“Spread out,” Stag ordered the group of six men who followed him inside the damaged ship. “Someone silence that alarm.” The blaring irritated him.
Kelis ripped open one of the access panels. The silence was welcome when he disconnected the right wires. Smoke lingered in the corridors but the fire-suppression system had worked. White foam stained the floors and walls. Stag took the lead position and gripped his weapon. Only one life sign registered and it came from the living quarters.
He glanced around a curve and stared at the severely damaged android sprawled on the floor a few feet away. It had been torn to pieces. The head was even smashed and ripped open. One of the arms on the disconnected body twitched. He saw no weapon marks.
“The Markus Models don’t seem to like androids that aren’t of their own models.” He glanced at Veller.
The male shook his head. “Long-range sensors read the shuttle hasn’t turned around. They are still headed away. I’ll notify you if they return so we have time to evacuate.”
“They could have left some of their units aboard and they might not register as life signs. Don’t let your guard down,” Stag warned. He rounded the corner and stepped over the mutilated body of the android. It clearly wasn’t a threat. He kept his weapon trained forward and stopped at the first door. He waited while Kelis overrode the lock. The door opened to a small crew quarter.
Stag clenched his teeth, disgusted at the sight of that much blood and what was left of the Earther. He’d been torn apart as well, portions of his corpse strewn about the space. The biggest pieces of him intact were the head and chest. Blood stains marked almost every inch of wall, floor, and ceiling. He guessed it had happened within hours.
Kelis peered in. “Overkill.”
“Understatement,” Stag muttered. “I’m tempted to leave now. We’ve seen enough.”
“There is still one life sign aboard,” Veller reminded him. “We might be able to get valuable information from the Earther, like how many Markus Models were here. The computer banks have been fried. Maze is in the command center and he said there’s nothing to retrieve. Every system except life support has been purposely damaged.”
Stag moved to the next door to find it wasn’t locked. Two bodies lay inside. They were intact but bloodied. One lay on the floor with an obvious broken neck and battered features. The other one, dumped into a chair, had suffered torture. His contorted limbs showed severe trauma. Neither had survived their attacks.
“What were the Markus Models doing? Practicing how to kill by various methods?”
Stag held Kelis’s gaze. “Perhaps.”
Stag silently agreed. They checked two more rooms, finding one more body. It had been stripped bare and dissected. Bile rose but Stag managed to stifle the urge to lose his last meal on the floor. The Markus Models had pinned the male Earther to the floor by jamming metal into his limbs and sliced him open as if they’d wanted to see his insides. Various organs lay on the floor next to him, and the blood patterns suggested he’d still been alive when they’d started.
“Fuck,” Kelis snarled, turning away. “I’m glad you ordered Maze to go to Control instead of with us, as he wanted to.”
Stag backed out of the room and the door closed. “As a medic, he’d want to rescue the crew, and I doubted he’d be able to do anything for them. He agonizes over death. We know the Markus Models have no regard for life. I think your assessment was correct. They were running experiments on these Earthers.”
“Let’s go. I don’t want to see what’s left of the one with a heartbeat. He probably won’t be able to talk.” Kelis shook his head. “This was more than enough.”
“It’s possible he hid.” Yammer stepped forward. “Otherwise he’d be dead too.”
“Unlikely,” Veller disagreed. “Markus Models can read life signs as well as we can. They would have tracked it the way we are. There’s still an active sign in the captain’s quarters.”
“It might be a Markus Model.” Kelis removed his secondary weapon. “I say we kill the murdering freak, right after we get information from it.”
“Agreed.” Stag took the lead again. “They don’t go down easy. Try to damage the body but avoid head shots. We can remove its memory core and hack into it.”
“No frying the bastard then,” Kelis muttered. “Great.”
They reached the last door and found it locked. Stag nodded at Veller, and he came forward to tear off the panel and override the mechanism. Stag tensed, using a hand signal to give his men orders before the door opened.
The metal parted and they rushed inside. The living quarter consisted of one large room and an open cleansing unit. The sight that greeted them left Stag stunned.
An older Earther male lay face down in a pool of blood, but it was the bed that captured his attention. It was a massive four-poster—and a pale, nude body had been strung upright against the headboard.
It was a female. Her arms and legs were spread wide apart, bound upright to the tall bed posts at the head of the bed. Her head was dipped, long blonde hair falling down her body to her waist. The mass of curls mostly covered her bared breasts. Some blood stained her creamy white skin, stark in comparison. There were smears of it near her wrists, ankles, and waist. One perfectly displayed bloody handprint showed on her inner thigh, as if someone had gripped her there.
Stag kept his weapon trained on her as he approached. He took note of her chest rising and falling, although it was slight. He glanced lower. The small patch of pubic hair matched the rest of her. She wasn’t a big female, but fully grown if her breast size and body were any indication. One of his men muttered something but he didn’t catch the words. The female didn’t respond or make any movement.
“It could be a trap. Check the room for explosive devices. She looks like bait.” Stag froze while he waited.
“She’s alive.” Kelis came forward. “I’ll get her down.”
Stag knocked him back. “Did you hear me? Check the bed for devices. There’s no way to reach her without walking on it.”
His men went to work and Stag studied the woman. She was breathing. Her breasts moved just slightly. He took in the ties that held her. She’d been bound tightly, stretched as if she were a living canvas.