October Flurry: Cat Like Tread Part Four

Well, we’re not even a week into October, and I’ve already blown my writing goals.  Sigh. Weekends are just too busy for me to do blog posts. Double sigh.  I am so disappointed to say it, but I’m going to have to cut my plans down from seven days a week to only five.  I know, I know. But it’s just the way life happens sometimes.

BUT!  Today isn’t the weekend. It’s the beginning of a new week, and I owe you fiction!  When last we left Helen and the crew of the Fortuna, they were off the beacon, flying blind through hyperspace, being chased by three Imperial Alliance cruisers. They had just found an unattended hyperspace gate, and were preparing to go through and see what waited beyond.  Shall we go see what they saw?


Cat Like Tread
Part Four

Casey showed no interest in giving up the co-pilot’s seat, so Helen retreated to the back of the tiny bridge. She folded a small metal jump seat out of the bulkhead, and sat down there, strapping herself in. Ordinary gate passages seldom required safety harnessing, but this was hardly an ordinary situation; better safe than sorry.

The gate loomed, enormous and dull grey, dimly lit in the perpetual red-tinged twilight of hyperspace.  As soon as the Fortuna’s nose passed beyond the boundary, there was an explosion of light and color as the gate activated. Helen watched out the front viewport, both fascinated and slightly nauseated by the passage of light and energy that formed in front of them.  It was like they were falling, at frightening speed, down a well, with a black window of normal space at the bottom of it.  There was no real sensation of the deceleration from hyperspace speeds to sub-light speeds of normal space; that was thanks to a combination of the gate’s advanced technology and various inertial dampening systems on the ship itself.  The only effect Helen could feel was a sickening pulling deep in her gut, painful, threatening to make her vomit. But the feeling passed quickly.

As quickly as it started, it was over.  The ship was back in normal space, the hyperspace gate behind them.  Helen unstrapped herself from the jump seat, and came to stand behind her brother Mac.  She looked over his shoulder at his console.

“Well?”

“Well, what?” said Mac.  He was busily toggling various panels on his console, converting the ship’s systems from hyperspace settings back to normal space settings.

“Well, I don’t see anything,” said Helen.  She looked up at the viewport.  But there as nothing to see:  just a normal space field, stars hanging in the black. To the left was a slightly brighter glow, but beyond that, it didn’t look like anything.  “Did the gate just dump us out in the middle of nowhere?”

That’s when Casey chimed in, from his seat at the co-pilot’s station.  “We’re not in the middle of nowhere,” he said.  “We’re in the middle of somewhere. We just don’t know where somewhere is.”

“Thanks a lot, Casey,” said Helen dryly.  “Mac, can you do any better?”

Mac touched a contol on his console, and a display lit up. Now the little white dots in the spacefield had little names and designations displayed next to them, naming them.  “We’re in the Khovansky system, according to the maps,” he said, reading from the display.  “Claimed by the Alberada Mining Company, ummm, forty five years ago. Three gas giants, one terrestrial.  No life-supporting planets,but Alberada Mining has built three space stations in the system, to mine the asteroid belt and one of the gas giants.”

“I don’t see anything,” said Helen.

“Why would you?  We’re 1.4 billion kilometers from the system center. I can’t even bring up a magnified view yet, not until we get to the other gate, which is about 5 million kilometers out.  Ooh, that’s interesting, a B class star and a white dwarf star form a binary system.”

“What’s interesting about that?”

“It just doesn’t happen that often,” said Mac.  “A white dwarf is what’s left after a star dies. Sort of.  It’s complicated.”

“I thought stars went boom when they died,” said Casey. “Nothing left.”

“Sometimes yes, sometimes no,” said Mac.  “This one didn’t.  It kinda collapsed in on itself instead.”  He sighed. “Look, like I said, it’s complicated, and we don’t have time for an astronomy lesson right now.  I don’t know if our Alliance friends followed us to the gate, and if they did, I want to be as far out of reach as we can get when they show their ugly faces again.”

“Can we get lost in the traffic at the mining stations?” said Helen.

“Umm, no, I don’t think so,” said Casey.

“Why not?”

“Because there is no traffic,” said Casey.

“What?” said Mac.

“That’s crazy,” said Helen.

“Possibly, but it’s also true,” said Casey.  He pointed at his console.  “I’m showing three space stations on my readings, and maybe forty mining ships.  But no freighters, no security, no processing relay ships, no transports in or out.  I’m also showing no activity at either hyperspace gate.”  Casey looked up at Helen.  “It’s a ghost town, Sheriff,” he said, drawling his words out dramatically.

Casey was right, thought Helen.  No ships was spooky.  “What about people?  The ships are gone, did the people go with them?” said Helen.

Casey shrugged. “Can’t tell from here.  We need to get closer,” he said.

“Mac, why don’t we get a little closer, then?”

“You got it, Helen.”  Mac bent over the console, but looked up again when the comm sounded off its piercing two-tone signal.  Helen activated it before he could.

“Bridge here.”

“Andi here,” was the answer.  “Are you reading anything strange up there on the bridge?”

“All kinds of strange things up here,” said Helen, glancing over at Casey.  “Why?”

“I’m getting an alert through the medical computer network,” said Andi.  “Something about this system being quarantined.  Do you know anything about that?”

Helen frowned. “Quarantined?  What for?  Wait!  Never mind.  I’m on my way down. Give me five minutes.”


 

And that’s it from Helen and Company for this week.  Tune in next week to see what happens next!

I would like to give a shout out to David Ault of Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, Manchester University, and Brian Mackenwells, Balliol College, University of Oxford, for helping a hillbilly word-wrangler with the science-y bits of this story.  Anything I got right, all credit goes to those two gentlemen; any mistakes are all on me. Thanks, guys!

Okay, that looks like it’s about all for me today.  Tomorrow, we’re going to be talking about one of the most famous urban legends of all time: Sweeney Todd.  Until then, don’t forget to comment, share, tweet, and email if you have any suggestions for Fun Friday.  I’ll see you tomorrow!

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Categories: October Flurry, Pulp, Science Fiction, short fiction | Leave a comment

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