Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Carter had watched the glittering mass approach his ship with a strange kind of indifference, simply stared as it washed over his bow view port and coated his freighter without ever considering the possibility it may be hostile. As he stood by helplessly while it ate holes in his hull, he wondered how he could have been so stupid.
The cloud hadn’t appeared on his scanners, hadn’t appeared to have any mass at all until it surrounded his ship, sticking to his hull like glue. He could only watch, fascinated at first, then terrified as blisters appeared on the inner surfaces of his ship’s skin, bursting and depositing little spheres of quicksilver inside. It wasn’t the balls that terrified him, though the smell of rotting egg meat burned his nose, it was that the little balls solidified, unfolding into lithe multi-legged, long bodied eating machines. They burst into his bridge and forward walkways by the hundreds, and as they hatched, began vomiting on and then literally drinking up anything their stomach juices contacted and dissolved. Once satiated, the gleaming silver bug-beasts folded back into balls and just as quickly dissolved into liquid again, before dividing into several smaller balls that would start the process anew.
Carter watched long enough to realize he had a serious problem before high tailing it to the lower cargo hold. He had hoped to get into the tow craft and out into space before it was eaten too. Hitting the cargo bay door release at the far end of the corridor while still at a full sprint, he ran hard into the door itself before he realized it wasn’t opening. Shaken and bruised, he could see through the window that the silver vermin had eaten through the bay door seals, evacuating the atmosphere, most of the cargo and a good portion of his escape vehicle. Carter noticed that in the now airless bay, the silver creatures moved sluggishly, their cycle of dissolving, gorging and reproducing having slowed to a crawl. This gave Carter an idea.
Bobbing and weaving to avoid the falling balls of liquid death, Carter sprinted the length of the ship to the aft engine compartment, then down into the maintenance room below it. The engines were offline, and the silence was deafening as he pulled the environment suit on feet first, engaging the autoseals once he’d pulled it above his shoulders, and clamping the helmet onto his head, he watched the light strobe from red through amber to green as all the seals engaged, and the atmosphere stabilized.
Carter carefully picked his way across the cramped space, keying the override for the airlock and cycling the outer door, leaving the inner door wide open. Alarms screamed in the small space, and he was sure they echoed elsewhere in the ship, but in a moment he ejected himself into space and let the evacuating gases carry him away from his vessel and into the peaceful calm of total vacuum.
He turned to look at the remains of his craft, floating amidst the wrecked and half eaten cargo containers and shrapnel from the shuttle. As he powered up his suit thrusters in short bursts to accelerate himself away to safety, he wondered how long before someone picked up his beacon, and whether his oxygen would last. It was then that he noticed the flecks of silver congealing into tiny balls on his visor, and by the time the smell of sulphur reached him from the depths of his boots, he didn’t even have time to wonder if anyone would hear him scream.