“I can just see it now, first alien species discovered. We’ll be famous!” Yasir stood up from his station, arms waving in early celebration.
“Shut up and monitor them. We need to start getting behaviors. Also I would rather not attract their attention. Keep the active sensors off Yasir.” Roger focused on the orbital charts.
“Alright, but really we should celebrate.” Yasir grumbled and sat back in his chair.
“Yeah, later.” Roger growled. For a few minutes the three crew members on the exploration vessel focused on their tasks.
“Look at them, floating in space. They look like jellyfish, maybe space jellies...” Yasir tried to describe them.
“Yasir,” Jane looked over her shoulder from her station and gave him a warning head shake. Roger was studiously ignoring them.
A few more minutes passed. Roger grunted, “Hmm. Looks like they are tacking against the solar wind toward that asteroid field. Unusually dense.” As the pilot, that was saying something; usually only rings around planets gave the small ship any navigational issues, but this was at a trojan point trailing a rather large gas giant. “Zoom in as far as you can Yasir, and send us the views.”
“Sure.” Yasir already had zoomed in as far as he could with one telescope, but Roger rolled the ship just enough to bring both the dorsal and ventral telescopes to bear. Using the telescopes in conjunction meant the computers could interpolate more detail, making the two telescopes act like a larger one.
All three were riveted to the view. About twenty of the massive jellies were circling a section of the cluster, well sphering, but that isn’t really a verb. Yasir watched as jets of matter puffed out from the giants, maneuvering them between the much smaller asteroids. One shot forward through a gap and sent a tendril of gossamer out to a particularly rough rock. But rather than pulling the whole thing to itself a chunk flaked off. Interest turned to confusion as the flake of asteroid developed two bright blue points of light.
“Ion engine signature detected,” intoned the ship’s computer.
They sat for a few moments in shock.
“That’s a ship.” Jane’s voice trailed off.
Roger started to curse with less reserve than normal. His hands flew over controls.
“Rog, three of them see us.” Jane recovered. “They are accelerating for us. Contact in five minutes.”
“I’m going. How’d they see us? Yasir?” Another string of invectives quickly followed.
“I don’t know.” Yasir watched in horror as the one that had caught the ship ingested it and began to process it. First the bright pinpricks of blue died. Pieces started to peel off the ship. Gases started escaping, but they didn’t spread out like in vacuum, but rather bubbled as though inside a viscous fluid. Finally the ship cracked in half. Yasir turned off his screen, too horrified to keep watching.
Jane and Yasir looked at each other as Roger turned the ship and started to accelerate away. She turned back to her station to figure out what was happening. Yasir didn’t really want to turn back to his station.
“At our current rate of acceleration they will catch us in six minutes. How far until we reach the trans-point?” Jane asked.
“Six minutes twenty seconds.”
“Can we give it any more power?” Jane’s desperation started to show through her schooled demeanor.
“Nope, we can’t, our ion spikes are already at max capacity.”
“Twenty percent above recommended, it’s more due to frequency at that point. We’ll hit a third of c right before the trans-point.”
“Are we going to make it?” Yasir asked. Both of his seniors turned to stare at him.
“Not by the numbers.” Somehow Roger’s demeanor was morphing into an oddly jovial one.
“What if we lose some mass?” Yasir tried not to bounce.
“It won’t be enough to make a twenty second difference.” Roger smiled. Yasir didn’t like that smile, it seemed a bit careless in their situation.
“But it might distract them.” Yasir countered.
“He’s got a point Rog. But what can we space?” Jane looked hopeful.
“We could ditch our spare air. Hopefully the recycler won’t cut out on us.”
Jane looked a bit concerned. “What if we spaced half?”
“Half measures so we won’t be eaten? Might as well give them the back half the ship.” Roger waved his hand and laughed.
“Roger,” She almost never used his whole name, working together for ten years called for some familiarity. Yasir wondered if they had ever been in such a dire situation before.
“Alright, let’s keep one of the twelve.” He gestured in a placating manner, hands out. “We are still about ten transits from an inhabited system. If something goes wrong six won’t really do us any more good. One will still work with the suit recyclers though.”
“Let’s start rolling them out.”
The three hurried out of the small bridge and went ten meters back to where engineering started.
A few minutes of lifting the heavy cylinders into the airlock and they were ready to go.
“What about one of the emergency pods?” Yasir asked.
“Might as well. Go forward and launch one. Not both.” Roger turned back to the airlock control.
Yasir sprinted back up the short length of the ship and stood at one of the pod chutes right behind the bridge and in front of the small quarters. He knew the procedure well enough, but in this situation he wasn’t sure how he was going to launch it without being in the pod himself.
He yelled down the length. “I have a problem.” His com blinked on his wrist. Oh yeah.
“Yes?” Roger asked.
“How will I launch this without getting inside?”
“The panel with the red line around it. Lift that. There will be manual overrides. We’ll be right up, just one more thing to space.”
Yasir flipped back the panel and saw a long red handle. “Manual launch. Only use as last resort.” The warning message made him shiver. Who would stay behind if one of the three of them had to launch the other pod manually? He pried the handle out of a clasp and started to pull on it. The first few inches were almost too easy. Red and white doors started to slide closed in front of the entrance to the pod.
But then he encountered a huge amount of resistance. After straining and pulling he put his feet up on the bulkhead and braced to pull sideways. The resistance gave way and he found himself swinging from the bar, feet coming off the bulkhead. His knees landed with a loud noise on the deck. Fortunately there was another spot of resistance, otherwise Yasir would have crashed himself against the oncoming bulkhead.
“Good job Yasir.” Roger never gave complements. Maybe it was sarcasm?
“Just need to get it a few more inches. Let me help you.” The two of them pushed it into another clasp. The red and white passage doors denoting that the pod was used closed with a click. The ship juddered as the pod launched.
“Let’s get up there and see what they do.” Jane came up behind them.
They entered the cockpit and took their respective seats. Yasir turned on the screens at his station again.
“Two are peeling off,” reported Jane, “but that big one didn’t take the bait.”
“Hopefully we can transition before we lose anything important.” Roger was almost maniacally happy.
They all sat in tense anticipation, waiting for an imagined but very close doom.
“It’s in range.” A massive spasm ran through the length of the ship. “It didn’t hit too hard. No damage.”
“It’s pulling us in.” Yasir shuddered.
“Trans-point in ten seconds. Please prepare for transition.” The calm tone from the ship’s computer barely registered.
“We are inside, telescopes obscured.” Yasir muttered.
“Transition.” Yasir never liked transitions before, they always made his head ache and his stomach twist. This time he was anticipating it joyfully because the discomfort told him the happy news.
“Whoa. Look at that.” Jane sent a screen around showing an trailing cloud of debris. As the alien’s goo sloughed off of the hull it crossed the realspace bubble into subspace and dissociated into component atoms becoming rainbow colors on the subspace sensor.
“Now, Yasir, we can celebrate.” Roger seemed a bit more dour.
“I think I’m good.” Close calls didn’t sit well with Yasir’s stomach.
“But we discovered two alien species in a single day!” Roger said it with a straight face, much less scary than his smile.
“Two?” Both Jane and Yasir asked in unison.
“Yep, that other ship wasn’t human, or at least nothing I’ve seen before.”
“Yeah, but they have a bug problem.” Jane shook her head. “How will they escape?”
“I don’t know. But what I do know is that we need to get back home after all those supplies we pushed out.”
“Yep, it’s going to be tight.” Jane agreed.
“I thought we only need to worry if we start leaking air.” Yasir stared at Roger.
“We also spaced about a month’s worth of rations. We’ve got about ten days of food for a nine day trip. Not much of a margin of error.”
“Ah.” Of course Yasir didn’t feel like eating right at the moment, but packaged food was certainly better than the recycler’s version.
The ship made it back to Earth’s system a few hours ahead of schedule. All the slime had sublimated away before doing serious damage, but one thing still stuck to the hull. None of the ship’s sensors detected any anomalies as it detached itself just as the sun’s strength reached the right parameters. The clear melon-sized envelope expelled a bit of mass, stabilizing its orbit.
And just for fun here are the Slow Mo Guys with Jelly Tennis.