I was exhausted enough to where I hung there in the thick resin for a few minutes without moving. Every inch of my body was aching, and I felt drained of every ounce of energy I once had.
I was drained emotionally, too. Wierzbowski screaming my name was still echoing in my brain, as clear as the majority of my flashbacks. It had probably joined my flashbacks as something to appear in my nightmares for years to come.
Still, I heard no one call out for me. A surge of purpose and motivation and outright fear passed through my veins. I grunted as I struggled against the hardening resin. My muscles tensed and relaxed as I repeatedly tried to push against it, hoping it was breakable. Please, please, please, please! I shut my eyes, forcing back a cry as I clenched my fist and moved to get my left arm free.
I was filled with a sense of hope you can’t even imagine when I heard the slimy snapping of the resin. Breathing hard, I felt dizzy as I yanked the crap off my right arm, and began sliding down the black wall.
I adjusted my helmet, and reached for the comms button. “Gorman? Gorman, come in. It’s Drake. I’m alive and OK. Gorman? Gorman!”
All I got was static. The hope I felt came crashing down to the pit of my stomach.
“Shit,” I muttered.
I couldn’t just stand there, especially since my smartgun was nowhere to be found. The tunnel ahead of me was pitch black, but at least my shoulder lamp worked, and apparently the alien didn’t know what a handgun was, and had left my Zastava in its chest holster. I pulled it out and held it up in front of me, listening closely to my surroundings. There was silence, aside from my breathing, my heartbeat, and the dripping of fluids all over the place. I’m not sure if it was water or something nasty I was stepping in as I began moving down the tunnel. The splashing echoed the further down I went, and I wondered if it meant I was getting closer to an exit.
It was difficult to shut out the feelings of fear, but I did it regardless. The hive smelled absolutely horrendous. I knew what I was sniffing for-the scent of dust and rain. If I smelled dust and rain, it meant I was close to the outside. So far, all I was getting was a sickly odor emanating from the walls.
The aliens have an upper hand here, if I run into them. This is their turf. Plus, even if I can hit them with my Zastava, I have to get far enough away so I don’t get hit with acidic blood. I hoped, and I prayed hard that I didn’t run into anything. I’ve never prayed so hard before. If I was going to get some kind of divine intervention, it had to be now.
Something felt off. Something deep in my gut was telling me I was completely alone in the hive. Surely, there had to be some aliens left behind to guard their lair. Maybe I had gotten lucky and found an abandoned tunnel they didn’t use anymore. Maybe it was because there were no hosts for their worm-spawn. I was it, unless they got one of my teammates . . .
A sudden feeling of dread grabbed my stomach and squeezed it hard. I almost keeled over. No. There was no way these monsters had gotten somebody else. I would’ve heard them screaming. I would’ve known. I just would’ve.
I tried to hone my hearing, listening for anything that sounded like aliens crawling on the wall, or anything that sounded like it was outside. I hadn’t actually seen anything in who knows how long, and I was starting to feel disoriented.
My heart skipped a beat when I heard a skittering sound. It was too small to be a full-grown alien. Something pale broke the darkness, and I saw a spider-thing on the ground, heading toward me. It only took a single shot to rip it apart.
Handguns don’t go quietly into the night. I was hoping and praying even harder that I really was alone and there were no aliens around to hear my shooting. Then again, if there was a spider, there had to be eggs nearby.
I rounded a corner to find an open egg next to the wall. A gut-wrenching smell was coming from its insides, whatever it used to grow the spider. It must’ve opened recently, because of how strong the smell was. I gagged, and felt muscles half-contract in my stomach. It took a lot for me to resist vomiting.
I could hear a clearer echo when I kept walking. I wanted to get out of here so bad. My breathing sped up, as did my walking. I only stopped when I heard something: wind. The only thing I was thinking about then was following the sound of the wind.
Things got leagues better when I could smell dust and rain. A smile actually came across my face. I was almost out. I was almost out-
Something dropped in front of me, and slowly rose to its full height. The alien turned to face me, jaws open to show its second set. I quickly looked over my shoulder, and began backing up to get a good shot. I fired as it lunged at me, punching four holes right through the font of its skull before it collapsed, twitching.
I kept going. I had no choice but to keep going. I could hear the wind and smell the rain. I was so close I could almost taste it.
Light. I saw light. I ran toward the light. I ran as fast as I could, down another tunnel. It gradually got drier the further I went.
I dashed out of the hive, and I looked up at the perpetually gray skies of LV-426. Without thinking, I tipped my head back and screamed triumphantly. I screamed despite my throat being raw from calling for my friends earlier. I screamed until my body couldn’t take it anymore. My voice was gone.
From where I was, I could see the dropship’s floodlights. I ran as fast as I could across the rocky landscape, not really paying attention to what I was doing. I ended up tripping and twisting my ankle, as well as biting my lip so hard it bled. I limped to the dropship, blood slowly running from my lower lip. The dropship was getting closer, unlike my nightmares where the thing I want is getting further away. Hot tears began streaming down my face as I called, hoarsely, “Ferro! Spunkmeyer!”
When I got closer, the dropship hatch opened, and Ferro jogged out, holding her P90. “Drake! Drake, are you okay?” She slung the weapon over her shoulder to hug me tight. “We kept hearing from everyone else you got taken!”
I was about to say something when I felt her hug get tighter. Closing my mouth, I hugged her back, feeling immensely relieved.
“Wow, you stink.” Ferro gave a nervous laugh. She buried her face in my vest anyway, and then stood on her toes to kiss my cheek. “Spunkmeyer! Go get a first aid kit, quick!”
I sat while Ferro set about taping my ankle. She gave me a thick tissue to hold to my lip to stop the bleeding, and Spunkmeyer stood by with a canteen of water. Newt was sitting up front, with Spunkmeyer’s helmet crookedly on her head.
“It just grabbed me and ran,” I said. “Dragged me off to some section of a hive, stuck me to the wall, and that was it. I guess it was hoping one of the fucking spider things would get me next.”
“How’d you get out?” Spunkmeyer asked.
“I don’t know. I went down a tunnel and kept following it. I had no clue where I was going.”
Ferro looked up from my ankle. “As long as you’re alright. That’s all that matters.” She took the canteen from Spunkmeyer, and gave it to me. “Radio Gorman, Spunkmeyer. Let him know Drake’s okay.”
“Got it.” Spunkmeyer walked back to the cockpit. “Alright, sweetie, I need my helmet back.” He lifted up Newt and set her on his lap after putting on his helmet. “Hey, Gorman? Gorman?” He waited for three agonizing heartbeats.
“What’s going on, Spunkmeyer?” Gorman asked. “Make it quick, we got problems down here!”
My heart skipped another beat. “Problems? Is everyone okay?”
Spunkmeyer looked over his shoulder to tell me to shush.
“Well, we’re trying to hold off a fucking horde of these creatures, and Dietrich is trying to calm down Wierzbowski, who’s having a fucking meltdown right now. The warhead’s been set, and we have to get out soon.”
“Drake is alive and okay. Sprained ankle, but nothing too severe.”
Gorman breathed a sigh of relief. “Holy shit…” Then we heard him call out to the others with him. “Drake’s fine! Drake’s alright!”
Spunkmeyer winced when we heard an explosion over the radio. It sounded massive. In the distance, we could see a plume of fire rising up from a section of the derelict. “Gorman? Gorman!” Spunkmeyer tapped his helmet, and took a breath. “Mic’s out. Dammit.”
Ferro was unable to hide the fact that she was upset and afraid. Tears rolled down her face. “No… Please tell me the signal just got disrupted by the derelict itself.”
“I don’t know,” Spunkmeyer said, adjusting Newt on his lap.
I was equally upset. I felt sick at the thought that everyone I knew and cared about could’ve just been killed. My stomach couldn’t take it anymore; after the awful stench of the hive, being scared out of my wits, and now the fear that my girlfriend and my two best friends just got blown to bits, I was ready to throw up.
None of us really knew what to do at this point. Ten agonizingly slow minutes passed. Spunkmeyer would occasionally try to call Gorman or Apone or Hicks using the radio, but no one responded. Finally, he turned to face me and Ferro, saying, “If we don’t hear anything soon, we need to grab Frost and Crowe and go home. There’s no way we can go in there safely, and no reason for us to stay if they’re all dead.”
Ferro hung her head. “Fuck,” she whispered.
I swallowed hard. “I can’t live with the fact that I gotta tell Eliza and Miranda that Wierzbowski and Hudson were killed. I should’ve stayed in the hive and died. I can’t live with this-”
“Don’t talk like that, Drake!” Ferro backhanded me. “Everything will be fine. We can do this.”
“Yeah, we don’t even know if they’re dead yet,” Spunkmeyer added. “I’m willing to sit here for a few more hours. If they escape, we’ll be able to see the APC coming.”
There’ve been a few times in my life where simple minutes go by like hours. This was one of them. There was silence, aside from the wind battering the hull of the dropship and my heart beating. I wanted badly to go out there and run to the derelict, but both Ferro and Spunkmeyer told me not to.
Not knowing what just happened to my friends and teammates was one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had to deal with. It’s up there with guilt and depression. I sat in the dropship, worrying about what would happen when we went home. I couldn’t imagine going up to Eliza and telling her that Wierzbowski was dead. I couldn’t imagine going up to Miranda and telling her Hudson was dead. I didn’t want to be the one breaking the news to them. I couldn’t.
“What if it’s true they’re gone?” I whispered to Ferro.
Instead of telling me that we were going to pull through this, Ferro took a breath, and touched my knee. “We still have each other. I know that sounds really stupid and cheesy, but it’s true.”
“Yeah, don’t say it’s cheesy. I don’t want to start my life as a civilian alone.”
Neither of us could figure out what more to say. The anxiety from everyone inside the ship was palpable.
One thing I’ve learned is never, ever assume that things will stay quiet in situations like this. That’s the first thing they teach you in boot camp.
Spunkmeyer got up to refill his canteen, leaving Newt in the chair again. She looked over at him as he left the cockpit. Like Ripley, I noticed that Newt was relaxing a little in terms of her facial expressions. She looked less blank, less terrified. It didn’t take a long speech (let’s be real, stuff like that doesn’t work with children) for her to start coming out of her trauma. All it really took was someone being there and letting her know they weren’t going to be taken away and killed by these animals. She probably watched her parents go in horrible ways.
Newt was running her finger along the controls, without actually moving them. She gripped them once, again without moving them, and then let go, looking over her shoulder at Spunkmeyer.
“I’m coming back, honey, don’t worry.” Spunkmeyer offered a grin. He held up his canteen. “Do you want some? It’s just water.”
Newt gave a shy nod, then we heard a hard thunk.
I saw the long head of an alien peering up into the cockpit. Newt gave an earsplitting scream. The beast was trying to crawl up the windshield.
Spunkmeyer grabbed one of the joysticks at his station and squeezed the trigger. The dropship shook slightly as the nose gun ripped the alien in half. Spunkmeyer cursed angrily. “We’re getting out of here,” he hissed. “Ferro, come on! Drake, take Newt, and strap yourselves in.”
I didn’t argue as I sat right behind the cockpit, even though I had this awful feeling that this was it; everyone else was dead and we were the only survivors.
“Are we going now?” Newt asked, softly.
“I have no idea,” I replied, tightening her seat straps.
“Is everyone really gone?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you going to cry?”
“If I find out they’re really dead, yes, I’m going to cry.” I adjusted my harness before leaning over to look through the door to the cockpit, and out the canopy.
As we lifted off, there were more aliens gathering beneath us. It looked as though we were fleeing just in time.
“We got lucky,” Ferro whispered. “Radio Frost and let him know we’re coming.”
Spunkmeyer took a breath to speak, but then we heard Frost’s voice come over the radio. “They’re here, they’re here! They’ve got bugs on their asses! Ferro, we’re going to need a pickup right away!”
A wave of relief crashed over me. At least some of them were still alive.
Ferro took the dropship lower to where the APC was racing across the landscape. I took off my harness and carefully stood up to go into the cockpit. My heart was in my throat, and I couldn’t sit still and just listen. I steadied myself on the back of Spunkmeyer’s seat.
We could see aliens trying to leap aboard and pry into the vehicle. There were bright flashes as whoever was operating the weapons tried holding them off with the APC’s cannons.
“How are we going to do this?” Spunkmeyer asked. “We can’t pick them up without letting those things in.”
Before Ferro could answer, all three of us gasped as a drop of several feet appeared in front of the APC, too fast for anyone to do anything. The heavy vehicle slammed into the ground and stopped completely. The aliens swarmed over it, making a renewed effort to get inside.
“Drake, I’m going to swing us around. Get the ramp gun!” Ferro shouted.
She spun the dropship in a circle so fast that it almost knocked me off my feet as I dashed back to the cargo ramp and hit the button to open it. As it pivoted down, I unlocked the mount for the ramp machine gun from the wall and swung it out into the middle of the opening. When it locked into position, I grabbed the gun, turned the targeting computer on, and as soon as it picked up the aliens crawling over the APC, I started blasting them apart. It only took a few seconds to wipe them out, but as I looked towards the derelict, I could see more aliens still racing, almost galloping, towards us. I reached for my headset. “Gorman, Apone, whoever’s left, you’re clear but you’ve got to get out of there now! We’ve got more incoming!”
The door to the APC opened up and I could see everyone scrambling to get out. To my relief, everyone was there. Ferro lowered the dropship until the end of the ramp was only a few feet off the ground as they approached. Gorman flung himself onto the ramp, grunting as he crawled upward. I held out my hand, pulling him into the dropship. He didn’t bother acknowledging that I was alive and okay. As soon as he was up, he yelled for the others to get on.
Vasquez was fending off part of the approaching horde with her smartgun, and it didn’t look like the aliens were letting up anytime soon. She turned to see me, and I could’ve sworn I saw tears in her eyes. Like everyone else, she’d been convinced I was lost to the hive. She blasted apart another alien before running and jumping onto the ramp, and she would’ve fallen back down if I didn’t grab onto her.
I silenced her by kissing her full on the lips. “I’m okay. Just take your gun off and help me get everyone in here.”
“Apone, come on!” Gorman yanked our sergeant onto the ramp, followed by Ripley, and then Hicks. “Newt, get away from there!”
The little girl was standing close to the edge, thinking she could help the rest of the unit get into the dropship. An alien leapt onto the edge of the ramp, and Newt screamed to the nearest person. “Hudson!”
Hudson was right next to her, and he grabbed her by the arm and swung her out of the way with a curse, putting himself between her and the alien. “Look out, kid!” He blasted the alien apart, but it fell towards him and he had to dodge out of the way, falling off of the ramp back to the ground. Before any of us could go after him, he was back up, blasting aliens left and right and screaming profanities the whole way.
Wierzbowski landed poorly on the ramp. I heard the wind rush out of him as he fell hard on his belly. Quickly, he pulled himself up, taking my offered hand. His eyes sparkled with tears when he stood up, and he hugged me.
Frost jumped aboard the dropship. “Hudson! Come on, you moron!”
“What’s going on?” Spunkmeyer asked.
Hudson was running out of room to jump. Aliens were beginning to crowd him from all directions as he kept firing, pushing people toward the ramp.
“Hudson, now is not the time to play the hero!” I called.
“You heard the man! Get up here!” Apone barked.
“Trying, Sarge!” Hudson shouted.
“Run and jump!” Vasquez said.
“The warhead’s gonna kill ’em all anyway, buddy, now, come on!” I hollered.
Hudson was flailing as he made his leap, but he wasn’t the only one jumping. An alien grabbed hold of his right ankle as he belly-flopped onto the ramp.
“Take off, Ferro!” Gorman ordered.
“HELP ME!” Hudson’s scream pierced the souls of anyone who heard it. He and a hissing alien were dangling from the ramp as Ferro began lifting the dropship away from the APC.
He screamed again as he began sliding toward the edge. It was a scream I pray I never have to hear again, because it’s a sound you hear when someone is certain they’re about to die. I took his hand, trying to keep myself from sliding along with them.
“Don’t let go, man!” Hudson moaned.
I was struggling to pull him up. The alien was clearly heavier and stronger than either of us, but it was frustrated that it hadn’t dragged Hudson out of the dropship yet.
Ferro was gradually picking up speed, and tried shaking the alien off. People fell and slid and grabbed onto things to keep from falling.
“You’ll take Hudson out, too!” Gorman snarled. “Don’t do that!”
“Sorry, sir!” Ferro yelled. She’s typically calm when flying. I think it was the fear of losing Hudson that disrupted her mindset.
The alien dug its claws into Hudson’s leg, and Hudson squeezed my hand tight enough to hurt as he howled in pain. My boots were slowly sliding toward the edge of the ramp, and my heart was pounding harder and harder as I tried to muster the strength to get Hudson up.
Wierzbowski wrapped his arms around me, providing additional (and very welcome) manpower. At the same time, the enraged alien took Hudson’s other leg, continuing to threaten to just yank him down to the gray landscape beneath us.
“Why can’t we just shoot it?!” Vasquez hollered.
“How do we know it’s not gonna bleed acid all over him?” I said. “He could lose his leg, for crying out loud!”
Gorman was holding the back of Wierzbowski’s armor while gripping a railing. “If we go fast enough, most of that thing’s blood should just fly backward with it instead of splashing back at Hudson. He might get a drop or two, but nothing that’ll take his fucking leg off.”
“There’s no way that’ll work,” I grunted.
“What choice do we have, Drake? Either we do it, or we don’t, and we’re losing time!” Gorman took a breath, adjusting his grip on Wierzbowski’s armor. He looked over his shoulder. “Speed it up a notch, Ferro!”
“Is Hudson in?” Ferro asked.
“No, but I got a plan!” Gorman quickly wrapped his arm around Wierzbowski’s chest, and tightened his grip on the railing. “Everybody, hold onto something and don’t fucking let go!” He looked around, making sure everyone was hanging onto something as the dropship picked up speed.
My heart was skipping beats as I lifted slightly off the ramp. I would’ve flown out if I wasn’t being held by Wierzbowski, who was squeezing me as hard as he could. I heard his boots skid against the metal floor as he, too, was coming close to flying out of the dropship.
I could feel my body wanting to loosen my grip on Hudson. Instinctively, I dug my nails into his hand. “I’m not gonna let go, buddy,” I breathed. “Not letting go…”
I watched the blood from Hudson’s leg fly back toward the alien, which was trying to yank him away from us. The tugging only prompted me to grip his hand harder.
“Shoot it, Vasquez!” Gorman hollered.
Vasquez had thrown her smartgun on the floor of the dropship, but she slowly eased her way down to where she could see Hudson and the alien. Crowe was holding onto her armor, making sure she didn’t lift off the floor as she drew her Model 39 from its holster. There was an agonizing moment as she tried to get a clear shot, and then let out a frustrated curse in Spanish and fired two rounds. I watched the alien’s acidic blood shoot behind it, disappearing into the dusty landscape. A few specks landed on Hudson’s armor, dotting it with tiny holes. The screeching creature let go of Hudson, and fell, vanishing in the dust below.
“Pull!” I growled.
We yanked Hudson on board, and Gorman pressed the button to close the ramp. I took a moment to process what happened, breathing hard, still holding Hudson’s hand. We had been gripping each other so hard that our nails left marks in each other’s skin, despite mine being covered with a glove.
Hudson began crawling closer to me, and gave me the tightest hug you could imagine. No words were needed. We tried to even out our breathing while holding each other.
As soon as my breath was back, I said, “Next time, jump when Apone tells you to jump, you idiot.”
Hudson gave a wheezing laugh. “Thanks, man.”
“No, seriously, how many times have I saved your ass while I’ve been in this unit?”
“A lot, man.”
“Exactly. What does that tell you?” I roughly tousled his hair. “You’re not that smart, bud, but I love you, anyways.”
“We all saved his ass this time,” Apone said, kneeling by us. “Alright, let’s hug and kiss each other when we get back to the colony. The hard part isn’t over yet, sweethearts.”
“Hey, how long until that nuke goes off?” Spunkmeyer called back to us.
“We set it for fifteen minutes,” Gorman answered. “I wanted to make sure we had enough time to get clear. In a few more minutes, everything in an eight-mile radius around that ship is going to be history.”
“We’ll be able to see it from the colony,” Frost said gleefully. Sometimes I forget just how scary he can be when it comes to weapons and explosives.