(I wrote this in the 90s. It’s got some pretty glaring errors, and more cheese than your cholesterol encrusted heart can probably manage! Plus there’s zombies!)

All that disturbed the silence of the craft was the low hum that indicated that the life-support system was still operating. The low throb of the microneutronic engines were silent, as well as low buzzing noise of the many small jumps the ship constantly made as it travelled which annoyed one so much when one was not yet used to space travel. Right now Heed Novan would have been willing to give just about any protruding part of his body if he could have felt that slight and continues lurching feeling that he hated so much. Well, any protruding part of any of the people around him anyway.

The survivors of the crew and passengers of the Contessa Costa de Hayea looked a far cry from the way they had first looked three months ago. Back then they had all been important people, even the crew, for the Contessa Costa de Hayea was the finest craft to have ever graced the heavens, and the first pleasure-craft ever made for space. Or at least had been. Now it only resembled so much twisted metal. Anyone who saw the ship from the outside would probably not even bother to scan for life-signs. And if they had, in Novan’s opinion, they would only have found one. Him.

They all knew that at least three of the fifteen people gathered on the recreation deck was already dead. But at least these dead people were still on their side. They had proven it quite a few times now, defending the living against the dead. But both the living and the dead people in the small group knew that the dead would soon have to depart, for when their brains decayed beyond a certain point they became violent and resentful of the living. A man with greying hair who looked as if he was wearing a skin several sizes to big was carefully monitoring them. The Contessa’s doctor, doctor Meldew.

Everyone, except for the dead, held their breaths in anticipation of the doctor’s prognosis. He slowly released the clamps on the small cranial scanner and removed it from the head of what had been the first mate when he was still alive.

With a sigh, he sat down, and then said, “I am afraid that of our three friends only the first mate here will be able to remain with us for some time yet. Miss Havelock and Corporal Briggon will have to depart, and join the rest of their macabre clan.”

“Thanks for the sensitivity you show for our plight,” said Eunata Havelock, who had been quite a lovely woman when she was still alive, with a voice that seemed to be speaking through a pipe, “I’m sure we will remember your kind words when we can no longer remember very much else.”

With that she turned and strode away. Corporal Briggon handed his weapons over to a boy who looked like he had more than the usual issue of knees and elbows, then followed after Eunata down the hallway leading away from the recreation deck. When they came to where the ladder led away to the other decks, the deck-jumpers were no longer functional; they had a short conversation and then continued along the hallway.

The doctor’s eyes widened at this. They had all promised to leave the recreation deck when it was no longer safe for the others if they remained.

“Where are they going? We must stop them.”

He grabbed the a weapon from the boy and started after the dead people, but felt his breath being knocked from him as he ran into the arm of the first mate, who’s name was Kaleb. Kaleb did not even budge.

“They are heading for the air-locks,” he said, in that same distant voice that had emanated from the mouth of Eunata, “We have discussed this eventuality amongst ourselves, and we have decided that it would be better if we removed our presences from this craft rather than join the rest of our macabre clan as you so eloquently put it. The choice remains with each of the dead whether they want to become like the others or not. Or maybe undead would be a better term.”

Meldew stared after the two receding figures for a while then dropped the weapon and turned away, Kaleb lowered his arm.

“Who will be next?” he mumbled to himself, “Who will be next?”

Novan, who had been keeping very much to himself, finally stepped forward.

“What I would like to know, “he said in the soft tone of voice that always made people listen, especially if that person did not talk often, “Is why you’re not brain dead yet. You have been with us from the very beginning of all of this, one of the first undead, and yet you’re still with us. Either you have been with them from the very beginning, leading us on a wild-goose chase, or your body has been able to stave off whatever has been doing this to us. Doctor?”

The doctor was still mumbling to himself, and Novan was beginning to doubt his sanity.

“Doctor!”

Meldew looked up in surprise, “What?”

“Do you know why Kaleb is not brain dead yet? He’s been undead and with us from the very beginning.”

Meldew’s expression remained that of surprise as he looked at Kaleb, “Why so he has. How very remarkable.”

Novan calmly grabbed the doctor by the front of his shirt and brought him closer, until their faces were almost touching.

“Can you offer any theory on why this might be?” Novan asked, then let go of Meldew’s shirt and pushed him towards Kaleb, who was still standing where he had when he had stopped Meldew.

Meldew took a small hand held piece of equipment from the recesses of his white coat and pointed it at Kaleb. After a while of inspecting the readings on the small screen he turned to Novan, “I cannot find any abnormality in his body, except of course for it being dead. It might be due to his excellent physical condition. Though young Briggon was also in an equal if not better state. Truly puzzling.”

Novan considered for a moment, then turned to Kaleb, “Can you offer any reason why you are still with us? Please. If we can find out why you are still functional we might be able to find out how to avoid your current condition.”

Kaleb walked to one of the upturned couches, righted it, and sat down with his head in his hands.

“I am so tired,” he said finally, and was still for a while, then continued.

“At first I was waiting for my own decline into insanity with dread. Then, as this state continued, it turned into anticipation. Can you imagine how it feels? I know I am dead. I no longer need to breathe, my heart no longer beats, and I can only feel my body very vaguely. I tried two nights ago to cry, and no tears would come. I am as dry as leather.”

Novan waited for a while for Kaleb to continue, then when he was certain the dejected figure was not planning to continue he asked again, “But do you know why you are still with us? Can you offer any reason why you aren’t trying to kill us right now?”

Kaleb looked up at him with those unblinking, dead eyes.

“I can think of only one thing that is different with me; only one thing in me that is not in any of the others. As the good doctor here mentioned, I am in very good physical condition. When I was still alive, being at peak physical condition was very important to me. It was in fact a obsession. So much so that I started using muscular development enhancement medication. That is the only thing I can think of that might be doing this.”

Novan considered this. If Kaleb had been using artificial muscular stimulus, his whole body had been oxygenated to just below the danger threshold, and had probably been as charged as a battery with the electrical impulse amplification caused by MDE. That was why MDE was illegal. People had been known to explode in electrical discharges. So it might be that the extra oxygen in his body, along with the vestiges of impulse amplification could be responsible for Kaleb’s constant condition.

Novan stared at Meldew as he thought. He was not a very good example of his profession. He was incompetent, vague, and was not very good with people. Not doctor material. Suddenly Novan realized something else about the doctor, who was sitting dejectedly against a wall. He was also not breathing. The doctor was dead. But had he only just died? Or had he been dead all along? What if some of the other people here were also dead and the doctor had been hiding it all along? But Novan was sure he would have noticed it. There was no mistaking the eyes of a dead person, and Novan had looked directly into the doctor’s eyes only moments before. Novan turned again to look at Kaleb, who was once again sitting with his head in his hands, then realized something else. Kaleb was still breathing.

Novan was sure that Kaleb was dead. His eyes were dead, but he had also taken several cuts, and a charge-bolt had even grazed his left shoulder in one of the skirmishes, and he had not bled, he had simply oozed a bit. So what if it was not the MDE that was keeping him constant? What if it was the breathing? Or both? And could the doctor still be trusted to find out?

Novan walked over to the doctor, and nudged him with his boot.

“Doctor.”

The doctor did not respond.

Novan nudged again, “Doctor.”

Slowly the doctor looked up, and only now did Novan see the syringe protruding from the doctor’s chest. Novan could see that the doctor had cried, but now those eyes were dry and lifeless.

“What have you done?”, whispered Novan as he kneel in front of the doctor and quickly removed the syringe, before anyone else noticed. Luckily everyone were to wrapped up in their own fears and sadness.

The doctor’s face contorted with grieve, then his voice echoed from his mouth with the same far-off quality as that of Kaleb’s, “I thought that maybe if I ended my own life I could avoid becoming like one of them. Maybe if they did not kill you… But I’m still here.”

Suddenly he wailed, and by now everyone had noticed the way his voice sounded and were staring at him in horror.

“I want to die!” he cried, “Oh God, please take me!”

Before Novan could stop them the survivors bolted in all directions. He made a grab for one of them, and got a hold of the boy.

“Stop!” he shouted, “What are you running from? And where to?”

“Let me go!” the boy yelled, as he continued to struggle against Novan’s grasp with considerable vigour, “I don’t want to catch it too! I want to live!”

Novan shook him. “It’s not a disease! You can’t catch it. Not until you die at least.”

“Then why is he dead?” the boy shouted back at him, “He constantly touched them! And now he’s dead too!”

“Because”, Novan said through clenched teeth, “He just killed himself with that!”

The boy stared at the syringe that Novan had dropped and was now pointing at, then seemed to crumple into himself, and started to cry. Novan tried to comfort him, but he had never been very good with emotions, especially in other people, so silenced him in the end with a slap.

“I’m going to let you go now, “he said in the same calm voice he had been using before, “If you run off I am not going to try and stop you. But before you run off I would advise that you listen well first.”

The boy’s eyes widened as he heard screams of terror and pain coming from the directions in which the rest of the party had scattered.

Then his eyes turned to where Kaleb was and fainted with the words, “He killed her.”

Novan dropped the boy and spun around to where Kaleb had been sitting. Kaleb was standing over the silent figure of a young woman. And seemed to be listening very carefully.

“We must leave,” he said suddenly, “The other’s are dead. You are all that is left.”

He saw Novan looking at the woman’s body, and said, “I did not kill her.”

“I know,” replied Novan, “otherwise she would not have been lying there motionlessly. And she would not have been breathing.”

“I had to stop her from running away too. We used to be… friends.”

“I see.”

Kaleb picked the woman up and slung her over his shoulder, then turned and fixed his eyes balefully on where the doctor was still sitting and said, “I hope you realized that it was your actions that doomed these people. You condemned these people to the same hell that you are now suffering.”

“I did not mean for this to happen,” the doctor replied, “And I truly am sorry. Not that that is much consolation to those people.”

Kaleb snorted and turned away.

“Wait,” Novan said, “before we leave, I need to know something. Why are you still breathing?”

Kaleb turned back with a look of surprise on his face, “Why so I am. I guess it’s a hard habit to break.”

“Well don’t stop,” Novan replied, “I think that your continued breathing is what has kept your brain from decay. Maybe even more than the MDE. And I would appreciate it if you kept it up too, doctor Meldew.”

The doctor slowly stood up.

“There will be no need for that,” he responded, “I will not be going with you.”

His face twisted into a wry grin, “I will try to lead my macabre clan, as I called them, away from where you are heading. In one hour, I will blow the hatch of the airlocks, so try and be away from this cursed craft by then.”

He walked over to Kaleb and removed the cranial scanner from a pocket.

“Here,” he said and placed it on Kaleb’s head, “I will set this so that a small alarm will sound in your ears when it is time for you to leave these people.”

Then he turned and walked towards the airlocks.

Novan just picked up the boy without any comment, then asked Kaleb, “So where to now? I can’t say I trust you completely, but I guess I don’t have much of a choice. And you can’t really blame me.”

“No,” said Kaleb, “I guess you can’t. I would however advise running.”

Novan cast a backwards glance, then set of at a sprint after Kaleb. Behind them the vanguard of the undead were already starting to appear down the corridors that the other survivors had vanished down. These were the oldest of the undead, and parts of them had already dropped off, but they were still shuffling along at a surprising speed.

After about fifteen minutes of constant running, Novan’s breath was like fire in his chest, and the boy was like a sack of lead on his shoulders. He stopped, and leaned against a wall, breathing as heavy as a teenager at a drive-in.

“We must rest,” he gasped, “I can’t go any further without rest. And the kid is starting to come around.”

Kaleb stopped and listened carefully, then gently laid the woman on the ground, “Very well, but only for a few minutes. They do not know where we are at the moment, but they know we are heading for the escape pods, and they are gaining on us fast.”

Novan sank to his knees and dropped the boy to the floor. The boy’s head hit quite hard and he was once again rendered unconscious.

“Here,” said Kaleb. Novan looked up and saw two capsules in the undead man’s hand.

“What is it?” Novan asked suspiciously.

“MDE.” replied Kaleb, “Another habit I find hard to break. I do believe you are right about the breathing and the MDE.”

“Then you should rather keep it,” Novan replied.

Kaleb laughed softly, “Don’t worry about me. I have quite a large supply.”

Novan took the capsules from Kaleb, and swallowed it.

The effect was almost instantaneous. It felt as if a wave of power swept through his body, infusing every pore with raw energy. Novan knew at once that he might just have had a overdose. Kaleb had not considered that Novan was not a addict as he had been.

“We must run,” he gasped, and grabbed the boy. He was surprised at how easily he threw the boy over his shoulder, and he did not even notice the weight at all.

Kaleb understood at once and followed with the woman.

Now they covered distance at a much faster speed than before, and Kaleb was the one who could barely keep up. But he was tireless, where Novan had worn down fast.

It took them only about ten more minutes to reach the escape pods.

When they arrived there Novan’s body was still filled with energy, but he was out of danger of gracing the walls with his intestines.

Kaleb smiled, “We have made very good time. It will take the clan more than fifteen minutes to catch up. I am sorry about that, by the way, I did not take your body’s unpolluted state into account.”

“That’s okay,” Novan replied, still jumping around like a Jack-in-the-box, “Your addiction saved me.”

“And now you must take these two people and go,” Kaleb said and turned away, “I wish you the best of luck.”

Novan stood watching Kaleb walk off, and then made a decision.

“Kaleb! Wait!” he shouted, “Come with us.”

“You know I can’t Novan.”

“But you can be cryogenically frozen in the escape pod! Maybe someone will be able to do something for you when we get back to civilization. If nothing else, we can hook you up to keep your body supplied a constant flow of MDE.”

“No,” replied Kaleb, “It would not be safe for you. And what if this is a disease? I could spread it!”

“If it’s a disease we already carry it. And diseases can be cured. Besides, we will be held in quarantine on our rescue. I will keep you separated from the rest of us in the holding sell.”

Kaleb was silent for a minute.

“Very well,” he said finally, “But we must go at once. They are very close.”

Novan did not wait any longer, and picked the boy up once again. Kaleb also picked up his charge, and they entered the escape pod just as the first of the undead became visible shuffling down the corridor.

The sound of the door closing behind them was very final, but they wasted no time with sad reminiscence, because the dead could still override the hatch and follow them into the pod if they were given enough time.

Novan quickly strapped the two other living passengers down, then secured Kaleb in the holding cell, which was standard on all escape pods after an incident involving a presidential visit to a jail-craft that had malfunctioned.

Finally he strapped himself in and pressed the button for the release for long enough for the pod computer to scan and log his DNA.

As they were shot away he gave one last look back at the Contessa Costa de Hayea. The asteroid that had hit the craft and started this hellish experience was still lodged tightly into the side of the craft. Then he passed out from the acceleration pressure.

About three hours later he was awakened by Kaleb’s voice.

“Novan!”

Novan groaned.

“Novan, wake up! Something’s happening.”

Novan tried to jump from his seat at the memory of the dead, but the straps still held him secure. Then he remembered where he was, and relaxed.

“Damn you Novan,” said Kaleb,” Get over here! I think I’m dying.”

This brought Novan to complete consciousness, and he quickly unstrapped himself and stumbled to where Kaleb was leaning against the force-field that separated him from the rest of the small cabin.

“What do you mean, you’re dying, “Novan asked. Kaleb did indeed look a lot weaker that he had when they boarded the pod.

“Just what I said,” replied Kaleb, “I feel something pulling at me, and it’s been getting stronger the further we travelled.”

“The craft?” Novan asked.

“No,” Kaleb answered, “I am being pulled the other way.”

Novan looked at him for a while, then turned off the force-field and knelt next to him.

“Then you must be going to heaven,” he replied, “We just left hell.”

Kaleb smiled.

“I believe you’re right. I think that is why we did not die. Our souls had nowhere to go, because heaven is on earth.”

“Let me get you into the cryo-chamber, “Novan said, and tried to pull Kaleb into a sitting position.

“No. I am not afraid of dying. Please give me the peace.”

Novan looked at him for a while and nodded, and simply continued to hold Kaleb’s hand.

The strength slowly sapped out of the hand, until it was almost completely limp. Then Kaleb whispered, “Thank you for trusting me.”

“No problem,” Novan replied.

“The woman, Seenda,” Kaleb swallowed, “Tell her I loved her.”

Then his hand went limp. He was dead. Completely.