Sometimes you enter contests.

The honorable certificate

Clash of Titan

In 2012, this story was submitted to the “Writer’s of the Future” contest conducted by the L. Ron Hubbard foundation.  It received Honorable Mention, because it is honorable to mention it.  Frequently.  To everyone you know.

Drops of methane spattered the window of LifePod 7 as one of Titan’s interminable spring showers passed over the compound. Karik Aziz stared out at the polar landscape without really seeing it, his dark features reflected back at him in the glass. His mind was back on Earth again, going over the final moments with his girlfriend. “Karik, this has always been your dream, I know that. I can’t put my life on hold for you though. Go, do your job, and enjoy this time. I will never forget you.” That, and a bittersweet kiss, was his send-off to the research station on Titan.
“Penny for your thoughts.” April Devry said, startling him out of his reverie. She was a pert brunette with a no-nonsense hairdo and typically a smudge of grease on her cheek. There was no privacy here, the pods were cramped and functional. This one was a combination of dining hall, exercise room, and entertainment complex. All 12 of the residents of Titan 2 would be in and out of this room at some point in the next 4 hours. Karik could smell the slightly floral scent of her hair as she passed by closely out of necessity.
“There were some anomalies in the sensor array on LifePod 4 this morning, I think it’s this methane rain passing by the sensors and showing as distant movement.” He said.
She looked at him for a moment or two. “Oooh-kay. You don’t have to tell me what’s up with you, but I know you weren’t worrying about sensor arrays. Do you want anything to eat?”
“I’m sorry, I guess I’m just a little homesick and thinking about all we give up to be here. Yes, I’d love some coffee and a muffin.” He replied, trying to put on a happy face. All of the researchers in the Titan program were closely screened for psychological problems. He knew April fairly well from their training classes, but one bad report could get him sent back to Earth on the next supply shuttle. He had worked too hard to get here.
“Both Captain Harper and James Spanos from rotation 1 ended up getting divorce papers while they were here.” April said. His quick intake of breath let her know that she had scored a direct hit. “It’s hard to sustain a relationship from a billion kilometers away. Don’t worry, I’m not going to report that you were sitting in the window staring out into space, you can talk to me. It’s healthier to get it out in the open.”
“Crystal and I were in love since the first year of my doctoral program.” Karik began. He could see her perfect, slightly too-large teeth smiling at him as if she was standing in the room. April poured them both a cup of piping hot coffee and sat down across from him at the small table. “She knew that this mission was my goal, and said that she was OK with it. However, I thought I had seen her getting closer with her research assistant. I convinced myself that I was being overly critical and that everything was fine. Unfortunately, everything wasn’t fine. She broke up with me literally as I was on my way to suit up. Why did she have to leave me with that thought? Why not just do what she was going to do and send me a ‘Dear Karik’ email?”
“You don’t know women very well, do you Karik?” April asked gently. “She needed you to know what she was thinking and to do it in person. She had probably tried to bring it up 100 times in the weeks leading up to your launch and couldn’t find the right time or the right words. Have you had any email from her?”
“Yes, one, but I suspect that mission control has edited it heavily. It was friendly and full of the mundane details of teaching her classes. No mention of Thomas the research assistant. You know that they won’t let us receive bad news. Or it may just be that she doesn’t want them to know that there was any conflict at home.”
“Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and think that she’s trying to protect you.” April suggested. Karik smiled wanly at the attempt, but he knew he had to come to grips with the end of his relationship. Taking a sip of his coffee, he sighed.
“Thank you April, it’s good to at least get it off my chest. There is nothing I can do about it for many years, so I’m just going to try to enjoy my assignment here as best I can.” Without thinking about it, he reached across the table and held her hand. She didn’t pull away.

The clarion call of the breach alarm startled the pair from their talk and sent them lurching for the command pod. A distinct tinge of ammonia in the air suggested that things were already going wrong with the atmospheric control system. There was no air quality warning, yet, but they both grabbed a portable breathing apparatus as they passed Pod 2.
The command pod was already a blur of activity when they arrived. All of the monitors flashed rapidly-updating statistics and surveillance camera feeds at them, demanding their attention.
“What happened?” Karik asked of no one in particular.
“LifePod 4 has been destroyed” replied Captain Malvet. We’ve sealed the doors to the pod and so far they’re holding, but we lost Michaels and Johansen.”
Karik and April had little time to process the news that two of their closest friends were gone, their bodies surrendered to Titan as recovery and storage were impractical. “Was it an explosion? I saw some anomalies with the sensor array but the computer said that everything was…”
“Karik,” Captain Malvet said, “it wasn’t an explosion. We don’t know for sure, but we think the LifePod was destroyed from the outside. By something outside. Here, look at the video.”
The monitor nearest them sprang to life and showed an external view of the compound. LifePod 4 was hidden behind an array of satellite receivers and datalinks but it could be made out to the extreme right-hand side of the picture. Eerily, Karik could see himself in the window of LifePod 7 drinking his coffee with April. The timer on the bottom of the screen was the only thing that moved. Click, LifePod 4 was there. Click, a gray form reared up from behind the pod and crashed down upon it. Click, LifePod 4 had vanished.
“What to hell was THAT?” Karik demanded.
“You’re the Astrobiologist, you tell me.” Captain Malvet replied.
“You think it was alive?” Karik asked. “This station has been on this moon for 4 and a half years now and we haven’t seen the first evidence of any life. Not in the methane lakes, not in the subterranean oceans, not even a microbe. You want me to believe that we’ve somehow missed some huge multi-cellular life form that is large enough to destroy a LifePod? I’m not buying it. There has to be some other explanation. Maybe a meteorite landed just beyond the pod and threw up a sheet of ice?”
“No meteorites.” said Captain Malvet simply. “We would have seen them on radar before they hit. Whatever it was came from the ground.”
“How close can I get? Is Pod 3 still intact?”
“Yes, you can get to LifePod 3 but you’ll have to manually open the blast door, it locked down when Pod 4 let in the Titan atmosphere, but it should be scrubbed by now. Why, what do you have in mind?”
“I know it’s not very high tech, but I need to look out the window. Do we have any binoculars?” Karik began to look through the provision drawers.
“I’m coming with you,” April declared.
“No way, it’s too dangerous. If there IS something out there, LifePod3 is the next most likely target. I can’t lose you. I mean, we can’t risk losing you. You’re the only one that knows how to re-route the energy conduits now that Johansen is dead.”
“Even more reason for me to go with you, I can see how extensive the damage is. As it is, I can see that we’re exhausting oxygen out into the atmosphere, that leak will need to be repaired pronto. Come on, let’s go.” With that, April grabbed the binoculars from his hand and started out for LifePod 3. Karik had no choice but to follow.
“Wear suits!” Captain Malvet yelled from behind them.

The door to LifePod 3 already had a crust of ice on the handle, signs that the internal heating units were on minimal settings. Karik tried to manipulate his bulky hands in the space suit he wore to operate the wheel. April took advantage of the low gravity to climb over him and helped turn. Slowly, the hatch loosened and then opened. Inside they saw the frozen remains of dozens of scientific experiments that would have to be re-started. Some of them dated back to the earliest days of the mission. More ominously, LifePod3 connected to the greenhouse that provided them with fresh vegetables. If the computer had allowed the atmosphere or temperature in the greenhouse to be get too low, they would have a much larger crisis on their hands. A quick glance at the door to the greenhouse still showed lights on and condensation on the window, hopefully that was a good sign.
The only lights in the darkened Pod were the blinking ‘warning’ lights which made for an eerie trip down the central aisle. The far end of LifePod 3 was the direct connection to the now-missing LifePod 4. The blast door had closed as it was supposed to and Karik knew that even if they tried to open it, the difference in pressure from the outside atmosphere would make it impossible.
To the left and right of the door were two windows. Karik made for the left-hand window while April went to the right. As he started to try to make out what he was seeing in the gloom of Titan mid-day, he heard a shriek over the intercom and looked to see April recoil from the window.
“What is it?” he shouted, at the same time hearing Captain Malvet’s voice asking the same thing.
“It’s Johansen. He’s… he’s outside the window.”
Karik made his way to the window and looked at the face of his friend. Obviously Johansen had gotten as far as the tunnel between the Pods before the foreign atmosphere and freezing temperatures had taken their toll. Karik had to look past his friend’s beseeching eyes to see if he could make out anything further through the window.
LifePod 4 was a snarl of aluminum and insulation scattered on the soil of Titan. Although the Pod was designed for the low temperatures and Methane rain, it wasn’t designed for whatever forces had obviously hit it. A crystallized mass of something had congealed on the edges still attached to LifePod 3. “Sure wish I could get a sample of THAT” Karik said to himself.
“Yes, I bet that would tell us a lot.” April’s voice boomed in his earpiece. “It’s going to take a ‘walk to reroute the air and electrical services, I can get you a sample if you want.”
“Let’s see if we can see anything from here first. I don’t think it’s safe to go out there right now.”
“That’s fine, but I don’t see a thing, do you?”
Karik looked for a long time out of the portal window. The dim external lights of the compound told him nothing. At one point he thought he saw movement, but when he turned his full attention to the spot, he saw nothing. Absolutely nothing.   “No,” he said disgustedly. “I don’t see anything that would have caused this devastation. Let’s get back to the command pod and regroup. I’ll go out with you to work on the ducts, you’ll need the extra hands.” Together they made their way into LifePod 3 and reset the computer to bring the lights and atmosphere back to normal, then they made their way back to the command pod.
“Karik, April,” Captain Malvet addressed them the instant they came through the door.   “I just wanted to let you know that I’ve sent out a distress call to mission control and told them that we are going to have to abandon Titan 2. The next re-stocking shuttle arrives in 2 weeks. When it leaves, we’re all going to be on it.”
“No!” shouted Karik. “I’ve sacrificed everything to be here, we can’t just leave because of one tragic accident!”
Captain Malvet looked at him coldly. “You have two weeks to figure out what happened and make sure it never happens again. If you don’t have an answer to my satisfaction the day before the shuttle arrives, we’re abandoning the station. Do I make myself clear?”
“Perfectly clear,” Karik responded quietly. “Come on April, let’s go get our sample.”

The airlock was part of LifePod 6 which deposited them on the far side of the Titan 2 compound. While the original plans for the station had included a vehicle, budget cuts had left them on foot. The low gravity helped, but the bulky, heated suits and full headgear made for slow going. Gradually they walked past the command pod (Karik gave a little wave to the faces pressed into the window) and could begin to make out the remains of LifePod 4. Chris Hingle had been sent with them, he was a former military man, as well as a scientist. Although the station had nothing that would serve as a weapon, he could at least keep guard while they worked on the ducts and sampled the crystalline material on the exposed metal of LifePod 4.
While Karik’s curiosity was at a high level, the more mundane task of sealing the air leaks and re-routing electrical connections had a higher priority. He worked clumsily but steadily under April’s watchful eye, shutting dampers, stuffing insulation into holes, and helping her cap off electrical connections with over-sized tools. Despite the freezing conditions outside, he had to set the temperature in his suit down several times to keep from sweating and fogging his helmet.
At last the needed repairs were complete and they could start to investigate. With a nod to Chris, they made their way further out to where LifePod 4 had once stood. The sturdy framework simply ended about 2 feet off of the ground. Karik and April scraped a sampling of the crystalline material into a container and stashed it in a bag that Karik had strung around his waist. If it was organic in nature, even with a chemistry he had never seen before, he would have the dubious distinction of having found the first signs of non-Earth life in the Universe. If it was simply inert, it would give more credence to his asteroid theory.
With that complete, he turned on his microphone. “What now, Watson?” he asked April in his best Sherlock Holmes accent.
“This is no time for jokes, Karik, we have about 17 minutes of oxygen and a ten minute walk to get back. Should we try to do something with the bodies?”
Chastened, Karik helped April drag the two bodies under LifePod3. There was no way to store them inside and, like it or not, this was the most likely way to give them a ‘burial.’ With two minutes left, they started looking for clues.
Karik followed the line of damage away from the Pod but couldn’t find any obvious signs of a meteor strike or other celestial cause. The thick atmosphere of Titan let only the largest meteors make it to the surface, so a strike large enough to destroy the pod should be obvious. Among the rubble in the soil was a series of parallel lines but Karik couldn’t determine what had caused them. April shone her flashlight onto a low row of frozen ice ‘rocks’ that were just beyond the compound perimeter. Time was almost up, but they hurried as quickly as they could to look behind them. Nothing. Frustrated, they turned to return to the airlock.
“Do you see Chris anywhere?” April asked.
“No, perhaps he went inside.” Karik suggested, although the likelihood of their guard going inside without saying anything was slim. “Chris, do you copy? Chris Hingle, can you hear me?” All they heard was light static. “Captain Malvet, what is the 20 on Chris Hingle?”
Malvet’s voice crackled in their helmets. “He’s not with you? He last checked in about two minutes ago, said you were going to look at some rocks.”
“No, he’s not here. We’re down to 7 minutes with 5 in reserve, do you want us to look around?”
“Negative, return in here and I’ll send a second team out.” In the background Karik could hear the Captain’s stressed voice giving orders to assemble a second team. When they returned to the airlock, they were met by Margaret Stearn, the facility doctor, and Larry Dowd who had dressed and were heading out.
“Where did you last see him?” Dr. Stearn asked.
“He was standing on the Southeast corner of where LifePod 4 had been, facing outward. We were only gone a couple of minutes and when we returned, there was no trace of him.”
“Maybe he fell. We’d better get out there, he’ll be running out of oxygen.” With that, they were gone. Karik and April began removing their suits, a sense of dread starting to overtake them for the second time in less than two hours.
Malvet was pacing, as much as the narrow aisle of the command pod allowed.        “Did you find anything?”
“Nothing obvious,” April reported. “We saw the debris, tended to the bodies, and made repairs. The wreckage is strewn quite far, but there was no obvious meteor strike or other cause of the disaster. We got some samples of a foreign material on the wreckage but that’s going to take time to analyze.”
“Guess you’d better get started,” the Captain said, turning back to the monitors. Assuming they were dismissed, April and Karik made their way to LifePod 3.

Hours later, Karik was pouring over the microscope and making notes. April had returned from the commissary with a plate of grilled cheese substitute sandwiches and more coffee. “What do you see?”
“The sample is definitely organic in nature, but this moon is full of organic molecules. Some of them are longer, more elaborate strands than I’ve seen before but they could be the result of an electric arc when the pod was destroyed. There aren’t any obvious cellular structures, but this goo is organic. So far that’s all I know. I’m trying to culture it, although I’m guessing at the correct atmosphere, temperature, and medium. Any word on Hingle?”
“None. He just disappeared.”
“And then there were nine. I’m starting to think that Captain Malvet’s plan is the right one. If we last that long.”
“Now don’t talk like that, Karik.” April had stayed strong through the destruction, finding the body, and even Hingle’s disappearance but now she showed definite signs of the stress getting to her. “We’ll be fine. We just need to figure out what happened and then figure out how to keep it from happening again.” Instinctively Karik went to her and wrapped her in his arms. They stayed that way a bit too long for platonic friends.
“What was that?” Karik asked suddenly. From the outside of the pod, a rubbing noise could be heard. He triggered the intercom. “Captain Malvet, do you have a visual on the outside of LifePod 3?”
It took a moment for the reply to come. “The near side is clear, I don’t have a visual on the rear. Why, what’s going on?”
“Odd noise coming from outside. Are Stearn and Dowd still out there?”
“Negative, they returned a few minutes ago. Nothing conclusive.”
Karik made his way to the window but could see nothing obvious. The murky half-light of Titan’s surface was barely illuminated by the perimeter lighting, a ‘fog’ of methane particles had rolled in since they were outside making visibility very poor. The strange noise sounded again.
“Karik, look!” April shouted. Karik followed her outstretched finger to the isolation glove box where he had placed the sample they took outside. The material had definitely grown, it was covering the inside of the viewport. More eerily, it was pulsating in rhythm with the series of scraping noises coming from outside the pod.
Quickly Karik turned a knob on the glove box, flooding it with oxygen. The mass turned orange, then shriveled into a tiny ball, motionless. Outside, a vibration filled the LifePod until their ears could barely take the sound. As quickly as it had started, the vibration ceased and all was quiet, inside and out.
“What the hell is going on down there?” Captain Malvet’s voice thundered from the intercom.
“Um… I’m not entirely sure. April and I are coming up to the command pod, we’ll tell you what we found.”
“Make it snappy.” Malvet was showing signs of the strain.

“… so once I flooded the chamber with oxygen, the material became inert and whatever was outside went away. I don’t know what the vibration was about, but it seemed like whatever was outside was communicating with whatever I had grown in here. When the communication stopped, it’s almost like it… roared. I know that sounds crazy.”
“This whole moon is starting to sound crazy. That’s it, we need to get off of here as soon as possible. Write up your report and transmit it ASAP so they know what you’ve found. Meanwhile, don’t go into LifePod 3 again.”
“Well, that’s not really possible Captain, all of our fresh food comes from LifePod 3.”
“Damn, you’re right. OK, we’ll go in there only to get food. Understood?”
“Captain, that’s where…” Karik started to protest, sensing that he was on the brink of a huge discovery in the field of astrobiology. The Captain’s face told him all he needed to know though. This was no longer a science outpost. Until they left, this was a military outpost, and it was under attack.
At dinner, all 9 of the remaining crew members gathered in the cafeteria and compared notes. Dr. Stearn and Larry Dowd had seen nothing despite covering all sections of the compound. It was as if Hingle had never existed. Captain Malvet asked Karik to tell them about his experiments in the lab. He gave the facts, then added in his speculation. The excitement of being the first to find a new life form was definitely tempered by losing three of his friends and the memory of the vibration in LifePod3. Ultimately they decided to go on as normally as possible until the supply transport arrived. Staying together might be a good idea or might be a mistake. Splitting up might be a good idea or be a mistake. While the creature (the description had come unbidden to everyone) was powerful enough to destroy an entire pod, it was a completely foreign intelligence. Trying to guess how it might think, what it might do, or if it would strike again was pointless. Never in the history of mankind had there been such a foe. They were on its turf, unarmed, and with no idea of the rules of engagement.
The only concession Karik could get from Captain Malvet was getting a microscope and his original sample. He kept them in the locker in his sleeping pod. Sealed with a vacuum, the sample shouldn’t be able to grow but it shouldn’t deteriorate either. His original slide showed nothing more or less than it had the first time he had looked.
On the third day, LifePod 6 disappeared. Dr. Stearn was in the Pod at the time, and the airlock went with her. The computer dutifully sealed off the blast door and alerted the inhabitants of LifePod 5 that they could either leave the pod or over-ride the automatic shutdown. Since the pods were dwindling, the decision was made to over-ride.
Ten minutes later, with no time to mourn Dr. Stearn, they were all in the command pod at a briefing. “Captain, we don’t have any way of sealing off the air ducts that led to LifePod 6.” April was giving him an assessment of their situation. “The automatic diverters are in place, but there is still a significant amount of leakage. Without the airlock, we can’t repair them from outside. About the best I can do is stick some insulation in the ducts from inside LifePod 5. Also,” April paused, not sure if the rest of them had caught the severity of the situation, “there is no way for the supply shuttle to dock with us.”
Captain Malvet’s face blanched. “Options?”
“Well, we do have the escape pod. It’s only designed for three people, but if we empty out the supplies we can all fit. We can launch and rendezvous with the shuttle in orbit.”
“Let’s wait until the last day to empty out the escape pod. If worse comes to worse, we may have to use it before 11 days. Good thinking though. What else are we up against?”
“The creature showed a surprising amount of intelligence in selecting LifePod 6. It saw us coming out of there and somehow surmised that it was the entrance.” Karik said.
“Don’t you think you’re giving this thing a bit too much credit?” the Captain countered.
“Well, it’s possible that it was random, but it would be conceit on our part to assume that the creature is any less intelligent than we are. We don’t hold a patent on intelligence.”
“Fair enough. Give it some thought and see if you can guess which pod is next.” With that, the meeting was over, everyone returned to their jobs and tried not to think which LifePod would be next. 11 days remaining. 8 crew members remaining.

“Captain, I think the command pod is the next most likely target” Karik said the next day. “It won’t take out Pod 3 because that’s where it last sensed whatever was growing in the glove-box. If it is trying to figure out which is the most important pod, the command pod has the most windows, the most lights, and the most activity.”
“That makes sense. Now what do we do about it? We can live without the other four pods. Not comfortably, but we could get through 10 more days. This pod is the central hub, it contains the processing equipment for the air and water and energy. If this one goes, do we have any possibility of surviving?”
After several minutes of silent contemplation, April spoke up. “We will have to defend it. By the reaction of the material Karik cultured, oxygen is highly poisonous to this life form. If we can set up a series of nozzles blowing oxygen out through the pod walls, we could possibly divert an attack.”
“How could we do that?” Captain Malvet asked.
“We’ll have to get some tubing from the lab, and drill some holes. I know it sounds dangerous, but if the pod is empty at the time and I wear a suit, I should be able to do it without letting out too much of our atmosphere or in too much of Titan.”
“Other options?” Malvet looked around the room. There were none. “Fine, let’s get it done as soon as possible. What do you need?” April began to list the supplies.

Karik stood nervously in the commissary, waiting for the rumbles of drilling to subside. He hoped that the vibrations wouldn’t somehow attract the creature before the makeshift defense system was in place. More than that, he worried about April. It had been a long time since Karik had thought about Crystal.
Finally the all-clear signal sounded. The portal opened and April was there, peeling off her suit. He hugged her without saying anything. At first she stood with her hands by her side, but soon he felt them wrap around his waist.
Later that night, the rumble outside the command pod started. April manned the oxygen injectors where the rumble could be heard and there was a large vibration, then silence. The monitors showed a dark shape retreating from the pod, parallel lines behind it in the soil. At last they had a picture of their adversary. Magnification showed no features, simply a larger gray shape. It could have been a rock or a mud puddle. Or a methane-breathing life form from a moon around Saturn.
Karik stared at the monitor long after the shape was gone. This should be his finest hour; instead he was very scared. Finally he sat down to write a report on his observations.

On day 11, LifePod 7 was annihilated. Two of the crewmen had been in the pod eating dinner, their bodies could be seen on the monitor after the gray shape was gone. Had it been an hour earlier, six of them would have been eating. Three days to go, six crew members. Worst of all, there were only three pods and the command pod remaining. If LifePod 5 went next, the escape capsule would go with it. If the command pod went next, they would have to abandon ship and hope they could hold out for three days with no food or water and standing room only.
That night, Karik and April shared a bunk. There was no discussion, no debating, they both intuitively knew that this might be their last night on this strange hunk of rock and they didn’t want to spend it alone. Neither bothered to reassure the other, there were no long-term commitments discussed or considered. Their love-making was instinctive and urgent and intense. Despite the situation, they both slept soundly.

The next morning, Captain Malvet’s voice sounded in their pod. “Karik, April, please come to the command pod.”
A few minutes later they arrived to find hot coffee waiting for them. “How did you make coffee? The commissary is gone?” asked April.
“I served 12 years on a Navy aircraft carrier, you get used to making due,” was all Malvet would volunteer. “We have two days until we can reasonably get into the escape pod and meet up with the resupply shuttle. What do you think about sacrificing one of the non-essential Pods to buy us some time?”
“How do you suggest we do that?” Karik asked.
“You’re the expert, what would attract this thing?”
Surprisingly, it was April that answered. “What about growing some more of that goo in there?”
“I don’t know if the creature would destroy the Pod to get to… whatever that stuff was or not” Karik replied.
“Any other suggestions?” Malvet asked.
After some thought, Karik had to admit he did not. They returned to LifePod 3 to implement April’s plan. First, they harvested whatever fruit and vegetables were passably ripe. Next, they retrieved the sample of the material from the outside of the station and Karik carefully opened it in the isolation glove box. His preparations were the same, and it quickly sprouted and began to grow.
“Get out of there!” Captain Malvet ordered. Karik resealed the remainder of his sample and together he and April left LifePod 3. They set up a surveillance camera on the glove box, then manually closed the blast door. Then they waited. And waited.
From the outside monitors, they could see the creature moving close to the pod. The inside monitors showed the same pulsing of the material growing in the glove box, and even from this distance they could feel the intensifying vibration. The gray stain of the creature enveloped the pod, not destroying it forcibly but cradling it. Even after they had shut off the speakers from the intercom, the ‘song’ rang out through the station. It grew louder and louder and they were forced to cover their ears. A movement from the outside cameras showed that the creature was lifting the pod from its supports, almost gently. Electrical sparks arced as the wiring gave way and the whole pod slowly rolled out of sight. The humming grew quieter and then abated completely. The six crewmen stared at the monitor.
“I think we just watched a really big beach ball give birth,” April said. No one disagreed.

The next day, spirits were a little higher. Captain Malvet ordered that the escape pod be emptied as much as possible to allow for all of them to leave the station. Having a task helped calm frayed nerves and the project took most of the morning. LifePod 1 had become the everything room as the other pods were destroyed. April and Karik sat with three of the others resting while Captain Malvet remained alone in the command center.   “How do we flag down the supply shuttle? Won’t it automatically go to land?” Karik asked Larry Dowd.
“Mission control reprogrammed the shuttle en route, it knows to go into orbit and wait for the beacon from the escape pod. Even if that hadn’t occurred, the protocol is to have the supply shuttle look for the beacon prior to landing in case we had to make an emergency evacuation.” Larry replied.
“I’m glad the rocket scientists have it under control.” Karik said. “It’s going to be a tight fit and…” He was interrupted by the intercom. “April and Karik, I need you here in the command pod. We have movement.” They ran.
The vibration could already be heard under the pod when they arrived. “April, can you work the air nozzles?” Captain Malvet asked. She jumped to the task. “Karik, is it time to retreat to the LifePod? We can probably make it a day and I’m worried that…”
Several sirens went off simultaneously as the blast door to LifePod1 slammed shut. “Oh my God” was all anyone could say. They didn’t need monitors, they could see the gray shape retreating from the windows of the command pod.    “What are you?!?” Karik yelled as it disappeared.
“Go get in the escape capsule” Captain Malvet ordered. “Load up as many of the supplies as you can and wait for me. I’m going to close down what’s left of the station.”
Karik started to argue but Captain Malvet’s glance told him that this was a time to simply say “Yes Sir” and go.
Together he and April made their way to LifePod 5. Quickly they looked through the supplies and selected what they might need for a few days. If the rendezvous with the supply shuttle didn’t occur in a few days, it wasn’t going to occur anyway. Finally they settled in and waited.
“One minute to launch,” a mechanical voice told them. The doors began to close.
“Captain Malvet there’s a malfunction, get in here!” Karik shouted into the intercom.
“No malfunction Karik, I started the countdown remotely. Good luck to you and April, it’s been an honor serving with you.”
“Sir, there is no reason…”
“Enough Aziz! I lost 9 good men and women to that thing. I may go down with the ship, but I’m going down fighting. Good luck to you both.” The intercom clicked off.
“30 seconds to launch. All straps must be secured at this time for launch. 25 seconds to launch. All straps must be secured at this time for launch. 15 seconds to launch…” the computer insisted that they get into their seats. The escape pod was going up one way or another, if they didn’t want to be crushed by the g-forces they had to get seated. Karik helped April with hers and then quickly settled into his seat just as the engines began to ignite.
A portal before them showed the disconnect from the escape pod and the station rapidly dwindling beneath them. Just before the thick Titan atmosphere enveloped them for good, they saw a brilliant flash of light. It took a moment or two to accept what they were seeing. Karik and April both wept as they made their way to low orbit.

It took several months for the video and audio feeds to be compiled and the last moments of Titan 2 to unfold, but at last Karik and April stood before a monitor at mission control. Command had not wanted them to see it, but they had insisted. There was Captain Malvet as he bid them goodbye. Now he set the electrical generator on overload. They saw the gray form creeping ever closer to the command pod. They saw themselves jettison away in the escape pod, literally a few feet from the creature . And then they saw no more. The brave man and the station, and presumably the creature were gone. The only remnant of Titan 2 that remained was the small vial of brown goo, still vacuum sealed in Karik’s lab.

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