Ragnarök Contingency

“What kind of moron hangs confetti and streamers everywhere in a work zone?” Harlowe complained as we walked into what, according to the previous team’s last broadcast, was the facility’s control room. He made a beeline for the big, glowing red button in the center of the main console. I barely managed to slap his hand away before he could press it, getting an angry glare in response.
“The kind who believes in making things as idiot-proof as possible,” I retorted, pointing with my free hand at the strip of white paper above the button. For extra emphasis, I read it aloud. “Self-Destruct. Do. NOT. Push.”
“And how was I supposed to know that, Taurien?”
I ignored racial jab. I was used to it by now. Even though my people had been here for three generations, working with the Humans since our exodus, we were still distrusted. Why couldn’t they see that this was our home now too, that we didn’t want anything to happen to it either?
“You SHOULD have examined everything before even moving in here. The last team went silent without warning. OUR,” I made sure to emphasize that word and gesture at the others, “job is to find out what happened and, if necessary, to shoot it. To do that, you need to be observant. Don’t write off the strips of paper as confetti or streamers, or anything of the like. If you’d just stopped to look, you’d have known they were labels telling people that can’t read Antrulan what the buttons actually do.”
It was, honestly, not looking good so far. We hadn’t found the science team, living or dead. The outer containment seals had still been intact when we arrived, so they should have been in here somewhere. We’d only cleared the first level of the installation, true, but they should have been up here. If they weren’t, and were instead in the lower levels that hadn’t been cleared as of their last report, it didn’t bode well. These facilities tended to have really nasty things inside of them, hence all of the redundant seals and the self-destruct sequence. The only sign of what had happened were a few smears and stains on the labels that looked suspiciously like blood, both Human red and Taurien blue.
As the human soldiers accompanying me spread out, Harlowe grudgingly included, to guard the stairs and elevator down to the next level, I went over to the Taurien console the science crew had managed to interface with the controls. After booting it up and making sure everything was in working order, I brought up the security feeds. Most of the cameras were out, especially on the lower levels. Before I could make any sense of the jumble of images I did get, the screen switched itself to a video.
“Ok…it looks like the science crew had another log entry that didn’t get sent out.” I let the file play, my normally golden skin flushing a sickly yellow under my armor as something interrupted the normal status report. A flash of grey in front of the camera, a sickening gurgle, and a spray of blue was all it caught before the camera fell lens-first to the ground. The audio had still been running, and it caught a snarl, a few panicked shouts, and a single gunshot before everything faded to silence. Then, the rasp of something being dragged across the floor. The video ended afterwards, having been set on a timer to automatically upload.
The two guards were looking decidedly more nervous now, eyes flickering to the small air vents. They were trained to fight people, not whatever that was. I just swallowed down the nerves that came with seeing that and went back to digging through the feeds. Of the live cameras, only two showed anything abnormal. One, on D-level, had a sealed blast door in its frame. With a ragged hole torn through it. The other was from that same level, and it showed a single, rope-like strand arcing between the room’s walls. I couldn’t see where it was anchored, or to what, so I panned the camera. As I did so, something hissed. Another grey blur, much smaller than the one from the log, hurled itself at the camera.
“This isn’t good,” I warned my direct superior, Commander Johnston, as he walked into the control room. “We’ve got a confirmed containment breach on D-level, and possible ones on E through I where the cameras are all out. C through A are clear, for now, but we know they’ve been here.” I paused and sighed, “The science team’s gone, Sir.”
He frowned, and gestured for me to go on. “We’re not entirely sure what breached containment. We already knew that this was a bio-research facility, but the last team didn’t have everything catalogued yet. We’re looking at something that’s a Class-III threat, at the very least. They tore through a solid blast door and moved the bodies from the science team. That implies at least rudimentary intelligence.”
Johnston nodded. He might be full-on military, and human at that, but he understood how valuable my people could be. I knew how to fight, every Taurien learned to, but I was much more technically oriented. I couldn’t read Antrulan, though. Still, with everything labeled, I could at least pull my own weight here.
“Is the situation salvageable, or do we need to scuttle the facility?”
“There’s not enough information available to tell. Whatever we’re up against caught the science team off guard, and nobody’s translated the records yet. We can’t be sure of what it is, or if it could survive outside the facility long enough to be a serious threat.”
“What do you suggest?”
My hands froze over the keys as I registered what he’d just said. This was the first time one of my superiors, outside of Taurien units, had asked for my opinion on what should be done. As such, I took a moment to think, bringing up some schematics on the screen.
“According to the reports, the internal security systems are still serviceable. The blast doors sealed when containment was breached, but there wasn’t enough power for the guns to activate. If we can get a team down to I-level and get the main reactor up-and-running, we should be able to get them active.”
“Wouldn’t they target us, too? We’ve found human remains in the testing chambers before, so wouldn’t we be marked as hostiles in their IFF?”
I shook my head. “I’ve already overridden the entries in their database for Humans and Tauriens. We’re now marked as friendlies.”
“Good job, Alektus.” He gave me an approving nod and started barking out orders over the squad radio. Soon enough, half of the team we’d arrived with were arrayed in an arc across from Johnston and I. He explained our plan, which was exactly what I’d suggested. “Any questions?”
Harlowe grunted, “Yeah. Why are we doing what the elf wants?”
Johnston just gave a cool glare, visible through his red visor, in return. “Because it’s the best plan available.” Almost as an afterthought, he added, “And Alektus is no more of an alien than you are. He was born on Earth. His parents were born on Earth. Even his grandparents were born here. He was raised on the East Coast just like I was, and has excellent marks from his previous commanders. At this rate, he’s going to outrank you after this posting. If you’re wise, you’d get over this phobia you seem to have. We can’t afford any division inside the unit.”
I was on track for a promotion? That was news to me. I shoved that thought to the back of my mind; I had a job to do. There’d be time to celebrate after we’d gotten everyone out of here alive and locked down any potential threats. For now, the only thing that mattered was getting the reactor back online. The stairs were our best bet for getting down there.
The stairwell had seemed clear from the camera feeds, but we were cautious anyway. We didn’t know what might come out of any of the doors along it, sealed though they were. As we passed the door to D-level, I saw that there was a hole in it as well. One big enough for something the size of a person to fit through, easily. Unlike the one the camera had shown, this didn’t seem to have been forced open. It looked like something had melted through it, which definitely didn’t help the ‘butterflies in my stomach’ as the Humans put it. When the sound of something scuttling and hissing drifted out from inside, the entire team shared a glance before going right past the door. We really didn’t want to deal with whatever was inside.
The rest of the trip down was uneventful, though nerve-wracking. Every door below the breached one was in varying states of destruction, the corridors beyond shrouded in darkness. Sometimes, there would be disturbing noises from within. The lowest level was, according to the translated blueprints we’d been given on the way here, just technical equipment. No labs or containment areas. As its door was still sealed, it seemed that whatever was loose in the facility only wanted organic matter. Hopefully, the fact that the team was completely armored meant that they didn’t know we were here.
It didn’t take long to override the lock on the door. Once everyone was through, I sealed it behind us. If they had to tear through it, we’d have at least a little advance warning. The corridor inside was the same dark metal as the rest of the facility, but it was wider than most and lined with terminals and other technical devices even I didn’t recognize, just like the top floor was. Most of the panels were dim, however, or completely dark.
By the time I caught up with the rest of the team, they had the reactor secured. Or, at least, it’s control room. If this place followed standard designs, the reactor itself would be a few hundred feet below, encased in either solid rock or ice, depending on what was below us in this section of Antarctica.
“You’re sure you can get this thing running without blowing us all to kingdom come, Elf?” I just ignored the derogatory term Harlowe used. Apparently, my people looked almost exactly like common depictions of a mythological race here on Earth.
“Relax, nobody’s going to end up in the Shadowed Vales today. Every reactor my people have built in the last three centuries has been modeled after these designs. I could get this thing running in my sleep.” The machinery was still in perfect shape, thankfully. It would have been embarrassing to have said that, and then had some mechanical failure that we couldn’t fix. I had the entire startup sequence primed as I called up to Johnston, “Ready to watch the fireworks, Sir.”
“We’ve already got the popcorn, so get this show on the road,” came his reply. I nodded, even though I knew he couldn’t see me, and pressed the last button. There was a barely perceptible hum from beneath my feet, which the humans didn’t seem to hear, and a much louder one as the lights and consoles suddenly snapped back on.
Small, almost comically so, turrets slipped out from their recesses in the walls, scanning the room briefly before deactivating. From the chorus of hair-raising shrieks and other noises that somehow wormed their way down to our level, my plan was working.
Two of the humans, I couldn’t tell which, glanced nervously at each other.
“Uh…how much rock is between us and that, again?”
“Not enough.”
It took at least ten minutes for the sounds to finally die down. We radioed up to Johnston, “Everything clear on your end? We can’t hear anymore fighting down here, but there’s no way to access the video feeds.”
“Yeah, we’re good. These things sure boiled up out of the woodwork when the reactor came on, but the turrets cut them down like a hot knife through butter.” There was a pause. “I have no idea what they were, but they’re dead now. Good job, men. Come on up and rejoin the herd; we’ve got some cleaning up to do before we can get out of this frozen hellhole.”
“Acknowledged,” I replied. I let the others take the lead through the blast door, expecting them to be starting up the stairs as I came out. Instead, they were clustered around an unrecognizable pile of meat and metal.
One of them whistled and muttered, “Jesus Christ, what the heck was this thing, and what the heck did those turrets shoot it with?”
“What it is? No idea. As for what killed it…” I went on to start explaining what we knew about how the defenses in these facilities worked, trailing off when I realized none of them really understood what I was saying. Wishing my visor wasn’t so clear at the moment, I finished, “Err…basically it shoots a chunk of metal that melts as it flies.”
Satisfied with the simple answer, we started up the stairs. We passed several more unrecognizable carcasses on the ascent, some draped halfway through the holes ripped in their doors. In front of one such spot, Harlowe held up a closed fist to signal for us to stop. “I heard something,” was his only explanation.
As alert as we were from that warning, it didn’t save us. Two blurred shapes suddenly launched out of the doorway. Each figure latched onto a soldier and dragged them back through the gaping hole in the door. We all swung our guns around, the attached lights throwing the figures into stark relief. Nobody fired, unwilling to risk harming our own, but my gun slipped from my hand and discharged into the floor as I caught sight of one of the monsters.
Everything just faded to gray as I watched, the shouts and other noises dissolving into a haze of static as I stood there, fists clenched at my side. I didn’t snap out of it until I realized that Harlowe was trying to talk to me. At my lack of a response, he eventually resorted to slapping my helmet.
“What the hell Alectus? What’s wrong with you?” he demanded.
I just whispered one word.
Saying it aloud only served to confirm my worst fears, and jolt me into action. “Commander…we’ve got confirmed Veshirok presence here. The Ragnarök Contingency is in effect.” As I spoke, I activated a never-before-used transmitter attached to my waist, signaling the ships in orbit as to what was happening. This had just been elevated to a Class-IV threat. The only thing worse would be if they got out of the facility.
“What in God’s name are Veshirok?”
My voice sounded dull and monotone, even to me, as I replied, “Our worst nightmares. These things overran my homeworld in a month and forced us to come here. They’re a nanite plague; the nanomachines inside repurpose any host, living or dead, that they infest and turn it against us.” Several of the hardened veterans gulped as I continued, “They’re only goal seems to be consuming all life. From animals to people, they’ll take a body and use it to kill others. The more of them there are, the smarter they get.”
“How do we kill them?”
“Either EMPs or completely destroying the body. They don’t have anything close to a brain anymore, and every nanite has to die to stand any chance at stopping them. My…” I trailed off as I realized that Johnston hadn’t responded to the Ragnarök Contingency. A few frantic attempts to raise him on the comms ended in failure, as did every attempt to get through to the other half of the team.
A few choice words from the five of us left summed the situation up nicely. “My pistol’s the only thing we have that can actually hurt these things. The defenses won’t target them since their host DNA shows up as ours, which is programmed in as friendly.”
“So basically, we can’t fight them?” Harlowe, bastard that he was to me, did genuinely care for the others in our team. To assume that more than half of us were dead must be really tearing him up inside, especially since he couldn’t avenge them.
“Yes. The only way to make sure that the entire planet doesn’t fall is to nuke the whole place. And, if we end up dying and I don’t call of the Ragnarök Contingency, that’s what’s going to happen. But, since I’d rather we all survive, we can probably make do with the self-destruct.”
“What about Ian and Jacob? We can’t leave them to die!” he was practically screaming now.
“Look, I know we never leave a man behind, alright? I don’t like it any more than you do, but we can’t save them. If the Veshirok have them, they’re already dead. Same with Johnston and his team,” I shouted back.
Honestly, I don’t remember much of what followed the brief argument, aside from the booming cracks of artificial thunder as my gun fried the abominations that tried charging us. We lost another man in an ambush at the top of the stairs, but managed to push through. Harlowe broke off to the control room, after a reminder that he needed to hit the big red button labeled self-destruct, and rejoined us just as we sealed the doors, an entire horde hot on his heels. What was more chilling than the ice outside was how our own fallen soldiers were among them.
Now, as we watch the mushroom cloud spiraling into the air, we’ve been tied together by the desperate fight to survive. I send off one last transmission.
“Ragnarök Contingency averted. Veshirok neutralized.”

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