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Max_Writer

Aliens Adventure Game: Forced Entry 1 (Part 1): 2010-07-30

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I finally was able to run a second game of Aliens and finish up where we left off in July 2010. As it was so long ago, I'm first publishing the last game for easy reference. The new entry should be up within the week.



* * *


It was about the equivalent of Oct. 15, 2179, when they all went to the port facility. They found the small office Coombs was working out of and he examined their credentials. He seemed very satisfied.

“I need a striker team to recover a Hyperdyne cargo vessel, the Walbran, taken over by pirates,” he said. “Any pirates on board the Walbran are to be terminated with extreme prejudice.”

“Does that include any other teams that are left over that you’ve sent out?” MkVenner asked.

“We haven’t sent out any other teams,” the executive replied coolly. “We’ve just located the ship. It’s approximately two jumps from here, heading down the line. I’ve got a corporate frigate waiting with a crew and a backup team.”

“Backup team?”

Coombs just nodded.

“All right,” MkVenner went on. “What’s the operation for them? When do they come in?”

“The operation for them is, if you fail, they come in,” Coombs said. “Any other questions?”

He printed out contracts as MkVenner told him he didn’t want to see any of the backup team but Coombs assured him he would only see a few technicians and himself.

“I’m going to be on board to see this thing through,” he said.

He checked their armament and was impressed that they were carrying pulse rifles. They had also brought a crate of extra ammo and grenades.

He led them to a drop ship on the tarmac, which took them up to the waiting corporate frigate Mendez. Compared to a Colonial Marine frigate, it was more modern and of improved construction to the older and less efficient military vessels. When they got aboard, they were given a schematic of the Walbran, a three-decked cargo ship with a large hold. Coombs told them the ship was carrying a cargo of electronics and had a crew of 20. The standard light freighter had been found in the system JS-AC03.

The system was not on the main maps but they soon learned it was one of the uninhabited systems about four jumps, or 20 light years, from Aerodyne. Such systems were scattered between colony worlds, mining worlds, and garrison systems allowing a stopping place for ships going through hyperspace to recharge their engines. They usually had a station to provide limited assistance to crippled ships. Otherwise, the system was completely uninhabited. The next planet in the sector was the world of Acheron, another 20 light years beyond JS-AC03.

In addition to their own strike team, the ship’s company consisted of Coombs, five technicians, a corporate strike team equal in size to their own, and five ship’s crewmen. No one except Coombs would have anything to do with them and they heard some of the corporate strike team members refer to them as “mercenary scum.”

They were all soon placed in the hypersleep capsules.


* * *


It only felt like a few moments later when MkVenner was awakened from hypersleep. He learned it had actually been only a day and they were at JS-AC03. He and Simmons were the first ones woken and Coombs met with them and suggested that the two of them should be able to handle the entire situation. MkVenner’s response to that was the middle finger.

“Who else do you want awakened?” Coombs asked. “Who else is necessary? Because we don’t want to spend more money than we have to.”

“Look, you don’t drag my guys out here and then leave half of them asleep in a hypersleep capsule,” MkVenner said. “That ain’t gonna cut it.”

“Very well,” Coombs said.

“You can afford this ship,” MkVenner went on. “You can afford to pay a few credits to five guys.”

The technicians got the rest of the men awakened and they assembled in the mess hall. Coombs told them that they had little trouble locating the Walbran. It was in a decaying orbit around the jump system planet near the unmanned space station.

“The tactical responder was only transmitting intermittently,” he said.

He activated a monitor that showed an exterior view of the Walbran. The rear of the ship was boxlike with a narrower and sleeker section attached to the front.

“I hate tugs,” MkVenner grumbled.

“It’s a light freighter actually,” Coombs said. “We were able to move the Mendez into a salvaging position. Everyone is going to have to don spacesuits. We’ll use the dropship.”

“Does the Walbran have atmo?” MkVenner asked.

“We don’t know yet,” Coombs admitted. “We’ll have to do an inspection.”

“How long ago did this thing get hit?” Simmons asked.

“It was hijacked about a week ago,” Coombs said.

“No response on comms?” MkVenner asked.

“No,” Coombs said.

“How do you know it was pirates?” Simmons asked.

“Who else would have hijacked it?” was Coombs answer.

“Why would they just leave it in a decaying orbit?” MkVenner asked.

“Well, perhaps the crew managed to fight them off,” Coombs replied. “We don’t know. That’s why we have to examine the ship.”

He looked them over.

“I’m going over and we’ll be taking three technicians,” he said. “Suit up everybody.”

The entire team suited up with spacesuits over their armor. Coombs, three silent technicians, and a single pilot also suited up. The names on the technicians’ suits were Riley, West, and Hennison. Simmons told them to stay in the back and MkVenner looked them over carefully but noted that neither the technicians nor Coombs were armed.

As they entered the dropship, Coombs reminded the men once again that if there were pirates, some damage was to be expected if they confronted them. However, excessive damage would be deducted from their contract amounts. MkVenner clarified that it was only excessive damage they caused and not pre-existing damage.

“No,” Coombs assured him. “Of course not. We’re a corporation. We don’t cheat people.”

They climbed aboard the dropship and strapped in as the large doors closed. Both Private Kemps and Private MkVenner had motion trackers and Lt. Smith and Pvt. Anderson carried first aid kits. Anderson also carried a portable welder, as did Kemps, in addition to their combat loads.

They all felt the ship drop away from the Mendez and the pilot reported over the intercom that they were heading for the ship. A few minutes later the intercom crackled again.

“It looks like we’ve got a problem,” the voice said. “Port airlock seems to be breached. Looks like extensive damage.”

“Helmets on!” MkVenner said.

Everyone got their helmets on. The technicians looked at Coombs and the man nodded so they also sealed their suits. The marines checked their equipment.

“What is your recommendation Lieutenant?” Coombs asked over the helmet radio.

“We’re coming around to the starboard airlock,” the voice of the pilot crackled over their helmet radios. “Starboard airlock appears to be intact.”

“Is there an umbilical?” MkVenner asked.

“We have the ability to connect with the airlock,” Coombs said.

Simmons was sitting next to Pvt. Henson. He reached over and touched the locking mechanism on the helmet. The young man didn’t seem to notice.

“Henson, you don’t latch that thing, it sucks it right off into space, it won’t do you a damned bit of good,” Pvt. Simmons said.

“I latched it Simmons. See, look,” Henson said, reaching for the helmet. It came off in his hands. “Aw shit!”

He latched the helmet.

“Okay, it’s latched now,” he said.

Simmons smacked him in the back of the helmet.

“Yeah, it sure it,” he said.

“Is that how you check?” Henson said.

“It is for me,” Simmons replied.

Henson reached over and smacked the back of Simmons’ helmet.

“Checking yours sir!” he said.

Simmons wasn’t sure if Henson were lying or not. A couple of the other men laughed and started smacking the back of each other’s helmets. One of the technicians, meanwhile, vented the atmosphere in the cabin.

“We’re about to couple,” the voice of the pilot crackled over their helmet radios. “Hang on.”

There was a loud metal noise and the cabin jerked slightly.

“We have attached,” the voice said.

MkVenner slapped his release and carefully stood up. He activated his magboots and crossed the cabin as the others released themselves from their straps. He turned and caught Lt. Smith’s eyes.

“Standard deployment?” he asked.

“Yes,” was Smith’s answer.

“Simmons and I will breach,” MkVenner said. “Take a standard deployment. Kemps, I want you up there with the motion detector as soon as we secure.”

“Roger,” Kemps said.

One of the technicians opened the dropship door to reveal the door of the ship’s airlock. MkVenner tried to manipulate the controls but found they weren’t working. There was no power to the panel at all and he cracked it open and cranked open the airlock. It was completely empty and there was no atmosphere within. MkVenner and Simmons entered the airlock but found the panels there were dead as well. An emergency light flickered erratically.

Coombs pushed his way forward and entered the airlock as well.

“Not a good idea sir,” MkVenner said.

“I don’t send my people anywhere that I wouldn’t go,” Coombs said smugly.

“Let us at least secure the perimeter first sir,” MkVenner said. “You’re not armed and no use to me right now sir. Please.”

“I’m still in charge of this mission,” Coombs replied.

“All right,” MkVenner said.

Simmons cranked the outer door shut and then they got to work on the interior door. As it opened, there was no outrush of air, no sound, nothing. The ship had no atmosphere. As soon as MkVenner realized it, he cranked open the airlock door to the dropship.

“What have we got there Corporal?” Lt. Smith asked.

“Zero atmo,” MkVenner replied.

Simmons crouched by the inner door and watched down a long, dark corridor beyond.

“Corp, we got no gravity in here either,” Simmons said over the radio.

“Roger that,” MkVenner replied.

He warned Coombs to stay behind them and out of the line of fire.

“That is fine Corporal,” Coombs replied. “You gentlemen need to locate the bridge and maybe examine the other airlock. Riley, West, Hennison, try to bring up ship’s power, life support, and gravitational systems.”

“Bridge,” MkVenner muttered.

“Unless everyone else was in space suits, I can’t see there being anyone else here alive,” Simmons said.

“Listen up team,” MkVenner said. “Simmons and I are going to take point. I’d like Lt. Smith and Brobski in the rear guard. Henson and Kemps, keep your eyes on the corridors we’re passing. Henson, please make sure your safety’s off.”

“My safety is …” Henson replied. Then he fiddled with his pulse rifle. “Yes sir.”

The ship was very dark and utterly quiet without atmosphere. The helmet lights didn’t give much illumination. Once they were all out of the airlock, MkVenner ordered it sealed again and Lt. Smith and Cpl. Brobski secured both doors. They traveled down the long corridor to a central passage, where the technicians left them for the tube to deck two.

“Where are you geeks going?” Simmons said.

“They’ve got their orders,” Coombs said. “They’re to get power, gravity, and life support back online.”

“They are?” MkVenner said.

“That was my order,” Coombs said.

“They are?” MkVenner said again.

“Yes,” Coombs said.

“All right,” MkVenner said. “It’s your call.”

The technicians had stopped but then got to work on the door that led to the tube to deck two.

“This is bullshit,” Simmons muttered.

“You men are paid to protect us, not to think,” Coombs said.

“Let’s keep it tight,” MkVenner said.

“We can’t protect what we can’t keep an eye on … sir,” Simmons said. “We haven’t secured this ship yet … sir. So we don’t really know what they’re walking in to … sir!”

“The ship is completely in vacuum,” Coombs said. “I think you were right when you said nobody’s probably alive here.”

“Yeah but we don’t ****ing know that do we?” Simmons said.

“Just do your job,” Coombs calmly replied.

“Easy Simmons,” MkVenner said.

They passed several closed doors and noted signs of a firefight before they came to a steep set of stairs leading upwards; the only noise was the sound of their own breaths in their helmets. The steep steps had a railing and went up to a landing and then up again to the deck one.

The stairs opened onto deck one in a dark hypersleep chamber with twenty hypersleep pods. The room had a modular floor design of simple meter-wide square grates dropped on alloy pipes. It looked like a military design, as did the hypersleep pods. All of them were open except for one and they could see that the glass on that chamber was either broken or melted. All four doors in the room were closed.

They filed into the room and spread out into fire team patterns, covering the entire room initially but narrowing their field of fire. MkVenner motioned to two of the men to cover the other doors. Then he moved to the hypersleep pod, shining his light on it and examining it more carefully.

The glass of the pod appeared to be melted and the interior was covered in frozen blood. A man’s body with his chest torn open was strapped in the pod. His eyes were closed and his face was at peace.

MkVenner called Anderson over and Coombs followed him.

“What’s this glass made of?” MkVenner asked Anderson. “Would a flamer do that?”

“Uh …” Anderson answered, looking more closely at the pod. “Maybe. There’d be signs of burns though.”

“What the hell would do that?”

“Uh … acid? That’s the only thing I could think of. Some kind of strong industrial acid.”

“That’s the captain,” Coombs said.

“Was the captain,” Simmons said.

“Was the captain,” Coombs said.

“I wonder what happened to him?” MkVenner said.

They looked at the body for a moment.

“What could have done that?” MkVenner said. “It looks like he exploded. Explosive decompression maybe?”

Anderson tried to activate the hatch on the hypersleep pod without luck.

“No, that’s not explosive decompression,” he said. “I don’t know.”

Simmons noted that from the spread pattern of the blood, it looked like it had happened when the ship’s gravity was still functioning. Anderson said that explosive decompression didn’t do the kind of damage that the man had suffered. He guessed that the man had died while still in hypersleep. Simmons pointed out that the hole in the pod was right over the man’s head though there was no damage to the man’s face. He further noted that what killed him looked like it had burst out of his lower chest.

“I can’t think of a single weapon that would cause damage like that,” MkVenner said. “Unless he was shot in the back, which, obviously, he wasn’t.”

Anderson and Simmons manually opened the hyperspace pod. They found the dead body was strapped in for transit and, aside from the hole in his chest, was untouched. Simmons examined the body and the bloody hole carefully. It was unlike anything he’d ever seen before. It was definitely not an entry wound.

MkVenner suggested checking the other pods for signs of blood or violence but found they were untouched.

“Hey Hal,” Simmons said.

“Mr. Coombs, we’ve found something in engineering,” the voice of one of the technicians came over the radio. “I think you’re going to want to see this.”

“Go to a secure channel,” Coombs said.

He touched the neck of his suit and they could see him talking but couldn’t hear him.

“What the hell?” Simmons said.

“This is bullshit,” MkVenner said, looking at Coombs.

“Hey Hal, check this out man,” Simmons said. MkVenner crossed the room to him. “This isn’t an entry wound. Look at this.”

“I can see it’s not an entry wound,” MkVenner said.

“The ribs exploded out,” Simmons said. “Whatever it is, it exploded out of him.”

“Like a bomb?” Lt. Smith said.

“If one was surgically implanted then, yeah,” MkVenner said. “Smaller yield explosive device I guess. But wouldn’t there be powder burns?”

Simmons looked at the wound more closely but didn’t see any powder burns.

“It doesn’t look like an explosion,” he said.

“All right, pack it in crew,” MkVenner said. “Simmons, we’ll come back to this later. Let’s get some power and some gravity in this ship. I hate zero-gee.”

“Damn it, they just said they found something in engineering,” Simmons replied. “Shit, I’m not going to go to the bridge.”’

“That’s engineering man,” MkVenner said. “That’s down a deck. Anyway, medlab’s on this level man. We’ll take him to medlab once we get power on. You’ll have a whole kit over there to take care of him, do whatever you need to do.”

“He’s dead; what the **** am I going to do with him?”

“I don’t know. You said you wanted to poke around his chest. I thought maybe you could do it with some sharper tools. Lay him out on the table. Quit grousing and let’s get to it. C’mon people, let’s move like we’ve got a purpose here.”

“Right,” Lt. Smith said. “Henson and Kemps, why don’t you take the body to the medlab; we’ll leave it there for now. The rest of us will proceed to the bridge.”

“Roger that,” MkVenner said.

There was a click as Coombs touched his helmet neck again and turned his helmet radio over to the open channel again. MkVenner stared at him and Coombs met his stare. Simmons looked back and forth between the two of them and then shook his head.

“Let’s just go,” MkVenner said. “Brobski, quit mouth breathing.”

“That’s Anderson man,” Brobski said.

“Hey, shut up!” Anderson replied.

“Smith, I want to go to engineering,” Coombs said. “Give me one of your men.”

“Fine,” Lt. Smith said. “Brobski, go with him.”

“Sir, with all due respect, we still haven’t secured the ship,” Simmons said.

“That’s why I’m sending someone with him Simmons,” Lt. Smith replied.

“Sir, we shouldn’t be separating,” Simmons said.

“Brobski, take him down there and come right back,” Lt. Smith said.

The two men left the others.

“Hey Brobski,” MkVenner said to the man as they parted.

“Yeah, what do you want?” Brobski replied.

“Keep your shit wired tight,” MkVenner said.

“Always is,” Brobski replied. “I’m a Jew. We know how to keep things tight.”

The others used the manual override to open a door that led to a narrow hall. The door at the end, also without power, opened onto the bridge.

The bridge looked like it had also been struck by a firefight. Displays flickered erratically, making a ghostly strobe effect and illuminating a bullet-torn body floating there. Its wounds formed brilliant red icicles, suggesting that his death had come soon before depressurization.

“Here we go,” MkVenner said. “Contacts.”

“Shit,” Lt. Smith said.

As they moved carefully into the room, they saw that a large number of consoles were electronic warfare equipment. They looked like they were added to the bridge after the ship was built.

Simmons made a hand motion for a private conversation. MkVenner switched over and Lt. Smith nodded and did the same. Anderson signed to them that he would stay on the open frequency.

“These look like military combat controls,” Simmons said.

“Yeah, that’s combat,” MkVenner said.

“What?” Lt. Smith said.

“I thought this was a freighter,” Simmons said.

“That’s what Coombs said,” Lt. Smith replied. “A light freighter. That’s what it looks like.”

“Consoles say different Ell-Tee,” MkVenner said.

MkVenner glanced up at the glass ports that looked out into space. They were all intact and showed no signs of damage.

“So, uh, where are we leaking atmo from?” Simmons asked him.

“We didn’t check out the damaged airlock,” MkVenner said.

“Damn it,” Simmons said.

MkVenner switched back over to the general frequency, as did the others.

“Anderson, see if you can’t get power back to these consoles so we can run a diagnostic and find out what’s wrong with this ship,” he said.

“Roger on that,” Anderson said. “Kemps and Henson said they found something in medlab. They said something was in a stasis chamber.”

“They reporting hostile contact?” MkVenner asked him.

“No,” Anderson replied. “Just said something weird there.”

“Henson, Kemps, get back to the bridge please,” MkVenner said.

“Yeah yeah yeah,” Kemps said.

“We’ll check out medlab later,” MkVenner said.

Simmons examined the body and found that it had a patch that read “Penrose” on the coveralls. He had apparently been killed by automatic weapons fire.

“We’ve got Penrose here on the bridge,” he said.

“Deceased,” MkVenner said.

“This is Coombs,” they heard a voice on the radio. “Penrose was second in command.”

“Well, he’s not anymore,” Simmons said. “Second one dead is what we’ve got.”

“Promotions all around,” MkVenner said.

“That’s not funny,” Coombs said. “I’ll be up directly.”

“Anybody pick up any other contacts?” MkVenner called out. “Any other dead bodies? Copsicles floating around?”

“Negative,” they heard Kemps say.

“Negative,” came Henson’s voice.

“So, while we’re up here …” Simmons said.

“Hey Brobski!” MkVenner said.

“Yeah,” Brobski’s voice came back.

“You already made it past the airlocks?”

“I don’t know what the hell was going on in engineering.”

“Are you there yet?” Simmons asked.

“Yeah, I’m on my way back,” Brobski said.

“What the hell did you see?” Simmons said.

“I didn’t see much,” Brobski said. He sounded like of shaky. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

“What the ****?” Simmons said.

“Stop off and take a look at the port airlock on your way up,” MkVenner said. “Give me an assessment on the damage there please.”

“All right,” Brobski said. “Yes Corporal.”

Anderson was still working on the computers when they saw light flash in the open doorway they’d come from. Kemps and Henson joined them on the bridge.

“Sir, I’m going to check out the security locker,” Simmons said to Lt. Smith.

“Yeah,” Smith said, looking over Anderson’s shoulder.

“Kemps, you’re with me,” Simmons said.

“Right,” Kemps replied.

They manually opened the door from the bridge that led to the security locker and headed into the darkness. Meanwhile, MkVenner signaled to Henson to get on a secure channel and both men switched over.

“Tell me what you saw in medlab,” he asked the private.

“Uh … it was just weird,” Henson replied. “There was an electronic stasis jar. You know, the kind they use for specimens? It was on the floor. It was broken. So it must have broken before the gravity went out.”

“Well, yeah,” MkVenner said.

“It was a little one,” Henson went on.

He held out his hands to indicate something about two and a half feet tall by a foot wide or so.

“Just didn’t expect to see it,” he said.

“Anything else?” MkVenner asked.

“No, it’s pretty quiet in there,” Henson said. “Well, it’s quite everywhere.”

“You’re a brilliant guy Henson,” MkVenner said.

They both switched back over to the open frequency.


* * *


Pvt. Simmons and Pvt. Kemps went down the dark corridor. It turned to the left and they manhandled the heavy hatch to the security locker open in a silence only filled by the sound of their own breathing. When they got into the room, they found it packed. There were sentry guns, rocket launchers, and vials and tubes marked with symbols that indicated various kinds of nerve gas. There were a few crates marked with heavy infantry weapons but they’d been opened and were empty.

“Ah yeah,” Simmons said. “Now we’re talking.”

“Holy shit!” Kemps said.

“So … Lieutenant,” Simmons said.

“Yeah,” the lieutenant’s voice came back over the radio. “Smith here.”

“We have some extremely fine equipment that this vessel is carrying,” Simmons said.

“Okay,” Lt. Smith replied. Then he said slowly: “Well … uh … as mercenaries, we’re under corporate contract and cannot loot.”

Simmons took one of the canisters marked nerve gas.

“Let’s get the hell back,” he said to Kemps.


* * *


Another voice came over the channel.

“Brobski here,” it said. “Holy shit!”

“What have you got Brobski?” MkVenner asked.

“Uh … somebody blew up this airlock,” Brobski replied shakily. “I’m seeing high explosive blast burns, numerous bullet holes in the walls … uh … there’s a body here. Name on the uniform is Reynolds. Um … God, the walls are painted with frozen blood! She’s in a suit. She’s in a space suit, but it’s ripped to shreds. There’s some weird … there’s some stuff on the walls and ceiling corners. It looks like … honeycomb or something.”

“What?” MkVenner said.

“It’s all over this area, this part of the ship’s open to space,” Brobski went on. “Looks like somebody set off a bomb that blew off both airlock doors.”

“All right, get back up to the bridge,” MkVenner said.

“Okay,” Brobski replied. “This is freaking me out.”

“Double time it trooper!” MkVenner said.

“Yeah,” Brobski said. “Yeah.”

Then he started mumbling under his breath in Hebrew. It was about a minute later that they heard his voice again.

“Oh shit!” he screamed.

“Brobski?” MkVenner said. “Brobski!”

“What’s going on Corp?” Simmons voice said.

“Clear the channel!” MkVenner snapped. Then: “Brobski, report.”

There was no reply.

Simmons and Kemps appeared in the doorway to the bridge.

“Uh, lieutenant?” Anderson said. “I’ve got the captain’s log.”

He was sitting at a console that he had gotten working. Lt. Smith made the hand signal for a closed channel.

“What was that?” Coombs voice came over the line.

Then they all clicked over to the secure channel.

“Ell-Tee, you want to stay here with Anderson?” MkVenner said. “I’m going to take Simmons and Kemps. We’re going to go find Brobski.”

“Hey Ell-Tee, Corp, I got something real quick,” Simmons said.

“Stow it right now,” MkVenner replied.

“No, you got to see this, man,” Simmons said.

“Brobski’s in trouble, man.”

“Shit. We got gas. We got gas.”

“There was a hypersleep pod breach,” Anderson said. “That’s why the ship stopped here. The mate makes the final entries. He suggests the crew is disloyal and does not want to transfer Ashgrate to Hyperdyne. Doesn’t say what that means. There’s a voice file here too.”

“Corp, Ell-Tee, you should see the security locker,” Simmons said. “We’ve got sentry guns–”

“Did you get it on your helmet cam?” MkVenner asked.

“Yeah,” Simmons said.

“Then we got it,” MkVenner said. “Hide this canister somewhere. We’ve got to go find Brobski now.”

Simmons shoved it towards Anderson.

“I’ve got the voice log if anyone wants to hear it,” Anderson said.

“Private channel broadcast it, but we are heading out. Now,” MkVenner said.

“Okay,” Anderson said. “Broadcasting. Sounds like a woman.”

He had had hooked his suit to the console and patched through the audio file even as MkVenner, Simmons, and Kemps had left the bridge, heading for the stairwell back down to level three.

“This is Staff Sergeant Susan Reynolds,” a woman’s voice said. “I… I killed Penrose. He was working against us the entire time. Probably working for―Hyperdyne.”

“It’s garbled,” Anderson said. “Broken up.”

“Things killed Jenkins with a single blow,” the recording went on. “The rest of the crew’s dead as well. God knows what Hyperdyne wants these things for, sending in WalbranExeter―two ships. These things’re too―there go the electronics again―failing―they must have shut them off. My only hope is that those things can’t―vacuum. End …”

“That’s it,” Anderson said. “That’s the whole thing. Do you want to hear it again?”

MkVenner said he did and Anderson played the thing again as the three men stopped in the Hypersleep chamber to listen more closely.

“Just like a woman, always worried about vacuuming,” Simmons quipped.

No one laughed.

They continued into the stairwell that led down to level three, MkVenner on point, Simmons second, and Kemps bringing up the rear. As MkVenner reached the bottom of the shaft and Simmons had reached the landing just above him, Kemps let out a shriek.

“What the hell is that!?!” he screamed.

The other two men spun around and saw that something huge was reaching out of an open panel and had grabbed Kemps’ right leg with long black claws. It was trying to drag Kemps into the duct.

“What the hell man!” MkVenner screamed.

Simmons had a good view of the thing’s arm, shoulder, and huge, sloped head without eyes. At first, he thought it was some kind of space suit. Then he saw that the thing had metal teeth, its mouth pulled back in a horrible grin.

“**** that!” Simmons yelled.

The creature reached out with another black claw and grabbed at Kemp’s left leg. He screamed as it squeezed his leg in the space suit and jerked on the right leg. Then the man’s entire body went limp.

“Simmons! Grab him!” MkVenner yelled. All he’d seen was a black shape that looked like a big man in a space suit with a huge, black helmet.

There was a flash from his pulse rifle as he fired a burst at the creature hanging out of the duct. There was no sound in the vacuum of space but sparks flew as the bullets struck the walls of the shaft a few inches from the thing. Screaming the man’s name, Simmons let go of his pulse rifle, leapt forward, and grabbed Kemps as the horrible thing dragged the man into the duct. He managed to grab the man by his helmet and tried to hang on but felt himself being dragged after Kemps.

MkVenner leapt up the stairs as Simmons leaned halfway into the duct and hooked Kemps around the upper chest. Kemps was almost entirely within the access duct as MkVenner shoved the pulse rifle into the shaft, practically laying it on Kemps’ chest, and pulled the trigger. Simmons was almost blinded by the blast but, illuminated by the muzzle flash, he clearly saw the thing holding Kemps. It seemed to fill the duct and was topped by a horrible, eyeless, grinning face. It was struck in the skull, the jaw, and the arm, jerking back as vital fluids spurted out. The thing’s blood sprayed outward as Simmons put a foot against the wall and dragged Kemps out of the duct and into the stairwell. A haze filled the duct and several drops of the alien blood floated out into the stairwell. Where they struck the railing or the wall, they ate through it like a highly concentrated molecular acid.

“What the ****!?!” MkVenner said. “Get him out of there! Get him out of there!”

“Kemps! Kemps! Kemps!” Simmons shouted.

“What is going on!?!” they heard Smith’s voice over the radio.

“Contact! Contact!” MkVenner screamed. “Stairwell! Stairwell!”

“I think you got it!” Simmons said. “I think you got it!”

MkVenner looked into the duct and finally saw the thing clearly. It was obviously dead, with an entry wound in the skull. He noticed movement around it and for a moment thought that tiny creatures were crawling in the duct. Then he realized that where the thing’s blood had struck, it was dissolving, filling the duct with a sickly haze.

“What’s going on down there!?!” Smith said again.

“Up the stairwell!” MkVenner shouted. “Up the stairwell!”

Simmons looked over Kemps but didn’t find any broken bones on the man’s legs. His suit integrity didn’t appear to be compromised or torn and he saw green lights in the man’s helmet. He guessed that the man had passed out from the shock of the pain from the thing squeezing his leg like a hydraulic press.

“What the **** is this thing!?!” MkVenner shouted, still looking into the duct.

“I think he’s okay!” Simmons said. “Suit’s okay!”

“Get him up the stairs!” MkVenner said.

“What is going on down there!?!” Lt. Smith said.

“Grab my rifle!” Simmons said. “Grab my rifle!”

MkVenner grabbed the straps for the two floating pulse rifle with his left hand as he backed up the stairs after Simmons, who dragged Kemps still form. He kept his own pulse rifle trained on the duct.

“Did you get it?” Simmons said. “Did you get it?”

“It ain’t moving!” MkVenner replied.

“What the hell was that thing?”

“I don’t know! Let’s get the hell out of here!”

“Did you see the size of that thing?”

They returned to the bridge as quickly as possible and found Anderson still working on the controls while Lt. Smith and Henson had weapons ready and were watching both the other doors to the room and the hatch that led below.

“Corporal, what happened?” Lt. Smith said.

“Sir, I don’t know,” MkVenner replied. “I don’t know what the hell that thing was.”

“All right, calm down,” Smith replied. “Calm down.”

“It was huge.”

“What?”

“It was huge. It came out of a hole in the ventilation system, grabbed Kemps. Just … man, I never heard him scream like that. He went out. He was out cold man. This thing started pulling him into the hole. Simmons grabbed him and couldn’t hold onto him. I shot it. I think it’s dead.”

“It about pulled me in the hole,” Simmons said.

“I think it’s dead,” MkVenner said again. “I don’t know. I think it’s dead.”

“What did it look like?” Lt. Smith asked.

“It was big and it was black!” Simmons said. “It had teeth! What do you want me to say!?!”

“I want a description private,” Lt. Smith said. “It wasn’t a person, then? Wait a minute, it had teeth?”

“It’s not human,” MkVenner said.

“Well it was …” Simmons muttered.

“How could …?” Lt. Smith said. “We’re in vacuum.”

“I don’t know sir,” MkVenner said. “I don’t know.”

“It had two arms and … I guess it had two legs,” Simmons said. “But it had two arms.”

They looked at each other for a moment.

“We got to get the hell out of here,” MkVenner said.

“So, we have a xenomorph on board,” Lt. Smith said. “But it’s dead.”

“I hope so,” MkVenner said. “I shot it in the face. I assume it’s dead.”

“It wasn’t moving,” Simmons said. “Oh! But, I don’t know if this is even possible, but after he shot it, the damned shaft started dissolving.”

“Blood,” MkVenner said. “This thing’s blood was eating through the metal like … gasoline through Styrofoam.”

“Like acid?” Lt. Smith asked.

“Yeah,” MkVenner said.

“What the hell?” Lt. Smith said. “Okay, I’m going to go back on the general frequency.”

A desperate screaming came over the radio as soon as they switched over.

“Get it off!” the voice shrieked. “Get it off!”

Then there was a hissing noise and the screaming stopped almost immediately.

“Is that Brobski?” Simmons said.

“This is Lt. Smith!” Smith said.

“Who was that?” Simmons said again. “Brobski?”

“Everyone sound off!” Smith said. “Everyone sound off!”

“No way man!” MkVenner said. “One of those things got Brobski and no one was around? He’s dead; he’s gone man!”

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