Authors: John Zakour
Tags: #YA, #SF
“Whatever the case, we are on our own,” GiS said. He took a deep breath. He stood there in thought scratching his butt. He always scratched his butt when he was thinking hard. It was a weird habit, but he was an officer so nobody would ever tell him that.
“The warp engines are powering up. We should be ready in thirty-seven minutes,” SC said.
“Good,” GiS said. “Chriz and Zenna, you are in charge of reprogramming the Kappa shuttle.”
“Right!” they both said.
GiS looked at Elvin and Lobi. “Elvin, Lobi, it’s up to you two to find some sort of defense for our ships to prevent them from being reprogrammed by anybody else.”
“Right!” Lobi said with a salute.
“Easy as grade school calculus,” Elvin said.
“K-999 and I will work with SC to plot the safest warp course,” GiS said.
“What about Baxter and me?” Kymm asked.
“Rest and stay loose,” GiS said. “When the slop hits the propeller you two are going to have to be as sharp as possible.”
* * * *
While the others worked at their assigned tasks, Kymm and I walked around the sphere. Just soaking it in and talking. It certainly was an amazing machine and I was with a pretty girl, so it should have been the time of my life. Problem was, my mind was racing so I didn’t enjoy the experience as much as I could have.
“What’s wrong, Moon? You look more dazed than normal,” Kymm said, poking me in the ribs, as we walked into the observatory at the top of the Searcher.
The walls of the room and the ceiling were transparent so no matter where you looked, you could see space all around you. There were no chairs but the walls were circled by a black metal bar that you could lean on. I walked over to the bar and looked out the window. Bloop, it was a great sight I should have been enjoying more, but I wasn’t.
“I’m worried, Kymm.”
“You’d be even crazier than I think you are if you weren’t a little worried, Moon, I mean, Baxter. It’s our first mission. Bloop, we’re heading off into another galaxy in a ship that travels faster than light to try to prevent a war. We have the fate of two planets on our shoulders.”
I turned my gaze from the stars to her. “That’s the thing. Maybe they don’t want us to succeed.”
“Earth Gov. Maybe they want a war. Not an all-out war, just a little one.”
“There hasn’t been a war in decades.”
“Exactly. Maybe they think a war will be good for us. Wake the populace up a bit. Plus it gives them a chance to test out all their latest weapons.”
Kymm just looked at me. “You’re crazy. At least I hope you are.”
“I hope I am too.”
GiS called us to the command center in the center of the sphere. The bridge was a big impressive place. The room was meant to be manned by dozens of people and machines. It looked like a ghost room with just GiS, K-999, Zenna and Chriz in it. GiS and K-999 were sitting in command chairs in the middle of the room. Chriz and Zenna were watching the monitors and displays that lined the walls. For once I wasn’t the last one to the meeting as Elvin and Lobi weren’t there yet.
“We can’t delay any longer,” GiS said. “We must warp into hyperspace.”
Just then almost on cue Elvin and Lobi came rushing into the control center. They were both covered with sweat and out of breath.
“Stop the sphere!” Elvin yelled dramatically.
“The sphere isn’t moving yet,” K-999 barked.
“Oh good,” Lobi said.
“I assume you have something for us,” GiS said.
Both Elvin and Lobi looked proud of themselves; their excitement was almost bursting out through their skin. They each wanted to talk first only they were getting choked up and tongue-tied with the urge to beat the other one to the announcement.
“Speak!” K-999 barked.
The two stood there, neither one able to say a word. They were smart dudes, but I could see why Kymm and I were the pilots.
Luckily SC spoke for them. “They have come up with a device that should screen any signals coming in and block out ones that have encoded messages aimed at our computers.”
“Good,” GiS said. “How long will it take to install?”
“It is downloading now,” SC said. “I should have it online in three tics.”
There was a pause.
“It is online now,” SC said.
“We would have come up with it sooner, but we’re not as familiar with the labs here as we are on the station,” Lobi said.
“Good point,” Elvin said, looking at Lobi.
They shook hands.
I turned to Kymm and whispered, “Could they be any geekier?”
“Nope, but we’re lucky we have them.”
GiS and K-999 were now all business. Not that they were usually loose, flexible, fun-loving commanders, but now they were more serious than I had ever seen them. You knew that they were really into this. This is what they were created to do — literally.
GiS looked up at the intercom like I like to do when talking to SC. “Are we ready for light speed, SC-711?” he asked.
“Yes, I said that earlier,” SC said.
“Just making sure,” GiS said, a bit defensively.
GiS pointed dramatically to the huge view screen on front of the wall.
“Take us out!” he said.
We all watched the screen. Instantly the stars that were filling the screen turned to bent streaks of lights; a dark black hole formed in the middle of all those bent streaks. It was like the hole had ripped apart a piece of the galaxy and that the galaxy was imploding into that rip. The hole pulled the light into it. We moved closer and closer to that hole until it engulfed the entire screen. Almost instantly everything reversed, The stars became black streaks and the space between them turned white. That meant we were inside this rip in space. We were in anti-space or hyperspace as the old TV shows liked to call it. The entire screen filled with crackling energy that looked like black bolts of twisted lightning. This was it, faster than light speed. We were moving over 186,000 miles per second but it didn’t feel like we were moving at all.
“The jump will take ten minutes and twenty tics,” SC said.
Einstein and other smart guys like him always said that
nothing can ever travel faster than the speed of light
and they were right. Okay, now you smart people are probably thinking,
nothing can travel faster than light then how are you traveling faster
than the speed of light
? The catch is that those smart guys needed to clarify that statement by saying nothing can ever travel faster than the speed of light in
. They missed the loophole that there is an anti-universe where everything travels faster than light.
Searcher-class spheres are able to create warp holes from one part of space that lead to another part of space. In a way they create short cuts through anti-space that allows moving from point A in regular space to point B in regular space very quickly. Think of where you start from as a dot on piece of paper. Think of your destination as a dot on the other end of the paper. When the paper was nice and straight the dots would be very far away for each other. Yet if you folded the paper in the middle the dots would move very close to other. That’s what entering into anti-space gives us, a way to fold space together bringing the path to those to points closer together. I’m sure Elvin or Lobi and probably Chriz could give a long and very detailed explanation of what anti-space is, but that would be mega boring. All you need to understand is that it’s a great short cut.
“This is cool,” Kymm said to me, nudging me a little.
“Wow, the real thing is even better than the simulator,” Elvin said.
We were all looking up at the screen in awe. This was mega cool, almost subabsolute zero.
I turned to GiS. For a tic I thought I caught him smiling, or at least starting to break a smile.
“How long since you’ve traveled at hyper-speed?” I asked.
“Four years, thirteen days and a few hours,” he said, sounding much more like Elvin than I was comfortable with. “I was one of the early flight testers of the two-man cruisers” he said proudly.
“Oh, I see,” I said, with a raised eyebrow. “That would explain a lot of things.”
GiS crossed his arms and raised both eye brows. “Traveling through anti-space is perfectly safe.”
“Yeah, as long as all the anti-anti-space nullifiers are working,” I said.
“Well, of course,” GiS said. He patted one of the consoles as if it were his pet. “You do have to trust the technology. Which I do.”
“Uh oh,” SC said.
For those of you who don’t deal a lot with super computers, it’s never a good sign when they uh oh.
“What’s wrong?” K-999 barked. “I don’t want anything to go wrong when we’re in anti-space!”
SC paused for a tic which seemed like an hour. It’s never good when the super computer needs to think so long about something. In fact it’s pretty unnerving.
“Uh, SC.” GiS coaxed. “What’s wrong?”
“Actually, it is kind of funny,” SC said.
For those of you who don’t deal with super computers a lot, it’s hardly ever funny when they say something is funny.
“Uh, what do you mean?” GiS asked
“My systems are under siege,” SC said calmly. I had never heard the word siege used so casually before.
“That’s not funny,” Lobi said. “That’s scary! How can you be so calm?”
Lobi was echoing most of our thoughts even though the rest of us wouldn’t have sounded quite so panicked.
“I am programmed to always be calm,” SC said, forgetting about the big picture.
“But we could die!” Lobi cried.
“Not we, you could die,” SC corrected. “I am not technically or legally alive. Even if I were alive, this version of me is just a copy of my original system so even if this particular version of me were permanently deleted, other versions of me would live on.”
“I still don’t see why any of this is funny,” I said.
“It is funny because the attacks echo the attacks on the shuttle and Axel,” SC said.
“I still don’t see why that’s funny,” I said,
Both crews nodded in agreement with me. It felt good to have everybody agree with me.
“Perhaps funny was not the best choice of words?” SC said. “Perhaps peculiar or unusual would have been better.”
“Perhaps,” I said, trying to get SC to offer up more info.
“Are we in danger?” Zenna shouted.
There was silence for a couple of tics.
“No, the updates to my software that Elvin and Lobi added alerted me to the problem. I was able to deflect the attacks.”
We all breathed a sigh of relief.
“The good news is we are safe,” GiS said.
“The bad news is, somebody knows we are coming,” K-999 added, even though he didn’t need to.
“Now this is where it gets funny,” SC said. “The attacks were ordering me to turn off my weapon systems.”
“But our weapon systems are already turned off,” Zenna said.
“Exactly,” everybody else said,
“Oh,” Zenna said.
“So all they know about us is that we are coming,” GiS said.
We all strongly suspected right there and then it had to be the TVTrons behind this. The question was, why?
The last five minutes of the trip to Sirius D was about as uneventful a trip for the first teens in anti-space could be. We were all excited and any of us who said they weren’t nervous would be lying. Bloop, it’s only natural to be nervous on your first mission, and this was a big first mission. Nerves are good, they keep you alert and from getting too cocky. The trick is not to let them overwhelm you to the point of inactivity. It was a fine line, you wanted to be nervous but not afraid.
As we ripped through anti-space I found myself wondering what the bloop we had gotten ourselves into. Apparently the silent data attack on the Searcher had gotten to me more than I would have liked to admit. I like enemies that I see and touch. That way I feel I have some control of the situation. But an enemy that had the ability to remotely reprogram our machines to do their bidding meant they could hit us and we couldn’t hit them back. Now that worried me.
Kymm elbowed me gently (well, gently for her) in the ribs. “What’s up, Moon?” she asked.
“Nothing, just thinking.”
“Ah,” she said with a smile. “No wonder why you looked like you were pain.”
“Ha, ha. Very droll,” I said. Yep, she liked me.
“If you ever leave the Scouts you have a career ahead of you as a stand-up comedian.”
“At least I have a backup career,” she said, elbowing me less gently.
I had to give the girl credit — she always had a comeback whether I wanted one or not. Just as I was about to give her a comeback to her comeback, SC interrupted.
“We will be leaving anti-space and arriving in the Sirius D system in thirty tics. I suggest you all be seated and harnessed in. Sometimes these returns to normal space can hit some turbulence.”
We all sat down and buckled up. I focused on the view screen. We were still in anti-space but the area in front of us was getting narrower and narrower, almost closing in around us. It was like we were being rocketed through a tube that was constricting more and more by the tic. The entire sphere started to shake. I had been in a 5.9 earthquake once visiting my cousin in San Francisco. This shaking felt worse. It never felt like this in simulations. I held on to the chair. I didn’t have to look at my knuckles to tell they were white.
“Uh, SC, this feels different,” I said.
“Different from what?” SC said.
“Different from simulations,” Kymm said.
“This is not a simulation.” SC said. I’m not sure if he was trying to be reassuring, but he wasn’t.
As the Searcher moved closer and closer toward the end of the anti-space tube, a veil seemed to separate the two universes. The closer we got, the more we rocked, and I don’t mean rocked in a good way. Energy sparked all around us, crackling as if it was either mad at us or laughing at us. I fought the urge to close my eyes. If we were going break apart and die, I wanted to see it happen.
We hit the veil. The stars glowed white and the space between them was dark. The shaking had stopped. We were back in normal space. In the Sirius system. At least I assumed it was the Sirius system. It actually didn’t look that different from our own galaxy. We were about 80 million miles from a bright yellow sun, roughly the size of our sun. We were between the second and third planets of the eight that circled that sun.