The rescue vessel drifted silently through space towards the Marker, a satellite beacon that made humanity’s next great leap safe . . . or so we thought.
“Sergeant Hues,” the Captain’s voice was dry, he looked up from his chair in the cockpit, “We’re approaching the Anchor Drive point . . .” he took a sharp breath and his gaze went right through me.
“Do you know something I don’t, Captain?” I arched an eyebrow, it wasn’t like him to hesitate.
“When the Mariner sent that distress call back to us . . .” he hesitated again.
“You mean the horrible cries of wailing souls?” the co-pilot chuckled, “It was just space noise Captain, noise from passing stars.”
The Captain swallowed, “Hues, the analysts cleaned up the signal . . . Astro Rescue still wants to send us in, there’s too much riding on this.”
I stared at the Captain for a good while, the co-pilot remained silent, “What did the signal say?”
The Captain sighed and toggled a switch, and the infamous transmission, the last transmission from the Mariner—the first vessel to use the Anchor Drive, technology designed to freeze our momentum relative to the stars so that we may study the path of our solar system—played out.
I winced as the wailing echo tore through the cockpit, yet amongst the unsettling cries of—what the world’s authorities assured us was just space noise—a faint voice could be heard . . .
“Destroy the Marker! Do not let them come back!”
The transmission cut out, replaced with the silence of the three men in the cockpit. I took in a sharp breath and gazed at the Marker, a lone, shimmering satellite suspended in the dark void.
“Orders are orders, I guess.” I sighed, “My team will be ready sir.”
The Captain swallowed, “Be sure that they are.”
I marched down the cramped corridor to the docking nodule where my rescue team stood waiting. They were equipped with the usual vacuum approved retrieval gear, and—to their surprise—they were issued with vacuum capable weapons. I had questioned our commanding officers when they issued them, but now I understood.
“You ready to save some hapless scientists Sarge?” Williams asked as he racked the slide of his vacuum rifle.
“Stow it, Williams. I want all of you weapons ready.” I said. The squad eyed one another but readied their weapons, “We’re about to make the jump.”
The Anchor Drive started out as a thought experiment. What if we could suspend our motion relative to our Solar System, and by extension all of the mass in the galaxy? We could study where we came from in our most primordial sense. Or, at least, we could start to. It turns out that with quantum computing you can pause your own inertia quite easily, it was just a matter of finding out if this ability was useful.
The Mariner was the first ship to use the Anchor Drive and test this theory. It was tethered by a quantum linked drive moored here beyond the Moon’s orbit—The Marker. The Marker was meant to receive data from the Mariner and bring the vessel and crew back last week.
But nothing came back, no ship, no data, no crew. The only message received was the infamous signal. Now my team had the good fortune to charge into the unknown and bring those scientists back.
“Prepare for jump . . .” the Captain said over the speakers.
I unclenched my jaw, took a deep breath, and tried to ignore the sick feeling in my gut.
“. . . Three, two, mark.”
The ship rattled violently and my response team was ricocheted off the walls of the docking nodule.
“God damn it!” I pulled myself onto my feet, dragging Williams up with me. “Report!” I barked, “Have we been hit?”
“Negative! Negative!” the Captain replied, “The solar system zipped by us, I see The Mariner . . . Holy Hell!” the transmission cut out.
“Williams!” I barked, “Get up to the cockpit and see what the hell . . .” the hull of the ship rattled as if it was being struck by hail.
“What is that?” Williams asked, “Meteors?”
“No,” the point man by the nodule doors pressed his head up against the wall, “It almost sounds like . . . knocking?”
There was an ear piercing shriek and the doors shuddered. The soldiers shifted back and raised their weapons. The door shuddered again, the rattling across the hull pooled to cluster around the entrance.
“Ah . . . Sarge . . .” Williams said.
“You’re all vacuum sealed,” I whispered, “Lock yourselves into the walls and guard this door. I’m going to figure out what the hell is going on here.” I latched myself to the ship’s internal tether and bolted out of the docking module, down the narrow corridor and into the cockpit as my attachment zipped alongside me, “Captain, what the . . .” I trailed off as I saw the sight.
The Mariner hung suspended in space before us. Great strips of light soared past it in the background—galaxies and stars and planets as they hurtled through space contrasted against the ‘anchored’ ship. But that wasn’t what I was staring at; I was staring at the torrents of horrible wraiths that drifted between the two ships. They were haunting, ghostly spectres with visages locked in agony, tearing through the nether. And many thousands of them were converging upon our vessel.
“Come in,” the comms chirped, “Whoever just arrived here, you need to deactivate the Anchor Drive. They know it can get them back.”
“Who is this?” the Captain asked.
The shrieking metal intensified.
“This is the head scientist of The Mariner,” the transmission said.
“Mariner, what the fuck is going on?” the co-pilot said.
“Disable your Anchor Drive; they need it to get back to Earth.”
“Who are they?” the Captain asked.
“They’re the dead.” The Mariner hissed, “They’re our dead. When they died our planet still hurtled through space. They were left behind and have been trying to get back ever since. We cannot let them. They’ll try to reclaim their world, destroy the Anchor Drive, now!”
“Sarge!” Williams barked from the hallway, before the shrieking reached its peak and the docking nodule doors were breached.
The atmosphere was vented, a deafening hurricane wind ripped past me as the vacuum claimed the innards of the ship and the captain and the co-pilot writhed and desiccated within seconds. I was winched in and spared the brunt of the explosive decompression. I staggered to my feet and turned from the dead flight crew and down the darkened corridor.
The dim was punctuated by silent muzzle flashes which cast ghastly shadows across the corridor walls as my team was torn apart.
“Disable the Drive!” the Mariner pleaded, the voice bursting through my helmet’s comms.
I turned from the corridor as the muzzle flashes went dark and dived for the console over the dead body of my captain. I ignored the ghastly faces pressing in on the glass panel. I reached for the Anchor Drive controls, ready to smash them to bits, when something cold grabbed my leg and dragged me down the corridor.
My suit was ripped open with ghastly claws, and the last thing I saw before I was violently depressurised, was a pale blue hand reaching over me to trigger the Anchor Drive, to snap our ship back to Earth.
The dead had pursued our world, now they would finally return, and there was nothing we could do to stop them.
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