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THE EVIL WITHIN
PART ONE - COMMENCEMENT
Even wasteland may not have been a strong enough term to describe it. But it was usually the only word that came to one’s mind concerning Antarctica. Farther south than many ever dared to travel, the world’s second largest continent boasted no cities, no civilization, no roads or airports. And almost no life. Just snow and ice. And the graves of the men who had, over the coarse of 200 or so years, had traveled farther south than anyone before them to this desolate place, seeking fame and fortune; many had finding only death. It was like some part of the world that God had begun to create, only to be distracted and never able to finish what He had started. Or maybe He just didn’t care about this part of the world, like seemingly everyone else.
Looking out the window of the Navy chopper, Captain Raymond McCoy decided that it was perhaps the most desolate place he had ever seen. And he was a man who had ran missions in every country, 3rd world nation, and rinky dink banana republic you could think of. For 12 years, he had been in the Army, spending 2 of those 12 years in Vietnam during the waning years of the War, from ’71 to ’73. After the war had ended, he had taken his combat commission (having started the war as a Private and ended it as a Lieutenant) and had become a Ranger, then a Delta boy once that MOS had opened up at Fort Bragg in ’77. Now, at the age of 31, he was running his own team out of Fort Devins,as part of the Special Operations Command. Over the course of his career, he had seen the jungles of Vietnam, the deserts of Saudi Arabia and Northern Africa, and even the mountains of Tibet, on an op against Chinese smugglers.
But this place was different. Those other locations were remote, but you never felt as if you were cut off from civilization, cut off from the world itself. Here, in Antarctica, you did. This place radiated violence and foreboding, and, despite the fact that he was viewing from the air a continent he had never set foot on, Ray McCoy felt uncomfortable.
The others in the Navy Helo probably felt uncomfortable too, either because of the ominous atmosphere McCoy perceived, or because of the fact that they had been sitting on gunny crates for the last 3 hours. The 2 week voyage from Hawaii aboard the carrier USS Nimitz had brought McCoy’s team only as far as the coast; although their destination was equipped to handle ships, running a carrier through glacial passages was not wise. As a result, McCoy and his people loaded onto choppers equipped with auxiliary fuel pods, which allowed them to make the 3 or so hour flight inland to their destination: McMurdo Station
As McCoy turned his gaze away from his hatch window view of the landscape, the chopper pilot looked back at him and held up 3 fingers, indicating that their E.T.A. to McMurdo was now only 3 minutes. The co-pilot spoke on the radio to someone; over the drone of the rotors, McCoy couldn’t discern whether it was McMurdo or the second chopper, which was carrying most of their equipment. Flying in twos, he had been told, was a common practice in the Antarctic, as if one aircraft went down the other could rescue any survivors and radio back for help.
He had been told that this was going to be a rescue mission. He had been told there was a situation at an U.S. outpost in the Antarctic. He was told that was all he needed to know until he got there. And that was all he was told. Looking back out at the deathly pale landscape that streaked by under them, thinking about how devoid of life it appeared to be, McCoy had a vision of himself and his team, stranded at an empty outpost in the middle of nowhere. And there would be no others to radio back for help.
What he could not know, however, was that he partially right and partially wrong. His team would be in need of help shortly. But Outpost 31 was anything but empty.
McMurdo, founded by the U.S in 1956, had grown since then from a few prefabricated huts to over 100 buildings, with an airport and even a dock. Presently, it was the largest settlement in Antarctica, bar none. As the chopper descended over the various buildings and facilities, McCoy’s vision of a violent and desolate Antarctic faded. Here was the closest thing to civilization the continent had to offer, complete with laboratories, hangars, dormitories for civilian scientists and military personnel, even a small movie theatre. For McCoy, who sometimes, while running ops, had been forced to sleep on the ground or in stick huts or tents, the place didn’t seem half-bad. Of course, he wasn’t a tourist, and they weren’t here to check out the hospitalities that McMurdo had to offer.
The pilot steered the chopper over the civilian buildings, towards a chopper pad in front of a small two story building that McCoy immediately identified as a military installation, most likely an HQ building, due to the distinctly military looking satellite transmission equipment it sported on its roof. As if that wasn’t enough, 2 sentries stood guard in front of the front entrance, each equipped with cold weather gear and the ubiquitous M-16 assault rifle. As the chopper slowly descended onto the concrete landing pad, a figure dressed in a heavy parka emerged from the front entrance, and moved past the guards out towards the landing pad. McCoy’s team moved towards the door, eager to dismount, but the pilot seemed to be having difficulty bringing the helicopter down evenly. The wind was apparently picking up.
Finally, after attempting to safely negotiate the landing pad for what seemed like an hour, the pilot finally put the craft down on the pad, and the 8 passengers filed out of the door, as quickly as they could. McCoy, who waited until the rest of his team has disembarked, smiled at their slight display of adolescence. Here were men who could handle the rigors of Army Special Forces training, yet could not bear to be stuck in one place for more than a few hours. As he jumped from the chopper onto the tarmac, McCoy had just enough time to register that this was the farthest south he had ever been in his life before the figure that had emerged from the military HQ building was in front of him and speaking.
"Captain McCoy, sir, welcome to McMurdo. Follow me please."
The man turned and headed back towards the building, having not even bothered to hear McCoy’s response. Considering how cold it was out, McCoy didn’t blame him. The Captain and his team followed the figure towards the door and into the building, passing the two uncomfortable looking guards on the way.
Through the front entrance, McCoy and the others found themselves in a sizable waiting area, where an Air Force guard, seated behind a desk, buzzed them through a steel security door that marked the room’s only other exit. Through the security door was a room that resembled every military operations center McCoy had ever been in. Computer equipment, maps, radios and their operators, and various staff officers filled the room. Bustling, however, was not the word to describe it. The officers in the room seemed very subdued, even bored, and many of them did not even look up as McCoy and the nine other men entered the room.
The building was heated to a very comfortable temperature, in stark contrast to the outside. McCoy and his team fidgeted under their heavy navy blue parkas as the man lead them towards the center of the room. Stopping at prefabricated steel table, he quickly unzipped his parka, shedding it like a second skin. As he turned, McCoy was finally able to get his first good look at the figure. The man was dark skinned, and looked not a day over twenty, yet he was wearing the blue uniform of an airforce officer, and had the twin bronze bars of a 2nd Lieutenant on his collar.
"Sorry about the landing, Captain. We would have brought you guys in earlier if we had known there was going to be a storm front moving in." The man’s nametag read "Gerheim."
"Don’t worry about it."
"I’m Lieutenant Gerheim," he continued, not knowing that McCoy already knew his name. "Assistant Operations Officer. Like I said, welcome to McMurdo Station, sir. You can take your parkas off and put them on the table."
Once they had done so, the lieutenant continued. "Airman Ryan will show your team to the briefing room, they can get prepped there. I’ve got a team unloading your equipment right now. The general doesn’t want to waste any time. As for you, sir, I’ve been instructed to give you preliminary situation report before you’re briefed by General West."
The airman Gerheim had mentioned stepped forward and motioned McCoy’s men towards a security door on the opposite side of the room. McCoy relayed his instructions to them and went to receive his briefing.
Lieutenant General W.O. West, commander of USAF Task Force South, was forty-seven years old, but looked at least a decade older. Sunken eyes, steel rimmed glasses, and pale skin composed the General’s face, and despite the fact that the ready room they occupied was constantly kept at a pleasant 61 degrees, the man still wore a heavy sweater and snow pants. His three stars were displayed prominently on his collar, gleaming against the blue polyester that made up his sweater vest. The man was skinny and hallowed out looking, and even though West was his superior officer, McCoy could not deny that the General resembled a frightened child, yearning for his mother.
Standing at ease in front of the makeshift metal table the General had been using as a desk, McCoy watched as West threw the report he had been reading onto the table and began to rub at his eyes behind his glasses. McCoy shot a look at Gerheim, standing beside him. The Lieutenant’s ‘preliminary situation report’ hadn’t been all that helpful; McCoy had simply been told that the place, Outpost 31, had been out of contact for an inordinate amount of time. No rescue attempt had been mounted earlier in the year due to the extreme winter that accompanied the Antarctic winter. Now that the weather had become a little friendlier, U.S. Science Command, the administrators of the outpost, had requested the Air Force send in a search and rescue team to investigate the loss of communication. And while Air Force had combat controllers and other special forces personnel, they had nobody who was equipped to run a search and rescue mission in subzero temperatures. Which was where he came in.
General West had finished rubbing his eyes, which were now beet red as a result. He fixed his bloodshot gaze on McCoy.
"I’m sure Lieutenant Gerheim has filled you in on the situation, Captain. Science Command is understandably worried about their outpost. If we had anyone down here who could’ve run this op, we would’ve already. Gerheim probably filled you in on that, too."
"Yes he did, sir."
"It is common for an outpost to be out of contact for extended periods of time, say…a week or so, maybe longer, due to inclement weather or equipment problems. In the case of Outpost 31, we haven’t received any radio communications for 78 days. And what we haven’t told Science Command yet is that there seems to be another matter for concern."
"Tell him, Lieutenant."
Gerheim, who had been waiting for his cue from the General to speak, began immediately. "All U.S. Outposts in the Antarctic are equipped with a high frequency radio beacon. It is designed to throw off a constant radio signal that we can monitor from here. The device is a military issue piece of equipment, and as a result, most outpost crewmembers are not made aware of its existence. In the case of Outpost 31, we have not received the signal for roughly 60 days. The signal is no longer be transmitted."
McCoy waited for the Lieutenant to finish, then said, "Maybe they lost their power. It would explain why you guys haven’t received radio signals of any kind."
Gerheim shook his head. "The device is equipped with its own backup power supply. If the main generator went offline, the beacon would have fallen back on its own generator. And the backups have enough juice to power the beacons for months."
"Then maybe someone found it and shut it off."
The lieutenant shook his head again. "Tampering with the device is a federal offense. Besides…they would never be able to locate it. It’s buried 20 feet below the camp."
McCoy stood silent, fresh out of ideas. If the beacon wasn’t able to lose power and hadn’t been turned off by a crewman…then there was only one way it could’ve been permanently silenced; someone had destroyed it. And if it was buried 20 feet below the ice, then someone would’ve had to have worked real hard to do so.
"Something happened at that outpost, captain," West said, as if reading McCoy’s thoughts. "Something violent. We believe one of the crewmembers may have succumbed to what we like to call ‘cabin fever.’ This place can do things to a man’s mind, you know. If one them went over the edge he could’ve done a lot of damage, to himself, to the outpost, and to the rest of the crew. I’ve reviewed the personnel files for Outpost 31, and from what the files say it looks like a few of them have the potential to become…unstable, despite the fact that Science Command supposedly screened these people before stationing them there. That being said, you can probably understand why we haven’t filled Science Command in on this, and also why we’re sending in a combat team instead of a civilian rescuers."
"Good. Can you excuse us for a moment, Lieutenant?"
"Yes, sir." Gerheim saluted, waited for the salute to be returned, and took his leave. West waited until the junior officer was well out of the room before he spoke.
"Captain, what I’m about to tell you doesn’t leave this room, you understand?"
"The Norwegian Government has recently contacted the U.S. State Department to report the loss of one of their own research stations. Apparently, they’ve been out of contact with their outpost for an even longer period of time than we’ve been with ours. The Norwegian outpost in question is 50 miles southwest of Outpost 31. As you can see, the close proximity of the two stations, and the fact that neither one of them is communicating with anyone, leads us to believe that whatever…distress… has befallen Outpost 31 has spread."
McCoy took that in, trying to categorize what he had just been told. For a man to go stir crazy and murder people at his own outpost…that didn’t seem too fat fetched at all. But for someone to go over the fucking falls and kill everyone where he was, then travel 50 miles in hazardous weather to kill everybody at a foreign outpost…Ray McCoy had spent less than a day in Antarctica, but if the place was really capable of driving people that nuts, he was sure he didn’t want to stay very long.
"Of course," the General began. "That’s assuming someone at Outpost 31 was responsible. It could be the other way around, and some Norwegian over at their respective station could’ve done this. Or maybe all of them went nuts. Who knows? Listen, captain, the Norwegians refused to divulge any more information to us, so we really don’t know. And I don’t want to report back to Science Command or my superiors until I know for sure. What I want from you and your team is a simple search and rescue run. You find anyone, and I hope to shit that you do, you radio back and we send a chopper and medical supplies. If you find a bunch of frozen bodies…well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it."
The general stood and walked to the ready room’s only window. Out of it, there was nothing to see, but the General stared anyway, as if hoping he could find some answers for his own questions. When he turned back to McCoy, he looked even more drained and pallid then he had before.
"You’ll be in contact with Lieutenant Gerheim for the duration of the op," the general said. "I’m sure you know how to handle yourself in extreme weather. I haven’t read your file, but your C.O., Colonel Horn, highly recommended you. I’ll have Gerheim give you any maps of the facility and any keys you’ll need to access it before you leave. I’ve already had him make copies of Outpost 31’s personnel files for you to study on your way there."
"Thank you, sir." McCoy was eager to leave, to get it done with. The more he heard, the more he didn’t like the situation. And right now, he didn’t like the situation one damn bit.
"One more thing, captain. You are cleared to eliminate any hostile parties that threaten the safety of you or your men. That would include American hostiles. The order I have just issued you hasn’t been given in over a decade, captain, and you are to deny that you ever received it, under penalty of treason. Is that clear?"
"That’ll be all, then."
McCoy saluted, got one in return, and went to go and face the cold, the storm, and whatever else Outpost 31 had in store for him.
Palmer, Norris, Bennings, Fuchs, Garry, Nauls, Childs, Blair, Clark, Copper, Windows, and MacReady. 12 personnel files, and 12 different faces to look at. Four hours out in the Navy chopper, McCoy had gone over each one of the files at least twice, and yet all of the information they provided meant nothing. Any one of them could have gone over the edge, and looking over the files had yielded more questions than answers.
But at least he had a pretty good idea of who everybody was. Copper was the base physician, Clark the animal handler, Nauls the cook. The science team stationed at Outpost 31 was comprised of Blair, the elder biologist, Fuchs, the younger assistant biologist, Norris, the geophysicist, and Bennings, the meteorologist. Childs was the base mechanic, and Palmer served as a back-up mechanic and helicopter pilot. Windows filled the radio operator slot. MacReady was the main helicopter pilot. And Garry was in command of the station.
10 of the men were white, two of them were black. 10 of them were civilian, two (Garry and MacReady) were ex-Army. Every one of them looked completely normal. And with the exception of Child’s numerable misdemeanor arrests, MacReady’s noted drinking problem, and Norris’s heart condition, all of them were normal. Or so it seemed. McCoy knew that certain things seemed irrefutable on paper, only to be complete falsities in real life. But Science Command had screened these people prior to their being sent to Outpost 31, and all had checked out okay. For the umpteenth time, McCoy had the feeling that none of them had been responsible for whatever had taken place at the outpost.
Looking out the window of the chopper now, McCoy watched as the sullen landscape passed below the helicopter. It was dark now, darker than it had been when they had arrived at McMurdo, but the pale, snow laden ground was still visible. Outside, the storm that had begun upon their arrival had worsened, and the wind now tore at their craft, howling as it passed them. The navy pilots had not spoken, to either McCoy or to Gerheim over the radio, for several hours. They were silent, and, with only a few exceptions, so were his men.
They were inbound, twenty minutes away from Outpost 31. Soon, they would know what had taken place there.
Soon, they would know everything.
Corporal William J. "The Conqueror" Johns was a man with a gun and nothing to shoot. For four fucking hours, and another three before that, he had wallowed inside of the choppers, sitting, waiting, stewing. He was a man who prided himself on his keen intellect, his quick reaction times, and his unerring marksmanship. He had joined the army for the express purpose of seeing combat, something his fellow soldiers often called "The Shit." After becoming a Ranger, Johns had seen plenty of the Shit, but since he had joined Captain McCoy’s SOCOM team, almost two years ago, the lack of any real action had led him to feel like some sort of caged animal, unable to utilize his skills. He was a well trained combat infantryman in a world where there was no combat.
Not to say there wasn’t any danger. He had been selected for this shitty detail because of the high marks he had received relating to hazardous environment training while in Ranger school. And this place was definitely a hazardous environment. Coming in from the carrier on the chopper, Johns had gotten the impression of a continent where nothing moved, nothing breathed, and nothing lived. Even the small portion of McMurdo he had seen had seemed empty and lifeless.
Speaking of McMurdo, the briefing they had received there had been a piece of shit. The captain and some pussy looking Air Force lieutenant had told them that they were running a standard search and rescue op at some remote U.S outpost in the middle of nowhere. No further intel, no names provided, no possible threats discussed. They had simply been told that, although the possibility was slim to none, there might be hostiles in the area, which was why they were going in armed. And besides being thrown a floor map to study, that had been that.
Regardless, he had studied the map, and he knew the layout of the place fairly well as a result, as did the rest of them. He was ready to go and do what had to be done. And although it would be fucked if the first person he had to kill was an American, a civilian at that, he was going to do it if he had to.
Icharo squirmed in his seat, readjusting the weight of the M4 carbine he had slung in his lap. The motion was subtle, but it was enough to bring Johns out of his thoughts and back in to the realm of reality. Looking around the chopper, seeing his own boredom mirrored on the faces of his squad mates, he decided to check over his equipment again, for the tenth time.
Each of the nine men that composed the SOCOM squad was equipped with essentially the same equipment. Seven of them wielded MP5-A4 submachine guns, each one equipped with a laser aiming module and a night vision scope. The only two exceptions were Privates Nyman and Icharo; Nyman was armed with a SPAS-12 shotgun, and Icharo, the team sniper, had the scoped M4 slung across his lap.
Besides that shit, each team member was wearing a heavy navy blue combat parka and insulated green pants. That gear, and the insulated snow boots, was standard issue for cold weather operations. Camo gear wasn’t really necessary for rescue missions (why make the rescuers harder to see?), and the captain had decided against bringing any heavy weaponry, such as grenade launchers or heavy machine guns.
Johns finished checking his gear, and looked around the chopper yet again. Besides Ben Icharo and Dave Nyman, there were 2 other privates, Roland Bozz and Sean Harker, the team medic. Himself, the other corporal, Walter Glass, and Sergeant Heyliger made up the non-coms. Lieutenant Elgin, the second in command, and the Captain rounded out the team. With the exception of Icharo, who was of Asian descent, and Bozz, who was half-Brazilian, half-Irish, or something along those lines, they were all white. Johns thought they were a pretty good bunch, and he could work well with them, which was all that really mattered.
One of the chopper pilots twisted around in his seat in order to face the occupants of the rear cabin, catching John’s attention. Over the howl of the wind and the din of the engine, trying to talk would have been futile, so the pilot simply looked at them and held up three fingers. Three minutes.
This was it. Johns chambered a round in his MP5 and sat back in his seat, staring at the hatch opposite him. He hated this place already, and he had a feeling that by the time this shit was over, he was going to regret ever coming here.
Dark shapes in the distance took form, and the passengers aboard the helicopter were finally able to get a look at U.S. Outpost North 31.
Originally, the camp had been comprised of a main compound, which housed the majority of the crew, as well as the laboratories, the kitchen, the infirmary and the radio room, as well as a recreation room and a variety of storage areas. Beneath that main compound was a large two tier underground area that housed the power generators and yet more storage space. Extraneous to this main encampment were several smaller structures, including a tool shed and several other undetermined buildings, presumably used for even more storage. The sections of the camp were connected by guide lights and ropes, which were in place to help guide a person from one section to another in the event of a storm. Outpost 31 had been allotted two snowcats, which were large tractor like vehicles used for ground transport across deep snow or tundra, and one helicopter for aerial travel.
That was the way the camp had been arranged in the map they had reviewed. Now, circling the camp 100 feet in the air, they saw that the map they had scrutinized would be of no help to them.
The main compound had been utterly decimated. Few of the rooms still stood, and those that still remained appeared to have suffered massive fire damage. The western end of the main compound appeared to have practically collapsed into a massive subterranean crater. Several of the unidentified smaller subjects had been eradicated, and fields of debris, both small and large, marked where they had once stood. Farther from the main encampment, one of the unidentified structures, a small shack that had apparently once stood on stood some feet in the air, had been toppled, and lay upon its side in the snow like some wounded animal.
The damage culminated with a ridiculously large crater near the eastern edge of the encampment, where the building marked "tool shed" had once been. The debris surrounding the crater was scattered in a manner that suggested massive explosives damage; the crater itself was deep and wide enough to support a large aircraft.
The chopper moved in over the leveled outpost, coming in low so that its occupants could get a good handle on things from the air. It landed at the southeastern edge of the encampment, near a weatherworn wooden sign that read "U.S. NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION -- OUTPOST #31." The Special Forces team disembarked with expected precision, weapons held at ready, splitting into two search teams, fanning out as they moved towards what was left of the compound.
They were coming.
It could hear them as they approached: first, the sound a helicopter, then footfalls in the snow as they moved towards the compound. They would find it. And once they had, it would assimilate them, it would become them, and it would make them a part of the great Many to which it belonged. It was only a matter of time now.
For one hundred thousand years, it had waited for just such a thing to happen. Then the men who had called themselves "Norwegians" had taken it from the ice. At first, it had not known of them, of their species, but once it had imitated the first, it had learned everything. All of the history, all of the knowledge, which these men possessed…it had acquired it all. The Norwegians had fought it, had succeeded in destroying many of its imitations, but what they had not understood was that every time it became one of them, it passed on its cells…its knowledge, to the new imitation. And with every one of them it took, the more powerful it would become.
But the Norwegians had possessed a strength of their own, the type of strength that a man possessed when he knew his life was at stake. It and the humans had more in common than it could have ever known; it protected itself when its life was in jeopardy of being ended, as did the humans, and both species were equally as zealous in their pursuit to survive. The Norwegians had killed most of it, had cleansed their camp of its perfect imitations…but it had taken another, an animal this time, and it had escaped from this place. The men it had assimilated had known of a nearby encampment, this one belonging to a different breed of men, the Americans, and so it had traveled there, dogged by its pursuers.
But they had failed to kill it, and in the form of the dog, it had slowly taken the members of the new outpost in which it had found itself. First had been the one called Norris, then Palmer, then Blair. In the process, the original dog imitation had been killed, and later, the Norris and Palmer imitations had met a similar fate. In the end, the Americans had sealed their own fates, choosing to destroy themselves and that which they had built instead of becoming a part of it. They had firebombed their own base, killed their own kind, and had hunted it with a fanaticism it had not seen it its trillions of years of life and experience.
One above all had sought its destruction. But in the end, the man who had led the battle against it had ended up as just another of its imitations. The cells and tissues, which had been transferred from its original form all the way to the Blair imitation, had been transferred to this new imitation as well. And with its latest form had come new knowledge; that of a rescue team which would be dispatched to investigate the disappearances. And with these new men would come a new opportunity to bring its plans into fruition.
It had not yet tired of this game. As it waited in the pitch black room, waited for its new hosts to come and uncover its new form, it only hoped that these new humans were more understanding of its purpose, of its desire to add them to itself, to make them a part of the creation it had begun eons ago.
They were coming.