The flight center was completely unprepared for what happened. An unidentified extraterrestrial ship parked itself in Earth's low orbit. Three very terrestrial distress signals were coming from the location of the mystery craft. A small training ship with three on board vanished; an old weather satellite disappeared as well. The Center mobilized the Rescue and Recovery forces, but there was nothing to be recovered and no bun to be rescued. The Director of Emergency Operations promised to deal personally with the three pranksters sending the distress signal. No; no bun worried about the possibility of an alien invasion. Well, the buns in charge didn't worry. However, everybun steeped in the "hard sci-fi" stories did. Watching or reading such stories is all good and fun for a while, but the uncontemplated consequences of such habits are far-reaching. So it was that a lot of buns panicked, completely lost their wits, hid in their burrows, and could not stop thumping.
We have calculated how long it would take for the rescue ship to pick us up, and I was glad we had brought with us the porta-life support charger. If the rescue took any longer than our projections, we would have to recharge our suits.
Now there was nothing to do but wait. I took the opportunity to practice the deliberate doing of no thing. Hopper worried that I had snapped or gone into shock. He and Mel were trading jokes and puns, and when I didn't join in, they got worried. I told them that their jokes were, well, let's not talk about them. Shortly after, I had to backpedal all I said and tried to explain to them that I was quietly paying attention and really loved their puns if that's what they had to do to get through this.
That's when I noticed Mel's emergency transmitter. He never reset it after one of the excursions into the Behemoth. He was still transmitting our "come, liberate us from the lab" message. I decided to let it be and said nothing. I'm not sure why, but I saw no harm in it.
To our surprise, the rescue ship arrived much, much sooner than we estimated. In fact, it wasn't the maintenance ship that we had expected. It was a proper emergency response trawler, and it launched toward us a rescue scooter.
We were transported into the trawler and decontaminated. As we had expected, the crew put us under quarantine. The Captain of the craft gave us a strange talking-to on behalf of the Director of Emergency Operations. The Captain was a first-class apparatchik and would not be swayed by such nonsense as name badges on our suits or positive biometric identifications confirming that indeed we were the crew of TR Regis 3. To him, we were the "pranksters, " and that was that. He would deal with us the way the director instructed him to. The poor medical techs just rolled their eyes. But, for now at least, we didn't have to worry about running out of air anytime soon, and we were having real conversations, no matter how ridiculous, with real buns and not arthropods. We even got some fresh food and water, so things were looking up.
We were exhausted, though, so we settled into the sleep cubbies to rest a little. I expected we would be deorbiting soon, and I looked forward to a little shuteye before the transition.
After waking up, I realized I had slept much longer than I should have. To my surprise, we were nowhere near deorbiting. When one of the techs realized I was up, she summoned the Captain. The guy was visibly shaking and mumbled apologies and whatnot for how he had treated us. I guess they were starting to believe that we were who we said we were. The bad news was, we were going to stay on orbit for an indefinite period. They would transfer us to a more advanced medical facility for observation and testing. I knew the place he was talking about. It was a hospital base in high orbit with artificial gravity. It was fully equipped to stabilize patients enough to make their re-entry and the return to an environment of one G survivable. Now, I was very glad that Mel never stopped blasting our SOS message.
Pancake and Freddie worked the late shift on board the Buzzard. Like many other vessels at the moment, the Buzzard was tasked with patrolling the high orbit just to "keep a lookout for things." For the crew, it meant monitoring nothingness and trying not to fall asleep. So, Pancake kept busy by listening to the radio traffic, but even that simmered down considerably.
Freddie had noticed the little annunciator light of the emergency channel monitor. This was the first time he saw that light illuminated outside of a training scenario. Freddie went to check the activity logs. It made no sense to him when he listened to a sample of the recorded message. He thought maybe some bun's transmitter went haywire and was spewing nonsense, but then he noticed the origin of the message. It came from the location of the mystery ship. He scratched his chin and pondered the message some more. All of a sudden, the unintelligible recording made a bit more sense. Was that the Morse Code? He tossed an empty sippy bag toward Pancake. When it creased her ears, she jumped in her seat and gave Freddie the look of doom as if she was about to become an explosion of dysdenium hydroxide.
"It better be good, Freddie!" she snapped.