The following is inspired by a call to action by Keeper of the Rivers of Grue. You can read the first half of this thrilling tale here: Plexus
I know that I have truly lost my mind now. An hour has passed since I entered the medical bay. It must be the shock because I am still in disbelief over what I witnessed. They were dead. I am positive that they were. I may only be the resident shrink, but I know a dead body when I see one, don’t I? I must be in the last stages of Space Madness. That is the only logical explanation. The extreme isolation and the trauma of losing the entire crew has finally sent me over the edge. Looking at them all right now, if this is what insanity looks like, I will take it. Yes. You heard me correctly. They are all here. Maybe if I recount the events of the last hour, it will start to make sense to us both.
It took me to the count of three about seven times before I finally gathered up the courage to open the medical bay door. By then, the stench was making my eyes water and I had to swallow my gorge more than once. I figured the only way to get the ordeal over with was to burst in, guns a blazing, so to speak. I must have looked rather foolish because my entrance was greeted with a merry round of laughter from Cassie. Forget fighting my stomach as it is now somewhere in the stars behind us.
There she is, Cassie. She looks as beautiful as the day I first laid eyes on her. There’s Dougie to her right, still sitting on the examination table, smiling warmly at me. William, Marcus, and Dimitri are huddled around the captain. They are all here, ALIVE. I try to speak, yet words fail me. Instead I open my mouth and close it like a fish out of water. My mind is reeling. They…….were……dead! Suddenly, the world swims out of focus and grows dim. I watch myself fall to the floor in slow motion. The last thing I see before darkness takes me, is their smiles. Their radiant smiles.
I have never fainted in my life. I guess I cannot say that anymore. I was only out for a few minutes. When I awoke, Cassie was pressing a cool cloth to my overheated forehead. She smiled down at me. For a moment, I was terrified. It was as if her mouth contained too many teeth. I blinked rapidly as my heart threatened to join my stomach in the cosmos. I started to sit up, but the world went catawampus on me and I had to lie back down. Cassie’s fingers ran through my hair, soothing me. I kept my eyes shut until I felt that I had myself under control. I have to admit that I was weary of reopening them and seeing all of those teeth. Finally, I steeled myself, ready for the impossible. This was Cassie after all, I told myself in a sort of litany over and over. This is Cassie. This is Cassie. I spoke her name as I opened my eyes. She smiled once more down at me. It lit up her entire face. After so much time on my own, my resolve melted and I burst out in grateful tears. I sat up and held her close. She smelled divine. Her embrace was warm. She continued to run her fingers through my hair until the sobs quieted.
Once I was able to walk, we joined the others in the mess hall. Dimitri was scanning his portable work terminal. In my absence, Dougie and he had gotten Medina working properly. She greeted me as William poured me a cup of coffee. The captain regards me closely. I felt unease settle in turning the coffee sour in my mouth as it floods with thick saliva. The minutes tick away as no one speaks. The silence is beginning to drive me mad. I have been too long in the quiet for them to remain so now. My eyes dart from one person to the next. Dimitri. William. The captain. Cassie. Dougie. Marcus. Back to Cassie. When the captain finally speaks, I almost jump out of my chair. I don’t think my heart can take much more excitement.
“Raymond, everything’s going to be alright now. We’re heading home.”
Home. Home? That word sounds alien in my ears. I digest it slowly, savoring the letters as they roll off my tongue in a whisper.
Garrand simply nods as the others regard me closely. I once again look to each of them. The air seems much too dense to draw into my lungs. I realize that I have been holding my breath. I release it in a whoosh and begin to nod. Home. Yes. I want more than ever to simply go home. Smiles appear on each of their faces. They have too many teeth. It is not just Cassie’s either. Too many teeth. This is going to be a long trip home.
*End of transmission*
This is captain Joseph Orion of the recovery ship Magnolia’s Birch. We have reached the Detronimus on Mars. Judging by the wreckage, she came down hard and fast. The forward hull is completely destroyed. Sections of the cargo bays are scattered across a ten-mile radius. The medical bays and living quarters in the heart of the ship seem to be intact. Preliminary scans from my science officer, O’Bryan show no signs of life. The chances are slim that the crew survived the impact. One of the escape pods are missing. We have been thus far unable to locate it adrift in space or see the crash site here on Mars. I’m taking a three-man crew to see if we can locate the ship’s onboard computer for download. Ground control wants to know what happened up here. I will report my findings upon our return. Captain’s log, May 25, 2057, 12:21 pm, end of transmission.
Ground control, you are not going to believe this, but we found a survivor, the psychological officer, Raymond Bell. We found him in a cryo chamber inside of the medical bay. He seems to be in a state of extreme shock. The medical officer, Karen White, has had to sedate him after attempts to calm him were ineffective. He keeps screaming about teeth. I fear the worst.
We have located the ship’s onboard computer, Medina and are attempting to download the files. So far we have been able to view a few of the crew’s personal logs but nothing of importance has surfaced. The remaining crew members have yet to be located. I’m sending in another scout team in the morning. End transmission.
So many teeth. I have to warn them. It has been three days and White has finally released me from the medical bay. Captain Orion wishes to speak to me. He is going to think I am mad, but they do not know the danger they are in. They others are out there and will stop at nothing to reach Earth. I have to put an end to this. Those things cannot be allowed to survive. So many, many teeth.
Karen takes me to the captain’s quarters so that I may speak to him in private. Montley, the ship’s communications specialist and engineer has unscrambled more of the Detronimus’s logs.
“Can you explain this to me?”
On the viewer, my last log entry is playing. I made it right before I sealed the cryo chamber.
“You and your crew are in terrible danger. We must leave immediately and return to Earth. Blow what remains of the Detronimus to hell and let’s get out of here.”
“You know perfectly well that I cannot do that, Raymond. Now, I want to know what happened and I want to know what you did with the rest of your crew.”
“I ejected them out into space. There were not my crew any longer. They were…..something else.”
The captain’s face is unreadable. I have lied to him, but hopefully he will call off his search and leave this god forsaken planet.
“One of the escape pods is missing. They are one man pods. There is no way you could have ejected six people in one pod.”
“You are right. I didn’t. The pod was a ruse. I only wanted them to think that I had escaped so that I could buy myself more time and crash the ship onto the planet. My hope was to kill us all.”
“I had Karen check you for Space Madness before I allowed your release from the medical bay. Your tests came back clean so why don’t we cut through the bullshit and you tell me what in the hell happened.”
I told the captain how the crew fell one by one into comas and how their lives terminated simultaneously. My time alone, I kept brief to save myself the heartache of reliving that time again. My mouth went dry as I explained the crew’s miraculous return to the land of the living. Flashes of those teeth filled my mind when I began my tale of what happened on the journey towards home.
The first month was uneventful. I no longer saw visions of tiny, sharp teeth every time one of my fellow crew members smiled. Life seemed to settle into a routine. We laughed until our sides hurt. We talked. We bonded. Before, no one but Cassie would give me the time of the day. Now, they acted as if we were long lost childhood friends reunited once more. Stories of days long since passed, were shared. It was the happiest time of my life. You would think that given this second chance, Cassie and I would pick up where we left off. The romance that seemed ready to blossom would finally flourish. This was not the case. Instead, we danced around the subject but never tackled it head on. It might have had something to do with the time I walked in on her in the shower.
Cassie had missed breakfast that morning so I thought I would do the standup thing and bring it to her quarters. When my repeated knocks did not summon her to the door, I let myself in, worried that she had slipped back into a coma. Her bed was empty. The sheets were neatly in place as if she had never slept upon them. The bathroom door was cracked open as I cautiously crept to peer inside, fearful of what I would find within. The sound of running water reached my ears that felt pumped with too much blood. Not wishing to be a voyeur but still worried, I peeked inside.
Cassie’s skin hung on the towel rack. HER SKIN! The thing standing in front of the sink is hard to describe. Its flesh rippled and changed as the moisture from the shower floated around the small room. One second it appeared translucent, the next it seemed to blend in with the room, rendering it invisible. It changed to an oily black that sucked all of the light out of the cramped space. What’s worse, it is singing. It sounds like Cassie. It has Cassie’s eyes, but it most certainly is not Cassie. Oh god, those teeth again!!! Rows upon rows of them, glistening an unearthly white, small and sharp. My heart is racing and feels as if it will explode. So many teeth. I feel a scream rising up my throat and catch it before it can escape my lips, sealing my fate. I leave the room in a hurry, breakfast tray still in my hand. My perfect world has just been shattered, again.
I make myself scarce for the rest of the day. I don’t wish to alert the crew that I know their dirty secret. This is when it hits me. We are heading home. My mind races with the possibilities of what that truly means for the population of Earth. I cannot let those abominations reach humanity. Until I formulate a plan, it is best to keep up the charades that is now my life. God help us all.
Word has it that we are entering Mars space soon. The crew is in high spirits. Home is only a skip and a hop away now. I celebrate with them even though my heart is not in it. I’m running out of time. I have been doing research on the ship and its design at night. Dougie noticed my inquiries in the ship’s computer activity logs. For now, I have placated him into thinking that I get bored at night and find learning about the schematics the remedy for a good night’s sleep. At this, he laughs as if I have made the world’s best joke. I internally shutter.
We enter Mars space a week later. I have my plan in place. I am so tired from all of the late nights I have spent lurking around. My hands ache from cutting wires for the charges I found in the cargo hold. Honestly, I am damn lucky to not have blown myself up by now. I hope my luck holds.
I check with William and we are passing Mars now. He grins at my sudden interest in piloting the ship. I check my watch. It is almost show time, when a resounding ripple echoes through the ship. I guess my watch is slow. Alarms sound off all over the ship. I watch William set the auto pilot as he scrambles to help the rest of the crew. I make like I am following him and circle back around to the life pods. I set the first one to eject and scramble down to the medical bay. Medina blasts over the intercom.
“ATTENTION! ATTENTION! LIFE POD A IS NOW ACTIVE. LIFE POD A IS NOW ACTIVE. T-MINUS 30 SECONDS UNTIL EJECTION!”
I slam the bay doors closed as she repeats her message again. Another blast sounds off from what I assume is the engine room. I hope the core will blow next. Lights flicker off and on as I climb into the cryo chamber. I can hear them outside the doors now. They will breach them soon. The last thing I see as I drift off into a dreamless sleep is all of those teeth.
“That’s it. The next thing I remember is waking up here.”
Orion doesn’t say anything for a long time. I know how my story sounds. He must think that I have Space Madness after all. My heart sinks when he does speak.
“Raymond, I’m sending another crew down to the Detronimus. You are coming with us this time. Your story adds up as far as the damage we have assessed. It doesn’t however explain why you killed your crew. I don’t believe in the science fictional monster that you just described. I believe the only monster aboard the Detronimus was you.”
Oh captain, how I wish you were right. Don’t worry. You will learn soon enough. How right I was, he learned alright, boy did he learn.
The entire crew, save Karen, made one last journey into the ruins of the Detronimus. O’Bryan kept me close. His eyes were dark and filled with disgust at the sight of me. Montly and Orion acted as if I were something to be scrapped off of their shoes. Pleasant company I keep, eh? We started in the medical bay. The doors hung on their hinges. Deep gouges adorned the metal surface. There was no way to restore power so we were left with nothing but our flashlights to guide our way. My eyes flickered around wildly, convinced that the shadows would spring to life at any minute. Nothing came.
The crew quarters were down a long corridor that also led to the mess hall. Wires and broken pieces of metal hung askew like dead snakes. I began to smell that rotten stench even through my suit. It is impossible since I was using an oxygen tank, yet there it was. The others smelled it too. The closer we came to Cassie’s quarters, the strong the smell became. Montly gagged and tried to tear off his helmet. O’Bryan fought with him to keep it on. That is when Karen screamed over our head pieces, snapping him out of his panic. We all raced back to the Magnolia’s Birch. Her screams filled our ears. It had a wet sound that was cut off abruptly.
Once aboard, the only sign of Karen was one shoe, still containing her foot. I cannot tell you if it was ripped off or chewed off. I am afraid that it was the latter. Orion looks at me with wild eyes of disbelief while Montly vomits in the corner. O’Bryan seems to be the only one who is calm.
“Captain, I think it is time to arm ourselves. It seems that Raymond is not the only one who survived the crash.”
With that, we head to the armory to arm ourselves.
One would think that in the year 2057, mankind would have found better ways to kill things. You would be correct. Orion does not play when it comes to fire power. As a survivor of the Continent Wars, he believes in good ole fashion weapons of war. He has plasma cannons, something he calls a light phase inducer, and his personal favorite, simply called Mamma. I have never fired a gun in my life, but let me tell you now, this light phase inducer is now my new best friend. Locked and loaded, we begin to search the ship.
Nothing. Not one shred of anyone anywhere. We have gone over this hunk of junk a half a dozen times now and there is nothing here. I feel as if the universe is playing a sick game on us. The adrenaline overload that dumped into our veins after the gruesome discovery of Karen’s remains has worn off. Quite frankly, we are exhausted. To be prudent, we will sleep in shifts. One man on for two hours, three men down. The mess hall seems the safest place. Lots of open space and nowhere to hide. Orion is taking the first watch. The rest of us are hunkering down for what will likely be a long night.
I awake several hours later to find Orion gone. Mamma is resting on one of the tables. Montly is snoring soundly and O’Bryan is dead to the world. I mean that literally. He is dead. His throat has been ripped out. How in the hell did I sleep through that? I shake Montly awake. He freaks out at the sight of O’Bryan’s blood soaked sleeping bag.
“What did you do to him? Where’s Orion?”
“I found him like that, damn it! I don’t know where Orion is, but we have to find him.”
“He wouldn’t have gone anywhere without Mamma.”
The sound of the captain’s voice makes us both jump. I inadvertently fire my weapon.
“Damn it Raymond! You almost shot my head off!” Montly shrieks.
“What the hell is going on in here? I go to use the head and I find you two jumping at shadows.”
Orion sees O’Bryan for the first time. His eyes grow dark.
“That’s it! We are tearing this damn ship apart! I want whoever or whatever did this found! NOW!”
He snatches Mamma off of the table and we set about turning the ship upside down, for the last time.
It happened quickly after that. What is it about medical bays? The strange stench greeted us as soon as we stepped into the room. It rose and fell in waves, over powering one minute, gone completely the next. We heard laughter. It was Cassie’s. Swinging towards the sound, there she was in all of her glory, completely naked and smiling at us. She laughed again. Her skin split open, revealing her true form. Orion wasted no time and fired a shot from Momma. It took off Cassie’s head, shattering her many, many teeth. A scream that can only be described as hellish, filled the air as something erupted out of the wall and grabbed Orion by the shoulder. The sound of numerous teeth gnawing and ripping his flesh was almost too much to withstand. Montly stood frozen in horror. I began firing at the thing latched onto Orion.
Pieces of rotten smelling flesh seared away from it body and thrashed onto the floor. I cannot tell you how many times I fired. By the time I was done, the captain was lying on the floor in a heap. The creature, nothing but a ruin of stinking char. Blood poured from Orion’s mouth.
“Kill me, Raymond. It hurts. It hurts so much. Kill me…..please…..” he said as the light died in his eyes.
I turned from what remained of Orion in time to see Montly being dragged down the hallway, sreaming.
I ran after him but whatever had a hold of him was much faster. His screams were cut off as his head bounced off a wall, knocking him out. I pushed myself even harder to catch them. They rounded a corner in the corridor and were gone by the time I reached it. I, however, did find something. Dimitri. Upon seeing me, he grinned and sprinted towards me, shedding his skin in the process. He knocked me off my feet with the content. The smell coming off of him was hot and rancid. My weapon was pinned between us. He leaned close to my face, dripping sludge colored saliva down my neck. Showing me his terrible teeth, he shifted his weight to give me the full pleasure of seeing the objects of my doom. In doing so, he gave me enough room to tilt my weapon up, firing a blast into his torso. Reeling backwards in pain, I fired again and again at him, flinging him off of me. Two down. Four to go.
I was attacked by Dougie and Truman in the cargo hold. Truman nearly ripped my arm out of socket when he grabbed me. Thankfully he did so as I was able to shoot Dougie point blank before he could bite my head off. Truman sunk his teeth into my arm and I almost lost the gun. Swinging wildly with my free arm, I managed to free myself, ripping my arm to shreds until it hung uselessly by my side. Truman laughed as I shot him repeatedly. He laughed all the way to his grave.
I left the cargo bay and decided that I was never going to stay alive long enough to hunt down William and Montly. I was bleeding too heavily and already my sight was wavering. My only hope was to blow the ship. This time, I would blow the entire thing up. I headed to engineering.
I was in luck. The core of the Magnolia’s Birch was fitted with a core that had been recalled due to its tendency to overheat under duress. Apparently, Orion never bothered to have a replacement installed. The cooling tanks were located under the main deck of engineering. A small service walkway led downward. Not bothering with caution as I would likely die soon anyhow, I made my way down. The cooling tanks were even older than dirt. I shot them. Hisses of steam filled the walkway. The ship’s computer blasted out warnings. I shot at the core for safe measure and headed to the bridge.
Ground control, I know that you will not receive this transmission for several minutes, but I want you to know what happened here. Mankind was not meant for deep space. There are things out here that we are not ready to handle. The crew of the Detronimus and the Magnolia’s Birch will be dead soon. A core breach is imminent. There will be no survivors. This is Raymond Bell, signing off.
*End of transmission*