His head throbbed. Had he fallen asleep at the bar? If so, how had he gotten to his room? He lifted his head off the sweat-soaked pillow. It was flat from over a year’s use. They had packed a switch of linen, but somehow his was lost in the shuffle.
He flicked his tongue across dry lips, but his mouth was no moister. He stood. Then, he wished he hadn’t. The pounding in his head made his eyes close reflexively. Sickness churned deep. His feet moved him toward the privy. He ducked under the door. They made it for a much shorter man. Which didn’t normally matter to him. Usually, he preferred crawling to and from his bed. The liquor had that effect on his legs. He opened the lid. The water was crystal clear with a tinge of blue. He vomited all over it. Some of the chunkier bits, he swallowed back down as he gasped for air. Then, he blew again. The specks flew up, hitting him in the face. He leaned back. The floor was cold. With a listless smearing, he attempted to wipe the spittle from his chin. The extra hair reminded him he needed to shave.
The door opened. No one even bothered to knock anymore. He had been shaken from stupor countless times now.
“You here, Captain?” The voice belonged to that little shit Paper Lintel.
Clifton pulled himself up using the bowl, flushed the remains of his stomach down the pipes-good riddance, and stood. His legs reminded him of jelly. He needed a drink.
Lintel watched through the bathroom door. He must have heard the commotion. Clifton walked over to the shelves along the wall and pulled down a bottle. Inside was the strong-smelling amber liquid. Lintel stepped before him. He placed his hand on the bottom of the bottle.
“General Garman requests you.”
Clifton pushed his hand away. He was ready to have his drink.
The young boy grabbed the bottle. “He requests you sober.”
Clifton stammered. Damn. He put the lid back on. “What now?”
Lintel didn’t answer his question, but said, “in the general guidance room, Captain.”
Neil stood next to his mining crew. Down in the pits of it all, the drill sounded behind him. It was almost closing time. Most of the men would head toward the bar. Most likely to be joined by Captain Clifton, others would retire. Those men were his working crew. He could tell who they were and gave them bonus checks at the end of each month.
At the moment, he spoke to Carter Delaney. The man was dark skinned and foul-mouthed, but he really didn’t differ from most miners.
“The crew found acidic water. We have been draining it. It has a foul odor but shouldn’t cause any problems.”
Neil was used to the weird substances his crew found. If it didn’t slow the production down, he didn’t worry himself about it.
Paper sneaked in beside him. Carter looked on with peaked interest. “General Garman…” Neil cut the boy off.
“Carter, could you make sure everything gets shut off properly? As many men as you can convince from the bar the better.” Carter nodded. Then, he turned and walked toward the laboring drills.
“What is it he wants?”
If Lintel held any resentment at the brashness, he showed none. “Just for me to inform you of a meeting in the general guidance room.”
Neil nodded. Of course, the old General probably found out what that growling beast was. Probably was already having it stuffed for his wall.
“I will be there soon.”
Lintel nodded. Then, turned and faded away toward the steps to the upper world.
She hated these documents. These were not what she had signed up for. The tedious cataloging, this creature here, and this one there. She could scream. Tears pooled from the strain. She blinked them away. Was from the stress or depression? She thought again of something that made her happy. Neil’s tight body rubbed against hers, his manhood near stiffened in her hand. She shook her head. Something changed her up here. The planet’s air got to her.
She flipped another page. It blurred behind the tears. Frustration overwhelmed and she pushed the book away from sight. There was no desire to do this anymore. She wanted to scream and pull her hair. Maybe to cry and kick a little too. Instead, she reached for her cigs and lit one up. The ember glowed in relief. Smoke billowed in a cloud. Her free hand flexed open and closed. There were only a few more notes. That was all. She told herself she could have a drink after. She could find Neil. Maybe finish what they started. She smiled. The smoke filled her lungs.
The knock on the door was familiar. It was formal. That meant Paper was back again. Twice in one day. She moved to her feet. Then, she sat back down. He could open the door himself.
He entered gingerly. Just sticking his head through the door. “General Garman wishes audience in the general guidance room.”
Great, more work.
The general room was standing room only by the time Neil slid through the doors. He spotted Jennifer and looked away. He felt bad the entire day about what had happened between them. He moved along the back wall. Every effort made was to put her out of sight. She looked hurt by the gesture, but he couldn’t stomach standing beside her right now. He stared forward. The General used Lintel to scribe some message. As he finished, he turned to address the gathered crowd.
“Alright folks, we are in alert mode 2. There is no need to panic. As of right now, we are only awaiting the return of Adam Harvey and his men.” He paced as he talked. That meant he was nervous. Neil had noticed the quirk long ago. “They have been gone for longer than expected. I am hoping to hear from them at any moment. Though they have stopped receiving transcriptions and have stopped sending them as well.”
Neil wondered what that growl was. He had heard nothing again down in the pits, but they worked on the far end. About three miles from the area, they had been inside of earlier today. He bit his lip in concentration.
That’s when he heard the commotion from the primary facility. The group inside the room turned. They all heard it as well.
“Calm!” The General pushed through. He made his way toward the back. When he cracked the door, everyone looked outside. Everyone ran haphazardly. Many went in the opposite direction of the guidance room. Neil moved in beside the general. He saw a creature that resembled a man but was much more grotesque. Its skin had molded. It looked hard, like a carapace. He squinted to block light from his vision. The feet of the creature were gnarled and large. The hands supported large, hanging claws. It growled and Neil almost lost control of his bladder. He pushed back from the door.
“What the hell is that thing?”
The General looked at him. His face pale. His eyes wide behind his wrinkles, “I think it’s Richard Clarkson.”
The room churned. At once, everyone pushed to see. As they did, they screamed and pushed themselves back into the room. The creature moved closer. Neil could tell by the growls. Jennifer squeezed in near him.
“What is it?”
He shook his head. He hadn’t a clue.
It had hurt at first. The light had filled his eyes with pain. Though after a time, the pain faded. Then, it was gone. He trudged through the tunnels. He picked the creatures off in the pits below. There were so many of them, his belly distended. He had not remembered ever feeling so good. He kept moving. His legs carried him up a hard, strange textured walkway. It brought him higher and higher into the light. After the pain faded, he tracked through the area. There had been nothing there, but a faint smell wafted across the air, leading him further from his home.
The creatures growled as he approached them. Then, they ran away from him. His claws met their bodies and cut the liquid from inside them. Some tried to fight back with flashing lights. He swatted them away. His hard-shelled stomach barely felt the bites of the small objects. Other creatures stood up to him. They fell just the same. Their tiny bodies looked like bugs at his feet. He hadn’t always been this big. At least he didn’t think he had. Those bodies looked familiar to him, but how could he remember? Everything was so easily forgotten.
He scooped up parts of their soft bodies. The taste sweet on his tongue. The liquid warmed his throat. It made him feel nice inside. He kept moving. Through small, hard walls, some of them so hard his claws barely punctured the surface. He found doorways and more and more of the creatures. They stopped fighting and just ran. Growling and running. He reveled in the chase. It made him feel something strange. He remembered running as a child. Some type of game. He wondered if that was the game he played now. He sliced his claws through another creature’s back. The rush pushed him onward. The surrounding room became bigger. There were many creatures now. So many he could not register them all. The lights were brighter here. He growled. Through the corner of his eye, he watched them watching him. He growled again. He would feast upon them all.