Pilot 227 didn’t have a name, only a number, but it liked to think of itself as “Jack”. Or was it “Jill”? No matter. It flicked the only switch on the comm panel and said “Pilot 227 approaching target. All signs are good.”
To say the “signs were good” really meant it hadn’t crashed yet, but also hadn’t reached the target. Through the ship’s smoky canopy, nothing could be seen except for a reddish, murky gloom filled with oozing bubbles that made their way slowly up through the viscous slime. Jack and its squad-mates glided onward, following simple blinking lights on their piloting consoles.
It was just like the Committee to send them out with no instructions and poorly outfitted for combat. It was Jack’s first Infection Raid, but it had heard horror stories of ships exploding mid-flight and of huge casualty rates. Jack didn’t fancy being one of them.
All at once, an alarm sounded off to the right. An engine pod had flared out! Jack reached out one long tentacle and tried to give the pod’s lever a turn, but it was too far away and stuck fast. The ship started to veer off course, threatening to crash into another pilot. It slithered a second tentacle out and pulled with all its might. Finally, the lever gave way, the engine spun back to life, and the ship righted itself. That was too close.
The Committee had outfitted their ships with a secret “Infection device” and ordered them delivered, but that would be for nothing if Jack crashed before it arrived at its target! Then, without warning, the target appeared. It loomed out of the void like a great, black eye. It was a sphere, covered in tiny bumps. The alarm sounded to fire the weapon and Jack grinned through both mouths and hit the launch button. They’d never know what hit them.
Neither did Jack. With a rush of hot fluid and a burst of pressure disks, his ship flew apart and Jack was launched bodily through the slime toward the target. What in the world was this? Jack looked to its left and right and saw ships exploding all around and other pilots flying toward the target. There were thousands of them, screaming through the ooze and dissolving away in the poisonous stuff.
They were the secret weapons? They were the Infection devices? No one was going to return from this mission! They’d hit the target and be absorbed, if they didn’t disintegrate before impact. No wonder the Committee kept secrets from the pilots. They were on a suicide mission! Oh, the unfairness of it all! How could they do this to them? And why had no one ever warned the pilots of their fates? Come to think of it, where had all those horror stories come from anyway?