Chapter 7

Everyone except Payton had gathered in the meeting room that was several decks below the bridge. Illuminated only by the emergency power, the room was smothered in rays of dark orange, barely bright enough for people to see each other's face. A stifling haze had made up the rest of the air, which further filtered out the light into an even lower state of vividness. Though life-support system was still functioning, Payton's team felt light-headed, as the oxygen level had already gone down ten percent overall. It wasn't a major problem, for now anyway. But if it continued to drop and somehow seeped through whatever miniscule cracks upon the joints of the ship, then they would have a crisis.

"How's our boss?" Roy Sen asked.

Tracy Huegard grumbled when she entered the meeting room: "Payton is completely gone, figuratively speaking. It's just... He doesn't care much about this whole mission anymore."

"So…you're saying he just…gave up?" The weapon specialist narrowed his eyes as he frowned with a disapproving look.

"I'm afraid so. I've been with him for the past two hours and he was sulking nonstop. And when I tried to talk to him, to get him to feel better, he showed not only signs of defeat but he was…for the better lack of words, angry at everything and everyone around him."

"Fucking hell," Steve muttered as he walked around the room.

"So what now? Lina Huegard, the ship's biologist gazed at everyone. "Are we going ahead with the journey or are we turning back?"

"Turning back to where? The Earth is gone. We don't have a home to go back to anymore. We need to come up with something fast." Roy croaked as he leaned against the chair with arms around the back of his head.

"We need a new team leader." Steve suggested solemnly.

"What?" Roy jerked up and frowned. "What are you talking about?"

Kena Lee shook her head slowly and gazed at their counselor. "I don't know about this idea... Payton is our leader here. We can't just go grabbing someone as a new follower without everyone agreeing-"

"There is no consensus." Steve En cutoff her words and stepped forward.

Facing everyone, his expression was hard and cold, completely devoid of any emotions. No one could understand what he was thinking behind that mask of his and no one could feel secure near the man. What, with his disordered uniform, which was partly stained with Jake Roman's blood, and his wild, elongated golden hair, even a convict from the central brig back on Earth would feel frightened, somewhat at least.

"I'm so sick and tired of this whole thing. I came here to experience a world that is beyond what we have on Earth. But instead of gaining knowledge, I've obtained nothing but shits. Payton isn't a leader. He's a goddamn scientist who will break when being hit with a tragedy, and Jake Roman's death isn't a tragedy, mind you. You all know better than just sitting around doing nothing. If you want a leader, I'll be your leader."

Roy Sen held up a hand immediately and yelled: "Whoa! Whoa! Stop right there! Who made you in charge here?"

"Shut up!" Steve glared, as he stood tall over the ship's pilot. "In a situation like this, we need someone who can make hard decisions, can depict the differences between ingenious and insanity actions, and can provide a sense of protection, asylum, in which everyone can just relax and do their jobs accordingly. We don't need a pencil pusher here to tell us what to do and Payton is a pencil pusher!"

"So what you are saying is that you can do it? With what? Guns and cannons?" Roy laughed sarcastically. He walked around the table that was covered with a thin layer of dust and stared hard into everyone's eyes. His light gray hair was matted with slick oil and sweat while he paced slowly in the room. "This is total madness. We got our ex-leader giving up on us first and now we got a brute that thinks he can do better!"

Sitting down with a sigh, Lina closed her eyes and replied: "Roy, Steve isn't all about shoot first and asks questions later. Sure he has a few moments of...aggressiveness, but overall, I do believe he'll do a better job than Payton right now. At least he is motivated in trying to do something other than drifting in the middle of nowhere and wasting valuable resources. Our food rations are decreasing as well. We just can't sit around doing nothing."

Staring daggers at his opponent with a proud smile, the weapon specialist nodded silently. He knew that he could convince at least one of them to back him up. Soon, he could control the whole thing and they could get on with whatever objectives that they had not finished, mainly traveling through the wormhole. Of course, even if he knew next to nothing about the whole passage through the wild and unpredictable vortex, it would be easy anyway. All they needed to do was holding the ship steady as they deployed the remaining Asset Pods.

"You actually believed his words?" Roy pointed a finger at the man who was standing tall in front of him.

First scanning Kena's expression then he watched how Tracy and Lina didn't react much to his outburst; he gaped at the ceiling in incredulity.

"This is stupid! Everyone here has gone insane. You guys obviously don't care about how Payton is the only one who can guide us through the spatial distortions. He has been studying the NoLand Sector for years! What does Steve know? All of you are willing to risk your lives for this?"

"If we don't leave for the wormhole soon, we'll die regardless," Lina Huegard whispered. Combing her fingers through her long, glossy hair, she leaned forward with her right hand on the table and continued: "Out here, there is nothing. I'm sure that my sister knows how the lack of activity can drive a person mad and this is going to happen to all of us if we don't do something that can distract our attentions."

They went silent for a few minutes unsure of what to do next. One way or the other, the outcome wouldn't be pleasant. There was also a possibility that Payton would refuse to give up his command. What would happen if that were the case? They couldn't just force him to resign his position, could they?

With heated emotion rumbling in his mind, Roy stormed out of the meeting room and went to the bridge. He knew that it was futile to try to change their minds. In fact, everyone was so deluded in wanting to accomplish something that they had missed out the most important fact - there was no one left alive to see their attainment back on Earth.

Steve sighed and stretched a little. It had been forty-eight hours since they had last slept. All of them were weary and lost but he was reluctant to admit that. Pride had taken over his thoughts and actions, and with ambition unlike any, he would do anything to lead the team to glory even if it meant taking out Payton. Without another word, he left for the weapon locker where a variety of arsenals were stored.

Tracy, Lina, and Kena gazed at each other helplessly. It was out of their league to stop either one of them from hurting each other. And the most surprising thing to them was that all three of them had actually wanted to support Steve instead of Payton, especially Tracy, who had seen what kind of state their original boss was in.

When Roy got to the pilot control, he found Payton sitting in the chair stationed in the center of the room. The scientist looked at him quietly, refusing to comment on what was going on. The pilot slowly approached their captain and stood in attention. Area was still filled with smoking debris and frightening orange sparks continued to snap here and there, bouncing around the place, threatening to ignite flammable materials. It was rather dark, but there was just barely enough light to see how crushed Payton was.

"They are revolting, aren't they?" Tilting his head, Payton struggled not to cough out loud.

His internal injuries were worse than he had previously thought. In fact, he had a mild fever running throughout his body. The feeling of hot and cold was uncomfortable. He could feel the searing sensation coming from his wounds, which felt like burning daggers gradually cutting through his sweat-covered skin. His bluish eyes were dull and he was seeing double with the vision dithering incoherently.

When he saw Roy nodding to his question, he chuckled slightly. "Well, I can't blame them. Somehow...I just feel so tired. Aren't you feeling tired, Roy? Aren't you sick of this whole voyage?"

"They will kill you, Payton. Do you understand that? When they come to you, you have no choice but to obey their orders, especially Steve En," walking to the other side and glancing at the shattered monitors, the man said gravely. "The team is falling apart. Everyone is acting according to their own thoughts."

"I know. I've been expecting something like that from Steve anyway." Payton grunted as he stood up bit by bit. Fragments of crystals cracked beneath his boots as he held onto the chair arm and took a deep breath. "I guess that in such circumstance, it is only normal how everyone is acting like a savage. I don't blame them. I can't blame them. It is my fault to pressure you guys to come with me, while I could have just designed a smaller ship and go by myself. Perhaps, if that were the case, Earth would still exist. Funny, isn't it? Knowing that we have destroyed Earth by detonating the GMS...is technology the cause of our race's extinction?"

"No, but that doesn't matter anymore." A voice sounded from the doorway illuminated by inconsistent flickering lights.

Steve marched in with a hand-held blaster gun in his right hand. His deranged face was partly obscured by his untrimmed hair, revealing his riotous nature. "Payton Lane, you are hereby relieved of your duty as the ship's captain."

Chortling, Payton stood face to face with Steve. "Christ, losing Jake brings another Steve. You act all big and mighty now, huh? How long have you been planning on taking over this whole research expedition? A day? A month? A year?"

"More like the moment when you have decided to abandon this whole thing and left us out here in the vanity to rot and die. It was foolish of us to trust your judgment," the weapon went up a pitch as Steve armed the weapon. "But now I'm going to correct the mistakes that you have done. Tracy!"

They looked back as their counselor came into view through the haze that still lingered around the vessel. She, too, had a gun in her trembling hands. Without saying anything, she aimed it directly at Payton's forehead. She mouthed the word: "sorry" but all she got in response was a death glare from him.

The scientist's lips were pressed tightly together, forming a straight line that had symbolized his strong will, his strong determination, and his excessive resentment. Their female companion guided him as Steve smirked with triumph in the background. They were going to lock the failure out. From this moment on, there would be no more fiasco. Roy had wanted to stop them from doing something that they all would regret deeply later on, but with a barrel of the gun pointing at his stomach, all he could do was watching desperately at the two retreating figures that had disappeared within the gloomy corridor in seconds.

"Now," Steve turned around and glowered. "Are you going to steer the ship to the wormhole or do you want to die? It makes no difference to me. All of us can pilot this ship and you know it."

"I can't believe that you are turning into another Jake Roman, Steve En," Roy muttered with great distaste.

"It's not me turning into another Jake; it's me wanting to finish what we've started. You see, unlike Jake Roman, I actually want us to complete our mission. We've come this far only to be hindered by the death of a traitor. I simply cannot allow that to happen. Payton Lane was a good team leader at the time but his sentimental value holds no grounds in such a dire situation."

They both stared hard at each other for a few minutes. At last, fuming, Solstice Seven's navigator returned to his station and started to punch in the codes. The entire ship rumbled a little as the Light Engines had powered up to fifty percent, pushing the Descent team toward their goal, where their unknown future awaited silently within a cluster of stormy gases and intense gravity that produced thousands of concentrated lightning bolts inside the whirling eddy. Warning signs kept up their paces as they carried on flashing bright red words upon the LCD screens.

At least the sirens had stopped, Steve thought to himself with satisfaction.

Half way to the brig, Tracy had tried several times to talk with her captive. She felt terrible and baffled for what she was doing. It seemed to her that she had done something that was dire and malevolent and it was probably true, but she had no choice.

Payton refused to answer her while he wordlessly weaved through the fallen debris that had littered the pathway leading to the jail cell. Fragments of fallen iron beams were draping across the walkway and they had to duck a few times to avoid colliding with the shattered objects. The ship was in a bad shape, and Payton knew it wouldn't hold together if it were to fly through the space gateway without some sort of coded patterns that only he alone knew about.

Although he knew that it would come to this sooner or later. It felt odd to see a therapist intimidating someone else with a gun. Why would Tracy even consider using a firearm to ensure that he would comply with their wishes? She should trust him, yet, this wasn't the case. Instead of confiding her confidence to him, she chose to trust Steve.

It was funny too, regarding how there were lots of traitors even when the ship was in space, in a vacant void that was deprived of human interactions and social influences.

Payton groaned inwardly when he felt a stabbing ache near his liver as he placed one foot in front of the other upon the carpeted floor softly. He could feel that surge of blood spurting from deep inside his belly up to the mid-section of his throat. The sensation was nasty and burning at the same time with the stomach acid mixed in with his blood. He had decided to conceal his wounds, however. It would probably be better than being alive and seeing how their weapon specialist had screwed everyone's life.

In fact, they would most likely die in the NoLand Sector.

Ship breaking apart was inevitable and Payton knew best. While the rest of the 'team' was filled with energy, which came from the thoughts of being successful, Payton secretly told himself how their vessel can break apart and where the breakage would start.

He didn't spend the last twelve years just doing basic calculations. The pull of the immense gravity from the wormhole was something so novel, so fresh and new, that only him, and no one else, could understand the entire concept. Asset Pods weren't supposed to be installed as they blasted through the spatial distortion. The velocity of their transportation was one of the essential factors that they must realize. The ever-shifting mass was so unique on its own that one false move could send the entire ship into an area where it did not exist, namely, the Dark Matter.

But it didn't matter anymore.

Tracy grabbed onto his aching shoulder with one hand to stop him from going further as she entered the code for the jail on their left. After Payton had gotten inside the shadowy cube, a shield shimmered to light, forming a barely visible blue wall before his tiring eyes. She gaped with surprise when she saw a trickle of warm, red blood dripping down from the corner of his mouth. He turned away quickly, forcing her to leave with comforting words kept to her instead of assaulting his ears with those fake concerns.

Misery was obviously displayed in her look. She compelled herself from weeping out loud. He probably wouldn't care anymore when he saw how everyone was against him, how everyone had placed the blames onto him as an alternative to preserve self-respect. Her footsteps echoed off into stillness when she wheeled around abruptly and ran away as quickly as she could; away from Payton, away from his pathetic blank expression that told her nothing about what he was thinking right now.

Sitting on the bed in the corner of his cell, Payton leaned back and gawked at the charred wall beyond the force field. He was alone at last, near the back of their ship. The humming of the engines had further bled his strength away. In a way, he felt better to be locked up here than wandering around out there freely with sets of eyes arbitrating him disapprovingly.

He looked up and saw a ruined lighting tube had replaced the complete, unscathed one. Payton could still smell the sour smoke coming from the severed wires. It was evident that the power surge was so potent when they went into the E-Stage without proper acceleration sequence that more than half of the onboard electrical equipment was fried. Ashes and sections of the outer layer of the walls behind the prison shield had scattered on the ground.

The scientist thought about ramming through the rest of the barrier to free himself when he had noticed how sick and injured he was. He gave up on the idea. There might be a several inches thick platinum divider fixed into the frame of the vessel anyway, to prevent criminals from escaping.

Payton couldn't see past the curve of the hallway as he lay across the mattress, facing toward the entrance of his confinement. He steadily closed his eyes as his vision merged with the dim environment around him.

OOOOOO

"This tastes awful."

"Hey, at least you have some food to eat. Be grateful."

Steve, Tracy, Kena, Lina, and Roy all sat around the dusty table that was half-covered with dust. With dried biscuits and meat stripes as dinner, it wasn't exactly a gourmet meal.

In fact, the room that they were in right now wasn't even a dining hall. It was the same meeting room that they were in a month ago, deciding what to do with Payton Lane. The air still smelled smoky even after thirty days. Though most of the wirings were redone, there were a few lights in the charred ceiling flickering on and off, providing a type of distraction that really got into all five crewmembers' nerves.

"How's Payton?" Roy inquired as he shoved a mouthful of biscuit into his mouth.

Shaking her head, Kena replied: "Not too good. His internal bleeding has stopped with some of the medicines we've stocked up for the trip but his organs are pretty badly injured. I don't know how long he'll live."

"Who cares about him?" Loud crunching noise could be heard as Steve side-glanced their pilot. Pieces of dehydrated cookies flew away from the corners of his mouth. "He's useless anyhow. We might as well get rid of him to save up some of the food supply."

Grimacing with disgust, Roy said sternly: "You are sick, you know that?"

Shrugging, the new leader of the Descent team went back to focus on his meal.

"He isn't eating right now, is he?" Tracy asked with concern. Her face was covered with sweat as the environmental controls were still going on and off at random intervals.

Her orange suit was stained with black oils, resulted from working at the engineering deck with Roy a few hours ago. "I hope he's eating. It's just horrible to keep him locked up like this."

Roy gave a quick chuckle of pure sarcasm. "Well. You guys are the ones that decided to lock him up. What could you possibly be complaining about?"

As Roy stared at the surface of the table with a faint blanket of white light draping over his body, the rest of the Descent team gazed at one another in absolute silence. It seemed as if guilt had finally appeared in their minds. They knew what they had done was wrong but the deed was done. The insult was given and received. All except Steve felt as if they had betrayed someone that they loved. Friendship and respect were severed completely.

The morale of the crew seemed to be deteriorating every passing minute. And they still had a long journey ahead...

OOOOOO

Trip to the NoLand Sector was much faster than what everyone had predicted. In just a month and a half, they had arrived near their destination.

The moment that Roy had roughly fixed ninety percent of the thrusts, Solstice Seven roared through the galaxy toward their goal. A broad wave of flaring particles splashed across the darkness of space while stars in the backdrop silently twinkled with different interludes.

Within days, the crew could see a monstrous nebula spiraling inward while invisible pull of the gravity tried to pry open the shield of the ship. Columns of different colored gases with a variety of thickness extended from the outlet, almost like several shafts of light standing tall in a predefined pillar formation.

Steve in his stained orange suit smiled as he saw the scenery through the main view screen. A long golden beard had dropped from his sweat-covered chin while he stood up with the blaster gun in his hand.

Neither of them had showered nor shaved lately due to a lack of resource. They hardly consumed any food as well. They should be mining minerals two weeks ago to replenish their food and water but because of the extensive damage on the main docking bay that had contained drilling machines, they weren't able to. The twisted wreck had jammed the blast doors. All they were hoping now was to be alive when they crossed the threshold of the wormhole.

Constant rumbling of the vessel had set everyone's nerve on the edge. Even with the shields operating, power fluctuations were detected. The main concern was their protective shields failing as they passed through the space deformation conduit.

Breathing heavily in his chamber, Payton was somewhat pleased when he felt a massive jolt had knocked the ship's electrical grid nearly offline. Without a clever way to avoid the particle streams coming from the singularity point of the wormhole, they had no chance of going through the whole ordeal unharmed. In the worst-case scenario, the whole vessel would shatter into pieces and fill with punctures that could let the vacuum of space sucking everyone out. He never mentioned the software program that he had written not too long ago. He wouldn't say anything now even if those idiots had tortured him or begged for his forgiveness.

"They brought this onto themselves..." He muttered gently as he watched the shield that had locked him in for the last six weeks glimmering on and off rapidly with each power vacillation.

Solstice Seven was like a beacon in the middle of nowhere while it hovered near the wormhole. Its signal lights were flashing in red among the many slick antennas protruding from the shell of the ship. Massive bursts of electromagnetic waves occasionally shut off the bulbs temporary, and each time, the CPU chips fizzled with intense heat almost to the point where they would explode.

Milky colors of jade and orange with a intermingling of scarlet twirled around in the gigantic hole with the central core of the gap moaning, as it extended its dark tentacles in a circular motion. From the side, it was as if space itself had been ripped open a small portal. The tunnel of swirling gases had disappeared into nothingness as time in the vicinity flowed through the rift.

An eerie shade was expanding ever so slowly toward Payton and his teammates while monitors shut off one by one without any apparent reason. Frequent lightning strikes could be seen clearly, which thundered and boomed across the gateway, licking up the unknown clouds of flying dusts and space debris with its scorching tongues. Cobalt dye of the glow from the wide bolt of acute voltage was cast upon the inner wall of the wormhole, lighting up the passageway for a brief second before dissipating into darkness once again.

"Shit! We are losing power!" Roy yelled when several control panels had gone out with a fizzle. He struggled, trying to stabilize the ship. "I don't think we are going to make it. Short-range sensors indicate that there are ejecting particle matters from deep within the wormhole! I don't know how to get around them!"

"Then go through them!" Steve screamed with frustration. He held onto the handle of the captain's seat and gritted his teeth. "I don't care how you do it, just get us into the event horizon and deploy the Asset Pods!"

Lina the Biologist cried out: "We are losing pressure! Life-support system is being depleted by all these storms that have somehow converged around us! I can't reinitialize the reboot command, the damn chip's fried!"

She grunted when a large shower of sparks had landed on her face. Despite the fact that she got a severe burn on her left cheek, which had left her unconscious, no one took notice of the accident. It was too hectic for anyone to be focusing things that were outside of their duties right now.

"I think we should back off for now and ask Payton for advice! He will know what to do!" Kena shot out a suggestion but she was stopped by their new captain's harsh glare. "Look! Even if you are too damn proud of yourself to kneel before that science freak, it's still the best course of action to do right now! We are not even near the event horizon and already dozens of our vital systems are failing! At this rate, all of us will be dead before we even got to the front door of that monster!"

"You are right!" The pilot jumped up from his chair and raced toward the door. "I'm going to free him! He'll tell us what to do!"

"You will not!" Steve bawled angrily. "I'm the ship's captain right now, not that asshole's! You will obey my orders!"

Roy looked back over his shoulder, irritation clearly shown on his aged face. Though he was forty years old already, he wasn't going to let a person younger than he was back talking him and restricting him from doing something that would save everyone's life.

Staring at Kena for a long minute while the tension continued to constrict the atmosphere, he worked hard to stand upright as the entire vessel trembled with feral energy. Snarling, he disregarded their leader's threat and started to leave.

Steve was extremely infuriated when he saw how the old man had ignored his words. With a growl, he leaped over the chair and landed on top of Roy. Meaty hands gripping at the pilot's fragile throat, he was ready to choke the life out of the defector. Both of them rolled around, slamming into tables and computer terminals, while hanging wires spewed out massive sparks. More than a few times, steel plates from the ceiling had come loose and crashed near the tangling bodies.

Tracy Huegard rushed to the controls and held on tight, while Kena sat in her seat, eyeing the appalling scuffle happening as Solstice Seven creaked and groaned loudly in the milieu.

"Where do you think you are going? Where do you think you are going, damn it!" Yelling and grunting, Steve grabbed a handful of his opponent's light gray hair. "Didn't I tell you don't disobey my orders? Didn't I tell you? Huh? Didn't I tell you, you piece of shit!"

Shoving a knee up against the mad man's forehead, Roy tried to use all of his strength to prevent his airway from being blocked by a pair of dirty hands. Light blue eyes glaring, he screamed: "Are you crazy? Are you trying to kill everyone onboard of this ship? If we don't allow Payton to help us through this whole ordeal, you are going to die!"

Without warning, a giant explosion had occurred on the side of Solstice Seven when a gigantic lightening twice the size of the ship struck the shield solidly with a thundering bang.

The force of the blow had bent the protective layering of the vessel awkwardly and the whole thing shattered instantly. Tearing a large gash upon the hull while the outer edges of the wound was blackened by the concentrated heat with a narrow line of molten red smearing across the damage area, objects within the damaged compartments were sucked out into deep space. Pressure gradient had plunged downward like a raging waterfall as the internal structures were beginning to give away and collapsed inward. Embers of white and yellow flashed and crackled while the thick atmospheric gates were closing off the deteriorating sectors. Crimson warning lights had fully illuminated the hallways, giving people an impression of the whole place filled with dripping blood.

Tracy cried out when she was thrown to the side by the impact the moment that their doctor flew out of her chair and slammed into her teammate. Roy and Steve, still grabbing tightly onto each other, crashed into one of the computer monitors and fell hard back onto the ragged floor that was littered with fragments.

The entire vessel dipped downward when a surge of gravitational pull had enveloped the spacecraft, gradually pulling the whole ship in. The forward movement combined with the acceleration produced by the Light Engines had increased the overall speed that they were traveling in.

"Oh my god..." Tracy stared at the wide view screen in front of her, eyes gaping at the hideous aperture howling and rotating eighty miles away from the tip of their spaceship.

She grabbed the handle, which controlled the direction of the engine exhaust and pulled upward.

Straining as he looked up at his female companion, Roy struggled to speak. But with Steve's arms over his neck, all he could do was gurgling incoherently. Steve's face was as red as his foe's. Thick veins were seen clearly but while having the whole place breaking apart, he couldn't get over the fact that no one would listen to him. Ever since he was a teen, he had gotten picked on, screamed at, and abused with things that weren't entirely his fault. For once, he just wanted to feel the sensation of people agreeing with his idea, to give him this feeling of self-esteem and accomplishment.

However, he just couldn't allow being stared down once more. The reason for him becoming the weapon specialist for this space mission was to be able to gain control of something. In this case, weapons. He alone had the power, the ability, to fire those prototype cannons that could destroy a half a million-ton battle cruiser in a single shot.

These thoughts had completely messed up his logical judgments. All Steve could see now was how the old man, Roy, was teasing him, contradicting his instructions that were for the best for everyone here.

The sudden shift of weight created by the counter-force had thrown Steve against the metal wall on the other side. Gasping for breath, Roy blinked a few times. He saw the gun not far from his reach through his blurry vision, which was contaminated with a cloud of red from the lack of oxygen.

Weakly, he slowly crawled toward the weapon. Steve grimaced as he held his head in pain. He could feel something warm oozing down the side of his temple, something with an iron smell, something red. Without looking, he screamed as he lunged at the pilot once more. Roy was prepared for this by snatching a snapped pipe from the side and whammed it against his enemy's neck. A sickening crack could be heard when the spinal cord was shattered partly by the shocking blow.

The weapon expert's eyes were wide and frightening, while he babbled something inarticulately from the pain. He suddenly flashed out a blade from his back for a final blow before he fell unconscious. Roy quickly rolled to the side and gripped the gun tightly in his hand. He swung it around and fired with a deafening boom that had echoed throughout the shuttle.

Kena yelped when Steve had slammed on his back, eyes pointing upward. A hole could be seen on his forehead, as his steaming blood had covered the floor gently, quietly. Thin, gray smoke rose from the barrel while the rest of the piece was shaking with Roy's movement. With sweat rolling down his face, he slowly got up and tossed the pistol away from him.

Tracy and Kena gaped at him but he ignored their looks and headed over to the control panel. By then, the frontal end of the ship had already entered the irregular gale of the fleeting particle mass. Its direction was twisting to the right when Roy had tried to straighten it out. Lina continued to lie on the cracked up floor. Her long, black hair was matted against her face, while the side with the burnt marks was partly covered by other fallen debris. The doctor then noticed her and ran to check up on her wounds, while the counselor sat near a corner, mumbling about how wrong she was. She couldn't believe that she had followed Steve En's directives. Of all her slipups, this was the worst yet.

"Damn it! I can't bring her around! We are too far into the horizon line and the gravitational drag has increased by two thousand percent!" Roy heaved a profound breath. After a few seconds of contemplating, he pressed the primary ignition button. "Screw this, I'm taking her in. All of you should strap on. Tracy! Get to bay control and activate all the Asset Pods!"

She just remained motionless in her own little world, pushing all other thoughts away from her mind. Even with the vessel shaking and breaking apart around her, she couldn't feel a thing.

"Tracy! What the hell are you doing? Wake up!" Roy bellowed impatiently, repeating his instructions once more.

But no matter how he had tried to get her undivided attention, she was like a statue. When Kena Lee got to her side and shook her violently, she continued refusing to acknowledge their calls.

The colossal wormhole roared as it spread itself out, completely surrounding Solstice Seven. Its massive electric storms had exploded in contact with the Diamonium hull, scorching the durable metallic surface and washing the resistant paint off the surface of the spacecraft. Sweltering mist of changing shades had slithered through the funnels and the fissures of the ship, constantly spewing out balls of effusive film containing radioactive particles and radiant flares. The center of the wormhole had a white, searing line of light, occasionally bubbling as if it was boiling with a high temperature. Ash-colored pillars of shadow looped inward, focusing the immeasurable vigor to a focal point of eternal portal into other side of the universe.

Everyone that was left alive onboard could feel the strange sensation sweeping through their bodies as the laws of physic had remained variable. Kena was at a computer when she noticed that all the pods had been turned on. The question was how could they be activated if everyone was on the bridge except for Payton? The answer came when she heard the door slid open noisily. Their ex-leader was leaning against the doorway, coughing deeply with a faint trace of blood caught in his palm.

With tired eyes, Payton grinned softly. "I've triggered the countdown for the pods to deploy as soon as I got through the force field that went offline when the last swell of electric wave ruined the main microprocessor..."

A fierce outpouring of current filled with electrons and other elements had thumped against the outer hull, completely vaporizing the shield generators with the cannons warping into a pile of slanting shafts by the down pouring of frictional hindrance due to the invisible force. A gargantuan missile of pallid entity had shot out from the core and mashed itself against the anterior of the vessel. A booming detonation had occurred, as large fizzling electric sparks were stripping the barrier of Solstice Seven apart piece by piece, drifting away from the ending section of the engines.

Inside, Payton and the others cried out with alarm when the central screen was blasted apart the second that it had gotten overloaded with power. Everyone was blown backward away from where they were. Sharp sections of toughened crystals had sliced the exposing cables within the command center, further killing off other assisting systems. The gravitational engine stuttered a few times before bursting aflame in a bright glow of petrifying blue and gold. Pipes running throughout the vents of the ship had started to leak when other chunks of rubble pierced tiny holes upon the plastic tubes. Floating unconscious in the obscurity of uncertainty without any power and a set of ripped suit, Payton, Roy, Kena, Tracy, and Lina were drowned in total darkness.

A vivid blaze had materialized the moment that Solstice Seven got sucked into the wormhole, as the Asset Pods fired themselves automatically and orderly in front of the ship in a countdown, expanding a temporary wall of charged ions to hold the inner tunnel of the space distortion. Pieces of steel were torn off while the Light Engines were hardly functioning, as the immense gravity had crushed upon the ship.

It was falling apart and it seemed that the whole Descent team had nothing but death waiting for them at the end of their prolonged journey.

End Chapter 7