NEW FILE LOADED

STRANDED: ACHTHERIM

ANALYSIS OF STRANDED: CHARON COMPLETE

STATUS: UNPREDICTABLE AND LIABLE TO INCREASE UNACCEPTABLY IN THREAT LEVEL

TESTING CEASED

NEW DIRECTIVE FOR CHARON: TERMINATION OR CONTROL

ACTIVATING IMPLANTS

INITIATING DIRECTIVE THREE-BETA, TARGET ASPHODEL

ATTACK COMMENCING


It began with vibration.

Shadow woke from the coma-like state that passes for sleep among Aliens, and realised that the entire ship was shaking.

The Hive woke instantly, ready to respond to any new threat.

The humans were slower to wake up and realise the situation, but soon both crews of the Charon were looking for the cause of the disturbance.

Shadow moved to the gash in the cargo bay, and saw that the vibration was almost solely based around the Charon.

Everyone started to move, moving away from the Charon, regardless of the perils of the local wildlife.

That was why not all of them died instantly.

The shockwave knocked Shadow flat, and with his all-round vision he saw that the Charon had exploded in a hail of shrapnel. Something rose out from the wreckage, something huge terrifying.

But he couldn't concentrate on that, because of the all-consuming pain.

He knew that he himself was not injured, so where was this pain coming from?

¬No! Not this way! We aren't ready!¬

The force of the Queen's mental roar almost knocked him over again.

Jake stared at the Aliens, all of them cowering or writhing as though in agony. Nothing seemed to be wrong with them, but…

And then he realised what was missing from the scene. The one Alien he had never seen, because She had hidden away in the air vents. The Queen had been inside the Charon when it had been destroyed.

>Get her out! Now!> shrieked Shadow. >She's alive! She –>

¬No.¬

The pain was still there, but they were cut off from it.

¬Too late, little Shadow. I'm dying. You will have to guide the Hive now, you and Spiketail. The rest of them are good creatures, but they don't have the strength to guide the Hive. And I may not be able to see the future, but I think that you will not be able to find the resting place that they would need to begin the transformation. Look after them…¬

>NO!>

And with that, the pain was gone. And something else was gone, too, leaving a great vacuum that could not be filled.

Some cold, scientific part of his mind thought that it was the Queen that held a Hive together. Without Her, they were just well-organised predators.

Tall, bipedal creatures in heavy armour leapt from the huge hole in the Charon. Long-barrelled weapons hung from two of their four arms, and the other two carried huge metallic claws. Red bolts spat from the weapons, shredding the ground around the Aliens and humans.

The knowledge that they were under attack wakened the Hive from its torpor, and they leapt at their attackers with a fury that left nothing alive in its path. The creatures, heavily armed and armoured though they were, were no match for the unrestrained aggression of the Hive, and the dozen creatures were reduced to bloody shreds within seconds.

Jake stared in horror at the rampaging creatures, and then in terror when, as though they were all one, turned to face the colonists.

With an unearthly shriek, they charged. The deaths of the attackers had not sated their bloodlust, and in absence of anything else, their erstwhile allies provided a good target.

"Stop! Please!"

The Aliens slowed, and then stopped less than a metre from them.

"What an interesting kettle of fish we have here," said a new voice. "Congratulations on your destruction of those Cythera. They're one of the more dangerous opponents on Hades."

As though on turntables, everyone spun to face the newcomer.

On the edge of the clearing, a small band of humans wielding various weapons stood. At the head of the group was a tall man in a somewhat tattered military uniform.

"Captain Vathris Eveth, at your service," he said. "Newcomers, I presume?"

Jake nodded. "We only arrived yesterday, and already we've lost over half of our people, and our only shelter."

Vathris grinned. "Hades does that to anything it thinks is weak. Your ship didn't exactly look healthy before the Cythera destroyed it."

"Hades?" asked Holly.

"It's the name we've given this planet. Kind of suitable, really. This is the best definition of hell I've ever seen in a planet. Every local lifeform is more deadly than the last, and the Stranded are often just as dangerous. We're not alone here, you know. This place is covered in shipwrecks. Only the really strong and nasty survive. Including several Hives."

>More Hives?> asked Shadow.

Vathris jumped, and then smiled. "I should have guessed that you would be different to the cut-and-dried bugs we get here, with your relationship with these guys. Yes, we've counted three within a ten-kilometre radius of our ship. We don't usually dare go further." Something crashed in the forest, and then there was a high-pitched wail of pain. "That hulk of yours won't protect you now, so may I suggest you join us returning to our ship? Even in clearings like this, Hades isn't safe."


They tramped through the forest in a rough v-formation, with humans in the middle and the Aliens on the outside.

Vathris explained about the world and what they had learned about it so far, but Shadow and Spiketail only listened with half an ear.

>I don't like this. They're being too quiet, too obedient,> said Shadow privately, purposefully sending out as little force in the message as possible. >They could decide that they don't want to take orders from us anymore. At that point, who knows what would happen?>

>The Queen's last command that we guide the Hive will hold them for a while, but I can see the Praetorians getting edgy already. Soon they will demand that we stop and begin the Transformation. Spineback is beginning to enter the initial stages already,> replied Spiketail, indicating the biggest Praetorian.

They both observed Spineback in silence. Large and powerful for even a Praetorian, she was notoriously headstrong and had always shown a certain contempt for the drones.

>She's going to be trouble,> agreed Shadow. >Not just now, either. She will become the new Queen for certain. The other guard probably won't even challenge her. And once she does Transform, she won't listen to us. She'll only be concerned with the Hive, not its constituents or any friendships. The Charonites will be slaughtered like lambs. Regardless of any mental crises I may be going through, I don't want that. And I don't think you do either.>

Spiketail was silent for a very long time. >No. But what can we do? If we do anything to remove her from the competition, it'll rip the Hive apart. It's one united organism. Any internal conflict would destroy all of them.>

>I don't know.>

The forest suddenly opened out, and in front of them lay a massive ship. Clearly a military warship, it was easily four times the size of the Charon.

"This is our home. And yours too, now," said Vathris. "I don't know how the Hive would fit in, but if you set up camp nearby, I'm sure that no-one would mind too much."

"What's she called?" asked Jake.

Vathris was walking again, and seemed not to have heard the question.

The blast doors in the side opened, and the humans trooped inside.

"Come on in as well, you xenomorphs," called Vathris. "The crew wouldn't be happy with you staying on board, but a visit now should be fine."

The Hive moved onto the ship. As Shadow looked up just before entering the ship, he saw the nameplate.

Asphodel.

So there you have it. Thus ends Hades, first in the Hades Trilogy. Look out for the next instalment, coming soon: Asphodel. Hope to see you there…