Entity, page 1
Copyright 2019 Donald Morrison
All rights reserved.
Thank you David “Snapper” Kuntz for all your input you gorgeous Devil you.
Pallid light shadowed across the face of the young girl who stared pleadingly into the camera attached to the hologram display on her desk. A small battery powered lamp flickered with illumination, highlighting the thin strips of pink that cut their way downwards through the darkened grime that was smeared across her cheeks.
The girl held her breath, her hands shaking as she struggled to find words to describe the last two weeks, the death, the panic. One month prior she had been light and jubilant, amongst the first to colonize mars, the original pioneers of Attis Station that had arrived upon its completion. But now she sat silent, a blackened hollow spreading outward from deep within. That joy was gone, happiness and hope torn away at the hands of the other colonists, the other pioneers. Her face slackened, a look of defeat spreading itself outwards as she exhaled sharply, her bloodshot eyes blinking once before beginning.
“Something has gone wrong. The excavation… There… There must have been something inside—something... waiting; a virus, or… Oh God… No one knows…”
The woman’s gaze drifted off, something beyond the camera pulling her far away for the briefest of moments, the faces of those she had arrived with, those she had spent the last month working along-side, and the three months prior to that training with flashing unseen beyond. Slowly her gaze moved back to the screen.
“People are dying—everyone.”
A distant thump jerked the woman’s attention away from the camera. Her gaze whipped frantically to the open doorway behind her. She sat twisted in the chair, her knuckles white across the edge of the desk for a moment, ears twitching visibly as she strained to hear if any other sounds signaled an approach. She wore the look of a snared animal, a hunter’s footsteps drawing nearer. She stared unblinking into the hallway past the room, her pupil’s fluxuating quickly as they dilated again and again, straining to focus in the dim light. She knew that even the slightest sound now could alert the death that stalked the halls, familiar faces seeking their next victim. Time passed, the tiny particles dancing in the light the only indication to those viewing the recording that the video had not been paused. A moment later she turned her gaze back to the camera and continued. “People are… They’re killing each other—themselves. There’s no way to know who it is… what it is. I’ve never been this scared.” The woman’s gaze locked to the camera, her pupils shrinking to pinpoints as her expression became cautious and alert. “Look. If you’re watching this, stay away. Do not come here. It’s in all of us. Everyone. Just… stay away.” In the next instant the woman’s face fell slack, the lucidity pulled back behind the insipid expression she had worn moments before. “I’m so sorry… I wish it could be different. I wish there was another way. But I can’t. I just can’t…” The woman stared at the camera for a moment longer, her gaze slowly dropping to a distant space beneath. Then after a long, shuddered breath she brought her hand from her lap and set a pistol on the desk in front of her. The darkness filling her grew, the last reserves of hope ripped apart as the station around her closed in. She could feel the steel grip of claustrophobia crushing her chest and fought desperately against the desire to stand and run. She knew it wouldn’t do any good. There was nowhere to hide from what she knew awaited her in the halls. She had seen it first hand, run from it and hidden. She had survived. Now her hand flexed around the grip of the gun, sadness hunching her forward as her jaw quivered and a thin stream of tears fell down her face, retracing the ashen lines towards her throat.
For the next ten seconds the woman held her gaze to the grey steel in her hand, eyes staring blankly as she slowly began to rock back and forth, a subtle subconscious movement gone unnoticed by her. Then with vacant hesitation, she raised the pistol, put it in her mouth and then pulled the trigger.
The dark void of space spread for as far as the mind could fathom, lifeless and black. Colder than death itself. Permeating the endless expanse was an empty, deafening silence. From deep within the vacuum, a single speck took shape, moving silently closer as the suffocating darkness struggled to catch against its angular sides. It drew nearer, two markings, contrasting faintly against dull grey showing dully across its side; TS-163, and a logo painted in red, three crossed flags with white stars dotting between them; the insignia for the EMF; Earth Military Federation.
The spacecraft slipped past unseen, a speck of sand lost against an invisible ocean of black.
Inside the vessel it was as cold and sterile as the depths pressing in around it, save for a tiny pattern of blinking lights, a droning illumination that desperately pushed back against the dark in thin pulses from the curved instrument panel at the ships helm. Behind were empty corridors, glistening as darkness sparkled off the thin sheet of ice crystals that covered every surface, a corpse, frozen in an uncharted wasteland. There was only silence, a kind so solitary and pure it pushed past ringing in the ears.
In the cockpit a single light flickered to life. The almost inaudible sound of electricity ticking shattered the silence of the craft, echoing down the corridor and into the halls that branched off to frozen rooms beyond.
Moments later the dim light began to pulse, accompanied by a faint beeping sound as the instrument panel began to slowly resuscitate itself. All around, the bowels of the ship began to thrum with a dull energy, a thin shudder of vibration as the vessel’s systems began to systematically come to life. Inside the cryo-room, light began to glow from the lights along the ceiling. A long weapon rack stocked with assault rifles and EMF issue pistols crept out of the darkness, sitting patiently along their space on the wall. Above them, a thin hiss whispered outwards as the environmental controls came online, a perfect mixture of oxygen and carbon dioxide slowly filtering into the room and the vacant corridors beyond.
The crystal sheet of ice began to slowly melt away as temperature regulation came online, tiny streams of condensation making their way to the floors, pooling before reaching their way to the tiny grates hidden along the walls. The frigid vacancy that had enveloped the ships interior gradually continued to fade, giving way to the sterile, grey mechanical vision beneath, the true husk of the ship peeling outwards.
Minutes later a single red light, centered in the ceiling of the room came to life, saturating every surface in a sanguine glow, the trickling condensation turning to blood streaked across a burgundy canvas of composite plastic and steel. Then as quickly as it had flooded the room in its graphic vision, it turned green and slowly faded from existence as a gentle white light escaped from the recesses surrounding it.
A loud hiss filled the room, the escaping sound signaling the end of the relentless silence that had pressed in around the sleeping crew, enveloping them in their regulated sleep. Then the lids to the pods slowly began to open, lifting upwards and pulling back as they disappeared into the wall at their heads. The soft white light gently continued to fill the room as the monitors along the wall came to life, displaying vital signs and a series of reports taken during their cryo-sleep. Above, hidden fans pulled the vapors released from the pods in thin streams upwards and into ventilation ducts.
Moments later a hand clasped heavily to the side of one of the pods, and a single body rose.
It wasn’t Staff Sergeant Baker Thomas’s first trip out, nor did he expect it would be even close to his last. He had been an enlisted man from the day he had turned seventeen; the same year Xenocorp had opened their first resort on the moon. He remembered what space flight had been when
He took a deep breath and swung his legs over the edge of the pod and let his feet touch the frigid floor beneath.
A piercing chill stabbed in from the pads of his feet; a feeling he found himself unfortunate enough to be familiar with. He sat for a moment, the cold slowly rippling upwards, pushing the sleep back as it did. He readied himself and then stood, testing his legs as he did every time; the continuing fear that he had somehow been out for hundreds of years forcing him to check for atrophy.
‘No… just another long haul,’ he thought as familiar surroundings flooded into sight.
Behind him the sound of movement signaled another of the group coming awake, followed by a small cough and a sleep wracked voice asking if they had arrived. The single question fell oddly comforting against his ears, as another one of his fears was awakening to find that only his pod had survived the trip, and that he was going to drift alone until his sanity faltered and starvation finally won him over. God he hated space…
“Yeah,” Baker replied as he made his way to his locker. “Another shit trip through space complete.”
He didn’t share his fears with the others. In that fact, he didn’t share much of anything. What his unit knew of him was what they found out through their own digging, or through the grapevine of military politics back on earth. Fear especially, was the one thing he refused to share with them. He had to be fearless, alert and concise in any situation. He had to be their backbone.
“I need a sit rep Portofino. Tell me we’re green.”
“You got it Sarge. First thing,” a younger woman replied sharply.
It wasn’t regulation for his men to address him with anything other than his rank or name, but his unit had watched an archived holo-movie a few years prior on base, and the characters had referred to their sergeant as such, and after that, his squad started jokingly referring to him as that. It was one of the things that kind of stuck. He didn’t mind so much.
He watched the woman with light brown hair pulled back make her way to the locker with the name Portofino scrawled across the thin strip of tape above. Even though she had just woken, she moved with untapped grace across the floor. His eyes caressed the gentle curves of her body as she approached her locker and moved to click it open. The pilot had been in his unit for the last three years, and in that time they had multiple long hauls together, which meant each time they awoke, or went down, the were stripped to their underwear, and each time, he still couldn’t help but steal a glance. The others would joke that she should have chosen modeling instead of military, that she would have made a hell of a lot more than she did as a grunt. Though he never spoke it, his position and standing not allowing for his crossing of that fine line between compliment and fraternization, every time she made that trek to the clothing hidden neatly away, he stole a glance and couldn’t help but agree. So again he found himself waiting for the moment that she was turned to graze her form up and down with his eyes before replying.
Another soldier stepped onto the cold floor and danced between feet for a moment. “God I hate cryo...” He brought his tongue across his teeth and clicked loudly, scrunching his face as he spoke. “And which one of you assholes shit in my mouth while I was out?”
“I say that every time I go down on your mother,” another replied with a grin.
“But Vuong, I thought you only liked men.”
“You wish Fascio, you wish.”
Another of the unit stepped out of their pod, glancing between the others with a smile, the silence that had held the room captive just moments ago, now a distant memory, melted away with the crystals that had enshrouded them. “How long are we gonna have to deal with you two flirting every time you wake up? You may as well just share a pod at this point…”
Fascio slipped his shirt on, turning to look at the other. “No need to be jealous Wilkes, there’s plenty to go around.” He smiled with a wink as he turned to fish out the rest of his clothing.
Jason Fascio had enlisted at the same time as his best friend; Steven Vuong. They had been assigned to the same unit, and when the space corps did the big push to recruit for their program, both of them had signed up. They had quickly become good friends, and the others in their unit knew that though the pair constantly danced the perimeter of insubordination and harmless humor, when things got tough, as they had in the Rwandan uprising in 2148, there were no two better soldiers to have at their back. Vuong could hack anything with a wire coming out of it; a natural electronics expert, and if you put anything with a trigger in his hand, Fascio could use it to put the eye out of a sparrow at five hundred yards, in the wind. This is why Sergeant Thomas found himself putting up with their inter-personal antics much more than he normally would with other marines. Especially on a trip where everyone’s lives depended upon the fine electronics around them being in good working order. Both of them had, on separate occasions, reached a pushing limit of reprimands that left them teetering on the border of discharge, and as badly as he might have wanted to, he wasn’t going to find any two better at their jobs than them, so he relied upon more primitive means of keeping them in line; yelling and latrine duty. Right now however, he was still dazed from cryo, and fighting to keep the contents of his fluid-lined stomach where they belonged. The distraction from being surrounded by space was also a tiny comfort.
“Looks like we’re an hour away from orbit Sarge,” Portofino said as she pulled up an image on her holowrist. “Just a little ways out now. And you’ll be happy to know, we’re green across the board.”
“Good,” Baker replied, glancing at the small cylindrical piece of equipment that was wrapped at the base of her forearm, before turning to look at his squad. “Chow hall in ten for briefing.” He paused. “And a much needed cup of coffee.”
“Aye aye cap’n,” a taller soldier with blond hair that stretched regulation length replied as he snapped an exaggerated salute.
“Too early Dom,” Baker replied with a growl. “Too early…”
“Whatever,” Fascio chuckled, as he stabbed at the pile of paste on the plate in front of him with a spoon. “It’s all the same shit with different coloring in it.”
“Hey,” Dom replied with a grin. “If you don’t like it, I’ll take it. Not my fault you’re too good for the slop, princess.”
Wilkes started to join in when the last person on board straggled into the cafeteria style room. Conversations stalled out and all eyes felt to the late comer. He was an average height with an average build and a face that you would forget as soon as he turned away. The thing that gravitated was the suspicious air that hovered around him, as if every breath he suspected someone or something was going to jump out and attack. The nervous man, dressed in grey slacks and a neatly pressed, collared dress s
“Mr. Talmadge,” Baker said, breaking the silence as he noticed the man taking in all the eyes locked to him. “Grab a seat. We have the finest military feast one could hope for.”
The man made his way to the processor on the wall and hit two buttons, one triggering a cup to dispense with instant coffee and another dropping a plate followed by a helping of processed bacon and egg flavored instameal. When it was finished he turned and made his way to the empty space next to the sergeant.
Baker eyed him as he approached, watched the man’s gait, brooding and insecure as he passed the soldiers that looked at him in turn. He could sense how unnerved the man was, and immediately knew, he had never spent a breath of his life in the company of the military, or probably even a security officer from how nervous he was. Though, something lay silently beneath the mask of uncertainty, something poised to come out at the right moment, something rigid and cold, staunch and accusatory.
The man took a seat next to the sergeant, pulling it in under him and letting his gaze fall to the tray in front. The room still held their gaze, fascinated by the awkward man staring down at his plate.