Nebulous Bounds

"Computer, open the black box transmission from the UFS Ajax."

"File found."

"Begin playback."

---

'We're just reaching the Delta Sector. Scans are showing that the nebula is entirely radioactive. Poisonous sulfuric gases and an absence of oxygen. No signs of life.'

'Hey, Eric, have you thought about where you and Charlotte are going for your honeymoon?'

'It's a little early for that, isn't it? We only just got engaged.'

'Dan's got a point, though. You have to plan these things well in advance.'

'If you two are so eager to plan my wedding, hop right to it. Saves me a lot of stress.'

'What's to stress about? You just request leave from your CO, and spend the rest of the time agreeing with everything Charlotte says. After all, she's paying  for it.'

'This is no time for personal talk. I want those scans done now. We need to find the source of that SOS signal, and find out what happened to them.'

'Aye, sir.'

'Aye, sir.'

'Aye, sir.'

'So, what have we got?'

'The signal is emanating from the centre of the nebula.'

'So why are we sitting outside of it?'

'Sir, while scans have detected no life signs, there could easily be cloaked ships waiting to ambush us inside the nebula. For all we know, this is a baited trap.'

'This is the best ship in the fleet. Covered in United Frontier emblems. No one would dare attack us.'

'...unsinkable...'

'What was that, lieutenant?'

'Nothing, sir.'

'C'mon, Dan, don't get that mopey tone. We'll be fine. Captain, your orders?'

'Take us in for a closer look. I'll feel better sighting the vessel.'

'Aye, sir.'

[pause]

'There it is!'

'Any structural damage?'

'No, sir. In fact, the ship appears in pristine condition.'

'Is that...another ship?'

'Uh, let's see...can't quite make it out...scanning now.'

'It's adrift too, but looks like it's been there a long time.'

'Let's focus on one thing at a time. Bring me that ship's black box.'

'Aye, sir. Preparing the matter transporter. According to our blueprints for that model of ship, the recorder should be somewhere near the escape pods, midway through the ship, more or less in the middle.'

[pause]

'Transportation complete.'

'Excellent. Lieutenant, let's get back to the station so we can analyse the contents.'

'Aye, sir. Setting in a course for the station.'

THUD. THUD. THUD. THUD.

'Hold on, lieutenant. Can somebody tell me what the hell that was?'

'Not sure, captain. Probably some space junk, or meteors, bouncing off of us.'

'That's impossible, Eric. Our shields are at full capacity. Nothing should be bouncing off of us.'

'Then what do you suggest, Kyla? Just a little turbulence?'

'Look, I'm just telling you, nothing could physically touch the ship.'

'Be that as it may, commander, something has. Now I want to know what's scuffing the paintwork on my ship.'

'Yes, captain.'

'...and?'

'Scans are reporting nothing. All visuals are constant and haven't changed since we arrived. The nebula isn't even that thick.'

'Maybe it was the exhausts. Sometimes they do expand with the heat from the thrusters.'

THUD. THUD. THUD. THUD.

'Eric? Are the exhausts in the front of the ship?'

'...no.'

'Then what the hell?!'

'Everyone, calm down. There's got to be a reasonable explanation for this!'

'Just to be sure, I'll power down the engines and that should stop any flexing in the metalwork.'

'That better work, Eric!'

'No guarantees, commander, but it'll at least eliminate the possibility.'

[the ambient engine noise recedes]

'There, nice and quiet.'

THUD.

THUD.

THUD.

'I don't give a damn what's on board that ship. We got what we came for, so let's get out of here. Chief, get those engines online again.'

'Aye, sir.'

'Lieutenant, you still got that course set for the station?'

[pause]

'Wait, where's Dan?'

'Toilet?'

'Captain...I'm registering three life signs on board.'

[pause]

THUD. THUD. THUD.

'That's impossible! You don't just disappear from a ship in the middle of a toxic nebula, days away from the nearest planet! Commander, search the ship for the lieutenant and tell him to get back to his post!'

'Aye, sir.'

'Chief, send a message back to the station to let them know we're returning shortly.'

'I'd love to, sir, but there's too much interference from the nebula. We'll have to wait until we're clear of it before anything will get through...except a distress signal, of course.'

'Well, we don't want to alarm them. Once--'

THUD. THUD.

'...captain...?'

'Yes, chief?'

'...the scanner is showing two life forms on board. They're both on the bridge.'

'Heat signatures...?'

'Just us, Captain. Shall I...shall I take the helm and return us to the station?'

'No, Eric. I suggest you record a message for your fiance. Whatever's on board this ship cannot reach the station.'

[pause]

'...aye, sir.'

THUD.

'...sir?'

THUD.

'Captain? Kyla? Dan? Anyone?!'

THUD.

[sigh] 'Computer, begin recording.'

'Recording started.'

'Charlotte, my love, if you're hearing this--'

-----

"Computer, halt playback."

"Admiral? It's Ensign Kozlov."

"Yes? What is it?"

"Admiral, Captain Ekatrin is awaiting your approval for the recovery mission in the Morphium Nebula. She wants to leave as soon as possible to recover the Ajax."

"...request denied. Dismissed, ensign."

"Aye, sir."

 

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