By Geoffrey W. Cole
Bonenfant swam out of the sinking corvette into Atlantic waters alive with the death-moans of broken ships. The surface was a hazy grey membrane impossibly far above. He clawed at ice water, lungs burning, as a vast limb ensnared his legs and pulled him into the crushing depths.
Bonenfant swam out of the sinking corvette into Atlantic waters alive with the death-moans of broken ships. The surface was a hazy grey membrane impossibly far above. He clawed at ice water, lungs burning, as a vast limb ensnared his legs and pulled him into the crushing depths.
He awoke with a gasp. Sunlight blinding as he grappled about for his drink. Glass clattered onto the tiles. The whiskey. Then he remembered where and when he was, and he corrected himself: not whiskey, never again.
Laurentian dusk streamed in through the windows of the Chateau Montebello’s indoor pool. He’d knocked the brown medicine bottle onto the tiles, spilling little white pills beneath his chair. A nurse was rushing over to check on him. Bonenfant swept all but one pill into the bottle. The meprobamate dulled some of the symptoms, the doctors told him, but the worst was up to you.
“The Director-General said you were on holiday,“ the nurse said. Bonenfant recognized the too-earnest face, the pinned-back blonde hair.
“Mirabel Orford,“ he said. “You look quite fetching as a nurse. It’s been what, two years since Lac St. Jean?”
“That was ‘55, Captain.”
“Six years, then,” Bonenfant said, though he had trouble believing it. All the years since the war seemed fluid, amorphous, but one memory of this lovely blonde spy swam up through the haze. “Did you ever learn how to ride a motorcycle?”
She smiled, her pale skin delightfully sunburnt. “I’ve improved, but I’m afraid I’ll have to show you my skills later. A rather urgent matter has come up.”
Bonenfant pushed out of the lounge chair. “Good. This place brings awful dreams. Where am I headed, Mirabel?”
“I’ll fill you in on the flight.” She offered her hand. “Are you sure you’re fit for service, Captain? Rumours have been circulating.”
Bonenfant reached for her, and saw with some measure of satisfaction that for the first time that day, his hand wasn’t shaking.
“Quite fit,” he said, and took her offered hand.
The Tracker soared high above Greenland’s ice sheet. In its passenger compartment, Bonenfant secured the parachute pack, pocketed ammunition and grenades, and slid a knife into his boot sheath. Mirabel was zipping into a heavy parka trimmed in white fur.
“I’m going to have to call you bunny,” Bonenfant said.
She strapped on her revolver. “And what shall I call you?”
“How about eagle? Or falcon?”
“We’ll call you ptarmigan,” she said, and she handed Bonenfant a map. “That’s Camp Century. The Danes gave the Americans permission to build and operate a camp beneath the ice sheet on the basis that it was a scientific station.” She went through her pack as she spoke. Bonenfant had an identical pack, containing folded skis, poles, ice picks, crampons, field rations, more ammunition, timed charges, plenty of rope, and a radio transmitter. “That’s why we are here, Julien. A scientist working for Atomic Energy of Canada was seconded to the Americans to work on the nuclear reactor powering the place. It’s been a week since we last heard from her. The Americans haven’t had any communication with their people either.”
“A woman can be an agent of the Security Service, why not an atomic scientist?” She sipped from a slim leather flask that stank of gin. She eyed Bonenfant after she’d screwed the lid back on. “Helps keep the cold at bay.”
Bonenfant patted the pocket that held a new bottle of meprobamate. “I like the cold.”
“The Danes only agreed to nuclear power,” she said. “But when has the will of a sovereign nation ever stopped our Yankee friends? It comes down to this, Captain. The Americans have lost all contact with Camp Century and the fleet of nuclear missiles they secretly deployed there. We suspect the KJB’s involvement. The Americans have sent their own teams in to recover their assets, though they too have gone off radar. We are going in to bring back Canada’s atomic scientist.”
“Sounds delightful,” Bonenfant said.
“There’s one other thing. As I said, rumours have been circulating. The Commandant wants you to run the logistics end of the operation. Escape routes, vehicles, etcetera. I will be extracting Dr. Binoculous.”
Mirabel opened the fuselage door. Arctic air blasted the Tracker. She leapt into the void. For a moment Bonenfant had the feeling that they weren’t jumping out of the plane, but that they were instead jumping into a mouth, an endless, insatiable maw intent on devouring the world.
“Damn DTs,” Bonenfant said, and he leapt.
The hangar was the obvious place to find an escape vehicle. He skied wide around the surface camp, a small collection of tents and a few larger buildings like the hangar, while Mirabel took the more direct approach.
Bonenfant crested a ridge, and when he did, the camp below transformed. A massive city stood where the camp had been. Great towers of monolithic stone rose at impossible angles to blot out a sky filled with alien constellations.
“Bunny to ptarmigan,” Mirabel said over the radio. “Are you in position? I’m about to go under.”
The monolithic city became snow-covered tents once again. Everything built to a decidedly human scale.
“Almost there,” Bonenfant said. The doctors had warned of hallucinations. Maybe logistics was the best job for him. He would be no help beneath the ice if a vision took him. “Carry on, bunny. I’ll have your chariot warm when you return.”
Bonenfant skied to the hangar and slipped in through a side door. Three planes sat beneath the arching corrugated-steel roof, but only one would ever fly again: the other two had been smashed to pieces. Dozens of men must have attacked the aircraft with hammers and axes, judging by the splintered wood and the bent and twisted aluminium, but he saw no footprints in the snow.
The third aircraft, a ski-mounted DC-3, was whole. Bonenfant climbed into the cockpit and performed a cursory inspection. Everything looked to be in working order, and when he started one engine, it hummed to life with only a minimum of protest.
“Ptarmigan to bunny,” Julien said into the radio. “Do you prefer chicken or veal for your in-flight repast?”
In answer, Mirabel’s voice screamed out of the tiny speaker. He tried to get her location, but she just kept screaming. He dropped out of the plane, radio in one hand, Sterling submachine gun in the other, and he ran into the perpetual night. Mirabel was still screaming when he spotted the nearest emergency hatch that led into the tunnels. It looked like the con tower of a submarine. He shut off the radio.
Bonenfant descended a vertical ladder that terminated at the entrance to a prefabricated barracks built beneath the snow. The lights flickered and went out when he entered the barracks. The stink of dirty socks and unwashed bedding filled the darkness. He listened a few seconds, and when he heard nothing, he turned on his flashlight. Bunk beds lined both walls. Footlockers at the base of each bed were open, the beds unmade. He found a map of the camp sitting on one of the beds. Someone had marked-up the map with an extensive series of additional tunnels or passages. He tucked it into a pocket of his parka.
Between the next set of bunk beds, he found a body. The enlisted man still clutched the pistol he’d used to paint his brain across the wall. As he knelt beside the man, the lights flickered back on.
Bonenfant tumbled away from the dead man. Someone had covered the wall around the dead man with script written in the man’s gore. So many eyes. The phrase repeated dozens of times, maybe hundreds, in clean, bloody letters.
He rushed out of the barracks and into a snow-walled corridor. Could the KJB have used some sort of nerve agent down here? That could explain his vision on the ice, the madness behind him. His hands shook as he fumbled for the radio.
“Ptarmigan to Bunny? Where are you, Mirabel?”
Bonenfant clicked off the radio and unfolded the marked-up map. Mirabel could be anywhere in the original tunnels or the twisting corridors that had been sketched in by hand. The biggest chamber was labelled Generator Room. Someone had to be alive there to bring the lights back on.
Bonenfant pressed to the wall as he approached the Generator Room. Steel clattered on steel up ahead, and he heard a British woman swearing through the half-open door. He led with his submachine gun.
“Don’t tell me you’re the rescue mission,” the Indian woman said in an upper class British accent from behind an M14 rifle. She stood in the control room for the nuclear reactor. Racks of equipment filled the far wall, a desk was pushed up against the right hand wall, calendars and charts were tacked to the left.
“Dr. Binoculous, I presume?”
She wore a thick white parka over her short frame, and a quite fetching face stared down the sights of her rifle at the spot between Bonenfant’s eyes. “Binoculous was my husband’s name. Call me Asmita.”
“Captain Julien Bonenfant, RCMP Security Service. We’re here to extract you.”
She lowered the rifle a few inches. “How do I know you’re not KJB?”
“You can check me for secret tattoos or hollow teeth,” he said. He lowered his Sterling. “But to do so you’d have to strip me down. In this cold I fear I’d catch my death. Of course you’d have to strip down as well to prove you aren’t KJB, so maybe we wouldn’t be so cold after all.”
She let the rifle drop. “Is lasciviousness the only quality the Mounties seeks in their officers?”
Bonenfant grabbed her arm. “Allow me to demonstrate some of my lesser qualities before we get to the subject of lasciviousness. We have to go, Asmita.”
She wrenched away from him. “That won’t be possible. Do you have any idea what we are working on down here, Mr. Bonenfant? It cannot fall into the KJB’s hands.”
“Not my concern. My orders are to bring you home. Canada is quite lovely this time of year.”
“There will be no Canada if we don’t stop them.”
A shot rang out and tore through one of the charts on the wall. Plaster and wood erupted in a dusty cloud around him. Bonenfant pushed Asmita toward the desk. “Get down.”
“The Soviets,” she hissed. “They are dressed as Americans.”
He braced himself against the door frame. A soldier in an American Army uniform approached with his rifle levelled.
“Not another step,” Bonenfant said.
“She gotta die,” the soldier said, and he fired wild shots into the generator room. When he stopped to reload, Bonenfant put two bullets through his spine.
Bonenfant’s breath condensed in a cloud around him as he inspected the body.
“They are all dressed as general infantry,” Asmita said from the doorway. “That’s how they caught us unaware. No secret tattoos, no hollow teeth.”
“The KJB has improved its game,” Bonenfant said. He could find no indication that the man was a double agent.
“You have no idea. They managed to take control of our nuclear missiles.”
“I thought this was supposed to be a research station.”
“Do you know how close we are to the Russian missile bases in Derazhnya, Yedrovo, and Kozeisk? The Americans couldn’t resist. They modified Minutemen missiles and call them Icemen.”
“A fitting moniker,” Bonenfant said as he stared at the dead man. He was no more than eighteen or nineteen.
“They are going to launch the missiles at New York and London,” Asmita said. “We have to stop them.”
For a moment, Asmita appeared to be standing at the far end of an indescribably long tunnel. The world was always in peril, and he was the only one who could save it, yet it was too much to ask for one little drink in return for the services offered.
“Stop the nukes,” Bonenfant said. “I’m all for it.” He stepped back into the control room. “But may I ask how?”
Asmita showed him a map on the office desk. It was more detailed than the hand-marked map he’d found in the barracks.
“We built five silos in the ice, connected by rail lines. I’m trying to cut the station power here, but turning off a nuclear generator is a delicate affair, and the silos all have back-up generators. Go to each silo, take out the guards, and disable the back-up generators. Without power, they won’t be able to launch.”
Asmita marked the launch sites with black skulls. Dizziness washed over Bonenfant. He needed another meprobamate, and soon, but he couldn’t let this woman see him take one. He stabbed the nearest silo with his thumb.
“I’ll start here, then proceed counter-clockwise to the rest of them. You get the power off, then work in the opposite direction. We meet in the middle, and then we leave?”
“Perfect,” she said, and smiled at him. She placed her gloved hand on his. “I knew you were the right man for the job.”
Not the right man, Bonenfant thought. This was supposed to be Mirabel’s job.
“Another agent came down here looking for you. Mirabel Orford. Blonde, about your height. Prairie accent. I heard her scream on the radio.”
“Then she is already dead. The KJB shows no mercy, Julien. Please, we can’t delay. They will launch within two hours.”
Bonenfant reached for the map, but Asmita held onto him, pulled him closer, and pressed her lips to his. Her tongue darted into his mouth.
“No false teeth,” she said, a demure smile on her lips. “But when we’re all done with this, I’ll have to do a full inspection for secret tattoos. Now go.”
Her eyes were dark pools, deep enough to drown in.
“À plus tard,” he said.
He jogged toward the first silo. As he ran, he reached for the pill bottle, but instead grabbed the Sterling. During the brief gun fight with the young soldier, the visions and the shakiness had dissolved in the perfect crystalline focus of battle. Meprobamate might help with the DTs, but there was no better cure than battle.
A vertical shaft had been cut into the glacier, lined with steel, and filled with a medium-range nuclear missile. The launch doors at the top of the silo were open to the sky, and blast doors from the control room opened into the silo where the Iceman steamed. Three soldiers were stationed at the silo: one worked the control panel and the other two watched the tunnel where Bonenfant hid.
“Control panel’s locked,” said the soldier in a thick Kentucky drawl. “What in the hell are we expected to do?”
The lights went out for a moment and Bonenfant rushed down the ice. When the lights came back on, he fired three quick shots.
“You’re expected to die,” Bonenfant said.
The two soldiers holding rifles went down, bleeding from head wounds, but he took the soldier at the panel in the leg.
“Keep your hands on the wound,” Bonenfant said as he approached. He knelt a few feet from the groaning soldier, a freckled boy who was just as young as the others. “What city were you targeting with this one?”
“City? Mister, we was sent to disable these here miss-iles. We ain’t targeting nothing.”
“The KJB has trained you well,” Bonenfant said. He showed the freckled boy the blade of his boot knife. “But have they trained you to resist a slow filleting?”
When he saw the bayonet, the Kentuckian sobbed.
“God as my witness, Mister. I ain’t KJB. It’s the Injun lady who’s KJB. She raised the damn demon. She’s the one trying to launch these here miss-iles.”
Bonenfant slid the knife into his boot. Either the KJB was getting better in their indoctrination or the boy was telling the truth. He walked over to the control panel and read the latitude and longitude programmed into the missile’s targeting system.
The lights flickered out again, and the wind howling through the silo doors changed direction: it carried the stink of dank mould from deep within the glacier and a sound that couldn’t be voices.
“Lord protect us,” the boy said. “The demon is coming.” He grabbed hold of Bonenfant’s legs. “Hide me. Hide me!”
Bonenfant knocked the boy’s hands away. The mould-stink intensified and those voices congealed into a recognizable phrase, uttered again and again in an alien tongue: “Tekeli-i! Tekeli-i!” The generator roared to life and the lights on the panel cast a dim orange glow across the tunnel. What Bonenfant saw in that gloom could not be real. The boy emitted a shrill, childish scream.
Bonenfant ran into the silo. He tied a climbing rope to his ice-axe, then lashed the other end to the harness at his waist. He drove the ice axe into the snow at the edge of the silo and lowered himself over the ledge.
“Tekeli-i!” the thing moaned. “Tekeli-i!”
The Kentucky boy screamed, his voice rising an octave, until the scream was cut off by the sound of ripping flesh. So many eyes. Bonenfant cowered between the steaming length of the Iceman and the cold steel of the shaft wall.
Darkness surrounded him, but he felt eyes peering through darkness, searching. He pressed himself to the missile. I am a weapon, I’m no man. Let it only see a weapon.
After an interminable span of time, he knew the eyes no longer watched. The alien voice was gone. He climbed back up the rope and as he did, the lights flickered back on.
Three headless bodies lay on the ice. One of them had freckles on the ragged stump at its neck. Nerve agents, Bonenfant thought. Or DT hallucinations. What he’d seen could not be real.
The missile’s coordinates still showed on the control panel: it wasn’t pointed at New York or London, the missile was aimed at Moscow. The launch clock was counting down from eighty-seven minutes. Asmita had lied to him. She raised the demons, the boy had said. And she’d played him for a fool, Bonenfant thought. He killed four innocent men for her.
Bonenfant tried to shut down the launch sequence, but the panel was locked out. Only Asmita would know the code to unlock it. He repelled back over the side of the silo and planted a timed charge set for sixty minutes on the side of the missile, and another on the backup generator station. He might not be able to stop the rockets, but he could damn well destroy them.
He followed the map toward the next silo. He would destroy the missiles first, then find Asmita and make her answer for her treason.
Mirabel cowered behind the control panel at the next missile silo. Stinging ice shards blew in from the open silo hatch. Mirabel had stripped down to her long underwear and trembled where she sat below the panel. The hair at her temples had gone from blonde to snow white.
“Good afternoon, Julien,” she said as if they were meeting at headquarters.
“Come out from there, Mirabel.”
“The devil looked through me, Julien. It saw my past and it saw my future and I meant nothing.” Her voice changed, became that of a terrified child. “It will devour us all.”
Bonenfant worked the panel and tried to change the coordinates, but it too was locked. The missile was pointed at Leningrad. Seventy-nine minutes until launch.
Mirabel’s grabbed at his waist, all boney fingers and nails. “Won’t you join me under the ice?” Her voice changed again, became husky with promise. “We can stay here forever.”
Bonenfant wrenched his hand free.
“They’re using nerve weapons on us,” he said. “Hallucinogens. Fight it, Mirabel. What you saw isn’t real.”
“Oh, it is real,” Asmita said.
The doctor walked down the hallway toward him. Unarmed, this time, and seemingly unafraid. She brushed past him and leaned over the control panel. With a few quick key strokes she had it unlocked.
Bonenfant aimed the Sterling at her gut. “The missiles aren’t aimed at New York or London: they are targeting Russia. Why is the KJB targeting Russia?”
“Oh Julien,” she said. “I am as far beyond the KJB as a nuclear missile is beyond that puny little toy in your hand.”
“Step away from the panel, Asmita.”
She worked at the panel for a moment longer before stepping away. As she did, she uttered a phrase in a language not made for human physiology. A distant sigh answered and the ground began to shake. Mirabel howled, a base sound more simian than human, and she darted past Asmita, laughing and crying at once. Asmita walked unconcerned away from Bonenfant. At the control panel, the launch sequence was now counting down from five minutes.
“They will retaliate,” Bonenfant said. “Destroy Moscow and Leningrad, and the Soviets will launch their entire arsenal at the West.”
“I’m counting on it. First, I will coerce these two powers so obsessed with destruction to obliterate each other, and when they are gone, I will take my place on the empty throne.”
“It’s coming,” Mirabel howled. She dropped to her knees, only twenty feet from the control panel, and burrowed at the ice between the rail lines, her fingernails tearing.
“It is here,” Asmita said. “I’m impressed, Captain. I didn’t expect you to survive this long.” She spoke again in that impossible tongue, the syllables broken and warped. The ice wall to his left collapsed. A mass of dark liquid poured out of the shattered ice to fill the tunnel. There was no dim light to hide it this time, there was no way Bonenfant could deny what he saw. Eyes and mouths formed and dissolved in flesh like aspic. Those eyes looked through Bonenfant’s skin to the frightened boy who had once inhabited his body, to the infant born to it, and beyond. It continued to pour out of the wall, growing to fill the cavern behind Asmita. “Tekeli-i!” it cried. “Tekeli-i!”
“Hide, Julien,” Mirabel screamed. “We must hide!”
The creature extruded a tentacle that wrapped around Mirabel’s arm. Where it touched her, her skin blanched and contracted. Another tentacle extruded a gummy, toothless mouth that puckered and sucked at the air as it slid toward Mirabel.
Bonenfant emptied his clip into the aemobic mass. The Sterling’s bullets formed small divots in the slimy, translucent flesh, but the monstrosity didn’t slow.
Asmita uttered a harsh, alien syllable, and the mouth approaching Mirabel sealed shut. The now-mouthless tentacle instead wrapped around Mirabel’s other arm. She no longer struggled. Bonenfant had seen the same look in a deer’s eyes as it lay still, exhausted, while wolves tore out its entrails.
“Reload your weapon,” Asmita said. “And put her out of her misery.”
Bonenfant reloaded and brought the Sterling to bear on the scientist.
He fired at Asmita, and as he did, the monstrosity extended a thin membrane between Bonenfant and the scientist. The bullets struck that flap of skin with a wet thud. Asmita smiled behind the gelatinous barrier.
“You can’t defeat it, Julien. They love me. Just like you will love me.”
“Delusion doesn’t suit you, Dr. Binoculous.”
Anger flashed in her dark eyes. “That was my slave name. You shall not use it.”
Bonenfant rushed across the ice to Mirabel’s side. The skin of her arms was pale and distended where the tentacles clutched her.
Asmita stepped out from behind the membrane, and as she did, she unzipped her parka to her navel, revealing skin the colour of coffee.
“The three of us share so much, Julien,” she said. “Look at me, and what do you see? A woman. The gender born to serve. A brown woman. A people born to serve their English masters. A brown woman scientist. Fit only to serve my male colleagues. I will no longer serve, Julien. I will free the world from all such tyranny.”
This was good, Bonenfant thought. He needed the time to think. Yet as she spoke, he couldn’t deny her fierce beauty, the dark passion in her eyes. “You will free the world by destroying it.”
“I only destroy those powers who would enslave others. Once they are gone, I will rule, and with my beautiful shoggoths at my side, I will be unstoppable. You could stand beside me. Don’t you want that, Julien? Aren’t you sick of serving? They call you an agent, but you have no agency. You only do as you are told.”
She took another step toward him. More dark skin was visible beneath the white parka. Bonenfant lowered the Sterling.
“No, Julien,” Mirabel said. Her voice a thin wind. “Hide with me, Julien.”
“You said the three of us,” Bonenfant said. “You mean Mirabel.”
“Not that empty shell,” Asmita said. “The shoggoths.” She indicated the quivering, gelatinous beast beside her. “I learned a great many things in my mastery of the atom, Julien, and among them was the secret history of our world. We aren’t the first species to walk this planet. Many came before us. The most elder of those created the shoggoths. Like you and me, they were created to serve. Like you and me, they couldn’t abide their servitude.”
“Please,” Mirabel said.
The countless eyes beneath the creature’s flesh gazed at Bonenfant as the woman spoke. “Tekeli-i!” the creature cried as if the word contained thousands of centuries of fury.
Bonenfant slung the Sterling over his shoulder and slipped both his shaking hands into his pockets.
“You are right to be afraid, Julien. They are more powerful than you can imagine. They raged against the tyranny of their masters, and they cast down those who had enslaved them. For millennia they ruled this planet, but the ice came and buried them here.”
She spoke another harsh syllable and a tentacle extruded from the mass and slipped into the opening of Asmita’s parka. The “Tekeli-i!” became a gasp of pleasure as it held her.
“I found mention of them in ancient writings, whispers from the Vikings and the Inuit that there were things living beneath the vast ice of Greenland.”
There was a grenade in each of Bonenfant’s pockets. Pulling the pin one-handed was a challenge, especially with his hands shaking as badly as they were, but as she spoke, he managed to get both pins out. He clasped the levers to delay the fuse.
“In another tome, the Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred, I learned the words to speak with them. The Americans salivated over my plan to deploy missiles here, and they gave me the perfect excuse to hunt for my beloved shoggoths. Now I will liberate this army of ancient slaves.”
She took another step toward Bonenfant. The tentacle retracted, leaving its slimy trail across her skin.
“Join us, Julien, and you will never serve again.”
Those dark eyes held his, and for a moment the sub-glacial city and the shoggoth and the woman panting on the ground before him slipped away. In its place stood a world burned. The great cities of the East and West levelled. Billions dead, millions displaced. The survivors scavenged the ruins and they ran from the great, gelatinous beasts that roamed the wasteland. Asmita ruled over this world of bone and dust, and he carried a sword at her side. He and Asmita drank from fountains of liquor. They made love in the ruins of London, of Moscow, of New York, of Leningrad, of Rome, of Hong Kong. King and queen, god and goddess.
“I’m sorry,” Bonenfant said. “But I’ve been serving for too long.”
He threw one grenade into the ceiling and the other at the wall. The shoggoth extruded limbs to surround Asmita in a protective cocoon, and Bonenfant tore Mirabel free of the shoggoth’s grasp. He’d gone no more than ten feet when the grenades detonated. The explosion punched him in the back, lifted him into the air, and turned everything white.
Howling. Copper blood. The stink of old earth. Mirabel crawled on the ice beside him. Where her hands had been there was just two bloody stumps. The shoggoth did that. Shoggoths, the missiles, Asmita.
Bonenfant rolled to his feet. The explosion had knocked him almost to the edge of the silo. The tunnel behind him had collapsed, but he could hear the shoggoth excavating on the other side of the debris. On the control panel, the timer had one minute and thirty seconds remaining. The panel was still unlocked; Asmita hadn’t shut it off. That meant he had a chance.
“Tekeli-i!” the shoggoth cried as it dug.
Mirabel wept into her coagulated stumps. Bonenfant pulled out the map she had given him on the Tracker and estimated their location. He had to get it right. The missile silos were all within four miles of each other, there wasn’t any room for error.
He entered the new coordinates into the missile guidance system. One minute until launch.
Bonenfant smashed open the fire safety box beside the control and wrapped Mirabel’s shrunken form in one of the fire blankets. He draped another across his shoulders. Her head lolled as he tied her to him using one end of the climbing rope. Chunks of snow and ice fell from the debris filling the tunnel and one of those green eyes stared at him through a gap it had excavated.
The blast doors squealed. Bonenfant slipped through as the massive steel doors closed. Vapour and steam lifted off the missile.
“Stay under the ice,” Mirabel said in a crone’s voice.
“I’ve a better idea, cheri,” Bonenfant said. “This is sure to lift your spirits.”
He made a lasso with the other end of the climbing rope and tossed it at the missile. The lasso missed the nose cone and tumbled down the side of the quivering weapon. A great boom shook the blast door, and the shoggoth spoke those awful words again and again. The missile exploded to life. Choking clouds of exhaust occluded Bonenfant’s view as he launched the lasso a second time. Through the fiery exhaust, he could just see the shape of the missile rising. We are finished, he thought.
Then the rope at his waist went taunt and tugged him into the air. The lasso had caught the nose cone. They slammed into the frigid flank of the missile. Bonenfant choked and coughed in the rancid exhaust, but he held Mirabel tight, and with his other hand, he fished out his boot knife. Heat seared through the fire blanket and the thick layers of his parka, then a wall of cold air blew the vapours away. Bonenfant cut the rope with a swift slice and at the same moment kicked away the missile. He rolled as he hit the glacier’s surface and covered them both with the fire blanket as the missile rose on a column of fire overhead.
Bonenfant leaned Mirabel against the side of the hangar, pushed open the doors, and carried her into the ski-mounted DC-3. Burns covered one side of her face and her right leg. Bonenfant’s back and shoulders were in worse shape, but he forced himself to bear the pain. They had to get airborne. He strapped Mirabel into a passenger seat. She was shaking so badly he thought she could die at any second, so he tapped out a meprobamate pill for each of them, and made her swallow it with a sip from the canteen. He tucked the pill bottle into the chest pocket of her jacket: she would need more once they were free of this place.
Bonenfant jumped into the pilot’s seat and started the plane. A green aurora warped the sky above the runway, and in that light, other shapes moved beneath the ice. Clouds of snow erupted on the glacier’s surface as the shoggoths burrowed out of their ancient tomb. The amoebic shapes converged on the plane. Bonenfant opened up the throttle. He craned his head to find the Iceman, but there was no sign of it. The warheads must be falling back to Earth.
As the skis lifted into the air, the snow beneath the plane erupted and a massive shoggoth appeared on the ice. Tentacles extruded toward the plane. Bonenfant felt ancient hatred pulsing in the creature’s countless green eyes. He was a master, like the ones the shoggoths had cast down millions of years before. He brought the plane up, just out of reach of those primordial limbs.
In the auroral light, he saw a figure within the heart of the aemobic beast. The shoggoth unfurled and exposed Asmita to the elements. Wind whipped her dark hair, and she was shouting something that Bonenfant couldn’t hear over the roar of the engine and the shoggoth’s mindless syllables. She raised a fist at Bonenfant. Cursing him, he guessed, but cursing him to what, he would never know. He climbed away from the queen and her ancient consort and rose into the star-slashed sky.
Daylight erupted on the ice behind him. The shockwave punched him into his seat. Bonenfant struggled with the yoke. The plane bucked and stalled, then fell, a broken bird. A second blast of daylight, a third. The warheads in the missiles still in their silos, detonated by the first nuclear blast. Ice rushed up to meet them. Bonenfant strained to bring up the plane, his seared flesh in agony, his breath forgotten. Two more suns exploded into life.
The combined shockwave lifted the plane high into the sky. It rolled and pitched and launched Bonenfant out of his seat. They were inverted, but gliding again. From the ceiling of the cockpit, Bonenfant grabbed the yoke and rolled the plane until he fell back into the pilot’s seat, where he strapped himself in.
The plane shuddered. One of the engines was out and the other struggling, but it kept them aloft at over five thousand feet. A single amorphous cloud, larger than any thunderhead, lifted into the air where Camp Century had been. Several minutes passed before the winds steadied enough for him to fix the control yoke and check on Mirabel.
Broken shards of brown bottle lay scattered about the passenger compartment. He didn’t see any of the white pills in the ruins of the bottle, but they had to be here somewhere. Mirabel was still strapped to her seat, both stumps clutched to her chest.
“Mirabel?” She looked like a woman of eighty. Her mouth hung open, gums receding around yellowed teeth. There was something on her tongue. “Come, darling. We’re safe now. We can go back to Montebello to defrost.”
He lifted her chin. Three half-dissolved meprobamate pills sat on the burned flap of her tongue. A shard of brown glass was wedged into the stump where her right hand had been.
“Oh Mirabel,” Bonenfant said. “Please, not that.”
He tried to make her retch, but when stuck his fingers down her throat, she didn’t flinch. No blood flowed beneath her pale skin. Her mouth reeked of meprobamate. He closed her too-wide eyes and covered her with blankets, then he kissed her forehead through the thick fabric before returning to the cockpit.
In a small cupboard behind the pilot’s seat, he found a ration kit and a bottle of rye whiskey. As he flew, he found he couldn‘t look at the stars, so he flew by instruments, his hands steady on the yoke, but after a while, as his vision blurred from the drink, even the green glow of the instruments reminded him of ever-shifting eyes.