The mighty retro motors of XL5 roared into life, slowing the huge craft as it approached the bizarre cluster of asteroids ahead.
Captain Steve Zodiac checked in with Professor Matic and requested an update. From the centre of his revolving desk in the observation bay, the Professor spun around and took a reading on the spacemascope.
“There’s a faint trace on course one-four-two, zero-blue, Steve”
“Thanks Matt, I’ll take her in closer, could be we’ve found XL8. Venus, you’d better get the medical bay set up. If it is Erin’s ship, it’s my hunch she’s going to need your help.”
“Okay Steve, I’m on my way.”
Doctor Venus made her way swiftly to her medical bay, preparing emergency treatment packs. Meanwhile, back in the control room, Steve peered through the observation window as the asteroids loomed closer. Instinctively, he ordered Robert to keep Fireball at a safe distance. Too close to one of those colossal rocks and it would be XL5 in need of a rescue.
Robert nodded his transparent head and repeated the order in his strange metallic voice, “Keep. Distance. Keep. Distance.”
They were soon passing the outer perimeter of the asteroid field. Around the streamlined silver ship, the huge chunks of rock spun lazily in space like spores in a light breeze. Then, Steve saw it, a gleam of metal in the distance, no bigger than a fingernail. Gently, he eased the controls over and with infinite care he piloted the ship cautiously towards the flickering light.
As XL5 neared the object, Steve could make out the shape of a spacecraft that, barring its hull markings, was identical to his own. Fireball XL8 was hanging there in space, looking for all the world like a ghost ship. There was no sign of a light inside and no indication of movement.
Steve radioed the others, “Okay folks, we’ve found XL8. Doesn’t look like there’s any activity on board, so let’s pay it a visit. Meet me in the ejector bay. You stay here Robert, and watch out for those asteroids, got it?”
With a whoosh of depressurisation, Steve, Matt and Venus were ejected into space. As they engaged their personal thruster packs, Steve found himself marveling for the thousandth time at the ingenuity of the bright spark who had invented the oxygen pills keeping all three of them alive.
They reached the airlock of XL8 and proceeded inside one at a time. There was the familiar hiss of the pressure equalising and the inner hatch slid open. All three of them switched on their torches and proceeded along the main corridor of the eerily silent vessel.
Doctor Venus broke the silence, “How many crew on board, Steve?”
“Just two, Captain Summers and Chuck Morrison.”
“Let’s hope they’re okay.”
The door of the control room slid open automatically and as they stepped through their torches illuminated the faces of two people seated at the controls.
At the sight of his colleagues, Steve let out a relieved sigh, “Erin, Chuck! Boy am I glad to see you two are okay!”
But before he could say another word, Captain Summers sprang from her chair and clamped a hand across Steve’s mouth while Chuck urgently held a finger to his lips and looked imploringly at Matt and Venus. The pair stood in the doorway, baffled. Steve met Erin’s eyes and nodded slowly.
He lowered his voice to a near whisper, “What’s going on?”
Erin’s voice was equally quiet, but tense with fear, “You shouldn’t have come, Steve. You don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into.”
Suddenly, Robert’s voice blared out from Steve’s personal radio communicator, “Keeping. Distance. Are. You. All. Right?”
The message had no sooner finished reverberating around the control room when there was a strange rumbling noise from outside. Venus gasped, her eyes wide with surprise. Somehow, incredibly, the asteroids were moving closer to each other, forming one structure. No, not a structure… a figure. A colossal figure made from hundreds of thousands of tons of rock. And then, it began to move towards them.
Steve rounded on Erin, “That’s why you’ve been out of contact for so long, you were keeping quiet so as not to be noticed!”
Erin nodded, “That’s right. But now it’s awake… and there’s no way out of this for any of us.”
TO BE CONTINUED