It starts with a scratching in the skull, so deafeningly loud the victim can't hear anything else. The bone wears away into dust, the cartilage in your ears crumples in, leaving only scars. I saw it happen to Damien- he screamed once he couldn't hear, the pain clearly too great even for him to speak, his face frozen in horror at the inconceivable suffering that had become his life. It happened to Stera, too- but they were lucky enough to be armed as it set in. They chose to shatter their skull themselves.
The air is impossibly humid, the stench of blood and sweat rancid even through the mask. Shallow puddles of awful human concotions are numerous in this hallway, your boots meeting congealed and scattered substances alike. You've seen worse-- anyone in the Retrieval Corps has. Distress calls aren't sent out by folks who scrape their knee or catch a cold, after all. The hull creaks as you wrench open another door, the ship's emergency locks easily overcome by the various tools equipped in your satchel. As you step into another grimy hallway, you note that it's several degrees warmer-- something that by all means should not be occuring in a vessel in such (relatively) good condition. As you stop to investigate, you hear a clattering from behind you.
Damien's progressed to what must be the next stage. His nails have begun to grow rapidly, perhaps a centimeter every few hours. They tear open the soft flesh of his fingers, burrowing their way in-- yet he doesn't even seem to notice. The far more pressing concern of his appears to be his skeleton re-arranging his legs to form a sort of digitigrade structure, his tarsals fusing, re-arranging. Whatever illness is doing this to him, to us, it makes it impossible to ease the pain. He vomits upon ingesting anything, a relatively normal affliction, but his skin is near impossible to pierce- tensed and firm, as though it were made of bone.
Even if there was much to be done, I'd advise against it. We need a control to figure out how to circumvent infection.
You whip around, left hand already on your holster. The Corps doesn't exactly have the funds to spare for advanced weaponry, so you're left with an old Earth pistol, the kind that explodes metal out wherever you point it. Once you'd complained, but suddenly you find yourself happy to have anything that'll stop the life of whatever it points at, plasma or no plasma. You push back into the previous hallway carefully, flashlight clipped to your side so that you may steady your weapon with both hands. You don't need to see something to shoot it.
In an instant, you feel something sharp graze the back of your neck. You do another 180, desparate to make visual contact. One hand leaves your pistol to rub against your neck, the drops of blood staining your grey gloves. Your suit'd been pierced-- that much is clear to you, but the slight easing of the adrenaline makes you well aware of the open wound's sting. Clenching your teeth, you shine your flashlight around, desperate to catch a glimpse of something, anything-- when suddenly some sort of appendage whips the flashlight away from you and shines it in your eyes, blinding you. By the time you're able to see again, whatever attacked you is gone. With a heavy sigh more akin to a pant, you realize that without an intact seal on your suit, you'll be unable to progress through the depressurized docking bay. You tremble onwards, with no choice to continue.
I'll be brief: this very well may be my last message. Late last night, when Tol was on guard, Damien somehow broke his bonds and escaped. I can't fathom what could provide such strength to a man who'd not eaten in four orbits, but there is much I don't know. Likely much I'll never know.
Here is a concrete list of the useful facts we have (barring immediate physical observations), in the event that corporate finds this and is able to make use of it.
-The pain is immeasurable. Those afflicted will be rendered inoperable shortly after infection.
-The illness is bloodborne. This is perhaps its primary weakness- it's difficult for it to travel from host to host, although the... nail protrusions granted by the affliction are able to infect as well.
-Victims can become hostile at any stage of the illness. We've documented it as early as a single orbit, as noted with Tol. (It's worth nothing that it was transferred by bite, not scratch in this instance. Had we more time, I'd suggest investigating.)
-There seems to be no cure. The comparison to prion diseases could easily be made, but this acts orders of magnitude faster. Once infected, the victim can do nothing but wait.
I fear that's all we have for you. To whoever finds this, good luck. It's likely you'll need it.
Five cycles. It's been five cycles since you've arrived on this fucked up ship, and it's been three cycles since you've become damn sure you'll die on it. Wearily, you plummet back towards the chair on which you've sat for many of the past hours, easing in and out of consciousness as the fever you picked up from who-knows-where rages through your body. A killer headache keeps your ears ringing, every sound deafeningly loud yet impossible to hear. The last ration wrappers lay on the table next to you, eaten... a while ago. Thirsty, hungry, and with your head more dense than the air around you, you slide off of the chair and onto the floor, your body lost to a deep sleep.
I'm still alive. Fuck why am I still alive. It burns now. I hadn't known about the burning. My skin, all of it. ignited. It's hard to type with these claws. my bones are done now I think. I can hear again but it's loud. Hear from the top of my head. My mouth is bleeding my teeth are too sharp it hurts it all hurts. its getting fuzzy. my body. its gone
You awaken to an agonized cry muffled behind a wall, prolonged and animal yet still familiar. In the haze, it feels as though someone's called you home, but... you snap out of it, the cold metal floor grounding you. You let yourself feel for a moment. The fever and headache seem to have cleared, you note with a sigh of relief, but your mouth is dry and your stomach feels as though it's caved in. You right yourself on a wall, leaning back against it. You're... in the brig? The bars can't indicate much else, but the door is open, allowing you to leave at any time. As the brain fog lifts slowly you realize that *someone must have put you here,* and you reach for your pistol. It's then that you realize your holster and satchel are gone, and your suit has been torn to shreds- and much of your body with it. Scratches line your legs and arms, accompanied by... bite marks. None appear to be too deep, and you don't feel any pain. In your weakened state you find yourself unable to feel surprised at this turn of events.
The cry returns and rips you from your thoughts. Hearing it clearly this time, you note that it sounds almost human, its sounds resembling words but not quite connecting. It sounds like someone roaring in rage while simultaneously breaking down in tears. It's an awful, ear-shattering sound, and it makes your ears wrinkle.
In a panic, you pat the spots where your ears used to be, feeling nothing but scar tissue. Slowly, you move your hands to the top of your head, where two periscopic ears flick and move independently. As you feel your ears, you notice the length of your nails- they've grown away and *towards* you, the skin bulging over where the chitin lies. Your eyes blur, the anxiety no longer manageable. Tears run down your face. You start to mutter to yourself, first quietly, then you scream. You beg. You try to run from the room but your legs aren't working right, they bend too much, and you fall. You're trying to scream for help but words aren't coming out. The floor's in your face. You wail. You scratch at the floor as you drag yourself towards the door. Your skin burns as it's *growing something,* who knows what, and you start to cough, curled into the fetal position. It's only as you try to protect yourself, assure yourself that you'll survive, that you realize what's happening.
You hear a rumble in your chest, a familiar one.
It's a purr.