The Carrier

by James Maxim © 2002

Lt. Roger Pushkin couldn't believe his luck. When they picked the ship up on their scopes last night, it was still too far off to be able to identify it with any certainty. This morning, however, they were able to make out a very weak distress signal, as well as signs of life. By 1400 hours they were able to clarify the signal into two separate transmissions. The first was the basic S.O.S. code, automatically set in motion by the onboard computer when life support fails in some way. The second was a stronger signal, being beamed out repeatedly on all frequencies available to the ancient ship, saying only some outdated code that no one on base could make anything of.

Now he stood in the phantom ship, peering down at the beautiful, sleeping woman, stretched out comfortably in her deepsleep chamber. As he glanced over her nearly naked body, noting the bruises, the cuts, the tense, troubled look her sleeping face held, his maternal instincts took over. This was everything he joined the Deep Rescue Squad for, to play knight in shining armor the only way still available.

"Nothing's going to hurt you again, lady. I'll see to that."

Twenty-six hours later, Laura opened her eyes, for the first time in a century, and saw a man looking into them deeply.

"Where am I?" she mumbled.

"Earth," the man answered, smiling.

"That's not possible…that can't be…please God!"

"Now calm down, miss," the man said, "everything's ok. I'm Lieutenant Ryan Pushkin. I found you floating in an extremely old, and damaged ship. You're going to be well taken care of. The doctors say you're going to be fine. In fact, they say they've never seen a stronger immune system. You were banged up pretty bad, but I'm not going to leave you and you're going to make it. Just try to stay calm."

"I don't understand…didn't they get the code? I smashed the homing beacon, I set the radio to broadcast Code 13 and I set the life support to kill me in my sleep! I should have drifted into the sun! Who are you? You need to quarantine this area! Get away from me!"

"Miss, please stay calm. Thankfully, the life support system wouldn't have allowed you to injure yourself; it just shuts down the guidance system and engines in order to extend your deepsleep. I'm afraid I can't help you with that code, however. No one knows what it meant; your ship is over a hundred years old! Now, I know you were hurt…" Lt. Pushkin began.

"Hurt? You know I was hurt? Do you understand what they did to my crew? You have no idea what it means to be hurt! When I put up a fight they decided to punish us! They boosted my immune system artificially; they put something in me! You need to burn this area and quarantine us! Do you understand me? Code 13 was the signal for Plague Ship!"

"The doctors did a complete scan of you, you have no contagion, ma'am. You're going to be fine, if you'll just stay calm."

"No contagion? Are you positive?"

"You're strong as an ox, Miss…"

"Laura. Laura Simmons."

"Well, Miss Laura Simmons, I'm not going to leave you."

As he walked forward to take her hand, she glanced at it and her eyes opened wide. She began to scream. When Lt. Pushkin glanced down he noticed a bruise developing on his wrist. It began to burn. The bruise continued to spread, cracking open in the center to release a small puff of pink gas into the air. The gas swirled around his arm and seemed to absorb into his skin. Pushkin began to scream himself, at this point, but no doctors came running from the other room. No one came at all. By now his fingers were stripped to the second knuckle, leaving white tips of bone sticking out of the shrinking flesh. There wasn't even any blood on the ground.

Laura stopped screaming, and wiped her face. She rose, rather unsteadily, and walked to the window, leaving Lt. Pushkin writhing on the floor. Looking out over the cityscape she saw a gruesome collection of white sticks, like someone had shaken a box of toothpicks over the city. Looking farther off, she could see the gas, like a pink tidal wave, spreading out in a circle, like ripples in a pond. She opened the window, with some difficulty, and began to climb out on the ledge.

Within three hours, the major cities were silent. Within twenty-four hours the planet's surface was wiped clean. Those who were lucky enough to get to ships said that by the end it was so thick and moving so fast, it could strip you to bone before you hit the floor. They managed to take some rather startling photographs.

x x x

Read more Flash Fiction? or Back to the Front Page?