Chapter 8 - Stay Frosty
*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.*
"Outstanding. Now all we need is a deck of cards."
– Cpl. Hicks
She didn't scurry through the air ducts as she usually would. She was not on her hands and knees. She was on her feet, hunched over because the "ceiling" was so low, running as fast as she could through the winding tunnels that were so dimly illuminated it was nearly impossible to see where she was going. The only thing that kept her from falling down is that there were no obstructions littering the floor to trip her as there would be if she were in a corridor.
There were so many noises coming from behind her; sounds that lashed at her back making the area between her shoulders itch. Newt ran even faster, pushing for all the speed she could manage. And it was hard. Hard to keep running when she was tired and terrified. Convinced that the spider-hand-monster was right behind her. That she was only seconds away from feeling those bony legs close around her skull. The "hand" pressing into her face. Newt felt strangled imagining it and she almost tripped.
She had to get out of these tunnels!
She passed opening after opening, catching only quick peeks into rooms and storage closets and apartments. Any one of those was a way out but rather than pause to kick out the panels so that she could drop down, she kept going. Urgency pushing her forward. None of those places were good for getting away. Doors might be locked, or the distance to the floor was too far to risk . . . she couldn't let herself be trapped, and she certainly didn't want to risk being hurt. The creatures were coming!
She could hear them. Eight sharp legs tapping hollow little tick-tick sounds in the ducts, with the thicker thud of that long tail rapping on the metal air duct as the creature hurried after her. A long, muscular tail that would wrap itself so snuggly around her throat. Tying them together, as if those spidery legs weren't enough.
Newt was almost in tears. She was choking, futilely trying to think past the panic to where she could focus. She had never needed her cleverness as much as she did at that very moment. Quick, clever Newt . . . the girl who could never be caught or cornered. She felt that girl slipping away from her. Newt sliding back so that all that was left was Rebecca. A skinny little girl with blonde hair who liked to give herself airs. No. No!
She was Newt!
She was unstoppable. Only . . . she knew she wasn't. The confidence she showed when playing with the other children was no more real than what they allowed. They looked up to her, therefore she was high. But these creatures were not awed by her reputation. They had no interest in her skill. And why should they, when they were just so much better. So big and strong and scary. What was one little human girl in the face of all that they were?
Newt slipped on something slick streaking the smooth surface under her shoes. She dropped down to one knee for balance and saw the slimy residue glistening. It coated the rubber sides of her shoes and gummed in the fabric of her pants. Cool and thick. Her heart leapt into her throat, tightening painfully into a knot and she looked down the ducts branching away from the one she was in. She saw no black figures hulking about but the slime smelled to fresh to be anything other than new. The duct to her left shook as something heavy moved and Newt didn't hesitate to catch sight of what was there. She took off, moving slower than before but much more quietly for it.
The slime was slow to come off her shoes and it stuck to whatever else it touched, so that for Newt it felt like she were walking with glue coating the bottoms of her shoes. Every step stuck. And it was slick enough so that she had to adjust her balance as she ran. But she was almost there. Only a few more yards of dark tunnel and then she would be back in the corridor. From there, it was only a short way to the fitness centre and she would be safe.
Safe with people.
Safe with people who would protect her. Newt was so tired of being alone. Now, all she wanted was to be where everyone else was.
As scared as she was, Newt had the sense to stop and peek out before she tumbled into the wide-open corridor. There could have been anything out there waiting for her. But there wasn't. One quick glance showed that the hall was empty, though carts and boxes and trolleys were strewn all around. Packets and packages of all sorts of things tossed over the floor. She slid out of the ventilation duct and then stuck her fingers through the narrow slats of the panel that was supposed to go over the opening. The big steel panel was heavy and unwieldy, but she managed to lift it up and stick it back over the opening. To be safe, she slid the pins back into their rightful positions, effectively sealing the panel in place.
Flesh colored legs slammed through those narrow openings, hooking like beckoning fingers. The steel rattled sharply so that anyone could hear the desperation in the creature's attempts to reach the girl just there. Just out of reach.
Newt whimpered but did not scream. She kicked with her feet, propelling herself back to the opposite wall. There were no tears burning her throat anymore. Now, she just felt very cold. Cold and airless. She gasped a deep breath, filling her lungs with air but something in her chest continued to tighten. A pressure building.
For one illogical, terrible moment, Newt thought that she was going to die. She imagined that she had a monster inside her chest and it was pushing to come out, just like with her daddy. But no. No. This was something else.
As she watched those legs reach through the slats in the ventilation panel and the heavy, dangerous whap-whap of the creature's tail slamming on the four walls of the air duct Newt realized what was happening to her. And knowing it actually helped to lessen the severity of the symptoms.
A ridiculous name for something that felt so awful! Something that was so all-consuming so that it felt as if the pressure building in her chest moved to her head. Like air pressing up against the inside of her skull so that she thought her head would explode! Sweat slicked her whole body and she couldn't loosen the muscles in her neck and back. Her heart rattled in her chest, beating so fast that each pulse hurt her on the inside.
And she could not breathe. No matter how much air she pulled in on every desperate gasp, there never seemed to be enough. And each breath got harder, as the pressure in her chest wouldn't allow her lungs to expand as far as they needed to.
But Newt realized what was happening and that helped to make it easier to calm down.
She needed to breathe. Breathe . . . okay. She was okay.
The creature continued to flail, reaching for Newt through the slats in the ventilation duct but it wasn't getting through and that was good. But the slightest sizzle and hiss alerted Newt to the renewed threat. Acid bubbled over the steel as the creature cut itself on the sharp edges of the slats. The panel was melting.
Newt didn't know what she was doing. There was nowhere to run and she felt a swell of despair at the hopelessness of her situation. The creatures were multiplying so quickly and no one could fight them. To her eyes, they were unstoppable and a part of Newt wondered – for the first time – if it was worth fighting it. It would be so, so easy to just let them take her . . .
She glanced quickly down, frustrated with herself. The noises from the spider-hand-monster echoed thickly in her head. Could she do it? Could she really just sit there and wait for the creature to get her? It was so hard to fight when she was so, so scared. The intensity of her fear weakened her in a way she hadn't known could happen. Her resolve wavered.
The entire colony heaved and bucked, the floor beneath Newt rolling so that she pitched forward. She landed on her stomach halfway across the floor, her ears ringing from the concussion of sound that blew through the corridor. Her head felt thick. Stuffed full of noise so that she didn't notice how close she'd gotten to those evil, grasping fingers in the vent or even feel the sting from the fumes as acid melted the metal so close to her face.
The creature was driven into a frenzy at the sudden proximity of its prey. She was so, so near! And the only thing keeping it away from Newt was dissolving. It knew. In some primal, purely instinctive way it knew that now was the moment to attack. Newt would never be this vulnerable again.