A series of pops and clicks echoed within my helm, signaling a communication coming in. I quickly flip off channel three and open the other channels.
“Tubbs, are those two ready?” Aikman asked after I opened communication with him.
“I believe so sir, they should be able to get to the airlock and ready to enter within the next five minutes.”
“Good, let them know that. And you get that panel patched up before we have another asteroid shower. I want our power to be at full capacity, and right now we’re only drawing in eighty eight percent of what we need.”
“How full are the batteries?” I asked, now concerned.
“About half, but we should be fine assuming you can do your job in a short period of time.” Aikman said, his voice practically dripping with the sneer likely on his face. “Just make sure we’re ready to go and don’t get in the real scientists way.”
“Yes sir,” I replied with a sigh and a smile. Best not to argue, as it’ll only eat into my oxygen supply, which I can already see is at seventy percent from all of this nonsense and my prior repairs. At forty percent I’ll head in for a break and see what the eggheads have found out about my little discovery.
Riley and Salas begin moving along the scaffolding towards Airlock C, balancing the leathery pod between them as Salas tries to move with his tool kit at the same time. I just shake my head within the suit and move out onto the panel, using my thrusters to scoot faster towards the hole the alien pod had made. The edges are covered in a sticky looking gel and some of the slimy mucous that the strands were secreting; I pull out the thick canister of molecular molding and spray some along the edges, slowly filling the gaps and cracks in the panel before I move on to address the hole.
“Alright Tubbs, we’re going in okay? Take care of our tethers for us.” Salas said over the communication channel.
“Roger that, just leave them dangling and I’ll reel ‘em in when I go inside myself.”
“Thanks!” Riley said enthusiastically.
Turning to look at them, I can see the airlock opening in front of them, their two tethers already drifting off into space; the line’s still connected to the railing by Airlock B. The doors begin to reseal behind them, and I order my suit to close all communication channels and begin playing music from my library. A little Ozzy to get me through the hard work always makes it go by faster.
Turning, I hum along to the heavy guitar riff as I reach for one of the spare panels I brought out earlier, currently anchored down on the scaffolding. Using the compressed air on my suit to shoot forward I grab onto one of the panels, perhaps five feet by five feet.
“Yeah… this should cover it.” I muttered as the Prince of Darkness sings about the crazy train.
Taking the panel, I jet back over to the hole, using the thrusters to have me land safely next to the wide opening. Laying the panel down over the hole, I see it just barely covers up the damage caused by the pod. I use one hand to hold it down and take out the molecular molding canister once more, spraying the foam out like glue over the sides of the panel, bonding it to the rest of the solar panel in a messy, but sealed, way. The molecular mold leaves scarring in a way that this section of solar panel will not absorb the energy from light at the same rate as the rest of them, but unfortunately that is the best I’ll be able to do with what resources we have. I order the volume down and command my suit to begin recording.
“Note to self: have Aikman order more panels and correct tools to do a full replacement.” I said aloud, listening to the beginning of Iron Man in the background. “End recording, volume at eight.”
The volume increases once more and I spend the next half hour touching up the heavy damage to this section of panel, bonding and sealing the hole as best I can with what I have to work with. The bonding agent is wonderful, and seals almost instantly, leaving a thick blurry blob of plastic where the foam once sat. the spare panel has a large outline of the bonding agent running from all four corners, sealing it all up and allowing the panel to once again be operational without fear of space debris getting beneath the protective plastic and into the finer mechanical work beneath that allow our space station to operate with such efficiency.
Thrusting through the emptiness up to the scaffolding, I grab the other panels I’d brought out with me and begin slowly making my way to Airlock B. As I get close enough, I reach up and snag the tethers that are freely floating, dragging them along with me so that I can bring them inside for later use. We only have so many of these things, and lord knows what would happen if we just left them out here to flutter about.
Stopping in front of the airlock, I press the external panel to activate it, before pulling a cord from my hip and plugging it into the station. It takes a few moments, but the station recognizes the suit as one of the dozen programmed to communicate with it, and the airlock doors slide open, a rush of air blasting past me as the vacuum sucks it out. I unhook all three tethers and bring them inside, rolling them up and hanging them on the wall in their respective spaces, before hauling in the panels and laying them against the wall. The artificial gravity in the station is partially in effect in the airlock when open, so I have no need to be afraid of my supplies floating away if I don’t watch them.
Once everything is tucked away where it should be, I pull my plug once more and socket it into the terminal inside the airlock, waiting the brief few moments for the airlock to close before commanding the volume of my music to go to zero.
It’s at that point I hear the ringing of the communications channel going off. “Open channel two,” I said, noting that the ringing has been going on for four minutes.
“There you are!” Aikman yelled into the radio, a dull roar of noise filling in the background.
“Yeah, sorry ‘bout that, was just putting everything up and coming inside.”
“Which airlock?” He asked quickly, a rise of static making his last word fuzzy.
“Airlock B, why?”
“Because we’ve had to quarantine the lab area, that’s why,” Aikman said, obviously distressed. “We had five people in there and they began dissecting the pod, and all hell broke loose.”
“What happened?” I asked, hoping Riley and Salas are okay.
“I don’t know, I don’t know!” Aikman yelled, the loud sounds in the background seemingly growing louder. “I’m outside the labs now and it sounds like a machine shop is being run in there. The doors are sealed from the inside and the cameras aren’t transmitting a feed anymore.”
“So what do you want me to do?” I asked, knowing what’s coming.
“I want you to come inside and get a fresh tank of oxygen and then go through Airlock C and tell me what you find.” Aikman ordered, his voice clear but fearful.
“And why should I do that? I told you fools that thing was nothing but trouble!”
“Because you’re the only one that can bypass the seals, but you’ll need to be on the inside to do it. The airlock won’t be blocked as they go off of a different system than the doors in the labs.”
“Great, just great… let me grab a new oxygen tank and I’ll walk over there now.” I said, pulling one of the tanks free from the wall and setting it down on the ground. I finish closing the airlock so that I can switch the air tanks easily (well, as easily as you can in one of these damned bulky suits!) before plugging into the terminal once more and accessing the other airlocks.
“Computer, run analysis of Airlock C status.” I said aloud, my order being fed directly to the station. A small image appears on my dome covering the front half of my head, showing a schematic of the two and half mile stretch of space station. All of the airlocks are currently set to lock.
“Computer, unlock and open Airlock C’s external port.” I want to make sure it can be opened before I walk the four hundred feet to it. I see the red indicator on my screen light up green, showing that it can open. “Computer, close and lock Airlock C’s external port.”
It flashes from green to red once more and I finish resetting my kit out with everything I think I’ll need. I take a large automated saw, designed to cut through the titanium plating of the space stations hull, and shoulder it for a moment. If the alien pod hatched and there’s something in there acting violent, I damn sure want to go in prepared.
“Computer,” I said, reaching for the plug. “Unlock and open Airlock B’s external port for thirty seconds before closing and locking.”
I unplug myself as the airlock opens up, the vacuum tugging me for a moment as I feel the air that had been pumped into the airlock whoosh out around me. Checking my status bar, I see I have one hundred percent oxygen levels at this moment. Good. If things have really gone poorly in the lab I may just open the airlock fully and flush out the entire sector.
That would be a last resort though.
I make the slow walk between Airlock B to Airlock C, sweating slightly from both the heat of the sun bearing down on me as well as the fear of the unknown. Who knows what’s in the biology labs right now? There were five people in there, not armed, but still enough of them to at least make a report of a problem. For the entire sector to go dark like this is a very, very bad sign. I curse myself for even reporting the damnable pod; I should have just cut it free and let it burn up in the atmosphere, kept it a secret.
Now some of my comrades and friends may be dead, or worse. Various scenarios run through my mind, from reanimated corpses to mutated reflections of my former astronaut buddies. I can’t begin to guess as to what was in the pod, so I try and push the negative thoughts from my mind, force myself to focus on each step that I take, bringing me closer to Airlock C.
I open the transmission channel to Aikman, imagining the man lighting a cigarette despite the regulations against such an act. He always snuck cigarettes when stressed, and running a space station was a stressful job.
“You there Aikman?” I asked, knowing he would be glued to the radio terminal.
“Yes, I’m here,” he said, sounding as stressed as I imagined. “Are you at Airlock C?”
“Yeah, I’m here. I brought my saw with me in case things get dicey in there, so if there is an alien and it even looks at me in a hostile way, know I’m going to hack off whatever passes for a head it might possess.”
“That might not be advisable,” Aikman said his voice weary. “I already radioed NASA and they want the alien brought down alive. By any means necessary.”
“Sucks to be them because I’m the one going in after this damn thing,” I snap off, moving to the airlock doors. “I told you all this was a foolish idea and you went ahead and brought a radioactive alien life form into the station!”
“I understand Tubbs, but please, try and refrain from killing it,” Aikman pleads. “If you have to, I’ll understand; but just try and take it alive.”
“Terminate communications,” I said, not bothering to acknowledge Aikman’s request. I can always claim I didn’t hear the request, a lost transmission that was merely static on my end. I heft my saw into my right hand and press the manual code to open the outer airlock. I glide into the ten by ten by ten room, planting my magnetic boots on the ground. Turning, I close the exterior doors before typing in the command to pump an atmosphere into the room. After listening to the hiss of gas for a few seconds I unlock my helmet and pull it off, only to nearly wretch from the stench.
The oxygen being pumped in stinks to high heaven, like rotten vegetables and spoiled meat. I quickly hook my helmet back into place, clicking the seal closed to regulate the air flowing in and out of my bulky EPS suit. Maybe it was better to go in to the laboratories in the suit, I thought. The Environmental Protection Suit wasn’t body armor by any means, but it protected the wearer from radiation and errant space debris. If whatever was in the lab had claws, it would take some serious muscle to cut through the rubber hide of the EPS, precious time I could use to use my saw on the bugger.
Once the tone goes off signaling a steady atmosphere I punch in the code to open the interior doors, the thick titanium alloy designed to keep the vacuum of space at bay should the outer airlock get damaged somehow. The doors slide open seamlessly, revealing the hall leading to the individual laboratories that’d been set up on the ship, one dedicated to bacteria, another to mice, and so on. Not being a scientist, I’ve only walked through this section of the station a few times, mainly to work on faulty wiring. Holding my saw in both hands, I begin slowly walking down the hall.