I can still smell something burnt…
It makes me want to gag, to collapse in the hallway and empty my stomach. To retch until there’s nothing left of me, that perhaps that might make me feel clean. Might take this weight off of me and let me breathe…
But at the same time, a very small part of me feels hungry…
I run down the corridor, I don’t know where I’m going and I’m not sure if I even recognize the section of the station I’m in.
I need to stop, take a moment and get my bearings.
Looking back down the corridor it seems I’m alone, I close my eyes and take a deep breath.
The pile of charred flesh could have been called human, it had two arms and legs, a head and something glowing that could be called eyes. But nothing alive moves like that, every body part jerking independently of each other but each with the same goal in mind.
A grotesque meat puppet it’s arm reaching out towards me…
Opening my eyes I reassure myself I’m alone, that I’m still alive.
I focus on the cold sweat dripping down my face, on my heavy breathing, even the throbbing burn on my forearm remind me that I made it out, I survived the nightmare and now I can wake up.
As is to punctuate that thought I see a small feminine hand gripping the bulkhead I so recently passed through, the face that peers around the corner afterwards is a relieving site.
Short cropped black hair, the smile that always got her into trouble and the big blue eyes that always got her back out of it.
“Ria!” I yell out, all the tension bleeding from me. The containment glass shatters, smoke billowing from the recent incineration billows out around her and there’s a short squeal and I think I can almost make out a tendril around Ria’s neck before she is pulled into the haze. I banish the memory from my mind, it was insane she was right in front of me. Ria, the real Ria, blinks at the sound of my cry looking down the corridor. Her glasses are missing, she’s almost blind without them.
“It’s me!” I call out again waving to her.
A hallucination, that’s what it must have been. The artifact let off some kind of psychotropic compound that breached containment. Or maybe some kind of energy wave messing with out neural pathways, or even-
My train of thought is knocked aside as Ria steps into the corridor. Her head is lolling at ninety degrees to her shoulders, what originally appeared to be a face tilting around a corner seemed more like a broken neck.
Her left arm is hanging limply by her side, bone and flesh visible and throbbing along its flaccid length. Her shirt has been shredded, and almost visible where her left breast once was there’s a row of…
I close my eyes.
“You didn’t just see teeth…” I mutter trying to convince myself, “They couldn’t have been teeth.”
A vicious screech forces me to open my eyes and look back at the monstrosity in front of me. I decide that I really don’t need any more details and run for the far end of the corridor as the creature watches.
I slam into the sealed doorway at the next bulkhead and hurriedly hit the activation switch while turning towards Ri- The thing. Its head moves around, examining me…
It’s almost as if it wasn’t broken, that there was simply a spine with a right angle grown into it.
I turn back to the door, it hasn’t responded… I open up the control panel and quickly punch in my override code. The angry machine noise that responds is far from welcome, I ignore it and re-enter the code.
That negative drone grates on my nerves and I slam my fist against the control panel. Someone’s manually overridden the door locks… I’m trapped.
The thing with Ria’s face has begun its slow shuffle towards me. Its left leg is dragged along the floor, I guess it’s become as malformed as the rest of her - its left side.
Then I see it, halfway between us... There’s a second corridor.
I just sprint, everything inside me just tells me I need to reach that turn first, to escape.
The thought just appears in my head, but it’s a comforting goal…I need to find other survivors.
The thing bounds forward to intercept me though, faster than I could have imagined it’s standing in the T-junction and as I try to arrest my mad dash for freedom I lose my footing and fall in front of it.
Looking up at it from such close range it looks even less human, its skin seems to ripple with something moving beneath it, giving off an unnatural viscous sheen to Ria’s skin.
I used to be so jealous of her skin.
It’s such a stupid thing to think, but it’s a much better thought to focus on than what’s in front of me. How it ripples like jelly, the deformities… I still can’t even look at the left side of her chest.
Her right arm is reaching out to me looking almost normal. It would be a relief to see, if not for the long hooked tendrils now growing out from where her nails were. Admittedly that’s a very big if. Resigned I look up into her eyes, hoping to see something of Ria inside them. The eyes looking back aren’t my friend’s… There is a darkness to them, a hunger and immediately I know this is what devoured my friend. Escape. Then there’s a blink… What’s looking at me isn’t Ria but there’s a spark of something…I almost don’t hear the roar from down the corridor, so focussed on those eyes as the face carrying them dissolves and is spread across the wall in a pattern of bright red. It turns swiftly to face the new threat, a deep and terrifying cry echoing from its chest as the security officer standing in the corridor pumps a new round into the shotgun. At this point I can’t even question how it does any of this without a head, in my gut I just can’t believe that it can be overcome. Another roar from the officer as his shotgun tears through its abdomen. He’s advancing on it now as it tries to step forward into the fire. I hear the click-slide of metal against metal as the weapon is pumped, the hiss of gas as the spent shell is ejected and clatters against the deck, the last slide moves a shell into position and the unnaturally loud sound of the trigger being pulled. Focussed as I am on the action the shot is deafening as the creature takes the round in its left shoulder and that side of its body almost disappears. Little more than a pair of legs supporting a bloodied and open torso, with its solitary arm, the thing that was Ria takes a defiant lunge forward tendrils stretched from its hand before a final blast takes out it’s pelvis and it collapses in the hallway. The pieces twitch and move for a while, as if attempting to advance on their own accord but after a moment of fruitless squirming they all simultaneously just give up the illusion of life. But I’m sure I can see that same under the skin movement… Something still inside. “Doctor!” The young corporal calls out to me. “We’ve got to move now!”I nod in acquiescence, and do my best to step around the piles and puddles of remains now in the junction. Once clear of the mess I turn to my rescuer. “Are you hurt?” the blank visage of his security helmet asks. I clutch my burnt arm in reaction but find my voice uncooperative. Hide. Find others. He takes off his helmet, short shaggy blonde hair and a face some might call handsome looks down at me. His green eyes full of concern. “Are you alright?” his voice softer, calmer now. “I’m fine,” I manage. “Are there others? Is there somewhere safe?”He just nods and motions me to follow him, he doesn’t replace his helmet though. I suppose to make me feel more at ease. I look back one last time at the thing that wasn’t Ria, it’s bubbling away and dissolving. Almost like it’s evaporating. Quickening my step I follow the officer through the next doorway, and let out a sigh of relief as the heavy blast doors slam shut behind me. ****** The officer is hunched over the control panel for the door, he’s pried open the casing and seems to be rewiring it somehow…“Wait,” realisation has just dawned. “You’re the one sealing the doors!”He stops, looking me up and down without saying a word. Danger. I feel the thought encroaching on my mind, the way he’s examining me doesn’t exactly make me feel safe. I clutch my lab coat closed, I know what they say about soldiers who’ve been too long without leave. “Orders are to contain the breach ma’am.” I can’t place his accent, but his tone his matter of fact and he’s already finishing up and resealing the panel. “You sealed the door at the other end of that corridor didn’t you? I was nearly trapped?”“Lucky I came to save you then.”The man is insufferable. “The others… You sealed them in there with those things…” I’m almost shaking, this heavy handed militaristic response nearly trapped me in there. I’m caught! The burnt hand gripping my forearm doesn’t seem any weaker for it’s injuries, what’s more I can still feel the heat of it. My arm is burning. It hurts. “Princess, this is no time for sleeping. “ his voice knocks me out of my flashback. I’m kneeling on the floor hyperventilating and he’s right in front of me, his hands on my shoulders. To our side he’s placed down the shotgun. Weapon. “I’m sorry officer,” I finally manage after forcing my breath to slow down. “Corporal,” he softens for a moment. “You can call me Vin if you like.”“Lucy.” I let out another long breath. Vin seemingly satisfied I’m not about to collapse lets go of my shoulders and picking up his gun stands back up. If I just concentrate for a moment, on there here and now then maybe I’ll be able to stand. “We don’t have any more time to waste Doc. There’s a couple of squads securing an area around the security station in Section 5. You’ll be safe there.”Safe, safe, safe, safe… Safe. I keep saying the word in my head but it doesn’t seem real anymore. I may as well hope for an angel to pull me off this station. But I don’t want to come across another one of those things so I pull myself up. This seems to satisfy the corporal who raises his weapon and starts on ahead. I follow as quickly and quietly as I can. Each intersection we come to he goes through a similar routine, his weapon swinging to view each new blind spot and a moment of anxious stillness before he declares: “Clear!” Each time it shatters the silence and my nerves along with it. Some corridors he darts down, quickly sealing the doors like the ones earlier. Occasionally it feels like I can hear desperate banging from the other side, I know it’s just my imagination playing tricks on me. It is. I mean it must be my imagination. There’s no way I could hear it, even if they were…Definitely my imagination. Other doorways he ignores, and even more oddly are the ones he approaches opens and locks in that position before continuing in another direction. Left, right, straight, right, right, back…I’m sure there’s some pattern to this, but it’s beyond me what it could be. Taking a couple of hours to learn the layout of the rest of this station would have been a real good idea last week. I should put that on my to do list. My legs are starting to tire and my muscles feel like they’re on fire. I’m so thirsty, the amount of sweat dripping through my clothes can’t be helping with that and worst of all that burn on my arm just will not stop itching…Eventually the corridor comes out to a much larger chamber, there are a few benches in here a power loader off in the corner and a small number of crates stacked along the wall. “I know where we are now!”It takes me a second to realise that the sound filling up every corner of this very large room is my voice. Vin looks panicked, his shotgun swinging around the room for the inevitable rush of enemies. We stand there for nearly a minute before he walks back to me and mutters under his breath. “Never. Do. That. Again.” He sighs, seems he got spooked. “What on earth were you thinking Lucy?”I don’t think I appreciate his informality. “You’re lost corporal.” I can’t help but let a note of triumph enter my voice. Even if his being lost will probably end up with both of us dead. “We’re exactly where we need to be… Doctor.”“This is one of the ancillary loading docks, we’re almost two sections in the wrong direction.” I cross my arms in triumph, which is only slightly sullied by noticing Vin glances at my chest when I do. “Sorry love,” Vin starts walking away from me, heading for the docking area. “Work to do first.”“You’re here for the airlock.”He’s going to depressurise… I’m not sure what, this compartment? The ship? “That’s right Doc, if anything gets through the sealed doors we can vent a good portion of the station through here.”All those doors jammed open are beginning to make a fair bit more sense. “Enough to cut us off completely?” I’m trailing after him like a puppy now but I don’t care, this could actually mean safety. Safe… Still sounds weird. “I think so, we’ll still have a couple of havoc turrets and nearly a score of security personnel to keep us safe as well.” Vin hits the activation for the first stage of the airlock, the first of the two doors opening in front of us. “Have you ever fired a gun before Lucy?”I shake my head…. Why is he asking me that? Oh no, I hope he doesn’t expect me to…But he places the shotgun in my hands anyway. “There’s the trigger, pump this slide to reload and just don’t point it at me.”Kill. That alien thought creeps into my head, I’ve never held a gun before. It’s powerful and terrifying at the same time. I don’t have to be a victim again. “This will take me a while,” he’s pulling a complicated little piece of machinery from his belt. “Just cover me while I set this.”I think he can see the worry in my face. He stops, looks right into me with those deep green eyes of his. “You can do this.”Then he’s stepping through the first airlock door and begins to jury rig his device to the outer door. I look around the room, the gun nervously gripped in my hands. It feels like time is slowing down, every movement feels like I’m forcing my way through treacle. Everything around me seems darker than usual, like my eyes just can’t adjust. And the pain in my forearm is absolutely searing…“Lucy!”A sound, it’s distant like the knocking from the other side of the sealed doors. I try to clear my head and focus my eyes. I’m looking at the airlock, but the first door is closed. Was it like this before? My hand is on the airlock release… Is that right? The man…Vin. I can see him through the view port. I think he’s screaming, banging on the door. He looks like he’s panicking. I should help him… Right? The seal is airtight, no sound can escape the cramped little airlock. But I think I can read his lips…I try sounding out the consonants like he does, I need to understand what he’s saying. “Lou… see.” I try. “Lucy… Lucy.”He says it over and over again. Didn’t I know a Lucy? I pull the airlock release… That must be right. “Lucy…” I echo one last time as the air is literally ripped from his lungs and he is projected out into space. ***** I need to move. I’m not sure how long I’ve been staring at this empty airlock, or why I was drawn to it. I heft my shotgun and check there’s a round chambered. It’s odd, I can’t remember where I picked it up. I try to shake the fog out of my head as I walk back into the station’s corridors. I need to find the others, at the security station. How do I know where to go? I must have hit my head, that’s why everything is so blurry. But I’ve made it this far on my own, I won’t let anything else stop me. Looking down I notice a trickle of black liquid trickling down my arm from where I was burnt. No time to worry about it now, I wipe it off on my lab coat and start to jog down the corridors. Find others. I can still smell something burnt…