The proximity alert rings out across the ship, and Crater laughs with both mouths as she pushes the burn harder.
We’re in the nose of the ship, and all eighteen of us lurch at the increased acceleration. Our crew is lowlifes, aliens, mutants, and gene freaks.
I check the ammo readout on my gun. Seven rounds. I’m the best shot onboard, the only reason I have so many.
The military cruiser fills almost the entire viewscreen as we hurdle closer.
“Brace for impact, you unholy bastards!” our captain bellows. He’s an uplifted gorilla, escaped from a government lab after bashing in the skulls of the scientists who made him this way. We’d follow him into Hell, gutting demons along the way.
We all scream, drowned out by the scraping of metal as we cut into the cruiser. Our stealth ship is a floating knife made to penetrate unsuspecting ships like this one, the nose sharpened and diamond-tipped. Crater stole it when we escaped together from a deep-space prison.
We cut perfectly between two decks. The viewscreen switches beneath us as we count the marks. Thirty very confused members of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy. I used to be one of them before I was arrested for desertion.
The floor drops out and we fall towards them. We laugh, our voices amplified by our spacesuits.
I pop off three shots before hitting the ground and two of the troopers go down. The third takes a staggering step but stays upright, the bullet lodged in his shoulder.
I grin and thumb the detonator in my suit’s glove. The bullet explodes. The trooper has enough time to watch his arm fly off before he collapses.
Around me is complete chaos. The soldiers open fire, bullets everywhere. They’re better armed, but we’re out of our fucking minds.
Our captain grabs a soldier by the neck and rips his scalp off with his other massive hand. He tosses them both aside.
Engaging his mechanical legs, Tiny Pete charges a surprised trooper. I saw a platoon of soldiers on Pete’s home planet hack off his limbs because his dad didn’t meet the monthly mining quota. He’s still saving up for proportional prosthetics.
He jumps and fires his thrusters. His little metal arms and legs wrap around the soldier’s head, and he digs his sharpened thumbs into the man’s eye sockets. Then he thrusts towards another soldier’s head. This one ducks. Tiny Pete snags his foot and goes careening towards the ceiling.
Shiitake, our resident fungus colony, runs past me. Its species was exported as food for years. Their sentience was only recognized after a shipment of spores took over a Royal Navy cruiser.
Shiitake takes a few dozen rounds as three soldiers open fire. Its suit fills with holes and deflates like a balloon, hundreds of spores swarming the soldiers.
The spores take root. The soldiers’ skin bubbles like boiling water before huge growths burst through their necks and stomachs, eyes and mouths, fingers and groins.
Snakeskin’s suit is torn open by bullets. She gets caught in the spores, the growths shooting out of her, too. Her family was forced to eat her father when Her Majesty’s Admiralty diverted their planet’s food supply to the front lines instead of delivering it to the locals. I wish I could forget being stationed there at the time. I can’t.
Four new Shiitakes burst from their hosts and charge a group of retreating soldiers, dragging them screaming across the floor. Reinforcements are dropping down into the gap between their ship and ours. The captain engages the maglocks on our boots and Crater withdraws the ship, breaking the seal and exposing us all to vacuum.
Most of Her Royal Majesty’s Royal soldiers are blown out into space, their screams sucked away as the air rushes out of the ship.
Tiny Pete is blown out along with them, unconscious after hitting a wall. He’s missing one of his leg prosthetics.
The blast doors engage after a few soldiers manage to engage their maglocks and escape, thick metal sliding down to cover their retreat.
One of the Shiitakes signals me and makes its way to a blast door. It curls into a ball and I fire off another explosive round. The chemicals in its body accelerate the explosion and the blast door is gone, along with half the wall around it.
I’m down to three rounds.
Our captain barrels through and we run after him. Alarms flash along the wall without atmosphere to carry the sound.
Tugjob breaks off with a Shiitake and three others, and they head towards the armory. He survived Her Majesty’s Royal Firebombing, though now he has an unhealthy obsession with explosives. I can still smell the cooking bodies.
I stay with my captain, running along the walls as he pounds the ground with his fists, throwing himself forward again and again. I know the layout of the ship. I used to be stationed on it.
We pass through a doorway and the blast doors slam shut behind us, cutting off half of our remaining crew. The corridor around us repressurizes. Soldiers emerge from around the corner, the one in the front carrying a flamethrower.
I laugh and fire off a round, aiming for him. I press the detonator and all four soldiers go up in flames, engulfed in a small explosion.
Two rounds left.
They vent the atmosphere again to put out the fire, and we press on.
We reach an elevator, the door a gaping hole leading to an empty shaft. Our captain halts us and runs back for a burnt-up body, throwing it in. Bullets rain down. A trap.
The largest Shiitake pushes its way to the front and climbs up, its limbs pressing into opposite sides of the shaft. It blocks enough bullets for our captain to order us through.
Hairy Sally the arachnoid sticks her head in before opening a flap on the back of her spacesuit. Her people were enslaved until a recent rebellion. We used to carry shipments of them, captives in a ship built by their ancestors. She shoots thick, sticky ropes of web up the shaft.
Some of them hit their mark and hold, allowing us to climb. Some hit Shiitake, holding a leg and one of its limbs in place.
One hits a soldier and our captain tugs hard. She screams as she sails past us and down the shaft.
We climb, giving ourselves periodic boosts with our thrusters. Two more of our crew get hit and fall. Bullets are tearing through Shiitake. One of its legs severs at the joint.
There’s an explosion above us and the bullets stop, the sound of gunfire replaced by screams and laughter.
Our ragtag teams of misfit bastards—the group that was cut off by the blast doors and the group that split off to the armory—have gone up a level to blow the soldiers to dog meat with grenades. The gunfire resumes, directed towards these new arrivals instead of us.
We make it up and throw Shiitake’s limp remains into the corridor. We charge in behind it, our captain taking down two soldiers with one leap. I throw a knife, sinking it up to the hilt in one of their necks.
We reach the bridge, blowing a hole in the wall with another Shiitake and explosive round.
One shot left.
The bridge swarms with officers and technicians as we pour inside. The room is huge; the glowing terminals make it look like a casino. Our captain is howling, and we all echo the cry.
The soldiers take a few more of us out, but Tugjob gets their attention with the detonator he hooked up to the explosives in their armory.
We line the survivors up. The captain grabs the highest-ranking officer, an admiral, and forces him to kneel in front.
The admiral starts giving a grand speech about how Her Majesty’s Royal Navy is going to squash us all like the insects we are, how we’ll never get away with stealing this ship, on and on. I’m not really listening.
Instead, I’m staring at him hard, waiting for him to recognize me. All those horrors he made me a party to, the grotesqueries I witnessed, and he doesn’t even have the decency to recognize me. I’m crying, but I don’t have any way to wipe the tears inside my helmet.
“We don’t want your ship,” our captain says.
The admiral raises his eyebrows. “What do you want?”
I pop out my last bullet and toss it to the confused officer, who catches it as I tell him the truth. “We just want to fuck shit up.”
The captain kicks him against the big window and I thumb the detonator and we all get sucked out into space.
Crater flies the ship around and our captain sends out the retrieval signal. The thrusters on our suits angle automatically, taking us towards the ship. Tiny Pete’s unconscious body floats in with the rest of us.
We wait until two more Navy cruisers warp next to the ship we just left. Tugjob hits the detonator and blows all three to shit.
By the time the rest of the fleet arrives, we’re already burning hard towards our next target, and we laugh and laugh and laugh.