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The asteroid looked bigger and bigger as I flew closer, it’s shadow menacingly cast on nearby debris. I flipped the ship around slowly, and started the deceleration burn. We came to a halt close to the rock with the collection hopper facing it, just like I had practiced. Dust rose up around the ship. I wasn’t mining today, but the others still wanted me to get out for experience. I looked at the dust I had kicked up and wondered how much it was worth. Every gram was precious. Asteroids all around the solar system contained precious metals, water, and minerals that are also found on earth, just in massive quantities, because most of the precious metals found on earth came from them originally. We had just made it to the mother-load, a massive two hundred kilometer wide rock. Our ship was faster than the big mining ships, but had much smaller capacity, so when a new asteroid was discovered, it was a race to get out before them, grab as much stuff as possible, and get out. Because of the shortage materials on Earth, mining had moved almost completely to space. I snapped out of my trance and was reminded by a message that I needed to get out. This wouldn’t be my first spacewalk, but on an asteroid the danger was much higher. I pulled on my pants, clicked my boots in, sealed everything to my jacket like I had many times before, and finally, slid my helmet over my head, brushing my hair away so it wouldn’t get stuck. I hooked the air tube on to my suit, tugging it to see if it stuck, and with a deep breath sealed the inner door of the airlock. It slid shut with a hiss, and I turned slowly to the other door. Nothing but that door between me and space. and yanked the lever.
I looked out at space, the infinite blackness with pinprick stars, and then back at the asteroid where Misha was already making progress. He and Klara had unpacked the equipment, and she was setting up the drills. I turned on my communications, and called over, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
He hollered back in his grizzly voice: “If there was something I would have asked! Klara’s the specialist, she doesn’t need help.”
She laughed, “Don’t listen to him, just enjoy your first time!”
“Alright, fine,” I called back. I decided to take her advice and started to wander. As I was walking and getting used to the low gravity, I noticed a trio of spikes protruding from the ground. I wasn’t sure how I hadn’t seen them earlier, because they were large, rising at least 5 meters out of the ground. I walked over to one, leaned my back on the shiny surface, and slid down to the floor. I had a view of Klara guiding the drill and Misha feeding the material back into the ship. Looking around, there were sort of hills around the asteroid. I checked the cargo meter and we were almost done. I sighed, fogging the glass of my visor.
“There’s really nothing I can do?”
Misha thought for a moment, “You can get on the seismic sensors and tell us where to dig.”
“No problem!” I responded.
I picked myself up, and hopped towards the ship, noticing the swirls of dust every time I stepped.
Floating towards the command deck, I flipped myself into the pilot’s seat. I wiggled into the harness, and initiated the startup sequence on the ship’s seismic sensors. Back on Earth they were used to detect earthquakes, but here they could be used to find precious metals that we mined. I fired up the system, switching one, two, three seismic sensors on. Just before I turned on the locator system, I noticed a big blip on the map of the asteroid. “That’s not right,” I said aloud, and checked again. Same thing. This asteroid should be too small to have seismic activity, and yet there it was. Figuring it was just a malfunction, I pulled on the final switch and sent the information to Klara.
I got on the radio. “Hey guys, can I take the ship around to see if theres a better spot?”
“Sure,” Klara replied, “Just be careful! You know I lost my arm out here, a lot of dangero-”
I cut her off. I had heard that story at least ten times on the five day journey to get here, and I wasn’t about to hear it again. I pulled the ship up into a higher position above the asteroid, and started to move. This thing was massive, the size of a small country back on Earth. Oh, how I missed Earth. The sweet air, the atmosphere, the blue sky, the grass, the sand, the ocean with its beautiful creatures, all things that were too expensive to bring to space. In space, even on the largest stations everything is industrial gray steel, aluminum, concrete, air vents, tank water; grates gassing white mist and police patrolling the halls, their magnetic boots making hard thuds every time they step. I pulled myself out of my head and immediately stopped the ship. I heard a beeping noise, the seismometer was going crazy. I looked out at the asteroid and saw a massive crack moving across it. The surface was cracking open like an egg shell, and inside I could see a writhing sea of something. It looked like a snake, but if a snake was the width of a city.
“Get ready to take off, now!” I all but screamed into the comms, not having time to give any further explanation. I put the side thrusters to full burn and screamed towards my crew-mates. Before I even got there, I was opening the cargo doors. Whatever was inside this rock, it was eating it’s way through the shell of the asteroid like it was paper. The thing was incomprehensibly massive. I saw Klara and Misha jump into the ship, barely closing the door as they rushed into the cockpit, vacuum suits still on.
“Hit it kid!” Misha yelled, the most scared I’ve ever heard him. We’d never done such a high g maneuver, this was going to hurt us and possibly even the ship. I turned us around, and started up the reactor. It had a 30 second start up time, and those were the longest 30 seconds of my life. As it started up, what I assumed was the head of the creature turned towards us. It must have been attracted to nuclear energy, but I didn’t have time to think about that; I only had time to think about the country sized creature slowly bearing down on us. Six, five, four, three, two, one, I counted with the timer, and the instant it hit zero I hit the throttle. As soon as I increased the thrust, the g-forces hit, nearly knocking me out. I was bleeding from my nose, mouth and ears, but I had to keep going. I looked at the rear camera, and that thing was still following, and gaining fast. It opened it’s maw, a vast darkness inside.
This thing could easily destroy the station we came from, swallow it whole, and it could cause serious damage to Earth… if it gets there. I had the start of an idea, a terrible idea but an idea nonetheless.
“Get to the emergency escape!” I yelled over the rattling ship.
“What?!” Misha yelled back.
Klara leaned over to him and yelled in his ear, “EMERGENCY ESCAPE”
They both got up and, battling with the forces of our acceleration, climbed down towards the escape pod. I waited a few seconds, then hit the eject button. I saw the pod shoot off from the back of the ship, then took a hard right, getting pushed against the limits of my harness. There was a large chance that my plan wouldn’t work and I would end up dead, but either way that thing was going down.
I turned on my comms and said, “Goodbye Misha, goodbye Klara, if I make it back I’ll pick you up, but if not, good luck out there.”
“No! kid wai-” I heard Misha yell, but I turned off the comms before he could finish. I flipped around so I was facing it head on, and started up the main front drill. It whirred to life, the blades covering the front of our ship spinning faster and faster, shaking off dust. I pulled open the reactor self destruct safety catch, and primed a mining explosive. The thing was still barreling down on me, and as I faced it head on, drills spinning, I prepared to go inside. My heartbeat pumped in my ears. The automated warning system kicked in: “collision imminent, ten, eight, six, four, two, brace, brace, bra-” in an instant I pulled the reactor dump, ejected the explosives, and with what I thought was my last act pushed the throttle to maximum and waited for it to all be over.
Flashing in and out of consciousness, with blinding medical lights above me, I could faintly see Misha standing over me, smiling. He leaned over and patted my shoulder, and I knew it was all ok.