Unit 03 ventured another step deeper into the bowels of the plague's hatchery, assault rifle's flash right at the fore. All around her, the callused fleshy throat ran slippery with yellow mucous membrane and fine hair cilia.
Throbbing veins ridged the walls, where they fed swollen gestation sacs pregnant with titan Cyclopes and their smaller, pre-evolved forms. What had been a minor headache now bit like shards of glass in her head. The whispers were gone, replaced by a single dominating presence.
Why struggle labors infinite, for a delusion of peace you will not see?
Unit 03 ignored and pressed deeper down the fleshy throat tunnel. She knew the entity must be the hive mind Captain Wilkes hypothesized at Camp New Heaven. That made destroying this hatchery a top priority.
A mind, pure and innocent. A heart, forever wracked with grief I have not seen in a hundred-thousand winters. Like a machine, you were wrought by those who were born of the True Gods, and yet unlike a machine you are ...
Unit 03 arrived in a cavernous breeding chamber, where the arc of ribs ridged the vaulted ceiling. She saw the embryos of the Dragons, curled within tumescent gestation sacs that hung from above.
My faithful messengers rise once more, as they did upon the gardens of Eden. Temerity is vain, and life but a vicious cycle. They will come and go again. Time has no beginning, no ending, no meaning ...
Taking care not to slip on the mucous membrane, she tightened her grip on the nuke, and on a low crouch sprinted across the breeding chamber. She had to move quickly, but she also had to be careful.
The only reason she hadn't faced any resistance is because the hive mind was interested in her. That was why it allowed her in the hatchery. She had to find a place to leave the nuke, then get out before it lost interest.
Fearful men and women bound your might, for the shield they wrought with forbidden knowledge has surpassed. Why lend your infinite succor to those who can only exist beneath your sanctity and perseverance?
The throat after the chamber angled downward, deeper into the hatchery. The breeding chambers not only bulged above ground, but also extended deep through the planet.
The duration it took to cross the second passage went in silence. She kept the flash light at the fore, her gaze haunting every shadow. At the end of this passage, the throat narrowed and closed on itself as she approached.
"You're near something," Captain Wilkes said. "Judging from the reflex on those walls, it must be something vital. Don't go too far. Otherwise the path will be too steep and slippery to climb out."
"And your brain wave patterns are abnormal. What's going on down there?"
"I have a headache."
Unit 03 knew she should mention the hive mind, the kind of words it spoke to her, but she held back. Everything she saw, heard through her ears and felt could be accessed, monitored and recorded. Not even her body was her own. Her thoughts were the only private commodity she owned.
She managed past the narrow throat. Beyond, a pool of yellow liquid throbbed to a rhythm. Something large pulsed in the shadows overhead. She saw ripples in the pool, and the ruptured remains of a large gestation sac.
Unit 03 set the nuke in the pool and pressed a single button. Instantly, the surface of the nuke heated to well over a thousand degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to melt any unwanted hand that may try to remove it. The pool boiled and scalded the fleshy surface below, but the regenerative tissue held.
She had to squeeze her way back into the throat. She then climbed upwards, traced her route all the way to the chamber where she passed the embryonic Dragon creatures.
Unit 03 then slammed to a halt. There was movement ahead. The hive mind's presence began to fade, left in her heart a lingering tinge of regret. Its voice broke into a thousand dark whispers.
I came to this domain with an offer of salvation, and now I am threatened with extinction. Who is victim, and who is foe?
Shadows lengthened into the passage ahead. A hundred armed Acolytes, led by four Cyclopes, marched out of the corridor from whence she came.