# Lifeline · Day 3

Morning, which means it's time to rise and shine. So I'm rising. And I'm definitely shining.

By which I mean, I'm feeling like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining. Intensely cold and more than a little crazy.

And -- again, not trying to be gross here -- I've got the absolute WORST taste in my mouth, and my saliva is green.

Last night I slept indoors rather than out, and nowhere near a radiation source...

...this has GOT to be something atmospheric, a by-product of whatever I'm exhaling. I wish I knew what.

I guess I should go try to figure out what the hell went wrong with the proximity alarm last night, huh?

Although I'm pretty sure it was just a malfunction. And I'm pretty sure I'd rather eat breakfast instead.

Check out the alarm.

The generator's plugged back in and running the alarm system.

Now I can scan back through its memory and try to figure out what broke the grid and set this thing off last night.

Best guess? Strong winds whipped up a dust cloud, or even some small rocks.

I mean, the wind gusted strong enough to roll my escape pod something like ten feet, night before last.

I'll bet you anything that's all that happened here. I mean, it w--

[Taylor is busy]

This is so weird.

I've watched it a couple times now. I keep rewinding and playing it over again.

If you're watching really, REALLY carefully in Quadrant 2 (of the three that are functional), at the very outskirts of the grid...

...something moves by and breaks the perimeter just for a second.

Something that looks like...

...No. Never mind. It can't be. I'm just going loopy, out here alone.

"Looks like" what?

Okay. Keep in mind that I know how crazy this sounds. Keep in mind that I don't believe it, myself.

But it looks almost like... a person.

I mean, it's all shadows. It's almost impossible to make anything out on this monitor screen, at this distance.

And the human mind has a tendency to spot human-like shapes in random things. I just learned the word for it recently: "pareidolia."

Like when people see the Virgin Mary in water stains, or smiley faces in car grilles and headlights.

I'm probably more prone to it than anyone right now, being the only living person out here, desperately seeking the familiar.

So even though this looks like a person EVERY SINGLE TIME that I rewind it, I know that, of course, it ISN'T a person.

Deep breaths. Not freaking out.

Keep studying the footage.

It doesn't matter how many times I watch it. I see it every single time.

And every single time, I have to tell myself that I'm not really seeing it.

I know myself. I could keep doing this all day long, but I don't think it's particularly healthy.

I'm gonna get some breakfast and stop worrying about whatever it is I'm seeing. Which I am clearly NOT seeing.

Breakfast. That's what normal people eat in the mornings.

And despite being stranded in deep space, I want to just do as many normal things as possible.

So, like a normal person, I'm just gonna chow down on rat pellets and stale water.

The breakfast of champions.

Oh, man. I've really got to see if I can get into the caravel's galley today.

I guess that should be my mission after I choke down this hearty meal, huh?

Sure, give it a shot.

All right! That's the spirit! Let's just wash down these last few kernels of lab food, and then it's galley time!

I already know I can't shimmy through the crack in the door...

...but I also know there was stuff falling out of the cabinets in there. So I have an idea.

If I can find enough spare parts among the junk in this ship, I should be able to fashion some sort of reaching pole.

And it won't be too difficult to make a simple grabbing claw that I can trigger from my end.

Give me a few minutes to root around in here, and I'll see what I can come up with.

[Taylor is busy]

Okay! My Reachin' Stick is done. That's with capital letters because this is obviously a million-dollar idea.

(It's amazing how many million-dollar ideas you come up with when you're stranded in space, where a million dollars is useless.)

I've already banged up my shoulder, so why not strain it to the breaking point by shoving it as far through the door as it'll go?

All right, Reachin' Stick... let's start reachin'!

CRAP! I was not steady enough.

Okay, slowly but surely... I've got the claw on either side of something shiny and silver and presumably edible...

Here it comes... don't drop it... DO NOT DROP IT YOU CLUMSY DROPPER YOU

Ha! Yes! Oh my God, I did it! I went fishing and caught myself a chicken pesto pasta!

Part of me wants to tear into this right now... but maybe I should keep grabbing meal packs until I have a sizable stash.

Keep fishing.

Good point. With a Reachin' Stick this nice, it'd be a shame not to keep on reachin'.

(That'll probably be the official motto of Reachin' Stick. You are witnessing history being made, my friend!)

Carefully... annnnd... just nabbed a teriyaki beef!

And just beyond that... is... ratatouille?

I have to admit, I have no idea what ratatouille is, outside of the Pixar movie. Could this be freeze-dried, CGI-animated rat?

I guess I'll find out.

It's stewed veggies, dummy.

Huh. Yeah, I guess that's sort of what this tastes like.

Although it equally tastes like computer-animated rodent, so now I'm not sure WHAT to believe.

[Taylor is busy]

Okay! Finished with breakfast (such as it was -- beggars can't be choosers, and all that).

The way I see it, today is all about reaching that peak.

I have to hope that my inability to get to it yesterday was just a combination of exhaustion and optical illusion.

With food in my belly and the full day ahead of me, I'm liking my odds a lot better today.

I also like knowing that this caravel -- and the little generator -- are waiting for me on my return trip to the Varia.

That'll allow me to fire up the distress beacon to maybe get out of here...

...or else the gun turret, on the slim chance that there really IS something else out here besides me.

So, what do you think? Figure I can make it to the peak today?

Yes, go for it!

Yes. I'm with you. I've trekked too far into this mystery not to find out its answer.

I'm just gonna pack up a few munchies, and stow the ginny someplace safe...

...and then I'll get on my way. I'll message you when I'm heading out.

[Taylor is busy]

Stuck my head out of the caravel and caught what was, honestly, one of the most impressive sunrises I've ever witnessed.

(That sun being Tau Ceti and not good ol' Sol, but still, I'm gonna go ahead and count it.)

So, first of all, let's just be impressed that I was up and at 'em before first light -- that hasn't happened in... ever?

And second, I should mention that I could see that weird green corona around the peak again, that sort of soft glow.

The light -- like the shape of the peak itself -- is just a few degrees away from natural-looking. It weirds me out.

("Weirds me out" is the technical, scientific term for it. Look it up. From the Latin for "Icky yucky squicky.")

Oh, and last but not least, my IEVA suit's compass is still acting all icky yucky squicky.

I guess I don't REALLY need it for hiking to the peak; so long as I've got line of sight, it shouldn't be a problem to get there.

But I bet I could spend a few minutes and cobble one together from spare parts before I take off.

Build yourself a compass.

Hey, all right. This should almost be fun!

(Maybe I should put "fun" in quotes. It's a pretty nerdy version of "fun," if we're being honest.)

The medkit has a couple of needles in it, so that's easy enough.

I've done this before with a bowl of water, but it's not like I'm going to balance one of those while I'm hiking all day...

...but really, the important thing is just that the compass face is able to float, frictionless, while it spins.

So instead I'm gonna do a variation, where the compass face is balanced on, like, a pushpin or a brad. Something like that.

Of course, the most important part of making any compass is finding a magnet -- preferably, a rare earth magnet --

but fortunately, up in the flight deck there's whole bank of computers that aren't using their hard drives right now!

A little bit of gentle disassembly (by which I mean, I'm gonna smash the living crap out of 'em with whatever's handy)...

...and I'll have the magnets out of those drives and rubbed on these needles in no time!

[Taylor is busy]

And voila! I magnetized the needles, attached 'em to a featherweight disc of plastic MRE wrapper...

...mounted it all on a bent paper clip, and couched the whole assembly in a piece of PVC tubing.

It may not be pretty, but it seems to actually work.

By which I mean, it points toward the peak and tells me that's north -- which is better than my suit compass can do.

Score one for the indoor kid!

All right. My compass and I are heading north. Weird-ass peak or bust. I'll message you after a while.

[Taylor is busy]

Okay. I reached this point yesterday, having detoured around the rim of a little crater.

This was where I was realizing that my IEVA suit compass was all screwy, even though I was probably five miles from the wreck.

(That's... like... eight kilometers? I'm trying. I really am.)

And that's still the case today. The suit compass is nuttier than two squirrels in a winter food hoarding competition.

My homemade compass, on the other hand, seems to be working perfectly.

Maybe they should've had me scratch-build the Varia, too. It might've stayed in one piece that way.

...Ugh. That joke went a little dark right in the middle of me telling it. Sorry about that.

Once again, I don't feel like I'm any closer to the peak. Once again, I'm questioning whether to keep going.

Yes, keep going.

Yeah, all right. Plenty of daylight ahead of me. Finite amount of moon.

If I keep putting one foot in front of the other enough times, I'm bound to get someplace.

Or die trying.

[Taylor is busy]

Well, the good news is, I haven't died trying.

The bad news is, I honestly can't tell whether I've gotten any closer.

It's as if time and space and perspective have all taken a little vacation in the vicinity of this weird peak.

One moment I'll look up and think, "Hey, I'm almost there!" And then I'll blink, and it'll seem like it's ten miles away again.

I'm thinking of taking a snack break before I get back to it.

Sure, you've earned it.

All right! I'm just gonna go with the first MRE I grab out of my pack.

And the winner is... chili with beans!

(In space, no one can hear you fart.)

Some would argue that chili with beans isn't proper chili at all.

Which side of this all-important debate do YOU land on?

I prefer it with beans.

Well, you should try this MRE. It'd change your mind, real quick.

Still, I'm glad we solved that riddle. If, God forbid, I die out here on this desert moon...

...please make sure they serve chili WITH BEANS at my wake.

I'm eatin', then hikin', pardner. Talk to you in a few.

[Taylor is busy]

Okay, I've finally been able to make some real, noticeable progress.

I'm at the edge of another crater -- a pretty enormous one, with massive walls to rappel down into it.

But the base of the peak is at the center of the crater, right at the deepest point of its concavity.

So as long as I can keep an eye on it, it can't go anywhere. (In theory, anyway.)

It's a long way down into that crater, and I've got no climbing equipment (obviously).

Can I get down safely? Will I ever get back out?

What do you say? Ready to find out?

Nope. Turn back now.

You... you're KIDDING, right? I've come all this way. You're not seriously suggesting that I give up now?

I was kidding!

Oh. Whew!

I thought we'd established a pretty good rapport over the last couple days, but you seriously had me going for a minute there.

Yeah. Of course I'm going down there. This is what it's all been leading up to.

[Taylor is busy]

I've scouted out the crater walls in scouting-out distance, and found a section with a decent amount of crags and footholds.

I guess, in the absence of nylon ropes and carabiners, a few shallow divots in the rock is as good as it's gonna get.

I mean, what's the worst that could happen? I end up sawing off my arm with a blunt Swiss Army knife like the "127 Hours" guy?

...Yes. That actually DOES sound like the worst that could happen.

Wish me luck?

Good luck climbing.

Thanks. Unfortunately, I think I'm actually gonna need it.

This would... probably be easier if I wasn't talking to you. No offense, I just really ought to concentrate.

If you never hear from me again, it's because I pulled a "127 Hours" just like I was afraid of.

Not sure what that translates to in metric terms. Hopefully it sounds more impressive. "49,087 Megaminutes" or something.

Okay. Down I go. Talk to you soon. I hope.

[Taylor is busy]

I made it! A couple of minor mishaps along the way, but who doesn't love a little adrenaline rush from time to time?

I could probably stand to take a painkiller. In that I have pain that would benefit from being killed.

Sure, take a pill.

Okay. That takes me down to

2pill

s, but I'm pretty sure the relief is gonna be worth it.

Now I've got a long, slow slog ahead of me --

I really can't overstate how big a bowl this crater is, especially now that I'm down inside of it --

but the peak is in view. It's not going anywhere. I'm going to get there if I just keep walking that direction.

My rattletrap compass still tells me I'm pointed north, so I guess I get my merit badge for that.

I'll check in with you when I'm closer to my goal. Until then...

[Taylor is busy]

Things are... a little weird. Mind if I unload?

Lay it on me.

Thanks. So... you know how this peak has seemed to sort of, I don't know, stay just out of reach?

I had thought it was just an optical illusion --

like, I must be getting closer, but the various hills and valleys on this moon were playing tricks with my perspective --

but now I'm not so sure. I know this sounds crazy, but...

...no, never mind. It sounds crazy because it IS crazy. Forget it.

Wait, tell me!

Look, this is nuts, but... I think the peak might actually be sort of... wavering. In, like, a existential sense.

I'll be looking at it, and then I'll blink, and for a second, it just... it won't be there.

And then, of course, it's there again, and I'll question my sanity.

And that's happened about a half a dozen times since I got down into the crater.

Okay, that IS weird.

I know, right?

But here's what's really tripping me out: I've been walking for about an hour now, more or less making a beeline for this place.

And just a minute ago, I looked down...

...and there was another set of boot prints in the sand.

I don't mean in an inspirational poster, "that's when I carried you" kind of sense.

I mean, these are exactly the same shape and size as my own footprints. As if I was doubling back on my own path.

How is that even possible?

You're sure they're yours?

Well... I mean... who else's could they possibly be?

They're exactly my size, exactly the same tread pattern.

I don't know. I'm not sure how I could be walking in a straight line, and walking in circles at the same time.

I don't want to think about it any more. I'm just gonna put my head down and keep walking forward.

[Taylor is busy]

I'm here. I'm finally here. I sort of can't believe it.

I know, a lot of times, people talk about how they "never" thought they were going to achieve some goal...

...but I think it's usually hyperbole. Not in this case, though. I literally never thought I'd make it here.

It's big, bigger than I would have thought. Not just taller, but bigger around at the base.

There's a recessed area, maybe fifty yards to my left.

Should I check that out, or scout around the perimeter first?

Scout the perimeter.

Okay. I'm taking off in a circle to my right. I'll look into that opening when I get to it from the other direction.

First impressions: Like I said on day one, squinting at this thing all the way from the Varia...

...it looks oddly geometrically perfect.

Almost like it was CARVED out of this moon's dense white rock, rather than forming naturally through erosion and upheaval.

And yeah, I know, it sounds crazy to say that this peak looks built... but it's not the craziest thing I've said today.

(That was supposed to sound comforting, but it sure didn't come out that way.)

The thing to keep in mind is--

HOLY CRAP.

What is it?

You're not going to believe this, but...

...there's writing on the outer wall of this peak.

Writing? Seriously?

Yes. Seriously.

I feel like every moment I spend out here, I ratchet up the crazy another ten degrees.

I don't know how much more I can stand.

I have no idea what it says.

It's... I'm 99% sure it's Chinese characters.

The caravel looked to be a Chinese-origin ship. Does that mean... someone survived that wreck? Someone made it to this peak?

How did we never hear about a Chinese ship being scuttled on this moon -- ESPECIALLY if there was a survivor?

Could their National Space Administration really have covered this up? And WHY? What...

...what went wrong?

I don't know that there's much for me to do other than keep walking around this thing.

I forgot to pack my Chinese-to-English dictionary. You never have one when you really need it.

Okay. Back to exploring.

[Taylor is busy]

WHOA! What the hell?!

I was walking the perimeter, with my little makeshift compass in hand, watching it slowly move along with me, like it should...

...when all of a sudden it starts jolting backward and forward, spinning like a kid at a dance party on really good drugs.

And then, the whole peak just... shimmered green, and disappeared for a second.

I didn't blink. I didn't look away. I reached my hand into the space where it used to be, and there was just... nothing. Air.

And then I yanked my hand back, quick, because it started to reappear.

And now my compass is working fine again.

WHAT IN THE ACTUAL HELL?

That's insane.

It is. It absolutely is. But I'M not insane. I could not be more certain that I experienced this.

I could have believed everything up to this point was just an optical illusion.

A trick of the light. My exhausted brain putting one over on me.

But this... I was RIGHT HERE when this happened.

This was some next-level, otherworldly stuff.

Okay. O...kay. I'm just going to keep walking around the magic disappearing man-made moon mountain.

That's a normal thing people say, right?

[Taylor is busy]

That's it, then. I've made it all the way around the peak.

No more writing on the walls, that I could find. And no more temporospatial shimmering.

(That is a sentence I never dreamed I'd be saying in my life. Even when I DID win a lottery to ride in a spaceship.)

So I'm back at the recessed area.

All right. I'm going to try not to be thoroughly unsettled by this, but I have to tell you, it's gonna be an uphill battle.

Because the recession in the peak wall?

It's a doorway.

I don't mean, like, it's a cave entrance that naturally formed in the rock, or that sort of thing.

I mean, it's a DOORWAY. With right angles and everything. At human scale. Built for someone my size.

Built for ME?

What the hell do I even do with this information?

Take a minute to process.

Okay. I'm just gonna sit here for a minute, and try to breathe slow, calm breaths.

I would eat something, but I don't feel like I could keep it down.

I've never felt so nervous, so anxious in my life. My goosebumps have goosebumps.

Give me a few minutes, and then... I don't know. I guess I'll be ready to go in.

Or to run screaming.

[Taylor is busy]

I think I'm good. I mean, as good as I'm likely to get.

What do you think?

Only if you're sure.

No. Of course I'm not sure. How in the world could I be sure about something like this?

For all I know, there's a giant laser cannon with "Taylor" etched into the side of its barrel...

...and it'll blow my head off and cauterize the wound, the second I step through that door.

And that wouldn't be one iota crazier than anything else that's happened already today.

But I've come this far. I've got to do this.

Here goes nothing.

Through the doorway. It opens into a sort of nondescript hallway, rock walls on all sides.

"Nondescript" other than that it, too, is at human scale, which does actually seem like something worth mentioning.

Once the light from outdoors tapers off, it's dark as pitch in here, which is not helping my nerves at all...

...but there's light ahead. Distantly.

In the meantime, I guess I can spark up a glow rod and--

OH HOLY CRAP!

What happened?

Okay. I know. It's happened to me before out here. But never this close.

I heard the echo, bouncing off these rock walls, before I even heard the source.

And I was looking around, trying to figure out where that scuttling sound was coming from...

...and I saw this faint green glow, near the floor.

And it took a second, but then it resolved itself into... I swear, it was a bunch of little pairs of eyes.

And as I'm trying to process that, one of... of WHATEVER they were...

...brushed against my leg.

It didn't hurt me. It just kinda bounced right off and kept running, with the rest of them, deeper into the mountain.

But... this means... I'm not alone in here.

I liked it so much better when I was alone in here.

Those... creatures (it sounds so weird to say that; it's not a word I thought I'd be using on this moon) --

anyway, those creatures went running toward the light, ahead of me. So I guess that's where I'm going, too.

Why would it get BRIGHTER the deeper inside a mountain you go? There's just no way that makes sense...

[Taylor is busy]

...Unless there were, I don't know, ELECTRICAL LIGHTS in here.

What. The. Hell.

I... I'm not sure I can even describe this to you.

I don't know what I was expecting to find when I reached the peak, but I promise... it wasn't this.

Tell me!

Okay. I'm standing in a room. In the interior of a mountain, let's not forget.

It's... I guess you would have to call it a "control room."

I don't know what, exactly, it's controlling... but there's really no answer to that question that'll ease my mind.

The room itself isn't very large -- large enough to stand up in, and move around a little, and that's about it.

But in banks on the walls... there are computer systems.

Functioning computer systems.

There are brand names I recognize, a sort of mix-and-match patchwork of monitors and CPUs.

There are even a couple of chairs in front of the computers...

...clearly taken from some old starship flight deck and repurposed here, to build a freaking workstation.

On the moon.

This all must be salvaged parts from ships. The computers, the chained generators, the wiring...

Oh. Yeah. That's the other thing. The wiring.

There's TONS of it. Bunched and bundled. And it all leads out of the computer banks and up, into a hole in the room's ceiling.

And from there, who knows where?

Explore the wiring.

There's not much more to explore, really.

The bundled wires are as thick as a tree trunk -- maybe eighteen inches in diameter?

They lead up through a hole in the ceiling that's just big enough to let them through.

The only way I could find out more is to chip away the rock of the ceiling...

...and since I don't have a pickaxe, nor any way to get up to that height, that's not really an option.

Build something to stand on?

Unlike at the caravel, there's not a bunch of scrap lying around here.

Even those chairs I mentioned are bolted in. I've got nothing to climb on.

Probably just as well. With my luck, I'd have come all this way just to break my neck trying to touch the ceiling.

I'm gonna check out the computers instead.

This... this is wild.

This screen is displaying a topographical map of the area. There's some pixelation, but that's clearly what it is.

It's centered on this peak, inside the giant crater that I just walked halfway across.

But I can toggle out, and scroll. If I go... yup. There's the wreck of the caravel.

It shows up as a bright, broken brick against the dark of the moonscape.

And if I keep panning to the south... past the crater, past the canyon...

...there's the Varia. Two bright pieces, glowing back at me from the screen.

This is surreal. Where are these images even coming from? Is there some sort of satellite up there? A network of them?

I wonder how much of the moon this imaging covers? Like, if I keep scrolling, will--

Oh, my God.

What? What is it?

There's another bright green block. Southwest of the Varia site.

And... oh, no.

There's another one.

Pull back. Pull back as far as it'll go.

Sweet mother of...

There are DOZENS.

Dozens of shipwrecks, on this moon.

How... HOW?

This is... impossible.

How many, total?

I've counted... twenty-nine... thirty... and I still haven't seen the whole surface of the moon yet.

My God. How many ships have been downed, here?

And how have we not heard anything about it in the news? This place is the damn Bermuda Triangle of outer space!

There are other monitors, too. This one's idle.

Wake it up.

Okay, I just nudged it awake, and...

...a language option menu? Not what I was expecting to see.

Let's go with "English," since it's right there at the top. And it's what I speak.

Okay. Here's what the screen says:

[ALL SYSTEMS: OPERATIONAL]

[TIME TO PULSE:]

...and then there's a sequence of numbers moving so quickly, I can't read them.

Whatever "TIME TO PULSE" means, we appear to be counting down to it.

I can't tell you that this notion fills me with confidence.

There's another idle monitor next to it. Just gonna jog that one awake too.

A familiar look to this screen: It's like the proximity alarm I set up back at the caravel.

Slightly different model, different bells and whistles, but at least I know exactly what I'm looking at, here.

It's functioning, too, which--

No.

No way.

What do you see?

On the screen of the proximity alarm...

...there's something moving.

Something outside the peak. Moving toward the peak. Moving toward ME.

Something...

...human-shaped.

Are you sure?

I've never been more sure of anything in my brief and -- lately -- crazy life.

That is a person.

And that person is coming HERE.

Stay where you are.

Yeah. Yeah, maybe that's the best plan. Give myself a little while to mentally prepare for this.

(As if there were any way to mentally prepare for this.)

Because there's no doubt, they're heading right for where I am.

And then... what?

Am I rescued?

I've got some time. Might as well see what else I can do with these computers, huh?

Sure, see what's what.

Oh. Man. I might've just hit pay dirt.

This one's a sector-wide scanner. It's also the one that the majority of the wires seem to be coming out of.

Which... oh, whoa. I think those wires comprise a broadcasting antenna.

And that means this peak, this whole structure... it's got to be some sort of broadcasting TOWER.

Seated at the center of an enormous crater that... I don't know, maybe it functions like a parabolic reflector?

It's a giant satellite dish. Five miles across.

I would go looking for the premium cable channels if it weren't for the fact that MY MIND IS MELTING RIGHT NOW.

Check out that screen.

If this place is broadcasting (which it is), and I have access to the broadcasting center (which I do)...

...then every second I'm not sending out an S.O.S. is a second I'm wasting!

Gimme a minute to see if I can nose my way into the proceedings.

[Taylor is busy]

Yes! I managed to interrupt the feed, type an S.O.S. message...

...get mad at myself for not knowing S.O.S. in multiple languages, decide "S.O.S." was probably pretty universal...

...and then get the feed broadcasting again.

If anyone stumbles through this sector -- or, hell, maybe just brushes up against it, I don't know how powerful the signal is --

they'll know I'm here.

Even if I'm not totally sure where "here" is.

This is great. In spite of all this weirdness, I actually have hope for the first--

[communication interrupted]

[date/time stamp invalid]

[searching...]

[reacquiring signal]

[establishing connection]

[receiving message]

...is happening?! Hello? HELLO?

It's okay. I'm here.

Oh. Wow. I'm glad to hear it. Because for a minute there, you weren't.

Or maybe I wasn't.

I don't know what that looked like from your end, but from where I'm standing --

(okay, let's be honest, from where I've crumpled into a nervous heap on one of these salvage command deck chairs) --

there was this sort of humming noise that was SUDDEN and EVERYWHERE, and my vision started to go a little swimmy...

...and I just had time to look at the monitors, and I saw that the TIME TO PULSE countdown was at all zeroes...

...and then it was like the whole world just... fell apart.

Like everything moved away from me, and I moved away from it, simultaneously and instantaneously.

Before I even knew it was happening, it was over. Everything was back to "normal" (and I use that word loosely).

But... I think I just experienced what happened when I was outside the peak, and it shimmered and disappeared...

...except, this time, I was INSIDE the peak.

And I shimmered and disappeared WITH it.

We got disconnected.

I'm not surprised we were disconnected. I think I was... what? Out of phase with reality, for a second there?

Yeah, the communicator gives an "invalid date/time stamp" message.

So... what the hell date and time was it reading?

This is...

Oh. Hey. I, uh... I have some news to report.

Not sure where it lands on the whole Good News/Bad News spectrum.

Lay it on me.

Okay. I'm not exactly sure what to make of this.

Best case scenario, I'm about to get really, REALLY rescued.

Because where there used to be one human-shaped human approaching my location...

...now there are four.

Stay where you are.

Yeah, absolutely I'm gonna stay here.

If this is a rescue team, then I can wait an extra few minutes to get rescued. I made it this long already.

If it's stragglers from another downed ship... they might be crazed from wandering through the desert for days, or weeks.

(I mean, I've only been wandering since day before yesterday, and I think I'm about half-crazed, myself.)

I figure I'd rather wait and see how they react to this place, and make sure they know I'm a stranger here too.

And... if they're not rescuers OR survivors... if they're something worse...

...then I sure as hell don't want to deliver myself into their arms.

Good logic, all around.

Thanks. I've got absolutely no precedent for this sort of situation (as I imagine most people don't)...

...so it's reassuring to hear someone else tell me that what I'm saying isn't complete gibberish.

The thing is -- as weird as it sounds -- I can't shake the possibility that these humans could be... NOT HUMAN.

Some sort of native creature that sees me as a threat.

Or, worse... as a meal.

And, yeah, I know it sounds unrealistic. This moon hasn't exactly given me a lot of reason to believe it can support life.

I haven't seen any evidence of water -- no rivers, no clouds. No vegetation that I've spotted, either.

Breathable air, though.

Right. The atmosphere IS breathable -- for me, at any rate -- with what my suit says is primarily nitrogen...

...but enough oxygen that my lungs are happy, and next to zero carbon dioxide.

And also, I know I didn't imagine whatever those things were that ran by me in the corridor earlier.

Those, though... they were small. A matter of inches and ounces. Insects, maybe? Or some other arthropod?

Whatever's approaching the peak right now, though... they're as big as I am.

Maybe that just means they're humans...

...but the thought that they might NOT be is what's keeping me from rushing out there with open arms.

I'm just gonna settle in and get comfortable (NB: I am as unsettled and uncomfortable as I have ever been in my life)...

...and wait for my guests to arri--

That scuttling sound again!

Oh. Man. This is the first time I've heard it when there've been lights on.

I might actually be able to see whatever the hell it is that's making the noise.

Whatever it was that brushed by my leg. Whatever it is that has glowing green eyes.

(Do I even WANT to see whatever this thing turns out to be?)

The sound's coming from... wait... I think it's behind the monitor bank. Running around in the wiring.

Go looking for it.

This is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy.

Why am I actively hunting some creepy alien creature that's scampering around in the wiring?

I mentioned before, I've seen an awful lot of sci-fi/horror movies.

Over the last couple days, it's become pretty evident that I've seen TOO MANY. More than was good for me.

But I know, this scenario NEVER ends well for the person wearing the "Hello, My Name Is TAYLOR" nametag.

Okay. It's... it's louder over here. Behind the pulse countdown computer.

I think, if I can just get my fingertips behind this plating, I can

OH MY GOD

What happened?

One of them just stuck its head out!

It's... the things that were making the noise... the things that ran by me earlier...

Oh my God!

It's my lab rats.

How is that possible?

How should I know? I mean, I survived the Varia's crash, so it's totally feasible that the rats did, too.

Their cage was beaten all to hell, but I never found any evidence of their bodies.

But... these are definitely MY rats. The first one who stuck his head out... it was Patch.

I called him that because he was all white, except this one spot of brown over his right eye.

Looks kind of like a checkmark. Or a pirate's eye patch. It's very distinctive. There's no question, this is him.

Except that patch used to be over a little pink eye, like all Sprague Dawley rats have.

And now... that eye is green. Luminescent green. Glowing.

And looking right at me.

Are all your rats there?

I... I think so. Patch and Runt stuck their heads out first, and I pretty much tripped over myself backing away from them.

But then Logan nosed his way between them, and I can still hear more scrabbling noises behind the monitor...

...so I have to assume that's Wildboy, and everyone's accounted for.

This is... in an unbroken string of bizarre events on this moon, this one is right at the top of the heap.

Yeah, no debating that.

If I make it back from here alive, they're going to have to shelve my memoirs in the "Fantasy" section of the bookstore...

...because NO ONE is going to believe even a fraction of the stuff I've experienced here.

The rats are just... just acting like rats.

It's so unsettling. I mean, apart from the eyes, they look just like they always did...

...but then they turn and stare at me, and they seem so... eerie. Otherworldly.

Alien.

This, on top of everything else that was happening. The computers in this mountain. The visitors. The time/space disappearance.

I just need a few minutes to process this.

[Taylor is busy]

A ship.

Oh, my God. There's a ship! A ship in this sector!

I can't tell... I mean, it's too early to know whether they're on an arc to this moon. Whether they got my S.O.S.

But they entered the sector map, and the monitor lit up like Christmas. I imagine my eyes did too.

I've been sort of slowly pacing the room, just trying to keep my distance from the rats...

...but I went running over to check it out in a heartbeat. Creepy space rodents be damned. Because this is HUGE news!

Please. Please. PLEASE let them pick up my S.O.S. signal. Please let them get me off of this godforsaken rock.

All I ask is that--

Huh. THAT doesn't seem good.

What is it?

There's, uh... there's something on the other computer.

You remember the one with the TIME TO PULSE countdown? That one just lit up too.

There's new text on the screen. And I don't like the way it sounds:

[SECTOR BREACHED]

[TARGET ACQUIRED]

[TRACKING...]

I think it's reasonable to assume that's in reference to the new ship. The one that's potentially coming to rescue me.

The one that I would REALLY prefer not to be a "target."

Can you override it?

I don't know. I'd love to, but -- unlike in all those B-grade science fiction movies I love so much --

there's no big red button with the words MANUAL OVERRIDE stamped on it here.

I know enough about computers to torrent some BBC shows or program little "choose your own adventure" games for fun...

...but trying to hack into this thing and override a weapons system?

Unless the password is "password," I might be in trouble.

Doesn't mean I'm not going to try, though.

I hope it works.

You and me both. If you're the praying type, I'd take some of those, too.

You got it.

Much obliged. Hopefully they'll make up for all the swearing I did while my teeth were chattering in the cold last night.

Swear all you need.

Thanks. If even one more stressor gets added to the mix, I promise I will take you up on that.

Another big question right now is, can I find a way to warn the approaching ship that they're being targeted?

I don't know. I could try. Just send another general message, the same way I did with the S.O.S.

I'd have to hope they read English. And... I don't even know what I'd be warning them of, really.

I don't know what's targeting them. Missiles, some kind of projectile? Or --

No. Of course not. Taylor, you dummy. It's a PULSE.

An electromagnetic pulse, probably. Some kind of directed-energy weapon, like, I don't know, a particle beam?

Good lord. A strong enough energy beam, set loose in the vacuum of space, you could really do some damage.

You could tear a spaceship like the Varia right in half.

Must be what happened.

Yeah. The Varia, and who knows how many more... all those bright green bricks glowing on the map screen.

But why? What possible reason could there be for blasting ships out of the sky and then just leaving them to rot?

Hard to say.

Impossible to say. Just like everything else around here.

If I get home alive, I'm going to have the same kind of PTSD that the kids who visited Willy Wonka's chocolate factory had.

Fewer cavities, though.

Ha! That's a very thin silver lining on a very large, very dark cloud, my friend.

The four human-shaped shapes (and yes, there are still only four, and I'm feeling grateful that the unknown is at least finite)...

...they're maybe ten minutes out from the peak.

I'm just going to stay right where I am. No need to go out and meet them; for better or for worse, they're headed straight to me.

Besides, between keeping an eye on the rats...

...and trying to keep my potential rescuers from being shot out of the sky...

...I've got plenty on my hands already, thanks.

Keep working on the computers.

So, the good news is, I already know how to break into the broadcast and get my own message into the feed.

Bad news? Nothing here has me convinced that there's a way for that ship to respond to me.

I don't know whether they actually received my original S.O.S. message (as opposed to just chancing upon the sector)...

...and I'll have no way of knowing whether they're able to pick up my warning.

So all this "desperately trying to reprogram the mysterious computer system" could all be in vain.

Keep at it, just in case.

Yeah, of course. I mean, I've got so much nervous energy at the moment, I've got to burn it off in some fashion.

Better I should make an attempt at something proactive with the computers, rather than, I don't know...

...heroically twiddling my thumbs, or bravely picking my nose, or whatever.

Anyway, give me a minute or two, here.

[Taylor is busy]

Annnd... sent! Okay, whoever's out there in that starship, I hope you got my message.

And I hope you're on your way to come rescue me.

But I hope you've got your defense systems at the ready, 'cause you're being targeted.

And I hope you can defend against whatever the weapon is, since I don't really know its nature or power.

Can't override it?

If I had any idea how to do it, I would! I can't even get a clear read on the TIME TO PULSE, the numbers are moving so fast.

There's a part of me -- the not-very-scientific part -- that wonders what might happen if I just started unplugging things.

Or, if that doesn't work, if I just started bashing things.

Probably a bad idea; with my luck, I'd screw up the broadcasts I WANT to be making, without solving the problems.

But confidentially? Just between the two of us?

Sometimes, even the nerdiest of science nerds really wants to move "bashing things" to the top of the list of things to try.

Oh. Man. The visitors are almost here.

I'm coated in cold sweat, and there's a lump in my throat that has nothing to do with the terrible meals I've been eating.

I don't think I've ever been this anxious in my whole--

Oh, now what?!

What is it?

I heard this squealing sound, coming from the corner where the rats are eating.

They must've been hungry. They got through everything I had on offer, pretty fast.

So I look over, and Wildboy and Patch are fighting over the last scraps of it. But -- aahhhh! -- it's escalating, and fast!

It went from normal rat squeaks to this, aahhh, this... it's like a SHRIEKING. It's painful!

Seriously, it's making the fillings in my teeth vibrate!

The other two have started doing it too. They're just circling, like -- nnnnn! -- like cheering fans at a boxing match.

You need to get closer.

You're insane if you think I'm sticking my hand in there to try and separate them or anything.

I don't know how much experience you've had with angry, starving space-rats, but I'm gonna guess it's SLIGHTLY less than I've had.

So as the resident expert here, I'm gonna make the call to NOT get any closer to them.

I should be adding all of this to my notes back at the Varia -- this definitely qualifies as atypical for these little guys --

but I don't see anything to write on, or with, around h

OH MY GOD

OH WHAT THE HELL AM I EVEN LOOKING AT

Tell me what you see!

They're... they're KILLING each other!

I mean that in a completely literal sense. These were the gentlest, sweetest two rats of the test group, and...

...oh, my God. I can't watch this.

The sounds are... oh, God... and they're just ripping into each other's flesh, there should be...

Huh.

There should be so much blood. But there isn't.

There isn't any blood at all.

What the hell is going on?! Why has EVERY SINGLE THING gone off the deep end since I got to the peak?

You have to keep watching.

Given that these rats, and their behavior, are nominally the entire reason I'm here... yes, I guess I DO have to keep watching.

It's just that -- oh, GOD -- seeing Patch tearing into Wildboy over a handful of crumbs is...

...it's SO disturbing.

This isn't a fight. This is a vivisection.

Calm down. Just breathe.

That's just it. I'm halfway scared to even breathe.

I keep waking up with green spit -- the same kind of green that's in the rats' eyes, don't think I hadn't noticed that --

and the best I can figure is that it's a side effect of whatever's in the atmosphere.

Whatever I'm BREATHING.

Is that how they got this way?

And does that mean I'M going to turn out that way, too, if I keep breathing this air?

Because I don't think I could take that knowledge. I don't know if I could keep breathing, knowing it'll turn me into... THAT.

You HAVE to keep breathing.

Yeah, I know. And maybe I'll luck out.

I'm a lot bigger than the rats. Maybe I'd have to take in a great deal more air before I start experiencing the side effects.

Not knowing, though... THAT'S what's killing me, at the moment.

I just wish --

OH GOD hang on hang on hang on

[Taylor is busy]

Sorry. I couldn't stop my gag reflex.

Patch just tore into Wildboy's guts, and, yeah, I turned around and threw up. Which I think is fair.

My puke had a kind of green tint to it, too. So my mind is churning over the implications of that.

Why won't they stop SCREAMING?

Throw them some more food.

Yes, yeah, good thinking. Normally I'd be wary of using up my rations like this...

...but I know there are more to be recovered from the caravel.

(And, apparently, from ships tossed all over the moon like toys in some hyperactive child's bedroom.)

But whatever. The rats were quiet, earlier, while they were eating.

And right now, that's the only thing I want, is for them to stop making this hideous noise.

Here you go, guys. Bon appetit.

Is it working?

It seems to be working, actually.

They're in kind of a frenzy over the food, but they're quiet, and at least they're leaving Wildboy's body alone.

That poor little guy.

I know. He was such a little sweetheart. He didn't... God, NOBODY deserves to go out the way he did.

(I am currently getting very panicked about the possibility that I might go out the way he did.)

Believe me, I've been trying to figure out my options.

There's only the one corridor into (and out of) this control room.

The proximity monitor tells me that, whoever or whatever the four people (please let them just be people) outside are...

...they're gonna be here in a matter of minutes.

If I hauled ass, I think I could sprint out of here and make it outside, before they get to the doorway.

And then... what? I'd have a matter of a few seconds to assess the situation, figure out whether they're a threat...

...and if they are... I pretty much have to opt for "flight," because "fight" isn't an option when it's four against one.

My heart is jackhammering in the back of my throat right now.

At least it's louder than the rats.

So... what do you think I should do?

Stay put, see what happens.

I... okay. I was going to argue with you, but maybe this is the best plan.

I mean, maybe I'm freaking myself out for NOTHING, you know?

Wouldn't the odds overwhelmingly support the idea that the people approaching aren't hostile?

...or fellow crash survivors who are in the same predicament I am? Or in worse shape, even?

Maybe I can offer them food that keeps them from collapsing.

Maybe they need pain meds more than I do, and I can give them a hand with that.

Maybe I'M the one who helps rescue THEM. We keep broadcasting an S.O.S. until somebody hears us.

Yes. Okay. I'm talking myself down off a ledge. All of this makes so much more sens--

OH MY GOD WILDBOY

There is something... green... crawling out from his body.

OH MY GOD

It's... oh, God, it's nothing that exists on Earth. It's, it's that same, you know, glowing, luminescent green...

...like its whole body is made of rats' eyes, oh, God, and it's... how can I even...

...it's REELING sinews and veins back into its body mass, like, like retracting them from inside Wildboy, from inside his limbs...

...like this, this THING was, I don't know, was working him like a puppet, a marionette... but from the INSIDE!

It's an alien?

Yes! It's not like anything I've ever seen in real life!

Or... I guess it's native to this moon, so... that makes ME the alien.

And it doesn't seem to treat outsiders kindly.

Aw, man, what do I do?

You have to kill it.

Kill it? With WHAT? It's not like I've got a rolled-up newspaper handy so I can take a few swats at it.

Besides, A) this is an unknown species. I hate to think that "kill it" is how humans are going to deal with first contact.

And B) if I make an aggressive move on the wounded one... who's to say the other three won't turn on me?

You're better off killing it.

My only real killing implement is the sole of my boot!

And if you think I want to stomp on whatever this little green creature is, until I've turned it into a little green smear...

...well, think again. I've been through a lot already, stranded out here, but I won't put myself through THAT.

I just... ugh. I hope everyone and everyTHING, both inside the peak and closing in fast, turns out sufficiently humane...

...and lets me bury what's left of Wildboy.

I know it sounds silly, but I grew really attached to these little guys during our journey.

They went through something amazing, and they deserve to be honored for it, I think.

...Uh oh. Computer's flashing at me.

What does it say?

It's... wow! This is kinda unbelievable!

That ship that came cruising into this sector earlier? It's altered its flight path! And it's decelerating!

The ship's new arc will take it right to this moon!

And it's not as if I can tell much of anything about telemetry from these old-school, blocky monitors and pixelated readouts...

...but if I had to guess? It's locking in to land inside this crater! To come nab me from inside this mysterious peak!

To get me THE HELL OFF THIS ROCK!

Are they still being targeted?

Oh. Uh... yeah, I guess they are. I have no idea how to override whatever weapons system is hooked up.

Hopefully, they've got their defenses up -- hopefully, they CAN defend against an EMP, or a particle beam, or WHATEVER it is.

Hopefully, they're not jus

[communication interrupted]

[date/time stamp invalid]

[searching...]

[reacquiring signal]

[establishing connection]

[receiving message]

...happening again. No! This is the last thing I need!

What do I do if the ship comes to rescue me...

...and the peak decides to freakin' DISAPPEAR with me inside it before they get here?

You're reappearing quickly.

"Quickly" is a relative term, though. I mean, how long was that for you, just now?

Only a few seconds.

Right, only a matter of moments. But from my perspective?

I was gone closer to FIFTEEN MINUTES.

Now, clearly, that's not what happened on this end; you're telling me it was fast...

...and the visitors outside are only a few steps closer than they were.

So what the hell kind of nightmare is this place... and how trapped am I, now that I'm in here?

...Oh. Oh, it's happening again.

What is?

It's that sound again. That screaming, from the rats.

Are they out of food?

Yes. They finished off what I gave them to eat, down to the smallest crumb.

And I can't keep tossing them a new snack every few minutes just to keep them quiet.

I've just... I've got too many plates to keep spinning right now. The rats, the food supply, the ship, the computers, the...

...uh, well, I guess I just figured out which plate to spin next. For better or for worse.

(Who am I kidding? It's never for better.)

Which plate?

The proximity alarm just dropped from four approaching shapes to three.

Two. One. Zero.

Because they're no longer in proximity. They're in PRESENCE.

They've entered the peak. They're in the same long, dark hallway that I walked through.

The same hallway where the rats brushed by my leg, before I knew they were MY rats. Back when all four of them were alive.

(Are... are ANY of them actually alive? Carrying those green creatures around inside of them?)

The same hallway where I really wish I'd have looked for side corridors.

(Places to hide in the dark; to plan my escape, unnoticed.)

The same hallway that now stands between me and the freedom of the outdoors.

(How screwed-up is it that I'm considering the cracked, uninhabitable surface of this moon to represent "freedom"?)

Hey, uh, I just had a weird thought. Can I run it by you?

I'd rather you didn't.

Oh. Man. Am I babbling? I'm sorry. I don't mean to. When I get nervous, I just kinda run my mouth.

And -- big surprise -- I'm probably about a bajillion times more nervous now than I've ever been in my entire life.

(I don't know what a "bajillion" is in metric terms. Probably "three.")

Damn. I'm babbling about not wanting to babble.

I'll shut up now. I'm just gonna sit here for the next five minutes or so...

...until the people walking up that corridor suddenly come walking into this room...

...and I suddenly wet myself, from fear or excitement or both.

Sorry. Sorry. Stopping babbling...

...NOW.

Um. Hey. I know I was gonna stop babbling, but, uh, I just noticed...

...something weird(er) is happening with the little E.T. that was inside of Wildboy.

How do you mean?

I mean... I'm not really sure how I'd even describe the little lifeform to you.

(The fact that the damn camera on this IEVA suit isn't functioning is literally costing us history, right now.)

This thing, this CREATURE, it's... for the last few minutes, it's been pulling parts back into itself.

Which is EXACTLY as gruesome and unpleasant as it sounds, in case that wasn't coming across.

I've been half-ignoring it, because it makes me ill every time I look over there.

You have to describe it.

It's like it had... TENDRILS, woven all throughout Wildboy's body. Arteries and sinews and, I don't know, dendrites...

...a whole network, multiple networks that had spread out from the creature and tangled themselves into Wildboy's system.

So this thing was just... enmeshed with my poor rat's nerves and musculature and organs and everything.

A parasite, a passenger that was inside of Wildboy and that, I don't know, that had gotten to the point where it was just...

...WEARING him around like a suit. Dancing him like a puppet.

But not in a clumsy way. Not like it didn't know how rats moved or operated.

In a PERFECT way. Where the only thing that was different was the eyes. The eyes had gone that bioluminescent green.

And then... that scream. I've never heard a rat make that sound. I've never heard ANYTHING make that sound.

Well, that's... terrifying.

Yeah. It absolutely is.

I've gone from sweat to chills about a hundred times over inside this suit.

I feel like I'm about to jump out of my damn skin at every little noise I hear. And somehow, I'm hearing TONS of little noises.

What is the creature doing?

Like I was saying, it seems to have reeled all its various tentacles and capillaries back into itself.

Now it's this kind of sleek, almost featureless thing, just sitting inside a pile of hair and meat that used to be Wildboy.

What's really strange is that... the E.T. actually looks BIGGER than the rat was.

Like there's no way it all could've fit inside Wildboy's skin. It isn't physically possible.

Must be an illusion.

I... I don't know. I don't think it is.

I thought it was an illusion yesterday, when it seemed like the peak never got any closer.

But with the IEVA suit's weird time/date readout stuff earlier, I think it's less about baffling illusions...

...and more about baffling REALITIES.

What are the other rats doing?

They're just acting like normal rats. HUNGRY, but normal.

That's what I was saying: They move and scramble around just like always.

There's nothing about their gait, or their sniffing behavior --

yes, sniffing behavior is a thing people study in lab rats, and YES, I know it sounds weird, but whatever --

or anything else that would make an observer think that these rats weren't fully in control of their own bodies.

But seeing the level of integration that the parasite had into Wildboy's muscles and nerves...

...I'm CERTAIN that the E.T. was piloting my rat around.

Okay, so, I know this is going to sound psycho...

...but I think the most accurate word for them is UNDEAD.

Maybe that's a logic leap. Maybe I'm shouting "zombie" when this is something altogether different.

I mean, I think that whatever's inside them... it's keeping them functioning, keeping biological processes going.

But are these the same rats, with the same personalities, that I was testing before the Varia crashed?

Before their eyes turned green?

I really don't think so. At all.

The thing is --

Oh.

Oh, no.

What is it?

The visitors are here.

What... what do I do?

Are you safe?

I... I don't know.

There are tears running down my face, and I haven't even figured out WHY.

It's like my eyes decided to do whatever they wanted, throw a party before my brain had gotten anyone's RSVPs.

Tell me what you see!

Okay. There just... there aren't any words that are going to accurately capture everything I'm going through...

...so I'm just going to tell you facts, and I'll try not to hyperventilate or scream or anything, midway through.

The first thing I saw, when they walked in, was the American flag patch on the spacesuits.

There on the left shoulder, just like on my own suit. Stars and stripes forever.

The suits are kind of beaten up, kind of dusty -- like they've been through hell and back.

Or maybe not quite "and back" yet.

They're all wearing the dome helmets, with that basically opaque gold layer on the visor.

I know, I know, it's there to help filter out UV rays...

...but again, nothing screams "America!" more than viewing the whole world through a thin layer of gold, huh?

This is so exciting!

Yeah, I sure thought so too. Super-exciting.

I mean, seeing these spacesuits, they were just so comforting, they were just so familiar...

...they're just SO DAMN FAMILIAR.

I'm looking at four patches. Sewn onto four American uniforms. Four words in clear, legible, san serif font.

Antoine. Trotter. Adair. Colby.

That cannot be possible.

Yeah! I KNOW it can't be possible!

I buried the crew -- IN THESE UNIFORMS -- back at the Varia!

Dammit all, I tried! I did everything I knew how to do!

I tried my best to honor them, to give them a proper burial, and this damned moon won't even let them have THAT!

Oh, no. Oh, please stop.

Who are you talking to?

Colby.

Or, the one with Colby's nametag.

Lifting off her helmet.

...Aw, no. No, dammit.

It's her. It really is her.

I was hoping, hoping that somehow these were just survivors from another shipwreck.

Just normal people who had chanced across the Varia, and who had taken the IEVA suits to protect them against the elements.

But no. It's really Colby.

It's really ALL of them. Helmets off.

Exactly the way I last saw them.

Except with blank, green, glowing eyes.

Those are not still your friends.

I know. I KNOW they're not. But they look just like my friends.

The eyes are wrong, I know... but the longer I look at them, the more sense they make, too.

And there are... little marks around their mouths. Dark green scabs from... it looks like... claw marks of some sort.

Like something was struggling to... to climb inside their mouths.

Stop looking at their eyes.

You don't understand. You're not really hearing me.

This is the first time since the crash that I'm not panicked about anything and everything.

Whatever happens next... it's what's SUPPOSED to happen.

All of this: the Varia crashing, me finding the peak... all of it was meant to take place, to bring me to this moment.

To this calm.

Screw calm. Get out of there!

No... before, I might have run from this. But now I know that I need to be a part of this union.

I need this passenger, just as it needs me to play host.

This is serenity like I've never experienced before.

Colby's picking up the little green creature that was waiting, over inside Wildboy's remains.

Now I understand. It was waiting for ME. I was waiting for IT.

It gets in through the mouth. That's what the claw marks are.

I just have to relax.

Smile.

No! Fight it!

I... I can't...

Oh! God! What am I DOING?

"It gets in through the mouth." I just realized.

The... the green spit. The horrible taste in the mornings. Oh, God.

One of these things was trying to climb inside me WHILE I WAS SLEEPING!

I have to get out of here!

That's what I've been saying!

Yeah, well, as the invasion force is turning us into pod people, you get to say "I told you so."

So THAT'S got to feel pretty nice.

I think I can get out if I can knock down my old friends here and just scramble away in the chaos!

I think I can duck past Trotter; he was always the slowest of the bunch--

WHOOOF

What happened?

Trotter is... no longer the slowest of the bunch.

I'm not sure there IS a slowest of the bunch, anymore.

They were... dammit... they were all just standing there, aloof, until I tried to get around them...

...and suddenly they've become... really strong... and REALLY focused on stopping me.

It's like they're targeting my injuries -- like they KNOW, somehow!

I can't... I can't fight off all of them! I... any ONE of them is stronger than I am!

You've GOT to fight!

I'm not strong enough! I can't win!

Oh, my God... this is it, isn't it? I'm gonna die, right here in this room, at the hands of the Varia crew!

They're going to infect me with whatever the hell their little parasite creature is...

and I AM GOING TO DIE.

Why won't they all stop SCREAMING?!

There must be a solution.

What possible solution could I have?

If I try to make a break for the exit, they block me, and they're strong as hell.

If I back off, they go back into this weird "standby" mode, just waiting for me to try another dash.

All I can do from this room is fiddle with these computers... that I don't really know how to fiddle with.

Don't get me wrong, I'd LOVE to be more proactive about taking out my jailors, but it's not as if I have any weapons.

Really wish I'd packed one -- or, hell, BUILT one from spare parts back at the caravel --

but I didn't honestly think I was gonna need to be packing heat for a shootout at high moon.

Must be SOMETHING to compute.

I'm at a loss with these systems.

I might as well start bashing my fists -- or, hell, my forehead -- against the keys at random, for all the good it'll do.

...Wait. That's it!

What's "it"? Random bashing?

No. Not random bashing.

Well, not TOTALLY random. Just hear me out.

This peak, this control room, it's a command center for a weapon, yes? That's what the TIME TO PULSE is all about.

I don't know what the weapon IS, exactly -- I'm guessing an electromagnetic pulse, a particle-beam, something BIG --

but odds are pretty good that, if it's powerful enough to rip starships out of the sky...

...then all I have to do is figure out how to reprogram it to unleash on THESE coordinates...

...and it'll be powerful enough to fry every inch of this peak to a crisp.

Including the screaming green aliens that are running around inside the undead crew of the Varia!

Can you really reprogram it?

I was able to interrupt the feed, wasn't I?

I already broke in and got the targeting system not to target the rescue ship as a... uh... target.

Here's the thing:

I've got four undead coworkers, three undead rats, and a little green extraterrestrial I don't know WHAT the hell it is...

all staring me down with these cold, unnatural emerald eyes.

There is NOTHING behind those eyes.

And they all seem to really want MY eyes to look like that, too.

So I've got, literally, nothing else in the whole universe left to lose.

If I fail, I'm no worse off than I would be anyway.

And if I succeed...

...they'll have to stop this goddamned screaming.

Wish me luck.

Obviously, I wish you luck.

Thanks. You know, I REALLY don't like the fact that the whole Varia crew all just turned and looked at me, at the same time.

Scary monsters and super creeps.

Never mind that, it's--

[communication interrupted]

[date/time stamp invalid]

[searching...]

[reacquiring signal]

[establishing connection]

[receiving message]

...awful lot has gone on since I disappeared!

Not exactly the best time for it to happen!

What just went on?

I had enough time for me to get the pulse weapon targeted to the precise location of the peak.

Confirmed it against the topographical map. Latitude, longitude, we're good to go.

But the crew from the Varia... they seemed to understand the plan, and they did NOT like it!

I don't know how they know. They don't seem to be sensate. They're not speaking, they're just... freaking... SCREAMING.

And they're all coming at me!

I'm trapped. If I back away from the computer, I'm afraid they'll shut down the sequence.

But if I stay here, I'm afraid they'll rip me apart, or shove that green thing down my throat!

I'm trying! Believe me! I don't want that THING inside me!

Whatever's piloting my old friends, it's making them stronger than they ever used to be.

They're not bulkier, but it's like... all their muscles are working... way too efficiently!

I can't grapple. I'm just kicking out, lashing out, trying to keep them at bay!

Wait, there's... there's a siren going off!

What does it mean?

It's...

Oh, my God. Finally!

It's the rescue ship! They're landing!

My screens are all lit up with what can only be THE GREATEST NEWS IN ALL OF TIME AND SPACE!

I'm finally going to get out of here!

Uh... EXCEPT.

"Except" what?

EXCEPT that they're walking into a situation that they cannot POSSIBLY be prepared to encounter.

There are eight ALIEN BEINGS in this room.

"This room" being a control center that seems to exist for the express purpose of pulling ships out of space...

...and using the bodies of those ships' crews as hosts for a parasitic lifeform.

I have no idea whether my rescuers are armed and can fight off these creatures...

...hell, I have no idea whether these creatures are even VULNERABLE to standard-issue stun batons...

...which is probably about as heavy as any armament is going to get.

And the alien beings have taken notice of the rescue ship, too.

Good news, they're leaving me alone, here at the computer.

Bad news, they're starting to head down the corridor.

Oh, hell.

They're going to intercept my rescuers before my rescuers can rescue me.

You gotta get there first.

Yeah. Okay. I'm gonna try.

It's a question of, will I be able to push past them in the corridor?

If we're all going the same direction, will they try to impede me?

Try it and see.

Hey... so... they aren't being... PLEASANT about it... but they're not physically holding me back.

It's like trying to get a good look at the Mona Lisa around all the tourists.

Okay. Mad dash down the hall. I'll talk to you in a minute.

[Taylor is busy]

The rescue ship has landed about a football field's length away. (A hundred yards. Not great at sports, but I know that one.)

It's a small craft -- maybe the size of that caravel. Maybe even smaller.

But the big difference is, unlike all the other ships on this horrible, godforsaken moon...

...it's ALL IN ONE PIECE.

Ha. Ha ha ha.

This is... I'm laughing, and crying, and I feel freakin' DELIRIOUS.

I, ah, I just fell to my knees because I can't make my legs work correctly, the stupid things.

I'm just SHAKING, I'm so happy.

You should get back up.

No, I know. I should. I should get up.

I don't have time to just go around collapsing in gratitude every time someone comes from half a galaxy away to save me.

I should really get some perspective.

Ha ha!

It's amazing, how strong the urge is just to go into the fetal position. Just how comforting that seems.

Just to lie here on the dry, white, cracked surface of this unforgiving moon and cry. Cry into the cracks.

There are... there are more cracks than there were a minute ago.

A lot more.

Oh.

Oh, DAMMIT.

What is the problem?

The surface of the moon. All the rock inside this crater, it's... it's cracking.

With the peak at its center, the rock is just... splitting. Just opening up. Little cracks feeding into bigger ones.

And there's light coming through those cracks.

Three guesses what unnatural color it is.

No. This is a nightmare.

I thought... I thought I had eight little green aliens to worry about.

But no.

I've got THOUSANDS.

Run for the rescue ship.

I don't... I don't think I'd make it. It's a hundred yards away, over increasingly uneven terrain.

And these THINGS have broken me. I don't have the spirit to run.

To hell with it.

To hell with ME.

Do NOT give up right now!

But giving up is the only thing that makes ANY SENSE right now.

No matter how hard I've worked to make it to this point... this horrorshow moon has worked just a little bit harder.

I'm tired of the fight.

You want me, moon? You can have me.

Shut up and run for it.

"Run for it"? While the ground is literally giving way beneath my feet?

I can't think of one good reason why I should put in the effort.

Dying right now is selfish.

What do you mean, it's "selfish"?

You have to warn others.

...Dammit. You're right.

See, where I started to get into trouble -- where it all went wrong in the first place --

was when I first made contact with you, a couple days back.

If I hadn't done that -- if I would've just rolled over and died BACK THEN -- it would have made everything so much easier.

Instead, you've kept me alive through thick and thin...

...and I'm massively grateful...

...and now I have to repay that kindness by keeping other people alive, too.

So, you know... thanks for that.

Sure. Now... run!

There's a lot of ground to cover.

Most of that ground has cracks in it.

Most of those cracks have alien parasites emerging from them.

There are about a million of them, and four potential hosts that I can see, including me.

Me? I'm the one yelling for the other three to get their helmets back on, before the aliens get to their mouths.

(I'm trying to do this while covering my own mouth. It's working... NOT GREAT, I'd say.)

Rescue ship's VTOL engines are firing. They know they're in trouble.

And they're in trouble because they're waiting on ME.

I'm never gonna make it.

I'm never gonna make it.

You're gonna make it!

The rescue team understood me! They got their helmets on!

That means -- I'm the ONLY potential host.

Thousands of eyes on me. It's... hard not to be drawn in.

They need me.

They're calling to me.

They're screaming. All of them, screaming.

But I'm starting to understand it. It's starting to sound... sweet. Like music.

The longer I look out, at this sea of green...

...the more sure I am that I should stay here.

Absolutely not! Board that ship!

I don't... want to board that ship.

Or... if I board it... I don't want it to leave.

It should just be another in the collection. The collection that begins here but will span eternity.

All along my path to the ship are the eyes.

I can't ignore the eyes. There's nothing to look at anymore, EXCEPT for the eyes.

They can see deeper into me than anyone ever has.

They need me in that control room. Bringing them more ships. Bringing them more HOSTS.

There aren't enough hosts on this moon, so we call them from other sectors.

And there aren't enough hosts in this sector, so we call them from other times.

We reach into the future for our prey; we fish from the past for our sustenance.

We pull starships from every space and time to feed our needs.

Still it is not enough.

We must bring them all here, from all places and from all times.

Until every living thing is our host.

And we are within every living thing.

WE ARE--

Hey! Ouch!

What happened?

Uh... apparently, what happened was, I got punched in the jaw. HARD.

By a member of the rescue team.

Because I was spouting some kind of gibberish that, honestly, I don't remember saying AT ALL.

Something about... capturing host bodies from throughout space and time?

(I have no idea.)

And so I'm now on board the rescue ship, and... I'm afraid to say this because I might jinx it...

...but I think we're going to be okay.

In a lucid moment, I managed to tell them about Captain Aya, in her stasis pod back at the Varia.

They obligingly stopped by and grabbed her, and even now the ship's medic is working on her.

He said that the measures I took to keep the Captain alive were the best anyone could have possibly done in the circumstances...

...and because of me, the odds are really good that she's going to make a full (if slow) recovery. Thank God.

So, I'll count that as a "win."

Now the ramp door is safely sealed, and a full-vessel scan turned up no extraterrestrial stowaways...

...so all the aliens and their glowing green eyes are back on the moon, while we are rocketing away as fast as we possibly can.

There's talk of calling in some sort of nuclear strike on the whole damn rock.

I'm sure that's above my pay grade, but if for some reason I DO get a vote...

...that's one in favor of blowing it to hell and tap-dancing on the ashes.

So. Yeah. They've brought me some food and some Gatorade, and told me to take it slow on both...

...and they're saying I'm due for a long rest, and probably a lifetime of trauma counseling.

But I'm alive.

And I couldn't have done it without you.

So... thank you. I mean it.

And here's to a brighter future.

This is Cadet Taylor, formerly of the Varia, signing off.

[connection terminated]