20 Dec U.S.S. February
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"U.S.S. February"Written by Derek Hawke (a.k.a. Killahawke1)
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Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
Radio waves have traveled through and past the Earth’s atmosphere for decades. They carried snapshots of humanity out into infinity. Music, broadcasts, TV shows, news commentary; it was all out there, racing away at the speed of light.
The antenna from the U.S.S. February’s lifeboat angled itself automatically; detecting a signal from one of the sectors within its reach. The ship’s computer extrapolated the data and converted it to an audio signal. It concluded that it was merely old data from long ago. Per protocol, it routed the signal through the ship’s comm system for its occupant to assess. The signal emerged through the distortion, and a song began to play throughout the bulkheads and corridors of the small vessel.
(“Here until I’m gone.”)
(“Right where I belong,”)
(“Just hangin’ on”)
The tiny lifeboat drifted through space at the half the speed of light. The last survivor of the U.S.S. February watched as the small blue dot grew larger in the forward viewport. Having spent weeks to travel the distance, if it were not for thoughts of a wife and beautiful daughter, madness would have prevailed.
We were heralded as heroes and all of mankind bid us farewell when we were shot into the emptiness of space, two hundred and fifty-four days ago. Twenty men and women, chosen from all nations were ambassadors of humanity with a message of peace and goodwill.
(“Even though,”) An answer,
(“Watched you come and go.”) to the voice that called out from the void.
(“How was I to know you’d steal the show?”) An intelligent mind, telling us we were not alone.
The whole world will remember the day we heard the transmission, originating past Mars, within the asteroid belt. It came from a small dwarf planet, now glowing in the dark—the lights of Ceres brightened in anticipation.
(“One day I’ll have enough to gamble.”) I left My wife and little girl to make them proud.
(“I’ll wait to hear your final call,”) Soon, Humanity would never be the same again.
(“Bet it all.”) We were wrong! We were so wrong!
We don’t belong out here!
(“Hangin’ on.”) We found the signal’s source.
(“Here until I’m gone.”) Under the planet’s crust.
(“Right where I belong,”) Humanoids.
(“Just hangin’ on.”) A settlement, a colony; long dead and gone.
(“Even though,”) It was tens of thousands of years old.
(“Pass this time alone,”) Frozen in ice.
(“Somewhere so unknown, it heals the soul”) The remnants of a society— dead for centuries. There was no one here alive who could have sent that message.
A small portion of the alien site was exposed and free from the ice. Recent seismic activity and hot gasses from the planetoid’s core melted away a section, allowing entry into the structure. We donned our pressure suits and anxiously made our way into the depths of the cavern. We would be the first to lay eyes on the remains of an alien culture.
They weren’t much different from us. They were an artistic people and adorned the walls and buildings with pictures and imagery of a strange and far away home world. The looked so much like us.
What we found frozen in the ground was not like us.
We found an ancient, mangled machine. Lined along its structure were artistic depictions of the device displayed side by side. We deduced it was their environmental system. It was the source of their heat, air, and water. We followed the trail of beautifully rendered portraits giving hints of the machine’s functions and abilities. Each work of art was more stunning than the next. We came to the last image and stood there stunned. This final picture seemed to show them detonating an explosive and destroying this vital machine themselves.
An indentation in the smooth, frozen ground caught our attention. Through the ice, we could see a shape. It was fleshy and looked as if three to four bodies were fused into one. Each of its limbs was contorted and deformed. Arms were long and bent at odd and abnormal angles. Teeth protruded from mouths that didn’t belong. Pupils from eyes that shouldn’t be there stared back at us. It was a mockery to the harmony of nature. It was an abomination towards the symmetry and beauty of life.
The cavern was unstable from the continuous seismic activity. The only relic of true value within reach was this thing frozen in the ice. With plasma torches in hand, we raced to cut it out of the ground and carry it back to the February. With our payload safely stowed aboard, we prepared for our journey home.
The cave had been there for centuries. Maybe it was our cutting, or the ship landing on the crater’s surface, or a combination of both, but the foundation below the crater began to collapse with the cavern. We barely managed to lift off. We were so busy congratulating ourselves on our narrow escape that never bothered to check in on our new cargo. It had begun to thaw.
What we unleashed was malicious and cruel and had only one goal— to consume us and make us part of it. It picked us off one by one, in secret. It absorbed its victim, mimicking them in every way. There was no way to tell who was still human and who had been replaced. Paranoia overcame us; no one could be trusted.
Every part of this thing, all the way down to the cellular level, was sentient and could infect a viable host. The larger organisms would attack with a primal rage and captured its prey. Still alive, the victim would struggle and scream in agony as the creature absorbed them. In less than an hour, a slab of flesh would break off from its body and begin to develop in form. Soon, it would look and act exactly like the person it had devoured.
The smaller particulates of the creature would hide within the body like a microbe. It secretly absorbed and devoured the flesh and tissue from the inside; the host unaware of its presence. It would only reveal itself if threatened or given an opportunity to propagate itself. It would emerge in an explosion of flesh, blood, tentacles and tendrils, teeth and claws.
In less than twenty-four hours, there were only six of us left. We cowered on the bridge in despair. We mourned for what needed to be done. We knew it was only a matter of time before it overcame us. We knew we could not risk bringing it back with us. We knew we could never return home.
Humans were not capable of piloting a starship at the speeds obtained by the February. Complex course adjustments and corrections needed to be performed instantaneously. Interstellar navigation was under computer control, and we were locked into a course for Earth. In two hours, the ship’s main computer would perform a course correction to avoid one of the many uncharted asteroids in the sector. If an overload occurred in three of the auxiliary power distribution nodes, the central computer would crash, taking down the ship’s navigational controls. In the time it would take for a full system reboot, the window for a course adjustment would have passed, and thirty minutes later, we would impact the asteroid’s surface, traveling at 24,000 mph.
The Captain stood over me, handing me tools before I climbed down the air shaft and squeezed into the claustrophobic maintenance duct, barely wider than the width of my shoulders. The tube would open into a secondary airlock junction. From there I could access a service port and emerge behind the computer’s secondary cooling unit and blow the power nodes. I started to descend into the dark below.
A crash from overhead sounded, and the bridge went dark. The backup lights flashed from emergency strobes that illuminated a massive and formless shape in brief glimpses between bursts of light and dark. The thing was covered with thin, worm-like tendrils that shook and rattled with a seizure-like intensity. The tendrils shot out from its body like arrows, piercing everyone within its range. A tendril punctured the back of the captain’s head with incredible force, and emerged from her forehead, spraying me with her blood. It branched out quickly over her head and face, re-entering her flesh through her skin, eyes, and mouth.
I sealed the service hatch, putting as much distance between me and the screams of pain and agony.
Having disabled the power nodes, I made the decision—I did not need to die here. It was just me, no one else to worry about. No one to fear that they might have a monster hidden within their blood. It was safe for me to take the escape shuttle and go home.
I departed the February and watched it impact the asteroid in a magnificent flash of light. I caught sight of my reflection in the viewport glass and saw the blood on my face begin pool together and disappear under my skin. Paralyzed by terror, the realization hit me hard— I had been deceived. I waited for it to start feasting on my flesh. I waited for it to tear and shred the parts of me that make me who I am. I waited for the end.
It never came.
It screamed in my head, wanting to know what I was and how could I resist its attempts to consume me. The truth was, I didn’t know. Something about me was different and capable of hindering its ability to assimilate me. Yes, I could resist it, but I could not overcome it. My body had reacted violently to its trespassing. I had severely weakened it, but slowly it began to overwhelm whatever unique gift I had that opposed it. The fingers on my right hand began to elongate, and slits appeared on my knuckles with crimson irises peeking out from underneath.
While I slept, it disabled the communication relay preventing me from warning Antarctic Control about the coming danger I was carrying. While it slept, I disabled the ship’s wireless receiver. It wanted to know why I had done this. I buried my secret deep in my mind and thought only of my wife Melissa and my daughter Kylie.
It had complete control of my right side, and I had to restrain my right arm with a belt strap to prevent it from attacking myself.
A distorted mouth was forming on my stomach. Wet lips were emerging from my skin and separating from each other.
Open sores with the weeping faces of my crewmates screamed and let out the most frightening moans of anguish and torment from my body.
Soon the orbital docking station came into view, orbiting high above Earth. This game of “King of the Mountain” between the two of us had come to an end. It was time for us to make our final move. The shuttle began to position itself to start its approach towards the docking module. The thing surged in growth and dominance over my body. It craved and desired the new flesh it was about to encounter.
To its surprise and rage, I taunted it with the secret it was unable to scrape out of my mind. While it knew everything about me, I was starting to get images about it. I began to understand it. I could see where it came from and what its purpose was. Most of all, and most importantly, I saw its arrogance and pride. It basked in its self-perceived superiority. It was so focused and enraged at being mocked; it took no notice of the message flashing on the display.
“COMMUNICATION ERROR. INTERLOCK ALIGNMENT FAILURE. DOCKING APPROACH TERMINATED. ALERT. ABORT. ABORT.”
By disabling the wireless receiver, remote docking was not possible. It would have to be done manually.
(“You ask for walls; I’ll build them higher.”) I created a mental barrier to keep it a bay.
(“We’ll lie in shadows of them all.) It clawed and beat at the mental wall, rapidly tearing it down.
(“I’d stand, but they’re much too tall,”) I kept it distracted until it was too late.
“MANUAL CONTROLS ENGAGED”
(“And I fall.”) I took back control of my body, ignited the thrusters and sent the ship into a nose dive into the Earth’s atmosphere!
(“February Stars,”) The ship streaked across the sky,
(“Floating in the dark,) Illuminating the night.
(“Temporary scars,”) In desperation, it ripped through my skin and shattered my bones.
(“February Stars,”) The ground approached with frightening speed.
(“Floating in the dark,”) The hull was engulfed in flames.
(“Temporary scars,”) The heat was searing and blistering.
Melissa, you were my best friend and my soulmate. We were always meant to be with each other.
(“Fl..zzztttt in…zzttt..he dark,)
Kylie, I am sorry I won’t be there to see you grow up.
But if you look up in the night and see a star burning in the dark, that will be me.
I am always with you.
Daddy loves you.
(February Stars written by the Foo Fighters)
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