The officer studied me, not a trace of emotion in his dull gray eyes. The wind picked up. Most of the soldiers adjusted, turning their backs into gusts, but the officer didn’t move. He wore gray and white camouflage. Only the familiar trident patch adorned his left breast pocket. No rank insignia, no name. He took a step toward me as the wind howled and whipped up little powder cyclones at our feet.
“You brought them here, didn’t you?” He said, his voice deep and crunchy.
“No,” I said.
He shook his head, scowling, as flakes of ice caught in his neatly cropped gray stubble.
“I’m just a victim,” I continued. “They imprisoned me. Beat me.”
The officer set his jaw. “Don’t try to mind-fuck me, Robertson. We’ve been watching you for weeks. Ever since the first pod landed. We even intercepted the transmission that thing sent to his friends. And we know you showed him how.”
I must have looked terrified because he laughed and poked me in the chest.
“And then you concealed information and technology—things that ended up in the hands of the Russian army—things that could threaten the freedom of every single man, woman, and child in America.”
I gasped. “But if that’s true. If you were watching the whole time… why did you just let them take it?”
“America doesn’t want to be the country that breaks the Antarctic treaty,” the officer said. “Better PR if the Russians do it. But we sure as hell didn’t let them get far. We had three battle groups waiting for their carrier out in the Atlantic.”
I relaxed. That was a huge relief. Granted, the situation wasn’t much better, but at least Spegg and I would be on the same continent. “Thank God for that,” I said.
The officer smirked. “And then we lit ’em up.”
“Now, we can’t have a bunch of godless Ruskies running around with all that tech in their heads, Wayne.”
“You son of a bitch!” I screamed, straining against my bindings.
The officer grinned, his breath freezing in the air. “Oh, you’re worried about your little friend. Yeah, he probably went down with the rest of them sons of bitches. But don’t worry, our divers will recover the bodies for autopsy. We’ll be sure to send you the photos when we’re through.”
I lurched forward and tried to kick him between the legs, but the soldiers yanked me back. “You mother fucker!” I screamed.
The officer laughed. “Take this bastard to the Dragon,” he said, gesturing toward a giant, grasshopper-like helicopter with seven long blades parked on the north end of the station.
The soldiers shoved me forward. I stumbled. A door near the front of the massive chopper slid open and I was ushered into a wide cabin with rows of folding seats along the walls. A pilot slammed the door shut and disappeared into the cockpit.
“Don’t’ move,” the soldier to my right said. The other drew his Sig Sauer and put it to my head as his partner clipped the zip tie cuffs and released my hands. “Sit down.”
The chairs were folded up, and the soldier behind me snapped one of them forward and shoved me into it. The seat itself was fabric wrapped around an aluminum frame. They cuffed my hands to the exposed corners of the frame on either side of my legs, then buckled a harness around my chest.
“Do you have to make the cuffs so fucking tight?” I said, flexing my hands, trying to pump the blood into my fingers.
The two of them took their seats across from me, buckled in, and crossed their arms. I looked away. There were no windows in the cabin. I was about to leave Antarctica forever, and I wouldn’t even see it.
“Prisoner secure,” one of them yelled to the pilot.
The helicopter blades moaned and slowly spun up into a steady whir.
My bottom lip trembled. I bent forward, hiding my face from the soldiers.
As we lifted off I imagined the station, the storehouse, and the destroyed Array below. I imagined Buzz’s body lying next to Einstein, buried deep below the dense bowl of ice forged by one of the pod landings. And further, past the valley, over the foothills, the crowds of Emperor penguins, the flocks of skua overhead, and the elephant seals sunning themselves on the rocky shore. And then I saw Spegg’s lifeless body on some aluminum table, his blood dripping into little gutters as they sliced him open and made curious sounds like “hrm” and “interesting” as they took him apart.
My chest felt like it was caving in.
The behemoth rumbled and creaked as we flew, the belts and vests and assorted gear that hung from the walls, slapping against the bulkhead. Tears pooled in my eyes and splashed on the helicopter’s dull metal floor.
It was over.