E-mail Shax the Raptor ... Shax's Virtual Den


PERSEPHONE 3

Shax the Raptor 1999

Professor Daniel Gregory walked down the hallway to the main console room. He bore a large badge, sporting the letters NASA. He approached a window, and breifly gazed outside onto the vast wasteland outside. It reminded him of his home in Arizona.. Wide, red, flat. He breifly wondered about this.. why the Martian surface was so much like his home Earth. The year was 2054. Tritember 15th, to be precise. That was March 23 in Earthian time, but NASA had to devise an entirely new calender for the Mars colony, due to the differences in the length of the days and years. Still, Earth time was still used to measure the year, making life extremely difficult for the Persephone Expedition.. the team of NASA scientists sent to the planet Mars to scope out more of the uncharted space. Oh, there were plenty of other people on Mars. Geologists, engineers, even botanists, seeing as NASA still clung to the hope that life would be found on Mars. But twenty lucky scientists made up the team known as the Persephone Expedition. There was to be a launch that day. The third and presumably final Persephone launch into a small part of uncharted space, which had been blocked out to radar. Nobody ever knew what lay there. It was a small patch of electrical disturbance in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Persephone 3 was to be the first manned mission from Mars to the belt. Persphone 1 and 2 completely vanished as they neared the disturbance. It was thought that if they manned a flight, the human occupants could figure out the troubles better than the NASA supercomputer, which became useless in controlling the space shuttles as they vanished behind the shroud..

Prof. Gregory swiped his access card. The door let a satisfied 'beep', and slid open. He walked into the mission control centre, where massive computers lined the walls, and the other members of the Persephone Expedition worked furiously to test the shuttle for launch. Prof. Gregory approached Prof. Black. "When will the astronauts be docking?" he inquired. "Soon." replied Prof. Black. "Earth control's taking care of that, though. We're supposed to focus all our energy on getting this bloody thing into the air.."

"Isn't it magnificent?" asked David Greenslade, as he steadied the space shuttle, on it's course. Mars was under them, massive on the viewfinder. "Beautiful." came the reply. "Our three week journey is finally over." "Not quite." replied David. "Once we land this thing, they're just gonna slap us in another rocket and send us out into the asteroid belt!" David Greenslade was an American NASA astronaut, chosen to lead the three-person team onto Persphone 3. Beside him sat German astronaut Olga Himmler. "I do not know why I ever became an astronaut." She said in a heavy accent, shaking her head. "Taste for adventure.." replied David. "The common knowledge that anything could go wrong at any time, and we would be stuck in the blackness of space forever.. slowly suffocating as our air runs out.." "Yah, yah, yah.." came a voice from the other side of the cockpit. Russian cosmonaut Boris Yachner turned to face the two. "We are very lucky that we are having such an optimistic leader as you. Now, for God sake, be putting your helmets on before your head is exploding from the pressure build-up.." David snickered. "NOW who's optimistic?" he asked. "Okay team, fishbowls on." Olga grinned and nudged him. "Who let YOU into the space programme?" she asked. David shrugged. "Greasing the appropriate hands. Now, docking procedure." As the other two began to press buttons, he operated the radio. "Mars-Persephone, please come in. This is Pandora.. come in Mars-Persephone. Over." There was a pause, and then a reply. "Welcome to Mars, Pandora. You are go for docking, repeat, you are go for docking. Over." "Thanks Mars-Persephone." replied David. "Ok team, lets land this thing."

Men in white pressure suits ran down the hallway, and activated the airlock. "One, two, three, turn." the two in lead said, as they turned the locks in synchronization. One door opened, and the men walked into the room. Then, that door closed and the second opened, revealing a long air-tight tube - the shuttle docking bay. The men approached the shuttle and opened the door, and waited. After a while, the three astronauts emerged. The men in white suits attended to the shuttle, while the three pilots walked down the hallway. After activating the airlock and entering the building, they removed their helmets, and were greeted by three men, two in white lab coats, and one in a military uniform. "Salutations!" Said the man in the uniform, cheerfully. "I am Commander Hardy." He shook hands with David. "I'm David Greenslade." said David. "Houston, Texas." "Boris Yachner." said Boris, pushing past David to shake Hardy's hand. "Cosmonaut for thirty-two years!" "Pleased to meet you both!" replied Hardy. "And who is this lovely specimin?" "Olga Himmler." replied Olga immediately. Hardy stared at her slim figure, almost hidden in the bloated space suit. He smirked. "I recieved word that three men would be undertaking this mission.. I hope you can handle this.." "Word changes." replied Olga. "And I can handle this mission much more than you can handle me when I'm mad, Commander." Hardy's smile faded. "I'm sure." he replied. "Team Persephone, you have seventeen hours to refresh yourselves from your trip. Persephone 3 will be launched at eighteen hundred hours. Be ready." He turned, and walked away, leaving the two men in lab coats. One of them gestured to shake David's hand. David knew that he would be shaking a lot of hands in the next seventeen hours, so he took of his thick space glove. "I'm Professor Daniel Gregory." he said. "This is Professor Lloyd Black, he will accompany you into space. "Nah!" replied Boris. "We are having a three man mission." "And I'm the third man.." replied Black, grinning at Olga. She just scowled, but didn't reply. "Black! Get in here, for a minute." came a voice. "Excuse me, gentlemen." Prof. Black said, turning and walking down a hallway. "We decided to add a fourth member to the mission." said Gregory. "One of our own scientists, who would know the mechanics of the space shuttle, in case of an accident." "Nah, you listen here!" exclaimed Boris. "I am piloting shuttles since I am twenty! I am knowing the ropes.." Gregory shook his head. "It's not my order, it's Commander Hardy's. I have no choice in the matter.. Professor Black should not be a hinderance." He looked at his watch. "Well, good luck, team!" he said. "We will meet again." He shook hands with the three again, handed them a map of the facility, and walked off.

"So, what do you think of Mars so far?" David asked the other astronauts. "Nice place to visit, but I am not wanting to live here." replied Boris. "I don't know about you.." said Olga "But I doubt there is a single man in this facility who isn't a sexist pig." "Try not to let it bother you." replied David. "We won't have to put up with these guys for much longer.. we're being blasted a million kilometers into space in seventeen hours." "I suppose." replied Olga.

Out in space, in the space station MIA-4, there was a hammering sound. "Blasted meteor storm.." the astronaut grumbled, making repairs. He looked at his status display. There was a small hole torn in the side of the station, and an error message was bleeping on the screen. He had to close off the damaged section, put on his space suit, and repair the damage. He was using a hammer to attach a patch over the hole. He hit his thumb. "OUCH!" he screamed, kicking the wall. "Dumb &%$*#ing space-age technology! They put a colony on Mars, slapped me in this floating tin can in orbit AROUND it.. so WHY AM I STILL USING A &%$*ING HAMMER?" He threw the hammer across the room, and dipped his hand into the toolbox again. There was another beeping sound, and then a voice. "MIA-4, this is Mars-Persephone. Come in MIA-4." "This is MIA-4, Mars-Persphone." shouted the astronaut. "Can I ask you eggheads a question?"
"Go ahead, MIA-4"
"WHY THE HELL DON'T WE GET ANY DECENT TOOLS UP HERE?"
"Roger that, MIA-4. We could send help to you, if you need.. It would mean delaying the Persephone 3 space mission, though."
"No, no need to do that, Mars-Persephone, I can manage."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I can manage."
"Very well.. over and out."
"Over."
The radio cut out. "Very well, over and out." the astronaut said to himself, sarcastically, and then found a bigger hammer and went back to hammering. His eyes drifted to something on the ground. "Hey, what's tha- &^%&!" he screamed, striking his thumb again with the hammer. He jumped up and down for several minutes, and when the slight gravity eventually set in, he settled on the ground again. His eyes once again drifted to the object on the ground. He picked it up. It was a rock. "How did this get in?" he asked himself. He looked at the small hole in the wall. "Oh." he said. "So you're a meteor! You stupid little bugger! YOU'RE the one who tore this hole in the side of this thing! He brought the rock close to the hole, and pressure sucked it out. Being slightly bigger than the hole, it just jammed there. The astronaut picked up the hammer, and slightly tapped the rock, jamming it more. "There." he said. "Job done." He turned around, and saw an empty space suit. It was just floating around in the low gravity. "How did you get off your hook?" he asked. He glanced to the side of the room, where the hook was. But wait a second... there was ALREADY a space suit on the hook. He glanced back at the suit, lifelessly hovering in the centre of the room. "This is impossible... there are only two space suits in this thing.. and I'm wearing one!" He looked down to make sure he was still wearing his space suit. He was. He looked back at the strange third suit which seemed to have appeared in the centre of the room. As he stared, the suit moved.. drifted towards him. "What the...?" he asked. He began to walk towards the door, beginning to be a little spooked. The hovering suit changed direction, and followed him. "GO AWAY!" he shouted at it. It sped up, and collided with him, sending them both spinning out of control. He writhed around, trying to get it off him, but it was stuck. It seemed to meld with his suit, as if melting into some kind of sticky substance. Then, there was a click, and his helmet came off! There was very little oxygen in the chamber due to the hole.. he had to get out quickly! He tried to move, but he couldn't.. the sticky substance was INSIDE his suit, now! It was hot, like acid. Then, the astronaut felt a surge through his body.. like an incredible electric shock! THE STUFF WAS ELECTROCUTING HIM! He struggled, but he could not escape.. the intense pain.. so intense.. He let out a chilling scream that could have rocked the station. The electricity intensified. Now his own skin burned like fire.. his skin WAS on fire! The last thing he saw were the flames on his face.. before his eyes. Then he stopped struggling, and smoke literally began to come out his ears. The space suit containing the charred corpse drifted back to the ground.. the astronaut's attacker had moved away. The space suit wasn't drifting any more.. it was WALKING. For, it was now missing its helmet, and inside it was a man. The astronaut. Even though he was lying dead on the ground a few feet away, he was also up and about over here, walking around. He seemed to need no oxygen.. he wasn't even breathing. He stared down at the corpse.. HIS OWN corpse, then turned when he heard a beep. The radio switched on. "MIA-4, this is Mars-Persephone. Come in, MIA-4." The astronaut simply stared at the radio, and did not reply.
"MIA-4, this is Mars-Persephone."
"MIA-4, please come in, MIA-4."
"MIA-4, are you alright?"
"Do you read, MIA-4? MIA-4, do you read?"
"MIA-4.. Mars-Persephone to MIA-4.. Do you read?"
The astronaut lost interest in staring at the radio, and turned to walk away.. not breathing, not making a sound.
"MIA-4, are you in trouble? We do not detect any problems."
"MIA-4, please come in! MIA-4!"

David Greenslade stared up at the space shuttle Persephone 3, as he and the three other members of the group moved through the transparent tube to the shuttle. Boris looked to the side, and saw three members of the Persephone Expedition team fiddling with computers fantically, and shouting commands into a microphone. "Why is that not comforting me?" he asked. Prof. Black stared at it. "That hasn't got anything to do with us." he said. "It's the MIA-4 control station." Olga stared intently at the scientists yelling into the radio. "Still not comforting." she mumbled. "We have blackouts, occasionally." replied Black. "Nothing to worry about." The professor slipped on his helmet, and opened the door to the shuttle. "Have you been trained for space travel?" asked Olga. Black looked at her strangely. "Of course!" he replied. "I was put on this team at short notice, but that doesn't mean I don't know the ropes.." "Be prepared." Olga snapped. "The first take-off is always the worst. Boris is the most experienced 'naut in the team, so if he says to do something, do it. Dave is the leader, so if HE says to do something, do it." "How about YOU?" asked Black. "If I say to do something, do it." replied Olga. "Because I can't remember the last time a man has disobeyed me, and not gone into intensive care." Black frowned, and entered the shuttle. David snickered, and nudged Olga. "You're horrible, Olg!" he laughed. Olga grinned, and put her helmet on. She entered the shuttle, followed by David. Boris took a look back at the crowd of scientists, standing around the console, shouting into the speaker. "Ah." he muttered, raising his helmet. "I am having a bad feeling about this."

TWO WEEKS LATER

"We'll be coming into the asteroid belt, soon." reported David. "Hold onto your horses, and take your stations. I'll need full serveillance around the shuttle, to make sure we're not pulvarised by an asteroid. There are four of us here, and men on Mars guiding us, I think we can make it happen. Come on, astronauts."

"Persephone 3, this is Mars-Persephone, please come in." Prof. Gregory said into the microphone. There was a slight static, then the voice of David.
"This is Persephone 3, Mars, we read you loud and clear, over."
"Persephone 3, you are approaching the asteroid belt, begin evasive measures, over."
"Yes, Mars-Persephone, we are aware of that, thank you, over."
"You also know what you are to do once in the heart of the belt? over."
"Yes, Mars-Persephone, I was enlightened to the mission objective, over."
"Very well, Persephone 3, contact us when you have enterd the belt, over."
"Very well, Mars-Persephone... Mars-Persephone, can I ask a question? over."
"Affirmative, Persephone 3, ask away, over."
"Are you getting as sick of saying 'Persephone' as I am, Mars-Persephone? Did you think of the guy with the longest name in Roman history on purpose? over."
Daniel chuckled a little.
"Persephone was not a guy, Persephone 3, she was Zeus' daughter, and wife to Hades.. in GREEK mythology, over."
"Silly me. Excuse my ignorance, Mars-Persephone, I was unaware, over and out."

"Incoming satellite transmission." reported the computer. Commander Hardy approached the screen. The face of the President of the United States, Bradley Andress, appeared. The young president smiled at Hardy, who saluted back. "Good evening, Mr. President." he said. "For you." replied the president. "On Earth, it's one o'clock in the morning, and I'm not happy to be at work." he chuckled, and the loyal Commander Hardy forcefully chuckled back. "What can I do for you, Mr. President?" he asked. "I just wanted to know how the mission was going, Hardy." the president replied. "Is everything well?" "Indeed, Mr. President." Hardy replied. "Is anybody else listening?" asked the president. "No sir, we are speaking privately in my office, sir." "Good. Is operation Eta going ahead?" "On your command, Mr. President. Professor Black is prepared.. if anything is out there, he will find it."

Black looked around the ship with shifty eyes, and walked towards a side room in the shuttle. "Where are YOU going, Black?" asked Olga. Black jumped a little, startled. He looked at her.. she was standing on the wall. Black grinned, and allowed himself to float a little. "Checking out the shuttle!" he replied. "I helped design this thing, you know." "No, I didn't know." replied Olga. "Just remember not to mess with anything.. we're in the asteroid belt, one wrong move could kill us." "Roger that!" replied Black, doing a little salute. Olga frowned, and turned back towards the cockpit. Black turned back to the side room, and waded through the low gravity towards it. There was an electronic lock on it. Black took a card out of his suit, and swiped the lock. It agreed with a beep, and a panel opened. Inside was a small, cramped locker, containing a video camera, a transmitter, a net which looked like a fishing net, and a rifle. Black took another look around, making sure he was alone, and took the gun. He looked it over, and loaded a bullet. "Operation Eta." he mumbled, stroking the handle.

David looked at a photo, which he had taped beside the steering equipment. A photo of himself, with a woman and two children. "Your family?" Olga asked. David nodded. "I sure do miss 'em. These space missions really wreak havoc on me." "Why do you go?" Olga asked. David looked up at her. "I really don't know." he replied, at last. "My wife wanted me to go on this one.. she said I needed more adventure in my life." Olga grinned. "Well, we had better get to these co-ordinates, I suppose.. get this mission over and..." She was cut off by a crash that rocked the shuttle. There was a huge boom, and both astronauts were picked up and thrown around. They grabbed onto things to stabilize themselves. "My God, David!" Olga yelled. "What the hell was that?" Boris was on the other side of the cockpit, struggling to stabilize the ship. "The ship is damaged!" the cosmonaut shouted. "There is being a group of rogue asteroids! They hit the ship! It is saying that there is being a hole in the side!" A swear word could be heard from elsewhere in the shuttle, and Prof. Black suddenly appeared. "WHAT THE $^%*! DO YOU MEAN, A HOLE?" he screeched. "WE'LL RUN OUT OF OXYGEN!" David made his way out the door. "I'll go and inspect the damage." he announced. "I'm coming with you." Black replied. "No, you stay here!" David yelled in reply, tearing down the hall. "You heard him." Olga threatened. With a cold look, Black went against both orders, and persued David down the hall.

"We're lucky, the hole is small." David commented. "We'll survive?" Black asked. "Unless your head swell suffocates us all." David murmered. "What was that?" Prof. Black asked. "Nothing." David replied promptly. "I'm going to go and close off sector seven." The astronaut walked down the hall, and Black rubbed a smudge off his helmet. He eyed something in a dark corner.. what was that? The professor walked over to it and looked. A bunch of small rocks, some brown dust, and a larger rock in the centre. There was a lot of the dust scattered around the small pile of rocks. Black looked up above the rocks, and saw a wall leading into a dark room. The sound of warning alarms came on, and the room began to seal off. Black looked back at the rocks, and frowned. "Space rocks... asteroids..." he muttered. "So you're the little buggers that ripped a hole in our ship!" He picked one of the smaller rocks up, and looked at it. It would do well as a souveneir. He began to walk away, but heard a sound behind him. Turning back, he saw the largest rock, which was only about three inches in diameter, vibrating slowly but steadily. He blinked a few times and looked again. He wasn't dreaming.. unless the space helmet was giving him holluscinations. He dropped the asteroid he had in his hand, and leaned over to inspect the larger one. Slowly he leaned closer and closer... The rock shot up in the air, nearly hitting his space helmet. Black toppled back regardless. The rock was now standing tall, one meter in the air, on a thin pole which had formed from nowhere. The rock began to sink back slowly, much to Black's shock and horror, and four more poles began to emerge from around the asteroid's base. It was now standing like a tripod, but with four legs, and the original support pole had sunk back into the base. The rock stood there for several minutes, and Black stared at it in silence. Neither were going to make the first move...
But then the rock began to walk.
It didn't move stiffly like a solid rock creature would, but instead moved sleekly like it was made of flesh. It had no joints, it was just like a creature made of rubber who only had the appearence of being made from rock. It reached a wall, and to Black's further surprise, began to walk UP the wall like a large four-legged spider. It headed towards a wall-mounted alarm light, which had only just stopped flashing from the sector sealing. Another arm emerged from the side of the rock, and cupped over the alarm light, covering it a little. It stood there for a while.. a three-inch four-legged creature resembling a spider biting the light. Then there was the sound of crackling, and the light burst into flames! The metal blackened and bent, the glass melted, flames licked the creature who didn't seem to care at all. Was it growing? It seemed to be pulsating slowly, growing slightly with each pulse, as if feeding. Then, with immense strength for such a tiny creature, it ripped the light off the wall, which was now black, charred and useless, and threw it into a blackened crack in the ship's operation. Black looked into the crack, unable to see the object, and then looked back at the creature.
Nothing on the wall except for an alarm light. Black cocked his head to the side as much as was possible in the space helmet. He was sure he had just seen that light attacked by a walking asteroid, as much as the thought baffled him. He knew he hadn't just holluscinated all of that. But there the light was, clear as day, right where it was in the first place, no creature in sight. But then the light grew a tiny leg, moved about a centimeter to the right, and stopped. Black got up, and stumbled a little. The light WAS the creature. But how..? Had the creature changed shape to mimic the light for some reason?
Black teared down the corridor.

"That's the stupidest thing I have been hearing in my life, and I have been travelling between planets for years!" Boris declared. "Disbelieve me if you want." Black frowned "But I saw it. It walked along the floor, it WALKED UP THE WALL, and took the place of a light!"
"Professor Black has been watching too many alien movies." David interrupted. "Nothing is on this ship. We're in the asteroid belt, nothing lives out here."
"The asteroids live somehow!" Black insisted. "I was warned about this."
"Warned?" asked David.
Black simply eyed him, and wandered away, leaving the two men to discuss his odd behaviour. "They found one of those things." he muttered to himself. "Found it and killed it.. it disappeared before they could study it." He opened the electronic lock in the cabinet, and took out the gun and the net and camcorder. "That's why they want it alive..." His thoughts were interrupted by David, Boris and Olga running down the corridor. "The kitchen?" Olga asked. "Are you sure?" "I'm sure!" replied David. Curious, Black holstered the gun and put the net back in the cabinet, and ran after them.

"My God." David muttered. "What happened in here?" He stared at overturned cabinets, papers floating everywhere in the low gravity, packets of compressed space food ripped open, floating amongst them.. and the refridgerator was charred and blackened. "This was the power flux.." David stammered in disbelief. "But what caused it?" "Perhaps the little professor twirp was right." Boris suggested. David looked at him. "You think so? Maybe it is what he saw.. but surely, it can't possibly be what he said it was. Something is on board, but it's not an alien. Maybe a rat?" "How the HELL, mister allmighty leader, can a RAT make THIS mess?" came the voice of professor Black from the doorway. Olga turned and frowned at him. "The mechanics in this shuttle are quite fragile, as you SHOULD know, Professor." she said. "It could have come to the kitchen looking for food, tearing up a few food packets and papers, and must have somehow wound up in the circuitry in the back of the fridge, overloading the entire system, bringing itself and the fridge to a spectacular and untimely end!" "Oh yeah." replied Black, sarcastically. "Look, whatever it was, there might be more. All in all, this is the crappiest craft I've ever piloted! I'll drive out the little virmin if they're around."
"Don't you dare kill it!" Black warned, suddenly. David looked at him strangely. "Why not? They're pests! Why would you want them alive?"
"They're NOT rats!" Black insisted. "What I saw climbing up a wall and charring a light was NOT a rat. And the thing that burned out this fridge is no goddamn rodent, either. It's more than that.. and it's coming back to Earth.. ALIVE."
"Yeah right." David muttered, picking up a large pole.
"Where are you going with that?" Black demanded.
"I TOLD YOU!" David replied. "I'm going out to kill some rats!"
Suddenly, Professor Black pulled out a gun, and aimed at David's head. The three astronauts cried out in surprise. "I DIDN'T HAVE TO DO THIS!" Black yelled. "BUT YOU ARE SO STUBBOURN! Now GET IN THE CORNER! NOW! ALL OF YOU! DROP THE POLE, DAVID!"
David, Olga and Boris moved into the corner, still shocked. "I'm taking control of this craft by strict orders from the President of the United States of America!" Black insisted. "What?" asked David. "Why would the government order you to... to..." He stopped as the plot began to clear out in his mind. Black backed off out the doorway, then bolted down the corridor. "Americans.." Boris sighed frustratedly.

Black walked along the shuttle's main corridor armed with a cage, the fishing net-like object, and the pistol still in his hand. He looked around in the darkness.. he couldn't see much. The darkness and the slight fear in his mind made EVERYTHING look like it was moving. He didn't even know what he was looking for.. a rock with legs? A living alarm light? It could have been anything. The thought made him uneasy. He checked in a crevise, shining a small flashlight inside. Where would an alien creature hide? Furthermore, why was it on the ship? Black couldn't think of a reason for the creature to have boarded the shuttle, or to have attacked the light. Perhaps it was hungry.. it had attacked the kitchen after all. He looked around for where it might be, and in the darkness spied a small refridgerator. Perfect! There might be food nearby. Slowly, he approached the appliance, briefly wondering what it was doing in the storage facility. He opened the door, net on stand-by.. Not only was the fridge empty, but it wasn't even hollow.
Black stared into the appliance, feeling the solid wall which made up the inside, just beyond the door. In fact, it only resembled a fridge on the outside. On the inside, there was just solid metal. "Weird.." he muttered. He tried to pull his hand off the fridge, but it was stuck. "What th..." he muttered, as his hand was sucked into the metal. He dropped the net, and used all his strength to pull away from the appliance, to no avail. The door slammed on his wrist like a clamp, causing him to cry out in pain. He aimed his pistol and began firing rounds into the hull of the fridge. It dented the metal and punctured holes, but did little else. There was no longer an opening in the fridge, it had melted into a solid block of metal with his hand inside. The gun ran out of bullets, and he threw it at the fridge with a last desperate protest. His hand was pulp from the wrist down, and he decided he might be able to pull hard enough and tear off the now-useless appendage. He pulled with all his might, but only succeeded in pulling the entire block of evil material on top of him. As soon as it was on top of him, the fridge began to melt into almost a liquid, and smother the squirming professor. His screams were drowned out by a mouthfull of goop, as he burst into flames. It was a pity the room was soundproof.

Olga stood, staring at the picture of David's wife and children, when David approached her. "I can't find him." he said, glumly. "The fool's gone insane!" Olga said. "Maybe not." David suggested. "I think there's more to this mission than they told us."
"Whatever do you mean?" Olga asked.
"They sent us up here to investigate an uncharted area in the asteroid belt, but I think there's an ulterior motive.. and I think it's connected to whatever Black was rambling about." David replied. "How else would he have gotten that gun, unless they gave it to him? They want him to bring something back for them."
"You think so?" Olga asked. "Maybe you're right.. In any case, I'm going to retire for a while. I'm a bit nauseous." She got up, and began to walk down the corridor to her quarters. A lot had happened that day, and she didn't need any government conspiracy theories to add to it. She saw professor Black walking around the corner. Aha! That's where he was! She slowly and carefully crept after him, stalking him, seeing what he was up to. He walked very strangely and very slowly. It seemed like he didn't even have to watch where he was going. "Strange person.." Olga muttered. She lost sight of him around another corner, and persued him some more. Peeking around the corner, there was another very long corridor.. but she couldn't see Black anywhere along it. This was even stranger. She stepped out of hiding for a better look. Where could Black have gone? There were no doorways or anything leading off from the corridor until a long way down. "He must have seen me and ran." Olga thought. She turned, and her nose brushed on Black's face, who was standing very close behind her. She screamed and toppled over, startled. It took her a few seconds to realise who it was, and she got up. How did Black sneak up on her like that? He was deathly still and quiet. His expression was creepy. "You going to pull a gun on me again?" Olga demanded, angrily. Black did not reply.. he didn't even seem to be breathing. "This ends right now, Black, I don't care WHAT orders Mars-Persephone gave you, or the President for that matter. We are going to complete this mission without your meddling. Give me your gun." After all that, Black continued to stare. Olga frustratedly grabbed the gun out of his hand.. it didn't come easily. When she finally had it, there was something strange about it. It wasn't a gun, the barrel wasn't even hollow. It was the shape of a gun, but it wasn't real. "A counterfeit?" Olga asked. "You're not even dangerous! You attacked us with a fake gun!"
In reply, Black, moving for the first time, grabbed her violently by the waist. Olga protested and tried to fight him off. "What, you're going to try getting affectionate now?" she asked furiously. "I HATE you love-starved Mars males!" She was about to slam him across the face with the gun, but stopped when she noticed.. when she had pulled the gun off him, two of his fingers had come off also. They were still attached to the weapon's handle. As if the gun was PART of his hand. When she looked back at him, his face was distorted.. he was beginning to melt. "WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?" Olga shreiked. Professor Black continued to melt onto her, as if trying to smother her. She couldn't fight him.. she couldn't protest.. she was at his mercy.

Suddenly, Black was hit by a pole.
It sent the distorted human being flying across the corridor. Morphing back into a proper human shape, the professor bolted back across at David, who was holding the pole. David whacked him again over the head, and again. Hard. But Black withstanded the onslought as if he was inhuman, which Olga was almost positive at this point was true. She kicked Black in the stomach, and David stabbed the pole at his arm. Surprisingly, Black's arm came off very easily. And there was no blood at all. His shirt sleeve appeared to be part of his arm just as the gun was. Black, after the loss of this limb, made a screeching noise without opening his mouth, and ran away down the corridor. "WHAT IN THE NAME OF...?" Olga stammered, panting furiously. "That wasn't Black!" David replied. "I don't know who it was, but it wasn't Black... I found his dead body in the storage bay, charred to a crisp." "O... Oh.." Olga replied, a little queasy. She saw the imposter Black's arm lying nearby. "I should study that.." she said nervously. "I have a masters degree in science.. I might be able to figure out what that.. thing.. really is."

The next day, Prof. Gregory entered the control room, and began to check if everything was operational. The shuttle systems were responding.. several lights were lit up, except one. Gregory cocked his head, and then attempted to contact the shuttle. "Persephone 3, this is Mars-Persephone, why is Professor Black's life support indicator switched off? Is everything alright? Persephone 3, can you hear me?"
He looked back at the rest of the system... none of the lights were now turned on. "Oh... no..." he muttered. Persephone 3 had stopped transmitting to Mars. And it was not responding. Just like the first two Persephone missions, the shuttle had stopped responding, and contact was broken. The mission may have just failed, taking the lives of three very talented astronauts and a renowned scientist.

On Persephone 3 itself, however, systems were operating normally, contradictory to the fears of scientists on Mars. David and Boris worked the controls of the shuttle, when Olga approached them. "I've done some study, and.. well, the results are quite weird, but I believe I have come to a conclusion."
"Do tell." David said, not looking away from the control panel.
"Well, I studied the arm for the few hours it existed, and I..."
"Huh?" David interrupted, turning to face her. "What happened?"
"It disappeared." Olga said.
"How can it disappear?" David asked, skeptical.
"Because it had a perfect negative charge." came the reply. "The arm.. that entire creature.. is more basic than molecules and atoms.. it is made up completely of electrons."
"Is that possible?" David asked.
"I wouldn't have thought so, but here's the proof." Olga said. "But there's more.. I also studied Professor Black's body. IT has a perfect POSITIVE charge. Whe he died, he didn't have a single electron in his body as far as I can gather."
"What?" asked David. "What does that mean?"
"Well, I have a theory." Olga replied, taking a deep breath. "Whenever you move around, whenever you touch something, you are losing electrons all the time. They're attracted by positive currents. Well, if this creature is made completely out of electrons, it would quite soon disappear.. so it has to gain electrons from objects with electric currents. Black said it attacked an alarm light, and you saw what it did to the refridgerator."
"And humans have an electric charge.." David added. Olga nodded.
"But why is it that this monster is looking like Professor Black?" Boris asked. "It can change shape." Olga replied. "It must have transformed into Professor Black after it killed him. Camoflage."
"Camoflage?" asked David.
"Wouldn't it be easier to see a tiger in the long yellow grass if it was royal blue?" Olga asked. "Their fur is the same colour as the grass, so it looks like it IS the grass. This creature is doing the same thing.. blending into it's environment to better hunt its prey."
A shiver went down David's spine. "It could be anything.." he said. Olga nodded. "As far as I can gather, these creatures live in the asteroid belt camoflaged like asteroids, feeding off other electron-based organisms... but feeding off molecular objects seems to have a different effect on it.. it's gaining electrons faster than it's losing them, and growing bigger."

"Mister President!" Hardy exclaimed. "Persephone 3 has stopped responding to us! We fear it has been lost!" The President looked at the military man through a monitor. "What a pity!" he replied. "Does this mean I'm not getting the specimin?"
At this, Professor Gregory's ears pricked up. "Specimin? What are you talking about?" he asked.
"Professor, this is a restricted area!" Hardy announced.
"I don't give a rat's &$%^!" Gregory fumed. "Was there an alterior motive for the Persephone 3 mission?"
Hardy and the President side-eyed each other, despite being seperated by a screen. Finally, President Andress sighed. "In 2003, an alien creature was picked up by a probe on its way to Jupiter's moon Io. By the time it returned to Earth, it had died, and faded away so quickly that we couldn't study it. So after we set up the colonies on Mars, we started sending the Persephone shuttles to attempt to bring back another specimin alive.. but they were constantly enveloped by a magnetic disturbance in the Asteroid Belt. So we sent a manned mission, and planted one of our scientists on board.. we called it Plan Eta."
"Black was IN ON all this?" Gregory demanded.
"He was working on Plan Eta, yes." replied the President.
"Mister President." Gregory said coldly. "We may have lost three very decent people in space because of this stupid plan. I am going to personally see to it that there never is another Persephone mission."
With that, the professor walked away.

"Boris, where are you going?" David demanded. Boris was walking out of the cockpit with a large pole in his hand. "We must be destroying this thing before it is taking the whole bloody shuttle apart!" Boris replied. "That won't help." Olga insisted, comforting the cosmonaut. "I fought this thing before." David said. "It takes strikes with a pole as if you're tickling it with a feather." "But it is the only weapon we have!" Boris replied. "What else can we be striking it with?" "We don't know." Olga replied. "The best we can do is seal ourselves in the control room and try and get ourselves home. We're already leaving the asteroid belt, it will only take two weeks to return to Mars, which we can survive if we ration food properly. Our water tanks are filled with two hundred gallons, which is way more than enough to get us through the fortnight."

ONE WEEK LATER

"We're not going to make it." Boris said, finishing his daily ration. "More than half of our food is gone already, we are going to be starving to death before the end of the week."
"Hey David, do you suppose the creature is dead?" Olga asked. "There have been several power fluxes in the past week throughout the ship, and I think it may just have absorbed everything electrical and starved by now.. if it's gone, we can have access to the rest of the food!"
"I don't know if we should take that chance." David said. "I don't want to open that door and be eaten by a refridgerator."
"Compodres, how much power should be in the engines?" Boris asked. "Oh, about a million or so kilowatts.. why?" replied David. "Because it is down to a thousand." Boris said.

The creature weaved in and out of the massive power converter, charring the delicate machinary and draining every drop of power.. it had melted into a gigantic blob of writhing tentacled muck, and cared not about the electrical fire which it had ultimately caused in the core of the machine. There was one explosion, another explosion, and having done it's duty, the immense organism sucked it's entire liquid body mass into a network of pipes leading out from the room. There was a giant hole in the side of the shuttle now, and the useless burned-out power converter was sucked into the oblivion of space.

"Total power failure!" David reported. "The power converter has failed for some reason! It isn't even responding any more!"
"How will we get back to Mars?" Olga asked.
"These things are always having a back-up power converter." Boris said
"It must be switched on manually, though."
"Where is it?" asked Olga.
"The other side of the ship." Boris replied, woefully.
The room fell silent.
"And what if that thing is still out there?" asked David.
"After feeding for a week off the shuttle, it would probably be huge by now!" Olga said.
"It's still here." David reported. The other two astronauts looked at him, and he was pointing to a screen. "There is a gigantic blob shaped blockage in the main water tank." he said.
As if to check, Boris ran over and turned on a tap at the side of the room. Nothing came out. "Damn." he cursed. "The water tank is near where the secondary power switch is located. It's after the secondary power!"
"We have to hurry, then." David said.
"But if that thing wants to eat the engines, how is it that we are going to be stopping it?" Boris asked.
"We're just going to have to find a way to kill it." Olga said. The others looked at her strangely. "We have no choice." she said. "It might be huge and out of control, but it is alive. And if it's alive, it can be killed."

Carefully, the three stepped out of the cockpit armed with whatever they could get their hands on in the small control room. They stepped into the corridor, and headed towards the water tanks.
"So how do we kill it?" David asked. Olga put her head down, deep in thought.
"It's made of electrons.. we could immobilize it with magnets, at least, do we have any?"
Boris shook his head. "Magnets.. they interfere with the equipment." Olga groaned. "Well what else? We could drain it with positively charged ions, but I doubt we would be able to find any way of giving anything a positive charge.."
They reached an area with a lot of pipes, and water dripped on their heads. "Bloody plumbing." David cursed. "I've never piloted a worse craft." A sound could be heard, and Boris looked around nervously for the source. "The power switch is through here." he said, pointing to a corridor which led to a large open room. The lights were flickering, and there were sparks around. A lot of ash was on the ground. "Looks like our monster has been through here." David said. "He didn't find his way into the backup power converter, though."
The aforementioned sound grew larger, and the three astronauts could feel water in the room. It was rising to their ankles, and getting higher. "It's damaged the water tanks!" Olga announced. "We're being flooded!" David waded over towards the power control switches, while Olga and Boris remained, unsure of what to do. "What form is it in?" Boris inquired. Olga shook her head nervously. "If anything moves, run." she told him, looking at the pipes on the roof, positioned horizontally, bending like a roller coaster. There was a loud noise, and a crack, and the two spun around. Neither could decide where it was coming from. There were ripples in the water, but no movement could be seen. It was deadly quiet for a while, and then there was another loud noise and another wave through the water, which was now waist-deep. Olga spotted a set of stairs leading to higher ground.
"Let's get out of the water." she suggested. "It will make it easier to see."
It was deadly quiet again, and Boris nodded. The two turned, and began wading. Olga eyed a power cable in the wall with jumper leads attached to it. Her movement slowed down as she concentrated on it. "Alternating current.." she murmered. "Olga, hurry yourself, girl!" Boris warned. "I've got it!" Olga announced. "I know how to kill the creature!" "You do?" Boris asked. "That is being the best news I've heard in this entire trip!" He grabbed her arm to turn her towards the dry land, but stopped and concentrated. Something was wrong, or in a different position. The pipes.. they were now running vertically across the roof, bending in different places than they were before. They almost seemed to waver. "The pipe system.. of course.." Boris noted with dread. "OLGA, RUN! RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, GIRL!"
Olga immediately turned and waded as fast as she could, and Boris followed her. The pipe on the roof came down with incredible speed, and wrapped itself arround the cosmonaut's neck like a boa constricter striking it's prey. Boris writhed around, but it was useless. The pipe melted around him like a cuccoon, and then the electric shock blocked out all senses except pain. Olga screamed at the sight of her helpless friend ten feet in the air, and continued to wade, this time not towards the stairs, but towards the electrical switch, where David was. A pipe with a tap attached to it swiped at her head, and she dove into the water just in time.

David, hearing the commotion, stared into the darkness before him. Suddenly, Olga came into view, frantically waving. "THE PLUMBING! DAVID, IT'S SHAPED LIKE THE PIPES, YOU HAVE TO GET THE POWER RUNNING AND GET OUT OF THERE!" she screamed. David obeyed and half-swam-half-ran through the belly-deep water towards the power switch. He flung it open, and began working the controls. "HURRY! OH GOD HURRY UP!" Olga screamed, making her way towards him. David looked down for a second, in time to see a tap in the wall turn into a long whip and wrap around his right arm. He tried to pull himself free, while still operating the controls. At once, he gave one button a violent stab, and yelled "POWER ONLINE!" to Olga. Lights on the side of the room lit up, and David could see the roof for the first time. His first thought was of an octopus stuck to the ceiling, but it was much larger, and covered with thousands of tentacles. One of the tentacles reached down to grab him, just as the tap on the wall released him. He tried to duck out of the way, but the tentacle wrapped around and around his stomach, squeezing tightly and lifting him up in the air towards the mass of the creature. "DAVID!" Olga screamed. She looked at the controls, and shoved both hands into the power box. She ripped out several wires, leaving sparks flying everywhere, and looked down at the tap in the wall. She grabbed onto it and pulled.. it was slippery and changed shape to battle her as she pulled. She got a firm hold on it, and shoved the squirming tentacle deep into the hole she had ripped out of the power box. The effects were instantanious, and the creature stopped squirming as electricity flowed into its body from the power box. Olga waded as fast as she could away from the scene, and towards the stairs.
The creature dropped David into the water, who gasped for air after the creature's tight grip was over. He looked up towards the creature. It was growing at an alarming rate, pulsing happily and making satisfied noises. "OLGA! What did you do?" he demanded. "You're FEEDING the damn thing!" "Get out of the water!" Olga called in reply. The monster began to come down from the roof, and its body made a humungous splash into the water, as it inserted four or five more tentacles into the power box. David waded towards the stairs, as Olga ran towards the power cables she noticed earlier. She smashed the safety glass, and unwound the jumper leads. She ran to the water near the pulsating monster, and threw the heads of both leads into the water. She helped David out of the water, who watched in horror as the creature was so massive that it almost filled the room.. a massive blob that resembled yeast rising in an oven. Olga scrambled towards the power cables again, and flipped open a small box with a button. "GIVE _THIS_ A TASTE, YOU FAT &%^*!" she screamed, pounding her fist on the button. The power operated. The jumper leads surged. The water was suddenly charged with a million volts of electricity. The monster, who was still attached to the shuttle's power core, protested immediately. At first it pulstated faster than usual, growing considerably larger, then it began to shrink right down into the water. It screeched so hard that David and Olga had to hold their ears.. The creature continued to shrink, as if it was being dissolved into the water itself, which in a way, it was. Eventually, it split into several pieces, and melted like chunks of ice in boiling water. When no sign of it remained, Olga pressed the emergency power cut-off button. The sparks faded, nothing stirred. Olga sighed heavily and leaned on David, who was rubbing his eyes in disbelief.

"So how did that work?" David asked, as the two were seated once again in the cockpit, steering towards Mars. "I created a circuit." Olga replied, throwing a switch to steady the shuttle. "It was an alternating current.. the electrons in the power supply were moving back and forth, and when I hooked the creature up to both sides of the circuit, it caused the electrons that made up its body to behave the same way. It was literally sucked into the power converter as electricity." She chuckled. "Ironically, seeing as I shorted out the secondary power store, it's the charge of the creature that is going to get us home!"

"Amazing.." Professor Daniel Gregory noted, sipping his coffee. "I can't believe it.. we've been searching for life on all the different planets in our solar system.. I never would have thought for a second that creatures were living in the asteroid belt.. living electricity, for goodness sake!"
"There's probably millions of those creatures living, shaped like space debris." Olga said, taking a slurp of her own coffee. "We've been searching for carbon based organisms, that's probably how we missed them." Gregory shook his head. "I guess we're not quite ready for the mysteries of the asteroid belt."
"It's a whole other world!" David assured him. "I'll never go back, though. I'm returning to Earth as soon as they ready a shuttle." Olga nodded. "I'm coming with you." she said. "I've had enough of Mars and outer space."
Gregory nodded his head. "That was the final Persephone mission." he said. "I've seen to it. The belt is just too dangerous for human exploration at this stage. We still have a lot of growing to do. But I highly doubt that anybody in the space programme is ever going to forget Persephone 3."

THE END