We carried the critter into the station. My stomach lurched when we stepped into gravity.
The critter didn’t weigh much considering its size. Maybe two hundred fifty grams.
James kept his station pretty bright so I flicked off my hand-light experimentally. The critter meandered a bit in our hands, but didn’t fight us. I put the light in my pouch and took my helmet off.
“Where do you keep your scanner at?” I said.
James took his helmet off and led me down the hall.
He strapped the critter in. The straps over it made it so much less disconcerting.
The machine thought about its answer a good while. Maybe five minutes. Then, the answer it gave didn’t make much sense. ‘Black body-like anomaly. Check sensor calibration.’
“What the hell does that mean?” James said.
“Not a clue. Too bad the net’s crap out here.”
I grabbed a chisel and hammer from my suit’s pouch and chiseled off a chunk.
The bit I got measured about four centimeters at its longest and didn’t move around at all. The critter didn’t react to losing a piece of itself.
“Jeez, Scrumpy. That coulda gone bad.”
I shrugged and pocketed the sample. “Well, what do we do now?”
“Crack open a beer and report in.”
“Suits me,” I slipped out of my suit and followed him to the locker.
The locker sat only about five meters away from the scanner so we noticed pretty quick when everything went sour. The critter struggled against the straps. We ran back just as it snapped the first strap and broke free.
It bounced off a wall, smashed into the ceiling, and disappeared. No flash of light, no trace of where it could have gone. Just gone.
An alarm blared. James chased the problem down and tore a panel open. Whatever the creature did, its little teleport gag perforated bits of logic board and wire.
“Anything important?” I yelled over the alarm.
“Just the Sterling generators for all the farms on this wing.” He slammed the panel shut and punched the wall.
I backed up a step and put my hands up.
James logged into the panel and shut the alarm off.
The ventilation hummed, but I heard something else too. Like the patter of … rain.
“Did you hear something?” I said.
He looked at me and his eyes narrowed. “Damn it, get down!”
I slumped to the floor and watched as panels all up and down the corridor strained and cracks formed in windows on the outer walls.
I held my breath. The sound of the critters zapping straight out of Asteroid no. 6 stopped.
We ran to the nearest window and peered out as thousands of dots of nothing from Asteroids 5 and 6 shot in straight lines to the distance.
James fiddled with a control on the wall for a moment, then hit it. “Not fast enough. Looks like they headed out of the star system though.”
“Small blessings, eh?”
A window five meters down hissed gently.
It’s been maybe five months. It took James and me the better part of three to patch up the damage done to our stations and farms.
We kept up with quota, but AgriCorp3030 still tried to hold us responsible for the damage. The critters didn’t just glom onto our stations, though. They hit thirty five asteroids and fifty stations.
The president of AgriCorp3030 tried to pull some back door nonsense about compensating James and me for the sample so they could seize it, but hell if I want those things called Scrumpies. We escaped with our skin and our prize.
And if we figure out how the creatures worked, me and James, we’re following ‘em.
Well, following them out. I think I could live the rest of my life without running into them.