[The objective of the Star Legion’s expedition to the Arcturis Prime system, deep in the untamed wilds of the Galactic Rim, is to conduct a thorough survey of the Titan Class planet M 381 C (or Arcturis 3) in order to prepare the way for the planet’s eventual engineering for human colonization.]
The scoutship Fool’s Errand, crewed by pilot/adventurer Waylan Century (Malcolm) and former warbot turned explorer J-13 (Sergio), enters orbit around M381c to begin deploying probes to the surface and satellites into orbit in anticipation of the arrival of the IAS expedition mothership Chronos in a few week’s time.
In short order ship’s sensors detect a signal originating from a small object moving slowly through the outermost of M381c’s rings.
Scans indicate the object is small and metallic.
Moving the Fool’s Errand into visual range, the object is revealed to be a humanoid wearing a rocket pack and EVA suit, dragging a large ‘sack’ made of cargo netting filled with a jumble of metal and stone scraps behind it as it travels among the asteroids and chunks of ice.
There being no indications of any other ships in the area, this wanderer presents a mystery that cannot be ignored.
Waylan hails the figure, inquiring if he/she/it is in need of assistance. A male sounding voice responds.
Through a garble of static, the wanderer makes clear he is overjoyed to hear another’s voice.
Pulling alongside the man and his burden, the two adventurers open the hatch and help the castaway aboard.
They are a bit surprised by what they help aboard.
The “man” turns out to be an mandroid, a model determined by J-13 as having been discontinued some 500 years earlier.
Still wearing the remains of his spacesuit, the mandroid bears the scars of what would appear to have been a very extended period of time in the punishing vacuum of open space.
Wherever metal shows, it is covered in a rime of crystalline ice and dust.
Vestiges of the synthetic skin that once covered his metallic skeleton, granting him the appearance of humanity, have been hardened into a sickly looking plastic-blue.
Every limb bears signs of jury rigged repair work. And one leg is missing entirely. In its stead, the android stands upon a crude pegleg.
Completing this phantasmic image, across his back, the android also wears several large and nasty looking power harpoons.
Removing the dented remains of his helmet, the android – identifying himself as AHB-1 – proceeds to tell a tragic tale of how he came to wander among the rocks and ice of M381c’s rings.
536 years ago AHB-1 was the Commander of the “proxy” (mandroid) crew of the IAS Melville, a survey ship, working under contract with HabCo corporation, one of the many firms specializing in engineering (terraforming) newly acquired worlds for human habitation. The Melville’s mission was to conduct a simple geological survey of M381c from orbit.
But shortly after arriving in orbit, the ship was attacked by what AHB-1 describes as an “aberration”, a “demon from hell”, a “monster”. This “monster” apparently destroyed the Melville and killed everyone but AHB. In addition it apparently took AHB’s leg off as well.
Now AHB has finally located the “beast” and with Waylon’s and J-13’s help, he is sure vengeance will be his.
It becomes clear to J-13 and Waylan that this android is not functioning at optimal capacity. The word “insane” is repeatedly used as the two friends discussed how best to handle this situation.
But they decide to help. If nothing else, they can transport AHB to the location of this “beast” of his. And who knows, maybe they’ll get to see it for themselves.
Using the OHWG’s sensors, Waylan locates a large heat signature in one of the larger asteroids nearby and plots a course for it.
Once there, and with the ship safely secured to the asteroid’s surface, J-13 accompanies the deranged android into a tunnel AHB has identified as being the entrance to the beast’s lair.
After descending for some time, the two androids emerge into a vast cavern filled with a panoply of light and color.
A dazzling and enormous creature nests in the cavern. An amorphous being, it seems at once composed of crystal and liquid. “Swimming” in the vacuum around it, smaller creatures of the same species wheel about, at what looks to be play.
So this is AHB’s quarry: a never before recorded species of large amorphous vacuum-dweller, and with young to boot.
At this point, AHB-1 gives full vent to his mania for revenge and prepares to attack the creature.
Though doubtful of the harm the android could cause a creature this large, J-13 still intercedes to stop AHB from attacking. A struggle ensues. One which J-13 fairly easily wins.
Unfortunately he is only partly successful.
During the struggle AHB manages to arm and activate his two harpoons, lodging them in the stone of the tunnel floor and setting them to overload and detonate.
Hanging onto the mad android’s back, J-13 commandeers AHB’s rocket pack (with AHB-1 still in it), managing to steer the two of them through the tunnel and out onto the asteroid’s surface just as the harpoons detonate.
Once J-13 and the struggling AHB-1 are securely aboard the OHWG, the ship lifts off, to watch at a distance what happens after the explosion.
A scuffle breaks out between J-13 and AHB as J-13 tries to deactivate the android.
Waylan joins the fray and together they are able to bring AHB down.
At that moment the creature from the cavern bursts forth from the tunnel in a fountain of lava and rock. It whirls around and around the asteroid, seeking the source of its pain.
Then it spots the ship.
In the OHWG, the com springs to life and a single word appears on the screen: “Why”.
The “beast” is sentient.
A conversation of limited sorts occurs between the two parties. Waylan and J-13 manage to calm the creature and offer to assist in finding it and its offspring a new home. The creature agrees, seemingly surprised to find such kindness offered by the same species that had so recently attacked it.
Once the OHWG has located a suitable asteroid riddled with caverns, the creature and its children disappear into their new “nest”.
The deactivated AHB-1 is bound up in his stuff sack, and secured to the outside of the ship, to await the mothership’s arrival and the opportunity to see if he can be salvaged.
Barely in orbit around the cosmic freakshow that is M381c, and Waylan Century and J-13 have made their first wondrous discovery: A new species of vacuum-dwelling sapient. In addition, they look to have made a very large friend as well.
To be continued…