Continuing my pattern of posting projects that I don't quite consider abandoned yet I have been working on and off on a sci-fi horror novella for a few years. Trying to do something a bit different with the story, there are no alien monsters or space-zombies in it.
After an incident in a remote base owned by the Keres Corporation in the Gobi Desert the United Nations has ordered a simultaneous seizure of all Keres facilities on and off-world, the detention and assessment of all staff, and the collection of all project mainframe data.
The UN space division known as the Exploratory Force has dispatched a team to a Keres facility on a moon below the UN deep survey station Magellan, one of the remotest outposts in the Charted Systems.
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Part 1: Arrival at Athena Parthenos
No matter how busy science fiction tries to make it, no matter how colourful or how full of asteroids, comets or shooting stars, no matter how much beauty is painted across the heavens space is still largely just that: space.
Once in a while you might come across some interesting stellar gas, but overall it is just lots and lots of nothingness punctuated by the occasional lonely rock.
In this void the sound of Bach echoed as if playing through a tin can, which maybe wasn’t far from the truth. The timbre of the lonely cello humming the notes of the Prelude reverberated off the exposed metal walls of the lounge as a solitary man drifted in the zero gravity with his eyes closed.
He wore a loose fitting jumpsuit in sky blue, the back of which bore the legend UNITED NATIONS EXPLORATORY FORCE, it wasn’t a uniform so much as it was something comfortable to wear when floating in the zero g sections of the needle-like ship.
He twitched his fingers along to the rise and falls of the piece as it built toward its crescendo, savouring the moment, the rising wave-
The music vanished to be replaced by an intermittent beep and then a man’s voice.
“Agent Westwood, Athena Parthenos is directly ahead, we’ll have locked orbit in thirty minutes. ExFor station Magellan anticipating dock in forty minutes.”
“Thank you, Captain Nicolette,” he replied.
It was time to go to work.
An icy blue orb hung before the needlepoint nose of the United Nations starship ExFor Holst, and looming in the distance beyond the icy moon was the massive gas giant Cicerone, the gases of the world swirling purple and green as the vortex of a storm several magnitudes of Earth rolled by.
Between the moon and that raging storm hung a small silvery shard, the Exploratory Force station Magellan with its huge solar panels reflecting the cold blue of the moon far below, the station seemingly insignificant against the celestial canvas.
Drawing closer the scale of Magellan became more apparent, the wheel-like central hub rotating around the stanchions supporting the solar array came to dominate the forward display on the Holst. Beyond the solar arrays on either side were modules with a distinctive disc shape similar to a 1950’s idea of a flying saucer, these were the zero gravity lab areas, cargo holds, and docking bays.
In an observation dome overlooking the moonside docking disc station commander Mila Qwan steadied herself against a brace next to the viewport, her magnetic boots holding her to the deck but her body moving as though submerged.
She watched as a blocky cargo shuttle dropped from beneath the long hull of the ExFor craft with the slightest hint of apprehension. These were armed troops, military men, coming to an enclosed space were the only thing between them and oblivion was a few inches of alloy. She suddenly felt very far from Earth.
Behind her stood Dr Meyers, the Magellan’s chief medical officer and he was equally concerned.
“Why do you suppose they’re sending weapons inspectors?”
“I have no idea,” Qwan replied without taking her eyes off the shuttle, “there must be some mix up at Vandenberg.”
Meyers stared over her shoulder as the Magellan docking arm reached out for the shuttle as it turned broadside to the station, the dark purple X-4 like a silhouette against the white sides of the craft.
For its massive size the Magellan had a crew compliment of less than 50 and being so far isolated from Earth they lived as a tight knit community. News that the UN was sending inspectors had spread like wildfire through the crew, and Meyers like the rest of them had the same question in mind: what if one of these jarheads puts a hole in the side of the station?
Why they were sending inspectors at all was another matter entirely. Magellan’s primary function was an observation post to survey potential colony worlds within the sector, but since they were in deep space they carried out all kinds of experiments from bacteriology to physiology. What they did not do was anything remotely related to weapons research, and even if they did this was a UN station, the computer sent updates back to Vandenberg regular as clockwork.
“Better go greet them,” Qwan said with a resigned sigh, disengaging the maglocks in her boots and pushing off toward the ladder to the docking level.
Weirzbowski was already at the docking console when Qwan and Meyers drifted down, a synthetic cigar smouldering in his lips as he cycled through the last of the docking procedure.
“That’s our guests tucked up nice and tight,” he rumbled, “cargo transfer guides moving into place.”
Two large rails rose from the floor of the docking bay to lock against the wall on either side of the larger of the two access ports.
On the smaller port a console beeped and the display changed from red to green, the atmosphere had equalized.
“Here we go.”
A hiss came from the port and the heavy doors slid open to reveal a Middle Eastern man, a square jawed blond man and a raven haired woman, all in ExFor purple.
“Agent Westwood, I’m Mila Qwan, commander of ExFor Magellan,” she addressed the blond man, “welcome aboard.”
“Thank you,” the Middle Eastern man replied, “can I introduce Chuck Brewster, biocoms, and Mary Dowd, EWD.”
Qwan blushed at her mistake and began to stumble an apology.
“Don’t worry about it, everybody makes that mistake.”
Recovering from her error of judgement the commander introduced chief medical officer Meyers and chief engineer Weirzbowski. They shook hands and spoke in a cordial manner which threw the station crew off kilter given their earlier apprehension, it had been expected that the inspectors would be barking orders from the moment of their arrival, now they didn’t know what to think.
“Commander,” Westwood brought her to one side as the first of the cargo pods began to drift between the magnetic guide rails from the shuttle’s hold, “can I have a word while the crew unloads?”
Weirzbowski and Meyers watched as Qwan and the ExFor agent pulled themselves into the lateral tunnel that led back to the station core.
When the last of the inspection team and their gear had been brought over and the station’s outgoing waste had been loaded the shuttle returned to the patiently waiting ExFor Holst.
A second, smaller craft dropped from the shuttle bay, a delta winged ship with a wide body and two large scramjet engines, gun turrets on either side and below the tail fin hung menacingly. A Gal-X1 combat utility dropship, the latest rapid deployment vehicle currently in use by the UN on Earth, it rotated on it’s axis and set course for the Magellan docking disc.
“ExFor team, Holst preparing to disembark for Raleigh Outpost. See you in four weeks.”
“Roger that, Captain Nicolette,” Brewster answered the hail, “see you on your return.”
In the distance over the icy form of Athena Parthenos the two enormous rail guns mounted on the top and underside of the Holst retracted until they sat snug against the needle hull. The rearmost section of the stardrive behind the stubby wings broke apart and began to fan out, rotating around a central core glowing blue white.
“They aren’t hanging about?”
Meyers was surprised to see the starship preparing to leave the system, he had figured that the inspection team would have the run of the ship.
“It costs a lot of money to send those things extra-solar,” Brewster replied, “once they’re out here it’s best to make use of them.”
Modern starships utilised a system that created a wormhole around the hull of the ship, the long term effects of which on the fabric of the universe had not been fully tested, the fear was that it could one day create a rift that wouldn’t close. To that end the UN did not allow rift drives to be fired whilst within the Neptune Orbital Boundary, which meant that ships had to burn a lot of fuel through their sublight drives in order to leave the solar system.
“I’d rather see them hanging about,” Dowd said as a flash of light washed over the Holst in a wave, and then it was gone, “this job is always easier when you have a battleship parked behind your back.”
“Have you had much contact with the Eris complex on Athena Parthenos?”
Qwan paused on her drift through the long tunnel, Eris was a corporate facility on the moon surface owned by the Earth multi-national Keres. It had been part of the Magellan Project during construction but was sold off when the station was brought up to full capacity, the sale of obsolete facilities on the open market was one of the ways the UN encouraged expansion and exploration.
“We occasionally swap parts or use each other’s supply craft for urgent runs,” she replied, “is that why you’re out here?”
“Any unusual activity?”
“None,” she didn’t appreciate that Westwood had flat out ignored her question, “would you mind telling me why exactly you are here?”
“In due course.”
“No, Agent Westwood, now,” Qwan’s nostrils and blue eyes flared, “this crew has been on edge since we heard an investigation team was being sent, and unless you are carrying signed orders stating otherwise then I am still the commanding officer of this station. And I want answers.”
Westwood said nothing for a few moments, gripping the bulkhead his dark eyes moved as if trying to decide whether the best course of action was to pull rank or acquiesce.
“I am sorry,” he said at last, “the orders sent ahead of us were deliberately vague. I’ll brief the crew at 1100 hours and clarify everything, for now you can assure them that Magellan’s only involvement is to play host to my team for the duration.”
Qwan didn’t think that he was trying to be deliberately confrontational, watching him hover in the zero gravity, his dark hair rippling in the air current that flowed through the tunnel, she suspected that he was doing his best to be open whilst still telling her nothing.
“There hasn’t been any unusual activity from Eris,” she relented, “we haven’t had reason to communicate with them for over a month now.”
A brutal ice storm swept across the surface of Athena Parthenos, battering the frigid black mountain Thantatos Mons and the lonely little complex nestled up against it.
Snow drifts piled high along the walls and stalactites so windswept that they were almost horizontal had formed on windows that had their blast shutters sealed. The three garage facilities all linked to the two storey central complex by an underground basement system were locked up tight and caked with layers of ice, a lonely survey truck sat outside piled high with snow.
A solitary red light blinked on a beacon mounted high up the mountain above the silent facility, the only sign of life from a base that was in lockdown against the storm.
Between the beacon and the complex in a high up sheltered crevice was a man in only a lightweight grey jumpsuit, frozen to death as his fingers had desperately sought grip.
Views expressed may not be representative of reality.
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