One Last Journey

Photo by Kasey McCoy on Unsplash

This is yet another prompt from the lovely Space Wrecks bot on Twitter. Its an automated bot that generates a short blurb inspired by Stewart Cowley’s Terran Trade Authority book, “Spacewreck: Ghostships & Derelicts of Space”.

ARCH/UB1.3: The Europan pod skimmed through the splintered crags, anchoring just beyond the Brigador V. The enormous ship was pitted by debris from the planet’s fractured moon. There, they buried the dead, beneath the sweeping banks of clouds.

First Mate Hox’inclin glanced up towards the dreary sky, feeling in their stomachs that this was to be it – the final thing that would set them free.

“Hox.” A voice, like mercury poured over grass, whispered in their ear. “You’ve brought us home.”

Hox’inclin shuffled some mucus around and nodded, their appendages wrapped around a rudimentary shovel. “I’ve brought you home so I can get to mine. You’ve haunted me too long, Captain; you’re barely more than vapours.” The Captain’s form, immaterial and gaseous, wavered just on the edge of Hox’s vision; it was a mirage of torment and grief. “Of course, you can’t understand that. You’ve been dead for ten years, and hounding me for eight of them. Do you even remember your name?” It stood silent and alien over Hox as they continued to dig in the Brigador’s shadow.

Finally, Hox’s shovel hit a rudder-strut, worn and covered in a sickly blue patina from the soil’s base nature. This planet was like quicksand to most life – inhospitable, almost vengeful. Hox’inclin was immune to the low pH thanks in part to their acidic membrane, though it did tingle something fierce. The Captain’s form shook and emitted a Shepard’s Tone, its timing as seemingly random as the near-decade of noises and commands it made. Hox wasn’t even sure if this thing was the Captain, though it certainly acted like it – cold, distant and unknowable, but due respect for its mere presence.

Still, it would be nice to be rid of the noisy bastard.

It took until the sun was past its peak to uncover the port-side hole – a nasty, jagged wound in the Brigador’s moon-marred skin. The shattered moon’s guts had been great plunder, but the cost of lives for their hubris was immense; when Hox’inclin had sought out their surviving crewmembers, none of them wanted to see Hox, let alone go on a journey back to their defeated and derelict ship for some “ghost”. Their debt to the Captain was paid, they said.

So why was the Captain still here? What had Hox’inclin done to deserve such a nightmarish existence as this? The questions had no answer, and the spirit would give none, as silent now as the inside of the ruined ship was; barely an echo. The inside walls had a similar shade of blue to them, dried and corroded after so long in the thin atmosphere. The wind blew in through the exposed hull, stirring clay and flakes of alloy into a choking cloud that stuck to Hox’s mucusy exterior, and they fought through the haze to the upper decks, leaving a trail of excreted slime as they tried to clear the pores.

At the top of the ship, the bridge was a mess: the ultrawide viewscreen collapsed inward by the collision years ago; the remains of bones and exoskeletons, strewn about in macabre positions where they had been tossed; a thin collection of algal carpet and microbial mats, likely set free from their containment in the ship’s walls. Harmless, but no less grotesque, were the parasitic creatures that had grown over their clutch-mate Biv’inclin – poor sod was covered head to toe in them, the fate of their kind when not cremated or dissolved properly. Hox turned away, unable to face their potential future.

“Home.” The Captain’s voice was sombre, almost compassionate – though Hox’inclin couldn’t imagine how. They couldn’t remember the last time they’d heard the Captain sound so tenderhearted.

It didn’t last. “You have fulfilled your duty, First Mate Hox’inclin.” The Captain’s voice was firm and cold again, and Hox could see something rising out of Biv’s shell, dim and barely-there. The other remains started to shine dully, half-forming some resemblance of the bridge crew: TeeTer, the strange little android pilot from Antilles; Fithins, a fine scientist but a gambler true; Laskos, second to Hox and rarely cool-headed; even Old Cor, a doting broodmother from the last lineage of Man.

The spirits – that’s what Hox’inclin assumed they were, or hoped – all spoke at once, familiar voices crowding Hox’s senses with old memories and worn-down thoughts, blunt and unintelligible. The barrage of half-remembered jokes and curses and conversations was alarming, almost terrifying, and Hox’inclin could barely stand up against the assault.

Then the Captain spoke without words, and the assembled spectres went quiet, loyal and keen. Hox peered through a single eyestalk at the group, wary to give them any leeway or reason. But they stood – hovered, really – stock-still, at attention, waiting for the Captain. “We are home.” The Captain’s figure saluted, and the crew returned it, all neat, tidy, and seemingly unaware of the mangled bones they rose from. With a sharp whistle of the Bosun’s signal-device, the visions slowly disintegrated, turning the air a pale blue for just a moment before the bridge sat dead again; an empty shell.

When Hox’inclin returned topside the clouds were still there, oppressive and moody, but they could see a break further on the horizon, back in the direction of the port. The clay gave them a prickle as they sought their way back across it, mind finally still and tranquil, like the sombre peace after a storm.

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