5 - An Iridescent Fan

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 Most guys could have curbed un-gentlemanly thoughts by concentrating on sports, or doing mental arithmetic.  Unfortunately, Skip had only a mild interest in sports, and math, of course, was totally effortless and no distraction at all.  His only option was to become very directed to the task at hand.

"I'm going to check out the command center," he stated.  "You can come along – or not.  Either is fine."

"Nothing better to do, I suppose," she answered dryly.

Skip set off purposefully toward the command center, not looking back to see if Jeena was keeping up.

Jeena retracted her heels and followed at a dignified pace, unconcerned that Skip was rapidly retreating from view.  His trail was blatant in the empty halls.  When she finally caught up with him, he seemed to be studying a sliding door.

"Hear that hiss?"  said Skip, "something breached the wall in the command center.  It could be nearly vacuum on the other side.  That doesn't explain why everyone would leave, though - leaks are easily patched."

Skip realized that Jeena wasn't listening.  She was gazing out a nearby window.

"Hello?" he ventured.

She was mesmerized by a small feathery plume, no larger than a man's hand, anchored on an outside wall of the complex.  Iridescent ultramarine flecks on its delicate surface sparkled magically as it waved lazily in the wind.  Except that there was no wind outside.

"Space me!" Skip cursed, through gritted teeth. "No, no, NO!!"  He wrestled down his rising inner panic, and tried to speak with carefully measured words.  "D-did you come in your own pod?"

"No, I walked.  What do you think?" she answered.

"And where are you parked?"

"Back that way, 50-something, why?"

"We just found out why everyone left.  And we need to leave, too, ASAP.  Let's head over to your pod.  I'll fill you in on the way."

As they strode briskly toward the docking ports, Skip began to explain.

"Ever heard of Metalocusts?" he asked.

"Tiny metal-eating bugs,” she answered dryly, “Hey, I did take Science, you know.  So what?"

"We were witness to a rare sight," he answered.  "Very few have actually observed the Metalocust fan-stage firsthand.  That pretty 'feather' we saw outside is the reproductive body.  When a Metalocust finds a particularly nutritious area, it attains that form to gather sunlight.  There will be others around – probably a lot of others - they all seem to go to Fan synchronously for some reason.  Anyway, when the Fan decides it has enough energy, it will explode, sending literally millions of hungry Metalocusts in every direction, eager to oxidize any metal they can find.  As the station and our pods are composed mostly of bare Lithalloy, this would not be good.

"Can't you just go outside and put the silly thing in a plastic bag while it's sleeping?"

"You know," Skip sighed, "back in the 21st century, there were tourists who thought it might be fun to stick around and watch a hurricane or tsunami from the 'safety' of their hotel room.  Natural selection removed them from the gene pool.  Lesson: if the natives run, you run, too.

"If we disturb the fan, it will blow up immediately.  And all of its friends will blow, too.  Besides, even if by some miracle, we got it into a bag, it would have to be a really tough bag.  The explosion is strong enough to propel the Metalocusts into free space.

“I’ve heard that they usually blow at sunset.  It might not even be today’s sunset, but I’m not willing to take that chance.  That gives us two, maybe three hours to get out.

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