Monday Stories: Red Fire, Chapter 08

They round the corner of the hall. Dozens of them with jaws open and teeth flashing in the light. They close the distance in heartbeats.

“Been nice knowing ya.” Sparky growls as she sends twin bolts of energy into the attacking horde. “Wish we could have made it off.”

“Not over yet.” Blades answers as he steps in front of them. The bone plates on his arms thicken and grows. Acid strikes the bone.

The three teens are shoved to the side of the hall. An armored suit stands between them and the horde. Gunfire booms down the hall, sending bullets singing into the animals. The sound of explosives competes with the angry animal howls. Blue, Sparky, and Blades stare in amazement as five other armored forces march forward.

After a few tense minutes, the animals retreat backward. Two of the armored suits step forward and set up a glass barrier.

“Are any of you hurt?”

“Not really.” Blades answer as he sheds the bone coverage that is covered in acid.

The guards push forward and form a defensive barrier between the kids and the attacking animals. One of the armored individuals’ steps before them. His shoulder plates are painted with red stripes.

“Are you alright?” The wearer asks, looking between Blades and Blue. “Are they hurt?”

“No.” The first armored figure answers, “I am seeing light injuries. Nothing to stop us from moving them to the evac ship.”

“What’s going on?” Blades ask.

“Let’s go.”

“Wait! Who are you?”

“We’re part of the security team for the colonization program.”

“Sorry. We didn’t realize that the computer failed to notify us that passengers have been left behind. We’re here to rescue you.” The wearer straightens and looks towards the hall they came in, “Retreat. We need to retreat now! The Captain is picking up heat signatures.”

“What’s happening?” Blades yells as he is pushed away from the entrance.

“Move it short stuff!”

The half dozen guards form an oblong circle around the teens and the hustle away from the hole. Before the children could ask, two of the guards drop behind and place a clear barrier.

“Phew. Close one, boss.” One of the guards removes their helmet. A woman with short brown hair grins at them, “Hi. I’m Medic Officer Third Class Chesna. Let’s take a look at those wounds. Oh, looks like you have regenerative abilities.”

“Uh.” Blades raises a hand, “This might seem ungrateful but… Uh, what is going on? Who are you? What is happening?”

“Well.” She glances at the hole, “It was. Well. There seems to be some sort of plant that is taking over the ship. Seems like this particular plant likes spaceships.”

“Lovely.”

“Alright.” The commander removes his helmet, revealing dark features, “I’m Captain Eric Selzar. I am in charge of Strike Team Charlie Zero Four, or Dynamite Team. We’re here to rescue you.”

He looks at Blue then at Blades. The two teens break in hopeful smiles.

“I see the stasis amnesia is still in effect? Well. Short answer. You and your families were part of a colony expedition on the way to this world. However, your ship was damaged. You two were the last few people recovering from that damage. However, this ship fell victim to a then-unknown assailant. The medical ship was evacuated but the ship’s computer apparently glitched out and failed to register you two.”

“I’m actually kinda glad that I wasn’t awake for that.”

“Wait. Our families. Our parents. My sister!” Blue says worriedly.

“Safe.” The medic officer says with a smile, “Containment procedure held off the lizards and the plant while the ship was evacuated. However, the plant caused structural damage. Repair procedure was set in motion. Then we discovered that you two were left behind.”

“Alright.” The commander turns to them, “The rescue ship is holding position and is waiting for us. We have successful feints by the other teams. They’ll keep those animals off while we get you to the rescue ship. Captain confirms that there are no other passengers onboard.”

The soldiers break into three groups of six each. One team remains at the barrier. The other one disappears down the hallway. The last group surrounds the teens and begin heading towards the front of the ship.

“Can you at least what is going on?” Blades asks, “We kinda have some of our memories back but nothing about what happened.”

The commander glances over at one of the other soldiers.

The teens exchange worried glances.

“Not here.” The commander continues, “We’ll talk when we get to a resting point. And we’ll need to get you two into evac suits.”

After passing several halls, they come to a stop in what appears to be a meeting room of some sort. The soldiers take up positions near the doors. Outside, the world turns quietly below.

Blades frown in surprise, “What about Sparky?”

“What do you mean?”

“Captain! They’ve broken out of containment.”

“Time to move.”

“What broken out of containment?” Blue yells out, “You mean those lizard things?”

“Yes. They’re an apex predator found on the world below. A sample was brought up for examination. Unfortunately, it was discovered that the animals reproduced like ants. A single queen producing workers and warriors. To top things off, an aggressive plant was also brought up. Which was released when the lizard creatures broke their own containment. Sensors on board the ship reported you trying to escape. An emergency rescue vehicle was dispatched to rescue you. Then we discovered the plant infestation. Well. That took a bit to figure out how to get on board, save you, and then get back off.”

“We were heading to the escape pods. Or the bridge.”

The commander chuckles, “The pods were all launched when initial containment was lost. And you can’t get into the bridge without a passcode. Anyways. You’ll be fine. We just head down to the launch bays and we’ll be home free.”

A howl fills the air just behind them.

“We better get going. Those animals are not going to take an attack lying down. If we run, we can get off this boat in an hour.”

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Monday Stories: Red Fire, Chapter 6

Editor’s Note: Please forgive the unexpected delay. Holidays are here and required my full focus. I hope to be more consistent! I think that might be a New Year’s Resolution.

“The ship is stabilizing.” Blades murmurs as he glances out of the window. “The ship is still skewed but at least we are not doing vertical jumps anymore.”

“That’s good. Have you found anything?” Blue asks quietly. “Mainly how do we get to the bridge and why is the ship seems to be breaking down.”

With a shake of his head, Blades turns back to the terminal he has managed to gain access. Half of the screen has text slowly scrolling past. The second has an outline of the ship flashing past every second. The three teens shift uneasily as the ship creaks and groans. Error reports flow out of the overhead speakers. Every now and then there is a distant roar.

“Seems like something has gotten into the engineering compartment and is wreaking havoc in the navigation system. That’s what is causing the ship to go nuts. Repairs are underway but there seems to be a problem with the repairs.”

“No parts?” Blue asks.

“Maybe. Maybe not. That.. that part of the report doesn’t make sense.”

“What?” The two girls ask as they lean in.

“Well. Repair units have been dispatched but the system doesn’t show that the repair drones arrived. Or that the repairs have been started. There is also a report of combat units being dispatched. But there is no report that they have arrived. All of which means that there is something going on in engineering. According to these reports, there have been seven repair teams and three security teams sent. All robotic. At this point, the computer is preparing a much larger security team.”

“What do we do? Are we even close to the engineering section?”

“Not at all. We are about halfway through the ship.”

“What do we do? Keep going?”

“Maybe. What about escape pods? Can you access that information from here?”

“Yeah. Give me a second.”

“Sparky, why do you want to know about escape pods?”

“Because there are monsters running around a ship that seems to be falling apart. We may need to get off in a hurry.”

“But we haven’t seen any?”

“Maybe but I’m thinking the reason the ship is going nuts is the monsters.”

“You don’t have any proof.”

“True but have you seen any of those custodial bots? That one we tangled with went for the robot and shredded it.”

“Got the locations. Nearest one is three halls down and two floors below us.”

“Great! I say we go for the escape pods instead of the bridge.”

The other two teens exchange glances but seem to be unsure. Sparky stands up and taps her foot. She glances up and down the hall.

“We need to go.” She says quietly.

“I know we need to go but… what if we need to launch the escape pods from the bridge?” Blue looks down the hall, “And I feel like we are missing something.”

“Yeah well, this empty ship is making me uncomfortable. We haven’t seen or heard of anyone else. In fact, that first robot said that passengers were supposed to be left. I mean, how long ago did they leave? And I find it disturbing that they somehow forgot us.”

“That is disturbing to think about.”

“So which is it? Bridge or Escape pods?”

“Why not both?” Blades stands up and stretches his back, “I say we drop down to the escape pod and see what shape it is in. We’ll know then if we need to head to the bridge or not.”

“Wait. Can you get into the ship logs from here?” Blue looks up at Blades.

“No. Security prevents that access from an information kiosk stations.”

“How did you get access to the repair logs then?”

“Part of the system-wide alert system. I can see the reports about repairs but I can’t influence them or get more specific codes.”

“So what do we do?”

“Like I said. Escape pods.”

The three teens begin walking again. Their footsteps echo through the empty halls. Doors slide open and close if they pass too near. Through viewports they see a yellow sun dawning on the world below.

“Reminds of my family’s Christmas camping trip.” Blue murmurs.

“Say what now?”

“Oh. That sunrise. It reminded of a family camping trip.”

“Wait. Your memories are coming back?”

“A little. I see something and a thought would pop in.”

“That’s good. Maybe the rest of us will have our memories return soon too.”

“That would be nice.” Sparky growls as she rubs her head, “I can’t take much more of these alarms. They are starting to give me a headache.”

“Hey look! Stairs.”

Sparky and Blades look to where Blue was pointing. Next to five open lifts are two stairways leading up and down.

“I am going out on a limb that we shouldn’t use the lifts.” Blue mutters.

“Yep.” Blades laughs as he enters the stairs. “Don’t want to get stuck in one.”

A large shadow appears behind the wall.

“What is that?”

Blades turn.

Suddenly he vanishes.

Monday Stories: Red Fire, Chapter 5

“Blades. How is it going?”

“About the same the last time you asked. Five minutes ago. Just chill Sparky. I’ll get this door open in no time.”

The three teens huddle around a small interface. Blades kneels next to the door with a toolkit stripped from the custodial bot. The two girls stand watch next time him. Blue watches one hall. Sparky the other. So far they have heard or seen nothing.

“Ow.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Shocked myself.” He rubs his head, “I think I am still missing parts of my memory.” He chuckles.

“What?”

“Oh. Just remembered the first time I cut into the software of a security door. I shocked myself so bad that my hair stood out for a week.”

Blue laughs, “Maybe we should have called you Sparky instead.”

“Nah. I rather like Blades….” He frowns as the door display flickered with data.

“What’s wrong now? Another layer of security? Maybe we should try a different door.”

“No. It’s not that. I just don’t remember having bone blades then.” He shrugs as the door unlocks, “Then again, I could still be missing parts of my memory. How are your memories?”

“Fragmented.” Blue says as she boosts herself off the wall, “Like you. Just random thoughts that pop into my head when I say something or we do something.”

“Nothing.” Sparky sighs that turns into a snarl.

“It’ll come. Relax.”

The three teens slip through the doorway. Blue shivers from the cold while their breaths hang in front of them like clouds.

“What do you think?”

“I am beginning to wonder how long we have been on the ice. I mean there is dust and no sign of people. I wonder how long ago the ship was abandoned.”

“Stop. We talked about this already.”

“Ready?”

Blades starts at the sound. He looks over and sees the two girls staring back.

“What?”

“Leaving here. Getting out of this zone? Remember?”

“Oh right.”

The ship suddenly shudders. It tilts violently and the teens are thrown to the side. At once they begin sliding down the hall. The tilt becomes nearly vertical and doors slide past in a blur. Ahead of them is a narrow passage. With a roar, Bones throws out both arms. Bone blades extend and catch the edge of the doorway.

He screams as he jerks to a stop.

Bone creaks as the two girls hit him. They tumble to either side of the door.

“Bones?” Blue calls, “Bones, are you okay?”

Sparky helps Bones to her side of the hallway. He groans as he cradles his arms. Blood drips onto his clothes.

“Warning.” A disembodied voice calls out, “Warning. Structural failure. Warning. Structural failure. Warning. Structural failure.”

“Ya know.” Blades groans, “I thought we were past all of that.”

“Do you think we can get down the hall.” Sparky peers down. “Okay. I may not have my memories but I think I’m afraid of heights.” She scoots back.

“Not without a way to climb.”

“Uh, what about the air vents.” Blue points over their shoulders.

“Are you kidding me? If the hallways are not made for climbing, what do you think that will be of use?”

“Well… For starters, I can polarize my hands. Basically, turn them into magnets.”

“And you couldn’t do it as we were sliding to our doom?”

“Well. I need time to do it. Plus if I touch none metal while doing that I would basically deep fry organic material. Messy.”

“Ah. Thank you for not deep frying me.”

“Your welcome. Sparky? Can you do the same thing?” Blue holds up her hands. Faint electrical lines dance along her palms.”

“Uh. No. I don’t think so.”

“Here. I’ll teach you.”

X

“THE SHIP DID WHAT?”

“The program controlling navigation is glitching. The ship is now mistaking vertical and horizontal positions. We’re trying to access the programming to fix it but right now it isn’t going well. At all.”

“Could this get any worse. Wait. You have that look on your face.”

“No, I don’t. Okay. There is worse news.”

“The specimen is still wreaking havoc but last I saw the security drones were containing and destroying them. Especially the eggs.”

“Yes. Well. There is another problem.”

“I should have stayed in school and become a doctor. What now?”

“We found the data log entry explaining what happened and what went wrong. Here is the file.”

“No. It can’t be.”

“It is.”

“Oh, this just gets better and better. Come on.”

X

Monday Stories: Red Fire, Chapter Three

The vessel shakes again. Blue, Sparky, and Blades pause. All three wait for yet another report of some failure or damage. To their relief, none comes. Yet more shaking comes. The tremors come in bursts and the ship tilts back and forth.

“Oh now what?” Sparky grumbles.

“New damage?” Blue asks.

“No. I don’t think so.” Blades says from the window.

“Why is that?”

“The planet is getting smaller. One of those alerts were warning that the ship was in too low of an orbit. I think whatever is controlling ship just put us into a higher orbit.”

“Oh. Is that a good thing?”

“Yes. Means we are not going to die by falling into the world.” He grins at them.

“Yay us.” Sparky grumbles, “Instead of dying by burning up, we’ll die by getting eaten by a strange reptile creature. Or something.”

“Better chances of survival. Can’t survive a ship that isn’t going to survive.”

“Better chances? Better chances if we’re down on that planet. At least then we have an entire world to run in. We should be getting to a lifeboat. Not the bridge.”

“Assuming that the world doesn’t have its own set of reptiles that will find little humans tasty snacks.” Blades says with a chuckle, “Come on. I am sure that we are just jumping to conclusions. Right?”

“What is that world, anyway?” Blue turns away from the window, “I don’t remember what its name is.” She frowns, “Or anything else for that manner. Does anyone else remember what that world is? Or anything.”

“No.”

“Not a thing.”

“Great.” She sighs.

“Bothering you?”

“A little. I don’t like not knowing. And I don’t even know why I don’t.”

“It is a little strange but like the bots said. Suspended animation does cause amnesia. It’ll come back to us. I mean parts of it already have in a way. Airlocks. Warships. Bridge. Or the fact that we know amnesia is not unusual when being pulled out of an ice cube tray. Our memories are there. Just not clear yet.”

“True.”

A distant howl echoes down the hallway. Shivers run up and down the teens’ spines.

“And what is that?”

“I don’t know.” Sparky flexes her fists, “Where is that stupid little robot anyway? We could use some help. Especially when those things kinda almost got us eaten.”

“Come on.” Blue says as she starts walking again, “The more distance we put between us and it, the better off we’ll be.”

“Good point.” Blades looks up and down the hall, “I am a little surprised we haven’t found some sort of terminal or communication pad yet. You’d think a ship this side would have dozens. Everywhere.”

“Research ships must not have as big of a need?”

“But,” Blue says, “the robots said that there were other passengers.”

“No.” Blades said with a frown, “The robots said it was part of their protocols. Did not mean that there were other passengers. Which would explain why there aren’t any signs of them or any distant lifeboats waiting for the all clear. And the fact all of the quarters we have come across seem to be devoid of personal items. Photos, clothing, toys, or the like.”

“What can we do then?”

“What else is there? Anything we need to do is on the bridge. Finding anyone in charge. Communications. Records. Everything.”

“Fine. The bridge it is.”

“Come on.”

“Wait.”

Blue and Blades stop.

“What is it?”

“I hear something.” Sparky stares down the hall. She stiffens and orange lighting explodes from her forearms, “Something’s coming and it’s coming fast.”

At once Blue and Blades take up defensive positions.

“Got any ideas on how to deal with that thing?”

“I distract it and you two hit it.” Blades answers, “Seems lighting does more danger than my bone blades.”

“Good point. Are you a fast runner?” Sparky asks with a grin.

“I don’t know. About to find out.”

Now Blue can hear something thudding along the hallway. Seconds pass and it grows louder and quicker. Tensing for a fight, the three tense.

Around the corner comes the custodial bot buzzing along its treads. Just behind it comes to a much larger machine.

It has four legs and two arms. Massive claws tip the arms while weapons are mounted to its forearms, back, and flanks.

“Greetings!” The robot says, “You are not in the secure bunker. Why?”

“Uh.” Sparky replies as she shuts down her energy, “One of your friends led a monster that almost ate us. We trapped it in the security bunker.”

For a moment the two robots freeze and stare at the teens. The smaller custodial bot’s lens flickers with changing lights.

“Uh…” Blue murmurs, “Did we break it?”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

“This is troublesome.” The small robot begins to pace back and forth, “That bunker is the most secure location on this vessel. If it has been compromised then you are in danger.”

“Uh what happens then?” Sparky asks.

“Standby.” The robot freezes again with its lens flickering.

“Is anyone else getting a bad feeling?”

“I had one since I popped out of my unit.”

“Please follow me.”

“Uh, we were going to the bridge.”

“Negative!” The robot spins rapidly and faces the trio, “You are not authorized to access the bridge. Please follow me.”

“Wait. Where are we going?”

The robot suddenly stops. Spins in place than hurries straight towards the teens. The larger robot lumbers forward much faster.

“Stand back. Allow the security unit to serve its purpose.”

“What?”

“What?”

“What?”

Around the corner comes a reptilian beast. This one is much larger than the other two. Large spikes extend from its shoulders and flanks. Both machine and flesh charge each other. Their footfalls shake the floor.

The two giants clash.

Claws screech against metal skin. Meaty blows as metal fists hammer against hard flesh. Back and forth in a wild dance. They spin and twists as they work to gain the advantage. Metal gears whirling and beast roars echo through the hall.

“Do we help?” Blue yells over the battle.

“Maybe. But I am not accurate enough to hit at these speeds.”

“Negative!” The little robot cuts through the sound, “Specimens are not to engage in combat. Protocol dictates that you must be placed in a secure location.”

The robot spins its tracks and begins heading down the hall. Out of a side door, a reptilian beast appears. Smaller and like the original versions they met, it charges down the hall. One foot crushes the robot. It barrels through the teens.

Blue flies through the air and slams into the wall. There is a sharp cry off to her right and a grunt from Blades. Blue cranes her neck and she sees the two creatures battling it out with the giant robot. In the ensuing fight, it has lost one arm. Blood and oil stain the ground red and blue.

“Come on!” Sparky yells, hauling Blue up to her feet, “This is not a time for a nap. Blades? What are you doing That robot is dead!”

“I know!” He yells back as he picks up the damaged unit, “We might be able to salvage part of it.”

“Like what?”

“A map! Communications!” He wheezes.

“Oh.”

The screech of metal being torn cuts into the conversation. The small reptile lies on its side with its guts ripped out. The larger one is in the process of tearing the robot in half.

“Time to go!”

“Ya think?”

The creature roars triumphantly. Its red eyes stare at them. It slowly begins to lumber forward towards them. Opening its mouth once more, green slim flies forward.

Blue screams as some of it strikes her arm. Stumbling from the pain she hears sizzling and the smell of burnt flesh. The pain suddenly explodes. Her arm feels like it is on fire. A flash of orange light flairs off as someone is pulling her back to her feet. More green streams fill the air.

“RUN!”

Blue takes two steps before agony becomes too much. She doubles over and hits the ground. A wail fills the air. She holds onto sanity just long enough to see the creature stand up over her.

Monday Stories: Red Fire, Chapter 01

“Are you sure about this?”

“About what?”

“This.”

Silence.

“Well?”

“Am I sure about what is going to happen? Yes. Am I sure if this is the right thing, no.”

“Then why do it?”

“It is the only way.”

Silence.

“It is the only way.”

“Are you sure?”

A soft click echoes in the room.

X

Chapter 01

Klaxons wail and the hull shudders. Normal lights flicker as power surges. Red emergency lights whirl within domes. A box-like machine speeds through empty halls on a pair of wide treads. Four mechanical arms are tucked along its side. On top of its metal body is a structure is a security camera-like structure.

“This is a Class Five Emergency. This is a Class Five Emergency.”

The machine passes open hatches after open hatches. Some lead to vacant personal cabins Others are grand rooms for eating, entertainment, or dancing.

“Warning. Hull breach. Deck Seven. Section Three. Repairs commencing. Warning. Hull breach. Deck Seven. Section Three. Repairs commencing.”

The robot glances up at the disembodied voice and shakes its head. The little machine turns its head and looks out of the window. A green and blue world turns beneath it. In the distance a yellow star burns.

The alarm wails once again.

“Warning. Starboard thrusters. Inoperable. Warning. Starboard thrusters. Inoperable.”

At that new announcement, the robot returns its focus. The little machine moves along at a steady pace until it reaches a closed hatch.

It passes through another hatch and rolls to a stop.

Before it is a single black pod. Despite the power fluctuations, the pod’s light remains steady. The robot turns and runs over to an interface mounted in the wall. Extending one arm, it slips its clawed hand into a jack.

A moment later, a quiet humming begins to fill the room. The lights in the pods begin to pulse brightly. A moment later, each one splits open and a child spills out of it. The girl turns and begins coughing violently. From the lens of the robot’s head, a blue light runs along the length of the child.

“Subject 23X7. Human. Female. Elementalist. Electric. Age 13. Four feet. Five inches. Black hair. White skin. Blue eyes. Status. Elevated blood pressure. Health. Normal.”

The girl turns towards the voice. A black jumpsuit encases her but leaves her head, hands, and feet bare. She coughs violently and looks around in confusion. Her breathing comes hard and she shivers in the cold air.

“What?” The girl stammers. “What? Who are you? What are you? Where am I?”

“I am Biological Mechanical Steward Unit Number 7. I am a long-term facility caretaker. You are currently on board the Medical Research Ship New Horizons. An emergency has been declared and emergency protocols are now in effect. You are required to be transferred to the escape pod facility. Please follow me.”

“Warning. Power loss at critical levels. Warning. Power loss at critical levels.”

“What’s going on?” The girl struggles to her feet. “That doesn’t sound good.”

“The ship has suffered a catastrophic failure. Cause. Unknown. In the event of catastrophic failure. All passengers are to be awakened and removed to the escape pods. Please follow me.”

“All passengers?” the girl asks as the little machine leaves the room.

A tremor shakes the floor.

“We must hurry.”

“What is going on?” The girl rubs her head, “How did I get here? I don’t remember.”

“Memory loss is normal for individuals waking from extended sleep. It will return shortly. Please stay with me.”

The ship lurches as she loses her footing. The girl slides along the width of the room. She bounces against the wall and rolls onto the window. Below her, a storm swirls. It leaves an oceanfront and onto a forest-covered land.

“Stabilizing. Stabilizing.” The speakers blare.

Slowly the ship shifts and levels out. At once she drops to the floor and takes a second look at the world swirling below her.

“Please follow me. The ship’s operating system and repair units will continue to stabilize and repair the ship. You must come with me.”

“Wait. You said that there were others?”

“Correct.”

The girl slides to a stop, “What is going on?”

The robot pauses. Its rectangle head spins and faces the girl.

“Please. Follow me. It will all be explained.”

The girl follows after the robot. The machine moves quickly with a quiet hum of its track. The ship’s intercom system continues to sound out updates and warnings.

“This vessel is en route to the colony world Athenia. However, a ship-wide emergency has required all passengers and crew to be evacuated. You are part of the last to be evacuated.”

“Wait. But the ship sounds like it is getting fixed.”

“Protocol dictates in a Class Five Emergency, all crew and passengers are to be evacuated until the ship is restored to Status Normal and the Captain has cleared the ship.”

A low howl fills the air, the girl slides to a stop.

The robot’s head spins slowly.

“What was that?” She asks in a hoarse whisper.

“Standby. Standby.”

The howl comes again. This time it is closer.

The robot spins in place and begins sprinting down the hallway in the opposite direction. The girl takes one look down the hall towards the sound then starts running after the robot.

“What is happening?” She wheezes out as her chest begins to burn with the effort of running.

“Containment of Specimen 332578 has been lost. Emergency Protocol Delta now in effect.”

“What was lost and what is Protocol Delta?” The girl slides to halt and doubles over.

The robot rolls back towards the girl, “Please hurry. You must go to the bunker.”

“Why?”

The hall lights flicker twice than falls dark. Yellow emergency lights burn to life. The howl comes again. This time much closer.

“Specimen 332578 is classified as a Level 10 Experiment. Any containment lost of a Level 10 Experiment is an immediate transfer of all Specimens to the secure bunker and an immediate purge of the facility. Such protocols have a thirty minute wait time. You now have twenty-eight.”

A howl erupts at the end of the hall. The flickering lights reveal a large shadowy figure at the end of it. The yellow lights flicker off its teeth. With a howl, it leaps forward.

Red

Red.
Red like the Fall’s leaves
Red as the setting sun
And the cardinal who sings

Red.
Red like the fire’s glow
Red as the child’s crayon
And the Christmas lights

Red.
Red like the blood of wounded soldiers
Red as the eyes that mourn
And the heart that breaks

Red.
Red like the human’s rage
Red as the victims killed
And the blood-stained car wreck

Red.
The hurts we carry on our flesh
The joys we keep in your hearts
Can be painted in red.