The Wheel began to cycle down, there wouldn’t be another pop for two weeks, and now it was time to greet our returning heroes. I entered the decontamination area and surveyed the crew. There were only four survivors. They were assembled in a glass quarantine area. There were speakers inside and out so that we could talk to each other. The navigator stood completely still, staring at a wall. The ship’s cook rocked back and forth on the cold, steel ground repeating some recipe with ingredients no man had ever heard of. The copilot smiled and held his stomach as though he were somehow pregnant. He sang nursery rhymes. The captain of the ship saw me walk in and saluted.
“Sir, we’ve brought your ship back,” he said, gesturing to the porthole they’d all come in through.
I returned the salute, “Looks like the same can’t be said about the crew, captain. What happened out there?”
“I don’t really know, sir. It seems the experience was different for everyone,” he said, “As for what happened to me? Very little. I guess I was lucky.”
“Can you describe the experience?”
“No, sir, I can’t. I can hardly remember it anymore, it’s like waking up from a dream, everything is already fading. I almost feel as though I never left.”
The copilot whispered something.
“What’d you say, Sanzo?” I asked.
“HE’S LYING!” Sanzo screamed, violently leaping for the glass, “HELP US! KILL US!”
Captain Aldo calmly walked over to Sanzo and ripped his head from his shoulders. The copilot’s body crumpled to the ground. Aldo offhandedly flipped the head over to the cook who caught it and began peeling away layers of flesh. He continued to list mysterious ingredients, this time including brains, eyeballs and tongue to the recipes.
Meanwhile the captain had picked up some…thing that had crawled through Sanzo’s neck like a baby calf squeezing out of the birth canal. The creature that he held could only be described as human in the most superficial way. It had arms and legs and a face, yes. But it wriggled unnaturally and the tentacles coming out of its head engulfed the captain’s hand as he brought the monstrosity close to his chest, whispering, “You’re alright, my baby, my baby.” Its wail was at once silent and earsplitting.
I, for my part, could not help but be stupefied by the horrible scene unfolding before my eyes. Of course I’d been trained to expect the impossible, but this, this defied all preparation.
Just then, the navigator began to vibrate, snapping me out of my dumbstruck inaction. Not a muscle twitched in her body, but the movement was unquestionable, “Ms. Johns,” I said to her, “What are you doing?” She did not flinch. The vibration continued. “Stand down, Ms. Johns! Stand down, now!”
The captain laughed an unearthly laugh and screamed in a high pitched squeal, “Let us out, sir! Let us out and you can know all that we know. It is beautiful. It is beyond you, beyond everything.”
There began to be a noise, like that of a tuning fork, emanating from the navigator as she continued to vibrate.
“You know I can’t do that, Captain. You are to remain quarantined until you return to normal. Please try not to kill each other.”
“But my baby!” he screeched over the resonating pitch provided by Ms. Johns, “My baby needs help!” Captain Aldo held out the abomination to the glass and I instinctually recoiled.
The cook stopped his rambling recipes for a moment to toss Sanzo’s tongue to the captain. He caught it blindly without ever looking or being warned that it was coming.
“Thank you, Cook. You’ll have to remind me what your name is sometime,” Aldo said as he fed the beast, “You don’t think she’s beautiful, sir? You don’t think she’s the most gorgeous thing you’ve ever seen?” He slammed his fist on the glass, sending a shiver down my spine.
“Stop that immediately, Captain, or I’ll stop it for you,” I said. His fist connected with the glass wall again. This was a six inch thick glass wall, but I feared for a moment that he’d break through. Over and over again, he pounded on the wall and I just stood there watching in horror.
Then, the baby fixed me with its eyes, they were glorious eyes. I wanted nothing more than her freedom at that moment. I had barely moved to hit the switch when I heard the PA system blare, “We’re compromised, torch it.”
I tried to scream, “No!” I tried to order them to stop, but the entire quarantine room was in flames in seconds. The crew writhed for the briefest moment as the heat ended their miserable existences. The baby took considerably longer to die and I felt every second of her pain as though it were me inside that room. I still feel it every day, like an old war wound. Would that I could’ve saved her, she would have made the world beautiful.