Twelve hours was all the time it had taken for nearly the entire crew of the Star Destroyer Vector – all 46,700 personnel – to die.
Ensign Bran Fenrell didn’t know why he’d been spared. He didn’t know why, just a few hours earlier, his bunkmate, Ryas, had drowned in his own blood just a few feet away. Fenrell himself had felt no ill effects, except for the painful knot of nausea that caused him to vomit all over the floor of their quarters as his bunkmate and friend gasped and writhed.
Finally Ryas had let out a slow, lifeless breath, like a deflating balloon, and lay still. Fenrell hadn’t bothered contacting the infirmary because by that point, everyone knew there was nothing that could be done. Whatever had been unleashed upon the Vector, it was invariably fatal.
Fenrell had sat on his bunk for hours, in shock, as the corpse of his fellow ensign putrefied across from him. He knew he’d have to leave eventually, though he had no idea where he would go.
He was considering his limited options when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flicker of movement on the opposite bunk.
He stared. He couldn’t have actually seen that, could he? His nerves were getting to him. But there it was again – he saw it clearly this time. Ryas’s finger had moved.
Fenrell hesitated, then crossed over to the other bunk. Could it be true? Could Ryas still be alive?
He looked over Ryas’s body. The skin of the ensign’s face and hands had turned to a gray-greenish color, with a rough, dried-out texture. It seem to hang loosely, although Ryas had been a bit overweight in life.
There was a slight hiss of air from the body. Was Ryas still breathing? A thought struck Fenrell – could Ryas actually have survived the infection? Could he be getting better? Or was this just the last bit of air escaping from a rotting corpse? Slowly, Fenrell leaned closer over Ryas, turning his head to listen for an intake of breath.
That’s when Ryas bit his ear off.
Fenrell screamed, blood spurting between his fingers as he clutched the ragged remains of his ear. Ryas lunged for him, sinking his teeth into Fenrell’s arm. The thing had terrible strength, and it was all Fenrell could do to tear it away. A chunk of his forearm came away in the monster’s jaws.
Fenrell ran for the door and frantically punched in the code to unlock it. Mercifully, he got the code in one try and the door slid open. As he fled, he glanced back to see the thing chewing with what seemed like deliberate concentration on the flesh of his arm, an almost beatific expression on its face. Torn bits of black uniform, sticky with blood and offal, clung to the thing’s lips.
Clutching his forearm and trying to ignore the desperate throbbing of his missing ear, Fenrell staggered through the door, being sure to lock it behind him. The thing that had been Ryas could have unlocked it from the inside, but Fenrell doubted it would remember how.
He found himself leaning along the corridor wall as he struggled to walk, leaving a long, bloody smear. He came to the end of the corridor and turned the corner…
…and found himself facing a squad of Field Stormtroopers. He recognized them by their yellow pauldrons and the rail detonators that dangled from their hands…
…their green, mutilated hands…
Fenrell managed one last scream, and then they were upon him.
I know zombies are probably kind of uncool at this point – particularly the tendency to insert zombies into any geek franchise you can imagine. But Joe Schreiber’s novel Death Troopers came out three years ago, when the whole zombie thing was a bit closer to its height. I wasn’t even into Star Wars at the time but I still bought it when it came out, primarily because I found zombies in the SW galaxy a more interesting idea than, say, the Marvel universe.