The rookie quietly stepped into Lieutenant Grantas’s quarters. Light from the hallway cut through the dark but did not hint at what existed beyond where its rays landed.
“Sir?” the rookie whispered. He waited a few seconds then tried again, a little louder, “Sir?”
A sharp intake of breath was followed by a sigh. “What is it?” a deep voice asked from within the dark room.
The rookie straightened and replied, “Sir, Commander Brun has requested your presence on the bridge.”
“Answer my question first. What’s the bump?”
“It’s…we’ve come across a vessel.”
“No sir. It appears to be empty. Our scanners have not picked up any life on board, but the hull is possibly thick enough to prevent an accurate reading. Commander Brun has requested your-”
“Yeah. I heard you. Go tell him I’ll be there in three minutes.”
The rookie hesitated.
“Leave the door open,” Grantas encouraged him.
The young man left and Grantas sat up. The room was not much bigger than the doorway. Only a bed and a small table. Grantas was a minimalist. Not out of necessity, but out of fairness. He limited himself to less than what his soldiers received. The only luxury he couldn’t pass up because of his position were his own, private quarters.
He stood and soaked in the brightness as if it were sunlight. His tired eyes did not shy away. His frame was larger than the doorway, and he had to make himself smaller as he exited his room. He wore a simple t-shirt, standard issue pants, and black boots which clattered on the steel floor as he made his way to the bridge.
“You asked for me Commander?”
“Lieutenant. Sorry to wake you.” Brun turned toward Grantas as he entered. “You should move your quarters closer to the command center.”
“I’m fine where I am, sir. What’s the situation?”
“Straight to the point. We have an unregistered, seemingly abandoned vessel eight hundred meters starboard. Scans don’t indicate a threat or any heat signature of any kind.” Brun pulled up a hologram of the ship. Grantas leaned on the table to get a better look at it.
“If it were an enemy ship,” Brun continued, “I’d simply blow it to pieces and move on. However, there are no marking to indicate it as friend or foe as well as no signal coming from it to aid in that determination. It’s structure is also bothersome. I’ve never seen a model like this from any shipyard.”
“The cylindrical architecture reminds me of a pre-contact exploration vessel.”
“One of my initial thoughts as well, but the size is beyond the technology of the time.”
Grantas nodded in agreement. Something about the ship made him uneasy. “Have you tried communicating?”
“A warning shot?”
“Also no reaction.”
“I suggest a wrecker crew sir. Have them haul it to the nearest deconstruction base and use it for parts. Looks like it has plenty.”
“A fine assessment, but protocol dictates if this is a ship from the pre-contact era that we search it for any atomic weaponry and seize said weapons as both asset denial and procurement. Your first instinct made my decision. I want you to search the vessel and report. If it’s clean, we’ll call the wrecker and be on our way.”
“Take as many men as you need.”
Grantas finished pulling his undersuit on and helped Mathis into his exosuit. Mathis returned the favor and they prepared to jump.
“I’d prefer to have more than two men for this mission,” Brun’s voice came over the comms.
“Two is plenty, sir. I assure you.”
“I don’t doubt your track record Lieutenant.”
Mathis smiled at Grantas before pulling his helmet on.
“Distance?” Grantas asked.
“Just reaching 600 meters now.”
Grantas raised his eyebrows to Mathis who responded with a thumbs up. They crouched low and prepared for expulsion. 600 meters was a lot to cover. In the vacuum, they would cover it quickly, but it would still be dangerous. Grantas held his hand over the hatch release then punched the button.
They shot out of the hull directly toward the cold barrel of the empty ship’s engines. There was little debris around the ship.
“Applying jets now,” Grantas said calmly.
“Applying jets,” Mathis repeated.
Their suits began pulsing air to slow their approach and adjust their trajectory. Another thirty seconds passed and they landed within the domed engine pads. Two large holes lay ahead of them. One was the designed propulsion release. The other was obvious damage to the ship.
Grantas opened his comms. “Damage within the engine walls. Possible critical failure to propulsion.”
“Take it slow,” Brun’s voice called into their ears, “We don’t know what could be aboard.”
They entered the damaged area. The engines were cold.
“There’s no way this thing is moving again,” Mathis said.
“Engines dead. Damage irreparable. I’d get that wrecker crew on standby sir.”
“Confirmed. I’ll make the call once you give the all clear.”
Grantas and Mathis moved through the hull and into the innards of the ship. They cleared each floor of the living quarters and found no one.
“No atmosphere in the living quarters.” Grantas checked-in.
“Make your way to the bridge and find a blueprint of this vessel. I’d like a designation if possible,” Brun said.
They moved to the bridge. They found no atmosphere there either. Mathis tried a screen but there was no power. He popped a panel and looked inside.
“No go,” he told Grantas.
“No power,” Grantas said. He pulled a small unit from his suit and hooked it up to what he guessed was the main display. “I’m using a portable to see if we can pull some data.”
“Proceed.” Brun said over the comms as Grantas finished connecting the unit and powered on the display.
“All escape pods have jettisoned. Distress signal was…disabled.”
“Confirm. You said disabled?”
“I don’t like it,” Brun said, “Let’s wrap this up. Is there a weapons bay?”
“Yes. Centrally located. Looks like we passed it on our way here.”
“Confirm any atomic designations and get back to the ship.”
They descended into the belly of the ship and entered the armory. Grantas’s heart sank as the chamber extended beyond the lights of his suit.
“I don’t like this.” Mathis said over the local comm channel.
“Neither do I. Lets check the perimeter and don’t lose visuals. Make sure you set way-points so we can get an accurate reading. Then we can make sure we search the entire area.”
They walked for thirty minutes before they came across their first munition box. It was six feet in length, three feet wide, and three tall. They unlatched and lifted the lid. Grantas hadn’t thought his luck could turn worse. Inside was a designation-two atomic missile.
“Atomic weapon confirmed,” he commed, then signaled for Mathis to continue their search.
“Atomics confirmed. How many Lieutenant?”
“Sir” Mathis called out. Even over the comms Grantas could tell it was hushed. He made his way over to where Mathis was standing in front of another munitions box. Another was a few feet further. They followed the growing trail toward the center of the room where they discovered a mountain.
“Oh my god.”
“Confirm Lieutenant. How many Atomics?”
“Commander. If I tell you to leave us behind, I want you to warp to the nearest weapons facility.”
“What’s going on in there?”
“It’s a World Eater.”
“Confirm? A World Eater?”
“Dear God.” Brun’s words were so quiet Grantas nearly didn’t hear them. “Get out of there immediately.”
Atop the mountain consisting of hundreds of atomic missiles rested the head of a creature. It’s jaw extended into the darkness beyond the range of their suit lights. Grantas and Mathis slowly backed away from the creature as if their silent footsteps would wake it from its hibernation.
“If we detonated those missiles…,” Mathis began as they finally made it back to the door, but Grantas cut him off.
“Those things are drawn to radiation. They thrive off of it. If we detonated even one of those, let alone hundreds, it would only make it stronger. Our best option is to return with enough firepower, draw it out of this husk of a ship and away from those things, then kill it.”
They moved as fast as Grantas deemed safe. They made it to the engine pads and jumped, blasting their propulsion gear to its max speed. They were halfway to their ship when Grantas saw another ship appear at the edge of his vision. It’s deep orange color and geometrical design immediately informed him it as an enemy ship. Three more appeared, each twice the size of their own ship.
“Sir,” Grantas called.
“We see them Lieutenant. Notify me when you’re on board. We can’t win this fight.”
Mathis reached the hull first and opened the hatch. He entered and waited for Grantas.
“Maybe we don’t even have to fight this one,” Grantas said. He reached the hatch and closed it.
“On board,” Mathis relayed.
“What’re you suggesting?” Brun asked.
“Fire at the World Eater.”
“Are you insane Lieutenant?”
“Fire at the World Eater. Once we see movement from within the dead ship, we warp to the nearest facility and prepare. Let them fight that thing while we make ready. With any luck, they take each other out.”
“But if they somehow do manage to kill it. They will have…what did you say? Hundreds of Atomic missiles?”
“It’s our only chance sir.”
Grantas looked through the small window of the hatch as the enemy ships approached. They would all be dead once they were in range. He almost sighed in relief when he saw a projectile fire from above. It headed straight for the abandoned ship, impacting near the engines. A few seconds later, the World Eater burst forth. Grantas barely caught a glimpse of it before his view port faded into the black of warp speed.