Author : Andrew Bale

“Commander, I’m getting something weird on the optical arrays – a signal oscillating from the IR into the UV.”

“Are we emitting? Where is it coming from?”

“I think somewhere behind us, sir – we must be getting some scatter off the dust. Given the particle density, the source must be either really close or really strong.”

“Jill, is it the drive?”

“No sir, the drive is JESUS!!”

The sound of attachment had gone unheard but the ululation that the device produced resonated through the entire ship in a deafening cacophony, relenting only when it occasionally slipped beyond the range of human hearing.

Amid the auditory assault, Commander Rodriguez pulled himself over to the command station and slapped the kill switch on the drive. Floating in sudden zero-g, he was relieved when the shrieking abruptly stopped, to be replaced by a loud but purely internal ringing. Unable to hear his own commands he focused on his panels, bringing up display after display to check on the status of mankind’s first manned interstellar ship.

A pen hit his arm from behind and bounced up overhead. Turning in his seat he was treated to the sight of Lieutenant Zhang yelling inaudibly and waving her hand at the auxiliary-systems panels.

The maintenance airlock was cycling.

He slapped the collision alarm button. Red lights strobed all over the ship and slowly more audible alarm klaxons chimed their warning. His left-hand display automatically brought up a schematic of the ship, little red-numbered dots identifying the location of each of the 14-man crew. None were near the excursion bay.

His returning hearing caught a sudden explosion of cursing from the corridor. It had to be the Assistant Engineer, he always reverted to Oromo when he was stressed. He turned in anticipation of the African’s report but stopped agape at the figure entering the bridge.

The creature was low and wide, an immense spider wearing a goggle-eyed octopus, barely able to fit through the door but unimpaired by the lack of acceleration. It was covered in a black, rubbery material everywhere except the top, where four multi-faceted eyes scanned atop swaying stalks. It began to moan, a low but complex sound, echoed a moment later by high, precise tones coming from a small silver sphere that floated behind.

The sounds stopped, the creature waited. The commander glanced around the room to see the entire bridge crew staring at him – still, silent, they were waiting for him or the intruder to do something for which they might possibly have a reasonable response.

Keeping his eyes on the nightmare figure, he reached for the tablet beside the seat. Scrolling through the index he finally found the approved script, words rehearsed only in jest, included against impossibility.

“Greetings from the planet Earth, we are emissaries of peace and …”

Silver tentacles pulled the tablet from his grasp as the sphere began to examine it, images flashing across the screen impossibly fast, the tiny speaker squawking like a dying cassette tape. As suddenly as it have been taken, the tablet was returned to him. The creature started to moan again, but this time the sphere followed in English.

“I need to see your license, title, and flightplan. Your exhaust radioactivity is way past acceptable limits and you seem to be missing hull registration markings. Who is in charge here?”

Stunned silence filled the bridge for the space of a dozen heartbeats. The creature caressed part of its suit and moaned again. The faithful sphere translated.

“This is Unit 7… I need backup.”

 

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