– – –
Max took a hesitant step toward the beast’s smoldering remains. The constant blinking in his HUD for the impending danger from the oncoming hoard was getting annoying, but he needed to know what was hiding behind the worm’s body.
Even through his Power Armor, Max could smell the putrid decay of the monster. The scrubbers could only do so much with the foul stench. His shields absorbed slight damage from the residual pink blood soaked into the soft sand below.
He found a way in around the back, near the still-twitching mouth of the worm. Despite being dead, he still gave it a wide-berth.
The air was hot as he squeezed between the stem of the worm and it’s curled body. He could feel the outside of his suit brush up against the scaly hide, a distant wet-scraping sound reminding him just how far from earth he truly was.
After circling around, he found them. A clutch of five pods seemed to be attached to the base of the monster. Two of them were charred beyond recognition to anything but the X-ray, and one other seemed to have split open, spilling it’s contents onto the soil below. What had made it out was unrecognizable, as it had been burned to char from his flamethrower.
Two of them seemed intact, however. He drew his knife as he got closer. Having seen far too many documentaries on face hugger aliens in his days, caution was in order.
A small shudder crept up his back and his mind drifted back to some of his friends falling in battle. Now was no time to reminisce. He could raise a glass once he was back to safety. For now he just needed to investigate.
He reached the first pod, and slid his knife-blade carefully into the hide, just deep enough until the resistance became lighter. Carefully he edged the knife down the leather hide of the structure. His razor-sharp edge cut cleanly down it’s length.
Stowing his blade he separated the cut. A gust of steam burst out, starling him.
Max yelled and jumped back, but no attack came. Rather, a pinkish slime-covered worm head emerged from the pod, glancing at him for a moment before pain graced it’s face.
Tiny squeals of anguish echoed in his head as the small alien thrashed around, seemingly choking on it’s planet’s own atmosphere.
At last, it expired, fallen half-out of it’s protective habitat.
Max frowned. He had been too rash with his exploration. Headquarters would have payed well for it, even more if he’d managed to bring a baby alive.
Luckily there was another, smaller one tucked in behind it. A quick scan with the sensors showed that whatever lay inside was still alive.
Being more careful this time, he gently edged his knife underneath the cocoon of this worm and pried it up from the stack that attached itself to it’s mother host.
After a sucking pop, it detached. The resulting artifact was a little larger than his outstretched palm, and oblong. It was a pink, slimy, pulsing football, and Max tucked it into his arm as such.
Just as he stepped out from behind the mother worm however, his long-silenced alarms flipped from pending to imminent danger and began sounding again.
He’d taken too long, the horde had arrived.
– – –