Mega 4: Behemoth Island (26 page)

BOOK: Mega 4: Behemoth Island
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“I’m not going to enjoy it. You can’t make me,” Darby said, but there was a small grin playing at her lips.

“Fair enough,” Kinsey said as she stripped down then went and turned the water back on.

Kinsey stepped into the steaming hot stream and sighed. She looked over her shoulder and saw Darby toweling off. It was a start.

 

***

 

Everyone filtered past the briefing room on their way to the steps that led up to the observation deck. Ballantine watched them go, knowing the windows were tinted enough that even if they looked in they wouldn’t see him sitting in the shadows. They also wouldn’t see Dana Ballantine sitting right next to him.

“You know you can’t win, right?” Dana said. “It’s a zero sum game at the best.”

“I don’t believe that,” Ballantine replied. “I have an amazing Team and a top notch crew.”

“You have a band of misfits and malcontents running around with high-powered weapons blowing shit up for you,” Dana laughed. “They are skilled, I’ll give you that, but it is only a matter of time before a much better team arrives and stops the fun and games.”

“That’s why I have this,” Ballantine said, gesturing around him at the ship. “Keep on the move. Never settle. Always be ready for what is coming.”

“There is no way you can be ready,” Dana said. “You know that too.”

“Maybe,” Ballantine said and shrugged. “Maybe not.”

“God, you are as infuriating as ever,” Dana said. “Sometimes I wish I had actually died so I wouldn’t have to be in this position.”

“What position is that?” Ballantine asked.

“At your mercy again,” Dana said. “When our daughter—”

“Do not even start!” Ballantine snapped. “No! You do not get to talk about her!”

He stood up and loomed over her, his face hidden by shadows, but the anger very apparent as his body shook.

“We have been down this road before, Dana,” Ballantine said. “It is a road that is closed. Permanently.”

“You said my name,” Dana responded after Ballantine had calmed down slightly. “That’s the first time since I came on board.”

“Since you came on board to kill me, you mean,” Ballantine said.

“Only because you wanted to kill me,” Dana said. “Kill me and everything I built.”

“You had help building it,” Ballantine said. “Those were the people I wanted dead. Not you. Never you.”

Dana looked over at Ballantine as he sat down next to her once more.

“What?” Ballantine barked.

“You really didn’t want me dead?” Dana asked.

“Not really,” Ballantine said and shrugged. “Well, yes, I did, but only because I thought you were coming after me. So, if you are talking self-preservation then I did. If you’re talking personal choice then I did not.”

“That’s the most honest thing you’ve said to me in a very long time,” Dana said.

“If I’m telling the truth,” Ballantine said and smirked.

They sat in silence for a few minutes before Ballantine reached out and took her hand.

“This doesn’t mean we are on good terms,” Ballantine said. “It just means I’m not going to kill you anytime soon. Unless you give me a reason.”

“Do I still have to sleep in the brig?” Dana asked.

“It’s a pretty comfortable brig,” Ballantine said.

“Not as comfortable as a real cabin,” Dana said, a little venom in her voice.

“Let’s not push it,” Ballantine said. “I just decided not to gut you and throw you overboard. Baby steps, dear.”

“That’s the only way you work,” Dana said.

“Oh, I can take giant steps too,” Ballantine said. “I have range.”

The sliding glass door to the briefing room opened and Kinsey looked in.

“You are in here,” she said then stopped. “Oh. She is too.”

“Yes, she is,” Ballantine said. “What can I help you with, Kinsey?”

“Apparently, not only am I the ship’s counselor today, but I’m also cruise director,” Kinsey replied. “The sun is about to set and I was sent to find you and see if you want to join the rest of the crew as we watch it go down.”

“Watch the sun set?” Ballantine mused. “I think I could be talked into that. It sounds like a relaxing change of pace.”

“Why now?” Dana asked. “Why this sunset?”

“Oh, well, because,” Kinsey said.

“You can tell her, Kinsey,” Ballantine said. “She isn’t the enemy. Just my enemy.”

“You fucking asshole,” Dana said.

Ballantine gave her hand a squeeze. “I’m half joking. Guess which half was the joke?”

“Yeah, okay,” Kinsey said and backed away from the briefing room. “You two need serious counseling and my work hours are over. Get out here and watch the sunset or don’t, I couldn’t give a fuck at this point.”

Kinsey slid the door closed.

“She’s an interesting young woman,” Dana said. “Junkie?”

“You could tell?” Ballantine asked.

“There’s a reason I made it as high up in the company as I did,” Dana replied.

“Shall we?” Ballantine asked, standing up. He gripped her hand and waited.

“Yes,” Dana replied as she stood. “But I have a feeling it’s going to be cold out there.”

“It’s the tropics,” Ballantine said. “It’ll be perfect.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Dana responded.

“I know,” Ballantine said and led her to the sliding doors.

 

***

 

“This is nice,” Ingrid said as she stood amidst the crew of the Beowulf III. “I don’t think we’ve ever done anything like this. We need to watch more sunsets.”

“This is one too many, if you ask me,” Carlos grumbled.

No one asked him.

“Can I say a few words?” Kinsey asked as the sky before them glowed a deep orange with streaks of bright yellow and red. “I promise I’ll be done before it’s over.”

“Go ahead, ‘Sey,” Darren said.

“I just want to say that other than my childhood growing up with my family and Darren and Gunnar around,” Kinsey began, “this is probably the happiest I have ever been. It’s been months since anyone has died. And we all survived our last op. Even Popeye is back. I’m sober and I have family around me. Not just my dad and cousins, or my ex-husband.” She gave Darren a nod and he smiled warmly at her. “I consider all of you family. Every last one of you.”

She shrugged and turned back to face the sunset.

“That’s it,” she said. “I just couldn’t go much longer without saying I appreciate all of you.”

“Nice speech, Sis,” Max said.

“Yeah, good one,” Shane agreed.

“Sis? I thought they were cousins?” Dana asked, leaning close to Ballantine as they stood at the back of the group.

“Nickname,” Ballantine said. “Now hush and watch the pretty sky.”

The sun lowered itself into the water. The whole world became a blaze of fire and glittering blue. It was breathtaking. No one moved until the last of the golden orb was lost below the horizon and the reds became purples.

“Beautiful,” Ronald said. “Simply beautiful.”

When the purples became deep blues, everyone moved to leave then something happened and they were glued to their spots.

Far off on the horizon, a ball of fire returned. It rose high into the air and mushroomed out, covering a huge distance across the sky.

Everyone shielded their eyes from the brightness and most ducked their heads, instinct telling them to get down. The mushroom cloud and fireball lifted higher and higher then dissipated finally.

All eyes turned to look at Ballantine.

“I didn’t do that,” Ballantine said.

“Was that the island we are headed for?” Thorne growled.

“Maybe,” Ballantine replied. “Probably.”

The entire crew turned back to the obvious nuclear explosion.

“We may want to get below decks before the shockwave reaches us,” Ballantine said. “Ingrid? Carlos? Moshi? Thoughts on a possible EMP?”

“Not at that distance,” Carlos said. “Not with our new precautions.”

“Good,” Ballantine said. “I think Cougher would slit my throat if we lose our engines again.”

“I’d slit it as well,” Lake said.

“Below, people,” Thorne said. “Now. Batten down the hatches, literally. We ride this out below decks until we know things are safe. Then we figure shit out from there.”

“How are your plans now?” Dana asked, leaning in to whisper in Ballantine’s ear.

“Quiet, dear,” Ballantine said. “Chaos is calling and I have to listen very carefully if we are going to make it out of this one.”

The breeze picked up and everyone hurried to get things secured up on deck then they rushed below, sealing the hatches as they went.

Ballantine was the last to close a hatch and he spun the wheel as hard as he could, sighing when the solid thunk echoed in the passageway.

“Hello, Chaos, my old friend,” he whispered before he pushed away from the hatch and made his way down to the mess where he knew everyone would be waiting for answers.

He didn’t have any, but he had all the confidence in himself he’d figure some out before he got there.

 

The End

 

Read on for a free sample of The Valley

 

Author Bio:

 

Jake Bible, Bram Stoker Award nominated-novelist, short story writer, independent screenwriter, podcaster, and inventor of the Drabble Novel, has entertained thousands with his horror and sci/fi tales. He reaches audiences of all ages with his uncanny ability to write a wide range of characters and genres.

 

Jake is the author of the bestselling Z-Burbia series set in Asheville, NC, the Apex Trilogy (DEAD MECH, The Americans, Metal and Ash) and the Mega series for Severed Press, as well as the YA zombie novel, Little Dead Man, the Bram Stoker Award nominated Teen horror novel, Intentional Haunting, the ScareScapes series, and the Reign of Four series for Permuted Press.

 

Find Jake at jakebible.com. Join him on Twitter @jakebible and find him on Facebook.

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

The Valley

Argentina

The Year 2079

 

With the exception of a few renegade clouds floating above the canopy of trees, the sky was a perfect blue. The air was muggy with a syrupy thickness, the humidity steaming. In tropical brush so dense and with leaves as large as elephant ears, Jon Jacoby hacked his way through the thickets with the blade of a machete, swinging errantly knowing that the distance between two points was a straight line. And to get to the Gates of Freedom, Jon had to cut a swath through the jungle’s core if he was to survive.

Emily Anderson was behind him holding a Glock with a bullet in the chamber and three in the magazine. Their beige jumpsuits, declared to be the property of the Argentina Department of Corrections, with ADOC stenciled on the backs, were torn and badly soiled. Rorschach blots of sweat circled beneath their armpits and backs. The bangs of their hair stuck wetly to their brow. Razor-thin cuts and slashes marred their faces and their hands, the blood having crusted and caked into scabs. And their jumpsuits were beginning to hang on them like drapery, the two having lost so much weight.

It had taken them five days to cross the valley, which was surrounded by 80-foot sheer walls, straight up with no foot- or handholds, and no promise or means of escape.

When they were less than 100 yards away from the Gates of Freedom, Jon and Emily hunkered low in the jungle brush, listening.

The shape of the Gates was an arch, and the top bullet-shaped, with chiseled lettering above the entranceway: YOUR FREEDOM IS BUT A FEW STEPS AWAY.

“The gate’s closed,” Emily whispered. When she started to rise and head forward, Jon lashed out and grabbed her by the forearm, stopping her. “What?” she asked.

He set a forefinger against his lips, shushing her. Listen!

In the brush to their left something moved, causing the elephant-sized leaves to shake and betray its position.

They were not alone.

The thicket and brambles to their right began to sound off, a rustling.

Then Emily’s eyes started to the size of communion wafers and her face began to crack, her eyes welling with tears. They were so close, she thought. So . . . close.

And now they were being flanked.

As she raised her firearm, Jon gripped the machete until he was white-knuckled.

“We have to make a run for it,” he told her. “A hundred yards.”

“We’ll never make it.”

“We can’t just sit here, Em, and let them close in.”

And then a tear slipped from the corner of her eye and tracked slowly along her cheek, then to her chin where it dangled precariously for a moment before dropping. “We were so close, Jon” she whispered. “All this way . . . Forty miles. The last two.”

Jon looked deep into her eyes, and leaned forward until their foreheads were touching. She was right, he considered. They started out as a team of twelve, all able-bodied, all convicts of the ADOC having a singular goal: to live. Some died the moment they stepped inside the valley. Others perished during the night as nocturnal creatures dragged them into the darkness with their screams growing distant, and then gone, the cries dying abruptly. Others simply disappeared.

He sighed. “So close,” he said softly. “So . . . close.”

Whatever was in the brush to their left and to their right, was steadily closing in.

Suddenly Emily barked a cry as white-hot pain pierced her side, the point of the machete driving deep. When Jon pulled the blade free, the look on her face nearly crushed him. The look was one of questioning sadness, one that asked why he betrayed her.

“Because when they come,” he said remorsefully, “they’ll come after you. They’ll take the weak and wounded first.” Then: “I’m so sorry, Em. But you’re giving me a chance to live.” He then reached down and grabbed her gun away, which was loosely gripped in her hand, leaned forward, and kissed her gingerly on the forehead. “Thank you.”

After shoving her back, he began his final leg of the 100-yard journey.

#

Emily lay there watching the blood spill from the wound. Then from her position she cried out after Jon. “You son of a bitch!” Then she winced, the effort of crying out causing an electric charge of pain to shoot through her body. 

The brush to her immediate right began to move, the distance just beyond an arm’s reach. It was that close. The same on her left, the predators within striking range.

Then the moving stopped.

And there was a silence that was terrifying.

Emily rocked her head from side to side, looking for the faces of her predators, wanting to see the ugliness behind the mask of Death.

Silence.

Then a face poked out from between the large fans of leaves. A head that was canine-sized but crocodilian in shape, with a long snout and reptilian teeth.  Its eyes were golden-yellow with black vertical slits for pupils. And a waddle of loose flesh hung at the base of its neck.

When it came out of the brush and into the small clearing, it began to circle Emily in study by cocking its head from one side to the next, the other joined its side. They were short and blunt with strong-looking limbs, the reptiles standing no taller than three feet in height. When they communicated, it sounded like the soft cooing of a bird.

Emily began to crawl backward and deeper into the bush; the reptiles matched her actions and kept pace, their heads turning as if to figure out this life force, to determine if it was predator or prey.

When Emily could go no further, when her back was up against a felled log, she waited.

The lizards looked at her, then at each other, the sound coming from the backs of their throats, a series of soft clicks and cooing, and ended when the larger of the two opened its jaws wide and issued a high-piercing scream. The loose flesh around its throat rose into a frill around its head, the fan of its skin then shaking and rattling in rage, the head looking as if it was haloed by an Elizabethan collar.

The other followed, the flesh around its throat expanding outward in a collar, shaking, then rattling. And then it spat a viscous, tarry substance from its mouth, the mud-like matter striking her eyes, blinding her, the saliva of the matter highly toxic. Her eyes began to burn, then the corneas, the irises and pupils burned with an indescribable intensity, which ultimately drove a scream deep from her.

Birds suddenly took flight as if her cry was like a gunshot.

And then it suddenly stopped.

Leaving only a deep . . . and horrible . . . silence.

#

Jon felt his scrotum crawl the moment he heard Emily cry out in pain that was surely absolute.

He kept the gun in one hand, the machete in the other.

He was fifty yards away and closing.

He read the script above the door.

YOUR FREEDOM IS BUT A FEW STEPS AWAY.

When he was thirty yards away, the massive metal doors began to swing wide. He was so close that he could see the rivets that held the thick panels in place.

If freedom could be detected by one of the five senses, Jon was sure that he could taste it.

Then the doors began to close, quickly.

“No!” he shouted. “You can’t do this! I earned this!”

He began to pick up his pace, running like the wind.

And that was when he felt the earth tremor beneath his feet.

When the doors slammed shut with a horrible shudder, he knew it was to keep something from getting out, something awful and deadly.

Another tremor—from a footfall of something large.

Jon stood his ground ten feet from the Gates of Freedom.

. . . Boom . . . Boom . . . Boom . . . Boom . . .

It was getting close.

Then the earth fell stable

Nothing moved.

Jon stood as still as a Grecian statue listening to nothing but his own heartbeat.

And then all Hell broke loose.

Thirty-foot tall trees divided and pared back, creating an avenue of approach for a Spinosaurus, a massive creature 55-feet in length from head to tail, nearly 25-feet tall, with the enlarged neural spines of the dorsal vertebrae supporting a skin sail quite similar to the dorsal fin of a sailfish
.‭
Its head was long and massive with spike-like teeth. Its arms, unlike the T-Rex, whose limbs are blunted and puny in comparison, were rather large and muscular, and sported claws that were as long and sharp as industrial meat hooks
.
‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

When it craned its head and roared, the air shook, the reverberations of its cry causing the surroundings to vibrate. Then it stepped forward, tail swinging to maintain balance, its head and bowling-ball sized eyes focusing on Jon, its nostrils flaring, taking in the man’s scent so that its olfactory senses could determine if Jon was something of a threat.

Another roar.

And Jon fell to his knees, lifted his firearm, and pulled the trigger in quick succession, the bullets pelting its thick hide but doing little to slow it down. Sobbing, he released the gun, the weapon now useless. The Spinosaurus leaned forward so that its head drew a shadow over Jon, and stretched its jaws wide, showing gossamer strands of saliva that connected the upper line of teeth to the lower.

Jon, feeling absolutely defeated, read the inscription over the door one last time.

YOUR FREEDOM IS BUT A FEW STEPS AWAY.

“It’s not fair,” he whispered. “It’s not.”

Hot, fetid breath pressed down on him, the stench of rancid and decayed meat.

Its teeth now loomed large, its jaw widening.

And then it closed in, the snap of its action so quick that Jon didn’t have time to register that he was already dead.

The Valley had won again.

 

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BOOK: Mega 4: Behemoth Island
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