Ameka’s back was cramping from the tension. More than once she had to wipe her sweaty palms off on her pants. Her breaths were slow and forced so that she’d remain calm.
If it were loud or threatening, she’d know what to do. Anger, aggression, those were things she was equipped to deal with. But this was different. Empty and silent other than the hum of the air system and the buzz of the lights.
Where were the bodies? Ameka had been on enough abandoned ships to know that if you found one like this there were always bodies.
She thought back to Colin and Richard. Those were bodies. There was no telling how many like them were already on the ship when they arrived, but they hadn’t seen any the whole time other than that rabbit who started it all.
Bernhardt stopped a short distance away and looked back at her. They locked eyes and he gave her a silent gesture of his head to get her to come his way. A few of the other junkers followed, but most of the group stayed behind.
Between a row of upturned lab benches, next to a pile of broken experiments, was a pool of blood. Not congealed or dry like the rest of the room, but fresh, and in the rough outline of a person, or some other being about the same size.
The blood was smeared between the tables. They followed it, the other junkers falling away, their own eyes darting back and forth, until it went over a stack of equipment and an upturned bench they couldn’t see behind. Ameka and Bernhardt nodded at one another and spread apart, one to each side. On Bernhardt’s signal, they jumped around the blockage to catch whatever it was by surprise.
Ameka realized she hadn’t breathed in a long while. Her exhale was interrupted by a creak in the distance. She snapped her head in its direction, at another upturned table across the room.
Wiping a sweaty palm on her pantleg, Ameka glanced at Bernhardt beside her and then crept toward the sound with her finger resting on the trigger.
She slid past a lab bench, her eyes set on the direction of the noise, the source still blocked from view. Bernhardt breathed lightly beside her. Their footsteps were quiet and in sync. Without the group behind her she felt exposed.
Rustling between the tables as they approached. She craned her neck but couldn’t see anything.
Three steps away. Two steps. One step.
They jumped around, guns raised.
“Jamal?” Bernhardt gasped.
Jamal writhed in front of them, bleeding from a wound in his shoulder. He looked barely conscious, his eyes drained and his face hollow. A trail of blood led up to him around the table. Ameka’s eyes followed it down the row in between benches and over discarded equipment until it disappeared near the blockage they’d first investigated.
“Glad to see you guys,” Jamal said, his voice gravelly and forced.
“How did you get here?” Ameka said in a hush.
His chest slowly filled and then emptied, like he had to force air in and out. “That woman in the bathroom attacked me. I blacked out and woke up in this room.” He rested his hand on his rifle, the strap still around his shoulders. “I had my gun. I shot her and then ran.”
“What happened to your shoulder?” Bernhardt asked.
Jamal managed a weak smile. “I fell and shot myself, then crawled here to hide.”
The three of them shared a laugh. “Don’t worry, we’ll tell everyone else she injured you,” Ameka said. He nodded and grinned, and she noticed a bit of green in his teeth. Likely just from the remnants of some experiment she’d dragged him through. Definitely just remnants.
Maybe just remnants?
She tried not to stare, but a cold thought crept through her head. Colin and Richard had been turned after getting injured. The rabbit had been one of these creatures in disguise. If the woman had as well, then there was a chance Jamal would turn on them the first chance he got.
Ameka looked back to the rest of the group, silently staring at the three of them from the center of the room. There were puddles of green here and there among the upturned tables and experiments. Shards of glass, clothes, and empty cages wrenched open as well.
Something moved between the tables as she looked back. She blinked to see if it was still there, then traced it up one of the rows until she saw it reaching out through a vent near the ground.
It attacked before she could call out a warning.
Ameka reached for her rifle, but just as she took aim something hit her in the head from behind.
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