Hey everyone! I know it’s been a while since I last posted. It’s been hectic around here! Short story this week, life update next week. Deal? This is a story a wrote a while ago; it’s my first try at a sci-fi thriller/horror and my only posted attempt besides Seven in a Storm. Don’t forget to like, comment, and share!
Spacefall: Crew 276
“Arrival date: March 24th. Year: 2371.” She typed in an access code. “Crew 276 is still fully intact,” she continued, adjusting her pearly white headset. “For the records, we’ve got Karra Pelleña and Jansen Longpine as the Crew 276 base technicians. And the 276 divers are Chris Dartnaux and Janet Yang. Karra Pelleña is speaking.” Karra typed something else in, her fingers dancing across the bright orange keyboard on the control panel. She pulled the microphone away from her face just briefly and looked over her shoulder. “Jansen, could you bring me some coffee?” She replaced the headset and turned back to the monitor. Whatever she was typing only came through as asterisks on the large hologram screen in front of her. “Dartnaux, Yang, are you in position?”
“All set,” came Janet Yang’s answer through Karra’s headset. Chris Dartnaux’s response didn’t come.
“Chris?” said Karra. “Are you in position?”
Chris was not in position. He was wriggling into his suit, the rubbery material sticking to his naked body, still wet from his late morning shower, as he rushed down the bright orange and white corridor with his helmet held precariously under his arm. His foot momentarily caught on the corner of the diving suit, followed by him slipping, falling, and rolling back to his feet with the suit pulled all the way up to his neck. The helmet, however, had flung down the hall and landed at Jansen’s feet.
Jansen Longpine wore a slim-fitting jumpsuit, white with orange stripes, and his slick blond hair was combed back just so. Karra’s steaming coffee mug was in his hand. He kicked the helmet up to Chris, who caught it with ease. “You’re late,” said Jansen.
“Your mom’s late,” said Chris, putting the helmet on and clicking it into the suit with a slight twist. “Thanks.” He turned into a small cylindrical chamber, sized as though just for him, and pressed a button on the side of his helmet. “All set, Karra.” The door slid shut behind him.
“Sorry, Chris,” said Karra. “I grew old and died while we were waiting.”
“Ha. Ha. Just give us the deets already; we’ve been so patient.”
“The deets?” asked Janet through a small speaker in Chris’ helmet.
“You know, the details.”
“You’re eleven,” said Janet.
“Focus, kids.” said Karra, and the light above Chris’ head clicked off. Somewhere nearby, Janet’s chamber went pitch black as well, and a single, bright orange button bearing a foreign symbol lit up in front of both of them. “Pod decompression is active. We’re in the Otegra Orona solar system this time, team, often called the Snake Eyes Region, and we’re only a few clicks away from the Moronora Constellations. The constellations’ namesake, Dr. Henry Moronora, was leading a research expedition on the long term effects of living in this system, but the vessel him and his participants were on, the S.S. Braveworld, was hit by a meteor shower twenty-three days ago. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there are any survivors…”
“How many were on board?” asked Janet.
“One-hundred and twenty participants went with Dr. Moronora ten years ago, but at the time of the shower, there were one-hundred and twenty-two on board. Two children had been born after the launch.”
There was a moment of silence.
“What’s our mission, Karra?” asked Chris, breaking the silence as Crew 276 had come to rely on him to do. He felt his feet begin to lift from the floor as the pod decompression neared completion. “Standard clean up and recovery?”
“Affirmative. Collect any data you can, scan for usable materials, and, just in case, keep an eye out for survivors. We haven’t heard back from Home since waking from cryo, but if they send further instructions you’ll be the firsts to know. We also need updated blueprints of Braveworld, because ours are fragmented.”
“Still no word from Home at all?” Janet’s voice was uneasy, though she had an uneasy disposition.
“None,” said Jansen, who had taken his seat beside Karra and slipped his own headset on. “It’s odd, but we’re deeper in space than we’ve gone before, so communications might take longer to travel. I’m establishing vocal contact now. When that’s booted up we shouldn’t have any more issues.”
“We’ll keep you updated,” said Karra’s voice through the speakers in Chris’ helmet. “Decompression at 95%; pods are turning.” Around Chris his pod tilted until it was upside down, and he gently floated in its center, gravity almost completely faded. “Last note is on landing targets. Normally we have you side by side, but because of S.S. Braveworld’s size and the fact that I don’t have the full blueprints, we’ll have you land on opposite ends and work toward each other. All clear?”
“Got it,” said Chris.
“Okay,” said Janet, shakily.
“Decompression complete.” Karra took a deep breath, at least something had gone as usual.
“Launch whenever you’re ready,” said Jansen, and the sound of him sipping coffee could be heard through Chris’ and Janet’s speakers. They both lightly pressed the orange button in the darkness, and starlight filled their eyes as the pods hatched and released them into the great beyond. Small jets attached to the ankles of their suits powered up with the press of a pressure pad on the side of their gloves, and they were falling through space.
However, what was normally a beautiful sight was, on this occasion, only a picture of dread. The Braveworld research vessel was in shambles, an enormous mass of white steel against the blackness of space, pelted with holes, gutted, and left to rot like a forgotten corpse. Even from his distance, miles away, Chris could see the blood splatters. Small pieces of scorched scraps drifted near the vessel, rotating around its low gravitational field, which was outlined on the divers’ visor displays. Some of the scraps, rotating lazily through space, bore the charred outline of human beings, incinerated on impact. “Fall speed and trajectory are good,” said Karra. “Suit oxygen levels are good. Landing should be in about three minutes.”
“What the hell,” whispered Janet. “I’ve never seen a meteor shower do this much damage.”
“As far as we can tell, the meteors were from a decaying sun on the far side of Otegra Orona,” said Jansen, his voice flat, factual. Sitting beside him in the control room though, as Karra was, she could see that his bronzen-green eyes were shimmering like glass. “Even way out here, beyond the reach of law and order, God wields the dial of fates.” He sniffed and sipped his coffee again.
“Karra, I’ve got a cluster of debris dead ahead.” Chris cut in, paying little attention to Jansen’s harsh view of God. They’d decided two months into their six year deployment that religion wasn’t a topic the two of them should discuss. “I can maneuver around it, but can you draw me a path?”
“I think I’ll need a path too, Karra,” Janet added.
“Got it. No problem.” Karra had answered while she worked, putting Chris and Janet’s visor cams onto the two large primary monitors in front of her and dotting points of clearance through the scraps and metallic rubble. The routing program did the rest, drawing a line to a safe landing and loading it onto the visor displays.
Chris ducked to the right, following the path and weaving past a large slab of metal, but as he passed something caught his eye. He turned to look back. “Chris, watch out—“ Karra tried to warn him, but another hunk of debris slammed against him before she could. He flew off course, losing control of his suit and crashing against a small piece of meteor left behind by the shower. A small crack split across his visor before the gravity field still emitting from S.S. Braveworld caught him and he steadied himself out.
“Code Yellow,” he spat, fear choking his words back. “Code Yellow!”
“You’re good, Dartnaux. Calm down. You’re okay.” Karra was talking hastily, as frazzled as Chris was. “Oxygen is fine. The crack is minute; it didn’t break the barrier. But what the hell were you looking at?”
Chris, descending still towards the wreckage, now with his control back, took a few deep breaths. “I thought I saw claw marks or something.”
“What?” It was Jansen speaking then. “I’ll review the recording, but I don’t think—”
“What kind of claws?” asked Janet.
“Oh, I don’t know, the space tiger kind,” said Chris.
“Cut it out!” Karra was nearly growling. “You’re both almost at your landing points. Are you gonna be all right, Chris? Or do we need to pull you both back and fix that crack?”
“I’ll be fine,” answered Chris. “I’ll be all right. It just freaked me out.”
“And with good reason,” said Jansen. “I see the claw marks, too, or at least what could be claws. But most likely it’s just more damage from the shower. I don’t know what else it could be.”
“Besides a space tiger,” said Chris, flipping himself around for his landing. “Coming up on the vessel. Prepared for lock on.” Small magnets extended from the boots of his suit and he landed firmly on the outside of the research vessel.
“I’m approaching, too,” said Janet. “Prepared for lock on.” Chris watched Janet stick her landing, and he waved at her from across the disparaged vessel. She waved back.
Karra clapped through her microphone. “Great job. Look for easy access. If we don’t have to breach the outer shell any more than it already is, that’d be better. We want to save as much of this shuttle as we can.”
“I’ve got access,” said Chris, slowly raising his feet one at a time and then letting the magnets pull his steps back down until he reached a meteor-sized hole in the side of the vessel. Janet agreed as she neared her own entrance. Through the hole Chris only saw blackness, except for a singular blinking light. It was red, as in emergency. Karra gave the go ahead, and he dropped down, entering S.S. Braveworld for the first, and final, time.
Meteor ash filled the air, clinging to Chris’ suit and the crack in his visor. The faint red light was synced with a quiet beeping sound. “We’ve got power, at least,” he said. But Karra didn’t answer. He tapped the side of his helmet. “Karra? Jansen?”
“We—fuzzy —.” Karra’s voice was distorted.
“Inter—feed—but it should be fixed. Are we good?”
“All clear for me,” said Janet. “Deploying headlights.
Chris added, “All clear. Deploying headlights.” Two small flashlights extended from the temples of his helmet and shone forth, lighting the small room around him. A bed was attached to the far wall, but it’s white blankets were torn and bloodied and drifting loosely in the low gravity. Chris shivered. More blood was on the ground, smeared from the bed to the hole Chris had dropped through, as if the body was dragged into space after the meteor hit. “Shit,” he muttered. “This sucks.”
“I see it,” said Karra. “And yes it does.”
Chris turned back to the beeping light, finding the computer console it was coming from and pressing a few buttons. Nothing happened. He brushed his thumb over the light and it pressed in, cutting off the alarm. The screen lit up with opaque blackness.
“I found someone, or maybe just a suit,” said Janet, her voice quivering. “But it’s tied up in some wires, and… Yep, empty.”
“It was probably a mechanic’s suit. They had a team of them on the vessel,” said Jansen. “But your video feed is kind of fuzzy, so I can’t confirm anything for you.”
“No,” said Janet. “No, I mean it’s ripped open.”
The monitor in front of Chris prompted him to enter a password. “Ripped?” he asked as he moved his eyes back and forth across the computer panel, metal burned and shredded.
“Right down the front.”
“This was a massive shower, guys,” said Karra. “A ripped suit isn’t our primary concern. Move on to the next room, Janet.”
“I need a password for this system, Karra.” Chris sighed silently. He hated desolate jobs like this, on ships emptied or destroyed.
“Deploy your data-port, Chris.”
“There’s no where to put it,” he said. “Look at these controls.”
“That’s not like any meteor damage I’ve ever seen,” Jansen observed, watching Chris’ livestream beside Karra. She gave him a steely glance. “Connection has been established with Home, by the way. But they’re not receiving my outputs… I’ve gotta reboot the system. I’ll be back.” And with that, Karra was at the control panel alone, leading Janet and Chris through the vessel.
“Well,” Karra murmured. “If you can’t hook into that one, then moved on. Hopefully there’s something to salvage here.”
“This is why they call us dumpster divers back on Earth,” said Chris. He left the monitor still asking for a password and moved toward the door to the next room. It was partially open, and it didn’t take much to slide half of the door back and pass through.
Wires dangled in clusters from the ceiling, severed and dead. A pale white light bulb flickered on the far wall, just beneath where a meteor had punctured the vessel. The light glinted off of Chris’ visor, casting his young face in an orange flare. Desks and chairs drifted through the room, and a pair of legs, ripped from a torso that was nowhere to be seen. A teddy bear floated down toward Chris, nearly bouncing off his chest. “I found the school room,” he muttered.
“Yeah,” said Karra, but that was all. Janet announced that she was deploying her data-port, and that she might have info for Karra and Jansen soon.
Chris walked through the school room, avoiding the floating objects and the severed legs. The next door was locked tight, but the hand panel was intact, it seemed. “This is a doozy. It’ll take me a couple minutes to get this one open. Deploying decoder.” A small device extended from the back of Chris glove and attached itself to the panel.
“No worries, Chris,” said Karra. Chris could hear her fingers typing in the background. “Janet your video feed is shot. Is your helmet okay?”
“I think so,” said Janet absently. “But—“
“Janet?” Karra’s voice was pinched with concern.
“There’s something in here,” Janet whispered.
“What are you talking about?” asked Chris, now sweating inside his suit.
“I think there’s—“ Janet stopped talking again. “Pull me up, Karra. Please.” She murmured, nearly crying by the sound of it.
“Janet, get out of there and I will.” But Karra’s command went unanswered. Janet’s feed went dead completely, and her suits vitals flatlined. The signal was lost. “Damn it.”
“Karra, what’s going on?” Chris was properly worried now.
“Chris I’m bringing up what I have of the blueprints on your visor and marking Janet’s last location. I need you to get to her. Now.”
“On it.” The door popped open in front of Chris. When he stepped through the passageway closed behind him. Ahead was a long, narrow hallway, unlit but unharmed by the shower. The gravity and oxygen was active, according to the readings on his visor, but he left his helmet on, letting the dust disperse from the crack and float through the air. Every step in the hallway echoed back to him, making his heart leap each time.
“I’m back,” came Jansen’s voice. “I got a connection established finally. Where’s Janet?”
Chris heard Karra’s mic ruffling. She’d taken it off, and a few moments later it was back on. Chris swallowed hard, but finally the dark hall gave way to another sealed door. “Deploying decoder again,” he said, sweat beeding his forehead. “I’m comin’, Janet.”
A gentle beeping came through his in-helmet speakers. “Calling Home,” announced Jansen, though he sounded more somber now. The beeping continued, and then there was a subtle click.
“This is Sergeant Kenhart,” said a voice. “Am I in contact with Crew 276?” In the control room where Karra and Jansen sat, the two locked eyes. This wasn’t their usual contact.
“Yes, Sergeant, this is Jansen Longpine, one of the base technicians for Crew 276. We’ve reached the S.S. Braveworld and our divers are on board.”
“That’s great, Mr. Longpine.”
Jansen licked his lips nervously. “Thank you, Sergeant. We also called to see if you could send us the full blueprints for the S.S. Braveworld, because the ones we have are a bit fragmented.”
“Ah. Yeah. No can do, Longpine.”
Chris furrowed his brow inside his helmet. The door in front of him popped open to a cluster of strobing lights on the other side.
“No…can do?” Jansen’s voice was shaky.
“Listen, Sergeant Kenhart, this is Karra Pelleña, base technician. We need those blueprints to fully carry out our mission here. What would be keeping you from sending that data to us, exactly?”
“Well, I’ll give it to you straight, Pelleña,” said the sergeant. “Your mission is no longer of priority to us, given the circumstances of the war—”
“What war?” spat Karra.
“The United American-British Alliance has fallen.”
“It’s fallen?” Jansen’s voice was in a full tremble now.
Chris stepped through the door, into the strobing lights. Medical tables lined the room, some with strapped-down bodies in suits, some bearing only dark brown stains. A network of wires fingered out from the bodies and floated through the room, connecting back to a primary monitor to the far left.
“The empire has collapsed,” said Sergeant Kenhart. “You’re on your own up there. Survive if you can, and good luck.”
“No, wait—“ Karra was screaming, but the call went dead. “What the hell is happening!”
“Karra, Jansen,” said Chris, his voice a weak tremor in their headsets. Somewhere miles away from him, Karra and Jansen looked at the video feed from his visor. Blood smeared letters covered one entire wall, looming over the medical tables and limp spacesuits: Space is only the beginning.
“The beginning?” Jansen swallowed.
“How far am I from Janet’s location?” asked Chris. “It’s not coming up on my map.”
Karra looked back at the blueprints, flustered still by Sergeant Kenhart. Her heart was pounding angrily. “You’re…at her last known location,” she said, her voice softening. Something moved in Chris peripherals. He turned, but there was nothing to be seen except the next door, partially opened. He looked back to the monitor and its control panel, finding a small outlet for his data-port module.
“Deploying data-port,” he said aloud, and a small plug released from his forearm. He inserted it into the slot on the panel, and a small loading bar displayed on his visor and in front of Karra and Jansen. “Sending data. Feed me everything you’ve got. I want to get out of here.”
“Do you see her anywhere, Jansen?” Chris hollered.
“We can’t leave her in there,” Jansen cut in.
Chris took a deep breath as the loading bar filled; he unplugged the data-port. “No,” he said. “No, we can’t.” He turned from the monitor. “What was the good Dr. Moronora doing here, Karra?” Chris approached one of the suits strapped to the table.
Karra was already sorting through the files Chris had transferred to her. “He was researching a disease that some of the Braveworld residents contracted, from the looks of it.”
“What kind of disease?”
“Not one we know on Earth,” said Jansen.
Chris pulled the examination table down to eye-level, fighting against the gentle pull of space, and peered into the helmet. A deformed, greened, and blistered child’s face stared back at him, with teeth sharp and eyes bulbous. He leaned in. “Are you seeing this?”
“It looks like some nasty form of the Bubonic Plague.” Jansen shivered.
“We should get that body back up here to examine it—“
The bulbous eyes twitched and the head turned, and then its teeth sunk into the glass of the helmet visor. Chris screamed, shoving the table away and retracting the magnets on his boots so he could jump back. He was still screaming when a suit identical to his own drifted through the open door, a rip down the front . “Oh no,” said Karra, but it was distant. Chris felt his throat tightening. He swiped the dust from the crack on his visor and floated down to Janet’s suit.
“Get me out of here.” And then he was propelling himself back to the door he’d come from, but it was locked. His decoder came back out and attached to the door panel. He glanced over his shoulder, catching another movement out of the corner of his eye, a dark shape moving under the strobing lights. He turned, but there was nothing. He was muttering something under his breath, but he wasn’t even sure what it was.
“Chris, your vitals are going a bit crazy,” said Karra. “Keep it together.”
“I’m. Trying.” Chris had meant to say it quietly, but it came as a growl. The door opened and he flew through, passing into the gravitational field still active in the hall and slamming hard to the ground. The crack in his helmet grew. He looked up, the beams of the flashlights on his helmet glinted off his metal surroundings, and reflected off of two, deep yellow eyes.
“Chris, your heart rate is skyrocketing,” said Karra as calmly as possible.
“It’s going to be okay, Dartnaux,” added Jansen. “Get back here and we’ll get you some coffee.”
The eyes moved closer to Chris, revealing a hunched over shape that moved across the ground on all fours. But the mangled hair and the gentle eyes, yellow as they were, were unmistakable. “Janet?” said Chris in a whimper. “Janet it’s me.” The form lunged at him, teeth bore. He scrambled to his feet to run, but another creature scaled up and around the hall, from floor to ceiling, mangled and deformed. Teardrops wet Chris’ cheeks now, the creatures closing in on either side of him.
“Chris, just run,” said Karra.
The creatures leaped at Chris, and he dove away, scrambling to run as best he could. But one of them, Janet, had clung to him, tackled him to the ground. He was hurting all over. His skin was tight, sore. His heart wouldn’t slow. “No. No, no, no,” he murmured over and over again. “I’m not ready.” He tried to stand but fell, one last time, and his visor shattered against the ground, cutting the video feed to the control room where Karra and Jansen watched helplessly.
“Chris, can you hear me?” Karra was fighting her own tears.
“Hello?” he answered, his voice almost calm. “Where am I?”
“You don’t know?” said Jansen, all trembles and fear.
But all Karra and Jansen heard was a snarl, and the audio went dead. And there the two of them sat, quietly, in the vastness of space. They were alone at the edge of humanity’s reach, the last fingers left to grasp at the great beyond. And neither said a word. In time, Jansen leaned forward, reaching out with his own data-port. “I’ll store the files,” he said. “Maybe we can…use them somehow.”
It wasn’t long after he’d plugged in the port that Jansen began to feel ill. Forgetful. Hungry.