In honor of Krampuses, Perchten and creepy Christmastime traditions everywhere, I’m sharing the current draft of this story for your seasonal entertainment or your time-killing pleasure!
“What in blazes is going on here?”
Captain Mike Sloan’s rocket was barely in Space Station Omega 2-7’s docking bay before Sloan was sliding down the rocket’s ladder to confront his old friend and comrade from the Pescine Wars, Station Commander Steve Bristol.
“You don’t know?” Bristol asked.
“I received orders via interocitor directing me to take charge of the situation at Omega 2-7, but no details.”
“Children, Mike. A group of insubordinate children. Terra Central thought it would be a great idea to advance human civilization ten thousand years overnight by giving human evolution a little push.”
Sloan and Bristol walked briskly across rocket pad to the pneumatic transport leading to the station’s inner ring, which housed the station’s residential and research sections.
“All this fuss over children?”
“Not just any children. Children genetically engineered to fulfill humanity’s true potential, or so Prof. Zargon keeps saying. He calls them his Omega Children.”
“You know him?”
“Only by reputation—Professor Victor Zargon, a singular genius with an ego to match.”
“He’s in charge of the whole operation here. Earth Central gave him unlimited resources and command over the program, which now includes half my station.”Bristol paused as they boarded transport pod. “Zargon keeps telling me that the children’s ‘mischief’ can be constructively channeled.”
“’Mischief’ is putting it mildly. These kids’ IQ’s are off the charts. Zargon burned out the lab’s memory core attempting to evaluate them. We couldn’t prove it, but we suspected that they might have extrasensory powers.”
“So we’re not talking about soap on rocket windscreens.”
“No, sir. We’re talking about sedition, a potential threat to United Earth itself. They’ve seized the recreation area. They are downloading troubling works of political thought and attempting to download weapons schematics. Zargon aside, we haven’t seen any science personnel in the last four hours. From the kind of access they’ve gotten to the computer, we believe that they have mentally dominated the research staff.”
“I know it sounds crazy, but I have to believe it.” As the pod stopped in Residential 5, Bristol turned to Sloan, “Mike, the children say that they are Becoming.”
“They haven’t explained, but I don’t like it. They say that they’re a new beginning for humankind.”
“Well, let’s go see whether we can give them a time out.”
“Drop the raygun, Jared.”
Krampus stood in a corridor in the inner, residential ring of the station, not far from the recreation,with a seven-year-old boy pointing a raygun at her. Jared 11 stared in horror at the Krampus. She was massive, easily six-foot-five, with a towering pair of horns, shaggy red fur and a long red tongue lolling from her mouth. She walked on a human foot and one cloven hoof. Her claws were manacled together with heavy iron chain and she carried a bundle of slender branches.
Shaking his head, Jared 11 shouted, “Do not oppose our Becoming!”
Then Jared 11 raised his raygun, the deadly projector dish glowed ominously and he fired. The blast singed Krampus’ fur and melted a patch of the wall’s plastisteel plating. Krampus was still for a moment and then she laughed, her tongue drooling even more, leaving a growing pool on the deck.
“Jared 11, this aggressive behavior is unacceptable,” Researcher Grade 2 Harris said, rounding the arc of the corridor. He was holding a tray of nutrient cubes.When he saw the monster, Harris screamed, dropped the tray and ran.
Prof. Victor Zargon and a six-person security squad, identifiable by the blue piping on their silver synth-leather uniforms and their lethal standard issue rayguns, waited at the entrance to Residential 5. A quarantine seal had been placed on the blue section door, warning all station personnel away from the area. Zargon was a tall, slender man, with a well-groomed van dyke, grey temples and pale blue eyes. He deepened his already deep frown lines as he said, “Commander Bristol, you have finally deigned to join us. I must ask you not to exacerbate this situation with your thugs and their toys.”
“I had to make a small detour to the rocket docking bay.” Bristol indicated Sloan at his left.“Professor Victor Zargon, this is Captain Mike Sloan. Terra Central sent him.”
“Good, those do-nothing fools have finally sent me the aid I requested.” Zargon scrutinized Sloan.“You do look like the sort of brute who can impose some discipline on unruly children. As for these ruffians,” Zargon waved his hand at the security squad. “Send them away.”
Sloan shouldered past Bristol. “You misunderstand, Professor. Terra Central has sent me to clean up your mess and they have given me the authority to do whatever is necessary. I am in complete command of this station now,”he said, giving the scientist a hard look. “Now, tell me what’s going on.”
“My research subjects…”
“The children,” Bristol corrected.
“Yes, the children have had a small misunderstanding with research and caretaking staff.”
Bristol jabbed his finger into Zargon’s chest. “If by, ‘small misunderstanding,’ you mean, mentally dominated eight of my station personnel and sealed themselves in the recreation area while they attempt to seize control of Omega 2-7’s central computer, then, yes, that’s about right.”
“Calm down, Steve.” Sloan said. He was interrupted by a blood-curdling laugh and then a scream from beyond the sealed blue door. Red warning lights began flashing every thirty feet. Bristol’s security squad formed up and aimed all weapons at the door. Harris came running from Recreation 5. He stopped and raised his arms when he saw rayguns armed squarely at his chest. The man was young, maybe twenty, and wore the green piping of the research staff.
“Prof. Zargon, thank God,” the researcher said.“We have another problem.”
Zargon’s eyes flicked uncertainly to Sloan. “Not now, Harris. Can’t you see that I am busy?”
“I wouldn’t bother you, if I didn’t think it was important, Professor,” Harris said, his hands still raised.
Sloan gestured for the guards to lower their rayguns and strode over to Harris. “What is it, son?”
A relieved Harris lowered his arms.“There’s a monster in Residential 5.”
“The experimental section?”
“This section here.”
“Seems like a strange coincidence, Mike,” Bristol said.
“It does, indeed.” Sloan turned to face the others. “Commander, order your squad to form up. We’re going into Residential Five.”
“You heard what the Captain said,mount up and keep your rayguns charged and ready!”
“Set them at neuro-paralysis,” Sloan said. All around there was a deep hum as security grimly reset their weapons.
“Captain Sloan, the creature must be captured alive. If it is truly alien, imagine what we could learn from it!” Zargon’s pale blue eyes blazed.
Setting his own raygun to neuro-paralysis, Sloan said, “Zargon, get this straight. I’m not handing anything over to you. Once this is over, I will recommend to Terra Central that you be removed from your position and that you not be granted any further experimental projects. As for the creature, I just don’t like killing for no reason. I saw enough of that in the Pescine Wars.”
“We both did,” Bristol said quietly.
“Alien creature in Residential Five! Repeat, alien creature in Residential Five!” a voice announced over the stations internal communications network. “All station personnel proceed to Lockdown Level Beta. Essential personnel only at duty stations. Switch personal communication bands to secure radio frequencies.”
The monster swung her taloned fist at the speaker, smashing it into the wall. Meanwhile, the young boy before her didn’t seem to take her bundle of birch branches as a serious threat.
“Menscshenskinder,” muttered Krampus. Krampus didn’t like anything about space. She didn’t like anything about this space station. She especially didn’t like the humans in their space suits with their color-coded piping, their white boots or their collars that came up to their cheeks. She returned her attention looking to the human child who planned to shoot her again. He was tall for his age with fine blond hair pomaded and cleanly parted on one side. He wore a violet space suit with with white piping and a small badge over his heart. She shook her head.
“Menschenskinder,” she said to the universe and then she addressed the boy,“Jared,”
“Jared 11,” the boy corrected.
“Jared 11, please put the raygun down.”
“Do not interfere with our Becoming,monster.”
“Grundgëtiger. Whatever you will become, put the raygun down, bitte.”
“I warn you, monster, I will disintegrate you. I will defend the future.”
“Jared 11, you are very naughty. I planned to give you and your brothers a switching, but I think you are very wicked. Too wicked.”
Krampus advanced on Jared 11 and the boy creeped slowly backwards toward an orange sliding door about ten feet behind him.
“So how did this creature get on my station?” Bristol demanded.
“I don’t know, sir. It was just there.”
With a look at Bristol, Sloan took over. “Harris, what can you tell us about the situation in Residential 5?”
“The research team decided to teach the children about earth’s winter seasonal holidays. We thought it would help provide them more of a connection to earth, and, well,their humanity. They’ve become increasingly distant, receiving high scores on countersocial behavior disorders on the computer’s standardized personality evaluations. We programmed interactive festivity modules for the children to immerse themselves in festivals from all human cultures. We believed this might assist the children in adapting more pro-social behaviors. It was going well until the children started hacking the modules. Sir, they downloaded revolutionary political philosophy and sought information on weapons.” Harris stopped.
“Take your time,” Bristol reassured the man.
“The children overwhelmed us. They were in our heads. In my head,” he looked pleadingly at the Sloan and Bristol. “They walked us around like they were playing with dolls! We were their puppets!” Harris took a deep breath and steadied himself. “I was sent for nutrition cubes under Jared 11’s control. That monster distracted his concentration. It’s the only reason I escaped.”
Prof. Zargon had been disinterestedly examining the ceiling during most of Harris’ story, but he became suddenly animated. “Wait, did you say, ‘Jared 11?’”
“Impossible, Harris. Only ten children were spawned in the generation tanks.”
Harris went pale. His voice was only a whisper, “It’s horrible. The children injected Gonzalez with something they call the Zeus Serum. It overwrote genetic code. It made more of them. And before that… My god, what they did to Johannsen…. They’re reproducing, Commander, and they’re using us to do it. If you send a security squad into Residential 5, you’re only giving them more raw material.”
Harris slid down the corridor wall and hugged his knees as Bristol lunged at Prof. Zargon. “Great Scott, Zargon, you engineered the children to reproduce themselves?”
Sloan grabbed Bristol just in time to prevent the captain from striking Zargon. As it was, Sloan struggled to contain Bristol as the man continued to lunge at Zargon. Prof. Zargon was unmoved by Bristol’s wrath. “All biological organisms reproduce. I have simply made the process more simple and efficient. Think of it, gentlemen. There will no longer be any redundancy. The human race will be perfect.”
“This is monstrous. They are killing the people who cared for them—who fed and educated them! This is reproduction by murder!” Sloan could feel Bristol shaking from rage.
“The child always replaces his parents. It is the way of things.”
“The old-fashioned way of propagating the human race wasn’t good enough for you?” Sloan spat out.
“Not to be crude, but humanity’s future cannot be left to chance encounters at seedy space bars in red light districts catering to rocket crews.”
“Chance has done pretty well for us so far.”
“Unfortunately for you, Captain, Terra Central agrees with me. I am in charge of this experiment and I will not tolerate interference.”
“Not anymore, Zargon.”
“It’s okay, Mike.” Sloan released his old friend.
Bristol asked the professor, “The children were grown from your own DNA?”
“Modified, of course. Tweaked and slightly improved. It is admittedly difficult to generate a male clone, but with my Omega Children I have succeeded where so many have failed!”
“And you named them all, ‘Jared?’”
“A small self-indulgence, I admit. I always wished my name had been ‘Jared’ rather than ‘Victor.’ How different my life might have been. But names are irrelevant. Numbers will become the true signifiers of individuals. They are far more precise than mere names.”
Sloan was silent for a few moments and then made his decision. “Commander Bristol, order a general evacuation. All station personnel immediately report to the evacuation rockets. This includes security personnel. Only a rocket crew for our ride out of here are to remain. And make sure all rockets are swept before loading. We can’t let the children or the monster leave this station.” Sloan gave Bristol a look. Bristol nodded. “Commander Bristol and I will stay on Omega 2-7 and stop the children—by any means necessary.”
Bristol jogged over to the nearest communication station to implement the evacuation.
“But Captain…,” one of the security detail started to argue.
“You have your orders. If Bristol and I can’t stop the children, then this station must be destroyed.” Sloan glanced at Zargon, “Besides, the good doctor has volunteered to stay and help us.”
“Captain, my children will eliminate all genetic competition.” Zargon said. “There is nothing even I could do to stop it.”
“We’ll see, Zargon,” Sloan said.
Nearly empty, Omega 2-7’s hydraulic creakings lent an eeriness to the two threats facing the station: Zargon’s children and the alien monster haunting Residential Five. When Sloan, Bristol and Prof. Zargon passed through the doors into Residential Five, they found nothing. No children. No monster. Just a patch of melted plastisteel on the wall, a smashed internal communications speaker, a pool of strange clear liquid on the deck plating and a strong unidentifiable scent, a mix of animal musk, hot steel and burning coal. Sloan and Bristol advanced cautiously, but Professor Zargon hurried straight to the recreation area doors.“I must see them. I must see what they’ve become!”
Bristol started after him, but Sloan stopped him. “No, Steve. Look at him. He’s mad.”
“My children,” Zargon shouted. “Your father is here at last!”
The doors slid open and Zargon rushed into the room. Sloan and Bristol remained in the corridor, standing close enough that the automatic sensors kept the doors open. They watched the children surround Zargon.
“You are too late—far too late, you fools. Your time is over. Humanity’s future is here at last!” Zargon crowed.
Zargon beamed at the thirteen identical boys gathered around him. “What are the Three Imperatives, my children?”
Zargon’s children chanted in unison, “To become, to continue, to advance.”
As they chanted, the children fell on Zargon. He disappeared in a mass slim blond bodies and they tore at their father with their bare hands. The recreation area doors closed silently behind Mike and Steve as they retreated. Only Jared 11 looked up from the children’s terrible becoming and watched the men as they left.
“Commander, Captain, what happened in there?” Harris had not evacuated. Instead, he had went to the station armory and issued himself a disintegrator rifle. Bristol shook his head.
“Zargon’s gone,” Sloan answered.“The children…”
“God help us,” Harris said.
“I will help you.” Sloan and Bristol drew their rayguns on the alien monster looming behind Harris. Harris whirled and raised his rifle.
“Hold your fire,” Sloan ordered. He lowered his own weapon as he stepped forward. “Alien creature, this is Captain Mike Sloan of the Terran Central Authority’s Rocket Command. I am in command of this station. Declare your intentions, or we will consider you hostile and act accordingly.”
Harris was shaking. “It’s the Krampus.”
“You wouldn’t have believed me if I told you before,” Harris said. “It’s an old tradition—a story from the Terran Alps well before the first rocket launches. Krampus is a demon who punishes wicked children while St. Nicholas rewards the good.” Harris said. “I saw a module all about the Krampus in the Winter Celebration we organized for the children.”
“So, you’re the Krampus?” Sloan asked.
“Doch ja. These children are very wicked, perhaps the most wicked I have ever met. One shot me.” Krampus gestured to a patch of curled and blackened fur on her shoulder. “I did not like it.”
They could just smell burnt hair over the scent of musk, burning coal and hot metal around the Krampus . “Herr Professor Doktor Zargon was wicked as well. I would have taken him,too, but he is already gone.”
“Take him? Take him where?” Commander Sloan asked.
“To Hölle. Mostly, I spank the wicked with my birch switches. But these are very wicked children. Mind control. Murder. Overwiting others’ genetic code. Eating their father to make more of themselves. Wicked.”
“And Hölle is?” Sloan asked.
“Hell,” Harris whispered. “She’ll take them to hell in that basket on her back.”
“Great Scott, that’s insane!”
“Wait, they’re eating Professor Zargon?” Bristol asked.
“Ja, eat. Vomit. Make two more Jared.”
“Doch ja.” Krampus agreed. “I take them to Hell.”
Krampus brushed past the men, hunching low to keep her horns from tearing the ceiling. Her hoof rang on the plating as she approached the recreation area door.
Harris grabbed Sloan’s arm, “Sir, we can’t let this happen!”
Sloan said quietly, “Harris, we were planning on destroying the station with us aboard to stop the children. We planned what could be considered genocide.”
“But Hell, sir. If she’s real, then Hell is real—or something like Hell… They’re children.”
“Gentleman, this conversation is purely academic,” Bristol said, pulling Harris’ hand from Sloan’s arm. “That kid shot her point blank with the most powerful raygun Terra Central has and it just scorched her fur. I don’t like this any more than you do, Harris. But I don’t see how we can stop her—or them.”
Krampus stood in front of the recreation area door. “Can you open this one for me? I do not want to damage it.”
Steve examined the door, “It’s sealed from the inside. If you gave us twelve hours, we might be able to cut through.”
“Scheibenhönig,” Krampus shook her head sadly. “I am sorry, but I do not have twelve hours. I have only one. Entschuldigen Sie bitte, I will open the door myself.” Krampus looked at the sealed door for a moment and then dragged her claws across the plastisteel. It seemed to melt and tear simultaneously. There was a horrible shrieking noise and Sloan, Bristol and Harris covered their ears, grimacing with pain. When Krampus had torn through the door, she folded the door over to the deck. The door groaned and bent, leaving a jagged opening for the Krampus to step through.
Seventeen children were gathered together in the center of the room, holding hands. Jared 11 stepped forward from the group. “How did you get in? It is impossible that you should get in. All of us were united in willing the door impenetrable.”
“You are wicked. The wicked cannot shut me out.” Krampus lumbered into the room, swinging her bundle of birch switches. “Jared 11, it is time for you and your brothers to come with me.”
Harris and Bristol covered Sloan as he edged up to the open door. They tried not to look at the mess that had once been one of United Earth’s greatest minds. Sloan gestured for the remaining five research staff huddled in the corner of the recreation area to escape while children were distracted. But the scientists did not move. They were either under mental domination or too terrified to move after witnessing the fate of Prof. Zargon and their colleagues.
“You cannot defy our united will, monster. You will become part of us,” one of the Omega Children declared.
“Foolish, Kindlein,” the Krampus said, her chains clacking dully as she swept her arms open. “Please, do try.”
The now seventeen children stared at the Krampus. The air in the room felt ionized. The children’s eyes glowed an unholy green and they scowled in their concentration. Sloan and Harris’ hair stood on end. “It feels like being too close to my rocket’s atomic chamber,” Sloan whispered.
“You will obey us, monster. You will join us,” the children spoke in unison. “Become with us.”
Krampus stood very still. Jared 11 dropped the hands of Jareds 2 and 14 and walked towards the Krampus.The children murmured and their eyes seemed to glow more brightly. Jared 11 pulled a small pneumato-syringe from his utility belt. “Become one with us, monster. We are the future.”
As Jared 11 reached out to inject the Krampus with the Zeus Serum, Krampus snatched him up by his neck and tossed the boy into the basket on her back. Jared 11 struggled fiercely, but he could not escape the loosely woven basket.
“Great Scott!” Bristol exclaimed.
The gathered children redoubled their efforts. The air was impossibly thick. The light in their eyes was nearly white. But they dropped each other’s hands when the Krampus grabbed Jared 2 and threw him into her basked with Jared 11. The Krampus said to the men at the door, “Please, do not let any leave this room.”
Krampus scooped up two more children and tossed them into her basket. The children made an terrible noise, an uncanny howl. Jared 14 stabbed her with a pneumato-syringe, but the Zeus Serum had no effect on her. Several children were armed with rayguns they’d gotten from their victims. They fired at the Krampus. The room stank of singed fur. As the Krampus continued towards them, the panicked children fired wildly. Sloan and Bristol dove for cover behind the wrecked plastisteel door beneath raygun blasts that scorched the corridor walls.
Finally, the children decided to make a break for the door. Bristol raised his raygun. Harris looked to Sloan, who scowled and said, “Okay, keep them inside.”
“If it makes you feel any better, Harris, I don’t think they could escape her anyway,” Bristol said.
“It doesn’t make me feel better at all,” Harris replied glumly.
Unable to bring themselves to shoot children, no matter how wicked, the three men felt shame and relief that none escaped the monster. Those who resisted were only more quickly swept into Krampus’ basket. Her basket never changed size, no matter how many children she slung inside. Sloan tried not to think about it. Krampus caught the last three children and slung them into the basket. In less than ten Earth minutes, it was all over.
Krampus turned toward the door. “Thank you for your help.”
The men said nothing. They sat on the deck and felt sick.
“There was nothing you could do, Captain. They were very wicked children.” She strode past them. “Brave sein,” she said as she walked down the corridor. “Be good.”
Sloan and Harris hurried around the curve of the corridor, but the Krampus had disappeared. They thought they heard singing, “Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf…”
Bristol scanned the station on maximum intensity, but there was no sign of the monster or the children. The only evidence was the pile of gore and the tortured door of the recreation area.
“Give it up, Steve. We won’t find her on Omega 2-7. She’s gone.”
“This is going to cause one helluva stir at Terra Central, Mike.”
“I’m not even sure what to write in my report.”
“That’s easy, ‘Naughty children punished by legendary monster.'”
“That will go over great.” Mike put his arm over his old friend’s shoulder. “Buy me a drink, Steve.”
“Make it a strong one.”
“You got it.”