01 Feb Tales from a Rookie Storm Chaser Final Part
There was no way we were going to live. I saw that from the moment we had entered the room. The numbers were too great.
I figured though that if I was going to die, the least I could do is see to it that Olivia and Caleb made it out alive.
I could tell from the hunter’s labored breathing that he wouldn’t be able to help in this fight. So I shot at the closest of the drones and then shoved them both toward a side corridor of the labyrinth.
“I’ll hold them off!” I told the two of them as I gritted my teeth and watched the massive throng of beasts breathe down on me.
Honestly it would have been over in just a few seconds. But I didn’t count on the explosions. A set of detonations shook through the tunnel, ricocheting rocks and debris toward the horde. At first, I was sure the blast would not be enough to make a difference. Then in front of me the floor to this level of the mine simply collapsed.
More rock, dirt, mud and debris fell to block the monsters from reaching me as I heard a voice shout from above.
“Don’t stand there like an idiot Dillion! Run while you’ve still got a chance!!”
Paul. I figured he had set the explosions up, but the timing felt wrong. Had he decided to come to our rescue instead of focusing on his main task? Because now with the new devastation that rocked the mine, any stragglers connected to the colony were coming out of the woodwork.
There wouldn’t be enough time to enact Olivia’s plan. We still didn’t even know how to reach the core. Part of me wondered as I ran if Paul had suspected what we were up to. But no, as he began to climb away from the upset colony I realized his main concern had actually been for our safety.
I pushed my way to where Olivia was at, keeping an eye on all the surrounding tunnels as I heard the shrieking grow nearer. Caleb was having a hard time even standing up.
“He’s choking,” I realized. He gestured toward one of the packs where we had brought a few simple hunting knives and Olivia passed him one. We both watched as he stabbed himself near his rib cage and a burst of black slime spewed out onto the floor of the tunnel.
At the same time his breathing returned and Caleb said, “Spiders. God damn why did it have to be spiders?”
I looked at the ooze that had suffocated him and watched as hundreds of miniature spiders hatched from the slime, shrieking and trying to find their host again. “There’s no end to them,” Olivia said pulling Caleb away and checking his wound.
“We should have just told your dad what we were doing. At this rate the way he is going, we’re going to get buried alive,” I told her.
The hunter ripped off part of his shirt to patch up the wound, wincing as he stopped the bleeding and limping down the tunnel.
“It’s a temporary fix. That big one above is like some sort of surrogate womb for the queen. It was holding the eggs but I gathered it wasn’t the source. We got to get to the core if we want to do any real damage,” the hunter explained as we made our way back to the main corridor.
I spotted Natalie and Paul setting up more charges above us and called out to them. The monsters were working as fast as possible to bridge the gap using their own bodies as stepping stones. It reminded me of the way their flesh and bone had mixed together during their attack on the station.
“Dad!” Olivia said covering her mouth in shock as the creatures moved closer.
“We need to send out the signal now!“
“No! We’ll ruin any chance we have of finding my mom!” Olivia stuttered. I shook my head and pointed above. “If we do nothing, your dad is going to die.“
She bit her lip and nodded. Tossing the backpack down, she took out the supplies necessary for creating a small receiver and Caleb and I watched the perimeter. A few of the stronger soldiers were searching for us. I passed Caleb his gun back and muttered, “Are you sure you can handle this?“
He sneered. “Don’t be going soft on me Pruitt. That’s not your style.” Then he cocked his weapon and pointed it toward the wide mouthed opening, “Now let’s give them hell.” We rained down what ammunition we had on the first wave, sending the beasts flailing backward as Olivia worked as quickly as she could.
“If you could speed this up I think we would all appreciate it!” I said kicking away at another drone. They were going to overpower us in a matter of seconds.
A sharp burst of noise echoed in response. She had done it. The monsters collapsed in fury as Olivia stood up and said, “This isn’t nearly enough to bring the whole thing to its knees but it should buy us some time. Come on!”
Caleb kicked away another drone that writhed as we ran up the next mineshaft to the upper levels. The light we had seen was growing brighter and brighter, but Paul and Nat were nowhere in sight. What if we were too late?
Ahead of me, Olivia’s eyes caught sight of something and she froze; causing me and Caleb to nearly run into her. I was about to berate her for being clumsy when I saw it for myself.
“What in the hell… is this…” Caleb said as we stepped into some sort of antechamber. The entire structure of the room didn’t resemble any of the rest of the mine, because instead of the usual rocks and gravel that held up the tunnels we saw nothing but rows and rows of thick vines and webbing. It looked like skin.
The walls themselves were moving and throbbing the way a heart would when pumping blood. And with each resonance that passed through the veins, long streaks of light flowed in and out. Those same streams of light were moving toward a central part of the wall, a canvas of urchin like nodes that all interconnected and vibrated together. This was the core, of that I knew there was no doubt. And then from the urchins of sinew and flesh we saw something begin to form. Each one of the nodes had the structure of a face but without eyes or nose. One by one they transformed, their neutral gray faces forming a massive wall of conjoined mimics.
Then there was a newly formed mouthpiece, and their voices echoed through the chamber; shaking us all to the bone.
“We…. are…. Storm..”
We were listening to the sound of corpses making a chorus of unholy noise.
Olivia stood closer. Somehow she was able to shake the bizarreness of this encounter and asked a question.
“What is this place?”
“Between? Like between life and death?” Caleb asked as he stood alongside Olivia.
“Everything. Nothing. Chaos. Order..“
“How is it even communicating with us?” Olivia asked.
“Same way as those drones. They remember what it was like to be human. They mimic. It’s all an imitation.“
“Why? Why is this happening? What do you want?”
They shifted, their sliding flesh twisting and reforming to grow a larger amalgamation of their neutral faces.
“Grow. Spread. Renew. Become.“
“Everything they learn, they remember. Look at this place. It’s a network. This is unnatural,” Caleb said gesturing toward the streaming lights. As I stared at it I realized he was right.
“But… but how. There’s no way it could travel so far, even with the storm.“
I heard a rifle cock and all of us looked toward the other entrance to see Paul standing there, blood dripping down his face as he took aim at the massive creature.
“Because this ain’t the only one,” he declared.
“What? You’re saying there’s more of this nastiness out there?” Caleb said, his words echoing in the chamber almost endlessly.
“See for yourself. This nest is small. It’s strong, to be sure. But this is like the tip of the iceberg. Everything here is new growth, desperate to expand and choke everything in its path,” Kearny said.
The shrieks of the colony grew louder from behind him and he gestured toward the way we had come in. “We were fools to ever come here. You need to leave before it’s too late.”
Olivia started to object and show him the receiver she had built, but I saw the seriousness in Paul’s face.
“You knew we would try to set up a broadcast.“
“And I knew you would fail. You’ve had your fun. Now it’s time to kill these sons of bitches,” Kearny answered.
Olivia stared at the skin map, her eyes filled with wonder and excitement. “Dad don’t you see? This confirms everything. The storm keeps them alive. Mom… she’s still out there!”
“Wake up girl. It’s over for her,” Paul snapped.
“How can you say that?” she said angrily.
“I can’t let you throw your life away the way I have Olivia!” Kearny said desperately.
That was when I saw something dangling from his belt. It shone in the unnatural light of the room and I immediately realized what it was.
“He’s got a bomb!“
Natalie backed away nervously when we realized it was about the rest of the C4. Enough probably to devastate this entire colony.
“Dad… don’t do this.”
“Has this always been a suicide mission for you?” Caleb asked in irritation. Paul’s determined eyes stayed on his daughter.
“Once this place is gone, we can be free. The storm will be gone.”
“But you just said yourself there are others out there. This accomplishes nothing!” she screamed.
The monsters were pushing their way into the room. Only the broadcast was slowing them down. From the eastern wall, the faces formed a larger cohesive frame.
A body. It stepped out from the wall, still fresh and new and tied to the surface of the core with vines that I guessed acted as umbilical cords.
Then the body opened it’s new eyes and stared toward all of us with mild fascination. Paul’s face alone told me it was someone he recognized.
“Reneé… it is you,” he said softly as he stared at the creature in amazement.
“She’s Alive…?” Caleb asked. He didn’t want to believe it. Neither did I.
“I am. I was. I am again.”
“This isn’t your wife.“
“I am what comes next. For all,” she said gesturing toward the bomb that Paul held ready to destroy everyone and everything.
“Did you not realize that this was inevitable? That nature would always take its course?” she asked in the most soothing and sickly voice.
I looked toward Paul, the screeching corpses that were desperately trying to overcome the signal and then understood.
“This was a trap. It was a trap all along. It views us as a threat.“
“Because of the broadcast?” Olivia guessed.
“Humans have always impeded nature. That must end,” Reneé’s body responded coldly.
Paul shook his head, staring toward his daughter.
“No. No I won’t let that happen. Olivia, listen to me. No matter what you think… this thing is not your mother. You have to leave this place. Protect the station. Protect all of us!” Kearny demanded.
“Dad don’t!” she said but it was too late. He had pressed the detonator and flung himself toward the core.
The nest collapsed.
I found myself free-falling, scrambling to grab ahold of anything solid as the mine tumbled in over itself.
When I hit the ground every ounce of my energy was pushed out of me. I don’t know for sure how long I lay there, but when I did have the strength to move around the place had dissolved into madness. The creatures were skittering everywhere about the walls, confused like a ship with no compass. I realized as I watched that it had to mean the last detonations Paul had made were a success and the core of this vile place was gone for good.
I heard a grunt not far off and saw Caleb push aside some of the debris to get to me. His whole face was covered with the smear of blood and soot. “Can you walk Dillion? We need to get out of here,” he said.
I nodded weakly and looked up as the thrashing sounds of the monster turning on each other grew louder. It would not be long before all of them had killed one another.
We made it through a portion of the mine shaft that was still intact, and Caleb took out his only weapon left; barely aiming it toward the next turn as we heard someone approach.
“Natalie!! Olivia!!” I called out as the two girls reunited with us in that dark tunnel.
Both of them gave the faintest of smiles under the circumstances, and we all knew there was still a long ways to go before we were out of this. Though I guessed that Olivia would want to mourn her father’s passing, now was not the time.
Caleb and I took the lead as we all pushed through the debris to find a way out. We were as careful as we could be, knowing that one false move could cause more of the place to collapse.
We had been going at it for almost thirty minutes when I heard the familiar rush of air from somewhere above us.
“The surface! We’re almost there!!” I said excitedly. We began to climb as rain hit the edges of the opening. I flinched, expecting to find it the same scorching storm we had fought for so long. But instead I was surprised to see that this didn’t hurt us at all. Had the destruction of the core allowed nature to return to some sense of order?
I couldn’t pause to think about it rationally, because each passing moment the wailing of the creatures was growing louder. They were tearing apart anything that came in contact with them.
With each notch of the ladder, the entire nest shook and collapsed more and more, widening until at last we were out. The four of us caught our breath there on the edge of the mine, the raging wind and storm that had protected it now was nothing but a few gusts. Above us though lightning continued to crash and burn across the sky. A few bolts struck near the open maw of the pit we had just climbed out of and I heard the roses of the monsters.
“We need to get to the van. Now.” Caleb pulled Olivia up and we felt the dirt beneath us begin to shake from the blasts of plasma that struck barely twenty feet away. The rest of the abandoned mine became a sinkhole quickly, pulling trees and other debris nearby into its abyss.
I looked down at the angry creatures, their frenzy becoming more and more concentrated with each moment. They were opening their mouths wider and wider overtop each other, teeth scraping against sinew as they formed a larger unit. It reminded of the horrific creature we had seen attack us at the main station, but this was ten thousand times bigger.
The menagerie of flesh and teeth climbed toward us with rapid ferocity. I scrambled to my feet and ran.
The wind howled as we pushed through the woods. The whole sky was growing darker as the monster rose. It had to be the size of a building roaring to life as it pursued us.
“Do we have any explosives in the van?” I screamed. Olivia nodded furiously as we ran with all our might. Caleb pulled out the keys and tossed them to me as we got closer.
I pulled open the door and revved the engine as the creature towered above us. Caleb grabbed one of the rifles and started to fire at its chest. Dozens of the smaller beasts fell to the ground screaming as I shifted to first gear.
Natalie opened up one of the floor compartments and took out the last of the c4. “Light it up!!” Olivia told her as the massive body of flesh crashed through the trees.
I swerved toward the open highway as the storm crashed against the sky louder and louder. I thought that we weren’t going to make it. And then Caleb grabbed the explosives and chunked them straight toward the maw of this hideous beast.
The heavens were aflame with the shower of blood and fire. Our van shook and tumbled across the prairie, barely staying on all four wheels as the monster gave out one final scream.
As they were burned and torn apart, the clouds cleared and a quiet returned to the sky.
I slowed down and looked at the rear view mirror, the bodies of the monsters burning to ash on the highway as I finally caught my breath.
It was over. Finally.
Even though we were in the clear, the drive back to Emerald Bay was laced with sadness. With the back door of the van gone I could see Olivia hanging her feet over the back bumper, watching the horizon fade away. She had lost everything. And I felt responsible for this because of the foolish plan I had concocted. I resolved when we got back to the station I would talk to her about it.
Driving into town felt so different than it had the first time when I caught the bus. If it felt like a ghost town then, I would wager this drive was nothing short of complete abandonment. There was no signs of any life, even in the diner or the motel. The people that had come with the storm had rolled out just as quickly.
Once back at KTHU, Natalie helped me unload the van and I watched Olivia tiredly climb out and announce she was going to bed.
“I can’t even imagine what she is going through.” Nat gave me a sigh. “I can… and it’s the worst feeling in the world,” she responded.
I finished setting things away and wiped sweat from my brow, exhausted from the long run we had returned from. It felt like the first time in ages that I had actually gotten a chance to rest.
When morning came, clear skies continued over Emerald Bay and I found Olivia in the break room making coffee.
I knew it was time for me to set things straight.
Her eyes drifted toward me and I muttered, “I was thinking… wondering really, if you wanted to have a… a memorial service for your father?“
Olivia nodded absently as she finished what she was doing but then she said something that surprised me, “He’s not dead.”
“He’s part of that storm now… or I guess, part of the larger one anyway. Another cog in a greater machine,” she said as she walked toward the control room.
“You think the storm… changed him?“
“The right word is probably assimilated. You were right, Dillion. The whole thing was always a trap… the storm wanted us to come for it,” she said bitterly.
“You mean it took advantage of your father’s greed, so that it could discover everything about KTHU?“
“I believe so. Which means we have a lot more work ahead of us,” she said as she started to switch on the consoles and check Doppler.
Caleb was already there, having fixed some of the older breakers and muttering, “And here I thought we were gonna get a holiday….”
“So it was for nothing,” I lamented.
“Dillion, aren’t you listening? My father is alive. And my mother too! I would call that discovery a win. It means these last three years weren’t in vain,” Olivia said.
“But we don’t know if we can even save them, or any of the other people that have been changed by this… force of nature.“
“That’s a battle we can fight another day. We’ve got time to lick our wounds, and prepare. The storm is gone for now, but it will be back,” Caleb said.
Before I got a chance to ask another question, the door behind us swung open and Natalie came in holding several thick yellow envelopes.
“I found these near the front door, looks like the runs kept coming even while we were away,” she commented passing the packages to Olivia.
“Whats all this?“
She responded by opening one of them and tossing me a bundle of cash. My eyes widened in surprise and Caleb laughed. “It’s payday, Pruitt! Or did you think we did this for nothing?” the hunter asked.
I looked at the bundle of bills and muttered, “Wait. What? Where does all this come from?“
“Don’t know. Dad didn’t know either, it just shows up every week and we use the funds to keep the station running and our bodies warm and well-fed,” Olivia responded as she counted it all up.
“And you never see who delivers it?“
“I mean, it’s an anonymous drop,” Natalie said with a shrug.
“I guess that answers one question,” I muttered.
“Yeah. Channel 46 is full of surprises,” Caleb laughed as he yawned and added, “I’m headed to the bunker to get some sleep.”
As he left I turned to Olivia and commented, “Seems like every time I learn something it just gives me more to ask.“
“You get used to that,” she said dryly. “Generators need a chance to recharge. And we’re gonna need to start testing different frequencies out. Might need more power,” she muttered as she started to get to work.
I set the money down and offered to help.
“I don’t think we can get this all done alone,” Olivia admitted.
Natalie was watching from the steps. “I could run another ad… maybe we could scrounge up some help?” she suggested.
I reflected on the past week or so, all of the things I had seen and experienced as a member of this crew.
“That’s not a bad idea,” Olivia agreed.
“Okay what do you think it should say?” Nat asked.
Neither of them seemed to know for sure, so I offered a suggestion.
“Seeking help at Channel 46 for unique storm chasing.“
I paused and gave them both an awkward smirk.
“Some experience required.“