Sam Fuld twisted and twirled several thousand light years outside the Cygnus Loop Nebula. Heflin wiped the dew from his helmet.
"There's a Sam Fuld floating out there." Heflin put the paint roller in it the paint bucket and stopped to watch the Sam Fuld.
"I see it," Sogal said.
Heflin leaned back against the ship's hull. Paint smeared across the left shoulder of his spacesuit. "Damn it all!"
"Everything alright out there?"
"Yeah. I've got sealant paint on my shoulder."
"No, I'm talking about the proximity alerts."
Heflin looked at his wrist console. A dozen golden dots blinked off the ship's port.
"More Sam Fulds?"
"Have you ever seen them flock like that?"
Heflin snatched the paint bucket and attached it to the hook on his pack. He grabbed his tether and pulled himself towards to the airlock.
"Whatever it is, I'm not staying out here to shake its hand."
"Whoa!" Sogal's voice cracked. "They just appeared on the starboard side! Heflin, can you see them?"
"No, but I'm not--"
Heflin held his breath. A robber cane snake swirled in the vacuum between Heflin and the airlock. It sniffed the hull and sniffed Heflin's tether with its tachyon-sensing snout.
"Snakes," Heflin whispered.
Sogal was running. His boots pounded on the catwalks and echoed down the cavernous, empty hallways. "I've got you! Just stay away!"
The nearest snake followed the tether to the airlock. It could smell human, but it could not tell in which direction on the tether. The other eleven robber cane's appeared to Heflin's right. They swarmed towards the vessel. Their heads nodded and they sniffed the vacuum for an easy meal.
"Sogal! Where are you!?"
"Stay quiet! They can smell the radios!"
The pod twisted its collective head towards Heflin. He whispered obscenities. Heflin released the slack on his tether and eased back towards the freshly-painted scratch on the hull.
A dozen snakes surrounded Heflin, a cloud of squirming death.
"Get small, Heflin!" Sogal, sitting in the topside turret, fired a rapid volley of laser blasts at the edges of the pod. Four snakes spun away from the ship and sizzled like dynamite fuses. The others screamed in their silent, tachyon language and burst towards the turret. Sogal released a second volley and dispatched five more robber canes.
Heflin tugged the tether and pulled himself into the airlock. He slapped the control panel, and the door hissed shut.
"That's the last of them," Sogal said. "You make it inside, Heflin?"
"I'm inside," Heflin said. He touched the skin turning red near the two puncture wounds on his right arm.