Price held the plastic envelope out and said, "I almost had to sign my life away to get this. It has been put through the decontamination process. No evidence of any biological contamination. It's safe for us to handle."
Monier took the bag from him but didn't open it. She held it up to the light and examined it. "This came from the uniforms of the aliens?"
"Those we found inside the ship. They didn't build it. I think they were trapped like us. You think you'll be able to read anything from it?"
She dropped to the console and studied it. "I should be able to pick up something." She leaned forward, her elbows on either side of the plastic bag.
"We have drawn some conclusions based on what we saw while on the ship."
"I don't want to know it," said Monier. "Not at the moment. I don't want to be influenced."
"Okay," said Price.
Monier pushed the bag with a finger and then opened it, but didn't reach in. She pushed it around carefully, gingerly, as if she expected it to suddenly come alive. "I can't tell much about it."
Price didn't respond.
Finally she picked up the bottom of the bag and shook the patch out of it. It dropped on the console. She touched it with a fingernail and then sat bolt upright. Her eyes glazed over and she threw her head back.
"Fear!" She shouted the word and then fell silent.
"What's happening?" asked Price.
"Quiet," she hissed. She now held the patch clasped in both hands. Her eyes were closed and her head tilted back. "There is something in there with them... something that followed them from the surface of their planet."
"That explains where it came from," said Price but this time Monier didn't respond to him.
"We can't get out," she said almost hysterically. "We can't get out! Help me!"
Price stood up and moved away from her, watching her. Her face had turned bright red and she was tugging at the collar of her uniform with a finger hooked just inside it.
"We're running out of air. Can't breath."
That had been what Price had thought when he'd found the bodies on the alien asteroid. They had all suffocated. It was obvious that they had died never realizing there was a breathable atmosphere on the asteroid, but that was not what he wanted to know. He wanted to learn what he could about the race that had been trapped inside it. Where'd they come from. The level of their civilization. Their military capabilities... the very details of their personal lives, the way they interacted with one another could be left to the exo-anthropologists and sociologists and others. Military intelligence was what he was after.
At first, Price wasn't sure how to react to Monier's display. Then he realized that Monier was not under hypnosis or in a drug-induced trance. He could ask his questions without fear of breaking her concentration or disrupting her train of thought.
"How'd they get to the asteroid?"
"Came into our system. Astronomers spotted it. Tracked it as it neared our home. It came into orbit around our planet. Missiles fired at it disappeared..."
"Do you have interstellar flight?" asked Price, not realizing that he had slipped into interrogating Monier as if she was one of the aliens.
"We can travel inside our system. To our moons and the closest of the planets. We do not leave our system. Faster than light travel is not possible and the distances are so vast."
Questions blossomed in his mind. Hundreds of them. History questions. Military questions. Lifestyle questions. Suddenly he was caught up in the situation. He had a conduit into a new and unexplored civilization.
"We're going to die," she wailed. "There is nothing we can do but sit here and die." She fell silent and then said, "At least the Tramoi will die with us."
"Tramoi?" asked Price.
She went on to describe it, but Price was no longer interested in it. He had seen the tramoi and had helped kill it. It was nothing more than an animal... with a cunning and slyness that made it dangerous, but it didn't have rational thought as he understood it. It wasn't an intelligent, tool building creature.
He didn't want his attention diverted. There were things that he had to find out and most important among those things was to learn was how long ago did they reached the asteroid. A race that didn't have space flight a hundred years ago might have developed it by now. That was the critical question.
"How long ago did the asteroid penetrate your system?"
She said something that made no sense to Price. And then he realized that she was saying that the asteroid had been traveling at under the speed of light. A general survey of the surrounding star systems, as had been launched by the Colonel, should locate that race quickly, though there was no reason for speed. They were stuck in their own system and posed no threat to the fleet or to the Earth. That is, if what she said was accurate and in the time for the asteroid to travel from their system to his had been so short that the aliens hadn’t discovered interstellar flight.
"There is blackness," she said, interrupting his train of thought.
Price was momentarily confused and then asked, "You're getting all that from the patch?"
Monier ignored the question. "I'm not scared any more. The Tramoi won't be able to kill me. I'll be dead in a short time."
Price knew that they'd be able to brief the Colonel now. He had the information that he needed to create an informative briefing.
Monier shook herself, and opened her eyes. She looked around like she had just awakened. Sweat was beaded on her forehead and stained her uniform. Her hair was plastered to her head, looking as if she had just stepped from the shower. She slumped back into the chair and took a deep breath. She wiped the sweat from her face.
"I didn't expect that. Death always impresses the images so vividly."
"Any idea how long they have been dead?"
Monier shook her head, her breathing still ragged, as if she'd run a long distance. "A while. No way to tell. Images fade with time and these were very crisp, but that doesn't really mean much."
"We have to put together a briefing for the Colonel about these... beings."
"They're no threat to us," said Monier. "They fear that creature, that tramoi, but have the power to wipe it from the face of their planet. They don't because they believe that everything has its role in the universe and to destroy a creature because it is dangerous or because they fear it is a crime against..." She stopped talking for a moment and then said, "I guess the best word would be God."
"Interesting," said Price.
"I'll need to give some of this to the anthropologists," said Monier.
"First we let the Colonel have a look. Prepare a classified briefing for him."
"The danger lies in the direction of the builders of the asteroid," said Price.
"I think so."
Price fell back in his chair then laughed. "This is a hell of a way to gather intelligence. I'm not sure of how much of it I accept."
Monier took offense. "You will find that about ninety percent of the information I gave you is accurate. As accurate as it can be considering I have to deal with an alien mind to get it. This technique has been well documented by scientists on Earth. This is a legitimate method of gathering data."
"It still seems fanciful to me," said Price.
"But you're going to report to the Colonel."
"Of course. I'm not going to reject a source of information just because I find it a little unusual. We'll brief him as soon as possible."