An Age of Exploration

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Part 1

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.

HeathersPaperwork.png

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.

Part 2

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.

"More. Where."

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.