Elizabeth watched Captain Devereux wait impatiently at the shuttle bay airlock as the atmosphere slowly equalized. Rusty’s statement that the shuttle had an alien survivor aboard surprised everyone on the bridge. Now all those that could be at the bay, were there, waiting to glimpse this ‘survivor’. A new species? What do we call it? Heck, what does it call itself? She’d decided on calling the survivor an ‘it’ since she had no idea of gender, or even if there was one in the classical sense. How does something survive in a vacuum? What kind of tech makes up the suit? How long was it out there? Was it pirates? Smugglers?
Elizabeth checked her tablet, enlarging the box that held an alert from Petty Officer Ratko. She tapped it open and read. Got it done, now you owe me one, Lizzy. Ratko. P.S. Let the ball come to you next time. Manuel is still limping after you ran him over. He’s looking forward to a rematch. Call him on it, his backhand’s lousy. R.
Elizabeth smiled and saved the message. She wondered if she could actually beat Manuel the next time they played. Could he handle it if I did? Probably, he’s got a nice… Her reminiscence was cut off by Captain Devereux. “Commander, there are two things I want done immediately”, she told Elizabeth. Elizabeth couldn’t remember hearing the captain sound so excited in a long while. She listened intently as Devereux continued. “First, re-plot the field now that the interference is gone. Make certain we have direction and drift. Once you’re certain you can find it blindfolded, I want you to assign someone to image and catalog the pieces brought back. Then make a roster for an extended EVA mission. Use your judgment on numbers and equipment. We’ve got enough time to get a couple larger pieces for study.”
“Yes, Captain. I’ll get right on it,” she answered. A grin that matched Devereux’s grew on her lips. Image and catalog. I’ll get to see them first! I am so glad I’m here and not on the Washington. Captain Dresden would have never bothered to alter course to check a lowly debris field. She tapped the tablet again, saving the captain’s orders in a box, and highlighting it.
She moved towards the hatchway, tapping Gogorsky on the shoulder as she moved past him. “Gogo, you’re with me,” she said. “We’ve got artifacts to catalog”. She smiled when ‘Gogo’ said “yesss!” after a short moment, and she could see that signature fist pump he did when he got excited. She continued through the hatch and headed to cargo hold D. She heard his long stride on the deck behind her as he hurried to catch up. At exactly two meters tall, Gogo reminded her of the old 2-D animated tale of Ichabod Crane. With his large ears and prominent Adam’s Apple, he resembled the fictional schoolteacher to a great degree.
Chop was waiting for them as Elizabeth and Gogorski entered the bay. Ratko gave Elizabeth a very ill-tempered glare as she approached. “Gonna need four hundred cubic meters, huh?”, he growled, sounding a lot like the pirate he resembled. “I got you six hundred, and the shuttle says it has barely twelve.” he folded his arms and turned his glare on Gogorski, who looked over to Elizabeth.
“Chop”, she said, “You’re checked out on EVA?” Ratko’s glare returned to Elizabeth. She noted there was a glint of interest in it now. “Yes, I’m checked out, and you know it.” “I know. Want to put it to use?”, she said. “I’m putting a salvage team together, you’re in since you’ve got experience.” She arched an eyebrow and said, “That is, if you want to. This is all volunteer.” “I’m in!”, Gogorski said excitedly, “I..”, Elizabeth silenced him with a look, then turned back to Ratko, who had a very large grin on his face. “A chance to go floating? In a heartbeat, Lizzy, err, Commander”, he said, rubbing his hands together. “I volunteer.”
Smiling, Elizabeth looked over, and up, to Ensign Gogorski. “I’m checked out for EVA”, he said quickly. “Chief insisted everyone in Engineering get certified for EVAs and repair.” He looked down at her, excitement showing in his eyes, and his eager grin. “You’re in, Gogo”, she said, and turned to Ratko. She took a moment to think about the situation. Am I going to have to go EVA? Thank god no, the captain asked me to put the team together. That means to oversee and choose a field leader. The Chief? No. He’s due time down. Who else has been out there? Okay, Ratko’s team leader. I’ll have hmm, Singh as his second. She closed her eyes and winced a little at the idea. Won’t that just please the Chief. He’ll be chewing my ear off why he should be in charge and out there.
“You’re in charge, so you’ll be reporting to me, Chop”, she said and fixed what she hoped was a steely gaze on him. “That won’t be a problem will it?” Ratko scowled visibly at Elizabeth, then sighed and gave her a piratical grin. “There’ll be no problem, Commander. My word on that.” Elizabeth nodded, then tapped an icon on her tablet, pulling up names with EVA experience, and began selecting the team. “Singh is going to be your second. Beyond you, and the others already logging space time, Singh has the most hours EVA.” the Petty Officer’s grin faded slightly, not quite disappearing from his face. “Can do, I’ll pick the rest if you’re fine with that”, he said. “You can send your requests and I’ll approve them.” Ratko smiled again. “You got it, Commander, I’ll make certain they’re the right ones for the job.”
Rusty watched as Hope maneuvered the winged body onto the diagnostic table. The lack of gravity made Hope’s efforts easier, as the body would go any direction with just a push. It was also harder, as the woman’s limbs and wings would tend to splay out, making it difficult to position her on the table.
“Let me help you, Doc”, Rusty said with a smile. “She’s putting up quite a fight, isn’t she?” Both he and Jefferies moved at the same time to assist her. Rusty moved deliberately in front of the older man, cutting off his movement. He grinned and moved opposite of Hope.
Hope looked up at him, then said, “Turgidity.”
“Tur-whatty?”, Rusty queried. “Doc, I know all sorts of technical jargon, but I don’t know that.”
“Fluid pressure”, Jeffries replied. “In space with no gravity, fluid sets up pressure in the body so arms and legs tend to…” “All right, prof, I get it”, Rusty said. The guy looks for a reason to irritate me, I swear. He turned his attention to Hope and the being on the table. Jeffries moved away to help Tsu-tao record images of the salvage. Lieutenant Ferahim wandered around the two men, occasionally helping Jeffries roll a larger piece over to get a full view of it.
Hope gathered in the wing first, pressing it slowly back against the body. Then, using her other hand to push the arm in, folding gently over the wing to hold it in place. Rusty mirrored her movements, getting the limbs against the body. Hope quickly released the arm and drew a restraining strap over the upper chest of the creature’s body to hold it down, then ran a second strap at the waist, and a third above the knees. As he gazed at Hope’s actions, his attention was caught by a faint flash of light.
The diagnostic table flickered as the red heartbeat icon pulsed, with a green line that Rusty remembered was blood pressure. Another showed a white, wildly flickering motion that was brainwave patterns, while a fourth showed a broken blue line that he didn’t recognize. Ferahim stood next to the table for a moment, peering at the numbers.
There was a flash of light just to his left. He turned his head, and watched Jefferies and Tao-tsu working on the salvage pieces. Jefferies would carefully turn the irregular piece over for Tao-tsu image capture. The two men seemed to be in their own world, talking back and forth as they worked. I wonder if they’re comparing notes
He looked over at the statuesque woman admiringly. She seemed to take no notice of him, but he could feel her gaze. She’s sneaky, I didn’t even know she was there. I like that in a woman. “Why isn’t there a radiation value?”, she asked Hope. “I do not know”, was all the reply Hope gave her as she continued to adjust straps and slowly move the wings to wrap around the entity.
Jefferies and Tao-tsu walked over to the small crowd around the table. Tsu-tao stopped a few feet away, content to gaze from a distance. Ferahim smiled at Tsu-tao, then moved to stand next to him. He returned her smile with a warm one of his own, and turned his gaze back to the debris. Oh, I never saw that coming! Tsu-tao, you devious wrench monkey. He chuckled then returned his gaze to the unconscious winged girl. No suit. No protection we understand, and she’s alive after, Morris knows how long, in space.
“How, by the Morris, does something…”, he was cut off as the shuttle bay doors finished closing and Pryafox began to pressurize the bay. “How does something, well, live like that?”, he finished. Jeffries reply was a grunt and a mumbled, “Who knows?” Hope looked over to him, and said, “I don’t know”, and returned to checking the straps and the readouts.
Sykes and Tuggle started to gather the portable radiation detector. The suits made maneuvering difficult, and slow. Their magnetic boots made faint clunks against the metal deck in the now-thin atmosphere of the hold as they muscled the detector onto the carrier. “We’ve got adequate pressure, so you all can unbuckle your fishbowls”, Pryafox’s voice came over the speakers. “Our ETA back to Emerald Flight is about five minutes, so you all can relax and please enjoy the ride.”
Rusty chuckled as he watched Hope focus on the readings. “I’d almost think you know her, Doc”, he said
“I do not”, Hope returned, still intent on the readings. Rusty had seen Hope focused before, but never to this intensity. She seemed mesmerized by the readings in front of her. He watched the Aerian turn the diagnostic table to standby and ready it for transfer back to the Emerald Flight
He looked over to the radiation detector. “I got it”, he said, knowing full well that no one else wanted to touch the delicate looking instrument. He grinned, and disassembled the detector down into component parts. He strapped the pieces down securely onto a rolling pallet. The magnetic wheels kept it firmly anchored to the floor. Rusty turned on the motor and guided it next to the airlock door.
He watched Hope wheel the diagnostic table to the door, lock it, and wait. Leaning against the wall, he waited as Pryafox slowly drifted the shuttle to a precise landing back in its own bay. The airlock floor vibrated as the doors closed and locked. Rusty could begin to hear faint noises outside his helmet as pressure equalized. “When are visiting hours, Doc?”, Rusty said as the shuttle loading door slowly swung open. Hope, looked up, a puzzled look on her features. Sykes and Tuggle moved through the airlock, breaking Rusty’s concentration. He looked up to see Tuggle grab the pallet holding the detector and wheel it through the hatchway. Hope was close on his heels with the diagnostic table.
Rusty watched Hope for a moment, a worried frown on his face that quickly disappeared. I am going to have to see what’s going on with Hope. She’s totally fixated on that winged girl. There’s something about her that the Doc just won’t let go of, and that’s not like her. The worried look shifted to one of purpose. I think I’ll go see what all this is about. What does she see in that girl anyways? His devil-may-care demeanor returned, and he grinned to himself. Whatever it is, I’m going to find out. He stepped over to the medical equipment, and began Pryafox load it onto the carrier pallet.
Devereux looked down at her wrist display, then spread her fingers to enlarge the data display. The holographic image enlarged to a full three-dimensional picture of Emerald Flight, the shuttle, and the near edge of the debris field. “Tactical, get me a display of the full field”, she said. Her display swerved then pulled back, showing the slightly elongated sphere of material.
She used her hand to turn the display to a mostly overhead view that showed the location of Emerald flight next to the field. She murmured quietly at the screen, “Show anything with a organic signature in yellow.” A number of yellow dots appeared on the screen, most just the near side of center. She considered the hologram for a moment longer, then collapsed it back down, the hologram shrinking to a small sphere on the upper edge of the wrist display.
“Update the field and send me the data”, she said to Hawkes, who nodded and replied, “Yes, Captain.” He tapped at his console, then said, “Mapping and analysis should be finished in two hours, Captain.” Devereux nodded, and turned to the communications station.
“Lieutenant Martine, contact the Paragon colony. Tell them, we’re going to be staying here to research this field. We’ll be here for two standard days before resuming course. Verify this delay with the colony to make certain we’re not needed sooner.” “Yes, sir. I’ll take care of it”, the Martine replied. Christine watched as the Lieutenant pulled Paragon up to inform them of the delay in their estimated arrival. Her thoughts drifted as she pulled up the field again. Scott would have been jumping at the chance to explore that field. And Thad, he would be out there already, and we’d be yelling at him to slow down and wait.
She blinked, and felt the familiar ache form around her heart. Scott, I wish so much you were here. Christine’s gaze unfocused, as if looking back in time to another place, then her eyes blinked, and she looked to the tactical station. “Lieutenant Hawkes, you have the bridge until I return.” Hawkes looked up at her, and adjusted his spectacles. His steady gaze stayed on Christine for a moment before he answered,“Yes, Captain”. He returned to his board, tapping at it as Devereux stepped through the hatchway, and followed the corridor towards her cabin. Funny, I was just thinking it didn’t hurt any more, and here I am, walking it off all over again.
Her footsteps carried her past her quarters, along the slanting corridor down to Engineering, and past the huge, synchronized slipstream engines. Her pace slowed as she looked over at them. Scott and Thad both had a hand in every drive that was made. Everything we’ve got is possible because of them. Space, and the chance to explore.
She made an abrupt about-face, and, her jaw set, returned the way she came. It’s not going to rule my life. We both made the choice. It’s done. Christine Devereux, accept what you can’t change, and wait for the things you can. Scott, you always had an answer for everything.
Her wrist comm hummed. Christine raised her arm to chest level, looking down at it. A small, green dot of light enlarged to a small hologram of Hawke’s face. “Captain, the shuttle has docked.” “Thank you, Lieutenant”, she replied, then told Hawkes, “Have a security team with our ‘guest’ to keep the gawkers away, and give Hope an extra pair of hands in case there’s a need for them.” She knew Hawkes would take the last statement as an ‘in case’ the survivor woke up. If it did, Hope might need and extra person or two to help calm or control the situation.
She tapped at the base of the hologram, which shrunk to a small light on the surface of the comm. It’s not like I’m not curious. Something like that wreckage will have a lot of the off-duty personnel down there to get a look at whatever it. I’m already partway there. She reversed her direction again, and strode towards the shuttle bay.
Hawkes checked his simulations. Most of them had progressed adequately, showing that the distribution of security throughout the ship should be adequate to corner and recapture an angry, hostile Star Blood. Hawkes reflected on his experience.
Star Bloods are the shock troops of the Aerian military, deployed when extreme military measures are required. They use symbiotic organic armor. The armor protects its wearer, and augments strength and endurance. The symbiote also can protect a Star Blood for up to seventy hours in space by burning its own tissue to create oxygen and nutrients for the host. Strength is on the order of three to four times human standard.
He looked down at his board, then pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. He copied all the medical information to the simulation and then watched the scenario unfold. After fifteen simulations, he concluded the best method was a two step trap. First, lure the Star Blood into a section of the ship with no immediate cover. Second, use portable sonic emitters to disorient and push it into the open for tranquilizers or energy weaponry.
With the Star Blood carapaces, Hawkes preferred the sonics, as the weapon required a less precise aim. The sonics would not knock the Star Blood unconscious, but would severely disorient and weaken it. Tranquilizers were still the most effective method of control, if used as an aerosol or misted spray. Darts would be effective only if skin and not the carapace was struck. He made a few personal notes on his tablet, then set them aside, minimized, along the left edge of the screen. He set the tablet down and returned his attention to the station board.
“Sergeants Sykes, Tuggle. Please send me a visual feed, along with any biological data the Ship’s Physician has acquired”, he said firmly. “Yes, sir”, Tuggle replied with a soft rasp to his voice. “The Doc heard you and is uploading to your board now.” A small icon appeared on Hawkes’ flatscreen, glowing blue and pulsing. He tapped it open, reading the data. The live feed from Tuggle’s camera allowed him a close view of the being. The wings are reminiscent of Aerian physiology. He continued to make notes of the being’s immediate features.
No visible armor, no visible weaponry, wings, no spines. It doesn’t appear to be of the same race, despite similarities. “Sergeant Sykes, please press one of the being’s fingers just below the tip?”, Hawkes ordered. He watched Sykes’ camera close in, then an extended finger pressed against the beings. Nothing happened. “Did you note any unusual stiffness in the finger or perhaps a bony protrusion?”, he asked the sergeant. “Nothing sir”, Sykes said. “No venom sacks or claws”, Hawkes said dispassionately. There was a long silence, then Sykes and Tuggle said in unison, “Say what?”.
“Do not touch the body”, Hope said firmly. “Yes ma’am”, Sykes and Tuggle replied together. Hawkes watched the view turn, then one person, Tuggle, raised his hand and grabbed the edge of the diagnostic table, and pushed it, following the medical specialist. Sykes showed a step behind Tuggle in the hallway. Hawkes noted that if upright, the being would be rather similar physically to the medical specialist, and perhaps a half head taller.
“Sergeants, have you seen a similar being before in your experiences?”, Hawkes queried them as the men followed Hope to the Infirmary. “You mean, other than Star Bloods? You know more than me or Tug, Lieutenant. You fought them.”, Sykes replied. He shifted the carrier left to avoid some personnel in the hallway before moving back to the center of the deck, following the short, slim form of Hope. “I’ve never seen wings on anything other than bugs.”
“Understood”, Hawkes replied, then lapsed into silence. Am I missing something? Could this be a Star Blood of some form? Hawkes brought his tablet from its holster, then tapped open a series of boxes, looking up what was known of Star Bloods. After scanning the physiological information briefly, he was certain this creature had no relation to them in any manner. It is too small, too light for a Star Blood. There is no symbiote. And there are no physical markers to any other race in the database either. What is it? He ran a hand through his hair then pushed his glasses up his nose again. No matter, once the Doctor runs a complete suite of tests, there will be much more data to compare.
“Move the table there”, Hope told the men. Once the table was maneuvered into place, Hope addressed the two men once more. “Leave”, she said in a way that had both men almost scurrying for the entry. Hawkes snapped out of his musings, and returned his attention to the Medical Officer’s preparations. Monitoring equipment. Diagnostic sensors. Data gathering. More data gathering, and no thought to security or defense, Hawkes thought with a slight flash of irritation. The infirmary needs security on that creature until we know it’s not needed. Hawkes keyed the comm channel.
“Sergeants, you will stay at the medical facilities and maintain security overwatch on the unknown.” Hawkes paused, then added, “Four hour shifts. Remain alert.” “Aye, sir”, Tuggle replied. “We’ll make sure sleeping beauty’s not disturbed.” He heard a chuckle from Sykes. “Make certain the automatic quarantine security is active. Hawkes out”, he said, then turned to his other duties, designing and running another capture and containment simulation.
Hope stared impassively at the two security personnel. “Out. By the door.”, she said in a level tone. “Aye, Doc”, Tuggle said with a smile. “ You won’t know we’re here.”
“Yes. I will.” Hope replied with the faintest trace of irritation.
Tuggle suddenly looked like he bit into something sour, and a small grin grew on Sykes’ face as Hope waited for them to leave. “Never argue, Tug”, Sykes chuckled, “She’s literal.” “I noticed”, Tuggle replied. Hope ignored their chatter; there were other things on her mind at the moment. Foremost was the patient in quarantine. The readings have to be confirmed. I can’t make a mistake. If the initial values are true, then I may have a sequence I can use. “No visitors”, she told the security team, then turned and strode to the quarantine room. Hope unlocked the sliding door, raising it open, and stepped in. The winged creature was still unconscious, and still strapped to the table. The diagnostic table was recording information as it had been left. Hope switched the computer to voice activation. “Reset. Zero all readings. Turn off all sensors. Come active”, she said slowly in her raspy, stilted English.
She ran the entire suite of diagnostic scans again. Doing every step by hand, one at a time, in complete detail. Hope made certain there was no result due to genetic drift within known species. She laboriously tabulated each result and ran comparisons against every genome in the medical database. She double-checked correlations between every one of them, regardless of how different the values appeared.
The initial data finished in fifteen minutes, and confirmed her first impression. There was no doubt in her mind, and with that, more questions than she had anticipated. She set the data aside, then looked over at the quarantine room door, as if trying to peer through it.
She is my species, one that has never been even hinted at in the historical archives. How do I begin to explain something that has no history, yet exists? Is this an enemy, or an ally, or perhaps an experiment by the Creators? I do not know the answer yet. I will find it. First, I must know the age of the wreckage. That will at least be an indicator of when she was trapped. Hope left the quarantine room, closing the heavy glass door. She turned to go to the culturing lab, then paused. What am I feeling? There’s something I can sense. I can almost know it.
Hope looked over to the desk with the data on it, then back at the shadowy figure behind the translucent quarantine glass, and then over to the diagnostic readouts. She switched through the screens: physiology, chemical analysis, brainwave patterns, radiation, energy, nervous system. She was excited, and frustrated, by the winged Aerian. What is she? Somewhat like the Star Blood, and not. Wings longer than tall yet too small to be functional. No symbiotic armor. No evidence of any symbiote whatsoever. No protection from vacuum, yet, no damage from vacuum. No damage from radiation. No damage from her, she groped for the proper description. Semi-solid state? What kind of conditions created that state?
She adjusted the controls, setting a deeper constant scan. There must be something in the cellular structure. Could she be old enough? Hope focused, inhaled, and using a calming exercise, quietly counted twelve heartbeats while exhaling slowly. As she pondered the information streaming across the readouts, she heard the distinctive cadence of the Chief Engineer’s thudding footsteps as he reached the infirmary.
“Uh, Chief, Doc said no visitors”, Sykes told him. Rusty chuckled and replied, “I’m not visiting. I’m here for follow-up testing. Doc still wants to look inside my noggin, and convince herself the empty space is supposed to be there.” He tapped the side of his head with his knuckles as the two men shared a soft chuckle. “Go on in Chief”, Tuggle told him. Hope set the scan to record, then turned to face him. I will reschedule his scans for later. She looked at Rusty with a hint of impatience as he toured the infirmary like a tourist gawking at something he’d never seen before.
“Anything new, Doc?” Rusty said with a grin. “Is our space angel awake? Or is she still gettin’ her beauty sleep?” He sauntered over to the quarantine chamber where the winged woman lay, then tapped theatrically on the translucent glass. Hope stared at him, then at the motionless shape just beyond. An involuntary ‘chrrr‘ of anger slipped past her lips.
Rusty held his hands up, palms to Hope, and stepped back from the glass. She advanced slowly, menacingly towards the Chief, her arms spreading, as if mantling wings over something precious. Her angry ‘chrrr‘ repeated as she backed him towards the entry. Rusty’s smile faltered as he took a step back from her, sensing he had stepped over an unspoken line.
She continued to steer Rusty out of the room, her sheer force of personality driving him one step through the hatchway just as a series of warning beeps sounded from the readout panel. The sound stopped both Hope and Rusty in mid-step. Ignoring the Chief Engineer completely, she quickly moved to the display. Rusty blinked at Hope’s sudden shift of attention, then followed her back in. Hope scanned the readouts, which showed a dramatic spike in brainwave activity. She turned to look at the quarantine cell, and the world blew apart.