Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Yosun blinked in the afternoon sun, the viewport on her hazmat suit filtering the harsh UV rays but doing little to reduce the glare.

Her shuttle had settled a few hundred meters from the blast site, the ground compressed into a large bowl almost thirty meters across. Ignition had been seconds before impact, the containment shell having been detonated above the ground to maximize its effect.

Nothing would have survived this.

The damage near ground zero was complete, there were no structures, no bodies, no signs of life. As Yosun walked away from what had been the center of the settlement, signs of what had been a self-sustaining research colony slowly began to appear. Shrapnel from the prefab structures the crew had been sent here with, vehicle debris, fragments of the familiar blue and yellow supply containers from what would have been the landing zone, the remains larger and more defined the further she went.

It was nearly twenty minutes walk before there was any biological detritus.

At first, there were just random fragments of the orange bioshell the containment system would have enveloped any living organism with. Close inspection would reveal body parts, or perhaps less recognizable remains sealed inside the biohazard polymer, but Yosun had no interest in seeing such things so soon after lunch.

Further out still, the flashes of colour on the ground became mounds, then recognizable human shapes, crumpled in heaps, stretched out prone or supine, and a few frozen in place, having been just far enough from the concussion of the blast not to have been knocked off their feet before they were enveloped in the highly discriminate cloud of vapourous biosealant that followed. It would have surrounded and encased any living thing before solidifying in an instant, sealing any contaminated material inside.

People. Contaminated people.

Yosun stopped, looking into the perfect reverse casting of what had been, only a few months ago a healthy colony researcher, someone who never would have known what was coming, or what had hit them.

There was nothing in the polymer shell now but topsoil.

She tried not to think of the panic those not mercifully killed in the blast would have endured as they suffocated, sealed inside a bright orange instant sarcophagus.

The containment protocol described the anesthetic effect of the containment system, assured the command crew there would be no suffering, but Yosun wasn’t fooled, it came in a high-velocity explosive delivery system, and the only mercy that afforded was the speed at which it killed.

She shuddered despite herself.

At the edge of the settlement, she could see the line where the colony prelim crews had scorched back the natural vegetation, drawing a line between what would be theirs, and what the planet would be allowed to retain.

She stood in uneasy silence on the clear side of that line, looking into the deep blues and reds of the jungle. Something had come from there, infected the colony and turned them savage. They didn’t know what that was, but they would be more careful in future. Next time they would isolate the weapon before it spread.

“CeeVee Orbital, this is EeeVee Ground.” She turned, heading back towards her shuttle.

“CeeVee Orbital here, what’s your status EeeVee Ground?” The response was low-rez as the comms system fought with the dense upper atmosphere to get the signal through intact.

“Containment complete to the perimeter. All the biomaterial appears composted. Drop the dozers and bury everything in the hole you made.” As she passed one huddled mass, she could see the cracks in the orange polymer where some particularly determined plant had squeezed out from inside, reaching for the sun. “Get the colony prelims on deck, we’ll need LV5 ready for deployment, and start the clock on thawing the next batch of colonysicles, we’ll want to get them on the ground as soon as the landing platform is ready, there’s much work to be done.”

Yosun shouldered her way back through her shuttle door and waited as the decon wash enveloped her.

Even inside the safety of her suit, she couldn’t push out the thoughts of those colonists trapped in those shells. She closed her eyes and held her breath. Maybe LV5 would get it right.

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