Bewildering Stories

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The Price of Arrogance

by Eric S. Brown

Red emergency lights flickered throughout the station’s corridors as Aleks ran for the bridge. His breath came in ragged gasps inside his bio-suit, fogging up his face plate. The unthinkable had happened and there was little hope of his survival beyond the next few hours.

The ZX virus had gotten loose. He didn’t know how and could only pray he’d donned his bio-suit in time to escape infection. At that exact moment, he knew an Alliance war cruiser was being dispatched to eradicate the station and all its inhabitants to prevent the possible spreading of the ZX virus into Alliance space. However, the warship was the least of his worries. He had much more immediate concerns to deal with.

The ZX virus was the ultimate achievement in bio-warfare. It was an airborne virus which not only spread like wildfire but was both fatal in the long term and caused those infected to become stricken with acute homicidal rage against all those around them until the virus eventually burned out the host’s body. The virus directly attached itself to a host’s neural system, causing an intense state of pain and madness; and now he was perhaps the only living soul on the station not to have already contracted it.

Aleks reached the entrance to the station’s bridge frantically typing his access codes into the locking panel on the door. He failed twice before he was able to force his trembling hands to stay steady enough to enter the codes. The huge, blast doors of the bridge finally dilated open before him, but he found the bridge empty of other survivors. However, it was obvious that someone had been here. The bridge looked like a war zone. Several small electrical fires raged amid the broken consoles and there were blood stains all over the walls and floor. Aleks rushed onto the bridge and locked the blast doors behind him.

He headed straight for the communications terminal. He realized at once it was destroyed beyond his ability to repair it. He was a doctor, not an engineer. He checked the station’s power core readings from another terminal that was still somewhat functional. It appeared the station’s fail-safe self-destruct mechanism hadn’t been activated. He quickly accessed its system and typed in the proper codes to prevent it from activating itself and sat down in the command chair. Tears ran down his already sweat-drenched cheeks as he wondered what in the hell he was going to do now. He thought of the escape pods but instantly discarded that idea. He didn’t want to gamble encountering infected members of the crew in their current state. Besides there were no habitable planets the pods could reach before their life support systems expired.

Aleks jumped as something or someone slammed against the outer side of the bridge’s blast doors. He rushed over to the security console as whatever it was struck the doors a second time sending a loud boom reverberating throughout the bridge. On the console’s monitor he saw Lieutenant Burke standing outside the doors to the bridge staring up at the security camera. The man was smiling though his left arm dangled limply at his side, obviously dislocated and fractured from his assault on the blast doors. Then, for no apparent reason, Burke threw his head back and screamed at the top of his lungs and hurled himself at the doors once more. Aleks could hear the crunching sound of bone smashing against metal.

Aleks flipped off the monitor. He couldn’t take looking at Burke anymore. He sank back into the command chair and knew what had to be done. There wasn’t going to be any escape for him. He had sealed his fate when he had signed on to be a part of the research team here developing the virus. He flipped open the access to the self-destruct device again and withdrew the codes he had entered. He watched as the device came to life and its timer began to tick down from thirty seconds he’d set it at. Aleks closed his eyes and waited.

The research station lit up the stars as its power core overloaded and it sparkled in the void like a fireworks display as explosions ripped through every inch of its mass.

Copyright © 2004 by Eric S. Brown

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