A Spacecraft Returns in Blood-Stained Ruin
The clean-up crew of the Bösehoven Spacecraft sift through blood-stained ruins. But what happened?
You've heard about the Bösehoven. Sure, you've heard about the Bösehoven. That ship, that freighter that popped out of the void, entered the pattern at Jove Station and just started to drift? It was all over the network––ghost ship, they called it, but trust me, it weren't no Mary Celeste. I worked on the clean-up and restore detail that handled the recommissioning of the Bösehoven. I saw the shit they scrubbed out of the walls, out of the floor. It was meat. Chunks of meat and bone all warped and twisted, all sticky and running through the vents, through the grates in the floor. That's all we found of the crew. That's all that was left.
We had all kinds of ideas, theories, rumors we would hear and share, but none of us grunts running the vacuums or spraying down the walls with industrial cleanser really knew what happened, what was going on. The suits, the lab coats––they closed off huge sections of the ship, would always spend a few days in an area before the clean-up crews were allowed to move in. Officially, the carnage, the runny gore plastered across every inch of the ship was blamed on a radiation wave, a destabilizing core component that liquefied the crew in the instant just before they left the void and showed up at Jove.
None of us on clean-up bought it. We were all techies and off-season rock miners, low-level, grease-under-the-nails fix-it types who'd seen what a destabilizing reactor can do to a man. Hell, some of the men I worked with even had the twisted scars from a near miss with a wave of radiation. The liquid meat, the warped and stretching chunks of solid matter– it wasn't caused by radiation. Something else entirely had happened. Something else had turned the Bösehoven's entire crew into sludge.
I don't know if the men with the brains or the men with the money ever figured out what went wrong. Crates marked with biohazard warnings came out as often as they came in, and the only time I ever heard of anyone getting a chance to jimmy one of the suckers open, he was fired the next day. Rumor has it that he saw samples of skin, real, still-living skin the lab coats had scraped off the walls, stored in suspension racks for transport back to Jove. I don't know if I buy it, but he must have seen something he wasn't supposed to. Labor draws from a limited pool out there. I've never seen a guy get fired for anything less than killing a man. Never, except that day.
I remember how weird things got when we finally reached residential. Some of the sleep-pods were unrecoverable, the suits and the lab coats told us. Unrecoverable. I've never heard of a bed-block being unrecoverable. What is there to break inside a common-room or a module full of beds? Half of them were ejected before anyone could so much as raise an eyebrow, and they had these UEMC interceptors running by, slagging the bed-blocks with vape-slingers. Never even got a chance to see what was in them.
Until block 33-B froze on the ejection rails.
I knew one of the guys that was sent in to cut the bed-block loose and lead it through nil-grav to the Bösehoven'smain cargo-lock. Morgan was his name. Clark Morgan. Hell of a mechanic, wife and kids back Earthside. The kind of guy you could trust to tell you the truth. He said it was the meat leaking from the bed-block that stalled the thing on the tracks. He said it was running into the rails like a thick tentacle of liquid innards, sticking to the electrics. Took a good hour or so to scrape enough of the crap that had been the crew out of the rails, but when they finally freed the bed-block and gave it the heave-ho into the black, Morgan said he swore he heard the thing scream. The bed-block, something in the bed-block. Seconds later the UEMC boys dusted the module. Nothing left. Nothing but embers, little points of hot light hovering among the stars like they belonged there, like they had more than an instant to glow.
All-in-all, the suits and lab coats probably ejected and slagged about eighty, or ninety, percent of the Bösehoven's bed-blocks. I think about all those empty rooms, all those regulation mattresses sometimes, think about what Morgan said, what he said he saw, what he said he heard, and I wonder. My mind goes to crazy places, dark places. I wonder how many people were asleep when it happened, when the crew was liquified and spread across the walls like so much red paint. The Bösehoven was rated for fifteen hundred crewmen, but you know they always pack a can like that way past capacity. If half the crew was asleep, even a third...
Maybe it's best the suits and the lab coats had all those bed-blocks blasted. The amount of material, the amount of liquid material sloshing around in those things...
To this day, I don't know if anyone can say what really happened aboard the Bösehoven. I don't know if the men with the money or the men with the brains ever figured it out. If anyone did, they've been real quiet about it, and that scares me a little, keeps up at night sometimes. Last thing I heard, the Bösehoven was flying the trade-routes again, has been for a little over a year now. She's all shiny, all clean, probably a third of the hull and equipment scrapped and fed to the nearest sun. Someone at corporate must have managed to convince enough people to crew it, even with its history. Braver souls than me is all I can say. Braver, maybe stupider. Time will tell.
Until then, I'll keep checking the network for news on the Bösehoven. I half expect her to wash up at some of frontier port of call like she did at Jove, silent and full of mush. I hope it never happens, but if it does, well...
I might just sign on for clean-up duty again, see if I can't jimmy open one of those biohazard crates, see what's inside.