Their biggest mistake was taking the fastest way. But it wasn't the only one.
Errand of Mercy
A spaceship suddenly stopped. When it did the tail end of up shot up slightly as though it hit something in Space.
“What happened?” Commander Kondi asked as he picked herself up off the floor. She wasn’t the only one who had to do that. Everyone in Central Control had to do that.
Navigator Brondon returned to Navigation. As soon as he managed to do that he started pushing buttons. After a few minutes of the Main Monitor in front of him changing every few seconds Brondon swiveled toward Kondi. “According to the readings we hit something. But there’s nothing out there to hit. And that’s part of the problem.”
Looking at a smaller version of the Main Monitor in front of her Science Specialist Shoarilla glanced over her shoulder with one eye while she kept her other two on the Main Monitor. “Brondon is right. We do have a big problem. There should be Stars out there in the near distance. But there isn’t.”
Kondi looked at both Brondon and Shoarilla when they spoke. Now she leaned forward in her chair with her hands in her face and her elbows on her knees staring at the Main Monitor. “Where are the Stars. What happened to the planets too? Shouldn’t there be planets? Did we go off course somehow?”
“We haven’t gone off course.” Pilot Gortim answered after he checked out his control panel under the Main Monitor.
“There are no planets in this part of the Sector. That’s why we are went this way. It’s supposed to be the fastest way to Norwic.” Shoarilla replied without returning to her control panel.
“It’s not the fastest way at the moment. What I want know is if this was planned to stop us from getting to Norwic, especially getting there in time, or if this is normal for this part of the galaxy.” Kondi kept her attention on Shoarilla. But she continued staring at the Main Monitor too.
Shoarilla returned to her control panel. After a few minutes of hitting buttons, she had her answers. “It doesn’t look like it was planned.”
“Then it must be normal. What do we know about this part of the Sector?”
“Nothing! There have only been about ten ships sent into this Sector, mostly to try to scan it, but none of them have returned.”
Kondi almost slid completely out of her chair. She did slide a little bit though. “Then why did you recommend us going this way?”
“Because you asked the fastest way to get to Norwic. And this is the fastest way.”
“It’s not the fastest anymore – is it? What are we going to do about this? We have to get this cure back to Norwic before everyone there is dead.”
“The first thing we need to do is find out what we are up against.” Head of Security Chande said as she already started pushing buttons on her control panel.
Kondi swiveled around in her chair to face Chande. She had to look up a little. And even then she couldn’t see her very clearly. “What are we up against?”
“I don’t know. According to our readings there’s nothing out there. There is obviously. But I can’t tell you how bad it is.”
“Okay, we need to do something. Are we able to maneuver?”
“Yes, we are. There’s nothing wrong with the ship itself.” Head of the Engine Room Polock said while hunched over his control panel. He sat next to Shoarilla.
“Good! Let’s try to get around this invisible barrier.” Kondi thought about that for a minute. “Down one thousand. Then forward.”
The spaceship slowly started floating down. Then it suddenly stopped. For several seconds nothing happened. Finally, that ship started moving forward. Then it hit the barrier again. When it did the tail end raised a little.
“You don’t have to tell me that didn’t work. It’s a good think I ordered all seat protection or we would all be on the floor again.” Kondi pushed a button on her one-inch thin plate across her chest. Once pushed that plate slid back into the sides of that chair. The same thing happened to the plates around her upper legs. “Did we make any progress at all?”
Still hunched over her control panel Shoarilla spoke. “A little. But not much.”
“How much is not much?” Kondi asked.
“Only a few hundred feet.” Shoarilla didn’t take his eyes off her controls.
“Can we go back up or do we have to back-up first?” Kondi got up to stretcher her legs.
“I’m not sure. But there’s only one way to find out.”
“Okay, let’s do this. Up two thousand. Then forward again at top speed.”
Once again the spaceship rose up. It took twice as long to go up before it stopped. Then it started moving forward instantly. That spaceship didn’t get very far before it stopped again. But this time it bounced off that invisible barrier.
“What just happened?” Asked Kondi.
“I’m not really sure,” said Polock. “But what I think happened is that we were going too fast.”
“How much progress did we get this time?” Kondi asked.
“It was about the same as before. At least it was until we bounced off of it. Now we are almost where we began before we started trying something.”
“We did learn one thing from this disaster. As long as we don’t go too fast we can move forward. It’s going to take us forever to get to Norwic. But we can get there.”
“The only problem with that is that we will be too late to save anyone on Norwic.” That statement came from Head of Medical Yendim who just enter Central Control when Kondi said all that about getting to Norwic.
“I know that,” responded Kondi. “I’m trying to calm everyone down. Whatever is going on here is getting to all of us – especially me.”
“What is going on here? I have crew member in Healthcare. And more coming in all the time. We don’t need all of this bouncing around.”
“We don’t know what’s happening here – yet. But we are working on it.”
“I hope you figure it out soon before someone dies. No one has yet. But it’s only a matter of time before they do.”
Kondi turned her attention back to the rest of the crew in Central Control as Yendim left. “Any suggestions?”
No one spoke for several minutes. There was a lot of mumbling though. Finally, Shoarilla broke the silence. “I think we should destroy that barrier. Send whatever it is into SpaceDust.”
“I already thought about doing that. But we can’t try something like that until we know how it’s going to effect the ship. Are we a safe distance from it to stop the destruction from destroying us too?”
Chande thought about that for a minute. “It doesn’t have to be a full blast. I can send out a small explosive to test it out first.”
Kondi looked at everyone there. And they were all looking back at her. “Okay, let’s do it.”
About a minute later a small ball of contained fire shot out of that spaceship. When it hit the invisible barrier a large square about the size of the spaceship became one big square of fire. It only latest a few seconds. Then it disappeared.
“Did I just see what I thought that I saw?” Kondi asked.
“Whatever that is out there it’s about the same size as us. Which means it’s been following up whenever we moved. That’s why we got a little distance before it caught up to us to stop us.”
“I thought about us trying to go sideways. But I didn’t think that would work either. Now I know it won’t.”
“Maybe all we need is a bigger blast. I can make it as big as you want it. We stocked up on energy balls while we were at Wallive getting the cure.”
Kondi didn’t say anything for several minutes. It was obvious she was thinking about it by her facial expressions. Finally, she spoke. “I already thought about that too. But I don’t think that is going to work either.”
“Any other suggestions?” Kondi asked after a few minutes of silence.
“I think we should go back the way we came and take the long way to Norwic like we should have in the first place. It’s going to take us about a month longer to get there from here. But it’s going to take us at least that long from here. And that’s if we can break through this barrier right now.”
“Gortim, that’s a great suggestion. I agree with it. Let’s do it.”
The spaceship slowly turned around. Once in the opposite direction it took off. But it didn’t get very far. Only a few thousand feet before it suddenly stopped again. But this time no bouncing happened.
“What’s happening now? Did that barrier just follow us again?”
“I don’t think so,” said Shoarilla. “It’s a lot worse than that I fear. I’m hoping that I am wrong. But I think we are trapped.”
Three large fire balls, ten times bigger than the first one, shot out of that spaceship. The first one came out of the front too. And the other two from the two sides. When they hit the barrier it lit it up like a giant fire wall for about a minute each. Both sides touched the one in front.
Everyone there saw what just happened on the Main Monitors. “You could have killed us all. But I know why you did it.”
“I could shoot fire balls up and below us too if you want. But I think the results will be the same.”
“Unfortunately, I agree with you. You were right. We are trapped in here. I don’t how we got in here. But I don’t think we are going to be getting out anytime soon – if ever. Our mission has failed. We are going to be lucky if we can get out of here alive.”
“It has been three months since we got trapped in this trap. And physically we all are okay. But mentally it’s getting to all of us. I don’t know how much longer we can hold out like this. We have enough food, and we can produce whatever supplies we need, for several more years. But I don’t think we are going to be around that long. I figure we have about three more months before we start killing each other. And around four before we are all dead.” Kondi spoke into a small curved tube that was open near her mouth but connected to a metal ring around her neck.
Kondi sat in Central Control all alone. She had been doing that for almost three months now. From the darkness of that room it must have been the night shift. Kondi had been doing that a lot the last three months too. “Wallive had a similar problem as Norwic. But they found a cure for it in time to save most of their people. That’s why were sent there. To get the cure and get it back to Norwic. But we failed. By now everyone on Norwic are dead. And it’s all my fault. We should never have taken this faster way. Now over five hundred billion Norwicians are dead because of me. I just hope when we didn’t show up they sent someone else to get the cure. Maybe some of them survived after all. But we will never know that. Will we?”
The Word Count, including this line, is 1944.