Chapter 4 - Does it Grow?
*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.*
". . . It's an 8-foot creature of some kind with acid for blood, and it arrived on your spaceship. It kills on sight and is generally unpleasant. And of course, you expect me to accept all this on your word?"
– Warden Andrews
"It's a skin," Newt said.
She looked around at the adults standing over her but none of them paid any attention to the young girl. They were transfixed, fascinated and simultaneously sickened by the sight before them. They were Dr. Mitchell, the Company man, the colony commander and a couple other adults who had been curious enough by what Newt brought back from the air ducts to come over and see what was happening.
They were not in the cafeteria with the other colonists, though no one had wanted to go far so they'd congregated in a small school room just across the hall. Close enough to be near everyone but with a measure of privacy they would not have had in a big room with half the population crowding around.
Dr. Mitchell was carefully unfolding the sloppy mess of flesh Newt had shown up, laying it flat on a table. It didn't look like skin that was shed, naturally. Not at all like snakeskin, where only the top layer comes off to allow the serpent to grow with a newer skin just beneath. This one was thick and heavy. As if the creature's flesh had been entirely removed, rather than shed.
And yet, Newt was sure. This was the shedding of an older skin to make room for the new. For a growing body. She kept her eyes on the adults, waiting for one of them to agree with her. Or at least to show that they were thinking the same thing . . . but none of them looked interested. They simply appeared sickened and unsettled.
How? How could none of the grownups see the significance of this?
The creature was growing. Therefore it was getting bigger!
"How large do you think it'll get?" a technician asked the group. Newt didn't know him but he was young. Young enough so that he might – might – have remembered the deadly-earnestness of the games the children played from his own childhood. He could have been one of them, once, and Newt took a cautious liking to him. A smidgen of trust she didn't feel for any other the older grownups.
She also felt a burst of pride. He was one of her people, once, and he was the only one to ask that question. Without thinking, she smiled at him. He didn't notice, as the bulk of his attention was fixed on the commander who had stopped unfolding the heavy, gummy skin and was now staring straight back at the technician.
The Company man, who had been there with the doctor, was one of the adults standing around the table. Dr. Mitchell, too, was there. Briefly, Newt wondered why the colony commander was inspecting the skin instead of the doctor but got distracted when a pipe over her head rattled. A hot water pipe, too small for anything to climb through, but still . . . she trembled. The memory of being chased through the ventilation was too fresh to ignore. She was deeply shaken and thought that none of the grownups really got the seriousness of what was going on.
Newt was smart enough to know that they were not just messing around, especially once they'd seen what was left of her father's body, but she thought that they weren't taking it seriously enough. They moved too slowly. They took too much time making decisions. Newt fidgeted with impatience and the grownups just kept trudging along like the creature was no worse than a rat that'd escaped in the electrical. Clearly, it would need to be found and caught but no worries . . .
She could scream! Frustration scalded hotly and Newt slid around the table. Moving behind the gathered adults to stand beside the colony commander. She peered under his arm to look at the floppy skin glistening under the overhead lights and her mouth watered something sour. The skin was a lot bigger than the snake-demon-monster that had burst through blood and bone from her daddy's body. It was . . . she focused her mind, trying to measure the size against her memory but she had been so scared! She hadn't really looked at the creature, then, because all she could see was her father with his chest burst open.
But no. Even if she couldn't measure accurately she thought that the skin was four-times the size of the creature the last time anyone had seen it.
It was growing, alright. This could not be the only shed skin lying around. In only a few hours, less than a day, it had quadrupled in size. It had to be as big as the Miller girl's dog! A friendly animal, but Newt had always been just a little scared of it because of its size. The thing she'd heard following her through the ventilation had sounded very heavy. The duct had rattled all around her as it approached so that she could easily believe it really was that big.
The hot water pipe rattled again. Air, maybe, trapped inside but to Newt the sound grated. It put her nerves on edge. She winced and ducked her head just a little. She quietly slid away from the others, moving to stand closer to the wall. It made her feel vulnerable, to be in the centre of the room. Like there would be nowhere to escape to if she needed to get away. Newt also appeared to be the only one who thought that the sudden need to make a quick exit was a real possibility. But then, none of the others got chased by something loud and scary that they couldn't see. It horrified her to realize how easily she could have been caught in the air ducts and for exactly the same reason she loved travelling through them. Those tunnels were confined. You couldn't just slip in and out of them; first you needed to find an exit.
Newt turned her gaze up toward the ceiling and watched uneasily as that small water pipe shook and clanged against its supports. She had to tell herself – actually had to say the words in her head – that nothing could fit in there. There was no monster hiding in a hot water pipe. But then her eyes slid away to fix on the grate covering the opening to the air ventilation duct and her heart tripped over itself. Through the slats, she could see only darkness. A dark so deep it was like a complete absence of light. This, of course, wasn't true. The ducts might be gloomy but there was light.
For just a second, Newt thought she saw something glistening through those narrow ventilation slats. She blinked and the darkness returned to normal. Just a flat, empty black. There was nothing there.
Newt spun, startled to realize someone had been calling her name. Even more surprised to realize she did actually hear all three of the calls for "Rebecca" but that she was so fixated on the world over everyone's heads she had essentially just ignored them. A conscious decision not to respond until that fourth irritated demand for her attention. She even managed a moment of irritation at the interruption.
Dr. Mitchell was looking right at her, as he was the one speaking. But the small assembly of adults gathered around all wore expressions of annoyance, condescension and a mild amusement in the eyes of a couple. Newt had almost appeared to be daydreaming. The innocence of a child . . . how sweet!
"Yes sir?" Newt asked, careful not to let her annoyance show. She might have allowed a little attitude towards the doctor, if she felt he deserved it . . . but the Wayland-Yutani man worried her. He looked harmless and friendly but he could be mean sometimes.
"Rebecca, I think you should return to your mother," Dr. Mitchell said, making it a suggestion though it was clearly a command. Newt glanced at the now-fully unfolded skin on the table and nodded her head. It smelled very bad. Like spoiled milk and sausage grease. The water pipe continued to rattle ominously, echoing sharply in the otherwise silent room.
Without bothering to voice a verbal agreement – though she did believe going back to her mother in the crowded cafeteria was a good idea – Newt started towards the door. She felt the stares of the grownups burning a hole between her shoulders as she walked, stepping lightly in her thin shoes. And then she paused.
Something was different.
She looked quickly around, uncertain of what it was she felt. Something . . . something changed. Nerve prickled sharply. The pipe kept rattling. The adults had started to mutter and Dr. Mitchell sighed. The Company man gave an annoyed, "That means get out, girl. Go!"
The air . . . it was the air that was different. It felt thicker. As if it wasn't circulating properly.
Newt's eyes sprang open and she turned to look up at the ventilation. The darkness visible through the slats moved. She could see that emptiness shine as light from the room reflected off its glistening surface. Something huge was blocking the flow of air through the ventilation and it was watching them!
Newt did the only thing she could, and that was to run straight towards the opposite wall. Towards the safety of being anywhere other than in the open . . . and the creature in the duct roared! Excited by the sight of a small, fleeing girl it burst straight through the steel and crashed into the rows of small desks lining the room. The adults froze, horror-struck – for most of them, this was the first time they'd seen the creature.
Only it wasn't the same creature that burst from Newt's dad's chest! It had changed . . .
It was not just bigger. It no longer bore any resemblance to the snake-demon at all! It stood on two slender, spring-like legs. A tail twice as long as the creature itself lashed the air like a bullwhip. Its head, glistening and smooth and black as oil had elongated while the end of it had flattened and now sported what appeared to be spines.
She couldn't see a reason for its near complete change in appearance but when the creature slowly rose up out of its predatory crouched and hissed low in its throat . . . Newt knew she was looking into the very depths of evil. Real and untainted by anything else. And she knew that everyone was going to die. There was no getting away from this. No escape!
The men started to scream. Breaking out of their terrified paralysis, the men shouted and screamed and tried to run. They rushed the door, converging on the only way out in a stampede of bodies. Driven into a frenzy of excitement, the creature leapt after them and the Wayland-Yutani Company man was the first to fall.
The creature only struck him with one clawed hand and he flew through the air, his body absolutely destroyed by the strength of that hit. He struck the far wall in a splatter of blood and gore, with bones shattered and sticking out through his flesh.
One person managed to bust out through the door before the creature captured the young technician Newt had admired before. It knocked him right off his feet, sending him crashing to the floor in a tangle of arms and legs; so frightened the man had lost near-complete control of his body. He couldn't coordinate his limbs well enough to try and get back up. The creature was on top of him in a heartbeat. It pinned him down with its claws and then, with a squeal that chilled the blood opened its fanged mouth to reveal a second set of teeth. Another jaw extended from the first so slowly it was as if the creature were savoring the moment.
Newt watched, simultaneously fascinated and scared witless. She couldn't breathe past her terror.
The creature launched that second jaw forward. It struck the back of the technician's head with enough force to crack straight through skull. The sound of bone crunching reverberated throughout Newt's body and it was enough to shock her out of immobility.
The creature lifted its head and hissed menacingly at another man lying on the floor. He must have tripped . . . but he was alive and stared back at the immense black monster prowling forward; eager for another violent kill.
Newt took advantage of that distraction to scurry away as quietly as she could. Not for the door, which was very clearly blocked but towards the ventilation where the creature had erupted only moments ago. She needed to stand on a table to reach it, but once she did she slid up and inside with all the ease of her years of experience doing exactly that. Escaping into the air ducts, like a little mouse running from a cat.
People would have heard the screams of the dying men. They would be coming to see what was wrong but at least one of them had managed to get out and Newt hoped he had to sense to warn everyone not to come. But not everyone the creature cornered had been killed. Too afraid to look back, Newt moved as quickly as she could to get away but even then, she was still observant. Intelligent. She saw the creature leaving some men alive and, thinking back even while she ran away, she thought she might have seen something growing from under the monster's whip-like tail.
A thick fleshy pouch. Like a cocoon . . . or an egg sac.