-In which things go very poorly-
I’m naked, and that thing is in the room with me. I can hear its heavy tread as it moves, as it begins a thorough circuit of the decontamination chamber. Each foot step seems forbiddingly deliberate, as though it knows I’m in here and it’s trying to spook me into revealing my hiding place. And it almost works — crouched and shaking in the corner of one of the decontamination stalls, I have to ball my hand into a fist and shove it in my mouth to keep myself from screaming.
The footsteps cease. I stop breathing. A clicking sound rises on the air and trails off into what I’d almost call a growl. Almost. The footsteps resume, slow, resounding, as it continues its inspection of the room. I catch a glimpse of its head over the cubicle wall as it rounds the corner and I press my face against my knees, hunching up into a little ball in hopes I can render myself invisible through sheer desperation alone. It doesn’t work. The footsteps halt again, and I can feel the weight of its gaze. I slowly lift my head and there it is, standing before me, fierce and primal and so incredibly inhuman. Even though I’d examined it closely such a short time ago, I’m unable to reconcile reality with what I’m seeing now. The Predator is huge, easily reaching eight feet, with a muscular build that heavily hints at the raptorial nature of its race. Its head, though - the protruding brow, the black, hair-like protuberances that hang to its shoulders, the tusk-tipped mandibles that frame a maw lined with sharp inner teeth - it’s more than enough to leave any single human that sees it numb and paralyzed with fear.
I should know.
Eyes like haggard amber are observing me unblinking and if there’s an expression on that terrible face, I can’t decipher it. It’s making that noise again, that rolling, clicking, guttural trill. I’m assuming it’s telling me I’m about to have my spine ripped out of my body. I open my mouth to voice some kind of supplication, but all I manage is a stammering wheeze. And so we regard each other in suspended silence, predator and prey. I’m a naked, defenseless, quivering mass of flesh and I’m facing off against a towering humanoid, a former “prisoner” - and oh look! Its managed to regain some of its armor and weapons. It strikes me now just how unbelievably stupid and arrogant Will Traeger was, to make the decision to keep both his captive and its formidable technology in the same fucking building. I start wishing, with everything I am, that time will abruptly rewind itself and I’ll find myself back at the dog park outside of Johns Hopkins this morning, leashes in hand, wonderfully oblivious to Traeger and the actual scope of Project Stargazer.
The Predator stirs. I cringe, unable to prevent the pathetic whimper that spills from my mouth. It tilts its head just a fraction, still studying me, likely pondering evisceration or dismemberment. Perhaps both? It moves, then, after giving me one last dismissive and decidedly scornful look over. It turns its back on me and begins to leave the room — and poor helpless me — behind. My breath escapes me in a ragged moan of relief and at the sound, the Predator halts. It cranes its head around, looking back at me over its shoulder. Those hard yellow eyes are pitiless and cold and I fully expect it to reverse whatever silent decision it has just made to let me live.
Please, I beg it silently, fervently, desperately. Please.
I think, somehow, that maybe it’s heard my thoughts, considers my plea. For some reason, it decides in my favor. I live to fight another day.
Let’s amend that last bit. I live to fight another twenty minutes.
The emotions that roll through me after the Predator leaves are staggering. Foremost among them? Relief, of course. But there’s also rage, a rage I’ve never felt before, an urge to be spiteful and vindictive because I have never, ever been this terrified before. Rage because I hated being this afraid, rage because I never want to be this scared again. An hour ago that alien had been sedated and restrained and under my intense scrutiny. I’d been in awe, truth be told - my exact words upon seeing it? “You are one beautiful motherfucker.” The Predator was everything I’d ever dared to hope to believe in, everything I often wondered I was foolish for believing in. Today all those beliefs had been realized. Today I, Doctor Casey Brackett, the government’s evolutionary biologist on call, had witnessed actual proof that mankind was not alone in the universe. Nope, not alone in the universe at all. And, as the last hour has proved so well, spectacularly unprepared for any kind of confrontation with life beyond our own planet.
And so, driven by this peculiar rage, the rage born of fear unlike any I’d ever known, I pick myself up off the floor of the decontamination stall. On trembling legs I locate the clothing I’d shed in a panic and don them again before staggering out of the room, following the path of the Predator. It’s not hard to guess which way it went; it’s left a helpful breadcrumb trail of blood and viscera and other scattered bits of unidentifiable gore. Along the way I stumble over a mutilated corpse, hit my knees, and almost fall face first into a still spreading pool of blood. This close, the smell is overwhelming. The next few seconds I spend emptying the contents of my stomach, trying and failing not to puke directly into the blood puddle. It’s not a pleasant visual. I wipe at my watering eyes, blink the world back into focus, and see a sleek white rifle lying on the floor some five feet away. I recognize it as one of tranquilizer guns from the main lab. Handy and fortuitous. I stand, scoop up the rifle, and resume my trek. I’m not really certain at this point if I’m following the Predator or if I’m trying to escape; it’s funny how logical thought abandons you once you’re smack dab in the middle of literal chaos.
This place is a fucking labyrinth of corners, stairs, and corpses and in my current state of mind, I can’t recall which way I’d come upon entering. After stubbing my toe on yet another dead body, I start thinking that for a top secret government program, everyone in here is woefully unarmed considering the creature they’d so cavalierly captured and brought back to study. Eventually I round a corner and find myself facing Doctor Keyes through a window and realize I’ve sort of come full circle. He’s still in the main lab where I’d last seen him. The bottom half of his lab coat is soaked with his own blood and he’s clutching at his gut with one hand. With the other he’s frantically gesturing to me, indicating I go right. I cautiously draw closer to the window in order to better hear his muffled shouting.
“It can’t get away!”
My first thought is an incredulous, are you fucking kidding me? But he keeps repeating it, keeps gesturing, and finally I nod my head in a wordless agreement to do as he’s telling me to do. There are more bodies here and scattered among them their assorted dismembered parts. I make a concentrated effort not to stare at the gruesome landscape and instead grimly continue on, rifle clutched tightly in my grasp. As I walk I think about every life the Predator has taken here, every life it took where it crashed in Mexico. I think of just what it’s capable of now that it’s free and fully armed. I also think of the fact that there’s still so much that can be learned from it, such as just why it possesses fragments of human DNA. It holds the key to answers we don’t even have questions for yet. Keyes is right. It can’t escape.
Tucked away in my pants pocket, my phone rings. The sudden blaring of The X-Files theme song startles me so badly that I drop the rifle. I fumble in my pocket to retrieve my phone and it takes me three attempts to swipe and answer.
“Where is it?” It takes me a moment to recognize Traeger’s terse voice.
“On the way out,” I say, bending to recover the rifle. “I’m following it. I have tranquilizers.”
Traeger makes a sound low in his throat. I can’t tell if he’s scoffing at the frankly ludicrous idea that I, an evolutionary biologist and professor, will be able to subdue an alien creature that is the very definition of deadly, or whether he’s in approval of my admittedly surprising initiative. “We’ve dispatched teams to retrieve it,” he says. “It won’t get far.”
“There’s a lot of dead people back there,” I tell him. My voice sounds strange, made thready by the stress of the violence and horror I’ve just witnessed. I wait for a response for several moments before I realize he’s already killed the call. What a dick.
I pick up the pace, breaking into a faltering run. Finally I see a set of double doors up ahead, one side broken and hanging by a single hinge. Beyond it lies the telltale darkness of the outdoors. I cross the threshold running, but stumble to a halt on the other side. Disconcertingly, I’m on the roof and I struggle for a moment to get my bearings. And then I see it, not too far ahead, making its way swiftly across the roof. I suck in a deep breath, making the foolish decision to try and give chase. What follows is a minutes long endurance test as I attempt to keep even with the Predator, because considering its impressive stride length, there’s no way I’m going to catch up with it. Instead I doggedly trail it, still clutching the rifle, as it bounds up stairs and races across catwalks. I’m seriously starting to reconsider my viewpoint on the merits of cardio workouts.
The chase comes to an abrupt end as the Predator abruptly leaps from the roof, hitting the ground far below in a roll before getting effortlessly back to its feet. I shout in frustration, because I’m absolutely not going to survive if I attempt that jump. But just then I catch sight of a white bus on a road below, approaching in a haphazard trajectory parallel to the roof, and the most reckless part of me makes a terrible fucking decision without consulting the rest of my brain. I leap off the roof, legs churning, and actually land on the bus. Hard. It takes some wild flailing, but I manage to A) not slide off and B) get myself into a semi-stable kneeling position. And now I’m like a knight on a drunk horse, trying to aim the rifle as the bus roars after the Predator. It’s exactly as difficult as it sounds.
This doesn’t end well for me. I attempt a shot, but the bus swerves at the exact same moment. I shoot myself in the foot with a tranquilizer dart.
So now I’m on the ground. The bus had halted almost immediately after I shot myself. A man in military garb, who’d been inside the vehicle, has reached up and pulled me down from the roof of the bus. The wooziness from the tranquilizer floods in very quickly and now it’s difficult for me to comprehend what the man is saying. Ultimately, after giving an apologetic shrug, he turns and leaves me where I’ve fallen face down in the cool grass. I try to push myself up onto my knees, but my muscles refuse to cooperate fully. I do eventually manage to roll over onto my back with a grunt, and find myself staring up at another, different man, clad all in tactical black and carrying an assault rifle, which he’s aiming at me. Traeger’s man. And, I realize slowly, eyes tracing the length of the rifle, Traeger’s orders. He doesn’t want any word of the Predator reaching the outside world. The moment it escaped, I became a liability. I lift one hand and wave it weakly in an attempt to have my life spared. I know I’m seconds away from dying and it infuriates me that I’m going to go out like this, on the ground with a self-inflicted tranquilizer dart still embedded in my foot. I hear the man above me voice an affirmative into his comm piece, undoubtedly relaying to Traeger that he’s about to put a bullet in my head. I watch him tighten his stance and grip the rifle firmly.
Here it comes.
Except it doesn’t. Instead, I watch curved blades burst through his chest. Droplets of warm blood spatter onto my face. The man emits a wet, gurgling groan as the blades are wrenched free. I fully expect him to topple forward on top of me, but instead he remains upright. And then I see why - there’s a hand on his shoulder holding him, an alien hand, more than twice the size of my own and tipped with thick black talons. There’s a flurry of movement my eyes can’t properly track and suddenly the man’s now headless corpse is tossed aside. And now it’s just the two of us again, Predator and human, regarding each other in much the same way we did the first time, except that in the interim its found a helmet, one of the very same I’d observed in the display case upon first coming to this base. Somehow, the sleek contours of the mask and dark, sinister slant of the visor are even more unnerving than its actual face. I find myself wishing I’d taken that bullet to the head because I’m fairly certain I’m about to be disemboweled while still alive.
Gunshots erupt nearby. I’m fading fast, the tranquilizer doing its thing, but the gunshots are still loud and startlingly clear. The Predator looks away, in the direction of the noise, and then it looks back at me. Maybe it doesn’t have time to kill me with the violent artistry it prefers. Maybe I’ll get that bullet after all. Or maybe not. It crouches beside me. I attempt to roll away but only manage to flop around in a purely futile manner.
“No, no, no, nononono,” I mumble through numb lips, and swat unsteadily at its hand as it reaches for me. It makes a sound that I think could be laughter, a low growling trill that's both mocking and grating. It reaches for me again with those taloned hands, and without any exertion at all, it hefts me off the ground. I’m immediately slung roughly over its shoulder, my chest colliding with the solid wall of its back in the process. Tranqed up as I am, I can still feel that, and I grunt in pain. I’m given no time to adjust to this new situation and things get a whole lot more uncomfortable when the Predator begins to move again with its swift bounding stride. Thankfully, or perhaps unfortunately (or maybe both?), consciousness isn’t going to stick around. The edges of my vision finally darken with the promise of oblivion. The last thing I see is the ground beneath me, swaying crazily with in rhythm with the Predator’s running steps.