Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

“Hey, Pete. What’s the name of this station again?”
“Hush up, Davy. Get back to duty or the captain will murder us.”
“If he does that, he’ll have no-one to pilot or fix the ship.”
“Good argument, but I don’t want to listen to another of his speeches.”
“That’s a better argument.”
“Okay. So: what’s in the box, Davy?”
“Nothing, Pete.”
“Thank you for that. What was in the box?”
“No idea.”
“Scan the transit data.”
“There isn’t any.”
“Davy, the logistics computer told us about this anomalous box. Therefore, it was scanned.”
“Could the box be anomalous because it’s here without transit data?”
“Give you that. Okay, describe the box.”
“Can’t you see it?”
“No. The internal cameras are down in some sections.”
“So you can’t see me?”
“The captain can see your biotelemetry. I have nothing.”
“It’s a metal box. Two metres long, one high, one wide. There’s a nine-point locking mechanism in the lid, with an external lever.”
“Who’d open an unidentified shipment?”
“Don’t think that was the problem. See this?”
“No, Davy, I don’t. What is it?”
“There’s a hole in the lid. About a hundred mil in diameter. The metal is curled outward. It’s right next to where the lever is now.”
“You think something punched through the lid and let itself out?”
“How thick is the metal?”
“About ten mil. It’s a laminate. Middle layer must be what prevented scanning of the contents.”
“Not unusual. But you think an unknown something arrived in a box from we don’t know where, got itself loaded into the holding bay, then let itself out and is now roaming the station?”
“Makes more sense than mass hysteria causing everyone to jump into the lifepods and leave.”
“So, after dumping the lifepods to hide its presence, what did it do with the bodies?”
“How many could you fit in an airlock if you stacked them?”
“On this ship? Standard four-suit locks, so I’d guess five across, maybe eight high.”
“Around 40, then. How many lock cycles have there been in the last week?”
“Apart from us, three. That’s odd. All Lock B, and at four-hour intervals. Last one was midnight last night.”
“How many crew should there be?”
“Around a hundred.”
“The math works.”
“Davy, why? Why would some lethal thing be sent here? It makes no sense.”
“Pete, this station is the furthest out. If you wanted to test something, this is the place.”
“To see if the plan to get it in here works. To see how deadly it is.”
“They’d have to monitor it.”
“Not if it went back to report.”
“In a pinnace? The range is tiny. Even if it scavenged the lifepods for boosters.”
A huge vibration shakes the station.
“Pete, what was that?”
“Hang on, Davy.”
“Davy, that was our ship explosively undocking. Passive displays show it’s pushed the station out of stable orbit.”
“We can presume the captain is dead, then.”
“That’s cold. But yes.”
“Is this station really dead?”
“Absolutely. Even the orbit stabilisation systems are useless.”
“Then I’ll start tearing out communications gear and filling the second pinnace. Even if it’s been smashed up inside, we should be able to launch into atmosphere and survive the landing. You grab as much food and water as you can.”
“Don’t forget charge packs, Davy!”
“Good reminder. How long do we have?”
“No idea. Let’s get off this death sentence as soon as possible.”
“See you in pinnace two.”
“Looking forward to it. Well, the not dying bit, anyway.”
“Love you to. Get moving.”