Synopsis

The advanced research vessel Nomad was proudly launched by the newly united Commonwealth civilization of Cassus on a historic, publicly celebrated voyage of discovery. After encountering many strange forms of life throughout the unexplored reaches of the galaxy, the Nomad mysteriously disappeared and was never heard from again...

107 BE Voyage of the Nomad

Synopsis List
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Part One Journey into the Unknown

From the glare filling his helmet, Captain Sonoda figured he had thirteen minutes before the exploding nebula over his shoulder baked him and the four hundred people on the other side of the meter-thick vibranium hull to a crisp. On the upside, the view wasn't bad.

"Cap?" First Officer Veska sounded as if she were right beside him, scaling the hull of the unpowered starship on the edge of space. "We need to hurry."

"Krint?" He looked down at the tech officer far below him. The kid had no business being out here. A hard-working Engy of farmer stock whose father had wept with pride at the Nomad's christening ceremony. But the repair-drone was on the fritz again and Schade was dead. Sonoda had promised to take care of the kid, to whatever extent such terms even applied in deep space. "Now."

He joined the cables strung between his fingers, while simultaneously far below him Krint flipped the switch, diverting the emergency power back where it belonged before it could fry their power core. Nomad shuddered. Tongues of blue flame chugged from the boosters, silhouetting Krint's spindly outline against the brightness as he began clambering upwards. Sonoda flicked the arc welder off. The panel slid shut. "Done," he said. "We're coming in." His luck had held. Again.

As the Cassian civilization's first space travelers, to have even survived this long was a victory. Miraculously, it had been a mere year since the launch of their mission. In that time they'd seen more wonders than they'd dreamt possible in a single lifetime. Plasma-based organisms awed that meat-like beings such as humans could exist, let alone master space travel. Volcanic eruptions severe enough to dent the ship's hull from orbit. Granite humanoids of consummate martial prowess. Massive dark matter worms that preyed on black holes. Machine intelligences that piloted worlds like dragsters. Jellyfish the size of whales that Nomad was thankfully too miniscule to entice. Entities that defied description. All fascinating. None sufficient.

Sonoda propelled himself along the rungs set into the hull towards the hatchway. "Captain, stand by," said Science Officer Thekford in his other ear. For the Nomad's new Science Officer, this was an unusually loquacious utterance. "We're picking up an energy sig. It's...curious. A cycling radiation bandwidth unlike anything we've run across. Ten degrees off your starboard."

Sonoda resisted the urge to look over his shoulder at the looming whorls of nebulae. "Show me in ten minutes." He bunched his shoulders in preparation to leap aboard into the decompression chamber yawning open beside him.

"It's cycling over a billion ergs a second."

Sonoda froze.

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Part Two Noble Ambitions

The Nomad's launch had been preceded by weeks of the most frenzied celebration in the planet's history. Champagne parades, pastries of lissome angels, and parties galore.

After centuries of internecine strife, unification had come to Cassus. All now strived under a single banner. No longer would the lives of precious scions be frittered away in corrosive fortune redistributions. The planet's wealth had been carved out. A galaxy of greater riches awaited. The first step was to survey these distant realms and assess their potential.

Eager to enfold the myriad life-forms in its firm embrace of entrepreneurial spirit, the Cassians brooked no expense or technological bottlenecks in making space exploration their new priority. There had been the usual false starts and occasionally fatal growing pains of any expansion. More than a decade was spent debating whether to send a manned expedition at all but in the end it was decided that interstellar relations were too critical to entrust to machines.

Designing the Nomad itself took nearly a century. Selecting its crew took even longer. Those most curious about the wonders of the universe firsthand weren't necessarily graced with physiques conducive to prolonged existence in deep space, let alone conditions likely to be encountered on prospective planets. Personnel able to tolerate and function despite these rigors not only had to be trained but bred over generations, then enhanced for everything from metabolic bone density to diplomatic relations.

Sonoda had insisted to be granted final veto power over all crew members. With decades of training and self-discipline at his back, he had considered himself impervious to forming sentimental attachments.

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Part Three Condition Critical

Sonoda switched to a private link. "A billion's not possible. That would be over..."

"The power of a trillion supernovas. Emitting every second. But the intervals are widening. If we wait, we'll lose it."

Sonoda extruded an antenna from his helmet, set its oscillation rate, and scanned the wedge of starlight that the Nomad's vast sweeping curve was slowly devouring off to his right. Numerals flickered steadily across his HUD as he reran them twice.

"Orders, sir?" Thekford said in his ear. Sonoda could tell from his tone that Thekford had done the calculations as well. "Far in excess of anything we've encountered."

"We can relocate it once we're clear," Veska said sharply.

"Too far," he said.

"Sir, engines are still priming. Regardless, it's so far we're talking a one-way trip. Assuming the G's don't tear us apart or it sizzles our instruments to a crisp." An imploring note had crept into her voice. "It's not worth it, Goren." He waited. She went on: "Our mission's to report back."

She was right. But a billion ergs.

He looked at the open hatchway. There was only room and time for a single decompression. He gazed down. Krint's hand groped for the rung inches beneath Sonoda's ankles. The kid was grinning up at him, gap-toothed and relieved.

The Mission, Sonoda thought. Nothing else matters.

As Krint's arm reached for the rung, Sonoda kicked down, his foot crunching into Krint's faceplate. He glimpsed Krint's stunned look of horror and amazement. Then air hissed out, the youthful freckled face turned blue, and his body spun away, off towards the nebula.

Sonoda glided into the hatchway and turned to watch it begin rolling shut. Even through his suit he felt Nomad throb with revving power. "Veska, I'm in. Punch it."

"On it," she said flatly. She didn't ask about Krint. She didn't need to.

Through the viewport he watched the tiny speck of Krint's body disappear amid glittering hurricanes of rocks the size of continents hurtling inexorably towards Nomad.

Then the engines screamed and Sonoda was flung against the wall. The stars through the viewport lengthened into comet-trails. Like arrows, he thought bitterly, charting his headlong descent. Then he blacked out and dreamed for the first of many, many times of Krint's terrified face.