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<Continued from Infirmary

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“Look at this.” Bernhardt was still standing over the captain’s desk, the corpse swinging gently in the chair behind him. “Now that power’s back on I can get into his logs.”

Ameka put the book she’d taken from the captain’s shelf back and slung her rifle over her shoulder. Hearing Charlie’s yells earlier did nothing to put her at ease, nor did the peculiar fact that there was still power on a ship where so many were supposedly starving. Oh, and the thing that ate Richard’s face off didn’t help, either.

Bernhardt pointed at the screen. “He noted some anomalous navigation data in his last log.” He scrolled down a bit, reading as he went. “Said he was going to take control from the pilot, because she couldn’t navigate with faulty sensors.”

“So he crashed this thing into an asteroid himself?” She looked over at him, noting the way his jaw hung open and his head tilted back, could almost see the floor behind him through the hole in his head. “No wonder he ate his gun.”

“Oh wait, there’s more.” Bernhardt kept scrolling, looking more confused the further he went. “The log picks up a few hours later.”

“How long ago was all this?”

“A few galactic years,” he said, “but that’s not the weird part. According to the log, he was able to navigate them through the field, until one of the ship’s thrusters inadvertently fired them into one of the rocks.”

“Inadvertent?”

He shook his head and looked at her. “Captain said it was like the ship shot itself into the rock. That there was no reason for thruster to go off, and that he was the only one who could have done it.”

“And I’m guessing he didn’t think he did it,” she said.

“Yes.”

She thought it over for a moment, looking from Bernhard to the captain and then back at Bernhardt. “Hubris and denial. They’ll do interesting things.”

Bernhardt shrugged but looked like he agreed.

“And a bad look for Biodyne. Not that—”

Screams. Down the hall. She locked eyes with Bernhardt before they bolted for the door.

A crowd of junkers was running from the infirmary. It was pure chaos, until Ameka saw what they were running from.

It was man’s body. Richard’s body? Must have been. But instead of a head, a mess of rubbery tentacles had erupted from his neck. Flailing in every direction, snapping at whoever was closest, making him at least eight feet tall.

Ameka held back a scream of her own. Bernhardt did not.

Feet tangled in the chaos. It wasn’t a wide hallway by any means, and half a dozen panicked junkers made a mess. One of them crashed to the floor right in front of the tentacled man-beast.

Colin. He was young, relatively new. Smart kid. Stunned as she was, Ameka could do nothing but watch as the remains of Richard fell on top of him. Colin’s shrieks echoed down the corridor, first fear and then pain. Then silence.

Richard was on all fours, the tentacles squirming and wrapping themselves around Colin’s head, pulling him back until it popped off. The beast crushed and devoured it in a blink. Blood spurted from Colin’s corpse. Just like that, the boy was gone.

The beast rose to its feet and ran after its next target. Luly was on her ass, sliding away, howling in fear.

Ameka took a breath and aimed. The shot pierced the thing’s chest and knocked it off its feet.

She ran down the hallway behind Bernhardt. The thing writhed only a few feet from Luly, the arms and legs immobile but the tentacles reaching for her feet, pulling the body behind them.

Bernhardt yanked Luly away from the tentacles. Ameka put a few more shots through the thing’s chest at close range.

But the tentacles didn’t stop. The body was littered with holes. Blood was pooling beneath it. The beast was sloshing in its own insides.

She put the next shot through the base of the neck. The tentacles splattered on the floor, the walls, the ceiling, maybe even her hair. But what was left of them stopped moving.

“What the fuck was that?” Bernhardt said.

“Richard.”

Ameka glanced over at Charlie. He was shaking, eyes locked on Richard’s corpse. “Obviously,” she said, “but what the fuck was that?”

“He started twitching in the infirmary,” Luly said as Bernhardt pulled her to her feet. “Then those tentacles came out of his neck.”

“Where’s the rest of our crew?” Ameka said.

“Down the hall, exploring the rest of the bridge,” Charlie said. “It was just the three of us and Richard in there.”

“And he came life on the gurney and attacked?” Bernhardt asked.

Charlie finally looked at them. “Yeah, he was dead. Completely dead. Then he started moving, and those tentacles popped out of his neck.” He could barely finish it and his voice cut out at the end. As nice a kid as he was, Ameka doubted Charlie would last long as a junker.

Ameka looked over at Bernhardt. “You think Biodyne Unlimited knew about this?”

“I’m sure they know the ship got lost somewhere.”

“No, I mean do you think these tentacle things were on the ship to start, or that they came in from the asteroid?”

“Seems pretty dangerous cargo,” he said.

“But something I wouldn’t put past a company known for gene splicing.”

They fell silent as the realization set in. Ameka let her thoughts get lost in the gentle hum of the ventilation system that had fired to life when the power was turned back on. The ship was either carrying these octopus things, or they came aboard after the crash. Either way, there was no way of knowing how many were on board.

She heard something in the quiet. It was subtle and repetitive, but just off-cycle enough to catch her attention. While everyone else looked at each other or stared off in the distance, she glanced around for the sound.

Her eyes fell on Colin’s corpse. His fingers were moving, and the ends of little tentacles were starting to poke out from his neck into the pool of blood Richard had left him in. She stared at them, just watching them grow.

“Get back,” she finally said once they’d grown a few inches, as though she had to convince herself what she was seeing was real before acting.

Charlie jumped at her voice and then followed her eyes down to the corpse before stumbling away. Bernhardt walked in beside her for a better look before catching her eye. They nodded to one another before raining fire down on it.

“I’m starting to understand what happened to the crew,” Ameka said once the gunfire ceased.

“Charlie said the last survivor’s notes said things started below deck five,” Luly said.

“We should get out of here,” Charlie said. “No amount of scrap is worth this.”

“Round up the crew,” Bernhardt said. “We’re not here for junk anymore. We’re on an extermination mission.”

<Continued from Infirmary

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