“How long do we have?” Lisa Silverman asked as a knot welled in her stomach.
Aron West stared at the screen to his right, “By all calculations, we have only two.”
Aron West and Lisa Silverman both began to sweat at the implications. They had been hired to monitor a station that prevented violent radiation from reaching the colony on the planet Karoon. A whole week had gone by without incident, but now the station was filling with radiation at an alarming rate. If the station broke down and stopped filtering radiation, everyone in the colony below would die.
“Well, can’t we use an algorithm to figure out when the radiation started filling in,” Lisa walked towards the screen. “Or perhaps the better question to answer is where it started coming in. Either one could help us stop this.”
“Yes, we could, but to do so would take too long. The radiation is moving at an inconstant rate. It would take days for the computer to figure out either of those questions,” Aron stood up and looked at Lisa. “We don’t have days. Now, fortunately, the radiation leakage is still below a harmful amount. Maybe I can get down there and fix the issue.”
Lisa handed Aron his long blue jacket, “Well you are the tech guy. In the meantime, I’ll search the logs for anything that could have caused the leak.”
“Yes, yes that’s a good plan. Although, why am I always the one stuck going into crazy situations?”
“Because you’re the one who started this business,” Lisa rolled her eyes at her friend.
Aron threw on his coat and pointed at Lisa with faux anger, “Don’t get smart. I’m the smart one. It’s in the contract. I’m the one that gets smart, and you are the public relations.”
With that, Aron marched down the twisting silver corridors of the station. He moved quickly because in the short time he had been in the station he had memorized its halls and faculties.
“Lisa, you there?” Aron was staring at a large metal blast door. “The area around the source of the leak has been locked down automatically. You’ll have to open all the doors from the control station. I’m at door A1.”
Lisa’s voice clicked on the communicator, “Fantastic. I’ll let you in. A1 should be opening any second now.”
Sure enough, the blast door made true to its name and ‘blasted’ open.
Aron stepped through the door, “Okay close A1.”
The increase of radiation had been in the halls around the station's radiation filter. Due to the unpredictable movement of this radiation the computer could not deduce much more. Three different filters the size of small space ships used vacuums to suck radiation into them. Radiation was still being drawn towards the filters, but enough of it was pouring out that it was beginning to fill the corridors and not the radiation pipes. This radiation would pile up exponentially destroying the delicate instruments in the process.
Red emergency lights turned the once silver hallways into crimson horrors. Faint hums from the filters and the clanging of Aron’s shoes filled the halls. He thought himself alone in the crimson dark, but something had been awoken by the sound of the blast door.
“Lisa, have you found anything yet?” Aron asked as he inspected the pipes in Hallway A. Soon he would move onto Hallway B.
Just above Aron’s flashlight hid a metal beast, coiled in the rafts and pipes waiting for him to drop his guard.
“No, everything has been quiet since we got here,” Lisa’s voice was a nice comfort in the aloneness of space. “I’m going to look back before we got here. Maybe this has been a slight problem for a while now. The colony doesn’t exactly have a lot of money. They could have unknowingly let some insignificant amount of damage grow into this problem.”
“Roger that,” Aron said with a smile.
A loud metallic thud sounded from Aron’s right. He pivoted towards the sound, shining his light down the hall. A metallic lump was on the floor where it had not been before. The lump revealed two hidden legs and arms as it rose. The thing was a full two feet taller than Aron. It had sharp claws. An expressionless face pointed at Aron.
“Lisa!” Aron ran towards door A1.
The thing took after him, exhibiting the ferocity of a lion while Aron made like a rabbit and ran. The chase was nearing door A1 and yet Lisa had not yet responded.
“Lisa, I need you to open door A1,” Aron glanced over his shoulder. “Now!”
“Why are you heading back already?” Lisa calmly inquired.
Aron slammed into door A1. The creature wasn’t stopping.
“Just do it!” Aron yelled into the communicator.
Door A1 blasted open, and Aron drove through the gap. The beast was nearing. The door blasted shut in its face just as it had reached it. It clawed at the door from the other side.
“Thanks Lisa,” Aron caught his breath from the air. “We need to talk.”
“Uh-oh. That’s never a good thing” Lisa mused.
When Aron arrived back at the control station, he found Lisa sitting there with a smile. She was infuriatingly unconcerned. Wait until she hears about the monster in the basement, thought Aron with glee. Ironically, the two had been through this whole deal before. They traveled the universe doing odd jobs for people that often involved danger and monsters.
“I’ve found the source of the damage I think,” Lisa said, feeling important.
“Yeah, well I found a metal monster in the filter rooms. So I still win the revelation game.”
“A metal monster?” Lisa was incredulous.
“Yes, a real live metal monster. I think I recognize it from somewhere. I don’t know what or how yet, though. I suppose we’ll have to fill in the blanks once we fix the station.”
“Why are there always monsters with you? I’ll check the cameras and see if I can find it. As for my thing, the week before we got on the station it was hit by a meteorite. The impact was somewhere around hall C of the filter rooms. Damage was reported as minimal.”
“I’d hardly call this minimal. If we can’t get that leak fixed...well, let’s just get it fixed. We need to find a way past that monster, then we can worry about getting to Hallway C.”
A loud electric beep from one of the monitors disrupted the conversation. They both knew what it meant. Radiation in the filter room had just reached lethal amounts. They would have to use radiations suits down there. Unfortunately, these suits could only protect against the radiation for approximately 20 minutes before the miniature radiation filters break down due to exposure.
“We have little more than a day left, Aron. Should we try to send a message to the people below to evacuate?” fear had entered Lisa’s voice.
“Yes, send the message. They won’t be able to get everyone out in time, but some people are better than none. In the meantime, I’m going to see what exactly is living in the filtration room,” Lisa nodded and started to walk away, but Aron grabbed her arm. “If things aren’t going right. If, if it looks like we aren’t going to be able to fix it in time I want you to leave me here. I want you to get out while you can. If nothing else in the last moments before the filters break I can siphon some of that energy away. If I stay, I can buy the colony another hour to get people off world.”
“No, we stick together. No discussion on that,” with that she walked away.
A half-hour passed before Aron could find any footage of the creature. It was blurry at best, but it showed enough. From the cameras, a silver tail could be seen on the creature which had several joints to aid in the things balance. Aron had seen it before, but only in historical records.
“I know what it is!” Aron shouted. “It’s a Nessex-17! Ha! How’s that for a revelation.”
“What’s a Nessex-17?”
“Sorry, it’s proper designation is NSX-17. It’s a military robot. It’s the last of its kind. As you know, robots are no longer allowed to be made for battle but back then they had developed 17 experimental models for warbots. Out of all of them, the NSX-17 was the deadliest. They programmed it to have a hunger instinct so that it would execute enemies with an extreme bloodlust. It was designed for stealth and hunting,” Aron stood up and started to gather some tools.
“Well, what does that mean?”
“It means we have two options for dealing with it. We can either trap it like an animal, or we can order it to stand down. It is designed to listen to military orders. There is a chance that it has none, and our official position on this station will hold enough weight to count as orders.”
Lisa walked away from the message terminal towards the security monitors. “That isn’t much to go off. Why isn’t it destroyed like all the other NSX-17s?”
“My best guess is that it was on a ship destroyed in battle. That meteorite was probably part of its battalion ship.”
“Great,” the security cameras were blank. “So, what does it eat?”
“Well, it doesn’t actually have to eat. It merely wants the sensation of chewing on flesh. So, any kind of animal or food will do. They powered robots with radiation converters back then so the things could survive off solar power, or anything else at hand. So, when we fix the leak, there is a good chance that the NSX-17 will shut down too. We just need to trap it long enough for that to happen.”
“We better get to work then.”
A half a day remained until the filtration devices were destroyed. Aron and Lisa had just finished putting together what essentially amounted to a bear trap. No mechanism on the station would be strong enough to pierce the metal on the NSX-17, so instead a minor ion pulse gun would be used. The thing had one shot and needed to make physical contact with the intended target to work. It would be the teeth of the trap. On the pressure plate, which was hot wired to the ion pulse, would be a piling of cooked meat. The trap should be irresistible.
“Okay, let’s go over the plan once more,” ordered Lisa.
“I know the halls better than anyone,” Aron started mechanically. “So I’ll head down there. I’ll set the trap in Hallway A. The thing will likely come to me somewhere between Hallway A and Hallway B. On first encounter, I’ll order it to stand down. If that doesn’t work, I double back to the trap. Its hunger instinct will overpower any desire to kill me as an enemy since it hasn’t eaten in nearly 60 years. I’ll make use of the time it's trapped to get to filter C. I’ll use the fusion tool to repair any damage. Then, also using the fusion tool I’ll dismember the NSX-17.”
“Good, you forgot the most important part, though.”
“And what is that?” Aron laughed.
Aron stood at door A1. He had only one shot at this. If he were to die now, the station would have no hope of being repaired. Aron slid into the bulky white radiation suit.
“You have twenty minutes to save the world, my friend,” said Lisa, through the communicator.
“When I die, you can make that the title of my biography,” Aron retorted.
Blast door A opened. Aron rushed in. The door closed behind him, and the clock started ticking. Aron set the trap down in the middle of the hall, then quickly ran down the bend to the right.
“Lisa, open door B2.” She did.
The hallway was eerily vacant, but now was no time to let eeriness to get in the way. Five minutes had already passed. Halfway down the hallway, Aron heard a familiar metal clang. He turned about face and was suddenly staring down NSX-17.
“Robot model NSX-17, I order you to stand down!” Aron yelled in his best military voice.
“You could never be a military commander. That was pitiful,” Lisa joked.
NSX-17 joined in with a synthetic growl, “Your order has been denied. You shall be terminated.”
“Fantastic,” sighed Aron as he dashed towards the trap.
NSX-17 chased him through door B2, and through Hallway A. Its precision and ferocity were unrelenting. It was fast and brutal. Its claws tore dents in the floor as it barreled unknowingly towards the trap. But the trap was not sprung as normal for the NSX-17 didn’t even notice the food on the ground. It was backing its enemy into a corner. The two were once again nearing door A1.
Aron was the first to make it to the door. He turned and saw NSX-17 still staring at him. Its feet were inches too far from the trap, and the monster did not react. Aron took a quick chance and dove over the trap hoping to bait the beast. It took one small step to meet him. The foot landed on the pressure plate, and an electric pulse shot through NSX-17 immobilizing its limbs and mind.
“Yes!” shouted Aron as he once again ran down the hallways.
Nothing impaired Aron’s way to filter C. Ten minutes were left by the time he got there, however. A quick look revealed that the filter itself had been cut up. Something had been scratching at it. The claw marks were clearly the source of the leakage. Fortunately, they wouldn’t be too hard of a fix. Without delay, Aron used the steady blue plasma beam of his rectangular fusion tool to meld the scratches.
“I think that’s it! Filter C is reported as being online and radiation levels are starting to decrease!” Lisa cheered through the com link.
The emergency lights lingered on, for the radiation was still deadly in the area. Aron, let a sigh of relief out. Things had gone better than expected.
“Aron,” a grim voice came through the communicator. “Aron, get out now. It’s coming for you. Get out now.”
It was too late, however, as NSX-17 was already in the room with Aron West.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” exclaimed Aron.
NSX-17 wasn’t. It crouched back preparing for a strike. The top of its shoulders had the engravings of The Intergalactic Alliance of Systems (or IAS). NSX-17 pounced, and Aron barely dodges it by diving under it. The robot bashed into the filter, once again damaging the system. Five minutes were left.
“Aron,” Lisa sounded over the coms. “I can see you two. That thing has the Alliance’s insignia. This colony is part of the alliance, it will follow your orders so long as you give it the station's designation code which is: A789O910. You said that they feed off radiation. Order it to consume all the radiation in the room, and then repair the filter.”
“Lisa Silverman, you brilliant fool,” Aron smiled. “That just might work.”
Aron stumbled back onto his feet, to face down NSX-17. With a quick leap, it had Aron in its claws.
“NSX-17, you are in direct violation of your prime directive. I am the officer in charge of this station designated A789O910 by IAS ordinance”
NSX-17 cocked its head. “Sir yes sir!”
“Good, now that’s some respect. NSX-17, consume the radiation in this room before it kills me.”
NSX-17’s metallic chest unfolded revealing the spherical inner core. The radiation in the station was invisible, but the core was energized and began to spark. Lightning began running throughout NSX-17’s entire body. The whole robot began to smoke, and spark before the warbot collapsed on the ground. The emergency lights shut off, and the once crimson hallway began to sparkle silver.
“Aron, the radiation is gone,” sighed Lisa. “Now quickly repair the filter before more floods in.”
After repairing filter C, Aron checked the other two filters to ensure that none of them had been damaged. They had only suffered minor damage from the radiation, and the system was returned to optimal capacity in under 30 minutes. Due to the fixing of the filters, Lisa rescinded the evacuation of Karoon. The duo was relieved of their stations a short few days after.
No mention was made of NSX-17. The metal carcass of the beast was silently jettisoned out of the station and into the sun.