A/N: I'm not really supposed to be writing this since I have a swollen wrist, but I figured as long as I kept the chapter short and kept taking ibuprofen it should be okay.
I've got to say my enthusiasm for this story dwindled a bit after I had a rethink of it and realised how much more introducing and establishing things I was going to have to do before the crew of Serenity actually encounter xenomorphs, and it put me off a little bit as that's the part I most want to write. But I'm going to persevere. If I get through the slightly harder and less interesting parts then the reward will be the good bits later on.
Thanks to JoeEngland and the anon for their reviews, which have definitely been helpful in drawing certain aspects of this to my attention. It's all important stuff that I'll make sure to bear in mind for later on.
Chapter Six – First Specimen
Nine hours later
The Alliance vessel touched down on the hard ground of Copernica, accompanied by one half of its military escort, the other half of which had been deployed elsewhere on the planet a short time earlier. Once the ship had fully landed the loading ramp began to descend, allowing the crew on board to exit the craft into the docking area of the Alliance facility they had arrived in. The first to leave the ship were two men carrying the crate between them, who were escorted by four other soldiers all carrying pulse rifles. Behind them, Captain Hallerton descended the ramp while keeping a watchful eye on the men in front of him, and once he had seen that they'd carried their cargo safely to the ground without dropping it he turned his attention to the two men who were stood waiting for him at the foot of the ramp. One of them was a tall, thickly built black man in Alliance uniform, the other a small middle-aged man with oriental features and wearing a business suit. Both of them had been watching the crate's progress, but once the soldiers carrying it had passed them they both turned their attention to Hallerton.
No salutes were exchanged, as in this context it was unclear which of them if any held a higher rank, but it was the black man who spoke out in greeting. "Captain Hallerton," he said formally.
"Governor Caldwell. Mr Ling," Hallerton replied, nodding at each of them in turn.
As he reached the foot of the ramp the governor spoke again. "You retrieved the cargo safely?"
Hallerton nodded. "The container appears to be undamaged, although the readings we've been taking were higher than expected. However, at this stage in the program that shouldn't be a detriment."
"I would hope not," the Asian man said in response to that. "When negotiating with Mr Yutani I was assured that this is the last specimen that remains from his ancestor's research. If anything goes wrong it will be impossible to replace."
"Nothing will go wrong," Hallerton replied, "I can assure you, Mr Ling, that all aspects of the project have been thoroughly thought out and all eventual outcomes prepared for."
Mr Ling gave him a look that only seemed partially satisfied with that answer as the three of them turned to follow the men carrying the crate through a door that led inside the main body of the facility.
"And Reynolds?" the governor asked as they entered the building.
"Suspicious," Hallerton answered, "Enough so to take the bait, when we're ready to give it him."
Governor Caldwell looked thoughtful for a second. "And when do you expect that will be?" he asked.
Hallerton seemed to consider for a moment. "Looking over some of the files from the old research, my scientists have told me their best estimates are at about three weeks."
Mr Ling gave a nod of agreement at that answer. "Yes, I've also been reviewing the files Mr Yutani provided me with during our negotiations, and three weeks would appear to be a reasonable estimate," he said, before continuing in a slightly more critical tone. "However, I've also been looking in further detail at all the records remaining from the old research, and I and the other board members at Blue Sun still feel this is a very high risk investment. All previous research projects of this kind have ended badly, and if this program were to turn out the same way then not only would it be a huge financial loss to my company, but your government could face even further damage to its authority and credibility. I believe that is exactly what you were hoping to counter with this project in the first place. Therefore I trust that backup and safety procedures have been far better planned out than in the previous projects run by Weyland-Yutani."
Again, Hallerton nodded in confirmation. "Yes, Mr Ling, they are. Numerous recovery protocols have been drawn up for in the event of the primary plan failing, several backup plans are in place to ensure the project is still retrievable. We also have a much greater military involvement than in previous experiments as an extra precaution."
Mr Ling still didn't look completely satisfied, but Hallerton doubted that he would be until he had seen for himself that the project was working. Hallerton himself shared the same worries – he'd been placed in charge of running something very important here, and there was a lot at stake for him if it went wrong. While more senior officers were busy trying to mitigate the damage inflicted by the Miranda fiasco, Hallerton had been put in charge of running what was for now a small but expensive covert project that was intended to be as low-key as possible. However, if it were to be successful then not only could it potentially reinstate the Alliance's authority even more strongly than before, it would also make Hallerton's career.
But on the flip side, if it went badly it could completely ruin him. Assuming, of course, that it didn't kill him in the first place. Hallerton may be in charge of running this thing, but he was still answerable to powers much higher up and he knew full well what the consequences of failure would be. That made him just as anxious to see this turn out well as Mr Ling and the other investors at Blue Sun were.
They'd reached a point inside the building now where there was a metal door leading off the corridor on the right hand side, which was opened by one of the soldiers to allow the men carrying the crate to pass through. As the crate's escort shut the door behind them, Hallerton, Ling and the governor continued a short way down the corridor to another door at the end, which they themselves passed through. On the other side they found themselves in a darkened room with an array of controls and computer screens running down the left wall, whereas in the right hand wall was a long, reinforced glass screen which allowed them to see through into the room beyond.
Two men were already sat in the room working at the computers on the left, and as the three men entered they got up to give a salute. Hallerton just gave a dismissive wave of his hand and said, "Get back to work." He didn't have time for formalities when they were at such a crucial stage in the program.
Crossing over to the glass screen, Hallerton, Caldwell and Ling looked through to see where the small group of soldiers were just carrying the crate into the room. Looking down towards the far end of the room a few metres away from where the soldiers were, they could see two scientists wearing white coats standing beside a metal table with a man laid on top of it, who was bound down with straps around his wrists and ankles. They couldn't hear any of what was going on in the room as the glass was soundproofed, but judging by the expression on the man's face he was absolutely terrified.
Hallerton turned to the governor. "I take it that's the test subject then?"
Caldwell nodded. "Yes, taken from the local prison population. The selection process was of course completely random, although looking at what he's in for we could have chosen a less deserving inmate."
"Yes, I read the files," Hallerton said, surveying the man on the table with a cold expression. The man seemed to have noticed he was being watched and stared back at Hallerton with a look that seemed more scared than ever. "Embezzlement and theft are the least of his convictions. He's a former plantation worker from Beylix, I believe. Alec O…"
"No names," the governor suddenly interrupted him. "They give up their right to a name they commit a crime. They just have numbers. This is inmate number 76402."
"Of course, governor," Hallerton said, giving number seven one final cold glare before turning his attention back to the soldiers, who had set the crate down in the centre of the room and were now standing in a circle around it awaiting instructions. Hallerton pressed a button at the bottom of the glass screen to allow him to talk to the men on the other side. "You know your orders. Take care when opening the crate; we've been detecting more activity from the specimen than expected."
He shut down the comms link before any of the men had chance to reply, but they gave a few nods to show they understood. Two of them stepped forward in order to open the crate, whereas the others stood round with their weapons raised. Noticing this, Mr Ling took a concerned step closer to Hallerton and said, "Captain, dangerous or not, that is a highly valuable specimen. Are you really prepared to let them open fire?"
"They won't get chance," Hallerton replied in a tone of complete self assurance.
Mr Ling frowned but returned to watching the proceedings as the two men undid the various locks and fastenings on the crate and then raised the lid to slide it off the box, before setting it down on the floor beside it. Inside the observation room, all three onlookers leaned closer to the glass to get a better view of what was inside.
In the middle of a plastic tray that kept the contents steady inside the box was an ovoid object, with coarse white outer skin and several flaps at the top that had folded back to reveal the dark pinkish flesh inside. The egg appeared to have been hollowed out as if it once contained something that was now gone, and all that remained was a viscous residue of mucus that coated the inside of the shell.
One of the soldiers leaned over the box and frowned as he saw its contents. He put up a hand to activate the comms unit on his collar that would allow him to speak directly to the observation room. "Sir, the egg's already hatched. There doesn't appear to be anything else in here, sir."
Hallerton didn't respond, but he knew he didn't need to. A moment after the soldier had spoken there was a sudden movement from the crate lid that was resting on the floor as something shot out from under it. In their surprise a couple of the soldiers opened fire on the spider-like creature that had revealed itself, but as Hallerton had predicted they didn't have chance to do any damage. The bullets harmlessly chipped the floor as the creature successfully dodged them, moving far too fast for any of the soldiers to take proper aim, and suddenly launched itself at one of the men standing nearby. With a yell the man dropped his gun as he put up his hands to protect himself, but he wasn't quick enough to stop the thing from landing on his face and wrapping its legs around his head.
He fell to the floor and one of the other men dropped his own gun and went to him, attempting to pull the thing off with his bare hands, but Hallerton pressed the comms button again and intervened. "Leave him." When the soldier didn't respond immediately Hallerton repeated the order in a tone that was even more cold and authoritative. "Leave him."
The soldier pulled back for a moment, looking a little hesitant to do as he was instructed and sure he'd misunderstood the order. "Sir?"
"There's nothing you can do to help him now. He may as well serve his purpose," Hallerton said in a voice that was completely cool and unaffected. "Get him to the lab."
All of the remaining soldiers turned to look at their commander through the glass, shocked by the orders they were being given and reluctant to let something like this happen to their comrade. However, as they realised they couldn't disobey a direct order they quickly jumped to it, and two of them picked up the fallen soldier off the floor to carry him out of the room to the facility's laboratory.
Hallerton allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction. He'd expected something like this to happen. They'd anticipated it taking longer for the creature to wake up and hatch after the decades it had been kept in cryogenics, but when it had been intermittently banging against the walls of its container on the journey here Hallerton had suspected it was already awake. It was a little inconvenient for one of his own men to become the host rather than the prisoner they'd prepared, but ultimately it didn't matter who served as the host, only that there was one. Which meant that thus far everything was going as planned.
The captain turned his attention to the prisoner strapped to the table and pressed the comms button again. "Well, prisoner number seven, it looks like this is your lucky day," he said mockingly. Number seven stared back at him, looking far from relieved. After what he'd just witnessed he was even more confused and terrified.
"I'll have someone arrange to take him back to the prison," the governor said to Hallerton, who nodded in approval.
"Good, but keep him in solitary for now. I don't want him discussing this with the other prisoners. He won't be any good to us today, but I'm sure we'll have a use for him later."
The governor gave a sadistic grin. "He certainly will. Just like all those other criminals we have in waiting," he said, before turning to find some more of the military personnel on the base who could escort number seven back to his cell.
Mr Ling looked at Hallerton and raised an eyebrow. "You claim to have this all planned out, captain, but I doubt that was part of your plans."
"I suppose you could call it a qingwei de ying shang," Hallerton said, not sounding at all worried, "But it hasn't slowed down our progress."
"That is good to hear," Ling replied, "But how certain are you that things will continue to go as you intend? Is Reynolds certain to take the bait?"
Hallerton smiled to himself in anticipation of what his plans meant for the Firefly captain, and nodded in answer. "He's not an idiot. He'll be suspicious and try to second guess us, but we'll always be one step ahead of him."
Still far from completely assured, Mr Ling said, "I would hope that you are. Your government has underestimated him before, which is the reason you find yourselves in this mess."
Hallerton narrowed his eyes slightly, not liking the way he was being spoken to, but he kept his response polite. "And I have no intention of repeating those mistakes," he said before continuing, "Believe me Mr Ling, the only satisfaction I get out of letting Reynolds walk away now is from knowing what's in store for him later. Now…" he said, beginning to lead the businessman out of the observation room, "If you wish to oversee the progress of the rest of this experiment we have a test subject in the laboratory for you to see to…"
A/N: I'm not sure how much sense that made. I'm pretty sure that after I get the next chapter up everyone will be able to understand it, but I'm not sure how much sense it makes on its own. I don't want to spell things out for the reader but I'm not sure if I've given you enough to work it out for yourselves, so if I haven't please let me know and I'll work on fixing it.
And hey, the chapter turned out not being so short after all. Well, I've written it now. Too late to do anything about it.
qingwei de ying shang = slight mishap
Update 9/1/14: If you've read the updated A/N on the previous chapter then you'll be aware that this version of the story unfortunately won't be continuing beyond this point, and the first five chapters are what should be taken as the entirety of the story if you're able to subscribe to the interpretation that Mal and Hallerton won't be meeting again. This chapter I think quite clearly shows that isn't how things would have gone, but I'm sorry to say that the continuation won't be being written now. It is possible I may give this story another go in future, but the plot will most likely undergo thorough revisions and I will be starting from scratch, unless I can think of a way of continuing from this point that doesn't have the ridiculous number of plot twists I tried to work in. This story does need simplifying and editing, and I'm certainly not ruling out the possibility of doing that at some point. I am very sorry I don't have it planned for any time in the foreseeable future, but I am still very fond of the idea behind this story and I don't think I'll be leaving it alone forever, and I'm very grateful to everybody who has read and reviewed so far.