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Business Is Suppurating

"What do we got this time?" Pidge asks, while the airlock cycles. "Lost colony ship? Ill-fated mining operation?"
I check the contract in my helmet. "SaturCorp research vessel," I say. "Researching something highly classified."
"What are the chances," Pidge mutters.
"Astronomical," I say, which is our little joke, because in space everything is astronomical.
She snorts inside her hazard suit, rippling the gel of her face shield. Then the airlock slides open, ushering us into a dark and potentially corpse-littered corridor. The lamp panels in the ceiling are down to an ominous flicker, so it's hard to tell until I find the switches.
"Ah, yeah, they left it to strobe." I slide the lights back to a steady glow. "Must have been having a little dance party."
"Dance party, death orgy, tomato, tom-ah-to," Pidge says.
We amble down the corridor with our worm scuttling behind us, ready to tag and bag. There's some bloody handprints on the walls, naturally, and someone's scrawled either a children's rhyme or religious passage in the same smeary medium. I don't really stop to read them anymore.
Our first corpse is slumped on the floor right where the corridor branches, head tipped back to expose ruined eye sockets.
"Uncovered an eldritch alien artifact," I guess. "Mere sight of it blew their eyeballs out."
"Experimental bioweapon got into the filtration system," Pidge counters. "They did it to themselves, whilst in the grip of a horrifying hallucination."
The worm says nothing, just trundles up and swallows the corpse whole. There's a slucking sound, and a moment later the body is secreted from the worm's rear orifice wrapped in a tidy glistening membrane.
"How about we split up?" Pidge nods, wide-eyed, at the branching corridor. "It would be so much faster, Zo."
I smack her affectionately on the head, and we go left. On the way we hear a frail echoey voice and occasionally see a darting silhouette, which is probably a lone crazed survivor doing that whole just-barely-out-of-sight thing.
The bridge is a mess: a bunch more corpses, these ones stripped naked, are ringed around an organic-looking growth that's swollen outward from the shattered remnants of a containment tank. Poison-yellow tendrils connect and penetrate the bodies.
"They're all going to sit up at once," Pidge says as we approach. "And speak in one very gurgly voice."
"Nah," I say. "They get dragged into the center of it and absorbed, and then a big toothy embryo monster pops out."
Pidge sticks out her gloved hand. "Five starbucks on it."
"Easy money," I say, and shake.
The worm is above making silly side-bets, and instead just heads for the corpses. As soon as it reaches the nearest, all of them jerk puppet-like to their feet. I grimace.
"We are One," they rasp. "Join the One."
Pidge cocks an eyebrow at me as she unslings her standard-operation flamethrower.
"Not that gurgly," I say, taking out my own. "More croaky."
The corpses hurtle forward, shrieking, tendrils blooming from their wrecked eyesockets, and we douse them in fire. They crackle and blacken and fall. Next we kill the thing from the containment tank, which blazes real nice due to all the fatty tissue. The worm chokes down the charred remains.
We sweep the whole ship, because naturally there's spores stuck in every dark corner just begging to stow away for a sequel. I throw Adagio in D minor onto my earpods and get into a good little zone, putting an operatic flourish into each burst of flame.
Once every malevolent molecule is burned to ash--including the lone survivor, who was infested as shit--we wipe all the devolving-into-madness type data logs from the ship's computer, and set it on a course back to known space.
The invoice goes through on our way back to the airlock, and SaturCorp drops fifty thousand starbucks into our company account. I shuttle five over to Pidge's personal one as we start degearing in our own cozy ship.
"I think our name's too long," she says. "Barely fits on an ad."
"The name stays," I say. "We just got these printed hazard suits."
Pidge looks like she's about to argue, but then the worm belches up ash all over her feet, which is as good a distraction as any. I shake my suit out and inspect the slightly cramped lettering on the back. The sight still gives me a glowy sort of pride.
In Space No One Can Hear You Clean: For All Your Derelict Needs.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, August 3rd, 2022
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