This week's Bedtime Story is my 80th so far. It's also a special three-parter. If you haven't read part one yet, read that first and stay tuned for next week's conclusion!
“Hold on a sec,” James said. He turned around and attached a micro-filament line to the airlock door. “The map of this place isn’t worth the paper it wasn’t printed on.”
We pushed off and shined our lights into the dark.
Six kilometers in, we reached a cavern bigger than most stadiums. James and I pitoned our suits to the cavern wall and pushed off.
The miners left behind several tons of equipment behind. Much of it probably still worked, but the corps did an audit about twenty years back and discovered salvaging and shipping equipment often cost more than making new stuff.
They should have sold the salvage rights to Mom & Pop’s, but they said the taxes would kill them. I call Bolshevik Shippers, but I needed to focus. Cavities like that one are perilous to the inattentive traveller.
The suit sensors would pick up some stuff, but a stray piece of equipment might still get by and smack your helmet. Even if it didn’t breech, a concussion could ruin your month.
My wrist buzzed. I looked down. “Damn! James!”
He looked back. “What?”
“Radiation is spiking.”
He looked at his wrist and fiddled with the controls. Guess he’d forgotten to turn it on. He pointed the sensor around the cavern and picked out the red zone.
James engaged his jets for a microsecond.
“What the hell are you doing?” I yelled after him. Yelling over a comm is kind of mean since it’s not necessary.
I followed after him. The suits had to protect us from decently high radiation anyway.
Patches of dark obscured my vision. I couldn’t quite make them out. For a moment, I thought I was blacking out.
We neared the radiation spike. I expected to see a TRZ9 core, but I didn’t really see anything but patches of nothing. The floor around the core looked like starless space. It couldn’t be, but it looked like it.
James’s light lit up the whole area so my hand wandered a bit. I glimpsed movement out of the corner of my eye and looked at it. A patch of dark grew under my light’s beam.
I tapped James’s shoulder and pointed at it. He tapped his thrusters and floated to my light.
“I just scanned it,” he said. “I got nothing. Like literally nothing. Get over here, would you?”
It took a steady hand (not to mention a clever maneuver to keep our lines from tangling), but I kept the light shined on the spot and floated over.
The spot of nothing shrunk to the size of the beam. Minute tendrils slunk past the edges. I felt sick.
James nodded at it and reached down. The creature ignored his touch. He grabbed one edge and I picked it up from the other side. It felt like flowing rock. No matter how hard we gripped it, it only flexed if it felt like it.
We hooked our lines to our suit winches and engaged the return.
The trip back took maybe an hour. The creature followed us contentedly so long as we kept a light shined on it. I tried not to look at it too closely when it passed between me and James.
It looked for all the world like a hole had opened up through him and bare space. Then the sickening tendrils flicked, it creeped me out less.
James fingered the airlock open and we stepped in. Air whooshed in. It felt a few degrees colder than usual. I thought it was all in my head.