21. Ether

“Did you get it?”

Mac doesn’t answer. Flakes of snow land on his face and stick to the fur lining of his parka. He lies still, just a few feet away, but doesn’t budge an inch. The wind whips across the tundra, and sheets of white ripple over the ground like waves on a stormy sea.

“Hey Mac. Mac, c’mon man. Did you kill it?”

He moves slowly, still looking to the distance, but finally pulls back the bolt on his rifle. That’s it, our last bullet. Our last hope too.

“Mac, I-”

“Yes.” He looks over at me with a face like leather, chapped from the wind and cold, tanned by the sun and sea spray. He doesn’t smile, which is just as well. A face like that reminds me of a broken in shoe: comfortable, but ready to burst at the seams if you stretch it too far.

“Yea, well you fucking better have, because-.”

“Go get it.”

I look him over, up and down. Power games, thinking he’s the big man just because he managed to blast a sleeping animal, but I’m just too hungry to play. I need that seal – I need its blubber, its meat, its flesh and bones. I need it all. I’ve got a cudgel in my hand and I’m over the small, snow barricade we dug a few days before, running towards Mac’s trophy.

Did he shout something? Could be the wind. Christ it’s cold, and howling so hard now I struggle to keep in a straight line, but I need this animal butchered and bagged before I get competition. So hungry, and I wont be the only one that feels this way. In a world where there’s so little land and most of that land is ice, you’re fighting mother nature just as much as you’re fighting your own. That logical voice in your head that keeps your human nature from taking over, from making you rip off your clothes, eat your supplies and howl at the moon ’til the frostbite gets you.

“Pssh, bastard,” I mumble. The kill’s good, right through the brain, I can use just about the whole animal from this. Mac’s not perfect, he’s quiet and smug, but he deserves a bit of credit. I’ll give him first pick of the meat.

“Hey,” I turn back, shouting, “Sniper Zaytsev! Get…”

Mac’s finally got a bit of colour in his cheeks. His mouth’s open, his eyes rolled back, his head hangs by its spine from the mouth of a polar bear. Then its gone, inside.

“Shit. Shit, shit, shit!”

It’s looking this way. Fuck Mac, our last bullet. Up on its back legs and the size of a yeti, all muscle and fur and big teeth still dripping with its first course.

The ether we use to keep the engines running, up in the cold. A long shot, and my hands are numb but my heart’s ready to explode as I fumble for it at my side. The bear’s back on all fours and running, grunting like a maniac. Got it. I pull out the cork with my teeth and throw it at the fucker.

Got to move fast. It’s pawing at its face. I pull a flare from my side and twist off the striker. Once. It’s got a roar on it, like thunder, like the heavens opening. Twice. Come on. Come on. It’s coming at me again, so close I can see the saliva foaming at its mouth. But it’s lit!

The bear snarls, roars, pink light reflected in deep black eyes. But it’s too late for it to stop. I throw the flare at it with arms that are limp and it’s up in flames. Blue and orange and hot, like a huge cotton ball it burns bright. It runs in circles in a panic, its deep roar now a squeal, then a choke, but I’ve got to see it through. With a roar of my own I run at the bear as the flames give way to black, singed skin and strike it on the jaw with my cudgel. It cries out, but I’m getting the power back. My arm smashes its skull until it’s just cracked, charred bone stuck in a brain and blood jelly.

“Holy Shit. Fuck, oh fuck.” I’m shaking and panting, but the beast’s blood is already starting to cool. Fingers of red slow down on the ice, congeal, crystalise. “I’m sorry Mac. I know…I know we never had much to say. But I don’t know where to go from here. Oh fuck Mac, I needed you.”

Forgive me Mac, because these tears aren’t for you. Alone and adrift on a flooded planet, with three corpses for friends. I think you’re the lucky one.