An excerpt from

Survival

Ste Sharp

John concentrated on the left-hand screen and rubbed his forehead as the buttons he pressed refused to work in the same way they had done five minutes ago. He was desperate for answers but couldn’t make sense of the diagrams and numbers on the screen in front of him. Delta-Six had been able to read it and had pressed the buttons on the desk to change the symbols on the screen but he’d disappeared to search for more information.

‘We haven’t got long until the new soldiers are ready,’ Osayimwese hissed.

‘I know!’ Crossley replied before John could. ‘I’m still searching… Delta-Six said telomere latency, right?’

‘Yeah,’ John replied, vaguely remembering the conversation and Osayimwese nodded.

They had found records for other species brought in but they needed to find details on humans, Lutamek or Sorean, and transfer everything to the thin sliver of metal Ten-ten had given them. Just thinking about it gave John a headache, his reading had never been great and after he left school he hadn’t had much need for it delivering veg or defending his trench.

‘It would be quicker if Delta-Six was here,’ Osayimwese said.

‘Sure it would,’ Crossley replied, ‘but he’s off on another of his missions, so…’

John looked around the curved room for any tell-tale shadows. Rar-kin, the Sorean, was outside, tending the young Lutamek who had brought them up using the helium-filled sac on its back, so any shadow would belong to Delta-Six or one of the robotic Synchronisers who ran the building.

John stared through the rectangular window above the computer screen at the locked in ship. He was still amazed by the thought that he and his friends had gone through the same process these squid-like creatures had endured when woken from stasis. They were still being processed by the look of things, which bought them more time. 

‘Ah, what’s this?’ Crossley said and John leaned over to see a list of names, which he guessed he could read thanks to the translator fungus in his brain.

‘Looks like us,’ John said with a smile and tried to find his name.

‘Just save it to that… piece of metal,’ Osayimwese said.

‘Already on it,’ Crossley replied and slipped the grey sheet into the slot as Delta-Six had shown them. ‘Just move that there… and some more files here… Lutamek, Sorean, the new guys are the Tathon apparently… and here’s the Brakari,’ he gave John a wink. ‘Might as well have them too, eh?’

John looked away and wondered what had happened to Millok, or General Panzicosta? He revisited his right-hand screen which showed images, but a sound made him turn.

‘Do you hear that?’

‘Yes.’ Osayimwese was already in a defensive position, holding his spear and egg-shell dagger. ‘Someone is running this way.’

‘What do we do?’ John asked. ‘That’s the way back out.’

‘I’m still saving the information,’ Crossley said.

An elongated shadow appeared on the distant curved wall as the rapid footsteps came nearer, followed by a distant shout.

‘Retreat!’

‘That’s Delta-Six,’ John said and looked at Crossley, ‘come on, something’s up.’

‘Alright, alright!’ Crossley replied and pulled the metal sheet out of the computer.

Delta-Six rushed into view and sped up to them. ‘Come on, we’re running out of time!’

Crossley handed him the metal and ran his hand over it.

‘Is it the Synchronisers?’ Osayimwese asked.

‘No,’ Delta-Six replied, ‘I… there’s been a malfunction and I need to communicate with Command.’

A flashing light on one of the screens caught John’s eye and he saw an image of the new hilltop, now covered with the octopus-like creatures from the ship. They were all shaking and writhing in a way that reminded John of Doctor Cynigar, the Brakari who had mutated himself.

‘What happened?’ Crossley asked.

Delta-Six looked away as he spoke, ‘I… attempted an interface with the sequencing technology to understand how the rejuvenation process may have stimulated our mutations, only.’ He looked at each of the men. ‘I inadvertently increased the parameters and…’

‘You boosted the power?’ Crossley asked.

Delta-Six nodded. ‘We have to get out of here before the Synchronisers work out what’s happened.’

On the screen, John saw the results of the boost as the tentacle, large-eyes creatures’ bodies warped in size and shape as their mutated DNA struggled to assert itself.