Alex Williams flipped through a book as he sat in the navigator’s chair, his legs up over the armrest in a more comfortable position. He found the book in one of the storage holds of the Human Republic scout ship Lucretia, a leftover from some other poor soul previously assigned to this job. It was an old biology textbook on Sakkra lifeforms with small, neat handwriting in the borders of pages. He scanned through the pages with only a passing interest, watching the progression of notes.
The bridge doors whooshed open and Jackson shot him a dirty look as he walked towards the captain’s chair. “Are you still reading that book?”
“What else am I supposed to do?” He flipped past a page on Sakkra adolescent hormonal systems and onto the next chapter.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Jackson grumbled as he brought up an illuminated panel at his seat, “your job?”
Alex slammed the book shut and turned to face him. “Captain, we are travelling through deep space with no signs of life or inhabited planets. As we were last week. As we were last month. As we have been for the last six months.”
Jackson rolled his eyes, “You could be more respectful towards your superior officer.”
Alex sat back in his seat, the book closed on his lap. He turned to look at the navigation screens and saw only empty darkness anywhere that could even generously be deemed as remotely near their vicinity. The screen refreshed every few seconds, a seamless blip that only echoed back the emptiness of space. He set his book down on the console and turned back to face Jackson.
“How are the new maps looking?”
Their mission put them on a lone scout ship that skirted the edge of the known universe to create a map for the burgeoning Republic. Humanity had only taken to the stars within the last century and no one really knew just how large the universe was. Maps were still being made of neighboring star systems, not to mention what mysteries may lie on the opposite end of the universe.
“You would have to ask our cartographer.” Jackson swiveled away, starting a training program on the simulator that recreated close ship combat. His disinterest in talking to Alex wasn’t surprising, as the two men never quite got along. The extended time and proximity had not warmed them to each other.
Jackson thought of Alex as a spoiled, straight from the academy officer who must have ♥♥♥♥♥♥ off the wrong people to get such a terrible posting. Alex felt that Jackson was a try-hard stick in the mud who took a joke of a posting too seriously.
He stood up and left the bridge, turning towards the cartographer’s office. Cartographer… her name was Eloise. He could say it. He paused in the hallway, almost nervously turning back. She hated when he interrupted her work, but as he was the navigator and she the cartographer, it wouldn’t be weird if he checked in sometimes? It was work. Professional, even. He was supposed to assist her more professionally, but she found it a hassle to slow down to explain things to him.
He got to the doorway of her office and listened in, unable to hear her moving inside. He knocked gently and the door opened so quickly that he almost fell over from shock.
“What are you doing outside my door, Williams?” Her stare was suspicious.
“I just wanted to… you know…”
She was forced by her short stature to look up at a man she would rather not see at all. Her expression was completely unimpressed.
“I just wanted to see if you needed any assistance with your work. I’m a trained navigator, you can trust me.”
Eloise scoffed, but walked away leaving the door open. It was better than the door slamming in his face like she had the tendency to do with Jackson. He entered her office and closed the door behind him. She turned around, put her hands on her hips and let out a small smile.
Alex leaned against her desk, “You can be really intimidating, you know?”
“You’re damn right I am.” She went back to moving sketches and data pads around on her work desk. Eloise was a cartographer who had studied at every prestigious academic institution in the Human Republic. Astronomy, geography, physics - she had more degrees than he could count. When they were first assigned to the Lucretia, she immediately dumped a workload of sophisticated mapping manuals on his lap and demanded that he catch up in order to be on her team. They would end up working closely together for months, the long hours and dense subject matter only bringing them closer.
He turned to face her, but the lights above them dimmed in a way that evoked concern rather than comfort.
Alex and Eloise pulled their attention away from each other, looking at the flickering lights. They regularly had power conserving efforts on the ship, but this seemed more like a malfunction. Before they could reach the door, the lights went black. The total darkness of the ship in space brought an instinctive panic to the back of Alex’s throat, trying hard to suppress a scream.
The lights came back on, but dimmer. The mechanical door was slow to open, but the two of them rushed through it quickly towards the bridge. In cases of emergency, the bridge would be the last region of the ship to maintain life support.
They ran a short sprint to the doors of the bridge, which refused to open at their command. Panicking, Eloise banged her hands on the doors before punching the intercom button. “Jackson, let us in!”
A weak voice broke through the static of the intercom, “I’m going to have to reroute power from the main thrusters of the ship in order to power the door. Hold on.”
The ship lurched with a horrible shudder, the feeling of a great beast dying beneath their feet. The doors opened quickly and they rushed onto the bridge, the door slamming shut behind them.
The scene on the bridge was unlike anything Alex had ever seen. The monitors hissed with a red static and a low pitched droning sound poured from the speakers.
“What is going on?” Eloise screamed over the commotion, running to the engineering suite and helplessly inputting commands.
Jackson, his eyes wide and expression slack, sat in the pilot’s chair without moving. The droning sound took a different cadence, almost like a voice being summoned through the static. With every moment, Alex thought he understood slightly more.
Segments of the ship were going dark, as if the power itself were bleeding from unseen wounds. Jackson, unresponsive, stared out into the void. Alex violently shook him, both of his hands gripping Jackson sternly by the collar.
Eloise suddenly stopped. She looked out the small forward window into the black, the look of horror on her face glowed with the red from the screens. “What is that?” A faint glow, almost a trick of the eye, revealed the barest outline of a wicked dagger shape hanging over the Lucretia.
Suddenly, the static began to become a clearer voice. A low, regal tone filled Alex’s ears and struck him to the core with dread.
“We have returned for you, the coddled children of wars long waged and won.”
A critical error in the ship’s life support systems screeched through the static and ominous voice. Oxygen appeared to be venting from large swaths of the ship. Alex struggled to focus on the errors flashing briefly on the screen. No, it was fire. The ship was burning from the rear even though they had seemingly taken no damage.
“Your data will serve us well and chart the course for the conquest of this… Human Republic.” The voice echoed and boomed.
Jackson and Eloise, vastly more experienced with deep space than he was, must have realized that the Lucretia was doomed with first flicker of the light. The cold dread and detachment that washed over Alex now was unlike anything he had ever known. The explosions of igniting oxygen could now be heard from the bridge, the ship violently bucking in sympathy, and the lights seemed to dim with every passing breath.
The voice, the last words Alex would ever hear, were the last anchor to reality that he had as the bridge exploded into flame and light.
“The Antaran Masters have returned.”
Ancient Chorus - An Antaran Short Story
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