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Out of Orbit

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Elsie Rocket breathed heavily through her oxygen tube as she clumsily gripped the outside of the international space station. The zero gravity atmosphere threatened to pull her out into the dismal abyss, but her fingers clung like irons to the cold metal bar. All she could hear was her breathing, and the steady clunk clunk clunk of the only other survivor, Rory working inside the station. The noise tinny on her small radio. A pain in her chest radiated, as it always did when she thought of Rory, and what happened to him. It wasn’t fair. None of it was fair. It was a miracle he had survived Calvin’s attack, but he had paid a terrible price. Even if they made it to earth, the Rory Adams she knew and loved would still be gone. Elsie closed her eyes, and then opened them again. She knew she had to move, she knew she couldn’t let the paralyzing fear that always plagued her during spacewalks over come her yet she couldn’t bring herself to let go of the bar. She took a deep breath, and then moved slightly to the left. She had to get to the decompression valve, she had to reorient it so they could kill this son of a bitch alien and go home.

A small movement caught her eye and she looked up. She saw him, it about fifty feet away from her, it’s transparent tentacles creeping along the wall of the station. Elsie felt herself freeze, but she knew it was too late. He had already seen her. She held her breath as it crawled towards her, mouth turning up into a grotesque smile.

Elsie knew at that very moment that she was going to die.

Chapter Text

Dr. Elleesia Rocket stared at her strawberry plants and tried to ignore everything that was happening on the radio. The same from Mars had finally arrived, but the pod carrying them had somehow been pushed off course. The team aboard the ISS had to go out in a spacesuit and grab it, which was what they were doing. Rory Adams was out walking and Kat—like always was fretting. Elsie listened to them bicker back and forth, and tried to push down her anxiety about Rory. One little mistake and he could be dead. That’s all it took in outer space; a misstep, a missed handle, and an unpushed button could all lead to death in an instant. It was something she could never get used to. Elsie was a plant biologist. The company she worked for, Biosyn wanted to test their new strand of samples to see if they could withstand zero gravity, so they elected Elsie to run the experiment

 

Elsie listened as Rory moved into position to catch the pd. She could hear the tension in Kat’s voice as she reminded him over and over again, “slow is fast”. Elsie let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding when she finally heard Rory whooping. He had caught it. He was okay. Everything was going to be okay.

 

Elsie was 24 years old, the youngest person ever aboard the international space station. Her most striking feature was her pale lavender eyes; it was something most people couldn’t get over. She had blonde hair that had streaks of pale pink and purple on it. The unusual dye job was the result of a lost bet three months ago. It hadn’t washed out yet. Elsie moved from the window back to her lab. She pulled up her sleeves, revealing a lavender lotus tattoo on her right wrist. The tattoo covered a four inch long scar from where she had broken her wrist and had surgery. Two years ago she had broken it defending herself from her abusive boyfriend. It took a two week stay in the hospital to make her wake up and leave him. ever since then, she had sworn off men. Elsie preferred to be alone, it was safer that way.

 

“Yo, Plant Girl.” Rory called her on the personal radio in her ear. That unfortunate name was her nickname. Rory had called her that the first day she had come aboard the ISS, three weeks ago and it had stuck.

 

“Yes.” She answered

 

“Come see what we found in the lab. It’s pretty amazing.”

 

“Okay.” Elsie said

 

The radio started to click off, but before it could she heard Rory as he said “I got two words out of her this time.”

 

“Shhhh Rory, she’s just----.”

 

Then the radio clicked off.

 

Elsie couldn’t help it that she was shy. She just didn’t like small talk. She found it boring and unnecessary.

 

Slowly, Elsie started to navigate her way down towards the lab. She still was used to zero gravity. It made her feel awkward and clumsy. As she reached the lab, she heard shouts of astonishment.

 

“Oh my God.”

 

“Did it move? Oh my god, it moved.”

 

Elsie quickened her pace, pulling on the handle bars. She propelled herself into the lab, turning around in a summersault and barely missing David’s face with her foot. He caught her gently, steadied her, then let go.

 

“You’re getting better. No one lost an eye this time.” He said, but he was smiling.

 

“Thanks.” She said

 

“Come look at what Dr. Derry found.” David said, pointing with his finger and motioning her forward.

 

Elsie stared at the screen, at the little grey image twitching.

 

“That’s it?” she asked

 

“That is the first conclusive data we have that life really exists on Mars.” Dr. Derry said through the radio, looking up at her through the wall that protected the lab and smiling.

 

Elsie smiled, “That’s pretty incredible. Congratulations, Dr. Derry.”

 

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Rory counting on his fingers.

 

“It’s a new world record; 6 words. 7 if you want to get technical with the contraction.”

 

“Shush, Rory.” Kate said, but she was distracted, still string at the lab.

 

Elsie started at the small wiggling cell, and felt a sudden sense of foreboding and realized with a pang that that tiny little thing on the screen held her entire future in it’s tiny, nonexistent hands. Everything was changing, and suddenly she felt like throwing up.

 

What had they done by waking this thing up?

Chapter Text

That night they celebrated. They had a right to, of course. There were on the brink of the greatest discovery of all time. Kat even allowed them to pull out the astronaut champagne.

 

Elsie was battling her 10th consecutive night with space sickness. Instead of celebrating with the others, she was vomiting into a bag. Throwing up in space ---in zero gravity—was particularly awful because not matter her aim, chunks seemed to float out, making her gag and puke again. It was a never-ending cycle. Fortunately for her, David was a very patient doctor. He had passed on the celebratory activities to hold her hair back.

 

“Your case of space sickness is the longest I have ever seen. Usually it lasts only for a few days.” He said

 

“That’s helpful.” Elsie commented.

 

“Back on earth, were you prone to motion sickness?”

 

“Long car rides, yes. Roller-coaster, no.” Elsie replied before she dry heaved again.

 

“It’s the smell. Once it starts, I cant make it stop.” She said

 

“In time, it will. Just try to relax. Think calm thoughts….like…..plants. think of the plants.” David said.

 

“The plants are the reason I got into this…..”

 

“Okay, ummm.” He paused, and then he realized that he really didn’t know anything else about Elsie.

 

“I have cats.” She offered.

 

“Great. Tell me about your cats.” He said

 

“They are both black. Their names are Zippity and Doodaa and…..” she gagged again..

 

“Doc, you’re missing the party. Come on, Sho just bet me he cant get dizzy. Come down!” Rory’s voice crackled over the radio.

 

“Go, I’ll be fine.” Elsie said.

 

“You sure?”

 

“Yes. Have fun, you deserve it.”

 

David gave her a look, “Okay, radio me if you need anything.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

***

 

Calvin.

 

The children of earth had the honor of picking any name they wanted, and they picked Calvin.

 

It made Elsie laugh every time she heard someone say it.

 

The organism, (aka Calvin) was growing at a rapid pace. Within a week it could be seen with the naked eye, two weeks and it was almost as big as Elsie’s hand.

 

Dr. Derry was beyond excited. He spent more time in the lab than anybody else. Even though it was exciting, Elsie stuck to her own lab and remained quiet. She was getting nervous about Calvin, but the others were so excited about it she didn’t want to say anything.

 

When Sho’s baby girl was born, Elsie made an effort to finish her work quickly and join the others for dinner. Usually, she worked through dinner (Biosyn had her working on a tight schedule). Tonight though, was special. The others, like always, were very welcoming. They liked Elsie, despite her quiet ways and when she came into the dining area they all moved over so she could sit.

 

“I’m sure you hear this all the time, Elsie but your eyes are striking.” Rory said.

 

Elsie blushed. Her eyes were unusual---pale lavender—but to her they were nothing special. In fact- she was quite shy about them and she could feel herself turning red.

 

“Thanks, Rory. You have nice eyes too.” She said, turning the conversation around.

 

“I take pride in----.” Rory started, but then was cut off by a loud alarm.

 

“It’s the lab!” Hugh said.

 

Immediately, the celebratory atmosphere was gone as they rushed towards the lab where Calvin was.

 

Elsie followed, heart suddenly pounding with fear. What if Calvin had gotten out?

 

But when they got to the lab, her fears evaporated. The oxygen valve had been corrupted.

 

Calvin was dead.

Chapter Text

The days past slowly as the station floated through space. For once, Elsie wasn’t the quietest one of the team, nor the most reclusive. Derry had banished himself to the lab after what had happened with Calvin, working all hours to try to figure out what went wrong. The others treaded lightly around him, knowing that even a slight distraction would cause him great distress. David stayed in the medical lab, talking quietly with Miranda, Sho stayed at his consult. A deep sense of dis-ease had fallen over the station. Only Rory—good humored, always smiling Rory—broke the stillness with his happy-go-lucky manner. He made it a point every few hours to pop his head into Elsie’s lab, trying to catch her singing with his camcorder. Elsie was surprised by the company, and even came to enjoy his visits—even if it was only to catch her singing. He claimed he had never heard a voice to beautiful, which made her blush every time he said it. She sang to keep herself awake.

One night, after dinner Derry called them all the lab. He was going to try an experiment with electricity. He was going to try to shock Calvin away. This made Elsie uneasy, because she never really trusted the organism in the first place, but it was the first time Derry had smiled in days so she watched in silence.

The first attempt at shocking the tiny alien was faulty, but the second time it sprang awake, grabbing Derry’s hand with surprising strength. Elsie watched frozen with fear as Derry tried and failed to pull his hand out of the box. Calvin had reacted to the electric shock, and it was very much alive, awake and pissed off. Elsie thought she would be angry too, if someone had shocker her out of a deep sleep, but she kept this opinion to herself. Calvin had attached itself to Derry’s hand and was not letting go. They all watched in tense silence. Miranda had to physically hold Rory back to prevent him from opening the door. The only sound was Derry’s harsh breathing over the radio as he attempted to pull his hand free. Calvin was very strong.  

  

“Just try to relax, Derry. Relax your hand.” Kat said. 

  

“Okay, okay, okay.” 

  

“Can you try to distract it?” Miranda asked. 

  

Derry nodded, and he grabbed the other electric rod with his free hand. He attempted to try to pull Calvin off, but it didn’t work. 

  

“The distraction failed.” 

  

“Damn.” 

  

“I’m going to try, ahhhh-----.” 

  

“What’s happening? Derry?” Miranda asked, but he didn’t answer. He clutched the glass and cried out. Through the radio they could hear the bones in his hand breaking. Derry yelled again, pounding on the box. But Calvin did not let go. 

  

Outside the lab, it was chaos. Rory was shouting, and arguing with Miranda. 

  

“There is a man dying in there!” 

  

“We can’t break protocol” 

  

“Fuck protocol.” 

  

“Stop, stop, stop, stop. Look.” David said, pointing through the glass. 

  

Calvin had let go of Derry. It seemed to have lost interest. Derry floated out, his hand twisted and broken. 

  

“Look at Calvin.” 

  

Calvin reached out in the glove, but it could break through. It went back into the box and grabbed the rod. In a swift motion it broke the rod in half , then went back into the glove. It broke through the plastic with surprising strength. It had broken through firewall one. Calvin flew through the air with surprising speed then it disappeared into the cage containing the lab rat. They all watched in silent horror as Calvin approached the rat with hesitant curiosity. The rat was restrained, helpless again the alien. In one swift motion Calvin attacked the rat, liquating it with surprising speed, and consuming it. The rat struggled and squeaked in terror as it was eaten alive, it’s skin, organs and bones being broken down by digestive acid. When Calvin was done, it had grown twice in length, now the size of a very large starfish. 

  

“It’s so much bigger.” Elsie whispered. 

  

“Fuck this.” Rory said, and before anyone could stop him, he opened the door and dove inside. He grabbed Derry by the ankle and pulled him out of the lab, but before he could exit out, Calvin shot itself towards Rory and wrapped around his lag. David slammed the door shut. Rory was trapped inside the lab with Calvin. 

“We cant let you out until Calvin is contained behind firewall 1” Miranda said

Rory nodded his head, keeping the rest of his body still. His eyes never left the alien crawling on his leg.

“Copy that. Any ideas?” Rory asked

“Shock it with an oxygen stick?” Kat suggested quickly

“Okay.”

Rory pulled out an oxygen stick, activated it with a sharp crack and shocked Calvin with it.

The alien let go of his leg, but didn’t die.

“Requesting permission to kill this thing?” Rory asked, and Elsie could detect a trace of fear in his voice.

The silence felt longer than it was.

“Okay.” Kat said.

 

Rory nodded, a sense of determination flashed in his brown eyes.

 

“Sho, any suggestions?”

 

“Try the flamethrower.” Sho said

 

Rory smiled nervously, “Yes. I like that. I like that a lot.”

 

He grabbed the weapon, and turned it on. He aimed towards the alien and pulled the trigger. Calvin didn’t even flinch. It seemed highly resistant to the high temperature. Rory tried again, and again, each time pulling the trigger for a longer amount of time.

 

“Careful, Rory. You’re running low on fuel.” Sho warned.

 

But Rory wasn’t listening, his desire to kill the alien overcoming all of his other senses as he hit the trigger again, and again, and again.

 

Elsie could not help thinking that fire in the space station was a bad idea. She wished Miranda would just let him out. Wasn’t Rory’s life more valuable than sticking to protocol? It was obvious that the flamethrower wasn’t working. Rory should be focusing on getting it back behind firewall one. She was about to say this out loud when----

 

“Watch out, it’s behind you!” Miranda shouted making Elsie jump.

Rory turned around, but he was too late. Calvin had already begun it’s attack. It didn’t consume him immediately, as it had done with the rat. It seemed to be taking its time, slowly pressing itself against Rory’s body. Rory gasped, and struggled as it wrapped two of its tentacles around his torso. The tentacle stretched into thin membranes, pinning his arms against his side. Another tentacle slithered slowly towards the zipper on the front of his jumpsuit. It pulled the zipper down, and another tentacle slithered inside. They could see the bulge at his lower back, writhing back and forth. Suddenly, Rory screamed. A high-pitched scream of pain that made the hairs on Elsie’s arm stand up on end. Rory thrashed against Calvin, his back arched in a graceless curve, his face contorted in agony. At this point, all Elsie wanted was for it to end; yet still he lived. Still he screamed. Elsie could see Calvin bulging from under the suit, she could see the tentacles wrapped around Rory’s arms writhing, exploring, consuming her friend and she felt the weight of helplessness settle under her skin. There was nothing she could do, he was dying and there was nothing she could do but watch.

 

“His heart rate is 128. We need to get him out of there. David said, but Miranda stood firm at the door.

 

“Not until Calvin is contained.”

 

“But he is dying---.”

 

“Shhh, his radio is still on. He can hear you.”

“Don’t struggle against him, Rory. He is very strong. Try to relax. You need to relax.” Kat said

 

But Rory was in another world of agony and terror. He fought frantically against the strong transparent tentacles of the monster defiling him. Then. In an instant, Calvin let go. Blood floated off its tentacles as it put itself out of Rory. Its tentacles released him. The man shivered uncontrollably, he leaned forward and gripped the back wall with his left hand. With his right hand he pulled the radio piece from his ear, gasping hard.

 

“We need you to put your radio back in. Rory? Rory. Listen to me.” Kat pleaded, but Rory was still and silent.

 

Calvin slowly, almost intimating wrapped itself around Rory’s head, blinding him but Rory no longer struggled against it as it covered his face. A single tentacle caressed his lips, slowly pulling his mouth open. Then it was inside him. Blood floated in the lab in small droplets. Rory was stiff as a board, and then he gagged, and started twisting in the weightless air. His heart rate increased, Elise could hear it over the radio, beep beep beep beep beep beep beep. Calvin jerked Rory’s head back and with one swift motion flew out of his mouth, ripping a dark red mass with it. More droplets of blood flooded the air, blocking their vision.

 

“What is that?”

 

“He’s still alive.”

 

Rory gagged again, he pulled himself down, away from the alien curling himself up into a ball. Calvin fondled the limp piece of flesh in it’s tentacles, examining it, exploring it.

 

“What the fuck is that?” Sho asked again, pressing against the glass.

“It’s his tongue.” Miranda answered. She pressed her hand flat against the glass, staring with non-seeing eyes into the lab.

 

“Let me in.” Elsie said. She was holding something in her hand. It was a black mass of fine mesh.

 

“I can trap it with this, while it’s distracted and throw it back in containment. But I have to do it now, while it’s distracted.” She said to Kat. Miranda was in the medical bay, tending to Derry.

 

Kat’s concern for Rory overpowered her determination to keep protocol.

 

“Okay. But I can’t let you out if it escapes containment.”

 

“Understood.”

 

Kat opened the door, and Elsie acted in an instant. Calvin was still preoccupied with the tongue. She threw the mesh over it, opened the container box and shoved it inside, slamming the lid shut.

 

“Contain the gloves. The gloves!” Kat shouted. Elsie slid the glass door down and locked it tight.

 

“Calvin is contained.” She said.

 

She heard the others let out a sigh of relief. She watched through the glass as they stared at the creature trapped in the box. It was devouring the tongue in the same way it has consumed the rat.

“Rory.” Kat said.

 

Elsie turned towards him and through the blood clotted air she saw him curled in a ball near the floor, his left hand still clutching the bar.

 

Sho entered the lab, expertly grabbing the flamethrower and turning it off.

 

“We wouldn’t have wanted this to activate the alarms.” He said quietly, and then turned to put it away.

 

Elsie looked over at Rory, still near the floor. His right had was clamped over his mouth, trying to stop the blood.

 

“His heart rate is still high. He may be un-rational. Whatever happens, stay calm.” David said.

“Okay.”

 

She pushed herself towards him. Rory remained motionless as she neared him.

 

“Gentle, Elsie. He could still be in shock. I’m right behind you, if you need support.” Sho said.

 

Elsie nodded, and then slowly arranged herself so she was at eye level with him. Rory’s eyes were closed, but they flickered opened when he heard her move.

 

“Hey Rory.” She said softly. “Let’s get you out of here.”

 

He remained motionless, eyes seeing past her, seeing only things he could see.

 

“Calvin is contained. He’s not going to hurt anyone else.” Elsie tried again.

 

Nothing.

 

“Rory?”

 

He looked at her.

 

“Hi, Rory. Let’s get out of here. Come on, let go of the wall.” She asked

 

He let go.

 

“Good, very good. Now let’s move towards the door.” She said, and she pushed gently away from the wall and offered him her hand.

 

“Take my hand.”

 

He took it.

 

“Good. Very good, Rory.”

 

He allowed her to pull him forward. They floated past the containment box, where Calvin was desperately trying to find a way out.

 

“Don’t look at it. Look at me. You’re doing fine, Rory. Just a few more feet.”

 

Kat opened the door. Elsie saw Sho float out first, and then Elsie reached for Kat and she grabbed hand. Kat pulled them both through the door and slammed it shut. She locked it, and then turned her attention to Rory. He still held Elsie’s hand in a viselike grip. His other hand still covered his mouth.

 

David had joined Miranda in the medical bay, they all could hear them talking softly over the radio to Derry as they bandaged his hand.

 

“Let’s get him to medical.” Kat said.

 

“I’ll watch.” Sho said, pointing to the lab. Kat nodded her head.

 

“Let’s go.” Kat said Elsie nodded and squeezed her hand tight. Together, the three of them floated out of the room.

Elsie felt Rory’s hand trembling and her heart sank. What were they going to do now?

 

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