MOONJACK! Act Two – Part 2

Commander Braun sighed. Not this old chestnut.

Bad enough that meetings were always being interrupted with news of ‘things he should see’, but his crew would never simply clue him in on what those things were, always insisting that he had to – absolutely had to – come to the command deck and see it for himself.

Not this time, chum. “What is it, Maroon?”

Maroon’s face stared out at him from the desk comm screen. “Sir, I really think you should – ”

“No. Just tell me.”

“But – ”

“Is it something on scanner?”

“Security camera, sir. It’s – ”

“Are we recording?”

“Well, yes. I mean, it’s – ”

“And is it urgent?”

“Well, yes.”

“How urgent?”

“My best estimate would place it somewhere from very to extremely, sir. Which is why you really need – ”

“No.” Braun was acutely conscious of the eyes of his fellow officers on him, but that was fairly normal. He’d tried to have this out with Maroon and plenty of others before. But this time he was also subject to the scrutiny of an alien being who was being treated to his first look at how humans – and more importantly, Braun – handled a crisis. Braun wasn’t about to back down now. “You realise how much time we’ve wasted in debating this, Maroon? Well, if anything disastrous happens that we could have prevented with thirty or so vital extra seconds, that’s on you. Now spill the beans, Lieutenant! I’ll come have a look at the footage, but you damn well give me the broad summary right now!”

A few more vital seconds were spent in awkward silence. Braun hadn’t intended to raise his voice quite so much. Maroon, though, eventually recovered the power of speech. “There’s, ah, been an incident in the hangar under Pad Ten, sir.”

“There!” said Braun. “Now how hard was that?” He looked around the room, hoping to be met with a lot of sympathetic shakes of the head. The officers at the conference table still seemed a little stunned and discomfited by his outburst. Even Doctor Russeau – et tu Henna? – was feigning preoccupation with her over-manicured fingernails. Perhaps he’d gone too far. Only the alien met his gaze, choosing to roll his eye in a ‘you just can’t get the staff these days, can you’ kind of way. Braun decided that support was support, no matter what direction it came from.

“Sir,” Maroon volunteered, “I think something other than our guest came out of that alien escape pod.”

Everyone at the table looked shocked. Except Cardinal, who was already donning his ‘I told you so’ face and glaring at Zanac. The alien gasped and shrugged his innocence.

The news was troubling. Braun had left two security guards stationed to watch over the capsule and it didn’t bode well for them. News rarely did. But he didn’t want to go accusing their guest prematurely. Especially not after they’d established that they shared this understanding of the difficulties of command.

“I’ll be the judge of that, Maroon. Your job is to report, not to speculate.” He swallowed, sensing a particularly thick crust on the slice of humble pie he was about to eat. “I, ah, think I’d better come see for myself.”

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”

Braun flicked off the desk comm and declared, “We’re on our way.”

Then thought, Damn it! He’d meant to do that the other way around.

“Everyone, with me,” he ordered and headed for the door. He hoped his minor gaffe would be overlooked in the collective rush from the room.

***

The cameras were watching as it dragged itself from the capsule – but the guards were not. They were facing away, watching the hangar door, as it dropped quietly to the floor.

With predatory patience, it slinked and slithered its way towards them.

Neither of the men moved. Neither man turned his head. Their orders were to guard the capsule and that was what they were doing, alert and ready to prevent anyone from approaching the craft. Completely oblivious to the possibility of anything approaching from its interior.

Perfect.

Extending a digit, it played a quick game of eenie-meanie minie-mo and selected the one on the right as its first target.

Still, the men faced resolutely forwards.

Slowly, it moved up behind the unsuspecting victim’s back.

Raising its ‘body’ upright, it stood as tall as the man. Aware of the camera in the corner panning around to aim its lens in this direction, it paused, awaiting the command. The two guards really were clueless and the camera, although watching the scene, hadn’t triggered any alarms.

It had bags of time to make a quick gesture before it struck.

***

“Freeze that. Right there!”

They had made it to the Command Centre in double-quick time, helped immensely by the fact that it was pretty much next door. But since the relativistic effect had shortened everyone’s legs, even short-distance sprints were harder work than they really needed to be. Braun had had to tell the alien, Zanac, to slow up so that he didn’t get too far ahead. It wouldn’t have done to have the alien guest arrive first. Cardinal was keeping an eye on Zanac as they gathered in front of the main screen and Maroon brought the security camera footage up for all of them to see.

“I wonder,” said the alien, “why you didn’t just have the footage piped through to the conference room…?”

Braun glowered. “Screen resolution wouldn’t have been up to it.” Which was, he had to congratulate himself, a quick-thinking reply to cover for ‘why the hell didn’t I think of that?’ – and ‘where the hell was my quick thinking then?’ He gave all that a hearty shove to the back of his mind and focused on the screen.

Tommy Verdigris stepped forwards and narrowed his eyes at the paused image. “What is that?”

“I don’t know, mate,” said Cardinal. “Looks like some sort of cybernetic snake with – with some sort of hand-like appendage for a head.”

“Like an arm?” suggested Henna.

From over at her console, Sandy Beige screamed. She had already screamed when she’d thought it was a snake.

The creature’s movements were somewhat like a snake’s, but somewhat like a caterpillar’s. Moving across the floor of the hangar, it had alternately stretched out straight then bent at what – in Henna’s arm analogy – could be thought of as its elbow. It was also stealthy and struck like silver lightning. Lightning that, admittedly, had time to pause and raise two of its finger-like digits and waggle them in the air behind the security guard’s head before cruelly striking him down.

It was this peculiar shot that was currently frozen on the screen.

Directly after that moment, it clenched its head into a fist-like shape and clubbed the man down. The other guard turned and, although there was no sound on the recording, appeared to get out the obligatory, “What the – !” before the creature turned and throttled him. The unfortunate fellow thrashed about with the creature fastened onto his collar like a large steel necktie determined to tighten itself. Braun had no wish to rewatch the rest and that, along with plain curiosity, was why he’d chosen to stop the second playback on the strange moment before the attack.

“Listen, can we not let our imaginations get carried away here,” Braun appealed to his crew. He pointed at the thing in the picture. “I’m more concerned with what it’s doing.”

“It looks like it makes rabbit-ears behind that guard’s head before it knocks him out,” observed Zanac with an air of scientific detachment. That or he was fighting the urge to laugh. That was the trouble with impenetrable alien visages, facial expressions were so hard to interpret. The eyepatch didn’t help either.

In any case, that was enough for Braun. Shared understandings be damned, the idea that the alien could be mocking them as well as perhaps having smuggled some kind of intrusion device into the base – well, that took the biscuit. In fact, if they only found it with its ‘hand’ in the cookie jar, they could count themselves lucky. But he wasn’t going to take chances.

“Right, Tommy, you’re in charge here. Cardinal, you’re coming with me. I want that thing hunted down and dealt with. We’ll capture it if we can but eliminate it if we have to. Henna, take our guest here to the Medical Bay.”

“Eh?” said the alien, glancing about. “I’m fine.” He rubbed his thighs. “No more pins and needles from being cooped up in that pod even.”

Braun drew his sidearm. “I don’t care. I want you in isolation. And I want you scanned. We have to make sure you haven’t brought anything else with you.”

“Excuse me? I don’t know what that thing is” – Zanac pointed at the silvery creature – “but it’s not mine. The monster aliens must have slipped it in there.”

“Well, it won’t do any harm to get you checked out.”

“But – I’m the alien here! If anyone should be doing the probing – ”

“I didn’t mention any probing,” said Braun, wondering where the alien had gotten that from. Maybe the monster aliens had done terrible things to him before he had escaped. Maybe this Zanac was telling the truth. But right now, it looked as though he had brought something unwanted into the base. Braun wasn’t in the mood for taking chances. “I’m not talking about a full cavity search, but I insist you submit to a scan.” He put his thumb to his weapon’s trigger. “Now do you want to go quietly – or more quietly?”

To Be Continued…

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1 Comment

  1. […] Two, Middle: 6) Here. The Moonbase is infiltrated by a cybernetic snake-like creature with a hand-like […]


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