A touch of sci-fi . . .
Hmm. Tastes like chicken, he thought. Pureed, reconstituted, pasty . . . chicken. I guess it could be worse.
He took another spoonful from the tin, examined it in the low light, and ate it. Rations weren’t ever inspiring, but today they were especially dreary. Sure, they contain all the goodness of a real meal, nutrients and such, but there’s just no soul, he decided.
Scout, is his name, not his job. Scout is, in his heart, a tech and a handyman — yet he is a highly-trained security agent by trade. He also dabbles in exobotany, but there just wasn’t any of that sort of thing out here. Unfortunately for him, at the most recent confab at HQ, he, along with five others, pulled the short straw amongst their peers, and were thus stationed, for this rotation, on an outpost.
SONATA Station 23 was situated just this side of the asteroid belt, basically 1.2AU from Earth, but not too far from his home on Mars. Still, far enough to feel lost in the abyss at times. And he missed his girls — his wife Narin, daughter Sofie, and their spirited tabby cat, Panda.
Ping. An alarm lit up on his console, startling him. He looked over and saw an amber colored button that read EXT. HATCH FAIL. Oh, lovely, he thought, groaning. How many times am I going to have to fix that damn thing?
The warning was moot, and mildly amusing to him, for if there really was a hatch failure, he wouldn’t have had the time to read about it on the console. It was a small station, with only one main hatch, located some twenty meters behind him. Somebody in design had a strange sense of humor. Still, it had to be addressed. It was probably related to another issue he hadn’t rooted out yet.
Handy, he was. But his primary concern was to keep a lookout for pirates and wannabes that had been giving the mining company a lot to worry about in the past few years. While he manned the station’s sensor array, logging anomalies and reporting significant blips and such, his five cohorts were out on patrol in the larger of the station’s two shuttles, aptly named Sentry. It had been pretty quiet for most of this past week, so it gave him ample time to put on his tech hat and delve into some of the station’s underbelly.
At least, he thought, if this gig doesn’t pan out, I can go back to more interesting things.
DAT-DAT-DAT. DAT-DAT-DAT. A perimeter alarm sounded, and several panels lit up immediately from their sleep modes. Scout jumped up in an instant to examine the screens.
The sensors were picking up an approaching vessel. If the readout was accurate, the ship was enormous. It didn’t immediately register as a known design or configuration. Definitely not pirates.
“Ah, shit!” he said, with a grimace. He reached for the communications terminal to call in the cavalry, but as soon as he put his hand on it, the panel went dead. Then, in mere seconds, all of the workstations, all of the artificial lights, and sounds oddly, eerily, and swiftly, went silent. Dark, and silent.
Station 23 was down.
“Holy hell!” he said, his voice reverberating off the walls, as he started leaning heavily into panic mode. The sound of his lone voice in the hollow structure was instantly unnerving. “23, what are you doin’ to me?” he called out, hoping he’d get some sort of response. He jabbed several buttons, tapped a few screens. Nothing.
It was quiet. Deep space quiet. Not even the emergency lights worked, which was especially concerning to Scout. All he could see was outside the view ports to his left, where the occasional flint and speck of light was reflecting off some of the small nearby asteroids, in their cosmic dance. And of course, the planet Jupiter in the distance.
Wow, at another time, that would be beautiful, he admitted, just not right now.
He could suddenly hear his heart beating, fast, and his quickened breathing.
No, wait . . . There was something else. A tone? Almost like a ringing in his ears, but different. He felt it more than he heard it.
“Ok,” he said, “We haven’t lost any atmosphere, or gravity . . . yet. A giant ship is on top of us. No power. No weapons. No sensors. Dammit, I miss the girls. 23! Wake up!”
Then, through the view port above him, he saw movement. The strange ship was passing over. Ominous and silent as the vacuum, it drifted effortlessly. It was still at quite a distance, but it’s vast size easily covered the entire diameter of the view port.
The mysterious tone grew stronger. Scout was beginning to feel a little light-headed, and oddly relaxed. And, happy?
“Cheezus,” he said slowly, exhaling. There were no distinct markings on the ship, that he could discern, but it was of impeccable design. Smooth lines, deep blue, platinum-metallic, and a minimalist, stretched-triangle shape. It was beautiful, if not terrifying. He’d never seen anything like it.
Goosebumps. That’s what it is, he thought. I’m getting goosebumps. This is exciting . . . and weird. That’s all.
If that’s all was, then why were his eyes welling up?
He remained transfixed on the vessel, and it eventually cleared the view port. He made his way, quickly, to the rear of the station to look for it, trying to remember where terminals and chairs and other obstacles were, as he felt his way around in the darkness.
The strange tone was enveloping him. He felt himself relax, inside and out, as he brushed a tear off his cheek.
He made it to the view port, and there it was, still drifting by.
Then, in the most subtle of flashes, it was gone. So, too, was the mysterious tone.
Scout again noticed his heartbeat. It was very calm. He inhaled deeply.
“Cheezus,” he said, again. He continued staring out the port as the station came back to life around him, the bright, artificial lights making him squint momentarily. He didn’t know what to think. He couldn’t think. This was a whole new experience. He wasn’t sure he liked it. He was sure he didn’t hate it.
Slowly, he made his way back to his workstation. He shuddered, snapping back into reality. Shaking his head, he sat down.
. . .