First thing in the morning, we worked on making a checklist for the evacuation. I didn't mention that we had no printer to print the checklist. It was the rehearsal that I wanted. When we got done, Hopper looked at me with a frown when his "no-printer" light bulb went on, but I think the exercise worked well for everybun. Maybe we still didn't know what we were doing, but at least we broke it down into small hops.
For a while, we couldn't figure out what would be the easiest way to transmit our message to the Behemoth's pods. Mel thought we could try recording the message on his suit's emergency locator transmitter and then play it back to the Behemoth. We could take a headphone from the suit we'd been using for spare parts, remove the tiny speaker, and expose the magnet. Then we would plug the headphone into the external port on the suit and play the message for the pods. That sounded simple enough, but it's a good thing the spare headpiece had two of those speakers. We managed to break the first one by inadvertently tearing off the magnet.
Next, we had to find some copper wire. Mel had the idea that we could use one of the connector cables from the data recorder compartment. So we did. Stripping the nano-carbon insulation was a tedious job. The wire had a very fine gauge, and the thin strands broke easily. We chased the little pieces that broke off because we couldn't trust the ventilation system to prevent them from getting stuck in switches and such. Vermin like this will get into all the nooks and crannies. Believe me; it's happened before. We don't have anybun on the ground to write us subroutines for bypassing faulty buttons.
When we had cleaned enough wire, Mel got the epoxy glue from the suit repair kit. I put on the suit gloves one at a time and held them steady for the guys. Hopper wound the copper wire around each cuticle tip of the glove and Mel applied drops of epoxy to glue the wire to the glove. The gloves, like the rest of the suit, don't conduct any electricity and that's a feature. This time, however, we needed Hopper to be able to conduct some electricity at the tips of his thick gloves to close some delicate electrical circuitry. We did the same to Mel's gloves.
The time came to get Hopper and Mel suited up and go into the Behemoth to dispatch the small pods. I was helping Hopper get his suit on when I noticed he had difficulties getting his right leg into the suit. His foot shook, and his paws trembled. I grabbed the suit and his foot and helped him slowly guide it in. His eyes were large, almost popping out. His jaw was clenched, and his nose twitched nervously.
"OK, Hopper, the other foot now, " I said gently, trying to help him with his other leg. He nodded, and we worked that other foot into the suit. His nose calmed down a little. Once he got the bottom on, we got the top on without a problem. As soon as I could, I got him to help Mel get ready. I turned up the temperature in the craft. It got cold at night. The chill helped us sleep better, but now it was exasperating Hopper's anxiety. I suited up last.
We've made an easy work of getting to the control center of the Behemoth. The three formations of pebbles resembling celestial structures seemed undisturbed since the last time we've seen them, and the central one continued to glow faintly.
We followed Hopper as he moved closer toward the surface of the chamber. For a while, he searched for the contact points on the wall and finally pointed to them. He placed his gloves over the dimples and spread his gloved cuticles as far apart as he could to reach the proper indentations. Those dimples in the surface of the chamber were the spots where the "passengers" of the Behemoth would make physical contact with the ship to interact with it. Both, the dimples and the beings that lived here, conducted tiny amounts of electricity. To do the same, Hopper had to have something conductive on his gloves, hence the copper wire.
In two different spots, to his left and right at about his eye level, two polyp-like protuberances emerged from the surface, almost as if growing out of it in the blink of an eye. We gave Hopper a little push with our thrusters toward the wall as he tried to grab the polyps and pull on them. The polyps stretched like a semi-dry resin, thinning out to a silk-like thread and remaining attached to the wall of the chamber.
To set the coordinates around Saturn, Hopper turned to the polyp on the left, grabbed it with both paws, and pulled it apart. The glob expanded easily, forming a circular rim around a central piece. The rim remained connected to the center by what looked like super thin filaments, like the one connecting the centerpiece to the wall. The outer edge of the rim was hollow, and its shape was composed of some fibers, this time forming an octal helix pattern. Hopper pinched the middle glob and pulled out a small fragment of it, stretching it until he reached the outer rim of the shape. The rim absorbed the bead of the substance and blended with it. The strand connecting it to the center piece waved back and forth gently. I glanced at Hopper's biometrics. His heart rate was uncomfortably high.
"Hopper, do you need a break?" I tried to draw him out. Hopper didn't flinch, only slowly shook his head side to side and never took his eyes off the task at paw.
He repeated a similar routine with the glob on his right, but this time, he made the form a lot smaller. He pinched a bead of the substance from the centerpiece and pulled it over all the way to the centerpiece on his left. He repeated that for every pod the behemoth had left. When he was finished, the two formations were connected by the thin, stretched threads of a substance from the structure on the right.
In the meantime, Mel pulled out the modified headphones and pressed them into a dimple on the wall. Of course, he pushed off, because I had been so focused on Hopper, I forgot about helping Mel stay in place.
"Wake up, Major!" snapped Mel as he floated past me, desperately trying to grab hold of my paw and missing it. I left Hopper and went after Mel, pushing him toward the wall. I kept the pressure on him until he had the headphones secured in the dimple. He worked the dimples with his gloves like a keyboard until the Behemoth was ready to accept the message, then played the recording from his emergency transmitter.
"Recording in place!" announced Mel, after a moment.
Next, Hopper gently grabbed each outer rim and collapsed it by pulling his paws together. The rims got smaller and smaller before finally disappearing into the centerpieces. Finally, he pulled the two centerpieces toward each other and collapsed them into one.
Once again, we gave Hopper a gentle push toward the wall as he pressed the two connected shapes, now looking like a handle, into the wall of the Behemoth until it completely disappeared. We kept the pressure on Hopper a little longer. He pressed his gloves into the dimples on the wall again, changing the configuration of his touch. After a couple of seconds, he said, "OK, it's done! The pods should be gone now, or at least be on their way to Saturn!" He later told us that he felt the wall vibrate once the Behemoth accepted the program but the vibration was too gentle for Mel and me to notice. Hopper's suit must have absorbed them, or maybe we were too tense to perceive them.
Hopper looked at me with the same hopeful look he had that morning. I looked at him and motioned for us to get back. I didn't want to show it, but I could not wait to get to the astro-bubble and see for myself that the pods were gone from the Behemoth. We've come back to our craft quickly and got out of our suits in a record time.
Without saying a word, Mel darted to the bubble while Hopper and I jumped to the controls on the flight deck. We backed out our craft away and aft of the Behemoth's rear end.
"Yep, the pods are gone!" shouted Mel on the loop.
Hopper's mouf relaxed a bit, and his nose was almost still. His breathing relaxed; he closed his eyes and pulled himself tighter into his seat. He started to rub his forepaws as if he had an itch. He scratched harder and harder, then feverishly tried to lick them clean. He washed his mouf, then thumped the seat a few times. When he paused, I held him in his seat, put the seat restraints on him, and pulled them tight. Hopper sat still with his paws tucked under the belts.
"Major, I tell you, this thing in the Behemoth; it just bothers me," started Hopper. "Part of me feels extremely confused. I'm not sure I know who I am anymore. I know we learned about that ship in a flash the other day, but it really didn't hit me until I went to control it today. Now feel like I really don't know this other part of me. I don't know what to do with ... 'him' or 'it.' I feel like I have a new part or a new appendage! At the same time, it feels like it's always been there."
Hopper closed his eyes and pulled his chin into his chest. I felt his ears, and they were getting icy. I asked Mel to make a warm smoothie from a recovery food mix, and he brought it over. Hopper must have been hungry like a Flemish Giant because he drained the sippy bag in a flash. He grunted with relief and satisfaction. His ears relaxed. I was hoping this was only anxiety. I sure hoped we wouldn't have to get out the old stasis-snake. However, I was glad that Mel had it inspected a few days ago. Hopper seemed to be settling in for a nap. I pushed off toward the astro-bubble.
Mel was looking out at the Behemoth, half excited, half perplexed. Just like the time when you planted a carrot, later pulled it out of the ground and you were fascinated that the carrot grew. The knot in my gut was gone.
"Hopper, the pods had left, they are really gone," I said, hoping that it would make him feel better.
Mel and I stared at the Behemoth for a little longer. I still had a hard time believing that very soon we would be taking our biggest chance yet, trying to get home in that thing.
When we finally came out of our stupor, Mel helped me get the life support unit and flight data recorder module into the airlock. We recharged our suits, and one more time, we checked the calculations for our ship's autopilot.
I checked on Hopper. He was asleep in his seat. His straps were loosened up a lot, but his paws were still tucked behind them. His mouf was a little opened, and his eyes were busy behind his eyelids. Our excursion really did a job on him. I grabbed Hopper's blankie from his sleeping burrow-bag and tucked it around him. He didn't even notice. If he stayed like that for the night, he would get some decent rest, and that would be great for all of us.
Before calling it a day, Mel and I pulled up our "evacuation checklist" on the screen, and we went over it one more time. We had almost everything checked off. We tried to see if we missed anything or forgot about something, but we came up with nothing.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Hopper floating toward his burrow-bag. He waved at us without opening his eyes. It has gotten late indeed. Hopefully, our last night on orbit wouldn't be our last night.