When Ellen checked on a sleeping Becca. She found her daughter’s eyelids eaten away.
Ellen retreated down the hexagonal corridors until coming to the wide window looking into the medbay. On one of the two operational tables laid Dwayne. A multitude of wires led into his arms. His eyelids were gone. Two scabbing marks sat above his eyes. Restraints held all his limbs to the bed.
Ellen tapped on the glass. “She has it.”
Dwayne twitched. His whole body spasmed towards the window. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” His face said the same. The rest of his body wanted to escape the restraints, escape the medbay.
The comm panel by Ellen’s head beeped. “Cary here. Gonna have to shut down Section 6 and 5 if we wanna make anywhere this century.”
Ellen elbowed the single button on the comm panel. “Do it.”
She turned to leave.
Dwayne screamed. She felt its reverberations. He writhed against the restraints. His head bucked around until the mask over his mouth and nose slipped away. “Somewhere should have a cure. The binnsilyn should be slowed if you freeze her, maybe put her back in the—”
He coughed once, a hacking, wet cough and slunk into the bed. A scratchy display above the medbay window showed Dwyane’s vitals thin but there.
The comms crackled. “Everything OK up there?”
Everything was not OK. Ellen stalked around the corridors, hating how the light seemed to come from the floor as opposed to any decent ship having its lighting fixtures come from above. So many panels and grates and fuse boxes jutting out and valves that she wanted to punch or hit with a primer stick. They’d been so careful.
Binnsylin wasn’t contagious by touch. Her husband had assured her before hiding her and Becca onboard. Only five days out, Everywhere Station already felt like a dream, a very real dream that she had awoken from and found herself unable to shake experiencing it. Even if it was contagious, it wouldn’t stop Ellen from taking her tiny daughter in her arms and holding her close, shushing sweetly into her ears.
A scream travelled down the corridor. She didn’t even know where she was in the ship, but she knew where that scream came from. She ran, banged her arm against a broken pipe hanging loose and didn’t care.
Becca sat up in her bedcove, legs dangling over the side. She cried and cried and kept patting her eyes. “They’re gone, Momma, they’re gone.”
She patted her head, felt how smooth Becca’s red hair was. Ellen wanted to enjoy it, since by tomorrow, her hair would be gone.”I know, baby, I know, I know.”
Becca cried into the crook of Ellen’s arm. “I’m gonna die, Momma, I’m gonna die.”
Ellen held her so she could look her in the eye. Made a point to not glance at the red scratches of where her eyelids should be. They’d have to get eye drops for her before they dried out too much. She wished she had paid attention more in school, where you learned how to deal with such abnormalities such as this, where you knew exactly what to do when there was a medical emergency.
That made Ellen wish Becca’s father was on board.
She found a comm unit in the hallway outside Becca’s bunk. “Cary. Can you get up here, fix the other bed in medbay?”
“Everything OK?” Cary had not been seen in three days. He’d been in the lower decks, making multiple repairs to keep the ship, the Nin, running. She didn’t know how he kept up, who he was, just that her husband swore by him.
Becca hid behind her legs, weeping still and continuing to dab her face dry with a small, yellowed blanket. “I’m cold.”
“I just want it fixed in case something happened,” Ellen asked.
“I can’t fix it,” Cary said over the comm, “since I don’t know what’s wrong with it. Plus, Dwayne being in there…”
“Momma…” Becca clung to Ellen’s legs.
“Do you need anything?” Cary sounded so genuine.
“Medbay’s all locked up, so there’s no way the virus can get out. Well, I should say it’s more than just…like…a virus. Dwayne said a few days ago it’s more than that. It’s like some bacteria and a virus fucked and—”
Ellen picked up her daughter. She was already beginning to feel a bit lighter. “Becca, hon, would you like to sleep for a bit? While I figure out what happened?”
Becca wiped snot from her face and weakly nodded.
“Alright, then,” Ellen said. “I’ll take you to the pods out back, and you get cozy. You won’t have to sleep long. We’ll be at Titan in no time, your daddy will meet us there, and we’ll fix you, OK?”
She sniffled. “Will Uncle Dwayne be OK, too?”
Ellen couldn’t bring herself to tell any more lies, no matter how much truth they might potentially have. “Let’s get you tucked in, so you can get better.”
Becca nestled into her mother’s hold. Ellen took the long way around the main corridor to the access room where there were five sleeping pods for interstellar travel. They passed a kitchen area, where Ellen smelled that morning’s coffee. She took this way to avoid going by the medbay. If something happened, if Dwayne had finally succumbed, she at least did not want Becca to see what happens when binnsilyn becomes full-blown. Thankfully, they had both been spared seeing any of the outbreak on Everywhere Station.
Upon arriving at the access point, she put down Becca, who still cried into her blanket, and punched in a series of numbers and symbols on the keypad to get in. She knew how to turn one of the sleeping pods on, but didn’t know the procedure for taking someone out.
Something clanged behind her. A man with blackened goggles, filthy overalls, and brilliant red hair held a long wrench. His head went from Ellen to Becca, who had taken the blanket from her face, displaying the redden marks where eyelids once were. The man ran off down the corridor.
“Why’s Cary running away, Momma?”
The flight deck was locked. Ellen tried the comms over and over. Cary didn’t answer. Either he had locked himself in there, or he was hiding somewhere else. She then banged away with a broken piece of pipe against the door.
An alarm had sounded from down the corridor. Medbay, probably. She tried the comms again. “Cary, I don’t know if you’re in there. I know you’re scared. Becca’s in a sleep pod. There’s an alarm, and…” She hit the door again, not to get a reaction from Cary or to get it open. “Dammit, Cary, don’t do anything stupid! If Dwayne’s dead and the whole medbay’s isolated and–”
“We’re all gonna die.” Cary’s muffled voice came from behind the door.
“We’ll be OK. OK? So open the door and don’t do something stupid.”
“Then how did she get infected?”
“I…” Ellen reached for a reason. She had been ignoring asking herself that same question for the last day. Becca’s hair was gone the last time she had checked on her. “Have you seen someone with full-blown binnsylin?”
Behind the door, “No.”
“OK,” she said, and faced the door. “So we can’t be quite sure what would happen.”
“That’s,” and the muffled voice sounded closer, “that doesn’t make sense.”
“I’m not infected. Becca’s already in the pod.”
The corridor lights flickered and died. The darkness made Ellen think of Becca’s birth. How Ellen had passed out from the pain. The silence of it.
Yellowed lights lining the angles in the walls brightened, immersing the corridor in a dim, feeble haze.
“What did you do,” she said to the door.
Cary responded, “We all have to die.”
Red alarm lights strobed. Air hissed. The ship rumbled.
“Are, are you—”
“I’m sorry, Ellen, but this has to be done. This is not how it was supposed to go…”
Something grabbed Ellen from behind and flung her against the wall. She slammed face first, felt a crunch in her nose. She landed on her knees.
The door to the flight deck opened. She turned just in time to see a tall shape rush through the open door. A voice sounding like Dwayne, but riddled with sickness, said, “The lifeboat.”
Ellen knew the lifeboat was located under the bridge but she had to get Becca first.
As she retreated down the corridor, she heard struggles and groans over the loud alarms. When she passed medbay, she found the window shattered, its pieces strewn about the floor in front of her. The bed Dwayne had been in was empty. She jogged until reaching the access point.
Becca was standing there. The red alarm lights gave her bald head a glow that hinted at her now-gone hair. She had a maturity in her eyes Ellen had never seen before. “Momma, I need to sleep.”
“I can help you with that, baby. We have to go to the bridge, though—”
The alarms halted. The main lights illuminated. “I…I got him,” Dwayne said, his voice weak over the comms.
Ellen took a knee, and held her arms out. “Come here.”
Becca stood her ground. She tilted her head slightly to the right. “I can hear things, Momma. Things that aren’t there.”
Ellen began seeing blurry. She blinked the tears away. “You’re sick.”
“I know. I can see them.”
Giving Becca an explanation of what was happening to her seemed the only thing Ellen was capable of doing. But she couldn’t. Why do that? Why tell this beautiful girl that she was descending into a virus-induced madness?
Around the corner came banging, like someone dragging something along the wall. Cary. Holding the pipe she had discarded. His hair and eyelids gone. “She has to die, or we all die.” Sticking from his right shoulder was a scalpel from the medbay. Blood leaked down his white shirt.
He was lost in his delirium. He made eye contact with nothing.
Ellen grabbed Becca’s hand and ran. Down the rounding corridor. She didn’t hear Cary giving chase. He could just as easily have gone back the way he came.
Becca gave no resistance until they reached the flight deck. Dwayne’s body bisected the threshold. Half his face was gone. Its remains a mess splashed on the floor.
Ellen gasped, and quickly ignored whatever panic that was in her before it overtook her. She pulled Dwayne’s body aside so she could shut the door. His head made slurping sounds. She went to take Becca’s arm and pull her inside the flight deck and lock it behind her before Cary showed up. Becca bent over, inspecting Dwayne’s obliterated face.
“Don’t touch that,” Ellen said.
She ignored her mother and picked at the wound. “I can hear him.” She reached into the deep gash running along Dwyane’s face. Dug both hands into it. “I can find him.”
Ellen hadn’t seen what happened on Everywhere Station. She had heard rumors but had never seen what binnsilyn did. She backed away. Held the door. “Baby…”
Becca was gone. She buried her face into Dwayne’s. Ellen closed and locked the door before she watched more, fought back her meager breakfast from coming up. She slunk against the door.
“This is the Con-Fed commercial ship Nin. Registration…183R43MN. My name is Ellen Hayes. We’re stowaways and have a medical emergency. The binnsilyn virus is present on-board.” She waited for any response. “We departed Everywhere Station seven days ago. Three confirmed infected. anyone, please respond.”
Banging at the doorway. For a solid day, that’s all she heard. No voices. It had stopped about an hour ago. Longest without a sound since she’d locked herself in. Now it started again.
She spoke into the external comms again. “Again, anyone. Help. I don’t know what to do.”
Not even static.
She had run out of tears. The energy to weep. There had to be a cure. Something she could do for them.
“Nin, this is the patrol ship Leaven. We’ve received your distress call.”
She fumbled for the button to answer, accidentally turned off the comms. Its screen shuttered and went dead. She pressed a bunch of buttons to turn it back on when alarms came on. No sounds, just red whirring lights. A control panel near the front viewshield blinked for attention.
The readout said the ship approached a planetoid. Said it was about a seventeen hundred kilometers in diameter. Glowed a dull gray, like it was surrounded by a giant gas cloud. Out the viewshield, she could see it hanging in the dark.
Cary knew how to run the ship, how to fly it. She had never been anything but a passenger on one. All the panels on the flight deck had buttons and switches. It had taken her hours to figure out which one was the external comms, the system to send out a message.
She tried turning the comms on. The buttons were symbols, no actual writing. She didn’t even know what the damn ship was for, what it was used for. She kept hitting buttons until they all lit up and the screen came back on. She pressed the lever on the mic. “Hello?”
“Oh, good, you’re still there. We thought we lost you. We’re having trouble getting a read on your position. Please state your current position, or engage your distress beacon.”
The voice sounded garbled. disguised, almost. She didn’t know if it was from the technology. She didn’t care.
“I…I don’t know how to do that.”
A long pause. She’d been trying to learn to ignore the intermittent banging, but couldn’t. Out the viewshield the planetoid approached.
“Ellen, you said three of your crew are infected. How far along are they?”
“They’re…I think they’re full-blown. I’m not sure. I’ve never seen it happen to anyone.”
“Ellen, I’m sorry, but we cannot locate your ship. Even if we could, I am sorry, but there is nothing to do about the binnsilyn bacterio-virus.”
“I’m a doctor. Do you know anything about biology or the traits of bacteria and viruses?”
“A pity. This is really a wondrous specimen.” A pause. The banging grew more insistent. “Are you infected, Ellen?”
“No.” She rubbed her eyes. Felt sandpaper. Chalked it up to being tired. No sleep in she knew not how long.
“I am sorry, Ellen.” There was a click.
The planetoid dominated the viewshield.
More alarms. More lights. More panels blinking and beeping and the banging and the sounds and the noise and the whole life everything so gone everything wrong. Everything lost. Becca. Little Becca. She never saw anyone smile so much. She paced around the flight deck. Grabbed a chair and threw it at a panel. Grabbed another and slammed it against the comms. Looked for anything to destroy.
The world turned upside down. Gravity became a dream. Great shaking and crumbling metal. A distant explosion. The viewshild gave brief views of the gray planetoid. It was there, it wasn’t there.
She floated above the panel that told her about the planetoid. She grabbed the panel’s sides. The screen read EMERGENCY and DESTRUCTION and DAMAGE and SHIP ON APPROACH and ATTACK and a bunch of figures she didn’t know about.
Another explosion rippled through the ship. She heard of blast of air. She flung over the panel and smacked against the viewshield.
The flight deck door was open.
Fire poured in like angry water. Along its waves rode three bodies. All three torn and disfigured and dismembered. She couldn’t even tell which one was Becca.
“What a failure.” The doctor closed down his screen and turned in his chair to face the captain. “A complete failure.”
“Quarantine orders, Doctor. Outbreak of two or more and we torch it.”
“What of the Nin?”
“One shot, one kill. The remains crashed on that asteroid.”
“It’s a planetoid, Captain.” The doctor rubbed his beard. “At least Everywhere Station is salvageable.”
“Could or couldn’t be. The higher-ups are still deciding whether this is even worth it.”
The doctor fixed his glasses on his lean face. “I wasn’t aware of this.”
“Now you are. We jump in 15, so strap in.”
“I thank you for this courtesy call.”
“Had to be done,” the captain said, and left the doctor alone in his lab.
It took everything for the doctor to get up and continue his work. Continue to figure out why his bacterio-virus failed. Just so he wouldn’t go to his bedcove and stare at the picture of his wife and his red-headed daughter.
Daniel Brophy has been writing for nearly ten years. He has finished less than that number of stories and books. He has had one short story published, but that was six years ago and the name of the now-defunct publication escapes him. Born with a thirst for words and stories, Daniel owns enough books to open a small library, or to re-enact the ending of the Twilight Zone episode where the bookworm breaks his glasses at the end (spoiler alert). Thankfully, Daniel has eyes like baseball legend Ted Williams, so broken glasses are not a problem. It should also be noted that his pop culture acumen borders on worrisome, due to a Tarentino-level of knowledge. Dream projects for Daniel include: writing a book set in the Alien universe; building a life-sized replica of the TARDIS and setting it into a wall to act as a door to a room, giving off a ‘bigger on the inside’ illusion; and making a low-budget horror movie about a graveyard. Daniel gallivants across this perilous journey through time and life with his wonderful girlfriend, a joyous woman light-years smarter than Daniel, and whom he hopes sticks around long enough so that he won’t have to edit this author bio ever.