The filtering systems are slowly degrading, and soon we'll be breathing carbon dioxide, at which point it's over for us. Somewhere out there there's a leak. It's a small one. But we're losing air. We have two weeks before we start hitting problems. Each day it becomes a little more difficult to breathe, but the CO2 will get to us first.

An air leak. Our worst nightmare. We can't go forward. The radiation from the ship's reactor can kill anything. And there's no going back. Nothing there between us and the vacuum, except for the emergency bulkhead. There's no insulation to speak of. On the far side of our orbit, we freeze, and as soon as the light hits us, we slowly boil.

Somewhere in what's left of this mile long ship wreck, there has to be a way out. But we're trapped. We sent people with the last of the hardened suits to look for exits, but the radiation interfered with the handsets we had, and we've lost contact. They haven't come back.

I hope they made it.

I'm looking for something sharp.

My skin smells of rotting popcorn kernels in the sun, and of butter going rancid. The pallor of dying yellow things hangs over the room and over my face; I almost wonder if you can see me through it.

We light another cigarette, one for each of us these days. You light me off the end of yours and I am breathing deeply as if this could take me somewhere else, looking around in my very best bar-stare at the people around us, similarly callused and affected. I see the casual flicking of their ashes; the cocking of their heavy heads; the cast of slender, ivory hands in blue light. Here is one more spiky-haired goddess with a nose-ring, dressed in a short skirt and bitch-boots, for you, darling. I cannot look at your face or I might seem to be interested in what you are saying, so I am picturing this dark red lipstick smudged across your forehead and shit in your hair instead, trying not to giggle for fear it might make me seem real.

Outside we are dreaming and cussing and groping, your drunken hand making gross circles over my skin and pressing me into a wall with your sad hips that can’t get it up for the booze. I thought for a second that you might be as bored as me.

I ash in your general direction.

"Don't catch your suit on anything sharp." Danforth was waiting in the lock with his armor on, wristlights lit, and as always he was spouting useless advice to the rookie. It was just his way of dealing with tension, so everybody ignored him. They always did before a dive. Shela was checking her tools, made fast to her bandolier; Monnon was tapping his boot toes on the deckplates. Pariah was edging towards the hulk, making small incremental burns as the grapplock rotated greasily, servos whining, to track some weak point the cameras had located on the hulk's hull. Strath, the rookie, was watching the 'lock turn back and forth a nervous look on his face behind the synthetic sapphire of his visor.

"Don't smack your faceplate, Strath, it's hard but you don't wanna scratch it up and screw your visibility."

"Okay, Dan."

"Leave off him, Dan, huh?" Shela tapped the last device with practiced fingers and looked up. "He checked out in drill. He'll be fine."

"Yeah, in drill. This is..."

"He knows what this is. C'mon, don't ride the kid just to make your own nerves easy." She shot Strath a grin to let him know this wasn't about him, which he returned gratefully.

"Sorry." Danforth shrugged at him apologetically.

"No, it's okay, I need all the tips I can get. I've never been on a live dive, after all."

"Aw, Christ, kid, don't tell him that, we'll be listening to him all damn day." Monnon's drawl was laced with mock horror, the tap-tap-tap of his boots traversing his suit fabric to underly his voice transmission. Pariah shuddered to a hard braking burn. The hulk was close. A tone in their suit phones heralded the ship's Monitor.

"Attention. Grapple in ten seconds. Prepare for impact."

They all took hold, Strath looking apprehensive, the rest suddenly relaxed. Seconds ticked, then-

BO-O-O-OMMMMM

"That's it, we're locked." Danforth's voice was noticeably calmer, relieved. "Okay, recorder. Salvage and investigation team Seven Seven Alpha, timestamp. Crewmembers Danforth Abizaid, Monnon Coyle, Shela Arakel, Strath Leukis. Monitor of record FSS Pariah. Attached to target; effecting entry through grapplock as per standard procedure, no information as to target condition. Going to automatic suit recording now." He motioned them all into the lock; when they were all within its confines, Shela palmed the red glowing plate and the inner door cycled with the floor-shaker and atmospheric buzzer.

There was a brief delay while the atmosphere was pumped out, then the lights cycled to orange as the grapplock's systems worked on the target. Finally the Monitor spoke again. "Target lock engaged. Systems functional. Opening outer door. Soft seal. Open. Opening lock for transfer. Good luck."

"Thanks, Pariah. See you on the flipside." Danforth swung the lockbar and the outer door slowly rotated outward into darkness. As it passed forty-five degrees, the lightbars mounted on the outside flickered to life to show the strait confines of the sealtube; at the other end, a scarred and pitted standard outer lockdoor waited.

They moved out of the lock one at a time, Danforth huge in his armor moving all the way to the far door. Shela moved up behind him in case her tools were needed. Monnon remained midway, weapons active; Strath, his various access modules quiescent until jacked in, hung just outside the door they left. Danforth waved an arm, and Strath reached back to palm the green plate outside the lock, watching as Pariah sealed itself again, the plate flipping to red. "Good seal, Commander."

"Thanks, Strath. Okay, here we go." He punched the matching plate on the other lock door. Nothing happened for a moment, then with a groaning noise the other door swung slowly outward. "Hey, that's promising."

The foreign lock remained dark, however. Danforth waited until the door had stopped, then angled his bulk inside. His wristlights illuminated a perfectly standard looking airlock, with FNS Vaicoeur stencilled along two surfaces in Navy-standard blue. "Looks like our pigeon. Pariah, call it in."

"Affirmative, Commander. Commander, sensors have detected extensive battle damage to the exterior hull ofVaicoeur as well as outgassing in several sectors. No EM-range signals have been detected. Gamma and warp radiation are also manifesting in sporadic bursts, indicating both primary and secondary core damage. Caution is advised."

"Acknowledged, Pariah. Thanks. What sort of outgassing?"

"Atmospheric and various system components, along with unidentified organics, possibly from hydroponics."

"Understood." Danforth waved the others in. Strath, last up, squeezed into the darkened lock with trepidation as Shela unclipped a panel and shined a hand torch into it, muttering to herself. After a few moments, a wan light came up in within the walls, and the outer door began to rotate shut.

"There's emergency power, Commander. Cycling the lock now." She closed the panel.

"Right." Danforth positioned himself before the inner door, poised to grab it with his gauntlets if it looked to hesitate. Strath watched the outer door cycling shut and tried not to gulp. Monnon, seeing this, clapped his shoulder.

"Don't worry, kid. If Shela's magic tricks can't get us out of here, Dan's armor can probably rip the doors off. If it can't, I can cut through the outer door in about five minutes without draining my ready reserve power."

Strath tried to grin at him, but it was hard. The outer door seated with a thud felt through the gauntlet he had braced against the wall. There was the normal five-second delay, then the inner door began to open. It made it halfway, then ground to a halt; Danforth grabbed the edge and levered. It swung slowly to the stop, and they filed in.

The suit foyer was lit dimly. There was a chaos of disorganized bits of suit armor lying around, but it didn't look like the foyer had taken battle damage; rather, it looked like there had been an attempted evacuation, interrupted in the middle, but there were no survivors or corpses anywhere. Greaves, gauntlets and breastplates lay scattered about, with softsuit unders lying on the floor and racked in lockers. It was impossible to tell if any were missing.

"Okay. Stick together. Head for main Engineering, we need to see what kind of shape the cores are in before we get any ideas." Danforth waved towards the bounce tube at the rear of the foyer. "Before we go, though, let Strath try his magic."

Immediately outside the armored door to the gravity shaft, Strath unhitched his access probe from his belt and tried to connect to the ship's Monitor through the hardport in the panel. There was no response, not even a heartbeat or network acknowledgement. He shrugged at Danforth, who nodded. "Okay, people, shaft time."

They forced the door open. The bounce tube was pitch black, but unblocked for as far as their lights could reach. While they were leaning into the shaft, Strath unhooked his probe and reattached it to his belt. As he did so, a slight movement at the side of his faceplate startled him, and he spun around; his wrist smacked into Shela's back. She in turn jumped and cracked her arm against the doorframe. "What--"

Strath was peering frantically into the darkness back towards the airlock, still gaping open where they'd left the door. Nothing was moving that he could see. Light flooded the area as Shela and Danforth, seeing where he was looking, directed their suit lights in that direction. "Strath, what?"

"Nothing." He hoped they couldn't see his blush through his faceplate. "Sorry. I thought I saw movement. It's nothing."

"You probably did." Shela said, patting his shoulder. "We probably kicked a suit component; standby grav isn't much at all in here, and it probably tumbled."

"Yeah..." Strath wasn't sure about that, but held his tongue. One at a time, they moved into the tube; Danforth first, Shela, then Strath, then Monnon in the rear, moving sternwards towards the engineering spaces.

Their radcounters started spiking as they traversed the heavy damage areas, indicating ordnance residue still embedded in the hull. Strath checked at three more access points, but either Vaicoeur's Monitor was truly dead or the network was breached in too many places to get a link through to it. Given the lack of power in ship's systems, he wasn't willing to place bets either way. Thoughts of the massive salvage bonus that Fleet was willing to pay if the Monitor's network could be reactivated were starting to look like forlorn hopes, though.

They emerged from the bounce tube, guided by Danforth's inertial guide and detailed schematics of the Fleur de Lys class assault carrier. Instead of the armored portal into Engineering Alpha, though, they found themselves in a vehicle bay, reflecting the number of 'minor' differences that every military construction contract since time began had accrued between design and commissioning. Cursing, Danforth and Shela scouted to starboard while Strath and Monnon went to port, looking for Engineering.

Strath was only three or four meters from Monnon, trying to determine whether the hatchway he was looking at opened to a passageway or a closet, when there was a sudden burst of light. He turned to find a smoking area of decking where Monnon had been, and nothing else.

"Monnon?"

There was no answer. He looked up, convulsively, turning his flash on the confusion of liftcranes and manipulators that rested over the cradle in which a large armored vehicle slept. Nothing. Shining the light on the deck revealed a burned patch, no longer bubbling, where Monnon's armor had apparently discharged its weaponry. Strath shivered and chinned his commo. "Commander?"

The voice was clear. "Strath? What is it?"

"Monnon...he's...he's gone."

"What?" Sharp. "What happened?"

"I don't know. I wasn't looking at him. There was a light, I think he fired, and now there's no sign of him."

"Stay where you are. We're coming to you."

"Roger." Strath slowly backed up to put the wall against his shoulder blades and reached down to his belt with his right hand. The gyp was there, still attached; he drew it and held it in both hands, aiming the chunky weapon at the deck in front of him as he swept his eyes back and forth. Nothing moved.

"Strath?" Danforth's voice was slightly labored. "Strath, you still there? We're coming up on you now. Don't shoot us."

"I'm here, Commander." Strath made sure his finger was off the trigger. A patch of wobbly light was approaching from starboard; it resolved into Danforth's armor, moving carefully around the various equipment in the bay. Strath took one hand off the pistol and waved. Danforth's figure waved back; Strath frowned. There was only one shape. "Commander, where's Shela?"

"She's with me."

"Sir, she's not." He watched Danforth stop and rotate clumsily, looking.

"Shit!" Danforth turned back, loped towards him, drawing his own weapon. "She was right behind me when we started. What-" He saw the burned decking. "Is this where Monnon was?"

"Yeah. He didn't even say anything. We were looking for hatchways, so I wasn't looking at him."

"Okay. Don't turn away from me. Keep your eyes on me, okay?" Danforth glared at him, intense in his concentration. When Strath nodded, sweating now, Danforth looked from side to side. They stood there for a moment, rocket pistols clutched between them, held slightly out the the side, talismans of fear. Danforth looked back at Strath, spoke again. "Monitor?"

"Receiving, Commander."

"Monitor, we've lost contact with Shela and Monnon. Do you have their locators on scan?"

"I do, Commander. They are colocated in Sickbay."

"Sickbay?" Danforth looked puzzled, then grim again. "Right. We're on it. Strath, with me?"

Strath gulped. "Yessir. Right with you."

"Good man. Okay, stay to my left."

They moved out of the bay and made their way forward along a companionway, Danforth checking his inertial guide frequently. The emergency lights were on, but spaced fairly far apart. Twice Strath spun, seeing movement out of the corner of his eye, but found nothing there; both times, Danforth spun with him, looking, then nodded and motioned him on.

Ten minutes and a single detour around a mangled area, open to dark space, brought them to a white blast door with a caduceus painted on it. Without speaking, Strath moved to the other side of it as Danforth put his back to the wall alongside, and at Danforth's nod, plugged his access probe into the port there.

There was a response. Weak, automatic, but a response. He nodded furiously at Danforth, then returned his attention to the jack. The Sickbay systems were online in emergency mode; he entered the override command Fleet's salvage division had given him and waited. There was a grinding through the wall behind him that spoke of damaged mechanisms, and the blast door rose into the overhead. Yanking his probe out, he followed Danforth into the bay.

The blast door rolled down behind them automatically. The sickbay was covered in blood and debris; gauze pads, offal and surgical tools strewn throughout telling of frantic battles fought by medical staffers against their traditional enemy with no hints as to the handicapping. Danforth was checking the beds along the back of the bay, but they were empty. "Monitor, locator check please."

"Crew locators intermittent; apparent signal interference on all locators due to core radiation. Last known location of Lieutenants Coyle and Arakel, Main Engineering."

"Damn it!" Danforth swore. "What the fuck-"

"Commander?" Strath ventured.

"What?" Danforth swung to face him.

"Where are the crew?"

"Engineering!"

"No, Vaicoeur's crew."

"They're-" Danforth stopped. "Good question. We haven't seen any bodies. They might be in the shelters if they had rad leaks and atmosphere loss."

"Maybe, but there's atmosphere in most sections we've been through, other than the breached areas."

"Look, I don't know. It's possible they abandoned. I have more urgent problems right now, damn it."

"Yessir." Strath looked away.

"Okay, Monitor, we're heading back to Engineering. Let us know ASAP if our locators drop off."

"Affirmative, Commander."

Danforth opened the main door. As he did so, Strath saw something scuttle past his feet. Shouting, he spun about, bringing up the gyp; without waiting to see if Danforth had turned, he moved towards the back of the sickbay, positive he'd seen movement. His helmet lights shone on the detritus lying about the deckplates as he cast about for whatever had passed him, the nose of the rocket pistol questing. He had just lifted his gaze from the floor to the back of the bay when the shape resolved from the darkness, all sticks and bands, scrabbling, and his hand squeezed reflexively but the shell burst PAM against the back wall and then it was on him and he felt himself bowled over on his back, borne down to the deck against the feeble gravity, watching as the twiglike shapes fluttered towards his faceplate and there was a giant HHHSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHH and everything went out



"-Strath?"

"uhhhhh"

"Strath?" The voice was familiar in his ears, if hoarse and painful. "Strath, damn it, wake up."

He opened a gummed eye. There was weak light, and indistinct shapes. He felt awful; hot, ill, swollen. His joints ached. He couldn't move. Something was holding his wrists in an implacable grip. He closed his eyes again and squeezed them shut, trying to work whatever was gumming them closed out of his orbits, and then opened them again. Both opened this time. "Shela?"

"You're awake." The relief was palpable. "Can you see?"

"I...think so." He blinked. It helped, somewhat. "Wait, where's my suit?"

"They took them."

"They?"

"The bots." He peered around. He was standing against a metal wall, in what had to be engineering; huge machines lurked everywhere. He looked left, towards the voice. Shela was standing there, her suit gone as well. She looked florid and just as rumpled as he felt. Looking down, he saw ther their wrists were locked to the wall by crude restraints. He tested them; metal clinked against metal, wrongly, but they didn't move.

"What bots? What the hell..."

"There are some kind of bots wandering around here. I think they're ship's manuatics, but I don't know."

"Ship's - damage control?"

"Yeah."

Strath thought about that for a second. "Any sign of Danforth and Monnon?"

"They're to my left, down a few yards. They're still out."

"What the hell's going on?"

"I don't know." She laughed, short and hard. "But look to your right." He did, sucked in breath. Clustered around a rough-looking cylinder were four figures, clothed in the dark blue of Fleet. They were shriveled, almost mummified; milky eyes looked out of faces screaming silently in gape-mouthed fear.

"Oh, Jesus."

"Yeah."

"What happened to them?"

"I have no idea. But I can't help thinking it's gonna happen to us."

"Why?"

"Look at their hands."

He did. The four figures were restrained at the wrists, but that wasn't all, there was something strange about the way they were chained in. He couldn't quite make it out. Before he could angle his neck further, though, movement to his left snapped his head back around. A jumble of metal rods, which was now identifiable as a standard damage control bot in the light, shambled forward and faced him, lenses clicking as they rotated.

"Bot, release me." He snapped the command out. It was worth a try. It ignored him.

"I tried that." Shela said absently. "They're not listening."

"Bot, override Sigma Seven Niner Three Desiderata Five, acknowledge." Strath recited the Fleet override, hoping. Nothing. The bot reached for his wrists and gripped them securely, undoing the shackles with its secondary manipulators. "Shit."

"Strath, if you get a chance, there's a gun in my boot, okay?"

He kept his voice calm. "Which boot?"

Shela laughed. "Both of 'em."

Surprising himself, he laughed too. "Remind me not to hit on you in a downside bar." The bot pulled him away from the wall, towards the cylinder. He looked down, and almost fainted; his wrists were scarred, with metal bands embedded in the flesh on their inner surfaces. That was what had produced the clinking when he'd struggled. "What the hell is that?"

"What?"

"There's some kind of metal on my wrists-" The bot pulled one of the corpses off the cylinder and sat him forcibly on the small ledge it had occupied, then placed his wrists beneath the restraints. He struggled, but was no match for electromagnetic servos. He felt a sickening click as the metal sockets on his wrists mated with the mechanism on the cylinder, then the restraints locked down over the joints and he was unable to move them a millimeter as they were pressed painfully into their places.

"Strath, what's it doing?"

"I don't-" he grunted, struggling as the bot moved to his right towards an access port and inserted a probe. "It's got my wrists locked to this damn cylinder and AIIIIIIIGH!" The scream was pure pain, as molten lava flooded into his arms. His fingers curled instantly into claws. He felt himself urinate into his utilities, but it was far away and unimportant; there was a whining sound and a module that looked strangely familiar lowered itself from the ceiling to surround his upper body. Somewhere, someone was shouting his name, urgently, but it didn't matter, through the pain that was moving up his forearms and into his thorax. Blessed cold seeped through him, needles of ice from the module as it tried to caress him and fight off the fire.

The fire and the ice fought, and in between, Strath screamed.

Danforth came to, muzzily, at the screaming. "Whuzzat?"

"Danforth? Christ, Danforth-" It was Shela's voice, and she sounded like she was crying.

"Shela? What the hell is going on?" He snapped awake, struggled against the restraints, looked around. "Oh, Christ, what are they doing to the kid?"

"I don't know, D, I don't know. He said something about there being metal in his wrists, and then they plugged him into that thing, and then he started screaming and that thing came down over him."

"He screamed, and then that thing came down?"

"Yeah, why?"

"That's a hospital support module."

"So what? Jesus, they're killing him!"

"No, wait. If he screamed first, then that thing's not what's doing it."

"SO WHAT?"

"So something else is, and the module's keeping him alive. So there's a purpose to whatever's hurting him. Who did this?"

"It's the repair bots, Dan, the ship's bots."

"MONITOR!"

The voice was faint, but legible, repeated through the implanted conductor in his mastoid. "Yes, Commander."

"Monitor, status!"

"All crew locators in main Engineering. Slight increase in outgassing. Lowering of external blackbody radiation from engineering module of target."

"Wait, what? Lowering temp?"

"Yes, commander."

"Son of a bitch." Danforth was breathing hard, his eyes narrowed. Strath was still screaming. A repair bot approached Shela; she began to kick at it.

"Danforth, what the fuck is going on?"

"Oh, hell. Oh, no." His face had gone white. He craned his neck, looking hard at Strath, still screaming on the other side of Shela's struggles.

"WHAT?" She was kicking at the bot, now. It was bouncing away from her, but patiently returning with mechanical implacability. "What is it? What are they doing?"

"They're saving their ship. Christ, I didn't see it. Battle damage - they lost coolant on the reactor, Shela. The fucking coolant loop broke. There's no liquid stores anywhere on the ship. There's no power to pump coolant. The reactor's at standby, but it still needs to move coolant just that little bit, enough to keep the core low."

"What the fuck does that have to do with us?"

Danforth felt the bot unhook his left wrist. He kicked at it ineffectually; it was a larger model, hull maintenance, and didn't react. "We're the radiators, Shel. Us. It's using blood for coolant. Organic outgassing, fuck, I should have known." He was being carried to the cylinder, arms held firmly to his sides. "I hope you can get to those damn guns, honey, or we're screwed. Strath's already toast; it's not just heating his blood, it's irradiating it, but it's gonna lose it, too. Monitor, mark and send message buoy recorder NOW. Christ, outgassing, my ass. This ship is fucking bleeding."

There was a click as his left wrist locked against the cylinder. He smiled dreamily, waiting for the reactor core to drink of him in its burning. "Imagine that. It's bleeding."





It's the season for Graves Cracking: The 2006 Quest for Fear

It was silent except for the low humming of the ship's engines on standby as they waited to see if their mission had been a success. The bridge was dimly lit, the crew ordered to conserve as much power as they could about an hour ago from Mission Command. Captain Woodson stood very rigid and erect, hands behind his back, as he studied the readouts on the computer screens below.

"Anything yet, Johnson?" the Captain asked, turning around to the First Officer.

Johnson looked down on his screen. "Nothing's popping up."

Captain Woodson began pacing around the bridge, pausing to look out the main window every thirty seconds or so. It was dark out there with the headlights off. Barely any light was leaking deep down in the belly where the ship was parked. All he could see was a vague, dark reddish blobular landscape.

"It's hard to see anything down here," Woodson mumbled.

Suddenly a loud growling sound surrounded them. The ship shook a little, something disturbing the waters they were floating in.

"Sir," said Ensign Dixon, another member of the crew, "I'm not sure how much longer our shields will hold in this acid. We should move."

"How much longer do we have?" Captain Woodson asked her, his steely blue eyes boring into her. He could look very intimidating with those eyes on his chisled and weathered face.

"Hard to tell," Dixon mumbled, "ten, maybe twenty minutes before the aft degrades completely. We'd better pull out soon."

"God dammit," Captain Woodson muttered. "Our orders were to stay here until--"

That's when the Until happened, cutting him off mid-sentence.

"Sir, I'm seeing massive growth!" Johnson said, standing up excitedly. "I think it was a success! Come here!"

Woodson rushed over to Johnson's computer. It was indeed showing the results they'd been shooting for.

"Yes!" Woodson yelled. "The mission was a success! We should all be proud of our hard work and dedication! You're a real stand-up crew!"

The entire crew began clapping and cheering. Several days after being shrunk and injected into Mr. Peter Willy to use their sophisticated equipment and anatomical know-how to cure him of his chronic, debilitating ailment, their mission was a success. They'd fought off angry white blood cells, hungry bacteria, and nasty virusus, but in the end they accomplished their mission.

"Yes, I am very pleased to announce," said Captain Woodson, the head of their operation, "that we have cured Mr. Willy's erectile dysfunction!" The crew cheered again. "It was hard, but we all came together and pulled it off! We really rose to the occasion."

"Sir, the growth is more than we'd expected," pointed out Ensign Pudman.

"Shut the fuck up, Pudman!" the Captain exclaimed. "Can't you see we're celebrating here?!"

"All right, let's move," Johnson said, "before--!"

Suddenly the ship began violently rocking back and forth. It felt like Peter's entire body was shaking.

"Oh no!" Dixon yelled. "We specifically told him to wait!"

"Patch into his visual cortex!" Woodson ordered Dixon. "Put it on the viewscreen!"

Sure enough, right in Peter's field of vision was the face of his hot girlfriend, grinning from ear to ear. Peter looked down and began unhooking her bra.

"Sometimes you just can't wait!" Pudman cried.

"Shut the fuck up, Pudman!" Johnson yelled.

"Take us out of here!" Woodson yelled.

The engine came back to full power and they began to scurry up and out of Peter's stomach. Once out, they found an opening between some cells and made it into an artery.

"Wow, it's calm in here, for an artery," Dixon observed as they shot by some red blood cells. "Blood pressure here is lower than normal."

"A lot of blood is going to his penis!" Pudman declared.

"Shut the fuck up, Pudman!" Woodson yelled. "We all know that!"

The ship did begin to shake violently again, though, despite the momentary calm in the waters. They all looked at the viewscreen. His hot girlfriend looked to be in the throes of passion.

"He has entered Jennifer!" Johnson yelled.

"We should head down there!" Pudman said.

"Shut the fuck up, Pudman!" Johnson said. "I have an idea. We should go down to his penis and make sure everything's functioning correctly!"

So Dixon programmed their navigational computer to take them down to Peter's peter. The closer they got, the more violently the ship shook.

"I don't know how much longer the ship can take this," Dixon warned as they began to enter Peter's shaft. "Forward and aft shields are down to fifty-six percent!" The ship began bouncing off the walls.

"Man she must be hot!" Pudman said, trying to hold on.

"Shut the fuck up, Pudman!" Woodson yelled.

Angrily, Pudman left his station unnoticed.

"Steady us, Johnson!" Woodson ordered. "Show me those piloting skills you're always boasting about!"

"I've been trying!" Johnson said, fooling with his controls. "They don't teach you how to keep a submarine steady while in somebody's cock!"

Woodson couldn't argue with that.

"What?!" Dixon said, looking down at her screen. "There's something out there! In front of the ship! I...I don't know what it is. These readings are so strange. It's not like any white or red blood cell or virus or bacteria we've encountered."

Woodson ran over to her computer. "What the hell?" He began to grow nervous. "We've got to get the hell out of this guy!" One of her displays showed Peter's heart rate skyrocketing. Woodson felt the same way. The ship was about to be destroyed and there was some new, unknown bodily creature out there in the blood, possibly preparing to attack them.

"Oh my god!" Johnson yelled, pointing at his computer's screen. "I know what's out there. Let me patch this into the main viewer!"

The landscape ahead lit up on the viewscreen. It showed the back of Pudman out there in his diving suit, gesticulating violently, his hands in front of him. A few wriggling sperm swam by him.

"That idiot's gone out there and something's attacking him!" yelled Dixon.

Woodson squinted his eyes, studied Pudman carefully. Then he rolled his eyes and growled. "He's not being attacked!"

"Good God, he's jerking off!" Johnson said, realizing it at the same time. "He's out in Peter's penis as he's fucking somebody, spanking his own monkey!

"And that's the most fucked up sentence I've ever said!"

"That's the most fucked up thing I've ever seen!" Captain Woodson angrily grabbed a microphone on the front-most control panel near the window. He pressed a nearby button and began yelling into it. "PUDMAN!! Quit wiggling your walrus and get your ass back in here!"

"He's about to release!" Dixon yelled.

Woodson had a quick decision to make. Peter's release could destroy the ship. If they left Pudman, he could be pulled apart, or be shot into Jennifer, totally out of their reach. If he began growing again while inside of her, alive or not...

"PUDMAN!" Woodson yelled. "I AM ORDERING YOU TO GET BACK INSIDE! NOW!"

"I think Peter is pulling out of her!" Dixon yelled.

"Pulling out?" Woodson said. He looked at the viewscreen. Jennifer was moving further away. "He's pulling out! That could be our way out! Johnson!"

"Yes sir!" Johnson replied.

"Lock the tractor beam onto Pudman out there! Then, when Peter releases, go with the flow, not against it! If you do it just right, we may survive, and leave the body, kill two birds with one stone!"

"Aye, sir!" Johnson said, pushing some buttons on his console.

"We're going to be ejaculated," Dixon said with cautious wonder.

"Today has been a very unusual day," Captain Woodson said, looking upwards at nothing in particular.

Pudman had stopped moving. He was just drifting out there aimlessly. When his head turned toward them they could see a big smile on his face. It quickly faded, though, when a blue beam from the ship enveloped him. Tractor beams were rarely used on human bodies, mostly because it really, really hurt

Just as Pudman was being pulled closer to the ship, the shaft began to rumble.

"Here we go!" Captain Woodson said. "Batton down the hatches!"

"We don't have hatches!" Woodson heard Pudman's voice yell from the air lock.

"Shut the fuck up, Pudman!" Captain Woodson yelled back.

The ship shook violently. Suddenly, they were rushing for a dim light at the end of the tunnel, Johnson doing his best to keep the ship swimming along with it like the thousands of sperm that were passing them up. Very quickly they came to the end of it and splashed into the air outside of the body.

They had escaped.

"Man, that was too close!" Johnson said.

"Do you realize," Captain Woodson began, "that we are now in a small puddle of ejaculate?"

"You mean a spunk stain?" Ensign Pudman offered as he walked back onto the bridge.

"Shut the fuck up Pudman!" the rest of the crew yelled at the same time.

For the 2006 Quest for Fear

1948.

 

 

 

Far beneath New York City, in an office named K, Dr. Dereck Furlong (1904-1948) slept in total darkness. He was curled up under a blanket on the floor. He had recently been spending more and more of his shifts sleeping. There was no way for someone to check up on him. He may as well have been an astronaut.

Dr. Furlong was an engineer. He worked in the grand and nearly secret New York Pneumatic Tube System. Started in 1947, the NYPTS was an experimental pneumatic capsule pipeline run by the National Science Foundation for the American military. Furlong’s job was to monitor the system and dislodge capsules if they became stuck. The NYPTS was barely operational and there were often problems.

Including the doctor and his blanket, the dark office contained a pad of paper, ten sharp pencils, three red needles bouncing inside three new meters, three dials, a red emergency light, a speaker, a toilet, a sink, an icebox, an out tube, and an in tube. As well as driving the pipelines, someone had decided the scientists should also communicate by vacuum.

 

Sending and receiving social capsules was commonplace and even unofficially encouraged. The five hour shifts under flouresence watching needles bounce were hard for most to take. The rush and pop of a container bearing a joke or chess move was desperately welcome.

Dr. Furlong didn’t mind the five hours, but he hated the lights. The doctor was supposed to monitor and record the fluctuations the needles reported, but he had chosen to sleep instead. He loved K's subterreanen darkness.

Back in 1948, in the halcyon days of the National Science Foundation, when a memexing Bush still roamed the lawns, the government had been building many strange and secret machines. Inspired by the ingenuity of the Czech's Portrubni Posta, The New York Pneumatic Transit System was to be a precursor of a national system capable of moving troops and freight relatively quickly. In the mid 19th century an unsuccessful venture called the Beach Pneumatic Transit Company built what would be the first section of the next generation NYPTS. The BPTC was privately funded and failed. The NYPTS was funded by the American taxpayer, so it had a much better chance of success. However, like all freight pneumatics, the NYPTS was doomed.

 

It was an exciting project though, and Furlong should have been happy to work on it. The time Furlong spent “outside” in K was negligible compared to the scope of the science that he was being exposed to above ground. Furlong just couldn't appreciate it.

Something was wrong with his brain, and he was unhappy all the time. He tried exercise, meditation, and drinking but nothing alleviated the nagging dissatisfaction. He had become sick of managing his depression and had recently given up. All the compressed gas and interconnecting pipe in the world couldn’t thrill him.

A capsule clanged onto the floor. It had just been bumped out of the holding bay by a second capsule. It made a lot of noise as it bounced around. The unhappy Dr. Furlong, eyes still firmly closed, rose, leaned his back against the wall, flipped on the light switch, slid his back down the wall, sat on the floor, and fumbled for the message.

 

Furlong no longer received messages from the other scientists. An etiquette had grown among the community of scientists who worked under ground. Not responding to a social capsule was seen as rude, and even a little cruel. Since Furlong had stopped responding, he had been blackballed by his peers. So the doctor wasn’t surprised after he opened his eyes and saw official instructions to go to U4, get into the pipeline and see why the pressure readings had gone all wonky. “Fuck”, he said.

The open elevator lurched down through the rock, and past black cables and blue sanitation piping. Furlong realized he hadn't checked the second message. He considered returning to K, but he was nearly at U4.

In the NYPTS the U rooms were where you accessed the pipelines. The U rooms were larger than monitoring rooms like K, and instead of having just one door they had four. Including the elevator doors and a set of rails, U4 had a door to access the pipeline and two emergency doors. One door led to a bunker in case there was a malfunction in the environment. The other led to a staircase. The staircase was a relic of the system’s construction, and linked all the U rooms together.

Dereck entered the U room and proceeded into the inactive pipeline. The lines were five and a half feet in diameter and uncomfortable to walk through. Dereck had to crouch and crook his neck while he walked, at the same time he had to try not to trip over the tracks. The lines were not kept lit, so Dr. Furlong also had to flip light switches on as he made his way.

The first message had read, “Dr. Furlong: Please proceed to U4. We are getting incorrect readings. Possible break in the monitoring lines. Investigate and report back.” The second, unread, message had actually been from another scientist; it read, “Dereck I am worried about you. Are you okay?” It was another message that Dereck would never return.

The tragedy began with a little puff of air, a hiccup. When the air hit Dereck, he turned and stared wide eyed into the darkness. Once the initial shock had passed he turned and ran, hunched, towards the access door. Another, much larger hiccup knocked him over when he was only three yards from the door. He banged his head as he fell. Once the second blast passed, the air was still again. Dr. Furlong, half frantic, scrambled to his feet and rushed through the access door. Once on the other side, his breathing deep and his head throbbing from the fall, he scribbled a note and sent it up to the control room. It was barely legible; it read, “Something is wrong with Section 3. Two small bursts of pressure when I was inside the line. Returning to K. –Furlong.”

 

By the time he had returned to K, the red light was on and the speaker was playing a recorded message alerting everyone of a system wide evacuation. Dr. Furlong had also received a third capsule. He read this message; it read, “ATTENTION: System staff to evacuate. Please leave all your belongings and wait at the elevator doors.” After a couple minutes the silence was broken by the sound of capsules whooshing past K and on towards the control room. Everyone wanted to know what the hell was going on.

Derrick Furlong wanted to know as well; he wrote “What is the status on the elevator? What levels have been evacuated? – F.” After receiving no response, he wrote, “I want a status on the situation immediately. What is K’s wait time?” After receiving no response, he wrote, “Fuck you, what is going on?"

Minutes after he wrote this, a reply came down the tube; it said, “ATTENTION: All staff. The evacuation is proceeding smoothly. Please be patient.”

 

Then Furlong heard the heavy foomp and felt sick. He had never been so scared. He turned off the lights, laid on the floor, and tried to breathe deeply. He was about to die. Dr. Furlong would not have been the only terrified one in the NYPTS.

Thirty-one other pairs of ears heard the same catastrophic containment failure that Derrick's ears had heard.

It was going to be a fast process. After the safety doors had given way, a tube imploded causing a concussion that broke the next set of safety doors. Each implosion breaking the next pipe down the line, reducing them to steel shrouds to be sucked up by the harmonic generation of electrostatic ion cyclotron square waves that were now stepping methodically forward, each lumbersome step emitting a tympanic echo that raced like a freight train through the cavernous arteries of the NYPTS, a sucking bubble spreading like an octopus through the crags of an ocean floor, and everyone inside the system could only wait to pop.

It would be a brief wait. Aluminum sealed messages clanged onto the floor and whooshed through the south wall to other offices, but Furlong did not bother to check or send any. What was the point?

Every pore on his body was measuring the pressure changes, following the heavy foomps that where getting louder and louder, his heart was pounding, he felt nauseous, and tears streamed through his clenched eyes and warmly ran down the side of his face. He couldn’t stop swallowing. He swallowed and swallowed, his stomach in convulsions while he blubbered silently on the floor.

And Furlong's body was suddenly pulled against elevator doors that just snapped away and he flew into the elevator shaft and hovered for a brief moment before being

eviscerated.


 

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.