Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
“That’s the largest Stanford Torus habitat I’ve ever seen,” stated Commander Strohm, the Endeavor’s science officer. “The major diameter of the Ring must be over twenty kilometers. But it appears to be abandoned, Captain. It’s no longer rotating, and I’m not picking up any artificial electromagnetic radiation. Permission to take a shuttlecraft over and look around?”
The captain nodded. “Affirmative, Ms. Strohm. But, take a cadet with you. It’ll be good training.”
An hour later, the shuttlecraft attached a universal docking station to the exterior side-surface of the Ring. Commander Strohm drifted over to the equipment locker and removed two EVA suits and handed one to Cadet DiGoff. “The sensors say the air inside the Ring is breathable, Ms. DiGoff. However, since he Ring isn’t rotating, there isn’t any gravity effect, so we need to wear these suits in order to maneuver around in there.”
After donning their suits, they opened the hatch and propelled themselves into the Ring. Once on the inside, they found themselves surrounded by dense vegetation. They plowed through a hundred meters of leafy growth before popping into a large open area. Approximately a kilometer to their right was the large transparent window on the inboard side of the Ring. Sunlight reflecting off the secondary mirrors filled the interior on the Ring with soft red-orange light. To their left, was the outboard side of the Ring. It was covered with dilapidated buildings that had been overtaken by twisting vines. Looking straight ahead, the tube-like length of the Ring arched away until it disappeared behind the inboard wall of windows. Then, suddenly, it got dark, like a rain cloud passed overhead, only there were no clouds. The women looked toward the hub to see a dense flock of animals flying toward them in tight formation. “They don’t look very friendly,” commented Commander Strohm. “We better head back to the shuttle.”
Both women spun around and hit their thrusters. Seconds later, they were overtaken by animals that resembled flying stingrays. They had a wingspan of almost a meter, with three claw-like talons on the tips of their elongated pectoral fins. On their underbellies, they had a human size mouth with rows of serrated shark-like teeth. The stingrays swarmed the women as they reached the canopy of vegetation, piercing their talons through the spacesuits of the two fleeing humans. Half a dozen stingrays were clinging to each of them as they shot through the hatch and crashed into the far wall of the shuttlecraft. A dozen more stingrays followed them in.
“Quickly,” ordered Strohm, “close the hatch.” Strohm fought her way to the cockpit, thanking God that she had left the engines idling. She vectored the thrust “down”, and pegged the throttle. As the shuttlecraft accelerated to 0.8g, the stingrays dropped to the deck, flapping helplessly as they fell.
“Dammit,” said DiGoff as she forcefully pried a struggling stingray from her arm. “I thought we were a goner. What did you do to them?”
“Simple physics,” replied Strohm. “They obviously evolved to fly in a weightless environment, so I reasoned that they wouldn’t have the strength to fly in the simulated gravity caused by our acceleration.”
“Well, that worked a hell of lot better than my plan of flailing around and screaming ‘get off of me’. What should we do with them, Ma’am?”
“Let’s lock them into the bathroom. We’ll let the xenobiologists deal with them when we get back to the Endeavor.”
“That’s fine by me, Ma’am” replied DiGoff. “But before we do that, can you give me a few minutes to change into a clean uniform?”
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