been spotted, but not found.
He waited for a break in the action directly outside and slipped from his crevice. Siverine and Duke would be nearing the camp soon. Lan would lay one more false trail and go to them.
Siverine kept squatted low and Kane followed close. The scent of blood and gore became stronger as they neared the doctor’s camp. That wasn’t a good sign.
Kane’s hand brushed Siverine’s and he was surprised it was so cold and clammy. He reached out and grabbed her hand to give it a comforting squeeze. She was shaking too.
The group stopped soon and Siverine slowly stood, cautiously peeking over the rock they were hidden behind. Kane started to stand too and saw what very well appeared to be a mad scientist’s lab. A body as laid out on a large flat rock that worked as a table, the subject’s face and facial bones cut away to reveal the inner matter. The front of the chest had been removed, ribs and all to give an open display of internal organs. Thick, dark red streaks surrounded the examination table. Other animals and human bodies were scattered about the lab, awaiting their turn for dissection.
“Gross,” Jones whispered and Kane shot him a harsh glare to keep him silent.
“Where’s the doctor?” Lancaster asked and Kane’s glare was distracted as he realized there weren’t any live bodies to be seen.
“Just getting cleaned up for my guests,” a voice said and everyone jerked to the left and looked up as a man in a blood-stained and dirty lab coat stepped out of a dark doorway at the top of a flight of stairs. “So nice of you to visit, Siverine. And I see you brought guests. I hope you haven’t been telling them any of your lies.”
Siverine watched the doctor’s every move, her eyes like a cornered cat’s watching a stray stalking dog.
“We’re here to stop you, doctor,” she said.
“Stop me? I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“You can killing the research party ‘nothing wrong’?” Kane demanded. This man was physically smaller and weaker, but there was something in his eyes that made the hairs on the back of his neck shiver. Kane didn’t like that look or the feeling he was getting.
“Is that what she told you? And you actually believed a newspaper reporter? Cute, but naive. The others were killed by Siverine and her monster dog. She went crazy and ordered the dog to massacre them. It’s not too surprising—in a place like this it is very easy for a weak mind to break.
“The Meryani have been trying to stop her, but her bloodlust knows no limit. She just keeps on killing. And now she’s brought you here with some fictitious fabricated story so you can kill the only person standing against her. Me.”
“So you’re saying Siverine brought us to kill you because she’s the one who’s lost it and not you?” Lancaster asked.
“Would she have brought you through such a dangerous route otherwise? Do you think I enjoy it here, in a cesspool of a civilization, cut off from the conveniences of the world and scrapping for a living?”
“You might be right about Siverine not being all there,” Kepper said as he raised his gun and aimed it at the doctor. “But I’m not about to believe someone living in a place like this is any saner. Now come along peacefully.”
Kane glanced at Siverine and realized she only had one eye on the doctor. The other was looking for something else. He glanced at the man there were here to rescue—well, maybe arrest was a better term at this point.
He suddenly realized why Siverine wasn’t entirely focused on the doctor.
He was far too calm.
“Kepper, hold on,” Kane said and stepped forward. “I’m Sergeant Dallas Kane. I was ordered to bring my team into the Redlands and retrieve any survivors of the research team and take them home. I would appreciate your cooperation and we can all go home.”
“I thought you might be military. I’m Dr. Damus Fisher. I was in charge of the research team. Regretfully, I’ll have to turn down your offer. I worked very hard the last few years to be able to return here and I’m not about to leave now.
“You’re nothing but a pawn, Sergeant. An ant, compared to me and the power I possessed back home. But even with the power to silence heralds and lions and make kings weep, I still hadn’t the power I do now. Here I am a god. This is my Olympus and here I will stay until I learn all the secrets of the madness of the Redlands. Then I can descend to better rule over ants like you.”
Lancaster lifted his gun. “I ought to shoot you just for the attitude. You’re not doing anything for your case, Doctor Demento.”
“I told you, I’m a god. And like all gods, humans are just something for me to play with.”
“Look out!” Siverine yelled as a shadow sprung up over the rock they were standing next to and a nine-inch dagger plunged down into Kepper’s shoulder. Lancaster swung his gun around, but the assailant caught it with the other hand and jerked it out, bringing it around to connect with Emmett’s temple and the soldier dropped to the ground.
“Good lord, Kirk!” Jones shouted, recognizing his comrade. He paused long enough Kirk to pull back behind the rock and popped back up behind Siverine, holding her secure with one on the confiscated rifles across her throat chocking her and liftingher to her tiptoes.
“Put the guns down and no harm will come to her,” Fisher said and Kane realized he was aiming his own gun at a man who had once been his comrade. His finger shook. He should shoot and take Kirk out. He couldn’t miss at this range and although Siverine might get a little messy, she’d be free. But for some reason he couldn’t make himself shoot his friend.
He glanced at Siverine who seemed to be glaring at him to shoot Kirk and Fisher.
Kane sighed. He had told her it wasn’t his place to pass judgment and he still felt that way. Besides, he’d sworn to Lan he’d protect Siverine and being hasty or too aggressive right now might do more to hurt her.
“Jones, lower your firearm,” Kane said.
“What!” Lancaster asked from where he knelt with Kepper. The dagger had gone in at such an angle that it wasn’t fatal, thankfully. Emmett would have a headache, but he was still alive. No one was dead yet. Kane intended to keep it that way.
“Do it, Jones. Lancaster, say with Kepper and Emmett.” Kane moved his hand away from the trigger and raised his arms. Reluctantly, Jones followed. “We’re here to take you home, not hurt anyone,” he told the doctor.
“Whatever you were told your mission was is irrelevant,” Fisher said. “You were sent to serve me.”
“Like hell,” Jones replied.
“You’ll obey or watch this innocent girl have her head ripped off by your friend,” Fisher told them and Siverine tried to scream and Kirk tightened his hold, lifting her off the ground with the rifle at her throat.
“Stop it!” Kane shouted. “What do you want us to do?”
Fisher smirked winningly. “Maybe you’re not a complete idiot.” He walked over to a large hole in the ground that was nearly seven feet in diameter. “This is the Pit. It’s said that the powers of the Redlands intensify as you fall so that by the time you hit the bottom, if there even is one, you’ve forgotten how to even breathe.
“Now, either you throw your guns down there, or I’ll have my servant throw Siverine down.”
04-11-2007 06:06 PM
Fisher chuckled. “Ah yes, the first resource of the inapt mind, foul language. You were foolish to think you could step into my domain and take me unaware.”
“What have you done to Kirk?”
“I’m guessing that was your friend’s name. I did very little. From his behavior when he was found, I take it he was bitten by the blood ants. With their poison affecting his mind, I had most of the work done for me. It was a simple matter of introducing new memories with the help of a serum I’ve made while working here. It’s the same serum I’ll use on the rest of you, should it be needed. Along with who he was, my servant has forgotten he has limits. He’ll overpower the rest of you just because he doesn’t know pain or fatigue. You’d have to kill your friend with one blow or else he wouldn’t stop.” Fisher smiled. He knew that if they were going to kill Kirk, they would have done so by now.
Kane looked at Siverine, her she could barely breathe. Kirk had her arms held down with his elbows so she couldn’t lift herself up. Even as tough as she was, if they didn’t do something soon, she’d be strangled.
Unfortunately, cooperation was the fastest way of saving her at the moment.
They walked closer to the Pit. Kane felt something like a lonely chill seeping from that hole in the ground. Like the breath from the grave; a corpse that had forgotten warmth and life.
“Throw them in, gentlemen,” Fisher insisted and Kirk moved Siverine closer to the edge of the pit.
Kane obeyed, throwing his rifle into the oblivion and Jones followed a reluctant second later. Once thrown in, Kane never heard them make a noise. He wondered how deep it was because he never heard them hit bottom.
“Now what?” Kane asked, hands still above his head.
“You are just so moronic,” Fisher said. “Siverine is a perfect specimen to experiment on—she’s experienced much here and while some of her has changed, somehow he mind has been altered very little. Did you really think I would so callously dispose of one of my most coveted specimens?”
“You damn—” Jones started to say.
“Again with the cursing? You’ll learn better.
“The mongrels tried to make their way through the Meryani camp, correct? They too will finally be taken and I’ll have all three for my experiments. It’s only a matter of time before I’ll be able to unlock the secrets of the Bloodlands.”
Kane’s jaw clenched. What could he do? He wanted to save Siverine—if nothing else he wanted her safe. Acting would be endangering her. Not acting would be condemning her.
With all his heart, Dallas Kane wanted to save Siverine.
“Now, my pawns, I want you to—” Fisher was cut off as something black clipped his knees and made him stumble. Before anyone could realize what had happened, Duke jumped up, biting deep into Kirk’s arm and using all his body weight to jerk arm away, breaking his grip on the rifle and Siverine.
She hurriedly dropped down and darted away from the Pit and Kirk. Kane rushed to her as Siverine stumbled to the ground, her being chocked leaving her dizzy and faint.
“Siverine!” Kane said, grabbing her shoulders.
“Kane, look out!” Jones shouted and Kane turned his head in time to save himself from being completely knocked out as Kirk drove the butt of the rifle against Kane’s skull. It didn’t save him entirely and Kane slumped to the ground as his head spun.
“Kane!” Siverine called his name and shook him. That only made his head spin more and he wasn’t able to stop Fisher from grabbing Siverine by the hair and pulling her back.
Duke came to a stop next to Jones as Kirk aimed the rifle at the interfering dog.
“I thought that mutt was dead,” Fisher growled, cruelly shaking Siverine’s head. With his other hand her grabbed one arm and twisted it behind her back sharply. “How convenient to find otherwise. It seems Merabyoyo holds the secrets of life as well as the mind.”
“You could never understand the secrets of Merabyoyo,” Siverine said, holding onto the wrist of the hand trying to pull her hair out, digging her nails in—too bad her nails weren’t longer.
“Oh I will. And you and your dogs will tell them to me, one way or another.”
Kane tried to push himself up. He had to stop Fisher, but everything way happening to fast and his head wouldn’t stop pounding and spinning.
“This lot is too much trouble,” Fisher told Kirk. “Shoot to kill the men and injure the dog—I want his mind and heart in tact.”
“You never learn, doctor,” a voice from the shadows said and Lan appeared as suddenly as Duke hand and lunged for Kirk.
“Shoot him!” Fisher shouted and Kirk quickly reaimed for Lan. The bullet cut through Lan’s shoulder, but failed to stop him and Lan ripped the rifle from Kirk’s hands with his teeth and the weight of his massive body shoved Kirk hard back and into the Pit.
“Kirk!” Jones shouted and ran to the edge of the Pit, grabbing at air as their comrade fell into forever.
“Why do you have to kill everyone?” Siverine demanded. Lan was bleeding and limping, but was advancing on Fisher, Duke at his side.
“I’m a god,” Fisher told her, jerking her to her feet. “What does a god care for a worthless life? Unless it is to serve me, a life has little meaning.” He twisted her arm as he released her hair and reached into his lab jacket. “Now call them off, or I’ll inject you with my serum.” Fisher held a dirty needle out and pointed it at her throat. “All your precious memories will be gone forever and you will be what I make you.”
Lan and Duke stopped moving, realizing all to well how serious Fisher was. Jones was still on the edge of the Pit, unsure of what to do and fighting back the emotions of Kirk’s second death. Kane struggled to his knees. His head was clearing as he fought to focus and think.
“You’re not a god, just a beast,” Siverine said and grabbed his wrist again with her free hand, ignoring the pain as Fisher tried to twist her other arm to force her into submission.
The two of them struggled, fighting against over the needle, yet careful not to be scratched themselves.
Kane managed to make it to his feet. He blinked the stars from his eyes and realized where the two were stumbling toward.
“Siverine, watch out!” he said as she finally forced the needle from the doctors hand and into the Pit.
“No!” Kane sprinted for them as the force of the fight sent Fisher following after the needle, Siverine’s arm still clasped tight in his hand.
Fisher’s fall was stopped as Siverine kept hold of his wrist. She was flattened to the ground, the top third of her hanging in the Pit. She grabbed the top rim as she slid in up to her waste, digging her fingers into the red rock.
Kane dove and grabbed her legs, pulling to keep her from falling in.
“Jones!” he shouted as he could feel the doctor’s weight pulling Siverine in. He felt one of her legs strain and he glanced back to see Lan with one of Siverine’s feet whole in his mouth, putting her back and the much smaller Duke jerking on her pant leg.
“Just hang on Siverine,” Kane said. “We’ve got you.”
Fisher looked up at Siverine. Her arm hurt. The fingers of her other hand were bleeding.
“I guess I was wrong,” he said as they clung to each other with one hand. “You’re god now; my life is in your hands. The time has finally come for you to get your revenge.”
Fisher was right. All she had to do was let go and she could have the justice she’d been seeking all this time. The doctor had met his end at last.
“No,” she said and let go of the rim to grasp his wrist firmly with both hands. “I’m not a god. Nor am I a judge. This land may have forgotten justice, but I haven’t. It’s not in my hands to judge you, Doctor. You will answer for what you’ve done, but to a higher law than me. Justice will be meted out by those who have the authority to judge.”
04-18-2007 11:00 PM
At least he thought it wouldn’t help. He was beginning to question show things could get any worse.
“Leaving Kane and the other out there is homicide, Sir,” Harrison said.
“Commander Kane made the decision to remain in the Redlands; he knows that he must live with the consequences of his actions,” General Baire replied.
If only Harrison dared used the word “asinine”.
“We can’t afford to make another trip into the Redlands. The danger and cost isn’t worth it,” Baire added.
Harrison had received a phone call yesterday that the return rendezvous had been cancel and since then had been making calls and trying to track down who had made the call so it could be reversed.
“But he’s following orders!” Harrison’s volume increased. “Our mission was to bring the survivors home and that’s what he’s doing. You can’t leave him stranded out there in abandonment. He has men with him and at least one survivor, if not two.”
“According to the men that returned with you, Ms. Nicholson may not be entirely sane. It could be there never was another survivor or Kane and rest could already be dead, killed by natives or treachery, there’s no way of knowing.”
“That’s why we have to go back—to find out. And I know Ms. Nicholson is not crazy, nor would she betray Kane and the other.” He was beginning more and more to realize how perfectly sane Siverine was. She’d said that the men had been sent there to die. If Harrison couldn’t get Baire to reverse the abandonment order, it would prove her right. “I trust Kane to survive long enough to get back to the pick up point. If he dies it’s because we turned our backs on him.”
“If he dies it’s because he took unnecessary risks. His mission was to determine what happened to the team that went in. All but two were killed; that should have been enough for him to realize he needed to return with what he had while he could.”
“Kane would never abandon his countrymen!” Harrison shouted. “How can you do that him?”
“That’s enough!” Baire shouted. “Kane signed his fate the day he chose to remain in the forsaken place. He’s picked his graveyard, he has only to dig the hole.”
Harrison couldn’t stand it anymore and pounded his fists on the desk. “No!”
“Now what?” Jones asked, adjusting the strap of one of the two rifles they had left over his shoulder. “Kepper won’t be able to run much with that stab wound and Emmett’s going to has too much of a headache to exert himself.”
“The turban is a nice look for him though,” Lancaster said, glancing over at Emmett as Kane finished wrapping his head. Emmett had a choice comment to make about that and Lancaster smirked as rested the other rifle in the crock of his arm.
“We can’t go back the way we came,” Jones said.
Kane nodded. “I know. That would have been difficult even if there hadn’t been anyone injured. With two men hurt and a prisoner, we’ll need a different route. Siverine?”
She looked up from where she sat, Lan’s head in her lap and Duke curled up next to her. The smaller dog’s amber eyes were fixed on a bound Fisher, watching for any tiny movement the doctor might try. A thick trail of red streaked down Lan’s front shoulder—he wouldn’t be able to handle anything too strenuous himself for a while.
“There is another route we can take to get everyone back safely,” she said.
“How?” Fisher demanded. “The Meryani are roused and will be combing every inch of the Bloodlands looking for you. Once they realize I’m gone, they will never relent.”
“You’ll be quickly forgotten, Doctor,” Siverine told him. “And the Meryani won’t be looking everywhere.”
“You have a plan then,” Kane said.
“Yes. There’s an ancient riverbank that runs only the west side of the mesa and through a tunnel under Kariokyarya.” Duke made a noise as he diverted his gaze to her. Fisher’s eyes widened. “The Meryani won’t go there and it’s a pretty straight shot to the other side of Kariokyarya.”
“Is it easy to get to?”
“Relatively—easier than most of the rest of this trip.”
“Then we’ll go that way.”
“Hold up,” Lancaster said. “Doctor Demento just got a funny look and nothing on this trip has been easy. Can we know what freaky weirdness is going on with this riverbank before we get there? Something has to be up if even the natives won’t go there.”
“What flows down that riverbank is not water,” Fisher said. “But it will drown you just as sure.”
“Oh great, another cryptic, just what we need.”
“At certain times, the souls of the ancient dead gather in the river. The original inhabitants that twisted the land,” Siverine told them. “Men whose souls have forgotten what they were.”
‘They flow down the river every night, shifting and trying to regain the form they were, but they can’t remember it,’ Lan added. ‘It’s from the river that the Whririnet comes.’
“I think I would have been fine with cryptic,” Jones muttered.
“Is it safe?” Kane asked.
“Safe? Last time I checked, we’re still in the Bloodlands,” Siverine said. “Safer? Possibly. We can get you down it and back to the pick-up in time; I thought that’s what matters.”
Kane nodded. “Good enough then. Once everyone is able, we’ll head out.”
“Oh joy, we return home on a river of souls. How poetic,” Lancaster drooled.
Fisher laugher. “No one has been able to navigate that river and keep their sanity. Physically safer and easier it might be. But there’s no way you can take it and keep your mind and souls.”