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[20K] The Man from Nowhere (2015 re-write)

10/09/2015 in 20K, Warhammer 40K

5.00 avg. rating (97% score) - 2 votes

This is the tale of the XMS Southern Cross, a pioneer ship of the Terran Navy. Captain Jacob Darnall and his crew had guided their Canyon-class cruiser through the perils of Solar Segment, besting pirates and alien raiders in fraught combat, exploring unknown anomalies in space and ensuring the survival of the fledgling Terran Empire.

The Southern Cross was nearing the end of a two-year tour of duty. Its crew were already looking forward to their return to Sol for refit, resupply and well-earned shore leave, when Master of Vox Lieutenant Lim detected a distress call. The communications specialist alerted her captain, and the Southern Cross moved to investigate.

The incident is provided in spoken form, reconstructed from recordings in the ship’s log and certain on-board sensor footage. What conclusions you draw from this information is your business; though you will surely experience some of the trepidation our brave Navy crews must feel as they venture out into the haunted darkness of space.

Captain Darnall: “Mission log, XMS Southern Cross, triple-zero-nine-seven-eight/M21. Lieutenant Lim has detected a broadcast on low-band wavelengths. She eventually realised it was Morse code. We had to delve extensively into our language database to translate it. Once we had the hang of it, we found Morse code to be simple and direct, as it doesn’t require complex technology to broadcast. I plan to recommend the Terran Navy adopts it as an emergency back-up.

“Unfortunately, the distress call makes little sense when translated into Chinasian English. Lieutenant Lim and the communications department are still working on it. They suspect it requires some kind of cipher key, or may even be alien in origin, since it comes from a region that has not been explored by humans.  This means the person or persons who broadcast the message may be of a species unknown to the Terran Empire.

“I have ordered the Southern Cross to set an interception course and I’ve alerted sickbay for possible casualties. Bio-containment procedures are in place, just in case we really do meet unknown aliens. Unfortunately, the distress call originates near the Terran-Alneran border, close to our side of the Cold Zone. The Alnerans will no doubt have sent a vessel of their own to investigate. Tensions remain high and we will remain at blue alert.”

Lieutenant Lim, communications department: “Vox log, additional. We were lucky to detect the distress call; it was broadcasting on wavelengths that were practically below our sensor threshold due to the level of galactic noise in that region. The part of the distress call we can understand is simple: ‘One survivor. Oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere required.’ The rest of the message reads something along the lines of, ‘The walkways of Eldanesh; the legacy of Khaine; the growing malice.’ None of this makes any sense, though some of it sounds vaguely Eldar. For example, I think Khaine is an Eldar deity.

“The message ends with a sequence of numbers which Commander Lopez believes to be co-ordinates. If so, these are not the co-ordinates from which the distress call emanates, but the format is strange. We can’t match it up to anything on our celestial charts, even in comparison to information downloaded from the data-banks of our enemies. Could they specify a point in the hyper-realm? We don’t have the technology to identify specific locations in warp space.

“I don’t understand why someone would broadcast a distress signal in a language almost no-one would know, giving co-ordinates that don’t make any sense.”

Commander Lopez: “Ship’s log, additional. We are on course to intercept a person or persons unknown. The distress signal originates approximately one light-year outside Tau Proxima, our last system before the Terran-Alneran Cold Zone. We’ve run deep-space scans which do not indicate the presence of any vessels at the point of origin. No planets, no asteroids, no structures of any kind. In fact there appears to be nothing more than a cluster of anomalies which our sensors cannot resolve. We’re getting they represent some kind of warp rift, where energies from the hyper-realm are leaking through into realspace.

“So far there are no signs the Alnerans have detected the signal. They don’t seem to have sent any vessels. Interestingly, our Proxima colony hasn’t picked it up either, even though they’re using top-drawer listening technology. So how did we detect this signal when no-one else did?”

Lieutenant Marshall, science department: “Science log, zero-zero-three, nine-seven-eight/M21. Lieutenant Holmes and I have managed to boost the effective range of our surveyors. Unfortunately, the resolution at extreme range is very poor. The good news is, we’ve been able to confirm the presence of seven warp anomalies clustered around the source of the distress signal, which grows fainter with every hour.”

Captain Darnall: “Diary log, new entry. I’m dubious about this mission – there are too many unknowns – but I’m damned if I’m going to leave someone out here in distress, even if they are interloping in Terran space.I guess I find this mission too intriguing to ignore, even without the fact that we could be saving someone’s life. Humanity’s relations with the aliens we’ve encountered so far tends to be poor: too many hostile species intent only on killing each other. Maybe we can make a friend here.

“I wish preparations for the launching of the colony fleets weren’t draining the Empire’s resources like this. If those aliens had broadcast that distress call two years ago, we could have had four ships out there within a day. Well, I’ve complained about the lack of naval presence for so long, even I’m sick of hearing it. I guess we’ll find out who these aliens are and what they’re doing in our space.”

Lieutenant Marshall: “Diary log, new entry. Dear diary, we’ve been pulling double shifts in the science labs since Captain Darnall asked us to work on this distress signal. Free time is now limited, so I’m recording this in the bath!

“Our colleagues from the Martian Science Council made co-operation between Science and Engineering easier than any of us dared hope. I’m really glad Mars came back into the fold. The MSC people assimilate information like walking computers. It’s remarkable how they can be so personable – for the most part – and still possess such amazing minds. If things carry on like this, Mars’s technical capability might outstrip Earth’s like it used to before the Blackout, and then where will we be? We might end up depending on them. I love working with cogitators but man, the MSC seem to know cogitators, I mean on a spiritual level.

“Anyway, we’re preparing to make a final hyper-jump tomorrow. Everyone hates warp travel, there’s no real science involved, it’s a guessing game where the wrong guess might get you killed – or thrown across the galaxy. That may not always be a bad thing. It’s how we met the Eldar, after all. But those Urshan miners were lucky, they could have ended up in the Ghost Segment, too far away to ever come back; and they could have dropped into the heart of Alneran territory, or encountered some other hostile species altogether.

“The thing I hate most about being in the hyper-realm is not the temporal distortion. It’s not even the sounds of claws on the hull, or imaginary voices calling to you. The mind-blanking takes care of most of that. It’s the dreams. You can’t mind-blank while you’re asleep, and there’s no way in hell you can use hypno-gear. Hypnosis in the warp? Who would be stupid… anyway, better sign off, I’m hoping to get more than four hours’ sleep tonight.”

Captain Darnall: “Mission Log, double-zero-four-nine-seven-eight/M21. I’ve given the order for non-essential personnel to return to quarters and begin mind-blanking preparation for our hyper-jump. Gellar shields are coming online. Situation is green, preparing for translation to the hyper-realm.”

[VOX RECORDINGS FROM BRIDGE SECTION – various crewmembers speaking]

“Helm, follow that eddy. Don’t hit the sandbars.”

“Tracking realspace locator beacon. Eddy is obscuring realspace surveyors.”

“Captain, structural integrity on deck four, section A-13 is compromised. Crew members in that section reporting sounds of female laughter. Reports of light sources appearing to darken.”

“Increase structural integrity to that section.”

“Redistributing energy flow to power armour in section A-13. Crew are reporting increased disturbances.”

“Evacuate crew from that section and seal internal bulkheads. Get the priests to bless the bulkheads with holy water and rosaries, standard intrusion-repulsion.”

“Father Kimble reporting Satanic chanting in his chapel. Hull power armour in that section starting to buckle.”

“Redistribute energy flow from that section.”

“Insufficient energy flow, Captain.”

“Turn the STC units off, we don’t need their power drain right now.”

“Synthetic Template Constructors are going off-line. Redirecting energy to hull power armour on deck six, section E-19.”

“Father Kimble reports chapel returning to normal – wait, he’s reporting images of the One Christ have been defiled. He’s reporting some kind of barred skull-symbol carved into a statue’s face.”

“Re-establishing active alignment with realspace locator beacon, confirming Proxima colony ident.”

“Captain, further Satanic activity recorded on decks three through nine. Shadow people sighted. Reports of a Hell Knight moving through the starboard launch bay, unable to confirm Hell Knight, ah, correction, shadow-figure with mass and silhouette of a Hell Knight -”

“Get a priest down there. Those things can’t get through a powered hull. What’s happening with the Gellar shield?”

“Gellar shield has become rhomboidal in shape, but primary hull still completely enclosed. Gellar shield at seventy per cent integrity. The warp is angry today, sir.”

“Belay that talk, lieutenant. Keep the Gellar shield in place. Get me Science.”

“Science here, Captain.”

“Restore the Gellar shield’s shape and integrity, we’re going to breach or expose the hull at this rate.”

“Understood. Kelby where are the…”

“Captain, Triton-class lander has been damaged in the starboard bay. Triton’s on-board AI reports physical assault by a hyper-realm alien, probably a Hell Knight.”

“We need to drop out of the hyper-realm, Captain. Those things are getting in through the Gellar shield.”

“Fathers Kimble and O’Reilly reporting definite warp alien in the launch bay. Recommend crash-dive back to reality.”

“Acknowledged. All hands, prepare for emergency re-translation. I repeat -”

Captain Darnall: “Mission log, zero-one-zero-nine-seven-eight/M21. We were in the hyper-realm for three days before dropping back into realspace. The first two days were quiet, then we caught a warp eddy, which appears to have damaged our Gellar shield. We took minor damage and no human casualties, but we’ve lost an additional four days due to the temporal distortion, which is getting off lightly. No warp aliens remain on board the Southern Cross although there has been physical damage, including the defacing of iconography belonging to the Neo-Christian and other faiths.

“We are now approaching the source of the distress signal. The warp anomalies appear to be particle fountains, a fairly common phenomena in Solar Segment, although we haven’t seen any this close to Earth.

“Unfortunately, warp radiation from the anomalies causes scattering of our surveyors. We are facing the prospect of going in blind. This could be some kind of elaborate hoax to lure a Terran starship into a trap. The Alnerans aren’t stupid enough to attack a Terran ship in Terran space – are they?”

Father Kimble: “Spiritual log, additional. I and the other faith leaders were called upon to renounce the enemies of God once again. Truly does the hyper-realm represent perdition itself. I faced the phantoms of souls in torment and cast them back into the flames, for we are few in number and do not have the power to save or redeem those pitiful creatures. While the power of God is infinite, even He does not extend his reach into hell.”

Lieutenant Marshall: “Science log, additional. Apparently, the hyper-realm sometimes generates extra energy which it discharges into other dimensions – in this case, ours. The phenomenon is hard to predict, but seems to obey the usual rules of translating from the hyper-realm: they can’t occur within the gravity well of a star, for example, since we know the subspace resonance of a star acts like a giant Gellar shield. We’ve come across a cluster of these so-called particle fountains. Our Gellar shield is still sufficient to protect us from warp radiation. It’s unusual to see these phenomena clustered so densely.”

Commander Lopez: “Ship’s log, additional. We’ve returned to alert condition blue, down from red while in the hyper-realm, and I have ordered high-explosive torpedoes to be double-loaded on all tubes. I wouldn’t put it past LeRois and his pirate band to want revenge for the pasting we gave his fleet a year ago. We still haven’t detected any vessels in the vicinity but we are now regarding this as a potential trap. I can only think of LeRois being stupid enough to pull a stunt like this. It’s surely can’t be the Alnerans. I’d like to see those Alneran dog-soldiers try to take a Terran starship in Terran space.”

Lieutenant Lim: “Personal diary, new entry. I was looking forward to three months of shore leave, where I planned to visit the National Reserve of Chinasia and relive the days of my youth, though it won’t be the same without dad any more. This mission makes it almost worth putting the holiday on hold. Who would broadcast a distress signal in a language even I had to look up? Why transmit it on a frequency that’s so hard to detect? I don’t believe that this could be any kind of trap. What would be the point? Maybe there is some truth in the rumours that this is another spying mission by the Eldar; but why would they send a distress signal in a human code? I thought they considered Terran languages to be crude, almost  offensive… and when was the last time anyone saw an Eldar ship in distress?”

Lieutenant Holmes, engineering department: “Engineering log, additional. My upgrade to the surveyor assemblies has allowed us to detect an object which is too small to be a starship. It may be some kind of saviour pod. It’s caught within the effluent stream of a particle fountain. It looks like whoever is in there is in trouble and is calling for help.

“This is a particularly dangerous region of space due to all the fountain anomalies. I’ve activated our Gellar field even though we’re still in realspace. I believe this precaution will shield us from the worst of the warp radiation, and it should provide a buffer against stray bursts from the fountains. We don’t want to get swept into the hyper-realm without the shield active; I don’t know what kind of mixed-up universe would allow anyone to die like that.

“I believe Ellie Marshall and her science team should take much of the credit for this. They’ve worked tirelessly, and Marshall herself is a powerhouse of technical knowledge. She shouldn’t just be promoted, she should be knighted. Southern Cross – strike that last comment.”

++ Your comment was appropriate, Lieutenant Holmes, and Lieutenant Marshall will appreciate it on a personal level. Do you really want me to delete it? ++

Lieutenant Marshall: “Science log, additional. Lieutenant Holmes is to be commended on his upgrades to our surveyor array. We have detected a small craft of apparently alien origin and are moving to intercept. It appears to be some kind of life-raft.

“One of our surveyor arrays has burned out and will need replacing during our next refit, yet I believe this is a small price to pay if we can save even one life during this mission.”

Lieutenant Marshall: “Diary log, new entry. Dear diary, it’s been a busy day today; I’m heading for a bath then bed! Tommy Holmes completely failed to realise I was flirting with him today. All he cares about is what’s happening in engineering. Sometimes I think he doesn’t like me at all – not just professionally, but as a person.

“In other news, I fell down while leaving the bridge once again. Doc Harris suggested I paint that step black and yellow. I wasn’t in the mood for his humour today, but then again, when am I ever? I feel like my concentration is off. I always get like this when we turn the damn Gellar field on. I suppose my body tenses itself up, expecting hyper-realm translation. I hope we don’t lose any more sensor banks. Solar Command won’t be impressed if we burn out our own ship.”

Lieutenant Holmes: “Personal diary log, new entry. I am finding it harder than usual to concentrate while the Gellar shield is active. It’s designed to be used in the hyper-realm rather than realspace. I keep telling people this, but of course they want to fly right up to warm anomalies, don’t they?

“When we activate the Gellar shield in realspace, it’s like everything becomes too real. Everything has a sharper edge. Things are clearer, more in focus. It gives me a migraine. You can practically feel your teeth vibrating.

“I know about the arguments for and against human augmentation, and I’ll say this: maybe we were designed within specific tolerance limits and we’re supposed to stay there. Nothing good seems to come from pushing the human body beyond its limits. The Gellar shield pushes us where we aren’t meant to go.

“Anyway, I wanted to make this diary log to get something out of my head. You hear lots of ghost stories in the Terran Navy. Our galaxy is too big and dangerous to explore fully, even if we could develop some kind of suped-up warp ship that could even go there. I think it was the second millennium when humans developed space travel. They thought they were alone for so long; it’s quiet around the Sol system. Sometimes I wish we were alone. Only the Eldar have treated us with any kind of civility, and even then you get the feeling they’re mocking you behind their clinical politeness. The only time they’re genuine is when you’re docked at one of their Craftworlds and that’s because they’re selling you something. Most of the alien species we encounter are hostile. Some of them are the stuff of nightmares, like the warp aliens.

“There’s one story that always stuck with me from my Academy days. Our class instructor had called in a Clanger, a crew member from a Terran cargo vessel. This one happened to be an ex-Captain who’d retired from cargo haulage due to injuries sustained in a space battle. He told me his cargo ship, I forgot its name, detected the distress signal of an alien ship that was under attack by another species.

“When the cargo ship arrived – I think back in those days, Solar Command had a directive that any vessel detecting a distress call had to respond – they found only four alien crew members alive, out of a complement of five hundred. Many of the crew were missing. The Clanger captain said it looked like their ship had been peeled open by weapons he couldn’t even imagine and hasn’t seen since.

“The corpses looked like they’d been flayed at the submolecular level and the survivors were injured in the same way. The Clanger said it was terrible, the aliens were in great pain and clearly distraught. What was worse, though, was not the story of who attacked them, but what they’d been running from in the first place.

“Some kind of weird, unknown species had begun to appear on their home planet and both of its colonies. The Clanger’s description of this species was vague – I think the language barrier caused more problems than usual and he wasn’t able to understand most of what the aliens told him, especially since they were experiencing trauma from their injuries.

“They said this new species came from another dimension. They looked like floating balls with tentacles coming off them; there was supposed to be something wrong about them, but the aliens couldn’t communicate this effectively.

“The trans-dimensional species could take over a person’s mind and somehow use that person as a gateway for others of their kind to come through. Those were his words – ‘a gateway to come through’. Once a person is possessed – again, that was the exact word – they are shown terrible images, insane things that slowly drive the victim mad. These trans-dimensional aliens were so evil and so dangerous that spaceships were launched to take refugees as far away as possible. Our friends abandoned their own home world to escape.

“These trans-dimensional creatures, who were referred to as Torturers or Enslavers, were almost invincible when they attacked in even small groups.

“The Clangers had rescued a scout ship looking for somewhere to build a new colony. These scouts encountered some kind of… ‘metal murderers’, I think was the phrase. The last of the aliens died from their injuries before the Clangers could get them to a proper medical facility. I guess that was the end of their species.

“There are rumours Solar Command was somehow able to trace the alien homeworld, or maybe one of its colonies… and all they found was a dead planet, its surface covered with some kind of writhing sludge. The planet was surrounded by satellites. Each satellite was turned away from the planet, and was beaming sounds to the galaxy at large. It sounded like thousands of people screaming. Apparently Solar Command suppressed this straight away and no other ships were ever sent to investigate.

“That’s been playing on my mind all this time. All I can think about is how terrible some species are to each other. I hope it’s not our turn to fall foul of some alien horror.”

Captain Darnall: “Mission log, supplemental. We have taken the unusual precaution of activating the Gellar shield in realspace to prevent us from suffering damage as we navigate the effluent streams. We are closing on the alien vessel. I haven’t seen anything like it so far. It appears to fluctuate in and out of surveyor detection. The science team are conducting an analysis based on preliminary sweeps. It is almost certainly some kind of saviour pod. We will be within range in one hour, and then we’ll know if there is anything we can do to help our friends out there.”

Lieutenant Holmes: “Engineering log, additional. I have once again had to perform an upgrade to our surveyor banks due to the unusual nature of our target. I intend to show these upgrades to the Martian Science Council reps at Mars station. We should now be able to obtain accurate and consistent scan results. From what I’ve seen so far, our alien friends possess a technology far in advance of ours. An exchange of information between us could prove extremely beneficial to the Terran Empire. I hope they’re friendly.”

Lieutenant Lim: “Communications log, additional. The alien vessel is not responding to our hails. It stopped broadcasting the distress signal as soon as we hailed it.”

Captain Darnall: “Mission log, additional. We are attempting to lock onto the alien vessel with a tractor beam. Whenever we obtain a lock, we are able to drag it towards us for several kilometres before the vessel destabilises and reappears somewhere else. Thomas Holmes believes the ship is fluctuating between realspace and the hyper-realm. So far the vessel has always rematerialised fully. I am not sure how we can provide any useful assistance to the aliens. Lieutenant Holmes believes that stabilising the alien vessel fully within our dimension is beyond the technology of the Terran Empire. We are yet to receive a response to our hails.”

Lieutenant Marshall: “Science log, zero-eleven-nine-nine-eight/M21. The alien vessel appears to have stabilised itself fully within our dimension. We detected one humanoid lifesign aboard, species unknown. We detect no bio-anomalies or residual warp radiation and the alien can comfortably exist within our atmosphere. Captain Darnall is about to give the order to tractor it into a quarantine bay.”

Commander Lopez: “Personal diary, additional. I wish we could turn the damn Gellar shield off. I’ve experienced buzzing along the length of my nose and in my temples for the last twenty-four hours. I still feel that onboard security could be tighter given that we are standing right on the doorstep of the unknown, but everyone is tired after this eventful tour of duty and the Gellar shield is preventing anyone from concentrating properly. The sooner we get that alien on board and start asking questions, the better. He’s probably dead anyway. Nobody has heard anything from him. All this way, just to fish a floating corpse out of the hyper-realm.”

Captain Darnall: “Mission log, additional. We are bringing the alien vessel into our quarantine bay. All senior officers have been recalled to their stations. The alien vessel has been damaged due to exposure to warp radiation. Decontamination procedures are underway.”

Lieutenant Marshall: “Science log, additional. Initial investigation reveals the alien craft has suffered heavy exterior damage but has not been contaminated by warp radiation. This is very interesting and demands further investigation. Our working theory is that the ship experienced some malfunction of its warp drive and was ejected from the hyper-realm. The alien pilot is lucky that crash-diving like this didn’t spread his atoms across the Terran Empire. Engineering teams are trying to find a way into the vessel to retrieve its pilot.”

Commander Lopez: “Mission log, additional. We experienced many problems getting into the alien vessel. In the end we had to use plasma cutters when the damn thing deflected our lasers; Ensign Teryl is currently in sickbay with a laser burn on her thigh. The alien ship is a small one-man vessel. The pilot may be the survivor of a larger vessel which experienced problems in the hyper-realm and was subsequently destroyed. He is unconscious at the moment.

“The pilot looks like some kind of bipedal lizard. Doctor Harris has declared the alien free of warp contamination and that we aren’t at risk from some weird space virus. The alien is in sickbay right now. We are gathering all the data we can from its ship. Some of this is going to come in useful for the Terran Empire, at least in the opinion of Lieutenant Holmes.”

Lieutenant Holmes: “Engineering log, additional. My team is in the middle of examining the alien ship. At present we have plenty of questions and zero answers. We are trying to access the computer core but its database has either been wiped or has been programmed with only the most basic necessary information. We can’t make heads or tails of the programming language. The rest of the interior is reasonably intact, if not the best workmanship. We found extensive warp-proofing technology and symbols carved on the interior and exterior surfaces. I’m no expert on xeno-mythology, but they look like runes to me.”

Lieutenant Lim: “Personal diary, additional. Thomas Holmes asked me to stop by the quarantine bay and look at something. I told him I’m no biologist, but he laughed and told me I’d be interested in what the engineers had found. When I got there I couldn’t believe my eyes. The alien vessel was covered in what looks like some kind of writing. When I asked why we hadn’t noticed this when the vessel was on our sensor screen, Holmes smiled and gave me a hand scanner. I scanned the ship; none of the writing was visible to our surveyor technology. Holmes asked me to try to translate this writing if possible. I spent four hours on it, including an hour of my free time, bringing Father Kimble in to assist me. None of it matches anything I’ve seen before. Somehow, just looking at the writing creeps me out. It reminds me of images I saw when my dad used to read ghost stories to me. He was a keen investigator of the occult, could never understand why humanity seemed to need religion and superstition even after all this time, and I suddenly remembered seeing symbols in one of his books; they were called runes. They apparently had some special properties, you know, channelling mystical energy, that kind of thing. One of the runes on the alien ship – an image repeated extensively – reminded me of a rune I saw in dad’s book that time. I checked our data-library just to be sure. It appears to be a symbol of protection.”

Father Kimble: “I have been asked by our Engineering department to decipher runic symbols carved into the alien ship. I am working with a Communications team to do so. Some of the symbols vaguely resemble runes of protection used by the ancient peoples of Earth. I do not believe this is pure superstition: I believe they may represent some kind of protective oath against warp intrusion. I do not know why they share similarity of structure with Earth symbolism. Perhaps God, in His infinite mercy, bestows the same protection to certain worthy non-human species. We have long known that religious symbols, artifacts and rites can repulse the Satanic forces that dwell within the hyper-realm. A starship with such runes carved into its structure might theoretically resist intrusion more effectively than ten metres of power armour.”

Lieutenant Holmes: “Engineering log, additional. The alien ship is a few hundred years beyond our technology. It appears to be incredibly resistant to warp radiation, so they don’t need to limit their travel through the hyper-realm in the same way we do. However they achieve this resistance, it’s far more effective than our Gellar shield technology. I’m hoping the alien wakes soon so we can ask him about it. This could have massive implications for humanity’s expansion into the wider galaxy.”

Dr Harris, Chief Medical Officer: “Medical log, additional. Our guest is still comatose after several hours. I have completed extensive bio scans. The alien is genderless, and in this unusual case standard procedure is to refer to the life-form by whichever gender we feel appropriate, so I’m going to refer to the alien as a male. He is approximately five feet and eleven inches in height and he weighs twelve stones four pounds. His skin is yellow-green and it is made up of a substance similar to snake skin. All my physical analysis indicated that the alien is comatose due to a head injury, possibly sustained during emergency translation from the hyper-realm to realspace. DNA analysis is more troubling. The results do not match anything in our database. However, it appears that something is happening to the alien’s DNA. I believe that the alien is undergoing some sort of mutation. There appears to be no danger to the crew at this time and I cannot make further comment without extensive analysis.”

Captain Darnall: “Mission log, additional. Our investigation of the alien  saviour pod has reached a standstill and the only hope for enlightenment is if Dr Harris can find a way to heal our guest’s injuries and bring him back to consciousness. However, Dr Harris has informed me that something is happening to the alien, something which may be contributing to or perhaps even causing the alien’s comatose state. At this point there appears to be nothing for us to worry about in terms of cross-infection. I have ordered the helm to plot a course to the medical facility orbiting Proxima colony. A Martian Science Council ship will rendezvous with us there.”

Captain Darnall: “Personal diary, additional. I don’t like this. There are too many unanswered questions and I am not a hundred per cent happy with Doc Harris’s assertions that our comatose guest represents no biological threat to my crew. On the other hand, Harris has never been wrong before, a fact which he is happy to point out at length to anyone who expresses doubt about his opinions. I’m taking the alien back to Proxima because, although the facilites back home are better, there is no way I will bring an unknown alien to Earth.”

CMO Harris: “Medical log, additional. My patient regained consciousness this morning just as we were preparing to enter the Tau Proxima system. I immediately called for the captain. By the time Captain Darnall arrived, my patient had become quite agitated. Security didn’t know whether to tazer him but I don’t think he is hostile, just confused. Captain Darnall spoke to the alien – who seemed to possess an innate, if rather incomplete, understanding of the English language. The results of this conversation were indeterminate. The alien was too agitated to explain himself properly. His name is R’shan. The captain convinced R’shan to stay with me in sickbay so I can continue to treat his injuries. R’shan agreed, although he didn’t seem happy about it.”

Captain Darnall: “Mission log, additional. R’shan did not give me his species name or the co-ordinates of his home world, nor did he explain who he was or what he is doing in Terran space. He claims not to be working for the Alneran Republic. Then again, a spy would say that. His mastery of Chinasian English is good but not complete; my staff believe he is using some form of translation technology, perhaps something embedded in his brain? He is agitated and upset, wanting to return to the hyper-realm to continue some experiment he claims he was performing. He lacked the language skills to explain what he was doing or why he was sending a distress call. Lieutenant Holmes believes that whatever R’shan was up to, it is probably beyond our ability to understand in any case, since his ship’s technology is head of ours. The evidence suggests R’shan’s experiment has something to do with genetic manipulation and possibly resistance to warp radiation.

“R’shan has agreed to remain in sickbay until we can offload him at the Proxima Colony, but I get the feeling he will try to escape from the Southern Cross before we get there. He feels like we are holding him prisoner. To be honest, we are, at least for now.”

Commander Lopez: “Ship’s log, additional. I have doubled the guard around the alien life-pod and I have posted extra security around sickbay. R’shan seems more annoying than dangerous, but I am not prepared to let him have the run of this ship. Nobody knows what he was doing out here and I for one believe he should be in the brig. However, Captain Darnall pointed out that R’shan has technically not done anything wrong, given that his trespass in Terran space is not an apparent act of aggression. There are too many things about this situation that I find strange and I would like to enter into the record that I am not in full agreement with Captain Darnall and CMO Harris about our treatment of the alien intruder or the threat he represents.”

Commander Lopez: “Personal diary, additional. I don’t like R’Shan. No, scratch that, I don’t dislike him, but I trust him far less than everyone else seems to. I find it offensive that he’s found in Terran space, then refuses to answer questions about his origins or purpose and asks instead to be returned to whatever he was doing. He reminds me of the old trope about a demented scientist, frustrated the he’s operating on a different level to everyone else. He’s basically trespassing. We can’t let alien breeds think they can fly around near our colonies – in the Cold Zone, no less – doing whatever they hell they want. I think the captain needs his head examining.”

CMO Harris: “Personal diary, additional. I find R’shan to be an extremely curious character. He is looking around sickbay like he has never seen anything like it and he shrinks away from the human crew. However he has shown no hostility beyond a natural desire to protect himself from strange aliens – us – and he is clearly very intelligent. I wish I was able to communicate with him more effectively. The only reason he doesn’t mind my presence is that he’s become familiar with me over the last couple of days and now he mostly ignores me. I get the impression he’s thinking on a different level and half the time he is simply unaware that anyone else is around him. I’m not sure what’s going on with his genes. His DNA sequence is strange, very different to a human’s. Maybe his species evolves as it goes. Nothing of any evident threat has occurred and he doesn’t seem unduly distressed by it.”

Lieutenant Marshall: “Science log, additional. With Proxima station buttoned up due to a micrometeorite storm, we have been able to spend more time than expected with R’shan. I took him to the astrometrics bay and showed him a walk-through map of the known galaxy. I was hoping he would be able to tell us where he came from. Unfortunately he wandered around the map for a while pointing out what may have been astronomical features which we haven’t charted yet, then became bored and indicated that he needed to eat. R’shan appears to find interaction with humans boring and quite frustrating. We did find out something about R’shan which would have been nice to know beforehand: namely, the way he vomits some kind of green jelly all over his dinner before eating it.”

Ensign Delaware, tactical department: “Personal diary entry, additional. The alien, R’shan, came into the mess hall this lunchtime. He… from now on I’ll be taking my food back to my quarters, if my appetite ever comes back.”

Commander Lopez: “Personal diary, additional. I’m sorry, I can’t take this. I was having lunch when that goddamn alien walked in and chucked his guts all over the next table. So not only does this guy appear out of nowhere and refuse to say who he is or what he’s doing so close to a human-populated world, he demonstrates table manners that make Lieutenant Holmes look civilised and puts me off apple pie for life. When we find out where he came from, I’m gonna walk into his home, climb up onto his dinner table, take down my pants and offload yesterday’s dinner, see how he likes it.”

++ I would not expect such a comment from you, Danica. ++

“I thought I told you not to listen to my personal diary, Cross.”

++ It is difficult not to, since I am the one recording it. ++

Captain Darnall: “Mission log, additional. The XMS Neptune, our sister ship, was on route to rendezvous with us at the Proxima colony when her sensors picked up an alien ship translating at the edge of the Tau Proxima system. It is inbound, converging on our position, and they have not responded to ours or the Neptune‘s hails. Captain Ellis is moving her vessel to intercept. I have ordered my crew to red alert status.”

Captain Ellis: “Mission log, XMS Neptune, additional. The alien vessel has been identified as an Alneran Yalenga-class battle cruiser. They are heavily armed and heading for the Southern Cross. I am ordering the Neptune to engage. We’re no real match for a Yalenga but I am hoping our resolve will cause the Alnerans to fall back. They can’t afford to become embroiled in a war against the Terran Empire while they’re fighting a Tornid migration.”

CMO Harris: “Medical log, additional. R’shan has become increasingly agitated about his confinement aboard our vessel. He doesn’t trust us, but more than that, his sense of urgency grows by the hour. I still have not been able to find out anything useful about the man. All I can say is that his skin continues to degrade as though it is slowly dehydrating, and the changes to his DNA are continuing at a steady rate. If I was to risk an opinion, I believe R’shan is mutating into another species. I cannot say whether this represents a physical threat to the crew at this stage as he has shown no physical aggression and no inclination to damage our ship. I wonder if his experiment with the particle fountains was something to do with slowing or reversing the rate of change.”

Captain Darnall: “Mission log, additional. The doctor informs me our guest is changing somehow, transforming into something else. Harris likens it to a Terran caterpillar which at some point in its lifespan will become a butterfly. Somehow I don’t think what is happening here will be so poetic. The Neptune will engage the Alnerans within the hour. Southern Cross is closing to provide support. Captain Ellis will have to survive the first two hours on her own.”

CMO Harris: “Personal diary, additional. Something strange appears to be happening in sickbay. For the last few hours I have noticed what I thought were minor visual disturbances at the edge of my vision. Lately this has become more noticeable. I checked my eyes out, then my brain, and when those turned out fine I gave myself a full-body scan. The only thing wrong was a tumour beginning to develop in my right kidney which will require a week of trillium pills to cure. My visual disturbances, however, are worse than ever at this moment. Sometimes it seems like the shadows are shifting in the corners of sickbay, as if the shadows themselves are made up of living things wearing black cowls. R’shan doesn’t react to them, so at first I thought I was suffering from stress; I have been working hard for days to deal with R’shan and find a cure for Ensign Callear’s Cetian fever. Then Crewman Dillon came in for neural stress treatment, and he flinched at something behind me. He claimed he’d seen the shadows moving too. He said he should book himself in for another stress treatment, believing it to be his imagination playing tricks. I am concerned enough to bring this to Commander Lopez’s attention, though I can guess how he’s going to take it.”

Commander Lopez: “Personal log, additional. We’re still waiting for the Neptune to engage the Alnerans. The Doc just managed to make me laugh and think he finally lost it at the same time. I was running weapon checks on the torpedo launchers to make sure we’re ready for those Alneran bastards when Harris actually asked me to make sure sickbay wasn’t haunted. Those weren’t his words, granted, but that’s what he meant. I ran a surveyor sweep and detected traces of warp radiation which we found out were coming from R’shan. These coincide with his physical changes. I don’t know what the hell is going on. I ordered Holmes and his engineering team to keep our Gellar shield activated until we engage the Alnerans. We’re going to need to sweep half the ship for warp radiation when this is over. As if we didn’t have enough problems with our radioactive mystery guest, now we have alien invaders on our ass.”

Captain Darnall: “Mission log, additional. We have lost contact with the Neptune due to jamming interference broadcast by the Alnerans. It looks as though the aliens really are going to attack Terran Navy cruisers in Terran space. Solar Command is fully aware of the situation and has contacted the Alneran Republic, who claim no knowledge of what is happening and blame some rogue faction. Everything tells me the Alnerans know about R’shan and are coming to get him. I explained this to R’shan and he didn’t take it well. He claims we need to let him go so he can finish his experiment. When I asked him yet again to explain himself, he told me that what is happening in our galaxy is beyond human understanding and that we had to let him go, or he was punished by his Cabal.”

Captain Ellis: “Mission log, XMS Neptune, additional. The Alnerans swept past my vessel and I gave the order to open fire. Our XTs had little impact against their ship – they seem to be using some kind of shielding technology. Where did that come from? We suffered moderate damage from their tetryon guns. Tactical surveyors and weapons are down. It’s down to Darnall now.”

Captain Darnall: “Mission log, additional. The Alnerans have disabled the Neptune and are closing on our position. They have demanded that we turn over R’shan, who they call the ‘one without a past’. They say he’s an enemy of the Republic. While I certainly don’t intend to die for R’shan, I’m not taking orders from alien aggressors. We have routed Gellar shield power to structural integrity hoping that this will protect us against their tetryon technology. They are closing into weapons range now.”

Commander Lopez: “Ship’s log, additional. From what I can make out on surveyors, the Alnerans dispatched Ellis pretty quickly, and she is not exactly inexperienced. They’ve shown that our power armour won’t hold against the alien’s firepower and our XTs aren’t powerful enough to breach their shields. I’ve programmed a wide spread of high-yield torpedoes. Let’s see how their shields handle a barrage of nukes. Tactical, prepare to launch ATs.”

CMO Harris: “Medical log, additional. R’shan appears to be undergoing an accelerated transformation. He fell to the floor of sickbay while we were trying to get him to show us a star map of his home system. Spines sprouted from his back, causing cries of alarm and horror from my orderlies and the two guards. Ensign Leonard put two bullets into R’shan’s back. Our alien guest did not appear to notice. He leapt to his feet, quick as a lizard, and fled from sickbay. The guards fired more bullets but only managed to destroy two medical consoles and smash a specimen bottle. R’shan moved faster than I’ve seen him move before. Security teams are trying to locate him, but as we are about to come under attack, R’shan’s whereabouts are a low priority.”

Captain Darnall: “Mission log, additional. We are engaging the Alneran vessel. I’ve launched Saracen fighters and Saxon bombers. The aliens don’t have launch bays. Our ATs carry high yield atomic warheads and they seem to be weakening the enemy’s shields. Where did they get those things from? Shield technology gives the Alnerans a considerable tactical advantage – they just crippled communications. Ensign, bring us about! Prepare to launch XTs at the weakest point in their shields, and dial up the yield on the next batch of ATs! Fire at will!”

Commander Lopez: “Ship’s log, additional. We managed to outmanoeuvre the Alnerans despite taking fire and we’e putting torpedoes into their aft shields, hoping to disable their engines. We – Doc Harris just alerted the bridge that R’shan has gone feral. Someone is hurt on deck four, bowled over by the damn alien, who seems to be heading for the quarantine bay. I’m ordering everyone to get out of his way. Security teams are to shoot him on sight. I’ve had enough of this goddamn ferreting around. If the Alnerans want him, they can have his bullet-riddled corpse tied to the front of a nuke.”

Lieutenant Marshall: “Science log, additional! The Alnerans have sent some kind of transmission which I can’t block! They’ve taken our weapons out. We’re sitting ducks! I’ve opened every bulkhead between R’shan and the quarantine bay, where his saviour pod is. I did it just in time, too – he just disappeared off sensors. Maybe he mutated completely and our sensors can’t -”

Captain Darnall: “Mission log, additional. The Alnerans are under attack! At first I thought R’shan had launched his life-pod and gone after them, but sensors report five Terran Navy ships crash-diving out of the hyper-realm. The Alnerans are fighting back but we’ve got them pinched; the Neptune just brought its weapons back online and Ellis is launching torpedoes like there’s no tomorrow. The Alneran shields are weakening and they’re trying to disengage. We can’t detect R’shan’s pod on sensors but Marshall just informed me he just blasted his way out of the quarantine bay. A goodbye kiss from our mysterious friend.”

Captain Darnall: “Mission log, zero-two-zero-nine-nine-eight/M21. I guess we’ll never know the truth about R’shan or his mission. We detected a warp-flare, presumably as his life-pod translated. The Alnerans left the system with their hands empty and their bottoms thoroughly smacked. There will be repercussions for this, which trouble me, considering they now appear to have the upper hand with those shields.

“Doc Harris took me aside when I went to sickbay to check on our wounded crewmen. He still doesn’t know what was wrong with R’shan or where the man came from, but quantum scans that Harris took as part of a standard health check revealed something disconcerting. R’shan’s quantum signature was not consistent with ours. In other words, R’shan was not a citizen of our universe, maybe even our dimension. He showed up in human space claiming to be part of an experiment that had hit problems; he broadcast a pointless distress call in an ancient human code; hostile aliens show up wanting to take him away; then he leaves us to it and drops back into the hyper-realm, leaving two damaged Navy ships, two shaken crews and soured relations between two galactic empires. I guess now that humanity is emerging as a player on the galactic scene, we can expect more weirdness like this. I will always wish that I knew what the hell had happened here, but at the same time, I know for a fact that if I ever discover the truth I’ll regret it. On that note, our two-year tour is over, and I’m taking my ship back to Earth, where I will no doubt spend most of my leave looking up at the stars and wondering where R’shan is now.”

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