Cran Palto | Books | Raheem
The Research Ship and the Anomaly

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Chapter 1
The Research Ship and the Anomaly

There are two universes: one out there, one within. Both are vast and unknowable.

—Admiral Ferbus Aerni, guest lecturer at the Imperial Academy on Ashan-9

Star clusters transited alongside the research vessel’s translucent, oblong hull. From the outside, no surface remained opaque, but shimmered between states, one instant solid, the next invisible against the darkness.

Yuunaa, the pilot, was seated at the very tip of the ship, in a flight control room no larger than the cockpit of a SF-92 interceptor.

Further back, Agra was re-running the calibration program on the Shallow Plasma Metrigraph Sensor. She wore the pale blue synthread uniform of the science-info academy. Her lead professor at CALO had always insisted on impeccable presentation for the science-info staff, and Agra carried the tradition proudly. She wore her coarse, straight hair in a severe bob, perfectly tinted in the dark aqua-red purple that had once been in fashion and complimented the basalt tone of her skin. She kept her thin lips in pure black permagloss and penned milk-white eyeliner around her brown eyes.

Terga, her assistant, was identical in nearly every way, except broader in the shoulder and with a weave in her hair that glimmered under glow lights.

Trion and Vaega had just walked by carrying a small crate. Trion was a ShipSystems engineer and Vaega was the ship’s life support botanist.

The rest of the crew was at rest in their stasis cubbies, in that vibration-induced meditative state characteristic of long space travel.

Agra turned to Terga. “Ready?”

“All checks are complete. Telemetry is nominal,” Terga said.

Arga tapped the Com. “Commander Yuunaa, the test equipment is ready.”

From flight control, Yuunaa replied. “I am engaging navguide now. We will be at the anomaly in seventeen seconds.”

Agra tapped the Com again. “Thank you. Starting data capture now.”

She shifted her hand to the right and tapped a sequence on the console. Code being executed scrolled in colorful blinking lines. They heard the clicks and low buzzing of the SPMS opening its metal filament petals.

Above the console, a wide-angled osmoled display showed in crisp detail the various boundaries between the shallow plasma signatures picked up by the sensor, in perfectly uniform concentric circles around the ship, extending unimpeded up to the range of the sensor.

At the seventeenth second, right on the dacadan slip, the ship lurched nearly imperceptibly. The display on the osmoled screen blurred, then reformed, crisp as before.

Terga pointed up at the top of the screen. “What’s that?”

Her finger followed a deformation at the very edge of the upper circle. It was an indentation, at first shallow, growing increasingly sharp, then as a needle it reached all the way to the ship in a split second and the ship shuddered, its waveform integrity sensors blaring loudly.

Agra gripped the edge of the testing bench. “Do we have the data?”

Terga glanced down at the console, then back to Agra. Her eyes worried and her voice unsteady. “Data is flowing in.”

At the top of the osmoled, another needle appeared, much wider, darker against the ambient background. It seemed to hesitate, seeking a direction.

“Yuunaa, evade!” Agra shouted into the Com.

The ship shivered with the familiar lurch of the dacadan slip, then Yuunaa’s voice permeated the air. “Evasive action complete. We are in SafeSpace.”

Agra looked at Terga and tried to be reassuring. “I am glad that’s over.”

Terga did not look away from the osmoled display. “There’s something wrong with the display. Look.” Her finger traced a vertical black band, so narrow it could easily be missed. “These should have data, but there is nothing.”

Agra followed the long narrow band. It was there, yes. Terga was very sharp. “What do you think it is?”

Terga was already thinking ahead. “It’s one of two things: either the osmoled is ghosting, or the sensor is damaged.” She flipped the osmoled off, then on again. The image reformed instantly, normally, but the band was still there.

“The sensor is damaged,” Terga said.

Agra went to the next logical step. “The sensor is within the hull. How could it have been damaged?” She knew the answer before Terga spoke.

Terga tapped Com. “Yuunaa, status on hull integrity, please.”

Trion and Vaega had returned, worried about the alarm. Trion was still holding the crate in one hand. His ruddy complexion paler now.

Terga tapped Com again. “Yuunaa, status?”

The question in her voice hung in the air between them.

Without waiting for an answer, she headed down the narrow hallway to the flight control room.

Agra stood still for a moment, then turned to Trion and Vaega. “Escape pods, just in case.”

Trion and Vaega had trained for this in simulation, but this was much too real.

“Is it bad?” Trion asked.

Agra ripped the data recorder box from its cradle under the desk. She looked up at Trion again, her right hand clutching the small metallic case. “I don’t know. Go!”

The Com array blinked. It was Terga’s voice, holding back panic. “Commander Yuunaa is down. Flight control is offline. Hull integrity and life support are critical and falling. Engaging Emergency Jumper now.”

Agra’s training kicked in. She grabbed Vaega and Trion’s arms just above the elbow and shoved them in the downward hallway to the escape pods. There, Vaega went in unit one, the microhull sealing with a hiss. Agra saw Trion strap in and close the hatch on himself. She got into unit three and strapped herself down, but waited a moment, hoping to see Terga running to them.

Alarms blared. The ship lurched again, artificial gravity instantly gone. Everything that wasn’t attached bounced around violently. Agra knew she could die now and pulled the red lever. The microhull hatch sealed with a hiss, hiding the rest of the ship from her.

A soothing, automated voice emanated gently from speakers behind her head. “Emergency jump to Raheem’s planetary orbit in progress. You may experience some turbulence during the transfer. Please remain calm. The automated personnel emergency system has the highest safety rating in the entire fleet. Please try to sleep.”

Next chapter: Crash-Landed

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