The Issue was listing badly in a failing orbit around Jupiter. She was dead in the water and her distress signal cut out abruptly on our approach. She was a heavy freighter loaded with uranium ore, bound for the refineries on Mars and long overdue…something didn’t feel right.
We circled The Issue slowly about ten miles out – but with our engines hot in case it was a trap. There were raiders in this sector who often used derelicts to stage their attacks. There was no response to my hail, no wi-fi, no beams…no strobes. Sensors showed cold engines and no (human) life signs. I found a weird glitch in the data, something unrecognizable….but not enough to put the crew off their prize. The salvage on The Issue would make every man on board filthy rich. I was the only one still arguing for caution but none of the men wanted the opinion of someone like me. I was property and was not entitled to a share anyway.
When the Captain (despite my misgivings) gave the order to board, we moved in and docked with reckless abandon. A combat team stood at the ready as I popped the air lock. They made me go first. They always made the android go first. I was the most expendable…expensive but not valuable.
And…as I swung the hatch open, a sudden violent flood of spidery greenish critters swarmed through the airlock by the hundreds. I guess I didn’t taste good because they left me alone and flowed past me, devouring the crew as they went. I waited. It took them 19 minutes to scour the ship from bow to stern and I listened to each and every man screaming his last – the men who treated me like shit for two solid years – the men who sneered at my warnings.
I waited…to see what this NEW crew had to offer. It couldn’t be any worse than the last one…..this could be interesting!
***Above, we’ve posted the rough sketch sequence for an illustration originally commissioned by Analog Magazine for their May 2006 issue. Now it is a feature in our new book, “A Short Burst” along with it’s new flash-fiction short story (also posted here). It is one of our favorite robot stories. Find “A Short Burst” and all our books at www.sallemander.com. -Marsha