Thursday, January 19, 2017

In Space, They Actually Do Hear You Scream

This week's Flash Fiction Challenge is about fears.  I had a lot of fears as a child, and there are some I've never overcome.  I decided to combine them all in the following story. Please do enjoy.

In Space, They Actually Do Hear You Scream 

   "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the First Annual Ultra-Extreme Mars Mud Race!  I'm Terry, and this is Brad, and we'll be your hosts for this historic, one-of-a-kind event!
   "Today marks the first time an extreme obstacle course race will take place on Mars," Terry continued.  "It has taken many decades to perfect the technology."
   Brad chimed in.
   "And let's not forget the generous contributions of Martin Berkowitz, President and CEO of Ultra-Extreme Obstacle Race.  Berkowitz joined forces with NASA to bring his dream to life!"
   "Let's meet the super-elite athletes who are pioneers in this groundbreaking event!  First, we have Luke Jarrett from Atlanta, Georgia, USA.  He is a pedigree of amazing athletes and OCR competitors, going back four generations!  And here is Tracy Bemis, of Glasgow, Scotland, who spent her childhood competing in Tennis, Olympic Weight Lifting, and Cross-Country racing."
   "Next is Stone Parsotan of New South Wales, Australia.  He is quite the specimen.  This young man has won many Olympic gold medals in Track and Field, and is now ready for the Ultimate Challenge," Brad exclaimed.  "And, last but certainly not least, is Mira MacDonald of Cape Town, South Africa.  She grew up in several different countries, being the daughter of two military parents, and had many opportunities to participate in a variety of sports from different cultures and climates!
   "And here we are, at the much-anticipated starting line for this historic event!"
   The sound of gunshot launched the runners from their starting line in the underground caverns.
   "Race footage, provided by flying drones controlled by artificial intelligence, will show each runner as they make their way through the man-made and natural obstacles."
   So far, so good.  Martin couldn't be more thrilled.  He popped the cork from yet another champagne bottle, smiling up to his team as bubbles erupted from the opened bottle.  But this time, there were no oohs and ahhs.  Only wide eyes, dropped jaws.  Something was off.
   He turned around quickly to see what had spurred such an upset.  On screen, the horror unfolded before their eyes.
   The rear-view camera showed hundreds of spiders pursuing the runners.  They covered the walls of the cavern, traveling rapidly toward the trespassers that violated their territory.
   "Sam, I thought you said there were no lifeforms there," Martin called out.  Sam hurried to the front.
   "Yes," he answered.  "There were no signs of life at that level.  There couldn't have been ... unless ..."
   "Unless what?"
   "Unless the construction team drilled beyond that level.  I told them specifically not to, sir."
   The rest of the room fell silent as the department heads all gathered to discuss what was happening. The construction supervisor stepped forward as Sam glowered at him.
   "Chuck, did you drill further down?"
   "We needed more water for the obstacles!"
   "You needed more water, so you made unauthorized holes deeper into a planet that we are just beginning to study?"
   "Well, at least we know there's life in outer space.  Let's just hope they're more afraid of us than we are of them."
   They soon found out the answer to that.
   While the others sought out the next rest station, Tracy took advantage of her good fortune, and took off toward the next obstacle.
   She sprinted further out as the others lagged behind.  Stone had fallen and sprained his ankle, slowing him down considerably.  
   Mira and Luke helped him along, each offering a shoulder for support.  Suddenly, they heard a woman screaming.
   "Wait here," Luke said to the other two as he helped Stone lean against a wall.  He ran toward the sound, accompanied by a flying drone.
   "Heeellllpppp!  Help me!  Get away from me!  Noooo!"
   Tracy's shrill screams echoed throughout the cavern, beckoning for someone to rescue her.
   Martin and his crew watched as the drone camera flew slightly ahead of Luke, lighting the way and recording the surroundings.  Luke didn't notice the hundreds of tiny spiders that surrounded him.  When he finally arrived where Tracy was, he realized it was too late.
   Tracy's body draped lifelessly, a giant, bloody hole where her face was. Yet still, her voice kept asking for help, pleading for someone to rescue her.
   "Help me!  Please!"
   Luke then realized the source of the voice.  Two spider-like creatures, each roughly the size of a small dog, were looking up at him.  Their eyes studied him curiously.  
   "Help me!  Please!"
   Luke stared in shock as he asked them a question.
   "What ... are you?"
   The spiders looked at him curiously and repeated the phrase.
   "What ... are you?"  They uttered their deadly mockery, with no apparent understanding of what they were saying.
   Luke wasn't going to stick around for an answer.  He backed away slowly, looking for a quick escape.  As he turned around, tiny spiders crawled up his legs.  He kicked and stomped, trying to fight them off.  This only made them angrier.  They started biting him, latching on with their fangs, boring into his skin.
   "Remove the live feed from this camera," Martin shouted as he and his crew watched in shock.  "Keep recording, we'll need this for our files, but don't let this get out!"
    The producers did as they were told, shaking and crying as they watched Luke being eaten alive.
   They sent a message through the drones to Mira and Stone.
   "Keep moving.  Follow us.  Don't lag behind."
   Stone and Mira followed the drones as they led them through the tunnels.  They hurried to complete the race.
   Finally, the two were within 600 feet of the end.  They picked up their speed, not noticing the ground starting to cave in beneath them.
   "Who authorized this," Martin demanded as he watched Stone and Mira struggle to keep from sliding down into the pit.
   No one in the control room answered.  Complete silence.  The engineers all looked at each other, confused.
   "No one, sir," a brave soul replied.  "We tested the grounds for safety."
   "Then how the hell did this happen?"
   Again, complete silence.
   Stone could barely keep his grip on the cliff.  He fought to keep from falling.  Mira, being much lighter, was able to climb back up.  She tried to pull Stone up, but he had nothing to hold on to.
   Finally, gravity took its toll, and he slid to the bottom of the abyss.  It was too dark to see.
   A drone followed him down, lighting the way as he finally found the bottom.
   "Can you climb back up?"
   No response.
   A sharp silence fell over the control room as the drone's beam revealed what Mira could not make out.
   Martin grabbed the nearest microphone.
   "Mira," he yelled through the drone's speaker.  A bizarre echo came from the darkness.
   "Mira, you have to get out of there.  Get to the finish, and we'll get you home as soon as possible.  Don't worry about Stone.  We've got him."
   That was all she needed to hear.  Mira backed up a few feet, then ran at full speed.  Being a long jump champion, she had no trouble leaping over the hole.
   The finish line was just a foot away.  She started toward it, when a terrifying spider the size of a large cat, leapt in front of her.  She gasped, backing away, trying to calculate the best way around it.  There was none.
   Without warning, it leapt on to her.  It bit her neck as she tried to fight it off.
   Screams erupted from the control room as they bore witness to the gruesome sight.  The crew watched Mira throw the spider off, only to lose her balance.  She stumbled over the cliff and fell.
   Her drone followed her down, capturing every horrified expression as she screamed in sheer panic.  She finally landed in mud, soft and deep enough to break her fall.
   "Don't worry about Stone.  We've got him."
   That phrase kept repeating, over and over.  She wondered if the drone was shorting out.
   Mira turned toward her teammate's drone to see if it would help her find him.  Stone's body was floating unconscious as the drone hovered overhead.
   Mira called his name.  No response.  She shook his body.  No response.  Finally, she started yelling.  Still, no response.
   Stone remained unresponsive.  She was about to resuscitate him.  Just as she was about to cover his mouth with her own, she felt something coming out of it.
   She pulled back to see a smaller version of the monstrous spider that bit her at the finish line.  She jumped back, screaming.
   Suddenly, she heard her own scream echoing back to her.  She looked around, panting with fear, when the cave started spinning.  She began sweating.  Drool spilled out from her gaping mouth.
   She became incapacitated.  The engineers turned the manual controls on to fly the drones around so they could see what was in that cave.  It didn't take long to unveil the ultimate horror.
   From the depths of the tunnels, it emerged.
   Fully erect, it stood over six feet tall on its eight legs, all ending with sharp claws.
   A pair of serrated fangs, the size of elephant tusks, opened to draw Mira's head toward its mouth.  Sedated from the venom administered in the bite she received, she was unable to fight, to scream, to think.
   A sharp burst of clarity finally hit her as she found her head inside its mouth.  In a final cry of desperation, she screamed for help.  A host of spiders mimicked her. The drones flew around, trying to distract the king spider, to no avail.
   Mira's cries were soon muffled as the drones' highly sensitive microphones picked up the sound of her head crunching from the weight of the spider's mandible.
   In the control room, engineers and safety experts were vomiting or passing out.  This was the greatest horror any of them had ever witnessed.
   Martin and his assistant, Stuart, looked at each other with equal parts shock and sadness.
   "You know what this means, right Stuart?"
   "Yes," the assistant replied.  "There goes our sponsorships."

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