The first signs of infestation emerged around container bay 12, where we stored uranium from the Onara 4 mines. A door panel had stopped working, and the duty engineer found chewed cables in the walls. Droppings in the cargo squad’s kitchen, next to ravaged packs of chocolate biscuits and beef jerky, were discovered soon after.
When I received the call, I went there at once. Pest control is an urgent task for the cleaning squad, second only to decontamination. I used the time it took to reach the container decks to refresh my knowledge of Onaran wildlife.
It was bad news: only one animal living in or near the uranium mines would chew cables. The miners had called it the fanged weasel, a fitting name for the critter depicted on my padd. It was around fifteen centimetres long (tail not included), dark brown, with teeth that could destroy anything short of steel. Worse, another thing they were good at was, apparently, breeding. If we had a pregnant female or multiple animals on board, we’d be looking at dozens in a few months, provided they could find enough food.
I bagged the droppings and checked them in at the lab. A tech soon called to confirm that they had indeed emerged from the digestive tract of a fanged weasel. Damn.
I called an emergency meeting. If the resourceful creature made its way into the hollow internal walls or a service tunnel, it might end up in an area where it could damage more than a door panel. We agreed on a combination of standard measures around the affected container bay and vigilance throughout the rest of the ship.
The local controls around bay 12 consisted of repurposed rat traps. We also set up a tight network of cameras and used ultrasonic burst devices to try and keep the weasel from foraying too far from its new home.
For two days there were no new incidents, and the traps remained untouched and untriggered. On the third day, a camera detected the weasel emerging from one ventilation shaft, crossing a corridor and disappearing into another. Within minutes, we were at the scene to investigate. This particular shaft led on to container bay 11, which was empty, and ended there. We had struck pest control gold.
We kept watch at our side of the vent while an engineer fashioned an interface that would allow us to fumigate the vent and bay 11. We evacuated staff from the level, plugged the other vents in bay 11, donned our hazmat suits and oxygen masks, then flooded the vent with poison gas.
It all went well until one of my staff grabbed my shoulder and pointed to the left. We watched the weasel escape from a different shaft twenty metres down the corridor, then disappear around a corner. At the same time, our environmental monitors started registering the gas.
I immediately halted the fumigation and spread the word. Luckily, the gas had not spread outside the evacuated area, but for the next day and a half, it was all hands on deck and double-shifts to make the air on the level breathable again and clean all surfaces.
We sent a cam-bot into the shaft to investigate. The weasel had gnawed right through the shaft’s polymer wall and into others, carving its own network into the ceiling.
I was considering further steps when I saw the weasel’s head poking out of yet another vent. I grabbed the air pistol from my belt, took aim, shot. The weasel’s head had already disappeared back into the vent. The pellet ricocheted, hitting a member of my crew and leaving a scraped bruise on her face.
I screamed with rage and fired a few more shots at the air vent for good measure. I didn’t hear the squeal I had hoped for, only more ricocheting bullets and a fizzing sound as one of the pellets took out the ceiling lights.
Now it was personal. The weasel had it coming, whatever “it” was.
I apologised to my crew member and sent her to Medbay, then thought about other options. I remembered the weasel droppings in the kitchen and the foods it had raided: Chocolate biscuits and beef jerky. Well, alright then.
Having sourced both from cooperative crewmates, I laid some trails with biscuit crumbs and tiny morsels of jerky. By now, unless the weasel had found a new food source, it had to be starving.
The trails all led to a container back in the loading area of container bay 12. It contained the motherlode of tasty weasel snacks but was otherwise empty. At the push of a button, the lid would close. Another push would launch weasel, container and snacks into space.
I stood watch in the room. An hour turned into two, four, then eight. I declined all offers of a shift change; I had to see this through.
After nearly 14 hours, I heard tiny paws scratching on the floor. The fanged weasel approached the container, sniffed the air, then jumped down into the lowered loading area.
I pushed the “close” button, took a step forward and aimed my padd camera at the weasel to capture the moment of victory. My legs, stiff from hours of standing on watch and sleep deprivation, wobbled. I stumbled and fell into the container.
I tried to catch my fall but, in one of those moments where time slows down but you cannot stop what’s about to happen, in doing so fell on the remote and pushed the “release” button.
The lid was shutting fast. The weasel squeaked and escaped through the closing gap. I swear it laughed at me. I felt the hiss of the seal, the shake of the release, and then I was suddenly weightless.
The container is hermetically sealed and has some insulation, but it’s slowly getting colder. I hope someone has noticed that I’m missing.