“Everyone out! Now!” Golding commanded. The room drained. Golding grabbed the greasy handle and slammed the door firmly shut. Lined up in front of him were four scared people, their faces draining into moonlight.
“Sir,” Eddy said with a tremor. “What’s happening here?”
“I don’t know, man, I really don’t.”
“Let’s get off this tub. Don’t you feel it?” Damon, almost whimpering. “This is bad. Real bad. We should go.”
“No,” Golding said, but his words felt hollow. He was questioning it himself. Cut their losses. But he remembered what he said to Farhill. She did, too, and stepped forward.
“We’ve signed up to do a job, remember. And there’s people who could still be alive,” she said, glancing toward the stairwell. “It might get a lot worse, but we have to think of them.”
Keith spat. “Look, you’ve seen what they did to that poor lad. That could be waiting for us. It could be here right now.”
Golding took a pace forward. “You want to stay, do your duty? Or go.”
Keith locked eyes with his commander. “My duty, Commander Golding, is to my family back home. Whatever weird as hell shit’s going on here, I want to be there for them.”
Golding stepped back. He took another deep breath of the stale air in the bridge. “I respect that, I really do. But feel free.”
Keith stepped forward, toward the exit.
“However,” Golding continued Keith stopped. “I’ll personally sign your dishonourable discharge. Would your family want to know they were spared by a coward?”
Keith spun on his heels. “You wouldn’t. You’re, what, thirty. What do you know?”
Golding’s face was stony. “I would. And thank you for reminding me of my age.”
“You don’t know what you’re dealing with here.”
“Right. But I won’t give up on anyone who’s here, alive, waiting for us.”
“That,” Keith said, pointing to the gored remains of the helmsman, “could be what’s waiting for us.”
“I accept that. I hope we all live to tell the tale. But,” Golding said, sweeping around more generally to address the rest of his crew. “We die, if we do, knowing we did what we could to solve whatever awful thing has happened on this ship. Now, I suggest we proceed downstairs. What I said about not spending more time on this ship than we need to. This is wasting time.” Golding turned back to the errant marine. “Are you in?”
Keith thought for a moment. He rolled his shoulders, considering for a moment. “Fine. Fine!”
He walked back to the fold. “Good man,” Golding smiled weakly. “Lena,” he said, turning his attention back to Farhill, “we go to engineering via the crew quarters. We’ll do a sweep. Then head back to base.”
“What about the cargo area?” she asked matter-of-factly.
“Ignore it,” Golding told her. “There’s nothing alive in there anyway.”
“Yes sir,” she said, marshalling the marines down to the stairwell.
Golding took a final look at the bridge. Even now the horrors that had clearly transpired here were impossible to visualise. The grey, rolling sea continued in all directions.
“At least,” Golding concluded, just to himself, “I sincerely hope not.”
Footsteps clattered quickly down the stairway. The lights faltered, flickering and buzzing with the waves hitting the sides of the ship. Each roll was subtly worse. More extreme. Metal creaked, louder the further the team descended into the bowels of the ship.
“I don’t like this…” Farhill mused. Her voice echoed, exhibiting the slightest of tremors, exacerbated by the resonating hull all around.
Golding replied shortly. “Me neither.” He directed to one of the marines to open an ajar door. He cast a flickering flashlight on the sign. Mess Room. “Eddy. Look in there, see if you see signs of life…”
Eddy nodded, casting a wavering disc of flashlight onto the handle. It moved, the door scraping across. Beyond was a space enveloped by pitch black. The marine went inward. The others followed, hesitantly.
Golding murmured. “Try the lights.”
Farhill reached for a nearby nub on the wall. The switch felt greasy and gooey. The consistency was eerily and horrifyingly familiar.
“No,” she said with barely a breath. “Let’s leave this place.”
Golding stopped, peering into the darkness. Flickers of light from outside filtered through the door portal. Snapshots of ruined furniture piled toward the walls stamped themselves onto the young commander’s eyes.
He took a breath of dirty air, laced with decay. His heart wanted to open the room up to the light, but his head firmly decided not to. “Okay,” he whispered, turning away. “Let’s continue.”
The last marine out pulled the door closed behind him, resolutely clicking it into its frame. Footsteps fell away, leaving the ruined room.
Then the piles of ruined tables, chairs and apparatus shifted, but subtly. Not in tune with the motion of the ship; that heaved with a now heavy, regular rhythm that continued to grow. A fraction of a degree more roll each time. The hull felt the twisting, moaning with metallic wailing.
The shifting rumbled on, dislodging the piles of debris. The dry sound of the moving objects stopped, replaced with a wet slapping, and a gasping, hissing wheeze. This sound closed on the door, and with a thick thud, the door fell to the ground. The slapping, wheezing sound proceeded into the corridor.
Golding stopped around a corner. He examined a legend on the wall, opposite a narrow doorway. Beyond was another, smaller stairwell that led one flight up.
“This place is a total maze,” he said aloud. “Crew quarters should be easy to find. It’s where I’d go.”
“Let’s go up,” Farhill recommended. “It’s an old tub.” She heard a sound, indistinct but nearby, and turned to look down the corridor. She cast her flashlight back down. Nothing. Only the motion of the ship now belied that they were floating on a restless sea outside. She looked to Golding. “I’m going up. I’m not waiting for you.”
Golding’s head moved in agreement. “Alright.”
The short stairwell wrapped around, opening into a corridor that branched into three avenues, each at ninety degrees. Each of these branches was lined with small rooms. Most of the doors were open, some smashed. The ethereal goo that seemed to pervade this ship was smeared across the walls.
Flashlights bounced quickly into each open room. They were all trashed. Some rooms were only slightly ransacked but a few had been totally demolished, the remains coated in the shimmering, foul-smelling jelly. Golding, Farhill and the marines met each room with a universal response – horror, followed by gagging.
At the end of the central branch was a wider door, labelled Captain’s Quarters. Golding approached, alone. The door was still intact. Approaching slowly, one hand on his flashlight, he reached to his hip. his other hand found the pistol in its holster. Golding stopped, just shy of the door. He put his head to the door. He heard a single shuffle on the other side.
Mentally he counted. Three. Two. One. Bingo…
Golding raised his knee and grunted, pushing sharply forward. The door fell open, splitting at the latch, falling limply inward.
“Who’s there?!” a voice yelped. Golding stepped into the cabin, his head darting. The flashlight darted similarly, flickering over upturned furniture. He reached for the light switch, a finger reaching…
“Touch it and we’re dead,” the voice hissed. Golding found the source, in the corner of the room, huddled underneath the remains of a bureau. Two wet eyes peeked from behind the barricade.
“Who are you?” Golding hissed back. “You crew?”
“Yes, now shut it!” the voice rasped. A hand beckoned Golding forward. “How many of you are there?”
Bennet looked to the floor, speaking to no-one. He mused aloud, in the hoarse whisper. “That might be enough.”
“To do what?” Golding said in a hoarse whisper again. “And why are we being quiet?”
“This ship has been… possessed. Now, kindly, shut up. They might know you’re here.”
Golding ducked behind the barricade. He finally got a good look at the man behind it.
“Alex Bennet, engineer. And this is Marta,” Bennet indicated behind him. Golding turned the torch in that direction. A trembling second set of eyes, belonging to a woman in faded cook’s whites, emerged. “She’s one of the cooks and…” Bennet began, trailing off, looking back into Golding’s eyes. “It doesn’t matter what else.”
Golding didn’t react. “You the only crew left? We saw…”
“In a manner of speaking,” Bennet said flatly. “I can explain, but we must be quick. And quiet. It’s the biomass. It’s… alive.”
Golding’s face shifted subtly with scepticism.
“Believe me,” Bennet continued in a rushed whisper. “It’s taken the crew.”
“If you’re the last of them, let’s get you off this ship,” Golding began, motioning to get up with a raspy rustle of synthetic fibres.
“That won’t be enough,” Bennet said.
The hull gave a laboured, loud groan. Footsteps approached, furtively. Golding took a breath, holding it. He hoped it was who he was waiting for.
Four discs of dirty flashlight shone into the cabin, glaring into the huddled three’s eyes.
“Jon! I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Farhill,” Golding said with a deep sigh of relief. “Did you find any other survivors on this floor?”
“No,” she said gravely. “It’s a mess. Let’s get topside.”
“Agreed,” Golding heaved, pulling Bennet and Marta up. “Come on, let’s get you off this ship…”
“I told you,” Bennet cursed again, “we have to sink it first!”
Golding pulled the older man forward, on autopilot. They emerged into the landing outside the captain’s quarters.
“I keep telling you, we can’t just get off this ship!” the engineer growled in frustration. “Bloody listen, will you!”
Golding scoffed, an automatic response, but caught Farhill’s severe grimace. “What? Tell me, what?”
“I think the engineer’s right. I meant it was a mess down there.” She gestured toward the stairwell. Her voice lowered to almost a hush. “And remember what was upstairs…”
Golding turned to Bennet, to ask him to elaborate. Then a thud came from the corridor behind, snapping like a gunshot in the tight metal corridor. The engineer’s face was ghostly, drained of all colour, frozen into a look of pure horror.
Bennet raised a hand to his mouth, covering the gaping maw. Then, on his heel, Golding turned.
The flashlights came up, illuminating the figure behind them.
It filled the corridor, dripping wet. The legs, once human, were inflated and swollen with pulsing, bulging growths, glistening with blood and weird, unknown fluid. The torso was a mess of bleeding, pupating mass, waxy in spots and glimmering with wetness in others.
Finally, the head, brushing against the ceiling, a swollen mass of veins against spongy, bursting mass. Shreds of clothing hung off distended, crimson, purple limbs, the joints white with bone twisted into shapes only describable as inhuman.
Beyond came mysterious shadows, like tentacles, shiny with moisture, against the matt walls.
“RUN!” Golding yelled, pushing everyone to flee down the corridor.
Then the maelstrom happened. The corridor ahead was blocked. Keith opened fire first, pushing the others back away, the ratatatatat strobing through the dark, dank space. It hit another of the figures with a sick, wet thwack.
“No, come on!” Golding called, looking over his shoulder. He saw Keith standing resolute outside the captain’s quarters.
“Go,” Keith bellowed, turning to the thing that approached him. With a great yell, the grizzled marine emptied his weapon into the shapeless, gurgling lump before him. Stumbling, but not stopped, it loomed over Keith. He squeezed the trigger. The gun clicked. Empty. Without blinking, Keith’s gloved hands formed fists and his arm lifted. The creature brought around one of its limbs and punctured, with a sudden, swift movement, the flesh of the marine’s throat in an expungement of blood and gore.
Golding saw the fists fall limp as the creature whinnied, an ear-splitting exultation followed by the crunching of bone and body. He fell back toward Farhill and the rest of the group. They were edging backward along the passageway, toward a dark hole – a stairwell, leading down.
“Hold your fire!” Golding called. Flashlights trembled. Shuffling and snorting came around the corner, filling the corridor with rank odour. The young commander looked around, panicked. “There’s no way out.”
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