Whatever those things are, they sure don't bathe.
The smell was terrible, wafting up the floor opening to the fluidics control station. Down below the mutterings of those walking dead, those Many, echoed twice over, once from the metallic ductwork that was commonplace on engineering, and again from that sort of distortion that seemed to come from within them, like an audio record being melted and played. It was haunting and sickening.
Malone heard this in several ways. While the others with him heard these two echoes, he heard a third series, a composite creature's echoing speech. It sounded like a woman's voice, overlapped occasionally with another that sounded like it was growling, inhuman, and another that was low, masculine, but with a hint of that growl. They echoed in his mind like the annoying jingle in those Value-Rep commercials.
Why do you-
Why do you cling to your individuality? The galaxy is so cold and lonely. We offer company, comfort, peace. Why do you fight?
Malone growled quietly, straining his psyche to exorcise these voices from his consciousness. He mentally ran through an exercise which had been a part of his first year of training as an OSA agent. The sounds of an ocean overcame the voices, and he mentally felt the last traces of the invading intelligence swept out of his mind.
For the moment.
"Hey, are you okay, man?"
Malone opened his eyes. They ached from being squeezed shut for so long. He began to feel his body again, and his hands ached. His fists had been clenched so tightly his knuckles were whiter than usual, and his palms were indented with the impression of his nails. He hadn't realized this was going on.
The others looked at him, mixed expressions of nervousness to worry to disgust. There were only three of them, a man and a woman from engineering and a medical officer from a level up. That last one looked like he was more upset by Malone's presence than the alien invasion. Typical. A doctor tends to have faith only in what he understands, and not many doctors outside of the OSA understood the psionic abilities of that shadowy organization's agents.
Agents like Malone. The OSA had posted a few agents onboard the Rickenbacker for two main reasons: so that their psychic abilities could be used to benefit the crew: and so the OSA could improve it's image with the general populace. OSA disciplines were rather arcane, and humanity was slow to accepting it.
The others seemed nice enough, though, if uncomprehending of the situation. They had an aura of good intentions about them, as good people will. They were scared and hopeful, and they figured that maybe this guy's weird powers might just be able to save them.
Malone offered a shaky smile to the man who asked, trying to reassure them.
"Yeah, I'll be fine."
"What was all that about?" asked the woman. Her nametag identified her as Moira.
Malone shook his head. "It would take too long to explain, and it still wouldn't make a difference." He listened down the duct again, but the muttering and shuffling had gone.
Malone shook his head. "We've got to get out of here. They're going to find us sooner or later if we don't move, and god knows we can't stay up here forever without supplies."
"Wow. Did your super powers tell you that, or was it the product of all those brain bending body dunks you guys do which brought about this insight?" That was the doctor, a thin cheeked, tall man with a square shape to his head and light blonde hair. His German accent only further confirmed his heritage after what his nametag said: Langenburger.
Malone just looked up at him, a tired expression crossing his face as he sighed. He was used to this. The people of the Von Braun didn't think too highly of him or his fellow agents, and they had made it clear in every way they could. He'd had a thing for the Engineering Chief, Sanger, but she'd kept blowing him off, saying he was creepy. Even when she didn't say it aloud, he could hear it in her mind. Maybe that really did make him creepy...
There was no time for those kinds of musings now. He had a job to do. These people were civilians, and it was his job to get them somewhere safe.
Malone got up unsteadily, feeling pins and needles from having sat on his legs for too long. He checked the plug-in port for his Psi-Amp, made sure the connections were secure, and motioned for the rest of his band to follow.
The male engineer, one Falzone, was hoisting a wrench. His pistol had long since run out of ammo, and the broken shotguns those mutants carried around didn't do much but slow him down. He looked eager to get going.
The doctor stood over by the door to fluidics control, arms crossed and eyes studying the wall. The door to fluidics was locked, supposably by a fellow crew member, though Malone couldn't think of a reason why.
Before entering the grav shaft, Malone thought a quick plan might be beneficial. But to assemble a plan, he would need more info.
"Do you know anywhere there's some resistance? Or at least some ammo?"
Falzone spoke up. "One of the nacelles has a weapons cache hidden inside. I'll bet there's a resistance party around there."
Malone looked at the others, waiting for further ideas, but none were forthcoming.
"Alright. We'll head there. Lead the way."
The man took a nervous gulp and nodded, shaking slightly. Malone pitied him. He was probably just another guy trying to earn his paycheck. None of this was supposed to happen. He shouldn't have to defend himself from hostile parasitic aliens and an insane artificial intelligence. It just wasn't fair.
They entered the grav shaft one at a time, Malone coming right behind Falzone to support him should anything hostile come his way. Moria came soon after, followed by Langenburger.
The hallways were disturbingly quiet. With the engines offline and the main power shut down, usual noises one associates with an engineering section were absent. The hums and hisses were nowhere to be heard, only the faintest puff of the oxygen exchangers and the occasional spark from a broken panel and some frayed wiring in the wall.
In the distance, the wiz-hum of a blast door could be heard. They were in the cargo bay access ways, wide hallways made to accommodate large containers from the nearby shuttle bay. The coolant tunnels weren't too far off, and past them, after a Xerxes adjunct and the main reactor core, were the nacelles.
The hallways wouldn't normally have been silent, but with the engines and main power offline, they could hear the padding of another patrolling hybrid down the corridor. The mumbles echoed in a creepy way, like a lost soul trying in vain to escape it's own private hell. The sounds got closer, the mutant couldn't be more than a few seconds away.
Malone thought quick. They hopefully had a numerical advantage, but those techs only had wrenches, and the doc had nothing but dry wit. The creatures tended to wield crude clubs or shotguns. What this one was packing was anyone's guess.
And they were tough bastards. It could take a shot or two from even a fully tweaked shotgun to take them down, at worst. And they were damnably strong. They had smashed Orkins' skull in with one blow, and he was a tough guy.
All this went through Malone's OSA trained mind in a second. He knew what he'd have to do.
He gestured for the others to scatter. He pointed the two engineers to flank the door and waved the doctor behind a small corner created by the grav shafts. It wouldn't be much cover, but it was better than nothing, and the doctor realized it.
Meanwhile, Malone positioned himself in the middle of the room, Psi amp in hand, preparing to deliver a charged pyrokinesis attack to whatever came through that door.
It should have been shocking, but it had lost it's sting to the sanity for Malone days ago. The thing ran at him, pipe high above it's head in preparation for a swing to shatter bones. The worm-like parasite emerged grossly from the creature's chest to enter into the head. Blood, long since dried, was all over it's torn white shirt and surrounded the entry wound in it's head. It's hair had fallen out, and it's yellowed eyes were bugging out, like it hadn't blinked in days.
The kinetic energy built in Malone, warming him from the heart to the arm and sending a familiar tingle from his head to the implant in his arm, and the humming vibration of his Psi amp when it charged. The small meter on it's side showed the psionic charge building. The force of the blast was almost unbearable. In less than a second the psionic power would reach it's peak, and if Malone could time it right, he would be able to send forth the pyro bolt with it's maximum energy output, possibly putting the creature down for good. If he held it too long, though, the power would overflow, resulting in a power overflow, and a nasty psionic backlash that would waste his synaptic energies, partially burn out the nerves around his implant, and, worst of all, disorient him for a few precious seconds, leaving himself vulnerable to the Hybrid's merciless assault. He would have to time this perfectly.
The power built...
The Hybrid charged at him.
" Your flesh betrays you!"
The blast reached maximum potential-
And Malone let it fly.
The fiery blast flew down the hallway, colliding in a destructive shower of glowing orange, hydrogen being sheared from oxygen molecules, parching and crisping worm-infested flesh and mutated bone. For a fleeting moment, Malone thought he saw the creature smile, as though in relief, released from the prison of his body-
And then it was gone. The life was extinguished, ending in one single, brilliant moment. Where once stood a monster, there was now a charred corpse. Other than the shriveled worm parasite that emerged from it's head into it's chest, it looked like any of the other casualties of this disaster. In a way, this poor creature was even more a victim than the others, having been violated in body and spirit before being robbed of this, it's last possession, it's life.
Langenburger peeked out from around his corner, looking pitifully weak and afraid. The others looked at the burnt mutant in shock. The girl brought her hand up to mouth and turned away quickly, looking ill. The man just looked sad.
Malone ran his left hand through his platinum blonde hair, tousling the straight locks that had become stuck together from the sweat that he hadn't realized had come. It must have been residual heat from the blast. His pale hand came away drenched, and he wiped it off on his slacks.
He felt the adrenaline drain away, leaving him feeling shaky. The tingle dissolved from his arm. The feel beyond himself, that feel almost all OSA agents felt when they used their powers, was slipping away, making him feel cold, alone.
Why do you-
Why do you murder our unity? Why do you cling to cold, lonely individuality?
Why do you fight to save those who would hate you?
Malone could not help but glance, slowly, over at Langenburger. The doctor stared back, the kind of thinly veiled disgust and hatred the likes of which was unique to prejudice. He all but glared at the man who was preserving his life.
Distrust is the tyranny of the individual.
Malone couldn't help but feel anger seep up, clouding his judgement and blurring his vision. He'd been teased ever since he was a child, always being teased for his odd powers. They called him "spoon-bender" and "brain boy", cruel little jabs that, individually, he could brush off, but together, they hurt him, deep down.
Ours is the trust of lovers...
Malone's gray eyes shut, welling up with tears, his head slowly shaking back and forth, nothing more than an inch either way, but to him, it might as well have been light years for every centimeter. They were so damn convincing...
Why do you protect those who would kill you?
A stray thought: Good question.
Why not join the splendor of the flesh?
For a half a second, it seemed in his mind's eye so beautiful, an eternity where he saw the mass as warm, full, inviting. It would welcome him. He would be a part of something, something special, bound for wondrous things. He would be welcome, no longer separate, but with, in. He would never be alone. He would be loved. He would be warm, so warm, so safe...
And then he heard it, a scream he only half recognized, so detached and apart from the union, the singularity that was the Many, and yet, seemingly of it. A voice that rose from the others like a hand from acid, burned and pained, but alive. A voice he knew he should know...
It was... it was...
Soldier, do not give up...
You have a duty, soldier, to your crew and to your captain. Do not give up, do not give in. You could be our last hope.
They're so beautiful, though...
No, soldier. They are hell spawn, come for your soul. See them for what they are...
A flash of light, a blinding, wrenching sensation, and Malone saw with two eyes now, not a mind. The flesh no longer was embracing him, but tearing at him, not holding him, but trying to devour him. This was no lost mother, this was a monster.
Soldier, do not give up...
I won't let you down, sir.
Soldier, do not... they SEE you... run!
The flash again, and he was in the cargo bay hallways, a buzzing hum coming from behind. The door...
The shot ricocheted off a pipe in the wall, the whish of displaced air blowing Malone's hair ever so slightly as it passed not an inch from his left ear. He was already spun around, his lips pulled back tight to expose teeth bared in a predatory grin that stemmed from humanity's farthest past, the smile of the hunt.
The pyrokinesis blast was blazing into the hybrid at record speeds. It was a thought into an impulse into an action into flaming reality in a nanosecond, thought and action blending seamlessly to produce a deadly dance of death.
The blast desiccated the beast in purifying flame, the hybrid screaming in pain. Like it's brother, it too fell in a crisped heap.
And then there was nothing but Malone's breathing. The psi amp hissed and smoked, and the wind blew dramatically from the heat expansion. The smell of char and metal rose from the hybrid and the floor grating around it, the sizzle from the corpse fading.
The others stirred, and Malone said, "C'mon. Let's move."