"Dust Wolf to Rebel Rainfall, Rainfall, do you copy?"
Crackling static in an earpiece caked in sweat and wax, a wince of the wearer, who rolled a shoulder to dig at the piece as if it might ease the ache against her eardrum.
"Go for Rainfall." Reign muttered, her breath briefly fogging the visor of her helmet. While she waited for a response, she carefully twisted a pair of small electrified pins, bobbing one and then the other in a bid to trigger the proper tumbler in the mechanism.
"How's it looking down there? Any progress?" Dust Wolf asked.
"If there were, you woulda heard 'bout it by now." She said through gritted teeth, straightening her elbow ever so slowly until the pinion angle change elicited a quiet *click*. Reign sucked in a breath and held it.
"Hold... think she's got something..." The much larger figure standing behind her shifted to peer over her shoulder to see if he was right.
"Well, what's the hold up? You get the door open or not?" Dust Wolf demanded.
"I'm trying!" Reign growled.
Comms crackled with activity but Reign did her best to tune out the sparked argument bouncing through her helmet.
"Would you two assholes kiss already? At least then you'd shut up." She barked finally.
"Perfect Apollo'd rather simp instead of telling me what the hell's happenin'." Dust Wolf grumbled.
"It ain't simpin', you 'cel. Show some respect." Perfect Apollo snorted behind her.
"Woulda been in there ninety seconds ago had you two shut up." Reign finally said, setting a hand clad in microweave cosmoshell to the heavy door before her. "You want me in first?"
"Shit, I'll be down in a sec. Don't go in without me." Dust Wolf ordered before his mic cut in a flurry of motion.
"You got it, boss."
Reign and Perfect Apollo were left in the empty hallway of the old research station alone, save the bodies Apollo had dropped along the way. It wasn't an uncommon practice, sending teams out into the void of space in a bid to investigate lost outposts, colonies, and ships for the sake of bringing back relics lost to time (and quite literally space). It wasn't exactly the most glamorous work, but it paid well, and most of the time, it wasn't terribly dangerous.
Before Dust Wolf could reach them, the door hissed open, a gust of air rushing inward that smelled of ozone and old rubber through the filter of her respirator. Reign and Apollo shared a look, his expression obscured behind the visor of his helmet. The tint of her own visor hid her apprehension but she canted her head to listen for any signs of life within the vault.
A beat of silence and then a series of clicks echoed within the confines of the room, followed by a high pitched whine.
"Shit! Close the door!" Apollo shouted, grabbing her arm.
Reign didn't have time to protest, but her hand reached out for the lever, shoving the door shut with a solid bang, and leaving the pair of them shut outside again.
"What was that?!"
"Fuck, if I know. 'M not keen on findin' out either." He muttered.
"Client'll have our heads if we come back empty handed again." Reign countered quietly, leaning to put her ear close to the door.
"We ain't comin' back at all, if whatever is in there chomps us up."
"Don't tell me Perfect Apollo is afraid." She teased, knowing it would goad the man just right to get him back in working order.
"Nuh." He postured, straightening up to his full seven-feet-and-change. "Ain't scared of shit."
"Exactly why you're here next to me and Dusty was left watching from the bird's nest." She smirked though he couldn't see it.
"Whatever. Door open or closed? Which one?"
Reign sighed. "Open, I guess. But wait for Dust."
The pair shared another glance. Apollo gave her a nod. A few moments later, bootsteps rounded a curve in the corridor and, soon after, Dust Wolf arrived.
"Didn't open it right?" He asked.
"Door sorta opened on its own and whatever we heard didn't sound great." Apollo shrugged.
"So you're saying the door opened and you didn't go in?"
"Not without my team, no." Reign snorted. "I'm not going in there blind. You wanna do that, feel free, boss."
"We should wait." Apollo added.
"And miss out on whatever's inside? Not a chance. Besides, we're being paid well to go in there and bring back the shinies. You're both coming with me, and if you're gonna whine like little bitches, maybe I'll leave you outside and do it myself." Dust Wolf growled. "Means I'll take the payday too."
Apollo and Reign both sighed and shared another look.
"That's the case, I'll lock it again and you can do it all yourself." Reign countered. Standing between the two men, she felt rather small, childlike even next to their imposing statures, but neither one truly intimidated her.
"You know I'm right. Let's just get this over with."
"Fine." Reign sighed. "But I'm not goin' first."
"Yessir." Apollo muttered.
"Shields up. Rifles at the ready. Apollo, at my signal."
Tension rippled through the trio as Reign readied to open the door for Apollo.
"Three, two, one. Go." Dust Wolf said.
She opened the door and Apollo rushed in, his energy shield up and at the ready. Reign and Dust Wolf were quick to follow.
The room was large, easily a few thousand square feet, and appeared to be some sort of vault filled with metal containers, cylinders, and one very emaciated puppy shyly wagging its tail as it peeked out from behind a stack of crates.
"Awww... a baby!" Reign cooed, lowering her rifle and kneeling to hold her hand out for the dog to sniff.
"Rainfall! Get back! Don't touch it!" Dust Wolf barked.
"He's just a baby." Reign argued, though the puppy seemed wary of the other two.
"We have no idea what's in here. Don't touch it!" Dust Wolf tried again, moving to grab her.
"He's a puppy!" She shot back, jerking away.
"He's not a puppy! They're not a species native to this system!"
"You're just being stupid. He's not gonna hurt anything. C'mere, buddy."
As the puppy slowly crept out, a sudden high-pitched whine rang through the air and a moment later, the sound of tearing metal erupted nearby.
"Look out!" Apollo yelled.
A panel curled and fell away from the wall. Harmless.
"Holy shit! It's just a trapped dog!" Reign exclaimed, rising to her feet, the puppy now tucked in her arms. "Just a puppy!"
"That's not a dog! It's likely an alien lifeform and we have no idea what it's capable of." Dust Wolf argued, leveling his rifle.
"You are not killing a puppy!"
"It's not a puppy, you idiot! Put it down and back away!"
The dog whimpered.
"Now, Rainfall! We're gonna get the fuck outta here!"
"I'm not leaving the puppy behind!"
"We have no idea what's in this station."
"Then let's find out, huh?" Reign challenged, her voice raised.
"You're gonna get us all killed."
"Oh, sure, I'm the one getting us killed, huh? What about your ass going around shooting up the place?"
"Shut up! Both of you!" Apollo cut in. "I can't hear anything else over the sound of your fucking arguing."
"I'm telling you, Rainfall, that is not a puppy." Dust Wolf argued.
"You don't get to decide what it is or isn't, you know." She argued, petting the dog. It nuzzled her hand and buried its face against the breastplate of her cosmoshell suit.
"I don't wanna find out the hard way." He retorted.
"Well, neither do I, so we're not killing a puppy."
"Then leave it here."
"It'll get killed anyways, whether by us or by whatever else is in here."
"It's not dying, Dust." Reign shook her head.
"You're a damn fool."
"I'd rather be a damn fool than a murderer." She spat.
"We need to move." Apollo cut in. "We can't stay here forever, gotta find the target and get the fuck out."
"Here, c'mere lil one." Reign carefully jostled the pup to scoot it into a shallow pouch of the pack on her back. "Stay right there, we gotta find a few things, then we'll be on our way."
Dust muttered something indecipherable.
The trio split into solo exploration of the vault, rifles raised as they eased down aisles and shelving units, skimming crates and cylinders alike in a bid to find their quarry.
Reign turned a corner and felt her boot bump something lumpy and pliant. Her gaze slid down to a sight that made her stomach turn. In its pocket, the puppy whined.
"Gents, found the mom-dog. S'a dog alright..." She said, swallowing back bile with gratitude that the filters on their headgear didn't allow too much of the smell to get in.
"Y'aren't takin' that one too." Dust began.
"Don't care to take half a dead dog, Dust. Don't worry... though..." She leaned down to examine the remnants of the carcass. "Think we... might have a bigger problem on our hands than pups..."
"Spit it out."
"Dog didn't starve to death... it was definitely attacked by something... somethin' a whole lot bigger than the little one here..." She straightened up and looked around, the helmet's optics sharpening the details in the dim lighting. "Bigger than all three of us combined."
"And it's not in here with us?" Apollo asked.
"Not sure. We need to move. Quick."
"Agreed." Dust Wolf nodded. "Think I found our target. Row eleven."
"Need a hand with it?" Apollo asked.
"Only if you wanna come watch my back while I confirm it."
Reign went to go find them as well, carefully stepping over what was left of the pup's mother. Though the tip was pointed toward the ground, she kept her rifle at the ready. Just in case.
"You guys find it?" She asked as she approached.
"I think so." Dust Wolf said. "Can't tell unless I open the box."
"So what are we waiting for? Open the box and let's get the hell out of here."
"Just want to make sure we don't have company." Apollo murmured.
"If the puppy's momma is any indication, whatever it is, it's not friendly. Open the box, we'll grab what's inside and go. Quickly."
"Rainfall." Dust Wolf's tone held a note of warning.
"I'm not getting caught up in another one of these debates, boss. Open the box and let's go. That's an order, not a suggestion." She replied.
"Yeah, boss, I'm with Rainfall on this one. Can't be in here for long. If something did that to the dog, there's no guarantee that the doors will hold against it, and I don't wanna get eaten today." Apollo agreed.
"Alright, fine, whatever. But if you're wrong and it eats us all, you two better say nice things at our funeral." Dust Wolf grunted.
"If there's anyone left to have a funeral." Reign murmured.
Dust Wolf popped the lid and revealed the contents.
"Is that it?" Apollo asked.
"This is what the client asked for." Dust Wolf confirmed. "Now, let's get the hell out of here."
"Couldn't agree more, boss."
The trio moved quickly back the way they'd come. Dust Wolf and Apollo were in the lead, and Reign had taken the rear position to watch their backs.
The high-pitched whine was the first sign of trouble, followed by the sound of tearing metal once more. The metal beside the door began to curl and peel outward.
"We are not dying like this!" Apollo exclaimed.
"Get that thing open! Quick!" Dust Wolf barked.
"On it." Reign muttered.
"Hurry up, Rainfall!"
"I'm going as fast as I can!" She hissed, her hands a flurry of motion over the panel.
The door finally began to slide open, a few inches at a time, and the trio hurried through, squeezing one by one until they were through and the door sealed itself shut.
"Go, go, go!" Dust Wolf shouted.
They were running down the corridor as fast as their boots could carry them, headed for the hatch that would take them back to the ship.
The high-pitched whine echoed through the halls, bouncing off the walls, growing louder.
"Move faster, Rainfall!" Dust Wolf barked.
"We are running as fast as we can!" Apollo exclaimed.
"Just keep going! The ship is ahead!"
"You think we don't know that?!" Reign barked back.
They skidded to a stop, reaching a containment door and punching in the code at the panel, the door sliding open.
"Shit! Hurry, Rainfall, the door!" Dust Wolf shouted.
Reign glanced over her shoulder, and her eyes widened as she saw the monster. She couldn't help but pause, transfixed by the creature. It was huge. Larger than all three of them, and far uglier. It was the very embodiment of what the old legends said about space monsters, and it was barreling toward them.
"Rainfall, get the door closed!"
Reign turned her attention back to the panel and quickly entered the code.
It flashed red.
"Hurry up, what are you doing?!"
"I'm trying, I'm trying!"
Red. Red. Red.
"Rainfall, just close the fucking door!"
"We're not getting eaten today!"
"Rain, you gotta hurry!"
The creature was gaining on them, and they had nowhere else to go.
"Just get the door closed and let's get the fuck out of here."
At last her panicked fingers found the right combination and the door slid shut in their wake with a resounding clang and click, followed by the impact of something very large and very heavy against the other side.
"Let's go, let's go, let's go." Dust Wolf said.
The three of them didn't waste a second, bolting for the umbilical that connected their docking ship to the station. Once they were aboard, Dust Wolf punched in the sequence for detaching and the ship drifted away from the station.
Reign wasted no time getting her helmet and gloves off. As the visor lifted away and she sank into a seat, she saw a flash of movement. The puppy bounded up to her and began licking her face.
"Hey there, sweet boy." She cooed, petting the pup.
"I don't know why you're keeping it, but it's not coming back to the head ship." Dust Wolf said, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Who cares if the beast comes back with us? It's not like anyone's gonna complain." Apollo snorted.
"I care. It's not staying."
"Oh, yeah? You gonna leave him to die?" Reign asked, scooping the pup up in her arms.
"It's not a puppy, Rainfall." Dust Wolf shook his head.
"Then what is it?"
"I don't know, but it's not a puppy. And it's not coming back to the ship. I'll eject it."
"Over my dead body." Reign growled.
"Fine, then." Dust Wolf shrugged. "Have it your way. But the minute that thing starts eating people, don't come crying to me."
"Yeah, I'm sure it's a vicious space monster that's going to eat people." Reign rolled her eyes.
"You have no idea what that thing is, Rainfall. A dog couldn't live in that atmosphere. If you couldn't breathe in there without your life support apparatus, a dog sure as hell couldn't either."
"Yeah, well... It's not hurting anything. You can't kill him just because you're scared."
"I'm not afraid." Dust Wolf denied.
"No? Then what would you call this?"
"Being a responsible leader."
"Responsible for what? Killing a helpless baby? What kind of a monster are you?"
"It's not a baby, Rainfall, and it's not a puppy. I don't know what it is, but it's not a dog. Whatever it may be could be dangerous."
"And yet, I'm still not killing him." Reign shot back.
"It's not coming back to the ship, Rainfall."
"Then I'm staying here. And if you try to make me leave, I'll eject you -and- Apollo."
"Hey, what did I do?" Apollo protested.
"You wouldn't." Dust Wolf's dark golden eyes narrowed at her.
"Wouldn't I? Go ahead, try me. I'm not leaving this kid to die."
"Boss, just let her have it. It's not going to hurt anything. We're not exactly hurting for space, and she can keep it in her quarters."
"Shut up, Apollo."
"Sorry, boss. Just stating the facts."
"I'm not paying you to state the facts, I'm paying you to do a job. So do it."
"Don't you talk to him like that." Reign hissed.
"He's the one who decided to open his mouth and say stupid things." Dust Wolf pointed out.
"Because he was trying to get you to let me keep the puppy."
"That thing is not a puppy. But I'm clearly outvoted here. So keep it in your fucking room and if I see it out and about, I'm killing it." He pointed at the dog with a gloved finger.
"You are not killing this dog, Dust." Reign snarled, rising to her feet and cradling the pup to her chest.
"Watch me." He said, turning on his heel. "Come on, Apollo, let's report to the client."
As the two men left the room, Reign looked down at the puppy in her arms and smiled.
"Well, lil guy, it looks like it's just you and me." She cooed.
"Wuff." The dog yipped.
"I guess I gotta find you a name." She sighed, sitting down and setting the puppy in her lap. "Any ideas?"
"That's what I thought." Reign chuckled. "Let's see, what do we have here...?"
She examined the dog closely, noting the shape and size of the muzzle, the texture of the fur, the length and color of the ears and tail.
"You're a lot like a wolf, but not quite... is this a collar?" She felt around its neck and found a thin collar made of duroplastic with a small metal plate near the clasp. Reign squinted to see what it said. The runes and markings were unfamiliar, she gave up without trying overly hard.
"Well, little buddy, let's get you some food and we'll go take a nap."
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