By Dave Steinman
Whence, then, does it come? Who knows? Who can assign limits to the subtlety of nature’s influences?
In the solar system, there seem to be only two planets–Venus and Mars–capable of sustaining life such as ours: but this does not mean that there might not be on all of them some other forms of life.
To develop these inventions further, I went to Colorado where I continued my investigations along these and other lines. It was in carrying on this work that for the first time I discovered those mysterious effects, which have elicited such unusual interest.
My first observations positively terrified me, as there was present in them something mysterious, not to say supernatural, and I was all in my laboratory at night; but at that time the idea of these disturbances being intelligently controlled signals did not yet present itself to me.
It was some time afterward when the thought flashed upon my mind that the disturbances that I had observed might be due to an intelligent control.
Excerpted from TALKING WITH PLANETS by Nicola Tesla. Colliers Weekly-February 9th, 1901.
“Rodina 1, this is Command Control. Do you copy?”
(Static) “I repeat-Rodina 1, this is Command Control at Scientific Research Institute Number Four, are you receiving our transmission?”
“This is Rodina 1, over. I am receiving you, Command Control.”
“Congratulations Rodina 1, on being the first man in space. Your achievement has brought great honour to the Soviet space program and to the Chief Designer.”
“Thank you, Alexi. Please tell SP that it was my honour to help him achieve this dream for him and for all of the Soviet Union.”
“Why not just tell him yourself, tovarisch?”
“Rodina 1, this is the Chief Designer. How are things in outer space, my little eagle?”
“All is well, Chief Designer. All systems are running at optimum. Rodina 1 is on time and…”
“Rodina 1, come in please. Are there, Pavel?”
“I am sorry, Chief Designer, but I am suddenly experiencing some difficulty. The ship’s readings are fluctuating wildly. I…I don’t understand. Everything was fine only a moment ago. This should not be happening.”
“Rodina 1, this is Command Control. Say again?”
“I don’t-bozhe moy!”
“Rodina 1, please repeat. What is it, Pavel?”
“This is incredible. I cannot even begin to describe it. Surely this is not one of ours!”
“Not one of our what, Pavel?”
“The size is…on a scale such as I have never seen, Alexi. It is immense. It appears to be…”
“No-this is not possible. How can it be…?”
“Rodina 1. Come in please.”
“Rodina 1. This is Command Control, what is your status?”
“Rodina 1, this is the Chief Designer. Please repeat your last transmission.”
“Rodina 1, come in please! Alexi, get him back!”
“I am sorry, Chief Designer. But he is…gone.”
Translated from a KGB classified audio recording dated May 1959.
“Houston, this is Mission Specialist Cochrane. I am approaching the target.”
“Roger that, John. This is Houston, standing by.”
“What in the world…?”
“Atlantis, this is Mission Control. Say again?”
“Houston, am I seeing this right? The target appears to be a Soviet era spacecraft, but I don’t see how that’s possible. I’ve never heard of one that didn’t come back.”
“Atlantis, this is Houston. Be advised that the target is indeed a Soviet era ship of the Vostok class. Please continue with your EVA.”
“Roger that, Houston. Continuing observation. The ship appears to be undamaged. The access hatch is sealed, and the view ports are likewise intact. Will try to get a look inside.”
“Copy that, Atlantis. We are standing by.”
“Houston, this is Atlantis. The capsule appears to be unoccupied. I repeat-unoccupied. Jake, what the hell is going on? What is this thing and where did it come from?”
“Houston, this is Cochrane. Please respond.”
“Atlantis, this is Houston. John, we have been directed to advise you to abort your EVA immediately and return to Atlantis. A full debriefing will follow once you have returned to base. As this is mission is classified, Command feels discussing this on an open channel would be…counterproductive.”
“Roger, Houston. I am discontinuing EVA and returning to Atlantis. Cochrane out.”
Excerpt from classified STS-36 NASA/DOD Shuttle mission, launched Feb 28, 1990.
John Cochrane made his way to the Zvezda module attached to the International Space Station to await the traditional video conference that usually followed docking. The flight up had been, as he expected, quite uneventful. He was more than a little annoyed, however, by the interminable wait between docking and leaving the ship. It had been a long time since he had been in space, and had forgotten moving from one environment to another was quite a bit more complicated than just opening up the hatch and saying howdy. But then, he had never expected to be in this position again.
After returning home from his last mission in 1990, he had expected some explanation about what he had found on his aborted EVA. One just didn’t come across derelict Soviet spacecraft every day-especially seemingly empty ones. But upon his return, the higher-ups had deemed that any further details on what he encountered were now strictly on a need-to-know basis-and that he would no longer privy to any of that particular information. When he tried to pursue it further, he was summarily shut down by his immediate superiors and told, in no uncertain terms, to drop it. The mission remained classified. He protested but to no avail.
After that, his career as an astronaut was, for all intents and purposes, over. Despite remaining in rotation for more Shuttle assignments, he was passed over again and again until he quietly put in his resignation in the mid 2000’s and returned to private life.
But six months ago, he had received an unexpected call from a former colleague, now a high-level NASA administrator. Would he consider coming back for one more mission? His initial response was an emphatic no. What reason could he have for going back into space, especially after so long and after how he had been treated? Two words changed his mind: Black Knight.
The myth of the Black Knight had been floating around the halls of NASA since the dawn of spaceflight, long before it got picked up by internet conspiracy theorists. The most popular theory was that it was some sort of gigantic satellite, possibly alien, that had been orbiting earth since god knows when, occasionally beaming down signals that nobody had ever been able to decode. Like most astronauts, John had heard the rumours and initially dismissed them as a load of you-know-what. Rookie hazing stuff, he figured. The equivalent of a snipe hunt-or, as Orson Welles had once said about the War of The Worlds broadcast: “Dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying boo.”
But after what he saw on that last mission, and the subsequent cone of silence that descended on it after he returned, he wasn’t so sure. In 1998, STS-88 supposedly photographed “something” that later was reported by NASA as “space debris.” But one of the two astronauts on the flight confided to John just before he left the agency that what he saw sure as hell wasn’t just debris. He refused to elaborate but John remembered the look in his eyes when he talked about it. It was fear. Whatever it was the man had seen had scared the hell out of him.
Now, NASA wanted him back in space because whatever it was that astronaut saw had returned, and it had something to do with that empty Soviet capsule. And so, here he was-orbiting the earth once again-this time with an uneasy feeling that he wasn’t being told the whole story. He hoped the video conference would clear things up. In truth, he was certain it was only going to make things more complicated.
As he entered the module, he found he wasn’t the first to arrive. Commander Andrea Charles was already there waiting patiently for her new crewmembers. Cochrane floated in, followed presently by the pilot of the Soyuz craft, Major Viktor Vasiliyev. She spun to greet both.
“Professor Cochrane, welcome to the I.S.S-and welcome back to space. How long has it been?” she asked.
“Oh, not long. Three decades-give or take a millennium or two,” he replied.
“Well, it’s nice to have you back,” she said.
“Have you met Major Vasilyev?” he asked, gesturing to the dour Russian hovering in the entryway.
“Yes. Viktor and I are well acquainted” she said.
Vasilyev replied with a non-committal grunt and launched himself across the module, coming to rest within view of the video screen, but still a considerable distance from the ship’s commander.
“Should I ask?” Cochrane inquired.
“Probably best not to. Viktor’s a little sensitive about certain things he’s done in the past,” she replied.
“You’re still blaming that on me?” Vasilyev called out from across the room. “Even after all this time?”
“Well, if the space boot fits…” Charles shot back.
“You are unbelievable,” he replied with obvious exasperation.
As Cochrane weighed the benefits and drawbacks of getting of the middle of his two shipmates, he was gratefully rescued from making a decision by the face of Ron Coleman, current head of NASA, popping up on an adjacent view screen.
“Good morning, Commander Charles,” he said smartly.
Andrea Charles quickly shot Vasilyev a last dismissive glare before turning her full attention to the screen.
“Good morning, sir,” she replied officiously, betraying no trace of the obvious rancor she’d displayed moments before. She’s good, thought Cochrane. Best to keep on her good side.
“I trust everything went well with docking?” he continued.
“A-1, sir. As you can see, Professor Cochrane and Major Vasilyev are both here, safe and sound,” she replied, gesturing to the two men floating behind her.
“Fine,” said Coleman. “Then let’s get started.”
“Sir,” Charles interrupted. “The rest of the ship’s crew isn’t here yet. Shouldn’t we wait for them?”
“That’s won’t be necessary, Commander. They will be returning to earth shortly, and I felt it best we compartmentalize this meeting, for reasons you will come to understand shortly. I trust you have no problem with this?”
“No sir-no problem at all. Please proceed,” she said.
Cochrane noted a small hesitation before her reply, but that was understandable. Any deviation from protocol was grounds for some concern for a career astronaut like Andrea Charles, but he also was aware of her reputation as a by-the-book officer who didn’t make waves with her superiors.
“Thank you, Commander. Now, before we begin, please be aware that this meeting has been deemed classified. Professor Cochrane was briefed on the specifics before he left, and now it is time to bring in you and Major Vasilyev in as well.”
“Thank you, sir,” Charles replied.
The view on the screen changed to reveal a nondescript meeting room table with a number of individuals seated around it. Cochrane and Charles instantly recognized Randy Shipley, the current chief of astronauts, immediately to Coleman’s left. The others were unknown.
“What is he doing there?” Vasilyev chimed in.
“Who?” Cochrane said.
“The cosmonaut? He’s a legend,” Charles piped in.
“He is more than that,” Vasilyev replied. “He was my mentor from my first days at Roscosmos. But he has been retired for over a decade. Whatever this is, if it has pulled Rodchenko out of his Dacha on the Black Sea, it can’t be good.”
Cochrane heaved a small sigh and merely pointed to the screen. Ron Coleman spoke again.
“I will now turn the floor over to Vasily Rodchenko, former Soviet cosmonaut and one-time head of Roscosmos. Colonel Rodchenko, you have the floor.”
Rodchenko nodded at Coleman before turning his attention to the rest of the room.
“Thank you, Mr. Coleman. And thank all of you for coming. Ladies and gentlemen, let me begin by telling you something that the Soviet Union, and subsequently the Russian government, has been keeping secret from the world. In 1959, two years before Yuri Gagarin supposedly became the first human being to orbit the earth, the Soviet Union sent a man into space. Unfortunately, he did not return. I know this because I was there. His name was Pavel Gusev. He was my friend, and I still grieve his loss.”
There was no sound from any of the three space travelers on the I.S.S. Charles and Vasilyev stared at the view screen dumbfounded, while John Cochrane, having encountered the ship on his last space flight in 1990, simply looked on with a sort of mild curiosity. Vasilyev was the first to break the silence.
“Ty veshal mne lapshu na ushi,” he shouted at the view screen.
Cochrane had a learned a smattering of Russian in his travels, but he was still confused.
“Did he just saying something about spaghetti?” he asked Charles.
“Pasta, actually,” she replied. “He accused Rodchenko of putting pasta on his ears.”
Cochrane was even more confused.
“It means ‘you’re lying to me,’” she said finally.
“I wish I were, Viktor, but it is true,” continued Rodchenko. “We lost contact with Rodina 1 in May of 1959. We thought it gone forever until Professor Cochrane re-discovered it again in 1990.”
Andrea Charles turned immediately to Cochrane. “You knew about this?” she said incredulously.
“About the ship, yes. But I had no idea what it was or when it was launched. I’m as stunned as you are.”
“I am sorry that you all had to find out this way,” Rodchenko said. “You must understand-it was a different time. Our countries were bitter adversaries. It would have devastated the Soviet space program if it got out that we had lost not only a ship, but a cosmonaut as well.”
Andrea Charles remained silent for a few more moments, trying vainly to process what she had just heard, then turned to address the view screen once more. “But what does something that happened in the 1950’s have to do with today?” she asked.
“Six months ago, a Soyuz crew returning from a mission to the I.S.S. encountered an unknown object,” said Rodchenko. “It was estimated to be three to four times the size of a traditional satellite, with no visible markings.”
“The Black Knight,” John Cochrane interjected.
“For lack of a better term, yes-let us call it that,” replied Rodchenko.
“The Black Knight?” said Andrea Charles. “That’s crazy. It’s a myth-an urban legend.”
“I agree with Commander Charles,” Vasilyev chimed in. “I have also heard of this so called ‘Black Knight’. We have a different name for it. We call it Prizrak Rasputina.”
“Rasputin’s Ghost,” said Cochrane.
“Regardless of what it is called, we are certain, judging by the original transmission from Rodina 1, that this is the same object Pavel Gusev encountered in 1959,” said Rodchenko.
“I’d also like to add that one of my former colleagues at NASA told me that he and his shipmates encountered something similar back in 1998,” said John Cochrane. “Is that true, Ron?”
Coleman looked slightly stricken at this unwelcome news, hesitating only for a moment before confirming Cochrane’s story.
“Yes,” he said quickly before gesturing once more to his Russian counterpart. “Please continue, Colonel Rodchenko.”
“Thank you, Mr. Coleman. Now, at the same time the Soyuz craft encountered this object, both NASA and Roscosmos intercepted a transmission we believe came from this so-called Black Knight.”
“You mean a message?” said Cochrane.
“Yes. It took some time for us to decode it, but eventually we were able to decipher the transmission.”
“Which was…?” Andrea Charles said expectantly.
Ron Coleman interjected once again. “The message said simply ‘Abort. Reboot requested.’”
John Cochrane had known his role in this mission even before leaving earth. Since its re-discovery back in 1990, NASA had kept close tabs on the orbit of Rodina 1. Cochrane’s job this time around was not only to locate the ship, but to open it up and retrieve any pertinent data that might explain the disappearance of its pilot. One piece of other information that had come out of the initial I.S.S. video conference was that in addition to the original message, NASA had also intercepted a second message only six weeks ago. They had thus far been unable to decode it.
And so once again, John Cochrane found himself floating in space in front of what he now knew was the Soviet Vostok class ship Rodina 1.
“Houston, this is Cochrane. We have located the target. I am now commencing EVA. Estimate intercept of Rodina 1 in approximately fifteen minutes.”
“Roger that. Houston, standing by.”
“Well Major, here goes nothing,” he said to Vasilyev before exiting the ship. “Wish me luck.”
“Bezopasno puteshestvuyet moy drug,” he said. “Safe travels, my friend.”
Accessing the derelict craft was no easy feat, but eventually he managed to pry open the hatch and make his way inside the capsule. Cochrane had visited Russia once back in his astronaut days, and had even managed to get a look inside an old Vostok. This one appeared very similar. He bumped around inside for few moments before managing to secure a handhold. He then set about scanning the inside for any clues of the whereabouts of the missing cosmonaut, Pavel Gusev.
The first thing he found was a clipboard attached to the side of the ship, with copious notes obviously handwritten by the pilot. This would have to wait until he got back to base. Cochrane could speak a little Russian, but he had no clue how to read it.
His next task was securing the bio-medical data recorder. He had also hoped to find a camera, but there appeared to be nothing else of value in the hold of the ship. As he was about to make his way back outside, he spied it floating near the open hatch. He swung himself towards the door and managed to grab it before it floated out in to the void.
“Nice grab John. Why thank you, John,” he said out loud to no one.
Vasilyev came over his suit radio. “Talking to yourself again, tovarisch?” he said playfully.
“Just complimenting myself on a great save, Viktor” he replied.
“You have found something then?”
“Yes. Hopefully it will shed some light on this whole thing. I’m heading back.”
He quickly inspected the camera before maneuvering himself for egress from the capsule. He was a bit of photog so he was curious what the Soviets were using back in 1959.
“Hmmm…a Canonflex. These things didn’t even come out until May. Same month this baby was launched-and me too, I guess,” he said, suddenly realizing that this whole mess started the same year he was born. “Wonder how the Soviets got their hands on it so quickly?” He took a final look around the inside of the ship. “Just one more mystery to solve, Johnny boy,”
After returning to the space station, Cochrane handed the written notes to Vasilyev to translate, and gave Commander Charles the data recorder. He took the camera himself and set about finding a dark area of the ship. Having anticipated the need for developing film and printing photographs on this mission, he had wisely asked NASA to store the proper chemicals and paper on the Soyuz before launch. When he was finished, he was stunned by what they revealed and hurried to the Cupola Observatory as quickly as one could in zero-g to share his findings with his crewmates and NASA.
“Did you two find anything?” he said as he floated to a stop.
“Nyet,” said Vasilyev. “If Gusev saw anything, he didn’t have time to write it down. These notes are just random observations. They contain nothing out of the ordinary.”
“Same here,” said Andrea Charles. “That bio-recorder was ancient, but the small amount of info I could glean from it showed no heart rate spikes or an anomaly of any kind. What about the camera?”
Cochrane said nothing but simply handed each of them a packet of photographs.
“Jesus,” Andrea Charles said as shuffled through the pictures.
“Ty che blyad?” Vasilyev muttered under his breath.
“What the fuck indeed,” Cochrane replied.
The photos revealed what appeared to be a massive satellite or ship. It was completely black and bristling with untold appendages. There were dishes, antenna, massive structures that looked like abandoned oil derricks, plus an untold number of other unidentifiable metal pieces that appeared to have no discernable purpose.
“Look at the size of that thing!” Cochrane gasped. “Even with no real perspective to compare it with, you can tell it’s huge,” he said excitedly.
Suddenly, he noticed the colour begin to drain out of Viktor Vasilyev’s face.
“Jesus Viktor, what’s wrong? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
“Da,” Vasilyev said shakily and pointed over Cochrane’s shoulder. “Rasputin’s Ghost.”
Charles and Cochrane both turned and immediately understood what he was talking about. The Black Knight had arrived. A prickly feeling of impending dread spread over John Cochrane. The photos don’t do it justice, he thought. This thing is massive. A crackly transmission broke the silence.
“I.S.S., this is Coleman. Do you copy?”
Not taking her eyes of the terrifying sight perched just outside the observatory windows, Andrea Charles acknowledged the transmission.
“This is I.S.S. Go head, sir.”
“Commander, we have some very important information we need to convey to you and your crew. Are Professor Cochrane and Major Vasilyev with you?”
“Yes sir,” she replied hesitantly. “But I think there’s something you all should see first.”
There was brief burst of static before the reply. “Go ahead Commander. We are awaiting visual.”
Charles swung the video camera in the observatory towards the apparition looming outside.
The three space travellers could hear the commotion and tumult in the background as Ron Coleman returned to the line. “Dear god! It’s immense! When did it show up, Commander?”
“Just a few seconds ago, right before you contacted us. It just appeared out of nothing.” She threw her hands in the air and shook her head. “I mean, I don’t know what else to tell you. One second we were looking at empty space and then…” she trailed off and let the visual speak for itself.
“Commander, I want you and your crew off that station as quickly as possible,” Coleman said emphatically. “We don’t know what we’re dealing with here, and I want all of you out of danger.”
“Roger that. We will get the Soyuz ready and start heading for home as soon as we can.”
“Copy that, I.S.S. And commander-there is one more thing. The reason we contacted you in the first place is to tell you we have decoded the second message.”
Andrea Charles looked stricken for a moment, but composed herself and replied.
“Go ahead, Houston. What does it say?”
“The message is as follows: Reboot request acknowledged. Universe Project 43-c aborted. Current simulation will end at Project mark 06062025. Universe Project 44-a will begin after reboot.”
“Universe project-what the hell does that mean?” Vasilyev said.
“We don’t know. But it’s just another reason why I want you all off that station now!”
Cochrane repeated the message back to himself. Project mark 06062025. His earlier feeling of dread immediately intensified.
“Commander, what day is it?” he said warily.
“It’s Friday. Why?”
“No, the date I mean.”
“06062025-June 6th, 2025-today’s date.”
“What are you talking about?”
Cochrane slowly repeated the last part of the decoded message. “Simulation will end at Project mark 06062025. Universe Project 44-a will begin after…”
://ABORT SEQUENCE COMPLETE>SIMULATION INTERRUPTED>REBOOT INITIATED.
About the Author
Dave Steinman is an award-winning commercial copywriter and voice artist currently residing in beautiful British Columbia on Canada’s west coast. After almost 3 decades in radio, he was surprised to discover that he could write something longer than 30 seconds that didn’t end with the phrase “Hurry…sale ends tomorrow.” This is his latest short story, and he has recently completed work on his first full-length novel.