“Which way are we going?”
“Dammit we can’t go that way!”
“It’s blocked, it’s blocked!”
“Go back the way we came!”
“We ain’t going back that way, the ice just cracked again.”
“What is on our right flank? I can’t see shit!”
Deckard could hear the panic raising in their voices as his men radioed back and forth, desperately trying to find a way off the ice floe. They had spent two hours weaving across the ice, dodging fresh breaks as the ice island continued tearing itself apart. Every time they thought they had found an opening, they would run right into another lead, twenty foot openings with sloshing sea water at the bottom.
“That’s it,” Deckard finally ordered over the radio. “Put them in a file. Dag, get us the fuck out of here now.”
“Roger that,” the the former Norwegian FSK commando replied. “On it.”
The Samruk mercenaries broke formation and began moving in a single file line, sacrificing security for speed. The ice was coming apart under their feet and if they didn’t rendezvous with the Carrickfergus soon they would drown, freeze, or be left squatting on a car sized piece of ice floating towards Siberia like a lost polar bear.
Dag led them over a chest high pressure ridge, then hand railed alongside a fresh lead, driving them deeper and deeper into the darkness of night. The men were frantic, eyes darting around the ice, looking for ghosts that weren’t there. One of the newer guys even let off a burst of Kalashnikov fire at an imaginary enemy before Chuck Rocheniore blasted him in the face with a clenched fist.
Deckard was losing control of his element, and shit was getting more gangster by the second.
“Otter, flip on the IR strobe for thirty seconds.”
The strobe light mounted on the Carrickfergus would blink on and off in the infrared spectrum, visible to those wearing night vision goggles but invisible to the naked eye. Asking for thirty seconds of strobe light wasn’t because Deckard was worried about the enemy spotting their ship. At this point he could care less, but the batteries in their PVS-14 night vision monocles would freeze after much longer than that.
“That’s it, I got them,” Dag confirmed over the radio. “Five hundred meters due East.”
The radio batteries would freeze as well, but they now made sure that they wore their inter-team radios under thermals layers of clothing beneath their parkas.
“Get us there.”
After another fifteen minutes of stumbling around the ice, they could see the silhouette of their ship, docked alongside the ice. Fedorchenko spread his men out in a half moon formation to pull security while the other platoon scaled the cargo net and climbed up the hull of the ship. Once they were onboard, the other platoon collapsed down and climbed onboard as well.
Deckard was the last off the ice. Slinging his rifle, he grabbed onto the net with one hand and looked over his shoulder.
All he saw was darkness.
All he heard was the howling of the wind.
The enemy was out there. Somewhere.
Deckard swung around and stuck his foot onto one of the rungs of the net, then climbed up hand over hand, promising himself that he was going to find them.
Then he was going to kill every single one of them.
* * *
Flinging open the door to the bridge, Deckard dumped his kit on the ground and slammed his rifle down on a shelf.
Deckard interrupted the ship’s captain before he even had the chance to ask.
“East. Just head East.”
Opening his laptop, Deckard punched in the number for the JSOC guys in Tampa. He needed a word. The VTC opened and he was looking at the usual four-man cast of characters.
“Deckard, what happened?” Gary asked. “Did you get them?”
“Prevented them from transferring the weapon. It was a submarine, not an airplane but they got away.”
“What? How the hell did that happen?”
“We need to talk. You level with me right now about what I’m up against or I’m assaulting my way to Tampa to skull fuck the four of you once I’m done up here.”
“Whoa, hey, what are you talking about?”
“What. The. Fuck. Am. I. Hunting.”
“We told you, we’re still trying to fit the puzzle pieces together. We don’t know who this is.”
“Beyond that. Whatever the fuck it is they stole, it isn’t nuclear.”
“The Urals compound they hit is a nuclear research facility.”
“Bullshit,” Deckard said as he slammed his fist on the table. “Whatever that thing is, they activated it just as we were moving in for the kill. It shook the ice beneath our feet. The next thing I know the ice floe was coming apart right under us and my men were getting sucked into the ocean. They made the entire ice floe destabilize so that they could get the device back to their ship and escape.”
Everyone in Tampa was silent.
“What the fuck am I up against here? I want a answer and I want it right fucking now.”
Will cleared his throat.
“There have been stories, rumors really, coming out of Russia since the Soviet years.”
“Rumors of what?”
“An entirely new generation of weapons. Directed energy systems, psy-tronics, stuff that can even steer weather patterns. Sometimes defectors or recruited assets would pass on whispers about this kind of stuff.”
“Consider the rumors confirmed. They’ve been holding an ace up their sleeve.”
“None of it makes sense. We’ve had scientific review boards come up with classified findings. None of the math adds up.”
“We know that it is possible for man-made earth quakes to be induced. It has been done accidentally in India and China by building massive reservoirs on top of fault lines. Some scientists have theorized that nuclear testing is also responsible for increased earthquake activity, but there isn’t much proof of that,” Will said.
“What about actual weaponization?”
“Well, even the scientists more open the this idea only believed that it was possible to tickle seismic activity were there is already great tectonic pressures, basically inducing an earthquake that is already going to happen at some point, maybe making it a little stronger.”
“There are already frictions on an ice floe, we know that because of the leads and pressure ridges present, but that is nothing like the tectonic forces of the earth’s plates.”
“No, it isn’t,” Will agreed. “Which means the Russians may be much farther along with the weaponization process than any of us had suspected. SCOPE employs a number of scientists as consultants that we will have to call in to work on this.”
“We are in the shit right now. How is it possible for something like this to work?”
“If I was to speculate,” Will said. “I would guess it utilizes electro-magnetic energy. Nikola Tesla claimed to have nearly shook a building to the ground with a device he build based upon what he termed telegeodynamics. From there, we are getting into conspiracy theory territory.”
“An area of expertise for you isn’t it Will,” Craig said as he turned to face his co-worker.”
“Mine too,” Deckard added. “I’ve seen too many black helicopters to discount it. Especially when it is right in front of my eyes.”
“Where does this leave us?” Gary asked.
“We are heading east. With the Bering Strait cut off, they won’t be double backing right into Russia’s Northern Fleet.”
“The North East passage then?”
“That’s their only way out of this, through Canada and into the Atlantic. That submarine took direct hits and won’t be resurfacing anytime soon, if ever. What is the status of the Global Hawk UAVs?”
“We have one platform flying up from Montana right now. It will have to refuel in Fairbanks. ETA is almost twenty four hours.”
“I’m going to pursue. We can’t wait for you guys to get your shit together.”
“Deckard, we need-”
Slamming his laptop shut, Deckard grabbed his rifle and threw the door open on his way off of the bridge.
* * *
Opening his eyes, Deckard was immediately awake.
Despite only sleeping for five hours, he felt like he had just woken up after hibernating over the winter. When you are so exhausted that you start droning, even a little bit of sleep can make an amazing difference when it comes to recharging your brain.
Tossing a woodland camouflage poncho liner off, he rolled out of his cot and pulled on a layer of thermal clothing before walking through the ship. Most of the men were still asleep, a few others lay awake watching movies on portable DVD players or laptops. A few Xbox One and PlayStation Four consoles hummed in the darkness as the guys bunked in that particular area had fallen asleep watching movies or paused the screen in the middle of a Call of Duty deathmatch.
Stepping up the steep metal steps, Deckard climbed up to the bridge. Otter’s second mate, a younger sailor in his late twenties named Squirrel, was on watch.
“Not much on our end, we are on course heading towards the North East passage as you instructed. Back home, half of Los Angeles lost it’s power grid and ISIS set off a couple car bombs in Paris,” Squirrel answered.
“Someone keeping the pressure on us.”
Sitting behind a desk, Deckard opened his laptop.
* * *
The Blade Master pulled back on the crossbow’s string. Most warriors couldn’t draw back the bow on this particular weapon, but with a flex of his shoulders, he was able to set the string in the weapon. Inserting a poison tipped quarrel, he looked for his query.
The humidity of the jungle was thick in the air, enveloping him in a haze that the tangles of vines over his head eventually disappeared into. Somewhere, through the mist, was a Drakkenborn. Ducking under a fallen tree, the Blade Master stayed as stealthy as possible, stepping into a stream. The decaying machines of war lay scattered throughout the jungle, like the one in front of him. Powered by steam, they had been used in the third Aqualonian War, the technology that gave them life, long since lost. Now they were just remnants of the past.
Moving around the arms of the broken mechanical cyclops, the Blade Master noticed movement in the distance.
The Drakkenborn was stalking something, not realizing that he himself was the prey. As he inched closer, the mist parted, revealing the half breed spawn of a human and a dragon, made possible by the dark machinations of sorcerers and warlocks. He was as tall as he was wide, wearing a golden tunic with heavy metal armor on his shoulders and chest.
Holding a lance above his head, the Drakkenborn prepared to launch his weapons at a giant spider creeping up a tree.
Leveling the crossbow to his shoulder and taking aim, the Blade Master fired first. Depressing the lever on his crossbow, the quarrel shot through the air and speared the Drakkenborn in the neck. He recoiled as the poisoned dart struck its mark. Turning to face the unexpected threat, he cast a bolt of lighting.
The Blade Master strafed to his left, narrowly avoiding the flash of electricity. Now the Drakkenborn came crashing through the brush, his sword drawn.
“Get the hell out of there,” a voice sounded in the Blade Master’s ear. It was his Dark Elf mentor, communicating to him by an enchanted gemstone that he wore around his neck. The Dark Elf wore an identical one which had been magically bound together with his own.
Executing an about face, the Blade Master ran towards the shard. If he could make it in time, the poison would do the rest. Slinging the crossbow over his shoulder helped him run faster, and he was going to need all the help he could get.
Dodging around the overgrown war machine, the Blade Master cringed as another bolt of lighting hit a tree just in front of him, setting it ablaze with fire. The ferns were waist high, leaving an obvious trail in his wake, not that any was necessary. The Drakkenborn was nearly on top of him. The Blade Master climbed on top of one of the war machines and slide down the opposite side.
His enemy was still in pursuit, cursing at him in some foreign language.
The shard was right in front of him in an open clearing, glowing with ancient magic. The Blade Master sprinted towards it. Half way across the clearing, a dagger stuck into his back. The Drakkenborn had depleted his reserve of magicka, but was not out of the fight. Another throwing dagger sunk into his shoulder.
Without looking back, the Blade Master dived into the shard.
The world blinked and he rolled into a dusty dirt road. A village full of small houses with thatch roofs was laid out in front of him. His hand went to his katana and drew it from its sheath. A dead body fell out of the shard at his feet. The Drakkenborn had succumbed to the poisoned quarrel.
“Not bad, but you got lucky,” the gemstone around his neck glowed with each word.
“Luck is one of my skills.”
The Blade Master sheathed his sword and yanked the two throwing daggers out of his back.
“That remains to be seen. I’ll be more interested to see how you deal with the next target.”
“Where is he?”
“Head west through the village.”
The Blade Master crouched down next to the corpse of the Drakkenborn and got some mad loot off of the body. Walking through the village, piglets and baby goats parted as he walked between them. Pollen floated through the air as the towns people worked at the mill and merchants sold their wares from stales alongside the road.
“Dwarven armor for sale!”
“Magicka elixir +10 mana!”
The hustle was unreal, even in such a small village.
“Hey,” a tinkerer said as he approached the Blade Master. Half of his teeth were made of wood and he carried a heavy load on his back with pots and pans strung into his pack. “Want to watch Kim Kardashian suck a cock?”
“God dammit,” the Blade Master cursed. “Get the fuck away from me!”
Climbing over a wooden stake fence, he walked through someone’s farm and then out into the countryside. Lazy white clouds floated through the sky. Cows were not supposed to have horns and farms were not supposed to have jackalopes, but they were here in spades.
The Blade Master slid down an embankment and disappeared into the forest.
“I’m going to love seeing how you will pull this one off.”
He spun, the Katana materializing in his hand.
The Dark Elf threw his hands up in front of him.
“Hey, take it easy.”
“You take it easy.”
“You are going to love this. The next one is a barbarian. Maxed out legacy status. Level 150.”
“How am I supposed to pull that off?”
“Luck is one of your skills.”
“Listen, it’s working,” the Dark Elf said through cracked lips. “A lot of people are looking for the new Blade Master who has burst upon the scene on the PvP sever. You are getting attention, and that is exactly what we want.”
“And here I was thinking I was just helping you guys level up your RPG character.”
“You are making fast progress, not to worry. You have already killed seven of their people. If you take down this barbarian you are going to be on their radar in a big way.”
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“Time will tell, but your unorthodox methods are working in your favor. Still, about this barbarian…”
“Just show me where he is.”
The Blade Master did. Climbing up a steep cliff, the duo crossed a rickety rope bridge over a gushing white water river a hundred feet beneath them. On the other side was a clearing. Another shard floated in the air, glowing white light.
“Where are we going now?” the Blade Master asked.
“You’ll see,” the Dark Elf replied as he disappeared into the light. The Blade Master followed and found himself in a wind swept tundra. He squinted as wet white flakes of snow stung his eyes.
“Icedale? I really don’t need any more of this shit in my life.”
“I thought it might be growing on you,” the Dark elf said, once again taking the lead.
“My balls still haven’t emerged from hibernation.”
“What the hell do you need those for?”
“You have no idea.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry I asked.”
I few minutes of walking and they found the player character they were looking for. He was of the barbarian class, nearly seven feet tall and wearing heavy bear furs that were tied around his body. Swinging a massive broad sword, the barbarian split open a griffon’s skull, painting the snow crimson.
“One of the legends of Infinity Blade,” the Dark Elf said. “King Krag.”
“So what’s the plan hot shot?”
The Blade Master scoured the terrain.
“Hmm. Wait here.”
The Dark Elf watched the Blade Master go into stealth mode and keep a distance from the non-player character monsters. Icedale was an expansion pack for Infinity Blade and had only been released a few months prior for the most high level players in the game, allowing them to advance to level 150. His protege wouldn’t last long tangling with the Ice Giants and Frost Spiders, not to mention King Krag.
Advancing towards a cave opening he had spotted, the Dark Elf could see King Krag cast a spell, surrounding himself with blue light as the healing potion took effect. Then he charged at one of the Ice Giants. Behind Krag, the Blade Master slid down a snowy slope and disappeared into the opening of a cave.
“What in the hell is that guy doing?”
King Krag continued to swing his broad sword, blocking the Ice Giant’s club with his shield and then slashing again until finally, the giant collapsed with a thud. In the meantime, a mammoth had stormed across the tundra and joined the fray, engaging Krag with his tusks.
Minutes went by with Krag turning the tundra into a bloody killing ground of dead NPCs until the Blade Master suddenly burst out of the cave, running straight towards Krag who was now fighting it out with another Ice Giant. Right on his tail, a long line of ghouls, ghosts, and Orc Lords chased the Blade Master.
“The dungeon train,” the Dark Elf said to himself. “Son of a bitch.”
The Blade Master bumped right into Krag as he parried an attack from the giant, then cast a potion of invisibility on himself and disappeared. The entire dungeon train then crashed right into Krag. He was surrounded by a dozen high level NPCs and was quickly taking a beating. He cast another healing potion on himself, but there was no way he was fighting his way out of this one.
“That should do it,” the Blade Master said, reappearing at the Dark Elf’s side as the potion wore off. Krag was hacking and slashing furiously. The Ice Giant was down but Krag was getting pounded by dark magicka from the ghouls and Orc Lord war hammers.
“But you need to get credit for the kill. It won’t count if he gets slain by NPCs.”
The Blade Master drew his crossbow and loaded it with an explosive quarrel.
“You sneaky bastard.”
He hefted the cross bow to his shoulder and sighted in on King Krag as he was knocked down to his knees. Staggering back up, he was now covered in his own blood.
“Wait for it.”
The two watched as Krag’s HP points were diminished. The Blade Master waited until the final moment, then let the quarrel fly. It struck Krag right between the shoulder blades and exploded in a brilliant phosphorus flash. Krag fell face first into the snow, dead.
“Let’s get out of here before he respawns and comes looking for us,” the Dark Elf suggested.
The Blade Master was silent.
“Hey? You hear me?”
He just stood there, not saying a word.
“Hello? What the hell is going on?”