“What happened?!” a tall, lanky man asked. He scrambled about the deck searching for his wire-framed glasses, found them, and pressed them up onto his nose. He pushed against the floor and rose through the air. Zero gravity took some getting used to, but he had learned to navigate the ship with little difficulty. He made his way over toward another man; this one was on his back, lying on the floor of the craft. His upper half was obscured by the bulk of an electrical console. The sound of a socket wrench clicking and the occasional blue flash of a torch was the only response. “HEY! Did we make the jump?!” No reply. “AARON! WHAT HAPPENED!?”
“I don’t fucking know, John! SHUT UP!” he finally answered, the sound of his voice muffled by the bulky machinery that separated them. Another blue flash illuminated Aaron’s torso, followed by an unhealthy burst of electrical sparks. Based on the enraged swearing, followed by fist thuds from within the console John could only assume that the repairs weren’t going well. He slowly backed away, eager to avoid being caught in the engineer’s fury. He left the cockpit, and floated down the small hallway that led to the living quarters: a large rectangular space. The walls consisted of large white plastic panels. On each panel hung a rectangular blue sleeping pad, complete with straps and snaps to secure sleeping scientists and soldiers in zero-G slumber. Several panels were torn off the walls, uncovering a mess of wires and smoking circuitry. A man sporting a crew cut and fatigues floated in front of an exposed bundle of wires. He held a wire between his teeth, a soldering iron in his right hand, and a set of wire snips in the left. John stopped and did a concerned double take.
“…um…Shane? ...Do you have any idea what you're doing?” he asked tentatively.
“I ‘ave no clue” Shane said through the wires in his teeth. Yet he continued fussing with the electric clutter.
“You’re not a mechanic, Shane. Let someone who knows what they’re doing mess with that, before you fuck something up.” Shane spat out the wires, but never bothered to turn and face the man.
“I graduated with honors on the Dean’s list, was top of my OCS class, and have two doctorates! I can figure out a friggin’ circuit board!” John almost argued, resisting the urge to debate the legitimacy of his degrees, when Shane flicked an ominous red switch. After a moment a slight breeze flowed through the craft. The ventilation fans came back online. Shane spun around with a huge smile and triumphantly fired two middle fingers at John, which he began to bobble up and down.
“sssssSSUUCK IT, JOHN!” He proceeded to make some more impolite victory gestures. John rolled his eyes and shoved off a bulkhead, propelling him toward the opening in the back of the cabin. The portal led to a small galley. Attached was the mess, large enough to hold the entire crew. He continued through the room and sailed through another opening in the rear bulkhead. It led to a smaller room. There were a few consoles and monitors, but otherwise it was empty. A large air-tight hatch adorned the floor, painted with black and yellow stripes. He planted his feet on either side of the hatch and pulled upward on a red handle. The door hissed as John pulled the lever and snaked himself through. The air was hot, thick, and filled with a gray haze that reeked of burning engine oil. Several men shot around the room turning wrenches and sealing air leaks. The lights were all out, making it nearly impossible to see. Each man had a light stick strapped to his chest harness. The combined flashlights produced just enough light to let them make their way around the electronics and machinery without injury. The fans kicked on, and the haze slowly cleared.
John meandered through the men and machines and floated over to a bulky man, with jet black hair, who was busy cutting wires before stripping them and splicing the bare copper ends together. His callused hands repeated the task for several minutes on an assortment of different colored wires. He acted with the skill and precision of someone with an intimate knowledge of the machine. He severed one more green wire, and connected it to a black lead. The lights in the room slowly flickered on. The large man stood back and took a long sigh. He finally noticed the new arrival. He merely shook his head at John.
“That bad huh?” John asked, still floating in place.
“I never seen anything like this. Half the ‘lectrical systems are fried beyon’ recognition, the other half got out completely unfazed. It don’t make any sense. Any EMP or electrical storm woulda’ shorted every system on board, but only certain things got hit. The engine was goin’ haywire like nothing I ever saw. The bridge drive was puttin’ out ‘nuff juice to cook us in our own hull. We hadda’ vent the fucker TWICE before it was cool enough to get a man in here.” He stopped and shook his head again, defeated. “Ma’ best guess at this point is that every governing system on board jus’ so happen to fail at the exact same time. But even that don’t explain half a’ the weird ass electronic readin’s we picked up post-slip.” John barely understood half of that. He just flew the damn thing, and his knowledge of its systems was limited to that role.
The brass was so paranoid about this stupid ship. John didn’t even want to know how much it had cost. The vehicle was state of the art experimental military tech, so secret that no one member of the crew would have complete knowledge of its systems. Needless to say, this often made running it very difficult, especially given their current predicament. It became commonplace to joke that they were going to be shot when they got home, regardless of their success, solely to ensure they would never talk about it. Such black humor often got some chuckles, but they all felt a cold dread afterwards. Believing the idea took little imagination. An angry voice broke out over the din.
“We didn’t even fucking go anywhere!” The man had moved in front of one of the very few and very tiny portholes in the craft. John pushed himself over to the window, and peered out, beholding a strange sight. There was a little blue marble of a planet. Granted it did look similar to Earth; blue and green. But the land masses resembled no existing continents nor did the oceans match any on Earth.
“…yes we did.” He said, before taking off his glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose.
“No, look! Earth’s right there. We barely moved at all.” John sighed and took his sleeve and wiped some condensation off the thick glass porthole.
“…can you name any one of the continents down there for me?”
“Try and name just one of those continents, or a body of water, anything.” The man looked suspicious, but turned his focus out the window. He pointed a finger and said,
“That, right there, is…uh...wait, no. It might be…um.” John could see the man piecing the puzzle together in his head, as he noticed the unusual land formations. “…yeah, ok that might not be Earth.” he conceded in confusion. He looked around to see most of the men had stopped to listen to the conversation. One of them spoke up.
“Well then where the hell are we?” The silence that followed allayed few concerns.
*Luke, SitRep.* the voice over the comm was muffled by static, but it was clear enough to understand. The bulky man from earlier stood up and shouted back at the speaker,
“We’re stable, but the core drives are AFU. We ain’t goin’ anywhere fast.”
“Scrubbers are back on, leaks are all patched. It’s duct tape and rubber bands…but it’ll hold.”
*All hands to the bridge *
The men quickly filed out of the engine room, eager for some answers. Only one at a time fit through the hatch in the ceiling. The total crew of eleven eventually found a place for themselves in the rather cramped bridge, facing a tall bald man. It was tense and quiet as they waited for him to speak. His voice was eroded by years of smoke and drink.
“Alright guys. I don’t really know how to put this lightly so I’m just going to say it….We’re completely fucked.”
Celestia sat in her throne room, tall and proud. She was as regal and beautiful as the sunrise itself, smiling softly and patiently. On the inside, however, she felt like she could scream in frustration. Listening to some bureaucrat drone on about the defects in the Equestrian tax laws was about as entertaining as it sounds. Luckily, several millennia of experience had worked wonders for her ability to appear interested. She quietly amused herself by considering trying her hoof at professional poker, and for a moment her smile was genuine. It was quickly replaced by its false counterpart as Celestia remembered where she was. She wasn’t really paying attention anymore. This was more Luna’s department; her sister was the one who had written most of the tax codes anyway. And they had worked splendidly for the past thousand years. Why then did this bureaucratic know-it-all seem to think it needed fixing? She took a deep breath trying to suppress the urge to send him to the moon.
It wasn’t his fault she was in a bad mood. This had been a stressful week. It wasn’t every day you get a surprise visitor from another planet, let alone one hell-bent on dying in your hooves. She had exhausted herself fretting over that silly thing. She and Luna rarely stopped working at it, trying every viable spell and medical procedure known to ponydom. Each try was a gamble, sometimes they helped, other times they almost killed it. The medical procedures were nearly hopeless given they were created with ponies in mind, not aliens. It was utterly grueling. No matter how hard they tried, no matter how strong their spells, the beast refused to wake. Even the combined powers of the sun, the moon, AND the Elements of Harmony had been effectively useless. She was out of ideas. She had never really felt helpless before, and she didn’t like it at all.
A short painful buzzing began to sound inside her head. It surprised her for a moment before she remembered what it meant. She had cast a spell designed to alert her of any significant change in the alien’s vital signs, and she was rather proud of it. The magic was a fairly ingenious, but hearing it now brought her no joy. In fact, she hoped it was mistaken. She had dismissed most of her medical staff and a good number of her guards. After a week of virtually no brain activity the odds against the creature waking were astronomic. A poor nurse was down there with it alone, and one of two things was happening; it was dying, or it was awake. Celestia quickly stood up in the middle of the boring lecture and trotted down her throne doing her best not to look like she was in a hurry. She seemed to catch the rambling colt off guard and he quickly scrambled to bow.
“I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Gray, but I just realized I may have left my sewing machine on fire.” She darted for the nearest exit, leaving an extremely befuddled pony behind her. The moment she was clear of unwanted eyes she teleported up to her chambers and found a scroll and parchment, she jotted a quick note to Luna before setting the scroll ablaze. It dissipated into a thin cloud of smoke. It would appear in front of Luna in seconds, but Celestia did not have the time to wait for a reply. She teleported herself down to the hospital room, which housed the alien. She inspected the room. The life support machines were wrecked and strewn about the floor. The bed was empty. Celestia’s sudden arrival scared the hay out of two guards who were attending to a slowly recovering nurse pony.
“Are you alright?” Celestia asked the nurse. She nodded, and held her head between her hooves. She was clearly suffering a massive headache but she seemed to be otherwise unharmed.
“What happened? Where is it?!” She demanded of the guards. They cowered a little under her gaze, but they both pointed a hoof down the hallway. “It got away?!?!” she sounded a little angrier than she had intended.
“We came running as soon as we heard the alarms going off ma’am. When we got close, it was already up. We tried to catch it. But it took off down the hallway, chasing after a purple unicorn filly.” Celestia’s heart froze.
“Twilight.” She breathed. Terror rose in the pits of her stomach. It was after Twilight Sparkle. Her most faithful student was in danger, and worse, it was Celestia’s fault she was even there. Flashes of horrible scenarios flooded Celestia’s imagination. She raced out of the room and down the hall following the echo of raised voices. She sped along using powerful strokes of her wings to boost her pace. Celestia heard the scream of a small, terrified filly. She instantly recognized it as Twilight’s voice, followed by three explosive cracks, which echoed and bounced off the walls. Celestia’s heart stopped. Her stomach wrenched itself in knots. Her eyes threatened to fill with tears as she feared for the worst. She launched her entire being faster than physically possible, her mind rebelling at the thought of Twilight coming to harm. She rounded a corner and saw a mess of guard ponies, some scrambling to their feet. Twilight stood looking out a broken window at the end of the hallway. Celestia filled with warm relief. Twilight was alive and well, yet the alien was nowhere in sight.
As soon as the sun goddess began to approach, the purple filly’s horn glowed a bright white, and Twilight teleported away. Celestia leapt over a few guards to where Twilight had been standing, as if to try and catch her before she disappeared. She looked out the broken pane of glass and saw her pupil following a large flow of guards, which lead around the corner of the castle. Celestia opened her wings and soared out into the open air. She glided around the corner and spotted a purple dot among the golden armor. The sea of soldier ponies formed a semi circle against the castle wall. Trapped inside, the awake beast stood defiantly, weapon in hand. It then paced back and forth like a trapped wolf. Celestia teleported herself down next to Twilight.
She observed the creature up close, and the alien returned the favor. Celestia didn’t move for fear of further spooking it. He began to scan the ocean of guards that blocked him in on all sides. He stood to his full height, almost as tall as Celestia, perhaps still a hand or so from being eye level. His breathing became more regular, and it appeared he was finally calming down. He looked up at Celestia’s sun as though he had forgotten where he was. He scanned the skies, as if he were any ordinary pony enjoying the lovely day. He lowered his gaze and locked eyes with Celestia, clearly recognizing her as the authority of the group. His formerly peaceful visage dissipated and his face became defiant, expressionless mask. He didn’t even blink. His gaze was narrow and flinty. He flicked his stare over to the purple mare at Celestia’s side. His eyes softened and betrayed sadness, but the moment did not last.
The creature sucked in a large breath, as if he were about to plunge himself into cold water, and shut his eyes. Celestia saw the black steel weapon in his hand rise towards his own head. The creature pressed the barrel of the weapon under its chin, and its intentions immediately became clear. Twilight yelled out a desperate cry, and Celestia swept a protective wing over her protégé. She saw the creature’s eyelids shut tight as it began to squeeze the trigger. Her own eyes widened as she beheld the weapon glow with an aura of purple blue haze which shimmered like the night sky itself. It jerked out from under the alien’s head the moment it fired. The bullet still tore through the alien’s cheek, leaving a bloody furrow in its wake. Celestia could hardly believe her eyes, as Luna forced her way through the guards, horn glowing and eyes black with anger.
The cloud of deep blue magic engulfed the alien, telekinetically forcing him to the ground with brutal power. Celestia felt tears wet her coat where Twilight clung to her mentor like a foal would its mother when it was frightened. Celestia raised her wing and allowed Twilight to view the scene for herself. Instead the frightened mare continued to bury her face into Celestia’s coat. Celestia returned her gaze to the scene playing out in front of her. The beast squirmed on the ground, fighting Luna’s magic with every ounce of his strength. Luna broke through the line of guards and furiously stormed into the small clearing.
“NO! You are NOT done here yet!” she commanded with condescending venom. “Do you have any idea how much work I have put into you?!” Celestia felt a twinge of pity for the confused creature. Luna rarely lost her temper, but when she did, it was best not be in her path. The beast was forcing itself against Luna’s spell with defiance that, even Celestia had to admit, was impressive ... foolish…but impressive. He managed to push himself to his knees. Luna’s horn glowed even darker as he was crushed back into a prone position. The alien grunted painfully, clearly tiring from fighting Luna’s spell. It eventually ceased pushing and fell to the ground defeated and breathing heavily. “There, now, was that so hard?” Luna brightened a bit. As if to merely irritate his captor, the alien began to, once again, resist Luna’s spell, which she had no trouble holding. Luna’s expression betrayed her severe annoyance. “You REALLY don’t know when to quit do you? Very well, have it your way.” Luna’s horn flashed and the alien’s eyes rolled back into its head as it collapsed to the ground, unconscious.
Twilight had returned her attention to the scene after hearing Luna’s voice. She and most of the guards stood back, jaws agape. Luna telekinetically lifted the alien off the ground and trotted back into the castle with the beast in tow as if he were nothing more than a puppy that had escaped its master’s supervision. The guards looked at each other with a “what the hay just happened” expression on their faces. About half scurried after Princess Luna while the other half looked to Celestia for guidance. She quickly composed herself and ordered most of them back to their posts. She knew she would eventually have to explain what exactly they had cornered, but that could wait for a little bit longer. This was only the beginning of a political nightmare, the likes of which Equestria had never seen. Now that the excitement had died down a bit she could only dread what she saw in her future.
A bright Rainbow blur landed with a thud in front of Twilight and Celestia. Dash bolted over to a still dumbfounded Twilight and began firing off questions at the dazed mare.
“Twilight, are you ok?! What happened? What’s with all the guards? Did IT get out?!?! Did you catch it? Did it eat somepony? Are you gonna…”
“Rainbow Dash.” Celestia cut the rambling pony off. “Why don’t you take Twilight, gather the others and I’ll meet you all in the lounge shortly.” Celestia spoke calmly, but the tone of her voice indicated that it was not a request. Rainbow looked from Celestia to Twilight, who still appeared a bit dazed. Dash noticed how distraught her friend seemed and she nodded.
“Yeeeaah… C’mon Twilight, let’s go get the girls.” Dash was clearly doing her best to comfort her. She draped a pale blue wing over the mare and walked her back toward the castle. Celestia now stood alone with the few remaining guards. She ordered them to follow her, and she too headed back inside the castle.
“Yeah, I think most of us have already riddled that out.” said a rather small man with a receding hairline. “What I want to know is HOW we got lost.” The bald man answered him.
“From what we can tell, something went wrong with the bridge drives halfway through slip. The gate opened and we got through no problem, but then we started picking up these massive spikes in energy. Before we could even think we had already lost half our electrical systems. Without the governors the bridge drives started outputting more power than we though even possible. Luckily the fail safes did their jobs, and shut all the power to the engine room. Unfortunately, that meant shutting down; boosters, scrubbers, and stabilizers. We dropped out of slip, now we’re here. I suppose we should be happy to be alive.” There was a tense silence as the men processed the situation. Shane finally spoke up.
“…You know I gotta be honest, I totally saw this coming.” A few men let out a bit of desperate laughter. The off the wall statement lightened the mood despite the macabre circumstance. “I mean come on.” He continued with a twisted grin. “The first manned voyage into a wormhole…who expected it to go off without a hitch? I’ve seen the movies, this shit happens every time.”
“Can anyone explain to me, why the most advanced vessel on or off Earth, on one of the most important voyages in human history, gets outfitted with governors that fail mid slip. Who the hell's brilliant idea was it to stick us with cheap guidance systems?”
“…the Department of Defense.”
“…welcome to the suck.” The men shared a tacit agreement. An older man with patchy gray-brown hair had remained quiet through the whole discussion. He moved in front of a large yellow monitor that flickered with occasional static, and he began pressing keys. He continued typing while the rest of the crew discussed the possibilities of repairing the ship for an attempt trip home.
“We can’t get home if we don’t now which direction home is.” One man pointed out.
“It doesn’t matter what direction home is. All our navigational systems are fried, the ship is barely holding together as it is, and I wouldn’t trust the bridge drives as far as I could throw them.” They continued to bicker for several minutes. Then the older gray haired man turned around and announced in a rather disappointed voice, “…I know where we are.”
Every man in the room ceased speaking. The bald man, who was in charge of the group, responded.
“Well, Thomas, feel free to share with the class.”
“Look,” Thomas began to once more type on the monitor. He brought up several galaxy maps. All of which had “NO MATCH” stamped across the front, except for one, which he pointed to. “I took a scan of our current position. I cross referenced it with every known galaxy and solar system we have mapped. Not one single match.”
“Get to the point, Tom.” Thomas shot him a disapproving stare, before continuing.
“We dropped out of slip space into the wrong universe” he plainly stated.
“That is some science fiction bullshit” a young man in fatigues declared angrily.
“How many universes are there, 'cause last time I checked we only had the one.”
“Possibly infinitely many, maybe just these two. I don’t know.” Thomas continued, unfazed by the comments. “What I do know is that we are no longer in our own universe. It’s the only explanation I can think of that makes any sense.”
“The hell you talkin’ about? That don’t make any sense at all! How can ya just leave the universe?” demanded Luke.
“Whenever we open a worm hole we create a field that is powerful enough to fold space-time over onto itself. The idea behind those bridge drives down there,” he pointed a finger at the floor in the direction of the engine room, “…is to jump from one point in space time to another…it’s like… let’s say there are two dots on a piece of paper and you need to get from one to the other. Rather than drawing a straight line, you fold the paper and touch the two together instantly. That’s the theory behind an E.R. bridge. Now if we take that theory and apply to a multiverse premise of reality then you would have to add several layers of paper on top of 'our' piece, to represent 'other' realities. Now when you went to fold the two dots together, you would first have to go through several other “universes” before you got through to our own. My guess is that we either overshot or undershot the mark.”
The explanation left most of the men more confused than when he had started. Most of these guys were soldiers or technicians, not astrophysicists. “Which leads me to my next point.” Thomas continued. “We need to leave as soon as possible.”
“No shit. We all wanna get home.”
“You don’t understand. We shouldn’t be in this universe. We need to get back to our own universe, before we royally screw up both.” A panicked desperation colored his voice.
“What are you talking about?”
“Look, we don’t belong in this reality. As far as our current understanding of physics goes, what were doing right now is impossible. Conservation of matter just flew out the window! God knows how many other “laws” we’ve broken!”
“Wait, how does our bein’ here endanger the universe exactly?” Luke asked. Thomas threw his hands up in the air, struggling to find the right words. He finally continued.
“What happens when you fill a balloon too full with air? It pops.”
“…universes can pop?”
“I don’t know, but to be perfectly honest I don’t want to find out. You guys have to understand that we’re in completely uncharted territory here. Once we go past that singularity, the rules all fly out the window. Our 'rules' our, 'laws' could be completely meaningless here. It would certainly explain the bizarre readings were receiving. I don’t know what could happen. Maybe our being here won’t change anything. But there is no precedent to draw from here.”
“But we’re already here. So that means we already know this universe is safe to occupy” Shane speculated.
“Not necessarily. If you were to wander out onto a frozen lake and manage to NOT fall through the ice, do you think 'Oh I’m already here, therefore I am free to act as I wish,’ and start jumping up and down? No. We need to make as few waves as possible or we may accidentally erase time or rip apart space.” The men stood quiet for a moment, realizing the gravity of the situation. A muscular man wearing a blue jumpsuit pushed himself over to the yellow screen and began staring at it. He looked as if he were trying to decipher a forgotten language. He pressed a button and a live feed began to play of the blue planet below. He rewound the feed to when they first arrived. He then played it forward again. He stared at the video for several minutes. He finally spoke, his attention never leaving the monitor.
“What is it, Allan?” Answered the bald man.
“You might want to look at this.” The Colonel pushed himself over to the monitor and positioned himself next to Allen.
“Watch this.” Allen said, as he started a poor quality video of the world they were orbiting. The blue planet was marbled with green and the occasional wisps of white cloud. They sat and watched the video for a bit.
“What are you showing me Allen?”
“Watch.” He said as he rewound a few seconds and pointed to the sun, which was slowly receding behind the edge of the planet.
“…Yes, we call it the sun,” said the Colonel, unimpressed.
“You don’t see it?” Allen asked, slightly surprised.
“I see an extremely uneventful video.”
“Look,” he played the footage on a loop. “What is the Earth not doing?” The Colonel stared for a moment before his eyes narrowed as comprehension struck him.
“What the hell? ...It’s, not...” he mimed a turning motion with his hand, “spinning.” The Colonel finished.
“Exactly” Allen said, excitedly. The Colonel examined the stars that dotted the inky backdrop of space. He motioned a finger using the stars as a reference.
“The planet hasn’t moved at all…but the sun is still…setting.” The Colonel slowly struggled to grasp the logically impossible implications. “…which means,” He paused, and Allen finished the thought for him.
“…which means the sun is revolving, around the planet.” An uproar of arguing and shouting erupted among the men. Half darted to an unoccupied terminal and screens to witness the impossibility for themselves, the other half all struggled to make their opinions heard in an unholy shouting contest.
John made his way to the main console in the cockpit. He lowered himself into the pilot’s seat and, out of habit, attached the harnesses which secured him in place. He began typing at the console. He stopped when Shane lowered himself into the co-pilot’s chair. John turned to his friend.
“Do you think Thomas is right? Do you really think we dropped out into another reality?” Shane reached back and scratched the back of his regulation crew cut head. He then took a deep breath.
“It all makes sense. So far it’s the only explanation I’ve heard that does. I never did much research on singularities, but it does fit the description; it even explains the screwed up planetary orbits. It's just…” He seemed to struggle to find his words, “Inter-dimensional travel was only theoretical up until now. After the first few drones went through the bridge and came out fine on the other side, we kind of dismissed the theory of alternate realities. If he is right…” He shook his head, “I don’t know man, everything we thought we knew about the universe just got flipped upside down.” John nodded, confirming some inner thought, and continued typing at the monitor. He dialed up a large digital readout of the world they orbited.
“So that makes this an “alternate” Earth, right?” he asked, pointing at the digital imitation of the blue orb.
“So, do you think there could be intelligent life down there?”
“Honestly? I kind of doubt there’s anything more evolved than grass, and that’s pushing it.”
“Shane the optimist,” John teased.
“Shane the realist,” Shane retorted. “Think of all the happy coincidences that went down when our universe was formed. All these dangerously lucky sporadic events made life possible: To start, you need a planet with water, and that eliminates like ninety nine point nine nine nine nine percent of all the planets in the universe. After that you need a star that’s the perfect distance from the planet. Too far and it freezes, to close and it fries. Next you need a habitable atmosphere. After that you need there to be some trace of life; an amoeba, a bacteria, some primordial ooze, whatever. You need that life to evolve and survive for billions of years, until it grows into something intelligent. You need this huge list of requirements, each requirement having a “one in a trillion” chance of occurring. The more you think about it the more you realize how incredibly accidental life is.”
John continued to fiddle with the screen in front of him. He stared at the digital copy of the little planet. He dangled a finger over a key and turned to Shane, a devious grin on his face.
“Fifty bucks says I find life.” Shane perked up at the challenge. He stared down the pilot and smiled himself.
“Hundred says you don’t!” he retorted confidently.
The finger dropped and the word “scanning…” popped up on screen below the blue image. John pumped a fist in front of the monitor and chanted,
“Life, life, life, life!!!” Shane immediately mimicked the gesture with his own jeer.
“Death, death, death, death!!!” The two men continued their childish cheering contest until the computer finished its scan. Words died as they beheld the results, and stared slack jawed at the monitor. “…that’s impossible.” Shane breathed, not even bothering to conceal his shock. John felt as though he had been punched in the gut. He hadn’t expected to see any life at all. The computer continued to flash results on screen. The bet was completely forgotten. John twisted in his seat and saw the crew still arguing and darting around the bridge.
“DOC! Get over here! Colonel, you’re going to want to see this too, sir.” Thomas pushed off a wall and floated across the bridge up to the cockpit. The Colonel followed shortly after shoving his way through the mass of arguing scientists.
“What’s wrong?” Thomas asked. Both John and Shane pointed at the screen. The two new arrivals scrutinized the results of the scan. Thomas’ mouth opened slightly, as if he were attempting to form words. The Colonel’s eyes widened.
“Jesus…” He said under his breath. The screen continued to flash the results. The slowly growing dark side of the planet was pockmarked with dots of light. In several places the lights were concentrated in a thick bunch. “Thermal.” The Colonel ordered, and after a few key clicks the digital planet shifted from blue and green to ghostly black and white. The formerly blue parts had become a stark white. The land had faded from green to a dull grey. And the spots of lights had transformed into hot black dots. “Are those…” The Colonel trailed off.
“…Cities.” The three other men said in unison. Shane continued,
“Sir, this planet is hot.” The Colonel gave no indication of having heard.
“We even picked up signs of a basic power grid,” John added. A few of the crew members had made their way over to investigate. Allen inspected the screen.
“Yes.” The Colonel cut him off.
“So there are…”
“Yup.” This time Shane answered. One of the fatigue clad men pushed his way up to the monitor.
“There are people here?!” His voice hopeful and excited, “What the hell are we waiting for? Get them on comms. Tell them we need help!”
“Comms are down.” Aaron deadpanned from behind the group somewhere.
“NO!” Thomas barked, “...we are not interfering here!”
“Fuck that! We should try and land, maybe they can help,” he argued.
“I don’t think you get it, son.” Thomas turned on the young man, with an uncharacteristic amount of bite in his voice. “If we so much as wave at those beings, we could alter their flow of events in ways you can’t even imagine! You don’t seem to appreciate the ENORMITY the tiniest event can have on the timeline of a universe; a universe that we were never supposed to visit in the first place! I, for one, WILL NOT have the devastation of an entire world on my conscience!” He slashed his hands through the air to illustrate his point. The young man shrank at the outburst.
“Uh...Colonel?” Shane spoke up tentatively.
“What?” The Colonel said while massaging his temples.
“All universe ending paradoxes aside, I think we should try and look at this from another perspective.”
“What are you talking about, Major?” He said with annoyance.
“Well, what if we were back home and an unidentified ship came screaming out of slip space, heading for Earth, registering weapons, and not responding to any hail or comms? What do you think our first reaction would be?” The Colonel stopped rubbing his head and looked up, realizing Shane's point. Shane pointed again at the monitor. “If they’re half as advanced as I think they are, they’re going to pick up on us, IF they haven’t already. I’d say were about one panicked button push away from swallowing a Titan missile.” This line of reasoning seemed to have a much greater impact on the crew, who had yet to really consider the planet’s perspective. “…and if we are going to try and get home, we need to try it now, because without those stabilizers, orbit decay is going to start becoming a problem in…” He looked down at his watch. He tapped the digital screen on his wrist a few times, before realizing it had stopped working. “…soon.” He finished. That seemed to be all the motivation the Colonel needed. He rose and barked into the crowd of men.
“Get this ship back online. We’re leaving!”
“…aye sir.” He said, clearly struggling to suppress his urge to argue.
“Everyone! …get your shit squared and get ready for a jump.”
“Sir?” John spoke up, “…if I may inquire as to where we're jumping?”
“The exact opposite of our original coordinates.” He answered plainly.
“I’m not sure if that’s how this works, Colonel,” John tried to argue.
“Does anyone have a better idea?” The commanding officer challenged. No one spoke up. “Good, now get the ship running, I want this fucked up universe in my rear view in less than ten mikes!”
The crew scurried about the ship, stumbling over one another in their haste. Each man was busy manning consoles, or repairing fired circuitry. Despite the Colonel's persistant demands for a miraculous revival, the crew completed the job in roughly thirty minutes. The engines still sparked irregularly, but they seemed capable of sustained exercise without much difficulty.
The ship was poised and ready for the E.R. bridge attempt. Each soldier manned his station. The tension was thick enough to cut with a knife. The instant the Colonel gave the order John slammed a lever forward, the engines hummed, and the air filled with a palpable charge. The ship lurched forward. Had there been any windows, the men might have beheld a bridge opening in front of them. It was technically invisible, but the way it bent the rays of light around itself created an irresolute black sphere. They might have noticed its violent pulsations. It strobed into and out of existence, throbbing and wavering between imploding and exploding. The men realized something was amiss after the ship began shaking aggressively. Screens cut to black, lights flickered, and the air became noticeably hotter.
“What’s going on?!?! Someone talk to me!!” The Colonel demanded from his fastened position on the bridge.
“Bridge drives are overheating!” One man shouted from his seat.
“CUT THE POWER!”
“We tried that already, it’s not responding!”
An explosion rocked the ship. It would have knocked them all to their knees had they not been buckled down. Red lights flashed inside the craft and an ear splitting alarm blared.
“THE FUCK WAS THAT?!” the Colonel demanded.
“The engines are gone! Fire on deck two!! Sir we just lost…everything...” a crewman replied. He quit his panicked work at the controls and threw his arms up in defeat. “The planet is dragging us down, sir. We’re going to hit the upper atmosphere in about sixty seconds.”
The men feverishly worked to try and restore power to the engines. The Colonel disconnected from the chaos. His face grew grave. It didn’t matter now, they couldn’t pull out of this. Soon the ship began to vibrate as it contacted the planet’s atmosphere. The craft punched its way through the upper layers of ozone and tore through the night air, straight toward the surface. Most of the men had stopped their work. They knew the score. It was over. This is how their story ended.
The Colonel took a small photograph out of his breast pocket and ran a finger over it. It was a little boy, no more than a year old. He was sitting on the grass with a large red toy truck. He was smiling at the camera, blissfully unaware.
“FIFTEEN THOUSAND FEET!” The man at the console yelled above the cacophony. The craft rocked as it hit a denser pocket of air. It screamed toward the ground.
John held a fist out to his friend in the seat behind him. Shane connected his own fist.
“See you on the other side, kid.” Shane said sadly.
“FIVE THOUSAND!” The Colonel raised his head.
“It’s been an honor gentlemen.”
The ship slammed into the ground. Its metal exoskeleton took the brunt of the impact, sending ripples through twisted metal. Dirt, fire, and smoke erupted in an enormous cloud of spray. Warped chunks of flaming shrapnel flew in all directions. The ship plowed through a small burg and continued to skid along the ground, gouging the earth and snapping trees like twigs. It carved a deep furrow in the soft soil, uprooting plants and crushing rocks. The ship began to drift sideways, finally lurching over onto itself, flipping on its back before continuing the roll into its belly. It ground to a halt. Its formerly grand appearance was now shattered and dejected. The pinnacle of human technology lay lifeless, twisted and hacked, in a fiery heap. Smoke billowed from the pile into the dark sky, toward the stars it once called home.
From her perch, the Princess of the night observed. She saw the machine fall, blazing, from the heavens. She spread her midnight blue wings, and took to the sky, veering toward the pillar of smoke and fire.