Ice Star: Chapter 3

As soon as we were inside the processing plant, we exited the APC and began moving deeper into the plant, with Frost directing us to where the colonists were. “You’re looking for a stairwell forty meters in.”

“We see it,” Gorman replied as the staircase came into view. “Drake, you’re with me on point. Vasquez and Crowe, watch the tail.”

“You want sublevel three,” Frost continued as we cautiously went down the stairs, looking all around for signs of an ambush, and double-checking with the motion trackers. “Your signals are breaking up a bit.”

From near the rear, Hudson said calmly, “Nothing to worry about. We’re probably getting some interference from the structure.”

As we got lower, the air gradually got hotter and drier, and something stank really bad.

Then we reached the third sublevel, and saw what it was. Even now, several weeks later, I’m still trying to find a good way to describe the disgusting sight that greet us. Almost every inch of the ceiling, walls, and floor was covered in some kind of thick, brown-to-black, organic-looking junk. I had never seen anything like it before. It was all over the place, and it had odd arrangements of holes piercing through it at random points, while other areas had strange, rib-like patterns. When we stepped on it, it was hard and held our weight without letting us sink in.

“What the hell is this?” Gorman asked softly, almost to himself. Touching his headset, he asked, “Ripley, do you recognize this?”

“No,” she answered.

Gorman looked around again. “Alright, let’s go in.”

He and I led the way down the gunked-up passage, checking every corner anxiously. It was becoming more and more obvious we were about to run into serious trouble. I wanted to say that we should just get out while it was still safe to, and that the colonists were all probably dead by now, but I couldn’t.

“Watch your fire, and check your targets,” Apone reminded us. “Remember, we’re looking for civvies in here.”

I heard a soft snapping sound and looked back to see Dietrich holding a piece of the gunk in her free hand, having just broken it off from the wall. “Looks like some kind of secreted resin.”

“Nobody touch nothing,” Apone growled, giving her a look. She dropped the piece quickly and kept moving alongside him.

“It’s hot as hell in here,” Hicks observed as we turned down a different passage. The smell was getting progressively worse with each step as well.

Hudson, of course, was still his usual boisterous self despite the situation. “Yeah, man, but it’s a dry heat!” he said, as if that made it better.

“Knock it off, Hudson,” Apone and Hicks said together.

“You’re almost right on top of them,” Frost reported. “End of that hallway opens up into a big room under the primary heat exchangers. That’s where they’re at.”

Gorman looked down at the tracker in his right hand. “I’m still not getting any movement,” he said.

Then we reached the end of the hallway and saw why. I have smelled some pretty rancid things over the years. Yes, I’ve smelled rotting human corpses. It burns the inside of your nose and it twists your stomach until you puke. But never in my life have I ever smelled over a hundred corpses rotting together.

I thought back to my short time in high school, when we were shown the infamous photographs of German concentration camps in World War II. We read accounts of American and British soldiers describing what they saw and smelled and heard in graphic detail. Thousands of dead bodies all at different stages of decomposition.

This was just as bad, if not worse. The only difference was that these people had been stuck to the walls of this disgusting structure and all of them had gaping holes in their chests. Some of them had dried-up organ parts hanging out of those holes.

Taking a breath was difficult. The heat and smell made it impossible, and I tried not to think about it. The stink and the contorted expressions of sheer pain on the faces of the corpses, frozen forever, were making it more and more difficult to keep my mind at bay.

Hicks found a leathery-looking egg thing, and I caught my breath as I remembered the drawings in the caves on LV-400. It was open, and empty, and then I saw him crouch down and pick something up with the barrel of his shotgun.

“What the fuck is that, man?” Hudson asked, his voice full of disgust. I saw it was a weird, spidery, scorpion-like creature, larger than a dinner plate, with a long, limp tail. The finger-like legs were curled up under its stomach, stiff enough to hold their position under the weight of the body as Hicks held it off the ground.

“That’s…” Ripley’s voice cracked. “That’s what was on Kane. It’s what implants the host.”

This thing had also been in the cave drawings. It was what the eggs held. And all of the colonists… I looked around at the corpses and the holes in their chests. That must mean there was one of those nightmare creatures we encountered on LV-400 for every colonist. My heart started beating faster, and I wanted more and more to say that we needed to get out.

From the corner of my eye, I saw Dietrich approaching the body of a woman with curly black hair, cocooned tightly within the wall of resin. “This is recent,” she said, her lamp illuminating the fresh blood still dripping slowly from the hole in the woman’s chest.

“How recent?” Gorman asked, only giving the body a brief glance before looking back to the tracker.

“Maybe an hour or two,” Dietrich said. “Rigor mortis hasn’t set in yet. I’d say if we had come straight down here as soon as we figured out where they were, we would have been getting here right around when this happened.”

Gorman shook his tracker slightly in frustration, as if it wasn’t working properly. “Is anyone getting any movement anywhere?”

“Negative,” Hicks called out, and Crowe added, “Nothing back here, Lieutenant.”

“What are you thinking, sir?” Apone asked from behind us.

Gorman looked around at the bodies pinned to the walls. “I’m thinking we can safely assume that all of the colonists are dead. Whatever these things are that came out of them, they’ve got to be around here somewhere, and I’d rather we not stick around long enough to have all of them down on our heads. Let’s make our way back out of here.”

Before we had even taken a step, however, Hudson held up his tracker. “I’ve got something, man!”

“Where?” Gorman snapped urgently as we all looked around quickly, watching for one of those creatures, or maybe even a civvie, to show themselves.

“It’s right on top of us!” Hudson exclaimed as he pointed his tracker upward. There was a movement along the wall right above Dietrich, and in the split second that passed as our lights struck it, I saw it was a black, skeletal beast with an elongated skull. There were several tubes protruding from its back, and I spotted a very long, bladed tail uncurling behind it. It had no eyes to be seen, and its sharp jaws seemed fixed in a permanent, hideous grin. My heart was skipping beats as my mind threw up memories of LV-400, flashing them before my vision. I could vividly see this same creature throwing itself out into the snow, hissing as the Annexers ran around to attack it.

Dietrich’s back was to it, and before any of us could even cry out a warning, the thing grabbed her and launched itself upward with its powerful legs. She screamed wildly, flailing around, discharging her flamethrower in her panic as she was lifted up toward the ceiling. Apone had lifted his shotgun to shoot the thing when Gorman tackled him out of the way, and the flames went right over their heads. Hicks raised his own shotgun, but Hudson, who was several steps closer, dropped his tracker to let it hang by its cord, and yelled, “Look out!” as he gripped his flamethrower and fired it right over Dietrich at the creature’s head. It let out a screech of agony as the flames engulfed it, and dropped Dietrich. She fell back to the ground with a howl and a thud, some stray fuel from Hudson’s flamethrower burning on her helmet. Still flaming and screeching in agony, the creature fell next to her, and I almost dropped my smartgun as I dragged her away from it, knocking her helmet off in the process. Apone and Gorman scrambled to their feet as Hudson let out a yell and doused the thing with flames, and Hicks fired his shotgun twice. Yellow liquid sprayed out from the thing’s body, hissing as it hit the metal grate floor and burning right through it. With a final screech, it lifted an arm as if making a last attempt to escape, and then collapsed limply to the ground. The acidic liquid began seeping out and burning through the floor underneath it, and in a moment, it fell through, slamming into the floor of the level below. We could hear the acid hissing again as it began to burn through that floor as well. Dietrich was lying quite still, an expression of total shock on her face.

“You alright?” I asked her loudly, trying to get through to her. She didn’t respond, staring up at the wall where the creature had been trying to grab her. “Dietrich!” I yelled.

“Corporal, respond!” Apone snapped, dropping down next to her and slapping her face lightly. That brought her around, and she turned her head to face him. “Stick with me, Marine!” he ordered. “Are you okay?”

“Y-y-yes,” she stammered. “I… I thought… That thing had me a-and-”

She broke off with a shudder, and to my surprise, Apone hugged her to him for a moment, rubbing the top of her head. I had never seen him do that for anyone before, but then again, none of us had ever had such a close encounter with something so horrific.

Gorman, meanwhile, was checking around anxiously with his tracker, as were Hudson and Crowe. “Movement!” Hudson shouted. Apone let go of Dietrich and reached for her flamethrower, handing it to her as he dragged her to her feet.

“What’s the position?” Gorman demanded, sweeping his own tracker in a circle.

“Can’t lock in on it, man! Looks like it’s all around us!”

“That’s it, we’re out of here.” Gorman turned to Dietrich. “Can you walk, Corporal?”

I could swear I saw tears in her eyes, but she nodded, clutching her flamethrower tightly to her chest.

“Alright, everyone stick with your partners and watch each other’s backs.”

“More movement, in front and behind of us!” Hudson called out.

“Vasquez, Crowe, you’ve got the point now! Let’s move!”

We began walking quickly back towards the entrance, looking around wildly for any signs of more creatures. Then I heard Vasquez screaming a curse, and the sound of her flamethrower filled the air for a split second before being drowned out by three shots from Crowe’s M322.

Then they were on us, coming from all directions. The passageway quickly turned into an oven as we all began firing, and the darkness was pushed back as patches of burning napalm landed on the walls and floor, illuminating everything around us.

A black, bony arm suddenly grabbed reached out from the wall and grabbed Apone’s leg, yanking him off his feet. He landed hard on his tailbone, almost dropping his weapon as the thing began to drag him off. Before I could shoot it, however, Dietrich whirled around and fired her own flamethrower with a scream that sounded like a mixture of terror and fury. It fell to the ground, thrashing as the flames consumed it, and Gorman and I found ourselves having to dodge around the hole that quickly melted in the floor, allowing the body to drop through.

I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t breathe and the pangs in my chest were smashing down years of work I had put in trying to beat back my PTSD. Shaking my head to try and get those thoughts out, I was suddenly knocked to the ground by a long, spindly claw. A flickering shadow loomed over me, and I heard a hiss. The hissing turned to screeching as Gorman shot the shadow in the head. The acid splashed on the floor, barely missing me as Gorman grabbed my arm and pulled me back up to my feet. “Move, Drake!”

“They’re still coming!” Vasquez hollered. “Where’s Drake?”

“I got him!” Gorman whirled around to fire a burst into the eyeless face of an alien staring at him, jaws parted to reveal a second set of teeth inside. As the thing fell to the ground, burning another hole in the floor, Gorman cursed, and ejected the magazine from his shotgun, reaching for another one and slamming it into place.

“Move, man! You heard the lieutenant! Keep going!” Hudson turned around, covering Hicks as the corporal dropped to his knees to allow Hudson to fire over his head as he shoved more shells into his shotgun. Hudson let out a scream at an alien retreating from his flamethrower, “Why don’tcha come back and suck on it?! That’s right, run, motherfucker!”

My heartbeat was beginning to drown out all other sounds. All I could see were claws and fire and…

Broken glass.

Delhoun’s silhouette as he broke down the lab door.

I can’t let this happen now. I can’t.

I was experiencing a terrifying blend of flashback and reality as I continued pressing back with the others, pausing occasionally to shoot. Out of all the nightmares I’ve had, this one was the worst. Mainly because it was real and actually happening. I knew I would see it in my sleep for a long, long time to come.

Vasquez and Crowe made it to the stairs first, and they both turned around to cover everyone else as we dashed towards them. Hicks was the first up the stairs, followed closely by Hudson. I was last in line, behind Gorman, and I turned to fire my flamethrower at an approaching alien.

“Drake, come on!” Vasquez screamed. A black shadow appeared to my left, but before I could turn to face it, the banging of Crowe’s shotgun echoed around the passage, accompanied by a shriek of pain. Acidic blood splattered the left side of my helmet, even on the faceplate, and it began burning rapidly through towards my face.

“Shit!” I yelled, and dropped my flamethrower in my rush to yank off the helmet and toss it away. A few drops had landed on my chestplate, but not enough to burn through it. I barely had a chance to grab my flamethrower again before Vasquez had grabbed me and was pulling me forcefully towards the stairs and then shoving me up. She and Crowe were right behind me as we followed the others up the stairs and towards the entrance, the aliens in close pursuit.

Reaching the top of the stairs and rounding the corner into the long tunnel towards the entrance, we saw more of the creatures jumping around on the pipes and machinery above, working their way forward to drop down on us. The APC was sitting by the entrance with both turrets in action, the autocannons blowing the creatures overhead to bits. Wierzbowski was crouched in the APC’s doorway with Frost’s shotgun in his hands, firing past us at the aliens coming from the direction of the stairs. Hudson reached the APC first and slammed his back against it next to the door, firing a jet of flame at a creature about to leap off the wall at Dietrich and Apone. Hicks was right behind him, shoving past Wierzbowski as he yelled, “Frost, drive! Drive! I’ll take the weapons!” Apone pushed Dietrich on board, and then Vasquez, before climbing in himself.

Still the creatures came. Hudson screamed at the top of his lungs as one of them appeared around the side of the APC and tried to grab the back of his armor. Crowe’s flamethrower nearly singed part of his helmet off, but Hudson was able to scramble free and throw himself into the APC. Wierzbowski threw his arm around Crowe, yanking the smaller man in the vehicle, and Gorman and I were right behind. The moment we were through, Wierzbowski slammed the door closed, roaring, “Frost, go, go!”

The APC lurched into motion so quickly that all of us in the back, except for Wierzbowski, who was still holding onto the door handle, were thrown to the ground. Hicks was sitting at the weapons station, still directing fire at the monsters as the APC sped towards the entrance. Before any of us could even try to get up, we were bounced around wildly as the APC hit the rough terrain outside the processing plant, and Hudson was almost thrown on top of me. After several seconds, Hicks called out, “Frost, we’re clear! They’re not following! You can stop here.”

The APC shuddered to a halt, and Frost and Hicks both immediately jumped from their seats to come check on us.

Wierzbowski knelt by me, helping me sit up. “Drake? Are you okay?”

I coughed before grabbing a canteen of water. I realized, after gulping down the water and setting the half-empty canteen on my lap, that I was crying. Wierzbowski saw, too, and he tried shielding me from the view of everyone else. I started feeling all over my face and neck, amazed that none of the acid had gotten on me. The helmet had probably saved my life, or at the very least my face.

“Is anybody hurt?” Hicks asked.

“I got some scratches on my left leg,” Gorman said. “Nothing major.”

Hudson’s face was covered in soot. His earlier confidence had all but faded. “I’m alright, man. I don’t wanna go back in there.”

“Nobody does.”

My heart was still pounding. The screaming from human and alien alike was still ringing in my ears. Something deep inside was demanding I curl up into a ball and just hide until we returned to the Sulaco. I wanted to talk with someone alone, but I knew that wasn’t possible right now. I was going to have to do what my therapist said I shouldn’t ever do; I had to cram my emotions down my throat. Every thought and feeling not relating to our task at hand needed to be tossed away.

“What’re we gonna do, man?” Hudson asked, his composure becoming nothing more than a ghost in his eyes. “There’s nothing we can do. All the colonists’re dead and there’s no point in trying to salvage this place, man! We may as well go home! Get the fuck outta here!”

“Hudson, relax!” Vasquez shouted.

“You saw those things! I ain’t staying here and letting ’em kill us!”

“Knock it off, both of you!” Apone yelled over them. “Lieutenant, what are your orders?”

Gorman was sitting limply in one of the side seats, his helmet in his lap as he gulped from a canteen. He lowered it and straightened up, looking over everyone as if to make absolutely sure we were alright before speaking. “We’re going to go back up to the Sulaco and report what we’ve found to Command and see what they say. Frost, let’s get moving again.”

“Yes, sir!” Frost sat quickly down in the driver’s seat and a moment later, we were once again lurching over the bumpy ground. Gorman turned to Hicks. “Hicks, call Ferro up and tell her to get the dropship prepped. We’ll meet them on the landing pad.”

“Right.” Hicks reached for his radio. “Ferro, do you copy?”

Her voice was cool and steady as she replied, “Standing by.”

“Prep for dust-off. We’re heading back up to the Sulaco and will meet you on the landing platform.”

“Roger, see you th-” Her voice cut out suddenly. “Ferro, what’s wrong?” Hicks asked. No response. I felt a chill run through me as Hicks tried again. “Ferro, respond.”

It was like the oxygen had been sucked from the vehicle. The blood drained from Hicks’s face. He tapped another button. “Spunkmeyer? Spunkmeyer, do you copy?”

Hudson put his head in his hands. He was breathing almost as hard as I was just a few minutes ago. “Fuck, no… No, man…”

The APC bounced along the landscape as we raced back to the dropship. I think we were all trying to process the worst case scenario in our heads. We were all trying to figure out how we’d react to seeing Spunkmeyer, Ferro, and the little girl either torn up or taken away to be hosts for more of these monsters’ spawn. Frankly, between the two I’d rather see them torn to bits. Ultimately, I don’t want to see that at all. I want us all to go home. I want to go home.

I’ve never really considered anywhere to be home, but, overall, Earth is home. Not to mention, I do have a place waiting for me when I’m discharged, thanks to the late Doctor Hornby’s will. I want to go there, with Vasquez, and start making plans for civilian life.

For now, I have to worry about making sure every single one of my teammates gets home as well. A good number of us are nearing the ends of our contracts. Hudson, for instance. I want to make sure he goes home to his girlfriend and proposes to her. Wierzbowski’s got a wife waiting for him. The majority of us have loved ones.

When we got out of the APC, I expected to see huge swaths of blood and flesh and organ bits on the ground. Instead, I saw Ferro standing over the body of an alien, P90 in her hands, and Spunkmeyer crouched down, holding Newt tightly. I didn’t bother hiding my relief. “What the fuck happened?”

Ferro gestured to the carcass with her weapon. “That happened.” She took a breath. “Spunkmeyer was by the ramp with Newt, and got jumped. He was trying to shield her with his body. I was yelling at him to get out of the way so I could shoot it. I couldn’t respond to Hicks, I’m sorry!”

“It’s okay, relax,” Hicks said. “Is everyone alright?”

No, not exactly. When I looked again, I noticed Spunkmeyer had several long, deep scratches across the back of his right shoulder. There were burn-holes from the creature’s acidic blood on the base of his jacket, and the thing had burned several uneven dips in the landing pad we were standing on. At least it didn’t damage the dropship.

I could see Newt’s dirty sleeves around Spunkmeyer’s neck. Her head was buried in his chest, and I heard Spunkmeyer whispering, “It’s gone… It’s gone, sweetheart.” He grunted in pain, blood running down his back and soaking his jacket.

Ripley was able to pull Newt away so Dietrich could get to work on Spunkmeyer. The rest of us were starting to become annoyed and frustrated.

“Who else is starting to agree with Hudson that we need to get outta here ASAP?” Frost asked.

“No one wanted to come here in the first fucking place,” I grumbled.

“I’m not leaving until we come up with a way to destroy every last creature in this damn colony,” Ripley said, icily.

“Right, and I’m Santa Claus.”

“Drake, that’s enough,” Apone replied.

“It’s not like we’re gonna set up camp here,” Gorman said over us. “Let’s get back up to the Sulaco.”

I couldn’t even begin to describe the relief I felt stepping out of the APC onto the floor of the Sulaco’s hangar bay. Even though he had been sitting for the whole flight up, Hudson stumbled out the door behind me and leaned against the side of the APC, sliding down to sit on the floor. Crowe was hugging Dietrich, who clutched tightly at him. I wanted to give Vasquez a proper hug, but I knew she wouldn’t want that in front of everyone else.

Gorman lifted a hand, and then lowered it, as if he had been about to try to say something formal and official sounding but then gave up. All he said was, “You’re all dismissed. Stow your weapons and gear, and hit the showers. After that, just… try to relax. We’ve all been through hell, so just try to calm down and unwind. Apone, you and I need to go talk to Command and find out where we’re going from here. Personally, I’m all for nuking the whole damn complex, but that’ll be up to General Russell.”

Most of me was still in favor of my earlier idea of curling up into a ball and hiding after all that happened. After stowing away our weapons, we all dressed down for a shower, and I figured I wasn’t the only one not feeling like myself. No one talked much. The only two we were missing were Dietrich and Spunkmeyer, who were in sick bay.

I hated the silence. I almost wanted to scream for everyone to start talking to each other, but I couldn’t even bring myself to talk. As we headed into the showers, I looked at a mirror. Everything was still there. I’m pretty sure Dietrich will either be disappointed that my face hasn’t changed, or happy that I haven’t been made uglier.

Crowe was the one to break the silence. He saw me looking in the mirror, and came over. “Are you alright?”

“Fine. Just… making sure I’m still in one piece,” I said.

“I shot that alien. I probably should’ve been more-”

“Don’t say that you should’ve been more careful. That damn thing would’ve dragged me off to be an incubator. I’d… rather get out alive with half my face than die alone in the hive.”

Crowe frowned, working his jaw as he tried to think of a response. “I know it’s not worth pondering considering that you’re alright, but, knowing you, I don’t think you’d handle being permanently disfigured well.”

He’s right. I wouldn’t. And I really don’t want to think about how I actually would handle that.

Ferro immediately went to sick bay to see Spunkmeyer after getting dressed. I don’t even think she told anyone where she was going. Usually, she goes to me when she’s got something on her mind if Spunkmeyer isn’t available.

Hudson was the only one in the lounge when I entered. Everyone else was seeking out places to be alone, and who could blame them. His hair was still wet and spiked, and he didn’t seem to care that it was dripping onto the beanbag chair underneath him. He was quiet, too, which is highly unusual for him. Without hesitating, I sat next to him. He glanced at me, and said, “At least we’re outta there, man.”

I nodded.

He turned to face me. “I just hope this is it. Russell gives Gorman the OK and we can just drop a bomb on the colony and then we go home. I don’t wanna go back down there.”

“Well, if Ripley has her way, we’ll be physically going down there to make sure we actually killed every single alien,” I muttered.

“Hey, good thing she’s just a civvie, man,” Hudson said. He tried laughing a little. “Missions would be hell if they let civvie advisors give orders. We’d never get anything done.”

“And a lot of Marines would get killed,” I added. “I don’t think Ripley wants to see us killed. She seems a bit unstable, but… I’m unstable, too.”

“You’re far from unstable. You’ve made a lot of progress, man, don’t underestimate yourself.”

Our conversation was interrupted by Vasquez entering the room. She sat in the same beanbag I was in, and was about to give me a hug when she noticed Hudson. For the first time, she simply ignored him, and put her arms around my neck, leaning against me. She took my chin, turning my head to face her. “I never thought I’d see the day where I’d be worried about you losing your face to acid.”

“You’d still love me, right?”

“Of course. Would you still love me?”

“Unconditionally.” I nuzzled her forehead. “I’m still in one piece, honey.”

Hudson gave us both a slightly confused look. “What’d I miss, man?”

“Drake nearly had half his face melted when Crowe shot an alien close to him,” Vasquez said.

Hudson’s eyes widened. “Geez, man.”

I had nothing to add. “Yeah,” I said. “That… was scary. My helmet was totaled, but that can be replaced. My face can’t.”

“No kidding.” Hudson reached over to squeeze my shoulder. “Honestly, I’m glad Spunkmeyer’s injury was the worst we had. It coulda been a lot worse.” He swallowed, looking up at the ceiling. “Nobody died, but this was a worse situation than when we lost Viano.”

The three of us said nothing. I pulled Vasquez closer. No one died today, but it could have been a whole lot worse. I think that’s why we were all so anxious now.

Eventually, Gorman and Apone called us all together to brief us on what Russell had said. Subspace communications are a new technology that came out just a few years ago, and the instantaneous contact they allow for between units and bases has changed a lot, even though their use is still limited to military and certain civilian applications, and isn’t widespread. They had us meet in the mess hall instead of the hangar bay, and we all dropped down into our seats around the table.

“Alright. Sergeant Apone and I reported the situation to General Russell, and he’s sending in reinforcements. They’ll be here in three weeks to wipe out the rest of the creatures down there. Our orders are to continue to monitor the situation until they get here, but after Apone and I talked things over when we ended the call, we agree that we need to do more.”

“How so, sir?” Hicks asked.

“So far, this derelict ship has been the source of two alien infestations. Now, the area around the colony was never extensively explored, so Russell is more than a little suspicious that after twenty-two years of not finding the wreck, an exploration team just happened to go out and run right across it only a few weeks after Ripley told her story to Weyland-Yutani. Russell suspects the company might have been trying to get their hands on one of the specimens, and apparently this isn’t the only evidence that they’ve tried to acquire one previously. For now, an investigation is being set up on Earth, and combining Weyland-Yutani’s interest in this creature with the fact that there’s absolutely no reason for us to keep them around, Russell has given me permission to launch a nuclear strike to destroy the derelict.”

“Well, it’s about time,” Ripley said firmly, and pretty much everyone around the table made noises of agreement.

“Well, unfortunately it’s not going to be so easy. Based on all descriptions, this craft impacted the planet at high speed and survived almost completely intact. We have no idea what material it’s made of, or how strong the outer hull is. We have no way of knowing if a nuclear strike would even completely destroy it and the eggs inside. Therefore, Apone and I have decided that our only option…” Gorman paused and looked around, and I felt my stomach drop, knowing that what was coming wasn’t going to be good. He continued, “Is to take a nuke inside the ship itself and blow it from the inside.”

That certainly got a reaction. Almost everyone started talking at once, either expressing their disbelief or trying to protest. That urge to hide and curl up was becoming stronger.

“Knock it off!” Apone snapped. Gorman looked irritated, and I guess I could understand why. But on the other hand, this was an awful idea. When everyone shut up, he looked around and said, “I understand this is a risky move. But consider two things. Number one, we can’t risk even a single egg surviving for this to happen again. And two, apart from the eggs themselves and the…” he hesitated, “spider things, as far as we know, there’s no other threat in the ship. Ripley’s crew made it out of the ship without being attacked by anything other than the one spider, and that one only attacked when its egg was approached. Based on the logs that we found in operations, the exploration team that went into the ship and started this whole mess also made it out without being attacked by anything other than another lone spider. As long as we keep our distance from any eggs, we should be able to take the nuke in, set it, and get out safely.”

I think all of us let out a groan of disappointment as we realized there was no way out of this. Apone gave us a half-sarcastic smile and said, “That’s not even the best part of it, sweethearts, so listen up.”

“I know none of you are going to be happy to hear this,” Gorman said almost apologetically. “I don’t like it myself, but Apone and I have agreed it’s the best option. Once we’ve destroyed the derelict, we’re going to go back to the colony and set up base there while we wait for reinforcements.”

Unlike the clamoring protests from before, I think that statement shocked all of us into dead silence. It was, of course, Hudson who broke the silence. “We’ve been through enough shit already, man! Why the fuck do we gotta go back?”

“Command wants the colony kept intact if possible. It took twenty-two years to get it where it is, and they would much rather preserve it rather than destroying it outright. That’s why they’re sending reinforcements to wipe out the creatures. The problem is the unit they’re sending. The closest unit is the 13th Battalion. They’re sending Kilo and Lima Companies to help us.” Gorman paused for emphasis. “They’re conventional infantry. They haven’t been trained for operations like this. They’re going to go straight in and try to wipe the creatures out in a direct assault. Given what happened to us, Apone and I think that would result in significant casualties. We said as much to Russell, but apparently the decision is coming from higher up, and there’s nothing he can do. Command isn’t willing to wait to send a specialized unit to deal with this.”

Great, we’re gonna be doing the dirty work, I thought. You’d think the conventional infantry units do the dirtiest of dirty work (second to cleaning up a restroom after Hudson), but I guess the roles were being flipped today.

“Sir, with all due respect, how is us establishing an outpost down there going to change anything?” Hicks asked, raising his hand.

“This isn’t like going up against other troops,” Gorman explained. “This is an unconventional enemy that needs to be fought using unconventional methods. Now that they know we’re here, it’s likely that they won’t just go back to hibernating, and they’ll be making attempts to find us. So we go in, set up camp in operations and deploy sentry guns, landmines, and traps all throughout the colony. We have two goals with this plan. One, if they send out groups or single creatures to look for us, like patrols, we can harass and pick them off a few at a time, in manageable numbers, and two, instead of just bottling them in the processing plant and having to go in after them, we can draw them to us. If we can choose the battleground, we can prepare it and our strategy to how we see fit, rather than letting them decide. This will give us a significant advantage. And as our emergency back-up, we’ll land the dropship on the roof of the main complex and keep it under constant guard. If anything goes wrong and we can’t hold the building, we abort the plan and evacuate.”

Apone spoke up before anyone else could say anything. Instead of his usual loud, stern attitude, his voice was gentler, and more friendly. “I’ve served with all of you for years. I know this is a tough one, and we’re asking a lot from all of you. But like I said before, we’re a team, and we can do this. And we’re risking all of our lives, but we aren’t doing it to be heroes or get a bunch of medals. We’re doing it because if those other Marines get here and go straight in, a lot of them are going to buy it. We’re doing this to save all their asses.”

“And we’re certainly not going to rush into this,” continued Gorman, giving us what I think was supposed to be a reassuring look, although I don’t think there was any way to reassure any of us at this point. “We’re going to take it carefully and plan it all out. Hicks, you’re going to join Apone and me. I had Hudson upload the colony schematics to the ship’s computer while we were waiting for the weapons in operations. We’re going to go over them carefully and take every detail into account. Every alley, chokepoint, access tunnel, door, everything. Ferro and Spunkmeyer, you two can start prepping the dropship for our return to the colony. Dietrich, take Wierzbowski and Vasquez and gather enough supplies for us to hold out for three weeks. Bedding, food, medical supplies, the usual. You know what to do. Frost, I want you and Hudson to pull the warhead out of one of our nuclear missiles so we can take it into the derelict. Drake and Crowe, you two can start loading up weapons. I want every sentry gun on this ship going down to the colony, along with all of the landmines, motion traps, and ammunition we can take. Frost, once you and Hudson are done with the warhead, help them. We’ll be going back to our regular weapons since we don’t have to worry so much about damaging anything. Crowe, Wierzbowski, I want both of you carrying marksman rifles as well. We can set up stations on the rooftops to pick off any creatures that come out into the open.”

“What about me, Lieutenant?” Ripley asked.

Oh, joy. Oh, fucking joy. I glared in Ripley’s direction. Frankly, I have nothing against her as civilian, but it’s extremely rare that civvie advisors (save for the couple of times we’ve had Delhoun with us) actually do anything useful. The last thing any of us wanted was her getting in the way.

Gorman turned to her. “I think it’s best if you and Newt stay here on the ship with Bishop. You’ll be safe here.”

“Maybe you’re forgetting, but I just spent fifty-seven years floating in space,” Ripley said coolly. “I don’t feel like spending another three weeks sitting around doing nothing, and quite frankly, given what we’ve both been through, I don’t think either Newt or I want to be completely alone up here. If you have such high hopes of your plan succeeding, it shouldn’t be a problem for the two of us to be down there. And besides, I might be able to help.”

“She is right, sir,” Ferro pointed out. “If nothing else, it would be helpful to have someone else on rotation guarding the dropship. We’ll be stretched thin as it is. Another set of eyes and hands would be really useful.”

I glanced at Ferro. “And which of us lucky assholes is gonna show her how to use a gun?”

Ferro elbowed me hard when Gorman looked at us.

“Alright,” Gorman relented, turning back to Ripley. “You can help Dietrich’s team put our supplies together. But one thing I want both of you to understand.” He looked intently at both Ripley and Newt. “Both of you listen to whatever any of us say, without question. It could make the difference between getting someone killed or not. No wandering off outside the perimeter or any zones that we designate as safe areas. Newt, no playing in the vent systems, and no loud noises. Frost, when you get the weapons together, grab a couple of IFF-broadcasting bracelets and give them to Ripley and Newt when we drop. I don’t want either of them accidentally getting shot by our own sentry guns.”

There wasn’t a single quiet moment while we prepped, and I doubted we would have any for the next three weeks. It’s really no secret that no one wants to stay, although we’ve done missions far longer than this. The last time was on Cetii Epsilon IV, and that’s not something any of us want to go back to.

Gorman and Apone have a good point when they say that we’re going back down to do a little cleanup and minimize the casualties that the two infantry units might have to deal with. If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to clear out all the bastards, but the math is suggesting there could be up to a hundred and fifty aliens in the colony, and no one knows exactly how many we killed in that first battle.

I also wasn’t looking forward to going to the derelict. Frankly, a bunch of eggs will be easier to deal with than a bunch of adult critters, but that doesn’t mean I want to be first in line to carry a nuke in.

What really worried me was how many casualties we might have to deal with. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach when I started thinking about that. I don’t care how potent the acid blood of this alien is, I’ll tear it apart with my bare hands if one tries to take Vasquez. Same with Hudson. Or Wierzbowski. Or anyone else here.

The sounds of the Sulaco droned on around me as I helped Crowe carry crates of ammunition and ordnance into the dropship. I started wishing Dr. Ranelli was here. I felt like I needed his advice. Above all, I was missing him, despite how far I’ve progressed in my fight against PTSD. When the others weren’t looking, I pulled the balance scales charm he had given me before he left. I’ve done a lot to achieve balance in my life over the last several years. Sometimes I feel like I lose balance, but Ranelli told me that things like that are inevitable. It’s like riding a seesaw; it goes up and down. I just can’t be riding the seesaw by myself (and, no, I haven’t actually done that).

“Drake, you ready?”

I emerged from my thoughts when I heard Frost’s voice. Tucking the charm back under my armor, I said, “Yeah. I’m ready.”

Chapter 2……………………………………………………………………………………………Chapter 4

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