It’s been two days since I lost my hand.
There were four of us when we landed on this rock. I’m the only one left. The only human, at least.
Initial life scans of the planet were negative, but that’s no excuse. Too many landings on too many barren rocks over this last tour had made us complacent, sloppy. It didn’t help that we were all so eager to try out the latest bio-hacks Allred had made. Gravity was close to normal and the air was breathable, so we didn’t even bother putting on our suits.
Everywhere we looked, there was nothing but dirt and rocks. Boulders the size of troop transports. Extrusive igneous rocks larger than our landing gear. Flagstones in shapes reminiscent of American states from ancient Earth.
Prince was the first to be taken. He’d hiked off ahead of the group and was waving back to us from atop a ridge when he vanished. We ran up to where he’d been standing, but there was no sign of him. His footprints just stopped.
Deady went next. The hole was filling itself in before we even realized he was gone.
Allred and I ran for the ship, whatever took Prince and Deady right on our tail, the ground behind us rippling as it tracked the vibrations of our boots slapping against the dirt. I made it to the ship first and jumped through the hatch, then turned and grabbed Allred’s hand to help pull her onboard. She was halfway in when that thing — some sort of giant armored worm, scaled and segmented and sickly white — burst through the rocky, hardscrabble soil and swallowed Allred up to her waist. A hopeless tug-of-war ensued with Allred as the rope. I lost.
The game and my hand.
I held on a second too long and a ringlet of razor-edged teeth took my hand off at the wrist. The hatch closed as I fell back into the ship, my stump spraying the door with a crimson mist of blood and oil.
I grabbed a medpack, sealed my wound, and passed out.
I came to a few hours later. I was in shock, although the stimpacks helped. The ship was listing to starboard, the portals dark. What little light there was came from the emergency backups. The worm must have tunneled around our landing spot, creating a sinkhole large enough to swallow the ship. I don’t know how far down we fell, but the crash damaged our power supply and there’s no way to recharge the solar panels.
I’m probably going to die in this hole.
But I’m not going to die alone.
So here I sit, cross-legged, back against the wall, staring at the empty space where my hand used to be. The stump smells rotten and sour and metallic. The dressing is blotched and crusty and needs changed, but what’s the point? A wave of nausea grips me, and I dry heave into my lap. The moment passes.
I close my eyes and concentrate on my missing hand. I can still feel it there, thanks to the bio-hack Allred made to the psi-link. Only now the once simple pleasure of wiggling my fingers has been eclipsed by a white-hot burning as the creature’s digestive enzymes melt my synthskin into slurry, turning a piece of me into a piece of meat. I have to act fast.
Focusing through the searing pain, I visualize my hand floating inside the creature’s stomach, my fingers blindly seeking purchase on any loose fold or bulge. I see my hand finding a soft spot, a bubble distending inward from its stomach wall.
I imagine grabbing it in my fist, and I squeeze.
Mine’s the last cybernetic hand that thing will ever eat.
Larry Hinkle is an advertising copywriter living with his wife, two dogs, and a cat in the suburbs of Omaha, Nebraska. His work has appeared in a number of publications, including The Horror Zine, Suspense Magazine, and Sanitarium Magazine, as well as such anthologies as Alternate Hilarities 5: One-Star Reviews of the Afterlife, My Favorite Apocalypse, and Another Dimension, among others.