“Discord,” he said.
“Discord?” I asked.
“A divide. A quarrel, argument, disagreement.”
“Is that what this is?”
“It’s what this could become.”
“You’re warning me, then?”
We stood over the cooling crash site. Jagged shards of alien metal were strewn in a wide fanning pattern over the winter-bound plain, radiating from a deep trench that had been dragged out of the soil as if by a titanic plow. Churned ridges of frozen earth and snow blended into frothy berms.
“You think anyone survived?” I asked.
“I’ve seen people walk away from worse airline crashes,” he said, “but this craft fell a lot further than 35,000 feet. Look at the depth of that divot, that’s a right proper crater, it is.” He spat, and the thick white gob of phlegm struck one of the pieces of metal and sizzled. I watched it bubble and disappear.
There was a creaking groan as a burning tree split asunder and fell in a shower of sparks, a pillowy thump as its burning head was extinguished in the snow. I scanned the plain for signs of life. Any wildlife for miles around would have been scared into hiding by the riotous noise of the crash, though it was possible that some would have been drawn back by the heat. I could see nothing. The wreckage itself was an unidentifiable jumble of shadows and destruction.
“How long do you reckon before we’re not the only ones out here?” he asked, scratching at his wiry beard.
“An hour. Maybe less if they dispatch a chopper from that training base or the hospital.”
He nodded. “It must’ve shown up on their radars. Help me put those pieces there on the sled,” he said, pointing at a pile of metal plates half-buried in a drift. They looked cool enough to touch, and sure enough they were. We worked in quiet, packing the sled as high as possible with flattened salvage before lashing it down with elastic cord.
“It’s lighter than it looks,” I said, hefting a wide panel that was covered in what looked like rivets.
He grunted and started to say something, then I saw his eyes travel the length of the berm. He plodded away from me, taking higher and higher steps as the drifts grew deeper. It was starting to snow, and the sky hung thick with clouds.
“We should go,” I called after him. He’d reached the berm and was digging at something buried there. From where I stood it looked like the top of a cylinder, like the ass end of a big mortar shell. That’s when the shadow reared up atop the berm, a black shape held in stark relief against the bright violet sky. It looked like a man, but one with four powerful arms, the lower pair clutching the top of the piled snow and earth like a great ape. I wanted to shout a warning, but my throat wouldn’t open. He was still intent on the object buried in the snow when the figure leapt down on him in a whirling violent flurry of dark limbs.
I stumbled backward and tripped over something, falling flat on my back and driving the air out of my lungs. I lay gasping and wheezing, staring up into the sky and blinking cold flakes out of my eyes. Muffled crunching filled my ears, the sounds of my parka against the packed snow beneath me and around my head. I could hear the distant crackle of burning fires and the low drone of the wind. No screams of pain, or terror. No calls for help.
As my breath came back, I found myself caught in a conundrum. Should I lay still? Was the thing that I saw a creature of wild temperament, like a bear? Or was it a more savage hunter, one with intelligence that could easily see through my ruse? Perhaps I was better off making a run for it, but a run though deep snow wouldn’t be a long one. A half mile of terrified thrashing only to end when the thing on the berm ran me down. I should just lie here, I thought, and wait for the inevitable helicopters. To hell with the scrap.
And so I laid there, and the snow fell.
2014.10.21 – 2023.06.12