Birthday – Part 6

From the Memoirs of Irwin Morrow

I was about halfway down the hall when the remainder of the hive’s steel door was crushed under the charging swarm.  A dissonant chorus of needle-like shrieks stabbed down the corridor as the creatures clawed their way forward.  They were packed so tightly that they filled the flickering gloom like a demonic wave.

I spun round, snapped up the rifle, and sprayed the corridor with bullets.  Steaming orange blood spattered the concrete walls as the front line squealed in agony.  Those wounded on the flanks were swept aside by the fury of the horde while those that stumbled were simply trampled by the unstoppable throng.

The burst had brought me less time than I had hoped.  My boots propelled me forward in long surging strides down the remaining length of the passageway slapping their rubber soles against the concrete.  Ahead was the guard shack and a hard-right turn before the airlock.  Please still work!  My mind screamed the prayer into the void as my lungs clawed ragged gulps of air to fuel the furnaces that were my legs.

At the bend, I squeezed the rifle trigger in a long violent burst that torn gushing holes into the very maw of the swarming tide.  More fell to the gunfire this time than before.  As their hive mates scuttled over the fallen like a raging rapid over boulders, I flung myself around the corner.  The interior airlock portal was a huge blast door of thick interlocking alloy slabs.  The debris that littered the corridor did not gather at the base of this portal giving it the look of having seen reasonably recent use.  The man in the purple shirt.  Of course.  This must be how he got in. 

The shrieks were growing louder into a lethal din.  I fell on the door’s keypad with ravenous urgency pounding my combination into the supple rubber keys.  The clicking of the scores of claws filled the corridor as driving hail split by peels of otherworldly shrieking.  The echoes of it reverberated in my chest so that I could feel my ribs tremble with the sound.  The airlock’s inner door began to pull itself open sliding into the concrete walls with an agonizing grinding.

I turned my back to it in time to snap off a few shots at the first creatures who extended their reptilian heads around the corner.  As they fell, my rifle clicked dry.  I shouldered it and drew my pistol.  The airlock door was wide enough to step through by then and I began backing into it just as the main body of the swarm rounded the corner, a murderous wave of teeth and talons. 

Their screams were so vehement that I could not even hear the pop of my pistol as I squeezed off rounds into the horde.  Inside the airlock, I slammed my fist into the activator button and the door reversed course.  The creatures had reached the split in the doors and pressed against them in a thick chaotic mass of snapping jaws and swiping claws.  I pressed my back to the far door with my pistol held out in both hands firing round after round into the pressing mob.

In their own ravenous hunger, their tangled swarm had clotted the gap between the two closing steel doors, but the progression of the airlock seal was not to be halted.  The doors squeezed in on the mass of scaly, writhing bodies crushing them inches at a time.  All the while, I fired producing spouts of fiery blood until my pistol clicked empty.

The doors were nearly sealed and several of the creatures were caught halfway between the mash of the slabs.  They squealed gruesomely in their agony as bones popped and splintered.   While they wailed their haunting death rattle, I jammed my hand into my bag to fish out a fresh magazine for my rifle.  As I rooted around in the disorder of my bag, I glanced up to see one of the beasts still wriggling forward.  As I watched it pulled the front half of its carapaced bulk through the mash.  Afraid to take my eyes off it, my hand continued to grope blind around the bottom of my pack.  Just before the doors sealed shut, the creature managed to wriggle free and was birthed into the airlock with me.  The door finally sealed trapping the two of us inside.

The thing stared at me with a guttural hiss and circled the rim of the small room on scythe-like legs.  My fingers found the hilt of the hunting knife and I pulled it free, abandoning the bag to the floor.  I took up the same slow circling keeping as much distance between us as possible.  In the low light, my knife looked an inadequate thing compared to the six long talons that formed the creature’s legs.  A thick trail of glistening saliva dripped from its scaly lips as they curled back to reveal hundreds of needle-like teeth.  I tried to swallow but my throat was a desert.

Whooshing jets of a decontaminating gas erupted from myriad jets that dotted the walls at all angles.  The room was swallowed up in blasting fog.  The creature screamed and lashed blindly through the jets.  I danced to the side only avoiding the slash by a pale margin. 

The jets stopped and suddenly the air between us cleared.  We were close together, much too close, and it took every ounce of my speed to avoid those swinging scythes as the creature pressed the attack.  Despite the great effort, I marveled in a disconnected sort of way that I had even managed to avoid death this long.  This creature was like a living weapon built of nothing but sharp edges and powerful muscle.  Why aren’t I dead already?

I dodged right to avoid another cut from the creature’s talons and found my answer.  One of its hind legs had been crushed in the sealing airlock door.  The dead appendage dragged behind, slowing the creature down and throwing it off balance on one side.

Gas jets erupted again as the airlock began its second cycle.  Once more the room became shrouded in a forceful fog and the creature attacked.  This time, instead of moving back and away to put distance between us, I stepped closer between the back legs of the side without the injury.  They were not cutting at the air but rather were firmly pressed to the ground to keep the creature’s body stable while the other legs searched for a target. 

With the momentum of my movement, I stabbed with my knife.  The blade buried into scaled flesh and I felt hot blood spill onto my hands as I withdrew the cutting edge.  The creature howled and spun towards me.  I moved with its rotation keeping myself close to the supporting legs.  As we moved, I stabbed, frenzied, severing muscle and nerve to another hind leg.

With an unexpected twist of its carapace, the creature whirled away from me just as the gas jets cut out.  A wild swing caught me in the side with the back of one of its talons knocking me prone.  The creature tried to spring atop me but with two dead legs, it could only lurch forward.  Still, I was on my back on the ground scuttling away as fast as I could.

The creature was on of me in an instant.  Its four remaining scythe legs caging me in on all sides.  It howled revealing a maw bristling with rows of glistening teeth.  Its breath was rank with the smell of rancid flesh.  I grabbed its front claws with my hands and held on tight despite the cutting pain of the bone blades slicing my palms.  Then I kicked up with my boots pressing hard against its chest to keep its vile jaws as far away from me as possible.

Bucking and thrashing, it tried to dislodge me and catch my legs with its jaws, but I held on.  I rode the flailing abomination while blood ran hot and thick from my palms.  Still the creature was heavy.  Its weight crushed down on me sapping the strength from my legs an inch at a time.  Those terrible jaws grew closer and closer to my face as my legs began to tremble under the strain.  I felt the sultry, putrid breath on my face.  A long prehensile tongue, tacky with drool, unfurled from the maw and traced a slow trail up my cheek.  I screamed.  I roared.  I fought back with all my life and soul as my legs began to buckle at the knees.

Jets erupted again for a third and final cycle obscuring all.  In that briefest pause, that second’s reprieve, I released one of the taloned legs, scooped my knife, and drove it hard and deep into the creature’s neck.  There was a great rushing of air as it tried to shriek, and coppery blood splashed my face.  It bucked and pulled away into the mist heralded by the slipping, sliding sound of its claws struggling on gore slick concrete.  When finally the jets cut out and the fog cleared, the creature lay dead in a slowly growing pool of lurid orange. 

I wiped the blood from my face and sat panting on the ground.  After long minutes of the airlock whirring and hissing, a seam of golden light formed on the outer door.  It slowly widened and I climbed to my feet.  I collected my scattered equipment and went to stand by the growing brilliance.  Warm, soothing light of citrus orange rimmed in petal pink spilled across my cheeks.

When the door had opened wide enough, I took my first steps out in The Above to bathe in the beauty of the dawn light.  This isn’t so bad, I thought staring out into the majesty of the great unknown.  Looking upon The Above for the first time, no instinct nor imprinted memory bubbled up to guide me but, in that moment, my first living dawn, I did not fear.  “The world was far too beautiful a place for fear,” I whispered as I stood in the glow of the dawn that marked my first day’s end.

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