As I raced across the glacier, my mind seemed to be stuck in first gear. I’d rejected her when she’d tried to open up to me, when she’d gotten intimate with me. She had wanted to offer me everything, and I’d freaked out. I’d hurt her.
I didn’t deserve that kind of power. I’d have to convince her that I wasn’t worth caring about. Thankfully, that would only require the truth.
The snow-crawler came to a skidding stop at the edge of the crevasse. It was the night shift, such as that concept existed in the eternal night, and a hell of a storm was blowing. If not for the series of guide-lights we’d set up and my own memory, I’d have had no chance of finding the crevasse. I threw the door open, and stepped into the teeth of the wind.
It was a brutal walk, just covering the twenty or so feet to the gondola. The loose snow-cover on the glacier was whipped up, scything through the air, and it struck the few exposed points on me like a deluge of knives. The gondola chugged softly, and then began chugging its way down. The moment I passed the lip of the crevasse, the vast wind lessened. Instead, it blew across the open mouth of the crevasse, producing a note like someone had made a basso profundo flute. Low yet piping, it made my teeth rattle in my skull. If there was an Azathoth- and I was beginning to worry there was- this was surely its music.
The lights had been turned off as we had left. I turned on the flashlight on my shoulder, shivering in the cold. I didn’t have long to search. And if she didn’t want to be found, I’d have no chance at all.
But, of course, she wanted to be found. She did not want to be alone, even when she was in pain and rejected.
I found her in the great cavern, sitting near where the great statue had been before some unseen force had made off with it. She sat before the great frozen bulk of her former self, just a few inches away from the carved runes sealing it in. Her knees puddled slightly on the ground, spreading out more like a jell-o mold than a human being, another reminder of what she was. “Hello, Lucky.” Her voice was heartbreakingly soft and sad. “You really are a nice person. But you were right to pull away.”
I didn’t speak as she lifted her hand, resting it gently on the ice.
“I am an ugly thing, deep down, aren’t I? A monster. I’ve read your stories. A… shoggoth. A mindless servitor turned feral and destructive. A tool that destroyed its makers, and there is nothing more terrifying to a tool-using human.” She looked down at the runes and then back up. “I came here because I hoped that it might tell me something, that I might remember more about myself. All it did was tell me why I can’t remember.”
I took a couple of steps closer, and stopped as she turned her head towards me, pointing towards the immense bulk.
“I am all of myself. Every ounce of my being contains my memories, and when part of me is destroyed, the memories are lost too. You can see them, there. Poisoned by an enemy I don’t remember anymore. What I was, where I came from, what I’m meant for. Without them, all that’s left is… longing.” She stared back at the thing. “I am nothing.”
“When I saw you, I was curious. I put my hand against the ice for just a moment. It was an accident. And when I held the torch out to you, I was trying to push you away. I thought you were a monster, until you spoke. Fuck, I was pretty convinced you were a monster until about the moment I broke your heart.”
She was quiet for a moment, and tilted her head. “And?”
“And-” I searched for words, opening and closing my mouth. Trying to figure out how to deal with that response. “I’m not the person you thought I was! I’m kind of an asshole! If I’d been thinking properly, if I had known touching the ice would have let you free, I would never have done it!”
“Even if you knew I was friendly?”
“Well obviously if I knew you were friendly I would! But that doesn’t matter! What matters is that I’ve realized you’re… this incredible, beautiful creature. You’ve got a gift that nobody has. What you can do, the way you can change things, it could change the face of the world. And I’m just some asshole who got cheated on and ran to cry in the most remote fucking piece of shit place I could!”
“You’re what I need-”
“Anyone is what you need! There are so many creative, thoughtful people in the world, just because you met me first doesn’t make me one of them! You can do better!”
“You were cheated on,” she murmured.
“I know what it means. The person you formed a pair-bond with betrayed that bond. Sought out another, and did not tell you. She betrayed you. And so, the heuristic net which is your mind has been taught to expect betrayal. That’s the reason why you drew away. Why you hurt. Why you have difficulty trusting, and why you hold yourself away from me.”
“That’s not all,” I said, my head turned away. “I know you’re just trying to be what I want, to appeal to me. And that’s… a burden. Being something you’re not for someone else’s sake… That’s what destroys a human relationship.”
“I am nothing else. Whatever I once was is locked away, inside of that dead mass.” She waved her hand towards the frozen sphere. “I am a tabula rasa. All I am is a handful of instincts and urges, and what you have made of me.”
“That sounds more like a daughter than a lover,” I said, looking to the side.
“With several important caveats.” She stared at me for a while, her expression still as she studied me. “Do you believe I will leave you?”
“Yeah,” I said softly.
“And so we come to the heart of the issue. I was wrong about you. I thought that you were the protagonist, the hero of our story, the one who was different, the one who sought to show my true value to the world, and to myself. I believed, reading the stories, that it was simple; that you would pursue me, and desire me, and be confident of my returned affections. I can see now that I was wrong.”
I winced, looking away and down at the ice. “Yeah. I guess you were.”
“You are not the protagonist.”
“You are my love interest. I am the protagonist.”
“I-” I paused, my brain backing up a few seconds to try to follow that. “What?”
“I have come into this world which I do not understand. Possessed of special abilities, but bereft of company, and in great danger. I am found by one who cares for me, if uncertainly at first. I find myself enamored with them, for they offer the things I want most. Companionship. Emotional connection.” She reached out, and took my hand. “Mating.”
My heart began to beat quickly, thumping in my chest.
“Wounded. With a past that you are reluctant to reveal, which is the source of your desires. Emotions muted, but passionate and warm inside. Your heart beats quickly when you feel my fingers against you.” She slowly squeezed my hand, tracing her thumb across my palm, her inhuman eyes meeting mine. “I thought that you were rejecting me because you did not want me, that I had misinterpreted your feelings. But you want me. You are simply afraid to grasp what you want.”
“Hey, that’s not a good-” She held up her other hand, resting a finger on my lips.
“I understand that it is not a role that society typically condones. To be the pursued, rather than the pursuer. To be the one who must be warmed, who must be melted so that his emotions can flow freely again.” She stepped closer, and smiled. “But I do not care.”
I opened my mouth to say something, to try to regain the initiative, to- Well, let’s be frank. I had no idea what I was going to do. I just knew that if I didn’t do something, if I didn’t set her straight, she would pursue this path, and I would likely follow it too, and that would be the end of it.
She darted her head forward, and kissed me fully on the lips, her arms around my shoulders. Warm, so warm in the bitter cold of the underground city of ice, and taking my breath away. The taste of her lips was neutral, but pleasant, her embrace sending warmth coursing through me. I became aware of tears on my cheeks as she pulled back, her expression calm once more. “I will not give up. I will not leave you. Perhaps you believe there is nothing about you worth loving.” She leaned closer. “I disagree. And I will not give you up. It may take a long time, building trust, building support.” She stroked my cheek. “And I believe that you will find a vision, if only you are nurtured. It is the instinct of humans to create, to make, to imagine. You have only forgotten, for a little while, that you are allowed to. And I will support you.”
“I don’t deserve that,” I said, and the tears kept running down my cheeks, freezing painfully in the cold. Her warm hand brushed them away, soothing the sting where they had frozen.
“Look me in the eyes, and tell me that it is not what you want. Tell me that you do not want me to love you. Your love may come in time; I am patient. But I dare you to say you don’t need this.”
I looked in her eyes. Not at all human, set in a face that was like an onyx statue, in a body that was as far from human as something that talks could be. She was a monster, a terrifying creature from the darkness, and I was going to fall for it. Give up, give in, because she said the right things, because I was so desperate to believe she was what she said she was. “Do you intend to destroy the world?”
She gave me a sudden, hunted look. “What? Uh. Yes?”
She saw my expression.
“I mean no! Shit.” She crossed her arms, frowning. “It’s hard being a protagonist, isn’t it?”
I laughed, then, and she threw me a dark look, even as I wrapped my arms around her, clinging to her desperately. And she didn’t pull away at all. After nearly a minute, I let go of her, rubbing my eyes, and she stroked my cheek. “Yeah. I’m glad you’re doing it, instead of me.”
She took my hand, and smiled. “Let’s get out of here. And, uh… That destroy the world thing didn’t make you not trust me, did it?”
“I think it made me trust you more.” I laughed softly as the two of us walked out through the ice. I looked over my shoulder. “So you really don’t know what all this meant? You don’t remember what those fish things were, or that statue, or even yourself?”
“Nope.” She shrugged, and smiled. “Is it important?”
I considered. It was strange, and impossible, and raised a lot of questions. But it didn’t matter, really, to me. I wasn’t a scientist, or an adventurer, or a Lovecraftian protagonist. I was a love interest, and I realized that was all I really wanted to be. “Nah.”
The two of us rode the gondola up, and I returned to the base with her, and I had to explain to the Commissar why I was out driving around at night without having checked out properly, which was its own entire ordeal, and which got me assured that I would be returning to civilization on the first plane of the spring, and likely never returning to Antarctica.
And that was just fine with me.
The end of August brought with it the first day of actual sunlight. On August 20th, we all shuttled out to the crevasse, and watched as the sun rose, anemic and weak, for approximately 45 minutes before sinking back down like a narcoleptic. And the next day, I stepped outside with the girl, and we stood beneath the brilliant sun. She stared, wide-eyed, as the light fell upon her, arms spread wide to embrace the day, an expression of absolute bliss and joy on her face. “It’s amazing. It’s so bright, and warm.”
“Yep,” I said, and squeezed her hand. This was the first time that she’d seen the sun since she had been reborn. The first time she’d felt its rays warming her, the first time she’d gotten the chance to see the dawn. “So. Have you decided on your name?”
“Yes.” She turned towards me, and in the pale golden light of the Antarctic dawn, she smiled. “Yuki.”
“I’m not calling you ‘snow’,” I said, quite flatly.
“Yes you are,” she said, and winked. “I won’t respond to anything else. What’s wrong with it, anyway?”
“Because it’s cold, and it reminds me of Antarctica, and it’s pure white, and none of those things are you. Except maybe reminding me of Antarctica, but only because that’s where we met. Why not, I don’t know. Sunny?”
“Nah.” She smiled. “I prefer Yuki.” I sighed, but Yuki took my hand, and gave me a kiss, and that was the end of the argument.
“What do you want to do when you return to society?”
“I’m not sure,” I confessed, as Yuki and I sat together in my room. “I… wouldn’t mind writing a book. A romance novel, or a light novel, or even just a short story. Something to start with.” I frowned. “I always wanted to do that, but I thought to myself, ‘what if I fail, what if nobody likes it, what if I can’t make a living at it-‘”
“But that’s not really a concern now, is it?”
I looked down. “Doesn’t really feel right, getting everything I want without any effort.”
“I’m hardly a genie,” Yuki said, her legs crossed, my head resting on her lap as I leaned there, her fingers slowly running through my hair. “I cannot make you a success at writing. I cannot give you the accolades of others. I cannot make you what you want to be. But I am very capable of ensuring that you have a chance to do those things for yourself. To pursue.” She smiled. “And I do not resent you for being unsure.”
“You don’t always have to reassure me like that,” I said. “I’m not that fragile.”
“Do you want me to stop?”
I didn’t answer.
“Then I will continue, to make sure that my love for you is always fresh in your mind.”
“Cheesy,” I muttered, but I couldn’t help squeezing her gently around the waist. “I guess the first thing is to introduce you to my family. Let you socialize more.”
“How will you explain me?”
“Fuck it. I’ll tell them the truth. If they don’t believe me after meeting you, they can fuck off. We’ll just keep word from getting out too far. I wouldn’t want anyone to take you away from me.”
She smiled confidently. “I would like to see anyone try to take me from you.”
I squeezed her hand, and then there was a knock at the door. She nodded to me, and vanished into the shadows as I opened the door. Otto stood outside, a bottle of champagne in hand, and I had no idea where he’d gotten it. “Hey, Otto. What’s up?”
“Got time to chat?” he asked, smiling. “We’ve gotten some of the test results in. I thought you might be interested in hearing about them.”
I nodded. “Sure. Do you want to come in-”
“No, no. Let’s go for a walk.” He smiled cheerfully, as the two of us set on our way towards the cafeteria. Some of the nicer supplies were cracked open and awaiting us, a tin of caviar and a few toast points. He took a seat, and waved to me, while Maxwell leapt from his shirt pocket, and settled on the table, picking up a small toast point with his front paws. I gave the rat another suspicious look, but nothing more. It was just another of those mysteries.
“The carbon dating came back. Interesting results. Very interesting. The structures, we suspect, were frozen only sometime within the last 10,000 years, based on ice core samples we took.”
“That’s…” I frowned. “That’d make them really recent. How could anyone have built them? The continents been frozen for fifteen million years. Even if they’d been there all that time, how could the ice only have arrived that recently?”
“A good question. As for the creature we found, we have done an autopsy. DNA sequencing will have to wait a while, but the results were quite interesting. No carbon-14 in him at all. You may not perhaps grasp all the consequences of this. Wherever this fellow came from, there was no cosmic ray activity, no gradual cycling of carbon-14 into the environment. Strange. Very strange.”
“Where do you think he came from?”
“I wish I knew. But there is little telling, at least with what we have available to us here.” He tapped his fingers together. “We have stumbled upon countless mysteries, and there are still more that elude us. Countless questions exist around us.” He smiled. “But not for you, I take it?”
“I’m going back to the world.”
“I am glad. It has been good having you here, Lucky Charms. If it were not for you, I would have died in the ice, and we may never have discovered this phenomenal site. I will try to ensure that some part of the discovery is named after you.”
“That means a lot to me,” I said to Otto.
“So. Have you figured out how you are going to smuggle her back to civilization?”
Icy guilt gripped my spine. “Who?” I asked, and I thought that despite my panic I had managed to avoid sounding too guilty.
“The creature that you found in the ice. I presume that she has proven non-harmful, for you to trust her, and I trust your judgment; You, after all, are a far more paranoid man than I.”
I stared at him for a moment. “What?”
“Maxwell saw her. Warned me about her when I woke up. Told me that he’s been following her around. Saw the two of you fight and run off and come back. He’s quite a resourceful little chap. So. Have you figured out how to get her back?”
I tried to figure out whether Otto was fucking with me, or insane, and looked back down at the white rat. It tilted its head, glittering red eyes shining. I watched it for a moment or two, and it flashed a small thumbs-up at me.
“No,” I admitted.
“Mmmm. Allow me. Empty kerosene tanks are brought back on the plane. Transported within one of those, she will easily be able to avoid notice until you have arrived back in America via McMurdo. The two love-birds escape back home.” He smiled wryly. “Maxwell has told me a little of what she is capable of. She could change the world.”
“She’s just one… whatever she is. There’s a limit to how much she can do. And she could just as easily start a war, or something.” I shook my head. “Sorry if I seem selfish-”
“No, no. One must consider their actions carefully in this world of ours. I respect your reasoning, though I hope you will leave yourself open to a change of heart.” He smiled. “Until then, I will wish you good luck. We can find love in the strangest of places, we humans, can’t we?” He reached down, and gently stroked behind the rat’s ears.
“Yeah, I guess so.” I smiled, and took a sip of champagne.
“One last thing, by the way. Your suggestion was correct, the writing was indeed Hebrew. I took the liberty of doing a little translation. I cannot say for certain what the translation was, because it appears to be biblical Hebrew. It translated- roughly- to “Dead ocean.”
“Dead ocean?” I asked, and frowned. “Not Dead Sea?”
“No. The distinction is fine, but noteworthy.” He smiled. “Another mystery for the road, isn’t it?”
“I guess so,” I murmured. “Personally? I think mysteries are overrated.”
“Well-said.” We clinked our glasses together, and took a quick swig. I gagged, and Otto made a very displeased expression. “Predictable. I didn’t even know champagne went bad.”
The day came. I went. The plane ride was long, and lonely, with more than a few stopovers as we made our way north. It was the better part of three days hopping from flight to flight, and I didn’t see anything of Yuki during the flights, but I trusted her to know her way through. Indeed, as I stepped out of the terminal at LaGuardia, Yuki waited nearby, a large overcoat around her shoulders, hiding her dark flesh. “Where did you get that?” I asked, an eyebrow raised.
“I found it in one of the boxes in the cargo hold,” she said, tugging it a bit closer. People were giving her odd looks, as it was nearly ninety degrees out.
“That’s stealing, you realize.”
“I left them a gold brick.”
“Oh, well then.” I smiled, and took her hand. She stared all around as the two of us walked down the terminal and caught a taxi. “How do you feel?”
“It’s all so big. Is that your city?” She pointed towards Manhattan.
“Nah, just a bunch of assholes over there. We’re going back to Brooklyn. Going to see my family before I settle back into life here, introduce my girlfriend to them, all of that good stuff.”
“I can’t wait to meet them.”
I lifted my head into the warm summer sun, the heat intense, the first time I’d felt it in what felt like an eternity. The memories of the ice and Antarctica all seemed to melt away there, and I smiled, bright and wide. Yuki stared. The smile faltered, and I flushed slightly. “What?”
“I’ve never seen you smile before,” she murmured, and then her expression warmed. “You look good when you smile. I think I’d like to see it happen more.” She pressed into my side, squeezing my arm against her, and grinned brightly. “I missed you on the plane ride.”
“I missed you, too,” I whispered, trying to keep from flushing more as she pressed up against me. In the bright summer light, she was cool to the touch, her hand soothing and leeching away the excess heat. Comfortable in all temperatures. I leaned back on my heels and stared up at the sky for a moment. There would be a lot of strange explanations in the following hours, a lot of hard talks to be had, a lot of secrets to be kept. I didn’t know how my family would deal with all of that. I’d make it through, regardless, because I had Yuki by my side. “Do you want to stop to get a bite to eat, first?”
“Sure,” she said, and smiled up at me. “Onigiri, or ramen?”
I considered for a moment the consequences of the way she’d been socialized. The lessons she’d learned from the games and stories, and the difficulty it might cause. It was a strange thing to have someone who’d been educated entirely by stories like this. On the other hand, that’s how most humans were educated.
As we got into the taxi together, I frowned, and took out my phone, tapping in ‘Yam Hamawet’. The first result that came up was some expose on a cult. I pondered that for a moment, and slid the phone back into my pocket.
The world was huge, and full of mysteries. Enough of them that you could just about drown in them if you let yourself. There were strange mysteries, and ominous warnings, and dark things that lurked in the cracks. If you lived your life in fear of the darkness, then it could choke you. But if you embraced it, sometimes, it turned out to be warm, engaging, and everything that you had looked for.
I’d encountered a lot of mysteries, which might have tremendous, earth-shaking importance. But there were other people who could worry about that. Protagonists, heroes, people who couldn’t simply be happy with a life lived with someone you loved, who couldn’t be happy with what they had searched for. I wasn’t one of them, and I was glad for that. I had fallen in love with something in the dark, and now, I was ready to step back out into the light with her.
But clearly, I still wasn’t ready to stop giving philosophical monologues in my own head.
“What are you thinking?” asked Yuki.
“How glad I am to be with you,” I said, and smiled. She returned the smile, and my heart beat quicker.
And she gave me a kiss as the cab drove on.