Investigator's note: The following is transcribed from the personal journal of Corporal Zarate, P., as part of the preliminary investigation into his disappearance. He is suspected of having deserted to the section of the station controlled by the mutineers of ISS Solyaris.
I am now officially pending court martial. The CO revoked my secure access, took me out of my squad and put in a transfer to send me to a support battalion. Since I'm no longer part of a line company I'm losing my hazard pay and they're moving me out of my quarters to one of the low-g industrial sectors on the spokes. All that aside, I'll be working in the hub, which means no gravity. No matter how many times I make the transition to free fall it fucks with my equilibrium and makes me nauseous. I gave up on ever getting used to it.
I met my new supervisor today. Apparently I'll be working in something called Organic Processing. They chew up all the garbage on station and use the goop as raw material for the printers, or they break it down and use it as fertilizer in the agricultural sectors. It's right in the center of the hub, an hour by shuttle.
The first six hours I was working in vacuum and didn't have a compression suit so I had to use someone's spare. It stank like sweat and grease. The last user had puked in the visor.
After chow I worked with the loading crew. They stand by the intake, two big bay doors, a chute thirty feet wide and at the bottom two crankshafts with big spinning hammers.
I thought it would be more pleasant working the other side of the airlock but then I realized I'd be smelling everything that came in. First there was a load of frozen sewage, then ten tons of rotten apples that stank of sweet sticky vinegar and wet mold, then a load of corpses killed in a raid last week.
Some of the bodies had big holes blown in them and there was one that got crushed, probably by a fire door, and the stomach wall had split open and the guts were tangled in the latching mechanism. The loaders lopped them off and sent the barge back with little tassels of intestine stuck to it. They all went in to the shredders. The machine is too loud and the smell makes me sick, the low g is messing with my equilibrium. I got a headache at start of shift that just got worse and worse.
The Duty NCO came by after work to tell me I'm restricted to quarters. I'm supposed to be checking in every hour with a scanner they got mounted on the wall.
I've been having this recurring dream lately. The goop or whatever it is reaches up through the intake and sends out these long ropy tentacles, they grab the workers by their feet and drag them in. It all turns to black and a light appears in the middle of it all and gets brighter and brighter until it burns my eyes out of their sockets. I heard a rumor that the processor gets in your dreams if you work there too long, fucks with your perception. Lots of loaders end up getting pulled in by the hammers.
I keep having the dream. The light speaks to me now, when I wake up I never remember what it said. When I was a kid, about 8 or 10, I'd always get off shift late, so when I went to the heads usually the decon showers would be empty. There was always one little yellow bulb in the little yellow room and a huge, shining, black window on the wall. It was so quiet it made my ears buzz.
I always got a feeling like there was something watching from inside the pipes. If you got too close to the dark spots it would reach out as black hands with pointed fingers like crab's legs and pull you through to the world inside the drain. The thought made my eyes water. They closed those showers down that year. There was some sort of gray stuff clogging all the drains.
I'm having a hard time going to sleep. I don't want to be alone in that empty room, all the lights shut off and the window blacked out. Thinking too much. The stories about people feeding themselves into the shredder don't help. I wonder if they had the dream. Maybe they wanted to be part of it. I heard a story today about the slurry in the tanks moving on its own, sending itself down pipes where it didn't belong.
I wish my sink had picked a different day to start draining slow.
We had another load of bodies today, more mutineers. The barge pilot told us they were holed up against the hull and some Engineers cut loose a shield plate and blew em out into vacuum. They were all freezer burned and oozing chunks of bloody lung from their noses. I was working vacuum side so I didn't have to bag-and-tag, but I really don't like the way the parts sometimes drift off into orbit. Just spinning away, further and further into the black. I wonder how many corpses have been fed into this thing since the station's been colonized. We process everything organic here. Bodies, sewage, rotten food, agricultural waste, fish heads. No matter what gets fed in one end of the shredder it always comes out looking like that paste they make hot dogs out of. I think there's a lesson in that.
There are these little wispy things all over my room. Like spiderwebs or something. You can just tell they're there from the way they gleam when the light catches them. I saw a few yesterday but when I got back from shift today they were everywhere. The sink is covered.
The light talked to me in my dream last night. It says it needs me. It says I won't be alone ever again. Every corpse that goes in makes it a little stronger, and it's almost at some sort of critical mass.
It told me the accident wasn't my fault. I'd been trying not to think about it.
I remember when they sent me to recover the body. Said it was my responsibility. The impossibility of approaching that mangled black heap, the blood so thick on the floor it had cracked like dried mud, and the way it glistened, like a sea of tar. I had to sit alongside it while I watched the video from the helmet recording: Trying to untangle himself, looking down at the hopeless mess of his rig, and the roar getting louder all the time. His breath shallower until he began to moan with each exhale, then to scream. The rushing getting closer, so loud it ruptured the diaphragm in the mic, and the final moment of approach; a black, crushing, silent wall. Whenever I think about it I get this numbness in me and the blood rushes to my head and makes my ears buzz, and I can't remember anything but how black the blood was, and the way the head was turned towards the sky and staring out at nothing with no eyes to see and no face to look out from.
When I woke up this morning there was something on my face. Those spiderweb things. I brushed them off and when I pulled them away I felt something tugging at the corners of my eyes.
All day today I felt spiderwebs on the back of my neck. When I'd brush them off I'd feel new ones.
Wherever I went I felt the shadows flex and warp, stretch themselves out to get closer to me. They were trying to pull me in, pull me away from the light and the substance and the warmth, grind me up into the gray goo in the big black tanks and make me disappear forever. I don't want to end up mangled and rotting and black. I don't want to have no face.
I was in the middle of clearing out those strings or filaments or whatever the fuck they are, ripped them all out and sent them down the trash chute, and I saw something oozing out of the faucet, like a slug. It plopped out on the floor, said “Come live with us”, turned to liquid and drained away. I threw up afterwards, from the fear, and from the smell of rot. It's sweet and rancid and sour, like old blood.
I can't sleep any more. Whenever I do that fucking nightmare comes back. Whenever I try to lie down I feel something watching me. There is a shadow moving in the corner of my eye just far enough away that I can't see and when I turn to look it's always gone. A dark, shapeless thing with empty holes for eyes. Big horse teeth and pointy fingers, better for holding.
I pushed my rack up against the wall and now I sit in the corner with my knees tucked up underneath my chin and watch the room all night. I see things moving. Small things, though they're getting bigger.
I was standing alongside the intake, shoveling shit. Cow shit, actually. I threw a shovelful into the feeder, turned to take another scoop and standing right alongside me was a person, or something that looked like a person. Dark and gray and somehow very soft, just watching me. When I turned back to look it was gone.
The gray people are trying to push me into the intake. They show me what it looks like, at night. I see my face being torn in half by the hammers, the hot coppery blood and the organs ripped out and crushed to little bits, then the mills grinding me down into little chunks, then mashing the chunks into paste and all the little bits twitching and shaking a bit before they die, or assimilate. I don't really want to think about it.
Those gray people are in my room. They're like pillars of mud with arms and legs and some horrible gaping thing like a mouth. I try not to look at their eyes. It's like they're standing guard.
They'll take over when they're strong enough, they say. They can't walk in full gravity yet, but when they do they can leave the hub, the spokes, get in to the populated territories with all the families. The people will see, and they'll march in through the big bay doors, holding hands and singing, and grinding themselves up in the hammers. They say.
I'm making preparations to desert. I don't know where I'll go, and I don't care. I'm going to get off this fucking station, stowaway on a freighter to Earth-side, starve in the woods, drown in the ocean.
I woke up in the middle of the night with my rack moved to the center of the room. Those things were all around me. They have faces now, all the same face actually. Huge eyes with tiny pupils. They kind of drip. They won't let me leave.
They're moving towards me. I don't see it happen, but every time I turn they're just a bit closer than they were before.
Investigator's note: Upon the discovery of his absence from his work section, a team of Military Police officers were dispatched to search Corporal Zarate's quarters. They reported empty quarters in an advanced state of filth. The floor and walls were covered in reprocessed waste and the entire area was apparently infested with spiders. Recommend an official reprimand to the barracks manager for his failure to maintain cleanliness standards.
There is no evidence as to where Corporal Zarate may have gone. Several cargo shuttle pilots confirmed that stowaways are only possible in the landing equipment of their crafts and any who attempt to hide there are typically mangled by the hydraulics. So far, he has not been observed among the mutineers of sectors 6, 7, 13 or 15, though it is doubtful that with his reputation they would have accepted him as a defector anyway. Surveillance footage for the Organic Processor is absent from the night of his disappearance due to an electrical malfunction caused by what appeared to be a crude miniature sculpture of a man.
Written by toadvine