Walking along the solar panel to an orbiting space station may seem like an adventure to some people, but really it’s just the path to a shorted panel that needs replacing. My years of training as an astronaut, my degrees in mechanical engineering and information technology… all it made me was an extra-planetary electrician.
I jump at the static of the radio, a small screen appearing on the bottom left of my helmets plastic face cover. “Have you found the problem yet Tubbs?”
I sigh. “I’m closing in on it now sir, I think something just struck the panel and knocked it loose.”
“Well get it fixed and come back inside, we don’t have all damn day to do a simple repair!”
“Yes sir,” I mutter, killing the transmission with a jerk of my wrist, the hi-tech suit taking the hand signal for what it was. Walking along the wide flat platform, careful to remain tethered to the ship and have the magnetic strips of my boots powered to keep me anchored, I finally come upon the one panel that’s been registering as a problem child for the past two days.
Looking at it, I curse beneath my breath. Something indeed hit it but stayed lodged near the center of the panel. This won’t be a quick repair job, no matter what Aikman demands of me. Carefully stepping out onto the slick reflective plastic, I take stock of what struck the panel.
Green in color, the asteroid was small, mere two and a half feet in length. Strange, it had a leathery look to it… and growth coming off of it onto the panel, firmly planting it in deeper. The heat from the panel is bleeding off into the space around me as I walk across the plastic coating, looking out into the twinkling void as I try and figure out what exactly it is that I’m looking at. No asteroids, at least to my knowledge, had vegetation on them, especially vegetation that was viable in the vacuum of space. As I approach the leathery obtrusion, I stop as it wiggles, the lower half pulsing out like the gullet of a frog ready to croak. I take a cautious step back and twitch my wrist, opening the communication channel once more.
“Sir, it’s Tubbs again,” I said into the open channel, hoping Aikman was still listening.
“What is it now Tubbs? What’s the damage report on that solar panel?” Aikman replied, his voice strained by static.
“Significant damage sir, significant. But that’s not what I’m calling in about…”
“What else could you need out there? Do you want us to send a packed lunch?” Aikman sneered over the radio.
“I want you to send one of the biologists, maybe a botanist. Whatever hit the panel is organic, and I think it’s still alive.”
Silence met my ears for a few moments, a few crackling snaps of static telling me the line was still open. After a moment, I grew impatient, as the “asteroid” pulsed once more, this time a faint light shining from within it.
“Are you saying you think an alien life form struck our solar panel, Tubbs?” Aikman asked, his voice lower than before.
“I’m saying I know an alien life form struck our solar panel, as I’m staring at it now,” I replied, stepping back onto the scaffolding between the panels. “The broken solar panel is bleeding off some serious heat too, so cut electricity to it. I think the life form is reacting to it.”
“That might be what’s keeping it alive,” Aikman replied nastily. “Are you so dense that you would have us turn off the one thing that may be keeping the first sign of organic life outside our small world alive? Really?”
“Really. I don’t like it one bit, and I need someone to come and take it off my hands before I can repair the panel.”
“Right,” Aikman sighed into the channel. “Can’t have you messing with it, you’ll probably lose it into space.”
“Probably.” I agree with him, seeing as I would throw the damned thing away from the platform. I’ve seen enough movies know this isn’t a good thing here. The slick looking mass of strands that stretched out from the pitted leathery pod made it look like the thing was actually growing. To me that that could only end in bad things.
“Alright, you sit tight. I’m having Salas and Riley suit up to come out and look at your supposed alien.” Aikman said, before ending the transmission.
Salas was an okay guy, a bit bookish for my tastes, but I was more about the practical side of science, whereas he was a biologist that worked on theories and ran tests on the animals we brought up to this station during the early stages of its construction. Riley was more my kind of gal, a real tomboy that loved to drink as much as research. She and I got along great when our breaks lined up and we always ended up playing pool together in the lounge. Still, despite her laid back attitude she was a botanist of some repute, having discovered at least twelve different species of plant down on earth in the earlier stages of her career.
I didn’t have to wait long, as both scientists emerged from the airlock a mere minute later, taking a moment to attach their tether to the railing along the outside of the station. I waved at them from the football field between us, and I think Riley waves back; she is significantly shorter than Salas. I watch as they both begin lumbering slowly across the scaffolding. With my communications still open, I figure I can try and hail them.
“Transmission, open one, two and three; Salas, Riley, can you hear me?” I said aloud, turning back to stare at the pod; the electricity is still running hot, making the panel a giant heating pad.
“Yeah, we’re on three.” Salas replies, his voice cordial and soft as always.
“Transmission, close one and two,” I said, ordering my suit to close those particular channels so that I wouldn’t receive anyone else’s private conversation. “Glad to see someone else out here with me for once, wish it was under better conditions.”
“Are you kidding? You said you’ve found alien life! How cool is that?” Riley chirped her voice high and sweet.
“Now Riley you know better than to get your hopes up,” Salas chided, moving into sight with a large tool bag at his side. “This could be anything and Tubbs just got spooked.”
“I didn’t get spooked Salas, this thing ain’t from earth, and it’s growing,” I reply with a nervous laugh. I look back at it and swear I can see a small face pressing through a thin section of membrane.
“Well whatever it is we’re here to take it off your hands,” Riley said. “I’m hoping for some kind of space-borne fungus. Theoretically a fungus could make it as spores through a vacuum, for a time.”
“A small period of time, but they wouldn’t be growing out here.” Salas reminded her, swinging his bag back and forth as he lumbered over the halfway point to the panel in question. “Are the panels running smoothly otherwise Tubbs?”
“The solar panels? Yeah, all working at optimum efficiency save for these few. I come out here at least once a week to fix tears and dings from space debris. The first time I found anything like this, however.”
“I would imagine so, or we’d have come out here months ago. I don’t go on nearly as many space walks as I thought I would have, at least from all the training they gave us in Florida.”
“Yeah,” Riley chipped in. “I swear they just did that to punish us or something.”
“Karmic backlash?” I laughed.
“Or something.” Salas sighed, moving a bit closer. “Hey, have you turned on your Geiger counter? Mine was already on and is picking up some readings…”
I reach down to my leg and pull the cord that turns on my own counter and instantly regret it as my suit fills with rapid clicking. I pull the cord again to turn it off. “Yeah, so it’s radioactive. Good thing these suits are insulated.”
“That just means we’ll have to wear suits while examining this thing inside. I suppose we’ll take the airlock on this hemisphere, closer to the biology labs.” Salas reasoned.
“Yeah, turning my counter off. That’s too annoying to listen to.” Riley added with a laugh. “Ooh, I think I can see it.”
I turn to regard them as they come within ten yards of me. I move back, stepping onto another panel to allow them a better gaze at the damned thing. “Pull it out gently if you would, it made a helluva mess breaking up my panel like this.”
Both of them laugh. “We won’t hurt the panel anymore, we promise,” Salas said.
“Poor you, having to fix a panel in outer space while your colleagues get to have boring old terrestrial jobs.”
“At this point I’d take a boring job on Earth over this shit,” I said, looking at Riley. The plastic domes covering our faces are reflective, so I can’t see her face, but I imagine she’s sticking her tongue at me as she so often does.
“Well,” Salas said as he reaches the edge of the scaffolding leading to the damaged panel. “That does indeed look like it’s alive. I’d wager it’s not a plant, though.”
“I have to agree… dammit, that means I owe you a buck.” Riley grouses. “Stupid thing couldn’t have been a plant-based life form. Next one you find better be plant-based Tubbs!”
“Next one I find is being thrown back into the void for damaging my work,” I joke, earning a few chuckles from them.
“Call Aikman and have him clear away a section of the biology lab for us to bring this in. I imagine it’s pretty heavy, so have him get two or three guys in radiations suits ready to help us.” Salas said, slowly walking out towards the embedded pod. “We got a big fella to bring in, don’t we?”
“It almost looks like an egg pod from the spiders of the Amazon,” Riley commented, moving down the panel with Salas, who had stopped by the now pulsating sac and opened up his side satchel to reveal tools. Both he and Riley selected electric saws, small handheld devices that used quartz-tipped saw blades to cut through organic matter quickly and neatly.
I just stood back and watched as they severed the strands that the pod had made, their saws having the slightest bit of difficulty to cut through fibrous tissue. Chunks of green algae drifted away from them as they cut most of the pod free, taking a moment to stop and analyze the pulsing of the pod, Salas taking a pair of microphones and taping them to the side of the pod and plugging it into a jack next to his knee.
“I can hear noises, but nothing resembling a heartbeat…” Salas said.
I remained silent, waiting for them to clear away the alien obstruction. After watching them for a few moments, I opened a third communication line, calling up Aikman.
“What is it now Tubbs?” He answered angrily.
“Riley and Salas are almost ready to bring it in, which they agree is indeed a life form and they need a couple guys in rad suits to help handle the thing.”
“Radiation suits? It’s radioactive?” Aikman sounded a little surprised at this.
“It appears so though we may just be experiencing some background radiation from the sun, who knows? They just want the biology labs cleared so they can take a look at this thing in peace, y’know?”
“Yes, I can understand that. So they’ll be using Airlock C, near the labs?”
“Yeah, Airlock C seems to be the best bet,” I reply, watching as the two of them hoist the now wriggling sac out from the crater it made in the solar panel’s cover. “Oh and boss? I’m going to be out here for another four hours at least, so I’ll come in to resupply my oxygen and get some food in about two. That cool?”
“That’ll be fine Tubbs, that’ll be fine,” Aikman said, seemingly distracted. “I have to go now to set up for this discovery; you stick to the monkey work.”
Aikman cut transmission, leaving me with nothing but static. Flicking my wrist, I cut off that channel and reopen the channel three.
“-said it’s got to be at least a hundred pounds with how dense it is!” Riley shrilly cried, filling my suit with an ear-piercing screech.
“Willing to bet on it?” Salas said a smile evident in his voice.
“Sure, double or nothing.” Riley agreed, hoisting up her half of the alien pod, the fatter end that was wriggling with something on the inside, though it was admittedly wriggling far less now that it was off the heating pad of the solar panel.
“Alright, let’s go then,” Salas said, guiding them up onto the metal scaffolding where their boots could hold them in place. “Tubbs, you get Aikman yet?”
“Yeah, he’s setting up the lab for you, said it might take a couple of minutes.”
“We may not have a couple of minutes, this thing was really lively a few moments ago,” Riley said, shaking her end as if jostling a jug of wine. “Now it’s barely moving at all.”
“I’m sure whatever’s inside is fine Riley, it probably reacts to outside stimuli is all,” Salas explained.
I just moved over to the hole in the panel covering, heaving a sigh. “Yeah, well you two have fun. I’m going to be here, replacing this cover.”
“Ouch, sorry…” Riley said, knowing how annoyed I get with the covering being punctured.
“It’s fine, I’m going to use a molecular mold this time, should spread out and create a sturdy little bubble,” I said, pulling a thick canister from my side. “The guys in the lab, well the tech lab, cooked it up for me, knowing what I go through on a weekly basis.”
“How kind of them,” Riley replied with a grunt. “Salas, are you even lifting from your end?”
“No, not at all. The thing is weightless out here, at least virtually so. I’ll take hold of it once we get to the airlock. Tubbs, when I get the chance I’m going to unlock our tethers. Can I trust you to gather them up for us?”
I nod within my suit. “Of course, I was actually kind of wondering how you were going to manage the walk to the airlock when you’re tethered to the other side.”
“As long as we stay on the scaffolding our electromagnetic boots should keep us attached to the hull,” He said as if reciting from a book he read. Hell, he probably did read it from a book.
“Hey! Jackass! Lift some of this thing, will you? It’s huge and I can barely move while holding it.” Riley growled, hoisting up the sac even further with the aid of her knee. “Damn thing is slippery!”
“Well don’t let go of it for goodness sake or Aikman will have our hides.” Salas snapped, turning to grab a portion of the accursed pod.
“I swear that thing is going to burst open and kill you all once you get it in there,” I said over a wave of static. “You know nothing good can come from this, right?”
“You watch too many movies, Tubbs, I’m sure that as long as we take the proper precautions that the whole situation will remain perfectly safe.”
“Yeah, and if something comes out to kill us, I’ll just stand behind Salas before making my escape.” Riley added with a laugh.
“How droll,” Salas droned.