I’m going to die here like the rest of my team. Five of us destroyed by the discovery, and the weather. We were foolish to think we could do this.
Angel dragged a frostbitten foot across the Siberian tundra and hobbled westwards, waiting to die.
She clutched a rock in her right hand; its heat radiated though her thick gloves. If only she could get word out that she found it. The consequences were unimaginable.
The etchings on this meteorite weren’t human, that was for certain. No human had ever touched the rock until now. But it didn’t matter. I’ll be dead within the hour and all this will be for nothing. Four friends and colleagues lay frozen in the wastes, nothing more than freeze-packed carrion and I’ll be next, probably eaten by wolves.
Inexplicably, a smell carried on the frigid winds and broke the stream of unwinding death thoughts. Is it meat? Spice? Coffee? Her stomach lurched over on itself and bile rose in her throat. She salivated at the thought of food — hot food. Her pace picked up as she narrowed in on the tempting aromas coming from beyond the white veil of snow.
Could she dare have hope? It prickled in the back of her mind, insidious, an ethereal symbiote, but she railed against it. The previous three days were enough to tell her that hope was a fool’s dream. But then wasn’t the existence of the discovery also a foolish dream? And yet, here it was in her hand. No. No hope anymore. Angel crushed the fledgling thought.
Between billowing folds of white, grey tendrils snaked in an ever widening cone, mesmerising, tempting. Her heart pumped harder and faint blooms of heat dared to breach the chill of her bones, hope transformed to something corporeal in spite of her.
Saline tears tracked down her face, stinging parchment skin like acid. Through the viscous filter, there, a small tent made from animal skins, stood proud, defiant against the irascible conditions. She held her breath. Was it really there? Maybe a mirage, maybe I’m dead. She rushed forwards after stuffing the rock into a deep pocket; already she was so very protective of it. I’m saved!
The scream was so sudden, it even surprised herself. Intense heat throbbed in powerful waves from her shin, and increased to a blinding sense of lightness. Galaxies birthed and died in her vision.
Fixed in place, her leg stuck between steel jaws of an animal trap, hot blood filled her boot. The horizon tilted and her face crashed into the tundra. A thousand white-hot needles stabbed at her skin. Angel tried to scream but the pain was too much.
The shadow of a figure approaching her was the last thing she remembered before the opaque nothingness of a black hole swallowed her
Stomach-cramp inducing scents wafted around the small, and thankfully warm, tent. Angel wiped drool from her chin, and felt her cheeks seethe with embarrassment. A small man wrapped in white and grey speckled furs sat opposite, cross-legged. He tended to a small fire. A boiling pot and a makeshift spit with chunks of meat skewered through their length hung from a delicate frame of twigs.
He pointed a gloved hand at her ankle and she looked down. He had bandaged it tightly. Just a few spots of blood soaked through. A green paste had smeared around the edges. She guessed it was some kind of natural pain control remedy for it didn’t hurt; it was just numb as though she had pins and needles.
He smiled and nodded.
Angel subtly felt for her precious rock, her alien rock, and she relaxed with a long sigh after feeling its tennis ball size nestled in her coat pocket. A frisson of excitement rippled through her spine like tiny electrical currents at the thought of surviving and showing the world her find. Our find, she reminded herself. She couldn’t allow herself to forget her colleagues.
“Where are we?”
He smiled and nodded.
“How far to a village or town?” She did that stupid thing of talking slowly as if that magically turned English into another language.
He smiled and nodded.
Great, alive and fed, but stuck with a mute. But then it dawned on her, how did he get all the way out here in the middle of Siberia? She doubted he walked. She wanted to explore outside the tent, but when she tried to stand he grabbed her arm and passed her a skewer of meat.
It tasted good. Not just a little bit good, but real fucking good. As fine as anything as she had tasted in a restaurant in Paris or London. He managed a medium rare on the spit, and the juices were to die for.
She thanked him again, this time in Russian, it being the only Russian word she knew; her translator was one of the poor bastards to perish to the tundra shortly after extricating the rock.
Angel consumed two more pieces of meat. She couldn’t quite tell what it was, but given the furs he was wearing, it was most likely wolf, of rabbit. Jenny, her daughter, would have a fit if she knew her mum had eaten a bunny.
They sat at the fire nodding and smiling, drinking and eating until it was dark. The small man yawned, blinked and waved at Angel before turning over and laying in a pouch of more furs. Angel noticed a second pouch behind her and the thought of sleep was almost irresistible. Almost.
She waited until he was snoring, and as quietly as she could, she stood up to a crouch and exited to the tent. The bitter wind against her warmed skin felt like a punch to the face with studded nuckles, and she couldn’t breathe for what seemed like an eternity. Her chest tightened and her lungs refused to fill with frozen air. She missed the comfort of the tent already.
With slow, deliberate steps, Angel made her way around the tent hoping to find transport or some clue as to where this man came from. Her patience and determination was rewarded when she found a snowmobile covered by a tarpaulin.
She removed the tarp and the engine still felt warm. Storage boxes hung from each side. Could she just get on and leave the man behind? Was his sacrifice worth it? If it meant getting the artifact back and honoring her team, then what was another death? She hated herself for thinking it, but any way she weighed it up, she came to the same conclusion: the discovery was bigger than a few people, bigger than her.
Angel checked over the controls, it reminded her of a motorcycle. Something red dripped from one of the storage boxes. She flipped the lid. A smell like an early morning butchers shop rose from the box. Packed in ice and in between blood-matted hair, a pair of clouded blue eyes, set into a grey pastiche of a face, stared up at her. Oh my fucking god! Her gag reflex danced the foxtrot and she heaved onto the snow.
Quick crunching footsteps from behind her froze her to the spot like a child caught stealing cookies from the cookie jar. The man spoke with a guttural set of short syllables, and when she turned, a dark grey barrel of a hunting rifle aimed at a spot between her eyes. The man simply smiled, displayed crooked black stumps for teeth and pulled the trigger.
Angel dodged to one side, but the bullet still struck her in the head, sending her sprawling over the seat of the snowmobile. She didn’t feel any pain, and time became some immaterial unmoving thing. She watched with an abstracted fascination as blood dripped from her skull and splashed into growing pool on the virgin snow.
To the right of the pool, half encrusted with ice laid a severed arm, ragged at the end. The forearm displayed several deep gashes, and Angel now realised the source of her earlier meal. Her heart beat just once more, and for a brief second wanted to cry, but she just sighed and took her last breath, her hand still on her pocket containing the artifact. The black hole of utterly nothing took her, this time she was beyond the event horizon.
The trapper pulled her body off the vehicle and the artifact fell out onto the snow. He picked it up, squinted and discarded it to the blizzard as though it was nothing more than a piece of litter. It was covered within minutes, lost to the elements again. The trapper, at least, had another meal.
Some things just don’t want to be found.