The exterior hatchway for the airlock disengaged and moved inward. The eerie greenish light from the interior of the ship flickered and spread across the dim space in the airlock. For a moment, still hovering outside the hatchway entrance, I hesitated. I knew something terrible was wrong inside this ship. The fear held me. I did not want to go in.

I tightly gripped the handholds on either side of the hatchway, frozen. I shut my eyes. I pictured myself getting out of this damaged suit and in to a semblance of safety. I told myself that this was my ship. We identified it by the numbers. Relax!

Then, without warning, the reserve oxygen tank ran empty. No lights. No alarm. No air.

The choice was made. I pulled myself into the hatchway and sealed the door behind me. My chest began to burn. I worked quickly. From the internal access keypad, I dialed in the chamber compression and stabilization codes. Atmosphere began to fill the little room. Without further hesitation, I disengaged the inside collar locks and removed the helmet. I took a deep breath and collapsed to my hands and knees on the floor.

The air in the chamber was cool and fresh. I thought that I could easily pass out for a few hours before continuing. But it was the mystery beyond the airlock that kept me nervously alert.

Looking through the port hole into the aft end of the ship was like looking into a laboratory where a greenish-grey bio-experiment had gone wrong.  It was as if great volumes of fungal material were encouraged to grow on every surface. But no… it wasn’t fungus. It was something with a more-defined cell structure, crawling out of control. I wondered what could possibly cause this discoloration, this madness? In all of this confusion, I knew that I had to get moving and I knew that it would be best to be quiet.

I stood slowly and worked to silently disengage and remove pieces of the Evac suit. I clenched my teeth and winced, as each piece clicked or popped or hissed as it came free. As I worked to keep quiet, I also pondered the questions. This ship had become… what? A giant Petri dish, a growing region, a habitat… maybe? What would I find beyond the airlock hatchway? Who would I find here?

Soon, I was free of the suit and standing in the airlock wearing nothing but my basic duty clothes. The damaged Evac suit was just a pile of components on the floor. I felt vulnerable.

I approached the porthole and slid again to the floor. I strained to look straight up and beyond the hatchway. I was looking for the Emergency Use container just above the door. Inside this container were a number of emergency prep and rescue items for the immediate treatment of airlock-related injuries. There was also a large metal pry bar in the container for use when the hatchway was irreparably jammed. There was nothing on the ship that could be made quickly into a weapon. This is the item I wanted from the container. I would take no chances.

Griping the hatchway release, my hands trembled. I slowly rotated the handle until I heard the dull “thunk” of the bolts coming free of the doorway. I poked my head out into the corridor. Thick and sticky green residue filth covered every inch of the inside of the ship. The smell was horrific. I reached up to my throat with my hand and stifled a powerful retch. All along the walkway down the corridor were scattered footprints, as if there was a massive struggle, a battle. There were handprints and full-body smears all along the walls.

Without another thought, I quickly stood up in the corridor and threw open the clasps that held the Emergency Use container shut. I dove into the container with both hands, feeling all the way to the rear of the compartment. Random items from the container dropped noisily to the flooring. I didn’t care. The pry bar came loose in my hands. It felt heavy, powerful. It had raw bludgeoning power. I grinned as I turned to the corridor behind me. I stopped. I had been heard. My grin disappeared. A hobbling figure emerged from the shadows.

It cocked its head to one side, as it regarded me with big, black eyes. In a gurgling, high-pitched voice, it spoke. “How did you get back here, Chikushou?”

[Communication sent: 25JAN2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

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