He headed towards the exit and heard it again. No doubt this time. But what was it ? …
He could feel the hairs on the back of his neck rising. The sensation that someone or something unseen was watching him from the dark module ahead. He took a firm grip of the torch, its weight was comforting in a primitive way, like a caveman facing danger. The thought made him give a nervous smile. Here he was a quarter of a million miles from Earth and his subconscious was still wired for dealing with sabre toothed tigers.
There must be a simple and rational explanation for what he was hearing. Some forgotten piece of equipment still powered up or a pressure valve venting intermittently. He was not expecting to meet anything with teeth and claws through the doorway. He told himself off and headed into Tulip module.
He made a thorough search of Tulip. All the module bays, every cupboard, locker, filing cabinet and he opened every maintenance hatch. Nothing out of place or unexpected and no repeat of the noise. Perhaps he had been hearing things. He pressed on into Bluebell module and took a quick look round before heading back to his living quarters in Bird's Nest for a cup of coffee, though for once he wished he had something stronger to add to it, but that was most definitely against the rules.
He felt better after the coffee, but still puzzled. The more he thought about it the surer he was that he had heard something real and not imagined it. It was time to carry on with the inspections and not get spooked. It would be something he had overlooked. He rolled a dice to decide which modules to go to next. This random element to his inspections had a serious point as well as reducing monotony. If there was a fault in one of the modules then inspecting on a fixed routine might mean he did not spot it because he would get accustomed to it. This way he would be entering from different directions and at different times and that should make him stay more alert. At the moment however he felt much more alert than he wanted to.
After inspecting all the other modules and making the best he could of the ration packs for dinner he was still alert. As he lay down on his bunk and closed his eyes sleep would not come. His module which was still powered up had more noises than the rest of the mostly silent base. heating, air handling, waste recycling. In some ways the extra noise made it harder to relax. What if the noise he had heard elsewhere was masked by the ambient sounds? In that case whatever made that noise could be right next to him and he would never know it. He tossed and turned and at sometime he went to sleep only to be woken in the pitch dark by the noise. A soft sighing, like an indrawn breath and this time very close.
He reached out to the night stand next to the bed where he had left the torch. His arm knocked it off onto the floor. He called out for the control computer to put on the lights. As the room gradually brightened he caught a glimpse in his peripheral vision of something moving rapidly out of the module though the hatchway which should normally be closed.. He took a few moments to let his panic subside and bent over to clutch the reassuring weight of the torch. Whatever it was had gone into BrrBaa and he was going to track it just as soon as he got his environmental suit on.
He cornered it in Fragile Flakes. As he came towards it carrying the heavy torch in one hand and a sharp screwdriver in the other, it it backed away. A few blows with the torch and stabs with screwdriver and it stopped moving leaking red fluid onto the module floor. He pushed it over onto its side with his boot and took a close look at it.
He was going to be putting in a very angry report in the morning. How dare they do something like this without letting him know. As he left the module the last of the hydraulic fluid drained out of Caretaker Mark 2 – human replacement robot prototype.