Into the Black: William Meikle

I don’t expect you to believe all of what I have to tell you—after all, I’m not even sure I believe it myself. But what follows here is as true and accurate an attempt at some kind of clarity as I can muster. Whether it is enough to deter you from the course of action you seem hell bent on following, only you can decide. Know this—I intend to be as distant from that dashed place as is humanly possible if and when you make a fresh expedition there.

You already know why we were there, so I shall gloss over the basics and get to the pertinent part. Our problems began a month after drilling started. Hodgson’s new screw bit worked superbly, and we were growing increasingly confident that the latest British Expedition was going to go down in history as the one which finally pierced the secrets which lay hidden under the ice on the Antarctic Shelf. We passed the four hundred yards depth and kept going straight on, setting a new drilling depth record in the process. But there was no time for celebration just then. We were men on a mission—a mission of discovery.

Indeed, that morning brought a breakthrough we had not foreseen, for we thought that our drilling might come to an abrupt end when we hit bedrock, so I was most surprised when I stood over the drill head and heard a distinct gurgling in the shaft, coming up from the depths. The drill’s fixtures rattled and shook, and I urged the others to retreat a safe distance, but in the end it was all rather anti-climactic as there was merely a small burp leaving a puddle of water, already starting to freeze, for six feet around the shaft.

We hurried to collect what samples we could before the cold could take its toll, but I was dismayed to find on getting them back inside to the lab that much of it was just so much crushed ice and slushy water. My dismay was fortunately short lived, and a quick look under the microscope soon had me excited again—for there was clearly life on the slide I had prepared, life brought up from the depths where it had lain for ages too long to comprehend. I saw diatoms and algae, amoebae and hydra, a veritable profusion of microscopic life, such things as had never been thought possible in such a harsh environment. And as the water heated up under the light stage of the microscope, so things began to get more frantic under the slide. Frenzy and fights for survival replaced the torpor of the deeps; a long awaited spring was sprung.

And that was when I caught my first glimpse of the thing.

It was so tiny at first that I took it for a mere speck of mineral brought up with the water, too small to allow me to make out any features even under the scope’s highest magnification. But it quickly became apparent that, although it was small, it was moving under its own volition—it was, in some sense, alive. Even as I watched it the mote made its way swiftly across my field of view, moving with what seemed like singular intent, embedding itself deep inside a spinning Volvox colony. The result was startling and immediate. The colony went from green to black in an instant, the individual cells subsumed into a smooth-surfaced oily globe that spun slowly and glistened in the faintest rainbow aura. I had to look twice to make sure it was still there, for I could not quite bring myself to believe what I had just witnessed. But there was one fact of which I was certain—I currently had something completely unknown to modern science under my microscope, and much as I could hardly take my eyes off it, I had to tell someone&mash;anyone. I left the lab and went out into the corridor. Hodgson was there, stowing his outside gear in his locker.

“Quick, man—you have to see this—you won’t believe what we’ve found.”

I was gone for less than thirty seconds, barely enough time for Hodgson to close his locker and follow me back into the lab. The black stuff had been busy in my absence. The slide, the light stage and an area some six inches in diameter around the base of the microscope was now coated, black and oily and glistening, giving off the same faint shimmering rainbow aura I had seen through the lens. I instinctively started to back away but Hodgson wasn’t quite so quick—perhaps it was because he was unused to laboratory procedures, perhaps it was no more than simple curiosity—or perhaps the glazed look I thought I saw in his eyes had a more disturbing cause. The last was something I only thought about much later, but whatever the case, Hodgson had stepped over to the microscope before I had time to stop him. He put a hand on the counter some ten inches to one side of the scope as he bent over to have a closer look. The black stuff flowed, smoothly, like Mercury across glass, and engulfed the hand before he had a chance to pull it away. Hodgson turned towards me—the glazed look had gone, if it had indeed ever been there, to be replaced by confusion.

“What in blazes is this?” he said. Those were his last words—the black stuff surged up his body—I can describe it no other way, and was over his mouth and nose before he took another breath. Hodgson made a grab for the counter, missed and pulled the microscope with him as he fell to the floor, his heels drumming twice on the linoleum then going still. Black stuff foamed and bubbled in his mouth for a long second—then vanished down his throat.

It was only then I remembered my training, and instinct took over. I backed out the door, slammed and locked it, and hit the emergency alarm by my left hand. John Greer arrived twenty seconds later. He was just in time to see what the black did to poor Hodgson.

It was almost like watching a speeded up film of a body turning to Corruption—his chest caved in under his clothing, and his skin, what we could see of it, writhed and swelled as if infested by a small army of burrowing insects. Then the black came out, oozing like diseased sweat, small beads at first, then rivulets that tore at flesh, rendering it into so much mincemeat before running to the linoleum. It spread tendrils, moving faster than if it had been a mere spillage of liquid—moving purposefully, as if looking for something else on which to feed. What had mere seconds ago been a pinprick was now pints—perhaps even a gallon— of oozing, pitch black, fluidity.

“Freeze it. Do it now,” Greer said softly.

“But Hodgson…”

“Is gone and you know it. Freeze it, before it’s too late.”

Our purge procedure was a simple one. I pushed the button, and heard a hiss as the liquid nitrogen was released. The viewing window in the door fogged up for a second, and I had a moment of panic, stepping back quickly and checking at my feet, for I was sure that the black had made its way under the door. But there was only an increasing blast of cold, and when the window cleared it showed a dark mass of mangled flesh and frozen tissue.

It had been my best friend mere minutes before.

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