(All rights reserved. All characters and events are fictitious, any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.)
Truro stares across the flight deck, doing her best to look uninterested as she studies the crew to try and work out who best to ally herself with. Harp and Aliya were unlikely to be taking her under her wing any time soon after the the fight in the cargo hold. Daniel, as pilot, would remain impartial which left Grove, Cressida and Yume. She'd already discounted Cme. A Xenograft's loyalties are tied to the ship and ships are only ever programmed for corporation loyalty, no compassion for a space drub there and her neck still hurt where Cme had tranked her. Tending bar in seedy space dock hotels across the Five Galaxies had made her an expert on the unseen language of emotion. The rising tension of a fight brewing. The cold shoulder of loneliness. The secret lovers, espionage assignments, pick-ups, brush-offs, corporations crews on downtime, dockers drowning out their gambling debts and space drubs looking for angles to play. She'd seen it all, so why is Grove trying so hard to look like nothings wrong? She decides he is probably the easiest of the three to target and now she has an angle to play.
'Are you Grove?'
'Yes...yes, it's Truro right? I heard about your fight, very impressive.'
'Yep. Would've had them both 'cept for that Xenograft... '
'Cme did you a favour, stopped you before it got too out of hand. You should be grateful for her interference.'
Truro is surprised to find Grove defending the Xenograft but she lets it go.
'Yeah, suppose. You seem a bit jumpy. You OK?'
'Me? Yes... just...'
Truro is suddenly acutely aware of a change of atmosphere in the ship, like air pressure building before a storm. Grove isn't hiding something, he's picking up on something.
'You feel it too?' she asks, all her instincts sensing danger.
'Yes, there's something...else.' Grove has no idea why he is telling the stowaway about the bizarre monologue now in his head from Annie.
'You mean the Alimentorum ship that tracked us?'
'No, no I mean something inside this planet. Like a... a creature.' Grove stops short of the word Annie uses with an ice-cold dread in his mind. Monster. What ever the ship is sensing, it isn't good.
Grove sparks into action, if both the ship and Truro are sensing danger then his experience in tracking large creatures tells him the danger is usually real, trusting his instincts had saved him many times before. 'Can we scan for life forms inside this planet?' He runs across the flight deck towards the navscreen, peering into the static as though looking for something.
'I already am, but nothing is registering.' Harp replies. 'No carbon, silicon, phosphate or sulphur readings so far.'
'Not in the core but in the mantle we found only a trace... yes! I see what you mean, hydrogen as a solvent instead of water? I'll start modelling a map of the hydrogen distribution in the mantle back over time based on what we see now, see if it is possible.'
'Is what possible? What are you looking for Grove?'
'Pilot, it is just possible we have stumbled into a...a nest of huge creatures.'
'And you would think this because?'
'Because... my instincts tell me we are not alone, there is something tracking us, like prey.' Grove hopes it sounds plausible.
'I feel it too.' Truro adds. Grove is slightly taken aback by Truro's sudden support. 'You do?'
'Mistress Ban taught us to read the air.' Truro lies, Mistress Ban did nothing of the sort but the legend was always bigger than the truth and she needs an ally. Helping Grove now is the best way to gain one. Also, the hairs on the back of her neck are standing up.
'Anyone else feel that?' Cressida looks up from her work and runs a hand over hair. 'Like static?'
'Hydrogen levels should be much higher. I think your instincts are right Grove, theoretically there is enough mineral matter in those swirling clouds for life with a hydrogen base instead of water...' Harp is interrupted by Daniel. 'You're telling me there could be life inside this gas giant? You couldn't tell me this before we flew inside to hide?'
'Nothing came up on the scans, Daniel. What Harp and Grove are talking about would be an entirely new type of life not existing outside of theory. In all my years of exploration this would truly be an exceptional discovery.' Yume intervenes.
'We need to not be flying blind. Any ideas?' Daniel asks, annoyed by this sudden new possible emergency.
'Light!' Harp yells unexpectedly. 'Travels slower through the supercritical helium, it will probably give us a chance to see a shape as it moves past anything alive out there!'
'Good. Sounds like a plan.' Daniel nods. 'Aliya,on my mark hit the forward beams. Yume, can you map the light in some way? All we've got on the screen is static.'
'Yes, I'll route it to the navscreen.'
All eyes are on the navscreen as Daniel gives Aliya his order, 'On my mark...lights!'
Outside the behemoth has almost reached the hull, its drift of tentacles splaying open to trap the ship when a sudden burst of light spills out and across its body, burning with a ferocious fire over its outer membranes and then off into the deep, cold interior of Gyre.
The behemoth pulls up short, sounding cords contracting with pain, sending out an alarm to the herd and then retreating, back into the depths.
Inside the ship, on the screen, the image of the creature keeps on growing as the light runs amok over it. A vast, ancient, bulk of shifting jelly with great ropes of tentacles drifting in front of its giant mouth, a barbed and serrated gullet of spiralling teeth. The Saturn Anne is like a fly caught on web in front of it. For a second or two the image of the monster fills the screen and then the creature contracts and is gone.
'That exceptional enough for you, Yume?' Cressida breaks the silence first.
'What was that?' Truro asks.
'Nothing we want to be here for when it decides to return.' Grove turns from the screen. 'Did you see the teeth? Very reminiscent of sharks, an ancient predator fish, top of its food chain...'
'Also, my guess is those tentacles are for grabbing prey and guiding it into the mouth. We see it a lot with marine lifeforms that feed freely in currents... this is just one big ocean to it, maybe originally it evolved on the surface and managed to survive by adapting to the interior of the planet. Lots of creatures with this adaptation live in large shoals or swarms...' Harp is interrupted by Yume who points out. 'If we leave the safety of the interior we will become visible to the ship that has just arrived.'
'Better than being eaten by the giant jelly shark.' Truro states.
'True.' Daniel agrees with her. 'And you think there could be more?' he asks Grove and Harp.
'Vocal cords. In the gullet.' Grove points to his throat. 'It had some kind of vocal cord in its throat, you don't evolve those unless you need to communicate. Definitely more than one.'
'We need to move. Cressida, can you and Aliya ready for an ambush as we exit this planet. Keep sending light out in pulses as we leave, it seemed to have an effect on the creature.'
Daniel gently navigates the ship in reverse, feeling the grip of the helium slowly release them as they move backwards. As soon as he can, he turns the ship around and plots a course back to the pole as the team work on sending light beams in an array around them. Far beneath them, the behemoth herd moves, unfurling their dreadful tentacles and swarming together, stalking the ship in its pool of light slowly moving to the surface of the swirling gas giant, Gyre.