By Joshua A. Smith
“Shut the gates!”
Lieutenant Pearce snapped up as his comm unit screeched with the command. His chair creaked angrily at the abuse, and the report he had been engrossed in fell to the floor.
“Copy that? What’s going on?”
“It’s Farley! Gamma Patrol! Shut the gates, Pearce!”
The officer instinctively moved his hand to the emergency switch on the side of his control panel. He hesitated before throwing it. Instead, he looked over the bank of displays in front of him to find the source of the trouble.
Nothing approached on any of them. All of the cameras showed only the normal activity of an offworld research facility, and the same plains dotted with alien jungle that had been present long before the Terran forces had landed.
“Calm down, Sergeant. What’s the situation?”
“Sir, we encountered a hostile! It’s on its way to base!”
Pearce looked over the displays again.
“Negative, Sergeant. There’s nothing on our screens.” The lieutenant’s eyes narrowed. “Are your environmental seals in place? The plant life here is dangerous.”
“Sir, we’re not hallucinating,” Farley objected. As if to underscore his words, a form crested a hill on the central monitor and sprinted towards the outpost. It was not a man – it was far too large for that. Too bulbous, too. Moving at all under that girth seemed impossible, but it charged like an overweight rhino on two legs.
Pearce stared, frozen, until a guttural roar from the creature yanked him back to reality.
He threw the switch. Flashing lights and sirens around the doors of the outpost gave a few seconds’ warning before the massive metal doors slammed shut.
The alien’s angry roar reverberated through Pearce’s control room. The rage and frustration in that horrible sound sent a shiver down Pearce’s spine.
Green fists and arms slammed against the metal door. It pounded on the metal over and over, shrieking insensibly each time.
“Sir, you’ve got to shut the gates! This thing is fast!”
“We’re already locked down, Sergeant. I see it.”
A sigh of relief came over the comm. Other voices talked over each other in the background, probably the rest of the patrol.
Pearce barely heard them as he studied the bizarre being on his screen.
Dark and light green blotches covered its skin in ragged, patchy patterns. Its limbs and torso were a mess of bulging blobs, as if it was made of bubbles pressed together into a giant, man-shaped mockery. And the head…
The flesh there undulated and warped constantly, the bubbly texture roiling as the creature continued its assault on the door. Pearce could find no eyes, nor the mouth that roared and screamed, only tufts of black hair jutting from its irregular crevices.
The lieutenant shook himself in a vain attempt to dismiss his revulsion. “Report, Sergeant.”
“We lost contact with Beta Patrol and the base twenty minutes ago, sir. We were heading back when that…thing came flying at us out of a cave. It knocked over Abrams and Donnelly before taking off. We’ve been chasing it ever since, trying to raise you on comms.”
The brute stopped beating on the door, but continued to howl in frustration. Pearce felt nauseous as its mottled-green throat warbled with the effort.
“Where are you now?”
“Position Four, sir. By the cliff.”
Pearce tore his eyes away from the alien and checked the other displays. He could just make out the shapes of five Terran soldiers at the base of a sheer drop-off some seven hundred meters away.
The lieutenant looked back at the great green thing before the main door. Whatever it was, it was hostile and it was intent on getting into the base. There was only one option.
“Tell Specialist Carson to get this thing off my door.”
The lieutenant watched the patrol on his screen as Carson fitted a longer barrel onto the end of her rifle. Pearce turned his attention back to the main screen.
“Scream all you like, you ugly beast. It’ll all be over soon.”
As if it could understand him, the creature looked straight at the camera. The new angle allowed Pearce to glimpse an eye in the mass of bubbled green flesh. An icy shock went through the Terran officer. There was something about that eye…something almost human.
A tiny flash reflected off its neck. Pearce stared. Something metal was there, stuck between two green bulbs. The being turned slightly and Pearce could just make out something imprinted on the item.
It was a dog tag.
The command came too late. The thuk of a bullet hitting flesh sounded through the speakers, and blood sprayed across the monitor screen.
Pearce reversed the shutdown and flew from the control room. The door opened as he ran down the hall. The corpse slumped to the ground, its green color a sharp contrast to the brilliant red pooling beneath.
“Sir?” came Farley’s voice over the comm.
The lieutenant knelt by the body. The hole in the back of its head was neat and clean, just what he expected from a Terran specialist.
He touched the back of the neck. Up close it was obvious that the skin was not muscular but stretched tight. It was swollen, as though from a massive allergic reaction.
Pearce took a deep breath and pressed his fingers between two of the bulbous orbs. There it was. Metal.
He pulled his hand out, and with it came the snapped remnants of a chain and a pair of dog tags.
Farley’s voice trembled over the comm. Pearce took a deep breath before answering, hoping that the cool air would still his mind and quiet his stomach.
It did neither.
“Sergeant, report back to base. I know what happened to Beta Patrol.”