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Chapter 4

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Haruki rejoins the group as they leave the labs. Walking back to the dark tunnels their guests are feeling like unwilling participants of a ghost-train -one shock followed by the another, always waiting for the exit doors to open and let in the light of freedom.

The next doors to open would bring light, but also a most beautiful sight. Further down the main corridor, past a wide stone staircase leading up to their right, a mix of industrial framework and cables pave the way onwards to the last turn left where the original structure ends.

Ducts and controls are adapted to the existing ruins, a wide double-doorway is on the right-hand wall. It is edged by a thick metal surround with a panel to the left utilising a screen of complex setting controls. Asao has a delighted look on his face, enthusiastic about his next treat to share. Adam stands by waiting, he looks at how the doors meet at interlocking pressure-sealed connections.

"I'm guessing there is a good reason for you using armoured blast doors?" He asks. He looks to Annalise. "Should I be afraid to ask what's locked inside?" She smiles at his calm attitude.

Asao keys the panel. "It is my hope that you won't have anything to fear again. Safety is my priority."

He points to show as the doors roll apart to flood in a warm, welcoming light. They do not hesitate to step forward as they beam with utter awe at the sight of natural wonder. The massive space before them is far and tall, a giant green-house of vegetation and flowing clear water.

With the four members inside, the doorway seals shut behind. At their feet a few base slabs from the temple structure follow forward, ending at a border of lush grasses. The ground is soil, with subtle spots of rocks and bushes ahead to the beginning of a sparkling pool and the treeline of dense, deep jungle.

"Are we outside?" queries Adam. "I thought it was night."

"We are still inside," assures Asao. "This is my habitat chamber, it is built along the valley floor, one hundred metres long. As with everything at the facility it is an experiment."

Annalise kneels at the water's edge and splashes her hand across the cool surface. "Can I hear birds?" she asks.

Haruki stands beside her. "Yes, there are birds, insects and reptiles. They help to replicate a natural environment."

Adam peers into the tree-line, the way is laced with the branches and vines of many tropical species. "So there's nothing hiding in there that we should know about?"

Asao laughs and puts a hand on his shoulder. "Come, you can see for yourself."

Adam looks back to check and sees his assistant following close. "So, is this your private garden?"

Asao points the way through as they go. "It is man's wish to travel the universe and to eventually live on other planets. The walls and ceiling here are three metres thick., thus containing everything inside safely from the outside conditions. An identical chamber could be built on a moon or planet. It would provide the perfect environment for the growth of food, recycling of essential gases and also a relaxing reminder of home.

Haruki walks with Annalise. "Some of the larger trees were here already, but the waterfall, pool and almost everything else have been added."

A sound of movement above attracts them to see some colourful parrots flying away. Here, the thick trunks give way to a round opening of bare ground.

At either end are some chalk steps down and small, grey stone sculptures positioned around the space. The very centre is marked with a small wooden shrine, painted red and decorated with slats, shelves holding candles and pots. It is built over a stone shape which is visible only at the base where it enters the ground.

Asao taps his staff head inside the roof of the shrine so gently sound a hidden bell. "As with the temple on the mountain's summit, this religious place has been preserved." He looks up to the glowing light shining from above.

"I can't see the roof," Adam observes, gazing where the branches cannot reach across.

"The ceiling has its own light-source, powered by energy stored from the sun." Haruki tells him, "It is day in here when it is night outside, there is rain when it is humid, the waterfall recycles the minerals in the pool which in turn feeds the animals."

Annalise thinks to herself. She looks at the sculptured blocks -figures with skeletal faces, holding forward offerings to the shrine of their gods.

Asao takes this calm, quiet opportunity to try and get Adam alone. "If you'd like some time to reflect on matters, my son could continue on with your assistant." He suggests.

Adam checks his watch before answering. "No, its alright, I'd rather we all stay together."

"Very well," replies Asa. "You still have the hangar to see. We should finish tonight as Dr Foster could call us back at any time."

They agree and return to the chill of the passages. The steel-framed route left is built to uphold this crumbling end of the ruins. The floor has gridded plating and runs toward a narrowing metal staircase, down and round right to a final secure door. A red alarm light shines from the corner above, pipes and cables running through the walls give the area a confined submarine feel.

The door "chunks" and heaves to one side, a few more steps down beyond it lead the group into a great concrete space. This hangar-bay, with arching roof and reinforced vertical struts reaches to a great sliding panel opening to the outside.

Along the left side is storage and parking spaces for loading and transport vehicles. A truck rests in one area. Behind its bright yellow cab is a flat-bed full of containers. Two upright fork-lift poles each holds a yellow loading arm in place, these point forward with a grabbing pincer claw at the front end.

To the right of hangar is the training deck for military personnel. It is fitted with weapons racks and armour lockers, with a second floor above forming the boarding quarters with rows of beds, showers and mess.

The group has reached the far end by the long metal panel which is now ratcheting across on a chain-system. As the gap widens, the moon-light creeps through. Outside, the solid ground continues away as an acre-square training area. The sides have more parking units which are sheltered and hidden by weathered tiled roofs. At the far end is a high wall which holds back the surrounding woodland hills.

Two small white craft are parked at the foot of this wall. They each have three tripod legs and thrust pods either side by the pilots cockpit.

Annalise whispers to her boss. "Is there anything they don't have?"

Adam has already wondered this and about the Yutani Corporation's far surpassing strengths over his own. He watches Asao, who is looking to the shadows on the hills above, where a cannon rotates on its base tracking their movements.

A strong wind blows through the valley, the night air is a fresh reminder of the late hour. On the gushing breath rides a faint sound, churning beneath the clouds until it is close enough to be seen. The clear full-moon is suddenly blocked out, covered by a dark, winged body.

The people below back away as they stare at the shape above them. Two sets of lights flicker beams down to guide for landing. The craft lowers in the centre of the pitch, easing gently as a vehicle below it is steered down.

Four locking clamps release the load down before tilting up and setting itself over to one side. The heavily armoured vehicle grinds its wheels to reverse and park. A chunky panel gripping the driver's side thunders across the rear wheel like a shield to show a dark opening.

A voice inside shouts orders as a stream of combat-ready soldiers storm out and assemble in an orderly line inside the hangar bay.

Their Sergeant steps out, only pausing for a moment to salute Asao as he follows inside. This group of twelve is a varied mixture of race and culture. Clearly competent and attentive to perform well as a team.

"These are the best I know," Asao states proudly. "Hand-picked men and women with prominent talents for discipline and quick-thinking."

Adam remains by the vehicle, studying the design. A narrow front window is set in deep at the front, here, the body forms a jutting angle. Forward ram-bars are finished with inset headlights, and low spikes pointing out low to clear a path through obstructions. The roof has minimal transmitters, with a thick barrier protecting a long, double-barrelled gun-turret lying flat against the roof until it is needed. The bulky wheels have deep plated tracks and reach the height of Adam's shoulders.

"I'm certainly impressed by the hardware," he compliments. "But how do these marines serve your company? You already have security which would put most weapons developers to shame."

"They are currently based here to train, with access to these prototype weapons and vehicles." Asao explains. "But eventually they will perform to protect our investments into space exploration, both on Earth and out to the stars. I certainly don't intend to risk my investments to the chance of a Yautja attack."

Adam finds it difficult to criticise, feeling out of his depth in the company of a man preparing to fight off aliens. He rubs his neck, feeling tired after such an eventful day.

Asao notices, "We have prepared quarters for your overnight stay. I trust you are as eager to see the doctor's results."

Annalise has mixed feelings about the Yutani empire. All of this power and all of the secrets, they may be sharing them now but she isn't prepared to drop her guard. She watches Haruki, disciplined to obey without question, does the company heir share his father's arrogance?

Returning to the hangar, they pass the marines who are off-loading their weapons onto the racks. A group of them are sparring on some gym mats,

by which Asao stops as an idea comes to him.

An Hispanic female marine initiates a fight with an African-American man. She takes a stance with her arms awaiting him.

"I'll give you one free shot." She calls.

The man chuckles at the challenge, flexing his muscular frame. He locks eyes with her and darts forward throwing a tight fist. The lady arches back as the arm sweeps the air by her face. She grabs hold of his arm at the elbow and clutches his trouser belt fast, leaning her weight low against his to throw the man to the ground.

"Martinez you little bitch," he shouts. "Can't you take a punch?"

He hears a cough from his team-mates and turns to see that Asao's party were watching his defeat. Martinez reaches her hand to pull him to his feet and they get in line to salute their employer.

"I have a thought," Asao remarks to his guests. "Before you retire to your rooms. Adam, you mentioned that Miss Richards was trained under Max Stafford. Would it be too much to ask for a demonstration?"

"At this time?" Adam objects.

Annalise unzips her jacket without question. "Fine with me sir," she answers, to the clear satisfaction of Asao.

The marines clear the mat and watch her tie her hair back tightly, stripping down to a white vest and her navy blue trousers. They share comments, quietly chuckling to themselves at their prospective opponent. Adam joins his hosts at the opposite end corners, trying to hold back his yawns he shows little concern for his assistant.

"Wouldn't you prefer to do this tomorrow?" he asks.

"I missed my evening jog," she replies. "I could do with the exercise." She stretches her hands to her feet and warms up, shaking her arms vigorously to motivate some energy.

The corporal in the marine line taps the defeated man on the back. "Mayweather, see if you can do better this time!"

"No problem," he answers, returning to his position.

Adam is unflinched by the situation. He knows the talents of his staff, this could be Asao's turn to be surprised. Mayweather claws the air, snarling at Annalise to provoke a worried look on her pretty face. He gets no reaction.

The man leaps forward with his head low to knock her off-balance. She stays firm bringing a fist thumping down on his spine, sweeping her left leg high before striking it to collapse him. The other marines jeer at Mayweather to get up, while Annalise flips through the air behind him. He stumbles to rise, only realising where she's gone as he feels his feet swept form under him to send him toppling face-first to the floor.

He holds his jaw in pain. "She's fast- I'll give her that!"

"You klutz!" Martinez shouts at him. "I'll drop her!"

Annalise looks to Adam for an approving nod, she sees the Yutanis enjoying the display like rich-suits at a strip show.

"Aerobatics aren't a lethal combat." The female marine tells her. "Save that for the circus."

Martinez aims multiple leg kicks slicing towards Annalise's head. All are near misses as she dodges, backing away to the end of the mat. She reverts to blocking with her arms before dropping down to slide beneath.

Martinez jumps out of the way, twisting in the air to come down with a knee aimed at her opponent's stomach. Annalise rolls to avoid and flips backwards to her feet. She feels her head yanked as her hair is grabbed by the vicious combatant.

Leaping as she turns, Annalise rams two feet against Martinez's hips, kicking out to send her down back-first. The P.A. is left standing smartly, straightening her hair and saluting back to her fallen foe.

The lady sneers back, before showing a forgiving smile. "You've got some style ma'am."

Asao claps his cane against his palm to congratulate the victory. Adam hands the jacket back to his assistant, "Like I said, I'm glad you're here Anna."

As the base is closed down for the night, the guests are shown to private rooms near to those of Asao and his son. Sleep is difficult with the thought of the awaiting births. Nearby, Asao remains awake, sitting in his office, bars of pale blue light shine through the thick metal window shutter beside him. His mind is plagued by a stream of concerns and anxiety- he has such plans and hopes.

Back out, away down a wide black staircase, deep down to the main corridor and through to the labs, two staff member work on. Dr Foster adds to his notes, making regular checks on the chamber contents.

The empty eggs have been removed, Phelps returns to his side, "You called doctor."

"Yes Mr Phelps. Our friends have departed."

The man meekly peers into the chamber to see the cats lying free, the Facehuggers are upturned and lifeless beside them.

"Collect the specimens up for dissection." The doctor directs.

Phelps nods reluctantly. He gathers two shallow containers and activates the door. Dr Foster watches over his glasses as the young technician apprehensively approaches the first disturbing form, placing a container beside it and gliding his gloved hands beneath the stemming fingers. Lifting the weight, he moves it across and lowers it gently into the dissection tray. Finally taking the limp Length of tail and laying it around the body.

He sighs with self appraisal. "One down..."

"Phelps," the doctor calls. "You don't have all night."

Panicked by the demanding voice, he holds his breath to repeat the process. The second hugger is slumped sideways over itself. Phelps reaches forward with a stainless steel pincer tool, taking the tail where it meets two lung-shaped sacks.

The eights legs quiver. "It moved!" he exclaims with surprise, moving to escape.

"Just a reflex action." Comes the doctor's reply. "Hurry up!"
The man laughs to himself. "Get a grip," he whispers, bravely leaning close to kneel right over the creature. "Ugly little beast." He observes the mess of slimy flesh.

Dr Foster hears only silence. He waits, before stepping off his stool and moving to the window.

BANG! Phelps knocks backwards against the hardened glass. He blindly stumbles to the door to get out. The doctor simply watches as the man turns with the monster attached tightly to his face. Phelps grasps at its tail which is wrapped defiantly around his throat. His muffled attempts to call for help are inaudible as his suffocated form keels over, dropping to the deck.

The doctor kneels close, his blank face clear of emotion to the event.

As I expected. You're a little different aren't you." He speaks to the specimen. "Two embryos instead of one. Thank-you for volunteering Mr Phelps!"


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