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Ghosts of Erebus (part ten): Beauty and the Beast
Posted By: Chuckles
Date: 24 February 2005, 7:37 PM

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Ghosts of Erebus (part ten): Beauty and the Beast

"Marissa!" Sagus yelled, running through the maze of offices and labs. A scream of pure terror echoed through the corridors in response, nearer than before, and even more frightened. Run! Suddenly seeing the control room, David crashed through the door, lunged for the control panel, and turned off every light in the complex—plunging them into darkness but making the creature visible.

"AHHHH!" Marissa's voice pierced the air, full of fresh horror. "Oh God please! Davahhhhhhhhhhhhh!"

Tearing through the hallway blind, running his hand along the wall, he found a door and dove into it. Not her! Please, not her! Exiting through an opposite doorway, he saw a dark shadow moving several offices down, towards the lab. Impossibly black, it stood out easily in the normal darkness. Bouncing off walls and tripping over chairs, Sagus tried desperately to reach her before it was too late. He could not let Marissa die—not like this. Suddenly his foot caught on something and he fell forward, smashing his head into a wall. Bitter reality began to drift away, slowly replaced by bitter dreams.

Lieutenant David Sagus had arrived on the planet only twelve hours previous. ONI had sent the young intelligence officer to investigate a discovery that, if proved true, could change the course of the war. Because science had failed to produce material strong enough to repel plasma, the Covenant's main weapon, ONI had turned to nature for the answer. The Biological Shield Search Initiative, better known as BeSSI, had been operating below the radar since the early thirties. The program had one mission: to seek out life forms that were able to live in extreme heat. ONI had no illusions—BeSSI was the longest of longshots. But they also knew that unless the humans caught a break, the Covenant would eventually win the war.

In May of 2547, after fifteen years of fruitless searching, BeSSI finally had a promising lead. Cradle was an Earth-sized terrestrial planet circling the star Delta Leonis. An almost non-existent atmosphere and an extremely slow rotation period (once every eleven months) meant that while one side of Cradle baked in temperatures of over five-hundred degrees Celsius, the other side could dip as low as minus three-hundred. When probes sent by BeSSI picked up movement on the hot side of the planet which was consistent with that of living creatures, a team was immediately dispatched. Five years later they sent word: they had something—something unbelievable.

As he arrived at the facility on the surface of Cradle, Lieutenant Sagus was full of anticipation. Sent by ONI to confirm BeSSI's initial claims and return to Earth with evidence, David knew he could be witnessing the turning point of the war. At the very least, he would get a chance to return to Sol for the first time in six years; and the young intelligence officer ached to see Earth again. After all, who knew how long she would last? Entering the mobile complex, a massive facility the size of a city block, Sagus was dumbfounded. Although it looked like something alien from the outside, the inside looked no different than some of the buildings on Reach. He was standing in what looked like a small living room with clear glass walls. A tall, thin man in a white lab coat hurried through the door, and smiled warmly.

"Ah, Lieutenant, you're finally here." Reaching out and shaking his hand, he said, "I'm Dr. Tom Ickes, Project Leader. I can not tell you how good it is to see a fresh face." Looking into the man's hollow, weary eyes David remembered his other task on Cradle—evaluating the mental health of the researchers. Five years on an isolated, distant planet can wreak havok on even the strongest minds.

"Thank you sir. Glad to be on solid ground. I hope the news is still good."

"Yes, yes," the scientist answered, nodding so emphatically that his straight, black hair bounced on his head. "In fact, we have a demonstration ready. You arrived just in time. The other seven are already waiting."

"Seven? I thought there were ten scientists in your group."

The smile vanished from Ickes' face. "Tragically, we lost two people this week to heart attacks."

Heart attacks? Sagus knew that you had to be in nearly flawless physical condition to be considered for a BeSSI planetary research team. Losing two scientists in one week was reason to be concerned. "Don't you find that a bit strange, Doctor?"

Apparently insulted by the question, Ickes responded in the manner of an impatient teacher. "Lieutenant, we have been on this planet for over five years. This facility may seem large to you, but trust me, after a year you would know and hate every square inch of it. I'm surprised that we have lost only two. Now, if you would please follow me, the other scientists are waiting for us in the main laboratory."

Turning his back to Sagus, the scientist exited the room and headed down a hallway. In stark contrast to the offices, the doors and walls in the laboratory section were not glass, but thick slabs of Titanium-A. Dr. Ickes pushed a button on the wall and a door opened; swinging in like the entrance to a massive vault. The room was large with shiny walls and ceilings about three meters high. Inside, the scientists, six men and one woman, stood from their chairs. The woman was attractive with long, red hair: when she saw the Lieutenant, she nearly fell over.

"David?" Sagus froze.

"Marissa?" David stared, as if gazing at a ghost. "I can't believe it."

Dr. Ickes, obviously irritated by the delay, tried to move the reunion along. "So you two know each other?" David vividly remembered the six months of his adult life when he had not been moving around constantly—the six months when he had almost gotten married.

"Yes," Marissa answered, glancing down at the ring on her finger, "we know each other." Raising her large, green eyes again, she looked at David. "They still got you running all over the galaxy, Lieutenant?"

Dropping his gaze to the floor, Sagus spoke softly. "Still." This is getting awkward. He turned to face Ickes. "Sorry Doctor, please continue."

The scientist pushed a button and a video screen came to life on the wall. "This is live feed from the holding room," Ickes tapped the wall beside the screen, "which is on the other side of half a meter of Titanium-A." Seeing that Sagus was sufficiently impressed, he went on. "The room is a five-meter cube capable of simulating temperatures equal to either side of Cradle. So, Lieutenant, what do you think?"

David stared at the screen, but saw nothing. "Impressive. Where is the specimen?" Ickes smiled, and then hit a button, turning the light off in the holding room. Now he saw it.

What in the—

"Let me give you some background, Lieutenant."

"Yes," David said, unable to wrench his eyes from the screen, "I'd appreciate that."

They took their seats again as Ickes spoke. "From the beginning we had hoped to find one of the creatures on this side of the planet—preferably frozen. Nothing moves in the deep freeze on the dark side of Cradle, which makes our motion detectors useless. The sensors on our remote search units can detect the slightest anomaly in terrain." Chuckling in disgust, Ickes smiled cynically. "But since we have only fifty units to search an area equal to almost half of the surface of the Earth, you can see why it took us five years." The other scientists nodded and mumbled agreement.

"Ironically, it was an equipment failure that caused us to locate the creatures. Two months ago one the lights broke on one of the search units. As we were flying it back to the facility, we noticed that the landscape was pockmarked with inky-black spots that were visible in the dark. We investigated, and found that these were the frozen creatures. Unbelievably, they do not reflect light." Walking over to the screen, Ickes pointed at the blob in the middle of the dark room. "It is about a meter long and sixty centimeters thick. On the other side of the planet, however, they range from three to fifteen meters long, and two to eight meters thick. We keep the room at the same temperature as the cold side of Cradle. Once thawed, we have no idea of the creature's capabilities."

"Then you haven't tested it?"

"Once. It was a complete success—" For a moment Sagus thought he saw fear in Ickes' expression, but only for a moment. "—but it grew after it was heated by the plasma we used to test it. When we brought it here it was less than half of that size." The scientist was quiet for a moment, and then continued. "Now we will test it again. Eddie, hit it with a burst." A short man with dark, brown hair got up from his seat and went to a control panel at the right of the display. Suddenly the video went bright, as a captured Covenant weapon was fired into the creature. Staring in complete awe, Sagus felt his pulse quicken. The plasma washed over the shape and then flowed off its surface like water.

"Once more, Ed." Another shot, and the same results. No penetration or damage from the plasma.

This is it. David thought, This is what we have been looking for.

As the light from the plasma dissipated the creature again became visible, like a black void in space—only something had changed. Staring at the screen, they were all silent, except for one scientist who muttered an expletive. It had grown again, at least tripling in size. More than that, it was now moving.

"Okay, Eddie," Ickes said, breaking the awful silence and startling the entire group, "Kill the screen, and lower the temperature."


"Just do it Ed.." Flashing a faint smile, Dr. Ickes addressed Sagus. "As you can see the plasma had no effect on the creature and—"

"I wouldn't say that there was no effect, Doctor." David Sagus had a backbone as strong as the titanium beneath his feet, and he was not about to let this scientist fast-talk him. "You did see it grow, didn't you?"

Ickes' response was not friendly. "Yes, Lieutenant, I did."

"Good, Doctor. It seemed for a moment that you missed that. I suppose that you also saw it move?"

"What is your point, Lieutenant?"

Rising from his chair, David looked Ickes straight in the eye. "You've been trying to cram sunshine down my throat since I've arrived, and I'm sick of it. Give me all the facts, Doctor—good and bad—or I'll appoint someone else Project Leader." Sagus turned his attention to Ed. "Dr. Kurt, why did you protest when asked to lower the temperature?"

Ickes stared at Ed, speaking volumes with his eyes. "Umm . . . "

David was starting to get upset. "Dr. Kurt, will the temperature go any lower?"

"No," was the sheepish reply.

"So you aren't quite the liar that Tom is, are you?"

Snap! Tossing aside the veneer of civility, Ickes charged over, shaking his fist in David's face. "Wait just a minute, you worthless—"

Having spent six years in Naval Special Forces before joining ONI, Sagus' response was automatic. Before the scientist knew what had happened, he was kissing the cold, metal wall with his arm was twisted painfully behind his back. "Consider yourself demoted, Doctor." Then whispering so that only Ickes could hear, he added, "Your stupidity has endangered everyone in this facility, including somebody that I care very much about. If you so much as poke your nose in my face again, I'll finish this fight. Got it?"


David released his grip, and the embarrassed scientist stormed out of the room. "Okay, Dr. Kurt, this is your project now. We need to talk, and I want Dr. Stanton to join us."

Ed looked confused. "Only Marissa? Why?"

"Because I know her and she won't lie to me." Dr. Kurt shook his head in disgust but held his tongue as Marissa came up beside Sagus.

"Well, boys, I'm starved so I suggest we have our discussion over dinner. C'mon," she said grabbing David's arm, "I'll take you to my favorite restaurant—my treat."

Had the video screen been left on, rather than walking to dinner, they would have been running to the escape capsule. But the screen was off and few things are more comforting than ignorance. Behind the thick wall something was growing and coming to life—something that was beyond the prodding and toying of men. Something evil.

Several minutes later they were sitting in what looked like a family rec room. A couch and two large, comfortable chairs surrounded a table with games stacked beneath it—games the crew had gotten sick of years ago. Ed and Marissa sat on the couch and David sat in a chair on the other side of the table. Although Dr. Kurt was surprisingly good at small talk, getting useful information from the homesick scientist was like pumping water from a frozen well. While Ed was no liar, he could hardly help being biased—if this test was not accepted, there was no telling when he would leave Cradle. Thus, it was two hours into the conversation before David heard anything of interest.

"You heard about the supposed heart attacks, didn't you David?" That earned her a sharp glance from Dr. Kurt.

Thank you, Marissa. "Yes, I have. It seemed a bit strange to me."

"It gets stranger." A shadow seemed to come over her face. "They both knew it was going to happen. They knew that they were going to die. They told me."

Shaking his head vigorously, Dr. Kurt cut her off. "Marissa, we have been over that already. We—"

"No," David said, silencing Ed with a hard glance, "I want to hear this. Marissa, they told you how they would die?"

"Uh huh, right down to the place we found them." Fear made her voice tremble. "They even told me what their faces would look like—eyes and mouth wide, like they were screaming. They said that they dreamt about it every night." Looking straight at Ed, she added, "It started the night after our first plasma test. I wish we had never brought those creatures aboard."

"Creatures? You mean you have more than one?"

"Yes," Ed answered, "we have two. The one you saw, and another in a portable freezer."

"Okay." David decided to get right to the point. "Are you having any strange dreams, Dr. Kurt?"

Ed suddenly looked uncomfortable. "What do you expect? We've been stuck on this planet-sized yin-yang for over five years."

"You didn't answer my question."

"With all due respect, this conversation is getting extremely un-scientific. We are supposed to be discussing the possible uses of a creature that can actually repel plasma, but you would rather interpret dreams." Ed stood to his feet, as much to look down at Sagus as to leave. "Tom was losing his edge, Lieutenant. You were right to replace him, even with someone as unqualified as me. But don't take that to mean that I agree with you. This thing needs to be taken to Earth for study if we are going to have any chance of winning this war—and you are wasting our time."

Sagus tried to soften his tone. "I understand Ed, but—"

"Sorry, Lieutenant, but I'm going to bed. Unless, of course, you're going to beat me up like you did Tom?"

This guy really is on the edge. "Okay, Dr. Kurt, I'll see you in the morning." Without a word, the scientist left the room and shut the door behind him. Finally alone, David looked deeply into Marissa's face for the first time, only then noticing how fatigued she was.

"Maybe you should get some rest, Marissa. You look exhausted."

Her eyes sparkled. "I really look that bad?"

David smiled. "I never said you looked bad, just tired." He shook his head. "I can't believe you are still wearing that ring."

"Oh, does that bother you, Lieutenant?"

"No, not a bit. It looks good on you."

"For your information," she lied, "it happens to come in very handy surrounded by lonely men, fifty-eight light-years from Earth. Now that they've seen you, I'll have to come up with a new story."

Sagus shrugged. "That's up to you, of course, but I like the old one . . . most of it anyway." It had been so long, and he had so many things to say to her—most starting with "I'm sorry". But he had never seen her this tired and to continue the conversation, he reasoned, would be the height of selfishness. "You really do need to get some sleep, Marissa. It looks like you haven't had any rest in days."

Her smile melted away. "It's been almost two weeks."

"Two weeks? Why?"

"David, why is it you can see through everyone else so easily, but not me?" Tears began to form in the corners of her eyes, and a moment later Sagus understood.


She began crying softly, and it was more than David could take. Getting up from his chair, he sat on the couch next to her—reflexively holding her head to his chest. Of all the women he had ever known, Marissa was the strongest—both physically and mentally. Something had happened to her, something awful.

"I-I—" she stammered

"Shhh. Calm down, hon. It can wait." Without realizing it, he was stroking Marissa's long, red hair and kissing the top of her head, as if their six years of separation had been no more than a few days. After a couple of minutes she lifted her head and pulled away.

"You still have the touch," she said, wiping her face and smiling sadly. Near tears himself, David looked at the floor.


"This doesn't make it any easier to say. It would be better if you didn't care." Tears began streaming down Marissa's face, but as David reached out to hold her, she pulled away. "My dreams are horrible, like Mark and Ted's" She shook her head back and forth, and began to tremble. "O-only w-w-worse."

Worse? What could be worse? "What happens in your dreams?"

"My death."

David kept his voice calm. "Honey, I want you to tell me what happens."


"I think that you need to talk about it."

"No!" She fell face down on the couch, crying even harder.

"Marissa, I am here to get information on this creature. If you think that these dreams have anything to do with it, I need to know."

Slowly sitting up, she wiped her face again and then nodded slightly. "Okay, you're right." She took a deep breath. "When I was only six I had a pet cat that got torn in half by a car. Afterwards I had nightmares where I was about to get killed the same way, but of course I woke up before it happened. It seems silly now, but it haunted me for years." Again, she took a deep breath. "Ever since the night that we first tested the creature, I have been having a similar dream . . . only now I see myself die . . . and . . . "

"And what?"

"And," her face wrinkled in pain, "and there is someone—something there with me, enjoying my death. I've never felt such hatred . . . such evil. Don't you see? I'm being taunted by my greatest fear! Something or someone is . . . " her voice trailed off as she started crying harder. Slipping slowly into panic, Marissa began to shake her head, jerking it from side to side, causing her long hair to cling to her tear-moistened face. Again, David reached out to her, and this time she did not resist, but wept like a child in his arms.

"Shhhh." He whispered, holding her close, "I'm not going to let that happen to you, honey. I'm not going to let anything happen to you."

"Please, don't make any more promises." Twisting her head, she looked up at him with pleading, tear-stained eyes. "Stop talking and just hold me."

Late that night, David sat up, suddenly wide-awake. What a horrible dream. His sheets and bedclothes were soaked in sweat, and his heart was racing. Nightmares were nothing new to the young intelligence officer, but this one had been so real that he still felt the pain, and could almost see the wounds. Nervously running his fingers through his hair, David tried to calm himself down. Just a dream, man. Just a dream. Reaching over to turn on the light, he noticed something—something he had seen before. A thick, red liquid was seeping under the door and forming a puddle by the entrance. Sagus already knew that it was blood—the blood of Dr. Tom Ickes. He also knew that the body on the other side of the door had been torn to pieces as if by a demon. This was the way his dream had begun—this had been the beginning of the nightmare.

Within moments David was running down the hall barefoot, towards the lab. Oh crap. A hole had been burned through the titanium measuring at least three meters across—and it lead into the hallway. Marissa! As he began to run towards her room, Sagus heard a hideous cry from somewhere in front of him which gathered strength and horror as it echoed off of the cold, metal walls. Finally entering the living area, he saw door after door, melted clean through—all except Marissa's, which was flung open. As he stood at her doorway he suddenly felt an awful presence that paralyzed him with terror. He was now a child at Halloween, lost in a big, scary haunted house—only this one was real.


Revived by the sound of Marissa's voice, Sagus yelled, "I'm here, by your room! Where are you!"

"David, help!" Spinning around in the hallway, Sagus tried to figure out what direction her voice was coming from, but it was seemingly coming from everywhere. He knew one thing—she was not about to return to this part of the complex. Involuntarily muttering a prayer, he picked a direction and ran.

"Marissa!" Sagus yelled, running through the maze of offices and labs. A scream of pure terror echoed through the corridors in response, nearer than before, and even more frightened. Run! Suddenly seeing the control room, David crashed through the door, lunged for the control panel, and turned off every light in the complex—plunging them into darkness but making the creature visible.

"AHHHH!" Marissa's voice pierced the air, full of fresh horror. "Oh God please! Davahhhhhhhhhhhhh!"

Tearing through the hallway blind, running his hand along the wall, he found a door and dove into it. Not her! Please, not her! Exiting through an opposite doorway, he saw a dark shadow moving several offices down, towards the lab. Impossibly black, it stood out easily in the normal darkness. Bouncing off walls and tripping over chairs, Sagus tried desperately to reach her before it was too late. He could not let Marissa die—not like this. Suddenly his foot caught on something and he fell forward, smashing his head into a wall. Bitter reality began to drift away . . .

David's eyes darted in panic as he woke in total darkness. Remembering that he had been in an office, he found the desk and searched the drawers with his hands. Finding a flashlight, he clicked it on and swept the room. It was only then that he saw what he had tripped on earlier. Marissa lay dead on the floor—exactly as she had dreamed. She was the only woman that David had ever loved, and he had failed her in every possible way. Kneeling down by her head, he ran his fingers through her hair one last time and wept. She had trusted him to protect her—and she had died screaming his name.

Moments after the Pelican left the ground, Rhinox heard Sagus moving around in the back. Putting the controls on automatic, he went into the rear and found the poor wretch weeping; so hard in fact, that he had fallen off of the chair. As the Spartan lifted him, he saw something shiny fall out of David's tattered pocket. An engagement ring? Oh, he has a sweetheart.

Kneeling next to Sagus, Rhinox tried to comfort him. "Don't you worry, Lieutenant, we'll get you fixed up and back to your girl in no time. You have my word." Taking a moment, the Spartan thought about the horrors the intelligence officer had obviously endured at the hands of Thanaotos—endured and survived. Yes, that Lieutenant is made of some pretty tough stuff. "Sir," Rhinox said as he tucked the ring back into David's pocket, "that is one lucky girl."

C.T. Clown