Chapter 5 - The Deeper Dark
*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.*
"When they first heard about this thing, it was 'crew expendable'.
The next time they sent in marines – they were expendable too."
– Lt. Ellen Ripley
It was late.
Beyond that, Newt didn't care.
How was she supposed to care about anything, with the bodies of the colonists strewn about the wide, cluttered cafeteria hall like so much disposable waste? The gelatinous slime excreted from the monsters slicked the floors so thickly that it caked the bottoms of Newt's boots into a shiny crust that made it difficult for her to walk. She slipped often, the sudden motions churning the combination of excretion and blood into a pinkish froth.
The smell, though. It was the smell that struck Newt where it hurt the worst. More than the sight of the bodies, of the blood splattered walls or the piles of sloppy entrails sloshed on the floors. The scent was strong. Potent and sharp on the stagnant air. Metallic. Like burning metal. The thick stench of feces and urine over the spoiled-milk/sausage-grease odor of the monsters. It made her stomach churn, rolling and knotting until she thought that she couldn't be sick because there was no way for her stomach to empty itself.
So she stood and stared at the horrors and shuddered at the futility of it all. Did any of them really believe, even for a second, that they could have saved themselves?
The big monster slithered from the ventilation, black as death and shining menacingly in the flickering overhead lights. It dropped heavily down, its clawed feet cutting into the floor. Slowly, slowly it rose up to tower over the little blonde girl standing motionless in the centre of the room. A small, slight child surrounded by bodies. Newt watched the creature, too numbed from the horrors surrounding her to feel any fear at all. She was very simply too tired to bother.
Teeth like titanium knives flashed evilly and the creature opened its mouth in what looked like a wide yawn. That second evil jaw slowly extended from within the first. Slime washed over that second jaw, excreting in a wave from invisible pores as the beast trembled with excitement.
"Why?" Newt whispered dully.
She expected no answer, and would not have received one even had the creature been able to respond to the girl's plea. Had it been able to speak, the creature would have had nothing to say, though not out of any particular malice.
There was no why.
Newt closed her eyes. The creature hissed and lunged and a bright burst of pain erupted from Newt a moment before her heart was torn from her body.
It was getting late.
Beyond that, Newt didn't care.
She couldn't sleep. Couldn't eat or drink or speak to any of the others. Her nightmares had only gotten worse since that first scary dream that woke her just in time to watch her daddy die. She saw the monster born and that was not something she would have ever wanted to know. Newt was clever enough to have concluded that one life had been traded for another. Evil could never be created without first destroying the thing that birthed it.
Three days had passed since the massacre in the school room. The colony commander, the Company man and six others were dead. Three were missing and they were not the only colonists to have disappeared since then.
It wasn't safe in the cafeteria – located right across from where the slaughter happened – so everyone had been moved to the fitness room. The gym was not quite large enough to support so many living, breathing bodies but no one was in the mood to move around. Mostly, people just sat on the floor and stayed quiet.
The people in charge had posted armed guards around the perimeter of the fitness gym and a couple volunteers were set to guard the doors but nobody really thought that would be enough. The guards had no real weapons; just things scrapped together and modified from mining equipment and whatever tools they managed to grab before the orders came that the entire colony structure was being closed down. Everyone was packed together and yet, somehow, people continued to disappear.
To Newt – and many others – packing the entire population in one location seemed like a dangerous and very foolish maneuver. They were particularly vulnerable because should another attack occur, it would be a bloodbath. A few might escape but the greater majority would die. Either torn apart by the creature or else stampeded to death as people tried to run away.
Newt considered all this as she sat tersely with her brother, chewing on the tough, brown ration bar that was her dinner. The food contained all the vitamins, minerals and proteins needed to keep the human body functional and strong in an emergency, which is exactly what it was supposed to be used for, but it was dry and tasted very much like chalk.
A pinging noise rattled behind the wall at her back, each reverberating note grating on what was left of Newt's nerves. Fortunately for her sanity, the girl recognized the sound as a loose pipe rattling and did not lose her mind from fright. From the omnipresent terror that the creature was inside the colony but that no one knew where. It could crash through the wall so easily and at any moment, just like it'd done three days ago and then . . . and then the dying would begin again.
Newt couldn't sleep. Her nightmare was there, always right there, waiting for her to close her eyes. It got worse every time she saw it and yet, it never changed. It was always that exact same scene of the cafeteria sprayed in gore and strewn with bodies so torn up she couldn't have said how many there actually were. And then there was the monster, seconds away from killing her and her dull, numb question. Every time, she would ask it in exactly the same tone of voice. "Why?"
She asked . . . with no interest. Even in her dreams, she didn't really care. It was just something you said, when the world collapses in on itself. When the darkness closes over your head, so that you sank into the black aware that there was no bottom. That you would fall and fall forever through emptiness because there could not possibly be anywhere else to go. Just down.
She had realized once, the evening her father was first caught by the spider-hand-creature that evil such as this would taint whatever it came in contact with. That there was no escaping it and no way back. Newt wondered where they thought had come from, and trembled at the idea that she, herself, was not touched by that darkness. She had seen it, faced it, and survived it but she certainly had not gotten away from it. She could feel it, like a little worm burrowing busily inside of her. And it was multiplying. Spreading further and further. More and more little worms.
"Rebecca," Timmy whispered, his voice strained as he tried not to make any noise in the dead quiet room.
Newt looked up from her partially eaten bar, startled that anyone would dare speak to her. The other children had effectively excluded her from their circles. Evil . . . taints. They knew she wasn't like them anymore and that she frightened them. They wanted nothing to do with her.
But her brother wiggled a few inches closer to his sister and said, "Did you really see it?"
"No." Newt swallowed hard and bowed her head, letting her hair fall forward to hide her face. It felt strange to talk again after three days of having nobody to talk to.
"Everyone is saying you did," he insisted. "They're saying you survived!"
For one wild moment, Newt felt this incredible urge to laugh. But it was just so quiet in the fitness centre and there were so many people crowded all around that she resisted the impulse and instead glared at her brother.
"Of course I survived," she said, putting as much distain into her voice as she could manage in a whisper. "Do I look dead?"
Timmy wouldn't be baited. He went on, "Is it true everybody's dead? Is it true only you got away from the monster?"
Newt closed her eyes. Pressed down on those memories trying so hard to surface and show her again the images of bodies and shattered bone and blood everywhere. Of screaming and crying and the horrible screeching-whistle of the monster. The wet noise of muscle being torn straight off bone. She hadn't actually seen that part but the wet slurping noises had chased her through the ventilation as she ran away and left the grownups to their fate.
Did that make her awful?
No. No, there was nothing she could have done. At least, not to help.
"Timmy . . ." Newt sighed. She looked straight at her brother, then. Right into his large blue eyes, so much clearer than usual in his fear-pale face. A dash of light freckles just over the bridge of his nose and a shock of blonde hair, so much like hers that it would make their mother smile whenever she looked at them together. Brother and sister. Very different and yet they could almost have been identical.
Newt made her decision, then. It was an idea she had been toying with for days. Considering it and then letting it go just to come back and look at it again. They had to get out. Now, while it was still possible.
Timmy was staring straight back at Newt, and she blinked. Coming back to herself with a jolt, having just realized that she'd been staring at him vacantly while her mind wandered.
"Timmy," she tried again "we need to go away."
"Go away where?" he demanded. Newt took that as a good sign. He hadn't questioned her desire to leave, and she figured he must considered it too at some point. And he would have to want to do this, or else who would have challenged her. So at least she wouldn't have to convince him that going away was a good idea.
But he did have a point. She understood his reservations. Go where?
Hadley's Hope was the only human settlement on the planet. Outside the colony walls, there was nothing else . . . and Newt would not go back to the derelict alien ship. There really was nowhere to go.
Except for one place, and she didn't think Timmy would be happy by the suggestion.
"We can get away," she told him. She tilted her head to the side, just a little so that he would know she was talking about the room stuffed full of people. "It's dangerous if we stay here. But we can hide. In the tunnels. We can hide there."
"The what?!" Timmy exclaimed, far too loudly! His astonishment overriding every instinct to stay quiet. People jumped, startled and terrified but then turned away in irritation and even anger as they realized it was only a child. Undoubtedly one too stupid to have realized the situation they were all in. It would have been funny, if it wasn't so sad. Timmy and Newt appeared to be the only ones who really knew how desperate things were . . .
"Are you insane?" he demanded, lowing his voice to a mere hiss of sound. "The monster is inside the tunnels!"
"I don't think so," Newt said. "At least, it's not there anymore."
Timmy sneered, "Really? How'd you figure that?"
He was thoroughly disappointed in his sister. Rebecca was usually so smart! So good at figuring things out.
"Because it's growing, stupid!" Newt shot back, aware of her brother's sudden opinion of her intelligence. "It grew from tiny to bigger than anyone in one day! That was three days ago. It must be huge by now! It won't fit in the tunnels anymore."
"It won't fit in the tunnels . . ." Timmy echoed, and Newt knew he was thinking about that. "It won't fit so . . . the tunnels are safe."
He looked at her, eyes wide and a little color returning to his cheeks as a sliver of hope replaced the fear he felt. The tunnels were empty. The tunnels. Their tunnels. Newt's tunnels.
Timmy was so overcome with the possibility that there was somewhere for them to go, to hide from the monster, that Newt had to very quickly grab his sweater to keep him from leaping and alerting everybody that something was going on.
"Where's the access?" he wondered, unbothered by his sister's concern. He turned his head back and forth, scanning the ceiling and floors for the entrance to the ventilation ducts. Newt, of course, already knew where it was. There were four in the room. Three spaced evenly along the ceiling, to allow for the easy and even flow of fresh air in the fitness gym. Those would be impossible to sneak into. Not with so many people around and certainly not so far over the children's heads like that.
But there was one just off the floor, behind the huge sheet of mirror glass. It was there to keep the mirror cool, so that it wouldn't steam in the hot, sweaty room. Newt didn't know that, of course, and actually had no idea at all why someone would place an air vent behind a mirror but she didn't particularly care.
At that exact moment, all that mattered is that there was a way out of the fitness room. She was confident in her assessment that the creature would have grown too big, now, to travel through the ducts anymore. And this time, she wouldn't have to journey through them by herself. Timmy was there and his presence, even if he was no more able to fight the creatures than she could, made her feel better. Safer.
Timmy and Newt escaped behind the walls of the Hadley's Hope colony. They escaped, telling no one that they were going. They left the room packed with colonists and the inherent threat that came with being there. Packed like sheep in a pen, waiting for the slaughter to begin.