The fringe of the Milky Way, and five thousand light years from any civilization, a space freighter slowly drifted by. It was an unremarkable, plain looking science vessel, and its mission would only interest a scientist. However, what they discovered would catch the attention of the whole galaxy.
"Asteroid targeted, drone is moving in. This should be the last one of the day."
Several minutes later: "Woah, whatever this is, it's not an asteroid."
"What makes you say that?"
"For one thing, it's very large, a hundred meters, at least, and shaped like a long cylinder with rounded tips. Ever heard of an asteroid shaped like that?"
"What do you propose?"
"We take a look at it."
"It could just be some old space debris."
"It could, but it could be something else."
"Fine, but you deal with it, I'm going to bed."
"Okay, good night."
The drone bee-lined its way to the unknown object. Sensors indicated that the target was not just a space rock or trash, but a large craft. Almost as large as the scientist ship itself. The drone came close enough to see the features of the derelict, or rather, lack thereof. The outer hull was almost completely smooth; like the metal plating (if it was metal plating at all) had been polished so much that the welding spots were smoothed over. There was a large interruption in the ship though, a large breach came into view as the ship spun very slowly on one axis, gaping outward like a mouth, revealing the inside of the ship.
Approaching slowly, the drone took dozens of readings every few seconds, until it was inside. So far, everything was appearing normal, with no sudden spikes in radiation or hazardous elements. Whatever happened to the derelict, it was quite some time ago, long enough to clean out most of the lose debris. There were only a few floating objects, because most had been sucked out into space already.
Overall, the ghost ship was of a strange design. The inside was aesthetically round, and a few indentations in the wall with blank screens were the only signs of electronics. No light sources could be located, so the drone used a wide, bright searchlight.
The robotic camera continued down the hall, taking note of the surfaces. They looked solid, yet spongy and full of pores. It was also the color of dried blood.
A moment later, the drone reached a sort of door. It was supposed to open like an iris, but apparently had gotten stuck, leaving an opening. The drone lined itself up, then slipped through with centimeters to spare.
On the other side was a gargantuan chamber, which took up seemingly half the ghost ship. The floor, unlike the previous room, was highly polished and bright, reminiscent of the outer hull. The walls had objects that appeared to be ladders and elevators, though they seemed foreign, not built for humans. Long pegs jutted out from the ceiling, presumably to hold smaller craft, but they were all empty.
However, there was something odd on the other side of the chamber. Six stands held up six orange egg-shaped objects. From the ceiling, a pillar went to each, but they were strange, red, limp things. The drone carefully drifted up to the objects, inspecting them. They were too opaque to see through, but with so many other discoveries, the controller didn't care.
"Okay, we're going to get a tractor beam out there, and bring this back home." Something within told the scientists that this wasn't going to be a boring scientist expedition at all.
Hotaka Motishi, eighteen years old and fresh from the Orion Military Academy, was miserable. He wondered why he felt this way; after all, he'd attended the best flight school with almost full scholarships, and was in the top five percent of his classes. After three long years of flying, fighting, and learning, he had earned a Top Honors Diploma, no small accomplishment. Not to mention the Royal Imperial Space Force was all over him about joining. They were offering him positions as Captain of his own squad. He was now at Dawn Base, very close to the frontline.
"You've got a lot of potential, Hotaka." One of his teachers had said. "You're one of those guys we need more of. Disciplined, smart, tough as nails. This war has gone on far too long, but this year's graduates scored some of the highest averages ever. Didn't you break a record?"
"No," he had replied. "But I came close. Someone got a few points over me."
"Well, I'm sure those points came from human error. You are the best I've seen in some time, and I've been around for some time." His teacher had then put a hand on Hotaka's shoulder. "You're destined to do great things."
Hotaka smiled at that. "I guess."
"Hah! Modesty! That's another thing we need! Too many pilots who brag out there as well."
Hotaka came back to reality with a knock on his door. "Yeah?"
The deep, bass voice of Wilhelm replied, "Hey, Hotaka, come out here. You have to see what they're doing."
"Fine. I'll get out of my comfortable position, walk halfway through the Base, and watch in awe as they break open mysterious rocks."
"It's better than rocks. A derelict ship. No registration or anything." That got Hotaka's attention. He opened the door, and was met with Wilhelm's chest.
Born and bred on Earth, Wilhelm was a bear of a man. Standing just over two meters tall and pushing a hundred kilograms, he was not someone to get in a fight with. However, it was hard to provoke him, because he was very easy going, preferring a wisecrack to a fistfight. His hair was buzz cut extremely short, to the point where it felt like sandpaper, a dramatic difference to Hotaka's brown hair, which dangled to his eyebrows in thin strands.
Hotaka had met Wilhelm at the Academy, in a teamwork mission. The gentle giant, half a dozen years his senior proved he was a valuable team member, though in a cockpit, he was not as skilled as his peers were. Put bluntly, Wilhelm seemed out of place at the Academy. He finished in the bottom third of his class, but his mechanical skills were enough to get him a job at Dawn Base.
"Let's go." Wilhelm led the way. Walking from one end of the base to the other would've required about an hour. Fortunately, a long "spine" had been built in the center. Dozens of elevators and cargo platforms moved this way and that, whispering by at a hundred kilometers an hour. Hotaka always felt a bit of awe when he entered the gargantuan chamber. It was like the city, with everything moving at once. It was also not like the city, since you could talk and be heard without raising your voice.
Hotaka and Wilhelm searched for a free transport, found one without much effort, and set the destination to the Science Hangar. Inside the soundproof compartment, a speaker droned on with an announcement every few seconds. Usually, people aboard the Base would need to keep a sharp ear to hear their name.
It was only a few minutes, thanks to the transportation, before they arrived at their destination. Hotaka and Wilhelm exited, and walked a short distance into a hall with glass walls that overlooked the large hangar dedicated to scientists. Usually, there were a half dozen projects being worked on, but the whole area had been cleared for the discovery. It needed almost all of the available space, and had what seemed like the whole science force crawling all over it in protective suits. Faintly, Hotaka could hear chatter and machines through the glass.
"Pretty cool, huh?" Wilhelm said. "It's nothing I've seen before."
Hotaka wasn't listening. Before he had even seen the ship, a strange, light-headed feeling had come over him. At first he thought it was just standing up too fast, but it hadn't cleared yet. He studied the ship intently, watched as a hovering platform with a tractor beam beneath drifted out from the ship, carrying one of the six orange eggs.
The world was suddenly drowned out in a high pitched whistle. Hotaka turned his head and saw Wilhelm's mouth moving, but no sound came out. What's going on here? Hotaka thought to himself. Am I losing it? Everything except the giant egg faded into black. It filled his vision until it seemed he was standing directly before it, and within the egg, something shifted. The orange glass had become transparent, inside, a creature, shapeless and without size, stirred. Two red eyes gazed at him, boring into him. They seemed neither hostile, nor friendly. The whistle grew louder, and a voice with no gender or tone whispered, You.
Then the egg rushed backwards, his surroundings brightened, and the world snapped back so abruptly, it brought Hotaka to his knees.
"Hey, what's wrong?" Wilhelm leaned over and offered a hand. "You all right?"
Between deep breaths, Hotaka managed to say, "I'll be fine."
"I'm fine," he insisted.
Hotaka didn't respond.
Lying in bed, confused, tired, Hotaka wondered what had happened back there. Apparently, no one else had seen the creature within. It spoke to me. Why? What's in there anyway? Hotaka had a habit of thinking more than he talked.
The rest of the day had gone normal. He attended a flight exercise, ate dinner, and spent some time in front of the television. Skirmishes were the subject of the day, and everyday for the past four years.
All of this fighting was over a system, named RDD18, known as the "Iron Heaven" in casual conversation. Scouts had reported that the planet was practically bursting with iron ore, a valuable resource for star craft. Naturally, manufacturers wanted their parent superpowers to grab it.
The Democratic Space Fleet, a large group of people who had gone to settle in their own space, had laid claim on the planet, and they had thought themselves lucky. But The Royal Imperial Space Force, being a separate power, refused to recognize their claim, and set up an outpost on the planet.
Well that certainly didn't please the DSF. They were mad as hell, in fact, and used every political trick they had to try and get the valuable planet back. For every maneuver they pulled, though, the RISF had a counter. Eventually, the conflict turned from a heated political debate into a violent conflict, and before long, the galaxy had a war on its hands. So far, the most popular name for it was "The Iron War." A lot of people had forgotten it was about a planet, and were focused on simply destroying the enemy before they were destroyed.
And so, four years after war had been formally declared, it was still going with no clear winner. Lately, it'd been slowing down, almost like both sides were losing interest. Nowadays, an attack would only happen if the two forces crossed each other's paths. But pilots were still needed, and that's where Hotaka came into play.
But the last thing he felt like doing now was flying. He was too puzzled by the event. Normally, he was a pretty solid, down to Earth person. It would take a lot to disturb him. Until now, apparently. Perhaps because the voice echoed itself in his head, unyielding. Somehow, hours later, he fell into a light sleep, dreaming he was riding a giant dog, laughing wildly.
"What is it?"
"I'm picking up something coming from one of the eggs. It's… heat."
"Yeah, it's very faint, but the thermal scanner on the highest power detects a source from that egg."
"Odd, are you sure it's not just someone standing near it?"
"No, any nearby person would show up as pink or white."
"Who's there?" Hotaka asked the empty room. No sound but the whir of the ventilation. In the silence, it sounded like a strong breeze.
For perhaps ten minutes, Hotaka sat up, eyes scanning the room slowly from one side to another. His eyes were adjusted enough to see the details of his room, even in the pitch black.
It was calling for him.
"Where are you?" Hotaka felt stupid talking into thin air, but at this hour, he didn't care much. Besides, he already knew the answer to his question. The creature in the egg was calling him, of course. Ask him how he knew, and you'd get a very awkward response.
Hotaka stood up, deciding he probably wouldn't be able to fall asleep again. He was garbed in a tank top, and boxer shorts. The least he could do was put on some pants and save the night crew some sanity. He fumbled on sweatpants and boots, then exited into the bright hall. Squinting, he made his way to the Elevator Spine, meeting no one. The night shift of Dawn Base was a skeleton crew, consisting of a dedicated few dozen.
Hotaka noticed that the Spine was empty to. Elevators, normally bustling along this way and that, were silent. Only a few could be seen moving in the distance. Hotaka had his choice of over thirty, so he picked the closest one, and headed to the Scientist Hangar.
Upon arrival, a sense of urgency washed over him. It was a feeling like he had to get to higher ground in a flood, and the water was up to his waist. That's how Hotaka always felt urgency, due to an incident a long time ago.
One day at the beach, when he was no more than six, he was enjoying an afternoon playing in the salty water. The tide came up though, and when he checked his inventory, he was missing something. Just a small, replaceable, plastic bucket, but it was his favorite one. He couldn't leave without it.
So, against his parent's wishes he ran back to the ocean and felt around randomly as the water slowly, inexorably rose. When it lapped at his waist, he was worried. When touched his armpits, he was terrified. The urgency to get his toy had driven him nearly to tears. He had to find it, very soon.
He did locate it, in the end, just as he was giving up, and went home relieved. But that brief hour of urgency had left a lasting scar.
When he came to the entrance of the hangar, the imaginary water was just over his navel, but he had a problem: Two big steel doors guarded the entrance. Only those with a pass or permission were allowed in, and Hotaka's urgency would most likely not work as a pass or permission. But the pressure wanted him to go. Demanded.
Fortune smiled upon him though, for the double steel doors shifted and lurched open. Hotaka stood to the side, in the shadows, as a scientist passed by, too busy reading a memo to notice the night prowler was there. Hotaka slipped through the doors easily.
Alone, he noticed that all six eggs had been stacked neatly against the wall. The derelict space vessel where they came from had been left alone for now. Hotaka approached the row of eggs. They were so finely crafted, and perfectly shaped, he had to admire them. He reached out, put a hand on the orange surface. It was cool and smooth, like fiberglass.
Then, Hotaka heard something. It was a low, steady double thump, like a heartbeat. He listened intently.
Wait, thatis a heart beat! The orange case of the egg became clearer, radiating from his hand. He saw something inside, but could not make out what it was. Then, it moved, leaving a trail of bubbles behind it. Hotaka looked closer, gasped when he learned it was a hand pressed against the glass, and feared this was going to turn into a horror movie, but a wave of well being passed over him, telepathically or otherwise. He felt at peace with this alien creature. Their hands, sharply contrasted in size, were pressed together, with only the glass impeding their touch. A uniting of beings…
"Soon?" Hotaka asked aloud.
Then the appendage disappeared, the egg became opaque, and Hotaka removed his hand from the surface, feeling a little disappointed.
Suddenly, the metal doors opened, and a set of quick footsteps came to Hotaka's ears. He turned to see a scientist with a scowl on his face. Uh oh, I'm gonna get it.
"What do you think you're doing here?" The scientists looked like a tired old principal finding a student in the file room, snooping for his permanent record.
"I'm sorry, I was just heading back. I wanted to see these things up close."
"Well save it for the daytime hours and use the walkway! Now get out! I have half a mind to report you!"
"I'm going, I'm going," Hotaka said. As he walked out through the door, he took a last glance at the egg, but it remained silent and still.