She placed her hands on both sides of the window and pressed her face against the transparasteel. Staring into the inky blackness, she came to a quick realization: if there were life here, it would have to swim up and press its slimy face against the window for her to see it. Or bite her in the ass, but she hoped for the former. Turning away from the window, she wondered why the designers had even decided to install them.
Looking around her cramped quarters, she dropped her bath towel to the floor and snatched a pair of underwear and bra from her bed. Pulling the two articles of clothing on, she grabbed her last clean jumpsuit from a hangar on the wall. Stepping into the suit, she slipped on the arms and zipped up the front to just above her cleavage. Dropping down into a nearby chair, she grabbed a pair of thick, black boots and set them next to her bare feet. Reaching over, she retrieved a pair of socks from the same pile that had held her underwear. Pulling on her socks and boots, she stood and stretched. Glancing at the clock, she decided it was way too early to be awake.
Synchronizing her digital watch to match the clock, she started for the door and stopped. Turning around, she stared at the top drawer of her nightstand. She didn?t need it, she told herself. It was nothing more than a crutch at this point. She had been down here for almost a year. The chemical had run its course through her system within the first forty-eight hours of being here. Even the oral fixation had run its course. She no longer found herself chewing on pens or her nails. She had beaten it, yet?there was still something. Cursing under her breath, she quickly crossed the small room and tore open the nightstand drawer. Reaching in, she retrieved a small silver packet and held it in her hand. Shaking her head, she tore it open and removed the small, circular patch. Tearing off the clear backing, she held it up to the light.
"You?d think they would?ve come up with a better way to quit smoking by now," she laughed uncomfortably. Unzipping her flight suit slightly, she placed the sticky side of the patch on her right shoulder. Taking a deep breath, she began to feel the effects of the nicotine patch. That familiar foul taste was once again in the back of her mouth. Swallowing hard once, she closed her eyes as the first of the medicine began to hit her system. Tossing the spent silver wrapper on her nightstand, she grabbed a black jacket off a wall hanger and headed for the door.
Tapping the panel gently, she waited for the automatic door to slide open. Stepping out into the corridor, she had to squint her eyes. Blinking rapidly, her eyes quickly adjusted to the bright, fluorescent lights. Moving through the halls passed jogging coworkers and the last few members of the night crew, she found herself in the mess hall. Taking a deep whiff of the air, she could smell freshly brewed coffee. Moving quickly to the bank of coffee pots on the far side of the room, she grabbed a cup and poured the thick, black liquid into it. Lifting it to her nose, she inhaled deeply and sighed with pleasure. Lifting the cup to her lips, she took a long drink. She could quickly feel the warmth spread down her esophagus to her stomach. The taste of the coffee almost overpowered the horrid taste the nicotine patch was creating?almost.
"Dr. Sumner, please report to decon. Dr. Sumner, please report to decon. STAT."
Dr. Julie Sumner stared up at the speaker built into ceiling in awe. She wasn?t even on duty for another forty minutes and they were already paging her. Taking another drink from the coffee cup, she set it on the counter. Tossing her wavy brown hair over her shoulder, she moved into the hallway and headed for decon. Taking a quick left, she skidded to a stop in front of the elevator. Hitting the call button impatiently, she waited for the familiar ding to announce the liftís arrival.
Julie turned to see her colleague, Dr. Jim Marcus, charging toward her. Coffee cup in one hand, datapad in the other, he looked as if he had just rolled out of bed. In fact, she could still see a mark from his pillow on his left cheek. His blue jumpsuit wasn?t zipped up past his midsection and his black jacket hung off his left arm. "Whatís the rush, Jim?"
"What the hell is going on this morning?" Jim flipped his head and tried to toss his thick, black dreadlocks out of his face. His face was cleanly shaven, except for the thick tuft of hair he had been cultivating on his chin for the past few months. His gold-rimmed glasses looked good against his dark skin. He was the smartest person here, next to Julie, of course.
"What are you talking about?" Julie asked incredulously. "I just woke up and was paged."
"You haven?t heard?"
Julie tried to feign interest in the conversation, but was failing fast. She just wished the damned elevator would arrive. "No, what?"
"The research team," Jim said quickly, "they apparently found some seriously weird shit this morning."
Julieís interest suddenly skyrocketed. "What did they find?"
"I don?t know," Jim said excitedly as he swallowed a gulp of coffee. "The buzz down in the archaeology department is palpable, though."
"How did you find out?"
Jim smiled. "I have connections. I don?t stay in my quarters reading reports all night. I actually go out and meet people."
Julie rolled her eyes at the not so cleverly veiled knock at her.
"I got a wake up call from Dr. Rasmussen. He said the research team uncovered," Jim searched for the word, "something."
"Something?" Julie echoed. "Can you be a little more specific?"
"No," Jim admitted. "I don?t have all the details, but I will if you let me tag along."
A quizzical look once again appeared on Julieís face.
"You were just paged to the decon area," Jim said quickly. "Thatís where the research team that found whatever the hell it was is."
Julie furrowed her brow. "Why are they calling me? I?m the stationís psychologist."
Jim shrugged. "I don?t have clue one. But I do know they?ll need a good biologist."
"And of course, you volunteer," Julie said as the elevator finally arrived. Stepping inside, she turned and looked at Jim. "All right, come on."
Jim smiled as he bounded into the lift.
"If anyone asks," Julie said as the elevator doors began to slide shut, "you coerced me."
Jim nodded. "Fair enough."
Reaching over, Julie tapped the lowest button on the elevator and felt it whir to life. Leaning back, she crossed her arms in front of her chest. "Still dating that girl in cryonics?"
Jim shook his head with a laugh. "Nah. She was a little weird."
"What happened?" Julie asked, careful to keep an eye on the descending number above the doors.
"She started talking about freezing rats, or something like that." Jim laughed.
"Sheís in cryonics," Julie argued, "thatís what she does!"
"I know," Jim smiled, "but she started to give me the heebie-jeebies."
"You?re such a jackass." Julie laughed for the first time. "What are you going to do if you run into her on the station? This place is big, but not that big."
"We?re cool. I told her I was being transferred to Neptune Station in three weeks."
"And what if she sees you here after that?"
"I?ll just tell her that my transfer fell through." Jim adjusted his glasses, "and that I?m gay."
"I thought so."
Glancing up at the digital readout, Julie noted they were two floors away from their destination. As the doors chimed and slid open, all hell broke loose.
Three nurses ran furiously across the room as shrieks of pain and terror filled the air. Four men, still partially in their bronze-colored environmental suits writhed on the floor in agony. The closest man, one of the head archaeologists on the station, was tearing at his eyes with his fingernails. Streaks of blood ran down his cheeks from his eye sockets as he continued to scratch and tear at them. As the nurses tried to tend the men, one looked up and spotted Jim and Julie standing slack-jawed in the elevator.
Julie nodded hesitantly.
"Dr. Sumner, we need you!"
Julie shook her head. "I?m a psychiatrist!"
"But you are a doctor!" the nurse argued as she tried to pull the archaeologistís hands from his bloody eyes. "Please!"
Jim placed his hand on Julieís shoulder and stepped forward. "I?m a doctor, too." Grabbing Julie by the hand, he pulled her into the decon room just as the elevator doors slid shut behind them. Dropping down to his knees next to the nurse and archaeologist, Jim stared in awe at the man. "What the hell happened here?"
"They were coming back in and getting ready for decontamination procedures," the nurse reported quickly. "They all seemed fine, then they just went crazy."
"I need twenty ccs Thorazine," Jim said quickly. Grabbing the manís hands from the nurse, he nodded. "Go." He turned and looked at Julie. "I need some help!"
Julie swallowed hard and dropped down next to Jim. Pulling a small flashlight out of her jumpsuit pocket, she leaned close to the archaeologist. Placing her hand gently on his forehead, she shined the light directly into his eyes and quickly pulled it away. "Pupils are nonresponsive," she breathed. "He could be having a seizure or psychotic episode."
The archaeologistís back suddenly arched and he twisted into a painful position. His eyes snapped shut as blood began to pour out of his eyes, nose and ears. Contorting his body, the man screamed at the top of his lungs. Jim glanced up to see the nurse standing above them with a syringe in her hand. Quickly grabbing it from her, Jim popped off the top with his thumb and turned it over.
"Hold him!" he shouted.
Julie and the nurse leaned in and grabbed the manís arms and torso. Pressing him flat to the ground, they struggled to hold him still. Tearing away a piece of the environmental suit over his shoulder, Jim jabbed the needle into the newly exposed flesh and quickly emptied all the medicine into the man. Julie felt his convulsions lessening as the Thorazine quickly went to work in his body. As he took a deep breath, his head fell back against the floor.
Pressing her fingers to the soft flesh of his throat, the nurse checked his pulse. "He seems to be coming out of it."
The room suddenly went quiet.
Jim and Julie looked up to see the other men lying perfectly still. The other nurses stood motionless over them, unsure of what had happened, or what to do next. Dropping the spent syringe on the floor, Jim stood and took a full step back from the research team. Julie was next up.
Grabbing the nearest nurse by the arm, Julie lifted the woman to her feet. "Why was I called down here?"
"You were the first doctor on todayís call sheet," the nurse confessed. "I didn?t know you weren?t a doctor. I didn?t know what to do."
"Whereís the attending physician?" Julie asked angrily.
The nurse covered her mouth and pointed to the corner of the room nearest the entrance to the wet lab. Jim and Julie turned to see a man wearing a blue jumpsuit and white lab coat twisted unnaturally in the corner. A single trickle of blood ran down from his mouth.
"My God," Julie gasped, "what the hell is going on here?"
"As the men cleared decon," the nurse breathed, "they started to enter this room. When they started to freak out, the doctor tried to restrain them. One of the research team threw him back toward the wet lab. His neck was snapped by the decon door as it closed."
"Jesus," Julie said under her breath. "What the hell happened to these men to cause them to go crazy like this?"
"We need to get them to the med bay now," Jim commanded. "Get a HAZMAT team down here ASAP. In the meantime, no one leaves this room."
The lead nurse quickly stood and began to carry out Jimís orders.
"What are you doing?" Julie asked.
"These men could have been exposed to something," Jim replied, "and that means everyone in this room has been as well." He looked nervously at the four men lying unconscious on the floor. Moving back against the wall, he slowly sank down to the floor. Tapping a sequence of buttons on his wristcomm, he looked up apologetically to Julie. "We have to institute quarantine procedures."