Couple years back, on a long-haul from Titan Station to Luna Refuel, I learned about the medical phenomenon of degloving. If you haven’t had the pleasure, degloving is when your top layer of skin peels off from the layers beneath it, usually muscle or bone; generally, it happens when someone gets a hand caught in between two moving parts, and the whole upper layer gets peeled off. Like a glove.
In my case, it was a bad burn. I was working this shithouse ore hauler called the Equus. A deceleration to sublight caused this whole network of flammable liquid fuel to shift closer to the bulkhead than it should have. Someone told me that it was a pretty common accident, caused by improper safety inspections on the inertial dampeners. Whatever the fuck that means. Anyway, I had to cut into this panel for one reason or another, and the pipe was right there. Waiting for me.
I was instantly doused in flaming liquid, burning at close to a thousand degrees. I twisted out of the way, so most of it splashed on my right arm. It felt like I was somewhere else. I became an idle observer, watching the blackened flesh on my arm roll up and peel off like yesterday’s sweatshirt. Degloved.
I spent the next year in a company hospital. My Epsilon-class company insurance entitled me to not be shot out of an airlock, but just barely. My time passed quickly in a drugged up haze, chuckling to myself at the pixelated newscasts they piped up from Earth. They grafted a messy patchwork of rubbery, factory-made skin cells onto my mangled mess of an arm, and inserted a couple steel rods into the bone to restore its structural integrity. It hurt like hell, and it took me months to get used to the clicking and the mismatched skin tone. Before they discharged me, I was entitled to one visit to the hospital shrink.
His office was a stark contrast to the sterile white panels of the rest of the hospital. It was all done up in plastwood panelling, with a big faux leather couch and armchair. It looked like the kind of place a cheapshit Sigmund Freud might ask about your mom.
The shrink was an unpleasant man with a goatee, bird-like features and a high voice. He wore a brown suit with patches on the elbows. I sat down, wincing as an unexpected draft hit my new flesh and sent icy flames coursing down my shoulder to my fingers.
He looked up from his clipboard and frowned. He did that a lot. “Do you feel traumatized by the accident?”
“No?” I said uncertainly. “I mean, my arm hurts like a motherf—”
“Psychologically, I meant.”
“Oh. Then no, I guess.”
“Would you feel a course of post-traumatic readjustment medication would be appropriate?”
I wanted no part of whatever neurochemical sledgehammer the Happy Trails Mining Company Traumatic Injury Centre was offering. Instead, I chose a treatment plan consisting of two time-honoured traditions: booze and whining.
A month later, Happy Trails stuck me on the Zanzibar. It was another hauler of the same make and model, this time dragging canisters of Helium-3 and slinging them into a high Earth orbit to be collected. I resumed my duties as Flight Engineer First-Class, doing minor repairs on shifted bulkheads and coaxing life out of cooked circuit boards.
I fucking hated it. Every ignition of a thermal cutter, every spark from an exposed cable, and every smoke lit by a crewmember threatened to become a towering inferno that would swallow me whole.
There was this guy on the crew, Emil. He was a fat, moustached, Eastern European guy, and the Chief Safety Inspector. He was also one of the most willfully incompetent men I’ve ever met. Every day, he was supposed to suit up and visually inspect the connective pistons that held Zanzibar to its monstrous payload. When he was feeling unusually responsible, he did that about twice a week. We used to sit in the crew lounge, and he’d clean me out over many frustrating hands of blackjack.
“Unbelievable,” I lied as he came up with an ace and a ten.
He snorted, before pulling a fat cigar from his greasy overalls. I cringed as he lit it.
“You seem awfully sure about smoking in a pressurized can.”
Emil waved a hairy hand. “Regulations!” he said dismissively.
The smoke curling off the cigar was bothering me. Right as I got up to leave, the captain entered the room. He was a tall, clean-shaven military type. His immaculate uniform stood out against the griminess of the ship. His eyebrows were furrowed and he was frowning.
“What’s wrong, skip?” Emil asked, looking away from his cards.
“We’ve got a situation on the bridge,” he said carefully. “Emil, have you done your inspection yet?”
Emil shifted guiltily in his seat.
“Go do it now. Then get your ass back in here,” the captain’s steely gaze turned to me. Emil scurried away.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“We’ve got a distress call. I need you on the bridge with me.”
The bridge was tense. The Comms Officer, a grim bald-headed Irish woman called McKinley, was pouring over a glowing sea of readouts and sensor-arrays. There were a couple empty, stained synthcaf mugs on her workstation that had been pushed to the side.
“Found him,” the captain said as we stepped onto the bridge.
“What’s the issue here?”
McKinley looked up, but only for a second. “I’m getting some kind of power failure.”
I saw the problem immediately. The last guy who had repaired the comms array didn’t connect it properly to its power source, leaving it without a full charge. It was a thirty second repair. “That should fix it.”
“Signal’s coming through,” said McKinley.
“Patch it through the speakers,” the captain ordered.
A crackling voice came over the bridge’s speakers. Their transmitter must have been damaged, because the signal came through in fits and starts. “Zanzibar, do you read? … sustained heavy casualties… some kind of accidental…”
“Where’s this coming from?” the captain asked coolly. A single bead of sweat was trickling down his forehead.
“Six hundred kilometers. It’s the, uh,” McKinley flipped a few arcane-looking switches, “the Franklin Delano. This is weird — it’s got no registration.”
“How is that possible?” the captain frowned. An unregistered ship wasn’t just illegal, it was impossible; it should never have been able to leave port.
“No idea. Should I hail it?” McKinley asked.
“Put me through. Franklin Delano, this is Zanzibar. Do you read?”
“Zanzibar… do not attempt… medivac shuttle…”
A proximity alarm sounded on the bridge. Something was a couple kilometers away, moving fast; in other words, right on top of us.
The captain quickly stepped out of the bridge. “McKinley, keep hailing.”
I followed him out. “Captain, what’s going on here?”
“Suit up. Looks like we’re about to receive wounded.”
We jogged to the airlock. Emil was there, removing his EVA suit. His face was slick with sweat and flushed with exertion. “What’s problem?” he asked.
“Emil, keep the crew in their quarters unless they’re needed. Wake the doctor up.”
The captain and I put on two bulky, plated EVA suits. Atmospherically sealed, and mercifully flame retardant. As we stepped out into the hard vacuum and maglocked to the hull, the medivac shuttle came into view. It was a steel, windowless rectangle with maneuvering thrusters jutting out of it like a porcupine’s quills. One of its rear-thrusters was spitting flames. For a split second, I was back on the Equus and could feel flames lapping my naked skin. I gasped.
The captain glanced over at me. My radio was on. I shook my head and gave him a thumbs up. As the shuttle synchronized with our ship’s computer, it automatically veered towards the airlock. Its thrusters strained to stop its forward momentum, and it slammed into the airlock with an ungraceful thud. The airlock opened a second later, forming a vacuum-seal with a bow-facing hatch on the shuttle.
“Emil, did you wake Doctor Parnassus yet?”
Emil’s voice came crackling through the radio. “Yes, yes. Doctor’s awake. We’re on the way to airlock.”
We couldn’t re-enter the ship until the shuttle was detached, so a few minutes went by in tense silence. Finally, the captain couldn’t stand it anymore and radioed again: “Emil, what’s going on in there?”
“Maybe they’re busy with the wounded?” I offered, unconvinced.
The captain drifted over to an external monitor on the shuttle. It gave a brief readout of the damage to the engines and listed the occupancy as zero. “Looks like we’re safe to detach here.” We pulled the two release latches, breaking the seal and releasing the shuttle from its moorings. There was a brief hiss of escaping gases from the airlock. From there, I planted one foot on the shuttle and pushed it away, sending it gently drifting into space.
As the airlock pressurized, it was clear that something was wrong. There was a bloody pair of handprints against the wall, as if a terribly wounded man had slouched against it.
“Something’s wrong here,” the captain said.
We wordlessly walked into the ship. It was a scene of anarchy. The ground was slick with blood. One of the walls was punctured, as if a cannonball had gone through it. The lights flickered. A blood trail led to the bridge.
“Keep your suit on,” the captain ordered me before sprinting down towards the bridge. Not feeling like a war hero, I followed at a more moderate pace. On the way, I picked up my thermal cutter; it had been laying in the hallway, discarded, ever since I abandoned a repair job to play cards with Emil. The weight was comforting in my hand.
I heard a sound like someone smashing a steel plate with a sledgehammer. I picked up the pace, nearly tripping while trying to run in a cumbersome suit. The inside of my suit became uncomfortably warm as my panicked breaths began to fog the visor. I checked my wrist-mounted biomonitor and could see my heart rate spiking. When I arrived at the bridge, I quickly identified the source of the noise.
The captain had drawn his service pistol and fired it three times. He had managed to hit a fire-suppression pipe, filling the bridge with a dense white chemical fog. I couldn’t see what he was shooting at — only the look of terror in his face.
An arm reached out of the fog. It was long, and double-jointed, with shards of bones gruesomely protruding from its pallid grey skin. Another arm reached out, and I realized that it was easily six feet long.
“Watch out!” I yelled, my voice muffled by my suit.
The captain didn’t hear. The hands closed around his head and effortlessly pulled him into the fog. I heard him scream as a geyser of blood stained the ceiling.
The crackling voice came back clearer this time. “Zanzibar, do you read? Do not allow that shuttle to board. There is an unidentified organism onboard. It is extremely dangerous. Zanzibar, do you read?”
The creature shuffled into view as the fog began to clear. It was easily as tall as the bridge. Its arms trailed on the ground behind it, its hands leaving bloody tracks on the floor. Its legs were jointed backwards and hoofed. Its skin was a patchwork of different tones and complexions. Human body parts jutted out of it like half-digested food in a pool of stomach acid. It groaned in a half dozen voices.
I had seen enough. I sprinted back the way I came, screaming incoherently. I sprayed so much spittle inside my visor I could hardly see where I was going. Something grabbed my foot. I hit the ground hard, slamming my head. As I turned, I noticed a rope of what looked like intestine, coiled around my ankle.
I was running out of options. As the creature was shrieking as it began to reel me in like a fish, I saw that it was covered in spitting and gnashing human mouths. I was inches away from death. It raised one gargantuan arm to strike. I had seconds to act. I squeezed the trigger of my thermal cutter and looked to the wall.
Closing my eyes, I touched the cutter to the wall, igniting the fuel pipe and engulfing us both in flames.
Just sticking this in the correct forum because it got stuck in Workshop.