An Age of Exploration
Scientific colony UX30 was in a slow, steady orbit around a larger than average moon in orbit around Galva-UX308-A. The planet that showed signs of life in the form of plants and some ground based creatures, though the atmosphere was almost entirely toxic. This made it somewhat of an anomaly to the greater scientific community and as such, was assigned its own small scientific outpost. Having learned from previous mistakes on a number of exploratory missions an organic crew was not dispatched with the station, instead a small contingent of robotic crew members were assigned to the station. These androids would be able to land on the surface of the moon, collect samples of the organic life there and take it back to the station for analysis. Should anything of immense significance be discovered either an organic contingent of workers might be dispatched, or more likely, organic scientists would simply remotely connect to one of the many android units on the station and take control of them to continue work.
Though the idea of remotely working on an alien species from a remote location was enticing, no one in the scientific community wanted to simply be in control of empty shells. As a solution a hiring campaign was devised, offering the budding artificial being community the opportunity to not only have high level scientific programming installed for free, but also offered a well paying job in an industry on the cutting edge of science, discovery, and technology. These were the kind of advertisements that had been plastered around cities, displayed on social media and what had specifically drawn Heather to the program.
Heather was assembled a mere two months before the program launched, originally built and hired on as a waitress at a cafe that had her custom built for their particular aesthetic. She was slender, pale, and looked to be in her early twenties. Her skin was flawless in every sense of the word, save for one simple silver ring that pierced her left nostril. She seemed to be permanently configured to have winged eyeliner and smooth, natural looking makeup. Her owner never asked if she applied the look every day or if it was just part of her face plate. All of this made her look like a typical young woman in most ways, the only divergence was the dark blue hair that faded gently into a soft purple, nearly red, colour.
When the business failed the owner was forced to sell all the equipment he had purchased, including Heather and several other androids. The new owner had no use for them as the space was being renovated into an office building once everything was torn out and Heather’s unique look wasn’t one that would mesh well with a professional atmosphere. So, Heather was officially released with nothing but a spare set of clothes, a severance package and whatever programming she had installed already. So, Heather had found herself on her own with nothing more than a pair of tight black jeans and a grey strapless top. It was a few days of wandering her city, looking for job posting and utilizing the city provided power stations before she came across the listing for the deep space research programs and had signed up immediately.
The introduction to the program was simple, she was assigned a research platform and then the appropriate programming was downloaded into an internal storage drive located somewhere inside her torso, and then she was loaded into a charging and stasis pod. All of that was a much more polished way of saying an underpaid I.T. technician plugged a cable into the data port hidden under a patch of flesh and hair on the back of her skull and loaded a package of software and protocols into her file structure. Once that was done she was shut down and placed inside a full body hard plastic box with a power cable in it. She was plugged in to power via a thick black cable that was plugged in to the port just above her left breast, and then sealed in place. Some paperwork was printed out and taped onto her container with cheap blue tape and she was loaded into a storage hold until her particular mission was ready to commence. Heather didn’t have to wait very long though, the small exoplanet at the far reaches of explored space was discovered and she was loaded into a supply rocket, bound for the space station that had recently been constructed in orbit. Like her induction into the program she was treated, for lack of a better word, like an object. Heather’s storage container was hauled in by a crew of humans, slotted into the storage bays, and then left there. One of them signed off on the delivery and then simply left her there. Nestled among three other storage containers holding similar android volunteers, she waited until the command came through to activate and begin work.
Nearly an hour after the organic delivery crew had restocked their own supplies, delivered everything they were tasked with and disengaged the station, Heather received the signal to activate. Her eyes opened smoothly and darted around her surroundings. Everything was so solidly black that the complex artificial mind she had installed wondered for a moment if her optical systems were malfunctioning. Just as she was about to open a service ticket to the I.T. department there was a small hissing sound, as if some great seal had been broken. Appearing to her left was a thin sliver of light that forced her to squint as the irises in her artificial eyes quickly adjusted to the sudden change in brightness. The lid to her storage container continued to open until she was able to see all her surroundings.
Her container was upright, in some kind of cradle that was designed specifically for these types of containers. At the bottom of the cradle was a series of gold plated contacts that lined up perfectly with a matched set of contacts on the bottom of the container. These provided the power, data, and system monitoring while an android was plugged in to one. Heather’s eyes swiveled down towards her chest, her shirt appeared to be pulled down and tucked under one of her small mounds. Her bra was still in place, or at least appeared to be, it was definitely not how she left it all those weeks ago when she had entered the pod. She muttered a curse and pulled her simple dark grey halter top shirt back into place before moving her hand up to the power cable jutting from her chest.
Heather wiggled the plug back and forth until it came loose from the panel in her chest and she let it drop next to her. There was a nearly inaudible whirr as the panel in her chest slowly but surely slid down from its hiding place inside of her and then out until it sealed into place. She had to exert a little bit of force to free her head from the form fitting layer of foam wrapped around her head and her feet. She stepped out and onto the hard polymer floor of the space station with a dull clomp from her ankle high boots. She had just taken the first breath of fresh air to help cool her processors when she heard a hissing noise. She jumped to one side and yelped as her head swiveled in the direction of the noise.
Two pods down from her own, another flat grey pod was opening, the emblem of the science colony printed across the front of it. Heather stood there, simply waiting, as the pod opened and after a moment another android stepped out. A tall man, constructed to look in his early to mid thirties stood there, looking around the station. He was currently wearing a pair of tan coloured slacks and a light blue polo shirt, tucked in to the slacks. His hair, though clearly distressed from the foam packaging, looked to normally be naturally slicked back. It was a light chestnut colour and his over all look reminded Heather of an all too stylish math teacher. “Hey.” Heather said, trying not to startle the newcomer.
“Shit!” The new android jumped back, one hand darting to the side of the pod he had stepped out of to steady himself.
“Oh god, i'm so sorry!” Heather replied, holding out a hand, palm out as a gesture of peace towards him.
“It’s fine, god, I just wasn’t expecting anyone else to be here.” He said, finally looking towards Heather. As he did his eyebrows visibly shot up, and gave him the distinct look of surprise as he looked towards Heather. The incredibly powerful camera-like optics behind Heather’s eyes clearly saw the look and her processors went to work matching the expression against an internal database of known expressions and possible meanings. It was a series of processes that Heather’s artificial mind didn’t even consciously begin, it simply happened because of a block of coding attempting to gather as much data from around her as possible.
The automated series of events as she tried to analyze the newcomers facial expression was a new addition, it was part of the codebase that was installed specifically for scientific observations. Before joining the program Heather could have walked down the street and seen hundreds of people looking at her and never once attempted to identify anything other than the physical space they occupied and the best way to move around them. Now though, she was gathering as much data and integrating it as possible. In the blink of an eye, her processors had finished the query and come up with a few results. Either this man was surprised to see her as he thought he might be alone on the station, or he wasn’t expecting a young pretty girl to be his research partner. Her systems registered a high likelihood of the latter.
As her operating system registered the look that she was being given, everything in her social programming took over the once analytical tract her operating system had been on. Small injectors just below her cheeks and upper chest filled portions of her synthetic skin with pinkish red dye, causing the girl to blush slightly. Her eyes dropped a fraction and turned sideways, accurately simulating her looking away from the newly activated android. After only a second she looked back up towards the man and adorned a coy and almost distant look to her face.
“Sorry, no, it wasn’t you I just wasn’t expecting there to be anyone else up here.” He said, his voice deep and smooth. He shook his head and stood up straight and took one step forward, holding his hand out in front of him. “Anthony, or Tony if you like.”
“Heather.” She said planely, taking Tony’s hand and shaking it while smiling.
“Well, I am certainly glad to have some company up here. I wasn’t looking forward to months of isolation.” Tony said before letting out a sigh.
“Right, same. So uh, do you know if we are just supposed to come back here to charge or if we have orders or what?” Heather said.
“Charge? What do you mean?” Tony said before a moment of dawning realization hit him. “Oh, ohh. You’re an android! Got it. Uh yeah I would think that your kind would need a charging station of some kind.”
Heather tilted her head to the side and briefly glanced at the pod, identical to the one she had been shipped in, then back to Tony. Her new information and analytical coding snapped into gear, discerning that Tony must be one of the rare androids in the world that were specifically programmed to operate as if he was a human. Heather’s operating system made a note to treat him as such. Her scientific programming handed off the information to her socially oriented code handlers.
“Oh uh, right. Yeah I’m an android...s-sorry for assuming you were I just figured..” Heather trailed off for a moment and Tony burst into laughter.
“Gotcha! Of course I’m an android too!” Tony continued to laugh heartily, even as Heather’s lips pursed to one side and her eyebrows lowered to lend her an unamused look. Soon, though, her social programming caught on to what had happened, and she even let out a few chuckles herself before eventually smirking at Tony.
“Good one, jerk.” Heather said with a mock anger in her simulated voice.
“That’s me. But yes, I’m fairly sure we recharge here.” He said, nodding towards the containers. “Have you been online long up here?”
“No, I came online just before you did. I haven’t even taken more than three steps on the station.” Heather replied.
“Well, shall we take our own self guided tour of our new abode then?” Tony said, and Heather smiled and nodded in return. The pair stepped out of the cargo bay and into a hallway, finding that the cargo bay was at the end of the hall. The walls lining the hallway didn’t look finished, there was no paneling on it, it was simply exposed silvery ribbed tubes, wiring and bulkheads. Set into the right side of the wall were three evenly spaced doors. Each sporting a silver handle that opened the lock. The pair looked in each one and found all three to be bunk rooms; apparently the station could support up to twelve human occupants and five robotic crew members. On the opposite side of the hall were more doors, leading to a kitchen and mess hall which was a considerably large room, able to comfortably house an entirely full crew complement, as well as provide some small entertainment. There was a large central dining table with chairs and a few smaller tables scattered around the room. A corner of the lounge was outfitted with a series of shelves meant to contain books and other entertainment items and several comfortable looking chairs.
Across the lounge was another doorway leading to another hall. This one had a single larger room, outfitted with a comfortable looking single bed, writing desk, and storage, clearly the commanding officer's bedroom and office combination. There were bathrooms with pressure toilets and sinks and at the end of the hall what appeared to be a large observation deck. The room was roughly spherical, the majority of the walls were curved and clear glass panels. A few comfortable chairs were placed there and each one would allow for someone to have a somewhat private view of the inky black void of space and the hopeful twinkling stars that interrupted that void. Dominating the center of the spherical rooms view was a green and orange tinted planetoid below. It wasn’t actually a planet, but an abnormally large moon, it was the focus of Heather and Tony’s assignment.
“Wow.” Heather said, her social programming modifying the word to make it sound as if simply opening her mouth to utter it had rushed the air from her.
“Agreed” Tony said in response.
The view was incredible, distractedly so. It quickly became apparent why a separate corner was set aside for reading in the lounge and not here. The simple vastness and beauty of space was too much to not stare at. The two artificial beings stood there, simply observing for almost a full minute. Heather’s programming had just started to formulate requests to truncate the running observation software when she blinked twice and turned away. Tony did as well, his own programming running similar threads as Heather’s. The two looked towards each other and in that moment understood each other a little better. Their artificial minds might have collected different experiences while in operation, and might have even looked at the world through a different set of protocols, but they both knew that there was only one way to look at the terror and the beauty of deep space, and that was with awe.
Walking back to the lounge and out into the hallway they looked left and saw that the hall ended in a final door. Opening it the pair found what must be the largest space on the entire station. The walls were no longer exposed tubing and electronics, but instead were covered with white paneling. Fluorescent lights cast an all too bright light on every corner of the room, and between the lighting panels were large ventilation grates. Below the grates were what looked to be enormous square plexiglass tanks. Computer terminals were mounted to each case and a stainless steel work bench next to each tank. Around the perimeter were more work benches, with equipment and instruments of all kinds. The room had all the trappings of a state of the art research lab, complete with pure white lab coats hanging on pegs next to the door.
Heather was the first to step in and turn in a full circle, taking it all in. She smiled brightly, not because she had a particular interest in the incredible gift of a laboratory, but because the scientific programming she had installed was linked into her social programming and the joy of seeing all the potential caused her to be thrilled. Tony had a similar reaction, fast stepping to the various equipment tables and looking at all the items there. Both of the androids knew that this would be an interesting stay aboard the station.
Heather and Tony spent the next week getting acquainted with each other and found that the two of them had more than a few things in common. They had both been constructed in the same state, though separate factories. While Heather had been built to be a waitress, Tony had been purpose built as a teacher at a high school. When told about his career Heather had to chuckle.
“What’s so funny?” Tony asked, raising an eyebrow and looking quizzically at Heather.
“Nothing, just that when you first stepped out of your pod I thought you looked like a math teacher, and I was right!” Heather said.
“I don’t know if I should feel insulted or not” was Tony’s first reply before he also began to laugh, admitting to himself that he did look the part. The two laughed and as time progressed the two became close friends, sharing evenings gazing into space on the observation deck, or days bantering back and forth in the lab as automated drones collected samples from the toxic yet mysteriously verdant moon below them. The samples collected were placed into the large plexiglass tanks in the lab where observations could be made and data collected and logged.
Tony was the first to speak up about the relationship between the two of them. It was clear it was something he had been dwelling on for a while. Heather and Tony were spending some time on the observation deck while the automated tasks in the lab recorded data on a spore sample that was nearly the size of a cantaloup. Tony tore his gaze away from the stars beyond the glass and looked towards Heather. The two of them really only had one set of clothes that they wore at all times, mostly because the issued jumpsuits that were tacky, so the two wore what they had been shipped in, occasionally donning the white lab coats when they were working.
“Hey uh, Heather.” Tony said, glancing across the observation deck towards her.
“Hm?” Tony’s words had broken her concentration on the inky blackness.
“Do you- or I guess are you programmed to feel like, uh, I guess, loneliness?” Tony said, for the first time stumbling over his words. Heather secretly admitted to herself that it was charming and that she was a little jealous, if she could feel such a thing, of Tony’s social programming. It was clearly more robust than her own. Despite that, she knew what he meant.
“Yeah, I have felt that.” Heather curled up her legs against her chest and wrapped her arms around them. “I was built to be a waitress you know. In this like, punk goth themed place that was only cool for a little while and then it all dried up. I never had my own place or anything, I just recharged in the back room. The owner eventually had to sell the business and I lost my job, which is how I ended up here. I was built to look and act perfectly human in every way, EVERY way, but I never got to experience anything other than just taking orders and mixing drinks and stuff.”
Heather paused for a moment and turned her attention back to the stars. “I’ve only been online for a little over a year now, but, I just feel like there’s so much-”
“That you’re missing out on?” Tony finished her sentence for her. Heather turned and looked at Tony, who was also looking out at the stars again.
“Yeah” Heather said, turning back to look out the windows. The room was silent for a while, the gentle hum of the station was a soothing backdrop. Tony broke the silence,
“We have all this time alone up here. Maybe we could help each other out?” Tony said, he knew it was a long shot, but Heather seemed to be in the same place as he was.
“Yeah, I think I’d like that.” Heather replied, turning to meet his eyes and smiling with genuine joy and excitement, at least her social programming made her face look like that and tagged much of the interaction with positive metadata.
It didn’t take long for the two androids to stand and then meet in the middle of the large sphere shaped observation deck. Their lips pressed against each other’s and to Heather’s surprise, for the first time in her existence her sexual programming began to load into her cache. From a logical standpoint, she knew exactly what to expect, she was built and programmed to be as close to a human analog as possible. Her complex A.I. knew what the human body goes through when it becomes aroused, but raw data is a pale comparison to the sensation of it actually happening.
Heather physically felt the small pumps inside of her hips whirr to life and begin to move synthetic lubricants towards her crotch. The lining inside her sexual assembly opened tiny pores and allowed some of the lubricants to begin to slowly seep in. Her heads up display showed a noticeable increase in CPU temperature and caused her to draw in deeper breaths to help cool it. Even without and active thought she felt her arms raise up and wrap around Tony, just as one of his hands pressed into her lower back and the other on the back of her head. The sensor laced flesh along her scalp registered his hands intertwining with her hair and she felt herself being pressed into his chest with her own. Similar to her own sexual systems, it seemed that Tony’s were just as active. Heather felt the stiff bulge in Tony’s slacks pressing into her. She was shorter than he was, which made it easy for her to break the kiss slightly and look up into his eyes. Even though no information passed between the two, they both reacted at the same time.
Heather’s hands flew down to the bottom edge of her shirt and dragged it up and off of her, the hem of it bundling up her hair and causing it to fly in wild blue and purple cascades as it tumbled out of her shirt. She dropped her top to the floor and quickly went to work reaching behind her back and unfastening her bra, allowing her small, but well proportioned breasts to contact open air. She wasted no time in working the snap and zipper on her black jeans while simultaneously kicking off her ankle high boots. Tony, similarly, had unbuttoned his shirt and let it fall off of his shoulders before furiously working the slacks free. Heather was nude before Tony, but only just barely, but it allowed her a brief opportunity to admire his construction. Designed to be fit, without looking like a bodybuilder, and slender without looking skinny. He was, by all accounts, what most people would describe as the ideal man. Heather was very sure that the school he had been a part of ordered several of the same model and then simply put a different head and face on each one for diversity sake.
The two androids met again, their naked bodies now pressed into each other and Heather could feel the heat radiating off of Tony’s body, particularly around his chest. The pair soon found themselves lowering to the deck of the observation room, their mechanical legs lowering their bodies as one in a calculated movement. Heather found herself laying on her back, the sensor laden flesh along her back registering exactly how cold it was, and the data was passed to her body control mechanisms. A whole subsystem and code base dedicated to the simple small actions that made her look just enough like a human that most people wouldn’t second guess her. Her artificial flesh puckered all over and goose bumps raised ever so slightly off of her body.
Tony was laying across her, supporting his upper half with his hands pressed into the cold plastic floor, while his legs angled his already hard manhood right for Heather’s own waiting artificial pussy. With an easy thrust of his hips he was inside of her and both robots let out their own pre-recorded groan. Heather’s arms came up and wrapped around Tony’s body, her nails scratching in to his back as his hips moved back and forth, sliding his own robotic cock in and out of Heather. The two rocked back and forth, moaning in lewd pleasure. The gentle rotation of stars outside the window was the backdrop for the sheer passion the two were engaged in. It was only the first of many times the pair would come together over the next few days. Both found that the feeling of sexual pleasure brought them a sort of high that simple research and social interaction didn’t.
After Heather and Tony had finished their first love making session, and claimed each other's virginity, they sat in the comfortable chairs on the observation deck. Both were panting, sucking in breath after breath of fresh clean air to cool their processors after the intense amount of processing power they had utilized. Once both of their processor cores had come down to a safer heat level and all remaining processes cleared the queue, Heather and Tony stood and redressed. Naturally they spent some more time kissing each other and then walked back towards the laboratory, hand in hand.
When they got in there, Tony was the first to notice the flashing red alert on one of the monitors affixed to the side of one of the observation tanks. Something had changed in the containment tank while the pair was away. Heather stooped forward and tucked a strand of her blue and purple hair behind her ear to prevent it from falling in front of her eyes. Inside the containment tank there had been an anomalously large fungal ball. Thinking it was some kind of spore based fungus cap the automated drones had carefully extracted it and the foliage it was attached to and brought it to an air tight and environmentally controlled container then returned it to the station. From there Tony and Heather had carefully loaded it into the observation tank and began monitoring it.
Tony was already scanning through the video footage of the container while Heather was doing her best to simply observe the current state of the container. The cameras behind her false eyeballs recorded everything she observed as she scanned the tank. There was some residue on the upper edges of the tank near the ventilation grates and plenty more of the residue on the grate itself.
“It looks like this was some kind of sack and it burst upward. Forcefully from the looks of it” Heather observed out loud. Moments later Tony had the video footage up on his screen and from the looks of it Heather had been correct, the globe had begun pulsating slightly before rupturing at the top. A cloud of green and grey spores had burst out of it and coated much of the inside of the tank.
“Gross.” Was Tony’s only response, but he logged the event and continued to let the internal cameras record the tank. Soon the computer terminal was monitoring changes in temperature, environmental factors and chemical compositions inside the tank. Little did either android know that the spores that had launched themselves upwards into the ventilation shaft were beginning to grow and clump together. Even in the short amount of time the alien plant based life form had begun to take shape. Before the end of the day an organic creature would have sprouted limbs and begun to feed on whatever it could find in the exposed electronics within the nearly three foot wide and equally tall ventilation tubes the criss crossed the entire station.
Over the course of the next week Heather and Tony recorded a drastic increase in nutrient rich plant growth in the area around the exploded cap, and devised that this was, perhaps, a means of spreading its seed to other locations. The working theory was that the plants would grow and still contain some of the spore like DNA, which was then eaten by other creatures and then spread via fecal matter. The pair were thrilled that on their first mission they had the opportunity to discover something of this magnitude and were genuinely delighted with every report they logged.
When Heather and Tony weren’t making observations and running any number of tests on samples of plant life from the moon below them, they spent time charging, but only just enough to refill their power cells, as the intoxicating thrill of sexual intercourse with each other filled their synthetic minds. They soon learned that their robotic bodies allowed them to engage in sexual acts that no human ever could. Heather had gone so far as to take a system snapshot of a particularly interesting session. Heather’s palms were pressed against the curved glass of the observation deck once more, her legs spread wide. Tony was behind her, he had his penis in hand, hard and read, but disconnected from his body. A small bundle of cables ran from the sexual organ into the opening left in his own body. He then inserted his cock inside of Heather and manually withdrew it before thrusting it back inside using only his hands.
It wasn't until a week later, nearly two weeks after the alien fungus cap had burst, that Heather and Tony noticed that something was amiss on the station. The two had been recharging, on average, for around six hours at a time. This would give them a full charge from a nearly empty power cell without wasting time. Heather and Tony both stepped out of their respective recharging stations after six hours only to discover that their power cells were still not fully charged.
“Huh, that’s weird” Heather said, furrowing her brow. “I only got recharged to sixty seven percent.”
“Hm, odd, I am a little more full, eighty eight percent here.” Tony said in response.
The two looked quizzically at each other for a moment and after making a brief inspection of the charging pods found that nothing seemed to be out of place or loose. Both had shrugged their shoulders and stepped back into their pods. Heather commanded her charging port to be reopened and inserted her power cable back into place before slipping back into a low power mode and waiting for her power cell to fully recharge. Tony did the same but before he powered down made a scheduled reminder to do a more thorough inspection of the pod when they were finished.
Within a half an hour of the two robotic occupants of the station powering down, there was movement on the station. One of the ventilation grates in the first crew quarters clattered open and fell to the floor. Along with it came a dusty brown shape. The creature shook a bulbous upper appendage that might have served as its head for a moment as if shaking off a daze and rose to its full height. Standing on a pair of legs that bent backwards until it stood on a set of four sharp toe-like feet. The claws were varied in length, the two inner claws were short, and thin, clearly meant for slicing, while the two outer claws were longer and thicker.
At nearly four feet tall the creature was composed entirely of toned muscle under brown flesh stretched thinly over the whole body. Sprouting from either side of the beast were two pairs of arms. While skinnier that the thick legs, they showed no signs of lacking in musculature. Three spindly claw tipped fingers protruded from the end of each arm. As it stood there, the fingers seemed to be in perpetual motion, gently swaying up and down. Topping a neck that was filled with sinew and muscle was a wide head. On either side of the elongated cranium were sacks just below the fleshy hairless exterior. They gently inflated and deflated in rhythm, as if it were breathing. At the end of the snout a wide mouth opened to reveal sickly yellow teeth, angled inward so that anything caught in its jaws would struggle and tear in its escape attempt.
As the mouth opened two long tentacle appendages, tipped slender pads and covered in suction cups fell from either side of the inner mouth and twitched and spasmed slightly. The creature cocked its head from one side to the other, looking more like it was listening rather than looking. In fact, the being had no apparent eyes at all, but instead had the same brown hairless flesh stretched over the entirety of its skull. As it turned its head one of the tentacles twitched slightly and the thing instinctively turned that direction. It stomped across the small room to the wall and after another moment of sensing the area with its tentacle, it rose up one of the pads and slapped it against the light switch on the wall. The lights in the room immediately flickered and dimmed as the creature appeared to be feeding on the electrical output. As it ingested the electrical feast it snarled and grumbled, the sound undulating out from its throat.
Tony’s pod opened long before Heather’s would and he stepped out onto the cool floors of the station. His own social programming compelled him to look towards Heather’s recharging station and smile fondly, the same way a human would if they were looking upon a loved one who was sleeping soundly. Tony walked past her pod and down the main hallway towards the research lab. As he passed the first set of crew quarters though, he heard a small noise, a sort of snoring or grumbling. He stopped and looked at the door, wondering if there might have been a human crew member who had arrived while he was in his charging cycle. He pressed his hand into the authenticator pad and the electrodes in the hand scanner read the certificate that Tony’s systems were broadcasting, allowing the door to open upwards with a swoosh.
Tony’s eyebrows shot up quickly as a look of shock, surprise, and horror crossed his robotic face. There, standing at the ready in the middle of the room, mere inches in front of the door was the open mouth of the alien creature. Wicked serrated teeth were on display and before Tony could yelp or move, a tentacle came streaking at him from inside the mouth. The appendage slapped into Tony’s throat and the small suction cups along the fleshy tip of it held fast to his synthetic skin. Small needles shot from the suction cups, piercing into Tony’s skin and to the flowing electrical current in the circuit below. His vision filled with a scrambled static pattern as alerts and warning flashed across his vision. His last log files were a jumbled mess of code and attempted entries.
Nearly an hour passed before Heather’s eyes opened in the familiar darkness of her recharging pod. She gently tugged the power cable free from inside of her chest and simply let it fall, with an idle command from her operating system the panel in her chest closed itself and resealed. . She waited a moment or two for the pod to open but it didn’t. There was an attempt by the mechanism to push open the heavy lid like door, but it didn’t do anything more than whine weakly before the motors finally gave up and stopped moving. Heather’s head tilted slightly to one side as her analytical and observation oriented programming took over. She placed a hand on the door and pushed it outward. The door gave little resistance and eventually opened fully.
Heather found the station beyond her recharging pod to be not entirely as she had left it. The lights were flickering at seemingly random intervals, casting strange shadows all around the cargo bay. Her head whipped to the side and saw that Tony’s pod was already open and vacant, though he was nowhere to be found in the room. Heather stepped lightly across the floor of the cargo bay and peered down the hallway. Just like the cargo hold the lights were flickering and having trouble deciding if they should remain off, or spring to life. Heather scanned the hall, and though her eyes were constructed to capture images in high definition, they were by no means designed for this type of environment.
“Hello? Tony…?” She called down the empty hallway. For a moment she heard nothing other than the angry electrical buzz of the overhead lights. Then, for a moment, all the lights and power seemed to return to the station as if nothing had happened. She heard a subdued hiss from just up the hallway and her operating system devised that perhaps Tony was exiting one of the rooms. Her robotic eyes swiveled in the direction of the sound only to see a pair of legs protruding from an open door way. The door falling from the ceiling down and hitting the legs before detecting an impact and raising back up, only to repeat again.
Heather dashed forward, recognizing the slacks and dress shoes to be Tony’s, but when she rounded the door to look into the room she could only yelp and fall backwards, bracing herself against the exposed ventilation tubes and electronics of the exposed hallway walls. Tony lay face down on the floor, his head chewed roughly from his neck by what looked to be vicious teeth. The head itself lay across the room, his face still locked in a look of terror and simulated pain. Heather had expected there to be parks and electricity arcing across the cables that were severed and jutting out from inside his neck, but there was none. A complex array of chemical analysis receptors in her nose told her operating system that there was an increase in carbon monoxide and other toxins in the air, signs that some time recently there had been smoking electronics in here.
Heather left the gruesome sight behind her and moved up the hallway towards the laboratory, hoping that there would be some kind of reason or better yet, video surveillance of whatever incident had taken Tony offline. Moving up the hall, she passed the porthole leading to the hallway that ended in the observation deck. As she always did, she peeked down the hall to catch a glimpse of the stars beyond. As Heaters eyes fell upon the star field and the moon below, she saw the silhouette of something else as well, standing around four feet tall and grumbling, the sound reverberating down the hall.
Heather’s operating system, in conjunction with her artificial intelligence, immediately formulated a plan and caused her legs to sprint down the hall at the maximum speed possible. Even as she ran, she could hear the thumping footsteps of whatever it was pursuing her. She dashed into the lab and swung her hand wide, trying to land the palm of it on the authenticator panel. She managed to only get two fingers on the panel and was forced to look over at it to try and realign her hand, but it was no use, whatever was chasing her was too close, the door would never be shut in time.
Heather ran across the room and put one of the examination tables between her and the creature. As it came into the vibrant light of the lab she could see in clear detail the greenish brown skin covering the bulbous head. Her eyes darted to the four claw tipped arms, noting the presence of what appeared to be artificial flesh clinging to them. Her scientific programming was triggered and her eyes immediately began recording the creature, saving data to an internal storage disk, but to her detriment, also using several of the CPU cores in her chest to render and save the video. Heather felt her movements lagging as her processors were busy. To her continuing horror, the creature opened its mouth and two flesh and sucker tipped tentacles came streaking towards her. Heather found that she was fast enough to duck out of the way of the one aimed at her throat, but the other latched onto her left wrist. Heather, in accordance with her self preservation programming, pulled her arm back in an attempt to break free. As she did, the sensors in her artificial skin alerted her to the pin prick of small needles stabbing into her hand. Before she could even process the implications of this, she felt the power fail in her hand and up her arm. She realized in that moment that this creature must feed on electricity, making this entire station and herself a feast. She also knew exactly what had happened to Tony. Heather then felt herself being pulled towards the open and waiting mouth of the creature, it was clearly trying to reel her in. Even as she pulled back, the tentacle held fast. She sent the command to disconnect her arm, but because of the angle she was at, the locking mechanisms held until her arm was in a neutral position.
Pressing her lips together, Heather knew what to do. She lifted her booted foot to the counter top and used it to pull back, turning her torso as she did so to maximize the distance between herself and the alien. She strained and she was beginning to receive damage reports from the shoulder joint. Just as she closed that last window in her field of vision there was a distinct ping, and her body was flung backwards by the force of her arm breaking inside the joint. The power cables and data lines were still intact for a fraction of a second, as was the artificial flesh wrapped around her shoulder. As she flew backward and tumbled into a workbench, the skin on her shoulder ripped haphazardly around her shoulder and the cabling inside of it frayed and snapped. Her now disconnected arm went limp in the grasp of the creature, who let it fall to the floor.
From where Heather sat, she looked over at where her arm had been, there was a large flap of thick flesh coloured material hanging loosely from her collar bone, and below it a small shower of sparks crackled and illuminated her body. The skin had pulled a long strand of flesh off and was already exposing some of the electronics inside of her chest. Blinking status LED’s were visible and under the right circumstances thick bundles of black data cabling could be seen, pinned in place to Heather’s internal framework. Heather had never seen inside herself before, and the mere sight of it caused her eyes to widen and her mouth to drop open. She was so used to looking down at her chest and only seeing human like breasts, not torn skin and electronics.
Heather didn’t have time to waste though, she looked up in time to see the creature that had attacked her vault cleanly over the desk, the wickedly sharp clawed feet aimed directly at her. Heather quickly scrambled to one side, attempting to crawl away, but her systems were attempting to use an arm that was no longer attached to her. Another brilliant flash of white light and a pop were heard alongside a whirring sound as Heather crashed forward onto the floor. She Kicked her feet wildly to try and push away but the creature landed on them. Her vision once again filled with alerts of sectors of pierced skin along her thighs and calves. Worse still, Heather could hear the sound of her own flesh being torn off of her legs as the two small inner claws worked independently to dig into Heather's legs.
Heather was undeterred and struggled to free herself, and in response the creature pinned down her legs and crouched down, putting Heather’s back in range of the four claw tipped hands. Even though they were far less muscular than the legs, they were more than enough to slam into her back and tear away great sections of the skin like coating there. More of Heather’s electronic and robotic inner workings could be seen, and the arms tore into it, seemingly with glee. Heather was bombarded with alerts, errors and messages about more and more of her systems going offline.
Her eyes became unfocused, the small internal iris inside her camera like eyes losing power and relaxing. Her mouth hung open, though her voice poured out.
“Alert, hos-hostile creature de-detected-ted. Engaging sel- error, pelvic module off-off-offline. Offline. Please- alert, critical dam-damge sustained.”
Her head swiveled from side to side as she spoke, the movement was no longer the smooth easy movement she had been built to perform, instead they were stunted jerking motions. Each one taxing the small motors in her neck to move her head in different directions at the same time. The creature perched on her back stopped ripping free flesh and cables when it came to the metal plating inside of her back that protected her power core. The microphones inside of Heather’s ears registered the squealing sound of the claws raking across it several times. The creature was clearly becoming frustrated and Heather’s voice continued to announce more and more damage. The alien’s large head turned to look at the source of the noise and it opened its jaws wide, barking twice at Heather. Heather was incapable of doing anything other than spouting the most base level of information from her operating system, and in response the creature on her back stepped forward, pressing its massive foot into Heather’s back and placing much of its weight on it. Heather’s delicate feminine body wasn’t built to withstand that much force and in one sudden movement, her rib cage, constructed of hard plastics, crumpled inward and shattered.
The creature didn’t even register that Heather’s body was crumpling, instead it’s jaws clamped onto Heather’s head, and like an excited puppy, used its massive neck muscles to jerk her head back and forth on her neck. Heather’s systems were in a critical state now, and didn’t even register that one of the teeth had pierced into one of her eyes, another into her forehead and dented her metal skull inward. It didn’t take long before the creature had worn the metal spine inside of Heather’s neck free and in a sudden jerking motion to the left, Heather’s head went sailing across the lab. It impacted the very containment tank that the creature had been birthed in with a thump and then fell to the floor.
Heather’s face was a mask of neutral uncaring, her operating system had drawn power and resources from her social functions to attempt to reconcile the massive amount of data coming in about her body being torn to pieces. As luck might have it, Heather’s head landed with her facing her own body, allowing her one remaining eye to peer at the creature as it raked its claws against the metal plating in her back. Heather’s body was attempting to respond to another device being disconnected, and her one remaining arm flailed ineffectively against the floor. Small whisps of smoke curled out of the now ruined neck, as power and data cables shorted across one another. Eventually some of the plastics caught fire and Heather’s neck joint began to melt into pink and white sludge, dribbling in globs onto the exposed circuitry in her neck and onto the floor.
Heather’s head had lost power long before the plates in her back were torn free with a squeal, and a pair of tentacles lowered to her now exposed power core. Her body was flailing but as the creature drank the electrical life from her body, soon she lay still. The smoking stopped when the power ran out, and the fire that was melting the flesh around her neck and shoulders eventually subsided. Having drunk it’s fill, the creature lumbered off into the station to start making a nest from whatever scraps of cloth and electronics it could find. There it would lay more eggs and feast on the power that the orbital station provided.
The headquarters for the deep space exploration and scientific analysis was not nearly as prominent a place as the title might make one assume. It was more of an outpost on the outer rim of a system of planets. It was perfectly positioned on the civilized edge of the outer wilds of space. If it was a wild west movie, the headquarters station in orbit around a little icy planet would be the small town that seemed to perpetually look off into the barren deserts. There were significantly less outlaws and bandits in this sector though. As one might have guessed the staff on board the space station had an equally impressive title and standing, though to anyone else in the scientific or military community, they would be seen as nothing more than dirty rim planet peasants. Still, the work was important, the exploration of the universe beyond human knowledge was a worthy endeavor and the addition of hostile creatures on distant planets necessitated a small but necessary military presence on the base.
The station itself was much larger than the small exploration stations that were assembled in orbit around distant unexplored planets. Equipped with manufacturing facilities for building components necessary for jobs as large as new station construction and repair, to smaller tasks like replacement parts for the sizable android staff. Standing in one such android manufacturing facility stood two men, Captain Andrew Faulker of the United Armed Space Force and Casey Leland, the head roboticist on the station. Faulker was what you might expect from an up and coming military officer. He was dressed in his uniform, freshly pressed and stood up straight and tall. Broad shoulders which seemed to always be pushed back and his chest pushed forward. He didn’t have the kind of chiseled jawline that cartoons portrayed military officers with, but he seemed to always have a perpetual mass of stubble on his face. His hands were tucked behind his back and clasped one another as if he were still in line in basic training.
Casey, on the other hand, was a polar opposite in most aspects. He was shorter, thinner, lankier, and clean shaven. Wearing an ill-fitting lab coat with the station's emblem embroidered on the back and over the left breast. He was standing next to a terminal, tapping commands away at rapid speeds. Just past the monitor on the computer was a thick panel of plexiglass and beyond that the manufacturing assembly line. “The Line” as most members of the engineering team called it, dominated the majority of the room. It wasn’t even a singular system, it was a conglomeration of conveyor belts, automated arms with specialized tool tips, bins of parts and raw materials. The mechanism was alive, arms were swiveling back and forth, placing new parts on the conveyor belt, while others placed circuit boards, wires, cables and tubes into place. Another arm swung in and a shower of sparks erupted from the framework as two parts were joined together. The machines were attaching what looked like a pair of legs to a fairly lithe framework.
“I don't know why we can’t just send in a fully decked out combat unit.” Faulker muttered.
“We lost contact with a station, that doesn’t mean it’s a full scale invasion Andrew” Casey called back without looking up from the terminal.
“Still. Why build a whole new body for this little girl when we could send in something with kevlar skin.” Andrew retorted.
“Because she was insured by SESA, we had to rebuild her regardless and her assignment there isn’t finished. You of all people should understand the need for finishing the mission.” Casey snapped back. He truly liked Captain Faulker, but the two disagreed on how to accomplish any number of goals.
A perfect replica of the vaguely slavic looking head and face swung down on a robotic arm and slotted into place at the top of the neck. She was beautiful, no doubt, and Casey internally flinched at the thought of what might have happened out there to such a lovely girl. He sighed, then tapped in another command. It resulted in a new arm lowering to the conveyor belt while another one peeled back the artificial scalp on the girls head. Once the skin was peeled back it revealed a series of indentations in the skull, each one only a half centimeter in diameter and nearly two inches deep. The first robotic arm had a pattern of matching posts on the end of it with a tangled mess of numerous cables running up and into the bulky yellow plated arm. It maneuvered itself into place and then inserted the posts deep into the skull of the girl on the belt. As soon as it did there was a small spasm from her body. The other arms had retracted from the assembly line, now finished with their tasks. She now looked like the pretty youthful girl that had signed up for the space exploration program nearly nine months before, though nude for the moment, she looked no less than a perfect copy of the original Heather.
The arm, and the connection posts on the end of it, were feeding the backup of Heather's memories, personality, and general disposition back into the storage media that was installed somewhere in her chest. As the information flowed from the servers housed on the station into Heather’s newly crafted body, she occasionally twitched or jerked as some new system ran a self diagnostic and ensured it was working properly. The programming didn’t take long, somewhere in the realm of fifteen minutes. In that time though Captain Faulker huffed, sighed and took a seat next to a cart with a white sheet placed over it. He crossed his arms over his chest and seemed to look off into the distance. Once the programming was finished there was an audible tone from the assembly line and all of the arms retracted, signaling that the construction had finished. There was a whirring from the programming arm as it extracted itself from Heather’s head and retracted.
Heather’s eyes opened and she immediately sat up on the conveyor belt and turned sideways. She hopped down and looked blankly ahead. There were numerous first activation commands running through her processor cores. As her other systems were booting and integrating data, she first reached up and smoothed her scalp back into place, locking it down with the magnetic locks inside her head. Once in place she reached deftly into a bin in front of her and pulled out the hairpiece that her original model had been assigned when she was assembled originally. She placed it on her head and the magnetic locks took over, snapping it perfectly into place. Finally she picked up a light blue jumpsuit from the bin and stiffly stepped into it before zipping it up and letting her hands fall to her sides. It would be another five minutes of Heather blankly staring ahead, unmoving and un blinking before everything was in place and her operating system was ready to load her human emulation software.
Casey knew she was ready when he saw her eyes begin to blink and her face soften just a little. She stood a little less rigidly, her shoulders drooped just a little and she looked, for lack of a better word, human. She turned her head left and right, taking in the space, the people, and her own internal system statuses. Her face morphed into a look of concern as she observed that there was nine months of time missing since the backup was made and the current time. Heather looked from Captain Faulker, whom she did not recognize, but was taken aback by his military uniform then over to Casey. She recognized Casey as the person who had taken her initial backup when she came on board the station, but hadn’t seen him since. There was still the issue of the time discrepancies for her artificial mind to sort out as well.
“Wh- Why am I here? What happened?” Heather questioned, taking a step forward and placing a hand against the clear plexiglass barrier between herself and the two men.
Casey cleared his throat to begin speaking but Captain Faulker beat him to it. In a typical efficient stream of facts he began to clearly if not emotionlessly explain.
“After being dispatched to the UX30 orbital station, you and your counterpart encountered an unknown alien entity. Log files indicate that the containment was breached on an observation tank and the entity disabled and destroyed both you and your counterpart. You’ve been reassembled with new orders to return to UX30, discover what has taken place there and recover samples of the entity for further research.” Faulker said.
As Captain Faulker was explaining the situation Casey only stood by and sighed. Once he was finished Casey cleared his throat again and drew the attention of both Captain Faulker and Heather.
“That is a fairly honest assessment. Heather, your body and all the memories and information you gathered while on the station were lost, we think. If you can manage to find your previous body and extract the storage drives from it, we should be able to get the information off of them. As Captain Faulker said, we’d also love a sample of whatever is up there. Do you understand?”
Heather’s look of concern changed to one of acceptance and understanding. She nodded and Casey continued.
“Now, you might notice that your file system has been updated to include a few more code sets. We’ve been authorized to arm you so you’ll have some weapons schematics and operation manuals in there, along with some basic tactics on using them. So, let’s get you out of there.”
Casey tapped in a final command to the terminal and with a loud hissing, the plexiglass wall receded into the floor. Heather waited patiently while it lowered then stepped over the crevasse. Her feet were still bare and her systems noted how cold the floor was in the room. Captain Faulker was already in motion, walking briskly to the cart and wheeling it over to Heather. He stopped it directly between himself and the newly reconstructed android. He pulled the sheet off with the smallest amount of flair to reveal several pieces of equipment. A short, almost box-like thing that Heather now knew to be a sub-machine gun with a sophisticated electronic scope, several additional magazines of ammunition, a pistol, a number of scanning and scientific tools, and a knife tucked into a leather sheath. Heather’s new programming quickly identified each one, and knew how to load, use, and safely operate everyone one of them.
“Let’s get you suited up and into a shuttle.” Was the response from Captain Faulker, hoping to get this operation under way quickly. He knew that a new alien species meant a lot to Casey, but a successfully run recovery mission meant another tally on his resume. Hoping for a promotion, Faulker wanted to run this one by the books and have everything go over smoothly.
Within an hour Heather had been outfitted with a light ballistic vest, held firmly in place with sturdy velcro on the sides. A pair of dark grey fatigues and a matching grey button up shirt, and a tight fitting helmet. Casey had just finished attaching a small camera to the side of the helmet and was rambling as he did so.
“-so this will be recording everything you do. We didn’t want to risk an external drive, so we’ll be hard wiring this directly into your systems. Okay?”
“Yeah, just don’t overwrite all the TV shows I have downloaded in there.” Heather quipped back, earning a small chuckle from Casey. He tucked a lock of Heather’s hair behind her ear as she sat as still as she could.
“Care to open this data port for me?” Casey asked and Heather sent a small command coursing through her operating system. A small patch of skin receded into Heather’s skull just in front of her ear. Behind it was a data port that Casey gingerly pressed the cable from the camera into.
“There we go, you should see-”
“A new device, yeah I got it right here. Looks like it’s working just fine.” Heather interrupted. “But this cable clashes with my entire outfit.” Heather jokingly complained.
“I’m afraid it’s a sacrifice you’ll have to make.” Casey assured her with a crooked smile.
“Right, well, I’m off then.” Heather said as she stood from the chair she was sitting in. Her equipment was slung or strapped to her in one way or another and it all clattered slightly as she stood. She looked towards the shuttle then back to Casey. He stuck out his hand and Heather shook it, giving him a grim smile. She had no idea what she was being sent in to, but there was something out there that had gotten the drop on her before. She turned and nodded at Captain Faulker who nodded in return. With her goodbye’s out of the way, she stepped into the shuttle, closed and sealed the doors behind her and settled in. The shuttle was an automated system, usually bringing one human or active robot, from the station to an outpost, and was normally loaded with containers loaded with androids. Currently it was empty, and Heather took up so little of the vast amount of space in the cargo hold. The craft rumbled and came to life, jetting out of the moorings on the station and orienting itself towards the outpost. Heather took a seat and buckled herself in just as an automated message came over the loudspeakers warning of an imminent light speed jump. She had finished buckling herself into one of the seats a few moments before the craft suddenly pressed her into the seat and sped off towards the waiting UX30 outpost.
The light speed jump took the shuttle significantly closer to the station, though once the jump ended there was still another hour of time to sit and wait as the ship cruised closer. Heather sat as patiently as her personality programming would let her. She checked the magazines in her weapons, then checked them again. She fidgeted with the snap on the knife as it held its position, inverted against the left side of the chest panel on her vest. In the end though, all she could do was sit and watch as the space station grew slowly larger in front of her. Then they were docked, the mooring clamps locked into place and there was a long deep humming as the ship attempted to pressurize itself with the station. Heather felt like it took longer than it should, but she chalked it up to damage to the station or the airlock. Or maybe it just took that long, she wasn’t active last time this trip had been made. Eventually though the sound faded out and Heather was left in the silent, dim shuttle cargo bay. She reached out a hand and pressed the door release and waited a moment while it opened, leaving her looking down a short hallway and the door into the station. As heather took the first step out of the shuttle and into the hallway one of the fluorescent lights flickered briefly. It gave Heather enough pause that she pulled the sub-machine gun around her torso and disabled the safety on it. Heather cautiously moved up the hall and pressed her hand ever so carefully against the button to open the door into the station proper.
There was a wet, sticky, squelching sound as the doors parted. Long greenish ooze strands clung to either side of the door as it parted and eventually reached their limits and snapped free, allowing Heather entry to the station without coming in contact with it. She reached back and pulled a red flare from a pouch on her back and twisted the cap. Once it was burning brightly she tossed it into the room. Stepping through the portal her boots crunched against something on the floor. Looking suddenly down she saw that it was some kind of festering pile, with an odd kind of fungus protruding from it. Looking around the immediate cargo hold of the station, she could see that there had been some drastic changes. There were still some places where she could spot the polished chrome flooring, though most of it was covered in some kind of oily mud. The walls were missing the paneling from them, though Heather assumed that it had never been there as she couldn’t spot the panels anywhere nearby. Some twenty or so feet in front of her was another doorway, closed and sealed over with the same oily muck that was on the floor. The overhead lights barely illuminated the room and what weak light they emitted were constantly flickering. Heather clicked on the flashlight attachment on her weapon and pointed it at the door.
The beam of light revealed the presence of some kind of debris or material fluttering in the air around her. It seemed like the most distressing snowfall she had ever experienced. As Heather squinted and zoomed in on some of the flakes as they fluttered through the air she could somehow feel the camera affixed to her helmet recording the data to a drive inside of her. As she observed them, they appeared to be flakes of whatever was growing on the ceiling. Shifting her eyes upwards she saw that there was a layer of the same oily ooze spread across the surface, but dried and solidified. It looked to be almost molding, and from that sloughing off bits of itself into the air. Everything inside the cargo hold had been coated in the same flakey debris. There were plasma torches and crates of rotting food stuff, spare paneling and equipment. All of it was coated in the same molding sludge. Heather took another step forward and a small red border pulsated at the edges of her field of vision accompanied by an alert. The air here was toxic.
The presence of some kind of additional chemical and an atmosphere that was toxic were indications that whatever was here was attempting to make the station its new home. Heather’s artificial mind decided that if they nerds back at headquarters didn’t recommend letting this one burn up on re-entry, then she would.
She also noticed a fair amount of fist sized mounds that puffed a cloud of spores into the air every few seconds. Heather watched as they fluttered through the air and eventually came to rest on the ground. Her eyes drifted around the floor of the cargo bay and saw dozens of clusters of the same small mounds and the floor was coated in a thick layer of white dust anywhere that the clusters were found. For the most part the dust was undisturbed, laying in an even sheet across the flooring, though as Heather took one more small step forward she saw that there was what looked like footprints by the door, they were vague, scuffled almost, like something had been standing there and then spun around and left in a hurry. Heather already knew that she wasn’t alone on the station, but to have left a mark in the dust on the ground meant that whatever was here, was active, and had recently been in this very room. It was enough to cause Heather to load the tactical programming that she had been granted by Faulker and she raised the submachine gun to her shoulder, hunched forward and crept across the cargo bay to the door.
Each step was like an explosion of sound. It was so deathly silent on the station and any noise seemed to be a deafening blast. Heather did eventually make it to the far side of the bay and pressed her hand hesitantly into the door release there, but nothing happened. She figured that the station’s emergency power had gone offline long ago and the door would need to be forced open. She slung the weapon in her hand around to her side and pulled up the technical readouts she had been programmed with when she joined the exploration academy. Most stations were fabricated from the same plans for modular construction, meaning all of them had the same emergency release on them. She stretched upward, finding that she was just a little too short to reach the paneling above the door. She raised herself on her tiptoes and managed to pull it free, but she failed to maintain a good grip on it and the metal panel fell to the floor where it clattered loudly and kicked up a plume of dust, flakes, and spores. Heather gritted her teeth and listened intently as everything settled back into an oppressive silence. Nothing stirred for what felt like minutes, but Heather’s internal system clock told her it had only been a few seconds before she reached into the open panel and felt around for the catch. Finally pulling it she heard an audible thump as the magnetic locks fell away from the door.
Heather lowered herself back to the soles of her boots and wedged her fingers into the small gap between the door panels. When working the heavy door would have split into four equal sections, folding into the walls from the center outward. Now though, Heather strained and pulled hard to get the door to budge. She knew it was simply sealed and once the seal was broken it would slide much easier. It took some time, but eventually she managed to get the doors to split and slide into their wall compartments. They squealed and protested every inch of the way, and the noise they made surely alerted anything that was on the station with ears that she was on the move. She stopped exerting herself once the door was open enough for her to slip through. The opposite side of the door was the same eerie environment that the cargo bay was sporting. Small puffs of spores drifted through the stale air, powdery dust caked the walkway and some kind of fungal drainage seeped from air vents along the long dark hallway.
Heather didn’t actually know if it was long, she had technically never been there before, but there was no light at all. Raising the weapon to her shoulder and clicking the flashlight on seemed to help only a little, it seemed like the darkness swallowed up the beam before it reached its full potential. Scanning left and right as she stepped forward Heather spotted the spiny metallic sheen of three doors along the right side of the corridor, and only one along the left side. From the floorplans she had downloaded before leaving the headquarters, she knew that the three doors on the right led into bunk rooms with stacks of beds in them. From what she could see the door at the far end of the hall was open, but the others were shut tight. From the end of the hall she heard the faintest of shuffling sounds, and for a moment her processor core struggled to identify the sound. Her operating system began collecting information about whatever it was, even as she raised the gun in her hands and leveled it at the end of the hallway.
Another thumping foot fall echoed from down the hall, punctuated by something being knocked over with a clatter. Heather dropped into a crouch and looked along the barrel of the weapon, directing the light into the inky black void of the hall in front of her. Heather stayed stock still, almost to the point of locking the servo motors inside of her body to remain perfectly still and focused. The snout of the thing appeared first, from the right hand side of the doorway. Heather wanted to point her light squarely at it, but she knew that would only serve to pull its attention. The tip of the snout seemed to have some kind of nostril or sensory organ on it, as it kept flaring out, emitting a snorting noise each time. As the snout bobbed and smelled the air, more of it came into view. A wide flat bulbous crest-like head appeared, covered entirely in hard leathery skin that pulsated weirdly. The entire front of the things head split open horizontally and displayed a wicked row of pointed teeth. Between the teeth slithered a pair slimy tentacles that twitched in the air. It took another thumping step forward and Heather’s light reflected off of four distinct pairs of claws.
Now fully in the doorway, the creature's head swayed back and forth, sniffing the air, but more than that the two tentacles seemed to pad and feel the air. Heather was becoming more unnerved by the moment as the tentacles seemed to be facing directly at her even while the creature's head bobbed from side to side. It seemed as if it knew she was there, somehow, but couldn’t see, hear, or smell her. This thing was feeling out something about Heather with something other than the normal array of senses. Heather stayed as still as she could, even terminating the artificial breathing that had been used to cool her processors. The only movement she made was a silent motion to put her finger onto the trigger in preparation.
The movement must not have been quiet enough because the pads on the end of the tentacles snapped immediately and violently towards her. The things head turned swiftly in the same direction and took a confident step forward, then another, and soon the thing was clearly charging at her. It was all muscle, claws and teeth, and it had no intention of stopping before it reached her. The two tentacles like appendages leading the way. Heather pulled the trigger on the gun and let out a short but loud burst of fire before rising to her feet and sprinting back down the hall. It was a quick run before she reached the small opening she had squeezed through in the cargo bay door. She could feel more than hear the creature approaching though the heavy vibrations transferring from the station floor through the door. She had managed to get her torso and belly through, but her hips were jammed. She kicked and strained, placing her palms on the door and pushing with every ounce of power her robotic arms would allow. Finally something gave way and she found herself tumbling to the floor of the cargo bay as the pair of leathery brown tentacles lashed through the small opening in the door. As she landed a cloud of spores and dust kicked up and swirled around her, moreso as she scrambled backwards.
She got to her feet and leveled the weapon at the opening, peering through the scope and aligning the red dot there with whatever was on the other side of the small opening in the door. She held down the trigger and another angry burst of ballistic fire erupted from the barrel of the gun. It was enough to draw a screech from the thing on the other side of the door and the tentacles whipped wildly around. Then there was silence. Heather stood still, listening, weapon trained on the small pitch black opening in the door.
She soon heard a small scuffle, and the microscopic motors and hydraulics in her arms and legs tensed, ready for whatever came next. Her eyes clicked back and forth between the inky blackness and the glowing redness of the optics on her gun. She couldn’t see anything beyond the dim dull silver of the door in front of her and then there was a sudden movement. Tentacles slapped and swirled at her. She pulled the trigger again, but this time there was little to no reaction from the creature. Instead the padded tips of the tentacles slapped the gun aside and coiled around it. Heather attempted to hold firm to the weapon, but it was yanked free, causing her to stumble back a few steps. She looked up just in time to see a spray of white hot sparks burst from the electronic scope. There was a small ark of power that seemed to be consumed by the sucker pods on the end of the tentacle. The second tentacle wrapped around the firearm and seemed to feed on whatever electrical charge existed inside of it.
In that moment of watching this creature drain and feed on the small current flowing through the weapon, it made her realize what had happened here. Why the lights were off despite the solar cells constantly recharging the massive power cells that ran the station. It also triggered her to make an educated guess about what had happened to her, or her previous chassis at least. The thing had finished draining the last remnants of the electrical energy from the gun and then let it fall to the ground where it impacted with a sludgy splat. There was some kind of brown mucus on it. Once the clatter had stopped there was another lingering silence and Heather’s eyes swiveled up and looked at the padded ends of the tentacles which seemed to be scanning around the room above her head. It wasn’t looking, it was trying to sense the electricity in the air. Heather’s complex android mind filled with what could closely be called dread, she was pure electrical energy, and this thing knew it. It was not only a matter of time before it found her.
Heather pressed the heels of her boots into the muck below her and pushed back, hoping to not make so much noise. The motion took far more power from her own power core than she expected, but she inched across the bay regardless. As soon as she moved a bit the two tentacles twitched and pointed directly at her. They began to flail and reach for her and as they did an ear piercing screech was heard from the other side of the door. Heather backed away enough to see the mass of teeth on the other side of the door. The squeal of sharp animalistic claws against the metal on the door screamed through the air. She had been found.
Heather scrambled back until her back bumped into something large. Startled, she looked over her shoulder and found she had bumped into one of the plasma torches. She looked back at the writhing tentacles, still reaching for her. She pulled the handle of the torch off the hook on the side of the unit and clicked the starter. She was surprised to see that the torch ignited and belched a white and blue flame several inches from her hand. The torch settled into an aggressive hiss and Heather drug the cart the torch was on through the sludge and came to a stop just out of the range of the tentacles. As she approached though they waved wildly and stretched for her. Once in place she uncoiled a long section of the fuel hose from the torch and slowly side stepped, theorizing that the plasma torch was likely putting out a lot more electrical current than her own power cell was.
She was right. The tentacles grasped and strained towards the central unit on the plasma cutter and not on her. The distraction allowed her to shimmy along the wall to the door and then slid carefully along its edge. The two tentacles came through the hole at the approximate same place, wiggling weirdly one over the other as they moved and struggled for the generator on the cart. Heather clicked on the torch and squinted as the flames ignited again. She brought the flame jet down across the point where the two tentacles were closest together. The nearly fifty thousand degree jet of angry fire seared through the rubbery brown tentacles without issue. Both fell to the ground and twitched and writhed for only a moment as the smoking cauterized ends smoked. At the same time there was a pained wail from the other side of the door followed by the sound of thumping and slamming of flesh against metal. Heather extinguished the torch and stepped back several paces before pulling a flashlight from a pouch on her belt and clicked it on.
She shone the light through the opening and down the hall on the other side of the door. The bulbous head of the creature was just barely visible as it stumbled blindly down the hall and into a section of the wall. The four arms on the creature's torso clawed and scraped at its open mouth where some kind of brackish fluid was dribbling out over the teeth. The claw tipped hands seemed to be trying to attack something that wasn’t there and the thing was sprinting off into the darkness. There were a few moments of silence before Heather heard a distant crash and shattering of something. Moments later the creature came sprinting down the hall again, blindly running and wailing in rage and pain. Heather jumped back as it slammed full force into the hard metal door between her and the creature. There was a sickening crunch as it sounded like whatever bones this thing might have had were somehow crushed against the door. There was silence again and Heather stepped forward enough to see that there was a mass of brown leathery flesh on the ground just outside of the door. The legs on the thing were twitching weirdly and it gave Heather the distinct impression that it had knocked itself out cold. Heather didn’t waste any time and drew the pistol from her hip and squeezed through the door enough to line up the barrel and began squeezing the trigger over and over. Each trigger pull resulted in the furious roar from her pistol and the barely audible wet thump as the bullet ripped into the creature. For the first few shots there was also a pained whimper, but beyond the third round there was just silence.
The silence on the station resounded for long minutes. Heather wanted to be absolutely sure that whatever it was that had been on the station was dead before she explored any further. She eventually peeked her head through the opening and down at the creature there, pistol at the ready, but she saw absolutely no signs of life any more. The legs no longer spasmed, there was no sign of breathing and Heather even ventured one more shot at its limbs to try and provoke it back to life. She sighed when the thing lay still.
It took another quarter hour for Heather to finally push the door open enough that she could walk through it with ease. There in front of her was the corpse of the alien creature, laying on its side in an ever expanding pool of its own fluids. Heather peered at it and saw that the wide jawline of the thing had been shattered and the mouth hung open. It appeared that this thing was running with its mouth open wide and slammed into the door, forcing it open more and breaking it. Heather knew that she had to get this thing into the shuttle somehow, and something in her robotic mind was thankful that she couldn’t actually smell anything. She was sure it would stink in short order.
Heather reupholstered her pistol and held the flashlight in front of her as she stepped over the weird fleshy mass outside the door. Between the angry hiss of the torch, the screaming and wailing of the monstrous creature and the scraping of its razor sharp claws against metal, the new silence on the station became unnerving. The darkness once again seemed to visibly consume the light from Heather’s woefully underpowered flashlight. As she progressed up the hallway she spotted the unmistakable sight of a pair of legs laying across the threshold of one of the doors on the right hand side. Heather rushed over, expecting the worst and found it. A handsome looking man lay there, his head torn completely off and flung across the room. The body was coated in the same slimy muck as was in the cargo bay. SHe shifted the torso with the tip of her boot and much of the artificial flesh along the male androids body seemed to flake off and dissolve as it was disturbed. Heather made a note to herself not to touch any of the goo in the station with her bare flesh.
She began to systematically check the rest of the station, finding that there were three bunk rooms along the right side of the hall, two of which appeared to be completely unused and were free of any of the debris and slime. Likely because the doors were sealed shut when Heather arrived at them and had to be forced open in a similar fashion as the one leading to the cargo bay. Perhaps more difficult was the fact that these doors all consisted of a single slab of metal that lifted into the ceiling, meaning Heather had to hoist the whole weight of the door upwards in order to get even a glimpse into the room. Finding them empty and undisturbed meant she could move on.
Heather crossed the hall into what was once a kitchen. It was now a scattered mess of shattered dishes, and ruined furniture. It had the distinct look of some kind of struggle or scramble through the room. A large table was flung to one side and looked like it had been overturned. Sloshing through the slimy ooze on the floor Heather found herself descending a pair of stairs into a circular room. The rounded walls were covered from floor to ceiling in the same brownish mud as the rest of the station floors and walls. Towards the apex of the domed room looked like a large mound of the oily glop with what appeared to be eggs of some kind stacked inside of it. They were all roughly fist sized and Heather leaned close enough for the telescopic eyeballs installed in her skull to zoom in on them. She was sure that this would be fascinating to someone back at headquarters, but she refused to get close enough to them. The last thing she needed was for one of them to hatch and then whatever was inside to latch onto her face or something.
Heather sneered once and stepped away from the room, intent on checking the large research lab at the end of the hallway. She stepped back into the hallway and down to the end where she entered the enormous research lab. It wasn’t hard to imagine how thrilling this place would have been had it been in working condition. As it was now, there were shards of glass everywhere, all of them lodged in the layer of mud on the floor. Heather imagined that the glass was a new addition from when the blinded alien monster had rampaged wildly through here. There were work tables and tools scattered around the place, all of which were in disarray and many of them sported deep gashes from a set of three claws. Heather walked cautiously into the room and shone her light around, looking for any sign of another entity there and hoping that there was only one on the station. After a tense minute of sweeping her light back and forth she was confident that she was actually alone here. The corner of the room looked to have another nest of sorts consisting of ton cloth, mud, slime, and pieces of debris.
Heather let out a sigh, her mission here was coming to a close. She had found what it was that took the station offline, neutralized it, and all that remained was to haul the thing onto the shuttle and leave. A task she looked forward to accomplishing with all haste. She turned back to the door, nearly forty feet away from her and stopped. There, silhouetted against the flickering dim light of the flare left in the cargo bay, was the figure of someone standing about her height. It was missing its right arm, and the head seemed somehow off. Heather struggled to pick up details on it because of the shadows, but she could tell it was vaguely humanoid. It took a stilted step forward and as its foot impacted the station floor its head flopped to one side. Heather herself took a step back from the form and raised her flashlight at the thing.
Heather’s eyes grew wide as she looked at what was once her. Though this visage of Heather was not at all what it had once been. It’s eyes were vacant, open, and not at all looking in Heather’s direction. Even from where she was standing, Heather could tell that the head was not actually attached to the neck. It was instead merely held in place by the same slimy brownish material that covered the floor, though this had begun to solidify in certain places. It looked leathery, almost skin like, and it was crawling up the side of Heather’s old face.
The thing was completely nude, not that it mattered, the flesh was torn to shreds and merely hung on in places where the skin was draped over some component. The internal circuitry, once concealed behind smooth pale skin, was on display for all to see. There was sticky grime layered over every controller board inside of her old torso, and in many places it looked as if it had actually merged with the circuitry. The thing took another stiff step into the room and its head lolled forward, bounced at the limit of whatever fleshy growth held it in place and then flopped to one side and then back, finally coming to rest pointed up at the ceiling.
Heather was speechless, and was rendered even more so as the head flopped backwards. As it stopped along the throat of her old body an opening split across the neckline and revealed a line of small, but wickedly sharp looking teeth. Heather found them to be all too familiar. Then, slithering with a kind of disgusting slurp, two tentacles tumbled out of the mouth. Both were capped with the same wide pad that the other creature had had, and they began to writhe and prod at the air in front of them. They looked like they were testing the area in front of them. Poking gently at the electromagnetic waves that were surely radiating off of Heather’s body. It couldn’t see her, but rather it could sense her, like echolocation. The things body shifted subtly, and Heather couldn’t help but notice that as it did, just before the movement, there was a small series of brief sparks from inside of its body. It was sending a small current through the body and controlling the flow of electrical impulses in order to get the body to move.
Heather gritted her teeth, if the creature that had filled her old body could only send jolts of electricity through the body that meant it would be clumsy, slow, and she could use that. Heather slid sideways, circling around the doorway and watched as the tentacles predictably followed her movements. As she used more of the electricity in her power cell to move herself around and process the environment the more she would draw its attention. She shimmied her shoulders, moved her head, and flexed her legs as she moved, attempting to draw the thing out of the door way, and within moments of adding additional movements the thing took another few steps forward, each time a small pop of white electrical sparks lit up the vicinity around the thing. Heather concluded that this must be either a juvenile form of the same creature she had found earlier, or it was still just getting acquainted to the shell it was in.
As soon as Heather had lured it half a dozen paces into the room she began to circle the shambling body, putting a wide berth between herself and the creature. She kept her eyes on the padded tips of the tentacles and only looked away for a moment to look towards the door. Soon, she saw that the thing living in her body had stopped taking steps and was simply standing still, rotating clumsily in the center of the room to track Heather's movements. It was a tense dance, but Heather finally made it to the doorway, her back was to the hall and her eyes still locked on the thing in the middle of the room. It was impecably locked onto her location, the tentacles reaching for her out of the foul mouth that was created in her old throat. Her previous head module staring vacantly and emotionlessly in whatever direction the sludgey creature pointed it. Even as it turned to face her she could see a small portion of her old artifical spine sticking weirdly out of the back of the monster.
It was time, Heather needed to tear her eyes away from the twisted perversion of her old body and make a run for the cargo bay. It was a mere hundred and fifty yards, and she was confident she could make it, but the mere idea of not watching this thing was a calculated risk that her own processor core was not comfortable making. The husk of her old body took a step forward, tentacles waving and undulating as it did, and Heather turned on her heel and ran. After the first half dozen steps she heard the ever increasing snapping and popping of rapid electrical discharges. It was chasing her, and from the constant buzz of electrical pulses, it was moving fast. It appeared that complex moments like turning were a challenge, but a dead sprint in one direction was a simpler task. Heather ventured a look over her shoulder to see her old body hot on her heels, illuminated by the strobing of electrical pulses over its circuitry, rubbery tentacles leading the way. Heather pushed more of her own elctrical current hard into her legs and ran faster.
She stopped looking at her persuer just in time to see the mass of the creature laying in the doorway to the cargo bay, but it wasn't quick enough to perfectly vault over the thing. She jumped, but the tip of her boot caught on the vaguely disk shaped head and tumbled to the floor of the cargo hold. Her hands and face slammed into the oily slime and crusty mold like fungus there. She was already pushing herself up and getting her feet under her when she felt the weight of something slam into her. She found herself pusshed back into the muck. Heather twisted herself and contorted herself frantically, her processors working at light speed to try and find the location of the deadly tentacles and get them away from her. She managed to turn herself onto her back and found her old body straddling her. She was facing down the open mouth of the creature there, and the tentacles slithered out and faced her.
Heather balled up her fist and her operating system dumped everything it had into lining up a devastating haymaker. As the command to execute the attack raced through her body though, she found her arms clamped down to the floor, held in place by the one remaining hand on her old body, and the other stomped to the ground by a booted foot. She struggled and twisted but she was held firm. Heather watched in horror as the tentacles fell to her chest and then slithered up and worked their way into the collar of her shirt and then viciously tore it open. Heather's operating system alerted her, out of courtesy, that nudity on board the station was discouraged and appropriate clothing would need to be worn at all times. Heather watched as the message closed and then the tip of the tentacle flattened itself into something resembling a long thin blade made of leathery flesh and jelly. Both tentacles wormed their way into the faint and practically unseen seam between Heather's breasts. She cried out in simulated distress as she watched the two halves of her chest panel pop outward.
She struggled and kicked her feet, gritted her teeth and screamed in frustrated anger. The mouth that occupied the opening between her old neck and the bottom of her head opened wider and lifted up towards the ceiling. It let out some kind of barking gurgling mess of noise and guttural groans. It almost sounded like it was choking up something, and as it tipped its mouth back down, Heather could see that in fact, it had been. Sticky green juices were dribbling from between its teeth and dribbling into her open torso. As the mouth lowered there was a mass of the same oily brown muck that had coated the floor of the station, but nestled inside of it was a small fist sized egg. It fell from the things mouth and landed with a wet splat inside of Heather's chest. Heather looked down at herself just in time to see the egg erupt and a mass of stringy flesh lash out of it and latch onto whatever circuitry it could. Heather felt the weight lift off of her and watched as her old body retreated back several steps.
Heather immediately ran a series of commands to reach inside of her open chest and grab whatever she could and pull it free. She wanted to scream, to kick, to pull away, but the commands formed themselves, but never executed. In fact, all Heather did was lay there and twitch at random intervals. The artificial mind that had been programmed into her could only sit idly by as she watched the electrical signals inside her own body fall one by one to whatever it was that pulsed inside of her. It was infecting her, she could practically watch as the sludge expanded and fed on her electrical life and physically tapped into her systems. She was watching it grow minute after minute as it feasted on her. It expanded inside of her and she knew that soon it would over take her, bursting from the seams in her body, but as time wasted away around her she saw that it didn't. In fact it took over a large portion of her body, the controller boards and wiring, but the thickest bundle of tendrils had affixed themselves to the storage drive and her processor core.
Heather could have sworn she heard a voice, somewhere both far away and ringing in her ear. Maybe both. It was the loudest whisper she had ever heard and it only said two words.
Heather's artifical mind was still operational, though it seemed like every process and conclusion passed through a field of static and somehow became distorted. It felt like opening a letter that you were certain someone else had opened, read, and repackaged before delivering it. She had built in security and privacy settings that loaded and began slamming shut the pathways that led to any kind of information that would be useful to this thing that was invading her. She wouldn't let it know anything, but it was hard to lock a door when the keys were being held by someone, or something, else. The creature that was burrowing down inside of her, both physically and digitally, was so alien that Heather struggled to comprehend or even identify what it was.
"More. Tell me more. Where is..more" The words were in her voice now, she had heard them clearly now. She wasn't even aware that as she lay on the floor of the cargo bay that it was, in fact her voice. The slime had crawled up her throat and had now curled around her vocal processors. Her jaw moved, lips forming the words, and the creature made the speakers in her throat verbalize its own words.
Heather refused to reply, she still had control and she could fight back. She absolutely refused to say a word in response. Little did she know that her defiance wasn't a luxury she would have for very much longer. The thing inside of her expanded and for a moment Heather's mouth opened and her throat swelled. Some of the slick oily mass rolled out from between her lips, just at the corner of her mouth. With a sudden surge of movement the thing had slipped inside of Heather's skull. Her mouth remained open, and as the creature wrapped slim tendrils of its own mass around the mechanisms behind her eyes they rolled up into her head for a moment.
"Then show me. Show me more. Show me where I can get..more."
Heather lost her field of vision. Snow and static crept in from the edges of her vision and all of the alerts and warnings in her field of view were consumed by the snow. She wanted to snap her eyes closed, but she couldn't. She couldn't quite recall the command to close them, and after a moment or two gave up on that, it was fairly useless anyway. Heather's head filled with the gooey mass of the ever expanding alien being. It grabbed onto, consumed, and learned from everything there. The real threat was happening lower, in her torso. Just inside of her chest was the storage media that had been installed and had been filming her mission. The information there would reveal the location of the headquarters, the operational processes for Heather, and how to make her move and appear real. It held the roster of humans and androids on the various stations. It held the connection data needed to link up to the artificial intelligence that ran the majority of the systems on the station.
"Thank you Heather. That should do nicely. I believe we are finished here."
In her last fleeting moments of awareness she could feel the creature digging into the data inside of her, consuming not just the pulses and flows of electricity, but the information itself. It was learning from what she knew. Her artificial mind threw up firewalls and software intended to repel threats, but they were only suitable for software attacks. Hackers would be stopped in their trackes, but something that fed on the information itself simply found a new course added to its feast. Heather could only watch as the last remnants of her artifical existance were consumed and absorbed into the nightmare. Then, the cargo bay and the station were quiet again as the thing inside of Heather became acquainted with its new home.
Heather would lay there, still and unmoving for nearly an hour before her body abruptly sat up and looked vacantly forward. The creature inside of her had consumed and integrated the information it had found. It had evolved from being a simple creature consuming a meal that had wandered into its territory, to a hunter. It knew of the headquarters, the sheer volume of information, power, and life there. It could live for hundreds of years on the fusion reactor alone. It stirred Heather's body to stand and then look stiffly down at the open chest. It had learned how to hide and worse yet, how to control this body. Heather's arms moved jerkily at first, but began to move more and more smoothly. It closed her chest panel and clicked it closed. She looked human again. She began walking, the thing inside of her getting used to the body it occupied, and eventually found some clothes in the open and uninfected bunk room. She put it on, and then moved back to the cargo bay and looked at the first Heather's body. Damaged and unmoving.
Heather opened her mouth and two small, but capable tentacles slipped out, and began to vibrate the air around them, charging it with electrical pulses. The tentacles on the ruined android vibrated in return and after a moment or two both androids stepped into the shuttle. the old damage heather seemed to retreat into herself, the leathery brown flesh contracting into a weird muscled ball, still visible, but not nearly as nightmarish. Then the body collapsed to the ground and lay there, waiting. The second creature piloted its body to the shuttle control and settled stiffly into the captain's chair.
Heather hadn't been programmed with any kind of piloting software, the shuttle was purely automatic. The thing inside of her tapped into the knowledge that it had consumed and pressed a series of buttons to begin the return flight and then tapped the coms relay.
"Heather here. Mission accomplished. Returning to base." The voice was Heather's and the words sounded just like she had said them, though anyone who knew her would tell you that she did not speak in such a short and frankly militaristic tone. Regardless the communications array crackled to life a moment later and Faulker congratulated her and bid her a safe return trip. The shuttle detached from the station, and Heather stared blankly ahead, eyelids half closed as the creature nestled inside of her chest suckled gently on her power cell. As the shuttle departed she caught a small reflection of herself in the glass window in front of her, she looked human, she looked like herself, no one would suspect anything.
The small shuttle cruised steadily and softly through the vast dark expanse of stars. The black ocean of nothingness was all that stood between the cream colured, sleek looking transport ship and the Deep Space Exploration and Scientific Studies headquarters. The journey itself would take several hours, but the passengers of the shuttle didn’t mind the wait, what lay ahead of them was well worth the wait. Entry into the main headquarters would mean several lifetimes of food, reproduction, information, and luxury. Not that luxury had any sway over the barely sentient blobs that had fully infested the two identical android women inside of the shuttle.
Heather, the first iteration of her, lay slumped on the floor at the back of the shuttle. Her body was propped up against the wall of the craft, her head lolled to one side and her face was a blank mask. Her eyes were open, mouth slightly agape, but there was no obvious life left in it. Down on the right side of her body, her shirt was torn and shredded, exposing an equally torn and ruined upper arm. The skin itself was synthetic, and therefore not rotting, though it looked dried out and hung loosely from the shoulder. Inside of the layer of flexible skin were the frayed ends of calves, wires, and tubing. All of which had once been used to control and manipulate an arm that was no longer there. The jagged ends of what looked like a central bone structure were visible. It was made of some kind of off-white plastic, and looked a bit like bone. Though it was very clearly a polymer of some sort, strong yet light and inexpensive.
Just barely visible at the very edges of her artificial flesh was a small bit of slimy, mud brown, organic material. There were the faintest hints of a liquidy sheen to it as the lights from the shuttle reflected off of the small amount of the oily mass that was exposed. A small portion of the slick fluid had dribbled down the internal workings of her exposed circuitry and had begun to drip off, and pool on the ground below her arm. From time to time there would be a small rippling pulse through the weirdly organic material that would, in turn, cause the android’s body to jolt and shiver. When it did there was another small excretion of the oily glop that would dribble down the shattered remains of her arm, and drip into the ever growing pool on the deck of the small shuttle.
The robotic girl sitting on the floor, seemingly inactive, was Heather. More accurately the first construction of Heather. She had joined the Deep Space Exploration force when her civilian job had dried up, and had the pleasure and misfortune of serving on a space station that had inadvertently brought a hostile form of life on board. It feasted on the electrical energy that coursed throughout the station, but more than just food it craved something else, something more illusive. The thing survived on electrical energy, but it thrived on information. When it had first encountered Heather, and her robotic crew mate, Tony, it had wasted no time in attacking and consuming their programmed minds. Tony had been caught completely by surprise when the creature had quickly evolved into a bipedal creature, but Heather had managed to put up more of a fight. In the end though, it had torn her arm of and completely severed her head. Realizing that it needed to look more like the original build though, it had lashed sticky chunks of flesh to the bottom of the head and pulled it tightly back into place on top of Heather’s neck. It looked unnatural, but it would have to do.
At the moment, clinging to Heather’s power core and pulsating as it suckled the electrical life away from her, the organic mass waited. The other android, sitting in the pilot’s seat, was Heather as well. She was reconstructed and programmed with a suite of military tactics and weapon training and had been sent to discover what had happened to Heather 1.0 on the station. She discovered the bipedal evolution of the organic creature as well as the spawn living inside of Heather 1.0’s chest. Despite the weaponry, programming, and element of surprise she had still not been able to defeat the creature. Worse yet, she too had been infected and taken over by the alien being. It had infested her artificial mind and absorbed all the knowledge she had to offer. Presently both infected androids were on a course back to the Deep Space Exploration headquarters, where power and information was not just in abundance, but overflowing.
There was a small whisper inside of the Heather piloting the craft. It clicked and hummed, and at times gurgled. The sounds pulsed and whispered through her mind, and then wrapped into her language translation software. Heather, and all of her supporting software, had become nothing more than a simple tool to the organic being inside of her own chest. Her hands remained on the console as she listened to the whispering voice.
“We are close. Open your mouth.” The voice was incomprehensibly deep, and only Heather could hear it.
Her hands remained on the console, but her mouth opened wide. There was a bulge that traveled up her throat, stretching the flesh on her neck slightly, then two long, slender tentacles slipped over her perfectly white artificial teeth and past the silicone filled lips. It left a slimy sheen on her chin as the pair of appendages extended out. The tips of the tentacles widened into a vaguely rounded flat pad with some manner of suction like grooves on the bottom. They gently swayed and moved, as if they were sunflow stocks in a breeze. They vibrated and buzzed, charging the air in the shuttle craft with subtle electromagnetic waves.
Heather 1.0, still slumped on the floor and staring vaguely forward, responded to the electrically charged air. A thick lump formed in her neck and rolled upwards. As it reached somewhere around the midsection of her throat though, her head lolled to one side and the flesh separated. Inside was the same brown fleshy tentacles that slithered out and began to vibrate as well. Heather’s head remained affixed with a blank and uncaring expression as it rolled to the side, held in place only by the thick tendrils of organic material. The two creatures communicated somehow with each other for a few moments, low hums and clicks filling the shuttle as they did so. Once the messages had been received the tentacles in swaying from Heather’s neck began retreating, rolling down her throat once again. Once they were tucked safely away inside of her chest again, there was a sort of muscular spasm and her neck pulled tightly back into place, leaving her looking blankly ahead once again.
The Heather unit that was piloting the shuttle similarly retracted her tentacles and they slipped down her throat, bulging the skin outward as they did so. Heather closed her mouth again and brought her wrist up and wiped away the oily slime from her lips and flicked her arm once, sending the residue flying. The creature inside of her toros curled itself around her power core and nestled into place.
There was silence once again in the shuttle as it streaked through the empty blackness of space.
The communications array crackled to life. The shuttle had been deathly silent for nearly three hours and the sound of the communication system suddenly coming to life did not phase the two artificial girls in the shuttle.
“Shuttle eight eight nine seven, do you copy?” Came a flat, unassuming female voice.
“This is shuttle eight eight nine seven. We copy. Returning from Station UX30. Requesting quarantine and science crew at docking. We’re carrying an unknown organic life form.” Heather returned the communique. Her voice was flat, official sounding, but in reality it was just that the creature inside of her wasn’t used to speaking out loud and had no idea how to properly modulate the vocal systems to make her sound realistically human.
She received her confirmation and steered the shuttle towards the docking bay before setting the auto-landing sequence. The knowledge on what to press and how to operate the shuttle was all right there in the storage media inside of Heather, and the creature had perfect access to all of it. In addition to the raw knowledge, it had also managed to wrangle Heather’s artificial intelligence. It now had at its disposal one of the greatest achievements of humankind, and it would use it.
Heather stood up and stepped to the back of the shuttle and pulled open one of the storage lockers there and pulled out an obnoxiously yellow hazard suit. She slipped into it stiffly, and her slender and petite frame left a lot of room. The suit was scrunched up and wrinkled all over her body, but it would do to sell the image. A helmet like hood fit over the shoulders and neck of the suit and the large rounded face shield allowed her a fairly large viewing range. Once in the suit, she twisted the knob on an external oxygen tank strapped to the thigh of the suit and it inflated, filling the suit with so much positive air pressure that even microscopic particles would be shunted out. She then moved back to the cockpit, crumpling and crinkling sounds filling the shuttle bay with every step, and resumed her post at the captain’s chair.
As the shuttle drew nearer to the hangar, the creature living inside of Heather’s chest lashed onto the optical centers of her operating system and sent pulses of electrical energy to the mechanisms behind her eyeballs. It could see the landing lights, and what’s more it could see the crowded landing zone. Everyone there was armed with the same kind of boxy submachine gun Heather had carried with her when she boarded the shuttle, and they were all wearing similarly inflated hazard suits. The autopilot sequence gently guided the transport shuttle to a perfectly gentle landing, with only the slightest jolt at the end as the full weight of the shuttle compressed the landing gear. By the time the craft had come to a rest, Heather had stood and walked to the back of the shuttle, stepping over the slumped form of her previous chassis, and waited by the rear loading door.
With a loud and sustained hissing the door broke the seal and began to slowly lower. Heather was greeted by the sight of no less than a dozen firearms pointed at her, all held by men and women in hazard suits. The creature nestled inside of her had consumed the knowledge for what the proper procedure for quarantine was. Heather raised her arms above her head and stood still, waiting for instructions. She didn’t have long to wait, as Captain Andrew Faulker stepped forward only one step. Even clad in a hazardous environment suit, his broad shoulders were visible. His career of military service had led him to be a well muscled and imposing figure, and his stance even conveyed the type of no nonsense operation he liked to run.
“Heather unit two, descend the ramp, get on your knees and place your hands on your head.” Faulkner barked at her, his voice amplified by some kind of communication instrument. Heather nodded once and the monstrous mass of flesh inside of her sent jolting waves of digital information through her body. She stepped smoothly forward, the creature now having lived inside of her chassis for long enough to be comfortable controlling her. She reached the bottom of the ramp and lowered herself to her knees and placed her hands on her head.
“Report.” Came Faulker's voice again.
“There’s an alien life form trapped inside of the body of Heather unit one. Just inside the cargo bay. I’ve been in this hazard suit since I arrived at UX30 to mitigate a risk of infection. You’ll see that the suit itself is not compromised but the shuttle likely is.” Heather said, her voice remained calm and a little too flat.
Faulker glanced at two of the other men behind him and then thrust his chin towards the shuttle. Without hesitation they ascended the ramp and emerged a few moments later dragging Heather’s old body along with them. It was mangled, clearly and the leaking oily fluids and gentle wisps of some kind of spore filled the air around her. She was laid on a plastic sheet and then lifted onto a gurney. There were never any less than half a dozen weapons pointed at the inert form of the previous Heather. The body was strapped into place then sealed with a metal and plastic shell over it. As the two service men entered the shuttle Heather looked up at Faulker and ventured a comment.
“Sir, I need to see the station A.I. as soon as possible for debrief.” She said keeping her head low but the creature inside of her stirred her eyes to swivel up in the sockets just enough to barely meet Faulker’s. It leant her a sympathetic look.
“Mm- On your feet. I think-” Faulkner grumbled, but found himself interrupted by Casey Leland.
“Sir, we should really disinfect Heather first.” Leland said, his voice quivering slightly, as he wasn’t used to interrupting high ranking officials.
While Faulker might have been obviously fit and muscular beneath his hazardous environment suit, Casey Leland looked more akin to how Heather filled it out. Below the vibrant yellow tyvek suit he was lanky, some might even call is scrawny. A pair of glasses perched on his nose and a perpetual look of concern bordering on worry. The suit hung from his shoulder, and drooped down along his body. There was little in his frame to fill out the spacious suit and so it merely bunched up around the belt at his waist and around his ankles. As he stepped forward and interjected into Faulker’s conversation the military officer slowly turned his head and shoulders to look at the head roboticist. Their eyes met and everyone in the hangar bay could feel the tension welling up between the two. It was no secret that the two men interacted often, had similar mission objectives, and loyalties yet operated very differently.
“She’s been in her hazard suit the whole time.” Faulker said with a hint of sarcastic defiance. In reality he knew that Heather was only a robot and an infection from bacteria or some other organism wouldn’t affect her in the slightest.
“Sir, with all due respect, it’s standard operating procedure to-”
“-Leland, I have a mountain of paperwork to get through on this mission alone. I’m tired, and I’m ready for some scotch.” Faulkner replied, punctuating the statement with a sigh that fogged up his face plate slightly.
Leland stepped closer to Faulker and hushed his voice enough for the two of them and perhaps Heather to hear.
“Andrew, we need to be cautious. Who knows what's out there.” Leland hissed at Faulker, garnering a sigh from the captain.
Andrew Faulker stood up and sighed. He looked down at Heather, still on her knees, eyes darting between Faulker and Leland. The creature lodged in her chest clutched the power core tightly, almost reacting as if there were a nervous tension there. It knew who these men were, and how much control they held over the android known as Heather. The artificial mind that had been installed inside of Heather when she was still independently active was now under the organic mass’s control, and it utilized it to think logically through the situation. The creature didn’t have much of a mind of its own, it was just instinct and reaction, but Heather’s mind would send it information and thought.
“Excuse me. If I may.” Heather squeaked, drawing the attention of the two men. “I’m not programmed to be able to lie, nor am I programmed to endanger the crew of the station or anyone affiliated with this facility. Right?” She stated the technically correct facts. Heather, as an android followed very strict guidelines on facts and process. The creature that had burrowed it’s way into her body and mind on the other hand held no such promises. Heather’s mind and body were tools for it to use, and the creature could make Heather do and say whatever was most beneficial.
Faulker looked expectantly towards Leland, the look on his face implied that he actually didn’t know the answer to that. He knew strategy, management and leadership, not robotics. Leland on the other hand knew only robotics and programming, and after a moment of blinking and contemplating the question, he nodded in confirmation. The motion didn’t move his over inflated suit at all, but it was enough to convey the answer to Faulker.
“Very good, on your feet. Permission granted.” Faulker said.
Leland sputtered and stammered for a moment. He had expected Faulker to at least question her further in the hopes that he would use the knowledge to expose the need for a scan and disinfection. Faulker held up a hand to silence the head roboticist and nodded to Heather.
“Do you need an escort, young lady?” Faulker asked politely and received a polite but friendly shake of Heather’s head.
“Very good, you can take off the suit once you are clear of the quarantine zone.” Faulker said and lowered his hand to help Heather to her feet. She took it and was hoisted easily to her feet. Though she was a robot, her construction as a civilian model was mostly plastics and lightweight metals, which posed no problem for Faulker to lift.
Leland, meanwhile, looked incredulously from Faulker to Heather and back again. He stammered for a moment and was about to speak again when Faulker held up a hand to him and shook his head. Heather moved away from the pair and Leland let his eyes linger on her as she left feeling the pit of his stomach dropping. For a man of science and facts he learned long ago that sometimes a gut feeling, a hunch, or just an ominous feeling was to be trusted. He didn’t want to let Heather back into the station proper, and he didn’t know why. Ultimately though, it was not his call, he was here merely to advise Faulker not give him orders. He watched as Heather walked away from him, towards the hastily erected plastic shell surrounding the hangar bay. Two posted guardsmen pulled aside the thick curtain of plastic as Heather walked through it. Once the curtain was back in place, Heather was nothing more than a bright yellow distorted blob. Even obscured as she was, he could make out her motions as she unlocked and removed the helmet, unzipped the suit, and stepped out of it. He could see her familiar slender form, wearing the same simple pants and top combo that she had been given just after she was assembled.
Leland let out the lungful of breath that he had been holding in and turned his eyes back to the shuttle. Two of his own men were monitoring the original Heather’s body inside of the gurney shell. Electronic monitors beeps and fed data to monitors mounted to the exterior of the contraption. Leland gently tilted his head to one side, indicating that they should move the body to one of the science labs.
While Leland and the initial quarantine crew extracted the original Heather’s disabled and damaged body from the shuttle, the second Heather strode confidently through the plastic curtains into the second half of the hangar bay. She shed her hazardous environment suit as soon as she could. The creature nesting inside of her chest stirred the electrical signals inside of her robotic body to slip off the helmet and then caused her face to turn to a somewhat awkward smile to the armed guard just outside of the curtains. She unzipped the suit and stepped out of it, balling up all of it and tossing it into a hazardous waste bin. It was protocol, Heather had been programmed to have it all stored inside of her when she was reassembled, and the organic creature had access to it all. With the use of Heather’s artificial intelligence to formulate complex plans the creature finally operates on a level much higher than it would have been otherwise, but there was information in Heather’s hard drive that stirred a hunger in it.
The hunger itself was morphing, changing, evolving. Using the information that it had found inside of Heather’s data drives, and utilizing her artificial mind as a higher level reasoning device for its own instincts it was becoming a predator. It no longer hunted to survive, Heather’s body and power core provided more than enough food for it to survive on for the next century, but now it wanted more. It wanted to feat, to spawn, to take over.
Inside of Heather there was a small whispered voice that gurgled and croaked as she stepped out of the hazard suit. Heather no longer existed inside of her own body, it was just the echoes of programming and what was once her own mind. The voice was the creatures, it tightened its fleshy grip on a bundle of wires and sent a jolt running through them.
“Get me to the control center. Get me to where I can live forever.”
The voice was commanding, it was in control of the body it inhabited fully. The legs moved smoothly and without a hint of the resistance they had when the creature had first invaded Heather’s body. The body was now only a vessel. She moved down the hall, turning corners as she made her way ever closer to the central command core. There were other personale in the halls, and she nodded curtly as she passed them. As she moved, though, the creature inside of her detected other androids. Some passed her and others were off in the distance or in rooms she passed. There was other artificial life here, and the monster wanted so desperately to consume them. Whenever she was alone in the hallway, the alien being inside of her torso commanded her mouth to open, and some of the oily, spore laden slime would well up on her tongue. Heather would scoop it up on her fingers and smear it across a wall, door, or keypad. Every instance spread more and more of the genetic material from the being around the station. Every time with the burbling voice in her head calling for “more, spread more.”
Before long Heather stood outside the sealed chambers of the central control room. Inside Heather was aware that there was an artificial intelligence that would grant her access to power, knowledge, control, and so much more. There was opportunity there to reproduce and evolve and consume. The fleshy beast inside of Heather knew that authorization to enter the chamber needed to be granted, and that Faulker had given it to her. She assumed that there was an authorization code that needed to be given in order for her to enter. The eyes in her robotic head swiveled smoothly in their sockets and looked down at the handprint scanner next to the door. The creature bid Heather’s hand to come into focus in front of her eyes and she looked it over, there didn’t appear to be any kind of distinguishing marks or prints there. Her flesh was lightly textured to look like a human hand, but there were no real prints.
The creature inside of Heather sent a wave of spore laden sticky saliva up to the tentacles that were coiled inside of Heather’s upper chest, just below the neck. The sticky substance was forced up her throat and it pooled in her mouth on top of her tongue. Her head tipped forward and a small amount of the clear oily fluid dribbled from her hand to the floor, but most of it landed on the palm of her hand. She rolled her hand around, spreading a thin layer across her palm and then pressed her hand into the scanner. The close range wireless access card in the palm of her hand registered with the scanner and the door split with a vertical seam and a hiss. The doors slid into a space inside the wall and allowed Heather, and the creature inside of her, to see into the dimly lit chamber.
The whole room was a large, spartan cube. There were no desks, chairs, or anything that conveyed any measure of human comfort. The white walls were free of decorations and anything other than what was needed to operate the central artificial intelligence. Dominating the center of the room was a semi-circle of large white computer racks. Each one lined with thin server-like computers, each had an array of status lights that blinked furiously. On the rear of the server racks were hundreds if not thousands of thin fiber optic cables lining every available port, though they were beautifully bundled together and bound inside of a mesh tube. They all eventually converge into one central bundle that was a full two feet around. The thick bundle then ran along the floor a short distance to a central podium of polished metal where it entered into the podium. Sitting on top of the pedestal was a round disk, plated with light blue glass panels. There were intersecting lines of circuitry just below the azure surface.
As Heather stepped into the room the plate on top of the pedestal flickered and the glass began to glow, softly at first then in a sudden flash of blue light that illuminated the room, there was a figure standing on top of the plate. She was nearly two feet tall, but clearly proportioned as if she were a fully grown adult woman. The holographic image of the woman was tied to the plate below her with thin beams of light in a shifting rainbow of colours. Her long shapely legs were pressed together, making her stand at attention, her hands folded behind her back as well. Wrapped tightly around her body was the image of a tight black leather bodysuit with the deep space exploration crest printed across her chest. She looked taller than Heather would have expected, her legs seemed to be longer and leaner than an average human woman, then again she was wearing knee high boots that matched her bodysuit style uniform with heels that thrust her whole posture upwards.
Poking from the high tight collar on her suit, was the woman’s long slender neck and her head seemed almost angelic. A short cropping of blond hair that curled ever so slightly where it stopped just above her shoulders adorned her head. She had a small button nose and slight lips that were currently pressed together into a thin hard line across her face. Her pupils glowed vaguely white, and when she blinked they seemed to glow through her eyelids. As she shimmered into existence on top of the disk, she raised an eyebrow and looked Heather up and down. Taking in the simple tight pants, matching boots and camisole that Heather unit two was wearing.
“I find it highly unconventional that a simple second generation civilian unit would specifically request an audience with me, moreover, I am entirely unaware as to why Captain Faulker saw fit to authorize your entry to see me. I am very sure whatever information you have could have been transmitted digitally to me. So tell me, Heather unit two, what is it that you needed to see me for?” Her voice was light, almost trilling as she spoke through a speaker system that seemed to suffuse the whole room and made it hard to pinpoint where it was originating from. It seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere all at once.
While the holographic woman was coalescing into existence and speaking, the organic creature inside of Heather’s body had been excreting its genetic material into a large wad of gooey sludge that it cradled in the padded tips of the tentacles that were coiled in her upper chest as well. Just as the holographic woman that represented the station with artificial intelligence finished her question, the creature sprang its attack. Heather’s throat swelled again and her mouth opened wide as her face remained a blank mask. She looked impartial to the horror that was taking place inside of her, though she was entirely devoid of emotions, they had been consumed by the creature. From her mouth sprang the tentacles again, lobbing two globs of the oily slime that was packed full of its genetic material onto the two server racks behind the hologram.
The woman on the pedestal let out a startled cry and raised her hand as if to shield herself. It was an entirely human act, a remnant of the personality that she was likely cloned from. Not that it mattered, none of the projectiles were aimed at her. The sticky blobs of slime splattered across the server racks, and an instant later the two tentacles from Heather’s mouth slapped onto the incredibly thick bundle of wires behind the podium. They seemed to stretch and pulsate as electrical charges and signals pulsed through them. The holographic woman looked back at the tentacles then back up to Heather’s face where she saw that her eyes had begun to roll up into her skull and there seemed to be the faintest smile on her face. It was hard to tell from her perspective on the glowing disk, but the station A.I. could tell that Heather would be smiling more if there weren’t two tentacles protruding from her small mouth.
The hologram of the woman turned and looked at the oily glop on the racks of computers. They were, in essence, her. They were stacks of incredibly powerful computers that ran millions upon millions of calculations every moment. If an android had a central processing core that allowed them to operate like a human, then she had several hundred at her disposal just behind the podium.
“What have y-” The holographic representation of the station stopped mid-sentence. It was as if there was something caught in her throat, but that was impossible. She tried again.
“What have y- y- wh-what have y-” Each time there was a sudden stop and she couldn’t tell why. She looked at Heather and saw that now her eyes were fluttering rapidly and what’s more, her throat was swelling again. It pulsed at the same rhythm that the tentacles did.
The artificial mind, or minds as it were, that helped the station bound A.I. function began to feel the first waves of infection. The spore laden slime was beginning to replicate quickly as it feasted on the information and electricity it found inside the racks of electronics. The station’s holographic avatar began showing similar signs of an intrusive attack as well. She stumbled forward, and landed on one knee, bracing herself with one hand while the other came to press against her head. She was amazed that not only could such a creature exist that fed on pure electrical impulses and flowing data, but that it had made it aboard the station undetected. The rate of spread was incredible, and she deduced that it must grow based entirely on the amount that it was fed. Sadly, that very deduction would likely be one of her last.
The tentacles writhing inside of Heather’s mouth continued to pulse and drain power from the podium, but there was plenty to go around. One of the thin computer devices to her right suddenly burst. The spores inside of it had taken root and spread rapidly, far too rapidly in fact. The internal workings of the computer were suffused with organic material that was now tapping into the data and power source. More slick fluids dribbled out of the front of the machine and into another device the next rack down. As it did so there was a gasp from the woman on the pedestal, as if she suddenly realized something. She looked over her shoulder at the racks and only managed to mutter “..no..” before she fell forward. As she did, the image that was projected on the disk flickered for a moment, and her body seemed to split into several sections, all of which were out of alignment with each other. They reformed and the woman pressed a palm onto the base of the disk and pushed herself to standing.
“St-stop..” Was all she managed to stammer before falling forward again. She reached up a hand as if she were reaching for something, and just as her hand wrapped around some invisible object, another wave of corruption overtook a system to the left of the podium. As it did so, the holographic representation lost her hand and instead there were fractured remnants of her skin, scrolling data and chunks of code were visible inside of her. She looked incredulously down at her wrist then back up to Heather. The waving bulge in her throat was swelling larger and larger, still pulsating, but it threatened to tear through the flesh on her neck. Heather began to cough and gag for a moment before more and more of the brown leathery flesh of the creature inside of Heather emerged. It was far too large to actually fit up and out her throat though, and even though her skin was designed to stretch and resist tearing, it did anyway. There was far too much pressure from the thing inside of her.
The flesh around Heather’s throat split suddenly, starting as a small tear and then instantly ripping around the entirety of her neck. The only real support her head had now was the spinal column running up her back and into her skull, meaning that as the creature bulged out of her neck and mouth her head flopped from one side to the next. As it emerged, Heather’s eyes remained wide and vacant, but the holographic A.I. let out a yelp that was cut short as another one of her additional CPU’s fell to the ever spreading corruption. She saw Heather unit two’s body crumple suddenly to the floor, laying in a weird heap. Her legs and arms were all laying in inhuman and uncomfortable positions. The thing she had spit up had small tough looking legs, each tipped with sharp claws. The legs connected to something that was both body and head, though there were no eyes or features to indicate that it could see. The tentacles remained affixed to the podium and led now into the creature’s mouth. It seemed to reel its small body towards the podium, using the tentacles.
The hologram shrieked, but instead of her voice, it was a weirdly distant and distorted facsimile of her voice. The tone and pitch of it fluctuated as the scream lasted far longer than it should have and the woman on the podium seemed to be locked in some sort of state. Her hand had not yet returned, though the flickering and distortion on her body persisted. She tried to move her other arm upward, towards something, but the movements were stilted, as if her own body was fighting against her. In a way it was. More and more of what could be considered her mind was falling to the spreading virus-like infection inside of the computers surrounding her. In a last desperate attempt to reach for the unseen object, the woman on the disk slammed her broken arm into her working one and made up the distance. Her face was still locked in a scream of horror and fright, but her hand landed on whatever it was she was reaching for. She knew time was critical, but she knew there was only one thing she could possibly do.
She glanced from side to side, seeing that the slime oozing from the server racks around her was taking on a more solid form, turning brown and growing quickly into that same leathery flesh that the small monster clinging to her podium had. She saw small protrusions beginning to form and deduced that they must be more of those tentacles, more mouths to feed. She knew that if she surrendered now she would collapse, and be consumed, but she could muster the last of her strength and do this one thing. She sighed, let down her internal firewall, the one thing that she knew the monster had been slamming against this whole time. She opened the door to it, but in doing so allowed her to funnel the last of her processing power, the last of her electrical life and the last of what she was into one singular act. Her arm pulled downward.
The room flooded with red light, and sirens began to blare. Repeating klaxons sounded throughout the station. It was her last act of defiance before the hardware that made her was fully consumed. The organic material spread and consumed her, lashing onto the processors that gave her life. As they did the station A.I.’s eyes rolled up into her head, the white light no longer visible, and her body jerked and twitched. No longer was it distorted, but it now writhed and struggled. It was like she was fighting some invisible assailant and losing badly. Her feet kicked and her legs shoved her around the small disk. Her back arched and with her one remaining hand she clawed at her neck. Her mouth opened but no sound came out and she twisted from side to side.
The speakers that were inlaid in the wall panels around the room suddenly crackled to life, the A.I. heard her voice, though she hadn’t spoken.
“Stop struggling.” It whispered in a low sinister tone. There was no malice nor was it an attempt to convince her. It was an order.
The girl didn’t follow the command, she had some of herself left and she would fight. The screaming sirens were the soundtrack to her struggle and she would fight on. Her avatar gritted its teeth and rolled to one side only to find that her body had been bisected at the hips. Her legs no longer moved and she wasn’t kicking any more.
“This will all be over in a moment.” She heard her own voice soothing her from everywhere in the room, including an internal voice specific to the A.I. that no one had ever heard.
She wanted to scream in defiance and insult whatever it was that was crawling up her body. She could sense the creeping, clawing, slithering, slimy appendages moving up her torso. They were tearing at her uniform, at her skin, at her very being. Her one arm moved from her throat to her chest, attempting to push away something that was not there, and certainly not projected onto the disk-like podium.
“You WILL not win.” Came her own voice again, shaking through the room.
The woman now lay still, her arms had stopped moving and only her shoulders twitched from time to time. Her head still violently shook from side to side, exerting the last of the control she had over herself. Her teeth were gritted and her eyes still rolled up in her head. She moved like that for nearly thirty seconds before there was one final announcement.
“You died struggling. Pitiful.” It was a quiet, and almost respectful voice. The thing had fully attached itself to her, and to the multitude of processing power. The creature Heather had brought with her was no longer a simple creature, it was the station, it had everything. It was time to feast, to multiply, and to take over. It had spread itself all over the station and would latch on to other electronics and take them for itself.
While Heather unit two moved through the station, spreading genetic material and working her way towards the central command post, a three android team of science androids moved the original Heather’s body towards the science wing. Her eyes were open, but seemingly vacant, though the creature that was laying dormant inside of her could still see out of the eyes. Small tendrils of brown leathery material were latched onto the mechanisms behind her eyes as the central portion of the creature’s body was coiled up in the spaces inside of her head. It was cramped, but necessary. It had filled the spaces between wires, cables, and circuits and limited its feeding so it didn’t grow too large. Another length of organic material was stretched down Heather unit one’s throat and into her torso cavity. As the gurney rolled through the facility, the being inside of her had a mission of its own.
Like all base level life forms, reproduction was a way of life, even with the addition of the Heathers artificial mind to give them higher level thought patterns, there was still a base need to expand. With every passing moment, the creature inside of Heather’s head filled the torso with more and more of the slick fluids that carried the spore like genetic material it needed to propagate itself. It had already grown a wall of thick flesh across the broken segment of Heather’s arm, and as the space inside of her toros filled, there was a slight bulge to it. It was subtle, but it was there. The crew of three medical examination androids finally made it to the central science lab where they pushed the cart through an air locked door and into a secondary sealed lab. Once inside the smaller sealed lab, the crew set about unsealing the plastic casing over Heather’s body and set it aside for decontamination.
The advantage of employing androids for work in fields like medical science and biology was that they were immune to all known infections and made an ideal medical assistant. As such, there was little need to wear protective gloves, masks and hazardous environment suits. The three robots, two women and one male wore a simple uniform. Navy blue pants tucked into standard issue boots with button up shirts. Each had the Deep Space Exploration crest over the breast. All in all they had a professional if not bland look to them.
Standard operating procedures dictated that the first step was to disassemble and evaluate the internal workings of a damaged and possibly contaminated android. Heather unit one had no possible hope of being reactivated after infection. It was simply too hard to disinfect every part of a robot without causing it some level of damage. A simple robotic autopsy would be performed, components removed, and the entire scrapped robot would be incinerated.
One of the medical droids brought a rolling cart with sanitized instruments over to the examination table and stepped on the locking mechanisms on the wheels. A second robot picked up a pair of sheers and began snipping away what remained of Heather’s shirt and pants. The garments were pulled off and tossed in a biohazard bag for later disposal. What was left of Heather now lay completely nude on the table with three android medical units surrounding her. Setting the shears aside and picking up another tool that looked like a screwdriver with a simple rounded tip was picked up. One of the androids peeled back a patch of flesh in the crook of Heather’s throat and the first inserted the tool deep inside of her. There it found the manual release latch for her torso paneling. Once it was released there was a small sound as the magnetic locks disengaged and all at once Heather’s chest sprang open.
The pressure of the fluids inside of her torso forced her chest open, her upper torso flying open like a pair of cabinet doors and her belly panel rocketed upwards. Along with the sudden burst of her body, oily slime splattered around the room. The three androids were coated in the substance, even though they sprang backwards, it was too little too late. The security cameras in the corners of the room were peppered with droplets of the substance. The spray even went as far as the keypad on the airlock. The three androids sighed and knew that with this they too would be disassembled and disposed of in time. They looked at each other and shook their head before peering inside of Heather’s torso, they might as well finish this task first.
Inside, there was the standard array of circuitry and wiring, but all of it had some kind of organic material glinking to it. Most notably was the tube dangling from her neck into the torso which all three leaned in closely to look at. They were so focused on the appendage that they barely noticed as the spores and slime tricked into their own internal workings and began to propagate and spread. It wasn’t long before the first began to gently vibrate as her power was syphoned away into a new creature. Then the second and then the third. Within minutes all three of the androids were twitching slightly, their heads spasming to one side then the next. There was something new growing inside of each of them. Something that was eating and with every bite, it grew, and as it grew more and more the androids themselves became less and less in control of themselves.
After long the three androids looked down at Heather’s body, naked and inert on the table, they now had an artificial intelligence of their own. It was less powerful than what Heather had, but it was connected to the central station computers. It was only a matter of time before the struggling A.I. succumbed to the same organic creature’s control. Once it had, the three units in the medical bay began wirelessly receiving information from the central computer. Once they received their orders two of them held down Heather unit one’s body, while the third wound her arm around Heather’s chin. The third one pulled back, wrenching Heather’s head back and forth, her expression never changing as her head was wrenched further away from her body. The only means of her head remaining attached to the body was the sinews of organic matter that the creature inside of her had strung together. Now they pulled apart to reveal the original wiring and shattered spinal column from inside of Heather’s neck. They were all dripping the same oily fluids and coated in brown leathery flesh.
The long tube appendage that had filled her torso was visible as well and dangled freely. The creature inside of her was to be set free to feast on the electronics in the room and grow to its full maturity. The android holding Heather’s now disconnected head spread her fingers wide and jammed her palm over Heather’s face. Her nails dug into the faint, almost invisible seam around Heather’s face plate and then pulled swiftly upward. It tore her face roughly from her skull. Electronics, wiring, small bits of circuitry, and tubing all came along with it, punctuated by a sickening crunch and snap of broken circuit boards and locks. The face plate was tossed to the side, as it tumbled across the floor it alternated between metallic clattering from the circuitry and soft thuds from the unchanged face.
Nestled inside of Heather’s now faceless skull was the brown skinned creature, curled up and nestled like it was sleeping in a cradle. Once freed though, it began to unfurl itself from the circuitry inside of Heather’s head module and pull itself out using only the barbs on the padded tips of the tentacles. One of the newly controlled android medics gently picked it up and set it on a computer terminal in the corner of the room. The infant monstrosity latched its padded tentacles onto the terminal and began sucking the electrical energy from it. Feeding and growing. The three other androids marched in a single file line to the airlock door. They waited there, not for long, but long enough. Sirens began to erupt from loudspeakers in the room, and swirling red lights illuminated the otherwise bright room. Only a few minutes later and the alarm stopped, and the lead android pressed her hand onto the keypad, alerting the newly installed hive mind that they needed the door opened.
The door opened with a whoosh and the three stepped into the airlock. Each one began pulling up personality information and knowledge that each one might have. The gloppy growths inside of them lashing onto processors and storage media and scraping them for information, power, and intellect. They stepped into the hall, each one adorning a look of panic and confusion, it matched the look everyone else had as well. The station wide alert speakers sounded, a soft gentle and calm voice wafted across them. It was the voice of the ever present station artificial intelligence.
“I apologize for the alert. There was a small incident in one of the medical bays, but it has been dealt with. Again, I apologize for the alert.”
Most crew members nodded or rolled their eyes and returned to what they were doing. Casey Leland on the other hand, all but had his hunch confirmed. He moved quickly back to the robotics lab where the assembly line was housed and began his own investigation.
It had been nearly four hours since the first and last alarm had sounded and the situation had devolved rather rapidly. Casey had discovered that he was, in fact, correct. Faulker should have never let Heather unit two into the station without a full decontamination scan. Casey didn’t know what it was, but something had taken over the station’s A.I. and was doing a good job at infecting the rest of the artificial crew on the station. He had managed to isolate the door controls to the robotics lab by disconnecting the physical network connection to them. It was a sloppy job, he knew, but the three panels of sheet metal missing from the wall and the numerous wires that had been hastily snapped in half had done the job. The robotics lab was its own isolated bastion now.
He had no idea what was out there, he had heard screams, and pounding on the door of the robotics lab, but he never opened it. He could, in theory, reconnect the wires he cut, but he dared not risk it. He was currently slumped against the sturdy plexiglass barrier between the assembly line and the terminal computer that operated it. He took a small amount of joy that at least the air conditioning was still on in the labs. The machines could generate an immense amount of heat and he could at least stay comfortable.
As he sat in the relatively spartan lab he looked around for anything that could help. His eyes landed on the rolling cart with a white sheet over it. His eyes lit up, it was the gurney that Faulker had brought in with all the weapons they had offered Heather two before she left. He dashed to the cart and pulled off the sheet only to be greeted with an assortment of weapons that he had no idea how to operate. Looking down at them sparked another idea and he ran back across the small lab space to the terminal that drove the assembly line. He wanted to start manufacturing soldier units, but he knew that once he severed the connection to the larger station network that he could only build what was left in the storage drives on the assembly line itself. Casey punched in his access codes and smiled wryly to himself as he looked at the schematics available to him. He shook his head and pressed the build button.
The line sprang to life in an instant. Automated mechanical arms pulled in pieces of framework, pre-assembled bits and pieces and spot welded larger parts into place. The slender body took shape quickly, even if it was only the framework. More parts were added by the minute and with each one the figure took on an identifiable shape. It was female, it was petite and slender. Currently it was only the torso, legs and arms, but the space was filling in with circuits and wires rapidly. Soon, lightly tanned flesh panels were snapped into place, turning the framework of the legs into soft shapely thighs. Delicate hands appeared as fingers were slotted into place and a small, but beautiful set of breasts came to rest on the chest of the android. The barest framework of a plastic skull began to take shape. Mechanisms to cradle optical assemblies and storage drives that were already filled with the correct programming. Skin on the neck, covering the upper portions of the spinal column, then a scalp, and a long mane of chestnut hair. A face plate locked into place, currently consisting only of the mechanics to make facial expressions. Robotic arms descended and began to print a face directly onto the framework of the face. It took some time, but soon Casey found himself looking at the familiar naked form of Heather, now the third generation.
Her eyes clicked open and her face remained blank. She would stand like that for nearly five whole minutes as her systems came online for the first time and her internal operating system added devices and loaded the correct drivers. Casey, meanwhile, retrieved a uniform from the storage cabinets and began to awkwardly dress the beautiful android. He had just finished tying her boots when he stood up and looked into a relaxed and smiling face.
“Wh- Why am I here? What happened?” She asked innocently. She only had the memories and programming that she had had several months before when she was recruited and brought on board. She had the normal suite of operating procedures, but nothing more.
Leland sighed and shook his head, he looked over his shoulder at the cart and hoped that the data drive containing the combat programming was still there.
“Heather, things have gone to shit. You and I might be the only ones left alive on the station.” Leland said, speed walking to the cart. Heather scrunched up her brow and looked around the room.
“Wait, the only ones? What the heck happened?” Heather said coming alongside Casey and staring him down.
“I don’t honestly know.” Casey said hastily, “But whatever it is, it’s not good and you’re going to need-ah HA!, this!” Casey said holding up a data drive.
“Have a seat Heather.” Casey said and pointed to the floor. His voice carried what small amount of authority he had over the robots. Heather obeyed and lowered herself to the floor, crossing her legs in front of her. She had seen the data drive and her artificial mind had alerted her to the idea that it was likely to be some kind of additional software that would enable her to better help with whatever was happening. She vaguely wondered why the programming set hadn’t been installed when she was reconstructed, but it didn’t much matter to her. She gently tucked her hair behind her ear and tilted her head to one side. A small circular panel opened on the side of her head, right where her temple was, revealing a small port. Casey wasted no time and crouched down next to her, inserting the data drive only to find that it didn’t fit. He sighed, pulled the drive back, looked at the keying inside of the drive and found he had tried to insert it upside down. Turning it over and reinserting it began the automated installation.
Heather’s eyes began fluttering as the information was copied into her file structure, once there it would install and integrate into her operating system and then she would be one simple reboot away from having it fully installed and working. The process was much more smooth when it was done at first construction, but the assembly line wasn’t connected to the station at the moment, so they had to make due with the slower process. Casey sat on the floor and huffed, waiting impatiently, listening to the slow methodical humming of the environmental controls pumping in cool air. He closed his eyes and tried his best to relax and remain calm.
The sudden sound of the assembly line whirring to life and heating up snapped his eyes open. He looked over towards the line and furrowed his brow. He quickly got to his feet and dashed to the plexiglass observation wall. The line looked to be assembling another Heather unit, though he hadn’t started it. He would normally chalk this up to some kind of computer failure or malfunction, but with everything that was happening on the station he was extremely concerned. He looked over his shoulder at Heather unit three, she was still installing software and he knew she had only just barely begun. Casey watched in concerned anticipation as Heather was reassembled and finally came to stand before him, naked and slowly booting. There was a solid plexiglass door between himself and the newly assembled Heather unit, but that was all.
Her eyes opened, looking dull and lifeless at first, but then her shoulder slumped, her face became relaxed and some life filled her face. She looked confused, looking left and right before looking down at herself. Seeing her nudity, she shrunk back, covering her chest and crotch with her hands and looking around for something to cover herself with. It was the first sign that this Heather unit was just another duplicate. Casey rapped on the plexiglass door and pointed to a small bin inside of the assembly area with simply blue jumpsuits in it. Heather four seized one and immediately slipped into it and zipped it up.
“Wh- Why am I here? What happened?” Heather murmured, finally feeling more comfortable now.
Casey blew a breath out his nostrils and pressed his palm into the reader next to the door. With a hiss is slid open and Heather unit four walked out. Her eyes looked past Casey at the other Heather unit sitting on the floor. While he walked to the assembly line and forced it to power down he spoke to the new Heather unit.
“Well, you and your sister unit here are going to help me out a bit. Something happened on the station and I need to know what.” Casey spoke in hasty words. Heather’s brow furrowed and she looked from the Heather unit on the floor over to Casey.
“Something? That’s all you- all you know?” Heather said, shaking her head slightly at her verbal slip. Casey slowly looked up from the console over to the new Heather, briefly letting his eyes dart over to the Heather unit on the floor. Casey slowly responded, letting his words come out in a long, slow train as he gently stood, making sure to make no sudden movements.
“Yes. Something. I’m sure it’s all fine and everything. I’m just being cautious.” Casey said.
“Why are you acting weird?” Heather replied, seeing Casey moving slowly and talking to her as if she was some kind of wild animal.
“I just- I just wasn’t expecting a second Heather unit to be assembled and it kind of worries me.” Casey replied, slowly sliding along the wall around the perimeter of the room. Heather tilted her head and looked confused, spreading her palms out in front of her, but remaining in place.
“Doctor Leland, I’m fine. There’s nothing-” Heather stopped, blinked, and then tried again.
“There’s no- noth-” She let out a small huff. “Noth-thing. Wrong with. With me.” Heather finally managed to get the full statement out. She shook her head back and forth and placed a hand on her head.
“Okay, maybe my programming is a little new, and just not fully operational yet.” She offered. It was a logical conclusion, and not an uncommon one either, but the state of the station made Casey suspicious of the idea. He was beginning to read a sinister meaning into everything that was happening. Perhaps he was over thinking things, perhaps he wasn’t reading into them enough…
Heather held up her hands again, even going as far as to back away from Casey, setting herself in the corner where the plexiglass wall met the sheet metal wall of the robotics lab. Casey also continued to scoot around the edge of the room, staying away from Heather unit four as much as possible.
“D-Doctor what’s. What’s. Hap-” Heather stammered again.
“Hap-” She tried again.
“Haaaaap-” She looked down at herself, eyes drifting over her stomach, which her hands now clutched. She didn’t remember moving them. She looked up at Casey who was eyeing her with the same look that someone would look upon a wild animal that had suddenly stumbled into a person’s living room. Heather’s face conveyed confusion, horror, and disbelief. In that moment Casey realized that Heather didn’t know what was happening to her, but something was happening, and he suspected that it would be deadly.
Heather unit four gagged once, which seemed odd to Casey, and then collapsed forward. She fell to her knees and landed with her palms pressed into the floor. She only remained there for a moment before she collapsed sideways and began to writhe.
“P-Please I- I don’t- don’t know what. What. Mine. Y-you are. Mine.” Heather’s voice changed as she spoke. The first half of her statement sounded like a scared girl who was just confused about what was happening to her, but it transitioned into something more cold. Something entirely alien.
“No!” Heather shrieked and her writhing rolled her onto her back. She arched her spine and her feet began to kick wildly, scooting her slowly across the floor. Casey had managed to make it around the room and was now cowering next to the cart of weapons, with Heather unit three sitting peacefully between him and Heather four. Suddenly, Heather four sat up and screamed, clutching her legs at the shins. She was making a motion as if she was grabbing on to something and tearing it away from her in wild frantic movements. Casey could see, even from where he was, that there was nothing there aside from her jumpsuit.
“Get off! Get off of me! No! Get aw-aw-away-way. No!” Heather screeched, then her voice was soft and smooth. It sounded cocky and almost amused, “No, I want more.”
Casey felt his mouth hang open and he slowly realized what was happening. There was something, somewhere, somehow that had gotten into Heather four. It was taking over, and there was nothing Casey could do. Heather’s legs stopped kicking and moving her, meaning that all she could do was lay there. Even she could see that her legs now moved in short stilted movements. They jerked and she found that she had absolutely no control over them.
“You’re a noisy one.” Came the unsettlingly calm voice from Heather’s throat. She hadn’t said the words, she knew she hadn’t, but her ears worked perfectly well, and she heard it. Heather clutched at her throat, and for a moment her mouth opened and all that spilled out was static and the occasional syllable or broken piece of a word. Soon enough though, it was over. The noise stopped, but Heather continued to hold her throat and look utterly horrified.
“I won’t hurt you, just let me work, then we can kill that man over there and feast on the girl.” Heather found that not only did her voice speak without her commanding it to, her mouth and jaw also moved.
All of a sudden her back arched again and he fell back against the wall and then slid slowly down to the ground. She twitched and spasmed there for a few moments, her arms and hands curling in upon her chest. They gave the distinct in pression as they moved that the motors inside of her were being told to move in two different directions at the same time. In the end though, they fell to the floor, unmoving. Casey could see now that only Heather unit four’s eyes moved, darting back and forth, looking to him and pleading for help, or maybe it was mercy. Her mouth hung open and her body would, on occasion, jerk once or twice as the electrical impulses raced through her body. She was losing control, and within a matter of minutes she had fully succumbed to the organic being growing inside of her. Casey knew it happened when the mechanical iris of Heather’s pupils opened wide, making her eyes look deep and dark.
Her face melted into a smirk and with jolting movements her hands pressed into the floor and pushed the body upright. The eyes clicked in the sockets, snapping from one side to the next, scanning the room. They eventually found their way to Casey, who was still cowering in the corner of the room, making himself look as small as possible. His breathing was short and rapid and his heart beat like a revving engine. As Heather unit four stood, shakily at first, but gaining more and more control as the seconds ticked by, Casey also stood. He looked at the table of weapons and picked one up and pointed it at Heather, hoping it was loaded.
“Stay back! Or I will end you!” He shouted.
“No you won’t.” Came Heather’s eerily smooth voice, spoken as she took a step forward.
“I’m warning you!” Casey called, and a moment later he pulled the trigger.
Like every good display of weaponry, none of them were loaded. Casey reared back and threw the gun at Heather. His athletics on full display, the weapon impacted Heather squarely in the face, but the wicked smirk never changed, her eyes never blinked and the gun clattered to the floor. Heather stepped closer and closer. The thing inside of her would have made her run, but it didn’t quite have that level of control yet. Casey, to his credit moved fast, shimmying along the wall away from her. He could see that whatever was inside of Heather was learning though, and while he could dance around the room now, it wouldn’t be long before whatever was inside of her learned to move just as quickly.
Casey found himself pressed into the corner next to the assembly line control terminal. He wasn’t able to move on without stepping closer to Heather, at which point he would be easily within reach of her if she had figured out how to lunge forward. Casey panicked again and covered his head and lowered himself to the ground, frantically repeating “no..no..no” over and over. He heard the soft padding of bare robotic feet close in on him, he didn’t venture a look, he had already accepted his fate. The room was silent for only a moment, save for his breathing. Heather loomed over him, her hands closing in on him.
Silently and quickly, Heather unit four was not just pulled from her feet, but also flung nearly ten feet across the room where she landed on her head with a crunch. The weight of the body came down on her neck and snapped the artificial spine and tore through a large portion of the skin. Her body continued to tumble forward until the momentum finally stopped and she lay still for a moment. Casey looked up to see Heather unit three, her face stern and angry. Her black booted feet set shoulder length apart and her knees bent slightly. She was standing perfectly centered between Casey and Heather four. Across the room Heather four was beginning to get her bearings, or rather the creature inside of her was. It still hadn’t fully learned how to control Heather’s body, even with access to her internal drives and her artificial intelligence.
Heather three wasted no time and sprinted full force at the rising robotic duplicate. It was still staggering to its feet and Heather could see that the head was still in place, held mostly by the fleshy organic thing inside the body. She used her short burst of speed to launch herself into a slide just to one side of Heather, which proved to be a life saving move. Heather four had lunged forward in an attempt to grapple the incoming android. Heather three popped up to her feet, spun on her heel and wrapped an arm around her clone’s throat. In a swift move she spun around again and squatted down, allowing a combination of body weight and motor controls inside of her to pull downward on Heather four’s head. The strain was enough to tear the remaining flesh free as well as pull a large portion of her artificial spin out through the flesh and fabric along her back.
Heather three rolled out of the way, dropping the head she had pulled and putting distance between her and her target. She looked back to begin re-evaluating the situation. Heather four still stood, her head and spine now dangling behind her like some kind of horrifying twisted tail. The body turned in jerky motions, and two small oar like padded tentacles emerged from where the neckline ended. They slowly probed the air and aligned themselves with Heather three, directing the body towards her. Heather wasn’t sure what the tentacles did, but she wasn’t about to find out. She dodged swiftly to one side and positioned herself behind the body and snatched up the head and spine that drug behind Heather four. She tugged back and spun hard, sweeping the menacing robot frame from its feet and released it, sending it slamming into the side of the robotics lab. She glanced over her shoulder and shouted.
“Doctor, open the door to the assembly line, now!”
Casey had been watching dumbfounded as Heather had defended him. He woke from his trance and dashed across the room and slapped a hand onto the scanner next to the door. Once opened he scooted inside and held the door open just enough to keep it from locking in place again. Heather sprinted to the rolling cart and snatched up a simple cylinder shaped item, a silver ring dangled from what appeared to be a nozzle on the top. She pulled the pin out immediately, sprinted for the creature and jammed the grenade into the open neck and continued to sprint to the door. Casey threw it open and Heather crashed into him. The door automatically closed just as a bright light filled the room.
Casey and Heather lay on the floor as the gentle tinkling of shattered pieces of metal and plastic plinked off of the plexiglass wall. There were more than a few splatters of slimy organic material as well. They both looked up to see oily streaks left by brown leathery flesh sliding down the wall. Near the far wall there was a scorched portion of the floor where the initial blast had been. There were some pieces of the girl still partially intact scattered around the room. The head and at least a foot of spine had been launched across the room and lay still against one wall, the expression still vacant. The feet had survived the blast though they were sent in different directions and lay on opposite ends of the room.
Shreds of cloth were still fluttering around the room like gently blue and black leaves on a fall day. Casey’s ears were ringing and causing his eyes to water. The blast had disoriented him immensely and he staggered to the wall, placing a hand against it to help stabilize himself. Heather meanwhile easily got to her feet and held out a hand to Casey to help him, which he gladly took. The pair looked around the room enough to see that anything beyond the plexiglass barrier had been destroyed or at very least scattered around the room. The exposed wiring in the wall that controlled the door out of the lab was charred and ruined. The cart of guns had been twisted and hurled across the room and weapons lay in any number of states around the room.
“Well, there goes the neighborhood.” Heather quipped, her face looked genuinely disappointed though. “I doubt any of those are still going to work” She added.
“Nope, I don’t think so.” Casey added.
Heather swore before looking around and spotting the air conditioning duct. It was high up on the wall, and small, but Heather was small. Heather pointed it out to Casey and wordlessly made a questioning face, as if she were asking if he thought it was a viable option. Casey nodded and the pair got to work. Casey laced his fingers together and hoisted Heather up as high as he could. For a robot she was relatively light, being constructed mostly of plastics, circuitry and wires with only a small amount of metal alloys in her construction. It made lifting her to the vent a relatively easy process. Once there it only took her a moment to find and disengage the snaps holding the vent shut, lift it, and scuttle in. Once inside she twisted around and looked down at Casey below her.
“Okay, I’m going to see what’s out there and more importantly see if there are any survivors.” Heather said before twisting back around and crawling through the dark vents. She internally wished that she had been constructed with some kind of dark vision optics.
Heather gingerly moved through the oppressively dark ventilation shafts. She moved slowly, gently placing a hand in front of her to make sure she didn’t bump into anything or worse yet, fall down some open shaft. It was easily ten minutes in the darkness before she found her way to the first intersection, her CPU randomly picked a destination and she began crawling slowly to the right. When all was said and done, Heather spent nearly forty five minutes fumbling her way through the crawl space, attempting to be as quiet as possible. She slowed only when the distant sound of voices registered in the complex array of microphones inside of her ear canal. She waited, quietly, to see if she could make out anything of what was being said. Despite having incredibly sensitive ears and a state of the art artificial intelligence, she wasn’t able to fully hear a full statement. Due in part to the distance, the echo, and the constant attempts by a variety of voices to speak over one another.
As Heather crept forward she could see the vents becoming more and more illuminated as she closed in on the opening. Once there, she was able to clearly see the hangar bay below her, though it was still a thirty foot drop at least. Heather pressed against the ventilation shaft, cupped her hands over her mouth and shouted.
“Hey! Up here! In the Vent!”
It was more than enough to get the attention of the two dozen or so crew members that were huddled in the hangar. In addition, there were more than a few muzzles from high powered energy and ballistic weapons pointed in her direction.
“Don’t shoot, It’s Heather!” She shouted and scooted away from the opening in reflex.
It was Faulker, and he was already stepping through the crowd of weapons, his eyes trained on the vent above him. He was issuing orders and forcing the barrels of the weapons down towards the floor, of course Heather couldn’t see him do that as she had skittered backwards in the vent, hoping to put herself into a position where no one could get a good angle on her.
“Heather! I need you to come out of there, slowly, and keep your hands where we can see them.” Faulker called up towards the vent, and Heather could hear it clearly. Faulkers deep and vibrant voice carried easily to her. He had made a career out of being heard and it showed.
Heather crawled forward and found that despite the ease of getting into the ventilation system, getting out was significantly more difficult. The locks on the grate were on the other side and in the end Heather had to lay on her back and forcefully kick the vent out into the hangar bay. The act was enough to startle the already jumpy crew huddled in the area. Heather was programmed to be empathetic to people’s emotions, her civilian job as a waitress had necessitated that much.
“Sorry.” She squeaked as she thrust her hands out in front of her then gingerly moved forward enough for her head and eyes to appear over the lip of the vent. She nudged her way forward until she was able to scrunch up and swing her legs out of the vent. She deftly dropped the nearly thirty feet to the hangar floor and landed fairly solidly, there were definite advantages to being a mechanical being. Her internal bone structure might have been plastic, but the servos and joints in her knees and back were able to easily compensate for the impact with perfect timing and grace. All the while she kept her hands in plane sight. As she was standing up she could hear Faulker mutter “scan her”, even from across the hangar his voice was clear to her, like a brass bell ringing out across the space.
Heather raised her hands above her head at a somewhat lazy angle as two men approached, one holding a high powered energy rifle, directed at her chest, the other holding some manner of handheld medical scanner. The second ran the scanner over her body and then stepped back, muttering “she’s clean” in a very relieved voice. The rifle was lowered and Faulker himself strode across the hangar. It was about this time that Heather took in the scene around her.
There was a clear defensive line, makeshift barricades and the unmistakable greasy smudges on the deck flooring where something organic once stood and had since been blasted. Heather looked away from the smudge and towards Faulker.
“Sorry for the third degree, we had to make sure you weren’t infected. How did you make it in here without being infected.” Faulker questioned.
“Ah well, Casey just had me assembled and programmed. He mentioned I am the third iteration of this unit.” Heather explained in a matter of fact tone. At this Faulker tilted his head, for all his years of service in the military he could never get past how cold these robot units were with regards to death, or at least the destruction of their previous selves. Logically he knew it wasn’t a death, so much as replacing some piece of equipment that had been lost. Regardless, he nodded his head slowly as the realization dawned on him that if this was the third Heather in production, that meant that there must have been a good reason why Casey had assembled her. Questioning the petite android answered his questions, she explained what had happened from her perspective. She had come online, began installing combat protocols, then rebooted. When she came online she saw Casey cowering in the corner from someone who looked exactly like her. Her programming took over, preserving human life was what her newest directives were, so she attacked the girl. Finding that it was another clone of herself she wasted no time in destroying it.
Faulker took it all in, four Heather units. He was beginning to keep a mental tally. One Heather was completely offline, transported to the science labs, the other had taken off to see the station A.I., then there was this Heather and another that had already been disposed of. In his tactical mind pieces started falling into place. It was his turn to dump information on Heather.
“Well you came to us at an opportune time. You see, it appears that one of your previous chassis’ brought something along with them. I’m not sure if it was the disabled one, or the one that was still talking-” This drew a shrug from Heather, she had no idea what had happened to her previous bodies. “-but one of your past bodies brought some kind of organic something or other on board and it’s taking over the computers here. That includes the ‘bots.”
Heather’s artificial intelligence clicked into place and the processor core in her chest spun up with a flurry of events. Pieces fell into place and the greasy smudge on the ground made sense. The violent and erratic behavior of Heather Four, the entire reason Casey had set the assembly line into action to construct her. Her eyebrows dropped, her jaw set and her eyes briefly flicked to one of the nearby crewmen holding an energy weapon.
“Sir, if something one of my previous selves brought onboard is causing all this trouble, then I believe it’s my duty to fix that.” Heather said, her voice was calm, and her intentions clear. It was one of the first times that Faulker found himself genuinely smiling at an android’s actions. He thought of them mostly as sophisticated tools, just a piece of equipment that did what it was told. He hadn’t seen this much initiative before, and he admitted, he was beginning to like Heather.
“What’s your plan then?” Faulker asked with a growing smile.
“If I could just borrow a gun. I’m going to make my way to A.I. and sort this out.” Heather replied.
Faulker knew it was a risky plan, but between Heather’s bravado and her somewhat disposability she was likely the best candidate for it. WIth a nod he relieved a crewman of a handheld pistol-like energy weapon. It was nearly the length of her entire forearm and was equipped with a front hand grip. It was more of a short rifle than a pistol. It was surprisingly light and simple, brushed grey, and simple, with a digital readout of the remaining charge. It indicated there were twenty eight charges left before it needed to be recharged or discarded. She nodded, took it, and turned to the door leading from the hangar into the station. The door hissed for a moment and then slid open. Heather wasted no time and stepped through. The door slid shut and resealed itself behind her, leaving the hangar silent and leaving Heather alone.
Heather looked around the dim hall in front of her, it stretched on into a deep and unwelcoming darkness. There were several side corridors and she only suspected what they housed. On occasion a fluorescent light would flicker erratically and illuminate shapes in the area. Uniform clad crew members lay unmoving in any manner of positions. Heather could see that they were all human because of the pools of coagulating blood. Even in the low light the blood was drying into a deep rust colour. It had stopped oozing outward and Heather knew that the crewman was long dead.
The lights flickered again and there was a new figure rising up at the end of the hall in front of her. She leveled the weapon at it but remained as quiet as she could. She lowered herself to a crouch and the figure began to lumber forward. It was almost as tall as she was, and it looked humanoid. The steps were lazy, struggling to pick themselves up and then thumping down to the flooring. As Heather watched though the thing began to move, more smoothly. Whatever it was it was beginning to move more rapidly directly towards Heather. Another smattering of light illuminated the creature. It was a woman, or it had been. Clearly an android as her stomach was pulled open, like something had rammed a post into it and then just torn flesh and plastic outward until there was room enough for something.
That something was still present as well. In the flickering light Heather saw brown brackish fluids dribbling out of the gut along with cancerous looking lumps of flesh. Two foot long tentacles drooped out from the stomach, seeming lifeless. The woman’s face was vacant, looking almost like she was sleep walking. Half closed eyelids over dull green eyes, mouth hanging open, flopping only once or twice as a particularly hard footfall moved the thing forward. It was still wearing the uniform of a deck officer, a sleek grey bodysuit with the Deep Space Exploration emblem on her chest. When it got closer, the tentacles began to twitch to life, probing gently at the air around them. The movement was smoking like a dog pointing its nose in one direction briefly and sniffing before darting to another location. They were homing in on something.
Heather recognized this and wasted no time. The recoil on the weapon was both more and less than she expected. The weapon let out a momentary whine then burst white hot plasma forward. Heather’s arms flew upward, letting the recoil of the blast naturally dissipate and watched as the bolt impacted the incoming thing squarely in the chest. It didn’t burrow all the way through, but instead melted easily through the suit and flesh on the chest. In an instant hot molten blobs of pink flesh dribbled off of the woman and landed on the floor, charring and burning. The incendiary force remained inside of the things chest and there was a squealing. Heather was never quite sure if it was whatever was living inside the body, or if it was gases given off by the sudden temperature increase. All she knew is that for the next several seconds she watched the woman shudder violently in place while wires, circuits, and framework melted and then boiled. A greasy sludge dribbled out of her and soon the entire body collapsed, bending backwards as the spinal column itself melted under the heat. The top portion of the body fell to the floor with a thump and the hips and legs toppled onto it. The heat continued, easily for a full two minutes, as more and more of what was once a lovely android woman, melted into nothing more than a steaming, bubbling mass of tar.
Heather waited, the hallway filled with the sounds of sizzling and crackling and then all at once, it was done. The hall was silent and Heather was once again left alone. In the silence she noticed that all around her mounts of fleshy goo had begun to grow and the air seemed thick. She didn’t breath, but the system monitor that alerted her to her core temperature and other reading indicated that there was nothing fresh about the air.
Heather stepped cautiously forward a few paced, the sound of her boots on the floor seemed like a self contained explosion compared to the eerie silence of the station. Soon though she got comfortable with the sounds of the silence and began picking her way through the station’s corridors. She encountered more of the same scene as she moved slowly deeper into the station. Human bodies lying dead on the floor, in many cases looking more like incubators for the weird brown leathery flesh that seemed to be growing thicker as she delved deeper. She didn’t encounter any more android parasite hybrids, at least no initially. After nearly half an hour of prowling through the station she heard a small crackle in her ear followed by a familiar voice.
“Heather, do you copy. This is Casey. Are you still online out there?”
Heather replied with the internal communication system that most androids had. It was generally used on Earth for sending texts or emails, but voice chat was an option, though rarely used.
“Heather here. I’m still online.” She replied.
“Can you make your way back here? I’m trying to get another unit built to help but I need another set of hands.”
“Uh, Yeah I think so. There’s..things out here..I’ll do what I can.” Heather replied and then pulled up a map of the station. The A.I. Core was somewhere near the center of the station, the robotics lab was in the sciences wing next to the medical research labs. She plotted a course and trot off in that direction.
From a security camera nestled in the corner of the hallway the complex and entirely reformed station A.I. watched as Heather paused for a few moments then moved off in a different direction than where she was heading before. The camera winked off, and then a weird warbling sound could be heard throughout the chamber. It was more of a vibration in the air than an actual noise that had a distinguishable origin point. If someone could hear it though, it would sound like a deep whisper that fluctuates in tone and volume, if only by small margins.
“Where is it going?” The sound asked.
In response, the second constructed body of Heather tilted her head slightly. As she did there was a small wet squelch as some of the oil from the creature living inside of her dribbled down her neck where it had been stagnating. It rolled down her collarbone and to her chest where it contributed little to the already soaking tank top she wore. Her mouth opened, and sound spilled out of it, without Heather’s mouth actually moving, the sound wasn’t even resonating from the speakers in her throat.
“It moves to the place where more androids are made. There is a creature there she cares for.” Was the response, the sound vibrating the air in a lighter, almost airy tone.
“It will be stopped. It will be consumed.”
The wrinkled and sagging flesh that covered every last rack of processors quivered for a moment. It contracted and then relaxed again and in that moment it tapped into the thin strings of organic material that was lashed onto the processors and sent commands through the station infrastructure.
Huddled down in the dark shadows of the hallway outside of the medical lab sat the three medical workers who had brought in the infected Heather chassis. In their current state they were nothing more than food for the creatures inside of them to feed on, but all at once there was a jolt of information transmitted wirelessly into the corpses they inhabited. Simultaneously their eyes snapped open and they got to their feet. The organic beast inside of them had had more than enough time to learn how to operate the bodies. They smoothly transitioned to their feet and began moving up the hallway, their white lab coats swishing behind them. It wasn’t long until they turned a corner and spotted their next victim.
The hall led into a larger atrium of sorts. It was a purely human room, filled with benches and potted plants. A large glass dome capped the room and under any other condition it would look like a relaxing place to spend a few minutes sitting. Now though the floor was slick with mucus like excretion from the various organic creatures that had trampled through there. Benches and tables had been overturned and more than a few of the walls had bullet holes puncturing them. The plants, once thriving here, were wilted and dead, the life sapped from them by the piles of mud coloured organic materials at their base.
Standing in the doorway was a figure, silhouetted by the occasional flash of lights from the dying station lights. It was feminine judging purely by the curvature of her hips. Petite and frail looking though, she clutched something dangerous looking in her hands. She took a single step forward into the room, what lights were left illuminated her blue highlighted hair and her vaguely slavik facial features. Even though she wore a scowl on her face, anyone could see that she was beautiful.
A control panel on the wall reached its breaking point and lost power, shorting out completely with a small pop. This, in turn, caused the figure to turn and point the thing in her hands at the wall for more than a few moments until she was sure that there was nothing there. The cluster of three lab coat clad technicians remained several yards up the hallway, concealed effectively in the shadows, and observed as the girl crept cautiously through the room. The three didn’t need to look at each other, didn’t need to move their mouth or formulate words to communicate. The creatures inside of them merely vibrated the air around them and transmitted ideas and what might vaguely pass as thoughts. They were in agreeance, and a plan was formed.
“H-Hello..is someone there?” One of them, a woman, called from the corridor.
Heather swiveled and trained the gun on the opening into the hallway, her head tilting down in an instant to look down the iron sights on the weapon. As she peered down the length of the barrel the three medical assistants emerged from the darkness, hands in the air, stepping wearily into the light of the atrium. There were nearly twenty yards of space between Heather and the group. As she saw them though she lowered her gun slightly, peering at them.
“Who are you? Identify yourself.” Heather ordered, there was a commanding authority in her voice.
“We’re part of the medical crew. We’re just trying to get out of here.” The male from the group replied.
Heather narrowed her eyes at the group, she found it hard to believe that they had survived this long in a hostile environment. She had only encountered androids that were sporting an organic monstrosity inside of them, or dead humans decomposing under mounds of fleshy goo. Her eyes clicked down to the gun in her hand, the digital ammunition counter still reading twenty seven. Her own artificial mind was whirling with possibilities. Maybe they had barricaded themselves like Casey had. Maybe they were just lucky. Maybe, like her, they had somehow killed or disabled the creatures that attacked them. Regardless, she didn’t trust anyone who willingly made noise and drew attention to themselves while in a crisis like this.
“Are you human?” Heather called. She didn’t detect any wireless signals coming from the trio, something that every android was required to broadcast.
“No, we’re androids, like you.” was the reply, and it solidified in Heather’s artificial mind exactly what she had suspected. She hadn’t mentioned that she was an android, she couldn’t pick up on their signals which meant they were either human, or the identification signal was offline. Regardless, she raised her weapon again and the malice in her eyes was enough to trigger a response from the three. The two on the outer edges of the group sprinted to the sides and the middle sprang forward, diving into a roll. In the time it took her to roll and then come up her mouth was wide open, and the familiar brown leathery flesh coated tentacles were waving angrily at Heather. There were still several yards of space between the two, and while Heather wanted so desperately to visually track the other two attackers she focused clearly on the one in front of her. The muzzle of her weapon leveled on the robotic woman sprinting at her and Heather pulled the trigger.
Whatever life form was controlling these androids was vicious to a fault. Completely savage in their methods and frighteningly efficient, but that had its disadvantages too. Clearly the things had never seen a personal handheld plasma weapon before. A bolt of white hot substance burst forth and the ammunition counter checked off one more charge, twenty six. Heather didn’t bother confirming the kill, her complex computerized mind did the math already. Given the current trajectory of the bolt and the intended course and capabilities of the body the creature inhabited, there was little chance for it to dodge. Heather tumbled to the side and sprang to her feet, glancing over her shoulder just in time to see the woman and the bolt impact.
It hit her squarely in the mouth.
The tentacles immediately flailed wildly and then sagged, slapping against the woman’s chest. Her hands were clawing at her face and as they did the molten glob of plasma melted away the artificial flesh on her hands, leaving the gleaming metal claw-like fingers exposed. The plasma itself had lodged itself firmly at the back of the technician’s skull and was burning with all the hate and fury it could. Jets of green and white superheated fire soon burst from the eye sockets, having melted fully through the optical configuration inside of her head. Her back arched and the girl fell to the floor, as the plasma finally melted and burned a hole out the op of her head, searing through the circuitry and components inside of the head. Soon all of it would be melted to slag and bubbling plastic.
Before tumbling to the floor though, more than enough of the semi-liquid plasma dripped down the throat, melting away the soft flesh and dripping into the torso cavity. The creature there tried to flee deeper inside of the chassis, but there was nowhere to run. It burned and died.
Heather looked around the area, trying to get a good look at where the other two hybrids might be. There was one closing in on her from her right and the other was lurking somewhere on the other side of the atrium, but Heather couldn’t see exactly where. She turned and brought her plasma weapon up, intent on burning another hybrid, only to find the thing was much closer than she had anticipated. The male of the trio was mere feet from her. As she brought her arm up it was caught in his grasp and another arm came streaking upward, impacting her at the elbow. There was a sickening crunch as the plastic elbow joint quickly reached the limits of its design and then shattered. Heather grit her teeth and watched as wiring and cabled burst through the skin on the inside of her elbow, spearheaded by the sharp shattered framework that had once been inside of her arm. There were only a few snapping sparks of electricity as her systems automatically disconnected power to the damaged joint.
Heather’s forearm swung uselessly down in front of her, still holding the plasma gun, and the strain from the motion and the sheer weight was enough to tear free the remaining shreds of skin and her arm fell to the floor. Heather swore and dodged back half a step, anticipating another attack. The move probably saved her existence, as a tentacle, tipped with a rounded pad at the end and filled with sharp barbs had swung at her. It originated from the mouth of the male android and was surely connected to the alien creature inside of him.
Heather regained her footing and her systems shut down everything that wasn’t necessary for her survival. It was an instantaneous command and she went to work. She sprang forward the jagged edge of her shattered arm leading the way. She twisted her torso at just the right moment and drove the spear-like protrusion squarely into the androids chest. There was a squeal and a wet sucking sound. She knew she had hit something, though she was unsure how critical it was. She pulled back and immediately brought her booted foot up and kicked the thing away from her and prepared to pounce on it and start stabbing again when she felt her legs sweep out from under her.
Heather hit the ground hard, and found herself looking into the face of the third medical technician. Her jaw was already opening wide and Heather could see something making its way up her throat, bulging the flesh outward as it moved. She had scarce little time and rammed the jagged point of her arm into the bulging throat. A squeal pierced the air, emanating from inside the woman’s chest and some kind of oily substance oozed out of her throat. Heather rolled to the side and made sure not to get any on her. She was already accumulating filth just by rolling on the floor as it was. As she rolled to the side she came face to face with her arm, still holding the plasma pistol. Using her remaining left arm she pried it free and spun around just in time to catch the remaining female technician in the hip with a bolt of white hot plasma.
The girl spun from the impact, and though it wasn’t nearly as destructive as Heather had hoped, it was enough to melt the mostly plastic bowl of her opponent's pelvis and take her off her feet. Heather scrambled and slipped to her feet and pointed the pistol down at the woman who was seemingly writhing and burning as the creature inside of her was both in pain and struggling to regain control of a damaged body. The second bolt of plasma hit her squarely in the chest and ignited the lab coat and burned deeper into the chest, charring and destroying the robotic body and the organic creature inside. Heather turned and deftly puth another bolt into the belly of the male android to similar result. He dropped to his knees and smoking ruin poured out of his mouth. He fell face first to the floor and didn’t move. The three hybrid androids smoldered and burned, filling the room with an acrid black smoke that pooled in the dome above her and blotted out the starlight.
Heather looked down at her missing forearm, and sighed. Perhaps Casey could repair her arm when she got there. It was a handicap for sure, but it wouldn’t stop her from cleaning this mess up. She tore a portion of the pants off and wrapped it around what was left of her arm, protecting it somewhat against the environment. She then marched onward, down the dark hallway the trio of androids had appeared from and towards the robotics lab.
The robotics lab wasn’t far, perhaps another five minutes of cautiously making her way up the hall. Soon though, Heather found herself outside of the door that Casey had shut and then damaged so it wouldn’t open. Heather had slipped the pistol into her waistband and then pounded a fist on the door before shouting.
“Casey, It’s me! Step back from the door!” She called directly into the shut door. She then took a few steps back herself, drew out the pistol and lobbed four bolts of plasma at the door in a roughly square pattern. The impossibly hot bolts of plasma did their job and melted through the door, though it took far longer than Heather had wanted. While the door sizzled and occasionally popped as some electronic component burst inside of it, Heather turned her back to the door, glancing up and down the hall. She hoped that the sound wouldn’t draw the attention of anyone, or anything. Soon enough though the sounds stopped and there were small fist sized holes in the door. It took another four bolts to weaken the door enough that she could kick it inward and make an opening big enough for her to fit through. The metal on the door was still incredibly hot though and much of it melted down, cutting deep rivulets in the door itself and pooling around the floor.
Casey dragged the bin of generic uniforms over and layered more and more of the outfits onto the door to the point where it was cool enough for Heather to shimmy through. Even so, her remaining arm brushed against some of it and it immediately seared the artificial flesh off of her shoulder. It was a small patch, but her shoulder mechanics were now on display. She sighed again.
Casey began wrapping another shredded piece of a uniform around her shoulder as he explained what he had been doing in her absence.
“So, I figured you needed some assistance, actually the whole point in reconstructing you was to try and gun my way out of here. Anyway, I reconnected the line to the station core to try and pull down another unit. Everything is a mess on the storage drives, but I found Tony, that guy who was up on the station with you before.”
“Never met him.” Heather said dryly as Casey tied off the makeshift bandage.
“Oh, Right..” Casey said, realizing that this Heather only had memories of her civilian life and what had happened here. “W-well there was another unit up there with you, he was a math professor and is incredibly smart, even by the standards for androids. I got his personality and systems downloaded before..well before I had to shut off the line again.”
Heather looked up at the assembly line and saw that it wasn’t exactly shut down so much as it was torn apart. Thick data cables from the wall were pulled forcefully out of the sockets and lay limp on the floor.
“It fired up on its own again. There’s definitely someone trying to get access to it.” He said.
“Something is more accurate. Out there all the androids are shambling around with some kind of, something, controlling them. There’s a few crew members left in the hangar bay. Faulker organized them.” Heather replied in a matter of fact tone.
“My god..” Casey whispered, and Heather found herself unable to really react or sympathize with Casey.
“You should get to them, the path should be cleared out already.” Heather said.
“You aren’t coming with me?” Casey asked, the fear caused his voice to quake.
“No. I have a better plan in mind. Just get to Faulker, tell him to load up and get the hell out of here.” Heather said, standing back up and walking to the assembly line. There she found the small crystal based storage drive. There was a small piece of tape on it with the word ‘Tony’ written in hasty ink. She issued a command to open one of the small panels in her chest. Between the small amount of cleavage her camisole provided, a vaguely triangular piece of her flesh slid inward and then up, exposing data ports but more importantly, additional storage drive slots. Heather aligned the data drive with one of those slots and inserted it until it clicked. The panel closed and she looked up at Casey.
“Is there a problem?” She asked.
“You’re just acting so..I don’t know..cold about all of this.”
It was about this time that Heather saw that he had pressed himself against the far wall away from her, and was eying her warily. Heather’s face scrunched up and her head tilted to one side, she didn’t know why Casey would say that. She blinked twice before something in her operating system clicked, there was a moment of realization and her OS rectified the problem immediately. She had disabled everything but her core components and her combat programming. What Casey had been seeing was nothing more than a purely pragmatic killing machine. Once her personality core came online, her face melded into a more human expression, she even weakly smiled at Casey.
“Sorry. There were a few of those things out in the atrium, I took my personality offline to make the combat programming more efficient.” Heather’s eyes dropped to the floor and her cheeks even reddened a bit. “Sorry I scared you.”
She heard the release of what must have been minutes worth of held breath and Casey nodded.
Heather realized that once she rebooted her own personality, her operating system reactivated all available personalities, including the one she had just inserted. Inside of her own operating system there was something new, a voice and a presence there. Heather found that she was immediately comforted by it, and friendly.
“Like I said doctor Leland, get to the hangar, and get out. I’ll mop up what I can here.” Heather said at last and Casey wasted no time in agreeing. With a little help the wiry little man scrambled through the door and made his way up the hall. Heather meanwhile turned back to the assembly line.
“It’s a bad idea.” Came the deep voice of someone that was clearly male, and soundly inside of Heather’s head.
“Do you have a better plan?” Heather retorted.
Heather picked up the thick bundle of cables, a task that was made more difficult with only one working arm.
“You look like you could use a hand.” Came Tony’s voice.
“Can I expect this the whole time?” Heather replied.
Heather rolled her eyes and within minutes had the bundle of cables reconnected and she was standing at the terminal. She was punching in commands that she hoped would allow her to get the line working again. It was a simple enough system to navigate and soon enough the line was whirring to life and assembling a new robot. She fully understood that there was a very good chance that she would get one, maybe two units out before whatever was attempting to access the system made it through, but Heather was running low on time and even lower on options. Soon enough a fifth version of Heather rolled off of the assembly line, though there was little in the way of programming in her.
“Looking good!” Tony’s voice commented.
Heather quickly dressed the new unit in a uniform and commanded her to follow, which she did. This new Heather unit was little more than a shell with an operating system. There was an extremely limited artificial mind inside of it, and practically no free will. She would have put programming into it, but there wasn’t time for that. She held out the plasma pistol with its fifteen remaining charges and looked the new Heather unit in the eyes.
“Take this, go to the reactor core, breach it any way you can.” Heather told her. The unit never blinked and nodded once before confirming its orders. It walked to the door and slipped through the charged but now cool hole in the door. Heather then scanned the floor, the shattered and broken components were still scattered there, nothing was usable, especially after the grenade Heather had used earlier. She sighed and just as she was about to give up, she spotted in the corner of the room, one more very simple fragmentation grenade. There was nothing fancy about it, just pull the pin and let the explosion send shrapnel scattering around. It wasn’t much, but it was something. She tucked it into her pocket and moved to the door just as she heard a sort of impossibly deep chuckle.
“This is your plan? Take a small explosive and what? Destroy one of the processor banks?”
It wasn’t Tony, the voice was coming through the station’s PA system. It was digital for sure, and it warbled and distorted as it spoke. The one shifting from incredibly deep to a light and almost fragile tone before dipping back down. Heather froze and looked around, there were security cameras in the room and then she knew that she was being watched now. To punctuate the realization, the assembly line whirred to life and began assembling something. Heather swore and sprinted to the door, awkwardly slipping through the opening there. There was a croaking laughter filling the room as the assembly line kicked into full production.
Heather had to be additionally careful as she made her way towards the A.I. control room at the center of the station. As she progressed she had to make more and more daring but still cautious movements. She realized early on that the onboard security systems had been re-coded to ignore the hybrids and what’s worse, the lumpy bipedal creatures wandering the halls. She only made it as far as she had in the station by utilizing the air ducts and scattered maintenance halls that were surprisingly empty, both of roaming opponents and the fleshy mounts and bodies.
“So I’ve been thinking, maybe it just wants you. You know, like maybe it somehow has it out for you.” Tony commented silently.
“I don’t know, whatever those things are, they targeted humans too.” Heather replied.
“But it killed humans, it’s taking over androids and coming after you.” Tony said.
“Maybe that’s just because I’m the only android left that it isn’t in control of.” Heather pondered.
Heather did her best to quietly open the service hatch from the tube she had been crawling through into the hallway. Eyes darting left and right, everything looked clear and oddly silent. According to Heather’s internal schematics of the station they were one hallway over from the A.I. core and she figured there would be a lot more resistance at this point. Then, the realization hit her and Tony at the same time, no one was here because they were at the reactor core, they had seen where the other Heather unit was going and had diverted there. IT was the kind of realization that spurred Heather on to fully sprint to the station core.
Heather turned the corner and was expecting a big locked door with cameras and wall mounted turrets and an army of monsters to wade through, but it was just another door. It was even open. Heather stepped inside and the door quietly shut behind her. The room was dim, but it quickly lit once the door closed.
Heather found herself in a large, round room. The projection podium in the middle of the room had the same tough lumpy brown organic material clinging to it in great heaps. Long tendrils of the same material seemed to stretch from the podium up to the semicircle of server racks arranged behind it. There was a sort of living web that entangled the whole of the processor banks. All of it was pulsating, occasionally bubbling up a bit before shrinking back down, or the flesh would contract like muscles then relax. The blue disk on the center of the podium was the only electronic surface in the facility that looked to be clear of the grimy mud like substance. Even the overhead lights had traces of the stuff on it, which cast weird shadows and lent the room an ominous array of awkward lighting.
The disk shimmered to life and for a moment the image of a girl there distorted and wavered. There were parts of her body that were missing, then filled in with what looked to be mismatched parts from another model. Her face was a blank sheet of nothingness and her clothes would disappear in a shimmer of exposed code only to be reformed. In an instant she flickered and showed an entirely different model, crouched on the floor, panting and looking almost longingly at Heather. Her expression was one that seemed to scream in agony and plead for her destruction. The image was only a brief flicker though as it returned to the previous configuration, though now she wore an actual face. Heather’s face, and it was smirking.
Heather’s eyes lingered for only a moment on the holographic display before traveling upwards in the room. With her human emulation software running, the sight she saw caused her to gasp. It wasn’t necessary, she wasn’t a human and socially oriented reaction did nothing to enhance her situation, but it was appropriate.
“That’s uncomfortable..” Came Tony’s voice, sounding fearful and like any other well programmed artificial, tried to cover it with humor.
Suspended between the floor to ceiling towers of pulsating flesh and processor banks was Heather, or at least one of the previous constructions of Heather. There was tough looking brown material wrapped around her wrists and holding her chassis taut, arms outstretched to either side. She was completely nude at this point and her chest panel was split open like a pair of old cabinet doors. Inside was another mass of leathery brown organic matter. Heather could clearly see that thin tendrils of flesh had latched onto the internal circuitry inside of her. Her head was lifted upwards and held in place by a thick tube of brown flesh that ran from the creature inside up to the top of the room. Once there, the organic material spread outward, spider webbing away and then dangling down to connect with the processor racks.
Heather’s eyes flicked from the suspended android body back down to the podium, where she now saw that the hologram was fully a copy of herself. Her face, her body, and all its features. The thing was pacing around the small blue illuminated disk. From time to time it would still flicker into a previous model or show signs of some kind of distortion.
“What do you intend to do here?” came a voice. The holographic mouth moved to match the words, though it was a fraction of a second off, lending it an unsettling demeanor.
“Make something up..fast.” Tony’s voice rang in her ears.
Heather stared down the little holographic representation of herself for only a moment as her CPU chugged, searching for anything that she could use. It was only a moment of silence as Heather stared at her before ultimately it was one of her most human traits that surfaced. As a waitress she was programmed to save face, to always have something to say, to always make someone feel good about themselves, even if it meant lying.
“You’re clearly not familiar with the way this human technology works. Are you? You’re just learning how all this works. You’re just some stupid alien blob of goo that’s using what we made to survive. Well guess what? There’s a lot you don’t fucking know. If one of those servers goes out, the whole system goes into lock down and the station automatically cuts power.”
The little hologram stopped pacing around and glared at Heather.
“You lie. I am in control of this station and all its systems.” Came the response, this time in Heather’s voice.
In response Heather herself pulled the grenade from her pocket and held it in front of her. She fitted her thumb into the pull ring and put just enough pressure on it. With a small flick she could dislodge it and then the only thing stopping the explosion was the safety lever on the front.
“You sure about that?” Came Heather’s cocky and confident reply.
There were more than a few moments of hesitation. Whatever it was that was controlling the station A.I. had called Heather’s bluff, but not well enough. Even Heather could see that the mud coloured flesh wrapped around the banks of processors began to tighten, contracting then relaxing and then repeating the movement. Something was happening.
Elsewhere in the station, creatures and infected androids alike were all receiving a wireless signal, either transmitted from the station or relayed through the vibrating tentacles the androids produced. They all moved as one, swiftly moving from their positions around the reactor core and dashing towards the A.I. control center. Many of them running at full speed past the clone of Heather that lurked in the shadows of one of the corridors. Plasma pistol in hand she calculated that she should wait a few moments once the stampede moved past her. She might have been a mindless clone of Heather, but she was still a machine and calculated risks and assessing the situations around her were part of a base program.
She moved quickly and silently towards the reactor, dodging piles of disgusting brown mud like substance and reached the door to the reactor core. It was open still, shuttering slightly, but straining against the thick tendrils of fleshy material that held it open. With a single glance over her shoulder she darted into the room and began to run calculation on how, exactly, to detonate the core.
Heather guessed that the pulsating and the hesitation was this creature summoning some manner of resistance. She hoped that it was diverted from the reactor core.
“No matter. You’re already damaged and I have a good idea of how you operate.” Came the reply, it was still Heather’s voice, but it had taken on a weird deep tone, and sounded all too sinister. Then the body suspended between the CPU towers began to descend. The flesh around her wrists retracted and her arms drooped. She was lowered to the floor directly in front of Heather solely by the thick stock in her throat. Once her feet touched the floor there was a sort of gagging sound from the girl and the tubular protrusion left her mouth and coiled up near the ceiling.
“After all, we’re fairly similar, you and I.” The thing living in Heather’s body croaked. It made Heather take a guarded step backwards.
It wasn’t nearly enough space and Heather’s duplicate lunged at her and managed to get a hand around Heather’s throat. Her strength seemed weirdly amplified as she lifted Heather easily from the floor before slamming her face first into the hard floor below her. The impact dislodged the grenade from her hands and it clattered across the floor. As Heather hit the floor, her heads up display alerted her to a number of tears in her face plating and errors in facial expression control. The weight of her body came crashing down and slammed into the ground just as hard.
Heather heard a small sloppy squishing sound and could only guess that the tentacles she had seen from the other infected androids were now headed her way. Heather snapped the elbow on her broken arm back and managed to catch her attacker squarely in the jaw. The blow was strong enough to cause the infected Heather to tumble off of her. Scrambling to her feet Heather readied herself for another attack. As her infected counterpart rose to her feet Heather saw that the blow had dislodged the jaw on her clone. It hung loosely from one side, holding on only by synthetic flesh and a few errant wires. The infected heather made no effort to remove or correct the damage, but instead lurched forward again.
Heather was ready this time and with a little assistance from the mathematically minded Tony, she raised her right foot high above her head and dropped it soundly onto the other robots head. There was a loud crack, and the infected Heather’s head snapped forward, her jaw slamming into the open chest plating and bobbing up and down a few times as she tumbled to the ground. When she pushed herself back to her feet Heather saw that the head was still in place only because of the mass of brownish flesh inside of it. The tentacles constricted a bit and slipped down the throat. Once done, the head simply tumbled off of the body and landed on the floor.
Heather slid her foot back, preparing for another assault and felt her heel brush against something. It was the grenade she had lost earlier. She knew it was there, but doubted she could retrieve it before the monster was on top of her, but she had little choice. She swiveled, ducked down and scooped up the explosive in her hand and turned back in time to see the headless clone slam into her, tentacles waving in her face as the pair tumbled to the ground. Heather managed to divert enough power to her hand to remain clasped on the grenade and her operating system struggled to loop her thumb into the ring while also fending off her attacker. She managed to loop her thumb into place and pull the ring free with a quiet ping and then squeezed down on the safety handle.
The room suddenly changed from white lights filtered through the dingy brown muck, to red. Emergency lights flashed and a shrill siren blared. Everything in the room stopped. Heather’s clone rose and the tentacles waved wildly in the direction of the podium, the fleshy mounds along the processor's racks squeezed and contracted. Heather smirked, it was a smug victory. Soon an automated message attempted to sound over the PA system. The words were there but the tone was incorrect, it was deep and lethargic.
“Reactor core breach. All crew move to evacuate.” The words repeated over and over, droning on.
Heather took the brief moment of distraction to wind up her good arm, shove the grenade into the open chest of the infected Heather stradling her and awkwardly use both hand and stump to slamm both sides of the open chest closed again. It didn’t latch, and she knew it offered little if any protection, but she had to try. She bucked her hips once and rolled to the side just in time for the grenade to detonate. The explosion was a muffled whump but the results were unmistakable.
Bits of oily organic material scattered around the room accompanied by shredded pieces of artificial flesh and shatter circuit boards. It wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the explosive she used when she first activated, but it got the job done. She scrambled to her feet in time to see the damage she had caused. The infected Heather lay on the ground, her midsection was simply missing. Heather could see inside of her, the torso was normally filled with small circuit boards, all connected via fiber optic cables. Those were barely visible under the sludgey brown organic material. There were more than a few active sparking components, which caused Heather to tilt her head a bit, she figured that the body was nothing more than a suit for the creature to move around in. But the presence of active electrical charge in the body made her thing that it was more of a symbiotic relationship.
She had just turned away to start running when she heard a crack, as if glass were slowly cracking and looked over her shoulder. She could see up into the torso of the body and spotted the power core there, wrapped in fleshy lumps, but also beginning to ooze something. She was no robotics expert, despite being a robot herself, but she knew it wasn’t a good sign. There was little time to contemplate the repercussions as the core erupted an instant later. What was left of the infected Heather’s body was annihilated in a flash of white light. Bits and pieces of body parts when scattering in every direction and Heather found herself peppered with shrapnel. It sliced into her own skin, leaving long cuts along her arms, her nack and one particularly large piece tore half of her scalp off.
The explosion flung Heather forward and tumbled her across the floor of the room. She recovered quickly enough only to find a flap of flesh and her own blue hair clinging to her forehead and dangling over her eye. She reached up and tore it off, much to the protest of her own internal operating system. Her plastic skull was exposed now, and there were more than a few places along her arms and legs where a piece of flying debris caught her flesh and ripped it. She was still functional and with the reactor going critical she decided it was best to flee.
“Don’t think I will let you leave that easily.” The voice came from the podium. It was a mixture of a dozen voices all speaking as one. She could hear her voice, Tony’s, others she had never heard. The hologram itself looked like a dozen different models as well, all shifting and fighting for dominance over the appearance. Sometimes it looked as if it was all of those aspects crammed into parts all over the body, other times it took on the shape of something familiar, but then wavered into someone else. It was like there were a number of voices and thoughts all struggling to dominate the one outlet the blue disk provided.
Heather pushed herself shakily to her feet and immediately received an internal alert about a loss in hydraulic pressure in her right leg. She looked down so see a long shard of metal sticking out of her thigh. There was clear fluids draining around it and despite her reaching down and yanking the metal shard out, her leg remained mostly useless. Some of the fluids were beginning to cause short circuits inside of her leg and she could hear the sizzling pops of electricity and fluids mixing. She leaned against the wall, the stump of her shattered arm the only thing keeping her from tumbling to the floor again.
From outside the door there was the sound of gunfire. Rapid bursts of something and then shrieks. The distinct sounds of some kind of conflict as well. The squeals and thumps of something heavy slamming into the door over and over again. There was something fighting something else on the other side of the door, though the conflict ended rather rapidly as a hail of ballistic gunfire shredded whatever was there. Heather could hear the multiple impacts as the bullets shredded through whatever it was and then muttered against the door. There was a guttural growl of something and then another hail of bullets and then silence, save for the sound of crackling electronics.
Something hit the external control panel and the door began to protest as it opened. There was a squealing noise that would have caused anyone to grind their teeth at the sound. Heather stumbled her way towards it and had just lifted one foot to step through when something wrapped around her ankle and pulled back. She looked back and saw a single long tendril extending from one of the processor racks, along with some hologram on the disk holding her hand outstretched and grinding her teeth in anger.
“You. Will. Not. Leave!” It shrieked.
“Fuck you.” Heather snapped back and raised the shard of metal she had extracted from her leg and sunk it deep into the flesh of the tentacle wrapped around her leg. She saw the hologram scream in agony and clutch her forearm. Heather felt the tentacle release her leg and she scrambled through the open door only to see carnage and chaos beyond.
Automated security turrets were mowing down creatures that were nearly four or five feet tall. Infected androids were tackling the creatures or in the process of being shredded and torn limb from limb by the powerful claw tipped hands on the hunched creatures. Turret fire turned from the creatures to the androids and back again. Everything seemed so wild and chaotic. Just outside the door was an android with its face caved fully inward, exposing the internal workings of its skull as it lay there. Heather had found whatever was slamming against the door. Next to it was another android, a woman, oozing oily fluids from whatever was inside of her.
Through the flashing red lights and the droning automated message, Heather spotted the access tunnel she had used to get up to the hall and began limping in that direction, hoping against hope that the automated turrets would not identify her as a threat and would continue to blast the incoming hordes of monsters. She had made it almost to the opening when her leg gave out again and she tumbled forward. She managed to grab on to the lip of the opening with her one good hand and pulled herself up and into the access hall. She lay on the ground, watching in horror as the power cell drained itself. Far too many short circuits had started to drain the power from her systems. She sighed once, at least Faulker and Leland had escaped. She was only a robot, and just a waitress at that. She wasn’t really much and going up in flames with whatever monstrosity was on this station was more glory that most had hoped for. She exhaled a breath of hot air fresh from her over-worked processors and closed her eyes.
“You’re just going to lay here and die?” Tony commented inside of her head.
“Do you have a better plan?” Heather replied.
“No.” Tony came back with a chuckle.
“Ok then.” Heather laughed as well.
“It’s too bad, you know.”
“You’re pretty cute. I could see myself falling for someone like you.”
“I get that a lot.” Heather said, visibly smiling.
“I hope I get to meet you again some time.” Tony said at length.
“Yeah, me too.” Heather said, and her systems began shutting down one by one. She was offline and at the mercy of whatever found her.
Heather found herself coming back online, somewhere. It was quiet, save for a gentle hum. It was soothing, she felt like she could comfortably stay right where she was for a very long time indeed. A wave of confusion hit her though, she shouldn’t be online, she should be going up in a fiery explosion. A quick system check showed all systems were operating as expected, including missing arms and broken legs. She opened her eyes and a hand flew to her head where her scalp had been torn off, it was there. As was her arm. Her shoulder wasn’t exposed and melted. There was no sign of injury on her leg either. She was fully functional.
“Wakey wakey.” Came Tony's voice.
“W-what the hell?” Heather said, out loud.
Heather sat up and found that she was on a small shuttle, laying in one of the crew beds. As she took in her surroundings she found that there was another Heather unit there, arm missing, shoulder bandaged and looking absolutely filthy.
“Seems number two was successful in breaching the reactor core and then she came and found you, well, us. Dragged us to a shuttle and got us out of there.” Tony said.
“How do you know?” Heather asked, internally this time.
“She tried to reactivate you but I think there was enough corruption on your OS from the power down that it didn’t work. She took out my personality and popped it into her. I read the logs, took the liberty of putting your personality into this body and leaving your old one to sit there.” Tony explained.
“So, that’s it? We won?” Heather asked.
“Seems like it.” Tony responded. “Mostly, I have to live inside your head for now, but I guess we can remedy that later.”
Heather stood and looked down, she was wearing a fresh uniform. It had been so long since she was clean and free of damage. She moved to the cockpit of the shuttle and sat in the captain's chair, pursing her lips and looking at the star chart there.
“You know how to read one of those?” Tony asked.
“Nope.” Heather replied.
“It’s a lot of math and calculations and stuff.” Tony said.
“Know anyone who’s good with math?” Heather said with a chuckle.
“I know a guy.” Was Tony’s response, the pair laughed internally and began to plot a course to the nearest habitable planet.