Earth Reference Year 2433.72 AD
“It is confirmed as a 17 metre wide hollow stone sphere encased in an irrevium-iron shell. The stone sphere contains unidentifiable biological matter.”
Sadie Stick, a fourth-class bounty hunter of enticing curves and flexibility, looked at the two-hundred metre wide slab of ice outside the large oval viewport at the front of the bridge. Its rugged surface glistened brightly in the pale yellow light of the nearby star. She turned to her artificial companion, who was still gazing down at his sensor screens. “The same as the other one?”
THROB turned his cylindrical head and responded. “It is essentially the same in all but superficial respects.”
The bounty hunter looked down at her screens. The second comet, just over a light-year away, was drifting on an almost a parallel course. She shook her head. “This is most odd.” She pointed at her screen. “And look, there’s evidence of a third one three light-years away.” After a few seconds thought she pulled herself out of her command chair. “We need to know what’s inside. I’m going to take a look.” She stared out of the viewport once more. “Take the Retarded Monk Grinder round to the comet’s dark side and use a disruptor beam to melt me a hole down to that stone sphere. I’ll be down in the port airlock.”
THROB nodded. “As you wish.”
“And continue your scans. I want to know where the comets originate and where they’re heading.” Sadie Stick slapped her left buttock, turned, and then strode purposefully off the bridge.
The outer door of the Retarded Monk Grinder’s port airlock whirred and then slid open quickly. Sadie Stick activated her environment suit’s floodlights illuminating the icy surface of the comet which was just a few metres away from the open door. A hole, more than three metres across, sank deep into the comet’s interior. She activated her communicator. “THROB, I’m heading out. Monitor me closely.”
The mechanoid responded dryly. “As you wish.”
The bounty hunter stepped to the edge of the airlock and then pushed herself off. Released from the pull of her ship’s artificial gravity, she drifted across the dark void and into the deep hole. She activated her suit’s thrusters and accelerated forwards.
The hole, almost a hundred metres deep and drilled by her ship’s distruptor beam, was perfectly smooth and coloured turquoise in the light of her floodlights. As Sadie Stick drifted deeper she noticed the ice beneath the surface glistened and flickered as her lights reflected off imperfections and bits of dust. She found it eerily beautiful.
The end of the tunnel was in sight now. The scorched surface of the irrevium-iron shell could be seen, and even some of the stone beneath.
From a holster on her suit’s thigh Sadie Stick drew her chunky-looking pistol and aimed towards the end of the tunnel. Setting the weapon to ‘Constant Beam’ she fired. An almost blinding orange beam cut into the metal and stone ahead showering the tunnel in spark and molten debris. As she continued to drift closer and closer the bounty hunter slowly moved the intense beam from side to side. Within a minute a hole big enough for her to climb through had been cut.
A voice spoke over the communicator. “The method of entry into the stone sphere that you have chosen is unwise. The beam could harm the unidentified biological matter contained within…”
“I want to get in quick!” The bounty hunter interrupted, annoyed at the criticism. “I know what I’m doing.”
“As you wish.”
Sadie Stick turned off the beam and re-holstered her pistol.
By the time the bounty hunter had reached the end of the tunnel the molten sides of the hole she had cut had cooled and solidified. Globules, like black glass, lined the hole into the stone. She operated her communicator. “I’m going inside.”
THROB responded. “As you wish.”
Sadie Stick frowned. The mechanoid’s repetitive response was becoming annoying. Grabbing hold of some of the glass-like globules, the bounty hunter pulled herself into the stone sphere. Illuminated by her suit’s floodlights, the inside of the sphere was revealed. It was lined with what looked like hundreds of metre-wide transparent cylinders, each filled with a slowly swirling mass of brown and green gunk.
“THROB, are you seeing this?”
“I am receiving a stable image from your suit’s camera.”
ldquo;What do you make of it?”
“The biological matter is obviously contained in those cylinders.”
“I’d already figured that out!” Sadie Stick said. She examined her suit’s head-up display. “My suit’s sensors are having difficulty identifying it. Can you get a result?”
“No. You will need to obtain a sample.”
The bounty hunter nodded. “I thought so.” She activated her suit’s thrusters for a brief second and drifted further into the sphere. “I’ll try and drill through the top of one of the cylinders.”
An alarm sounded.
Sadie Stick checked her display. “I’m reading a power surge in here!”
“There are six distinct unidentified power readings within the sphere. I recommend immediate evacuation.”
The bounty hunter shook her head. “No. I’ll get the sample first. Maybe I can…” There was a sharp thud on her thigh. She looked down. A small transparent device was embedded into her leg. Her suit’s auto-seal system had already enclosed around it. The device was filled with the unidentified biological matter. She winced with pain. “Something hit me! It’s penetrated my suit!”
Sadie Stick turned and activated her suit’s thrusters. She headed towards the sphere’s exit. The pain in her thigh increased sharply. She looked down at the device. The biological matter inside it had gone. She felt breathless and dizzy. “I’ve been injected with some of that stuff!”
There was a moment’s pause before THROB replied. “I have implemented a quarantine zone from the port airlock to the sick bay. Return to the ship immediately.”
Sadie Stick nodded. She blinked slowly. “That’s what I’m doing!” She was out of the sphere now and drifting back up the tunnel. She bounced off the sides, unable to focus clearly on her trajectory. “THROB, send all the information you have to the palace. Tell them we will send them an analysis of whatever’s infected me…” She paused, finding it harder and harder to breath. “…as soon as possible.”
“As you wish. Transmitting now.”
The bounty hunter’s head lolled around. Her breathing was shallow, her body weak. “THROB, I can’t… I feel so…”