Bewildering Stories

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The Recovered Journal of Max Henderson

by Anthony Heffernan

Sunday, November 12th, 2107

God forgive the unholy ink that stains these words upon this page. Captain Manix died this morning, and before his eyes closed to open never more, he requested of me to write this account. He said to lay out the truth, to let the facts guide my quill, so that someone, someday, might learn of what has happened to us, and make sure that it doesn’t to anyone else again.

The ink I use is the Captain’s blood. I’ve pricked his fingers three times already to write what I have. I’d have used my own, but I must conserve every ounce of strength I have, if I wish to survive. I am alone now, the last one left, and nothing less than fearful.

A rock-like object collided, or more appropriately speaking, had attached itself to our transport ship, the Hydra. From this event came a series of others, which eventually lead myself, Captain Manix, Jill Anderson, and Phillip Green, to initiate the self-destruct mechanism and abandon ship. After this we floated towards Mars aboard the cramped life pod, the Alexis, before being caught in the planet’s gravitational pull and sucked down to the surface.

Fifteen days earlier, on our way to the Mars colony of South City, the rock, for the lack of a better description, had on impact, breached the Hydra’s hull, lodging itself deep within her side. The force of the collision knocked us off course, and on to a heading towards Jupiter. It wasn’t until two days had passed that the crew managed to realign our trajectory.

Not long after impact, the communications failed, the navigation system went off line, and a series of other, less critical systems, crashed. Life support and lighting seemed to be the only functions left totally unaffected. However, the loss of these systems, and our hazardous course change, soon became the least of our concerns, as strange things, supernatural things, began to happen.

On the tenth day to pass after impact, thirty-seven of the ship’ s compliment of fifty-two vanished. To where, was not immediately known; and what’s more, they had vanished not from a single point on board, but randomly throughout.

At the time of the incident, I was standing next to a lovely young woman, now deceased, named Jessica Grey, and was witness to her disappearance. Oddly, she and the others materialised in the same instant en masse in the hydroponics bay. As a consequence of this phenomenon they were sealed inside the bay, quarantined under the orders of Captain Manix. They thought this unfair and at first only complained. Although if we knew then of what soon became a horrifying reality, it would have been more merciful for all if they’d been immediately jettisoned into space.

I’m sorry but I’m growing tired now and will write more tomorrow. Hopefully though, someone in South City will have rescued me by then, so I won’t need to mark another word upon these pages.
M. Henderson

Monday, November 13th, 2107

Captain Manix’s blood has congealed, so the words I write are now etched in my own. There’s been no reply to our mayday and I’m beginning to doubt that the emergency radio had been properly repaired.

I will bury the Captain later tonight beside the raised Mars soil that blankets both Jill, and Phillip. If no help comes, and the worst thing happens, I die, then I will go unburied and my tomb will become this pod.

It was discovered that those of us who hadn’t vanished had a two-hour discrepancy between the time on our wrist communicators and the Hydra’s chronological clock. Additionally it seemed strange to find out that those in the bay were the only ones to have been working, at one time or another, on the task to dislodge the rock from the ship. Being a passenger, I had no business in these attempts, and this was equally the case for the other passengers. Only the captain and two of the Hydra’s crew, those being Jill and Phillip, had been spared from the task and thus were not amongst those in the bay.

Then something terrible began to happen. Those inside the bay, without any kind of warning began to self-combust. Except they didn’t burn to a cinder, they just burned and burned and burned, it was gut wrenching. I’d have done almost anything to have walked away from the sight, except their cries for help nagged horribly at my conscience and the conscience of those yet unaffected. But besides watching them burn through the bay’s window, there was little we could do.

They had become these fire people, always burning, always in pain, and always howling out for help. It was a scene worse than anything I have ever conjured up in my darkest nightmares, and unlike those types of dreams, it did not end in the act of being awake.

I’d just stopped writing for a moment to put on my pressure suit to venture outside. I had heard a whining sound, the sound a transport’s engine makes. Though when I gazed up, looking with hope at the Mars sky, expecting with confidence to see that help had finally come, my eyes were instead attacked with the sight of terror. The Hydra is still intact, and worse, she flew over the Alexis pod, undoubtedly sighting her and myself as she passed. She has flown on a little further from my position and has landed behind a rise to the east. It’s only a matter of time now before the monster comes, and after it makes me a part of it, it will undoubtedly proceed towards South City.
M. Henderson

Tuesday, November 14th, 2107

The oxygen tank is so low. Perhaps I’ll be killed by something a little more benevolent after all. But if I could get to the Hydra undetected, I could acquire another tank and maybe even a rover. Yes, a rover would do just fine. Then I could drive to the South City and raise the alarm. But if I’m caught, I’ll become a part of the beast forever, and that is something I would rather not risk. I’d prefer die here, away from that which now scares me most.

On board the Hydra, matters soon became much worse. The suffering seemed, for no apparent reason, to intensify. The fire-coated victims, still singing out with screams of mercy, added bargaining screams. Like, “God, I’ll do anything, just stop the pain!” were some. And pleas like, “kill me, kill me, please!” were others.

The captain, being a smart man, made the decision to open the sprinkler system valves, a reasonable idea. The spouts activated and water jetted out from the lengths of pipes above the bay and raining down in torrents upon those on fire. The drops of mercy hit their flaming skin and instead of soothing them, it only drove them wilder with the pain. They then began to amass together, becoming a single human mass and still screaming. Except now the screaming was amplified by the mass, and was so loud in fact, and so shrill, that the bay’s windows shattered and fell away.

Under the command of the captain, we retreated into the corridor and locked the bay’s airtight door. Behind it, the beast moved towards it and rammed at it with all its fury, trying with its might to break free from its prison and pursue its jailers.

I’ve just transmitted another SOS over the radio. I was hoping this time, as I had hoped at the time Captain Manix had sent the first signal, to hear an instant response, confirming that it had been successfully received and that salvation was close at hand. But as yet my attempt has reaped no better result than the captain’s. Nothing seems to work on board this damn pod, and, not unlike the Hydra, its life support and lighting seem to be the only systems functioning without fault.
M. Henderson

Wednesday, November 15th, 2107

My fingers are swollen and numb. Although this journal is keeping me sane, like I have someone to converse with, I am finding it hard to keep pricking my fingers. The oxygen has fallen below its critical line and a warning keeps sounding, telling me to open another tank. There isn’t one though, not here, but there is on board the Hydra. Maybe I should fill the pressure suit with what’s left of the air and be daring. I’ll consider it later. That’s what I’ll do, wait for the oxygen to fall to a level only just sufficient for me to make it to the Hydra. This event will surely force my hand and that’s when I’ll consider it further.

It wasn’t long until the beast realised that it could push itself hard against the sealed door and apply its heat to melt it. The door on our side glowed red, hissed and buckled. The metal ran down in thin red rivers, gathering in pools on the corridor’s floor and warping it into valleys. The door began to give way, and the corridor’s confines filled with a dark vapour, which only those who were to be amongst the final four managed not to inhale. So once more we retreated, this time to the safety of the Hydra’s bridge.

Since impact, the crew had managed to correct our course, but had not been successful in repairing the communications. How I wished for a call to be sent out, to render some assistance, so that men and women, braver than I, could face off with the terrible entity. With their arrival I could be speeded away to anywhere else and saved. I think it’s the memory of the screams that now scares me most. Like the screams of Jessica, who, and I’m ashamed to write it let alone think it, I am glad was taken instead of me. I know I don’t deserve to be saved; the galaxy could do with one less coward. I think it’s my isolation and the fear of suffocating that is playing havoc with my mind. I’m sure I’m not as cowardly as my brain, in its present state, would have me think.

On the bridge, with the beast moving ever closer, eleven of us remaining fifteen, the ones who inhaled the monster’s dark vapours, vanished. Again, after the event, our wrist communicators were two hours out of sync with the Hydra’s clock. This time however, the ship’s recorder had functioned and on viewing its footage, we surmised what must have happened also, the time before.

The record flickered out from the bridge’s holographic projector and onto a containment screen. On the recording, Captain Manix, Jill, Phillip and I, appeared to have been frozen, as the others, zombie-like, made their way from the bridge to the rock wedged in the ship’s side. There, they entered the rock and then some time later, they fell from it, their skin covered in a crusty, bright red substance, not unlike the rock’s exterior.

Soon their red covering faded, or more accurately, appeared to be absorbed into the poor souls. From this, the infected made their way to the amassed others and became one with its horrible form, and one with its screams, which became louder with the pain of the additions.

The computer on board the Alexis has just calculated that my oxygen will run out some time, Friday afternoon, which is longer than I had thought it would last. By then though, I will need to pluck up the courage to face my fears, or die alone lying in the belly of this here pod.
M. Henderson

Thursday, November 16th, 2107

We shut off the projector and decided to abandon ship, but not before setting it to self-destruct. Both Phillip, and Jill were part of the crew and went with the Captain to authorise the ignition of the mechanism. I was instructed on how to prime the life pod, the Alexis. So as they made their way to the ship’s core, I made mine to the pod.

On arrival, I had, as instructed, initiated the pod’s systems, which at that time were operational. While at the far end of the Hydra, the self-destruct was set, readying its core to reach critical mass in one hour.

Soon after completing their task, the Captain, Jill, and Phillip joined me in the small confines of the primed escape pod. With ourselves strapped in, the captain pumped the manual release and disengaged the clamps. The thrusters fired and we moved free from the Hydra, away from our comrades, and that which had taken them.

As we powered passed the point of the impact, we could see that the impacted rock had stretched out from the gash with lava like roots and had almost encased the entire ship with them. It was then that we considered the real possibility that we had not been struck by a rock after all, but in fact some sort of seed.

After a time, and approaching the upper atmosphere of Mars, the Alexis lost thruster power, making a continued course for the South City, impossible to maintain. Caught within the planet’s gravitational pull we quickly lost altitude, crashing down to the surface somewhere in the northern hemisphere.

Jill Anderson and Phillip Green did not survive the landing and were buried by myself soon after, not far from the Alexis. The captain was badly injured and had used his last remnants of strength to reassemble the pod’s radio. He then sent out a distress call, but for him the call for help was made in vain, as in the morning he was dead. However, I now believe and despair that no distress call has ever touched another human’s ear, as I don’t believe the radio to be, or to have been operational.

Tomorrow is D-day and I wonder if I’ll have mustered the needed bravado by then to save my self.

Friday, November 17th, 2107

I’ve filled the pressure suit with the last of the oxygen. I am going to the Hydra to acquire more and, hopefully, a rover. I will leave this journal here where it will be safe and can be found. If I’m successful in my quest, I will return for it and will add to it on my long journey to South City. However, if there are no further entries, don’t bother exhuming my departed companions; there are no bodies beneath the raised Mars soil. It’s a hoax, a lie, my lie, and every word I’ve written is beared in but my blood. I’m sure though, if I’m triumphant and make it to South City, that I will amend this portion and omit the truth.

I write this final confession only to recall the details of my lie. And furthermore if I make it, to remember, should the authorities visit this site and question my facts, to state to them that the empty graves must be a result of the beast having come to the Alexis. And that due to its appetite, it must have pulled my comrades from their rest to consume.

The truth is I had jettisoned from the Hydra, alone. But as I did, I had the sight of those who I said were buried, running from the fiery creature towards the closing hatch of the life pod. I had hit the button for the hatch to close before they’d made it down the corridor. I know that when I did this I had cut off their only avenue of escape, leaving them standing helpless at a dead end. I was scared they wouldn’t make it into the pod in time without bringing the beast along with them. Now I have to face the creature anyway and, worse, alone. It’s a showdown I’d rather avoid, but no longer can. I wish that I hadn’t been so readily ruled by fear, and had faced the beast with my companions before jettisoning from the Hydra. Perhaps if I had they’d still be here with me now and could aid me in the success of my mission.

I hope these are not the last words I’ll write, but if they should be, don’t think of me a coward, as eventually I will have faced my demons. But above all, I am truly sorry for those my fear betrayed.
M. Henderson

Copyright © 2004 by Anthony Heffernan

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