Exit Point

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"Captain Monfort, we've arrived in the eye. We're ready to drop the last bomb."

I look up from the maps I am studying and nod to my second in command, Sergeant Pierce. I have appreciated him during the whole expedition, as he has made my life easier. Unlike...

"No, too early. We might blow our cover."

Of course, Dr Helen Hinderburg has to put in her two cents. She is the archetype of a know-it-all and my personal tormentor aboard my own ship, The Gauntlet. Her dislike of the militaries is only equalled by her formidable knowledge that made her indispensable for this mission.

"Doctor, we haven't been discovered in six months. There's no reason to fear that it will happen now."

"The creature's eye has more nerves than any other part of its body. I simply advise caution, Maxim."

I repress a groan as she doesn't bother to use the proper rank to address me. I dislike this woman more and more each day. However, I cannot ignore that she is the specialist about the creature, and ignoring her advice might compromise this mission. I will not put the future of Earth at risk because our lead scientist is an insufferable crone.

"Fine. Let's shut the engine and stay in the vitreous humour."

My subordinate steps out of the commanding chamber to return to the control room and Hinderburg leans back over the maps.

"We have to wait for all the creatures to have arrived, otherwise this will all have been in vain."

"I know" I sigh. "Our extraction window is going to be narrow. We need to reach the exit point before the detonation."

"The mucus might be a problem."

"Not with our laser weapon. We'll cut through if necessary."

She nods. "Hopefully they won't notice until it's too late. The Super Accelerant will take one minute to ignite, then it's going to be Hell on Earth."

"Hell on Earth? We are already there, Doctor."

It all started ten years ago. Out of nowhere, a race of aliens invaded the Earth. No warning, no negotiations. These aliens were as far as the human physiology as it can be. Half their face was occupied by a globular eye with two mobile eyelids, they had three legs, six arms and their skin was leather brown. And more important, they were huge. To them, we looked no bigger than insects, billions of parasites that they had to eradicate. The United Nations tried to coordinate a response against the threat but their soldiers were annihilated. What could they do against beings that have the size of a mountain?

To this day, I'm not even sure these aliens understand that the race inhabiting this planet is intelligent. I remember, when I was a kid, I fell on a nest of red ants and was bitten several times. My father decided to burn the nest, to avoid more danger. He never thought about what the ants might think of this genocide, he just thought about protecting his son. Well now I know what the ants felt. The unfairness of the destruction. The helplessness of seeing millions of lives terminated in a second. Now we, humans, are the ants.

As the smallest form of life, the human race had to adapt. We now live scattered in small communities, hidden from the giant predators. We make sure we are never in their path, as they might just decide to crush us for fun. But our weakness has become our strength. The remaining leading forces on Earth have planned a major counter offensive on the aliens. Six months ago, we boarded The Gauntlet in hope to free the human race from their invaders.

The Gauntlet is the most advanced ship that has ever been built by our engineers. It's capable of navigating in space, in air and in body fluids. Under my command, we flew to the nearest alien and cut our way inside it with our laser. We inserted ourselves into its blood vessels and we have been inhabiting here ever since. Our mission? Rig the entire body with powerful explosives that will create a chemical chain reaction with the components of the alien's own body. The chemical used in the chain reaction, the Super Accelerant, is designed to propagate to other aliens if they are close enough, and blow their race off the surface of the Earth. Dr Hinderburg was the one developing this chemical, hence her presence on my ship.

One of the biggest advantages of being so small to them is that we now master the art of espionage. We know that the aliens have a gathering every year on Mount Everest. We don't know why, as we still can't understand their language, but they all meet there on the summer solstice. Today. So far we're on track, but the final fireworks can only happen if our timing is right.

"Ever feel like you're in a movie?"

Hinderburg's voice snaps me out of my thoughts. I look at her and see that she has opened the blinds and is looking through the porthole. Images of the outside world superimpose to her face, as if she is standing in front of a video projector. We are in the eye of the creature after all. We're seeing what it's seeing. Trees, lakes, seas. It's easy to forget how our world is beautiful when you spend six months in the entrails of an alien.

"A horror movie" Hinderburg adds. I frown. She looks different than usual. Less unnervingly sure of herself, more sad.

"What's wrong, Doctor?"

She has a half smile, and looks at me. "Nothing Maxim. We should release the last bomb now. The creature is almost at the Everest."

I nod and head to the control room to give my orders. I still can't shake the feeling that there is something she's not telling me, but now I have to concentrate on getting us out of here.

The bomb drop is swift and unnoticed by the creature. I power the engines and pilot The Gauntlet towards the tear duct. But before I can enter it, an alarm resonates.

"Captain!" calls my second. "It's the escape pods alarm. One of them was activated."

"Give me a visual now!"

He types on his command board and soon an image appears on the screen before me. Stunned, I see Doctor Hinderburg inside one of the pods, carrying the detonator command panel with her.

"Put me in contact with her!"

I hear the sound of the radio channel and snap: "Doctor! What do you think you're doing?"

"My job, Maxim. I need to finish this. Your mission is over now, you must leave."

"Not without you!"

"I have to detonate these bombs from here. It won't work otherwise."

"I was assured that these explosives could be detonated from outside the body."

Suddenly, I realise that I have never really asked more questions about who would press the button. I just assumed I would be the one doing it.

"They lied to you Maxim. It was never possible. Not even radio waves can go through the alien's thick skin. It has to be done from inside. By me."

"But you're gonna die!"

"I'm already dying. The development of the Super Accelerant involved a high level of radiations. My body is decaying. I have metastasis cancer."

"I am... sorry." I don't see what else to say. All this time, I wasted my energy hating this woman while she was aware that she would not return from this journey.

"You have to go now!" she orders. "I will not wait for you, you must take the exit route immediately."

She puts her hand on the big button that will eject the pod off the ship.

"Helen!" I shout.

"Farewell, Maxim."

And just like that, she leaves the ship. Around me, the control room is deadly silent. The men all stare at the screen where the pod disappeared. But I can't leave them or myself the time to mourn the inevitable death of Dr Hinderburg. She is going to detonate the bombs soon, we need to get the hell out of here.

I push the engines hard and we follow the tear duct until the sinus. There, I order my men to shoot pepper grenades all around. And then we wait.

"Let's hope these aliens can sneeze."

Suddenly, we see the air flow changing. The creature is irritated. Mucus appears. It's going to happen!

"Hold on tight!"

The sound is deafening. The sneeze ejects us far away and the ship spirals uncontrollably for several seconds. Fortunately, I soon regain control. I use the laser to cut us out of the mucus that surrounds the engines and I navigate as far as possible from the aliens.

The control room is now silent again. Sergeant Pierce bring a visual of the mountain on the main screen. We wait. Then...

BOOM.

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