"Sariss," Rook said. "This isn't the kind of work I signed up for."

"Well, technically, you didn't sign up for any work. I stood there with a gun to your head and told you what you were going to do, and you nodded." Sariss turned away from Rook and back to the screen in front of her. "So shut up and quit complaining. We can't always get what we want, you know."

"But I really don't think I can do this!" Rook protested.

"Then you're dead to me. Get out of the pod."

Rook blinked in shock. "Wh-what?"

"You heard me," Sariss said. "Get out of the pod. I can only afford to protect those loyal to me and to humanity, so out." Rook looked at the thick door and shook his head in dismay. Then he picked up his gun and started to turn the wheel.

"What the Hells are you doing?" Sariss demanded, slapping his hand and resealing the door. "I was kidding. The point is, you have to do this. You want to go back to Earth, right? Well, if this thing makes it to Earth before us, it'll be like landing in its stomach. Either that or you can help me kill it. Understand?"

Rook stared at her. His expression was hard to read. Finally, he nodded. "Good," said Sariss. "Now, you're not as good a shape-shifter as I am, so you'll have to be the gun holder. Get on my back."


"You heard me. Get on my back."

Looking confused, Rook obeyed. He glanced at Fawn, then his attention shifted back to Sariss. Beneath him, her body was changing shape, growing, hardening, darkening, becoming the insectoid-reptillian body of the monster. "Holding on?" she asked in a deep tone before her mouth twisted into the thin, sharp muzzle. She rose back on her hind legs, and Rook quickly grabbed a hold of the armor just below the neck hinge. Sariss shook herself once, then ducked through the pod door and back onto the ship.

Rook closed his eyes for a moment when he saw Dirk's body. Then he opened them again. He would have to see more gore like this soon enough. He gripped the handle of his gun tightly for reassurance. Then the image of Lane's face passed his eyes.

She would be there, too. Perhaps inside the monster, perhaps waiting to be fed to the newborns, perhaps just left somewhere like a bloody gargoyle. Rook shook his head to clear the images from his mind. There was nothing he could do to help Lane now. He just had to do what Sariss wanted. Kill the beast.

* * * * *

Lane held a hand before her face. The smell of blood was driving her crazy. But it would be wrong to take any from these people. These people were noble, and unfortunate. She stepped over the innards of one such person when the sound reached her ears.

Squeals. Whimpers. Unearthly moans and cries. She was nearing the nest. Lane took out the nails and began to attach the sixteen-inch things to her fingers. The thumbs were lost, of course. They were probably still inside the female. She wondered who was left to still fight. Maybe Fawn. Maybe Sariss. Definitely Dirk. Lane smiled and continued closer to the sounds.

She had to walk quietly. Even though it was unlikely that she would be heard over the din, she did not want anything to ruin her surprise attack. She stopped and made sure the wheel deploy mechanism was clean on her metal boots. She checked the guns strapped to her back. She was ready. She stepped closer, slowly making progress, trying to avoid the blood on the walls and the floor.

* * * * *

Fawn opened his eyes. He was alone in the pod. He tried sitting up and realized that he was strapped to the chairs on which Rook had lain him. He sighed and wriggled his arm around to the side. He guessed that he could just reach the buckle if he tried. He strained against the belt on his shoulder for a bit, then relaxed at the satisfying click of the buckle coming undone. He easily reached the other belts and was soon free.

Fawn's first instinct was of course to launch the pod and get out of there as soon as possible. Then, he caught sight of Sariss's guns. They were lying in a sort of arrangement on one of the chairs. Fawn went over to them and checked them. They were fully loaded, with new crystal cores and everything. He smiled. With such an invitation, who could refuse?

He picked up one of the guns and fired it absently into the hall, smiling at the sharp red light of the beam. It was just like Sariss to go off and hunt for the beast, but with Rook's gun? And where was Rook? He wasn't the go kill things type at all, from what Fawn had seen. And where were Cale and Jaerel? And where was Dirk?

Fawn stepped out of the pod and looked up. Oh. There's Dirk. Ew. Fawn carefully avoided the area Dirk's blood was slowly dripping on and made his way down the east tunnel. He could hear something up ahead, like footsteps pounding on metal. Heavy footsteps. A slow, grim smile fell across his face. He was going monster hunting.

* * * * *

Sariss found the nest quickly. Rook could hear the young squealing and crying and carrying on. He hunched low, still hanging onto Sariss's back, trying to avoid being seen. He gripped the gun so tightly that his knuckles were white. HE looked down and realized that he was shaking again. But there was nothing he could do about it now.

The monster looked up as Sariss approached. It gave out a strange shriek, and Rook supposed that was some sort of weird greeting. Sariss wasn't interested in greetings.

Rook leapt up into view and aimed his gun at the beast. It had a moment to consider before Rook fired. A huge beam of bright white-blue light ripped through the air. The shaking of Rook's hand, coupled with the beast's reactive ducking, caused the beam to miss and only hit the monster's shoulder.

The beast roared with pain and anger and lunged forward. Sariss brought her head forward and butted the monster back again. Rook jumped down off of her back and fired at the monster again. This time, it hit the beast in the stomach, right below its protruding ribs. Rook tried to fire again, but the crystal was spent. He threw the gun away in disgust.

The beast threw back its head and bellowed out its rage. Sariss slammed her claws into its neck, and it turned to fade her again, teeth barred and eyes narrowed. The two of them fought, throwing and thrashing and flailing and clawing. Rook backed up against the wall, trying to keep out of the way.

Suddenly, a beam of bright red light shot into the room, slicing into Sariss's arm. She shrieked and tried to see where the shot had come from, but the beast delivered a powerful kick to her midsection, and she was forced to focus her attention.

Rook whirled and saw Fawn standing there, armed with Sariss's weapons. "You!" Rook shouted. "What the Hells do you think you're doing?"

"Shooting monsters," Fawn replied, firing again at the beasts.

"Don't!" Rook screamed, grabbing the gun away from him. "You just hit Sariss again!"

Fawn stared at Rook, shocked. Slowly, he turned his gaze up[ to the dueling monsters. "Sariss?" he repeated. "Sariss...a beast?"

The creature slammed Sariss into the wall a few feet from where the two men stood. "Go!" Rook cried, shoving Fawn forward. The two of them moved along the wall, avoiding the flailing limbs and flying rubble that was kicked up all around the combatants. Suddenly, Fawn cried out and pitched forward. Rook tried to grab a hold of him, but he was already over the edge and tumbling into the nest.

"Fawn!" Rook shouted. He peered into the darkness of the nest, trying to see. He could hear the babies' excited shrieks and gurgles, but didn't know if they were afraid or gleeful. "Fawn!" he shouted. "Fawn!"

Fawn screamed as he fell to the floor of the nest. He fired one of Sariss's guns and saw all of the hungry eyes resting on him. When the light faded, however, he was lost in darkness. He felt something touch his arm. He turned and fired the gun. One of the babies fell dead, and another shrieked in pain. He fired somewhere else, and more of the children died. He backed up against the wall and fired in all directions, hoping to keep the hungry little beasts away from him.

"Rook!" he shouted. "Don't come down!" He gasped in pain as claws raked his back. One of the monsters had snuck up the wall behind him and jumped down. He killed it and fired up as well. He saw them congregating there, ready to pounce on him. "Don't come down!" he shouted again as he dashed away from the wall.

"Hold on, Fawn!" Rook called. There was nothing he could do. He held one of Sariss's guns, but he didn't want to hit Fawn down there in the darkness. He turned helplessly, looking for some way he could help either Sariss or Fawn, and found nothing.

Suddenly, a cry rang out. Rook turned to see a small figure leaping onto Sariss's back. Sariss screamed in pain and twisted and writhed, trying to reach the girl on her back. "Stop!" Rook cried. "That's not a monster! She's on our side!" He ran up toward her, trying to make himself heard. "That's SARISS!" he bellowed with all his strength.

The figure leapt down off of Sariss and landed in front of Rook, shoving him out of the way. "Idiot!" she scolded. "I've told you not to get so close to danger!"

Rook's mind froze. "Lane."

"Yes! Now, what do you mean, that's Sariss? Did she shape-shift? How do you know which one's her?"

"Lane," Rook said again.

Lane glared angrily at him. She drew back he hand and slapped him, once, hard. He shook his head and put a hand to his stinging cheek. "Explain yourself, boy!" Lane shouted.

"Yes," Rook said, still in a daze. "The red one is Sariss. The real beast has that hole in his stomach, see? I tried shooting at it and I missed. Sariss shifted to fight it, and Fawn...Fawn's in the nest, Lane, I think he's lost."

Lane snarled under her breath. She took her light and shoved it into Rook's arms. "See if you can find him!" she said. "I'll help Sariss. Do you know where Dirk is?"

Rook didn't answer, only gaped at her. "Well?" she demanded. "Don't waste time, boy, where's Dirk?"

"Dirk's dead."

Lane was silent. She stared at Rook. Then she shook her head. "Move on, soldier," she hissed to herself. "Move on, soldier. Move on." She glared up at Rook. "Get going, boy!" she screamed at him. Then she bonded toward the monsters. There were tears in her eyes. "You BASTARD!"

Rook stumbled away and rushed to the edge of the nest. "Fawn!" he called. "Fawn, are you down there? If you're alive, answer me!"

"I'm here!" Fawn called up to him. "Rook! Get out of here!" He swung the gun around and fired again. In the dim light, he could barely make out the babies climbing over the dead to get at him.

Suddenly, a bright light flashed down into the nest. Fawn cried out and slammed his eyes shut against the brightness. Claws and teeth dug into him, and he forced his eyes open. With a scream of rage and pain, he swung the gun around, flailing with his arms at the beasts closing in on him.

The light was helping him see the monsters and shoot more accurately. And now there was gunfire from above. "Thank God for you, Rook!" Fawn hissed under his breath. He mowed the creatures down.

Lane lowered the wheels on her boots. Tears streamed from her eyes, but she ignored them. Her fingers tensed, the nails ready. "You bastard," she whispered. "See what you get for killing Dirk. Just see what you get."

She kicked off and rolled forward. She went faster and faster, gathering momentum. She sped toward the dueling beasts, her heart pounding in her chest and her jaw firmly set with anger. Then when she was close enough, she leaped!

Her wheels retracted and her steel spikes extended, digging into the monster's back. It howled, and she raked her nails along the armor, splitting it and reaching the soft flesh beneath. "How do you like MY claws?" she demanded. "I'll kill you, I'll kill you, I'LL KILL YOU!"

The monster yowled and screeched with pain. It was attacked in the front by Sariss, in the back by Lane. It couldn't stand to fight anymore. It sank to the ground, curling up in a ball as Lane and Sariss hacked away at it.

Then Lane jumped off of the broken beast. Sariss gripped it by the neck and forced its head up. The monster did not protest. Sariss opened her monster jaws and crushed the beast's skull between her teeth. The monster was dead.

Rook ran up to them as Sariss changed back into her human form. "Sariss!" he said. "Are you alright?"

"Fine," said Sariss. "Just fine."

"You're not," said Lane. "Look at you."

Sariss was covered with wounds. Her shoulder was covered with blood, and it looked as though that arm was useless. She put her other hand over the large rip in her side. "Let's go," Sariss said.

"Wait!" Rook said. "We have to get Fawn out of the nest!"

"He's still in there?" Lane demanded. She and Rook rushed over to the edge of the nest. "Fawn!"

"I'm here!" Fawn called up to them, waving his hand and wincing. He was covered with blood, both his and the monsters'. Carcasses littered the ground around him. He grinned at them. "Hey, Lane's back! Can you help me out of here?"

Lane tied her belt to her gun strap to her other gun strap and lowered her wheels to roll down the edge of the nest. She held out her hands, and Fawn held tightly onto them. "Pull us up, Rook!" Lane called.

"No, wait!" Fawn called. "Rook! Shine the light over there, at the far wall."

Rook did as he was told. Fawn and Lane peered into the gloom and saw that there was a tunnel there. Lane heard the heavy breathing coming from it. Then the light fell upon a baby monster as it moved. "Missed one," Fawn said, raising the gun.

"Wait," said Lane. There was a rumbling coming from the tunnel. "Rook!" she cried. "Rook! Pull us up now!"

Rook pulled them up from the nest and the three of them ran over to Sariss. "We have to get back to the pod!" Fawn yelled as Rook pulled Sariss's arm around his shoulders. "Right now! Run!"

The nest erupted. A swarm of the baby monsters poured out of the mouth of the nest. "Go!" Lane yelled. They ran, Rook supporting Sariss and Fawn leading the way with Lane blasting her guns behind them.

"We have to kill them!" Sariss shouted. "We have to kill them, or they'll-"

"I know, I know!" Lane hissed. "I have a plan!"

She punched a button on her boots. Metal slats reached from her breastplate to her arm guards to her boots, connecting them and making a temporary space suit. The metal slats reached her head and closed over, making a helmet with a sheenglas mask. She fired up at the ceiling, causing a large chunk of it to fall in front of the monsters, cutting off their path.

"When I blow the ship," she told Rook, lifting her mask. "Push the green button so I can get back in!"

Fawn took Sariss inside the pod and laid her down on the couch. "Wait!" Rook said. "What do you mean, 'blow the ship'? What are you-?"

"You can't do it, Lane." The three of them turned to look at Sariss, who was limping forward. "This pod doesn't have a pressure chamber. You won't be able to get back in." She leaned against the hatch and gripped her side. "Let me do it."

"But, Sariss, you'll die!" Rook told her.

"I'll be dead in a few minutes anyway!" she snarled, batting the boy away. "Better me than Lane."

"But Sariss-" Lane protested.

"Just do it!" Sariss hissed. "I've wanted to kill these bastards since the first day. Let me go out with glory!"

"Let her do it," said Fawn. He put his hand on Rook's shoulder. "Let her go."

He handed Sariss the bomb he had taken from his ship. "Blow them to all Hells, Sariss," he said, winking at her.

"Shut up, you," Sariss said, taking the bomb. "Now get inside, Lane. You're not going to die with me."

Lane glanced over her shoulder. Somewhere back there was her husband's body. Somewhere back there was her sister's body. Somewhere back there were her friends and her co-workers and her life. Then she looked at Fawn and Rook and Sariss. She shook her head and smiled at Sariss. "Right," she said, walking past her into the pod. "Blow them to Hell."

"But Sariss!" Rook shouted. He reached out to her, but she closed the hatch. "Sariss!" he cried, pounding on the hatch. "No! You'll die!"

"Come on, Rook!" Fawn said, grabbing his arm. "She knows what she's doing. This is how it goes."

"No!" Rook said, fighting out of Fawn's grip. "She'll kill herself! Sariss!"

He peered through the window in the hatch. Sariss was slumped in the floor before the pod, clutching the bomb in her arms. As Rook watched, the monsters pushed through the rubble and swarmed toward her. In their midst, the lumbering female thundered forward, Lane's nails still imbedded inside her.

"Launch!" Lane said, punching the button. The pod rocketed away from the ship.

"Sariss!" Rook screamed. "NOOOOO!"

He slid onto the floor before the hatch. Fawn ran up to him and knelt beside him. "It's okay, Rook," he said, putting his arm around the boy. "There's nothing we can do now! It's okay." Rook buried his head in his hands. "It's okay," Fawn said. "This is how she wanted it."

The three of them felt the shockwave as the ship blew. Lane peered out of the window. There was no sound as the orange flames engulfed the ship, eating their way to the fuel chambers. Within minutes, the ship was reduced to nothing but smoldering wreckage.

"Damn it," Rook said. "All of them. All those people. Cale and Jaerel and Lore and Birch and-"

"Stop," Fawn said. "Don't think about that now. There's nothing we can do about it. Their gone."

"Shut up, Fawn," Lane said. She sat down next to Rook and put her arm around him. "You didn't lose anyone, so just shut up."

The three of them sat there in silence as the pod drifted toward the Earth below them.