The Hulk

byColleen Thomas©

It was first detected at eleven thousand parsecs from the outpost world of Vegan. Just one of several thousand anomalies recorded on the planetary sensors that day. Bored technicians and overworked scientists tracked its progress in a haphazard fashion, until it became apparent that it was moving in a direct path towards the planet. Still, it had been approaching for weeks before a young man noticed that it was making minute course corrections so that it wasn't just approaching the planet, it was adjusting to stay on a collision course.

Calls were made, people informed, debates were held and still it came on, a silent streak in the merciless void. No one knew quite what to do. Alarmists demanded that the Terran Authority be called in at once. The planetary governor, wary of crying wolf to the less than forgiving authority, hesitated. It wasn't until June 19th, when it entered the system, that he finally placed the call. The authority, already stretched thin covering the growing empire, dispatched the ageing Destroyer Gavin. She arrived a month later to find the planet deserted. Well, deserted wasn't quite right, scientific tests confirmed what sickened marines reported. Vegan hadn't been deserted; it had been sterilized. Not even microbes remained. And it? It was on the move, headed for the small colony on ProserpinaV.

***


The cruiser T.A. Valiant streaked through the emptiness of space on a collision course with something. Wild rumors had spread through the ship after the red alert had pulled them from blockade duty over the recalcitrant planet of New Thebes. The mess hall was an excited gaggle of conversations and fanciful tales. Marine Captain Jade Wilkinson listened with only half an ear. Scuttlebutt was rampant and always wrong, at least that was her experience. Her briefing hadn't mentioned grotesque monsters or rapacious aliens, although it had been noted that the bodies of none of the female staff at Vegan had been located. Still, in her opinion, that little tidbit of information was hardly reason for the now rampant rumors of rapacious aliens.

Jade was a tall woman with a slight build and piercing gray eyes. She had been born on Luna base, and thus hadn't had to earn her citizenship like most terrans. Her parents had both been permanently stationed on Luna and she grew up there. She had joined the space corps when she turned eighteen and had been with them ever since. The Corps was really her family and home now. She had fought in a dozen different pacification campaigns and had worked her way up to Captain of her own Marine detachment. A cool head and lightning fast reflexes had been her best assets along with a keen tactical mind.

She nibbled at a synthetic wafer and shook her head as she watched many of her men wolfing down steak and eggs. It was the traditional meal before combat, but in space you couldn't get out of your envirosuit and she had seen more than one lose his meal during a particularly violent drop and have to deal with it for days before they finally got relieved. She preached to her men not to risk it, but invariably they did. Most of the girls did too, although the one she had her eye on, Angelina seemed to listen to her.

She was a cute little thing from somewhere coreward of Mercer IV. Jade didn't know exactly because Angelina didn't either. An orphan like so many of Jade's charges, she had drifted into the Corps, and this would be her first drop. Jade had been hitting on her for the last two weeks and she seemed to be receptive to the idea. Jade was hoping that she wouldn't be sleeping alone on the long flight back.

The blaring alarm that signaled General Quarters caused a chaotic scramble that left the mess hall deserted in just a few moments. Jade waited until the rush had passed and then leisurely made her way to the drop bay. She had long ago learned that hurry up and wait was the real motto of the corps. In her small cubicle her armor waited.

Jade's suit was an old set of Mk XXVII ceramite combat armor. As an officer she had first refusal on new armor, but this set was customized to her frame and had been with her a long time. The overlapping, super dense ceramite plates were still the hardest substance in the known universe. The newer suits were less heavy, less bulky and more streamlined, but the new synthetic they used provided less ballistic protection. It just wasn't as tough as the old stuff and for Jade; she was willing to pay the price in reduced maneuverability for added stopping power. She often debated with her men who loved to rib her about her "old fashioned" armor. Her incredible reflexes allowed her to move as quickly as any of them on the confidence course, but they still kidded her whenever they sensed she was in a good mood.

Jade had another problem with the new suits, one she kept to herself. The new suits were too easy to take off. Her suit took over an hour to get on and the overlapping plates were such a bitch to remove because once they settled they often became jammed. Jade had fought in too many nasty suppressive little wars. Rape, castration, mutilation, even cannibalism; she had seen it all. She had been spared being raped to death by Tic'Chen separatists on New Madrid only because they had been unable to figure out how to remove the armor that covered her lower body before her squad mates arrived. Even their heavy cutting tools had failed to do much good when applied to the ceramite plates. It was a lesson she never forgot. The new armor was easy, just a couple of snaps and some buckles.

The new suits also lacked the nanoservos in the older, heavier armor. In the old suits, they were there to compensate for the additional weight. The new suits had no need for them. But they could give her bursts of superhuman strength if she really needed it. In an emergency, Jade could tear through a ship's bulkhead with just her suit. It was an ability she considered to be insurance in case all weapons failed.

Jade slowly put on her armor, checking each piece and each function. When she finally got the breastplate on and closed, she donned the heavy black battle helm and keyed the enviro-functions. Lines of code flashed across her HUD and rows of lights went from red to green. Rookies often took it for granted their suits were working and ignored the power up sequence, but Jade was too old a hand for making that mistake.

Oxygen, check. Water, Check. Painkiller, check. Stimdose, check. Through each of her suit's over one hundred functions she meticulously followed the check down procedure. From the radio check to the manual switch to her back up systems she tried everything before giving the suit the O.K. to go full active. From the charging stand she took her weapon and gave it the same careful, calculated once over.

Most of her troopers carried simple Mark V impact rifles. They were cheap, durable, put out a respectable volume of fire and could get decent penetration on most substances. The heavy weapons squad carried Mk XII plasma cannon and Dorntech Missile launchers. These weapons provided the heavy hitting power of the unit. Individual troopers also carried non-approved back up weapons. These ranged from single shot blast pistols to heavy combat shotguns. Theoretically she was supposed to make sure that no one was carrying anything other than standard issue before a drop. Theory stopped as soon as the unit was outside of the prying eyes of the security forces and Jade had never ordered anyone to leave a back up behind.

Jade's own weapon was non-standard and no one ever mentioned it on her annual evaluations. She carried a Tenbar Ltd. Mark II rail gun. The weapon had been designed for combat droids back before the authority realized there was no substitute for men in combat. The railguns were a masterfully designed weapon and much sought after, but each year there were fewer and fewer to be found. Tenbar had gone under when the droid experiment failed and now only a handful remained in service. Jade's had been with her since she was a raw second lieutenant. She had taken it off the body of her first sergeant after a mortar hit killed him.

The gun itself was basically a mass driver, using a series of electromagnets it accelerated the alloy shards it used as ammunition to almost incredible speeds. Jade had yet to encounter anything it wouldn't penetrate within reason. Certainly no personal armor could stop it and thus she favored it over all other weapons. She was a big believer in making each hit count.

"Now hear this, now hear this, all marines to boarding stations, I repeat all marines to boarding stations. Drop ship crews to your assembly areas, drop ship crews to your assembly areas, countdown is now t-minus fifteen minutes,"

Jade stood and marched off to her drop ship. The world was tinged an eerie shade of green in her helmet's vision field. She shouldered her weapon and stepped into her drop couch, feeling the bars move to cover her chest and thighs. The deep padding would absorb some of the forces and her suit would suppress more, but a drop was no picnic and she steeled herself for it. In the couches around the open bay her troopers all stood and waited. When the red drop lamps went to green there was a deep vibration as the dropship detached from the cruiser. Once free the tacnet became active.

"Here we go again," Sanchez said.

"Watch out for the bug eyed monsters Ria, I hear they have a taste for earth girls," Gulliver said with a laugh.

"Fuck you," Ria responded.

"Better me than little green men baby, I'll butter your muffin for you when we get back," Thornton responded.

"You'd fuck up a wet dream, numb nuts," she replied.

"Knock it off," Jade commanded.

"Aw hell, the bitch is back," an anonymous voice called.

"That's right, and you clowns know better than to be fucking around on the TAC net. If you wanna have radio sex do it on the private link," Jade said.

There was silence for a while, and then Angelina spoke over the private link.

"Captain, do you think there is any truth to the rumors about the aliens?"

"Nobody even knows if there are aliens. Much less what their sexual preferences are. Just stick close to Sanchez and do what he tells you, you'll be fine,"

"Thank you,"

"No problem, Kiddo,"

"Captain?"

"Yeah?"

"What does butter your muffin mean?"

Jade burst out laughing and couldn't stop, even when the tears began to roll down her cheeks.

"It means have sex, in a loose kind of way,"

"Oh..."

Jade was still laughing, she knew it wasn't just because it was funny, it was an outlet for the pent up emotions. As professional as she was she felt the nervous energy just as acutely as the rest of her men before a drop.

"Well, I don't know if this is the time, but since we might not make it back, you can butter my muffin anytime you want."

"Hold that thought darling, I work up quite an appetite during a firefight," Jade said with a smile.

As much as she wanted to continue the conversation she flipped back to the TAC net.

"Jade, this is Barnham, do you read?" the drop ship Captain called.

"Over,"

"We have a visual, I'm patching it though to you now," he said.

Her helmet view screen filled with a ghostly image. It was huge and looked like no ship she had ever seen. In fact it looked like an interstellar junk pile, with parts of several different ships haphazardly stuck together. The two huge engines at the rear glowed with a baleful fire, if they hadn't she would have sworn the thing wasn't spaceworthy.

"Jesus Christ," someone swore.

"Stow it," Jade ordered, "What are you getting on the sensors?"

"Massive life form readings, but nothing the computers recognize. Wait, check that, I've got some that look human, all located in the same general area near the power core. Keelward we're getting a massive reading of Alphas."

"Virus bombs?"

"Probably."

"Anything else?"

"Power readings are off the scales, shielding too. I don't think Valiant will even be able to punch a hole in them. Looks like this trip may have been for nothing,"

"Fully shielded?"

"Yeah, wait! No, there is no shielding over that flat bay near the prow,"

"Put us down there then,"

"I don't like it Jade, that area was shielded in the preliminary scan. It stinks of a trap,"

"I don't like it either, but if they're inviting us in it would be rude not to accept their invitation. Wait a minute, is she armed?"

"Not that we can tell, but it's possible some of those massive power readings near the fore hull are storage capacitors for energy batteries of some kind,"

"In that case make it a hot landing,"

"If we do that you'll be up shit creek with no paddle lady. They close that shield once we pull out and no one will be able to get to you."

"Affirm, call an abort," Jade said.

The line was dead for a minute and then Barnham came back on.

"Bad news lady, the brass said negative on the abort."

"Figures, drop us hot then, no need for you guys to get slagged too," Jade said.

"Best of luck," the old captain said.

With a sickening lurch the drop ship fired its afterburners and the G-forces drove Jade back into her couch. The ships barely touched the surface of the great hulk when the bottom opened and Jade and her fellow marines plummeted the fifteen odd feet to the surface. Before she could even get up from the crouch she landed in, the drop ship was pulling away.

"Thanks Barnham, you're the best," Jade said.

"No problem lady, good..." the words were cut off.

"Barnham? Jake? Valiant this is Jade force do you read? Fuck!"

"Must have closed the shield," Sanchez observed.

"Right. Cross, do you have a fix on those humanoid life forms?"

"Yeah Captain, kind of. I'm getting tons of interference. Either this ship is crawling with critters or the energy is giving me ghost positives on the life form scope."

"All right, form up. First squad you got point, Cross, stay near me with that scope. Sanchez, you guys take the rear. Lock and load. We are on our own here. Cat one rules of engagement."

"Yeeehaaah!"

"Shut up Cowboy, and make sure that cannon is pointed away from all of us before you open up this time, got it?"

"Yes, ma'am!"

"I find plasma scars on my suit again, and it's your ass."

"First squad, form on me," he called as the heavy weapons squad moved to the point.

From where they were standing there seemed only one way in, a strange sphincter-like hatch.

"Blow it Captain?"

"Yeah, blow it...Wait! Belay that, looks like our hosts are still in a good mood," Jade said as the opening enlarged.

As she walked through Jade couldn't help but feel like she was walking into a vagina. The alien hatchway, just reminded her too much of one, and that was deeply disturbing to her.

The hallway they entered was round and the deck had a spongy feel to it. Strange liquids seemed to pulse thorough the translucent walls. Her sensors showed a high degree of moisture in the hallway, as well as an atmosphere that was easily within human tolerances. After a few hundred yards the passageway opened into a huge room. It was uneven and the ceiling, if there was one, was outside the range of their most powerful searchlights. Three passages lead off of the room in different directions.

"Which way, Cross?" Jade asked.

"Fuck if I know captain. The scopes so fucked up, the whole fucking place seems to be alive."

"Let me see that," Jade commanded.

The slight marine came over and showed her the scope. The whole tube pulsed red, with no defining blips.

"Did you check it out before we dropped?"

"Oh hell, of course I did."

"Did you run it through diagnostics?" she asked.

There was a long silence.

"Well did you?"

"No, but it was working okay, I swear it."

"Idiot. Stow it. You can take the point since it's worthless."

"Fuck."

"Stow it, Cross, you're lucky I don't have you court martialed on the spot."

"But it was working, I swear it," he mumbled as he moved to the head of the column.

"Hey there, little buddy, welcome to the front," Cowboy said.

"Stow that shit, Cowboy. All of you, just can it. Without that fucking scope we're lost and we can't get through to the Valiant to get a fix. I want every eye peeled and everyone watching, we can't..."

Jade's words were cut off as the roof suddenly began to collapse, along with the walls. Troopers scrambled towards the passageways, but each was being closed off by one of the strange spchinterlike doors. Cowboy didn't hesitate at all and blasted the one in front of his squad down with a long volley of plasma cannon fire.

Sanchez reacted almost as quickly, lobbing a thermite grenade through the one in front of his squad. It exploded behind the now closed hatch and in nanoseconds burned through, opening the way. Ria hosed the one in front of her men down with the flamer she carried as an auxiliary weapon, mounted below the barrel of her impact rifle. The floor was heaving and buckling when Jade darted through the middle passage after making sure all her men we out

"Casualties!" Jade hollered after a few moments.

"Negative," Cowboy called back as he helped her to her feet.

"A-okay," Ria called.

"One down," Sanchez called.

"Condition?"

"He's dead. He was the first one in, single entry wound over his heart, no exit wound. Damned strange captain, I was right behind him and didn't hear or see a thing."

"Fuck. How far apart are we? Can anyone tell?"

"Looks like thirty feet, but this passage goes off away from you," Ria responded.

"Same here," Sanchez said.

"Boom-Boom, can you open these walls up?" Jade asked.

"I can try, Skip, but it'll take a pretty big charge, and this ship seems fragile, might bring the roof down on us all."

"All right, that's a last resort. Send out scouts, see if these passages come back together somewhere. Recon it in force and shoot to kill, screw scientific concerns."

"Roger."

"Roger."

***


Ria moved out with her troops. The stout woman wasn't too upset about being separated from the other squads, she was used to functioning on her own. The long passageway continued to move away from the central corridor. After thirty minutes of careful scouting she hadn't seen a single off shoot or doorway, but she was worried now. The walls were all of the same strange spongy material and she could easily see where she and her men might have missed one of those strange apertures that seemed to be hatches on this crazy ship.

"Bronson, Ricks, get back and act as rear guard. I got a bad feeling."

"You got it pretty lady."

"We're on the case."

They advanced another few yards when the sound filter picked up a sound, similar to the chittering of an insect. Ria had only a few seconds to listen before a roiling mass of dark bodies filled the corridor in font of her. They were pouring out of apertures in the sides of the corridor, as far as the eye could see. She depressed the trigger on her rifle before her mind even began to try and define them.

"Holy Shit!" someone shouted and then the whole corridor was filled with the retorts of rifles.

"They're behind us!" someone else hollered.

The first wave of them disintegrated under the hail of high density slugs. Walters discharged his grenade launcher and the explosion filled the corridor with black ichor and body parts. Now that she had some breathing space, Ria took in the sight of them. The creatures were a sickly black color and about two and a half meters tall. Their bodies were bloated and covered with a chitinous exoskeleton. Each had six spindly legs, and they moved with a scuttling gait that had caused the sound she heard. They looked like giant roaches, except for the six long tentacles that protruded from each one's upper body.

Suddenly all was silent. Ria looked around to see her squad standing around looking this way and that with smoking weapons.

Report Story

byColleen Thomas© 28 comments/ 116404 views/ 68 favorites

Share the love

Report a Bug

Next
3 Pages:123

Forgot your password?

Please wait

Change picture

Your current user avatar, all sizes:

Default size User Picture  Medium size User Picture  Small size User Picture  Tiny size User Picture

You have a new user avatar waiting for moderation.

Select new user avatar:

   Cancel