The airlock behind me opened with a whoosh and I fell backwards and only managed to get the bottom half inside before it slammed shut. I swore viciously and immediately thanked god for keeping me away.
“Leo?” Davis’s voice was hesitant in my ear.
“Yeah, baby? “I need you here at the cafeteria.” he whispered. I sat up and glanced toward the airlock door where the creature stared back at me. The lack of features was terrifying but Davis’s fearful tone made me more anxious to get back to him. I made my way to a standing position and watched as the black mass pressed itself hard against the airlock’s small window. I could faintly hear a throbbing pulsating noise.
Blowing out some air, my helmet fogged up briefly. I missed the specks gathering near the bottom of the airlock window. Something caught my eye and they all flattened themselves against the glass. Suspicious, I stepped through the next door and hit the button to change the atmospheric pressure between the two zones. It was unnecessary and possibly dangerous but it soothed that part of my mind that worried. Something in my head twigged at the specks sudden compliance to my actions. Once in the pressurised zone, I took off my helmet and took in the fresh air. It was heavenly as I sucked it back. This was the calm and the respite before danger came again. I didn’t quite trust those little demon’s specks. “Leo, now please.” Davis’s irritated call beckoned me and I slipped the damp helmet back on, wincing at the closed off feeling. It locked in place and I was ready to confront whatever pissed off Leo. I should have been less cocky. I never should have underestimated these little shits. I stood in the widened area between the command centre where Johnson was and the hallway that led to the cafeteria and Davis.
There was nothing there. It was empty of everything. I saw nothing that connected me to the hallway. I didn’t know how to explain or describe the visual before me. It was inexplicably vast. “Leo? Where are you?” Davis whispered. I gasped as the sound of his voice startled me out of my stupor. “I’m standing in the lobby area, gaping at this… this thing that’s preventing me from getting to you.” I said as I darted my eyes around looking for any possible loopholes that would get me past the nothing and closer to Davis. “It pulsates on our side. We’ve tried lowering the blinds because the sight bothers the children. What do we do? Have you found Johnson or Anna?” Davis asked a little hopelessly. I didn’t want to say no. His giving up meant terrible things. He was the one who always bolstered the crowd. He kept them going in the face of danger and uncertainty. “I’m still looking. I thought I saw Anna but you called me. I’m pretty sure she’s safe. We have to keep the faith, Davis. Okay?” I said earnestly. “I love you, right? And I will be there for you.” “Gotta get some food going. Can’t keep the people waiting. I’m making tacos.” he returned. My mouth salivated at the idea of tacos. I smiled, knowing it was his way of telling me he loved me. It was his most hated meal but he’d make it for me because.
“My favourite.” I blinked back the tears and held on to hope. I turned off my speaker and went to the farside of the nothing where Johnson was supposed to be. The doorway to my work area was half accessible and half consumed by the nothing.
Was it the specks that created the nothing? It confused me because they were a black ball when I saw them outside. They were dense. They had matter. I didn’t understand anything and it was frustrating. Growling, pissed off and willing to take any chances because people were counting on me, I stepped through the doorway to Johnson and felt half my body evaporate. Stumbling, I fell into the command centre and immediately patted myself down to make sure I was all there.
I was fine, however Johnson was not. He was half a man reaching toward help and didn’t receive it. His body was sliced cleanly with very little blood in evidence. Whatever killed him managed to cauterise the slice in one swift motion. I knelt beside him and closed his shocked eyes. He didn’t need to see this for all eternity. “Davis?” I broke my silence. “Leo? What’s going on? The men are getting testy. I don’t think I can keep them calm for long.” Davis said with special emphasis. I knew who he was talking about. They made me irritated as much as they did Davis.
“I’m in the command centre. The computers are working but Johnson…” I trailed off, not wanting to upset my already nervous partner. “Anyway, once, I send out the message, I’ll find my way to you. Keep everyone calm and fed. Remember to leave me some food. I’ll need it.”
“Please don’t do anything stupid.”
“What? Me? I am incapable of stupidity!” I sputtered. I turned off the comms and turned around to gaze at the half of Johnson that still remained. I hoped that the words would keep Davis from worrying. The mass writhed and sputtered in front of me and I frowned as I tried to figure out what my next step had to be.
Calling for help. I sat down at Johnson’s spot and stared grimly at his station. He had it set up so differently from what I was used to. Finding the communications system was a challenge and the buzzing noise behind was starting to become deafening. I pressed my lips together tightly and shook my shoulders. No teeny black speck was going to shake my resolve. I picked up the headset and placed it over my ears. I was immediately surrounded by a peaceful silence. It was heavenly on one and made me nervous on the other. “This is Mars Colony calling Mission Control. Please respond.”
I released the button and faced the bulging mass. Was it my imagination or did it get bigger?
“This is Mission Control to Mars Colony. What is your status?”
“This is Major Leonard Thomson and I’d like to report a breach or foothold. There is a massive alien entity taking over the colony. Two members of my team have been killed by said creature. Sending specs down now.” I found what information Johnson had collected and transferred it to Mission Control. “Requesting evacuation of all colonists to the shuttle ASAP. Over.”
“At this time, we do not have the capability to return to the colony. Can you remain safe in another section from the unknown alien?” I jolted at the response from mission control. They couldn’t return? We had to protect ourselves from this creature?
“Please reconsider transport, if only for the younger members of the colony. Or send supplies. Something. Please.” I urged. It was my last chance and only hope. I wasn’t sure if anyone would answer. “I’m sorry, Major. Your mission was a one way trip. We don’t have the quantities of fuel needed to return. You must resolve this on your own. I am sorry.”
“Can you give us any guidance on how to remove the creature from the colony?” I asked as I dropped my head into my hand. I needed there to be a solution. I couldn’t go back to the cafeteria and let my friends know we had very little hope.
“The team here is working on solutions. Major, we will do what we can. Keep your eyes on the sky,” was the response. I gave the computer the finger, even though I knew no one would be able to see it.
Wheeling around, I eyed the mass and spoke to it. “So hey, if we ruined your home, we’re sorry. We thought we’d done a good enough sweep to make sure there was no life around here. I am in the midst of contacting my people to see if we can move our home away from yours. We want to live on this planet with you in harmony. Please don’t hurt us. We didn’t mean to do anything.”
The mass pulsated rapidly, cycling through a myriad of colours. It caught my eyes and refused to let go. I had to force my eyes shut in order to see. I kept my eyes shut for a minute, hoping the sun blot sensation would be gone and I’d be able to see again. Carefully, I blinked and the mass was there in my space, mere centimetres from my nose. I slid sideways from my chair and darted to the exit, whispering an apology to Jonhson as I passed. The droning noise followed me as I walked quickly toward the cafeteria and another set of airlocks these creatures had shown me they couldn’t get passed. Once safely behind the newly pressurized area, I sighed and slid down the door. I pressed the palm of my hand against my eyes, trying to relieve some of the pain from gazing into the mass’s form. The spots never disappeared. If anything, they became worse the more I tried to blink them away. “Leo? Oh God, it’s you.” I opened my eyes wide to see Davis falling to his knees and gathering me into his arms. “Oh honey. I’m so glad you’re okay.”
“Hi,” was my most ingenious response. We held each other close, just basking in our touch. I revelled in his hug, knowing how close I was to losing him possibly. I wanted the moment to be happy and joyful, even though in the back of my head, I was going to douse his hopes by letting him know what Mission Control said. “How’re things?”
He pulled back to give me the eye. “Goddamnit Leo. What the fuck is wrong with you? Why? Why would you ask that? Things are shitty and likely to get worse if you’re going to tell me the Calvary aren’t coming.”
“Can you get everyone to go to the cafeteria? I don’t want to repeat this more than once.” I said tiredly. I rubbed at my eye, trying to clear it of a film forming.
“Yeah, I saved some food for you. It’s in the fridge with your name on it.” Davis loped off and I stripped off the spacesuit, tired of its bulkiness. I stared at the helmet, my hands clutching it spasmodically. Should I keep this?
“Major? What’s going on? Mr Davis said you wanted to meet everyone in the cafeteria?” Jenna Green, one of the colony botanists, stood in the door, wringing her hands.
“I’ll tell you once we’re all together. I can’t do it more than that.” I denied her and went to the big kitchen, seeking out the food Davis said was there. My head throbbed menacingly and I fell to the ground at the sudden pressure. I took some shallow breaths and counted to ten, hoping it would just go away. I didn’t need this. Not now.
Opening my eyes gingerly, my vision changed a lot. Nothing was the same. I saw colours that don’t exist in our limited scope. Lines connecting every living thing drew me. But the worst was the black specks that decorated most of the surfaces in what I had assumed was safe.
The colours flashed and pulsed as though telling me something important. But me being a silly primitive human, could not understand a single message. “I don’t know what you want from me!” I mouthed angrily.
The flashes increased and I fell to my side at the onslaught. Images coalesced together forming a story. They wanted to bond with us. They thought we were unique and they wanted more from us. I was barely the tip of the iceberg.
“Fuck you. Fuck you all. You aren’t getting it.” I swore. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it. But they weren’t going to be attaching themselves to my people. And if people from the Station finally pulled through and sent us help or supplies, they weren’t going to get infected either.
I was going to have to…
“Leo, hun, they’re here. What’s the matter? You’re sweating.” Davis came over to me and I shoved him away. It fucking hurt to the do that and the fear in his face as I did nearly broke me. “What the fuck?”
“I’m sorry, Davis. I—It’s necessary.” I apologized. I kept my hands up to keep him away. “I’ll meet you there.”
He scowled at me but stayed away. I wanted to hug him and tell him lies that everything was fine. I was fine. Hell my hitchhikers weren’t pleased with my actions either.
I stumbled my way to the front of the cafeteria where the rest of the colony waited. I saw children clutching their parents, stoic soldiers on the sides watching me carefully. Their hands twitched on their sidearm as though that would work.
“So we have a bit of a situation here. Apparently we landed on a bit of an ants’ nest. This spot is already occupied and now… and now we’re fucked.” I admitted honestly. The throbbing pain in my head only increased as the mass tried to control me. “I’ve radioed Mission Control at the International Space Station and… the news isn’t good my friends.”
“What do you mean? And don’t forget there are children here!” A woman, a computer scientist I recalled, shouted out. I faced here and the shades of orange and green shimmered over her. I wasn’t sure what that meant. Nothing good, I imagine.
“The kids need to hear the absolute truth. I can’t sugarcoat it for them. I just can’t. Mission Control said it was a one way mission and there is no way they can send a return pod for us or even supplies to keep us going.” I explained. The shouting began and I fell hard into the seat behind me. I rubbed at my sore eye, trying to relieve the pressure but the mass dug harder into the optic nerve.
“Major, are you okay? You don’t look so good?” Another person asked. I sensed them approaching and immediately I stood up to keep them from coming closer. “Major, your eyes…”
“Stay away from me, Doctor. It’s not a good idea. If you want to make it through this, I’ll need you to listen to me.”
“But you’re sick. At least let me give you something.” The doctor entreated. I shook my head, denying him. If I kept a bubble around me, the black specks wouldn’t be able to hop to another host. “Major.”
“No, I just need a bit of a rest.” I denied sharply. “No one is to go beyond the airlocks. If I find out that anyone has breached protocol, I will kill you.”
“Major Thomson. That was uncalled for.” More shouting, more anger. I didn’t care. I needed them to stay angry or scared.
“It’s true. Johnson and Anna are dead because of these teeny black specks. They are fucking dangerous. And I have to do this.” I stepped out of the cafeteria and used my rank to lock everyone in. No one other than possibly the doctor could dismantle the lock.
I stumbled down the hallway and once I was out of view of the windows, I fell to the ground, throwing up what little I had left in my stomach.
The colourful miasma in my head took over briefly and I was subjected to a multitude of tiny stings of pain and invasion of my most private self. They investigated everything.
I was tired, sad, and determined. Forcing them back to their small bubble in my optic nerve, I gained control of my body and stood up. The motion made my nausea flare but I didn’t have anything to throw up so I could only gag.
Somehow I had to find the utility room. I needed to set my plan in motion. This colony had to be destroyed.
As I made my way to the utilities, I engaged every airlock between me and the cafeteria. I knew that people wouldn’t listen and they’d be breaking down the doors as soon as I was out of sight. They would do what it took to survive. I didn’t begrudge them. If I was listening to myself, I’d be pissed and determined to get out.
My strength lagged at times and certainly I wanted to just let the specks win but Davis kept me going. I couldn’t let them hurt the man I adored. He was everything to me and I wouldn’t let them do to him what they did to me.
“Leo?” I twitched at the sound of my name. It was a lie, something the specks made up to get me to listen to them, to follow their agenda. “Leonard.”
“You are a lie. A figment sent by the specks to stop me from doing this.” I said with utter finality. I stared at the utility door with its ‘Authorized Personnel’ only sign on it. Only the maintenance staff and the command could access it.
“Leonard.” His tone stopped me. I swallowed and refused to face him. “Leonard. Tell me the truth. You know it’s me. You knew what happened when you locked the doors.”
I nodded and dropped my head against the door. My locks were never keyed against Davis. He was my other half, my better soul. He’d follow me to the ends of the earth. “I’m scared, Davy.”
“Well, I can totally see that. But a problem shared is a problem halved, remember?” He reminded me gently. I grappled around behind me and he curled himself around my back. He gave me the hug I needed. He kissed the back of my head. “What do you need?”
“I need you to block my eye. The left one.” I said quietly. I wasn’t going to face him as long as the mass was lodged in that eye. He hissed and I felt the air move behind me. A long piece of cloth was draped over my head and wrapped carefully, blocking my vision of the one eye.
The resulting angry buzzing had me falling to my knees. I gasped at the immediate response from the creatures. Bright colours flashed and the images they invoked in my head were disturbing as they threatened me with decay.
“Leo?” Davis squeaked. I closed my eyes as he held my face in his hands. “What’s going on? I need you to tell me.”
“I can’t say the words, baby. I can’t let them hear.” I muttered. The throbbing increased and I whimpered.
“Use our words. Remember when we did that in grad school?” Davis said quietly. He lifted my chin and kissed me softly before letting go. He situated me in front of the door and he sat beside me. He held my hand loosely with one hand and began tracing forms in my palm.
Our secret language came back to me and I quickly sketched out what the idea was. His gasp was the only sound in an otherwise silent corridor. He never said anything out loud but his fierce grip on my hand told me everything.
“I love you, Leonard Thomson. And I’m in it til the end.” He helped me to a standing position.
I opened the door to the utility room. We entered it and slammed the door shut. It groaned and swelled as we forced it close. I entered my key lock and Davis entered his. It would be doubly hard now for anyone to break in.
Everything that ran the small colony was in this room. If it wasn’t computer based, it was here. The nuclear generator to run the power and communications array, the boiler to heat our living quarters. The water supply system. The colony’s whole life was in my hands now.
I only had to turn one thing off and everyone would die. I didn’t want them to just die. I needed the whole colony to be decimated so the specks couldn’t do their thing. It was awful of me. I imagined the small children with their futures before them and wanted to weep.
“Leo? What do you want to do?” Davis asked me as he stood beside me. He blinked at me and I shook my head.
“You stay here. I want to check something out in the back,” I suggested. I wandered past the boiler, past the water and stared at the locked out nuclear generator. This had to be my weapon of choice. I hated that I was going to destroy a possible ecosystem for the sake of my people.
“Leo, I don’t want to be alone though.” Davis begged sweetly. I bit my lip and kept my resolve.
“It’s too narrow and dangerous. It’ll take me two seconds and I’ll be right back.” I responded. I stared at the keypad and took a deep breath.
Once I jacked up the power, overloading the system, I backed away and did the same to the boiler. We only had a few short minutes before both systems would run at a higher output than normal.
And because I wasn’t familiar with either systems, there was no way the specks would be able to control me long enough to fix it.
I made my way back to Davis who was standing there, biting his thumbnail. My love for him was a physical thing and I strode over, and hugged him close to me.
His gasp of surprise was sweet, and unexpected. I gazed into his eyes one last time as the alarms began sounding.
“Leo? What’s happening?” He asked as I took his hand in mine. I wrapped my other hand around his waist and began dancing with him. It would be our last dance together and I wanted it to be perfect. “Leonard, explain.”
“I want to dance with my husband one time.” I whispered. I smiled at his handsome face. I traced my finger along the faint scar. He had picked up a terrified cat who reacted terribly to his faux pas. It was his one and only battle wound.
“Shouldn’t we get to safety?” He asked as he glanced toward the steel door.
“Nah, this time is for you and me.”
It was at this time that the mass of black specks realized that nothing was going on according to their plan. They attacked my nervous system with impunity. I fought hard to remain on my feet to dance with my husband. This was how I was going out.
“Leo, we can’t allow this.” His voice changed and blurred becoming something harsher and dissonant. “You and your mate must survive. They sent a retrieval ship. They’re coming to save you.”
I smiled at Leo, at his wide smile and kind kind eyes. I leaned forward, ignoring the wrong voice coming from him, ignoring the cycling alarm system warning me of an overload imminent.
When the end came, it happened as I wanted it. I was able to stare into Davis’s eyes as the boiler exploded first. The heat was shockingly painful but it was worth it as the black specks withdrew from me in an attempt to hide away from the explosion.
When the generator went, I was kissing Davis for the last time. The taste of him was on my mouth as we died. I never wanted to die without Davis beside me and I was happy he ignored my orders and followed me.
I felt terrible that the specks took him over at the end there. I suspected they would. I wasn’t conforming to their suggestions. I didn’t do anything they wanted me too.
But when they were in my head for the first time, back near the command centre, I saw the future. I saw what they did to this planet and what they did to all the other planets they colonized. They destroyed the resources. They were worse than locusts. They ate and ate until there was nothing left but sand and dirt.
Even though Earth was falling apart, it was still home and it didn’t deserve another parasite on it. One was bad enough. We, at least, were trying to rectify what we had done.
I was tired. I was sad but Davis was here with me and that was the important part.