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(Unidentified Sssketh-class Frigate, Tsk’neth system, Free Worlds Alliance)

Slave-Sergeant Jaxon Woulfe was not known for being skittish. He’d survived the horrors of Jagloth, and the Legion Plague. He had fought the X’thari at Nuevo Edo and Coldana as part of Second Company. He had been one of those who boarded the mysterious space hulk that the Starhunters had found. In short, Jaxon Woulfe had survived more terrible situations than almost any member of the Black Star Marines, save for the original Immortals of First Company.

He had survived because he had learned to trust his instincts. Those instincts had kept him from getting infected on Jagloth, and they had kept him alive ever since. And, now, those instincts were screaming at him as his five- man team cycled their way through the airlock, and into the frigate’s interior.

Something was very wrong here.

The airlock was on reserve power. Given the situation inside, they might as well have just left the door open. Life support was offline, the ship in vacuum. Artificial gravity was also not working, requiring the use of mag boots and grav belts. Even the emergency lights were off, leaving the ship in darkness.

And then, there was the blood.

Blood splattered the hallway, lit up by the headlamps on their helmets and the flashlights on their rifles. Blood everywhere. Something bad had happened here. This wasn’t a battle; it was a slaughter. But where were the bodies?

In tightbeam pulse transmissions to his team, he ordered, “Sensors up. Infrared and ultrawideband penetrating radar. If something’s moving on this wreck, I want to know about it before it decides we look like a snack. Raez, eyes sharp for a working console. We’re heading for the bridge. Herdan, take point. Move.”

All five began moving as a well-oiled machine, moving quietly through the halls. Blood was everywhere, but bodies were not. Not at first.

“Sarge, body up ahead.”

Looking ahead, Woulfe saw what Private Herdan was talking about. He magnified his suit cameras, to get a better view. It was an Ihm male, big and hulking as all their kind were. And it looked as though he had been partially eaten. “All right, Herdan. Nice and careful like, use your rifle to nudge him out of our way.”

The Gauz male reached out with the tip of his rifle, and nudged the corpse. It didn’t take much force to send a body moving in microgravity, especially when you were able to plant your feet and keep from moving yourself. So, it wouldn’t take much to send the body gently gliding out of their path.

“NO! DON’T DO IT! SERGEANT, DON’T TOUCH THAT THING!”

The warning from the Nomad Lieutenant on the ship came too late. Before Woulfe could tell Herdan differently, the Marine’s rifle made contact with the corpse’s foot, and began guiding it out of reach. And then the corpse began moving. In zero gravity, with the hallway in raw vacuum, the corpse began moving, thrashing about.

“Sergeant, shoot that thing in the head. Destroy the brain. Don’t get any of it on you.”

Woulfe wasn’t about to ask the Lieutenant for clarification. Technically, only the Captain was allowed to give orders to the Marine detachment, but the trainers when they had been inducted to the Black Star Marines had laid out a set of seventy maxims that they expected all recruits to learn and abide by. One of those was, ‘A Sergeant in motion outranks a Lieutenant who doesn't know what's going on.’ Like most books of ancient wisdom, things didn’t translate exactly to every situation, but the core of the maxim’s meaning still applied.

“Fuller, Mialee! Kill that thing!”

The corpse’s thrashing had caused it to go spinning about in place as it began slowly moving towards a bulkhead. Corporals Jessica Fuller and Solana Mialee were his best shots, so he gave the order. Four flashes lit the dark as both Marines raised their rifles, and fired twice. The corpse’s head exploded, and the thrashing ceased.

“Target neutralized. Lieutenant Stone, sir, do you have any idea what is going on here?”

(BSN Atlanta, Tsk’neth system, Free Worlds Alliance)

“Target neutralized. Lieutenant Stone, sir, do you have any idea what is going on here?”

Captain Veleth raised an eyebrow as he looked over to his communications officer. “Yes, Lieutenant, I’m very interested to know how you figured out that the ‘corpse’ was somehow active.”

The Lieutenant took a deep breath, but Veleth could see a tinge of pink tinting his cheeks. “Ah, it was a hunch, Sir. I have an idea what is going on, now, yes, but to make certain, I’d like to have the Sergeant get an analysis on the corpse’s blood.”

“You copy that, Sergeant?”

“Roger that, Captain. Raez, collect a sample.”

There was a pause, and then a new voice came on the line. “Lieutenant Stone, this is Private Raez. I have the scanner ready, and a blood sample loaded. What am I looking for?”

The Lieutenant breathed silently, and then said, “Basic threat assessment. Nanite or biological probable. Possible exotic.”

Veleth did his best to keep the frown off his face. The Lieutenant was doing his best to keep calm, saying the bare minimum to allow him to appear collected, but Veleth could hear the worry in his voice, and had not missed the raw panic earlier, when he suddenly started yelling commands to the Marines. Lieutenant Stone did not ‘throw his weight around’, to use the human saying. That was why he was allowing this to go on. If he was suddenly barking commands to anyone who wasn’t in his chain of command, it was likely important.

“Nanite negative. Biological inconclusive. Presence of exotic material confirmed.”

Stone took a deep breath, and met his gaze. “Captain, I recommend Sergeant Woulfe and his men go weapons free. Priority accessing any data storage they can get to. Leave gravity and life support offline. Also, get them to check whether any escape pods or shuttles are missing. Also, I recommend we declare a Code: Veronica.”

Veleth’s eyes narrowed at the unfamiliar code, and did a quick search on his tablet. What he found made his eyes widen in shock. His eyes met Stone’s again, questioning. Stone just nodded slightly.

“Sergeant, weapons free. Destroy the head of any corpse you find. Make for the bridge, and see if you can’t get into the logs. Get what intel you can, and try to confirm whether all shuttles and escape pods are accounted for.”

“Understood, Captain. On our way.”

Still watching Stone, he said, “Lieutenant, alert Command about this event. And then I want a staff meeting with all officers in five minutes. You can give a full report there, along with recommendations so that we can work out how to deal with this.”

“Yes, sir.”

(Main Bridge, BSN Shinokage, Star’s Reach System)

“Admiral on the bridge!”

“As you were.” I waved everyone off, letting them go back to their preparations to leave. My eyes found Captain Inatumal’s, and I nodded. “Captain, good to see you again. How are preparations going?”

Slave-Captain Aurae Inatumal smiled at me, probably remembering the last time she and I had gotten together, along with her sister, last week. “All ships in the ready response formation report ready, Master. Second Company’s ships have joined our formation. Drives are charging and will be ready to go in ten minutes.”

“Good. With any luck, we won’t be needed, but I don’t like relying on luck. There is something going on in the target system, and I—”

Private Message from Frank Stone: EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY! CODE: VERONICA confirmed.

My words were cut off by the sudden message. I had things set up so that only high priority messages would interrupt my conversations like this, and it certainly qualified. The Captain noticed as my eyes shifted focus to read the message. “Orders, Master?”

Private Message to Frank Stone: Code: Veronica acknowledged. Status report.

Private Message from Frank Stone: Ihm Frigate dead in space. Blood in halls, but no bodies. First corpse found floating in null gravity, visible bite wounds on corpse. I was in the beta for the Biohazard 1 VR remaster that Paccom brought out for the new systems before I joined DAtS. Got flashbacks to the mansion.

Private Message to Frank Stone: Understood. What kind of zombies are we dealing with here? Fast or slow? Nanite, disease, or magic?

Private Message from Frank Stone: Unknown on fast/slow. Zero G makes the zombies a minimal threat. From what I saw of the zombie’s movements, probably not original Romero slow, but definitely not Z: World War fast. I make them as about Biohazard speed.

Private Message from Frank Stone: Nanite not present in initial test. Biological unconfirmed, but confirmed Exotic energy presence. Unknown about the true nature due to limited testing equipment. Marines are securing additional samples for testing.”

Private Message to Frank Stone: Atlanta’s exposure?

Private Message from Frank Stone: None so far. Decontamination protocols being set up for the shuttle and marines upon return.

Private Message to Frank Stone: Understood. Shinokage incoming with Second Company from the Marines. Hold the fort, be there soon.

Private Message from Frank Stone: Roger. Wilco.

Finally looking to meet the Captain’s gaze, I took a breath. “Captain, all crews to alert stations. Send a message to the task force, ten minutes to initialization of the X’thari drives. Synchronize jump for 15:30 Star’s Reach Time. All ships rig for biohazard protocols. No one is allowed to dock with any ship without my approval. Any ship attempting to dock with one of ours shall be summarily destroyed before they approach within one hundred-thousand kilometers. Use of Dragonbreath and Starbolt torpedoes authorized.”

The Captain saluted smartly. “As you command, Admiral.” Then, she turned, and began barking out commands to her people, who were already in motion. I nodded grimly. That was good. They were a solid crew, honed and blooded in battle. If it was as bad as Frank was saying, they were going to be needed, and I would need them at their best.

(Unidentified Sssketh-class Frigate, Tsk’neth system, Free Worlds Alliance)

Another flash of light, and another corpse’s head exploded before they could start moving.

“How many is that, now?”

“Twenty-one.”

“How many of them are there?”

“Crew of a Sssketh-class is supposed to be two-twenty males, fifteen females.”

“So, where are they all?”

“Cut the chatter. Clear coms.” Woulfe smiled grimly as Fuller and Raez acknowledged his command, before ending their conversation. Not that he wasn’t wondering some of the same things as Fuller was. He might not be the most culturally savvy marine out there, but he had, at least, been exposed to the concept of zombies from his fellow Marines. Thomas had snuck a few vid files into their boot camp, and they’d watched them while they were on liberty during training.

“Sarge, we have a problem.”

A problem? At this point, he would be happy if there was just one problem. This whole ship was a literal boatload of problems that he wanted no part of. “What is it, Herdan?”

“Large grouping up ahead. Scanner counts thirty bodies.”

Thirty. That wasn’t exactly easy, even if the lack of gravity made killing the zombies so much easier. With that many, chances improved that the zombies would do something on accident to send them flying their way. And he had no intention of seeing how well Black Star Marine armor held up to an undead ihm’s bite.

He would have liked to go around, but according to the schematics they had, those zombies were directly between his team and the bridge. Fortunately, the bridge was shielded, and had a blast door cutting it off from the rest of the ship. But they would still have to be careful.

“Sergeant Woulfe for Lieutenant Stone. Thirty hostiles between our team and the bridge. You’re the zombie expert. Any recommendations?”

“Sergeant, recommend switch to heavy weapons with flechette rounds and mass fire. Extreme caution advancing after. Zombies torn apart by weapons fire should still be capable of fighting so long as the brain is intact.”

“Acknowledged.” Looking to his team, he said, “You heard him. Herdan, with me. Fuller, Mialee, back us up, take down anything that tries to get past.” Together, he and Herdan traded their standard issue rifles for a pair of space-rated kinetic weapons that resembled nothing so much as a minigun.

Light blazed from the barrels of the heavy weapons as Woulfe and Herdan walked the streams of bullets back and forth across the hallway. In ten seconds, they had both unleashed one thousand rounds, with each round releasing ten flechettes. They tore through the ihm corpses like a hot knife through butter. As he and Herdan let their guns go silent, he saw the flashes from the two women’s rifles as they calmly took down anything that looked ‘head-like’, adding to the cloud of viscera, bone, and gore that was now floating through the hallway.

“Raez, grav grenade. Get that mist on the floor so we can see if we’re done.”

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A note from Mirikon

Be sure to read my published works!

Frozen Soul series (Sci-Fi Supervillain story):
Frozen Soul - https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B071R125QT
Tales of the Void Traveler - https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B06ZZ52G37
Memoirs of a Supervillain - https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B07R9NWS8J

Rules-Free VRMMO Life (Dark Fantasy GameLit):
Volume 1 - https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B071VPRNDB
Omnibus 1 - https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B0774T354X
Complete 1-20 - https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B07R5CHNNP

Into the Black (Sci-Fi GameLit):
Book I - Game Start https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B071LT5WGL
Omnibus I - Books 1-4 https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B077X2KR7Y

City of Champions Online (Superhero GameLit):
Issue I - Origin Stories https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B075SHXQS1
Complete Edition - Omnibus https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B07PN6LH2F

Lewd Dungeon (Dungeon Core GameLit):
Book 1 - Welcome to the Apocalypse https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B07BB34DHF
Omnibus 1 - Books 1-4 https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B07FBPF6HR

SCI Stories (Dark Supervillain story):
Book 1 - https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B07RL93VQN

Winterborn (Dark Fantasy LitRPG):
Book 1 - https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B082S3S3K8

Dark Fate (Postapocalyptic GameLit):
Book 1 - https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B086S35WZ6

The Kalipshae Affair (A First Contact Short Story): 
https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B0739V6R6T


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