Culture / August 9, 2010
By Jared Vaillancourt [Creative Writing Bureau Chief]
“Another – over here.” The voice called out. She heard footfalls.
“Forget it,” another voice replied. “Damn Xenos are massing again. Leave her – she’s been hit.” Before she could formulate a reply, the first voice grunted and the footfalls vanished. Summoning her strength, she opened her eyes. The smoky tears of battle flowed skyward as her fellow soldiers retreated, leaving the dead and wounded behind. She clenched her fingers around the long gash that used to house part of her large intestine. She fought back the urge to scream.
She remembered coming to this world; Paragon III, they called it. It was a world of bright oceans that swam to depths far deeper than any on Earth, with continents the size of every major landmass on her homeworld combined. What had appealed to her the most were its forests; vast cities of trees so high their canopies fused with the clouds and turned even the brightest of days into the most intimate of nights.
Paragon III was supposed to be a new homeworld, she thought. Paradise.
“Gods damn it, Mia,” her sister’s voice flooded her thoughts, “Why do you get to go to the new homeworld? It’s not fair.” Mia had smiled at her sibling, bending down to one knee to kiss the girl on the forehead. That hadn’t tempered the little blonde’s jealousy.
“Maybe one day you’ll grow up to be big and strong,” Mia had promised, “and you’ll join the Protectorate…” she smiled as her sister stuck out her tongue at this. “Liz, only Marines get to go to new worlds first. I’ve told you this.”
“But it’s the new homeworld!” Liz had protested loudly, her foot stamping the ground. “I want to go there, Mia! I wanna go there now!” Mia hugged her sister and chuckled kindly.
“Grow up,” she ordered, “and I’ll bring back a souvenir.” Liz nodded up at her big sister.
“I’ll remember that,” Liz had warned her. “You’d better!”
“Aw, bloody fuck,” Mia half-screamed, half-spat as blood competed with sound for exodus from her lips. Nothing had ever hurt so much in her life than having half her insides ripped apart. She hugged her guts as tightly as she could, fighting nausea as they quivered between her fingers. The neosteel armor plate that was supposed to have prevented this lay in three pieces at her feet, torn apart like tissue by the Xeno that had seen fit to gut her. She clenched her teeth and stifled an angry scream as the sounds of distant shuttles lifting off in the distance signaled the end of her hope.
Mia was going to die. She knew this for a fact.
Not three days after arriving on Paragon III, a deep-forest probe had discovered the Xenos. They were a curiosity at first; sleek, smooth beings with black scales, beak-like heads with four purple eyes and three tentacle-like tails sprouting from their backs. They were thought to be the natives, perhaps even sentient due to their opposable thumbs – but observations showed them behaving more like wolves or lions than people. Aside from their long, slender claws, they weren’t considered a threat.
Weren’t supposed to be a threat, Mia thought with disdain as she shifted the mess of guts and blood to her left hand, groping with her shaky right one for her gun. “Fuck this,” Mia spat defiantly as the battlefield became disturbingly still, “I’m a dead girl either way. Might as well…” cough, “… take some of you fuckers down with me.” She clenched her teeth over a painful scream as agony rippled through her body, discharging blood from between her teeth. She lay flat on her back as her mouth opened wide, each breath needier and more desperate than the one before. The gun fell from her slippery grip.
“Not like this,” Mia whispered as fear overcame anger and tears added their watery disarray to the splatter on her face. “Gods, Liz, not like this.” She coughed and went lax, not noticing as her guts slowly began to morph back into her open abdomen.
“That’s two presents you owe me!” Liz’s face had laughed gleefully over the comlink, the little girl adorned in a quaint hat with the words “9 now!” bedazzled across it. Mia had smiled at the little blonde’s image and shook her head.
“I thought you’d forget about your souvenir,” Mia chuckled as their father appeared in the image, happily accepting the girl’s outstretched arms so he could sit with her in his lap.
“Oh, no you don’t Mia,” her father laughed as Liz stuck her tongue out triumphantly. “Your little sister doesn’t forget anything. Which, I guess, now that she’s a big girl…” he trailed off, looking down at Liz expectantly. That worthy crossed her arms.
“I have to do homework now,” Liz finished bitterly. She suddenly lit up. “Can you do my homework for my birthday gift? Please?” Mia joined her father in deliberately dramatized laughter before shaking her head and stroking the screen.
“I’ll think about it,” Mia replied. “I’ve got to go. Love you both,” she finished.
“I won’t forget!” Liz promised as she faded away. “I won’t forget you, Mia!”
“I wish you would,” Mia muttered, her breathing now shallow and forced. Her armor felt a size too big, but swimming in a little pool of her own blood like this, she didn’t notice or care. The Xenos had attacked without warning, butchering colonists and marines alike with a chilling ease and calculated precision that confirmed what Mia had suspected; they were intelligent, and deliberately misleading. No one who had been struck by one ever came back; maybe the Xenos ate them. Mia let out a sharp laugh at this thought, her vision beginning to dim. Other things were moving in the distance now. Xenos.
Her guts finished re-entering her body. The wound saw fit to close, sealing not with flesh and muscle but with scales, at first her natural olive, but quickly fading to black.
“I’m so sorry, Liz,” Mia whispered as she closed her eyes. Something dark fell before her face. She felt slender yet strong hands gently caress her exposed skin, the remainder of her armor quietly stripped away by the claws that had felled her. She was hoisted up. She was dragged away.
It was late. The moons were high in the night sky, and the forest was cold and still. She recognized the humming, immediately remembering her enemy. She opened her eyes and saw the Xenos.
“Gods damn it,” she whispered, “just get it over with.”
“Who are you?” the voices asked. She jerked awake, no longer in pain.
“I… uh… Mia,” she replied, not with a mouth but with her mind. The Xenos surrounded her, offering arms and hands to help her stand. She did just that, shaky on her new legs. “Do you know me?” she asked, blinking with four surprised eyes. Together, the Xenos nodded.
“Mia we remember,” they echoed in her thoughts. “Mia we are.”