Leftenant West sat back in his metallic desk chair, resting his eyes from the computer display perched next to the cabin controls. He stretched his hands up, hearing them crack, then placed them on this lap. The young second mate had pressed his driving skills to the limit after flying from the backwater planet of Last
Home, meandering through the old rock’s meteor belt. Folk were dodgy there, in fact many of them were frankly insane, thought West, and he was relieved that the captain hadn’t waited there long after dropping off their shipment of Old Toby’s super-mellow cigars. Something had sure got the residents of Last Home worked up, and West had a feeling whatever that may be wasn’t good for him or the rest of the crew.
The planet Last Home got it’s name for a reason – it was on the border of a massively empty part of space known as The Void. For miles, there was nothing but pure lonesome astral air, not a meteor or so much as a rock in sight. It was this part of space that the cargo vessel Palarran cruised through now, en route to the populous planet called Gladden, that happened to be on the other side of The Void. Many said Last Home’s citizens were odd because being so close to The Void made them that way. West certainly believed that theory as he gazed out into the vast blackness, for if he looked out for too long he could start to feel a shadow across his heart and a shudder down his spine. Something was out there, he mused. Something man should never find. Something evil.
West sat up from his uncomfortable abode to search for a good drink. Lying on top of a desk littered with star maps was a bottle of alcohol and a transparent glass on its side. Smiling slightly, he poured himself a glass of the universe-renowned Barliman’s Whisky, then sat back down at the pilot’s seat. Just as the cup reached his lips, the computer started beeping. Cursing, West quickly read the display, puzzled by what he saw.
‘When I hear beeping, something ain’t dandy’, stated Captain Darion as he entered the cabin in his usual manner of walking like he was God.
‘There’s . . . I . . . I don’t understand,’ stammered West.
‘Whataya jabbering about?’ demanded Darion. ‘Spit it out, man!’
‘There . . . there’s a planet.’
Darion considered this for a moment, searching West’s face for any sign of a joke. ‘Wait – we’re still in the void, aren’t we?’
‘Aye, sir. Right in the middle of it. And the ‘puter says there’s a planet just some kilometres from here. It must be just the electrics playing up.’
Darion put his hand under his chin, attempting to make a big show of himself thinking. Vainglorious fool, thought West.
‘We better check it out. Its company policy to explore any new rocks found, and report to H.Q ’bout it immediately.’
‘Shall I redirect our course towards it then, sir?’
‘Yes. Yes, do so right away.’
The pompous captain noticed the drink in West’s hand, snatching it quickly.
‘Now’s not the time to be drinking, West! We need you focused!’
The young leftenant swore under his breath as he saw from the corner of his eye the captain swallow the alcohol as he left the cabin.
Palarran was now but a few hundred metres from the anonymous planet, and any chance of the computer emitting a misreading was gone. West hardly believed his eyes as the dark form of the planet had almost appeared from the darkness, and still found it hard to accept even now.
Standing beside him was Darion and another of the crew members, Beth. After Darion tried to send a message to H.Q and had instead found the communications refused to work, Beth had become quite agitated, and from time to time paced out of the cabin only to return a minute or two later.
‘Are we really going down there?’ she asked, almost begging for someone to say no.
‘Yeah, sugarlips, we are,’ said Darion, now quite seriously.
‘It’s just . . . well . . . something doesn’t feel right about the place. It feels like my soul’s gone cold when I look at it, and when I don’t it feels like there’s a dagger at the back of my head. Surely you can feel it?’
‘Of course not. It’s just being in The Void, it gets you twitchy,’ said Darion. West was sure the captain was trying to reassure himself.
‘You can, right West?’ Beth said, like an interrogator on the edge of desperation.
West nodded slightly. ‘Yes, yes I can Beth. Come to think of it sir, she’s been right about these things in the past. Remember that trap at Izen?’
Darion recalled the startling battle which had cost him the lives of half his crew. ‘Yes, West. I remember. But it is our duty to go down there, whether little ol’ Beth here has had a premonition ’bout it or not. Prepare to land.’
The surface of the planet looked like a volcano had recently erupted, or so West would believe if there actually were any mountanous regions on the lost rock. But, there was ruins, lots of ruins. Cities, towns, villages, all could be seen across the desolate landscape, all ruined and as grey as storm clouds. Nothing living could be seen, no movement could be seen, and all but the astral winds could be heard. As West touched down, the crew had geared themselves up in oxygen outfits and the weapons Darion had apparently ‘borrowed’ from the armoury planet of Tirith. West remained in the comfort of the Palarran’s cabin, for the best weapons at the crew’s disposal were attached to the ships, and if anything was to assault them, West was to, in Darion’s words, ‘Give ’em hot chips’.
The eight crewmen of the Palarran (other than West) had begun to drift towards the nearest city, their guns held ready for anything they might face. Beth was right – all the crew besides Darion seemed to be rather skittish. If not for the tense atmosphere, West could have sat back and laughed at the way they moved skittishly over the landscape, but instead his hand was very close to the ammunition trigger, and his senses were on edge. He now thanked Darion for stealing his whisky, but he would probably hit him for it in a day or two for doing so, sitting in a posh little bar on Gladden. What the hell am I thinking, he thought. His mind was trying to reassure himself that nothing bad was going to happen, which was usually a bad sign.
He was startled from his daydreaming by the comms crackling to his right.
‘Tes . . . . . . . munication . . . . . . ting commu . . . . .’
West picked up the comm device at the sound of Darion’s transmission.
‘Captain, there are communications, but very patchy from this end. That’s patchy communications, over.’
‘Moth . . . . . fuc . . . . . . . . . . . .’ came the crackling curse of Darion from the other end. West couldn’t help but laugh at his captain’s discomfort.
It had been an hour since the crew had left West alone on the Palarran. They were out of sight of the ship, having entered the ruins near to the landing site. No communications had come for a while now, too. West was now officially worried. He picked up the comm device again, hoping for an answer.
‘This is Leftenant West. Do you read? Repeat, do you read? Hello! Does anybody READ!’
‘. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ‘
West looked up in hope after hearing the static. Someone had answered, but with no voices to hear, they had left West hanging. He looked out again to the ruins, trying to see some sign of Darion, or Sam, or anyone. After some minutes, he slumped back down. It was when he sighed that he could see something from the corner of his eye. West automatically jumped up and peered into the distance. Yes, someone was there, he could tell from the white figure. Then another appeared behind the first. West leapt in joy, but let out a sharp curse as his head hit the roof. He tried on the comm again, with no reply, but that didn’t matter. But West’s short burst of joy was abruptly stopped when the second white figure disappeared. Something was wrong, terribly, abominably wrong. He picked up the comm again.
‘I don’t know if you can hear me, but if you can I’m bringing the ship across to you.’
With that, West immediately punched a sequence of controls and took off, being sure to keep the exit ramp open. He set the ship to automatic, then went to the ramp to try and do something before the day ended in blood.
West crouched by the ramp with a long rope, ready for whoever he saw to grab ahold of it. Yet, for all he knew they could have disappeared too. He dismissed the thought abruptly. God willing, just one good thing could happen today. Without warning, West saw a flash of white, and held the rope fast, praying whoever was there would clutch it. The rope pulled against him. Someone had caught hold.
‘HOLD ON! I’LL PULL YOU UP!’ he cried as he pressured all his muscles into pulling the rope. As if the crewman’s weight wasn’t enough, he had to contend with the turbulently fast winds sweeping against him. His face lined with strain, he pulled and pulled, and soon the crewman was pulling themself up onto the ramp. When they were safely onboard, West pressed the ramp control button, and as it hissed back into place he went to deal with the survivor. As they took of their helmet, West was taken aback when he saw half of their left leg was gone, and blood was beginning to pool about the wound. With no helmet, the pain stricken face of Beth could be seen, crying aloud in shock and pain.
‘Beth! Beth! What happened?’
She tried to speak, but her words were replaced with another scream. Only after some minutes was she able to speak.
‘We . . . we . . . were ambushed,’ she recalled.
‘By what? It was dead down there!’ exclaimed West.
‘I don’t know, but whatever it was, it was evil. Just being near to it made you feel empty. I am sure it is the cause of what we feel when in The Void, and what made the people of Last Home mad.’
‘Where is the rest of the crew?’
‘Dead. In the ruins. We couldn’t even get a shot at it. Only me and Sam made it out, but that thing was hot on us, and it got Sam, and it got my leg when I grabbed your rope.’
‘Mother of the ‘verse!’ cried West. ‘Right, we need you to rest somewhere, and treat that wound.’
West was now back in the cabin, with Beth in the co-pilot’s chair. Many towels had been wrapped about her leg, and for her condition she was remarkably well. Beth had always been resilient.
The Palarran raced with all speed from the planet’s surface, but West now felt an unease at the corner of his mind, like he was . . .
‘I think we’re being followed,’ said West.
‘So do I,’ agreed Beth.
At that, West quickly spun the Palarran around with the skill of many years on his shoulders. As he stared back to the planet, his fears were confirmed.
Soaring from the old rock was an immense cloud of shadow, and though West nor Beth knew it, this was indeed the spirit of Morgoth. For after his crimes against Middle-earth, the Maiar and Valar banished him to the void of space, and for millenia he traversed the many stars, spreading darkness in his wake. But when Men had crossed the threshold of Ea and began to conquer the many rocks of space, Morgoth had fled to the darkest corner of space, and waited in silence.
For a moment, West was paralysed with the fear of what came to claim him.
‘There it is!’ cried Beth, with the terror of a lunatic. ‘There He is!’
Beth’s harsh wailing awakened West from his short coma. His finger punched down on the trigger, sending rounds of ammunition into the vast blackness. Yet the form seemed to take no effect, and continued with horrifying persistence.
‘What now?’ peevishly asked Beth.
‘I think I have an idea. Can you take the controls?’
Beth hesitated, then loyally nodded in reply. West nodded dutifully back, then sprinted from the cabin. In the cargo hold, by the ammunition loading point, was a shipment of Barliman’s whisky. West triumphantly smiled, then began to take apart the cargo box.
West ran back into the cabin, the shadow nearly upon them.
‘I hope whatever you’re planning works,’ said Beth, who started to become drowsy from loss of blood.
‘So do I, sugarlips,’ smirked West. ‘So do I.’
With that, West once again punched the trigger. But in the place of rounds, a cargo hold of Barliman’s whisky fired upon the shadow.
‘Are you crazy!?’ shrieked Beth.
‘We’ll soon find out,’ West said bitterly.
With the last bottle fired upon the darkness, West turned the ship around, and switched on the rear view camera, gaining a full view of the black thing encroaching upon the ship, now angered with the impertinence of its prey.
‘What are you waiting for! Go, now!’ shouted Beth.
‘What! Go now, you fool!’
The shadow was nearly upon them. It reached out a black claw to crush them . . .
‘Now!’ commanded West.
The engines fired up. A blast of fiery heat spread from the engines, and erupted from the rear.
The shadow soon became engulfed in flame. Fires spread across its whisky-covered form as the dark form began shreiking in rage, and gave so great a cry that West and Beth covered their ears in shock. Yet that would be the last hurt Morgoth did them, for the Palarran raced from the burning shadow of The Void.
When they had put many hypermiles between them and the dying blackness, West and Beth finally relaxed.
‘So, what do we do now?’ said Beth, calm at last.
West let his head fall back, and he smiled. ‘We’re still gonna go to Gladden.’
‘Of course. We’re gonna sit in a nice fancy bar, and we’re gonna drink the rest of our Barliman’s whisky.’
Beth laughed, as did West. They sighed, and stared out at space. They were reaching the end of The Void, and the planet of Gladden now seemed to shine like a star.
‘That reminds me,’ said West. ‘Shall I pour you a glass?’