Here is the opening scene:
McMurdo Station, Ross Island, Antarctica, June 1995
The South Pole mid-winter was a world enveloped in both ice and darkness, and Coaldale hated everything about it.
McMurdo was the largest official bastion of human settlement in the great white continent, the only location for hundreds, if not thousands of miles where the lights were on. It was two in the afternoon, base time, but only stars shone beyond the settlement. US SEALs and Rangers newly deployed to the ice were being inducted in the temporary facilities recently commandeered by the US Department of Defense.
One of those Rangers was Captain Byrd Coaldale. He was late arriving, having been delayed by another briefing, but he also didn’t care that he was late. His only show of respect was to enter the building quietly, to sit towards the back where he rubbed his hands together warming them. Listening to the inducting officer drone on had to be preferable than enduring the bitter outside cold.
A silent black and white film ran through a digital projector at the far end of the briefing room. The footage was circa 1950s. A man in a fur coat with UN insignia stood adjacent to what resembled a gigantic cucumber with a starfish on its apex and five vine-like appendages emerging from its mid-section. Then it moved. As Coaldale recovered from his shock he realized he was staring at a living entity.
It was one of those alien’s everyone in the Pole had talked of so often since his arrival, spoken of in tones that painted the creatures in reverence and awe. The projected black and white UN man played a pipe, although there was no sound with the footage. The monster presumably responded with piping of its own. Coaldale had thought it some kind of put up, until this very moment. Like a switch had been turned on inside him and suddenly he was interested in everything the inducting officer was saying.
“This,” spoke up Robert Lynch, the Navy SEAL Lieutenant leading the briefing, “is a Pentapod.”
Lynch gave the crowd a moment to let the words sink in. If the officer was expecting awe, they gave none. They were silent like corpses.
“Any questions so far?”
No one answered.
Standing half in the light of the projector and half hidden by it, Lynch pointed to the cucumber shape like he had seen one every day for a year, and perhaps he had.
“This is project RESOLUTION ZERO archive footage. The man you are looking at is Colonel Doctor Wingate Peaslee, who was a legend in our circles. Back then we had limited communications with the ‘Visitors’, as the RZ guys like to refer to them, and Peaslee led much of our work. The Pentapods taught us a thing or too. Things we really didn’t want to know…”
Coaldale shuddered and not from the cold. He had heard all about the Pentapods, read all the reports, but he had yet to see one in the flesh. Film footage was the next best thing, and had proved more disturbing than he had expected. The problem was it didn’t look fake, despite his recently marveling at the digital special effects in the Jurassic Park movie a few years back. Anything could be doctored, and yet an undefined and very sinister element captured in the footage made it genuine.
“These days we rarely see the Pentapods, yet we continue to carry on the tasks they burdened us with all those decades ago. The Pentapods however,” Lynch emphasized, “are not our problem.”
He changed video files. New footage from the same era was of an icy desert seen from an airplane. At first Coaldale didn’t know what he was looking at until he identified men on the ground, tiny individuals filmed from an airplane high above the fields of Antarctic snow. They were running, fast and away from a threat Coaldale could not see. He looked for the pursuer, until he realized his mind wasn’t imaging a hunter much bigger than the men. When he spotted the amorphous shape the size of a mining dump truck, all white and tentacles and eyes and mouths that seemed to shift in and out of a jelly-like consistency, he squirmed. The pulsating shape rolled over one man crushing him without slowing an iota. It was like watching a tsunami engulf unsuspecting bathers on a populated beach.
Lynch let the film roll, as one by one each fleeing man was crushed. They had no hope, but they all ran regardless, until the very end.
“That,” explained Lynch, “is a shoggoth.”
A private up the front puked. The acidic smell quickly filled the room, and he puked again. No one said a word and all left the young soldier to soak in his mostly digested lunch. The private quickly excused himself until Lynch told him to sit down. There was more learning to do.
“This shoggoth was spotted in 1961,” the inducting officer explained. “It disappeared shortly after this footage was taken. We haven’t seen another one this big since, but we know they are many more in the depths of Pentapod City.”
A young Navy officer raised her arm. “Sir, how do we fight them?”
Lynch laughed unkindly. “You don’t. You run as fast as you can, and you hope you can run faster than your buddies.”
Coaldale laughed too, understanding the sick joke he had signed up for. All the men in the footage had run. It proved only that the advantage of speed was in being crushed last. It would be him running soon, for it was his mission to lead a team of US Rangers into the depths of the Pentapod City and map it, and that was where the shoggoths presumably still existed.
“How did you survive?” Coaldale demanded of Lynch, from the back and in the shadows.
The SEAL officer was all seriousness when he said, “I ran the fastest.”
“So the ‘shoggoth’ gave up?”
“No. I was in a team of a hundred men. Only three of us got away because we ran in the opposite direction, away from the largest flock of fleeing men.”
Coaldale snorted. He knew then why he had been sent to Antarctica. He was just another sheep being led to the slaughter.