“I told you I heard a noise”
Templar looked up from his task, saying nothing. Not for the first time he found himself wondering how much of a liability Brannigan would turn out to be. The young geologist was looking tired, maybe on the point of cracking from the effort. McKenzie’s constant jokes weren’t helping. For the moment Templar dismissed the train of thought and returned his gaze to the bodies, strewn on the cold snow. A trail of blood stretched towards the horizon, petering out about fifteen feet away from where he was crouched
‘What was it?’ Brannigan was demanding, ‘A polar bear attack?’
Templar rose slowly from the bodies of the dead huskies, not sure what to say. They had been ripped apart, their throats gouged open. Finally he nodded, ‘It certainly looks that way’ he responded. There, he thought, I didn’t lie…but it wasn’t the truth either: at least, not the whole truth. Feeling sick to his stomach Templar turned away, sizing up the younger man thoughtfully, ‘We should bury them’ he said finally, ‘them and the pilot.’ He gestured towards the tents, ‘you’d better fetch some digging equipment. Brannigan nodded and turned swiftly towards the small camp.
A sudden noise made Templar turn and look over his shoulder, finding McKenzie watching him in a detached manner from the doorway, ‘Of course,’ she said calmly, her lips barely moving from the rim of the plastic cup squeezed between her hands, ‘you realise that this means we’re totally fucked?’
Templar scowled, not liking the use of the swear-word, ‘Not necessarily’ he replied
McKenzie laughed, taking a sip and offering what was left to Templar, ‘I suppose you want to ask Fisher for help when he gets here then?’ She watched his reaction for a second and then shook her head, ‘Nope; thought not’. Templar made his way over to her side, took the cup from her hands and raised it to his lips, feeling the alcohol on his lips before he had even drunk. McKenzie shot a look at the dead dogs, barely a trace of emotion showing, ‘I suppose you’re going to tell me it was an animal attack?’
‘It could have been’ Templar shrugged
‘Bullshit!’ McKenzie replied harshly, ‘You and I both know that if there had been an animal in the camp last night the dogs would have been going wild’
‘Brannigan said he thought he heard something’ Templar offered weakly, causing McKenzie to laugh again
‘He’s been jumping at his own shadow ever since we left base camp, and you know it.’
Templar nodded, wondering at how closely McKenzie’s words were echoing his own thoughts. Changing subject he gestured into the plane, ‘Found anything yet?’ he asked
McKenzie shook her head, ‘A few bits and pieces’ she replied, taking the cup back and draining the few remaining drops before heading inside the plane. Templar followed, already regretting drinking the alcohol. Out here, where the atmosphere was thinner, the effects hit you twice as quick and he knew that he needed his wits about him; now more than ever.
Inside the plane an A4 black book was lying open, its pages marked with a battered bookmark that looked as if it had come free with the book itself. The pages of the book were covered with McKenzie’s cramped script: every item that she had found had been classed and categorised – but despite her early start it was clear that she still had a long way to go. She gestured to one of the open crates, ‘Take a look at this one’
Templar moved to the crate and pulled out a broken rifle. He examined it closely, looking down the barrel and feeling the weight in his hands. He placed it back into the box along with the others, noticing the cracks in the side of the crate. At some point, whether on impact or later, the box had been forced open and snow and ice had got in. He turned to McKenzie and raised an inquisitive eyebrow, but she merely gestured to the next box and the next, ‘There’s two or three of them, exactly the same’ she explained, ‘Christ alone knows what they were doing with weapons on board’
Templar shook his head, not liking this new development as well as the choice of language. He took another rifle out of the next box and examined it in the same way that he had examined the first one, looking for signs of frost damage on the barrel.
‘Jesus Christ, what the fuck have you got us into?’ Brannigan was standing in the doorway his eyes wide with shock. There was a shovel in both hands, ready for digging the graves, and what looked like old tarpaulin and some rope.
‘I’ll thank you both not to take the lord’s name in vein’ Templar barked angrily, raising the small crucifix around his neck and showing it to remind them that certain things were still off limits. He sighed and replaced the weapon, showing his empty hands to the other man, ‘Listen Mark,’ he said as patiently as he felt he could manage, ‘We all knew there would be dangers on this journey; but panicking over a few ruined weapons won’t get us anywhere’
Brannigan seemed to calm slightly, but there was still a look of distrust in his eyes when he turned his gaze back towards McKenzie, ‘Did you find it yet?’
‘Not yet’ McKenzie admitted, ‘The chances are that the survivors, if there were any, took it with them’
‘Then I say we abandon the mission and get back to base’ Brannigan said
McKenzie shook her head, ‘Not possible’ she replied, ‘If we go back now Fisher will finish us off and you know it’
‘She’s right’ Templar replied, ‘But there might be an alternate to running’ He gestured back towards the camp, ‘The weather has improved a bit: if it stays this way then base camp should be able to send us some supplies by helicopter – we can still salvage the mission.’ Templar gestured back towards the camp, ‘Get on the radio; see if you can raise a signal’ he ordered, before moving towards Brannigan and taking the shovels from his hands. He threw one to McKenzie, forcing her to reach out and catch it, ‘Claire, you can help me to bury the bodies’
McKenzie shook her head, ‘Our priority has to be to catalogue the cargo’ she replied, ‘see if we can find what we were looking for’
Templar looked at her for a long moment, then shook his head in marvel at her ability to switch off her emotions. He wondered what could possibly have happened in her life that had made her so cold, knowing that in all probability it was something to do with Fisher, ‘I won’t ask you again’ he replied, his voice level and firm, ‘Get your arse in to gear and come and help me bury these bodies…it’s not as if we’re going anywhere anytime soon.’ Templar turned and made to go outside, then paused still in the doorway. Without turning around he asked, ‘Do you think it was Fisher?’
McKenzie hefted the shovel in her hands, regarding the blade thoughtfully as if the answer could be found there, ‘No’ she said thoughtfully, ‘Not his style’
‘What about our objective…’ Templar asked, looking over his shoulder, his eyes full of shadows, ‘Could it be connected to that?’
‘No,’ McKenzie shook her head, speaking slowly, ‘Nothing could have survived out here for that long…’ her voice trailed off
‘Are you sure?’ Templar asked, still hesitating, ‘You don’t sound very sure’
McKenzie moved towards him, patting him on the shoulder with her free hand, ‘Put it this way Charles,’ she said, ‘If it is connected to our objective then Fisher will be the least of our problems’ __________________________
Author’s note: not quite a first draft this, as I ended up going back to the very start section and re-writing the section with the dead dogs to spend more time on that section of the story – hopefully the atmosphere between the three characters benefits from the longer wait before we find out more about what they are looking for and the mysterious Fisher…I then went back and added the last few lines about an hour or so later
Stay tuned for part three!