Antarctica, 2,000 B.C.
The alien queen sent her love to all her children and told them that it was time for all of the hive to be exposed to the humans, and to breed more warriors for the collective. It was time.
The queen picked a drone to lead the attack; the objective was to capture and kill as many of the humans as possible, then retreat to the hive to protect her from any possible invaders that decided to muster up an attack. Doubtful there would be a counterattack by the humans, but the Predators might think otherwise . . .
The drones and warriors fled out into the night en masse from the caverns and scurried through the jungle brush. They went as fast as possible, spread out so as not to be one large target for any enemy who felt particularly brave or stupid in encountering this deadly race.
Hissing and screeching as one, the horde came upon the village in the dead of night to mask their appearance, and rushed out into the clearing. . . to claim the humans as theirs.
Kel Moka awoke from a deep sleep to the sounds of screeching in the night. He rubbed his eyes, trying to get his bearings, and focused on one of the screams. He realized that it was from nearby tribal people. Quickly he rushed out of his hut. What he saw he could not have dreamed of in all of his worst nightmares. There was a scene of chaos that he could never have imagined.
Women and children were running and scattering out of their huts frantically; men with spears and shields ran towards whatever was inside the shelters. Everywhere he looked there were people running for their lives and others yelling for help.
But from what?
A sinking feeling down in the bottom of the Chieftain’s stomach suddenly came alive and he knew, somewhere, what it was all along.
As if to confirm this feeling, something black and seething broke through one of the neighboring huts and rushed itself at one of the men who was holding a spear in a defensive position. He was knocked down and the beast followed through, shredding into his mid-section. At the same time there was the sick sound of bone crunching, and the man’s head suddenly exploded outward, brain tissue and blood flying everywhere.
At this Kel Moka stared, horrified.
The Serpent had come for him, he knew, and now it was time to die at its foul hands. The Chieftain suddenly realized he should have listened to Kontu before he left from the village; that following him was the only thing to do to avoid such a thing as this. The Serpent was indeed alive, and was standing right in front of Kel Moka. He never truly did believe the stories he had heard as a small child growing up, for he had never seen one. Now the stories seemed even that more terrifying and true because of what was right in front of him.
Now it was too late. The Serpent was coming for him.
The beast looked up from its kill and saw him, its sharp, wicked teeth glistening in the moonlight. Its lips were curled back in a grin of death; it reared up on its hind legs, tail swinging in the air behind it, and hissed. It came forth towards Kel Moka, and, too stunned to believe at what he was seeing, took a step back. Pictures of the gods fighting the Serpent had been drawn all over the interior of the Pyramid, and Kel Moka never truly believed the Serpent was real, that it was just something to be made up. But now, standing here in all its black, magnificent glory and its elongated head turning to look directly at him with no eyes no less, he now truly believed, right down to the bottom of his soul. All the stories were true.
All around there were people screaming, running and shouting, but none of that occurred to him. All he could see was the deadly creature before him that had finally come despite all his waiting years and not believing the tales.
Where are the gods NOW? his mind taunted him, and he couldn’t come up with a reply.
The beast grinned down at him, now towering over him and drooling. Thick globs of slime dripped down onto Kel Moka’s headdress and the animal skins he wore. He looked around for one moment, snapping out of his daze, to see that there was not only one Serpent in the village; there were many of them.
He had just enough time to realize the mistake that he made, the mistake of sending off the scouts, for he had not heard from them. His mistake had been to not listen. Kontu was right, and now it was too late.
The Serpent came forward, all silvery teeth and obsidian claws.
Kontu prayed that it was not too late. Antor was already as good as dead, but the rest of the village—?
They hurried through the jungle, Kontu trying his best to see by moon-light. He jumped over logs and dodged trees and vines and occasional snakes on the ground. He had asked to lead the god to his village, and it had complied. Already there was some form of friendship, even if it was only a mutual one for the benefit of their survival against the Serpent. The god had told him of its name, but Kontu could not form some of the words. It was something like “Tikona” or at least to that effect; either way it would have to do for now. Kontu went ahead of the god and made good pace. His ally caught up with him easily and together they made their way towards Kontu’s people.
When they got to the clearing Tinoka stopped and studied the ground. The soil was disturbed in several places, and continued on for a very long time. The path went all the way down to the ooman settlement.
Going at a faster rate now, the two of them raced the rest of the way down and came to the first small hut. Looking at the entryway Tinoka could tell that it was too small for him; he would have to go down on his knees if he wanted to go inside. But he would not; instead he would walk through the small village, spear in hand, watching for any of the Hard Meat that decided to stay behind and see if there were any survivors that they could take back to the nest.
He walked slowly and scouted the area, finding dead ooman bodies all around the huts and in the pathways. Never in his life had Tinoka seen so much brutality caused by the Hard Meat, and so quickly. The fight had began and finished before the two of them could make it. Judging by how warm the bodies were, they must have just missed it by mere minutes. He looked at the small ooman and saw it down on the ground, mourning one of its dead. Tinoka felt sorrow for the human, but there was no escaping the black warrior when it wanted you and you were caught unprepared.
He saw movement and quickly went into a defensive position, ready for the attack. Drones could be sneaky; that was their best advantage over the yautja, thus that was countered by the heat-sensing lens in the masks that the yautja wore, along with their breathing gear and the auto aim in the masks. It was the auto aim that he turned on now, zoomed in for a better look at what was coming, the plasmacaster he had picked up from Baar, whom they had found already fallen to the Hard Meat with a hole punched through his head, swiveling into action on his shoulder--
Surprising Tinoka, out from the corner of a nearby hut there came an ooman, visibly scared and looking around frantically. It turned in circles, as if not sure where it was, then its eyes came to rest on the young yautja. And, just like Tinoka’s ally, the ooman went down on its knees and started talking the ways of the yautja. Tinoka glanced back to the other soft meat, and found it running to its fellow survivor. Together they huddled down on the ground and started talking to each other, one seeming more frantic than the other. Tinoka could not decipher the words; the talking was too fast, but the actions and motions were clear: What was a god doing here in this village, and what had happened to everyone?
Kontu sat down with Matrua, and tried to talk to him through all the babbling and prayers that his fellow tribal man said. Kontu took hold of him and shook him, hard. This jolted Matrua from his praying to the god that stood before him. He looked frantically at Kontu, then to the god, then back again, his eyes wide with fear and dismay at what had just transpired within the last few moments of the village and everyone in it.
Kontu said, “It’s okay, it’s okay, you’re all right. The Serpent has came and gone, yet you are still here. That is something to be desired for. The god here has yet again flexed its awesome power and saved you; thus you are the one to come with us and help.”
Matrua frowned, not seeing Kontu but, rather, everything that was around him: The huts torn down to pieces, pieces of people everywhere: an arm, a shredded leg, the upper half of a torso, the bodies--the bodies, oh, there were so many . . .
Kontu helped his fellow warrior to his feet, and said, “Are there any other survivors? We must group together quickly and go to safety. There is no telling what the Serpent might do next.”
Matrua stared at Kontu, then said. “You were right. We should have listened to you. We were fools to have gone with Kel Moka’s word and not believed you. I am sorry.”
Kontu shook his head; it was over, and what had happened had happened. Now was not the time for recriminations, but to end this night-mare once and for all.
He looked to the god for direction, and it only stared at him, its head tilted in an odd way, as if observing the two of them as they talked. Its dread locked hair hung limply around its shoulders; the gun it had on its shoulder at rest. For the moment.
There was a screech from somewhere out in the jungle and the god turned around, instantly alert.
The Hard Meat was somewhere; they had decided to come back to see if there were any survivors. Or perhaps they had came back for Tinoka and his now two ooman friends.
He waved at them to hurry and they followed; Tinoka had no plan of where to go, but they had to find shelter, and quick. The ooman settlement was too big an area and still too recent from the attack to hide out there; the drones would still come back, sweeping the area once more to see if there were any survivors. Undoubtedly they would find the yautja and the two oomans, and there would be no chance. Despite Tinoka being armed with a shoulder burner and a spear and wrist knives, there would be no contest against the numbers of drones. They had to find the other students that Tinoka had meant to follow, only he had gotten sidetracked and found the ooman.
Tinoka knew just where to go.
He waved to the oomans to follow him again, and they hurried along, the one surviving member limping a little bit from the attack. They babbled in their strange tongue, but Tinoka tuned it out, intent on listening for any signs of the Hard Meat.
Kontu and Matrua followed the god as best as they could; Matrua tried to walk, only to find that he had somehow hurt his foot among the ensuing chaos that ravaged the village. He limped along, with Kontu helping him and telling everything of how he came to be where he was now. Matrua was taken in by it; he could not believe that Kontu had allied himself with a god. “Surely everything has to have a purpose here in its place,” Matrua said, wincing a little bit at his swollen ankle. “Kel Moka says that everything has a purpose.”
Kontu scowled. “Yes, and ignoring me and my warnings of the Serpent’s coming had a purpose.” His voice was bitter as he said this.
“He is dead,” Matrua said. “I saw him be murdered by one of the Serpents. We did not know that the village was to be attacked, and we did not know there would be so many.”
“Neither did I, but I had a feeling that the creature had changed some-how, for some reason, and I did not like it. And for some reason it had spared my life, and I used that chance to warn Kel Moka, which he did not heed. I feel bad about what has happened, yes, but it is not truly my fault. This was foretold that the Serpent would come in the middle of the night; it was expected, and still our people did nothing about it.”
“There were a few believers . . .” Matrua tried, but stopped.
“If Luta had been here, she would have convinced him,” Kontu said, and the other tribe member sensed bitterness as well as sadness in his tone. Luta was Kontu’s soon-to-be bride, but now that was to never come to fruition. She had sacrificed herself so that the Serpent may be stopped, and their tribe saved from damnation by the creature. But in the stories, the Serpent had always been killed before it was allowed to raid the village.
This had turned out quite differently than the stories, though. Was it because of the Serpent turning into many? The stories all said that it was just a single one.
The two of them glanced up at the god and where it was taking them, and continued following it.
“Where are we going?” Mantrua asked, wincing at his ankle as they continued to hobble along.
“I don’t know, but anywhere would be better than staying in one place,” Kontu said.
Tinoka rushed through the jungle, praying to the gods that it might not be too late already. The Clan’s ship had been due back, and Tinoka only hoped that it was there where the pre-designated landing area was. And if not . . .
He looked back to see his two ooman allies
come up and stop next to him, the one that was injured hissing a little. Tinoka could not decipher what it said, but he saw the creature’s ankle and concluded it was probably injured. He had a thought that the ooman would only slow them down, but then realized that if his ooman ally was lending help to the injured one, then it must matter to it.
Tinoka walked a little bit farther and pushed through some undergrowth, and allowed himself a growl of pleasure behind his mask to see that they were finally there.
In a small clearing sat the ship, Daughdi, which in the Hunter language meant “Large Spear.” The ship had been on missions where the yautja encountered deadly enemies worthy of their trophy wall, and Large Spear had been of severe importance in accomplishing multiple Hunts. The large laser cannon that had been built into design by the hunters could cut through waves upon waves of species of hostile creatures, the Hard Meat being such one, and when it did the aftereffects were like a knife cutting through a field of grass, leaving nothing but blown-up and shredded and laser-burnt body parts, making the Hunters’ work that much easier when outnumbered five-thousand to one.
When Tinoka first thought of it, he had imagined there were to be lots of Clan members around the ship on all sides, protecting it from any curious being that decided to get too close, waiting for the students to return from their first Blooding Hunt.
But what the student leader saw instead was entirely different. Large Spear lay dormant, its ramp down with the floodlights on, but there was nobody around to greet them. Tinoka knew better than that; he had been on greeting parties before when other students had came back from Hunts, and every member of the crew except for the pilot and co-pilot had been down there, until every student had been accounted for. But this time there was no one to greet him, and this struck the hunter as odd. Surely someone would be down by the ramp to greet them. Perhaps they were all inside having food and telling hunting stories.
He motioned for the oomans to follow him, and they cautiously made their way towards Large Spear. Tinoka aproached the ramp, being careful where he stepped, and looked around him. The lens in the mask illuminated everything around him, and what he saw stopped him completely.
Up on the walls were the hung bodies of his brethren. Some had holes in their chest where the Hard Meat had punched its way out of them with a violent birth, his clan mates’ last moments thinking only about death coming to them. Some of the Yautja hosts were still unconscious, their chests not yet ruptured. Tinoka walked over to one, seeing on closer inspection that it was Nidvin, one of his fellow student hunters. His forehead from the Hard Meat’s acid blood had the mark of the clan. Nidvin had managed to blood himself before facing death, only to be served in the end as a host for another Hard Meat larvae. Tinoka looked back to his ooman compatriots, seeing them wait by the top of the ramp. When he looked back to Nidvin, he jumped back in surprise, seeing the student’s eyes open up suddenly.
“Nidvin!” Tinoka cried, sorrow registering in his voice. “What happened here? Where are the others?”
The student only coughed at what Tinoka asked, then after a moment of tense silence, he said, “Gone . . . To find the Hard Meat lair. To stop the queen before all is taken over.”
Tinoka saw Nidvin’s eyes glance behind him, to the oomans, then back to Tinoka. Whether Nidvin approved of his allying with the creatures, Tinoka did not care.
“How many?” Tinoka tried, glancing back himself. “How many went to the hive? What happened?”
Again Nidvin coughed and tried to talk. His time was short, Tinoka could tell already.
“Four,” he sputtered, blood coming up from behind his mandibles. “But they will not succeed, Tinoka. We got the signal from Dunache to return to the landing zone, and so we headed this way, only to find that the ship had been here all along. It never left this world; it simply went and hid until the time was right to land.” He stopped, short of breath. “When we arrived all was as planned . . . And then the Hard Meat came sprinting out of the jungle as fast as possible, in all directions. And, as you see all around you, it was futile when we tried to hold them off. They ambushed us; it was a trap. Somehow they knew. The Hard Meat knew.”
This new phenomenon chilled the student Leader to his very bones.
“A few of us escaped and ordered a retreat; there were too many of them. I think the bugs may be gathering around the nest by now; I heard one of the other students yell out to attack the nest, wherever that may be. The four of them intend to kill the Black Warrior Mother and bring her skull back in vengeful honor.” Again he stopped, and his head sagged a little bit from the tiredness of everything; his head was the only part of his body that he could move. But Tinoka saw that he was determined to get everything out that he thought he could say. That was needed to be said.
Thick strands of the Hard Meat resin caked Nidvin’s mandibles, dripping off the tips of his tusks with a slight motion of his head. “You need to abandon this Hunt, to get them and fight your way back here. There are too many of the Hard Meat. The four of them will not be able to survive if they go for the hive.”
“Why come back here? What’s here?” Tinoka asked, but Nidvin was already slipping back into unconsciousness. It was useless; the warrior had spent all his energy. He lapsed back into a coma state, and Tinoka sighed. He switched to another vision in the mask and saw the alien larvae in his fellow peer’s chest.
“Sleep well, my brother,” Tinoka whispered, and without another thought drove his spear into the student’s chest, killing the larvae and Nidvin. The student’s eyes snapped open for a second, then slowly slid shut as resolution and calmness overcame him. Tinoka felt the larvae squirm beneath the tip of his spear, then go still. He yanked out the spear and shook it clean of all the blood, then turned to the oomans. They were staring at him, not knowing what to do.
“We have to go,” Tinoka said to them, and whether or not they under-stood him, they would get the meaning soon enough.
Kontu and Mantrua saw the god kill one of its own, after the series of growls and gestures that had commenced before it. The two of them just stared at him for a few moments, before realizing that the god was infected with one of the Serpents. Why else would all the rest of these gods that they saw around them be strung up by the demon’s foul touch, ready to bring something that could wipe out a whole village in one pass? The site was too much for the both of them to go in any deeper into the god’s ship, and so they had stayed right next to the doorway, keeping watch for anything.
The god growled at them, then passed them and kept on walking.
“I guess he wants us to follow him,” Kontu suggested, suddenly seeing that the god had a destination of some kind. “Can you make it?”
Mantrua winced at his swollen ankle and hobbled on the other leg for a moment. “I can try, but I have to sit down as soon as possible; I don’t know how long I can go on this leg.”
Kontu nodded; he was about to say that there could be a lot worse instead of the ankle, when a sound came from behind them. They snapped their heads around, instantly alert.
The god readied his spear, and howled at the sight of one of the serpents as it came out from the undergrowth and charged. The two of them got a detailed look at how the creature moved: fast, sharp movements with its tail whipping behind it like some demented snake. The serpent hissed, the god waiting for it as it ran toward him. Then at the last second the god lashed out its spear, the serpent running past it. Mantrua and Kontu looked on in confusion as the creature kept on running past a few feet--
And its head fell off, the body still moving but headless. Then after a second the body crashed into the ground and flopped end over end as it finally registered that the head was gone. Acid spilled out from a clean cut at the base of the neck.
The god walked over to the serpent’s head, seeing that the mouth was still somehow moving. Perhaps the creature did not yet realize that it was dead?
Tinoka, or whatever the god’s name was, brought his spear down and into the creature’s head, finally killing it all the way.
All this took only a span of a few moments, everything happening around the two humans so quick.
The god surveyed the area once more in preparation for another attack, but no serpents cared to present themselves. He growled and continued pacing back into the jungle, and Kontu and Mantrua could only follow.
They walked for quite some time before finally stopping, the two survivors of the village out of breath.
Tinoka hefted his staff and looked around for further threats, finding none. He saw the two oomans looking to him for direction; he pointed in the direction of the hive.
They had a queen to kill.