The Galileo wasn’t a big station. A big ring, floating between Mars and Phobos. Changing decks was enough to feel the Coriolis effect as the pull of gravity on your feet didn’t quite match that on your head. You either learned to live with it, or took meds every time you got out of your rack before that sensation in your ears told your brain something wasn’t quite right.
For Sam it was another reminder that home was a long way away. Ted hummed behind her, either finishing up “the most important paper in the history of man” or playing another round of solitaire on his terminal. The lone porthole in the window didn’t even face home, just a field of stars revolving by at eight revolutions per minute.
“I’m off,” Ted said.
Sam didn’t say anything. She just wanted him gone. Out. As soon as the bulkhead door sealed she was out of her seat, hooking up cables and running through diagnostics. Six months of work. Every night and weekend, Landfall Day and Independence Day had been leading to this. The text in her ocular-ribbon flashed green. She winked it away and took a deep breath. Before her stood a… a coffin, for lack of a better term. It was small, even for Sam’s five two frame, but other than that it was an exact replica of the one she’d been using for weeks, just an order of magnitude bigger. Pinky and his cranial companion watched her from their cage, little noses sniffing at the scents. Tests meant cheese, but today it was she who was going for a ride.
“See you in five,” she said to the mice.
The door to the chamber sealed tight. CO2 build-up would begin immediately, but she didn’t plan on being cocooned for long. The clock in the top right of her vision counted down. The walls began to shake. Rattle. Jar at her spine. As the noise became too much and she clamped her hands over her ears, the world went black and white, hot and cold. Her hands were a million miles away from her head and then she was nowhere and everywhere.
Sam awoke in pain. Grabbing her ankle beneath the rubberised plastic of her grey vac suit, she couldn’t feel a break, couldn’t feel the warmth of any blood. It was only when she was satisfied that the pain was nothing more than a sprain that she realised she had much bigger problems.
A few meters away, the bole of a tree rose into the sky. She could recognise it was a tree by the shape, but unless she’d hit her head as well as her foot, everything else was wrong. It was purple. As in, actually purple. Purple. Sam hobbled over and tentatively touched it. Real.
Looking up, through the canopy of leaves, the sky was orange. It almost looked like a sunset, except she could see two suns. An ear-splitting screech went up, causing all manner of airborne creatures to take flight. Sam looked around with panic in her eyes and started hobbling away in the opposite direction from the noise.
She crashed through the underbrush. Things moved ahead of her, scattering away, but they didn’t come close enough for her to see. All to late she realised they weren’t running from her. The soft footsteps made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. A true, primal fear.
The root was old. Covered in purple moss. Sam didn’t see it until she was falling forwards, twisting her injured ankle even further and shouting with pain. As the silence returned, the only sounds were her own breathing and the beast that was stalking her. She crab-walked backwards like a frantic doe.
“Oh shit. No no no.”
It was all bone, like a cockroach and a praying mantis had had a baby and decided it wasn’t scary enough so filled it with teeth and jaws and eyes. It sniffed or licked or tasted the air, taking its time as it left the shadows and began circling her. Sam backed herself against a tree, struggling to stand as it returned to her field of vision.
The beast leant in, legs or arms or whatever they were pinning her to the tree as its cold breath washed over her. Sam closed her eyes, heard the sound of bones breaking and hoped it would be over quickly. After several long heartbeats she peaked through one eyelid. The creature was still before her. It’s eyes were all pointing upwards, it’s limbs quivering slightly.
It collapsed, nearly crushing her under its weight. Only as she pushed it away did Sam see the spear erupting from the top of its carapace. Blood trickled from the hole, flowing more freely as the weapon was pulled from the shell.
Sam gulped, blinking away tears of pain as she looked at her rescuer.
Had she just traded one death for another?
Prompt originally posted by Heli-pilot on reddit and received 19 upvotes.