01 Feb Tales from a Rookie Storm Chaser Part 4
By nightfall we had made it back to the station on a spare.
It was bad enough driving on only three good tires and having a monster’s corpse stink up the whole van but on top of that Martin’s injury just seemed to be getting worse with each passing moment.
Long strange streaks of dark grey we’re spreading across his upper chest.
Olivia was monitoring him, keeping a cool rag on top of the wound as he kept screaming every other minute at the top of his lungs.
But you wouldn’t know it if you saw Mister Kearny’s face. His features were like those of a man that had just bagged a prize elk on a mighty hunt.
I decided once we were settled, it was going to be high time that I had a serious talk about all of this.
Once a few miles out, Kearny radioed to get a stretcher ready. Natalie and Jim were there at the garage before we even pulled up.
The blonde gasped as she saw Martin’s injury, rushing to his aid and Jim moved the stretcher toward the passenger door.
“That’s not for him! Move the bug!” Mister Kearny instructed kicking open the van door.
Jim hesitate for a second and then complied by helping Olivia lift the creature onto the stretcher and dragging it toward the lower stairs.
Martin nearly collapsed though as he got out of the van and Natalie and I had to use our combined strength to get him inside.
“I’ll take him to the bunker,” she offered. I nodded and followed the others up to the control room.
Five minutes later Mister Kearny had grabbed a bottle of bourbon from his office and a pack of Marlboros and was insisting we needed to celebrate.
When Olivia and I didn’t seem to share his enthusiasm he sighed and pressed on one of the intercoms to speak with the doctor downstairs.
“Is the specimen secure?”
There was a pause and then a sharp crackle. “As good as it can be. I can start the examination immediately,” Jim said.
“Good deal. Grab yourself a bite to eat and get to work,” Kearny said before popping open the bottle and pouring himself a glass.
Just as he finished, Martin let out another cry of pain that reverberated through the station and I muttered, “Maybe the Doctor should focus on our living patient first.“
“You should have a drink and relax Mister Pruitt, we owe this victory to your fine skills behind the wheel,” the old man said.
“I appreciate that, but maybe its time to start talking about the elephant in the room.“
Olivia took a glass from her father and downed it before remarking, “I’m sorry, I thought this was what you signed up for.”
I slammed my fist down on one of the panels and remarked, “I came to chase storms. You never said a thing about going out to bag and tag the damn Jersey Devil!“
Mister Kearny chuckled. “Settle down boy.”
That just made me more upset. I hopped up and snatched the drink out of his hand, getting right in his face.
“You’re going to tell me exactly what is going on around here, and you’re going to tell me now!“
A crack from a shot gun caused me to jump back as a bullet zipped straight through the short gap between our faces.
I looked toward the stairs to see a newcomer standing there wearing a long duster and a low brimmed hat. The gunslinger swirled his weapon in his right hand and then slung it back into his belt holster before walking down toward us.
Olivia placed her drink down and shouted, “Caleb! Thank god you’re all right!” She ran up to the gunslinger and hugged his neck.
He hugged her back and then marched up toward me, grabbing some cashews out of a little bowl beside me and crunching them.
“Beacon is in place, boss,” he muttered as he quickly sized me up.
“Who the hell do you think you are?“
“I’m sorry, weren’t you listening? Caleb Mitchum, trapper, hunter and all around bad ass,” he paused as he pushed me away from his employer and added, “The bigger question here is who are you and why is the great Paul Kearny putting up with your bull shit.”
“Caleb, this is Dillion; he’s our new camera man,” the old man gestured to me as the hunter grabbed up another handful of snacks and walked toward a control monitor.
He looked at one of the screens where Natalie was getting Martin rested and listened to the black man scream before chuckling.
“I swear. I leave you for five minutes and the whole operation goes to pot…” Caleb said.
“We got one though, Jim’s started the extraction,” Olivia said excitedly.
“Well that’s the first bit of good news I’ve heard,” he agreed as I crossed my arms and growled, “I’m sorry, but who is this guy!!“
The hunter cocked his gun and rammed it straight under my adam’s apple. “Are you deaf?” he snarled as he backed me up against a wall and added, “Then let me clarify again for you. I’m the one that has kept these people alive for the past three years. And you…”
He gently placed his finger on the trigger as he gave me a glare, “You’re the one who’s head I’ll blow off if you ever put a finger on any of them ever again. Are we clear now?”
I swallowed hard and muttered, “Clear as crystal.”
Caleb held the weapon against me for another long moment and then laughed before turning toward the Kearnys.
“Now that we’ve got that cleared up. Let’s go see the bug,” he said clasping his hands together and moving toward the exit.
Olivia and her father followed him at a slower pace and right before they left the control room, the hunter paused and looked toward me, “Dillion; aren’t you coming?”
I nodded and darted my eyes down to the floor as the three of us followed the newcomer down the stairs and into the station’s basement.
A series of long winding corridors later led us to what looked like had once been a maintenance room of some kind. But now thanks to Jim it had become a makeshift morgue.
The creature lay on the metal slab with its multiple appendages strapped down to the side and a long tube running into its skull, like the kind you might find used for oxygen in surgery.
Jim was just finishing up a couple of lights as we walked in and watched from a small observational ramp.
Thanks to the additional illumination it was clear to see that the places where Martin and Kearny had struck the creature had completely calcified.
In fact most of the grey skin now seemed to have hardened to the point where only an extremely sharp blade had the chance of penetrating the shell.
As if reading my mind, Jim hooked up a bone saw and began to slice at the creature’s chest. It sounded like a drill smashing into solid earth.
Behind us the door swung open again and Natalie walked in, gripping the metal banister as Jim kept cutting.
“How is he?” Olivia whispered to the blonde.
“Resting. But in a lot of pain. Anything yet?” she replied.
“You know I can hear you,” Jim interrupted as he made another incision.
“Well?” Mister Kearny growled.
Laschar wiped sweat from his brow and remarked, “This would probably go a lot faster without so many prying eyes.”
The rest of the crew ignored him though as blade hit the strange organic material within the beast.
It smelled like dead fish. A moment later, the blade hit something metallic and Jim stopped the saw before turning to Caleb.
“Grab me those incisors,” the doc ordered. Passing the tool to the stout man, Caleb and the rest of us watched as he used the curved metal tool to spread the creature’s chest wide open.
From under the twisted bones and fatty tissue, something gleamed like a diamond. Jim repositioned the surgical instrument and then carefully extracted what looked like a long metal tube.
Once out of the creature, he proceeded to grab a few cleaning towels and wipe blood and guts off the discovery.
“Well?” Kearny said again this time more insistently.
“A watched pot never boils,” Laschar quipped as he sat on a rolling stool and scooted over to a set of computer screens.
Grabbing what looked like some sort of extension cable, Jim cleaned it properly as well and then connected it directly to the side of the metallic object. Immediately a series of zeroes and ones began to appear on the screen.
“We’re in business,” he said excitedly.
Olivia squeezed her father’s hand excitedly.
But the moment of happiness was short lived. A second later a frown crossed Jim’s features.
“Shit. Shit shit shit shit shit,” he mumbled as he began to input a long algorithm of code.
“What? What is it?” Olivia said releasing her father and walking down to the screen to see what he saw.
“Laschar, what’s going on?” Kearny asked.
“Just give me a second..” he said as he typed furiously. But a second later the screen went black.
“God damn it,” he said pushing himself away from the screen in frustration.
The air in the room seemed to grow heavy as I waited for some type of explanation.
“It’s not a match,” Jim muttered as he looked to his boss for an apology.
“You’re sure?” Kearny asked as he checked the screen himself.
“Positive. The second it left that cluster, we lost it,” he confirmed. Kearny pushes him aside and ran a few numbers himself.
“Try it again,” he demanded.
“Paul, I know my stuff,” Jim said with a deep sigh.
I waited as they stared down each other and finally Caleb broke the silence by saying, “This is exactly why I told you not to go out without me.”
Olivia gave him a glare and marched out of the room. Then Natalie grabbed at the bar again and muttered, “Mister Kearny… what does… um… what does that mean for Martin?”
The old man sighed and looked at her with that look that only meant more bad news.
“You know what it means Natalie….”
She shook and tried her best not to cry. Then she ran out of the room as well.
“Natalie!” I called out.
“Let her go. There’s nothing to be done,” Caleb advised.
I stared at the three remaining members of KTHU and ran my fingers through my hair again before muttering, “Okay someone please tell me what is going on.“
Jim shook his head and muttered, “You dense son? Martin’s infected. Probably got less than twelve hours.”
My jaw dropped. I looked toward Kearny for confirmation and the old man simply nodded.
“Well, we have to do something. Find an antidote for these god damn things,” I insisted.
“That would just be wasting valuable resources,” Caleb pointed out.
“So what? We just let him die?! Is that what happened to Nick too?” I shouted in response.
Mister Kearny let out a long sigh and then turned to Jim and muttered, “Laschar, see to it that Martin is comfortable.”
He started hobbling up the stairs to me and I muttered, “Look I don’t care what your guard dog over there says, I demand an explanation for all of this. Right now.“
“I don’t want to tell you again, boy,” Caleb said reaching for his pistol.
Mister Kearny waved his hand dismissively and remarked, “No, no. It’s ok. Dillion is right. I do owe him that much, all things considering.”
Caleb didn’t seem to like that, but pushed the door open for his boss and added with an icy glare at me; “Fine. But I’ll be joining you so don’t even think of losing your temper again.”
I sighed in relief and responded, “That’s cool with me. Lead the way.“