(All rights reserved. All characters and events are fictitious, any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.)
Cressida braces herself against the wall, hands across her heart in the first position for defensive attack and waits. The sound is hard to define. A sort of scratching thud at intervals. Further away than she had at first thought, the sound is being amplified by the curved metal ceiling, like a steel pan. It makes it hard to work out which way the noise is coming from and so, without knowing why, Cressida quickly reaches up and raps her knuckles on the ceiling in reply. The sound, a metallic clang, runs away in both directions, along the corridor. Cressida waits, poised for the next scratching thud but there is only the sound of her pulse racing in her temples. She waits for another minute, tensed for a fight, then relaxes. It must be a mechanical noise somewhere. Stationary and not moving, just distorted by the strange acoustics of the hull. She is alone.
Cressida shakes her head and turns to check the next rib for a way out just as Cme steps out from the wall, its skin banded to match the ducts and cables. Abruptly face to face with the Xenograft Cressida jumps with fright. 'Cme!'
'Yes, Cme. Made you jump like Expedition Pilot. Nice one.' The Xenograft smiles at Cressida. 'Do you know it too?'
'What?' Cressida leans against the wall, trying to catch her breath.
'I know my ship. Know something's here.'
'Were you following me?'
'You here now. I am already here. Noise is there.'
'The noise? You hear it too?'
'Something's here.' Cme reaches up over the cabling and lays a hand on the ceiling. Immediately its hand changes to the metal hue of the roof. 'It didn't travel with us. Like a great trick! It has surprised us both, now.'
'Yes, yes, it has.' Cressida wonders just what it is Cme has found. She needed to get some kind of diagnostics up here and quickly if this is something from this galaxy. 'Cme, if we go and tell Daniel about this, can you lead us back here, to this point?'
'Yes, I know my ship.'
'Good... um,' Cressida suddenly remembers she has no idea which part of the ship's hull she is.' ..is there a quick way back to the flight deck?'
Daniel runs a hand over his head, feeling the soft reassuring bristle of hair under his fingertips, wishing he'd had another hour or two of sleep. They were right to wake him. He, Cme, Cressida and Grove are hunched up in an access rib up under the hull of the ship. There is very little to see, nothing has punctured or damaged the metal inner hull but Cme thinks there is something here. Something that found them after they arrived in this galaxy.
Grove looks up from the portable outboard ship schematics and diagnostics computer (possum) he is checking and grimaces. 'This is the spot Harp and Aliya pulled the space junk out of, they were pretty sure they got it all. The possum is reading something, a low-level power output. Something small. Not much more than a battery...'
'Small enough to be undetected by the outer skin, large enough to have a power source? Got to be some kind of a tracking beacon. Damn!' Cressida is annoyed Aliya missed it.
'Don't sweat it Cressie, trackers go with the mission territory. We need to get this thing inside in one piece and see if it came through the wormhole with us, or if it is tech from this galaxy. Last thing we need is an intergalactic incident because we've stumbled into civilization.'
'Highly unlikely, this far out in the universe, it's still too young for complex life and this a youthful solar system, planets are still forming.' Grove looks up from the possum and smiles. 'We've found no transmissions, space junk or satellites so far.'
'Yeah, well, so far we've just found a tracking beacon.' Cressida is doubly annoyed, firstly at Aliya missing a tracker and now Daniel calling her by the familiar name he once used long ago.
Cme cuts across them both, sensing the urgency in the pilot's voice. 'Skin grow back if you cut it out.' It reaches up to the metal hull and rubs it tenderly, the contac making the strange sound Cressida heard earlier.
'Okay, good plan, Cme. I could do with stretching my legs. Cressida, you can help suit up Grove and me and we'll go and retrieve this tracker now.'
'Grove? Better if I go, I've walked before.'
'But Grove is a large entity zoologist, I'll need him to surgically extract the object with the least amount of damage to the ship's outer skin and the tracker.'
Cressida is about to argue but then thinks better of it. 'And if it's an explosive device?'
'Well, then you and Yume will be in charge and the mission continues without us.'