The three crewmen struggled to carry the body through the narrow corridor. Even under the reduced gravity of the station, it took all three of them to muscle it off the deck. Stu had the smaller front end; Johnny was farther back, at the most massive part, his arms wrapped around the torso just under the arms, if that’s what they were. Megan had the lower appendages, one arm wrapped around each one. The tail ends of these appendages dragged the deck as they struggled to get it to the ship’s medical clinic.
“These can’t possibly be legs, can they?” Megan muttered between grunts as she staggered under the load. “They’re too small to hold up all this weight.”
“Damn, this thing is heavy,” Johnny said. “And I’ve got the slime of it all over me now.”
“There’s something up here that stinks really bad,” Stu said.
They were making progress, clunking down the corridor, and Dr. Boris heard the commotion. He stepped out of the clinic doorway. “What the hell do you have there?” he said in precisely pronounced, if accented, English.
“Doc, it’s one of those creatures that was inside the balloon,” Stu said. Dr. Boris stepped forward and reached to grab hold of the front end of it, but Stu interrupted him. “No, I got this end, help Johnny.”
Dr. Boris moved into place, grabbed the creature’s limb. “You get the other side, John,” he said.
“Thanks, Doc,” Johnny replied. He really was relieved—he didn’t think he could carry it much longer.
“Get it inside and let us try to put it up on the table in Trauma Two,” the doctor said. “Is this thing alive?”
“I think it might be, Doc,” Stu said. “That’s why we’re bringing it to you.” They were inside the clinic now, and in another moment, they were, with difficulty, lifting it up onto the examining table. Stu got the front end on the table, and then Dr. Boris and Johnny pushed it forward to that the weight of the torso moved onto the table, which groaned under the load.
“Keep going, keep going,” Megan said, but the thing was too long for it all to fit.
Johnny moved to help her. “No, just let ’em down, Meg,” he said, taking one of the ‘legs.’ “We’ll put one down on either side, you see?” The legs dropped naturally to the floor—there was a joint in there somewhere through which the anatomy moved.
It lay still on the table, and they all looked at it for a moment. “I don’t think it’s alive,” Megan said, wiping her brow with her sleeve.
Dr. Boris had reached under the table to grasp the strap that was fastened there. “Get the other end, John,” he said. “Let’s get this thing tied down, in case it wakes up.” Johnny reached under and brought the buckle end of a substantial-looking restraint up and over, and Dr. Boris connected the two ends and cinched them tight. He moved down. “There’s one more strap there,” he said, and Johnny followed him down.
“What about the legs,” Stu asked.
“There’s nothing to strap them down to,” Dr. Boris replied. “This table was made for humans.”
“Well, that’s pretty stupid,” Johnny said. “We’re on Mimas, for God’s sake.”
“There’s no life on Mimas, Johnny,” Megan said, and then she laughed nervously. “What do you think this thing is, Doc?”
He had finished cinching down the other strap, and he backed away from the table. “I don’t know,” he said. “But I want all three of you to decontaminate, now,” he said. They all looked at each other for a moment, then both Stu and Johnny looked down at their jumpers, at the slime that was smeared over them. Megan had it on her sleeves, and the thought of what threat the slime might represent suddenly dawned on her too.
“It’s on you too, Doc,” she said, looking up.
He frowned and stepped over to the comm panel on the trauma room wall. He hit it with his elbow—after looking to see if there was any slime there. “Con, clinic. We’ve got a decontamination emergency here, I need security in suits, and I need to seal Trauma Room Two, acknowledge.”
A beat, and then the smooth, calm voice of Colonel Malley came on. “Emergency acknowledged, security in suits on the way. Atmosphere is sealed. Can you state the nature of the emergency, doctor?” Malley could be a pain in the ass, but when it came to responding to emergencies, she didn’t mess around.
“We’ve got an alien in Trauma Two, Ma’am. Dead, I think, but we’ve got–slime all over us.”
Dr. Boris heard the security detail approaching, and then they appeared in the window of the doorway which had swung closed when Malley pressed the panic button. “Four crew. Bretburg, Kelley, Adson, and me,” he said. The security team were passing the portable vacuum closure around the outside of the door and would soon be through it to deal with the problem.
“Roger that, doctor. Comply with procedures and report as able,” she said.
“Roger that,” Dr. Boris said. As the team worked outside and the other three looked at each other dumbfoundedly, Dr. Boris started removing his clothes. “Well, come on, strip down,” he ordered, and the others suddenly came to life. Of course they would have to decontaminate in place, and the station was too small to permit modesty.
Megan seemed to get it first, and she kicked her shoes off and started removing her pants. She was out of them by the time Johnny and Stu reacted, but they did the same. Dr. Boris removed his shirt—the last item of clothing remaining—and turned to flip open a drawer. He removed a large plastic bag, stuffed his clothes into it, and then held it out for the others to do the same. They did so, and all four of them stood there naked, looking at each other. They were professional enough not to be embarrassed, and only Johnny tried to make a joke: “You’re in pretty good shape, Doctor,” he said.
“That’s enough, Adson,” the doctor said as he jerked the bag’s drawstring closed. The security team was in now, and they began opening bags with decon wipes and paper garments to wear after the decon was completed. Dr. Boris gave the bag to one of the team members and took the decon wipes he held out in return. “Each of you wipe good with these, then put them back in the bag,” he said, passing the decon wipes around.
“Damn, these things are cold,” Stu said, but he was wiping his body down with the decon wipe. The chemical-impregnated cloth neutralized acids and disinfected the skin. The others were doing the same, without complaint.
“As much as I like this level of togetherness,” Johnny said, “Is all this really necessary, you think?” While three of the security team members taped vents, the fourth member was setting up a device in the middle of the room–a portable sterilizer. The fifth member was wrapping the alien’s body in plastic bubble sheeting.
Megan was done wiping and had donned her paper garment. “Oh, my God,” she said, grasping Dr. Boris’ paper-clad arm. “Doc, look at that.”
She pointed, and the doctor looked. The end of the alien’s left leg was twitching.