Returned

Author : David Blatcher

The withered astronaut had forgotten how to walk. The one fifth gravity on the station was too much for him, so an orderly in a hazard suit dragged him to the chair in the middle of the tiny interview room. The astronaut faced the camera through the Plexiglas window. His right eye was swimming in burst blood vessels and surrounded by scorched and blackened flesh. It could neither close nor see. The murky-white shapeless pupil floated without focus.

After a crackle and a short hiss of static, the intercom spoke. “Name?”

The orderly shook the astronaut’s shoulder. The bearded head lolled forward then jerked upright. The good eye focused on the camera.

“Name?” the intercom asked again.

“Rorksenn. K. Crewman, second class” It was more like a rasping reflex of the throat than conscious answer.

Karl Rorksenn was the fifth and final name on the mining ship’s crew manifest. Missing for nearly a year, the ship had drifted into range and been recovered with this man floating alone in the dark.

The intercom spoke again. “What happened to the ship, Crewman Rorksenn?”

His hands were perched on his knees. The right hand closed into a fist and began to pulse with restless movement of the fingers.

After a long pause, he answered. “Impact.” The word, dredged up from the back of a mind long silent, was spoken without horror or feeling.

“The ship’s log was destroyed, all the records are gone. What happened inside the cabin, crewman?”

“Parts. Parts needed. Stay alive.”

The technical survey corroborated: instruments stripped out, heating and oxygen systems repaired with various components. Somewhere in the twelve months of nothing between the asteroid belt and the station, a flying piece of something had pierced the silence and let in the dark. The crew had nailed together what was left and put the ship back on course for the station. This talking skeleton plastered with clinging skin was all that was left of them.

“What happened to the rest of the crew?”

The seeing eye shut tight, the broken eye glared dead ahead. “Parts. Parts needed. Stay alive.”

A red globule of blood swelled from the corner of his fist. He was bleeding. The small red sphere fell and drifted to the floor. The orderly hurried round the chair and grabbed his wrist. The fingers curled open, revealing a frayed, copper colored mess. The jagged, broken nails had been scratching and digging in the palm until the skin had broken.

“No, crewman: the other people, not the ship. What happened to them?”

“Parts.”

Email from the medical section: initial analysis of the vomit floating in the ship found large quantities of raw meat.

The report was posted back to Earth. AstralCorp mining ship 43 recovered with full cargo. No log recorded. Survey suggests the ship was hit by an unidentified object and badly damaged. Repaired in-flight and put back on return course at below standard velocity. All crew lost. Confirm full pay to be credited to next of kin. Standard commendation.

It took twenty minutes to pump the carbon monoxide level up to ten thousand parts per million. The breathing remains of the cannibal finally slumped off the chair, ready to be sanitized along with his story then returned to earth for burial. The right eye stayed open, a broken, bloodied thing, sightless and silent.

2 Comments

  1. Jae

    Intriguing take on this classic survival horror theme.

  2. SimonJM

    Caught where that was going reasonably early, interesting how it was dealth with, which was unexpected 🙂

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