A Shadowed Stars short story by Steven Koutz. This story takes place sometime between books 2 and 3.
Slade had allowed his black hair to grow down to his shoulders. He still looked well sculpted with his physique but his clean-shaven look was covered with a light layer of stubble. He was a Caucasian human originally from Aklowda. Of course, he was more metal under his skin, including posts in his brain. Despite his cyborg status, Slade did maintain his humanity. He sat in the pilot chair of the freighter dubbed, Pack Rat 2 and was in communication with his lovely blonde wife. Eva Cusping was originally from Earth. She was as curvaceous as ever even after having two daughters and recently finding out that she was pregnant again. They each expressed their love for each other over video comms. They also missed each other very much. Slade stated that he had plotted a new route and expected only four more rotations before he could be headed back home to her and their daughters. He had been on a long supply run to the planet where the friendly Derths had settled. The Pack Rat 2 had just dropped off a meat, vegetable, and grain supply there and was headed to another planet that the Helvens and Earth humans had recently co-settled on. The mission was material, medicine, and food trade, as well as a brief assist with any needs. They again expressed their love and Eva instructed him to hurry back. They imitated a kiss toward each other and closed comms.
As the comms closed, Security Chief Nat Gorondo entered the cockpit and seated himself in the copilot seat. Nat was also a human but with darker skin. He was also muscular but fully bald and sported a mustache and goatee. Nat’s planet of origin was not Earth but as with Slade and Eva, they all now resided on the planet called Home. They and other races had settled on and named Home, after the wormhole was sealed. That sealed wormhole kept them safe but also cut off from the part of the universe they all knew. They had been here now for a number of cycles and had explored and settled on other planets as well. The only other race they had encountered on this side of the wormhole to date had been humans on the planet Yanve. There had been an encounter with an insect type race but they had not been seen since that one encounter.
Nat picked up a distress call from comms. It claimed to be a Helven starship, the Wanderer. Slade and Nat both recalled a Helven freighter of that name that had been considered lost two cycles ago. The known dangers in this area of space were rogue human pirates and the Derths that had remained hostile and savage carnivores. The fact that a starship lost two cycles ago had suddenly appeared and put out a distress call was suspicious and could be a trap. Nat responded to the distress call and made contact with a Helven male that identified himself as Fallendor. Nat asked for the status of their emergency just as the comms and the signal were lost. He looked up the records they had on the Wanderer and was able to verify the name of Fallendor as a passenger on the ship’s manifest. Slade and Nat exchanged serious looks toward one another before they both agreed that they needed to investigate. Slade again adjusted the course and instructed Nat to have scanners ready to verify the vessel once they were in range.
In a matter of aras, the Pack Rat 2 exited a hyperspace portal and was within scanner range. Nat confirmed that there was a Helven style freighter adrift. He opened up hails to the Wanderer with no reply. Slade asked, “Do you get any life signs or power readings?” Nat replied that he had no life signs and the freighter appeared to have been shut down for some time. They again looked at each other. Slade instructed Nat to find him a boarding hatch.
Once the two freighters had docked, Slade and Nat, donned in environmental gear, forced the hatch entry into the Wanderer. They used their war arms for light and scanners in the darkened and quiet corridors. War arms were a utility weapon and device that most founders of Home had adopted as priority gear. A war arm could perform almost any task. It was a weapon and a tool that was worn on one of the lower arms. The freighter corridors were narrow and winding until they entered above the cargo bay. There was only one metal crate in the corner of the cargo bay and it was covered in dust. They could also determine from the imprint of their boots that this vessel had not seen any travel through its corridors in a very long time. Nat inquired if they should check the crate or continue to the cockpit. Before Slade could reply, they could hear the engines start humming to life. Slade looked around and saw the entrance to the engine chamber at the base of the cargo bay. He said, “It sounds like we should check that out first.” As they entered the engine chamber, the engines shut down. Slade and Nat both had a feeling that they were not alone but their scanners still did not read any life signs. They had not encountered any bodies through their traverse of the vessel but it almost felt as if there were others moving around them. Nat decided to try and get the engines activated again and Slade stated that he was going to check the crate in the cargo bay. They agreed to meet in the cockpit.
Slade entered the cargo bay and headed straight for the single crate. He could feel people all around but still could not see or scan any. As he was within two feet of the single crate, he felt force keeping him from any further advance. It was like an invisible wall. He used his war arm modulator to try and disrupt energy around what he was considering to be a forcefield. Even though there was no power detected, he was still able to manipulate a path for himself to the crate. Once there, he used his war arm to sync with the cargo lock. A small screen on his war arm started to run through multiple combinations. After a few moks, the lock was shut off and the lid of the crate opened slightly. Slade raised the lid and found what his war arm detected as Helven ashes. Nat had approached from behind and stated that he could not get the engines operational. Nat continued to state that the crystals had been depleted a significant amount of time ago. Slade turned to him and said, “I think I found the crew or at least their remains.”
Suddenly, the engines hummed to life. Nat stated that it was impossible. The engines again quickly became silent. Nat started to head back to the engine chamber but he was stopped by Slade’s hand. Slade stated that they needed to get to the cockpit. They climbed up a ladder and again crossed overhead of the cargo bay and approached the cockpit.
They entered the cockpit and found it empty. Through the viewscreen, they saw a rift opening in the fabric of space ahead of the vessel. The rift was not a hyperspace portal and their war arms detected a pulling force. Slade linked his war arm to the ship’s computer and attempted to force it to power on. He wanted to check the flight and captain’s log. Suddenly a ghostly version of two male Helvens appeared in the pilot and copilot seats. Helvens resembled elves from Earth culture. They were tall and skinny with long ears that extended just above their heads. They also had a nose and mouth formation that resembled a feline. The only differences were that the males had fair skin and blonde hair while the females were dark skinned with black hair.
The ghostly versions of the pilot and copilot started to act as if they were trying to reverse course. The rift ahead of the Wanderer started to pull harder at the freighter. Slade and Nat could feel the freighter moving toward the rift. They decided simultaneously to get off this freighter. As they exited the cockpit and maneuvered the walkway above the cargo bay, they saw other ghostly versions of the Helven crew, both males and females. Slade and Nat increased their pace and found themselves walking through ghostly Helvens in the narrow corridors. Slade and Nat could feel the freighter being pulled harder and faster. They rushed back through the boarding hatch and onto the Pack Rat 2. Once aboard, they both rushed to the cockpit. Slade immediately fired the engines to active status and undocked from the Wanderer. The rift was pulling both freighters into it. Once the two freighters had space between them, Nat fired thrusters. It was enough to move away from the pulling spatial rift. The Wanderer appeared to vanish as it entered the rift. The rift closed just as the Wanderer had completely vanished. Slade and Nat were left with more questions than answers. Nat recorded the encounter as one with a ghost starship. Slade resumed course to their mission.
THE END FOR NOW: This event will be a recorded event for a future Shadowed Stars book title.