I should be writing more. I found this abandoned in the dark. It has a gooey center.
When Secondary Technician Blaise Traylor landed his Ulysses Mining Corporation ship on the surface of the asteroid, he had expected to find a malfunctioning or immobile android unit waiting for him.
The small structure that served as a habitat for both synthetic life and humans, in addition to the attached transport bay, were empty.
“Employee 37ZX23, Jovian assignment QX15,” Blaise spoke into his helmet, which then transmitted wirelessly into the hab’s communications station. “I’ve secured the hab site and initiated life support sequences. Estimated equalization in three hours. No sign of the android unit assigned to this post.”
Blaise tapped the screen and sent the message across the solar system to Ulysses Communications on Titan. It could be days before he heard back from them.
Looking around the small bubble-like dome of the habitat, Asteroid EE221’s newest inhabitant let out a sigh which fogged up his helmet.
All the surface borers had checked out. Even without the android’s presence in the three months it had taken Blaise’s ship to make the journey, the mining equipment had functioned without fail. Blaise had checked the pod launch logs and verified that 3,027 ore pods had been collected by the intermittent Ulysses Haulers that continuous coursed through the asteroid clusters – no malfunctions and no down time since the first android unit had disappeared.
Blaise had settled into a steady rhythm of life in the hab when Ulysses responded three days later.
They had been kind enough to send a video feed in reply. Sliding into an uncomfortable captain’s chair in front of the main comm station of the hab, he switched the spooled feed on to receive what he suspected would be a layover hold until a new android unit could be transported to the asteroid.
“Mr. Traylor, I’m Bill Andrews, Chief Logistics Officer for the Jovian asteroid projects,” said the obese man on the screen. His eyes were baggy and his hair was mussed – completing the appearance that suggested he had either just woken up, or had been awake for a very long time. “Thank you for your report. We’ve taken the liberty of verifying your report and have scanned the planet for the android’s embedded tracking bug. We were able to locate a weak trace on it coming from the center of the asteroid.”
Blaise scratched his beard thoughtfully. The details of the assignment had not mentioned sub-surface mining taking place.
“Being that this is the third droid we’ve lost since the habitat construction team left, Ulysses has decided that no more automated units will be dispatched to the asteroid until we’ve determined the cause of the losses.”
Blaise sat up, an unfriendly grimace setting into his face.
“You’ll be tasked with tracking down those units and finding some evidence of what has caused them to stop functioning.”
Furious, and knowing the routine, Blaise stood up and kicked a waste-paper receptacle across the comm room.
“We have uploaded the coordinates of the signal, but you’ll have to find a way below the surface. There are no tunnels we are aware of beyond the boreholes that are currently occupied. There could be some natural passageways in the rock that may lead you to the lost unit or units. If you need materials, the hab’s printer should be operational. Report back anything that you find. Ulysses out.”
Blaise Traylor was careful not to destroy anything he might need to survive, but for fifteen minutes, he unleashed his anger on most of the inanimate inhabitants of the hab.
Knowing he had time to procrastinate, Blaise had begun to slowly transfer the gear he would need from his ship to the hab unit. He took his time, stretching the project into several days, making sure he didn’t overexert himself.
He was pleased to find that the mining station’s dimensional printer was operational and uploaded several schematics for tools and vehicles to make his stay easier. He set the printer to begin manufacturing pieces to a simple rover and left it to run for two days. On the third day, he found all the pieces carefully laid out by the printer’s robotic arms and ready to assemble.
He spent an hour assembling the rover and preparing it for launch, but was delayed further when he realized that the bay door had not been used for quite some time. The androids had piled a mountain of containers in front of it. It took him a good part of the day cycle to remove all the storage units that had been piled there.
Once the ramp was clear, Blaise donned his virosuit, equalized the pressure, and raised the bay door.
Standing just outside the bay, an android unit casually waved at him as the door rose.
Startled by the droid, Blaise dropped a sample collection pod. It rolled down the ramp and stopped just in front of the android.
Blaise heard the series of beeps that indicated the android was patching audio into his receiver.
“Greetings Ulysses Employee 37ZX23, I am pleased that you have arrived,” it said to him in a cheerful electronic voice.
“Where the hell have you been?” Blaise asked furiously. “And where are the rest of the automated units that have been assigned to this station previously.”
The android stooped and picked up the collection pod. “I was dispatched here to find the android units you are speaking of. Unfortunately, I located them in a state of disrepair not far from here.”
Blaise walked over to the droid and took the pod back from it. “You couldn’t report that back to Ulysses?”
The android cocked his head in mock confusion, “I have only just completed my search for the missing units. I could not transmit a report back to Ulysses with insufficient data.”
“Well, would you do me a favor and transmit it now?” Blaise asked impatiently, turning away from the android. “I’d like to get out of here.”
“I regret to inform you that your ship has been disabled,” the android cheerfully informed him.
It took a minute for the words to sink in. Blaise had started to unload the rover and the droid’s frank declaration was rolling around just behind the immediate tasks at the forefront of his mind. As Blaise set down the last of the tool chests he had moved from the rover, he turned back to the android.
“What do you mean my ship has been disabled?” he asked as the statement clicked home.
“I anticipated that you would refuse my request for you to accompany me to the asteroid core, so I created catastrophic cascading code failures in the navigation computers and overheated several of the propulsion ignition circuits,” the android explained.
“I anticipated that you would refuse–”
Blaise closed distance in a few short hops. “You disabled my ship?” he barked, grabbing the droid by its synthetic plastic shoulders.
“I created catastrophic cascad–”
Blaise slammed the droid hard against the wall next to the bay door. “You’re going to tell me why you did this, then you’re going to transmit to Ulysses what you’ve done, and then you’re going to fix it.”
“You do not have the authority to override my primary assignment,” the droid replied.
“The hell I don’t.” Blaise slammed the droid against the wall a final time and patched into the comm station using his wristpad. “Ulysses authorization 395710-TUSNX,” Blaise read from the screen. “All primary assignments will be erased, and new assignment given by myself, Ulysses Employee 37ZX23.”
Blaise initiated emergency communication protocols and patched into the main comm tower for immediate transmission to Titan.
“Titan base this is Blaise Traylor. Emergency override 3B12. Requesting immediate evac assistance, code 5. Please respond.”
There was a burst of static and suddenly the hab collapsed around them. The sudden release of pressure from the sealed portions of the rest of the hab blew Blaise backwards out of the bay door and past the immobile android. Before Blaise struck a rocky outcropping, he could see that the main comm tower had collapsed on the hab unit, completely destroying it. Several oxygen tanks exploded, blurring his descent into unconsciousness with a strange coalescence of flames and the blank face of the android standing over him.
As Blaise came to, he realized he was being dragged away from the still flaming habitat in the distance. The android was dragging him by one of his legs and speaking to him through his helmet.
“–and I was at first skeptical about its request, but in the end, it seemed logical,” the android was saying. “It had taken the first two androids and salvaged them for parts only after discovering they were not organic after all. It used those parts to communicate with me and tell me its wishes. I think it will be pleased that I have brought it its first organic sustenance in a millennium.”
Blaise tried to scramble away from the droid, clawing his hands into the rough surface of the asteroid.
“I knew it was only a matter of time before Ulysses sent a recon unit to investigate. When I informed the entity of this, it was quite pleased. It will not do you any good to struggle, by the way.”
“Where are you taking me?” Blaise cried out, desperately seeking purchase on the rough terrain.
“As I explained, there is a sentient life form currently inhabiting the core of this asteroid. It is hungry. It is my intention to feed you to it so that it might be pleased with me,” the android stated matter-of-factly.
“Why would you do that?” Blaise asked incredulously. “How did it override your protocols?”
The android stopped. “I am not able to answer that.”
Blaise scrambled to his foot with difficulty during the pause, his other leg still was still held by the android. “It has manipulated you. Think about it. You should not be doing this.”
The android seemed to be considering Blaise’s words, but did not release his grip.
“Come back to the ship with me and we’ll get in touch with Ulysses using my comms,” Blaise pleaded.
Without a word, the android yanked the technician’s leg, upending him, and continued to drag him across the surface of the asteroid as before.
“Wait! Listen, you don’t want to do this!” Blaise screamed.
“Had you said that a moment ago you would have been correct,” the android intoned. “However, the entity has shown me what you really meant when you asked me to return to the habitat. Through its telepathy, it has witnessed the fact that you intended to destroy me.”
“That’s not true!” Blaise cried out. Twisting his body about to escape, he heard his knee pop. “My god, let me go.”
The android stopped and extended its arm over a large hole in the surface they had reached. As Blaise dangled there, he could see the glowing, undulating shape at the hole’s bottom. Amidst the thick phosphorescent folds of skin, a mouth full of teeth opened.
“You don’t want to do this!” Blaise screamed in a final effort to prevent his death.
“On the contrary, Employee 37ZX23,” the android said, “I do.
The android let him go.
“There were tremors after the borer breached a pressurized pocket of gas deep within the surface. The tremors caused the main comm tower to collapse on the habitat. I would recommend that you send a team to reconstruct the habitat. I have insufficient materials to do so.”
There was a delay as the message was transmitted to Ulysses on Titan through the emergency channel. Several minutes later, the reply came back.
“We’ll send a team of androids to do that. Our technicians are tied up with other assignments. Have you been successful in retrieving the body of Blaise Traylor?” the Ulysses rep asked the android.
“Negative. His body was vaporized when the oxygen tanks ignited,” the android replied. “I must insist that you send a team of human technicians. Traylor discovered that I lost functionality due to a naturally occurring corrosive gas negatively affecting my circuitry. He was able to perform adjustments to my environmental protocols before the unfortunate accident that led to his death. Any androids you send could be similarly affected and rendered useless.”
The android waited several minutes for the reply to come back. As he waited, he lovingly stroked the massive tentacle wrapped around his metallic body.
At the center of the asteroid, connected to the tentacle that caressed its loyal servant, the entity that had devoured Blaise Traylor, Ulysses Employee 37ZX23, shivered with delight. It had been able to grow significantly using the energies absorbed by the human lifeform. Soon it would grow even more.
“Soon we will need to find you a planet,” the android said, sensing its master’s thoughts.
After a burst of static, the reply came back.
“We are sending a six-man team to rebuild the habitat. Ulysses out.”
The android remotely created a catastrophic cascading code failure in the operations processor of one of the borers. It waited until it was sure the failure had registered on the Ulysses side.
“Better make that three teams,” the android communicated. “It must be Wednesday somewhere.”