The hull of the ship quietly hummed, the planet below slowly revolved on its axis. Altes sat in his room on the ship, examining a picture he held in his hand. It was of another woman. Another crew member of the Ivory Eagle in fact. Her name was Denia and she had been in charge of maintaining the ship so as to keep it in functioning condition. Altes, and the crew of the Ivory Eagle, a crew of roughly 10 people, had been tasked with traveling to the planet they now orbited in order to respond to a distress beacon. It hadn’t been any ordinary distress beacon either. When emissaries of the Yenak empire embarked on missions of diplomacy, their ships were equipped with special distress beacons so as to distinguish themselves as high ranking officials who were clearly in dire need of help.
While Altes and the crew of the Ivory Eagle hadn’t been told what their assignment was, they all had come to the same conclusion that they were saving someone of significant importance. Very rarely would you see a 10-man crew being sent to retrieve some random individual. Especially on a planet that, while it had been discovered, hadn’t been contacted yet. Some planets were still in the development of technology, which were not to be interacted or contacted with at all, or planets that were verging on the brink of technological breakthroughs that would allow them to finally embark into the “great unknown.”
Altes continued examining the picture of Denia. He was infatuated by her. Not only her looks, but her personality. Everything about her made Altes smile, he simply enjoyed her company. They would spend hours talking to each other and seemingly never run out of topics to discuss. Altes had suspected she might feel the same way about him but he hadn’t been sure and wanted to play the field a little while longer to get a feel for whether his theory was a valid one or not.
Altes opened the drawer to the nightstand beside his bed, stowed the picture away inside and stood, making his way towards the door exiting to the hallway that connected all rooms on the ship. Suddenly the ship violently jerked, throwing everything, including Altes, into the far wall of his room. His first thoughts were that they were being rammed and boarded by pirates looking to rob a seemingly defenseless ship. Altes resituated himself and bolted out of his room, making way to the armory in a full sprint.
The sound of the docking door could be heard, which had confused Altes, seeing as you had to know the docking codes in order to connect to the ship alone. Had Denia and her crew, that had been sent down to the planet in order to retrieve the diplomat, been captured? He now averted his attention from the armory, to making his way towards the docking doors. Altes finally arrived and watched as only 3 crewmates hurdled out of the ship. “What the hell happened,” Altes asked as he made his way over, failing to notice the fact that they had made an imperfect dock.
“It was a setup. We landed and made our way to the distress beacon and found the emissary’s crashed ship, with no emissary,” Denia stated as she stumbled through the wreck of the docking doors. “I sent Tyler in to see if maybe the target was waiting inside, but the moment he stepped in the entire ship exploded and then in a matter of seconds everything went haywire. It all happened so fast, I couldn’t think quick enough. The other seven are missing from the headcount we took on our way here, including Tyler.”
“Who else is missing,” Altes asked as he looked past Denia into the ship the injured crew had just come from.
“We’re all that’s left,” Denia said as she too looked back into the ship, on board lights fluttering in strobe-like patterns. She walked over to the touchpad located next to the docking doors and began typing in codes: she was preparing to detach the ship from the Ivory Eagle.
“Wait, what are you doing? What if we still need it,” Altes asked as he walked over and seized Denia’s hand, preventing her from releasing the ship. There was an air of intensity between the two, as the other two crew members watched on the side not saying anything. Denia respected Altes as a crew mate too much to not trust his instinct, but also couldn’t help but think about the kind of issues leaving the ship attached would bring. “Ok, we won’t detach it. But the moment issues start popping up we’re letting it go.”
Altes shrugged his arms and slowly backed away in understanding. It was more than reasonable. He turned his attention to Renar and Maya, the two other crewmates that had survived the attack and made it back. He slowly approached and began examining them. “There doesn’t seem to be any major injuries besides a few scratches and bruises. You’ll be fine. Head to the bridge, I’m gonna go to Comms and hopefully get a hold of someone, let them know what’s going on,” Altes turned his attention back to Denia, “wanna tag along?” Denia crossed her arms and gave a look of disapproval, like she knew what he was trying to do, eventually nodding.
As Maya and Renar made their way to the Bridge and Altes and Denia made their way to the Comms room, Altes turned his head to take one last look at the docking doors, a suspicious feeling shivering down his spine. He paid it no mind and continued walking with Denia. “So you gonna tell me what happened down there? 10 people go down and only three come back?”
Denia shot Altes a disturbing look, then returned her eyes forward. “I still don’t know what happened. One moment everything seemed fine, and the next chaos ensued. Like I said, I sent Tyler to check if the emissary was in his ship and he wasn’t. The ship didn’t immediately blow up like I made it out to be. Tyler radioed and said the target wasn’t anywhere to be seen, and it was not a small ship. Then he started muttering, his line went out and the ship blew. I’ve been in situations like that before and usually there’s a brief moment of shock and then you recuperate.
“So my initial reaction was upset and anger, but recuperation never came. Suddenly everyone started panicking. They all started running around like chickens with their heads cut off, like they were seeing something I wasn’t. I panicked. I ran back to the ship and ordered Renar and Maya to take off immediately, regardless of whoever was left behind.”
Altes’ eyes slightly grew wide as he listened to the story. The thought of being surrounded by something you couldn’t see, if there was even anything there to begin with. There’d been tales amongst the rankings of some crazy stories: giants, krakens, blood-sacrificing natives, literal glowing beings, but never anything invisible. “You did what you had to, what else could you have done,” Altes said, half believing it. It was true though. Had Denia brought anyone else up, it could have been a potential violation of conduct. One of the many rules when travelling to unexplored planets was that if any crew member be exposed to any sort of illness, virus, etc., they were refused to be allowed back on the main ship.
They’d finally reached the Comms room and stepped inside. The lights slowly flickered on at the detection of movement. All of the equipment inside followed suit in powering up. Denia walked over to the emergency contact transmitter while Altes checked around to make sure all of the equipment was still functional and undamaged. “Dammit,” Denia shouted as she slammed her fist into the screen of the emergency contact transmitter. “Fucking thing is down.”
Altes looked over, startled by the slam, and walked over to take a look for himself. He tried to calm Denia by gently placing his hand on her shoulder and patting her. “It’s fine, it’s fine. I’ll go check the relay. It’s ok, take a deep breath. I’ll be right back,” Altes said as he started for the exit. The door slid open and on the other side of the hallway was another door where the relay was located. The other door slid open, greeting Altes with darkness that would remain this time.
He tried locating the relay with the light emitted from the hallway before the door closed, not spotting it in time. He always had to feel his way around the room in order to find what it was that he needed, and found himself having to do it again. There were blinking lights everywhere, but nowhere near enough to help Altes the way he needed. He eventually felt a familiar knob, gave it a twist and a small screen lit up. It was in fact that relay.
A giant red, blinking triangle was displayed on the screen, with words under reading, “Loose cable, please reconnect before attempting to continue usage.” Suddenly, a compartment under the panel the screen was located on popped open. Inside a light turned on, displaying a mess of cables. “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me,” Altes said as he began rummaging through jungle of wires.
Fortunately, he found the wire in no time, reconnected it and returned to the panel above, as the light below turned off and the panel closed on its own. The flashing red triangle and message below it disappeared from the screen for a brief moment. The relay seemed to reboot, then display a screen showing the diagnostics, then continuing to another screen, displaying all of the services powered by the relay and their status. ONLINE, ONLINE, ONLINE, OFFLINE, ONLINE, ONLINE, ONLINE. The emergency contact transmitter remained offline for a few moments more when the status went blank. Altes tapped the display to no avail.
The power in the entire ship suddenly went out accompanied by a blaring alarm and red emergency lights turning on all over the ship. Altes winced at the ear-piercing sound being played over the ship’s emergency broadcast system and made his way back to the door leading into the hallway. He crossed the hallway back to the Comms room, only to find that Denia was no longer inside as the door slid up. “She probably ran to the Bridge to see what’s up,” Altes thought to himself.
He turned around, still clutching his hands to his ears, and made his way through the hallways to the Bridge. Altes couldn’t help but feel as though something was lingering behind him, like something was breathing down his neck. Suddenly his attitude changed from that of being annoyed to scared and attentive. He walked for a little while longer until he finally came to the Bridge to find absolutely nothing. The emergency lights continued to flare as the alarm screeched over the broadcasting system.
Altes turned back the way he came until he noticed a dark streak running along the floor in a different direction. He couldn’t tell whether it was blood because of the emergency lights, but had guessed it was more than safe to assume it had been blood. “I’m fucked either way at this rate now,” Altes stated out loud as he turned and began following the blood streak. Something had been dragged, but the streak itself wasn’t big enough to have come from a human body.
Altes continued following the trail, a sharp scream coming from up ahead. Whatever had screamed was loud enough to not only overtake the sound of the blaring alarm, but for it to still be audible despite Altes holding his hands to his ears. The looming feeling of being watched continued growing, Altes slowly losing the will to continue pushing forward. It was clear where the trail was leading to now: back to the docking doors.
The blood trail now turned a corner on a straight path to the imperfectly docked ship. Altes counted to himself, to muster the will to turn the corner and face what was waiting for him. “You’re this far. 1. 2. 3. Go,” he said to himself as he turned the corner, clutching his eyes shut momentarily, then forcing himself to open his eyes. A silhouette, moving too fast to distinguish anything about it, dashed into the darkened interior of the ship.
Altes slowly approached, taking one step at a time, weighing the potential outcomes, plotting ways to get out of whatever situation he was about to find himself in. A scream came from within the docked ship, a scream that sounded all too familiar: it was Denia. “Denia?! Are you in there?! Are you ok,” Altes asked as he quickened his pace, less afraid and more focused on helping Denia. He reached the mouth of the docking doors, leaning forward, staring into the darkness.
One of the overhead lights that was dark quickly flickered, showing a dark figure lying down inside the ship. Without even second-guessing, Altes threw himself into the darkened ship and staggered his way towards the figure laying on the ground. He knelt down and reached out in an attempt to grab, who he thought was, Denia’s head. He took a hold of the head, his hand becoming wet and slippery. The scent of pennies filled the air when Altes realized it wasn’t Denia, or he had hoped it wasn’t.
Altes turned at the sound coming from the mouth of the docking doors. Another dark figure stood where Altes once had, looking in. “Altes?” Denia called out. Altes turned back around and tried to make out who the figure was on the ground. A light overhead quickly flickered again, revealing it was Maya’s body. He turned back around and quickened his pace towards Denia. “STOP! Don’t come any closer,” Denia shouted as she hoisted up a pistol.
“Denia, it’s me. Altes. What’s going on, where did you go after the al-” Denia slightly shifted to the right. It was then Altes realized what was happening. “DENIA! I didn’t do this. Maya was here when I showed up.” He threw his hands up as if he were surrendering. A dark, lumbering figure with glowing red eyes slowly approached Altes from behind. “I’m sorry,” Denia quietly whispered as she fixed her gaze on the dark figure instead of Altes. She balled her hand into a fist and slammed the emergency eject button. Altes heard as the ship quickly depressurized and watched as the docking doors sealed itself.
That looming presence Altes had felt the whole time was now literally breathing down his neck. He shut his eyes and clenched his fists in anticipation of what was next.
Denia watched as the ship detached from the Ivory Eagle and propelled back into the planet’s gravitational pull.