Author: Joshua Alexander
Hacklett wheezes in my grip. His face is slicked with sweat, his eyes ringed and dark. He’s dying.
Our research on the station has been for nothing. One containment breach and it’s all gone to hell. I drag Dr. Hacklett along the red-lit corridor to the escape pods. The fungi’s advance will be suppressed by the lights for a short time, but I don’t mean to just suppress them. The pathogens are free-floating, the worst of them anyway, spores dust everything, and the pods are the only hope.
But it’s the fungus I’m worried about.
I lodged an official ethical protest when the board cleared the newly-discovered cordyceps-like fungus for Schedule II experimentation. It should have been left on the hell-hole world we found it on, but the pharmaceuticals boom is an unforgiving mistress. When it was cleared, I volunteered for the project with my old doctoral advisor, Dr. Hacklett. If I couldn’t stop it, I’d at least make sure it was done right.
That’s almost funny now.
They called it cordyceps-like after several entomopathogenic fungi that affect certain arthropods back on Earth. We were going to call it Pseudocordyceps Hacklettii. That almost seems funny now, too. The main difference between Earth’s fungus and this one was a much shorter incubation period.
Hacklett groans beside the console as I initiate the sterilization protocol. He needs help, help I can’t give him, and time is running out.
After the incubation period, much like the Earth fungus, a fruiting body erupts from the host. But this one is much larger than even the biggest cordyceps fruiting bodies and erupts with a speed unheard of among macroscopic lifeforms. Once the pseudocordyceps spores entered the ventilation system, each of our non-fungal test subjects became ticking time bombs. Literally. Hence the now-broken containment vessels.
He hoped to extract extremely promising compounds from the fungus. Immunosuppressants, cancer drugs, even one compound that regrew damaged brain tissue in mice. We would have been immortalized in pharmacology.
I step over the orange spikes of fungus anchored to the floor. The husks of beetles and grasshoppers were buried beneath the bases of the “small” ones, some foot and a half long, but the mice produced fruiting bodies as big as a man. Dragging Hacklett to the pod, I’m now intensely aware of the weight of a full-grown man. I never want to see the fruiting body that would make.
And I won’t. Technically speaking.
I open the pod door and shove Hacklett inside. It knows where to go. The decontamination process inside will at least clear the spores. His rescuers won’t be contaminated. The other pathogens, well…
But me? I’m done for. When the door slides shut, I turn to a nearby console. If I can’t stop it, I’ll at least make sure it’s done right.
FULL STERILIZATION IN 10…9…8…
I quickly type in commands, and the pods all jettison. Tight-beam couldn’t compress our data before the sequence ended, so our research parishes with me. Well and good.
The fever is intense. No time. I can feel it growing.
I shut down the cameras. A deep breath. Nobody needs to see this.