Jason J. Romein
The Xenomorph Experiment - Part One
"Security alert!" the computer's female voice droned, "Tracking intruders on levels 4, 5, and 18."
The soft lighting of the control panel cast Galla Pane's face in green as her eyes scanned the display. "Computer," she said softly, "Commence full security lockdown." She glanced around briefly before looking back to the glowing panel.
"Security clearance unacceptable. Civilian Galla Pane is not authorized to commence a full security lockdown."
She swore under her breath, and looked around the room. The control center was in disarray, lit only by the green control panels lining the walls. The main light, once a part of the ceiling, was now shattered and lying on the floor. The body of a young man lay crumpled in a corner, with a blast hole through his temple.
Galla shuddered as her eyes swept it, recalling the prevalent sounds of death and screaming and gunfire that had faded only ten minutes before. She had seen bodies full of holes, and some that were only pieces on her way from her quarters, and the smell of death was beginning to seize the station.
She shook her head, stepping across the metal floor to a flat-topped holographic imager. Taking a deep breath, she said, "Computer, locate intruder on level 18."
"Intruder located in corridor delta one-two-one."
Galla paused, wondering if she wanted to continue the process. The next step was to generate an image for it. If it was one of the space raiders who had attacked them, it would be nothing. But she had a feeling that it was something else. How could a human remain undetected and reach the 18th level of the station? Perhaps ignorance was bliss, as the saying went. Did she really want to know what was up there?
"Computer," she began, gathering her resolve. "Generate image for intruder."
Galla closed her eyes for a moment, exhaling with an odd sense of relief. She had overcome her fear, hadn't she? That was cause for relief.
"Tracking intruders on levels 4, 5, and 16."
The woman's eyes shot open as her head jerked up, and she looked around the room sharply. Her heart raced, and she took short, shallow breaths. "Calm down, Galla..." she whispered. "It's only one level up. Probably just a raider... It probably found the powerlift... It can get down here..." She shook her head, fighting the rising panic, and forced herself to take several deep breaths. Calming, she lifted the shard rifle from beside her, and gripped it.
"Computer," she said, taking courage from the weapon. "Deactivate powerlift."
"Security clearance unacceptable. Civilian Galla Pane is not authorized to deactivate the station powerlift."
"Dammit," she breathed, shaking her head. "I'll have to do it manually." She reached over beside her, picking up her hacking computer, and slipped it into her pocket. A boom echoed up from the iron bowels of the station, and she winced; outside was not safe. But then again, neither was the control room...
She stepped towards the door, glancing once at the imager. It was still scanning the intruder. She shuddered at what might appear, her imagination running rampant, then forced herself to push the button and open the door.
With a hiss, the metal portals parted, sliding smoothly to either side to permit entry to the cold blue corridor beyond. The floor of steel grating stretched into the distance, pockmarked with burns and blast holes. Shadows lurked at the edges of the triangular passage, seeping up from beneath the grate.
Galla stepped forward, feeling the chill air against her arms as she did. Her eyes were wide and alert, searching for any hint of danger, and she walked cautiously and slowly. Her breathing was slow and forced, and she kept repeating in her mind, I'm not afraid... She could smell the death again, that sickly-sweet odor of charred flesh that could drive one mad.
Her footfalls resounded sharply as the black boots clanked against the metal teeth below, and came back to her through the hauntingly silent air. Her teeth clenched nervously, and she was certain that if she stopped, they would be chattering. She could see a long streak of black along one wall where a flameburster had seared the flesh from the skeletons now lying there. They still steamed slightly, giving smoke to the station's soft blue air.
Up ahead she could see steam billowing forth from a pipe. It lashed across the corridor, striking a bulkhead on the other side, and rose like a ghost into the chill of the station. She approached the pipe, listening to its sibilance, and watching faces appear in the steam. She shook her head, trying to deny the thoughts born of fear and found she could not. With a whimper, she stepped into the wall of white, feeling the burning heat against her. Several uncomfortable steps later, she emerged back into the steely blue of the triangular corridor, the steam clouding behind her.
A crossing of passageways lay before her, all bathed in soft blue. A fan churned above, its blades promising insanity with its repetition as it passed air down from level sixteen above. Sixteen, where the intruder walked the halls...
Galla Pane shut her eyes for a moment, succumbing to fear as she pressed herself back against a wall. She fell to a crouch, and moaned in fear, clutching at the wristband emitter that proclaimed her as a civilian. She imagined she could feel the field around her that it generated, perceiving in her childlike mindstate that it would do more than identify her to the computer, and that it might defend her from attack. She gritted her teeth all the harder, clutching the rifle so hard that her fingers went numb. "C-c-courage," she whispered to herself, but it did not take hold.
And suddenly the computer's voice cut the silence like a knife. "Tracking intruders on levels 4, 6, and 16." Galla shrieked, cringing in startlement before she realized that it was the computer that had spoken. She sighed, breathing fast and hard, and shook her head. It was still on sixteen, but for how long? How long till the lone raider -she hoped- killed everyone left on that level and made their way down?
With the thought prominent in her mind, she slowly rallied herself, and rose to her feet, leaning back against the wall. She gave another shuddering sigh, half in fear and half in relief, then pushed away from the wall, moving into the crossing where shadows danced to the fan's rythym. The passage ahead was her destination, she knew, but glancing to either side, she shuddered. Before she had been sure that only the control center was behind her...
Turning her back to the fan, she moved ahead down the corridor, slowly placing feet with muffled thuds. She could see a toolbox just ahead, its contents scattered across the floor. A hole had been blasted through a wall into darkness. A staccato burst of gunfire rolled up from below, muffled by the levels between. Galla thought she could hear a scream, but she shook her head, wincing again. It was only her mind...
Then she spotted the powerlift doors ahead, with the control panel glowing green beside it. The silence reigned. Galla staggered forward, her footfalls rushed and clanking again, and quickly reached the panel. She reached for it, prying at the top with her fingers, and managed to pull open a small port at the top. Her heart racing, she nearly fumbled the hacking device as she withdrew it, but managed to hold onto it and insert a wire into the port. She slotted a second wire into it, and then set the small unit on the floor.
Crouching down, she punched several buttons, her fear retreating in the face of activity. She smiled, secure in the knowledge that she could deactivate the lift, and that the thing was still on sixteen. The keypad beeped softly as she worked, and then a small red light lit up on the console, and a slowly decreasing hum emanated from the powerlift. As it faded into obscurity, Galla released the breath she hadn't realized she was holding, and sat back against the wall.
"Tracking intruders on levels 5, 6, and 15."
In the silence of the control room, a holographic monstrosity rotated on the imager...
"Dammit!" the big marine growled. "The damned thing has moved up a level!"
The curse echoed harshly in the red light of level 4. The engines chugged beneath them, loud and incessant in their clamor. They were the sole force responsible for keeping the massive research station in orbit around the Tau Theta black hole. The ambience mingled with the haze of fading smoke, left from the fierce firefight only ten minutes previous. Sharp crackles marked broken electronics, screeching out from darkened corridors and shadowy rooms. Only the low, wide, squarish halls were lit, with their crimson bloody hue.
"Commander, this is Captain Lia Terschal," the red-haired marine reported, trying to keep her voice low. "Four is clear. We'll move to the powerlift and sweep five."
A voice crackled back over the comm, broken by static. "Terschal, this is Starwolf. That sounds good. Just be careful. We've lost two patrols."
"Right. Terschal out."
Lia dropped her arm with the wrist communicator and sighed, glancing around a moment in half-paranoia. "Alright, marines, let's head to the powerlift." She shook her head, and glanced first to Bear on her left, then Jaren to her right. Bear was massive, an unshakable man of twenty-five. His cheeks were covered in thick stubble, and his expression was fierce. His power armor gleamed darkly in the light as he hefted his assault rifle and nodded to her. Jaren beside her was small, nearly dwarfed by his suit. The plates seemed almost out of place on one so small, especially with his slicked back hair, his moustache, and his bureaucrat's face."
"Damned piece o' shit'll take one look at us 'n run like hell," Jaren chuckled, with a forced tone. Bear nodded his agreement, grinning confidently.
"Cut on the profanity, Jaren," Lia told him, and the small man rolled his eyes. "Insubordinate," she muttered without conviction.
Their thick boots thumped heavily upon the metallic surface beneath them. The damage here had been heavy, and bodies and armor lay scattered across the ground. Decay was thick in the air, but the marines had been smelling it for a good half hour or so. The powerlift doors were just ahead, with the gory upper torso of a raider near it. The legs were nowhere to be seen.
"Just one blast on that chickenshit bugger," Jaren promised, cackling with laughter, gaining confidence with his false bravado. Lia glared at him, partially reproachful that he would dare break the silence, and walked up to the powerlift button panel. She reached out and pressed the call, and waited.
"Station powerlift has been disabled," the panel droned. The sound resounded down the corridor horribly, distorting into something else as the dread revelation fell across them. What had disabled the powerlift?
"Shit!" Jaren whispered, echoing Bear, and the small man went off on a string of hushed cursing.
"Terschal to Starwolf," the woman said quietly. "We've got a problem. The powerlift is disabled."
"Go through the air duct above you. Climb up to level five."
"Uh...sir, we wouldn't fit."
"Remove your power armor."
There was complete silence for a moment, even from Jaren, and the station's engines rumbled ominously below. "I didn't copy," Lia told him. "Could you repeat that."
"Remove your armor and climb to level five. This thing must be stopped. Is that understood?"
"Yes sir. Terschal out." A sense of dread and fear settled across her like a mantle, but she shrugged it off. She had been trained to know no fear, and now was no time to give in. Not when she needed her courage the most.
Jaren gave her a sidelong glance. "You're not actually going along with that chickenshit plan?"
Lia pushed a series of buttons on her wrist, and the power drained from her armor. She reached up to unfasten a shoulder pad. The electronic hum faded softly, leaving behind an empty silence.
"You can't be serious!" he cried, throwing up his arms. "This is fucking crazy!"
"Fall in, corporal!" she commanded, raising her voice. "You have your orders." She tried not to let her fear show through her commanding frown.
Grumbling, they began to decharge their armor, and like a sleeping giant, the station rumbled beneath them.
Dorman traced the cut with a finger, all the way from his forehead down to the middle of his cheek. The digit came away slowly, bloody at the tip, and the mechanic sighed, trying to quell his trembling nerves. He wiped the finger on his trousers, shuddering at the thought of the blood, and what he might look like, and rose back to his feet.
"Tracking intruders on levels 6, 7, and 15," the computer announced to the stillness of the 8th level. Dorman shuddered again, shaking his head as he ran his hand through his thinning hair. "What would Syd say if he saw me here," the man muttered, picturing his friend back on earth. "He'd probably call me a fool for being so scared," he chuckled. "And then say 'Dorman, it's probably some more of those raiders, just creeping about, lookin' for trouble. Just give it a moment, and the marines'll take care of them.' That's what Syd would say." Dorman smiled, faintly, but the painfully sentient silence soon quieted the rambling mechanic.
"And Syd would be right, of course," he mumbled. "He always is. And he'd smile that grin, that lopsided grin of his and say, 'Dorman, stop acting like a kid and act like a mechanic.' That's what he'd say."
Dorman looked around the cafeteria on level 8 and knew fear, despite Syd's ghostly reassurances. The place was empty, it's faintly yellow lights shining mockingly down on the stainless steel tables. They sat in rows, orderly and unbroken, with benches on either side. The serving window, with its tray slider in front, was a gaping hole into the darkened kitchen. Beyond the first row of pots and pans, nothing was visible. A door sat to either end of the place, and a panel of windows revealed the hallway outside.
Dorman shook his head, thinking about the intruder being right beneath him. "No, I'm not afraid," he lied. "Not afraid of you, you raider bastard." He paused a moment, thinking, and sighed. "I'd better get myself a gun, just in case."
The mechanic glanced towards the door, the panel glowing softly beside it. He took several steps, each accentuated by a thick thump as his workman's boots struck the floor, and pushed the button. The door gave a sibilant whine as it slid to one side, permitting access into the darkened hallway without. Lights were on at intervals, their pitiful illumination yielding naught but more shadows. A faint breeze wafted from the corridors, and the mechanic thought he could hear a fan off in the distance, the whoosh of blades distorted with distance. Several side corridors stretched away into the unknown, and Dorman shuddered at what could be hiding there. "The thing's not on my level," he whispered to himself. "Not on this level..."
He stepped forward into the corridor, and mustering courage, began to walk. He furrowed his brow, his eyes straining to penetrate the darkness, and his ears trying to listen for sounds that weren't there. Phantom cries echoed from far away, and imagined skulls leered from the shadows. He gritted his teeth, and pictured in his mind what Syd would say, taking an odd sense of bravado from the other man's drawl.
The passage was long, but Dorman was soon at its end. He looked back behind him, to where the cafeteria's door was still open, and a thought struck him. Could not something be in there, now? Where he had been only minutes before? And would he even know? His spine tingled, but he shook his head.
"Tracking intruders on levels 6, 6, and 15."
Dorman froze for a moment, startled by the announcement, and then smiled in relief. He leaned against a wall, breathing heavily for a moment. "It went down," he muttered, breathless, wiping sweat from his forehead. He looked around his end of the hallway, and spotted the powerlift. A computer terminal sat beside it, glowing pale green.
The mechanic stepped over to the terminal, examining it. A blast mark was beside it, and it seemed to have knocked the monitor loose, but it still sat in its wall casing. Without thinking about it, he pushed against it, sliding it back until a click sounded, and the monitor was back in its place. He considered his actions, and after a moment, chuckled to himself. "Always the mechanic," he muttered to himself.
Then he spotted the powerlift, its panel blinking red, and eyed it curiously. He approached slowly, and pushed the button. "Station powerlift has been disabled," the computer announced. Dorman frowned, examining it, and shrugged. "Damn fool military people. They'll want me to get that thing back online when this is all done. Well, I've got nothing better to do. I ought to find the maintenance shaft and go down to level 2. That powerlift will be up in no time, right Syd?"
Syd remained silent.
"Right..." Dorman replied for him, the courage slowly sinking in his gut, stolen by the multitude of shadows who guarded the way like sentries.
Dr.Tarret wiped the sweat from his forehead and waited in the overbearing silence of level 20. His curly hair was dark, partially matted against his head. His silver-rimmed spectacles glinted softly in the ambient light; there was nothing wrong with his eyes, but the man considered them to give him a distinguished appearance. But now, in the middle of the hallway, he was stopped. He knew they would be able to hear him if he moved.
He glanced around nervously, the raw fear evident in his jerky movements. He was not a soldier, he had no courage, and had not joined his brothers in the marines for that very reason. The terror coursed through him in his veins, running thick in an almost paralyzing torrent. But he had to be strong; the fate of the people on the station rested in his hands. He knew the threat they faced, all of its dire implications.
The corridor was stark, its paneled walls undamaged; the fighting had never reached the top. The hallway was ribbed with slanted beams, each bearing a single blue light. The ceiling was shrouded in impenetrable darkness. The floor, riveted metal, moved ahead, washed in those eerie aqua tones. It turned sharply right up ahead, and a sign on the wall read; 'Communications Central', with an arrow beneath it.
Suddenly, the computer repeated its fearful message. "Tracking intruders on levels 5, 5, and 15."
Tarret jumped, looking around again before he remembered himself. He forced himself to breath, long and deep, and calm himself. Trembling, he unclenched his jaw, hoping that the creatures would remain down on 15. He knew that five levels between him and the thing did not make him safe.
And then, off in the distance, a thin whine rose from the silence. It made a quick crescendo, as a slow metallic chug took up the rythym, followed by the steady hiss of hydraulics. Tarret breathed a sigh of relief; the cyclator would mask any movements he made with a steady barrage of sound. Steeling himself, the doctor began to make his way forward.
Chug. Whirr. Step. Hiss.
Chug. Whirr. Step. Hiss.
Keeping his footsteps in synch with the cyclator, he wiped the sweat from his forehead again. He struggled, fought against his fear, hardly managing the simple act of walking. His breathing quickened, he drew shorter breaths and a lump rose in his throat. He thought of claws, of teeth, of flashing feet in the darkness, running towards him faster than he could dodge. He thought of his brothers, both of them proud in the military, stationed halfway across the galaxy, and sought their strength.
Somehow, he managed to stumble along, keeping his footsteps regular so as not to echo above the machine. He knew the importance of that, the necessity that none of the creatures realize his position. Only the doctor had the information that could stop these things. His mission was vital, he repeated to himself.
Half-imagined sounds rolled from the insidious shadows, threatening and fierce. He thought he could see something behind him, some black exoskeleton gleaming in the blue light as he glanced over one shoulder. His breath caught in his throat, but he kept walking with the cyclator's chugs. He came around the corner, glancing back over his shoulder once more.
The cyclator stopped its chugging, and Tarret stumbled an extra step. He cringed, the footstep loud in the silence. He winced as the corridor behind him moved out of view, and turned to face the hall before him.
He gasped, fighting the urge to vomit, and colour drained from his face. Before him were scattered the bodies of marines, or at least the pieces that were left of them. The floor was slick with blood, and the walls were splattered with gore. One of the lights was out, and another was flickering darkly, casting a sickening gleam to the puddle before him. The bodies were hardly recognizable, their parts strewn carelessly across the corridor.
Sitting beyond the ghastly mess was a single door, with blood spattered across the sign so that it read, ' ommuni ation Cen '. Tarret grimaced as he viewed the horror, feeling bile rising in his throat at the thought of crossing it. The smell of death was prevalent in the air, a sickly sweet aroma of decay and blood.
But the battle didn't come this high, Tarret thought to himself. And marines aren't torn apart by gunfire. Blanching further, Tarret did vomit, quietly and to the side. He stood back up, wiping his mouth, and trying to spit the taste out of his mouth. He tried not to breath, for each breath bore upon it that awful, horrid stench. There was only one thing that could have created the devastation, and there were three of them loose in the station.
Tarret shuddered, tremors running down his spine in uncontrollable waves, and he fought back a moan of terror. He bit back on the edge of panic, straining, struggling to retain his sanity. The scent of flesh and blood intensified the struggle, and the man whimpered as he fought back against the encroaching madness.
Minutes passed, painfully slow, as Tarret wallowed in terrible fear. His eyes were wild, darting from side to side with tears brimming in them. He was scared beyond belief, not only by the mess before him, but also by the knowledge he carried and the mission he had to perform. He had to warn the others, but doing so would attract unwanted attention.
"I don't want to die," he whispered fervently. "I don't want to die. I don't want to die."
And then the cyclator chugged back to life, moving slow with its mechanical pace. Tarret staggered forward, stepping quickly and fearfully into the pool of blood, his footsteps becoming more and more frantic and out of time with the machine. He half-ran half-walked towards the door, desperate for an end to the nightmare.
He slammed against the door, pushing the button, and the door slid up into its pocket. Tarret fell in, hit the floor, and then lunged for the button. The door slammed down, closing with a thunderous crash, shutting away Tarret's fears.
It was many minutes before the doctor mustered the courage to stand, and move to the station comm unit. He gingerly lifted the headset from the head of a young man, dead with a bullet in his head, and settled it over his curly locks. He sighed, closing his eyes, and depressed the button.
All throughout the station, speakers crackled to life.
"This is Doctor James Tarret," he began shakily, and without conviction. He paused, taking a breath, drawing tenuous courage from his name, and continued. "You are all in grave danger. There are things in the station, known as xenomorphs. They have superior sight, hearing, and smell, and they are natural killing machines. Stay away from the dark places, and head for the north docking bay. Tarret out."
He relinquished the headset, dropping it to the floor, and slumped back against a wall, considering the best way to reach the north docking bay on level 12.