Tales of Solus Station
Brett P. S.
Copyright © 2016 Brett P. S.
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Helene sat snugly in the cockpit of an S3-81 star fighter, an older model not ordinarily meant for deep space travel. However, a few grand in credits and a couple dozen paperclips later, this modified fighter served as a makeshift exploration marvel of a science crew on a tight budget. Helene brought up vital signs on her dash. Everything looked good enough. The rear corner of the cargo hold had a small crack, but it was too small for anything important to come loose and fly away. Hopefully they could fix it this time around.
“This is exploration module 3,” she said over the communication channel. “Hey, is anybody listening?”
“Sorry, Madame Kirsch,” the mic screeched.
“Listen, I’ve found something,” she said.
“There’s nothing in that sector worth mining.”
Helene stared out her viewport. An asteroid the size of a football field floated about a quarter mile from her fighter, marked with deep grooves and pot marks from smaller impacts. However, the most noticeable unique quality was a deep crater that grew into it like a cavern. Her fighter’s sensors fizzled whenever she scanned the depths. Whatever was in there was giving off a massive magnetic disturbance.
“I’m going into radio silence for a while, Hammond. I’ll be back in an hour.”
“What’s this now? What did you find, Helene?”
“I don’t know. There’s a crater on this asteroid gone dark.”
“That ship is old. Could be a calibration mishap.”
“You don’t really believe that,” she said. “It’s worth a look anyway.”
Helene sat and waited for confirmation from command. She glared out her viewport and watched the readings scroll across her user interface. A static wavelength blocked out normal dimensional readings, leaving the interior of the cavern to her imagination. However, if she set out on foot, she could make use of short wave scanning equipment to map out the structure from the inside. Maybe, if she was lucky, she might find something worth a trip back. Only a handful of elements produced a magnetic disturbance of this magnitude and most of them sold well.
“Be careful, Helene,” Hammond said over the communication channel. “If you’re not back in 30 minutes, we’re sending someone down there.”
“Come on,” Helene said, rolling her eyes. “I said an hour!”
“You have 30 minutes, Helene. Make them count.”
Helene’s boots set down on porous rock, and she activated her adhesion module. She tapped each one against the ground for the sensors to acquire a good target substance. As long as the makeup of the asteroid didn’t change drastically, she should be fine. Helene saw her breath wash up against the front of her visor. Her suit began adjusting for the lack of heat since she left her fighter, sending a rush of warm air from the compressor located between her shoulder blades.
The cavern was massive with a height of about ten meters, and the depths went on until darkness overtook her sight. Without a nearby sun, the space around her was already dark, and while her ship did light up the extremities, it couldn’t fit deep inside. Helene brushed her gloved fingers across a dash on her EV suit’s bracer, activating a pair of high-powered lights on top of her visor and the built in short wave scanner. She watched the readout on the dash as the scans penetrated deep inside the cavern. It was like a three-dimensional model and the data gathered might facilitate a future expedition.
“Here goes,” she said to herself.
Helene walked into the dark of the cavern, turning left and right to scan the area with greater accuracy. In hindsight, her lights did little to illuminate the dark crevices, being too concentrated in their rays. Helene relied primarily on the readout from her dash, which took the data in real time.
“What was that?” she yelped.
Something moved. Could be signs of a cave-in waiting to happen, but just to be sure, she stepped over to the source of the disturbance and examined the area. She didn’t find any rocks strewn out across the porous flooring at the site of the anomaly.
“What’s this, now?” she said, noticing a small groove.
It looked like a claw dug deep into the rock. Two in fact. She traced the direction, and they led further down a corridor right into the source of the magnetic disturbance. Helene shined her lights in the direction, and for a moment, her heart skipped a beat. Something long and spiny slithered out of her sight. The creature, whatever it was, stood no more than two feet in height, covered in spines and leathery skin. She checked the timer on her readout. Ten minutes on the clock so far. How could something live without oxygen? What kind of life form could do that? A new kind of extremophile, perhaps.
Helene reached down by her waist and gripped her fingers around the handle of her plasma pistol. She examined one side to check the remaining reserve of plasma bolts. Still half full. Good then. Worse comes to worse, she’ll have a new specimen for Hammond back at the lab.
Helene crept around the bend with her pistol in one hand while her eyes clung to the dash on her bracer. The path winded a ways before she started noticing a peculiar trait about the walls of this cavern. She didn’t pay much attention until after she spotted the creature, but these walls didn’t form naturally. Something carved them, and crudely to boot.
“A nest,” she said. “That has to be it.”
As she cleared the final corridor, Helene’s eyes lit up. A myriad of colors reflected off her visor’s lights. Small stones clustered in the center of a pitch-black chamber with the creature enveloping them. It was much larger than she thought, at least four feet in height with a tail six feet long. A snake-like creature that didn’t seem to breathe bared its fangs at her.
Helene held up her pistol and primed the release. One shot should do the trick, though she couldn’t help but eye the stones. She took a quick glance at her dash and noted the increase in static from the readout. For a short wave scan, that was strong interference.
“I’m guessing I can’t talk you into parting with a few of those, can I?” she asked.
The creature continued its snarl as it backed up, guarding the cluster of precious stones. A strange reaction. It was almost as it if heard her in the deafness of space. Helene eased her finger to the trigger and aimed for the head, but the animal bolted before she could react. With tiny claws, it dug into the walls of the chamber faster than she could have ran. Helene fired a bolt, but her reaction time fell short of the beast’s impressive speed. It jumped across the chamber and lunged at her with rock-worn claws and bleach-white fangs.
In a knee jerk reaction, she thrust her pistol into its jaws, keeping it inches from her face as she pushed to get free. The creature chomped down, its fangs breaking the surface of the gun and a thought ran through her mind. It wouldn’t take much to poke a hole in her EV suit, despite the armor, given the sheer strength of the creature’s jaws.
Helene gathered her strength and threw it off, though in the process, her firearm flew to the side of the chamber. Her first instinct was to go for the gun, and she did reach for it, but she stopped once two black eyes locked in on her movements.
“Easy now,” she said, backing off. “I’m just going to be on my way. No hard feelings, right?”
That didn’t seem to work though, but it was worth a try. It arched its back and its tail flung about, lashing at the walls of the chamber. As it stared at her, Helene noticed something. The eyes didn’t appear to move as it stared at her, and the creature’s tail romped around the area where her gun had fallen until it made contact at last. With a swift motion, it flung the weapon backwards into the cluster.
“My, you’re a frugal collector,” she said. “But you can’t really see me, can you? Not until I move.”
Helene brought up her dash while it readied to pounce and deactivated her adhesion module. She felt the weightlessness as she floated up in her EV suit. The creature twitched its head left and right, flapping its tail about in what she surmised a complete mind blow.
“Now, we get to play tag,” she said. “Better watch the edges.”
Helene checked her dash. Ten minutes left. Plenty of time.
Helene drifted back into the corridor connecting the asteroid’s cavernous entrance to the interior chamber. She left the rocky crag filled with precious stones and floated elsewhere, into the deep. It didn’t appear to react to changes in light, but the creature burrowed its claws across the walls of its nest haphazardly. Its tail whipped around and lashed the rock with thick spines.
Her EV suit had small boosters mounted to the shoulder pads that she could control from her dash, though with limited fuel. It wasn’t enough to navigate all the cracks and bends she went through to get this far inside, not by a long shot. As she approached the first bend, Helene grinned.
“Catch me if you can.”
She tucked in her knees and rotated her body, kicking off the wall to propel her body further into the maze. The caves were silent, no sounds other than her own breathing as her heart rate shot up. Helene directed her visor to the starting point of her trajectory, and the lights caught a mangled mess of leathery skin and spines clawing at the porous rock, carving out bits of minerals from the firmament.
The next bend drew closer. With barely enough time to react, she thrust herself off a fresh rocky wall and flew through the air as the creature tailed close behind. It stopped at the origin, giving a momentary pause before lunging in her direction, swiping at her boots with a hooked finger. Helene tucked in her feet in time to avoid a deep gash.
“Boy, you’re a quick learner,” she said.
Helene propelled herself off the next face with double the force from the last time. She put her legs through the paces to stay ahead of it, but with each turn, the creature inched closer. The last bend before she reached the root. Helene pushed off with her legs and used a bit of fuel to rocket her forward, but it didn’t work well enough. The alien extremophile slung two clawed fists at her visor, and she parried with her arms, but a single thick piece of bone carved through her suit above her wrist.
Air was leaking through the open tear, so she clamped her gloved hand across it in hopes to stave off the process for a while longer. She glanced up to see starlight and the reflective surface of her fighter sending the lights back to her. She checked her dash. Four minutes left. Oxygen levels and pressurization looked good for now. As long as she kept the tear taken care of, things would pan out all right.
Her EV suit didn’t allow for much flexibility, but clamping down on her left arm with her right hand, she managed to arch a few fingers across her dash. It took a few tries to get the movements down, but her index finger controlled the left shoulder booster, and her ring finger took charge of the right shoulder booster. Her pinkie toggled between rotation and thrust.
Helene scanned the open cavern with her visor’s mounted lights in search of the creature as she boosted toward her fighter. Nothing to see yet. Visibility was low without relying on her dash for visual information, but she kept her eyes open. It was a quiet journey as she boosted softly toward her fighter, nearly a meter from the cockpit and she didn’t catch a wink from her pursuer.
“Guess he didn’t want to stick around.”
Territorial maybe? This asteroid was its home … more or less. As quickly as she could, Helene popped open the hatch and climbed inside, warming up the thrusters for the trip back. She pulled back a few meters to exit the proximity of the magnetic disturbance. Her sensors flickered on, and the fighter’s dash lit up with static.
“Hammond, are you listening?” she said.
A few seconds of static passed before a voice echoed through the communication channel.
“You’re back?” Hammond asked.
“Listen, Hammond, I found an extremophile, some kind of alien living inside an asteroid.”
“Yes. It tore a hole in my suit, so I’m heading back, but I want a team down here by this time tomorrow.”
“You found something else then, I take it?”
“Not sure, but I think this one’s a collector.”
Helene grinned at the thought of those rocks. If colors meant anything, they were valuable enough to make a real difference for the research station, but hell if that alien monster didn’t make her work for it. Part ways through her return flight, the cargo hold rumbled and wouldn’t stop. She eased up on the engines, but that didn’t make a difference. Definitely had to get that patched up before her next flight.
Helene jumped down from the cockpit of her repurposed S3-81 fighter and planted her feet on the riveted flooring of Solus Station. Her boots met the ground with a clang as the metal clashed with a titanium panel. The docking bay stood practically silent while a handful of mechanics pushed half-filled carts around, hovering haulers fitted to carry scrap ore and other raw materials brought in by the other exploration modules.
Modules one and two arrived a few minutes before she did, carrying hefty loads of iron ore from the outer limits of the asteroid belt. Modules four and five flew in empty handed, however, returning with little more than mined asteroid rock that Hammond’s people might be able to salvage into something useful. Helene, on the other hand, rode in with an empty cargo pod and a leaking one at that. Whatever rubble remained inside froze over from the flight. Unusable garbage.
She stared down at the rip in her space suit just above the wrist. The orange fabric tore in a jagged manner. Helene rolled her eyes, surprised that was all the damage she took from the extremophile. Hammond needed to hear about her encounter in detail. Speak of the devil, Helene thought as she looked up.
Hammond himself walked across the cargo bay and made his way over with a hurried stride and a wide gait. Hammond was an older individual, with hair the color of salt and a thick beard covering his face. Eric Hammond, though the station’s crew mostly called him by his last name. It was more of a rank and status sort of thing. He strode up in front of her, wearing a gray and steel blue jumpsuit.
“You’re back in one piece, Ms. Kirsch,” Hammond said.
“Not entirely,” Helene said, holding up her arm.
Hammond ran his thumb around the edges of the tear. Hammond lacked the expertise to repair such a thing, and Helene doubted he knew much about EV suits, but he was well versed in biology. He knew a bite or claw mark when he saw it.
“Very interesting,” he said. “You’ll have to use a spare if you go out in the next few days. I need my science crew to examine this one.”
“What do you think it was?” Helene asked.
“Something dangerous,” he said. “Something I don’t want my crew blundering into a cavern to meet.”
Helene rolled her eyes while Hammond wasn’t looking. He released her arm and took a step back to meet her gaze. He stood shorter than most, requiring her to tilt her head down a peg or two. Hammond glared at her with a concerned look. He didn’t notice her rolling her eyes, did he? She was almost certain he couldn’t have.
“Be careful next time, Helene. You’re the best we’ve got.”
Bobby hustled over to exploration Module Three’s cargo pod with a manic pace and a wide grin. His crewmate and fellow custodian, Joseph, shambled close behind while the both of them walked through Solus Station’s docking bay. Dim lights remained on to light their way while the rest of the crew slumbered.
Bobby, along with a few other members of the crew, worked on a different biological clock than the majority of residents. Hammond found it necessary to effectively maintain the station’s systems and clean the halls. Bobby didn’t mind much. It gave him an opportunity to walk the station’s halls without the constant noise. On top of that, the crew lived in space, so it really didn’t matter what Hammond considered day or night.
“Did you hear?” Bobby said. “Lady Kirsch went toe to toe with a space alien!”
“I doubt it,” Joseph replied.
“I swear she did. I heard it from three people.”
Bobby smiled as he leaned against Helene’s fighter. He almost fell back too far, misjudging the distance. Thankfully, though, his shoulder caught in time and Bobby struck a laid-back pose while Joseph pulled out a sonic brush. Joseph took to the hull of the cargo pod and began scrubbing. His brush whizzed as it tore off the caked on space debris caught on Helene’s spacecraft.
“Did you hear it from Helene?” Joseph said moments later.
Bobby paused. He recalled those individuals who recanted the story.
“No, not her,” he said, “But her space suit had a tear in it. I saw that one myself.”
“That’s not proof, Bobby. Those things tear all the time. Heck, my suit’s made of better material, and I ripped it two weeks ago.”
Bobby frowned and crossed his arms. Maybe Joseph was right. He whipped out his own sonic brush and dialed up to the proper setting. Joseph snagged the side of the cargo pod, so he walked around to clean to rear. Bobby failed to grasp space terms like aft or starboard. He didn’t know what they meant, though he heard pilots using them from time to time. One surely stood for the back of a fighter like this one. Bobby reached forward, about to scrub when his eyes lit up.
“See,” he shouted. “I told you it was a space alien! Come look over here!”
Joseph walked over and grimaced while Bobby showed him a tiny tear in the lining of the pod. The crack looked massive, considering, big enough to fit a small person through if it needed.
“It’s been there,” Joseph said.
“I know,” Bobby stammered. “But it’s bigger this time.”
“Yes, by about ten centimeters up the seam.”
“You keep track?” Joseph asked.
“Not all of them.”
Bobby examined the damage done since his previous examination. About ten centimeters exactly. Ms. Kirsch let this pod go for two weeks on guts alone, but if she collected anything at all, she wouldn’t have flown in with much remaining at this point. Another trip and Bobby feared not much would remain of the junked hauler. The problem was, it took cargo to burst out from the inside, but Helene never brought back anything.
“Look, cracks get bigger. It’s nothing special.”
“Let me have a look inside,” Bobby stammered. “Just for a minute.”
Joseph knocked on the pod a few times to signal both his frustration and that he’d allow it. Bobby nodded and climbed up the railing in back to twist off the console cap. A few screws and the cap fell off, hanging by a loose, sturdy wire. He looked down at a pin pad that reminded him of a calculator. Bobby memorized the cargo pod manual release codes for each ship. He had to. It was part of his job.
His fingers jittered from the excitement as he entered in the four-digit pin, and the back dome of the cargo pod swung open on a hinge to his left. Bobby jumped down and switched his sonic brush to a flashlight as he ran around. Once in a decent position, he pointed it at the interior.
“Joe, you need to come look at this.”
His flashlight illuminated scars and oddly cut grooves marking up the interior of the pod, leaving it a torn mess that made Bobby’s heart thump. A mixture of excitement and fear coursed blood through his veins and made his fingertips tingle. Joseph, having finally walked over, dropped his sonic brush and froze in place.
“This isn’t good,” he said. “We need to tell Hammond … now.”
Helene bolted through the station’s halls at break neck speed in her regular orange and red jumpsuit. She left her quarters without a chance to suit up into anything refined, but Hammond wanted her now. She glanced down at her watch to check the time, 2:00 AM. She ached from lack of restful sleep and her poor positioning prior to her attempt at sleep. This was getting old, and her paycheck was still late.
She stopped in front of the command deck’s metallic door and waved her hand across the width of it. The titanium monolith slid open to reveal Hammond and some armed crew working ahead. She ran over to Hammond with shortness of breath, and she sucked in some air while he paced in a circle with his arms crossed. Hammond didn’t appear to notice her until he turned in her direction. He looked up with a shocked expression and shook her hand.
“Good, you made it,” he said. “Please, take a seat.”
“I prefer to stand,” Helene said. “What’s all this about?”
Hammond ran his fingers up over his scalp to slick back some hair that had fallen across his forehead. She glanced around to see more of the command deck lit up than usual. Some of the service crew she recognized toiled away at computer terminals. A bit out of the ordinary for hardware people, though the techies weren’t awake yet. Hammond must have pieced together a working team from willing participants in the mess he scraped up.
“Something’s loose on Solus,” he said.
“Some … thing?” Helene asked.
“The extremophile you encountered. It climbed aboard your spacecraft, and now it resides somewhere on this station.”
“That’s not likely. I never saw it climb aboard.”
“Perhaps there were two,” he said. “One to guard the gems. Another to venture out and find them.” Helene caught her second wind, having a hard time believing him. “Take a look at these pictures.”
Hammond held up a fist-sized tablet and scrolled images of the inside of her fighter’s cargo pod with his thumb. The imagery was striking because the markings reminded her of the rip in her EV suit. She glanced down and pressed her hand against her wrist, and Hammond shot her a serious stare as well.
“If that’s the case, then we need to put the staff on alert. The thing is dangerous.”
“I’ve already informed those awake. I asked everyone to remain in their quarters until we’ve dealt with the issue.”
“That’s a start,” Helene said. “Suit me up. I know its kind best, so I’ll deal with it.”
Hammond gestured over to a pair of service crewmembers, and they took to it, moving on to the weapons locker toward the leftmost nook of the command deck. The wall there contained assorted battle grade EV suits and boasted a wide variety of laser weaponry in the unlikely case of invasion. The munitions stashed away could supply a team of trained soldiers, but Solus lacked willing volunteers. This Station floated on the outskirts of ordinary civilization, though pirates and rogue elements lurked in all corners of the galaxy.
“You know you need to pay me on time from now on,” Helene said. “No more extensions, you hear?”
“I’m doing the best I can,” Hammond explained.
Helene placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Listen, I’ll clean this up because I brought it aboard. We can talk about payments after this is over.”
Helene smiled at him before casually walking past. To say Hammond and his crew on Solus were financially lacking would be putting it lightly. However, Helene liked her job and harbored no thought of leaving any time soon … but if she spotted an opportunity to nudge along her paycheck, she’d jump on it.
Helene walked slowly down a narrow hall within Solus. The boots of her EV suit clanked on the flooring and sent vibrations through the walls and rooms beyond. The ringing from each step drove tiny spikes through her ears, so she only imagined what it must be like for the extremophile.
The alien creature, at least the one she first encountered, didn’t see like a normal animal. It had no eyes to speak of and instead relied on a form of tremor sense. Its long arms and tail slid on the ground or a wall and picked up vibrations. Using all three, it gathered a rudimentary location of anything that moved or breathed for that matter. The accuracy was uncanny, and she understood for good reason.
“Has it moved yet?” Helene said, tapping her earpiece.
As she spoke, Helene wrestled to wield her massive rifle. The EV suit boasted thick padded armor able to stop just about anything except a plasma bolt at least once, but what it granted her in defense, it lacked in mobility. The suit restricted the movement of her limbs and torso. She didn’t like it.
Helene put up with the limitations, however, for two reasons. Primarily, donning the armor kept Hammond and the crew in high spirits, thinking a human tank would mow down the alien menace. Sure thing boss. Second, to be frank, she had no idea how fast the extremophile moved. If it were anything like back on the asteroid, her quickness wouldn’t count for much in a straight fight.
“No,” Hammond said. “Camera feed shows it nesting for now.”
“It’s like warming the eggs until the mother returns,” she replied.
“That is a likely scenario. It’s been making frequent runs to gather precious stones from empty quarters.”
Helene paused in thought for a moment. Strange. She almost expected there to be at least a few casualties by now.
“Has it been intentionally avoiding occupied rooms?” she asked.
“Seems so,” Hammond said. “There must be a reason, though as of yet, I’m in the dark about it.”
“Let me know if you figure anything out.”
“Hold on, Madame Kirsch,” Hammond said. “You’re coming up on the cleaning room. Two doors down on your right.”
Helene held up her rifle and slowly walked over, her eyes and ears scanning for changes in the environment. A changing in shadow. A sudden noise. She imagined a creature living in space didn’t make noises, but a slithering tail and bony arms did. The cleaning room’s door appeared cracked open. She reached over with one hand and gently pushed it aside. Somehow, she felt that if she made as few vibrations as possible, the creature might not sense her. At the least, it might not consider her a threat. She didn’t know if her method would work, but so far, it hadn’t jumped at her.
Helene brushed away the door with her hand and peered into the deep, dark room. The dim light from her rifle casted a soft glow reflected in the many precious gems nestled at the base of the beast. A long white spiny tail swatted the jewelry, as if bathing in them. She couldn’t make out the details or the form of the alien from the weak light on her rifle. A pitch-black fog covered the depths of the room where it slept.
“Hammond, it’s too dark to make my shot,” Helene said.
“Hold on a moment. I’ll turn on the lights.”
Helene gripped her rifle and peered down the sight, ready to fire once Hammond flipped the breaker. She eyed a spot deep inside with her finger hovering above the trigger, and she exhaled one long breath as the lights flickered on. Helene fired once she caught wind of a moving form, but the creature jumped as soon as the humming electricity coursed through the bulbs and fixtures. It lunged at her and struck before she had a chance to fire a second shot.
The creature pinned her down on the floor, her rifle nestled between its powerful jaws. The teeth secreted a thick ooze she hadn’t noticed during her previous encounter. Helene wrestled to break her gun free, but it jerked her weapon from side to side with almost spasmodic movements. Her EV suit did little good besides protecting her vitals as it slashed at her rib cage and carved notches in her chest armor. The blasted thing was too cumbersome, and that was the reason she fell flat on her back.
“My, you’re feisty,” she said, finally shoving it off.
She shambled to her feet, trying to acclimate herself to the battle armor, and gripped her rifle. The creature landed about two meters from her and jerked up to claw her a second time, but Helene fired two bursts from the rifle that cleaved neat holes in the alien’s shoulders. The injury caused one of its arms to give way, and it fell to the floor, skidding a few meters with a body like a rag doll. Helene jumped out of the way, though only barely.
She readied her aim again and took fire, but the creature jumped and slithered around her with a series of movements she couldn’t accurately observe, slinking its tail like a whip as it flew across walls and ceilings. She caught a glimpse while it slithered past, and she fired three bursts that burned holes through titanium.
“It’s getting away!” Hammond yelled through her earpiece.
“Don’t you think I know?” Helene shouted back.
She whirled around in time to see the remnants of a spiny tail curl past the end of the hallway some meters ahead. Helene reacted with her hand on the trigger, but she held her finger back with force of will. It would do no good to put more holes in the ship. Hammond might dock it from her paycheck. Besides, she wounded the alien.
“Sorry. I lost it,” Helene said, gasping for air.
“We’ll investigate camera feeds around the station. It’ll show up soon,” Hammond said.
“Oh, that won’t be a problem,” Helene replied.
Helene grinned as her eyes followed a trail of icy blue liquid running around the bend. The color was different and some patches were thicker than others were, but she knew.
“I made it bleed.”
Helene broke into a light jog a few hallways back, though it was best she could do sporting her armor. She was used to zero gravity and took to three-dimensional fighting like a fish to water, but this method of combat proved far too limiting for her tastes. Worse yet, the gravity on Solus dragged down her EV suit and crippled her movement speed.
Helene stopped, decidedly fed up with her current predicament. She lacked the raw speed to keep up with the monster on foot, so she uncoupled her chest armor from her suit and threw it on the ground. Afterwards, she reached down to uncouple her leg fittings. Then the boots.
“What are you doing?” Hammond asked.
“You want me to catch it? This is the trade off.”
“One swipe will tear through your suit,” Hammond said. “You can’t fight it as you are now.”
“Maybe I won’t have to.”
Helene took mental notes the alien’s behavior and had contemplated a few patterns along the brunt of her jogging experience so far. It stayed clear of occupied quarters and chose a dark cleaning room as its nest. It seemed to indicate the fact that it preferred an environment similar to its former asteroid dwelling, though there was more to it.
“I think it hates the light,” Helene said. “It only ventured to dark places and any place with active lighting makes it go berserk.”
“I doubt that’s correct for a life form with no eyes,” Hammond said. He paused again. “But you may be onto something. It may be sensitive to the electric fields created by current.”
“Is it worth a shot?” Helene asked.
“No, probably not. The creature can withstand a lit hallway, so I doubt anything exists on Solus to more than anger it.”
Helene grabbed hold of her rifle, the only piece of her armaments she cared to carry with her. She bolted down the hallway, following the trail of murky blue drips until she came to a T-junction. The liquid ran up the wall to her left and into a ventilation shaft. Those air ducts ran all across the station. If it could fit inside one of those, then it pretty well had free access to any portion of the station. Helene frowned and leaned up against a corner while she eyed the shaft.
“Wait a second,” she said. “What about the command deck?”
Helene sunk back in the corner of the command deck with her finger poised on the trigger of her rifle. Hammond sat beside her, most of the crew having left the confines of the steel prison. They switched the lights off and powered down each computer, a process that took long enough that it wasn’t finished by the time Helene arrived.
The main entrance was sealed shut and she eyed the vents on either side of the room through a haze of darkness. Her eyes eventually adjusted to the lighting, though not enough to see more than general shapes and not very far into the depths of the room.
The plan was simple. Hammond and his crew juiced up the station’s power reserves and lit up the extremities one by one to drive the extremophile deeper into the heart of Solus. Eventually, it would slither its way into the room with the least amount of running current. When it did … Helene was prepared to handle the situation if their plan deviated from the outline.
A faint sound echoed from farther down, followed by the crashing of a metal vent grating that fell on the floor. Second came the crackling thud of four limbs landing on top of it. Footsteps trampled the grating and thick knuckles scraped across the floor as the alien made its way to the safest location. Helene squinted, but she couldn’t see it from where she sat.
“I don’t like this,” Hammond said.
“You stay put.”
Helene stood up and walked forward. The creature twitched at the sound of her own footsteps, though it seemed occupied by other matters, since it didn’t slink toward her, at least not yet. This was a new environment and even the dark of Solus seemed to overload its senses. Helene stared down the sight of her rifle once she caught glimpse of some movement, but she waited a few more seconds. Slowly, she eased in and began to make out a tail and two long arms with bony-clawed knuckles. She spotted the wound on its left arm, though the trail of blood eluded her.
Helene raised one hand and shouted, “Now!”
Hammond flipped a series of breakers one by one, and the room’s computer terminals and fixtures lit up with a blinding ferocity as the alien jerked in reaction. Helene fired volleys of bursts ripping through its skin and a single shot severed its arm. The alien laid paralyzed from the shock, and maybe the electricity was doing the trick, though that was irrelevant by now. She continued pumping bolts into the creature’s hide until it stopped moving, a moping mass of severed flesh that leaked a murky blue ooze.
Hammond walked over and peered down at it. He slicked back his hair and nodded, placing a hand on Helene’s shoulder.
“Well done,” he said. “It’s a shame though. I would have liked to study it.”
“You don’t pay me to keep things alive,” Helene replied with a smirk.
Hammond sighed and shoved his hands through his pockets. He took a step back before turning tail and walking off, but he let one phrase slip past his lips.
“I’m thinking after this, you deserve a raise.”