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Zero to Hero is a 2017 short story written by Weston Ochse, published by Titan Books as part of the anthology novel Aliens: Bug Hunt. It follows the cowardly Corporal Franklin Sykes as he is confronted with a deadly incident on the quiet mining colony to which he has ensured he was assigned. Faced with a lethal outbreak, he discovers courage and leadership qualities he never knew he possessed.

Plot

Having once caught a high-ranking Weyland-Yutani employee in a compromising situation with an underage girl, Colonial Marine Corporal Franklin Sykes utilized this knowledge as a bargaining chip to ensure he was redeployed to the most remote, quietest posting imaginable, thereby satisfying his inherent aversion to danger and, in particular, rumors of voracious, silver-fanged alien creatures that have begun appearing across the galaxy. Now stationed at the largely depleted mining outpost on the moon LV-666, he spends his time playing the MMORPG videogame Charity Rock and generally avoiding anything that looks like hard work.

Sykes' calm is shattered when one day he receives a distress signal from the mine on the moon's emergency channel, requesting immediate assistance and reporting three miners dead and another seven wounded. Fearing that, against all odds, the creatures he so fears have now appeared at the very outpost where he is stationed, and also concerned that any action will interrupt his ability to launch the elaborate trap he has set up for several competitors in Charity Rock, Sykes suffers a panic attack. However, despite his aversion, he conforms to duty and orders his men ready.

Relief comes when Sykes receives a message from the Weyland-Yutani site manager declining assistance, and the Corporal jumps at the opportunity to ignore the issue. Satisfied, Sykes heads to breakfast, but is devastated once again when Lance Corporal Haywald arrives in full battle dress, informing him that the site manager has now requested urgent assistance. Seeing his superior's distress, Haywald offers to lead the response, but Sykes rallies himself and orders first squad to prepare. After Haywald leaves, Sykes is sick.

Upon arriving in the mine, the Marines find the tunnels deserted. Sykes frets about his Charity Rock situation, realizing that if he is not present to spring his trap, his opponents will be able to access his entire reserves of wealth within the game. He dispatches two advance sentries as he attempts to ascertain the situation in the mine, but they are apparently attacked and go silent. When one of the missing Marines runs back to the group, she talks cryptically about people "spitting" before suffering some kind of fit and falling unconscious.

Seeing the fear on the faces of the Marines around him, Sykes suddenly sheds his own anxiety and finds himself level-headed and overcome with a sense of duty. His concerns about Charity Rock are forgotten. He immediately takes control of the situation, taking point and leading the remaining Marines into the mine. They soon find a miner shot by the sentries, noting that the man shows no sign of anything being wrong other than his gunshot wounds. In a side room they discover six miners attacking a seventh, but instead of kicking of beating him, they are spitting on him. Sykes calls to them and, their faces completely devoid of emotion, they turn to attack; the Marines seal them inside and press on.

One of the Marines proposes an explanation for the bizarre happenings, using a similar incident on a prison barge for reference — with the mine now largely exhausted of natural resources, Weyland-Yutani have instead used the miners as unknowing test subjects for some form of biological or chemical weapon. She cites a recent mass-inoculation by Weyland-Yutani scientists as the likely source. The spitting they have observed is the likely means of transmitting the infection. Before the Marines can evacuate back to the surface, they are confronted by an enormous group of emotionless miners shuffling through the tunnel. When the crowd spots them it swarms forward, and the Marines fall back into the side room they checked earlier, shooting the seven miners inside before they can attack and sealing the door. Two more Marines are lost in the tunnel.

Their numbers dwindling, Sykes opens a back door to the room, hoping to find an escape route. Instead he finds the second missing sentry, a sight that distracts him just long enough for the man to spit in his face. He shoots the Marine dead before witnessing the man's spittle begin to crawl across his visor. He tears his helmet off, wondering if any of the spit got on him, before blacking out.

Sykes wakes standing, conscious but totally incapable of moving or talking. He notices two of his Marines standing either side of him, likewise motionless. As time passes, Sykes begins to lose his mind, trapped inside his own paralyzed body, standing and staring at the door through which he had tried to escape. After time, the Marines flanking him die, having either starved or died of thirst. Sykes welcomes his own death, relishing an end to his solitary paralysis. His only compulsion is to spit.

Trivia

  • Zero to Hero is one of eight stories in Aliens: Bug Hunt that does not actually feature the Xenomorph, although they are mentioned in passing.