Keelhaul (Short Story)

This is a long short sci-fi story about space and goo and loneliness and love and fathers and stuff. It has been taking up most of my writing time lately, and I’m just happy to have this first draft done. Definitely a work in progress. Enjoy and feel free to provide feedback in the commentspretty please.  – OG Soggy Boi

Keelhaul

By AJ Tompkins

Audio log – Hospital Corpsman Antony

Assigned: UENC Giles

Joint UEN/Herrmannian Empire Expedition

Mission Statement: Rendezvous with Exploratory Drones in Asteroid Belt Z-378 for Frozen Water Stores

Entry Number: 1,031

I am recording this entry with the purpose of submitting it as an official record and as part of my case against UENC Commander Charon, CO of the UENC Giles. I will attempt to leave out no detail, and cover all the bases for this complaint.

My name is Antony 982, Hospital Corpsman with the United Earth Nations Colonial forces. I am in my fifth year of mandatory service and have every intention of staying on for the remaining five years and perhaps an extended tour following. I sincerely enjoy this job and posting and regret that events have lead me to this point. Regardless, I have not received fair treatment, and am being punished in a method that is a clear violation of UENC code for a crime that is not a crime. I understand the seriousness of my following allegations, and hope that the marshals set the record straight. I am also recording visuals while I record this audio to further prove my point.

Commander Charon is using Herrmannian Empire torture techniques on myself. The sort of thing they did during the first worlds wars. He has had me keelhauled.

As shown in the video feed, I am currently being dragged behind the UENC Giles. I have been strapped into a life-ring class space suit, which is connected by approximately fifty meters of micro-cable and keeps me moving at the same speed as the ship. I have been suspended out here for the past five days, at least that’s what the HUD is displaying.

Physically, my body is doing fine. Vital read outs all good. Feeling hungry, but the lack of food has not made any lasting damage at this point. Hydration recycling system is running well, and I’m sure it’s just my imagination that makes it taste like piss. I remain within the ships shield system, so debris is not an issue and I am in no immediate physical danger.

Of course, the premise of this method of torture has nothing to do with damaging the physical body. The suit is designed to keep the wearer awake in case of passing or searching rescue crafts, and the sleep deprivation is starting to get at me. It is the primary reason I am filing this complaint. For five days, I have had no contact with another human or even a slug, err, Herrmannian. Isolation was banned as early as the twenty-sixth century, and I feel this punishment falls well within the confines of that category.

I want to submit, for the record, some account of my mental state, but feel that words cannot describe what is happening to me. Several times I’ve experienced extreme panic attacks, only to be injected with sedatives by the suit. The chemical imbalance those situations have resulted in has felt like a permanent hangover. I have never suffered from depression prior to this, but feel that perhaps is the best diagnosis for my primary state now. The only sound is the heartbeat monitor of the suit. The only visual is the underbelly of the Giles and the blackness of space. I believe I’ve even begun hallucinating, seeing parts of the Giles rumble and fall off, only to blink and see everything the same, and other, far more peculiar oddities.

I have no idea how long the Commander plans on keeping me out here. If he is basing it off of the records we have from the Herrmannians, most people lasted several weeks before complete psychological breakdown. Hypothetically, one could survive several months barring a hydration system failure before dying of starvation. We are still approximately five months from our deployment station, and I have to assume he will haul me back in prior to that point.

This punishment was directly ordered by Commander Charon, witnessed by the Slug Commander Icthula, and carried out by CPO Tamora and SN Philo and Lepidus. I do not blame Spaceman Philo or Lepidus for my current condition, but believe investigations are warranted for the CPO and Commander, as well as, if possible, Commander Ichtula. Also, witness to this misconduct was Iras 006, UEN citizen and daughter of Commander Charon.

The reason I’m being dragged like some scrap through the cosmos is that I engaged in a romantic and sexual relationship with Iras. For the record, it is well within UENC protocol for a service member to engage in these actions with citizens, even when on assignment. Hell, half the ships have full “entertainment squads” on board for this purpose. The Commander is acting irrationally because I am madly in love with his daughter, which is in and of itself a totally irrational thing that is out of my control. Iras 006 has been accompanying the missions of the UENC Giles for the past four years. She is of legal age to engage in every and all actions we undertook together, of healthy mind and body, and will validate my account.

I met her on her first flight with us, and we both took to each other immediately. We were both raised in the Euro-Towers, even had had the same mentor from our primary years. I was off duty and working out in my assigned gym when we first crossed paths. She had, I mean has, the most amazing eyes. Stunning, vivid green, like the type of green you see only in the conservatory domes back on Earth. We started talking, I don’t remember about what, and that was the beginning of it. Been friendly to each other since that point.

I didn’t know I loved her until my twenty-first birthday. That was when we began this expedition. My birthday fell a few weeks prior to launch, and several friends of mine had gotten time off as well as myself to party. I was back in the towers for that. Went to this club, uh, the Fleur or something, all lights and music and hot girls, that was the plan. Anyways, I was pretty surprised when I ran into Iras on the dance floor. We ended up partying all night together. She fit in really well with the guys, probably cause she’s a military girl and all. She was really excited for this mission, said she was hoping to grab some vid of what it’s like for the crew when we are out in the black. Make a documentary or something. Not that UENC would allow that, but she was hoping to do it on the sly. But yea, we got sloshed, I walked her home, we kissed. Both said a lot of stupid drunk shit. I figured that would be it, but I was happy. She made my birthday happy. Said she’d text me, but that pretty much never happens, at least with gals that know you won’t be back dirt side for a few years. But it was good.

She called the next day too. Spent that whole week I had off together. Getting food, exploring the towers. She has clearance to some of the upper floors, which was pretty neat to see. Haven’t been up to that level since field trips in school. Mostly we just talked. In person, video feed, whatever, we couldn’t get enough of each other’s voices. Told each other all our secrets. Felt like I finally had found my best friend. I barely slept that whole week, barely managed to pass my pre-flight med screening cause of it. I’m crazy for this girl.

The first month after the toss was pretty much the usual chaos of a mission, found myself too busy to really see Iras. Fact that the Herrmannians were onboard didn’t make things any smoother. These joint missions might carry some political sway, but they sure are a pain in the ass on the reality side. Slugs don’t respect the rules of the treaties, and they sure as shit don’t care about any of us. Got the Med-Bay up to Doc’s standards, helped out with a few small projects around the ship, just tried to stay busy before the jump.

Iras came to me the day before the jump. She, uh, said she wanted to make sure I didn’t forget her during the sleep. Wanted me to smell like her. We made love in my cabin. It was, it was the best experience of my life. Beyond the physical act too. Not that the sex wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, just, well, I just felt so connected to her at that moment. The club girls can’t give you that feeling. I still feel that way when we do it.

They say you can’t dream in the sleep, that they put you under, make the jump, and for you, in the pod, it’s just a matter of seconds. I’m pretty sure I dreamt of her though, my Iras 006. It was like watching a holo, except of myself. We were getting married, somewhere green, like her eyes. Not in the towers either, some of that real green, like they have up North back on Earth. Just the two of us, in some valley, with trees and rocks and streams and all that stuff, nothing metal or manmade insight, and her in this gorgeous white dress. I woke from the jump pretty damn happy. Still smelled like her too.

Hospital Corpsmen are woken up in the second wave. Needed for all the first-timers or those we are bad in the pods. Which also meant I got a few days with reduced crew and workload. Snuck off with Iras a few times during that. She got the same treatment as the Commander. She, uh, brought her vid drone with her everywhere, making her documentary. The Commander had told her she could keep the footage but wouldn’t be able to use it for anything beyond personal viewing. Not sure if he actually thinks that will stop her from making the documentary or not.

Some of our more, um, intimate moments might have also been captured. If the footage exists still, it can maybe be used to corroborate my accounts.

I believe the Commander has seen this footage, and this is the reason for my current persecution.

Without a single care for UENC conducts, the safety of the crew, I am a physician, after all, the safety of myself as an individual, or his daughter’s emotional state, the Commander has taken up the brutal practice of Herrmannian war criminals and seeks to break my sanity apart. This punishment lacks any reasoning beyond sadism, and will undoubtedly result in my complete mental collapse. Should that occur, I hope this audio log and video feed can be salvaged. I am saving both to my UENC official chip, and a second chip, the location of which I shall not enclose in this log in case of interference by the forces that have imprisoned me.

Even now, the only thing keeping me sane, the only thing fighting back the never-ending black expanse, this void I have no choice but to stare into, is the thought of Iras and those green eyes.

I, Hospital Corpsman Antony 982, do swear that the prior statements are true and wish to submit them to UENC Internal Affairs.


For three more days, Antony 982 was pulled behind the UENC Giles. For most of it, he was a still passenger, floating along like a balloon behind a toddler. His eyes continued to process the vast nothing, and he felt himself being drawn into it, becoming part of it. The cognitive read from the life-ring suit showed slowing mental functions. There were several situations in which Antony began writhing about, straining at the cables that tethered him to the ship. Perhaps he was attempting to get a message of distress back to the ship, perhaps he wanted to cut loose and get sent flying to his death. The shields would knockout all the electronic systems of the suit, rendering him a quick death in the vacuum of space.

The beginning of his ninth day of being keelhauled, Antony was brought back in through the airlock. He passed out immediately when they cracked the suit helmet.


When he woke up, he found himself strapped to a gurney in a cell. Still alone, still immobile. Antony, in total shock from the change of scenery, began screaming and rocking the gurney. It tipped over, resulting in a bloody lip for Antony. He remained on the floor, screaming bloody agony for some time. When the cell door finally opened, a young marine with a combat medic insignia began fussing over him.

“What the fuck mate? They said you had a wicked hit on your head, didn’t think they meant in here.”

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.”

“Easy mate, easy,” said the planet-hopper, setting the gurney upright. “I’ve gone and stuck ya with a few pick-me-ups, should help clear the head, set you right. Must be an important chap, the CO of the fucking ship is waiting outside for the all clear.” The combat medic threw the spent syringes into the waste bin and turned towards the door.

“Wait wait wait wait. Please.”

“What is it?”

“I, why am in a cell? Why are you treating me? Why not a real doctor?”

“First off, offense taken. Second, what do you mean? Weren’t you stationed in the Med-Bay? Whole thing has been quarantined mate. Listen, I got dragged outta the rec for this, mid-game and everything. Killstreak has gone to shit by now. Sorry about your head bro.”

“Quarantined?”

“Above my pay grade mate. Cheers,” and the door slide shut behind the marine.


Audio log – Commander Charon 006

Assigned: UENC Giles

Joint UEN/Herrmannian Empire Expedition

Mission Statement: Rendezvous with Exploratory Drones in Asteroid Belt Z-378 for Frozen Water Stores

Entry Number: 45,201

I’m recording this briefing on the final recommendation of the ship’s Doc. Also present is Hospital Corpsman Antony 982, who was off-duty at the time of the incident…

Antony 982: What? That is [inaudible]

[Inaudible]

Strike the last five minutes from the record. Now, Hospital Corpsman Antony 982 was off-duty when a loose support beam struck him, causing unconsciousness and what seems to be some sort of bullshit story to float around in his head. Understand, Antony, that regardless of what you believe transpired, this will be the official record of what happened, and that shit has gone to hell in a fucking handbasket while you were out.

I’ll transfer the full data to you when the briefing is over and you are ready to get to work on the situation at hand. Need you to buck up and put that doctor brain to work real fucking fast kid. The short version of it is pretty simple. R&D had sent out a probe to check out a few anomalies that had been popping up on the radar ever since we got out of the sleep. Herrmannians, bless their slimy fucking souls, said it had been showing up since we passed Procyon. Anyways, the probe came back, covered in this orange slime shit. All standard decontamination methods were followed, and that slug scientist, Thaodr’xe or whatever it is, got to work on a small sample. We iced the probe with the majority of the crap. Within an hour the slug was comatose, kind of glowing or something. Got him to med-bay, and it just escalated. We have twelve bodies, all-glowing like neon signs at an old world strip joint, locked in an airtight containment room. You are the only medically certified person left on this ship Corpsman. The scientist was able to make some progress in figuring out what it is, and it was Doc’s idea to lock all this up. He’s in there with them too.

You need to put everything behind you and make this your sole purpose, is that clear spaceman? We don’t know what we are up against, or how long those people have if they aren’t dead already. Don’t break the airlock, this orange shit seems to be able to transfer itself that way…

Antony 982: It’s an organism?

That was the thinking of the slug. Fuck if I know. Your mission here is to study what we have, run any diagnostics you can without putting yourself or anyone else in danger, and report any progress directly to me. Is that clear?

Antony 982: Yes sir.

And, Antony, don’t think I don’t know about that little [inaudible] in that stupid book you carry with you. I don’t know what all you’ve saved on there, and I don’t care. You will be transferred when we get to the mining station, and depending on how this goes that transfer will be with my blessing or a full demotion.

Antony 982: Yes sir.

End audio log.


The drugs from the combat medic traveled like fireworks throughout Antony’s body while the Commander stood over him talking about the extraterrestrial slime. He felt present in the room, aware of the words being said, the thinly veiled threats and the seriousness of the parasite onboard, but Antony still felt completely detached. He had been the cosmic equivalent of a tin can behind a newly-weds car, and like all those tin cans Antony had come to the same conclusion, he meant nothing. In the vastness of space, he had lost himself. Having his consciousness chemically jumpstarted might have been necessary for the Commander’s needs, the ship’s needs, Iras’s needs, thousands of peoples needs, but it had also breached the final crack in his reality.

Commander Charon had unbelievably chapped lips. It looked like he was also one of those people who chew and picked at the dead skin of his lips, leaving small painful red patches. Little canyons and scars carved from years of sweaty lips and licking, smacking, gnashing teeth. Antony really, really liked the look of this topographic map etched into his face. While he talked about how no one would take Antony’s word over his, how grooming and taking his daughters virginity should have got him a quick ejection out a missile tube, how a fucking slug had been the reason he was still alive, how he wanted to ice all the dumb bastards that touched space goo and be done with it but UENC had some protocol about unknown lifeforms, how Antony would be taken to dark corner of the Z-378 and put down like a sick dog (and then demanding his chip to encrypt the whole thing), Antony stared and thought about crawling into one of the cracks of those lips. Iras had come from the work of those lips. Indirectly that is, Antony corrected himself.

Addled and slowly, Antony searched the Commander for more treasures. The woven black stripes of his getup weren’t black enough. Not true black. Not the nothing black that made sense.

When he was done with his report, the Commander stayed in the room and just stared at Antony. The straps were keeping his body totally still, but he kept running his face through a myriad of twitches and facial expressions. Eyes slowly wandering around the Commander’s exterior. For his part, Charon mirrored the stillness of the corpsman, his face frozen in a deep-set scowl. They examined each other for many minutes. Or eons. Antony wasn’t sure which would be worse.

Finally, the Commander said in a low, hard voice, “Get your fucking face in order and give me the legal-doctor all clear fucking thing so I can ship these poor cunts to a galaxy far, far away. Hour recovery time then you’re active duty soldier.

“Oh, and think about my daughter again, and you’ll be getting passed around as a cum sock to every hard set of Herrmannian genital spikes on the ship. That was Icthula’s other idea, by the way,” and walked out of the cell, leaving Antony strapped to the table and laughing slightly, but that had more to do with the impermanence of cells (the stupid bastards) and how they loved stacking on top of each other than it did the threat of sexual assault.


Green finally set him free from the gurney. It was into the green that Antony was drawn, and the whirlpool blacks that expanded and contrasted like living beings in front of him. Then he was pulled into a tight feeling, some new outside force contrasting around parts of his body and holding him still. The green and black left in a furious flash of light and then this softer darkness. Not black but still no color. And it smelled good, the way water does. And then Antony recognized Iras 006, and the sleep dream she had brought into his life.

The embrace lasted for several minutes. Or eons.

When Iras pulled his face from where it was buried in her shoulder, Antony did his best to use the drugs to his advantage, pulling on the memory of her to support his understanding of what was true. She looked into his eyes again, and the green-black called to him, but he held strong. Experimentally, he lifted his hand and stroked her face, feeling the added weight of artificial gravity.

“Are you okay baby,” she asked, concern etched on her face. “Everything is totally fucked here. Dad had overridden the lock on my room, I was stuck for like three days, not sure if he had killed you or not, it was awful. I… he had asked to view the footage I had, see how morale was after the jump. I tried to stop him, and like, censor the video, but, I couldn’t stop him. And now all this quarantine shit, I mean, fuck. He doesn’t know I picked my lock, that I’m out of my room. Antony, I’m afraid, afraid of what he is going to do to you. the crew is afraid too. Do you know why the Med-bay is locked down?”

Antony looked her over a bit, stroking her face the whole time, before mumbling, “Yea. Orange got in.”

“What?”

“Something got in. I, he pulled me back in to give him the UENC codes to close this case, They think it is an invasive life form.”

“Holy shit.”

“Space parasite or something. I’m… I don’t think I’m ok Iras.”

“Baby…”

“Your eyes… they…”

“What is it, Antony?”

“I… I think your dad is going to kill me no matter what.”

“I refuse to accept that. Antony, baby, please, listen to me. We are going to get off this ship, the two of us, we are going to run away. You take care of this whole parasite thing, just do whatever he asks, keep your head down and just do what you are supposed to. Be the good soldier one more time. He doesn’t know I’ve gotten out of my room, I’ll get a shuttle ready. Make an excuse to get away after you deal with all that, I’ll be waiting nearby. We can do this, me and you. Hell, we are traveling on the cruise route to some of the colony worlds, it’ll be easy to get picked up by some civilian rig. Make a life for ourselves on Habit Two, get a cabin unit by one of the oceans or something. You just need to keep it together baby.”

“…It’s too dangerous.”

“Well, it’s a good thing I’m packing then.”

“Iras…”

“What?”

“It is too dangerous.”

“Oh fuck you. Just cause I’m an exempt class for military service doesn’t mean I’m soft. I’ve been living this life longer than you, remember. Now get yourself together, do what you are told, and let me worry about our escape. This is happening Antony.”

“I don’t think you are soft.”

“Good.”

Throughout the whole exchange, Antony leaned his full weight against Iras, not yet ready for the full responsibility of his body. They sat there on the floor, whispering their lover’s conspiracy back and forth. She had the same tone as the Commander, wielding her words with the force of a superior being completely indifferent to Antony’s objections. Antony held back tears, griped with the fear that all love brings with it. He had made her his anchor, the only thing that had kept the full unknown that lurked in his spinal cord at bay, and the concept of not having her anymore was far worse than anything death might bring with it. Death, after all, was life’s bosom buddy and Antony had been forced to come face to face with the concept that life was rather meaningless. His own essence wasn’t what had kept him present during his drag across space after all.

Iras held him for several seconds after they stopped talking. The damage the keelhaul had done on her lover wasn’t truly apparent to her, and his sudden fear of her father actually made her feel somewhat betrayed. So long as he could keep it together long enough to get through this contamination issue, she was confident in the success of their rebellion. The marines that stood at attention all day by the shuttles were a simple lot, easily swayed by either the mention of her lineage or the flash of a sultry eye, and the airlock clearance code was the same her father used for every aspect of the ship he had control of. 005, her mother’s number. Holding Antony, she tried to force her determination into him with a tight hug and a quick peck on the forehead.

“We can do this love, please, do this for me. I’ll be waiting nearby, I promise. I love you.”

And she left.

And Antony tried to not look into the corners of the cell, where the darkness spread its seductive fingers.


The official designation for the motorized vehicles that transported personnel and supplies from one end of the Giles to the other was MT-2000’s, but every spacer just called them Go-Karts. Some 21st-century callback, but it had stuck. More reckless drivers called them bumper cars, or just bumpers, another callback. Commander Charon’s Go-Kart was easily distinguishable from the normal karts that ran up and down the causeways. Tinted windows, shiny UENC insignia made from real silver, deep blue paint job, autopilot, bulletproof sides, the kart cost about as much as the assault mechs. As Antony was forced into the kart he realized most of that funding was being funneled straight into the interior. It was a full-on command center of the ship, complete with a replica of the Commander’s seat on the bridge. The mini-bar seemed extra ostentatious. While two marines had escorted him from his cell to the kart, once inside he found himself, again, alone with the commander.

Charon sat with his back to Antony, and after giving a quick, “Thanks, chaps,” to the marines fell silent. The whir of data being transferred to his drive lit up the right side of Antony’s head as the kart accelerated. It was an eerie silence that settled in the vehicle. Outside the vehicle, UENC persons jumped to attention as it passed. The occasional Herrmannian made their torso sections jiggle, a sign of respect as they called it.

The feed was short but provided Antony with at least some background on the life form that had wormed its way onboard. A small sample had been gathered from the research probe and studied by one Thaodr’xe. Analysis showed that it was a single cell, and seemed to put off a variety of electronic waves, which the slug scientist had assumed was a form of locomotion or communication. Somewhere in trying to see how it responded to stimuli, Thaodr’xe had become exposed to the amoeba and instantly fallen unconscious. He had been transported to the med-bay free of incidents, and the immediate assumption was that he was running low on fluids. Slug’s needed a steady feed of liquid hydrogen, and the Doc and his staff had gone through the necessary steps to resuscitate a dry Herrmannian. Due to the hush-hush on the whole alien life business, they had not known about the orange and began also succumbing to its surreal influence.

After ten minutes in the med-bay, the slug had shifted from his natural greenish-grey color to a light orange. The first responder collapsed around the same time. Doc sealed the med-bay when he began to feel lightheaded, and sent a message to command. The whole of the medical staff was glowing soft orange by the time that Charon and Icthula arrived outside. The room was airtight, and the eleven human bodies and one slug lay where they had fallen, providing more light than the soft emergency neon strip that ran around the room.

Whatever it was that infected the crew, it was alive and could transmit itself like an airborne pathogen. The readings from the screening of the slug showed that it had not impacted his vitals, except slower mental cognition and perhaps an impact on its breathing. Antony kept scanning over the data on the drive, looking for something more to work with than that, hoping for some indication of a weakness or just sense in this whole debacle.

As they got closer to the med-bay Charon cleared his throat and barked, “Well? Anything useful?”

“Sir, this is unprecedented.”

“No fucking shit, Corpsman.”

“this thing, whatever it is, it works like a bacteria that has been hyper-accelerated. Nothing should be able to spread as quickly as it does. If it were to ever get to a planet it would be unstoppable.”

“That’s why we are going to flush it.”

“But sir, we have it in a contained environment for now. It would be obvious if it had hit anyone else, this could be our one chance of studying it safely. Our differences aside, this should be done properly.”

“Jesus fucking Christ, would you like to go starwalking again? When we get there, you punch in the right code, the boys bag them and say adios and that’s it.”

“Respectfully sir, I don’t think that’s a good course of action.”

For the first time, the command chair swiveled and Antony and Charon were face to face again. They studied each other. Charon’s face set with its deep scowl, which accentuated his wrinkles. Antony, dead-eyed and very serious.

“Some fucking stones you have kid. Twenty minutes, no more. I watch your every move.”

“Fine by me sir.”


Audio log – Hospital Corpsman Antony

Assigned: UENC Giles

Joint UEN/Herrmannian Empire Expedition

Mission Statement: Rendezvous with Exploratory Drones in Asteroid Belt Z-378 for Frozen Water Stores

Entry Number: 1,032

Purpose of recording, UENC medical records. Unknown alien life forms onboard UENC Giles. Twelve unresponsive souls. Also present, UENC Commander Charon. All work being done outside Giles Med-Bay, via drones and computer readouts. See attached files for prior work.

Primary findings fail to reveal much in the way of new information. The bodies of both downed Herrmannian and humans share symptoms. Core body temperature has increased somewhere between three to five degrees Celsius. Heart rate remains steady. All neural oscillations have slowed. Herrmannian, who has been exposed to longest, is visibly vibrating, similar to shivering. Bodies all show some sort of chemical change which has resulted in a, well a glow radiating from the bodies. The outer layer of the epidermis is some sort of soft orange hue. Odd that both species have developed the same skin pigment.

Scans also show a high level of electromagnetic radiation. Bodies seem to be the source. No difference in waves from humans or Herrmannian.

Sir, permission to proceed with the autopsy?

Commander Charon: denied.

Sir? We could learn more if I could let the drones do some sort of invasive research.

Commander Charon: Denied, Corpsman. Clocks ticking.

Sir, what the fuck?

Commander Charon: Excuse me…

We have twelve people in there, alive but in danger, and you aren’t willing to sacrifice some tissue from one of them to potentially prevent the annihilation of life as we know it? seriously, what the fuck?

Commander Charon: listen here you fucking twat…

No, you listen! This, that shit in that room there is a real threat. It is the unknown, the incomparable, and it is a clear and present danger. You are putting yourself and some petty bullshit in front of all of humanity. You are committing treason by preventing this research! You committed treason when you had me forced out of the fucking airlock!

Commander Charon: You fucked my daughter you degenerate fuck! My sixteen-year-old daughter! And recorded it, like she is some sort of lower level whore! How long have you been having your way with her, huh?

Sir, put the gun down…

Commander Charon: Shut the fuck up. Punch in the clearance if you don’t want to be thrown out the airlock with those lumps in there. I’d rather kill you on solid ground where I could watch you bleed.

Sir, listen to me…

Commander Charon: No you listen. I’m doing my job. I eliminate threats, and I see two clear threats right now. One has already taken twelve good spacers with it, and the other has preyed upon the naivety of a child for its own sexual gratification. Which I deal with first is up to you.

We need to do this work…

[Static]

[Static]

[Adrenaline spike]

[Static]

[Loud sound. Analyzing. Firearm discharged]


Iras stood in the doorway, the smoking barrel obscuring the two men’s vision of her face. Both Charon and Antony were on the ground, faces and knuckles bloody from the exchanged blows. Tears stained Iras’s eyes. Had her voice been capable she would have been screaming at the two men, fiery demands they stop fighting. Had Charon been able to respond, he might have yelled back about how he was just trying to protect her. Antony, who was running high on so many different drugs (the literal, the body-produced natural, the still present chaotic, and that rush of scientific intrigue) was the only one actually able to say anything, “Iras, god fucking damn it,” and the windowpane that separated the external room from the Med-bay’s main room, the room full of glowing bodies, shattered.

The change in pressure sent the glass flying outward. Charon, physically dominant as he was, was situated atop Antony and caught several large shards of glass in his back and sides. The scream that escaped his chapped lips was feral, echoing throughout Antony’s ears and awakening again that subdued terror. He screamed right back, his own voice alien to him. He forcefully pushed the Commander off of him and jumped to his feet. Perhaps too quickly, for the room began spinning and Antony’s eyes created far too many cowering Iras’s and wounded Commanders. Regaining composure didn’t make the scene any easier to swallow.

Antony’s push had caught the Commander off-guard, and his force had moved Charon in such a way that he landed with his full weight on several of the fateful transparent blades. Blood poured freely, moving with ease across the seamless floor and creating a new ocean and archipelago. Thousands of glass crumb islands tasting for the first time their liquid partner. The Commander gasped and flailed his hands around a bit, a giant beached whale spilling his waters in this micro-creation story. His spasms sent an incarnadine mist across Antony’s face, who backed away quickly. The Commander was going to die. The Commander was dead, long live the Commander.

Iras wasn’t looking at her dying father, but she was crying and backing away from the door. She pointed into the Med-Bay with the hand that still brandished the gun. Antony knew he had to at some point look at what was captivating her attention, every tragedy demands you at least do it the courtesy of looking at it. Yet, looking was to turn everything that had already happened to something better than the now and the future. Looking meant things weren’t going to get better, and Antony couldn’t conjure a recent memory that was anything he really wanted to look at fondly.

The room had been sitting stagnant and filling with recycled air for several hours, long enough for the mechanizations that circulated the false atmosphere had been forced into overdrive. The sudden introduction of a high powered round and air pressure had somehow garnered a response from the singularity that taken up residence in the damned doctors and intellectuals in the Med-Bay. Most of the bodies had exploded into a sort of aerosol, but several large chunks of glowing orange limbs had been shot to various parts of the room. Grotesque, but Antony had been forced to play with far more awful scenes in his medical simulation training. The limbs were moving, slithering around and spreading red slime trails across the floor and tables. The smaller bits of ember colored flesh and viscera had begun levitating, propelled by the dark magic that fueled the cosmic glob and forming groups, hives of dripping meat.

Antony found himself wishing the hovering horror made some kind of noise. All real life made some kind of noise when it was being aggressive when it was fighting for its life. Snakes rattled, lions roared, humans yelled, Herrmannians gurgled, bees buzzed. Even the natural world attempted to offer some warning, some sign that it was going to hurt you. The animate flesh, the sliding limbs, were silent.

Practically barreling Iras over, Antony 982 made a break for the exit. Pushing, pulling, pleading, he moved her forward, away from the energetic gore and towards the Commanders kart. Inside, he began shouting at the computer to take them to the shuttle bay. Sardonically, it insisted on having the proper authorization codes for its services. Little pieces of orange people were already beginning to float out the open door, towards a crew sentenced to a similar envelopment. Antony began screaming at Iras to put in the codes, and she bawled something incoherent which prompted more sass from the computer. Some of the larger chunks were working their way into view; flopping and jiggling like vile fish. Antony didn’t know how the kart cycled oxygen, didn’t know if it was already doomed and they had inhaled the pestilence, but he did understand that Iras saying the right number immediately was their only chance of survival. Somehow, through the screaming, she mumbled zero-zero-five and the kart took off.


The ride to the shuttle bay was not a quick one. The computer in charge of the kart maintained a steady speed regardless of the demands from its passengers. Iras and Antony were forced to watch as the ship’s crew either paid their respects to the passing commander vehicle or succumbed to the convulsions that came with infection.

As the computer announced ten minutes to the destination, Iras buried her head in between her legs and let her tears flow. Guilt is heavy like that, bending the back of its bearer. Antony saw no way to help her and no real reason to. Instead, a real curiosity had woven into his thinking, and he watched with some element of excitement as the small orange globs zoomed from a body to body. The small pieces steered towards the body’s weak spots. Eyes, noses, mouths, ears, the Herrmannian orifices that opened and closed like the mouths of fish out of the water. The parasite seemed sentient and malicious, though that conclusion may have been heightened by the sheer unknown of the little hitchhiker. It moved quickly through the visible crew and reduced them to glowing lumps that lined the causeway the kart traveled along.

By the time they reached the shuttle bay, orange dots had begun speckling the walls of the Giles. The aberration seemed to have accelerated its own timeline, and it was with horror that Antony had watched some of the downed bodies begin pouring out snake-like strands of animated body fluid. The streams slithered or flew around depending on their size. In the thirty minutes, it had taken to kart to the bay, the creature had seemingly taken over the ship.

“Iras, we aren’t going to make it. we can’t get out of this kart…”

“I don’t care. We have to try.”

“We are going to end up just like everyone else if we do.”

“I don’t care.”

“Do you trust me?”

“…why?”

“I think I have an idea. We need to go somewhere on the ship where no one was stationed, somewhere it wouldn’t go to find a new host.”

“And then what?”

“Like I said, I think I have an idea.”

“ I don’t care.”

“Ok… Computer? Set course for Airlock 75.”


Audio log – Hospital Corpsman Antony

Assigned: UENC Giles

Joint UEN/Herrmannian Empire Expedition

Mission Statement: Rendezvous with Exploratory Drones in Asteroid Belt Z-378 for Frozen Water Stores

Entry Number: 1,033

[Labored breathing]

[static]

Computer open the fucking door now!

[Static]

[Loud hiss]

Yaaaahoooo! Fuck you, you orange bastard. Iras, Iras, we did it! We did it!


Audio log – Hospital Corpsman Antony

Assigned: UENC Giles

Joint UEN/Herrmannian Empire Expedition

Mission Statement: Rendezvous with Exploratory Drones in Asteroid Belt Z-378 for Frozen Water Stores

Entry Number: 1,034

[This is an automated distress signal from UENC Giles. This message is being broadcast on all UEN channels on loop. Code orange, do not engage. This is an automated distress signal from UENC Giles.

Recorded Audio will now play. Message sent from Life-Raft Survival Suit of [Hospital Corpsman Antony 982]

My name is Antony 982, and if you are receiving this, I hope it isn’t too late. UENC Giles has been invaded by an unknown space anomaly, and I believe myself and civilian Iras 006 to be the sole survivors. We have cast ourselves out the airlock in Life-Raft Survival Suits, which should sustain us for the next month. Our destination remains several months away, and the ship precedes full steam ahead on autopilot. Anyone who intercepts this message needs to alert UENC command, and if capable destroy this ship.

Again, this ship has become under assault from an unknown anomaly. Medical records of all research into the entity are being broadcast with this signal. The thing is hostile and utilizes living bodies as hosts for some sort of parasitic reproduction. It seems to transfer from hosts through physical contact and can animate the bodies and living cells of the bodies it enters. The lighter the material it contaminates the more control it seems to have. I beg anyone who stumbles upon this recording to do as I’ve asked and destroy this ghost ship.

I, we, Iras and me, we have keelhauled ourselves to escape the interior of the ship. I believe this to have been the safest course of action. I can not say with certainty that we do not carry that fuc… that thing with us, and see no hope in attempting to rescue us.

[Inaudible]

We can’t endanger them like that Iras.

[Inaudible]

Again, this is the final broadcast of the UENC Giles. Do not engage with this ship, we have made contact with a hostile unknown space anomaly. All crew members, UENC and Herrmannian Empire are suspected dead. Please, download the data from this transmission and erase this ship.

[This is an automated distress signal from UENC Giles. This message is being broadcast on all UEN channels on loop. Code orange, do not engage. This is an automated distress signal from UENC Giles.

Recorded Audio will now play. Message sent from Life-Raft Survival Suit of [Hospital Corpsman Antony 982]


Floating wasn’t so bad this time around. After all, Antony had Iras right there, moving at the same speed as him with all the stars in the galaxy and the afterburn of the rear thrusters illuminating her silhouette. She was mostly silent, and before keelhauling themselves her tears had carved lines into her face like the rivers that made canyons, but she was there. From the exterior, the ship looked supremely normal.

Adjusting his body, Antony glided through the vacuum of space until he bumped into Iras. He grabbed lackadaisically for her hands, feeling for the first time comfortable since had been brought back onto the ship. She might not understand, not yet, but Antony had made her safe, and removed them from that certain death and given them a chance to reset everything. Out here, it would be just like back on the towers, just the two of them diving deeper into the little things that had made each of them. He was still certain they wouldn’t survive this ordeal, but at least they could go out on their own terms, with each other, falling even more madly in love as their bodies slowly lost all nutritional value. At least he could die looking into her green eyes, that green of a real meadow or forest that she carried with her everywhere. Like a dancer underwater, Iras swung around in his grasp, and their visors bumped lightly.

The great fear, that feral fear that had oozed from the Commanders chapped lips, that fear that had swirled and rioted in the chaos of the black spaces of his cell, lashed out against Antony as he looked into his lover’s eyes. A slow-moving wildfire was encroaching the borders of her wilderness eyes, her pools of sanity. Tentacles of enraged orange, pulling towards the center of Iras.

One thought on “Keelhaul (Short Story)

  1. Pingback: Keelhaul (Short Story) — the Peachy Kings | Fantasy Gift Sources: Book Reviews, Article Resources, News

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