The First Slide

Contributed to the Stellar Winds project

Captain Anderson stood calmly on the bridge of the Megellan, a Stellar Explorer class vessel, and observed as his crew responded with military precision to the unexpected discovery currently visible on the holodisplay. The Magellan, the 4th of its class to slip spacedock since 8016, had been charting new systems for over 16 years. As its third captain, Anderson was keenly aware of the risk involved with the mission of stellar exploration. Most of what the crew encountered had never before been seen up close. And this newest discovery, while quite spectacular, was no exception.

It resembled one of the gravity diagrams from Einstein that officers were made to study in Basic Stellar Physics. However, this one was real and in color. A shimmering silvery sheen around the edges of what appeared to be a hole right in the fabric of space disappeared into the hole, giving the impression of a tunnel. Tendrils of color, pink and yellow and orange, played about the rim, giving the whole scene an eerie feel.

Turning to his XO, Commander Rain, who was hovering over the crewman at the science station, Anderson asked, “Is that what I think it is?”

“Think so, Cap. Although the readings are different than expected for a wormhole. Can’t find a gravity signature here.”

“That is odd. There should be a gravity reading. Extend the range of the sensors.”

The crewman adjusted his controls for a moment, pointed at the screen, and said, “Same result, sir. Nothing.”

The Captain turned back to the holo and stared quietly, considering the situation. The ship was at full stop, forty thousand kilometers from the perceived edge of the wormhole. With no gravity signature, there was no way to tell how or where the ship would react to the wormhole. Approach was risky, but that was the name of the game out here.

Raising his head to the quietly waiting crew, the Captain grinned as he calmly ordered, “Take us in slowly to thirty thousand kilometers. Record all sensor data. Helmsman, if you notice anything amiss, feel free to reverse thrust. Keep your eyes open, people.”

With a growl from the JT-4100 sublight drive, the massive vessel began inching its way toward the wormhole. A slow approach over ten thousand kilometers was a long maneuver, requiring over 3 hours. The crew watched and waited in suspenseful silence. The only sounds on the bridge were the faintly audible beeps and clicks from monitors and control boards. The wormhole colors continuously shifted and crawled in the holodisplay. Only when the ship was again at full stop did the crew relax and resume their normal breathing.

His grin broadening as he looked around the bridge, the Captain asked, “Now that was fun, wasn’t it?”

The crew responded with smiles and grins. They were used to the Captain’s approach to the dangers of their job. He had proven himself a quick and creative thinker, and they trusted him.

After several long moments assessing the situation, the Captain made his decision. “Let’s try another ten thousand.”

Once again the big ship crawled its way toward the wormhole, inch by inch closing the distance. Unexpectedly, the image in the holo changed- the ship’s forward section began to glow red, indicating structural failure. The crewman at the sensor station barked out, “Gravity spike, Captain. It’s pulling the front of the ship…”

Before he could finish, the forward section of the ship elongated toward the hole, stretching to perceived infinity. As the crew on the bridge watched in frightened fascination, the forward bulkhead stretched toward the hole, followed by the navigation station and its officer and crewmen. Within a moment, the entire length of the ship had stretched to infinity and disappeared into the wormhole.

On the bridge all was eerily silent. The normal sound of activity and equipment was silenced, sucked away by the altered reality within the worm-tunnel. The Captain could dimly make out one of the crew vomiting on the deck, the cloud of spew stretching into infinity ahead of the crewman. He vaguely comprehended his own thought that he had never seen spew do that before.

There was no way to tell how long the slide actually took as time itself seemed to be distorted. As suddenly as it began, it ended. The infinite distance of the ship retracted in an instant, the Captain involuntarily flinching as the forward bulkhead rushed back toward him. Alarms were instantly sounding a myriad of tones, indicating a ship under dire stress. Several of the crew were unconscious on the deck, two had vomited, one was babbling incoherently, and the comm officer was crying under his console, huddled in fear. The ship’s doctor, largely unaffected by the slide, appeared on the bridge to administer sedatives and anti-nausea shots.

Once he had regained his bearings, the Captain ordered the alarms silenced and detailed two crewmen to check the hull in the forward sections where the damage was likely the worst. He rapidly pressed a few controls for the holodisplay, calling up a star chart. The ship’s position was plotted in the center of a 10000 lightyear diameter sphere, but the Captain was unable to identify any of the nearby star clusters. Turning to the navigation station and seeing only one crewman in place, he ordered Sol and the home cluster be highlighted on the holo, along with a distance to their position. The holo quickly zoomed out, showing a distance of 60000 lightyears across. Sol was positioned to the far right, while the Magellan’s position was shown to the far left. Flashing blue numbers showed the distance to be 51968 lightyears between the two. The Captain’s mouth fell partway open in disbelief. He turned to the crewman at navigation and ordered him to double check their position. The same result appeared in the display.

Commander Rain, appearing at his side, voiced his disbelief, “Can’t be right, Cap’n. That’s a trip of over 340 years for us.”

The Captain nodded, a bit uncertain of his next move. He needed more information. He ordered all decks and stations to report their status via comp-link. As reports began to come in, the situation became clearer. Fully two-thirds of the crew were either disabled or unconscious, and the Magellan had suffered moderate structural fatigue. Over half of the bridge crew was out of action, and the ship’s systems were operating at only 65% efficiency.

Turning to the Commander, the Captain lowered his voice. “We’ll need to go back through, or we’ll never make it home.” Rain nodded.

The Captain called to the communication crewman, “Comm, compose a message stating our position and situation, how we got here, and the estimated travel time to return. Set it to transmit repeatedly for the next hour. If we don’t make it back, I want someone to someday know what happened to us.”

The next several hours were filled with rapid orders and action. Most of the active crew were sent to strengthen the fatigued structure, while several computer techs were put to work restoring systems as best they could. The doctor managed to send a few crewmen and officers back to work, but the bulk were still unfit for duty.

When all work was accomplished, the Captain posted the skeleton bridge crew to their stations. He keyed the ship’s broadcast mic and addressed the entire crew:

“All hands, this is Captain Anderson. You are all aware of our situation and the risks involved in our mission. Unless we want to die on a too-long return trip to Sol, we must attempt the wormhole slide one more time. There are no guarantees here. The wormhole may not exit where we want, or we may be destroyed within. Whatever happens, you are the finest crew a Captain could have. Well done. See you on the other side.”

He released the mic and stood a moment in silent reflection. The bridge was silent and motionless. Looking up and grinning broadly, he quietly ordered, “Helm, ahead full.”

The massive JT-4100 rumbled to life one more time, struggling under reduced power to move the big vessel toward the wormhole. The crew knew to expect the slide at about 30000 kilometers from the edge of the effect. Every breath seemed to be held during the long minutes of approach. At 31000 kilometers the nav officer began counting down every 100: “thirty-one thousand…thirty thousand nine…thirty thousand eight…”

At 30000, every eye on the bridge turned toward the forward bulkhead. Nothing happened. The Magellan continued its slow crawl ahead.

Suddenly, the ship shuddered from stem to stern, elongated from the inside out, and disappeared down the wormhole. Again the eerie silence and slow-motion vision and perceived stoppage of time. Again it ended suddenly, the ship retracting to its usual length in an instant. The alarms sounded, a crewman vomited, and some of the crew blacked out, but they had arrived.A quick nav check showed them to be back in the system where they started, 31000 kilometers from the edge of the hole.

Captain Anderson looked around the bridge at his rejoicing crew. “Now that was fun, wasn’t it?”

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