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 with 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 has ever heard of. The copilot smiled and held his stomach as though he were somehow pregnant. He sang nursery rhymes softly to himself. The captain of the ship saw me walk in and saluted.
“Sir, we’ve brought your ship back,” he said, gesturing to the porthole.
I returned the salute, “Looks like the same can’t be said for your 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 what happened?”
“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 like I never left.”
The copilot whispered something.
“What’d you say, Sanzo?” I asked.
“HE’S LYING!” Sanzo screamed, violently leaping at the glass, “HELP US! KILL US!”
Captain Aldo calmly walked up to Sanzo and ripped the copilot's head from his shoulders. Sanzo's body crumpled to the ground. Aldo offhandedly flipped the head 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 out of Sanzo’s neck hole like a baby calf squeezing through birth canal. The creature 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 from 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 deafening.
I 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 from 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, coming 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 halted his rambling recipes for a moment to toss Sanzo’s tongue to the captain. He caught it blindly.
“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 that he’d break through. Over and over again, he pounded on the wall and I just stood there in mute 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 release 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 crumpled to the floor and screamed, twisting, trying to put the fire out, until eventually the pain faded, not completely, but enough. 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.