A Journey to Extinction

Night vision image

Image courtesy Department of Defense

In the world of Carbon Run, my novel-in-progress, the Warming has turned remote outposts into bustling cities, including the port city of Churchill, Manitoba, on Hudson Bay. Because of its access to the Northwest Passage, and the new ports of northern Russia, Churchill is now a major waypoint for goods. Martin Scribb, a monk who is officially a non-person, arrives at the town as he seeks out Molly Bain, an artificial intelligence expert. He makes a new friend, who goes by the name “Reason,” but this friend takes him to a destination completely unexpected. Here’s an excerpt from chapter 13.

Martin woke up to darkness and jostling. He was no longer in the house on the Churchill waterfront. The room was small and close, and he smelled bodies and heard moaning. Water sloshed against his leg and he sat up. His wrists were bound and he lost his balance, falling against another body. “Watch yourself, asshole.” The voice was unfamiliar and despairing. Martin shook his head to push out the last cobwebs of sleep, but his mouth was dry, and his stomach heaved. Nausea threatened to explode, but he kept down his gorge. He was in some sort of vehicle, but it moved with an odd pattern. The movement slowed, and it swayed from side, yawing and pitching as if it were at sea. The slap of water against the walls of the room confirmed it. The boat slowed to a stop and Martin felt a nudge, as if the boat had bumped against something.

A rusted metal on metal grind pierced the silence. The noise came from above, and Martin looked up. He saw pinpoints of light, but only within a square of blackness. Then a shape blocked the stars, and Martin heard the muffled click of rubber on metal; someone was descending a ladder or stairway. “Everyone! If you speak a single word or make any noise, you’re dead!” It never crossed Martin’s mind to say anything; he had no idea what was happening, and could not see anything. “Someone will place night-vision glasses in your hand. Put them on!”

Martin heard the rustling of clothing and muffled jangles he couldn’t identify. Someone took his wrist and placed an object in his hands. With his wrists bound, he had trouble orienting the glasses, but managed to put them on. His eyes quickly adjusted to the soft green glow. He counted six bodies on the floor with two men standing over them; Martin was the seventh captive. One of them carried an automatic rifle, and he was handing out the glasses. Another man supervised, holding a handgun. Martin recognized him.

“Reason! What’s happening!”

“Shut up!”

“But…”

“Shut up or I’ll put a hole in your neck.” His voice was restrained, but threatening.

It dawned on Martin that Reason had betrayed him. What now, dear Lord? What have I done now?

Reason pointed his gun at a woman, who flinched. “You! Get up the ladder. Quickly!” The woman stepped awkwardly toward Reason, unsure of her footing in the unfamiliar room and artificially enhanced light. Reason grabbed her by her torn jacket and pushed her at the ladder. “Get up on deck! Or I’ll shoot you where you are.”

The woman began her climb, and as she reached the opening, ghost-like hands pulled her out of the hold. The other captives followed the first one up the ladder, until one man, tall and heavy, halted next to Reason, his head down. He raised his head, peering at the sky in his goggles, and then spat in Reason’s face. The captor exploded with rage, and he pistol-whipped the captive, who sprawled on the deck, goggles flying. Reason grabbed the guard’s automatic rifle and beat the defiant captive until blood poured from his nose and mouth in an unearthly black stream. The captive’s blood spattered Reason’s trousers with black stains.

“You! You!” Reason pointed first at a petite woman, and then to Martin. “Take this piece of shit above.”

Martin was frozen in place. Only hours before, he had shared a meal with this man, who had beaten a stranger senseless.

“Move! Or you’ll get worse!”

“But our hands…” The petite woman showed her bound hands in an odd gesture of supplication, made all the weirder by the goggles resting on the bridge of her nose.

Reason growled and reached for a knife. He cut her bindings and then Martin’s. “If you so much as think about running, I’ll cut out your eyes.”

“You take him by the shoulders,” the woman said to Martin, who obeyed for lack of any other excuse to act. He was emotionally paralyzed, and his body would only obey the commands of others. The unconscious rebel was slick with blood, and Martin struggled to pull him up the steep stairway.

The petite woman held the victim by the knees and followed Martin. As Martin reached the opening, other hands reached down to haul up the unconscious captive. More hands took Martin aside and pushed him into the group of captives that had already climbed out. They huddled together, green and unsubstantial. He was joined by the petite woman and the beating victim, who was thrown at their feet.

A bank of low clouds had crept in, obscuring the stars. The night was moonless. The boat was tied against a narrow, black object in the water that stretched away into a bank of fog. Martin could not see where the object began or ended. A short walkway connected the boat to the object, and Reason ordered the captives across. Martin noticed an opening in the floor of the object, and a burly woman holding an automatic rifle climbed out and stood by the opening.

“Get down there, through the hatch, now!” Reason ordered, “and keep silent!” Martin noticed a rubber-like covering on the black object that muffled his steps. The bound captives struggled to climb down the ladder through the hatch. Martin and the petite woman were ordered to carry the injured captive, still unconscious, down the ladder. Martin wished his hands were still bound, and he wouldn’t have to carry the deadweight of the rebel, who was slowly regaining consciousness. Reaching the landing, Martin looked around, but he was pushed by another guard, who pointed to another opening. “Give me your glasses!” the guard snarled. Martin removed them, and the light swapped from green to red, which emanated from fixtures in the ceiling and walls.

“Down!” The guard pushed the barrel of her gun into Martin’s arm. “Take him down with the others.” Martin descended another ladder, and then a third. When they reached the landing, the guards pushed them down a corridor. Martin had lost his orientation, but he was surrounded by pipes, valves, switches, panels, and warning labels, some of which displayed the universal symbol of a radiation hazard. The group finally reached a filthy room with bunks that stank of sweat and urine. Martin saw a half-dozen other people in the room, and he guessed they were also captives. As gently as he could, with the petite woman’s help, he laid the moaning rebel in a bunk.

Instantly, the light switched from red to full-spectrum LED, and all the captives squinted or lifted their hands to block the brightness. “Out of the way!” Reason pushed Martin aside and brandished his knife. The burly female guard followed him, then waited at the door. Reason cut the bindings of the other, newly arrived captives. He exited the room. “Reason!” Martin called out, still blinking as his eyes adjusted. “What are you doing? Why are you doing this? I thought you were going to help me find a job!”

Reason glanced back and smirked. “I kept my promise.” He departed, and an idea came to Martin. It explained why Reason was disidentified.

Before he could call out again, another person entered the room. Each captive, including Martin, stepped back, and some gaped. A creature unlike anything Martin had ever seen stood before them. He had the height and build of a man, but he was a chimera, not a man. His face and neck were covered with yellow and black hair, arranged in stripes. His hands were also furred. Narrow slits of irises surrounded by golden borders studied each captive. When his gaze landed on Martin, a shiver of terror crawled up the monk’s spine.

The creature smiled, and showed the teeth of a carnivore, with tearing canines and slicing incisors. When he spoke, it came out as a low growl, but with a soft edge. “I am Captain Gore. Welcome to Extinction.” He stepped forward, taking in the faces of each captive. “Listen carefully. Work hard, and you’ll be treated as my loyal crew.” Martin puzzled at Gore’s odd accent. He paused. “Slack off, and you’ll be treated for what you are. Slaves.” He turned, and at the door, he stopped. “Mutiny, and I’ll kill you myself. With this.” He raised his hand and showed razor sharp claws.

“Mr. Nelson?”

A voice came from the corridor. “Aye, sir?”

“Take her down. Set your course for the Arctic Ocean.”

Any thoughts? Can you guess the type of vessel Martin is on?

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