The middle ring of the Science Wheel was open to the public. Almost half of it was the Garad Goboti Zoological Habitat Collection, better known as The Monster Zoo. The Science Wheel was interesting in the social structure of the station. Set right in the center of the nine wheels, it enjoyed a great deal of autonomy. The wheel itself was governed by an ever-rotating group of publishing scientists. The Peer Reviewed Station Database contained all of the papers published by the scientist caste. Whoever had the most current and influential paper, (based on a set of twelve parameters), would be moved into the Main Office and forced to be in charge of the Science Wheel until someone else’s paper outperformed theirs.
Most scientists did nothing when in office, but every once in a while a social scientist would get in and create reforms that could be innocuous or horrible. One forensic anthropologist made it compulsory to wear pantaloons on penalty of revocation of tenure. But no one lasted very long as “Publish or Perish” was the number one tenant of the wheel.
Elvis and Vince, looking like teenage girls thanks to Kay’s gender bending sensibilities, were moving through a thinning crowd on a walk that wound through the animal exhibits. This walls in this part of the zoo were shiny black with trails and explosions of colored lights chasing and spinning around the floor, walls, and ceiling. Tired middle class parents were dragged by children to see the spinosaur one more time before they left. A fat woman in a hover chair almost knocked Vince down chasing a girl around a series of potted plants. The evenly spread UV light that signaled day cycle was fading fast. The custodial crew were waiting around the edges of the crowds, tapping their feet and wishing they could get started.
At an intersection, most of the crowd turned toward the right, in the general direction of the exit, Elvis and Vince went left, following a sign to “Ancient R’lyeh.”
Vince pointed to one of the backstage doors where there was another stenciled picture of Kay and him embracing and bravely facing the future. Elvis huffed and rolled his eyes.
“Oh my long suffering bug.”
Vince shot him a smug look and lifted his chin slightly.
They passed under an arch that signaled their entrance into the shogoth wing. An announcement came over a loudspeaker, calling for patrons of the zoo to begin moving toward the exits. Vince and Elvis continued on. The halls here were irregular, with jutting mounds of organic looking material, put together in inappropriate ways. Everything seemed to almost suggest a phallus or a vagina, only like turned inside out or shredded from within. Vince curled his lip in distaste.
“People like this sorg?”
“Hey you watched that video too. It was pretty big a couple orbs ago.”
They paused to look through a thick clear metalistic wall. Inside was a large cylinder of a room with a diameter of 30 meters and a height of 12 meters. The entire floor of the area was covered by a large flat creature. Tentacles and mouths jutted and squirmed all over the place. Several mouths to one side had extended themselves out onto psuedopeds and were fighting with other nearby toothy maws. Right in the center of the mass/room was a large quivering pink orifice shooting out slimy newborn monsters of various degrees of unpleasantness. Most of these were immediately eaten again by one of the mother creature’s mouths, but a few were running around and growing fast. One tiny slime dragon was flying in circles overhead, occasionally swooping down to rip off a piece of tentacle or lip.
The two boys moved on with a shiver.
“See what I mean?” whispered Elvis. He was looking around for the back stage door they needed to get into to access the tank they needed.
“What?!” hissed Vince.
“Some twisted individual originally thought of that creature, and then some other people thought it was neat, and now hundreds of years later, some scientist had, literally, nothing better to do than build one for real. I think its our boredom that make us monsters. Have you spent any time talking to the Qualmpth?”
“Not too much.”
“They are not impressed by our races impulse control. And they’re criminals where they come from. Said their leaders are selected for their ability to make rational decisions.”
“Must be nice. Still these ones got exiled, so they must not’ve like it too much.”
“The door we need is right there I think.”
Vince checked the door against the map in the corner of his HUD.
“Yeah. That’s it. Watch for people.”
Vince went to the door and found it locked. A small burst of green from his index finger got it open. The two of them tried to look nonchalant as a group of loud college boys walked by. When it was clear, they slipped through the door, closing it behind.
They were in a long slightly curving space that went around the side of a huge metalastic sphere containing a school of cthulhus. An ignominy of cthulhus. The sign out front said the plural noun for a bunch of cthulhus was “ignominy.” People love doing things with words. The curved hall was lined with metal tables and windowed cabinets filled with medical supplies. The wall that faced the tank was opaque right now so that the patrons out front could not see into the back stage area, but there were several control panels that would allow them to make it clear.
Elvis stopped at one of the tables and pulled back a blanket covering a small mass. Underneath was an octopus like creature covered in scales and spikes. Flecks of pink foam coated what appeared to be gills, as well as the mouth and nose. The squidy eyes were staring into nothing.
Vince walked over and poked at it.
“Are they all this small?”
Elvis shook his head.
“I guess we should wait now until the zoo closes so no one sees us.”
“Yeah. This thing smells really bad.” Vince covered the grotesque corpse back up. A muffled voice from a distant speaker announced that the zoo was closed. The lights in the room dimmed to a pale orange safety light. Elvis keyed off his holoshade. Vince followed suit.
Elvis moved to one of the interior wall controls and made a small oval of the wall transparent. They looked into the dimly lit tank. They could see through the water to the other side. Part of the wall to the right showed through to the walkway where people could stand and gawk. To the left, another clear section showed space beyond. The designers decided that the void of space was the only reasonable backdrop to these aquatic horrors. Right now there was a clear view of Earth, more than half full. Rivers of lava glowed like lasers in the dark section.
In the middle of the tank, a dozen or more of the elephant sized cthulhus were all wrapped together, pulsing and twisting in a disturbing rhythm. Vince read something on his HUD and said, “Ew. Says here that all they do when not eating is copulate. They all have two or three sets of sex organs, and the ones with penises just shove ‘em into any soft space. If one of them happens to get preganent, it’s a total accident.”
They squinted and looked into the quivering mass of mollusks, unable to look away for a moment.
The wall between the tank and the patron’s walkway went opaque and a large door opened in the wall of the tank almost directly opposite from the two teenagers. The cthulhus separated from each other somewhat violently. Shreds of pulpy white and pink meat were left floating around the center of the tank as they swam to the door. Elvis and Vince could see now that some of the larger creatures had muscular arms with large hands with webbed fingers. The tank emptied quickly, but the door remained open to whatever chamber lay beyond.
Elvis pointed to a barely discernable hatch outline on the bottom of the sphere. That was where they needed to go to access the archived embryos of old Earth.
“Let’s get this over with,” said Vince.
They activated the pressure suit cards and made sure all the seals were tight before activating the energy shield components. The suits were basically made up of gloves, boots, and a wide belt. The rest was covered with crackling energy shields that would keep the pressure and temperature comfortable. They would work in water or space. Nice design. Vince had already tested that his guns could phase through the fields. One they felt secure they moved to the maintenance airlock and keyed the simple control panel to begin the cycle. The curved door swooshed open and they stepped in. The door swooshed closed behind them. Elvis did a check of their communications while the chamber quickly filled with water.
“Elvis calling Laser Boy! Come in Laser Boy!”
“Eat your own sorg.”
“Seems to work.”
“We are so stupid.”
“Lives are at stake, my friend. People you care about.”
Once the small chamber filled with water, a green light flashed three times on the entrance to the tank. Elvis checked that his machete was secure on his belt and keyed the door pad. It irised open and they swam clumsily through and into the cthulhu tank.
They moved as smoothly as they could down to the hatch. It did not seem to have any airlock controls. It was probably put here as an afterthought by some engineer who suddenly realized they were blocking off an entire section of the wheel. You know. Just in case. Vince spoke into his mic.
“I’m going to scan it and see what’s what. Keep an eye on that passage over there.”
Elvis rotated to face the way the creatures had exited. He pulled his machete out to ease his nervousness.
After a moment Vince said, “There’s air behind it. I’m going to lase a small hole so it can fill with water slowly so we won’t get beaten up when I open it up all the way.”
“Yeah, just like Syrge told you to do.”
Vince punched a centimeter diameter hole in the steel plate. Water started moving into the hole. Elvis saw a tentacle come out of the passage he was watching.
“Oh vent, man. Here comes one of them.”
Vince turned to look, the gun in his hand changed into something decidedly more deadly looking than the one he had held a second ago. He was entirely unaware of the change.
A sunken eyed, spiky tentacle maw’d face moved into the main tank. Giant brownish coppery fingers gripped the edge of the portal. The red eyes darted around until they landed on the two boys. A growling bloopish sound escaped from the mouth followed by streams bubbles rising toward the wall that showed the view of space. The cthulhu rocketed at them like a squid, Vince’s red beam pierced directly into the face, exploding it and filling the tank with black ichor. The arms and tentacles continued to flail and reach toward them. Elvis panicked into his com.
“Let’s get that hatch open man. I think the rest are coming!”
Vince nodded and lased around the three unhinged sides, breaking the seal. The hatch exploded away from them as water from the tank rushed into the space. Vince’s head struck the edge of the port as he was sucked in, but the energy shield protected him from injury. By the time they hit the far wall of the long curved rectangular space, they had lost most of their speed. Once the pressure equalized, they swam as fast as they could back to the hatch. Three tentacles were already feeling their way around the edges of the new room. Vince shot two of them causing them to retract, and Elvis chopped one of them off and it floated between them throbbing and leaking black.
Elvis closed the hatch and held it while Vince used his gun to weld it back into place. They could hear thuds and clanging from the other side. Elvis slumped and floated limp for a moment, breathing heavily into his suit.
“Those things man…”
Vince’s eyes were huge, “Yeah.”
“Let’s find those birds.”