The tortured scream of bending and twisting metal nearly drowned out Bran’s order. Those massive doors, that supposedly impregnable barrier, bent and buckled with every backpedaling step they took. At first he hoped it’d last until they made it to their new escape route. Now, he wondered if it’d last until they reached the stairs to the reactor gantries.
The universe proved eager to answer his question. The compartment resounded with the terrible, ear-piercing sound of one of the massive door locks shattering under the assault. The door buckled inwards with a moan, the two leaves starting to pull apart. As the edges buckled, something emerged from the darkness beyond. Long curves of shiny ivory slipped between them, their sharp points digging into the hardened metal. These, for lack of a better word, talons, tore at the durasteel, shoving the doors further apart.
“Mystra’s star-spangled panties!” Imoen exclaimed. “What the frell are those!?”
“I say we don’t find out,” Valygar replied, his voice unsteady.
“Seconded,” Bran said, a hint of dread in his own voice. Whatever it was, it was frelling huge and strong. That was enough data, anything more would require getting to meet it. And watching that door come apart was enough to tell him he didn’t want to. “Mazzy… did you?”
“No Captain,” Mazzy interjected phlegmatically. “I saw nothing like that. All I saw were the walking dead. Nothing with… talons.”
“I usually love surprises,” Bran quipped with an affected levity he didn’t feel. “But I’m thinking this is one I can pass on. Double time it!”
They raced up the access stairs to the first level reactor gantry even as the hatch twisted and bent further. With a loud hiss and a gush of gunky red fluid the door’s hydraulics gave up the ghost. The doors ground open inexorably, the only thing holding the door shut being the lower lock. By the pitch of the shriek of the mangled metal, it wasn’t going to last much longer.
His crew now on the gantry, it was just a matter of a dash across the catwalks to their escape. But a quick glance at the layout on his HUD told him that there was no way they’d make before that door gave and whatever huge nasty was behind it got through. And the fuel line was only big enough for one at a time. There was no way to get everyone through.
They’d have to make a stand.
“Alright. Minsc, heat up Larry. Mazz, get that buzzsaw of yours ready. We’re going to give what ever the frell that bastard is a warm welcome.” He then looked at Valygar. “V. Get the Doc and Immy out of here.”
“I’m not leaving you here!” Imoen retorted.
“Yes. You are!” he shouted, staring her down. Unlimbering his Bladesinger, his eyes never left her. “We need to start the evac, and it starts with you three.”
“Oh hell no! You don’t get to play hero, big bro…”
“Imoen Caterina Varnas! This is not open to debate. You will get your pink butt out of here or I’ll have Valygar knock you out and carry you!”
“No! Go!” Bran said flatly. “We’ll be right behind you.” Then he turned back towards the door and lifted the rifle to his shoulder.
She made as to step towards him, but she felt a restraining hand on her shoulder. She looked up into the troubled and drawn face of Valygar. And she nodded and followed the dark skinned navigator with the doctor hot on their heels.
The four took up positions behind the lead rail, Minsc to the left flank and Mazzy to the right. Jaheira and Bran stood in the center, weapons braced against their shoulders. Four sets of eyes fixed themselves on the collapsing hatch. Four fingers hovered over firing studs.
“So, do you have a plan, o omnipresent authority figure?” Jaheira’s asked softly on a private channel, belaying her concern with that old teasing title.
“Yes, I do.” Bran replied almost as softly.
“For our sakes, I hope it is an excellent one,” Jaheira replied, eyes focused unwaveringly on the door.
“I think so. And it has the benefit of extreme simplicity,” he said, hands tensing on the grips.
“Simplicity is your strongest suit. Now, do you intend to share it?”
“Yes. It’s got two parts. Part one. Shoot whatever the frell is behind that door. Part two: Don’t die.”
“I like part two.”
“Same here. Hope it works.”
No further words were shared as the door died its agonizing death. Centimeter by centimeter, the door twisted until the final hatch lock shattered. The door ground open slowly at first, and then with a final shriek, the two massive leaves slammed back into the walls. Sweat beaded on brows as the massive talons disappeared into the now open hatch way.
A perverse moment of peace settled over the Engineering section as whatever monstrosity lurked beyond the open portal hesitated. Somehow that was even more unnerving than the giant talons that had just destroyed a massive security door.
Finally, after an endless seeming quiet, a bass, gurgling roar boomed from the open hatchway, chilling flesh and setting hair on end. The source followed with heavy, thumping footfalls. The massive form stepped into the much more brightly lit engineering section, the still working lights illuminating a walking nightmare.
The ... creature… stood at least three meters tall and measured at least another meter wide. Its skin was a mottled mix of grey and black, weirdly stretched and twisted over its bulbous form. It was vaguely bipedal, two massive, short stumpy legs and two huge, bulging arms. Both arms ended in a series of long, wickedly curved talons that stretched out towards the defenders. It had no head, but a massive maw rippled from the space between the beast’s two huge shoulders. As it roared, it flashed rows of jagged teeth.
As it surged forward, the light revealed its true horror. The talons were twists of curved and warped bone. The teeth were not teeth, but instead the jagged ends of bone. And the weird twists and marks across the skin were faces. Faces twisted in wordless screams, boiling and roiling across the fluid skin of the beast. Agonized Terran, Seldaran, Khazadan and Yolandan faces strained against the skin, straining helplessly to free themselves from this terror.
“By the gods,” whispered Bran, horror turning his belly.
“Abomination of nature…” trailed off Jaheira, her voice trembling.
“Boo says this is the Evilest Evil that Minsc and Boo have ever faced,” Minsc said, even his voice showing a tremble.
“By Avoreen… By her True Sword…” She gasped. “No. It cannot be…” Her voice cracked. “My crew. Proudfoot! Marten! NO!!”
The beast halted its advance just opposite the main Engineering console. Dull red eyes burst from the skin between the shoulders and raked across the defenders, all standing statue-like along the gantry way. “Yess…” the beast’s voice undulated through its maw. “All are now in me. Come… you can join them! Feed me… join my greatnessss!”
“NEVER!!!” she screamed, her voice cracking. The minibarrel swung up and a sleet of fire streamed out, slamming the beast square in the chest. The rounds tore into grey flesh while the beast laughed.
Mazzy firing stirred Bran from his stupor. Shaking his head to try to clear it of the oppressive dread, he sighted the targeting rectile right over the beast’s left eye. “Drop the bastard!”
Spears of coherent energy lanced out, joining the stream of nickel iron slugs tearing into the grey black flesh. Maniacally humming a jaunty tune, the Lilarcor’s ultramarine disruptor beam joined the assault, slamming the beast in its midsection. The beast staggered under the tremendous kinetic assault. Each hit seemed to drive it back a little further as it withered under weapons fire.
The sheer power of the assault was terrible. The air in the compartment crackled from the discharges and putrid looking steams of smoke streamed from the various weapon impacts. The beast roared liquidly under the terrific assault and each second drove it further back against the far wall.
Soon other sounds joined the roar. The indicator chimes of low remaining power in power packs. The louder bleating of overheating focusing chambers and power coils. The ominous and growing bass whine from the Lilacor’s compensators and cooling systems. As the alarms grew louder, the weapons fire thinned.
First to disappear was the stream of fire from Mazzy’s multibarrel. The impellers whined and barrels spun down as she finally depleted the ammo belt. Bran’s Bladesinger followed with one last paltry blast from its depleted power pack. Jaheira’s dual blaster soon followed, its overtaxed power coils hitting emergency shut down levels. And a few seconds later, even the mighty Lilarcor ceased fire, its cooling systems overwhelmed by the continuous fire.
The rear of the compartment swirled with smoke and steam. Shattered consoles and plating spat fire and sparks, destroying visibility. Suit sensors still showed a significant mass sprawled against the wall, but no movement. In fact, the only sound was the merry crackling of burning consoles and the low thrum of weapon cooling systems.
“Looks like the old adage is proven correct again,” Bran quipped with a grin as he swapped out the spent power pack for his last fresh one.
“And which one is that?” Jaheira asked with eyebrow arched.
“That there is no problem that cannot be solved with the proper application of excessive firepower,” he replied with a flourishing chuckle. “Right Minsc?”
“Ya hey! But Minsc is confused. What is excessive firepower?”
The other three broke into chuckles while Minsc looked on somewhat befuddled. However, the big gunner simply shrugged and grinned, the mystery of excessive firepower left to another time.
“Alright, I say we go about vacating the premises, don’t you?”
“Since the premises will soon cease to exist, I concur, Bran,” Jaheira said with a nod.
“Foolish mortalsss…” came a low hiss from the swirling cloud of steam and smoke. “You only prrrolong your agony!” The beast lumbered out of the cloud, still steaming. Countless wounds steamed from its grey-black flesh. In more than one place, there were holes clear through its body. Holes that were now rapidly closing. “You will feed me! Yourrr flesssh will be mine!”
Staggering from its still incompletely healed wounds, the beast lurched towards them, its massive talons outstretched.
“I think I need a bigger gun,” Minsc said, shocked.
“Bigger gun… bigger gun! Minsc!” Bran called. “How many rockets do you have left?”
“Two, Captain Bran!” Minsc shouted back.
“Alright. Minsc, toss me one and Jaheira the other. Apparently our force wasn’t excessive enough. Let’s change that.”
Minsc unlimbered the two rocket tubes and tossed them towards Jaheira and Bran. Snagging the tube out of the air, Bran quickly unfolded the stock and pulled the arming pins. “Mazz, if you’ve got any AP rounds, I’d use them.”
“As you command, Captain,” Mazzy replied hurriedly, as she fed a new belt into the feeder.
He brought the rocket up to his shoulder and centered the targeting rectile dead center of the charging beast. Wrapping his finger around the trigger, he offered up a quick prayer to any and all gods that this would work. And that they’d not be blown to bits along with the frelling beast.