A Small Sample

The sky was yellow and dotted with stars that did not twinkle.  Across the pink and dusty surface of this hostile world, Dr. Leonard Spence noiselessly crunched toward a rocky cave.

“So remind me again why I’m not in my nice safe lab watching one of you guys do this?”

In his ears, he could hear a soft pop followed by Carol’s friendly voice. “You’re the Exo-biologist, Lenny.  If we got critters, they are yours.  Aren’t you curious?”

“Sure, but I only need a small sample.  I can make observations from your suit’s cam just fine.”

“But you know there’s nothing like the real thing, baby.”  Lenny didn’t appreciate Burt’s attitude even though the brash astronaut meant no harm.  “Besides, it’s well past your turn.”

“Fine,” he said in a tone that made it clear that it was anything but.  “I just hate space suits.”  Lenny trudged along in the bulky but flexible suit and looked at the pale, alien sky. “Not too fond of space in general, really.”

Over the radio, Carol said, “Then you really picked the wrong profession, Lenny.”

Burt added, “And it’s a little late to bitch about it.  Just get your sample so we can stop listening to you whine.”

Wishing he could wipe his brow, Lenny started into the cave.  “I wasn’t whining.  I was complaining.”  He straightened up as if to regain some dignity and turned on his suit lamps.  “Trained scientists don’t whine.”

“Whatever, Lenny.  We’re getting a video feed.  Looks good.”

Now that the cave was lit, the hesitant spaceman could see what had taken him out of his cozy, properly pressurized lab.  Half way up an obsidian pillar common to these caves, a blob of green gunk slowly crept along.  Its body glistened under the lamp as if it were wet or oily.  It appeared not to notice Lenny even as he closed to within an arm’s length.

“Let’s see, it’s green, which may mean chloroplasts, and looks like a blob.  Might be an extremophile plant or a colony of single celled organisms.  I wonder what it eats?”  Fascination overtook fear as Lenny recited field notes.  “It appears to be surrounded by a membrane of mucus.  In its natural environment… it seems to be rippling.  This may be a reaction to the intense light.”

Over the com link, Burt droned, “Again, whatever.  I don’t want you out there long enough to freak out.  Grab your snot and get back.”

Though condescending, Lenny recognized good advice.  He took a scoop-like sampling tool off of his tool belt and extended the handle.

“Going in now, Burt.”  He looked for a good place to sample.  “Now, Mr. Blob, I’m only going to take a small sample.  You may feel a bit of a pinch, but I promise there is a lollypop in it for you.”

The instrument shook at the end of the foot-long handle as he brought it up to the blob.  As soon as he touched it, a faint pop filled his ears and all the lights in his suit went dark.

He was plunged into the total blackness of the cave.

“Oh crap!  Burt? Carol?”  Nothing came over the com link, not even static.

He could feel his fingers getting num.  The heaters had gone off too.  “I’m starting to get cold.  Hello! Do you hear me?  Come in.”

The only response was black silence.

“…hello?” he squeaked.

Lenny’s primal fears prevented him from moving.  This was why he hated space, he thought.  It was because of stuff just like this.  Being out of control and at the mercy of the unknown.

From outside the self-contained fishbowl of his helmet, he thought he could sense something moving.  He wasn’t sure if he was seeing it or hearing it, but something stirred in the dark.  Fear kept his breath weak and shallow, so his ears could pick up any sound from the outside world.  All he could hear was how scared his breath sounded.  Lenny swallowed hard.  This was a long way from the lab, for sure.

“Come on, man.  Get a grip.”  His own voice made him jump. “It’s just a power failure.”

He thought about the suit.  “A power failure in multiple, triple-redundant devices.”  He heard the ragged breath return to his fishbowl.  “I’m sure it happens all the time…” His voice lost all confidence. “…in some parallel universe where the nature of probability is completely different.”

His chest tightened.  “I’ve got to get out of here.”

The fear let go of his legs enough to take a step back.  He followed it with another and got a shock that made him hop.

The lights turned back on.

“Eeep!”

Over the com link, static gave way to an amused voice.  “Excuse me, Lenny, I don’t think I copied that.  Did you just yelp like a little schoolgirl?”

It was Burt back in the control room.  “Crap, Burt, everything went black here, didn’t you notice?”

“Sorry.  We thought we just lost your telemetry for a second.  Sunspots, you know.”

“Sunspots nothing!  I think it can screw up electronics.  I mean, everything went dark and cold here.”  With the light back on, Lenny got his mind back on his task and got a second shock.

“The specimen is gone!”  The spot where the glistening green blob was perched now just had a spot of goo, turning solid in the freezing space cave.

“Lenny?  This is Carol, are you OK out there?  Your suit is reporting a drop in pressure.”

“I’ll take a look for… OH, MY GOD!”  He looked at his gloved hand in disbelief.

Static ravaged his ears, now painfully sensitive, after one shock too many.  “What?”

“My pinky is gone!”  The glove on his right hand had four perfect fingers and one stump on the end.  The stump was covered on its clean, flat top with the same glistening goo that coated the green blob he had come all this way to study.

“How can that be?” Carol asked over the intercom.  “You aren’t losing any more air.  A hole in the suit that size would have killed you.”

The cold, the fear, and the claustrophobia all came in as the shock of being so casually dismembered dawned on the uptight scientist.  Lenny lost it.  “I don’t know, it looks like there is some kind of glop plugging up the… My finger! I’ve been maimed!”

“Dude,” Burt’s voice said over the intercom, “It’s just your pinky.  Pull it together.  Forget the sample and get out of there.  Abort.  The snot isn’t worth your life.”

Out of the corner of the helmet’s view portal, Lenny thought he saw movement.  Whipping his body around for a better view, he saw the green, lumpy blob undulate over the rocks on the cave floor.  In the middle of it, still sheathed in the heavy glove’s digit, was Lenny’s severed pinky.  He watched as it retreated from view on the blob’s back.

“My finger!  Give me back my finger!”

With thoughts of remaining maimed for the rest of his life guiding his actions, Lenny bolted after the creature.  It was heading for a small crack in the cave wall, so Lenny dove for his severed body part, knowing it was now or never.  As he touched the alien, all of the systems in his suit shut down, including the lights.

Once again, he was plunged into darkness, but he had the vague feel of the slimy green goo in his cold, numb and incomplete hands.  He was determined to get his finger back and wrestled with the mass until it finally slipped away from him.

But it had been worth it.  He could feel it in his hand.  Yes.  It was a struggle, but his pinky was his once more.

As the creature retreated through the small hole in the cave wall, Lenny’s suit mounted lights illuminated the cave.  He pulled his hands into the light to examine the cylindrical object he snatched back from the blob.  He found only the empty pinky finger of the space suit’s glove.

“NOOOOOOooooooooo!”

***

The green blob seeped through the membrane that kept the toxic environment of the outside from the more hospitable world inside the planet’s rocks.  Its electrostatic sonar imaged a home of polished, spherical rooms with curved and edgeless connecting tunnels, populated by many fine-looking blobs.

As it shucked the slimy life-support membrane they used to survive outside, the blob thought about the strange, solid, electrically-charged life forms that had been invading the cave.  It was a good thing he was able to grow an organelle to deal with such a life form.

And what a life form!  It undulated with excitement over the prize it carried.  A piece of a real alien!  It couldn’t wait to get back to the lab.

Sliding through the passages, alien tissue in its possession, the blob wondered why the creature had kicked up such a fuss.  After all, it had only taken a small sample.

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