(All rights reserved. All characters and events are fictitious, any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.)
Aliya was right, the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach is easing the more he moves around. Harp runs his puke-filled helmet through the suit decontamination sluice and dunks it in the desiccant tank to dry, then sets about cleaning off the rest of his suit as quickly as possible. Within a few minutes he is feeling normal again and the suit is cleaned and dry. Time to try and limit some of the damage with the Pilot. Harp had caught the look of annoyance and disgust on Daniel's face earlier.
The flight deck is quiet. Daniel is still busy with mapping where they are and Grove, Cressida and Yume are still asleep, strapped in their chairs. Their shift rotation won't start for another eight hours.
Harp takes a moment or two to watch the the three dimensional holo-weaver print a scale model suspended mid-deck for reference should the maincom ever be offline. This new galaxy, unfurling like a spiral ladder of stars climbing through billowing gas clouds of red, gold and silver is breathtakingly beautiful. Harp reaches out a hand to almost touch the model only to be told off by Daniel.
'Don't touch! There's no back up yet and should I ever have to navigate using that thing, you'll be pretty pissed off if I run us into a meteorite storm or worse because you broke that bit off!'
'Sorry! It's just... extraordinary!'
Daniel can't help but note the wonder in Harp's voice, reminding him of a time when he was young and keen. When did he get so jaded?
'It is beautiful. Welcome to your new home for the next few months. '
'Does it have a name?'
'Spiral, like the seashell.'
'Okay... um... when will you finish mapping?'
'Quite a while, go and make yourself useful, Aliya is following up on a hazard warning in the hold. Go and give her a hand...and visor up just in case.'
Aliya checks her oxygen and water levels and reaches for her tranquilator, strapped to the leg of her suit. She steadies her nerves then opens the hatchway and steps through into the cargo hold. In front of her stretch away row after row of bio-cages and tanks. The deck is still part-flooded with the halon mix extinguisher and it swirls around her legs as it is sucked back into it's holding system. She makes her way carefully along the rows, searching for what's causing the hazard warning but there is nothing obvious. After a few minutes the air monitors turn from red to green and she releases the visor on her helmet and sighs. She leans up against a tank, it'll take forever to search the hold row by row when she glances up and a thought occurs to her. She finds the nearest access ladder for the inspection walkways and hauls herself up, clumsy in her suit. From her new vantage point she can see several rows at one time and she carefully walks the narrow gangplanks, trying not to get snagged on the overhead ducting.
After what seems an eternity she notices a small blue light flashing on a bio-cage. Blue means the tank is occupied. It must be a malfunction. She climbs down to the tank and is about to run a diagnostic when a voice over her suit intercom makes her jump.
'Aliya, it's Harp, I'm in the hold, the Pilot has requested I help you with the fault. Where are you?'
'I'm in row eighty-four, sector five. I've found a tank with a faulty light reading, I'm about to do a system purge on it, see if it clears it.'
Something in the back of Harp's mind makes him shout, 'No! Don't...not yet! Wait till I get there!'
'Ouch! Why? And don't shout! I can hear you like you are standing right next to my ear!'
'Sorry! Forgot. Look, none of the tanks are in use and the only way they can be activated is if there is bio-material in it. It saves on energy and... well, we haven't collected any specimens yet and so the only way the tank can be working...'
'Is if something is in there?'
'Yeah...' Harp's breath sounds laboured, as though he is running. 'Row seventy-two... nearly with you...'
Aliya peers at the tank more closely. In the low light of the hold she can just about make out the opaque bio-gel has been activated. Harp was right, there might well be something in there. A stowaway?
Harp arrives, out of breath and leans against a tank. 'Wow, these suits are heavier than they look...which one is it?'
Aliya indicates with her tranquilator at the small blue flashing light. Harp nods and motions for Aliya to stand slightly to one side, weapon aimed at the tank as he checks the readings on the bio-cage panel. As he catches his breath all vestiges of TBD are slipping from his brain and he feels focused and for the first time, in control of the situation.
'These readings are for a humanoid life-form, relatively young and in good health. Vitals look strong. I think this is probably a stowaway from Sayonara.'
'Are you going to wake it up?'
'Are you going to shoot it?' Harp glances at the tranquilator Aliya has aimed at the tank.
'Only if I need to. If it's an Alimentorum spy, the less it sees the better.'
'Should we let Daniel know?'
'He's busy anyway, security is my call.'
'OK. But just don't be too quick to trank it.'