Alien 3

By: Alan Dean Foster

Guided by senses that were a unique combination of the primitive and sophisticated, driven by an embedded imperative unequalled in any other living being, it scuttled determinedly across the chamber.

Scaling the smooth flank of the cryonic cylinder was a simple matter for something so superbly engineered. The top of the chamber was fashioned of transparent metallic glass. Within slept a small organic shape; half-formed, blond, innocent save for her nightmares, which were as sophisticated and frequently more extensive than those of the adults sleeping nearby. Eyes closed, oblivious to the horror which explored the thin dome enclosing her, she slept on.

She was not dreaming. Presently the nightmare was concrete and very real. Far better that she remained unaware of its existence.

Impatiently the thing explored the sleep cylinder, beginning at one end and working methodically up to the head. The cylinder was tight, triple-sealed, in many ways more secure than the hull of the Sulaco itself. Though anxious, the creature was incapable of frustration. The prospect of imminent fulfillment of its biological imperative only excited it and drove it to greater efforts. The extensible tube which protruded from its ventral side probed the unyielding transparency which shielded the helpless body on the unreachable cushions, proximity to its quarry driving the creature into a frenzy of activity.

Sliding to one side, it eventually located the nearly impercep-tible line which separated the transparent dome of the cylinder from its metal base. Tiny claws drove into the minuscule crack as the incredibly powerful tail secured a purchase on the instrumentation at the head of the cylinder. The creature exerted tremendous leverage, its small body quivering with the effort.

Seals were strained. The thing’s effort was unforgiving, its reserves of strength inconceivable.

The lower edge of the transparent dome snapped, the metallic glass splitting parallel to the floor. A sliver of the clear material, sharp as a surgical instrument, drove straight through the creature’s body. Frigid air erupted from the cylinder until an internal emergency seal restored its atmospheric integrity.

Prone on her bed of uneasy dreams Newt moaned softly, her head turning to one side, eyes moving beneath closed lids. But she did not wake up. The cylinder’s integrity had been restored just in time to save her life.

Emitting periodic, unearthly shrieks the mortally wounded crawler flung itself across the room, legs and tail flailing spasmodically at the transparent sliver which pierced its body.

It landed atop the cylinder in which reposed the motionless Hicks, its legs convulsively gripping the crest of the dome.

Shuddering, quivering, it clawed at the metallic glass while acidic body fluids pumped from the wound. They ate into the glass, into the metal base of the cylinder, into and through the floor. Smoke began to rise from somewhere beneath the deck, filling the chamber.

Around the room, throughout the ship, telltales winked to life, warning lights began to flash and Klaxons to sound. There was no one awake to hear them, but that did not affect the Sulaco’s reaction. It was doing its job, complying with its programming. Meanwhile smoke continued to billow from the ragged aperture in the floor. Atop Hicks’s cylinder the crawler humped obscenely as it continued to bleed destruction.

A female voice, calm and serenely artificial, echoed unheard within the chamber. ‘Attention. Explosive gases are accumulating within the cryogenic compartment. Explosive gases are accumulating within the cryogenic compartment.’

Flush-mounted fans began to hum within the ceiling, inhaling the swirling, thickening gas. Acid continued to drip from the now motionless, dead crawler.

Beneath the floor something exploded. Bright, actinic light flared, to be followed by a spurt of sharp yellow flame. Darker smoke began to mix with the thinner gases that now filled the chamber. The overhead lights flickered uncertainly.

The exhaust fans stopped.

‘Fire in cryogenic compartment,’ the unperturbed female voice declared in the tone of something with nothing to lose.

‘Fire in cryogenic compartment.’

A nozzle emerged from the ceiling, rotating like a miniature cannon. It halted, focusing on the flames and gas emerging from the hole in the floor. Liquid bubbled at its tip, gushed in the direction of the blaze. For an instant the flames were subdued.

Sparks erupted from the base of the nozzle. The burgeoning stream died, dribbling ineffectively from the powerhead.

‘Fire suppression system inactivated. Fire suppression system inactivated.

Exhaust system inactivated.

Exhaust system inactivated. Fire and explosive gases in cryogenic chamber.’

Motors hummed to life. The four functioning cryonic cylinders rose from their cradles on hydraulic supports. Their telltales winking, they began to move to the far side of the room. Some and intensifying flame obscured but did not slow their passage. Still pierced through by the chunk of metallic glass, the dead crawler slid off the moving coffin and fell to the floor.

‘All personnel report to EEV,’ the voice insisted, its tone unchanged. ‘Precautionary evacuation in one minute.’

Moving in single file the cryonic cylinders entered a transport tube, traveled at high speed through the bowels of the ship until they emerged in the starboard lock, there to be loaded by automatic handlers into the waiting Emergency Escape Vehicle. They were its only occupants. Behind the transparent faceplate, Newt twitched in her sleep.

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