Deep darkness, p.1
© 2012 Dennis Rutherford Bennett
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are purely coincidental, and are a product of the author’s imagination.
And, thank you, for respecting the hard work of the author.
Dennis Rutherford Bennett
It was darkness as deep as a black hole. It came on like a sinister cancer, spreading fear and superstition across the globe...
* * *
Jeel sat, bathed in deep violet and green bioluminescence, and stared at the display on the bridge bulkhead. So far, all was going as planned. His assignment was daunting and heaped with responsibility. His race was depending on him as never before, and the mission’s success would mean a long anticipated promotion for him—a dreaded promotion he really did not want.
He sat quietly, and as he kept a watchful eye on the screens, he listened intently to the chatter on the com channels, and sensed the space outside his ship’s exterior through his neural-net.
Momentarily his Second appeared in the hatchway, giving him a slight start. “All is well, Coordinator. All sub-stations and supporting operations are normal.” She snapped a salute and handed him a tablet.
He had been so engrossed in thought, he hadn’t sensed her approach. He reminded himself to be more alert. He looked into her reddish eyes for a split-second and replied: “Very good, Zaa. You are doing well. The Queen will be pleased.” He made his mark on the surface of the device and saluted casually. “Carry on.”
“Sir!” She picked the tablet from his hand and quickly exited the bridge.
After Zaa was gone, he returned to his oversight of the operation. This was a large planetary system; it would need all of his attention, along with the help from Zaa. He rubbed his multi-faceted eyes and sat back in his hammock. “It’s going to be a difficult job,” he muttered to himself, then punched the pad on his console to change the views on his screens.
* * *
The world’s astronomers were completely baffled when the stars in the night sky began to dim. It was barely perceptible at first, but over a period of several months the darkness deepened until the entire sky went black; with the exception of the light coming from Sol and the reflections from the Moon and planets of the solar system.
Of course, theories abounded. Some thought the solar system was passing through a cloud of interstellar dust; some considered a magnetic anomaly deflecting visible light and some even considered that the Universe had accelerated away from us—or, the “Big Rip” was happening.
And then, as was the case when something could not be explained logically, the theologians, along with various shills such as astrologers and their kind, saw it as a sign of the final judgment of humanity, and spread their message of fear around the planet.
Calls for cease-fires in various clashes were ignored across the globe as the planet’s political leaders, scientists and clergy all tried to put aside their differences, and met in emergency sessions to decide how to investigate.
But then a singular anomaly was discovered—just a smear in the deep-space tracking telescopes—nearly 200 million kilometers from Neptune, and in the planet’s orbital path. So it was finally decided that a secret mission would be sent from the nearest outpost, Triton Station, to that region of the solar system and have a look around.
And, as always in politics, the old notion of plausible deniability was invoked as all top officials involved were sworn to secrecy with the ridiculous and arrogant idea that the people of the planet were not intelligent enough, and therefore not capable enough, to handle the truth—whatever the truth might be.
* * *
Tomás Rexhaut was lying rigidly in his bunk when the doorbell chimed. He had his neutron gun pointed at his temple and he was sweating profusely as he caressed the trigger with his index finger. He jumped at the sudden sound and quickly put the gun in its holster and placed it on his bunk’s shelf. He grunted, clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth and smacked his lips to get some moisture flowing. “Damn dryness,” he mumbled, rolling onto his side to face the door. He called out groggily as he wiped his forehead: “Umm. What?”
“It’s Lieutenant Balzak, sir,” said the muffled voice through the thick door, “we have a mission.”
“It’s about time,” he whispered to himself; then called out: “I’ll be in the control room in fifteen minutes.” He grunted softly as he hoisted his large frame out of the bed; a task easily done in the light gravity.
“Aye sir!” She replied crisply.
Colonel Rexhaut wasn’t a happy man, but he had strong leadership abilities and strength of character; and although his superiors were unaware of his current depressive state, those aforementioned traits had made him the ideal candidate for the post. Triton was a harsh and inhospitable place, with long stretches of idle time. It was a tough assignment for anyone who got bored easily. But he cherished the time away from Earth and all of its problems and political conflicts. He had accepted the post immediately when it was offered to him.
He and Ellyse Balzak had served together for a number of years, and he shared an affectionate, but professional camaraderie with her. Good officer, he thought. I’ll recommend her for a promotion after this mission—whatever it is. He stepped to the wash basin and stared into the mirror. He chuckled sardonically to himself as he looked at his imposing reflection. He was almost two meters tall and weighed 120 kilos Earthside; just under the maximum body size for the Space Service. His bulk, dark piercing eyes, and big toothy grin had earned him the moniker “T-Rex.”
After a quick brush to his teeth and a fast pass under the antiseptic shower, he dressed and left his quarters, loping smartly down the syntanium-lined corridor to the control room. As he walked in the diffused white light, as he had many times, it still amazed him that the entire base was carved out of the nitrogen and ammonia ice one kilometer below the airless, frigid surface; a surface as hard as granite. The walls of the base had been sprayed with syntanium to support the structure and protect the inhabitants from the toxic interior of the moon. The walls simply reflected the heat generated by the environmental systems without as much as a drop of water condensation appearing on their surfaces. He brushed his hand along the wall as he proceeded, and was amazed once again that the moisture from his hand had crystallized, yet the air at the wall’s surface was warm. He shook the crystals off as he walked into the control room.
“So, Lieutenant. What is our mission?” He cleared his throat and tugged at his tunic collar.
Lieutenant Ellyse Balzak turned, and her shimmering, springy red hair followed her movement in slow motion—the lighter gravity of Triton causing the effect—and her bright blue eyes and full lips formed a full-face smile: the kind of smile that struck men speechless. She pointed toward the 3-D holo of the solar system, and to one area in particular—a point on the plane of Neptune’s orbit. “It seems, sir, that there is a previously unseen object there. A very unusual one. Command can’t get good visuals. They want us to check it out.” She rested a hand on the projector table and stared into Rexhaut’s eyes.
“Unusual? The whole sky around the solar system has gone dark, and now they find something unusual?” He snickered softly, and then squeezed his chin between his thumb and forefinger as he returned her stare. “Any idea what it might be?” A chill suddenly went through him; deep and foreboding—. And he didn’t know why.
“No, sir. Just the al
He glanced around the brightly lit control room. He watched the crew and sensed their anxiety. He paused for a moment, then turned back to Balzak. “Hmm, have a flight profile set up and get Rapier ready.” Without hesitating further, he turned, loped out and called over his shoulder, “Let me know when you’re set.” Then he began his morning inspection of the base.
“Aye, sir!” she called out—but he was already gone.
* * *
Jeel kept working at his console as he listened to the comm chatter. The field was nearly at full strength and would soon absorb energy at every wavelength, isolating this star system. The twelve stations spaced across the system at precise points could not be moved once the field was fully operational. Any imbalance would be disastrous to all. He needed to be on top of the plan at all times. As Chief Coordinator, he was responsible for the success of the mission and answered only to the Queen. If the operation were to fail, he would be banished to the Outworlds. No trial. No defense.
He sat ruminating about his situation. He had been chosen for this mission because of his unbending loyalty to the Queen and his species—plus his uncanny ability to see problems before they became serious. He had also headed six other operations, on a smaller scale than this one, and had succeeded brilliantly.
But he missed home and his family. He secretly longed to end his career in the Star Service and go home.
Suddenly realizing he had been drifting off again, he snapped his head, blinked his multi-faceted eyes, and reached for a cup of sweet nectar of J’Emitia flower. He took a deep gulp and settled back into his routine.
* * *
Twelve hours after giving the order, T-Rex stepped onto the brightly lit bridge of the cruiser Rapier, returned salutes and greetings with his crew, and took his seat in the command chair. It was here that he was most comfortable. The sheer power of an armed interplanetary ship thrumming beneath him made him feel invincible—he felt his blood rush hotly through his veins—and his depression eased a little bit as he focused on the task ahead.
He had left a small contingent of troops to defend the base on Triton. He did not really fear any trouble, since it was just a medical research facility devoted to cancer treatments and had no real strategic military value. The only concern was corporate spies, and they couldn’t approach undetected anyway.
The base had been established when some unusual chemical compounds had been found when first exploring Triton, and some corporate scientists saw a way to make potentially huge profits for their companies by exploiting the resources of the moon in an attempt to find cures for some new cancers that were suddenly appearing on Earth.
Rexhaut finally clicked his harness in place, checked the computer screen and assessed the ship’s condition and his crew’s readiness. Except for a few minor, non-essential mechanical issues, the ship was ready to go. He was confident in his experienced crew of twelve—seven men and five women—plus six male Marines. He took a deep breath and opened the gel-screen reader as he sat in the command chair. He confirmed with the lieutenant the coordinates they were headed for. Then, he sat back and took another deep, cleansing breath.
He had the utmost trust in Ellyse’s piloting skills, and after a few moments, he turned to her. “Take us out, Lieutenant. Standard departure thrust.”
“Aye, sir,” came the snappy reply. Ellyse pushed the throttles gently forward, and the ship rumbled as the gantry locks released and Rapier eased out of the sub-surface slip.
As they rose from the surface, gathering speed, Rexhaut focused on the view screens’ amplified images of the dim light of Sol and the spectacular view of Neptune rising above the horizon of Triton. He marveled quietly as he panned the camera across the disc of the gas-giant, focusing on a huge, newly formed storm in the southern hemisphere. It was approximately twice the diameter of Earth and displayed deep blue and violet color with high, wispy pure white clouds surrounding the rim of the maelstrom. It was a striking image against the paler blue of the planetary disc.
The ship was on direct assent using hydrogen-oxygen fuel made from some pockets of water ice found below the surface of Triton. Once free of the moon’s gravity well, the ship would be propelled by advanced VASIMR azi-pod engines toward the target.
As T-Rex monitored the operations, he felt great trepidation at their mission and what it may uncover. And after a few moments his mind shifted to the fact that 500 years had passed since humans first landed on the Moon and no one had yet figured out how to build a practical interstellar engine. He thought it was probably not possible, considering humanity’s penchant for discord in politics and the sciences. It seemed that every time a new theory in physics was presented, it would be ridiculed and smacked down by whatever elitists were in power at the time—because for them, the status quo was just fine, and inside their comfort zone. No! We mustn’t advance, as we may lose our control over society! A population which can think for itself is dangerous.
He cursed human society under his breath and resumed his attention to the task ahead.
* * *
For Jeel, everything was going very well, and the shield was 1% shy of full strength. He had just received notification on his com board that a launch had occurred from a satellite of the outermost gas giant of the system. Very little was known of that particular craft other than it used a crude propulsion system and it was headed toward them. He clicked his mandibles in frustration—the last thing he wanted was interference from a pathetic little ship full of barely intelligent and very belligerent endoskeletal creatures bent on—what?
During an extensive study of the system over time, they had learned that the beings, which were from the third planet, had infested nearly all of the planets and moons in this system, and it had been learned from observations that these creatures were aggressive and combative—they killed each other! Oh! Such a ghastly trait!
He called Zaa to the bridge and ordered her to prepare a defensive scheme should the interloper decide to try an attack—(an attack that would be instantly fatal to the beings in the little ship). She accepted the assignment readily.
Yes—a very good Second, he thought, then took another sip of nectar and returned to his primary function: coordinating the shield operation.
* * *
The bridge of Rapier was a flurry of activity as the cruiser switched over from rocket power to ion-drive. Orders and commands were shouted and acknowledged during the transition.
The four azi-pods were fully rotatable and could be configured to maneuver the ship in any axis—a design which was an advantage when docking in space—but now they were aligned for maximum thrust; they would maintain one-half gee acceleration and deceleration through most of this flight, giving the crew a reasonable comfort level until arrival at the target, when they would go to zero-gee.
After the ship was on course and all engines functioning normally, Rexhaut gave the watch to Lieutenant Balzak and went to his ready-room.
He pulled his chair up to the austere desk and propped his elbow on it, then held his head in his hands, scratching at the course stubble on his chin. Tears welled up as he pulled a chain with his wife’s wedding ring attached from under his tunic collar. He rolled it gingerly between the thumb and forefinger of his free hand. “I miss you, Anna,” he whispered, and softly pressed the ring to his lips. He choked back a lump in his throat. “I must keep it together!” He slammed his fist onto the desktop. “Oh, Anna! What those bastards did to you…”
He was emotionally drained. The past months had been tough. He sat quietly for a long while. He finally composed himself, but that feeling was quickly replaced with deep apprehension. He shivered as he felt the adrenaline course through his body. What were they up against? He pulled his gel-screen from his desk drawer and pressed his thumb against the security tab, confirming his identity, and then tapped the screen. It indicated what he had
He wondered why there was always so much theatrics and cloak-and-dagger nonsense attached to a simple order. He tapped again to open the document. It was marked “TOP SECRET”, and it read:
Mission profile: Approach unknown target with reasonable caution.
Make scans and record all results. Establish whether target intelligent design or natural body. Reasons to believe artifact may be of intelligent design. Determine intent. If artifact is a spacecraft, attempt contact.
Report results secure channel ASAP.
Hassan Chong, Commandant.
“Bureaucrats!” he spat. “Idiots.” To say that the message was an understatement of the obvious was laughable. “I’d like to have them out here. Just once. Argh!” He put the gel-screen in the desk drawer and slammed it in disgust. “Typical C.Y.A. desk jockey butt-brain.” he muttered.
The Space Service was a hybrid organization: government controlled, but operated by large corrupt corporations. The blending of the two created the usual political positioning and ass-kissing. T-Rex scorned the abject stupidity of the institution and had no patience for such energy-wasting practices.
He settled his nerves and sat in silence for several minutes as the weight of his responsibility pressed down on him. He sighed deeply as he thought about what lie ahead. Were they about to meet an alien species? Somewhere deep in his soul he knew. He knew…
* * *
After the first full day in transit, T-Rex sat in his softly lit ready-room preparing to discuss the ship’s performance and readiness with Lieutenant Balzak and Captain Bill Renton, leader of the six-person Marine contingent. Rexhaut had reservations about what six Marines could possibly do against a ship full of hostiles, but kept the thought to himself.
He tried very hard to keep focused on the mission, but thoughts of his wife’s death crept into his mind. Just two months prior, she was on a mission to Enceladus to help put down a small revolution--.
His reverie was interrupted by a knock at his door. He sighed quietly. “Enter,” he called out brusquely. The door opened and Lieutenant Balzak stepped in. He was suddenly struck by her wholesome beauty—in some ways she reminded him of his dear Anna—and he hoped his face did not betray his feelings.
Deep Darkness by Dennis Rutherford Bennett / Science Fiction have rating 4.3 out of 5 / Based on17 votes