Authors: James Axler
Tags: #Speculative Fiction Suspense
Brigid Baptiste's eyelids fluttered open, revealing two emerald eyes. Her eye color was so vivid it seemed almost luminous in the darkness, like a cat's eyes. Even as her eyes flickered open, Brigid winced, feeling the pain spike across the left side of her face. Something had hit her at some point, and the ache was still there when she moved.
In her late twenties, Brigid was a striking woman. Her figure was trim and athletic, its curves enhanced by the tight-fitting shadow suit she wore as she sat on the single chair in the darkened room. Her green eyes peered out of a beautiful pale face with a high forehead that signified intelligence, while her full lips promised a more sensuous side. Her face was framed by a cascading wave of red curls that reached midway down her back. Her usually flawless skin was mussed and dirty right now, and a bruise had formed around her left eye socket, an angry yellow crescent from cheek to brow.
Warily, Brigid moved her head, looking about her. She was in an enclosed space, but it was too dark to distinguish much else. The ceiling was high, reaching at least two stories above her, and the walls looked rough in the semidarkness, though it was hard to discern details.
She tried to stand, only to find she was trapped in places, her arms restrained behind her, her ankles bound somehow to the chair. There was a deep ache in her
shoulders, she realized as she tried to shift; she had been here a long time, locked in the same position.
But where was here? Brigid thought back, trying to remember how she had come to be in this place. Even in the poor light, the walls looked rough, uneven, and Brigid guessed they had been carved from rock, probably some natural formation. There was a slight breeze, too, the most miniscule movement of cool air about her face, making her skin ripple with goose bumps.
For a moment, the beautiful, red-haired warrior struggled, working through the dull ache in her limbs as she pulled against her bonds. Though she could move her head, she seemed to be stuck fast. Her arms were pulled down and back, held behind her with some kind of wrist ties. Her legs, too, were fastened in place, bound at her ankles to the legs of the chair. It was hard to see what the chair looked like. It felt hard and unforgiving, with no padding to provide support or comfort.
As she struggled against the bonds, her grunts echoing in the still cavern, Brigid became aware of another presence. She stopped, automatically quieting her breathing as she scanned the area about her.
She had missed it the first time, and she almost looked right past it again, her gaze gliding over the shape poised before the rocky wall. But there was a figure carved of rock and almost perfectly camouflaged, its form visible only because of the uneven shadows it cast. It stood over to her right, and Brigid kept her head straight ahead, peering at the form from the corner of her eye so as not to give herself away. It was hard to decipher, for the thing was so well hidden it seemed almost to be encoded into the rock wall itself. She traced its shadows, the way they played at the edges of the bulky form, which was tall, seven feet or more. Brigid realized that with the ceiling
so high, it was hard to judge the thing's height accurately, but she also knew what it looked likeâfor she had seen it before.
She thought for a moment, recalling her previous encounter with this would-be god of stone. It gave no reaction to her waking, appeared to be dormant itself.
“I can see you,” Brigid announced, her voice like a bell in the quietness of the room.
She waited, but there was no response from the figure in the darkness.
Warily, Brigid turned her head toward the figure hidden in the shadows. It had been easier, somehow, to see it from the corner of her eye, like a trick of the light. Brigid rolled her head, working at the stiffness in her neck as she tried to assess the figure. She estimated that it was standing ten feet away from her, its back pressed against the wall.
“I said I can see you,” Brigid repeated, “Lord Ullikummis.”
For a moment there was no reply, and she wondered if the great stone being was asleep, or perhaps dead. Then, as she watched, a tracery of fire seemed to ignite across the figure in thin streaks, each orange glow affirming the shape of the majestic form and lighting the cavern around it.
Brigid steeled herself as the figure moved, stepping away from the rock wall with one powerful stride. His legs, like his body, appeared to be carved from stone, with rivulets of lava glowing through cracks in their dark, charcoal surface. He had no feet; his legs just seemed to widen at the base like the trunks of mighty oak trees. Each step was heavy, a stride with purpose, such was the gravity that this creature projected in his fearsome movements. He was humanoid in form, standing a full eight
feet tall, but appeared fashioned from rockânot like a statue, but jagged and rough, like something weathered by the elements, a confluence of stones smashed together by the environment into this horrifying, nightmarish form. Two thick ridges reached up from his shoulders, curving inward toward his head like splayed antlers. The head itself was a rough, malformed thing, misshapen and awkward, with just the suggestion of features hacked into its hoary surface.
Brigid found she was holding her breath as the hulking man-thing stepped closer. Though she had seen this monster several times before, the immensity of his form remained intimidating.
Then he stopped before her, at last opening his eyesâtwo glowing portals of magma within his rock faceâto stare at her.
“You seem ill at ease, Brigid,” the figure said, and his voice was like two rock plates grinding together. As he spoke, his open mouth revealed more magma, glowing like a beacon in the darkness of the cavern.
This creature was Ullikummis, dishonored son of Enlil of the Annunaki. Thousands of years before, the Annunaki, a lizardlike race, had come to Earth in an effort to stave off the boredom that their near-immortal lives and absolute knowledge engendered. Blessed with infinitely superior technology and a callous disregard for other species, they had appeared as gods to the primitive peoples here, and the stories of their interfamily squabbles had become the stuff of mythology to the lowly indigenous species called man. The Annunaki had walked the Earth for hundreds of years, basking in the glory of their false-idol status, treating humankind as their personal playthings, to do with as they wished.
Their reign on Earth lasted until they ultimately be
came bored with the deception. Soon after, Overlord Enlil, a malicious and selfish creature even by Annunaki standards, set out to destroy the Earth with a great flood, sweeping away all evidence of mankind's existence and leaving the planet as one would a fallow field, ready for renewal in the next season. However, Enlil's purging failed, thanks primarily to the intervention of his own brother, Enki, who had become soft-hearted and felt that humankind's tenacity deserved rewarding. Since then, the Annunaki had been watching humans and guiding their destiny, manipulating them from the shadows, until finally revealing their presence on the Earth less than two years ago.
Since then, the Annunaki overlords had been driven back into hiding through a combination of their own squabbles and the efforts of a brave band of human warriors known as the Cerberus rebels. But the threat had left a terrible legacy in the form of Ullikummis.
The son of Enlil, Ullikummis had been genetically altered so that he no longer resembled the reptilian race he represented. Described in ancient records as a sentient stone pillar, Ullikummis had been conceived purely to act as his father's personal assassin, trained from birth in the arts of killing, that he might dethrone Teshub, the so-called god of the sky. When Ullikummis had been shanghaied by a group of Annunaki led by Enki, Enlil's kindhearted brother, Enlil had been forced to disown his son to distance himself from the assassination plot and save face. Thus, Ullikummis had been banished to the stars by his own father's hand, where he took a slow orbit through the Milky Way in the stone prison of a meteor.
Three months ago, Ullikummis had returned to Earth in a fantastic meteor shower that had all but destroyed Cerberus's orbiting satellite communications arrays. By
the time the Cerberus techs had their monitoring equipment up and running again, the rogue stone god had taken his first steps in building an army to hunt down and destroy his father, who remained in hiding on Earth. Accompanied by Cerberus personnel Falk and Edwards, Brigid Baptiste had been part of the three-person field team sent to investigate the crash site of Ullikummis's meteor prison, and she had found herself recruited into a nightmarish training camp called Tenth City, where only the strongest could survive. Within that training camp, Mariah Falk had almost committed suicide at the stone god's command, while Edwards had temporarily lost his mind. With the help of her Cerberus teammates Kane, Grant and Domi, Brigid and her field team had been freed and the training camp destroyed. Ullikummis, however, had somehow evaded death, his whereabouts undetected by the Cerberus rebels.
The hideous stone god had briefly reappeared while Brigid, Kane and Grant investigated an undersea library along with oceanographer Clem Bryant, but they had seen nothing of Ullikummis since then.
Brigid's mind raced back, trying to recall how she had ended up here, in this cave, trapped before the brooding form of the stone god. Her mind began to fill in the blanks, but before she could sort it out, Ullikummis reached for her with one of his mighty stone hands and tenderly brushed his rock fingers down her left cheek. They were cold to the touch and rough, like the stone they resembled.
“You were hurt,” Ullikummis said, his uncanny eyes glowing more brightly for just a moment. “Does it hurt still?”
Brigid pondered the question, wondering if this was
some kind of trick. Finally, she spoke. “Yes,” she admitted. “It hurts a little.”
“It is nothing,” Ullikummis assured her. “The human form can endure less than the Annunaki, but this wound is but a trifling thing. Do you wish to see it?”
Brigid's eyes met her captor's, if that was truly what he was, and she nodded very slowly as his fingers remained pressed against her skin. “Please,” she said.
Ullikummis pulled his hand back, and began to stride away across the space behind her. She waited, bound to the chair, and her heart raced in fear as she heard the creature of living rock pacing across the stone floor, his steps echoing like hammer blows.
As Ullikummis's mighty footsteps faded into the distance, Brigid took a moment to gather her thoughts. She had a remarkable gift of eidetic recollection, more popularly known as a photographic memory. Brigid was able to remember the smallest details of anything she had witnessed. The last she could recall, she had been with the other members of CAT AlphaâKane and Grantâas their atoms were digitized and sent across the quantum ether via the mat-trans unit, a teleportation device in use by the Cerberus operation. The three of them had emerged in their home base of the Cerberus redoubt to a scene of carnage. The overhead lighting had been sparking, and the nearest of the computers was shattered, blood smeared across the shards of its monitor screen. There had been shouting, too, and gunfire, and Brigid and her companions had been forced to assess the situation in less than two seconds, realizing their help was needed urgently.
Eight hooded strangers were in the operations room, where the mat-trans unit was located, and they were in the process of destroying the equipment there while
Cerberus personnel tried to fend them off. As Brigid scanned the area, Domi's pure white albino form had dropped from an overhead vent and leaped across the room, bouncing from work surface to work surface like streaking lightning as a stream of bulletsâwere they bullets?âwhipped through the air at her. Beside Brigid, Kane was already drawing his Sin Eater pistol, the 18-inch muzzle of the weapon unfolding in his hand as it was propelled from its hiding place beneath the sleeve of his jacket.
Agile and girlish, Domi blasted a stream of shots from her Detonics Combat Master, firing behind her as she leaped behind one of the computer terminals. In a second, the glass screen of the terminal shattered as one of the enemy's projectiles struck it, shards bursting across the desk as the circuits fizzled and died.
Grant was still in the doorway to the mat-trans chamber behind Brigid, and she heard him call out one wordâ“Duck!”âbefore he began picking off the hooded strangers with rapid blasts from his own Sin Eater weapon, even as Kane hurried to help Domi.
Brigid was in motion then, too, reaching for her own blaster where it jounced against the swell of her hip. She selected her first targets as, bizarrely, a stream of what appeared to be pebbles raced through the air toward her at high speed. As soon as her TP-9 had cleared its holster, Brigid snapped off her first burst of return fire, felling one of the mysterious strangers, who wore a hood to cover his features. The figure went down, tumbling backward as the bullets struck his body.
Brigid was turning, finding her second target even as her semiautomatic shook in her hand with recoil. But as she spun she noticed something unnerving from the corner of her eye: the figure she had just shot was pulling
himself up off the ground, pushing the hood from his face. He was still aliveâ¦.
Back in the cave, Ullikummis's footsteps grew loud once more, and Brigid focused her thoughts on the present. The looming stone creature came around to stand before her, and he held a rectangular object almost five feet in length. Brigid watched as the stone colossus set it before her, turning it to face her. It was a freestanding, full-length mirror with a swivel mechanism to adjust its tilt.
“Are you able to see?” Ullikummis asked, changing the angle as he spoke.
Brigid peered at her reflection in the mirror, saw the yellow crescent on her cheek despite the gloom. “Yes,” she said.
Nodding sullenly, Ullikummis stood back, and he seemed to wait patiently while Brigid examined her face in the mirror. It wasn't quite a black eye; the blow had been just a little too low for that. Instead, it had left a nasty bruise, along with some swelling, but there didn't appear to be a cut or abrasion.