Sometimes I felt that we had gone too far in the way of exploration. While the pursuit of knowledge pushed on, I felt as though it was needless, for surely there are things out there that we can't, or rather shouldn't know. The exploration of space was sure to house secrets that were best left hidden amongst the stars, secrets that were not meant for human eyes, strayed too far from the horizons of Earth, whose vistas were far less appealing to the eye these days.
While my feelings were against the idea of exploring the farthest reaches of the known universe & all it contained, it was where I found myself. Mankind had found itself pushed into the stars, forced to live out in the emptiness & so for many, life in cold, industrial space stations while the more adventurous searched for a new planet to house the so-called "most advanced" species; another planet for a parasite to burrow into & drain. & I was left with no choice but to spend the rest of my life wandering through the galaxy, operating as a transporter for goods between space stations - taking crops & produce from one station to another in need. So in essence, I was a delivery driver; not as glamorous as a space explorer, but it was a means of living & it suited me just fine. I could fly a ship & was content with loneliness, although I don't think you can ever be prepared for the loneliness of space.
Each job was simple - fly to the station with the goods (usually one devoted to the growth of edible crops), load up on the cargo & fly to the station in need of resources (often a habitat station, for those wealthy enough to not have to work). Always straight forward, easy & peaceful - no one stops you, no one questions you, you just do the job, get paid & continue living soundly. It was boring to most people & certainly for me on the particularly long voyages but I always found something about traversing through the stars satiated that need for interest, like it was feeding me directly. I'd spend hours staring into the dark from my ship's portholes, which I often did when not on a contract. Just something about the concept of an infinite void, completely devoid of anything, or at least anything comprehensible to the human mind, was hauntingly beautiful, chilling even. While totally beautiful & awe-inspiring, staring too long always left you feeling like the empty void had peered back with ravenous hunger, & in the process, stolen a part of you forever.
One thing that was a persisting fear of mine, whether explicitly or hiding in the unconscious mind, was the fear of being all alone, with no means of travel, stuck suspended in space with the only hope being that someone comes across you & is willing to help - the chances of someone finding you are slim, the chances of them helping even slimmer. It was something that haunted my dreams, my nightmares. I'd heard stories of crews stuck, trapped in the metal cage for weeks, months even, waiting to see if they'd run out of oxygen, food or water first - I always assumed morale went first. It was while I was considering this scenario that the radio went off.
"kzzzt… We need Jamie up here, he usually knows what to do…. Yeah we need …. Just get him up here we don't know what they want…"
Interfering signals wasn't uncommon but it was something to occupy my mind, though I usually paid it no particular attention. I was just listening passively.
"The hull looks damaged…. Pieces torn out &... no response?"
It was getting more & more interesting, each fragment drawing me closer to the edge of my seat, ensnaring my attention.
" They've boarded…. Docking bay 7… Steph says there's no one on board… No one? Is she sure? That can't be right…"
The next broadcast was more unusual, more eerie. There were no words. Only the sounds of someone walking around in the room, as though someone was holding the button down on the radio but not talking. The footsteps became more erratic, panicked like they were shuffling around trying to find something in a blind panic, or, more horrifically, trying not to be found. Then a breathing, right down into the microphone. It was deep, heavy, rasping, like that of a miner who had spent his whole life in the choked passages. In, out, in out. It was at this point that I decided to intercept, to probe.
"This is the pilot of the cargo vessel, the Hermes, do you require assistance?"
In, out, in, out.
"Is anyone receiving? I intercepted your signal & it sounded like something was wrong. Do you need help?"
All I got in response was something heart-stopping & altogether inhuman. The breathing was still there, unchanged from before. But now another noise was creeping in, taking over. A high-pitched moaning, almost angelic but haunting too, its volume gradually increasing until it was deafeningly loud. Multiple voices at once, harmonising in a way that was horrific to human ears, unnatural like many voices from one choked-out throat, all screaming a chorus of agony.
Once it died down, I swore I could make out words, though I'm not sure of if the voice ever made any or what I heard. I heard simultaneously "come", "alone" & "pain", or I think I did. The more I thought about it the more sure I became that I did hear a word, but less sure of which it was as each seemed entirely plausible. My only option seemed to be to seek out the broadcaster of this most unusual message & see what was going on. It led me to the S.S Tiresias.