I feel around for the alarm clock beside my bed. With a click it's set to snooze and I tuck back under my warm sheets.
"Wake up Kel."
"Five more minutes."
The horrid, pungent smell of cat pee assaults my nose and I get up immediately.
"Oh my g-! Alright- I'm up! Good lord Cerus."
I rub my eyes open.
Cerus is standing next to my bed. His long wheat blonde hair already tied neatly and his white lab coat is ready for the day.
He closes the small metallic vial on his hand.
"And don't call me mom."
He reopens the vial.
"Uncle. Take it or leave it."
A wry smile finds its way on his flawless face.
"Seriously though, do you always have that on you?"
"The smelling salts? Yes actually. This and a few other things."
Cerus is the ship's one and only certified medical doctor.
He's also my roommate.
"So... How are you feeling?"
I nod slowly as I ponder his question.
"I'm... good. I'm alright."
"That's good Kel. You're doing good. Keep it up."
He takes a sip of what smells like green tea.
"Now go get dressed. We've got work to do."
I stretch my arms a bit and head into the bathroom.
Lukewarm warm greets my face and as I raise my head from the sink, I stare at the young man reflected before me.
Messy jet black hair partially covering sharp glaring eyes. I use my hand to comb my hair back and a faded scar reveals itself from above my right eye, cutting through the brow and stopping on the left side of my nose.
I prefer keeping my hair slicked back to keep it off my face but maybe I should just cut it short like Marcus.
While I ponder getting a new hairstyle my alarm goes off again.
The door behind me lets out a hiss as it vacuum seals itself shut. The circular common room directly connects to the five personal sleeping quarters of the ship. At the center is a round table with eight chairs and close to it is a counter that connects to the kitchen.
"Finally awake birthday boy?"
Short wavy red-dyed hair and an eyepatch covering her left eye. The captain of the Audacious: Rose Kerevit.
She puts her arm over my shoulders.
"How's it feel to be 21?"
"Hah! Tell that to Marcus."
Another door hisses to my left.
"Oh, good morning Kel."
"Good morning Anna."
Long brown hair and a perpetually pleasant aura. The youngest of our crew, Anna takes care of the more domestic aspects of ship life such as cooking and cleaning. She's also the captain's...
"Good morning Aunt Ros-AAAAAAAA"
Rose is pulling on both her ears.
"I don't think I heard that properly. Could you repeat that?"
"You really should've learned your lesson by now Anna."
"Thank you Kel."
"At the very least you should call her Grandm-AAAAAAAAimsorryimsorryimsorry"
"Could you please keep it down out here? Ohh my head..."
From across the common room out comes Marcus, grumbling and rubbing his forehead. He's the ship's combat specialist and a former soldier. Despite his age and the fact that we spend most of our days floating in space, he's managed to maintain a fairly athletic build. Though he'd look a lot more respectable if he also maintained his messy crew cut hair and his short patchy beard.
"Hungover old man?"
With a new target for her teasing, Rose finally lets go of our ears.
"Pretty sure I had more than you last night. Man the years have not been kind to you huh tough guy?"
"Yeah... you would know, wouldn't you-AAAAA What the?!"
Marcus is now clutching onto his forehead for a different reason.
A small metal mug bounces on the floor.
Anna and I stood there in awe at how fast Rose managed to grab it from the table and fling it straight onto Marcus.
"It's just a scratch you big baby. And normally you would've caught that."
"Normally I'm not hungover! I swear you are the worst ship captain I've ever worked under."
Anna and I nod in agreement as we rub our ears.
From the small passage leading to the bridge of the ship bursts out Cerus in a panic.
"What happened?! Vii told me someone's bleeding!"
He's carrying a first aid kit and his lab coat from earlier is now disheveled.
Cerus looks at each of us before stopping at Marcus who has a small cut on his forehead.
"Uhhh, it's fine Cerus. I'm fine."
Cerus gives an exasperated sigh as he readies the first aid kit on the table.
"Do I even want to ask?"
"Eh, take a guess."
"Hey he asked for it."
Last night was my birthday.
We had a toast and a few drinks to celebrate but Rose and Marcus thought it would be fun to have a little competition. We all know Rose passed out first but if we said that, she'd demand a rematch.
"What happened?! Vii told me someone's bleeding!"
From the same passageway as Cerus arrives the ship's engineer and resident tech expert, Elise. Long black straight-cut hair, a slender build, and body movement that exudes a gentle elegance. Her skin is pale but beautiful and her deep black eyes look to us as we look back at her in wonder.
She's holding a potted plant.
Cerus squints at it.
"Is that my aloe vera?"
"Oh, yes, I went to the medbay but you weren't there, so I took this with me. It helps with wounds."
Elise brings the plant over to Cerus.
"That's very thoughtful of you, Elise, but I think the bandage will do."
Cerus puts down the plant on the table.
Elise cocks her head at the site of Marcus's wound.
The captain looks to me with furrowed brows.
"Should I be flattered or offended?"
"You should be helping Anna with breakfast while the rest of us get things ready."
"Well that I can agree with it! Let's go Anna!"
"Oh, okay, you go on ahead, I just need my..."
Anna goes back into her room and a few seconds later comes out carrying a small fire extinguisher.
I plop down on the co-pilot's seat at the bridge of the Audacious. Although technically the bridge, it feels more like a cockpit with extra space for four extra passengers. Cramped but fortunately we very rarely all sit together in here.
Through the reinforced glass in front of me is the vast expanse of space. Distant stars decorate the thick purple-hued cloud mass at the center of my view.
Our job out here at the edge of the known universe is to observe and gather data.
Magnium is the most sought after energy source of humanity. It is what allowed us to become such a dominant space-faring civilization hundreds of years ago, and we've detected large amounts of the substance from this very cloud ever since its discovery.
Unfortunately, no one has yet to approach the cloud, let alone claim the resource.
And the reason for that...
"You there Vii?"
At the center of the main control panel, between the pilot and the co-pilot, is half a fist-sized glass sphere sticking out. The center of it looks like a camera lens and it lights up with a warm yellow glow. A monotonous, feminine voice speaks through the small speaker right below it.
[Good morning Kel. Did you enjoy your breakfast?]
"You know, Rose's cooking is actually getting better. All thanks to Anna I'm sure. So uhhh, any sign of the you-know-what?"
[The leviathan? No sign at all.]
"No slight anomalies? Discrepancies? No changes whatsoever?"
[None. I could run a scan again if you would like.]
"No it's okay. You run scans frequently enough. I trust you."
A space leviathan.
Gigantic space-dwelling monstrosities with the biggest ones rivaling the size of a small moon.
The magnium cloud is part of a certain leviathan's territory.
A very aggressive leviathan.
If not for the fact that this cloud is at the very rim of the known universe too far from any major star colonies, some government or megacorporation would have sent entire fleets to kill the thing by now.
Dozens of ambitious ship captains and daring mercenaries have tried to visit the cloud but not a single one came back.
Even Captain Rose, as daring as she is, wouldn't dare disturb such a dangerous titan.
But two months ago, the leviathan vanished. Just like that.
The closest research outpost couldn't find any traces of it.
So we were hired to take a closer look at the situation. Find out what happened if we can, see if its safe, and bring back any data we can gather.
As long as the pay was high enough and it didn't mean 'certain' death, the captain was more than happy to take on any exciting commission.
[I have been attempting to analyze the cloud and what lies beyond it, but unfortunately we are far too distant for more meticulous study. However I did detect something that may be of interest.]
I look at the small monitor that lit up where Vii is displaying the data.
[It is faint but I detected a consistent gravitational field beyond the cloud. There is a high possibility that a large celestial body exists beyond the cloud.]
"You think the cloud is there to intentionally mask it?"
[Information is insufficient to ascertain such a conclusion, but I shall take note of the possibility for verification.]
"It's too bad but we really shouldn't get any closer to play it safe. Just gather whatever data you can from here and we'll take it back to the outpost by tomorrow. We were only contracted for ten days after all."
"Mind sending the data you found about the gravity field to the common area's monitor? I bet some of the others will find it interesting to talk about.
"...Vii? Something wrong?"
[I am detecting a sudden surge of magnium-based energy approximately 800 meters behind the ship.]
I press the steering activation button on the arm of my seat. From the sides of its headrest extend transparent glass-like film that meet two inches in front of my face and cover my eyes and forehead. A beam of blue light scan my eye in a quarter second - a simple security measure. Words and simple images light up on the steering visor, providing me with the basic status of the ship. Having done this hundreds of times before, I visualize the Audacious turning in place to see what's behind us and the ship follows.
I spot it immediately.
A ball of distorted purple light... growing larger.
I press the emergency alarm button. Red lights and sirens fill the ship. I have no idea what that is but my gut is screaming that it's very, very bad.
And unfortunately, my gut is right.
A blast of purple lightning travels hundreds of meters in an instant.
I try to move the ship away from its path.
Impact rocks the Audacious, the sound of metal tearing off can be heard throughout and the lights flicker for a moment.
The sirens continue to blare.
Thick black clouds are ejected from the purple orb and begin to coalesce.
It expands rapidly exponentially.
Already over a hundred times the size of the Audacious.
I see flashes of purple from within its black depths and the way it moves as a whole... it's as if it's a single living creature.
A living storm cloud.
I shake my head.
That thing... is not the leviathan.
[Kel. I have completed a quickscan of the hostile. No biological components detected. No electronic components detected. High amounts of magnium detected.]
"Spread out or concentrated?"
[All of it.]
I look confusedly at Vii's glowing eye.
[It is made entirely of magnium.]