Echoes (A short story)

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Echoes (A short story)

Postby Chozon1 » Thu Apr 14, 2016 8:57 am

I. Echoes.

Below me, death and darkness. Above me, sunlight and salvation. Were I not actually living my current situation, I would probably draw a spiritual allegory out of it, and the freezing misty gloom I'm currently racing through. Only sparse gray emergency lighting illumines the stone floored, metal-walled corridors, but the darkness is the least of my problems. I've only got a few hours left until the parasite infecting me takes control of my body, mutating me into a hideous monster and earning me a 'failed' rating on my mission, which due to a series of unfortunate events has only one remaining objective: Reach the sunrise before the shadow overtakes me.

My name is Yancy, I'm a Healer
. I was sent here to rescue these people. I keep repeating the phrase in my head when I'm not straining to listen for footfalls, groans, or anything else that will betray the presence of an infected monster. Presently, I'm in a long hallway with no doors, so I'm not overly worried; I can even take the time for a flashback to wonder what the poop happened.

Dustball, a desert world far away from the Earth I come from, is named for its entirely desert habitat. It's one of the few 'exclusive' worlds in the universe, as most planets tend to share the mixed-biozone build of earth. Not Dustball; it is entirely desert, known for extreme sports and rich mining. Mostly the latter, though if I manage not to die, I'm planning on motocrossing it up on some of the dunes I spotted on the flyover--

FOCUS. Can't let my mind wander like that. Won't end well. Where was...Yes. Mining. Dustball is known for being incredibly rich in dozens of valuable metals and elements. Uncountable iron reserves, gold for the taking, and untapped reserves of whatever obscure metal our starships are made out of, gemstones by the bucket. Rich world, right?

It's also unowned by any one race or people, not having a native sentient species. Which, since people are idiots and can never just sit down and share, brings me back to why I'm here: a series of mysterious disappearances localized to the Human region of the planet. When has that ever turned out well? Before this began, I was hoping this would be the exception to the rule. You can probably guess that it's not, but I'll throw in some more details. Keep my mind sharp.

It began several weeks ago, when the earth mines on Dustball began petering off, then shutting down entirely. The miners never reported to the central HQ with a reason; they were all gone. Expeditions sent into the mines either returned empty handed with tales of a broken and torn up facility, or didn't return.

Then the attacks began on the surface, always at night, never leaving survivors or bodies. Just destroyed homes, compounds, buildings, and the occasional splatter of blood. That was when the Healers were sent for. As of eight hours ago, a few hundred people are missing, the attacks are escalating, and the situation is, succinctly, becoming a fiery plane crash: The facility leaders deemed it was time to call for aid.

Technically, the people aren't missing anymore. I managed to find them. Yay me. I don't mean to complain; I'm probably one of the best people for the job. I'm stronger and faster that most, and it takes a lot for me to tire. I also can't die...Probably should have said that first, as it's the most relevant detail. The old gray-matter isn't working as good as it normally does, in case you hadn't noticed.

There's a break in the hall way in front of me, and I know I need to go left, but I slow down, coming to the edge of the joined corridors. Nothing in front of me, I press my back to the wall, and peer down the hallway to the right...nothing. Suddenly, my eyesight brightens, and for a moment I see the empty hallway alight in a blueish blaze, cutting through the darkness like it's midday.

I shake my head furiously, and my vision returns to normal. I'm no doctor, but I'm thinking that's not a good sign; I need to hurry. I peer to the left...also empty. Thank you, God. I take off in a sprint, spinning around the corner.

So where was I? My name is Yancy, I'm a Healer. I was sent here to rescue these people. Good start. I want it on a badge. The Healers, an intergalactic organization founded by God to protect, save, and heal the universe were sent for by the facility leader, and we came as quick as we were able. We always come when called, or at least try to.

After a few days in space I, three full squads of Warriors, five pastors, and a full team of medical technicians arrived on Dustball; we made planetfall...when? I check the computer on my wrist...dang, was it really only twelve hours ago? It was: I've only been down in this pit for eight hours. Time flies when you're mutating, I 'spose. I chose this, I reminded myself. It was the right thing to do. A team of Warriors and several medical guys went down into one of the 'people returned from this' mine to run their half of the investigation in relative safety. Guess who got to go into the “did not return” mine? Come on, guess. I'll give you three chances, and I won't even blindfold you. I'll let you phone a friend, cut out a few of the wrong answers, and rig up a lighted stage for you to stand...

I'm starting to jabber, starting to ramble. Ahh, blast it Yancy. FOCUS. OK...I breath deep, pushing the panic and the influence of the parasite down, reassert control. Actually, like I said, I volunteered. Not to brag, but I'm what's known as a Gifted Healer. I don't die, I regenerate, and I tend to not get infected by biological attacks; it's best to send the person who can't die into the most lethal unknown situation, right? No need to risk the lives of a dozen people. So I came, and I came alone.
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Re: Echoes (A short story)

Postby Chozon1 » Fri Apr 15, 2016 7:24 am

II. One-way doors.

The elevator trip down here was actually nice; It lasted about fifteen minutes, putting me so deep under the surface of Dustball that earthworms would get chills of jealousy; I'm not claustrophobic, nor elevator melophobic, so...nice. I kept my weapon ready as I descended, watching the computer carefully. The panel on the wall indicated I would reach the Station, the large underground complex where the workers ate, slept, and lived while on mining duty, in less than a minute. Local administration offices were here, as was the actual dirt and stone mine. Hopefully, I'd not need to enter that.

When the elevator doors opened to reveal a well lit, reasonably clean lobby area, then I got uncomfortable. Too much dichotomy; something was wrong down here, and instead of being a clearly present threat, now it would probably jump out at me from a closet or something. I hate that; I really do.

I keep my weapon, a staff-like device which I can shift into multiple weapons, at the ready and make my way through the compound as slowly and carefully as I can; I'm aiming for the security and management room three floors below, which I had been informed would not only give me a full readout of biological inhabitants and a complete scan of the mine, but also security footage of the past two weeks. Why this couldn't be retrieved remotely was beyond me.

I have a map already downloaded into the device on my wrist. On the way to the S&M room, I open every door, look up and down at every junction, and basically do my best to remove any hiding places. Which I would regret later, since I'd have to go back through those corridors, in the dark, with the infected miners hunting me. C'est la vie. Well, c'est la moi vie.

The team in the other mine remained in radio contact the entire time, and had already reached their S&M room by the time I cleared a single floor. They found nothing except a few dried pools of blood and some broken down doors. Their mine was empty, and the computers reported no movement in the facility outside of them. The security footage had been wiped, so the med guys had taken samples of blood and exfiltrated the mine.

For those of you who aren't paying attention, wiped security footage is almost never a good thing; it means this isn't a natural disaster or unknown local animal, as some of the more vocal mining competitors maintain, but deliberate sabotage. Which ticks me off; I understand stealing stuff. Greed is a sin common to all peoples. But if you're willing to hurt someone to steal something they own? I despise that. That ticks me off more than a bomb; I will destroy you quicker than a fat guy destroys a pie.

It also means something is almost guaranteed to be waiting for me down here...which I guess I knew, but it's different when it's confirmed, you know? There's a party down here, and it's my party, and I can cry if I want to. Cry if I want toooooooooo...

Focus Yancy. I drop the flashback as I come upon another break in the corridors. I'm nearly to the living quarters, and I'm going to have to more slowly now. The dimly illuminated panel on the wall tells me I'm on the third floor down, which means I'm back close to the S&M room. A faint shriek from behind me runs the hackles up on my back, and I grimace. Can't move too slowly. They're behind me too. After carefully looking in all direction, I slide around the corner and begin sneaking up the corridor. The beasts are smart, and I have no doubt they are waiting for me. They always had been; I just didn't realize it.
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Re: Echoes (A short story)

Postby Chozon1 » Sat Apr 16, 2016 7:41 am

III. Better off in the dark.

Things on my end are much the same as with the other team; a few broken down doors, pools of blood. The odd potted plant, withering away slowly. I reached the S&M room without encountering even a bug, and find it in a basically functional state, except a few smashed screens. The only screen left is currently displaying a suave GUI with the miner's logo on it.

“I've reached the S&M room. A bunch of the stations are smashed, but it looks like at least one computer still works. Want to walk me through how to access the scanners and the footage?” I whisper into the communicator, talking to Davison on the other side. He is in the mobile command center on the surface, and as the liaison with the local mining corp, no doubt had the head miner dude nearby.

“Sure thing,” came his voice into my ear, “Jeoff wants you to access the security footage first, see if it's still there. Touch the icon that looks like a blue orb with a red dot in it.” I do so, and find to my surprise that the footage is still there. “I've got it. I'm not familiar with the local dating system, but I've got a few dozen files here, labeled sequentially.” A pause. I hear Davison speaking to someone.

“OK Yancy; first, hit the icon that looks like a bird. That'll send us the footage, so we can scan through it. Jeoff says the problem started twelve days ago, so anything odd will be before the 12th entry down. Speed through the recordings and see if there's anything strange.” I touch the bird, and it turns red, then pulses to green. Done. I pull the office chair over, and gingerly sit down in it, pulling the monitor in front of me so I can face the door as I peruse. There's no way on any world I'm turning my back to an open doorway in this place.

It started on day eleven, with the lights going down in certain parts of the facility. The maintenance guys sent to fix them didn't return, then the security guys searching for the maintenance guys disappeared, all very quietly. It wasn't until halfway through the recording that I actually saw something abnormal, and only for a brief moment as it ducked through a doorway almost underneath the camera. It was big, whatever it was. Everything is big to me, granted. I'm rather short. But this was big by anyones standards. It had to slouch to dash through the doorway.

The next one was not so stealthy. It was day ten, and though it seemed like everyone in the facility was antsy—no one went anywhere alone—for some reason they hadn't abandoned it yet. I guess it takes more time than a day for people to realize they're being taken over. Camera ten showed routine work going on in the mine, when one of the tall things dashed into the frame, grabbed a silently screaming man using a digging device, bit him savagely in the throat, and then dragged him into the darkness. His compatriots, I admired them. They picked up lights and whatever hand tools were nearby and ran after him.

Unfortunately, I didn't see them again.. I stopped watching when the footage hit day nine; most of the facility camera's were running on backup in low light mode at that point, since the generator had been shut down. Most of the personnel had been attacked, presumably killed and eaten by the things, which I still hadn't seen up close, with only a few hold outs who had locked themselves into their rooms and barred the door...I swallow as the horror rises with the chill in my spine. It suddenly occurs to me: Why is the power back on?

I tell Davison of my findings, then, kinda knowing what I will find, I switch the screen over to the life signs readings. I check the mine first; I can see a blue outline of the cartographed mine tunnels, but an outline is all I can see. The interior is filled with large red blobs signifying living beings. Next I check the Station.

I'm not a swearing person; I don't believe God wants us to use foul language, so I do my best not to. I get laughed at for it from time to time, but I don't let it bother me. However, I am sorely tested when the screen loads. I'm the unlucky green dot, labeled humorously with 'You are here'. Around me are dozens and dozens and dozens of little red dots. Two right outside the door; they're all motionless, waiting.

I reach carefully beside me, grab my weapon. I'm tempted to use a blade, but I don't know what the things are, and Healer protocol forbids the taking of a life unless it cannot be avoided. I choose instead to form it into a shield and bokken, which is normally a training weapon; I can wield it with enough power to knock some chumps unconscious.

“Davison,” I say, keeping my voice level and calm, “I'm in trouble. The mine is loaded full of life signals, and I've got way to many other living things rubbing up to my comfort zone. It could be the missing miners down below, but I'm more concerned with the guests waiting outside my door.”

“We've seen the footage Yancy, and just received a confession from a local mining guild who saw our ship land. It's a parasitic creature we've not encountered before, and you need to get out of there. We'll set up a containment protocol, request more teams from earth, and send them down to acquire a sample later. They're very smart, sunlight kills them, and--”

The communicator crackles and goes silent as the room is pitched into blackness. I hear a banging noise as the gentle rumble of the large generator ceases. So many dirty words. I stand from the chair as silently as I can, step away from it and place the wall at my back as I raise my shield before me. I feel them enter the room, feel them growing closer. Clicking and light footsteps surround me, and I pretend I'm carved from marble. I don't even blink, despite the pitch blackness. Then, like the flash of a camera, the dim emergency lighting blinks on, and I find myself staring eye to eye with a living horror only inches from my face.

Wide, dead-gray eyes stare malevolently into my own as a loud hiss issues from a mouth overfilled with long crooked fangs. With a surprised snarl, I smash my shield into its chest, knocking it onto its back over the desk. I can't stop the other four, then five, then six, in the room from surrounding me, though I fight as hard as ever I have. I drop a half dozen before they overwhelm me with sheer numbers; I can't swing my weapon anymore, so thickly are they around me. Sharp fangs bite deeply into my neck, and I scream as liquid cold begins pumping through my veins, dissolving the world into glacial darkness.
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Re: Echoes (A short story)

Postby Chozon1 » Sun Apr 17, 2016 8:13 am

IV. Chained


When I awake, the world is still lit with the dim emergency lighting, though it's dimmer now if such a thing is possible. I can't move my arms or legs, so I lay on the cold floor just blinking, trying to get the lump in my head to function like a brain. As my faculties return, I see dirt, rock, and anti-gravity braces above me. Unless the cleaning staff is very lax, and the decorators are the epitome of green, I'm down in the mine. My right hand spasms, and I realize that feeling has returned to my limbs. I can move...but should I?

I listen, I smell, I move my eyes as far as I can without moving my head, trying to see what's around me. In the faint gloom, I see that I'm surrounded by the creatures, though none of them seem to be paying especial attention to me. They mill around shiftlessly and squabble among themselves, or lay curled into balls asleep. They are all incredibly tall and deathly pale; all have long nasty, greasy hair and thin, spidery limbs ending in sable claws. They walk with a large hunch on their backs, cowing them slightly.

More shocking, they all wear clothes of some sort on. Wait, that came out wrong. What's shocking about it is that most of them are wearing the uniform of a miner; I realize what Davison meant. It's a parasite of some sort...infecting the workers. The missing miners are the monsters taking the miners were the monsters. My head spins, and I clench my hands into a fist. Something is wrong with me; the bite was clearly venomous, but...oh no.

I slowly move my hand up to my neck and feel for the wound. It's entirely closed, with only a faint scar. Not odd for me. Even mortal wounds heal quickly. Now, the large, starfish shaped lump on my shoulder? That is odd; the large bulge under my skin ached slightly, and had thin tendrils arching off of it.

I'm infected; it comes as a shock. I don't usually get sick, since most things detrimental to my health heal almost instantly. It's one of my gifts. Yet the parasite is there, growing even as I lay here. The thought nauseates me, so I swallow it, push the panic down, down to goblin town. HO HO, MY LAD--

FOCUS Yancy. I need to escape. Doubly now, since it occurs to me that I now have the needed sample in my shoulder, and to be quite honest, I don't want to turn into a monster. I've had decades to learn to accept my short height and get used to being human, thank you. I don't feel the need to be tall, and I like the light; me and light are buddies. We're like this. I don't want to have to hang out in the dark for the rest of my very long, unending life.

Focus. Focusing. The trail of blood coming down the ramp attests that I had been dragged down into the mine, but happily left near the entrance, a large doorway with a heavy blast door. Apparently, most of the people they infect don't wake up uninfected. I can use that to my advantage. The door is about twenty feet away on my right, and...yes. Right beside it at arm level, a panel surrounded by yellow and black caution bars: The universal sign for “press this to shut the emergency doors.” I've never been so happy to see a glorified doorknob in my entire life.

Most of the 'people' around me are distracted; only one, a nasty looking reptilian creature I can barely see, peers closely at me. If I was a betting woman, I'd say he is one of the first to be infected. He—or she—no longer looks human in any fashion other than being bipedal. Red glazed eyes stare dully at me from the darkness, and I stare back for a nervous second before letting my eyes loll off into the distance. Hopefully, he'll think I'm no different than the thralls shuffling and clicking around me. I keep the corner of my eye focused on him for the better part of an hour; I can just see the glow of his unblinking eyes.

There. He's distracted by a woman in a administration uniform scrabbling at the wall behind him. NOW! Without hesitation I leap to my feet, spin around, and bolt for the door as fast as I can. My weapon is long gone; I wish I had it for the comfort value, but it's no great loss. If I need it, I'm probably going to die anyway. In its absence, I pick up a large rock laying in my path, and after taking careful aim, chuck it with all the adrenaline in my body at the door panel as I run, hoping against hope that movie logic will, for one time in the whole stretch of reality, work.

Praise God! It did! The door begins to drop as soon as the rock impacts the panel. Maybe I hit an emergency switch, I don't know. I don't really care. I run as fast as my feet can carry me, and roll under the nearly closed door as a loud screech echoed from behind me: Big boss didn't like my escaping. But you know what? He can suck eggs. And then we can paint them, and sell them at a craft fair as faux Fabergé, and we can--

FOCUS. I'm losing my mind. The parasite is growing stronger every minute, so I'm going to drop my flashback and focus on the here and now. Which is just as well, because I escaped the mine only about an hour ago, and I've been making my way up the loading ramps on foot. Not much to tell.

I'm now approaching the stairway to floor two; I hadn't seen any of the infected miners on my way up here, which I actually didn't like. It doesn't seem feasible I trapped them all in the mine...I think they're setting a trap for me. They're not, said a voice in my head. The path is clear. Run for it. I very nearly do so before I catch myself. That is a terrible idea. The hair stands on the back of my neck, and I gingerly reach up to feel my shoulder; the parasite is now the size of my hand, beating like a heart. It had spoken to me.

I wish I had a knife; it might kill me, but I'd remove the thing myself if I did. No, I can't do that. I need a sample for the med teams. I grit my teeth and push onward, entering and exiting the stairwell quickly, wondering why they didn't just build one big staircase that went from the mine to the upper world. Security probably. I hate security.

I carefully open the staircase door, and seeing nothing, shut and lock it behind me. Whoever comes down here next will need to shoot or blast their way through. Frankly my dear, I don't give a care. I care. I don't care that you care; if sharing is caring, call me greedy, now shut up and let me think. I need to go right; the hallways are carpeted now, which means I'm in the living quarters, and it'll be easier to be silent. At the branch of the first hallway I encounter my first creature. It's lurking right in my way at the branching of the corridors.

It looks newly turned. The long, greasy hair reaches well down its back, and long fangs are sticking at jagged edges out of its mouth as it looks carefully down each hallway. Sentry; I stand and watch it for a moment. Like clockwork, it turns its head to peer down a different hallway every few seconds.

I can work with that. When it turns away from me again, I sprint towards it, leap into the air, and drive my foot like a meteor into its head. It never knew what hit it; it collapsed to the floor with a sad groan, the pale gray eyes closing into unconsciousness. A pang of guilt stabs at my conscience. I feel bad for the guy, but I need to escape if there's a chance to cure him.

But that made a lot more noise than I like. I lope silently down the next hallway, sparing only bare glances into each room I'm passing to make sure they're empty. Man, I wish I hadn't opened all these doors. It it bothers you so much, why not shut them all? Take the time to make yourself comfortable. I'd be more comfortable with only myself in my head, thanks. I reach the end of this hallway, and with only a moments pause in which I see nothing down either junction, lope even quicker down the next.

Impact! Something flies out of an open doorway to my left, smashing me into the wall, my head making an especially nice thunking noise at the contact. The pain infuriates me, and I turn to the beast attacking me and violently smash my elbow into its face. It responds by slashing at my arm, then grabbing it in a slimy clenching hand. Large fangs distend from its mouth as it leans forward to bite me, the filthy hair brushing my face. I bare my own fangs, sink a hammering fist into its face, and then savagely throw the creature off of me, slamming it frightfully hard into the opposite wall. It's all I can do to stop myself from roaring as I close to finish the job.

Wait a minute, I don't have fangs, and I'm here to help these people, not kill them; I gingerly reach a hand up to my mouth. Correction; I do have fangs. My canines are now twice as long as the rest of my teeth, though they're certainly straining to catch up. If it wasn't so horrifying, it would be cool. If I put on a cape and some face paint, I could pass for a vampire. If I put on a torn flannel shirt and glued some hair to my face, I could be a werewolf. That's not even--

I growled. Focus. I'm losing it, losing time. My marbles are rolling under the couch, my egg is scrambled, and the little gray cells are spinning off into Rainbows and dancing the disco, but my name is Yancy; I'm a Healer. I was sent to rescue these people. I have no name; I am a changer. I was sent to transform you puppets and bend you to my will. You're getting on my nerves, is what you are. The only ones allowed in my head are me and God, so you can just get over yourself. Paint a self portrait, put it under your chair, and sit upon it, thus literally being over yourself. My hand twitches involuntarily, clenching into a tight fist and digging sharp claws into my palm. I need to hurry, not argue with the bug in my neck.

The creature before me begins to stir, so I pick it up and gently throw it into the room, swiftly shutting the door and jamming it with a piece of wood laying nearby, presumably from a broken door down the way. More cautiously this time, I move as quickly as I dare down the hallway. I reach the stairs without incident; finally, I'm on the first floor. I know the elevator runs on emergency power, so I'm only a fifteen minute ride from light and freedom, and sammiches, perhaps a sweet tea with lemon, and--

I wave my hand in front of my face, trying to clear the garbage from my head. It feels like there's a balloon swelling in my brain, pushing me out as something else floods in. Father God, I need you. Help me now, please. I cannot fail.

I keep praying as I run, nearly going my full speed until something intangible stops me short before I turn into the main lobby. Heart pounding, I drop to my knees and look around the corner. Bile rises in my throat as I suddenly understand why I met so little resistance on my way here. No need to hunt me down when they've got the bottle capped.

Dozens of the infected swarm and wander in the large lobby, with seven large creatures guarding the elevator. The eldest, unless I'm very much mistaken. Their skeletal limbs are girded in black reptilian scales; their greasy hair had melded into a dark, leathery cowl covering their heads, and their mouths had stretched into fanged maws uncomfortably similar to that of an alligator. Sharp red eyes look in every direction, and though I'm no mind reader, I'm pretty sure they're waiting for me. Feels like a safe bet.
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Re: Echoes (A short story)

Postby Chozon1 » Mon Apr 18, 2016 6:11 am

V: To see the Sunrise.

I duck back around the corner, and slide noiselessly into one of the nearby rooms. I push the hopelessness away as I silently close the door behind me, thinking. You could give up; you might find life as a puppet fun. The parasite almost sounds hopeful. You could give up; you might find life as a lab sample fun. Better yet, shut up; you might find dying less painful. I almost feel it sigh as though resigned to a long yet already decided fight. We'll see; I'm not giving up. God wouldn't have put me in this position unless He also gave me a way out.

Think, focus. That's not an easy proposition anymore; maintaining vocalized thought is getting harder. I pull up the map on my wrist device, study it carefully. Places like this almost always have other ways out to avoid being death traps. What about the infrastructure? Maintenance hatches, ventilation...score! There, northeastern corner; the entire facility shared a maintenance zone which opens directly to the surrounding stone. It was filled with water pipes, oxygen pumps, and electrical work, but a tall ladder lead directly from the mine to a hatch surface.

Aghast, I sink to the floor. Why hadn't I noticed that earlier? I would be out by now. The malevolent mocking laughter of the parasite danced around my head. Right; stupid question. The light from the screen suddenly stabs into my eyes, and I wince away from it as the rest of the room is suddenly illumined. Has the power been restored? No; it's all blue. No power, just the parasite. I grit my teeth so hard I feel one crack, savagely shaking my head to clear my vision.

It doesn't clear. Fine; I'll use it. Night vision could come in handy. I fumble for the controls on my wrist, and dim the map, looking for the nearest access to the maintenance zone...again, I have to resist swearing; mad cackling laughter danced through my head like a ballerina hopped up on too much caffeine. The nearest hatch is at the end of the corridor. I have to cross in front of the lobby and its inhabitants.

There's nothing for it; it's the only way. Clearly, I cannot wait and be patient. I inhale deeply, get to my feet. Suddenly, for one terrifying moment it feels like I'm drifting above my body, watching it move on its own accord as it swiftly approaches the door, moving without care for silence. I push against the feeling with all my will, and regain control of myself. Dang. Nearly there! You're very strong, you know. Most of your kind succumbed within moments. The Mind will be interested in you. The mind can sniff a well-used toilet, and you along with him. In fact, why don't you both dive in, and I'll laugh maniacally as the water swirls you away with the rest of the p--

Yancy. Focus. It's trying to make you waste time. The door is already open partway, but I pull at it gingerly, opening it silently. The way I figure it, I've got one shot, and it's more of a shotgun than a silenced pistol. Without thinking about it too much, usually the way all brilliant ideas start, I take off running down the hallway.

This time, I don't care about being quiet, I don't care about not bringing attention to myself. I care about speed. I'm faster than your average bear, so my only hope is to reach the access hatch before the things catch me. It is, in hindsight, not a very good plan.

They screech alarm as soon as I cross their line of sight, but I don't care. The adrenaline and pants-dampening fear will only help me pour on the speed. I'm running so fast that the doors are passing like blurs; the maintenance hatch is approaching rapidly. Please don't let it be locked, Father. Please, I beg you. Don't beg; it's demeaning. If you ask me--

I didn't. Be silent; mock me if you wish, but do not mock my God. The strength of conviction which awoke within me silence's the parasite as I reach door and stop running by careening into the wall. The beasts are right behind me; I frantically scrabble at the hatch, pull it open and slide in without a moment to spare. The beasts slam into it as I pull it shut, nearly closing my foot in the door. It doesn't lock from this side, so I summon all my strength and snap the handle off, praying that will booger the mechanism to the point they can't open it.

It does; after much screaming and fussing and banging at the door, the crowd on the other side silences. Which is not as comforting as I thought it would be. At least I knew where they were. I spare a few precious seconds to examine my surroundings; I'm standing on a narrow platform on the exterior or the facility. Below me is a deep abyss reaching to the bottom of the Station; I can just see the sandy floor below, thanks to my new eyes. Door after door, platform after platform, stretches below me, wrapping all around the structure like a giant metal girdle.

In front of me, ten feet away across a gap, is the ladder, reaching to the floor and deeper, presumably into the mine. Above me it stretches up and hopefully out; I can't see the top. I forgo lowering the short bridge, and just leap out over the abyss, snatching hold of the ladder with ease. Making that jump was too easy for my normally short self, and I don't want to think about why.

I start climbing, hand over hand, foot over foot. After awhile, I hear doors being thrown open below, feel the ladder vibrating as they leap onto it. I'm being followed, so I pick up the pace. I'm almost running up the ladder until I stop short, limbs frozen. I try and force them to move onwards, but they won't. I'm suddenly hungry; starving. I want to feed, I need to feed, but I can't until the cursed star moves to the other side of the world. I need to return to the nest and sleep until then; until the Mind says to go. I start climbing down the ladder.

NO. FOCUS! MY NAME IS YANCY. I AM A HEALER. I WAS SENT HERE TO RESCUE THESE PEOPLE. Gasping, I wrench my mind back, and force my strangely long limbs to climb upwards over the rusty, moist ladder. My hands are blackened from it, or at least I hope that's why they're blackened. Oh well. Almost. Never. Never never ever, never ever ever, EVER. Nevereverneverever. If you spell it Nevereven it's a palindrome, so never even got control of my mind, because palindromes are unbeatable. IT IS LAW.

I'm unraveling. It feels like I'm controlling my body like a marionette, watching it as it climbs the ladder. Just call me Pinnochio, but I cannot tell a lie, so maybe I'm George Washington instead, and this mine is the Cherry Tree. But that's a myth; it was really an alien parasite ol' G-Dubs was chopping down. I've been climbing for awhile now, almost an hour. Surely I'm near the top? The world's spinning, so I must be. I'm still hungry. So hungry. Wouldn't it be nice to sleep in the nest, the cool cool nest? To sleep until the next feeding?

Sure, but it would also be nice to save all those people. Oh, and myself. It would be nice to not be a horrifying reptile-monster stuck in a dingy mine for all of eternity. Or so I suppose; I've never actually been done that, so some turds would say I have no point of reference, and thus I cannot say it's wrong. Idiots. I'd spit on them if they were in front of me, but something else is in front of me...Hey, is that a door? You should open that.

No, don't. I watch my body pull back, questioning. Yes, that's right. Above is death, destruction, the murder of thousands of your fellowmen.

No. No, it's life. Life for thousands, life for everyone. It's a great cereal, but also a great thing in general. Focus Yancy; please, just...just open the door.

My body is struggling, raising a clawed hand to the hatch, then pulling back, almost opening it, then pulling back with a hiss. All I want is food and sleep. I begin to back down the ladder.

WAIT. There's food on the other side of the door! And it's much closer than in the nest. No waiting needed either! The thought sickens what little is left of my mind, but my body pauses, considering. I push forward. Yes, food; dozens, hundreds, all for the eating. All you have to do it push the door open and attack.

It's a trap! Don't do it, the sun is still high, and you are not yet complete. Wait a few more minutes.

No, it's not! I've been down here for a very long time, and the sun is surely down. The parasite just wants to control you, wants to keep you from feeding. It's pretending to be the Mind, and you know how the real Mind feels about slaves that question its authority. I reach up and slowly begin to open the door. Yes! NO! Don't go slow, they'll see you and shoot! Throw the door open in a surprise attack! Throw it NOW!!!

After a single moment of hesitation, of my will balanced on a thread, I do. I fling the door open, dust pours in with a dry gust of hot wind, and beautiful glorious sunlight rains down upon me like the fury of a thousand stabbing blades. The parasite is shrieking in the back of my mind, as are the infected people below me, so very close. But I laugh through the pain, laugh at the freedom, laugh at the safety, and the sun beams down upon me. I lock my arms tightly around the ladder lest I fall back down the shaft. The parasite has lapsed into silence; the balloon in my head deflates. After a moment I feel confident enough to pull myself out and roll languidly in the sand as fire envelops me.

I hear shouts and running feet, and soon I'm surrounded by dozens of heavily armed and armored soldiers, their gazes a mix of fear and concern, guns half pointed in my direction. I have no idea what I look like, but from their eyes, I guess my natural beauty isn't at the forefront.

“Tell the doc I've got his parasite sample,” I wheeze. My voice sounds strange, breathy and hollow, “And tell Davison I'm putting in for vacation.” At that point, the pain finally pulls me into that happy state of unconsciousness, where I stayed for the next few hours.

It didn't take the docs long to figure out a way to kill the parasite. Sunlight on its own would do the trick, as mine was more than half dead when they cut it out of me. Unfortunately, that tended to kill the host as well. Remember that whole “cannot die” thing? Yeah, it came into play. So they came up with a gas instead that would poison it, stop the mutative effects, and slowly allow the infected people to be weaned off.

Without the blasted things in their bodies, the people regained their own minds, and contacted the surface, wondering why they all resembled horrifying monsters. It's a fair question, and I'll bet you're wondering too. Happy days, I have the answer. A race of people called the Zaltahnians, being jealous of the Earth miners success and wanting the minerals for themselves, had slipped the first parasite onto the base in a mail package, hoping the entire mining core would mutate into the Collective, a race hated and hunted by almost all civilization, and cause a huge bounty hunt to start, with the benefit of putting the mines up on the market. Oh Industrial sabotage, will you never stop hurting innocent people? Last I heard, the miners were pursuing a hefty lawsuit, and winning hand over fist. I've no complaints; I'll even testify if called.

Ready for more happy? As it turns out, no one actually died; once the parasites infect a person, they became one of the Collective, a nasty reptilian species from one of the shadow planets. A genetically modified retrovirus counteracted most of the effects, returning people to normal after a few weeks treatment. Those fully transformed will need a bit more medical attention; but as the Healers are good at healing and have promised aid, that should be no problem. They'll be unlizarded in no time.

As for me, well, I returned to normal soon after they pulled the bedimmed thing out of me. It's my own personal theory that the only reason I didn't regenerate at first was so I could bring a living parasite with me for the docs to use. I had a long talk with God later assuring Him I wouldn't have minded carrying it in a Ziploc, or a bucket of some sort, but I've reason to believe His way worked best, even if it was...uncomfortable.

I still have the fangs though. Not as gnarly as they were at first, granted, but I swear my canines are still longer than they were before. That's OK;
I've got a cape and a hunger for the trophy from the annual Halloween costume contest.

--------------------
This report is an excerpt from evidence submitted by the Healers Inc (Spec. concerning Yancy Cormorant). to general Intergalactic Justice court, case 109797034312/E, Earth Miners vs the Zaltahnian High Mining Guild. Case was later ruled against the Zaltahnians because they were deemed incompetent idiots, since no intelligent being would risk the forming of a Collective just to gain access to a mine.
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Re: Echoes (A short story)

Postby kittycathead » Sun Jan 14, 2018 5:58 pm

Beautiful! I love it!!


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