Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

He’d spent forty years running rescue and salvage operations in deep space, had hundreds of engagements, many responding to distress beacons, but he had never experienced anything like this.

His entire ship resonated at some experiential but otherwise unmeasurable frequency. His instrumentation registered nothing, it wasn’t designed to analyze whatever this was.

Rapierre himself felt more than heard the signal, and as he navigated the ship, zig-zagging in the direction where it became stronger, he found there was a sweet spot where, if he pointed the nose of the craft directly into it, the sensation became something more, a kind of beautiful, barely perceptible subliminal song, pulling at the edges of his consciousness.

There was nothing to lock his navigation system onto, only the sensation in his mind, so he flew manually for days, maybe weeks, time gradually losing meaning. He slept at intervals strapped into the pilot’s seat, trusting the ship’s collision avoidance systems, and that he’d wake up if the feeling changed in any way.

It was the proximity alarms that jolted him awake, and he strained through the forward observation to make out what had set them off.

The space ahead of the ship was shrouded in a particulate fog, and dimly visible in its midst, slowly rotating, hung a massive celestial remnant, edges lost in the cloud, its surface a vast rugged plain.

He synchronized their rotations in order that he might land.

As he approached, the features of the landscape below clarified, and he realized that the surface wasn’t space rock or condensed stardust at all, but hundreds, perhaps thousands of craft condensed into a single block of pancaked and intermingled wreckage.

He pulled back hard on the control stick and pushed the throttle to the pins to climb away, but his efforts had no effect. The ship shuddered against whatever force pulled it forward, the space frame vibrating in pained harmony with the siren’s song.

The collision with the surface was violent, the ship plowing through the debris field like a hot knife until its shielding failed, and then further still, the sounds of terrestrial wreckage tearing through the fuselage and venting atmosphere overwhelmed only by a myriad of warning klaxons. The cockpit safety doors slammed into place, sealing him off from the vacuum of space as everything ground to a halt.

He sat in sudden silence, the shock of the crash slowly giving way to the reality of the situation he was now in.

He would die here.

Nobody was coming to rescue him, and if they did, if they picked up any beacon he might send, or the signal that brought him here, they’d suffer the same fate.

“Why have you come?”

He flinched, looking around to find the source of the words that had formed in his head.

“Why have you come?”

The question again.

“You called me here,” he spoke the words aloud to the empty cockpit, “your beacon, I followed your beacon.”

There was a long pause before new words formed.

“We called, but not for you.”

There was another long pause.

“Who are you, so arrogant that you would assume our call was meant for you to answer? You are not welcome.”

Rapierre had no reply, for the first, and what would be the last time in his life, he was at a loss for words.