They say space was the last frontier, that everyone worth their salt could make something of themselves out there.
Izuku used to believe the age-old adage, dreaming of adventure amongst the stars. That was before he lost his mother, or perhaps even earlier when he discovered his Quirklessness. He was here now, however. Sure, it wasn't the way he would have chosen, yet in a way, it was proof that he still held on that same hope, that same belief of making another step towards his dream, though it has been tempered by the bitter taste of reality. A black smear would forever be painted across the colorful canvas that was his mind space.
But that was before all this.
Back when they thought there were nine crewmen.
The rim of the spacesuit bumped against the back of his neck, ice-cold, and metallic. He shivered. The fake polyester interior clung too tight in the arms and too loose in the pants, making movement awkward.
Metal screeched. Izuku jumped, back hitting the wall. His breath fogged the helmet’s glass. The oxygen levels were depleting rapidly.
Shit, shit, shit.
He looked between the medical supplies in his hand and the direction of the Oxygen rooms. Captain Toshinori was still in the medbay. Shoot. He contemplated his options. He would die faster without oxygen than his wounds, Izuku determined. Without a final thought he hooked the medical box to his belt, the decision made. Turning back from the path towards Medbay, he eyed what was once the Skeld around him.
Wires hung loosely from the ceiling. The scent of smoke lingered in the air, distinct and slowly fading. He dare not spend more than a second looking at the walls. The dark red smears were not rust, as much as he wished them to be. His heart hammered inside his chest. He tugged at his collar. While the little green spacesuit was constricting he knew that if he took it off he could risk death.
How had things gotten so bad?
An uncomfortable tightness stretched across his brow. It had only been two weeks since the nine-member team made their departure from the last station in this part of the galaxy, but already the space around them was nearly obscured, the light of the stars slowly displaced by the dark matter encompassing the area. It was as if they were delving into the depths of a bottomless ocean, endless in its expanse. The Dark Zone, his old middle school books read.
The Dead Zone, most people would whisper.
Only the most experienced space explorers ventured out this far. Historical records showed this part of the galaxy had once been teeming with life. Now, all that remained of this place were husk-like planets and asteroids, their caretakers long since abandoned them.
The question prickled in the back of his mind: What drove them away?
Or rather, a more cynical part of himself wondered, who?
Though there lay no predator outside these walls, he felt like he was being watched, scrutinized like a frog beneath a microscope. No. It couldn’t be. The creature was dead. He saw it. He did. He really did.
Izuku creaked open the Oxygen room door, shuffling through to the tank to input the pass code. His fingers trembled, screwing up the code twice before he could steady them enough. What if he failed? What if he—He sighed in relief as the air resumed, no longer freezing.
The lights above began to blink. However, Izuku started to choke on his air, his eyes darting frantically as darkness began to close in. The darkness overtook the edges of his vision.
No, no, no, no, no, he thought frantically, arms brought close to his form. it was supposed to be dead. How was everything still failing when it was supposed to be dead? He saw the Captain kill it. He saw it.
Did the alien sabotage the ship beforehand? Was that even possible?
The teen’s mind congested with doubts and fears. He knew he was too ill-equipped to undertake real officer duties. He had no Academy experience like the rest of the crew (wasn’t accepted into one) and yet Captain Toshinori saw fit to train him over the past year. The Captain helped him pass every license until he could finally take to the stars as the rest of humanity, albeit under the Captain’s strict supervision. Quirkless people weren’t allowed to go to space without a sponsor after all.
And now they were both going to die and it was Izuku’s fault.
His knees trembled as space sickness overtook him. The shadows seemed to creep closer. Ever closer.
Izuku held his breath. Unlike the rest of the crew, he had no manner with which to fight. He was useless.
He remembered the faces of his fallen crewmates—Their mutilated bodies, the overwhelming despair at knowing the imposter was among them—he shook his head. His eyes darted around in the darkness. What if it was still crawling through these halls somehow?
The rational part of his mind tried to bring reason to the fray. It couldn't be alive. Not after what the Captain did to it.
Metal screeched. His breathing grew labored. Paranoia set in. At the corner of his eye, he saw a pair of hands sparking. Shadows of children danced, playing across his line of sight.
No, no, no. Why this? He pressed himself closer against the wall.
A great despair arose in his chest. He knew those voices all too well. He hiccuped, old fears taking hold of his sense of self. He was too small to outrun them and too weak to fight back. All he could do was bring up his arms and lock his knees, a desperate stance against their numbers. Their mocking smiles leered at every turn. His stomach clenched and twisted. He doesn’t want to be here.
Small hands reached out from the darkness, pressing against his shirt. The smell of nitroglycerin and smoke was his only warning before the cloth was set aflame.
His skin sizzled and bubbled, peeling away in strips of blackened layers to reveal the pink fat underneath. The pain was excruciating, stripping him of his last defenses. They mocked his tears. They laughed at his cries for help, for someone to save him.
But no one came.
No one ever came.
His eyes snapped open. Nothingness met his vision. Blood rushing to his head he jolted forward, body jackknifing. He immediately threw off his helmet and vomited onto the ground, choking and coughing as bits of food caught in his throat. The helmet rolled and crashed into a corner unseen. Not that he was thinking about that. His mind was one more terrible matters, namely, his deteriorating mental state.
The space sickness was getting worse.
How much longer until it took a hold of him fully?
His stomach gurgled; nausea and hunger warred for control. He knew that the sickness was messing with his bodily functions. Ever since he boarded this ship he’d been out of sorts, but the sickness made it worse. His mouth was akin to sandpaper, tongue like barbed wire against every surface.
He needed to steady himself. Thinking fast, he unzipped his suit, sticking a hand beneath his to feel the skin there. It rose above the rest of the unblemished parts, the texture rough and uneven. Feeling it grounded him, somehow, if only for a moment.
His odd bullies were no longer here. He was older now. Smarter.
A wave of determination flowed through him. Izuku was still alive. So long as he lived, Captain Toshinori still had a chance.
Quietly zipping up his spacesuit he slipped out of the Oxygen room. Though he couldn’t even see his hand in front of him he continued on, feeling the hallways as he walked. Electrical was on the opposite side of the ship.
He bumped into something solid and screamed.
He didn’t know whose body it was. The lights on his suit were too dim to identify anything other than flesh and blood. Wetness drenched his shoes and knees. The metallic, sweet smell of blood and sharp musk of urine made him stumble forward, right onto the corpse’s torso. It crunched beneath his weight. Oh god. He scrambled for purchase, hands gliding onto something that squished when he touched it. Without a thought he lurched away, another gag escaping his mouth. He couldn’t do this. How had everything gone wrong so fast? They were supposed to be the best space explorers in the galaxy.
Something had become tied his foot. Reaching down, he hurriedly unwrapped it, throwing it just as quickly. It hit the ground with a wet slap. Had it been rope? An intestine? Some part of the creature? He didn’t know. He couldn’t see. Izuku shuddered. Where was his helmet? His heart rate increased. The realization hit him like a sledgehammer. He’d forgotten it in the Oxygen room.
He jerked his head in the direction he came from. Or at least, he thought he came from. He turned about. Left. Right. Left. It was too dark to go back. If that thing was still alive it could come back for him.
His hands shook. He back up to his feet, taking one shaky step after another, body half-leaning against the freezing walls. His footsteps clicked against the metal floors, echoing down the narrow hallway. It left him with nothing but his thoughts for company. Not that he wasn’t used to that. His thoughts were his company for most of his life.
Now, however, his thoughts were no longer a comfort. They hounded him, making him second guess everything he was doing. Izuku knew he was on the verge of a panic attack, every sound, every smell unbearably loud and terrifying. Dr. Shuzenji had diagnosed him with the first stages of the psychological illness days before. Now, he feared it was reaching the point of no return.
Part of him wanted to laugh. He lost his mother as a young child, could barely remember anything about her other than a song and a smile. His lips trembled. Right now he risked losing not only the last person who cared about him but his very mind as well. A soft sob escaped his mouth. This wasn’t fair.
Though he was close to the Navigation room he could still hear the soft buzz of the ship’s engine, trucking them along through the vast expanse. Even beneath his clothes, he could feel the cool metallic surface. He gulped. Only ten centimeters of metal separated them from space. The windows had even less.
How had it gotten inside? Did it jump in when they left the Milky Way galaxy? Or later, when they approached the Dark Zone? He recalled his conversation days earlier with the Space Hero of Peace in Navigation.
The Captain’s gaunt face reflected by the last remaining stars had seemed so grim at the time. Izuku thought it was because of the first death, but now? He wondered if the man knew why it was killing them all in the first place.
It wasn’t a coincidence that all the One for All holders were drawn to this part of the galaxy, the Captain once mentioned. The Dark Zone was full of wonders, ancient civilizations, and unimaginable artifacts worth the price of hundreds of colonized planets, and then some. Many space explorers had come to these parts over the years.
What was also a coincidence was the fact that all of the One for All holders died. This area of the galaxy wasn’t safe by any measure, but seven deaths were not something Izuku could simply ignore. He’d asked Captain Toshinori about the correlation, trying to put the mental puzzle pieces together. He recalled how the Captain’s heavyset eyes dimmed, less like the hard sapphires of a leader and more like pale, shallow pools of water.
“My teacher used to say One for All wasn’t originally a quirk,” he answered the teen after a moment of silence, hands gripping the edges of the navigational board. The metal creaked ominously beneath his hands. “One for All was part of a star, given to the second user before it died.”
“That’s impossible,” Izuku recalled himself saying.
“Humans do impossible feats every day, young Midoriya. Is it really so unbelievable?” He asked.
“Quirks are part of human evolution. Stars are bright balls of gas,” he responded. Izuku may not be the fastest or the strongest but he knew Quirks. Knew how they worked inside and out. It’s part of what drew the Captain to Izuku. It’s also what pushed the rest of his peer group away. He always did know too much.
“Perhaps.” He closed his eyes. The circles beneath his eyes gave him the look of a corpse, so dark and full he wondered how the Captain still lived. “There are things in this universe that are not just inexplicable, they’re unexplainable. How is it that out of every corner of this Universe, this part is so empty of life? Why can no stars be seen inside or outside of the Dark Zone?”
“I...I don’t know.” Izuku mumbled, embarrassed at his ignorance. No one did. That’s what made it the Forbidden to go without a license.
A dark shadow flickered across the Captain’s face before resting beneath his brow. The Captain seemed thinner now as if something were eating him from the inside. Perhaps it was. “Pray that you never find out.”
The words seemed so inconsequential then. Now they clung to the back of his mind with the other raging thoughts, his mind overanalyzing everything that had happened these past two weeks.
A cold sweat broke out all over his body. God, he longed to take the suit off. Desperately so. He was breathing too quickly, too irregularly. The teen knew if he let it continue the space sickness would become worse.
He forced himself to wait for a second, regather himself, if only for a little while. His eyes concentrated on nothing and everything. Was he going in the right direction? He hoped so. He stepped forward, hand still on the wall. He put another foot forward. Slowly, he left the hallway, the texture of the walls changing as he did so. Shields room. The walls fell away. He reached out, lowering his hands, hoping to touch what he was searching for. The railing met his thumb. He took a small piece of solace in that. Baby steps. He latched onto it with both hands. The metal creaked and groaned. His breath caught. He removed one hand, gently gliding the other atop it as he made for the next corridor.
Captain Toshinori needed him. The longer he took, the more likely the man would bleed out. The wound on his side hadn’t been good. Izuku recalled how the man had brought a bloody hand to Izuku’s mouth to silence his mumblings before ordering to get the supplies. He swallowed the bile in the back of his throat. No, he could do this. He would do this.
He carefully traversed the hallway to Storage. Sweat trickled down his back, goosebumps riding his arms. This would be harder. While all the rooms were cold, Storage was like ice. It brushed up against his cheeks and nose, so freezing he had to push himself to inhale. He mentally kicked himself for not going back to get his helmet. Damn it.
He clenched his fists, taking small side-steps while his back was facing the wall. He thought about going forward but decided against it. The walls were safer. Who knew what had fallen over during the mutiny between Captain Toshinori and First Officer Enji Todoroki. They had been so close to using their Quirks on each other...It was an all too real reminder that even those with great power had been tricked.
Gods, eight people dead. Everyone else but him had been an adult, an experienced crew that has treated him so nicely, aside from the First Officer. He choked down a sob. Like he was worth more than his Quirklessness. That he could make something of himself.
But now that was all gone. All that was left were he and the Captain. He released a sigh of relief when he reached the hallway to electrical then froze.
Metal groaned, moving parts screeching against each other. A symphony of noises that made it hard to think. The Engine room was louder than ever. At least that hadn’t broken down. His heart pounded, pulse thumping so wildly he could hear it in his skull. If he could see in front of him he was fairly sure he would have double vision by now.
Suddenly, the sound stopped. He told himself it was nothing, no more than machines taking a break, but his mind spoke differently. Had they ever seen the creature actually die? The scene in the Security Cabin replayed through his mind. It hadn’t taken long for the killer to take down Officer Todoroki. Izuku had seen the man impaled by their Security Officer S—
He paused. What was his name again? He cradled his head, trying to remember. Wait, what did the creature look like? What had—
Space sickness was messing with his mind. It had to be.
What else could it be?
Once in the Electrical room, he blindly searched around for the wires, all the while trying to remember what Mr. Torino had said about the creature. The smell of grease and burning wires brought the memory to the forefront of his mind.
He had been the second person Izuku learned to trust aboard the Skeld. Unlike the others who gave him tasks, Mr. Torino took part in teaching him how to fix wires and divert power to different parts of the ship. In turn, Izuku would crawl through the vents to work on the most difficult to reach areas, the older man’s bones too tired to do so (according to him).
It was Mr. Torino who first alerted Izuku to the creature’s existence, albeit in a sharing of stories.
“I’ve never seen it personally,” the man mentioned offhandedly after Izuku’s persistent questioning since the first death aboard the ship. “Only heard stories. It’s been around for centuries at least.”
“That old, huh.”
“Lots of legends too, though I doubt any of them even come close to the truth. Do you want to know what I think? I don’t think it’s an alien at all. I think it is this Dead Zone, or part of it. Few people come out of this area alive, kid.”
“Captain Toshinori did,” he recalled himself saying before adding his own personal anecdote. “My mom did too.”
The elder man gave him a hard look. Izuku cast his gaze downward. “Like I said. Few people.” He paused, eyes glazed over with some sort of emotion. “Nana saw it once, back when she was a young Officer.” His jaw tightened. “Killed half her crew before they figured out who it was. Took her mentor too. Pass me that screwdriver over there.”
Izuku picked up the item and tossed it to the man’s waiting hand.
“Did she tell you about it?”
A long stretch of silence passed between them. Right as Izuku was about to apologize, the man spoke up once more.
“Not much. It takes our form though. Pretends to be us. Messes with our heads to make us think they’re the same.” He shook his head. “But it ain’t. And you can tell too.” He motioned his finger to Izuku’s chest, pushing against his sternum. “That animalistic fear in the back of your mind? Trust it. That might be the only thing that keeps you alive.”
Electricity sparked. Both crewmen jerked back. Izuku immediately went to fix the wires, mulling over his next words carefully. Everything Torino said made this entity sound like some sort of primordial being. And his expression as he’d spoken of it...So much like the Captain’s. Could this creature and One for All truly be so linked? Finally, he asked, “And you think it’s on this ship?”
“How many people boarded, kid?”
“Nine,” he confirmed.
“And how many are on now?”
“Six. We lost fou—” He froze, eyes widening. “It’s on board with us, isn’t it? But why? Why us?”
A dark glint overtook the man’s features. “Because it wants something and it won’t stop until it gets it.”
“What do we do then?” Izukus stammered.
The older male cast a piercing look at the teen, eyes ablaze with determination. “We fight back.”
But they were too late. It knew.
It had always known, a step ahead before everyone else.
Lights flickered. Izuku took a breath, steadying himself. Then he lifted his head.
Two feet from his own Gran Torino’s head rolled to the side, eyes cloudy and unblinking. The skin of his face was blue, though from suffocation or being frozen the boy couldn’t determine. Black vines held him aloft, spreading out from the vent all the way to the ceiling. He dared not touch them. The vein-like structures were dead still, despite Izuku’s frantic movements. A good sign, he supposed. The teen shifted out of the way, holding his breath as he tried to avoid the corpse. Unlike the previous body, the smell of death was starting to kick in here. His nose twitched, vomit already building in the back of his throat.
Emotion burned in his gut. He swallowed. So this was where the man’s final stand took place. He turned his attention toward the door, not wanting to look for a second longer. He wanted to remember Gran Torino as he met him: a brave no-nonsense Engineer.
He left Electrical seconds later, thinking of which way to go. It would be faster to travel through the Engine room but...that meant he would have to pass Security. A shudder gripped his body, teeth clenching together. There was no door to the room, meaning Izuku would be in direct sight of the creature’s corpse.
The Captain had revealed its true face in the height of the battle, an image Izuku would never forget. So many teeth, so many of those long spidery limbs—his head began to pound in remembrance. No, he wouldn’t go that direction.
Mind made up, he headed back through the Storage to the Cafeteria. It was safer that way. Easier. His heart-rate hadn’t slowed but the dizziness was less. He could breathe again. Almost there.
The Cafeteria was silent as he passed through it. The emergency button blinked, taunting the teen with how many had fallen to their fears. And Izuku had been right there with them.
Guilt tore at his insides. They were so wrong. Only one person ejected into space yet it was one too many.
Even under the bright lights, Izuku sensed his fear creeping in once more. Space sickness clawed at his mind and emptied his stomach, leaving him aching and terrified of everything. But it would all be okay. His hand slid down to the medical supplies. He just had to get this to the Captain and then they could get back to Earth. Somehow.
His steps picked up as he came down the last hallway. So close now. His walk broke out into a small jog, desperate to rejoin his injured Captain. The door to Medbay opened up.
And there he was.
He was frozen in limbo. Every decision and action was meaningless.
The black vines that hung Gran Torino by his throat now covered Captain Toshinori’s body. Izuku cried out as they wiggled and burrowed further into his mentor’s mouth, nose, and eyes, the rest crawling and squirming beneath his flesh, distorting it beyond measure.
No, no, no. A nauseating sinking of hopelessness developed in his chest, spreading through the rest of him like a virus. Without thinking he began clawing at the endless black before him, desperate to save his mentor. Oh god, oh god, oh god—
The dark limbs ceased their movements. Somehow, Izuku started to perceive an alien tingle in the back of his head, a wretchedness of mind he could not hope to describe as the entity began to shift once more.
He gave a choked, desperate laugh as more veins tumbled out of the floor vent, followed by a familiar figure. The destroyed distorted monster they had left for dead had recovered. Even its face was as good as new, if it was even the creature’s face at all. They had tried to kill it like a person instead of the alien entity it was.
His nose seemed as if cut from a statue, sharp and angled, scrunching up as he glanced at the desolate Captain before smoothing over as his eyes settled on Izuku. He wanted to sob. Officer Shigaraki had been so nice to everyone. How could it have been him?
A raw primitive fear threatened to overwhelm him. There was no soul in this creature, its eyes as empty as the space around them. The urge to flee struck his soul. He had to escape. But where?
There was nowhere to go, he realized in horror.
He pulled back, maybe there was an escape pod or another weapon or— its long tentacles were faster, two latching onto his legs while another grabbed his hand.
Instantly, his head ached as if someone had just stabbed him. He groaned. God, why now? He pressed his other hand over his face convulsively, body shaking, unable to handle the reality before him. No, no, no, no, no—
“Baby cuckoo has lost his flock,” the creature remarked. There was almost grandfatherly hoarseness to its voice, complemented by its bone-white hair and contrasted by its youthful looks. But it was a lie. Everything about the man—no, the creature, was a lie.
“You monster,” he replied in a tormented voice.
“The cuckoo is a fine bird he sings as he flies, He brings us good tidings and tells us no lies. He sucks the sweet flowers to make his voice clear, And the more he cries cuckoo, the summer is nigh,” it croaked, imitating singing yet lacking in something. Humanity?
Izuku’s eyes narrowed over the words. Despite the Space Sickness and suffocating dread, he recognized that song. “H-how do you know those words?”
“Little cuckoo asks so many questions,” it answered, red eyes shifting. A thousand and more colors passed across its irises before it settled on a familiar green. “Do you have it?”
“No! Stop it! Let me go.” Izuku tried to struggle, but the tentacles dragged him across the floor, closer and closer to the alien.
Alien hands grasped his sides, pulling him upwards. The black veins twisted around them both, leaving Izuku the full view of his fallen comrade’s body. Oh god. Another stab of pain rolled through his stomach. His vision grew wet with tears. Everyone who ever cared about him was gone now. He was alone again.
The boy screamed a smaller tentacle slithered into his suit. The violation left him off-kilter. He began to move about frantically, but the monster’s hands were solid, immobile, and unyielding to his plight.
“So small,” it muttered, fingers roaming Izuku’s front, all human pleasantries dropped as it explored him. His unblinking eyes stared directly into his own. “So thin.”
“Stop it, stop it, stop it,” he chanted.
God, his head throbbed with pain that was unlike anything he'd ever experienced before, threatening to tear itself asunder beneath the creature's presence. Large, cold fingers brush his cheeks. His skin tingled, hairs prickling as the smaller tentacle stopped moving then began to pull back. He didn’t have time to think about what that meant. A shudder passed through to the creature, it’s neck twisted and cracked from side to side unnaturally, forgetting it’s semi-human form.
Once settled, its lips spread wide, revealing row after row of white needle-sharp teeth.
“It’s here.” The alien rested its head on Izuku’s shoulder. “It’s back.” A hand unzipped the front of his suit. “It’s home.”
A sharp, burning pain erupted, overriding everything else.
Izuku choked on his breath, nearly bending over as the pain intensified. But the monster kept him steady. A melody from the earlier song emitted from its mouth—no, it’s mouth wasn’t moving, so where was the noise coming from?
Izuku’s eyes began to droop without his control, head growing fuzzy as the noise continued. Was...was it crooning? Why did it know the song his mother used to sing to him? The first wave of tears drifted south from his eyes. The agony in his sides was unbearable. Was it somehow eating him from the inside? He wanted to die. Blood spilled through his mouth as he bit down on his cheek.
A mouth brushed against his ear. “What is your dream, little cuckoo?”
Water continued to stream down the boy’s face. Nothing could be as painful as this; it was as if someone was cutting him in half. He wept, biting back the scream. Pressure built in his abdomen. Had one of the veins gotten inside him? Was he dying? He looked at the ceiling, childish desire winning out over everything. “I want to go home."
Back to his mom, alive and well. Not cold and dead. But he couldn’t. The monster’s grip tightened around his body, human and alien hands alike cradling him.
“Oh,” it sang, nuzzling his face with its own. “but you are home, little one.”
Something rippled across his abdomen. In alarm, Izuku looked down.
He wanted to look away but found himself transfixed with the chilling sight. Words could not describe the experience. A line of skin pulsated. Slowly, it bulged and split. A loud scream erupted. It took Izuku a moment to realize it was his own. The split continued from one side to the next until at last, his entire belly was horizontally cut.
The two new lines of skin separated. To his surprise and horror, no blood escaped. Instead, beneath the blood, fat, and muscle, rows and rows of fangs emerged.
He couldn’t function. His eyes rolled, insanity picking at the edges of his mind. His thoughts, he couldn’t control them, oh god.
“You must be starving. She didn’t take care of you, but I will,” the creature soothed, pressing its lips into Izuku’s hair. “Shush. Hush.”
His screams turned to soft cries without his consent. Izuku began to shake. None of his body was under his control now. He hiccuped, panic overwhelming him. What did the monster do to him? His stomach became seized with ravenous hunger. Saliva flooded his mouth, dripping from his lips.
Its human hands lifted him easily, bringing him closer to his Captain’s still body. “It’s been so long. Come. Eat.”
Izuku’s form sagged, mind breaking as it became unable to process what was happening. His head slumped onto the man’s shoulder, unblinking, terrified, and alone.
But the monster didn’t seem to care. Izuku didn’t look down to see what it fed the alien teeth below. He couldn’t. Instead, he retreated further into his mind, unable to process the thing in front of him nor the thing that he had become.
The electricity began to flicker once more. A bloody hand gently stroked his back, the other rocking him. One by one the lights turned off. As the last one began to waver and wane, he heard humankind’s imposter whisper, “All for you. All for you.”
Izuku closed his eyes and whimpered.
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