“Cygnus 731 preparing for contact.”
The ship’s voice is metallic and feminine. The crew calls her Marta, a common North American name after the collapse of the Great Wall between the United States and Mexico. Cygnus 731 has been in orbit for close to three Earth years, which seems paltry, but the days have crept by like a lizard trapped inside for too long, eager to feel the sun and the wind on her skin. When Marta announced the presence of another ship within their vicinity, they were terrified and overjoyed at once.
“Marta, can you confirm if the ship is Deneb 864?” asks the captain.
Captain Liza Frederickson stands with hands on her hips, staring up at the smart screen in the command center. Sweat beads on her upper lip and loose strands from her high and tight pony tail are pasted against her forehead from the ten-mile run on the treadmill.
“I will be able to confirm in thirty seconds, Captain,” Marta replies.
“Going after Deneb 864 has been like chasing a chihuahua back into the yard,” says Sergeant Ballard.
“Yes, Captain,” Marta beings. “The ship is Deneb 864. Establishing contact now.”
“Deneb 864, Cygnus 731 approaches. Do you copy?”
The static is soft and distant before a cavernous silence replaces it. Captain Frederickson closes her eyes, praying for a response.
“What is the worst case scenario? Everyone is dead?” she wonders aloud.
“We’d just hook ships and head home if that were the case. Maybe if visitors have control of the Deneb, but that’s unlikely,” Sergeant Ballard says.
The crew approaches behind her, eyes wide as they stare at the screen, waiting for more than a single word answer.
“Excellent. What is your status? Is anyone harmed?” Captain Frederickson asks.
“All is well. The Half Horse flourishes.”
“The heck is a half horse?” Sergeant Ballard hisses.
“He’s talking about the galaxy, sir,” Officer Truno whispers, rolling her eyes and folding her arms over her chest.
For centuries, the Milky Way ripped apart another galaxy named Sagittarius, pulling its stars and planets into itself, making them orphans and claiming them as her own. Earth is one of Sagittarius’ orphans. Deneb 864 and her crew went in search of answers of humankind’s parentage within the remnants of the ravaged galaxy.
“I am Captain Liza Frederickson. Who speaks?”
“Larak Nergal, right hand of Ninsun Uras.”
Captain Frederickson narrows her eyes, then turns her head to look back at Sergeant Ballard. He shakes his head.
“I wish to speak with Captain Fletcher Gallo.”
“Fletcher Gallo met his end in orbit. We have tended to his remains so that you may return them to his Earth family,” Larak says.
Cygnus 731’s crew shifts, murmuring to one another. The command center in Guadalajara mentioned the possibility of the ship being overtaken.
“Is Ninsun Uras your captain, sir?” Frederickson asks.
“Ninsun Uras, may she live in our hearts, is Monarch of the Heavenly Region in place of her father Anu.”
“And the crew - are they well, Nergal?”
“Yes, lady. They have been escorted to the Heavenly Region to recuperate after an arduous and unfruitful journey.”
“Finding an alien race hardly seems unfruitful,” chimes Sergeant Ballard.
“We desire contact with you so that you may return the Deneb ship back to your home planet. Ninsun Uras recognizes its value and does not wish to commandeer it,” Nergal says.
The screen flickers once.
“Image calibrating,” Marta states.
Cyngus 731’s crew beholds Larak Nergal, a dark-skinned man who looks no older than twenty four Earth years, green eyes clear and illuminated by screen light.
“When will the crew be able to rejoin Deneb 864, Larak Nergal?” Captain Frederickson asks.
“They will not rejoin, Captain.” Nergal’s voice is matter of fact.
“Captain Frederickson, the crew has suffered much. They wish to be still. To root down. To remain at home.”
Captain Frederickson’s armpits start to itch from the accumulating sweat, her toes curling in her boots with anxiety.
“To remain at home?” she asks.
“Yes, Captain. You and your crew are welcome home as well. Suffering several incarnations in another galaxy takes its toll on sensitive souls.”
“Sir, Deneb 864’s crew as well as ours have families that await them on Earth. I have made a promise to reunite them.”
“Yes, and we shall give you the body of Captain Fletcher Gallo; he died in the Heavenly Region so he will reincarnate in the Sagittarius galaxy. Your comrades have chosen to remain; when they pass, their souls will sanctify those of their families. All souls will reunite in Sagittarius. I understand this is troubling news; we will give you letters and recordings made by your sister crew alongside Captain Gallo.”
“It’s not just troubling, Nergal. It is hard to believe. I wish to board at once,” Captain Frederickson says, followed by her crew’s soft protest behind her.
“Of course, Captain. Ninsun Uras expected nothing less; she is eager to see you.”
When Cygnus 731 and Deneb 864 merge, the ships tremble. Captain Frederickson and her crew stand in the transfer bay.
“Sergeant Ballard, if I do not return, disconnect and retreat.”
Blue and white lights illuminate the transfer bay. Captain Frederickson walks forward, Cygnus 731’s doors closing behind her. Her footsteps and heartbeat are loud in her ears as the lights dim and her breath quickens. She is no longer alone.
“Liza. I am Ninsun Uras,” says a still, soft voice in the dark. “I implore you, come home to us. You have endured seven incarnations in the Milky Way; seek respite in the Heavenly Region.”
Captain Frederickson can see nothing, but she feels suddenly weary. So many lifetimes, so much suffering. Oh, to lie down. To find peace. To be still.
She feels Ninsun Uras draw her close, but she is not afraid. Captain Frederickson wants nothing more than to shed the fragile skin of this lifetime, and release the karmic turbulence of her previous incarnations.
“Welcome home, sister. I have missed you so much.”