+++OPEN LOG-CMDR SOUVARINE ABOARD SSF LORD OF KOBOL-23.06.3302+++
The blackened earth crunched under my boots. Wide-eyed, I gazed around the scorched landscape through plumes of dull smoke. Everything was grey. Between half-ruined buildings, their walls broken and windows empty, I glimpsed the malevolent green glow of the Barnacles as they quietly harvested. Everywhere I looked I saw their spires; sucking the land and turning it into their dark fruit.
A ghostly shape traced its way across the sky. Somehow I knew it to be Dashiell Orbital, but spinning in silence. No ships queued to enter and the docking window was dark. It was empty and abandoned, save for the dead.
My eyes snapped open in the darkness. Heart thudding in my chest, I sat up, willing my eyes to adjust. I fumbled for the bunk lamp. It clicked on and I blinked in the glare.
Deep breaths for some seconds. Waiting for images to dissolve in the bright light. Glanced at the time – I’d managed four hours. It would do. I loosened the straps on my bunk and pushed away.
I wrapped my blanket around me and fumbled for my magboots. They hugged the deck with a click, and I staggered upright.
I shuffled down the corridor to the mess, lights blinking on around me. Bloody Faulcon DeLacy. Everything sodding orange.
I found the synthesiser and punched the command for tea. It gurgled welcomely. Clutching the insulated pouch in both hands, I made my way towards the stern viewing deck.
Floor-to-ceiling glass enclosed a huge wraparound deck. I often came here to take a break from the Bridge. Outside, the void stretched far away. Cold, lonely and empty. Behind me, I knew the disc of the Galaxy twinkled. That way lay… Everything. All the matter that anyone I’d ever met had ever seen.
In front… Nothing.
I’d come to where the stars were thin, beyond the Perseus Arm. Some thousand light years before the Heisenberg Bridge I’d decided to veer off-course: rather than head for the edge of the Outer Arm, I would overshoot it and see how far I could get into the void. I knew that sooner or later I would need to correct and head back to where there were star systems to jump to. Sooner or later, the stars in this direction would thin to nothing.
The Intergalactic Void. Beyond that… Other galaxies, unimaginable distances away.
I shook my head. My thoughts were scaring me tonight. Time to get some perspective. I made my way back along the corridors of the cavernous vessel, towards the Bridge.
I never felt lonely, as a rule. But on this trip something was different. I knew what it was of course – it was Vex. I didn’t even know where the bastard was. The maddening, implacable, unhinged, utterly dependable bastard. Our final exchange sticks in my mind like a splinter.
I reached the Bridge and slumped into my flight seat, blanket still wrapped around me. I turned to the Comms interface to check the news.
‘Alien life form found in Witch Head Nebula…’
The third nebula. Barnacles present in three nebulas now, close to human space. The Federation had parked a Farragut capital ship out in Merope, right over one of the Barnacles, to much consternation.
My mind inadvertently skipped back to my dream.
I checked my messages. Sure enough, another communique from the Children of Raxxla. I skimmed it, looking for updates.
It was suspected that Unidentified Artefacts had been found in human space now, though the report was unverified. If that was true, this was a new degree of boldness from whoever or whatever had put them there.
The Children thought the Empire knew something; the Federation too. And likely the Alliance. I couldn’t help but be sceptical – I’ve never bought into these ‘evil government cover-up’ theories. But my mind flicked to Polaris. Someone had taken that off the hyperspace maps, and erased all history about it…
There were other pilots from the Children of Raxxla out in the Rift. They were organising patrols, convinced that someone or something lay out here – likely the source of the Barnacles and the Unidentified Artefacts. For some days we’d been sharing data on mysterious wreckages we’d found out in the dark systems. I had found one, but others had found many.
Dead ships, floating silently. Some bore the marks of laser fire. Some were in pieces.
The one I’d stumbled across looked like the skeleton of a Type 9 heavy trader. What it was doing out here was anyone’s guess. It lay in several pieces, bearing the marks of assault on a huge scale. But who would attack a cargo vessel out here? And what the hell was a freighter doing here in the first place?
I sucked my crappy tea pouch thoughtfully.
Someone is moving pieces into place.
+++END LOG-CMDR SOUVARINE ABOARD SSF LORD OF KOBOL-23.06.3302+++