Chapter 04: Bits & Pieces

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Jennifer wondered if she was only saying this because she'd picked up on how freaked out she was. Genevieve was good at reading people. Really good. Well, there were worse reasons to suggest going on vacation, she supposed.

"As long as it's somewhere quiet and peaceful, yeah, that sounds like something I'd be up for," Jennifer replied.

"There's this island on Nautica Prime. Well, several islands. An archipelago. They're heavily forested and they have these isolated cabins. Some of them are small enough that you can rent out the entire island. I was thinking maybe we could go there for a week. Trees, nature, long walks through a forest or on a beach, swimming in the ocean."

"That sounds incredible," Jennifer replied. "I'd love to go."

"Perfect. I'll set up something when we get back. Provided there's not some kind of intergalactic crisis going on, I'm sure Hawkins can spare us for a week."

"I hope so."

They emerged from the tunnels back into the main cavern. As they made for the next set of tunnels to investigate, Jennifer froze mid-step as a sound echoed out to them. She couldn't quite determine its origin, though she felt convinced that it had come from the way yet gone. It was something scraping, like metal on rock, extremely distinct in the near-perfect silence of the caves. But no sounds followed it. Jennifer let out her breath in a soft sigh.

"You heard that too, right?" she asked.

"Yes," Genevieve replied.

Gathering her courage once more, she found the next tunnel entrance and marched on. Time to face this thing down.

Immediately, she could tell that this area was larger and more complex. The tunnel was about twelve feet tall and wide enough to almost drive a truck through. It was also crossed by several other tunnels of varying size. To make matters even worse, there was much more metal remnants and several overlapping trails of blood.

"Wait..." Jennifer murmured, coming to a halt in the center of the primary tunnel. Genevieve froze behind her, sweeping the area with her rifle. She studied the trails of blood. The strongest one went straight down the main tunnel, the very path they were following now, but the others, fainter but still clearly visible, went down a few of the side tunnels. "These trails...I think...whatever is doing this is pretty regularly leaking blood. What's down these side tunnels?" she murmured.

"Only one way to find out," Genevieve replied.

They headed down the nearest one, moving as carefully and quietly as they could. Although they heard nothing, Jennifer could almost feel another presence in the cave system with them, something cold and alien. The tunnel was about twenty feet long and ended in a small, somewhat rounded cavern, not much bigger than a typical supply shack. The smell, which had slowly been getting worse, was suddenly overwhelming, leaking in through her vents. Gagging, Jennifer cut off the exterior atmosphere, using her own oxygen reserves to kill the smell. It reeked of blood and spilled guts and slowly rotting meat.

And that's about exactly what was strewn all over the ground of that cave. There were piles of shredded meat with white protrusions of bone sticking out periodically. Most curious, or horrible, of all was the fact that several things had been apparently laid out from the rest. She spied a single blue eyeball, a severed hand, a mostly intact head, (that she recognized as the assistant medic from the personnel roster she'd studied on the way in), a foot, a heart, a liver, fingers, and several feet of intestines.

All laid out neatly among the rock.

"What the fuck does this mean?" she whispered.

"I don't know," Genevieve murmured in reply.

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