That God-Damned Lizard
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Previous: Foundations


1920. Fifty miles off the coast of Svalbard.

The Frontier has seen better days. Her foremast has been snapped like a twig; her hull is battered and bruised, with a thick coat of rust that spans all the way up to her gunwales. After scanning her deck for several minutes through a leather spyglass, Mr. Riggs informs the others that he sees no trace of her crew.

"How long has it been out here?" Colonel Bowe asks.

"By the looks of her? Hard to tell," Riggs admits. "A few decades, I'd wager. Her anchor's up, too. Lord knows how long she's been adrift."

Annette Lang-Scranton draws her coat closer, suppressing a shiver. She stands on the deck of the USS Kirby alongside Colonel Adam Bowe — the security officer assigned to her for the purposes of this operation. Under her sable-black wool coat, the young scientist wears a tightly buttoned uniform of muted grays and a pair of her husband's sport knickers. She's tucked the knickers into her knee-high boots. "That simply cannot be. The Frontier left port only two months ago. This was her maiden voyage."

"Well, ma'am, I don't know what to tell you," Riggs replies. He's clearly not comfortable with her presence here. "That right there ain't no blushing bride. She's got quite a bit of salt on 'er."

"How close can you bring us to it?" Colonel Adam Bowe is a tall, lanky, rugged man with cold eyes and a perpetual five o'clock shadow. He has clad himself in a wool coat similar to Annette's own, with a tweet jacket, tie, and trousers (high in the waist, loose through the leg) beneath. An old beat-up derby rests comfortably on his head. He is, by all measures, a competent soldier. Nevertheless, Annette finds him to be an insufferable lout.

"Ah, I'd — I'd have to ask the skipper, sir." Mr. Riggs shifts uncomfortably. "But judging by how she's got no anchor, and the glaciers next to her, along with the fog, the winds bein' as they are — "

"As close as you can bring us. I would like to survey the vessel more closely before my men board it."

Riggs nods, then turns and leaves. Annette scowls.

"'Before my men board it', Colonel?" She puffs out a cloud of misty, frozen breath.

Colonel Bowe lifts his brow. "A figure of speech, Mrs. Lang. You are, of course, welcome to accompany us."

"Lang-Scranton," she corrects. "And may I remind you that I am the one who located this vessel? And that this is my recovery operation?"

"You may," he replies. "But permit me to remind you that my first duty is to your safety and the safety of my men. And until I am satisfied that this vessel poses no threat to either, I will continue to assert my right to treat this as a military operation instead of a sea-side tour."

Annette sighs, then turns her eyes to the Frontier floating in the distance. "Just see to it that your men do not shoot first, Colonel. There may still yet be survivors."

"Survivors," Colonel Bowe repeats. "Survivors of precisely what, Mrs. Lang-Scranton?"

She closes her eyes. "Of that, I am not yet certain."

Professor Gregory Cabenwald November 15th, 1918
Skeptics' Club of Philadelphia


I can neither express the depth of my sorrow nor the breadth of my sympathy. Your wife was like a sister to me; her loss was an insurmountable tragedy. To lose your daughter so soon after — to the same affliction! — I cannot grasp the scope of it. Words fail me. I am so sorry, Gregory.
War and disease now work in cruel concert, it seems. While foolish aristocrats allow our fathers, husbands, and sons to die on account of a tiny scrap of paper, foolish politicians allow our mothers, wives, and daughters to die on account of a tiny scrap of microbes.
Please, come see us in Boston. Or, if you cannot, please permit us to come visit you at your home. Robert and I yearn to speak with you and offer you whatever comfort we can.

With love,
Mrs. Annette Lang-Scranton

Professor Gregory Cabenwald January 2nd, 1919
Skeptics' Club of Philadelphia


Know that I find your lack of response more than tolerable; your condition is such that I would understand if you never write another letter again. Nevertheless, I hope you will not think me foolish for sending this letter to you all the same. I do so only because I believe that, if left untreated, grief can be as deadly as strychnine.
Please, if there is anything we can do to alleviate your anguish, tell us immediately. I would come to your door at this very moment to deliver this letter in person if I did not fear the possibility that I might not find you there to receive it.

With love,

Professor Gregory Cabenwald April 19th, 1919
Skeptics' Club of Philadelphia


Hutchinson spoke to me today. He informed me that you are well, though deeply distracted by your work.
He also
Please, if there is anything we can do to alleviate your anguish, tell us immediately. I would come to your door at this very moment to deliver this letter in person if I did not fear the possibility that I might not find you there to receive it.

With love,
Mrs. Annette Lang-Scranton

When I was a child, I was frightened by the dark. I am frightened no longer.
While our families die in droves from a disease within our power to prevent, politicians here scramble to join a ridiculous war being fought over a mere scrap of paper. Two months ago, I buried my wife. Yesterday, my daughter fell ill.
Durand's method was madness, but his principles were not. We have received a gift;

Sincerely and with deep fondness,
Professor Gregory Cabenwald

It takes some doing, but Annette eventually convinces Colonel Bowe to permit her to board the Frontier. His terms are oppressive and over-bearing: He is to remain in charge for the entirety of the venture. She is to make no attempt to question his authority. Reluctantly, she accepts.

Three of his men will accompany them: Malthus, West, and Voccola. All three are young, sturdy fellows with experience in the war. They are equipped with Browning pistols and Enfield rifles — except for Sergeant Malthus, who prefers the Springfield on account of its adjustable sites.

The USS Kirby comes within a good two hundred yards of the Frontier. From there, the party of five settle into one of USS Kirby's motorboats, then venture out into the fog. They navigate their way through the floating field of glaciers, approaching the silent, rusted hulk.

There's a set of rungs jutting from the vessel's port-side. One by one, they climb up to the vessel. Colonel Bowe and his men perform a full sweep of the deck, confirming that no one is present; he then orders them to make camp. Voccola, their engineer, unpacks the wireless telegraph they've brought and uses it to re-establish contact with the USS Kirby. Annette unpacks her Geiger counter and determines that there is no ionizing radiation.

They approach the port-side door that leads below. After a thorough inspection for traps, Malthus and Bowe take aim while Voccola opens it.

The first thing that hits them is the smell.

"Oh, God," West mutters. He stumbles back and away. "God, that — "

Voccola runs for the railing and retches over the side. Bowe and Malthus flinch, but both keep their rifles trained on the doorway. Annette grimaces and stands her ground.

"What on God's earth — ?"

"Refrigeration," Annette tells them. "It's a refrigeration vessel. The compressors likely failed."

"What the hell was it carrying? The Devil's own shits?" Voccola asks.

"Language," Colonel Bowe states automatically.

"According to the manifest? Nothing, when it left port." Annette returns to her bag, then retrieves several face-masks with adjustable leather buckles. She slides one over her own face, then offers the rest to the others. "Here. These should help with the worst of it." Each mask contains a charcoal filter and a small inner pouch filled with fragrant herbs.

"You expected this?" West takes one, tightening it over his lower face. Voccola, pale and sickly, takes another. Annette hands the remaining two to Bowe and Malthus.

"We did not know what to expect. I prepared for several possibilities," she replies. She then removes an extendable brass canister from her belt, activating it via a switch located at its base. The front immediately emits a powerful beam of light.

They proceed through the door.

The rust that covers the vessel extends well into the interior. The beam of Annette's electric torch sweeps from one end of the room to the next, flickering over heaps of debris. She stops the light when it catches a glimmer of something in the corner.

"Malthus, cover. West, investigate. Lang, give him light." Bowe's voice is muffled through the mask, but his tone is unmistakable. "Voccola, with me. Cover the other entrances."

Malthus aims his rifle at the figure hunched in the corner. West moves forward, with Annette following right behind. As they get closer, it becomes clear that it's a swollen corpse in a tattered uniform. His bloated skin is coated in a waxy, grayish-blue film. A strip of flesh is absent from his cheek, exposing rows of cracked, blackened teeth. It gives him the appearance of a ghoulish grin.

"How did he die?" Annette asks.

"Shot," West replies. He drops down to kneel besides the corpse. "Closer with that light. Shine it here." He grips the corpse's chin and turns the head.

Annette brings the light forward. A grape-sized hole in the side of the skull exposes the putrefied pudding-like interior of his cranium. "Good God," she whispers.

"You said this boat launched two months ago, right?" West tilts the head back to its previous position, examining the face closely.

"Y — yes."

"See how well preserved he is? This slippery coating on him? That's corpse wax," West explains. "It takes at least a month to start forming, and our friend here is pretty much made up of the stuff. If I had to guess, I would say this corpse is a bit older than two months."

"I — see."

"Also, this injury on the cheek? It looks like a bite mark, to me. If I had to — ma'am?"

The light snaps back up to illuminate West and the corpse's face. Annette shakes her head and mumbles an apology. "Sorry. Sorry. Just, his eyes, his face, it's a bit — he looks like he's grinning, and — "

"Right. Don't worry, nothing to be ashamed of." West turns the corpse's face away and rises to his feet. "It takes a while to get used — "

"Fucking — fuck! Sir!" Voccola's voice interrupts them both. Annette turns and flashes her light on him. The engineer's eyes are wide as saucers. His grip on his rifle has turned his knuckles bone-white. "You, you're gonna wanna — there's something down here. Something big."

The five of them move down to the cargo bay. The roof over-head has partially collapsed, allowing blades of light to seep across the stairs leading down below the deck. The scent gets much stronger, here. It isn't long before the source becomes apparent.

The cargo bay is filled with several inches of opaque, brackish water. Strapped down tightly in the center is an immense — thing. An organism, partially frozen. Annette estimates that from snout to tail, it is at least thirty feet long; possibly five or six feet high. Though much of it is obscured beneath chunks of frost, its exposed parts have decomposed into a gelatin-like membrane coated in layers of fermented oil. Portions of its skeletons jut out like the serrated teeth of a dead piranha.

"What is this, West?" Bowe asks. "A whale?"

"I, uh. I don't — uh." West sloshes through the water and circles the thing. "I don't know what this is."

Annette starts circling in the opposite direction of West, examining it. "You can see its — ah, its feet, there. It's not aquatic, then. Quadruped of some sort."

"Dinosaur?" Malthus asks.

"Maybe. Maybe they found a frozen dinosaur? In a glacier?" West asks.

"It can't be from a glacier. If they pulled it out of a glacier, it would still be encased in ice."

"It melted."

Annette shakes her head. She lifts the electric torch and points at the tightened straps that dent into the thing's back. "The straps are still tight. If it melted, they'd be loose."

West frowns, then nods. "Correct. So, they must have found it like this. That's, uh… wait, what's this? Over here, ma'am."

Annette wades through the water and shines the light where West is standing. A portion of the creature's ribcage is still encased in ice. On the surface, there's an inch-wide hole that extends through the frost and into the creature itself. "I believe that would be a core sample." She leans forward, shines the light into the hole, and peeks inside. "They must have — oh my God."

She drops the electric torch and stumbles back to the wall. At once, Malthus is besides her; West picks up the light and wipes it off on his pant-leg. Voccola starts fidgeting. Colonel Bowe's eyes are on Annette. "What is it, Mrs. Lang?"

Annette's hands rise up to her face-mask. "It's, it's — "

West shines the light into the hole and looks. He immediately steps back and turns away, pulling his mask down. He retches, spilling his stomach's contents into the water.

"God-damn it, one of you talk to me. What is it?"

"You can see its heart," Annette whispers. "That thing is — it's beating. Its heart is still beating. It's still alive."

Colonel Bowe contemplates this for just one moment. He then turns to Malthus:

"Sergeant. Correct that immediately."

Malthus turns to the hole, lifts his rifle, and slides the barrel in. He pulls the trigger.

The entire cargo hold shakes. The thing is convulsing. Rotted joints and necrotized muscles jerk beneath layers of frost. Ice cracks, snaps, and shatters. The frozen head spasms, then lurches up. Sheets of ice snap off its jaws as it pries its mouth open with a bone-snapping crack. It makes a low, horrible, groaning wail.

With a practiced calm, Malthus chambers the next round — then fires again.

The thing twitches, jerks, and slumps. It goes still.

Malthus chambers a third round, and fires once more.


He retracts the barrel from the hole and turns to West. The medic leans against the cargo's hold, still recovering. Malthus takes the electric torch from his shaking hands and uses it to examine the interior of the hole.

"Well?" Colonel Bowe asks.

"No movement. Looks dead." Malthus turns from the hole and offers the electric torch to Annette. She takes it, swallowing back her bile.

"I believe that is enough excitement for today," Colonel Bowe announces. "We'll leave the ship and tow it back to shore."

"We haven't finished inspecting the vessel." Annette struggles to keep the fear out of her voice. "There could still be people — "

"Alive? If that's the case, then they've survived for quite some time — and they will have to hold for a few more days. I just had one of my men kill a frozen dinosaur, Mrs. Lang. We're done here." Colonel Bowe turns and heads toward the stairs. Reluctantly, Annette follows.

As they ascend the steps, she notices something different. "Is it darker?"

"The sky," Voccola whispers. "You could see the sky through the ceiling, before. Where did it go?"

She shines the light above. The holes are still there, but now there's another room above them.

"Fuck!" This time it's Colonel Bowe who's cursing. They move back to the entry-room only to find him gripping his rifle tight, pointing it at the corner.

It takes Annette only a few seconds to realize why: The corpse is gone.

And so is the door that they came in through.



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