In … The Beast Within: Pt. V
Kitimat, British Columbia
There was a knot in James Hudson’s throat. It had been there all morning. He and Heather MacNeil had spent the best part of a week at the cabin, trying to nurse Logan’s mind back to health, whilst their real lives at Can-Am Corporation had been falling apart. Missing out on crucial government funding for Hudson’s Guardian project had thrown the entire future of the Kitimat division of Can-Am into question. The two-dozen strong team James had assembled had been relying on winning the bid to convince their boss of the Guardian project’s worth. Conveniently for them, Logan’s unexpected arrival in their lives had distracted them from the fallout of their failure. Today that distraction came to an end.
From the passenger seat of Hudson’s truck, Heather shot James a concerned look. “Nervous?”
“Something like that.”
“It’s going to be fine,” MacNeil said with a reassuring smile. “We’re going to walk in there with our heads up. You don’t have anything to be ashamed of, James. Even if Jaxon decides to pull the plug, what we’ve achieved here with Guardian … it was worth it.”
James lifted a hand from the wheel at gnawed at his thumb anxiously. “Tell that to the lab full of people about to learn they’re out of a job.”
Heather wanted to tell him that he was wrong but she couldn’t. She hadn’t stopped to think about what Jaxon walking away from the project might mean for anyone but themselves. Her fierce loyalty to James, and her desire to see his brilliance acknowledged by the world, had blinded her to the fact that dozens of families were going to be caught in the crossfire between James and her former employer Jerome Jaxon.
As James turned the truck up the long gravel path that lead to the laboratory, Heather’s slight nose wrinkled. Though the fir trees obscured the approach to the building itself, there was something in skyless cloud above them that had caught her attention. Thick, black smog was billowing all around.
“What is that?” MacNeil asked as she squinted at the dark substance filling the sky above them. “Is that smoke?”
Hudson grimaced slightly as a sense of dread set in. He drove them further up the path gently despite every one of his senses telling him to turn back. As they drew closer to the lab, the scale of the carnage became clearer to them. Sections of the building were on fire, windows had been broken, and the security trucks parked outside had been laid was to. Most concerning of all was the deathly silence.
“What the hell happened here?”
Once again, Hudson felt his body compel him to turn back but he suppressed the feeling as best he could and opened the door to his truck. From behind it he surveilled what remained of the laboratory that had served as the couple's home away from home for the past three years.
Heather slid out from her side of the truck and confirmed his suspicions. “There’s someone over there, James. I think they might be dead.”
A pained sigh escaped from James’ chest. He followed Heather’s hand with his eye and could just about make out the body in the distance. It was one of the security officer’s employed on site. He'd died trying to protect their colleagues from whatever had done this. Suddenly, a pang of responsibility ran over Hudson and he made his way towards the back of the truck. He threw open a blanket and pulled his shotgun out.
“What are you doing?” Heather called out to him in half-whisper, half-shout. “We need to get out of here.”
Hudson shook his head and pointed towards the burning building. “What about the others? We can’t just leave them.”
A look of despair flashed across Heather’s face. She scampered around towards Hudson and placed her cold hands on his shoulders. Her voice was calm but there was a desperation to her piercing blue eyes.
“Would you please just listen to me this one time, James? Whatever did this to them … brave as you are, you’re not going to be able to put it down with that shotgun of yours. All you’re going to do is get both of us killed. If there are people still alive in there, the best way to help them is to get to safety and call the authorities.”
“Alright,” James agreed with a nod that seemed to acknowledge his shame at not being able to do more. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Hudson was about to throw the shotgun back in the pick-up when a loud boom rocked the building in front of them. Broken glass shot out from inside it, raining down on James and Heather like hail. Out of the flames stepped a hulking, grey-skinned figure. He stood in the mouth of a newly-created hole in the side of the building and looked down at the pair of them. A chilling smile appeared on his face and he used his tentacles to propel himself down onto the ground.
“Ah, perhaps you can be more helpful than your comrades.”
James flicked the safety off of his shotgun and gestured to Heather to get behind him. She did so without argument. The grey-skinned man seemed unperturbed by Hudson’s shotgun, which was now trained on him, and began walking towards them slowly.
“I don’t know what’s going on here, but … we want no part in it, do you understand me? Let us walk away from here and we won’t tell a soul what we’ve seen. You have my word.”
“It is not your word I want," The Russian smiled. "It is Weapon X. I know your so-called Can-Am Corporation had a hand in his creation. Now you are hiding him. Give him to me and a quick and painless death will be yours. Stand in my way ... and you will die in agony.”
The grey-skinned man came to a stop five metres in front of Heather and James. His tentacles were slithering around like snakes in need of feeding. It was clear from the smile on his face that he meant it. They were dead the second he had laid eyes on them. If the choice was death now or death later, Hudson thought as he peered down the barrel of the shotgun, he intended to die much later.
With a bang, James sent the Russian flying backwards. The cluster of bullets tore through his shoulder and splattered the snowy path with a sickly-looking grey fluid. There was another bang, though this time Hudson only managed to clip the floored grey-skinned man before fleeing.
The Russian dipped his fingers into the already-healing wound in his shoulder and tasted the fluid on his fingers. “Tsk, so be it.”
In the commotion, Heather had found herself in the driver’s seat. James climbed into the other side of the truck and hung from the passenger’s side door with the Russian firmly in the sights of his shotgun. He had risen to his feet, tentacles at the ready, and was already preparing to give chase. Hudson sent another barrage of fire towards him and reached over and placed the pickup in reverse.
MacNeil slammed her foot down and the truck began to pull away from the charging Russian. James knocked open the glove compartment in front of him and grabbed as many shells as he could. He clumsily reloaded and sent another blast towards their pursuer. This time it tagged the grey man in the thigh but only managed to slow him down. Heather took her chance, spinning the truck around, and taking off with speed.
James slid back into his seat and slammed his door shut with. He glanced over his shoulder and grimaced as he noticed the wound on their attacker’s thigh had gone – and he was gaining on them. He used the butt of it to smash through the glass and began to climb through it.
“What are you doing?”
“What does it look like?” Hudson smiled and planted a firm kiss on Heather’s lips. “I’m making sure we get out of here in one piece.”
Once through James threw the blanket he’d kept the shotgun in around his left forearm, knelt down, and rested the barrel of the gun carefully on top of it. The Russian was right in the centre of his sights. He pulled the trigger and gasped in amazement as the grey-skinned man seemed to deflect the pellets with his tentacles. Whoever the man was, he was quicker than anything James had ever seen.
“Yes, I see it in your eyes,” the Russian called out to Hudson. “You know where Weapon X is, don’t you? You are the ones that have hidden him. One way or another, you will lead me to my prey, and once I have killed you and your woman, I will break him too.”
A tentacle came tearing towards the truck and seemed to miss James by inches. He kept his nerve, took aim once more, and this time took great care to aim for centre mass. There would be no missing the Russian this time. He couldn’t afford to.
Hudson grinned as the bullets shredded his thighs and sent him skidding into the trees. “Buddy, you talk too much.”
After ten minutes with no sign of the Russian, James slid back into the front of the truck. He rested the shotgun against the dashboard and took a deep breath in. He reached one of his shaking hands over and placed it on Heather’s thigh.
“Did we lose him?” MacNeil asked as they turned the corner towards the approach to the cabin. “Is … is he dead?”
“I think so,” Hudson said with a nod. “We need to get out of here. I’m going to find Logan. Grab whatever you need from the cabin and wait by the truck. If you hear that thing coming or see something that doesn’t look right, you get in and start driving.”
As James tried to climb out of the truck, Heather’s hand reached across and grabbed him by the arm. “I won’t leave you.”
“You won’t have to,” Hudson smiled. “I’ll be back before you know it, okay? Just grab your things, and try to leave the Louboutins.”
James planted another kiss on Heather’s lips and slid out onto the snow-covered grass. He surveilled the horizon, scanning the banks of the lake, in search of the mutant that had only yesterday warned they were being watched. He had been proved right. Hudson suspected what had happened at Can-Am had something to do with Logan. Was he the Weapon X that the Russian was hunting? There wasn’t enough time to ask those questions. He needed to find Logan and get out.
“Logan!” James called as he wandered away from the cabin. “Logan! Where are you? There’s trouble ... we need to get out of here.”
There was stirring from a set of thick fir trees in front of James. Through them stepped an elk that seemed oblivious to Hudson’s presence. It glanced around calmly for a few seconds, before laying eyes on James. If the elk was troubled, it showed no signs of it. James stood perfectly still as it approached him. It was inches from him with its head bowed, taking great care to avoid clipping Hudson with its antlers, when James felt the urge to touch it. His hand reached and rested on its head gently and in that moment Hudson felt all his worries melt away.
Then the sound of a twig cracking underfoot sent the elk sprinting away and the weight of someone’s gaze fell on Hudson. “Logan?”
“I am afraid not.”
Once again James was confronted by the hulking grey figure that had slaughtered his Can-Am colleagues. This time he was without his shotgun. It was clear from the look on Hudson’s face that he knew there was no escaping. He smiled defiantly and pulled his thick coat from his shoulders, throwing it onto the ground by way of a challenge. The Russian nodded by way of acceptance of Hudson’s challenge and raised his tentacles in preparation.
From down the hill, a piercing scream left Heather MacNeil’s lungs that echoed through the hills. “Run, James!”
Hudson managed to dodge one of the Russian’s tentacles and land a punch square on his chin. Several of his bones broke on contact. The grey-skinned Russian grinned, impressed by the punch, and sent back one of his own. Teeth went flying across the ground and the Canadian fell to his knees with blood seeping down his chin. He spat a mouthful of it out at the Russian’s feet and sprung into action again. This time an uppercut caught with ease. There was a sickening snap as the Russian broke his arm and wrapped a tentacle around Hudson’s neck.
A cold laugh echoed through the fir trees. “You should have cooperated when you had the chance, tovarisch.”
Heather’s screams intensified as a tentacle tore through James’ chest. His hand wrapped around it in vain as he attempted to pull himself free from it but the tentacle around his neck restricted viciously. Hudson fell to his knees again and his face began to redden as the life slipped away from him. In the distance he saw Heather grab the shotgun and race towards them. He wanted to shout to her to get in the truck and drive away but he couldn’t find the strength. Instead his skin grew as grey as the Russian’s and he began to crumple to the ground.
There was a sudden burst of movement as the fir trees opened and another man stepped through it. His thick limbs were dripping with sweat, his torso was rattling as he struggled for breath, but even to Hudson’s lifeless eyes there was no mistaking that it was Logan. He was different now than when they had stood on the banks of the lake: the humanity that Hudson had tried to restore to him was gone. There was only rage.