“This is Petty Officer William Harrison of the USS Solaris, Mission 0105-1211, also known as ‘SolEx.’ As sole survivor and now the commanding officer aboard, I am reporting this mission as failed. Given the current status of our communications systems, I am unsure if this report will transmit to base…

“And given that…I guess we can drop the formalities. I don’t go by ‘William.’ I’ve always hated that name. My friends call me ‘Mac.’ So if this ever reaches anyone out there, well…you know what to put on my headstone.

“I’m not sure how bad the ship’s memory file was damaged, so I’ll give you a brief re-cap. Roughly eight months ago the crew and I, along with a handful of civilian scientists, led by Captain Feinz, departed on this mission. We were assigned to the international space station for some three weeks while our ship was supplied.

“The purpose of the mission: to witness, up-close, the effects of the sun on a passing comet. Six months prior to the mission, one of the scientists on board had discovered the largest comet we’d seen in a long time. After some calculations to determine trajectory, he was thrilled to announce to the world that the comet would be passing within nearly 4.4 million miles of the sun’s surface. Passing within such close range would cause the ice and dust of the comet to react, allowing for us to learn more about our universe’s past.

“So a few governments and some private investors put together this ship. Complete with radiation protection and enough thermal shielding to park right beside the damn sun itself. This hulk wasn’t cheap.

“And there you have it, folks. We came 88.4 million miles in a quadrillion dollar spacecraft so some nerds could watch a 500 million year old ice cube melt.

“Everything with the flight went according to schedule. Nothing exceptional to report. The systems did their jobs and we did ours.

“Our ship’s windows were coated using a specialized polarization process that blocked out nearly 80 percent of the sun’s light. This allowed us to make it about halfway before deploying the solar shield, which added additional light blockage and diverted radiation. It was made of a special alloy that allowed a small percentage of light to pass through. This let us view the sun, while also protecting our eyes.

“That last part was important. While I already mentioned we had more than enough heat protection, without the shield the radiation would have us all in stage four cancer in a matter of minutes and dead soon after. It was intended to ride ahead of us for the journey there, then swing around and protect our backsides on the way home.

“We arrived at the midpoint of our mission: 4.45 million miles from the sun’s surface. A mere stones throw from where the comet would be passing. The nerds were in for a great show.

“Anyway, we put her in park, set all of the recording equipment, and waited on the comet to show itself. It finally did, arcing past that big star ahead of us. I have to admit, it was breathtaking. One of the most gorgeous sights I’ve seen in my life.

“The sun’s heat began to affect the comet. The shimmering ice particles made way for refracting water droplets. The dust that escaped spread out in a cloud. It was like watching a bottle rocket slowly explode before turning into weightless marbles.

“The crew and scientists all applauded. It was a spectacular payoff for such a long journey.

“While most of the crew started popping champagne corks in celebration, one scientist lagged back, still looking out the window. I noticed and joined him.

“Some of the ‘marbles’ were behaving oddly. While the rest of the comet continued its journey at the same rate of speed, the water droplets were drifting back from it. Like they were purposefully slowing down.

“A few moments later they stopped entirely. By this point the scientist had called the others back, and we all watched as the water rippled, first slowly, then violently. A black substance began to withdraw from the liquid.

“It pulled itself into a sphere and just sat there for the longest time. A large, dark blemish against the pure, bright sun.

“The comet was old news now. The scientists were trying to analyze the substance with all the scanners and readers the ship had to offer.

“Then it began moving toward us.

“The sphere drew closer at a steady rate. Our pilot leapt to the bridge controls and hurriedly pulsed our reverse thrusters, trying to keep us at a safe distance. It tracked us for about fifteen minutes before it attacked.

“It fired pieces of itself at us. Our pilot managed to evade the initial pieces, but it gained accuracy with each additional attempt.

“Finally, one struck the solar shield.

“The substance began dissolving the alloy. We were shocked. Panic began to creep in. The alloy was nearly indestructible and this sludge was melting right through.

“The pilot engaged our reverse thrusters to maximum and continued trying to evade the sphere’s subsequent shots. It matched, then doubled our speed, slipping around the shield and firing directly at us before we could even spin the ship around.

“All of our proximity alarms on board brayed as the sphere plowed into the side of the ship. It was dissolving the hull now. The thermal shield would follow soon.

“We couldn’t stop it. We had no way to remove it. The captain did the only logical thing and evacuated the cargo hold and crew quarters. This put a few extra layers of steel between everyone and the sludge.

“We watched on the security monitors as the substance breached the hold. Once through, the pressure change tore away a large part of the hull and cargo…metallic cases, supplies, and some stored EVA suits all went flying off into space. The ship buckled and groaned under the pressure loss.

“We had a crew of 15, including the 4 scientists. We departed the space station with 15 EVA suits. A couple were to be used for routine maintenance and stored on the main deck next to the cockpit…we just watched the remaining 13 just float away.

“But the substance clung to the ship through all of this, and now, as the pressure had equalized, it began to enter the opening.

“Once inside, it resumed its spherical shape and floated around the hold, searching. It found the bay door and pressed into it, dissolving right on through. This caused another pressure change and as the next section equalized, the ship buckled and groaned more. Our formerly arrow-straight craft was bowing pretty badly by this point.

“The life support systems were compromised beyond repair…we could actually see the O2 levels dropping on the gauges.

“The captain suggested the scientists draw straws for the remaining EVA suits. The scientists agreed that while they appreciated his noble gesture, they assumed that, suit or no suit, this ship was probably incapable of taking anyone home.

“Before the captain could even reply, the bridge door buckled inward, cracking. Some of the black substance shot through, splattering Thompson.

“We all ran for the second section of the bridge, which was closer to the cockpit. The bridge door lost its seal and ripped from the wall. The vacuum sucked back Smith, Jennings, and Carson.

“I was the last one through the second door and hit the airlock. The door closed quickly enough for me to look through the window and watch the three men being drawn into space.

“As I watched, their heads swelled like balloons…their skin split open, revealing shiny skulls underneath…their eyes popped from the sockets before bursting, leaving trails of ocular jelly floating behind them.

“I couldn’t turn away. It was hard to accept what I’d seen. When you’re confined to an area the size of a small house with 14 other guys, you get pretty close…you become family, and I had just watched three of my brothers die horribly painful deaths.

“When I finally snapped out of it, I turned in time to see Thompson collapse. Some of the others caught him and lowered him down. He still had the black stuff on him. It was burrowing into his skin. He started to shake violently and his eyes rolled back in his head. The captain screamed for someone to grab a medi-kit, but suddenly Thompson stopped.

“For a few seconds he lay motionless. Then his head ticked to the side a couple times. His eyes fluttered, then snapped open. Thin veins spread quickly from around his eyes, down his neck.

“The captain called his name. Thompson turned and looked at him slowly with curious, wide eyes. It was as if he’d never seen the man before. He tried responding. It was a struggle. The captain called his name again.

 “When he managed to speak, it wasn’t his voice. It wasn’t right. Something was manipulating his vocal cords, speaking through him, like he was possessed. 

“The thing inside him finally said ‘Thompson…Thompson…Thompson, Thompson, ThompsonThompsonThompson–‘

“Thompson lunged up at him, biting his face. Captain Feinz screamed, pushing the crazed man away. The rest of us jumped in, tried to separate the two.

“We pulled them apart. Thompson bit a couple other crew, Klein and Olsen, in the process. Davidson, the medic, began treating the Captain.

“Feinz started shaking. He let out a small scream and shoved the medic away. When he raised his head we saw he had the same, curious eyes, veins spidering out and down.

“This time there was no talking. Feinz simply lunged for the nearest member, sinking his teeth into their shoulder.

“Turning to run we found Klein and Olsen staring at us with that familiar look. Davidson threw the medi-kit in Olsen’s face and I tossed a nearby coordinate binder at Klein, who caught it and looked at it inquisitively.

“The remaining crew and I ran for the cockpit. The infected ones chased after us. Somebody tripped, I didn’t see who, and took a couple down with them. They were all bitten before we even got into the hall.

“We rounded the corner and hauled it for the cockpit.

“They were faster.

“They took down Quinn before we were even halfway there.

“Arriving at door a few paces ahead of the rest, I punched the airlock button and slipped through. Spinning around I saw the final uninfected member, a scientist named Rogers, taken down.

“They began tearing into him…I punched the button and the airlock slid shut.

“I locked it from my side…

“So that’s it. As I’m recording this now, I can see the entire crew through the airlock window. They’re all just standing there, with those curious eyes, waiting.

“The gauges in here, if they’re still accurate, indicate the O2 levels outside the cockpit have fallen below habitable. Whatever infected the crew seems to be unaffected by this.

“I, on the other hand, appear to have about three hours left of breathable air. If I could get to an EVA suit in the hall I could last another six…but three will have to do.

“The ship’s engines still appear operational. She might fly a little drunk, but I think I can still maneuver her enough…enough to do the job anyway…

“The infected may not need oxygen to survive, but I’m guessing they can’t take the heat…here’s hoping she’ll hold true to course once I’m gone.

“This is Petty Officer ‘Mac’ Harrison of the USS Solaris, Mission 0105-1211, signing off.”



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