𝐜𝐮𝐫𝐢𝐨𝐬𝐢𝐭𝐲 𝐤𝐢𝐥𝐥𝐞𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐜𝐚𝐭.Space always intrigued Blake, she could remember a totting, gap-toothed child staring through the lens of a microscope in awe; her father's reassuring hand on her shoulder as he pointed out the faint planets. Now she didn't need a microscope, Blake could merely look out the expansive bay window of the USS-Desdemona; the black canvas was splashed in mesmerising blue and pink hues, the stars speckled in a similar haphazard pattern to Blake's freckled face. She had spent 179 — no 180 days on this spaceship, yet the view for Blake was just as beautiful as the first time they entered orbit. In fact, Blake was so enthralled, she didn't hear her earpiece sparking to life.
" —Earth to Red..." Ravi dragged out the "inventive" nickname he gave her on the account of her fair, auburn hair when they first met. Ravi was one of the other scientists on this expedition who had a habit of telling horrid jokes and was equipped with a fancy British accent. He was oddly charming, she had to admit — not that she would tell him, it would go straight to his head. "Well, I guess this ground-breaking...monumental discovery of extra-terrestrial life will only be officially recorded by me..." Ravi teased while Blake's eyes lit up. No way.
"Wow, wow! You mean we actually found something?" Blake replied in disbelief, finger pressed to the earpiece as she jumped from her bed; awkwardly tugging pants on with her free hand.
"Hah, there she is. Well, the field team just radioed in and they are returning in the shuttle with a confirmed bacterium in a soil sample!" His voice was high, edged with the excitement of a child. Blake shoved her hair into a dishevelled bun and whisked her glasses off the bedside table. Her quarters were small, yet fitted with all the necessities she needed; paperback books were stacked in the corner, a fraying, well-loved astronomy book laid on top — a gift from her late father. Finally shrugging on her lab coat, she pressed the button which opened the mechanical doors. Soon enough she arrived out the front of the lab, inside Blake could see Ravi zipping around, vials in hand. This could be it, Blake thought optimistically, our first big discovery of life on Kepler-62f.
"Someone is excited..." Blake smirked, entering the lab, hands shoved in the pockets of her lab coat. Ravi turned to her, cocking a bushy eyebrow.
"Aren't you? This is huge! Imagine what this would mean for our careers? We could win a bloody Nobel Peace Prize!" Hands flew as he spoke, animated per usual. Ravi was tall, yet filled out his frame; black hair perfectly quaffed with a trimmed beard to match. The United States was hellbent on being the first to find confirmed life on the newly discovered planets. Blake and Ravi, along with a handful of other professionals in their own rights were scouted by NASA to hopefully complete this task. "If you're lucky, maybe I'll let you name the discovery after you?" Ravi grinned.
"I can't think of anything worse," Blake laughed, "an alien organism being named after me?" She shook her head at the thought.
"Mm... you’re right. It needs a cooler name," he stroked his beard as though deep in thought, "something like...Ravi? Now that is a cool name!" Ravi joked, Blake's eyes rolling.
"Sorry to interrupt this riveting conversation," a husky female voice sounded through the earpiece, "but the field team should be docking in t-minus ten minutes. Prepare for their arrival." The calming voice belonged to Sierra, the pilot of the USS-Desdemona.
"Oh, of course, Sierra. Right on it!" Blake chimed nervously into the earpiece, while Ravi wrapped his arms around himself, beginning to make out with the air in front of him. Blake's eyes narrowed, mouthing him to stop. He is so fucking immature, Blake thought. One night when the crew got drunk, a barely conscious, intoxicated Blake told Ravi she had a massive crush on Sierra. Ever since then, he won't let her live it down. Blake wished she wasn't such a light-weight at that moment. Not that it wasn't true, she greatly admired the headstrong pilot with her shaved head, dark, smooth skin and the cute birthmark that resembled a heart on the back of her neck. Okay, fine, maybe I'm a little more than just admired by her, Blake admitted to herself.
While the two were preparing for their arrival, Sierra's voice started, "Uh, I believe the suit readings are off...I'm getting irregular jumps in the field team's stats. Murphy's stats are completely unresponsive." Her voice was tilted, something Blake wasn't used to hearing. Sierra carried herself in an unusually cool manner.
"Unresponsive? How is that possible? I thought Yuna checked over everything before she went down with them?" Ravi's brows furrowed, his fingers tapping away at a tablet.
"I don't know to be honest...they were fine a few minutes ago. Murphy called into comms on the other channel with no complications on return." Sierra admitted, "now the comms is dead...they aren't responding to my calls."
"It has to be some—" Blake was interrupted by a loud thud which vibrated through the reinforced walls and the floor beneath Blake's feet. Ravi's eyes met Blake's who could feel a lump forming in her throat. The shuttle had docked.
"I said no." Sierra said coldly, "I am in charge of the safety of the crew until Murphy returns."
"Exactly! Most of the team is stuffed in that shuttle, Sierra! We have to open the door." Ravi argued, finger taut against the earpiece. The two stood in the hall, the docking bay's door just ahead of them. Since the shuttle docked, the field team inside had been radio silent. Sierra refused the pair to manually unlocked the shuttle's door until the field team responded. It was protocol, Blake thought as Ravi paced around — clearly frustrated by Sierra's decision. Blake was a stickler for the rules and had read through the protocol manuals from cover to cover.
"I will not have a breach on this ship, Ravi. We have no idea what has happened to them since their extraction." Sierra's cool was slipping, Blake could hear the anger bubbling up in her words.
"I mean...she is right, Ravi...we don't know what they could have been exposed to," Blake spoke meekly, head lowered to avoid his scorning gaze. Ravi erupted into laughter, causing Blake to glance up.
"Oh, bloody hell! Of course, you'd take her side!" Ravi exasperated, throwing his arms in the air, "Want to make it any more obvious you—" A click. The shuttle door slowly slid open, Ravi falling completely silent. The first thing she noticed was the smell. A foul, almost gag-inducing stench that permeated from the shuttle. Blake swivelled towards the stench, gaze settling on the shuttle; the interior walls were splattered in a yellowly, sickly liquid that coated and oozed over the equipment. A mucus of some kind? No, a form of discharge considering the consistency...Blake deduced as her eyes lowered to the shuttle's floor. Oh my god...she couldn't help but gasp, stumbling backwards, almost tripping on her own feet.
The shuttle's floor was littered with the bodies of the field team. All of them. Their bodies had mostly been discarded of clothing and their protective suits as though they undressed in a hurry; blisters and sores covered their exposed skin with hands and feet coloured in green and black splotches. Using the sleeve of her lab coat to cover her nose — a pitiful attempt to stop the horrid odour from invading her nose. Ravi stood still; his eyes seemingly transfixed by the traumatic site. Yet, he didn't seem disgusted or shocked...he was intrigued, Blake thought. He took a step forward. Then another, until he was crouched down by a disfigured body.
"Jesus, Ravi! What are you doing?" Blake gasped; voice muffled by her lab coat. He didn't seem to hear her, his attention on the body. The body belonged to Murphy, he was stripped down to his once NASA-supplied, stark-white boxers which were stained with the yellowy discharge and blood. Murphy is — was the captain of this ship and was an honourable, intelligent man. His wife and children...Blake recalled the photo pinned up in his quarters of two smiling little girls and a woman who held them tight. Alike the others, his body was covered in sores and scabs, with blue, spiderweb veins travelling up his pasty skin. He was almost translucent. Yet, what scared Blake the most was his hands — shrivelled as though he had begun decomposing and his fingers...they were green.
"Gangrene," Ravi answered as though reading her mind. Gangrene? How was that possible?
"Ravi, come on. We have to get out of here." Blake pleaded; she could feel herself shaking. She wanted to get as far away as possible.
"If it is airborne, we are already infected." Ravi glanced in her direction, "can't you see, Red? This is monumental. All signs point to Gangrene, yet the acceleration of the affected area is astonishing." A glint was in his eyes. Blake felt sick.
"Murphy is dead...Yuna..." Blake could feel the tears welling in her eyes.
"Get the kit, we need to run some tests," Ravi spoke before sighing, "pull yourself together, Red." Blake shook her head, blinking away tears. No, I'm not going to test on them. Blake knew Ravi was an ambitious man...but this.
"H-honey..." A mere whisper left Murphy's corpse. No, he was breathing. He was alive! His breathing was ragged, each rise and fall of his chest seemed like a struggle.
"Murphy's vitals have become rapid." Sierra finally spoke and Blake could hear fast feet padding against the ground through her earpiece.
"His skin is so cold..." Ravi pulled a flashlight from his lab coat pocket, shining it in Murphy's right eye, "can you hear me, Murphy? It's Ravi, mate…" No reply. Murphy stared up to the ceiling, expression blank.
"The gangrene must have entered his bloodstream," Blake recalled, "he must be in septic shock..." She tried hard to remember the other symptoms of septic shock.
"Where is she..." Murphy croaked, those green, shrivelled fingers fidgeting by his side. Suddenly Murphy sat up, those same fingers wrapped around Ravi's neck. Blake let out a scream, fear crippling her as she remained still, back against the wall. "Where is Janice!" Murphy screamed, spit flying from his mouth. Bloodshot eyes stared at a panicked Ravi. Ravi's hands were clambering; ripping at Murphy's loose flesh on his arm as though a prime piece of steak, falling from the bone with ease. Murphy managed to climb on top of Ravi, both of his hands strangling the life out of him. Blake had to do something. You have to move… Blake assured herself, come on. Move!
She needed to free Ravi. Blake's eyes darted around her surroundings. The extinguisher. Ravi's desperate gasps filled Blake's ears. Blake forced herself to moved towards the wall-mounted extinguisher. Ripping it from the wall she approached the deranged Murphy, raising the extinguisher. Her hands shook violently, I can’t do it!
Blake’s hesitation led to a violent stream of vomit erupting from Murphy’s mouth and spilling over poor Ravi. Holy shit, Blake gagged. The smell was unbearable.
"H-help...me!" Ravi managed to choke out through the vomit, his arms pathetically flopping around. Blake closed her eyes tightly, hurtling the extinguisher down. A sickly crack sent shivers up Blake’s neck. A solid thud followed. Opening her eyes, she could see Ravi gasping and coughing for air; Murphy on his side, blood oozing from his head.
“T-took…your…time…” Ravi’s voice was weak, specks of blood on his tanned face and chunks of vomit in his beard and hair. Blake dropped the bloody extinguisher, her knees buckling. Using the wall for support, she slid down to the ground. How could she tell Murphy’s family this? She just killed him. A flickering memory of a young Blake flashed before her eyes; hysterically crying into her teacher’s sleeve after breaking the news of her father’s accident.
“What the fuck just happened?” Sierra’s voice sparked through the earpiece. She must have made it to the security room and could see the mess that just unfolded. What would Sierra think of her? Blake’s eyes burned with hot tears, “are you both okay?” Sierra’s words were gentle, yet not enough to stop Blake’s spiralling.
“No, Murphy, just bloody projectile vomited on me! I almost died because Blake was being a chicken shit.” Ravi used his lab coat to clean his sopping face. No, we almost died because of your blinded ambition; Blake opened her mouth to speak, yet, the words never came. Why couldn’t we just have left?
They both sat in silence for what felt like an eternity until Blake finally forced herself to gaze forwards. The sight of Ravi made her wish she didn’t. Oh god no, Blake pleaded, no…
Tears spilled down her freckled-face, glasses fogging. A blood-curdling scream tore her throat, ripping through the silence. She couldn’t turn her gaze from Ravi’s fingers.
His fingers…they were green.