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By Derek HurstPublished 7 months ago Updated 7 months ago 9 min read

“Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say.”

“Well, that does it for me,” the theretofore silent Brigadier said as he stood, bracing himself against the bulkhead with a mechanical arm, “I’m off.”

“It’s only twenty-one hundred, skipper,” the young ensign scoffed,  “Don’t tell me an old marauder like you gets phased by ghost stories. I’ve got a good one here, you’ll see.” The others wore admonishing looks as they turned to the newly-minted junior officer.

“It’s not the ghosts I have a problem with--it’s your style.”


“You never start a story like that,” The Brigadier’s artificial forearm glistened as he raised it to his brow and rubbed his pockmarked temple. Beyond the ten-centimeter-thick tempered carapum window, the Arcanus Delta hypergiant lay quiet, its light casting a cold blue glow on the otherwise cozy mess hall. “It gives too much away too soon. Good stories are all about misdirection, anticipation. The good ones just stretch the truth—they don’t conjure it.” 

“Show us how it’s done, then. Or perhaps you’d prefer to hear my account of the summer of ’26?” The Brigadier turned to his first officer as a crystal cup slid across the counter. “Come on Peter, one more drink for the sake of old times?”

“I think not." The Brigadier replied. "We have an o’five hundred briefing tomorrow morning, and I need you all well-rested and ready for what’s to follow. I don’t have to remind you how critical this conference is to SCC. We’re not exactly sailing in friendly waters here.”

“Alright everyone, you heard him.” The first officer called out, snapping to attention as quickly and deftly as if his aged body had been fastened to a marionette’s string. “Hit the racks.” The gathered officers groaned as they pushed their chairs back, straightening out their uniforms and brushing the crumbs from their laps. 

“…There’s always the Stockholm, though,” The Brigadier then whispered with an almost invisible smirk on his grizzled face. 

The first officer turned and narrowed his eyes. “I thought the idea was for them to get at least some sleep tonight,” he said, mirroring the smirk. “You’ll do them in for weeks…”

“We read about that at the academy,” one of the Arturi lieutenants melodically whistled, her thoracic fetters humming as he spoke. “I always considered it apocryphal at best—you’re not implying it actually happened as it was written, are you?” The Brigadier turned to her with a glint in his hazel eye. 

“History usually leaves out certain things for a reason.” The Brigadier said, glaring back at his executive officer. “You just had to mention the summer of ’26, didn’t you Mikhail? You’d put a Borsian mystic to shame with your wiles.” 

The aged officer shrugged. “What’ll it be, Pete? Should we give these fine young people something to think about when their heads hit their pillows tonight?” 

The Brigadier took a slow look around, nodded his head and collapsed onto one of the chairs behind him. The room seemed to exhale contentedly as their commander scooted his chair closer to the table and motioned for his glass to be refilled.

“Captain Mikhail here and I were’t much older than you lot when we were posted to the Stockholm,” he began, taking a sip of gin from his glass. “Two years out of Santiago we were, fresh as new officers could be. We’d both spent time on different ships before winding up together at last.”

“I hated him at first, you know?” Mikhail said. “Even I could smell the pirate on him.”

“Not a one of us chooses the life we’re born into.” The Brigadier said without a hint of defensiveness in his voice. “What we do with our hand is all that matters.”

The first officer took the hint, “I won’t interject again.”

“She was a fine ship,” the Brigadier continued. “Eight-hundred sixty-eight meters bow to stern, six fine decks and a Mark XIII in her bowels—she could push C8 without breaking so much as a sweat. At the time it made her the second-fastest ship in the fleet.”

“We’re familiar with the technical specifications,” their acerbic Martian engineer said flatly. “The crew is what interests us.”

“Patience, Chief.” The Brigadier said. “Just making sure everyone grasps the context of my tale.” The lanky engineer fell silent.

“The point is, the ship was meant to carry a complement of three-hundred. Needless to say, when Mikhail and I arrived at our cavernous quarters and found them larger than the mess-deck on our previous ship, it raised our eyebrows near clean off our faces. As junior science officers we were posted to the tertiary sensor array, clear on the ass-end of deck E. Twenty-eight other souls manned the ship, and I’d often go days without seeing another face. Our comrades were like strangers to us, it took me weeks to learn all their names. After we finally got to know each other, we naturally began to speculate as to the true nature of our mission. Officially, we were dispatched to Terak Minor to help evacuate one of their outlying colonies. Our Brigadier explained in typical Olnari fashion that our glorious humanitarian mission was sanctified and holy, and how privileged we were to be taking it on. A relief mission explained some aspects: there had been an asteroid impact on Terak a month or so earlier, so all the extra space on this ship made sense, after all the colony had over two-thousand people. It was our course that made us wonder. It was needlessly roundabout, and we traveled far slower than the ship was capable.”

“Terak Minor from Sol passes through the Horsehead Nebula when charted directly, I believe,” the ship’s navigator said. “Back then, you wouldn’t have had modern compensators yet. An indirect course would have been necessary.”

“Right you are, lieutenant. But it was the degree of indirectness I found odd. So far we had notched an extra six light-years onto the journey for no discernible reason. It didn’t add up. My mind started turning for the first time when Mikhail mentioned after dinner one evening that the lateral braces were probably in need of a good tightening, you remember that?”

“Oh yes,” The first officer said. “You could only hear it from the aft section of our workstation. You didn’t believe me at first, if I recall.”

“My ears were never as good as yours,” The Brigadier said. “A childhood spent on cargo junks ‘ll do that to you.”

“Had to get you to press up against the hull.”

“I heard it then, ‘course to me it sounded more like a soft tapping rather than a clanging. I made the mistake of mentioning it to our section chief later that evening. I’d never seen a man shut down a conversation so quickly. More than that, I can tell when a man's scared but is trying to hide it. You don’t survive long in my parents' line of work if you couldn’t. Point is, this fellow went whiter than a sheet—dressed us down and told us not to ask any more questions. After our shift ended that night, we stopped by the aft cargo room just for the hell of it. Long before we had suspected anything we all had been given strict orders under pain of court martial to stay clear of that entire section. It was one of the first things they told us once we got aboard the Stockholm. Problem is, it was less than thirty meters from our station, and we were young, stubborn and stupid. We had nothing to lose. I was on my last straw as it was with the SCC at the time, having struck a superior officer a few months earlier. Mikhail was just in it for the kicks.”

“You’re damned right I was. I had never in my life been as bored as I had been on that mission, and this is coming from someone who grew up on Copurnica.”

“We made our way around the corner to the section,” the Brigadier continued,  “using plasma lamps since the running lights were off. The ship’s electrical grid had been on the fritz for days so they’d shut down main power to all non-essential areas. All the while, this damn clanging keeps getting louder and louder as we twist around the darkened corners. I started to get worried but we pressed on. We finally reach the end of the last corridor only to be stopped by a pair of charged ion rails. There was no reason to put that kind of barrier in place on a Unity ship.”

“The only time you’d ever see something like that is when there’s a fire on board, or a gas leak. Luckily, I had learned a trick in my sophomore year and was able to deactivate the barrier rather easily with nothing more than a flow tenser.” Mikhail said.

“The clanging at this point is like a sledgehammer against a helmet. I had a growing ringing in my ears, and a headache that was getting worse by the minute. Mikhail hid it better but it was affecting him also. I took him by the shoulder and turned him around. I wasn’t going any further. You’ve got to understand, growing up in the life I did, I’ve seen some truly terrifying, horrible things. Truly horrible. I didn’t scare easily, not at all, but that day I was terrified. So I try to turn my friend around, but he doesn’t move. It’s then I saw his face.” 

“I think…maybe we ought to stop here, Pete, don’t you? I…we’ve got a long day ahead of us tomorrow. We—“

His voice was abruptly cut off by a crunch against the hull of the ship, followed by the unmistakable sound of explosive decompression. The door to the mess hall slammed shut and the proximity alarm began to sound. The table in front of them lurched upwards, spilling the remaining alcohol everywhere and shattering the glasses. 

“Brigadier to top deck!” Came a voice across the intercom. “We’re under attack! It’s the—“ The com cut out as another jolt rocked the ship, and then another. The lights began to flicker. The Brigadier looked around to his crew as they attempted to regain their footing.

“To your stations, everyone,” He said as calmly as he could, though his voice was raised enough to sound above the ringing of the alarms. “Looks like our ghost story will have to wait after all.”


About the Creator

Derek Hurst

“Not all who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. TOLKIEN

I am an explorer. I have lived in many places. I stand ready for what is to come.

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  • Jori T. Sheppard7 months ago

    Ooh I’d like to see this as a book someday. Hopefully you have the drive to write it. A lot of effort was put into your work and it shines. Best of luck to you in the challenge

  • Kat Thorne7 months ago

    Oh man, that was a cruel ending! Please write a follow up

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