Thoughts of honor and admiration churned in the mind of Admiral Franco Talbot as he stood at his command post, hands clasped behind his back, watching the approaching wormhole ripple in brilliant colors. A veteran of the Jupiter Wars, Talbot’s uniform hung heavy with the weight of braided chords and combat ribbons. The jacket was a bit tight in the middle, Talbot knew, but he thought his old uniform to be more appropriate for such an occasion than the ceremonial dress offered by the corporate backers of this expedition.
As a combat commander Talbot was amongst the best in the fleet, but he found deep spacefaring, to his surprise, more difficult. This was his third attempt to find the mythical Western Passage (a wormhole many scientists theorized to be a short cut across the galaxy) and if he failed again he would, most certainly, be beaten out by a rival expedition.
Behind Talbot on the bridge was his second in command, Captain Solomon Hunter. The son of a bureaucrat, Hunter left the Imperial Navy before serving in combat. On most occasions Talbot would find Hunter’s position on the ship to be highly dubious; however, the captain was an accomplished spacefarer and a favorite amongst the highly contentious crew of military personnel and corporate contractors.
On the navigational bridge below, hundreds of officers and engineers worked in unison. At the sound of an effective crew, Talbot thought of his unrecognized victories during the battle of Europa. Historians may have selected the battles to write about during the war, but they won’t be able to ignore this achievement.
The Pathfinder slowed into the wormhole. Talbot nodded toward Hunter and depressed the intercom. “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Admiral Talbot speaking. We are—
INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT!
A young security officer swiveled in his chair. “Sir, possible hostile sighted inside engine room. The hyper-drive seems to be damaged.”
Sabotage? “Lieutenant, send a security detachment to the engine room. Hunter, you have the bridge.”
“Sir? If there is a hostile–”
“I won’t have a mutiny on this ship. Now take charge!”
Talbot strode down the darkened hallway flanked by a security detachment. He pulled his side arm as the engine room doors opened. The air was stale and a heated argument echoed through the bay. Four engineers stood with weapons pulled.
“Stand down!” Talbot said, “We have about two minutes to get that hyper-drive operational.”
“Sir, the hyper-drive has been sabotaged by one of these men,” the chief engineer said.
“That’s ridiculous, you corporate monkey!” an older engineer said. “I said when we left these engines can’t take the strain of power needed to enter the wormhole. This old bucket wasn’t made for this jump regardless of your modifications!”
“You’re bickering like children.” Talbot holstered his weapon.
“Sir, I saw someone back there tampering with the hyper-drive!”
This crew was fielded too hastily.
The engine room went dark and the insides of the old warship creaked and moaned. A flush of panic came over Talbot, as he could not see the hand in front of his face, much less the engineers. The emergency lights ignited, washing the room in blue hues.
The chief engineer remained at his control screen, unaffected by the power surge. “Sir, I can’t automatically bring the power drive online. The computer reboot will take at least ten minutes.”
Talbot entered the circular chamber. “I’ll do it. Manual override.”
“You will die in there,” the engineer said.
“We’ll die either way. If we don’t make the jump in the next minute we’ll be crushed by the wormhole,” Talbot said. And if this works my legacy will live on well past five of my lifetimes.
Talbot stepped into the chamber and felt the heat from the power cell burn his skin. His teeth rattled and a deep pain stabbed at his temples. The chief engineer talked Talbot through the process. As Talbot worked, the skin on his hands turned white and flaked upwards leaving sinews wrapped around bone. Talbot turned one last gear and white light filled the chamber.
Captain Hunter stumbled backwards as the Pathfinder shifted on its axis. The stars lengthened and the ship sucked into the wormhole. Darkness. Spirals of light. The ship slammed to a stop, forcing Hunter into the railing. He caught his breath and looked around the bridge. They were alive!
“Engineering! Where is the Admiral?”
A faint voice crackled over the intercom. “I… I don’t know, sir. He’s gone.”
Nothing. Stars. Pinholes of light burning through a canvas of purple and orange rolling mists. Talbot did not know what or where he was. Human husk shed, his consciousness floated upwards and downwards and sideways. He was the burning star. He was the grit and dirt of passing comets. Universes collided. Suns formed. Planets birthed civilizations. Suns died. Planets hardened and splintered across space. This happened again and again. Thousands of years moved in seconds.
Talbot’s consciousness hung in the cosmos. Time and space was a buoy of existence for lesser forms. Something happened at the wormhole. Then he saw it. The Pathfinder!
The ship entered the wormhole. Talbot wafted through the vast galleys and living quarters to the engine room where he found the chief engineer preparing for the hyper-jump. If I warn them early enough I can change everything. I can come back. The chief continued to program his computer. Talbot concentrated and for a brief instant his figure materialized. “Chief! There is a malfunction with the hyper-drive!”
The hyper-drive was about to overheat. An easy fix if caught in time, but the chief would not see it. Instead, he looked up at the sound of Talbot’s faint voice. The outline of a man stood behind the power core chamber. The system crashed and the hyper-drive went offline. Unnerved, the chief pulled his pistol and activated the warning siren:
INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT!
A young security officer swiveled in his chair…
Adam Musil is a writer in Austin, Texas. You can follow him on twitter @adammusil and Instagram: mrnotsointeresting