Authors: Craig Gaydas
“But—” I interjected, but Satou stopped me.
“I know this is confusing but let me break it down to the basics. If we attempted to travel to Caelum in the Cirrus from our current location it would take us a little over 40 years to get there at maximum speed. With the Argus, at maximum speed, it will take us about two weeks.”
“Oh,” I replied blandly, as if Satou just told me where to find the bathroom.
“The good news is once we arrive Calypso will most likely call a meeting with the High Prince and recommend that you stay on board of the Cirrus as the Cartographer.”
I shrugged. In honesty, my emotions were conflicted on the subject. Already resigned to the fact that I would have to remain among these strangers and remorseful that I would never see Sam or my family again, I was still attracted to the idea of discovering things that scientists on Earth only dreamed of.
Satou's wristband beeped and Natronix's voice boomed. “Satou, Calypso and Madoc, I need you all on the bridge as soon as possible.”
The urgency in Natronix's voice interrupted my mental wrestling match. The captain seemed a strong and grizzled universal explorer with a gut of iron, but the voice that came across the com-watch (a name I made up) sounded
. Satou's demeanor mirrored my feelings on the subject. He turned abruptly toward the exit.
Satou turned and stood in the open doorway. “No more questions for now, Nathan. I am needed elsewhere.”
“OK, then I'm going with you,” I replied.
Satou stepped in the room and let the door slide closed behind him, his face told me what he thought of the idea. “I am afraid I am unfamiliar with the human sense of humor. Was that a joke?”
“I wasn't making a joke. If you people expect me to be your Cartographer and assist you with exploring the universe, galaxies, planets or whatever it is you expect me to do, then I expect to be involved in situations that may arise, don't ya think?”
Satou's brow folded upon itself in deep thought as he contemplated the validity of my logic.
He crossed his arms and nodded slightly. “I agree with your statement, but I warn you that Natronix may not embrace your idea nor your presence upon the bridge.”
I followed him out the door and down the hall toward a row of transparent doors where I watched while elevator compartments zoomed up and down to the decks above and below us. Several crew members walked past us throwing respectful nods to Satou and curious glances toward me. I marveled at the variety of races aboard the ship. An Orgellian stomped by, his enormous feet sounding like a bass drum as they slammed against the metallic floor, a squat humanoid with a face similar to a rabbit (later discovered to be a Kamilian) shot me a toothy smile before a dark-skinned humanoid with an angular face, bleached white hair and pointy ears (a Drith-nar, Satou told me) walked past, looking at us suspiciously.
The elevator door swung open and we stepped inside. I saw no buttons of any kind and wondered how we would get to where we needed to go.
“Deck one, code Satou-Epsilon-Nine,” Satou called out and the elevator ascended. The door opened on deck one before I had the chance to even ask what
We stepped onto the bridge and he turned to me, answering my unspoken question. “In order to gain access to the bridge deck, one has to be authorized and speak the code.”
“Oh,” I responded while admiring the scene of the bridge.
Several circular lights overhead illuminated the scene before me. There were no windows of any kind which surprised me, but later Satou explained to me that the Cirrus was more like a submarine floating through space and less like a space bus. Several large monitors dotted the room and were manned by different alien races. Some looked like Satou, some looked like Madoc, others looked different but bared a striking resemblance to other aquatic animals and I wondered if these particular races had been chosen because they were naturally adept at flying spacecraft. Natronix sat in an elevated chair and peered through a periscope, gripping the handles so hard his knuckles were white. Calypso stood next to him with his arms folded and a serious look about him and as soon as we entered the bridge he turned toward us and frowned.
“Um, Satou do I even need to ask?” he said with a cursory glance toward me.
“I know, sir, but he insisted on coming along with me,” Satou said and nodded at me. “He made a very compulsive argument.”
“Oh?” Calypso raised an eyebrow. Natronix peered his head around the periscope, rolled his eyes and returned his attention to whatever he had been looking at.
Satou walked over to one of the monitors and put his hands on his hips. Without looking at Calypso he presented my “sound” logic for being on the bridge. Calypso listened intently and nodded, accepting my point of view.
Shortly afterward Madoc burst onto the bridge, breathing heavily. Luckily this time he was wearing a translator and I discovered that the elevator had been taking too long on the medical deck and he jogged up the emergency access stairs to get to the bridge. I wasn't sure how far the medical deck was but judging by Madoc's flushed face and struggles for air, it couldn't have been close by.
Calypso turned to Natronix and put a hand on his shoulder. “Any sign yet?”
Natronix shook his head without removing his eyes from the periscope. Calypso turned toward them and rubbed his chin.
“Well the reason Natronix called us here is that we may have a situation.” He turned toward an object that looked like a large table you might find in a giant's kitchen. It was oval with a flat glass-like surface and stood about eight feet in diameter.
Calypso opened a panel on the surface and punched several buttons. Suddenly a holographic image of an aircraft carrier floated above the surface. As I moved in to take a closer look, I realized that it only slightly resembled an American aircraft carrier. It was long, rectangular and flat on the surface, however instead of a bow along the front, there was a hangar-like entrance and I could see the outlines of several smaller space vessels nestled inside. There was a rising tower located at the rear of the vessel which appeared to be the bridge. Neon lights surrounded the ship, illuminating hidden ports containing steel barrels of cannons, lasers, machine guns or whatever type of weaponry these people used. The reflection of the holographic image highlighted Calypso's facial features, giving his red eyes and hard face an eerie glow and making him appear like a demon, ready to cast his judgment on all mankind.
“The Argus?” Madoc asked, staring at the image.
Calypso nodded while the image spun, creating a 3-D, panoramic view of the vessel. He looked over at a crewmember who turned several knobs and listened intently to a cylindrical device attached to his ear. He reached up and adjusted a small antenna protruding from the mechanism. After frantically playing with the antenna he turned toward Calypso and shook his head.
Calypso took a deep breath and looked at Natronix who rested his arms on the periscope handles and frowned.
Satou turned from the monitor he had been examining. “What is wrong with the Argus?”
Calypso scanned the room and placed his hands on his head. He moved to each of the various monitors with a sense of urgency and his uneasiness created a small knot in my stomach.
looked around the room and watched while a bunch of glum faces barked orders at each other. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore and decided to determine what all the fuss was about.
“So what if it's gone?” I shrugged.
The room descended into silence before everyone turned toward me. Their eyes burned a hole in my soul which was quite an uncomfortable position to be in. I switched my gaze to the floor. It didn't help because I still felt their eyes on the back of my head so I chose to shuffle my feet nervously instead.
“Well, what I meant is what's the big deal? It probably moved to another location. It's a spaceship so it moves, right?” I mumbled.
“No, the Argus does not just
,” Natronix replied, practically spitting the words at me. “Especially if an exploration vessel is deployed.”
I realized I harbored a strong dislike for the captain and briefly questioned whether I wanted to be a part of his crew at all. My face flushed in anger and I was about to vent my frustration when Calypso interrupted.
“The protocol is to remain in the area until a deployed vessel returns,” he clarified. “If a situation arose where it needed to relocate, protocol is they notify us of a new rendezvous point. We do this so an IPS vessel doesn't become stranded in space.”
I slumped against the wall as the reality of the situation sunk in. Natronix looked away from me to a crewmember who had an antenna sticking from his ear. He was preoccupied with turning knobs and flipping switches on his console, completely oblivious to the captain's stare.
“ISS Argus, this is the IPS Cirrus requesting your location, please respond,” he said, his voice crackling with urgency.
Natronix turned toward a muscular, blue-skinned humanoid manning a knob attached to a lever who had been busy examining the monitor over his head. “Rawls, can you tell if there are any ISS class vessels in the vicinity.”
Rawls adjusted the control lever. The screen above his head projected an image of space, which moved as Rawls changed the point of view. Stars, distant planets and asteroids zoomed past while he searched the vastness of space for any signs of a ship. Pushing different buttons caused several smaller screens to pop up inside the main screen, each showing a different section of space. Saturn popped up on one screen, empty space on another and a swirling cluster of stars that looked like a galaxy appeared on another. Unfortunately, none of the screens showed any ships in the area.
“Zeek, try to reach out on the communicator and see if any other Consortium ships are in the area,” Natronix said to the crewmember with the antennae sticking from of his ear.
“Sir, I think I have located the Argus,” Rawls shouted.
“Where the hell is it?” Natronix shot out of his chair and stormed over to the monitor.
“It appears to be eight miles beyond the solar system, approximately 12,000 miles from our current location, sir.”
“12,000 miles?” Satou gasped. “How can that be?”
No one answered his question. Instead, Natronix ordered Rawls to intercept the Argus at maximum speed. Of course I had no idea how fast “maximum speed” was, but Satou mentioned that IPS class spaceships can travel almost as fast as NASA space shuttles, but nowhere near as fast as ISS ships can go. He hoped that the Argus remained stationary or at best, turned around and came back our way so we could catch up.
“So, what now?” I asked.
Before he could answer a disembodied voice came across the communication system. It was muddled by static and difficult to understand, but I recognized the underlying urgency.
” the voice pleaded. “
Argus trying to…Cirrus…you there…respond
“Sir,” Rawls cried. “The Argus is on the move, heading back to its original position.”
“Argus, this is the Cirrus,” Zeek shouted into his headset. “We hear you and are redirecting on an intercept course. We should be at your location in a little over an hour.”
Natronix hurried over to Rawls and looked at his screen. I saw a large blip on the east side heading west and a smaller blip on the west side heading east. Both blips looked to be on an eventual collision course, assuming the smaller blip was us and the larger blip was the Argus. I silently hoped that the bigger ship came with an excellent set of brakes.
“What the hell is that?” Natronix asked.
I slipped soundlessly behind Natronix and watched the screen. He grunted but moved aside to let me see the three larger blips following the Argus. All four of the blips seemed to be moving at a high rate of speed and quickly closed the gap between them and us.
,” the voice cried. The communications became less disembodied the closer we got. “
We are…attack. Rendezvous point….Neptune Defense Sierra Alpha Nine
Rawls tensed in his chair and Natronix turned away from the screen and barked orders. “Zeek relay our acknowledgement. Rawls change course to the Neptune Belt.”
Natronix brushed past me and returned to the periscope, turning the instrument frantically side-to-side scanning the cosmos. I backed away from the monitor and looked at Satou, who was engrossed in a conversation with Madoc and, assuming by his animated body language, it appeared to involve the current situation.
They stopped talking as soon as I approached them. Madoc walked away and voiced his concerns to Calypso, while Satou crossed his arms and looked at me.
“What is attacking the Argus?” I asked.
Satou shook his head. “I do not know, Nathan. The vessels are too difficult to identify at this distance. Most species in this galaxy, outside of Earth of course, are aware of the Explorer's League and know that we are primarily intergalactic exploration and research. We have never encountered hostile actions here before.”