On the 877th day of their voyage through space, Helena files a medical report on Eagle pilot Tony Cellini, who believes he is battling an alien enemy. In his quarters, Cellini wakes up as a strange energy vortex appears in the room. He grabs a mounted tomahawk from his weapon display and tries to attack it. It disappears and reappears until Tony, swinging wildly, hitting his comm console. Computer registers the damage and notifies Helena, who calls to ask if he's all right. Tony tells her that he's fine, despite the fact that her sensors show that his life signs are at critical concerns. He signs off, looks briefly out the window into the depths of space, and then leaves his quarters.
In Main Mission, Koenig and Kano are playing chess and manning the skeleton shift when Computer reports that Tony is entering launch pad four when he's not on-shift. Koenig calls Tony but gets no response, and cancels his comm link. When Tony discovers that his access is cut off, he ambushes Carter, knocks him out, and takes his comm link so he can enter the Eagle. Koenig goes to investigate, finds Carter unconscious, and realizes what Tony is up to. Kano is unable to override Tony's manual override, and Koenig enters the Eagle before it can lift off. He grabs a gun just before Tony can and stuns him unconscious.
Later, Koenig goes to the infirmary to visit Tony, an old friend. Helena warns the command that Tony is unstable, but Koenig argues that his friend is an individualist. When Helena admits she doesn't understand Koenig's admiration for Tony, the commander explains that before the Ultra Probe launch, Tony was a different man. Something on the expedition, the same thing that killed his three crewmates, affected Tony. Helena believes that Tony simply snapped due to the stress of failure, and that Koenig would have been the better commander for the mission. When Koenig learns that Helena was the head of the medical team that assessed Tony's mental state when he returned from the mission, he angrily leaves the infirmary. Tony lies unconscious in his bed, while Helena remembers what happened back in 1994.
In his dreams, Tony remembers his side of things.
In 1994, Bergman discovers the planet Ultra. Working with Koenig and Tony for two years, they complete the design and construction of the Ultra Probe, a deep-space Eagle. Tony and Koenig must decide which one must command the expedition and which one must remain behind to run mission control. Koenig loses the coin toss and Tony leaves with astrophysicist Dr. Darwin King, radiation expert Juliet Mackie, and Dr. Monique Bouchere. The eight-month trip goes without a hitch and as they approach Ultra, their sensors confirm that it is has an Earth-like atmosphere. Finally it moves behind the planet, losing contact with mission control on Moonbase Alpha. Tony and King detect artificial debris on the far side of Alpha.
Tony plots a course to intercept and they find several ships, seemingly uninhabited. Cellini docks the Ultra Probe to one of the larger ships. While he completes finally maneuvers in the command module, the others open the door and prepare to investigate. A gale-force wind springs up from nowhere, pulling them toward the alien ship. King calls to Tony over the intercom to seal the hatch. The pilot does so, but a vast tentacled beast appears within the Ultra Probe. The energy overload fries the circuits and jams the door from the control cabin.
As Tony tries to reroute the controls from his side, King works on them from the main cabin. A glowing energy nimbus surrounds King's head. Entranced, he releases his grip and tumbles toward the monster. It pulls him into its burning maw and then spits him out, all energy and fluids drained from his body. Mackie and Bouchere open fire, but Mackie is entranced and pulled toward the monster. It feeds on her and spits her out.
Tony gets the cabin door open and comes out just as the creature grabs Bouchere and pulls her into itself, blotting out her existence in mere seconds. Tony fires a laser at the monster without effect and retreats into the control cabin. The monster tries to force its way in, and Tony uses a fire axe to damage the tentacle and drive it back. Once the control cabin is sealed, Tony disengages the control cabin pod and blasts off, leaving the rest of the Ultra Probe behind. Tony manages to slingshot back to Earth, making an epic six-month voyage with minimal supplies. When he arrives, he makes his report but the official board of inquiry doesn't believe him. The black box recorder with the sensor readings gives no indication of the creature's presence.
Helena, one of the board members, visits Tony at the hospital to assess his state of mind. Tony appears rational and admits that the authorities can't accept his story since they'd have to believe in alien monsters. However, he soon loses his temper when Helena treats him as a patient. Tony boasts that he fought a monster and escaped it, and insists that everyone should believe him. When he goes berserk, Helena has him sedated and leaves.
Koenig and Bergman are summoned back to Earth. As they prepare to leave, Koenig believes Tony's story, but has learned that the board has decided that Tony accidentally opened the airlock and killed his three crewmates. The commander wants to go back and investigate the spaceships, but Bergman warns that there is no evidence that the items logged by the black box recorder are what Tony claimed. He believes that the head of the space exploration division, Commissioner Dixon, will set up Tony as a scapegoat.
On Earth, Koenig, Bergman, and Tony meet with Dixon. The bureaucrat wants their input and Koenig suggests that they focus on the positive aspects of the mission. He wants to launch a second expedition. Clearly skeptical, Dixon asks Bergman and Tony for their opinions. Tony stands behind his story in the face of the contradictory evidence, and Dixon suggests that he's trying to cover his own incompetence. Bergman believes that Tony's mind was influenced by some force, and Koenig pursues his argument about investigating the ships. Dixon dismisses the spaceships as more of Tony's delusions. When Koenig defends his friend, Dixon says that to save the space exploration division, they'll have to shut down all deep-space exploration, let Tony take the blame, and relieve all three men of their posts and order them to Moonbase Alpha as crew members.
Koenig visits Helena, bringing homegrown watercress as an apology gift. They discuss Tony's case and Koenig admits that he had the pilot assigned to Alpha over Helena's objections. Tony wakes up and says that he sensed something in the void. When Koenig asks what he planned to do, Tony explains that he was going to face the monster.
Morrow calls to inform the commander that they have a contact. Koenig goes to Main Mission as Moonbase Alpha sees the same "graveyard" of ships that Tony encountered. Koenig figures that Tony sensed them in the void, and that the same monster he described could still be aboard them. When Bergman points out that they are light-years from Ultra and the ships are floating in deep space, Tony suggests that they somehow moved, just like the Moon has. While Kano checks the contacts against the ones in the black box recording, Sondra confirms that the Ultra Probe is still docked to the alien ship. Koenig has Carter prepare three Eagles to launch. As Tony and Helena arrive, Koenig informs the crew that they'll approach the ships, scan them, and confirm that there's no danger. He invites Tony to accompany them and the pilot calmly agrees.
As they prepare for departure, Helena warns Tony that Tony is too calm given the circumstances. Meanwhile, Tony goes to the cockpit to apologize to Carter for his earlier attack. Carter accepts the apology... and then Tony knocks him out again and shoves him into the module. Tony then detaches the module and departs without it, heading for the Ultra Probe. Koenig calls for another Eagle and then contacts Tony. The pilot says that the monster is his enemy and he'll face it alone. As he cuts off, Helena wonders if Tony is going on ahead to destroy any evidence that would incriminate him in the death of his crew.
As the three Eagles approach the ships, Morrow tracks Tony and confirms that he's six minutes ahead of them. There are still no signs of life from any of the stranded ships. Despite that, Koenig stands by his friend's innocence, and Bergman admits that the evidence confirms that something is amiss. He points out that the ships have remained together as if they are caught in some kind of invisible web. Tony successfully docks the Eagle structure with the Ultra Probe. He takes an axe, a knife, and a coil of rope and enters the ship. As the monster teleports in, Tony fastens the rope to a structural support. When he is entranced and pulled forward, the rope keeps him safely in place.
Tony hacks at the creature, cutting off some of its tentacles, but it soon overwhelms him and snaps the rope. Fighting to the last, Tony drives the knife into its head, drawing blood, as he is pulled into its gaping maw. Koenig's Eagle arrives first and docks with the Ultra Probe. When he and the others board, they see Tony go down fighting. As the pilot's desiccated corpse is spit out, they open fire but the monster absorbs the energy. Koenig leaps forward, grabs the axe, and drives the blade into its single eye, killing it.
The three Eagles return to Moonbase Alpha before their sanctuary drifts out of range of the ships. Helena concludes her report on Tony and shows it to Koenig. They discuss the fact that if and when they do settle, they'll need a new mythology, and Tony can be their first story, the legend of Cellini and the Dragon.
Written by Gadfly on May 23, 2017