Sunday, April 3, 2022

Morning shift

They don’t pay us enough for this shit.

Private First Class Rebecca Harris thought as she sat in the combat seating of the armored personnel carrier loaded aboard the Cheyenne class Dropship “Picasso Trigger” as it entered the atmosphere of the colony on LV-034. She was nearing the end of her first tour of duty with the United States Colonial Marine Corps (USCM), she was thinking that maybe she’d had just about enough military life on the frontier of deep space. She’d spent the last year of her life as a Smart gun operator as part of a four member fire team. Harris was aboard with her squad and another team of non combat technicians and their synthetic android. The android was named Stephanie, she was pretty even if she was a bucket of artificial glands and fibers that bled white like carpenters glue.

Rebecca felt the chaffing of the armored chest plate she wore as part of her armor set and the harness of the M56 Smart gun mounting. The arm plate always rubbed into her side in an awkward way. She let out a huge sigh. Her fellow marines looked just as bored or frustrated as she did on this particularly early morning mission. She chuckled to herself for a minute, exclaiming that they barely had time to get out of the hypersleep chambers aboard their Conestoga cruiser “Halifax” before being sent off without so much as breakfast.

“So which dumb ass colonist do you think tripped the transmitter this time?” said a growly older male voice down the row from her. It was her Lance corporal, Tom Ricci, and he was in fine form this morning. He was a good leader when shit hit the fan, but he was first to complain and last to volunteer. Clearly the brass saw something in him.

“Have you ever noticed, we never get ANY good missions? It’s always go here and maintain the peace, go here and help the refugees. Or my personal favorite, be a show of DOMINANCE to the Union of progressive people’s assholes. Man, this entire operation can get fucked.”

That voice was her rifleman, his name was Eddie McKinnon and he was a good guy, if a little young for this gig. He looked over at Rebecca and smiled and nodded towards her. Rebecca always appreciated how his freckled face instantly made things seem more light hearted.

“Harris knows what I’m talking about, she carries around that big fucking gun and never gets to use it.”

“Hey, maybe this time will be different, maybe this time it’ll be worth putting on all this goddamn armor which doesn’t protect from shit.” Rebecca said as she laughed with her squadmates and looked at the technicians who didn’t seem amused at all.

The “technicians” were Weyland Yutani company representatives who were sent by the corporation on Earth to check out on why their new research colony wasn’t paying off or something. They were civilians, and they were by all intents and purposes assets to protect should anything go wrong, but what are the odds. There were six technicians and just four marines, and honestly it seemed like overkill for what seemed like a simple babysitting mission, and likely a broken piece of equipment. Rebecca thought that maybe it could be UPP sabotage, but they’d be pretty damned ballsy to risk a war with her bosses, the United Americas or the USMC itself.

The dropship shuttered and shook as it entered the lower atmosphere and the ship’s canopy immediately frosted from the absolute polar temperatures of the outside world. The ship’s pilots informed them they would be landing at the colony’s landing pad in five minutes but they could not raise the colony’s radio tower at all but it was still broadcasting an emergency beacon.

One of the older technicians, a dark skinned man they called “Arnold” told them it was fine and they should proceed on mission. “Arnold” didn’t know that this mission was of military jurisdiction and if something didn’t sound right, then the USMC Corporal in charge would call for immediate dustoff and call for backup.

The four marines, Corporal Ricci, her rifleman McKinnon, and Oliver, a new recruit and junkie from Earth who signed up to avoid jail time on some penal colony all prepared to ready up as the ship landed. The Dropship hit the landing pad with a loud and distinctive thud as the APC lurched out of the belly, and into the cold polar environment of LV-034.

The armored vehicle hit deep snow drifts of otherworldly snow as it made its way toward the main colony complex. Prefabricated buildings of various designs and functions littered the colony which should be teeming with life and people but was weirdly quiet. Rebecca looked at the wall of television monitors across from her which showed the outside via camera and it was entirely too quiet for a colony of five thousand people to be this quiet even at this time of morning.

“Ok, Marines, listen up. Here’s the drill, McKinnon and Harris, you’ll go with two techs and head to operations and try to find out what’s going on. Myself, Oliver and Steph will take the rest of the mooks to the colony transmitter and see what’s up.” Ricci was in command mode now and Harris knew she could trust his leadership.

The four marines got up from their combat seatings and readied their weapons. These included M41A Pulse rifles and an Incinerator flamethrower and of course, Rebecca’s M56 Smartgun, the heavy support weapon. The mood was different now, the time for fun and games was over and this was on the clock and this was the “go time” that Rebecca and all marines trained for.

Rebecca put her Smartgun eyepiece over her right eye and adjusted her armour one last time before the door the APC slid open and let in the coldest air she could have imagined, and she’d spent time doing cold weather training. She held the large meter long heavy machine gun out in front of her as she exited the vehicle. Through her eyepiece she was expecting to see heat signatures or something that the IR could track in the snowy weather. However, she saw nothing. It was absolutely devoid of life or movement.

“Harris, McKinnon take the door on the colony’s central complex. Stay on comms and remember there were civilians here but if anything looks out of place, don’t be afraid to give it some copper coated candy.” Ricci ordered them as he patted McKinnon on the back as he took up side beside Rebecca, two of the technicians followed behind them.

The APC took off in a different direction from them and left them alone near the colony’s central hub. The vehicle was out of sight within minutes due to the blinding snow coming off the buildings and eventually the sound of it’s large engine was drowned out by the roar of the winds.

The two marine gunner team felt the cold and frigid air almost freeze their lungs solid as their fatigues weren’t as warm as they would like for this environment. McKinnon trudged through snow well past his armored boots and made his way up to the large grey steel door that read “New Roanoke” and looked for the door’s access panel.

Rebecca took up position behind him and saw that the door wasn’t opening with McKinnon’s access codes. One of the technicians, a young man in a big coat and a goatee, took out a red access card and swiped it then the large door opened. Rebecca and McKinnon exchanged glances at each other as if to say “If you had a key, you could have said something.” The man and his assistant, an older woman, pushed past the marines and didn’t say a word.

The four walked inside and the heavy door sealed shut behind them and it was evident that something was wrong. The corridor they had entered into was one of the colony’s main doors. It was near the support area of the colony, and should be filled with people, but was as silent as a tomb. The door’s pressurizing noise echoed throughout the hallways as if to announce their presence. The internal lights weren’t working either, so they’d have to rely on their armour’s shoulder lamps for light.

A series of red pulsing lights from some sort of an internal alarm system, silently flashed in the near darkness which was the only illumination visible to anyone. The beams of light from the marine’s shoulder lamps cut into the dark, but could not penetrate as far as anyone would like. The mood of the group took on a very different feel as everyone looked at each other and just fell

quiet. Something seemed very wrong here, and it wasn’t just a downed transmitter or damaged equipment.

“Eddie, I don’t like this,man. I don’t like this one bit.”

The older woman spoke up for the first time. She tried to give off an air of authority but it felt hollow.
“This is just faulty equipment, I’m sure the colony is just conserving power and keeping the heat on for everyone. Let’s make our way to Operations and secure the colony computer. You two are here to protect us, nothing more, is that clear?”

Rebecca thought about objecting to this company lackey but it wasn’t going to do her or the Marine corps any favours by arguing and making an incident out of it. She nodded towards the technicians and the marines led the way down a hallway that said it led towards the main colony operations labs and computers.

A few moments of walking in complete silence and then Rebecca noticed something move in her eye piece for just a second and then just disappeared as quickly as it appeared. She stopped in her tracks and felt the heavy machine gun aim towards something that the motion tracker in the gun saw and then it stopped suddenly.

“What the fuck was that?” Rebecca said out loud and didn’t mean for it to sound as surprised as she intended

McKinnon shone his lamp where Rebecca’s Smartgun was pointed and saw an open air vent in a wall and gestured his pulse rifle towards it. Eddie approached the vent slowly and kept his posture at the ready in case something popped out from the vent. Eddie looked down at the opening and saw there was something wet and it wasn’t something he wanted to see either.

It was blood.

“Harris, we got a problem here.” McKinnon pointed his weapon down at the spot on the floor and made sure everybody saw it. The two technicians didn’t seem too scared at all, they seemed rather unconcerned by this development.

“No shit. My gun saw something then it was fucking gone.” Rebecca spun on her heels and looked behind them and was convinced that she heard a scurrying sound and the scratch of something sharp on the metal flooring behind her. She whipped around the large weapon, for a fraction of a second the weapon locked onto a target. Before Rebecca could squeeze the firing mechanism, it was gone again.

“Come along, we must move quickly. “ The goateed man said in a quiet voice.

“We got a situation here and we gotta call it into the Corporal.” McKinnon said, in a voice with increased anxiety, his usual calm and joking demeanor faded from before. Sweat was beginning to form from under his armored helmet, ran down his face as he tried to radio into his squadmates.
Bursts of static and half heard words were all that could be heard though the marine communication headpieces. The buildings and the structures could be providing interference, or maybe it was the planet’s magnetic forces. It didn’t matter to Rebecca because it meant they couldn’t get in touch with command, it meant they were on their own and cut off.

An inhuman high pitched screech emanated from the blackness of the complex, it froze Rebecca’s blood cold, she’d never heard anything like that before. It was close. Eddie looked at her panicked, his eyes wide as he heard the sound at the same time. Eddie began to walk back towards the three of them when something shot out from the vent.

A large black three fingered hand shot out from the vent, and wrapped its deathly grip around McKinnon’s left foot, pulling him off his feet. As McKinnon fell, his pulse rifle discharged and the 10mm explosive rounds lit up the darkness for just a second. Bullets sprayed the air as the marine was pulled off his feet. Rebecca and the others fell backwards in surprise and tried to take cover as Eddie’s weapon sprayed wildly emptying the magazine.

Eddie kept screaming as something pulled into him into the open vent and he was gone and he kept screaming until something abruptly cut it off with a wet snap.

“EDDIE!” Rebecca screamed as she got to her feet and looked through the heads up display of her weapons eyepiece looking for whatever had probably killed her best friend. Rebecca had five hundred rounds in the gun. She was ready to make sure every last one would be used to avenge Eddie if he was dead.

The two technicians looked at Rebecca and then kept walking towards Operations as if nothing had happened. She wondered where their goddamn humanity was? Did they understand what the hell just happened? This mission was over, they had to leave, and they had to leave now.

“Look, we have to get the FUCK outta here and now. This is over, like now.”

“Your concern is noted, Miss Harris but we ask that you escort us to operations as instructed.”

Rebecca couldn’t believe what she was hearing, she had just witnessed “something” pull a fellow marine screaming into the darkness and these two suits couldn’t care less. She wasn’t going to let these two civilians die but she wasn’t going to stick her neck out any further then she had to.

“We cannot leave until the colony’s computers have been recovered. Your mission is to escort us to the colony’s operations lab. Please hurry as time is of the essence. It seems the experiments have escaped containment.”
The company woman said as she made her way down the hallway with the other Weyland Yutani company tech.

‘Containment? What the fuck are you talking about?” Rebecca asked angrily

“You are now on a need to know basis Miss Harris. This mission is now under Weyland Yutani control and you are reportable to us.” The man said matter of factually

“You do not leave LV-034 without our authorization as we control your dropship and the Hailfax’s commanding officer.” The woman looked right at Rebecca and seemed to look right through her and bored holes through her soul. The woman and the man had to be androids, there was no way around it, these two were Weyland Yutani synthetics.

What in the Hell was going on here? This was a Military operation, this was supposed to be a simple mission and then she was supposed to ship back to Earth and be out. She now has to take orders from a couple of goddamn robots or be stranded on this frozen rock. She couldn’t reach Ricci or anyone else from the Halifax, she was trapped here unless she did as she was told.

Rebecca Harris felt utterly defeated as she looked at the two synthetics and knew the only way out was through or at least til she could come up with a better plan if one existed.

The trio made their way into a large room filled with dozens of computer monitors all displaying various readouts of New Ronake’s colony pieces. The room was partially lit and the synthetics made their way to the bank of terminals and began throwing countless input commands at it.
Rebecca stood silently at the door with her weapon at the ready and pointed towards the door and she gritted her teeth. She thought about just shooting the androids in the back and being done with it but what if they were telling the truth and they held the keys to getting off of LV-034.
How did the entire squad not notice more Androids among them? How did the squad android Stephanie not say anything?

She was betrayed, alone and utterly at the mercy of her captors.

Hours passed and the man and woman kept adjusting computers and many other technical feats usually not possible by human hands. Rebecca heard the same scurrying scratch of metal on metal and this time it was coming from above her clear as day. The androids seemed to not notice or they didn’t care that something was amiss.

A ceiling grate slid back and a black shape crawled it’s way out using the same vicious clawed hand that dragged Eddie to his apparent death. Rebecca’s voice caught in her throat as she looked at the nightmarish creature crawling along the ceiling.
It had a black skeletal like body with a ridged elongated head and several tubes sticking out of its back. It moved it’s head in Rebecca’s direction and revealed its metallic teeth. It hissed like some sort of an unholy demon and it drooled and its droplets hit the floor in thick puddles.

This alien creature was something out of an insane person’s most deranged dream and it was coming right for Rebecca. Slow deliberate movements of the creature’s head suggested it was curious and it certainly wasn’t scared of her or her two androids.

Rebecca had enough of this, she was going to fight back.

The creature hung over the two synthetics and watched her as she raised her Smartgun up and she pulled on the firing mechanism and let the gun roar to life with it’s thunderous bursts of 10×28mm ammo.

The creature snarled for a second before the barrage of explosive bullets hit the creature and exploded against its chest and head. The creature’s body sprayed a gush of yellowish greenish blood which hit everything near it in a sizzling hiss including the two androids. The blood drenched the area in an acidic wash, it filled the air with noxious fumes and the smell of burnt electronic equipment. The two androids screamed for a moment before the acidic blood melted most of their bodies into a horrific mess.

The creature had acid for blood? Rebecca was absolutely shocked as nothing in her training had prepared her for this. What in the Hell is happening here?

Rebecca stood breathing heavy for a moment as she surveyed the damage near her and took a moment to assess the situation. She had to get out, she had to get out now but what the hell was she going to do? She couldn’t get in touch with her squad due to a communication blackout, her team was likely betrayed by Weyland Yutani. This was a bad situation and it could only get worse, she thought.

Her eyepiece HUD screamed to life and she noticed, one then two and then ten more of the creatures spilled from the ceiling and she knew she was in trouble. Rebecca looked at the ammo count on her current magazine, she had a little over three hundred rounds left and she just squeezed the handle at the rear of the M56 Smartgun and let the magazine just empty at the creatures.

Rebecca’s articulated gun moved to track the various targets as they darted across the ceiling and now on the floor where she stood. The gun kept firing and the barrel progressively got so hot that Rebecca could see it glow a dull red as Smartgun kept it’s rhythm of bullet hell upon the aliens approaching her. She let out a war cry that she was sure that God himself must have heard and eventually the screaming stopped when the ammo count read zero.

The room was littered in the dead bodies of the aliens and their acidic blood had absolutely ruined the colony computers and any chance she had to use it to contact the others. She surveyed the damage and looked at the creatures’ corpses and noticed how weirdly biomechanical they looked, skeletal yet so graceful in a strange insectile way in life.

She was glad they were dead but she was also out of ammo…and that was problematic. She did not have any spare magazines for the heavy weapon. Now it couldn’t even be wielded as a club, it was as useless as a paperweight in a hurricane. She dropped the gun and it hit the deck with a loud thud, as if to announce that she was no longer a threat to the creatures if any more of them were around.

Rebecca took off the smartgun armor harness and was just left in her regular marine fatigues. She had only her M4A3 service pistol and that was it, she thought she might as well be throwing spitballs. She didn’t even have a flashlight as her shoulder lamp was attached to the now useless Smartgun armor harness. She was poorly armed and alone in enemy territory and whatever was out there in the shadows knew she was here.

A crackle came from her radio headset that was a part of the armor on the floor and it was a voice that she recognized…it was Eddie. He was alive

Rebecca grabbed the communication headset and frantically tried to get it working again “Eddie? Eddie, where are you?” Rebecca yelled into the microphone headset’s tiny receiver “Help me….It’s inside…oh god. Help me.” Eddie’s voice weakly came over the commlink
“I’m coming Eddie, Just hold on, I’m coming.” She tried to think of how the hell she was going to find him in this huge unfamiliar place.

“Medlab…I’m in medlab…I can’t see. Becky…don’t let me die here.”

He never called her Becky unless he was seriously in trouble. The lights flickered one last time inside the operations center and went dead. She was near total darkness except the red flashing lights of the colony’s alarm system. The radio line went dead and was just awash in a sea of unbroken static and random noise.

Rebecca exited the Operations lab and made her way back into the colony’s twisting and turning corridors. She was jumpy at almost every shadow and sound. She tried looking for maps on the walls or any sort of directions that would lead her to the Medical operations center. She would have to stumble around in near darkness with monsters waiting to kill her.

Seconds turned into minutes, and minutes turned into hours. She felt like she had walked kilometers and run into everything from a television station, some sort of administration office and what looked like a cafeteria for upper management types. She noticed she had not seen anyone else…where was everyone else from the colony? She hadn’t come across her team…maybe they were dead, maybe the Weyland Yutani got them or worse…
She hadn’t seen ANY bodies and that was weird.
Those things she killed before certainly wouldn’t be looking for hugs and kisses and they certainly didn’t look like they left any survivors if they met anyone else Rebecca thought.

A huge red cross lit up a hallway she stumbled across and in bright red lit up letters MEDLAB-AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY
Something was different here, Rebecca looked in the red light and saw something coating the
walls and floors like a sickly resin of some sort. The resin was everywhere,floor,ceiling and even had a bit on the door leading to Medlab. The marine reached out to touch it and it was hard and felt sticky as well and reminded her of a spider’s web in a strange way.

She reached the doors of the medical laboratory, the doors were coated in the slimy material and she needed a few moments to rip it down so she could open the door. It had been at least 10 hours since she heard anything over her communications headset, it’s been almost half a day since she heard Eddie’s voice.

She pried open the doors with all the strength she could muster and what she found inside was an utter horror to behold. The lighting here flicked in a dim white and it illuminated just enough to show what she didn’t want to see. She saw things coated in the material that clung to the walls, floors and ceilings and they were once human. but something was terribly wrong. She saw at least five bodies cocooned to the walls of the lab, they all had looks of unimaginable agony frozen on their faces.

Their rib cages were ripped open like something had clawed itself out of their chests before they died. Something had burst out of their chests in a grotesque mockery of birth.

No one deserved to die like this.

Rebecca put her hand up to her mouth. The smell of death was heavy in the air. She looked around the room and remembered why she was here.
Eddie, she had to find Eddie before whatever happened here happened to him. She didn’t have to look far.
Rebecca saw in the corner of the room something she didn’t want to find. She found what was left of her best friend, Eddie. She saw that he suffered a horrific head wound. Blood oozed from his mouth and nose, like his skull was partially crushed. Something wanted him immobilized before he was brought here.

Eddie’s freckled face looked like he had suffered tremendously in the moments before his death. His chest was completely torn open, he would have died instantly at least but it would have been Hell in the moments leading up to it.

Rebecca stifled a tear for her friend as she looked at his body. She reached out her hand and closed his eyes. She didn’t want her last memory of him to be of those pretty blue eyes looking at her in absolute terror and pain. She was alone, she was scared and she was trapped on an icy planet with no hope of rescue.

She took a step backwards and felt something touch her back through her fatigues. She screamed a loud. She slowly turned around and was absolutely scared at what new found discovery might be waiting for her. She saw a familiar face, it was Tom Ricci, her Lance Corporal and he was also dead. Tom’s armour was covered in still wet blood dripping from a fairly fresh gaping chest wound. Tom looked defiant even in death but she could see that he fought ‘til the end but even then, it wasn’t enough.

She knew that if Ricci was here then likely Oliver was here too and his odds are survival didn’t seem too promising. Whatever killed Oliver wouldn’t be a syringe of X stims, it would be some horrible monster that would tear your insides out while you were still alive and you were utterly helpless.

There were even more cocooned bodies but they had strange spider-like creatures attached to their faces. She couldn’t tell if they were alive or dead. This place was an absolute nightmare for both the living and the dead.

“Oh god, please don’t let me die like this..”

She whispered as she began walking through this disgusting monument to her dead friends and squadmates. She had to escape, she had to get the Hell out of HELL. She felt sweat drip down back and her grip on her pistol become slick, her hands began to tremble with fear. She had faced platoons of enemy soldiers and combat synthetics but they at least looked human but this was inhuman and utterly monstrous. Panic began to creep through every single inch of her body as she tensed up. Fear overtook her senses and assaulted her with what she imagined her friends final moments must have been like.

A familiar high pitched hiss could be heard coming from all around her and it sounded hungry. Claws and worse clanged off metal and plastic as Rebecca knew she was surrounded. The sound of floor plating could be heard exploding as more of the aliens emerged from the floor and surroundings. Black and blue skeletal figures crouched and moved in unnatural ways in the flickering lights and they approached Rebecca, they were unafraid and unhindered. Shadows reflected off their elongated and eyeless heads and it made them look even devilish than before.

One of the creatures made itself known by climbing out of the very resin that was cocooning the walls. The alien made a very threatening posture at her as it opened its mouth filled with jagged metallic teeth to reveal a second set of jaws that snapped at her. The creature stood up to its full height and it dwarfed her by at least two feet, it loomed over like the Grim reaper.

What God had created this?

The alien approached Rebecca with its claws extended reaching for her. It was waiting to bring her into death’s very embrace or perhaps something worse. The Alien flicked it’s razor sharp tail and pierced her chest.Rebecca felt something inject into her body. She couldn’t move.

The last thought Rebecca Harris had before her world disappeared in a burst of unknowable pain and blood was…

I should have stayed in bed this morning.