The corridor between an underground landing pad of a secret imperial lab and the main entrance lock was narrow. It was just the two of them standing shoulder to shoulder because no one else would simply fit in there. Especially not wearing a full pressure armor suit. Back at the space shuttle landing pad they’d already seen what happened to those, who didn’t put on airtight suits. Praise Corporal Zalzenka who told them to wear their space combat armor before getting off their UAS6 NightBurn shuttle.
Private Pankratz and Private First Class Vodeyko were emptying clip after clip, firing short series from their allotted assault rifles towards what was approaching them from the other end of an eighty-meter-long corridor. Kantoz Santiago Moralez, a civilian whose job under normal conditions was unloading equipment and provisioning their shuttle, was now standing behind the soldiers handing them full clips, and kicking away empty ones they were throwing away. Together with the other storekeeper they dragged out a sealed chest still full of clips from the shuttle’s cargo hold. The second storekeeper was a yellow-skinned woman with a name so difficult to pronounce that everyone just called her Sue. Having seen what was happening, she ran to the shuttle yelling through her communicator to ask the pilot to look for some heavier weapons, even though she knew perfectly well that NightBurn wasn’t equipped with anything heavier than a few rifles and guns.
A pile of corpses of odd creatures, which were constantly flooding in from the other end of the corridor, straggled as far as a few meters away from the Privates’ feet. The creatures appeared in waves of several or dozen at a time. They all looked the same. It was a cross between a cockroach and a scorpio, the size of a large dog. Luckily, their armor wasn’t strong enough to withstand gunfire from a rifle. After one or two shots to the body they were oozing transparent orange goo and dropping dead. They looked disoriented. Aside from the absurdity of the entire situation, the soldiers didn’t feel very endangered. At least not until Vodeyko’s gun exploded in his hands.
- Fuck, my barrel got plugged - he screamed to his colleague. He threw his rifle on the ground and reached for his service pistol.
- Armor undamaged? - asked Pankratz.
- Yes, it’s all right - Vodeyko shouted back firing his gun towards another wave of insects rolling down the corridor.
- Corporal Zalzenka, we need a new rifle. The hell knows how many more of them will creep out. - This time Vodeyko opened the general communications channel - Sue have you found something bigger?
- It’s Sue. Yes, I found a chest with grenades in the cargo hold. I’ll go back to get the rifle. I’ll be back in three to four minutes.
A minute later, from the open lock at the end of the corridor, a group of at least a hundred insects stormed out into the corridor and lunged at full speed towards the soldiers. This time the creatures were moving a lot faster. A few insects reached the soldiers and tried to bite through their armor. Vodeyko shot them one by one with his gun. A moment later the corridor turned into a motionless mass grave again.
- I’m unharmed, just a few scratches. There’s not even a single indent in my armor - said Pankratz stabilizing his breath.
Vodeyko turned around to Moralez and to check whether Sue already returned with the grenades. Moralez stood stock-still, holding in both his hands clips he had just taken out of the chest. He was staring blankly ahead. Not at Vodeyko but straight ahead at the far end of the corridor.
- Fuck, it’s… - Pankratz’s voice echoed on the general channel but the rest of the sentence was drowned out by continuous fire of his rifle.
Vodeyko turned back towards the corridor, pointed his gun and froze.
Something huge was crawling in their direction. They couldn’t see what it was exactly because it was gliding on the floor. It was squeezing under a layer of dead insects, pushing and carrying on its back hundreds of corpses, using them as a shield. It surely was big and as wide as the corridor.
Pankratz’s rifle fell silent for a moment. Private reloaded it in one swift movement and opened continuous fire again. After a second his rifle exploded like Vodeyko’s did earlier. Their rifles weren’t adjusted to constant fire for more than half an hour. And this is how long this butchery was going on for. The manufacturer probably assumed that after a few minutes of shooting either the soldier or its target would have been dead.
The thing that was crawling on the floor got up. They could see it clearly now because it was only ten meters away. It was an insect too, just a lot bigger. It had two calloused plates at the front of its head that overlapped each other. The plates slid open and revealed a head with small deformed jaws. Green blue mucus was dripping from between its teeth.
Then the insect barfed at them. Their armor started smoldering and internal safety systems returned decompression reports. After a moment, the mucus that covered not only their armor but also a large part of the corridor burst into flames.
Then a few things happened.
Seeing what was going on, Morales turned around and started running to the shuttle.
He bumped into Sue, who was just approaching them lugging the chest with grenades, and pushed her over. The grenades spilled on the floor.
From the burning corridor, Private First Class Vodeyko covered in flames came running and yelling. He tumbled and fell on one of the rolling grenades.
The grenade exploded. All remaining grenades brought by Sue also exploded. Four people died instantly.
The shockwave swept hundreds of small insect corpses as well as one large away from the corridor. The corridor collapsed.
The shockwave that bounced towards the pad, shifted the shuttle a few meters damaging the left engine. It jammed the shuttle under an overhang, which completely destroyed the right engine.
The impact damaged the roof of the underground landing pad.
When Corporal Zalzenka came around, he wiped blood from his cracked brow ridge and looked at the flashing console. He realized that NightBurn was in no state to fly, at least until general overhaul.
After a moment, Corporal Zalzenka became aware that he wasn’t alone on the shuttle. When he turned away he saw an insect’s head with eyes glaring at him and the console. Behind that head there was a whole insect body covered with shining brown and red armor.
He tried to reach the console to summon help but his arm was cut half-way by the insect’s pincers in a flash.
The insect stretched out its legs towards the console and in a few skillful moves turned off the shuttle’s power. It was as if the insect knew exactly what to press and when.
The pincers flashed in the air and this time they pierced through the back of Zalzenka’s chair and his chest.
Dying, Corporal Zalzenka was staring into the eyes of the hive queen. The eyes were so inhuman yet so intelligent.