It was my third week working the daytime penal shift as support for the carrot peelers because I was slow to salute a Flem officer. I worked the graveyard shift from nine in the morning until six in the evening. When I wasn't fixing jammed peelers or replacing burned out motors, I had to keep busy breaking down hoomin clothes, from battle fatigues to flight suits, and even pressure suits. I heard someone got to break down a spacesuit.
The Flems, I mean the Flemish Giants, were enforcing a quarantine by blockading the planet where a small colony of hoomins took a hold. They were raiding the hoomin settlements and snatching hoomins to work in the machine shops and hydroponic farm factories. When they caught their little ones, the Flems would raise them as Snorglers. They would spend their lives as ear scratchers and head rubbers. If you raise them right, they never know the difference and make excellent companions. You can even potty train them. Hoomins, of course, tried to break the quarantine and re-supply the settlements.
It was a particularly hot afternoon, and I had just got done re-packing the bearings of an old hay fluffer. I was glad to do it, because that day, it was operated by a bun I had my eye on all week. We were not supposed to talk to one another, so I enjoyed the official excuses for conversing with her. Her name was Abby and when the Gendarme left us alone, we got to whisper a little bit. She was here because she was incapacitated, I mean she had "accidentally stepped on the air hose" of her superior officer, the captain of the flight. She saved her crew. The jerk was about to fly into a trap that would have meant the loss of his crew and craft.
Well, as much as I liked talking to her, I had to get busy and break down some stinky, hoomin garb. There was enough to do, keeping busy with the maintenance, but garb breakdown adds just that little extra pinch of salt to the wound. First, I had to go through the pockets and remove any metal parts that could damage the shredder. If I found anything of interest in the garments, I was supposed to turn it in.
I untied the next bag of rags and started sorting them out. There was another flight suit, orange, looking brand new and pretty small, even for a hoomin. I pulled it out to have a better look. There was something different about this one. I could feel it was made of several layers of fabric. The outermost one was very slick and thin, without any signs of stitching. It had to be glued to whatever else was underneath it. There were several ports and outlets located on the front and sides of this thing. The back was reinforced with something light and stiff and appeared to be a support structure for something heavy and bulky. I looked at the insides of the suit and saw a strange lining that was separate from the suit itself. I pulled out part of it. It was made of something similar to cotton, but I think it was synthetic. It had a net of little plastic tubes woven through it. I pinched one and noticed air bubbles in it. The tubes had liquid in them. Then, I knew: this was no pressure suit; this was a spacesuit.
I started sifting through its pockets, and I found a small, red capsule in one of them. It was covered with something sticky. I got some of it on my paw and rubbed it with my toes. Dried slobber? Hoomin slobber? Why would it be coated with dry, hoomin slobber? I put it back and closed the pocket. My paws began to tremble. I knew what that pill was. That had to be a cyanide pill. The hoomin wasn't supposed to survive its capture.
The fabric of the suit was tough. It laughed at my attempts to cut through it from the outside. I tore all the lining out of it; there was a fabric tape running up the side of the torso, along one of the seams. I peeled it off and found a silver, smooth wire, running the length of the seam. At the top of the torso, it was broken off from a small, black tube, about the thickness of my toe. One of its endpoints was shaped like an eight-pointed star. I got a hunch. I peeled off the wire and everything I could find connected to it, including that little, black tube, and stashed it all away.
To draw no attention to myself, I left the suit alone for a while and got busy shredding the other garments from the pile. Before I left the post for the day, I went through the rest of the pockets in the suit and found a small, laminated picture of a dutchie. A dutchie picture? On a hoomin? I spread out the suit and straightened it out. That hoomin was pretty short. When I looked at the torso, I realized that it was probably a she.
Next night, when the serpentine belt broke on Abby's carrot peeler, I whispered about my finding. I was pretty sure, I told Abby, that the hoomin was supposed to break and swallow that red capsule, but she didn't. She had also disabled that antenna woven into her spacesuit. I asked Abby if she knew how to access and reactivate that beacon if I could connect it to the antenna. She said she could do it. She said that it was most likely an emergency locator and a telemetry transmitter; its job was to summon a search and rescue drone. She said we could hack a drone like that and use it to break through the blockade. Then we could hitch a ride on a freighter and get away from this star-forsaken hellball.
Things move mighty fast in this adventure ...
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