The Shell: Two

Two:

Dreams of better times, visions of a lost lover, sensations that Emily had long lacked, the memory of Mona, coursed through her mind. Yet, the sweet and sensual were broken by the sudden slicing of flesh, the pouring of blood down her lips, rousing her senses, and waking her mind. Dark, sharp fingers slid over her armor, scarping and attempting to tear their way in. They had gripped her head, torn away hair, and slashed into her exposed flesh. The wounds stung, they may not have been deep, but they felt already infected just by the touch of this alien thing. So shocked, so utterly befuddled and terrified, Emily could hardly move from her spot. Three-fingered hands continue to grope over all regions of her body, contort limbs as though examining where the breaks in her armor were, and even went as far as probing inward, fingers pressed into her gaping mouth seeing how far they could go. Amid it all, Emily wanted to scream but found herself to preoccupied with the musky odor this creature put out. Yet, as the hands pushed past her hips and the metallic scraping began anew, this time causing vibrations across the suit, she was snapped out of her trance.

Her first action was to begin kicking, frantic and fiercely protesting everything that had come just before that moment. Those claws still holding onto her gripped tightly, while those wrapped around her pulled her ever closer. The charcoaled arms of this creature seemed innumerable as it continued to assault her without much difficulty. Sharp fingers began to breach the collar of Emily’s suit while at some of the joints, she could feel gaps opening, cold air stinging against her warm flesh. She made to scream, not only out of fear but in the hopes it would drive the creature off for a moment. Instead, she found a hand again gagging her. All the while, as she fought the army of groping hands, she could feel the shell being pulled out from behind her, sliding lower and lower down her back until she was nearly seated on it. The connection between Emily and the shell strained, the cords would snap with only a little more pressure, and if the shock alone didn’t kill her or the specimen, this thing would soon enough. It was a hasty and dangerous move, had she her helmet, she could have felt more confident in what she was doing, but Emily saw no other way. Loosening the grip the creature had on her left arm, Emily gave her wrist a twist and slammed down on the mass of hands with all the force she could.

A burbling screech roared through the enclosure, hands let loose, numbed as electricity pulsed through them. Still, in this monster’s embrace, Emily brought the barbs on her wrist down again, striking the nucleus even more forcefully now that some of the arms had fallen away. With each strike, more hands hung limp, and it became more evident this creature was little more than a dark mass surrounded by these feelers. By the fourth strike, Emily was free from the beast and able to slide the shell back into place. Finding her feet, Emily pursued her assailant that began scurrying backward with the few limbs it still had control over. She ignored her helmet as she chased the creature out into the open, but she would not follow it into the early evening air. This was the last bit of time the natives would be active. She couldn’t risk exposing herself now, especially now that the creature had no further ambition to attack. It began to stumble back to its pit, but not before it was found by another.

A buzzing, like having one’s head stuck in a hornet’s nest, sounded just as the light-eating mass came into sight. Emily did not hesitate or stand back to watch with pride as her attacker became another’s prey; she ran. Moving as quickly as she could, Emily sprinted back to where she had hidden earlier, neglecting her helmet once more. Slapping both hands to her ears, Emily tried to block out the hideous sounds that the dark creatures made as they feasted on the hands that managed some death rattle. Still, the sounds echoed in down the rocks, primal and sickening, something that not even the animal world would call normal. She couldn’t help but draw parallels between that moment and the massacre of the others at the outpost. And just as it had been then, Emily could only hide, doing nothing to help or ease the suffering of those she had to hear in their final moments. Even once it was through, the world silent once more, Emily knelt, covering her head, too stricken by fear to move.

Eventually, as the world snapped back into place in Emily’s mind, she could hear the slightest chirp from her helmet. In her hurrying, she hadn’t noticed that she had kicked the mushroom-shaped piece. It lay just behind her. Sliding it on, she found the report on the specimen was in, all clear though Emily needed to be taking in more water to keep it hydrated. She had to wonder then, trying to break her thoughts free from what had happened just yards away, how it was cappera survived in this environment.

From the research and evidence around the outpost that confirmed much of their findings, the insect-like aliens were burrowers in nature. That explained much of the tunnels that ran as a network through the planet. They liked the hills that had been a day’s walk from the outpost, but for a creature that needed an abundance of water, it seemed a strange place to inhabit. After all, the only way they could have found hydration would be tapping into deep underground lakes, which this planet had all of one of, or sapping it from the soil itself, which seemed to dry for such a thing. How the matured cappera cared for their pupa was just as perplexing. They needed to feed off their carriers like a mammal’s young would; however, they were carried externally almost like the shell simulated. Their babes needed warmth and a closeness that would make a parasite feel smothered. Alas, it was too late to ponder these questions or find their answers. With the entire species extinct saved for the specimen, they likely would never know any more of the cappera.

Calming herself, pushing through the anxiety of stepping out beyond the rock walls, Emily found that night had finally come, and all her worries were put to rest for the moment. The natives would not be moving come nightfall; they were strictly hunters by day. It seemed much of the planet was dull and dead by night, but as far as Emily could see, sight may have had nothing to do with that. Many of the creatures on the planet lacked proper eyes, the natives being one such race, but that meant they developed different means of seeking. Some had superior auditory abilities while others had olfactory senses that could not be beat however, the most common were those that sensed vibration. Emily had to guess that the pile of hands, little more than a stain in the direction of the hilly lands now, had been of that variety. The natives, those they had encountered, seemed to follow some entirely foreign sense that humans could not feel nor easily observe. Emily could only hope night muted much of that sense’s effectiveness, or she was likely to find her fate the same as her attacker’s had been.

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