Captain Kratz picked up the bottle of whiskey. His hand shook. He stroked the label then put the bottle back down again. He’d signed the pledge ten years previously after the disciplinary court gave him his final warning. The unopened single malt was his badge of honour.
Ten years captaining a deep-space mining ship had taken its toll; trouble amongst the men, repairs not carried out, food poisoning, sanitation robots malfunctioning. The ship smelt like an oil-filled latrine. If only he could hold his command together for a little longer. Just six more months sober and he could retire with his pension intact.
The piercing scream of the ship’s alarm shook him from his reverie. The holo-screen filled with the startled face of First Officer Benson.
“This had better be good, Benson.”
“It’s Arthur, sir, Arthur Bean, he–it,” Benson gibbered.
“What are you blathering about? Bean is dead.”
“Bean has escaped, sir.”
Kratz drummed his fingers on the desk before replying.
“So this would be the same Bean that was killed on Theta Prime?” His voice was smooth with sarcasm. “We only found his legs and lower torso which you locked in the hold. What the hell are you talking about!”
“When I checked the legs on the holo-screen I saw that spaghetti fungus had grown from his wounds. I went down to investigate. When I opened the door the legs attacked me. Kicked me and ran off.” Benson hung his head and sobbed.
“Have you been drinking, Benson?”
“There were tentacles growing from his pelvis. They twisted round and round, grabbing things.”
“I want a category red alert. All men to form a SWAT team. Proceed with extreme prejudice. Destroy those legs.”
Burly crewmen armed with soft target blast cannons marched down access corridor 33. The captain watched on his holo-screen as they cornered what was left of Bean.
The legs stood akimbo. The tentacles dangled like a grass skirt.
The crewmen squatted in an interlocked formation, their blasters leveled and primed to fire.
The tentacles rose, twisted and stretched.
Everyone watched in fascination.
The knotted tentacles morphed into a spinal column, ribs, collar bones and arms with twig-like hands. A skull uncrumpled from the spine like a ripening seed pod. Organs grew in the cradle of the pelvis; pallid intestines, glistening liver, purple kidneys. A heart inflated and fluttered within the new ribcage. Empty sockets filled with milky eyes. Muscle formed, skin slid up to encase the new body of Arthur Bean.
Bean’s new mouth twitched, and then smiled.
“Don’t fire!” the captain shouted over the intercom, “It might be friendly.”
The mouth gaped impossibly wide. A purple tongue dimpled with suckers lashed out and ripped off a crewman’s face. He fell to the ground, his finger tight on his blast cannon’s trigger. As he jerked and twisted in his agony his cannon hosed everyone in the room. Men exploded, their body-parts rained to the floor. Dying crewmen opened fire. Bean’s body erupted, showering everything with green goo.
Kratz punched the Omega code into the Comand Console. The ship shook as bulkheads sealed shut on every deck.
Six months before the ship docked–six months to watch the holo-screens and witness the body parts of his crew stir and move. Their wounds sprouting fungus. A smell like boiled cabbage drifting through the air ducts. Their bodies re-grown. Purple tongues probing hatchways, loosening panels, widening inspection conduits, room by room towards the captain’s office.
Kratz picked up the bottle of whiskey and stroked the label.
Bill West lives in Shropshire, England. He is a member of the Shrewsbury Scribblers Writers’ Group, I*D Writers’ Group and a number of on-line Writers’ Communities. His work has appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, FlashQuake, Mytholog, Heavy Glow, Right Hand Pointing, 21 Stars Review, Foliate Oak and other places.