A L I E N
The Companion Short-Story
RL Blackburne 2017
Revised & Format Corrected 2022
Link To Google Drive PDF Included For Reader Preference
September 15 1986
December 26 2021
Always remembered. Never forgotten.
I miss you, Brother.
“Final report of the vessel Prometheus. The ship and her entire crew are gone. If you're receiving this transmission, make no attempt to come to its point of origin. There is only death here now, and I'm leaving it behind. It is New Year's Day, the year of our Lord, 2094. My name is Elisabeth Shaw, last survivor of the Prometheus. And I am still searching.”
Katherine looked out the narrow window of the decades-old Weyland Industries lander’s hatch at the barren, dark rocky landscape around the ship, her breath fogging the glass slightly as she stared out into the distances as well as at the distant snow-capped mountains and tried to ignore the massive dome-shaped building with the skull-face at it’s peak in her view,
The sun was coming up, and while some people would find such comforting it meant very little to her. The bleak prospects of the near future offered no avenues but dread and the inescapable conclusion of a particularly lonely death, one that would be slow and unquestionably miserable.
The world outside the small vessel was unspoiled and she found it’s wild harshness beautiful despite her mood, with an appreciation for such found only in those who spent the majority of their time withing the confines of a starship travelling from system to system in search of profit.
The barely-above-freezing temperature inside the lander was something that didn’t bother her in the slightest, but did have the benefit of somewhat annulling the olfactory effluvia from too many people living in too-close quarters for entirely too long. Such was the curse of having the physiological gifts her people had been bequeathed by Rothman.
She raised a hand, a three-inch long, gleaming grey talon slid out from under her index-finger’s nail and she idly scratched a small ‘smiley face’ into the paint and underlying superalloy below the lower rim of the window with it’s needle-sharp tip.
“May nineteenth, twenty-one-thirty-seven. Happy Birthday…” She said very quietly to herself in a lifeless monotone under her breath, officially marking her nineteenth year of life as well as the third week trapped on the planet they’d landed on.
There was tension in the air aboard the small vessel, thick and heavy, spiced with sheer desperation and an unappealingly electric, blurredly actinic old-sweat odor that continued to build day upon day.
People were afraid, but trying to hide it, with their glands silently betraying them through their skin’s pores.
Supplies were dwindling, the thirty-odd year old ship’s primary electrical system was damaged beyond any hope of repair from a frighteningly powerful storm that had come up fast a day after they‘d set down. It‘d been loaded with silicate-rich stone shards and dust, generating a devastatingly powerful electrical field in the dry air with heavy lightning that had gutted the ship‘s electrical system due to the age deteriorated shielding that had formerly protected it in decades past.
There was no other way off the planet they’d sought as refuge, and which now some whispered would become their communal grave. Not that it truly mattered as the vessel was not meant for anything beyond short trips within a single star system and the only other planetary bodies apart from the gas giant of the system they were in were both considerably less hospitable than the world they’d set down on.
They were all going to die on the nameless world they’d come to, there was no way to deny it, and none of the crew were pleased by the inescapable fact hanging over them every second and with every breath.
For her crewmates, death would come from suffocation, as the air scrubbers in the ship’s air system and their envirosuits slowly wore out beyond the ability to refresh and could no longer remove the CO2 from the world’s otherwise breathable air.
It could also come from starvation, she supposed, but it was far more likely to be the air scrubbers wearing out that would kill them.
The water supplies were dangerously low, and while death by dehydration loomed, she knew that when the scrubbers finally went, death would come for them in mere minutes.
For herself, she was mainly concerned with food and water.
The cold wasn’t a factor for her as much it was for her Human crewmates, nor was the air, a blessing now twisting into something of a curse.
She’d been outside the ship, in the course of the excursions to pick through the wreckage they’d found in the vicinity of the creepy non-Human structure. It was during one such trip that she’d discovered the long-expired air scrubbers in her respiratory equipment, whereupon she’d been surprised as she realized she could breathe the CO2 laden air without any difficulties whatsoever. A point of her heritage she’d been formerly ignorant about along with many other such points of knowledge.
She would survive, somehow, on the lifeless world they were stranded on and if she found some form of food, a source of water, she might very well be able to live out the rest of her life on this unnamed world.
She looked into her own eyes in her reflection on the glass of the window as she contemplated the future;
Clear green eyes to phantomesque green eyes, her attractively oval face framed with somewhat unkempt dark auburn-red hair in a tousled mane.
She’d survived the past, she’d survive the present, and she’d survive whatever the future brought.
This wasn’t a promise she made to herself, it was simply affirming a fact of existence as a Chimeran, she felt.
Conversation amongst the others had turned more and more towards exploring the dome-shaped building they’d set down within walking distance of, desperation looming over such discussions as speculation about the interior expanded wildly.
As things grew more desperate for the crew day after day, the topic arose more frequently. Some clung to a vague and desperate hope there would be something to find in there that would help them. Something for a source of water perhaps or something they might use to extend the life of the air scrubbers.
Katherine wasn’t of that opinion.
She’d seen the pit-type hanger, obviously large enough for the immense horseshoe-shaped thing some people thought was another building, but that she strongly suspected was a ship of some kind.
There was the exceedingly large amount of wreckage to consider also, that was very plainly debris from a Human-made vessel that had been destroyed completely and was spread across a vast area in an incident that had occurred decades previous.
There was a lifeboat module as well, a half hour’s walk away but looking it over with binoculars had provided nothing but disappointment.
Whatever had happened in the past offered nothing in the way of hope or salvation, she held as a carefully considered opinion.
Their number was ruled by the self-appointed ‘Captain’, a thuggish brute named ‘Meers’. Meers kept order chiefly by staying half-drunk, stoned, or both and meting out brutal physical discipline by way of using his massive frame and physical strength in bouncing offenders off the metal walls while rewarding the ‘loyal’ with small indulgences from his large and potent stash.
Katherine felt her ears move slightly beneath her hair at a sound from the cockpit, which the ‘Captain’ had claimed as his private domain.
He’d been locked in there for almost a full day, drunk and stoned this time, now the faint sounds of his awakening heralded yet another unwelcome appearance by him.
Through the airlock-rated door sealing off the cockpit and attendant insulation in the bulkhead between cockpit and main area, she heard a half-empty plastic bottle topple and bounce on the hard decking; The clumsy sounds of a person attempting to function through residual intoxication while not yet fully awake, cursing was heard through it all.
She loathed him, as well as everyone else aboard the small vessel with one or two possible exceptions.
Everyone amongst the crew of L-class starship ‘The Tramp’ that she had liked or cared about had been left behind when Meers and his band of dregs had abandoned ship.
She’d been in the lander, with orders from the real Captain to prep it as a lifeboat.
Then, along had come Meers and the despicable collection of svoluchs who tended to follow his lead, the rest was history. They’d been deeply frightened, riding the edge of all-out panic, some had blood on them despite being uninjured.
She’d tried to stop them from launching without the rest of the crew, and had ended up with the business end of Meers’s gun pressed to her left eye.
He’d told her to get out of the way.
She hadn’t needed to ask ‘Or what?’, as it was plainly obvious what his intent was.
She hadn’t had a chance to even start to comply, he’d moved much faster than normal for a Human, even one riding a full blast of heavy adrenalization.
He’d slapped her across the side of the head with the gun, hard enough to easily kill her if she’d been Human, clearing her out of his way and had then yanked the big red and white striped EMERGENCY LAUNCH handle that one of the others had cleared the safety retainers from.
The lander had been immediately blown free of the docking cradle by explosive bolts and pressurized gas charges, and they’d watched ‘The Tramp’ recede slowly from them until it’s hyperdrive engaged, and it’d vanished as if it had never been.
Those thoughts brought back memories. Dim and vague ones of her parents, who had been friends of the Captain and owner of ‘The Tramp’.
They’d both been killed in a docking accident when she was really little. The ship had become her home fully and truly, the Captain had taken her on as his Ward, the crew had become her family.
Things had been hard growing up aboard a tramper, a private-registry starship, yet in the overall they’d also been pretty good, they had been until Meers and his bunch had been hired as working-passage for a three-leg journey to Earth.
She’d disliked Meers and his ‘Boiz’ from first contact, the way they’d looked her over with a desire that fired a sense of complete revulsion in the pit of her stomach and made her talons ‘itch’ to extend as well as her instincts whisper sharply about how best to end the problem summarily.
She was uncertain of the details, but she knew they’d pulled into orbit of some little speck of a planetoid because of some weird signal. She’d heard it when it‘d been played in the crew lounge during the briefing about why they‘d come to the out-of-the-way system, and it didn’t sound Human or inspiring of anything except piling distance between it and them as fast as the hyperdrive could achieve without melting-down and exploding.
Somehow, it had been Meers’s doing that they’d taken the side trip, light-years out of their way. There’d been talk of big money, fat shares and the rest of such discussions among the crew.
It was no secret that ‘The Tramp’ was in hard times due to flight corridor re-routing, and she presumed the Captain had been desperate enough to take a gamble.
One of the two landers had gone down with a few people, and come back in less than a couple of hours, bleeding fire from it’s belly and a near-panicked pilot being talked-in by the Captain.
Someone had been hurt, wheeled very quickly to the infirmary, and she’d gone aboard the lander that had been twin to the one she was now inside of.
Something had dissolved a hand-sized hole in the floor of the staging-vestibule inside the lander, and had corroded through power conduits and various other supply and control lines.
That had explained the fire, the crew had been lucky that the emergency auto seal had kept the craft from depressurizing.
With her curiosity now piqued, she’d taken to learning more about what was happening, powerful instincts and intuition guiding her to learn more about what might be a danger to her survival.
No one told her anything, and she was kept away from the infirmary along with most of the rest of the crew.
Only people with some kind of medical knowledge or experience were allowed in. She‘d managed to work a hack with the internal cameras, and got an old damage control system surveillance camera working in the infirmary.
She hadn‘t seen much, but she caught a glimpse of the injured man on the autodoc‘s examination and treatment platform…
…with some kind of fleshy-looking crab-like creature clamped tightly on his face, it‘s tail wrapped snug-tight around his neck.
After that she stayed as far as possible from the infirmary. It wasn’t fear but a healthy sense of caution and not wanting to somehow cause a lapse in focus with an unknown organism aboard and that seemed to be seriously endangering the life of one of the crew.
Then, things got better after about a day and a half.
The injured crewmate was fine as it turned out. He was back among them as if nothing had happened. That crewman, along with the others who’d been with him before on the previous trip down to the worldlet they orbited, had been prepping at Meers’s intimidating insistence for another excursion to the planetoid when he’d suddenly taken violently ill.
She’d been there, helping with suit-checks and equipment prep in the airlock, when he’d suddenly clutched his chest, doubled over, sank to his knees.
He’d groaned, tried to speak…he’d screamed…then shrieked in a way that sent what felt like ice into her veins. It was a new sensation, and took her seconds to understand that it was genuine fear.
Something she’d never really felt before but managed to quickly quash and subdue.
He’d collapsed completely then, thrashing about on the deck in obvious mortal agony, but it seemed odd to her, as some of the movements didn’t seem to be correct with what his limbs were doing…and the more she watched in stunned transfixation, the more certain she’d been that something else was jerking his body around…
…from inside it.
It went on for a long, ghastly minute, his cloyingly sticky-sounding squeals and fluting shrieks becoming gaspy and even more desperate as he started having serious trouble breathing, his back arching so violently the top of his head touched the decking more than once…as something started happening to his chest.
It started as a suddenly visible lump, the size of a her fist, pressing and weakly pushing out from his chest, visible even through the bulk of the heavy work-spec spacesuit he wore.
Then, the pushing motion which had been earlier accompanied by the occasional ugly gristle-popping sounds were now accompanied by the crisply-sharp sound of snapping bones as the motion under the suit became a more aggressive repetitive punching and thrusting. The force of it had strained the heavy, multi-layered fabric of the suit to the point where it started ripping, popping equipment harness connectors and cracking the ruggedized ceramoplastic housing of the chest-mounted suit-functions control panel.
Then, with a sudden burst of naked, brutal force, whatever it was burst through the suit with a short, sharply-explosive tearing sound as the chest module of the suit was sent flying, broken completely free of it’s connections.
The room filled with the smell of blood in a smoothly warm rush as droplets along with gouts of it sprayed out and all over from where the thing erupted into the world from the still twitching and shuddering man‘s chest.
It was slender, with a smooth head the size of her fist that seemed an integral part of the body. There were no limbs, and it was covered in a whitely-translucent skin slicked and smeared in red blood that ran off it like water off plastic.
It raised itself up, it’s body now fully visible, no sign of any apprehension or fear on it’s part. It’s small jaws were closed, but even then it’s small, sharp greyish crystalline-metal teeth could be seen. No eyes nor ears could be seen, there was nothing but the small, toothed mouth. An oddly corrugated artery could be seen pulsing visibly close by and upwardly-behind it’s jaw.
It raised fully up, like a cobra she’d seen in a vid once, seemed to be surveying the room. She felt a distinct impression it could see, or rather sense them all perfectly.
The tiny maw opened, and it emitted an odd sound, a raggedly mewling rasped-hiss before it tore the rest of it’s snakelike length from the man’s body and with the speed of a striking snake vanished in a single wriggling motion that propelled it under a bench seat that was attached to part of the wall.
There was the sudden harsh sound of thin metal being torn rapidly, then nothing.
When she’d shaken off the shock of surprise enough to think again, she’d shone a light under the bench, seeing a hole that had been bitten and savagely torn through a
metal vent grille.
It wasn’t until some hours later that things had taken a much graver turn for the worse.
Katherine pulled herself back from memory, realizing that she hadn’t even known the man’s name. He’d been one of Meers’s hangers-on, and she despised them all so thoroughly she’d done her best unconsciously to tune them out of her worldview.
His uniquely horrific demise hadn’t saddened her in the least, but she’d immediately started to desperately worry about the people aboard ‘The Tramp’ that she did care about.
She was jerked completely out of her reverie by ‘captain’ Meers finally putting in an appearance, nearly falling flat on his face as the cockpit door was slid aside by brute strength from the lack of power to the hydraulics.
He clung to the hatch jamb, squinting and scowling at everyone, suspicion writ over his unshaven, thick-built and unattractively mean-looking face.
Air currents brought the compounded odors of the cockpit wafting into the lander’s central multipurpose area where everyone habitually gathered instinctively.
The strength and suddenness of the odors hit her almost like a physical force and she kept herself from snorting in disgust at the ripely unpleasant organic effluvium assaulting her olfactory sense.
She heard assorted reactions and muttered comments at the new olfactory additions, and ignored them herself, saying nothing.
Meers would be looking for a victim, someone to take his monumental hangover out upon, and she wasn’t about to step into that if she could avoid it.
She wasn’t afraid of Meers, or anyone else aboard the lander. She’d grown up largely ignorant of her heritage but she had learned something about her own abilities over time from experience.
She could, in fact, kill anyone or everyone aboard the small vessel they were huddled in.
What stopped her was she knew that if she started such, the ones still alive before she could get to them would dig out weapons and she wasn’t stupid enough to think her odds--when so seriously outnumbered by angry, scared and armed Humans--would be anywhere near her favor.
The other more important point that stopped her was she had doubts that being alone would be in any way an improvement on the situation she was in overall.
Meers braced himself, stepped away from the support of the hatch jamb, tripped over his own feet, staggered, stumbled and managed to stay upright as he went amongst the crew.
He was greeted with looks of fear and apprehension, which to him were better than adoration and adulation. She caught his eyes checking her over, as he always did, and turned away in disgust to look out the hatch window again.
As she did so, she considered that Meers had stashed a stockpile of booze and drugs aboard the lander, enough for one person for a couple of months of hard binging at least. As well as that he’d accomplished such by removing ration pack containers as well as the compact humidity condensor in addition to the portable ELT beacon.
Meers valued being able to indulge himself over anything else, and from some comments he’d made days previous, it was clear to everyone he didn’t care about dying, as long as he was deep-blitzed when the time came.
She sensed and heard his approach as she gazed into the distances, her right ear moving slightly under the fall of her auburn hair to track the sounds.
When he was close enough that she could smell his breath directly, she felt his large hand grab her ass, squeezing hard.
“Hey, Red. Given any thought t’betterin y’situation?” He slurred, his words coming in a revolting cloud of sharply-sour and rot-tinged breath, too warm and too humid.
Katherine pushed back the intuitive and instinctive response, which would have proven immediately fatal for Meers.
He’d never laid a hand on her before, and his doing so now told her how addled he still was from his massive single-man party in the cockpit.
She turned to face him, breaking his hold on her posterior, looking up at him but unintimidated by his greater height. She grabbed his wrist before his groping hand reached her crotch.
“Y’know, I have been. Just not in the way you’re hoping for.” She told him, cold-toned and fighting down the urge to take the man apart.
“Y’don’t keep me happy, y’don’t eat, little bitch…who d’y’think y’are?” Meers slurred, starting to get angry, and realizing that he couldn’t pull his wrist free from her grip on it.
“Wh’th’fuck? Leggo. Now.” Meers said, his tone making it clear he meant it as a threat.
A momentary flare-burst of pure hatred flashed up within her, and she barely managed to throttle it before something happened that she didn’t want to happen, she let go of the man’s wrist as a trick popped into her mind.
“If I don’t eat, Meers, you’ll never get to see what’s under my shirt and you most certainly won’t get to fuck me.” She told him, her own tone making it as solid a fact as the threat he’d just inferred.
Meers glared at her, his black-brown eyes sparkling with drug-dulled fury and his face flushing as he ground his teeth.
“Little whore, s’all y’are.” He snarled, getting a sharply-sarcastic smile in return.
“I have what you want, Meers. I also have a lot of ways to make sure you don’t get it without being nice. So when the fog clears, you should really think about that.” She told him, her tone not quite contemptuously amused, but close to it.
He started to raise his hand to slap her, and her own hand came up faster than a blink to his belly, fingers spread as if to grab something large.
The three-inch talons edged out just slightly from under her nails, each of the five needle sharp tips against his keg-belly, the pricking sharpness easily felt through the fabric of his stained shirt.
He looked down, seeing the seven-inch long recurve-blade shaped armblades along the outside edges of her wrist and forearm open like the hinged blades in a pocketknife.
Meers froze statue-still as she smiled nastily up at while him tilting her head slightly in a querying manner, then let his hand fall.
She hadn’t needed to say a thing more, as everything needing to be said had been conveyed clearly by the display of her kind’s formidable natural body weapons.
She retracted the talons, her arm blades folding edge down again as she lowered her own hand and turned back to gaze out the window as Meers departed.
Meers left her, muttering vicious curses and obscenities under his breath as he staggered off, kicking a sleeping crewmember out of his way as he stumbled through the utility area.
Even sound asleep, Katherine was aware of the person, knowing who it was, the scent coming off his unwashed body speaking of apprehension undercut by fear.
She awoke to an environmental skin suit being dropped beside her head.
Her eyes snapped open, her brain and body coming instantly awake. She looked up from the empty floor level supplies shelf she’d appropriated as a place to sleep in the small cargo bay, seeing the least troublesome of Meers’s bunch.
“Captain Meers says to tell you to; ‘Get your useless ass up and ready ‘. Says you‘ve got five minutes.” He said, backing away from her reflexively as she narrowed her eyes unconsciously at the irritating dissolution of a dream she’d been enjoying.
She sat up, stretching and yawning. She smirked at the twenty-something man who stuck out among the rest of Meers’s gang like a sore thumb; He was a timid
sort, always ready to do what he was told, intimidated by everybody but genuinely afraid of her.
“Timohden, go back and tell Meers I told you to tell him to get his fat ass up on this…” She said, flipping an inhumanly-long middle finger at Timohden by way of illustration, and partly to hint that he should leave her the hell alone.
Timohden just stared at her, his brain locked up and leaving him visibly confused.
He was afraid of the Chimeran girl among them, but knew that if he gave Meers her message, Meers would beat him nearly unconscious.
“Fuck, never mind. Just scamper off and tell him I’ll be there in six minutes.” Katherine told him.
She stood and started stripping down to her underwear, preparatory to putting on the enviro-suit as Timohden lingered for a few seconds, then caught her sharp glance of annoyance and departed to deliver the message.
“Okay, here’s the score. I’m gonna die on this goddamned rock unless you bunch find something to signal with. There’s some buildings and a bunch of shit that used to be some ship called ‘promo…‘ whatever. We’re gonna split into two teams, mine is checking the building, the rest of you comb through all that busted crap out there and find something useful. Don’t come back unless you do.“ Meers told the lander’s crew by way of what passed as a mission-briefing before opening the hatch.
Outside the ship, he grabbed Katherine’s arm, jerked her around to face him.
“Red, you stay where I can see you, you‘re the only one who can cobble electronics together with any sense, so you‘re pretty little ass is worth it‘s weight in gold.” He told her, then sent her ahead of him towards the dome-shaped building with a callous shove.
It didn’t escape her notice that among all of them, she was the only one without even a sidearm.
The long walk to the building wasn’t a problem for her, but some of her fellow crewmates were sounding winded before even making it halfway. She kept quiet, despite a solid dozen sarcastically-mocking comments in her mind rattling around.
She felt a surge of disgust at their wheezing, weakness and breathlessnes, that these dregs of human civilization had survived when those she’d loved and who’d taken her into their lives as ‘family’ were gone.
She didn’t know what the fate of the ship she’d grown up aboard was, but she had an unshakable feeling that everyone she knew and respected were gone from her life forever with only unanswerable questions in their wake.
The feeling of disgust curled in on itself, she could feel it twisting in her mind, crystallizing into anger;
Anger at the barely-human people she was forced to endure the existence of. Anger at the universe. Anger even for her long-dead parents for getting themselves killed and leaving her all alone and ignorant of her heritage.
She left the anger to smoulder deep in herself, as she heard Meers berating some of the exhausted members of their team, threatening to shoot one as an example to the others.
One of the few other women in the group looked over at her through the side of her helmet’s faceplate, a look of envy and contempt on her podgy, doughy potato-shaped and unattractive face. Katherine glanced at her suit tag; ‘Obby’. She nodded to herself mentally, the name suited her, she very much looked like an ‘Obby’.
“Hey, ginger-bitch, don’t think I don’t know what you and Meers are up to.” Obby said to her on the one-to-one frequency-pair.
“Well, clue me in.” Katherine said, tone plain and monotone, she refused to waste any extra energy in speaking to the latest adversary to annoy her.
“You and Meers, he’s padding out your rations, all cause you roll that pretty little ass of yours and play hard-to-get. You’re a freak, a gene-joke like the rest of your kind. No real man worth his balls would want you, so stop deluding yourself and stop playing ‘Human’.” Obby snarled at her coldly.
Katherine looked out the side of her helmet at Obby who glared at her, small deep-set eyes sharp and hateful instead of their usual dull and vapid nature.
“What’s the matter, Obby? You pissed cause I look more like a Human than you do? You hate me for not looking like an evolutionary throwback podge of lard sculpted by a pre-schooler? Monkeybitch, you want our beloved ‘captain’, you can have him, and good luck with that.” She volleyed back, a nastily mocking and sarcastic tone in her voice as sharp as she could make it.
“You filthy, inhuman cunt!” Obby snarled, drawing her utility belt knife, and regretting it a moment later.
Katherine had noticed her hand edge unconsciously towards the knife when she’d fired her tirade, and was fully ready for it when Obby made the mistake of pulling it.
She tapped her comms back to General Address, gave Obby her best ‘fuck you’ smile while she leapt-fell backwards with intentional theatrical ‘clumsiness’ born of purposeful lack of effort in controlling the action while she screamed.
She wasn’t sure what exactly would transpire, but she had a solid grasp of the probable generalities.
Meers didn’t disappoint, as a thunderclap heralded the high-calibre bullet that punched through Obby’s faceplate and the middle of her face. Her nose becoming a large hole as blood, brains, scalp, hair and bone exploded out and splashed across the inside-rear of her helmet as well as coming around far enough to splash across inside the helmet’s faceplate.
Her lifeless body fell deadweight-sideways, eyes still open and vacant as empty rooms.
‘That worked better than I figured it would,’ Katherine thought as she felt a small trace of a satisfied smile on her lips.
The rest of the trip to the ancient, visibly weathered storm-beaten and time-worn building had largely been accomplished in silence after Meers’s summarily final demonstration of his ‘authority’.
Katherine knew he’d only killed Obby out of his own self- interest, protecting the only person among them with any real skills regarding electronics. It had an interesting side-effect in the vague deference extended her now, from fear of Meers and upsetting him.
They all knew she was the one chance they had of rescue, and that Meers wouldn’t blink in killing any of them, or sacrificing any of them if need be to keep her around.
At the bottom of the dome-shaped building they found wide, closely-spaced rectangular entryways that opened onto an expansive, low ceiling area that sloped downward. It was scattered with rocks, dirt and sand blown in by eons of winds.
However, some oddities of a fragile nature remained;
Footprints, more than a single person could be responsible for, as they were in differing boot-sizes.
In random areas, wind-blown drifts of dirt and sand had erased them, but enough remained to tell of the place having been visited before.
“Popular place, wonder if they found anything cool.” Katherine spoke her thoughts aloud as she wandered ahead to a door like a camera‘s iris, but with a broken lower-right side blade.
“In case you missed that open pit-hangar, that weird-looking horseshoe-thing and the wreckage strewn all over hell with a wrecked lifeboat in it all, I’d say they did. Now shut the fuck up and stay out of the way before I put a leash on you. Women are to stay silent, and obedient.” Said a man named ‘Kalba’ over the general comms to her.
Katherine turned back to the entryway as she silently made a mocking facial expression of him, switched on a flashlight and shone it inside the area beyond the iris-door, switching on the inertial navigation unit of her suit as she did so..
“Oh, goody. Dark, dirty, creepy as hell. Hey, Meers, you’ll like it, it’s just like the inside of your head.” She taunted Meers over the general comms.
A loud muzzle blast sounded as a bullet blew chips out of the wall only six inches from her leg, startling her somewhat but not significantly as she’d half-expected a reply along such lines.
“I need you alive, I don’t care if you can still walk.” Meers said with a flat-coldness in his tone that she took seriously.
‘Okay then, no more fun-and-games. ’ She thought to herself and waited by the iris-door for the rest of the group to catch up. Meers was leading, shoved her aside and crouched down to slip through the access provided by the broken blade of the iris-door.
Kalba tapped the side of her helmet with the muzzle of his submachinegun, pointed where Meers had gone, and she took the hint.
As she moved through the gap, she noticed the green LED telltale on her suit’s left wrist instrument-control module, the green indicated ‘breathable atmosphere’ by Human standards.
Inside the vestibule beyond and immediately-close to the iris-door, Katherine gazed around, admiring the high-ceilinged support-column-free architecture and sideways-kidney shaped profile of the organic-aesthetic corridor that stretched away with a curve that followed that of the exterior wall.
She found that she liked the overall aesthetic that visibly disturbed her companions, and realized that unlike herself, they‘d all be nearly blind in the darkness except for their suit and hand lights.
She considered that advantage in her favor, filed it away for later in the back of her mind.
She moved a bit closer to the wall, shining her handlight on it, for a good up- close look.
The material met the eye like stone, but even from a reasonable distance there was a ‘something’ about it she couldn’t put a definite finger on that made her think it was more than what it seemed to be.
“It’s called a ‘wall‘, you stupid girl. Get your ass moving and keep up.” Kalba said to her, his tone telling her he was on-edge, shoving her again in the direction Meers was leading.
Katherine kept her silence, but promised herself she’d find a way to square things off regarding Kalba in regards to his attitude towards her.
She didn’t know very much about any of Meers’s gang of losers, but she did know that Kalba despised women, considered them only useful for one thing, biologically, and that they should stay silent and in the home.
She wasn’t sure what he thought of Chimerans, but was pretty sure he ranked her people somewhere in the depths along with her gender.
She mentally shrugged it off and continued on along the way, keeping up with the group and taking in the surroundings and experience of the non-Human building and architecture.
To her, it was eye-wideningly, mind-warpingly exciting.
They were actually inside an ancient ruin of non-Human works.
It struck her so profoundly, it almost felt as if she were indeed not awake but half-dreaming.
She was well aware of the widespread interest among Human civilization concerning non-Human extraterrestrials and that for the vast majority of people they would never know more than scientific conjecture and conspiracy theories spiced up with the occasional finding of remnant traces of long dead and vanished civilizations.
Even the most professional and educated among them, tenured Professors and the like who taught Xenocultural Theory, would never be as fortunate as she was in this time to be in this place.
Yet, here she was. The orphaned daughter of two people of no special consideration or position in life…
…walking the ancient corridors made unknown centuries ago by those who were not of Earth.
She grinned in delight as she fully absorbed the realization dawning upon her mind.
The absolute lack of intellectual curiosity among her companions didn’t diminish the experience for her one bit, nor did it surprise her in the least.
Her thoughts were momentarily disrupted by a sharp pain in her stomach, followed by a ‘rolling’ sensation and a growl-like sensation-sound.
It’d been a day and longer since she’d last eaten and her body was complaining about the state of affairs, demanding the oversight be remedied at the soonest opportunity.
Meers had been shorting her in food from the start, trying to use it as a weapon to force her compliance. He kept the keys to the rations locker with him always, and when he’d gone off on his last bender, no one had eaten.
She’d considered and prepared to pick the locks, but given where the lockers were kept and the eyes on them she’d never had an opportunity to do so.
However, before setting out on their present trip, he’d tossed around some food bars, pointedly leaving her out of his consideration.
No one had seen fit to share anything with her.
In turn, she’d pointedly left off mentioning the breathable air inside the building, letting her companions put un-needed wear on their suit air scrubbers. She’d also left out mentioning that inertial navigation be switched on as insurance versus getting lost inside the immense and absolutely unfamiliar building.
Her own suit she’d switched over to filtered external atmo a days previous when she found that someone had replaced the CO2 scrubber cartridges in her suit for near-entirely depleted ones.
She didn’t care as such posed no danger to her whatsoever, but did take note that someone among the crew was willing to toss her life away without even having the decency to face her.
The priniple and sentiment of such was what truly demanded reckoning.
She doubted that she’d find out who had done it, but on the off-chance she did, there’d be one less mouth among their number to feed.
They continued to pick their way deeper into the building as they followed the dark corridor, signs of age-related deterioration everywhere;
The stone floor was littered with small pieces of fallen stone from the ceiling, rock dust had even formed thinly-shallow drifts in places driven by wafting air currents.
She contemplated how long that must have taken, looked around with a new sense of appreciation for the age of the structure and how well it was holding up after what must have been dozens or perhaps even hundreds of millennia.
They came to a chamber, circular and as wide as a docking bay with a shaft of recognizable sunlight beaming down from a portal in the middle of the extremely high ceiling,. The floor was cut with paths worn over time by small finger-width rivulets of what looked like water and she had immediately noticed that it was ‘raining‘ in the chamber but was uncertain of the source. The rivulets all drained into a wide hole in the middle of the floor, directly beneath the portal from which the sunlight shone.
Katherine didn’t get too close to it, untrusting as she was of the people around her.
Yes, Meers needed her, but some of his followers she wouldn’t put anything past.
What she could see from where she stood showed a descent into an abyss of lightless depths, along with entirely unknown hazards.
The sunlight would only go so far, and the drop could be hundreds of meters down, she had no interest in finding out the hard way.
“Enough sightseeing you morons, keep moving.” Meers growled over the comms and they left the chamber behind, entering another lightless, long corridor. She noticed small patches of what looked like richly lush and lustrous moss growing in some spots on the walls as they departed, and again as they started down the new corridor. It seemed important somehow, in a way she didn’t have enough information with which to figure it out. Still, she filed away it’s existence in the back of her memory.
A short time later, they came across an inset section on the wall of the corridor, flat-surfaced but with some kind of unidentifiable characters that had been carved flawlessly into the stone of the surface whose top border was five feet above their head-height.
“Whaddya think it says?” One of the men closest to Meers asked.
“ ’Free beer and bitches, all-you- can-eat steak.’ I don’t fucking know, and who gives a shit. Unless you can read it and it tells us where to find what we need, forget it.” Came the voice of a woman Katherine knew as ‘Tunny’.
She was a humourless, perpetually-annoyed woman of indeterminate age and very plain appearance although Katherine guessed she was in her late-thirties, from her scent and how she moved along with some slight grinding sounds in some of her joints from the tiniest aspects of age-related deterioration.
She’d learned long ago that Humans smelled in certain ways depending on age.
It was hardly precise though, and she didn’t overly care for Tunny, though the woman was somewhat less of an enemy than Obby had been.
Katherine took a snapshot with her helmet’s camera, curious about the language and wanting a souvenir of the experience. That done she kept up and found something far more camera-worthy along with the rest of the group. The general comms was filled with cross-chatter as everyone commented.
It was a mural, executed in relief, with raised areas forming the elements of the picture. It showed three figures, one Human, she supposed, but the other two were mysteries.
The first one, on the left of the mural, wore robes and with both hands it held some kind of large, ten-legged spider or crab-like creature with a long tail. The second one, on the right of the mural, was some kind of armoured-looking creature, with a kind of elephantine snout that came down from the face and melded to the chest. It held something that looked like a plainly-styled urn or vase.
In the foreground of the mural lay a third figure on an alter or dais of some kind, a creature both interesting and horrifying in appearance. Some kind of segmented hose-like conduits ran from points on it’s back and side over the edge of the alter- like object it was on.
The perspective was false, meant to show details that would otherwise be hidden, and to allow the fascinatingly-chilling creature to lay ‘flat’ despite the protuberances on it’s back. Above it’s midsection, seemingly ‘hovering’ in representation, was some kind of large odd-looking egg, with a top that seemed to be composed of closed petal- like flaps. The commentary flowing across the general comms was typical of those engaging in it;
“Whoever these dudes were, they had a weird idea of art.”
“Maybe this is their idea of a pin-up?”
“Ha-ha-ha. You know as much about pin-ups as you do about this.”
“Naw, he knows more about this than he does about pin-ups!”
“Whatever, asstards. Ya think it means anything?”
“Dunno…maybe an advertisement of some kind?”
“Nah…feels more like some kind of trophy-picture, to me.”
“Man, if that’s true, can ya imagine hunting whatever that dead-looking thing is? Look at the tail man! Could probably spear right through you.”
“Maybe it’s an herbivore? Some alien planet’s version of, like, a deer?”
“Nuthin about that thing says ‘herbivore’ to me, man. If we find one, you go and check it‘s teeth.”
As the group chattered on, Katherine snapped several pics. To her the mural had a darker tone, seemed to be about something much more than just a hunting trip picture. It’s placement in the corridor made no sense to her, and she wondered if the earlier section with the writing had some connection to the mural.
She felt as if she could almost understand, but needed more pieces to fill in the blanks. Something about the mural also started to give her the impression that they shouldn’t be here…
…that they weren’t meant to be here.
Meers kept them moving, but a short ways after the mural, a wide entryway that branched off from the corridor provided a view that caught his attention.
“Hold up. Looks like this trip won’t be a write-off after all.” Meers commented speculatively as he surveyed the tableau that held his thoughts.
Katherine stood beside him, threw her comments out on the general comms.
“I don’t think there’s anything in there I can use to build anything with. But I‘d say it has something t‘do with that mural behind us” She said, snapping a few pics.
The chamber that the entryway opened onto was huge, with a very high domed ceiling along with a thin layer of softly-glowing blue mist over what appeared to be dozens, possibly hundreds, of egg-like objects like they’d seen in the previous mural.
Directly opposite the entryway they stood at, they could see another mural, with a pedestal set before it, on the middle of which was a fist-sized dimly green-glowing object.
“Okay, volunteer-time. Tunny, Kalba, Thoms.” Meers said over the general comms. It wasn’t a suggestion, and left no room for refusal.
There was some disgruntled muttering, but the three went ahead into the chamber.
They went in slowly, apprehensively, looking around and sweeping with their weapons and mounted tactical lights.
“Go find out what that green glow is. If it’s glowing it’s gotta be important.” Meers told them tersely over the comms.
“Yeah, on it. Slow-going, floor’s slippery. These egg-things, they’ve got some kind of root-type things at their bases.” Tunny told him over the comms.
“Yah, don’t fucking care about plants right now.” Meers said as the trio worked their way among and through the space between large egg-shaped pods.
“This blue mist, weird. Reacts when broken but only if it’s a vertical-moving thing.” Thoms said, moving his submachinegun up and down through the chest-high mist layer. Each time it was breached from below, a type of electronic tone sounded in the comms frequency as well as audibly.
“Security system maybe?” Tunny speculated aloud.
“Makes as much sense as anything does.” Kalba said, slipping and nearly falling with a burst of cursing in French.
“Whoa! That’s fucked up!” Thoms said, stopping and taking a closer look at the nearest ovoid.
“You gotta see this shit!! There’s…I dunno, some kinda liquid running from the bottom to the top, dripping up, and when it gets to the top, it drips off…upward!! This is so fuckin’ freaky!!” Thoms exclaimed.
“Focus, idiots. Christ, you’re worse than my sister’s kids. Y’have the attention span of fruit flies. Thoms, sounds like you got into some bad shit again.” Meers growled over the comms, getting more irritated by the minute.
Katherine studied the nearest of the ovoids to her, a good ten yards away, and noticed the same thing Thoms had spoken of, hard to make out in the low back-scattered lighting of the tactical lights on the weapons, but she could see droplets glitter in the backwash of the trio’s lights as they ‘fell’ upward.
Something caught her eye at the far end of the chamber, across from the mural by the pedestal with the green crystal, she thought she’d seen some hint of movement.
She cranked the zoom feature on her helmet camera to maximum along with it’s it’s sensitivity, using it as an ad-hoc night vision telescope.
”Thoms isn’t hallucinating, I see what he was referring to as well, so does Kalba. These things are sealed. The top’s made of four flaps, and where they meet there’s some kind of, I dunno what to call it. It’s made of some kind of polished stone, cross-shaped with writing on it like that area in the corridor. It‘s not part of the egg-thing, pretty sure about that.” Tunny said over the comms, voice calm, objective.
She was her usual unexcitable self, if the momentous nature of what was all around them impressed her at all, it was impossible for anyone to tell.
“What the fuck are you so fascinated with?” Meers asked Katherine over the comms, having noted her intense scrutiny of the distant wall.
“Thought I saw something move over there.” She pointed out the area with her flashlight set to a very narrow beam as she heard Meers snort in irritation.
“Only things moving in this goddamned tomb is us. Now, shut up, I don’t need you making everyone edgier than they are right now.” Meers barked at her.
“Fine, be a prick about it. If something bites your ass off, don’t say I didn’t try to warn you, asshole.” She snapped back, still searching visually for the source of the half-glimpsed movement.
Thoms, Tunny and Kalba had made their way to the area with the pedestal and green glow, walking across a large iris-like area of the floor a short ways from it and shining their lights around while studying the mural.
In the center of the mural, seeming to be of great significance was another representation of the crab-like thing seen in the previous mural. There were representations near the top of what looked like the heads of the creatures with the snouts, and the rest made no sense to any of them, but did cause a growing sense of uneasiness.
Tunny started examining the pedestal, crouching down and looking it over thoroughly. With that done, she turned her attention to the large, crudely-cut glowing green crystal protruding from a hole in the center of the pedestal’s table-flat top.
“Meers, this crystal is the source of the glow, sending you my camera feed now,” Tunny said over the comms as she sent the feed to him.
“I can’t tell what it’s made of, but it seems to be self-luminous, not lit from below although I can’t be certain.”
“Can you remove it?” Meers asked.
“Unsure, and I doubt it.” Tunny replied and had another, closer look at the crystal as Kalba and Thoms wandered the area close by, weapons up and obviously still nervous about the chamber and it’s alien nature. The aesthetics of the walls didn’t help, everywhere one looked the walls made one think one was inside a gigantic creature due to the rib-cage reminiscent design elements.
“Try. It’s time I started getting something out of this.” Meers told her.
Tunny started working at the crystal, taking hold of it, tugging, twisting, exploring any movement there might be as a clue to how it might be removed.
After a few minutes, she found that it moved slightly when she tried pulling it straight up, shone her light down the base, trying to see below it to what it was connected to through a slight gap. The crystal, she noted was the exact size of the hole below it, and tested a theory by pressing down.
The crystal moved easily, as if moving on a fluidic support of some kind, and when it had moved halfway down into the pedestal, she felt a solidly mechanical ‘click’ through her suit glove.
Thoms and Kalba happened to be standing on the iris-like area of the floor as it began to rotate and open, as the gap in the middle widened, it became immediately apparent something was rising up from beneath it. They both quickly stepped off and away, covering the opening with their weapons.
“What. The. Fuck ….” Thoms said, shocked into a flat monotone as a platform raised up from below to be level with the floor.
Upon in, laying on it’s side, was a figure that seemed to be both inspired from and able to inspire the worst of nightmares.
As they’d seen not long before on the mural.
“Meers, we found something. You should come and have a look for yourself.” Tunny said as she moved, cautiously, to have a better look at the quiescent figure that had been revealed. Kalba and Thoms backed away a bit from the creature on the platform, weapons aimed at it, ready to start shooting at the thinnest excuse to do so.
Meers dragged an unresisting Katherine through the field of egg-like pods and a wide grin appeared on his face as he took in the sight of his prize.
“Now this is gonna be worth something!” He exclaimed, unhesitatingly crouching down to have a better look at the darkly-monstrous being. He put his gloved hand on the sleekly-extended head, tapping the translucent top portion of the head with a finger as he spoke.
“Ruins and all this other crap, no one’ll pay me for. Some archeological fags will claim it in the name of ‘furthering human knowledge’ or some same kinda shit and that’ll be that. This? This critter is money, lots of it and it’ll make me famous.” Meers all but cackled as he looked over the large biped.
Katherine was fascinated as well, but kept a distance. She noted the conduits that were attached to the sides of it’s skeletal torso. They were metallic, with flexible segmented sections, supply lines she guessed, maybe having something to do with some kind of hypersleep-like preservation. She knew it was somehow very important to the beings that had constructed the building, as they’d gone to some lengths to preserve it and present it the way she and the group had discovered.
She took a rapid series of pictures, walking a slow circle around it, alert for even the slightest movement that might signal it’s awakening. If it came out of stasis or whatever state it was in and back to active-life, she didn’t want to be anywhere near it. Her instincts and intuition shrilled at her about the potential danger found here and the creature looked to be something best kept away from. Unlike Meers, she was clear-headed enough to see it, and also kept an eye out for any repeats of that movement she’d glimpsed earlier.
Both groups made it back to the lander before night fell, and just ahead of a storm that came sweeping through the valley that was cousin to the one that had destroyed the ship’s electrical systems. However, Meers was in a good mood, and everyone breathed easier because of it.
For the first time in days, Katherine had a chance to eat and made the most of it. Yet, she wasn’t so driven by hunger that she didn’t think to pocket the energy snack bar that was part of a standard fieldpak ration MRE.
She also took advantage of the fact that some of her crewmates just plain didn’t like them and let her have them merely for the asking, though she did trade the powdered instant coffee and tea in her mealpak in exchange for them from her own sense of fairness.
Everyone was celebrating as Meers had opened some of his private stock of party materials to the crew.
Inside the ancient building they’d found something that would be worth whatever Meers asked and the wreckage field had yielded a lot of damaged electronics that could be slowly made into a transceiver and possibly also a hyperluminal distress beacon.
There was a lot of talk, somewhat incoherent, but no one cared as for the first time in a long stretch there was a reason to be happy and look beyond the imminent prospect of a slow death.
There was a chance of rescue.
They would be as wealthy as Meers allowed them to be.
Meers was bragging about how he had done the discovering, taking full credit as usual, and no one disputed it, no one wanted to wreck the buzz. He also talked at length and growing inability to articulate words how the plan to recover the find would go.
The following day, no one did much as they struggled to cope with monumental hangovers, raiding the small infirmary for anything and everything that would dull or abate the symptoms.
Katherine stayed out of the way of everyone else, busied herself as she looked after the upkeeping of what few things aboard the lander still worked, namely the solar panels and the air scrubbers.
The lander’s air processing system had scrubber elements that could ‘cook’ off the carbon they accumulated from stripping it out of the CO2. There were three scrubber cores, and Katherine purged one of them each day, using the meager power collected from the solar panels and stored in the ship’s battery bank. It
extended their operational life, but it couldn’t be continued indefinitely.
As she quietly worked at the life support systems console in the cramped and deserted systems junction chamber she heard someone coming along the crawlway that was the only access in or out.
She turned her head to see a young woman in the crawl way.
Katherine knew of her more than she genuinely knew her. She‘d been a recent hire on ‘The Tramp‘ and they‘d never got a chance to interact much due to work, hypersleep and the tragedy that Meers had guided the ship into.
Elizabeth Winestead was attractive in a ‘girl-next-door‘ manner, mid-twenties, shoulder-length dark brown hair with dark brown eyes that complemented to her hair. She’d been hired aboard ‘The Tramp’ because although she wasn’t a specialist she did possess an extremely broad general skill set.
“Need any help?” She asked, to which Katherine slowly moved her head to signal the negative.
“Okay then, mind if I hide out here for a while? Things are getting pretty stupid out there.” She asked and commented.
“Knock yourself out.” Katherine said, turning back to the console, feeling Elizabeth’s eyes on her as she found a reasonably comfortable place to sit among the conduits and machinery in the small space.
“You’re Chimeran.” She said, a plain statement of fact as she studied Katherine’s arm blades and her inhumanly long-fingered hands.
“All my life.” She replied flatly, neutral toned as she finished a diagnostics check on one of the three scrubber elements.
“I think we’re starting off wrong here. It’s ‘Katherine’, right? I’m Elizabeth, and I’m not a hater of your people. I just never expected to actually meet someone like you except in passing.” Elizabeth told her,, trying to prevent a problem before it began.
Katherine turned to look at her, face expressionless as she studied Elizabeth’s facial expression and body-language. She made a decision, based on instinct and intuition, raised her chin a fraction.
“You’re right, things were starting off bad. Let’s forget it and go from here, okay?” She asked Elizabeth.
“Agreed.” Elizabeth said, smiling and visibly relaxing at the promising start to a possible new friendship. Katherine considered things, reached into her jacket, drew out a black plastic flask, unlatched the cap, snapped it open and took a healthy swig then extended it towards Elizabeth.
“Took this from our ’captain’s’ stash last night, it’s Bourbon, I think..” She said as Elizabeth took the flask, helped herself to a couple of swigs, snapped the cap closed and handed it back.
“Thanks, and that’s pretty good stuff. Never figured Meers to have any class, but that tasted expensive.” She commented with a small laugh.
Katherine snorted and smirked. “He probably bought it by accident, or stole it off someone.” She replied.
As the day wore on, the two young women began building towards a friendship, helped in-part as they were the only true survivors of the lost ship they’d once called home.
The next excursion was delayed while Katherine and Elizabeth fulfilled the
not-so-polite ‘request’ of the drunken and intoxicated Meers for a specific weapon after he’d watched some old action-movie vids found in the lander’s archaic entertainment library.
He’d demanded a flamethrower, and they’d done their best with what materials were at hand.
They’d scrounged among the decades-old wreckage outside and worked with spare parts stores aboard the lander. In the end, it was crudely rifle-shaped, but potently functional.
Meers had tested it, approved and told them all to get prepped as they were leaving to claim the find immediately. Standing inside, with the new flamethrower and his preferred method of dealing with dissenters a solid memory in everyone’s minds, no one argued.
After everyone had rushed to get prepped and suited up, the entire crew of the lander made their way towards the dome-shaped building, walking through the entryway of the walls surrounding it that were hundreds of feet high and made of solid and seamless stone.
The relatively low walls surrounding the building got Elizabeth’s attention, and she mentioned her thoughts to Katherine.
“These walls are about three-hundred feet high, right? They’re one piece, as if they were made using some kind of casting process.” She told her.
“Could be some kind of concrete, maybe?” Katherine asked, following Elizabeth as she went for a closer look at the edge of the entryway, using her utility knife and her flashlight to chip off a small piece, exposing the inner material that hadn‘t been weathered.
“No, not concrete, see the grain structure? I’m not a Geologist but I know enough to be able to tell this is basalt. Granite, bedrock that’s been melted and formed then
cooled.” She commented to Katherine who turned a bit as she looked around, taking in the walls surrounding the building with a new appreciation.
“Must’ve been one helluva big machine, would be nice to see something like that working.” Katherine commented as she imagined a gigantic machine, one based off the biomechanical aesthetic they’d seen so far, moving slowly and steadily, pouring and forming rock molten enough to flow like syrup.
“Yeah, and the building, I’ll bet they made it the same way…three-dee printing with molten stone, that’d be something to watch.” Elizabeth said with a tone of wonder in her voice, looking up at the building.
Catching- up, and getting angry looks from Meers and others they followed everyone else in through the broken iris-door and down the corridor to the chamber with the large, organic egg-pods and the previously-revealed platform with it’s quiescent passenger.
Picking their way among the egg-like pods, Elizabeth followed Katherine as she carefully made her way among the ovoids, carefully avoided contacting any of them. She was disturbed by their plainly organic appearance and even more unsettled by the un-natural way the liquid dripped off them upward.
She cleared the area dominated by the pods and stopped, frozen-still as she caught a good look at the ‘find’ that Meers was so pleased about.
“What the fuck is that??!” She asked, grabbing Katherine’s arm reflexively.
“Meers’s new trophy.” Katherine said, her own voice a little tight-sounding as she looked on the creature’s dark form. It hadn’t moved at all insofar as she could tell,
but she had a sense that it could, a suspicion born of the tubes connected to it.
After all, a dead thing didn’t need any kind of support or supply tubing. She also kept an eye open for any signs of the furtive movement she was certain she’d glimpsed on their previous visit.
Elizabeth was simultaneously frightened just by looking at the creature, and driven by curiosity to see more of it, edging closer in blatant apprehension warring with fascination and intrigue.
She studied it with her eyes, taking pics with her helmet camera, and found herself crouching down to actually touch it, ready to leap back if it showed any signs of activity.
The chitinous-skin-plastic-leather sensation of it’s upper arm was odd and unique, even through the suit gloves. The way it lay suggested it had been placed, it’s tail seeming to have been adjusted to be displayed in a semicircular curve with the stinger-like hooked tip pointed towards it’s own head, instead of just left however it had been when the creature had been placed there.
“This thing, look at it. It’s physiognomy, it’s biological systems built on mechanical aspects…or vice-versa. God….where did they find this creature? Think about what the biology of it’s native environment must be like…” Elizabeth commented half to herself as she considered an immense range of possibilities, transfixed by her study of it. She noted the six-fingered hands, the plantigrade, human-like structure of it’s legs, and leaned closer to see better through the translucent top of it’s head.
“I don’t have time for this science-y shit. Just get the goddamned thing unhooked and bagged. There’s still a lot to do, so get a fucking move on!” Meers yelled across the general comms, making a few of the group jump.
Tunny slipped and almost fell when Meers shrieked at them all, her hands going out reflexively to catch herself. One hand scraping across the top of an ovoid, the small, cross-shaped stone piece that had been surmounting it’s top fell away without being noticed.
Katherine and Elizabeth worked on examining the points where the conduits connected to the creature’s body, seeking a way to remove them as they seemed melded to the creature’s tissues and neither of them wanted to upset Meers any more than he already was by damaging ‘his’ discovery.
Movement at the corner of her eye drew Katherine’s attention, and she looked up from where she crouched along with Elizabeth, nudging her friend on the shoulder.
The egg-like pod nearest Tunny had developed raised spots along it’s top, and the four flaps that it’s top was composed of opened simultaneously, like a flesh-based flower opening.
“Tunny, get the fuck away from that thing!” Meers ordered, and Tunny reflexively turned to see what caused so much concern as everyone else unconsciously took a step or two back from the area, weapons raised.
Tunny had completed her turn, looked down and time to say “Oh…” before something quite sizeable leapt from the egg-pod in a flash of motion, impacting and somehow attaching to the faceplate of her helmet as she started screaming over the comms, grabbing at the creature with both hands and trying to tear it off and away from her.
Elizabeth’s heart nearly stopped as she caught a decent glimpse of the creature as
Kalba and one of Meers’s men she didn’t know ran to help Tunny, recognizing it as an exact twin of the creature she’d seen on the face of the crewman aboard ‘The Tramp’ when she’d been called in to help in attempts to remove it.
Over Tunny’s screams came a distinctive sizzling sound, and that was written off as interference until Tunny screamed in a voice that cracked from sheer desperation how it was burning through her faceplate.
Kalba and the other man grabbed some of it’s legs on either side of it’s body and tried pulling it off as Tunny kept desperately struggling to do so herself but couldn’t find a decent grip on it. The comms were a cacophony of obscenity-laden cross chatter that strained the limits of the system’s abilities to cope.
Kalba cursed in Arabic and French as the other man yelled in agony, jerking his hand back from where he’d had fingers under two of the creature’s side legs against Tunny’s faceplate.
“Fucking thing…pressure crushed my goddamn finger!!” He yelled, still trying to help with his uninjured right hand.
Tunny shrieked in naked terror, almost blowing out the earphones in a couple of helmets as the creature began flexing it’s legs up one-by-one, arching them like a spider, to slip through the hole it had made for itself, it’s tail drawing up, tip-first and sliding in through the hole under it’s body.
Kalba grabbed it at the front of it’s body, working two fingers under it, trying to get more into play, as the other man grabbed it at the base of it’s tail, where it joined the body.
They both gave it all they had, that much was evident to anyone, their breathing harsh with critical levels of exertion as Tunny continued to shriek and scrabble at the creature with her own hands, the tone of her screams and shrieks becoming unbelievably even more terrible than before.
Then, her voice started sounding muffled, as if her mouth was full, followed with choking noises that started coming over the comms followed by a last muffled scream as the creature slipped through the hole it had made then snugged itself fully within her helmet and over her face despite the best efforts of two strong me to stop it.
She thrashed wildly, Kalba and the other man supported and lowered her to the floor as she tripped over her own feet and fell, hands still desperately scrabbling but visibly slowing and weakening at the front of her helmet where a large, melt-edged hole now was.
Katherine glanced around, checking to see if any other pods had opened, none had, but as she did so she noticed that the milling feet of the horror-stricken group had snagged and yanked loose some of the conduit’s the creature on the floor had been connected to.
A clear fluid dripped from the ends of the detached conduits, and where they’d been attached to the creature there was no sign they’d ever been so. Then, as she looked on, it twitched, once, twice, and the tail moved, sliding across the stone-like material of the platform it was on.
The jaws opened, closed, as the limbs moved and it gained it’s feet in a single smoothly-fluid motion.
Meers noticed the creature rise up to it‘s full eight-plus foot height, turned from Tunny’s plight with a full-throated bellow and wild eyes behind his faceplate as he raised the flamethrower.
Katherine grabbed the horror-frozen Elizabeth and dove as far away as she could
get them both from the awakened nightmare and the flamethrower Meers brought to bear on it.
She heard and saw the glow ahead of them as they tumbled for a short ways after completing the leap, glanced back to see the enormous yellow-white plume of hydrogen-methane-oxygen fuelled flame erupt and occlude the dark shape with eye-squinting brightness.
Then it stepped through it, closing on Meers, the flame washing over and around it from the sustained blast.
It swatted the weapon away with a blurringly-fast movement of it’s left arm while reaching for Meers with the other, catching hold of his suit’s chest module as he screamed like Tunny had only moments earlier, a scream of absolute and complete terror the Human mind refused to accept.
Katherine followed instinct and intuition as her always-first-choice go-to, getting her feet under her while helping her friend do likewise and started running, her hand clutching Elizabeth’s arm.
She didn’t run blindly, she was frightened, but the Chimeran brain worked on different principles than the brains of the species that had created hers, and such allowed a high degree of very rapid intelligent function during even the most profound intensities of fear.
She guided their headlong flight through the egg-like pods toward the entryway and the corridor beyond, glancing at the inertial navigator unit on her suit’s left vambrace.
In the corridor, she became aware of Elizabeth’s shock-flattened monotone as she muttered details about what had just happened in a daze. Beyond Elizabeth‘s shocked ramblings, she could hear screams, weapons fire and shrieks from those still in the chamber which told her in a small, unwelcome voice inside her mind that whatever the creature was, it would be busy with the others and they would escape.
Elizabeth was shaking as if she were freezing in an arctic wind, despite Katherine having wrapped her in high-insulative value blankets and mylar survival blankets as well. Katherine knew basics of first-aid, did what she could for her friend, and with all that covered she brought her some Bourbon from the flask they’d shared, holding the small plastic cup steady as she sipped at it, and continued to watch and worry over the only friend she had.
She’d locked the lander’s hatches, as well as armed herself heavily with the best weapons that remained on the lander as the rest had gone with the group on the ill-fated excursion.
She wore a sidearm at her right hip, another in a scavenged shoulder rig under her left arm, and had found a 6.66mm hypervelocity submachinegun tucked away in the armory locker that she could wear on a shoulder sling under her right arm when needed.
After a check over of the small vessel from bow to stern, she settled beside Elizabeth in the utility space, started to work on the first steps in building a distress beacon.
She’d considered the decades-old lifeboat, but wanted to leave whatever it’s resources were alone except as a last resort. For now the sealed electronics aboard it would be well-protected and she hesitated to mess with that unless she had no other options.
Time passed, and after a night and nearly another full day three people managed to stagger back, one with a deep stab-like wound to his abdomen, the others with
serious bruises and one with a broken arm.
No one spoke, she did her best to treat the wounded as best she could, referring to manuals found in the small infirmary section of the lander as she did so.
Elizabeth started coming back to herself, bouts of weeping and long periods of silence as she worked her way through the mental barbed-wire of the past experience. She drank, never enough to be drunk, but enough to cushion the rawness of the memories as she confronted them, her dark-soft brown eyes staring a million miles into the distance.
The third day after the last excursion, Katherine stared out the hatch window from habit, thinking over a problem in the construction of the distress beacon, and saw motion outside in the distance.
Motion of a kind that was instantly recognizable as mechanical in nature.
She moved quickly to the cockpit where she’d have a better all-around view, snatched up the binoculars Meers had left behind, and did a visual search, spotting her quarry at last. The flying-wing style and smoothly aerodynamic construction as well as easily-readable Human-style letters and numbers on it’s white hull were a considerable comfort.
It was unmistakably a drone, a newer model from the look of it, and while it bore signs of use, it operated flawlessly. She watched it as it skimmed across the ground on it’s lift thrusters, slowing, stopping, examining various pieces of wreckage, the old lifeboat module, and then swiftly move away to disappear behind the horseshoe-shaped ship.
It was a large model, and she recognized it as a deep-range survey-explorer type.
They were extremely smart, but where there was a drone, there’d be someone else on the other end of it’s telemetry, and she gave serious thought as to who that might be and what they might be like.
Days passed quietly, Elizabeth came out of her trance-like state, withdrawn, but better than she had been. She took an interest in the works having to do with the beacon and helped Katherine with the treatment of the injured people who were recovering as best as could be hoped for.
They cobbled together an improved area heater, electro-catalytic in nature, that warmed things up a bit and allowed heating of the bare-basics MRE food packs.
The small side-project helped Elizabeth recapture more of herself as well and conversation between them picked up as they did what they could for the injured.
The early morning pre-dawn hour of a day towards the end of the calendar week was shattered by a rumbling thunder that started as something felt, not heard through the hull of the lander.
It grew steadily, becoming a sound recognizable to anyone with any experience in space travel: Engines.
Very big, very powerful, rumbling the entire lander which vibrated in response to the artificial thunder that steadily grew.
Katherine woke, rolled out of her familiar bed-space and dashed to the cockpit, finding Elizabeth already there from having slept in the cockpit, head craned up to look at the source of the enormous engine noise.
A massive dark-hulled starship was lowering down slowly in the dimness of the pre-dawn skies, it’s six massive lifter-units created a hurricane below it and around the lander.
It was a vast, dark mountainous bulk behind it’s arrays of belly-mounted floodlights and the four very large extremely powerful variable spot-floods at it’s stern.
“It’s a ship!” Elizabeth said needlessly, but excitedly.
Katherine smirked and snarked back. “Wow, really?” Then chuckled at the look she got from her friend.
Some of the few isolated instruments in the cockpit had come struggling and falteringly alive at the arrival of the vessel thundering down towards them, one being the Emergency Proximity Alert.
It showed the data from the arriving vessel’s registry transponder:
Name, class, port of registry and other related common information as well as
One glance at the digital readout showed it was indeed coming towards them just as it looked to be doing, and that it would be landing nearby as they could make out the heavy landing gear with massive landing claws that signalled it’s intent to land.
A L I E N: Manticore