It had been years since she had felt fear, true fear. In some senses she was glad that her palms grew slick and her heart hammered, because it was a reminder that she still did want to live.
She slowly backed away from the window. “C-computer, lights off.” It complied. “Coronis, what in the hell is that?”
“A local. Did you say hi?” She laughed. “Kidding, kidding! I nearly shit my pants when I first saw it too. Don’t worry, I’ve come prepared. It would try to eat your ship, buuut…”
A few taps of the keyboard, and then a hissing noise emitted from the ship once more. “I had your transport equipped with aposematic emitters that’ll release a pheromone to indicate that you’re a poisonous fish, no good to eat. Lesson learned from Lethe-1, haha!”
A vision of the behemoth ripping apart a LUX research sub as the agents inside screamed, as their bodies were crushed into paste and slid down a terrible maw, danced through Eve’s mind. “S-so Lethe-2…”
“Oh, don’t worry. We’re constantly emitting that same pheromone. Since the base doesn’t move, so the big guys- we call them Enyoni, by the way- just think we’re some sort of poisonous barnacle or something and leave us alone. Cool, right?”
Cool was a word for it. The initial shock had faded and Eve’s mind spiraled with a hundred thousand questions. “But how? Something that size should tear itself apart the moment it tries to move! It must weigh hundreds of thousands of tons, the circulatory system alone must be unimaginably complex. I don’t care how much it eat, there’s no way it can derive enough calories to maintain homeostasis. How does it reproduce? How could it possibly evolve? How-”
“Mater, Mater, relaaax! That’s why we’re here. The big guys are a total mystery. You’ll have plenty of time to learn more about them.”
“They must be the largest conventional life forms we’ve discovered,” Eve muttered, falling back in her chair. “Other than Titans… Sapiens, could there be a connection between the two?” She clutched her head. “Coronis, I… need to be alone for a bit. End call.”
“Oh sure-” the smuggler was cut off.
It was too much, all at once. Eve couldn’t handle this sort of thing, not anymore. She clutched her head, her fingers digging into her scalp and her flesh sizzling. A grim reminder of what excitement meant these days.
She breathed. One and two and three and four. Five and six and seven and eight. By the time she reached 80 breaths, she was calm once more.
Eve took the time to read the file Coronis had written on Maia Oread in detail, committing as much of it as she could to memory. By the time she finished, Lethe-2 was in sight.
The research base protruded from the seafloor, cylindrical with disc-shaped wings on the sides. It was either black or a very dark blue, but the windows were lit yellow. A standard sessile, abyssopelagic LUX research station. The radio crackled to life once more, but it was a different voice this time.
“Maia Oread? Docent Maia Oread?” This voice was cool, clinical, a little flat. What it lacked in intonation it made up for in assuredness. “Do you read?”
“Copy. This is Maia Oread.” Eve paused. She always tried to use pseudonyms that were one syllable, just like her real name. “My friends call me May.”
“May it is. Pleased to make your acquaintance- my name is Fellow Nysa Meros, and I’m the vice-director of this station. You may call me Nysa.”
“We’re not big on formality,” said Nysa, who obviously cared deeply about formality. “I’ve reviewed your file and it all seems in order, more or less, so welcome aboard.”
The berthing bay opened to receive Eve’s craft, and groaned shut behind her. The water in here would be treated with disinfectant solutions to remove any contaminants on the outside of the spacecraft. “More or less?” Eve repeated. She didn’t like the sound of that.
“More or less. How was your flight over?”
“Fine, but a little dull. I wasn’t able to do much advanced research on the, uh, fascinating life you have here. It was all classified.”
“Well, we haven’t had a transfer to Lethe-2… ever. You’d be the first.” Nysa’s voice had gained an edge. “That’d be one of the more or lesses.”
The craft surfaced, and Eve opened the bay doors to step onto Lethe-2.