"There is no fear, Jenny. You have no fear. You are your fear."
Jenny repeats these words to herself over and over again. They become a mantra, and her link with the rational part of her mind. The part that tells her to move forward, because what lurks around the next corner is nothing she can't handle.
It's a small part, and it seems to be shrinking by the moment.
The tunnel she's in is cold and dark. Water drips from the ceiling onto the rock floor, making it hard to distinguish footsteps. The only light is from the torch attached to a band on her forehead, which means her visibility is limited to that small area. It smells of rot and death. But most of all, Jenny hates it because it's a cave. It's not man made. This tunnel has no order, only the strange twists and turns made from millions of years of erosion. It's hard to know where to go next, and it puts Jenny in a strategically inferior position to the native cave dwellers.
Of course, the native cave dwellers - or dweller, really, since there's only the one - are the exact reason she's here. The natives sent a distress call, and it sounded like something Jenny could handle. What could be so difficult about one little creature, right?
"Stupid, Jenny. Stupid."
Her whispers echo off the damp walls. A long, low noise comes in response from deep in the darkness and a shiver runs up Jenny's spine.
"No fear," she mouths, unable to even whisper. "No fear."
Except there is fear. A lot of fear. The long, low noise turns into something high and screechy, and Jenny's hearts beat double fast. She hears a shuffle in the distance and stops short, head twisting towards the sound. "Hello?"
She knows how ridiculous it is to try to greet the monster (they called it a monster, here, and Jenny is starting to think they're absolutely right, even though she'd been incredulous at the start), but she can't think of anything else to do. The old Jenny, she tells herself, would have fired round out in all directions, hoping for a hit.
The new Jenny, though, talks first and asks questions later. Even if it's a bit scarier. Or a lot scarier.
"There is no fear, Jenny. You have no fear. You are your fear."
She starts moving again, despite her legs feeling like lead. War is easy. You know your enemies, and even if they crouch in the darkness, waiting to ambush you, they are not unknown.
Jenny realizes at that moment that she doesn't like the unknown. That she fears it, and it numbs her and freezes her at the same time. It makes her make mistakes. Jenny hates making mistakes.
Jenny hates her fear.
So she hates the monster, for making her fear.
"I'll kill you!" She shouts into the darkness. "Just so you know. I can do it, too. I'm a soldier!"
Nothing answers her but the sound of her own hearts beating in her ears. She moves forward, jaw tight, finger curled around the trigger of her gun. The little rational part of her mind manages to remind her that her dad hates guns.
But her dad, the other, angry part of her mind says, probably never had to face a monster like this. Right? If he did, he'd probably use a gun. How could he not? That would be suicide!
Suddenly, something claws the ground in front of her. Jenny goes into automatic mode, shifts the muzzle of her gun, and fires. The bullets bounce off the hard ground, pinging against the rock walls. At least one hits its mark.
She shuffles forward cautiously, barely breathing. The light from her head torch hits her target: a small rodent. Jenny lets out a sound of frustration, and then moves forward again.
The smell of the animal's blood must have drawn the creature, because Jenny smells it getting close. Its smell is awful: dried saliva and the rotting flesh of hundreds of victims. She bites back a gag, and swings her head around.
Finally, Jenny sees the monster.
The monster stares back at Jenny. It smiles, and the dried blood at the edges of its mouth flakes off and falls to the ground. It's a wide smile. It's a bright smile.
It's Jenny's smile.
Jenny can't bite back the bile this time; she gags and wretches, turning away for a moment from the monster. The monster stays crouched, its small hands picking at flecks of bone from its dark boots.
Jenny's hands. Jenny's boots.
"This isn't possible."
The monster shrugs, and its blonde hair falls from off its shoulder to hang down its back. It sniffs the air and stands, and peers at Jenny curiously, head titled to one side. "Monster," it says in a soft voice.
"What are you?"
But the monster doesn't answer. It smiles again, making Jenny shiver, and then it tilts its head back and howls. It howls for a good long time, and Jenny watches it, paralyzed with horror and curiosity. The sound is like nothing she's ever heard before, which makes sense. After all, it's the sound of her voice, howling like a caged animal.
Something sparks in Jenny's mind. Howling like a caged animal.
The monster stops and moves its head back down to look at her again. It licks its lips. Jenny sees it tense and knows its about to pounce. She swallows. Her stomach feels like lead. She raises her gun...
And turns her back to the monster. Jenny doesn't know why she does it, but she just knows it's right. "I am my fear," she whispers, and she walks towards the cave entrance.
She expects the monster to leap on her back at any moment, but it doesn't. She hears a soft grumbling sound, like a confused animal might make. Jenny does nothing but keep her eyes forward, moving slowly but surely towards the entrance.
Oddly, she makes it there in barely a minute, much quicker than it had taken to find the monster in the first place. Of all the people who had been at the mouth of the cave to see her off, only one remains. He smiles sadly, but says nothing.
Jenny walks by him and steps into her shuttle and takes off, never looking back.
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