Two legs fell right, and four dropped left. The body of the mutated Shepherd sizzled and collapsed, split into four hunks of burning flesh and splattered gore.
The two men in the door halted fire and raised their weapons with smiles on their faces. I recognized them, but my brain wasn’t ready to connect to that yet. The beast wasn’t dead- at least it shouldn’t be, not if it was caused by the same blood rain that hit my hand.
“Lin,” I said, “back away from the body!”
“What?” Lin was catching her breath. She hadn’t seen what I’d seen. She smiled up at her saviors.
“Get away from the body!”
With a wrinkled stare, Lin looked down again. Each chunk of rain-mutated dog was vibrating. As slow creeping puss leaked onto the floor underneath the chunks of meat, millipede-like legs sprouted, lifting the pieces and carrying them toward Lin.
“Argh!” Lin shot to her feet and backed into the wall beside the door.
As ten hairy segments of monster crept closer, their leading edges split open into wide-fanged mouths.
“No! No! No!” Lin yelled. She slid right and jumped on top of the first desk, while the two armed men laid down another wall of plasma.
Smoke and the stench of burnt dog hair and flesh expanded in a growing cloud of gray gas and soot. Drenching the floor, blue waves of plasma streams warped the flooring grates and cooked the remains sitting upon them. Hunk after hunk and leg after leg, the riflemen fired, reducing the monstrous mess into piles of smoldering goo.
“What the fuck?” the right rifleman said in a thick Russian accent. Squatting, he looked more closely at the bubbling mess on the Comm room floor.
It clicked in my brain. “Adrik and Alek- right?”
Lin climbed down the back side of her platform. “Huh?”
“I am Alek,” the standing rifleman said in his own Russian accent. His bald head nearly touched the door-frame with his immense height. “This is Adrik,” he pointed to the squatting nearly-as-tall man with a balding military buzz-cut.
“Brothers, right?” I took a small step forward.
“Yeah,” Alek chuckled, “I’m stuck with him.” He let his rifle hang in his right hand, pointed at the floor and brushing against his dark gray security uniform.
“This is gross stuff,” Adrik said, tilting his head and leaning over the edge of a smoking black tentacle. He reached forward with his finger.
“I wouldn’t touch it,” I warned.
“Ha,” Adrick said, “I’m sure you wouldn’t little man.” His finger inched closer.
“Adrik,” Alek said.
Adrik raised his head toward his brother.
“Don’t touch it,” Alek said.
Adrik frowned. He glared at the chunks and rose to his feet. Huffing, he gave the smoking leg a kick. “Ow!” he shrieked. He set his foot on top of a desk and examined it. Three inches of ivory spine hung from the left side of his foot. He wrapped his fingers around the spine and jerked it free. Raising it to eye level, he examined the blood-dripping tiny spear and tossed it across the room.
Alek snickered as Adrik retook his place by his brother’s side.
“Thank you,” I said.
Adrik smirked, while Alek nodded.
“You know what all this is?” Alek said.
“Something in the rain.”
“Yeah- we’ve seen the feed. You know why?”
I scanned the room, and saw Lin two rows back, tapping on one of the desks. “Lin?”
“What’s going on over there?”
“I thought while we were here, I should go ahead and try to call the other complexes. To see if they’re seeing the same thing- the monsters and all. And ask if they can send help.”
“Oh. Good idea. Any luck?”
Adrik crunched his face at the cheekbones and stared at Lin. “What do you mean, nothing?”
“I mean nothing. They aren’t responding to me, either of them.”
“Is the system malfunctioning?” Alek walked toward Lin’s desk. He stared down at the holo-projection hovering over the desk.
“No. I can hit the satellites, and they’re passing the signal correctly to each complex. They just aren’t answering.”
“They must be like us,” I said. “All lured outside, surprised, and fighting for their lives. They’re probably just not near the Comm are, whoever’s left.”
“So I should keep trying?” Lin wondered.
“Yeah. We’re going to need each other.”
“We don’t need no one,” Adrik argued. “We have food and rifles. We can kill those things.”
“Sure,” I said. “But what about a month from now. three months from now. The few of us aren’t enough to work the greenhouses and turbines to keep this planet habitable. Without help, we’ll run out of food, and possibly air. The next supply ship isn’t going to be here for seven months. They can drop help, or take us back to Mars, but we have a long time to survive until then, and it may be helpful if there are more survivors so we can last that long.” I turned to Alek. “Do you know of any other survivors in our complex?”
“No. But it’s not like we’ve been looking. We only came in here because we were in the next room and heard the noises. We came to finish off that thing.”
“Then maybe we should look.” I faced Adrik, hoping to get buy-in. “What do you think? Want to rescue more of your fellow citizens? Grow our band of survivors?”
“No,” Adrik frowned. “But I don’t want to garden either.”
“Ha!” Alek slapped his leg. “I am no gardener either.” He looked at me. “What’s your name?”
“OK, Hamal. Let’s go find some gardeners.”
I turned back to Lin. “Are you OK here? Do you want to keep trying to contact the other complexes? Or do you want to come with us?”
“I’m fine right here,” Lin said with convicted eyes. “Just lock that door on your way out.”
I felt a hand’s palm slam into my shoulder.
“You’re with us then,” Alek said. He tapped the control panel and stepped into the hallway. He braced his weapon and looked around the corridor. “So let’s go!”
to be continued…