14 February 2018

Chapter 12: MHI Alaska - A Dish Served Cold

Previous chapters:

Enough of this.

Rick was tired of being forced deeper in the forest. As the Hunters drew back together, he tried to count heads. It was hard to see clearly through the ice which was building up on his eyelashes, and the cold made his eyes sting and burn. 

He checked his rifle again, only to discover that the action had stiffened. The sporadic fire from his team had finally tapered off, and they were moving toward each other as silently as possible. The deep snow made movement difficult, but muffled the sounds of their passage.

There should have been six others, but he could only see five. One of us is missing. Rick couldn't identify faces because of the hoods and goggles, but he recognized a few of the parkas. He realized with a sinking feeling that Sandman, the shortest member of the team, wasn't there. 

"Has anyone seen Sandy?" he asked quietly.

No one had.

* * * * *

Back in the Chamber of Commerce offices, the furnace was losing the battle with the intense cold. Val tried to check the outside temp from her cell phone, but there was no signal. Nobody else had a signal, either. She poured the last of the coffee into two styrofoam cups, and started another pot.

She took a cup to Linda the secretary, and asked if there was a thermometer anywhere. "Yes, there's one by the front door, but it won't help," Linda replied.

"Why not?"

"Because it only goes to -40, and we passed that an hour ago."

"Then we're going to need more wood for the fireplace. No offense, but your furnace sucks."

"You're telling me," Linda said. "I've been telling 'em that for years."

* * * * *

Rick's team was somber, noting that Sandy hadn't been seen or heard from in some time, but this wasn't the time to dwell on it.

They kept trying to turn around, but the forest itself seemed to be working against them. Every southern view was blocked by branches, brambles, and heavy snow.

"Didn't I read about this in The Hobbit?" grumbled Dusty.

"This is worse," replied Rick. "At least they had warm weather."

The cold was painfully intense. The Hunters were fighting the terrain, the ice fog, and numbed extremities. They took turns brushing the hoarfrost off of each other, but the stuff formed as fast as they could knock it loose.

The only firearm still functional was a bolt-action hunting rifle, carried as backup. The dry lube on the bolt wouldn't freeze ... they hoped.

The gloom was depressing, and they couldn't see more than a few feet in any direction. The dark shapes ahead had disappeared. Or maybe they were still there, but couldn't be seen through the swirling ice crystals.

Rick's knee was giving him fits; he'd already lost feeling in his fingers and toes, and now his right leg didn't want to bend. He flexed his leg a few times, leaning against a tree for support.

When he looked up, he was alone.

"Guys? Anyone there?"  Great. And the radios still don't work.

There was no answer from the bluish-grey icy twilight. Even worse, he couldn't see the game trail they'd been trying to follow.

There were strange, faint sounds from somewhere up ahead, but he was pretty sure it wasn't human in origin.

"The hell with it," he muttered. "I'm going back."

He found a slight gap in the heavy brush behind him, and slipped through as quietly as he could. He check his compass, and found that the needle still moved, albeit slowly. 

He started moving from tree trunk to tree trunk, at the limit of his vision, reestablishing a southerly heading each time. As he moved slowly toward town, the gloom was fading, and the fog began to shift from dark blue-grey to faintly golden.

Then he stopped himself. What am I doing? Leaving my team? "Snap out of it!" he said out loud.

Turning around, he headed back into the gloom at as near a trot as he could manage. Somewhere over there, my team is waiting. 

I hope.

* * * * *

Val and Linda had finally reached the Department of Public Safety and convinced several secretaries to let them speak with the Deputy Commissioner.

"Sir," Val began, "My name is Val. Have you been read in on MHI? Okay, good. I think we need some help over here in Big Lake."


DISCLAIMER: I do not own MHI or any of its characters; those are owned and copyright Larry Correia. I only claim the ones I've created. And a BIG h/t to Mr. Correia for creating such a wonderful universe in which to play, and for his kind permission to use his concepts here.

A h/t also to Jenny S., who contributed a couple of crucial ideas to improve this short story and the graphic team patch above. Her help has been invaluable, both here and in my first book. 

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