Dust fell, the muffled noises of guns seeping through the cracking cement. Stumbling through the flickering lights and uneven ground, Lina decided not to tell Patrick that he was about to break her wrist. He gripped her arm too tightly and ran too fast.
The lit subway map activated her interface’s transit app. It told her that service had been shut down on all lines due to a police emergency. She gathered the app didn’t have a preset for Aliens.
They searched the subway platform for an exit. Patrick wanted to go underground, one of his only good ideas. Too bad he already wanted to reverse course. “How many of them do you think there are up there?” Lina said. Starships were landing on top of buildings, in the streets. Bulky greenish-brown Aliens plodded out of them guns blazing with their shrieks.
“I don’t want to find out,” Patrick said. They’d only hooked up a few times over the last month, which had somehow morphed into running for their lives together. All because they worked a couple of blocks away from each other and this had gone down in the middle of a weekday.
Collapsed concrete, plastics, and debris blocked the exits. Trails of blood were leaking out from under the piles. Broken pipes stuck out from the wall, gushing brown water. Patrick stopped, dumbfounded. “Where to now?” Lina asked, trying not to let her impatience show. She could tell that in his head Patrick saw himself as a hero rescuing her. It was getting tedious.
“Not the way we came,” Patrick said. “They were swarming that other entrance..”
“What about the tunnels?” Lina said. She pulled out her more powerful display interface, opening its projected screens. “I’ve got all the maps already downloaded so I don’t have to sync.”
“You do get lost all the time,” Patrick said.
“I’ve only lived here for a few months. It’s not exactly intuitive,” Lina replied with a sigh. “Service is out so we don’t have to worry about trains.”
“Okay, guess we don’t have much of a choice,” Patrick said. The two of them jumped down on the tracks, minding the flickering electrified rail. They heard footsteps coming from the tunnel nearby, a group approaching.
“Is that a Tarrare?” Patrick asked, seeing what was leading them. She’d only ever seen them on the feeds, never in real life. Next to the Tarrare was a disheveled woman in UAS armor. More followed behind, some dressed for office jobs, a few police officers with dirty and burned clothes, and a couple of people in maintenance jumpsuits. She counted thirteen of them following the Alien altogether.
“We should join them,” Lina said.
“How do we know that Tarrare isn’t leading them to the slaughter?” Patrick whispered.
“Really, Patrick?” Lina said. “We both saw the Black Sphere get destroyed. I doubt they blew up their own ship just to trick us.”
Lina approached them, Patrick lagging after her. The Tarrare paid them no mind, but the UAS soldier narrowed her eyes. “I’m Nitika, UAS Diplomatic Security,” she barked. “You can follow if you want, but stay quiet and keep up.”
“Where are we going?” Patrick whispered, speeding up to avoid being left behind.
“Away from fucking bad Aliens,” Nitika said. The Tarrare projected some sort of ambient light from the layers of material covering most of his body. It allowed them to see what was ahead but still dim enough not to draw too much attention. Lina tried not to gawk at the suit’s technology or the Alien himself.
“How far do we need to go?” Patrick whispered.
“Far,” was Lina’s only response.
“Can we trust it? The Alien?” Patrick tried to murmur at Nitika. He received no response, which was more than he deserved.
The Tarrare stopped, lights from the next station’s platform up ahead. “They are nearby,” the Tarrare said in his synthetic voice. “Remain here. I will eliminate them.”
“You got it, Ambassador,” Nitika replied. The Tarrare stalked forward, its stick legs silent and graceful. His ambient lights switched off, causing him to disappear completely.
“Is he going to be okay?” Lina whispered.
“Oh, he’s going to be fine,” one of the cops muttered. A construct of pure energy appeared, exposing the Tarrare as he closed in on the platform. His hands began blasting chunks of destruction at whatever he was targeting. Since the only source of light was the intermittent, damaged subway lighting from the platform ahead and the energy coming from the Tarrare’s armor, it was hard to see.
Shrill, inhuman noises followed. Then the noises of their guns. The hostile Aliens had guns that sounded like a chainsaw fighting a jackhammer. Lina’d never imagined something could be so loud. She saw the Tarrare dive to the side and stick on the ceiling as showers of glowing, bladed projectiles followed. The Tarrare’s lithe, insectoid form evaded it all as he projected blobs of explosive energy at whatever he was battling. She saw several green masses jump off the platform to try to get closer to their target.
Somehow, the Tarrare suddenly had a string of blades. He skittered in circular dash through and around the hostile Aliens, their bulky green bodies leaking fluids and howling. After a few more deft swipes from the Tarrare they collapsed onto the tracks and let out high-pitched hisses that faded to nothing.
The Tarrare paused, a field of energy around him as glowing green particles burst from the corpses of the Aliens. They seemed to actively try to dig through the field, but couldn’t make it through. The Tarrare stood stark still until the parasites or whatever they were faded and dropped.
“You may advance,” the Tarrare called from ahead. “It is safe now.”
The Tarrare walked over to a nearby light source in the subway tunnel, flipping it open and tearing the bulb out. Lina watched as the bladed weapon he had apparently created to gut the other Aliens shifted and morphed into a hooked clamp. The Tarrare plunged it into the light fixture. The few non-flickering lights dimmed for a short period. “He needs to recharge his stuff,” another one of the cops added helpfully. After he was finished, the Tarrare gathered it and placed it back onto its armor, the material dissolving into it.
“Unfuckingreal,” Patrick said. “Did it just make a weapon and then a tool out of its clothes? Then turn it back into clothes?”
“Yes,” Nitika said. “But HIS name is Sihs-Jin.”
“What are they?” Lina said, looking at the Aliens that the Tarrare Sihs-Jin had slain. She hadn’t gotten a good look at them, and now she had almost more than she could handle.
“Never thought I would see a bug save me from exterminators,” a woman in a torn and stained business suit mumbled nearby to the no one in particular.
Lina noticed that they were bigger this close, about 2-3 meters tall and at least 2 meters wide. Each one was slightly differently shaped, and they had anywhere from two to five arms. Their shoulders and stumpy outcropping of a head were ringed with spikes and had a maw full of hundreds of sharp, thorn-like objects that she took for teeth. Their skin was hard, greenish brown with a texture between a sea-shell and tree bark with a membrane or oil covering it. In some spots they had colorful outcroppings like flower buds. Their insides reminded Lina of the fluid in a cactus, but with chunky sets of organs. They smelled awful. She noticed their guns. Fat, multi-barreled pieces of hardware that looked way too heavy and unwieldy for any human to use.
“They are from a race called the Ehvow,” Sihs-Jin said softly, approaching Lina. She didn’t know if he read her mind or just noticed her curiosity. “As for what this variety is specifically, we do not have a direct analogue in your language. The most direct translation would be ‘seeds that become thorns.’ They are evolved from a carnivorous species of invasive plant. They devoured or crowded out nearly every other species on their homeworld.”
“Thornseeds,” Nitika dubbed them. “That’s what we’ve been calling them. You can kill them, it just takes a lot of bullets and you don’t want to be too close.”
“Those glowing green things?” Lina asked. They were dull and lifeless on the ground where Sihs-Jin had been standing like a bunch of squashed bugs.
“Everyone that gets hit by them starts bleeding and spasming,” Nitika said. “Most die. The others seem to go into a coma like they have a disease.”
“They are spores,” Sihs-Jin added. “My defensive fields can block them. You have no such countermeasure as they can pierce any exposed skin. We must move. Others nearby will detect what I have just done and come looking.”
“Let’s move out, then,” Nitika said. “You heard Ambassador Sihs-Jin. We’ve got a long way to go before we get out of the city.”
“That thing is a killing machine,” Patrick mumbled under his breath. Lina was inclined to agree.
“I am not without my skills,” Sihs-Jin quietly replied. “Before we leave, there were human soldiers and others killed here on the platform. I recommend you take their weaponry quickly. We may need it later.” Lina was the first to act, crawling up on the platform and seeing a dead police officer who’d dropped some sort of shotgun.
“Are you crazy?” Patrick asked. “Do you know how to use that?” The other people in the group were picking up assault rifles and pistols from dead police officers and other people in UAS uniforms like Nitika.
“I fired a gun,” Lina said. “Once.”