With her armour, makeshift as it might be, in place over her dark fatigues, her ammunition pack on her waistline and her Bloodbolt bullpup weapon in hand, Akira heads for the door. It’s the only entirely flat stretch in the entire space and slides open upon her approach. The mass of metal disappearing silently into the space between the two rooms walls in less than two seconds.

But Akira doesn’t notice that. Instead, as she steps across the threshold into the room beyond she is focused on the sight ahead of her, which is the massive cylindrical room. Her jaw drops as she takes in the scale of the space. It’s cavernous and the walls, a mix of purple and red, are lined with pods. They look just like the one Akira woke up to find herself within. A shiver tears down her spine as a bad feeling fills her every fibre. To make matters worse, at least in her eyes, there are none of the aliens in sight. That concerns Akira greatly. She expected to find herself facing at least one of them down when the door slid away, but didn’t. Patrols, in her mind, should be trudging all over the ship. It’s what she would do if she were The Barren. And from what she’s seen of The Barren prior to this it is what they would do too. Yet, they are not. This place is empty, like a tomb. Again a shiver shudders down her back. It lasts only about a second before Akira dares to push forward along the suspended walkway that extends from one side of the cylindrical room to the other.

Akira cannot make out the far side. At least not with any great certainty, which leaves her mind to think and wonder on what might be in the pods. If they were closer she might be able to find out but with the distance they are from where she is on the walkway there is no chance. Unless, that is, she wishes to risk plummeting to her death by overestimating her abilities and taking the gamble. She doesn’t. It’s why she simply continues forward, one foot in front of the other until finally she reaches, without issue, the far side and what she can only assume is another door. The only reason for her assumption being that it is again the only expanse of flat in the entire space.

Akira pauses, her Bloodbolt levelled again. She’d lowered it after discovering, upon entry, that this room had no threats to target. She takes a deep breath, feeling as prepared as she thinks is possible, though expecting to have the door slide open and reveal targets that need to be felled. It will be a strange sort of relief to see her adversaries again, but there is no way her luck can last.

As this door slides open, again disappearing into a recess between the walls, Akira finds that no adversary is stood before her. Her heart sinks in the moments prior to her stepping over the threshold.

Hope quickly wells up as she considers the possibility that one or more of the aliens might be pressed against a wall somewhere ready to ambush her. The hope quickly fades as it becomes apparent she really is along in this space to. Her brow furrows deeply as she takes in this new space. Except nothing about it is new to Akira. Instead, this room is almost an exact copy of the last in every way, bar the distance between the pods and the suspended walkway. They’re a lot closer now. Within reach to present her with the possibility of being able to survey what may lie inside. She has some ideas, mainly that they are some form of breeding or stasis pods that house what would then be millions, within only these two rooms, of examples of The Barren. If that is true she’ll need to find a way to set them alight, even if it kills her.

However, as Akira steps up alongside one of the pods, rimmed with colourful alloy, she finds the contents are obscured from view by a thick layer of condensation. By the looks of things it has formed on the outside. The woman finds that curious, but the discovery in no way gives her reason to pause. That is why she raises her hand, unfurling it from around the underside of her weapons barrel, only to press it open palmed against what she would describe as glass.

The surface is cool to the touch, soothing and in contrast to the warmth that lingers in the air that surrounds her.

Her eyes closed, Akira takes a long deep breath, her chest rising and falling until after a time has passed she feels ready to glimpse whatever horrors might lie inside.

She pulls her hand across the surface, a squeaking noise echoing out, to clear some of the condensation. Her eyes glance down a moment after.

Her body goes rigid as what her eyes find chill her to the bone. Yet, she refuses to believe her eyes, so she blinks, not once or two but over and over until finally there can be no doubt. Still, she can’t quite accept even then that what she is gazing down upon is the motionless form of a male, human.

She recoils reflexively but feels that it must be a fluke. She has no other explanation. She must have just picked an incorrect pod and so hastily hurries round to the next, only to repeat the smearing of the condensation to glimpse the occupant inside. Again it’s a human, a woman this time. They too are laid out, eyes closed, enveloped in a clear liquid. But the veteran resistance member simply shakes her head, her breaths short and sharp as she turns a hundred and eighty degrees and then swipes her open palm across a third pod. And for the third time she is met by the face of a human being, not an alien. Her head begins to spin as confusion grows and consumes portions of her mind. Answers, she feels, are lost to her as she attempts to consider what this means but cannot, other than to say that these people do not look dead. Asleep, suspended perhaps, but not deceased and then frozen like specimens.

The most disturbing thought that the woman ever thinks she has had enters her head; are The Barren in fact humans? She dismisses it immediately, refusing to believe it even if it would answer a great many questions as to how they are as effective as they are. But another thought does not enter her head in relation to the discovery, while a familiar grumble, moments later, fills her ears. Without a doubt in her mind it originated somewhere behind her. That she is sure of as a smile breaks out across the black haired woman’s face in response, along with a wave of relief that washes over her. At last, she thinks. It should have happened long before now, but now that it has she does not complain. It feels right to know her enemy are here, ready to attack, which is why for the first time since she broke free of that capsule the unnerving shiver is no longer present.

Akira had started to think it would never leave as she spins on her heels and finds two of The Barren barrelling toward her at speed. One has its head lowered; clearly indicating that it intends to tackle the human woman. It’s why Akira quickly flicks the fire mode selection to burst and then having levelled the weapon looses off a trio of bullets, one burst.

They explode out of the relatively short, for its apparent overall size, weapon with a distinctive deep rapid succession of cracks that blend into one another.

It takes the triple shots, to cross the closing gap from the barrel to The Barren’s skull cap, less than a blink of an eye to reach their target. But the hulking monster makes no pained sound in response. Instead, it manages two long strides before seemingly tripping on air and then hurtling forward several metres.

The beast sails through the air until gravity, artificial and produced by the mammoth vessel, yanks the aliens’ mass out of the air and slams it hard into the suspended gangway. The alien is dead. It’ll never move again under its own steam.

Akira blinks unable to grasp how the kill was so easy, yet she doesn’t get time to consider an answer as the second of the giant aliens lets out what can only be described as a pained cry.

The veteran survivor is taken aback by the noise that sounds to her as though The Barren is suffering from grief. It gives Akira pause as if that is true then it will be the first time she has ever seen, or heard to be more accurate, one of the extraterrestrials react in such a way. That is until the thing initiates a headlong charge of its own.

Akira fires instinctively to her sole remaining target. This time loosing off two separate bursts fired three seconds apart. Both tear into The Barren who lets out an agonising yelp just prior to it losing control of its bodily functions and being unable to pull up in time to stop itself from going right over the edge of the gangway.

The woman, having dived to avoid the incoming mass of metal wrapped flesh that must be beneath, hurries over to the section that The Barren barrelled off of. She is sure this has to be some sort of trick to lull her into a false sense of security, which is why she keeps her weapon ready, the muzzle pointed at a perfect angle to fire. But, what Akira actually witnesses is the limp body of the alien plummeting away from her toward some unseeable floor an unknown distance below.

Akira frowns. Everything still makes no sense to her. This isn’t how The Barren fight or die. They’re massive monsters wrapped in some kind of bio-mechanical suits capable of rending humans with little effort, even after being sprayed with more than a hundred rounds of ammunition. But even if they are wounded, and it is usually an if, they press on. They don’t panic or lose their balance and go plummeting down into some shadowy abyss without taking all their enemies with them first.

Finally, Akira concludes that she cannot stay here. She might not have answers, but there is no reason to give her enemies, if they are coming for her, an easy kill. So she spins on her heels and rushes forward. Her legs pumping furiously as her jog becomes a full sprint across the suspended gangway heading for the far side. She assumes there will be a door at the end of this path, like there has been before. She just hopes that wherever this leads it takes her to some kind of control centre where she can free however many of her people are trapped in these pods. That is what matters now. It’s the only thing that matters. If any of The Barren come at her she’ll face them head-on like she always does, even if none of this makes sense to her one iota.

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