Night of the Living

Available in Andromeda Spaceways #64

The crystal silence of the asteroid’s surface pulled at Daniel’s mind. Only the rush of blood in his ears, and the fine, transient breath-mist on his faceplate betrayed any sign of life. He looked down again.

The single five-toed footprint still marred the motionless dust.

Mouth dry, he dug his clawboots into the ground, turning back for the Anchorage.

It emerged from behind a boulder: a gray face with opaque white eyes rose, teeth bared, and screaming silently. Its ragged shirt hung slack in the hard vacuum; dark gray hands reached for Daniel.

Daniel caught it by the neck and lifted the boy above his head. He squeezed. “Dammit, Matthew,” he said over the Common Band, “Don’t you ever get tired of pulling this space-zombie shit?”

The boy clawed at Daniel’s suit gauntlet, and finally snatched the respirator from his own waist. He pulled it on and breathed. “Cripes, you’re no fun anymore, Daniel. Lighten up.” He put his televisor over his eyes, hiding his white emergency contact lenses. “I’m bored. Scared you the first time.”

“Six months ago. Anyway, what’s your Ma going to say when she finds you’ve been running around barefoot on this rock?” he asked.

The boy started. “Barefoot? On an asteroid? Are you crazy? Who would do that?”

Daniel froze. Released the boy to fall in the syrupy slowness of one-percent gee. Matt wore only the ragged t-shirt over his short-sleeved armorcloth bodysuit. But clawboots were on his feet. Daniel dragged Matt over to the footprint. “That wasn’t you?”

Matt whistled. “Holy shit.”

“You wouldn’t do that for a joke?”

“Fuck, no,” said Matt. “You could rip your Layer off, tear Ectoderm right down to flesh and vacbleed.”

Daniel nodded. “You’d better run tell them at the Anchorage. That’s the second print I’ve found.” He triggered his Group Band. “Core Map Team, I’ve got a problem.”