When I was sixteen, I wasn’t in a great place emotionally. I was told by a recruiter that all of my problems would be solved if I joined up with SPACE, the Scientific Planetary Alliance for Celestial Exploration, everything would be better. I wouldn’t say everything has been worse, but it hasn’t been better. If anything, it feels like I ran from one problem and ran into another one. Originally, the mission for SPACE was to locate extraterrestrial life. Then, we messed up Earth. The mission changed to finding a planet that we could inhabit with minimum issue. We were a bunch of scientists who had to learn to fight now. No longer were we on a fun trip around the solar system. 

We’ve been on the ship for almost two years. We’ve discovered several new planets. None of them have been livable. Some are inhabited by giant creatures that would be too much to tame. Beasts as tall as sky scrapers cannot be tamed. There are no giant robots like we were promised. They would shrug off anything we did to them. Other planets have had atmospheres that would kill us in minutes. Some didn’t have solid ground. The entire trip has been pointless. We had Earth; we shouldn’t have messed up. We had years to save the planet but we just kept kicking the can down the road and blaming each other.

We haven’t made contact with any intelligent life. The only life we’ve run into wants us dead. It’s ridiculous. I thought there was some grand plan of systematically selecting which planets we visit. Maybe we had some prior knowledge of the ones we chose. Instead, it seems like we’re just aiming in the dark and stopping at every planet we come to. We’re just hoping to find something.

Mom wanted me to be a doctor. Every day out here, I wonder if she was right. The constant nagging and hovering didn’t help her make a good point. Still, if I were a doctor I wouldn’t be floating through space. I’m glad she isn’t here to hear that. She would never let me forget it. She’s probably got an ear twitch somewhere down on Earth. Still, it might have been a better career choice than running to the stars instead of finding a solution to my problems. What’s done is done and I can’t change it now. Just, make the best of it.

I’ve got two years left on this journey. We’ve learned to master warp speed by channeling the energy of black holes and here we are. Using it every day, and we still haven’t found anything. You’d think they would send out more than one ship. Maybe a smaller ship with less people. But here we are. They wanted a colony of people the moment we found a livable place. We’re just going stir crazy on this ship. More of the civilians are put into stasis due to increases in violence. They aren’t even fighting for anything serious, just looking at each other wrong. It’s ridiculous.

I’ve been thinking that it may be more effective to just try to terraform some of the planets that are mostly suitable. It wouldn’t take much more in terms of resources than what we’re doing. Maybe we just go back to Earth and find a way to fix what we screwed up.

“Did you hear? They found a radio signal, one that isn’t from Earth,” Jess pops into my cabin to inform me before rushing off.

I rush to suit up and track her down. Radio signals is big news around here. The only radio signals we’ve found are ones that were shot from Earth over the years. If this one isn’t from Earth this is huge news. We may have discovered some other life in the universe. We could be on the verge of finally completing our mission after all this time. I make it to the briefing room and it seems like just about everyone is already there.

The radio signal is already playing. I don’t understand a thing that they’re saying. Nobody in the room does. A group of translators are huddled in the corner attempting to decipher the language heard. They aren’t having any luck. I’m not sure why we brought translators. It isn’t like any language we encountered out here would be based on Earth languages. That’s just one of the things that doesn’t make sense about this mission. It was rushed and they didn’t think things through.

One thing about the voice is that it sounds distressed. That’s universal, in any language the sound of fear carries over. You recognize it. Doesn’t matter if it’s human, animal or alien. You know fear when you hear it, and you know when you see it. A few people are excited about what comes next, but something has scared these aliens, or would we be the aliens here? Either way, there sin’t any time wasted in trying to track the signal down. I’m sure there are coordinates included in the message but we can’t understand them. We’ve instead chosen to track them to their original location. A section of space not far from here.

Arriving we see a derelict ship floating out there. There’s no response to our signals. The ship looks damaged, and there may be no more life on board. Still we all vote to enter the ship without hesitation. Those higher up in command rush to suit up and decide that they’ll be the ones to enter the ship. A commotion starts and they give up on the idea. Many feel as if command should be left on the ship in the event of danger. A lie, but nobody wants to be stuck on this ship when this could be our first chance at some real action.

When they ask for volunteers almost every hand shoots up. They try to give some speech about no rookies being allowed to partake in such a dangerous mission. One man speaks up and states we’re all rookies in this situation. He’s not wrong. None of us have seen anything like this before. They resort to the classic way of doing it. They draw names from a hate. Five people will enter the ship and do a quick sweep before clearing it for others to enter and find out what happened. I eagerly throw my name in hoping to be chosen, but not expecting it.

When my name is actually called as the fifth and last member of the squad, I rush through the crowd pushing people to the side. I’m finally going to do something fun for once. We’re taken into a separate room by leadership and they give us the same standard speech they give any time we touch land on a planet. Be on our best behavior, try to keep the situation calm and all that. This is the first time that it might actually be useful but I’ve got it committed to memory by now. They don’t wait for questions this time, they send us off to suit up sensing our anxiousness.

I put my red and white suit, on. Years of technology have changed these suits over the years. They’re essentially suits of armor now, yet nowhere near as bulky as the original space suits. I pull a standard issue laser rifle from the charging station and finish by grabbing my helmet. My heart is beating out of my chest as we’re led to the bridge.

Our space bridge extends across to the other ship and makes contact. The magnets trap the ships together. Hooks extend into the hull of the derelict ship to ensure it doesn’t float away with us on board. After a few salutes, we make our way across the bridge. The woman running point uses her plasma torch to cut a hole into the ship. We arm ourselves and get ready for something as she kicks out the piece of ship she had just cut.

Inside the ship lights flicker, but there seems to be no sign of life. Our sensors indicate the air is breathable but there is a separate poison floating in the air. The ship looks much smaller from the outside. Inside it is grand and elegantly designed. We focus on function over beauty in our designs, but they seem to have the opposite in mind. What I can only guess is a tree stands alone in the middle of the foyer we breached into. The bark appears to be purple and there don’t appear to be any leaves. However, a white fruit seems to be growing from the tree. There seems to be half eaten pieces near the bottom of the tree.

It looks like there were people here for sure. But they all seemed to have left in a hurry. Probably something to do with the distress signal they sent us. With no one left to rescue, our first objective is complete. Our next objective is to find information. Information about the ship, where it came from, where it is going and who piloted it. We attempt to radio back to the hub that the ship seems empty. Our calls fall on deaf ears. Something in the ship is blocking our communications. Perhaps it is whatever the ship is made from. It wouldn’t be absurd to believe it was made from some material that we don’t have any knowledge of. 

Instead we agree to explore the ship more. We’ve come too far to turn back now that we’ve finally gotten somewhere with this space mission. We spray out an invisible aerosol from our suits. We’ll be able to use it to get back to this entrance should we get lost. Once we pass from the main lobby into the ship there is no power so we rely on our helmet lights to see our way through. The ship is built almost like a maze, with every hall splitting off into another hall. 

This is a science ship. Rooms filled with computers and microscopes. I suppose some things are universal. None of these things are of human design, but their uses are apparent right away. The keyboard is filled with symbols I don’t recognize. They don’t look like any language or set of numbers I’ve ever seen. I tap a few keys but get no response. I wasn’t expecting one, but if I had it would be a big help. There are cages but none seem to hold animals anymore. The cages are small, so I doubt there would be anything that could hurt us if it was running around free. Computer tablets of some sort, litter the room. I pick one up and it illuminates the screen. Someone had been taking notes. Again, the strange symbols cover the notes as I scroll through. A diagram of what looks to be some kind of cell structure is drawn halfway through with handwritten instead of typed labels. 

We make our way to the next room; this one seems to be a cafeteria of sorts. Large group seating in different sections of the room. It doesn’t look like the usual lunch tables we have but stools surround floating circles which seem to be tables. The kitchen is what gives it away. It seems to be a large industrial grill, somewhat similar to what you would find in a fast food restaurant. The food however seems to be a lot different. Meat obviously looks like meat, still has bone attached but the colors are different. Green meat would be a certain death on Earth but they’ve got plenty of the stuff in freezers. 

We regroup in the center of the room, only to notice that we’ve lost a member. Doug, he’s nowhere to be found. The tracker in Doug’s suit has gone dark and he doesn’t respond to our calls. Doug was never a prankster, so something had to happen to him. Perhaps it is time that we get out of the ship and return later with a real party to search for Doug. We follow the spray back but the trail vanishes.

This can’t be right. It seems like the entire layout of the ship has changed in the few minutes that we’ve been here. It doesn’t make any sense. The lab was right around the corner from the cafeteria. I remember it. The spray led us that way. Yet we’re at a dead end now, and we’re one person short. I hope this is all an elaborate prank but I fear the worst. This counts as first contact, but it isn’t the peaceful diplomatic meeting we had all imagined and hoped for.

Now we have no map and no trail to follow, we can only hope that we’re going in the right direction. Still we continue to come to dead ends. At one corner we chose to walk down the stairs as it seemed that we had somehow went up a floor on the ship. Again, we ran into a dead end. We just couldn’t seem to make it back up a level after that. Yet we crossed many staircases leading down. The ship doesn’t seem that big to have so many lower levels.

Abigail is the next to go missing. She had been behind me the entire time. I could hear the chattering of her teeth. Then I didn’t when I turned around there was no sign of her. Our group had gone from five to three in the hours that we had been on this ship. There was no sign of Abigail going missing. She didn’t scream, there was no dragging or fighting. We didn’t even notice extra footsteps. Whatever is hunting us is efficient. For the next hour the three of us hold our position. Watching each other, hoping that nothing will attack when we’re watching. 

Panic sets in and Ben takes off running into the darkness. We attempt to follow while keeping each other in our sites. Our caution is slowing us down, but Ben runs head first into the night he doesn’t stop running and seems to be picking up speed. We follow as long as we can, he’s not hitting any dead ends. Perhaps his intuition has told him how to get off this damned ship. As Ben rounds what must have been the sixth corner, we hear a piercing scream that has to belong to Ben and we come to a stop. No longer eager to chase Ben down that hallway. We can count him amongst the lost now. Another life claimed by this ship of the dead. Slowly we follow around the corner, no sign of Ben. Just like the others there’s no evidence he was ever there. There’s no blood, combat damage. Just gone. That leaves just Eric and I to find a way back to our own ship. Things aren’t looking great right now.

The two of us opt go back to back. If something tries to grab either us, we’ll be able to see it coming. We try to retrace our steps again, back to the hallway where Ben took off running. It was an attempt that something we had already tried would work, but it didn’t. Insanity, we’re being driven insane by whatever is leading us around this maze blindly. Another check with the scanner and the aerosol looks like we’ve just been running around in circles the whole time.

For a moment we seem to be making some progress. For the first time in a while we manage to find a set of stairs leading us upwards. The first step to getting out of here. It seems the worst is over for now and we let our guard down. I turn to Eric to ask a question just in time for a wall to slide between us. There was no sign that a wall was there. We both begin to bang on the wall attempting to bring it back down. I hear his laser rifle discharge several times. Perhaps at the wall, perhaps at some unseen entity.

I count six shots. Then nothing. No banging, on the wall, no voice answering my calls. Now it’s just me. I set my rifle to kill. Whatever has taken everyone else out will have a fight on it’s hands if it tries to take me. I can only hope the hunger has been filled by now. Still I wander aimlessly in this ship. My final resting place. I’m waiting for death to come for me, and I’ll kick it in the face. I’ve gained some of my confidence back, but it leaves me along with all the warmth in my body.

Everything goes dark despite my flashlight still working. I can’t see anything. I scream out but something is blocking my screams. This is it the moment that I’m being taken. I can’t pull my trigger. Something won’t let me do it as I’m being pulled downward. At least it feels that way, I have no idea where I’m going. I only wait and try to accept my fate. I wanted a rush when I joined, now I’m getting it.

My vision returns and I find myself on our ship. Back where this all started. The other team members are here. Unharmed, a little shaken but fine. I do a quick pat down to make sure I’m not injured either. My suit is damaged and my rifle is corroded but nothing more than that. The leaders are discussing something with some odd reptilian creatures on a screen. I’m unsure of what is going on. Once the screen goes dark, everyone cheers.

I’m told that the ship was indeed a science ship however an experiment gone wrong created a weaponized gas. It ate through our suits, and corroded our weapons. We didn’t notice, because a side effect of the gas was insanity. Eventually we would have gone crazy and probably killed each other. When the Saurians learned someone had entered their ship they rushed over to save us. We were teleported one at a time back to our ship. We were only on the ship for fifteen minutes although it felt like hours. Just a sign of insanity from the gas. 

Using some translator device, they contacted our ship. Apparently, this counted as first contact and we welcomed with open arms into the Galactic Federation. We’re headed for the Citadel now. I’m told it’s a planet where the entire surface is covered with a single city. It serves as the home base of the Galactic Federation and supposed capital of the universe. This all seems so crazy to me. Just a few hours ago I was bored and ready to go home. Now I’ve made first contact and I’m going to meet more alien species than I could have imagined. This is everything I dreamed of.  

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