With all due respect, sir, you don’t know what you’re talking about. There was no way Bakely could’ve known what the thing was when he picked it up. It looked like a rock. Hell, it was a rock, just a hunk of the asteroid’s crust that he grabbed as a souvenir for his kid. There’s no way he could’ve known it was a nest.
I’m telling you, there was nothing—nothing—out of the ordinary about the thing. It was small enough to fit into his chest pack. That was all. That’s why he picked it up. I think he said something about how Evie would love it. It was tar black, with some gold flecks in it that sparkled like stars in the light from his headlamp. He said it looked like a chunk of the universe had broken off right in his hand. That’s what he was going to tell Evie: that he had brought her a piece of the sky.
Maybe if he had dropped the rock into his hip pack instead, none of this would’ve happened. I don’t know. But the chest pack … it was right up against his body. I think the things must’ve sensed his body heat. Or maybe his heartbeat. Or his breathing. Whatever it was, something woke them. Something made them hatch. Something made them … hungry.
We were talking about Evie when it happened. He was telling me about the latest videos his wife had uploaded, about how much bigger Evie had gotten in the two years since he had last been home. She had turned two right before he left, and now she was celebrating her fourth birthday. That’s why he picked up the rock—he promised he’d bring her something extra special as a surprise. He sent her a whole video about it, making it sound like he was on a great adventure, a big-deal treasure hunt instead of a non-union mining expedition.
God, he loved that kid so much. He just wanted to make her happy. And proud. He wanted her to have something to show off to her friends, to prove that her dad really did go to work in outer space. What better way to do that than to bring home a piece of the sky?
Yeah, I know about the protocols, but I hate to break it to you, sir: nobody gives a fuck about the protocols. Who cares if we pick up a rock or two? It’s not like we’re stealing. It’s just worthless dirt. We do stuff like that all the time. Everyone does—the whole crew. On every new expedition, we bring something home with us. I’ve got a whole drawer full of rocks at my place: Ceres, Themis, Fortuna, Juno. Two from Juno, actually. Nothing bad ever happened. Nobody ever got hurt.
I’d say it was maybe two or three minutes from the time he put the rock into his pack to when he started to scream. He was behind me when he fell, so I didn’t see him go down. I just heard him yell. When I turned around, he was already on the ground, rolling on his back and pawing at his visor. I ran to him to see if I could help—I thought maybe he had a breach in his suit, like maybe he was losing oxygen or something. But it wasn’t that. It was worse. It was so much worse.
They were eating his face, man. Dozens of them: writhing, rust-colored worms just devouring him alive inside his helmet. Each one was as thick as my finger, with a segmented body and a mouth full of pin-sharp iron teeth. And I could hear them. His mic was turned on, so there was this sound, this wet crunching and squelching that was like, I don’t know, like the sound your boots make in muddy gravel during a rainstorm. But it wasn’t gravel—it was bone. Skin, and muscle, and bone, all of it being gnashed into a pulp by those horrible, churning maws.
Mostly what I heard, though, were his screams. The mics in our helmets aren’t designed for that kind of sound at that volume, so the shrieks were so distorted that they barely sounded human. The noise made me flash back to the day when my dad took me to visit my uncle at the slaughterhouse where he worked. It was like the sound of dozens of terrified pigs, all of them squealing at once as they realized what was about to happen to them. It was the sound of abject terror, of mortal fear.
Then, just as suddenly as the screaming had started, it stopped.
The inside of Bakely’s visor was so smeared with blood and gore that I couldn’t see through it anymore. But based on the sound, I could guess what had happened: the worms had forced their way into his mouth. I could hear him gurgling, strangling on his own blood, trying desperately to draw a breath as the worms chewed through his tongue and into his throat.
Bakely was my friend, sir. He was like a brother to me. You have to know that. I didn’t want to do what I did, but I had no choice. The things were eating him, but they weren’t killing him. Not fast enough, anyway. He was in so much pain. I guess he would have bled out eventually, but I wasn’t thinking about that at the time. I was thinking about Evie, about how someday she was going to ask me how her father died. What was I supposed to tell her? I couldn’t tell her the truth. I couldn’t tell her what I saw. What I heard. The only thing I could say was that I didn’t let him suffer.
So, yes, sir. I cut his throat. I had to. It was the quickest way to end it. Believe me, if you were there, you would do the same thing.
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