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Chapter 8

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Topknot and Headhunter trudge across the wild grasses which pave the habitat floor towards the thick trees reaching high above with spindly branches. As the waterfall pours down into the pool to their left, the sounds process as background noise as their attention lies ahead with the distant human heat signatures.

They step amongst the deep woodland with the layers of foliage and trunks visible as cool black blocks, two warm orange outlines glow far ahead as thermal traces of life. The warriors creep gently to make no sounds of their own, climbing across large rocks and fallen branches. Their stealth is reflective of their natural hunting instinct, though they are unaware of the danger stalking them with an equal cunning.

Leering down from high above the twin Aliens crouch in the lofty limbs holding tight to the advantage of seeing everything. Now fully grown to menacing maturity they have mastered their abilities, those who enter this lair are doomed to an unsparing suffering.

As the Predators move deeper, Masaki and Masami negotiate their own path, their tails flowing behind them perfectly balanced to spring to the next tree. After only one day of their new environment these fledgling felines have made the area their own. Reaching the furthest depths towards the back wall of the chamber, the hunters ready their weapons and hone in. The heat patterns are quite faint but the humans must be close.

When Martinez and Mayweather entered the habitat, Annalise longed to warn them of the serpents guarding this hive, but what hope could she have of convincing two brain-washed soldiers to believe her words- the words of a spy?

Behind a shielding sheet of cool falling water Annalise has stayed hidden. She knows the dangers surrounding her but she possesses a unique power, the greatest problem facing her now is escape. Sweating in the tropical heat, she removes the stolen container from her pocket and smears another dose of royal-jelly across her forehead before braving to climb out from hiding.

Systematically checking around her, climbing over the rocks around the swirling pool, yearning to make it to the habitat door alive, the imposing forest behind her encompasses the demons of ancient legend. She must complete her mission and leave these walls with the samples, but racing toward the door she sees the controls smashed, realising that her nightmares will not let her go so easily.

The who hunters anxiously stroke the skulls hanging across their chests as behind the last trees the chamber wall is visible, shining with smooth, black designs. Coated and fashioned in secreted resin, the surface is lined with intricate shapes curling up and over the ground and foliage. The seven-foot-high warriors stand mystified, looking up to the two cocooned marines stuck before them, held behind layers of the smothering hardened compound.

Martinez and Mayweather have their guns glued firmly alongside them but with little use to them now. These hosts are imprisoned alive and helpless, subjected to a slow and tortuous cocooning state, eventually converting biologically into fully functioning eggs.

The two Predators observe the suspended forms with curious uncertainty.

Committed to the task of transporting young warriors to hunting grounds, choosing to track human quarry, they are inexperienced with the complexities of the Alien species and do not recognise what is developing before them. Headhunter extends his blade ready to slash into the helpless marines, but Topknot grabs his arm to stop him, gesturing to a movement in the trees- time to go.

Wearing only limited weaponry they retreat through the woods, racing back to the entrance with the realisation that a threat is following above, targeting them at their most vulnerable. Whatever is up there, it has a tactical advantage and a knowledge of this chamber, behind them the branches stir with leaping forms.

Toward the edge of the forest, Topknot reaches for his disc, prepared to carve his way through the habitat doors if he must. A warm red figure stands out ahead, a trace of Predator metal highlighted on her arm. Annalise risks the same fate that her father met twenty years ago, motionless as the ruthless killers appear before her.

The two fearsome creatures roar with anger as the slender female stands her ground, defiantly blocking their way. Topknot is impressed by the brave but suicidal act, while Headhunter's patience is exhausted. He refits the hand held mask to his face and firmly tightens his fist.

Annalise begins to question her choice to confront her fears, her forehead shimmering with slimy goo.

"Come on you bastards, do your worst!" she cries.

"Dead meat." Headhunter replies in a growl.

Screeching calls sound out through the air above, sensing her call for help, Masaki and Masami leap far from the tree-tops dropping to their feet either side of the helpless woman. They target the threat to her, through sneering, smiling teeth they hiss at their bewildered foes.

"Never thought I'd be so glad to see you!" Annalise whispers as her two body-guards sleekly prance forward.

Headhunter unhooks a silver shuriken from his belt, flicking it in his wrist to snap it open as a spread star of deadly points. Topknot grasps the vine on a nearby tree, lifting his disc weapon to take aim.

Annalise is filled with excitement, enthused by the sight of the desperate beasts who think nothing of killing for pleasure.

"No mercy!" She calls to her Alien protectors.

Before the twins can pounce the hunters fling their tools. Heightened senses prepare the twin felines who dodge the weapons as they glance past their bodies toward the unsuspecting woman behind. In a reflex action she raises her left arm to shield herself, the shuriken whizzes against the gauntlet, a single point piercing through, jamming into her flesh beneath.

The cutting disc veers the other way returning to its source, but Topknot is not there to catch it as it burrows into the tree. He has climbed fast to gain height and take his battle to daring heights, with Masami in pursuit clawing a way up behind him.

Masaki pins Headhunter against a thick trunk, pushing hard against him as he hold its hissing mouth back with his stump-ended arm. The Alien's claws pinch into his tough skin as he edges his blade up, hoping to slash the monster's throat. He bolts his head forward, butting the snarling face with his strong helmet. His left hand freed, he pushes the body away and strikes.

The blade-end nicks across the exposed, ribbed chest forcing Masaki to step back amongst the woodland. Headhunter leans forward with his outstretched arm, gleefully firing a charged blast of burning plasma into his adversary's waist. The searing burns send the Alien reeling into the bushes, losing itself deeper as its jutting hip bones smoulder.

Annalise waits out in the open, anxious to hear the defeat of her lifelong enemies. As the giant steps out towards her, she can only watch as the unharmed warrior approaches with his red markings and regal armour prominently on display. Headhunter longs to kill her, the overconfident human that thinks she can out-smart his superior warrior race.

She cannot let it end this way. As slime and sweat run down her face she tries to contain the tears, agonising pain as her hand pulls hard on the shuriken weapon stuck fast through the gauntlet. Numbly dug into muscle and bone, the sickening, throbbing ache only coming as she attempts to release it and turn it on its owner.

Blood dripping onto the rocks and soil she drops to her knees, raising her head to look at the towering killer. He points to her with his stumped arm, the dark cannon barrels aimed at her face. Then a rustle of a bending branch, the shadowy form of Masaki ready to pounce.

Headhunter turns and feels the weight of his returning foe knocking him to his back, his limbs pinned down as he grapples to handle the lunging tongue as it fires at his mask. The feline sprawls over the bulky beast, a knee against the bicep of the "pain-firing" right arm, a hand flat to the floor over the flowing dreadlocks to keep the hunter's head down. Gnashing its jaws and circling the air with its tail like a patrolling snake, with a free right arm it peels away the helmet from Headhunter's face revealing the maddened look of a constricted rage.

The Predator defiantly grabs Masaki's neck, urging himself upright to beat his limits and take control. He seizes the flailing form, lifting it higher and higher over his head before throwing the Alien with full, concerted force at the woman plunging them both into the churning water.

Falling backwards, Annalise plummets to suffocating depths, staring up at the form peering over the pool's edge, the light dwindling as her body knocks against the rocky bed. She finds the strength to crawl her way along with the last of her short breath, kicking to swim up, yearning to fill her empty lungs.

The dull, echoing sounds crash as she breaks the surface taking a gasp of air, she collapses against the cliff wall once more hidden by the cascading waterfall. Her soaked, cold body is numb to the flow of blood leaking down her wounded arm, the shuriken is gone- knocked free by the battering fall. Preparing to heave herself back to the dry ledge, she is overshadowed by a rising form, the showering drops pattering down the bony textures as a tail weaves its way towards her.

Facing away, Annalise closes her eyes to concentrate, relaxing to command Masaki again, to re-direct its hunger. The widening mouth and enveloping claws loom closer as she realises her wasted efforts, her forehead washed clean of the queen's jelly. She clings to the rocks, mumbling pleading words, feeling a hand to her pocket for the lab container to find it missing. The Alien appears to relish the moment, like a fear-feeding evil.

SWISH! Points spin with a mirrored finish through the cool mist. Headhunter's second shuriken driving past the falling water and into Masaki's back. Watching from dry land, the hunter witnesses his success with pride as the beast lurches around, whipping limbs chaotically before finally slumping weakly, bobbing lifeless with the weapon left sticking up between the its shoulder-blades, fanned out like a ragged fin.

The massive chamber rings with Headhunter's triumphant roars, through the thick forest, around the leaf-heavy branches up to dizzying heights where the walls reach higher still to meet the great, glowing ceiling. With the tree-tops swaying below as a field of bushy limbs, a warrior's gaze tracks the uneven surface for signs of life.

In the top left-hand corner at the back of the habitat, Topknot sits against the transecting walls, his arms at ninety degrees holding himself still and patient to await the stalking creature below.

Outside this jungle-filled room, the evening air breaths down the open hangar door, seeking its way along charred corridors and rubble. The decimated laboratories still thick with dust as the destruction settles and fires burn out. Past the jagged edges of containment tank glass, the walls are stripped bare of tiles and a secret door blown in.

Lying dazed by the far wall, Dr Foster regains his senses. The icy cold of this freezing room has helped against the fiery blast but it now lies smoking in ruins. The doctor steadies himself, still thinking of just one thing, he unlatches one of the compartment doors and takes the organ storage container from inside.

Stepping over the mess, the man covers his mouth as he feels his way, the area is pitch black so he must rely on touch to guide his nervous steps. The walls are ready to cave-in, crumbling under the weight above, threatening to seal him inside this deathly tomb. He has risked too much already to achieve his prize, he will not let it be imprisoned. A gentle breeze meets him at the entrance tunnel, coaxing him down the central corridor.

Emergency lighting flickers as he reaches the metal staircase leading to the hangar. Unsure of the dangers outside he prepares himself, clutching his only reward for years of research- a priceless specimen. The way is open, the door hatch torn aside. Dr Foster peeks out to see the marines' bodies still scattered where they fell. A rumble stirs from the clouds in the night's sky as he passes through the vehicle bay, awaiting an attack at any moment.

To a scientist devoted to a lifetime of research, the sight before him is a tempting treat. Trusted and honoured to work with and develop alien technology, he is drawn to the Predator shuttle left waiting in the wind. As the rain starts to fall he nears the craft, its gantry ramp left down urging him to enter and gorge on the wondrous sights within. Passing by he admires the smooth, pale stylings rounding to form a hulking armour like a shell of a giant crustacean. But if their ship is here, unguarded, then where are its crew?

Looking to the distant boundary wall, two white craft stand unharmed. Though the base appears to be deserted he knows he must leave now, while he still can. Pulling away from the vessel the doctor clutches the case and races to the two Heli-jets.


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