Chapter 1—Safe and Warm?
He could hear the wind outside and could almost feel the thumping sounds that the wind made as it smacked against the building. The sensation bothered him, and worse, it was waking him up. MacReady had been hoping, with enough effort, he could keep his system shut down and never wake up. It was his body that had other ideas; his blue eyes started reacting to a light that was way too bright for his taste—so bright that he slipped out of his dream world and back to reality with a thud. Am I at a hospital? He shifted his body weight carefully, eyes still half closed, only stopping his movements when he felt a pain up his right side that was punctuated by a sick squeak beneath him. Regulation cot. So I am not in a hospital. Where the hell am I? Taking a chance, he opened his eyes and saw he was in a small room that looked nearly identical to the one he had played Chess Wizard in. A small woman was sitting next to him on his left. Maybe I am still dreaming; since when did pretty women ever go up to Antarctica? "Hell, how long was I out of it?" He sounded raspy, indifferent.
"About two days. You needed the sleep though. You have a few broken ribs, and you were suffering from hypothermia when we found you." She patted him reassuringly on the shoulder, a small gesture on anyone's part but for her it was a big deal. To an extent, she had always been more comfortable with fossils than with other people. Having to be up close and personal with another human being was not something that she was overly fond of. She could have found herself getting close to Carter if the obvious hadn't happened, but that was an impossibility now.
MacReady found the touch an odd contrast to her tone of voice. She sounded cold, a match for the temperature in the room. Methodical. "You're a scientist." He said it casually, more of a statement of fact than an accusation.
He shrugged his shoulders. "Same thing. So, you work here? How did you even know to look for me?"
"I am, was, a PhD candidate from Columbia University. One of my specialties is cold weather digs," she paused, started fidgeting with her hands, knowing that he wouldn't like what she was about to say, that no normal and sane man would, "I was brought over to the Norwegian camp to get something out of the ice."
MacReady quickly put two and two together. "So, you let the damn thing out." He shook his head side to side, signaling his displeasure. "How are you gonna live with that?"
The venom in his voice hurt more than a slap could have. MacReady didn't seem a violent man, but still she braced herself, waited for him to react physically. If he were suffering from shell shock, he could be capable of anything. God knows that she was.
He noticed the fear on her face. "I am not going to hurt you," he sighed, "you are one messed up person."
"I am not going to disagree with you there, although I could say the same to you."
She bit her lip, still trying her damndest to do nothing other than look stoic. She knew that she was failing miserably. "I didn't let it out," she said defensively. "In fact, I told my 'superior' that we should wait; that we needed sterile conditions to do proper experiments. He didn't listen and it ended up costing all of us."
MacReady regretted his attitude when he saw her chin tremble. He took her hand, held it, unsure of himself. He was an introvert, a loner. He didn't go out of his way to make human contact with anyone and he liked it that way. "What took you guys so long though? That thing almost bit us all on the ass."
"The weather." She pulled her hand from his grasp and pointed towards the small window to the right of MacReady's cot for unneeded emphasis. "You know how bad it was. It took me three days to convince the Russians that I wasn't out of my gourd. Once we were able to get to what was left of Carter and—"
"He was a pilot like you, worked at the Norwegian camp. It ended up being the two of us fighting the thing at the original crash site. I made it out, Carter didn't."
"You had to kill him," his voice softened to a whisper.
She nodded her head in the affirmative. "He was infected. I wasn't sure at first until I noticed that his earring was gone."
"Huh? What are you talking about?"
"It can't duplicate inanimate material," she opened her mouth, giving him a good view of her teeth, when he gave her a nod she continued speaking. "If you have earrings or fillings it spits them out."
So Childs was human after all, he thought to himself. MacReady was impressed with this girl. It was nothing short of clever her coming up on the fly with a much easier and less painful test than the one he had come up with.
"Anyways," she continued, "by the time we got to Carter and grabbed some samples—"
MacReady bolted up in bed, wishing that he hadn't, as he started to hiss at the unwanted exertion being placed on his body. Hands clenched tightly into fists, back arched forward and shoulders hunched over he did his best in staying composed. It wasn't easy for him, starbursts of pain clouded his eyes as a dry taste welled up in his mouth. His visitor hadn't been exaggerating about the broken ribs. "Samples?" He croaked out. "Destroy them. All of them."
"I did it myself. They are all gone. I only agreed to their collection when the Russians told me that was their condition for letting me, and any survivors we found at #31 a place to stay."
That answer seemed to appease MacReady just enough that he let her help him lay back down on the cot and pull the covers back up over his chest. Either that or he had tired himself out getting up and just didn't have the energy to fight with her. She thought the latter was more likely, as his body started to relax, his breathing settling into a normal rhythm, sleep taking him again. She was tired herself, but couldn't sleep. She was alright only as long as she wasn't alone and didn't close her eyes. At least now she was with someone who understood what had happened to her and had survived it too. That was an intangible gift and one that made her feel safe.