The creature lunged at Darian. Sunken-in face, multiple rows of teeth, dark grey-blue skin, black-as-death eyes–all of this was a blur as Darian dived right and landed face-first on the floor. Lieutenant Pace was dead beside him. His face had been chewed off.
Sergeant Masters was covered in blood–a nasty wound on his head, by the looks of it–but the little bastard was still alive. The creature snapped its gleaming, blood-stained teeth at him and swiped at Masters’ face. It was missing more than half its fingers. The fingers that were there sported long, hooked nails that looked like it could gouge out a man’s eye in seconds. Masters fired his laser gun but it seemed to have little effect on the monster. In fact, the more Masters shined his flashlight in its eyes, the more the enraged and frenzied the creature became.
Leaping to his feet, all of Darian’s training came back to him in muscle memory. Arms close to the body. Legs spread shoulder-width apart. Chin tucked in slightly. His father boxed for a while, and these were the first things he learned from him. Who thought he’d be using them against a hostile alien?
Darian swung. His fist crunched the creature’s jaw and unhinged what was left of it. Now it was all teeth. Behind it, Starkley whipped out a switch blade and drove it into the creature’s neck. It gurgled and drooled a vile black-green liquid, and reached for Darian again.
It was easy to kill this creature. It wasn’t even human. Starkley stabbed it again and Masters kicked it back against the wall. Dazzed, the monster slumped forward. Darian slammed his foot down on the creature’s neck and with a deafening snap, its head dangled unnaturally from its neck and then fell to the floor. No blood, just grainy black powder covered the floor. Darian hoped that losing its head would make the monster dead enough.
“Pace…” Starkley said, kneeling before his fallen friend.
Darian heaved a heavy sigh. “May he rest in peace.”
“I wish there was something we could do. About the body, sir,” Starkley said.
“We’ll have to leave him, for now.” Darian turned his attention back to the door. Masters was waving at the frightened nurse on the inside. A few seconds later, the door hissed and slid open.
The room had light–labs must run on the back-up generator power, Darian realized. It was twenty or thirty feet long, and ten feet wide, and filled with lab equipment. In the back, an older man in a white lab coat was working at one of the machines. He turned swiftly, a crowbar in hand, and a familiar crummugin look on his face.
“Shut the damn door,” Doctor Leeland barked at the nurse.
Once the three of them were in, she tapped on the keypad and the door slammed shut again with another chemical-sounding hiss.
“That thing has been lurkin’ around the hallway for almost an hour,” Leeland muttered. He set the crowbar down on a nearby lab stool. “We were sealed in here, and that glass is damn-near indestructible, but that thing was determined.”
“I’m just glad to see you alive,” Darian admitted. “The whole Dome is under quarantine. What happened?”
Leeland approached the four of them, wiping his hands on his lab coat. “Don’t know. We were running tests and checking results on the minerals I found in the Ladies’ bloodstreams. Then, a silent alarm went off–in the Ladies room, surprise, surprise. The labs lock by default so we were safe in here, but it’s sound-proof, so…” He raised his grey eyebrows. “Maybe you should tell me what’s going on out there, Captain.”
Darian explained about the dead bodies at the entrance to the medical bay. The nurse’s face paled and she shook her head. Leeland’s eyebrows furrowed but he didn’t interrupt.
“Did your tests find anything conclusive, Doctor?” Darian asked when they were done.
“Yeah. I did. Managed to get a tissue sample from the thing out there.” He gestured to the floor around the door. Fine, ground black powder stained the tile. What looked like animal droppings turned out to be two fingers, brittle and dry upon closer inspection.
Starkley frowned. “That thing…was it human?”
“It was. Ain’t no more. I ran a mass spec on it and it’s full of that mineral that we found in Lady Harmony’s bloodstream.”
“Is it possible that that creature was either Lady Harmony or Lady Dominique?” Darian asked.
Leeland shook his head. “DNA wasn’t a match. What human DNA was left in the sample wasn’t a match, at least.”
“Who do you think it was?” Masters asked.
The young nurse cleared her throat. “Another nurse. We all wear the same scrubs, and the rags the…thing…was wearing…looked like what we wear.” She leaned against one of the lab tables, her hands gripping the ledge. “It just all happened so fast.”
Fear gripped Darian’s gut. “Doctor…how does someone turn into one of these monsters?”
“We don’t know that yet…but we’ve only been in this room what, an hour?” He looked to the nurse. She checked her wrist watch–an antique, but it still had its uses–and she nodded. Leeland shrugged. “Far as I know, there weren’t any of those things runnin’ around. Think we would’ve noticed that. Or it would’ve been picked up by the sensors and the cameras and all the other dudads you soldier-types made us install for security. No good now that we’re only on backup power.
“Ny’way, Lady Harmony’s been out for more hours than one, and she’s not a slobbering mess. Lady Dominique’s the same. Something’s keeping them from building up that mineral that’s in this unlucky lady’s blood. That’s what must have made them go mad. But that’s just my opinion. Untested hypothesis.”
“And the mineral…?” Starkley prompted.
“The mineral’s just a byproduct. A chemical reaction is going on between whatever has infested their bodies and their immune system,” the young nurse explained.
“Are you running any other tests now? The entire Dome is under quarantine, and we’re gathering as many people as we can and escorting them to safety.” Though this lab seemed like the safest place he’d seen in the last few hours. Strong, reinforced doors. Lab equipment that could provide answers to whatever was happening. A fridge, a couch.
“Leave me here. I might be able to run a few more tests yet. Though I do need some other supplies,” Leeland said.
“Starkley, you stay with the Doctor and help him get whatever he needs,” Darian said.
Darian nodded. He considered leaving Masters, since he seemed pretty level-headed for his first-time, but he was too much of a rookie to be trusted with the Doctor. “Masters, you’re with me. We’ll meet up with the rest of the men. Starkley, I want updates every hour. Open radio communication. If you go silent, we’re assuming you’re in trouble.”
“Yes, sir,” said both Starkley and Masters.
And then, Darian thought as he turned to leave, I will find you, Skyla, and make sure you’re safe.