Authors: Angelo Benuzzi
by Angelo Benuzzi
Ghosts Of War – Issue #4
Published by .44” Press © ®
eBook four in the “Ghosts Of War” series.
Published by .44” Press – under trademark.
Cover art by Elena Betti
This work is under copyright
– it cannot be copied, used, printed or shared without its owner explicit authorization. Violations will be prosecuted under international and/or national laws where applicable.
All rights are owned by Mr. Angelo Benuzzi; all requests have to be placed here:
This is a work of fiction.
No real planet or moon has been conquered or destroyed; no real spaceship or habitat has been stolen or disbanded; no real animal, chimera or monster has been killed or maimed; no real AI or artificial intelligent being has been erased, reprogrammed or altered. No robots of any size has been disbanded or destroyed. Even little poor human beings have been respected.
As a writer I do not believe in the canon of “
In my works you may find violence, bad language, sex, sarcasm, bad attitude and whatever else I need (or I find useful) in order to have fun and tell you a story. If your precious sensibility is offended by one or more of this issues you’re free to close this e-book and erase it from your device. You will not get your money back for that nor you will get any excuse from me. As they say, better luck next time!
there are differences between what a writer thinks and/or believes and what his/her characters do in his/her works. Reality and fiction are two separate entities, if you do not understand that it’s time to ask to your imaginary friend to get a reality check.
The scent of black tea was particularly strong in the main deck, it was a tradition for all the scientific crews aboard RSS “Zel’dovich” to celebrate the beginning of a mission after boring weeks of inter-system travel. For Mikhail Babushkin, astronomer and ship commander, was the final trip after twenty years of deep space service. His second was a freshman from the national Academy of Sciences, Dmitry Anuchin, also an astronomer with a degree in engineering. Both of them were looking at the main screen, reading the diagnostic messages from the main sensor array.
«All right, we’re sixty seconds to complete our setup. Ready to look at the fabulous Pluto?»
«I am, Mikhail. Today we’re making history.»
«Please, not again.» Babushkin took another sip of tea. «We’re not the first manned mission here, I’ve already told you about that.»
«Yes, I know. But I will keep my point. We don’t know if it’s true that the Chinese reached so far in wartime.»
Mikhail was about to answer, but the images on the main screen commanded attention. On-board computers were highlighting two red dots, both orbiting Charon. A few seconds after, another red signal bubbled up. This was near Pluto. Then another. Anuchin started a batch of subprograms, his eyes focused to the display.
«What the Hell is going on?» The commander couldn’t stop staring at the red dots.
« Mikhail, we have a preliminary ID. Visual match for Q-type habitat.» The young scientist looked puzzled and a bit scared. «It’s Chinese stuff.»
Babushkin didn’t answer, the red dots on the screen were a connection to his past, to a day he could not forget. Guided by decades of service, his hands were already on the emergency communication panel, unlocking the plastic protection. Dmitry grabbed his hands, just a moment before the activation.
« Mikhail, wait a moment. The war ended twenty years ago. If we send out the distress signal now we will have to leave. We don’t know nothing yet. Those structures could be empty.»
«You don’t understand, do you? This is not a colony, nor is some sort of old battle station. This is where they put the people they capture in the first stage of the war. Have you ever heard about the no-man’s land?»
It was Anuchin’s turn to be silent. Of all the dark legends connected to the last war the tale about the no-man’s land was the worst. Thousands of people were captured by the Chinese cyborgs in the first year of war, men and women of every nation kidnapped from ships and habitats and vanished forever. Yari Babushkin, Mikhail‘ s youngest brother, was among them.
« Mikhail, we are scientists. There is a protocol to follow and we have to be sure of what we’ve found here. Maybe you’re right, I don’t know what to think about our current situation. We have to investigate and then communicate to the Institute. Is it good for you?»
Babushkin slowly closed the protection of the emergency panel, his mouth a tight line of tension.
«You’re right, we have to investigate. But mark my words, if the Chinese are here we’re doomed. Death will be a gift if they get us. We will transmit to Earth in automatic mode from now on, full array of signals plus audio and video. Behave properly Dmitry, as you tell me before we’re making history.»
While the RSS “Zel’dovich” slowly continued his voyage, the Russian crew was busy with the observation protocol. Size, albedo and orbit of the four habitats were assessed, a number of smaller objects around Pluto and Charon also tracked and confirmed.
«Dmitry, start the data comparison for Pluto surface. I’m doing the same with Charon. Check it out starting from the north pole.»
«Will do. I think we’re up for more surprises. I have a preliminary check about Nyx and Hydra, Kerberos and Styx will follow. So far, no signs of human activity. By the way, first two transmissions are out. Green light for data compression and check digits.»
«That’s good. Our observations will be our legacy to the fleet.»
Mikhail’s expression was even darker than before. Two of the habitats had a significant heat signature, the others leaked high-level radiations. On a secondary screen the basic design of a Q-type habitat was rotating, showing its internal organization. Only one habitat of this kind was recovered intact after the conflict and the American navy had it dismantled as soon as possible.
«Habitat orbits are regular and we can get hints of activity. Dmitry, it’s possible that we have more than one thousand people out there.»
«Well, that let us with one more option to try. What about a communication test? We’re picking up low-level noise on the usual frequency sets.»
«Have you already tried out the known Chinese sets?»
«Yes, no activity at all. So, have I to try to place a call?»
«No. We have to complete the first optical sweep. Then we will transmit whatever we get and finally we will set up that call.»
Two hours later Mikhail was recording a preliminary report. He and Dmitry had a fast lunch and got a fresh set of uniforms before arranging a presentation for the Academy. In a matter of ten minutes the Russian commander gave a description of the data sent and posed an hypothesis about the outcome of the mission.
«If our radio contact get any kind of response, we may find ourselves on the brink of war again, with what’s left of Chinese second revolution in the outer edge of the Solar system. As a precaution, I will call for a general yellow alert for the Russian Space fleet until further notice. If you don’t get another video report in the next twelve hours, then assume that our ship is lost. Babushkin from RSS “Zel’dovich”, over.»
Anuchin checked the registration, then hit the “send” button.
«You know, that was quite dramatic. If all this stuff turn out to be about some empty tin can…»
«It is not.»
Babushkin was looking at the main screen. A flock of little red dots were moving out the low orbit around Charon, a yellow message was pulsing in the lower right corner “unknown vehicles”.
«It looks like that tin cans of yours are sending us a welcome committee. Red alert Dmitry! Go get your suit!»
Mikhail and Dmitry scrambled from their seats, the former after hitting the alert button on his console. They donned their exosuits, leaving up visors and gloves disconnected. On full auto, the “Zel’dovich” was altering course, resuming full power to all engines. It was a slow maneuver at best, the ship wasn’t build for speed. The two-tone siren of red alert was the constant background of the first five frantic minutes of activity.
«All right, crew habitat rotation will stop in ten seconds. Secure the desks!»
«Mikhail, we have a first evaluation. Twelve objects incoming, it looks like they used a full orbit rotation around Charon to gain speed before heading in our direction.»
«Got it. Do you remember the security protocol, don’t you?»
«Of course. I just… you know, I just would like to try everything else before that. I want to fight them.»
«Me too. But this isn’t a war ship. Our only defense could be to rotate irregularly on our main axis when they will try to connect with our ship. I think that you remember the simulations in the Academy. They will spread around us like a net, then two or more will try to make contact with the hull. In a matter of an hour all of them will be all over our ship. And then… then they will come in.»
«I don’t want to become a cyborg. Nor one of their slaves.»
The young engineer picked up a red-painted security key from his desk, his jaw set square in a meaningful expression.
«Let’s do it. We will show’em how Russian die.»
«Well said, son.»
The commander got his own key and shook hands with his aide.
«C’mon, we have a nuclear reactor to blast. Those tiny yellow hard-wired bastards will burn with us. Our fellow astronomers will see our little star shine for a while.»
Babushkin set off the alarm and both member of the crew moved to the main engine section. At zero gravity, at the core of the ship, the two Russians slid into place the security keys.
«Are you ready, Dmitry?»
«I am… what the Hell is that?»
He was looking at a small service screen, that was showing the simulation of the incoming enemy ships approach to the “Zel’dovich”. One the little ships just disappeared, then another.
«They are still too far away to be deploying on our hull.»
Mikhail drew away from the slot his key, then started to go back to the main deck.
«Let’s see what’s going on. We can blast ourselves later, can’t we?»
On the main screen, a minute later, they saw the most unexpected situation. One by one the enemy ship were destroyed by fast little missiles, almost too little to be spotted by the sensor array. It took just ten minutes to see the last of them blown to pieces.
«Can you backtrack those missiles?»
Babushkin looked at his young aide who was already at work at his desk.
«Just a moment, I’m plotting a number of trajectories. Well, look at the screen number six. It looks like we have company.»
And here it was. A long and sleek battle ship, silhouetted against the distant oval of Styx.
«I’m running the identification program, it will take…»
«Stop it. I know that ship. It’s the “Roma”. I can’t believe my own eyes, it disappeared with his whole crew at the end of the war.»
Sometimes legends came to life. Anuchin’s dreams of space-based adventures, back then when he was just a kid, often involved the discover of long-lost ships. Finding himself in such a situation was just incredible for him.
«RSS “Zel’dovich”, this is EUSS “Roma”, do you copy?»
It was the voice of an old man. Still strong, no matter the cracks and hisses from radio interferences.
« RSS “Zel’dovich”, this is Commander Scatena from EUSS “Roma”, please answer.»
It took a while for Mikhail to grab the mike. It was like to speak to an historical character.
«Sir, I’m Mikhail Babushkin from “Zel’dovich”. I think you just saved us.»
«Captain Babushkin, you’re not home free yet. Please keep your current direction and avoid to enter the combat zone at all costs.»
«Sir, our sensors shows nothing except your own ship. Are there more Chinese vessels?»
«Captain Babushkin, this is the belly of the beast. Your presence here started the last battle of my war. Scatena out.»
Mikhail looked at the screens for a while, his mind lost between the memories of his own war service in the Russian fleet. Meanwhile Anuchin set off on-board alerts and resumed the normal propulsion.
«What about our course? Should we maintain it as suggested?»
Babushkin shook slowly his head.
«No. For what I can see the European ship is going straight in the direction of Pluto. It looks like they already know where the enemy could be. Our presence here causes the Chinese to attack with their little fleet. Have you already tracked back the direction of the “Roma”?»
«Yes, it was hidden in the shadow of Styx. I have performed some calculation about those missiles, too. The Europeans must have launched as soon as the Chinese ships leaved Charon in our direction.»
«I see. They used us as bait. We’ve been tracked and set up.»
«They know about the presence of the Chinese fleet. And they also know that there’s more than that. We have a lot of images of those little vessels, do you think that it may be useful to check it out?»
Without an answer the Russian commander started to review the footage, like a man who already know what he will find.
«Here it is. Look here, Dmitry. Tell me what do you see.»
Anuchin look at the images for a long minute. Three of the Chinese ship had a feature in common, with the crew quarter exposed to space. In all of them the pilot was clearly visible, barely human shapes with no helmet and other parts of their exosuits.
«That can’t be. Cyborg or not cyborg, they still need breathable air and a minimum of heat. They… they…»
«They are ghosts. Face it, Dmitry. Ghosts of war.»
Mikhail reviewed again the available data of the habitats, there was more than a bunch of undead corpses. Then he started to alter the course of his ship.
«We’re taking a chance, my young friend. Those rad levels of the habitat orbiting Pluto are far too high to be comfortable for human presence. Normal humans, I mean.»
«So, what we will do now?»
«We’re going in the direction of Charon. Lit up your communication console and start as soon as possible to try to get a response from that two habitats. If my guess is right, we may find what’s left of the POW.»
«What if are you wrong?»
«Well, we can still blast our goddamned ship.»