CHAPTER 5

Dr. Gennady Millinov tugged at the tufts of hair on each side of his head as he paced. That bastard Khamid was gone, the disk was gone, and now something was leaking from inside the capsule. Although leaking wasn’t really the right term for what he was witnessing. Things that looked like big blobs of mucus were slipping from the split in the cylinder onto the floor. Some remained stuck to the gleaming skin of the capsule, quivering slightly, like a mound of jelly or grub-like insects in a larval stage, waiting to emerge for a first flight.

‘Please be some sort of fuel or coolant leakage. Please be condensation, hydraulic fluid, or. . or anything else. Please be anything else.’

He repeated the mantra over and over, but he knew better — reality kept breaking through. They moved — he was sure of it. Every now and then one of the shapeless blobs would slide one way or the other — just a fraction, but enough to draw his attention… and scare the hell out of him.

He swore loudly in the empty laboratory. Only hours after he had trumpeted his breakthrough to the president, he had lost his prize. Volkov was due to call for a full briefing, and this was happening now? It was a fucking nightmare.

He tugged briefly at his hair again. He shouldn’t have left him alone with the disk. Volkov would shoot him. But it wasn’t his fault. That bastard Khamid must have been working for the Americans or the English. Yes, he had checked his references, but he didn’t fully security screen the man; that was the Security Services’ job. Let the Little Wolf snarl and spit at them.

He leaned down and looked at the screen relay from within the isolation chamber. Another of the mucus blobs slid down the side of the capsule and plopped onto the floor.

What else could go wrong?

* * *

Millinov talked quickly into the phone. He was babbling, he knew it, but he couldn’t stop if he tried. His heart beat so hard he could feel its pulse in the back of his throat.

‘Shut up.’ The president spoke with enough venom to make the scientist’s voice catch in his throat. His jaw snapped shut.

‘So, maybe not a probe after all, hmm, doctor? Have you taken a sample?’

‘A sample?’ Millinov swallowed. ‘No, no, not yet, Mr. President.’ He looked at the room on the screen, the strange new markings on its toughened steel floor — like weld marks — left behind as the revolting things moved aimlessly across the isolation room. They were either melting or digesting the minerals in the flooring. His fears over whether the things were alive or not had been manifestly answered.

He cleared his throat. ‘We now think that the capsule either picked up some microbiological spores from space or else it’s some type of incubator, with the disk inside acting as a combination of coolant and dry cell. The contents — or passengers — were being held in stasis by the extreme cold. But now?’ He looked at the screen image of the room’s slimy inhabitants. ‘Mr. President, I’m not sure it is a good idea to go in there just yet. Perhaps some more study before —’

Volkov cut him off. ‘Send someone in, or go in yourself. The next time we speak, I want to know what it is you have in my laboratory, Dr. Millinov.’

Millinov sputtered before words formed. ‘But Dr. Khamid is —’

‘Leave Khamid to me.’

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