John Stalvern waited.
He was a space marine, one of Earth's finest. He'd been trained to give his all in service of his planet, to put his life on the line if necessary. He knew a dozen ways to kill a man with his bare hands, and twice as many ways to do it with a weapon. The concept of fear had been eradicated in him long ago by countless drills and exercises designed to burn away all that was weak and soft and human, leaving behind only a killing machine as sharp as a razor's blade.
The lights sparked fitfully once, twice, then went out, plunging the room into utter darkness.
Well. Almost eradicated.
He stifled the curses that struggled to leave his mouth; making too much noise in his situation would be like taping a neon sign on his back labeled Free Food. There were demons in the base - honest to God, motherfucking demons - and from what little he'd garnered on his short-range radio before it went dead, they weren't too friendly. The half-eaten corpses he'd found littered through the hallways only served to reinforce that image.
In a way, he supposed, he'd been expecting it for years. Not that there were going to be demons straight from Giger's worst nightmares rampant in the base, of course, but he'd known something was up the moment they'd started setting up the teleporter. His gut had warned him to be wary of the project, and it was no coincidence that he'd filed a transfer request for a planetside job less than a day after they announced a working prototype. Sure, a security job on Earth would pay less than duty in the UAC, but dead people had no use for money. He'd tried to warn his superior officers, but Colonel Joson had laughed off his misgivings and now the fucker was probably dead too.
Joson was a hard man, strict and fair but entirely too entrenched in his ways to believe a single grunt's superstitions. In a way, John supposed, Joson reminded him of his father. At least, before the man had taken a stray slug to the face when John was five. He'd survived through some sort of miracle, but the slug had nicked his brain and Steven Stalvern had never been quite the same man since.
"I wanna be on the ships, daddy," he'd said once, watching the gargantuan shuttles shriek through the air and escape the grasp of Earth's gravity. He'd been six then, still too young to realize that his father wasn't the man he'd grown up with for the first five years of his life. He remembered the sense of utter shock and fear he'd felt back then when his dad had whipped around, his eyes nearly bulging from his sockets. Fingers like claws had dug into his shoulders.
"No!" his father had shouted, his voice cracked with the beginnings of insanity. "You'll be killed by the demons!" Too frightened to do otherwise, John had believed him completely.
As he grew older and more experienced with the ways of the world, John had realized that his father was insane. His adoration had changed swiftly to fear, then disgust before finally settling on a sort of embarrassment. He supposed his insane father was part of the reason he'd applied to the space marines at the tender age of fourteen; a part of his mind had hoped to leave his father behind on Earth along with the painful memories of his childhood. Now he was in his late twenties, and for some reason his father's words came back unbidden.
He let a wry grin spread across his face. Crazy his old man might have been, but for once in his life he'd been right. There were demons in outer space.
John was abruptly jerked back to reality when his radio crackled loudly, the sound painfully loud in the silence. This time he did curse, quickly lowering the volume until only he could hear it. He'd thought his radio was dead, damn it!
"-is Joson," the radio said, the voice coming through it sounding oddly distorted, barely recognizable. It crackled unsteadily, and John could only make out bits of pieces of what it was saying. "You've got to-" Another bout of static. "Demons!"
"I can't hear you clearly, Joson," John said as loudly as he thought he could manage, then frowned as he shook the radio. It was dead again. After a moment he shrugged and put it out of his head; the radio had made too much noise and he had to move now unless he felt like being demon fodder sometime soon. He didn't have the time to ponder the mystery of a spontaneously dying radio, and Joson's orders had been clear enough. It was time to strike back.
Unslinging the plasma rifle strapped across his back, he held it in front of him and started walking cautiously through the halls, wishing with all his might that he had a pair of night-vision goggles. It was too dark to see anything, and the way the base's halls were built meant that sound conducted in strange ways.
Something growled beside him.
Conscious thought took a back seat in his mind as he spun, raised the rifle and fired in one smooth movement, throwing himself to the side at the same time. John's eyes widened as the burst of coruscating plasma lit up the dark hallway like the sun, and he realized he'd just fired at a wall. The cell impacted and blew the barrier apart, exposing the room beyond. John nearly gagged at the stench of rot and fetid decay.
His mind fell into an odd sense of detached calm as he catalogued the number of demons that were now concentrating solely on him. There were at least a dozen of the generic footsoldier types, a few spider-like monstrosities, and something huge lurking in the dimly lit shadows behind them. He looked out of the corner of his eye for his rifle, but it had been knocked away by the force of the explosion, coming to a rest in a corner five feet away.
One of the eyeless demons was the first to speak, its voice like the crunch of crushed glass. "Here to kill us, boy?" it asked, dark mirth evident in its words. It would have said more, but the huge thing in the shadows moved forward and grasped its head in one colossal hand, pulverizing it before it could do more than utter a startled yelp.
The demon was a strange amalgam of flesh and technology, with wires and blinking lights embedded throughout its gargantuan body. Even without what looked like a rocket launcher grafted to one arm, it would have presented an intimidating sight. When it spoke, its words were like a rockslide in progress. "No idle chatter. Die." It pointed the rocket launcher at John, fired, and as he dove to the side the marine only had time for a blurred recollection - when dodging explosives, move away from the wall - before the rocket screamed past him and slammed into the wall.
Then the plasma rifle was in his hands again and he fired blindly, scoring a line of white-hot plasma across the giant demon's chest. It snarled in pain and swatted at him, just barely missing and instead burying its massive fist into the wall behind him. John raised his rifle for another shot when an ominous groan sounded above him.
Already weakened by plasma fire and rocket explosions, the supporting walls collapsed entirely as the cyberdemon pulled its fist free, bringing the ceiling down in an avalanche of rubble and slabs of concrete. John was dimly aware of the demon's enraged howl as it was buried by the falling ceiling.
When the dust settled, John found himself somehow miraculously alive, though his lower body had been pinned by a piece of the wall he'd been standing in front of. He'd fared far better than the demons, who were all dead, judging from the blackish, acidic blood leaking from under the rubble.
He struggled for a while before giving up; the rock was too heavy to move all at once, and if he tried to move too much he risked bringing the whole thing down on his head. He took a moment to look around, squinting through the dim light. His plasma rifle was busted beyond repair, the delicate energy cells that powered it had been smashed. His radio had gone kaput for good, too; a large chunk of concrete falling squarely on it had seen to that.
Then, impossibly, Joson's voice came from the radio again. "Lying down on the job, John?" it asked, this time free of static. Now that he could hear it clearly, John thought to himself that it didn't really sound that much like Joson at all. It sounded... older, somehow. No, older was the wrong word. Ancient. The jovial, familiar tone of its voice was too cheerful to be anything but fake, and there was something lurking deep inside it that was far, far worse than Colonel Earl Joson could ever be.
"What are you?" he found himself asking, ignoring for the moment the impossibility of talking to a smashed radio. Somehow it didn't surprise him at all when it replied.
"My name isn't important, John." Its voice was full of ancient malice and glee, and mixed with a deep, raw hunger that grated at his mind. "What matters is that you're not killing any demons. They killed your father, you know. He knew they were out there and they killed him for it."
The shout tore itself from John's throat unbidden. "No!" It didn't enter his mind at all how that disembodied Voice would know about his dad. Suddenly he was six years old again, staring up at his insane father, seeing the stark terror in the older man's eyes and loving him despite it. He wanted to reassure his dad. "I'm gonna kill all the demons!"
"Oh?" Somehow John got the impression that the owner of that Voice was shaking its head sadly, mockingly. "No, John. You don't understand." It took a moment, letting him stew in the silence before slowly, lovingly, revealing the truth.
"You killed your father, John. You are the demon."
It was true, John realized. He'd killed his father without even laying a hand on him, running away to the stars. He'd left his dad alone with... them. He'd left and they'd come from the shadows, falling on his father and devouring him. He felt the pain of it tearing at his chest, the agony more real than imagined. Then he looked down and gasped; it wasn't guilt that was making him hurt. His flesh was actually rotting away, whole patches of it sloughing off to reveal the bone underneath.
Then the darkness, accompanied by the sound of low laughter, crept up on his senses and claimed him.