read Episode 1
Ada lay face-down on the cold metal table in sickbay while the Med-Arm whizzed back and forth from shoulder to waist, regenerating the tissue over her wound.
Her husband, Etos, wore his usual frown as the robotic arm made another pass. “Fucking cyclops cut you deeper than I thought.”
“Barely a scratch,” she quipped. She’d been on the table for hours now as their spaceship, Blue, sped them away from the hostile planet. “Where we headed anyway?”
Etos went to the control panel and pulled up a map of the galaxy. “Kee? We need a destination. Anything close?”
“Standby, scanning,” the ship’s operating system replied.
He glanced over his shoulder, pleased to find the Med-Arm had finished up and not even a scratch remained on his wife’s beautiful brown back.
“Sapa-tu-nee is in range.” Kee lit up the planet on the map.
“Sapa?” Etos turned back to study the map. “Isn’t that a frozen wasteland?”
“Ninety-five percent of the surface is ice,” Kee confirmed. “Sustainable air, one species of edible carnivore, multiple species of fish.”
Etos shuddered at the thought of the icy world. “Pass—”
“Wait.” Ada sat up and stretched her newly healed back, then joined her husband in front of the map. “At top speed, it’ll only take us an hour to get there. Then Kee can scan for intelligent lifeforms.”
“Why?” Etos shook his head.
“Because we’re explorers and this planet is sustainable—”
“Barely,” Etos snorted.
“Still,” Ada bumped her shoulder against his, “we need to know. Kee, take us there.” She walked away, but paused as the sickbay doors slid open. “I need food. You coming?”
Etos joined her in grabbing a packet of rations, then they went to the bridge.
Ada logged the details of their last excursion and her injury, while Etos updated the database, declaring the previous planet hostile.
An hour later, Kee broke the silence. “Now scanning Sapa-tu-nee. Damaged ship of unknown origin detected on the surface. Debris field ten meters wide. One faint heat signature nearby, possible lifeform.”
“Don’t say it.” Etos looked at his wife, but she knew him well. His curiosity always got the better of him. “I know we’re going down there.”
She grinned at her warrior husband. “Find a place to land, Kee.”
While Kee positioned them just outside of the debris field, Etos bundled up in a cold-weather suit and collected his pack and weapon. He was in his rover and ready to go the instant the cargo door opened.
With his helmet in place, he took off into the frozen tundra. “You read me, Ada?’
“Loud and clear. Let me know when you reach the ship.”
“Copy that.” Etos accelerated, dodging the larger pieces of icy metal and running over the smaller ones. As he got closer to the wreckage, he clenched his jaw. “What the hell happened here?”
“What do you see?” Ada’s voice rang in his ear.
“Looks like it hit something.” He drove around to the nose of the craft. “The hull is breached in front, smashed clear into the bridge.”
“Any signs of origin? Markings? Anything?”
“Standby.” Etos stopped the rover and hopped off. The entire ship was covered in a layer of snow and he had to clear several sections before he found an identifying marker. “Ada, you’re not going to believe this.”
“What?” Her voice changed, filled with worry. “Tell me.”
Etos stared at the foreign symbols from his home planet’s sworn enemy. “It’s Schloran. This has been here a while, I’m going in.” He circled to the front and climbed through the opening in the hull.
Back on Blue, Ada was getting into her own cold weather gear. No way she was leaving him out there alone. Not with a ship from Schlora and no idea how long it’d been there or where its crew was. She slapped her helmet on and switched the communications from the console to her head gear. “What do you see inside?”
“It’s like a ghost ship.” His voice had an odd echo to it. “Nothing. Dead consoles. Broken chairs.”
“Bodies?” Ada asked, as she zipped her suit.
“Kee, scan the area for lifeforms.” Ada kept her eyes glued to the control panel.
“One heat signature twenty meters out, faint, no movement,” Kee responded after a few seconds.
“Same one as before?” Ada slung her pack over her shoulder, snatched up an extra blaster and a scanner, then ran to her rover.
“Unable to verify.”
“Etos, you copy that?”
A burst of static muffled his reply.
Ada muted her transmission device. “Kee, switch to mobile command. On my ready, open cargo doors.” She hopped on her rover. “Ready.”
“Cargo doors open.”
Ada sped down the ramp and was halfway to the wreckage before the cargo door had closed. “Kee, unmute me.” She counted to three, then spoke. “Etos, I’m coming to you.”
“What? No! Why?” He spun around and raced to the hole in the hull, but when he looked out, all he saw was his wife speeding toward him. “Did something happen?”
She didn’t answer until she stopped her rover in front of him less than a minute later. “We’re doing this together, not like last time.” She held out the extra blaster. “Take this. Kee picked up a heat signature again. Twenty meters that way.” She pointed over his shoulder. “Could be an injured crew member.”
“Or could be something else.” Etos took the weapon and mounted his own rover. “Search the rest of the ship, see if you can find anything, a clue of any kind.”
Ada gripped her scanner and nodded. “Copy that. And keep communication open.”
“Copy that.” Etos gave his wife a rare smile, then sped off in the direction she’d indicated. “Kee, still see that lifeform?”
Once he cleared the debris field, he picked up the pace, only slowing when he drove down a sloped hill and an ice cave came into view. Standing in the mouth of the cave, harvesting icicles, was a young Schloran. Even with her back turned, he knew it was a female because of the waist length scarlet braids. Only the Schloran women wore their hair that way.
“Got a live one,” he said into his mouthpiece.
“Be careful.” Ada’s reply was immediate. She’d been waiting.
Etos got off the rover and crept closer to the girl. Had it not been for her hair, she’d have been nearly hidden by the white furs she wore. He brought his weapon up, aimed and cleared his throat.
The girl turned, eyes wide and frightened.
“Where’s the rest of the crew?”
She dropped her basket and the icicles scattered as she stared open-mouthed.
“Where are they?” he roared.
Dead silence descended for a few long seconds. Then, from somewhere behind him, a scream pierced the air.
M. Sydnor Jr.
copyright © M. Sydnor Jr.