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Lakewood Times

Lakewood Times

Lakewood Times

    “Scythe” by Lavinia Grandt

    The fungus, so far unnamed and otherwise unclassified, was found on Epsilon 2765-6 7, a planet that seemed uninhabited by any intelligent life. We weren’t wrong, for the time that we found it, but it had been lived on before.

    It’s just that, all intelligent life had been wiped out by said fungus. Both species, it seemed. Such a tragedy, really, there were two species living together on one planet but both were left extinct by an organism of their own creation.

    It hurt; making the disinfectant to kill the fungus off. It was one of the only remaining pieces of these distant civilizations, filled with knowledge and rich culture. But it had all been reduced to molded rubble, faintly smelling of sulfur and something a little too sweet.

    It turned out that the sweet smell had come from the fungus’ spores, which were carried up to the shuttle with us after flooding into our lungs. I hadn’t personally left, so I only had reports, which luckily meant that I wasn’t dead yet, and I had time to make something to destroy the fungus.

    Again, it was a tragedy, I couldn’t shake the feeling that what I was doing was wrong, though logically I knew it was the only way for me to get back to headquarters alive and report back our crew’s findings. Plus I didn’t want to die. I had a girlfriend, and I wanted to propose when I got back.

    I could just fly back,(expand this thought) I thought as I walked the dark halls with only a dim flashlight and the spray bottle, but I never learned to fly the shuttle and coming back with a fungus this destructive would be unthinkable. The rest of the findings, sure, they were amazing, but any contact with the fungus could kill, and so, I had to kill it first.

    “Day eighteen, earth time, 16:23.” I didn’t know the exact time, and I had nothing to record my thoughts, but saying these things kept me sane, as the only one supposedly alive. I couldn’t really check, as the vitals panel had broken days prior, but before it did, only six people were left from the crew of twenty five. “The fungus still has not spread to the lab, or through corridor three, as expected. I assume that it has not reached much outside barracks A and B, where it originated, though the other day I did see it closing in on the lounge area. Because of that, I took all the food I could to the lab, so I would not starve. That was six days ago, and now, I have a disinfectant made to kill the fungus.”

    The flashlight flickered, making my blood pump harder and my hands shake. I couldn’t go in the darkness, if I couldn’t see the fungus, I couldn’t do anything against it.

    “Come on, Emily, you can do this,” I muttered, pressing my hands to my chest. The flashlight flickered again, but it was still on. “You have a goal. Two, no, you have three goals, in order. One: kill all the fungus on the ship. Two: get back to headquarters and report. Three: propose to Jane. Kill the fungus, get to headquarters, propose to Jane. Kill the fungus, get to headquarters, propose to—”

    Then, the flashlight flickered off. I hit the side of it, but it didn’t turn back on.

    “Okay, okay, this is fine. This is fine! Just… take a second to adjust, and look for the light panel. It switched off a few days ago, through the whole ship, so you just need to switch them back on.” I took a deep breath, lifting my helmet to wipe the sweat out of my eyes. “This is for Jane. You’re doing this for Jane.”

    Down the hall and to the left was the electrical room. The panel was right inside, I just had to switch the lights back on, that’s all.

    With another deep breath and a quick adjustment of my helmet, I placed my left hand against the wall and walked forward. When I reached the corner, I turned, relying on just my memory to make it the rest of the way to the light panel.

    At this point, my eyes had just barely adjusted to the dark, and I could see the hand slot of the slightly open sliding door. I pushed it open more, swiftly turning to set myself in front of the panel. I stepped on something cylinder-like, and I desperately hoped it was a dropped flashlight.

    The panel was open. Dull red lights indicated which switches needed to be flipped so I reached out to them and started turning them on, one by one. Halfway through, the lights in the hallway turned on, and my heart lurched at seeing the fungus trailing on the floor, a thin line of orange leading right under me. I quickly finished flipping on the rest before looking around, finding not a dropped flashlight, but the leg of Joshua Trent, a crewmember who I could only recall had an extremely high pain tolerance, enough that the others launched rubber bands at him just to see him scratch the spot and say it tickled.

    He wasn’t dead, but the fungus covered his whole torso, and he had passed out. It was visibly crawling across his arms and legs, and even if it was slow, it wasn’t any fun to watch.

    The dried hamburger I decided to eat that day suddenly found itself coming up my throat, and I had just enough time to lean to the side of his body and take my helmet off to vomit. I heaved for a few moments, the sting in my throat being a faint echo to the choke in my heart.

    Most organisms, it seemed, were lucky enough to be dead when they were being decayed. Fungus only caught onto them when they couldn’t move and had already produced enough death gases and smells to attract the attention of flies, scavengers, and of course, fungus which wanted to take whatever remaining nutrients it could from the corpse. But this… it was more like a harbinger of death rather than a clean up crew. There was nothing I could do for Joshua, or Carl, or Jameson, or Ophelia, no one on the shuttle, whether half dead or with the fishes. There wouldn’t even be a body to pay amends to.  But, there could be for Joshua. If I just used the disinfectant on him.

    Carefully, I pushed myself up off the ground and faced Joshua again. I was put on this crew for a reason, and while it wasn’t exactly for the challenge I had to face then, it was because I didn’t give up in the most dire situations. I had a track record, on eight different missions I performed vital first aid on a total of twenty six people, surgery on seven including myself, and created new substances to counteract alien diseases and threats three times, apparently four now. Headquarters knew that putting me here at least meant that one life would be saved, my own, if worse came to worse. If I could save any more, I would.

    I couldn’t be sad about killing the fungus anymore. If it was between myself and a harmful alien flora, I had to choose my own life. I locked my eyes back on Joshua and first sprayed where the fungus was trying to spread, thick enough to repel the fungus from covering any more of his body. Then, I closed in to the center, steadily killing off the fungus on him and listening sharply for any change in his breathing patterns. Nothing had changed so far, so I kept going.

    Pain spiked through my body from atop my head, and I suddenly realized I never put my helmet back on. I screamed, tears already forming and slipping down my cheeks from the excruciating pain. It was like nothing I’d ever felt before: worse than when I had to pull that razor-toothed parasite from out of my neck, where it had nestled itself half an hour before. It was nearly impossible to keep myself from yanking it out of my hair with my hands.

    I had to think quickly, and I sprayed the disinfectant on my head, enough that the fumes swirled around me and I couldn’t help breathing them in. They weren’t toxic, but it wasn’t good to have in your system. I started coughing, the sting in my throat from vomiting showing its face again. But, the pain of the fungus was gone, just a very loud memory. I clumsily pulled my helmet back on, taking deep breaths of the filtered air and pressing my hand against my chest.

    I looked at the spray bottle in my gloved hands, and the amount of liquid left inside. I’d already emptied a noticeable amount, almost an eighth of the bottle, and I hadn’t even killed all the fungus on Joshua yet. I shook my head, wincing at the pain it caused, but focused my energy back on saving Joshua. I kept spraying what was left in the bottle at the orange fungus, and admittedly, let my thoughts wander.

    It was a terrible pain, worse than anything I could imagine. I was still coughing and wincing at the fumes and leftover wound on my scalp. Joshua couldn’t possibly live after this, at least not the same as before. If he even survived this encounter, he would either live on life support, never going on a mission again, or would become a cyborg of sorts, depending on prosthetics for every day routines. It wasn’t a terrible life, but I had to think about the morality of keeping him alive. While he would still have life, emotions, thoughts, and feelings, it might not be enjoyable. He was the kind of person whose glory was his body and strength, and if he lost that due to this angel of death, his happiness would extinguish for sure.

    Though, if I left him to decay, my consciousness would be worse than if I saved him for a sad life. Maybe that was selfish, but I kept spraying as I thought of what else I could do for him to make his coming life even a bit more enjoyable.

    A minute after deciding to learn how to provide his favorite foods, I’d destroyed the last of the fungus on him, finding a wound as wide and deep as a dinner plate. His ribs weren’t yet exposed, and while my stomach churned at the sight of decayed human muscle, I carefully picked him up and slung his arm around my shoulders. He wasn’t conscious, but he was too heavy to carry any other way, and I didn’t bring any first aid with me, since I didn’t expect to find anyone partially alive.

    Half of the bottle was left. It wasn’t enough to clear the whole ship, and just barely enough to clear out the electrical room, but I used it anyway, and had barely anything left to replicate back in the lab. I retreated then, with the aid of the lights now on, and felt extremely grateful to my luck that the fungus hadn’t reached any deeper into the shuttle, although Joshua’s blood trail might lead directly to the lab. I’d have to clean that later so the fungus couldn’t devour the blood cells.

    I placed Joshua on the surgery table and closed the door, quickly pulling together all the necessary utensils and materials needed to stop the blood loss and cover the wound for it to heal itself. As I worked, I could only think of a few things.

    My objective was to get back to headquarters after eliminating the fungus onboard and have Elipson 2765-6 7 marked as too dangerous to inhabit. Meanwhile, I would produce more disinfectant to kill the fungus and find any remaining bodies to pay amends to, and take care of Joshua and anyone else who didn’t die already. Worst case scenario, Joshua isn’t saved and I find no one else, and best case scenario, I find those other four still alive and I save them as well. Then, I could finish my other two objectives: get to headquarters, and propose to Jane

    Unbeknownst to me, there was an even better scenario that wouldn’t come to light.

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