Beta read by: Dorothy Davies
Story updated on: - 05/04/2012


Declaration.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people living or dead, events are entirely coincidental.


The Force of Nature

Dark, that's all the crew of the HSM Slipstream saw through the panoramic screen on the command deck. Floating effortlessly through the dark emptiness of space, the HSM Slipstream explored its new section of space as the crew tried to make sense of an accident that sent them hurtling into an uncharted area.

The folding of space was supposed to be a marvel of human engineering, but it turned out to be there biggest mistake or perhaps a situation no one thought possible.

No one knew the exact date and the onboard computers had defaulted to there standard routines after a power surge sent sparks flying and crewmembers to the infirmary.

To make matters worse, the crew glared uneasily at the vast emptiness of space that had no stars.

The captain, Ian Hendrix, was struggling to cope with the bewildering situation and was demonstrating this fact by obsessively prowling from one railing to the other, lost in his own thoughts. He gazed up towards the dense darkness that closed upon their ship like an unrelenting shroud and only a few words raced through his mind. Did we die and fall into the abyss of hell? Did we jump right out of own universe?

Ian shook his head vigorously and gazed at his strong reflection on the transparent window. He marched over to the navigation officer, who was franticly working at his post and demanded updates. "Tell me you have something. Without an anchor point in space we're as good as dead."

The ensign glanced up and Ian could see the signs of lost hope in his eyes. Sweat dripped from his temples and the captain knew the answer before the words came from the young man's mouth.

"I'm sorry, sir, I don't know how, but there's nothing out there to anchor too. It's like our own universe disappeared."

"Not disappeared…" a bald individual interjected as he marched onto the bridge with a huge grin on his face. Ian recognised the expression of a mad man anywhere. "…we've just jumped out of our own universe. I've activated the engines to prove my theory to the stone-cold scientists back on Earth!"

"I'm sorry, you lost me…"

"The tests of my new jump engines worked perfectly. The generals back on Earth might have refused my designs and called me a crack pot, but after modifying the engines on this ship and recording the success, they'll have no choice but to grovel at my feet."

"You fool!" Ian shouted from across the deck. "Don't you know what you've done? You've condemned us all! Without proper star mapping, we're basically lost in space!"

Lost in space was something that every man, woman and child prayed would never happen. Since the human race took to the skies, there have been rumours of ships becoming lost in their own pride and excitement. In the early stages of space travel, faster than light travel came with it a deadly price and ships without the proper star mapping would hurtle into the stars, some never to be found again. It was a risk, but the rewards were too great to overlook. It was a terror that shaped the very boundaries of the universe and Ian knew the terror all too well.

He marched up to the bald headed freak and with a swing from his left hand; he landed a decisive blow to the man's face, sending him falling into the nearest bulkhead. "You sacrificed my crew for a test!"

The crazed lunatic regained his strength and let loose with a flurry of kicks and punches, surprising the captain for a second before the navigator, Sally, barged in.

"Stop the fighting immediately!" she barked, holding back the two men. "You may not have noticed, but we're completely lost. Now get your act together and sort this mess out!"

"I wouldn't call this space, my love!" the bald headed man snickered, wiping the blood from his mouth with his white sleeve, staining it with crimson blood in the process.

"Then what the hell do you call it?" She pointed to the inky darkness outside the panoramic windows that lined the far side of the bridge.

"Since mankind began to understand the fundamentals of galaxies, scientists could not get past the notion that our universe is expanding with space and time. I believe space and time is limitless and our own universe is just a ball of matter which is expending after the Big Bang."

The man stood straight and then strolled over to the large windows. His reflection appeared so clear on the surface of the glass Ian began to notice the almost perfect reflection of his entire command crew. Normally the blackness was busy with stars and nebulas, like quarts crystal scattered in a bright light but the eerie dark was just as haunting as a child encased in darkness at his grandmother's haunted house.

The man spoke, explaining everything in more detail "You see, Earth is inside our own solar system while our solar system is inside our galaxy." He paused for a moment, allowing the information to settle in with the rest of the crew. "Everyone knows our galaxy is inside our universe, but everyone thinks the universe is the end and the beginning. They believe our universe is like a bubble with no way to escape…well, I know the truth…these are all lies! Our universe is just a small speck of light in the vast emptiness of dark. The darkness expands forever like a white sheet of paper with no end, you can draw anything you want on it, it's limitless."

"What are you blabbering on about?" Ian exclaimed, his harsh tone and curl of his lip indicated he was getting tiresome. The rest of the crew became angry and wanted a good explanation for the mess they're in. But for the captain, he wanted to know how they could get home before things got bad. Food was going to run out and with 200 people onboard, terror would soon rain down.

Ian was once stranded on a ship that had accidentally jumped out into the middle of two galaxies in the vast emptiness of space. When he gazed out, the smudges in space were the very galaxies themselves. It only took three weeks for the ships inhabitants to turn on each other and a further three weeks before the crew begin eating the dead. It was on a scale never seen before and after the rescue squad finally received the distress signal, Ian was one of the select few that managed to survive the terrifying three months.

Air was not a problem because the ship was equipped with chemical filters that made oxygen from carbon and light, like photosensitises by plants. Water was always recycled, but food was another matter. Ian held his head in shame as the nightmare of that incident haunted him to this day. He said nothing and liked to keep it that way.

"Don't worry captain, once we return back to our own galaxy I will present this data and win the Nobel prize as the man that proved our universe is nothing but a ball of galaxies in the vast emptiness of space." The mad individual boasted, parading around the command deck like some king on his alter.

"So you are responsible for this mess? You sent us here without my knowledge." Ian stepped closer; ready to land more striking blows to that plump-faced engineer he took pity on back at the space dock. He had no name, only a number, 25.

"This is my ship and crew. I'm responsible for their safety and conducting experiments against my back is highly dangerous. You have plainly demonstrated you disregard for my authority."

"Don't worry, captain, once we spend a few months around this area gathering important data we can return home. We must get as much information as possible on the beginnings of the Big Bang. I want my name envisioned on the holographic display in Washington and children to talk about me in schools. I want-"

Ian signalled a few heavy men from their stations and cut the plump man's idle ramblings. "You will take us home immediately."

The man raised his nose in defiance. "No, do what I say and I will consider it."

"You are testing my patience!"

"And you, sir, had better be nice to me. Once I win that prize, I will formally lodge a complaint about your treatment and have you removed from service." The bald headed man crossed his hands over his chubby chest, sure of himself.

Ian studied the man for a long moment and felt his irritation sharpen into icy rage. With a wave of his hand, he only had a few words left. "You will be held until we return to Earth. I want his quarters searched, office searched and every record confiscated until we find a way home."

The bald man, No 25, struggled and yelled as he was dragged away, but to the man's horror, a small glass crystal fell to the metallic girded floor and shattered into millions of pieces. The man stopped struggling and looked at the floor in shadowy terror. "You fools, look at what you've done!"

He fell to the floor and sobbed like a child who just had his candy taken away from him.

"The crystal, it-it had all the data on it to return to Earth! My Nobel prize!"

Ian moved forward and knelt down beside the chubby man, "Are you telling me you can't get us home without that crystal?"

"Yes, it had the recorded jump point information in real time. I didn't have the time to set-up the ships internal navigation to compensate for the galaxy drift rate so everything was done in my quarters on my tablet and recorded onto crystal. I haven't had the time to back it up, without it we are lost!"

Ian walked over to the panoramic windows and gazed upon the small blip of light in the distance. That blip of light might be home, but Ian knew the physics of such a trip. If a star millions of miles away looked like a tiny blip back on Earth, just imagine how far a universe—unimaginable in size—must be from the location of their ship. It was only a small hazy red blip in the vast darkness of space and impossible to reach. Even at maximum jump length, they would never get home without the space fold map written on the broken crystal. If they tried, they could travel even further away. With no way to repair the crystal the HSM Slipstream was completely lost, an insignificant point in the vast emptiness of life itself, stranded in a nightmare of unprecedented proportion.

© Shane Ward