Read Dominant Species Volume One -- Natural Selection (Dominant Species Series) Online

Authors: David Coy

Tags: #dystopian, #space, #series, #contagion, #infections, #fiction, #alien, #science fiction, #space opera, #outbreak

Dominant Species Volume One -- Natural Selection (Dominant Species Series) (33 page)

BOOK: Dominant Species Volume One -- Natural Selection (Dominant Species Series)
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“Don’t
fall asleep—you’re our only way out of here,” Phil said.

“Not a
chance,” Ned replied.

Phil
pulled the notebook out of the back of his pants, and together they
double-timed it over to the control panel.

The
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.

Save it
for another time,
he thought
.

He held
the drawing out so Mary could see, too.

The panel
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.

“Bailey
says that one opens the doors—the other one closes them,” Phil said pointing
to two regular-looking openers.

Mary consulted
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.”

“Right.”

Mary grew
thoughtful. “I wonder if there’s any logic built in.”

“Logic?
Like what?”

“Well,
what if it’s possible to open the equalizing vents while the space-hatch is
open.”

Phil
thought about it. “Let’s not test it.”

“Good
idea.”

“Let’s
try the doors.”

“You or
me?”

“Go.”

She
reached out and put her hand on the opener. Both of their heads turned toward
the seams in the wall in anticipation. Nothing happened.

“Shit,”
Phil said. He reached up and added his hand to hers. Their heads turned again
toward the seams.

Nothing.

“Shit!”
Phil blurted again.

“Okay,
hold it,” Mary said. “Let me see the drawing.”

Mary
studied it for a minute, looking from the drawing to biotic panel and back
several times.

“It
should open,” she said.

“It
doesn’t,” Phil said.

“Not
now,” she said. “The damned thing won’t open until something else happens.”

“What?”

Mary
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.

“Time’s
short,” Phil said quietly. He looked over his shoulder as if he expected a
visitor.

“I know
that,” she said.

She
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.

“It’s logical,”
she said finally. “Perfectly logical.”

“What
is?”

“Bailey
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
it.”

“I’m
listening.”

“Forget
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 . .
. ”

“We can’t
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.”

“You mean
we have to make the whole damned thing work once before the wall seams will
open?”

“Everything
follows in sequence. I’d bet on it.”

Phil
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.

“I don’t
like it,” he said.

“I don’t
either, but I don’t think there’s an option if we want to get inside.”

They
stood there looking at the panel and Phil flapped the notebook against his leg
as he pondered it.

“Can you
work it?” Phil asked Mary. “You’re fairly mechanically inclined I’ve heard.”

Mary
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.

It looks
like a tide pool,
she thought.
But it’s
a machine all the same. I can work this thing.

She
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.

“Step
one,” she mouthed.

“How do
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
attract attention.

“I’ll
assume that when the sound stops, the air is gone,” she yelled back with a
grin.

Phil walked
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.

Flexibility
and strength,
he
thought
, is normal and natural to the animate.

The sound
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.

She
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.

“What’s
happening?” Phil asked.

“I’m
getting current through my arm, but it’s not exactly a shock. It’s getting
stronger.”

“The
door’s not opening.”

“I know
that!”

The hot feeling
in the arm continued to increase and was getting painful.

“Ow . . .
this hurts . . .”

“Let go,”
he said.

“No. It’s
. . . it’s trying to work. I’m afraid of what’ll happen if I stop . . . in
mid-cycle.”

“I don’t
like this. Let go.”

“Just a
minute more. It’s okay. Ouch . . .”

Suddenly,
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.

“Jesus!”
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.

“Christ,
Phil, it’s really got me . . .”

Phil
could see the growing panic on her face. She started to tug frantically.

“Phil
it’s got me.”

Phil
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.

“Open,
goddamned it!” she screamed.

Just
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.

When the
space-hatch was fully open, Mary recovered and got her legs back.

“What’s
it doing?” Phil asked.

“Not
it
Phil—
me.
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.”

The panel
still had her hand bound tight to it.

“What do
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.”

“What is
it then?”

“It’s
me!” she giggled.

“That’s
not exactly funny, as Ned would say.”

“I know,”
she giggled some more. “But I’ll be damned if I can’t feel your feet.”

“Can you
open the doors?”

“Not right
now. It would be like scratching the back of my hand with the same hand . . . I
. . . my . . . my . . . I couldn’t.”

“How are
we going to get you loose?”

“That’s
easy—I can release at any time.”

“What’s
next?”

“I . . .
I’m confused about that.”

“Can you
close the hatch, cycle it like you said?”

“Yes, but
it seems wrong. The shuttles are confused, too. The next one is very confused.”

“What
next one?”

“The one
to fly down next. I can feel them.” She shook her head in disbelief. “This is
incredible”

“Are you
in contact with those things?”

Mary
smiled strangely. “You bet. I am those things.”

Phil
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.

“Can you
control the shuttles?”

Mary held
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.

We
might
not be equipped mentally or physically for this alien connection,
he thought.

“Mary let
go,” he said firmly.

“The a .
. . a . . . shuttles are afraid. Especially the next one.”

“You said
that. I don’t care about the
next
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.

“Phil,
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.”

Phil
thought about it. “Are you sure?”

BOOK: Dominant Species Volume One -- Natural Selection (Dominant Species Series)
12.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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