It was a biting, white wind, obscuring the path that lay before me. The fur-lined hood kept my ears warm and dry, but the same could not be said for my nose, which felt as ice cold as the floor I walked across. I pressed a gloved finger to my ear, activating Beki.
"Good afternoon, Jack" Beki chimed cheerfully, "I'm picking up an intense thermal reading ahead. Looks like our destination."
"Thanks, Beki. Please read the brief to me one more time."
I continued forward along the quickly dissipating path, my fears of having to trudge through the snow soon to be realised. Beki relayed the brief, making sure to highlight the safety protocol I was to follow; do not allow skin contact, do not ingest any organic life, the usual stuff. Beki and I had become quite attuned to each other since we met, and I was glad she was in my ear. The thick fog started to pour through the scarf covering my mouth in larger clouds as I struggled through the freshly fallen snow.
"Beki, can you find anything online about the anomaly?" I asked, near breathless from the exerting hike.
"Let me retrieve what I can... Not much to go on, Jack. The anomaly was only noted and questioned a long time after it was initially observed entering the atmosphere. Satellites classified it as a small, natural meteor drop, unworthy of inspection. It was only after it was seen to be... growing that they decided to send inspectors. No report has returned however."
"Thank you Beki. When we get closer, please examine the outside for points of entry."
"Aye aye, Captain" Beki chuckled.
I smiled and continued through the storm.
Reaching towards my backpack, I pressed softly on the mobile unit release button. With a satisfying whir, up popped Beki in her mobile unit. A tiny fairy of metallic parts and gears, she buzzed around my head and perched on my shoulder.
"Shall I begin, Jack?" she asked.
"Don't be gone long." I nodded, and with a small push, she was away.
The flurry of snow began to slow, and visibility returned to normal at a lumbering pace. The thermal readings Beki was sending back to me gave off a soft, thrumming heat, organic in nature, breathing. The organic structure, becoming clearer to me as the storm subsided, was much larger than I had anticipated. Before me stood thick tendrils of ice-covered plant matter, protruding through a broken, flat concrete floor. The dense, large trunks swayed in the wind, like the slow movement of a redwood. The colour was a deep purple, almost oily in its metallic sheen, with green leaves speckled along the length of the sky-reaching spires. I slowly approached the base of one of the tendrils, removing my glove to place a hand on the unknown life-form, when I shot back in fright. Beki had zoomed from the other side of the thick base to perch on my backpack, having finished with her scans. I pushed her mobile unit down into the side compartment until I heard a click, then re-equipped my glove.
"What am I looking at, Beki?"
She remained silent for a moment.
"I have not come across this flora before, Jack." She finally said, breaking the silence with a tone as icy as our surroundings. I could tell she was not happy to observe something she had no knowledge of.
"Well it seems we have made a remarkable discovery. Entry points around the other side?" I enquired.
"Multiple, you are standing above one right now."
I shifted my feet and looked down at the base of the tendril. The concrete it had broken through was not a floor, but instead, a roof. Illuminating the large, deep drop below were spotlights, fixed every few metres of the descending walls. Next to each light, storage containers lay affixed, numbered and named. A filing system it seemed. One of the containers had been damaged, the front panel torn in half to reveal two crows, pecking at seeds.
"There is a ladder going down into the structure on the opposite side of our location, shall we begin there, Jack?"
The concrete roof was five panels wide and twenty panels long, each panel a metre. I walked to the opposite side of the rectangular structure and came to another gaping entry.
I activated the flashlight on my backpack as I faced down the chasm below. The ladder was cold steel, barely enough for a foothold, heading down with no end in sight. I took my first step and was soon out of the winter chill, descending slowly into the unknown.
"It's getting warmer, Jack." Beki noted as we slid lower into the depths.
"Warmer, and more humid." I muttered "Beki, scout how much further down I have to climb, please."
Once again I released her from my backpack. She buzzed down below and sent a message into my ear after a short while. Another hundred or so rungs of the ladder. As I stepped lower and lower, the constant low hum grew louder. The light from the entry above did not reach me by the time I got to the bottom, but I was glad to be on solid ground again. Beki used the light affixed to her mobile unit to illuminate my surroundings. The floor was flat concrete, but it was littered in shadows. Crows lay motionless on their backs, hundreds of them. I looked up as a fluttering shadow came crashing past, only a metre from where I stood. Another dead crow.
"The seed is irradiated, I would advise not coming into contact with it, Jack."
The hum was beating strongly now, making it hard to concentrate on the death around me. I turned my gaze towards the centre of the room, and noticed the purple, glowing mass directly in the middle. It shone dull light across the floor in a rhythmic chime.
"Is this the meteor, Beki? It's... big, but it didn't leave that large an entry point above." I mused aloud.
"It is growing, Jack."
I walked towards the glowing rock, and motioned for Beki to analyse it. The bottom of the meteor had burrowed deeply into the floor, and the large tendrils I had seen above ground seemed to sprout from beneath it, shielding it on three sides. I faced the one open side, and it grew brighter with each step I took towards it. The tendrils surrounding the thrumming meteor writhed slowly, on their own accord, unaffected by the stillness in the space it occupied. I looked up to where the thick trunks stretched into the darkness above. Beki shone the light where my eyes turned, which is where I saw it. A loose sleeve of plastic lay embedded in the trunk of one tendril, swaying with the light movement of the plant. My mouth lay agape. It was the sleeve of a radiation suit, and the arm that occupied it was still attached.
Beki made a beeline to my backpack as swiftly as she could, and I fumbled to lock her in, when a purple, fleshy trunk swung a branch of sinewy matter towards me, knocking me off my feet into a pile of dead birds and sliding towards the far wall. Beki was thrown away from me, scattering across the floor. I sat up against a storage compartment when another tendril lashed itself at me. I dodged at the last second and the tendril crashed into the storage container with a mighty thump, spilling the contents onto the ground in an instant. Luminescent seed came pouring from the container, and without a moment's hesitation, the tendril seemed to open and consume the contents. I turned back to the middle of the room where I saw the meteor glow an intense shade, cracking and expanding further into the room.
"You have to climb!" Shouted Beki, unleashing a thin, pulsing laser at the tendril closest to me.
The flailing form shrieked an alien tone, lashing out at the buzzing Beki. I turned to the wall and jumped towards the ladder, beginning the climb towards the light so high above. Frantically, I threw myself further and further up the rungs.
A tendril grabbed my ankle, but just as quickly, Beki had zapped it, taking its attention away from me. I had one last trick up my sleeve, but I would have to time it perfectly. Higher I climbed, not taking the chance to look back for even a second.
"You have to go, Jack, you have to climb." Beki insisted, alert and sharp.
"Wait for my signal, and return to me." I replied.
The snow started to hit me as I was only ten or so rungs from the surface, cooling my cherry-red face, flushed from exertion.
She buzzed from below me, constantly firing off her laser at the climbing mass of metallic matter.
"Power levels at 2%, Jack..." She said, cutting out in my ear.
"Get to me now!"
I saw the light of her mobile unit just below me, followed by a thick stem of the alien body giving chase. She latched onto my ankle just as I hit the large red button on my chest. Immediately, I was shot towards the surface, the propulsion unit of my backpack lifting me towards safety. The intense fire burned the back of my legs, but I braved the pain to keep my body balanced and my trajectory true. The propulsion struck Beki, loosening her grip on my ankle. The sickening vines that chased us opened at the tip to reveal lines of jagged teeth, reaching for my leg. It closed with a crunch, and I screamed out in agony, stopping my ascent into the open.
"I have to go." Beki said, her tone resigned.
But it was too late, one final laser shot from inside the creatures maw and broke its hold on my ankle. I shot straight through the opening above, and once the thrusters had depleted, I was sent to the earth and snow in a terrible thud.