Captain Arnold was in a tight spot. An infection was spreading like fire aboard the Copernicus—his ship. Crazed passengers brutally attacked others, spreading the mysterious infection almost instantly. Taking charge of the situation, he gathered all the uninfected passengers he could find in hopes of arriving at a solution.
Turning to his crewman who had a weapon, Captain Arnold barked out an order, “Sergeant Miller! Shoot anything that comes down that hall.”
The sergeant nodded and positioned himself in the hallway. Much too quickly he faced his first test. Running wildly down the hall toward the sergeant was his buddy. Just an hour ago the two had been eating a meal together and swapping funny stories.
The captain watched the sergeant’s trigger-finger; it wasn’t moving—the sergeant couldn’t do it. “Fire, Sergeant! Fire!”
Reluctantly the trigger was pulled and flames leapt out of the sergeant’s weapon. An inhuman yell filled the hallway as fire engulfed the crazed crewman who fell lifelessly at the sergeant’s feet.
Everyone was silent as Sergeant Miller looked down at his friend. A loud—but strangely calm—computer voice continually repeated the words, “Abandon Ship.”
Captain Arnold came over and inspected the charred body. “Make sure it’s burned good, Sergeant! I don’t want that thing getting up again.”
With a shaky voice, Sergeant Miller answered, “Yes, sir,” his eyes still glued on his fallen comrade.
“Next time, Sergeant,” the captain pointed a finger in the sergeant’s face, “don’t wait to find out if you know the person. Flame them the instant you see em’. You know what would happen if one of those things attacked us.”
The captain returned his focus to the group, weighing his options—none were good.
“We need a way out of here, people,” the captain bellowed to those around him. “I’m open to suggestions.”
Corporal Jackson, the one remaining assistant engineer, said, “Make it to the launch bay, put on environmental suits, then vent the whole ship.”
The ship’s doctor took a more pessimistic view. “That’s not enough Jackson! We need to detonate now! This is too dangerous. We need to blow all our nukes and vaporize everything—even us. We’re all most likely contaminated already … We just don’t know it yet.”
The captain didn’t like these options either; he needed something better. Just then, a shot rang out, interrupting his thoughts. It was an odd sound in this day and age, but one the captain knew well. The sound of a 20th century pistol firing.
The captain swung around to see Sergeant Miller’s stunned face as the sergeant lifted his hand to feel the entry wound from a bullet. The sergeant wobbled, then he and the flamer he was holding fell to the ground.
At the end of the hall was the man holding an antique pistol—a man the captain recognized: Joseph Malone, his friend of 30 years. Time seemed to slow down in the captain’s mind as the two locked eyes.
Captain Arnold knew what he must do.
Captain Arnold rushed toward the flamethrower that Sergeant Miller had dropped. With one hand, the captain reached down, snagged the weapon, and ran past the fallen sergeant as he hurried to face the new threat coming down the hallway—Joseph Malone.
Joseph though, dropped his pistol, raised his hands into the air and pleaded, “Wait, Captain! Sergeant Miller was infected! That’s why I shot—” but Joseph didn’t finish his explanation. The captain had already pulled the trigger and flames shot out toward Joseph.
Joseph tried to dive through an open door in the hallway to avoid the incoming flames, but not all of him was concealed as the flames roared down the hallway. Joseph yelled in pain as flames engulfed his legs.
As the captain watched his old friend writhe in pain, he numbly realized Joseph had spoken in clear English. All the other infected were blabbering maniacs. With regret, the Captain understood now that Joseph wasn’t infected.
He ran toward his friend. “Joseph! Joseph! I’m sorry.”
“Captain,” Joseph said in a weak voice. “I found out … how to tell … who’s infected.”
The doctor joined the captain at Joseph’s side and the captain looked up at the Doctor. “Doc, what can we do for Joseph?”
The ship’s doctor just shook his head. “He doesn’t have much time, he’s going into shock, but I can’t treat him here.”
Joseph spoke again, “Captain, … the infected all have hot infrared signatures … use the assisted vision.” Joseph pulled off the goggles he was wearing and handed them to the Captain.
The captain put on the goggles. Readouts immediately filled his vision, a red pulsating light hovered over the body of the sergeant who lay motionless on the floor. The infection was at work in the fallen sergeant; soon the sergeant would be a threat.
“Let’s move out! Doc and Cor … where is … Corporal, GET OVER HERE!” The captain angrily shouted at Corporal Jackson. The corporal was still huddled in the corner trying to get as far away from the mayhem as possible. “The two of you, help prop Joseph up. I’ll cover us with the flamer.”
Corporal Jackson protested. “Captain, if we take Joseph, we’ll never make it to the launch bay, he’ll just slow us down.”
The doctor added, “Captain, we have to make it to the nukes. We can’t let this infectious scourge escape the ship. Think of the rest of humanity!”
But the final decision was the captain’s. Over three hundred crew were already dead, infected or unaccounted for. The captain wondered how many of the last few remaining crew members could be saved. He also wondered if he had a chance to even save himself.
“Captain, the longer we stand here the … Wait! I hear more infected coming down the hall! And look …” The corporal pointed at Sergeant Miller’s once lifeless body. “The Sergeant is starting to twitch!”
“Shhh … Don’t make any more noise. Keep quiet and follow me,” the Captain whispered as he made his decision on where to go next.
Captain Arnold could hear the clamor of more infected approaching. They were within ear shot now but were still hidden around the corner of the hallway.
“Shhh … Don’t make any more noise. Keep quiet and follow me. Doc and Jackson, I need you to pick up Joseph—we’re taking him with us to the launch bay.”
The two crewmen came in line with the captain’s order. They propped up Joseph and started leading him down the hallway.
The captain picked up the pistol Joseph had dropped, then the captain passed over the corporal and instead handed the pistol to the ship’s Doctor. The captain kept his own flame thrower at the ready as they quickly made their way down the hallway.
When they reached the end of the hallway, the captain said in a hushed tone, “All right men, we have to go double time and cut through the heart of the ship to get to the launch bay.”
The corporal interjected, “We can’t go fast, Captain, not with this dead weight.” The corporal glanced at Joseph who was now fading in and out of consciousness.
The captain sternly replied, “Every single one of us who’s still breathing and isn’t infected is getting on that escape pod. Is that understood, Corporal?”
The corporal nodded dejectedly.
The captain then informed them of his plan. “I’m going to turn off all the ship’s lights before we enter the central atrium. Once we go dark, nobody—the infected nor you—will be able to see. But I will.” The captain pointed to the goggles Joseph had given him. “These show me every heat signature in the room.”
“But how will we see you, Captain?” The doctor asked.
“Focus on the tiny flame at the tip of the flame thrower. Wherever it goes, follow.”
The crewmen nodded, and they all headed toward the central atrium door. At the door, the captain typed in codes on the computer panel until a computer voiced loudly directed, “Please enter voice confirmation.”
“Captain Arnold, code 45256.”
“Request approved. Lights deactivated.” The ship’s lights blinked off, and the four men found themselves in complete darkness.
The captain waited while their eyes adjusted to the darkness, then he opened the door to the atrium and lead his men into it. It was as the captain feared. The atrium was crawling with infected. All the ship’s hallways converged into the wide open central room. To get to the launch bay the captain had to make it to the other side of the room.
Seeing an opening, the captain moved the group forward. They made it all the way to the middle until the captain abruptly stopped as a crazed infected ran across his path, narrowly missing them. The infected initially seemed confused when the captain turned off the lights, but they were running around now, wildly bumping into each other.
The captain had to hurry. Seeing the door to the launch bay hallway, he ran ahead. The captain got to the door, punched in the codes to open it, then turned around to cover his panting crewmen who were trailing him. The corporal and doctor hauled Joseph almost to the door when they were blindsided by an infected. The corporal let out a loud shriek as the infected toppled on top of him.
Through his goggles the captain saw the whole event play out. But the others didn’t know what was going on, sightless in the complete darkness. The captain reached out and grabbed the doctor, who still had a hold of Joseph and yanked them both through the door. Then he turned his attention to the corporal who was trapped underneath the infected. But now a whole group of infected were running toward them, drawn by the noise.
The captain couldn’t tell if the corporal was already infected or not; if the captain didn’t act he would be. But, if the captain gave away their position he would be swarmed by the infected.
Captain Arnold had to act now. Flamethrower in hand, he burst into the atrium. Complete darkness still surrounded everyone since the lights went out, but through his infrared goggles the captain saw the corporal entangled with an infected on the ground. The only chance the corporal had left was a painful one.
The captain ran up to the wrestling group, aiming his weapon so that the infected took the brunt of the damage, and fired. Flames engulfed the infected as it reeled back with a blood-curdling yell. Pinned no longer, the corporal was freed from his attacker. But the corporal had paid a price, and was severely burned on one side.
The atrium was no longer dark, illuminated by the burning flame’s light. The roving swarm of infected that had been wildly running around in the dark could now clearly see their target and they rushed hard at the captain.
“Captain, run!” The doctor shouted from inside the hallway.
But the corporal had rolled the wrong way as he tried to douse the flames on his body. The captain ran forward, then reached down and dragged the smoldering corporal by his shirt collar, hauling him toward the door.
“Hurry, Captain, you’re not gonna make it!” The doctor’s panicked words echoed the thoughts in the captain’s head.
The captain temporarily let go of the corporal, and cranked the flamethrower up to its fully open setting. Then he aimed the flamer and swept over the room in a quick motion. The flamethrower expelled all its remaining fuel in a stream of molten fire, creating a burning wall of flame that shot up from the ground between the captain and the incoming infected, buying the captain a few more precious seconds.
Dropping the now empty flamethrower, the captain reached down with both hands, hoisted the corporal and ran for the door. Some infected pushed through the wall of flame, ignoring the torture as they ignited and rushed toward the captain. The captain ran with all his strength toward the open door.
“Close the door, Doc! Close the door!” The captain yelled as he dove through the opening. The captain barely cleared the threshold with the corporal when the doctor pushed the close button. The door slammed shut just as the burning infected rammed into it.
“Lock the door,” the captain shouted. Then he immediately flipped the corporal off his shoulders, set him against the wall, and stared him down with the infrared goggles, looking for signs of infection.
“Give me the pistol, Doc,” the captain ordered, and the doctor complied.
The captain pointed the weapon at the injured and burned corporal while he scanned him for the infection.
It was a tense moment for all, until finally the captain breathed a sigh of relief and sheathed the pistol. “Corporal, Doc is gonna fix you and Joseph up once we get to the launch bay. The flames must have burned off the infection before it worked its way under your skin and into your blood.” Then he reached down and picked up the corporal.
The corporal acknowledged the words and weakly spoke, “Thanks, Captain … for hauling around my dead weight.”
The captain nodded. He helped the corporal down the hallway, while the hoard of infected continued wildly banging against the sealed hallway door, trying to pry it open.
“Doc, you drag Joseph. Let’s go.”
“Will the door hold, Captain?” the doctor asked.
“It should. Let’s move.”
The two men moved their two injured comrades down the hall to the launch bay. The further they got from the flames burning in the atrium, the dimmer the light was.
“Follow my voice, Doc. I’ll whisper if I see any infected through my goggles.”
As the group approached the launch bay, the captain said in a hushed tone, “Hold up. I’m picking up a heat signature.”
The captain saw something in the far corner. Was it human? Or infected? It was too far away for the captain to tell. But whatever it was, they were lucky because it was alone. The captain needed to get to the opposite side of the launch bay to pick up the environmental suits and slip them on, before he triggered the code to vent the whole ship of oxygen.
Only one thing kept them from getting to their goal.
“I’m picking up a heat signature,” Captain Arnold whispered to his three crewmen as they kept hidden, concealed in the darkness. “It’s in the corner of the room.”
“Is it an infected?” the doctor voiced his concern as the four were almost completely defenseless. “We can’t risk an encounter.”
The captain pulled out his weapon. Having depleted all the fuel in the flamethrower, all he had left was an ancient Colt .45 pistol, swiped by Joseph from the captain’s personal museum.
“Doc, I need you to wait here. I have to move in closer to see what that thing is. The readout in my goggles is confusing. I can’t tell if it’s human or infected.”
“Human? Could it really be?”
“I have to find out. If it attacks, use the commotion as a diversion and get through. Don’t try to save me, it’ll be too late.”
Captain Arnold held his pistol at the ready and advanced. Through his goggles he saw the path he needed to travel and moved in closer, quietly dodging the crates stacked in the launch bay. His assisted vision gave him the advantage against his target that remained enveloped in darkness.
As the captain drew close, the cause of his visual confusion became evident. The launch bay floor was littered with infected bodies. They appeared to have been shot with a high-powered explosive pulse rifle. Hidden behind the mess, he clearly saw a living, breathing, non-infected human—another person had miraculously escaped the calamity.
Seeing the pulse rifle, the captain determined it had to be one of the soldiers stationed aboard the ship, so he spoke up. “Soldier, this is your Capt—“
Startled at the sudden sound, the soldier in the corner raised a weapon and directed it towards the voice. The captain’s quick reflexes shot into gear, and he hit the deck just as a pulse round came ripping over his head, obliterating the crate he was next to.
“Stand down, Soldier!” The captain yelled, and then barely rolled out of harm’s way as he felt the rush of air when another pulse whirred by his head.
He wasn’t sure he could evade another round; he hoped the next words out of his mouth weren’t his last. “Hold your fire!”
The soldier’s shaky hand aimed the pulse rifle right at him.
He pleaded with the shell-shocked crew member, “Please, Soldier, it’s me, your captain.”
“I-is t-that really you?” A female voice responded.
He breathed a sigh of relief. “Yes. It’s me, Soldier. I’m not infected, and I’ve got three other good crewmen with me. Lower your weapon.”
The soldier complied. “You don’t know how good it is to hear your voice, Captain. It’s been horrible!”
“What’s your name, Soldier?”
“We’re all gonna make it out of here, Velasquez. Just stay calm and follow my lead.”
The captain guided the soldier, and they regrouped with the doctor, Joseph and Corporal Jackson. Assisting the injured, they made their way over to the launch bay control room and started putting on the environmental suits.
The captain now had access to the controls he needed. “Once we’re zipped up, I’m gonna vent the oxygen from this ship and finally kill these things!” He moved near the control panel ready to give the command to the computer.
Velasquez seemed surprised to hear the plan. “But, Sir, some of my squad mates are out there.”
The captain hadn’t planned for this bit of news.
The soldier continued, “I was separated from my squad when the lights suddenly went out. We were attacked, and I ran. I kept running until I reached the launch bay. But they could still be alive—we can’t vent the ship until we know what happened to them.”
Captain Arnold knew he couldn’t chance leaving the launch bay to search for survivors. He could only risk waiting for a minute. “I’m going to send out a ship-wide call, Velasquez. If any of your squad mates are still alive out there, this’ll give them a chance.”
The soldier nodded.
Then the captain pushed a button on the control panel. “This is Captain Arnold. I’m in the launch bay, if anybody is out there, you have one minute to respond.”
The captain anxiously waited while a minute slowly ticked away. Just before the time was up, a crackly voice broke the silence, “Captain? It’s Lieutenant Nelson. Thank God you’re alive, Sir.”
A smile filled the captain’s face, and Velasquez let out a sigh of relief. “Lieutenant. It’s good to hear your voice! How many are with you?”
“Just me and Private Donnelly.”
“Lieutenant, can you make it to the launch bay?”
“Negative, Sir. We’re in the dark here.”
The captain thought for a second, and then responded, “I’ll turn the ship’s lights back on, we’ll all be at risk then. You need to run for the launch bay as fast as you can, we’ll be guarding the door.”
Pressing buttons on the ship’s computer, the captain powered on the lights.
The captain turned to the doctor and handed him the pistol. “Stay here, Doc, and take this. You might need it. If we get swarmed after opening the door, it’s up to you to vent the ship.”
Then he looked at Velasquez. “Take your pulse rifle, Soldier, and follow me.”
At the door, Velasquez raised her rifle and covered the entrance. The captain, seeing her in place, prepared for an onslaught. He breathed in deeply then pressed the button. The door slid open. Velasquez was ready, she swept the hall scanning for enemy targets—but the hall was empty.
The captain let out an exhale, then whispered to himself, “Here’s your chance, Nelson. Hurry!”
The captain stared down the hallway, waiting. Far in the distance he could hear the pounding of feet, as it grew louder, he knew they were drawing close.
“Get ready, Velasquez.”
Rounding the corner were the two people the captain hoped to see—Lieutenant Nelson and Private Donnelly. But soon the unwelcome sound of screaming followed. The infected were running after them.
The two crewmen only made it halfway down the hallway before the pursuing pack of rabid infected roared into the hallway.
Velasquez took aim, but her shot line was blocked by the Lieutenant who was running down the middle of the hallway. “Move!” she shouted. “You’re in my shot!”
The lieutenant looked behind him to see the pack gaining on him, then he darted to the edge of the hallway while he kept running. Velasquez fired, and a pulse blast ripped through the air.
The two crewmen were running as fast as they could, legs churning, lungs gasping for breath. The captain could see Donnelly starting to sag. His body was doing everything it could to keep up, but the infected were closing rapidly.
Velasquez aimed her rifle, but Donnelly was in the way. “I can’t get a good shot!”
The captain bellowed urgently, “Take it! You have to take the shot!”
“DUCK!” Velasquez yelled, then she pulled the trigger.
The private ducked just in time, as one of the infected dove for him. The shot from Velasquez’s pulse rifle hit the infected squarely in mid-air, obliterating it.
But the rest of the pack pursuing him was unfazed. She knew the private was done for, unless she acted now. Releasing the safety controls on the pulse rifle, she fired one round after another down the hallway at a pace faster than the rifle normally allowed, until finally the weapon overheated and burnt out.
Most of the shots hit their mark. Fallen infected filled the hallway, but not all of them were put down. Many had received glancing blows, or were just disoriented in the barrage. But their focus soon returned, and they rushed their prey with renewed vigor.
“Run, Donnelly, Run!” the captain shouted.
Lieutenant Nelson was way ahead of Donnelly, and he had already reached the door. Donnelly ran with all his strength toward the door, but the pack of infected closed with inhuman speed.
The captain kept his finger on the door button. He was going to push it as soon as Donnelly was in. But just as Donnelly reached the threshold, an infected grabbed him.
The captain couldn’t wait any longer, the whole pack of trailing infected were nearly upon them. He pressed the button, the door slid closed, but it didn’t close fully because an infected was in the way, jamming it. Although pinned in the door, the infected wasn’t dead, it was just trapped and very much alive, its hands grasping onto Donnelly’s waist. Then the rest of the pursuing pack of infected slammed hard against the door, and started reaching their hands through the narrow opening, feeling for some prey to sink their claws into. It looked like the infected were trying to pry the door open.
Lieutenant Nelson rushed toward Donnelly to help him.
The captain yelled out …
Captain Arnold saw the lieutenant rushing toward the door to help free Donnelly. The infected had a firm grasp on Donnelly, keeping him from escaping. But the infected itself was trapped, pinned in the door; all it could do was cling onto the trapped soldier.
“Wait!” the captain yelled. “Get a rope to pull him out. Don’t touch Donnelly. He’s probably infected.”
Donnelly roared in protest, “I’m not infected! I’m not!”
The captain didn’t want to lose another of his crew. But the chances for Donnelly looked grim.
Lieutenant Nelson grabbed a tie down rope from the launch bay floor and threw one end to Donnelly. The captain joined the lieutenant and yanked on the rope. With a heave, they pulled Donnelly free from the hands of the infected. Then the captain saw what he was afraid of—the infected had dug its fingernails deep into Donnelly’s skin, drawing blood.
Through his infrared goggles the captain could see the telltale signs of the heat signature of the infection spreading rapidly on Donnelly’s skin.
With no weapon at his disposal, the captain knew they were in trouble, so he tried to buy some time. “Donnelly, stay here! Don’t follow us.”
“But I’m … I’m … I…,” Donnelly’s voice trailed off as his mind began to go.
“Stay here, Soldier. That’s an order!”
Donnelly didn’t respond, and his body started to shake.
Urgency filled the captain’s voice, and he turned to the others. “Quick, Lieutenant, lead the others to the escape pod. I have to go to the control room to vent the ship.” The captain split from the others and raced to the computer.
The captain had to hurry. Donnelly would soon turn into a threat that would jeopardize their whole plan.
Rushing into the control room, the captain immediately started entering commands on the computer. But as he was about to enter the final approval, he heard a loud crash as a body came flying through the window. It was Donnelly, who was now completely infected.
The captain frantically entered the final commands into the computer. The computer’s electronic voice responded, “Override accepted. Venting of air commencing. Estimated time to completion—90 seconds.”
The infected Donnelly rushed at the captain, but the captain rolled out of the way and out the control room door. Then he got to his feet, and started to run. Behind him, he heard loud footsteps closing in. If he could only clear the corner around the coolant tank, then he would have a straight shot to the escape pod.
But the infected Donnelly caught up, and it hurled itself at the captain, knocking him to the floor. The captain picked up the only thing he saw to defend himself, a wrench lying on the ground next to the coolant tank. He swung at the infected Donnelly, hitting him squarely in the chest, doing little damage. The infected Donnelly punched back. The wrench flew out of the captain’s hands and smacked into a hose on the coolant tank, causing the hose to rupture and tear off the tank. The hose wildly sprayed sub-zero liquid nitrogen from the coolant tank as it squirmed through the air.
The captain pushed his hand against the infected’s chest, trying to keep him away. But the infected grabbed the captain’s hand and bent it backwards. Then it sunk its fingernail deep into the captain’s hand, piercing through his environmental suit. The captain stared into the eyes of the infected. Gone were the soft, blue, pleading eyes of Donnelly he knew. Instead, he saw red blood-shot eyes filled with malice and anger. In just one minute, the infection changed the crewman from an ally to an enemy.
The captain feared that soon he would be joining Donnelly as one of the infected. But just then the writhing coolant hose swung down and hit the infected in the face, spewing its insanely cold contents. The infected reeled back, blinded by the sudden jolt. The captain seized the opportunity. With his good hand, he clasped onto the twisting hose. Wrangling it in, he aimed it at the infected and liquid nitrogen sprayed out of the hose and onto the infected. The infected reacted; it raged and lunged toward the cause of its pain, but as it flailed its movements began to slow and slow until finally it stopped in mid-attack.
The captain exhaled as he saw his attacker had been neutralized, frozen solid into a statue.
“60 seconds until venting complete,” a computer voice calmly announced.
The captain looked down at his injured hand, and horror filled him. Through his goggles, he saw the signs that something was wrong. During his scuffle with the infected, his hand was grabbed and his suit was pierced. There was no denying it. The captain clearly saw the infection had transferred to his hand and soon he knew the infection would also take the rest of him. His only hope was to stop the infection before it found its way into his bloodstream.
The air was getting thinner and harder for the captain to breathe.
A calm voice announced, “40 seconds until venting complete.”
Captain Arnold had to act quickly if he hoped to keep the infection from spreading throughout his whole body. Disregarding the pain it was going to cause him, he aimed the liquid-nitrogen spewing hose at his infected hand. Sharp pain instantly shot through him, and he gritted his teeth and grimaced in pain. His instincts told him to pull his hand back, away from the pain, but his mind stood firm and overrode that desire. Although it took only seconds, it seemed like an eternity in the captain’s mind as the sharp pain gradually was replaced with numbness as the nerve endings in his hand ceased their cries for retreat and became hard and cold.
Captain Arnold looked down at his frozen hand through his goggles, scanning for signs of infection. Gone were the bright red pulses of infrared heat indicating an infection; instead they were replaced by a blue stillness. His hand had turned into rock-hard ice, and he hoped the infectious cells that had jumped onto him had died along with the flesh of his hand.
“30 seconds until venting complete,” the ship’s computer announced.
Captain Arnold pushed through the pain he felt and started running toward the escape pod. With his torn environmental suit, he had to make it to the escape pod while some air still remained in the launch bay.
Running toward the escape pod, he saw the doctor staring at him through the window of the sealed door on the pod.
“Doc! Get that door open!” The captain continued his run; his lifeless frozen hand flopped alongside him.
“20 seconds until venting complete.”
The door to the escape pod slid open. Then the doctor in his environmental suit took one step out and blocked the doorway. “Captain, what happened?”
“Donnelly attacked,” the captain panted. “I put him down. But I got wounded.” The captain took a big breath, the air was getting thin. “I had to freeze my hand to stop the infection.”
As soon as those words came out of his mouth he realized what the doctor must be thinking. “I’m not infected, Doc, honestly.” The captain moved in closer to the door, ready to jump inside.
But the captain stopped abruptly when he saw the doctor pull out the pistol. It was the ancient colt .45 the captain had previously given him.
The doctor aimed the pistol squarely at the captain’s chest. “I-I’m sorry, Captain. I-It’s too big a risk. You can’t come with us!”
The captain stared silently at the doctor. The doctor’s hand shook with both fear and determination. He doubted the doctor had needed to fire many shots before. Those hands usually just saved people, instead of taking their lives. But he knew the doctor was serious, and from their history together, he knew the doctor would do whatever it took to save the rest of the survivors.
They watched each other intently as the captain tried to gauge his chances.
The silence between them was broken by the calm computerized voice announcing, “Venting almost complete. All personnel should be secured. Venting complete in 10, 9, 8 …”
Captain Arnold stood ten feet away from the escape pod and stared at the doctor who held the pistol aimed at his chest. The captain knew if he made any sudden movement, it likely could be his last.
In the background, the ship’s computer calmly announced, “Venting complete in 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 – Zzzzrup,” the voice cut off abruptly and the count stopped just as every light in the launch bay suddenly went out.
“What have the infected done now?” the doctor muttered in astonishment.
Through his infrared goggles, Captain Arnold saw the doctor become distracted as he glanced around the now dark launch bay.
The captain seized his chance and rushed at the doctor. He could see the doctor no longer had a good aim on him in the darkness, so he ducked down low as he charged right at him.
The doctor must have heard him coming. “Stop, Captain, or I’ll fire!” The doctor didn’t wait for a response. He fired off a panicked shot at where the captain used to be before the darkness came, but the shot missed.
“Don’t come any closer!” The doctor quickly blind-fired two more times, wildly swinging the pistol. Two bullets flew over the captain’s head, narrowly missing him.
With one fluid motion, the captain tackled the doctor and with his one good hand, he reached for and grabbed at the pistol in the doctor’s hand.
The two impacted, and they tumbled into the escape pod.
“Gimme that gun!” the captain yelled, as he grappled for control, trying to wrestle the pistol away.
In the chaos, the pistol discharged inside the escape pod. The sound was deafening in the small ship. The bullet ricocheted off the metallic walls, barely missing an unconscious Joseph, before it burrowed deeply into the escape pod’s computer console. The screen flickered and then went dark as the sound of an electrical sizzle announced the severe damage the bullet had caused.
The captain and doctor rolled on the ground while the rest of the crew stared onward as the two wrestled under the dim escape pod’s emergency lights. Confused as to who they should help and if anyone was now infected, the crew stood back while the two fought for control of the gun.
“Doc! Stand down,” the captain ordered. “Stand down!” The captain finally pulled the gun away, held it at a safe distance and flipped the safety on. “I told you, I’m not infected!”
The doctor made no reply, and he continued to look unconvinced of the captain’s words, but he ceased his struggling.
The captain picked himself up off the ground, freeing the doctor whom he had pinned under him. As soon as he was standing, the sparking computer console quickly stole his attention when he realized the severity of the problem.
“This is bad!” The captain looked at the damage and saw the escape pod’s launch-control computer was destroyed. “Without that computer … We can’t launch.” The captain shook his head.
A weakened voice from the back of the escape pod spoke up. It was the injured Corporal Jackson, who still held on to consciousness. “You can still launch the pod from the outside manual controls (cough). You need to hand crank the door open and flip the release locks (cough). Then the pod will slide out into space … away from this craziness.”
The captain knew someone would have to go back out there to perform this final act. But he wondered if whoever did this would have enough time to run back and jump into the escape pod before it slipped away.
The captain went over to the wall of the escape pod, and with his infrared goggles he peered out of the window to see if he could spot where the manual release controls were. All of a sudden a heat signature flashed in his vision, and then another.
“Oh no!” the captain gasped. The rest of the crew became silent, scared by the captain’s words.
With horror the captain turned his head toward the main hallway door that led into the launch bay. Prior to the power failure, the door had closed and trapped a whole throng of infected that had pursued them. But now, because of the power failure, the door no longer held strong. The infected that had been sealed behind the hallway door had pried it open and proceeded to spill out into the launch bay, looking for their next prey.
The infected seemed much slower to the captain. They appeared to be gasping for breath in the thin air and struggling to move. The ship hadn’t totally vented before the power failure stopped the process, and there must have been just enough air in the launch bay to keep them alive and roaming.
“They’re coming,” the captain said dejectedly in a low voice. “They’re coming toward us.”
The captain had to issue an order now. Someone had to go out and release the locks on the escape pod before the slowly approaching group of infected could reach them. The captain looked down at his own punctured environmental suit and frozen dead hand. He felt it should be him that should risk it, but since he only had one good hand he’d be risking the whole crew’s safety if he couldn’t get the job done.
Captain Arnold had to hurry; soon they’d be overrun with infected. The power had been cut, so someone had to run outside and manually free the locks to release the escape pod into outer space. He didn’t want to risk anyone but himself. Turning to the rest of the crew he said, “If the infected get too close before I make it back, seal the door.”
Then he leapt out of the escape pod door and ran to the closest lock that held them in place. In the corner of his eye he saw many infected creeping toward him; they labored for breath in the thin air of the partially vented launch bay.
The captain reached down and tried in vain to pull up on the yellow handle of the lock. He yanked at the handle with his one good hand.
“Come on! Almost there. Pull you wimp!” the captain said to himself and he pulled hard on the handle.
The lock was free; they were one-step closer to getting the survivors to safety. He rushed to the second lock, hoping it wasn’t as hard as the first. The infected neared the front of the escape pod and were making their way toward the door that the crew had left open for him.
“Quick, man! Quick,” the captain yelled out in exasperation. He yanked and yanked at the second lock’s handle; it didn’t budge. The infected kept closing and were just a few feet away from the escape pod door.
The crew on the escape pod had no choice but to follow the captain’s previous order and close the door, sealing both the infected and the captain off from the escape pod. The captain’s escape route was now gone.
Soon they’ll come for me, the captain thought. And if I can’t get this lock free, someone else will have to risk dying too.
The captain somehow found a little more strength buried inside him. As the infected started approaching him, he continued tugging on the second lock, until finally with much relief the lock gave way and clicked open. The crew would be saved; he had accomplished his task.
As soon as the final lock was released, the escape pod started slowly sliding away, moving down the ramp that would send it into outer space and away from the infected that surrounded it.
The pod initially moved slowly, then started to pick up speed as it moved further along the guide rails. The captain watched his crew sailing away to their freedom. Soon they would be gone and some of his crew would have survived this horribly-gone-wrong planetary exploration mission. A sense of relief filled the captain, knowing that even though he wasn’t going to make it, others would.
When the escape pod had already slid about halfway down the rails, the crew inside must have realized they were no longer surrounded by the infected, and suddenly the door to the escape pod shot open.
“Quick, dive in!” Lieutenant Nelson called from the just-opened door. “Hurry!”
The captain had only the briefest window of opportunity. He quickly gauged the angle of where the escape pod door was going to be seconds from now and he raced down an intercept vector that would get him to the opening just before it slipped through the hull into space.
The captain didn’t feel his heart pounding nor the pain in his lungs as he fought for every last ounce of oxygen and energy he could find in his muscles. He ran fast. Just as the tip of the escape pod started to pass the threshold, he dove toward where the door was going to be, and by the smallest of margins, he flew into the door, narrowly clearing the opening, and rolled into the escape pod to an immediate outburst of cheers from his crew.
Lieutenant Nelson closed the door just as the ship entered the threshold. A metal blur flashed by the escape pod windows as it passed from inside the main ship through the hull and out into the blackness of star-filled space.
“We made it, we finally made it!” the captain exclaimed, rising to his feet.
“You did it, Captain!” Velasquez yelled.
Lieutenant Nelson slapped the captain on the back. “Well done, Sir!”
The doctor nodded his head in respect and gave a thumbs up.
Corporal Jackson weakly said, “Thanks (cough).”
Even Joseph had a smile on his face as he lay on the medical gurney.
Captain Arnold looked around. Through his quick decisions, he had helped save the lives of a few of his crew. He finally breathed a sigh of relief for a grueling ordeal he left behind them. They had made it out, alive.
After letting the elation of the moment wane, the captain asked, “Is the communication system up?”
The captain approached the system, “Mayday. This is Captain Arnold of the star-ship … or rather … formerly of the star-ship Copernicus. We’re in an escape pod in …”
Hours later … Captain’s personal log, date 2125.1.24:
“Our exploration mission of planet Maynar 17 became a disaster. A planetary life form we studied on board the Copernicus somehow broke its quarantine containment. An unknown infection spread like wildfire aboard the ship. Within an hour, we had lost nearly all the crew to the infection. Only six of the 315 crew members survived the outbreak.”
“We fled in an escape pod away from the doomed Copernicus, when we abandoned ship. Currently we’re orbiting the planet. Our distress call was thankfully received by a group of nomadic traders. They agreed to pick us up during their next supply run through this quadrant a week from now. With all of our crew stabilized, we can all make it to then, and are looking forward with great anticipation to our upcoming rescue.”
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