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In the Name of Discoery
Everyone at the compound was on edge. Keeping low, Lance William Middleton darted down the dimly lit access hallway, supporting a mountain of calculations that leaned precariously atop a stack of notebooks, his focus resolutely on the entrance of Main Lab. He was delivering the final calculations for the wormhole creation program for the Compound’s supercomputer array. Holding the future of Project Missionary in his hands, Lance slid into the cold brilliance of the control center. Staggering as his eyes adjusted, Lance let his momentum carry him towards the last clear surface in a lab overflowing with spreadsheets, data tables, forgotten sandwiches, and nearly formulated thoughts. He was running a bit behind and had anticipated handing off this delivery to some hurried and agitated fellow. Instead, he turned to gaze out the panoramic window of Main Lab.
Then something caught his eye, the overseer of Project Missionary, General Gordon Worschopp, was addressing the staff of the Compound. The General, usually preoccupied with other business, typically only joined the Compound via satellite or web cam link. Yet there he stood, amidst the clamor of a sea of lab technicians. The General stood tall, an immovable boulder in a river of commotion.
“What’s up?” Lance asked. “Why is the General delivering the mission briefing himself? Usually he dumps that job on some glory-hungry Admin eager for any chance to suck up.” Ray, a tall Indian man and the Compound’s computer operator, leaned back in his chair, tilted his head, and looked hard at the ceiling tiles before responding, “Yeah, I guess he wanted to see this mission off himself. I mean, we have been working on this wormhole gate for nine years, Lance.” What Ray said was true. All the scientists and engineers at the Compound had been working full tilt on Project Missionary, some literally passing out at their lab stations from lack of rest. “Yeah, I guess.” said Lance, “I’m going to go check it out. See what inspiring speech the General has picked out of his playbook.” Ray chuckled at his friend’s sarcastic remark. “You stay out of trouble, Lance,” he said, as his friend left the room and headed for Main Lab.
Main lab, typically alive with last-minute equipment checks and pre-launch procedures, stood motionless resonating with the passion of the General’s voice. “… And lastly, I would like to thank all the brave men and women forging ahead, willing to explore the unknown in the name of science and America. Now, we must fire up this gateway to discovery and step into the future.” Typical speech, thought Lance, leaning against the metal staircase, hands in pockets of his white lab-coat. Built to disguise the truth and inspire an overactive hope in the masses, no wonder this guy’s a general, he’s got the public appeal down pat. The room grew strangely silent as the General gave the signal to Ray in the Control Room to begin the process.
¬As the machines and computers powered up, the lights in Main Lab dimmed, and a sound like the muted whirring of a jet engine could be heard coming from the huge energy turbines in the West corner. As the wormhole started to generate, a purplish, translucent film spread across the large metal triangle in the center of the lab, and everyone in attendance stood in awe of the scientific miracle. The triangle represented Delta, the Greek symbol of change. and in essence this was change. Never before had Man embarked on a journey across the very fabric of time and space, to visit another world, another time (Opening Adverb). As the film settled into the frame, and the image of the other side became clear, the entire staff of the compound looked on with a mix of stupor and horror (absolute statement). In the back of the crowd, Lance Middleton tried to yell, but the words came out as only a silent exhale at the unrefined horror of the scene appropriately framed in a metal casing.
The scene that stretched before them, even through the Delta gate’s limited view, was an absolutely massive cavern system. The picture before the scientists was muted, not dark, but dim, as though some source of light existed far in the distance . The image seemed alive, writhing with hundreds of dark figures, jumping, crawling, and soaring in and out of view. These beings of terror and darkness had but one feature with which to distinguish them from the shadows of the rest of the cavern’s shadows: their eyes. Like two bloodied, burning stones they penetrated the darkness, a vast multitude of floating and oscillating gems, spinning almost freely throughout space. Some narrow gems of crimson dropped from the ceiling of the cavern and soared through open space, while some maintained a standard position, two burning beacons in the abyss. One pair of these slit-like eyes seemed to be moving ever closer to the Delta gate, and the shadowy form to which they belonged leaped from rock to rock, its movements fluid like a cat, ever fixing the room with a terrifying glare. The creature stalked the portal, moving deceptively closer with each step, frighteningly elegant. As the creature slunk closer, and the ambient light of the portal illuminated its body more clearly, the entire room let out a gasp of horror. The figure looked human, it’s skin and head-shape seemed congruent, at least. This creature, however, had large, fleshy wings like that of a bat, attached to its arms, and clawed hands and feet with five slightly elongated fingers that scraped the ground as it moved. Its chest and torso were very human, though there was no sign of motion to suggest a heartbeat or breathing. This hairless, man, bat, and cat hybrid looked oddly natural, a gruesome perfection, like the pieces of this macabre Frankenstein fit together just right. The creature shuddered as it passed in full view of the gate’s ambient light, and it made a low noise, between a growl and a click, as it looked through the portal. “Can it see us?” one of the exploration team members asked cautiously to a scientist beside him. The man got his answer in the seconds that followed, because at that moment with a savage shriek the thing lunged through the portal and struck the man as a lion would strike a gazelle at the zenith of its hunt. The man shot backwards, landing on his back with the creature clawing at his chest and face. Before shots could be fired, before guns were even drawn from their holsters or raised from their resting positions, something strange happened that made Lance cringe, but he could not take his eyes from the scene. The creature, still tearing into the man’s chest, began to singe and burn, it’s skin charring black and emitting a hideous grey smoke that crept into the lungs and made everyone close to the attack wheeze and cough, rasping for fresh, clean compound air to refill their lungs. The creature lasted mere moments before letting out one more terrible shriek and falling off the man, curled in a bleeding, blackened ball on the Compound’s cement floor.
Then a new sound filled the air. The man who had been attacked began to scream, not a scream of pain, but a pure emission of fear and torture that brought back the most terrible memories from a tormented childhood and the most horrible monsters to ever inhabit a child’s nightmare. His shrill cry never ceased, not as the paramedics loaded him onto a gurney, nor as they carted him to the medical wing of the Compound; only did it subside as distance finally, mercifully, muted the cry as it fled into space. Lance Middleton had never been more afraid and intrigued in his entire life. He felt as though he could barely keep himself standing, like his bones at any moment would lose all integrity and he would fall in a heap on the floor. Yet this attack, this discovery, it filled him with a sick interest, a satisfaction that there was more to be found, to be done, and that this moment was the first of many others yet to come.
Up in the Control Room, Ray Rakesh slumped in his rolling chair, his hands running through his trimmed, black hair. Never before had Ray felt this afraid, this inclined to run, to go anywhere but where he was right then. Yet he could not move, his muscles, his very brain, would not respond to his command to move. Something carried by that man’s scream, as well as the creature’s shriek, had triggered one of Ray’s oldest and most basic terrors. He was overwhelmed with a feeling of the most primal fear imaginable; something was out there that threatened his very existence, something so vile Ray wanted to run, but he had no object to relate this terror to, so he just sat, staring out the panorama of Main Lab.
“Shut it down!” the General said into his communicator piece, and within seconds, the metal triangle was empty, but the feeling of ever-present danger lingered like scent of a meal hours after it was cooked. The General could now be heard giving orders, awakening the body of scientists from their stupor and spurring them to action.
“I want that creature in Bio-lab for an autopsy. Let’s find out what makes these monsters tick.”
Within minutes, four scientists in full Haz-Mat gear had gathered around the creature and were carting it off towards the Biological testing labs. Lance found himself walking forward at speed, weaving through the crowd of scientists and technicians towards the General. As he got closer, he picked up the General’s conversation with one of the Compound’s administrators.
“That was our Geologist,” the General swore under his breath. “We need a scientist to catalog and bring back samples from the cavern. I don’t trust any of those meat-headed special-forces with test tubes and samples potentially worth millions.”
“But with that last display, how will we find a scientist willing to go through the gate?”
“I’ll do it!” said Lance; a bit surprised at his own words. “I’ll collect your samples.”
The General regarded Lance carefully, seemingly sizing him up for the job.
“Do you have any experience in the geological fields?” he asked roughly.
“Actually, I’m an exo-geologist. I study the geology and climate of other planets in our solar system,” said Lance eagerly; he liked the direction this conversation was going.
“Well isn’t that just peachy,” the General said with a grin, then, as he pulled a cigarette from his pocket and began to light it, he turned to the Admin beside him, “ Get Mister… what was your name again?”
“Lance Middleton,” Lance said, reassuring himself silently that he really wanted to go through with this.
“Get Mister Middleton suited up for Gate Cross. We roll out in one hour.”
In the equipment department of the Compound, a vest was being pulled over Lance’s head. His lab coat had been removed, revealing his beige button-up shirt with its sleeves rolled to his elbows. The vest felt heavy on his chest, constricting his breathing very slightly, but that could have just been nerves. The Admin fitting him for equipment was called Rodney, Rod by his friends, if he had had any. He went about his business with a frown imposed on his face, like he had been stepped on by his superiors one too many times. Sure wouldn’t want to be here when this guy loses it, thought Lance. He looks like a shooter. Rodney found an earpiece and dental cap for Lance.
“These are your communication devices,” he said in a droning, monotonously mocking, voice. “You can use them to keep in touch with the other members of the team.”
Lance pushed the earpiece into place, and slid the dental cap over a molar in the back of his mouth. The cap felt cold against his tooth, a strange metallic taste seemed to emanate from it throughout his mouth. Rodney gave Lance a pair of combat boots to put on under his denim pants, as well as an elastic long sleeved shirt and pants, and a pair of gloves.
“These are your pressure-resistant climate articles, put them on under your clothes so you can survive in the adverse climates of other worlds.”
Lance undressed and pulled on the elastic pants and shirt, they were skin-tight and seemed to press against every inch of Lance’s body.
“They’ll get easier to move in as you break ‘em in,” Rodney said, breaking the monotone for a moment of genuine speech. Lance pulled on the gloves, which attached to the elastic shirt through adhesives and Velcro strips. He pulled on his regular clothes and protective vest with much difficulty in the pressure suit, which felt like a second skin outside his own, restricting his mobility and providing a slight sense of claustrophobia. As Lance started lacing up his boots, Rodney left the room, and shortly returned with what looked like a black motorcycle helmet with a flashlight in its side.
“This is your helmet,” he began again in monotone. “It allows you to establish video contact with other members of your party, as well as serving as a personal computer at your command.”
With Lance dressed for departure, Rodney handed him a silver, industrial-looking briefcase with a black handle and silver clasps that caught the Equipment Center’s lights when it swung.
“Use this to gather samples,” said Rodney, breaking monotone again. “The General wants ground, air, and water samples if there are any, and anything else you can get your hands on get a sample of for the General. Whatever you do, do not lose this case, defend this with your life.” Rodney paused, listening to his own earpiece for a moment, and then turned and grabbed an industrial strength UV flashlight from a box on a shelf. The flashlight was about the size of a hand-held vacuum cleaner, and was school bus yellow and black.
“I just got word that these things hate UV light, so this should protect you,” he said, sounding sarcastically optimistic.
“What about a gun?” asked Lance, looking puzzled at this block of plastic that was to defend him from those claws and wings and teeth. Rodney chuckled for a moment, then strolled down the weapons aisle of the Equipment Center. Lance watched him as he strolled casually past a row of assault rifles, gave a passing glance to a few rocket-propelled grenades, and finally stopped at a line of rocket-launchers and leaned against the shelf.
He can’t be serious, thought Lance, and sure enough, the Admin moved on, crouching to get something from a bottom shelf. He handed Lance a black pistol and Velcro holster to attach to his vest’s belt.
“Here’s your gun,” he said snidely, “enjoy.”
Lance snatched the gun, scowling at Rodney. No wonder this guy had no friends; he was a complete--
Lance was interrupted mid-thought by a voice over the Compound’s PA system.
“All members of Project Missionary’s Contact Team should report to Main Lab for an emergency debriefing.”
“That’s you Bucko,” said Rodney with a mean-spirited sneer. Lance picked up the flashlight and briefcase before heading for the door.
“Be careful,” sneered Rodney. “Hate to have to cart you away to the medical wing like the other guy.”
In Bio-Lab, Autopsy Room C, doctor Cameron Benson was about to begin the most important autopsy of her life. She had been on the scene when the General had ordered the creature’s body be taken to Bio Lab for study, and as she had pushed the thing down the hall, she had never taken her eyes off it. The body was still simmering under the fluorescent lights as they passed overhead, the lack of exposure to light in their cavern system must have rendered them hypersensitive to UV frequencies. As the body was loaded onto the autopsy table in Bio Lab C, Benson’s mind was still on the creature’s final moments as it sizzled and shrieked on the industrial floor of Main Lab. With her mind still focused on the horrific scene she had just witnessed, Cameron Benson began to prepare this monstrosity for the autopsy. She was finally snapped to attention when her assistant surgeon, Lu Chang, shook her shoulder.
“Doctor Cameron,” she said, and as the thoughts of that gruesome mauling faded farther from her mind, Cameron Benson began to make the first incision into an entirely new realm of medical science and biology.
The creature was thin, it’s skin pulled tight against it’s bones, a fleshy pink, much like human flesh, but as her scalpel drew blood, she knew that this thing was anything but human. The substance that oozed from her incision was a dark green, and as she gathered a sample of the fluid in a vial and told a fellow Biologist to scan it and bring her the work-up, she noticed it was much more fluid than blood. It flowed freely in the vial, and was absorbed easily by medical sponges used to control the so-called “bleeding.” As the chest cavity of the alien creature was opened, the medical staff blinked in amazement. The creature’s innards weren’t as complex, or natural, as anyone had thought. From the creature’s neck, a tube similar to a trachea ran down into the chest cavity, where it connected to a large, sack-like organ much like a stomach. From this organ centered in the creature’s chest, tubes of varying sizes, comparable to veins, wove their way to every inch of the creature’s body, never connecting as regular veins did, but remaining separate. As Dr. Benson touched the “stomach” of the creature, she felt that it was warm, almost burning to the touch. She quickly withdrew her hand, and asked for a syringe and tubing. She hooked the syringe into the tubing, which led to a fluid collection bag on an IV stand to the side of the room, and inserted the needle into the creature’s organ. A greenish-brown substance began to fill the tube, but as is began to flow, there was a slight hissing, as if someone were letting the air out of an oxygen tank. The fluid melted through the plastic tubing as if it were tissue paper, and it kept eroding away at the substances under it, the creature’s skin, the autopsy table, and the very cement floor Benson was standing on. The hissing finally stopped when the acid had burned a three-inch deep hole in the Compound’s floor. Benson turned to the group of surgeons and doctors beside her.
“I want Level Three acid precautions taken during autopsy of this creature. We must extract the organ and separate it from the body before it is safe to continue.”
As surgeons and doctors rushed for their special equipment, Cameron Benson leaned against the wall, staring at this creature on the autopsy table. This… thing, she thought, it just keeps getting more dangerous.
After regaining control over his body and closing down Delta Gate, Ray Rakesh reached for the pills under his desk. For anxiety relief, his doctor had told him, and if any moment called for relief, it would be this one. As two of the tablets slipped down his throat, Ray sighed as he felt his heart rate slow and everything come into focus around him. Finally, he could breathe, and see, and that hellish shrieking had faded away. He then turned his attention to the chaos of Main Lab’s floor before him. He saw technicians assessing the stress that had been put on the machines, checking cables for fraying and melting. Scientists were scurrying around the floor like ants on a bowl of spilled sugar, collecting data and writing things down on clipboards. Ray then saw something peculiar moving through the crowd. Someone was moving with purpose through the fray. Not dashing in three different directions, but walking with deliberation through the mass towards the General. As he squinted through his black-rimmed glasses at the figure, he recognized it as Lance, his friend, but why he was approaching the General was a complete guess to Ray. Perhaps it is to commend him on his fantastic pep talk, thought Ray, but Lance wasn’t that stupid, or was he. Lance began to talk to the General and the admin standing beside him, and Ray could see the General’s face harden with scrutiny. After a few seconds, The General said something to his Admin, and bellowed orders that even Ray could hear clearly in the control center. “Get Mister Middleton suited up for Gate Cross, we roll out in one hour.” Ray’s heart skipped a beat: was he hearing that right. Was Lance actually going into that Hellhole, with those creatures! The admin escorted Lance off into a side hallway, and Ray recognized that they were going the equipment department. Ray sat down; feeling another anxiety attack coming on, but the pills controlled him enough to keep the room still. He typed a few keys into his computer to get the warm-up programs going in the supercomputers, and the room was filled with a slight whirring sound. As Ray once again sat back in his chair, staring at the linoleum ceiling. Just count the tiles, he told himself, just count the tiles and you will realize that you just misheard the General, Lance, your friend Lance, would never go in there. The unfortunate fact of the matter was that it was his friend Lance, and he was going in there.
Striding down the hallway, Lance felt almost confident about what he was about to do. He had the briefcase in one hand, swinging idly by his side, and the industrial UV flashlight firmly grasped in the other hand. His gun felt heavy at his side, but it was reassuring to know it was there. As he approached Main lab, he saw four other men standing in front of the Delta Gate. One was sitting on a stack of military boxes; one was leaning against a large crate half lifted on one of the Compound’s forklifts, and a third was wiping an assault rifle with an oily red rag. All these men seemed intimidating, but it was the fourth man Lance saw that definitely scared him. The man was tall, about six foot six, and was very heavily built, and toting a similar assault rifle on his back. He had two pistols at his sides, and a utility belt that rivaled that of any costumed superhero. The man’s sandy hair was trimmed into a military buzz cut, and his eyes cut through the air like knives, surveying his surroundings. If there was any doubt that this man was the leader of this group, it was abolished by what Lance saw next. All the men had patches on their shoulders, two crossed pistols in front of a star, but this man had the emblem super imposed sized on the back of his black aviator’s jacket, like a huge sign pointing to him as the boss. He turned as Lance approached, and fixed him with a stare comparable to that of the creature from the other world. “Who are you?” The words came from his mouth like rocks dragging against cement. The tone of this greeting was almost enough to make Lance’s knees buckle under him, but by some miracle, he remained standing. Lance cleared his throat before speaking, “L-Lance Middleton,” he stuttered despite himself. “And what the hell are you doing wasting my time here, Lance,” he said, his voice dripping with irritation and cynicism. “He is here because, frankly Sam, I cant trust any of your men with millions of dollars in mineral samples,” came a familiar voice from behind Lance. There stood the General, stone faced, hands behind his back. The giant of a man seemed almost enraged with this comment, “So you want to sent this squint, he’s just another sandbag we have to lug around, not to mention all that useless ‘scientific equipment’ junk my men have to worry about.” “Either that man goes in and comes out of that Gate alive, or you don’t get paid,” the General stated blankly, his tone straightforward and blunt. “The merchandise he will be carrying could alone be worth millions.” It comforted Lance to know that the General cared so greatly for Lances capability as a courier, it was obvious that his actual life meant nothing to the man. “Does he have a gun?” asked Sam in a tone that made Lance feel like a complete child. “He does,” said the General, “But I expect you boys to be the ones doing most of the firing on this mission. Sam looked as if he were about to lunge at the General, but he just cocked his head to each side and stood silently. “Now from what we have gathered through medical studies of the creature and the video we took of the cave region, we know that going in there will be like entering a hornet’s nest.” Said the General, “But fortunately, we have a natural pesticide. These creatures are vulnerable to Ultra-violet light. It causes them to burn alive, making it a good tool for combating these beasts.” “I bet they’re also vulnerable to bullets,” one of the men from the back of the group spoke out in a smart tone, but the General merely went on talking. “The creature you witnessed is what we are calling a Bat, on account of its large wings. These creatures are built much like a cat in their muscular structure and motion, making them quick and agile predators. “There are other things in this cave,” the General said. This statement made Lance cringe because the tone made these other things sound much worse than the Bats. “Video rendering had shown us other life forms that look a bit like giant men, but the footage was too grainy to discern any details. Your mission is to go in the portal, collect samples of the ground, air, and any precious materials, and set up a base camp from which we will spawn our research effort. The entire fate of this mission rests on your shoulders, I am trusting you not to drop the ball in this situation,” said the General. “Gate-Cross is in ten minutes, I suggest you get to know one another and be prepared to have your names recorded in the history books. Gentlemen, this is the future.” After this inspiring cliché, the General turned on his heel and strode away toward the Control center. The men all considered Lance with a malice and frustration that made Lance shake. Main lab was dead quiet for five seconds, and then Sam began to issue orders. “Carson, Wilthe, I want flash bangs through that door three seconds prior to entry, Ramirez, lay down suppressing fire on any targets within range. Port; drive in the supplies while I cover the scientist as he collects his samples.” The man’s tone was sharp, and it was layered with anger and stringency. The man called Ramirez grinned and dug into a box, pulling out what looked like a gattling-gun and laughing to himself. As the men went about their jobs, Lance turned towards Sam. “What is my role Sam?” he questioned. The giant man threw him a look that nearly threw Lance backwards, “Your ‘job’ is to stay out of my men’s way, and to collect your samples and get out of my mission as fast as you can, and you will call me captain unless you want my trigger finger to start itching, got it?” He drew one of his pistols, and poked Lance in the chest with its long, shiny barrel. “Understood.” Lance said, barely able to breath now. “Good,” said Sam, “then you might last long enough to see this Lab again