FILE ENTRY 24.0

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INTERPLANETARY NEWS

This is special news report that could send shockwaves throughout the Federation, solar system wide. Communications have been severed with the Neptune Shores Beach Resort orbiting the eighth planet. It was initially unclear what caused the disruption until word was sent back via the Celestial Sea cruise ship to Space Venture HQ that micrometeoroids had destroyed the comm arrays on the exterior of the space station. That seemed simple enough to repair and in a secondary transmission from the space cruise ship, it was reported that repairs were under way, but in a startling development, communication has now been lost with the Celestial Sea as well. The ship is in route to Earth at two percent the speed of light and is expected to arrive at the Interplanetary Space Station in ten days. That's nine days from today. The communication failures have led many to speculate that the hotel guests and the ship passengers could be in some sort of unknown danger, however, Space Venture HQ has assured the Interplanetary Federation that all is well and they anticipate communications to be restored with both the space station and their luxury cruise-liner in the next few days.

Neptune Shores

Dr. Jett Mintaka stormed toward the door that led into the main stairwell. Under the quarantine, the exit would've been guarded by security, the passageway blocked in and out, but when Mintaka arrived it was deserted and the stairway leading down as black as the space outside the station. He could think of one reason why the guard left his post...there had been a breakdown in the system or the chain of command, or something occurred to make the man flee, possibly for his life. He could even be dead, or something worse.

Mintaka reached into the pocket of his lab coat and removed a pair of reading glasses, put them on his face. The frames had a special feature. With a double tap on the side he could power up a pair of bright LED lights, but the lenses had a unique feature too. He double tapped on the other side of the frame and activated night vision. The view brought up a greenish shade of the stairwell with blackness around the edges. The steps, being dark in color, were difficult to see, but he could feel his way down with his shoes, touching with his toes and heels. He controlled his rapid heartbeat and uneasy breathing with his mind. He leaned on his Samurai heritage. The art of Kendo. The Way of the Sword and the discipline of martial arts. He was older and out of practice, but it was still there. It never left him.

To assist his descent into the stairwell, he grazed his fingers over the handrail to his left. A doorway creaked somewhere down below. Feet skittered across the floor. Stopped. Silence.

Mintaka froze, breath steady, nothing to protect himself but his hands. He should've found something for defense. Anything. A pole. A rod. A shock stick, something. Anything.

But he had nothing.

So he took a step. Paused. Controlled his breath. Took another step down.

The medical bay was on the eighth floor and the concourse was on the third. That's where Grayson Flux's office was located. That meant he had five floors to descend. Five entry points for the infected.

Mintaka made the turn on the first landing to appear and eased down the steps with light feet. His noise scrunched. A smell. Something horrible. He'd caught a faint trace of it in the medical bay when the chaos broke out among the patients. He hadn't paid much attention to it since he was fighting to stay alive. But now the odor was rank. It offended his nostrils, made him lose control of his thoughts. He gripped the handrail, stopped his descent, shook his head. Tried to bring his mind back on-line like restoring order to a malfunctioning computer system.

As he reached the doorway to the seventh level of the station, footfalls thumped across the floor and raced away. On the other side of the passage, someone screamed further down the long corridor. The footfalls intensified accompanied with groans and growls, and a disturbing howl that pierced Mintaka's ears. His heart pounded. Breath gasped in his throat. He gulped air. Swallowed and blinked.

At his feet, light from the seventh floor creeped into the stairwell. Mintaka regained control if only for the moment.

This was not the floor he was looking for, so he pushed on.

The sixth floor was quiet, and dark. Someone had cut the lights.

He didn't waste time, pushed lower. The fifth floor and the fourth. Light seeped through the crack at the bottom of the door. The power was still on, which meant it had definitely been someone or some thing who had turned off the lights on the sixth floor. Still, he had not encountered the guard yet. Maybe he'd been attacked and dragged from the stairwell, eaten alive by the infected people on one of the lower floors. In the medical bay, he'd witnessed them devouring unconscious patients, and the nurses. He knew what the infected's were capable of.

Mintaka halted at the entrance to the third floor. He'd reached the concourse where the majority of the activity occurred on the station. But it was late, most of the guests would have retired for the night. Which explained why he'd heard the sounds of the sick on the above floors where the hotel suites were located, chasing the people who weren't sick.

He hesitated before pushing through the doorway to the concourse. A possibility flew through his mind. Why wasn't he sick? Why were there other people who weren't infected? Maybe it was timing? All of the guests at the hotel could be infected but had yet to develop the sickness? Or they could be carriers only? Not symptomatic. Or...

They could be immune?

He pondered the thought for a long moment, cupping his chin in his palm, breathing slowly.

The idea twisted and turned inside his head. Without blood tests, only time would tell if he was right. His hand pressed against the door, but his body went ridged. His mind a billion miles away...on Mars...where the inoculations were researched and manufactured, created in a lab. But that wasn't where they originated.

Vesta. The asteroid in The Belt. He'd visited the underground facility on Mars. He remembered the clean whiteness of the lab room floor, the microscopes, the test mice, rats, monkeys...and at the end of the trials...the humans. Mintaka had left before the tests concluded. He'd witnessed the non-human test subjects. The drug, Vestazine, had passed the initial trials without any problems. But he'd departed the red planet before the human trials were finished. He'd been assured of the success of the drug, and it had been approved by the Federation's panel of doctors. That gave him reason to dismiss the thought of laying the blame on Vestatine, but Electra Draco had connections and pressure points she could push if she wanted to shove something through the approval stage. Did it even matter at this point? The damage was done, but developing a vaccine for a cure depended on understanding the origin of the virus causing the infection.

But before he could pursue the possibilities, he had to reach Grayson Flux first. His office was in the middle of the concourse across from several restaurants and fast food joints. If anyone could get him in contact with the labs on Mars, it was Flux. Mintaka needed to get an update on the repairs to the communication arrays. Last time he checked they were still down, which meant until comms were restored, they were isolated and alone on a dying station.

He glanced down at the light coming from the bottom crack of the door. Something was off. The glare had prevented him from seeing a dark spot on the floor. Mintaka switched off night vision and double tapped the LED lights on the frame of his glasses. The illumination revealed streaks of dark red blood that appeared to end under the doorway. He had a sinking feeling he was about to find out what happened to the security guard.

As Dr. Mintaka snapped out of the deepness of his thoughts, screams and howls became audible and grew louder and more violent as the infected rushed past the doorway with a rampaging appetite for those not sick. Once the stench faded away, he opened the door and crept into the bowels of what looked like a war zone, or better yet, the bowels of hell.

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