Chapter 3 - Behind the Walls
*It goes without saying that Alien(s), the story and all related characters as well as the xenomorphic beast belongs to the writers, cast and crew of the show. I claim no ownership or association to the film or franchise of the Alien movies.*
"My mommy always said there were no monsters – no real ones – but there are . . ."
The monster escaped into the ventilation.
Before anyone could even think to stop it, the hideous snake-like creature slithered away, shooting fast as a darting minnow up the wall and into the air duct where no one but Newt herself could have followed it.
Of course, Newt was in no condition to follow anything. Or anyone. Hysterical to the point of paralysis, Newt remained crouched on the floor with her hands covering her face. Her mind empty of all thoughts but the sound of her own crying. She was wailing in pain and horror in complete silence. She made no sound.
Colonists came running, bustling into the Infirmary in search of the cause of all the commotion. Newt may not have been making any noises now but between her previous gut-wrenching screams and the guttural, agonized snarls of her father as something broke through his chest . . . people knew something was going and they rushed to help however they could. They arrived too late to see the monster's brutal birth or its subsequent escape. They did, however, see Newt's father lying broken on the blood-soaked bed and could only stared.
The people who had come so quickly to help were dumbfounded and frozen from a combination of horror and shock at the gory mess that was all that was left of the man. Not one of them was able to comprehend what happened. What could possibly have done that to a body?
No one understood but, like Newt, they sensed something. There was a presence - a terror- so potent that none of them could have explained it if asked to, but it was as undeniable as the air in their own lungs. It was there; the lingering presence of something wholly evil.
The next few hours were pure pandemonium.
People pelting through the winding corridors of Hadley's Hope. The Infirmary – and Newt's dad – was quarantined though the people who had been there during the death were permitted to leave. There was no virus. No infection. There was no reason not to allow Newt and her mother to go; although they were given strict orders not to return. No one but the doctor himself was allowed back in the Infirmary. Not even a single nurse to assist had been asked to stay.
A search was organized to find the creature. Everyone knew that if it had run up into the ventilation, than it had freedom to move everywhere within the colony structure. It could quite literally be anywhere.
The colonists were moved to one of two locations. The communal cafeteria just off from the school block and the fitness centre. Both areas being the only places where a large number of people could congregate without having to stampede straight across Hadley's Hope to get there.
Newt spent the whole of that morning huddling against the smooth wall of the communal cafeteria along with her mother – who had not uttered a single word since the death of her husband. Timmy sat cradled on their mother's lap. Sleepy and frightened and confused as to what had actually gone on that morning.
Newt was vaguely aware of the swell of voices around them. The sharp, punctuated "shhhh" whenever one voice in particular rose above the rest. Everyone was curious. Something like this had never happened before and though they were all aware of the tense seriousness in those who were in charge it all seemed a little ridiculous. There were jobs that needed to get done. Duties being neglected and the children should have been in their classes. Instead, everyone was camping on the floors and polished steel tables of the communal cafeteria as if this were all just one big game.
The only people who were allowed to continue with their jobs were those engineers responsible for maintaining the atmosphere processors. Those immense machines were not supposed to be left to function by themselves for even a moment. So some colonists were still out there working as usual. Newt wondered if they'd been told what had happened. Would they be scared?
The buzz of hushed voices, like the crackle of static on carpet, irritated Newt. She wished that they would stop. She didn't want to have to sit there and listen, knowing that people had question she might be able to answer but that she had been commanded to say nothing of what she'd seen that morning. She hadn't even been allowed to tell Timmy and because of that Newt was very deliberately avoiding her friends.
She saw them, though. Girls and boys her own age or just a little younger, loitering around but not too close. They kept sneaking glances and it was not hard to see the curiosity in their eyes. The confusion in their expressions. They knew she knew what was going on and they wanted her to share.
Newt was already a leader amongst the other children. She was someone they flocked to for games and adventure and guidance in the little campaigns waged by the differing factions of complex and shifting alliances that was the focus of a Hadley's Hope child's life. As such, it was understood that Newt - as the leader of her own small band of faithful followers - had certain responsibilities and the children saw it as a terrible lapse that Newt would keep something so important a secret from them.
But where the others saw this as just another day where the adults gave orders which interfered with the games and high "politics" of the children's social maneuvering amongst themselves - a deadly earnest battle of wills and cunning - Newt was of an age where she could more easily separate herself from what was real and what was not. The other children, however, and even her own loyal following would not have understood. They wouldn't understand, not really, even if she sat them down and explained everything as honestly as she knew how.
She could feel the seriousness of what was going on with a clarity that mirrored that of the adults. It unsettled her, but this was real and unlike when one child-faction broke "war" on another – where it was always only a few children on each side and whatever allies cared to join (or were required to help, for the sake of keeping their political alliance) Newt knew in a way none of the other children had matured enough to understand that people were going to die.
And that these deaths would be final.
Shuddering, feeling new tears starting to burn in her eyes Newt turned her face away from her friends and buried herself in her mother's sweater. She couldn't forget the sight of her father's body convulsing. Blood and foam leaking from his mouth. The unimaginable pain he must have endured as the monster crunched through bone and muscle and tendon. Born in a wash of blood and gore and screams.
She couldn't do this. She couldn't just sit quietly and imagine all the horrible things that might be happening. Slowly, careful to see if her mother would stop her, Newt slid off the woman's lap and let herself sit solidly on the floor. Her mom tightened her grip on Timmy but didn't move beyond that. Newt thought that she may have fallen asleep. Exhausted by grief . . . and terror.
Crawling up onto her knees, she looked swiftly around the room. At the huddles of people just biding their time. Waiting for permission to leave or for news. She scurried quickly to the closest ventilation duct and stuck her fingers through the slats. Pulled the covering off the wall, wincing at the metallic clinking noise that seemed as loud as a firecracker in the relatively silent room.
A couple children recognized the noise and turned to look, eager for this new game but one firm glare from Newt was all it took to have them turning away again. An unwritten rule amongst the children was to never – ever – let the grownups know when one of them was escaping. Breaking that sacred agreement was to risk 'exile'. A fate worth than death, to the children of Hadley's Hope. Any child who owed allegiance to none of the groups belonged nowhere. And an exile couldn't exactly just join another group. They ended up alone. Completely.
Of course, none of that occurred to Newt as she slipped easily into the air duct and replaced the panel to cover her escape. It was just the way things were and the warning glare she'd offered the others was pure instinct.
But now that she was back in the familiar square world of tunnels and paths that led everywhere she felt herself relaxing. For the first time in a long while, she thought she could breathe again. And it felt good, to be back where she was most comfortable. She was master of her domain, here, and no one else could match her genius when it came to these metal paths. It felt a lot like coming home after a long time away.
Newt stopped for only a moment to decide where she would go and then took off. She scurried quick and sure along the air duct, taking familiar turns and only one quick climb up. She slid out the duct and into her bedroom, where she retrieved her more comfortable thin shoes (they made less noise in the ventilation, if nothing else) and a light jacket to protect herself in case she snagged on something. It had happened before, giving Newt a healthy respect for the sharp pieces of warped steel or nails that sometimes stuck straight up out of the smooth metal of the air ducts.
Prepared now for a longer trip she scuttled back up to the ventilation and hurried towards the Infirmary block. A sick smell wafted the closer she got but Newt thought that she may be imagining the stink. The memory of what she'd seen, of her daddy's chest flayed open baring bone and sloppy tissue to the harsh white florescence left her feeling ill and very, very scared.
She found the correct opening so that she could spy on what the doctor was doing. To her relief (and secret disappointment) her dad's body had been removed. There was still a lot of blood everywhere. On the walls and tiny, thick rivulets of it snaking off the side of the bed to drip onto the shiny white floor. A large pool had congealed there.
At first, Newt didn't understand what it was she was seeing. The doctor was just sitting in a chair, as far away from the bloody bed as he could without leaving the room entirely. He had his head in his hands, but he wasn't crying. His shoulders didn't shake from quiet sobs. He was just sitting . . . motionless. Newt started at the sudden sound coming from the next room. For one wild second she thought that maybe Dr. Mitchell had caught the creature and locked it in the surgical bay but that made no sense. The sound was too heavy. Too big to be that tiny little snake-demon-creature, even if the monster had seemed immense when she first saw it. But that was just the fear. It hadn't been all that large, considering.
The door to the other room slid open and another man stepped out. He wore the shiny brass pin of a Wayland-Yutani employee. In his hands was a small device she couldn't quite make out from where she was hiding in the ventilation.
A nurse came out only a step behind the man. Her hands folded demurely in front of her while her eyes scanned the recovery room as if looking for something awful about to leap out.
"Am I to blame for this?" Dr. Mitchell demanded, without lifting his head. Newt saw him dig his fingers in his hair. It was painful just to watch and despite her own pain, she felt her heart go out to him.
"I'll have to include your involvement in my report," the Wayland-Yutani man said. "But if it makes any difference, I don't think there's anything you could have done differently. What happened . . . was not your fault."
Dr. Mitchell did not look reassured.
Skittering noises were coming from the walls. Like rats or cockroaches. Tiny little scratchy sounds. Newt pulled nervously back. She could hear the men speaking in the recovery room but her attention was inside the air ducts. She turned her head, looking in both directions. The tunnel seemed to stretch on forever. Very long and straight. Of course she knew exactly where it ended. She knew where this duct branched off, going in separate directions and the exact number of steps until it branched again. A network of interconnected tunnels.
She couldn't see anything. The air ducts were not actually lit, so she – and the other children – had learned to rely on the lights from outside the ventilation that would shine dimly through openings. Either through slats or through imperfections in the steel. This made it so that there was enough light to navigate but not enough to see much else.
Newt backed carefully away from the Recovery room opening. Those voices. The doctor and the Company man were still talking. They sounded so calm . . . but Newt had lost all interest in what was going on in that room. The skittering sounds were drawing nearer and they were not coming from outside. Something was in the duct with her.
Newt's first wild thought is that a child had followed her. One from her own group, or else someone from a rival faction looking to ambush her while she's distracted. (Clever, though not particularly intelligent to continue the game during a real-life emergency.) But no. No, Newt knew better. The children would stay with their parents. They might not have had any idea of what was going on but none of them had looked particularly interested in games. They were scared, too.
Besides, the skittering noises could not possibly be made by a human child. They were . . . they sounded sinister. An instinctive terror lodged in Newt's throat and the idea that the creature might not have escaped as far as everyone believed froze her limbs.
Was it . . . could it be?
A long, whistling hiss echoed sharply through the steel tunnel. Newt spun around, looking into the darkness where she thought the noise was coming from but it was hard to pinpoint the location of a sound in the ventilation ducts. Noises echoed. They bounced around, vibrating through the steel so that sometimes you stopped to look in the direction you thought they were coming from . . . and ended up ambushed from behind.
It's what made the children's campaigns so difficult and rewarding. The complexity; from making sure they didn't get lost in the labyrinth of identical tunnels to how sounds were amplified and seemed to come from everywhere. It was hard, sometimes, keeping oneself oriented.
Frustrated and afraid, Newt abandoned her position and hurried back the way she'd come. This was stupid, she knew. She should have stayed in the cafeteria with her mother and brother and been safe.
The skittering noises were growing louder. Whatever was there was getting closer.
Newt scurried as quickly as she could, nerves and a sharp panic tightening in her chest. She was being chased. The creature! It had to be the creature and it was after her!
She couldn't move fast enough. From the sounds echoing all around, the monster had to be right behind her but panic made it so that she couldn't move any quicker. Hands and legs and knees felt wooden. She was stiff and stumbling as she pushed for more speed, effectively slowing herself down.
She was almost there.
Newt flung her legs forward and rolled onto her butt so that she could slide down a slight incline in the duct. The fabric of her pants caught on a pointed bump in the steel and tore a little. She scratched herself on the descent, and a bloom of heat speared through her leg a second before the pain hit. It wasn't very bad but it was enough to have her hold still for a moment, waiting to see if the hurt would get worse.
There was silence in air ducts, now. It was so quiet Newt could hear her own heart beating. The frightened rasp of air sawing in her throat. She chanced a quick look up, peering through the darkness for any sign of the creature. She saw nothing. The incline might not have been steep but it was certainly long enough so that the top of it was completely obscured in shadow. Pitch blackness looming over her.
For the first time in so, so long Newt felt like a child. A little girl caught up some place she never should have been. Quietly but quickly as she could, she rolled to her knees and kept going. Following the curved path of the duct she was in. Ears open for any sounds that would indicate something was ahead of her. Unlike in the other duct, this one curved and snaked so smoothly that she would not see anything waiting for her until she collided with it. A faint light shone just ahead but Newt was so apprehensive she realized – to her horror – that she was lost.
Completely thrown by the sudden realization, Newt wasn't paying attention of where she placed her hands until she moved to peek through an opening in the hopes of getting her bearings and felt cold, gelatinous slime ooze through her fingers. It felt like glue against her palms.
She stopped moving. Looked cautiously down at what she'd stumbled into and then sat back on her heels. Held her hand up to her face so that she might better see what was there.
It was clear and gluey and very, very thick. There was a weight to it. A heavy, gluey substance that stuck to her hands and gummed her fingers. And there, by her feet, was a sloppy pile of something that smelled horrible. A fleshy tangle of . . . of skin?
The sudden bang and clatter of something big moving through the duct echoed back at Newt. She glanced over her shoulder, this time certain the sound had come from behind her. Sharp hisses cut the stillness. More bangs and then the metal duct beneath her feet rattled. Vibrating horribly as whatever was there grew steadily nearer.
Heart in her throat, Newt grabbed the skin – slime and all – and pushed on.
They needed to see. The grownups. The children's pretend 'enemy'. Never talk to the grownups. It was a rule. But Newt didn't care. This wasn't a game so all those rules were garbage. They meant nothing.
Newt knew they needed to see. They had to understand! The creature shed its skin.
It was growing.