Science Officer Larson sprinted down the clinical white corridor in a frantic panic. The hazard lights pulsed over head. She rounded the corner to see the airlock door coming down. She pushed herself harder, racing to the door. She dived and slid under the door just before it shut behind her with a gentle hiss. She sat on the floor of the airlock, her chest heaving. She hadn’t run like that since basic training. She began to slow her breathing and regain control. Her heart still hammered in her chest. Slowly she got to her feet and peered into the corridor through the inch thick reinforced glass of the porthole. She watched the empty corridor and held her breath. Maybe it hadn’t followed her, she thought. No. She slammed her first against the door. It had begun creeping around the corner. The crimson mist. She sank to the floor. It would be less than a couple of minutes before it reached her. Maybe the door might hold it for a few minutes but given how it had eaten through the other doors, she didn’t put much stock in it. She kept going over the details in her head.

They had taken every precaution. The nebula wasn’t reacting to any of the sensors or probes. They had used a remote module to collect some of the gas in a vacuum sealed container. Junior Officer Harris had been running a battery of tests and had removed a sample with a syringe. That’s when all hell broke loose. He hadn’t noticed it eating through the glass while he was setting up the spectrometer. The hazard alarm triggered and I turned around just in time to see the gas expand. It just seemed to grow exponentially. I’m not sure what caused it, probably something in the atmosphere. Harris hadn’t stood a chance. It was highly corrosive. She closed her eyes. Now it was coming for her. It was relentless.

She slammed her fist against the door again. ‘No. Not today. Not like this’ she growled at herself. She stood up and looked into the corridor again. It was creeping slowly towards her. She could see the white panels of the corridor beginning to dissolve in its presence as it touched them. ‘Not today.’ she shouted at the mist.

‘She could see the white panels of the corridor beginning to dissolve in its presence as it touched them’

What would slow it down? She looked at what she had in the airlock with her. It was an airlock, not a lot of gear was kept in here. There was a computer panel to control the decompression process. A small cargo hold held a tool box with a couple of tools but nothing obviously useful. She glanced back at the corridor. The crimson mist edged ever closer. She pulled out the computer panel and brought up the directory. She needed to shut down the ventilation system for the airlock. It wasn’t difficult to do and it would buy her some time. If that mist wanted to get her, it was going to have to work for it. She heard the vents seal and the air flow stopped. She estimated that the airlock held at most fifteen minutes of air without rebooting the vents. Which meant she had less than fifteen minutes to stop the gas or she would suffocate. That was of course if the mist hadn’t made it through door by then. She looked up at the porthole. The mist had reached it. It was licking against the door. She couldn’t see the rest of the corridor past the mist. It wouldn’t be long before it broke through.

She looked up at the ventilation system, already missing the cooling fresh air. That was it she thought, vent it. She scanned through the ship’s computer again looking for the emergency atmosphere purge. Why hadn’t she thought of it before. She found it hidden in the system directory. It wasn’t something that was supposed to be done lightly. Her heart sank. The system was designed to purge the atmosphere through both airlocks, she’d suck the remaining air out of the airlock in seconds. The only place that was shielded from an atmo purge was the cockpit. She kicked the wall panels.

The mist had badly discoloured the glass in the door. She needed to do something. She looked at the door control panel and had an idea. A bad idea, but there weren’t a lot of good options left. She went back the tool box. She needed something sharp and strong to pry the casing off the control panel. She found a knife at the bottom of the box and slipped it behind the casing and slowly pried it off. Behind sat a mess of cables, some of which controlled the outer bulkhead and some of which controlled the inner door.

She pressed the blade against a wire and hesitated. If she cut the wrong wire it could open the bulkhead and blast her into space. On the other head, she also might cut a wire that would cause the inner door to open and let the mist in. She tried to follow the wires into the wall frame but it wasn’t very clear – blasted engineers. She took the knife and chose a wire. Holding the knife in trembling hands, she cut into the wire. Nothing happened, which given the options available was a big win. She went back to the computer screen and set up the atmo purge. It occurred to her that there was still a strong possibility that they bulkheads would still open when she hit the switch. She looked back at the crimson mist. She thought of Harris, his face melting in front of her, that wasn’t a good way to die she thought. She hit the switch.

The ship shook slightly as the bulkhead on the far side of the ship opened. She smiled as the mist was dragged from her ship. ‘Atmosphere Purge Complete’ the computer announced. Larson sighed, now she was on a damaged, unpressurised ship with no atmosphere and limited reserves. She allowed herself a little smile and got to work.

Cillian Fearon  Author