“Punch it up,” said the mission commander. “Let’s have a look at him.”
News outlets in the Eastern Hemisphere were reporting the debris streaking through the sky. Soon the Russians would go public, and the world would know the horror that had overtaken the International Space Station.
The scene on the mission commander’s viewscreen was sobering. There was the charred hull of the Patriot module, blown halfway to hell when gore-flooded electrical systems caused the oxygen generator to erupt. Visible beyond the frayed circuitry and twisted metal was infinity’s gaping maw. And then, into the foreground, drifted Korman – a desiccated shell of a man, literally mummified by his exposure to the vacuum – and staring coldly at the mission commander with sunken yellow eyes.
He absently fingered the holes in his uniform. Micrometeors had made a further ruin of him over the past three weeks, but he’d barely noticed – busy with eating what remained of his fellow astronauts and cosmonauts.
And now he was tapping at controls. There was a grating hum. Thrusters coming to life.
“What is he doing?” shouted the mission commander.
But it was all too obvious.
Korman stared at the viewscreen as the ISS tilted, bits of bone and wires floating past his head, and the darkness of the void in the background was replaced by the spinning Earth – the station hurtling toward it.
Korman worked his bloody lips, but there was no sound. “Stop him! Take control!” the mission commander screamed. It was too late. All control from the ground had been severed by Korman’s subtle work. It was all in his hands now.
Taking hold of the camera which allowed Mission Control to see him, Korman twisted it to the right, and there, scrawled with crimson-stained fingers on the wall of the module, a message: WE’RE COMING HOME.
“Korman!” pleaded the mission commander. “Jesus, Korman, I know you’re still in there! Stop this! You’re going to—”
The scene aboard the ISS began to shake violently. Korman clung to the control panel and cast his dead eyes toward the world beneath him. There was something in them, something besides the animal hunger that had overtaken him during his last spacewalk – there was a look of anticipation. It was terrifying.
And the module began to glow, and Korman’s flesh blistered and blackened, and he let go of the control panel and opened his arms like a young bird spreading its wings and was torn from view.
The mission commander’s head sank.
Astronaut Korman sailed through the Earth’s buffeting winds at fiery speeds. His body came apart in a shower of embers, to be scattered across the globe.
But the planet’s simple inhabitants saw it not, for all the brilliance of the space station’s demise; and so it was that a plague ten billion years in the making finally came home to roost.
© 2009 David Dunwoody