Author: J.P. Quinn
Parker flipped on her monitor. She’d definitely heard it this time, there was no mistaking it. It sounded as if someone was in here with her.
Cycling through the closed-circuit, she searched the facility, but still couldn’t see anything. This was getting ridiculous now. Leaning back in her chair, Parker removed her cap and scratched at her head. She knew she was alone, all the instrumentation confirmed it. She was always alone. That was how her deal worked. She shipped out forty-eight hours in advance of the main crew to prep the equipment and carry out any minor repairs. Then, after a quick handover, she’d be off to the next site to do it all again. That was the life of a pre-technician, and it was a life that she enjoyed.
Putting her cap back on, Parker sat forward and clacked in a command into the keyboard. Tape cabinets whirred into life as the Dartmouth mainframe processed her request. She’d run the calculation before, a test for CO2, but she wanted reassurance. The result was the same, the levels consistent with one crewmember undertaking moderate physical activity. She ran atmospherics too, checking the external temperature, but there’d been little fluctuation in latent heat for the past thirty-nine hours, and nowhere near enough to stress the exo-structure.
So what the hell was she hearing? Parker looked down at the day-sheet beside her. She considered adding a notation, but what would she write? She’d gone so far as to lift her pen when the coolant claxon burst back into life. That was the third hose since she’d been here. Reaching up, she toggled the alarm, and set off to patch the leak. There were three hours left on her mission clock, three hours till the others arrived, three hours till they could plug their own damn leaks, but until then, she was on clean-up duty.
The blown hose was in the service corridor, the coolant spraying out from a loose push-fit connection. The pressure had got too high again. Knocking back the valve, she refastened the knuckle, unraveled a wad of paper toweling, and began to blot up the mess. She got most of it pretty quick, then lit her UV lamp to check for any she’d missed.
Parker jumped as a set of footprints materialized before her. They were small, like a child’s, a heal and five little toes glowing blue in the UV. She shone her lamp down the corridor. The footprints continued, disappearing round the corner toward the airlock.
Parker thought to shout something, but found she had no voice. They must be old, she reasoned, just echoes of the last crew. Kneeling down, she touched one, just to be sure. It was wet.
Then it came again.
A cold sweat broke out on the back of Parker’s neck. It was a little girl’s giggle. Surging back to her feet, the pre-tech ran along the gantry, twisting around the corner just as the inner airlock door slid open. There was no one there.
Moving inside, Parker checked the control panel. It had been a manual activation.
‘Who’s there?’ she screamed, thumbing the intercom.
Behind her, amber warning lamps trundled into motion. Parker sprinted for the exit but didn’t make it, her balled fists slamming into the door as it slid shut.
Parker screamed again, banging at the viewport as the pressure began to drop.
A giggle crackled over the intercom.
Parker beat her fists all the more, but it didn’t make any difference, and soon the giggle faded to silence as the last of the atmosphere vented.