Thursday, November 28, 2019

ItB006: Scout

Scout was one of Velasquez's two drones, the one she used for exploring and reconnaissance. It was self-powered, capable of flying in or out of gravity, and equipped with a close-range plasma weapon. Caden didn't see what took it down, and judging by the private stream of curses neither had Velasquez.

Shannon stopped their advance immediately. "How far ahead was that?"

"Too close," answered Velasquez. "Another twenty meters. We should have heard something. Scout should have seen something."

"Ease back this way," said a voice -- audible, not over the tightwave, and coming from behind them. "And please don't shoot me. I can't see it either, but it's up ahead of you somewhere."

Velasquez disappeared. Caden was vaguely aware of her moving, quick and silent, but he was monitoring the others as they retreated and didn't realize what she was doing until a strangled gasp let him know that she was holding someone off the ground by the lapels of their jacket. "What was it?" she snarled, soft but audible. "What happened to Scout?"

"Just wait," said her prisoner. "Your drone should be fine once it moves away."

"It? What sort of it?" Velasquez's voice was intense: focused, not panicked. Caden pulsed her with a brief go easy, but he was still motioning the others back and trying to detect whatever had knocked Scout out of the air and couldn't spare any more attention than that.

"Another... moment... more..."

Caden reached them just as the figure relaxed in Velasquez's arms. "It's moving away."

"What is moving away, damn it?" Velasquez hadn't shifted position, but Caden had the impression that her prisoner's attention was suddenly on the helmet of her armor.

"Easy," said the figure. "You can re-initiate now."

Velasquez turned her head slightly, then slowly lowered the woman back to the deck. Scout reappeared, circling Velasquez's head in a happy loop, and then moved out to the edge of the team again. "Better," she said. "I still want an explanation."

"I don't have a good one," the figure admitted.

Caden motioned for the others to spread out, and they did. "Start with who you are," he suggested, keeping his voice soft and friendly.

"Valenzuela Tamimi," the woman answered immediately. "Lab tech. More importantly, I'm a class seven Sensitive."

"Are you?" The question was rhetorical, almost an expression of surprise. Velasquez straightened, made a deliberate show of relaxing, and deliberately let go of the lapels of the woman's dark coat. The shirt underneath was white, but stained and grungy; the pants were a soft brown, and showed similar stains. The woman herself was tall, with medium-dark skin and black hair.

Valenzuela Tamimi nodded. "So I don't know what it is, but if I... listen... I can tell when it's nearby. I've been avoiding it for the last eight hours."

"Is it hunting you?" Caden asked, as Velasquez stepped back and unslung her egg, putting her hand into the center of the weapon.

"I don't think so," the Sensitive answered. "I think it's just... exploring. Feeling its way around."

"So what did it do to Scout?" asked Velasquez, without looking back over her shoulder. Caden could feel the others listening in, a soft weight at the edge of his attention.

"I don't know. Your drone flew into it. Maybe it was curious... but Scout wasn't really alive, so it didn't take it."

Caden drew a breath as he explored the implications there. "It's been taking people?"

Valenzuela Tamimi shrugged. "There were nine hundred and fifty-seven people on the station," she said, then added with implacable logic: "It's here. They're gone. It took them."

"Holy Mother of God," said Basque.

"You're certain of that?" asked Caden. "There's nobody left but you?"

"A few escaped to the Ascendancy, but here on the station? No, it's just me. And before you ask, I have no idea whether that thing has made it across. I don't think so, but I have no sense of it either way."

Caden considered that, but only for a moment. Then he pulsed the entire team, included Celia by way of Drake, and made sure to speak aloud so that Tamimi could hear him. "We're pulling out. We've found one survivor who attests that there aren't any others, and we have reason to believe her." He hesitated. Tamimi would need a suit to survive the crossing to the Ultima Ratio, and he hadn't seen any on the way in. "Is there a vac-suit you can use?"

The woman shook her head. "Not here. Maintenance usually suits up well away from the airlocks. There should be a closet on the next level down."

Walker stepped back and put an armored hand on her shoulder. "All right," they said. "We're going to get you out. Stay in the middle and tell us where to go. And if that thing comes back, let us know."

"Deal," said Valenzuela Tamimi.

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