Chapter 5: Finding Faces
After crash landing only a few blocks from the river, the group had ran. It had been Saya who'd provided them direction.
"This is it?"
The pink haired mechanic nodded as she came to a stop before the durasteel building. "Gradation Air's local warehouse." Walking up to the small side door, Saya slid up a panel to reveal the key pad. "Management uses it to store components for large scale orders. They ship all part orders here, actually, to save on costs. So guess who has the code." She punched in a five digit sequence.
Ten seconds later and they were off the streets, Takashi yanking the door shut behind them.
The interior of the warehouse was dark, the metal frame entirely devoid of windows with only a few electric lights scattered across the ceiling which gave the whole space a gloomy atmosphere. Luckily, there were more than a few lamps near the entrance, presumably left there by employees who knew how difficult it could be to find things in the warehouse's half light.
As they moved deeper into the rows of shipping containers and the like, Saya pulled few lengths of fabric off of various things around the room and tossed them to Takashi who set up a small sitting area inside of an empty crate.
Alice was asleep in moments.
The rest of the group filed in and sat down at random points around the crate. Seeing Shizuka's glare, Takashi slumped forward and sighed to himself. "Is this really necessary Shizuka?"
She nodded emphatically "It's important Takashi." He cocked an eyebrow. Shizuka continued, "You're exhibiting new traits, ones W&Y didn't code for during the augmentation process. Enhanced strength, preternatural senses, these are all things that you aren't supposed to have. It could be dangerous!"
Takashi blinked. "Actually, I'm surprised you know what preternatural means."
Shizuka pouted. "I'm not that bad!"
"Wait, wait. What the hell are you talking about?" Takashi and Shizuka glanced over at Saya. "You mean that fearless leader over here is some sort of science experiment?"
Takashi chuckled wryly. "That's one way to say it..."
Saya rolled her eyes. "Stars, what type of crazy group did I get dragged into this time." She held up a hand. "Wait, don't tell me. I don't want to know."
Takashi shrugged and settled down against the back of the crate. "That's fine. I don't want to talk about it."
He let out another sigh. "Fine. I can hear them, or sense them, or whatever you want to call it. I can talk to them too, and... I think- I think I might be able to take control of them."
Rei glanced up sharply, "You said you couldn't do that."
"Well that was before I killed one just by glaring at it wasn't it?"
"You did what?!" Saya turned to Rei and Shizuka, "Is he some sort of genetically modified Superman?"
The resident male in the group shook his head wryly "This is going to be a long night."
"Well, that's not exactly inaccurate." Shizuka said. She gave Saya a broad explanation of her and Takahi's history.
The other two sat in silence for a moment, before Rei remembered something. Looking over at Takashi she asked. "So what's the plan now?"
He shrugged. "Survive. Try to get out of the city and find a way across the river, or better yet, some way off of the planet entirely." He looked over at Saya, "Do you have enough parts here to build a hovercar."
"Oh yeah!" She rolled her eyes "We just keep spare fusion generators and antigrav coils lying around in random warehouses. In fact, there's a spaceship in the back room. Oh! why don't we just use that instead?"
"Cut the sarcasm."
"Look," Saya said, "We might have the right parts. But even if we did, there aren't any tools here, no equipment at all. So unless you can build a flight system with your bare hands, you're shit out of luck."
"Nothing for it." Was Takashi's gruff reply. "We'll scavenge for anything useful we can find around here before heading out."
"To where?" Rei asked.
Nobody spoke much after that. They were too busy going about their task of grabbing anything that might be useful and stockpiling it in front of the 'home' crate. They could pick and choose later, from what Takashi had said, now they just wanted to get things to choose from. Unfortunately, there was little by the way of food or ammunition, save for box of twenty or so road flares that Rei had stumbled across. Those were going in the 'keep' pile for sure.
They let Alice sleep while they explored the warehouse and took their time checking crates and offices for anything that might be useful. Takashi found four inch pocket knife in a desk drawer, and while he snorted at the thought of using suck a dinky blade on an alien or a predator, he pocketed it all the same.
In the end they ever found another duffel back to carry supplies in, thought they had precious little fill it with. A few bottles of water, some parts that Saya dubbed, 'essential', a fusion cutter, Rei's road flairs, and a bag of chips were all they discovered.
When Takashi finally called them back to their crate, a few hours had passed. A quick glance out the door showed that it was about noon. As Alice sleepily woke from her nap, the rest of the group handed out backpacks and made ready to leave.
Perhaps, if they had spent a bit less time in the warehouse, they would have been a bit luckier in the long run.
It was right before Shizuka opened the door when Takashi's head snapped up. He spun around as a Xenomorph launched itself from the shadows of the warehouse, only to be thrown sideways as it swiped him away with on strike of its claws.
The black chitin sank deep into his arm, and blood splattered as he landed on the ground. But as it turned upon him in animalistic glee, Takashi struck.
Where before it had been instinctual, now he threw his conscious forward on-
A wall of black iron and blood, crumbling beneath his asault.
-purpose and tore into the aliens mind. Before the rest of the group could even turn, it was over, and the xeno was twitching on the ground.
Saya took one glance at the scene before her: Takashi slowly rising back up to his feet, the alien remaining on the ground, appearing almost like a supplicant before its lord.
And she summed up the whole situation with her patent flair. "Well fuck."
Rei tilted her head sideways, "That sums up what I'm feeling rather well."
"Hooray Oniisan!" No need to identify that one.
It was only Shizuka who noticed the obvious. "Oh! Takashi your arm!" He glanced at his left arm almost in surprise, and seeing he red lifeblood running out of his body seemed to bring him back to himself. He held it up for inspection as Shizuka bustled over to him. "Let me bandage tha..."
The entire group with morbid fascination as the first few drops of blood fell to the ground, where they hisses and fizzled like acid.
Takashi eyed this new development with a sort of wry acceptance. "Something tells me that a band-aid isn't going to help."
Rei let out a choked laugh at that, and Takashi gave her a small smile before returning to a more serious demeanor. With a wave of his hand the alien was at his side, head low, as it waited for its master's orders. "Well isn't that helpful." Takashi murmured. He faced the rest of the group, "let's go."
Saya, surprisingly enough, was the first to put her faith in Takashi's words. With a disdainful sniff, as if the proceedings of the past few minutes were beneath her, she turned and walked out the door. A moment later the entire group was out on the street. At Takashi's silent command, the alien took to the rooftops, shadowing them from above as they quickly made their way towards the edge of the city.
"There's a military base some twenty miles west of the city" Rei had said. "My father should be there, or at least that's where he was when the ship crashed."
"And will they let us in?"
She gave a small frown at that, "Of course he will!" Takashi only shrugged, which caused Rei to huff and look away. Her frown morphed into a stern glare. "Look, just because-" She trailed off when three aliens rounded the corner in from of them.
Shizuka glanced around nervously, "Takashi?"
He grimaced, "Three is a bit much..." He glanced at Rei. "Don't you dare miss that shot." Then the xenos lunged.
'Their' Alien landed atop the one on the right before it could take more that a step towards them. That fight ended swiftly and brutally even as Takashi and the xeno in the center locked 'eyes' and began whatever sort of mental mumbo jumbo they did.
That left Rei a single alien to face, bearing down upon them like an avalanche.
For an instant, all Rei could see was its shimmering blackness, like a cut in the fabric of space, a tear with a horrible demon peaking out of it.
She felt her arms move, almost as if she were a puppet on a string, and she brought the rifle to bear. Somewhere in her mind, the logical Rei was screaming in fear and shouting for her to fire the grenade; to fire the GOD DAMNED GRENADE BEFORE IT GOT ANY CLOSER!
But some calmer instinct, spawned from the hours of live-fire training at her father's behest perhaps, had taken over. She let the alien get within twenty feet, then fifteen, then ten, and, when the beast had no hope of dodging, she pulled the trigger.
"Get Down!" Rei and her companions dove to the ground as the grenade impacted the creature square in the chest before detonating. Acid blood splattered across the pavement.
Laying there, on the ground, Rei could hear nothing but the ringing in her ears and the pounding of her heart. Her head felt like it was rushing and spinning on her shoulders and her limbs alternated between numbness and the prickling after affects of adrenalin. Slowly, she glanced up. Before her, the alien lay crumpled, its chest cavity blown open by the force of the blast.
Somehow Takashi was at her side, helping her stand. He checked her over carefully, and Rei shivered as his hands ran up her arms- was that a smile she saw? Rei's thoughts slowly returned to their normal pace as Takashi helped the others up. Then Takashi was in front of her again, with his hand on her shoulder. "Good shot." She nodded gratefully.
"What about..." She gestured to the third alien, the one Takashi had picked.
He frowned, "They were ready." He looked at his own alien, "Next time."
There was a fire in his eyes. Rei could see it; some part of him hated being bested, especially by these almost mindless aliens. He took it as a personal insult, and she could tell that he had sworn to take control of the next alien they came across, that nothing would be able to stop him.
And in her heart, Rei felt that he would be able to do it easily.
"We need to keep moving." He said. His voice shook the group out of their separate reveries. As one they took off again, shadowed once more by their pitch black sentinel.
None of them noticed the flickering patch of air that trailed behind them silently.
The streets were far more perilous then they had been a scant day ago. Only Takashi's odd internal radar kept them away from the aggressive xenomorphs. Sadly, he could do nothing about the predators.
"We just have to hope that they don't find us, and be ready for when they do." He'd told them quietly as he checked around a street corner.
"Care to explain what you mean by that needlessly contradictory sentence, O enlightened one?"
Takashi grinned wryly at Saya. "It means, 'pray, but accept the fact that your prayers are utterly meaningless." He moved down the street quickly. "The preds will find us eventually. It's just a matter of where and when."
The rest of the group trailed behind him.
Gwan Thwei shadowed the small and interesting group of humans from a short distance away.
Thus far, despite the relative freshness of the hunting grounds, his trophies had been decidedly unsatisfactory, a fact he hoped to rectify with this very group.
The dark haired ooman, especially, would provide a worthy trophy: this fragile creature who commanded kiande amedha to do his bidding. Gwan Thwei had never stalked such an interesting specimen before. Now all he needed was a way to make the fight itself as interesting as the chase...
He followed the oomans throughout the rest of the day, observing their mannerisms and their subconscious habits. Strangely enough, the 'pink haired' one had the best senses by far, which put him on edge until he discovered the reason behind her preternatural acuity. Her nature forced him to modify his plans slightly, but, in the end, avoiding her senses was a far smaller inconvenience than avoiding the notice of the alien.
This was Gwan Thwei's method. He patiently and methodically watched the oomans until he knew them as well as his own brothers, better even, for his only true passion was the hunt.
Only when he understood them as well as he understood himself would he prepare to strike, and even then he would wait until they were at their strongest, their most alert, before he made his move. How else would a hunt be interesting, if he did not take down his prey at their finest moment? Doing otherwise resulted in an empty, tasteless victory.
Even still Gwan Thwei only grumbled silently as the oomans camped out in another abandoned warehouse as the night descended. All prey was vulnerable in its sleep, he would have to wait until morning. So, Gwan Thwei sated his thirst for battle by combing the streets for aliens. To make it worth his while, he did so with his night vision turned off and his cloak permanently deactivated
The humans within the warehouse would never know of the guardian angel who lurked in the streets outside.
Saeko was beginning to understand her mentor's distaste for weak prey.
As another alien slid to the cracked asphalt before her blade, Saeko could only wonder how these pitiful creatures had ever bested her. She swished her katana in distaste, flicking drops of green blood onto the pavement where they sputtered and hissed even as she continued walking.
No challenge, no challenge at all.
Street after street, it was the same; one enemy after another, there was no difference. The humans were slightly more interesting for the first few seconds, if only because of the range of their rifles. But even then, for trained Marines, their accuracy was deplorable, and once Saeko closed distance they stood no chance at all.
She waltzed through fields of blood with nary a thought, cleaving foes left and right with the same amount of concern one might reserve for cleaning their nails.
Perhaps fighting other predators would be more interesting, Saeko mused. But in the end she simply continued her search for a battle that would hold her interest for even a moment. Despite the bloodshed around her, and the trophies she had amassed, she was growing bored with this planet. If nothing else, attacking the North shore of the city would prove interesting, but she decided to put such potentially suicidal option on hold for the moment...
She'd been in the city for about a day, and had spent the night holed up in an abandoned house.
Despite her newfound skill and speed, her human body still needed more sleep than the average predator, which impinged on her hunting time.
Now she was proceeding down a random street in the general direction of the river, hoping to stumble across something worth killing. Thus far the humans had been quiet, and the xenos that stumbled across her were dealt with quickly and brutally. But when she was about four blocks from the river, Saeko heard a gunshot.
She took off in the direction of the sound, covering ground quickly, but not moving fast enough for her tastes.
So Saeko took to the rooftops, scrambling up onto a low hanging roof and leaping across the narrow divides between the two story buildings. Less than five minutes later she stood on a roof overlooking the scene of the conflict and smirked.
Her mentor was talking on a small group of humans.
Saeko knew that he would not enjoy her interference in his fight, so she lowered herself to a sitting position, activated her cloak, and watched the battle unfold.
Gwan Thwei had just dodged another burst of bullets from the brown haired girl carrying a rifle. As she tracked her aim, Saeko's mentor ducked low and charged.
Saeko almost laughed when the black haired human moved to meet him armed with nothing more than a six inch combat knife. And she would have laughed too, if the young man hadn't ducked below her mentor's spear with ease. The combat knife flashed up to block her mentor's claws, and held firm.
With strength as human shouldn't posses, the dark haired young man twisted and pulled her mentor off balance. It was only for an instant, and Gwan Thwei recovered nigh instantaneously, but the damage was done as a pitch black form launched from the alley way. The xenomorph jumped at her mentor's back, forcing him to spin around and bat it aside with his spear.
Saeko though the battle was over when her mentor completed the turn, driving his spear low towards the young man with all the force of a speeding truck.
But then human jumped, high too high, and rammed his combat knife home in the chink in Gwan Thwei's armor where the shoulder met his neck. Saeko watched, eyes wide, as her mentor's spear fell to the ground.
The human pushed off, rolling as he hit the ground, -"Now!"- and a grenade flew through the space where her had just been. It took her mentor full in the chest, and Saeko could only watch in disbelief as he flew backwards, the blast blowing both combatants away. The man tucked and rolled to a stop.
Her mentor hit the wall of a house, crumpling to the ground, and the alien descended to finish the job.
He batted aside one strike with his claws, two. And for a moment it looked like he'd regain his feet and finish this fight. Then the brown haired girl shot him in the wrist, and he faltered.
The xenomorph's tail impaled Gwan Thwei through the head, and with that Saeko's mentor was dead.
She stared at his corpse, unable to comprehend the sudden shift in her world. Her mentor was killed by a small group of pitiful humans?
Saeko growled, she would take pleasure in watching the alien rip the exhausted and bloodied group to shreds... But no... the dark haired one was petting it? Saeko's eyes widened as the human ran his fingers down the aliens carapace, before the beast turned and skulked back into the alleys.
Her eyes narrowed, helmet cam zooming in on the young man's face. Golden eyes, a rare enough color among humans, but his seemed to glow, as if they were burning. It was then that Saeko realized what the young man was, an aberration-
Just like her.
Saeko rose to her feet again gracefully, an internal resolution made. She would succeed where her mentor had failed. Truly, these would be worthy prey.
Decision made, Saeko dropped to the street below, her katana slipping free from its sheath with a soft hiss. The alien would have to die first.
She made her way through the alleys without a sound, visor activated and locked on to the form of the xenomorph on the other side of the building. Slowly she crept forward, the resolution of her screen becoming clearer with each step, until the shape of the xenomorph resolved into its actual body.
Her cloaking device hid her even from the alien's keen senses, though the dim and uncertain light of the alleyway helped with that. When she was less than a meter away from the xenomorph she lunged forward and cleaved its distended head from its shoulders.
With the most dangerous enemy out of the way, she turned and proceeded into the sunlight.
Finding the extra bit of ammunition, under mounted grenades and all, had been a godsend, even though the accompanying dead bodies had come as a bit of a shock.
Takashi and the other's had found two dead marines in the warehouse. After stripping the corpses (something only Takashi and, oddly enough, Saya had the stomach for) and dumped the bodies in the alley out back, they'd set the night's watch rotation and went to sleep.
In all truth, the ammo and combat knife they'd found were the only reason they were all still alive.
Rei watched with lidded eyes while Takashi retrieved his combat knife and began to clean the durasteel blade, his motions sure and meticulous as they were exacting. She regarded his own impassive face as he went about the simple task and decided that she was grateful for him as well. After all, he really was the reason that she was still alive.
But it was more than that. Despite his, alien-ness that had once frightened her, she had discovered that there was an old and intricate soul hidden beneath his closed exterior. Takashi was a man she could respect, one she would follow.
Then Takashi looked up, towards the alley where his alien had disappeared. With a flick of his wrist, he switched the knife to a ready position. "Get behind me."
Whereas before Rei would have paused in surprise or to question his orders, she now obeyed quickly, her own eyes taking in their surroundings. "What is it?" She asked, settling the sight of her rifle upon the entrance to the alley way.
And indeed a figure was slowly walking forward into the light of the street, its form becoming clearer with each passing step.
The grey armor and skull-like mask marked their foe undoubtedly as a predator, but then Rei's eyes caught the mane of purple hair cascading down their enemy's back. This, along with their short stature marked her as very distinctly-
"Human?" Takashi murmured. As the not-predator slipped her katana out of its sheath, he let out a low chuckle. "What are the odds..."
The predator lunged low, dodging a hail of bullets courtesy of Rei. Takashi blocked her charge, somehow preempting her impossibly fast strike and blocking her katana with his knife. She forced him to leap backwards as she lashed out with a kick, but he was back on her in an instant, staying close so she wouldn't have the space to swing her katana.
"C'mon Takashi." Rei muttered, "Give me a shot!" But she didn't dare squeeze the trigger with Takashi so close to her enemy. She was confident in her accuracy, but they were moving too quickly for her to predict, she was just as likely to hurt Takashi as she was the odd predator girl.
Even still, it looked like Takashi was going to need help. The not-predator was clearly more adept than him at hand to hand combat, and even though Takashi was slightly faster than her, he was still at a disadvantage before her superior skill.
She finally forced Takashi backwards, opening up room to use her Katana, and then the gap in skill truly became apparent. Within seconds she began to push Takashi backwards in and endless string of blows: overhand, backhand, lunge, twist. It was all Takashi could do to keep up with her.
As she gained momentum Takashi began accumulating cuts on his torso. Shallow gashes where he was just a heartbeat too slow. In return, his knife only continued to glance off her armor, or dent itself on her blade.
A burst of bullets drove the not-predator back for a second, allowing Takashi a quick breather.
He leapt backwards, forcing his enemy to dodge more shots from Rei. Rei even landed a few rounds, but the high tech armor hold firm. As Takashi tore the sleeve of his left arm the woman charged him again, sword held low for the finishing strike.
Takashi flicked his wrist, sending drops of blood arcing through the air. The non-predator, so focused on exploiting the opening in Takashi's stance, missed the droplets entirely, and charged right into them. The blood splattered across her visor, robbing her of her sight for one crucial moment.
She swung blindly. Takashi ducked. Sweeping her legs out from under her, he smashed the butt of his knife into her wrist. As she released the grip on the katana, Rei ran up and kicked it away even as Takashi knelt on her chest, pinning her wrists and ripping away her mask.
A beautiful face, framed by elegant purple hair, glared up at him defiantly. She struggled vainly, almost as a formality rather than out of any expectation to shake Takashi free. A second later Rei walked up and leveled her rifle at the woman's head. At this she stopped fighting, though that defiant flare never left her eyes.
For a moment, Saeko and Takashi stared at each other silently, the tension in the air growing greater with every second as the rest of the world fell away.
In Saeko's eyes, Takashi saw a scarred and beautiful soul. She had been molded in the image of a predator, just as he had been forced into the shape of the xenomorphs. She had endured much pain, and born it all, used it, grew stronger from it. From her trials and her suffering she had emerged like a blade from the forge, stronger for the hardships she had undergone. Whereas Takashi broke beneath his own torments, this woman had only grown with them, and in that moment Takashi couldn't help but admire her.
In Takashi's eyes, Saeko saw a tormented and indomitable will. He was even less human than she, the formality of DNA swept aside and replaced with something better. But she could also tell that he did not choose his path. Whereas Saeko had slowly cast aside her humanity, becoming something more his humanity had been ripped away from him. All the pieces of him that were deemed weak had been cut away, replaced. But he had survived it. The man, no, the being above her was like a god made flesh, and in that moment Saeko couldn't help but be captivated by him.
But then that moment passed.
Pinning both of her hands above her head, Takashi raised his knife above his head slowly. Saeko did not flinch or look away.
The blade stopped. "What?" He asked quietly, not taking his eyes of his prisoner.
"We won," Rei replied, "We beat her. We don't have to kill her!"
"And who's to say she won't just try again." Takashi said, "That she won't just follow us and kill us in our sleep." His eyes flicked to her for a brief instant, gold gaze burning into her. "In this world, there is no other way."
But Rei stood firm. "And in this world. It's important to remember what it means to be human, otherwise we're no different than any of them!" Takashi said nothing. "Mercy, Takashi! Don't forget what it is!" She shouted. Then she took a step back, pulling her rifle away from the other woman's face.
Takashi was silent for a long moment. "Being human, huh?" He murmured. "I'm not sure I still know what that means." Then he brought the blade down, and struck her harshly on the side of the temple with its hilt.
Takashi stood up, leaving the now unconscious woman lying there on the pavement. "Let's go." He said. "We still need to get out of the city." One by one they nodded and followed after him.
They left the non predator behind them. She lay there, unmoving, as night descended upon Eios.
Aboard the U.S.S. Marius
"The whole planet's going dark."
Khota nodded. "One city at a time."
From orbit, cities illuminate a world during planetary night. Millions of lights fuse into a single ephemeral glow. on the surface, until they became a sea of lights. Now the world below the Marius dwelled in shadow with only a few spots of brightness remaining, candles flickering in the wind.
"We have to get down there soon to make any difference at all. 'Course I don't think that our presence will change very much, when you get right down to it."
Khota sighed. "That's a terrible way of thinking, Minami." But he couldn't tell her she was wrong.
Rika Minami shrugged "Expect the worst, and all of your surprises will be pleasant." She replied "I don't see how this planet will be any different from the last condemned world we fought on." Khota grumbled and turned away from the viewport to resume cleaning his rifle.
"When do rescue dispatches start?"
"The lieutenant says we'll be grav-side as soon as the captain can figure out where the hell the survivors are. As far as we know, damn bugs knocked out the entire capital, and most of the military relays to boot. It makes getting a transmission through nearly impossible."
Khota snorted. "They say that every time." Rika shrugged.
"Doesn't make it any less true." They sat in silence after that.
Khota and Rika were hardened veterans, two of the best snipers in the entire corps, which was part of the reason why they were still alive.
With a sigh and a mumbled "what I wouldn't give for a smoke." Rika sat down next to Khota and pulled a small holographic picture out of her breast pocket. With a sigh she stared at the smiling face captured therein.
The holo showed the image of a buxom blond waving at the camera, a Weyland-Yutani shuttle sitting in the background.
"Still worried about your girl friend?" Khota asked slyly.
Rika elbowed him in the side. "Shaddap." She shot back. "And yes, I am worried about her. I haven't heard from her in two weeks, who knows what she's been up to..."
"Hm" Khota nodded. "I see you didn't deny that she was your girlfriend."
And that's a wrap. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you all! Don't forget to leave a review!