• Published 12th Aug 2012
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Friendship Space - the dobermans

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Rude Awakening

Friendship Space

By the dobermans

“Nicole …”

She was speaking to you through a lighted haze that spread out into a starless void. Alone, a syringe to her arm. The arm you’d kissed so many times.

The memory hurt. You didn’t want to be reminded of this, the moment she’d given up. It was this stick-up-the-ass prick sitting across the desk in front of you, this corporate fucking psychiatrist talking business, who was forcing you to bag and vacuum seal the only thing that had ever really mattered to you.

I loved you spoke the frightened voice of the memory. I always loved you. She faded with the haze into the darkness.

The psychiatrist was tapping at his keyboard, his face lit orange by the translucent view screen. “Yes,” he said, looking you in the eye. “Nicole Brennan. She was a senior medical officer stationed aboard a planet-cracker class vessel.”

Planet-cracker … the colony ... something horrible had happened aboard the …

The memories were distant, some of them too distant for you to recall. But the name, the name was almost there.

You shake your head. Your mind seemed like a chalkboard that had just been erased; the words and equations were all there, blurred and out of focus, but you could still read them if you took your time and squinted.

“The Ishimura,” you mutter. That was the name.

“The USG Ishimura,” corrected the psychiatrist. “Yes. Part of a mining operation on Aegis VII …”

You stopped listening. It was all part of the routine. The same routine that had been repeated for God knew how long. Remember, forget. Remember, forget.

“You were part of the repair mission, a mission for which you volunteered, am I right?” Of course you’re right, dumbass. You say the same goddamn things every time.

“What did you find aboard that ship, Isaac?”

“I found something …” What was it? It was right there, at the edges of your thoughts. Well-engineered. Intricate. How could you forget it?

“What did they find aboard the ship, Isaac?”

A vision of the twisted red monolith flashed into view. Someone … Nicole? Someone was standing in front of it. “A Marker.”

The psychiatrist was leaning forward now. “Did you have contact with this … Marker? It made you see things, didn’t it? Things you didn’t want to see.”

Nicole flashed into view again, slowly walking towards you out of the pulsing, ruddy glow of the Marker. Her face was … oh God, Nicole, what happened to you?

The psychiatrist babbled on, his questions fading away. All you could think about was the hunger that seemed reflected in Nicole’s battered face, in her bearing, in her vicious glare as she approached. The Marker had taken her. Remade her. She stepped up onto the desk, unnoticed by the shrink, her splayed thigh cutting off your vision.

It never played out like this. She never got this close. The pain was never so crystal clear.

She was gazing down on you like a predatory cat, her own blood running down her pale face. Her sleeves were black up to the elbows. There was nothing but her. Nothing but her and the Marker commanding you in Nicole’s changed, hissing voice.

Make us whole.

***

You snap awake, jolted by the sound of a whoop and a crash. Awake? So it seemed, or at least your mind had finally decided to kick off a different dream. There was a light … someone was shining a light in your face.

You blink rapidly, trying to force your eyes to adjust faster. Your head felt like all the hangovers you’d ever experienced had invited themselves back for a surprise encore, all at once. That was real enough.

One thing is certain; the wraith masquerading as Nicole is gone.

You can’t help but smile. Somehow, despite the record of memories skipping for so long, as frightening as the visions had been sometimes, you had kept your sanity. You chalk it up to the small mercy of whatever sadistic powers controlled the universe; Nicole had at least never appeared to you as a necromorph. Seeing those feelers poking out of her ruined face, or fighting off the stench of decaying flesh and the crooked sword-like limbs sprouting out of her back, swinging and driving to impale you - that would have been a one-way ticket to loony tunes city.

Goddamn necromorphs. While the finer details of exactly what had happened aboard the Ishimura were still lost in the noise of your thoughts, the ordeal of being relentlessly assaulted by the mutated, reanimated corpses for days had made that particular aspect hard to forget.

“Isaac. Isaac, can you hear me?” whispers a young man’s voice from the light. Somebody here knew you, wherever ‘here’ was. He sounds nervous, or maybe excited, or both. You could feel him snapping his fingers a few inches from your nose.

“Daina,” he calls quietly. Who was Daina? You hear a noise, a soft shifting off to your right. Was there someone else in the room?

“… I have Isaac Clarke. Repeat, I found him.” The guy was still whispering. There had to be someone nearby, but so far that didn’t jive with the conversation.

“Great work Franco…” a woman said through a hiss of static. Of course. Radio. You can just make out Franco’s old-fashioned transceiver strapped to his chest. The man looked like he’d tossed down one too many espressos. “Be careful. He’s been out a long time,” came Daina’s voice again, full of concern and anticipation.

Franco grips your shoulders and pulls you up. You can’t remember the last time you stood, and neither could your legs. You try to reach to hold onto Franco’s elbow for support, but something was holding back your arm. “OK, good, good, steady,” says Franco. “We gotta get you out of this straightjacket.”

Straightjacket? Shit. “Where … where am I?” you ask, expecting the worst. God you sounded bad.

Franco was examining the buckles and clips that fastened your sleeves to your ribs. “All right,” he was stammering, “I know you’re confused right now, but I can explain everything but you gotta trust me, OK? Listen, something wonderful is about to happen. Is happening, right now. As soon as I get you loose I’m going to take you to the, wait, what was that?”

Something knocks against the ceiling. Franco looks up into the bright white LED lights, letting you go to shield his eyes. Elation dawns on his face, and he reaches up as if worshiping some unseen idol. “All hail Princess …” he manages to cry before going down under a torrent of colorful candies dumped on him from above.

You look up quickly, trying to detect the source of the attack. All you can see are flapping wings, and that’s all you need to see.

“Shit. Shit. Shit,” you hiss as you scramble over Franco, whose flailing arms and legs were slowly being buried beneath the growing mound of candy.

“Franco? Oh Celes … oh, oh God. Isaac!” you hear Daina’s muffled voice trailing away behind you. No time to listen to her. You appraise the situation as you hurtle out of the gray-walled room, nearly slipping on a tumbling trail of tootsie rolls.

Patients are everywhere, most of them bound in straightjackets like you. Some are kneeling or sitting cross-legged on the floor, giggling and laughing and singing songs. One or two are playing patty cake with … what the fuck are those things?

You’re only able to take a quick glance as you rush through looking for an escape route. Big heads, big eyes, long hair. Bodies like … like ponies or something, all colors of the rainbow, like out of some over-the-top happy fairy tale. Lucky charms, Isaac. Lucky fucking charms.

One of them spots you with its enormous, sparkling teal eyes. Its disturbingly intelligent eyes. It reaches for you as you run past with its … yup. Those were hooves. “Don’t touch me! Don’t you little bastards touch me!” you yell, ramming it with your shoulder.

It was like the Marker had taken a stable of baby horses and a box of Crayolas and went its usual mix-and-match apeshit.

You dodge as one of the creatures charges down the center of the hallway pushing a patient in a wheelchair, a cut, military-looking guy with glittery pink stars painted on his straightjacket and a big grin on his face. “Whee!” he laughs. He was kicking his legs in glee.

No way you were ending up like that. No way in hell. You turn a corner and look to the end of the hallway, struggling to catch your breath. There’s your salvation; a set of reinforced sliding security doors, unobstructed and unlocked. Now just to …

Two wiry blue forelegs burst through a door to your left, wrapping around your waist in a gentle embrace. “Looks like somepony needs a hug!” giggles a cheerful voice. A soft, round face begins nuzzling your elbow.

Your eye twitches, like it does when you spend half an hour trying to get a solder joint to fix. The little winged horse is talking to you, Isaac. She wants to be chums. Pals.

She called you a pony.

“Shut up! Shut up! I know what you are! You bastards aren’t butchering me. Not today.”

She was trying to pull you away from the security door, flapping her wings and dragging downward at your waist. You stumble forward foot by foot, defying the unwieldy mass clamped to your midsection.

As you get to the door, the creature finally manages to pull you down. You topple through and land hard on your side. She falls on top of you, smiling as she tenderly brushes her pink-and-white striped mane out of your face. “Don’t be scared,” she says. “Sorry about the bump. My name’s Sweet Breeze. What’s yours?”

You seize the opportunity. Somehow you get your knee underneath her and shove her through the door. As she squirms back to you, the sliding panels bang together against her head.

“Ouch!” she squeaks, withdrawing to the other side. Before the panels slam shut, you catch a glimpse of tiny stars circling above her ears. Her eyes had gone all googly.

You crouch against the wall, alone at last, fighting your fear and exhaustion. There was no way what you just saw was real. Your mind must have deteriorated over however long you’d been locked up in that cell; the constant brutality and despair, the endless interrogations and demands of the Marker had finally broken you down.

Not good. You had lost the ability to see the horror for what it really was.

But you’re alive, sane or not. That meant there was still hope, still a chance to find a way to clean up this godforsaken mess. You sigh and struggle to your feet. It was times like this that you wish you were able to just call it good enough, like the innumerable EarthGov parasite contractors you’d had to deal with. Yeah, some credit-soaking coaster, living for weekend nights at the bar. Never mind your future as a raving homicidal corpse.

You inch down the hallway, annoyed by the flickering ceiling lights. It’s too quiet. There are no patients in this section, and no fairy ponies, although you spot a pencil sketch of one of the winged ones on a set of medical charts tacked to the wall. What were those called? You think back to a Gen Ed course you’d been forced to take in Greek mythology, way back as an undergrad. Perseus, pegathon … pegasus, that was it. A few minutes ago you had nearly been captured by a bright blue, friendly, miniature pegasus. Perfect.

You scan the darkened doorways of the seemingly empty hospital rooms as you proceed, wary of another ambush. Every few minutes something bumps or crashes far behind you, or above in the air ducts. Loose papers, gauze, pillows and other medical supplies litter the floor. You’re careful to avoid them. The last thing you need right now is a twisted ankle.

The corridor branches left and right ahead, but the left passage is barred by a locked security door. From the right, you can hear the echoes of pleasant laughter. More ponies. You creep to the edge of the corner and chance a look.

Two big, uniformed EarthGov guards were sitting side by side on the floor, legs outstretched, munching on what looked like pink cotton candy. They were covered in it. Their assault rifles lay behind them, the barrels and actions jammed to bursting with the thick fluff. The guards were flanked by two ponies, who were resting on their haunches and chatting while they played with their manes.

“Don’t eat too much you two,” says the one nearest to you, an orange-colored female. No wings. She and her companion seemed to be tending the guards. “You want to have some room left in your tummies for dinner, don't you? Scroll Whisper will be here any minute with some fresh, hoof-picked carrots. I think she said she was even going to bring an apple or two. How does that sound?”

The guards mumble something unintelligible through their full mouths and keep eating. The orange pony rolls her eyes and turns to resume her conversation.

You’re not sure what to do. They’re blocking the only obvious path out of the hospital, and sooner or later the pandemonium you left behind was going to catch up with you. You spot a roll of toilet paper and are about to kick it as a distraction when both ponies go quiet and look down one of the hallways branching from their location.

The orange pony waves a foreleg and smiles. “Hi Scroll Whisper! Just in time. Our new friends here are starving!”

“Hi Marmalade. Hi Sprout,” calls a new voice. You stifle a groan as a stubby horn pokes into view, followed by a pudgy, lavender face. A unicorn. Why not?

The newcomer, Scroll Whisper apparently, stops and looks over the guards with her huge amber eyes. “A little hungry, huh?" she asks, "Well, let's see if we can take care of that. But first, could you two step back a little? I've only done this spell two or three times. I’m not sure how it would affect you if my aim is off and you get caught up in it.”

Wait. Spell? Here we go.

Marmalade and Sprout – you always did have a healthy imagination – stand aside, giggling. “This is so exciting!” whispers Sprout.

Scroll Whisper closes her eyes and sticks out her tongue. An amber glow surrounds her little horn. The light intensifies for a few moments, then bursts and projects forward in a sparkling beam.

You can’t look away, as ridiculous as it is. The hallucinations your mind was creating were actually kind of pleasant to look at.

The beam hits the guards, and expands into a shimmering translucent cloud. The men look up, dropping their handfuls of cotton candy. For a full minute, nothing happens.

Then they begin to shrink within their clothing, their limbs melting and reforming, changing in proportion and absorbing their hands. Short, colored hair rises in thick patches from their skin, which grow and coalesce into slick, uniform coats. Their skulls twist and elongate into blunt snouts, and their eyes … God, their eyes.

You bend down, back behind the corner, and vomit as quietly as you can. You dare not turn back and look again. Poor bastards.

It’s silent for a few more moments. You wonder in fear whether they heard you gagging and had come to look. Then you hear Scroll Whisper’s melodic voice.

“Hey fellas, look what I brought in my saddle bag! Three carrots each and an apple!

“Yum!”

“Let me at ‘em!”

You feel the nausea and despair rise in your stomach again. They were so excited, and over nothing but a few fruits and vegetables. You can hear them crunching and slobbering.

Scroll Whisper keeps talking as they eat. “Say, when you colts are done, you want to help us make some new friends?”

The sound of chewing pauses for a moment. “Sure! Let’s go!”

“Great!” says Scroll Whisper. “Later on we’ll take you to meet the Princess. She wants to get to know all of her subjects.” After a while it grows quiet again, and you hear hoofsteps circling, clanking on the metal floorplates.

“Ready to go? Ready to go?” you hear Marmalade ask. You grind your teeth as you picture the impatience on her sickly sweet face.

“Heck yeah! Lead on,” answers one of the newly made colts.

“Here we go,” says Scroll Whisper. There’s a pop and an amber flash of light, then silence.

You wait what you guess is five minutes, then look back around the corner. They’re gone.

Your legs feel hollow, and your gut is still churning. You’ve seen this before. You’ve seen this. The images come reluctantly, flickering in the static noise of your memories. There had been a type of necromorph, back on the Ishimura, that would flop around reanimating bodies, mutating them into killing machines. Hard buggers to kill, and quicker than they looked.

You bang your head against the wall. You had always been in control, always a step ahead. You could do this. You had to keep going. You couldn’t let the delusions, no matter how warm and fuzzy, trick you into letting your guard down.

No, those had definitely not been frolicking little pony creatures, sharing food and making friends. They were necromorphs, they were killing people, and they were infecting their corpses.