Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. Right now, I wished I was out there, floating silently in my space suit.
But nope, I was on the bridge, having my eardrums split by Dix’s screams of mirth. Or at least the Nekoravian equivalent to our human laughter. Screeching. Like nails being dragged down a chalkboard. I wasn’t the only one covering my ears with my face screwed up.
To be fair, it was kinda funny. In his haste, Brock had donned the wrong enviro suit and was standing sheepishly in Cassy’s very female-shaped outfit while our Captain fell about laughing at him. Cassy didn’t look half as ridiculous in the male suit that Brock’s mistake had forced her to pull on as they both frantically dressed when the alarm sounded.
Dix was mean like that. She knew they were canoodling in the pantry instead of taking an inventory, so she ran a drill, upsetting everyone on the ship, to make a point. Dix’s puerile sense of humour was legendary. The embarrassed couple’s wardrobe mishap was a bonus she hadn’t expected.
Ever the professional, N’htaal was monitoring the sensors, ignoring the disruption. He turned and addressed our esteemed superior, still quivering with suppressed mirth. His usually calm voice held a slight note of urgency.
“Captain, if I may interject, can I focus your attention on the vessel that’s heading in our direction?”
“What?… crap, what the hell is that?”
“According to our sensors, it’s from the outer reaches of the Pontikosmian Empire. We know very little about the Pontikians as they have always zealously guarded their borders and avoided visual interaction with other species. We cannot penetrate the hull to scan the occupants.”
“What’s it doing here? They’re overstepping the mark, coming this far into our territory.”
The vessel was now visible in the view port, a gleaming silver bullet ship. It looked the worse for wear, with scorch marks and scrapes along one side. I couldn’t detect armed weapons arrays and the ship didn’t appear threatening, but you never know.
“Sound the alarms, and announce that this isn’t a drill, dammit.”
I turned to gesture for Brock and Cassy to leave, but they’d already slipped out. Turning back, I took up my position next to the Captain and focused on my instruments.
Aside: Apologies, I didn’t introduce myself. First Officer Ellie Moon, serving aboard the Envoyager on a mission to establish trade agreements with other domains. Our vessel is a warship, but she was repurposed for this peaceful envoy and fitted out with upgraded living accommodation suitable for the various species in our delegation. I’m a human from Earth, and a regular member of the crew that serve under the Captain and N’htaal. We’ve seen a few sticky moments in our time.
I wondered if this was going to be another sticky moment.
As if in answer, the comms cheeped. I glanced at the Captain, who gave a small nod, so I activated the UTC (universal translation communicator).
“SS Envoyager,”… a reedy voice filled the bridge… “this is Commander Reepion of the Calastrian 1st Battalion. Greetings. May your tail never wither.”
I reflexively raised my hands to my ears, but Dix was once more the professional who deserved her rank. No vestige of amusement remained as she straightened her posture and replied,
“Captain Dixian Darkle of SS Envoyager from the United World Federation. We are on a peaceful trade mission to the Andromeda Galaxy. Please state your business here in UWF space.”
“My apologies, Captain Darkle. I am honouring an agreement that my people made with our passenger, a human named Atrus Finch. He helped us to fight off an attack from our deadly enemies, the Gatavians. His gallant actions lost him his ship. We are eternally grateful to Mr Finch. Unfortunately, our worlds are unsuited to his physique. We vowed to return him to his own galaxy.”
Dix turned to frown at us, her whiskers twitching. She motioned for the UTC to be muted.
“N’thaal, are we aware of a UWF citizen taking a little field trip to a forbidden zone to take part in a war we know nothing about?”
“It would take me a while to check the records, Captain. But no, I’m not aware of anyone of that name undertaking such a voyage.”
We were all perplexed. How had this unknown traveller reached such a remote region of space to earn the gratitude of a hitherto unwelcoming species? At her nod, I enabled the UTC for Dix to continue the conversation.
“Commander Reepion, I do not doubt the truth of your words. But you will forgive me for asking how and why Atrus Finch was in your region and in a position to help you in your conflict.”
There was a slight pause.
“Captain Darkle, we think it best if you speak to Captain Finch in person. Unfortunately, he cannot accompany us on the bridge. We adapted our hold to provide comfortable accommodation suited to our esteemed passenger. We will set up a visual comms channel for him. Please await our signal.”
Dix jumped to her feet, her tail swishing. Unlike most of her species, being kept waiting wasn’t her strong point. But she surprised me.
“Oh, I do like a puzzle to solve. This is most intriguing. From what we’ve learned so far, a person called Finch’s human physique is unsuited to the Pontikians’ worlds and also to their ship. They had to adapt the hold, the largest area in a vessel. Therefore, I surmise they are smaller than he is. Perhaps very much smaller. Interesting.”
The viewscreen came to life this time as the UTC cheeped. The face on the screen looked gaunt and bearded, as you might expect from someone marooned without their gear. He had blue eyes that twinkled as he scanned the crew, and settled on Dix seated in the largest chair in the centre of the bridge. I would swear his voice held a slight tremble of amusement, but couldn’t figure out why.
“Oh hello, Captain… er… Darkle, isn’t it? I am delighted to meet you. In these somewhat… er… unusual circumstances, eh?”
“Greetings, Captain Finch. It is my duty to establish how, and why, you came to be so far from home. And what—if I may put it bluntly—the dickens were you doing getting involved in an alien conflict, in defiance of the Rules of First Contact to avoid interaction or taking sides?”
“Um. Yeeees. I see your point. Look, I need to tell you something important before we begin, because I won’t be able to answer all your questions. I have given an oath to these people that I will not, under any circumstance, divulge information about their physical appearance, habitation, or society. They would not agree to let me return to my home galaxy until I satisfied them that I would keep that vow.”
“A truth serum will relieve you of that responsibility, Captain Finch.”
“Actually no, Captain. They have planted subconscious interventions to overcome that possibility. They are taking a colossal risk on my behalf, and I intend to keep my word. I’m old school, you see. Chivalrous and all that.”
“Well, at least explain how you got yourself into this predicament.”
“Righto! Where shall I start? Hmm. Ok, I’ll try to stick to the basic facts. I had planned a long vacation with my wife, who’s currently working on Mars. After outfitting my ship, I was on my way to collect Hannah. Set the coordinates for the jump, strapped in and gave Madge the command to execute.”
Atrus’ face took on a haunted expression as he continued his story.
“Nothing happened at first, but then, as I entered the wormhole, I realised something was wrong. The jump took much longer than usual and the exit was teeth-janglingly turbulent; all the alarms were blaring. Not usually one for flapping, but I confess it got me rattled, Captain. I turned off the alarms and scanned my location, but I couldn’t find any point of reference, and my instruments didn’t help.
“Eventually, I had to accept the cold fact that I had inexplicably jumped into uncharted space far from home. Then the alarms all went off again. A fleet of ships like this one had popped into view around me. I have the means to defend myself, but not against so many, with nowhere to run to. So I did the only thing I could. I sent out a universal message of surrender and friendship.
“Eventually, Commander Reepion spoke to me. Jolly fine fella, that Reepion. I explained my dilemma, and he requested I allow him to take over control of my ship so they could lead me back to their homeworld. What could I say? I was in their hands.
“It isn’t much fun, Captain, being dragged by unseen aliens back to their unknown world. My imagination worked overtime. By the time of our arrival in orbit over their home world, I had envisaged all kinds of horrible outcomes, but very few that benefited me.”
Peeking at my colleagues around the bridge, I could see that they were as engrossed in Finch’s story as me. Even N’htaal appeared to be on the edge of his seat.
“We settled into orbit around Calastria, just minutes before all hell let loose. The Gatavians had been lying in wait, heavily cloaked, taking full advantage of the unwary Pontikian fleet. They hit several of Reepion’s ships catastrophically, before the rest scattered so they weren’t sitting ducks.
“The comms were still open and I could hear Commander Reepion issuing orders as they all flung themselves into battle mode. My erstwhile military training took over, and I leapt into action, ducking and weaving faithful old Madge to avoid being a target.
“There I was, stuck in the middle of a conflict I knew nothing about, with no bally idea which side were the good guys! Felt like I’d survived the frying pan only to get thrown in the fire! Then a female voice alerted me… “Captain Finch. We would very much appreciate your assistance. Commander Reepion has given his word that we will reward you well for your help. If you wish it, we will endeavour to return you to your home galaxy. Please do what you can for us.”
“As she spoke, another ship was badly damaged; they were being picked off too easily. I didn’t have time to think. I acted on instinct. My regular job is to protect commercial shipments from pirate attacks, so I need to tout some pretty hefty deterrents. I’d recently had Madge fitted out with the latest anti-matter weaponry and used it now to great effect. I took out several squadrons of invaders before they realised I was their biggest threat.
“Then a bunch of them ganged up on me. So I decoyed them away, leaving Reepion a smaller force to deal with. I broke out of orbit and started heading for the surface. Bumpy as all get out. Nobody could have targeted me while we were descending.
“Or so I thought. One blighter got lucky and hit me up the backside. Realised poor old Madge was a goner, so I baled out. While I was parachuting down to who knows what, Commander Reepion picked off the most of the attackers and the rest made a run for it.
“A few hours later, Reepion collected me in a transporter and took me to their capital city. My first impressions were jolly unnerving, but that’s all I can say about the physical aspects of my arrival. They gave me a hero’s welcome and treated me to the most gracious hospitality. When I learned more about these people and their enemies, I realised the Pontikians are very courageous and honourable. I’m proud to have helped protect them.
“And here I am now, being returned to my home as agreed.”
Finch cocked his head to one side, awaiting Dix’s response. It was difficult to regard him as a competent ex-military fighter with all that unkempt hair and beard. I made a mental note to find him a razor when he came aboard.
The Captain was tapping one of her canines with a delicately manicured claw.
“Tell me, Captain Finch, are you permitted to talk about the Gatavians, or are they a big secret too?”, she wondered.
“Hmm. Just a minute, please.”
The monitor went blank, and we all held our breath.
And then the most incredible thing happened. There was a glitch. It only lasted for a few moments, but we all saw it. As the screen flickered into life, the view wasn’t of Finch in the hold, but a fleeting glimpse of Commander Reepion on the bridge. Then it was gone.
This time, we all clapped our hands over our ears. Because years of experience taught us that our esteemed Captain would scream with laughter.
Which, inevitably, she did. Loudly.
We all wished, once more, that we were floating silently and serenely in space.
About the Creator
I'm a multi-hat-wearing designer, writer, actor and "living well with cancer" advocate. Diagnosed with stage four breast cancer in mid 2021, I am going where the curveball takes me. Writing it seems!