Chuck Wendig over at terribleminds.com has a flash fiction challenge. Pick two genres from a list of 20. Mine is Near-future Sci-fi (#7) and Medical Thriller(#18). Here’s my try. It was a quick write, about 1500 words. It might make a better longer short story or novella.
The body or rather what remained of it lay in the center of the recent excavation chamber. It was lying stiffly curled up next to a pile of reddish stone rubble. I shook off a vague feeling that I had been here before. Just burned out from too many assignments. I had reluctantly taken this Mars assignment rather than a desk job on Earth to recover from my last undercover assignment in the Belt. With my mother as my only family, I usually had the pick of assignments. The more remote, the better.
I squatted next to the remains and breathed slowly, trying not to heave at the acid-bile smell coming off the dead form. I had been dizzy all morning, perhaps I had a stomach bug. Oh great, I’ll be puking my guts out all over the corpse. The bones were clearly visible, with large amounts of muscle and internal organs missing. The face was dissolved down to the skull, with the jaw area completely gone, so no easy identification.
I slowly crouched over the eroded form. I took another picture. What could have partially dissolved him? It’s a he alright, not much left of the ole manhood. He had been wearing a jumpsuit like the rest of us, but most of it had been dissolved as well.
“We saw it first thing when we came on shift this morning.” Ty said. Ty Jeffery was the Chief Scientist and had been at the Mars Exploration Colony the longest. “All of my crew is here, so it’s not one of us.”
“Thanks Ty, I’ll get it moved to the lab and once I’ve finished all of my measurements, you and your crew can get back to work.” I said. The dizziness returned, making me stumble.
Our office, if you could call it an office, was a small space just down the hallway from the cafeteria. Next door was a closet that had been converted into a jail cell. It had only been used once, when the chef had too much to drink and tried to stab a critic of his cooking.
The Mars Exploration Colony or MEC consisted of about twenty-five habitable units or habitats. Every habitat was at least fifteen feet underground to block the solar radiation. Small windows in the few upper units allowed the inhabitants some glimpses of the local terrain. The chamber where the body was found had been newly excavated and the biologists were thrilled with the traces of ancient life and fossils that had been exposed.
The body was residing on a table. Colonel Tanner, my boss, was taking samples from it. She was a small, intense woman, and had to tip-toe to reach around the body without touching any part of it. She had arrived to the MEC three months before me as both a doctor and a medical examiner. The Space Investigation Service likes to keep officers at all of the stations and labs across the solar system.
“Hi Jack, come help me with these samples. No teeth, no fingerprints, we’ll have to use DNA to identify the body.” she said. “This damage is really like nothing I’ve seen before. It’s not caused by acid, but some type of enzyme. I haven’t been able to identify it. Have you determined who’s missing?”
“It’s odd,” I said. “No one’s missing at all. Who was he?” I was perplexed. It’s not like anyone can just randomly come to the station. Everyone here had identification and a DNA profile. “When will the DNA be ready for me to input for ID?”
“Give me an hour.” She said.
I came back to the office after an hour, and to my surprise I found Colonel Tanner and Ty Jeffery deep in conversation together. They jumped when I announced myself. What was going on?
“Can you grab those documents for me, and bring them over here?” Tanner asked.
“Sure thing,” I said. I went over to the stack of books and papers and picked them up. The dizziness returned, making my footing unsteady. The documents were heavy. I did not recall them being there before. “Where do you want them?”
“Put them down slowly and put your hands up and get in there.” Tanner ordered , glancing at the tiny jail cell. Both of them were pointing plasma guns at me. I hurriedly complied when I saw the scarily intense looks on their faces.
“What’s going on?” I asked. The cell contained a small cot and nothing else. The walls and floor were plates of steel, with a heavy metal grid serving as the bars.
“You tell me.” Tanner answered after a long while. “That’s the DNA of Major Jack Hanson, my friend.” Her voice broke with a sob. “Who-what are you? Why did you kill Jack, you son of a bitch?”
“What are you talking about Jean? I’m here.” I was confused. Had they been drinking? Had I? What was going on?
“Stop it!” she said, tears running down her face. “Why did you kill him?” She trained the gun on me with shaking hands. I backed away from the bars, confused.
Ty took the gun from her hands and said “There’s a team coming in from Center Base to take a look at it. They’ll handle it. You can’t kill it. It’s too valuable.”
What were they talking about? The dizziness returned and I had to sit down quickly. After a while I fell asleep, or rather a strange state where I could still hear everything, but was dreaming as well. While I dreamed strange images, I heard Jean and Ty in conversation. She was convinced that the corpse was me and that I was some sort of changeling or double.
I screamed as the scalpel cut into my arm and another small piece was cut. I was strapped down to a table, immobilized and unable to talk because of the gag in my mouth. Jean stood over me holding the bloody scalpel. Ty and the team from Center Base stood around the table I was on. Hours ago, I had been dragged out of the tiny cell and strapped to this table. I struggled vainly. Please stop, Jean, I mouthed around the gag.
“Now it’s your turn, you bastard.” Jean said, and aimed the scalpel at my stomach.
No, this wasn’t happening to me, it couldn’t be happening. This was a nightmare. It had to be. No. I pushed in terror against the restraints and felt them give. Everyone jumped back from the table and ran as I sat up. Everything seemed to move as slow as molasses as I tore off the last of the straps holding me down. I barely noticed the claws that had formed at the ends of my fingers as I ran out of the office in a panic.
I ran and ran, paying no attention to my direction. I had to get away from everyone. I found myself in the dig chamber at the back sides. It seemed so familiar, and felt an urge, no, an indescribable compulsion to start digging. I feverishly clawed at the red dirt and rocks, making huge gouges with the newly formed claws.
As I broke through to the next chamber, a dozen plasma bolts hit around me. The crew from the station had found me. I jumped into the new chamber. I found myself standing in a spherical chamber filled with greenish orbs, about two feet tall. The chamber was too smooth to have formed naturally. I looked around for a place to hide, none was to be found. I dropped to the floor to hide among the orbs as several of the MEC staff entered the chamber with plasma guns drawn.
The nearest orbs around me started to vibrate and glow slightly, and started to lose their shapes. I heard a scream, then multiple screams as each person was grabbed by shapeless blobs. They were being consumed and dissolved like the corpse found earlier. But that corpse was me. I found myself unwilling to help them. Horrified and ashamed, I ran out of the chamber and ran straight into Jean and Ty.
“Shoot it Ty,” Jean yelled as they backed slowly away from me.
Ty raised his gun, aiming it at me. “Please don’t, Ty. Please don’t,” I begged, taking a step backwards. Ty shot, but it was not at me, rather at something behind me. I saw a blur, and then saw Ty and Jean covered by the blobs screaming and writhing in pain. They were being eaten alive. “No,” I screamed, covering my ears. I ran.
Hours later, I heard a faint knock at my cabin door. I opened the door slowly and peeked outside. It was Jean. I understood everything now. “I’ve reduced the atmosphere and increased the carbon dioxide,” she said. “We’ll breathe better now.”
“What about everyone?” I asked.
“Not everyone made it,” she said quietly. “A billion years was too long for some to sleep.”