In Space no one can Hear Your Fanaticism.

 

If she’s wired this door, she would probably have done her cabin too.

“Hurry up and open it Kline,” Bilge ordered. “We aren’t picking up any signatures.”

That made Kline feel so much safer as he checked around the door's edges. Finding nothing he inspected the control panel. He could see no tampering so he inserted a power cell.

The door slid open. Someone was behind a desk, their back to the door. Kline raised his pistol and aimed at their helmet. For perhaps a minute, he stood waiting for whovever it was to move.

“They're not moving," Bilge said.

"It has to be Symcox," Deli said. "Let's get a look at her face to make sure."

Kline's heads-up display showed no electronic or nanobot traps had been set. He cautiously swivelled his head as he searched for mechanical devices. The ice covered floor showed no footprints or signs of movement.

“What are you waiting for Kline?” Bilge asked.

“Just making sure there are no anti-personnel devices.”

“We haven’t detected any sentry devices,” Deli assured him.

Neither had Kline, but seven bodies in the corridor had him expecting attack. Why were they there? Had they been waiting for Symcox to come out or had they been trying to get in?

Kline strained to hear over his own breathing, even though he realised the airless vacuum would yield no sound. His eyes searched the murk for wires or tell tale laser nodes. He could see nothing. He lunged through the doorway.

 

The suited figure sat before a curved console with a portable oxygen cylinder on one side of their chair and a half constructed oxygen cylinder on the other side.

There were no wall displays or artificial plants - no attempt to humanise the lab whatsoever. There were not even photos of relatives or friends. Kline felt it was psychologically wrong. No visual stimulation created the possibility of visual sensory deprivation that could result in hallucinations. Hadn’t Symcox learnt from what happened to Howitt?

“What’s that on the console?” Bilge asked.

Kline moved forward and around the chair. A pulse pistol. Shit. How had their weapon detectors missed that? He spun wildly, but there was no crazed lunatic behind him.

“Settle down,” Deli yelled over Kline’s panicked breathing. “The weapon's power is drained, that’s why we failed to detect it.”

Kline turned back to the console. Alongside the pulse gun was a notebook. He stepped closer to examine it.

“Give us a look at the body,” Deli ordered.

Kline felt like a portable tripod. He turned and faced the body. Its head slumped forward on to its chest. Kline reached out to push the head back, but stopped himself before Bilge had the opportunity to tell him not to mess up a crime scene.

“No obvious puncture wounds or cuts,” Deli commented.

Kline returned his attention to the body. He circled the body, stopping to crouch over a Symcox nametag. It had to be her.

“Carefully clear the ice from her faceplate,” Deli ordered.

Kline smeared the ice off the faceplate and bent lower so his lights could penetrate into the helmet. Yellow eyes starred back at him. He gagged at the grossly wrinkled, mummified face, before closing his eyes while keeping his cameras focused on the face.

“I think I’m gonna lose my breakfast,” Bilge muttered.

Kline tried to squeeze the deformed face out of his mind and replace it with her file image.

“Identification confirmed. That is Symcox,” Deli notified him.

“Okay, Kline examine the oxygen tanks,” Bilge ordered.

Examine! Don’t you mean point my cameras at them and let you look at them? Kline turned away from the distorted unreal face.

“Environmental controls are operational,” Bolcher proudly announced.

“About time,” Bilge said.

“Now get the power on so we can check if the base's databases are intact,” Deli ordered.

As Kline circled the tank he brushed something. He jumped around to see the body slightly wobbling in its chair.

They all waited for Kline’s breathing and nerves to settle.

“Now the half completed tank,” Bilge said.

Kline shuffled around to the cylinder on the other side of the body. It was about three quarters built. Why would the nanobots stop in mid-construction? Had they been too slow and Symcox died before the cylinder was completed?

That didn't make sense. The base would have had more than enough nanobots to instantly construct new cylinders and create the oxygen to fill them. In fact the nanobots should have been able to create enough oxygen to fill the base within a few hours.

“Something must have happened to their bots,” Bilge said.

“A virus, perhaps a solar flare. The sun here is a lot more powerful than ours,” Bolcher guessed. “One thing’s for sure, it doesn’t look like any of their bots survived.”

Kline imagined Symcox desperately fighting to hold on as she waited for the new tank to be constructed by her dwindling number of nanobots. It would take real courage to fight for your life in a hopeless situation.

“Let’s have a look at the notebook.”

Kline straightened his stiff body and stepped over to the notebook. The ice on it was slowly starting to melt as the base’s environmental systems booted up. He touched its screen. Nothing happened.

“It’s not working,” Kline said.

“See if you can insert a new power cell.”