ONE MORE BULLET • by Dirk Knight

The fierce storm tossed the vessel about like a newspaper in a hurricane. Fat drops of seawater dripped into the galley where we drank. Three of us had never seen such carnage, but our captain, Collingsworth, seemed a suicidal, crazy bastard. His faultless confidence was a comfort as the bow pitched violently, arguing with the towering waves.

We had conducted our research on a remote island where we could have privacy and our remaining grant money stretched farther. Third world government officials happily looked the other way while we committed crimes against God.

I only wish I could have saved her.

My love of Williams’s wife, Claudia, had surfaced. I had always loved her, but mayhap the underlying fear that the boat would capsize and we would be lost at sea — for even the deranged Collingsworth would not survive if she did — had caused the festering boil to rupture this night. Whatever the cause, the outcome was a terrible squabble. Just as I had taken my faltering sea legs to trounce him, the hull groaned in protest and a monstrous wave rocked the ship, violently tossing us three to port. Claudia struck the splintered post, which divided the galley. My eyes locked with hers, a lifetime of frozen understanding, as her soft lips split on the unforgiving wood. Williams was too infuriated to comprehend her injuries and wrestled me as I fought to reach her. I feared her dead, the sound of her impact echoing in me.

I should have let him have his victory. He deserved vengeance for the nights of passion I had enjoyed with his wife. I shouldn’t have resisted his punches or his screams of betrayal, but as his rage escaped, I reached for the cage with Melos 9, our most successful subject, hoping the sight of him would stop the onslaught; I hadn’t meant to release the latch.

“Are you insane?”  Williams bellowed, and in that instant I realized I must be.

We had spent the year working with mutagens, nanites, and genetic modifications to create a stable and usable host. He was a four-month-old, much larger than average Tabby. The first to adapt to the nanites, his body hadn’t rejected them. He was perfect… and dangerous.

As distressed from the storm as the rest of us were, Melos shot from the kennel like a piece of shrapnel, ripping free the implanted inhibitor, which was the only thing keeping us safe.

Williams surprisingly took flight across the table, landing on our furry specimen in a frantic race against time. I fought the swaying floor long enough to grab the cage and ready the inhibitor. We got him back inside before he could change.

Bedeviled by worry, I turned to her. There was so much blood. Williams was breathing too hard and had become pale. He slid down the very beam that had ruined his wife’s face and sat with his back to us as I pressed a torn-off sleeve into her bleeding mouth.

“Fuck you, Gary. You arrogant prick, I always knew!”

Claudia reached for his shoulder, but he turned away, and then pitched forward, falling flat onto the galley floor.

That’s when I noticed the fiery red sores beneath his sleeves. Melos had bitten him. The nano-machines had transferred hosts in the skirmish. They would use the minerals in his blood to replicate, infiltrate his muscle and bone, and, like a virus, take over. It would be only a matter of moments before he wasn’t him, at all.

Claudia was in shock. She had seen what happened to the other Melos, and she knew the risks of staying. I pleaded with her to come with me. She chose him, again. She always had. She slapped me away. Instead of fighting for her, I battened down the hatches and left them trapped. I heard her screams as I climbed the spiral stairs into the bridge and found the helm abandoned. Collingsworth must’ve gone below after seeing our fight, to ready his revolver; I’d just missed him. I should have warned him to stay out, as I should’ve tried to save her, but I still lacked courage.

In Collingsworth’s monitor, I witnessed the birth of a beast. His powerful, bearlike hands tore her apart as easily as tearing a chunk of bread from a loaf. His shredded shirt clung around his lengthened arms and broadened chest. What was once Williams’s head swung around to meet Collingsworth, who had brought a gun to a monster-fight. I heard three shots before he screamed.

I hurriedly skidded down the rain-slicked steps, fighting a torrential downpour of ice-cold, heavy droplets. The bough and crest of the waves bobbing the vessel like a child’s rubber ducky, I floundered onto the hardwood, hands sprawled, breathing in cold, salty, sea-foam and coughing for air. Lightning cracked the night sky into pieces, like a shattered windshield, and illuminated him standing on the bridge, hunting me with lunatic eyes.

Before the sound of the thunderclap resounded, I felt his bite crush my forearm. I saw the look of my lifelong friend in the contorted face of the monster. What little of him remained must’ve seen me, too.

He threw me into the ocean.

I was drowning, reaching for something, anything, when the changes in my own body started. I felt the cold steel hull running along my fingertips when, suddenly, my fingers snagged into the metal with the ease of tearing a soda can.

My lucidity ebbing, I darted for the inhibitor, and used it, along with Collingsworth’s last three shots, to end Williams, before quieting my own raging mutations.

Even with the nanites I couldn’t save her. Had I loved her unrequited, she may have lived, but I was greedy. Now she’s gone.

The sea is unforgiving. It’s no surprise that our ship capsized and that I am shipwrecked on a raft. The inhibitor’s power-supply won’t last until landfall. I should’ve saved one bullet.

I wonder how this is going to pan out.

Dirk Knight says: “I use writing to explore the darkest parts of my self. We are all evil and we are all good… I just think the good gets more attention.”

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