"Approaching target, reference 2980/BB, lets slow ourselves right down now gentlemen."
"Roger that, Gold flight."
"Yuh huh, Roger that, Gold flight."
The three ships hastened through the void of empty space, their pale, grubby exteriors framed against the timeless canvas of stars. They were bulky and rectangular in shape, specifically designed for interplanetary data retrieval and observations. In essence, science ships. It was just the three of them, and there was no 'mission control' present. Nowadays, only important, groundbreaking flights had anything so fancy.
The three ships were all identical apart from one different trait. The lead ship carried locked beneath it a large dark cylinder.
They flew in a relatively tight formation, the lead ship ahead, and the other two hanging a mere 30 metres behind. A main view screen adorned the front of the craft, and from within the confined cockpit sat the captain of the lead vessel.
"Radiation: Gamma, Solar, GCR, no trace of this 'Sovereign' particle." The dark skinned man at the controls spoke into his headset, checking his line of approach and position on the grid reference that radiated its green ambience through the darkened cabin. Suddenly a new figure popped up on the heads up displace within his helmet.
"Woah, there we go, got 'im. Target acquired, easing off the throttle now guys, just come up either side of me in a nice straight line."
"Roger, Gold." Eradiated through the cabin in two different voices, and as Gold leader eased back on the acceleration, small thrusters at the front of the craft flared gently into life, as the rear Ion stream slowly began to fade, eventually bringing the lead craft to a secure stop.
Looking from left to right he saw his two partner ships carefully drift up next to him, stabilising thrusters on all sides blaring now and then, levelling themselves off. To his right the pilot of the fellow science ship give a big thumbs up through the glass. "Jackass." Gold leader muttered into the microphone, and the pilot across the gap raised both middle fingers in retaliation, and a grin spread across his young, blond features.
"I should put you on disciplinary for that, Jones."
"Roger that, Gold flight," the pilotJones smirked.
Turning away, Gold leader looked out into the seemingly empty region of space before him, no visible trace of the recent events left at all. His readouts, on the other hand, told him there was definitely something out there, and that something was why he was here, dragged out of his weeks holiday by some whiney science division that seemed to be up in arms about something. He didn't care what, and didn't even care that the specifics of his soon to be acquired cargo were highly classified. All he cared about was getting back to the station and spending some quality time with his wife. That, and the fact that he was getting paid overtime. As long as he was getting paid, he didn't mind how many whiney scientists jumped down his throat, or how much 'specialised' equipment he had to use to get the job done.
"Ok, lets get this ball rolling, shall we gentlemen? Go ahead and fire up your generators." And with that the two other men altered the configuration of several switches on the control boards before them, and checked their internal core temperatures. A deep thrumming came from within their ships, as the power source to the powerful gravitational superconductors tucked snugly away within their structures gradually began to build up juice.
Gold leader did the same, although the workings of his ship would be slightly different, and then he sat there patiently until he got the all clear from his two wingmen, indicating that they were now operating at full power.
"Alrite lads, unless you were asleep at the briefing you know what to do. Also, remember what that cranky old Sci-Ops guy told us, caution is advised."
The two ships either side of him began to drift forwards once more under the gentle persuasion of their Ion drives, and after letting them get ahead by more or less 10 metres, he two eased forwards once more on the throttle.
In one of the other ships, the pilot named Jones watched his grid reference carefully as he approached an area of space with small concentrations of an unknown substance that, on the grid, was illustrated by a thin band of orange on the otherwise black and green screen.
"Entering grid reference 2983/BB."
"Roger that Wing 2." Acknowledged the man piloting the ship designated Wing 1, and as he turned his head Jones could see the ship drifting serenely through space adjacent to him. His heartbeat quickened slightly, and he could feel himself slip into the 'Zone' that he always found himself in when he was about to perform acts of precision flying, adrenaline pouring into his bloodstream.
"Target reached, stopping now," came the voice of Wing 1, and he slackened off the throttle, bringing his ship to an eventually stop, his companion doing the same.
Gold leader had already once again become still, and he watched their progress now from his vantage point of 10 metres distance. He eyed the positioning thrusters around his men's ship bring them into a position, angling their undersides towards each other, completely unaware that, on a subatomic level, the substance of a small part of his hull began to jitter and change, the bonds between each atom shifting and buckling.
"Opening bomb doors,"
"Confirmed, Wing 1."
Gold leader watched as the under hulls of each ship buckled slightly and then opened outwards, and out drifted from each one a large barrel shaped object, covered with thick coiling from top to bottom, and attached to the innards of each ship by a bulky, rigid cable. Both ships mirrored each other perfectly, like some queer spatial reflection, and eventually the two cylinders came within half a metre of each other.
"Power up on three?"
And with that the powerful superconductors jumped to life, completely silent in the vacuum of space, and the only sign that they had become operational was a brief, dizzying ripple that flashed between the two, like someone throwing a stone onto the surface of some incomprehensible ocean of space.
"Conductors operating at full power…" Jones relayed to his Mic, carefully watching the readouts being displayed to him.
"Fields stabilising…computer says…yep we've definitely got one of the suckers!"
"Great," Gold leader remarked, "Im coming in close for-"
There was a small, intense flash of light from the side of Wing 1's vessel, as some tank within its considerable bulk rippled and then exploded outwards, ejecting a stream of superheated gas into space.
"Christ!" bawled Jones.
"What the hell was that?" Gold leader barked down his headset in surprise.
His questioning cry was heard within the cockpit of Wing 1, but so were also dozens of warning alarms, and just as many lights began to flicker in protest on the pilot's dashboard. "Shit, I dunno! One of my port steering tanks has ruptured, decompression in rear storage cabin. Ahh Christ."
The mans confused cursing was heard by Gold leader amid the clamour of warning tones. "Son, you're alrite, just try and keep her steady, don't upset the fields, I'm coming in now."
Pushing forwards on the throttle he drifted towards the two ships, as a small red light began to flash on his console before him, reinforced by a flat, confidence sapping tone. Three words flashed before his eyes across his heads up display: Minor Hull Breach. His brows furrowed, a solitary bead of sweat rolling down from his forehead and along the shape of his hallow cheeks. Keeping her steady, he moved towards the two superconductors, pulling back on the joystick, allowing the angling thrusters to point the belly of his ship, which harboured the giant metal cylinder, in the direction of the two. The warning tone within his cabin increased in volume, and a shattering hiss broke out deep within his ship, and out of the corner of his eye he could see a billowing stream of gas drift past his view screen.
"Gold leader, you're leaking g-"
"I know god dammit, just keep her steady." He flipped a small safety cap on the side of his joystick and activated the switch it encased. The large cylinder beneath buckled, and then hydraulically began to open up. Cursing its slow progress, further warning lights emerging, cascading multicoloured streaks across vision, he waited for it to complete its opening sequence, and using his three dimensional reference screen, closed in towards the twin superconductors and its invisible prisoner, lining it up perfectly.
"There, got ya' you bastard." He squeezed down on his joysticks trigger.
The large, open cylinder was suddenly propelled forward by four rapid streams of gas, connected like the conductors to its ship by a thick rigid cable, and it enveloped the two barrel like objects, and then with further persuasion from Gold leader, snapped shut much quicker than it had opened, and with great force. He then quickly jacked up the power, and the cylinder, infact a third larger superconductor, now not only stabilised the inner conductors, but also provided them with power to remain operational, having been severed from their ships with the violent pressure of the cylinder.
Gold leader sighed in deep relief, and had flipped the switch to retract the cylinder, just as the screaming of Wing 1 pierced his ears. He quickly banked his ship around to see the ruptured ship, and then, wide eyed and terrified, wished that he hadn't, and would probably carry on wishing it till the day he died.
The strange Chaos particle, as the voice of Thar had rightly named it to John, some incomprehensible distance away, had of course been the cause for Wing 1's initial explosion, happily shifting this atom here, and removing that atom there, in no hurry at all at first, but as is the extremely erratic behaviour of this substance, this slow process had no longer taken its fancy.
Half of Wing 1 seemed to boil, the metal of the ship peeling away, folding back again, and constantly shifting form. Some of it just appeared to be steaming off in a thick cloud of substance. The front half had simply crumpled away, tearing off as easily as if an invisible giant had rendered it asunder, and as Gold leader faced the ship that decayed before his very eyes, he saw the young pilot being set upon by this undifferentiating matter. Chunks of the ex-mans skin simply disappeared as he watched on in unrivalled horror. The pilots body rippled, bulged, tore open, releasing its load of crimson liquid into the coldness of space. His skin mutated, divided, erupted, and sank back in on its self rapidly, darkening, lightening, and crumbling apart.
Jones was screaming in terror unintelligibly over the intercom, and his desolate shrieks snapped his superior out of the speechless stupor that had engulfed his soul.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck. JONES! We have to get the hell out of here,"
"But...But…what about Alex!" he babbled back, barely audible through his uncontrollable sobbing.
"What about him! You have eyes dontcha? We have to go now!" and with that he jerked his joystick around violently and slammed forward on the throttle, hoping to hell that Jones would be following him, though unable to find a frame of mind to wait and find out. The flashing Hull warnings shimmered about him, and as the dampeners readjusted the gravity, a sickening feeling unrelated to this shift stabbed him through the gut. Oh god, was it happening to him? He hurriedly rushed through system checks with trembling hands, scanning for any trace of the radiation. No, there was none, and looking down at his grid reference he saw that Jones's ship was indeed in close tail behind him, and he had no trace of it either. But just before Alex's dissolving ship moved out of sensor range forever, he saw something that brought a sick, icy fear to his heart. All the remaining traces of radiation were now all swarmed around the dieing husk of Wing 1, a single mass covering it entirely.
The Gold leaders eyes widened, and his pupils constricted, until they were merely pinpricks on the large white globes of his eyeballs. They swarmed around him, as he died, as his ship was devoured.
As his intense gaze watched the Wing 1 signature disappear from his sensor, there was a single Analogy that stuck in his mind, something that he wanted to dismiss as insanity, but at the same time its lunacy seemed to justify it in his consciousness utterly, and it refused to be denied.
As he stared down at that swarm, around the carcass of Wing 1, one perfect image formed in the nether regions of his mind.