Kingdoms of War: A Trial by Fire

Lieutenant Jim Harkness has found himself face-to-face with demons.... And now he must confront his own.

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4. The Dark Ones

For Doctor Hanson, examinations of the dead were, to a large extent, a waste of time.

Oh, she knew in her head that such work served important purposes - she just felt her energies were better directed toward the living, where she could do more good in her own eyes.

Still, when confronted with an alien species that didn't match up to anything in the record books, she decided her skills were better placed helping her assistants.

The 'body' still had smoke coming off it, almost like how dry ice gave off vapours, and although the extractor fans were working at full pelt, the smoke wouldn't clear. Hanson was struggling to think of any evolutionary reason for such a mechanism, especially for a corpse, but so far, she hadn't been able to think of any.

The being was laying on, as far as anyone knew, its back, upon a surgical table, with a small tray beside Doctor Hanson containing a number of instruments. She hated the bio-suit she'd been forced to wear - it was unwieldy - but better safe than sorry against unknown bacteria. 

First up came the laser cutter. The being's hide had required a number of bullets to wear it down and the assistants who were now watching via video link had tried to cut into the body with only minor success. Hanson smiled as the small red beam of energy began to slice a hole in the body's abdomen, and she made sure to give herself a wide enough incision to actually 'get in there' and see what made this thing tick.

Picking up a small torch from the tray, Hanson lit up the creature's insides... and gasped.

Where any normal living thing would possess organs, this did not. A twisted mess of black fluids, and a knotted collection of looked like bone and sinew was all that was visible. Some of the fluid began to leak out of the hole in the creature, and within it, Hanson spotted small white flecks, that she could only assume was bone as well. It was as though the alien was filled with the stuff.

"What the hell...?" Hanson put the torch down for a second and picked up the clamps. She needed to see what else was in there.

The creature bolted upright.

Hanson screamed.

It had no eyes that she could see, but she could still feel it looking at her, sense the hatred radiating off it like the smoke that billowed from its body. A hand that felt bony grabbed her wrist and started to squeeze, and Hanson cried out in pain as the vice-like grip pierced her bio-suit and fingers started to dig into her skin.

The doors to the lab slid open and two guards stormed in, raising their pistols and shooting the creature repeatedly. It seemed to hiss, and writhed, the bony, black liquid pouring out of the hole Hanson had made. It flung her across the room, and lunged for the guards.

Momentarily stunned, Hanson still managed to notice that she'd landed near the hatch to the incineration chamber.

"This... this way..." She managed to say to the guards, who split up to entrap the creature as a third guard entered.

The third guard had a shotgun, and she blasted the black smokey monster at near point-blank range. It was sent hurtling backwards, landing near Hanson. She staggered to her feet as the dazed being slowly did the same, and once again felt that same cold, evil stare. It started to move toward her once more.

Self-preservation kicked in. Hanson slapped her hand on the panel by the hatch and the hatch opened. She planted her foot as hard as she could on the creature's chest, and it slipped and stumbled, and tumbled down the hatch.

A second slap of the control panel sealed the hatch, and Hanson pressed another button, sending flames burning at over 500 degrees C into the small chamber from all directions.

She didn't stop the fires for a good two minutes, until finally, all readings of activity - and the sound of the creature's horrible, piercing cries - had ceased.

****

"What the fuck happened?" Captain Fierro stormed into the medical bay, and Harkness bolted upright. Behind Fierro, two men in white overalls helped a dazed Doctor Hanson into the room and laid her down upon a medical bed. Stripped of her bio-suit, the medics could see a small wound on the back of her head, already clotting with blood that was tangling up in her hair. Her wrist looked fractured, and it too was bleeding where the creature had dug its fingers into her.

"I don't know ma'am, the alien woke up and attacked her." Said one of the men, who looked more than a little terrified.

"It was dead. How could it 'wake up?'" Fierro's voice was bubbling with anger.

"We're investigating..."

"I want answers people, and I want them now. Go find me some. Doctor Courtous..." Fierro turned to the other man, a tall chap with fraying grey hair and an unfortunately large nose. "Make sure Doctor Hanson is alright."

"Yes ma'am."

Fierro shot a look at Harkness, regarding him, for the first time, as a possible threat, and Harkness caught the look. Then she departed, for destinations unknown.

****

"Are you sure it's dead this time?" Captain Fierro asked as she knelt by the incinerator hatch.

Chief of Security Charleston, broad and stocky, built for anything, looked her squarely in the eyes.

"Yes Captain." His gruff voice replied. "Sensors are detecting no signs of the thing, we also chucked a couple of probes down there to be sure, and they're returning no readings from it."

"It was shot full of holes, sliced open... and still came back to try and hurt our people again... what was it?"

"Wish I knew Captain. I will say one thing - I've been in many a combat situation in my time. Nothing made me feel more... unsettled, than this thing did."

Fierro snorted. "Chief, you're not the only one feeling unsettled right now. Keep two guards at the entrance to the lab at all times, and a probe down that hatch. The first sign of trouble, let me know and drop a grenade or three down there."

"Yes Captain." He started talking into his wrist communicator, and Captain Fierro moved off, at first heading for the medical bay again, when her own communicator beeped.

"Captain, may I seek you in the library?" Came Commander Morgan's voice.

****

Morgan was stooped over a data terminal, with a number of printouts spread out upon the work surface. Two other members of the crew were poring over terminals as well, but had moved to other locations to give their commanding officers some privacy.

"We found no mention of Acheron or Eshurg in our database, which is pretty odd, to say the least." Morgan seemed tense. "We also found no reference to any lifeforms like the one that hurt Doctor Hanson." There was a pregnant pause.

"But?" Fierro urged.

Morgan pursed his lips. "Captain, I am not normally given to believe in fairy tales or children's stories, but you said Harkness had spoke of something called Kallis." Morgan pressed a button on the terminal, and the page filled with references.

"Kallis isn't a world or city in our database, but the word, or some variation of it, comes up quite a lot."

Fierro gave him a worried glance. "How often?"

Morgan looked at her. "Approximately eight hundred thousand hits, across numerous worlds, species and cultures. All of these tales speak of a dark, cold, evil place where a... king of evil lives. Bear in mind, for such a story or tale to cross so many different planets is..."

"... deeply disturbing." Finished Fierro.

"Astonishing is the word I was going for, but yours work too."

"Commander, what chance is there this Kallis place is real?"

"Well... given the frequency of the hits we had in the database, and given how similar the tales are, and given what this creature appeared to be... I'd normally reject it out of hand, but the evidence says it's real, and out there, somewhere."

Captain Fierro stopped to think. This was big, far bigger than anything she'd encountered.

****

In the medical bay, Doctor Hanson's eyes started to turn black...

 

 

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