Looking at him for too long gave Kondraki a headache, like looking into a bright light, and when he turned away he couldn’t remember anything specific except the features he’d put words to. Bright blue hair. Eyes that were three different colours. A mouth that would have looked wrong on any human face, smiling. If Kondraki didn’t know better, he’d have guessed this man was the anomaly.
But that thing didn’t even pretend to be human.
“So,” Kondraki started, sounding as casual as he looked, leaning on the railing, “how long have your guys been around for?”
“What the fuck do you mean?”
“I don’t know who you’re working for but we both know why you’re here. It’s the same reason I am.”
“I have no idea what you’re getting on about. You’re an intruder, and I’m defending my property.”
If he hadn’t made the memetic changes that he had to his face, then Kondraki would be looking at his eyes if only for the maximum effect when he rolled them. As it was, he kept looking back to the rifle in the man’s hands that was aimed straight at him.
“You don’t look like you’re dressed for a weekend at your cabin. What is it that you’re supposed to be doing here, again? Hunting?”
“You have until the count of five to come down the stairs, and then vacate the premise.”
“I bet if I go outside then I wouldn’t find your car, either.”
“You’d have heard me pull up, if you were paying attention.”
“You won’t be parked in the driveway, though, will you?”
“You have three seconds.”
“Will you hear me out?”
“The thing’s downstairs and if you shine a light on it it’ll burn you. God knows what’ll happen if you point that thing at it.” He gestured at the rifle, and when he wasn’t shot Kondraki dared to take a glance at the man’s face. It was like that snake optical illusion that always looked like it was moving in your peripheral vision.
“If you’re going to shoot it – fine, be my guest,” Kondraki went on. “But if it sees you pointing that thing at it – man, you won’t have a good time.”
“You aren’t going to leave, are you?”
“Not unless you make me.”
“Sounds kinky – not my thing. What’s your plan?”
“I’m going to distract it; you’re going to shoot it.”
They turned no lights on as they crept down the stairs. From the radio in his ear he heard crackling, followed by a voice from one of the agents he was accompanying asking about the interference. Kondraki ignored it, not wanting to draw attention to the fact that he was still in contact with his people and because the interference meant they wouldn’t hear it anyway. They’d heard his conversation upstairs, though, and the tentative plan that this other guy insisted on laying out before they made their way to the basement. For better or worse they accepted it – killing this thing wouldn’t be ideal, but with only two surviving agents what choice did they have?
Kondraki edged down the stairs to the cellar, quietly, in the dark. He could hear it crawling around in the corner where they’d left it. Behind him he heard the other man crawling down the stairs, and then stopping. Kondraki descended further.
It was hard to see much of anything. His foot knocked against the body of the task force agent who had first shined his light on the anomaly’s eyes, and gingerly stepped over him; the other agent, Kondraki had been told, was somewhere against the wall. Apart from it and the bodies, the basement was almost entirely empty.
“Hey!” Kondraki shouted. “Are you still down here, you big, anomalous shit?”
Kondraki heard it breathe, felt the warm air on his face. He had a moment to duck, and heard the air slice above his head; he backed up as it reached for his leg. Its talons caught the hem of his pants and tried to drag him down, and for a second there it did manage to catch him off guard, but he recovered. Kondraki brought the heel of his other foot down on its ankle, thankfully catching the fleshy part of it; it cried before withdrawing.
He felt its talons, or its teeth, grab his side and push him, at the same time as he heard a gunshot. The creature towering over him screamed. As Kondraki hit the ground he had the clearest thought – it isn’t dead yeat – and if that memetic, anomalous bastard wanted a second chance at shooting it then Kondraki needed a distraction. He grabbed his camera, fumbled with it for a moment, pointed it and clicked.
The anomaly shrieked. In the light he saw it for only a moment, before the blinding pain from the burns rapidly appearing on his face and arms distracted him. He hated what he saw. It seemed to hate him, too, and let Kondraki know it with another swipe at his gut.
He heard another gunshot, and a moment later felt the weight of it collapse on him.
He was halfway up the stairs when he came to, being dragged by the man he’d momentarily teamed up with. Kondraki tried to push his feet under him, but his legs were jelly and he was breathless, leaving him with no choice but to let himself be hauled up. He hadn’t realised how much smaller this man was, but it felt really obvious now that he was practically draped over the blue haired English bastard’s shoulders; he had no idea how the man had the strength to carry him at all.
He was dropped against the wall at the top of the stairs. When he looked towards the cellar door he saw a trail of blood leading back to him.
“That isn’t good.”
“The fuck it isn’t.”
“Surprised you didn’t leave me,” Kondraki said. He tried to look up at the man, even knowing the pain it would cause him; he wasn’t surprised when he flinched away from the sight of him, although not before he’d managed to catch a glimpse of those fucking eyes.
So that’s how his eyes are three different colours.
“Stay awake. No—no, don’t look at me. Stop fighting me here, I’m not going to hurt you—Christ. Just hold still.”
“Don’t you have somewhere to be?”
“You’re talking like you wanted me to leave you down there.” Kondraki felt the other man open the front of his shirt, and he gasped as the air hit the wound on his stomach. He gave a hard wince, and heard the man exaggeratedly echo it. “There’s so much blood. You won’t last.”
“Hold on, hold on.”
Kondraki heard something unzip, and then felt something warm press against his side. He winced, harder, and felt as his hand was moved over the cloth. Kondraki cracked his eyes open, blinked, and looked back down to the injury. The man’s dark jacket was already starting to soak through, and Kondraki’s fingers were red.
“That’s not good.”
“No shit. Just hold on.”
“Who are you, again?”
“Come on, I’m dying here. You said I wouldn’t make it.”
Kondraki looked up, earning another stab through the front of his brain and a glimpse of the less injured team member that had been waiting upstairs while Kondraki had gone down to see who the fuck had broken into the house.
“I didn’t think you’d end up this fucked up,” Jax said as she leaned down over Kondraki to take a better look at his injuries. The burns were in a bad way, worse than she and Sanjita had been when they fled from the basement, but he was still alive. She’d managed to stop the bleeding, and had told Kondraki she was pretty sure he’d be okay. “I thought that’s why you’d go down with that – with him.”
“That can still hear you, darling,” an English accept called from across the room.
Kondraki looked over her shoulder, where Sanjita had the other man by the arm. He seemed unaffected by the mess that was his face, but Sanjita had a high memetic resistance – naturally, or so he said. Kondraki watched as Sanjita tugged the man’s arm, drawing his attention away from Kondraki and Jax.
“What’s his deal?” Kondraki didn’t miss the note of disgust on her voice.
“I don’t – fuck, be careful – I don’t know. He just seems to be like that. GOC, I’m betting. Look at what he’s packing.”
“Probably. I guess we’ll see.”
“We’re talking him in, then?”
“Well, yeah. Of course we are. For fucks’ sake, Konny – you’ll be lucky if you don’t bleed out, hold still.” But she didn’t stound too worried, only a little.
“I heard that already.”
“That I’d bleed out.” The painkillers were doing their part, but Kondraki still felt the needle pulling through his skin as she stitched up the wound, making him grimace.
“Why didn’t you wait for us?”
“I had a chance – you saw his face, or whatever he has there instead. I thought – I thought maybe it would help us get around how that things perceives us. Like if he fucks with its perception enough – maybe it could help.”
“I guess.” Jax sounded unimpressed.
“Hey, it worked.”
“We weren’t supposed to kill it.”
“So we know it’s dead?” Kondraki shrugged, and winced. “It was killing us, and you know there are reports of other things like it in some of the other cabins.”
Jax shook her head, but gave Kondraki an affectionate pat on the shoulder. He forced a smile, but even before he could say anything he was cut off by the sound of Sanjita screaming.
Jax turned, just in time to see the other agent bent over, clutching his head. The man looked over to Kondraki and nodded, adjusting his rifle; Kondraki thought he saw the man’s face clearly, and for a moment – but only for a moment – Kondraki thought he saw him smile. It was even more grotesque without the illusion to obscure it. But then the mirage returned, and everything he remembered about the man vanished, quickly replaced with pain.