ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: SINS OF THE FATHER [RATED TEEN]
Predator (Yautja) standing over slain Alien (Xenomorph)
NOTE: The Space Jockeys are an ancient race of spacefarers speculated to have created the xenomorphs as weapons for use in a civil war. The desiccated corpse of a Jockey was discovered in the first Alien movie, when the commercial starship Nostromo set down on the uncharted moon LV-426 in response to a signal interpreted as a distress call. The crew found a wrecked derelict spacecraft with a dead life-form inside, apparently its pilot. The deceased creature's chest cavity was ruptured from the inside, foreshadowing the events to come.
The yautja homeworld shone as an emerald jewel in the dark ocean of space. Twin blood-red suns bound the planet to its elliptical course. A pair of rocky moons, mirroring the greater cycle, orbited the verdant world, as did a third satellite, which gleamed with metallic perfection. Within the satellite's hollow mass, Mo'la'khai focused his attention on the screen. Fascinating creatures. For three cycles, the Jockey had been observing the planet's indigenous life-forms. Many exotic forms and colours inhabited the lush jungle world, but he was interested in only one species, the planet's only sentient inhabitants. The ramshackle settlements of these savage, cunning creatures lay scattered on the surface. They were primitive but possessed the seed of intelligence. This combination of physical prowess and sentient intelligence intrigued Mo'la'khai. Though of smaller stature, the hunters, which Mo'lo'khai dubbed "yautja," were pound for pound the most fearsome sentient life-forms in his database. But would it be enough?
The situation was grim. After four thousand years of war, his people lay scattered across the cosmic void. Zeta II Reticuli had fallen to the heretics. No, not to the heretics, but to their abominations. The heretics had abandoned tradition and common sense to pursue the grotesque twisting of life. The heretics' science was potent but their victory fleeting as their weapons turned against them. To escape the bloody aftermath, Mo'la'khai, guardian of the old ways, had fled aboard his personal craft into uncharted space. In his wanderings he had stumbled upon this verdant planet orbiting twin blood-red suns. Even in exile, he was compelled to study these creatures. At first, he had deployed stealth probes to gather visual data from the ground. Mo'la'khai had applied himself assiduously to studying his subjects' primitive patterns of behavior, the seed of culture. This was not enough and he soon took to abducting specimens in their sleep. Aboard the ship, the unconscious creatures received sensory implants that delivered live data to Mo'la'khai's console. The tranquilized yautja were then returned to their hovels, unaware that they served as his spies on the ground. The Jockey had conducted his studies in this fashion until all the males in the settlement had been implanted. Recently he'd been monitoring the progress of one particular individual, an alpha male who had rapidly ascended the tribal hierarchy. His species called him Bakuub or "Straight Spear" in their guttural speech. In this individual as in the species, he observed a ferocity matching that of the Black Death but sharpened by intelligence. Mo'la'khai knew that Bakuub would soon be venturing into the wilderness to hunt. It was would be a perfect time to run the preliminary tests.Before escaping his ravaged planet, Mo'la'khai had loaded a stockpile of captured eggs into the vessel. His people had been racing against time to decipher the heretics' weapon, to uncover a weakness. Hope had faded fast, as they realized their enemies had unleashed a weapon that knew no master. Soon, however, Mo'la'khai might have a weapon to fight the Scourge, one that could save his people from extinction. On its surface lay the scattered settlements of these savage, cunning creatures. He pressed the button and sent a single pod streaking down to eden.
The hunters have a legend. They say that ages ago in their ancient past, when they were no more than a race of hunter-gatherers, a demon from the stars visited their world. The elders say it was Cetanu himself who descended from the void, to challenge their finest warrior. That is but a tale for the Unblooded.
100 million years ago.
Standing almost 8 feet tall with sinews of steel rippling under his taut yellow-green skin, Bakuub was a fine specimen even for one belonging to such a fearsome race. An experienced hunter with many trophies under his belt, the Elders felt that he was ready to join the ranks of the honored. His relative youth, however, required that he be tested first. As such he found himself wandering the grasslands bordering a dense, verdant jungle, searching for worthy prey. The jungle had been his hunting ground on previous occasions, but he took more pleasure in the chase out on the open plains. However he had made one of his most thrilling kills in the shadows of the jungle, a particularly cunning beast. In that hunt, he was often unsure as to whether he was the hunter or the hunted, an electrifying sensation that sharpened his senses and quickened his reflexes. Bakuub was roused from his reverie by a streak of fire blazing across the darkening sky. Perhaps a falling star, he thought. Judging by the trajectory, it would land in the jungle's northwest quarter, where he had encountered that deadliest of creatures. As methodical as he was, Bakuub felt curiosity tugging at his heart. He knew that his first priority was to make a particularly impressive kill for the elders, and the sooner he did that, the sooner he could join the ranks of the honored. His curiosity, however, could not be suppressed and quickly got the better of him. There is yet time to see what has fallen from the stars, let the Old Ones wait a while. As these thoughts crossed his mind, Bakuub shouldered the length of his spear and checked the knives at his belt. Who knew what this falling star may bring, or what force struck it down from the heavens.
As Bakuub approached the edge of the jungle, he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, taking in the myriad odors and sounds that flooded his senses. He opened his eyes and, with a sudden powerful effort, sprung 30 feet into the nearest tree branch. Speeding through the canopy, Bakuub briskly navigated his way toward where the meteor should have landed. After more than an hour of leaping from tree to tree, Bakuub finally arrived in the area. To his surprise, there was no smoking crater or any sign of violent impact. The wrong place? Surely his sense of direction had not betrayed him.
And then he saw something strange in the corner of his eye. At first glance, he had mistaken it for a large, round stone. Bakuub crouched on his branch, noting the details of the thing. It was a large, leathery sac. He had never seen such a thing. It was shaped like an egg, but he had never seen one so large. Just as he was about to descend from the trees he heard light, padded footsteps right below his perch. He had been so engrossed in studying the foreign object that he was caught off guard. A tingling sensation ran down Bakuub's neck and he froze. He recognized those footsteps as those of a rakshasa, the name of the creature he had bested last time.
Standing on two powerful backward-bending legs, the rakshasa possessed an uncanny grace to its limber gait. Bakuub craned his neck slowly to catch a glimpse of the razor-sharp crystal shards that lined the creature's back. As the thing slunk from the shadows into the clearing, colors swirled across the surface of its sleek, velvety hide before finally settling in a lighter tone that matched the creature's new environment. Hidden in the branches, Bakuub thought of pitting his spear against the rakshasa's impressive natural arsenal. His last battle with one of these animals had been a bloody one.
The memories were still fresh … the rakshasa's crystalline teeth tearing into his forearm, right before he had plunged his knife into its belly, twisting the blade hard. In a pain-fueled frenzy, his opponent had raked its obsidian claws all over his chest and it was only with a savage kick that he had freed himself from his enemy's grasp. Bakuub's fluorescent blood had flown freely from the gashes across his chest and his left arm had been useless for the remainder of the struggle. Yes, Bakuub thought, killing another of these creatures will secure my place among the honored, but not yet …
The rakshasa prowled closer to the leathery sac. It circled it a few times, regarding the curious object with sibilant eyes. Nothing happened. Growing bolder, the rakshasa strode toward the thing. Bakuub watched intently from the trees. Lowering its head the rakshasa started sniffing. Movement. The sac slowly began to unfold at the top, making a sickening sticky sound as it revealed its mysterious contents. The rakshasa took a step back. Its muscles tensed as it took a defensive stance, bearing it's a fangs at the perceived threat. Without warnig, a spidery organism leaped out of the egg, attacking the intruder. Trying to attach itself to the rakshasa's face, Bakuub realized. The yautja could only watch in wonder at what appeared to be a hopeless battle. The little creature would have little chance against a 10 foot killing machine. In particular, the rakshasa's long snout seemed to prevent the spider-thing from enveloping its head, and its tail had been cut off by the sharp crystalline outgrowths running down the beast's neck. To its credit, the little creature's blood had scorched the rakshasa's skin in several areas, obviously causing a great deal of pain to the larger animal.
The spider-thing skittered on the ground before launching itself in another suicide attempt. With a great kick from its hind leg, the rakshasa sent the creature flying into the trunk of a huge tree. The stunned spider-thing lay on the ground for a few seconds before beginning to stir, but the rakshasa would not relent and pounced onto the thing, digging in its massive hind talons. A sickening crunch was heard followed by the acrid smell of molecular acid. The rakshasa alighted from its crushed opponent, the talons on its feet severely corroded. Meanwhile, the dead creature was oozing a thick white goo from a long tube-like appendage. The rakshasa, a natural predator, took a sniff of its hard-won kill. It obviously found the acrid smell to be disagreeable, but when its nostrils neared the puddle of white ichor, it suddenly perked up. It started to lap up the slime with relish. The little puddle was soon gone. The rakshasa raised its neck and hissed. Taking a quick survey of its surroundings it slunk off into the jungle. Bakuub had half-expected the rakshasa to drop dead after consuming the stuff. Many creatures were known to excrete poisons in a last-ditch attempt to kill their enemies. What a strange organism. Truly it is alien to our world, Bakuub brooded.
Though disconcerted by the strange events he had witnessed, Bakuub turned his mind to the task at hand. He would hunt the rakshasa and return with its spinal chord decorating his spear. After his first encounter with the beast's kind, he was not too keen on another direct assault. Stealth would guide this hunt, he had tested his strength against the rakshasa's talons before. Today would be a test of his guile and speed. Moving swiftly from tree to tree, Bakuub followed the trail of his quarry as it led into the depths of the jungle. As night crept in, the temperature began to drop, and Bakuub decided to rest in the branches of a large tree. Though not fatigued, Bakuub knew he would have to be in peak condition to face such dangerous prey. He would pick up the trail again at dawn.
Early the next morning Bakuub awoke from a light sleep. It took him a short while to regain the trail and it was another two hours before he had closed the distance to within a hundred noks. Soon enough his prey would appear below him and he would strike swiftly. His hunter's sense told him that the rakshasa was a very short distance to his left. He would have to make the approach in absolute silence. Creeping into position, Bakuub tensed every muscle in his body in preparation for the struggle to come. He was greeted by a sight that baffled him. The rakshasa lay on the forest floor as in sleep. Bakuub knew that the creature was supposed to be active at this time of day. Something was very wrong. In the eerie silence Bakuub could hear the beast's labored wheezing. Suddenly spasms racked the rakshasa from head to tail as it began thrashing wildly on the ground. Bakuub watched in a mixture of fear and awe as the creature frothed and screeched in what must have been excruciating agony. Was it the slime after all?, Bakuub wondered. Even in death, the little one has avenged itself. The spasms stopped just as abruptly as they had come. The rakshasa lay on its back in dead silence, quivering only slightly as spittle dribbled from its long snout. Without warning, this brief reprieve was shattered by the sound of crunching bone as an explosion of gore erupted from the dying creature's chest. An ugly worm-like creature slithered out of the ruptured chest cavity and skittered off into the tangled underbrush.
As seasoned as he was, Bakuub was a little shaken by the scene he had just witnessed. By the time he recovered, he realized there would have to be a change of plan. His intended prey lay in a bloody mess on the forest floor beneath him, dead after its encounter with the mysterious egg. Bakuub weighed his options. He could search for another rakshasa, but each creature usually occupied a large range far away from its fellows. Bakuub didn't mind the extra work but he feared he had wasted too much time already. His peers were expecting him to return soon, and taking longer than necessary for this hunt would cast serious doubt on his tracking skills. Of course he could simply take the head of the fallen rakshasa as his trophy, but he couldn't stomach the idea. There was one last option. He could kill the worm-thing which the rakshasa had unwillingly spawned. The tiny thing would make for a poor trophy, but it would prove the truth of an otherwise outlandish story. It didn't take long for Bakuub to settle upon this last course of action.
At first tracking the creature was easy. Its path was marked by a trail of slime and gore. With the rakshasa dead, Bakuub decided to proceed on foot, stalking after the tiny trail into dense foliage. The trail of blood quickly diminished however, and soon Bakuub was left with only the creature's secreted slime to follow. This too soon dwindled and the tracking became significantly harder. By midday Bakuub reached the edge of a vast wetland, whereupon his quarry's trail vanished into the shallow water.
Sloshing through the knee-deep water, the yautja questioned the feasibility of his intended task. The sky above the swamp was suffused with the blood-red glow of the planet's twin suns. 2 metre-tall reeds sprouted from the swamp-bed, but they barely reached the hunter's shoulders. Bakuub scanned the surrounding landscape. Bakuub had never hunted here before because the water impeded his movement and the tall water-grasses provided perfect cover for fleeing prey. His eyes swept across the vast wet expanse until they rested upon the silhouette of a large islet in the distance. It seemed the most obvious place to start the search.
It was late in the afternoon when Bakuub trudged ashore, pausing to survey his new environment. The little island was covered in layer upon layer of tangled vegetation. The ground was a carpet of gnarled roots and rotting plant matter. As the yautja looked for a trail, something glistening on the ground caught his attention. The hunter crouched down to inspect the peculiar object. Brushing it with his fingertips, he recoiled with disgust. A mangled pile of membrane, Bakuub noted. Like … skin. As he studied the find, Bakuub suddenly had the sensation that he was being watched, a tingling that crawled up the nape of his neck. Instinctively he snapped into combat stance, peering into the shadowy depths of the foliage ahead. He thought he could hear a soft hiss, and a rustling of leaves. But just as abruptly, the feeling was gone. Strange, Bakuub brooded. He would have to navigate through the tangled vines and branches if he was to find his prey. It was hopeless, with so many places for the worm-thing to hide, but he could not go back empty-handed.
As Bakuub penetrated the wall of green, he felt a rising sense of unease. The air was deathly calm. He knew such islands to be the nesting grounds of many creatures. Have they all fled? He saw the first sign then. The yautja could not immediately make out what the mutilated mess on the ground had once been. But standing over it and turning over the corpse with his spear, he eventually recognized it to be the half-eaten remains of a briar wolf. A lone male by the looks of it. Bakuub had to fight to keep that cold tingling sensation from overtaking him again. Whatever did this was no tiny worm. He thought of turning back but that was not the way of the hunter. It was destiny that guided him and he would see his task through. For fear of hesitation, he kept moving at a brisk pace, and the cold feeling subsided until the twisting vines and branches suddenly ended, and Bakuub found himself blundering into a shallow pond. He cursed himself for his clumsiness and unslung his spear. Bakuub waded through the murky water, which rose up to his groin. It was an unpleasant task. As he moved through the murky pool he failed to notice the sound of a large black body slipping into the water, or the large V-shaped ripple gliding toward him from the water's edge.
Bakuub froze. His hunter's sense had never failed him before. He was not alone, something was in the water. Lowering his spear, he spun in all directions looking for disturbances in the water. In the corner of his eye, he saw the ripple surging toward him. A jagged blur exploded from the water's surface, plunging toward Bakuub's chest. The yautja flung himself to the side, taking a glancing blow to his left shoulder. With all his might Bakuub leaped backward, putting some crucial distance between him and his hidden foe. The spot where he had been seethed. There was a moment of surreal silence before a grotesque form emerged from the murky water. It was like nothing the yautja had ever seen. Vaguely humanoid in form with a long ugly head and a smooth black carapace. Four tubes jutted from its back and a deadly razor tipped tail rose up behind it, poised to strike. Bakuub felt a primordial instinct to flee from the Black Warrior, but he knew he wouldn't make it. His hands gripped the shaft of his spear tightly. Fight or die … the simplest of choices.
Bakuub let out a blast of air from his lungs that would have terrified lesser foes. The Black Warrior only transfixed him with its eyeless gaze, unmoved by his challenge. Knowing what he had to do, Bakuub cleared the water with a mighty leap, stabbing his spear down upon the hideous creature. His blow was intercepted half-way by the thing's tail as it sliced through the spear-shaft with otherworldly ease. Before landing back into the water Bakuub had already whipped out a pair of long jagged knives. He now held one in each hand, maintaining a crouched position while circling his hissing opponent. The Black Warrior surged forward with a speed that defied the that of ordinary flesh. Before he could dodge, the thing's elongated head had already slammed into his chin, knocking him onto his back in a tooth and nail struggle, as the cool water enveloped their furious struggle. Those hissing jaws were barely a foot away from his face, but in that split second before the tumble, the hunter was quick enough to bring his forearm up against the creature's throat. A pair of inner jaws shot out at the yautja's face. Bakuub barely managed to turn his head in time to avoid the bite. His lower-right mandible could not be retracted in time and the creature's jaws clamped down on the appendage before tearing it from his face. Bakuub roared in pain, and it was this surge of adrenaline that saved him. With a vicious right, Bakuub slammed one of his knives into that garish domed head. The creature reared back in shock, with the blade still protruding from its skull. The hunter was back on his legs in an instant. With his remaining blade, Bakuub slashed furiously at his enemy's neck in a decapitating strike. The creature's blood fell in shower of acrid death, splattering Bakuub's raised arm, burning through skin and flesh. The hunter fell back into the water as the pain engulfed him.
Bakuub awoke in a sunlit clearing. The ground beneath him was dry and padded with soft grass. He was no longer in the swamp. As he slowly raised himself from the forest floor, he recognized the spot as where he had first encountered the strange egg. It was gone now. Gathering his wits about him, he looked at his arms and chest. The scratches and burns were perfectly healed, as if he had never received them. Turning around to make sure he was alone, Bakuub was met with the eyeless stare of his nightmare enemy. He recoiled instinctively but realized it was only the severed head of his defeated foe, impaled on a spear. But not my spear. He looked closely at the upright weapon and removed the creature's grotesque head. The handle was of a design he had never seen before, crafted from an unknown alloy. He pulled it from the ground and saw that it had strangely shaped blades on both ends. A gift from the gods. It is their will, Bakuub thought, as he hefted it in his grip. As he lifted his eyes to the heavens he saw a tiny streak of fire cutting across the evening sky. He knew what was to come. He would return to the elders and tell them of his victory over death incarnate. And soon, he would hunt again.
The Jockey was very pleased with the results of his little experiment. On numerous occasions when the hunter had seemed doomed to fail, it had surprised Mo'la'khai with its resourcefulness. After the yautja's confrontation with the adult alien, the Jockey had taken great pains to heal its injuries. As a reward for its performance, he had left the unconscious hunter with a specially-designed weapon that would fit its tribal customs. Clearly, these primitives had the capacity for civilisation but their hyper-aggression prevented them from reaching their full potential. No matter, this natural aggression was exactly what he was looking for, it could be harnessed, directed. And civilisation in the form of technology could easily be given to them. Yes, I shall have to make contact soon, Mo'la'khai thought to himself, for these creatures have much to learn if they are to be of use to me.
It was Thao'kho'la's second alien hunt. The first had been his hard-meat trial. He had barely passed with his life, but the rush of victory was a powerful motivator. He was sure of many triumphs to come, though this time he was alone, with no other novices, and no Warriors to lead the hunt. The young yautja scanned his surroundings. He was on a jungle planet. The elders loved to seed such verdant worlds with the hard meat. Perhaps it was because it reminded the old ones of the homeplanet. They must enjoy polluting virgin worlds with the alien plague. Sick old bastards. Whatever the case, jungles provided a particularly challenging environment. There was a pulse in the yautja's mask as his wrist-mounted motion tracker picked something up. The young hunter had kept to the trees as taught. Kainde Amedha could climb too, but at least in the canopy he wouldn't be the target of a strike from above. Thao'kho'la switched his vision mode to motion tracking. The pulse was moving very slowly in a straight line toward him from a distance of 70 noks. Drones usually went about their business more swiftly. Odd indeed. If it's a drone, it will be an easy kill. Switching back to alien vision, he looked down at the jungle floor. Nothing. By now, the thing on the motion tracker had slowed down even more. It stopped 35 noks from the base of Thao'kho'la's tree. What the pauk…can't see c'jit. The hunter began cycling through vision modes until he stopped at tech vision. On the forest floor was another armed yautja, seemingly oblivious that he was an intruder. Thao'kho'la could tell from the electrical signature that the fool was cloaked, wasting valuable energy. Idiot. What use is cloaking against the eyeless death? My clan would not tolerate such stupidity.The fool looked up but did not seem surprised to see Thao'kho'la crouched on his branch. The angry hunter leapt from the branch to land on the ground just a few paces away from the stranger. Do you not know that these hunting grounds are marked by my clan? Thao'kho'la spat through his mask in annoyance. The stranger did not reply. Seething inside, Thao'kho'la was about to issue the customary challenge. He did not notice the three red dots that had appeared on his chest. Before he could initiate a duel, the stranger's shoulder-cannon let off a blast that punched through Thao'kho'la's torso like a giant harpoon, as his fury was replaced by the calm of oblivion. Ki'vik'non removed his mask. He would make a trophy of the young yautja's skull. It was almost too easy, but he still took pleasure in baiting dimwitted fools before killing them with so little effort. His mandibles bristled in an evil grin as he bent down to his grisly task.
Nat'kapu admired his wall of trophies. It was an impressive display. He had over a dozen hard-meat skulls. Though the deadliest of prey in his youth, their attacks had become too predictable after years of experience. Queens were a different story. They were still the worthiest of opponents, the ultimate challenge. A lone warrior had little chance against a queen in a battle of skill and there was little honor in blasting something with only tooth and claw. Besides, Nat'kapu was not fond of group efforts. How much glory was to be had after sharing it with a dozen comrades? No. Nat'kapu had moved on to hunting oomans, the soft-meat. They were tool-folk like the yautja, and quite cunning in their own way. He had quite a few of their skulls, but the problem was the quality of the hunt varied wildly from ooman to ooman. The truth was they were on average a very weak species. They had trouble with the Kainde Amedha even with their rapid-fire weapons. Once again Nat'kapu had been forced to search for new, more challenging quarry. It was a stroke of luck when the elders offered him the role of arbitrator. His reputation as a skilled hunter had finally paid off, and his first assignment had been some nutcase who had made trophies of two of his shipmates without the proper challenge. Hunting another yautja had given Nat'kapu a rush unlike any other. What worthier adversary was there than another fully-armed hunter? In his typical manner, he had defeated the offender with superior stealth, methodically ghosting his target before taking his head off … from a comfortable distance of course. Though it was difficult to avoid detection by an experienced yautja, Nat'kapu took it as a personal challenge. He was now surprisingly good at stalking other hunters. Despite the fact that his victims were all bad bloods, it was a forbidden pleasure to hunt one of his own kind. On his trophy wall were four yautja skulls and a spinal chord. He had been too eager to kill on that first arbitration hunt. Should've aimed for the chest. The spine had to suffice. he consoled himself. Nat'kapu looked over his trophy collection for a lingering moment before returning to the console of his personal scout ship. There was a message waiting for him. A new target … at last.
Ki'vik'non appraised his latest victim's polished skull. He ran his finger lovingly over the ridges on the forehead before putting it away. If you kill a killer, all his kills belong to you. Why waste time on traditional prey? Every time he took the life of another yautja he could feel the strength and vitality of his victim flowing into him, electrifying him. As his ship glided through space, Ki'vik'non contemplated the path he had chosen. Some would have denounced it as cowardice, but they were wrong. What did the fools know? Clinging to their foolish honor. It took courage to break the rules…yes, and wisdom. No matter, he was an outcast now. But he had purpose in his life: to drink the blood of those who would judge him.
Slicing through the blackness, The U.S.S. Erebus made its way toward the Tau Ceti system. As a military craft, the Erebus would be making a military drop, the only kind of drop that could be made on a bug world. Major Li knew they weren't just bugs though. He stood in front of a large window peering into the star-studded void. "Bugs" was the name the marines used for the aliens out of hatred. Li knew that the true source of their contempt was fear. The drones possessed intelligence similar to that of the large mammalian predators that had once roamed earth. Queens were different. They maneuvered their soldiers as intelligently as human commanders, perhaps even more so. Major Li was 5'10 with lean muscles honed from his early years as a "survival expert" for the Special Forces. He turned his gaze away from the window and surveyed the marines under his command. [Lt. Alvarez, Sgt. Higgins, Corp. Wells, Corp. Zhang, Pvt. Ejogo, Pvt. Meyers, and Pvt. Sayyid.] A tightly-knit group, but more importantly, they were fairly competent. It was lunch time and most of them were already tucking into their food. He walked towards a bench on one side of the table to eat with them. He stuck to the old school principle that the most effective leaders commanded loyalty through respect. Such respect could only be gained through being among his men and understanding them. Li wasn't an especially warm-hearted person ... but he did whatever it took to get the most out of his men. He looked at his plate, F__king turkey again. Corp. Rachel Wells, an athletic redhead with green eyes, ventured a question, "Sir, just why are the brass so desperate for this … royal jelly?" "They had a conference with some company VP's. Turns out the company can turn the slime into something useful, some sort of performance-enhancing drug. But they need the military's muscle to actually get the stuff. It's great deal for the generals and the company as long as they're not the ones on the ground." "Well I ain't taking any drug made from that sh_t," Pvt. Sayyid muttered. "Major, I hope we're not the first squad to attempt something as crazy as this," piped in Lt. Alvarez, a short, brown-skinned man with a crew cut. "No, apparently five squads, or 'harvesting crews,' have already been sent to four different planets." "And dare I ask what the survival rate was?" Sgt. Higgins asked in his typically sardonic tone. Li did not sugar-coat. "Three of the teams were wiped out. Most likely immobilized individually before taken to the hives for implantation. Another team suffered 70% percent casualties before pulling out. Only one squad managed to return with some of the substance. They only lost four men...not bad considering that's a 50% survival rate against bugs. Eat up people, and get some rest, we make planet-fall in 32 hours."
Where the pauk did that come from? The sensors aboard Ki'vik'non's ship signaled the presence of another yautja craft. Should have picked him up earlier, unless he's flying stealth. Ki'vik'non knew that stealth vessels were reserved only for the honored … and the arbitrators. He had never been sure if the arbitrators really existed, but the idea of killing one interested him. Most of his victims so far had been mere young bloods…but now a killer of killers was in pursuit of him. How many kills did this one have? They will be mine soon. But first Ki'vik'non had to let the fool follow him. The yautja ran a finger across his console. The nearest planet, an ugly barren rock, was home to Kainde Amedha. The screen zeroed in on an isolated region containing a single hive. The console indicated its size, significantly smaller than the average nest. Perfect. Ki'vik'non flexed his mandibles into a sinister smile. He looked forward to the taste of yautja blood.
Nat'kapu had snuck up on his prey in perfect stealth. The pilot of the ship seemed to notice his presence only after Nat'kapu powered down the stealth generator. The yautja had considered blasting his prey into a cloud of floating debris. But there was no sport in that. To take a trophy was always the preferred way. He wondered if he was any better than those he hunted, or was he simply lucky to have an outlet for his murderous energies. If he had never been offered his current position, would he have degenerated into a criminal of yautja society? The thought quickly passed. Now was the time to enjoy the hunt, not contemplate such useless speculation. His prey would probably flee to some isolated world and then the game would begin. Nat'kapu smiled as the target ship entered the Tau Ceti system. It was heading toward one of the planets as expected. Nat'kapu looked closely at his console. His smile faded. It was a hiveworld.
Following his prey, Nat'kapu plunged his ship through the planet's atmosphere. His target quickly began to lose altitude. If the Tarei'hasan is eager to land, so be it. Nat'kapu fired a single laser-beam that ploughed into the target vessel's engine. The ship streaked toward the surface, trailing fire. Nat'kapu knew that the crash was unlikely to kill his quarry. Switching to autopilot, he prepared to board the landing pod.
A medium-sized dropship separated from the Erebus's immense hull. Inside, Major Li's marines had already donned their combat suits, each with a vacuum-like tube connected to a tank on the back. It took four failed attempts to persuade the generals to equip his harvesting crew with the expensive suits. Our lucky break …, Li thought sarcastically. The technology was inherited from the old Berserker squads. Of course the modern versions weren't as huge or as invincible as the originals. But neither did they turn their users into gibbering idiots. It was a compromise, and Major Li thought it worked out fine. For this mission Li had requested that their standard pulse rifles be replaced with the new twin barreled AKV-47's, equipped with silencers of course. They wouldn't jam, required almost no cleaning, and like the armor, they were acid-proof. They fired a larger, more volatile variant of the M41A's explosive-tipped caseless, standard light armor-piercing round. A single well placed shot could turn a bug into fragments of smoldering chitin. That's all that mattered as far as Li was concerned. Corp. Zhang looked over at Li. "Sir, there's no way we'll end up like those poor motherf__kers, not with these babies." Li liked Zhang's optimism. He suspected something inappropriate was going on between him and Wells, but he didn't bother to find out. "It's their numbers we have to worry about Zhang." "Well, yeah sir, but what about the armor? It's gotta count for something." "Those motherf**kers can tear through twelve inches of reinforced plasteel" Pvt. Ejogo cut in, "you think two inches of armor is gonna save you, genius?" The rest of the squad snickered. Li calmly replied, "The armor will protect you from the acid. That's more than any marine could ask for. From the bugs' other weapons … protection is minimal. As always conserve ammo, maintain distance, and cover all sides, that means checking above you." Planetfall … in … T … minus … twenty … seconds. The marines slid shut their armored visors as the dropship hurtled through the atmosphere.
Pvt. Meyers, a hulking blond, spoke through the radio, "Hive four-hundred metres to the southwest … not picking up much activity inside." Li scanned the undulating landscape. It resembled a long-dead volcanic wasteland. The sky was a steely grey and the ground, almost black, was gnarled and pockmarked. "Keep your eyes on the tunnels," Li ordered. Large openings into the ridged ground marked the presence of subterranean passageways that spread out like tentacles from the hive. The squad had left the dropship on foot. The deep tremors of an APC would attract the bugs from their underground lairs. Li knew the necessity of approaching on foot, but that knowledge didn't make him more comfortable. Hive 137 was a relatively new hive with a fledgling queen…or so he was told. A Company officer had assured him in the initial briefing that its remote location, low population, and smaller structure made it a "perfect" target, much easier to infiltrate than the standard hive. And just how many is low?, Li had asked. Around 60 specimens, excluding the queen. Apparently they ran out of indigenous hosts, the smarmy bastard had replied. Guess we should thank the higher-ups for being considerate, Li thought. He cleared his mind and focused on the present situation. The team moved swiftly and silently in the direction of the hive.
Nat'kapu stepped out of his landing pod. He was close to the crash zone. Scouring his surroundings, he noted a number of large cave-like holes opening into the twisted landscape. He stalked carefully toward the grounded vessel gripping the shaft of his naginata. The body of the ship had sustained only minor damage from the impact itself, but the engine was wrecked. With a powerful effort, Nat'kapu propelled himself onto the roof of the vessel. There was a trail of neon green blood leading away from an opened hatch. He dipped his finger into the blood and ran it across a slot on his wrist-computer. Tracking his target would be a simple matter now. It has begun.
Things had gone almost entirely as planned, but Ki'vik'non's pursuer had opened fire at the last second. Sustaining only flesh wounds from the crash, Ki'vik'non was now a good distance from his damaged ship. Shouldering his spear, he bounded toward the hive. The game had just begun.
Standing at the edge of a slope, Major Li could see the hive at the bottom. It was a large mound-like structure possessing the eerie biomechanical appearance of its builders. "Hive 70 meters ahead," Sayyid whispered. "Stay frosty," Li replied over the com-line. "Where are they?" Wells asked nervously. "Hiding," Zhang replied. "Or waiting," there was a slight tremble in Alvarez's voice. There were several entrances to the hive, gaping and dark, so dark that the team didn't see the black forms moving in one of them. "Sir, we got movement!" Meyers barely had time to finish his sentence before three dark shapes burst from the opening toward the marines, closing the distance with horrific speed. "Drones! Drones!" The team's crossfire shredded the first two drones, before the third slammed into Zhang, bowling him over. It opened its jaws. Ejogo opened fire before it could slam its tongue into Zhang's visor. The drone's banana-shaped head exploded in a fountain of acid and chitin. Wells rushed over. "Are you OK?" She asked in a tone that betrayed concern. "Yeah, I'm just fine and dandy," Zhang muttered, as Ejogo helped him up. The team regrouped. Li took a status check before leading his squad toward the entrance.
Ki'vik'non watched the firefight from a distance. This was getting better by the minute. Oomans … what the pauk were they doing here? He had already switched on his cloak. He knew the other yautja was hot on his heels. He watched the oomans enter the hive. He would follow … and mix their blood with the blood of his pursuer.
The interior of the hive was damp and musty. The tunnel was surprisingly large … and empty. "Each passageway should eventually lead inward to the queen chamber," Li assured. The Major had studied hive structures before and he hoped the principle would hold true. "All roads lead to Rome eh?" Higgins quipped. "Oh shut up," Alvarez grunted. The squad continued in silence for a while. Meyers who was bringing up the rear kept glancing over his shoulder. "Meyers, what's up?" Wells asked. "I saw movement behind us." Wells could hear the uneasiness in Meyer's voice. She looked back, scrutinizing the walls of the tunnel. No movement, nothing. She shook her head. Must be stressed out.
Li and Alvarez reached the end of the tunnel first. Li raised his fist and the others stopped behind him. In front of them was an empty chamber. No queen. But then again Li knew it wouldn't be that easy. There were petrified pools of xenomorph resin on the floor. The team started to fann out into the alien-built cavern. As Wells stepped out of the tunnel, she glanced back at Meyers who was still at the tunnel entrance. As he took his first step into the chamber, his chest erupted in an explosion of blood and armor fragments. A long sharp object jutted out from his body. Meyer's let out a bloody gurgle before he went limp. There was a moment of shock before reflex kicked in. "Contact!" Zhang let rip with his AKV. The explosive rounds failed to punch through and only further mutilated Meyer's corpse. "Hold your fire! Hold your fire!" Li bellowed into the radio. The unseen assailant chucked what was left of Meyers at the rest of the squad. A shimmering blur darted into the chamber. It appeared to be nothing more than a distortion in the air. Electricity crackled around a tall humanoid figure as parts of it shifted in and out of visibility. The thing's eyes flashed at them as if in mockery of their loss. The creature began to melt back into transparency. Sayyid began to raise his weapon, but three red spots appeared on his visor before he could pull the trigger. A loud whip-crack sounded through the cavern as a bolt of raw energy tore through Sayyid's faceplate. His headless body slumped to the ground. Li was no stranger to unexpected situations, but he had to fight hard to hold it together. Things had gone south … fast. He trained his sights on this new enemy, urging his men to shoot in short controlled bursts. Christ, it's fast. I can barely see it. What the fu__ is that thing?
Nat'kapu heard the loud whip-crack of a shoulder cannon. He sprinted down the tunnel as fast as he could. Emerging into the chamber, he found a scene of chaos. His quarry had already killed two oomans. The rest were firing wildly at the yautja while he zigzagged through their ranks. Nat'kapu couldn't get a clear shot.
Ki'vik'non was enjoying himself. From the corner of his eye, he had seen the other yautja bursting out of the passageway before darting into the bewildered ooman ranks.
Nat'kapu leapt over the startled soft meat, bringing his naginata down hard at the other yautja.
Ki'vik'non dodged to the side. The blow rang loudly against the ground.
"Holy f__k! We got two!" Zhang blurted. Li yelled over the radio for his men to regroup and pull out, "let the two assholes fight it out." The unknown XT's were engaged in a lethal duel, blocking the tunnel that the marines had followed into the chamber. Sh_t. Li could hear hissing from the other tunnels that led into the cavern. The hive was coming alive. Perfect timing. Li looked for the nearest tunnel entrance. He had to take his chances. "Follow my lead! Move! Move! Move! Let's get the f__k outta here!"
Nat'kapu circled the other yautja. He could hear the drones' screeching coming from the passageways. He wondered if his opponent heard … or was sane enough to care.
When things fu__ed up, they usually f__ked up fast. There wasn't much hope left for the harvesting mission. As he led his men into a narrow tunnel, Li was concerned only with survival. In the darkness, the team resorted to helmet lights. Wells, straggling at the rear, stumbled over a bump on the ground and staggered. There was a dull thud of something hitting the hive-floor behind her. Sh_t. She tried to turn around, but before she could, the drone clamped its hands onto her arms, pressing them to her sides. Simultaneously a pair of inner jaws erupted from the gaping maw. It punched through the back of Well's helmet, splattering her brain tissue against the inside of her visor. Zhang turned around too late. The drone was already on him. He tried to scream before the drone's tail nailed him through the chest, pinning him to the ground. Hearing Zhang's muffled cry, Ejogo swung around and fired into the bug's chest, ripping it apart.
Ki'vik'non thrust his spear at Nat'kapu's chest. The latter parried with his wristblades before bringing his naginata around in a sweeping strike that Ki'vik'non barely ducked. The bad blood sprung up from a crouched position driving his wristblades at the arbitrator's chin. Nat'kapu fell backward, allowing the thrust's momentum to carry his opponent over him. Nat'kapu rolled onto his back and kicked hard, sending the bad blood tumbling over the ground. Drones began trickling into the chamber. C'jit! Looking around, Nat'kapu knew he had to finish the fight quickly but the bad blood was already on his feet. He had unwittingly kicked his opponent toward the tunnels.
Ki'vik'non dashed for the tunnel the oomans had gone into. The arbitrator was very skilled. Perhaps it would be wise to let him play with the drones first.
Nat'kapu was surrounded by half a dozen drones. He blasted two of them with his shoulder-cannon even as they attempted to dodge. The remaining four split up and converged on his position. Hefting his naginata, the arbitrator exploded into a whirlwind of razor-sharp death.
Li and his men rushed deeper into the hive. The passage emptied out into another chamber, much larger this time and seemingly empty. Their helmet lights revealed clusters of alien eggs nestled on the ground. One of them slowly began to open. Li was the first to open fire as they blasted every egg in sight. The queen screeched. Li turned in the directions of the sound and looked up. His headlight rested on the queen's grotesque form. She was perched on top of what looked like a gigantic egg. The precious royal jelly oozed down the side of her throne. "Sir, do we commence harvesting," Alvarez asked tentatively. As if in reply the queen hissed again. Four drones emerged from behind the queen's huge egg sac, two on each side. "Aim steady," Li ordered, "… and try not to hit the bitch." The aliens rushed them in a crisscrossing pattern. Higgins capped one of them in the head before its companion slammed into him. Alvarez turned to shoot the drone as it tore through Higgins' protective armor and into his intestines. Mistake. Before he could pull the trigger, another drone grasped his neck from behind with both hands, and wrenched. There was a gruesome ripping sound as Lt. Alvarez's armor-encased head and spinal column were torn from his body. The stump of his neck spouted a fountain of dark red before his corpse hit the ground. Li had aimed carefully at the two drones charging him. His rounds exploded into one of them as Ejogo capped the other. They turned around to see Alvarez's headless body slump to the ground. The drone pounced but before it reached Ejogo a sizzling streak of blue energy skewered it in midair. As Ejogo turned in the direction of his savior, a second blast harpooned him through the chest. His body toppled to the ground. Li stared in front of him. His headlight revealed the hulking form of one of the XT's. Another XT burst into the dim chamber. Neon green dripped from the scratches and wounds all over its body. The first XT ignored Li and turned to face its own kind.
Nat'kapu had sustained worse injuries before. If he lived through this hunt they would likely heal. He had lost his shoulder-cannon in the fray, and his enemy still had one. The distance between them, however, was short if he could but close it quickly enough. Nat'kapu burst into a sprint, he leaped as the bad blood sent a blast of energy biting into the ground where he had been an instant before. He brought his naginata down in a powerful blow aimed at his opponent's skull. Ki'vik'non sidestepped, but the strike landed on his caster, shattering it into fragments. "We are even Tarei'hasan," Nat'kapu taunted. He words were calculated to throw his opponent off balance … he was not disappointed. The bad blood, blood-drunk, charged him with spear outthrust. They exchanged a series of blows. Nat'kapu could feel the shaft of his naginata shudder with each impact. Ki'vik'non aimed a mighty thrust at Nat'kapu's chest. The arbitrator danced to the side but stepped into a pothole and stumbled. The point of Ki'vik'non's spear ripped through Nat'kapu's shoulder. Though exhausted, Ki'vik'non clicked his mandibles with sadistic pleasure.
Major Li lay low and watched the melee. The speed and grace with which the two duelists fought held him in awe. One of the fighters stumbled over a cavity in the ground. The other XT took the opportunity to transfix its opponent with its spear. Snapping out of his amazement, the Major aimed at the apparent victor and prepared to pull the trigger. Suddenly he saw a large blade shoot out of the stricken XT's knee. It slammed its knee with tremendous force into its enemy's chin. The point of the blade emerged from the top of the other XT's head as neon blood bubbled up from the perforation.
Nat'kapu ground his knee against the bad blood's chin, digging the blade into Ki'vik'non's brain. With a savage motion, he yanked the barbed tip out of his opponent's head, pulling out a trail of fluorescent gore. "Dtai'k-dte sa-de nav'g-kon dtain'aun bpide", the arbitrator spat. The fight begun would not end until the end. Ki'vik'non gurgled blood. How … He crumpled to the ground, dead before finishing the thought. Nat'kapu braced himself and wrenched the spear from his body. By pure chance, it had missed his vitals, piercing only flesh. He removed a syringe from his belt and stabbed it into the area above the entrance wound. He roared with pain as the adrenaline-like stimulant kicked into his system.
Lying flat on his belly, Li couldn't decide whether to shoot the alien warrior. He was fairly certain this was not the one that had killed Meyers, Sayyid, and, just now, Pvt. Ejogo. Even though he had no way of knowing, his gut instinct told him that this XT was not here to slaughter him. The queen hissed loudly from behind. Both Li and the XT swung around to see the queen rocking and heaving on top of the giant egg sac. There was a loud snapping sound, and then she was free. From his crouched position, Li opened fire at her ribcage as she charged the remaining XT. The rounds exploded into her massive exoskeleton. It slowed her down, and she swung toward his direction. Nat'kapu seized the opportunity to strike. He took careful aim and hurled his naginata with all the strength he could muster. His aim was true and the weapon drilled into the queen's neck. She staggered and Li fired two more bursts into her lowered head, aiming below the crest and at her brain. The queen's huge form teetered for a split second before crashing to the ground. Removing his left gauntlet, Nat'kapu activated his wrist bomb and flung it to the ground. Under normal circumstances, the ooman would've been his prey. But now having lost his shoulder-cannon, he needed the soft meat's powerful stinger on his side. He signaled for it to follow. Li recognized the gesture. He knew that he'd have better chances of getting out of the hive if he followed the XT. They made a mad dash toward the nearest exit. Inside the twisting network of tunnels he tried not to lose the alien warrior, while they fended off maddened drones. The death of their queen had thrown them into disarray. Exploiting their lack of organization, Li and the XT managed to clear their way to a hive entrance as a deep rumble erupted behind them. The detonation ripped through the hive and knocked Li and the alien warrior to the ground.
Rising from the ashes, Li coughed out the dust from his lungs. Nat'kapu watched him in silence. They regarded each other with caution. They had been forced to fight together, but now, as there was no longer the need, so too was their alliance at an end. Li sat back on the ground exhausted and covered in soot. There was nothing to do now but wait and see whose people got here first.
Major Li sat in a small, brightly-lit room within the colossal bulk of the U.S.S. Ctesiphon. It was sparsely furnished, with no trace of comfort. Interrogations, after all, were not meant to be comfortable. Two sharply dressed company officers sat on the other side of the table, an Asian man with a mustache, possibly Japanese, and a hard-faced blonde woman. Li sighed inwardly. He had just finished recounting the events of Tau Ceti III. This won't be ending anytime soon, he thought to himself. "Let's run through the facts again," the blonde woman said, "Your squad neutralizes four before breaching the hive. Inside you are suddenly attacked from the rear by the invisible…" Li opened his mouth to correct her but she beat him to it. "… near-invisible XT. You attempt to escape but your squad is attacked by xenomorphs. You barely make it to the queen chamber whereupon your remaining men are slaughtered before you alone witness the death of the first XT at the hands of a second XT. Am I correct so far?" "You left out a few bits…but yeah, pretty much." "It's not that part of the story we doubt, Mr. Li," the Japanese man cut in. "It's the account of your escape we find…fantastic, for lack of a better word." "With all due respect sir, I was referring to my memory … not my imagination. I'm a soldier, I don't answer to the company? I've had enough of this. Where are my people?" "We meant no insult, Major Li," the blonde tried to soften her tone, failing miserably. "We were granted full authority by your military supervisors to conduct this interview. Could you please relate once more the events that followed the XT's demise?" Li didn't like repeating himself but questions had been building up in his own mind. "The queen broke free from her giant egg sac and charged the remaining XT. I shot her and the XT managed to spear her though the neck. I shot her some more, and she went down. Out of whatever desire it suddenly felt at the moment, the XT gestured for me to follow. Not being an idiot, I did. We cleared our way through the drones who were still in some sort of shock. You should've seen this thing kill bugs with only a blade on a stick. The bomb it left in the queen chamber went off as we made it out of the hive. We waited for some time…until a ship arrived, definitely not one of ours ... there were no goodbyes. It got in and left. I hunkered down and waited it out … and you know the rest." Li took a sip of water from the glass in front of him. "I'd like to know what the f__k these things are. One of them caused the death of my entire squad." "That's assuming your bumbling crew wouldn't have gotten themselves killed anyway," the blonde snapped. The Japanese man leaned toward the woman and whispered something into her ear. There was a brief silence. She got up quickly and left the room in a huff, closing the door behind her. "Mr. Li," the man spoke. "The information you are about to hear is of a highly classified nature, however we feel that with your newly acquired experience you may be of some use to us in the future." "Do I have a choice?" Li muttered. "One always has a choice," the man smiled, "yours just aren't very good at the moment." Li wanted to punch him. "You are not the first to encounter these beings, Mr. Li, neither are you the first to survive such an encounter. From analyzing traces of their blood we know that they are carbon-based … quite the intergalactic yetis, as you might be aware of, averaging two and a half metres tall. For obvious reasons we don't know the minute details of their anatomy, but they're fast … and strong, strong unlike anything we've seen before, with the exception of Linguafoeda." Li wasn't expecting this level of information, but it was hard not to be intrigued. The company representative – or perhaps he was more – continued, "what interests us is not their physical abilities, incredible as they are, rather it is their intelligence. They are as smart as Homo sapiens, Mr. Li, if not smarter … and their technology, that is what we seek." Li made a conscious effort not to let out an audible sigh. How predictable, he thought, the company and their military buddies would wet their pants at the prospect of acquiring alien technology. "Despite their level of technical advancement, their culture is surprisingly primitive, based, so far as we can tell, on one central activity … the hunt." Li would've laughed at the idea had he not seen them in action, but he realized the obviousness of the truth. It hit him hard. "They hunt … the bugs?" "Yes they hunt many species, although Linguafoeda seems to be one of their favorites." Li's mind raced to the most obvious questions. Had the company or the military ever tried to establish some sort of relationship, perhaps even an partnership? Li would take one of those things over an entire platoon on a bug run any day. But no … if it were possible the generals would have thought of it already, they … "I know what you're thinking Mr. Li, but unfortunately our sentience does not preclude us from being on their list of prey. You look like you have questions." "Yes, I have one … for now." Li had to admit he was curious. "If these XT's are so...culturally primitive, how did they develop technology of such high caliber?" The man smiled that same implacable smile again. "You ask a good question Major. The hunters' technology has remained relatively static since the time we first knew of their existence. Of course much of it still remains out of reach even with contemporary techniques, and we have reason to believe that we've only seen a small sample of what they have to offer … only touched the tip of the iceberg so to speak. Who knows what lies beneath?" The man paused, rubbing his mustache. "No doubt you are familiar with the Acheron incident. Our scientists have hypothesized that our XT's are somehow connected to the Pilot race found on LV-426, and ultimately to Linguafoeda. Exactly how is the puzzle we're trying to solve." If the man was excited he did not show it. He maintained the same unflappable demeanor as he continued, "Ah yes, but I really am getting ahead of myself … perhaps a brief account of our history with these creatures will be enlightening. Man's first reported encounter with one of these beings occurred 364 years ago in 1986." The man swung around in his chair and clicked a control in his hand. A panel slid across the wall revealing a screen that lit up. "Meet Major Alan 'Dutch' Schaeffer." Li looked at the rugged face on the screen. A good soldier by his appearance. "He and his team were members of the United States Special Forces as they were known back then. They had the misfortune of being ambushed in the Central American jungle by a single XT. His team was slaughtered one by one, but he alone survived to fight the creature in single combat. He lured it into a primitive trap and disabled it. Unfortunately, the creature detonated a self-destruct device. Quite clever really." The man chuckled and clicked at the wall-monitor again. Skinned corpses were shown dangling in a temperate forest. "1994, two XT's visited the pine barrens of upstate New York. The sole survivor of this encounter was a young woman named Mandy. Information obtained from her confirmed that one XT was sent to kill a criminal of its own kind. I believe you'll find that information to be especially relevant to your experience. Both XT's were killed in that incident. A few more minor encounters took place, including one in a densely populated city, although they were mostly of little consequence until 2215." He clicked at the monitor again and the screen changed to show the face of a battered Asian woman, with a curious mark on her forehead. "It was at that time that something unthinkable happened. An employee of the Chigusa Corporation somehow joined one of their hunting parties. Even more surprising ... she was somehow accepted into their society, or clan as she called it. When the company finally managed to detain her for questioning she was uncooperative. She died an asylum while under company custody." The man looked meaningfully at Li. "Your encounter Mr. Li will be the next major entry in our database."
Li was slightly unnerved for a second. He ended the silence with a question. "I've heard a theory...that the Jockeys engineered the bugs, but how are the Jockeys related to the hunters?" "Sadly, we do not have sufficient data to formulate anything more than a guess, though we are fairly certain the hunters are a result of natural evolution, and are much younger than the Jockeys as a species. Their technology, as advanced as it is, pales in comparison to that of Linguafoeda's creators, and it doesn't resemble any Pilot artifacts we've discovered so far." He knows a lot more than he's letting on, Li thought. "Oh, I was enjoying our conversation so much I forgot the time, Mr. Li." "Yes of course Mr. …how shall I address you in the future?" "Mr. Kenzo is fine," the man answered, rubbing his clean-shaven chin. "You may of course retire to your quarters until further notice." Li got up and gave the man's hand a stiff shake before walking out.
Alone in his quarters Li had the luxury to reflect upon the hive disaster, or miracle, depending on whose perspective. Despite his efforts to the contrary, Li knew he had never truly bonded with his men. He had tried to foster a sense of camaraderie, but ultimately his motive had been selfish, pragmatic. He had wanted his men to be efficient above all else. He felt no sadness, no ache in the heart for the lives lost. There was only a numb emptiness that had always been there. His soul was barren … he tried to care but he didn't. Alone in the room, he closed his eyes. His mind drifted into the darkness.
There was a knock on the door. Li got up quickly. He had fallen asleep fully-dressed. He opened the door to reveal a fresh-faced assistant. "Mr. Kenzo apologizes for disturbing you," the young man said politely, "but he requires your presence immediately. He says it is important." Pushing fatigue aside, Li snapped to alertness and followed the assistant through a series of corridors. This time Li walked into Mr. Kenzo's private office. It was tastefully furnished with expensive-looking Asian décor, ironically most of it was Chinese. Li sat down without being asked. "Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience you have suffered Major," Mr. Kenzo offered in a most amiable tone. "I failed to mention in our last conversation that the Ctesiphon has been sweeping this quadrant for the past two months." "What on earth for?" Li grunted. "The source of a most unusual frequency." "Let me guess, a distress signal …" Li groaned, "we all know what happened to the Nostromo crew when the company decided to play Good Samaritan.'" Mr. Kenzo chuckled. "You have a sense of humor, Major. I like that. But I must confide to you that we have no idea as to its purpose. We simply know it's very weak and we've nothing like it in our database, not even in the Acheron files." "The hunters maybe?" Li ventured, praying that it wasn't. "There are faint similarities, we believe they're only coincidental. No, I'm afraid it's quite distinct really. It's a derelict for sure though. Ah yes, A crew has been assembled to board it … perhaps now is the time for you to prove yourself," Kenzo suggested with that enigmatic half-smile. "They're in the mess hall enjoying the Ctesiphon's fine dining …" Li got up to go. "…and oh," Kenzo called after him, "I hope you have nothing against synthetics."
Li walked into in the dining room. The scene vaguely reminded him of his old squad. He took a mental note of each of the faces as they turned in his direction. There were only five. Fewer people to get killed … great, and all civilians by the looks of them. His eyes rested on an attractive red-head. She bore a striking resemblance to the Corporal Wells. Li felt a slight pang of survivor's guilt, but tried to brush it aside, which only resulted in more guilt. He looked at her again. She wasn't eating. Just a synth, he thought, strangely relieved. He made his way to the table and sat down to a tray that was waiting for him. F__king turkey again, A burly, bald-headed man with a light-brown goatee greeted him good-naturedly, "Nice to have you on board Major, I'm Khorfu, chief engineer and captain of this outfit. That young man over there is our linguist, Rosenberg. Achmed next to him is our astrobiologist. Alexis is our math whiz and as you might've guessed, that pretty-redhead sitting to the side is our synth," "Nice to meet you and your crew … you didn't mention her name?" Li replied, trying to build some rapport. "Priest," Khorfu chuckled. If there was one thing Li hated more than bugs, it was the company being cute with name selection. "So you're the guy who got his entire squad killed," Alexis stated flatly. Li winced. Before he could respond Khorfu intervened. "He ran into hostile XT's on a bug run. Can't really blame him for sh_t like that." "I promise I won't get Priest killed," Li offered, feigning innocence. Khorfu guffawed loudly. Alexis seemed to soften up a bit despite herself. More's the pity, Li thought. She was an attractive woman, with mocha skin and full lips. "What did they look like … these XT's?" Rosenberg asked, leaning forward. "Intergalactic yetis, according to old man Kenzo," Khorfu quipped. Li nodded, "They're big, strong, and fast. Can't say much else except they're fond of masks and hair-extensions…" Alexis chuckled. "…oh yeah, these motherf__kers have some sort of active camo that makes them near-invisible." "We heard you actually encountered two," Achmed said matter-of-factly. "Two?" Rosenberg's eyes opened even wider. "Yeah, they had a score to settle. According to Kenzo, the one that got killed was probably a criminal or outcast, son of a bitch killed three of my squad." "Chee-rist man," Khorfu remarked, "so you had to fight bugs and some alien psycho … glad I didn't have to go through with that sh_t." "It gets better, they hunt bugs for fun, with blades and spears. I hope to God I never run into one of them again." The significance of that statement was not lost on the crew as they glanced at each other. "Shiiit," Khorfu muttered. "I hope so too 'cause you're gonna be with us." They looked down at their food for a moment. Li turned his head and glanced over his shoulder at Priest. "She doesn't say much does she?" "I have been listening with great interest," she responded with a disarming smile. "I prefer not to interrupt when my input is not required." "She's a bit of a loner," Khorfu laughed, "nothing to worry about … anyway, you're gonna be our point-man Major Li. None of us have any combat experience, but if something happens, and I doubt that it will, but if it does … we'll be relying on your expertise." "I promise to try my very best," Li said, retuning Khorfu's good humor, "nice to meet the team, I'll be hitting the gym later." He made eye-contact with Alexis. Apparently she felt obligated to respond, "See you tomorrow at the shuttle." She forced a smile.
The shuttle's hold was surprisingly spacious, quite different from what Li was accustomed to in a dropship. The Major stretched his legs. "Folding space in thirty seconds," Achmed announced, more out of routine than necessity. Folding space to cover such a short distance was a bit indulgent on the crew's part, but it was either that or two weeks in cryo-sleep. And that always felt like sh_t. Li strapped himself in. Not that the measure was required, but it gave him a feeling of security. He glanced over at Alexis. She didn't seem very excited about this mission. Perhaps we do have something in common after all, Li jested silently to himself, … skepticism. His body suddenly went numb as everything in the room began to stretch sideways, and then just as abruptly the sensation was gone. "Objective reached," Achmed said. Khorfu was staring out the window. "Would you look at that," he whispered, "what the f__k is it…?" Li walked over to the window, where even Alexis was peering out into space. In the distance, floating against the backdrop of stars was the strangest object he had ever seen. Even from this distance it looked big. "It must be huge," Rosenberg stammered. Even Alexis looked stunned. It was immensely long and sleek, the shape of a slender fish or squinted eye. It was eerily beautiful in its simple design, as if it were the work some cosmic god. "This could be something new," Khorfu murmured to himself. The team-members allowed themselves an extra moment to soak it up, before getting back to business. "Run a full scan of the object," Khorfu voice took a serious turn, "… no point in rushing in blind." The crew waited for less than a minute, but it seemed much longer in the unnatural silence. Even the veteran inside Li felt the wonder as Achmed read the data appearing on his screen. "Seismic profile revealing most of the vessel's internal structure," he paused for a second, "… odd, the scan failed to penetrate here." He pointed at a dark spot on the image. Khorfu leaned over Achmed's shoulder. "They must have something to hide," he quipped, his humor unflagging even now. Alexis grumbled under her breath, "Question is … do we want to find it?" "EM reading coming up," Achmed continued. "Fields detected," his finger moved across the screen, "scattered here, here, and here ... it appears to be accelerating slightly, at regular intervals." Khorfu suddenly became quite serious. He turned to Li, "Any suggestions on how to proceed Major?" Li snapped out of his own reverie and assessed the images. "Nothing fancy ... we'll attach the airlock installation here and cut right in to that dark area. On our way back we'll check the EM source closest to where we'll be … over here I believe." "Sounds good. Priest will guide us in front," Khorfu hesitated for a moment, "… you OK with bringing up the rear Major?" Li nodded, "I recommend we bring the pulse rifles."
Hydraulics hissed as the airlock doors slid apart. There was nothing but darkness ahead. "Helmet lights on," Khorfu whispered. They were inside a wide, vaulted hall. The walls were sleek and metallic, much like the ship's exterior. "Priest, what are the atmospherics?" "39% nitrogen, 12.2% oxygen, 48% CO2 with a few trace elements." "Guess the helmets stay on Khorfu," Alexis gibed, "I know you're disappointed." "Just a little," Khorfu replied dryly. Li couldn't help chuckling to himself, not too loudly he hoped. "Priest, lead the way," Khorfu requested. Following the android's lead, the team walked to the end of the hall and entered a broad corridor "Two hundred metres to the next room," Priest informed them. "Let's keep a tight formation," Li said over the com-line. "Will do," Khorfu replied in the front. The team shuffled cautiously down the length of the passageway before finally reaching a large circular arena-like chamber. Li stepped in vigilantly after Achmed. It seemed quite empty. The individual team-members fanned out. "Hey Achmed check this out!" Rosenberg said loudly from the far-side of the chamber. "How did he get all the way there?" Achmed muttered to himself." "What's he doing over there?" Khorfu demanded, "Ah, f__k it. Proceed to his position." The team hurried over to where Rosenberg was gawking at something against the wall. Li drew in a sharp breath. In front of them was a giant rack holding a vast array of bladed weapons. "Look at the size of those things," Rosenberg pointed at what looked like a huge, jagged-edged sword, over six feet in length. "Those look like hunter weapons," Li cautioned. "Maybe, but we can't assume anything just now," said Khorfu. "Yes we can." Alexis called out. She had walked back toward the centre of the room. Li walked over followed by Khorfu and Achmed. The floor was scratched and blackened in several places, as if by contact with some caustic substance. "You still sure the hunters have nothing to do with this?" Li turned to Khorfu. He didn't reply. Rosenberg hurried up behind them, "Well whoever those weapons belonged to they're not around anymore … or we wouldn't be here, right?" "Let's not disappoint the old man," Khorfu finally said, "Priest, the objective if you please." "Down that way, captain." The team huddled up and entered another passageway. At the other end, they reached what appeared to be the bottom of a gigantic vertical tunnel stabbing up into the darkness. "Is this right?" Khorfu glanced at Priest. "There's no other way, captain." "Might be some sort of lift mechanism," Achmed suggested, peering up. "Let me guess, we won't know until we try," Alexis sighed. Li kept quiet. It wasn't his decision, but those weapons were a serious buzz-killer. "Well then it's settled … in we go," Khorfu sounded suspiciously enthusiastic. The team moved as one body through the wide entrance. As the last person stepped in, the disc-shaped floor began to rise, sliding smoothly up the huge tunnel. "Well, well I guess we'll be getting somewhere after all." Khorfu said. "Let's hope it brings us down later," Alexis said coolly. The lift reached an arched doorway and stopped. Priest stepped out and the rest followed suit. They walked a few paces down a short corridor and found themselves in a domed atrium. Achmed shone his helmet light at the arched walls. "Good Lord," Achmed mumbled, "do you see that?" Li looked at where he was staring. Sections of the wall were etched with strange symbols. "Rosenberg, take a look at them," Khorfu ordered. The young man looked for a minute. "Well what is it?" "I think it's Pilot script." "Don't tell me what you think, tell me what you know." Khorfu scoffed. "No, that can't be right …" Li began, but Rosenberg continued, "Most of it hasn't been decrypted, but I can read some parts … it begins with … I can't read this name … but one of the Jockeys 'has escaped the enemy … and 'searches for a weapon to defeat the death that does not see.' … not sure about the rest." "Well that'll cheer you up," Alexis quipped. "Priest," Khorfu called, "how close are we to the objective?" "It should be right behind the wall over there. I double-checked with the sonic resonator. Explosives required." The team backed up as Priest attached a mine to a section of the wall before rejoining them. She took a headcount before flicking the detonator. There was a sharp crack as an orange flash ripped across the wall. The team approached the blasted opening and stepped over the debris, moving quietly into the hidden chamber. It was much smaller than the atrium, but still large by human standards. Li tread lightly, scanning left and right. They went in deeper. "Something on the ground, three o'clock," Priest pointed in that direction. The team walked over. "Sh_t!" Khorfu barked. The thing on the ground lay on its back, spindly legs pointing upward. "Facehugger," Alexis whispered. "Hold on," Priest said calmly, kneeling over the shriveled form, "it's been dead for a long time." "Keep together, unsling your weapons," Li took charge, ignoring her, "safeties off, stay alert" The rest of the team hastily did as they were told. Li hoped they could handle themselves without shooting each other. "There's a big heap of something over there," Rosenberg pointed out, his voice shaky. "Approach with caution," Li ordered, "Captain please switch places with me." Khorfu readily complied. Approaching the object, Li caught his breath. Alexis gasped behind him. "One of them," she said quietly. Li didn't reply. The Pilot corpse lay twisted on the ground, legs splayed at a grotesque angle. It was clutching something to its chest. Priest was already looking at it, taking notes for the company no doubt. Li leaned in behind her. He peered closely. The thing was small in the Pilot's immense hands…worm-like. "Burster," Rosenberg whispered. Li glanced over his shoulder. The young man wore a stupefied expression behind his clear visor. Obviously he didn't have much experience with these things. Li hoped there'd be no encounters today. "Both host and burster are long-dead … corpses desiccated. I'll take samples for analysis," Priest said. "Do that," Li grunted, "and then we're heading back to the elevator and to the next objective."
The team-members were glad to make it back to the arena without encountering any live hostiles. Li had worried that the elevator might have returned to the bottom. He was relieved when it was there to lower them back down. "All right Priest," Khorfu said, "after what we've seen. I don't think we want to linger. Let's move to the second objective and finish this up as fast as we can." "Of course captain," she smiled cooperatively. "We'll have to take that corridor down that way." She led the way at a brisk pace. Tramping down dark passageways wasn't something Li liked to do with such frequency. Despite its enormous size, the place was starting to feel like a giant labyrinth. He sighed to himself. Can't wait to get this sh_t over with, the sooner the better. Priest led them into a large semi-cylindrical hallway this time. "There should be something at the end of this chamber," Priest said in her measured tone. If only people were as calm and collected, Li mused. They must've walked a hundred metres before reaching the end of the hallway. They spread out and searched the wall for any sign of a door. "Captain, over here," Achmed said over the radio. The team gathered around him, their helmet lights illuminating the sleek polished wall. Li scrutinized the surface carefully. He could discern the faint outline of a large panel, approximately twelve by ten feet. Khorfu turned to Priest, "Got any more of those explosives?"
Walking through the blasted entrance, Li was awe-struck by the immense size of the cavernous chamber. It seemed impossible that a space this large could fit inside the alien craft...yet it did. In front of him, Alexis gasped, gawking. Central Park would fit in here. The team's lights couldn't even reach the ceiling, the other end of the cavern was nowhere to be seen. It wasn't just the size of the chamber that astonished them. The floor's sprawling surface was covered in a gauzy layer of blue mist that reached up to Li's chest, suffusing the cavern with an eerie glow. In the distance, massive columns, like obelisks, shot up into the darkness, probably to support the unseen roof. Beneath the diaphanous layer were arranged row upon row of transparent cases neatly aligned with one another and stretching into the distance. There must have been thousands of them. Li submerged his head below the mist to peer through the transparent casing. He recoiled suddenly. Other members of the team saw them too. Inside the crystalline sarcophagus was a massive humanoid form covered in mottled yellow-green skin. It had mandibles on its face and thick squid-like hair, a large metallic object rested on its stomach … a mask. He recognized its proportions and its basic armor, almost identical to what he'd seen on Tau Ceti III. And those unmistakable tendrils coming out of its head … "He's one ugly motherf__ker ain't he?" Khorfu said in amazement. "What the f__k are they doing on a Pilot ship?" "Kenzo said the species are connected somehow," Achmed reminded, "we can figure it out later. Priest should have everything recorded." The android nodded. "Look closely at the columns," she said. Li surveyed one of the pillars in the distance. If he looked carefully enough, he could make out objects stuck to its surface. He realized the column was studded with cryo-chambers similar to those at his feet, winding up the pillar's surface in a spiral. Right below the upright chambers Li could barely discern a scaffold-like ramp coiled around the pillar, like a staircase for the occupants. The Major knew all too well from experience what just two of these creatures could do. He was now confronted with enough to annihilate the entire USCM … more than enough. "We should take one back to the shuttle," Priest suggested. "Company protocol." "What was the Pilot doing with them?" Achmed asked rhetorically. Rosenberg actually replied, "Looks like he was assembling an army … how long do you think they've been here … since the Pilot's death?" "Captain, we should move one of these to the shuttle," Priest repeated, more urgently this time. "Huh? Yes, yes, of course," Khorfu mumbled, staring at the strange monoliths, "… old Kenzo would be ecstatic." "Sounds great, but just how do you suppose we'll do that?" Alexis had a tendency to ask good questions. "Well, the ones stuck to the pillars are at least 500 metres away, and we might not be able to detach them …," Achmed reasoned, "… the ones on the ground are the only real option right now." Khorfu turned to the android, "Priest can you manage to move one off the ground?" The team selected one of the cryo-chambers closest to the blasted doorway. "Rosenberg, give her a hand," Khorfu ordered the young man. The thing didn't move. Soon the entire team had joined in, pushing and heaving, except for Li who kept watch. He thought they looked quite silly, really, breaking their backs for company … and for what? "It's rooted to the ground," Rosenberg grunted. "All right, this ain't working," Khorfu declared, catching his breath, "What do you suggest Priest?" "I have a plasma-cutter," she stated matter-of-factly. "Seems like the only way, huh?" Khorfu huffed. "She has a what?" Li cut in. "A plasma-cutter," Achmed replied, "one of the Company's little secrets, it should slice through that glass or whatever it is." Li looked at Achmed and then at Khorfu, making sure that they were serious. "Are you out of your minds?" He blurted. "What if it revives?" "If its cryo-chamber functions anything like ours, it won't wake up without the proper 'thawing' process," Priest countered. "If it's anything like ours," Alexis added, "that's a big if." Li gave her a grateful look and turned to Khorfu, "You're not serious." "It's important for the company Major. It's worth a try, plus …" Khorfu began. "All right, all right," Li gave up, "but if it wakes up I'm shooting it." He shot the android a dirty look. Unperturbed, Priest got to work. It took her more than ten minutes to remove a large panel from the top of the casing. Whatever the clear substance was it was tough. Li kept his rifle aimed at the creature but it didn't stir. He could see the rise and fall of the creature's chest as it breathed. "Alexis, take the mask and hold on to it, the Major will cover us. The rest of us will carry sleeping beauty with Priest," Khorfu whispered, as if speaking too loudly would wake the hunter, "let's lift him up together . . . ." With a concentrated effort, they lifted the slumbering XT as gently as they could out of its cradle. In this manner, they slowly made their way back to the shuttle.
One month later
The yautja opened his eyes. He was lying on his back in the jungle. The branches and leaves were thick above him, obscuring the light. How could this be ... have I returned? There was something over his mouth. It pressed uncomfortably against his mandibles. He removed it. A mask of some sort. There was a tube attached to it that trailed off into the underbrush. Then he remembered. At the Visitor's bidding, he and his brethren had slept the cold sleep. But where was he now? He got up slowly. He could feel the ground moving, changing speed ever so slightly beneath his feet. This isn't right ... He looked down at the tube on the jungle floor and began to follow it. He walked until he reached an area where the trees were no longer so thickly clustered. He looked up at the sky again, but there was no sky, only a roof high above his head, dotted with bright globes shining with artificial brilliance. His heart pounding, he continued to follow the tube, but it disappeared into a wall. Above where the tube entered, he saw a large window. Behind the screen, he could make out small shapes moving about. Some of the creatures were just standing there … looking at him. They looked underdeveloped, these puny things. They were small compared to him, even tinier compared to his memory of the Visitor, and their instruments looked clumsy compared what he'd seen on the Ark. But he was their captive, and they were … studying him.
Attended by a man in a white coat, Mr. Kenzo observed the creature on the other side of the glass. It stared back at him and stalked with a pantherish grace toward the large window, muscles rippling under tough mottled skin. It stopped in front of the screen, its mandibled face barely a foot away from Kenzo's. His heartbeat quickened slightly as the hunter glared at him, all hate and menace. The creature's eyes were a ghastly yellow with blood-red pupils ... they burned with an alien intelligence Kenzo could no fathom. Despite his cool exterior, Kenzo felt primordial fear assailing his rationality. He pushed it aside, and stood his ground. The hunter backed up a few paces, and with a sudden blur of motion, punched the glass hard. With a start, Kenzo and the white-coated man jumped back. The screen shuddered from the powerful blow. Though he knew it to be impossible, Kenzo almost feared the hunter would somehow break through. The lab technicians stopped what they were doing and looked nervously at the window. The creature pounded the window twice more, sending shockwaves through the special glass, but it was designed for greater impacts and held firm. "That screen can withstand much more than that," the white-coated man assured. Ascertaining the strength of the barrier, the hunter turned its back on the window, much to the technicians' relief. It looked over its shoulder at Kenzo, and with one giant bound, disappeared into the trees. Fascination and excitement buzzed in Kenzo's mind. Only one other creature inspired such respect … such fear in the hearts of men. In many ways, human in all their frailty were far inferior to these creatures. He turned to the man in the white coat, modulating his tone to project cool authority, "So Stern, how do you plan to study our ... guest?" The silver-haired scientist was still staring into the modified greenhouse. He quickly broke off his reverie and turned to face Kenzo. "We're thinking of giving it something to hunt. The Ctesiphon's med-labs have the capacity to clone suitable prey." "Without weapons?" Kenzo raised an eyebrow. "With your permission, we'll be giving it the simplest tools, sharp sticks to play with … nothing to compromise security of course." "Of course," Kenzo chuckled, "but make sure the prey is smart enough." "Understood," the scientist nodded knowingly, "are you planning to procure more specimens Mr. Kenzo?" "In time … but I think we have more than enough to study for now." Kenzo thought of what was to come, and smiled.
Major Li stepped into the gym. Good, no one here. As a child, he had always been somewhat anti-social. He thought the military would drill it out of him, but that never panned out. He had been relatively idle for the past few weeks, since returning from that "remarkable expedition." Khorfu had been busy supervising the "renovation" of the ship's greenhouse. Lucky bastard. At least he had something to do. Li started stretching his muscles. Frankly he thought Kenzo was a bit of a fruit. Why give the creature all that space? If it were up to him he would have had the thing sedated even as it slept … just to be on the safe side. You could experiment to your heart's content with the ugly bastard strapped to a table. But he supposed they had already done that. Now Kenzo wanted to watch his prize dance and do tricks … crazy motherf__ker. The Major finished his stretching and glanced over at the weight machines. He thought of going over to the bench press but for whatever reason he just didn't feel like it. He sat on the ground and ran his fingers through his close-cropped hair. He felt inexplicably annoyed. Having nothing to do made him restless. It frustrated him. He got up. Looking around, he decided that the punching bag would best suit his mood. He stalked over to the bag and stopped in front of it. Drawing on his pent up energy, he unleashed a furious combination of lightning-fast elbows and punches. He could feel the heat spreading through his muscles as he landed the blows. Working up a sweat, he took off his shirt and flung it to the side revealing the lean, muscular physique of a hardened soldier. He resumed his assault and struck with powerful knees and kicks that made the bag swing back and forth. His mind drifted to the events in the hive … the team that he had lost. He thrust it aside. He tried to think of more pleasant things and surprised himself by thinking of Alexis. Well, I'm only human. He was attracted to her, but as always managed to mask his feelings. It had been a while since he'd gotten that kind of action. His last encounter had been with some strange ass, Arcturian … he didn't want to think about it. If he was really that desperate, Priest was always available. Androids had many…functions. He could swear she was coming onto him sometimes, but of course it was all programming. And unlike Rosenberg, he could never bring himself to do it. It was just too odd. Li realized he had stopped his assault on the punching bag. He relaxed his arms and just stood there for a minute, taking a short break. As he was about to resume his attack, he heard the door slide open behind him and turned around. Speaking of the devil … "Hi," she greeted. Alexis's smile didn't look forced, on the contrary it almost appeared friendly … Now this is a bit of a surprise. "Hi," Li said, taken aback slightly. She was wearing a form-fitting white tank-top and dark blue gym shorts. It made her look young, and his mind started to wander in certain directions. She had a great figure. "What're you doing?" She asked. "Well … this punching bag reminds me of my ex-wife." "I'm sorry to hear that," she gave him a funny look. For some reason, Li couldn't help smiling. What on earth removed the log up her ass? He didn't bother asking. Must be the sight of me shirtless. He gave the bag a hard kick just for hell of it. "What style do you practice Major?" Li paused. She's seriously trying to get friendly. "Mostly Muay Thai," he answered, "and military combatives." "Ah … I see," she nodded, "is the punching bag an effective training partner for that sort of thing?" Li wondered where this was going. "I prefer sparring if that's what you're getting at, but as you can see I have no one to …" He looked at her face and a smile crept over his lips. She looked over at the large padded mat. "You up for it Major?" "Call me Li … you know this gym doesn't have sparring gear right?" "I guess in that case you'll have to show me some grappling too," she replied innocently. And groping, he thought. Before anymore dirty thoughts crossed his mind, she was already heading to the mat. They turned to each other and faced off. Before his mind had completely focused, she had already thrown the first punch, a surprisingly fast hook at his face. Li had expected her to be a bit more cautious. The blow caught him by surprise, just below his left cheekbone. He staggered a bit. Fortunately, it hadn't been delivered with full force or things could've been really embarrassing. He recovered quickly and sized her up again. Despite the pain, he couldn't help grinning. Competent yet attractive … rare for a woman. There was no doubt she was good, but Li was a professional. He knew he could crush her in an instant but held back. He decided to go on the defensive. She struck out with a low kick that he blocked by lifting his own leg. She then came at him with a 1-2 combo followed by a kick to his side. His weaving saved him from the punches but the kick landed. It was solid, but nothing compared to what he had endured in his training. Li could see she was slightly deflated after he took the kick without so much as wincing. She circled him, displaying decent footwork, but her loss of confidence was showing. Li was not fond of long, drawn-out fights, even against an attractive opponent. He decided it was time to end it. She threw another kick at his side, harder this time. Li caught it and swept her other leg with a kick of his own. To his surprise she hooked her arm around his neck as she fell. The two tumbled to the mat together with Li on top. His face was close to hers. She was breathing hard, and her skin was slick with sweat. Li could feel his bare chest crushed against her soft breasts. It was an awkward but not unpleasant position. She looked at him with a strange expression in her eyes, and shifted under his weight. Li would've liked to stay there longer but the room probably had a camera somewhere. Before things could get any more awkward, he untangled himself from their odd embrace. Alexis got up, cheeks flushed. "I'll see you later," she said hurriedly and made for the door. Alone again, Li sat on his knees for a while, both aroused and confused at what had happened. F__k, he needed a shower to cool down.
The Bengal tiger slunk through the trapdoor into the artificial jungle. Having been cloned in a rapid process, the animal had never hunted before. But it was hungry, and instinct was a strong motivator. It knew it must kill to eat. Alone in the lab, Kenzo tracked the tiger's progress on multiple screens across the main console. He could not see the hunter. He wondered how the creature would tackle such powerful prey with only the crude tools at its disposal. Kenzo knew from his research that the hunters possessed a rudimentary sense of "honor", if it could even be termed as such. They tended to favor the biggest, meanest prey. He felt oddly gratified that man had made the list. Kenzo focused back on the monitors. The big cat prowled the jungle floor for prey … none appeared. It sniffed the air, detecting a peculiar scent. Kenzo realized he might have overestimated the difficulty of this hunt. Tigers were not good climbers. And if the hunter were to …
A streak of motion flashed across the monitor as something shot down from the canopy. A long wooden shaft jutted out from the top of the tiger's skull. It had been thrown with such force that the sharpened end protruded from big cat's chin. The tiger stumbled forward and collapsed, a pool of blood of forming around its head. Then a much larger form dropped down from the trees. The hunter fell upon the skewered animal and plunged another spear into its ribs. Kenzo leaned back in his chair, entertained but disappointed. Almost too easy, he thought. The clone was a poor substitute for wild specimens, and those were all but extinct. Even tigers needed a little experience to become effective killing machines. No, this wouldn't do. To observe what the hunter was truly capable of, he needed something else, something born with murderous intelligence …
Not long ago, there had still been tracts of space free of oomans. But now the soft meat seemed to be everywhere, encroaching upon territory over which the yautja had traditionally held sole dominion. The elders had been informed of a large ooman craft sighted disturbingly close to the Ark, the most holy of holies. Thus they had sent Nat'kapu to make sure the Ark remained undefiled and that the Slumbering Ones still slept their ageless sleep.
The arbitrator's craft approached the Ark's immense bulk. It floated calmly, serenely in the dark ocean of space. Perhaps for once the oomans were able to curb their curiosity. Nat'kapu ran a surface scan. His console emitted three rapid beeps as it projected a 3D hologram of the derelict. The image rotated slowly before the arbitrator's eyes. A faint line circling the girth of the projected vessel swept over it, scanning its exterior for damage. Nothing. It was almost a little disappointing … then a surprise: A flash of red appeared on the hologram's surface, a tiny dot against the Ark's enormous hull. Nat'kapu couldn't help flaring his mandibles out in surprise … interesting. He tapped his console and the hologram disappeared, reappearing a split second later zoomed in on the anomaly. It was some sort of installation attached to the Ark's perfectly smooth hull, small but not small enough to escape detection. The arbitrator studied it carefully. It was definitely foreign, neither yautja nor part of the vessel's original design. He zoomed in again. The structure's crude shape, with its ugly metallic guts exposed, lacked all sense of aesthetic sleekness, instantly giving away its origin: ooman.
Inside the ancient vessel, Nat'kapu knew he trod on forbidden ground. The oomans had already defiled this hallowed place by attaching their ugly contraption to its perfect form. That alone warranted the brutal slaughter of the perpetrators. There would be bloody work to be done soon, but Nat'kapu sensed there was more afoot. The oomans hadn't come here only to decorate the ship's hull. No, that would have been too restrained for the inquisitive soft meat. As a species they generally lacked such restraint. This was the first time Nat'kapu had set foot in the Ark, the cradle of his race. His footsteps echoed faintly down the aeon-dead hallways, dissipating through the cavernous emptiness. When it came to the old tales, Nat'kapu had always nurtured an attitude of cynicism. But he could not deny the obvious. This was not the work of yautja. Nat'kapu's sensor's detected several electromagnetic fields but one was much stronger than the rest.Nat'kapu had followed the signal to its source, down the hallway and to an ancient arena where his ancestors must have perfected the art of killing. He stood now before a blasted doorway opening into a cavernous chamber. He activated his shoulder lamp as he stepped through, switching to night-vision. The sheer size of the room astonished him. Seeing such immensity from the inside was staggering. Massive columns supported an unseen roof. The hunter could make out large rectangular objects lying on the floor, arranged in an orderly fashion. He peered through the transparent casing. Nat'kapu stared in amazement.