Author: Alastair Millar
We were fifty light years beyond Tau Ceti when the screaming started. The sound came up from the open hatch at the back of the flight deck, and if I hadn’t been strapped in my head would have hit the ceiling. It was inhuman, a wailing that rose to a shriek as if there was a banshee in this old bucket with us – which should have been impossible, but this far out, who knew?
In the sensies, another ship would appear in the nick of time, its gorgeous captain floating over in person to deal with our sudden emergency… but believing in fantasies like that is for fools and dead men. The glossy travel mags never mention it, and the recruiters who dig up the crews for gas haulers like ours brush it aside, but the most terrifying thing about space is its sheer scale. Even the great miles-long pleasure cruisers are infinitesimal in the vastness of the Void. How many ships drift alone out here, never to be found in the cold blackness? How many mutinies and desperate acts of heroism have gone unnoticed and unknown in the immense depths of space?
Whatever was happening here, we would have to deal with it alone.
I tried raising Madison, our other notional officer, but there was no reply. The captain and I looked at each other, and she jerked her head at the bulkhead. I nodded. She couldn’t leave the bridge – trouble loves company, and Murphy would make sure something else went horribly wrong if she did. Plus, someone had to be here to answer the hailer if a gallant hero did defy the odds to swing by.
I unbuckled, and took the pistol from the bracket on the wall. Yeah, I know, use only in case of piracy – but something weird was going on, and I wasn’t about to take chances. Out here, you make your own luck.
I popped down the hatchway, and floated along the passageway beneath. We’re not like those fancy liners, we don’t have power to waste on maintaining gravity all the time – something else the sensies don’t tell you. The screeching was getting louder as I made my way aft, and I fancied there were words in it; or baby talk. But there were no kids aboard. I could see smears of what might have been blood on the walls. This didn’t look good at all.
I rounded the corner to the drive control room, and I could instantly see why Maddie hadn’t answered: she was huddled around our other crew member, Ali, the ship’s cat, as she struggled loudly to bring new kittens into the zero gee.
“Here,” I said, putting up the gun. “Let me help.” New lives in the enormous emptiness, and a whole new challenge.