They were stood in the large room with the now dormant device, looking around they’d failed to find anything working, now it was more like a silent relic of a distant past. There were several floodlights set up and the group scattered about looking closely at screens and scanners perplexed looks on their faces. Yori and Colin were stood near Case who was staring at a scanner and surrounded by survey gear. Leah and Vivek were also working diligently on other pieces of equipment.
“So, any thoughts on why it isn’t working Case?” Colin looked at her, orange environment suit clinging to her.
“Well, let me show you this,” she grabbed a portable screen and held it up for him, she pointed at a schematic, “this is made up from the ultrasounds and X-rays we’ve been using to get a better idea of what’s going on where we can’t see. These here look like they’re cables, now I’m guessing they used to go to some kind of power source. You see all this,” she indicated a discoloured semi-circle, he nodded, “that’s the soil that was pulled in with us, I guess.” She looked at Yori and Colin to see if they were following along.
“Just like with a jump drive,” Colin said.
“It doesn’t look like any drive I’ve seen before,” Yori said and walked over to it and waved her hand scanner in front of it.
“Yeah, almost everything here is made out of one of three very strange alloys, we make it home we’ll be famous.” Leah set back to busying herself with her instruments.
“Do you think there’s any way to hook it up to the scout ships fusion reactor?” Yori looked back at Case.
“Not a chance, firstly we don’t know anything about the kind of power it uses we could plug it in and blow it up, could plug is in a blow a fuse somewhere, maybe blow the ship up, if we’re lucky it’d just do nothing.”
“There are many things here that I fancy, but our luck isn’t one of them!” Vivek shouted from his spot, holding what looked like an industrial cleaning machine. Colin grinned, and Case shook her head but smiled nonetheless.
Colin walked over to where Yori and joined her in looking at the monolithic drive.
“It’s not looking great, is it?” Yori said and flipped the scanner off.
“No, no, I don’t think it is.” He rested on the now silent console and leant forward.
“On the plus side, the scans of the plant life here indicate it has enough material in it for the food synthesisers to brake it down after some modification.” Yori faced away from the machine, looking across at him, she perched herself against the console and tapped her fingers.
“Well, that’s a bonus, good thing the ship came through with us.”
“Too true, with only our survival kits I wouldn’t envy our chances past a few days.”
“As it is?”
“God I hope it doesn’t come to that.”
“My thoughts exactly.” Yori sighed quietly and looked at the other three as they worked away, Leah and Vivek chatting idly and Case glaring intently at the screens.
“That just got me thinking,” Yori’s eyebrow raised as he said it,
“I always wondered if you could,” she smiled.
“Now’s not the time for that,” he chuckled, and she nodded still smiling, “if an alien race made that gate wouldn’t you of thought they’d of made more than one?”
“Maybe, but how are we going to find it on a whole planet, nobody found the one at Lava and people had been surveying there for over a hundred years?”
He tutted, then shrugged.
“Hey, have any of you seen that blasted fox?” Vivek shouted over at them.
“No, why?” Yori replied and looked in his direction.
“Well, if all this came through then wouldn’t that have too?”
“I guess, but wouldn’t it have just died thanks to the air?” Leah pointed out.
“I guess,” he started looking around for the body.
They spent several more hours cataloguing things in the alien site, they bagged and boxed smaller items. A constant flow of drones came and went carrying all kinds of things. Case set about taking apart dead machinery and removing parts and creating detailed records. Vivek had been wondering around looking in all the dark places for the luminous fox creature but having not found anything came back and chatted to Colin. He was trying to make sense of the data being collected by the satellite.
“Sun will be setting soon, it’s gonna get cold,” Gura popped up and informed him.
“Okay team time for some food, suns setting.”
Yori stretched like a cat and yawned.
“Don’t you’ll make me tired too” Case moaned.
“As if you’ll sleep with all those gadgets to puzzle over,” Leah noted. Case seemed to weigh the comment then nodded in agreement the both of them started laughing.
They packed up and headed back to the ship. Once outside the swirling purple sky was beginning to turn a dark orangy red.
“Reminds me of a raspberry whip.”
“Something heading this way!” Gura exclaimed, and a warning flashed on the huds of everyone’s helmets.
They looked in the direction indicated, Yori and Colin had already pulled their pistols and were pointing them towards the unknown threat. They saw coming out from behind some alien podules a black figure with luminous stripes,
“It’s the bloody fox!” Vivek yelled and for a moment looked like he was about to start heading towards it, but then the large purple and white thing behind it came into view lit by the ship’s floodlights.
“That’s big,” Colin noted, it had to be twice the size of a standing adult and what he assumed was its head was covered in dimples, it had a half dozen massive legs the back four were clawed feet, the front were like giant hooks.
“Hell, the rest of you run for the ship!” Yori shouted.
“You too, you’re second in command!” the fox and its assailant were less than ten seconds away. She didn’t argue.
A few seconds later, they were clear and getting into the airlock of the scout. At the same time, the giant creature had closed on the fox, the beast leant back flinging it’s massive hook-like legs towards the sky like a praying mantis as it did the head arched up to reveal a hole lined with razor teeth and lots of little grabbing mandibles that probably helped it pull things up into its cylindrical mouth.
The fox looked at Colin, and then as he pulled the trigger, it darted to the side. The beam flickered for a moment and a sound of air being vaporised, the beam flashed out of the back of the creature a sound of sizzling then the animal started falling to the ground and rolling towards Colin at an incredible speed.
“Oh,” he exclaimed then leapt to the side and rolled several times feeling the ground rumble and bits of debris hitting his back as the corpse skidded past him. The fox meanwhile was sat in front of him, looking at him.
“So, what is your story.” He asked, now that he was closer he could make out a hexagonal pattern all over its surface, he squinted then pulled out his scanner and scanned it, looking at the screen he was gobsmacked.
“It’s not a fox. It’s a bloody companion.” He shouted over the companion net. The fox tilted its head.
“What do you mean?” Yori’s voice came over the net.
“The fox, it’s a companion, an old companion.”
“As old as those ruins,” Vivek asked.
“What should we do?” Vivek chimed in again.
“Decontaminate it I suppose and bring it onboard. Case do you think you can access one of these old animal type robot companions?” Yori’s voice again.
“Sure, I used to have a couple at home that I rebuilt from scratch.” Case responded.
“Okay, then we’re coming in.”
The fox companion followed him into the ship and into the decontamination chamber, a warning sound and he and Yori overrode it.
“You know it might hack into our systems and kill us all?” Yori said, looking through the reinforced plasteel glass door.
“Yep, you don’t want to see what it’s doing here?”
“Oh, I most certainly do.” She looked down at it, Vivek was also there watching, nobody had yet gotten out of their environment suits, and all had their helmets activated.
Once in the ship the fox tottered into the cockpit and sat on the consoles staring at them aloofly.
“I don’t think I like it,” Leah grumbled and sat down.
“Ah come on, reminds me of Yori,” Colin said, also taking a seat. Case meanwhile brought up a tool kit and started probing the companion.
“I didn’t realise they made them like that?”
“Yeah, they were all the rage a century, or so ago, it was hard to get pets on the stations, why do you think they’re called companions.” Case was saying as she pressed a device against the fox’s neck and a panel opened there were a number of ports and buttons underneath, she took another device out of her kit and then pulled a couple of cables out plugging them into the ports.
A few moments passed as Case pressed a few more buttons and then a voice.
“Oh, hello?” The voice came from a small speaker Case had on her lap.
“Holy, is that the fox?” Leah jumped as she asked.
“Woah wild!” Vivek leant back. Then bobbed his head from side to side.
“Yes, I believe fox refers to me, yes? Yes, I am the fox.” The disembodied voice responded.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Leah asked.
“Where’d you come from?” Yori.
“What’s going on?” Colin.
“Do you like custard?” Vivek.
They all asked in unison.
“Hold, wait, pause, cease! One at a time, please human beings.” The voice said again.
“Are you a companion?” Asked Case who was peering at it closely a look of wonder.
“No, I am not. I’m an emergency AI that occupied this shell.”