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Beyond the Sun's Light

by John Moore 5 days ago in space · updated 4 days ago
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Into the Night

From Institution for Creation Research

No one can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. By ‘they,’ I refer to that segment of humanity whose ancestors never ventured into the void. They’re not wrong, strictly speaking. A man without his suit, screaming into the void will be dead silent, special emphasis on dead. But a man in his suit still has a radio, and I have heard many screams across the cold vacuum of space. I fear my voice may soon join that unfortunate chorus of souls. Should the most likely outcome occur, let this record bear testimony to the events on this godforsaken ship. My name is Jan Sobra of Clan Sama, and maybe I can spare another soul from that silent scream into the night.

— — —

A light ignites on my communication panel. I give it even odds of being a distress call versus one of the clan’s prospectors striking paydirt. Regardless, if the call is received, the Codes oblige us to respond or face exile. We’re nothing if not loyal to the Codes, notwithstanding that exile into the void might as well be its own death sentence. Out here, a distress call is just as likely to be a trap as a genuine cry for help. Far too many honest crews have been lost to pirates because of altruism. At any rate, our clan’s ships are the only ones operating within half an astronomical unit of our position. The captain is asleep, and I have the watch. The call is mine to make. There is risk, but we need the payday.

Out here on the edge of the system, the Sun is but a pinprick of light against the vastness of the Milky Way. The homeworld is nothing but a pale blue dot and a distant memory. Those of us born to the clans know sights and sounds that would make our planetborn cousins shudder. We grow numb to it at a young age, because the alternative is to walk into that great nothingness just outside the airlocks. Even so, the sounds I heard when I accepted the call curdled the blood in my veins. There was no video, just the desperate voice of a lost soul.

Siren calls…from outside,” the voice trembled. “On the hull…in space…I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.” A burst of static drowned out the transmission momentarily before the modulation corrected itself. “...inside. All gone now…just me…

A strange noise filtered through the speakers, a chattering sound. I thought it was more static, but the connection glowed green…a perfect connection.

Then came the scream and a wet sound before the line went dead.

“What the hell did you do?” a gruff voice demanded from behind me. I turned quickly to see the captain standing in the entry to the bridge. His jumpsuit hung limply around his waist, tied with the arm sleeves, as though he’d been working on the engine with the mechanics. Even in the dim light of the bridge, I could see the color had drained from his already pallid features. His dark eyes reflected the little bit of light from the bridge’s consoles, and they were aflame.

“A call came in, I answered it,” I replied simply, trying to regain my composure.

“You should have come to me first,” he growled, fury and fear fighting across his face.

“We need a payday,” I replied as calmly as possible. “You would have answered.”

“You had no right-” he started before I cut him off.

“It is done!” I said. “We answered, we go. Simple as that, sir.”

The captain glowered at me for a moment as the color began to flow back into his face. Maros was livid, but he knew I was right. He would have answered the call immediately. We barely had enough left to barter, let alone repair our rockhopper. Besides, Maros was no coward and had won a name for himself in his youth as a daring savior of stranded sailors. He just wanted to be the one to pull the trigger, especially on his own ship.

Maros dropped into his captain’s chair and pulled up his console. He traced the origin of the distress call and brought up the map of the nearby area on the overhead display. A dozen mapped asteroids danced across the holo as did two dozen more blips of unmapped rocks. Our clan had been operating in this patch of space for several cycles at this point. There were far more metal rich asteroids in this sector than in any of the adjacent territories, but we seemed to be the only ship that hadn’t struck an ore deposit. Grim as it was, a salvage operation over top of a gold mine was the kind of luck we needed. Even if it might be at the expense of some distant cousins.

“They’re orbiting an asteroid. Looks like six hours at normal burn,” Maros reported. “Lay it in.”

“Are we going to talk about that sound?” I asked as I laid in the coordinates and fired the maneuvering thrusters.

“What’s to talk about?” the captain replied. “You answered, so we go. Just like you said. Besides, they’re Sama. Kin help kin.”

The wet sounds I’d heard over the radio echoed in my mind as I felt the inertia of the rockhopper turn us about. The captain was speaking, something about weapons, but my mind was elsewhere.

“What sirens would he have heard?” I asked.

“I’ve heard the Jinto clan uses it as a psychological weapon,” the captain replied. “They latch on with drones and blast it through the hull. Probably a raiding party.”

“That crewman sounded…off,” I replied. “Like he wasn’t right in the head.”

Maros shrugged, “Being boarded will do that, or hell maybe someone got the void shakes and snapped. Whatever happened, we will be ready when we arrive.”

“We will do what needs to be done,” I said, not wanting to show fear to my captain, but feeling a growing disquiet.

Maros laughed and nodded before rousing the crew. He had heard the same distress call that I had, and he rolled right into the new mission. Was he that desperate or just lying to himself? Maybe he just wanted to play the hero again. I never asked.

The ship came to life over the next few hours as the dozen crew of our little rockhopper ran about readying themselves for the intercept. Weapons were primed, air seals were checked, tools were cleaned. Our suits were the primary concern, even more than our weapons. A man could use a shotgun as a club, but a leaky suit would kill you just as surely if not more painfully. The voidsuits were hardened for asteroid mining or combat, whichever was most pressing at the time. They had been made by the planetborn’s militaries once; but as with so much technology, the clans had repurposed it for our purposes.

The journey became a waiting game as our proximity counter slowly ticked down towards zero. All of the possible scenarios played out in my mind as we neared our sister ship. Pirates, crazies, some alien infestation finally arriving in the Sol system. The last didn’t seem likely, the only creatures out here were humans and whatever creatures they brought with them. But from the plausible to the impossible, the visions ran through my mind like some terrible holo performance.

Six hours ticked away until we arrived on top of the asteroid. The other rockhopper, the Toku, flying the Sama tartan on her keel, sat at anchor a hundred meters above the rock. Her running lights still flashed with life, but her engines and thruster were cold to our sensors. The Toku looked as if she had settled down for a long-term survey. Her hull seemed to be intact as there were no outward signs of damage, and she seemed to be retaining her atmosphere. That was good news. If her crew were truly dead, then a skeleton crew from our hopper could fly her back to the Homeship.

The surveyor probe seemed to be functioning normally, and what a story it told. The asteroid was filled with an iridium nitrate that would pay for our operations for another decade. Iridium was an extremely valuable commodity among the clans. We used it to fabricate everything from our ships’ hulls to the alloy in our voidsuits. If the ore deposits went all the way to the core of the rock, then we had just become extremely wealthy. Everyone onboard gleefully celebrated the huge find, especially since the original prospectors sat dead in the water. This was the payday of a lifetime, potentially enough to fund operations for the rest of our lives if not allow us to retire to the Homeship outright. Not to mention the honor it would bring to our families, those who had them, within the clan.

“Sama surveyor Toku,” Maros called over the radio. “This is Sama surveyor Dosui, responding to your distress call. Please respond.”

Silence answered him. The blocky rockhopper lay still in its mooring above the treasure trove, with nothing but the blinking lights on her hull to give even a semblance of life. Maros repeated his hail, broadcasting on a wider shortwave band in case their radio had gone down. It was a common tactic of pirates to allow the first distress call to go out before severing the radio. More plunder for their coffers if they could secure a second vessel, but the Toku’s radio seemed to be operating normally. There was simply no one to answer. I didn’t expect there to be, not after hearing the distress call.

“No other ships in the area?” Maros asked.

I shook my head, “Nearest transponder from one of our ships is at ten million kilometers. No drive plumes or radar blips registering on sensors.” It didn’t get much more solitary than this, even here on the edge of known space.

“Then we are alone,” the captain remarked. “Launch the drones. If there is anything on that rock made by man, I want it marked.” He stalked off the bridge, barking orders to prepare for boarding operations.

“He’s in a mood,” Donu remarked as she launched the Dosui’s two scout drones. Her shaved temples caught the blue lights of the bridge; her tattoos of the Sama’s tartan shown brilliantly under the glare. She worked her fingers across the glass of her display as the drones’ twin data feeds came to life on her station, with an unfortunate amount of static. “Damn this ship. We can’t even refit the surveyors.”

“With this strike, we’ll be covered for a full overhaul,” Daron said. “Fix the drones, fix the sensors. Hell, we'll have the salvage rights to the Toku if the crew is gone.” He insisted on wearing his voidsuit, even during bridge duty. The bulky chest piece barely allowed him to fit in his command seat, and what dexterity he may have had was utterly lost with the reinforced gloves.

“No respect for the dead?” I ask, not out of any sense of piety, just the knowledge we are all a breath away from the grave out here.

“Who says they’re dead?” Donu asked.

“The transmision didn’t leave much room for interpretation,” I replied as I watched the scans from the drones populate the previously blurry image of the asteroid’s surface. We watched as the contours filled in, punctuated at various points by the Toku’s data from her surveyor. Even with our aged equipment, the image was beautiful for its desolation as much as the deposits of ore which dotted its surface. Whatever else was true, this rock was a veritable windfall. The iridium deposits alone would refurbish the Dosui and the Toku twice over.

“Better for us then,” Daron said as the map filled out.

I had to bite back a retort. Our crew or not, the Toku was a Sama ship and our kin were over there. Likely dead now, but no less deserving of our respect. Maros returned before I could say anything more. It was time for landing parties, despite the asteroid survey having only just begun. The longer we hung in orbit of the asteroid without a claim, the longer we were at risk to attack. The Codes required us to investigate the Toku before we could place any claim to the rock itself. We would work quickly, as Maros intended to stake our claim to the asteroid and the salvage before any other ships, friend or foe, could respond. A prospector’s claim, particularly one of this size, would bring in a dozen clan ships for the mining effort. First was best, even if it carried a certain degree of recklessness.

The captain divided the crew into three teams of four. Four to man the ship, four to drop down to the surveyor probe on the surface of the asteroid, and four to board the Toku. The probe was a small station unto itself and securing it would allow us to map the asteroid twice as fast. The Toku was the outstanding issue. As the source of the troubling transmission, the ship itself represented the primary objective for the Dosui crew to secure. Maros singled me out to lead the boarding action on the Toku.

“You answered the call,” he replied as I started to protest. “You get to clean up the mess.”

Again, I held my tongue. Maros could be a bastard, but in the clans, we had an order of things. The finder makes the first claim, and I had technically found the Toku. And so, the ‘honor’ of leading the boarding party fell to me. Even if the honor of it was that I was the first to face whoever had disposed of the crew. It wasn’t an entirely unwanted assignment. We hadn’t seen any action for months, and a fight felt oddly appealing. I never felt more alive than when I was fighting someone who wanted to end my life.

Daron brought us alongside the Toku as we began the docking procedure. Airlocks would line up, the umbilicals would extend, and we would lock ourselves in place. Once we were in position, we dropped the anchor to give us a firm tether to the asteroid, as well as a line for the ground team to drop down. Their mission was almost as dangerous as mine by virtue of being almost exclusively in the vacuum of space. At least their portion of the mission wouldn’t have any adversaries to contend with on the surface.

The teams separated as I led Donu, Garth, and Samir to the airlock. We were decked out in our combat gear. Bulky voidsuits, armored around our vital areas, covered our bodies. Even the visors were made of impact resistant composite materials. For more standard operations, we could strip off the body armor portions of the suits for a more agile variant, but stepping into the unknown of the Toku brokered no argument for a lighter configuration. Maros, Daron, Cole, and Natalia stayed behind on the ship to monitor our progress, while the mining contingent rode the anchorline down to the asteroid’s surface. Cole and Natalia, both heavily armed with their breacher shotguns, stood to either side of the airlock in their voidsuits. If anyone besides us tried to come through that tunnel, they’d be met with a hail of gunfire before being flushed out into space.

All precautions had been made, and we were as ready for the unknown as possible. When you live in space, dark places stop being a source of fear, but even the men of the clans are human. The ancestral memory of monsters hiding in the dark permeates into even our souls. I felt it as I walked through our airlock into the umbilical tube. With open space all around me, separated by only the transparent shell of the tube, that fear crept into me like I was a child. Against my will, I felt a shudder run through my body. It was visible enough that Donu saw and shot me a look. Even through the featureless visor, I could feel her eyes probing me…judging me. I found myself thankful our visors were opaque, or she might have seen the fear and uncertainty. The desperate cry echoed in my ears as I stepped forward.

“Weapons charged, safeties off,” I ordered, drawing my breacher. My voice was mercifully steady, the heft of the shotgun reassured me like an old friend as I led the way across the bridge to the airlock of the silent Toku.

space

About the author

John Moore

Engineer who wants to go pro at writing. Lover of all things sci-fi and fantasy.

Catholic trying to balance faith and reason in my work and build something beautiful along the way.

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