Eh bana sila-ne,
Eh bana kana-ne.
I come in peace,
I come as a friend,
I come as a brother.
Uncatchable: A Space Adventure
The Electromagnetic Anomaly
The constant drone of the Virulent Mk-II had been ringing in Captain Streamer’s ears for almost twenty-four hours. He hated the soothing effect that noise had on his nervous system and fought against the torpor to stay awake; drowsiness was a sneaky enemy for a pilot—yielding to it could mean his undoing. He took a sip of water from the canteen next to his seat and drew a deep breath. This would chase away the ever-lingering spell of sleep for a little more.
Again, Captain Streamer stared at the black emptiness of space, trying to make out the electromagnetic anomaly he’d been sent to find, but he saw nothing—just billions of stars with nothing in between. That region of space was a long way from Earth, the longest a human had ever traveled; the Virulent Mk-II set a new record with every click it made. Even if Captain Streamer was used to long missions, this was the first time he had pushed himself so far from any support ship. If there was a mechanical breakdown, he would be on his own. If there was a failure in the life-support module, he would die out there. It was that simple. He could count on his decennial experience as a pilot of the Terran Fleet, on a nit-picky preparation of the mission, and on his trusted comrades. As for the rest… well, he was in God’s hands.
Captain Streamer looked out his cockpit at the three silvery dots moving along with him—his squadron followed in tight formation.
To his right was Lieutenant Dieter Halvorson, a hulking Danish bloke with blond hair and the finest brain in the whole fleet. Other than being an excellent pilot, he was the appointed avionics and communications expert for the mission. He’d cut his teeth upgrading the software on the old Fennec A-71 to make it compliant with the new standards of the latest ships of the fleet, and he knew how to deal with computer tantrums.
To the captain’s left was Sub-lieutenant Thomas Morris. A Galway Irishman, he was brawny, surly, and quick-tempered. You wouldn’t want to be anywhere nearby him in a bar, because trouble would follow him. But on a fighter? Well, that was a different thing. Morris knew most weapon systems by heart and could rig or defuse a bomb in thirty seconds. That made him a valuable member of the mission.
Lieutenant Benjamin Daniels brought up the rear. Born a Kentucky farmer, he’d spent the better part of his youth sticking his nose in the night air, at the stars he loved, when he realized he wanted to build spaceships’ engines instead of tilling soil. A nuclear engineer and a pilot, he had enlisted in the space program, moving from project to project until he’d landed a job to design and test the engine system for the Virulent Mk-II.
Halvorson, Morris, and Daniels were the best pilots Captain Streamer knew. He had handpicked them for the mission, and they had accepted gladly.
The radio crackled. “The more I look out there,” Morris said, “the less I see. My scopes are dead. I wonder if Fleet Command gave us the right coordinates, after all.”
“I feel your frustration, Morris,” Halvorson’s cavernous voice said. “The eggheads back home should know better than to trust hearsay. This thing we’re supposed to find, this anomaly, is too good to be true—it’s impossible it exists. If it did, we could kiss these jalopies good-bye.”
“Jalopies? You’d better watch your mouth, Morris,” Captain Streamer said. “It doesn’t go down too well with Daniels when someone badmouths his baby.”
“Well, his baby is making my ass square…”
“If only Fleet Command gave us more details,” Halvorson said. “This need-to-know basis is plain bullshit to me.”
“What is it we’re supposed to see?” Daniels asked.
“I wish to God I knew,” Captain Streamer said. “Just keep your eyes open. If it’s as big as they say, we won’t miss it.”
The existence of a massive electromagnetic anomaly in that remote region of space was a guess of the military intelligence, based on the data mined in the last twenty years from the remains of the alien battleship Kematian left at Congara. The intelligence believed the aliens had access to a vast network of electromagnetic anomalies which allowed them to travel from one point of the galaxy to the other within minutes. If such a network existed, the benefit of securing it would’ve been enormous. But nobody had found it yet. The speculations may be wrong, and this could be a wild-goose chase. If the squadron didn’t find anything in the next six hours, their orders were to return to the Summer Harvest.
Captain Streamer stifled a yawn, when the long-range radar in front of him beeped frantically.
“I’ve got a reading,” Halvorson radioed in.
“Me too,” Morris said, alert.
“Is it our anomaly?” Daniels asked.
Captain Streamer double-checked his radar. “I don’t think so. It’s exceptionally small to be an electromagnetic anomaly, and it’s damn fast—I’ve got a readout of SL-4 here.”
“Hey, that’s twice as fast as we are!” Daniels cried.
“It doesn’t look like an anomaly to me,” Halvorson said.
“Then what is it?” Morris asked.
“Visual contact in ten seconds,” Daniels said.
Captain Streamer kept his eyes glued on the red dot tearing through the radar display, headed toward them—and was overcome with the sudden realization of impending danger. “Everybody split!” he shouted.
He reached out for the Virulent Mk-II’s control wheel and pushed hard, at the same time pulling the thrust handle all the way back. The fighter jerked to life. The dull noise of its hydrogen engines climbed to an earsplitting howl inside the cockpit as they overpowered. On the radar, the four silvery dots fanned out, away from the incoming object, which changed its course accordingly, moving in on the fighter farther behind. “It’s on you, Daniels!” Captain Streamer said.
“I can’t shake it off! I can’t—”
In Streamer’s windshield, Daniel’s fighter went off with a small flare. “Daniels? Daniels!” Streamer called, but nobody answered him. He saw the familiar dot that had been the lieutenant’s fighter disappear from the radar. At the same time, the red dot made a wide loop.
“He’s ready for another pass!” Halvorson said. “Let’s turn around and arm our torpedoes!”
“He’s too fast for torpedoes!” Morris said.
A great calm descended on Captain Streamer as he focused on his enemy. He felt like being swept twenty years back in time, when he’d first received his baptism of fire—at Congara. “Use your plasma guns,” he said. “Let’s force him into a corridor. Set your torpedoes to blast off at one click, around and at the end of the corridor!”
“Aye, Captain!” Morris said.
“Switching over to plasma guns!” Halvorson said.
Captain Streamer pulled the control wheel toward him until the Virulent Mk-II headed back and then rolled to the side, facing the unknown enemy. “Here he comes,” he said. “Open fire!”
The three pilots pelted the point where the enemy was with rounds, unable to see it with their eyes, using their radar for guidance—the plasma lit up in a spiraling tunnel, trapping for a moment something darker than the darkness surrounding it.
“Torpedoes away!” Captain Streamer shouted.
The torpedoes shot out from the Terran fighters, traced a feeble wake of gold, and then exploded in a firework of engulfing fire at the end of the plasma tunnel.
Captain Streamer’s computer magnified the explosion on his monitor, trying to locate the mysterious object within, when the black ship flung itself past the flaming barrier—an ominous mass, unscathed, shiny as polished obsidian. “Morris!” Streamer said. “He’s coming for you!”
Never before had the three pilots dealt with so fast an enemy. Morris kept shooting, but the obsidian ship evaded easily. It passed so close to the sub-lieutenant’s fighter it almost collided with it, then speared it with one bright shot—the Terran fighter went up in a ball of fire. The black ship inverted its course once again, this time making for Halvorson.
“Dive, Halvorson! Dive-dive-dive!” Captain Streamer shouted. He joined Halvorson at targeting the enemy ship, and they depleted their ammo on it, but the black ship emerged from the blast untouched. It shot a deadly dart at Halvorson—his fighter blew up.
Feeling the cold sweat trickle down his forehead, Captain Streamer pushed the control wheel all the way forward, trying to crash into the enemy—they sped into each other, but the black ship rocked just enough to move out of his way. It fired back, catching the left wing of the Virulent Mk-II, shredding it to pieces.
The fighter spun out of control, disappearing in the endless stretch of darkness.
The control panel in front of him blaring with hull-breach and failure alarms, Captain Streamer fought with the control wheel to level the Virulent Mk-II, but there was nothing he could do. He checked the long-range radar for hints on the whereabouts of the enemy ship, but it was gone—its pilot knew that the Terran fighter was done for. Streamer heard the hiss of the oxygen draining through the fissured hull. His eyes blurring, he took one last glance at the radar… and was amazed at seeing something on it. Something small and steady, smaller than a planet—a moon, maybe. Feeling his strength desert him, he nudged the control wheel toward it.
The computer performed a spectrographic analysis of the celestial body and rattled off a stream of data: even if the moon was a desert, it was surrounded by a thin atmosphere that made it suitable for life. The irony, Captain Streamer thought. What was the chance of finding a habitable moon in that godforsaken region of space—one in a billion? Well, he had found it. The irony was that despite his unbelievable luck, he would crash on it.
He steered the Virulent Mk-II past the outer layers of the moon—they went by in a blur, exposing the hot and quickly approaching surface. Seeing the rises and the dips sweep past the fighter’s hull, Captain Streamer pulled the control wheel to himself, squeezing the last ounce of thrust from the wheezing engines in a final nose-up. As he skipped over the dunes and rolled along them, his helmet slamming like a punch ball, a dreadful thought came over him—that he would never again see his beloved wife and his adolescent son. Not this time. Not this far.
Only a few hours had passed from the impact.
Captain Streamer opened his eyes to a blinding brightness and to absolute silence. His aching body lay in the sand, some yards away from the totaled Virulent Mk-II. He propped himself on his arm, and discovered that he couldn’t move his legs. He removed his helmet and threw it away, feeling half of his face swell and bleed from a deep gash. He was happy and sad at the same time; happy to be still alive, and sad because he would soon die. He closed his eyes under the scorching sun, waiting for Death to ease him from pain.
Half an hour later he was still alive, hanging to life by a thread. He opened only one eye; the other was a lump of blood and flesh. He wondered if Death had lost its way, when he saw the stranger. He came closer and loomed over him. Every inch of his body was covered—even his face was concealed inside a hood.
If that was Death, it didn’t look very intimidating, Captain Streamer thought, when a revolting gurgle interrupted him. He looked to his left to see a squat and black salamander, five feet tall and twenty feet long, including its ridged tail. Her red tongue flicked in and out her mouth, sensing him like a snake would. Captain Streamer grimaced. “I’m raving already…”
The stranger glanced with suspicion at the smoldering heap of metal that had been the Virulent Mk-II, but ultimately decided that whatever the threat it had posed it was now gone. The stranger climbed from his ride. Keeping his face shielded from the heat of the sun, he drew closer to the man fallen from the sky. He prodded his stick at the captain’s ripped spacesuit, then spoke in a raspy and cackling voice. “Ka kud karrak, einee? Ka kud?” he said.
Captain Streamer jerked upright. He lunged for the cloak wrapped around the stranger and bared his face. The captain studied the black, wide eyes of the alien, happy to see he was real. He wasn’t Death, he wasn’t a ghost, and this wasn’t a dream, after all. “Water…” he croaked.
The bluish alien stood looking at him. He shook his head and shrugged, incapable of understanding. “Wattar? Eh anbar nee, einee.”
“I need water…” the captain said.
“Eh anbar nee, einee—wattar,” the alien repeated.
Captain Streamer rolled his eyes and grumbled. “Man, I really hope the delegation is doing better than this…” he said. In the last sparkle of consciousness, depleted of energies, he eased his head on the sand and fainted.
[ … ]
back to top