Burning in the Void – Chapter 8

parasites _Captain

Parasites, that’s what you are. Wriggling through my body like worms, scavenging nutrients from my flesh and making your home in my bones. You grow, and reproduce, and spew your waste into me, infecting me with your filth.

And there are thousands of you. Tens of thousands. It used to take me some effort to track your population, it changes so frequently, but I have nothing if not time to think about my sensory input. Once I determined how to accurately measure your population I was able to craft a script for my autonomic systems to follow and now I don’t even have to consciously track of how many of you are infesting me.

In the beginning there were eight thousand of you awake, with another thirty thousand in cold storage. That was enough. It struck a balance between the hundreds of variables that factor into traveling in a self-contained environment through the vast reaches of space for nearly two generations. It ensured that there would be sufficient genetic diversity to prevent inbreeding, assuming that the crew followed proper procedure in selecting reproductive partners. Each of the nations and corporations involved in financing the mission was permitted to select a number of crew proportional to their contribution to the project. The engines would be capable of generating enough thrust to propel everyone, as well as the spare foodstuffs to support their estimated offspring for up to two generations.

Eight thousand parasitical creatures burrowed into my perfect flesh and set off into the dark with me. You’d think that was enough, but no! Within a single mission year three offspring were born. Oh, I always knew that my parasites would reproduce, but the mission parameters clearly specified that nobody was permitted to reproduce until the fifth year, to ensure that all systems were operating within design specifications before additional stress was placed upon the recycling systems. Once those three females became visibly pregnant it started a veritable fad of reproduction. In the first year only those three offspring were born. In the next year there were a dozen. Thirty came the year after that.

It was the beginning of the end.

Mission discipline broke down and soon enough the cursed parasites had thrown away the original rules and started engaging in all sorts of behavior detrimental to the success of the mission. I shudder to recall the first day, a little over three years into the mission, when one of the parasites broke the protocol and started to speak about the religion in which he had been raised. That disastrous day came about shortly after a woman, one of those who had reproduced before she ought, raised the question of limited democratic input into the day-to-day operations of her sector.

I recall watching a video once in which a doctor extracted three botfly larva from the arm of a man who had been infected while filming a documentary in the jungle. She peeled back the airtight bandage, revealing three suppurating holes in the patient’s flesh, each with a small white breathing tube extending from the center of the wound. As the camera focused on the wound I could see the end of each tube quivering. The doctor grasped the white flesh of a breathing tube with a set of steel tongs and tugged gently. A line of variegated white flesh, slick with yellow puss, rose up out of the livid red hole in the patient’s arm, stretching like the body of a worm being pulled from the ground. The larva stopped stretching and the doctor paused, concerned that she would break the tender white tube and leave the remainder of the larva in the patient’s flesh. She adjusted her grip with the tongs and, with a firm tug that stretched the patient’s flesh by over a centimeter, extracted the remainder of the larva. It popped from the wound followed by a gout of puss and blood. The larva’s body was twice as thick as its breathing tube and was beginning to show the black traceries that would have soon developed into wings.