The heavy metal door creaked open. Amelia cringed at the noise, and the night-vision display imbued a green-hued view of the hallway over her vision. No heat signatures. No bees. No beasts. Not that man-eaters didn’t lurk in the corridor. They hefted the colony between them. “Well, let’s do this,” stepping forward into the hall, Stark at an angle on the other side of the hive as they squeezed through the doorway.
Amelia scanned left, he inspected the right. “All clear,” he said.
She chinned her comms. “Clear. Let’s make this quick.” Bent forward and with a slight crouch to support the weight, they took fast and long strides. At the entrance to the dome’s farmland, they set the hive down, and Stark checked for danger.
He examined the tall corn from left to right. Aside from a few small heat signs of rodents and insects, their travel to the airlock appeared safe. “I’m not seeing anything. We’re good to go.” He popped back in and took up position on his side of the hive.
“We’re going quiet. This is where rocks hit the nest.”
Stark laughed. “You watch too many movies.”
They stepped into the open. Amelia’s eyes narrowed as she concentrated on the corn. She did not like it. Too much hid in the field of tall stalks and low shadows. She turned her head to the airlock. Right there. Right there, a sacrifice awaited.
She and Stark debated the plan in the SME storage room for a couple hours before reaching an agonizing decision. By the end, two options remained. With the single manual airlock leaver on the inside of the dome – a security measure – one of them must remain behind and close the bulkhead. The second option involved leaving the interior exposed to the dead atmosphere of Earth.
“This is a living biom. We can’t let it die.” Stark’s education on humanity’s sins held powerful influence over his actions and beliefs.
Amelia should have felt the same. As a child, she received the same teachings… but didn’t give a damn. She’d save this hive for the people back home. But this dome, filled with its corruption and demons, could blow away as dust, never to have existed in the memories of… well… anyone. “Why not? What use is it?”
“You’re kidding? The bees…” He pointed to the hive. “There are more.”
And… there it was. He was right, and she knew it. If the little saviours brought home failed… as so many colonies the world over had, they could come back and get more. The dome must stand intact and alive… “Fine, so who’s shutting the airlock?”
“I will.” Stark’s instant submission to enlist as the sacrifice gave Amelia pause.
“Great. I’ll drag this monstrosity home all by myself… and you can kick your feet up until I return with a team to retrieve your lazy ass.” Her false smile did nothing to hide the hidden message beneath: If he survived this living hell until she came back.
“Let’s move,” she said, and they resumed forward, keeping to the darkest shadows of the dome’s night against the habitation ring.
A quarter of the distance to the airlock, she spotted thermals in the corn. The wasp-cursed corn. She knew it. “I’ve got large movement in the field. And these are not bunnies.”
“Shit.” Stark increased pace in sync with Amelia. If they could make it to the airlock, one of them could release hell on the beasts while the other pumped the doors open. Amelia’s breath grew hot. Her throat parched. Her arms ached. They ran, the white box threatening to spill them to the ground with its weight. She felt the fear in her grow at the prospect of tripping over something in the darkness.
“Watch your… footing,” she said. Stark kept silent, but she saw his bright-white thermal figure dip its visor toward the dirt.
Padded paws peppered the ground with a pap-pap-pap. The beasts desired speed, silence no longer a priority this near prey. Despite this, the demons’ impact against soil sounded a soft caress.
The whispered pursuit grew thicker. The predators closing the gap put more drive into Amelia’s velocity. Stark lagged, and the hive twisted. So she slowed to avoid toppling and certain death. A free hand holding the rifle swung back at the hungry pursuers and pulled the trigger, bullets punching out the barrel in rapid fire.
The force of the fired rounds pushed the barrel up, and glass from the inner layer of the dome exploded. Shards rained on the creatures; whines and yelps echoed across the expanse. Maybe the predators would slow long enough for them to reach the airlock.
She looked back. Nope. Instead, the demons increased speed. Like rage… or an obsessive hunger drove them forward. Amelia dropped her side of the hive. It slammed to the dirt. The bees inside swarmed the sleeve; a black and yellow cloud trapped in a balloon. Stark stumbled and fell to the ground as the weight of the box destabilized him.
“Drag it. Get it out of here!” Amelia shouted.
She took aim and released a burst into the face of the closest demon. Its head erupted in a mist of blood, and it crashed snout first with a billow of dust. Firing at the next nearest beast resulted in a stumble and a slam to the dirt. But the pack trampled the two dead without hesitation, snarling with more ferocity as they closed the gap.
She aimed and fired.
Aimed and fired.
Aimed and fired.
A well-drilled hand punched the mag release, and the empty cartridge fell to her feet. She slammed home another, flung back the charge handle, and resumed the barrage. Stark’s laboured breath came over the comms. “… huh… ma’am… I’m… I’m at the… airlock.”
“Start pumping. I’m on my way.” The beasts slowed to a trot, flanking Amelia on either side, so she stepped back, firing bursts with precision. Not a bullet wasted. But many predators remained, and they prepared to strike… any second now. She sprinted with an all-out burst toward Stark. The demons resumed the chase, close on her ass. Humid and rancid breath pulsed in a rapid rhythm against her neck. Any mistake…
The airlock was open, the hive in the chamber. Stark stood outside, rifle raised, firing bursts. Bullets whistled and twanged around Amelia’s head, the whump-crack of flesh exploding. The heat on her neck vanished.
“Inside. Keep ‘em back.” She reached the handle. Stark’s rifle crack-crack-cracked in spurts. Each trigger pull bringing down a beast. More creatures erupted from the corn. A relentless wave.
“You get inside,” he said, rifle fire back feeding through the comms.
“No time to switch.” Amelia started pumping. The airlock door moved home with a jerk of an inch per cycle. She forced past her exhaustion and drove upon the leaver. The pressure build up of the hydraulic system fed back into weary arms.
“No. It’s supposed to be me.” Another burst left his barrel. Another yelp and the whump of a body in motion hitting the dirt.
“Dammit. You’ve kids. Get back!”
He dipped his visor and heightened the rate of fire as he backed into the airlock. He fired, mag changed, fired, reloaded, fired, slowing the hordes of hell’s hounds until the door sealed shut.
Amelia whipped up her rifle and continued the barrage. She’d destroy these bastards until the chamber stood open with no mags in reserve. Never planned to let Stark give his life. Choices on her part botched this mission, and the lessons learnt may never have the chance to benefit her people.
By allowing her skewed moral compass to put the bees second to her team resulted in Stark now walking through desolation alone, dragging the heavy-ass hive ten kilometres to their transport in above seventy-degree Celsius temperatures. His suit would help keep him cool, but even it could only do so much when an exerting body vented its own heat. And he would sweat.
With no family left, no lover back home, her mate a demon’s meal, her brother beheaded… and… Mia… yes… Mia. She allowed her daughter’s name to present itself. She wanted it. To die with it on her lips. “Mia,” she said.
Amelia would die with more than her life. Her legacy, her past, and future would perish with her. “Am I redeemed now, oh Queen Bee.” She laughed. A simple laugh. A laugh of release from her bonds. Of joy and peace.
“Mia.” She cried. She remembered. Wanted to remember.
“Mia.” No longer punished to live with her daughter’s fate on her soul. The battle of sorrow verse hate verse duty. The world might survive, or it might burn. But she was free.
The enraged host of salivating jaws, sleek fur, yelps, and growls slowed as they advanced close enough to circle Amelia against the wall.
A finger switched the rifle to full auto. “Take this, assholes.” Squeezing the trigger, she fought the barrage of bullets forcing up the barrel. Click. Drop mag. Slam one home. The rifled pulsated, her arms vibrated and strained to keep it level. Beasts fell to their bellies, others took off wounded and furious, dropping dead on the run.
Drop mag… her hand came back from the belt empty. She reached up to the chest pouch and flicked the backup mag into the air, snatching it with practised precision. A blue object fell past her visor.
The memory drive.