Screams and gunfire down the corridor. Ameka looked up toward the door from the treasure trove of personal effects that once belonged to the now-rotting captain.
Charlie was dragging something toward them from down the hallway. Something near as big as him, and he was distraught.
“Richard!” he yelled. “Squid!”
Ameka’s jaw fell open. The dead captain’s timepiece clinked on the floor beneath her.
Richard’s head was almost entirely gone, just a bloody stump that matched one of his arms, and there was a gaping hole in his upper chest so huge his head was hanging by mere threads. Dragging behind him, hooked on one of his legs, was some hairy, tentacled thing that looked like it’d been shot with a rifle. The parts of it that were still attached oozed and pulsed.
Bernhardt gasped from across the room. “What the fuck is that thing?”
Ameka had no idea. She’d never seen anything like it. Wouldn’t have dreamt it in her worst nightmares.
“It attacked us!” Charlie shrieked. “It was a bunny and then it turned into this squid-thing!” He lurched Richard’s corpse behind him, and as he approached she saw that one of his hands was bleeding. “Ate his fucking head off!”
Ameka pointed toward the ship’s infirmary. “We’re trying to get power back on. Take him to med and we might be able to save him.” The words were as empty as the hole in Richard’s chest.
Charlie’s screams alerted the rest of the crew. She heard a few swears from outside the captain’s quarters, some more what-the-fucks, a gag she knew was from one of the newest junkers to join the crew.
It took a moment for her or Bernhardt speak. She wasn’t as green as the woman she’d heard gag, but dammit if that ghastly mess of tentacles wasn’t sickening.
“Oh look, I found something,” Bernhardt said. He was standing at the captain’s desk looking down at the man’s tablet while the corpse gawked in the chair beside him. “A message from Biodyne Unlimited.”
“That who owned this ship?” Ameka said.
Bernhardt scrolled through the message. “Looks like it.”
He held the tablet out to her.
Captain Saunders. Return to base at once. The Director wishes to speak with you regarding your promotion. This is time-sensitive. We know a man of your talents can navigate the field and return quickly.
“Cryptic,” Ameka said.
“Biodyne,” Bernhardt said. “Would explain the thing that ate Richard’s face.”
“And why they risked going through an asteroid field,” Ameka said. “Man wanted his promotion.”
Bernhardt looked down at the captain. “How’d that work out for you?” He nudged the chair and the man’s head fell loosely aside. “Looks like too much responsibility will kill a man.”
She laughed. It was macabre, yes, but you don’t get into junking if you have a weak stomach or are above chuckling at another man’s misfortune. The captain made a foolish choice and got what he deserved. His crew were a different story, but that was only more reason to snicker at the man in the chair.
“You find anything worthwhile over there?” Bernhardt said.
She bent to retrieve the timepiece from her feet. “Not much. This timepiece keeps Earth and Galactic, and whatever system you’re in.”
“Might net a few cavs.”
“But to split with the whole crew?”
He shrugged. “Just sell when we get back on-world. Something like that is small enough that no one is going to care.”
She slipped the timepiece into her pocket without a second thought. He was right, and as one of the few on the crew actually born on Earth, it would be nice to know the time and date back home. They’d been gone for months, but she still yearned for the feel of the sun, especially when most every other planet was too hot or cold to take off the suits they wore on-world.
“Otherwise, nothing else of note,” she said. “A ceremonial badge given to him for his service. An old gun for saving a part of his fleet in one of the battles, but apparently not even worth killing himself with.”
“Funny,” Bernhardt said. “I wouldn’t expect a man with a record like that to go crashing his ship in an asteroid field.”
“Maybe hard times after the wars?” Ameka suggested. It had been tough for many of the ex-fleet, her brother and father included. If you weren’t able to work something valuable off-world, you either mined resources from the new colonies, or you transported those resources back to Earth or wherever else, neither of which paid anything close to what it deserved. “Cavs will make someone do pretty crazy things.”
Bernhardt gave a half-nod. “You mean like junking a ship floating in the abyss for who knows how long?”
She grinned. “Exactly like that.”
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