The Siren's Song

An Earth 2 fan fiction

by

Douglas Neman

"Shadow Moon, please state condition, cargo and destination."

Alonzo swiveled around in his chair and jabbed a button on the console. "Port Control, our destination is the lovely space station number 19. What we have on board our modest little shuttle are 2.6 metric tons of construction equipment and 14 workers hoppin' up and down because there's no bathroom on board and we've been waiting for transport clearance for three hours. Our condition is a big fat go go go! What's the delay?"

"Alonzo Solace," a pretty woman smiled back at him from the screen. "I should have known it was you. Sorry about the wait. All traffic was halted in polar orbit. Something important's going on, and the order came from pretty high up. Your people aren't the only ones who are hopping."

"All traffic?" Alonzo asked. "Why? What's going on?"

"They wouldn't say," she shrugged. "Are you ferrying over an ops crew? Who's the chief? I need to know for the log."

Alonzo swiveled back around to face the cramped passenger area. Men and women in coveralls lined both sides of the cabin, on benches that were only moderately comfortable. "Hey!" he called. "Who's the head honcho back there?"

"I am," one of the men barely raised his hand. A big man, he had blonde hair, a deep gravelly voice, and an easygoing, quiet, confident manner. Alonzo immediately felt that this was a man he could trust. "John Danziger."

Alonzo swiveled back around. "John Danziger," he repeated.

Lucy punched the information in. "Shadow Moon, you are cleared for transit," she smiled. "And I'll see you tomorrow, Mr. Solace. I'm going home."

Alonzo grinned. "Without me, Lucy? Heartbreaker."

"Alonzo," Lucy replied, "you give your heart away so often, in order to break it, I'd have to track it down, first."

Behind him, some of Alonzo's passengers chuckled at the exchange. He ignored them. "You'd do a pretty good job! Say hi to your little one for me."

"Roger that, Shadow Moon. Safe journey, handsome."

Alonzo was already steering towards the portal. His comment about the bathroom had been a joke, of course, but these people had a job to do. None of them were comfortable after their wait, although the poker game they'd started earlier had kept them all entertained for a while – especially when they persuaded him to join in, and then cleaned him out in 15 minutes flat.

He really should have known better.

Clearing the portal doors, he turned up the speed and headed over the Earth's southern pole, skimming as lightly as possible over the upper atmosphere, trying to save time. Conversation in back was a little lighter; everyone was in a better mood now that they were on their way.

The radio crackled into life. No visual feed, audio only. Everyone in the tiny shuttle heard it.

"Mayday! Mayday!" Crackling noise. "If anyone can hear me, please respond!"

The voice was pure panic.

"This is the Siren's Song! We have an emergency situation on board! We need immediate evac! Immediate! Mayday! Mayday!"

Alonzo was already shifting course. The man calling for help was so panicked, he wasn't giving coordinates. But Alonzo could trace the signal's direction, and as his own shuttle rocketed forward and the direction shifted slightly, he was quickly able to triangulate the Siren's Song's position.

He set course and opened a channel both to the Siren's Song and Port Control.

"Attention Siren's Song, this is Shadow Moon. Have received your mayday, ETA two minutes. Please state the nature of the emergency. Over."

"Oh, thank God! Thank God! Come get us, please!"

"Siren's Song, please state the nature of the emergency. It will help us to deal with it better when we get there."

"I don't have time to explain! Just whatever you do, do not dock at airlock number- aaarrgggh!"

"Siren's Song, repeat, I didn't get that."

Silence.

"Siren's Song, come in!"

He sensed movement behind him and turned to look. The head of ops – the guy named Danziger – had already prepped the cargo holds beneath them for jettison. His hand was hovering over the button, his eyebrows raised at Alonzo. He just needed permission, for none of them had the authority.

"Port Control, did you get that?" Alonzo asked. "Request permission to jettison cargo. We have a full shuttle; I repeat, we have a full shuttle. The only place we have to put survivors is in the hold."

"Mayday confirmed." A different voice – Lucy had already gone. "Permission denied. You are ordered to change back to your original course. Repeat, resume course."

Everyone on board the shuttle looked at each other, speechless.

"Port Control, I don't know if you caught what just happened, but we received a distress call. I'm within visual range. Docking in one minute, 30 seconds. Now quit telling me to resume course and tell me what you can about the Siren's Song."

"Negative, Shadow Moon. Port Control is aware of the situation. You are still ordered to resume course. Do not dock with the Siren's Song. Repeat, do not dock with the Siren's Song. This order comes from the highest level."

"You need to brush up on maritime law, Port Control. Answering a mayday is the highest level. There isn't a being in this universe who can tell me not to save a life." He nodded to Danziger. "Blow that stuff."

Danziger pressed the button. Two-and-a-half tons of construction equipment scattered into the Earth's atmosphere. A cleanup crew would later track and destroy the debris before it caused any damage. Danziger closed the doors and started repressurizing the hold.

"Shadow Moon, you are ordered to resume course under threat of-"

"Save it." Alonzo closed the channel. Danziger was in the cockpit behind him, looking ahead at the Siren's Song.

"I don't see any sign of damage, do you?" he asked.

Alonzo shook his head.

The Siren's Song was considerably larger than their tiny shuttle. It was spinning slowly. An Asteroid-class heavy duty transport vessel, with a crew of anywhere from 15 to 60, it was about a thousand feet long. It had four airlocks – two on either side, both fore and aft.

"What did that guy say?" Danziger asked. "Don't dock at which airlock?"

"He didn't get a chance to say."

Danziger narrowed his eyes at the ship as his gut tugged at him.

Alonzo cut the main engines. Using the miniature air jets located on all sides, he expertly guided the ship alongside airlock number two, furthest forward on the starboard side, and activated the automatic guidance procedure. Four lasers stabbed out, telling the ship's computer how the two vessels lined up. When they matched speed, spin and angle, the Shadow Moon moved in.

There was a heavy clang. Everyone lurched slightly, then it was still.

Alonzo connected the two ships' computers. "I'm not getting anything. I don't know what the air, temperature, or gravity is in there." He shook his head. "We don't know a thing."

"You got that right," Danziger said. He turned around. "Wentworth, Firestein, secure the hatch and prepare to board. Everyone, into your suits." Then he closed the door to the cockpit, shutting himself and Alonzo off from the others.

Immediately there was silence. All they heard was the air supply in the tiny pressurized cockpit. It suddenly seemed very stifling.

"You got any firearms on board this thing?"

Alonzo hesitated. "Every shuttle comes with one gun. I'm not even supposed to tell you that. I'm the only one who's authorized to use it."

"You're also the only one who can fly us out of here in case there's trouble." He held out his hand.

Alonzo looked at it, then up at him. He keyed a security code into the computer, then leaned down and took out a pistol from a lower compartment.

"I've already pissed somebody off for docking in the first place. I figure if there was ever a day to break every regulation I can think of, it's today. What's in here is 15 rounds. Use 'em wisely. You don't get any more. If you accidentally off somebody, it's both our asses in a sling."

Danziger nodded. "If you were going aboard, would you take this?"

"Yes." Alonzo didn't hesitate.

Danziger smiled. "That's what I thought." He put the gun in his jacket pocket and rejoined the others.

They watched silently as he donned his own suit. As he dressed facing his locker, no one saw him slip the gun into the small survival kit he would be carrying.

"All right," he ordered. His voice sounded tinny inside the space helmet. "I don't like this. You all heard the mayday and Port Control's response, but somebody in there may need help. My guess is that a fire broke out and people are trapped, that's why the guy was panicking. We'll search in groups of three. Holliwell, Knight and Janson will go aft. Carson, Andy and me will go forward. The rest of you stay here. As we find people, we'll send them back here. Treat their wounds and find a place to put 'em. Any questions?"

Everyone shook their heads.

"All right. Let's go."

They stepped through the airlock into the Siren's Song, and immediately began floating. They were in a wide passage. All the lights were still on.

"Air's good," Carson said, checking the monitor in his hand. "But it's a bit cold."

"Well, keep your suits on. If there's been a fire, some sections may be depressurized."

Each man took out a tiny directional air gun from a side pocket. Using them as miniature propellers, the two teams moved off in opposite directions, calling loudly for anyone who could hear.

Danziger's team reached the bridge in just a few seconds. They opened the door.

Blood floated everywhere.

But no one was inside, living or dead.

Carson retched inside his suit. Danziger, stunned, slowly backed out into the corridor and closed the door. He keyed his gear.

"Everyone back to the shuttle, double-quick!" he barked. "Pilot, we got a murderer on board! Les, guard that hatch! Don't let anyone through if you don't know 'em!"

He shot back down the corridor. "Come on!" he called to his companions. Andy, trying to console Carson, pulled at him to follow. They started heading back, too.

A voice came over the gear channel. "Sir?" It was Holliwell. "We're picking something up."

"I don't care if you see the winning trans-station lottery ticket floating in front of you!" Danziger ordered. "Get back here! There's a killer on board this ship!" His own team reached the hatch. Les and Alex greeted them as they came back on board. Everyone looked pretty scared.

"Sir," Janson said over the gear channel. "We can hear tapping. It's in a weird rhythm, and we don't know what to make of it. It's definitely people, not machinery."

Danziger hesitated, sweating. He looked at his two best friends.

"It could be survivors of some sort of battle, John," Alex said, her eyes wide with worry. "If there's a psychopath on board, they may be holed up somewhere, scared to come out."

Danziger came to a decision. "All right, hold your position 'til I get there. In the meantime, face in three directions, back to back to back. Les, lock this door the moment I leave. Don't let anyone through who doesn't know my daughter's name."

"Be careful!" Alex called, but Danziger was already back aboard the Siren's Song, heading aft.

He heard the hatch swing shut and lock behind him.

He quickly caught up with his three crew members. They were facing in all directions, as he'd instructed.

"Listen," Holliwell said. Danziger did.

Taptaptap tap tap tap taptaptap.

The other three looked at each other, confused. "We don't know what to make of it," Knight said.

"You boys should brush up on your history," he said. "That's an old-fashioned distress call. Can you tell where it's coming from?"

They shook their heads.

"Let's try further aft," Danziger said.

They searched the ship, and they kept hearing it – three short, three long, three short. SOS, the old Earth signal for distress.

"Can you hear that?" Janson asked nervously.

"Hear what?" Holliwell shot back.

"I could swear I can hear groans and moans. Like somebody's dyin'..."

The others stopped and listened. "I can hear it too," Knight said.

"Just machinery!" Holliwell snapped.

"Come on," Danziger said. He floated on. He didn't know if what they heard were moans or not. He shut them out, and concentrated on the relentless tapping.

They finally got to the part of the ship they knew it was coming from – cargo hold number two. The hatch was locked.

Janson glanced at Danziger, who took out his gun and nodded. The other three were surprised to see the weapon, but no one said anything.

Most ops codes were universal; Janson keyed a basic code into the door's panel. The indicator light did not change.

"It's an emergency seal," he said, turning around. "We'll have to blow it."

Danziger sighed grimly, liking this less and less every moment. He floated forward and entered an emergency code known only to senior personnel, designed to take the door off its hinges. He backed up with the gun and nodded again.

They blew the hatch.

Boom!

They floated inside. They found ten frozen-solid crew members, all dead – some of them missing their arms, some missing their legs.

"Jesus..." Holliwell murmured. Janson crossed himself.

"What's going on?" Alonzo asked.

Danziger took a deep breath. "Dead people," was all he could say. "Lots of 'em."

They were floating around the hold. The room had been turned into a makeshift lab, with machinery lining the walls. Several workbenches ran the length of the hold, with several rows of small, hollow metal objects on them. All of them were twisted and torn. A thin layer of ice coated every surface.

"The tapping," Knight said, looking around. "It's stopped."

The others listened. He was right.

Danziger bit down the horror rising in his stomach and forced himself to look for a few seconds at one of the dead men floating nearby. He examined his wounds.

"No laser did this," he said. "No burn."

"Who could have done this?" Holliwell breathed. "Who?"

"I don't know, but we're not stickin' around long enough to find out," Danziger said. "Pilot, we're returning to ship. There may be survivors elsewhere, but whoever – or whatever – killed these people is probably still on board, and I think this is a job for the authorities. We're out of our league here."

"Do you think that's why they didn't want us here?" Alonzo asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I was thinking," Alonzo replied. "All traffic over the south pole was halted for top-secret reasons. Then we find this ship here, with a mass murderer on board, and someone very high up ordered us not to board. What do you think?"

Danziger looked around. "I see a lot of fine mesh wire cages which have been ripped open, a lot of electronic instruments of some sort, and all these people are wearing the same type of clothing. If you want my honest opinion, I think something cut itself loose from inside these cages and killed these people for imprisoning it." He was surprised at how calmly he said it. "That's what I think."

"But these cages," Knight said. "They're so small."

He was right, Danziger saw. Each cage was only big enough to hold a soccer ball. There were about 30 or 40 of them. And they had all been ripped open from the inside.

"Let's go," he said quietly.

Danziger, Holliwell and Janson turned to go. Only Knight stayed where he was. A moment later, blood flowed out into the air around him on all sides as his torso smoothly floated away from his legs. His body was sliced cleanly in two.

"Outta here!" Danziger screamed, shooting himself for the door. Holliwell was right behind. Janson hovered in a panic, torn between running and helping his friend.

"He's dead! Come on!" Danziger yelled.

Janson finally tore his air gun out of its holster and shot for the door, then screamed when his right leg didn't come with him. Blood poured from the wound.

"Janson!"

Janson was still screaming when something sliced off his head.

This time Danziger saw it. It was a blur, a line so insubstantial, he only saw it as a pulse of tiny dots, like a light line of static on a video screen. It had come from the side of the hold, arcing over like a whip.

He looked at the source, and saw the creature. It was a small blob, like an overgrown amoeba, maybe six to nine inches across. He didn't see any eyes, but instinctively knew the creature was looking at him.

By reflex alone he kicked himself back out of the door. A half-seen line – some sort of immensely strong, thin wire – shot out from the creature like a long tendril. It arced over into the space he'd been a millisecond before, sliced through the wall, and whipped back inside the creature.

Danziger hit the controls and the emergency door slid down. Then he shot the control panel.

"Hey!" Alonzo was shouting. "What's going on? Are you all right?"

"No, we're not all right! Janson and Knight are dead! We are heading back now!"

The two men shot back down the corridor, making for the shuttle. They slowed as they reached an intersection. Rounding the corner they saw three of the creatures – one on the ground, two plastered to the walls near the ceiling.

"Down!" Danziger ordered. He flipped back and shot his air gun straight up, forcing himself to the floor. A blur of tendrils arced all through the air above him, like the dots of an after-image after a bright flash. Holliwell's body flew in all directions.

Danziger shot his air gun towards them, skidding along the floor and away from the creatures as fast as he could. He thought he saw dotted lines whipping through the air, trying to come after him, but he couldn't be sure. The remains of Holliwell floating in the corridor shielded him from their sight.

"Pilot, I'm cut off from the shuttle!" he yelled. "Holliwell's dead! I repeat, Holliwell's dead!"

"John, this is Les!" he heard. "We're coming after you!"

"Negative! Negative! You stay right there and don't you dare open that door! That is an order!" Then he yelled in pain as he reached a "T" intersection and his head slammed into a wall. In his desperation to get away, he'd forgotten to pay attention to where he was going. Even through the suit, it hurt.

"There are creatures all over the ship, Les," he said, sitting up against the wall. "You can barely see them. They're tiny. They use some kind of microthin filament extension to kill people. If you blink, you miss it. They're fast, Les. They're fast and they're scary. And they've got very good aim. If you even crack that door open and there's one outside, it'd be the last thing you ever did."

"John!" It was Alex. "I have a personal rule that friends aren't allowed to die on me, and that rule's just been broken three times! Now I don't want to sit here and listen to you break it a fourth!"

"Don't you worry about me, 'Lex," he said. He felt so lightheaded, like he was drunk or dreaming. "I seem to be out of danger for the moment, and there's bound to be more than one way back to the shuttle. They're not coming after me for some reason. I guess these creatures can't travel very fast. Either that, or they're just animals and don't care about someone unless they're in the immediate vicinity."

His leg felt cold, and he looked down. He was surprised to see his suit torn open and his leg bleeding. One of the blobs had gotten him after all.

"Pilot, I'm injured, but it's nothing major." He activated the magnet in the back of his suit to keep him stationary. His hands shook as he pulled the medical supplies out of his emergency kit.

Suddenly he was bent over double, clutching his stomach. Then he madly fumbled with his helmet and tore it off, gasping in a great drought of freezing air. He leaned his head back and clenched his teeth hard, desperately holding his breath tight against the emotion. Then he couldn't hold it in any more and he burst into tears.

He just sat there, sobbing loudly for the shock, and the sudden loss of his three friends.

It lasted a full minute – loud, strong, and good, as his fear and his shock and his pain washed out of him. His body shook over and over again.

He gradually became aware that someone was calling his name.

Tears still coming down, he pulled his helmet back on. "I'm here." He sniffed, his lower lip still quivering. "I'm here, and I'm alive."

"You sure are, John," Alex said softly.

"You know'em a long time?" Alonzo asked.

Danziger nodded. "Yeah." From where he was sitting he could still see Holliwell's remains hovering in zero gravity. He had to look away. To think that that was his friend...

He shifted along the wall so he couldn't see it any more. He thought of True.

Once he was far enough along, he stopped and rested his head against the wall. He was still sniffling loudly; the crying wasn't all gone.

He wondered if it ever would be.

"Pilot," he called, having to struggle a little with the words. "Those things can cut through metal. I don't know how far. I don't know if they can cut through a ship's hull, but I wouldn't take any chances. If you hear anything strange, disengage immediately and get those people outta there."

"Alonzo," Alonzo said.

"What?"

"My name's not 'pilot.' It's Alonzo. Alonzo Solace."

"Well," he swallowed hard, "pleased to meet you, Alonzo."

"Same here, Jim."

"John."

"Weelllll, whatever."

Danziger found himself chuckling, much to his own surprise. He sat up a little more.

"You got any family, Alonzo?" he asked. He began treating his wound, and was forced to take his gloves off.

"No, not me pal," he said. It felt so odd to have this conversation. Neither of them were really thinking of what they were talking about, and they both knew it. "I'm not the family type! Not yet, anyway. How 'bout you?"

"Yeah, I've got a daughter." He sprayed a salve on his cut. "Her name's True. She's a feisty little beggar, let me tell ya. And if I can handle her," he grimaced, "a bunch of alien blobs should be no problem."

Alonzo smiled wistfully. He was really beginning to like this guy.

"Hey, John," Alex cut in. "Someday, I'm gonna tell True that her daddy compared her to an alien blob."

"You go right ahead." He pulled a suit patch from the med kit and packed the med kit away. "She'd probably take it...as a...compliment."

His voice trailed off as he noticed a smear of blood on the wall a few feet away, near the floor where he was sitting. It was beside a door leading to a storage area, and it wrapped around the door frame as if something had been dragged inside.

"Hang on, people, I think I found something."

He slapped the patch across the tear in his suit, put on his gloves and made sure his helmet was fastened securely. He then deactivated the suit's magnet and stood up to examine the door. Tentatively, he tapped on it. Twice.

After a few seconds, he heard tap tap.

"This is John Danziger," he called. "I'm part of a rescue party. Those creatures are not around at the moment. You want to come out and join me?"

The door slid open to reveal a small room. Inside was a man, dressed in the same uniform as the corpses back in the cargo hold. He wasn't wearing a space suit and he was shivering badly. His right foot had been sliced off, and he'd tied a tourniquet around his ankle. He clutched a magpro in both hands, his knuckles showing white through the skin. There was a wild look in his eyes, but Danziger guessed he wasn't completely insane.

But he certainly looked like he was almost there.

"Pil- Alonzo, I've found one survivor. He'll need immediate medical attention when we get back."

The man stretched out his hand. "Ed," he said. His grip was strong – strong and desperate. "Ed Canton."

"Pleased to meet you, Ed. Can you tell me if there's anyone else alive on this crate?"

"I doubt it," he said, awkwardly floating out into the corridor.

"Well, we've got a shuttle waiting, if you can just lead me in the right direction. We need to get to airlock number two, without going down that hallway." He nodded in the direction he'd come.

"Airlock number two? But that's so far forward. Can't your ship just come pick us up?"

Danziger shook his head. "A ship this large is portioned off into thirds, separated by bulkheads, to help contain emergencies. We're in the middle third, and the only airlocks are in the fore and aft sections. We need to go to them."

Ed nodded tightly. "Sure. You came down the central passage." He nervously motioned further down the corridor. "Three main passages lead fore and aft the length of the ship, one in the center and two on the sides, with smaller passages crossing between them. We'll take this one."

John grabbed his arm and pulled out his air gun. They started moving towards the main passage on the starboard side of the ship.

"What are they?" Danziger asked.

"The creatures?" He smiled madly for a second. "You've met them?"

"Yeah. They just killed three of my friends answering your mayday."

"Mayday? You mean the Council didn't send you?"

John stopped, a hard look in his eyes. "All right. What's going on?"

"I'm sorry. I-I automatically assumed the Council sent you. We were under strictest radio silence with everyone but Central Command. No one should have sent a mayday. Under any circumstances."

"Well, it looks like one of your crewmates panicked then."

Ed swallowed hard, then motioned onward. "If we'll keep going, I'll tell you everything. You deserve at least that much."

"At least," Danziger said dryly. He made sure the external pick-up on his suit was turned on, so everyone back in the shuttle could hear, too.

He fired his air gun and pulled them both forward again. It was slow going at first, as it took a few moments to get the hang of it. He tried not to bang Ed's injured leg against anything.

"Two days ago, a Pontel 7 ship returned on automatic pilot. It had been gone for about 20 years, exploring a nearby solar system. No one aboard was answering the radio. The tech crews brought it into dock. But when they opened it up, all they found were these things."

Ed paused a moment before continuing.

"They killed 39 people before someone was finally smart enough to lock off the hold and blow the air out of the dock. That killed four more. The Council called in a team of specialists: us. We collected the creatures, and found that cold makes them inert. That's why we were taking them to the south pole. We figured that was a good place to keep them – out of the way, naturally cold environment-"

"Better to let Earth people die instead of station people, in case they escaped," Danziger smoothly cut in.

Ed looked at him briefly. "Maybe. I really don't know."

"But they adapted, didn't they? These things are pretty smart."

Ed snorted. "What would you know about it? You're just a tech. You weren't engaged in the scientific research of these creatures."

"I know enough to put the facts together!" Danziger snapped. "It was below freezing in that hold and there's still ten dead people floatin' around! Inert, my ass! They adapted, didn't they?"

Ed just pursed his lips and stared straight ahead. On the shuttle, Alonzo, Les, Alex and the others listened intently.

"One of your crewmates got wiped while sending that mayday, but you know what? There was no body on the bridge. What'd they do, use it for food? Tell me, was there a pilot in that Pontel ship when they opened it up or did the blobs fly it here themselves?"

Silence.

"My men and I followed tapping noises to find that hold, but when we got there, everyone was dead! So who was tapping, huh? It certainly wasn't human. It was the creatures! They must have heard one of the others tapping out that SOS, probably calling to you or your buddy on the bridge, and they learned it! They copied it! Yeah," he nodded, "I think they're pretty smart all right."

"Even so," Ed chattered, shivering, "how does that help us now?"

"Who turned the gravity off, you?"

Ed nodded. "When the blo- er, creatures broke free, I escaped and headed for the engineering section. One of them followed me. It cut off my foot. I found myself next to the gravity control and switched it off. That disoriented the creature, and gave me enough time to get out of there. Also," he glanced down, "it does make traveling a little easier."

Danziger leaned in close. "So how long do you thing it'll take them to adapt to zero gravity, huh?"

Ed swallowed hard. He didn't answer.

"Why'd you go to engineering, anyway? Shouldn't you have headed for an evac pod?"

He shook his head. "Evac pods were locked off to prevent the creatures from spreading. Besides, I wanted to set the ship for self-destruct."

Danziger was stunned. "And did you?"

"Yes."

"When?"

"About 35 minutes ago."

Danziger paused to take that in. "You put it on timer?"

"Yes."

"How long?"

"Forty-five minutes. I figured that would be long enough for the Council to come get us."

Danziger sighed. "Well thanks for letting the rest of us know we had ten minutes before the ship blows up."

"I just did."

They reached the bulkhead which separated them from the forward third of the ship. It was closed.

"Alonzo, we're almost there. Hang tight and get that ship ready for departure. We've got a deadline."

"Already on it," Alonzo replied.

"Here," Danziger said. "You're injured. Take this." He handed the pistol to Ed, taking the magpro from him. "There's no recoil, so you can fire it in zero gravity and you won't go anywhere."

"What if I want to go somewhere?"

"Blow real hard."

"You know, I can't say the same for that thing." He nodded at the bigger gun.

"Don't worry," Danziger smiled and brought it up lightly. "There's no recoil on these things, either. And since it doesn't weigh anything right now, I can use it like a pistol."

"If that was true, then why did we just go through the trouble of trading guns?"

"Because I'm going to place myself in danger while you open that door, and I want the bigger gun. That's why."

He crouched down and aimed the magpro at the door. Ed looked at him for a second, then nodded tersely. He spun the handle, took a deep breath, and opened the door suddenly.

Blobs were everywhere.

Danziger threw himself aside. About 15 tendrils came through the door and sliced up the floor where he'd been standing. Tiny slits opened in the wall behind him and air began hissing out into space.

Ed madly tried to push the door shut again, and his body exploded backwards as the bulkhead door was sliced into about twenty pieces of scrap metal.

Danziger whipped out his air gun and shot off down the passage as fast as he could. He painfully took one last look behind him.

One of the creatures shot out with a tendril and hooked into the wall, then pulled itself after him. It came sailing down the corridor. Two others did the same.

Then the rest of them.

"They've adapted!" he yelled. "Alonzo, I'm cut off! They killed Ed and they're after me!"

Alonzo's hands were already dancing across his controls. "John, you're in a space suit! Just get to one of the other airlocks and I'll pick you up!"

Danziger fired the magpro twice at the creatures following him, and missed. There was hardly any air resistance to slow them down. The sound of the gun thundered in his ears. "Say again, Alonzo, I didn't get that!"

"I said-"

A man's voice interrupted him.

"Shadow Moon, this is the Council ship Tiger Moth. You are under arrest. Do not disengage from the Siren's Song. You are to be detained for questioning. Repeat, do not disengage from the Siren's Song. Any attempt to do so will be met with force."

Alonzo looked out the viewport. He could just make out the details of a Stellar class warship, small and compact, used mostly for police action.

It was coming towards them.

"Tiger Moth," he replied, "the Siren's Song is set to self-destruct in about five minutes, give or take five minutes! We must disengage, and I recommend that you come no closer!"

"I'll give you points for originality," the man said. "But you'll have to try a little harder than that. You make even the slightest attempt to disengage, Mr. Solace, and I got a heatseeker with your name on it, and the two of you will become very well acquainted in 30 seconds, tops!"

 

Danziger was about to run out of room.

Leaning back as much as possible to negate air resistance, he zipped down the passage as fast as he could, the blobs right behind. He couldn't afford to slow down to turn into one of the side passages, but the bulkhead door to the rear third of the ship was coming up fast.

And it was closed, too.

Danziger desperately squeezed the air gun, milking it for all the speed it was worth, angling for the outer wall. The door loomed larger by the second. Then he holstered the air gun, strapped the magpro over his shoulder, tucked his body into a ball and turned sideways.

Just as the passage ended, he lashed out with his feet and kicked the wall, launching himself into the cross passage.

He bounced and ricocheted off the walls, but he already had the air gun back in his hand, straightening himself out, and he was on his way.

The blobs had found a way to move in zero gravity, but not maneuver. Not knowing how to turn the corner, the ones right behind him sailed smoothly on and slammed into the bulkhead.

But the ones behind them knew what happened. They lashed out with their tendrils, caught the wall and zipped around the corner. They swarmed after him.

Danziger yelled in fear and despair. Reaching the other side of the ship, he repeated his trick and bounced his way forward again, along the port side. A few seconds later, the blobs followed. All of them.

How long until it blew, he thought. Six minutes? Five?

"Danziger," he heard. "This is Alonzo. Where are you?"

"In trouble!"

"Get out of it. The Council's here, and they won't let me move. I've powered down the radio, it's short range so they can't listen in. You've got to get back here as fast as possible!"

A blob sailed out of a cross passage right in front of him. Danziger jerked the air gun slightly and he dipped down. A tendril arced over him and sliced the far wall.

He sailed under the creature, his face coming within two inches of it. As he passed it he brought up the magpro and blew it to bits.

"I'll try," he told Alonzo. Lucky shot – he'd never be able to do that again.

He desperately looked ahead of him, then down at the gauge on his air gun tank. It was almost empty.

He had to end this. He couldn't keep playing tag in this endless maze. He glanced at the cross passages flowing past and he knew what he had to do.

Once again, he angled towards the outer wall, counted off two passages, tucked his body into a ball and kicked into a third. He slammed into a wall, reached out and grabbed the handle of the first hatch he came to, his fingers already keying the code to open it. He reached inside, grabbed a power cable two inches across, and pulled it out with all his might. Sparks showered all around. He floated away and threw it at the wall.

The blobs shot out with their tendrils, grabbing the wall to turn the corner, and died as a thousand volts coursed through them. About 20 or so came flashing around the corner, their tiny bodies erupting in flames.

Some of the electricity flowing through the walls, floor and ceiling jumped across to Danziger, but his suit insulated him. He grimaced as the burning creatures buffeted him, but he managed to keep himself floating in the center and let them fly past.

He saw that a few of the blobs, sensing what happened, refused to touch anything and sailed on by in the main passage.

Nothing was a perfect conductor, however, and the walls would only be electrified for a relatively short distance around him. He floated back out into the main passage and looked forward.

He didn't see anything.

He floated a little ways on, tense. About 50 feet up the passage, he opened another hatch, pulled out a cable, and again electrified the surrounding area.

From the next side passage, he heard small fires break out, and saw the flickering light play along the far wall. As he moved forward, he saw the rest of the blobs, stuck to the wall, burning. They'd lain in wait for him.

He closed his eyes. "All right, Alonzo," Danziger breathed heavily in relief. "I'm out of it."

"Do you think you can make it back here?"

"No. I just electrocuted a few blobs, but I think there are more on board. They seemed to know that I wanted to go back to the airlock. They'll be there waiting for me. They'll learn what I did and just hover in mid-air so I can't kill them."

"All right, listen. Head for airlock number one. It's the forward airlock on the port side, opposite this one. I've got an idea."

"All right, what's the plan?"

"Well-" Alonzo stopped, listening intently. He thought he heard an odd, scraping sound.

He leaned forward and craned his neck to look out the viewport, trying to see as far back along the outside of the ship as possible.

Before his eyes, a small crack appeared in the hull of the Siren's Song. A tiny blob squeezed through the opening, wriggled freely in space, then lashed out and sliced open the side of the Shadow Moon. There was a scream from the cabin.

Alonzo spun around in his seat. Carson was on the floor clutching his arm, blood spilling out. "Everybody on the starboard side now!" Alonzo yelled. He blew the couplings on the air lock and maneuvered the shuttle away from the blob just as it whipped out its tendril again. It missed. Alonzo hit the emergency air supply to replace what was already hissing out into space, and prayed the hull wouldn't rupture any further.

"We warned you, Shadow Moon," a voice said happily. "Au revoir."

"No, wait!" Alonzo powered up the radio again. "Tiger Moth, cease fire, cease fire! We are under attack from the creatures aboard the Siren's Song! Don't do this to us!"

Silence. Alonzo looked up and saw a bright speck disengage from the Tiger Moth and move forward.

He looked back at the blob wriggling closer in space.

One chance.

He activated the automatic guidance procedure. Four lasers lanced out to line up the two airlocks-

And sliced the blob to ribbons.

He moved the shuttle back in. "Tiger Moth, we have rejoined the Siren's Song! Abort your launch!"

"Too late, Shadow Moon. Interrogations always bored me anyway."

"Danziger, are you there, yet?"

"I'm on my way!" Danziger, now in the front third of the ship, sped up the corridor as fast as possible. "Airlock number one's in sight! I hope you know what you're doing!"

Two more gashes appeared in the Siren's Song's hull.

Alonzo powered up the air jets on the top-port side of the shuttle as hard as they could go, applying a heavy downward force to the side that was connected to the ship, then he blew the links again. So as the two ships separated, he forced the two airlocks to burst apart, down and away from each other.

And the two ships started to spin in opposite directions.

The missile loomed closer.

Being a larger ship, the Siren's Song seemed to take an agonizingly long time to spin around, but Alonzo knew that it was, in fact, spinning quite fast. He allowed his own shuttle to make one complete spin before halting it back in its original position. He opened the airlock door and shouted for everyone to strap themselves in. Wentworth and Firestein were frantically applying sealant to the gash in the hull.

"Danziger, I need you now!"

"I'm there!" he shouted. Danziger threw himself into the airlock. Safety overrides would not allow him to open the outer door until the first was sealed. He swung it shut and blew the outer hatch.

And sailed smoothly into the waiting airlock of the Shadow Moon.

Alonzo hit the throttle and the shuttle sped away. "Hang on!" he called. "We don't have time to close the door!"

Danziger grabbed hold of the wheel handle which opened the inside of the lock and hung on for dear life, hoping Alonzo didn't make a sharp right turn. He'd never be able to hold on, not at those G's.

Alonzo poured on all the speed the tiny ship could muster. "Tiger Moth, please abort your missile!" he shouted. "We are all in danger!"

"You certainly are, Shadow Mo-"

A white hot explosion incinerated the Siren's Song, lighting up space for miles around.

The tiny shuttle was dwarfed in the explosion. The heatseeking missile, faced with the Siren's Song's mile-wide inferno, lost track of the Shadow Moon's engines. It shifted course and buried itself in the wreckage of the Siren's Song, adding its own tiny contribution.

The two pilots on board the Tiger Moth lowered their hands, staring in amazement. They'd had to shield their eyes from the blast. As it subsided, one of them could just make out the silhouette of a tiny shuttle, escaping the white hot cloud. It was the Shadow Moon.

Alonzo closed the outer airlock door. The inner one opened and Danziger stumbled into the waiting arms of his friends.

The Tiger Moth settled into position directly astern. "Attention, pilot and occupants of Shadow Moon: you are still under arrest. You will accompany us to Redbird Station. Any deviation from the course we assign will result in your immediate destruction."

"Understood," Alonzo breathed. Behind him, the others were helping Danziger out of his suit.

 

They disembarked at Redbird Station, holding their hands up and being marched to an interrogation cell like common prisoners. They were all grouped together in one room with two officers. One sat, the other paced casually.

"So." The man pacing spoke first. "Whose decision was it to disobey Port Control?"

"Mine," Alonzo answered.

"It was all of ours!" Danziger said angrily. "Port Control had no authority to tell us to ignore a mayday!"

"Did it ever occur to you," the other one said, "that the order was for your own protection? You lost three crew members because of your insistence that you knew what was best, rather than us."

Danziger and Alonzo looked at each other incredulously.

"Actually, the Council is to blame for transporting a dangerous substance or cargo without proper notification to all surrounding traffic. And, as my pilot said earlier, answering a mayday is always the highest priority."

The two officers turned. "Who the hell are you?"

"O'Neill," the newcomer said. As one of the men started to speak, he added, "Commander Broderick O'Neill. These people are in my employ. So what exactly is the problem, boys?"

They looked at each other, obviously a little rumpled at being called "boys."

"These people are under arrest for disobeying orders from Port Control. They subsequently endangered themselves and others."

O'Neill took out a gear set and played a recording for everyone to hear.

"Port Control, did you get that? Request permission to jettison cargo. We have a full shuttle; I repeat, we have a full shuttle. The only place we have to put survivors is in the hold."

"Mayday confirmed. Permission denied. You are ordered to change back to your original course. Repeat, resume course."

"Port Control, I don't know if you caught what just happened, but we received a distress call. I'm within visual range. Docking in one minute, 30 seconds. Now quit telling me to resume course and tell me what you can about the Siren's Song."

"Negative, Shadow Moon. Port Control is aware of the situation. You are still ordered to resume course. Do not dock with the Siren's Song. Repeat, do not dock with the Siren's Song. This order comes from the highest level."

"You need to brush up on maritime law, Port Control. Answering a mayday is the highest level. There isn't a being in this universe who can tell me not to save a life."

O'Neill clicked the recording off.

The two men stared at him coldly. "Where did you get that?" one of them asked.

"Devon Adair owns that shuttle you have in your docking bay," O'Neill said. "Standard procedure. All communications and log entries are updated instantaneously to our corporate offices. When the Shadow Moon didn't arrive on time, I checked their log. I heard every word," he said smugly, letting that sink in. "So I know the complete situation. Now, if you want to press charges against these fine people, I'm afraid we'll just have to go public with this little recording and let everyone know that the Council refused to allow a ship to rescue those in need."

"It was for their own protection," the other man smiled. "That is our argument, and it is a sound one."

"Not sound enough to hold up in a court of law, and you know it. Or do you want everyone to know what you were transporting on board the Siren's Song?"

There was an uncomfortable silence for a few moments. The two men looked at each other, then back at O'Neill.

"I suppose..." one of them said, "that we should not punish these people for doing nothing more than acting with great courage and valor, with the noblest of intentions." He pursed his lips. "We'll let them go with a warning, with the understanding that what happened today is entirely confidential and never to be mentioned to anyone."

"And the families of the three men who died?"

"Will be compensated."

O'Neill smiled. "Very generous of you."

"Now please get these people back aboard their shuttle and leave immediately." The two men coldly left the room.

Alonzo thrust out his lower lip. "Don't we even get a medal?"

The door slid shut behind them.

Danziger stood up and shook O'Neill's hand. "Glad to see you, sir."

"Well, couldn't lose my ops chief. Construction on the ship is almost complete."

"We had to eject the stuff we were carrying-"

O'Neill held up a hand. "I know all about it. I'm just grateful it wasn't cold sleep chambers you ejected. You didn't lose anything I can't replace by the end of the day tomorrow. We're leaving for G889 on time, come hell or high water." He suddenly nodded over Danziger's shoulder. "You."

Alonzo looked up.

"Where'd you spring from?" O'Neill asked.

Alonzo shrugged. "Just got back from a 17-year trip to Garsonia Starbase. I'm taking odd jobs like this one until another cold sleep run comes along."

O'Neill nodded. "If even half of what I heard on this log is true, then that was some of the most phenomenal flying I've ever known. You got any plans?"

"Nothing that can't be changed."

"How would you like to take our cold sleep run? Twenty-two light years each way, four times the standard rate, leaving in ten days. You up to it, Ace?"

Alonzo's jaw dropped, and he gasped. Four times? He could retire!

"Yes. Yes!" he smiled. "I'll take it!"

"Great. Now come on."

The others all filed out of the room silently, sick and tired after their ordeal. Alonzo just sat there, staring at the floor, thinking. Danziger waited for him.

"You know," Alonzo finally said, "I can't help but think how fitting it is that that ship was named the Siren's Song."

"Why's that?"

Alonzo looked up. "Old, old Earth legends, from sailors centuries ago, talk about a dangerous entity known as Sirens. They were beautiful women who would call to sailors from shore, singing to them. Their songs were so pretty, they enchanted the sailors, until they were overcome with desire. They'd try to join the Sirens on the shore, only...only to crash their ships against the rocks and die."

Danziger waited. Something about what Alonzo was saying made him shiver, like a premonition of things to come.

"What do you suppose they wanted the blobs for?" Alonzo finally asked.

"Weapons." Danziger didn't hesitate.

"Yeah, that's what I think, too. They saw something, wanted it, became enchanted by it, and it ended up destroying them."

Danziger smiled. "You need to talk to Alex. She knows all about those old sailor legends."

After a moment, Alonzo smiled also, shaking off his mood. He stood up. "The universe is a weird place," he said. "Well, looks like you get to work with me again."

"Hey, that means my luck's changing for the better. I just know a sucker when I see one. You see, my ops crews always carry three to one odds that the pilot makes no course correction. Every five years ups the odds by one more."

Alonzo grinned. "I need to get my poker money back! You got a deal!"

They shook on it.

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