Murder on Mars, Chapter 10
Speed Kills, Timing Beats Speed, Shadow Longships Beat All Comers
“It is jet-black. A shade of black so deep, your eyes just kind of slide off it. And this longship kind of shimmers when you look directly at it. An elongated spider, big as death and twice as ugly. When it flies past, it’s like you hear a scream in your mind.”—Warren Keffer, describing a Shadow Vessel
Beowulf’s Grendel. Colloquial: The “Alien”. Formal: “Xenomorph XX121”. Binomial: Internecivus Raptus [“murderous thief”]. First described in the Nowell Codex. An endoparasitoid extraterrestrial species with a black exoskeleton akin to stairless steel, and blood and saliva akin to molecular acid.
Found as proximal as Europa, it is the indigenous lifeform of the planet is known as SIMP J01365663+0933473 aka Simpson’s Planet.
Simpson is an absolutely massive alien world that is nearly big enough to be classified as a brown dwarf. Brown dwarf planets are sometimes called “failed stars” because they’re nearly large enough for fusion to begin taking place in their core, but that’s not even the most unique thing about this particular planet.
What’s really special about that planet with the big long name is that it has a magnetic field 200 times stronger than even the mighty Jupiter. This incredible finding suggests that there’s some very interesting things going on above the planet’s surface. One of those things is a strong aurora, often called “Northern Lights” here on Earth.
During the day, its surface is boiling hot. If you were to stand on it you’d be subjected to temperatures in excess of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. At night, temperatures plummet to nearly 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.
And yet, on this most unhospitable of planets, The Alien not only survives, it thrives. Long-forgotten toys created to amuse the children of no longer worshipped gods? A weapon system created for a long-forgotten, bygone war who turned on its creators, after having annihilated its creators’ enemies? A pestilence visited upon Creation by the Insect Civilization?
Questions of origin, aside. One thing is for sure. On occasion, they are the tools of Something Much Older, the youngest sibling of gOd, The Lady.
Aliens are not sapient “tool-makers”. They lack a technological civilization. They are predatory creatures with no higher goals than the propagation and self-preservation of their species.
Like wasps or termites, Aliens are eusocial life-forms, living in hives. Each hive is organized into a caste system bred and ruled over by a single fertile queen. Their biological life cycle comprises several distinct stages. They begin their lives as an egg that hatches a parasitoid larval form, known as a “facehugger”, which attaches itself to a living host by, as its name suggests, latching onto the face of its intended.
Although they prefer sentient, humanoid hosts. If the need dictates, this parasitoid will use a host as small as a cat, or as large as an elephant.
The facehugger “impregnates” the host with an embryo, known as a “chestburster”. This endoparasitoid larva, after a short period of gestation, erupts violently from the host’s chest, resulting in the death of the host.
The chestburster rapidly matures from juvenile into adulthood within hours, shedding its skin and replacing its cells with polarized silicon. It then seeks out more hosts to be implanted with the larvae of other unhatched eggs. The cycle begins anew.
Needless to say, the implantation of the chestburster, in and of itself, is traumatic. But, that’s eclipsed by the larva’s incubation period and egress. While incubating, it’s feeding upon the host, literally eating the host from the inside out.
Due to horizontal gene transfer during the gestation period, the Alien also takes on some of the basic physical attributes of the host from which it was born, allowing the individual Alien to adapt to the host’s environment.
These asexual adult drones are known by various different names, depending on their role in the hive. They are referred to as “soldiers”, “workers”, and other specialist strains, similar to the way ants are defined.
Physically and telepathically isolate an Alien drone from its hive, and it will transmute into a queen who will begin laying eggs to start a new hive. A specialized asexual adult drone becomes a fertile adult female, upon demand.
An adult drone is the size of an adult Goon [but not the larger sizes]. Queens, on the other hand, are the size of Hulks.