And now for some good old fashioned fighting. I'll make the changes I promised later on this shift, but I thought I'd get this up first. It's a bit trashy and a bit pulpy, but I was watching classic action/horror films whilst drunk when I wrote it originally. So there you go. The story was always going to be a bit of a tongue in cheek homage to two of my favourite films/books - Jurassic Park (the novel) and Aliens (the film). Hope it gels well and isn't too jarring.
Ten – Lockdown
“The chamber is sealed,” reported Centurion Markus through the vox link. Overhead, a cluster of ceiling-mounted monitors displayed a rolling feed from twenty personal pict-recorders, each one overlaid with the vital signs of the Skitari to which it belonged.
Confessor Delaine had killed the two guards outside the doors, entered the laboratory and sealed himself in. Somewhere inside, standing stock still, was Specimen Three. It had completely faded from view, blending perfectly with the white walls and silver-grey machinery. Blue-grey smoke from the fried computer banks drifted lazily across the floor, adding to the confusion. Overloaded by the surge, the observation recorders were down, denying those in Control the ability to see remotely or with a variety of visual aids, such as heat sensitive infra-red.
Tvastar had managed to get one of the operational terminals to print out a damage report while he worked to bring some of the more crucial systems back online. It had been running for five minutes, churning out a seemingly endless list of offline or damaged processes. The Tech-Magi was not happy. The lingering smell of dried vomit hung in the air.
“Biologis Crane,” said the Prime Magos, “Would you be so kind as to escort Band-Clerk Borsch and the Archivist to their quarters? Our esteemed colleague from the administratium looks unwell.”
As ever with the Mechanicus executive, it was a statement phrased as a question. Crane nodded.
“As my Lord wills.”
Gently, he lifted Borsch to his feet and let him to the door, trailing Quinn behind them like a lost child. The exit slid shut behind them, and the remainder turned back to the pict-casters.
“Breach the entry and initiate combat spread omega five,” Instructed Solomon. “Remove hotshot packs and engage with light armament. No fire from the heavy bolters. Creature is to be recaptured alive and placed in secure containment.”
In addition to the twenty Skitari, a pair of heavy-duty combat servitors had joined them, eight feet tall and built for melee. Finally, a Sentinel power-lifter moved up, dragging a large flatbed on caterpillar tracks. Lashed to the cargo-hauler was a huge box made of metal and reinforced ceramite. It looked like a giant humane mousetrap.
“You cannot be serious,” said Captain Fraiser. “They’ll be torn apart.”
The Mechanicus executive ignored him.
“Be advised, situation is fluid. Location of xenomorph unknown, but suspected to be still in the vicinity. That is all.”
He had said suspected, but what he meant was ‘definitely still inside the room, unless it can turn ethereal and walk through walls.’ The Prime Magos realised his mouth was very dry and found this to be disconcerting. His mouth was never dry, but maintained at optimum moisture by some internal processor. ‘This is irrational’, he mused, ‘I am exhibiting signs of nervousness’. The flesh was indeed weak.
“Understood,” replied the distant voice of Centurion Markus. The Skitari moved to follow Solomon’s orders, removing their hotshot attachments and tweaking their hellguns. A pair sporting suspensor mounted heavy bolters moved to the back, unfastening their bulky ammo belts as they did so. The two with flamers moved forward, ignition torches glowing blue.
Overhead, twenty monitors focused on the door, bobbing slightly as the cyborgs they were attached to repositioned. There was a blinding flash as the melta-charge went off, temporarily knocking out all the screens in a wall of white light. From the top of the viewing deck, the Prime Magos watched as the lab doors flowed apart like candle wax and the Skitari pointmen entered the room.
“Negative contact,” reported one, standing in the doorway and scanning the room with his hand held device. “Auspex read-out normal.”
“Nothing on thermals,” said one of the pointmen, a ruby lens slid down over his left eye.
“Spread out and secure,” replied the Centurion as he strode through the door. He stepped over the bloody rags that marked Delaine’s final resting place. There was nothing left of the Confessor but his shredded robes, a few scattered rosary beads on a snapped chain, and a single shoe, still with a foot in it.
“Switch to thermal imaging. Check your spacing. Harassing fire only.”
More and more Skitari moved in. Above them, the Imperial Guard captain leaned closer and closer to the glass, straining to see anything. A flicker of movement, a displaced shadow, a falling drop of saliva. There was nothing. Tense seconds ticked by as the Skitari glided between machinery, hellguns against shoulders.
“Clear,” reported one.
“Impossible,” spat Solomon, “It’s in there. What about the auspex?”
“Negative, my lord,” replied one of the soldiers. “Too much interference. There is EMP charge still present from the surge. Multiple overlapping bio-signs.”
“Prime Magos,” Interrupted another, “I believe I have found an exit point.”
All the heads in the control room moved to focus on the Skitari’s shoulder camera. It was pointed directly at a ventilation grate, six feet off the floor. The wire mesh had been torn open. The Mechanicus soldier moved forward and shone the beam of his flashlight down the length of the shaft. The sickly finger of light waned in the long darkness. There was nowhere else it could have gone.
“If it has gotten in there, it could be anywhere by now,” muttered Marlowe, straightening her PDF uniform and fidgeting with the holster of her pistol.
“It is the only place…” began Fraiser. He was wrong.
With a scream of protesting metal, one of the med-labs huge hanging light fixtures tore loose from the ceiling and plummeted to the ground. Before anyone could react, it landed with a sickening crunch on two of the Mechanicus infantry, crushing them to paste and ringing like a cathedral bell. In the enclosed space, the noise was deafening. One of the unfortunate troopers held the squad’s incinerator, and the weight of the debris ruptured the unit’s promethium canister and sent clear sticky gel splattering in all directions. The fuel ignited instantly, bathing the laboratory in fire and sending another man stumbling drunkenly as the flames enveloped him.
Two of the overhead monitors went black, the bio-readings signifying life-flat lining immediately. What had previously been a flashing zig-zag representing a pulse had became a horizontal line, ominously still. Another camera was enveloped entirely in fire, the howls of the immolated soldier ringing down the vox link. Distorted by the channel, the screams seemed otherworldly, running like ice down the spine. His own biosigns raced in terror for a few seconds, before going silent.
“Contact!” Called the Centurion, “Roof level.”
The remaining Skitari began to move with a purpose, spreading out and aiming skyward. In the control room, Captain Fraiser contorted his body, straining for a view of the lab ceiling. For a second, he thought he saw something move impossibly fast, shadowing one of the emergency lights.
“I don’t see it!” Called another trooper, “Confirm position?”
At that moment, the crushed soldier’s reserve promethium canisters ignited in a fireball that shook the ground and threw furniture across the lab. One Skitari was pinned beneath an upturned metal table, struggling to free himself. A second was crushed against the wall by a toppling computer stack without even enough time to scream. Bright blood sprayed almost artistically across the grey concrete. Two more were caught in the backwash, one badly, the hungry flames consuming him even as his squadmate managed to put himself out.
Overhead, more monitors went dark. The rest of the pict recordings danced crazily as the soldiers reacted to the situation, the images were grainy, clouded by acrid black smoke and crackling blue electricity. Nervous and confused faces swept past, scanning the ceiling. Everything was bathed in a hellish orange glow. The view down from Control was chaotic, most of the room obscured by soot and billowing plumes. Men struggled to douse out their burning squadmate. Solomon knew it would be in vain. The man’s weak flesh had absorbed too much damage. It was chaos.
“Damn it all!” shouted Quail, swiping a microphone, “In the Omnissiah’s name, fire control! There is valuable data in that room.”
“Markus, comply,” said Solomon, his mechandrites flexing like a nervous twitch. Unquestioningly, the Centurion allocated three nearby soldiers to sling their weapons and grab fire suppression units. Across the room, chemicals touched off in the heat in a secondary explosion that showered glass in all directions and bounced off the walls like razorhail. No one was seriously injured, but everyone flinched.
From the top, the room was almost entirely concealed in thick black clouds, with only the sinister glow of flames and the blinking of the Skitari suit-lamps indicating the carnage unfolding below. The tension was palpable.
”Four,” said the Prime Magos dispassionately, looking at the blacked out viewing screens. “Five,” he corrected, as the previously flaming one expired on the floor in considerable agony.
”They’re getting slaughtered,” said Marlowe angrily. “Pull them out!”
Quail looked at Solomon nervously, his hands still clutching the thin microphone. The Prime Magos ignored her comments, his face impassive.
The entire debacle could not have lasted more than ten seconds. Eight point six, if you were Prime Magos Solomon.
A huge shadow skittered across the window, causing Fraiser to leap back with a cry.
”Contact, left!” someone called. Ruby laserfire pierced the smog. It was disciplined but dancing wildly in all directions, as if firing at something incomprehensibly fast. Lost in the smoke, the Centurion bellowed orders at his squad. There was a scream, and another of the overheads went black. The monitor next to it registered a blur of darkness and movement, before that too went offline.
“Seven,” said Quail, his hands trembling.
As swiftly as it had come, the creature disappeared again.
“There’s too much heat,” someone complained, “I’m blind.”
“Switch to normal mode,” said Markus calmly, lenses sliding away from his eyes and swapping out with others. “Servitors on me.”
The eight-foot combat behemoths shambled into the carnage. Silence reigned for a few moments.
The next strike was silent and completely unexpected. An isolated Skitari providing overwatch was impaled on a two-meter talon. Immediately following the first, another erupted from his chest and in the blink of an eye the soldier was torn in half before he realized what was happening. Then entire attack lasted less than a second and was captured on Markus’ pict-transmitter. Lasfire followed the beast as it leapt back into the smoke. From somewhere in the shifting, cloying shadows, the monster screeched in defiance of its hunters. A primordial chill ran down Fraiser’s back.
“Live fire,” said Solomon with a heavy sigh. “Engage and destroy.”
The Skitari were only too happy to comply, strapping their hotshot packs into place. The heavy bolters re-attached their ammunition belts.
“Regroup” instructed Markus. “Line formation. Watch your spacing. Keep an eye on the ceiling.”
While the soldiers reformed, the servitors shambled forward into the gloomy laboratory to try and flush the creature out. The flames were dying down, casting long shadows up the walls. In the red glow of the emergency lighting, the room looked strange and the light played havoc on the eyes. Pockets of smoke still clouded most of the interior. There was something about the far wall that drew the Guard Captain’s attention. The way the shadows fell just didn’t look right. Something moved.
”Contact right!” he warned, a fraction of a second too late. The Lictor burst from behind a stack of crates and equipment, scattering boxes into the Mechanicus soldiery as they tried to react. As it bounded across an open space, long sinuous cords whipped out, wrapping around the Centurion and hauling him off his feet. The man writhed as the fleshhooks bit into his armour, bionics and skin. He was dragged across the floor with considerable speed, firing his hellgun in defiance as he ploughed toward oblivion. The Skitari leader disappeared behind a row of terminals. There was the sound of tearing metal and a wet squelch. A single shrill cry rose in anguish before being abruptly cut off. Markus’ monitor turned black.
“Opening fire!” reported one of the specialist troopers. Heavy bolter rounds tore through the laboratory, shattering the terminals. A heartbeat later, the second heavy bolter opened up, laying down a wall of suppressive fire.
“Who’s firing!” called the Biologis into his microphone, “Three-Twenty-Six, that is expensive, nigh irreplaceable technology. Cease fire immediately!”
The panicked Skitari ignored him. On the overhead monitors, intersecting lines of fire roared amber in the pict casters.
“Where’s Markus?” Shouted one to another, taking him by the shoulder and seeming to yell directly into the video feed. “Where’s the Centurion?”
In the background, the heavy bolters paused briefly, tracking for a target. A trooper on the right screamed in horror as he was wrenched off his feet and into the swirling smoke. His monitor recorded a mass of alien horror before cutting out.
“Ten! Emperor on Earth!”
Biologis Quail looked anxiously at the Prime Magos. Solomon’s eyes narrowed in anger.
“Withdraw,” He said finally. The remaining Skitari closed formation and backed up towards the door, stepping through the breach. The heavies came next, fingers tightly on the trigger, pulverizing anything in view. The Servitors stomped after them, ducking to bring their massive frames under the top of the ring of molten metal left by the melta-charge.
“Powerlifter,” he voxed. “Use the cage to steal that breach.”
The Sentinel moved to comply, Skitari stepping out of the way as it hauled the giant ceramite and metal contraption to cover the doors. A welding torch fired up, and the remaining monitors were bathed in flickering blue.
“We are in lockdown?” He asked Tvastar.
“Correct,” replied the Tech-Magos without looking up from his terminal. Sparks flew from a socket on the wall as the devotee of the Machine Cult struggled to repair damaged systems. “Lockdown initiates automatically in event of a power-failure.”
“So it can’t get far,” concluded Solomon, seeming a little more appeased. He did not seem concerned by the loss of so many soldiers.
“What about the ducts?” asked Marlowe, managing to keep an edge of panic out of her voice.
“All ventilation shafts, access tunnels and waste conduits seal during lockdown,” said Tvastar, “To prevent the transferral of any airborne hazardous material should a leak occur. It has limited movement, restricted to level one. The negative side is that we only have enough oxygen for twelve hours.”
“We’re sealed in? With that… …that thing?” the brigadier said in stark disbelief.
“Correct,” replied the Tech Magos. “Forlorn is compartmentalised for security. A lockdown seals each cluster and each level to prevent transference of hazardous materials. I am working to rectify the problem now. Until I have brought our generator and backup systems online, we shall have limited or restricted access to most of the facility. As will Specimen Three.”
”Twelve hours will be sufficient to recapture the creature,” said Quail earnestly, a glimmer of hope working its way into his voice. Prime Magos Solomon inclined his head in agreement.
“I thought you were going to destroy it?” said Fraiser, tearing himself away from the viewing window.
“That remains to be seen,” replied Solomon, “It would be preferable if such a valuable creature could be taken alive. Destroying it would end our work here until a replacement could be found.”
”Can we access the hanger?” Asked Marlowe, “Evacuate the wounded and civilians?”
“Negative,” replied Tvastar. “The hanger bay is sealed off to us.”
The brigadier erupted in anger. As she raged and the Mechanicus staff argued back or attempted to placate her, Fraiser let out a heavy sigh and glanced back at the viewing platform.
The lictor was hanging upside down from the ceiling. Its face was pressed against the window, and its sole eye burned with inhuman malevolence. It was starting directly at the Captain. Feeder tendrils slapped against the glass, leaving slippery trails of saliva.
It hung there for just a fraction of a second, before disappearing.