This story is by Palmer Hawkins and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“It’s hopeless,” said Jones. “Zeke’s probably dead already, just like everyone else.”
“It’s not hopeless,” said Nozomi. “We’ve been in tough scrapes before and we’re still here. We just need to kill those things before they kill us.”
Rapid footsteps echoed off metal walls from the extended hallway leading to the incinerator bay. Jones, Nozomi, and Conner watched through the triple-pane glass of the second-story control room as Zeke sprinted into the expanse below.
“He’s here,” Nozomi said. “And they’re chasing him!”
“It’s gonna work,” said Conner.
“It better,” said Jones with a sneer.
Twelve grotesque monsters stalked Zeke. Putrid purple limbs swung around violently, scrambling to be the first to inject their DNA into a new host. These parasites were once human, the former crew of the asteroid mining vessel Fortunatus. They didn’t resemble anything close to humans now. Their bodies were massively disfigured and discolored. Limbs folded at awkward angles, the ends of which had grown deadly barbs. Skin stretched and tore with their rapid movements. Rancid body fluids leaked behind them, leaving a rotten stench in their wake. Their high-pitched screeching filled the bay and penetrated the glass of the control room, setting Nozomi’s teeth on edge.
“Come on, Zeke,” Nozomi said, watching him rush into the elevator to the control room.
“He’s in,” said Conner as he closed the bay doors, trapping the monsters in their death chamber. He then turned to the video feed from the elevator camera. “Shit, shit, shit! They’re gonna get him!”
Zeke frantically hit the ‘close door’ button over and over with no response. The three watched helplessly through the screen as the creatures plowed into Zeke, knocking him against the back wall of the elevator. The monitor went dark but they could still hear Zeke’s screams from below.
“Oh, God,” cried Nozomi.
“God has nothing to do with this,” said Jones. Nozomi narrowed her eyes.
“What’d you do?”
“What?” said Jones.
“The lift. You sent it down for Zeke. What’d you do?”
“Um, can you just fry these bastards?” said Conner.
Nozomi looked from Jones to Conner, then down into the incinerator bay where monsters searched for a way up. She cursed before turning back to her terminal, initiating the burn sequence. Flames erupted from the floor and walls, engulfing each creature. Conner cheered, Jones smirked, Nozomi slumped back in her chair, exhausted.
A loud crack rang out and the control room quaked. Nozomi opened her eyes to see fracture lines in the glass. A large object parted the flames and smacked the window, spreading the fractures. Nozomi hit the kill switch, extinguishing the fire and revealing the monsters had tripled in size.
“What the hell, Nozomi?” said Jones. “You said this would work!”
“I—I thought…,” she said. A sense of dread gripped her chest and caused her hands to shake.
“The fire must have acted like a catalyst,” said Conner.
“Great, so we all risked our necks for nothing. Zeke’s dead because of your half-cocked plan that made everything worse, which is impressive because it seemed like things couldn’t possibly get any worse.”
Nozomi clenched her jaw.
“Shut up! I’m trying to save us!”
“Your attempts to save us have a high mortality rate. Your idea to cut one in half created two monsters and left four people infected. Why do we keep listening to you?”
“There’s no way we could’ve known they could do that!”
“Zomi, we should clear out,” said Conner, backing toward the door. Nozomi and Jones looked from each other to the window. Cracks spanned the entire surface. A giant limb hit the damaged glass.
The window shattered into thousands of tiny glass shards, throwing the fragments toward the crew. They took cover too late, each receiving small cuts wherever they had exposed skin.
“Come on!” said Conner, already opening the door to the hallway. Nozomi shook her head to refocus.
“Move!” Nozomi yelled, pushing Jones forward. She jumped back to avoid being crushed by a giant limb. The appendage swept toward her, missing by inches, then smacked into the shards protruding from the windowsill. Part of the alien limb severed, spewing a black and purple viscous liquid all over the wall, and floor. The damaged flesh fell to the ground with a sickening ‘thwap’ before pushing out appendages of its own. They wriggled and writhed as they grew, gaining purchase on the floor and pushing their new body up off the ground.
“Holy shit!” said Jones. The creature jerked up at the noise and scurried toward Jones.
“Run!” shouted Nozomi, chasing Jones toward the door. The creature frantically pursued. Conner sealed the door behind Nozomi. The mangled organism slammed into the metal frame over and over.
“We gotta get out of here,” said Conner.
“Oh, really?” said Jones. “The shuttle’s destroyed. How’re we supposed to leave?”
“Can’t wait for a rescue response from the distress call,” said Nozomi. “There’s an escape pod on the port side of the mess hall, access hatch is by the coolant system.”
“You mean we could’ve left any time and you said nothing while everyone died?” said Jones. “No wonder you never made Captain.”
“It’s only designed for two. The shuttle’s supposed to be the escape vessel.”
“So one of us has to stay and die? I can’t believe this shit.”
“No,” said Nozomi. “We’re a few million klicks from Praesidium Colony. It’ll be tight but we should make it.”
“Well, let’s not stand around all day,” said Jones. He turned and ran down the corridor to the mess hall. Nozomi dropped her head in resignation. It was over. In reality, it was over when they drilled into the cavern and Boris got infected. They weren’t prepared to handle an event like this. They were a glorified mining crew, not biohazard containment specialists. And this was no ordinary biohazard.
“Come on,” said Conner, patting Nozomi’s shoulder. “Let’s go before those things break through the door.” Nozomi nodded and they ran after Jones.
They rounded the corner by the mess hall and saw Jones at the control panel for the fire door. Nozomi’s eyes widened. He was going to seal them off.
“Jones!” yelled Nozomi, now in a full sprint. “Don’t you dare!”
“You said it yourself, the escape pod won’t support three,” said Jones before dropping the fire door. Nozomi and Conner reached it too late. Nozomi pounded on the door.
“Jones, you bastard!”
“What do we do?” asked Conner, bent over with hands on knees and breathing heavily.
“Um…well, he triggered the door manually, the rest of the containment doors should be open. A utility crawl space runs parallel to this corridor that might not be sealed.”
They ran back to the corner where an access hatch sat close to the floor.
Conner released the hatch and Nozomi crawled inside the cramped space. She hurried but knew it was futile.
We’re screwed, thought Nozomi, the dread pooled in her stomach like a great pit. Why are the backstabbers always the ones that get ahead in life?
“We need to be fast and quiet,” said Nozomi. “Don’t give him a chance to seal us out.”
Conner nodded. Nozomi opened the hatch and crawled into the corridor. Conner followed, standing to face Nozomi. He started to smile, then his eyes widened. He pushed Nozomi to the floor. She hit hard and cursed. Nozomi looked up to see Conner fighting with one of the creatures. He struggled in vain, screaming as its barbs repeatedly struck him in the arms and torso.
Conner yelled between screams, “Go! Go now!”
Nozomi let out a cry as she pushed back with her hands and feet before turning over, rising to her feet, and running. The open access hatch revealed the pod was still docked. She descended a ladder into the cramped vessel and sealed the hatch. Nozomi turned to see Jones in the pilot seat a meter away, his back to her.
“Why haven’t you left?” asked Nozomi. His head lifted at her voice but gave no response. Nozomi grabbed his hair, pulled back his head, and yelled, “Answer me, dammit!”
Jones’s eyes were bloodshot and unfocused. Blood stained his clothes. His skin turned purple surrounding dozens of wounds beneath torn clothing. Nozomi stumbled back at the sight and fell to the floor. He stood slowly as his eyes regained focus and locked onto Nozomi’s.
“No,” Nozomi cried. The creature lunged.
Each sting was a fire that pulsed and raged through her body, consuming her from the inside out. She continued screaming long after she lost her voice, the inhuman wails of agony remained constant until the inferno burned out. The transformation had been excruciating, but a deeper pain came from being trapped inside her own mind while control of her body had been severed. The parasite had taken over but Nozomi was along for the ride, without hope, helpless to do anything as she flew to Praesidium Colony with Jones to satiate the primal need to spread.