04/07/17 New settlement time 14:56:07
I'm bored out of my mind! Which is why I'll now actually follow the advice of the good doctor What-was-her-name? and write a diary. Well, she thinks it'll help me to cope with trauma if I express my feelings in writing. Traùma, tau rho alpha upsilon mu alpha, is the Ancient Greek word for wound and, honestly, I can't see how expressing my feelings will help to heal the hole where a sizable chunk of flesh is missing in my left leg, but probably she meant it psychologically. Psychologically I'm tethering on the brink of madness, see first sentence. Which is, admittingly, caused by trauma, indirectly at least. The black beast came this close to getting me hamstrung, so now I mustn't put any strain on the leg until it's healed. Meaning I'm strictly confined to bed. For an indefinite amount of time, since it won't heal any time soon. Too much cauterization. No surprise there, the bug was practically drowning in its own drool, and while that's way better than blood, it's still one mean mo... Too much time around the soldiers, I think. Not that they would talk to a civilian, dear gods, such imbeciles are way too far beneath them. And did I mention that this settlement was founded by people who intended to leave war, greed, capitalism, military and a few other things along these lines behind? Not much to keep a civil conversation going with, huh? But all the other beds within hearing distance – and that's most of the medstation the way they talk – are occupied by some member of military. Note to self: find out who exactly dragged me back after the not-as-dead-as-it-looked creature took a snack out of my leg. Should go and say thank you. Back to the topic. Soldiers. And their bad influence on speech – and probably behavior – of the locals. I mean, who else would call a creature of at least human size (plus tail) like a little insect? What happened to the latis? Latitopraedo tenebrae, the raider hidden in the shadows, as our chief zoologist named them in a onetime peak of poetic eloquence. But discoverers of new species – like newborn fathers – are to be given some slack. At least it's a working definition. Latis prefer to stay in shadows all the time. Not that they can't stand light, they do hunt in bright sunlight if there is enough cover. Cover being the operational word. Following the feline tactic they use a sneak-close-and-pounce approach, which works perfectly if you're the black outline on a black background. And, like all good hunters, they prefer the prey to come to them, not the other way round. How they must love the marines. Which is why the latter, aside from filling the medstation, also fill most of the butcher's bill with people whose first names suffer from severe lack of vowels, Lt and Sgt and PFC, for instance. Not that we had really heavy losses until they came. We had arranged ourselves quite nicely with the simple fact that here the food chain doesn't end nicely at our feet. With a bit of caution you could live pretty well without being top predator. But no, after sixteen (peaceful) years of being ignored by the company, even when asking for assistance against an outbreak of this or that disease that cost us dearly in harvest, livestock or little kids, a casual half sentence about the local prime carnivore and voilà, it's suddenly raining marines on a hunting spree. Who didn't miss any time to make sure to get the human race promoted from 'Random Prey' to 'Enemy Number One' in the latis' point of view. If that is an appropriate figure of speech for a creature that has no eyes we would know of. Better even, by applying a scorched earth approach 'to flush the bugs out', they even gained us the rank of 'Enemy Number One And Sole Surviving Food Source'. Great, isn't it? Hmm, add heavy bout of sarcasm to the list of symptoms. I better keep this data pad on my body all the time – if the good doctor reads this, she'll be really worried about my mental health. Scratch that. If I let this diary lying around, I'll be facing a shooting squad soon. Which of course would end all my problems in one go. Change of topic! Returning to the initial intention of this diary, I don't think the fact that I got actually hurt this time makes that much a difference. I have my steady supply of nightmares from the first time I saw someone – and someone who was my friend! – torn apart by a flurry of black claws and spikes, but I got over it. It was years ago! Enough time to get used to the idea. How jaded! But it's true, I feel a general regret over the waste of lives for all the dead and personal sorrow for those I knew. I wish we could have both the latis and the faceless, armored masses of marines disappear from the face of this planet – preferably to different places very far from each other. But I'm not going to panic at the first sight of something black and shiny. Prove? Hasn't anyone noticed that there is a direct line of sight between my bed, the door between the lab and the medstation and the conserved skull of a lati on display in the lab? I stare at the thing lurking in the shadows every time the door opens. I have named it Frederick and should this be going on for so much longer, I'm going to have conversations with Freddy! And I'll put them in writing, right here!
Mumble jumble, mumble jumble, mumble jumble. If this is what my psyche needs, then my mind should work nicely as a corkscrew. Advice to self: take only small doses or expect further degradation of mental stability.
04/23/17 NST 10:30:05
Good news at last. My body finally wrestled the acid to the ground and slowly, slowly the wound has started to close.
05/02/17 NST 19:06:36
Really good news. I'm allowed to leave!!!
05/13/17 NST 21:25:17
Returning to diary to vent some frustration. Today must be St. Fallentines, everything I try to handle, jumps to the ground.
05/15/17 NST 21:32:00
Arrrgh! St. Fallentines isn't a day, it's a week. Special occurrences: extra clumsiness due to lack of – or maybe overactive – coordination as my fingers seem determined to work in pairs from now on.
05/17/17 NST 07:47:42
I'm getting worried. My fingers are swollen, the skin drawn taunt over the bones. The clumsiness is better but probably only because I'm getting used to handle things as if wearing mittens. As soon as the medstation has a quiet moment, I'll see the doc about it.
05/17/17 NST 21:06:23
My fingers aren't exactly swollen, the bone is growing thicker. According to the doc, whose name is Eileen Sergener by the way, this is a delayed reaction to the bite wound I got, or more precisely, the aggressive saliva washed into my system. Acid is not good for bones, so to escape corrosion they boosted remineralization. Or something. Sounds a bit fishy to me. A level of acidity that attacks bones would eat the rest of me as well, as I see it. Translates to 'I have no idea what is going on, but that would sound unprofessional', I guess. But the scans undeniably show a layer of extra-dense material surrounding my finger bones. And the rest of my skeleton. It's just more obvious the thinner the bone is surrounded by flesh. Probably harmless and will stop by itself over time, but should be monitored in case my joints are affected, or something. My vertebras could close in over my spinal cord, my rips could get too stiff to breathe, etc., etc. I spent the rest of the day entertaining fantasies about all the things the doc didn't say, in a sarcastic undertone, but if I didn't know better, I might say I'm a little bit scared.
05/18/17 NST 07:51:39
My subconscious seems have found a way to vent its frustration, as I dreamed of hunting latis on their own terrain. Scaling cliffs and walls with the same ease they do. Woke up before I could do some damage, though. Might be better this way because the idea of taking that thick armor apart with my bare hands is just over the top, even in a dream.
05/19/17 NST 11:34:01
Dr Sergener left me a note, saying I should see her in the medstation. Must be about those blood samples she analyzed for the umpteenth time.
05/19/17 NST 21:11:45
Oh god, what a day. I knew something was very much wrong with me the moment I saw the good doctor's eyes. So terribly sad and a little fearful. And not only because Colonel Ice was lurking behind her. The man may be competent but he has the coldest mindset towards human life – and the worth of life in general – I ever had the misfortune to meet. Hence the name. The tag on his uniform reads something else, but to his face he's Sir for the soldiers, Colonel for the rest, and Ice for any other occasion. The petite doc is terrified of him, though she must have worked with him some time as they came to this planet together. But right now I was the fear-instilling creature in the room.
I'm rambling, trying to stall. Help me, but at the moment I fervently pray the doc was right about a diary helping to cope.
It took her some time to get to the point, but in short the situation is this: The beast that bit me was infected with some kind of retrovirus. With the small glitch that said virus does not only smuggle its own genetic information into the host's DNA replication machinery but also makes part of its host's its own, every time. So right now it is busily trying to splice lati DNA into my genes. Which, our two species being about as compatible as oil and water, or maybe even oil and fire, will assure my demise in approximately one month. Two at the outmost but probably less. And there's nothing anyone could do. Any bug that makes it through the latis' corrosive innards is way too tough to be destroyed without killing me first. Talk about getting a nasty shock. About the only thing keeping me on my feet was the instinctive reaction against Ice's aversive attitude. Judging by his half-veiled comments, he expects me to turn into a ravenous monster at the drop of a hat. Truly marvelous how the presence of a man who is all but suggesting to have you shot and incinerated, to get over with it quickly, helps to hold your wits together. I think I even managed to thank him for his concerns about my wellbeing before I marched out with as much dignity as I could muster.
I have no idea where I went after leaving the medstation or how long I wandered around like a lost soul. Next thing I remember, is sitting on the floor in a corridor almost perfectly central in the settlement, between the crib and the main refectory. Somehow I made it to my room without attracting undue attention.
Oh yeah, on the bright side: there is no sign of me being contagious, the virus is far too busy wreaking havoc at the core of my cells to try spreading around. Otherwise Ice would have me incinerated (without wasting a bullet first) – and that's not just a suggestion.
05/20/17 NST 06:13:17
I so hope that it will all turn out to be a nightmare but as I didn't sleep at all last night, that's highly unlikely. The worst is not the thought that I'll be dead in a month. The worst is what will happen when I'm halfway there. What kind of monstrosity… Maybe I should go and make some aggressive moves towards Ice and be done with it… No! No, I will live! I will! I will! I will… keep that option for the last moment.
05/21/17 NST 20:53:00
Don't know how I pulled myself together enough to make it through, yesterday. Sheer exhaustion granted me a few hours sleep last night, but my dreams were again filled with a flurry of sleek shadows. People start to comment on me looking tired but by some miracle, Ice has not put out a general warning about my state. I expect he issued an extra magazine of silver bullets to his men, instead.
05/22/17 NST 21:04:23
Did I really make a joke yesterday? Some youngsters made a completely innocent and absolutely unrelated comment about werewolves today and I suddenly felt sick. It's not funny anymore when the beast is raging in your own blood.
05/24/17 NST 11:14:38
I was officially declared to look like death warmed over and advised to take it easy and rest a few days, lest I suffer a relapse from the bite wound that seemed to have healed so nicely. The sheer irony of that statement, uttered in well-meaning but total ignorance of the situation, summoned the first smile to my face since I got my death warrant. Rest. I can't rest! I can't sleep, I can't concentrate on anything, either! Since the black thoughts are worst in the quiet hours of the night I have taken on the habit of walking the empty corridors until I nearly drop from exhaustion. As all vital parts of the installation, power generators, communication centre etc., feature an armed guard 24/7 these days and my tattered sense of self-preservation informs me that it wouldn't do to be caught stalking in the shadows, my freedom of movement is fairly limited, but I'm getting better at dodging every night. Now that I am on leave, I'll probably start trotting around purposelessly as soon as I wake.
05/27/17 NST 16:43:55
Haunted the corridors again. Always ending in the same place, the only place I feel even remotely peaceful. In front of the crib. Strange. I have never been overly fond of little kids.
As it had to happen at some point, I got noticed. Suddenly someone is sitting on the floor beside me and wraps one arm around my shoulder. A soft voice asks me if I'm alright and before I can stop myself I tell everything. Up to and including the disturbing fact that I only find peace at the sight of small children. Not before I'm finished I look up and instantaneously feel bad to have burdened little Savine with my troubles. Savine, petite, demure and one of the most soft-spoken individuals I have ever come across, is the least likely person to confide in. You just don't heap problems on top of someone made from delicately spun glass.
Someone might have reminded me that glass spun into fibers is an extremely durable material. Failing that, I might have realized that a horde of lively one- to five-year-olds would run circles (in any sense of the word) around anyone not up to par.
"There is nothing strange in seeking this place," she says serenely, "children are the sign of life always renewing itself. It is only human to feel anguish at the thought that your days are numbered, but seeing life's promise to continue will help, surely." She invites me to come back whenever I want, to help her in the crib if I like.
05/28/17 NST 07:41:13
For the first time in days I slept in peace.
05/30/17 NST 07:08:17
Went to the crib yesterday, feeling more than slightly silly. I'm simply not a children person. Hell, I'm not even much of a people person. But the greeting smile on Savine's face alone was worth it. I didn't realize how paranoid I had become, always trying to detect signs of anyone suspecting my monstrous affliction, until someone who knew definitely offered me an easy smile and entrusted me with her own little children. Despite my lack of experience it was actually… fun. And enough distractions to chase to black thoughts so far away that they hadn't finished crawling back when I dropped into my bed feeling worn out in a good way.
05/30/17 NST 21:03:58
Got the transfer from environmental control to childcare without anyone making a fuss. Well, not much environment left under our control. Not much to do for a field scientist. Children, on the other hand, we have. Unlike the previous years, when the latis took whoever strayed too far – and that usually meant an early teen – no kid has died since the 'war' began.
06/01/17 NST 20:56:24
Dr. S. made me fill out a questionnaire to evaluate my mental state. Part of it asked for nightmares, insomnia and other sleeping problems. It wasn't until I had returned it that I realized that I hadn't mentioned my reoccurring lati dreams. They are so common these days that I don't notice them anymore. Latis hunting, latis feeding, latis just hanging around – I see them so often that I start to imagine I can recognize individuals. I could write a monograph on the topic by now. What about 'Dreaming the beast. Observations on the social behavior, hunting techniques and preferred habitat of Latitopraedo tenebrae, gleaned while unconscious.' Impressive title, huh?
06/03/17 NST 21:16:19
Extra weird dream of the day: singing latis. I mean it. Literally. With a bad night's sleep I must have dozed off for a few minutes, while officially supervising the toddlers' afternoon nap. Found myself in a mostly monochrome dream world, on a ledge overlooking a large cavern full of latis. Can't remember details, but what stuck in my mind was a low, persistent sound, the best description of which would be: Gregorian chant heard from a distance too great to distinguish words. If I ever heard a sound NOT intended to convey hostile intensions, it was that. Made me feel… at home. Ugh. Freaky incident to top it off: Savine praising my child-caring talents for 'humming a lullaby' during my watch. What's next? Will I try sleep-climbing the walls?
The whole thing was so bizarre I all but forgot the shock I got with the coffee this morning when little Savine smilingly dropped a smoking white phosphorus grenade into my lap by telling me that she 'knew it was the right decision to let you join the crib, even if Morad had doubts. But I see the peace the children bring to your face and I know that you would sooner die than hurt them, whatever the colonel says otherwise.' So Ice didn't make a general announcement, but took his suspicions straight to the top. As the head of the council and leader of the public opinion, Morad is the one man who could give Ice free hand to deal with me as he sees fit. Lucky me, that the former listens more carefully to his wife than to his (unasked for) military commander. And bless you, Savine, for your trust, when two of the little ones are yours. Though I'm less and less sure I earn it.
06/06/17 NST 17:48:51
Feeling like a drug addict in withdrawal, I excused myself from childcare duties today. I'm getting too weak to keep up with the kiddies, I can't have them at risk should I get infectious and, above all, I don't want them to see me… falling apart.
Who would have thought that Alien Genetic Invasion causes the same symptoms as a bad bout of the common cold. My skin feels hot, my whole body hurts dully and I'm getting out of breath awfully easily. Especially by the end of the day my whole torso is hurting as if I'd pulled my abdominal muscles left, right and centre. But I won't see the doc about that – I'm seeing the medstation far too often for my tastes with my weekly checkup. I find that I do not want to know what exactly is killing me.
06/08/17 NST 20:13:26
Weekly checkup. Always good for encouraging news. Bone growth has gone on a rampage: extra dense material is filling the gaps between my rips, and forms irregular tongues pointing downward. Plus a fringe of spikes growing up from the hip bones. Stalactites and stalagmites I call them. My spine is a line of thick plates, as broad as my hands are long. Filigree outgrowths have started at my shoulders, elbows, wrists and also down my legs. They are easily found by touch, lying just below the skin. The doc keeps mumbling multi-syllable terms like diffuse skeletal hyperostosis and something ossificans progessiva, as the medstation computer cites any bone growth disorder it can think of. The list of symptoms makes a lovely read. Turned into stone (of the calcium phosphate variety) would be the appropriate image here. Death by suffocation is the usual verdict. Great, just great.
06/12/17 NST 07:09:39
I feel… better, for lack of a more appropriate term. Within three days I got from dead exhausted to restless energetic. How strange. Breathing is much easier than before, so maybe my oxygen deprived body got a rush from the sudden increase of respiration. Something like the first stages of nitrogen narcosis. Minus the euphoria, I' not depressed anymore but feel… detached.
06/15/17 NST 19:59:04
Weekly checkup. I'm a solid outline in the scans. Whether anything happened to my inner organs is anybody's guess because they don't show anymore. I should be a naturally grown statue by now, but with the exception of some finger bones that are slowly fusing together from the wrist onwards, I don't suffer restrictions to any further extent. Instead I am… reconfiguring. Skull, spine, ribcage, it's not like the concept of storing your vital parts inside a protective shell is entirely new to the human body. All you have to do to create an exoskeleton is to connect the already existing parts, expand them until the limbs are included and let go of the flimsy soft tissue overlaying them. Easy, isn't it? I should feel sick and I don't and that scares me worse than anything else.
06/19/17 NST 21:07: 47
My night vision has improved enormously but colors are fading. I'm not light-sensitive, though, which is rather odd. And, freakiest of all, I'm getting trouble to see myself in a mirror. What I see is mainly the smooth surface of the mirror, with a very weak mirror image superposed. Maybe werewolf was the wrong myth, I should have tried vampire.
If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?
Well, the second of Shakespeare's rules to define humanity never worked with me, but now number one is off, too, and I wouldn't make bets on number three. The doc broke a needle in my arm. I'm not flesh and blood anymore. What still makes me look relatively human is just a thin veneer of skin, like the velvet over a deer's growing antlers – and to be shed like it soon, I guess. To reveal the monster beneath.
The council made a call for volunteers. They are trying to evacuate the women and children from the peripheral oxygen generators and other outposts to the main site. We are. Because they are asking for dead men walking and that pretty much makes up my job description. I can feel death approaching – by not feeling anything much. So when I have to go soon, I can just as well sign up for a suicide mission that might save some lives. Maybe the grim reaper breathing down my neck will scare the latis away. And losing sensitivity all over your body makes you tough. I can do it. I can anything because my brain no longer gets the messages of my body begging it to stop. Ice made a face but put me on the list anyway. Hmmm, maybe I should look out for friendly fire.
A full-grown sergeant deigned me worthy of the attribute 'useful'. Wow. In his defense I have to say that I can easily keep pace with his men, volunteered to carry the infants which prevents the rest from having to handle that ominous kind of burden, and have that uncanny knack for sensing the presence of latis before they make their move. He actually asked for me to be on his crew for the second run.
Last entry. Too much change, I won't be able to write on the datapad for long. So much happened today.
Made a last evacuation run. The latis waited for us to return before they sprang the ambush. Somehow they figured out that there is more prey available this way. They even found a way to circumvent my heightened awareness of their presence. They simply stayed close but out of sight all the time. So when they launched the attack it caught everyone by surprise. From one moment to the next there were black talons everywhere and I felt something rip inside me. Literally. Most of the remaining flesh on my back was torn away when the tail, that had grown folded neatly over my spine, unfolded and whipped at the latis almost without my volition. A claw dislocated my jaw and nearly tore it off but it was a thin shell anyway. What lies beneath is sturdy enough to withstand the hit, easily. Must have been a shocking sight. Not that any of the men had the time to notice, then, but it scared off the latis. Or maybe the scream did. At the sight of sharp claws reaching for the child in my arms, a fury far stronger than any emotion I felt in the last weeks expressed itself in a wordless roar. The black beasts scattered. The humans would have done the same, probably, but there wasn't anyone left standing. I brought my charges home and a badly burned soldier that stayed mercifully unconscious while I dragged him along. That's all. I dropped them in front of the main entrance and stepped back, literally holding my face together while the welcome committee of heavily armed soldiers and medics took care of them.
Morad is the first to check the kids, hiding deep lines of sorrow behind a welcoming smile. Ice checks on the wounded man with cold professionalism but doesn't bother to look at the dog tag before he identifies a man lacking a human face. Of course they notice me lurking extremely in the background, both are quite receptive men and both – I have to admit – loathe the fact that their duty towards the greater good keeps them from joining suicide missions. Morad, seeing my strange posture, immediately offers medical attention. I can't speak anymore. So I shake my head and step back further. Morad is confused but Ice, for once, looks sympathetic. Approving even. His gun coming for me is more an offer than a threat. A way out. Had I known where it would end three months ago, I would have taken the offer, gratefully. Now I no longer feel fear, anguish or revulsion. Too human these feeling are. I retreat into the shadows and run.
And now I'm here, alone in the dark and silence.
NO DATE, TIME DOESN'T REALLY MATTER ANYMORE
I SHED THE LAST OF MY HUMANITY SOME DAYS AGO. GROWING OUT OF IT, SO TO SPEAK. I WONDER HOW BIG I'LL BE WHEN IT STOPS – IF IT STOPS. WITH SO MANY THINGS RECONSTRUCTING IN MY BODY, MAYBE IT WON'T. NOT THAT I MIND DUCKING THROUGH DOORS, WALKING ON ALL FOURS FEELS QUITE NATURAL THESE DAYS, BUT I NEED TO SUSTAIN MYSELF. AND EVEN WITH THE HELP OF THOSE ALIEN MEMORIES I FIRST THOUGHT TO BE DREAMS, MY HUNTING SKILLS WON'T SUFFICE. I STILL HAVE THE MEMORIES OF MY FORMER LIFE, WHICH IS HELPFUL IN FORAGING: I FOUND A STORAGE ROOM THAT HAD WITHSTODD ALL ATTEMPTS TO BREAK IN AND SIMPLY OPENED THE DOOR. NOT MUCH FOOD INSIDE BUT MY DEFINITION OF EDIBLE HAS BROADENED. FROM BOTH SIDES: HUMANS EAT A LOT OF THINGS A LATI WOULD NEVER THINK OF AND VICE VERSA. BUT THIS KIND OF SUPPLY WILL NOT KEEP UP FOR EVER AND THEN... I DON'T KNOW. AS USUALLY, THE VICINITY OF A HUMAN SETTLEMENT IS PRACTICALLY DEVOID OF HUNTABLE PREY. ANYHING LEFT IS SMALL, SWIFT AND MOSTLY ENDS IN THE CLAWS OF VERY EFFICIENT PACK HUNTERS. NOT MY LEAGUE. MORE ENERGY SPENT THAN GAINED. THE ONLY SIZEABLE CREATURE LEFT... IS OUT OF THE QUESTION! THE MEMORIES NOT TRULY MINE INSIST THAT IT WOULD BE GOOD PREY, EASY TO HUNT WITH MY KNOWLEDGE AND WELL EDIBLE. BUT I WON'T. I'LL LEAVE BEFORE I HUNT... HUMANS.
AND YET I LINGER. THE LONGING FOR COMPANY IS ABOUT THE ONLY FEELING I HAVE LEFT. BEING THE COMBINATION OF TWO SOCIAL SPECIES THIS SHOULDN'T COME TOTALLY UNEXPECTED. TWO SOCIAL SPECIES – NEITHER OF WHICH WILL EVER ACCEPT ME AS ONE OF THEIR OWN: FOR HUMANS I'M A MONSTER. SHOT A FIRST SIGHT. FOR... THE OTHERS I'M A STRANGER: NO PREY BUT A POTENTIAL DANGER – THANKS TO MY EVER INCREASING SIZE – THEY EYE VERY WARILY. BUT UNLESS I VENTURE TOO CLOSE TO THE HIVE THEY DO NOT SHOW AGGRESSION. IRONIC, REALLY. THE SO-CALLED MINDLESS BEASTS ARE MORE TOLERANT THAN THE SELF-PROCLAIMED CROWN OF CREATION.
A/N: based on the following premises: aliens are (eu)social creatures (featuring an acoustic equivalent of the bees' hive odour, a pacifying and family bonds-strengthening 'song') with genetic memory and echolocation as their main orientational sense (optical mirrors don't work in echolocation). All characteristics mentioned in 'Enemy of my enemy' apply as well.