He smashed the glass without trying the handle. Flickering hall lights tossed shadows in broad slashes over the floor tiles, over filing cabinets and furniture piled up haphazardly, where the engineers had staged their amateur Thermopylae.
Reid stepped into the hall. No corpses. Blood. Smeared like children’s pictures over the bulwarks. His footsteps rebounded back to him between the walls, summing and fading like music drummed out by a lunatic, which was fitting since no nonpsychotic human would continue down the corridor of his own accord. He checked his radio: silent. Of course silent. It wouldn’t make sense for government equipment to function properly.
Even on a World Nations moon, missions were difficult. A company nabbed a contract, terraformed a patch, set up shop, and chatted every week with command, until one day some nitrogen-breathing arthropod hiding in a crater somewhere battered down the doors or shredded the oxygen conduit. Then the company called the Mobile Integrated Reconnaissance, Observation, and Response Squad (MIROR). Reid and the Mirror Men.
Moon Haddonfield, out in the ass corner of vacant space, was not World Nations ratified. It was a classified project, some nightmare on the endless frontier.
In Reid’s vision a dot flared and died; he’d lost Kaz on the HUD map. They traveled in pairs, eight men to a team. Cheap and secret like cosmonaut speed, as his Special Ops instructor used to say. Kaz and he had passed through an airlock, overridden the controls—but the door shut when Reid had passed through. He’d told the corporal: set a marker, find Bell and Kaplan, tell them what’s up. Now the intercom was shot and he couldn’t check up on him, or anyone.
Three minutes ago, the lock sealed him off? At least.
This part of the station was a laboratory. Biohazard decals and retinal scans for every door. Reek of antiseptic cleaner, and dust, and the staleness of remade oxygen. Moondos developed migraines after months in artificial air, no matter the pills they took (even cosmo speed). Occupational hazard.
“This is Naler, moving east in the lab, over.” Worth a shot. Talking to static didn’t boost your confidence in a blood-slick tunnel, though.
He ran through protocol. Stopped beside every door and tested the lock. Blood on the handles. The air was colder here, too, closer to the temperature of the moon. His breath frosted the recon helmet’s visor.
Reid had captained eighty-six missions in six years of service. He was an O3, a career officer, and he had no need for a fixed location. Most humans his age were married and spawning kids, cultivating hobbies for a dopamine boost outside their desk job. Reid preferred fieldwork, even if the rush in his throat now was deeply entwined with anatomical fear. He made an impact in a part of space no one saw, which was what his Special Ops instructor had told him right before pushing the non-disclosure agreement across the table to him.
“Kaz, what’s going on, over? Shit.”
No sound but his own. You’d think pipes would bang, doorframes settle in the shifting pressure. His armor rustled at the joints to remind him that a bullet could strike him square in the chest and he’d still be able to move at a jog. When they send you into no-man’s-land to exfil a crying, hopeless engineer, they give you the good vests at least.
Reid stepped around a particularly wide puddle of blood and noted the scabrous layer that had formed on top. Someone killed these people, then hauled off the bodies without signs of dragging? He pictured an unhinged researcher waving a gun, vomiting nonsense about the apocalypse in 2283. Every once in a while an egghead lost it, couldn’t take the isolation; the government didn’t like to spread this data on the front pages, but it happened. Extraplanetary Schizotypal Fugue, with or without hallucinations. Gave the CIA psychologists something to debate.