by Richard Dysinger © 2002

"Open the main doors, Johnson."

The security officer’s response echoed hollow through the communicator, his voice deadened by the electronic converter. Captain Sam Jenkins swiveled in his cockpit seat to eye the security camera focused on the main hatchway where Johnson silently worked. A siren on his console flashed blood red then died. Sam ignored it and awaited the opening of the magnetically sealed doors.

"This is a mistake."

Lieutenant June Fjord, newly arrived military advisor on the shuttle run between the outlying galaxies beyond Corporation control, scowled from her seat beside Sam. As her namesake suggested Fjord offered the distinctive features, white blonde hair and blue ice chips for eyes, of the Norwegian colonists of Uriahus.

"You are an advisor here, Lieutenant. Nothing more."

"And you’re the Captain of this ship. Allowing somebody to break Corporation authorized quarantine breaks every safety ordinance the fleet has to offer."

Through the metallic eye of the camera, Sam watched the doors open with a rush of movement, the steel grinding against the tracks in the ceiling and floor. It had been four hauls since their last maintenance check and their ship, the Essex, showed it.

"We’re clear, Sir."

"Open the outer seal."

The haze of mist covering the outer portions of the main docking bay swirled about, enveloping Johnson in its hazy grasp.

"I’ll have to log this, Captain."

"You do that, Lieutenant."

Several long minutes passed before Johnson reappeared, his uniform crisp despite the humidity. Behind him, the stranger merged from the mist dragging one foot along the steel floor. The main doors began to close, cutting off the haze at the source.

"We’re in, Sir."

"Bring him up."

"Yes, Sir."

Sam leaned forward to the console and placed the ship in autopilot, his hands grazing one switch after another until their course was set and precautionary measures instituted. Lieutenant Fjord studied her own screen, her hands typing in a report to be forwarded to the main headquarters of the Corporation that oversaw this sector of space. She was a frigid woman, her temperament akin to sub-zero temperatures. Sam disliked her, as did the rest of the crew of the Essex.

"I am stunned, Captain, that you would break protocol and bring a security risk to the flight deck."

Fjord stabbed the transmit button, her face flushed with raw anger. The computer screen buckled and rebooted, the contents of her report wiped clean.

"Damn it. What happened?"

"We’re near an asteroid field. It disrupts communications."

"How long before we’re clear?"

"Twenty minutes or so."

"My God, this junk heap is slow."

Sam unbuckled his restraint belt and lifted his body free from the chair, his size surprising for a man born and bred within the crust of the Earth following the second Nuclear Holocaust. Fjord eyed him with contempt, her own restraint belt secure as regulated by Corporate code. Sam didn’t care much for Corporate rules and regulations.

"This is your first trip on the Essex, Lieutenant, so allow me to give you a quick overview of the ship’s rules."

"All transport ships, even junk piles like this, are designated under Corporate control which means the only rules are those determined by the Corporation."

"Wrong. This is my ship, not the Corporation’s. My rules run the Essex."

"And your rules include allowing a security risk to view the main flight deck?"

"What security risk?"

"You don’t know anything about this…this hitchhiker."

Following their delivery of rare ore mined from the outlying moons of Tagor and the addition of the frigid military advisor, Sam and his crew pinpointed a distress call on Udora-4, a barren type III planet. Fjord had objected personally but rules were rules and all distress signals along the Corporate communication band are to be investigated. Among the wreckage of an unidentifiable cruiser, they discovered one survivor, a man claiming to be from Earth. Keeping with protocol, Sam impounded the man in the outer hatch beyond the docking bay. Three days had passed since the rescue and he had decided it was time to bypass quarantine.

"He’s the only survivor from the wreck. We should ask him questions."

"Captain, you are more than aware of the recent instances of alien infestation in the outlying areas. As a commander of a ship that routinely travels through this area of space, you should be painstakingly careful in keeping quarantine."

"Don’t tell me you believe that alien hogwash?"

"We’ve lost three transports in as many weeks. That’s why I’m here."

A buzz sounded out, the security officer Johnson and the survivor approached from the docking bay. The camera trailed their movements and Sam gazed at it, studying the limping man. Ragged in appearance he sneered at the camera and unveiled a middle finger. Sam typed in the code to grant entrance to the flight deck.

"Aliens are a fairytale, Lieutenant. Like the bogeyman back on Earth."

"Three crews eaten alive and you call that a fairytale?"

Johnson entered and led the man forward, closer to Sam who scanned him from head to foot, registering every miniscule detail. Fjord had risen from her seat; a hand on her hip where her weapon once sat holstered. No weapons on the flight deck, Corporate regulation 111-3R6.

"Here he is Captain. He said his ship was attacked by an unidentifiable life form."

Johnson nudged the man forward.

"I knew it. Why did you do this?" Fjord hissed to Sam.

"Because I’m hungry, Lieutenant."

The parasite within Captain Sam Jenkins shifted within his chest cavity, its hunger insatiable. Sam fired a hand out and grasped the arm of the survivor, his fingers clawing into flesh as his neck jutted outward, bloated by the emergence of the alien from its cocoon. Johnson, gun at his side, followed suit, the parasite dwelling within seeking release.

"You’re one of them," the man screamed.

Fjord fell back against the controls, her face a grotesque painting of contorted terror, as Sam opened his maw and released the feeding blackness from within.

x x x

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