A Tale of the Twilight Patrol
Story by D.W. Behrend / Illustration by Toe Keen
Bullets struck the giant one after the other. The towering figure jerked with each shot, but kept coming, loping strides carrying it across the snowy, windblown landscape toward the firing soldier. Clad in a white full-body suit and a round, windowed helmet like that of a deep-sea diver, the giant closed on its prey with ease. One enormous hand chopped at the man’s gun arm, sending the weapon tumbling. Then, both hands rose to surround the soldier’s entire head. One rough twist, an audible snap, and the man slumped to the ground.
The behemoth cocked its head, round helmet tilting to one side. . It slowly turned, stared down at the camera and then let out a savage roar as it flung itself forward. The screen went black while the creature was in midair.
The 72-inch television monitor where the scene had unfolded flickered off.
“I believe we’ve seen enough, Commander Carson.” The blond, balding man in a white lab coat and horn-rimmed glasses set a remote control down in front of the big TV, which sat at the center of a wall of electronic equipment.
The bespectacled man turned to face his guest, who looked unimpressed. Kevin Carson leaned back in a leather desk chair, legs stretched out in front of him, cowboy boots crossed at the ankles, hands behind his head, fingers intertwined. His jet-black hair was in the simple crew cut of a career military man, and his short-cropped beard showed just a hint of gray. Jeans and a simple black t-shirt did little to hide his powerful build.
“So, what’s with the cult monster movie clip, Doc?” Carson said. “Let me guess, found footage from another soldier’s phone?”
Dr. Donald Benson rolled his eyes and sighed. “As a matter of fact… well, yes, the video came from another soldier’s phone, as best we can tell. It appears he was down but not entirely out when he captured this rather startling footage. We believe his last act was to upload it to a secure channel.”
“When and where?” Carson said, bringing his hands out from behind his head. The blasé tone of a moment ago was gone, replaced with sincere concern and curiosity. He pressed his hands forward, cracking his knuckles.
“Antarctica,” Benson replied. “Less than twelve hours ago. As you know, we keep a small outpost there to monitor a site of extreme concern. There have been no further transmissions.”
Carson nodded. He’d heard stories about the Antarctic site, had no desire to see it in person. “Tell me about the site of concern. Short version please.”
Benson paused for a moment. “In 1930, an academic expedition to Antarctica stumbled upon a vast and ancient site containing remnants of a non-human civilization. To say the mission ended badly would be an extreme understatement. Fortunately, the situation was quickly contained, and various parties have kept the site sealed ever since. Our outpost keeps an eye on one of the site’s main doors, if you will.”
A chill went through Carson as his imagination began to work. “How bad are the things inside?” He wasn’t sure he really wanted to know.
Benson’s face softened for a moment, and he sighed. “Kevin, I believe the things you and your unit encountered in Afghanistan before we met had only a fraction of the power housed inside this wretched, frigid place. We need to keep it sealed.”
Carson maintained a blank expression, but his pulse raced as he recalled the hell on earth Bakalov and his cronies had unleashed on his unit. His heart ached for those who’d died, especially the gibbering, wild-eyed men he’d put down like sick old dogs, pumping shots right between their eyes after it was over.
Benson cleared his throat and continued, “Back to the business at hand. I am not sure what sort of person—or whatever—might be inside that suit, but as you saw, it’s clearly much taller than any human. And you saw how bullets had virtually no effect on that suit.”
Carson stood. He crossed his arms over his broad chest and stared at the screen. “And two soldiers are dead. Likely more.”
He closed his eyes and inhaled slowly. Exhaled. After three such deep breaths, he opened his eyes. “Have Kaitlin put every relevant bit of information she can find on the laptop. I assume she’s gathered all satellite imagery, security footage or anything else, right?”
Benson nodded. “Of course. She’s a remarkably efficient young lady when she chooses to focus, you know.”
“And Miranda and Oliver are looking into just who or what that thing might be?”
Another nod. “They could not wait to get to work.”
Carson paused. The savage roar echoed through his head. He shook it away. He’d heard worse. “I’ll round up Rhonda and Solomon. We’ll go in light, see what we can find.” He strode from the room. It was time to get to work.
— ♦♦♦ —
The wind roared, whipping swirling snow across the Antarctic plain, driving blurry streaks horizontal in the air. Carson squinted beneath his goggles and gave the snow machine more gas. He wanted to get in, take care of business, and get out. He’d never liked winter.
He glanced to his right and gave a quick nod to the woman piloting another snow machine. She nodded back. He looked to his left and saw the man aboard the third snow machine take one hand off the handlebars to give a thumbs up.
Carson tapped a button on his helmet, activating their shared radio frequency. The roar of the engines and wind filled his ears.
“Rhonda, any last thoughts on what we saw in that video?”
“Bigger they are the harder they fall?” replied Rhonda Tyler. Ex-military like Carson, she was one of the first women to complete Navy SEAL training. She’d then gone on to study every known form of hand-to-hand combat. She was a lethal weapon and one of the world’s most highly paid bodyguards before she’d joined up with Benson and Carson.
“But clichés don’t get the job done,” she continued. “It moved too quick for its size. Seemed to be playing by a whole different set of physical rules. If it comes to it, my advice is get it on the ground A.S.A.P. Its height and reach won’t help it much down there, and it’ll probably have some trouble getting up, especially if you can keep beating it while it’s down.”
Carson winced as he thought about punching the giant’s big round helmet. “How about you, Solomon, what do you have for us?”
“Not much, sad to say,” came the reply from Solomon Perkiss, the crew’s master of electronics, demolition, and all manner of devices. “No real time to put together something new, but I did pack a few surprises, as well as the usual stuff. Straight-up plastique, tear gas, sleep gas, an E.M.P. grenade. Or maybe some acid will go right through that helmet so the lovely and talented Miss Rhonda can punch him in the face repeatedly.”
“That’s Lieutenant Tyler to you, Perkiss,” Rhonda snapped. The wind, static, and roaring motors did not cover her annoyance.
Carson laughed. He might be racing toward an uncertain fate with an unknown creature at the bottom of the world, but he’d be damned if he and his crew would lose their sense of humor.
— ♦♦♦ —
They pulled up near the fenced perimeter of the installation and parked the snow machines. Perkiss pulled a spiked signal flare from his pack, ripped the cap off and struck the top, sparking a bright red flame. He dropped to one knee and stuck it in the ground a yard or so from the snow machines, creating a signal to help them find the vehicles in the blowing snow.
Carson drew his SIG Sauer P226 from its hip holster, pulled back the slide and let it fly forward. The gun was ready to fire; he returned it to the holster. Solomon and Rhonda approached, ready to hear their orders.
“All right,” Carson began. “We’re here to figure out what happened and what’s going on. We’re a small force, and we’re not going to stand up under heavy opposition. That said, if we get a chance to put that big freak down, we take it.”
Rhonda nodded. She carried a pistol on her hip like Carson. A simple scabbard was slung across her back, the elegant handle of a katana visible.
Solomon grinned. “Burn and blast ready, sir.”
They turned to move past the fence, when the snow-filled air seemed to ripple just a few short yards ahead. The massive, white-clad figure burst through a cloud of snow. Long arms pinwheeled through the air. A huge hand struck Perkiss, sending him sprawling against the nearest snow machine with a loud smack.
Rhonda was quicker. She dived down and forward, evading the other monstrous hand by less than an inch. She tucked, rolled, and popped back up to her feet with practiced ease. In one fluid motion, the glittering samurai sword was in her hand. She extended her left leg, weight back on her right, blade raised to strike.
Carson drew his even before Perkiss went down. Less than ten feet from their assailant, Carson took a wide stance, bracing his feet against the cold ground, weapon extended straight in front of him in a two-handed grip.
“Enough!” Carson barked, his voice sharp and hard. “Hands on your head, on your knees! Do it, now!”
For the first time, Carson got a solid look at their opponent, in real life, not video. The helmeted figure loomed over him, easily twice his own six feet and three inches. The helmet’s window was nearly the size of a garbage can lid, with smoky glass that revealed nothing beneath. Carson wondered just what the hell this thing was, but remained unfazed. He’d seen worse.
Carson kept his pistol trained on the thing as he took a long, slow step backward, hoping to get outside its formidable reach.
Rhonda moved with the silent grace of a cat, positioning herself directly behind the giant to flank it.
Carson kept his aim on the base of the neck, where helmet met suit. If there was a soft spot, he figured it might be there.
“I’m going to shoot in about three seconds,” he said calmly over the radio channel. “Rhonda, please make sure you are not directly behind this son-of-a-bitch. There’s a slight chance I’ll miss.”
“Sure, only slight,” Rhonda replied, her voice soft and calm. A long silent step, then another, took her out of the direct line of fire.
Carson pulled the trigger, the gun let out a loud crack. The bullet went high, striking the helmet window’s center. The giant’s head jerked back. Seemingly disoriented by the direct head shot, the towering figure teetered but stood tall.
Carson aimed for the window, fired again. Glass or plastic shattered. Still standing, the giant shook its enormous head and reached up to clear pieces of the window from its face.
Carson stared. Dark brown fur surrounded a massive, bulging forehead and black, wild eyes. The creature bared its teeth and roared again, the sound rattling Carson to the core.
The commander stood his ground, gun trained on the now-exposed face. “So, anyone care to tell me what the hell a twenty-foot tall ape in high-tech body armor is doing in the middle of Antarctica?”
The only answer to Carson’s question was the roar of the wind and the heavy sound of the gargantuan ape’s breathing. Billows of steam wafted from its huge mouth and nostrils, crystallizing in the frigid air. The creature blinked slowly and snarled at the sky.
Rhonda continued to creep silently behind the beast, shifting her position slightly to avoid its field of vision. She kept her sword at the ready, maintaining coiled control, making no sudden moves.
Carson glanced at Perkiss, lying on the icy ground next to the snow machine. The commander held his breath, fearing the worst for the fallen gadgeteer. Perkiss let out a quiet moan, and Carson exhaled in relief as the man began to stir. At least he was alive.
Carson’s eyes quickly snapped back to the ape. He aimed the pistol right between its enormous, shining black eyes, preparing to put the creature down for good.
A squawk from the radio receiver in his helmet made him flinch, costing him his aim. “Commander Carson? Hello? You there?” The voice was young and female, halting and uncertain.
“This is not a good time, Kaitlin.” Carson squinted, refocusing his eyes, trying to regain the bead he’d lost. The looming ape made no move. Its eyes darted about, and its nostrils flared, sniffing sniffed the air.
“Oh, geez, my bad,” came the reply in Kaitlin’s drowsy West Coast cadence. “It’s just, well, we found something pretty cool. Dr. Chang and Dr. Norris say it’s really exciting.”
“Damn it, Kaitlin, like I said this is not a good time.” Carson gritted his teeth and kept his eyes locked on the ape.
“Okay… but are you somewhere where I can send you a video feed? It’s about that giant.”
“I’m looking at it live and in the flesh,” Carson said, resetting his aim. “It’s actually some sort of ape, and it’s pretty pissed off. You’ll have to give me a minute.”
A soft but solid pop cut through the sound of the wind, and Carson turned his head on reflex. Perkiss, just managing to sit up with his back to the snow machine, clutched what looked like a grenade launcher in his gloved hands. A louder pop turned Carson’s attention to the upper reaches of the ape. A smoky haze surrounded its head for but a moment, as the wind quickly dispersed the gas. The ape opened its mouth as if to roar, but instead let out a loud yawn. Its legs buckled, and the huge beast teetered.
“Timber, you son of a bitch!” Perkiss yelled from his semi-seated position on the ground.
Behind the creature, Rhonda sheathed her sword and took three quick running steps at the ape. She leapt, snapping her left leg out for a very high kick. She managed to connect with the back of the ape’s knee, and its tree trunk of a leg buckled. Rhonda struck the ground and rolled, springing up to put as much distance between herself and the white-suited ape as possible.
The beast lurched forward and fell, the combined effects of the gas bomb and Rhonda’s pressure-point kick finally forcing it to the ground. In a blur, Rhonda spun and sprinted back to their fallen foe. She moved at its head, one fist striking after another. The creature’s eyes were already closed.
“It’s out, Rhonda!” Carson shouted. “Stand down!”
Rhonda glanced over at Carson, then turned to throw one more hard punch, landing it on the wide ridge of the ape’s enormous nose with a loud whack. She stood in a fighting stance, like the victor of a judo bout staring down at her fallen opponent. Then she took one long, slow step back. Her eyes never left the ape as she drew her sword again to standing watch.
“If he comes to, cut him up,” Carson barked. He holstered his pistol and shot over to where Perkiss lay, still clutching the grenade launcher.
“What’s your status, Solomon?”
“Been better, Commander,” Perkiss replied, gritting his teeth as adrenaline faded and pain set in hard. “But I dropped that thing.”
Perkiss’s left leg was crooked below the knee. Carson doubted it could bear any weight.
“Good work—” Carson began, but the radio squawked again, cutting him off in mid-sentence.
“You guys all right?” Half a world away, Kaitlyn sounded as if she’d just woken up. Carson had forgotten she was even there.
Perkiss winced and put his left hand to his left side, just under the bottom of his rib cage. It looked like more than his leg had been damaged.
“We’re okay,” Carson replied. “The target is down, unconscious for now. Perkiss is injured, but it does not appear life-threatening.” At least not yet. The commander winced slightly at the last thought, his goggles hiding the expression.
“Oh, geez, tell Solomon I hope he gets better,” Kaitlyn replied. “Right now, I’ve got Dr. Chang and Dr. Norris with me. They’re going to start talking while I send you a little video I put together. I’ll let you know when you should have it.”
Carson nodded, forgetting for a split-second that they couldn’t see him back at HQ. “Yeah, got it.” He continued to scan Perkiss, trying to better gauge the man’s condition.
“Hello, Kevin.” It was the voice of another woman, a good deal older than Kaitlyn, with a hint of a foreign accent.
“Talk to me, Miranda.” Dr. Miranda Chang was one of best biologists on the planet. She specialized in exobiology, and her knowledge of non-earth creatures would cause mass hysteria if it ever went public.
“My initial hypothesis was that this life form is definitely non-terrestrial. The speed and ease with which it moved given its size seemed to indicate development under different gravitational and atmospheric conditions than those of Earth.”
She paused to inhale, and Carson cut her off. “It’s a giant ape, Miranda. In some sort of lightweight body armor, I guess.”
On the other end of the transmission, a man laughed roughly in the background. “I told you! That’s why we’re sending him the video.” It was Dr. Oliver Norris, Miranda’s husband and a leading mind in the field of cryptozoology.
Kaitlyn jumped back on the line. “Check your phone, Commander. I uploaded a sweet little video that’ll show you what Oliver’s talking about.”
Carson pulled his phone from an interior jacket pocket and called up Kaitlyn’ message. With a tap, he opened the video. Nice to have dedicated satellites under Kaitlyn’s direct control—they never worried about reception, even in a place like Antarctica.
The video began footage he’d already seen – the giant ape moving in quick, loping strides. Then it rewound and went to a split screen. The other side showed grainy footage of another simian creature, covered from head to toe in brown fur, moving across a different snowy landscape. The two sides of the screen merged into one, pushing the furry ape and the white-suited giant together so that they overlapped on the screen.
“How about that…” Carson murmured as he realized the movements of the two creatures mirrored each other perfectly, revealing the exact same weird speed and locomotion pattern.
Something else flickered at the back of his mind. “Oliver, I’ve seen that old footage somewhere before, haven’t I?”
“Who hasn’t?” Oliver shouted, his booming voice ringing inside Carson’s helmet. “Ever watch In Search Of or half a dozen other shows on cryptids?”
Carson glanced at the fallen ape. Still down, still out. “Get to the point, please. I don’t know how long this thing is staying out.”
Oliver laughed as he spoke, barely able to contain his glee. “It’s a yeti! The freakin’ abominable snowman!”
Lying at Carson’s feet, Perkiss let out a quiet moan. “Commander,” he started, moving his arm awkwardly.
“Hang on, Solomon,” Carson snapped. “Oliver, you are telling me we just bagged a yeti, as in the legendary Himalayan snowman, here in Antarctica, wearing a helmet and bodysuit?”
“Yeah, isn’t it awesome?”
“Carson!” Solomon howled now. “Rhonda!” He waved his arm, motioning them to look behind Rhonda.
“What?” Carson sounded irritated, his attempt to gather information from Oliver cut short. He whipped his head around to look in the direction Solomon indicated. Rhonda pivoted to do the same.
There, just visible in the distance through the streaks of blowing snow, stood three towering figures, each as tall as the fallen ape, each clearly wearing a massive, globe-shaped helmet. Just then, they began to move, their fluid locomotion eerily similar to that on the video.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Carson said as he reached for his pistol yet again. He exhaled sharply and shook his head as the beasts lumbered closer. At least they hadn’t started running yet. He looked down at Solomon, who had slumped back down onto the ground and was looking weaker by the moment.
The fallen yeti snorted and twitched as if beginning to wake. Rhonda menaced it with her sword but made no move yet. Carson put HQ on hold and reactivated the radio channel between the three of them.
“Rhonda, forget about the big ape for now,” he ordered. “I need you to get Solomon back to the landing area. Radio in for a pickup while you’re on your way. Those things are fast, but the snow machine should put plenty of separation between you and them.”
“Sir,” Rhonda replied. “What about you?”
“I’m going into the installation,” he said. “I need to make sure the necessary security measures are in place.”
“Nah, I’ll have Kaitlyn and the docs with me. Get Solomon the hell out of here. Do it now.”
Carson stooped down and grabbed Solomon’s bag of tricks, slinging the strap over his head and across his chest. Solomon lifted his head and spoke, his voice weaker than before. “That E.M.P. grenade in there is voice-activated, chief.”
Carson smiled. “The usual phrase?”
Carson stooped, pulled the still-burning emergency flare from the ground, and, with a grunt, hurled it as far as he could, hoping the light would mislead the creatures.
As Rhonda helped Solomon onto the back of her snow machine, Carson hopped onto his vehicle. He fired the still-warm ignition and hit the gas, shooting off in the opposite direction from where he’dthrown the flare.
A moment later he was back on the line with HQ. “Kaitlyn, I need help. The snow is bad out here. Near whiteout conditions. Can you get a bead on me and steer me to the main entrance?”
“No problem. Just a sec.”
Carson was glad for the snow machine’s speed and power. The yetis might be freakishly fast on the ground, but they were going to have some trouble catching him. He wondered if they had any sort of comm link inside their helmets like his.
“Got ya.” Kaitlyn said. He practically heard her smile half a world away.
“All right. I need to get to the installation, but I think the direct route will take me right into the yetis.”
“That would not be good.” Kaitlyn laughed. “Okay, bear about forty-five degrees east.”
Carson glanced down at the vehicle’s compass. It looked like it was still working – he was still far enough from the magnetic south pole. He veered left, keeping the engine at full throttle.
A mile and a half later, Kaitlyn’s voice again crackled through the speaker. “About thirty-three degrees back to the west. You good? I’m using a map to guide you, but I can’t see what’s on the ground right now. Satellite’s just showing snow everywhere.”
“All clear,” Carson replied, squinting behind his goggles and scanning the landscape for any details he could make out in the storm of snow.
He barely saw the immense, bone-white forearm that swung out like a linebacker making a clothesline tackle. The creature’s arm smashed into the curved windshield of the snow machine, shattering it in a loud boom of broken plastic. Carson flew over the handlebars. Instinct took over as he tumbled through the air. He twisted his body, landing on his side. Pain lanced through his shoulder when he hit the cold ground, but he rolled forward through the snow.
He sprang to his feet, pistol coming out of his holster.
“Oh my god!” Kaitlyn’s voice rattled over the comm link. “What just happened?”
“Not a good time,” Carson barked. His eyes shot from side to side, his head pivoting, trying to find the white-clad monstrosity that had taken him out. He saw nothing in the sheets of blowing snow. A powerful, throbbing ache pulsed through his right shoulder as the impact of his spill from the snow machine sank in.
Then it was there, moving quickly, long limbs swinging, the body armor and helmet not seeming to slow it down at all. He squeezed off two quick shots. Both ricocheted off its white suit with a pathetic ping. His shoulder howled in pain with the gun’s recoil.
The yeti kept coming, long arms wheeling. Carson realized he’d miscalculated its speed and reach only when a backhand blow from its huge right paw smashed into his already-damaged shoulder, sending him flying. He tried to turn and twist once more, but landed awkwardly on the same shoulder, bolts of pain lancing through the entire upper half of his body.
He groaned as he twisted his torso to face the attacker, but all he saw was a blur of two white fists hammering down upon him. A desperate cry from Kaitlyn squawked through his helmet and then was cut short as darkness took him.
— ♦♦♦ —
A familiar voice floated somewhere at the edge of Carson’s consciousness. A woman’s voice, but different from the one he’d heard just before going under. A man’s voice followed, also strangely familiar yet difficult to place through his hazy stupor. The conversation continued as the waves of pain grew stronger and sharper, gradually pushing into consciousness. He could not yet open his eyes, but he was keenly aware of the severe beating he had taken. His body felt like a giant bruise. Cords or straps of some kind held his wrists and ankles, and something was around his neck.
“I encourage you to join me here as quickly as possible,” the man said in a high, nasal voice. “Once I have set their release in motion, things will happen very quickly. There may be limited opportunities for observation and… interaction.”
“It is difficult for me to leave right now. We are in the midst of a crisis.” The woman’s staticky voice sounded as if it were coming from a speakerphone or some similar device. “I will be there as soon as possible. Do not rush this. It sounds as if things are secure on your end.”
“Nearly,” the man replied. “I still have not located the other two members of Carson’s little band of heroes, his so-called Twilight Patrol.” He made a spitting sound.
Carson let out a quiet moan as he stirred toward full consciousness.
“Signing off,” the woman said, followed by a click and the disappearance of static.
Carson opened his eyes. He moved his head as best he could, held back by the deep soreness in his neck and the restraint around it. The room was some sort of control center. A wall of security monitors showed bland, virtually featureless interior hallways and rooms, as well as outside areas. The snowstorm still raged. He saw a helmeted yeti lope by on one of the outside cams and winced. Jabs of pain shot through his neck and head as he swiveled to look at the other side.
A man stood over him, only a foot or two away from where he was held. A mass of dark, messy hair, an equally unkempt beard and dark eyes seemingly without pupils hovered above him. A wide, toothy smile appeared in the center of the black beard.
“Commander Carson, welcome to Antarctica,” he said in his high-pitched voice.
His vision and head clearing, Carson recognized the man. “You… you were with Bakalov.” They had never identified the man, but he had been at the side of the Bulgarian mystic when they’d faced off in the Hindu Kush. He remembered the ridiculous mismatch of the man’s voice with his Rasputin-like countenance.
His captor nodded. “How nice of you to remember. I suppose I should introduce myself. I am Dr. Raymond Stark.”
The name meant nothing to Carson. He just kept staring at the man. His expression remained unchanged when he saw what was left of his gear piled in a corner. He saw the remnants of his helmet and Solomon’s bag. The satchel looked, for the moment at least, undisturbed.
Stark’s lips turned up at the corners, his smile barely perceptible under his beard. “I must say I am not surprised to see you again. I am pleased to be able to share this moment with you.”
“Didn’t Bakalov say something just like that before I ended him?”
Stark scowled and raised a flat hand as if to strike. Then he smiled and lowered his arm. He stepped away and approached the bank of security monitors.
“Do you see here?” he asked, pointing to one screen. Carson squinted to make out the image. He saw two of the damned yetis standing in front of an enormous, ancient-looking stone doorway set into a flat, weathered wall. Carvings of membranous wings, serpentine tentacles, and multi-faceted insectoid eyes covered the door’s surface. In turn, the yetis raised massive hammers and struck the door with vicious, two-handed blows. It was hard to tell over the video feed, but Carson thought he saw cracks forming in the portal.
“What the hell are you doing?” Carson growled through gritted teeth.
The man turned back to face Carson and smiled. “Do not play stupid with me, Commander. You have a pretty good idea of just what’s behind that door, don’t you?”
Carson’s eyes fired with anger. He said nothing.
“You must be very excited to meet them, yes?” His smile grew wider, his black eyes shining with madness. “I am sure they look forward to it as well. I know I do.”
With a growl, Carson kicked and pulled at his tethers, every muscle in his body straining, the pain driven out of him by sheer survival instinct. The bindings held fast.
Stark watched Carson writhe in his bonds for a time, laughing quietly all the while. “You should relax. It may be a very long time before you have such an opportunity again,” he finally said. He turned away, moving to a stainless steel lab table strewn with coils of wire, surgical instruments, gears of various odd sizes, and myriad other items.
He picked up what looked like a handheld radio and pressed a button, staring at the screen with the two hammering yetis. Carson stopped his struggling to watch.
“Strike harder!” Stark hissed into device. “Faster!” He twisted a knob on the radio’s face. His grin widened as one of the yetis jerked wildly, nearly dropping its hammer. The creature slumped for a moment before swinging the giant mallet once again, this time with greater speed and force.
“They really are so easily conditioned,” Stark said, more to himself than to Carson.
“Just what the hell are those things?” He didn’t see how Stark could know the deductions the team back at home had made. He wanted to see if he could get Stark to say anything useful.
“Other than perfect servants?” Stark said with a laugh. “Let’s just say that when I left the Hindu Kush, I went eastward and upward. The Nepalese call it the yeti. It turns out they were living in hiding farther up the mountains than anyone had imagined. Despite their impressive size and physical skills, they are actually quite placid beings, until trained and properly equipped.”
Carson thought of the bewildered look on the first big ape’s face when its helmet had finally broken. “And that thing in your hand’s some sort of cattle prod?”
“Something like that,” Stark mumbled as he turned away.
Carson glanced at the leather satchel in the corner, glad the room was relatively quiet. He silently prayed the E.M.P. grenade hadn’t been damaged in the wreck of the snow machine.
“Hey, Dr. Stark,” Carson said in a soft voice.
His captor turned. “What do you want?” he snapped.
Carson stared up and smiled. “Don’t fuck with the Twilight Patrol!” he said in the sharp voice of a man used to issuing life-or-death commands in the heat of battle.
For a split second, a sizzling sound emanated from the leather satchel in the corner. Then a loud pop echoed throughout the room as the voice-activated E.M.P. grenade went off and everything—the overhead lights, the security monitors, the rest of the electronic equipment—went dark.
“What in the hell?” Stark hissed. He quickly stepped forward, smacking into something and letting out a yelp of pain.
“How’s your cattle prod working, doc?” Carson called out with a laugh. “Electromagnetic pulse is a bitch, huh?”
“I will cut your throat,” Stark replied. The clatter of metal objects hitting the floor filled the room as Stark groped about in the dark for a weapon.
“I don’t think your friends behind the door are going to want to wait for their treat, Stark. You kill me, and I’m guessing you just moved ahead in the ‘consume my soul’ line.”
Carson couldn’t be sure, given all the racket Stark was making, but he thought he heard the distant sound of hammering stop. “And I don’t think those yetis are going to be in ‘perfect servant’ mode anymore.”
As if in response, a massive impact shook the room. In the dark, it was hard to tell from which direction it came, but it sounded like a massive hammer blow to one of the outside walls.
“They might even be pissed off,” Carson added.
Another thundering boom shook the pitch-dark room, followed instantly by another. And another. A loud cracking sound filled the air, and a pinprick of light came from somewhere. Another blow and a wall shattered. Light and wind and blowing snow swept into the room. Twin hammers clattered to the ground as they were cast aside. Stooping to fit beneath the ceiling, an enormous, white-clad, helmet-wearing yeti clambered into the lab. Another stood silently outside the fallen section of wall.
Stark screamed and flung himself into the farthest corner from the intruders. A long arm lashed out, grabbing his collar before he could get far. The yeti’s arm whipped to one side, slamming Stark face-first into a countertop with a loud crunch. The yeti’s former master groaned then went silent, twitching slightly in the beast’s grip. The yeti casually tossed the unconscious scientist out through the enormous hole in the wall.
Still stooped in order to scuttle about the room, the yeti peered down at Carson strapped on the table. No face or eyes were visible through the shimmering glass of the helmet, but Carson sensed the creature looking him over, evaluating him. The beast slowly turned away and slipped over the fallen wall with eerie, silent agility.
Still tied tightly to the table, and starting to shiver from the cold air blowing through the room, Carson sighed. He was confident the yetis would take care of Stark. He was virtually certain that he, the yetis, and probably even Stark would all be dead or nearly dead by now if the abominable snowmen had breached the door. Now he just really didn’t want to freeze to death strapped down in a mad scientist’s Antarctic lab.
In the distance, barely audible under the wind, came the roar of a fast-moving snow machine. He inhaled slowly, took another deep breath, then another.
A few minutes later, the roaring engine cut out right outside the fallen wall. He turned his head to see Rhonda get off and step over the rubble. She pulled off her helmet and shook her blonde hair.
“How’s Solomon?” Carson asked before she could say a word.
“I got him picked up and out of here,” Rhonda replied. “I think he’ll be okay
“You were supposed to be on that transport out of here too, Lieutenant,” Carson said. “Direct order.”
A short, shining blade seemed to materialize in Rhonda’s hand. “We never leave a man behind,” she said quietly as she began to cut through the leather restraints.
“Please shut up, Commander,” Rhonda said with a smile. “Direct order.”
— ♦♦♦ —
Pipe salesman Bill Ballantine makes a return to story pages and finds himself in the middle of yet another mysterious murder scenario. Ballentine first appeared in an early Crimson Street’s story titled “Ten Nails in a Coffin”.