The Silence A Post Apocalyptic Short Story

First Station of the Cross

The wall of sensors went red with a cacophony of wailing sirens and blinking lights. I should have been afraid. I should have been mortally afraid. But instead I was just tired. The dread that should have been there was more an empty hole in my soul that was just asking for an excuse to make the madness stop. I lean slowly forward and disengage the switch shield, then toggle the master alarm kill switch. The spiraling red lights and sirens cease with a suddenness that is almost worse than the alarms themselves.

The silence is now absolute, which in turn causes an almost vertiginous mind rattling headache instantly. I blink twice and slowly, ever so slowly sit back down on the floor of the pod. My movements are slow. My stress levels thoroughly regulated. I’ve almost annulled my fight or flight response systems completely out of the simple necessity of survival. As I swivel my head I eye the heap of sleeping bag underneath the console. I immediately sense my stress systems slightly amping up and to counter this response I begin thinking about my daughter’s smile. I see it as clear as day… the dimples. The crooked teeth. The wonder of it spins everything back into perspective and my body’s survival systems cycle back down into a more reasonable threshold.

The human body truly is an amazing thing. I know this first hand because I have systematically charted its limits in exhausting detail. I know personally that if the oxygen concentration levels drop below 11% death is not long behind due to anoxia. I have heard that too much oxygen also will kill you by inflaming our lungs over the course of a couple days – but this definitely is not a problem I would mind having. Too much oxygen! Hahah. I chuckle escapes my lips, but I instantly tamp down that response as soon as it overcomes me. My brain yens for that problem.

I also know that anything below 57% of earth’s atmospheric will also kill you if not done correctly. 57% is something similar to an altitude of 4,572 meters. But obviously humans have survived heights above 4,572. The trick is acclimating appropriately. And if done correctly it is capable of handling atmospheric pressures of something close to 8,000 meters for short durations. But at this low of an atmospheric pressure point delirium and eventual death will always come regardless of what you do. I’ve read that deep sea divers have similar, though inverted, limits. Not to mention Hyperoxia will eventually kill you if you are subject to it for too long. Keeping track of each one of these limits and the balancing act of the human body has become my accidental dissertation material.

Then for a moment the balancing act that planet earth had to achieve overwhelms me. Heat levels, O2, barometric pressure, magnetic field, oxygen to nitrogen ratio, carbon dioxide levels, water vapor levels, atmospheric ozone levels, atmospheric pressure, atmospheric transparency, the list goes on and on. So it was only a matter of time before a few of these systems got knocked just a tad bit askew. And here I am in the belly of a pod waiting for the numbers to swing too wildly one way or another.

I scan the board and make a mental note of the key indicators that are the ones I need to concentrate on the most. Fuzziness from a lack of oxygen befuddles my brain for a moment losing valuable time. Grayness blossoms in front of my eyes and for a moment I marvel at the beauty of the lights that flash momentarily there. But when the thought eventually crosses my mind that a nap sounds good right about now I realize the danger we are in right now.

With this sudden burst of clarity I am able to triangulate my approach and finally decide exactly what needs to be done. If it works I could eek out just enough time to give us another option further down the line. I just need to figure out how to keep the tunnel from collapsing right now. That’s all I can do right now, try and buy myself just a bit more time. I look down at my chronometer and then swing my helmet and open visor back around to look once again at the form under the sleeping bag.

So if its my only option, why would I just be standing here confused and baffled? Suddenly I become fascinated by my own reticence to pull the trigger and execute on my plan. “Bullocks”, I whisper under my breath as I shake my head again to clear the fuzziness. I spin around and fumble through the draws in the overhead bins. Luckily we were stranded in the med-bay. Quickly reading and discarding vials one after the other I find the one I’m looking for: Polypropofol.

Dropping to my knees I flip back the covers separating me from the person in the bio-suit underneath. I gaze at her suit readings and do a bit of a mental calculation against that of the alert board that I had just memorized. And then I slowly screw closed her oxygen intake valve. Rosalind’s eyelids flutter momentarily and then settle back into a restful rhythm. Flipping her visor into a closed state is fine until the clasp cracks an extraordinarily loud percussion through the cabin. And with that her eyes are wide awake and locked on mine.

“Shite.” I whisper more to myself than to her. To her credit she doesn’t move. Which spooks me all the more. Pulling the syringe out and opening her port access panel I notice that my hands are shaking even through my gloves. As I slide the syringe home I look up and am startled to find Rosalind eyes hasn’t left mine. They are intent and questioning. But they are also trusting. Which hurts even more. I drive the plunger home and then things begin happening very quickly.

Lindy’s crimson mouth opens in a richter of astonishment and almost euphoria. I note her eyes extreme dilation and check my chronometer one more time and her O2 intake status on her bio-suit’s control panel. There is one last look of questioning and pain that crosses her face before all the lights go out and she takes on a deathly pale and pasty look. I check her bio-status monitors and watch until they all flatline completely.

I beseech the maker one last time on her behalf and then get about the business of slowly decreasing my own O2 availability to a level I have never take it to before. I swivel closed the air intake valves on my suit and close my visor. I then set an alarm on my chronometer to ward against falling asleep accidentally and indefinitely. I have never been a huge fan of tight spaces, and the lack of consumable air makes the suit even worse. I clear my head and slowly walk to the small window overlooking the horizon. The view is startlingly gorgeous as the sun sets on the open plains obstructed only by feral cornfields run amok for so many years. I willingly avoid the piles and mounds of bodies that have turned into land formations all their own in this beautifully backlit carcinogenic wasteland.

Second Station of the Cross

The paddles hummed and spun like possessed jackals restrained and ready to attack. I had already given Rosalind enough methylphenidate to choke a small horse. I’d upped her levels steadily until I became very concerned I would induce a toxic psychosis if she were to ever wake up. And yet there she was, completely and utterly responsive. So I primed the paddles and arc them in a violent barking that confirm they are ready to lay waste to anything they make contact with. I shutter to imagine being on the receiving end of such violence and then apply them to her bared and vulnerable chest. With one last prayer to the gods I applied the metal, turn my face to look out towards the cornfields, and let the dogs of war fly.

The next thing I knew I was laying crumpled at the base of the pod metal wall shaking my head. When I finally circled around, shaking the fog out of my head, there was Rosalind standing there like Hamlet’s father. She was more than a little wide eyed from the exorbitant amount of amphetamine I had given her but otherwise no worse for wear. Then out of her mouth came a fairly startling question, “Face, or gut?”

Without hesitation I responded, “Definitely face. Last time you kicked me directly in the nads. Definitely missed my gut by a mile. Yer’ bloomin’ aim is awful.” I paused a moment and then said, “Really glad to see you again Rosalind. I was more than a little concerned this time.” As I was saying this I was rising to my feet to accept what I had coming. Rosalind in the meantime was struggling a bit to pull something from one of her outer suit pockets. After a moment she was able to wiggle the object free and I noticed it was a fairly enormous looking wedding ring. After wiggling it onto her right ring finger she balled her fist into a clench and then shook her head again to clear the remaining cobwebs. Rosalind then effected a fairly menacing tick in her right upper lip and spun the large diamond resolutely outwards, and then she smiled.

“Plea…” and without warning she right hooked my jaw.

I bit my tongue violently and blood instantly spurted into my mouth. And as Rosalind’s fist raked my face she hooked my upper lip with her ring.

“Oh wow.” Spit. “Good’n. Yup. That’n was good.” Spit. She grabbed a dirty rag from a nearby bucket and handed it to me to wipe up the blood that was now dripping down my face. I could feel my lip instantly bloat and swell and I knew it would quickly begin causing a lisp.

Rosalind wobbled a bit as she wandered past me heading towards the Oxygen level gauges. “So I see you’ve managed to push the O2 concentration level to over 14%. I don’t think we’ve had this much oxygen in over a month.” Then spinning slowly around, “What did you do? My suspension wouldn’t have given you that much, obviously.”

I had wandered over to the bay windows and was distractedly running computations in my head trying to figure out how much rope we had in our noose that was firmly around our necks now. And then she was suddenly there boxing my ear with the flat of her hand. The world exploded in a cacophony of ringing sirens and banshees. “Wot?! Dammit woman. Even if I survive the roaming Pox I won’t survive you and your bloody violence.”

“14%? How.”

I pause… “The reserves.”

“You didn’t.”

“I had nuffing else… It was that or oblivion.”

“There’s always a choice.”

“Not this time.”

She hesitated. I saw her watching the burn rate and knew she was doing her own internal calculations. Then she responded with more than a little acid in her voice, “So, we have what? A couple hours then? Midnight at the latest.” I nodded mostly to myself. “So I know we’ve talked and talked about this… But what options do we have now? Anything? You scrubbed the O2 filters? What about if we use the magnets? Will that extend any?”

“Sure. If we huddle up next to them… the nano-mags will attract the oxygen in the room. But we’d have to stay close and it’d buy us what, 15% more time before we pass out? To what end?”

“Can we clear the vents? Is that our issue?”

“No’idea. Lindy, you know this. The only way to find out is following it down until we validate it all the way back to the forests. The O2 scrubs are clean. The generator is cycling well now that we have that new battery. Its either a block or something worse.”

“Worse?”

I pause for a moment, consider my words, “Well, yeah. What if the forest is gone?”

This definitely illicited the response I expected. Rosalind’s eyes went wide at this. And then something in her demeanor changed. “I’m going to go and follow the vents back… see what I see.”

“You’ll be irradiated. You won’t survive the night.” I say in a completely dismissive tone.

“We won’t last the night either way.”

“Wot, if you want to do something really stupid we should just bloomin’ go outside. All the air you could ever want out there. Just bugger it all and roll the cosmic dice and see if we win the glorious lottery in the sky.”

“And you think a play for the stacks is stupid? Going outside is beyond the pale. You, as you are want to say, are daft.” Rosalind shook her head and then walked over to the lead lined airlock portal that continued on to the stacks below. “I’m going down. Go outside if you want. I’m suiting up, I have no idea what we’ll find down there. It’s been over three years. Maybe…” and she trailed off. And in that moment I realized how attractive she was. Intelligent, strong, and above all hopeful. Her brunette hair was a wreck of curls and chaos. And yet she was still gorgeous standing there, thinking… pointlessly hopeful.

“Alright, we’ll go together.” I said as I hefted my helmet and began buckling up.

Third Station of the Cross

“Nothing still.” Rosalind’s muffled voice was close. I could even hear her slightly labored breathing through the helmet as her suit discharged her CO2.

“Nothing?” I said as I glanced at the gauge of my remaining O2 levels. Thirty minutes plus or minus I calculated. We had mined the pod for every last drop of Oxygen we could syphon and then we headed out into the darkness. “Could it be the Geiger is dead?” I said as I flicked the screen on the gauge. The needle wobbled and then righted itself at .83 Micro Sieverts an hour. “No. All seems good. Its sitting steady, in the low yellows. Not a super clean reading but we aren’t talking Chernobyl, Fukushima or even D.C. But so far we’ll survive the day anyway.” My lip was throbbing in the hot confines of my suit and I kept making it worse by continually biting it as I spoke.

“Well if we lucked out on the radioactivity front, maybe we have a pax seal too? Or am I dreaming again?”

Visions of our original retreat to the pod began bubbling back as we traversed back across our path we retreated along three years earlier. The metal grates, the cement tube enclosure and the overhead exhaust pipes. The descent was steep and the headlamps of our helmets couldn’t penetrate the darkness ahead. “No idea whatevah. ‘ant to open your visor, give it a ten count, and find out?”

“Not really. Kind of you as it is to offer my face up as a test.” She shoved me and I didn’t see it coming. I bounced off the railing and barely caught myself before taking a header down the stairs.

“Sure thing.” And then suddenly shiver ran up my spine. It was as if the darkness of the shaft came alive. I blinked twice to try and clear my head and the feeling. But the feeling of foreboding just got worse, not better. I had never really had a problem with tight places or claustrophobia. But all of a sudden it was as if someone was in my suit with me, and I couldn’t get away. I stood for a moment and chose to take a deep breath of the precious oxygen available to me. Rosalind had continued her way ahead without me and a few moments later the feeling abated. I checked my reserves, made a mental note and continued on to catch up with Lindy.

A few minutes later we made it to the bottom where the stairs met up with the main lab units. There were twelve labs on each level, for a total of thirty six on all three levels. Each lab was basically identical. They were cylindrical shafts bored out of the earth about the size of old school buses in length and height. Each unit was air locked and cordoned off from all the other units. But standing here in the dark we couldn’t see any of the lab doors or the holo-bay command center. Our circle of vision was a tight circle of dusty cement and powered down bio-units.

The air didn’t move at all. Nothing stirred. Caught in the bright blast of my viz-lamps even the dust hung in sort of suspended animation. I stood mesmerized by the picture in my mind of the bays and the massive infrastructure just beyond my visibility. Just over this way was the last lab I had worked in before the sirens began their squealing and the chaos had begun.

“Earth to Silvius. This is mission control, come in Silvius.” I heard crackle over my comm. unit. I spun around and noticed her lights at the doorway of bay27 off in the distance.

“Yeah, I’m here. Just flashing back a bit to zero day.”

“I get it, but all my Oxy-Gauges say pretty clearly that we don’t have any time for that Sly. So could we possibly get a move on? We’ve gotta get to the forests and we still have a haul in front of us.” I heard her struggling with the manual airlock controls of the med bay and I controlled my breathing as began to try and make up for my day dreaming.

As I arrived at Lindy’s side I saw what the trouble was immediately. “Move over there a bit sweets. I’ll pull the lower controls as you push. The override controls have gummed from a wee bit o’ disuse. Can’t imagine why exactly.” I chuckled a bit at my own dark humor. But Rosalind didn’t even acknowledge me. The darkness was getting to her like it had moments ago me obviously. “Alright hit it.” And with that I through my heft against the door controls but it didn’t budge. Slowly though I felt a give. “It’s giving, keep at ‘er.” I said through clenched teeth.

“Stupid Bassstarrrr…” growled Rosalind. And just like that the obstruction gave. The the wheel began spinning so fast I fell forward. It came extremely closely to cracking the glass of my helmet. I sat and stared at the handle in Rosalind’s gloved hand just millimeters from my helmet. I let out a nervous laugh, and then we finished opening the outer airlock door. Once it was done I swept an arm towards the door opening and gave a subtle bow. “Why thank you my Lord.”

The manual controls were only on the outside of the airlock on both sides. So we would have to go one at a time through the lock. Once Rosalind had swept the lock with her headlamp she walked in and directed her lights through the window looking in on the med-bay. “Nah nothing. I can’t see anything. There’s a crystalline coating of some sort covering the glass.” Then spinning around she said, “Go ahead and close it. We gotta keep moving.”

I then began cranking the control wheel back the other direction. When I hit the closed and locked point the door gave out a satisfying Kachunk-hissss. “Ok, cycling the vents and pressurizing.” I began pumping the pneumatic lever until the needle indicated I was green for out lock engagement. “Alright. Pressurized. Opening outer lock doors.” I walked over to the other controls and as I did I heard a very distinct clanging sound come from further down the hall. “Wait one, I heard something.”

I spun about and sprayed my lights across the area, but I could only see 20 to 30 feet into the darkness. “Sly?” And then I heard a muffled, sliding sort of sound. “Sly? Seriously. What is it?”

Then I had a rising panic starting in my tailbone and rushing up through my back to that then made my hair stand out on end. “Nothing. Its nothing. I’m hearing things. Let’s get you in that bay.” And as quickly as I could I began spinning the controls for the inner airlock door. Soon the door signaled green that it was open on the inside. “All good, is it clear?”

“Well sure, why wouldn’t it be?” Lindy said with a chuckle that said, we both know exactly why it wouldn’t be. “Hold one.” I watched as Rosalind walked into the Med-Lab swiveled her lights once and then disappeared completely from view. I watched as her lights dimmed and then went dark. A moment later, though much more quietly, I heard through my comm-link “Go ahead and close it.”

“Alright Lyndy, just a sec and you can start bringing me through.” I walked over to the other side of the door and reopened the manual housing for the controls and began cranking the door back open on the outside. I momentarily gave a thought to figuring out how to turn the electricity back on to the facility. And then I remembered that the fusion plant down in the engineering deck came dangerously close to imploding during the “planned” evacuation. ‘Yeah, I’d have to be daft to go anywhere near that thing. Power’s a bit of a luxury I can’t afford at this point.’ I thought to myself.

As I finished opening the outer doors I was overcome by another strong sense of impending doom and chaos. I just knew there was pock demon lurking just outside of my helmet’s field of vision. I swiveled quickly one way and then another. Which only made the feeling that much worse. The hair on the back of my neck was certain there a thousand pax behind me now. They moved in unison and deftly dodged my helmet lamps. I just knew it. ‘Get a grip Sly. Get a friggin grip… right… now… take a breath. Breathe.’

“Did you say something?” came a very quiet whisper. It sounded like it had come from the deep end of a wishing well.

I clenched the door, and buried my head into it and willed myself to get a grip. Nothing. And then there was another sound that I could have sworn was immediately behind me. And instead of even looking I let go of the door and stumbled, tripped and rolled my way into the airlock.

And in the most forced, loud scream of a whisper I yelled… “Mmm. Hey Lindy? Could you… possibly… CLOSE THE LOCK DOOR NOW? Now Lindy now!”

The door slowly the door began to close. It was too slow for my liking by a long shot. It was moving at a snails pace. It was maddeningly slowly… begin to close. Once the door got to about three quarters “Lindy… its not that heavy. Please hurry. I mean, I’m fine… but hey, you know me. Can’t stand being away from my favorite sweet heart in all the world.” I attempted a humorous laugh belying my overwhelming fear running through every pore of my body.

Nothing.

Then suddenly out of the blue came an even weaker signal “Give me a”…. static… static… “I’ll get the door in”…. static… “I found” … static… “interesting. Need to jimmy a lock” … static …

A shot of fear ran straight up my sternum and glued my tongue to the roof of my mouth. And I forced my mouth to start moving, “Lindy, if you aren’t closing the lock door??” Pause. “Then who is?”

Silence.

 

Fourth Station of the Cross

As I began to slow motion my way to the quickly closing opening a million thoughts ran through my head. Thoughts of pox standing at the door and separating me from Rosalind. As my muscles came to life, and slowly, every so slowly began throwing myself in the direction of the door, I saw boils breaking out on my face and the eventual living death that was coming for me. The airlock seal suctioned closed just as I slammed into it and like a rabid dog I threw myself at the locked door over and over again. “Nooooo! LINDY!?” Eventually I fell to the floor writhing.

I cycled the comm-link and yelled, “Rosalind!” And then I cycled the link again and yelled once more “Rosalind!”

Then surprisingly, the comm-link opened… I could tell because there was a low frequency hum that saturated the line. Nothing. Just the atmospheric buzz. And then in the most frighteningly stuttering whisper imaginable I heard Rosalind say, “They are in here with m-m-m-me. W-w-we are not alon-n-ne.” And, even more quietly, “They are everywhere. What do we do Sly?”

And then silence.

“Lindy.” I say with the lowest whisper I can muster “You have to let me in. They closed me in the airlock.”

More silence. And still more. I stood and looked in the window, trying to see if there is any way at all that I can see through the frost on the glass. There was nothing I could see. Nothing I could do. “Lindy?” Nothing. “Come on Linds, talk to me. Tell me something.” I looked at my oxygen meter and just couldn’t figure out how we could find a way to find more oxygen in the next few minutes. But I would rather suffocate here in this suit than be stricken by this pox that had wiped out the entire planet for all I knew. There was no way I was going to allow that to happen. To suffer this death perpetually? The torment and the pain must be extraordinary.

No, no, no.

And Rosalind? What of her? This unlikeliest of individuals. How exactly did I stumble into her life? And now that we are most likely the second Adam and Eve? What now?

I sit cowering in the darkness of the airlock and just listen, waiting for another contact with Rosalind until finally my Oxygen bleeps red for the final time and then turns off. The only Oxygen left is what is resident in my suit. I turn off my CO2 scrubber in the hopes that it won’t inadvertently expel any O2 as well. I control my breathing into a tantric rhythm which I have honed over the past few years of oxygen drought. Every time my thoughts flitter back to Rosalind and whether she is alright my pulse wobbles and then spikes. I force her out of my mind and my heart rate settles down again.

My vision begins to pulse white in the darkness and I know that the situation is becoming more dire. Sleep begins to seem like more and more of a positive option and I know that my CO2 levels are becoming critical. I cycle on my comm-unit and address no one in particular, “CO2 levels critical.”

I pause and think about another moment much like this one when the station was overrun with pox inside and out. As a medical officer I fought the war against the highly resistant antibiotic strains of disease the world was overrun with. The global population peaked around 10 billion and then came the weaponized diseases which dropped our global population below two billion by most estimates. Our hubris lead us to believe that we could wall ourselves in and protect ourselves from these uncontrollable pathogens we unleashed on our enemies. We reasoned that it was a better alternative than a global thermonuclear war. But I have long wondered if this was the last great lie of our species.

And in response to our failures, our weaponized biological medical research units went underground. It was a last ditch effort to find cures for own weapon offensive terrors that had quite simply hopped over our unbreachable wall. Antibiotics were the perfect training ground for our weapons. And when we finally unleashed our perfect pharmacologic stew there was no coming back from the brink. As the chief medical officer I knew only too well how dire the situation was. Pox had shredded most of the world’s under developed areas and was rapidly advancing on the first world with unprecedented efficiency. The Black Plague was child’s play in comparison.

What was most terrifying was that this new uber-pox was basically external carcinogenic lesions that infected the target and then kept the patient alive carefully in order to spread to as wide of a collateral window as possible. So roaming bands of pox blindly stumbled through the countryside subsisting on other pox dead and on the rare uninfected individuals that they came across. So in effect, the pox had become a roaming band of canabilistic parasites that existed solely to spread the disease. I had inspected numerous specimens of the pox here in our labs with hopes for finding a cure and I understood our own militaristic brilliance only too well.

And then out of a hallucinogen CO2 stooped dream I heard a silent hissing sound that set my teeth on edge. It was the inner door lock that was slowly opening. The dream sirens were calling me though. I had this instinctual feeling that I should be afraid, but the urge to drift off just overpowered every other thought. The last thought to cross my mind before completely passing out was, “Oh, that is the most beautiful pox I’ve ever seen.” And then blackness.

Fifth Station of the Cross

Everything was a jumbled mess in my head. One minute I was riding the turbo-swings as child in my elementary school playground and the next minute I was running from pox on day three. I then settled into a memory of a pox dissection where the organs were continue to live and operate well after the official “time of death” for the subject. That was when the pox, while my hands were still firmly ensconced in its innards, chose to sit up and attack me. The memory caused me to go into a cold sweat as my mind shifted and reeled on to the next memory.

This one was new, and involved an airlock and beautiful pox crawling through the airlock door in her underwear and t-shirt. My brain hunted for a reason she showed no signs of deformity. A new strain of the pox resident internally? But that would be called cancer, and she would be dead, rendered inert by the damage caused by the massive lesions that normally hang about the subjects body like an elephant seals’ noes. This was obviously a new pox permutation I hadn’t studied before… and was I even seeing clearly? Or maybe it was Molly, back from the dead to sing me on to Elycium’s fields? But the darkness of unconsciousness kept pulling me back under for too long for me to sort out the jumble of thoughts that crashed onto my shore like so much flotsam.

“Muffle. MUFFLE. SDFSflksd…”

“Stop it.” I thought to myself as I swatted the annoyance away. It stopped momentarily and then continued again in a harsh whisper.

“Sly. muffle. mufflemuffle muffle muffle now.”

With the clarity of my name spiking through my consciousness I began to understand just how important it was to begin kicking towards the surface.

“Sly – I really need you to come back to me. Breathe. Take a deep breath, quietly.”

I suddenly became aware of a number of crazy realities simultaneously. The first and most obvious one was that Rosalin was here now. The second one was that she wasn’t wearing her bio-suit anymore. I realized this because she had her forehead pressed up against mine. And that was when I realized the third thing – and that was that I wasn’t wearing my suit either. At that moment I began squeezing my nose closed and covering my mouth. I mean, what other options were there? I had been working with the pox weaponized virus for over ten years. Being stricken by it had been my worst nightmare since first encountering it. And here I was without my visor and at the very least a rebreather?

“Sly, calm down. Stop. You are going to get us killed with all this thrashing about.” and then she hissed directly into my ear – “STOP. IT. You were dead. You heart stopped. I’ve been pounding on your chest for the better part of a minute. I figured I would return the favor. You are welcome.”

“But… the air. Bloddy’ell?” I was incredulous. My chest pulsed with pain and my head spun. My brain wasn’t used to an unrestricted oxygen supply.

“No. I was cornered by a blind pox, scary bastard. He was all rooting, snuffing and snorting. It was hellbent on hunting me down. The only place I found to hide was a surgical cabinet. But I couldn’t fit in the suit. So I had to risk it. I was all but out of O2 anyway. So I slithered out and clambered in. I had to wait for him to wander out. But he’s been back in through the broken airlock on the other side more than once.” Then after a pause, I could tell she was listening for something. “Yeah, he’s back. Stay quiet.” she whispered directly into my ear.

“How have we…” I waited for the sound in the Med-Bay to retreat again “not been infected? I don’t understand.”

“I don’t know. Were we immune all along? Maybe it mutated? I have no idea. But right now I suspect that there are more of them. And if we really tip this guy off to our location I’m sure we’ll have plenty of company to worry about.” She paused again to listen and then continued, “And seeing as though we are trapped in this airlock I’m thinking the last thing we need right now is more company.”

There was a crashing somewhere deep inside the med-lab and it was quickly followed by a silence and then a number of howls erupted from all around us. Some were far away, and others were closer in proximity. The echoing cacophony made me shiver with fright as goosebumps exploded up my arms and all the way down to my toes. “We have studied the pox Rosalind. We know what they are capable of. I have been elbow deep in a pox’s entrails when it decided to wake up and attack me. About the only thing going for us at this moment is that we aren’t stuck in our suits perpetually on the verge of passing out.”

Rosalind took a deep breath and then swallowed deeply. “I…”

“No. Don’t say it. Whatever it is you’re about to say… don’t say it. I thought I had lost you a minute ago. Not to mention that I thought I had just wandered off into the the great big divide myself.”

“Shutup. I was just going to say that I was glad you weren’t dead. That you didn’t leave me all alone on this zombie planet.”

“You know they aren’t zombies.”

“You know I just said I’m glad you aren’t dead.”

“Yeah, I was pondering this thing you just sai…” Before I finished the sentence a pox’s arm flew the space in the airlock door where Lindy had shimmied through. The flailing arm was accompanied by a guttural screaming that was just mind ripping in its terror. I jerked my legs back from the opening and leaned away from the door. I was pressed flush against Lindy’s body as we both squished into the corner as tightly as we could.

“They are coming.” Rosalind said in a calm monotone.

“Yeah, I can hear them running in the hallways…”

Sixth Station of the Cross 

Chaos.

The cacophony was deafening. Arms flailed. There was even a growling, screaming face, writhing in through the space. The inner airlock window was shattered and there was a bloody arm reaching down and thrashing inches from my face.

“They’ve got our scent now. They will never give up until we are food on their plate or we’ve turned.”

Rosalind grimaced at this. And then shrieked when the arm in the window retracted and it was replaced by a spitting venomous woman with enormous growths surrounding the entirety of her face. “I can’t take this. I can’t die this way.” screamed Lindy over the clamor. She then buried her face in my chest.

I pulled her head close to my face and wrapped my arms around her to protect her as much as I possibly could. And then at this moment I chose to throw caution to the wind. I mean what was there to lose? But I’d been holding back for years now… even under these circumstances it was hard, saying what I had always thought, what I had always wanted to say.

“I noticed you that very first day.”

“WHAT?!”

“I NOTICED YOU THAT VERY FIRST DAY!!” I screamed. And then it was as if the storm subsided.

Rosalind pulled her head out of my chest and mouthed, ‘What?!’

“You were wearing those enormous horned rim glasses. You had your hair in pigtails. And that high empire waist dress – the medieval one – you know… the yellow floral?” Her eyebrows arched in surprise, but said nothing. “I pulled strings. Cashed in favors. People owed me. That’s how you landed in my lab. But in the end you became a better medical investigator than even me. I was amazed.”

The look of shock took on epic proportions now. Her eyes were enormous. Just full dishes of surprise. More glass and blood alternately crashed down on us as one particular pox had managed to wiggle two of her shoulders into the broken window. I looked around the airlock desperately trying to find anything at all to help. I noticed one of the panels on the wall seemed to be removable. I slid Lindy into the corner and chucked the panel aside in a single motion. And there inside was a crowbar. “Eureka.” I said as I brandished the metal weapon for a second.

I rained blow after blow on the pox’s skull that was now defenselessly stuck in the window. Soon the pox was unconscious and doubling as a fantastic plug keeping others from making an attempt for us. And then I went after the arms and faces relentlessly trying to grasp us through the slight opening in the door. My eyes went red with rage as I decided it was time to exact my revenge for having been holed up in our casketthese past three years, I was done hiding. Yelps of pain and terror were met with each and every blow. The pox were driven but they weren’t complete idiots and so they flinched back away from the madman with the tire-iron raining hell fury on them without relief.

When I turned to face Lindy I knew that I was covered in blood and my face probably had a crazed look to it. But Lindy wasn’t looking at me at all. She was investigating the inner workings of the panel I had just uncovered. And then she spun around with one hand extended and a stupid grin on her face. She grasped the crowbar and spun back around and slid it into the inner workings of some mechanical device she had extended. And when she began to crank I heard the worst screaming yet come from the other side of the door. It was closing and they were not about to let that happen. I joined Rosalind on the crank and pulled with all my might, the two of us and our determination ready to decimate anything in our way. Screaming ensued. Appendages hit the floor. The carnage seemed to be everywhere.

“Can we get the outer lock open from here?” I wondered out loud to myself. The thumping and howling continued but was much more muffled and at a greater remove with the door firmly closed.

“No. I mean, yes… the controls are right here. But no, I want to hear what it was exactly that you were just screaming over the din.”

“That? That was nuffing. No, I don’t know what I was on about there.” I said self consciously.

“Oh no. I’ll just open this door all the way and let that be that. You want to try again?”

She pushed a bit on the crank when I hesitated. “Alright, alright! Enuff! I was just saying that I’ve always been interested in you Rosalind.” I stared at the ceiling a moment. “You were driven. You did more to advance our study of the mutating pox than any other single person. But even more than that, it was love at first sight.”

Rosalind turned around to hide her face for a moment. Her long disheveled hair covered her face… and then she began to talk. “I watched Heideggar get sick. It happened right in front of me. The postules, the growths, it was instantaneous.” She swallowed and stammered something out and then pulled herself together. “I shot him between the eyes. Well, where his eyes were anyway.” And then she quietly cried…

“I had no… I’m really so very sorr…”

“Stop.” She hiccupped. Then wiped her nose on her t-shirt and continued. “We agreed – it was better to die than live as a beast in that carcinogenic shell of a body. And so I did what I promised I would do. Then I knew I had to do something to push back against the tide… I came to work here as an intern. But this whole post, everything, it was too little too late.”

I sighed, and shook my head… “And now we are probably the last of the diaspora. We have to be the last of the remnant that remain. But if you’ll have me, I will protect you until my dying breath.”

“I want to walk amongst the corn fields and feel the dirt on my feet and the sun on my face.” And with that she took my hand in hers and I knew real love for the first time.

——

Genesis 3 – “And The Lord said unto Adam, cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.”

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