Chapter 1: Warden
In the year 4,587 A.D. Warden star system lay at the outer most edges of the Cideen Republic; and was among a few inhabited star systems that were located along the fringes of the outer arm of the Milky Way galaxy.
Within Warden star system there were no recognizable astronomical features, no visible planets, nothing but for a single middle aged blue-white dwarf class star.
The middle aged star in this case; being at around four hundred and seventy million years old, with approximately another five hundred and thirty million years left before the star would reach its eventual demise.
According to ancient records of the star system; it had also boasted a single lonely yet large red gas giant planet.
This was an albatross of a star system; there were also an abundance of thick impenetrable gas clouds along with an infamous large inner rim, which was fixed in an elliptical orbit surrounding the star Warden itself.
Then there was the outer rim of obscure asteroids which had been captured by the intense gravitational pull of the red gas giant planet several million years go. To any outside observer; it would appear that this was an asteroid belt that simply could not be parted from the idle company of the menacing giant which tirelessly governed the star system.
Both subsequent asteroid fields had each formed a dense, encircling belt throughout the many years of the system’s development.
It was clear that during the development of the Warden star system, many smaller planets had collided, and as a result, the once solid planets had become such dense, rich asteroid belts.
The collisions between several early dated solid and gas planets had created an enveloping reservoir of exotic gases. Although the star system still had millions of years left to live, it was indeed dying.
The rich composition of the solar system would have made Warden a very wealthy place if it were not for the system wide ocean of pink, red, green and blue colored gas clouds that were located throughout the entirety of the system.
This was undoubtedly a ship handler’s nightmare when it came down to navigating through the blinding sea that would engulf any sized vessel; this was primarily a result of the immense width of the gas ocean.
As if this was not enough of a challenge; a ship would also have the impossible task of navigating around both of the huge asteroid belts which the system had boasted.
The larger asteroids within the system were nearly all comprised of unique metals; which in many cases throughout the centuries had resulted in numerous shipping accidents or ships being completely lost along with their crews through bouts of sheer ignorance and greed.
This should have acted as a warning to all those who desired the riches that the Warden system had to offer; yet those daring few still came.
It had taken the Cideen Republic an unforgettable two hundred and forty two years to list the Warden system as being a restricted area. When the time had finally arrived for this new law to be, at long last, cemented in place; there had already been countless ships and their entire crews lost there.
Those ignorant few who had thought that they could easily best the challenges that Warden had to offer; would forever serve as a painful lesson. One could only hope that this lesson would be easily absorbed by future travellers.
As a gesture of hope to the people of the Republic; the government had made the sincere decision to construct a small listening station within the orbit of the Red Giant. This station was built for it to act as a beacon for any of those lost ships and crews to contact; that is if any were still alive after all of those long years.
The effort did seem premature considering that those ships were likely to have either collided with each other, the star itself or any of the large asteroids that were so desperately sought after.
The construction of the Odysseus Deep Space Station was a difficult task, primarily due to the problems that existed with the construction ships navigation systems. There was also the issue of supplying the construction effort on the borders of the empire; considering the fact that the nearest wealthy star system, Julos, had been located a gruelling four systems away.
The construction of the station had taken ten years which was longer than what a small station like that should have taken; yet the government had put forward a strong argument which had been broadcast throughout the empire.
‘Citizens of the Cideen Republic; we have heard your plea and we, your government, would like you to rest assured that we are sparing no expense with the construction of the Odysseus Deep Space station. It is true that the construction of such a station should only take five or six years to complete, but we all know the dangers that accompany the Warden star system. With this in mind we have decided to set the construction timeline for this project at ten years. In the year four thousand five hundred and eighty seven when this station is complete it will serve as a lifeline for the Republic and all of those brave sailors who were lost out there in the gas ocean of Warden. This is President Jim Kayden of the Cideen Republic out’
Sure enough, ten years later the government had certainly lived up to their every word with completion of the newly constructed Odysseus Deep Space Station.
At this day and age both the military and the civilian populace cooperated very well on a daily basis. As a result of this positive outlook; the government had figured that in order for the station to meet the parameters of it’s requirements, it should be occupied by both military and expert civilian personnel.
Unlike the unknown depths of curiosity that were enveloping the rest of the star system; both civilian and military personnel aboard the station could simply not get lost due to it’s archaic appearance and generic layout.
The station was pressed into service immediately since it was so easily operated; and with it only requiring a small skeleton crew to maintain any basic functionality, the government had decided to rotate this selected team from the station every six months in order to maintain a good level of discipline.
Each member of the crew would regularly suggest that the very presence of the station within this system was somehow an insult to the gods.
They would often speak of dark tales during the night.
They would suggest that as a result of humanity's overreaching into the cosmos; the gods were not pleased, and that as a result, the harsh vacuum of space surrounding them was intentionally eating away at the thin outer hull of the station.
They would claim with all manner of sincerity; that it would only be a matter of time, before Awen lay claim to their very souls.
Sailors would often tell all kinds of ghost stories out in the dead of space; some would even tell of the dragon-like monster that could be seen swimming through the gas ocean of Warden star system, perhaps because they would not have to actually visit the place themselves to verify their absurd claims.
As fate would have it; other individuals had no choice but to go there. This was especially the case with Professor Benjamin Gable; a middle aged man of impressive intellect, at least this is how the government had seen it. Gable had been the chosen government employed representative to visit this time around.
The long journey to Warden had brought up an almost instantaneous longing for home; it was as if the transport vessel was begging Gable to return before it was too late. If it were any other archaeological excavation or survey he would have been able to use his own ship, ’Procules’, along with its crew of whom he had known and loved as a family for years.
It was to his own sorrow though, that he was currently a part of the routine rotation of the crew of the Odysseus Deep Space Station. The only happiness that he could derive from the journey was that for the moment he could wear his own casual clothing, a red checked shirt and jeans.
Gable donned the appearance of a seasoned archaeologist; with his casual attire and boots, the most intriguing feature that Gable never left home without was his excavating trowel, which of course, would raise a lot of questions to anyone who did not know him.
For those who did know the Professor; they knew that he brought it with him just in case archaeological remains somehow miraculously appeared before him at any time.
Gable was a man who would think positively and creatively when others could not; he would bring happiness to those who were not happy, and it was these key attributes among many others that made him a great leader. It would also be his unique positive thinking that would get him through this journey in one piece.
It was in thanks to the newly developed trans-warp drive technology; that the transport ship that he was on could also travel anywhere without the use of standard warp gates.
Such primitive warp gates were still ludicrously expensive; and had once been constructed in every star system. Not having to use such a wasteful piece of technology in terms of time and financial investments was something else to rejoice in at least.
Two weeks later, as the transport vessel had exited warp-space and appeared in the Warden System the ship had shuddered as if it were an unleashed wild beast as it fought its way through some sporadic turbulence.
‘This is supposed to be normal professor’ the transport pilot screamed at Gable over the deafening whining noise that accompanied this unique form of turbulence, a disturbing phenomenon that simply should not exist in space.
The turbulence had finally come to an end as the transport had approached the docking bay of the station that was located on the port side. An hour or so after their arrival; the docking bay doors opened and closed at an alarming pace after the ship had entered, it was as if the station was trying to protect itself in any way that it could.
As the transport finally docked, and the hatch opened, Gable and his temporary shift replacement team were approached by the relieved departing crew who reluctantly provided them with a short; yet time consuming guide on how to keep the station from blowing up in their faces.
Gable took himself on a tour of his new home where he would spend the next six months. He was as terrified as anyone who was to be isolated there.
‘It was bad enough in a ship, and now I am here in a tin can that doesn’t move and pretty much just sits still, staring at whatever is lying out there in the black of space’ he thought, feeling miserable at that moment.
Gable had finally reached his apartment which was tucked safely away within the belly of the station where it could be protected from the unique barrages of space as everybody else’s apartments had been on the station.
Following a gratifyingly long tour of the station; Gable had finally managed to settle in to his new home. At least he had thought so.
It would only be a matter of time until he realised that nobody could actually settle in a place like Warden; or rather no one who was sane at least.
Gable collapsed into his bed with profound ease; where he then remained in a sombre state of peace, that is until the station’s morning call regrettably arrived a lot sooner than he had hoped.
It was a new work day on the station; and there was much work to do. That is to say, there was the usual work load which had to be completed daily on a space station. This work included regular computer system restarts in particular; this would ensure that the security software within the station's internal system's remained up to date and alert.
There would be no more casual clothing for Gable; he was after all a representative of the deep space government, and that authoritative role would require him to don a formal Grey coloured suit.
This unwanted change in apparel was something that he was rather displeased with; especially giving that the station crew were permitted to wear the more comfortable standard station overalls. He envied them.
The most tedious work was the checking of the supply manifest; of which had to be completed each day in order for the station to meet all health and safety requirements.
There was also the work that had actually motivated the crew of the station; this involved signal tracking and outer hull video surveillance. This was of course very important work; as much as anything else had been on a space station, but it was ultimately the task of searching for long lost comrades or ships that had encouraged the crew to work even harder, every day.
Two months into the station tour; that is two months of unhindered work for the crew, which was an unusual yet still a welcome accomplishment in this place.
Routine work had been progressing too smoothly for the crew; one could say that it was too routine, especially whilst being compared to the previously completed tours by past station crews, of which had revealed all kinds of incidents to have taken place.
The majority of these incidents were even classified because of their sensitive nature; this was a daunting fact that did not aid ones level of anxiety and stress in the slightest.
A young restless member of the recently rotated station crew; Helena Dares wore long brunette hair down to her shoulders and had a mischievous attitude despite her impressive intellect that would rival Gable himself.
Dares had been a student of Gable’s back at the Secondary School for Archaeology on the planet Julos.
Ever since her parents died, when she was only fourteen years old he had taken her in as his own. As she was an only child at the time; he could not bear the thought of her being left alone. It was for this reason more than anything, that she had idolised him as both a father figure and as a teacher.
Dares followed Gable everywhere, but on this one occasion; she preceded him on the journey as the previous station crew were in dire need of her communications expertise.
Dares had only agreed to the assignment because Gable was due to arrive one week later as a part of the same crew. She had been occupying the starboard outer hull video surveillance compartment one morning following the past two months of tranquillity when she suddenly froze in shock.
‘What the hell was that?’ she screeched in a tone of voice that even startled the members of the crew that were casually going about their day.
‘Dares, what’re you yelling about now?’ a passing maintenance technician questioned with a quizzical frown upon his face.
‘I just...I just saw...never mind, it was nothing’ she replied.
‘Hey, have you been getting enough sleep lately Helena?’ the technician asked in the most sincere of tones.
Smiling in return at the technician’s worried face; she chose put his mind at ease.
‘I have been getting as much sleep as anyone can in this place.’ She added.
The technician nodded slowly in understanding; after all it would only be a matter of time before everyone aboard the station lost their minds from being marooned in a place like Warden.
‘Well just try to keep it together alright, we still have four months left here and we have done pretty well so far!’ he exclaimed.
‘You’re right there, things have been going well, I just hope that we don’t jinx our run of good fortune now by openly discussing it. I could have sworn that I saw something earlier on the vid screen though. I must be losing it, I mean you know the stories about this place as well as anyone in the crew, right?’ she almost pleaded.
‘Well yeah Dares, but they are only stories that the other crews made up to scare the hell out of everyone!’ the technician said grimacing, before continuing with his comforting speech.
‘Alright Dares, I will take a look, feel better?’ he asked.
‘You bet, I can’t even begin to describe what I think I saw out there’ she replied instantly.
After a solid hour of unenthusiastically searching through vast collection's of somewhat boring video footage, the data came up clean.
‘I couldn’t see anything Dares, but it pays to be careful, especially in this place’ he added, with meaningful sincerity.
‘It may have been nothing out there, you may be losing your mind, but I do know this place, keep an eye out Dares, you never know...someone may actually be attempting to make contact with us!’ the technician finished, before walking out of the hatch.
It was late in the evening; or rather it was as best a representation as any space station could manage when it came down to representing the concepts of morning and evening.
The human body-clock required such routine paradigms in order to function properly; some often argued that the human body was much like a machine. They would suggest that similar to the functionality of a machine; the human body was dependent upon possessing a sufficient quantity of power in order to function in any meaningful way.
This known fact had meant that fixed sleeping patterns were always upheld aboard any spaceship or station; it was a strange concept for anyone to adhere to in such an unwelcoming environment, especially since one's work was never finished in space.
The time had finally arrived for Gable’s shift to begin; where he was taking over from Dares after her no doubt long day of work, when suddenly the overhead lights dimmed and the emergency power came on with a loud humming sound. It was as if it were a land based vehicle accelerating at a jaw-dropping pace.
The overhead lighting then began to flicker sporadically; just as the signal tracking system and the video surveillance equipment began to behave erratically, with a series of power fluctuations that should not occur within such a newly constructed space station.
Even the artificial gravity within the station had failed; which was a major concern for the crew. As they began to drift in place, the crew had to wade desperately through the zero gravity environment, in a futile attempt to reach for their work stations.
The crew members who were catching some hard-earned rest began floating above their beds as if they were in some truly vivid outer body experience.
‘What the hell is going on? Dares what did you press now?’ Gable almost choked.
‘Nothing Professor, I swear I was just monitoring the footage as usual’ she replied, before raising her eyebrows in admiration of his uniquely tailored suit.
‘Nice suit by the way Professor!’ she announced exuberantly, forgetting her panic for one second before reality kicked in again. Gable on the other hand could only shake off the praise due to the seriousness of the situation.
A few moments later the power came back online at the same time as the systems began to restart themselves. Even the artificial gravity had restarted, throwing the crew all over the place; thuds and crashes, yelling and cursing could be heard from almost every compartment within the station as they attempted to regain some form of stability.
All in all, it was a good sign that everything began to function properly once more; even though such incidents shouldn’t have occurred in the first place.
The computer systems were almost finished restarting; which was a relief, considering that this is what the station’s computer systems should be doing in order to protect themselves from viruses or random equipment failures.
This would be a normal process of course; except for the fact that the station’s collision alarm began blaring furiously as it incited a panic within the crew almost immediately.
‘Ah hell what is it now?’ a member of the station crew yelled from the back of the gathering crowd.
Squabbling broke between all twelve of the station’s crew members; including the six marine security guards who were crowded further toward the back of the compartment.
Everyone began to swiftly shuffle further forward through fear of the unknown; with everyone now gathered around, the each began to question what was actually happening outside.
‘Gable, did you see that?’ Dares asked in awe.
‘Yeah I think so, I must have lost it too, Dares was that what you couldn’t describe before?’ Gable asked, his voice pouring out too quietly.
She replied with a simple nod and a sincere smile, as if too show her appreciation to Gable for believing in her. The simple gesture would also appear as a sign of relief, in that she would not be written off as insane, not just yet anyway.
The large mechanical dragon-like monster sailed through the gas clouds like a ship would sail through water. The clouds of gas parted as if they were fleeing away from the gargantuan mechanical Silvery-White coloured creature and then a moment later; the creature was gone.
As if the menacing looking creature wasn’t enough to unsettle the crew; there was a prolonged eerie silence until one person inhaled deeply, and then suddenly once more, out of nowhere, the creature turned toward them with a fierce determination.
The creature stampeded at an unrivalled pace toward the station; and roaring with an unrelenting torment which threatened to shatter the outer hull, along with the very foundation’s of Warden itself.
This was a form of silence that was not born of choice; but a silence that was born of fear. The crew stood bewildered at the devilish sight before them; as they in turn experienced flashes of both awe and terror.
It had appeared that the Warden system itself remained silent; as if it was attempting to lull the enigmatic beast, and therefore keep from angering it, just as the station surely would have being doing.
Moments later the creature was gone.
Following the unique event that had just taken place; the compartment remained ever silent.
It could have been an omen of sorts; a warning from the gods to halt their research into the mysteries of Awen, or it could have merely been an illusion born of paranoia and fear.
Whatever it truly was; it was if the crew were unconsciously obeying some set of unspoken instructions that the Warden star system had left for them; whether out of respect to the mythological creature, or to something else; that is something naked to the human eye.
Gable looked around as if he had just awoken from a trance. More and more questions arose during the aftermath of the shocking event.
‘Okay I will say it then, what the hell? Seriously what the hell guys? How could something that big be there one second and then gone the next? And why did it not appear on any of our surveillance footage?’ he asked anxiously.
‘I am beginning to wonder whether all of those other supposed fictional ghost stories were actually true, yet merely lacking in evidence’ Gable continued, still mired in disbelief, looking around the compartment at the other crew members, in search of some cleverly hidden answers.
‘I have to say Professor, if I had not seen that I would have thought that you were beyond crazy!’ a male security guard, one who was far too young for his profession, agreed hesitantly.
A female crew member standing in the corner of the compartment had an air of curiosity about her now as she keyed into the conversation.
‘The only way this could make sense; that is, if we have not all lost our minds, would be if the creature was purely mechanical in nature...because it does not take a genius to know that sentient beings cannot breathe in space right?’ she asked.
Dares pointed at the video screen while she waited impatiently to regain the crews’ attention.
‘On the other hand, I have never seen anything like that in my life, who is to say that it cannot breathe out there!’ she asked, flapping her arms around in frustration.
Everyone turned to stare at her; the deliverance of such an outrageous statement had certainly drawn their attention.
‘What? I mean that it could breathe ionized radiation, c’mon, we all know that the composition of the gas cloud within this system does possess some unique traces of those particles. That being said of course I do think that it is more likely that the creature feeds upon the radiation as its power source’ she added, correcting her statement almost instantly.
Gable stared off into the distance, he was contemplating exactly what Dares had said.
‘Well Dares, I have to concede that you do have a point there; everything about this place is a mystery but that creature disappeared as quickly as it appeared, so it could be just as likely that the creature was purely mechanical in nature...but...hell...it must have been equipped with some outstanding form of stealth camouflage!’ he announced, pausing for a moment after, in an attempt to lure them in to believe in his argument.
‘All we know for certain people is that we have no real idea about what we just saw, and we have no proof to convince ourselves of it otherwise’ he finished.
Several minutes later, most of the crew had moved into the station’s lounge area. Another unsettling silence drenched the compartment; too many questions were racing through their minds’.
Why had the creature appeared in Warden? Why had it appeared at all? These questions would drive them all insane; especially if they could not be answered in due time.
Gable and Dares were masterminding each other at a game of chess; while the other members of the crew were all well attuned into their own coping mechanisms for what they had witnessed.
It was such methods of coping with the unknown that had been the norm in Warden star system. If one could not escape from reality at least for a while whilst being stuck in this place they would succumb to series of unique stresses.
Past experiences that had followed the human race since its mass colonization effort from Earth in 2,894 revealed that the human mind and body could only sustain itself for so long after being exposed to various damaging factors.
Such factors were proven to include panic, exhaustion and psychological stress as well as the ever-present issue of sunken morale which had been a major problem, no doubt since the birth of humanity.
In this case; morale had been an issue for those who were away from home for too long whilst being on assignment in Warden Star system.
Some of the crew members read books as a method of coping with psychological stresses; some went for beers; hell if they were bored enough, some crew members even made love to the sweet sounds of classical rock and roll.
The point was that by working together as a team; the crew could overcome their fears through perseverance in the face of adversity.
Gable and Dares on the other hand played chess every night.
‘Hey professor that’s cheating!’ Dares proclaimed in mock outrage.
‘I’m sorry kiddo, didn’t I tell you that I play four moves ahead? Make your move’ he replied with an over-exaggerated grin that had been border-line laughter.
‘Okay then boss, check that!’ she cried.
‘Nice job Helena, let’s see now, there, you can’t beat the Queen! She is one evil mistress’ Gable replied.
Dares contemplated and schemed; adopting old and new strategies and tactics that Gable had taught her, and with what one would term as being a strong poker face, she made her next move, and then the next.
‘Checkmate Professor! the Queen may be a serious player and an evil mistress...but she will always get the King into some form of trouble!’ she cheered.
‘Nicely played kiddo, I am proud that I have taught you so well, maybe too well it would seem.’ They both laughed and started a new game.
‘Say, did anything interesting happen during your first week then?’ Gable asked.
‘Well just the usual phantom ship sightings; you know, sightings that the stations systems could not verify in the slightest, sound familiar?’ she asked, smiling broadly to showing her exaggerated description of what had happened.
Gable then looked off into the distance before replying.
‘I can only imagine...well after what we saw earlier...we are going to have to look twice from now on that’s for sure!’ he agreed.
‘Very true, I think that it will be a good idea to conduct two-person shift rotations in the surveillance compartments from now on...just as a precaution?’ Dares suggested.
‘Yeah kiddo, at least then if two people see or hear something they can verify each....’ he started to say.
Alarms began blaring once more; somewhat louder this time around, as the stations computer began announcing something very peculiar.
‘Incoming transmission. unknown origin. Incoming transmission. Unknown origin...’ The computer began repeating.
‘Everyone get to your stations right now!’ a watch-stander yelled over the station intercom.
‘This is Gable...me, Dares and the others in the lounge are on our way right now! Let’s move it people! You heard the nice man over the intercom, we have possible incoming, we gotta expect anything after what happened earlier on today!’ he yelled, waving the others forward frantically.