Chapter One of this story is here.
Buffy has hunted demons before. She's seen her share of killing and death. But when she crosses through a portal to confront her nightmare, she discovers that this time, it's not just another big bad to fight. Not just a battle. This time, it's war.
Rating R. This chapter: 2118 words.
Chapter Five: They Don't Kill You
Five minutes later, they're crammed into an elevator car, descending into the bowels of the reactor. The heat is stifling, and sinister seismic rumbles shake the car as it creaks downwards. Ripley strips off her jacket, refastening the combat webbing around her torso and settling her taped-together weapons at her hip. Buffy checks that the Scythe is easily accessible on her back, and looks dubiously at the rifle she's carrying. It's just a weapon, nothing to be nervous about. And these demons - aliens, whatever - are certainly vulnerable to bullets. She's seen that with her own eyes.
Preparations complete, they stand side by side as the elevator continues to descend. Buffy eyes her companion curiously, clears her throat, breaks the silence.
"So, um, have you fought these things before?"
A long, painful pause. Then: "Hardly 'fought'. I met one and survived. Guess that makes me the expert."
"So do you have any special powers-- um, I mean skills? Training?"
"I can drive a power loader. And I used to be a qualified starship navigator, till they took my certificate away." Buffy looks at her in surprise and grudging admiration as Ripley asks, "How about you, honey?"
"Well, uh, it's kind of my job. Killing things like these--"
"--but you're just a normal person and you're going to fight them like this?--"
"--You go out and face these things again and again? Every day?--"
"--You're braver than me."
"--You're braver than me."
As they both speak their eyes meet, and Ripley chuckles sardonically.
"Apparently we're both crazy."
Buffy pulls open the door of the elevator and steps out into the dimly lit corridor beyond. Glances cautiously around. "Tell me about it."
Ripley pulls out a tracker, studies it for a moment. "That way." Buffy takes point, senses straining for danger. Sweat drips off her forehead, stains the sleeves of her t-shirt. The metal framework of the building seems almost organic, throbbing and pulsing around them like some huge animal, and they're deep in its stomach. Behind her there's a hiss and sudden burst of pinkish light as Ripley lights a flare, drops it on the ground.
"Help us find our way back."
"Yeah, 'cause that worked really well for Theseus."
"Uh, never mind. Good idea." They've reached a crossroads, metal ladders and catwalks leading deeper down into the complex. "Which way?"
"Left and down. We're close."
Slowly now. The walls seem to close in, rounded and black in the torchlight. Buffy touches them curiously; a kind of hardened resin coats the surfaces, crunches underfoot. Their enemies have been busy down here. Turning this world into their home.
The tracker in Ripley's hand is bleeping faster, and she suddenly stops, looked around in a puzzled way - then stoops to the ground with a cry of dismay. Standing up, she holds a metal bracelet in her hand. The strap is broken, and there are tears in her eyes as her resolve cracks at last. Buffy bites her lip, struggling to think of something comforting to say. "Maybe she's--"
Then holds up her hand as Slayer hearing picks up a sound in the distance. Hardly the most comforting thing in the world to hear: a little girl screaming in terror - but at this moment it's the best sound she could possibly imagine. She's off at a run, Ripley trailing behind her. Ducking under projecting pipework, dashing around a corner, and then she sees her in the distance, embedded in a wall, and an open egg in front of her, and one of the crablike larval demons crawling out towards her. Too far to reach in time.
Buffy doesn't hesitate. She levels the rifle one-handed and pulls the trigger, still running full tilt, and the bullet cracks out and hit the demon dead centre, sending it tumbling and lifeless across the room.
Then she ploughs to a halt and stares at the gun in her hand in astonishment, as if she's only just noticed what she's holding. Then smiles, slightly embarrassed, and shrugs. Ripley has caught her up, rushing over to the entrapped Newt, and there's a touching if hurried reunion. The girl is entombed in layer after layer of the resin, and getting her out is proving difficult. And slow. Too slow.
The hiss is the only warning she gets, but it's enough. Glistening black armour and slime-dripping jaws fill her view, then the rifle in her hand is snarling and the demon blows apart into yellow spray. But more are on the way.
"Keep them off!" Buffy tears into the resin shrouding Newt, Slayer strength making short work of it as Ripley puts her back to the wall and opens fire on the sinister creatures that seemed to be emerging from the very walls. Then the girl is free, and it's time to move. Backing slowly down the corridor, muzzle flares lighting the darkness in staccato bursts. But they've got themselves turned around in the rush and confusion, and Buffy is just turning to ask Ripley if she recognises where they are when she almost collides with the older woman.
Who is standing stock-still as if paralysed. And as Buffy gazes around, she understands her companion's reaction. Her own blood runs cold. She fights to suppress her panic reaction as she looks round the floor of the large chamber. At the demon eggs that surround them; dozens of them, hundreds. Covering every flat surface. An entire army ready to hatch; an apocalypse in the making.
And as her eyes adjust to the darkness, she sees it. Hunched in the darkness yet immeasurably vast; the architect of the apocalypse. The demon queen. Belly gravid with teeming death. Cruel jaws that could swallow her whole. The queen hisses, slow and lazy, breath steaming from her mouth as she turns to look at the intruders. Her eyes are dull and animal; but Buffy has an impression of a calculating hunger, an alien cunning that is more terrifying for its pure single-minded focus. No visible summons goes out, but suddenly the entrances to the chamber are all blocked by warrior demons; the queen's guards come to her defence. Buffy grips her rifle and prepares to sell her life dearly.
Then almost jumps out of her skin as Ripley triggers her flamethrower, sending a jet of fire boiling out into the chamber. She didn't aim at anything, and Buffy is still trying to work out why she did it when Ripley drops the muzzle of the weapon to aim directly at the eggs around them. She looks up pointedly at the queen, and Buffy feels herself grin in unashamed delight at the stratagem.
That is, assuming the queen can make the connection, recognise the threat. Make the bargain. Humans and demons stand motionless for a long, long time; then another of the imperceptible signals goes out, and the demons retreat, clearing the way. It worked. It worked!
The three of them back carefully out of the chamber. Buffy feels a sudden twinge of guilt; she came here to kill this creature, after all. She's dealt with bigger things before, and faced larger armies - though not both together, at least not with so little help. But she firmly suppresses her feelings. In ten minutes this whole area will be a cloud of radioactive debris; that will slay the demon just as comprehensively as anything she can manage with axe or stake.
But as she turns to give the queen one last look, she happens to meet its eyes, and senses rather than sees the glitter of malice within them. And that's why she looks around just in time to see the eggs open silently, as if by command. Releasing their deadly payloads of alien larvae. Her gun snarls, blasting them apart before they can attack, and Ripley whirls in shock, taking in the situation, the betrayal, instantly. The look she turns on the queen is wordless, but speaks as loudly as if she'd shouted aloud: "Oh, you did not just do that."
Then she fires the flamethrower, swings it to and fro, turning the chamber into an inferno. Fulfilling her threat. The eggs sizzle and pop in the heat, and the queen shrills in rage and despair and hatred. Buffy joins her own firepower to the storm of destruction... then remembers the grenades. She arcs them over the burning floor directly at the queen, sees the blasts tearing huge gobbets of flesh out of her swollen pregnant abdomen. The flames rise higher, blocking her sight, so she pulls out a handful of the grenades, tosses them into the centre of the fire. Picks up Newt, grabs Ripley by the arm and drags her out of there, fast as she can.
The fringes of the blast catch them, hurling her forward as she shields Newt with her body. Then they're up and running. The flares light their way back to the elevator, and the shaking of the metal catwalks under them reminds her of how little time they have left.
Then they reach the elevators, and see in horror that the car has returned to the surface. Ripley bangs the call button, then runs over and hits the other one as well. Buffy stands impatiently waiting, watching their path back - and so she's the first to see the huge shape stalking through the red-lit darkness.
How she survived Buffy can't know, but here she is: the demon queen, scarred and burned and hungry for vengeance. And the elevator car is creeping down towards them, painfully slowly. Have they been spotted? She must be able to see them, or smell them. The car still isn't down. The temperature continues to climb, the thermonuclear core at the building's heart approaching critical. The elevator still hasn't arrived. And the queen lifts her head, swings it around, and starts moving directly towards them...
In an frantic tangle of limbs and desperation they cram into the elevator, hit the button; just as the queen squeals her warcry and runs full tilt at them. Her body slams into the wire of the elevator cage, bending it out of shape, but they're rising, they're out of reach, they're safe.
The jubilation is cut off abruptly as they reach the surface - and the dropship is nowhere to be seen. The others have already gone. They've been left behind.
Buffy walks to the edge of the catwalk, looks down into nothingness. The wind howls and lightning crashes, electrical discharges curling around and lancing from building to building. She remembers standing in a high place like this once before. Facing her death.
Ripley gasps in new horror beside her, and Buffy turns to see the other elevator is rising to the surface. She can't even act surprised as the demon queen squeezes her vast bulk out of it and looks around for them. Of course she's followed them; it's the way these things happen, isn't it? She checks her pulse rifle, takes in the ammunition counter at a glance and drops it. Draws the Scythe, and looks with clear eyes into the face of her nightmares.
Then is almost pulled off her feet as Ripley grabs her arm. The dropship is circling in to land, and her companion is clinging to the landing ladder, Newt already peering down from inside. Buffy doesn't hesitate; she leaps up, past Ripley, pulling her inside. The queen shrills her hatred, deprived of her prey, as Ripley yells "Punch it!" to the unseen pilot. The dropship slews in the gale-force winds, its landing legs catching for a moment on some debris, then it's roaring into the sky.
Behind them, Buffy watches the buildings of the settlement dwindle rapidly into the distance... then hears Bishop say in his dry, emotionless voice "Better not look."
"Why not?" She turns to him to ask the question - and then the entire cabin of the dropship lights up like the inside of a flashbulb. Hard-edged white light burns through her frantically closed eyelids, and a wave of furnace heat roars past them. Then incredible noise, and they're being hurled around in the turbulence from Hell, Bishop struggling to bring the dropship back under control. As her eyesight gradually returns to normal, Buffy looks back through the rear windows: and sees a pillar of fire towering high into the sky behind them. As she watches, the smoke and debris reach the upper levels of the atmosphere and begin to spread out in a canopy, and she suddenly laughs in pure delight.
"It really does look like a mushroom! That is so cool!"
They are safe at last.
Continue on to Chapter Six, "The Only Way To Be Sure."