Hello everyone! This is the portion of my story A Cry from Silence that I recently submitted for the Vocal Media Challenge New Worlds. If you like my writing and would like to support me, it would mean the world to me if you would head on over to Vocal Media and show your support here. Just a leave a like, comment, and share with your friends as engagement can mean the difference between 1st and 2nd place in this contest based on the rules.
With all that said, I hope you enjoy this teaser! This is an excerpt from the First part of the full short story and will be called: A Cry from Silence: Echoes in the Dark.
Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. Silence hangs over the cosmos like a curtain, obscuring the noise of distant stars and civilizations.
Blanketed in dark, muffled in silence, little can be truly known.
Out there, what might be lost in the dark reaches?
What if the curtain were pulled back but a moment?
Buried betwixt, decrepit and decayed.
Struggling to the surface, desperate to be heard.
Perhaps they might call out in that great beyond.
But from their cry, only silence remains.
Swallowed in the endless infinity.
In the end, all who creep the ancient grounds of empty space, searching for scrapped and buried secrets, know this single truth. A truth conveyed in whispered words before stepping out into blackened void:
Never take Silence for Absence.
Circling the outskirts of the Saresh System, there sat the docking station of the Salvage vessel, ISS Tainen. By standard Earth time, it was very late. All of the crew was resting at this time, save one.
Junior Engineer Myra Solus sat languidly on the scanning deck. A young woman in her mid twenties. Her skin, full of youthful exuberance, was caked in a layer of oil and grease that never seemed to wash off, no matter how hard she scrubbed. Disheveled hair, originally strawberry blond, suffered a similar affliction, and was kept tucked in a ponytail.
Eyelids drooped over brown eyes as she fought to remain focused on her screen. There were only a few minutes left in her shift before she was relieved by her senior.
Lighthouse duty, as it was often called, was pretty simple. The scanner was old, and often needed calibrating day and night. Her and the senior engineer would take alternating shifts on deck to make sure nothing went wrong.
Maybe if we make a big score, we can finally afford an upgrade to this hunk a’ junk. Myra thought bitterly. Newer models had onboard AI that calibrated automatically, but the Tainen was an old model, practically an antique. It was made with only the bare essentials in mind, taking the crew to and from jobs with recovered loot in tow.
Silver lining, though, at least we got it refurbished a few years back, Myra thought as she recalled the uncomfortable iron chairs they had when she started.
The Captain, Lyle Roman, entered without much warning, arms folded behind his back. He was on the shorter side, as was often the case for both men and women in space. Rooms were tight and cramped, so the taller you were, the harder it was to move around. His beard, dark brown, was well trimmed and gave him a rather dashing look, even though he was close to twice Myra’s age.
He smiled at her and announced in a deep baritone, “Look alive, Myra. Captain on deck.”
Myra snorted, Lyle may have been the owner and commanding officer on the ship, but he was never one to stand on ceremony. “Would if I could, boss, been dead tired for three hours and counting. Couldn’t look alive if I tried.”
“A pity,” Lyle said, feigning sorrow as he revealed two cups of coffee behind his back, “I guess this means I’ll have to drink both these cups of coffee myself.”
“Oh, no you don’t,” Myra grinned, snagging the proffered mug from him, “That’s just what the doctor ordered.”
As she drank deeply from the ambrosial fluid, Lyle stared at the screen, taking a sip from his own mug, “How’s it going?”
“Usual,” Myra groaned, “Nothing caught on the monitor, so just making sure the hunk a’ bolts stays calibrated.”
Lyle chuckled, but before he could say anything the room shook from a small tremor. In response, the screen, and all the lights in the cabin, went dark.
“Did you break it?” Lyle asked, pulling a small flashlight from his belt.
“No!” Myra yelled defensively, then added in a softer tone, “At least, I don’t think so.”
Suddenly, the main monitor on the wall flashed to life, showing a red beacon on the far corner of the display. The whole room turned a shade of red as a distress beacon pinged, sending a wave out across the screen.
The sharp cry of the ping resounded throughout the room.
It filled the silence of the monitoring station, reverberated through the nooks and crannies of the metals and gears. They both felt it, this was no ordinary find.
It was so much more.
“Is it…supposed to do that?” Lyle asked, “Could still be broken.”
Myra sighed, exasperated from fatigue, “Listen, boss, the scanner is weird. It’s always been weird. Has something to do with whatever dark matter crap the GNE shoved in ships to go FTL. Above my paygrade, is all I know.”
He frowned, then tapped a few keys on the console. It was working, so he pulled up additional information from the beacon, “Hm, it seems to be reading something on the far reaches of our scanner. Something…big.”
“Big?” Myra asked, leaping from her seat to look at his screen, “How big we talkin’?”
“Big enough it’s…not actually a ship.” Lyle said, confused.
Myra tapped the screen where it read the moniker for the pinged vessel, “D.M.S. 12-9…I’ve never seen that ship classification before.”
“That’s because they don’t get salvaged, it’s a moniker for a mining station in deep space. ISSC cancelled all of those operations once they started disappearing years ago,” Lyle said, stroking his chin thoughtfully.
In a rush of movement, Lyle ran over to Elias’s console. As the Communication Officer, his was the only one with a direct connection to the GNE database. Lyle quickly tapped in his credentials and began a frantic search. After a few minutes, he declared proudly, “Found it!”
He then pulled the information to the main screen, showing a blueprint for a massive settlement, “DMS 12-9, designated The Adderact. Capable of housing over three hundred miners and their families. Contact was lost twelve years ago.”
Myra whistled, calculating the worth of all that material in her head, “That’s gotta be worth a pretty penny.”
“Might be a whole mint,” Lyle said, “Says here the colony was mining UMBRA.”
Myra’s eyes widened. UMBRA was the classification the Guild of Nautical Exploration(GNE) used for its fuel source. Given its rarity and the difficulty processing, the GNE paid top dollar for any salvaged from ship cores, which usually only salvaged for a single gram of pure UMBRA. That was as much as anyone got, unless you got lucky and stumbled across a freight hauler.
Or a mining colony, in this case.
“Go find Elias,” he said, turning to leave the Scan Deck, “Let him know we need to schedule a call with the Outpost ASAP.”
“Uh, sure. Where are you going, cap?” Myra asked.
“Checking in on our Salvager,” Lyle called back, “He’ll want to see this.”
Myra nodded, getting up to find the Communications Officer, though he was probably still in his bunk at this hour. Before she left, she stared at the red dot on the monitor one last time.
It stared back, unblinking.
Whatever that is, it’s going to be one helluva haul, she smirked as she slipped down the hall towards Elias’s quarters.
From a deep slumber, Dalton Kendrick’s eyes shot open. His face flushed and breath ragged. Panicked, he scanned the dark around him.
He could see nothing. Darkness closed in from all angles, seeking to swallow him.
In the back of his mind, he began the mantra Dr. Tau had taught him, This is my room aboard the Tainen. I am here, I am alone.
After a moment, his breathing slowed. He repeated the final phrase over and over in his mind.
I am here, I am alone.
Eventually, his rational mind prevailed. The visions and whispers of his nightmares faded. He rose to his feet, then turned to stare at sheets stained by sweat.
Looking down, he noted the same stains on his sleep attire, a simple shirt and undergarments. Pulling up his shirt, he could see his whole body was flushed, glistening from his perspiration, and a pungent odor wafted to his nose.
And I need a shower.
Bleary-eyed, he wandered towards the bathroom. The shower head immediately turned on as he stepped inside.
Dalton always kept his room several degrees hotter than necessary, the water from the shower was no different.
The heat served as a reminder. As steam filled the chamber and Dalton melted under the heat, one thing was absolutely certain to him.
He was alive.
After soaking in the heat for a few minutes, letting it burn his pale skin, he completed his needed cleaning and exited the shower.
Standing in front of the mirror, he wiped the condensation away to get a look of himself. Staring into his reflection, Dalton saw the red covering his body. Lifeblood and fire flushed through his veins. Only his eyes, two achromatic, reflective pools of whitest ivory, remained unchanged.
He smiled in spite of himself.
As he began the day and his body began to cool, he knew it would pale to a shade short of bleached white.
But this was the closest he ever got to seeing the old Dalton. The Dalton before joining the ISSC, before he earned his Salvage License.
Before the incident on the ISS Osus.
This is enough. He thought, staring into the mirror for just a moment longer, I am alive now. And that is enough.
Returning to his room, he felt a slight chill as the steam left his body.
Turning on the light, he scanned the room in search of clean clothes. Everything he owned was meticulously kept.
Which is why everything he owned was scattered all over the floor.
So long as I can tell which one is clean, I don’t need to use the drawers. Dalton reasoned, ignoring the fact his room had all furniture, outside of the bunk, removed. A consequence of a particularly egregious nightmare. Dr. Tau had ordered them removed for his safety shortly after discovering him collapsed in the wreckage of broken drawers and scattered debris.
As he was sorting through the nearest assortment, a knock came from the door.
“Dalton, it’s me.” Lyle called out, “Got something you’ll want to see. You decent?”
“Lyle. Good timing, just woke up a few minutes ago,” Dalton said, finding a clean uniform and pulling it on, “I’ll be out in a minute.”
The uniform was simple, a jumpsuit that allowed freedom of motion that could be worn under the suits used in Salvage operations. Most of the crew wore casual clothes between operations, but he always wore the jumpsuit underneath anything else he put on.
Just in case. He thought, though he had no idea what cases would require it. Eventually, he just chalked it up to his usual paranoia.
After the jumpsuit, Dalton quickly threw on a pair of heavy sweats and a long leather coat. Once finally protected from the lack of elements, he opened the door. Lyle was leaning comfortably against the wall opposite Dalton’s room, carrying a mug of coffee.
“Enjoy your shower?” Lyle asked casually.
Dalton nodded, “Any coffee left?”
Lyle shrugged, “Probably, but it’ll have to wait,” standing up at full attention, he looked Dalton directly in the eye, “I have something to show you, but before we get to that. How are you feeling?”
Dalton thought for a moment, then shrugged, “About as well as I ever feel.”
Lyle frowned, “Still have the nightmares?”
He nodded. Lyle was the only member of the crew outside the doctor that knew the full extent of his problems.
Being the captain aside, Lyle had earned that right as his longest and oldest friend.
“Maybe it’s time you start considering retirement, Dalton,” Lyle said, concerned, “You look worse after each salvage and the good doctor doesn’t seem to be helping.”
This was the start of an old conversation, one that never ended well.
“Perhaps you’re right,” Dalton finally said, staring at the floor as he wrapped the coat around himself tighter, “But I can’t leave. I need to know what happened.”
Lyle sighed, “Still don’t remember what happened on the Osus?”
Dalton shook his head.
“And how is staying here solving anything?” Lyle raised his voice, but kept it measured. His face stoic and gaze intense as he stared Dalton down, “You’re one of the best damn salvagers I know, but let’s face facts. Whatever it is you guys handle, it leaves a pile of bodies. Work the job long enough, Salvagers always either end up dying on the job or going crazy. If you want to have something after all this, you need to retire. With your experience and accolades, you’ll have endorsements and access to whatever you want. I wouldn’t be surprised if you can even land one of those fancy teaching jobs in the Capitol.”
He means well, but he’ll never understand.
Dalton swallowed, his fist clenched. He returned Lyle’s gaze with one of his own, as he declared firmly, “If I leave, I’ll only ever know the official record. The answers I seek can only be found at the bottom of a wreckage.”
“Just because you think-” Lyle began.
“I know,” Dalton interjected, taking a step forward, “I don’t expect you to understand, Captain. I lost a part of myself out there, and I’m not leaving until I get it back.”
Lyle held his gaze for another moment, searching for any sign of weakness or uncertainty. Finding none, he relented. His fingers massaging the bridge of his nose, “Fine, fine. But are you sure you can handle it? I really don’t want to go through the paperwork to forcefully retire you.”
“I’m fine, captain. I can handle whatever you got for me.” Dalton said, an ancient confidence returning to his voice.
Lyle smiled, the previous tension gone from his features, “Good because this next salvage operation may be enough to get the rest of us an early retirement. Follow me.”
Without another word, Lyle turned and began heading toward the scanning deck.
Dalton was stunned by the sudden shift in tone, but quietly realized what had happened.
Whatever this job was, it needed him in top condition.
“That big, huh,” Dalton said, falling in beside him.
Lyle laughed and clapped Dalton’s shoulder, “You have no idea.”
By the time Dalton and Lyle returned to the scanning deck, the rest of the crew had already gathered.
“I thought I only asked for Elias?” Lyle said, as he saw everyone hovering by the computer.
Myra shrugged, “Met Alora on the way and told her the news…”
“Then I got the good doctor,” Alora interjected, flashing Dalton a quick smile as he entered the room, her green eyes sparkling, “If this is gonna be our next job, I thought the whole crew should know.”
“Fair enough,” Lyle said, “But we’ll need our Communications Officer to contact the Outpost before we do anything.”
Dalton stepped closer to the monitor, lightly brushing up against Alora as he did so. She did not seem to mind. His eyes pored over the information carefully, “A deep space mining colony…that’s a new one.”
Myra nodded, “Yeah, first time we heard a’ one popping up like this as well.”
“Yes, seems like quite a find,“ Elias said, his voice velvet smooth. He was a bookish sort, juxtaposed with a shaved head and black soul patch underneath his lip. He adjusted his glasses as he stared at the screen.
Satisfied, he went to the GNE computer console and sat down, “I’ll get our contact on the line.”
As part of his duties, Elias was the one who needed to contact the GNE in order to confirm if they were approved to complete the Salvage operation or if additional assistance was required.
Dalton paid him no mind, studying the mining colony further. He felt a strange kinship form as he stared deeper into the colony’s recesses on the blueprint. We’ve both been out here a long time, eh? Wonder how intact you are. How much you’ve lost.
Maybe we’ll help each other out.
Elias pulled Dalton from his reverie, “Team? Change of plans. Looks like we’ll be speaking to the Director at Outpost Viszus directly.”
This was enough to get everyone’s attention. GNE Outposts managed entire quadrants of space, including all necessary functions of the ISSC in their region. The director oversaw all management of the Outpost and acted as the absolute authority of the GNE in their controlled space.
While only the communications officer was technically considered a member of the Outpost, the entire crew relied on it to provide payment for any processed salvage.
“…is that bad? ” Myra asked. She was the youngest member and had the least experience dealing with the GNE outposts.
“Probably not,” Lyle said, trying to sound confident, “Probably just need to go through some extra red tape.”
Elias nodded, “The director has access to files and records we don’t. He can probably give us intel we’ll need for the Salvage operation.”
“Agreed,” Dalton said, “Probably means this will be upgraded in priority and we’ll be getting assistance.”
Myra sighed, “Great, so we’ll be sharing.”
“Yes, but with a place this big, there’ll be more than enough to go around,” Alora said, hoping to cheer up her Junior.
Dr. Tau didn’t look pleased with that possibility either, “More ships means we’ll also have more likelihood of things going wrong. Hope those other Salvage ships have good crews or we may get dragged down with them.”
“Hey, negativity is Kendrick’s job, Tau.” Lyle said, trying to lighten the mood.
Dalton smirked, about to make a retort about Lyle’s leadership when Elias’s console pinged. At that moment, a middle aged man appeared on his screen.
Everything about him could be described as sharp. Outside the clear signs he was recently pulled from slumber, the man gave off all clear signs of authority and power expected of a GNE Director. He sat in a high backed office chair at his desk, the GNE and ISSC logos were engraved in the steel wall behind him.
“Good day,” The director said, with a calm confidence and professionalism that made the entire crew stand a little straighter, “I am Director Samuel Pierce, I’ll be the one reviewing your operation based on its…peculiar nature.”
“Understood, sir,” Elias said, maintaining a calm demeanor in the face of his superior.
“Good,” The director nodded, relaxing in his chair as he got to business, “Then let me be blunt on the current matter. A project this size normally requires a dozen salvagers.” A strange expression quickly crossed the Director’s face, before he added, “Unfortunately, you are the only Salvagers available within Latching distance. And I have reason to believe we likely won’t have enough time to wait.”
“What do you mean?” Lyle asked, leaning over Elias, who gave a grunt of annoyance.
“This is not the first time The Adderact has reappeared,” the director said, tapping his desk in thought, “Each time, it’s disappeared before we could get enough salvagers on board.”
Not wanting to lose this opportunity, Lyle suggested, “What if we go on our own?”
The director waved his hand in front of the screen, dismissing the idea, “Impossible, the colony is too big for a single Salvager,” Then a thought occurred to the director, “Unless…the entire crew disembarks for the operation.”
“I beg your pardon?” Elias asked.
The director explained, “Six should be enough to explore and procure high value items on board. I’ll then try to send over whoever I can once it’s available to complete the remainder of the Salvage. If this offer is amenable to you, you’ll receive first commission on all items you manage to retrieve, plus additional Class IX hazard pay for each crew member involved since this requires expertise outside your classifications.”
The crew collectively began salivating at the prospect. Class IX hazard pay for just one member of the crew would be enough to cover the cost of a new ship. Add on the first commission price and the fact the Hazard pay was set for each crewmate, this would be enough for everyone to retire comfortably. This was the kind of opportunity that was once in a lifetime for a Salvage crew, if that.
Dalton alone soured at the prospect.
“They can’t,” Dalton interjected this time, leaning into Elias’s other shoulder, receiving the same grunt of annoyance. His voice showed a touch of panic, “They don’t have the clearance and they don’t know how to handle themselves in a hazardous environment like a derelict colony.”
“I’m guessing you’re this crew’s Salvager…” The director said, pulling out the crew manifest to confirm, “Dalton Kendrick, I presume?”
“Yes…sir” Dalton said, the honorific hanging awkwardly from his mouth.
“Says here you are a Class A Salvager, Kendrick. Meaning you have the expertise and experience to supervise and manage new or experienced Salvagers.” The director said.
“Correct,” Dalton said reluctantly, “But that doesn’t change the fact this crew isn’t even remotely trained, and won’t know what they’re doing.”
The director sighed, “If you’re that concerned, we can wait until more Salvage teams are available-”
“Before we make any sudden decisions,” Lyle cut in, “Can we discuss this alone for a moment?”
The director looked over at the time, then said, “You have five minutes. Otherwise, we wait until more crews are ready.”
“Perfect, thank you,” Lyle said, smiling as the feed was temporarily cut.
“You can’t be thinking we actually do this,” Dalton said before Lyle could get a word in.
“Of course I am, Dalton!” Lyle bellowed, causing Dalton to flinch, “If we pull this off, we can keep the lion’s share of the salvage price. At minimum, we can expect a hefty reward, but if we’re lucky, it will be filled with UMBRA. We can make out like kings!”
“Or you can all die because you have no idea how dangerous it is in a wreck!” Dalton countered, “We won’t know what kind of state it’s in until we get there. If we’re unlucky, the whole colony could be a death trap only the most experienced Salvagers can navigate!”
Lyle sighed, not able to argue. He turned away, looking out the window toward the star at the center of the system. It glowed a vibrant orange yellow, similar to the one Earth orbited. They were, however, orbiting from a far greater distance so the background radiation did not affect their equipment.
From their perspective, it was merely the brightest star on the horizon.
Finally, he said, “I know.”
“Then why are you even considering?” Myra asked, clearly upset by the argument, “I’d really rather not end up space trash, if it’s that dangerous.”
“Because,” Lyle said, still staring out at the star, “This could be the last Salvage. For all of us.”
A silence fell on the crew.
“What do you mean?” Dalton asked, tentatively, as he stood beside him, “You really planning on retiring?”
“Before this offer? No. But consider how dangerous this job is, for all of us,” Lyle said, turning to eye Dalton, “It’s not an easy life we lead. We live in a giant tin box, no vacations, no sick days. Not that I’m complaining, I don’t regret my time here, and I suspect you all feel the same.”
A pause, then everyone nodded.
He continued, “I joined to explore the stars. An age old dream, but I’m not a young man anymore.”
Closing his eyes, he turned back toward the window, arms outstretched. As if to bathe in the light from that distant star, “I miss the feeling of the sun on my face. The smell of grass, of life moving around me. Last time I knew those things, I was a kid itching to escape. When we got that offer, I heard it. For the first time in a lifetime, a voice calling me back home.”
More silence. Dr. Tau was the first to speak, “What if the rest of us don’t want to leave this life yet?”
Lyle turned to her, opening his eyes, “And you’re welcome to remain out here, but if we do this, you won’t be forced to work on a dingy ship like this. Even split between us, the money for this job will be a king’s ransom, no matter how you slice it. The universe will be your oyster and you’ll likely have first pick of whatever you want for the rest of your lives.”
The thought lightened the tension in the room as everyone considered just what would be possible if they had more money than they had ever dreamed.
Dr. Tau was the first to speak up, she spoke slowly and tentatively, “I’ve always wanted to finance my own hospital. Maybe use the funds to set up on one of the new settlements?”
Myra jumped in, stars were in her eyes, “I would set myself up as a shipwright, make a name for myself and designthe next generation of ships that sailed across the Federation.”
Elias smirked, “Amateurs, I would retire and live like royalty at the Capitol with that kind of money.”
Alora said nothing, she had spent the longest on this ship and seemed the most upset at the prospect this could be the end. She turned to look outside, “I don’t know what I’d do after this…maybe work at an ISSC training facility? Don’t think I need much money for that, though”
Dalton smiled at the thought. He wanted to sayshe would make a great teacher, but kept it to himself.
Lyle nodded, “And I’d go find a nice place planetside somewhere warm and sunny, maybe even set up a farm. Fact of the matter is, this will help us get to where we want to be. So I’m willing to risk whatever it takes to see that dream become a reality.”
Everyone thought for another moment, before giving their own agreement to the risk.
Finally, Dalton sighed, but nodded. “Okay, I’ll do it. But you have to listen to everything I say, understand?”
As everyone shared their agreement with his terms, Elias got the director back on the screen. He was sitting with fingers folding in front of him as the screen blinked to life.
“Well?” he said calmly, “What will it be?”
“We’ll do it, sir,” Elias said.
The director let out a sigh of relief, “Excellent, then begin latching protocols as soon as possible. Contact me once you arrive and I’ll let you know when to expect assistance.”
“Understood, sir. Thank you.” Elias said before the connection cut and the screen went black.
“You heard him,” Lyle said, “Begin latching protocols ASAP. I want us ready to go within the hour.”
“Yes, sir!” Everyone said, possibly for the last time, as they raced off to get everything ready.