In the centre of the chamber there stood something that Derren assumed must be kind of a canister. It’s narrow rhomboid shape stood three feet off the ground at its tallest point. It was covered in engravings that resembled no shapes or writing that Derren had ever seen before. At the top, running around the edge, was a crack emitting a pale blue light. It’s positioning in the centre of the chamber matched up exactly to the location of the orange circle on the map.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Derren muttered to himself.
Ka, already on his knees and running his hands over the canister, must have heard him for he turned to face Ka flashing him that enthusiastic puppy grin.
“Come on, Cap, stop with the downer. This is what we came for. I bet this thing is worth a fortune,” with that he turned his attention back to the canister.
Derren watched whilst Ka continued to grope the canister, shuffling around to the back of it and to the front again. When he had made a couple of circuits of the canister, he turned his attention to its top, poking his fingers into the crack from where the blue glow came.
“I think this might be some sort of lid,” Ka reported back to Derren, “Get over here and help me try and get it off?”
Once more, Derren let out a deep sigh, and knelt next to Ka. He pushed his fingers into the crack surprised to find he could feel a sort of static electricity – not unlike pins and needles – even through the thickness of his spacesuit gloves. Derren looked to Ka to see his reaction to this sensation, but if he also felt it, Derren couldn’t tell. Derren didn’t like it.
“So, how do you want to do this?” he said to Ka.
“I guess we just get our fingers underneath and push,” replied Ka, eyes fixated on the blue glow. It seemed to Derren as though Ka was becoming hypnotised by it. Once again, he felt a shudder travel down his spine.
Seeing Ka start to push, Derren also started to push on the lid. At first there was no movement whatsoever but after a few minutes of hard shoving, filled with the sounds of both Derren and Ka groaning with exertion, the lid made a cracking noise and shifted.
“Did, you feel that? It moved,” Shouted out Ka, now shaking with either excitement. “Come on, one last effort and I reckon we’ll have it.”
Derren could feel the strain of the last lot of pushing all through his body. Every muscle was singing out in pain, protesting at even the slightest movement. The gravity, masked by the dampeners in their boots, must have been really high in here. Regardless, Derren didn’t want to let Ka down. He pushed his thumbs back into the crack, once again feeling the static through his gloves and clamped his fingers down on top of the lid. He looked to Ka who nodded and with a yell of effort they both pushed as hard as they could. Derren jammed a knee into the base of the canister to gain some extra stability. The two continued to push, still yelling as though the noise would give them extra leverage.
From what must have been the depths of the canister came a loud shrieking noise, the kind of noise Derren had never heard before. It sounded as though as thousand dogs were all screaming out in agony at the same time.
As the shrieking started, the lid gave way under Derren and Ka’s combined weight. It flew backwards, smacking into and shattering against the wall behind the canister. Almost immediately afterwards, blue light shot into air flaring out and washing the room in it’s pallid glow. The shrieking continued getting louder and more piercing; at the same time as the lid had flown off and the light exploded from within, Derren was thrown across the room, his back hitting the wall behind him hard. His vision went black and silence engulfed him.
Derren couldn’t say how long he had been unconscious for. When he came round, his head was spinning, the bottom of his helmet was filled with vomit, the acidic taste and smell filled his nose and mouth. For a moment, he couldn’t move his limbs but when they did move, his entire body flooded with pain.
As his vision cleared and focussed again, Derren could see that there was no longer any light coming from the canister but there was still the shrieking sound. Now louder and higher. Derren could also see Ka kneeling in front of the canister.
How had he not been thrown backwards? There had been enough force to push a room full of people back.
Derren called to Ka, through the helmet comms but there was no response, only that damned shrieking that just would not stop and sounded ten times worse through the crackling static of the comms.
With every last bit of effort he had left, Derren pushed himself up onto his feet and staggered towards Ka, dropping to his knees beside his motionless body. Ka was still in the same position he had been in when they pushed the lid off, only now his head and arms were now hanging into the now dark canister. Derren took him by the shoulder and shook him, still calling his name through the helmet comms. Ka did not move. The only response through the comms was the shrieking.
By now Derren, was almost crying. His vision was blurring thanks to the tears welling up in his eyes. He grabbed Ka’s shoulder in both hands and pulled as hard as he could. Ka flopped backwards from the canister and lay face up on the floor. Derren leant over him and almost straight away jumped back, screaming.
Kal’s face was not his own. It contorted into a shape of agony that looked far beyond any pain that a human could endure. His mouth hung open at a strange right angle. His eyes were so wide open as it was though he had no eyelids, only his eyeballs were not there. Instead, there was only the same blue light that had come from the canister. It was also coming from his mouth. Around him, like a shadow hung a black aura that seemed to be pulsating and growing.
Derren shook his head; refusing to believe what he saw . He called Ka’s name again but again, the only response was the shrieking sound coming through his helmet comms. And that was when he realised. That shrieking sound, that terrible, mournful, anguish filled howl hadn’t been coming from the canister at all. It was coming from Ka; he was screaming.
Derren, still crying, sat there shaking his head refusing to believe what he could see. Questions crashed around his head, what had happened?
He closed his eyes tight, trying to figure out what to do next but when he opened them again, he found he was backing quickly out of the chamber, his stare fixed on Ka’s body. It moved almost lifelessly, as if it hung at the end of half broken puppet strings. It limped and shuffled towards Derren, blue eyes still flaring, broken mouth still screaming.
Derren leapt to his feet, turning and running down the corridor. His hands banging away at the keyboard on his forearm to make the map reappear on his visor only this time in reverse. Derren then realised he was now running down the corridors. His mind was still racing and he couldn’t make sense of what was happening. This must be, he somehow supposed, the flight part of the fight or flight response. Now he found himself sprinting across the chamber, the servos in the anti-gravity boots whining in protest.
It was only when he found himself in the command seat of the Fury, activating the launch commands did the full weight of what had just happened and what he had just done hit him. The canister had released something that infected Ka, and Derren, rather than act like the Captain he was supposed to be and help Ka, had ran. He hadn’t even thought of going back for him, he hadn’t thought at all. He had been too wracked in shock and fear. His shoulders slumped and his face dropped into his hands as he started sobbing uncontrollably.
By the time he stopped crying, Derren realised that he had put the ship into hyper-light upon take off and was now too far away to do anything. That wasn’t entirely true. He could easily drop the ship into normal space, turn around and head back to the derelict but the truth was he scared. Not just scared, lost completely in the absolute unyielding grip of blind terror. So, Derren did not turn back, he maintained his course and ran. He could still hear Ka’s blood curdling shriek.
This story is and extract from my current work in progress and also, my entry to Chuck Wendig’s latest Flash Fiction, Short Story Challenge. Details of which you can find here
Hope that you enjoy it. Let me know what you think.
Thanks for reading,