Chapter 1: Introduction
January 31st 2038 - Day 246 since the launch of RK100-51-07 [Starship: Amanda]
Crew Status: 8 crew members alive onboard, no major injuries reported, no major illness reported, no major behavioral anomalies reported.
Work Allocation Report (Colour coded processes available at workstations):
Hank Anderson - Navigation - Orange
Connor Stern - Administration - White
Dr Niles "Nines" Stern - Medbay - Black
Gavin Reed - Reactor Management - Brown
Daniel Phillips - Canteen- Yellow
Rupert Travis - Engine Rooms - Purple
Fletcher Allen - Repairs and Maintanence - Pink
Tina Chen - Atmosphere Regulation -Red
Staff Log: Entry Submitted by Connor Stern
* We're on course to reach Space Station Jericho on October 3rd, as per schedule. No delays anticipated, navigational course still optimal.
* Food stores are within expected parameters and water purification systems are all online. No anticipated shortages or issues with distribution.
* All tasks being completed to an excellent standard.
* Allen has repaired the breach in the hull following the flash meteor strike last week. He reported a hole measuring 5ft~ in diameter. This has now been patched, sealed and atmosphere/pressure has been restored to acceptable levels. Storage Room 4 is now open for use and an inventory 'stock take' has confirmed minimal loss of supplies.
* Suspected damage to monitoring systems, as there have been a number of movement reports triggered in the vents, but no additional signs of life reported aboard the ship. Body count still stands at 8 and there have been no changes to food consumption or unusual damage to equipment. Allen has advised that it's likely to be dust/debris from the meteor strike clogging up one of the pieces of monitoring equipment or registering as movement when it's pushed along by the circulation systems. Will continue to monitor and have scheduled a vent clean-out for next Tuesday, Allen will also clean the monitoring equipment to iron out any anomalies.
* Due to potential contaminants in the circulation system, all staff have been instructed to wear their space suits while working, except in 'clean room' sections that have their own controlled air supply (such as the medbay, cafeteria and private rooms)
- Time 9:43am - Admin: Connor Stern
Chapter 2: Yellow Reported Dead
The great thing about working the Reactor shift was that the vast majority of it could be done remotely. Gavin could wake up in the morning, check the reactor for any sign of wear or damage, then his job was all tablet-based for the remainder of the day (provided nothing dramatic happened). He just needed to monitor the energy throughput and redirect power between different areas whenever there was a higher demand in a particular part of the ship. In short, Gavin got to spend most of his day drifting from section to section, keeping his friends and colleagues company while they worked.
More often than not, he'd spend his morning walking the perimeter with Fletcher, helping him to report any hardware or system issues that cropped up, then he would stop off for a chat with Tina in the air monitoring station, and would inevitably finish his little adventure by stopping at the medbay for the afternoon and wiling away the hours with Nines. Since the contamination threat had been logged and they'd been told to wear their space-suits everywhere, Gavin tried to spend as much time as possible in the medbay so that he could get a break from the humid, uncomfortable suit.
Well, that, and a few other reasons.
As he passed the navigation sector, Gavin greeted Hank and continued through to the air decompression and decontamination chamber that lead to the cafeteria; he figured it was a faster route to the medbay than looping down through the storage rooms and the noisy engine rooms at the other end of the ship - but the compression chambers took their sweet fucking time. Depending on the amount of contaminants present in the chamber, the number of people in the room and the air pressure of the proceeding room, the decontamination process could take anywhere between three and fifteen minutes. Thankfully, the average was closer to five.
Pressing a hand to the door that opened onto the cafeteria, Gavin peered through the viewing panel to see if there was anyone around, hoping to have someone set up the chamber on the other side for when he passed through.
But what he saw turned his blood to ice.
From his limited view-point, Gavin could only see the top half of Daniel's body. But even that was was more than he wanted to see. The canteen manager was still wearing the body section of his yellow space suit, but it was turning red and rust-orange in places as his blood soaked through the coloured fabric. He was motionless, face down on the metal flooring with an arm stretched desperately towards the compression chamber. Even at this distance, Gavin could see the blood pooling beneath his limp form, creating little rivers in the seams between the metal panels and marking his death in a neat grid of gore. Gavin stepped back with a gasp, his heart racing rapidly as another figure came into view.
He couldn't see through the helmet's visor at this distance, not with the glare from his own visor and the distortion from the viewing panel. But he could see that the space suit was white - which was the colour designated to Connor.
As the contamination chamber gave off a loud hiss of pressurized air being released, the figure turned and suddenly became aware of Gavin's presence. He didn't move, just stood and seemed to weigh up his options as Gavin stared back in horror and fear. When the door to this chamber opened, he would be trapped in the cafeteria with Connor... who had just murdered Daniel. He was shaking now, his legs threatening to give way as the doors clicked and started to open.
Oh shit. Oh fuck.
Gavin backed up, jumping sharply as his back pressed to the wall closest to navigation. To safety. Connor just watched for a long moment, then took a heavy, unbalanced step closer. Gavin could see something in his hand and his mind worked overtime to convince him that it was a blade, but he couldn't be sure. Another step closer, and Gavin collapsed against the corner of the room; there was nothing he could do except huddle in the corner, desperately trying to summon the courage to make a break for the other side of the canteen, to open the other decontamination chamber and get out of there. But it would mean running straight past Connor... and physical strength was nothing if Connor had some kind of weapon.
Weapons... In the event of a mutiny or unsafe use of weapons, all doors can be locked simultaneously by activating the emergency response protocol.
The snippet of his training flashed across his mind and Gavin reached for his tablet, fumbling to get it unlocked as Connor approached with uneven steps. He was almost at the door now, ducking a little lower to see Gavin clearly through his visor, but Gavin slammed his thumb to the emergency protocol button and watched as the door to the decontamination chamber slammed shut. An ear piercing siren activated throughout the ship, alerting everyone to the unidentified threat. Almost immediately, a number of voices washed in through the comms channel, talking over each other with confused and worried tones.
"What's going on?"
"What's happening? Who set off the alarm?"
"Is everyone safe? Where's the emergency?"
"Shit, what's happened?"
Gavin squeezed his eyes closed and tried to find his voice, his hands still shaking violently as he tried to set his comms channel to the group setting.
"Connor killed Daniel..." he said quietly.
The voices halted for a brief moment, then there was a fresh outcry of disbelief, shock and renewed worry.
"Where is he now?"
"Gavin, where are you? Are you safe?"
The last had come from Nines, his voice strained and verging on panic. Gavin nodded dumbly, then realised that Nines wouldn't be able to see him.
"I'm in the air compression chamber. I'm ok, but I just saw Connor standing over Daniel's body in the canteen," Gavin explained.
Fletcher's voice cut through the babble, asserting a sense of authority so that they could get a plan in place, "Ok, we'll keep the canteen doors locked tight so he can't get out, but I'll unlock the rest of the rooms. Gavin, go back to navigation. Hank, stay with Gavin and everyone make their way to admin via the store rooms. Then we'll see what needs to be done."
"That sounds like a plan," Gavin agreed, his voice still quiet with shock.
"Just to make sure he's contained, can you look through the viewing panel again and make sure he didn't get into one of the compression rooms before the lockdown? The last thing we want is for him to get out before we can assess the situation," Allen asked.
Gavin whined slightly but forced himself to get back to his feet and approach the door, peeking into the canteen and scanning the room. He desperately kept his eye level as high as he dared, not wanting to look at Daniel again - not like that... But Connor was nowhere to be seen. Gavin could see the whole room, save for the small blindspot to his right where the door blocked his view of the adjoining wall.
"I... I can't see him," Gavin announced. "Tina, can you get eyes on the canteen?"
"Roger that, I'll check the security system... Oh fuck. Daniel... Confirmed, we have one crewmate down. Looks like fatal lacerations to his torso and stomach. But I can't see Connor anywhere on the screen."
To Gavin's horror, Connor's voice came through on the comms channel. "Hey, sorry, I was sleeping through my lunch break and the siren woke me up. Then I couldn't find my damn space-suit to link into comms, what's going on?"
The comms channel went silent.
"Tina?" Gavin asked, not voicing his query but knowing that she would understand.
There was a pause, then an uncertain, "Affirmative. I've got sights on Connor."
"What's going on, why do you need sights on me?" Connor asked, his tone growing worried.
"Con, have you been in your room for the whole last hour?" Hank asked.
"Yeah, like I said, I was sleeping on my lunch break. I kept getting woken up by that damn monitoring alarm last night so I was tired. What's going on?"
"Connor... Daniel's dead. Gavin said he saw someone in your suit in the canteen and they're not there anymore."
Connor didn't respond for a long moment, either processing the information or thinking up an alibi - Gavin wasn't sure which was more likely. Finally Connor answered in a quiet voice.
"It wasn't me."
Chapter 3: Emergency Meeting
Gavin had to watch the CCTV footage four times before he could be convinced to sit in the same room as Connor. And, even then, he was dubious. The footage showed Connor entering his room, then the feed cut out sometime before the alarms sounded (though it was unclear how long before), and then cut back in to show Connor sound asleep, waking at the sound of the alarm (already in progress) and searching for his space suit before resorting to communication through his tablet. So, his story semi-checked out, but the cut in the feed was more than a little disconcerting.
More worrying still, the canteen footage was similarly distorted. It showed Daniel preparing food for the team, then he turned to greet someone and spoke soundlessly on the recording before he was stabbed repeatedly in the stomach by the assailant in the white space suit. Gavin watched in horror as Daniel's death was played out on screen; the silent screams, his desperate attempts to crawl towards the door before the person in Connor's space-suit finally killed him with a stab to the back of the head. No matter how many times Gavin played it over, he couldn't make out a face behind the visor or figure out what he was using as a weapon, but he assumed it had to be a kitchen knife. Then, the video showed the decontamination chamber's door opening and the white suited assailant approaching, before the doors locked and the alarm was raised. But a few moments later, the signal cut for a stretch of a few seconds before the video feed returned to show the room completely empty... save for Daniel.
In order to get Connor from his room to the canteen without his space-suit (which he claimed was still missing, but Gavin was doubtful), they needed to lock off the whole west wing and decontaminate the area to create a clean walkway. Hank stayed with Connor, keeping an arm around the anxious administrator as they took their places at the emergency meeting table. While that was in progress, Gavin and Allen reviewed the CCTV footage; Rupert and Tina transported Daniel's body to the medbay and helped Nines to store him in a purpose-built cryo-freezer so that he could receive a proper burial once they returned to earth. They had done their best to mop up the blood, but there was still a shallow red grid festering in the seams. They could give it a better clean up later, but right now they needed to discuss the situation and come to some kind of agreement.
"Look, I know what you saw. And I totally understand why you'd assume it was me," Connor started. Hank raised a hand to stop him, but Connor continued on regardless. "It was my suit and you can't see who was in it. I know that. But I swear that I was in my bunk. You can see me go into my room on the cameras and then I was asleep until the sirens went off. But my suit was in the decontamination locker so it would have been possible for someone to take it while I was sleeping. They wouldn't even have to come into my room, it was there in the chamber."
The group considered this for a long moment, but it was hard to know whether or not his story could be trusted; none of the facts seemed to line up. The footage outside Connor's bunk hadn't shown a single person; so unless they were in Connor's room and somehow got past him without waking him up, there was no way for them to get the suit. And even then, the footage would show them walking away from Connor's room afterwards. But similarly, there was no way for Connor to have left his room without showing on the corridor camera either.
Whichever way you sliced it, it was impossible for Connor to have left his room and committed the murder. But it was equally impossible for anyone else to have taken the suit and done it either. And yet, Daniel was dead. There was no denying that.
"Ok, what about the spare suits we have in storage? Could someone have taken one of those?" Hank asked, looking to Allen.
Fletcher hesitated, clearly not wanting to add fuel to the fire but knowing that Hank's question had been a reasonable one. He sighed and scratched at the back of his neck in a gesture that Gavin recognised from their years together at the engineering college; he was frustrated by all the loose ends, hating confusion more than anything. Gavin could sympathise.
"It's possible that someone could have taken a spare, sure. But the spares are all grey, not white. And you can make out Connor's badge number stitched into the sleeve. So, it's definitely Connor's suit, but anyone could be inside it," he reasoned.
"Yeah, could have been anyone. Including the guy who had the easiest access to the suit, whose room footage cuts out and who didn't answer the emergency alert comms straight away," Gavin shrugged, his tone callous and touched with disbelief. Surely Connor was the obvious answer, nothing else made sense. It wasn't like he'd made this whole thing up or seen it through a fuzzy security camera - he had been there in the room when it happened, just meters away from Daniels' mutilated corpse, with a weapon-wielding murderer coming straight for his face. And it had been Connor's suit. So, in his mind, the answer was obvious; Connor had done something weird with the cameras to make himself look innocent. He must have.
"Gavin..." Nines warned, looking to him with something close to pleading in his gaze. He didn't want to pick sides and Gavin could read it in his face, but this was life-or-death. If Connor had done this, no amount of brotherly favouritism could save him.
"You know," Hank started, and Gavin didn't like the tone of his voice. "You don't show up anywhere on the CCTV either, Gavin. And you were the person closest to Daniel when he died. Doesn't seem too hard to imagine that you were the one who killed Daniel... you could have sabotaged the CCTV feed while you changed back into your brown suit, just so you could cry wolf about someone else doing it."
The room went silent and Gavin looked at Hank like he'd started speaking Latin.
"You can't be fucking serious," was all he could think to say.
"Dead serious. You skulked past me in Navigation and then next thing I know, Daniel's dead and you're the only one with access to the room. Why'd you lock the place down, Gavin? So you could hide the weapon? Or so you could get changed without anyone seeing you?" Hank persisted, and everyone looked to Gavin was a combination of fear, pity and expectation.
"I didn't skulk. I walked past your station, but you were doing your calculations so I didn't want to throw you off. And why the hell would I report Daniel's death just seconds later if I was the one who did it? By your dumbass reasoning, I must have been able to sabotage the cameras with...what? An EMP that didn't affect my tablet? And then I must have decided to leave the cameras rolling while I killed Daniel, turned them off so I could change clothes, but then make no attempt to hide the body. Oh, and I guess the CCTV footage of the person in Connor's suit arriving from the medbay side of the canteen has absolutely nothing to do with it," Gavin ranted, furious that Hank had turned this on him. "And, hey, here's an idea. How about we check the CCTV of me walking past your navi station at whatever time, against the CCTV of the person killing Daniel and we'll see if it's possible for me to be in those two places at the exact same time. Huh?"
"Also, how would he have gotten the suit?" Tina added delicately, trying to keep her tone level so that the others might calm down. "Look, I don't think we're going to get anywhere if we just keep pointing fingers. The best thing we can do at this point is look at the facts and go from there."
Gavin scoffed lightly and looked to Connor, still not convinced of his innocence. Sure, Hank might have been willing to protect him like some kind of loyal hound, but Gavin wasn't as easily swayed by the admin's puppy-eyes and pseudo-innocence. If Hank could think with his brain instead of his dick for two minutes, he'd see that Connor was the most likely culprit... but he doubted it was going to happen. Hank was smitten with Connor and everyone knew it.
"So far, our evidence is Connor's suit, the CCTV cutting in the canteen and Connor's room, and Daniel's body," Gavin answered, making an effort to keep his voice down but knowing damn well he was phrasing it as an accusation.
"That's a point," Allen started, and Gavin looked to him with surprise. He hadn't expected him to take his side... but then he realised that Allen wasn't really talking about the whole thing. He was focused on the last part. "We have Daniel's body. Could we try to run a few tests and see whether there's any DNA or something?"
Nines shook his head solemnly, "Unfortunately not. The space suit would have prevented any kind of fingerprints or stray DNA from landing on Daniel's body. The only think I could tell from the body was the cause of death but... that was pretty evident from the video footage."
"Well, shit," Allen swore, slumping lower in his seat.
"How about this," Tina interjected, clearly trying to play peace-maker before this got out of hand. "We review the CCTV footage in full and find out which people can be accounted for. If we know exactly who it couldn't be, then we'll narrow down the suspect pool. Once we've done that, we can start figuring out the rest."
The group nodded their agreement, waiting as Tina connected to the holo-display at the center of the table and downloaded the footage from each camera for the hour Daniel was murdered. They watched through each section carefully, marking off the crew members as they went. Rupert was working in the engine room all morning, Tina was sat at her desk, Allen could be seen in storage, Hank at navigation, Nines in the medbay. All present and accounted for, except for Gavin who had been in the decontamination chamber, and Connor in his room.
From there, they tracked Gavin's movements from his room that morning, to his work on the reactor, his walk with Allen, his chat with Tina, then his walk up the east wing of the ship, past Navigation and into the decontamination chamber. Which is where the problem started. Because the timing was exceptionally tight.
Gavin stepped into the chamber at 11:34am, and the white-suited killer appeared in the canteen at 11:37am. Within two minutes, Daniel was dead and the CCTV glitched out until the 11:41. Gavin watched the video footage again, comfortable in the knowledge that he hadn't done it, but uncomfortable in the knowledge that he had been just five minutes too late to help Daniel. If he'd walked faster, or if he hadn't stopped to talk to Tina, maybe their friend would still be alive. But he guessed those five minutes could have been the difference between him sitting at this table, and being laid out next to Daniel in the cryo-freeze. The thought made him shiver and nausea settled in his stomach at the thought of Nines having to see him like that...
The footage capturing Connor's whereabouts wasn't much better. The admin could be seen walking to his room at 11:22am and was clearly wearing his civvies when he crawled into bed. But again, the timing got tight. The cameras cut out at 11:26am, which technically gave him time to put on the suit, head to the canteen and be there in time for the appearance of the white suited figure at 11:37. But there was still the issue of the corridor footage showing nobody in or out of the area after Connor had gone to sleep.
In the end, the crew were left at a loss.
"None of this is possible," Nines said quietly, clearly try to think of any way that someone could have taken the suit without detection. After a moment, he sighed and shook his head. "I'm going to examine the body more closely, see if there's anything that might clear things up."
"Thanks Nines," Hank nodded, but he was still casting Gavin a side eye whenever he got a chance.
This was such a fucking mess. But Gavin knew what he saw, and he was determined to figure out how Connor had done it.
Chapter 4: The Buddy System
With no conclusive evidence, the crew couldn't really justify holding anyone prisoner in their bunk; so, everyone was allowed to dissipate and return to their tasks for the day. Rupert had been the first to leave, anxious about the conflict and wanting to hide himself away in the engine room, and the rest followed one by one until it was only Hank and Connor left. They would need to be careful, especially if anyone was isolated in their work area like Daniel had been... but they were more wary now, watching for any sign of suspicious behaviour. Gavin in particular.
As he was leaving, Hank caught up to Connor and placed a hand on his shoulder. As much or as little as the CCTV had told them, he knew in his gut that Connor wouldn't do something like this, and he needed Connor to know that he trusted him. It was important to stick together in situations like this, to vouch for each other to ensure that a false accusation didn't cause any more damage. As the administrator turned, Hank saw that his eyes were wet with tears; it wasn't hard to see that he was upset, even though Connor had hastily wiped the tears away and braved a smile as he turned around.
"Hey Hank, you ok?" Connor asked, and Hank didn't understand how Gavin could even entertain the idea of Connor hurting someone. It just wasn't something that he'd be capable of...
"Yeah, I'm ok. It's you that I'm worried about," he replied, offering Connor a hug when his lip began to wobble slightly.
Connor leaned into him, wrapping his arms around Hank's waist and burying his face into the puffy material of the space suit. It was difficult to hug someone when you were wearing a suit like this but Hank did his best, wishing he could just make all of this go away. He wasn't going to let Gavin blame Connor, just because some psycho had stolen his space suit. Maybe he was biased... hell, he knew he was biased, but he didn't doubt his instincts.
"How about we head to your bunk and talk, huh?" Hank suggested.
Connor eyed him warily for a moment, searching his tone for any sign of a trap, "What kind of talk?"
"Nothing bad, Con, I promise. I want to make sure you're ok. I can't even begin to imagine how horrible it must feel to have someone accuse you of something like that."
Connor went to answer but the words choked up in his throat and he nodded, eyes misting up again. Hank squeezed him tight to his chest, stroking his back in a soothing gesture until Connor was a little calmer. He walked at his side, following to his bunk and allowing Connor to help him out of his space suit once they got to the decontamination chamber. There was still no sight of the white suit, so that might be something they could try to search for. It might lead them to the person who had done it... after all, Daniel's death had been messy, and white wasn't the most stain-resistant colour. But that could wait, right now, he needed to make sure Connor wasn't beating himself up over this.
Taking a seat on the bed, Hank held an arm out and allowed Connor to cuddle in at his side. He just held him for a long moment, sharing the silence and allowing Connor to take things at his own pace. After a while, Connor looked up to him and took one of Hank's hands in his own.
"You believe me, right, Hank?"
"Of course, I do. Con, I know you wouldn't hurt a damn moth, let alone a member of our crew. Don't worry, I trust you," Hank responded sincerely, squeezing Connor's hand.
He couldn't help but focus on the touch, on the rare opportunity he had to get a little closer to Connor. And guilt crept over him in an insidious wave. This wasn't the time to be thinking about his selfish wishes. Connor needed someone in his corner right now, not someone taking advantage of his vulnerable state.
"Can you think of anything weird that happened today? Was anyone following you back towards your bunk?" Hank asked, wanting to clear this up as soon as possible so that the blame would be shifted away from Connor.
"Not that I can remember," Connor sighed, resting his head on Hank's shoulder as he tried to think back on the day. "I was so out of it though, I might not have noticed. But there was no-one on the camera..."
"At this point, I'm starting to wonder whether we can really trust the camera," Hank reasoned, not understanding how the murder could have been possible otherwise. "What with the breaks in the feed and the way the person in the white suit isn't shown in any of the other corridors... I don't know. It's suspicious..."
"Hank... what if we can't find the person who did this? What if they hurt someone else?" Connor asked, his voice cracking with emotion.
He tried to say more, but the only sound that came out was a little hiccupping sob. Hank blinked, scooping him into his lap gently and holding onto him; he cuddled him close, smoothing a reassuring hand over his back. But once the floodgates opened, that was it. Connor sobbed into Hank's shoulder, curling himself in and making himself as small as possible in Hank's arms while the stress of the day broke over him in waves. The navigator murmured quiet reassurances into his hair, letting him cry for as long as he needed to. It had been a long day for all of them, especially for Connor. Between the accusations, the loss of a friend and the broken sleep due to the damned vent alarm, it was no wonder that Connor was at his wit's end.
Eventually the tears dried and Connor focused on steadying his breath, a few of his inhalations come through shaky at first. But he gradually calmed himself and leaned his weight into Hank for support.
"No, it's ok. I don't mind," Hank reassured him, just hoping that his presence was offering some kind of support for Connor. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
Connor shook his head, slowly climbing his way out of Hank's lap and sitting beside him. He looked exhausted, both physically and mentally. Hank reached out and pushed the stray curl back into the grain of his hair, only to watch it fall back onto his forehead. The action made Connor smile and Hank couldn't help but smile back; it felt good to have someone close when things got overwhelming, especially when it was someone you trusted.
"Hey Con, you trust me too, right?" Hank asked, offering his hand again. He allowed himself to enjoy the moment when Connor took it, but he didn't dare hope for more.
"Of course I do, Hank. Otherwise I wouldn't have let you follow me back here," he reasoned. "I know you didn't kill Daniel."
"Good. And I promise that I'll do everything I can to keep you safe," he assured him. "Even if that means moving your office equipment into Navigation."
Connor laughed lightly and thanked him, looking a lot calmer now that the storm of emotions had passed. But Hank had meant it. No matter what happened, he would do everything in his power to keep Connor safe.
Connor... and Cole too...
Chapter 5: An Imposter has been Discovered
As everyone departed from the meeting, Gavin stuck close to Nines' side, following him back towards the medbay. He reasoned that, if Connor had been the one to murder Daniel, then he wouldn't risk hunting someone down in front of his brother. And if it wasn't Connor, then there was always safety in numbers.
Nines said nothing but once they reached the medbay, he locked the door behind them and drew Gavin into a tight hug; they stayed that way for a long time, just breathing each other in, listening to the reassuring beat of the other's heart, clinging to each other as though they might float away if they let go. Gavin was still shaking slightly from the shock, but he felt safer in Nines' arms - less vulnerable.
"I'm just glad you're safe, sweetheart," Nines eventually said, kissing his temple.
Gavin nodded weakly, nuzzling his face further into the comforting space between Nines' neck and shoulder. When he felt a little steadier, he looked up and kissed Nines, keeping a hand cupped to his cheek. "I swear I didn't hurt Daniel..."
"I know, Gavin. I know," Nines soothed, hushing him gently. "I don't really understand how this could have happened, but I know you didn't do it. You wouldn't, and you couldn't have. That decontamination chamber would have taken too long, and you were on the wrong side of the room. But more than that, I know you wouldn't do something like that... especially not to someone like Daniel."
"Then the only other person who could have-"
"It has to be Connor! Nothing else makes sense!"
Nines sighed and loosened his hold on Gavin, not willing to believe that his brother could have done something like this. Connor was only on the Starship Amanda because Nines had insisted on him being assigned to the same mission as himself; he knew Connor would complete his reports properly and he had hated the idea of being parted from his brother for so long. He trusted Connor. He knew him better than anyone, and this just didn't match up. It couldn't be him.
"Look, we don't know anything for certain. But I believe Connor, and I believe you too. Until we have some kind of proof, finger pointing won't solve anything," Nines reasoned, trying to placate his partner. "But if you feel safer, you can stay in here with me after your reactor checks every day."
Gavin looked aside, upset that nobody was listening to him. He knew that it was hard to assign blame, but he didn't understand why everyone was giving Connor a free pass just because he acted all innocent and cutesie. But if he kept putting pressure on the admin, everyone would inevitably turn on him instead; Hank had already started...
"That would help... but I still have to tend to the damn reactor by myself and now that person knows that I've seen them," Gavin reasoned, not wanting to take any risks. He had already had enough of a close call and he didn't want to repeat the experience if he could help it. "Would... I mean, could you come with me to the reactor in the morning, then we can come here together?"
The doctor hesitated, not wanting to encourage paranoia on the ship but also not willing to bet Gavin's life on this being a one-off event. And there was more to it than that... if they started spending all day together, people might take notice. Gavin already spent most of the afternoon with him and there had been whispers over the dinner table; speculations about their relationship, whether they were more than friends. Nines wasn't ready for that just yet. He loved Gavin, more than he ever thought possible, but he had spent so long hiding his sexuality from his family and colleagues that it had almost become second nature. With Gavin's help and encouragement, he was slowly learning to accept that part of himself, but coming out to the whole crew was a very different challenge. Still, this was bigger than him and Gavin. Daniel was dead, and they needed to be careful.
"Ok, how about this? I'll meet you outside your bunk at 7am and we'll go to the reactor together. Once you're done with your checks, we'll head to the medbay and you can work remotely," Nines conceded.
Gavin smiled softly and leaned up to kiss him, "Thank you. Just until we catch this asshole."
"Of course, love. I just want to make sure you're safe," Nines reassured, brushing his hair back. "Now, how about you take a seat up on the bed and I'll see what I can work out from Daniel's body."
Gavin winced a little at the mention of Daniel, his gaze clouding for a moment before he nodded and took a seat on the medical examination bed. Nines barely recognised him like this, so subdued and distant. Gavin was always the louder one of them, so boisterous and daring... it shook Nines a little to see him so scared.
"Hey... we'll figure this out," Nines promised, kissing his forehead as he passed. "I'll draw the curtain to block out the cryo, if you want."
"No," Gavin answered quickly. "I don't want to feel separated from you... it sounds stupid, but I just..."
"It's ok, I understand," Nines smiled weakly. "Alright, I'll just be right here. If you need me, just call and I'll come over so you don't have to look, ok?"
Gavin nodded and gripped Nines' hand gently before returning to his work. Nines watched him for a moment, wondering how much Gavin had really seen. Whether he had witnessed the death, or just the aftermath.
Pulling Daniel out of the cryo-freeze, Nines started to take notes. He was thorough, maybe obsessive, but he found that having too many notes was always better than not having enough. He logged Daniel's physical traits and reported no anomalies; died at age 32, cause of death was multiple stab wounds to the torso and a fatal stab wound to the back of the skull; space suit had been worn during the incident but removed prior to cryo. As Nines started to focus on the wounds themselves, a frown knit itself into his brow.
He had expected to see a collection of thin puncture wounds, mostly likely caused by a knife, dagger or some other sharp implement. But the wounds were near circular, as though Daniel had been stabbed with a spear or pike. Nines pulled up the footage from the CCTV camera and tried to make out the shape in the assailant's hand but was struggling to figure it out. The object was too small to be a sharpened pipe, but the wounds were too narrow and deep to be the result of a harpoon (not that they had that kind of equipment on board anyway). From the footage, it looked like the person was just punching Daniel, but their hand looked pointed and dangerous. Nines wasn't sure if it was some kind of glove, or whether they were holding something that obscured their hand... but much like everything else so far, it didn't make any sense.
Taking out his autopsy gear, Nines started to take samples from the wound sites; each sample being tested against different parameters and chemical reactions. It would take a while before the samples were ready, but the early results promised some interesting developments.
"Gavin... when you saw the person in the canteen, did anything strike you as strange?" Nines asked, looking up to see Gavin's raised eyebrow. "I mean, aside from the obvious about there being a murderer on board. Did the person move strangely, make any noise? Did they have something in their hand?"
Gavin looked at his hands as he tried to think back, his expression twisting and pinching as he recalled the gory details of the scene. "I think... they were walking funny. Like they weren't used to the gravity in the room or something. You know how Allen sometimes walks when he's been working on the hull all day?"
Nines nodded, making a few more notes and encouraging him to go on. "Anything else?"
"They were holding something but I can't remember what it was. I was so scared and I kept looking at Daniel. But... it wasn't something big. Just like a knife or something."
And, of course, there was the issue of this person getting out of the canteen without using any of the doors. Nines would need to ask Allen for the schematics of the room, but he was starting to suspect that the culprit wasn't any of the crew after all. At least, providing the crew were all human... because the sample in the third beaker was turning a vibrant shade of purple, when all human samples should turn red.
"So... I think I might have solved one of the mysteries," Nines started, his speech flat and hesitant.
"Yeah?" Gavin asked, turning a little to look at him without risking a view of Daniel.
"Yeah. But I'm afraid I've created more questions than I've answered."
Chapter 6: Emergency Meeting (2)
The more that Nines considered the possibility of the killer being a non-human intruder, the more the idea tied in with all the loose ends. If there was something on board with a non-rigid skeletal structure, there was a chance that it would be able to manoeuvre through the vents in a way that humans couldn't. This would allow it to enter and exit rooms without using the doors, and would allow it to remain undetected by the cameras - except for the vent movement monitors, which had been going wild all night and had been keeping Connor awake. As for the way it managed to get on board, Nines was convinced that it had been able to board the ship through the hole caused by the asteroid shower. Hell, for all he knew, the damn thing could have been on the asteroid when it hit and had taken refuge in the vents. Hungry and unable to eat their human food, maybe it had attacked Daniel. As for the suit... it was a perfect way to avoid detection; which suggested that the creature had some semblance of intelligence, or at least social awareness.
However, convincing the rest of the team would be another issue entirely. At this point, it was all speculation and educated guesses.
As the crew responded to Nines' 'emergency meeting' alert, Nines noted the distinct look of fear and worry in their faces. For all they knew, Nines was calling them all together to announce the discovery of a second body, or to present evidence that would identify the killer. In a way, maybe the latter would have been better - at the moment, all he could do was present them with more uncertainty. Once everyone was gathered, Nines placed a hand on Connor's shoulder and gripped reassuringly, trying to silently let him know that everything was going to be ok. "Thanks for coming, everyone. I appreciate that today has been exceptionally stressful, but I think I have some important information to share," Nines started. "I've examined Daniel's body and there are a few serious anomalies in my test samples. I've discovered that the wounds are cylindrical and there were some instances of minor internal tearing that suggests the weapon was lightly barbed; obviously, we don't have anything on board that could match that description, so it suggests that the weapon may have been organic... like a pincer or some kind of insectoid claw."Nines waited for the stunned silence to crack and melt into a flurry of confused questions and exclaimations: Allen was demanding to know how something could survive on the ship without them knowing, Tina was asking how it could have gotten onto the ship in the first place, Connor was frantically trying to get Nines' attention so that he could ask whether it would be capable of taking his space suit. The only two people who were sat calmly were Gavin, who had already worked through the possibility with Nines at the medbay, and Hank...
"Listen, listen... I understand that you're confused but please..." Nines urged, trying to settle them down so that he could explain. "I believe that something got onto the ship when the hull was breached by the asteroid storm. The hole was large enough to fit a creature that could fill and operate a space suit, but it would need to be something with a narrow skeletal structure, much like a cat or a mouse, so that it could use the vents to travel. I believe that's how it's been getting around undetected."
"The alarms," Connor added, the reality setting in.
"Exactly. I think something got into the ship, took up residence in the vents and killed Daniel when it started to get hungry," Nines explained solemnly, looking at his notes. "When I took a sample from some of the wound sites, the tests came back with alien DNA alongside Daniel's cells. Whatever did this, it isn't human."
"I'm sorry, Connor," Gavin said quietly, his tone sincere. "I shouldn't have come for your throat earlier, I was just scared and it made the most sense to me that you were in the suit."
Connor nodded and offered Gavin a weak smile, "It's ok, I'm not mad at you. We were all scared and confused, so it's understandable that you wanted to follow your instinct. But we have more information now, so we can start to get answers."
"No, we don't."
Everyone turned to look at Hank as he uttered his first words since the meeting started. He was back in his space suit, sat calmly and waiting until he had their attention before continuing.
"We don't know anything. All we know is that the wounds weren't caused by a knife, and that some of the tests came back strange. But that could indicate a lot of things - poison, toxins, some kind of biochemical substance on the weapon. And we don't know that there's something in the vents; all we have is speculation and 'what ifs'," he explained, his voice oddly tight. "I mean, what kind of creature is big enough to pretend to be a fully grown human, but small enough to fit in a vent that humans can't fit in?"
"I don't know, Hank. I'm a doctor, not a xenozoologist," Nines answered stiffly.
"Exactly, so all this crap about insect stingers or whatever is just conjecture, and we could be looking for a red herring while the real killer picks us off one by one."
"Hank?" Connor started, looking to his friend with caution and a little fear. "This theory makes the most sense... and poison wouldn't show like that on a DNA sample."
Suddenly, a few strange little puzzle pieces clicked into place in Gavin's mind. Hank had been acting differently over the past couple of days, even before Daniel's body had been found. He had been choosing not to take a full lunch at the canteen and had often gone back to his bunk for some 'peace and quiet' with increased frequency since the asteroid strike, sometimes taking food with him. He left his station early or arrived late - but he always got the work done so nobody had really thought to question him on it. But now Gavin couldn't help but wonder whether there was something in Hank's bunk that he wanted to keep a close eye on - whether he might have found something in Storage Room 4 after the asteroid strike.
"What are you hiding, Hank?" Gavin asked calmly, and received one of the most powerful death glares he'd ever seen. But he glared back and continued all the same. "You keep going back to your bunk during the day and now you're desperately trying to convince us that there are no aliens onboard. Why?"
Hank didn't answer for a long moment, weighing up his options before answering. It didn't do him any favours. The whole crew were waiting for his response; they were nervous, and nervous people could be dangerous if they didn't get a satisfying answer.
"I'm not hiding anything, I'm just getting sick of everyone pointing the finger without any evidence," Hank said at last, but even Allen was willing to weigh in now.
"But we do have evidence, Hank. Nines' sample shows alien DNA, so why are you trying to insist it was one of us?" Allen asked, frustrated but trying his best to be patient.
"Because it's a stupid theory," Hank spat back, and chaos descended.
The following few minutes were a storm of harsh words, denial and aggravation. More and more members of the crew pitched in to try and convince Hank of Nines' theory, and Hank grew more and more aggressive with each comment. In the end, it was just a wall of noise and fighting with no productive outcome in sight. Nines sighed and let them have it out, knowing that there was no use pouring fuel on the fire while they were arguing. He would just have to wait for them to finish, then he could present them with a few potential actions that could be taken.
As he looked over the table, trying to slowly gather the attention of the crew, he realised that something was wrong. There was someone missing.
"Guys... where's Rupert?"
Chapter 7: Purple Body Reported
All arguing ceased immediately, the crew looking to Rupert's empty space with disbelief. Gavin could see the wave of guilt move through the crew as though it were something physical and real - none of them had noticed. None of them had even thought to look for Rupert at the table until Nines pointed out that he was missing. Gavin's gut sank and he felt bile rising in his throat; Rupert never missed a meeting, even if he was busy, even when he didn't have much to contribute, he was always there. Quiet but reliable... and they hadn't even thought to look for him.
Without thinking to wait for the group, Gavin was on his feet and heading towards the engine rooms. Thankfully, once he'd broken the spell of silence, the rest of the crew moved to follow. As they crowded into the decontamination chamber, Gavin did a headcount and made sure that no-one was left behind; they couldn't risk being separated, not when this thing was picking them off one by one. Most importantly, he made sure that Nines was at his side at all times - if that thing got Nines, Gavin would pull the venting ducts out of the walls with his bare hands and tear the creature's head off personally.
Decontamination lasted an age with everyone in a single chamber - the minutes stretching out in panicked silence as they tried to reach Rupert's comms. The dead air did nothing to dismiss their fears; Rupert's feed was active but unanswering. When the door to the decontamination chamber finally opened, the crew stepped out cautiously and scanned the area for any sign of life. Either Rupert, or whatever had killed him.
The huge engine was churning and hissing at a deafening volume, even through the noise cancelling quality of the space suit helmets. Everything seemed to be moving, alive. But as their eyes adjusted, they realised that there was no sign of the timid engineer, or the white space suit that they had all been afraid of seeing. Only metal and steam, moving lifelessly all around them.
"Rupert?" Tina called out over the roaring of the engine.
Allen was the one to press ahead, climbing up onto the metal catwalk that stretched across the top of the engines. He had barely reached the top step when he froze. "Fuck."
Gavin winced and climbed the stairs slowly, bracing himself for the inevitable. As bad as it had been to see Daniel's body in the canteen, Rupert's death had been much much worse. Gavin's stomach rolled and he swallowed thickly, trying to press down the nausea.
"Rupert's dead..." he announced, confirming what they had all suspected; although none of them had suspected anything quite like this.
It wasn't a particularly easy task to get Rupert to the cryo-freeze; they needed to bring his body down from the walkway in two pieces. Rupert's torso had been severed from his hips and legs, and there was a mangle of flesh where his stomach had once been - whatever had done this to him had clearly eaten parts of their crewmate, but until Nines could sort through the mess, they couldn't be sure how much was gone. The thought made Gavin feel faint, but he needed to stay strong if they were going to get through this.
"Still think this was done by a human, Hank?" Gavin asked grimly.
Hank looked deathly pale, all of the fight seeming to sap from him now that he was faced with the reality of their situation. He didn't even seem to register Gavin's words at first, his thoughts clearly elsewhere, and Gavin couldn't help but wonder about his behaviour lately. Hank was hiding something, and he was starting to understand the consequences of his actions. Thankfully, Connor was the one to catch Hank's attention, taking his hand and rubbing his arm reassuringly with the other.
"Hank? Whatever's going on, I think you need to be honest with us," Connor started, his tone gentle but insistent. "You know something about this, don't you? You know something that could save us."
It was a nice touch and Gavin appreciated the way Connor was approaching it. If they confronted Hank or forced him into talking, he would get defensive or shut down completely. But by stressing how important his knowledge could be, it would encourage him to speak up. Especially if that knowledge could save Connor.
"Ok," Hank murmured weakly. "I think I need to show you something. But I need you to promise that you won't hurt him."
Gavin didn't like the sound of this. If Hank had been stowing some kind of alien creature in his bunk and it was murdering their crew, then they would need to eject it from the airlock at the earliest possible opportunity. The longer it was on the ship, the more danger they would be in. Of course, Gavin could have just lied and agreed to Hank's terms but it would leave a sour taste in all their mouths for the rest of the journey - and they had a long way to go. It was better to try and handle this as delicately as possible.
"We can't promise that, Hank. You know that," Gavin answered gently. "But we can hear you out before we make a decision. Sound fair?"Hank considered this for a long moment, then nodded grimly. "Ok... come with me then."
Chapter 8: A Mini Space Bean Appears
Hank guided them back towards his bunk, letting Nines, Gavin and Connor crowd into the decontamination chamber as a group, even though the single bedroom wasn't really big enough to support four people. They would all just have to stand in the chamber and watch from there, provided the stowaway didn't immediately launch an attack and murder the whole crew. Gavin didn't like this; it felt too much like the encounter that morning, when he had been trapped in the same room as Daniel and the thing... but if Hank didn't think that this thing was dangerous, then Gavin would have to trust him. At least for now.
To be safe, Allen and Tina had gone back to the security cams so that they could watch on the CCTV and enforce a lockdown if anything went wrong. That latter thought caused a shiver and Gavin stood a little closer to Nines.
"So, what exactly are we about to look at Hank?" Gavin asked, trying to keep his voice steady but knowing full well that his nervousness was showing through.
"I don't know how to explain it... but you'll understand when you see," Hank explained.
With a loud hiss, the decontamination door started to open and Gavin tensed, reaching for Nines' hand and gripping as he looked into the room. But there was nothing. Just Hank's empty bunk and his scarce amount of decorations around the room. Gavin was about to open his mouth and ask where the stowaway was, when Hank walked over to the vent and lifted the grating from the wall.
So, Hank knew that this thing could fit in the vents all along.
"Hey, it's ok. Come on out," Hank prompted, reaching a hand into the vent.
Gavin had visions of Hank's arm suddenly disappearing into the vent, a bloody stump left in its place. But instead, a small gloved hand reached out of the darkness and braced against Hank's shoulder; the navigator helped the figure out and sat it on the bunk, keeping himself between the creature and the crew.
Except, it wasn't a creature...
Hank had pulled a child-sized space suit from the vent, the helmet internally lit to show the person inside without the need to remove the visor. Gavin blinked, affection and fear creeping in at equal speeds as he saw his brother's face peering at him through the helmet. Except this was Eli as he had been when he was seven years old, not the 32 year old Tech-Icon that existed on Earth. His black hair and bright blue eyes that could get him out of any trouble he caused; the beak-like nose he wouldn't grow into until his teens. It was his brother, no doubt about it. Gavin could only stare, not understanding how this could be possible.
"I know I should have reported an unauthorised boarding," Hank started, his tone defensive and guilty. "But I couldn't just... I already lost him once. And I knew that, if I reported him, people wouldn't trust me. I got scared that you'd try to eject him from an airlock or something and I... I couldn't stand to lose him again."
Gavin frowned, looking to his crewmate with unmasked confusion. Nothing he had said made any kind of sense. Lost Eli? Hank had never even met Gavin's brother, let alone 'lost' him. But before he could question the navigator, Gavin's eye caught on the photograph hanging above Hank's bunk.
"Hank, who does this look like to you?" Gavin asked gently.
"... It's Cole. Don't you see?" Hank asked, looking to the child-sized figure and back to his crew.
Nines shook his head gently and Gavin could hear the emotional shake in his voice when he spoke, "No, Hank. I don't see Cole."
Connor stepped forward slowly, taking Hank's hand and trying to lead him a few paces closer to the decontamination chamber. But Hank pulled out of his grasp and knelt next to the child, examining his features. The child reached a hand out and placed it on Hank's helmet, saying something that didn't make sense.
It sounded like he'd said, "You're such a good brother, I know you won't let them hurt me."
But Cole had been Hank's son. And suddenly Gavin realised what was happening; they were all seeing and hearing separate, unique things. Gavin was hearing reassurances from his estranged brother, Hank was likely hearing a plea for protection from his son, and Nines would be hearing something different again.
"Hank, you need to step away from 'Cole'," Connor prompted, appearing to be disturbed by something he was seeing. Gavin could understand that, this was all kinds of weird and it didn't feel safe, but Connor seemed particularly disturbed. "Because I don't see Cole, and neither does Nines, and I bet Gavin doesn't either. I see Nines when he was a kid... and it's freaking me out."
Gavin nodded distractedly, "I see my brother too, but when he was about seven years old."
Hank frowned, looking between them as though they had gone mad, then looked to the child-like creature he had salvaged from the storage room after the storm. "No... It's Cole. And before you get on my case about your alien theory, I know for a fact that he couldn't have killed Daniel or Rupert..."
Gavin sighed, not liking how this was going, "We don't know that, Hank. You were at work both times, this thing was left unsupervised and could have gone through the vents. It's very obviously a shape-shifter, so it could have-"
"I'm not an 'it', Vinny!" the not-Elijah protested and Gavin felt nauseous.
He knew that this wasn't Eli... but it looked and sounded just like him, even in the way it pronounced Gavin's childhood nickname. It was easy to see why Hank had allowed himself to believe this creature was Cole. He could never blame his crewmate for that, but the truth remained. This thing was not Cole, not Eli, not Nines. It was manipulating them, and that meant it was dangerous.
"He hasn't been unsupervised," Hank sighed, slipping an arm around the child-like thing and holding it protectively against his side. "Cole's been in the vent at navigation when I'm on shift, so I can keep an eye on him."
"The whole time?" Gavin asked, trying to make Hank understand how important this was.
Hank was blind to the possibility that this creature was manipulating him. He was so desperate to see his son again, to protect him in a way that he could never protect his real son. Gavin understood and he had sympathy for his crewmate, but they couldn't just allow this thing to run loose in the vents, especially when they had every reason to believe that it had been responsible for two death's already.
"The whole time," Hank answered confidently. "And he's wearing one of the grey spares, the one for a child. There's no way he could have fit into Connor's adult suit."
It was a valid point, but Gavin wasn't confident in the excuse. This thing was a shapeshifter, so it might be possible for it to change size and shape. What was even more worrying was that it seemed to be able to reflect their memories somehow - Gavin didn't have any photos of Eli in his bunk and if he did, they wouldn't be photos from their childhood. Whatever this thing was, it could read their minds to some extent, or could reflect a part of their memory through their perception of it. If Daniel saw an adult in the suit, would it take the form of an adult too?
Eventually, Nines piped up with a compromise, "Would you be willing to let me take a few DNA samples from... Cole?"
Hank looked to him, obviously suspicious but at least partially placated by the fact that Nines was calling the creature by his preferred name. "What for?"
"If I can test his DNA against the sample we found on Daniel, then we can hopefully rule him out as a suspect, then we'll be in a better position to decide what we do about Cole being on board," Nines explained delicately. "And I can use his DNA to test against the rest of the crew. Just to make sure there's no parasitic invaders affecting anyone and making them do something they wouldn't usually do."
Gavin looked to Nines for a moment, confused but then understood what he was subtly getting at. He wanted to check that Hank wasn't being controlled by this thing - even if he wasn't showing any obvious signs, he had still acted against ship regulation and was insisting on protecting an alien entity without listening to reason. No matter what this thing was, it had its hooks into their navigator one way or another.
Hank hesitated and looked to the creature he believed to be Cole, weighing up his options. If he refused, the crew would be more likely to force the child into an airlock and eject him, but if he cooperated, then maybe he would have a better chance to convince them that 'Cole' was harmless.
"Would that be ok, Cole? I promise that I won't let them hurt you," Hank asked, and Gavin saw their comms lights flashing to indicate that the creature was saying something specifically to Hank on a private channel. "I know but I need you to be brave for me, ok Buddy?"
Gavin braced himself and walked a little closer, trying not to look too closely at the face of his brother, trying not to think about what this thing might look like when it wasn't hiding behind a psychic-linked mask. He had to play along, had to double bluff and act like he trusted this thing so that it would follow them to the medbay.
"Hey dude, if you want, you can hold mine and Hank's hands the whole time. It won't hurt. Dr Stern just needs you to lick a cotton swap and maybe rub a cloth on your arm, ok?" Gavin explained, dumbing down his language a little. He had no idea whether this thing understood their language, or whether it just fed them sentences that they expected to hear from their loved ones, but eventually it nodded and offered a tiny gloved hand.
Taking the creature's hand (and Gavin was determined to keep thinking of it as 'the creature' so that he couldn't be fooled), he walked with Hank towards the decontamination chamber; Nines and Connor stayed a safe distance from them, Nines watching the child with a mix of concern and curiosity. Gavin would have to ask him about what he saw when he looked at the child, but that was a conversation for when they were alone - whatever it was, Gavin got the feeling it wasn't a younger version of Connor.
Chapter 9: Imposter Spotted
On the way back to the medbay, Gavin and Hank swung the child-like creature between them, letting it play so that it wouldn't grow alarmed or upset when they entered the clinical laboratory. Connor subtly locked the medbay door and moved over to Nines' side, hovering close to his real brother as though trying to remind himself which one was really related to him. Gavin could understand that - the child looked exactly like Elijah to his eye, sounded like him too. If Elijah had been onboard with them, it would be hard to keep the reality clear in his mind.
As Nines prepared a few swabs, the child grew restless and Hank picked him up to carry on his hip. Gavin could see where this was going. When Nines reached for the fasteners on the helmet, the small creature wriggled and leaned away from his grasp, a distinctly childish whine breaking from its previously silent helmet. Hank tried to hold him steady, but the child-shaped creature writhed and fought to get out of his grip, starting to cry as Nines loosened the helmet.
Whatever it was, it didn't want to be exposed to their air, or maybe it wasn't able to keep up the hallucination as clearly when it wasn't hiding behind a helmet. Either way, it wasn't going to let Nines take samples without a fight.
"Gavin, make him stop it!" the child shouted, in that whiny half-crying voice that seemed so uniquely Eli.
"I'm sorry, Nines. I think he's just scared," Hank reasoned, cuddling the creature close.
Gavin forgot for a moment that everyone else heard something different, but was swiftly reminded when he caught the look on Nines' face. Whatever Nines had heard, it had struck him hard. Gavin watched as the fight left him, his expression dropping into a carefully neutral mask as he backed away and fussed with the chemicals needed for the sample. Gavin knew that look, recognised the way he removed himself from a situation when he was upset - they had been through this dance a thousand times when Nines had started to accept his sexuality and Gavin's affections.
Walking up to Nines' side, Gavin leaned his weight into him very slightly, giving him a subtle form of support. He wanted Nines to know that he was there, that he wasn't going to let anything bad happen to him. "Hey... whatever it said, it's a lie. We all hear something different. It's just a trick."
"I know..." Nines nodded, but he didn't look convinced. When Gavin didn't fill the silence, Nines glanced at him briefly and sighed. "Just said something that caught me off guard... I know it isn't real. It can't be. Not yet anyway... but just shook me."
Gavin nodded, wishing that he could give Nines more comfort but not wanting to out him in front of his brother and their crew. He knew that Nines hadn't had the best experiences when exploring his sexuality in the past and it had taken them a long time to get to their current relationship - Gavin wouldn't risk that connection for the world. More than that, he didn't want to give Nines any extra stress on top of everything else going on right now.
"If you want, we can talk about it later?" Gavin asked quietly, quickly checking to make sure Connor and Hank weren't listening in. Thankfully, Hank was busy placating the child-creature and Connor was talking to Allen and Tina on comms. "I'll help you to feel better, ok?"
Nines smiled softly, the lights on the interior of his helmet catching the single dimple on his right cheek, "That sounds good. Thank you..."
Gavin smiled back and patted his arm lightly before looking to Hank and the creature. It hadn't calmed at all despite Hank's efforts and seemed to be growing more agitated by the second, "Hank, I'm sorry but we're gonna have to hold him down if he won't let us do this."
Something in Hank's features darkened and Gavin knew that he'd said the wrong thing.
"You're not going to touch him. If he doesn't want to do your stupid test, then I'm not going to force him," Hank growled.
"Hank, we need a sample so tha-" Nines started, but Hank cut him off.
"No, you don't need a sample if it's going to hurt my son."
The three crewmates all watched as the child-like entity communicated something to Hank on their private channel, all of them dreading to think about the lies that could be unfurling in the static between their suits.
"Alright, we'll go back," Hank said quietly, letting the fake-Cole down and taking his hand.
"Hank, don't..." Connor murmured, but he didn't dare go after him.
This wasn't the Hank they knew. The friendly, level-headed navigator who could be relied on for an honest opinion and a dirty joke was now just a hollowed out shell of the father he had once been. Gavin watched as Hank unlocked the door and followed the child out into the corridor; pissed that his crewmate was losing his head to something that was clearly dangerous. But it was that anger that saved Hank's life.
Nines and Connor looked away, hiding their reactions from the volatile navigator, but Gavin had glared after him as he left - and noticed that the child was guiding him towards the canteen rather than towards the bunks. If the child was genuinely scared, then he'd want the safety of a familiar space, not a big open room like the canteen. Without wasting a single moment to think, Gavin chased after them, running to catch up before they were locked into the decontamination chamber. Hank slowed a little at the sound of Gavin's approach, bracing to protect his not-quite-son, but Gavin ducked low and knocked his hand down hard against Hank and the child's gloves, breaking the connection so that he could push Hank back and press the button that would lock the child in the decontamination chamber.
"What the fuck, Gavin?!" Hank yelled, pressing himself to the door, "Cole! Cole, it's ok. Daddy's here."
"Hank... Hank, listen to me. He was leading you to the canteen. It was taking you to the place where Daniel got killed..." Gavin explained, placing a hand carefully on his crewmate's shoulder. "It was trying to lure you somewhere, so that whatever killed Daniel and Rupert could kill you too."
Hank didn't answer for a long moment, the words circling his mind as he tried to figure out a way to defend the child's actions. But he came up short. He couldn't think of a way to refute Gavin's knowledge, and it scared him. Because, if he had been wrong about Cole on this occasion... he had been in danger this whole time.
"I... why would he..." Hank asked, disoriented but starting to understand.
"Because you trusted it enough to leave the group," Gavin reasoned, feeling Hank's hand shaking as it reached for his. "It knew that the rest of us didn't trust it, so you were the only one it would be able to take."
"No, he wouldn't," Hank answered, clearly in denial. And Gavin felt for him, he really did. He knew how hard Cole's death had been on Hank all those years ago, and seeing him again must have felt like some kind of cosmic wish come true; but this wasn't Cole, and as much as he might not want to face it, he would have been killed by something that was using his memories against him.
"Hank, that isn't Cole. Whatever it is, it hides behind someone else's face - I see Elijah, Connor sees Nines, and Nines sees something else completely. None of us see Cole except for you."
"But I... I can't let you kill him. I won't lose him again, I can't!"
Tears were forming in Hank's eyes now, his other hand still pressed to the glass of the decontamination chamber as he watched the creature that wasn't Cole acting scared and panicked on the other side of the door. Gavin kept a hand on his shoulder, just letting Hank know that he was there to support him, but not pushing him to walk away or abandon the creature just yet. He just let the truth of the situation settle in by small degrees until Hank sighed and pressed his helmet to the glass, loss and mourning finding a familiar home in his features.
"So, what are you going to do to him?" Hank asked flatly.
"I think you know what we have to do, Hank," Gavin said, reaching for his hand and gently leading him away from the door. "The crew needs to hole up in the medbay and we need to flush the whole ship... We don't know if this thing is the only one on board, but if we open the airlocks for the whole ship then we can purge everything from the vents and rooms that isn't tied down. Ok?"
Hank kept his gaze on the figure on the decontamination chamber and Gavin thought, for a moment, that he was going to protest again. But something in his features changed when the door on the other side of the decontamination chamber opened to the canteen.
Gavin frowned and went to the other window, looking through at the adjoining room. His blood ran cold as he saw Connor's white suit standing in the doorway, guiding the child-creature to its side and holding it close. As it caught sight of Gavin and Hank behind the glass, the lights of the suit flashed on and the men where shown a distorted mimicry of Connor's face. It looked just like him at a glance, his hair, his eyes, his button nose... but when its mouth opened, there were rows and rows of shark-like teeth and a serpentine black tongue.
Chapter 10: White was An Imposter
Gavin fell back from the window, flashbacks to Daniel's death playing through his mind as the creature filled the space between the canteen and the chamber; beside him, Hank stood transfixed, staring at the creature with abject horror. It was uncanny, every detail seeming to match their trusted shipmate, except the many teeth and the strange shape of its hands. The more Hank stared, the clearer the shape became; he realised that it wasn't a hand at all, but a pincer-like appendage that had cut through the glove of the space suit. Nines had been right - Daniel wasn't stabbed with a weapon. And Hank might have faced the same fate if it weren't for Gavin.
The creature took an unsteady step forward, seeming to fight against the gravity in the room with every step. It opened its too-wide mouth and hissed, the sound carrying through the comms and making both Gavin and Hank flinch.
"Everyone to the medbay, now!!"
Allen's voice cut through the deafening hiss and snapped them back to reality. Instinctively, Gavin grabbed Hank's arm and pulled him back towards the medbay, not daring to leave him on his own. He didn't trust that Hank would follow, that he wouldn't try to 'save' the child-like creature and sacrifice himself in the process. True enough, every few paces, Hank looked back towards the canteen. No doubt trying to get one last glimpse of his son's face before he had to give him up forever.
"Hank, get inside," Gavin prompted, herding him into the medbay and standing in the doorway to watch for Allen and Tina.
As their remaining crewmates appeared around the corner, Gavin made way for them and locked the door firmly behind them. There was a heavy metallic clunk and a hiss of compression as the room was fully sealed from the rest of the ship. The vents would be closed, the door securely locked, and the pressure stabilised separately to the rest of the ship. Gavin went to Nines' side, a little surprised when his partner pulled him into a tight hug and kissed him, right in front of the crew... Gavin kissed back, moving a little to nuzzle at his shoulder and murmuring reassurances as Allen set about opening every other door in the ship from his tablet.
"I thought it was going to get you too," Nines said quietly, his lips teasing at Gavin's temple as he spoke.
"I'm ok. I'm right here," Gavin soothed, holding him tightly as the doors to the decontamination chambers and all the different sectors of the ship (bar the medbay) were opened at once.
After a few moments, there was a heavy banging on the door and the crew huddled close to each other. The sound was insistent, steady - as though the creature was content to keep hammering at the door until it finally gave way. Each time it struck, Connor flinched and pressed himself closer to Hank's side, trying to hide against him. Gavin held onto Nines, comforting himself with the knowledge that, whatever happened, they were together.
Then, just as suddenly as the sound had begun, it stopped.
Silence stretched out over a number of seconds before a more gentle knock echoed through the room.
Each of them heard something different:
"Daddy, let me in. I'm scared and there are monsters..."
"Vinny, you have to let me in. You promised you'd be a good big brother and keep me safe."
"Conner, you've got the wrong Nines. Please, let me in. You need to let me in!"
"Daddy? Why did you and Papa lock me out? ... Don't you want me anymore?"
Nines whimpered, clutching onto Gavin and forcing back his tears. He had wanted a child more than anything, a little life for him and Gavin to protect and care for, to create the family he'd never really had as a kid. But this wasn't right. No matter how much that thing looked like the future child Nines occasionally dreamed of, it wasn't real. Not yet. He couldn't let himself fall for this trick, no matter how much it hurt him to let the possibility go.
"Nines, I'm right here. Whatever it's saying to you, it's not real," Gavin reassured, holding his partner tightly and smoothing a palm over his back in a comforting gesture. "Just a few more minutes and we'll all be safe, and you can tell me all about it, ok? I'll still be right here."
"Promise?" Nines asked weakly, knowing that it was impossible for Gavin to understand how large that promise was. He needed to trust that Gavin would hear him out about his little daydreams and fantasies, to trust that he wouldn't be scared by the implied commitment. But then... this was Gavin. This was the person who had spent four whole months just letting Nines hold his hand and not doing anything else, never pushing for more. This was the man who had slowly shown Nines that it was ok to be who he was, without hiding or lying about his desires. This was Gavin, and he was patient.
Nines nodded and looked to Allen, gesturing for him to open the airlocks when he was ready.
At first there was nothing, just the slow seconds that crawled by as they waited. Then, with a deafening roar, the airlocks opened and the ship was purged - the sudden change in pressure created a powerful suction effect through the whole of the ship; air, loose items and any life forms left on the ship would be pulled out into the vacuum of space. Even through the roar of the wind, they could hear the screeching of whatever creature had been lurking on the other side of the door.
They waited, pressed together and shaking until the roar died down and the airlock was shut tight. Connor pulled up his tablet and scanned the ship, checking for any sign of movement. But everything was still. The imposter had been evicted.
Chapter 11: Prologue
February 2nd 2038 - Day 248 since the launch of RK100-51-07 (Starship: Amanda)
Crew status: 6 crew members alive onboard, no major injuries reported, no major illnesses reported.
All Crew are reported to have experienced a traumatic incident and are under peer-observation to ensure the welfare of the group. In particular, Gavin Reed, Hank Anderson and Nines Stern have been identified as having a high level of stress and have been authorised to take some time away from their duties so that they can recover. Responsibilities will be covered by the remainder of the crew in the absence of their crewmates.
Work Allocation Report (Colour coded processes available at workstations:)
Hank Anderson - Rest
Connor Stern - Administration and Canteen - Grey
Dr Niles Stern - Rest (On call for medical emergencies)
Gavin Reed - Rest
Fletcher Allen - Repairs, Maintenance and Engine Rooms - Pink
Tina Chen - Atmosphere and Reactor Management - Red
Staff Log: Entry Submitted by Connor Stern
* We're still on course to reach Space Station Jericho on October 3rd, as per schedule. No delays anticipated, navigational course still optimal
* Food stores have been mildly depleted by the airlock evacuation of the ship. However, we are now also two crew members down and so the remaining stores should be sufficient for the team. As such, there are no anticipated shortages or issues with distribution.
*Tasks are being covered to a reasonable standard and the ship is running smoothly.
* Suspected xenoform intruder breached the ship a few days ago, and it's suspected that it gained access through the hole caused by the asteroid storm - this has now been plugged and no further invasion should be possible. This alien creature took the lives of Rupert Travis and Daniel Phillips before it was detected, isolated and ejected from the ship via the airlock.
* Hank Anderson was seen to care for one of the creatures, believing it to be his son. As the CCTV footage will show, he was manipulated into assisting the creature and did so with no ill intentions to the crew or the ship. The crew of the RK100-51-07 kindly pleads that you consider Hank Anderson's behaviour with empathy and understanding. The perceived loss of his son for a second time has been punishment enough and we don't believe that he remains a danger to the crew.
* The crew have been advised to continue wearing their space suits in all areas of the ship, as we are unsure whether the xenoforms carried any transmittable diseases or toxins. A ship-wide sterilisation has been scheduled and will commence this afternoon on a room-by-room rota, starting with the medbay. This will also allow us to ensure that there are no remaining lifeforms, eggs or contaminants aboard the ship.
Time 9:37am - Admin: Connor Stern.