as narrated by Xinxhioa “Cynthia” Third Brood, House Pak-Lim.
As a xenologist, a certain amount of risk comes with the job. Angry natives, hostile environments, even missing the occasional meal, these things are taken as a given when one pursues the study of the exotic and the alien. When I’d taken my scholarship, and the chance to study on Earth that came with it, I’d kept that in mind.
As a primitive world, Earth had few amenities to offer the galactic traveler but it was positively overflowing with opportunity for a xenologist in training such as myself. The chance for missing meals had seemed very high, but I’d been assured that the natives weren’t, in practice, all that hostile as long as you were careful not to disturb them too much. Environmentally, there was quite a bit to recommend the planet as well. The humans had built great cities across much of its surface and decorated them with a variety of gases and airborne particles which were absent or banned from most civilized worlds.
It had seemed like a bit of a wild adventure to study there, but safe enough in the grand scheme of things. As with so much in the universe though, that appearance was deceiving.
“Do you think they’ll be able to get in here? They’re hammering on that door fairly hard!” Jeff, one of my fellow ‘dorm-mates’, said. He was as much of an off worlder as I was, though in his case he was here on a linguistic scholarship rather than a xenological one.
“I imagine they won’t. The Earthlings constructed this facility for emergencies such as these, isn’t that correct?” I asked.
“Yes.” Anala, our local guide and ambassador, assured me. “For safety sake though we should move to the back room I think.”
I hadn’t studied humans for long enough to make definitive statements about them. As a xenologist I was trained to withhold judgment and observe at all times. My training however was incomplete and my grasp of human interactions even more so. That was something I needed to rectify
“You are concerned?” I asked, trying to fit my observations into a greater understanding of human expressions and modes of thought. “But you do not wish to alarm us?”
“You are correct.” Anala said. A shift in her shoulders and waist brought her into a posture which indicated she was focusing on the accuracy of her speech. While she wasn’t trained as a xenologist, and she’d had little exposure to my species or our modes of communication, my human friend had nonetheless managed to master the basics of how we spoke. Not our language per se but the way that we used language. It was comforting in the face the mayhem which we were embroiled in. I have never been the most social of creatures, which is in part why I chose to go into Xenology. It was a difficult task and so enriched me more than a less challenging branch of study would have. Also, by studying the “Others” in the universe, I was forced to develop more understanding of who I and my species were, which I took as valuable in its own right.
“What is your concerned based upon?” I asked, enjoying the chance at proper formal speech. It was so simple, so direct, with none of the twisting rules and linguistic jousting that casual speech encouraged. In times of calm and safety I wished to challenge myself, but in times of peril I have found falling back on my strengths to be the better course of action.
“The builders of this shelter did not have access to galactic materials for its fabrication. Nor could they anticipate every eventuality that might befall it. The transformed animals outside may be powerful enough to breach its defenses. This is an unknown presently.” Anala said. Her language didn’t allow for the full level of communication needed for formal speech but it was close enough. That she was even making the effort for me was a joy in itself.
“Will the capabilities of our companions be sufficient to ensure our safety?” I asked. Physically my species resembled humans superficially but we weren’t as practiced at violence.
Rather than answer me, Anala turned to the new arrivals to the shelter, as she did I watched her shift postures to one of casual speech.
“How are our patients doing Doctor Simone?” she asked the medical practitioner who was tending to the hybrid people. The pounding stopped for a moment and I could hear the beasts outside scrambling away from the door. I doubted that was a good sign though.
“They’re recovering well, but they’re not going to be able to fight if those creatures break in here. They’ve been through a lot and they’re exhausted.” Doctor Simone said.
“I can help!” said the hybrid named Alil.
Before Anala could respond I heard a distant roaring grow rapidly closer.
“Everyone take cover!” I yelled and ducked behind one of the support pillars in the room.
My warning gave my fellow Offworlders enough time to find safety for themselves. Anala reacted in time as well but checked her movement when she noticed Alil standing confused in the center of the room.
With nowhere that would shelter the two of them, Anala threw herself on top of Alil and covered the hybrid with her own body just in time for a vault door to be blasted to pieces. I heard Anala cry out in pain but my attention was captured by the creatures that surged through the smoking doorway into shelter.
After a year of encountering similar life forms in my dorm room, I was familiar with Earthly entity “the spider”. I had been told that certains species of spider presented a danger to some humans. Toxicology reports suggested that their venom wouldn’t affect me to the same extent. That however was for spiders which were naturally occurring. I was reasonably certain that no natural breed of spider stood several feet tall at the waist and had a humanoid torso, arms and head jutting upwards from their front.
The three of the creatures that skittered into the room paused side by side to evaluate the interior. Most of us were hidden by cover we had taken but Anala and Alil were lying stunned on the floor.
I wasn’t allowed to bring any off world weapons with me while I was living among the humans. There were a wide variety of good reasons and rational arguments to support that. As I stared at the spider hybrids though I found myself disagreeing with all of them.
“Ghost Step! We have hostiles in the shelter!” Doctor Simone called into a wrist communicator. Only static answered her back.
The spider hybrids turned to face her as she spoke and began clicking their teeth as they walked forward. I thought they would charge the human but, before they could, Alil rose up to her full height in front of them.
“You. Hurt. My. Friend.” she said slowly in a deeper more measured voice that the one she normally spoke in. From my observations that would have indicated extreme anger in a human but I couldn’t be sure the same was true for a snake/human hybrid.
The spider hybrids paused at her words and then shifted to advance on her instead of the doctor.
They never got the chance to reach her.
Alil screamed in a way no Earthly creature I’d encountered could scream. In close quarters it was instantly painful for those of us behind her. For the spiders however it was instantly fatal.
Pure waves of force tore into the creatures and shredded them to dust as Alil confirmed for me that she had indeed been angry with them. I felt almost as good about my successful observation as I did about being out of peril!
It was not the appropriate time for feeling joy though and we were not out of danger.
“Is Anala injured?” I asked, stepping out from cover.
“I’m fine.” Anala said. She was not speaking formally however and from the blood I saw on her arm I knew the accuracy of her statement was low.
“Let me see that.” Doctor Simone said, obviously able to determine that Anala was not speaking accurately as well.
While she tended to Anala’s wound, I turned to Alil.
“You have what are termed meta-human abilities.” I said, slipping into formal speech.
“I don’t know.” Alil replied. Receiving casual speech in reply would have been an insult from fellow member of my race. From an Earthling though it was merely irritating and as a Xenologist I knew better than to let that sort of irritation bother me. Much.
“Your scream does not seem to be a natural ability. Can you repeat it as needed?” I asked her.
“I think so. I haven’t been able to do that for very long, just for today really.” she said. I relaxed in response to that. It wasn’t formal speech, but the acknowledgement of her own lack of information satisfied my need for precision. There was none which Alil could give at this time, so she was forced to use only casual speech patterns.
“We have a bigger problem.” Jeff said. He pointed to the door where the smoke was clearing. Between the blast that had opened the door and Alil’s attack on the spider hybrids our shelter was open to the world.
“This shouldn’t be happening.” Anala said as Doctor Simone dressed her wound. “Lux said the heroes were going to keep the monsters away from the shelter.”
I walked to the opening and peered outside. The view that awaited me wasn’t a reassuring one.
“We are encased in a dome of force.” I told the others.
“That must be why I can’t get a call out.” Doctor Simone said.
“Is everyone else ok?” Anala called out. There was a chorus of agreements and grunts in response. Very informal, but sufficient for the situation.
“We need to move then.” she said. “If the heroes put up the dome then the spiders wouldn’t have been able to get in. That suggests it was Doctor Wyrd or one of his minions. If he has plans for us we do not want to be around to be a part of them.”
“I agree but where can we go? If the force field is sufficient to keep the heroes out, it is unlikely that we will be able to breach it from the inside.” I said.
“The storm tunnels.” Anala said. “There’s a network of them that run under the campus and other parts of the city. They’re large enough for us to move through and if the dome doesn’t penetrate the street we should be able to slip out underneath it by following them.”
The matter was not put to a vote or debated upon. Time was too short and the situation too critical. I accepted that, but it also scared me. Quick decisions were rarely the best ones. They may be the only available option, but without a debate process there are often consequences to them that are not considered by the decision maker.
The first such consequence looked to be that we would need to exit the shelter and make our way back to the dormitory in order to access the storm tunnels. I imagined a great likelihood that we would be set upon by more monsters as we did. I was not disappointed to be wrong though.
Instead of encountering more monsters, we discovered that the heroes had not abandoned us! There were no monsters within the dome. That was due, apparently, to the two heroes named “Aegis” and “Thundercrash” who were fighting a pitched battle against a great number of monster on the other side of the dome.
“If they can keep the creatures from entering the dome should we not remain here?” I asked.
“No. We don’t know what Doctor Wyrd has planned for us. Until we are out of his area of influence we’ll be in danger.” Anala said. It was close enough to formal speech to help me relax.
“The Rosses have completed their micro-transformations as well.” Doctor Simone said. “I should be able to synthesize a counteragent for the mutagen if I can get one of the blood samples I have to our lab.”
“You had planned for Ghost Step to be available for that?” Anala asked.
“Yes, but it looks like she can’t get in here either.” Doctor Simone said.
“Then we should continue.” I agreed.
The storm tunnels proved to be another new experience for me. I had expected to be crawling in cramped, dark spaces. The storm tunnels were far from cramped though. After descending a ladder from the dormitory’s basement, we found ourselves in a tunnel large enough to drive a pair of Earth automobiles through.
“I don’t see any sign of the barrier up ahead.” Anala said as we advanced down the tunnel. A murmur of good cheer went up at that news. It quieted back down when I spoke though
“It is still nearby, I can hear its hum.”
As we passed around the next bend, we saw that I was correct. The barrier sliced through the tunnel at a strange angle, leaving us trapped within it still.
“There are side passageways. The barrier seems to be irregular here so it may not cover all of those.” Anala said and lead the way.
We passed down several side tunnels following her. They all terminated in barriers except for the ones which lead us deeper under the surface.
We were in a tunnel that was flowing with water up to our thighs when I called for the group to stop.
“Something is coming.” I told them, and looked for what hiding spots were available. The tunnel was a straight pipe that curved sharply downwards ahead of us. There were various pipes and tubes that ran along its length but none that were sufficiently large to provide any cover and concealment. From below, the buzzing of many wings became rapidly audible.
“Everyone, under the water!” Anala whispered and plunged below the surface. I followed her and listened as we waited, holding our breaths. I couldn’t make out the buzzing from under the water’s surface but another sound came through clearly. There were creatures clawing their way up the tunnel in front of us, passed the point where it dropped downwards but getting closer with every second..
I felt trapped. I didn’t want to die on this strange world. Panic burned the air in my lungs and I felt my arms begin to thrash on their own. Then a hand settled on my wrist, not binding my arm, just offering reassurance. Anala gave me the sign to surface after another few seconds had passed.
Her timing was nearly perfect. The buzzing had passed beyond us and the scrape of claws was still far enough away that I could whisper to her.
“There are more coming. Clawed walkers.” I said quietly.
She clenched her teeth and released a breath slowly. I wasn’t sure what that meant but I could see she had not relaxed. I took that to mean she was as cognizant of our plight as I was.
Alil rose from the water next, followed by Doctor Simone and then the rest of the Outworlder’s Alliance. The Rosses remained underwater having, I guessed, superior lung capacity.
“We must capture the strangers.” a voice from the tunnel ahead of us said.
“What about the others who are with the strangers?” a second voice asked.
“They are useless to us now. We shall destroy them.” the first voice answered.
The next exchange happened almost too quickly for me to follow. I saw the speakers rise up from the edge of the tunnel. They were scaled monsters, a mix between some form of Earth lizard and a human. The moment they saw us, they charged, yelling savage growls.
They were not ready for the savage growl that Alil returned at them. It engulfed the leader of the trio and blasted him backwards into a shredded mess. She continued her scream but was cut off an instant later as one of the lizard men appear beside her in a cloud of oily smoke.
He arrived with the same velocity he had been charging with and slammed into Alil, taking her down with him into the water. The other two lizard men teleported forward as well, landing on Anala and myself.
I am not strong by human standards but even if I was I could not have stood up to the force the creature brought to bear on me. I was slammed into the water and felt my head collide with the concrete of the tunnel’s floor. A powerful hand closed around my throat but before it could crush the life from me I felt the creature being pulled off.
I surfaced as fast I could to discover that one of the other Rosses, Amphi I think her name was, had leapt upon the lizard man and bound him in the coils of her body. The other Rosses had joined the fray too as had a second, more numerous, rank of lizard men.
Curses and screams reverberated along the tunnel as the two sides waged a merciless battle.
“Help where you can!” I cried out to my fellow Offworlders and then searched for some sign of Anala or Alil.
I found Anala first as she burst up from the water. Two of the Rosses had clamped onto the lizardman that had pulled her under. She caught sight of me and continued looking around.
Together we caught sight of Alil lying motionless under the water in the grip of one of the lizardmen. I dove across the tunnel, not thinking at all and heedless of the consequences in order to wrap my hands around the monster’s throat before it’s jaws could close on Alil’s neck.
I squeezed as hard as I could and was rewarded with almost nothing. The scales on the monster’s neck were so think I could barely dent them. All I managed to do was draw its attention long enough for it to backhand me out of the water and across the tunnel before turning back to Alil.
Almost nothing is not the same as nothing however.
My momentary distraction had given Anala time to find a length of pipe that had been shattered in the brawl. With her own version of a great and terrible battle cry, she swung it down at the beast that held Alil. It pierced through the hide of the monster’s back and drew blood.
The beast turned to her, but Anala was far from done. Again she stabbed, and again and again until she had pierced the beast’s chest entirely. It spasmed violently at that point and dropped Alil to flee.
Anala’s behavior was very human in response.
She beat the creature until it was reduced to an unmoving pulp.
While she ensured our safety in the barbaric fashion of her people, I moved to Alil. She wasn’t breathing but I got her out of the water anyways.
Again panic began to set in. I didn’t know what to do for a human in this situation much less a snake/human hybrid. Lacking any better course of action, I turned her over to get the water drained out of her. Given the quantity that emerged that didn’t seem like the wrong thing to do but she did not resume breathing either.
“She needs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.” Anala said. She was covered in blood, though none of it seemed to be her own.
“I do not know what that is.” I said, trembling despite myself.
“We don’t have a good place to do it here. I’ll need you to support her. Hold her up.” Anala said. Two of the other Rosses joined us as Anala got to work, breathing into Alil’s mouth and performing compressions of the hybrid’s chest.
I had heard of the brutality of frontier medicine and the superstitions that primitive people practiced. Anala’s actions looked like they had elements of both, but my knowledge of her suggested that if she was using a technique in a such a desperate circumstance it would be one that was well proven.
As if in confirmation of that, Alil sputtered after a minute, coughed up a tremendous amount of fluid and began breathing on her own once more.
I looked around for the first time after she had settled down. None of the lizard creatures were still alive.
“What injuries do we have?” Doctor Simone asked.
All of the Rosses had sustained different bite and claw wounds. I donated my shirt to the cause of making bandages for them.
“This isn’t going to be enough.” Doctor Simone said. “I can’t stop the bleeding on some of these wounds and if they move it’s going to make them worse.”
“We can’t go back the way we came. The flying monsters went in that direction.” I pointed out.
“We can’t stay here either.” Doctor Simone said.
“Some of us can.” Anala said. “I’m not injured, or rather I am not bleeding or otherwise disabled.”
I smiled, both because I was happy that she was not badly injured and because of her amendment to provide greater clarity concerning her physical condition. Of the humans I would feel comfortable bringing home to meet my people, Anala was at the front of the pack.
“I can go forward and search for an exit. If I find one I can call the heroes in directly.” she said.
“I am neither bleeding nor disabled. I will go with you.” I said.
Alil made a gesture to her throat.
“You can’t speak?” Anala asked.
Alil nodded her head.
“You should stay here then and be with your brothers and sisters.” Anala said.
Alil shook her head.
“They’ll need you.” Anala said.
Alil pointed to herself, then her sister Amphi, then to Anala, then to one of her brothers, then to me and then to the rest of her family.
“I believe I know what she is trying to say. I think we should let her come with us.” I said. It is the dream of many Xenologists to be adopted by the natives as one of their own. This wasn’t quite the circumstances I would have preferred for that to happen under but you either make do with opportunities as they arise or you must live with the regret of letting them pass by.
“Ok. We’ll need to move quickly then. Doctor, Offworlders; will you be ok staying here?” Anala asked.
“If it means no more monsters, then yes, I think I can quite happily stay here.” Jeff said.
“If the mutant insects come back we will be in poor shape to fight them.” Doctor Simone said.
“We’ll be as quick as we can.” Anala promised.
With that in mind the three of us set out at the fastest pace we could manage. I had thought the injured Alil would be the one to slow us down, but I proved to be the one who needed to travel the slowest. I simply lacked the muscles to force a path through the water as quickly as they could once we had descended to the next level.
“Something is bothering me.” Anala said. “Those lizardmen were talking. Didn’t you say when you transformed you were babies at first?”
“Then if the mutagen that affected these animals was based on the one that transformed your family and you, where are these mutants getting the ability to speak from?” Anala asked.
“That is a good question. Even the spider hybrids that assaulted us at the shelter behaved as more than just animals. They fled from the attack that destroyed the door. Somehow they knew it was coming.” I said.
“For all we know they could talk too.”
Alil looked at us and shrugged. I translated that to mean that this was outside her experience so she could not offer any hypothesis on it. Even if her voice had been uninjured that is.
We all pondered that mystery for a moment before Alil’s attention was captured by something else. I watched as she began to sniff the air. Normal snakes can detect elements in the air with their tongues, but apparently the hybrid transformation relocated that sense to the nose as was standard for a human.
She motioned us to follow her and lead us unerringly down a set of tunnels that were not blocked by the force field. As we traveled I began to hear the sound of machinery at work over the rushing of the water.
When at last we stopped we were on a ledge with a sluice gate leading into a great central cistern. Below us there was machinery the like of which I had never seen on Earth.
“More monsters. And they’re tending the machines!” Anala whispered to us, drawing our attention to the dozens or so creatures that moved around on the floor of the cistern.
“Those aren’t machine as you know them.” I said.
“What are they?” Anala asked.
“Those are bioweapons. Each of those pods you see draws down an entity from the psychic plane. A creature of pure mind.” I said.
“How is that a bioweapon?” Anala asked.
“The psychic entities can overwrite the mind of any host they can best in psychic combat.” I said.
“So they could potentially take us over?” Anala asked.
“I don’t think so. You humans have terrifying psyches. I think that is why Doctor Wyrd created the hybrids. They would have been transformed into a state without any sort of mind, but with bodies that were easily capable of combat. Almost the perfect receptacle for the psychic entities.” I said.
“What would the purpose of the huge pod in the center of the room be then?” Anala asked.
“I have insufficient information to say. What I know of the Psychic Pods I learned from studying one of the first interstellar conflicts that my people fought in.” I said.
“Based on your knowledge, how many psychic entities do you think the central pod could hold?” Anala asked. By basing the question on my admittedly incomplete knowledge she had given me permission to speak casually about a topic I lacked the information to speak formally about.
“My guess is that it could store somewhere between two hundred and three hundred thousand psychic entities.” I said.
Anala swore softly under her breath.
“And some of them have super powers.. If this spreads, Doctor Wyrd could conquer the city and hold it as his own against any force on Earth!”