“Wait, so you’re telling me – that thing we saw wasn’t Faa?” Lenio asked.
They had managed to get up to the Ascender. Lenio had recovered much from his injury, but he still needed Aloe’s assistance to walk straight.
“No, Faa’s dead, Lenio,” Aloe answered, gravely. Even after everything, it still was a hard fact to accept. “It tried to kill me in the same manner as it did her.”
His eyes fell to the ground. “Faa…” he said softly. “Then what I saw at that time…”
“What?” Aloe asked.
“It’s nothing,” he replied, shaking his head. “If that wasn’t Faa, then what was it?”
“I don’t know,” Aloe answered, pressing the panel to summon the Ascender. “I think Faa might’ve had a clue in her files, but they’re encrypted – I’ll need Lester’s help. Maybe he can hack into them.”
“Why not just call him down here now, then?”
“The signal’s never the best thing down here and besides, do you really want to sit here and wait for him to respond after what just happened?”
Lenio looked around nervously. “No, not really.”
“Not to mention this is something I think would be easier explaining face-to-face,” she replied. “I’m having a hard time believing what I saw and I was right there watching the vexing thing ready kill me – to imitate me.”
“But why though?” Lenio asked. “Why go through all the trouble? What does it want?”
The Ascender arrived, opening up its doors.
Aloe shrugged. “I really don’t know. But the vexing thing is intelligent to some degree. How much? I don’t know,” she went on. “I need to tell Ven, but we need to get you to Medical Bay first.”
Lenio stood up a little more straight. “No, let’s head to Chief first. I’ll be alright.”
She exchanged a concerned look. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” he answered confidently, “this thing is dangerous, and if it’s as intelligent as you make it out to be, then we can’t waste any more time.”
She nodded as they both entered the Ascender.
Level for Ascend? the automated voice requested.
“Main Bridge,” Aloe stated.
“Yer’ not serious now, are ya’?” Lester retorted. “This is no time to joke – ya’ just lost yer’ vexin’ sister for cryin’ out loud. There’s no way somethin’ like that is possible.”
Aloe and Lenio had reached the Bridge. She informed Ven that there was urgent news to be told and requested he summon everyone to hear it. She was glad he complied without much of a fuss – of course, it wasn’t like she made requests like these on a normal basis. She explained everything to them: the report, Faa’s messages, the incident with the creature – everything. So far, it seemed like everyone was taking it better than she expected.
“Faa…” Eri said gloomily.
“Believe it or not it’s what happened,” Aloe replied. She couldn’t blame their disbelief.
“Even if it was possible,” Eri chimed in, “and I’m not saying it is, why waste time hiding around in the shadows? If it’s as strong as you say it is, why not just take us out right now?”
“I don’t know,” Aloe answered. “It knows how to do certain things, but I think it’s still learning.”
“And it knows we can hurt it,” Lenio added. His head was being attended to by Dr. Qim. “Like the Corporal mentioned, I shot it with the Pulsator which seem to work against it.”
“How did you even know that it would?” Eri asked.
“I didn’t,” he answered. “I was just thinking on my feet. I had to stop it before it killed Aloe. I just grabbed the nearest thing.”
“Well it turned out to be a brave action,” Dr. Qim added, finishing up the bandaging. “Reckless, considering you could have sustained further injuries to your arm – even though I specifically told you to rest, but brave, nonetheless.”
Lenio grew bright red.
“So what do we do then?” Eri asked.
“Chief?” Aloe said, looking towards him. He stood in the background. He hadn’t said anything since they first came to him. Normally, he was a hard man to read, but it was safe to say he looked a little distraught now. It was clear he had nothing to add.
“Aloe, what about the files?” Lenio brought up.
Her eyes lit up.
“What files?” Eri asked.
“Lester, Faa had some files down in the lab,” she explained. “They referenced RE-00X – I think she might have more information on this thing, but their encrypted. You think you could by-pass it?”
He shrugged. “Wouldn’t know ‘til I got a look at it, but I’m pretty sure I could.”
“Sir?” Aloe turned back to Ven.
He nodded. “It sounds like our best bet since we’re in the dark with this thing,” he agreed. “But I don’t want anyone walking around here alone until we know exactly what we’re dealing with.”
“I’ll go with Lester then,” Aloe suggested. “I can keep an eye out while he works. That and he probably couldn’t find his way around if wasn’t the inside of his workshop.”
“Vexin’ girl,” Lester scoffed, crossing his arms.
Ven nodded in agreement.
“I’ll join to,” Lenio added. “It would give them another set of eyes. Plus, I might be able to get that Pulsator up and running again – it’s our only defense against it for now and we might need it again.”
“And risk injuring yourself further?” Dr. Qim interjected. “Lenio, you’ve already fractured your arm and nearly endured a concussion as well. I can’t let you go back out there again.”
Lenio was stunned by her reaction.
“I have to, Dr. Qim,” he stated. “If something happened to them down there and I wasn’t there to help…I-I couldn’t live with that.”
“And if something were to happen to you?”
He went silent, looking over to Ven. “Sir, please?”
Ven glanced back and forth between the two. “This isn’t up to me, son. Doctor’s orders.”
Lenio looked back at her. “Dr. Qim…had I chose to not ignore your orders, Aloe would’ve died. That thing would have became her and we wouldn’t know to be on alert,” he explained. “I’m already beating myself up for not… I could have…” he paused taking in a deep breath. “If I can protect anyone on this ship – even if it injures me, I’ll do it. Orders or not, I’m not gonna take any excuses to hide.”
She was speechless. He hoped his words weren’t too hard towards her, but he meant them. Lenio could have possibly saved Faa. It was a long stretch, but it was a possibility. Things might have turned out differently.
Dr. Qim sighed. “I can see there’s no deterring you,” she said. “Just… be careful, okay?”
He smiled. “I’ll be fine, Doc. Vexus, we can even do lunch later, if I return safely?” he blurted without thinking. What the hell, Lenio? he thought. This wasn’t the time for it and even so, he had finally done it.
Dr. Qim looked stunned. She wasn’t alone as everyone else seemed to share the same expression. She blushed, forming a smile on her lips, eventually nodding.
“I would love to,” she replied. “I’ll be waiting, so you better return.”
Lenio felt the surge of Solaris’ light fill him. He wanted to jump up and down, screaming with joy, but he kept his composure. He simply nodded and turned towards the others. Eri tossed him a thumbs-up while Lester gestured a light clap of approval.
“Okay,” Ven started, bringing back the focus of the group. “So you three,” he gestured to Aloe, Lester, and Lenio, “will head down to the lab. We have three hours before the Docker reaches us and I don’t want that thing running around loose by the time it gets here. That means you guys have one hour – two tops. Find out what you can about it. Every thirty minutes, I want a status over the Caller. Keep it simple since the signal can be weak down there.”
They all nodded.
“I’ll try and monitor from here with the surveillance if we spot anything,” he continued. “We’ll keep the Bridge locked until you return. If in two hours you can’t get crack it, we’ll have to resort to Option B.”
“And that would be what again, Sir?” Eri inquired.
“Evacuation of this ship,” he answered. “I’ll have to request H.D.P. for a transport. We can’t risk that thing getting out, but I won’t risk staying here if there’s nothing we can do against it. I’d rather abandon the Insula to ensure everyone is safe.”
“Abandon the Insula?” Eri repeated.
It was clear by the look on everyone’s face that he wasn’t alone in thinking that.
“I don’t like it either,” Ven replied, “which is why you better hope the first plan works. Make sure all of you are on your toes.”
The group nodded. As the three began to head for the Ascender, Ven held out a hand to Aloe.
“A minute of your time, Corporal?” he asked, gesturing for the other two to keep moving.
“Sir?” she said with a puzzled look.