Sergeant Woods had seen plenty of weird shit as a marine. Friendly cockroach aliens. Hostile methane breathing three legged blob looking aliens. Zombie aliens that were really just a brain parasite driving a corpse. Even gigantic space faring animal species that flew by gas farts. Soft headed hostile aliens that could somehow breathe vacuum barely made the weird shit needle flicker. What irritated him just then was the fact that he’d lost track of two of his marines.

He knew that all human beings had a finite lifespan. Fighting men, especially, rarely died peacefully in their beds surrounded by loved ones. Violently in bed at the hands of a jealous boyfriend, perhaps. Such was the stated goal of many a private in his beloved Corps.

Snap, snap. Exploding heads.

He couldn’t just shout for them to see if they were alive. Combat in vacuum was quiet. The sound of the shot transmitted through his armor and his own breathing was it. Rarely did they get to use local coms on an op. There no screams of the dying. No bellowed orders or shouts of ‘reloading!’ or ‘covering!’ Woods usually liked the quiet. Not so much the not knowing where two of his men were at the moment.

Snap-snap-snap. A trio of critters fell almost as one, so close together he hardly had to adjust his sight picture to fall on the next.

Beside him Brown and Duval quickly and efficiently serviced their own targets. The creatures surged and receded like waves, mindlessly bounding forward. If they had better coordination then they would have been more of a threat to the three marines above. Instead the scrawny red and black things constantly got in each others way, often pushing off one another to attempt to get in close. They only tried to take the shortest path. In microgravity combat, this was a mistake.

Snap. Snap-snap. Another three heads burst like the galaxy’s nastiest pinatas. The gore produced by the dying creatures exploded outward, globules of blood and gobbets of flesh slapping into Woods and his men with wet splats. It did not help the ones still living much.

The roiling sea of red and black surged and receded twice before he noted a disturbance growing below him. Some of the critters appeared to be… running away? No, not running. Being thrown aside. A figure in gore splattered black marine armor was the focal point of the scrum. He’d noted earlier that the number of attackers launching themselves towards the three that were killing them had slackened a bit, but hadn’t then enough attention to spare wondering why. At least one of his men was alive down there and fighting. From the nearly seven foot height it could only be one marine in his squad.

Prettyboy. Even among big men like Brown and Duval, the tall blond man stood out.

With fewer and fewer foes sailing awkwardly towards their position, Woods and his men swiftly began dispatching the ones below. Woods noted that of the few that managed to hit the tall marine, none managed to penetrate his armor. Of course, Prettyboy was not about to just stand there and let himself be hit. Size matters, and at likely twice the creatures mass even unarmored, his strikes eliminated foes with swift and ruthless efficiency. At one point, Woods glanced over to see him using one spindly armed critter as a makeshift club to batter away the rest. Well, that’s one to add to the close combat course…

The sudden end of combat was as much a surprise as usual. One moment he was exploding heads and wiping his face shield clear, the next there were no more targets left. He tapped Duval to reinforce Prettyboy and called in the situation.

Celerity copies, ah, over.” The voice was not the one the sergeant was subconsciously expecting. PO Lasceau was apparently busy.

“S&R team made contact with hostiles. One MIA, four up. No sign of the Captain or Ensign. Continuing mission.”

“Copy, ah, copy that. I’ll tell the PO!” The connection clicked off immediately after that. Woods grumbled a bit internally about the Navy’s eternal lack of discipline. He tapped Brown and they both descended into the mess that was once a machine shop. Nothing else moved outside of the slowly drifting cloud of gore.

“Private Sykes, report.” The usual cocky grin was absent from the squad’s resident comedian.

“I’m sorry Sarge. PFC Fox and me got separated when those things swarmed us. I was able to get a boot to the deck and locked in, but he wasn’t close enough to latch on. I couldn’t grab him, and then they were all over me-”

“Lock it down, private. We are still on S&R.” Woods looked the man in the eyes, willing him to get himself together. Prettyboy may look physically like a recruiting poster, but he was still young. A Marine, but a relatively untested one. The sergeant believed he had potential, and, should the boy survive, he’d see that potential realized.

“PFC Fox is a Marine, soldier. We look after our own. We’ll find him, and the Captain, and the pilot, too. Now give me your status.”

“Good to go Sarge! Ah, can I have my mag back? Please?”

“Maybe. Aren’t you forgetting something, though, private? Something you need to tell me first?” Woods could read the telltales on the big man’s armor. The amber gauge should have been part of his report. Dawning realization broke over the young man’s face as he belatedly realized his mistake.

“Suit pressure dropping, Sarge! Think I’ve got a slow leak!” He could see that. He could also see that it was slow, and not somewhere the private could find easily in a self check.

“I see. And where is the leak, and why haven’t you patched it?”

“Ahh…” He decided to have some pity on the poor private.

Well. A small bit of pity. Long practice allowed Woods to repress the sigh that threatened to come out.

“It’s just below your left glute. Give me your patch kit and bend over.”

“S-Saaarge? I’m flattered an’ all, but I don’t swing that-”

“Private Sykes. You will bend at the waist ninety degrees. You will hold that position until ordered to recover. And you will shut your useless trap while doing so. Am I clear?”

“Sar-” The hapless private jerked away and moved as ordered. Woods did sigh this time, grabbing the patch kit that the young man had already forgotten to hand over. Applying the patch kit was a relatively simple job that took no time at all.

Though in his opinion the pair of hands that appeared to be gripping the armor’s backside as if spreading its cheeks was a bit much.

Duval and Brown swept the area while the sergeant cared for the hapless troop. Like Prettyboy, both were so new their shipboard fatigues hadn’t hardly broken in yet. On the good side, they worked together so well it was almost like telepathy. On the bad, when one did something stupid, the other would go right along with it. So far, that hadn’t happened. Yet.

“What did you find?”

“Body, sergeant. None of our shots would have hit it from this angle.” There was indeed a body floating face down visible through the open hatch. The hatch itself was partially covered by a what looked like it would have been a lathe table, standing on its side and embedded in the bulkhead. The body rotated slowly, heels coming down and head coming up like a backflip in slow motion. It had no face. He gathered up his squad- what was left of it- and they squeezed through into the corridor, deeper into the ship.

Droplets of blood still drifted randomly through the corridor, evidence of a battle on the move. They followed the direction the body was facing, weapons up and alert. Woods was born in space, like most of humanity. The click-release of mag boots was as familiar a motion to him as walking in standard gravity. Fighting in microgravity was a trained skill the Marines had taught him, but PFC Fox for all his youth in the Corps was no ordinary Marine. He took to micro like a fish to water. Something about a genetic mutation that showed up in some humans is what the note in his file said. He didn’t get space sick. He could handle three dimensions as easily as most men could in two. Chances were he was still alive. Marine armor was difficult to penetrate, but the joints were weaker than the hard plates, as Prettyboy’s poke in the ass had shown.

No more bodies littered the corridor. They continued to follow the trail of blood past closed hatches and around the wreckage that still littered the derelict. Still no bodies, none human or alien. Warped and blackened metal showed where some explosion once occurred. Past the blast debris was a hatch that looked to have been broken open from the inside. Something large and much stronger than the soft headed creatures that were easily slaughtered in job lots.

Stacked up next to the entrance they had no way of knowing what was inside without the drone that Fox carried. The blood trail led inside. From what little was visible from where Woods stood, it appeared to be a hold. Tall racks led off into the distance filled with crates of who knew what. Spare parts, consumables, anything that wasn’t supposed to be secured, most likely. He’d heard ships this size described as tiny space stations. They needed everything from doctors to teachers as well as Navy ratings to run the ship.

He signaled Brown and Duval to duck inside to the left and right, cutting the pie as he and Prettyboy followed in turn. On the two count, he stopped as a loud groan shivered up from the deck through his boots. It went on for a few moments before stopping with a loud CLANG.

Someone- or something– made that noise. The question was, who?