Maximillian Ampoh strode down the shuttle ramp with an excitement he had thought lost. It had been decades. Decades spent scraping out a life between the aliens and heretics in this back end of the galaxy. That hadn’t been what he’d dreamed of almost a century ago, when the ink was still wet on his warrant of trade. It was past time for his luck to change. He looked proudly over the crew that gathered in the hanger, those who’d stuck with him through everything. It was time to reward that loyalty.
He thrust his hand high, the crystal vial in his grasp catching the light and gleaming like a star within the corroded walls.
‘We are victorious!’
The roar of the crew enveloped him and his stormtroopers. Max glanced at Harkan, and imagined he saw the hint of a smile on the usually taciturn killer. His weapons were still wet with alien blood, and plenty of his men hadn’t left the surface, yet those who had stood straighter, taller. Max grinned, then swung back to his crew.
‘Today, things change! We change!’
He held the vial to his eye. The liquid within shifted like a living creature.
‘You all know the destiny laid out for us by the alien crone. We shall sail the void as gods! And now we have the key!’
The wax seal on the vial was engraved with markings that hurt his eyes, yet it broke easily enough, and the hanger held its breath.
It started with smoke. A green smog that hissed from the vial like escaping gas. Max felt the crystal begin to shake, to hum, then with a great crack, it burst apart in his hand. The smoke expanded into a thick cloud that began to fill the room. Within it, something moved. A thick buzzing shape flew close to him through the smoke and Max’s smile faltered as an impossible insect landed on his arm, its form thick, bloated, and gleaming black.
‘Captain… what is this?’ There was no smile on Harkan’s face now. His hand was tight on his hellgun.
‘I… don’t know…’ Max stammered, as he shook the creature off his arm. The crew was shouting now, in irritation, confusion, then fear, as the insects swarmed through the room. There were thousands of them, more than could ever have been held in that tiny vial, and the green clouds weren’t dissipating but growing impossibly thicker by the minute. A sickly-sweet smell of decay assaulted Max’s nostrils and he dropped to his knees, retching desperately. Even the stormtroopers, rebreathers built into their helmets, struggled to stay standing.
Then, crouched on the floor, deafened by the terrified sounds of his crew, and choked by the thick green clouds, Max saw the figure.
It was just an outline, a silhouette in the murk, yet it seemed impossibly long and slender, and moving with a swaying lurch as if unused to gravity. Or legs. His eyeballs burned as he stared, and a tremor of terror started in his feet and began to spread inexorably up his spine.
‘Harkan…’ he managed to choke out, pointing with a shaking finger. ‘Kill it…’
The stormtrooper leader fired without hesitation and the other troopers followed suit. A hellstorm of energy crashed through the cloud. This close to the discharge, the snapping electric crack of the weapons made the shuttle ramp feel like a furnace. Stabbing beams of light banished all shadows and Max closed his eyes rather than be blinded. He opened them only once the sound died away.
The figure still stood.
It was as if nothing had happened. It still approached, still swayed towards him. With each step, it’s outline seemed to fill out, as if growing new flesh. The air around Max grew thicker with the insects. He could see that the troopers were now covered entirely. Each dropped their guns as they struggled against the rising tide of flies. Even solid, dependable Harkan. Max watched, wide eyed, as the veteran soldier snatched off his helmet. For a second Max saw his eyes, wide, crazed, before the insects covered those too. They wriggled down under his eyelids, into his mouth, muffling his screams. One by one, every single trooper fell lifeless around Max’s crouched figure.
The buzzing was all encompassing now, and he knew that the figure in the cloud was upon him. Against every instinct in his head, he turned and stared up into his destiny.
His eyes burned. The figure was made entirely of the insects, each crawling and writhing over the other, a constantly squirming mass that barely approximated a human form. Max had doomed them all.
‘This… isn’t right,’ he croaked. ‘I was supposed to be a God.’
The avatar of flies seemed to smile, the dark carapaces of the insects flashing in what might have been laughter. It extended its simulacrum of a hand to Max’s frozen face, and lazily stroked a finger down his cheek. The touch burned like fire, but he was held motionless by some impossible force. Then, to Max’s overwhelming terror, the figure spoke, and its voice was the detached judgement of an apothecary.
‘And so you shall be.’
The dark finger moved to Max’s mouth. His lips parted despite himself, and his eyes widened. He fought against his own body, but it was already beyond his control. The figure above him smiled, and thrust his entire hand deep into Max’s mouth. Insects filled Max’s throat, filled his lungs, and began to stream into his body. He could feel them, inside him, within him, and the figure before him began to fade as its form merged with his.
Max screamed for death, but it never came. He felt his vision narrowing, becoming distant, yet the agony didn’t cease. His body stood up, without his control, but the pain would not end. Finally, a god with Max’s face smiled out over the twisted, infested bodies of the former crew, while deep inside, the Captain still screamed.