She swallowed and clutched Jason’s hand, so small in hers, he blinked up at her and she turned – hopefully – towards the figure that was speaking. He wasn’t a doctor, that much was obvious simply looking at him. He wasn’t even out of his twenties yet, all slicked hair and expensive suit, earpiece radio wittering away from whatever company he was with. It gave him a distant, uninterested look to his eyes, it went with his practised smile. With a due sense of fear and dread she offered a small-voiced. “Yes?”
“Excellent if you and…” He blinked a moment, getting an update through his Finance Chip, “…Jason would like to come with me you can see your husband.”
He gestured to the door and his false smile turned up a couple of degrees. She clutched Jason’s hand even tighter and he whimpered a little, tugging at her sleeve for her to stop. She stood, slowly, on shaking legs and shuffled in behind him as he strode on ahead, going through the rigmarole of his usual speech, she wasn’t really listening and he was making no effort to make her listen or understand. She only heard snatches of it as they paced down the antiseptic corridor in the warrens beneath the space-port.
“Crimson Skull medal…”
“Not as you remember him…”
“Asking for you…”
“Don’t normally give access at this stage…”
She didn’t care, she just wanted to see him again, four years away on a Conflict World, four years when most people lasted thirty seconds or less. She’d been resigned to him dying, but that message had never come.
Against all hope, he was home.
Through a curtain of plastic strips they entered the room together, he was still talking away but her gaze was fixed on the medical door at the other side of the room. She swallowed and picked her son up, wrapping him around her hip, holding him crushingly tight as the door hissed open, the scent of antiseptic coming stronger, a spreading miasma like a mist that rolled out across the floor.
What emerged wasn’t her husband. Wasn’t a man. Wasn’t human. Wasn’t… anything. The biogenetic tank that housed… whatever it was glistened wetly and steamed. A thin skin covered the front of the pod. Inside, mercifully hard to see, was something – meat and teeth and an eye.
Goosebumps rose on her flesh, she tasted bile, her stomach dropped through her to the floor, hot and cold shudders ran through her and she almost dropped Jason to the floor as the cold sweats made her skin clammy and slippery. When a noise came from that pod that was all she could take, tears streamed down her face, she dropped Jason, crying and startled to the floor. She turned, ran and never, never looked back.