A people that hear without listening, that talk without speaking, too stubborn and blind to be saved from their own dying planet. The ESS Sao Paulo has been sent to rescue the inhabitants of Eulysia, but what they find when they arrive is a darkness, one that seems to swallow their warnings in pools of silence.
SOUND OF SILENCE - CHAPTER THREE
Coming out of hyperspectric into subspectric is never as smooth as they make you believe it is. Sure, the ship has inertial dampeners, but those just keep us from turning into stains on the forward bulkheads. In reality, the transition is a hell of a jolt, especially for boots straight out of the academy. So much so that vomit is colloquially known around the fleet as boot juice.
Ensign Khealia, unfortunately, seems to only propagate that stereotype each time we jump.
“Don’t worry, Ensign,” I say, rubbing her back. “We’ve all been there. Give it another year or so.”
She wipes her mouth and picks up the bucket that she always keeps by her at her post. “Thanks Captain,” she says, still looking pale as she makes for the head.
As she disappears around the corner, I turn to the forward display where the planet Eulysia has appeared off our port bow.
“Lieutenant Wu, how’s the ship?” I ask.
“Fusion core nominal. All systems cleared for operations.”
“Copy. Signals, any sign of planetary defense vessels or batteries?”
Ensign Syxic, my sensors officer, spins around in his chair, clearly unaffected by the jump. His species doesn’t have a stomach, so I suppose that makes sense. “They have a pulse array in semi-synchronous, but it doesn’t appear to be online. The waters are clear.”
I voice my acknowledgement, then I smile and soak in the rich hues of green and aquamarine painted in wide, spiraling swaths across the planet’s surface. Subtle chains of mountains meet golden shores, accentuating the two main continents visible from our hemisphere. We’re on the waning gibbous side of the planet, which means, from our perspective, the majority of the planet is bathed in rich, amber light.
I look up at the overhead viewer to find it filled by a desert tan and violet banded gas giant. Psi Saggitae Five: the parent planet of Eulysia, which is actually just one of seventeen moons in its orbit. I marvel at the sheer size of it, at the power it projects on everything around within its influence. Which, unfortunately, includes Eulysia. The same tidal forces that push and pull at the fabric of Eulysia's mantle, the very phenomenon that keeps it warm and tropical, rich with all kinds of life, are also the same forces that now threaten to rip it apart, pushed past the tipping point of a delicate balancing act into an exponential trajectory towards destruction. A decade is all that’s left. Ten years before the surface becomes unlivable for organic beings. That's what the scientists are saying.
Despite my contempt for having been snatched from the front line, and despite what's brought us here in the first place, I can’t help but stand in awe of what I see before me. The sheer magnitude of the forces at work. The colors of the planets and moons. There has always been something primally satisfying about being somewhere new, about exploring a system where only a few others have been. I’m a warrior, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m also human. A being of insatiable curiosity.
"Alright," I say. "Senior staff to the aft bay. Doctor?"
A chirp sounds overhead. "Yes, Captain?"
"Meet us in the bay. We're gearing up."
The bridge crew stands and allows the night watch to take their place, then we all head down four decks towards the rear of the ship until we reach the shuttle bay. The doctor is there waiting for us when we arrive, standing alongside one of the three shuttles. Her hair is haphazardly tied up in a lopsided ponytail, and her uniform looks like it was thrown on only minutes ago, but she’s alert and sober, something I can’t always say for her.
Doctor Kosnik is a bit of an enigma. There are some days when she’s entirely lucid and pleasant to be around. Most days, though, she’s barely fit for duty. Don’t get me wrong, she does her job, and she does it well; she’s probably one of the best doctors in the entire fleet. But she doesn’t pretend to care for bedside manner, and sometimes the nurses have to splash water on her, just so they can get her to do a procedure.
Our last doctor got called home for a family emergency about two months ago, and Kosnik was sent in his stead. I was told she came from the Interceptor—only one of seven survivors—so you can hardly blame her for her mental state. But still, if the fleet weren’t severely hurting for medical personnel, I’d send her straight back home and recommend her for discharge out of mercy.
She’s like our rescue pet. No one really knows what happened before we adopted her. All we know is she keeps clear from anyone that she doesn’t have to be around, and if you make a wrong move or try to take away her food, she’ll snap at you.
And yet, somehow, we still adore her, in some strange familial way.
“Alright, everyone gather close, because I ‘aint repeating myself,” Doc Kosnik says in her trademark gravely drawl. “Eulysia here is a standard nitrogen oxygen mix, but it’s got an unusually high level of neon as well. For you human folk and Tokors, that won’t be a problem. It’s inert and won’t cause any issues in these quantities. However, for Asgeilans,” she looks right at Lieutenant Dairo, “it acts as a hallucinogenic. It’s not lethal, but it will severely impact your ability to function. I have a counteragent that should cancel out the effects for eight hours at a time.”
Lieutenant Dairo scowls—entirely opposed to any sign of weakness whatsoever—but grudgingly takes a small tube of pills from Doc’s outstretched hand.
“For Huhus, neon is highly abrasive to your external membranes. I wouldn’t suggest visiting the surface. However, if you do, you would need to suit up. That’s all I have.”
“Thanks Doc,” I say, but she’s already headed towards the exit and peeling off her uniform jacket. I face the others. “Okay, in addition to Lieutenant Dairo and her team of marines, I want Commander Tao and Ensign Khealia to join the landing party. Gear up, arm up. Pistols only. I don’t want to send the wrong message. Then, join me in shuttle one. The rest of you, standby in case we need to call in the reserves. Clear?”
“Yes, ma’am,” they respond in unison, though I swear I hear Lieutenant Dairo mumble something to the effect of excessive risk.