There is nothing new, even under the furthest sun
With the desperate strength of the doomed, Sadik seized my helmet and pulled it against his own. His muffled voice reached me through the brass-to-brass contact. “There is no God but God, Hauser. Did you hear me? No God but God!”
I could not tell if this was born of defiance or fear but gripped his shoulders in return. “Then walk with him in peace, Sadik. In peace.”
Fear blossomed in his eyes as the vacuum suit failed, corroded by black mould. Air spumed from the rotted fabric as he staggered backwards, flailing. This was no way for a man to die. I fumbled my Tesla pistol from its holster and fired.
At point-blank range the discharge vaporised both faceplate and features, bestowing instant oblivion. Sadik collapsed to the deck like some deflated balloon. Retrieving his body for burial was impossible as thick mould coated the compartment like a creeping shadow, the very stuff of nightmares. Our steam jet had driven the invader back somewhat, but deflection from a stanchion had enveloped the valiant Sadik in a cloud of insidious spores. Now the fabric hose lay holed beyond repair and my compatriot was dead.
My composure snapped and I began firing wildly at the encroaching Hellspawn. Where my shots struck it burned briefly, but this fusillade had no more effect than throwing stones at the incoming tide.
I would have advanced on the enemy had not crewman Rawlings grabbed my arm and pulled me away. He rapped on the hatch with a heavy wrench and a team of four ratings in respirators hauled it open against the suck of vacuum. We fought through a maelstrom of escaping air into the uncontaminated compartment, and the heavy door slammed shut behind us. Eager hands deadlocked it, not that this would have much effect in stemming our nemesis. At least ‘E’ deck – the bilges – was a honeycomb of seldom used airtight chambers, so we were able to repressurise this small compartment with minimal draw upon our air reserves. The self-evident loss of Sadik to the rot stifled any conversation and we were helped from our bulky suits in silence.
Once freed from their claustrophobic confines, however, Rawlings seemed to take a positive delight in our dire straits. “The captain won’t be best pleased, sir, if you don’t mind me saying. Squires told me this was our best chance of burrowing forward to the bow, blasting that muck ahead of us. Don’t fancy being in your shoes when you tell the bridge-”
“Enough! You and crewman Squires should consider yourselves lucky I don’t place you on report. Now, all of you, stand-to and weld shut that hatchway. Make sure every inch of the flange is sealed, airtight – our very lives depend upon it. Once you have finished here, report to Sub-Engineer Charles for further duties. Carry on.”
I headed back to the bridge, and you would have expected my pace to be slowed by trepidation, but in truth every step away from the horror of Sadik’s death was a blessed release.
* * *
The star liner Helios had paused on its journey to Tigris such that our 1st Class passengers could view the Beaumont Anomaly; swirling clouds of iridescent gas in a visual spectacle to rival the aurora borealis back on Earth. Such distractions from the tedium of space travel were expected by those who paid a premium for our services, and we were happy to oblige.
Then a plague worthy of Moses was visited upon us.
Our forward cargo bay seemed to be the source of the mould, but by the time the alarm was raised it had already spread to several adjacent compartments. The black rot grew on everything - glass, metal, ceramics all failed to halt its progress, and it displayed a voracious appetite for organic matter, including rubber door seals. Already the entire ship forward of bulkhead 3 was an airless tomb. Nothing on our manifest hinted as to its source, although it was commonplace for some of the major manufacturers to move their sensitive creations incognito, given the threat of industrial espionage. Regardless of how we came to be here, to escape our predicament required nothing less than a miracle.