This story is by T.R. Tennyson and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Icarus felt it building. He closed his eyes, attempting to distract himself. Icarus laid on the fold-out bed inside his cramped personal quarters. He couldn’t hold it in any longer. Icarus rolled over just in time as he discharged bloody vomit into the metal bin beside him. I don’t have it. Icarus repeated the mantra in his head. Against his deepest optimisms, the worsening headaches and now bloody vomit confirmed it. Icarus had the Anni virus.
Icarus remembered clearly first hearing of Anni-88 on the news; a couple in Alabama died after “a rare flu reaction”. He remembered thinking, how unlucky. Only a handful die from the flu each year. Throughout the ensuing three years, more stories surfaced; people in Nevada, Illinois and Massachusetts, a few dozen became hundreds, then thousands. Icarus began listening to international reports on Anni-88. The virus consisted of three phases: headaches, bloody discharge and subsequent organ failure. Virology experts warned the public to take extreme caution.
Icarus slammed his fist into the bedding. “I was careful.” he cried in a whisper.
Once the World Health Organization classified Anni as a world-wide epidemic, the United Nations began constructing the Star Ship Salvation. When global news announced the Salvation’s construction, Icarus was ecstatic. The fleet would be assembled on his continent which meant he wouldn’t have to worry about Anni amidst international travel. As a hypochondriac, Icarus feared for his life once it was common knowledge that Anni spread quickly and was incurable.
He stored himself away in the emergency cellar he had built many years previous, forgoing the outside world but also to the possibility of contracting the virus. The only contact he permitted himself was to his best friend, Magnus. The two had known each other since childhood and after learning of Anni, Magus agreed to accompany Icarus for possible immunization testing. Although he was susceptible, Icarus was glad Magnus had the miracle odds of being immune.
Phenomenally, Anni brought the world together with one common goal: the continued existence of mankind. With a central focus on colonizing Taros, the closest habitable planet to earth, the Salvation was completed in five years. Within that time, however, not only did Anni infect and kill most of mankind, but it had mutated to infect all forms of life; first animals and after mutating again, plants and vegetation.
The day of the gathering, he and Magnus drove through multiple checkpoints. The process to ensure mankind’s purity was extensive; giving samples of skin, blood and hair, even a required CT scan.
In all, upon departing earth, only ten vessels of fifty thousand were sanctioned. Icarus continued to be cautious aboard the Salvation. He never left his quarters, would always wear gloves and wash his hands often. Icarus knew he didn’t catch the Anni-88 virus; it originated in him. How could this have happened? How long have I been infected? How many have I infected unknowingly? There was no way to be sure. “I have to speak with Magnus.”
The Salvation’s ten vessels consisted of one prominent pod and nine followers. Where the primary pod lead, the others followed. Icarus felt lucky to be assigned to the chief vessel, although it now felt like a curse. He had debated using an escape pod to separate himself from the other passengers, but dismissed the idea. Amidst his precautions, Anni could have mutated in other forms and could have been infecting others for months.
Icarus beeped the tele-com system, “Call Passenger 7973.”
After a brief silence, he heard another click followed by Magnus’ voice, “Ike! How are you?”
“No time for that now. Come over?”
“Right away!” The tele-com system clicked off and within a few minutes, Magnus rapped on the door and entered.
“Magnus, I have Anni-88.”
Magnus half laughed. “No, Ike, you don’t. The safeguards were very thorough and besides, we’ve been on the Salvation for almost two years, more than enough time for anyone with Anni to demonstrate symptoms and perish.”
“I’ve been having headaches, for weeks now, with nosebleeds and blood in my vomit since yesterday. I’m stage two. The only explanation is Anni must have mutated again and can lie dormant in a host. I have the virus. You must accept that. The primary vessel could be contaminated. At the moment, I’m fairly certain that Anni is quarantined to my cabin. If Anni has spread, we cannot land on Taros. That would wipe out not only the other half million passengers, but all planetary life.”
Magnus’ tone grew solemn. “We can’t do anything about that, Icarus. The other nine can’t continue to Taros without us. Those vessels are tied to the primary vessel’s navigation system. Where we go, they go. So what do you suggest?”
“If we do nothing, we land on Taros and possibly die as a half million sick or we convince the captain not to land and wander space to die as fifty thousand infected and four hundred-fifty thousand healthy. I don’t know what to do, Magnus.”
Magnus looked his friend in the eyes. “Ike, you’ve been by my side for as long as I can remember continually doing what’s best for me. I’ve always appreciated that. This is a difficult thing, Ike. But now it’s my turn to do what’s best.”
Magnus abruptly wrapped his hands around Icarus’ throat and climbed atop him. Magnus began squeezing with all his strength and Icarus clawed at the meaty hands, attempting to gasp for air. A tear welled in the corner of Magnus’ eye. “I’m sorry, old friend. You said it yourself. Anni-88 is quarantined to your cabin. You haven’t left; no one enters but me. It can only be here. If you die, half a million live. Humanity is saved.” Tears continued to well and trickle down Magnus’ face.
Seconds later, Icarus’ chest no longer rose and his flaccid hands drooped. Magnus paused at the threshold to look at his friend on the bed and remembered when Icarus had been by his bedside each day as he recovered from the removal of a liver tumor. Magnus wiped the tears away before closing the door and racing to the medical wing.
Upon arriving, Magus turned down the main corridor and knocked at the corner office. The plaque read: “Gilford Warbley, Chief of Medicine”. The door opened and Magnus was ushered inside. “Chief,” Magnus began, “everyone must be tested for Anni-88. All fifty thousand. I believe my friend was infected. We must keep it contained!”
Magnus shared with the Chief his encounter with Icarus and the discussion that followed. The ensuing days were handled cautiously. Each resident of the Salvation’s primary vessel was quarantined to their cramped quarters while hundreds of medical staff swabbed and tested each occupant and the entirety of the Salvation for the virus.
Magnus waited on the fold-out bed in his cabin when a click came from the tele-com. “Will passenger 7973 please report to Chief Warbley.” Magnus was out the door before the message clicked off. He anxiously raced to the medical wing. The door to Warbley’s office was open. The chief sat at his desk with another man standing to his left.
Warbley invited him in, “Passenger 7973, this is Maynard, the Captain of the Salvation. Please close the door and sit.”
Magnus did as instructed and awaited the report.
“We have bad news.” Warbley said.
Magnus let his head fall into his hands, “The vessel is contaminated, isn’t it?”
Warbley’s face remained somber, “No. Not a single passenger tested positive.”
Magnus lifted his head in disbelief. “I don’t understand. It’s contained? We got it?” he asked smiling.
Warbley’s eyes broke from the eager man across from him, “Not quite. We tested all the residents. Passenger 4375 included. It appears not even he was infected.”
“But… the migraines? The blood?”
“Upon reviewing our scans, 4375 was ailed with a medulloblastoma, a brain tumor.”
A mixture of sorrow and guilt racked Magnus to his soul realizing he would never again see his best friend. Tears streamed from his face over the news. His heart was rent in two from the anger he had for himself for being the one responsible for his best friend’s death.
Captain Maynard leaned over the desk. “Passenger 7973,” the captain said, “regarding your actions against Passenger 4375, the Salvation’s council has deliberated and judged it to be murder. Your penalty is death by exile. You will be incarcerated in an escape pod and expelled from this ship. You are no longer fit for Taros.” Captain Maynard pressed the tele-com system on the desk, “Men, take him away.”
Two burly men burst into the room and grabbed Magnus by the arms, dragging him from the chair and out of the room. Magnus didn’t struggle. I deserve this. “I’m sorry, Ike.” Magnus sobbed, “I did it for humanity.” Magnus’ heels dragged along the ground, down the hall and into the confined pod. Muffled wails echoed through the halls as the pod was released into the void.