Amanda’s guttural scream of frustration could have woken the dead. It sure would have been heard throughout the ship... if the ship had air in it... or a crew. As it was, her exertion only served to momentarily fog her visor before the exo-suit’s system blew a puff of air in front of her face to clear the condensation.
Amanda heaved several strained breaths, then lolled her head back in her helmet. “No no no nnnnhhhhh.” Her eyes rolled back in her head as she convulsed to several more involuntary orgasms. Then her tongue gagged out of her mouth as her stomach bulged another several inches outward between her hands.
This was not good. This was really, not good.
Amanda struggled to catch her breath in short heaves with what volume was left in her abdomen. She tried to clear her fractured mind and focus on the situation. She had to focus. There had to be a way out of this. But how? She had maybe a minute or two before the cycle started again and her body was taken one step closer to oblivion.
Ten hours earlier...
Amanda’s visor dimmed automatically as she stepped out of the landing pod and into the light of Vega 4’s nearest star. The darkening of her visor made her brown eyes and tightly bun-ed brown hair all but invisible behind it. Lifting her left forearm into her view, she checked the status of her exo-suit. All consumables in the green. Food, water, and air for a week, though she fully intended to be off this lifeless rock much sooner than that.
“Begin scans,” Amanda commanded.
Several indicators in her heads-up display showed that the suit’s sensors were beginning a routine sweep of her surroundings. “Rocks, mountains, rocks... more rocks.” Amanda mumbled as she watched the scan progress.
“Pull up the orders again.”
The suit complied and displayed the mission orders in her heads-up display.
Date: 2232, Jan 31 Location: Vega 4, outer territories Long range scans have detected a ship-like mass on the moon, Vega 4. No records exist of a human or other ship going down in this area. Unit will drop 20 clicks east of the target, approach, and assess. Information on identity, origin, condition, and fate of the vessel are top priority. Extraction 10 clicks west upon completion. Estimated time on ground: less than 48 hrs Deployment: 1 (Marine Scout – A. Hodges) Conditions: non-atmo, 2.4G Equipment: Exo-suit, load-out 4
“Ok then. Give me a marker to the wreck site, clean me out, and let’s prep for a run.”
Amanda began twisting her torso and stretching her arms like she was preparing for a mild workout as her suit began executing her commands.
Amanda’s exo-suit was a complex and powerful tool of modern technology. At its base was a thick rubber like material that fit her body tightly; woven full of sensors, heating and cooling mechanisms, and synthetic muscular and support structures. All of which allowed her to not only stand and operate on an airless rock in nearly three times earth gravity but gave her significantly above average strength and agility.
Cupping Amanda’s groin and rear was a semi rigid structure that housed the suit’s waist systems. Via a catheter in front and a plug in the rear, it could keep the suit’s occupant ‘comfortable’ for weeks. Water was purified and recycled while solid wastes were ejected on command. Per her commands, the suit was flushing her bladder and bowels with small amounts of cool water in preparation for a long exertion.
On the suit’s back was a large and incredibly dense backpack. Air, water, food, sensors, communications, and a fusion power cell were all crammed beneath its angular armored surface. Between the armor and the contents, it easily weighed 300lbs in earth gravity. Fusion cells were heavy, but the only power source dense enough to give her suit the power and endurance it needed.
Most of the consumables and data from the backpack went into Amanda’s helmet through a connection in the center of her back. Inside her helmet she could breathe, drink water and eat mushy foods, communicate, and view her suit’s plethora of information. At present it was displaying the direction to her target, twenty kilometers east.
Finally, the exterior of the suit was covered in a multitude of angular modular armored sections. Each section was individually attached to the suit’s ‘skin’ such that they could be removed and replaced if damaged. A scout’s armor was significantly lighter than, say, a heavy gunner’s, and allowed for a higher range of motion. Nevertheless, the armor’s angular segments distorted Amanda’s athletic feminine form and added another hundred pounds to the rig. Not that the side arm on her hip gave the impression that she was here for anything besides business, anyway.
As Amanda completed her light warm-up, the suit finished flushing her out and tightened slightly around her body, indicating it was ready to begin maneuvers. Amanda took several steps down the slope away from the pod before stretching into a bounding run. Easily crossing 3-4 normal strides with each step, her boots set small puffs of grey dust into the air before they quickly settled under the high gravity.
For several hours, Amanda made quick progress eastward through the foothills of the mountain range to her north. Every so often she stopped to scan the terrain, take a drink, and check her position. When she did, the grey of her armor made her almost indistinguishable from the rocky backdrop. Each time, she noted the same results. Rocks, mountains, no power, no life. She almost regretted it wasn’t more exciting.
About 14km from her pod, Amanda slowed at the base of a large hill. Her suit indicated that she was approaching the target area. Climbing the hill at a walk, Amanda stopped when her head could see over the crest. Before her was a vast plane that sloped slightly to the south, with distant mountains to the north and west. Compared to the hills she had just come through it was flat as a skillet. There was only one feature on its baron surface.
Amanda pulled a camera-on-tripod like device from the side of her pack, unfolded it and planted it at the crest of the hill. Then took a few steps back, hiding her head below the ridge.
“Full scan and zoom on the target.”
A zoomed view from the camera popped into Amanda’s display. In it a dark object could be seen at the end of a long skid mark approximately two-thirds of the way across the plane towards the mountains.
The object filled the view now. It was clearly the hull of a ship. Or at least the front half of one. The splayed shapes of the mangled back end and deep scars on the sides suggested that the back half of the ship had exploded, sending the remaining section on a high-speed trip to the surface. There didn’t appear to be any lights or movement.
“Increase magnification, A2.”
“Taka Maru?” Amanda questioned. “Anything on a Taka Maru?” The suit pulled up a brief file.
The Taka Maru was a coalition vessel but had been assumed lost twenty years ago, in the effort to evacuate forces from the battle at Baker 9. Not much was known on how or why it went missing, but Baker 9 was a long way from Vega 4.
“What the hell are you doing here? Start scan and alert protocol, set timer for twelve hours.”
The suit’s display confirmed her commands as she started a bounding jog towards the wreck site.
Twenty minutes later, Amanda slowed to a walk as she entered the shadow of the Maru. Even dug into the surface and listing to one side, the hull fragment still towered fifteen or so stories above her. It took her another hour to make a circuit of the hulk, continuing her scans and looking for the best entry point.
Finally, on the far side of the wreck from which she had approached, Amanda found a blown open hatchway near ground level. She made a final check of her surroundings and checked on her sentry back at the ridge before climbing into the darkness.
If the Maru looked bad on the outside, the inside was worse. Debris and wreckage clogged most of the corridors and many of the blast doors had been closed. Progress was slow at best as Amanda navigated the tilted maze of the wreck, walking, crawling, and sometimes cutting her way through the hull. After several hours, Amanda finally pushed open the final set of blast doors leading to the bridge.
Scanning the large open sloped deck, she noted with some disbelief that it appeared to be fully intact. Comms, tactical, navigation, and the captain’s station all in one piece.
“But where is the crew?” Amanda pondered aloud.
Come to think of it, she didn’t see any bodies on her arduous trek through the ship. Puzzled, but undaunted, Amanda made her way across the bridge to the comms station to look for the ships log. Surely it would have answers.
Sweeping a light layer of dust from the surface of the station with her gloved hand, Amanda scanned its surface intently until she found the button she was looking for. Pushing it resulted in a small drawer popping open in the station near her waist. Amanda extracted a chip from the drawer and plugged it into the terminal on her arm.
“Show me the ship’s log file,” she commanded.
Her heads-up display streamed a text log extracted from the chip.
“Start three days from the end of the log.”
The log wasn’t incredibly detailed, as much of it was automated reporting from the ship’s computer, but it was enough to get the gist. The Maru had picked up a squad of marines and some of their vehicles from Baker 9 under heavy fire. Several soldiers had been killed during the operation and the Maru’s communications array had been damaged. They had departed the area and were heading back to the rendezvous point when there had been a navigational error of some kind and they had jumped much farther than intended and in the wrong direction.
The log got even sparser at this point. Apparently, the crew was busy dealing with whatever had caused the navigational problem. Then there were signs of a battle on board. The internal defense systems had been activated. Blast doors had been closed. Communications with engineering had gone down. Then...
“Auto destruct command?” Amanda was shocked. She knew most ships had the capability to auto-destruct but had heard of very few cases of it being used. Mostly it was a last-ditch effort when the ship had been lost to an enemy boarding party. But there was no enemy out here, was there?
The moments between the auto-destruct command and the end of the log were garbled. Mostly about the defense systems going off and internal damage to the ship. Strangely, there didn’t seem to be any mention of the escape pods being fired off. Then Amanda found a one-word log input by the second officer seconds before the blast... “Shimmer.”
Amanda paused in thought. Then her eyes went wide. “Oh fuck...”
The Shimmer, usually referred to as The Black Death, was a horrible weapon of the last war. An innocuous black blob with rudimentary mobility harbored a simple but hideously effective intelligence with one goal: find power and use it to grow. A quantity as small as a marble could sit on a surface or float in space for years, waiting for a passing ship or vehicle to pick it up.
Once on board, it would find and hijack the largest available power supply and use the power to self-replicate. It grew indiscriminately until it filled the available space or used up the available power. If it took over a ship, like the Maru, it would often mess with or take over systems, such as internal defenses and navigation, and use them bluntly to ward off attempts to separate it from its power source or head towards a new one. Vehicles full of the parasite had driven into weapons bays, been attached by the defending forces and been blown apart, only to spread it to more systems and vehicles in the bay.
Perhaps the most horrific were the unfortunate soldiers who’s exo-suits had been infected. Drowned in their own helmets hours before, the soldier’s bloated suits would stagger back to base and burst, further spreading the plague.
Amanda was frozen still as she calculated. The Maru had been destroyed by its crew to destroy the Black Death, here. But part of the Maru had survived. The Shimmer had been ‘shut down’ by command of its makers at the end of the war. But would the signal have reached out this far?
Amanda turned back towards the bridge doors and took a deep breath. “Better not to stick around and find out,” she whispered, before starting for the doors.
On her second step, Amanda’s helmet filled with buzzing alarms and alerts. “What the f...” was all she got out before her body collapsed backwards like a ten-ton rag doll. On the way down, her helmet slammed into the communications console and her backpack hit the floor with enough force to make a dent, seating itself and keeping her from sliding down the slope of the deck. The impact was enough to concuss her head and she groaned as her vision went black.
Amanda woke and tried to sit up with a start. The dead weight of her suit in the high gravity meant that her efforts resulted in little more than a slight flailing of her arms and legs. Realizing she wasn’t going anywhere fast, she took several breaths and groaned as she tried to clear her vision and get a hold of herself.
“Status,” Amanda commanded.
Her suit filled her head-up display with a log of recent events, errors, and warnings. It took her a few moments to focus and begin to sort through them. There had been a small breach in her suit. Apparently, the suit had done its job and sealed it moments after it occurred.
“Micro meteorite?” Amanda thought out loud.
But there had been no indications of anything passing into the Maru and, if it had put a hole in her suit, it should have put a hole in her. Shortly after the breach, the power connection between the suit and the backpack had been severed and the suit had been unable to repair it.
“That explains the fall,” Amanda quipped. As she noted the edge of the comms station in her upper view she added “and the headache.”
The log noted that she had been hurt and it had administered pain medication and nano-bots to repair any damage to her head. The fact that she was conscious and feeling better fast were a good sign.
The end of the log, however, was puzzling. There appeared to be a series of power consumption warnings. With the suit’s most power-hungry function, movement, having been disconnected, there shouldn’t be anything sucking that much power.
“Show me power usage for the last half hour.”
A graph filled Amanda’s view showing power levels and usage. Since the breach there had been a series of power usage spikes. Initially, they were only 5-10 seconds apart and used about 1 percent of the suits power. However, over that thirty minutes they were spacing out to now 20-30 seconds apart and taking closer to 3% of the suits power in each burst. In fact, the next pulse should happen right about...
Amanda’s mouth and eyes opened wide as an electrical shock punched her in the middle of her back.
“Ahhkkk!” Amanda gasped into her helmet as the shock began to spread down her spine.
While not sharp enough to be a burning pain, it was enough to cause the muscles in her back to clench as it slowly spread downward. As it reached the top of the crevasse of her rear, it seemed to crawl into her cleft, passing around her suit’s plug and causing her cheeks to clench.
“Gaahhhkkk!” Amanda croaked as her legs tightened and she tried to lift her hips.
As the intense stimulation exited her lower bum and began to cross her perineum, Amanda gasped in realization of where it was headed. Squeezing her legs together as best she could, she tried to cover her groin with her hands.
“No no no... hrrrkkkk!”
Amanda gritted her teeth and clenched her eyes as the shock spread across her groin. It quickly passed over and around her labia and encircled her clitoris, spreading several inches to either side of her lips before stopping it’s travel, but not it’s intensity.
The shock that now hooked from the center of her back to her perineum was enough to convulse and lock her body below her belly button. Amanda’s eyes opened wide as her body vibrated and convulsed to the shock and she soundlessly opened and closed her mouth in incoherent words of over stimulation.
Then, just as suddenly as the shock had stopped spreading, it… grew. The path passing down Amanda’s spine and around to her groin widened just enough to be perceptible, while the patch over her groin swelled into her. Amanda squealed, feeling her labia and clitoral hood splay and the crackling electrical mass push within. Engulfing her clit and outer cervix, the mass now connected every erogenous zone in her groin with intense electrical energy.
Amanda’s eyes crossed as her view went white and her body flushed intensely. A second later and she was convulsing not to the electrical shock, but to the spasms of her own forced orgasms. Thrown beyond words or thoughts, Amanda simply spasmed incoherently on the floor of the bridge for what seemed like minutes.
Then, it all stopped.
Amanda blinked and breathed furiously into her helmet as her mind reassessed her body. She was weak, flushed, and sweating slightly. Her skin tugged, as if a strip of duct tape was stuck to her spine, inner cheeks, perineum, and over her sex. She had the sensation that a baseball sized glob of silly putty had been stuffed into her, and her sex was still throbbing.
“What the fuck?” Amanda asked no one.
Then Amanda’s mind came back to where she was and what she had been doing. “Shimmer? It can’t be” she rasped.
“Show... show most recent body scan,” she stammered, still catching her breath.
As Amanda’s suit complied, she considered what she knew of the Shimmer. It had gotten that second name because of the crackling translucent Shimmer it produced when it moved or was growing with power. To her knowledge, no-one who had ever touched a Shimmer had lived to talk about it. So, who knew what touching one would feel like?
Amanda’s suit pulled up a translucent silhouette of her figure. Heaving chest, internal organs, elevated body temperature and...
A deep-black serpent like object was wrapped around her body. Starting from the center of her back it made a slithering “J” like shape, ending in a bulbous mass in her sex.
“Oh fuck... show previous scans in sequence, thirty minutes.”
The display showed a slide show of scans taken at 1 minute intervals from the past half hour. Right on schedule with the power graph, what started as an innocuous black dot near her spine had spread in pulses down and around her body. Only in the last spurt had it covered and entered her sex.
“Damn thing is taking power from my backpack,” Amanda considered.
Either she had been knocked out harder than she thought, or the pain-killers the suit had administered had dulled the experience until she had woken up. Either way, she had lost time while this thing had grown.
“And why are you wrapped into my... AHHHKKK!”
Amanda croaked as the shock impacted her back again and spread downward, now slightly faster and more intense than before. As it clenched her rear and rounded forward, Amanda tried to breath in rapid bursts preparing for what she knew came next. However, as the ball of energy lit every nerve in her sex for the second time, her efforts were proven futile. On fire from her groin outward, Amanda’s body began rapid convulsions and vibrations of intense tension and forced ecstasy.
“Hnnnnn! ...Hnnnnn!” was the only sound she could make, as her body clenched in repeated orgasmic rhythms for seconds that seemed like minutes. Then the growing began again. As before, the stripe around her body widened ever so slightly before the pressure into her sex intensified. Her lips were spread even wider as the Shimmer pressed inward. Finding her walls less forgiving, it pressed into the tip of her rapidly convulsing cervix.
Press then widen. Press than widen. With each orgasm her vagina contracted and released until her cervix could remain closed no longer. The Shimmer quickly thrust into its diminutive opening, driving it open and pouring into her more flexible interior. Amanda howled, mouth and eyes wide as it rapidly filled her womb, mid orgasm.
When it stopped, Amanda was barely coherent. When the shock subsided, she was left writhing and groping in bewilderment.
“Hnnnn... ahhhh... Hnnnn... Ahhhh!”
With each breath, Amanda’s diaphragm shifted her insides against the dumbbell shaped mass half lodged in her womb. The motion caused the Shimmer to move slightly, which in turn caused it to lightly buzz her inner surfaces, resulting in more stimulation, cramps, and motion. The cycle left Amanda throbbing internally and squirming incoherently as she struggled to reorient her mind.
Eventually, Amanda managed to still herself and dampen the cycle, shallowing her breathing and trying to focus again on her heads-up display.
“How... how long do I have? How fast is this thing growing?”
The suit responded with “unknown query.”
Amanda groaned and steadied herself with a few more short breaths.
“Estimate the volume of the foreign mass in my suit...” more breaths “...as a function of time over the last thirty minutes.” A few more short breaths. “Overlay with power usage for the same time period.”
The suit indicated it was working the problem. Amanda tried to estimate it herself based on what she already knew, though it was difficult with the vibrating fullness in her nether region. She knew the Shimmer had been growing for 30 or so minutes. Based on her sensations, she guessed it had not quite doubled in size. She remembered that the power drops were increasing in size, but the times were getting longer between spurts and shorter in duration. Maybe it took more power the bigger it got, and it was slowing down? But why was it going inside her? Why wasn’t it growing into the suit?
Amanda was just considering that if it had gone towards her head she would already be suffocated, when another shock punched her in the back.
“Ahhhh Hnnnnnnn noooooo!”
Amanda half gritted and half sobbed as the new, even greater, shock quickly wrapped between her legs and forced her body to cease. Her legs pointed straight and her arms spread, hands clawing at the deck, as her back attempted to arch in vain against the weight of her suit. As the electrical power filled her core she was clubbed with sensations of orgasm and convulsions almost instantaneously. For what seemed like another eternity she was held in at state of cyclical clenches, flails, and gasps as her core orgasmed and cramped over and over again.
As she had estimated, the growth this time was noticeably quicker. In only a few seconds the shaft in her cervix doubled in circumference as the Shimmer swelled in her womb. Amanda’s tongue lolled out of her mouth as she pounded uselessly at the armor over her abdomen.
When it ceased again, Amanda’s legs were struggling between spread eagle and tucking under her butt to push her body away from the direction of the intruding mass. Her hands cycled between clawing at her belly and looking for purchase on the floor around her. Both were in vain under the weight of her suit.
Amanda was panicking. She needed to think, but the pressure on her stomach was making it nearly impossible to breathe, let alone think. She had to get it out.
Her armor, that was it. She had to get it off.
Amanda brought her left arm into view of her helmet. Struggling to stabilize her arm, she poked wildly at the display with her right pointer finger.
->Exo-suit systems... ->Armor... ->Emergency Procedures... ->Eject... ->Yes really!
Amanda let her arms fall and turned her head to the side. A series of tiny pops and bursts of expanding gas emanated from under her armor in a wave passing from her feet up to her neck and out each arm. As each group went off, a section of her armor released from her suit. In earth gravity they would have been blown clear of her body, but under Vega 4’s higher Gs, they simply hopped loose before sliding to the side of her body. Those on the downhill side slid down the slope of the bridge and piled in the corner of the far wall. As the panel on her thigh separated, it tumbled, taking her sidearm with it.
Amanda winced as the last panel to depart was the one covering her groin and rear. When it popped loose it tugged on the plug and catheter left behind.
With the weight and constriction of her armor removed Amanda heaved several full breaths. Craning her neck within her helmet she peered over its mouthpiece to view her body below. Still pinned by the connection to the heavy backpack, her athletic feminine features were now clearly visible under the tight rubber suit liner that remained on her body. The unexpected part, however, was the now significant bulge of her abdomen. Looming just beyond her heaving chest was the rounded form of a woman roughly five months with child.
Amanda gaped at the view, holding her belly in her hand for a long moment. She couldn’t take much more of this, she was sure.
A slight beep indicated her suit had finished the calculations she had requested and it was now showing them in the heads-up display. As she had estimated, the time between growth spurts matched the power drains and was slowing down. Burst were now a minute or so apart. Both rate of growth and the time it took to grow were decreasing slightly as well. Extrapolating the next event, the Shimmer was expected to increase in volume by about 40% in the span of 10-15 seconds.
This was the good news: she had more time to think between bursts and its growth was slowing.
The bad news was, it would outgrow her and her suit long before it ran out of energy. Even taking 8-10% of her cell’s power each round, she, or her suit, would burst in only a few more cycles.
As the next shock punched Amanda in the back, she let out a guttural scream of frustration that could have woken the dead. Her exertion only served to momentarily fog her visor before the exo-suit’s system blew a puff of air in front of her face to clear the condensation.
Amanda breathed several strained breaths through clenched teeth and eyes, then arched her head back in her helmet. “No no no nnnnhhhhh.” Her eyes rolled back in her head as she convulsed to several more involuntary orgasms. Moments later her tongue gagged out of her mouth as her stomach bulged several inches outward between her hands.
This was not good. This was really not good.
Amanda struggled to catch her breath in short heaves with what volume was left in her abdomen. The pressure of her suit and her now massively ‘pregnant’ weight in the high gravity of the planet were pressing unyieldingly against her lungs. She tried to clear her fractured mind and focus on the situation. She had to focus. There had to be a way out of this. But how. She had maybe a minute or two before the cycle started again and her body was taken one step closer to oblivion. But how? How would she get rid of this thing inside her?
Amanda thought of the crew of the Maru. They had effectively committed suicide to keep this thing from spreading. Come to think of it, she had heard of soldiers in infected suits doing the same. She peered down the sloped deck of the bridge to her side arm in the pile of armor plates. Even if she could get to it, there was no guarantee that suicide would destroy the Shimmer. On top of that, her crew would come looking for her and she had no way to warn them off if she was incapacitated or dead.
The throbbing buzz and cramp of her abdomen snapped her back to the moment. Why the hell was it doing that? What did it gain from crawling inside her? This made no sense based on everything she knew about the Shimmer. It didn’t need her or her womb. It didn’t need sex. All it needed was power.
It didn’t need her. It only needed power. She was just in the way.
It had “turned left at Albuquerque” and found an expandable volume between her legs instead of finding the space in her helmet first. Once it burst through her, it would fill the suit as it had done with so many before, take it over, and wait for the next power source.
So, that was it. She just needed to give it another power source. But how? She was wearing the only significant power source for light years on her back.
Another throb took Amanda’s breath away. It was getting ready for another burst. Amanda clenched and breathed, Lamaze style, trying to hold onto her train of thought.
If she couldn’t give it a better power source, maybe...
Maybe she could get away from her backpack and it would leave her to get back to the power?
Amanda’s eyes shot open with new determination. This was crazy. Without her backpack, she too would have no power, as well as no heat, no air, and no communications. She could last five, maybe ten minutes at best without it.
It was now or nothing. Two more of these cycles and her insides would become her outsides, suit or not.
Amanda lifted her arm into view and began stabbing at it again with her opposite pointer finger.
“AHHHHGRRRRRRR!!!!” Amanda growled through the pain as the shock hit her in the back again.
“Hhhhhnnnnnnn!” Her vision blurred as the shock overwhelmed her sex and sent her into a rapid succession orgasms.
->Emergency procedures... ->Pack Separation...
Amanda croaked as the Shimmer surged into her abdomen, choking her from within and expanding to a size beyond 8 months of pregnancy.
Amanda was jolted by 6 mini explosions behind her back as the explosive bolts holding her suit to her back burst in sequence. Still clenching around the now painful mass in her abdomen, Amanda’s rolled her pendulous belly downhill and off the pack.
As she began to slide down the deck on her side she clawed at the floor to control her direction, still gasping for what little air she could inhale. Instinctively she curled into a near-fetal position just before her slide and rotation ended, with her back slamming into the wall and scattering the pile of armor plates that had collected there.
Detecting the loss of connection to the backpack’s power cell, the Shimmer seemed to rumble furiously, sending massive shocks throughout Amanda’s body. It was clearly pissed.
Slowly, but deliberately it began to move with lurching intent, distorting the shape of her abdomen and continuing to shock her as morphed. Amanda, wide mouthed and breathless, alternated between clawing at the sides of her belly and clenching in involuntary spasms.
Through gritted teeth and in gasping segments, Amanda pleaded angrily with her tormentor.
“Get out of... me you... bastard!”
“Your power is... Over there... Go and get it!”
As if understanding her taunt, the Shimmer stilled momentarily. Amanda gasped in as much air as she could.
Then, it pushed.
Amanda’s eyes and mouth went wide again in a silent scream as her abdomen clenched in massive contraction. Simultaneously, the shaft within her cervix rapidly widened the path from Amanda’s womb to the outside world. Amanda’s body shook in pain and shock, her fists pounding weakly on her distended belly in protest.
As the Shimmer exited between her legs the shape of her suit distorted. Her belly shrunk slightly while a new beach ball shaped blister formed between her legs. The pain and electrical stimulation drove Amanda’s mind into oblivion. Her eyes rolled back in her head, her arms went limp, and her whole body simply shook.
When the pressure on Amanda’s suit had increased beyond its capacity, one of the armor connections over her groin gave way. Like frosting pouring from a pastry bag, the Shimmer’s translucent black form spewed forth and puddled between her thighs. Amanda’s body continued to convulse while her belly quickly deflated. In seconds, her limp body was back to normal size and straddling a large watermelon sized black orb.
Amanda groaned back to coherence as her helmet flooded her view with warnings and alerts about loss of power and air. As her eyes refocused beyond the display, she saw the blob of the Shimmer just beyond her feet, slowly rolling its way up the sloped deck and back towards her backpack.
“Don’t you dare, you son of a bitch!” Amanda weakly growled. She could barely move her body from the weight and exhaustion much less try to stop it.
Amanda’s head rolled to the side and her eyes fell on her side arm. Struggling for energy she lurched sideways along the wall towards it and groped with her arm. As she grasped the grip of her gun, she looked back towards the Shimmer. It was nearing halfway up the deck back to the backpack. With another guttural growl Amanda pushed herself back upright and grasped her sidearm in both hands.
The exo-suit’s helmet screeched new warnings. Her air was running out.
Amanda fumbled with the settings on the side of her gun. Then turned off the safety.
It took the strength of both her arms to lift her sidearm towards the Shimmer. Her aim shook wildly as she tried to aim through her tear-blurred vision.
Amanda screamed at the Shimmer, then pulled the trigger.
Amanda bolted upright in her bead with a scream, her hands clutching at her abdomen through the disheveled sheets.
It had been five days since her encounter with the Shimmer. Each night she awoke from the same nightmare, reliving the experience, and wondering if it had just been a dream. Then the dull aches in her pelvis, unconscious twitching of her leg muscles, and the tender numbness of her private parts reminded her that it had been all too real.
In the chaos and exhaustion, Amanda had managed to set her weapon on its most powerful setting. The blast had blown a hole through the tilted floor of the bridge, several decks below it, and out the side of the Maru, taking the Shimmer with it.
The energy of the blast had been fortuitous in more ways than just destroying the Shimmer:
- The shock of the blast had dislodged her backpack allowing it to slide down the deck and land near her with a thud.
- In addition to loss of communications with her suit, the energy of the blast had been detected by her sentry several kilometers away.
She had managed to connect an auxiliary oxygen line to the pack just before passing out from exhaustion. When the cavalry arrived, they found her unconscious and unresponsive. Her rescuers had performed scans of the area and found no signs of the Shimmer. Though, as they would not review her suit’s log until getting back to their ship, they weren’t really looking for one.
As Amanda stood naked in front of a full-length mirror in her quarters, she dully considered how lucky she was to still be alive. Her body was glistening with sweat from the nightmare’s exertions. She hugged herself across the chest to suppress a shiver as she considered - for the hundredth time - that the Shimmer might still be out there. Or here...
“Full body scan...” Amanda spoke in a quivering voice to the mirror. “High fidelity, please.”
The mirror responded by lighting an information display under its surface, showing a silhouette of her form and indicating it was performing the scan. She didn’t need to read the display to know her vitals were badly shaken, but then that wasn’t what she was looking for.
When the scan was complete, the mirror indicated it would need some time for analysis. Amanda stepped away from the mirror and headed for the shower. A few minutes later, she returned, having rinsed and clothed for duty. As she finished putting her hair up, she glanced one more time at the mirror. It was still analyzing.
Amanda paused. Twenty-plus scans she had done. Nothing had been found. Her insides had been badly stretched and bruised, but she was recovering quickly with the help of the nano-bots. She had to get this out of her head. She had to move on. Amanda’s face showed new determination as she stood to attention, fixed her uniform, then turned and started for the door. This marine was going back to work.
As the doors to Amanda’s quarters hissed closed behind her, the mirror’s display indicated it had concluded the analysis. The outline of her form filled in with detailed renderings of her internal organs, skeleton, and structures and began to rotate. Clearly visible throughout her abdomen was a cloud of nanobots still busily repairing her insides. The cloud occluded some of the scan but was thinner than previous scans as they finished their work and died off.
As the display showed Amanda’s right side, the rotation stopped. A small box grew into existence just above her hip bone where it blinked intently. Then a large text box with bold red letters opened over the display.
FOREIGN MATERIAL DETECTED