Unanticipated Harvest
by S Shane Thomas

Thermal scans of the asteroid field revealed biological activity. Something large and worm shaped thrived within the desolation of cold rock and frozen gas in the heap of cosmic leftovers in orbit outside the star’s ring of planets. Miners reported to the colonial starship’s Earth Habitat to observe worms from the home world in thin sheets of dirt. The vehicle the miners used to harvest raw materials from asteroids also resembled and mimicked the function of an earthworm. Through a series of augers, drills, and carefully placed explosives, their remarkable mechanized worm burrowed through asteroids and planetoids. Its belly housed numerous refining processes to separate sought after material from detritus. The unused remainder, thoroughly mulched, slid out its back side and filled in the hole.

None of their preparations anticipated the aggressive response the planetoid’s original occupant displayed. Sixteen days into their operation with their payload nearly seventy percent harvested, the three hundred foot long machine detected the native worm fast approaching. The twelve miner team living within its twenty five foot diameter corridors of scanning and processing equipment rushed to duty stations. There were no weapons aboard such a work vessel, and their carrier spacecraft was of no use perched on the planetoid’s surface with a half mile of minerals between them.

Ruthers and Digby sat at the pilot’s console keeping their mechanical worm on schedule while a living being with roughly the same dimensions barreled through solid stone right toward them.

“How are we supposed to fight that thing?” Digby said, he cocked an eyebrow at his partner.

“We could bite it I suppose, but all that flesh and gore would dull the blades,” Ruthers replied “And that’s not to mention the smell.”

“Should we turn around to face it?” Digby pressed.

“If we did bite into it, we could contract some space disease,” Ruthers continues “I didn’t sign up for giant space worm heebie jeebies.”

The curious concern dissolved into outright panic when the real worm entwined itself around the mining equipment. Alarms sounded, crew members desperately wrenched controls, but the metal excavator was outmatched by its biological counterpart. For fifteen terrified minutes the vessel lurched, rocked, and weathered the storm created by its unrelenting and aggressive adversary. Ruthers and Digby did indeed attempt to retaliate but their efforts proved ineffectual. The real worm wiggled its way behind the mechanical maw and continued its strange attack.

A sudden violent spasm gave the mining worm a shudder. A section of the cargo hold breached and the mechanical systems initiated a lock down of the compartment, thankfully no crew members found themselves trapped in the sealed segment. Then, the worms separated and the aggressor disappeared.

The crew performed a diagnostic and adjusted their digging path to return to their transport shuttle sooner since one of their empty cargo holds had been compromised.

Back aboard the colonial starship biologist reviewed the sensor readings during the attack. Ruthers and Digby accompanied an intrepid Biologist named Dr. Stanley to the ruptured compartment. The three wore biohazard suits while the entire excavator sat in quarantine. The pilots pried the doors open to a room coated in thick organic material.

“It must be worm blood,” Digby guessed.

“Hardly,” Dr. Stanley said “This does confirm my theory. The animal on that planetoid mistook our equipment for a mate.”

The pilots gaped. Digby wrapped his arms around his waist and gently rocked on his heels.

“I feel violated,” Ruthers stammered, as he attempted to wipe the spore from his glove.

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