Fungal Halo

An Expensive Mining Incident

That the planet was haunted would never deter the executives running the galaxy’s biggest mining corporation, of course. They weren’t the ones who’d have to go near it.

No, they just send their most disposable employees there. Us.

People die or go missing or just lose their minds and become unable to work, but that’s just a number in the costs column of some spreadsheet in some distant, cushy office. As long as the revenue generated by this place is high enough, it’s still worth it to them.

I guess that’s why I’m here too. Everyone I ever loved looked at what I brought to their own costs column and eventually decided that keeping me around wasn’t worth it.

Places like this are where the high-cost, low-value people end up going if we want to be worth a damn.

So I do the work, and I chat it up with people who talk about their dreams of marrying someone back home, and then the next day a cloud of psychic toxin drifts through and they put their own face through the drill. Then I shrug and chat it up with their replacement.

The night of the storm we’re actually given the day off from mining, which is how we know we’re fucked. They probably just don’t want us to all die at once out there and lose their expensive equipment with nobody alive to haul it in.

There’s a certain camaraderie in knowing we’ve all been abandoned to death by our employer. We pass the bottle of liquor. We tell dark jokes. Some folks try to delude themselves into believing we’ll be getting out of this.

Then the maelstrom crashes into us.

It’s like a seizure of memory and emotion. Every mistake I ever made, everyone I ever hurt, every emotion I could ever have about any of it, all run through a shredder and shoved into my skull at once like fistfulls of regret confetti. (Regretti?)

The Voice of the Storm scrapes along my sense of self and tells me that everyone is my enemy, that I ruined everything good in my life, that I’m a worthless sack of meat and hate, and basically all manner of boring, tedious crap I tell myself every day anyway.

Damn, is that all it took to push those guys off the edge? Ha. I ask the Voice if that’s really the best it can do.

I interpret what follows as laughter, but then it strips me away from myself, until there isn’t much me to interpret anything for a while.

I see myself stripped of the story I tell about who I am. Just an animal cowering in a crude shelter of shaped matter against forces it can never truly comprehend. I see the other animals flailing, suffering the same thing. I see how small and meaningless we all are.

The Voice invents new emotions to fill me with. It’s not anything like a whirlwind of combined disgust and lust and feral hatred, but it might not be possible to tell the difference.

I watch Pete push the broken end of our liquor bottle through Kleff’s eye.

Yeah, that makes sense.

Ray grabs at a length of pipe, but he’s slow, uncoordinated, and honestly just so pathetic, and I get there first, bludgeoning his skull until hard cracking sounds give way to sloppy wet ones and he stops moving and starts leaking very badly.

I look around me, and it’s an orgy of violence, with everyone else wild-eyed, cackling, grabbing for the nearest improvised weapons, and, and…

They’re so bad at this. That’s all I can think.They’re mindless. Lost in it.

I step slowly back into the corridor, watching.

Kill them. Kill them kill them killthemkillthemkillthemkill—

Yeah, yeah. I have a lifetime’s worth of experience ignoring intrusive thoughts, Voice. I’m not just going to dance when you twitch the strings. If I’m playing your game, I’m playing to win.

I unlock the tools closet and grab some mining gear. A plasma torch is short enough range, even if I crank it way up, that I won’t accidentally damage something structural. It’ll also blind you without eye protection, which I also take, along with some extra odds-and-ends.

It’s almost too easy to cut people down with this, but winning is much more important than being sporting. The others drop like flies. Hell, most of them don’t even stop killing each other to run from me.

I watch Jacqueline finish butchering the friend who joined up with her a week ago, letting her have that moment together—I can be polite!—before slowly approaching from behind.

The storm abruptly ceases, and I notice that it’s just the two of us left.

She screams, coming to her senses, realizing all at once what she’s done to her own friend. Her voice cracks with despair and horror. She looks around her—somehow her eyes manage to widen even more at the scene of butchery—and then she scrambles back in fear when she sees me.

I drop the torch. “What have we done?”

Her tears might be of relief that I’ve also come back to my senses, and she starts babbling, “I don’t know. I don’t know why I did that I don’t… Is it over?”

“I think it is,” I reply. “I think we need to contact the home office.”

She nods, but I can tell that she’s too shaken to really process anything I say. Instead she hugs her knees and rocks back and forth on the bloody floor.

Slowly, not to startle her, I take one step after another until I’m close enough to wrap my arms around her in a hug.

The knife in my hand slides between her ribs and takes her out of the picture.

Oh, there’s such confusion in her eyes. “Every storm has an eye,” I say. “Might as well take advantage of you letting down your guard before it kicks up again.”

She dies in my arms. I win.

“What now?” I ask aloud.

“Now we eat,” the Voice of the Storm replies, and, well, I’m already playing its game, so I oblige it.