The researchers had some time to work on the Traveler's tech, and wound up replacing our M16s with handheld railgun prototypes. Now, the usual response to that is ‘oh, railguns, that sounds fucking sweet' - until you realize that you don't fire railguns - they fire you. The recoil was death - I saw so many dislocated shoulders they started modifying our armor to compensate. The early versions also had no power modulation, so the slug could rip through twenty houses in a row if they were ever stupid enough to deploy them in an urban environment.
As for the Traveler's buddies who were still doing something in our universe - we hadn't heard much at the time. A village in Libya got erased from existence by some kind of implosive force that cut it straight out of the Earth, but we had no idea why, and none of our surveillance on the area was picking up anything.
Back to the matter at hand, we were being sent to investigate a research station that had gone dark. Normally, it wouldn't be any of our business, if it weren't for the last distress call sent out of there. All you could hear was the howling wind, and this guy freaking out as he's somehow freezing to death in the middle of the station. Then, there was this deep, wailing sound that tripped every primal instinct in your brain that told you to get the fuck away. We had no idea what made it, but it made you feel like your skin was on fire, the way it messed with your nervous system, like the worst pins and needles you've ever had.
We set down about two klicks off from the station, and the five of us got out, putting on our goggles when we saw how blinding the sun was against the snow. We were well insulated, but I could still feel the sting of the cold through my mask, even in the absence of wind. Barry pointed us in the right direction, and we started moving, the blades of the osprey coming to a halt overhead as the ones staying behind got set up.
We walked across a massive plain of snow in arctic camouflage, a mountain range looming in the distance. Save for our own movements, it was completely silent. A part of me liked it, because we could hear things coming, but at the same time, it was unnerving to be so far from everything. I watched an arctic fox make its way across the snowy dunes, occasionally stopping to look at us before continuing on. We eventually reached the base of the mountains, moving in through a low valley as the wind began to slowly pick up, whistling through the air as the station finally slipped into view.
"Get down," said Jefferies. We got low to the ground and took out our binoculars for a better look. There was one main building, and two ancillary structures, one of the latter blown to pieces, a scattering of scorched debris buried in the snow around it. One of the doors to the main building had been torn off its hinges, sweeping claw marks embedded in the metal, but otherwise, there was no movement, and all we could hear was the wind.
"Sierra, this is Sierra One," said Jefferies into his radio. "We've got a visual on Snowshoe, over."
"Sierra One, you're free to engage, over," command responded.
Vasquez and Tanner took point, and we slowly made our way down into the valley, the wind intensifying as gusts of snow began to blow over the dunes.
"Did you guys see the door?" asked Vasquez, glancing back at us.
"No, we all missed it," I said sarcastically.
"What do you think did that?"
"Our new quarry, I suppose," said Tanner.
"Man, they are not fucking paying us enough," said Vasquez.
"Better than suicide by two shots to the back of the head," said Barry.
"Shut the fuck up," said Jefferies as we drew near to the station. "Eyes open."
We made our way to the intact ancillary structure, Vasquez and Tanner counting us down before opening the heavy, metal door. I took point as the rest of us rushed inside, sweeping my light across the dark and empty hall. We split off into the two adjoining rooms, and I angled into the one on the left, checking the corners and behind the piles of boxes and disused equipment that littered the room, sunlight filtering in through the frozen window.
"Clear," I called, the others doing the same for the second room.
"It's just storage," said Barry as we filed back into the hall. We made our way back outside, and headed toward the main building, a storm growing overhead as the day began to dim. Stepping over the pieces of scorched metal and wood that littered the snow, we crept past the unhinged door, and into the main hall of the station, the lights flickering overhead. "Generator's intact," said Barry, Tanner and Vasquez guarding the open entrance as the rest of us moved ahead. The walls were slick with ice and frost, like they had been doused in a flash-frozen liquid, two surveillance cameras looming overhead.
"There," said Jefferies, noting a frozen trail of blood near the sealed second entrance at the end of the hall, snaking around the corner. We cleared the rooms at our sides as we crept closer to it, passing a bathroom, a surveillance room filled with blank monitors and a chair on the floor, and a room full of frozen computers and communications equipment. The latter had two .357 casings on the ground, and a splatter of blood stricken across the banks of electronics, but nothing else of note. We turned the corner, the trail of blood smearing across the ground into a ruined recreation room, frozen gore splattered across the walls and the remains of a broken pool table, televisions shattered behind a small bar at the back. The air smelled like alcohol and blood, broken bottles and glass from the bar littering the ground alongside several .308 casings.
"The fuck happened here," muttered Barry, holding up the severed half of a Tikka T3, the remainder in ragged splinters on the ground. I could hear the wind howling outside, groaning against the walls as the sunlight that once shone through the windows faded to a twilight darkness.
"Ain't it the middle of the day?" I asked. Jefferies nodded with a bothered expression as he searched behind the bar.
"Sierra, this is Sierra One," said Jefferies into his radio. "Snowshoe's clear. Looks like they got attacked by something. Over."
"Sierra One, recover any surveillance footage and return ASAP, this storm's gonna' make things difficult. Over."
"Roger out," said Jefferies, shaking his head as he looked over at the two of us. "Weather was supposed to be clear today. This shouldn't be happening."
I looked up, and saw a surveillance camera frozen in the corner of the room, pointed at the entrance.
"Well, let's figure out what did this," I said. We made our way back out into the hall, and turned the corner. Vasquez and Tanner were waiting inside near the broken entrance, a frigid breeze whistling through the opening. It almost looked like it was night out.
"Storm's a little harsh," said Tanner. "We can't stand out there."
"It's fine," said Jefferies. "We're heading out in a bit, just need the surveillance tapes."
The two of them joined us as we all filed into the surveillance room. The cameras were still operational, but the lenses were frozen over, blanking out all the screens. Barry switched on the audio for the one in the rec room, and it still functioned, the sounds of the storm crackling through the speakers. He rewound the footage to the last audio spike, a few days prior, and we began to hear the indistinguishable muttering of a man's voice, the monitors still blanked out. His breathing was stuttered, as though he were freezing. A low wail burned through the speakers, setting our nerves on edge - the same wail that we had heard on the distress call. A heavy stomping faded in, followed by the sound of the man screaming. There was a low, rumbling growl, and the screaming ceased to the wet crunching of bone. We listened as the creature seemingly devoured him, the gruesome snapping and tearing of meat crackling over the speakers.
His expression grim, Barry transferred the surveillance logs to a flash drive as Jefferies's radio began to hiss with static.
"Sierra One, this is Sierra," said command. "We've got movement, and we need you back here ASAP, over."
"Sierra One, we've got the footage," said Jefferies. "Inbound in fifteen, stay put until then. Out." Jefferies turned to the rest of us. "Let's get out of here, double time it."
Vasquez and Tanner took point as we quickly left the station, and stepped out into the screaming blizzard, gusts of ice and snow blotting out the sun as they constantly lashed against us. Barry oriented us with his nav system, and we started heading up out of the valley, every step requiring twice the effort as the wind fought us at every opportunity.
"Sierra One, we are pulling out. I repeat, we are pulling out," yelled command over the radio as we left the valley. "We've got contact, this storm is -" The transmission faded to a crackling hiss, and a booming explosion echoed in the distance ahead.
"Fuck," said Vasquez.
"Keep going," said Jefferies, picking up the pace as we made our way across the plains of snow. "They could still be alive."
"The bird's still on the nav map," said Barry, looking down at his equipment. "They're just west of where they were."
Barry reoriented us, and we moved through the darkness as quick as we could, weighed down by the gear on our backs as the wind and snow howled against us. Then, our lights illuminated something ahead. It was one of the pilots, frozen solid while standing up like a petrified statue, his perpetually screaming face staring into the darkness beyond. We continued past him, the storm shrieking around us as we blindly followed Barry's directions.
"It's just up ahead," he yelled over the wind, which seemed to only be getting stronger. Hurrying through the howling blackness, the scorched, snow-swept metal of the downed osprey soon slipped into view. The cockpit was compacted into the frame, one of the pilots laying dead in his seat with his skull crushed against the crumpled interior, blood and brains dripping from the metal. The other two were missing.
"There," said Tanner. We followed his gaze to a trail of blood stricken across the snow, disappearing into the darkness beyond. We moved forward, only to find a frozen severed arm half-buried in the snow, the trail dispersing into a ragged spatter.
"The coms at the station are linked up with HQ," said Barry. "We can use them to call for evac." Jefferies quickly nodded, his eyes scanning the screaming shadows.
"Good thinking," he said. "Let's go."
We retreated back the way we had come, the cold seeping through my layers as frost constantly clouded my sight. Somehow, the temperature kept dropping - too fast to be anything natural. Ahead of us, two severed feet stuck out of the snow - the remains of the frozen man, who had been standing there only moments before. A low, haunting wail cried out through the storm, instilling me with a sense of primordial dread. Something was coming.
We picked up the pace, running as fast as we could beneath the weight of our gear and the onslaught of the wind, my muscles burning as we followed Barry across the plains of snow, but then, I stopped. I couldn't move.
"Wait!" I called, a sense of impending doom flooding over me as I looked down, and saw that my legs were frozen to the ground, tendrils of ice creeping over my body while the chill rapidly sapped me of my strength. The others ran back to help. "I'm frozen," I yelled. "Get me free, hurry!" I looked back as the wind shrieked against me, the cold penetrating my skin while movement stirred through the darkness beyond.
"Contact!" yelled Jefferies, his railgun charging with a high-pitched whine as he took aim, and fired with a deafening bang. The others joined in, firing upon the shadows as an anguished, unnatural scream cut through the air. The stir of movement retreated into the storm, and the others lowered their weapons to start chipping away at the ice that encased my legs, freeing me. "Let's go!" said Jefferies. "This thing's controlling the weather. We have to get inside."
We continued through the blizzard, and made our way down into the valley once more, the ancillary structures of the station soon coming into view. The wail of the creature reverberated through the air from the distance behind us. It was still following us. Our lights swept across the main station ahead, and we found our way to the torn entrance, moving inside as a welcome reprieve from the storm.
"Thane - set up claymores at both entrances," said Jefferies. "Barry, get to the coms room and secure our evac. The rest of us will set up a blockade in the rec room." Everyone went to their posts, and I took one of the mines from my pack as I approached the torn door to the station, the wind howling into the hall from beyond. Sticking the claymore on the wall, I armed it and backed away, taking out another while I made my way to the other entrance. Another wail reverberated through the air as I armed the second mine. It was getting closer. Barry came out of the coms room, his expression terrified.
"What's wrong?" I asked. He motioned for me to follow as he walked to the rec room, and we joined with the others, who were setting up lines of cover with the broken pool table and splintered furniture.
"They can't fly in through the storm," said Barry. "We've gotta' kill whatever's doing this."
"Oh god," said Vasquez.
"Relax, it'll be fine," said Jefferies. "We're indoors - it can't freeze us in here." The wind began to pick up, and one of the claymores exploded, shaking the ground beneath our feet. I moved out into the hall to check. "Thane! Get back here!" yelled Jefferies. Ignoring him, I peaked around the corner, the scorched hall entirely empty as the wind howled through it.
"It's not here yet," I said, backing away into the rec room. "It was just the storm." The wind started to shake the walls, and the door of the other entrance was suddenly blown off its hinges, triggering the second claymore and showering the hall with shrapnel as I dove behind the wall for cover. I swore, shaking my head.
"Are the cameras in the hall still intact?" asked Barry. I glanced out, and saw both of them still in place.
"I can lock myself in the surveillance room, and use the audio to tip you off on which entrance it uses. Then, you can just fire through the walls to take it down."
"And if it comes for you?" asked Tanner.
"Same thing. Light it the fuck up. I'll barricade the way as much as I can. Door one'll be the first, door two'll be the one that just came off."
"All right, get to it," said Jefferies. Barry disappeared into the hall, and I moved back behind the bar, resting my gun against the counter while the others took cover.
"Radio check," said Barry over the radio. "I'm in place, over."
"We read you, over," said Jefferies.
Another wail howled through the air, forcing every hair on my body to stand on end. It sounded like it was right outside. Massive footsteps began to shake upon the ground, and my finger slipped into the trigger guard, eyes on the way into the hall.
"Door two," said Barry over the radio as the creature's stomping drew closer. We all aimed our railguns at where the entrance would be, charging their capacitors with a high-pitched whine, before firing in a cascade of deafening bangs, blowing a series of glowing holes in the wall. My ears were ringing, but I could still hear the pained shriek that followed, reverberating against my mind like a droning feedback. Vasquez peeked through one of the holes in the wall, and immediately backed away, his expression one of abject horror as he backed into the corner in a panic, sweating and hyperventilating.
"Get it together," said Jefferies. "Barry, is it still alive?"
"I don't -" the thundering stomps of the creature answered for us as it came lumbering into the room, and my blood ran cold. It was an obese, worm-like nightmare bound into a monstrous, humanoid form, its warped skull gaping open into a rasping, razor-toothed maw that split down into its drooping stomach. Its translucent skin writhing upon its bones like a bed of insects, its alien gaze met my own while it drew all the warmth from the air in a single breath, the cold needling through every aspect of my being as I felt like my mind was being sundered in two. Overwhelmed with terror and adrenaline, I fired. We all did - wanting only to stamp out whatever it was that we were seeing - whatever nightmarish aberration had invaded our reality. It didn't belong.
Shrugging off the metal slugs that ripped through its writhing flesh, it lumbered straight toward me, dragging its long, sweeping talons upon the floor before raising them up and swiping at me, knocking the gun from my hand. I backed against the wall, and it brought its talons down on me again, a white hot pain cutting through my body as it ripped through my chest. I collapsed to the ground in agony, crawling out from behind the bar while the creature turned its attention to the others, loosing a low, warbling growl that shook through my mind with a horrible unease.
The wind howling through the open door, the horror lurched toward Vasquez, swiping its massive talons at him. He ducked at the last moment, only to get snatched up in the creature's other hand. Ignoring the shots that blasted through its drooping flesh, it swallowed half of Vasquez's screaming body into its gaping maw, and bit down, messily tearing him in half. Blood and intestines spilling down from its jowls, it discarded Vasquez's severed legs as it swallowed the rest of him whole, turning to the others with a rumbling growl. Its footstomps shaking the floor beneath me, I pulled myself toward my gun and picked it up, bracing it against my shoulder and taking aim while the nightmare lazily swiped at Tanner, who deftly rolled out of the way before unloading another shot into the creature. I fired my own gun, the recoil dislocating my shoulder as the shot struck the creature in the head. It was starting to slow. It shambled toward Jefferies as we continued to pummel it, but it was unable to go any further. It collapsed with a low groan, hitting the floor with its tremendous weight.
It was dead, but I couldn't look away from it, even as everything in my mind screamed for me to do so. It was the first thing I had ever seen that was physically painful to look at, like its skin was twisting through an angle that my brain couldn't consciously interpret. Jefferies hurried over to me, looking down at the bleeding wound stricken across my chest.
"You'll be all right," he said, helping me up and popping my shoulder back into place. He looked absolutely terrified. "Let's get the fuck out of here." The three of us retreated back into the hall, the walls pockmarked with glowing holes as the wind slowly died down. We stopped outside the surveillance room, the door completely frozen over.
"Barry, you in there?" yelled Jefferies.
"I'm here," yelled Barry from the other side.
"Back up," I yelled, taking the cutting torch from my pack and getting to work on the door. The torch melted through the ice with ease, and we tore the remainder away, opening the door and freeing Barry.
"Thanks," he said, glancing over at the corner that led back into the rec room. "Is it in there?"
"You don't want to see it," said Jefferies. "Get HQ on the line. We need evac, now."
Barry nodded, disappearing into the coms room while I kept my eyes locked on the fading blizzard outside, the sunlight slowly breaking through the darkness. My hands were still shaking, my heart hammering in my ears as the image of that thing was still burned into my brain. It never left me, even to this day. It took another twenty minutes for our evac to get there, another osprey setting down outside. We left the building and piled into the helo, the blades chopping overhead as we slowly rose above the ground.
The snow speeding by beneath us, I looked back to see the station vanishing in the distance, and all I could think was that I never wanted to see anything like that again - but I knew that I would, over and over, until it broke me. They later went back to collect the body, and did whatever research they could on it, but they didn't learn much. All I know is that it wasn't from our universe, and was apparently made of something that didn't align with our conception of matter. We still had no idea how it got here - how any of these things were getting here - and all we could do in the meantime was fight them off, like the immune system of the human race.
I think I know what I'll talk about next. Three weeks after Snowshoe, I got deployed to a compromised research facility out in the swamps of Louisiana. Call it an experiment with psychedelics gone horribly wrong.
Until then, thanks for reading, and stay safe.