Assistant Director Cisneros stared absent-minded at the acrid liquid as it dripped, drop by drop, down into his mug. The local crony here, Dr. Patang, had tried to convince him that this was this was the best cup of joe on the Daedalus.
While Cisneros didn’t doubt the good doctor’s honesty; the little brown-nosing tool was too self-interested to not give full disclosure. However he did doubt that the liquid shit dripping out of the archaic machine counted as coffee.
And he damn sure knew it didn’t smell like it.
Cisneros glanced around the room as he waited for the stinking drink to finish brewing.
All around him, cheap furniture, bad walling, dirty carpet, or gunmetal plating. Here and there an uncomfortable chair sat or a half-assed painting hung on the wall; really retracting from the environment more than they gave. It gave him the feeling of being in a lower-end office that had been shoved into a metal box.
And really, it wasn’t far from the truth.
Built cheap and built big, the Daedalus was one of two floating laboratories utilized by the corporation’s Xenobiology department. It housed just over two thousand biologists, botanists, chemists, computer experts, robotics technicians, and god knows what else plus the staff and crew that kept the entire dump heap in the air. It wasn’t the fastest or nicest ship in the galaxy, but with her sister, the Icarus, the pair of ships were some of the biggest and probably some of the only used as mobile laboratories and processing cities.
At least until a month ago.
Now the Daedalus flew alone in its lazy orbit around the Kaprelli system’s deep violet sun surrounded by the silence of space.
Cisneros reached down and plucked up the now full mug. He took a swig only to grimace at the sour flavor. It tasted just about as good as it had smelt and, based on the look of shock and horror on Dr. Patang's face, he was glad his distaste with the drink was not lost on the good doctor.
"I'm so sorry, sir." he quickly shot out. "I swear, it really is the best on the ship. The company doesn't really consider fresh cups to be pri-"
"Enough, Doctor." Cisneros said flatly. "You'll forgive me if I tell you that I'm not in the mood right now."
"Yes, sir. Of course, sir." Dr. Patang said as he adorned that same, placid, stupid smile he'd worn since Cisneros arrived eight hours ago.
"I don't have a great deal of time." Cisneros continued in the same, no-bullshit tone. "So why don't we get this little tour started so I can get on with a very long list of other things that need to get done."
"Of course, sir." Dr. Patang repeated again and motioned towards the door of the grimy little kitchen.
The pair made their way through the halls of the Daedalus at a leisurely pace as Dr. Patang prattled on about meaningless inanities. Cisneros could not care less. His visit here was far from routine and he had no interest in listening to small talk.
He wanted to hear about their findings.
Of course, it was probably sheer confidentiality that was keeping Dr. Patang from prattling on about that. Still, Cisneros had a lean in his step and they made their way towards the C-Deck labs with more speed than any other visit would have been afforded.
The mystery of Icarus's destruction the prior month had nagged at him since it happened. And now he might get some answers.
Originally, it came as a complete shock. The ship had just performed a relatively routine stop to a newly discovered world known as 'Bruni'. The planet was mildly interesting for the fact it was, by all intents and purposes, considered a jungle planet despite its severe climate; prone both to blistering heat and destructive electrical storms.
Within a matter of hours from the stop, an SOS had been issued from the Icarus.
An hour after that, the ship was flown directly into a sun with a very small contingent of its population escaping in lifeboats.
The incident had bothered Cisneros for the month since it had occurred. Now, with several of the life boats captured and brought aboard the Daedalus, his curiosity was peaked as to what the scientists had discovered.
Most notably because there hadn't been any reported survivors so far.
So whatever they had found clearly wasn't human. Or, at least, not living ones.
Dr. Patang offered a single open eye to the scanner next to the C-Deck air locks while simultaneously holding a thumb to a reader and a badge to a scanner. C-Deck, like a number of the locations on the Daedalus, was high security and set up with multiple security points. Additionally, the labs were completely sealed off from the rest of the ship in what was, for lack of a better analogy, a steel box with a single airlock that led into the ship primary.
This fact only added to Cisneros' surprise when the heavy lead and steel door slid aside to reveal four hardskinned marines standing at attention, rifles ready, standing in the four corners of the inner airlock.
He glanced at Dr. Patang with an obvious look of surprise.
"We have...concerns." the doctor said flatly, dropping the cheerful, tour-guide tone he'd been using since Cisneros arrived.
Cisneros' eyes narrowed but he said nothing. As much of a brown-nosing little shit as Dr. Patang had been, the presence of marines suggested they had found something much more exciting than a few corpses in a lifeboat.
The two men submitted to a thorough search and ID by one of the marines; a man who identified himself as Sergeant Holmes. They were then led to the next room: a hastily thrown together decontamination room that the inner airlock would have normally been used for had it not been filled with combat armor and firearms.
Once deloused, they both made their way down a long hallway lined by observation chambers.
"Now that we're out of ear shot, would you care to share what exactly your team found on the life boats, Doctor?"
"We're not sure." he said, once again adopting that slight lit to his voice again, but not nearly to the degree he had been earlier.
"You're not sure?" Cisneros echoed after rolling the possibilities about in his mind.
"Whatever they are is biologic. But after that, it's unlike anything we've found before."
Cisneros said nothing as he was led through a maze of corridors. He could see scientists working in labs on any number of different experiments; however Dr. Patang shot right by them.
At the far end of one hall, the Doctor approached a heavy door labeled 'XL-322". Directly below it. "Restricted Personnel Only." and a keypad. The Doctor entered in an unseen code, scanned his badge again, and motioned for Cisneros to enter.
They were standing in the viewing area of an operating theater with a door on the far end of the room. The glass was artificially dimmed and Cisneros suddenly had a fleeting sense of claustrophobia in the dark room.
"This is all well and interesting, Doctor. But can we can on with the theatrics?"
"Sorry, sir. As I said, sir. We're not sure what we found." Dr. Patang continued as he raised the lights and revealed the laboratory behind the triple-state glass and the monster within.
Cisneros took an unconscious step back from the now clear glass.
What the hell WAS that?
He felt his heart jump into his throat and, for the first in a very long time, he felt a sudden wash of fear fall over him.
"But if you've got any ideas..." Dr. Patang said with the first snark the Assistant Director had heard from him, "We're all ears."