Frozen Assets, Season One, Episode One.
The sudden echo of the shrill ring of the phone in this small space is the Achilles’ heel in an otherwise overachieving sandman. I rolled over and grabbed the Iphone from the nightstand, pressing the receive button before I spoke.
“Who the hell is this?”
“The only other person on Earth who knows you’re at this line you imbecile.” Daniel. The agitation rang clear in his thick South African accent even through the static of the long distance line.
“Brother!” I responded in a sing-song fashion. “What prompts the occasion?”
“You haven’t been answering at the store,” Came Daniel’s reply, in a tone that suggested he was not in the best of moods for small talk. “As it is 9:05 AM where you are, I can only pray that the number of other times you failed to answer that phone were due to a sudden flurry of customers that kept your attention. Would my prayers be answered?”
With a loud yawn I sat up in the bed. I knew making Daniel wait for a response would only irritate him more, which was part of the fun of it. He also wouldn’t hesitate to fly down here and tear me a new one if I gave him a reason to.
“Brother,” I said, keeping the tone light. I could almost hear the grip on his receiver tightening. “There’s no one in the store right now. There was nobody in the store yesterday, or the day before, or the week, or the month, or the last five years.
“Scratch that. We had one customer in Two-Thousand, Five but she asked for a refund twenty-minutes later because the heating unit in her research base crapped out on them. Since then it’s been pretty dead.”
“How appropriate, considering how useful dead things usually are.” Daniel paused to let the threat sink in. Mostly I just yawned, which irritated him more. “Do you not understand? I will kill you if you do not do as I say!”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it. Look, I gotta go to work.” I said, hitting the end button as I fell back on the bed.
Four hundred years ago a fortress burned down as an angry militia of Danes lay siege to my home. Women screamed as they were dragged from their rooms and into the streets while their children looked on in terror and the husbands tried desperately to fight the invaders.
It wasn’t until a kid ran into my room, screaming out for his cat that I woke up, ready to throttle the whelp for aggravating one of the nastiest hangovers I had ever experienced. Instead I wound up killing the thug that barged in, searching for said whelp and wound up inadvertently saving the brat.
The point is that I can sleep through anything. That’s doubly so in the middle of the next door neighbor to the ass end of nowhere, where the tiniest hot blooded animal in existence can’t fart within fifty miles of me and escape my notice.
A few moments later, the high pitched whine of Roland Gift pulled me back from the gates of dreamland. Once I was satisfied that a five foot tall black 80’s singer had not invaded my home, I looked at the Iphone, which was still in my hand. The little green phone icon danced beneath a picture of the French poodle that served to remind me why this particular caller “drives me crazy”.
“Alavda!” I said, in the same falsely cheerful voice I reserved for Daniel. “To what do I owe the-“
“My server is down!” Alavada shouted without as much as a hello. “I have to send my reports to the university and the Internet just crashed mid-download.”
If her reports had contained anything other than videos of penguins and snow, the Defcon 5 level of urgency in her voice might have been warranted. As is the only danger presented to either of us should the aspiring biologist be unable to send her video of Mr. Fumfkins, the young emperor penguin who was fighting for a place in the clan in spite of losing his mum, was the health of my bank account.
“Okay, I’ll check it out. Call you in a bit.”
I hit end before Alavada could say anything else. No doubt I’d get an earful when I saw her again and I didn’t need a preview. I pulled on a pair of wind pants and rabbit boots. (Yeah, I know they’re called bunny boots, but damned if I’m suffering the indignity of referring to any footwear that covers my feet as a “bunny”.) A long sleeved shirt was more than enough for my tastes and actually, the pants and the boots were an annoyance too. But I couldn’t draw unwanted attention in this part of the world, so I grudgingly pulled on the parka as well as the goggles and the scarf.
I went into the larger room that served as my living room and kitchen. Like the bedroom, the Plexiglas walls, reinforced with a titanium frame were bare and clear, revealing nothing but the ice and rock of the mountain that wrapped around the little bunker like a protective scarf. A sheet of steel over the enclosure protected the house from cave-ins and the floor was little more than a strip of linoleum that wouldn’t protect the average barefoot visitor from frostbite. Solar power provided what little bit of electricity I needed to charge my phone and keep my food edible, so there was no major power source to signal satellites to my location.
I reached into the army issue locker and grabbed a pouch of animal blood from one of the racks. The cold air kept it preserved for a time and a few minutes in the pocket on the inner lining of my parka would warm it up enough to be drinkable. I checked to be sure my phone was in my pocket as well and pulled on the goggles.
A wall of sunlight reflected by the miles of white snow slammed into my body like an invisible and intangible jetliner. Though I instinctively put up my hand I was grateful for the goggles, which annoying as they were to wear, were also functional as they filtered the sun’s intensity.
I made sure the door to my house was locked, wondering as I did, who would think to climb this high up even if they did know where I lived. The steel door was pressure locked and could only be open by spinning the lever. And if you did manage to break in, (assuming you survived both the climb up and my finding you to pound you into leopard seal chow) you would likely only find a locker full of my food, my bed and night stand.
My descent was quick as always, but reasonably cautious. I jumped when I knew it was safe and climbed when it wasn’t. The mountain is old and times change. With the climate shifts, even an outcropping that was perfectly stable on the way up could easily be an issue on the way down.
At the bottom I scanned the area. My little mountain was about two hundred miles from Dumont station, where Alavada was currently working herself into a sweat. I activated the extended tracking range app on my iPhone to see if there was anyone that I couldn’t pick up with my natural abilities. There was a camp set up and a few heat signatures scattered about, but I could avoid them easily.
Antarctica greeted me the way many lovers have done in the past; Cold and screaming as I ran clear across the landscape at my normal rate of speed. The snow and rock crunched beneath my boots like a tempo to the wind.
A deep crevice stretched out ahead of me, crying out and daring me to leap across it. I could have avoided it. But hey…Antarctica is mouthing off to me. You don’t do that.
I jumped, throwing my hands out as a tapestry of ice stretched out below me. For a few minutes time seemed to slow down and it felt as though I were truly flying. Missing the ledge by three feet killed the illusion and I had to slam my fists into the ice to break my fall. I couldn’t find an even ledge to jump from and the gloves made it hard to grip the rock.
“Let’s call this half a point.” I said when I reached level ground.
Twenty minutes later I could see the bunker that housed equipment where I maintained the Internet connection for this region of the continent. A few feet away was the shed where I kept the snow cat and two other vehicles modified for the terrain. Something knocked the tower over, making the bunker look like a cartoon ostrich with its head stuck in the ground.
Knowing the wind has never been strong enough to do that I jumped on top of the bunker and examined the base of the tower, satisfied that my suspicions were correct. The metal was bent and wiring was exposed, as if someone had taken an axe to it and just didn’t want to stop.
Well, I thought. Mr. Fumfkins isn’t making his way to Youtube anytime soon.
It took me the better part of the day to repair the damage. Since I didn’t expect any visitors I shrugged off the coat and the gloves and applied a layer of Vamp-Ex to my exposed skin before going to work.
When the damaged wire was replaced and reinforced with insulating cable I brought out the snow cat. I’m stronger than humans, but a thirty-foot tower is where I draw the line. I’d need an army of vampires to lift that thing and at the moment the last thing I needed was an army of vampires. Fortunately this snow cat and the ones at the other towers were equipped for such an emergency.
Three hours of tugging, squealing and reinforcing the base of the tower so it wouldn’t simply fall back on me and daylight was nearly gone. A few clouds drifted over the horizon, glistening in the pinkish hue of the sun.
With the tower in place and reinforced I put the snow cat back in the shed and plugged it into the engine block heater. Inside the bunker I drained the pouch of blood as I checked the monitors to be sure that the signal was back up and running.
“You should be able to send your penguin videos now,” I told Alavada when I called her.
“Why did it take you so long?” Alavada practically shouted. “We have fallen behind in our work. There is a new group of students moving in tomorrow and now we will be up all night making sure the labs receive our data.”
I pretended to flip Alavada off; thankful she couldn’t see inside the bunker.
“I don’t know what to tell you sweetie,” I said. “You’re lucky I could get it done at all what with the weather out here. It’s not exactly easy keeping the-“
“That is what the university pays you for!”
“Hey, hey, stop yelling at me. Versailles is paying me to provide you Internet access so you can keep in touch with your families. But they’re expecting you to work through any difficulties you come across. That’s why they sent you down here, so you can learn to deal with the harshness of reality.”
Alavada cursed. If I spoke any French I might have understood it. Hell, I’ve probably been called it numerous times.
“I will be reporting your awful behavior to my professor,” she said, smugly. “You had better hope the Americans don’t get word of this or you will their business too.”
I hit the end button before laughing. I only hoped the other students sharing the station with her had more sense. If not, Versailles University was going to have a lot to answer for when one of their kids returned in the form of a meat Popsicle.
When I finished my blood, I powered down the nonessential systems. A generator kept the bunker warm and kept the equipment from freezing. Outside the daylight was fading. I briefly considered driving down to the “store” and seeing if I had any customers.
Pfft, I thought. If it weren’t for military personnel that love the lowest bidder I wouldn’t see a cent out of this place.
Before I got very far I caught a whiff of something warm. I lifted the goggles and looked around. The darkening landscape became brighter and more visible as my adrenaline surged.
The smell was definitely blood…but not animal, or human and definitely close by. I shed my coat and gloves once more, in anticipation for a fight. The wait wasn’t long.
Ahhhh!” Something leapt from on top of the bunker.
I jumped out of the way as a blur of movement struck the ground. He quickly righted himself into a low crouch and glared up at me.
It was a kid…or another vampire at least. His metamorphosis couldn’t have been very long ago, not that I was the reigning expert on whelps and their growth rates. He was dressed in a green cargo pants and he wore a tight black shirt over his round belly. Certainly not the type the Twilight girls would fall for. His curly red hair and face that hadn’t quite fleshed out into manhood would have made him charming, if not for the signs of sun damage on his forehead, cheeks and neck. His eyes, which by some miracle were the only thing on his face not to show signs of damage, had an angry, feral look. He hissed as he extended his fangs.
“Oh, you’ll want to be putting those back,” I warned him.
He didn’t listen. The boy leapt and I stepped aside, grabbing him and slamming him into the snow. He was on his feet quickly and he swiped at me with his claws, which were deliberately grown out and sharpened.
I blocked his attacks trying to gage the kid’s real strength. He had some good moves. For every punch I ducked, he had a kick or a countermove right behind it. I faked a blow to his head to see what he’d do and he simply grabbed my wrist and pushed it out of the way. He spun around, bringing his elbow up, trying to smash it into my face. I ducked and delivered an uppercut that sent him sprawling.
Thinking quickly I bolted for the shed. He leapt over me and tried to stop me.
“Who are you?” I asked. “Did Danny send you?”
The boy didn’t answer as he lunged. I grabbed him by the waist and carried him into the shed, slamming him through the door and reaching for the cable from the snow cat. Before he could get back up I smashed my fist into his jaw, hearing the crunch of his bone before he fell back.
As I wrapped him up in the cable cord, careful to immobilize his arms and legs, he whimpered. I looked at his face, not believing it at first, but he was actually whimpering.
The feral, violent creature I had knocked out was a simpering little worm now that he was tied up. I hated knocking some kid around, but I couldn’t help but laugh then. It probably killed any hope the kid had of getting my sympathy.
“You’ll be all right here for the night,” I said, tauntingly. I gently traced the lining of his jawbone. “A few pints of blood and this will heal just fine, which is going to be to your advantage if you want to make it to live a long and healthy life.”
“Hmm,” he shook his head and tried to speak. He winced in pain and started to cry.
“You might want to stop that,” I suggested, lifting the boy up and placing him in the cab of the snow cat. It wouldn’t be very comfortable in his position all night, but he should have thought of that sooner. “Tears will just freeze and cause more skin damage. Hey, didn’t your parents tell you about vamp-ex? Ah well, not much point now is there.”
I slammed the cab of the snow cat shut and went back outside. Once the door to the shed was secure I pulled out the iPhone and dialed my brother. Voicemail.
“All right you little pussbag,” I said after the tone rang. “You’ve got twelve hours to call me back and let me know that it wasn’t you who tried to have me killed. And if you don’t call back I’m going to grab the next plane to J’Berg and show you what I do to punks who send kids to do their dirty work.”