The Tragedy of the Species
by Shannon Snyder
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
I was in the garden that summer with Zeke; he was playfully throwing small berries at the side of my head and I was flicking soil back at him, when Davis shouted from inside, “Hurry! Come listen to this! You guys, come on!” Everyone centered around a voice on the other end of our radio.
The voice said, “Ray, we’ve just been notified that they know your location! They got the info out of some former neighbor of yours! They’ll be taking a small ship to Alaska, and it won’t take long. You need to move! ETA: two hours. There are rumors that you’ve made tetradoxine, and they’re investigating. Ray, do you read me?” Everyone stared at Dad. The transmission blurred and died out in my panic. They were coming for him, and it wouldn’t be long.
“Oh my God,” he exhaled. “We need to make a plan. Right now. Taylor, go grab the explosives, and be careful with them. We’re going to need some firepower if we want to have a chance against them!”
Dad must have let it slip somehow in an outgoing transmission that he had synthesized tetradoxine, and I could see his shoulders sag like the weight of a thousand pounds had just been placed onto his back.
We went to the hills outside of town, to a large cave where we could lie in waiting. Davis had brought rifles and pistols to distribute between all of us.
Within the cave, Davis laid out our plan, his dark eyes shifting calmly between all of us. “Okay, we need to split off into separate caverns. We know that they can’t see jack, including the lights on our headlamps, and their echolocation gets thrown off in confined spaces, so we have that goin’ for us.
“Taylor, you and Ray hide in this small exit passage. It eventually leads to the outside, and it’s too small for any alien to pass through. I’ll be with Zeke in the main tunnel.
“What I’m thinking is that if we lie in waiting, make some commotion in this tunnel,” He pointed to one of the maps “to lure the aliens there, somebody will throw a grenade, either killing ’em or trapping ’em if the tunnel collapses.
“Basically this is what we gotta do: hide and wait, kill the ugly bastards here once they’re deep in the main tunnel, and move further north before others can come.”
Silence ensued as dread filled my stomach. Dad spoke up. “Let’s split up. Everyone hide, be as still as you can. They’ll be here soon.”
I followed Dad into the small passageway off of the main tunnel. Realizing the gravity and finality of his world, hot tears filled my eyes in the darkened cavern, and I gave my father the first hug I’d given him in a long time. Even amidst a world filled with monsters, I had become one myself. I wanted him to know that I wasn’t angry anymore, and I was sorry. Without a word, the message was received.
Together, we sat waiting for nearly an hour, the dank stench of the tunnel filling my nostrils, making me anxious to get out. The waiting was nearly insufferable; I glued myself to the wall of the tunnel, my senses heightened. We were like trapped animals that had just realized their situation and were desperate to find a way out. Every sound startled me and sent shivers through my body, even a drip of water from the cave’s roof. Suddenly, the drips were replaced by a commotion at the mouth of the cave.
There was a group of ten of them, their claws scratching on the rock floor outside of the cave, searching every possible corner of Talkeetna and zeroing in on us.
The first of them came shuffling past Zeke and Davis as they pressed themselves against the rocks of the cave. My hand covered my mouth; I didn’t dare breathe. I saw one stop and seem to stare directly at Zeke, his headlamp shining on its empty features.
My eyes widened, my pulse accelerated, and my chest felt it wanted to collapse. I hadn’t ever seen an alien in the flesh. I looked at Zeke from around the corner of the small passage I was in, his eyes warned, Do. Not. Move. It turned its hideous features away, shuffled towards Davis on the other side of the cave, and more began to come through, scanning, searching.
They were all ahead of us now, venturing further into the tunnel. Suddenly Davis stood up, threw a grenade toward them. They all snapped back, sensing his movement. The Swarm raced to us, and the grenade exploded, sending Davis and several of the Swarm flying up to hit the cave ceiling. However, there wasn’t even a tremor to be felt through the wall; our first attempt to collapse the cave on the Swarm had failed.
The remainder of them were confused, their echolocation rattled by the explosive. Zeke rushed out to grab Davis’s limp body, and began dragging him towards the mouth of the cave.
What Zeke didn’t see was the alien, with an odd, maroon scar over its face, starting to regain its composure behind him. The next moment was chaos. Zeke was flung into the wall by the creature’s long, spindly legs, and I ran toward him, fueled by rage.
I jumped onto the insect-like back of the one who had swatted Zeke, pounding the butt of my pistol into its skull. Behind me, Dad screamed at the creatures to lure them his way. He ran towards the main entrance, firing his gun with the hope that the Swarm’s senses would be thrown off by the ricochets or that a bullet would injure one.
I saw this happening in slow motion, and although my mind was processing none of it, my body was reacting. I pulled out what I had secretly hidden away in my pocket, one of the special adhesive explosives Dad and I had made. Before being thrown off the creature’s back by its wild convulsions, I attached the bomb to its skin.
I landed with a rough thud on the rock floor, and through the pain shooting up my arm I felt a sense of overwhelming relief when Zeke helped me up. He was unhurt. The swarm moved past us in a silent fleet, not even noting our presence now that their target had identified himself.
The Swarm moved in unison, closing in on Dad in that large cavern.
“Get out now! It’s me they want! Taylor, get to safety now!” he chanted over and over again.
My heartbeat went from bursting out of my chest to sinking into the pit of my stomach. I saw what Dad had planned, probably this whole time. He was sacrificing himself, and the trigger had already been pulled. I grabbed Zeke’s arm in a desperate plea for support, knowing full well what I needed to do.
“Come on, Taylor! We can’t stop now!” Zeke urged as our eyes locked, the finality of the situation sealed. We raced towards the small escape passageway, the aliens not even bothering to give us the chase. Dad was priority. I looked back to see him sprinting to the main exit of the cave, and then the explosive went off.
There was an ominous rumble from overhead. The Swarm stopped in their tracks for a brief moment while their echolocation registered this strange movement from above, and they scrambled towards the exit, one of them holding Dad between its claws.
Dust and pebbles began to rain down first, and within seconds chunks of stone slabs followed. Zeke and I reached the sunlight of the exit and breathed a deep gulp of fresh air, before one final, thunderous shattering of stone within the cave. Some of the aliens had made it out and scattered back to their small craft. I exhaled incredulously as I saw one ugly, maroon scarred face retreat.
Its body must be low on tetradoxine by now, I thought to myself. And then I remembered the explosive I had adhered to its body; one of the particularly potent ones Dad and I had created, set to detonate upon detection of large amounts of tetradoxine. It had been created in our final months before this day, hoping that it could somehow be used on an alien who would eventually return to the Hive, or to end our own lives if the Swarm released tetradoxine into our atmosphere.
Under the hazy sky, Zeke put his arm around my shoulders, I cried silently for Dad and Davis, and we waited to see the mushroom cloud bubble up on the horizon, signaling the destruction of the Hive.
Copyright © 2015 by Shannon Snyder