I knew the monster in front of me. Well, knew of it. The same kind of monster had stalked City 4 in the slums before it spread across the Wall to the more affluent neighborhoods. Then the city authorities got serious and eradicated it. Along with almost half the city.
It was a vorger. It looked like a fat pink worm crossed with a giant rat that mated with a blender. It had the same pinkish skin, the same blunt clawed limbs, and the same circular maw filled with inward pointing teeth to ensure a firm grip on whatever it ate. And it ate everything. Bugs, plants, plastics, small rocks when nothing else was handy. They traveled in packs and consumed everything up until they couldn’t eat any more.
Then they multiplied. They birthed litters of hundreds, and though only a handful usually survived that was enough. A vorger pack could gnaw a human corpse to the bone quickly, then slink off to multiply. The human didn’t even need to be all the way dead.
They grew from a nuisance to a menace to a genuine threat inside of a year. No one ever found out where they came from. The city didn’t really care up until they started showing up in better neighborhoods. They were supposed to have all been destroyed at the end of the Gene Wars, the specific creation blueprint for them wiped. Yet here it was.
The frozen beast snarled silently at me within the stasis field. Mildly acidic spittle glittered in the soft blue glow. The deck beneath it showed signs of pitting. This was not a newborn beast. Or rather, Doctor Sorle had been breeding them for some time.
There was a half gnawed corpse in the corner of the cell, unrecognizable as anything other than meat. Vorgers were always hungry, but they would often disdain food already caught in order to attack anything that might threaten their meal- or might be added to it. Left alone to breed, a single vorger could spawn its own pack within days.
They were highly susceptible to fire, though. The oils on their skin and even their acidic spit would burn quite easily. That was how City 4 had dealt with the infestation. They firebombed the slums. And kept it burning for long enough to melt the whole sector to slag.
It had ended the infestation though. Along with all the uncounted and uncountable human lives that lived there at the time, fighting to survive. The only reason I did not die with them was I was in the tunnels at the time, heading towards the docks. The upper city sector fell, crushing anything living down there behind me.
The cell to my right held something worse. It wasn’t a beast, though.
It was a fungus. At least, that was what everyone called it. The metal eater fungus was not susceptible to fire, it thrived on heat. It only consumed metal, but it did so slowly. The danger was that it could survive in space, at least to a limited degree, sipping the oxygen that slowly leaked from every joint and seal while it ate away at the hull, expanding those gaps.
They were an engineered weapon made to threaten ships and stations, another relic of the gene wars. Hard to detect and even harder to eliminate, entire ships had been condemned and sent on sunward trajectories to incinerate in the giant fusion furnace at the middle of the system.
The fungus could not survive in the outer system where the heat from the sun could not warm them enough, but anywhere in the inner system was perfect for them. The introduction of metal eater fungus was eventually traced back to a faction that operated in Saturn’s gas mines.
Several warring factions in the inner system had temporarily halted their hate for each other and joined forces to attack the gas mine complex. Then they smashed the it into scrap, sending it dropping into the planet’s interior to be crushed into dust. There were no more metal eater attacks after that.
The other cells held still other horrors from the gene wars. Howlers that could shatter eardrums and stop hearts. Tyrant Kings that could tank an artillery round and literally eat a tank if they wanted to. Slicers that could cut your throat without ever being seen or heard. Shadow hunters that stalked station corridors and colonies with impunity until they were finally exterminate. Needlers that could start an epidemic with a single scratch. Hellbugs that thankfully never got off the one station they were inflicted upon.
All of them banned by every single government in the system, whether murderous or “civilized.” All supposed to be completely eliminated and the records of how to create them destroyed, according to official records. And yet here they were.
The alert panel had mentioned a containment breach. If the metal eater fungus was loose on the station there was no point in staying anyway, and no guarantee we could escape without bringing it with us. Also, metal eaters would probably have already caused a hull breach by now, and that in itself would be a dead giveaway.
I kept looking through the cells.
Each one had its own dedicated terminal. This was where Doctor Sorle kept his research notes- the master terminal by the entrance had nothing but the cell status and destruction commands in it, with a simplified log showing when the hidden lab had last been accessed. Nothing had been in or out for years. Not since the night everything had fallen apart so quickly.
I activated one of the cell terminals to see just what he’d been doing with all these banned things.
I should have known better.
He was trying to improve them. Make them worse, more lethal. But also how to defend against them, should someone try and use them against the company. Because of course, if they had access to metal eaters, vorgers, and more, others would as well.
The containment breach should have been obvious when I found it. It was the only cell without an active stasis field. It looked little different from the rest. The interior of the cell was completely empty. The cell terminal was dead as well. I investigated it with my nanites and found that while the terminal might have looked pristine from the outside, the inside was a melted mass of metal alloys and charred insulation.
There was no way to tell what had been in the cell. It could have been a zombie, brought here to study. That would fit with the character of the company, considering they were involved in all sorts of other foulness.
But the first reports of infection came from the docks. How would a zombie have gotten from here to the docks without attacking someone? How would it have gotten through security? The infection may have had a longer dormant stage than I thought judging from the rogue nanites I’d excised from my newest acquaintances.
No, zombies were not the most likely cause of the breach. Probably.
I reached one end of the corridor. The other cells were empty, but they still had powered stasis fields. The other side of the lab had a few more things in them- exotic creatures, rather than dangerously banned things.
There were sunbugs, tiny little engineered things with wings made of light. They could only live in low gravity and needed constant light in order to survive, but they tended to be popular with certain wealthy clients. Several things like that. One cell even had a very old wampus cat, a male by the look of it. Dead, though.
The terminal for that one indicated that it was there to study just how intelligent this strain was getting. The results were inconclusive.
Then there were the people. Or rather, the corpses.
These were a mixed bag. Some were the ‘successful experiments,’ according to the cell terminals. Some of them even looked mostly human still, more or less. Others…
These were familiar as well. I knew what caused them to become what they were now.
In one cell was a woman that looked like her skin had bubbled up like foam in places. Another held a man that had tiny crystal structures poking through his skin in random places. A third looked like a puddle of goo with too many eyes. Another held what looked like a pile of dirt and rocks with white bones sticking out of them.
There were several in one cell with skin that looked hard, gray, and shiny in patches. One was simply a head and most of a spinal cord with a note that read one hundred forty seven days. There were two cells with nothing but corpses covered in pale, shiny scar tissue from head to foot.
There were only thirty-four cells with human corpses. The others must be elsewhere, disposed of somehow or hidden away, perhaps off the station. No zombies, though.
I still wondered if the company had anything to do with the virus. Any plans, research, or even a hint of data, something tangible might just make a difference. But there was nothing like that, other than the mysteriously empty cell. Just old monsters from wars past. Monsters from my past, too.
I’d beaten those nanite infections before. The notes that Dr. Sorle left were exhaustive, but he was looking for the wrong things. He wanted weapons. Tools to use, too. That way would never work.
The infections were too unstable, too reliant on the environment they evolved in to make them function the way they did for reliable weapons of war. Each patient’s colony was unique, tailored to their own body, brain chemistry, even DNA. Each treatment I crafted had to take that into account. Sometimes my patients died before I found a way for them to at least survive with their issues.
But that was no reason for me to stop studying them. There were still cases that I hadn’t given up on yet, still avenues of research that could be followed. Even if the nanites that caused them were destroyed there could still be similar cases out there that could benefit from my research.
There was nothing else in the secret lab. Nothing but the cells and the bodies and the monsters. Dr. Sorle had never returned to burn the evidence. The command to incinerate the cell contents was easy to find. The master console was much simpler to use than the one on the Headquarters level.
I copied all the logs to my personal network and burned them all. Every monster, every sad corpse, all the exotics. The risk was too great- that containment breach still worried me. Every cell glowed blindingly bright for a moment, incinerating the contents.
All but the metal eater fungus. That one had to be drowned in acid, frozen, then electrocuted, and then burned, the ashes encased in ceramic and then kicked out of the station with a tiny pusher engine that would take it into the sun. Not even the sociopaths at the company were willing to take chances with a mushroom that ate space stations.
The thought occurred to me that the alert hadn’t been all that specific. Just “Containment breach – Warning!” It didn’t say whether or not it was in the hidden lab, of course, but I doubted that any of the normal and engineered plants in the main growing area were worthy of such a warning.
I would have to trust the obsessively paranoid decontamination protocol. The contaminant remained unknown, but outside of incinerating me, maybe after being drowned and acid, frozen, then electrocuted- outside of that, it was probably about as thorough as anyone could hope for.
Raspberry woke back up with a grumpy sounding half-growl, half plaintive meow while I was still in the tumbling agitation cycle. Probably hungry again, and more than likely wanting to get out and scamper around.
The monsters in the lab had to be destroyed. There was enough trouble to go around with zombies and failing infrastructure already. The bodies were as good as cremated. If any of their relations still lived, which I rather doubted considering their presence in the hidden lab, at least now I had records to give them closure.
For those still living there was much work yet to be done.