‘Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say.
And still I scream for you my love, as all who die cry out
Cry out I say!
and call me home.
No more speak of gods of war, nor conquering distant stars
The dream was sweeter than the truth, no saviors in the dark
It followed us, or so they say, and reaches past our scope
Ten years we searched, ten more they say, no more my love, no hope.
The new frontier is cruel, it waits, the vacuum hides our cries
No one can hear a scream, they say, in Odysseus’ demise
No one can hear you scream, they say
In silence, all is lies.
In silence I shall scream my love, now all are silent still
Cry out I say and call me home.
I am not silent still.
- Anonymous, c. 3950 of the Common Stratospheric Time Period (CSTP)’
“This was the final transmission of the inaugural SS. Odyssey voyage, translated from the original Ancient English.”
Text ran across the arena walls, it’s poetry lost on an audience who were there for a different reason. Doctor Bresnik, Head of Ancient Languages at the New Earth Space Propagation Agency, stood at the lectern, with over a thousand investors, politicians and emissaries staring back at her.
“The ship was destroyed almost one thousand earth years ago half-way through its mission to the outer reaches of our Galaxy, and its fate is still a richly debated topic.” She took a sip of water and glanced to the side of the stage where the headline act was still reviewing his script.
“There are several themes explored in this final transmission, set to repeat for as long as the ship’s damaged core remains active. Scholars have studied the translated message for generations trying to decipher its true meaning. The writer’s choice of putting such a poignant lovers lament, as it were, out there, rather than a final beacon for help, is an interesting insight. With the right equipment and a bit of patience you can still hear this transmission echoing from the debris that surrounds the wreckage of the ship. Some say the passage is in fact a warning. A ‘space sailors’ mourning, as it were, to the dangers of Outer Rim Exploration.”
She was in her element now, reminded of the reason she went into the field of ancient languages in the first place. To get into the ‘why’ of the brave souls embarking on early space travel. A time when the risks were so high and the advantages so small, these brave explorers to the outer reaches of the Galaxy were inspiring. She had given lectures on the ‘Odyssey Transmission’ for half her career and still felt a deep sense of longing to understand its creator every time she read it.
“Some scholars believe it is a yearning love letter to the writer’s family back on Earth. Others see tales of mythical creatures and ancient Gods. For me, I think the predominant theme here is of loss. A sense of failure, of unmet ambitions. It is filled with a deep sadness, that the mission did not deliver what was intended. But, as we know today, so many learnings have been taken from these first explorations. Their mission was very much one of discovery. Scouting unknown paths into the Andromeda Galaxy and returning with vital information still used today for terraforming and resource extraction. You can see in the writer’s words here the realization that their mission was in a word, doomed. That they would not be returning to Earth.”
The mood in the arena had shifted a little. Intentionally so. Doctor Bresnik was there to remind the audience of the importance of patience. To remind them that sometimes rewards might seem out of reach, but are in the end, all the greater for their continuing support.
“Which I and many others believe is a poignant reminder of the importance of hope.”
She paused on the word, letting it sink in.
“Hope. Of remembering why we are here, why we at NESPA continue to explore the very outer reaches of our known universe. For me the failure was not in their damaged ship. No, that was just a tragic accident. The failure was in their loss of hope, in the writer’s belief that they had achieved nothing when in fact they and the whole crew had achieved so much. And why we still honor their legacy to this day.”
A small applause rippled through the audience, some of whom may have had distant ancestors on the SS. Odyssey, or claimed to as many often did.
“And ‘who was the original writer?’ you might ask. Well, that is an interesting question. The message was set to repeat on the Captain’s personal communication link. But we know from other fragments collected in the wreckage that many of the crew perished in cryo-sleep, the Captain included. So, the truth is, we can never be one hundred percent sure. Transmissions in those final days were sparse and often incomplete but we believe the most likely writer was the Lieutenant of the Ship.
Ms. Aurora Moralis, whose great great grandfather was the celebrated Captain of the SS. Homer II, discoverer of the first oxygenated planet outside of our solar system.”
Another smattering of applause.
“As you know we are still in the process of terraforming Earth 7, which was Captain Moralis’ greatest discovery, and should complete its cycle for habitation in the next 100 years.”
No applause came this time. The terraforming of Earth 7 was supposed to have been completed last year but unforeseen issues had put a dent in NESPA’s usually impeccable schedule. No matter, she glanced quickly back to the side of the stage, seeing that yes, the next speaker was finally ready.
“And now, please join me in welcoming to the stage, NESPA’s Chief of New World Exploration, Doctor Menta Boeing.”
Rapturous applause filled the arena, which was surrounded by virtual recreations of NESPA’s proudest achievements. New Earth Colonies, Resource Extractors, Spaceliners and Drilling Port’s. Their Medical Division cured diseases that hadn’t even reached Earth yet. Climate controlled atmospheres and Cryo-Life Extension pods. All possible from New World Exploration. Many in the audience stood up, marking their respect for the man who had led over ninety terraforming expeditions of his own before creating the New Worlds Division, a first for any Space Agency on Earth.
“Thank you, Doctor Bresnik, for that enlightening introduction to The Odyssey I mission, and an important reminder of the long journey we took to get here today.”
Menta looked out to the expectant audience and paused, allowing their anticipation to build even farther, before finally announcing,
“I am so delighted to welcome you all today to the launch of Odyssey II: New Beginnings.”
Cheers rang throughout the auditorium. Everywhere, except along the back row where two interlopers vied to see the stage.
“What did they say? I missed it.” Kaiya maneuvered herself onto the very edge seat trying to look like she belonged.
“Not much, just talking about the first Odyssey mission.” Rood, on the other hand didn’t care about ‘belonging’ and squatted down in the aisle. “The one that got eaten by space monsters.”
“Shhh” followed by a disapproving look came from along the row.
Kaiya waved apologetically and pulled her ‘friend’ into the seat alongside her. ‘Friend’ was a generous word for their partnership. They were cadets at the academy, training for the Odyssey II. It wasn’t a fancy assignment; they would be in the Exploration Essentials Crew. Which was an elaborate description for cleaning and maintenance, but essential none the less. A ship that could travel half-way across the galaxy wasn’t much good if the toilet stopped working.
It was Kaiya’s proudest achievement to have been assigned to the Odyssey II. Rood, on the other hand, referred to himself as being a member of the ‘Assentials Crew’. It was for this and many other reasons that Kaiya hadn’t been especially close to Rood during their training. But as it turned out, he was the only other person willing to break into the arena with her for the launch party. So there they were, together at the event of the year.
“Space monsters Rood? Really? Tell me you aren’t one of those conspiracy nuts.” Kaiya whispered a little more loudly than intended. “The ship’s core melted, that’s what happened. It was very common for that to happen on discovery missions back then. They would plan for a journey to take what eight, ten years tops, and then they end up looped in some dying star’s gravitational pull and BAM! It’s fifteen years later, all the life support is gone, cryo-tubes spent and you’re too far out for a rescue ship, so there you have it. No great mystery.”
“Whatever you say” Rood shook his head, “All I know is, I saw the recovery crew images and there were bite marks.”
“Bite marks…on the SS Odyssey? A ship the size of the Xion Crater, orbiting the outer rim of the Andromeda Galaxy, had ‘bite marks’.” Kaiya rolled her eyes and then smiled graciously at the angry audience member sat on the other side of her.
“Right!” Rood leaned in even closer. “On it’s upper deck and the whole right side propulsion system, gone. What could have done that? A core meltdown sinks the ship from inside out. The whole thing would be gone or at least melted into one great big mass. The debris from the Odyssey was spread half-way across the asteroid belt.”
“It was probably a collision then. A comet or whatever.” Kaiya was only half listening to this nonsense and trying to see what was happening up on the stage.
“We track comets, and asteroids and anything else that might be floating around out there.” Rood wasn’t letting this drop.
“Not everything. It’s impossible. Whatever, you’re insane.” Kaiya leaned away, getting another look from the stern woman beside her.
“Well I’m not the only one whose insane then” Rood seemed oblivious to the disapproving looks around him. “You need to go into the ‘Odyssey’s Revenge’ metaverse portal and see for yourself. They play out a whole re-enactment of what could have happened. They also say there’s been other attacks out there that have gone unreported. Plus, that ‘last transmission’ they just blasted all around this place, it’s not even the complete translation.”
Now the disapproving looks were interspersed with a few interested audience members, who were finding Rood’s commentary a lot more entertaining than whatever was happening on stage. Which was fortunate because there was no way they were seeing anything from this far back. Kaiya was already wondering how she could get a little closer. ‘Too much security by the west exit’ she thought as she scanned the arena. If only the idiot next to her would shut up and let her think for a second.
Rood took her silence to mean ‘this makes total sense, do continue’,
“Okay so, there’s this guy right, who says he’s heard the transmission, the real transmission. It’s still going, like they said, its still on repeat, the core hasn’t burnt out yet on the Odyssey. And he’s recorded the original message and had an expert translate it.”
This was the final straw for Kaiya, “An expert? More of an expert than the Head of the Ancient Languages department at NESPA, that was just on this stage, literally telling you the translation?”
“Well yeah, obviously. Because ‘Head of Whatever at NESPA’, is totally part of the system now, it’s in their interest not to tell people like you and me the real translation. It would cause panic and they can’t have that.”
A few subtle nods and raised eyebrow’s around the pair showed that Rood wasn’t the only one who followed this logic. Not that anyone would admit to it out loud, not in this audience. Someone else ‘shhh’d’ them from along the row.
“Oh shh yourself lady!” Rood continued, knowing what he had to say was just as important as whatever was happening at the lectern of lies. “So they’re all in on it, especially in NESPA. They even cut a chunk out the middle of the message, the part about the attack.”
“There has never been an attack Rood! Not out there! There’s no outposts, no occupied planets in that region. If there was another ship there they would know.” Kaiya was starting to get a little concerned at the idiocy of someone who graduated from the same academy that she had.
“Not a ship. A thing. A living, sentient creature who can live in space. That can actually travel through dark matter, maybe even through black holes.” Rood leaned closer to Kaiya and everyone in earshot subconsciously leaned with him. “That’s why it’s never been seen.”
“You know that we as a human race decided to move past all this. Thousands of years ago when we didn’t know any better, sure, believe in The Lochness Monster and Big Foot. Hell, I can understand why they even believed in Little Green Men. But we know better now, we evolved as a species Rood. Please, let’s leave children’s stories where they belong shall we?”
“Fine, but see, where they say ‘It followed us’ they never actually said what ‘It’ was. ‘It’ was a freaking space monster man! It stalked them to the furthest point on their mission and attacked.”
There now seemed to be a silent debate happening all around them, conducted through nods and shrugs. Half the eaves droppers were following Rood’s ‘alternate theories’, the other half siding with Kaiya’s judgmental pragmatism. Not that either of the intruders noticed. They were just relieved to be sat down, rather than being chased out by security for the third time.
“I’m pretty sure it’s more of a metaphorical ‘It’, not a literal space ‘It’.” Kaiya added. She had studied a little of the ancient languages for extra credit at the NESPA academy and liked to remind people of that fact when appropriate.
Rood ignored her and continued, “And that line, ‘all is lies’ – who was lying? What are they lying about? Something happened out there to that ship. The so called ‘Un-Scrubbable ship’ and we haven’t had the whole story. All I’m saying is, I think it’s best to keep our eyes open on this ‘New Beginning’.”
“Well Rood, if you’re so convinced there is something going on out there that they aren’t telling us, why did you sign up for the mission? Why have I been stuck doing endless training rotations with you?”
“Because if there is a space monster out there you better believe I wanna be the first one to see it. We would be set for LIFE. No more ‘bodily evacuation suit’ cleaning for me. I’d sell my story to the highest bidder and go live on Earth 3 with all the other first generation Terraformer’s.”
“If there really was a space monster, you’re more likely to be eaten before you get to tell the story.” She sat back with folded arms, quite enjoying the idea of watching Rood being eaten alive.
“That’s why I’m keeping my eyes open and doing all the research on what we are walking into.” Rood tapped the side of his head, which was where Kaiya assumed a brain would be if he had one.
“Sure, whatever you say. Now shut up, I wanna listen.”
Suddenly, a light shone in their faces and a voice growled from behind, “Hey, you two, I already told you twice, you aren’t allowed in here. GET OUT!”
The speaker on the stage was now proudly displaying schematics of the new Odyssey II Spaceliner, due for departure in a week’s time. It would follow the same course as Odyssey I, completing its original discovery mission. Huddled in the darkness backstage, two more interlopers watched from the sidelines. Unseen by all who scurried about getting ready to start the launch party once the speakers were finally finished.
“You’re sending them on a suicide mission, you know that right? Whatever got Odyssey I could still be there.”
“Hopefully yes! We just need to lure it out. Think of Odyssey II like bait on the end of a very large hook. For almost a thousand years we have tried to find what ever attacked that ship and nothing, not a single trace. So if this is the only way to find what ever new species this is, so be it. I mean think of the possibilities. A creature, that can travel through space, without the need for a ship, or technology of any kind, a biological creature that is able to exist in the vacuum - which is at least one thing that damn transmission got right. I mean how could it survive? That my dear, is why we need to send Odyssey II. It’s a ‘New Beginning’ alright, our new beginning of being able to survive out there without unsustainable amounts of power and resources. Do you know how unrealistic terraforming is for the long term? And now they want it at a faster rate? It’s madness! This is our only way. To find how to survive out there. I wish it were a God damn vacuum. A vacuum we can deal with. Instead, it’s solar flares, toxic chemicals, bone melting heat or frozen wastelands. We need to find a way to adapt, not to create another world just like our own. We messed up two planets already, we can’t keep on doing it.”
“I know, it just seems rather extreme. Don’t you think?”
“Throughout history, the greatest achievements have been through leaps in scientific and technological advancements. Sometimes you need something ‘extreme’ as you put it to push us to greatness. Think, oil to electricity to nuclear to solar. Each leap ignited our ability to create. Linking our collective knowledge, our escape from the boundaries of light speed, our reverse gravity eco-systems, all necessary to avoid extinction of humanity. This is just the next one. We must harness whatever advantage evolution has bestowed upon this creature, it’s the only way.”
“There’ll be war if people find out. It goes against everything the New World Founders Treaty stands for.”
“If war is what it takes, then so be it. It’s an inconvenient truth my dear, that the greatest inventions were born of war. Vaccines, blood transfusions, even computers as they knew them back in the 31st century, all created or advanced during war. Tell me, where would we be without radar or nuclear energy? Not exploring beyond our own solar system that’s for sure. Even things like superglue and sanitary towels for crying out loud. I mean, these people were savages but at least they were inventive savages. They made sure to take advantage of pointlessly killing each other. The silver lining so to speak.”
“Okay, okay I get your point.”
“Do you? Who knows what else we’ll discover, what else we may need to discover, just to survive out there. All those little inventions were born of great tragedy, and yet the people who used them quickly forgot all that pain. They were happy living their lives not knowing what it took to achieve those little conveniences they took for granted. But I know what it took, I know the sacrifices that were made. They’re not lost on me. And yet, I am prepared to make them again to move us forward, to keep progressing NESPA and its mission. Even the Founder’s who wrote that Treaty were prepared to sacrifice the few for the many. The war for fresh water meant that Salt Extraction became commercially viable. Carbon Reversal stopped the Great Migration, twice! I could go on. All I’m saying is, sometimes you have to look to the past to see into the future. Odyssey I could be the best learning the past ever gave us, and we missed it. We can’t waste this opportunity again. I’m prepared to sacrifice Odyssey II to see what’s out there, to discover New Worlds. Are you?”