Holden checked his air supply and saw that he had burned nearly half of it. He was rapidly approaching the point of no return. But something in Larson’s voice caught his ear. It was the way he said galley.
“Is there something I should know about the galley?”
Larson said, “I’m not sure. But after the cameras went out, I kept hoping someone was going to come get me. So I started trying to call people on the comm. When that didn’t work, I started having the King do location checks on people I knew. After a while, no matter who I asked about, the answer was always ‘the forward galley.’”
“So,” Holden said. “There might be upwards of a thousand infected Navy people crammed into that galley?”
Larson gave a shrug barely visible in his environment suit. “Maybe the monster killed them and put them there.”
“Oh, I think that’s exactly what happened,” Holden said, taking out his gun and working the slide to chamber a round. “But I seriously doubt they stayed dead.”
Before Larson could ask what he meant, Holden had his suit unlock the hatch. “When I open this door, you head to the elevator as fast as you can. I’ll be right behind you. Don’t stop no matter what. You have to get me to that CIC. Are we clear?”
Larson nodded inside his helmet.
“Good. On three.”
Holden began counting, one hand on the hatch, the other holding his gun. When he hit three, he shoved the hatch open. Larson put his feet against a bulkhead and pushed off down the corridor on the other side.
Tiny blue flickers floated in the air around them like fireflies. Like the lights Miller had reported when he was on Eros the second time. The time he didn’t come back from. The fireflies were here now too.
At the end of the corridor, Holden could see the elevator door. He began clumping after Larson on his magnetic boots. When Larson was halfway down the corridor, he passed an open hatch.
The young sailor started screaming.
Holden ran as fast as the clumsy hazmat suit and his magnetic boots would let him go. Larson kept flying down the corridor, but he was screaming and flailing at the air like a drowning man trying to swim. Holden was almost to the open hatch when something crawled out of it and into his path. At first he thought it was the kind of vomit zombie he’d run into on Eros. It moved slowly, and the front of its Navy uniform was covered in brown vomit. But when it turned to look at Holden, its eyes glowed with a faint inner blue. And there was an intelligence in them the Eros zombies hadn’t had.
The protomolecule had learned some lessons on Eros. This was the new, improved version of the vomit zombie.
Holden didn’t wait to see what it was going to do. Without slowing his pace, he raised his pistol and shot it in the head. To his relief, the light went out of its eyes, and it spun away from the deck, spraying brown goo in an arc as it rotated. When he passed the open hatch, he risked a glance inside.
It was full of the new vomit zombies. Hundreds of them. All their disconcertingly blue eyes were aimed at him. Holden turned back to the corridor and ran. From behind, he heard a rising wave of sounds as the zombies moaned as one and began climbing along the bulkheads and deck after him.
“Go! Get in the elevator!” he screamed at Larson, cursing at how much the heavy hazmat suit slowed him down.
“God, what was that?” Naomi said. He’d forgotten she was watching. He didn’t waste breath answering. Larson had come out of his panic-induced fugue and was busily working the elevator doors open. Holden ran up to him and then turned around to look behind. Dozens of the blue-eyed vomit zombies filled the corridor behind him, crawling on the bulkheads, ceiling, and deck like spiders. The floating blue lights swirled on air currents Holden couldn’t feel.
“Go faster,” he said to Larson, sighting down his pistol at the lead zombie and putting a bullet in its head. It floated off the wall, spraying goo as it went. The zombie behind it shoved it out of the way, which sent it spinning down the corridor toward them. Holden moved in front of Larson to protect him, and a spray of brown slime hit his chest and visor. If they hadn’t both been wearing sealed suits, it would have been a death sentence. He repressed a shudder and shot two more zombies. The rest didn’t even slow down.
Behind him, Larson cursed as the partially opened doors snapped shut again, pinning his arm. The sailor worked them back open, pushing them with his back and one leg.
“We’re in!” Larson yelled. Holden began backing up toward the elevator shaft, emptying the rest of his magazine as he went. Half a dozen more zombies spun away, spraying goo; then he was in the shaft and Larson shoved the doors shut.
“Up one level,” Larson said, panting with fear and exertion. He pushed off the bulkhead and floated up to the next set of doors, then levered them open. Holden followed, replacing the magazine in his gun. Directly across from the elevator was a heavily armored hatch with cic stenciled in white on the metal. Holden moved toward it, having his suit transmit the override code. Behind him, Larson let the elevator doors slam shut. The howling of the zombies echoed up the elevator shaft.
“We should hurry,” Holden said, hitting the button to open the CIC and bulling his way in before the hatch had finished cycling open. Larson floated through after him.
There was a single man still in the CIC: a squat, powerfully built Asian man with an admiral’s uniform and a large-caliber pistol in one shaky hand.
“Stay where you are,” the man said.
“Admiral Nguyen!” Larson blurted out. “You’re alive!”
Nguyen ignored him. “You’re here for the bioweapon launch vehicle remote codes. I have them here.” He held up a hand terminal. “They’re yours in exchange for a ride off of this ship.”
“He’s taking us,” Larson said, pointing at Holden. “He said he’d take me too.”
“No f**king way,” Holden said to Nguyen. “Not a chance. Either give me those codes because there’s a scrap of humanity left in you, or give them to me because you’re dead. I don’t give a shit either way. You decide.”
Nguyen looked back and forth from Larson to Holden, clutching the hand terminal and the pistol so tightly that his knuckles were white. “No! You have to—”
Holden shot him in the throat. Somewhere in his brain stem, Detective Miller nodded in approval.
“Start working on an alternate route back to my ship,” Holden said to Larson as he walked across the room to grab the hand terminal floating by Nguyen’s corpse. It took him a moment to find the King’s self-destruct switch hidden behind a locked panel. Souther’s override code gave him access to that too.