Landing was the easy part. Now, they had to follow a drone through a sulphur field that would eventually transform into lush meadows, with ample water and a pleasant temperature. The trees were short stubby things that didn’t provide enough cover to hide potential dangers. It seemed like the obvious place to set up camp, or possibly the first settlement. Jacob also wanted to be close to the point where they would build the planets power supply, the sulphur fields.
The band of soldiers, that looked like they stepped off the island of misfit toys, spent the day shooting the shit about home and past deployments, as they sat in the all-terrain rover. Jacob was right. There was no sign of anyone, or anything, this part of the planet. Its beauty made them all stop and stare at times, then sadness would overcome their faces at the grim reality they would face going back to earth. Leticia kept their names going in a constant loop. Perry, Jack, Melody, Ryan, Maddox. She wanted to always call them by their names, build a solid relationship with them unlike other commanders she served under. She would be different. Maybe it was the virgin air or feeling earth under her feet again, but maybe getting the boot was the best thing to happen to her. Sometimes you can only see God’s plan when the tears have dried, or the foam of rage is wiped from you chin.
When they arrived at their destination it was the usual business of securing the camp, exploring the outlying area, then setting themselves up for a night under the stars that would be brighter than on earth. No flashing lights or pollution to dim their shine.
For Leticia, it felt good to be amongst her own kind of people again. She worked side by side, never above getting her hands dirty. No one want to follow someone they can’t respect. She liked her little band of brothers and one sister. But in the back of her mind, it would have been nice to be greeted with a little knock on the door again. The stars and Melody singing Stevie Nicks would have to do.
With the ‘all clear’, the rest of the team of scientists, Jacob and Ramón landed, ready to get started on the poking and prodding of the land. The tents were the size small cabins creating a small village. Jacob and Ramón emerged from the dropship like kings.
Jacob approached Leticia as she scanned photographs taken by the wandering drones.
“How was the first night here? I can’t wait to explore with my own eyes and feet. Olinka will be my legacy for humanity. A new way of doing things.”
“I have to admit, last night was spectacular. With all this new equipment being unloaded, it won’t be the same. But I did set up my own space at the edge of camp near a hot spring. Temperature is perfect. Could be nice with the right company later.” She gave him a look that said: “Don’t be late”. And his smile answered: “Absolutely.”
Leticia moved quickly away from Jacob as she could feel Ramón’s eyes burrowing into her head. If he looked any harder, smoke be coming out of her ears. How dare she steal from his plate. He was always the superstar, not her. Well, fuck him. Maybe that’s why he was so keen on the woman on the ship, Dr Parks.
The day moved from mid-morning to early evening quickly. Everyone wanted to get to exploring this new world that possessed so much promise. Dinner was nearly over, when one of Leticia’s men on watch came running into the dining tent.
“There’s a ship with an emergency beacon approaching the planet. We can’t contact the crew and no video link. If we go in, we will be going in blind.” For the first time, Leticia saw the other side of Jacob. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck you Motherfuckers!” He kicked everything that was in his immediate perimeter. Spit and snarls contorted his face into something that didn’t resemble human. He ran outside to continue his tantrum away from the group. “How dare they? How dare his sorry excuse for a family or that greedy board set him up?” Small minded tricks by small minded people. If this was some stunt to impede his vision, they would all pay dearly. That’s why he liked Leticia. There was no pretence or ego. She allowed her bleeding heart to always be on display, even if you couldn’t get within a mile of it.
The dining tent was silent. No one dared move or speak of the outburst from a man they thought they could trust but could squash their careers, livelihood, their very existence with the stroke of a finger. That kind of power is scary when you’re a peon.
Leticia was the first to move, after noticing heads dropped to their food as quickly as they popped up. Ramón followed, but spoke first.
“Well, there is only one decision. Blow it up in space. We can’t risk the possibilities. Everyone that makes the journey into space knows the risk. We have no responsibility to answer that call. Jacob, you have every right to blow it up, without any legal issue.”
Leticia shot Ramón a look as swift as a switchblade to the gut, even though fear fluttered in her bowels. Suddenly the pain of the monster’s teeth tearing off her arm returned. Fuck this. It isn’t right.
“The crew could be in real trouble. We don’t know what’s on that ship, but I know we can’t leave them.” She had to think fast. There were so few of them should a monster be on the ship. One thing she did know is it couldn’t be allowed to get very far.
“I got a plan. Land the ship in the sulphur fields we just passed. I know it puts us in some danger, but it’s worth the risk.”
Jacob looked at Leticia then Ramón who was shaking his head. Of course, Ramón would choose the most obvious solution to alleviate their situation, damned the morality of it. If this was a set-up, then he would fall right into a trap.
Ramón was a man with the good looks of the old film star Esai Morales, and the smarts beyond anyone he knew. Smart to the point that he was dangerous, which is precisely why Jacob kept him on after Waxman Senior retired. You don’t want your consigliere floating around with your secrets, or worse, going to your competitors.
Truth be told, Jacob wanted to see who was pulling this stunt. If it wasn’t a trick, he still wanted to see it.
“You heard her. Land that thing.”
Leticia didn’t have to look at her brother to know he was fuming.
The sulphur field was a barren rocky yellow patch of earth perforated by muddy pools hot enough to hard boil anything within minutes. There were also open vents of steam at the same temperature, ready to poach a body. And then, there was the smell. The strong, gag-inducing rotten eggs vapour clung to the atmosphere, even when a breeze was blowing through. The advantage of this nasty place was that it was devoid of anything but rock.
Leticia laid a perimeter of bombs around the landing sight, plus all five solders would be ready with the heaviest artillery they had on board the drop ship, just beyond the wall of bombs. For safe measure, she replaced her robotic hand with a grenade launcher the size of a football. The doctors stayed far enough away to avoid any fray, but close enough to help should they be wrong.
Not a sound except heartbeats and bubbling mud. The troubled ship landed. As the door opened nothing could be seen moving underneath. Leticia remained steady.
“Anyone?” A voice called out. The man’s skin was colourless except for a bright welt around his neck.
“Dammit”, Leticia muttered to herself. She would never forget those marks.
“Get ready”, she whispered into the helmet mic. ‘This guy is a goner and good chance there’s one in there.”
“Help”, the man pitifully croaked as he wandered towards the soldiers.
“Don’t move to help him. Let him get to the doctors. Don’t take your eyes off that door. That tricky motherfucker monster ain’t goin’ nowhere. Ever.”
Just as she stopped speaking an unholy hiss and screech emerged from the door. A tail the size of a large great white whipped towards the soldiers as if to say, “Fuck with me? I dare you.” The alien dashed towards the soldiers with claws and teeth bared to only shatter into a thousand pieces of bone and goo.
“Hold it! Wait!” Leticia’s bandana was so saturated with sweat, a drop managed to sting her eye. This was no time to flinch. No sound except the doctors rushing to the man’s aid and the smouldering remains of the xenomorph.
A voice crackled in her earpiece. “There’s nothing left in the ship. Scanners say its clean.”
“Then close the damn door and get that thing off this planet. Blow it up in space. Now!”
Once the door was closed, Leticia turned her attention to the man with the doctors. She kneeled next to the man, as he struggled to breathe. She took his hand into hers.
“What happened? Where were you?”, she asked in a soft voice.
His eyes rolled to the back of his head. His body spasmed while tears rolled from the corners of his eyes. “We just picked up some farm workers from TerraFalls. I spent the night at a tavern, drank a little too much, then went to bed. When I woke up, I felt sick and my neck was red. I thought maybe I did something stupid, but couldn’t remember. Just got on with the job. During the flight people started to go missing. That thing came for me last. I don’t know why it didn’t strike me down, so I left a distress signal. The thing beat the shit out of the control panel after I sent the signal. Like it knew what it was doing. Now I’m here. Safe.”
“I’m sorry. Rest in peace.” She began to pray.
“Wait what are you doing. I’m ok right?”
Leticia gave the doctor a nod. This sole survivor was given a cocktail strong enough to put him to sleep before the thing inside of him had a chance to painfully gnaw through his innards.
The body was placed in a sealed clear reinforced pod. They waited.
Just when a sense of calm settled over the camp another body came running towards Leticia and Jacob. “Another approaching ship, but this isn’t one of ours. It’s not a ship made by any human.” Both Leticia and Jacob stared at the tablet screen. The approaching ship was like nothing they had seen before. They weren’t prepared for a proper fight from another life form with advanced technology. She needed another plan, and fast.
Before they could assemble themselves, a voice wafted from the communications system. It sounded human, but it was more of a soft echo of a multitude of human whispers speaking at once.
“We are not here for conflict. We are here to parley. Put away all your weapons as you will be in the presence of a Queen.” Jacob looked at Leticia. “Your call. Your plan worked last time. I trust you.”
If she had to guess, whoever was on the other end of the line followed that doomed ship here or sensed the explosion. By the looks of their ride, the humans were fucked either way.
A smaller drop ship was used to carry the alien crew to their location. Leticia ordered Ramón and Jacob to stay out of sight while she and the other soldiers stood in front of the camp.
These beings were not what she expected. They were ugly motherfuckers. Only hell could create such a fierce creature. They all stood at least seven feet tall with pinchers for a mouth, nails that resembled obsidian blades, and skin a blotted blend of turtle and reptile. And then she emerged. There was no doubt they were in the presence of a Queen.
With broad shoulders, at least a foot taller than the rest, she strode off the ship adorned with chains of what resembled bone and leather. They spoke to each other in clicks and guttural sounds interrupted by pauses. Leticia wondered if they shared a vocal and telepathic language. Utterly fucked didn’t sum up the human’s situation.
The Queen reached for her cuff, typing something that could mean anything. Sweat rolled down Leticia’s back and face, but she still maintained a cool demeanour. You can let them see you sweat, but don’t wipe that shit away. Don’t ever look away no matter how bad it may burn.
“I want to speak to you.” The Queens mouth pincers didn’t move. The sound came from a speaker fashioned as a choker with blue characters flashing as she spoke.
“You may have one adviser by your side.”
Before Leticia could utter a word, Jacob came barging through the tent. “I’m her advisor.” Leticia held out her robotic arm towards Jacob. Through her peripheral vision, she could see he obeyed as the Queens guard moved towards him. The Queen also held out her arm.
“We want what was on that ship.”
“As you know we blew it up beyond the atmosphere. I know you saw it. That’s why you’re here.”
“We see everything. No, I want the scraps you have kept for unnatural purposes. This is not a thing to dabble with. Come closer brown warrior.”
Leticia could see Jacob about to move forward again, so she held out her metal arm. If they came for a slaughter it would have been done and over by now.
She approached the Queen expecting a foul smell from these things that looked like they crawled out of a swamp, instead the Queen possessed a fragrance that resembled fresh cut grass and patchouli oil.
“May I?” The Queen pointed to Leticia’s robotic arm. Without fear she raised the metal for closer inspection.
“We do not have need for such strange things. Given the right treatments, we can regenerate parts of our bodies. This is fascinating to me.”
Leticia couldn’t help but stare at the Queens own arm. Sensing Leticia’s curiosity, she outstretched her hand.
“Touch.” Every human and alien eye watched the two women touch each other’s body in silence. Leticia’s fingertips glided over the tough skin that was smoother than it appeared. Ribbons of muscle felt as tight as a sailor’s knot. There was a slight moistness like she had been recently massaged with oil. Perhaps that was what Leticia smelled. Large talons were weapons that could bleed out any human in one swipe to an artery. Were humans the only species not built for war, yet perpetrated it time and time again. A thought occurred to Leticia. This Queen was not hideous, she was terrifyingly beautiful. But those pincers of a mouth. Guess they evolved not to kiss.
“You may ask me one question.”
“Why were you close enough to know what we were doing?” The Queen pulled her arms away from Leticia.
“It was - what is the word you use? - a coincidence. I am on tour with our brightest young females, teaching them the ways of leadership. You see, we allow our men to travel from world to world and hunt to keep them occupied, while the females lead. That is why we have a code of not harming impregnated females, or unarmed females, of other species. When one of our hunting crafts alerted us to the emergency beacon we made our way here. We watched what you would do. You didn’t even notice our hunters over the last few days observing your intentions.”
The Queen clicked and growled to one of the smaller of their kind, which Leticia assumed was a young female. The small one removed something from a metal cuff around her wrist and handed it to the Queen.
“I will allow you to stay on this world without any intrusion on one condition. I want what you have kept from the ship you exploded. Do not go looking for trouble.”
“Are there more of them?”
“I said you may only ask one question. But I will tell you this: there are worse things out there that you should fear more than us. I know we look very different from you, however, sometimes the thing just like you can be your worst nightmare. Here is a transmitter, a gift because I like you. If you find yourself in the clutches of something beyond your understanding, then use this. Be careful my little female warrior.”
The Queen turned and walked back to her ship with her entourage in tow. The small one turned to look one last time.
As Leticia turned to look at Jacob, two warriors appeared behind him. They were there all along using some cloaking technology. She slowly held out both her hands to let everyone know to keep their cool until the ship left. Others using the same cloaking technology walked past with the dead body still intact, and the remains of the xenomorphs.
Once there was nothing left but tiny lights in the sky, Ramón bounded out of the tent.
“What the fuck! What the hell just happened?” Leticia shot him a look.
“I’ll tell you what is going to happen. Jacob, no one, and I mean no one, can know about this. I don’t know what strings you have to pull, but every last person on this mission including the janitor has to sign away their life if they speak about today.”
“I’ll get my most ruthless warrior on it. Ramón, I need water tight NDAs.” For once, Ramón didn’t disagree.
“Leticia, can I speak to you?” She followed Jacob into an empty tent.
“That was incredible! I was close to shitting myself, but you!? You came face to face with not one, but two other life forms that’d only show up in people’s worst nightmares. Is it weird this turns me on? Where have you been my whole life?” He leaned in, but before his mouth could meet hers, she rested the metal grenade still attached to her hand on his chest.
“Not yet lover boy. Let me take care of my crew, then tonight you can take care of me.” Her slight wink meant he would smothered by her thighs, only coming up for air when she was satiated. Jacob watched her walk out of the tent. He thought it best to stay behind because he was too visibly excited to leave. What a woman! She neither fawned over him because of who he was, nor did she completely ignore him. In fact, he felt a little used. She would leave him in a heartbeat without feeling a thing.
As a distraction, he turned his thoughts to what the dying man said. TerraFalls. This was bad. So very fucking bad.