“No. I just don’t see the point in talking about it anymore,” says Dolphin. “The last two days, you guys have been all ‘Oh my god. We might die!’, ‘Oh my god. They have trackers on us!’, ‘Oh my god. What’s a De-Escalation Protocol?’”
“Keep your voice down, moron,” Ball Buster hisses.
“What’s the point?” Dolphin asks. “We know all we’re going to know; all we can know. Speculating on all sorts of stuff like the UN nuking the island isn’t getting us anywhere. It’s just us being paranoid. Why bother looking for the little beast?”
“That’s an idiom, right?” I ask. If it turns out there’s some gremlim creeping around killing peopl at the camp, that’ll just be the last stroke.
“I think we should talk about the food.” He pushes around the dry oatmeal on his plate. “If those planes don’t show soon, we’re going to die a lot sooner.”
“What I don’t get is why we go crazy and then die,” Sue says. “Like that’s messed. Y’all sure you heard that right?”
“Yes. We’re sure,” I say. “Thinking back, it’s actually what Wolfe told us on our first day here—the chest caves in, the pain drives us crazy and eventually kills us.”
“But she said the implants would stop that,” says Mouse, just out of the clinic, still looking horribly pale and sickly. “Why didn’t Destro say anything about it?”
“He probably hasn’t seen it happen,” Ball-Buster is unusually serious. “He said a lot of campers were taken away last year. They didn’t have time to go crazy.”
“Destro’s still here, and he’s not crazy.” I say.
“Eh…” Dolphin seems skeptical. “He’s a bit in the West.” We look at him. “Spaced out,” he clarifies.
“He’s not crazy because he didn’t get his unique ability,” Ball-Buster says. “That’s why the others were taken away. So the unique ability must speed up whatever-it-is that kills us.”
“That’s great,” says Mouse.
I think he regrets saying it, but Bally’s not the sort to apologize. “Anyway,” he says. “I’d say it’s time to revisit the escape plan.”
“Did we ever un-visit it?” I ask.
“I’m in,” Mouse says. “I mean, for the record, I still think you Americans are whiny. This camp is easily the nicest time I’ve had, apart from the pneumonia and the freezing cold.”
“And the lack of actual food,” I say.
“Three meals a day isn’t a lack of food, American.” Mouse takes another bite of oatmeal. “But I don’t like the idea of dying, so … let me know. Whatever you need.”
“I’m still out,” Dolphin says. “You guys are nuts.”
“Fuck you, rich boy,” Sue says, leaning in. “Now what about them cameras? What we gonna do about those?”
“We could meet in the ice cave,” I suggest.
“Perfect,” Ball Buster says. “We’ll need a signal to gather.”
“One other thing,” Sue says. “Ain’t none of y’all gonna escape with the shape you in. We need regular workouts.”
“Dude,” I say. “Give it a rest.”
“You guys have been out running every night,” Dolphin says. “I tell you, you’re not going to find a plane just sitting around.”
“I don’t give a shit about running. I’m saying y’all need to pump some iron,” Sue insists.
“We can lift about 200 pounds each,” I say.
“Yeah, for seven minutes,” Sue says. “Then you’s a bunch of limp spaghetti. That’s weak, man.”
“I went with you to the gym the first time, didn’t I?” I say. “I just wasn’t feeling it yesterday.”
“Nobody ever ‘feeling’ it,” Sue says. “That’s why so many lame-ass morons buy gym memberships they only use once. First time it’s fun to feel all macho. Second time it’s work. You wanna make progress, you need to do it even when you ain’t ‘feelin it.’”
“You just want workout partners,” Ball Buster accuses him.
“So? Don’t mean I’m—”
“Campers,” the intercom blares.
Everyone falls silent.
“With the recent bad weather finally lifted, and the power back online, it’s time to return the camp to normal.” Wolfe’s voice is clear over the intercom. “I can also reliably inform you that the supply planes will be arriving shortly.”
“In addition, we’ll be undergoing some reorganization,” Wolfe continues. “House Spider, as of this moment, will be merged with House Mantis, and House Anaconda and House Scorpion will be relocated to the former Spider dormitory. All campers are required to help with this reorganization, so classes are canceled for the day.”
This is met with confused murmurs. I exchange looks with the others. This doesn’t make sense.
“That is all.” The intercom clicks off.
“This whole thing is gone to vinegar,” Dolphin says.
Clearly an idiom, and I can work out the meaning just based on the context.
Six of the heavy-duty snow trucks are pulled up between the dorms, with red parkas and blue parkas milling about them in a giant heap of disorder. There’s bedframes, dressers, and backpacks piled in a disordered heap, and people shouting contradictory directions.
“Four beds and four dressers to each room,” I grunt, hefting the other end of a bedframe. “Are they doubling us up or something?”
“Must be,” Dolphin says, leaning against the snowbank. “Hey, maybe all of us can room together.”
“So would that make you guys House Mantis, or would you still be House Spider, just living in House Mantis?” I ask.
“Dude, shut up. No one cares about the bullshit Houses.” Ball Buster jostles the other end of the bedframe. “Just get through the door already.”
“No, no,” Destro says, running out. “That way is too crowded. That’s not a good place to go. Come.” He leads us along the outer side of the building, then climbs the snowbank and vaults into an upstairs window with surprising agility. “Here!” he shouts. “Pass it up!”
The snowbanks are hard-packed snow, and Sue quickly climbs up after him. Ball Buster and I pass the bedframe up, and he and Destro wrangle it through the window. Soon, we’ve got a line going, with people passing furniture up the snowbank and through the window.
This gives me a minute to look around. We’re one of the few organized parties. People are running around with sheets of paper, tossing backpacks back and forth, bumping into each other, arguing over bedframes. A lot aren’t doing anything except looking surly.
“This whole mess be as shitty as all hell,” Sue observes, grabbing hold of a bedside table. “Ain’t they got some kind of system for this?
“Must’ve been taken by surprise.” I say. “Something dumped on them from higher up.”
“Someone above Wolfe?” Ball-Buster rubs his chin. “Who’s the president of the UN?”
“Americans,” Mouse says, rubbing his head.
“Seriously. How are you guys so bad at this?” Dolphin throws up his hands. “The UN meets in your friggin’ country. How do you not even know this stuff?”
“Because the UN is always about what goes down in other countries, and we don’t give a rat’s ass about that,” says Ball Buster. “So who is the president?”
“They don’t have a president, numb nuts,” Fish offers, as he maneuvers a mattress. “They have a general secretary.”
“Well, who’s that?” I grab the mattress from him and hoist it over my head.
“I don’t know,” Fish admits.
“The general secretary wouldn’t know about this, I bet,” Dolphin says. “Secret black ops stuff like this is usually kept off the books.”
“Someone’s got to be in charge,” I say. “Who?”
I can see that Ball Buster’s changed his thinking. “So the whole camp has gotta be in chaos right now.” He glances over the squabbling guards. “This could be an opportunity.”
“Ice floe,” Ball Buster says, as we look out towards the sea. “See how far the ice stretches out? We crack off a sizeable portion, and we take that east toward America.”
“Yeah?” I raise an eyebrow as he steps out onto the ice. “How long will that take?”
“Not sure. But we could fish.”
But Bally doesn’t answer. He’s on his hands and knees. He pulls back his fist, squints contemplatively, and punches.
The ice buckles, splinters, and cracks—into about twenty or thirty pieces, most of them too small to hold anything larger than a cat.
Bally stands up and looks at the pieces drifting into the water as the rest of us come up behind him. “We could … maybe squeeze onto something the size of that one over on the left,” he says.
“Man, this ain’t Buddy the Elf,” Sue says. “I’m cold just standing here; ain’t no ice raft gonna cut it. We gonna need to get us a decent boat.”
“So we find one.” Ball Buster looks down the coast like there’s going to be one just sitting there. “They’ve got to have some way of guarding the coast. We need …”
I’m watching the large ice chunk when it happens, so I’m maybe the only one who sees it. But honestly, there’s not much to see. One minute it’s drifting lazily out to sea, the next …
Chunks of ice go flying everywhere as a huge plume of water rockets skyward. Everyone whirls around, but the only thing left to see are scattered bits and pieces drifting on the cold wind, leaving a fine mist over the surface of the water.
Bally is speechless. Sue swallows.
“What was that?” I hear Mouse yell, through the ringing pain in my eardrums.
“Mines,” says Dolphin. “So that’s how they keep the coast secure.”
I’m about to comment, but there’s something I just noticed on the shore. Bending, I dig the dark object out of the snow.
It’s a small metal ring. A red cross on a white background. It jogs something in my memory, but before I can quite remember what, I hear something. A low rumble, slowly growing into a more distinct droning roar. I notice the others can hear it too—they’re also turning out towards the sea.
Dark shapes in the sky. Planes.
Dolphin lets out a whoop, and we’re all hollering, pointing. The roar becomes a pounding pulse as we run back towards the island. I guess I hadn’t considered that a plane is going to have to fly pretty low to drop parachutes. Or how freaking loud a plane is. Sue is shouting at me, and I can’t hear a word.
We can both see the parachutes, though: blossoming under the planes, coming down fast.
There’s a lot of planes. A lot of parachutes. Destro and Dolphin didn’t really convey the scale of this operation. The sky’s actually full of planes, dark against the clear blue. Sue’s pointing at different ones and yelling. I can’t hear him, but I can see what he’s saying. Mixed in with the supply crates are a whole lot more parachutes with big, sausage-like bags hanging from the bottom. And still others which are…
They’re dropping people?
One of the boxes—taller than a man and just as big around—crashes near us, kicking up snow in a giant spray. Ball Buster tears off the cover to reveal boxes of meat, cans, small bags of sauce. For a minute, I’m afraid he’s going to rip them apart, but instead he just turns around and slumps to the ground, resting against the container. He passes a hand over his face.
One of the big sausage bags is coming towards us but a bit higher. We can just make out that it’s actually two shapes stacked on top of each other, sandwich style. The other boys are chasing it down the shoreline, jumping into the air to try and grab it. The rumble of the jets has faded enough for me to hear the yells. “I’ve got it!”, “Almost!”, “Just a bit …”, “Save that sausage for me!”
Sue leaps up. “Got it!” he shouts, grabbing at the bag. But it shoots out of his hands like a greased hotdog, sailing out towards the sea.
Everyone grinds to a halt. “Oh shit,” Sue whispers. “Don’t fall. Don’t fall. Don’t you dare fucking fall …”
The sausage drifts out, past the end of the ice. Then the wind catches the parachute, starts to pull it back. The bag drifts oh so slowly back towards the ice. And then, with the tail end just tapping against the end of the ice floe, it drops onto the ice.
Everybody breathes a sigh of relief.
Then the ice cracks, and the sausage upends itself into the icy water.
“No!” Sue makes a leap forward.
Ball Buster grabs him. “Hypothermia, dipshit. Remember?”
“The ropes!” Mouse is running over to where the parachute is spread out against the ground. He grabs up a handful of the cords. “Come on!”
The rest of us rush over. We grab on wherever we can, pulling with the others. It moves.
“Grab again!” Dolphin calls from the back. “All together. Heave!”
The bag appears just over the top of the ice.
The bag shoots out of the water and onto the ice. The ice nearly cracks again, but we don’t let it. We’re hauling up the line, hand over fist, and the bag shoots across the ice until it slides up onto the shore with a thud.
“Wooo!” Ball Buster cheers.
Sue drops the line, his arms shooting up. “Yeah, bitches! That’s how it’s done!”
“Guys?” Mouse has stepped up to the bag. “There’s something …”
Dark and wet, something pushes out from under the bag, all arms and legs. We jump back, but even as we do, we recognize the thing, just as we recognize the blue camo, the red glasses, and the silver gun.
The soldier, a woman, is shivering uncontrollably. She can barely hold her gun up. “Stay away…. Stay away, you bastards. You can’t …”
She collapses onto the snow.
“Shit,” Ball Buster says. “That hypothermia stuff fucks you up quick, doesn’t it?”
A realization’s creeping up on me. Giant sausage bags, attached to parachuting soldiers.
I dash over to the slick, dark bag, lying still on the snow. I look for a zipper or something, but there’s nothing I can see—and if the soldier’s anything to go by, I don’t have time to find one. So I just grab the fabric at two random points and pull. Hard.
The bag splits down the middle. An internal layer of some sort of padding spills out onto the snow, along with yet another layer, shielding what’s inside.
I hear a collective intake of breath behind me.
A long white hand comes out, groping at the air. It touches the snow and recoils with a hiss of surprise. A figure sits up, its red polo shirt stark against the white, and runs a hand through tangled blonde hair.
Behind us, we hear the thud of another bag hitting the ground. Then another. Then another.
A soldier’s voice calls out, “One landed over here!”
The girl in the bag shivers in the air and looks at us. “Are we there yet?” she asks.
Author’s Note: This is a matter likely of little interest, but publication of The Hospitaller Oath is going to be delayed to mid September at the least, due to chronic laziness on my part. That being said, I’m very excited about the revisions and I’ll likely post another excerpt from it soon.