CARA SIGHED IN relief and took-in deep breaths of cold, fresh air. After escaping up the stairs with their lives and a sample of the wondrous material, John and Cara beamed with good spirit. The trip back to IceTown seemed a blur.
Off in the distance, puce smoke trailed into the sky. Cara cracked her whip above the dogs as she tightened her grip on the sled handle. When Icetown came into view, the dogs became skittish, barking and tugging feral in the reins. The base camp raged in flames, many areas charred black—nothing appeared to be salvageable.
Cara searched in a panic until she spotted the bodies, then she doubled over on the sled.
"No, no, no, no, no, no, no," she said, her voice rising a couple of octaves.
She spotted the family lying slain in the snow: Tikanni face down. His brothers, Tupiq and Irniq, nearby—also surrounded by scarlet. Without waiting for the sled to stop, Cara leaped off and rushed over to the boy's body, falling over and weeping. Tikanni inhaled sharply at her touch.
"How—are my—bro—thers?" Blood gurgled in his throat.
Her breath hitched at the unexpected life. She squeezed him tight and surveyed the slope, focusing on the fires and the parents' motionless bodies. Yakone and Aklaq tried to hold the gunman off, the thought failed to comfort her.
"They're fine, Tikanni. Everyone is fine. You're going to be fine."
The lie pierced like a hot fork stabbing her heart, though her words seemed to work. Little Takanni smiled in strain and his eyes closed. One last frosty breath came from his lungs, then his body fell limp in Cara's hands.
She laid him gently on the snow, clapped a hand over her mouth and began to dry heave. Cara pounded the snow with her fists, then clutched Tikanni's lifeless body for a final embrace.
The dogs stopped. John jumped up and secured the sled, then raced over to Cara.
"Your work," John said, staring in disbelief at the burning outpost.
Cara let go of the little boy's body and stood in his face. Letting loose a guttural yell, she slammed her fist to the side of his head with such intensity it knocked him to the ground.
"I don't give a shit about my work! They were like my family, you son of a bitch!" she screamed, kicking at him. "If you hadn't shown up, they'd still be alive."
"Stop! Cara, stop." John rolled away from her kicks and came to his feet. She charged at him in a mad rage, but he caught her and spun her around, bringing her into a tight hold against his chest.
Cara threw her head back and smacked his chin. For the next two minutes, John fought her down with a calming voice as she struck back with her elbows. The struggle lessened, and a light snow fluttered overhead. The wind picked up in a moaning howl, then fell silent.
"I'm going to let you go now." John released his grip.
She turned to him with clenched fists, stopping short of clocking him again. Instead, she fell into his arms and wept.
A sudden explosion sent a heat wave surging over them. The family's living quarters rocketed high into the sky in a crimson and gold mushroom. The mess hall blasted out laterally. John pulled Cara down as sparks and flames shot over their heads.
The bathroom and the last container blazed like an inferno, dark smoke billowing into the sky. Cara gazed at her room and lab.
A wall caved over into the flames.
Another blast, Cara's research, but she didn't flinch. Instead, she resumed staring at the slain family.
John checked the horizon. "We need to get out of here before he comes back."
"No, I want to wait." Her voice grew hard with a chilling tone. "I've got something for them."
"It's not safe here." John tapped his phone. "I've sent a message to San Martín Station."
"They weren't a threat!" Cara screamed. "Damn that son of a bitch!"
"We need to hide out until the helicopter comes for us."
"Hide out!" Cara pushed him away. "Hide out? Is that your plan?"
"If you want to honor their memories, then yes."
Cara's eyes narrowed. The fire burning for vengeance inside frightened her, but the thought of payback helped to pull herself together.
"You got yourself more than just a guide, Mr. Profit." She sniffled.
John just stood, staring at her.
Cara pulled the samples she'd collected and held them up. "I'm coming with you."
What do you think? Is Cara now fully vested in this journey?
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THE THIRD ALIGNMENTAdventure
The Alignment has happened before. This time--it's going to be deadly. The race between good and evil has begun to discover the secrets of The Third Alignment. Who will unlock the unimaginable power first? John Profit seeks answers regarding his...