The team pushed their way past the last cluster of giant moonflowers and Dome 6 appeared, sprouting out of the dense underbrush like some blackened mushroom. After seven freezing cold days of traveling and trying to sleep at night in heat their suits could barely counter, 6 looked like Shangri La.
“Let’s hope she’s i-wo,” said Nash.
“She will be,” Goldman replied.
“I don’t see a vacancy sign,” cracked Nash. “Maybe they’re closed.”
Captain Peglas stopped to wipe the grime of vine pulp from his visor.
“If she’s in working order then we each grab a shower and an R2E before anything else. We haven’t eaten in two days,” he said.
“Then we call in, right cap?” asked Nash, already powering down his suit. “Earth must be gettin’ worried.”
“Not so fast, sergeant. Let’s dial her up first,” the captain said.
Goldman took his kit and plugged in. Three little green lights slowly came on, one for each of them.
“I told ya she’d be i-wo!” he said.
The domelock groaned and the rumble shook the trees, dropping wet crystals onto the men.
Nash was the first one in. He sealed the lock again as lights and HVAC systems began turning on.
“Something stinks in here,” said Goldman as he removed his helmet.
“That’s normal after a period of inactivity. What have you got there Nash?” the captain asked.
Sergeant Nash was holding what looked like the bony hand of an anatomy skeleton.
“Hopefully just a prop from sick bay?” he started. “Or maybe they got bored of card games.”
Peglas brought it in close to his visor and magnified the image.
“It’s either a very realistic prop or…”
“Or what cap?”
The captain dropped it on the floor and took off his helmet.
“Right now I don’t really care. I need a hot shower and some grub. Lieutenant, see if you can scare up some R2Es.”
As the captain showered, Nash and Goldman ate. The food was predictably stale but it was warm and nourishing. Taken with some hot soup it was like manna.
Eventually Nash made his way toward the showers.
Stepping inside, he noticed two things.
One, there was a red spray on the open door of the stall where the captain was.
And two there was some kind of shiny slime on the floor that sent him down on his rear.
“Captain?” he yelled, scrambling to his feet.
Lieutenant Goldman heard something from the direction of the showers but he wasn’t sure what.
One thing he was sure about: the bad smell had gotten worse, not better.
Standing, he took his service weapon from the suit’s belt and slowly approached the showers.
He could hear water running but nothing else.
He poked his head in and the creature sheared it off with a quick upward motion of its razorwire proboscis.
Goldman’s lifeless body plopped onto the floor, the monster rushing to lap up the blood spurting from the slot where the head used to sit.
Once it had sucked the corpse dry of its nutrients, the creature slid back into the shadows and the pod’s systems powered down to blackness again.