Fall of Forever
The key to human survival should have stayed hidden
Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. “Ahhhhhhh!” is the only thing I can hear now. It’s a breathy gasp of surprise changing into a cold shrill of dread. I feel the searing pain behind it, the sense of catastrophic loss attached to it. It rings beyond the last bit of oxygen expelled from the throat. It’s a soundtrack to the frozen globs of blood flying into the dark as they leave the light of the space station. It sits trapped in time within a body turning cold from the defeat of combat. I can hear its echo in my brain, death’s song, and I’m afraid.
I see the reflection of metal in the distance, a blade slashing at something or someone. The carnage continues through the windowed walls of a wounded space base. There is a flicker, a flash, a spray of red on the glass. I know people are dying. I could stop all of it, I have the button in my hand. One long press with my thumbprint and it would all come crashing down, falling from orbit in a fiery, explosive extravaganza. I would do it, but I can’t move, I’m frozen.
Everything was so calm three days ago, just before it all started. The excavation team brought two tons of frozen samples back to orbit from Titan, the Saturn moon below. It was an expensive mission, costing us eighteen workers, lives not easily replaced being so far from Earth. Their sacrifice was well worth it. From these samples, we recovered a new amino acid variant that would change life as we know it. It was our eureka moment.
I had been under pressure for months to deliver results, new, breakthrough discoveries. The executive board was losing patience, accusing me of squandering hundreds of billions of dollars. One even joked that they should abandon us out here for wasting everyone’s time; I think he was joking. In any case, I needed this win. It was validation that my hypothesis was true. Titan held the key to allowing people to live forever.
With such a promising goal, why then would we have a self-destruct capability built into this massive orbital platform? In a word, competition. Other companies were aware of our mission, likely from corporate spies working both sides. Theft or even attack on a station roughly one billion miles from Earth wasn’t out of the question. The ability to mobilize any kind of response would be impossible at that distance. Better to destroy it than to allow someone else to have it, a last resort option.
After we realized we had found our key to the puzzle, we loaded half of the samples into cold storage aboard an automated transport to send back to Earth for additional study and eventual manufacturing. We celebrated hard that night with excessive alcohol consumption, kicking off the festivities with the launch of the Earth-bound ship. It was a great night, quality company, rare rum and whiskey, and most excellent music; there was only one problem as the video logs would later show. There was a party crasher.
The maintenance tech, whose name doesn’t even deserve mention, was drinking with the rest of us while he was on the clock. A man who wasn’t even invited to the party, spent half an hour in dereliction of duty. He and I locked eyes, and he knew he was in trouble, leaving in hurry, but not before grabbing a beverage to take with him. Surveillance footage would show that he opened the cold storage used for the Titan samples to stick his drink inside; he wanted it to be cold he would eventually tell us. The idiot didn’t even realize how dangerously low the temperature was. It was a brisk -182 °C, meant for keeping methane frozen. When he later retrieved the alcohol, it was beyond freezing. It was too cold for him to handle, the temperature immediately cracking open his skin on contact. The beverage fell and shattered. He panicked and cleaned up his mess, but this would leave an even bigger one in its wake.
We theorize that the following happened. When his beverage was placed inside the storage freezer, it came into contact with one of the samples. Retrieving the drink must have carried some of it out. We know the excavation team brought back something else besides proteins in that ice, largely because of what happened next.
On day two since the sample recovery, twenty-four hours after exposure, guards arrested the maintenance moron. He was found pounding his fists on the door of a security officer’s quarters, screaming obscenities and threatening to kill him. Also, he was naked.
When questioned, he claimed that his girlfriend had cheated on him, and that he could smell the officer’s scent on her. Apparently during the party, that maintenance dimwit worked up the nerve to talk to his longtime crush, and they subsequently met up after his shift was over. She was definitely not his girlfriend, it was just a one-time fling. This was the point when we reviewed the security footage and saw everything he did after the party. I had to bite my tongue hard to stop myself from beating him senseless. The future of humanity was jeopardized all so this clown could have a cold drink.
When asked why he wasn’t wearing any clothes, he simply said that it was too hot. We had scanned his body as is procedure, and we did find his body temp was lower than normal, but nothing too concerning…health-wise. He was ultimately released and confined to quarters for further observation. In hindsight, we should’ve killed him.
The next morning, I was alerted to a problem outside of his room. The guard assigned to keep watch was found murdered. It was brutal and messy; the medical examiner said fingernails and teeth were the weapons, having shredded the poor sentry to pieces. The door to the room was open with no sign of damage. Either he figured a way to override the lock or convinced the guard somehow to open it for him. I had already guessed where he’d go next, but before I could give the order, another alert went off.
We sprinted to the security officer’s quarters, but by the time we got there it was already done. Another death just beyond the front door. Security approached cautiously, some with stun batons at the ready, others with their swords drawn. The first few entered the scene.
As I rounded the corner of the entrance, the guards were in a semi-relaxed stance. The maintenance guy was dead, with his one-time girlfriend standing over the body sweating profusely and wearing only underwear and a bra. The officer was lying on the floor with a look of horror in his face. “She killed him.”
During her interrogation was when we knew there was a problem. When asked about what happened, she told the interrogator that she was just defending herself. We could see that she was agitated, kept saying that her skin was crawling. She was itching at it, complaining about the heat. Several times she asked for the temperature to be lowered. Then she stopped asking, she demanded. The interrogator, must not have responded quickly enough, because seconds later, he was on his back, dying.
She broke his arm first. Then it was his knee as he tried to flee. She grabbed him by the neck and lifted him through the air onto the ground. After that, she let loose into a crazed frenzy, hitting him, scratching him, and biting him. I followed two security guards into the room as they tried to restrain her, a strong sedative in a syringe as my sword. She elbowed one guard in the face, pushing him hard into the wall. The other one couldn’t handle her alone; she punched him so hard in the throat, he appeared to stop breathing. I was the only one still standing, the obstacle between her and the open door to freedom behind me. Then she looked at me.
She was fast. She ran toward me and through me as she burst out of the interrogation room. The only saving grace was that she also ran straight into my needle, injecting her with a super high dose of tranquilizer. I left the room and ran to the lab, where I found a scalpel. As non-security personnel, I don’t have access to a proper weapon like a sword, so it was the best I could do, and before you ask, no there are no guns allowed on a space station. They’re too much risk in a such a sensitive environment.
I caught up to her a couple of minutes later. Security was surrounding her outside of the officer’s quarters from where we had taken her. She was slow now, but not asleep yet. It became a waiting game, seeing who would blink first. Then I saw it, my opportunity. She bent down, resting one of her hands on her leg, and I moved in from behind. I killed her quickly, a clean cut to the carotid artery.
It was clear that something had spread. Piecing together events, the samples from Titan were the only new variable in a controlled environment. I ordered that the security officer who had been with her be arrested and placed under sedation. He was likely the next victim who would succumb. It was all handled quickly and respectfully. The security team was a quality team of pure professionals; one of them even stopped to ask if I was ok, if I needed anything for the large scratch on my arm that was dripping blood on the floor. I must not have noticed it with all the adrenaline and drama happening around me.
Examination of the sedated officer’s scans revealed a lower than normal body temperature as well as something different in his blood compared to his previous health scans; it was darker. Compared to samples taken from the other two subjects, the officer’s blood was lighter in color, but no doubt it was changing quickly. The only observations we had were that it caused the host to seek colder temperatures, and that it brought about violent behavior, perhaps spurred on by agitation. The method of transmission was unclear; blood exposure and sexual contact were the top contenders since no one else alive had shown signs of infection. As I thought about the ramifications of such a dangerous disease, I realized something dreadful. It was headed to Earth on a ship.
Now, the smart thing to do would’ve been to head to the communications room right away and send a message back to HQ about what had happened. Choices are always easier in hindsight. There were just two problems.
First, I didn’t have enough information about what was going on. Calling it in would have gotten me a lecture about alarming the exec board prematurely, thus wasting their time. Besides, the transport would take years to reach home, and a message signal would take just under an hour and a half to reach them.
Second, someone had messed with the environmental controls on the station. It was getting really hot, and I had to go to the command deck to fix it. If the temperature kept rising at this rate, it would reach dangerous levels, affecting ongoing work in the lab and threatening the Titan samples under cold storage. I met up with a maintenance engineer on the command deck, and his report was discouraging.
“Environmental controls are set to the correct temperature, same as they’ve always been,” the engineer reported. He had a condescending look on his face that told me he thought I was stupid. I could sense his inner smug ego, judging me for unnecessarily diverting him from his other tasks. Clearly the temperature interface had to be broken; I could feel the extreme change in temperature. Others must have been feeling it too but were just to well trained to not complain. I decided to deal with the sweat for the time being and just change my clothing to allow better ventilation for my body. Back in my quarters, I showered in cold water, and passed out on my bed. No sooner had I put my head down on my pillow than lifted it back up, drenched in sweat, ten hours having passed. It was the screaming that woke me up.
It came from the lab down the hallway. I already knew, the infected security officer had woken up. I had forgotten to stop by and dose him again before retiring for the night. I threw on part of my uniform, with a sleeveless undershirt in place of my jacket, and ran toward the sounds of horror.
The door to the lab was locked shut. The security commander informed me that the officer who was sedated woke up and starting killing people. There were three lab techs inside, bleeding to death on the floor. I approached the door and initiated communication through the intercom, “We’re here to help, please stand down.” A moment later there was a loud bang.
A ceiling panel inside the lab came crashing to the floor. He escaped through an access panel leading to the maintenance tunnels. We assessed the possible outlets, and of the few possibilities, I deduced the computer server room was the most likely place he would emerge. It was the coldest room on the station, a necessity to prevent overheating of the station’s computational core. Opening the lab door, I grabbed several sedatives, and then we raced to the server room a kilometer away. I somehow outran the entire security team, and not just a little bit, but over a minute ahead. I was acting on adrenaline. Had I been thinking properly, I would have waited for the others and not entered the room by myself.
He was in there already, curled in a corner. We were staring at each other, my hand slowly reaching into my pant pocket for a syringe. When I asked him why he killed the others, he gave a chilling response, “Too much heat from their bodies, needed it to stop.”
I approached him slowly, sedative at the ready. I recalled how the girlfriend had lunged at me a day earlier, making it easier to inject her. I was prepared for the same in this situation, or so I thought.
I found myself suddenly on my back, looking up at the security commander asking me if I was ok. He helped me up from the floor as I looked around me at the devastation in the room. It seemed that the officer had attacked me, and sent me flying through stacks of servers. My body was sore and bleeding, and I suddenly felt a sense of dread. In crashing through the servers and computers, some vital systems had been knocked out, the most concerning being long range communications.
I explained the problem to the security commander. A ship was headed to Earth with whatever was causing this disease. We now had no way of communicating with headquarters to warn them. While it was possible to eventually repair the servers, I was no longer sure we would survive this thing long enough to do so. Based on this news, the commander did two things.
First, he dispatched one person to take a transport back to Earth in pursuit of the automated ship that was carrying the samples, with a goal to either destroy it if possible or warn home base of the threat once the ship’s short range communications were close enough. It was a hell of an ask given that it was a multi-year journey, but stopping this thing was the highest priority.
Second, the commander would retrieve an item from the bridge on the way to our next destination. It was a small object with a thumbprint reader on a button. He had the authorization to retrieve it from its case. As the project lead of the station, I had the authorization to press the button. When he handed it to me, he told me, “Only if there’s no other option.”
We had no idea where the infected officer was. Based on that, we had decided to escort the pilot as a team to make sure the ship was launched without incident. After our quick stop at the bridge, we arrived at the docking bay. As the pilot boarded the ship and began the pre-flight procedure, someone yelled from behind us, blood coming out of his mouth. The infected officer was there in the ship hanger, a large, cold room bordering between the warmth of the station’s interior and the frozen vacuum of space. He had just killed a security guard with his own sword. Now he was armed.
The most unexpected thing happened next. This brave security team, whose job had been subduing these violent infected people over the last couple days, disappointed me. They ran, heading back toward the station’s interior. The infected officer was now looking at me and I could barely move. I started backing away from him, but there was nowhere for me to go. The hanger door was behind me and he was between me and the rest of the station. There was nothing I could use for protection but a wrench and fuel hose on the wall next to me; I couldn’t press the button in my hand until after the ship had left. I felt tired, unable to breathe fully. Suddenly, it no longer mattered. The hanger door started opening and the ship engines powered on.
The air in the hanger had been slowly getting sucked out and back into the station to preserve the station’s oxygen. This would minimize loss when the hanger door opened out to space. The infected officer smiled and then lunged toward me. The blade sliced across my chest and I stumbled back grabbing the fuel hose. I screamed, expelling all the air from my lungs, “Ahhhhhhh!” The officer then turned and ran back toward the station entrance away from the hanger door. The ship launched and soon everything in the room was floating, including myself.
As I hovered into the vacuum of space, tethered by the fuel hose, I could only hear the echo of my last words in my brain, my scream. I could see the flashes of light reflecting from the infected officer’s sword through the windowed walls in the distance. I knew we were losing, and the button to end it all was in my hand. I couldn’t press it because I was literally frozen cold, unable to move my fingers. Then something strange happened, which brings me to now.
The coldness of space has stopped feeling so…deadly. It’s uncomfortable, like standing inside a large freezer, but not unbearable. I can move my fingers again. The flashes of metal have stopped in the windows. I can’t tell if that’s a good thing. It’s strange that I’m not dead yet, but it looks like I’ll have a chance to run some tests on myself. Someone is reeling me back inside.
About the author
What makes a story compelling? I’m new to this world of creative writing, so I genuinely want to know. I will be testing out experiments from time to time based on new learnings and interesting experiences I encounter.