In celebration of publishing my novella, Zero Perspective, I’d like to share the first chapter with you, the awesome person reading this post. I hope you enjoy it. Thank you for reading, and an even bigger thank you if you decide to pick up a copy of Zero Perspective!
John sat ready at manual control, just in case. It was a habit he committed to without shame. He never fully trusted automation of any kind, especially when it replaced a human being. Despite his mistrust, the docking procedure went smoothly. The Tyson connected to the derelict vessel by automated program with mathematical precision.
“Why do you insist on doing that for every single docking maneuver?” Hailey asked.
“I know, but no one actually does it. Even Captain Flynn doesn’t enforce it.”
“I feel better if I’m still in control. You know, just in case.”
“In case of what?” Hailey laughed. She tilted her head to one side and looked at him with squinted eyes. “No Cosmo-class ship has ever made a mistake.”
John unbuckled himself and stood from his seat. “I’m going to get some coffee before mission briefing. You want any?”
“Nah, it always makes me have to go. And that’s no fun when you’re stuck in a suit.”
“All hands to the briefing room.” Captain Flynn’s voice boomed from the communication panels located all over the ship.
“Damn,” John said, “no time for coffee.”
The crew piled into the briefing room one by one. Ready and waiting, the captain sat at the end of the table, tapping his fingers.
“Communications with Esometa stopped just before it reached Jupiter,” Flynn began. “That was two weeks ago. It was supposed to be in orbit around Europa on a research mission. We don’t know the condition of the crew, but from outside the ship appears to be powered down completely. If it had no power this long, it’s not likely anyone is alive. So be prepared for what we might find.”
“What’s it doing in orbit around Ganymede?” John asked.
“I don’t know,” Flynn answered. “That’s what we’re here to find out. Grant, John, Miles, I want you to scout the ship. Be ready at the airlock in one hour. Everyone else is on standby for second team. Dismissed.”
Hailey grabbed John’s arm on the way out of the briefing room. “Good luck.”
“Thank you.” He gave a quick smile.
John retreated to his quarters. He’d never seen a dead body before, and it looked like he might see his first. He prayed he wouldn’t vomit in his suit. He’d seen it happen once and it wasn’t pretty. That, and Miles would never let him live it down. That bastard was always on his ass about something. The only thing he felt thankful for was that he’d been picked for first team. On rescue missions, second team always collected the bodies.
At least I won’t have to do that, he thought.
After suiting up and meeting Grant and Miles at the airlock, John led the team into the Esometa.
“It’s a ghost ship,” Grant said, shining his helmet light down the dark, silent corridor.
“Have you ever heard a ship be this quiet?” Miles asked.
“It’s completely shut down,” John added. “Dead in the water, so to speak.”
“Why are the gravity systems still operational?” Miles noted.
Grant shook his head. “Strange. They shouldn’t be.”
They made their way down the hall. John tried to prepare himself for the sight of corpses, which he felt sure they’d find. His stomach cramped at the thought.
“Where’s the bridge?” Miles asked. “You know the designs on these ships, don’t you Grant?”
“I thought I did,” Grant answered. “This corridor should have ended ten meters back and I still can’t see the end of it. It doesn’t conform to the design specifications. I don’t understand.”
“You’ve got the right display, haven’t you?” Miles’ tone carried a wavering anticipation.
“Of course I have the right one.”
“Then where the hell are we?” Miles asked.
Grant studied the information on his arm display. He seemed transfixed, the soft glow of the screen casting pale light on his face. His eyes stared hard, jaw locked in concentration.
“Well?” Miles took a step closer to Grant.
“I don’t know,” Grant said. “Let’s turn around and go back. Maybe we just missed it in the dark.”
“Where does your computer say we are?” John asked.
“It’s not working,” Grant answered.
“But what does it say?”
“It says we’re not even on the ship. It says we’re out there,” he pointed a gloved finger at one of the port windows, “in space.”
“Then it’s obviously malfunctioning,” Miles said.
“No shit,” Grant replied. “I just said it wasn’t working.”
“We’ll turn around and make our way back,” John said. “We don’t want to get lost in here. We’ll go get a replacement so we know where we’re going.”
Grant looked hard at John. “Sure, we need a new computer. But something still isn’t right about this. I know these ships like the back of my hand. And I’m telling you, there’s no way this corridor is as long as it is. I don’t need the computer to tell me that.”
“Radio the captain,” John said. “Let him know our situation before we move on. Maybe he knows something about the ship we don’t.”
“This is Grant to Tyson. Come in, Tyson.”
They waited for an answer, but were met with silence. Not even static came through the speaker.
“Grant to Tyson. Can you read me?” He tapped his helmet. “Hello? Tyson, are you there? This is Grant. We have a situation.”
Sweat beaded on John’s brow. A drop ran down the bridge of his nose and rested at the tip. He focused on it, blurring all else in his vision. It shook slightly, as though seismic activity rumbled beneath the surface of his skin.
“I’m not getting anything,” Grant said. “Nothing at all.”
“This is John. Can anyone hear me?” He tried to keep his voice calm, despite the simmered blood rushing through his heart. He didn’t want anyone to panic. That would make a bad situation worse. And things were already off to a less than perfect start.
“Let’s start walking,” John said, still straining to keep his voice cool and even. “Once we get back to the ship we can figure out what’s wrong with our equipment.”
“I’m telling you, it isn’t the equipment,” Grant said.
“To hell with the equipment,” Miles added. “I don’t care. Let’s just go.”
They turned and walked back in the direction of the airlock. They looked carefully for the way that should have led to the bridge, but not a single deviation from the main hall existed. It was just one long corridor without any doors or alternate routes, a tunnel that seemed to go on forever. John got the impression of walking on a conveyor belt that matched his speed, so that no matter how far he went, he never left the spot where he started. He carefully inspected the walls, ceiling, and floor for identifiable marks that might indicate some kind of progress, but everything looked exactly the same. All appeared to be perfectly uniform in design: the standard flooring, perfectly shaped wall panels, and large port windows showing the stars.
John nearly walked into Grant when he stopped suddenly. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I don’t know how, but we missed it,” Grant replied.
“The airlock. We went too far. We’re way past it.”
“How far past?” Miles asked.
“Nearly sixty meters.”
“What?” Miles yelped. “How? There’s no way.”
“I don’t know. I didn’t see it.”
“Neither did I,” John said, “but I don’t see how we could have missed it. That doesn’t make any sense.”
“We didn’t,” Grant said with a sigh. “I scanned that wall every inch of the way. The airlock simply isn’t there.”
“It’s there,” Miles said. “I just have to find it.” He started to walk off on his own.
“Miles, where are you going?” John called out. “We have to stay together!”
“Screw you. The both of you. I’m getting the hell out of here!”
Grant chased after him. He grabbed Miles by the arm when he caught up.
“Get off me!” Miles turned and shoved Grant back with both hands. “This is just some sick joke you guys are playing on me. I know you don’t like me. It’s no mystery. So to hell with you, I’m going back to the ship. You can stay here all you like.”
“Miles, listen to me,” Grant said. “Do you really think we’d play a joke during a rescue operation? On a derelict vessel we know nothing about?”
His eyes darted back and forth behind his visor. “I don’t know.” His demeanor calmed, body conforming to a more relaxed posture. “I suppose not.”
“Come on, Miles.” Grant put a hand on his shoulder. “Let’s just get back. I promise no one’s messing around with you. We have to stick together. We don’t want to get separated.”
“Everything okay?” John asked when they rejoined him.
“I’m okay now,” Miles said. “I just panicked, that’s all.”
“It’s okay,” John said. “We’re all shaken up right now. What we need to do is make a plan. I think we should keep going. There’s got to be something at the end of this corridor. Once we find it, whether it’s the bridge or not, we can figure out where to go from there.”
“I agree,” Grant said. “We can’t just keep walking back and forth.”
They continued in the same direction, searching for anything other than the hallway. Fear followed closely, its footfalls at John’s heels with every step. It ran its finger up his spine and tickled his neck. It pushed at the back of his knees, weakened his legs. In an attempt to outpace it, he walked faster, but it leaned against his back, pressed solid despondency into his soul. He passed Miles and Grant, taking long strides ahead of them.
“Slow down,” Grant said, “you’re going to use up your oxygen faster.”
John took a deep breath and slowed his pace. “This is really getting to me.”
“I know what you mean,” Grant replied. “I feel myself starting to get nervous. I don’t get it. We’re trained for this shit. We’re not supposed to panic.”
“This isn’t exactly a typical situation,” John said. “If it were a pressure leak or some kind of mechanical failure, we would know what to do. That’s what we were trained for. This doesn’t make any sense. Our training doesn’t know what to make of it. It’s lost, just like we are.”
“Don’t say we’re lost!” Miles blurted out. “We’re not lost. We’re going to get out of here. We’re going to go back to the ship, and I’m going back home. To hell with this job. To hell with all of it!” He shook his white-gloved fists.
“Calm down, Miles,” Grant said, trying to emphasize reassurance in his approach. “It’s okay. We’re going back to the ship right now.”
Miles pointed at Grant. “Don’t tell me what we’re doing. I’ll tell you! I’ll tell you something. I’ll tell—”
Grant placed his hands on Miles’ shoulders with a firm grasp. He looked hard through his faceplate and into his wide, fear-ridden eyes. “Relax. Just breathe and listen to what I’m saying.”
Miles’ brow tightened as he stared back.
“There’s no reason to panic. We have plenty of air. Nothing is going to happen. Just like you said, we’re going back to Tyson right now. All we have to do is walk a bit further and second team will deal with the rest. Our job is done.”
Miles’ eyes moved from one side to the other. His breathing slowed.
“Come on,” Grant urged, “let’s get going.”
“Alright,” he replied. “Let’s just go. I’m okay now.”
A vibration moved through the floor like a wave. It went through John’s feet and shot up his legs. The creaking of metal followed, sounding as though it came from the entire ship. Then a shockwave came crashing through the corridor, knocking them all on their backs.
“What the hell just happened?” Miles cried out.
“Grant to Tyson, come in.” He called out again and again over his radio. “Can anyone hear me? Please answer!”
John put his hands to the floor to see if any vibrations still resonated, but it was completely still. He stood and looked around. Miles and Grant both got to their feet.
“What the hell was that?” Miles whined.
“I don’t know,” John replied. “That shouldn’t have happened.”
“Damn right it shouldn’t have happened!” Grant said. “There’s nothing I can think of on any ship that could do something like that. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t part of the ship’s design, unless there’s something we don’t know about it.”
“Let’s keep moving,” John said. “I really want to get the hell out of here.”
As they continued walking John’s senses went into overdrive. The beating of his heart thumped in his ears. He darted his eyes in every direction, following the beam of his helmet light with focused intensity. He’d never encountered a problem he couldn’t explain, and this was one of those problems.
The echo of a voice came through the corridor, calling out John’s name. He thought his mind invented the sound, a fear-induced hallucination born of hope. But everyone heard it. Miles and Grant turned around swiftly, startled by the voice of another person on the ship.
“You hear that?” John asked. Grant and Miles nodded. “So it’s not just me. Thought I was hearing things.”
“Either that, or we all are,” Grant said.
The voice came closer, and as it became clear, John recognized who it belonged to.
Zero Perspective is available from these retailers:
Print edition on Amazon
eBook on Smashwords
Signed copies are also available! Contact me by email at LeeFormanAuthor@gmail.com