Ian paced down the triangular corridors of the deep space listening outpost like an agitated lion at the zoo. Three walls. Three-month rotations. Three shifts with three technicians each. Threes must be important, so he checked his work every three hours. Didn’t leave much time for sleep, but he didn’t want to sleep. The nightmares were relentless. Nightmares when he slept. Nightmares when he woke up.
They’d be here soon. He checked his work again.
The eight other crew members of Listening Post Xenon II—LPX2—were dead. Ian paused his pacing at a junction and turned. There was McCarthy, now. Even under the ruby glow of the service lights the dark red streaks across the deck were easily identifiable. Cracked faceplate. Puncture holes in his suit caked in blood like dried syrup. Ever since McCarthy died Ian had nightmares about murdering him. The others too. But they were only bad dreams. Imaginings and figmentations. He turned away and continued his incessant walking.
LPX2 was a signals intelligence outpost. Intercept person-to-person communications; more boring than it sounded. But what Ian heard didn’t come from a person, and wasn’t meant for one either. The signal was trapped in his head, in one ear but not out the other. A standing wave in his thoughts that he couldn’t shake. He’d intercepted something from without the warm confines of the human worlds. Made him see things that couldn’t be real. Think things that couldn’t ever be.
The cargo transport Mercurial Wings would be arriving soon for a scheduled supply dump and partial crew change. Ian already granted them a docking position and reported all systems nominal. All systems were nominal. He’d triple-checked them. Triple-checked and triple-checked again. There was nothing wrong with LPX2. The others hadn’t picked up the signal he’d caught, but look what happened to them.
They—whoever they were—they’d chosen him as their conduit. Chosen him to hear their message. They just weren’t speaking the same language. He didn’t know what they wanted, but he didn’t want to hear it anymore. He wanted out. Had to get out. He would take the Mercurial Wings while the crew was aboard LPX2. They’d be fine until the next transport came as long as they didn’t fight. Please don’t fight. He had to get out, and had to do it alone. Had to find them.
There was a subtle shift under Ian’s feet as the transport hard docked to lock number six. He waited very quietly, and very still. He’d had nightmares about this moment; was having one now.
Please don’t fight, he thought. Please don’t fight.
Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page. Image by Joel Adams, used with permission.