The NP100 cargo haulers landed practically side by side. The first of the ships made the mistake of opening the hatch, the entire crew died within minutes. The second ship remained sealed. Its crew of ten rationing food and water, stretching their lives as long as they could manage. But they were dying, the food supply practically gone within days and the water supply draining too steadily.
Perhaps the most miserable fate belonged to an astronaut by the name of Jonathan Edgar. At the very same instant the sun went crazy, Edgar was climbing out into space, sporting a new model of space suit and jet pack. He activated the jets and shot away from the shuttle, feeling a freedom few dare to imagine. The calm voices in his headset suddenly morphed into a frenzy of terrified screams and then plunged into the blissful world of static. Edgar rotated slowly around, only to see the shuttle plummeting through the dissolving atmosphere of earth. The shock of what he was seeing hit him like a ton of bricks. Not only was his home enveloped in a mass of writhing flames but his only chance of survival had decided to go right along with it. Edgar's heart slowed and stopped, his life ended in a wave of shock and loss.
Night fell with an audible silence.
The NP100 Adventurer had landed belly up. It thrummed softly as the oxygen tanks released their life-giving contents into the ship. The dead landscape that stretched from horizon to horizon reached beyond the limits of terror. The crew had all seen it through the view ports. There was a feeling in the air onboard NP100 Adventurer, an unmistakable feeling that had already begun to gnaw at the minds of the crew. It was a feeling of ominous death. A loss of all hope. The crew knew they were seeing their last days, if not hours. And the dread that flitted so easily through the air was slowly eating away the very thread of sanity that twined the crew together
Wing Commander John Kryitol stood before his crew. They were all slumped against the wall, their eyes reddened and slightly hollow. They were slipping away. Who would have guessed that the last of such a prosperous race would fade into the night without a sound? Kryitol opened his mouth to speak and found himself at a loss for words. What could he say to them? Cheer up, guys! ?? Until now, Kryitol had hope for survival. But the emptiness in his crew's eyes had chased away any such hope. He sighed, there was nothing he could do. Nothing they could do. Earth was dead, and as the crew of the NP100 Geronimo had so painfully discovered, there was nowhere to go.
John scanned the group of ... eight? "Where the hell is Douglas?"
Nobody looked up. It was Pedro Santino who answered, "He's fixin' the ship."
"Gettin' us ready for launch, bro." Pedro chuckled, "He say we gettin' off this rock."
Kryitol shook his head. "Where's he at?"
"In the back."
John turned slowly around and made his way toward the rear compartments of the ship. From behind he heard a few crew members mumble to each other. There were no more conversations, no more idle chatting; They had nothing left to talk about. John strode through the heaps of smashed equipment and wreckage. He had already gotten used to the ship being upside-down. It didn't even occur to him anymore. As he made his way through the ship, Johns mind made a bad move. He began to think about his son.
Tyler Kryitol had just recently turned fifteen. John had just finished spending a birthday slash Christmas with him only a week and a half ago. Tyler had excitedly told him about school, friends and girls. They had a wonderful time, there was none of the usual fighting between him and Tyler or between him and his wife. It was almost perfect. Except for the little "New Years bash" God had decided to throw yesterday. Had it been painful? John hoped his sons death had been quick. An image of little Tyler sprawled out on the ground, writhing in flames flashed across his mind. John shook the image from his head.
"Douglas!" Kryitol shouted.
There was no reply.
John stood just inside the very back room. The engine room. He could hear a clanking of metal on metal to the left.
The clanking stopped.
John strode toward where he had heard the noise. "Douglas!" He passed through a tangle of smashed machinery and saw Douglas hunched over a control box.
At the sound of footsteps, Douglas spun around, eyes wide. "S-sir, p-p-please stay back!" There was terror in his voice.
Paul M. Douglas had been an excited twenty-six year old when he joined the crew. He was by far the youngest and most interesting man onboard. He always wore a smile. But the expression that was currently on his face caused John to freeze in midstep. His left hand was crammed into his right armpit. His pale face scarred with tears and specks of blood. "Stay back!" He waved frantically at Kryitol with his right arm, "Please!" His voice quaked with fear; More tears began to flood his face.
"Paul? What's wrong with your hand?" John asked hesitantly.
"GO!!" Paul shouted through his sobs. He ran his hand nervously through his hair. Tufts of the boyish blonde hair came out in his hand. Paul did not seem to notice. He continued screaming nonsense and executed a grand finale by collapsing on the floor. He curled up into a fetal position, his entire body rocking with sobs. His left hand fell into view.
"Shit." was all John could manage. All expression had mysteriously fled from his voice. Paul's hand had turned black and chunks of flesh had begun to fall off. His pinkie was already missing its top half.
"Paul, how did this happen?" The expression had not yet returned to Johns voice.
"I-I-I-I---" Paul broke into a series of violent sobs.
That's when John saw the hole.
Just above the control box that Paul had been leaning over there was a hole in the wall. It was a mere screwhole, but that's all it would take to let the radiation through. Paul must have been plugging it with his left hand. A large bruise on his forehead gave John a pretty good idea of what the banging noise was. Then a realization struck him.
Paul was not plugging the hole anymore.
John looked down at his hands, the skin was blackened already. He dove forward and jammed his hand over the hole. It became instantly numb. John had never heard of such powerful radiation, his entire body was becoming painlessly numb.
"PAUL!" he shouted over his shoulder. "Paul, seal the room!!"
"Paul, do it now!!"
Douglas pulled himself off the ground and staggered toward the door. John heard his footsteps fade. The sound of the door hissing shut echoed through the room. Paul's returned and collapsed on the floor once again. John removed his hand. It made no difference anymore.
He slid down the wall and sighed. The feeling in his right hand was totally gone. He did not dare to even glance at it. He turned to Paul, who had stopped bawling, a blank look had come across his face. His eyes were empty. "Paul?"
John looked down at his hands. His right hand was completely black and split open in various places, it was spreading up his arm. His left hand was nearly as bad already. He could already feel it in his lungs. Breathing was becoming more and more difficult.
He looked down at Douglas. He was dead.
John was not suprised.
His last thought was of his son Tyler, a clear picture of Tyler beckoning to him flashed through his mind. Johns eyes slid closed, he drifted away into the unknown.
It was Samuel Bennet who spoke up. Sam's voice held a dim trace of expression. He scanned the rest of the crew. "I aint gona wait forever." Sam was a slightly overweight bald man. He was in his late forties, he'd never married, never found anyone even slightly attractive. His life was work. Communications expert Samuel Fredderick Bennet had no time for anyone but himself.
"Go find them yourself." grunted Timothy Parker. "It doesn't matter anyways. We'll all be dead in hours."
"Shuddup Tim," ordered Robert Gellner. "You don't know that." His eyes spoke a different story, however. He did know it.
Timothy shook his head sadly, "I wish that was true, Bob" He paused, choosing his words carefully, "Does anyone know what this meeting is supposed to be about?"
There was a series of no's and shrugs even a "who cares" from Pedro Santino.
"The water's all gone. And the oxygen is pretty low too." Timothy announced sadly.
Silence hit them like a raging beast. Nobody moved. And for a brief moment, nobody even breathed. It was at that moment when madness swept across the room and landed neatly on Robert's shoulder. He rose to his feet and lunged at Tim, "LIAR!"
Reaction time was incredibly slow for the entire crew, especially for Tim. Nobody moved until after the first blow. Robert slammed his fist into Tim's throat with all his might. There was a blood curdling cracking sound that brought everyone to their senses. But it was to late, Tim was already sprawled out on the floor, eyes as wide as baseballs. He opened his mouth but no breath came. Pedro came from behind and tackled Robert. They crashed to the floor together.
The rest of the crew were on their feet, not sure what to do. They half watched Tim's face turn dark purple and half watched as Pedro repeatedly rammed Robert's head into the floor. Tony Cargin, a large burly technician from Georgia reached down and pulled Pedro off of the unconscious Robert Gellner. He silently pointed to Tim.
Tim was clearly dead. His left eyeball had popped out of its socket and was dangling on his cheek by a red tangle of veins. His right eyeball had simply exploded. A mess of white goo was splashed across the floor beside his head. Timothy's tongue hung out of his gaping jaw by several inches, it had turned almost black.
"Kryitol's gona kill all of us," muttered Jim Troft, the copilot.
Sam whirled around to face to group, "Don't you get it?! It really doesn't make any difference! We're as good as dead already! There's no place to go! We have no water! We have no goddamn water!" Sam wiped his sweaty bald head. "I don't know about you guys but I think this is pathetic! We're just sitting around here waiting for death! Well I'm finished waiting!" Everyone saw his right hand disappear beneath his shirt. Yet nobody moved. Everyone saw him withdraw the pistol and put it to his head. Still there was no reaction. What could anyone do? There was no obvious reason to stop him. They would all be dead soon anyhow. Sam squeezed the trigger.
The back of his head exploded outward, splashing a mixture of brains and skull fragments across the wall. He toppled to the ground in a lifeless heap. For what seemed like hours, nobody spoke. They all just starred into space.
The six remaining men left the conference room and sealed the bodies inside. They tied up Gellner and left him in the cafeteria. He was sealed inside. Pedro lead the group down the corridors and to the engine room. It was sealed shut. He pounded on the metal door. There was no answer.
"What the hell do we do?" demanded Benny Landers. He was a short and rather harry man from California. His twisted black beard gave him the appearance of a pirate. Benny was the maintenance man.
"We override the seal and get Kryitol." suggested Tony.
"Bad idea," grunted Troft. "Its sealed for a reason. It could be dangerous to open it."
Bill Tefne stepped forward. "Screw that, I'm opening it." Bill was the local computer genius. He was black, smart, strong, handsome and a complete jerk. Nobody really liked him. Bill was sure that it was because he was black. He hadn't the slightest idea that it was because of his natural inclination towards being a prick.
Troft stepped in front of Bill. "Were not opening it."
Bill rolled his eyes, "God forbid we let the black man do anything."
"Shut up, Bill." Tony said.
Bill shook his head, "You gona hang me while yer at it?"
Benny Landers spoke up, "I'm with Bill, we need to get Kryitol. What if he's hurt?"
Tony nodded, "Open it Bill."
Troft looked as if he was about to object, but he said nothing.
Bill pushed past him and started on the control panel without another word. The door hissed open. They lumbered into the room one by one, shouting Kryitol's name as they made they're way toward the back. They all stopped dead in their tracks when they finally cam across Kryitol and Douglas' blackened corpses.
Death struck them all down with ease. Locked in the cafeteria, Robert Gellner had already choked to death on his own swollen tongue. Humanity tumbled into the night, forever.
About the writer in his own words:
"I'm 18, I live in Newaygo MI. Ever since I could think straight I wanted more than anything to tell stories. I began writing furiously in 9th grade because I knew that unless I wrote constantly I would never write well. So I am Senior in high school now and I am still writing. Thats all I want to do. But I do not want to add to the piles of meaningless literature that surround us; I want to make people think and... well, I think it's safe to say that I'm rambling. I guess my bio is that I'm 18, I live in Michigan and I don't know, what more can an 18 year old have to say?"
David can be e-mailed at: DAVEVANOS@prodigy.net
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