Authors: David Coy
Tags: #dystopian, #space, #series, #contagion, #infections, #fiction, #alien, #science fiction, #space opera, #outbreak
fall asleep—you’re our only way out of here,” Phil said.
chance,” Ned replied.
pulled the notebook out of the back of his pants, and together they
double-timed it over to the control panel.
control panel covered a section of wall about six feet square. It was one thing
to see it drawn on a page and another to see in the flesh. Nothing was moving
on it, but it looked like it was about to start squirming all the same. Looking
at it, Phil wondered again what would have launched this alien science. Lack of
metallic or other inanimate resources might do it, but there was more to it
than that. Here was living material changed from one purpose to another as
easily as human science would change sheet metal into a fender. He wondered
too, if there was consciousness anywhere in that wicked-looking alien panel and
prayed that there wasn’t. Not for the first time since his arrival, he felt
sickened by this monstrous technology.
for another time,
the drawing out so Mary could see, too.
was dominated by a structure in the center of it that looked like a cluster of thick,
smooth twisted roots. About the size of a basketball, the tangle formed a nest
for an iridescent blood-red ball in the center. There were other attachments or
structures, some of which looked like gigantic trilobites glued to the surface.
The impression Mary got was that they’d scooped up a patch of pond bottom,
enlarged it and stuck it to the wall.
says that one opens the doors—the other one closes them,” Phil said pointing
to two regular-looking openers.
the drawing. “That’s right.” She reached out and pointed to the tangle of
roots. “This root ball is the one that opens the hatch to space. Better stay
away from it for now.”
thoughtful. “I wonder if there’s any logic built in.”
what if it’s possible to open the equalizing vents while the space-hatch is
thought about it. “Let’s not test it.”
try the doors.”
reached out and put her hand on the opener. Both of their heads turned toward
the seams in the wall in anticipation. Nothing happened.
Phil said. He reached up and added his hand to hers. Their heads turned again
toward the seams.
Phil blurted again.
hold it,” Mary said. “Let me see the drawing.”
studied it for a minute, looking from the drawing to biotic panel and back
should open,” she said.
doesn’t,” Phil said.
now,” she said. “The damned thing won’t open until something else happens.”
studied the drawing then walked over to the huge window and looked in, scanning
the interior of the air lock. She looked at the drawing again, then stood with
her fists on her hips.
short,” Phil said quietly. He looked over his shoulder as if he expected a
that,” she said.
pitched the notebook to Phil and walked back over to the window. She leaned
against it and looked up at the equalizing vents that ringed the inside of it.
she said finally. “Perfectly logical.”
sees the same thing over and over and thinks everything works just the way the
goons want it. To her, the goons are in control of the whole operation. The truth
is, the panel controls what the goons can and cannot do and when they can do
that this thing has veins and nerves in it, it’s a control panel. It controls a
critical ship’s function—allowing the shuttles ingress and egress. You can’t
just open the damned hatches in any order. That’s nuts.”
“Okay . .
open the seams until we cycle the air once then open and then close the space
hole. Then the seams will open. If I was the panel, that’s the way I’d do it.
Besides it fits.”
we have to make the whole damned thing work once before the wall seams will
follows in sequence. I’d bet on it.”
mulled it over. For starters, those vents were damn loud. She was probably
right; and if she were it was clear that there was more to this than just
pressing some biotic buttons. There were probably indicators, too, living
gauges built into the panel—gauges they couldn’t read. It could be alarmed, and
there was no telling when or where they might go off. It was theoretically
simple enough, bottom line was that they were about to open a hatch into cold
space with a control panel they could barely fathom. There was more than a
little room for error.
like it,” he said.
either, but I don’t think there’s an option if we want to get inside.”
stood there looking at the panel and Phil flapped the notebook against his leg
as he pondered it.
work it?” Phil asked Mary. “You’re fairly mechanically inclined I’ve heard.”
raised an eyebrow and reached out for the notebook. Phil handed it to her then
stepped wisely out of the way. Mary considered the panel. Phil could imagine
her studying a truck’s engine with the same intensity.
like a tide pool,
a machine all the same. I can work this thing.
reached out and put her hand on the trilobite thing that the drawing said
opened the vents. It was an orange-sized structure, roundish with the texture
of rubber, and although it looked like it might be soft, it was hard to the
touch. The contact with it was immediately rewarded with the sound of a great
rush of air coming from the air lock. She looked over her shoulder at Phil and
ventured a very brief grin.
one,” she mouthed.
you know when all the air is evacuated?” Phil yelled over the sound. The sound
was loud. Phil looked pensively toward the exit feeling sure the sound would
assume that when the sound stops, the air is gone,” she yelled back with a
over to the huge window and looked up at it. From his vantage on the floor, he
could watch as it bowed in like a giant rubber balloon from the enormous vacuum
on the other side. As ominous as it looked, he had an odd feeling of certainty
about the wall’s strength.
, is normal and natural to the animate.
died down and Mary echoed the last of it with a deep sigh of relief. Time for
the tough part. She looked briefly at Phil for support.
extended her hand toward the evil root ball thing. As she got close to it, the
bright red center changed from red to yellow like a chromatosphere on a squid.
Mary paused and wondered if that was a go-ahead signal or a warning. There was
only one way to find out. She put her hand down slowly on the center and
pressed. It felt like stiff meringue on a week-old pie. She felt a clear pulse
of energy, like a low-voltage shock through her arm. The sensation increased as
she held her hand there, but the hatch stayed closed. She began to get a feeling
of heat deep in the arm.
happening?” Phil asked.
getting current through my arm, but it’s not exactly a shock. It’s getting
door’s not opening.”
The hot feeling
in the arm continued to increase and was getting painful.
“Ow . . .
this hurts . . .”
. . . it’s trying to work. I’m afraid of what’ll happen if I stop . . . in
like this. Let go.”
minute more. It’s okay. Ouch . . .”
the roots sprang out as if they’d been held down by springs. Before she could
respond, they wrapped around her hand and forearm, binding it tight to the
panel with a neat swirl. She felt a sharp piercing sensation in her palm, and
she clenched her teeth against the wiry probe she felt going up into her arm.
she cried out, grimacing. “It’s got me. It’s putting something up my arm.” She
tried to make light of it by brightening for an instant, but the pained little
smile vanished like smoke. She tried to pull her hand loose. It might as well
have been welded there for the impact she had.
Phil, it’s really got me . . .”
could see the growing panic on her face. She started to tug frantically.
it’s got me.”
reached out toward the tentacles to try to pull them loose.
“No! It might grab you, too!”
She blocked his reach
with her other hand, slapping at his arms. She jerked her head over her shoulder
in the direction of the space-hatch.
goddamned it!” she screamed.
then, Mary sighed and slumped like a balloon losing its air. A second later the
light from the opening space-hatch flooded the chamber like cool, bright water.
Holding Mary up like a rag, Phil squinted against the light.
space-hatch was fully open, Mary recovered and got her legs back.
it doing?” Phil asked.
I did it. I opened
the hatch. It took all of my . . . my . . . energy to do it. You’re not going
to believe this, but I can feel everything in this shuttle bay.”
still had her hand bound tight to it.
you mean, feel?”
“I mean I
can feel the whole damned thing. I can even feel your feet on the floor. But
it’s not the floor, exactly.”
me!” she giggled.
not exactly funny, as Ned would say.”
she giggled some more. “But I’ll be damned if I can’t feel your feet.”
open the doors?”
now. It would be like scratching the back of my hand with the same hand . . . I
. . . my . . . my . . . I couldn’t.”
we going to get you loose?”
easy—I can release at any time.”
“I . . .
I’m confused about that.”
close the hatch, cycle it like you said?”
it seems wrong. The shuttles are confused, too. The next one is very confused.”
to fly down next. I can feel them.” She shook her head in disbelief. “This is
in contact with those things?”
smiled strangely. “You bet. I am those things.”
stepped back from the panel and considered what was happening. He looked over
at the shuttles. The five enormous creatures, part machine, part insect, sat
there like nightmare images, illuminated by the light from the sixty-foot wide
hole in the air-lock. Mary was directly tied into them, bonded to them by a
physical connection. He noticed that in the empty spot left by the shuttle now
on duty, that the floor there was covered by dozens of the same star-shaped
structures that had Mary’s arm. That was it. The root balls were conductors or
connectors from one nervous system to another.
control the shuttles?”
out her free arm and waved it around like a snake. “Just like this,” she said.
It was an odd little display, and somewhat out of touch. Phil studied her face
and the idiotic smile that was growing there.
not be equipped mentally or physically for this alien connection,
go,” he said firmly.
“The a .
. . a . . . shuttles are afraid. Especially the next one.”
that. I don’t care about the
one. Close the hatch, equalize the air, and then let go. Then they won’t be
afraid.” She seemed to gain some of her senses.
it’s all right—really. I’m okay. I can’t tell you how strange this is, but it’s
okay. We can do this.”
thought about it. “Are you sure?”