I wish I could say I’ve never killed anyone. I wish I could say a lot of things about myself. Staring down at the man bleeding into the snow, he makes most of those things I wish I could say nothing but lies.
It’s thirty-three below according to the thermometer I wear around my neck. Not for decoration. It’s important we know how cold it is so we can calculate time of exposure and death. Our frail human bodies don’t like to be cold for very long. That’s the main reason humans blamed the aliens. They can handle extreme temperatures better than we can, therefore the whole thing must have been premeditated on their part. A way to destroy us without the effort of war.
If that had been their plan, which I don’t believe, then it backfired because their population was hit harder than the human one after it happened. It wasn’t the weather which dwindled the alien numbers, though. No, it was us humans. Now, ten years later, some humans are forced to kill our own kind to save the aliens who are left. I am one of them.
The two aliens in front of me huddled together for warmth are proof of this. I just killed their captor. The two have obviously been out in the open exposed to the weather for a while. Days, maybe a week, considering how blue their lips are and their hollow eyes. The titanium handcuffs around their wrists were most likely used to attach them to a tree while the dead man at my feet slept in a tent and kept as warm as he could when the temperatures dipped to extremely dangerous levels at night. I have an idea where he was taking them and a shudder runs through me. I do not want to know what other awful things he had in mind for these aliens, but considering how pretty the girl is, my mind can’t help but fill in some of the blanks.
“Come on, let’s get you inside,” I shout over the wind.
The two of them take several steps backwards, putting more distance between us. “We’re not going anywhere with you,” the guy informs me through chattering teeth. Yeah, he’s in a position to argue. My guess is he’s nearly frozen to the bone. Even in the dark, I can tell how chapped his skin is. Aliens may survive longer in the cold, but they will eventually succumb to it just like we humans do.
Shrugging, I turn back to the trail leading home. Over my shoulder, I call, “Then you’ll freeze to death.” I begin walking. They will follow me. I saw it in the guy’s eyes.
“How do we know you aren’t going to kill us, too?” the girl shouts after me.
I scowl at her though she can’t see it. I’m wearing a ski mask to help stave off frostbite of the nose. “Because I would have already, if I was so inclined. Now move it. My body can’t handle the cold like yours can.”
“You know what we are?” the guy asks, dragging the girl with him as he slowly moves closer to me. His sister, probably. She’s too young to be his girlfriend.
“Hunters don’t handcuff humans.” The rest of their stupid questions need to wait. I’m freezing and so are they, and shouting into the night is sure to draw unwanted attention. Getting them to warmth and safety is my top priority right now. Turning back to them, I call over the rising wind, “Look, I’ll answer your questions when we’re safe. Right now, I need you to shut up and follow me.” The guy stares at me long and hard, his hazel green eyes as probing as his mind. I feel his attempt to read my mind as a gentle vibration against the edges of my consciousness. Shaking my head, I tell him, “It doesn’t work on me.” The frustration that fills his expression is palpable, and I give him a smug grin before turning back around. Which, of course, he can’t see because of the ski mask. They follow me the rest of the way in silence.
I was worried the gunshot would draw scavengers or more hunters, but we don’t run into anyone else as we trudge through the snow. The silencer I fashioned from an old pvc pipe and cardboard must have helped. Thank god. The guy back there makes number four. I don’t want to add to my kill list anymore tonight. Ever, actually, but I won’t get my hopes up. I’ve seen what some hunters do to aliens before they finally kill them, and I will do whatever it takes to stop them. My own tarnished soul be damned. Truth be told, I can’t even drudge up a modicum of guilt over what I just did. Hunters are monsters and shooting them is a mercy killing compared to the torture they inflict. I admit, sometimes I worry about my lack of remorse, but not enough to let it keep me from doing my job.
It takes ten minutes to get back to where I call home. Longer than is protocol. Because of the chance of exposure, we are supposed to be able to make it back to base in half that time. I’m not sure what made me stray so far tonight. I just had a feeling I would find something out here. Turns out I found two somethings.
Pushing through a final blanket of tree limbs, we finally reach Sanctuary. It doesn’t look like much from the outside. Glancing over my shoulder at the aliens, I see the hope fizzle in their eyes as they take in the small cement structure surrounded by a fifteen-foot fence topped in barbed wire climbing out of the snow. With a resigned sigh, the male alien reaches a hand out, ready to climb.
Before his hand can touch the fence, I knock him to the ground with a ram of my shoulder. “Don’t touch that!” I cry, landing hard on top of him. His sister watches wide eyed before her instinct to protect her big brother kicks in. She begins pounding on me with her fists. I hate to do it, I really do. But, I don’t want to be pummeled by a ten-year-old, either. Holding back as much as possible, but still using enough force to propel her backwards, I kick her in the thigh. Her arms windmill as she tries to keep her balance, but inevitably, gravity wins. She lands on her butt in the snow with a yelp. I scurry off the male alien and hurry to explain, “The fence is electrified. You could have been killed.”
Picking himself up and brushing snow from his pants, he scowls at me as he offers a hand to the girl to help her up. “You could have mentioned that before we got to it. How are we supposed to get to the other side, then?” Glancing around, he adds, “Or do you camp out here somewhere?” The last ray of hope extinguishes in his eyes as he asks this.
Shaking my head in annoyance, I reply, “No, I do not camp out here.” Reaching into my pocket, I pull out a scanning device. Aiming it at the aliens, I do a quick scan for weapons. When I am satisfied they have none, I tap the com in my ear. “Juniper 1 to base, I’m coming in with two friendlies.” I glance at the aliens to make sure they’re not standing too close when the door opens. I watch in amusement as their eyes widen, and they stumble back a few steps.
A small section of the ground in front of us rises. A two-foot-thick steel door, only wide enough for one person to fit through, exposes a narrow staircase, just visible in the moonlight. I motion for the aliens to go ahead of me. “Come on, get in. I’m freezing my butt off.” Neither of them budges. I can hardly blame them as they have no idea where it leads. For all they know, I could be sending them to a dark dungeon to die. Still, I did save their lives a few minutes ago. A little trust would be appreciated. Annoyed, I raise my rifle and point it in their general direction. “Don’t make me shoot you.”
I don’t really sound like I mean it, because I don’t. I would leave them out in the cold before I shot them. But, the lukewarm threat is enough to get them moving. Taking his sister’s hand, the alien takes a tentative step forward. He puts a foot on the first step, half-expecting it to fall out from under him. When it doesn’t, he moves on to the next step.
“I’m aging here,” I snark. “They’re steps. I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept.”
He glares at me over his shoulder. “It’s dark down there. Don’t you have light?”
I shake my head. “Not yet.” Crowding them so they are forced to move down a few more steps, I explain, “Not until the door closes.” Taking the hint, they make their way farther down into the black stairwell, using the walls to steady themselves in the dark. When my head finally clears ground level, I press my com again. “Juniper 1 to base, secure.” Immediately, the door begins to close over my head. A fine dusting of snow coats us before the door finally snaps into place. With the last of the moonlight in the final seconds before it closes completely, I see the young alien clutch her brother’s arm and cling to him before we are briefly encased in darkness.