Clifton pushed his way through the crowd. He paused at the door. Whatever the damn thing was, it was big. He looked over at the scared crowd. All he could think about was that he sure could use a drink right about now. He almost wished this was one of his alcohol-related dreams. He pinched his arm. It hurt. It was no dream.
He pushed himself back from the door and took three deep breaths. “We have to get ourselves the hell out of here.”
The General looked at him. Fear filled his eyes. It was so heavy the captain could smell it like whiskey. That thing had killed the best soldiers on the planet. That thing was leaving havoc in its wake. Clifton tilted, sticking himself slightly out the door again. The creature was no further than three hundred yards away. If they were going to act, best do it now.
“I am heading toward the ship.” The faces of those surrounding him froze in fear.
Neil spoke up first. “We can’t just leave my men.”
The captain laughed. He didn’t mean to laugh. It just happened. “Your men are dead. If Adam couldn’t tame the beast, your men are not half as skilled.”
Neil’s eyes dropped. It wounded him, but the captain figured he would get over it. At least, the captain hoped. He needed help to leave this rock.
“Are you all with me?”
The General stepped up. He tried to display his badge of power. It meant shit now. “Those people will need help.”
The captain really wished for that drink. He wondered if he could make it to the bar on the way to the ship.
“Those people will have to fend for their damn selves. If a gun doesn’t kill that bastard-well, then I don’t plan to try with my bare hands.”
It wasn’t a coward’s move. It was the move of a man who would like to live.
“So, who is with me? Because you either come now, or you find your own ship off this rock.”
He wasn’t bluffing. He hoped he showed that upon his face. This was it. He was leaving. He didn’t need them, but they all needed him. He swallowed the lump of fear inside his throat. Now, he had to will his hand to open the door.
She had been in zoology for… she couldn’t even remember. The thing in the hallway was nothing she like anything she had ever seen. The General had said something that tingled her spine. He thought it looked like Richard Clarkson. The man she served under on this trip. The captain was right. They had to go. Had to leave, and they had to do it now.
“I am with you.” Her words were small. She had always been such a strong woman. Now, she was more sniveling than Sash. She wondered at the big man’s fate. Though she didn’t wonder for long, the growl shook the surrounding walls. The creature advanced as they sat in wonder. She still heard the screams of the others.
“Let’s go!” She was sure she was ready now. She would not sit here and die. Neil grabbed her arm. Did he do it on purpose? She looked at him. He let go. Why was no one opening that door?
Neil thought of his men. He had known them for so long. He couldn’t believe they were just gone. This trip was supposed to be the big payoff. This was his last off-world trip. He had promised his wife. His hand reached out. He gripped Jennifer’s arm. She looked at him. He let go. What was he thinking? He hadn’t meant that. Had he? He heard another growl and bit his lip. He had to decide now.
His hand acted on instinct. It opened the door. Those around him screamed.
“Well, we can’t sit around and wait.”
The captain nodded. His breath was still strong with drink. Neil hoped he could even fly a ship.
The monster had a strong resemblance to Richard Clarkson, that was for certain. He didn’t stop to stare any longer than he had to, though. The captain rushed into the hall before them. Jennifer followed. Others crammed through the door as well. The general looked rooted to the floor.
“You coming, sir?”
His eyes blinked, but he didn’t move.
Neil smacked him on the shoulder. “Sir!”
The fear had taken him.
Neil tucked his head and ran after the group. There was nothing he could do. The monster roared behind him. The door to the room ripped off the wall. He heard the general scream. There was nothing for it. He tucked his head and ran faster.
The room before him emptied. They ran down the halls. He had cleared the surrounding area. Another creature ran from the room. He seemed to be the last of them. As he glared inside the room, he saw one standing still. The creature didn’t growl. He reached his hands, ripping at the door. He liked the power of it. It clanged beside him. He turned and grabbed the creature by the waist. It growled loudly. He shoved the head of it into his mouth. It didn’t fit, but he bit down anyhow. The crunch beneath his teeth was gratifying. The contents slid down easily. He threw the body down. He would catch them all.
The captain slammed into the wall. His feet hadn’t carried him so quickly in many years. His head throbbed from the exertion and the drink. He moved down the corridor. The ship was above ground. They would have to take the stairs up. He hurried toward them. The others were at his heels. He heard them breathing hard. Most of them were like him. Out of shape and old, they ran like it as well.
He rounded the last corner. There they were. The stairs. Those metal gateways to heaven. He doubled his pace. Then, he remembered the worst thing that could have happened. The keys to the ship were in his room. They could not rig the new models. There were two sets on the entire planet. One with the general and one in the captain’s lodgings. He had neither. He turned and ran through the people.
“Get to the surface.” They didn’t question him. They continued for the stairs. He heard their feet clattering upward. He wished he could have joined them.
“Where are you going?” Clifton barely avoided running into Neil. The man looked scared. He couldn’t blame him. He could feel his own trepidation inside his belly.
“I forgot the key. I will be right back. Just a quick run back.”
Neil gave him a hard look. “I will head back with you.”
The captain didn’t want him to come, but he didn’t have time to argue.
“I will follow.” Jennifer Daily stood behind them, listening to the conversation.
“Well damn, let’s make it a party.” Why were they so ready to go die with him?
He turned. He would surely die if he didn’t run. His legs carried him as fast as they could move. Neil and Jennifer easily kept pace. They were much younger than him. He rounded a last corner coming into the main corridor. His room was three doors down the main hallway. He could see the finish line. He took off toward it. His hand gripped the knob. It creaked open. Nearby, he heard the growls of that wretched beast.
The key hung by his bed. He grabbed it from the stub for the last time.
“Now we can go.”
He clutched the key inside his hand. Then, he turned toward the shelf. One drink wouldn’t hurt. He walked to the shelf, grabbing the amber liquid.
“What are you doing?” Jennifer asked.
He didn’t answer her. He swallowed down the courage. It burned all the way down. He hated the taste. He felt the sudden urge to vomit. He held his breath. It slowly passed.
Neil grabbed the bottle from the captain’s hands.
“You can’t drink this and drive!” His voice sounded angry to his ears. Matter of fact he was angry. What did this idiot think he was doing? The bottle crashed to the floor. The sound vibrated in his ears. He shouldn’t have done that. The growls sounded again nearer than before. Neil pushed the captain toward the door.
“We better go.”
The captain didn’t put up a fight, but his face looked flushed.
Jennifer followed them out. They charged down the small main corridor into the lobby. The beast stood in front of them. They dodged to the side. Neil and Jennifer made the move easily. Clifton stumbled. It was that damn drink. His eyes widened further than a man’s eyes should be able to. His hand loosened on the key. He made one last decision. The key flew. Then, the beast bit into his arm. His sharp claws ripped through the captain. Neil caught the key. He hoped driving a ship was a lot easier than it looked.
Without choice, they turned to run. They rounded the last corner. Everyone else had made it up those metal steps. He grabbed Jennifer’s hand. This time he meant to do it. It may be the last time he was to ever able touch her in such a way, and he wanted to at least have done it.
She did not resist him. Instead, they ran hand in hand up the stairs. His body always a stair ahead of hers. The growls grew louder behind them.
His hand was sweaty inside hers. He tugged on her a bit, too, tightly. Yet, it comforted her. That beast behind them had just torn the captain in half like a child with a candy bar. She didn’t want to think about it. How were you supposed to forget about something like that? Her feet met the dirt of the planet. The heat existed at all times of the day. The sun near this planet never faded. Night and day were the same, hot, and humid. They kept running. The miners made the path the first month of their arrival. When she still followed Richard’s guidance. What had happened to that man? Something had made him a hideous monster.
She felt her feet pick up speed. They were now shoulder to shoulder. She saw the ship. She let her heart hope. She would see her children again. Her husband. She looked down at her hand. Gripped in with Neil’s, her husband would not approve, but he wasn’t here. She didn’t pull away. The ship’s door opened. People were already safe inside. She heard the distant roar behind her.
His feet stopped. The sun beat down upon him. The growl he let loose was something strong from his depths. He shielded his eyes. He could not chase them anymore. Those who had escaped were out of his reach forever. He felt a pang of something, it differed from what he had felt minutes before. He ducked back into the enclosure. He heard the loud roar of something above him. He growled again. The heat hit him in the face. It wasn’t from the sun. He looked above. Something flew. He used to fly. At least he remembered flying. The object moved from his sight. He turned away from the light of the sun. Those few had gotten away. He turned back toward the corridor. There were still plenty left over to feed him. He turned and walked back inside.