- Almost all of a drone's biomass is used to handle its only natural weapon, the claws. Taking them out renders it harmless.
- Some drones are known to jump long distances extremely rapidly. Take care when deploying explosives- they may cause a detonation while marines remain in the blast radius.
- Drones can emerge from loose sand, ducts, and under scaffolding. Look out for opportunities to block these off before they become a problem.
From the journal of Prof. Julie Duval (IAF)
I don't think we'll ever truly understand these. There's so much to learn about their morphology, their behavior, even where they came from. Everything we do know came at a great human cost. I've recorded nearly fifty different variations on the same body plan. Triple that if you include the mutations I've confirmed firsthand. I've been trying to assemble the scant rumors of drones rapidly mutating astonishing new capabilities and carapace coloration. If even half of these are true, I worry we may never be able to catalog every possible variation, much less stamp this cancer out once and for all.
They aren't natural. Even if they were an evolved species at some point, there's evidence of experiments turning some existing being into these colony-destroying parasites. This goes a long way to explaining their remarkable genetic diversity. If the only common ancestor is some experimental parasite, it means whatever monsters created these things wanted to find the best possible hosts for their sick experiments. If the anthropogenic hypothesis offers one ray of hope, it's that we can find some kind of cure. Both for our sake and theirs. I have to believe there's still a chance to cure the galaxy of this alien swarm. There's got to be a better way than risking IAF lives and detonating stations after every last human's been dead for weeks.
I've been exchanging correspondence with Dr. Scenario. It's still early days while we figure out if we can trust each other, but she has some fascinating data. She's not IAF, but that may be for the best. I worry my research into the swarm is a career-limiting move, especially after what happened on Nam Humanum, but I have to know. If I can prove where they came from- if they came from anywhere at all- it's possible no one will ever have to die to these things again. Perhaps one day, I'll be able to walk down a dark hallway without hearing phantom skittering over my shoulder.
Helvetica's making a lot of sense. I suspect my days with the IAF are numbered. She's promised me a place in the Office- not that she'll tell me what that means. If it's somewhere I can study the swarm with some actual support from command, I'll jump ship in a heartbeat. The only issue is whether to trust when my gut tells me I'm at a global maximum right now. It's possible that any move I make is the wrong one. I can't tell if I'm about to make a deal with the devil, take a life preserver off this sinking ship, or paint a target on my back.
I now realize the devil may carry a life vest in one hand and a paintbrush in the other.
- The ranger's acidic weapon travels at a constant height. Dodge roll out of the way for a clean escape.
- Rangers lack a melee attack. The only risk in getting close to a ranger is a point-blank acid orb.
- Rangers cannot turn while firing. Use this opportunity to flank or get into melee range.
From the journal of Bur Nable (Nanotrasen)
The thing about space is that it keeps coming up with new and exciting ways to kill you. They invented a mouth on legs that spits acid at you and the best defense is a somersault. We had to work out a system where one of us distracts it with acrobatics and bullets while everyone else hits it with a stick. If they ever figure out how to look up or down, it's gonna be a lot more work for us. It's like these space bugs don't even care that I have other work to do. You can tell them these science crates have somewhere to be, but they're not gonna listen. I'm not even sure they have ears. Just legs and a mouth.
Just the other day, I was trying to get some space lunch. They had acid orb soup, acid orb pie, acid orb pizza, you name it. Turns out one of these bugs got loose in the kitchen and our chef made the best of it. I don't recommend it- I got nasty heartburn and the doctor kept asking if I was lying. They tell you that you can roll around to avoid the spitballs, but that doesn't work when they're already inside you. I feel like if I had dodgerolled while eating the soup, it would have gone down a lot more easily.
Some clown tried juggling the acid balls once and I'll be the first to admit it was pretty funny until their gloves started to melt. It was even funnier when they tried to wash it off in the soup, and hilarious when it melted right through their horn. It's a shame- they were doing great at the tactical clown rolls until they decided to show off. I like to think we all learned a valuable lesson about clowning around when there's acid bugs scuttling around: it can be really good if you do it right.
If there's any consolation, it's that they like to sleep as much as anyone. I found one sleeping in my bunk last night and it was just easier to let sleeping bugs lie. They don't spit so much when they're all curled up with their legs over their face and the only thing worse than getting melted by a bug in your bed is having everyone get mad at you for waking them up with a gunshot. Honestly, I've had worse bunkmates. They don't hog the blankets or pillows and they help regulate the temperature under the covers. Just make sure you get up before it does.
I'm starting to think they're not so bad if you know how to take care of them. The right diet, rich in calcium carbonate and bismuth subsalicylate, can take a lot of bite out of the acid. Frequent belly rubs, leg massages, and daily walks keep Bug Report here mostly docile, even if they do still try to melt the leash when I'm not looking. I want to ask the doctor if there's some kind of surgery or gene mod for the acid, but she just asks if I'm trying to make soup again and laughs me out of the room. I don't know how to tell her that she's the one that can control the rate at which the bug produces soup ingredients.
- The large bone plates on the front of a shieldbug are completely invulnerable. Attack from the side or through gaps to do damage.
- Shieldbugs have two stances. The "offensive" stance moves and turns faster, but reduces coverage from the bone plates. The "defensive" stance moves and turns slower in exchange for having its shields up.
- Shieldbugs often switch to defensive stance when injured. It's often best to shoot one before attempting to flank to take advantage of its reduced movement speeds.
From the journal of Prof. Julie Duval (IAF)
There are entire species out there I could never have theorized. Helvetica's been leaking me documents that outline completely novel alien species. These "shielded bugs" have indestructible natural armor on one end and a very vulnerable-looking glowing blob on the other. If these are, in fact, the product of genetic engineering, the implications are staggering. Could we create IAF marines that are harder to kill? Or an organic source of armor plates so we don't have to scavenge scrap metal to reinforce the hull? If a living thing can be modified to produce something like this, we should be able to do so much more with this technology. If we're starting from immunity to bullets, resistance to disease and infection should be trivial. I only hope I get the chance to use it for good.
It's becoming abundantly clear that the Interstellar Armed Forces have no interest in my research. The meatheads in command won't even listen to what I have to say. I can claim it's going to save money or time or lives, but as soon as they catch a whiff of alien research, they kick me out. "Our job is to shoot aliens, Professor Duval." This is usually when they stand up and start yelling. I can still feel the flecks of angry spit on my face. "Not share DNA with them." They usually use much stronger language. I worry they don't truly understand the aims of my work, but that may be for the best. If they're not going to appreciate my research now, it'd be disastrous if they tried to use it without me. I shudder to think what the bosses here would do with no expertise, no oversight, and wild dreams of what they can accomplish with genetic engineering. Even if my research really is useless, I have to make sure the IAF doesn't use it to create another scourge.
I'm pulling the trigger. Exit strategy implemented. No turning back now. I'm deleting what I can get away with and falsifying what I can't. Just a little bit every day. By the time I leave, I'll have the only real copy. Helvetica says she's preparing a place for me at the Office. If I'm lucky, I'll find out what OCM stands for. It's either that or I'm making a powerful enemy and burning every bridge I have because a pretty redhead made me realize how much I hate my job. At least, that's what she tells me. You don't exactly attach pictures of yourself when you're exchanging confidential messages about alien biology, work conditions, and sedition. Every morning I wonder if this is the right choice and every night I poison a little more data. I'll know whether I'm making the right move soon enough. I'm guessing it's either the Office of Cyclical Momentum or the Office of Constant Mystery.
The IAF is onto me. I can't prove it, but I swear the chain of command is freezing me out. Nobody wants to eat with me. I have to scan my badge a few times before the doors open. Every time I log in to the network, I worry it's not going to work this time. I've always been able to hear the footsteps echoing in the hall outside. I don't have the luxury of tuning them out any more. They get louder all the time. One day, they'll stop outside and haul me off.
I'm being paranoid, I know. They'll do it while I'm asleep. Less struggle that way. I've signed and sealed my devil's bargain. All that's left to do is wait and see if she delivers. They warned me the devil will be attractive, and that's helping more than I'd like to admit right now. T-minus 12 hours. Time to get everything as ready as I can without broadcasting my intentions. I know they're watching the cameras.
It worked. I'm still in shock, but it worked. I can feel the relief already. Stress I didn't know I had is starting to melt off. Unless this is part of some extremely long con by the IAF to punish me, I'm free. The kind of person who rises through the ranks of the Interstellar Armed Forces is pointlessly cruel, staggeringly narrow-minded, and fundamentally angry. These are undeniably terrible traits to have in a boss, but they are, at least, predictable. They are not the kind of people who stage a phony escape and print up a coffee mug to teach someone a lesson.
So, here I am. Home free. I have my notes, I have my mug, and I have someone I can trust. She was telling the truth about her hair, by the way. Welcome to the Office of Consensus Maintenance, Julie.
- Boomers explode when provoked. If you see one inflating, it's wise to avoid the glowing blobs after it bursts.
- Boomers are mainly dangerous because they burst, but they may attempt to kick you if you get too close.
- Boomers are known to emerge from under walls or roll across the floor to menace marines.
From the journal of Dr. Brad Irwing (AMBER)
Okay. BOOMERs. Specimen 2'15'15'13'5'18. Where do I even start? Terrifying things. They're all terrifying, but I have to start somewhere. If you're reading this, I hope you'll help or know someone who can. People have been killed for trying to blow this whistle. I know I'm not special- I just can't keep quiet about it any more. I've done everything I can to stop these horrible experiments from within and all it's going to get me is a bullet in the head. I don't even have a good idea what they're doing. I know they're making these alien murder machines and setting them loose on an unsuspecting galaxy. I know they're going to do everything they can to stop this information getting out.
This, unfortunately, means that they might go after you. Whoever you are, we have to stop them. They can't kill all of us. The aliens can. I've seen what these specimens can do. Just one of them can explode and fill a whole room with these horrible yellow blobs. I saw the security camera footage. I saw the furniture just instantly reduced to splinters and shrapnel. I watched people I knew- friends and coworkers- vanish too fast for the security cameras to see. All that's left of them are the stains on the wall. These horrible, wretched things have to be eradicated. They're a wound on the galaxy that's only going to get wider and deeper unless we treat it. It's up to us to stem the bleeding and help it heal.
Whoever you are, I'm sorry you've been dragged into this. If it were up to me, all the data would have been burned ages ago. We'd have shot these damn things into the sun and forgotten about it. But it's too late for that now. Blood has already been spent trying to beat these horrible things back, and it's going to take a lot more before the galaxy can rest easy. The real monsters at AMBER are the executives and managers that let it get this far. The real boomers we should have killed are the wretched old men who think the galaxy belongs to them. The aliens can really only kill a roomful of people at a time and they're nice enough to make it quick. The humans in charge have been slowly squeezing the life out of everyone they can get their hands on. They've been grinding thousands of people, soul-first, into dust for years. I can't believe it took an outbreak of living bombs for me to notice.
If there were any justice in this universe beyond what we make ourselves, their own murderous mutants would have killed them already. The first alien creature they weaponized should have nestled right into their laps and ended it all in a shower of golden, pulsating comeuppance. If someone had the foresight to shove one in the right board room at the right time, we wouldn't be here. I wouldn't have to sit here begging the unfeeling universe to do what's right. Captain Bark. Head Doc. Wanman. Schmitz. I know you're out there. I know you saw my name on this message and you've already signed the order to have me killed. I know I can't stop you, so I'm going to keep doing this until the universe is safe or you put the bullet in my head yourselves.
I'll be waiting.
- The buzzer's main weapon is distraction. Their attack can disrupt a marine's vision for a few precious seconds at a crucial moment.
- Buzzers are small, quick, and airborne. This makes them a challenge for projectile-based weapons - wise marines often find it easier to "swat the flies" with melee attacks.
- Buzzers release a glowing trail wherever they fly. This can hide the approach of other, more menacing, aliens.
From the journal of Bur Nable (Nanotrasen)
One of the reasons I moved to space is that there's no bugs here. You never have to worry about a mosquito bite or walking into a spiderweb unless you're an astroentomologist or something. One of the reasons I think about moving back home is that the thing about bugs is a lie. Space invented giant, angry fireflies that make your eyes go all blurry and unleashed them on the space station. Let me tell you, you would not believe your eyes if ten million fireflies lit up the world as you fell asleep. For one thing, it's really hard to believe your eyes when it's dark in the barracks and the bugs keep messing with your vision. The only thing you can believe is that you're not getting any rest tonight.
Anyone in my situation would be terrified of the silent killer, Bug In Mouth Disease. So, naturally, I discussed it with the captain, got my access upgraded, and grabbed a space helmet from the emergency EVA supplies. As a bonus, the built in welding-grade visor meant the glowing particles only lightly roasted my corneas. I kept my eyes closed on the way out, since it's not like I could see anything through the thick layer of caked-on bug corpses. I made my way to engineering with a radio full of bug guts and tried to pantomime that I wanted a windshield wiper for my face. It hasn't worked so far, but I have a good feeling about tomorrow. I've gotten mean emails from the mail room, hydroponics, and the bar, so I'll get there at some point. At least Bug Report, my darling pet ranger, has been great moral support.
I can't even enjoy my time off any more. It was Saturday night, so I was trying to fill my locker with bees and cheeseburgers, but I couldn't find any dang bees. I guess I could fill it with buzzers and cheeseburgers, but the buzzers don't really need my help. It's not even easy to get normal burgers these days- the cafeteria's mostly serving bugs on buns and hoping nobody notices. I haven't tried the buzzburgers because, you know, the disease. I asked the chef if they have some kind of aerosol cheeseburger I can hook up to my helmet's oxygen supply and eat that way, but they mostly sounded confused and angry. I got chased out before I said they could call 'em "breathesburgers".
I'm still wiperless. I'm pretty sure I got to the right place this time, but everyone sounded real upset about some big, sucking hole. So I implemented Plan B. Plan Bug, for long. I clipped a leash onto Bug Report's collar and pressed them into service as a seeing-eye bug. I will admit I forgot to check if they have eyes, but I figure they have a better idea of what's going on than I do. Honestly, it's working pretty well so far. Bug Report has a reasonable enough idea of where I'm supposed to be at any given time, even if we do find ourselves at the pharmacy for bug food more often than usual. The only real problem is that my requests for an acid-proof leash and collar keep getting delayed because "we're a little busy with the hull breach." Honestly, I think they're still mad about the time Bug Report melted their boots. Even after the apology acid!
Well, I can take my helmet off and breathe easy now. Turns out we had kind of a kill a zillion bugs with one hole situation while I was giving Bug Report their daily belly rubs. Someone tried to set off a bug bomb, it turned out to be more of a regular bomb, and, well, it got rid of the bugs. Some of the rude engineers aren't around any more and I can put all the bees and cheeseburgers I like in my locker, so it's a happy ending for everyone. The only real problem is that Bug Report expects walks all the time now, and I just can't say no those big, glowing puppy dog probably-eyes. They finally started processing my requests for a basic collar to neutralize the acid, but they keep sending me these boring ones that melt like all the others.
- Parasites reproduce with the help of human heads. If a parasite latches onto a marine, prompt medical attention is required to keep them from exploding into more parasites.
- Electrified armor is the only non-medical way to prevent parasites from coupling with a marine's head once they attach. Fire, applied either to the parasite itself or the egg, will render the specimen infertile and unable to initiate the process.
- Infested marines report their vision turning red. If medical care is unavailable, the wise and merciful option is to put them down with friendly fire before their body can be used to scatter more parasites.
From the journal of Shaun Ming (SynTek)
I had to kill him. I had to look him in the eye and pull the trigger. His bloodshot eyes, paralyzed with silent terror, stared back. It's carved into the inside of my brain. I see his brain spattered against against the ground when I close my eyes. The shot rings inside my skull at every quiet moment. The latex gloves came off with the flick of a wrist, but the blood won't leave my hands. This is my fault. I had to go and play God with these damn eggs. I knew how quickly they could spread. I knew they'd breached containment before and they could do it again. I just had to know. I had to verify my theories. I had to know if I was right about the rapid tissue synthesis sequences I found in the genome. And I was. I was absolutely right. I was right enough to kill almost every damned soul on board, and I'm only alive because of my own sloppy work.
I should have been punished for my hubris. I flew too close to the sun and should have fallen into the freezing, consuming ocean. I should have fed myself to them to prove my brilliant goddamn theories. They need warm flesh to breed and grow. Maybe someone more responsible would have kept the rest of the eggs on ice until they could burn the lot of them to the ground. Maybe the project would have been forgotten and nobody else would have had to deal with this. I should have climbed on the eggs in the cargo hold, made sure the airlock was pointed at the nearest star, and opened the hatch without a helmet. Maybe then I could have done something for the universe and actually earned that Nobel.
Annotation from Dr. Helvetica Scenario (OCM) // 06/16/53, 13:02
Or maybe someone else would do the exact same thing a few months later because you died wallowing in pity like a big baby instead of trying to make sure this never happens again. Sorry. That's not very professional of me. Neither is letting your experiment boil over and become a problem for someone else to deal with. A lot of people died cleaning up your mess, Shaun. The least you could have done is publish your findings so I didn't have to endanger my team looking for answers. They went through hell and found your journal.
You knew that what you were doing was wrong, and what did you do? You spent all your time sneaking around and hiding as much information as possible from anyone who might try to stop you. You knew the consequences and you didn't care. You just wanted your big, prestigious paper. You messed up. We agree on that. We've all messed up. The difference between you and me is that I try to make it right. You're lucky I got here first. Do you know how many governments would kill for a bioweapon like this? Especially since you didn't bother to tell anyone that fire almost completely neutralizes the threat? I had to read it out of your damn diary. Great science, Shaun.
Maybe I can still get out of here alive. Fire would consume precious oxygen and risk trapping me inside, but I think I remember something about live wires. They escaped the containment through the vents, but they didn't use the electrical conduits. At least, not when they had a choice. I'm surprised I never noticed that behavior before. It's fascinating- I'd love to set up a maze and electrify different routes to see where they do and don't tread and- I'm getting distracted. If I'm half the brilliant scientist I was last week, I should be able to get out. Let's see if I can get the right amount of current on the outside of my clothes. The batteries in the spare oxygen scrubbers should be a good start.
- Mortarbugs are larger, stronger rangers. Capable marines keep an eye out for mortar shots coming over walls.
- Instead of acid, mortarbugs spit bombs that explode after a constant length of time.
- Mortarbug bombs are capable of damaging aliens and marines alike. Swift marines can take advantage of this to help clear densely-packed swarms.
From the journal of Bur Nable (Nanotrasen)
Well, the good news is that I met Bug Report's big sister. The bad news is that some days you just can't get rid of a bug bomb. A new kind of larger, acid-spitting space insect just dropped, and they assigned me to deal with the problem. I assume it's because I did such a good job with the buzzer infestation and because I can get Bug Report to sit on command about 41 percent of the time. That's my best guess. My commanding officer just shouted "Bur! Bug! Go!" over the radio and I kinda had to go from there. I'm not totally sure if I'm supposed to train the bug or kill her or what. I've been calling her Big Report.
So I took the bug bowling. I figured that if she wants to spit orbs, the least she can do is aim it away from anything that screams- which does mean we have to replace the screen that keeps score. I think the sudden music and dancing bowling pins gave her mixed messages, so I can't really blame her for blowing it up. It's not like it's hard to keep score for her - turns out it's really easy to bowl a strike every time when the balls explode. She doesn't even need bumpers! Which is fortunate, because they're splinters now. The tricky part is trying to get her to shoot forward instead of up. There's no rule that says you have to roll the ball, I guess, but I feel like air striking the pins is against the spirit of the game.
The main problem is that we are running out of usable pins. The other bowlers are starting to get upset that they have to bowl with less than a full set. I tried to tell them about the history of the sport - they used to bowl with eight or nine pins back in the day, and they liked it! I tried calling it a throwback night, but now balls are flying everywhere but the lanes. It's one way to save wear and tear on the pins, but it's rough on the carpet, chairs, and other bowlers. Personally, I think it adds a fun twist when you gotta play dodgeball and rollball at the same time.
It is setting a bad example for Big Report, though. She was doing so good at the bowling alley until Throwback Night surprised her. I thought bugsketball would be a perfect fit for her, but the less said about that, the better. So I'm changing tactics again and signing her up for the baseball team. She's got a great pitching mouth on her, so I figured we could use that. I haven't gotten her to throw baseballs yet, but the bombs are really motivating the batters and fielders to do their best. Plus, now every home run comes with its own fireworks display. The only problem is that nobody wants to play catcher. I offered to make the padding thicker and more acid-resistant, but I'm thinking we're just gonna have to use the bomb shelter as a backstop for the time being.
Well, today was the big Space Series championship. Big Report pitched, of course, for the Upper Deck Robust Rookies against the Lower Deck Bosco Orbs. True to their name, the Orbs managed to genetically engineer some ball-shaped basebees to play outfield. I think they heard we had an insect player and refused to be outdone. The bees are not as effective as you might think - they find it hard to lift the gloves and put them in the way of the ball, even if they can fly. They mainly affect the game by being about the same shape as a baseball, so you gotta make sure you're getting tagged out by the right orb. If you get tagged out by a bee, you can keep running! I did manage to get Big Report spitting baseballs before the big game, even if they are covered in a thin layer of time bomb juice. This usually led to the balls either going off in the catcher's mitt (relatively harmless once we armored the glove) or exploding in midair after the hit. Very pretty, but it turns out that if the ball explodes, you have to field all the pieces. Long story short, the mercy rule made us call the game once we were losing 68 to 1. I still count it as a success. It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you taught a bomb-spitting space bug to play the game.
- Instead of attacking directly, harvesters spawn xenomites to attack for them.
- Marines should exercise caution when approaching a Harvester. They don't attack directly, but their skin is corrosive.
- Harvesters are one of the few known specimens that will walk away from marines. You may have to chase them down to stem the tide of xenomites.
From the journal of Dr. Brad Irwing (AMBER)
Good news, I'm still alive. I had a few close calls, but those monsters at AMBER haven't gotten me yet. This one's for you, Captain Bark. Guess they were right about your bite. I still have both my pant legs and, of course, all of my notes about your dirty little experiments. Look at that, we got Head Doc's signature on a lot of these. A certain someone signed off on the HARVESTER project! Specimen 8'1'18'22, here we go. These guys are nasty. You monsters weren't content with wretched mutants choking the life out of the galaxy one by one, you had to make a whole line of mutant factories. Couldn't do all the dirty work yourself, so you made a damn pyramid scheme. Why make one problem when you can make an infestation that festers and multiplies? Brilliant work all around. Give yourselves some medals.
I guess it only makes sense. Capitalists rarely do their own dirty work. They have people for that. They withhold your livelihood and make you dance to their tune if you want to eat. They don't say it like that, of course. They don't have to. They just make sure food costs money and they just so happen to have a paying job right here. The job might not even be so bad. Maybe you email spreadsheets around to make sure the murderous mutants have enough food to grow up big and strong. For every one black-hearted monster strip-mining life from the universe, there's thousands of people who are forced, implicitly or otherwise, to spend their precious remaining years making it happen. Why put yourself in harm's way when you can run away, hide somewhere safe, and send your underlings to do it for you?
And once you realize this, the walls start closing in. You might not be consciously aware of it or be able to put words to the feeling, but you can feel it pushing at the corners of your mind. Just constantly squeezing you in its vice grip. The job isolates you because capital doesn't want you to have friends or loved ones. That would get in the way of work. If you don't work hard enough, you won't get to do any more work. You can go starve to death somewhere out of the way. Get back to selling the sand in your hourglass, grain by grain, peasant.
Of course, actual peasants got more time off.
There's a way out, of course. They need us more than we need them, and they can't kill all of us. Especially if all the guys holding the guns realize they're getting a raw deal, too. That's the thing - we're all in this together. The catch is that it only works if we do it together. They'll try every trick in the book to force us back to work. They'll break our legs. They'll let us starve. They'll put guns to our heads. They'll hire goddamn Pinkertons to blend in with us and drive us apart. They'll load up an armored transport with the biggest guns they can find and fire in every direction because they might hit someone who dared to want a better life and scare everyone else into falling in line. They know what happens when you hit them where it hurts. If there's one thing I've learned from these specimens, it's that when they show you their weak point, you take the shot.
That's why I know you're coming for me, Captain. I'm the thorn in your side. The xenomite in your ointment. The kick in your teeth. I'm just going to get worse unless you can pluck me out. Go ahead and try. I'm going to keep spreading your secrets across the galaxy until one of us is dead. So go ahead. Keep picking at me. Keep swatting at that fly. By all means, expose your big, glowing weak point. If we all shoot, we can't miss. We only have to get lucky once.
- The only dangerous part of a xenomite is the acid sac on its behind.
- Xenomites will attempt to jump onto marines and detonate themselves. Marines can refuse xenomites by killing them first.
- Xenomites often indicate that a Harvester is nearby, but they're also known to exist independently.
From the journal of Dr. Brad Irwing (AMBER)
Speaking of big, glowing weak points and obnoxious parasites, I bring you specimen 24'5'14'15, codename XENOMITE. Can't talk about harvesters without talking about their exploding babies. The main reason harvesters are dangerous are because of these little monsters. The thick, choking smoke to the fire with acidic skin. That's the thing about being trapped in a burning building. You'll choke to death with burning lungs long before your skin sears. The foot soldiers and hired thugs will leave you battered and broken long before those gilded hands even have to try to wring your throat. I have to assume that's why you keep sending your grunts after me, General. Can't put in an honest day's work and risk me fighting back, right?
If you are one of those grunts, I want you to know that I have nothing against you. If anything, I have more in common with you than you have with your boss. We're both being exploited and forced to do violence against people who don't deserve it. How may other whistleblowers have you scared into silence? How many people have you shot for doing the right thing? I can give you a list of people who do deserve it, but they're all names you've heard before. Your boss is having you kill me instead of the exploding bugs with asses full of acid. What does that say about his priorities? He's burning your house down and making you shoot the firefighters.
The sand of our lives ruthlessly slips through our fingers with every passing moment. We cannot stem the tide. The best we can do is make the most of the time we have and, perhaps, do our best to keep the flow running a little longer. For example, if someone's genetically engineering a scourge of skin-melting bugs designed to overrun the whole damn galaxy, that's going to cut a lot of lives very short. Including your own. Whoever you are, whoever's out there, I don't know how else to say that this is an existential threat to life in this galaxy. Every passing moment brings us closer to the point of no return.
That's the message here, right? "Xenomites of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your acid sacs!" It's not a perfect metaphor, I'll admit. The xenomite is spawned from the harvester and lives just long enough to burst, covering its enemies in acid. We are not born from the capitalist, and we can live long, fulfilling lives if we don't burst for their benefit. We owe nothing to the corrosive creature that sits on top of the food chain, demanding that we lay down our lives for nothing in return. The harvester only provides the bare minimum to the xenomite to get it to perform its suicidal task. I don't have to tell you that it sounds like a raw deal for the xenomite. And, might I add, that the harvester would be rendered defenseless without them.
Well, all the theory in the galaxy won't help if you don't put it into practice. I can stand here giving my pretty speeches to the uncaring galaxy until the end of time, or I can prove I'm right. If you've been following me this far, I want to thank you. I hope I'm no longer fighting the good fight alone. If you're one of the rat bastards who put us in this situation, I hope to see your head flushed out of an airlock some day. If you're one of the fine folks who's been shooting at me for the last few weeks, I suppose I'll see you soon.
If you don't hear from me again, you can probably guess what happened.
- The mender is capable of healing its fellow aliens with its stretchy, red and green tongue. Wise marines will find it difficult to stem the tide until it's dealt with.
- Menders are considerably rarer than other alien species. Novice marines often panic their first time seeing one and waste precious ammunition causing quickly-healed wounds.
- Menders are known to run away and regroup when the going gets tough. Cut them off before they get the chance.
From the journal of Bur Nable (Nanotrasen)
We're developing a reputation as the space station that knows what to do with bugs. After Bug Report and Big Report, everyone else started unloading their bugs on us. We've got crates full of bees, mosquitos, and tiny microphones. We can put most of them to good use easily enough. Bees go to botany, mosquitos go to the bloodatorium, and I think I've bugged basically every room in the station at this point. Anyone can talk to anyone else from anywhere! The noise is unbearable, but I think it's a price worth paying for progress. The toughest nut to crack so far has been this weird doctor bug that showed up in a crate one day. We sent her over to medical, so we'll see if they appreciate that long, weird tongue.
So, the doctors really love the new bug, but not for the reason I hoped. I assumed that, since the new guy is really good at fixing up other bugs, they could put her to work fixing up humans, too. And she does do that. The healing lick works great. The wrinkle is that it fills in the gaps with bug. We have guys who were missing legs that are now click-clacking down the hall happy as can be on chitinous little points. Half the cafeteria staff have scald-proof exoskeletons on their arms to fearlessly reach into soup. The bartender's got a big, bioluminescent acid sac where his eye used to be, and he loves it. Every time I see him at work, he's positively glowing and the drinks have more of a kick than ever.
Naturally, the doctors find this fascinating. They keep saying stuff about "exciting new genetic research opportunities" and "a way to save money on cybernetics" and "finally, I can become my bugsona". Everyone is just a big fan of the bug. They're practically lining up to get a blast of that good, good healing tongue. Can you really call it "healing" if you're plugging the holes with spicy new bug goop instead of good old fashioned human flesh? The folks with the brand new arms seem to think so, and they seem like the experts here.
All this talk about spicy new bug goop made me hungry, so me and Bug Report paid a visit to the cafeteria. Big Report's been pretty busy with baseball practice, so we don't see her very much. Bug and I have a pretty good little routine where I eat and they loaf on my lap and eat whatever happens to fall. I usually have to drop a few antacids at the same time so they don't leak too much acid, but it works well enough. Today's lunch was this canister of liquified hamburgers, superheated and served as a vapor. Bug Report here must really like steamed hams - they got so excited, they clawed and melted right through my jumpsuit legs. So, naturally, I sought out our local mender to see if it could do anything about my bare legs. She could! It didn't do what I expected - my clothes are still in terrible shape - but all those little leg scratches got smoothed out with a shiny new layer of exoskeleton.
Good news! Everyone's bugs! It happened so slowly, I don't think we noticed until it was too late. Every time we'd get a bump or a scrape, we'd take it by the mender to get mended up and get a little buggier every time. And, to be, clear, this rules. Everybug's skittering on the walls and ceilings so the hallways are now four times more efficient. I eat mostly sugar water and nectar, so I don't have to deal with whatever the cafeteria staff cook up unless I want to. Plus, me and Bug Report are closer than ever. Nobug's really scared of them any more and I'm starting to really dig the rhythm we get when our legs tap down the hall together. I just hope this nasty case of acid reflux dies down soon. I think it's starting to melt my teeth.
In conclusion, the real bugs were the friends we made into bugs along the way.
- Biomass is thought to fill a role in the alien life cycle. It cannot attack directly, but it is corrosive to the touch.
- The only way to actually eliminate a biomass is to burn it off. Marines have to consider whether to bring fire or simply accept some damage to cross.
- Some, but not all, biomass releases pheromones that call in a swarm when burned. Be prepared to fight when lighting unfamiliar biomass.
From the journal of Shaun Ming (SynTek)
The electricity worked! I stripped a few meters of spare wire and wrapped it around my clothes. Some thick rubber gloves made sure I didn't immediately electrocute myself, and I was off to the races. The main wrinkle is that my head remains extremely exposed, but so far so good. I honestly think they can sense the electromagnetic field and that pushes them away. This implies you could effectively repel them with an antenna cut to the right length and relatively little current. The cables and electricity have got to be a relatively inefficient way of emitting the power. I'll have to sit down and do the math later to see if I can figure out the exact frequencies that repel them. Maybe I'll get lucky and find up a spectrum analyzer later. For now, I must bravely press on.
I have hit a problem I cannot solve with electricity alone. A vast stretch of biomass blocks my path. It quivers when I approach with the electricity, but I don't think it could move out of the way if it wanted to. Come to think of it, can it even want things? It certainly likes to eat corpses, but that might be in the same way a wood chipper likes to eat branches. Regardless. I'm getting distracted. This hallway is biomass, walls, floor, and ceiling, as far as the eye can see. I wanted rapid tissue generation and I sure as hell got it. It sure doesn't like fire - there I go again, anthropomorphizing it - but this base's atmosphere has an exquisitely combustible oxygen/nitrogen ratio and thing is way too big to shove into a furnace. Is this the dead end I deserve for daring to reach beyond my grasp?
Annotation from Dr. Helvetica Scenario (OCM) // 06/18/53, 11:11
Those were not spare wires, you- Sorry. Unprofessional. You ripped those out of the fire suppression system and left bare, live wires just hanging out of the wall. You didn't even cut them properly, you just grabbed and yanked. Because, hey, why do things the right way and make someone else's life easier when you can try to escape the consequences of your actions and leave a fire hazard in your wake? Your cute stunt with the "spare" oxygen scrubber batteries left the atmosphere unbreathable. People died. Endangering my team is one thing - they signed up for this. They knew they were going somewhere dangerous and did it anyways in the pursuit of knowledge and to help humanity. Not to win a damn Nobel, Shaun. There were innocent people on that station. People who didn't notice the air slowly turning to poison around them until it was too late.
For every self-proclaimed genius that just takes what he wants without thinking about the world he claims to want to save, there's people like me who have to clean up afterwards. Someone has to go back over the earth you salted and see if there's anything worth salvaging. I've read your notes, Shaun. I know what your coworkers and bosses had to say about you. My team braved the hellscape you created for this information, the least I can do is make sure nobody has to deal with your… let's say "unique approach to problem solving". I do my research. I think about what I'm going to do before I do it. Information isn't free, Shaun. Good information, reliable information, comes at a steep cost. Sometimes that price is paid in blood. And if you have that, if you have something people died to bring you, the absolute least you can do is make sure that price never has to be paid again. If you really were half the "brilliant scientist" you claim to be, you'd have thought about a single living soul other than yourself instead of locking the fire exits.
Fire. The only way to deal with biomass is fire. It's infested the vents and occupied the doorways. There's no other way out. Electricity doesn't work. Acids don't work. Bases don't work. I thought the sodium bicarbonate would help neutralize the corrosive skin, but I think it just made the biomass angry. Sorry, anthropomorphizing again. I suppose I'm going to find out when I burn it. It's okay. I'm the genius that got us into this situation, I can get me out of it. I think I know where I can get a blowtorch. Just a little heat, delicately applied, should cut a swath right through the middle. I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner.
- Grubs have no weapons and very little health. They can be killed simply by stepping on them.
- Parasites are often, but not always, nearby when grubs are present. Capable marines take advantage of this early warning.
- A grub's only natural defense against boots is their ability to climb walls.
From the journal of Shaun Ming (SynTek)
Alright. Things happened. I couldn't find a blowtorch, so I made do with a can of pressurized lubricant and Helen's secret lighter. Not that it's really a secret if you lock it in a drawer every time someone walks in. And, well, it worked on the biomass. Turns out there's a reason they don't let you bring open flame into the complex. The entire hallway just went up instantly. Lubricant touched flame and the fireball did not stop where it should have. The biomass is gone, but so are most of my hair and clothes. Turns out I was right about the oxygen mix. Once again my own brilliance curses me with foresight, but not the ability to prevent the inevitable. I'm a tragic genius, tortured by a world that refuses to understand me.
So. Status report. The fireball consumed a lot of breathable air, and the oxygen scrubbers aren't working for some reason. There's some smaller blazes that the fire suppression system isn't dealing with, so that's worrying. The atmosphere is rapidly becoming unbreathable. There should be emergency EVA equipment nearby. The question is whether I can get there before I pass out. Wish me luck. If I don't make it, I will assume it was the universe choosing to punish me one last time because I dared to dream big. Nothing between me and sweet, sweet oxygen but these slimy little larvae.
Annotation from Prof. Julie Duval (OCM) // 06/20/53, 16:00
Officially taking over document review from Dr. Scenario. The medical staff and I were getting concerned for her well-being. I could hear her screaming through the walls. We had to call for a structural evaluation of the doc review room. I'll attach the full report - Architectural Verification DR-HS-9371 - but the short version is that it came back clear. The steel walls are still the full three inches thick and the acoustic foam is in perfect working order.
Regardless. I have a job to do. This is crucial in reconstructing what happened here and Mr. Ming's journal has been invaluable in our endless battle against the alien swarm. His shortcomings and tactical errors aside, we'd be a lot worse off without his research. Of course, we must also consider that, without his actions, there would be a lot fewer aliens in the swarm and we would have more staff on hand to deal with them. The point of a document review is to distill the available information into something succinct, searchable, and salient. With that in mind, I suspect this will form a key part of our investigation into the Jacob's Rest incident. I just hope we can put this all behind us soon.
Space suit works. Good news: plenty of oxygen. Bad news: plenty of bugs. The grubs are crawling on my face. I dare not open my mouth for too long, lest my dictation be interrupted by God's worst mouthful. I can feel them writhe and wriggle against my skin. This is my hairshirt, I suppose. I dared to try to save the galaxy with my research into the fascinating world of alien biology, and what do I get for it? Twelve-inch larvae squirming in my underwear while the air turns toxic. I can't wait to reach the escape shuttle and get the hell out of here. The fires are only going to make this place more hostile as time marches relentlessly on. I just have to make my way to Timor Station with grubs in my hermetically sealed pants.
Annotation from Prof. Julie Duval (OCM) // 06/20/53, 17:53
The journal more or less ends there. There's a lot of unproductive complaining about grubs squirming into increasingly anatomically unlikely areas. As far as we can tell, he didn't survive the ordeal. No one did. We found his journal abandoned on Deck 2. If I had to guess, I'd say he dropped it shortly before his demise. It's scratched in a way that's consistent with what we know about drone claws, so it's possible he was attacked. We never found a body, so he either got himself devoured or managed to throw himself into the waste disposal or something. The man who doomed Jacob's Rest died relatively quickly to the swarm he unleashed and the innocent people he doomed never had a chance. If he made any effort to repair the fire suppression system or restore power to the oxygen scrubbers, there's no record of it anywhere. There are multiple entries outlining the movement of grubs on his body in frankly unnecessary detail, but not a moment's consideration for the people he imperiled. I will resist the temptation to editorialize further, but I hope the conclusion is clear.
Annotation from Dr. Helvetica Scenario (OCM) // 06/20/53, 23:01
Rest in pieces, Shaun. Eat shit.
- Marines who have fought uber drones will find the antlion guard familiar, albeit faster and larger.
- The antlion guard's primary weapon is the chitinous battering ram on their snout, giving them a distinctively long face.
- Antlion guards come in two flavors: brown guards and glowing yellow guardians. They have otherwise identical bodies but behave differently.
A Black Mesa informational bulletin from the desk of Isaac Kleiner // 04/01/03, 09:00
Ah, yes. The antlion guards. Not exactly a rarity around here, eh? Before they learned the proper term, a lot of people started referring to these as "horses". They may lack the graceful spark of the horses we have on Earth, but I must admit I see the resemblance. Perhaps the humble Earth horse could take a few pages from the antlion's book. The hard head would make them difficult to pet, to be sure, but I think they're on to something with the colors. The glowing antlion guardians add a certain dashing rainbow charm to what is normally a drab, if handsome, brown.
I am here to spill the beans on these oft-maligned creatures. Yes, their headbutts can be a pain, but they can be quite lovely in the right light. If you're lucky enough to see one while the sunset shimmers, I find the chitin shines quite beautifully in the twilight. Sparkle aside, it's quite tough and useful for a number of military and industrial purposes. The hard part is separating it from the rest of the antlion. We've had some luck with crowbars, but several colleagues have suggested simply cutting the softer flesh away. I don't see any reason why this wouldn't work, but I'd like to verify it myself before someone loses a finger. I'd hate for someone to lose a pinkie to some pie in the sky idea about antlion surgery. I would much prefer to have good news if we did surgery on a bug!
I've seen some of you taking live specimens for further study. Good! They're fascinating creatures and there's a lot of work to be done. Do note that you should only thaw them out under controlled laboratory conditions. A good rule of thumb is that, when transporting an antlion, the container needs to be about twenty percent cooler than room temperature. We've had a number of unfortunate, all-too-preventable casualties result from improper transportation and storage, and I blame the lack of clear best practices and inadequate equipment.
To this end, we're developing the Baryon Oscillation Obstructive Transport System, and I'm pleased to announce that early reports look promising. It consists of a baryonic transducer and a holding cell scarcely larger than an antlion guard. By manipulating subatomic vibrations, the transducer instantly cools the cage by approximately five degrees Celsius and maintains that temperature gradient indefinitely with very little additional energy required. Since the cold rapidly saps a captured antlion's energy, the walls only require minimal reinforcement. This alone makes them much easier to move around than the old freezer-on-wheels horse truck design! If our remaining tests pass, I will recommend we begin keeping these so-called horses in BOOTS. That would be a lovely win for all of us trying to safely learn more about these fascinating creatures.
I must urge caution when dealing with antlions, and the guards are no exception. They are hardly light on their pointy little legs and will not flutter shyly by while you watch. They will charge you, knock you down, and make themselves a problem until one of you dies. It's easy to forget that we're in uncharted territory here and there's so much we still don't know. Pushing boundaries and illuminating new frontiers of human knowledge is never easy or safe, but the risk can be minimized if we're careful and only take responsible, considered chances.
To end on a lighter note, our research into proper antlion care and feeding has been going brilliantly. We've made good strides manipulating other antlion castes with pheropods, but that doesn't work with the guards. To that end, we've had quite some success with fruit and vegetables. They're quite fond of apples, jackfruit, and the occasional gourd. We've begun giving our captive antlions hollowed-out watermelons filled with other food, and they seem to enjoy the challenge! Remember, an enriched bug is a happy bug and a happy bug is far less likely to hurt someone on purpose. They do show affection through headbutts, so, once again, due caution and preparation are advised. Thank you for your time and attention, and I have faith that, in due time, we will find a way to keep these creatures docile in captivity. The elements of harmony, or at least the lack of discord, are within our grasp!