ALIENS: The Fall of Hadley’s Hope

A short story by LR Forgues
Inspired by the screenplay by James Cameron
and the story by James Cameron, David Giler, and Walter Hill

Part 1: Emergency Dust-off
The hopper’s turbines whine against the icy winds that rattle through the ugly vehicle’s light frame. The hopper, known affectionately around the colony as ‘The Cricket’, resembles its Earth-bound insect name-sake as a squat exo-skeleton body of alloy and composite. At this moment, it hums it’s way over the wind swept rock formations of LV-426, one of the Company‘s current ‘worlds-in-progress’. Operations had just radioed in another weather warning and Pilot Marks was trying very hard to put the scratchy voice into the back of his mind. An increase to Force 7 winds would mean very little if the tiny craft was dashed apart across the hostile terrain by the current force 5 cross-flow. The control collective suddenly kicks in his hand; a fresh gust side swiping the vehicles nose. A panel flashes red, throwing a bloody hue over the dark cockpit. Ignoring the howl of protest from the twin turbines, Marks raises the nose; trimming the forced re-alignment back to the original heading. A small female voice chimes into the cramped space with a pleasant altitude warning. Seconds later, a bizarre rock formation flashes past, by inches it seems.
                                                                   

                                                                        “Shit!”

A cold sweat slips down inside his flight suit like chilled fingers as he reaches up to adjust the sensitivity of the starlight goggles. His view flares briefly, quickly auto-adjusting. Behind the bug-like lenses, Marks’ green eyes strain forward, searching over the computer-lit sea of stone and sand for….for something. The emergency order hadn’t been very specific….hadn’t had time to be. Seems that one of the survey teams, Russ and Annie Jorden in tractor # AK249 had come across a structure, something that hadn‘t shown on any of the current survey charts of the plateau beyond the Ilium Range. Russ was injured while inside, forcing Annie to put the urgent call into Operations. Minutes later Lydecker, the colony second, had flash-actioned the order. Whatever it was, it sounded bad. Moments earlier, Marks had heard Doc Ling, the grizzled lead of the Medical team strapped in back, direct Alex to check her file for Annie’s tranquilizer allergies. The word “hysterical” also floated forward over the rough sounds of flight. A crackle in his ear. Doc Ling’s voice…

                                   “Marks! How’re we lookin’ for an ETA on site?!

After a pause, the young pilot thumbs his talk key…

I think I see it! Should be real soon. The Jorden’s transponder is reading faint right now…like there’s a magnetic scramble! But I’ve got a shape on the horizon…gonna confirm with the Mary!”

The towing skiff, ‘The Bloody Mary’, rumbles along a quarter mile back on the hopper’s heading. Where the hopper is seen as almost toy-like, the skiff gives most observers a lumbering, heavy impression. There was as much rusted pitting as there was stock hull lining. Beneath the skiffs squat tail boom, a heavy lifter rig hung idle, it’s hydraulic claws locked in their mounting brackets. Co-pilot Randal, locked into her worn ejection seat and patiently studying the image rising on her Doppler, glances up as Marks’ voice buzzes in her ear…

   “Mary, Mary. Cricket here. Randal…how do you read on your horizon? Over.”

Randal purses her thin lips a moment, studying the shape emerging on the scuffed screen. In the four years that she’s been co-piloting for her father, nothing like this has ever been detected on the skiff’s scanners. At sixteen, the scrappy tomboy is sharp enough to realize the significance of what’s happening. Shit, the fact that the local Weyland-Yutani liaison, Cooper, is along for the ride is noteworthy. Like the corporate worm that he is, he’s hardly ever seen outside of his stuffy little office. Right now, he’s strapped into the grimy passenger compartment behind the cabin, trying not to let his obvious nervousness show under his pale, sweaty features. This, despite demanding to tag along at the last second. Randal trims the amplification on the radar signal with a couple of quick key strokes. A blurry mess of static washes over the highlighted terrain features, clearing with a final jump. A clean signal. Radar shadow reads back like an inverted letter U of epic proportions. She thumbs the talk key…

“Yeah, Marks. I’ve got a solid read on…something. It’s the only shape with any sorta regularity out in this shit.”

A second, gruff voices pipes into her ear.

“Watch that fuckin’ language, young lady. Tell those fellas that I‘ve got a visual on it too.”

Shames, Randal’s bruiser of a father, has never taken to her affinity for curses, despite his own verbal tendencies. Right now, the burly pilot was peering through his own goggle set, looking comical with his heavy beard offsetting the high-tech ambiance of the night-vision gear.
A small beep sounds. Randal’s dark eyes flicker up.

                “The Jorden tractor just came through on the Doppler. That’s it!”

A boxy vehicle reads back now, looking small near the shape. A second beep. The tractor’s transponder code flashes up, tiny green alpha-numerics.
Marks’ voice, betraying his strain and fatigue, comes back over.

“Roger. We’re readin’ her here. Thank god! Almost reached my quota on luck! Out”

Randal can only smirk as she picks out the faint lights of the Cricket through the violent swirls of blown cloud ahead, bee-lining on the currents toward the mysterious shape. Switching over to the intercom, she says…

                “Dad…you’ve got the target on starlight? Should I start the plot?”

Shames, the Mary’s proud owner and lead pilot, waits the appropriate second before responding…

    “Naw, kiddo. We’ll orbit till Cricket bugs out…then plot the pickup solution.”

Randal nods, expecting the response. Tapping. Fingers at her shoulder. She glances back. Clutching a safety strut with clammy hands, Cooper does his best to look composed, back lit by the sickly flickering green from the passenger compartment light bars; he awkwardly leans around her bulky seat. Swallowing with effort, the slight man leans in to be heard over the deep engine rumble, shouting shrilly at Randal’s ear…

                                                        “Are we nearly there?!’

Randal catches the sour bite of sweaty fear from the pale accountant. Gesturing at the gloom ahead, she yells back…

              “Yeah! About 2 minutes out now! Get back there and strap your ass in!”

Nodding meekly, Cooper sidles away, groaning under his breath as a strong gust washes over the lumbering skiff, the grated deck bucking beneath him. Hazardous duties like this are very much not his forte’. As the Weyland-Yutani accountant for this installation, he is responsible, among other things, for assessing costs of damage for accidents involving Company property. Usually that meant duplicating the Incident forms that he filed with the monthly budget figures in order to be included in the fiscal declaration. According to the Jorden file, the lease on the family tractor hadn’t yet been red lined to Russ Jorden’s credit line. So as much as the ambitious surveyor may think of the vehicle as his, in the Company’s all seeing eyes, they still had a legal claim to it and its insurance premiums. Right now, Cooper really missed his desk. The Mary trembled under the weather again and he fought to keep the bile down.
The Bloody Mary’s faint shadow plays over the dark rocks below, a blotchy contrast to the icy blue of the distant sun tinging the strange landscape. The large shape is largely dominated by the double fuselage mounted Thumper TA-15 engines, mounted co-axially on dual hydraulic drive surfaces for vertical takeoff and landing. The engine compartment appears tiny in relation to the bulky frame and crane assembly, a blister of protective plexi-glass and alloy on a powerful thrust platform. The engine’s rumble suddenly rises to a scream and the skiff surges forward, an orange glow sputtering under vented thrust covers as it pushes against the winds.
Tim’s 12 yr old body felt drained, his mind…exhausted. He didn’t really even notice the bite of the wind as gusts would swirl in, unrelenting, through the open pilot door of the tractor to push and to pull at his small flight jacket. Everything felt blank. This feeling of weary despair had crept over him as Rebecca’s screams of horror had died down to choking sobs an hour ago. Added to which, these sobs had been framed by the desperate cries for help into the tractor’s radio by his mother, Annie. As for his father…he was silent, non-moving outside. He’d finally done it. Tim had always suspected that the other kids parents thought of his dad as a risk-taker, a ‘cowboy‘, whatever that was. Someone destined for trouble. But he always seemed to prove them wrong. Not this time. He’d taken the risk…and they were all paying for it. Right now, his dad’s limp body was lying beside the tractor’s large front wheel, something from a nightmare. While inside the derelict, Russ Jorden had found something. It was supposed to be strange alien riches, new intelligences, something wonderful that would make the Jorden family the envy of the Hadley‘s Hope Atmosphere Processing Station. But it wasn’t. What he’d found was horrible. An organism had attacked him somewhere in the dark bowls of the crashed alien ship, repulsively fixing itself to his face like a perverse lover. It was this…thing that his mother now grimly stared at out there, eyes wide above grimy tear tracks, curly blond hair fluttering madly in the high winds as she holds vigil over her husband’s inert form. Fear and hatred alternately wash over her pale face as she glares at the creature. At its pulsing flanks and ribbed back. At the muscular tail coiled around Russ’ strained neck. At the long multi-jointed ‘fingers’ tightly wrapped in sickly yellow skin curled snugly around his father’s skull. Like her son in the tractor, Annie pays no heed to the rising winds; crouched against a large boulder at a safe distance from the beast while still able to watch the steady rise and fall of her Russ‘ chest. At least he was still alive. Tim edges forward a little to look out at the two adult forms. No change. It was still there, a nightmare not to be awakened from.

A whimper.

Tim slowly looks to the back of the tractor’s tight passenger compartment. Nestled among a collection of greasy sample sacks is the diminutive form of his younger sister Rebecca, rocking back and forth slightly with her small knees clasped to her jacket, her long blond hair tussled around her angelic face. The girl’s small fingers are dug tightly into the side of her favorite doll, Casey. Rebecca looks so small. Back home, the other kids had nick named her Newt because of her diminutive stature. The name caught quickly. Rebecca had seen the creature before Tim and her sudden prolonged scream had been the perfect preview for what he himself saw seconds later. When no other sounds drifted forward from his sister, Tim turned back to the windscreen. Towering over the crawler were the twin ‘arms’ of the strange derelict ship. Looking like dark bone, the massive ‘horseshoe’ shape was imbedded against a large ridge of sand and rock. Cracks and rends showed on the outer surface, evidence of a catastrophic crash ages ago. The dirge of wind brought an eerie flavor to the taxing scene.
A violent crackle. Tim, unable to help himself, jumps in his seat; startled. A tiny voice scratches its way from the radio’s small speaker…

“Jorden family tractor…come in. This is The Cricket inbound on your position from the South. How do you copy?…over.”

As if in slow motion, Tim leans over to pick up the handset on the pilot seat, dropped by his mother after her pleas for help. The voice sounds again, static flashing through the transmission that hangs on the faint radio hiss of the distant sun…

           “C’mon back, Annie. We’re inbound at this time….give us a fix. Over.”

His hand opens toward the handset and he swallows, grimacing against the dryness in his throat. He doesn’t know what to say. But he has to say something. He’s the man of the family now. He never gets the chance. Annie’s hand darts into the pilot compartment; snatching the radio up. Breathlessly, she yells…

“Roger, Cricket! Read you 5 by 5 ! Watch for the flares and get down here. Over!”

The handset falls to the seat again.

                                                 “Roger, Annie. Down in two.”

Dashing back into the storm, Annie searches the sky to the south, squinting against the sand particles that hiss past on the wind. There! A familiar shape framed by fast moving clouds the color of steel. Turning back she quickly scans the area, ignoring the rigid hairs of fear that rise every time the huge derelict flashes past her eyes. Turning her back on the behemoth structure she notices a bowl shaped crater a few meters away suited for a hopper landing zone. From her thick cargo pants, Annie pulls a pair of emergency flares.
Marks’ hand flashes up to his goggle controls as a brightness abruptly burns ahead. It suddenly intensifies as a second flare ignites. Bingo.

                                     “Roger, Annie. We’ve got you marked!” Out!”

Annie pulls back from the pool of red brilliance, shielding her gaze. The shriek of the storm gives sudden birth to the straining howl of a turbine engine. The Cricket swings in over the rocks, bucking valiantly in the winds. From its belly, a pair of search lights flash to life.
Tim blinks as his mother’s shape, back-dropped by the massive flank of the dark derelict, is caught in the intersecting beams of cold light. Waving frantically, she motions to the improvised landing zone.
The Cricket’s exhaust vents raise a blast of volcanic sand, it’s landing struts settling on the unyielding surface. Marks’ reaches forward; hitting the engine’s kill switch. The drop in thrust is caught by the gear’s hydraulic struts, lowering gently with a hiss. Locking the goggles to their helmet mount, he looks out through the reinforced windscreen. Caught in the hopper’s search lamps is the wind-buffeted figure of Annie Jorden. Arm raised against the light, she begins to edge through the storm toward the Cricket’s rear ramp-way. There is a commotion from the rear compartment. Straining against his belt, the young pilot turns to watch. Accompanying the 3-man med-tech team, is the colonies entire reserve police force, all 4 of them. Bay, Marachuck, Cameron and Dobie look odd in their riot gear. The tactical helmets and spider-silk body armour had never been needed from the precinct’s equipment shed. Beyond target practice, neither had the weapons the 3 men and one woman carried. Bay stands holding the matte-black Dante’ 12 shotgun in her gloved hand; awaiting orders from Dobie, the lead. The three men finish doing a final check. Wiping goggles. Checking clasps and fastenings. Adjusting helmets. Dobie, examining the loaded chamber of his Geisha MP-24A combat pistol, turns to the others…

“OK. We are going to secure a perimeter around the crawler and check on the kids! You three…!”

He gestures at the med-techs, crouched down with their satchels and compact stretcher…

“…get to Annie. If she’s badly off, hit her with a trank. Russ should be near the crawler. Get him stable and ready to go. Remember that we’ve got some shit weather inbound. So let’s go!”

With that he spins, slapping the ramp control. Smoothly it lowers as they are blasted with weather. The nicotine-stained light from the passenger compartment spills over Annie standing nearby; gloved hands clutched to her chest. Fresh tears glisten in the glare.
Tim watches as figures pour from the tail ramp of the hopper, several clustering around his mother’s form. Others sprint away from the Cricket, dodging among the smoothened rocks and gusts of wind, to rush to the Jorden tractor; weapons in hand. As the figures gain detail, Tim hears his own dreamy voice over the wind…

                                                  “Rebecca…they’re here.”

He cranes around again. Rebecca’s large blue eyes stare out from strands of messed blond. Casey still hangs from her little fingers. Tim tries again…

                                       “Rebecca…the cops are here. Let’s go.”

Rebecca raises her head a touch. With her lower lip trembling, she stammers…

                                                                       “Timmy?”

Tim has never heard his little sister so scared. Despite being picked on for her small stature, Rebecca is known as a plucky lil thing among the community. But there is nothing plucky about her now. She is a scared little girl, pushed to the edge by the events of the past couple hours. Her securities have come crashing down. Most of them. Tim, after a sigh, pushes himself from the co-pilots seat and moves to his sister. Taking her in a quick hug, he softly says…

    “It’s ok. We’re going home. The cops are here with the docs. Dad’ll be ok… ok?

Rebecca’s eyes meet his.

                                                “Timmy. Do you promise?”

Tim answers unthinkingly…

                                  “Yes. I promise that Dad’ll be fine. You’ll see.

Rebecca nods, pulling Casey to her…

                                                                        “Ok.”
Suddenly, the hatchway at the back of the cabin behind them bursts open with a loud thud. Bay rushes into the cramped space, shotgun slung over her armored chest. Dropping hurriedly to one knee, her eyes dart over the two kids…

                                   “Are you guys ok? Are you hurt? Tim? Newt?”

Tim answers for both…

                                                 “We’re ok. Where’s Mom?”

Bay reaches down to zip up Newt’s small windbreaker, careful to brush the little girl‘s blond strands out of the way…

“Your mom’s with Dr. Ling outside. Now…let’s go. We’re going to the Cricket.”

With that, the cop begins to herd the two youngsters toward the door.

Outside, Dobie and Marachuck stand over Russ’s form, unable to contain their revulsion of the creature. Marachuck, the smaller of the two, spits into the wind…

                                                     “What the fuck is that?!”

Dobie crouches beside Russ, hand on his holstered weapon. Everything about him screams fight or flight and he keeps his examination of the beast to a safe distance. He just shakes his head…

                                     “I have no idea. Ugly lil shit though…ain’t it?”

Movement. Glancing up, the police chief watches Bay urge the two kids from the tractor. Jesus Christ! What the hell was Russ thinking…bringing them out here?! This is a worst case scenario and it figures that Russell Jorden would find it. Irresponsible prick! Dobie couldn’t help but to think of his own two kids back at the Hope. Speaking into his headset, he says…

“Bay…get em on board and stay with them. Take em around the other side of the crawler. They don’t need to see this shit again.”

Bay nods in compliance…

                                                             “You got it, boss!”

Pulling the boy and girl to her, Bay pivots around to lead them through the wind.
Dobie looks back. The thing’s…pulse was starting to make him sick to his stomach. Right now he wasn’t really concerned with what it was….it was more what was it doing to irresponsible surveyor . The muscular cop stands, speaking into the mike again…

“Ling. We’ve got Russ up here at the crawler. He’s not good. We’ve got to get him back to the Hope. A.S.A. motherfuckin’ P.!”

Ling’s voice crackled to him…

                             “Yeah. We’re gettin’ that! We’re on our way over now!”

Looking toward the Cricket, the two cops could see the med -techs moving to them, their clear plastic coats snapping on the wind.

                                                      “Where’s Cameron?”

Marachuck gestures over to the large black officer standing a short distance away, seemingly transfixed on the vast shape that looms up around them. Dobie stands and backs away from Russ; turning to approach the mesmerized cop. Pausing, he addresses Marachuck…

                                   “Stay here till Ling’s got him secure.”

That said, he marches up the swallow incline to where Cameron stands…

                                           “What’s shakin’, big man?”

Cameron gestures at the vast shape before them…

                                          “Boss. What the hell is this?”

Dobie shakes his head with equal puzzlement. Taking in the strange view a shiver washes over him, and not from the cold…

                                      “I have no clue. God’s honest truth”

Cameron averts his gaze, dark eyes wide behind his clear goggles…

                                           “Are we gonna have to go in?”

Dobie shakes his head, jaw clenching…

                                                        “Fuck. I hope not.”

Shames watches as the shape grows quickly through his plexi-glass wind screen. The Cricket’s lights cast a bright slice of cool glare over the side of the still tractor. Points of red show the still burning flares beneath the hopper’s bulky hull.

                                              “Randy…can you see this?”

Randal is as transfixed as her father is. She finds herself suddenly aware of every cold spot on her slim frame. A tight ball of cold fear materializes just below her ribs. Swallowing against it, she replies a moment later:

                                              “Gonna light them up a little, pops.”

A pair of toggles are thrown on the console before her.

Dobie turns away from the dark lines and curves of the monstrous craft as the evacuation site behind is suddenly cast in the warm glow of the approaching Mary’s landing lights. The large bulk lifter slows to a rumbling hover a short distance away, it’s light throwing eerie shadows over the rocks around them.

Shames’ goggles whir quietly as they auto focus his scan of the area. Off to the right flank of the Mary, he can see a smooth plate of wind-swept rock; large enough to safely accommodate the Mary’s crew ramp. He points.

                     “Lower the ramp and put the pencil pusher out. Hang on.”

Under his expert piloting the bulk of the skiff slips over a couple meters, brushing it’s heavy landing struts over the sand blasted rocks.
Cooper pushes his glasses up on his thin nose as a high whirring starts from somewhere in the passenger area. Across the compartment, a hydraulic ramp begins to cycle outward, revealing the hellish environment beyond. Randy leans back, yelling:

               “Cooper! Un-ass your shit! Out now. We’re going to orbit!”

Nodding uncertainly, Cooper unclips the 5-point harness across his chest, reaching to his satchel beside him. Watching, the young co-pilot shouts again:

          “We’re gonna hold her as steady as possible. Jump down. Quick!”

Dobie and Cameron watch as the Mary roars smoothly over to a clear patch, it’s crew ramp opening into a lit rectangle behind the cockpit. Shadowed against the ugly green lighting, a braced figure prepares to jump down.

                                               “Who the hell is that?”

A strong gust crashes over the area, shaking the bulk lifter. The shadow stumbles out, grabbing for an awkward purchase at the rocky shapes around him.
Dobie shakes his head in recognition…

                         “Cooper. Shit! Just what we need right now.”

Cameron can only nod in agreement.

Randal smirks as Cooper stumbles out into the dark winds outside…

                                                   “Adios, pencil dick!”

That said, she hits the ramp control. With a faint squeal, the ramp cycles back to its closed position. Noting the locking reads, Randal addresses her mike…

                                                 “Cooper’s clear, Pops.”

Shames clicks his teeth, a personal affirmative. Eyeing the nearby sweep of the derelict’s massive ’arms’ above, the elder pilot gently eases his vertical trim and reaches for the throttle.

Cooper, still struggling against the unfriendly winds, is nearly knocked to his ass as the Mary’s heavy engines suddenly re-ignite only meters away. A wave of heated air washes over him as the bulk lifter climbs away from the rough terrain, slowing to a rumbling hover a short distance away.

Tim throws a glance back at the darkened family tractor while Bay herds them quickly along. What a sight! Lit by the Cricket’s floods, the battered flanks stand out against the dark and forbidding terrain, a defiant gesture of humanity in a hostile alien world. Like a beam from Heaven, the Mary’s own search lights flash over the scene from above. Reaching the ramp, Tim can see the white shapes of Doc Ling and Med-tech Alex pausing at his father’s splayed form, a stretcher held between them. The scene is abruptly cut off; the passing fuselage of the idling hopper giving way to a cramped passenger space. Annie is there, already buckled in and under the influence of a powerful sedative. Crispin, the other med-tech, looks up from his examination of her vitals to smile unconvincingly at the two kids. Through half-lidded eyes, Annie gestures her children to her side. Bay watches as Crispin tries to awkwardly address Newt, now seated quietly at her dazed mother’s side. The cop eases herself out of the scene, mildly uncomfortable; backing down the short ramp into the cold night.
Ling and Alex share a disbelieving look after the creature attached to Russ further tightens the coiled tail around his strained neck.

                                                        “What do you say, Doc?”

Ling, not looking back to Cameron, replies:

“Not much to say. We’ve got to get this man back to Medical, soon. I can’t do anything with this till I know what THIS…is.”

He gestures pointedly to the lightly pulsing creature. Boot scuffs on rock. They all glance up as Cooper shuffles up to the group, his eyes locked on the tractor’s flank numbers as a computer notepad flashes back vehicle stats from his gloved hands. He’s muttering figures to himself…

“Damage doesn’t look so bad. Must be an internal problem. Like to hear Jorden explain…”

Looking over at the small group of official, he asks…

“So where is Mr. Jorden? I’m going to need his premium plan number and his…”

The sentence drifts off into the wind-blown night as Alex steps away from Russ, giving Cooper an unobstructed view of the beast. Cooper’s moist lips drop open. Stepping forward slowly, he seems suddenly not to notice the others. It’s only him and Russ. And the creature. Thoughts of premiums and delayed incident reports vanish from his mind, replaced with thoughts of shares and discovery bonuses. Catching the Company man’s pensive look, Dobie leans in.

                                            “So…what’s the scoop, Coop?”

One quiet word drifts from Cooper’s slack mouth…

                                                          “Quarantine.”

Four pairs of goggled eyes turn to the stricken form of the surveyor, unceremoniously dumped against the tractor. Ling nods in agreement…

“No shit, Sherlock. En route, we’re have to radio back to get an enclosure put together to contain this little fuck after I extract.”

Cooper snaps out of his reverie, gesturing with a sweeping arm…

          “No. This site. It has to be quarantined for a qualified inspections team.”

Dobie, unable to contain the feeling of suddenly being undermined by the corporate stooge, snaps…

                                              “Under what authority?!”

Reaching into the satchel at his side, Cooper meets the police chief’s hard look…

“Under the Weyland-Yutani Prospect Charter, Directive Sections 3, 5 and 6. So don‘t start with me…officer.”

Dobie can only mutter…

                                         “You’ve got to be shittin’ me!”

Cooper pushes past, pulling a claim marker from his satchel’s depths.

                           “I assure you, I’m not. Get that man out of here.”

Cooper doesn’t see the upraised middle finger aimed at his back. He begins to pick his way toward the derelict, watery eyes fixed on the strange lines and bulges.
Dobie turns back to the others. Alex and Ling have already started to gingerly move the stretcher under Russ’s still form, careful not to brush up against the creature…

                                                              “Hey, boss!”

Dobie looks over to the rear of the tractor where Bay stands. Her sudden appearance snaps him into motion…

“Ok. We’ve got to secure this vehicle for pickup! Ling! You and Alex get Russ to the Cricket. We’ll be right behind you!”

The two med-techs don’t answer, their attention on buckling the patient to the stretcher. Gesturing at his people, Dobie yells…

                                                           “Let’s do it!”

Shames and Randal watch as the little cluster of figures below suddenly scatter under the Mary‘s lights. The 4 cops spread out around the bulk of the waiting tractor as two of the med-techs work at hoisting the stretcher between them. Randal’s eyes darts over the scene. Someone’s missing.

                                                   “Where’d Cooper go?”

The dark flank of the huge derelict dwarfs Cooper’s small form. Away from the others the area is dark, shadow on shadow among the wind-shaped rocks. The howling turbulence rises in pitch, pulling at Cooper’s fleece windbreaker. He doesn’t notice. The accountant is lost in awe. The financial possibilities of this find are never ending. It may even be his ticket off of this rock. Up ahead, three oval-shaped openings of what appears to be formed bone stand out in the darkness. Cooper cocks his head, almost dog-like, as he realizes that these open airlocks…or whatever they were, lead straight into the ship…or whatever it is. Excitement bubbles just below his pale exterior. Stumbling over some coarse ground, he stops. The center hole seems to yawn open at him, gloomy and deep. What had the stupid surveyor stumbled on to in there? An image of the pulsing claw…thing attached to the man flashed through his calculating mind and he paused, suddenly unwilling to enter the find.

                                                                       “Cooper!”

The Company man jumps, startled by the sudden voice in his ear. Pushing the bud in for a clear transmission, he breathlessly exclaims…

                                                                  “Shit! What?!”

Dobie’s voice crackles to him…

“Quit jerking off over there and get the hell away from that thing! We’re leaving!”

Cooper glances around, suddenly aware of how alone his is. Responding, he says…

                                     “Two seconds…I’m almost done here!”

                                                   “Yeah?! Well hurry up!”
The line goes dead.

The claim marker’s plastic wrapper catches on the wind as he pulls the small beacon out. Like a stolen memory, the yellow cellophane disappears into the forbidding landscape. Squinting with concentration, Cooper’s struggles to remember his unused Claimant’s code, as he checks the internal battery pack and transmitter nubs. All the necessary LED’s flash in the green and he turns his attention to the tiny keypad mounted in the heavy plastic. Punching in the 5 digit number, he is rewarded with a quick double beep. Jamming the beacon into a narrow crevasse between two boulders, Cooper spares one last glance at his ticket home as it looms over him. The beacon is secure at the base of the derelict. There’ll be no denying what the claim is. The accountant hunches his shoulders up and begins to make his way to the waiting hopper, mentally preparing his brief for the Company brass. His exposed back seems inviting to the shapes in the darkness…but nothing jumps.

Tim checks his restraints…for the 3rd time. His mother is out, resting comfortably with a small respirator gently secured over her mouth. Rebecca stares at the opposite bulkhead, still comfortable in the warm recesses of her mind, aided by a mild tranquilizer. Casey’s head pokes out from the top of Rebecca’s jacket, glassy eye’s matching its owners. Quick footsteps from outside. The howl of the storm is cut off by heavy boots pounding up the ramp. Tim glances up as Crispin scuttles over to pull in the stretcher. The other med-techs work at pushing Russ’ body into the locking clamps mounted to the floor, securing the stretcher in place. Tim shivers; catching a glimpse of the obscene thing attached to his father. Seconds later Doc Ling pulls a blanket into place, covering the beast. Russ is now just a form hidden from casual observation by synthetic wool. Marks leans around from the cockpit…

           “People! We have got to get outta here! Winds are pickin’ up again!”

Dobie, pounding up the ramp with his officers in tow, yells out…

“You’ve got that right! As soon as Cooper gets his ass in here, you’re clear!”

Marks can’t hide his contempt.

                               “Cooper?! Ah…shit! Can‘t we just leave him?”

Dobie fixes a look on the young man.
The pilot grumbles; turning back to his controls.
As if cued, Cooper saunters up the ramp. His dreamy demeanor has returned and he misses the scornful looks directed at him from the others. Finding a free seat he sits down, satchel resting on his knees. Dobie pushes through the tight confines of the passenger compartment and taps on Marks’ helmet…

                                                “How’s the Mary lookin’?”

The pilot gestures at the windscreen…

                                                     “See for yourself.”

The bulk lifter had smoothly moved in as the cops finished securing the tractor. The clamps released and the computer-controlled crane assembly lines up on the vehicles lifting points below. As Dobie watches from the Cricket, the Mary’s engines roar up to a glowing howl to compensate for the tractor’s bulky weight. With a jerk, the large tires rise from the sand and rock. The tractor is drawn steadily up through the wind, swaying slightly on the cold, violent air. In the inky darkness of the tractor’s wheel wells, hidden from observation, something stirs. Marks’ watches the ascent with a practiced eye…

“Randal. You guys be careful on that lift. The tractors is taking a heavy crosswind across it’s nose and it’s starting to sway.”

Randal’s confident voices rattles over the com…

                       “Thanks. I think that we’re good. Gonna be locking her in…..”

The tractor slows to a stop as the robot housing clamps slam shut on the pick-up points. Bulk lifter and tractor are one.

                                                   “…now! She‘s ours!”
Marks’ nods in approval…

                 “Nice one. On that note…we are out of here! See ya at the Hope!”

Without waiting for a reply, Marks’ yells back to his passengers…

                        “Restrain those asses, people! We’re going home!”

Dobie settles into a seat as the hopper’s turbines suddenly shake through the air-frame. The Cricket shudders, its engines blasting away as the gangly ship rises from the terrain. Marks’ face is a mask of concentration, eyes flashing over a multitude of controls and screens as the winds again hammer past. Twisting the collective, the pilot increases his thrust.

The hopper’s turbine whines in protest as the little craft turns into the wind. Dark clouds rush past overhead as the engine’s pitch increases to a shriek, pushing The Cricket along on glowing exhaust ports.

The Mary, its cargo secured, douses it’s searchlights. The area falls dark once again, disturbed only by the heated glow of the engines. With a stuttering cacophony of engine noise, the bulk lifter swings around and slowly accelerates away from the alien derelict.
Tim, shaking against his belt, slowly scans the faces of those cramped in with him. With the exception of the Company guy, they all look a little…haunted. Tim can’t help but to notice that they all seem to have trouble looking at the floor, particularly the space that the stretcher occupies. There is a slight whimper that Tim makes out over the engine’s whine and the banging of turbulence. It doesn’t take long to discover the source. Rebecca has momentarily drifted out of her stupor and is staring at their father’s motionless shape, her eyes glistening with frightened tears. Tim follows her horrified gaze. The bouncing of the hopper has, unseen by the others, shifted the folds of the blanket. From beneath the fabric, Tim can see his father’s tussled hair…and a yellowish ‘finger’ clamped around his head. The finger, motionless for so long now, flexes. Not much movement. Just a loosening of grip, retightened a moment later. A strangled yell suddenly fills the passenger compartment. Tim doesn’t realize that it’s his own…

Part 2: Documents

Document series captured in burst transmission from Hadley’s Hope Atmosphere Processing Station (LV-426). Directive Dated: DELETED. Located under (TOP PRIORITY) seal by investigative teams looking into allegations of smuggling and illegal bio-weapons funding for unauthorized xenomorphic research under Weyland-Yutani supervision.

1) Transcript: Video Diary of Rebecca Jorden (Colony Ident# 1142B)
Recorded: 8/24/79
(Burst of static)…”Dear Diary, um…..it’s been awhile. Sorry….Things haven’t been good here. Our trip out to…um, the Ilium Range went real bad.” (Voice hitches in throat)…(a sob)…“Mom and Dad found…something big. It might have been a spaceship. Dad went in with Mom. There was something inside. Some gross creature. And it grabbed Dad. He got hurt. We got back here and they put him in Medical. Doc Ling (Chester O. Ling, Head of Medical Operations) said that he seemed ok. They were going to try to pull the thing off his face but it was too hard. They cut it and it bled something like acid. It didn’t touch Dad but it burned a hole in the floor and shorted out the lights on B level. What kinda animal has acid for blood? Timmy freaked out again when it happened. Good thing that Mom was still out. She would’ve cried more. I hate it when Mom cries…(chokes back tears)…makes me cry. (Pauses to get her breath back) “Then the thing fell off. It was dead. They put it in stasis…”(At this point, someone enters the room.)…“Hi“…(person’s response unintelligible)…“he’s awake?…Does Timmy know?” (response unintelligible)…“Um…Diary, I have to go. They say that Dad’s up. I’m going to see him…bye!”(Burst of static)…End Recording.

2) Medical Incident Report Filed by Dr. Chester O. Ling (Colony Ident# 1121A)
Dated: 08/23/79
*Excerpt from Comments Section of File: #MO 152
COMMENTS:
“This has got to be the strangest thing that I’ve ever encountered in all my years in the Medical profession. I’ve seen all kinds of tumors and parasites, both natural and artificial, over the years but nothing like this. If anything like this is on record, I’ve been kept squarely in the dark. This parasite…for lack of a better term, is large enough to encapsulate a human head, using a series of multi-jointed digits, almost like fingers, fixed to a very sturdy body frame. The creature also has a tremendously powerful tail (approx. 4 ft long), the muscle structure of which seems quite complex, that it uses to fix itself to another life-form. In this case, the patient (Russell Jorden: Colony Ident# 1140A) seems to have first been grabbed by the neck, most likely in an ambush style attack. Mr. Jorden’s wife, Annie gave me some compelling details between trank doses. She claimed that all had gone well as they had entered the so-called derelict. They had followed a corridor which Mrs. Jorden claims to have appeared constructed of an organic material, like bone or sinew. Somewhere along the way, Russ found an opening in the floor, if I was understanding correctly, that he was able to drop down into. Mrs. Jorden alleges that Russ was going on about a vast chamber below that was filled with a “field of leathery urns or eggs.” He apparently went to investigate one of them and that was when his com line went dead. Mrs. Jorden ventured down to investigate and that was when she found her husband in the state that we have him in now. We still don’t know how she removed him from the ship. She did confirm the underground egg chamber. The one nearest Russ was opened, as were a collection of others nearby. If there were any more of these things loose, Annie managed to avoid them…somehow. I’d hate to think where they could be. As for Russ, amazingly his vitals are very strong, yet there seems to be an almost calm to them…like he’s meditating or in a light coma. My self and the others are pretty baffled by this. Same also, detailed in the report above, about its internal structure, from what we can tell. Never have I heard of an animal that utilizes a highly corrosive liquid for body fluids. When we cut it, using a Lisston #7 Light scalpel, it shot out a yellowish liquid that began to burn on contact with every surface that it touched, namely the floor. Maintenance later told me that it went through two levels and it fried the light lines on B level. Amazing stuff, I must say from a scientific standpoint. It’s a miracle that Russ was untouched by it. When we cleaned up the acid’s mess, we found that the creature was unmoved by the incision. In fact, we discovered that this animal has a very effective immune system. The scarring from the cut was already showing signs of healing, approximately 10 minutes after the operation. We’re left in the cold with regards to any other avenues for removal. I think that we’re just going to have to wait and see what happens.

3) Emergency Incident report (Medical) filed by Chester O. Ling.
Dated: 08/24/79
*Excerpt taken from Comments section of report.
Comments:
Russell Jorden has died. Our situation with the creature has become far more serious than we could’ve imagined. Where do I begin? Following my filing of Report #MO152, we discovered that the creature had removed itself from Russ during the night. After a brief search of Medical, we found it behind one of the equipment cabinets. During an examination, we determined that it was in fact dead, save for a couple of residual nerve impulses. There was no real damage to Russ’ body except a series of stretch marks about the face, evidence of the animal’s grip. Two hours later, he woke up. His initial reaction was one of surprise and mild confusion. At first, he had trouble dealing with the fact that he was back at the Hope, not knowing how he got back. He didn’t understand what had happened and he seemed to have no memory of the creature’s attack. An interesting note was that the last thing that Russ did in fact remember was a dream. He said that he remembers a deep feeling of drowning or smothering. I performed an oral examination and found that the creature hadn’t damaged any of Russ’ throat or mouth. There was signs of dehydration and we began an IV to replenish his liquid levels. He requested water on top of the drip and I counted 6 cups worth consumed. About that time, he requested to see his family. I informed him that Annie was still under the influence of a sedative but that the children were available. Observing the colony’s quarantine procedures, I allowed Tim and Newt Jorden to speak with their father via the operating theatre’s com link. After a brief conversation, I had the children removed to allow Simpson (Allan Simpson, Colony Operation’s Manager, Ident#1001) and Lydecker (Benjamin Lydecker, Colony Operation’s Assistant Manager, Ident #1006) to interview Russ for the Incident report back to Network. We had to conclude prematurely to allow Russ to try and eat something. He was ravenous, for lack of a better term. He consumed 3 of the Mess hall’s MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) and seemed as though he could consume more. I advised against it to avoid a serious shock to his partially dormant system. I then administered a 10cc dose of Sevnoril # 4 which put Russ to sleep within about 2 minutes. What I next have to report defies belief. About an hour later, Crispin (Med-Tech Ian Crispin, Colony Ident#1046) found me to report that Russ was waking and that he seemed to be under a good deal of discomfort. That the fact that he was awakened from the 10cc’s of Sevnoril by what ever was ailing him is noteworthy. I reached Medical in time to see Russ go into a state of seizure, so violent that it knocked him from the bed. The medical staff on hand entered the operating theatre with me and we tried to restrain the poor man in order to administer another dose. We never got the chance. We all recall a horrible, wet ripping sound a moment before haemorrhaging began from below Russ’ ribs. Something, roughly the size of a fist was trying to get out…of him. Before we could properly react, it tore through the gown among a mess of blood and entrails. It’s because of this damage to Russ’ torso and the smeared blood that we don’t really have a clear definition of the creature. One thing that we are all in agreement about is that it, in no way, resembles the other animal. This one had a thick, muscular torso that was topped by a set of very sharp teeth. I can say this with confidence after examining the wound that Alex (Med-Tech Alexis Donner, Ident#1102) acquired trying to attack the creature with a scalpel. After it bit her, it launched itself from Russ’ corpse on a squat pair of claws and escaped through the hole burned into the floor by the previous creature. A search of the lower level revealed a spatter of human blood that led to an open heating duct. From there we lost the trail. I regret to write that through all of this, Russ’ family was present in Medical and witnessed the whole incident. Needless to say, they were all treated with sedatives and put under watch. After I examined Russ’ body and the trauma it had endured, I can conclude that the creature had been using the man’s biological functions to gestate. The other creature was obviously nothing more than a mobile ‘sperm donor’. Just an aggressive means to procreating its species. Simpson participated in my autopsy and in the end, ordered the body tagged and placed in the morgue under a state of freezing. I think that he intends to allow the investigative team access to it after their arrival. He then asked me to, based on what information I’ve gathered about the creature, concoct a stasis tank that will hold it after it’s captured by the search teams.
I have no idea what I’m going to do. On a personal note, this whole incident is very unsettling. We don’t know what we’re dealing with here. Word spread quickly through the community and tensions are high. I hope that things around here don’t get worse.

4) Incident Report from Colony Police Chief Richard ‘Dobie’ Duvall (Ident # 1013)
File Dated: 08/26/79
*Excerpt taken from Details section of File # EI 121.
Incident Details:
Russell Jorden was killed 2 days ago by what Doc Ling claims was a new creature that grew inside of him and emerged when it had reached the birthing time in it‘s growing cycle. It would have been planted there by the animal that initially attacked him at the derelict site out past the Ilium Range. Despite there being many witnesses to the incident, a clear profile of the new creature has eluded us. One of the Med-Tech’s was injured by the animal when she tried to attack it just before it quickly escaped from Medical via a damaged floor panel. A search by the staff turned up nothing more than some blood leading to an open duct way on B level. Simpson has ordered that unnecessary travelling in the main compound be restricted until the creature is caught. We’re going to organize a search party of volunteers to hunt it down. Doc Ling has been told to construct a method of holding it once it is caught. Personally, I’d be happier blowing its head off…especially after what it’s done to the Jorden family. We were given instructions forbidding us from opening fire on it in the event that it uses the same acid for blood as the other creature. Can’t risk a possible depressurization. Locating this creature is not going to be easy given that it’s size is estimated to be about a foot long and about six inches in diameter, in a search area of about 2 square miles. Some of the ideas that have been passed around about catching it have included sealing off the ducts and increasing the temperature in hopes of cooking it out. Others have included freezing it out, burning it out with ignited fuels etc. All these ideas are worth looking at…assuming that it’s keeping it movements to the duct ways. So far we’re going to organize a town meeting in Operations to divide into hunting groups. I hope that we get the little bastard.

5) All Points Memo posted by Benjamin Lydecker at the Hadley Control Block
Date: Unknown
Attention all personnel. Due to the Incident involving the Jorden family and the presence of an uncatalogued life-form loose within the compound, it has been strongly suggested that unnecessary movement within the Hope be restricted. Non-vital operations are suspended at this time and it is asked that special emphasis be placed on the supervision of children and pets. There is no need to be unduly alarmed as the Hadley Police and Administration are exploring several options for catching the creature. Normal operations will commence as soon as it is safely possible and we ask that all personnel remain vigilant; without delay report anything out of the ordinary to Administration. Thank you for your co-operation.

6) Transcript: Video Diary Entry by Rebecca Jorden
Dated: 08/29/79
(Burst of Static)…“Um, Dear Diary….I don’t really have anyone else to talk to right now. Since Daddy….um….since he died, things here at the Hope have gotten really bad. Worse than before. Timmy’s been staying with Mom, whose been kept asleep by the docs. She hasn’t been…the same, I guess…since that thing, since it…(a small sob)….(clears her throat)…since Dad died. People are saying all kinds of strange things about…strange things. It’s weird. The others, the ones looking for the thing have said that they think that they saw…something near one of the air duct junctions in the lower level. But the thing about that is that what they maybe saw was big. Big like a man. But again…they don’t know what they saw. They did find a skin or something, caught on a broken grill. I hope that means that it’s dead…or that they’re gonna catch it soon. And I also heard that somebody thought they saw another one of those…gross face things, like Daddy’s, down in the vehicle impound. I don’t know how though, we only found Dad’s at that weird building out on the high plateau. We didn’t see any others when we got picked up…and it’s pretty far. Could they walk here? (She goes quiet for a moment, pondering)….(In the background, a child starts to cry, startling Rebecca)…a lot of the other kids are scared, even the big kids. I don’t want to hear anymore crying. (Rebecca leans in close to the recorder, whispering)…I feel like I’m in a bad dream, Diary…and I can’t wake up.” (Burst of Static) End Recording.

7) Incident Report filed by Colony Police Chief Richard ‘Dobie’ Duvall.
Dated: 08/30/79
*Excerpt taken from Details section of File Number: EI 122
We have a serious problem here. Nothing is simple right now…there are no quick answers. The animal…whatever it is has changed…grown. Initial reports of possible sightings of it were cast aside as the descriptions of size didn’t ring with what we thought we were looking for. About an hour and a half ago we had commenced our 3rd search, performed by 4 teams of 3. One of our teams, led by Deputy Officer John Marachuck (Ident # 1103) was somehow cut off of our communications grid about 10 minutes into the search pattern. One of the other teams reported hearing “…a far-off bloodcurdling scream…followed by a brief pounding noise. Then there was one gunshot followed by an eerie silence.” from the area of Marachuck’s search zone at the far end of D block. Those responding found a terrible scene. Marachuck was the only one left and somehow one of Russ Jorden’s face parasites had gotten to him. He was collapsed against the corridor edge, his pistol still clamped in his hand. The creature was fixed to him…like Russ’. Where the hell did it come from? We never saw any others out at the derelict site during the Jorden family evacuation. As for the other two searchers…only a broken open air duct and some splashes of blood that were found on the bulkhead and ceiling panels. Whatever this thing is it grabbed the two searchers and pulled them into the airway. We know this from the smeared trail of fresh blood that disappeared into the duct work, along with a discarded shoe found on site. Doc Ling ordered Marachuck into an emergency surgery while we went to work welding plate steel over the damaged vent way. I think that he feels that he can save John’s life if he can remove the parasite before embryo implantation. I hope that he’s right. Already we’ve lost too many of the community to this bizarre nightmare. One thing that I am happy to say is that Simpson has authorized me to utilize whatever we need to kill this thing off. I intend to empty out the Armoury to do this. I was wondering when we’d get to make use of the 2 M41A’s. I just hope that we have enough of the 10 mm caseless to do the job. Also, just to be on the safe side, I’m also going to procure a crate of the D.O. #20 seismic survey charges to wire to the duct entrances near Operations. All personnel are going to be immediately recalled from the refinery and the families are going to be moved into a secure location with movement highly restricted. I‘m going to recommend that Simpson or Lydecker issue a colony wide distress call to Network. I think that we’re going to need help out here.

8) Colony Wide Directive Issued by Assistant Manager Benjamin Lydecker from the Colony Operations Block.
Date: Unknown
Attention all personnel. Due to the recent occurrences here in the station, it has become clear that normal operations of any kind are simply too hazardous to continue, given the elusive and dangerous nature of the animals we are dealing with. All refinery staff are immediately recalled to the compound to assist in the barricading of living quarters and the establishment of watches and patrols. Any personnel requiring sedation, consult Doctor Ling and staff after movement of essential belongings to Operations or adjoining offices. Ensure that all children and pets are accounted for and secured. Any movement within the compound must be done under escort. No exceptions will be made. Please remember that teamwork is the key. We can get through this. Thank you for your co-operation. God bless.

9) Personal Diary Entry by Allen Simpson, Colony Operations Manager
Dated: 09/01/79
“I can face it. Life here at the Hope has never really been what anyone, in their right mind, would call easy. But we’re trapped in our own nightmare on this fucking rock right now. I’ve been through a hell of a lot in my time…but I’ve never seen a community carry with it as much fear as this one is these days. And with god damned good reason. It all started when the Jorden’s were Med-evac’d from the high plateau, bringing back with them the creature…the creature that soon after killed Russ by re-birthing itself from inside his chest. God, I hoped to never see anything like that again. It would seem that such requests are going unheard these days though. I’ve seen many degrees of worse since that moment. The disappearance of two of our staffers and the attack on Marachuck down in D block during the search for the little chest-burster bastard came next. It seems that some more of those…face fuckers hitched a ride back from the derelict out past the Ilium Range. Probably on the Jorden family tractor during its removal. It’s the only explanation for it. And then there’s the son-of-a-bitch creature that took the others into the duct work. The little one, Russ’, grew…and it grew fast. I can only speculate, but from the descriptions we thought that it may have been at least 7 feet tall, standing erect. Only a day or so after it…birthed, no less. We then realized that nobody was safe, even with an armed escort. Doc Ling, to his credit, tried his best to remove the parasite from Marachuck using an unfinished part of his acid-proof containment cage to protect the operating theatre. The effort was a complete waste. During the extraction, the creature began to quickly strangle Marachuck with it‘s tail. I think that that’s when the Doc snapped. He went to messy work on it with a light scalpel, yelling in Chinese as he did. The thing’s blood burned clean through Marachuck’s skull…and through the table beneath him. Doc Ling didn’t even realise his patient was dead. It may have been the thrashing that the body did…but I don’t see how he could’ve missed the flat-line alarm blaring in his ear. Crispin had to forcibly remove Doc from the room and administer a shot of trank to calm the hysterical man down. The operating theatre had to be evacuated because the fumes were just too much, they easily filled the room. I then declared Med-lab off limits…at least until we took care of the body, or what was left of it. I’ve never seen damage of that calibre done to human flesh before. Most of the skull had been melted away, as had a large portion of the chest cavity. It would seem that if the ugly lil fucker couldn’t have Marachuck, then no one would. We soon after discovered that 3 of Ling’s fingers were missing as he tried to write up his report and that his skin had blistered from the smoke. He hadn’t noticed the damage during his…slicing. He was like a man possessed! It was nearly as scary as the creature it self. It seemed as though the man could turn on any of us at that moment. It was soon after this incident that the count from the refinery recall came up 6 short. We had people missing. Shames (Towing Pilot 1st class Jimmy ‘Shames’ Shamus, Ident # 1098A) reported that his daughter, Randy (Co-Pilot 2nd class Randal ‘Randy‘ Shamus, Ident#1099), also hadn’t returned from the vehicle impound after final call. Against my orders, the man left the Operations area to search for her. He hasn’t been seen since. Added to which, we lost our hard-wire connection to the Up-Link tower after a survey charge went off in one of the electrical access tunnels. Dobie took Cameron and Bay down there to check out the fruits of his trap. Seems he’d gotten it in his head to wire duct access hatches with the charges to try and prevent the creature’s movements in the compound. He might as well have rung a dinner bell, going down there like that. Only Bay, screaming and blood-sprayed, made it back…barely. Her sudden arrival at Operations has been one of the only strokes of luck that any of us has had in a while. We finally got a look at one of these ugly mother-fuckers as the bastard was chasing Bay down the west corridor near ‘A’ block. Thank god for her that we had a sentry at the main door. He managed to pump three blasts of combat-grade buck into the creature as it ran in along the ceiling. Some lucky shooting. The body cooked through the grating in under a minute and fell to the level below but what we saw before that was beyond belief.
They appear to be a type of insect life-form, with a dark armored exo-skeleton and a powerful, segmented tail. The skull seems disproportionate in size and weight to the body and no eyes are visible.
As the group examined the damage to the floor, another of these things burst up from below and took a staffer, in front of about 5 others. It happened so fast, he couldn‘t have been saved. The gunfire that followed seems to have proven totally useless. All that we can hope for is that a round found the poor son-of-a-bitch that was taken. God…I can still hear his screams, trailing off into the distance. That’s when I decided that we were going to have to barricade the entire Operations block and hope that some of us are still here when help arrives. Christ and Buddha…have mercy.”

10) Message fragment dispatched on Resident frequency by acting Colony Manager Benjamin Lydecker.
Date: Unknown
(Burst of static)…“Jesus. We’ve…We’ve lost so many now!”….“I‘m in charge now!”….“Al‘s gone!”…“Our manager, Allan Simpson was taken last night when they attacked again“….“They were going after some of the kids being brought back from (Transmission garbled)”…“Sons of bitches!”…..“pulled him into the floor grating“…“he never saw it coming“….“I hope“…“for his sake that he’s dead. Everybody that’s left…is scared!”…God, I’m so scared!…“Nobody can sleep“….“we can hear them when they‘re near“…“claws above and below, all around“….“screeching in the distance when they‘re coming“….“so alien“…“they using the main access tunnel to get to the complex“…(burst of static)…“My god, they‘re smart“…“we’re blind here since the fogs moved in“…so thick…and quiet now”…“eerie“….“the outer offices in the Operations block have been cleared out“….“we’re all in the Operations Centre now“…“all weapons are accounted for and kept loaded“…“I‘m keeping a shot ready“…“for myself“…“not going like the others“….“Medical help is getting hard since Doc Ling cut his own throat yesterday“…“did it down in B block’ s lift, screaming for God to take him away from it all“…“they took the body, probably back to the refinery like the rest“…“Fuckers!”…(Burst of static)….“We’re going to try to repair the barricades again today before they come” (Transmission garbled)…“gonna close up the storm shudders too“….“might help“….“I hope that somebody out there can hear what I‘m saying“….“I…I don‘t want to die like this“….(Burst of static)…End transmission.

11) Transcript: Final Video Diary Entry of Rebecca Jorden
Date: Unknown
*This entry was recorded on one of the colony’s handheld Multi-screens in the Operations Centre, hence the poor recorded picture quality.
Begin Recording….(Burst of static)….“Dear Diary…it’s Newt again. “(Rebecca Jorden appears on screen. She seems to be seated on a pile of blanketing against a bulkhead, dressed in a worn pair of overalls and holding her doll. We can hear the sounds of many people trying to be quiet in a cramped space.) “It’s been a while. I’m really only talking to you cause Timmy…” (She gestures over her shoulder at a blurred shape in the background) “…said that it might be a good idea to leave something for others. I don’t quite get what he means…but it gives me something to do. There’s a lot of people in here…they’re really scared. Lots cry, especially at night.” (She pauses, thinking about her words.) “I don’t cry anymore. Crying makes me…sleepy. And I don’t want to sleep. Not now when … I have scary dreams. I see Dad sometimes. But he’s always dead.” (She lowers her eyes, looking down at her doll as she strokes it‘s hair.) “I don’t like sleeping anymore. It seems like every time somebody in here sleeps…they wake up screaming. Then they cry.”(She pauses, looking around the Operations Centre.) “..The new Manager just left….he told us that the barricades are nearly done. Some people cheered. It didn’t last long. He also said that he wants the storm shudders closed…thinks it may help keep them out. I don’t think that it will. I wonder how we’re going to get to the fire windows…you know the ones that we’re supposed to open to get to the ladders outside, the ones near the landing pad. If the shudders are closed…” (She trails off again, looking at the windows.)….“Well… (She turns back and leans toward us, Casey held up as if to cover her mouth from observation) “…the adults have all said that they’re going to fight here if they come. But some of us kids have a plan…”(She holds up a back-pack, emblazoned with a child’s cartoon character.)”…we’re going to go into the air ducts to hide out, like when we play Monster Maze. Timmy said that when we go…I can lead cause I know the maze the best.” (She smiles a little….childish pride.)…(In the background, we hear someone say something unintelligible. Rebecca looks over.)….(She turns back.)…“They just said that they’re going to close the shudders now….” (We can see the steel plates slowly sliding up over the main windows in the background. They lock in place.)…“It makes the room feel really small.” (One of the people in the background approaches and sits down beside Rebecca. It’s her brother Tim and he leans over to whisper in his sister’s ear. She, in turn, leans toward the screen whispering.)…“Timmy says that I should be ready with my stuff cause…it‘s getting dark and they‘ve mostly come at night to get people. They might come tonight. Tim also said that Mom still won’t wake up. Nobody checks on her anymore. She’s just sleeping on her cot in the far corner so I don‘t know…. Doc Ling gave her drugs to sleep before he….” (She pauses, thinking.)… he killed himself.” (She glances over her shoulder at Tim, who is too busy checking his own bag to notice. She looks back.)…“Diary, I think that I should check on Mom. Make sure that she can wake up if they come again.” (An alarm suddenly begins to sound in the Operations Centre. Rebecca and Tim both freeze in place, glancing up at the out of sight alarm panel. Other figures in the background also stop in place.)…“Uhmm….” (A quick series of gunshots suddenly sound in the corridor nearby, followed by hurried footsteps. 3 figures burst in through the door, slamming it shut and locking it behind them. One of them turns to yell something to the others in the room. Somebody screams in response. Rebecca jumps where she sits, clearly startled.)…“Oh no…they’re here….” ( A loud explosion goes off somewhere behind the Operations Centre’s closed doors, followed by another. Tim jumps up, trying to shout to somebody over the abrupt panic. Rebecca looks quickly back at him.)…”What about Mom?!!!…” (His response is unintelligible and Rebecca looks back at us with the beginnings of tears in her eyes. She angrily wipes them away.)…“Diary, I think that this might be…” (She is cut off by an unseen colonist screaming in horror about something under the floor panels. Rebecca jumps up from her place, knocking the Multi-screen to the ground as she grabs her bag. It continues recording.)…NO! They’re in here with us!…How‘d they…”(Tim rushes up and grabs Rebecca, forcibly hauling her off toward a panicking group of other kids, all clustered near an open air-duct in the background. We can just make out Rebecca’s voice over the sudden din of unearthly screeches, sporadic gunfire and screams of terror.)” Timmy, what about Mom?!!!” (He doesn’t respond, dragging her away from us. The recorder auto-zooms in on Rebecca’s pale face as she turns to search out something through the blossoming carnage. Whatever she’s looking for, she sees a moment later.)”…“MOM!!!….MOMMY!!!…WAKE UP!!!…..LOOK OUT!!!…THERE’S ONE NEAR….!!!…(Tim spins her around then, cutting her warning off and tossing her toward the open airway; dark and small. As the recorder struggles to focus through the chaotic scene, he thrusts a utility light into Rebecca’s small hands and points into the dark space. A brilliant strobe suddenly fills the room as someone opens fire with an automatic weapon. The intense hammering sound fills the Operations Centre and the children instinctively cringe toward their waiting escape route. A shrill cry rings out and the weapon falls silent. Quick shadows flash over the wall, violent images are glimpsed. Rebecca drops to her knees and crawls in, vanishing into the canned gloom. The others begin to follow. As the recorder struggles to locate the diary entry’s author in the low light, the grated floor panel in the foreground bursts upward, forced from below by strong alien claws. The panel snaps backward, crashing down on the recorder unit, and blocking the view. Violent distortion washes over the scene, the image begins to jump. An unearthly howl fills the speaker and the picture bursts into static.) – End Recording.

Part 3: Monster Maze

The Multi-screen’s Record LED continues uninterrupted as the unit clatters to the floor, knocked to the dark grating by Newt’s clumsy grab for her small backpack. As she leaps up from the nest of blanketing against the far wall of the Operations Centre; her large blue eyes sweep over the unfolding carnage in the room. Deep fear materializes in her stomach like a ball of dirty ice as her frantic eyes catch glimpses of hideous shapes rising from the loose floor panels, pushing the gratings aside as though they were nothing. Piercing screams ring out as colonists are mercilessly grabbed by the nightmare personifications and dragged quickly down into the gloom beneath. They stand no chance. Gunfire suddenly rings out, hammering at Newt’s young ears, a terrible assault of sound and pressure in the confined space. From the darkness of an open floor panel, black claws lash out, grabbing at the legs of a burly colonist. He tries to bring his weapons warm barrel around for a fatal shot, but is jerked from his booted feet by the alien’s quick reflexes. The gun clatters away, back-dropped by the large man’s frantic screams for help. His cries go silent as the alien’s inner mouth flashes out in a blur, penetrating his sweaty brow in a burst of blood and skull fragments. The body goes limp and vanishes into the waiting darkness, a splash of thick crimson marking its passage. Another scream, this one of human fury sounds over the carnage and a woman leaps forward at the discarded weapon. Grabbing the rifle awkwardly, she turns it’s barrel on the hole that just swallowed her husband. The rifle crashes to life, bucking wildly in her hands as the violent muzzle flash flickers around the room. Newt ducks low, eyes closed on reflex, behind a console as the 10mm rounds crack through the air around her. Something abruptly tugs at her sleeve. Opening her eyes to the unfolding nightmare, she is nearly startled by the sudden feeling of comfort she finds in her brother’s 12 year old features, glaring intently at her as he kneels beside. Over the frantic din of chaos, he leans in, shouting…

                                         “Becca…we have to go…now!”

Newt throws a glance back at the recorder, dropped to the floor like a discarded play thing. The red light continues to burn as the small camera lens memorizes all playing out before it. Turning back, she responds shrilly…

                                         “Timmy…what about Mom?!”

More gunfire crashes over Tim’s hurried answer, drowning it out. Alien screeches pierce the room like nails on a chalkboard, answered in turn by the screams of stricken colonists. Not repeating his unheard response, Tim grabs his sister and practically tosses her toward the collection of 7 cowering children that have clustered around an open duct-way on the Operations Centre’s far lower bulkhead. A multitude of tears are evident in the strobe of weapons fire. As Tim ducks down and frantically pulls Newt along, her eyes again flash over the room, searching…searching. In her scan, her mind registers snapshots of horror. An alien shape launches from an open floor panel, pouncing on the gun-toting female colonist. As her shape is eclipsed, Newt hears a feral yelp as both creature and human disappear behind a computer console. Another colonist, a teenage boy in greasy coveralls, rushes from a group that cowers in a far corner, a pistol blasting in desperation at the newest attacker. He doesn’t get far. A floor panel in his path vanishes and his figure disappears into the square of darkness without a sound. From behind a cluster of cots at the Centre‘s opposite bulkhead, a small group of panicked colonists leap up in an attempt to reach the main door. In their haste to search the floor for additional creatures, none register the movement at the ceiling. The leader of the haphazard team is plucked up before he knows what hit him. His ragged scream of terror and surprise stop his followers dead in their tracks, unsure of what to do as fresh panic clouds their minds. Newt registers every detail as the man lashes out with fists in a futile attempt to break the large alien’s steel grip that hauls him away. His flailing legs suddenly kick out spasmodically as his upper body is swallowed by the gloom above. Blood bursts from the dark hole, spraying over the upturned masks of fear that are his follower’s pale faces. They reel back, wiping frantically at the crimson spray. Long claws suddenly flash up from behind, grabbing the shoulders of one and yanking her off balance. She vanishes from sight with a choked scream. Past this scene of one-sided slaughter, Newt catches sight of what she was searching for. Her mother’s prone form, laid out on a cot in the darkness of a corner and still under the influence of a powerful sedative; oblivious to the carnage around her. Newt’s instinctive pull towards her mom is rewarded by a sharp jerk as Tim continues his run toward the other kids. What she sees next chills her blood. A floor panel beside the cot slowly and deliberately pushes upward, giving terrible birth to a dark, bristling shape. The alien, in no rush, carefully pulls itself from the darkness below and fixes it’s eyeless gaze on the form of Annie Jorden, laid out like the victim of an ancient sacrifice. Newt winces as her own voice rings out in her ears…

                            “Mom!… Mommy!…Look out!…There’s one near….!”

Her warning is cut off as Tim propels her light form forward and throws her at the other kids, away from her mother’s prone form. They catch her before she violently impacts the wall.
Annie Jorden’s eyes flicker beneath her lids; a maternal consciousness awakening through the chemical sleep by the sound of her daughter’s screamed words of warning. A feeling of dull fright forms instinctively in her chest, tightening her breath and further pulling her toward cloudy perception. Her eyelids struggle to rise, feeling heavy and combative. Sound begins to creep into the mix of awakening senses, far off screams and voices, rushing footsteps and the canned rattle of weapons fire. The smell of blood and cordite causes her nose to sting in recognition. Murmuring her children’s names, Annie begins to sluggishly move against the drugs that fight to keep her under, to keep her mentally away. Traces of light spill painfully into her eyes, she begins to win against the potent chemical fog. Shapes are now forming in her vision. Grated ceiling. Flickering tube lights. Stenciled acronyms and safety postings. Grey pipes and multi-colored clusters of wiring. The smooth curve of an alien skull, glistening like black glass. The sneering shape of a fanged mouth. The gluey strings of foul-smelling saliva. Adrenaline kicks through Annie’s inert form like an electrical jolt and she pushes back on weakened arms and legs, trying to escape from both the creature before her and the fatigue within her. Her awkward attempt at flight is halted suddenly as the back of her head slams into the solid wall behind her, causing a myriad of pulsing dots to dance in her vision. Through the pain and confusion, Annie notes a trickle of warm blood as it pulses from her matted hair; creeping down her clammy neck. The sharp mouth yawns open on a shrill hiss, like an old kettle at the apex of its boiling cycle. The inner mouth tenses with excited anticipation. Annie helplessly moans out her dead husband’s name and throws a weak arm up over her face, a child-like attempt to ward off the Boogey Man.

The creature pounces, tearing into Annie’s recoiling form with sharp claws and teeth. Both beings, locked in a flailing embrace, crash to the floor behind the cot as it shifts aside under the crushing impact. Annie’s shrill gargle of a scream is severed by a loud, wet crunch; a burst of crimson spattering across the bulky wall behind. The dark creature hisses as it retracts the squat inner mouth from the bloody, fist-sized cavity where Annie’s right eye had been seconds before, a slurping sound accompanying the bloody lump of spongy grey matter the teeth wrenched free from inside. Annie’s leg’s kicked weakly, her bloody mouth twitching as the nerves misfired in death. The creature, poised behind the cot, angled away and glared about the ensuing chaos of the room, it’s rictus grins leaking thick, bloody slime. The shiny, bulbous head bobbed to and fro. Without turning back, it blindly grabbed one of Annie’s splayed legs, breaking the shin bone in it’s steel grip and pushed away from the blood-sprayed cot. Annie’s bloodied form bumped limply across the grating behind the alien before unceremoniously vanishing after it into the darkness of an open floor panel.

The sounds of the frightened kids around her wash through Newt’s startled mind like a vortex. She feels lost among the chaos, numb. The knowledge that her mother is gone was acknowledged in the far off rational part of her mind, but not yet fully realized. Her brief daze is shattered by the utility lamp being thrust into her small chest. Her eyes meet her brothers as he frantically points into the open maw of the air duct. His words are lost to her but his intent is not. Struggling into her backpack, Newt drops to her scraped knees, clicking the light on as she does. Its beam cuts a swath through the drifting dust particles in the narrow passage of aluminum duct work. No evil shapes show in the cold light, just a tight path to possible safety. The sounds of childish fright suddenly intensifies around her and Tim screams out…

                                                                 “Becca!….Go!”

Pausing before her plunge, Newt glances back in time to see a dark shape burst from the floor where she’d been sitting only minutes earlier, engrossed in her one on one with the Multi-screen. The dented floor panel flies back and crashes down on the discarded Diary recorder behind the vicious creature. She needs no more motivation. With the speed of a cat, Newt launches herself into the darkness of the airway, the light an extension of her own arm. She can’t help but to feel a sense of faint belonging…almost welcoming. This was something that she was good at…and it was known to the rest of the kids. She was the master of the Monster Maze, the name’s irony was not lost on her young mind. As she squirmed and pushed her way deeper into the passage, she could hear the other children scrambling in after her. Tim, trying so hard to be brave, watches with mounting fright as the creature pulls itself from the floor; settling on its haunches to survey the action in the room. It’s head pivots slowly around, scanning. The last of the kids vanish into duct, leaving Tim exposed to the creature. The broad skull tracks over and seems to fix on him. The mouth opens, drooling obscenely with alien purpose. As if cued, a quick current of warm urine spills, running down Tim’s legs. The automatic embarrassment of the bodily function spurns the boy into action and he leans around, tossing his own backpack into the duct. The movement prompts a sudden response from the ghastly creature; a trigger to kill. It lets go with a shrieking howl and leaps forward; nimbly bounding from floor to wall to battered computer table, all the while fixed on Tim’s disappearing form. The boy yanks his feet into the airway a split second before the alien slams into the bulkhead, jamming its nightmarish face into the opening in an attempt to catch it‘s fleeing prey. Tim smashes his moist eyes shut; pulling his sneakers in as far as he can. The alien, it’s inner mouth snapping just out of reach, pulls away. The commotion of it’s attempted catch dies off and Tim cautiously opens his eyes. Looking ahead, he can make out the retreating form of the child ahead of him, pausing….then ducking out of sight around the far corner. He then looks back at the opening behind him. It’s clear. No sign of the attacking creature. A sigh of relief spills from Tim’s chapped lips. Too soon. A dark shape abruptly fills the entrance of the duct and a clawed hand is thrust in, grabbing and swiping back and forth. Tim’s heart leaps into his throat as the creature finds something. His foot. Like a grip of steel, the alien lashes onto his shoe and begins to pull. Tim abandons his bag and begins to claw at the dusty walls that surround him. His sweaty fingers screech across the thin metal sides as his body begins to slide back. Without noticing, he bursts into tears as his flight instinct swirls through his panicked mind. Then…gunfire. A series of blasts sound behind the creature and it jerks away, releasing it’s meal as the rounds slam home. A vile cacophony of noise, yelling, more gunfire and alien cries, washes past Tim as he realizes that he’s free of the monster’s grip. The alien’s scream rises to an ear-splitting pitch and it quickly turns on it’s unseen attacker, disappearing from view and leaving only a smoldering mess of acid burns at the duct’s mouth. Tim launches forward again, sniffling and sobbing with frightened relief as he pushes his backpack ahead. Rounding the corner he can make out the distant shape of a kid as he disappears through a grated opening. Tim increases the speed of his crawl.

The airway junction, located beneath one of the large, spinning ventilator units, was a welcome sight to the kids as they reached it. They could pause their crawling escape and cry as a clustered group, a necessary relief for the childish minds, now under more mental strain than ever before. Newt glances around at the other children. Some were friends. Some were not. But it really didn’t matter now. They were all survivors. The one face that truly mattered wasn’t there. Timmy. Where was he? Crawling over the sobbing children, Newt made her way toward the hinged grill that they had come through to get into the box-like junction. Glancing back over her narrow shoulder, she hissed…

                                                           “Ssshhhhhh….!”

The kids quickly quieted down, some clamping small fists against their mouths to hold the anguished sounds back. All that could be heard was the steady whup-whup-whup of the cylindrical fan assembly only feet above their young heads, always spinning. Then…a sound. A far off scurrying. Fast approaching up the airway they had just exited. Was it Tim? Or maybe the alien that had gotten him? Newt noticed the kids nearest the grill were inching away to try and crowd against the junction’s opposite wall, as far from the approaching sound as was possible. One of them, a dark haired little girl 2 years younger than Newt, turned and began working frantically at opening the opposite grill to get ready to run again. Newt held her ground, her tussled blond hair snapping around her grimy, yet doll-like face in the downdraft. The sound continued to grow. Casey, again clutched in Newt’s fingers, also seemed to watch in suspense. Behind the small entrance, a shadow rose up. The kids all drew in a hitched breath of tight anticipation. Bang! The grill flew open, ejecting a dark shape into their midst! The others all screamed in unison as Newt caught the backpack with her free hand, instinctively careful about the dangerous fan above. Tim poured from the grill a second later, landing with a thud at her feet. He rolled over and she could see the tracks of tears cutting through the grime on his face. His sallow chest heaved from his crawl and he sniffled. Newt did something then that she never thought she would ever do. She leaned forward and tightly hugged her older brother.

The screams and gunfire, heard with startling clarity as they crashed through the airways had died out over an hour ago. All that was left now was the steady pulse of the fan above. Newt raised her head from Tim’s shoulder, her weary eyes flickering over the other kids huddled with them. Including Newt and Tim, there were 9 kids altogether, clustered in the tight confines of the boxy junction. Some slept restlessly, leaning on others who stared vacantly before them; unseeing. All were filthy from the crawl; dusty clothes, dirty faces. Every once in a while, a sob was heard over the mechanical ambience. Nobody made fun. Nobody spoke. Newt gently pushed herself away from her brother, who dozed sitting up against the grimy wall with his brow tightened, much like his deceased father’s, even in sleep. Quietly tugging her small backpack from the multi-coloured collection piled in the centre of the low space, she reached inside, pulling a scuffed water bottle out. The cold liquid quenched her thirst, but not her unease. There was a tap at her shoulder. Tim was awake. She passed the bottle back to him and was relieved when he only took a small sip before handing it back…

                                         “That was Dad’s bottle, wasn’t it?”

Rubbing her dirty fingers over the Weyland-Yutani logo laser stenciled to the curved Pyrex, she nodded…

Yeah…I found it in his survey bag. After we got back. You know… before he…”

Tim just grunted with understanding, knowing the rest of her quiet sentence. The water sloshed as she slipped the bottle back into the bag. There was now a slow stirring amongs the rest of the kids, triggered by the words spoken between the two siblings. Chloe, the younger girl who prepared to flee when Tim had first tumbled into the group wiped her tired eyes, softly saying:

      “Are we safe from the monsters in here? Can they get us if they come back?”

Tim turned his gaze on her after sparing a look around their hiding spot. Shaking his head uncertainly, he said…

“I don’t think that they can fit. One tried to get me when we left and it couldn’t even get it’s head in.”

He shuddered at the memory and in a low voice, murmured:

                                 “I can still feel those fingers…those claws.”

Newt reached down and tugged at his foot. Tim lightly slapped her hand away, thinking she’s playing a bad joke.

                                                   “No, Timmy. Look”

The other kids all leaned in to see what she’s gesturing at. A couple gasp. Pulling the shoe off, Tim held it up for the others to see. The rubber sole was pitted….a melted spray pattern across the treads. He gave a low whistle of awe, followed by:

                                                           “Holy shit.”

A chubby boy, 8 year old Jeremy, giggled nervously at the bad word. Tim, his gaze going cold, cocked his head at him…

                                                             “What?!”

Jeremy went quiet, pulling his knees closer to his chest and lowering his head in quick submission. Another 8 year old, Kent, after watching Tim slip the acid scarred shoe back on, stammered…

                                                               “Timmy…?”

Not looking up from the laces, Tim waited for the next part of the boy’s query. When it didn‘t come, he impatiently asked…

                                                                   “Yeah?”
Kent surveyed the others before proceeding, running fingers through his tussled blond hair…

                                                     “Where’s my Mom?”

Tim met Kent’s wide-eyed gaze…

                                       “I don’t know, Kent. I just don’t.”

Newt, sensing her brother’s discomfort in answering the difficult question, leaned in…

                                “How would he know where your Mom is?”

Kent shrugged, lowering his hand to his lap, murmuring…

                    “I don’t know. He was the last one out. Maybe he saw…”

He trailed off, looking haunted all over again. A moment later he began to cry. Between sobs, he mumbled:

                         “I shoulda stayed with her. Maybe if I’d stayed…”

Tim moved in as Newt leaned back. Placing a hand on Kent’s leg and patting it comfortingly, he laments in an even tone…

          “Kent…if you’d stayed, the monsters would’ve gotten you too.”

This triggered an increase in the kid’s crying and he started to hiccup. Between spasms, he cried…

         “I don’t want my mommy to be dead. She can’t be…dead. No way!”

Tim leaned back, apologetically addressing the others.

                   “I think that everybody that was in Operations is…”

He paused, lower lip trembling as the cold realization crept in on him. He glanced staunchly at Newt before continuing.

                           “….is gone. I think that there’s no one left.”

Devon, the little blond girl seated beside Jeremy, began to shake her pony-tailed head vigorously, as though that would stop his painful words…

                                     “No. Timmy. Don’t lie like that!”

Tim glared at a spot on the floor between his legs, unable to meet the pleading gazes of the children around him…

“It’s not a lie, Devon. If there was anyone left…they should be looking for us now. Calling out to us.”

He raised his head again, an open hand held before him…

                                                                   “Listen…”

Everybody went still, some even holding their breath to listen for sounds of anyone back the way they came. There was nothing save the constant whup-whup-whup of the overhead ventilator.
Devon glanced up, her small features pinched with concentration. With a small pout, she glanced around at the others…

                                    “I can’t hear anything except this…”

She jabbed a finger at the offending ventilator. Jeremy pulled his own head out from between his knees. Squinting with childish concentration through his stringy brown bangs, he nodded in agreement…

                 “Dev’s right. What if they’re trying to be quiet…like us in here?”

Tim glared around at the kids, starting to see where this all might be heading…and not caring for it one bit.
Kent sniffled after a deep swallow and said…

“What if they’ve beaten those things and now they’re waiting for us to come out?”

Darius, the little black boy to Kent’s right nodded enthusiastically at this suggestion, as usual in total agreement with his best friend…

“Yeah. I mean…they can’t be loud if there might be others monsters out there, right?”

Tim slowly shook his head…

“When I got away…things sounded really bad in there. I don’t think that….”

He trailed off, his own recent memories silencing him. Devon, watching Tim carefully with dark, judging eyes, suddenly broke the silence with a disgusted “Pfft!” sound. All turned to her as she suddenly threw an accusing finger at the oldest boy across from her…

“What do you know anyway, Timmy?! Why should we believe you? My dad said this is all your dad’s fault anyway, bringing that stupid creature into the Hope in the first place!”

Before a shocked and horrified Tim could respond and before anyone could stop her, Newt lashed out, kicking Devon squarely in the shin. Devon’s accusing scowl abruptly broke into a mask of surprise followed quickly by a contortion of pain. She grabbed at her leg, crying loudly. Tim grabbed out into time to catch his enraged sister before she could throw herself at the other girl; her little fists clenched up. Anger yielded to anguished stress and Newt began to cry also, sobs racking her between words…

“No! That’s not true! You don’t say that, Devon! It wasn’t his fault! He couldn’t stop…!”

She couldn’t continue, breaking down and turning to bury her face into Tim’s jacket. He held her to him, awkwardly trying to provide comfort. Nobody moved to help Devon as she vigorously rubbed at her throbbing shin, trying to massage the pain away with new tears washed tracks over her dusty cheeks. The other kids looked from girl to girl as their mutual crying began to die down. Newt yanked away from Tim; jamming herself into the nearest corner and cradling Casey protectively in her arms. Jeremy suddenly let go with an awe-filled…

                                                “Wow! That was awesome.”

Newt looked up from Casey’s hair, fresh fire in her tear-wrapped eyes…

                                                          “Shut up, Jeremy.”

David, one of the 11 year old Duvall twins, glanced over in agreement…

                                      “Yeah Jeremy, shut the fuck up, huh?!”

Devon let go with a vengeful snarl, jabbing a finger at Newt…

“No! You shut up, you little hag! When my dad hears about this, he’s going to…!”

The sound of Tim’s open palm suddenly cracking against Devon’s moistened cheek startled everyone, including Tim. Before the little bag could open her cruel mouth again, he pointed his own finger at her shocked face…

“Shut your mouth, Devon! No more of this crap! We can’t be fighting right now! We may be the only ones left here and if that’s the case….then we have to work together to make it until help arrives!”

His finger, only inches from her face, drifted off to move around the space; pausing at the each of the wide, staring eyes in turn…

“We just can’t be fighting each other. We have to be friends now…to help each other. OK?!”

After a pause for his words to sink in, they all began to nod in agreement. Tim’s finger drifted back to Devon, who was massaging her hot cheek. The steely glint in his eyes softened a little and he gently said…

                      “Devon…I’m sorry for hitting you. But are we cool on the fighting?”

Devon pulled her hand away from her face, glancing down at it before responding quietly…

                                                     “Yeah Timmy. Ok. Fine!”

Tim nodded with satisfaction, lowering his hand. David, seated with his brother in the corner glanced around before asking…

                                                           “So now what?”
Mickey, his identical twin, bobbed his head along with the question, his unkempt crew cut catching the dim light from above…

                                              “Yeah, Timmy. What now?”

Tim sighed deeply, not sure of his next move…

                                                                    “Umm…”

His thoughts were cut off by a small voice from the corner. Without looking up from brushing Casey’s hair, Newt quietly said…

                                       “We need more stuff. Food, water and things.”

She looked up, aware that all eyes were suddenly on her…

“We should probably move a little deeper into the airways too….to one of the central junction points. We can maybe set up a fort…or something.”

Tim is relieved at her suggestion, meeting her large blue eyes with his own. Kent pondered this while fingering his backpack’s nylon straps…

                                    “All that sorta stuff’s back in Operations.”

Several eyes flashed up to the grill that they came through in their hasty escape. David looked quickly at his brother before asking…

“If that’s what we’re going to do…then someone has to go back, right?”

Mickey nodded in agreement…

                                   “Yeah…who’s going to go then?”
Tim shrugged…

                                              “Who wants to go?”

Nobody moved. Several glanced away nervously as though through eye contact they’ll be obligated. The question hung in the blowing air. Then…movement. All eyes turned to the corner where Newt began to stir…

                                                                    “I’ll go.”

A decision suddenly slammed home in Tim’s mind. He nodded, not fully comprehending his own thoughts on the matter…

                                               “Fine. Then I’m going with you.”

Newt gave a timid smile of thanks as she tucked Casey down the front of her jacket, zipping the doll in for the ride. Tim struggled to his knees, pushing the pile of backpacks clear of the grill. As he worked, he addressed the others…

                      “Now….I think that it’s a good idea if the rest of you stay…”

He stops as he registered movement. Turning to the two twins, he asked…

                                     “Where do you think that you’re goin’?”

David looked up from grabbing his backpack, his grey eyes bright with purpose…

                “We’re going with you too. We want to grab some stuff too.”

Mickey nodded in complacent agreement. Tim just shook his head…

“No…you’re not. Too many people means too much noise. What if we all get heard by the creatures and have to get out of there quick?”

David, despite all his young bravado, paused in his preparations; pondering Tim’s words. Mickey also slowed down, questioningly looking over at his twin. Defeated by common sense, David then plunked down against the wall, an angry scowl crossing his grimy features. Tim is struck by a feeling of guilt, being the one to quash the younger boy’s brave intentions. Inwardly, he couldn’t help but to feel that the twins may have more bravery in them than he ever would, being as scared as he was at the prospect of heading back. Probably due to the fact that their lost father was the colony’s head police officer and now they had something to prove. Regardless….it’d be too many people. Too much risk. An idea leaped to mind. Turning to face the two boys, Tim cleared his throat and firmly said…

“While we’re gone, you two are in charge here. Make sure that everybody stays quiet and stays put. Watch the entrance ways….”

He gestured forcefully at the two grills at either side of the junction…

“…and try to stay calm. And quiet. We’re not going to be gone long. It’ll be a quick in and out. If there is anybody left, we’ll come back to get you guys.

David smiled, a new fire of purpose burning within him. He nodded in eager compliance, dropping his bag back into the pile.
Tim now addressed all the kids…

“Everything’s going to be ok. We’ll bring back a bunch of stuff. Food and things.”

Chloe looked up hopefully…

                                                      “Maybe some toys too?”

Tim tried hard not to roll his eyes at the infantile request, instead locking eyes with the little girl and smiling tensely…

                                                  “We’ll see what we can do.”

Chloe smiled back, her little teeth shining white through the dust and grime she wore like a mask. There was suddenly the screech of rusty hinges. Tim glanced over as Newt prepared to slip back into the duct. Taking a deep breath, he turned to follow, instinctively careful of the large fan above. Newt didn’t wait. A quick jump, a wriggle and….she was gone. Tim swallowed, a dryness coating his throat, as he realized that this was it. He had to keep up. Holding the grill work up, he slipped in as the others watched with expressions of dirty unease. The sides of the duct seemed to close in on him as he struggled to keep his little sisters crawling form in sight. God, he thought, what’s going to be waiting for us?

The Operations Control Centre was a shambles. Destroyed computer equipment was strewn over the grated floor, mingling with wrecked survival gear and bedding. A faint haze hung in the cluttered space; old smoke like a faint memory. Discarded paperwork and litter fluttered lightly along the remaining floor grates like small sea creatures on a reef, blown into faint movement by the lower air conditioning ducts. The Centre’s remaining fluorescents continued to burn unchallenged; throwing a clinical hue over the devastation. What had been the hub of control for the vast complex was now an eerie reminder of human high-tech arrogance and life lost to an unthinkable catastrophe. Brown spray patterns of dried blood scattered about the room helped to reinforce this dreary image. From one of the dark ducts along the lower grey bulkhead, a large pair of blue eyes stared out, surveying the quiet scene from between the louvered grill. From behind the eye’s owner, a boy’s voice whispered hoarsely…

                                        “Becca….how’s it look out there?”

Newt paused, straining to search every dark nook and corner that she could see from her limited vantage point. Scrunching up in the duct, she looked back at Tim, paused just behind her with a look of tense questioning on his dirty face. She whispered…

  “It looks quiet. Like…really quiet. Like there’s no one there. Everybody’s gone.”

Tim shook his head. After a second, he hunched up on his elbows, trying to see past her small frame…

                                                    “Any sign of the monsters?”

After glancing back out, she quietly responded…

                                                    “No. Operations is empty.”

Tim wiped at some dust caked around his nose, saying…

                                                              “Ok. Let’s go.”

The grill pushed inward and Newt slowly emerged into the destroyed Centre, all the while her large eyes danced about for signs of threat. Fully emerged. she knelt against the bulkhead to hold the grill for Tim, who slid out with the same degree of hesitant caution. They both slowly rose up, taking in the sight before them, a feeling of horrified awe slipping over both like a chilly wind. Tim glanced down as Newt slipped her small hand into his. He gave a small squeeze in return. Hand in hand, they began to move into the ruined Control room. Seeing it from the safe confines of a duct was one thing, standing in the middle of it was something else and it deeply affected them both. Tim moved to side-step a trashed computer console, small wisps of smoke still leaking from a couple of ugly bullet hits to its thin screen. Newt paused, her fingers slipping from Tim’s as she cautiously knelt down at the edge of a forced floor grate, darkly yawning open at her. Another shiver washed over her as she caught sight of a bloody smear at her feet, a smear in the shape of outstretched and desperate fingers, pulled mercilessly into the dark sub-flooring. She backed away from the opening. Tim kicked aside a styo-foam cup in his path, its hollow clatter sounding loud. He moved toward the shuddered observation windows. As Newt looked over at his thin back, she remembered something. Turning, she quietly slipped off, moving like a cat on a steep roof. The cot frame was overturned and empty, the thin mattress cast aside like a piece of refuse. Newt’s haunted gaze wandered over the thin metal and torn white fabric. Only hours ago, this had been her mother’s final resting place. Now she was gone. Taken. Abducted by something even Newt’s worst nightmares couldn’t conjure up on their own. Unconsciously, she pulled Casey from inside her jacket; stroking the doll’s hair as if to calm the piece of plastic down, to put the toys restless thoughts to ease. Thud! Heavy locks releasing. Newt whirled around as a deep mechanical groan spilled into the room. Tim stepped back from the console before him, a satisfied grin on his face as the window’s storm shudder slid down in it’s track to reveal the murky landscape they inhabited. Newt took a hesitant step back, preparing to move away when something caught her eye. Placed against the bulkhead was her father’s bulging equipment bag, the Weyland-Yutani logo fading from use on it’s side. Slipping the strap up onto her small shoulder, she hefted the heavy bag up. Sparing one last glance at the cot, Newt slipped away to join her brother. Tim stood as though hypnotized as his sister, already straining under the bag’s weight, pulled up beside. Brother and sister took in the sight. The colony, a boxy collection of worn fabricated buildings and rugged concrete streets, was shrouded in a thick coat of murky fog, local visibility highly restricted. In the distance, the cone shape of the Atmosphere Processing refinery was outlined by a scattering of burning lights that struggled up through the bluish gloom, lights that reached toward the alien sky in defiance of the harsh elements. Tim caught himself muttering…

                                  “…and those things are out there…somewhere.”

Newt looked around, cued by his wistful words…

                       “I wonder if anyone could have made it out of here.”

As she said this, her eyes caught sight of the Centre’s sealed main door. The crimson LOCKED diode continued to burn, an answer to her query…

                                                “The rains are coming.”

Newt looked back to the window. Sure enough, the telltale signs were quickly becoming evident. The vast plain of cottony fog began to sharpen, licks of pale vapor rising like cold flames as the mass shifted into movement. The winds were picking up, pushing the mists along like an ocean current; dissipating it quickly to reveal the expanse of ancient rocks that jutted from the planet’s surface like worn teeth. Weather on LV-426 didn’t prepare its inhabitants for it’s arrival, it just happened; much like the ancient rain forests of distant Earth. A ticking sound began to rise in intensity as drops of icy rain blew against the tall building. The icy blue orb of the distant sun vanished quickly as violent storm clouds swept in from the craggy horizon. The solid window before them suddenly shuddered in it’s sealed frame, buffeted by a strong gust of wet wind. Newt slowly backed away, the bag weighing her down as she carefully navigated toward their waiting escape route…

                                   “Timmy…we should get the stuff…and go.”

Tim just nodded, his finger drifting out to the shudder control console to flip the waiting red toggle. The slab of thick metal smoothly slid back into place, locking automatically. Without waiting, Newt dragged the bag over to the waiting duct, her long blond hair bouncing over her small shoulders as she moved. Tim grabbed a discarded duffel bag from a desk and began searching for items of use. Propping the grill up with a twisted light fixture, Newt slid the bag in, the first in their little convoy of survival gear. She stood, moving to help Tim in his search while carefully avoiding the scattered collection of opened floor grills. The bag began to fill. First aid kits. Ration packs. Flare clusters. Utility lights. Water bottles. Blanketing. Tim reached under a dented tool box to gingerly pull out an abandoned handgun, lying amongst a scattering of shell casings. It’s weight unsettled him and he carefully lowered it into the bag, wrapping it in a blanket after checking for the locked safety. A couple more items disappeared after it and the two kids then hauled the duffel over, jamming it into the duct way. Gear secure, they turned around for a final look of the Centre. Newt suddenly remembered Chloe’s request and quickly dashed over to a nearby basket of toys sitting beside an empty baby carrier, a strangely eerie sight. Grabbing its handles she whirled around, catching her foot on a dented floor grate. The basket slammed to the floor with a loud bang, spilling some of the play things; causing Tim to wince. As she leaned down to grab them, she froze. Tim heard it too. Far off, deep within the complex, a hideous screeching began. There was no warmth to it, only instinct. There was no mistaking it for human. The siblings caught each other’s eyes, both widening with startled realization. Grabbing a small toy tractor from the floor and jamming it into a pocket, she snatched the basket up. It easily slid into the air-duct. Tim knelt down, frantically motioning for her to get in. She shook her head, saying…

                                     “I’m too little to push the stuff….you have to do it.”

Realizing that there is no time to argue, Tim ducked his head; pushing his body into the airway and forcing the collected items ahead. Newt watched as his feet struggled for a push off to get the bags and basket moving. His acid pitted shoe caught the light fixture, kicking it out from under the grill to her startled horror. It slammed shut with a bang. Newt was suddenly alone. Paralyzed in place by the quickly mounting fear forming in her stomach, she reached for Casey sticking out from the top of her jacket. For her, there was no sound save one. Not the fading scuffles of Tim’s effort. Not the ticking of rain on the roof above. Not the muted winds outside. Not even the deep thud of her quickening pulse. Only the far off sound of movement from the sub-flooring, coupled with sharp screeches of alien intensity. Still a ways off…but definitely on the approach. A strong gust of storm washed over the complex, shaking the grate below her sneakers. Something snapped in her and she dropped down, clawing at the grill. It pulled open with a screech and Newt dove into the dark, searching ahead for Timmy’s distant form. As the grill slammed shut behind and she hurried to put as much distance between her and the sounds, a dark shape stirred in the darkness below the Operations Centre, now deserted of human life again.
The kids all watched intently as the grill suddenly opened, spilling a heavy shape into the junction. The bag, thudding into the pile of small backpacks was followed by a large canvas sack. David and Mickey leapt up in unison, catching the bulging duffel before it could crush all else below. Huffing under the weight, the twins lobbed it against the shallow wall with an echoing thud, scattering Kent and Darius. A green basket of toys began to then creep into the space, inciting a bright smile from Chloe. It too was grabbed and plunked off to the side. The little girl moved toward it quickly, crawling over kids and bags like a puppy in a dump, ignoring the yelps of protest from the others. Tim slipped in, catching himself with his hands before he could fall. Darius moved to help the older boy as it looked, for a moment, like Timmy’s balance was going to wane. He was waved aside as Tim righted himself, turning to catch Newt as she clamored out of the duct at high speed. The two siblings fell into the packs, Newt pushing away from the grill as fast as she could, going right over her brother as she went. She froze in a defensive huddle amongst the others, shoulders heaving from effort. Everybody paused, instinctively listening for sounds of pursuit. Nothing. Just their tense breathing and the constant whup-whup-whup. As the ears strained, a new sound crept into the cramped space. Humming. A little tune. 8 sets of young eyes crept over to the source. Chloe had found toys. Two little action figures were now walking over the mountainous landscape of plastic and nylon in the centre of the space, guided by the tiny girls dirty hands. The pure innocence on her oblivious face triggered something. Newt couldn’t help but to let go with a nervous giggle. She caught her brother’s astonished eyes. He too burst out chuckling, prompting the others to snicker in their own nervous fashions. After a moment of relieved chortling around her, Chloe looked up questioningly, her toys paused in the ascent of a blue backpack. She blinked…

                                                             “What‘s so funny?”

This prompted a wolf-like braying from Tim who doubled over and collapsed back into the pile, unable to stay up right under the relief of laughter. As he wiped at the tears, he noticed that not everybody was sharing in the mood. Devon sat scrunched into a corner with a sour expression. Tim rolled over, rising to his knees with a loose grin plastered over his dusty face…

                                                             “Dev…what’s the problem?”

She didn’t answer, instead raising a hand to her cheek and glancing away…

                                “She opened her mouth again…about you guys after you left.”

Tim turned to David, who looked quite proud of his temporary power of authority. Mickey just smiled beside his brother. Tim quickly put 2 and 2 together…

                                                              “So you…?”

David broke into a proud grin, raising an open palm for Tim’s inspection…

          “I gave her one…just like you did. She hasn‘t said anything since.”

He looked over at the girl, smiling like a young predator after a first kill…

                                                          “It’s been nice.”

Tim nodded, understanding…

         “I’m sure. But….from now on, nobody hits anybody else. Ok?”

David shrugged, his pride slipping a little as Devon looked at Tim, relief washing over her.
Kent, a cautious grin still evident, asked…

                                                     “So…what happened?”

Both Newt and Tim’s smiles of amused relief vanished at the question. Darius, after a pause from the Jorden kids, piped up…

                                         “Yeah…what did you see? Is anyone left?”

Newt shamefully looked away as Tim cleared his throat…

                                                              “Um…well. We…..”

The others, Chloe included, leaned in for his answer. When he hesitated again, Jeremy timidly asked…

                                                         “Are we going back?”

This one Tim answered right away…

                                                                “No. No way”

Newt bobbed her head in agreement. Kent stared at her wide-eyed look with an expression that mirrored it as understanding crept over him…

                                                           “It’s bad…isn’t it?”

Tim shrugged, toying uncertainly with the nearest bag’s straps…

          “Operations is deserted. It’s a total mess. There’s no one there and…”

He hesitated, trying to think of a good way to put the next part of the sentence…

                             “….it doesn’t look like anyone got away…except us.”

This statement hung heavily, like a thick haze. The kids all leaned back, pondering Tim’s words. The ventilator continued its endless spin cycle above. Darius put forth the next question…

                                      “Did you guys see any of the…monsters?”

Newt answered that one…

“See them?…no. Hear them…yes, we think so. We’re not alone in the complex.”

Tim nodded in agreement with her answer.
Kent followed his friend’s question up…

                                               “So…what should we do now?”

Tim, after a pregnant pause, answered with a touch of uncertainty…

“Well, I think that what Rebecca said earlier…about heading to a central circulation point is a pretty good idea. She knows the quickest way”

He met her eye to confirm, which she did with a curt nod after a quick mental calculation.
The others began to stir as it became apparent that they had very little in the way of options. David, reaching toward his bag, glanced around the group as he asked…

                                               “So…when should we go?”

A hideous shriek suddenly echoed up the airway from Operations, slicing through the perceived security of their hideout like a knife. All eyes jerked up to the entrance grill as a far-off scurrying sound underscored the hisses and screeches in the distance. Tim snapped around…

                                         “Now! Let’s get the hell out of here!”

The kids leaped into action, grabbing at bags and supplies with frantic abandon. The hounds of Hell were nipping at their toes again! Utility light in hand, Newt swept her own bag onto her shoulders after checking to ensure that Casey was secure. She pushed through the crowded space to the opposite airway, blond strands whipping about her face in the air current. Holding the grill open, she threw a look back to Timmy. As if reading her mind, he yelled…

        “Don’t worry! I’ll push the duffel as I go! Now get in there! Everybody!”

With Newt in the lead, the convoy of children quickly proceeded to push further into the bowels of the colony’s airway system; tugging, pushing and wearing their collection of scavenged gear. As Jeremy’s feet disappeared into the narrow tunnel, Tim paused in his lugging of the bag; listening…waiting. He was alone, again. The whup-whup-whup seemed to close in on him…to smother him. Through the fan’s pulse, he could still make out the distant clamor of the creatures, a nightmare on the rise…again. As he moved to force the duffel into the airway, he paused; an angry scowl clouding the fear on his face. The bag dropped. Crawling over to the original entrance grill, he grabbed at it with both hands; wrenching it open. Staring into the darkness, Tim waited for something to show. No nightmare shapes emerged to rush up the tunnel at him. He could still hear them though, just around the far corner, searching for the two kids that they instinctively knew were nearby. A muted orchestra of claws and screeches. Pushing his face into the duct, he tensed; words boiling up in him. He could no longer contain it. In a furious outburst that would have resulted in a solid smack had his parents been present, he shouted…

                                                “Go to hell, you fuckers!!!”

His shout, sounding canned and harsh in the confines of the aluminum duct work, slammed down toward Operations. It was answered moments later by a terrible howl and a violent thrashing that sounded a lot closer than it should have. The grill slammed shut as Tim vaulted across the junction, awkwardly forcing the duffel bag into the new escape route before jamming himself in after it.

A day later…

Hadley’s Hope stood in rigid defiance of the hellish weather that still pounded it from all sides. Sheets of freezing rain washed over the complex, driven by unearthly winds that shifted and shunted relentlessly; seeming to lash out with a singular mind. The worn concrete lanes that crisscrossed among the dark and bulky structures were pocked with deepening puddles and flowing washes; streams of water that reflected distortions of the illuminated lights toward the burnt-colored sky above. Thick masses of cloud, extending high up toward the fragile atmosphere, quickly flowed overhead on the restless air currents; lightening flashing sharply on occasion. The thick roof of the Operations Complex was not exempt from the ferocious beatings of the weather, though it was built to suffer. In among the collection of dense antennae clusters and battered ventilator housings, gathering flows ran in wide rivulets toward the industrial-strength eaves troughs that ringed the structure, spilling torrents of cascading water and foam to the streets below. The millions of fat raindrops that hammered the roof created a constant ringing as they burst on quick impact with the flattened ventilator tops, trickling in though whatever slits showed between the louvered intake openings. These determined trickles crept down the slick sides of the flow chimneys that led to the complex‘s maze of wide-spread duct-work. At the bottom of one of these airways a large pair of blue eyes, just barely betraying the fatigue that was now omnipresent in her, barely noted the water as it dribbled past her arm to collect in the waste sink below the grate that she sat on. Newt, crouched alone in the narrow tunnel, was instead more focused on the object clutched in her hand. She held it out before her again, as if to solidify the idea she’d been pondering all morning. It was a small, plasti-cast model of a yellow industrial tractor, much like the ones that were so common to the colony‘s roads. Rolling the toy back and forth in her palm, she craned her head down for a quick glance into the new hiding spot several metres down, through another duct. From her isolated spot, she could make out several of her fellow orphans in the dim light as they tried to sleep, huddled amongst a nest of tattered blanketing. Sleep hadn’t come easily to any of the kids since the Horror had begun over a week ago. But sleeping within the confines of a circulating chamber added to the discomfort. Newt had led the rag tag group into this location after their last run from the creatures. The colonies circulating chambers were large enough for a child to stand upright in with very little space for anything else. Two huge fan units spun overhead at high speed, counter-balanced by two more below the heavy grill that served as a floor to the hideout. The kids had set up a hasty camp around the edges of the space, somewhat uneasy by the idea of sleeping over the spinning blades below, grill or no grill. Numerous airways of varying sizes and lengths were scattered around all four grey sides, leading off into the colony’s dark bowels. One of the larger bundles of bedding began to stir, gathering movement with approaching consciousness. Newt glanced away, returning to her private thoughts…and plans. The chimney that extended above her suddenly flashed a sharp electric blue as a bolt of lightning crashed nearby, it’s light gleaming through the tiny openings above and off the ducts metal sides at her. A deep roar of thunder drowned out the constant hiss of the rain before fading away. Newt looked up, inwardly remembering a time when the thunder and lightning used to frighten her to tears. No longer. New fears had overwrote those childish worries. She took in a deep breath of the cold, moist air as she stared up. Movement. She turned her attention back toward the circulating chamber in time to see Timmy stealthily crawling up the duct toward her. She smiled to herself as she noted that he’d adopted her sneaky method of quiet airway movement, a necessity for standing a chance at winning in Monster Maze. When he got close enough to whisper, he quietly said…

                                        “Hey. What are you doing?”

Meeting his sleepy eyes, she responded in a hushed voice…

                        “Nothing. Just thinking. Couldn’t sleep…again.”

Tim nodded in understanding, as he settled onto his stomach, legs stretched out behind him in the cramped passage. Jerking his head back toward the hideout, he said…

“I know. This spot’ll take some getting used to. Or at least till help arrives….if it arrives.”

Pondering the possibilities, he looked down; absently fingering some grime between him and his sister. Newt watched him steadily for a moment before saying…

                             “I was thinking about that….the ‘help coming’ part?”

Tim flicked the loosened grit away and looked back up at her…

                                       “Yeah? Why? Do you have another idea?”

She didn’t answer. Instead she gently placed the model tractor before him. A look of confusion washed over his face…

                                                           “What do you…?”

Newt placed her finger on the toy’s tiny roof, rolling it back and forth…

“Didn’t Dad show you how to drive the tractor once…to show you how easy it was, in case of an emergency?”

Realization and uncertainty slowly crept into the confusion…

“Umm…yeah. I think that he wanted me to work with him…someday. He said that it was just a taste of the fun. It wasn‘t very fun though”

Newt reached forward to squeeze his hand insistently…

                                   “But you did it…didn‘t you?”

Tim shrugged.

     “Yeah…outside of town, where the Managers wouldn’t find out.”

She nodded…

                                               “Could you do it again?”

Tim just stared up at her, pausing before he answered…

                                                        “I guess. I think so…if I needed to.”

She pulled hand away, moving to stroke Casey’s hair in her lap…

                                                     “Timmy. I think that we may need to.”

Tim pushed himself up on his elbows, his jaw tensing noticeably…

“Becca…let me see if I have this right. You think that we should load into the tractor and leave…yeah? All of us?”

She nodded again.

                                                                      “And go where?”

She picked Casey up, cradling the doll against her shirt…

“What about the Co-Mark transmitters? We could maybe go out to one of those.”

Tim stopped. He hadn’t considered that. The Colony’s Compass Markers were 4 radio/microwave beacons secured a laser-computed two miles out from the colony perimeter, each auto-flashing it’s own assigned compass bearing as a reference beacon for any out-travelling vehicles. They also carried an independent GPS coded transmitter that was in automatic up-link with the colony’s handful of orbiting survey probes and communication/weather birds. If they camped out at one of those, they could maybe get a read on a proximity warning signal when another ship…if another ship, entered the system. Then they’d have an idea about when to expect a rescue. Or, if they trashed the beacon, someone might come out to find out what happened to it. It could work. The inquisitive look on Tim’s face revealed his pondering. They both glanced up as another explosion of thunder rolled over the colony. Tim looked back down, his jaw tensed with consideration…

                               “If we had the key-card, maybe we could…..”

He trailed off. Newt, clutching Casey to her, smiled a little; inwardly pleased at the reception to her plan…

    “I think that it’ll be in Dad’s bag…the one that I found in Operations.”

Tim let out a low whistle as the plan began to come together in his mind…

“If we have that…then we have something. But that means that we have to get to the Garage…without the monsters knowing.”

Newt gestured at Tim with Casey, the doll flopping around as she articulated…

                                 “Who’s the best at the Monster Maze?”

Tim shrugged, knowing the answer…

                                               “I don’t know…you?”

Newt’s angelic face brightened with pride…

“And Casey. We both are. If I can get us there without being seen…will you try to drive?”

Tim paused, suddenly unsure. Newt, noting his hesitation, tried another route of coercion. Grabbing his sleeve, she leaned in…

“Timmy…if we stay in the complex…they could find us. They know we’re here…and they might be looking.”

Tim knew that she was right. The longer they spent under the same roof as those creatures, the better a chance they had at being caught. The prospect of a large bristling monster jumping from a darkened vent into their midst to wreak havoc caused him to shudder. He nodded, a decision reached…

                                     “Ok…I’ll try if you can get us there.”
Newt smiled…

                                                    “You promise?”

Tim shrugged. Newt thrust Casey at him, holding the doll between them…

                                     “Swear that you‘ll do it. On Casey.”

Tim was about to roll his eyes at her childish attempt at sealing the deal when he caught her determined eye. Grudgingly, he reached up and took gentle hold of Casey’s stuffed feet. Keeping her gaze, he said…

                                         “Fine. I promise to drive us out of here….”

He dropped the toy and pointed at his sister…

                                          “…if you can safely get us to the Garage.”

Newt, pulling her doll back to her, looked as though he’d just said the most ridiculous thing ever…

                             “Timmy. You know I’m the best. Don’t worry.”

The sounds of stirring bodies quickly became audible over the mechanical din of the circulating chamber, the other orphans were rising from their restless dozing. The two siblings glanced into the hideout in time to see Chloe, wiping at her sleepy eyes, making a bee line for the toy basket in the corner; slipping quickly over the protective mesh of the huge spinning blades below. At the same time, Devon sat up from her little pile of blankets and yawned; a typically sour expression etched onto her face. Noticing one of Jeremy’s socked feet intruding onto her blanket, she yanked the fabric out from under the foot fast enough for it to painfully thud to the cold floor. Moaning in dull pain, Jeremy sat up, rudely awakened…only to be met with a flurry of Devon’s shoving hands. The others all began to groan for them to shut up as the bickering started. It was going to be another beautiful day in the maze. Tim and Newt glanced at one another, irritation showing on both of their faces. Tim licked his dry lips, muttering…

                                    “Maybe we should leave her behind.”

Newt just snickered. Tim began to inch back toward the others; his sister following close behind.
The key-card held up in Tim’s small fist cast a pause over the group. Food packs and water bottles, a hasty breakfast, were momentarily forgotten as the Jorden’s freshly explained plan began to sink in. When they were met with reluctant and skeptical responses after the initial explanation of Newt’s idea, Tim began to rifle through the bag at his side; yelping with joy as his fingers closed over the card. The digital photo of his smiling father pained his heart for a moment as he glared down at the coded piece of plastic. He turned, triumphantly brandishing the key to their escape. The others stared at it in mild awe. Whup-whup-whup from all around. David broke the group’s silence, speaking up over the fans…

                                    “Do you really think that we can make it?”

Tim lowered the card, absently tapping it against his raised knee…

             “Rebecca knows the entire maze. She can get us there. After that….”

He smiled grimly…

                                      “I’ll take us out of here in the tractor.”

Jeremy, talking around a mouthful of salted soy jerky, said…

“It’ll be like that camping stuff…like those old Vid-discs of Earth in the library. Cool!”

David turned to the larger boy…

“Maybe…but we have to get away from those creatures. That’s the main thing, right?”

Tim nodded in agreement. He gestured to their collection of supplies…

“We’ll pack all this into the tractor…plus anything else we can find in at the Garage that might help. And then we‘ll go”

Kent bobbed his head, a food pack tightly clenched before him as he took it all in…

“And then what…we wait for someone to turn up to help us? We don’t even know if anyone’s coming.”

Tim hesitantly looked to Newt before addressing the two Duvall twins perched in the corner, toying with a pair of chemically heated dinner packs.

“David…Mickey. Do you guys remember where you’re dad…where he went missing?”

Both boys paled noticeably, sharing a hurt look before David turned back to answer…

“Um….he went off to check one of his traps that had blown up…I think that it was in one of the lower electrical access tunnels. I heard someone say that the blast had knocked out the up-link connection. Why?”

Tim, somehow looking suddenly smug, turned back to Kent. Gesturing at the Duvall lads, he said…

“If the up-link was broken…that means that no reports or anything will go back to Network. Our dad said that the suits would go ape-shit, whatever that means, if things didn’t stay on schedule. Someone will see that the Hope isn’t transmitting…and they’ll have to send someone. They’re probably on their way here…now.”

The faces around him looked a little more at ease with this. Devon tossed her empty food pack aside, hitting Jeremy. She ignored his angered look as she leaned back, unable to resist opening her mouth…

“But what if you’re wrong, Timmy. What if Newt gets us lost and the monsters find us.”

Tim met her eye, ignoring its cold, accusing glint…

                           “Then our problems are over…in a bad way, aren’t they?”

Devon’s cruel grin slipped and she realized that Newt’s idea actually did sound like the best bet, given the options available. She merely nodded, giving up her instinctive resistance to her peers. Tim glanced down at his watch, concentration scrunching his brow…

“Night’ll fall in maybe…4 hours or so. We should go soon. What do you guys say?”

Jeremy, still chewing on his over-sized mouthful, jerked his large head up and down in excitement…

                                                    “Yeah! Camping! Let‘s go!”

Chewed soy bar spilled from his mouth, disappearing through the grill below. He jammed a fist up to stop anymore escaping food. Devon looked at him with an expression of childish disgust. Grabbing her bag, she hissed…

                                   “You’re gross! Jeremy! Stay away from me!”

Awkwardly scrunching away, she looked sour all over again. Kent and Darius tried to contain their giggles to her reaction as they started gathering up gear. Chloe, following the bigger kids lead, started stuffing her pockets with toys from the basket as quick as she could, not wanting to leave any behind. Newt moved away to a dusty corner, drawing a small diagram in the collected dust to confirm her upcoming route. Tim, dragging his own pack through the group, paused beside the opened duffel bag. After checking to see if anyone was watching, he reached in; fishing around for something. David and Mickey began wolfing their food down as though it might be their last while Kent and Darius sat trying to organize their backpacks. Tim found what he was looking for. After checking on the others again, he gingerly pulled the handgun from the bag, quickly switching it to his own. About 10 minutes later, the kids were all ready to move. Newt was poised beside one of the wider duct ways leading out of the chamber, patiently waiting for everybody to follow her lead…

“I think that it’ll take about half an hour to get there…from here. It’s a pretty twisty route and we really, really have to be quiet.”

Everybody seemed to take a deep breath, with the exception of Jeremy who looked as though he was about jump out of his skin with excitement. The two twins, on either side, looked him over with unreadable expressions. He caught their glances, hoarsely whispering…

                     “We’re going camping, you guys. Isn’t that cool?”

David answered for the two of them.

                                       “Yeah. Whatever, Jeremy.”

In his inexplicable joy, Jeremy missed David mouthing the word ‘moron’ to his brother, who nodded knowingly…

                                            “Are we ready to go?”

All eyes turned to Tim, kneeling on the other side of the exit grill. After a flurry of nods, Tim started listing off the order of travel, pointing in turn to each of the waiting kids…

“Ok. First Rebecca. Then Chloe. Devon. Kent. Darius. David and Mickey. Followed by Jeremy and finally me…in the rear.”

Newt took that as her cue. With Casey staring out from her jacket and her bag over her shoulders, she climbed into the duct and disappeared. Chloe, her little pack bulging with toys, followed. The others haltingly moved in turn. Tim, again watching Jeremy’s feet vanish, glanced around for anything left behind. There was only the empty toy basket, left to mark their brief stay. As he turned to the waiting airway, his eye caught something off to the side beside the crude schematic that Rebecca had drawn. The toy tractor slid easily into his pants pocket. Tim slid then easily into the air duct; another dash for freedom.

An hour later…

The vehicle Impound of the Atmosphere Processing Station was a cavernous, underground structure designed to house the dozens of mammoth vehicles necessary for outdoor operations on the inhospitable surface of LV-426. Huge, pock-marked girders seemed to grow from their concrete anchors; rising up to a tall ceiling that bristled with chains, hoses, exhaust vents, mobile cranes, and color coded pipes. The floor was formed from rough concrete and steel re-bar and it too had a number of vital features scattered about. Drainage canals, sunken maintenance bays, fuel housings, and emergency equipment made up a small percentage of items found. Scattered over all was a multi-colored galaxy of stenciled numbers, acronyms and warning posts. At one end of the Impound two monstrous steel doors stood side by side; a wall of worn metal, waiting for the next vehicle exit or entry. Opposite these, on the garage’s far wall, was the personnel section, a small office space sealed behind a pair of thick, fire-proof hatches. Had there been anybody in the office, they would have looked out through the wire-enforced plasti-glass into the huge space to see the haphazard collection of vehicles that called the Impound home. Most of these tractors, crawlers and dozers were hidden from casual observation by huge expanses of greasy canvas that dropped down to protect some of the more delicate instrumentation these behemoths carried from the omni-present dust that called the planet home. The few uncovered machines were parked in either a maintenance bay or one of the fuel docks. All were merely shapes in the dim lighting. On a normal day of operations, this section of the colony would have been alive with sound…the throaty roar of heavy engines, the crackling of industrial welding units, the shouts of mechanics and drivers, all echoing around to create a constant, ear-splitting clamor of activity. The large rack of mandatory yellow ear-defenders in the office was plain evidence of this. However, as with the rest of the colony, the Impound was a silent as a tomb aside from the tiniest sounds: the dripping of water from a partially opened exhaust vent above, freak breezes rustling the odd canvas vehicle cover, the occasional wash of heavy wind over the sturdy complex…all sounding frighteningly amplified in the vast space. From the protection of a heavy, grease-stained exhaust grate on the far wall, Newt peered out; again searching for threats in the shadows. As her eyes scanned, she did what she could to ignore the sounds of growing restlessness behind her. There was a slight tap at her foot. Craning around, she could just make out the dim silhouette of Chloe. The little girl did what she could to move close, to whisper…

                              “Timmy wants to know what the hold-up is?”

Newt, after a quick glance back into the Impound, said…

“Pass it back to him that I just want to be sure that we’re safe before we get out. It’s dark in there.”

Chloe turned, passing the hushed message back down the line toward Tim, who impatiently crouched with the duffel back at the last junction. Newt leaned in toward the grate’s louvers, intently taking in any sound the huge space had to offer in her direction. Nothing. It was time. She gingerly reached forward, preparing to push the heavy duct covering clear. She gave a quick shove. The grate popped out unexpectedly, clattering loudly onto the concrete floor. Newt instinctively shrank back into the darkness, crushing into Chloe as the harsh echo bounced back from the opposite wall. It faded with merciful speed, leaving…silence. No strange forms moved in response. They seemed to still be alone. So far…so good. After a deep breath of apprehension, Newt sidled forward. She quickly crept from the duct, pressing against the bulkhead. As the others eased out of the darkness, she played the thick beam of her utility light around the Impound. The cold beam flashed off girder, canvas and vehicle. No creatures rushed out of the gloom. In no time, the motley group was clustered around her, waiting. Timmy was last, pushing the large duffel bag before him as he poured out. Standing beside his diminutive sibling, he did his own scan of the gloomy area. Shaking his head at what he saw, he muttered…

                                                         “God…it’s so dark.”

The others nodded, unease evident around the group. David pushed past Newt, pausing beside Tim…

                                                     “Where’s the tractor?”

Tim answered without needing to, the crestfallen expression on his face said it all…

                                                  “Um…I don’t really know.”

Devon threw her arms up, again intent on displaying her displeasure to the group…

                                           “Oh great! Now what do we do?!”

Jeremy glanced around at the other kids, a perplexed expression on his doughy face…

                                        “Do we still get to go camping?”

Before Devon could venomously turn on the larger, dim-witted boy, Tim stepped in…

              “Yes, we are still leaving. We just have to find the tractor.”

After fumbling in his jacket pocket, he pulled out the key card. Newt moved close, her light reflecting brightly off the card’s laminated surface. There. The code etched beneath their father’s smiling photo. AK249. Tim nodded, recognizing the number as that of the family tractor…

                                  “Ok. Here’s the registration number.”

The others clustered around, each jockeying for a look…

“It’ll be stenciled in white on the tractor’s side as well as the front and rear bumpers. We find that number, that‘s our ticket out of here.”

This seemed to satisfy the others. As they turned away, Kent quietly pointed out…

                     “It’s really dark in here. How will we see the numbers?”

Tim shrugged as he searched ahead, saying…

                              “I don’t know where the light controls are…”

He suddenly snapped his fingers, the sharp click echoing away. Turning to the sack at his side, he began to rifle. The kids looked at one another with curiosity. After a moments search, Tim stood; a number of red flare clusters in his fist. With a smug smile, he said…

                         “We can use these…plus the other utility lights.”

Jeremy’s eyes lit up as they fell on the flares…

                                                             “Cool!”

Kent and David both dashed forward for the other two lights. Tim broke the seal on the first cluster and started handing them out. Cautiously holding the cylinder’s out before them, the kids tried to read the lighting instructions stenciled on the waxy surface. Tim placed the others back in the bag. Newt took a couple steps away from the group, her light cutting the air ahead. Suddenly, the area behind her burst with a muted bang into a crimson glow. Turning, she saw that her brother had just ignited his flare as a quick demonstration. Her fellow orphans were all bathed in the bloody light, trying to shield their sensitive eyes. Spots began to dance in her own vision and she turned her head away, squinting. The kid’s shadows flickered on the red brilliance that spilled into the darkness. Tim pointed to the top of Jeremy’s unlit flare as he addressed the others…

            “Keep this lip in front of you…it’ll protect your eyes from the glare.”

Jeremy clicked a fingernail off the protective lip in question. Smiling like a dope he mirrored Tim’s moves, banging the bottom striker plate off the floor. With a sharp hiss, the flare ignited. Jeremy raised it up, the red light softening his features as he stared in wonder. After a moment, he broke into a grin…

                                 “This is cool. We’re going camping!”

The others followed suit, each striking their own flare on a hard surface nearby. The red glow intensified with each ignition. Tim shook some melted wax from his, saying…

                    “We have to do this as fast as possible. Try and stay close.”

Realizing that they now had to venture out into the expansive Impound, their awe of the brilliant red quickly diminished, replaced with acute nervousness. Jeremy, as if led by his flare, sauntered away from the group a grin still plastered in the sharp light. The other kids watched him go, unnerved by the casualness in his step. Slowly, they hefted their bags to trail after the chubby boy. Without noticing the group began to segment as they moved. Kent and Darius, clustered around their utility light moved off toward a covered shape, whispering to themselves. David and Mickey, noticing a tractor in the opposite direction, followed their own beam away in silence. Newt, Tim, and Chloe slowly moved in among the vehicle bays, pausing from time to time to check a canvas-covered registration number. Devon hung back, waving her flare back and forth at the shadows that danced behind them. The individual searches were beginning to prove taxing to both the patience of the group…and the nerves. Inwardly, they all began to come to terms with the fact that the longer they stayed, the more danger they were in. As the heavy canvas was pulled away from another number, Kent noticed that Darius’ hand was shaking. Feeling stupid as he said it, he asked…

                                                “What’s the matter?”

Darius looked up into the glow of the light, his eyes wide…

“It just doesn’t feel right being in the open like this…the airways were one thing, this is really different.”

Kent nodded, glancing over toward the others. All he could make out in the distance, was the illumination of the flares spilling out from under the dark vehicles, the shadows of the others flitting faintly over the high ceiling. Kent swallowed thickly, realizing that they were a little too far away from the others for his own comfort, alone in the dark with nothing more than a light to protect them. Looking back to his friend, he urged…

                 “We should really hurry up…and get back to the others.”

Darius didn’t answer, instead bounding up to check the next covered shape in line.
Tim caught sight of a utility light bouncing around in the distance as the two small figures grouped around it trotted over to another vehicle. Even from the distance, Tim could read the frantic body language of the two boys. Stepping out from between two tractors he held his own flare up, searching in the other direction for the twins. There. A thin beam danced up spasmodically from behind a dismantled crawler, only to vanish a second later.
David spat as a cloud of dust burst up from the tarp his brother had ducked under, washing over his face and tickling his nose. As he jammed his free hand to his face, a sneeze boiled up suddenly. He couldn’t stop it. As it was about to break, he ducked into his jacket’s sleeve; not caring where the beam of light went. The spasm’s rocked over him as Mickey pulled out from under the cover, an angry expression pinching his face…

               “Dave. I can’t see the number, you idiot! Shine the light down here!”

When David didn’t respond right away, Mickey reached forward to grab the light from him. Even through the sneezing fit, David still had the presence of mind to yank it away, it’s light bouncing off the ceiling above. Mickey shoved his brother in frustration. As David got his breath back, he moved to return Mickey’s frustrated push. He stopped. Something caught his eye. Mickey, braced for the coming impact, looked over to see whatever it was that had arrested his sibling’s attention. A lone flare was moving toward the office in the distance. David took a step forward…

                                “Is that Jeremy? Shit! Why’s he so far away!?”

Jeremy giggled to himself as he waved the flare around, watching the brilliant light with a stupefied expression. Noticing a dribble of hot wax making it’s way down the cylinder, he awkwardly rotated the drip away from his fingers. As he did so, the protective lip was suddenly eclipsed by the sun-like burn of magnesium. Reflexively, he yanked the flare away from himself, trying to blink the sudden universe of dots and stars away. Disoriented, he stumbled toward a silent dozer, reaching out with his other hand for balance. His feet scuffed across the concrete, abruptly catching a crushed soda can. The mangled piece of tin skipped away; it’s lonely echo reverberating around the bay. Jeremy froze, wiping frantically at his eyes. In the next bay, a tractor sat cold and dark. Beneath the bulky undercarriage, a maintenance pit sat open in the floor; a deep rectangle of menacing shadow. Jeremy continued wiping at his teary eyes, moaning in pain as he tried to straighten his vision. Through the orbs and pulses, an image began to clear. There was something under the tractor. Jeremy took a couple more steps forward. The light of his flare, momentarily forgotten in his hand, played over the squat vehicle; creating shape and deepening shadow. A series of hose shapes hung limp from below the machine, along with some other bulky and ribbed forms. A tear spilled from Jeremy’s bloodshot eye as he strained to make out the object beneath the tractor. Was it a….? Against the pain, he widened his eyes. The shadows changed. There was a smooth curve. A couple black tubes. Could that be a….a fang-filled mouth?!…

                                                           “Oh my god!!!”

Jeremy’s sudden cry rocked off the walls, reverberating into the shadowy distance. He backed away, stumbling over a pile of coiled hose. He abruptly stopped as he backed hurriedly into the dozer’s battered flank. Panic raced over him like a wave of ice water. There was nowhere to go! It must have seen him! Before he realized what he was doing, he arched his arm back and with all his force, threw the burning flare at the alien shape below the tractor. The brilliant red sphere kicked off a quick shower of sparks as it impacted the floor. Hissing and crackling, it shot into the silent maintenance pit and disappeared. The tractor’s under carriage glowed crimson, revealing the alien shape. An inert fuel pump sat abandoned mid task, hoses still connected to the tractor’s fuel ports. Placed beside the pump on a pair a reinforced struts was a worn spill sink, half filled with a syrupy gas mix. The flare had bounced off the pump and tumbled into the open sink. Jeremy breathed out a huge sigh of relief as he saw that there was no alien. He smiled easily, trying figure out exactly how he could get his flare back without getting oil on his jacket. As he tried to peer around for a safe way into the pit, he eye caught something in the flare’s light. The entire wall behind the tractor was emblazoned with huge red lettering. Running feet could be heard approaching from behind. He squinted, trying to put the worn letters into words. The top one was easy. The word NO stood out near the ceiling. His narrow eyes dropped to the next word. The letter S. Then a worn M. Followed by an O and a K. As faded as it was, the next one was clearly an I. Jeremy’s eye’s suddenly widened in shock as the whole wall suddenly blazed with an angry orange flash. The tractor’s rear tires abruptly jumped off the ground as a violent shockwave slammed it from beneath. A blast of red flames seemed to push the vehicle’s rear quarter toward the roof where it hit with tremendous force. Smoking debris sang through the air faster than the eye could see, ricocheting off other vehicles and the walls like bullets. Beside the tractor, the office’s heavy windows exploded inward in a glittering cloud of shattered plasti-glass. After what seemed like an eternity, the ruined tractor crashed back down, trailing a crumbling mass of concrete shards and thick black smoke. The right-side tires fell into the roaring maintenance pit on impact, pulling the wreckage off balance and rolling it onto its side with a screech of rending metal. The whole vehicle bay seemed to be ablaze with bright flames. Tim rolled off of Newt and Chloe where he’d thrown himself as the fire had abruptly roared to life. He glanced around for the others. The two twins were cowering beside one another in the wheel well of another tractor, tears evident in the flickering light. Throwing a glance over his shoulder he could make out forms of Kent, Darius and Devon crouched around a thick girder, their eyes wide at the sight. He looked back. Where was Jeremy? It didn’t take long to find the chubby boy. At the edge of the flames, framed by the burning wreck Jeremy lay spread eagled and still…completely still. His face looked red…and shiny in the fire light. His chest didn’t move. His thick pants were already beginning to smoke from the heat. Tim felt a breath hitch in his throat as a hot breeze washed over them. As he went to pull his gaze from the terrible scene, something else caught his eye. Through the roiling clouds of greasy smoke that were rapidly collecting along the ceiling, he caught sight of the wreck’s registration number. His heart sank. AK249. His father’s tractor had just exploded in front of them. They were going nowhere.

                                                         “Aww…shit, Jeremy!”

Over the burning sounds, a new noise suddenly arose. Sounding like a badly tuned jet turbine, Tim caught sight of a fierce flame making it’s way out of the wreckage. This torch-like lick of fire was following along the top of a thick black hose that ran in from across the Impound. As the flame cruised steadily over the bubbling rubber, the flickering light fell on the dirty white lettering spaced along the hose’s curved side. FUEL TRAIN ACCESS: HIGHLY FLAMMABLE. Tim looked ahead. There! The hose had been running to the destroyed pump from…a fuel dock!!! Even from where he crouched, Tim could make out the green LED of the connected gas well. The dock’s inner spill wall was open! Tim heard himself yell…

                                    “Holy shit! Run, you guys! RUN!!!”

He leaped to his feet, grabbing the two girls. Chloe let out a shrill yelp as he caught her by surprise, yanking her to her small feet. Newt pulled out of his grasp and sprinted away, Casey clenched in her fist. As she went, she suddenly found herself surrounded by Devon, Kent and Darius, all running at high speed. The action figure clattered to the ground. Chloe slipped her tiny fist out of Tim’s hand and spun around to grab it. Tim jerked back in mid-run as he realized that his own fist was empty of the tiny girl’s hand. His sneakers caught a slick puddle of collected water and he crashed to the hard floor in a burst of pain. Rolling over, he painfully rose as Chloe, framed by the fiery destruction, crouched down to pick up her toy. Feeling blood spreading over his deeply skinned knee, Tim frantically yelled to the girl. She didn’t seem to hear. Rising up, she seemed mesmerized by the firestorm. A small hand rose, pointing to something through the flames. Before Tim could pick out the object of her attention, two silhouettes dashed out from between two vehicles. The image came to Tim as though in slow-motion. Back-dropped by rolling waves of fire, the two twins ran straight at Chloe, who stood oblivious to all but that which had grabbed her attention. David accelerated, aiming right for the little girl. Tim painfully struggled to his feet in time to see the boy snag the little girl in mid-sprint, almost winding himself. She let out another cry and clung to his neck. Mickey slid to a quick stop at Tim’s side…

                                                             “Are you ok?”

Tim glanced over at the burning hose. The flames were almost there.

                               “Yeah! The docks going to blow! Find cover! Now!”

David pulled up short with Chloe in tears as she continued pointing frantically back at the destruction…

                                                      “Give her here!”

Without a response, the boy handed her over. Carrying Chloe awkwardly, Tim yelled out…

                                               “Get back to the duct!”

…and began to run. The two twin’s shared a knowing look and dashed off in a different direction, cutting in among the shrouded vehicles.
The torch-like flame roared up to the fuel dock, the heat causing the plastic cover of the LEVEL meters to quickly melt; running like clear toffee. The hose also melted through, allowing a quick tongue of sharp flame to dip into the fume-filled tank below.
The kids were suddenly thrown painfully down as the ground beneath them heaved up, kicked from below by a vast underground explosion. At the far end of the Impound, the burning fuel dock exploded into a maelstrom of detonating gasses. The tremendous concussion blasted a ragged hole through the roof, venting a pillar of fire and black smoke into the rainy sky above. The stuttering report echoed off over the battered alien landscape as ragged shreds of metal burst out in all directions. As Tim collapsed, he involuntarily released Chloe, who rolled off and continued running, her little legs pumping as fast as they could. The entire Impound was awash with a fiery glow and wave after wave of heated air roared over everything. Tim rose up, sparing a glance at the fires just in time for the reserve tank to blow. The abrupt second blast tore through the ground beneath a canvas-covered crawler, blowing it cleanly off it’s wheels. Tim actually caught a glimpse of the shimmering shockwave as it tore through the cavernous space at him. Leaping back the way he came, he landed behind a thick girder as the solid wave of hot air roared past. The twisted bulk crashed over, somersaulting into the side of a darkened crawler with tremendous impact. Then…all fell quiet. Only the crackling of raging flames was to be heard. Shaking his head clear, Tim slowly rose. Something was nagging him…at the back of his foggy mind. Looking around for the others, he tried to dredge the thought up.
Newt peered out from under the crawler that she’d rolled under as the shockwave had ripped past, madly fluttering the heavy canvas cover like tissue paper. Noticing a salty warmth on her upper lip she wiped at it, only to come away with a bloody smear. Her nose was bleeding. Wiping at it angrily, she glared around, trying in vain to find someone…anyone.
Devon threw a look over her shoulder for Darius or Kent. Both boys were gone. As soon as the echo of the second explosion had passed, Devon had jumped up and continued running for the waiting air duct, not waiting to see if anyone had chosen to follow. It had to be just up at ahead. She turned back, slowing to a trot.
David didn’t know what to do. When the second explosion had gone off, he’d been knocked to the ground. He’d skinned his knees and elbows, but nothing too bad. He was also having a little trouble hearing, what with the dull ringing that seemed to eclipse every sound. He’d risen up, braced for another blast that didn’t come. As he went to dash toward the duct, he looked back for Mickey. His brother wasn’t following. He was collapsed beside a rusty girder, a dazed expression on his face. David had doubled back. Mickey had been thrown into the thick metal framework by the passing shock-wave and he was bleeding from both ears. David knelt down, trying to help his twin up. Mickey began to flail uncontrollably, searching as though he couldn’t see. David shook him gently…

                                            “Mick. It’s me, man. We’ve got to go.”

Mickey didn’t answer. Instead, pained sobs began to rack his body. As David watched in horror, the tears from one of Mickey’s unseeing eyes ran a deep red. David began to shake with fear…and helplessness, realizing that his brother was badly hurt. He sniffled, sadness and anger running together in a volatile mix. A decision had to be reached.
Kent and Darius had lost Devon. As they rolled themselves upright, Kent noticed that the girl was gone. A quick look revealed no trace. Darius was yawning, a desperate glint in his frightened eye. Kent asked…

                                                           “Where’s Dev?”

Darius just shook his head, motioning to his ear. He was having trouble hearing. Kent was trying to solidify his thoughts around the sudden headache he found himself dealing with. He wanted to call out, but it didn’t seem like the right thing to do. He nudged Darius, motioning in the direction of the air duct. Still wiping at his ear, the black boy nodded painfully. Helping each other, they began to trudge along.
Suddenly it came to him. Chloe had been pointing at something in the flames. But what? What could she have seen? Edging to the corner of a battered crawler, Tim glanced at the destruction. What he saw caused his blood to run cold. The creature, flames reflecting off it’s shiny hide, was hunched over Jeremy’s remains. It seemed to be carefully examining the boy’s corpse, occasionally nudging it with it’s bony chin. When there was no sign of life it gracefully rose up, slowly scanning the Impound that spread out before it. A gust of wind swept through the blast damage in the roof. Thick smoke that had collected into a dense fog began to drift over the lines of inert machines. Just before the alien was obscured it reared it’s head back; releasing a long, sharp hiss. Other shapes moved in the murk behind it. Tim felt a dark spot of fear rise at the back of his throat and he slowly backed away, fighting the nausea. He had to find Rebecca.
Devon paused, leaning against a girder to catch her breath. As she breathed in, she noted that the air had taken on a sharp chemical bite. Looking back the way she came, her parched mouth dropped open at what she saw. A thick cloud of smoke was rapidly advancing throughout the area, obscuring everything in it’s path. It was heavy to the point that she could hardly make out the crackles of the fires that had to be burning still. A shiver of fresh fear walked it’s way down her spine. Looking ahead, she could make out the dark mouth of the air duct, the discarded grate marking the spot. Looking back again, she decided then and there not to wait. It was time to go. Coughing against the smell, she jogged toward the air way…and freedom.
David had to get help. He leaned toward his hurt brother, trying hard not to cry…

                        “I’m going to find Timmy. We’ll be back to get you.”

As he said this, the warm bank of dark smoke began to creep past. Rising up, he took one last look at his twin and trotted off in the direction he hoped to find Tim in. Mickey tried to speak…but could only mumble painfully. A trickle of dark blood ran out from behind his ear. He began to hyperventilate.
Chloe had no toys. As she crouched beside a huge tire to catch her breath, she instinctively reached to her open pocket for one of her action figures. It wasn’t there. With tears brimming in her eyes, she stood; trying to spot the dropped plaything. There was none to be found. As she watched, the crawler before her disappeared under a drifting veil of acrid smoke. She walked forward, her eyes focused on the ground before her. The smoke swallowed her small form.
Devon’s gaze was fixed on the fast-approaching square of shadow that marked her next flight to freedom. As she pulled up next to it, she turned; again debating whether or not she ought to wait. For someone. For anyone. The smoke was nearly upon her. The prospect of being caught in that was very unappealing. With a small snarl, she muttered…

                                 “To hell with all of you jackasses!”

She dropped down, ready to slip away. The alien lunged. It had wedged itself in the passage after trailing the kids’ scent to the Impound. Then…it waited. Devon had enough time to gasp in surprise before the monster was upon her with it’s iron grip. Her last breath came out as a ragged scream.
Kent and Darius froze in their tracks at the sound as it was abruptly cut short. There was the waiting air duct. There were the soles of Devon’s shoes. There was a spray of fresh blood around the air way. From the darkness, there was a quick scurrying sound. Devon’s feet were suddenly yanked out of sight by something unseen. Without hesitating both boys spun, dashing back into the smoke as fast as their feet would carry them.
Newt edged out from under the crawler as two figures sprinted past in the smoke. Looking around, she wondered what it was that made them run like that. Wasn’t the airway in the opposite direction? Clutching Casey, she began to slowly move toward the escape route.
Blurred movement. Mickey tried to blink the sting from his eyes as the wash of smoke continued to flow past. Pain began to crack through his broken body again as he attempted to focus on the movement in the smoke. He could also make out a sound. A thin sharp noise…like a blade, or blades scraping on metal. It was coming from above. The covered vehicle closest to him. Grimacing against the hurt, he angled his head up for a look. Mumbling his brother’s name, he was suddenly hit with more fear than he’d ever felt in his life. With maximum effort, he focused. For a second, his vision cleared. That second was enough. The alien was perched on the edge of the tractor, it’s claws cutting into the canvas as jelly-like strings of slime drooled to the concrete below. The bulbous head was cocked to the side, as though studying the disabled human child below. The child began to move, it’s actions screaming primal fear. Excitement rippled through the creature and instinct took over. It nimbly launched at the small prey below.
David was getting desperate. Where was Timmy? Running as best as he could, he tried to search all directions at once. As his head frantically pivoted around, he completely missed the dark figure that seemed to spring out from between two crawlers. It crashed headlong into him, sending him tumbling to the ground with a yelp. As the boy struggled to crawl away, he saw his attacker. Tim was moaning in pain, clutching at his knee where he lay. Blood ran through his fingers and he groaned. David felt relief punch him in the chest and he leaped up, moving to help the older boy. Tim, despite the pain, glanced around behind David…

                                                  “Where’s your brother?”

David began chattering…

“He’s hurt bad. We have to go back and get him. I need your help Timmy. Please.”

Tim stopped him right there…

“We can’t. We’re not alone in here. We have to get out. Maybe use the main doors”

He looked off in the direction of the main vehicle access doors, obscured by the foggy smoke. David was aghast…

    “We have to go back. He’s all alone. I need your help. Please. Timmy. Please!”

Tim didn’t seem to hear him. Instead he began limping toward the exit grate. David watched him go. Bursting suddenly into tears, he yelled at Tim’s disappearing form…

                                                      “Fuck you, Timmy!”

Ignoring the fear of the creatures, he turned; running back the way that he came.
Chloe found her toy. The little plastic superhero was lying against a meshed-over drain in the centre of the main travel aisle. Smiling brightly, she knelt down to pick it up. As she did so, a siren began to wail in the distance. A series of sharp hisses started to sound through the smoke, quickly walking along the ceiling toward her. She slowly stood, holding the doll to her. Her smile slowly slipped away as she searched for the source of the approaching noise. Closer and closer it came. Then it was upon her. The overhead sprinklers suddenly came to life overhead, blasting a torrent of cold water over everything below. Chloe closed her large eyes against the downpour as the smoke began to clear from around her. The sprinklers continued to activate on their way toward the main vehicle entrances at the far end. Chloe, soaked to the skin, but happy to have her toy, began to turn. There was another hiss. She turned back…slowly. It didn’t matter. The two aliens had been watching her for a full minute now. They emerged from the shadows, deftly stalking their prey to the last. With lower lip trembling she did the only thing that came to her fear-stricken mind. She held the toy out for them to see. Seconds later, it once again fell to the ground as they struck, slowly washed back toward the drain as the sprinkler water washed away.
David slowed to a halt. Water from the fire extinguisher system was washing past, heading toward the nearest catch drain. But something was wrong. The water wasn’t clear…as it should have been. It was a deep crimson, flowing from around the corner of the girder where David had left his stricken brother. There was movement. David willed himself to advance…expecting the worst. And he got it. He couldn’t see what the alien was doing to his twin’s body but it’s jerky actions left nothing but feasting to the imagination. It was that moment that David went mad. Insane. With a feral scream he charged, his hands balled into fists so tight that his uncut nails sliced easily into his palms. He never made it. The other creature was waiting in the shadows of the crawler and it grabbed him with no trouble. His terrible shrieks of  pain didn’t slow the eating alien in the slightest. It crouched in closer over the corpse, protecting it’s kill from the newly-arrived competition.
Darius yanked back on Kent’s jacket, dragging the boy to a quick halt. They were between another pair of mammoth vehicles, which they automatically fell against, fatigue washing over them. Kent looked to his friend questioningly…

             “What? Why are we stopping?! We have to find a way out, man!”

Darius raised a hand for silence. For a moment he listened. There was nothing. Only the dripping of water from the sprinklers which had shut down about a minute ago…

“I thought I heard someone…way away. Something like…a scream or something.”

Kent paused, listening. After a pause, he stepped out from between the vehicles…listening. All was still quiet.

                                              “I don’t hear anything.”

Darius didn’t say a word. Instead, he screamed; a long pained yowl that could have broken glass. Kent whirled around in time to see his best friend being dragged up the canvas-covered side of the tractor by a large, shadowy alien. Darius’ frantic kicking and punching had no effect. Kent was rendered speechless, his eyes fixed of the trail of dripping blood that marked the passage of his buddy. The creature yanked the boy back and he vanished over the tractor’s top. The high scream that followed was suddenly silenced mid-breath. Kent couldn’t move…transfixed by the horror of what he’d just witnessed. He wanted to run. To flee. He never got the chance. The second alien lunged out from underneath the canvas, tackling the boy in one powerful jump. Kent then got lucky. As the alien whipped around to drag the live prey into the shadows, Kent’s heart gave out then. Stopped dead by the overdose of fear-filled adrenaline that blasted through his system. It made no difference to the creature. The meat was still warm as it started to feed.
Newt heard a commotion to her far-left. It stopped quickly. She could just make out the open grate up ahead. She turned to look for Tim, not expecting to see him. Surprised flashed over her as she saw him limping toward her at high speed, an anguished expression on his face. He yelled as he approached…

           “Becca! Not the grate! The monsters are in here! Get to the main door!”

It took a moment for his frantic words to sink in. By that point, he was upon her. Grabbing roughly, Tim began to run her toward the huge main doors. His breath shallow and labored as jolts of pain mixed with the words that he shouted at her. The monsters? In here? She hadn’t seen any. It was then that the alien screech echoed up at them from the depths of the soaked and smoky Impound. Her legs found new life and she began to out-pace her brother. The huge door, with its faded blue #1, loomed before them. Tim pushed both of them at the large control panel off to the side. They hit the wall beside it with enough force to wind them. A quick search yielded a large green OPEN toggle. Tim slapped it. The door didn’t budge. Newt turned slowly. She could now hear them coming. Claws on metal. Hisses. Bodies splashing through collected puddles. Roars. Tim slapped his hand on to the toggle again, holding it there. With a deep groan, the massive slab of metal began to creep toward the ceiling. Cold air rushed in, chilling their feet. As Newt watched, a nightmare shape vaulted up from the shadows, gracefully alighting on a nearby vehicle. It cocked it’s head at them. Newt screamed, a long piercing wail. The door was now open 3 feet. Tim pulled his hand from the controls, grabbing his sister. Her knees bounced painfully off the concrete as she dropped down to crawl under. In her haste, Casey slid from her jacket, left lying below the door waiting to be crushed into oblivion. Once outside, at the bottom of the huge entrance ramp she spun, dropping down to make sure that Timmy escaped. She could see him on the other side, his comforting face masked by shadow. Dropping to his stomach, he began to worm his way under the door. Casey. Newt felt a rush of panic as she saw her Casey splayed out. As she dropped down to grab the doll, her gaze flickered inside. She screamed again. The perching alien jumped at that moment, it’s sightless head fixed on Tim’s squirming legs. Timmy jerked suddenly, howling in sudden pain and fright.

The alien had his legs.

                                            “Oh god! Rebecca! Help me!!!”

In desperation, his hands flailed about, looking for a purchase. They found Casey’s legs as Newt’s hands closed over the doll’s hair. Tim was slipping away, being pulled to his doom by a nightmare. Brother and sister burst into tears as they both realized what was going to happen. Tim’s grip tightened on Casey as Newt screamed in horror. Only Timmy’s arms and head were visible now. And they were going. Tim’s scared, tear-wrapped eyes met those of his little sister…

“Please, Newt! Don’t let go! Please, god! Mommy! Daddy! Help me!!! I don’t want to die!!!”

They both heard it at the same time. Fabric tearing. Casey was tearing under the strain.

                                                  “No. Newt…help……!”

From behind Timmy, there was a sudden feral hiss. Tim’s body was abruptly yanked back by a tremendous force. With a final rip, Casey was pulled apart. Timmy disappeared…back into the horror behind the door. Newt heard one last…

                                       “Help me, Rebeccaaaaggghhhhh…!!!”

Then…he was gone. As the tears racked her small body, Newt leaped up; running as fast as she could away from the door. As she reached the top of the ramp-way, she stopped. The running and the tears caused her lungs to burn like fire. She turned. The alien landscape stretched out as far as her eye could see. The coarse wind caused her hair to whip about her anguished face as though under its own control. Steel colored clouds rushed past overhead. She turned her anguished gaze down. At the bottom of the ramp, the door remained slightly open. No movement. No alien shapes emerged to attack. She was alone. There was no one left. Well, almost no one. She still had Casey. The disembodied dolls head stared up at her, its glassy eyes as cheerful as ever.

                                                                      The End

.

11 thoughts on “ALIENS: The Fall of Hadley’s Hope

  1. Much better and more consistent with the film than River of Pain (the unfortunately-canon novel explaining what happened at Hadley’s Hope)- they should’ve paid you to write the novel instead! Great job.

    1. Thanks Nic! That’s a tremendous compliment and yes, I agree…they really should’ve just handed this one over to me! I’ll admit that, despite being the life-long ‘Aliens’ fan that I am, I didn’t know that a literary version of THIS story was already done. My story just kinda came to me at a time when I could commit to writing it out and I didn’t even consider looking to see if a version was already out there. But I’ll take your word on it sucking…even though I’m now morbidly curious. But I’m grateful you took the time to check mine out, and enjoyed it! Thanks again!

  2. I (hadley’s) hope they make a movie out of this and get you to do the script!!! I have wanted to embellish on the Hadley’s hope story for years, even had a brief go at it, only got an opening act written, but it’s not near half as good as yours! Excellent work!

  3. Utterly brilliant. I’ve been indoctrinating a sci-fi heathen friend into the Alien saga and had the random but obviously well founded thought of ‘what happened at Hadley’s Hope?’ on the way to work this morning! Well now I know. The attention to detail is fantastic (light cast from vehicles, weather descriptions AND explaining Casey’s severed torso – bravo), the tension was unbearable…Best Alien experience since Alien Isolation (recommended). Thanks for taking the time to write and also for sharing!

    1. Thanks a ton for the awesome feedback, Tim! I largely wrote this one to fill in a gap in the ‘Aliens’ story that I couldn’t ignore, and to try to put myself ‘there’, narratively-speaking. Your message made my day and I’m glad that it seems to have met your sci-fi standards, especially where the ‘good’ entries into the franchise are concerned ( the less said about #4, and the largely reprehensible AvP flicks, the better).

  4. As with the comments above I have always thought Hadleys Hope would make a great spin off like Rogue One Star Wars, your story, in my opinion, would make the perfect film, send a script! I would happily pay to see it, and kudos to you for also including the kids and them too meeting a grisly demise. I was absolutely gripped! Brilliant!

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