Deputy Head of Research Jack Anderson burst into the conference room of BioDefence Incorporated at a dead sprint. He somehow managed to vault up onto the conference table in a single bound, his discreet loafers squeaking slightly on the polished surface as he kept his head down and ploughed past the astonished faces and rapidly relocating laptops of the Japanese delegation and his own equally startled colleagues. He was nearing the end of the long table when he heard the rasping voice of the monster in the doorway of the conference room.
The two ragged syllables made the fresh wounds in his back twitch as he recalled the weight of the creature on top of him, the feeling of its claws slicing into his flesh.
He launched himself at the conference room window and the clear sunlight beyond, tucking his head down as best he could and aiming his shoulder square at the middle of the glass pane. His bloody, tattered lab coat fluttered behind him briefly before he hit the window. The reinforced pane wobbled with the force of the impact but did not yield, and Jack slid to the floor.
“Again!” the creature repeated, swinging its huge claws and knocking the head of marketing from his chair. Its mandibles opened and closed rapidly as it surveyed the room with its bulbous, multi-faceted eyes, its chitinous bulk filling the doorway.
The room had only one door. Panicking scientists and potential clients backed away from the creature, started forlornly eyeing up the large observation window which overlooked the laboratory below. It was identical in design to the external window which had so soundly blocked Jack.
“Anderson, what is the meaning of this?” roared Dixon, the company chairman, pulling the dazed scientist to his feet. “Why is that thing interrupting my meeting?”
“It, it’s Simon, sir,” Jack stammered as the creature stumbled into the room, claws and spines flailing, and began to circle around the table towards its maker.
“Bloody hell, Jack, what happened?”
The terrified occupants of the room scrambled away from the monster, over chairs and under the table, then tumbled out into the hallway, leaving only the chairman and Jack in the room with the creature.
“There was a problem with the neural layering, sir,” Jack explained, struggling against the larger man’s iron grip.
“I can see that. He’s as clumsy as one of last year’s imprints. I say, Simon, what’s the big idea then?”
The creature cocked its head and paused a few feet from the chairman. It folded its claws in front of its body and looked down at the two men.
“Simon, you were in an accident. Got a bit knocked about. We’re putting you back together, in a new body. Your design, actually,” Dixon shouted.
The creature seemed to consider this for a moment. It looked at Jack and opened its mandibles. “Again!”
The firm grip of the chairman kept Jack upright as his knees buckled.
“What does he want, Anderson? What’s the layering situation?”
“The system went offline at about five percent, sir,” Jack replied weakly as the creature closed in on him.
Dixon released his head of research, dodged around a swiping claw and gazed at the wounds in Anderson’s back as he scrambled away from the creature.
“Five percent, eh?”
He ducked a claw, sidestepped, and ran out into the hall with surprising agility for a man of his age. Jack, thirty years his junior, did his best to keep up.
“Cole, get me the powered armour. Now!” Dixon shouted across the laboratory floor as he took the stairs two at a time.
His security chief dropped the pulse rifle he’d been readying, opened the storage bay and began the initiation sequence for the powered armour. The ten foot tall bipedal tank hummed into action, its cockpit opening with a gentle hiss.
Dixon slipped into the pilot’s seat with practised ease, engaged the suit’s biometric sync. He could hear the creature that was loaded with five percent of his colleague’s mind lumbering down into the lab behind him. The rail gun in the suit’s right arm whirred as the armoured pilot’s compartment sealed around the chairman. He stepped back, the suit following his movements smoothly, and turned to face the monster.
Anderson was on the floor, new wounds in his back oozing blood. The monster stood over him, claws slicing down towards the researcher.
“Simon,” the chairman said, his voice amplified by the suit. The creature looked up from the injured researcher, regarded the suit with glittering eyes.
The chairman raised the arms of the suit, rail gun levelled at the creature. Simon had just celebrated his sixtieth birthday. The layering was at five percent.
“Piggy back?” the chairman asked, swinging his torso to expose the back of the power armour suit.
The creature squealed and ran forward, knocking a rack of processors over, and leapt onto the armoured back of the chairman. Its powerful claws scraped harmlessly over the surface of the suit, barely damaging the paintwork.
“One, two, three, jump!” the chairman chanted, taking a small leap forward. The lab floor shook slightly with the impact and the creature cackled.
“Again!” it shouted, wriggling excitedly.
“Anderson, get up, get that neural layering problem sorted, and let’s get Simon past the toddler stage, hmm?” the chairman muttered.
“A three-year-old genius in the body of one of his own extreme-environment creations may be a miracle of science, but I don’t think any of us want to see what happens when he gets cranky and doesn’t want to take his afternoon nap.”
Matt Cowens is a writer and high school English and Media Studies teacher living on the Kapiti Coast of New Zealand. He has taught English in Japan, designed and produced card games, written and illustrated comics and is an enthusiastic amateur video maker.