Astrophobia (Paperback)

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“God? No. This is more powerful than God. This is technology.”

Captain Neal Cunningham is on the brink, one drink away from ruin. Space work isn't what it once was. Adrift, he's approached by a benefactor with deep pockets who offers him a prize no man could refuse—a glimpse of hope, a future. Despite suspicions, he reluctantly agrees, summoning his old crew for one final job.

What they encounter is beyond horrifying: Aperture Mining have constructed the most advanced planetary drilling station above the deep space planet Magna Prime. 

The station, once home to hundreds of workers and their families, is abandoned, its inhabitants either dead or gone. And records show Aperture uncovered something buried deep beneath the planet's surface.

Something they brought aboard the station …

Something that distorts their perception, warping what they see, hear, and even think …

Something that wants Neal and his crew to stay on the station forever …

In a fusion of 'Ghost Ship' and 'Event Horizon', this horror novel follows a desperate mercenary and his crew on one last mission that pits their survival against an inescapable evil … An evil that comes from within …

Paperback 390 pages
Dimensions 5 x 0.97 x 8 inches
ISBN
Publication date May 12, 2024
Publisher The Nightmare Engine

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Chapter One: Neal Cunningham

A neat bourbon wasn’t going to rid him of his problems—but it wouldn’t exactly have hurt, either.
The bar hummed, the ambience broken only by the occasional clink of glasses and the flick of a cigarette lighter. A burst of laughter erupted from one of the corner booths, loud enough to draw eyes from every angle. 
Neal Cunningham sat at the bar, the only patron to ignore the ruckus. The voices had dulled to a indiscernible hum long ago, emulating the effect of an underwater roar. Neal hunched over an old-fashioned tumbler, where the last dregs of disappointing, watered-down swill circled the crystal bottom. 
He would have killed for that bourbon once, but these days, he didn’t have the moxie. The swill would do the same job eventually.
He was devoid of thought or desire tonight, much like every night, other than to see the evening through and hope the next day brought more than the clouds of sour smoke that formed over his head. A dark cloud he was stalked by—inside and outside, it seemed. 
The cloud’s name was Defeat, a persona Neal was all too familiar with. Tonight, Defeat brought him realization, a thought that he had been avoiding like a leper. 
The need for hired guns, real men and women with the skills to see them through the fight, was dwindling. Volume wasn’t the issue. There was plenty of supply. Mercenaries still had their place, if you knew where to look. 
It was just that the bots could do the same job cheaper and better.
 Damn robots.
Perhaps he had overestimated his own worth. Perhaps he had overestimated the value behind his name. 
A lifetime ago, Neal wouldn’t have needed to scout for work. Potential employers would seek him out based on his reputation alone. Captain Neal Cunningham, ex-Star Guild pilot turned hired hand, then turned hired gun. Nowadays, though, he was invisible, nothing more than a distant memory. 
There was some comfort to that. Being renowned attracted all kinds of attention―both good and bad. Just as there was no honor amongst thieves, there was even less in contract work. Now, barely functioning in a world where names held little sway, Neal was reviled, powerless, his accolades stripped away by time and stagnation until he was cast into obscurity. 
But his mistakes? They were friends with Defeat, and they rode a pale horse. No amount of good deeds could wipe the slate clean. But maybe that was what he deserved: a lifetime of reminders of his misfortune with the toxic twins, Defeat and Mistake. 
Should’ve quit when your reflexes and good judgment still counted for something, a voice in his head kept telling him. One of the two voices, he thought―or maybe a third? Neal didn’t know, and he didn’t care.
Staring into the bottom of his glass, Neal’s urge for something stronger grew tenfold. Maybe he’d earned it―just a faded night of sulking before getting back on his feet. Maybe this inertia was just the natural order of things―or maybe it would pass. Maybe things would get better. 
It was just a passing thought, but a comforting one, nonetheless. Drinking and twisting himself into oblivion would distract him from the here and now, but, in the morning, he would still be the same person with the same problems, just with a heavy head and a lighter wallet. 
Neal scoffed and threw back the last few drops of his drink, grimacing as the sour swill irritated his throat.
The bartender slunk past him, as he had done a couple times already tonight. Neal could feel his eyes examining the top of his head. 
You’re going to pay for that drink, right? Your credits aren’t going to bounce, are they? 
Neal ignored him. He was used to getting that kind of a reaction. He missed the days when the bartender wouldn’t have looked in his direction unless it was to refill his glass. 
Mercenaries used to have a better reputation―feared, but respected. 
But as robotics and automation had advanced, panic had kicked in―and not the kind found in deep space. This was raw fear, not a mysterious space disease akin to cabin fever; the kind of fear that riddled people in his line of work as they became increasingly desperate to make a bit of coin, drifting from job to job. Odd jobs. Dangerous jobs. Jobs that paid almost nothing, where surely someone would die. 
The world had changed, and Neal Cunningham only hoped he could survive it.
Neal tapped the COMMS-DEV―his communications device―on his arm, quickly cycling through his bank account and then progressing to his message board. Although primarily used for communications, as per its name, the multifunctional wrist-worn console worked in much the same way as the smartphones of old, granting the user access to a raft of applications at the simple scroll of a finger. He started counting the listings, the dead drops, the gigs. He ran out of fingers and toes to count on before he ran out of listings. 
What did that make the odds? A hundred to one? 
Sure, things had been worse—or so Neal tried to comfort himself. He flicked that memory away in the same way he flicked the COMMS-DEV screen, hoping for better luck. 
Something had to pan out—an opportunity on the horizon, if he could just survive that long. One goddamn job to fix things for the better; to show he was still capable, to clear his name and get him off this rock with a one-way holo-ticket to one of the beach planets.
Are you really capable, though? I’d be skeptical about hiring you, too, after―
Someone slammed a fist down on one of the stout wooden tables and laughter burst from the corner of the room once more. Neal bit back his irritation. There was an unspoken rule at the bar: sulking was done inside, parties to be held on the patio. 
He resisted the urge to turn his head. If he did, he would open his mouth, say something stupid, and turn a crap night into something spectacularly worse. Closing his fingers around the wall of the glass, he absentmindedly tried for a drink, but was instantly let down. 
He slammed the empty tumbler back down on the counter. 
The bartender’s head snapped in his direction, and Neal offered him an aloof smile.
Don’t worry. I won’t cause a scene—as long as you keep the grog flowing.
“How’s it going, Chief? Living your best life, I see?” a perky man said to the side of Neal’s head.
Neal turned in time to see Thomas Fletch, one of his team members, swiveling the barstool to his right to face him. He held a full tankard of golden beer and a cheeky smile plastered to his face. 
Thomas was chipper almost to a fault. He was a rookie, a new boot, still full of hope and naively ready to chase a dream of grotesquely fat payouts. He was so green, the flying leathers he wore still looked new.  
“You sure know how to pick a dump,” Thomas observed, casting a deprecating eye around the dimly lit establishment. “This is low, even for this planet.”
Neal focused on his empty glass, far from being in a conversational mood. If he waited long enough without offering a response, there was a chance Thomas might give up and leave him alone. 
“Still hunting? Come on, give yourself a break, man.” Thomas slapped a gentle hand on his back. “We’ll catch one soon enough. The bots can’t take all the jobs out there.” 
But Neal couldn’t let himself rest. It was easy for Thomas to offer empty platitudes when ship techs had employers practically throwing mountains of credits at them. Who would have thought that blue-collar jobs would take over once intergalactic travel went commercial? Neal silently cursed Maxus A. Robin, the great discoverer of Swift Flight Fuel. Now you can go anywhere!—or so the brochures claimed. 
Bots could co-pilot now. Drones utilized frightening accurate facial recognition analytics. Synths could hit a button from a hundred yards with a rifle. It was only a matter of time before people like him―people in general―were completely replaced. 
Neal eyed Thomas without moving his head. 
It wasn’t just about efficiency, either. Relationships were changing, too. It had started with advanced chat bots with sultry voices programmed to offer comfort to lonely men. These days, it was harder to initiate a conventional relationship with a human, therefore sex synths weren’t uncommon. People just didn’t trust each other anymore―and if the bots could deliver the goods without any of the attachment, why did they need to? Why go to the trouble of balancing another person’s feelings with your own if synths knew nothing of selfishness? 
But as advanced and realistic as these synths could be, they were nothing more than a product forced onto lonely people by mega-rich companies. They weren’t a solution; they were an amplifier of their loneliness and inability, or their unwillingness to talk to a human.
Once, Neal might have argued the merits of hiring a person, someone capable of empathy, of critical thinking, but it didn’t much matter anymore. Human ability was fast becoming outdated, and Neal didn’t have the patience, nor the inclination to convince the rookie otherwise. 
“What are you wearing, Thomas?”
The rookie flicked his collar and jutted out his chest. “New digs. We should look professional.”
When the first synths had been rolled out, they were marketed as “professional,” too. They’d been presented as so professional that they could replace the average lawyer, barista, prostitute, mechanic—and that was only the cheap models. Neal remembered the public outcry, declaring that everything humanity had feared was coming true, and he’d thought it was temporary. 
He had been wrong. 
It had surprised him how fast the technology had developed. Hired guns who’d survived their perilous profession, some for over twenty years, had found themselves flying taxis virtually overnight―and all because the defense corporations had figured out how synths could be utilized for military application. As of late, only the best remained on the circuit, mercs with enough credits or clearance to leave the planet―and those were the mercs who could still swing their name around.
Neal Cunningham wasn’t one of them.
“Doesn’t much matter what you wear; we’re still flesh and blood. Nobody needs us anymore, kid.” 
Neal was willing to be wrong. Some small part of him hoped that Thomas would hit him with a bit of good news, some development that there was one professional field—just one tiny crevice on a barren mountain—where humans still excelled over machines. 
Neal should have retired when he still had a chance; when everyone had told him he should. But the thrill of adventure had a big stick and could poke him anytime. He would continue to hunt the next thrill until his back gave out and tremors finally took his shooting hand. He had been selfish, determined to pursue his own ambitions. This was the price he had to pay for putting his ego first, even above his loved ones.
An image flashed in his mind’s eye: Laura, his ex-wife, standing in the doorway, one hand on the pain in her chest spiking from being driven to leave, the other on the bag she’d packed, a look of defeat on her face. The only thing worse than all the fights was the realization that she’d never fight again; that she’d finally given up.
You know what the saddest thing is, Neal? You don’t realize right now that we all mean well for you. It doesn’t matter what I or anyone else says―you’re still going to do whatever you want to do. But you know when you’re going to realize it?
 When you’re alone.
Well, Laura had been right. The dingy bar he was sitting at, nurturing the faint ember of hope he still held onto, was testament to that.
Still not too late to throw in the towel. Quit while you still have some dignity, Defeat said.
Neal was old for the game, and things changed on a knife-edge in the vacuum of space. He could hang up his gun belt right now and grow fat in his Seattle apartment, rats and all. The beach planets were only billboards and digital postcards that blew seawater in his face. 
But there was something to be said for being dirt-fuckin’-poor. 
Thomas smiled. Neal could tell the rookie had something to say, but, uncharacteristically, he held it. Waited. Like neither of them had places to be.
Neal ignored him. He didn’t have anywhere he needed to be.
Every day was simple: survive. That was Neal’s sole focus: find a gig, survive, buy another glass. But surviving was becoming a hassle, as was suffering the same day on repeat. They all led to the same two things.
Hello, Mistake and Defeat. Did you miss me? 
One drink at a time, Neal played the game called hope while the calendar ticked past age fifty-two. 
Who was he kidding? Old men didn’t fare well in a young man’s game like contract work, and even young men couldn’t compete with automation.
Now, there was nowhere left to run, and the monsters of his past loomed just behind him, their icy claws resting on his shoulders, savoring the moment. Neal no longer tried to fight them. Much like swimming against a violent tide, resistance only brought exhaustion, so, instead, he embraced his demons with open arms and allowed the waves to carry him wherever they damn well pleased.
You win, Beelzebub. I’m broke. You buy the first round in Hell. 
“Guess you’re not in a chatty mood today, huh?” Thomas said as he swiveled in the chair, his words little more than a garbled string of incoherent sounds that added to the already dull background hum. 
Clearly, the kid couldn’t take a hint.
“What gave it away?” 
“Your jovial and approachable nature.”
Thomas’s flippant attitude was annoying at times, but it was also infectious. Neal often found himself wishing for interactions with the rookie to be over as quickly as possible, only to realize a part of him felt better for having them. Something told him that would not be the case tonight.
A buzz on his thigh caught his attention. He tapped the COMMS-DEV mounted to his forearm to inspect the incoming transmission. The number was unknown.
“One sec. Let me take this.” Holding up his arm for Thomas to see, Neal jumped off the stool and left the bar, thankful for a reason to leave.
He hadn’t realized how much the cigarette smoke and the stuffy air choked him until he was out in the open. Well, not open, exactly ―the module governing the artificial atmosphere on this planet was as close to the air breathed back on Earth as one could get without paying a premium. Other than the smell of chlorine―which the nose learned to ignore rather quickly when spending prolonged periods of time being subjected to it―being in synthetic atmosphere wasn’t so bad. The cold and the metallic smell of being on board a ship and the quiet time amongst the stars … that was another story.
The call ended as he made it outside, where towers of steel and reflective, high resolution screens shot high into the sky and blotted out both suns. Harsh neon signs spewed mid-air advertisements from projector modules close to the ground, while commuters along the mega-highway of flying transports sat in ad-free comfort.
 “Damn it!”
Reversing the transmission, Neal opened a holo-call, hoping it wasn’t a holo-marketer trying to sell him a timeshare on the Moon. If Neal knew one thing, that place was a shithole.
He heard a distinct click interrupt the connecting tone, but no voice came forward.
“Hi, I just missed a call from this number. Who am I speaking to?”
“Mr. Cunningham? Is this a Mr. Neal Cunningham?” an atonal female voice on the other end asked. 
The holo-feed remained inactive, prompting Neal to talk to a translucent blank screen hovering inches from his face. He saw nothing, though he couldn’t shake the feeling that someone on the other end was watching him.
“Speaking.”
“I’m calling about a proposal.”
Neal’s breath hitched in his throat. “Proposal” didn’t sound right―too formal, too rehearsed―but he quickly dismissed his suspicions; he’d worked for weirder clientele. 
What do you need? Three live goldfish three billion miles away? No problem. I’ll go to the Moon and spacewalk without a suit if that’s what you need.
“Please, go ahead,” he said after clearing his throat.
“Do you have a few moments to discuss an assignment? The people I represent have prepared an extensive proposal with enough credits to change your … situation.”
You bet I fucking do! Wait―what now? ‘Situation?’ 
Neal swallowed, his throat dry. Despite the lure of credits, he didn’t want to allow himself to hope too much. He’d learned hope was an illusion―an illusion that sparked an itch behind his ear, begging him to be cautious. This woman was elusive, none of her words meaningful or solid. She spoke like a lawyer. 
“I’m listening.”
The caller paused briefly. 
“Very well. I work for a small but well-adjusted outfit involved in the procurement of extraterrestrial artifacts. Their values have dropped in the last few years, but there are still some who are collectors of such commodities. My employer values discretion above all things, as our benefactor is involved in politics, but he has a penchant for helping his friends in their pursuit of certain space oddities. Should you choose to accept, it should be known that there will be consequences for indiscretion. My department understands your situation is quite … unique …”
Neal’s eyebrows knitted together, and he stared absently at the screen. As with any proposal, there were always follow-on questions, but if there were two things he had learned as a mercenary, it was that clarification could always come after payment exchanged hands, and that a breach of discretion was a death sentence. “Unique” was this woman’s way of implying “expendable.”
He pushed the slight aside. “I understand. Go on.” 
“My employer has lost contact with one of our research stations. We need a small, capable team to visit the outpost, render aid if necessary, and bring our operation back online. Now, as a man of your experience surely knows, space travel is a fine mix of science and luck, and quite often, things go awry. Communication with that part of the system is … spotty, at best. We had planned contingencies, of course, but even those seemed to have failed.”
“How long since you last made contact?” Neal asked, his curiosity piqued.
“Three days. We anticipate everything will be in order, but our company protocols state that should a communications blackout last longer than seventy-two hours, more outward efforts must be made to restore contact.”
“Why not send a security team? I presume your employer has the resources. Why go private?” he interjected. That itch was just begging to be scratched.
“As I said, our benefactor values discretion, and in order to mobilize a full recovery effort, we would be obliged to alert The Allied Space Corp, which is both costly to our image and our bottom line. We cannot tolerate the cost for one research station, therefore we have decided to outsource. Is that an issue for you, Mr. Cunningham?”
No, but this would be a damn sight easier if you weren’t speaking in riddles, lady. Why not just say, “You’ll be alone. No help is coming.”
“No, ma’am. It’s just most jobs are a little more open about funding and dynamics. What about drones? If we’re only talking about checking in, they’re much cheaper and will make the job a lot easier.” 
Neal knew that with each question he asked, he was effectively shooting down his chances of landing the job, but he had to be sure. Only idiots and those with fat open palms begging for credits jumped at a gig without questioning it ten times over. It was the only way to ensure the safety of his crew, and that came above discretion. Above a paycheck, even.
“Our benefactor prefers to place their trust in people, not machines.”
A billionaire with a conscience? Or is there something about this job that automatons aren’t capable of providing?
“How did you find me again?” Neal asked.
“Your name was given to us by a reference.”
“And I suppose you can’t tell me who this reference is?”
“I will say compensation is paid up front, with a bonus upon completion.”
Cash up front? That’s never good news. Only jobs that pay that way are scams and suicide missions.
Despite knowing to quit when he was ahead, Neal let his curiosity get the better of him.
“I suppose there's a level of risk you’re aware of but won’t speak about?”
“Hence the completion bonus.”
“How much are we talking?” Neal asked.
“Two hundred thousand credits and a further one hundred thousand credits completion bonus.”
“Two hundred thousand for a deep space dive? You’ve got to be―”
“The same fee will be paid to you and each member of your crew. I think we can both agree, the pay is far beyond your prospects and will fill that tumbler you're holding for life.” 
The woman's voice had switched from atonal to impatient, as if she were holding an ace she was itching to throw down on the table. As if she were watching him right now.
Neal whirled around, glass in hand, as if expecting to find the voice on the other end of the transmission matching some spook across the street. 
He was alone.
The numbers rang in his head like an echoing gong. Two hundred grand and another on top.
Maybe it was the drink thinking for him. Maybe it was the slender hand of greed. Maybe one of those voices that perpetually followed him whispered in his ear, coaxing Neal into accepting a job he knew all too well was shady.
None of it mattered in that moment. The credits outweighed it all. 
“I choose my own crew.”
“Of course.”
“I’ll need time to get them together. When do you need us?”
“Right now, Mr. Cunningham.”
“Right now?”
“We would need you to depart immediately.” 
Neal closed his eyes in disappointment, his head spinning from the conversation and his dry lips yearning for his glass to be refilled. As far as he could tell, his potential employer was desperate, which meant they were hiding some crucial information―either a dangerous gig for the crew or a shady-as-shit matter that would land Neal in more trouble than he’d be able to afford, even with the money on offer here. Failing that, it had to be a scam. 
Whichever options he ran through in his head, the outcome wasn’t good.
The numbers sounded too good to be true. The excitement fizzled out of him like air from a deflated balloon as the customary feeling of bitterness slowly crept back in.
Hello again, old friend.
Neal silently chided himself for allowing himself to get his hopes up. He’d done that once before, and the consequences still haunted him. The glass in his hand and the constant call of the bar was proof enough of that.
“I’m sorry,” he replied, “but no can do. My people are scattered across a few different moons, plus my ship is dry-docked for repairs. So, I appreciate the offer and everything, but I’m going to have to take myself out of the running. Good luck finding someone.” 
He gulped. Saying that had felt unnatural, like trying to breathe underwater.
 “I see. What if we were to offer additional bonuses?” The woman’s reply came after a moment’s delay, seemingly calm, but Neal thought he detected a flicker of impatience behind it. Whoever this woman represented really wanted Neal to take this job―which was all the more reason for him to say no.
“Not interested,” he said.
“Is that your final decision?”
“Yes.”
He was about to cut the transmission when the woman interrupted.
“My benefactor is well aware of your situation, Mr. Cunningham. Your ship is impounded on Earth. There is a warrant out for your arrest, interplanetary extradition. Robbery, assault, fleeing obligatory Space Corp registration, tax evasion, three parking tickets …” 
There it is. The ace on the table.
This woman and her employer thought they could read him like an open fucking book. Neal Cunningham had been buried on backwater planets for years, where he had eventually settled in one of the Seattle slums back on Earth, where the cops didn’t care as long as you didn’t start something they had to finish. To dig him up would be troublesome and screamed secrets. 
But even Neal could see what the woman was getting at. Nobody would care if Neal Cunningham went away, but the authorities would jump for joy if he was found.
“I’ve got three pounds of beryllium hidden in my apartment to fund my retirement,” Neal bluffed. “I don’t need money; I just like it. I could buy my record clean.”
“We both know that isn't true, Mr. Cunningham. You live at 54 Hanson Park. Your apartment is two hundred square foot, and the milk in your refrigerator has expired by one week. Your sheets are blue, and you have one working lightbulb that you take from room to room.” 
She paused, then sighed exhaustedly, perhaps to give him a moment to process it all.
He might have tried bluffing, but the woman wasn’t. 
“Blackmail?” Neal asked. 
“My benefactor understands the difficulty of your situation. Take the job, finish it, and we can guarantee your record will be cleared and your pockets will be full.”
Neal clenched his jaw, biting down on the anger that roiled inside him. The way this woman spoke sounded like the mysterious company she fronted was doing him a huge favor that he should be grateful for. 
“My organization will provide a ship with ample supplies, prepped and ready to depart,” she continued. “With your approval, I will deposit the agreed funds into your account ending in 8991.”
“Not like I have a choice.”
The money, the woman, the entire proposition was like a fever dream that bristled the hairs on the back of his neck. If there was one thing Neal had learned over the course of his career, it was that people with these kinds of connections weren’t the type to be turned down, nor the type to be swindled. He’d been selected, enticed … and finally, when that didn’t work, blackmailed. If he was honest, the blackmail was overkill. Neal was smart enough to interpret the hand he'd been dealt.
Not exactly a choice, is there?? What's left for me here besides a dingy bar, expired milk, and a handful of arrest warrants?
“Why are you so sure I'm the man for the job?”
“My benefactor was impressed with your experience. They think you’d be a perfect fit for this mission.” 
“What company did you say you’re with again?” Neal asked. “Not your benefactor, but the poor rig who need a cohort of mercs to clean up their mess.”
“I represent a subdivision of Aperture Mining.”
Neal had only heard of Aperture Mining a couple times over the years. Of what he knew of the company, Aperture were reputable enough, mostly dealing with the cataloging of rare minerals and a few other less publicized ventures, such as “exploration” and “advanced bio-mechanical interfacing techniques.” Call it corporate greed. Call it the hubris of man. Call it the advancement of the human species. But call it what you might, Aperture Mining was far from just a mineral mining organization. 
In recent months, the firm had been in the spotlight for their involvement in the production of controversial armaments. The scandal had been brought to light by whistleblowers reporting hazardous working conditions, as mines on foreign planets had a propensity to explode. In the end, the unions stepped in to fight Aperture and lost, and the headlines had quickly faded. 
Neal hadn’t been surprised. If you were a company worth trillions of credits, you could get away with almost anything these days. Paying off a few reporters to shut the fuck up was child’s play―as was buying a team of mercenaries to clean up your mess, it seemed.
Neal considered his options: all or nothing. Spoiled milk, or one last job to set up his future and fill his glass just one more time.
“Reconnaissance only, correct?” he confirmed.
“Report your findings on the station and you’re done.”
Neal looked up at the sky, where the artificial atmosphere melded with the oppressive dark of deep space, a constant battle between technology and natural law. It seemed impossible―nature versus man, literal compression into oblivion versus a few atmospheric generators held together with little better than sticks and gum. 
And to think this all started when man first discovered fire! 
He briefly faced the bar and realized that there was nothing left for him here. He could go back inside, have another drink and forget all this. Hop planets to avoid the warrant and whatever goons came to prove he was expendable. 
The memory of throwing back the last drop of whiskey from a stained glass sat heavy in the pit of his stomach while Neal imagined a beach planet with a bungalow and real women in dental floss bikinis splashing around in clear water. Women, not synths.
The decision was inevitable. 
Fuck it. One more job. 
“Okay. I’m in,” he said.
“Thank you, Mr. Cunningham. I’m glad you’re willing to align yourself with Aperture’s values,” the woman said. Her gratitude couldn’t have sounded more hollow. “I will send further details to your COMMS-DEV. I’m also sending coordinates to the starport to your personal device now. You can expect the credits to be deposited in your bank account in the next ten minutes.”
Neal cut the feed, his hands trembling and his heart smashing against his ribcage. 
Thomas had been right. He’d finally caught a break, though whether it was down to luck was still open to interpretation.
Neal turned on the balls of his feet and loped back inside the bar. His communicator buzzed again, though he didn’t need to look at the notification to know what it said. As promised, the money had been deposited―but somewhere deep inside of him, he didn’t want to risk accessing the account, for fear it was all just a fever dream. 
Instead, he walked back over to Thomas. He was facing the counter and talking vigorously with his hands while chatting to an unamused bartender. 
Neal’s hand fell on Thomas’s shoulder, and the rookie stiffened as he turned around, the muscles in his neck and back pulling taut. When he saw who it was that had touched his shoulder, his face slackened. 
Neal’s mouth pulled back into a smile. It felt like ages since he’d done so and his cheeks felt stiff, foreign.
“Get your things and call the others,” he said triumphantly. “We got a job.”


Customer Reviews

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S
Stephanie M.

This is an outstanding read. David and Boris have similar styles and the same goal… to scare the crap out of everyone. They weave a tale of terror in the depths of space, where no one can hear you scream. And boy do the characters in this book have reasons to scream…. Read it, you won’t be disappointed!

M
Milt T.

OK, my personal take on ‘Astrophobia’ is…
The Backrooms…
... In Space!
A mercenary crew lost, haunted, and hunted in a maze. With some definite Event Horizon vibes in the background.

The space station has been silent for some time. Where are the hundreds of people who’d been staying there? Where are the children? What’s happened to the families? Something was brought on the station. A reality-warping, a mind-warping object found deep under a distant planet’s surface. What is it? It’s time to find out!

The story plays out as a terrific science fiction horror movie: astronauts hired to get on a space station where something sinister has been waiting for them, something usually encountered in a malevolent haunted house. They are systematically hunted and haunted by that spectral, faceless, intangible thing. They’re scared. They want to go home. But so does that evil thing in the station. “We’re all going home” – a mantra repeated everywhere in this hell. What’s going on?

Dave Viergutz and Boris Bacic have all the answers. Or do they? Both masters of the creepy and the horrifically weird, they’ve combined their powers to create a book of technological and astrobiological terror, perfectly made for horror and science-fiction afficionados who like their fiction heavy on rotting tech and possessed gadgets, thick with paranoia and anxiety-induced insanity, and lots of claustrophobia!

This is a great book.