••• Kindle edition of the novella is available now on Amazon.
116 pages of space, adventures, and intrigue in this character-driven short story.
The computer screen came alive in a complete darkness, illuminating the cockpit with a green hue. Numbers and letters flickered faster than the eyes could catch, and dim lights kicked on with a click breaking the silence. Empty chairs topped with pilot helmets bore mute witness to electronics coming online in the room, revealing a complex set of panels and crew stations at the heart of a giant vessel. The cooling systems started their task, and low humming filled the cabin.
The ship’s sensors scanned the space around it, searched for familiar markers and buoys to find itself in the void. At the same time, it searched its vast hulls, looking for any abnormalities and damage. Lights flashed throughout the empty chambers. The systems activated, only to go out having only briefly lit up complicated machinery, still faces behind transparent domes, and vats full of liquids. Except for machines humming and clicking away in the darkness, the whole vessel was eerily silent. The ship didn’t mind, though; it was awake now.
Its powerful engines ignited with a destructive fury of nuclear fission, and the cabin shook, trying to wrestle itself free. Manoeuvre engines roared – but to no avail.
Liquid crystal screens displayed new sets of data, asking empty chairs for instructions. None came.
Outside, the ship’s white, armoured hull made from ultra-dense metamaterials crackled and sparked. Systems long unused ordered it to open – at first nothing happened. The steady work of backup motivators soon bore fruit and near century-old machinery broke the crust of ice on the surface. A telescopic limb extended steadily from within the bowels of the ship.
Arrays of antennae poked out of their sockets and triangulated the supposed position of nearest emergency buoys. Lasers housed along the limb’s length flashed in a coded message, calling out to all that could hear:
‘Cornucopia CV41b, Cornucopia CV41b. Distress code tango sierra foxtrot one niner. Repeat, distress code tango sierra foxtrot one niner.’
Light carried the message away, looped and continuous – and would stay that way for as long as the ancient vessel had power left to cry for help. That would not come for hundreds of years, however, but the computer could wait. The wreck’s long, sinusoidal silhouette laid half buried inside a deep crevice, under tons of luminous ice except for a relatively small crack a few hundred metres in length – hidden from all the prying sensors, cold and invisible. Until now.
Hundreds of thousands of kilometres away, in a different cockpit, the man in a high chair put out a cigarette, gently and slowly pressing it against the ashtray’s ceramic surface, until it was crushed. He looked at the display before him, deep in thought.
Behind him, his adjutant hesitated, not wanting to disturb his commander. Eventually, he nervously fixed his ironed uniform, all black and white, save for golden buttons and rank insignia, and broke the silence.
‘The ship’s functional and transmitting, Commander. What do we do now?’
‘Now?’ The older man straightened up in his chair and reached towards his desk. He took a bottle of old whiskey from the drawer and poured some into two thin, tall glasses. He gave one drink to his adjutant, who accepted it timidly, holding it carefully as if it was a snake ready to bite.
‘Get in touch with the mercenaries,’ said the Commander. ‘We need to arrange for a discovery…’ He waited for the adjutant to salute and leave, then turned back to his display and raised the glass for a toast to his own reflection.