Kris Norris

Once Upon A Time…Has Never Been This Hot.

DARKEST NIGHT


McKinley slapped his shoulder, drawing his attention. She snapped her fingers in front of his face. “You back from wherever you zoned out to?”

“Sorry. I was…just thinking.”

Her gaze fell to his groin before jerking back to his face. A hint of worry crossed her features as she motioned ahead of the aircraft. “I can’t raise the station on the radio. I’ve double checked everything on my end, but it all seems to be working.”

He frowned, looking toward the horizon. Though the setting sun cast long shadows across the snow-covered landscape, he could just make out the outline of the complex ahead. A series of dark spots against the pristine white. “Maybe they’re all outside or something. Securing the bunkers for the storm.”

“Maybe, but…” She tilted her head to the side, scanning the area on either side of the chopper as if keeping her options open. “I specifically told Josh to turn the helipad lights on. The fading light makes it hard to distinguish the ground from the sky. And I’d rather not plow this baby in, if it’s all the same to you.”

“Hey, I’m with you.” He tapped a finger against his chin. “Maybe give them another minute then try again. It’s not like they left or anything. They’ve got to be there.”

She nodded, but he could see her reservations in the tight press of her lips.

He reached for her hand, brushing his fingers over hers. “I know that look. What’s really going on here, McKinley?”

She frowned, a delectable pout gracing her lips. “Nothing’s going on, it’s just…” She huffed. “When I called the station earlier, Josh seemed…”

“He seemed what?”

“Reluctant.”

“I’ll need a bit more than that. Reluctant about what?”

“Having us come out today. He said they were in the middle of a sensitive experiment. Went so far as to suggest I wait the storm out back at Norman Wells and bring you up after it passed.”

“Can’t fault the guy for looking out for you. It actually sounds kind of sweet.”

She snorted, giving him a firm look. “It wasn’t that kind of concern. He seemed edgy.”

Beckett glanced at the complex again. Still too far away to see any details, but something about the collection of black shapes made the hairs on his neck prickle. “What’s your gut telling you?”

She glanced out the bubble then back to him. “Something’s…wrong.”

“Then I trust your instincts. There’s just one problem. We don’t really have anywhere else to go.”

“I know. Damn storm’s already moved through our alternate airport. And it’d be crazy to land out in the open with it bearing down on us.” She scanned the surrounding area again. “I’ll do a flyby. Hopefully it’s just a lack of sleep and sunshine making me paranoid.”

He nodded, wanting to laugh it off, but he wasn’t convinced he’d be able to come across at all convincing. There was just something about the way she’d described Josh’s behavior. He’d known the guy for nearly two years. And it didn’t sound like the man he’d spent more than a few months rooming with.

The air inside the cabin seemed colder as McKinley angled the helicopter off to the right, slowing their speed. She didn’t talk, just kept her attention concentrated on the compound as it slowly wavered into focus. Beckett squinted, trying to decipher a collection of dark objects lined up to one side.

He pointed at the station. “What the hell are those black specks off to the right?”

“Not sure. They kind of look like some sort of vehicle. But that doesn’t make sense.” She banked the machine over, giving him a slightly better view. “Are those snowcats?”

“They sure as hell look like cats. But that’s crazy. Who would bring a convoy of snowcats all the way up here? I’m pretty damn sure we’d know about this if the company had ordered it.”

“Bugger. I knew something didn’t feel right. I’ll do a low pass. See if we can get a better look before we commit to anything. But I swear—Josh is going to have a lot of explaining to do once I get my hands on the man.”

Beckett winked at her. “Not sure that’s really a threat but…”

He grunted when she hit him in the shoulder, some of the tension dissipating. He gave her a smile as she maneuvered the helicopter in line with the vehicles, losing enough altitude they’d be close enough to get a good look as they passed overhead. Movement by the machines caught his attention.

He cocked his head, trying to get a better bead on the object moving across the snow, but the damn shadows blurred the form into nothing more than a black blob. “Is that a person? What’s he holding?”

“I’m not…shit—”

Her voice cut off as the Plexiglas on the bubble cracked, a sharp metal ping sounding close to his head. McKinley reacted, shoving the cyclic forward, nearly throwing him against the front console as his stomach hit the back of his throat then plummeted into his boots. The straps from the belt cut into his shoulders and waist, knocking the air out of his lungs.

He braced his arm against the doorframe as another series of pings echoed outside. “What the hell?”

“They’re fucking shooting at us.” She banked hard one way, then the other, aiming straight for the ground as the chopper picked up speed. “Hold on. Let’s see if those bastards can matrix their asses out of the way when I’ve got her pegged at full throttle.”

Beckett fisted the frame as the helicopter all but dropped out the sky, losing what little altitude they’d had in a matter of seconds. The nauseating maneuvers blurred the surrounding landscape as it rushed past the windows, reducing the scenery into a wash of white and gray. More shots hit the fuselage as she bore down on the men holding what looked like assault rifles before they dove for cover, blasted by the downwash from the blades as she soared over top, missing them and the machines by a few feet. Vortices of snow followed the helicopter’s path as McKinley sailed across the surface, covering everything in the aircraft’s wake with a blast of whirling powder.

“God damn, McKinley. You’re going to fly this thing into the ground.”

“Not quite. But I bet my ass they’ll have a hard time pinpointing us when we disappear behind the bunkers.”

“The bunkers? Shit, they’re only fifteen feet high.”

“I know.”

She banked hard again, pelting the sides of the bunkers with a blast of icy snow as the helicopter skimmed across the surface, following the line of buildings before angling toward a copse of trees to the north. Beckett twisted in his seat, trying to look out the back when one of the snowcats appeared amidst the swirling flakes. Something moved along the back of the machine before a long arm pointed toward them.