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In the vastness of space...

Dark Hero

(Known as the Nagunda Incident: Excerpt from Triquad History)

All that was missing was a small breeze. The trees where in full bloom,

the grass green, the sky blue with small wisps of high drifting clouds. The

scent of grass and earth could be smelled. The birds chirped and nothing

else interrupted this calm and peaceful scene. It was just the way

Benjamin Marenesi liked it as he floated above the illusionary ground,

supported by a slim metal bar curving his back and then curving toward

the floor where it was bolted.

Benjamin looked at the scene, enjoying the artificial sun that beat its rays upon

his face. He was a young man, round faced with light brown hair. His deep blue

eyes had a sparkle and his features pleasant. As a deep space astrophysicist, a

boyish curiosity seemed to flash from his face and for no reason, at the age of 17

he was the youngest in his field.

Lately, as he surveyed the star system O3-S9-3, he took a break from his work.

It was now 8 months he had spent in deep space as one of Old Earth's scientific

survey missions. His ship the Glitter now orbited the fifth planet of a solar system

he was examining and gathering data for future development, if colonisation ever

got this far.

Although he loved his work, John wondered how far would mankind go for its

own good? Since the invention of interstellar navigation, man’s hope to find

extraterrestrial life was a failure and disappointing. Sure the universe was large

and the possibilities of life in other galaxies where high, but still man was left to

himself. Add to the fact that with so many newly found habitable planets,

humankind was busy enough with its growth and going further out into space

was becoming trivial. Humanity still had much to consider about itself and its

problems.

An electronic beep interrupted Benjamin's thoughts.

"What is it?" He asked out loud.

"We're receiving a distress signal from Starsearch 4." A calm female voice

answered.

"A distress call!" Benjamin exclaimed in surprise.

Eric Gurbitz, a friend of his, manned the Starsearch 4. Eric's current mission was

the installation of tracking systems in the great Nagunda asteroid field. The

billions of floating rocks needed to be kept under surveillance. It was well

known for its erratic behaviour, which posed a danger to ships. The Nagunda

was located in Dandurand's space.

Forgetting his whereabouts, Benjamin moved to get off his grip, but only floated

a little before his restraint kept him from drifting off.

"Gravity, please!" He ordered and the computer responded.

In a few short moments gravity returned and his feet touched the floor. Once

Benjamin was sure of his balance he quickly walked toward the trees.

"Scene off." He commanded and the computer turned off the pleasant scene to

be replaced by a blue walled room.

The door to the virtual screening room opened as Benjamin walked out and

took a corridor leading to the ship's bridge. His face grim with concern, he

wondered what he should do. He was the nearest ship without a doubt.

Research vessels were always assigned in pairs especially for deep space.

Authorities belonging to the family Dandurand would receive the signal within an

hour and their arrival would take even longer. He had little choice but to answer

the call.

"Hilda! Get the ship ready for immediate trip. We're going to help Eric."

"Yes, sir." The female voice of the main computer answered, her voice becoming

stern adjusting to the serious situation.

Benjamin passed through the bridge doors and threw himself in the command

chair. It instantly swung to face the ship’s instrument panels and the main screen

lit up.

"Inform my father of my plans." Benjamin told his computer as he began turning

off his data retrieval systems and preparing to leave his field of work.

"Acknowledged." Was the response.

"Have you to tried to contact the Starsearch?"

"The emergency signal was short and broken. No other communication could be

established." The computer informed.

Broken! Benjamin became even the more troubled. Only a severe problem to

the ship could kill its communication systems. His heart pounding, Benjamin

worried for the worst.

"Let's go." He said and then gripped the sensanav's handles. Closing his eyes,

the biotech impulses pictured his navigation charts in his mind and Benjamin gave

his commands to the ship. Instantly it obeyed, as human mind and machine were

linked together.

The Glitter swerved away from the alien planet and headed into deep space. In a

moment, its neutrino drive kicked in and the ship disappeared into the subatomic

universe.

Two and a half-hours passed as the Glitter approached the Nagunda. Benjamin

began his search for his friend’s ship and was alarmed not to find the ship in the

extremities of the field where it should have been.

"Where are you Eric?" He asked out loud as he reviewed the data.

The asteroid field covered almost a million miles of space. If Eric had changed

position, Benjamin knew the search would be difficult.

Then a thought struck him. "The sensors!" He told himself. "I could get his

position from the sensors!" He exclaimed and immediately began punching the

request for a connection. Within a minute Benjamin was disappointed with the

results. The sensors were not active in the last 34 hours. Eric may have turned

them off during his work, and yet, that would be considered an abnormal

procedure he thought. Nevertheless, Benjamin retrieved what he could get on

the ship’s last position and then moved his ship.

The Glitter glided far out of reach of the asteroids. It was an amazing sight.

Rock, ice and dust floating together as far as the human eye can see. Rock sizes

ranged from dust to small moons. A nearby sun gave some light to the

phenomena. Tiny flashes of light twinkled across its length as the sun’s rays

reflected off the chunks of ice. On occasion, one or more asteroids could be

found away from the nest and as they drifted out into space on an unknown

journey.

As Benjamin looked upon the Nagunda he remembered his earlier assignment to

the asteroid field. He was the first and only one to map its characteristics. It was

fun, and yet didn’t think of it as being dangerous. Now it seemed to have

claimed its first victim.

As time passed with no sign of the Starsearch, Benjamin began to believe that

this would take days. In a short time, he would have to leave the rescue to the

authorities and leave his friend to whatever fate was given him.

A beep interrupted his thoughts and for a moment, reacted in a trivial manner,

until he realised it was the signal he was waiting for so dearly. The ships probing

had discovered something. Benjamin glanced at the data.

"Ya! Found you." He exclaimed in a burst of joy and relief. "Relay data as soon

as it comes, Hilda."

"Will do." She answered.

Benjamin switched to a visual position of the Starsearch. On the large main

screen, one part showed a technical position of the ship while another zoomed

its powerful cameras. Benjamin's smile instantly faded from his face at what

appeared. He stared, mouth open and could not believe what he saw.

"No." He sadly told himself.

On a very large rugged asteroid, lay the twisted wreckage of the Starsearch. Its

white and grey metallic body lay slumped along the surface as if moulded to the

rock.

It was obvious by the scene that Eric could not have survived the outcome,

Benjamin judged, but he wished he were wrong. Technical readouts told him

that the haul was breached over all the ship. Life support was gone and that

meant no chance of survival.

How could this have happened, Benjamin thought? What made Eric get so

close? Was it an accident or a daring move? Questions and scenarios raced

through his mind as he sought an explanation and yet he could only concede a

freak accident.

Then a thought came to his mind. A space suit! Eric could still survive in a space

suit.

"Hilda. Did you try personal communicators?" He asked but already knew the

answer.

"Yes. As per standard procedures. No communication was established." She

replied.

Disappointed, Benjamin slumped back in his chair.

Sadly he thought upon his friend. Remembering the times together made the

situation seem unreal and yet terrible. As Benjamin looked at the wreckage, he

decided that he should be the one to retrieve his friend’s body and not a

stranger. Although it posed some risk, he wanted to see his friend again.

"Widen the view." He ordered and the screen enlarged. Although the area

surrounding the wreckage contained floating dangers, they moved slow enough

to allow navigation.

"Hilda. I need radar trajectory analysis of moving objects entering the

Starsearch's area. I need to know if there’s any danger - anything that might

cause me problems."

"I'm listing and calculating vectors. This will take a moment."

"Understandable. Prep the egg. I’m going to the Starsearch." Benjamin said as

he swung his chair and exited the bridge.

"This will be dangerous, Ben." His computer warned.

"I know." He only answered.

As he contemplated his journey, he knew it was dangerous, but if he was careful

and the area was clear of any other collisions, he could at least retrieve his body.

Arriving at the shuttle ready room, he quickly put on a space suit. A window

showed the small hangar that kept the small egg shaped exploratory ship. It was

a white oval ship with jutting hardware and black jetports. Although manned by

one person, its rear compartment was large enough for cargo or equipment.

"Ben." Ship’s computer called out.

"What is it?" He asked as he picked a helmet.

"The area is clear for at least 48 minutes. Several floating objects will enter the

area." Hilda informed.

"Good." He answered and then punched the button to open his way to the ship.

The airlock door opened at both ends and Ben entered the ship.

Quickly he slid into the command chair and began punching his departure. The

door to the ship closed and lights flickered on. The ship’s large oval window

curved 180 degrees in front of him. Hangar lights then closed and small yellow

lights glowed around the external door. Not a moment passed as the doors split

open horizontally.

As Ben connected support attachments to his suit, he watched the view opening

up to him. The Nagunda’s vast shadowy presence stood motionless before him.

Space was ready to swallow his little ship.

A beep told him that all was ready for his departure. Ben gripped his flight stick

and titled it forward. The ship moved on a track until it left the mother ship.

Calmly, Benjamin glided his ship downward. Examining the radar, he planned his

path through two large rocks and then toward the Starsearch.

The two rocks were larger than his ship. Although Ben understood the

non-existence of gravity in space, it always impressed him how these huge

asteroids just floated about. Drifting past them, Ben now drew closer to the

Starsearch. In seconds he stood above its wrecked body.

Examining the ship, Benjamin saw several torn openings in the structure. They

were large enough to give him access to the inside. Benjamin was relieved,

gaining access through mechanical doors would have proven very difficult and

time consuming.

Benjamin moved his ship to the closest hole that led to the bridge. Benjamin

judged it was the first place Eric would be found.

The egg-shaped shuttle drifted over the gap and then stopped.

"Be careful Ben. You have twenty-nine minutes remaining." Hilda said.

"Ok. Keep me informed." He answered as he left the console.

Ben grabbed an environmental unit and attached it to his suit. Switching it on, air

began hissing into his helmet. In a short moment, he was ready for space.

After decompressing the ship’s air, he opened the door and floated off into

space. Sending his thoughts to the suit’s guiding system, the jets moved him

downward straight into the gaping whole. Pushing aside some cables, Benjamin

entered one of the corridors.

Emergency lights were on in the ship and Benjamin was glad for them. He drifted

down the corridor and came to one bulkhead door. Pushing the open button

became more from reflex than ignorance, since Benjamin knew there was no

power available to open them.

Ben then opened a panel beside the door. Inside, a lever worked the secondary

door mechanism. Grabbing it from the top and pulling it down the first time, the

door was unlocked. By pushing it up and down even more, the door jerked

opened several inches wide with every pull.

With a large enough opening, Benjamin then moved into the next corridor.

Drifting along, Ben came to an intersection and stopped to take a look. All he

saw was some equipment floating around and nothing more. Going on, Benjamin

came to the last bulkhead door that led to the bridge. Again he opened the panel

to the door mechanism and then pulled down the lever. On the second pull, the

door jerked open and a blast of air struck him. The force of the air rushing out

into space threw Benjamin with a tremendous push. Spinning as he flew across

the corridor Benjamin then slammed against the wall. His helmet also hit the wall

hard, knocking his head and sending him into unconsciousness.

As Ben slowly drifted back to reality, he began hearing a voice calling out to

him. "Ben, please wake up. Ben you’re in danger, please wake up."

Benjamin awakened. Dazed he opened his eyes and looked through his helmet

only to see a wall. He pushed himself away from it. Sending his thoughts to his

suit's guiding system, it moved him back in the middle of the corridor.

"Ben! I’m happy to see you’re well again. You only have five minutes." Hilda

told him.

Ben did not answer, as the thoughts of what happened filled his mind with

questions and worst, dread. Then it struck him; air! There was air in the ship!

With his heart pounding with fear, Benjamin quickly returned to the door. He

pumped the lever and opened the door wider. Quickly, he slipped through and

headed for the bridge. As he came to the bridge’s entrance door, he stopped

and so did his heart. The door was opened!

Calming his growing fears he slowly floated into the bridge. What he saw proved

his worst fear. Small articles floated about in the chamber, disturbed by the loss

of air, including a helmet. Eric’s body lay in the command chair, his arms floating

before him. His face looked toward the door, eyes wide in shock, mouth

opened for air that wasn’t there anymore.

"No! Noooo!" Benjamin screamed.

Arthur Miriello