“What’s going on?” I bumped into Estella as she was moving towards the bridge.
“No idea, either Guppy learned how to fly or the ship’s taking us somewhere important of its own will.” The Xing did that from time to time, we knew that. Side effect of the junkyard exercise. “Let’s get to the bridge and find out, if that kid’s an Astropath, then she’s going places.” Estella chuckled at her own joke. She punched the controls for the door to open and nothing happened. “This is new. Only other way onto the bridge is the air vents as I recall, think you can pull a grate open for us?”
I did so. Estella held out her hands to give me a boost up and I took the help. I started to pull myself in when something offered to do my work for me by wrapping around my hand. I declined its offer. “There is something in the vent. It tries to grab me.” I warned Estella.
“Must of picked up some kind of scavenger from that trash pile.” Estella replied, “It’s probably hungry, might of been chewing on the power cables too, which is why the door won’t work.”
A muted echo of a commotion came from some faraway parts of the ship.
“We could lure it out with some food, or crawl in there with knives and try to kill it?” Estella’s voice came from below me. “I’m not real eager to get into a knife fight in an air vent.”
I jumped back down onto the ground.
“Sounds like whatever it is, it’s not happy.” Estella remarked.
“Where is Aurora, do you know?” Aurora could well take care of herself but I was not liking the idea of people unaccounted for on the ship.
“In the garden with Guppy, she didn’t want the kid running off in the night so was bunking in there.” Estella told me. “I’ll go fetch her, see if she can get this door open.”
I stopped her, told her my thinking and we decided to get H squared and then all meet at the garden.
At the Engineering quarter, I shook H squared awake. “There is something in the vent. We are going to meet up with Aurora and Guppy in the garden and talk about what to do with it.”
H squared shook his head and rubbed at his eyes, then followed along docilely. Outside the garden, the hammock was still hung across the door way, but no sign of Aurora and Guppy.
I turned around to look at the other two. “Crap, they are not here.”
Aurora backed herself out of the overhead vent at that point. “Some thing made of vines and ship parts took Guppy!” She told us, “My knife didn’t do much against it but I sprayed them with glow fruit juice.”
“Vines and ship parts? That’s a new one on me.” Estella started turning a security guard glance on the plants in the garden.
H squared looked like someone just devoured his child. Aurora looked at him with a grim nod. “Yeah, I’m not happy about it either.”
“Something almost grabbed me up there but I didn’t quite see what it is. Do you think it comes with the alien bit perhaps?” I filled her in on what transpired before.
“Maybe?” Estella shrugged. “The garden looks normal to me, so it must be something else, something we picked up from that trash pile that got into the vents and sprouted.”
“This way!” Aurora called out as she headed for the nearest hatch, “It was dragging Guppy in this direction.” I followed right on her heels.
H-squared mumbled something about Engineering. The party split at this point: me and Estella off to find Guppy while Aurora went with H squared to shut off vents in specific sections of the Xing so we could contain the plant encroachment.
I headed over to the hatch that Aurora was aiming for. Seeing the vent in the bulkhead near it, I tried to shield Estella in case something sneaked out of it.
“Same as before, I go up first and warn you if the thing tries its grabbing trick again.” I told Estella as we arrived below the vent. The vines stood out clearly, outlined in glowing juice as Aurora said. Guppy’s panicked eyes also looked out on me.
Estella nodded in response to me. “If it grabs you and you can pull the vine out I can snip it off.” She lifted up a set of pruning scissors for emphasis.
I reached up, tucked on a vine and passed it behind for Estella to snip off. But it was slippery and I couldn’t quite get a grip on it. Giving up the useless tussle, I took aim at one of vines not directly entangled with Guppy.
“See if you can lure it into trying to grab you.” Estella said over my back. “Then I can snip the vines while you pull back.”
One vine drooped at my shot and flopped around aimlessly. I hurriedly grabbed it and passed it behind to Estella. The vine started squirming in my hand frantically and finally slipped out of my grasp. It retreated back into the vent and scuttled away from us.
“Keep tracking it, I’m going to go fetch some weed killer, trying to do this the hard way doesn’t seem to be working.” Estella told me.
“Okay. Look out for vents on the way so it doesn’t sneak out at you.”
I made sure to see her nod in agreement before climbing back up to the vent and following after a clear trail of glowing juice. Some time passed and a blast of cold air punched me in the face. I assumed that was Aurora and H squared. I shivered but forged on. I had gone past the garden but not quite reaching Engineering when I saw the juice thinning out. Thinking better over handling the creature alone, I retreated back to the vent near the hatch. Estella was already back from the garden.
We spoke over the intercom and met up with Aurora and H squared in a corridor between the garden and Engineering. Cold air was seeping out of one of the vents. “I got the atmo controls set to freezing, should slow it down for now,” Aurora held up a buzz saw. “It’s somewhere in this area, probably a storage closet.”
“It didn’t seem to be fungus based so it probably started growing somewhere with plenty of light, cargo storage, or a passenger cabin with clean windows is my guess.” Estella patted the sprayer she had in her hands. “Killer Weed Killer, should take care of the problem.”
Aurora looked over at me at that point, eyeing Estella’s hedge clippers. “You want the saw or the hedge clippers?”
I shrugged to indicate my indifference. Estella handed me the hedge clippers. “All yours, I got the dressing, let’s go make ourselves a salad!”
“That stuff won’t hurt Guppy, will it?” Aurora asked Estella, gesturing to the sprayer.
“It might wash some of the dirt off her, and make her smell like chemicals until she showers, but as long as she doesn’t drink it she’ll be okay.”
Aurora got a new idea based on that assurance and we all sprayed ourselves. Except it didn’t cling and just dripped off.
“It’s the cold air, keeps it from foaming properly, should still work fine against the plant.” Estella remarked.
We went along the corridor checking each room along the way, with Aurora in the lead. It took several tries until we arrived at the one that was stuck. I went up, put my shoulder against it and it crashed open, with me rolling inside.
A huge mass of vines and metal parts lay inside on the ground, all twisted around each other and pulsating to a strange beat. I picked myself off the ground just in time to dodge a vine that reached out to grab me. Behind me, I could hear Aurora’s buzz saw and Estella’s spray busy at work. I set to work with the hedge clippers. The vines fell to the floor and twitched a couple of times before becoming still.
“It really doesn’t like the cold!” Aurora announced triumphantly and the vines erupted everywhere. They tried to wrap around me but I dodged their slow motion attack.
“Masscare time!” I said, seeing the green light for a laser field projection popping up on my bow-gun. Bits of vine flew everywhere, as well as gobs of greenish goo. The thing screeched in an inhuman way. The few remaining vines that weren’t busy with Estella swivelled around to me as if I had just become a homing beacon for them.
“I think you hit it somewhere delicate!” Aurora yelled over the screech.
“Oops, my apologies.” I said insincerely, fending off the vines with mincing steps here and there.
“Poof!” The writhing mass exploded outward in chunks and splatters of green. It sprayed the entire left side of my body. I looked at the other two girls. Aurora seemed to have caught most of it on one arm whereas Estella wore the goo like a coat of paint. I assumed the explosion was her work.
“I need a shower.” Estella sighed in relief. Instinctively, I brushed the goo off me but got a handful instead. Urgh.
“That’s it! I’m going to gut whoever did this to me!” A high-pitched voice came out of a mass of flopping vine-parts.
“We already gutted it for ya kid, we’re wearing its inner bits.” Estella struggled in vain to pull the sticky sap from her hair.
“Anyone hurt?” Aurora asked as she set to freeing Guppy. “We don’t need that thing causing some kind of nasty fungus infection.”
“Nope, except for my nose, which wants to retreat back into my face if it can.” I told her.
“Just a few bruises, nothing a hot meal and bath won’t take care of.” Estella added and then looked around the garden. “I’m damned curious where this came from, if it’s something we brought on board or picked up by accident.”
“I’m more curious how it knew to use parts of the ship to make itself stronger, most plants are pretty dumb, not crafters.” Aurora said in a dreamy voice. I kept silent, unlike the too curious duo.
“Good question, but the mess in here makes it impossible to tell when it started off as.” Estella shook her head. “Hopefully you and Hue can figure out where it started from what ship parts it used.” She came around to me, congratulating me on my good shots and put her arm around me.
A foul odor was starting to build up around the remnant of the plant-metal hybrid. Some of the more solid pieces appeared to be liquifying. Aurora finally extracted Guppy from the tangled mess. A Guppy that was basically green with white eyes.
“I think we better all go off to our rooms and have a shower. The stench is getting unbearable.” I said as I retreated from Estella.
Aurora gave Guppy a near crushing hug in relief. “I thought that thing had eaten you, I’m glad you’re safe!”
Guppy muffled something amidst the hug, her eyes flashing with anger.
“She has a soft spot for strays.” Estella whispered to me. “I’ll be on the bridge after getting cleaned up, and see where we’re off to now, hopefully not too far since we still haven’t been paid fully for our work on the converter.”
I nodded and wandered off towards my own room for the shower. An extended shower during which I nearly scrubbed my own skin off and had to let be even though my nose wrinkled of its own accord at how refreshing I smelled.