by B.P. Shelley
Crew Captain Lai'i finds herself embroiled in mystery during a routine check of a wormhole
Lai'i ran her fingers through her short, tangled hair, cursing herself for leaving her hairbrush back on Xeres 9. She wasn't surprised, of course--fashion and general appearances holding little interest for her--just annoyed that now she had to untangle her hair with her fingers, which was more painful and laborious than using a comb.
"Light's on," she said groggily as she reluctantly pulled herself up from the marginal comfort of her small cot. Being a captain doesn't come with many perks, she thought, feeling a slight pain in her back that was the clear result of a poor night's sleep.
As the lights flicked on, she got to her feet and dressed slowly, picking out her company ordered uniform--the same one she was required to wear every day--and pulling it on over her tired, brown skin. One more month, and then I'm out.
She often wondered what had possessed her to join the Unified Galactic Peace Force five years ago. She had told herself at the time that it would be a great way to experience new cultures, see new places, and learn how to fly a ship so she could be a pleasure cruise captain when she returned. Maybe it was true then, but after three years as a captain, dealing with varying crew members, cargo, and unexpected dangers, the last thing she wanted to do when she went home was fly a bunch of entitled tourists with no sense around the galaxy.
"Gooooood morning Cap'n," a voice sang through her room speakers.
"Mitré," she said curtly groaning inwardly at the sound of her first mate's voice, "you sound awfully chipper this morning."
"You know me," Mitré replied, "I'm always chipper."
"Sorry, I meant to say 'it's awful how chipper you are,' followed by, 'shut your damn mouth until I've had breakfast.'"
"Your leadership is nothing short of inspiring," Mitré quipped, but did as she requested.
Lai'i rolled her eyes and finished her morning routine, which consisted of stretching, ten minutes of close-quarters aerobic exercise, and hearty meal of bland gruel, full of all essential nutrients, but lacking any essential flavor. Nothing but the best from the UGPF, she mused. She used to eat in the mess hall with the rest of her crew, but found that, while banter and conversation were pleasant, she preferred to take time to herself in the morning before assuming her duties as captain, wherein she had no choice but to talk to her crew about whatever issues were on the agenda that day.
Normally, she wouldn't shut down Mitré so firmly, but there was no red alert, his voice was lackadaisical to the point of being annoying, and they were doing a basic recon mission through peaceful space. If he needed to talk to her, he would have stayed on the line after her retort.
Finally, she stepped out of her room and into the hallway. The corvette class ship she was in charge of, barely offered enough space for two people to walk abreast in a hallway, which made traveling difficult when multiple crew members had places to go. Fortunately, each room was outfitted with most of the basic necessities a person would need, with the exception of a shower. Private showers, more than anything, were what Lai'i looked forward to most when she returned home. She suspected she would not live with roommates, or even a lover, for a longtime after her service ended.
She made her way to the main bridge, where several crew members had already assumed their stations. Golen sat in his chair, lazily slouched with his legs stretched out as he slowly flicked through the readouts in his screen. If anything out of the ordinary happened, the screen would flash with bright warnings, impossible to miss, so there was no real reason for him to be that attentive. Onzo sat next to him eyes focused on his holo-com, watching a video of some inter-galactic singing competition. His job, even easier, was to manage the weapon's systems--such as they were--on the ship. Neither of them looked up when she entered, and she wouldn't have cared or noticed if they did.
There was a time when she would have felt ashamed not to be one of the first ones to her station, but with so little time left, and so little interested in pursuing a future military career, Lai'i couldn't be bothered with what her crew thought of her. So long as they followed her commands, they could arrive early, late, whenever.
Mitré glanced back casually and said, "Welcome aboard Cap'n."
She ignored his casual greeting and said, "Are we still on course?"
Mitré nodded, "Yep, we should be arriving in just a few hours."
"Finally," she muttered, "I can't wait to be done."
"Why Captain Lai'i," Mitré said with an overly-dramatic shocked expression, "It almost seems like you don't want to be out here, doing the good work of the United Galactic Peace Force!"
Lai'i sneered at him, less annoyed at his flippancy than she was at the fact that he used the full name of the UGPF. It was a mouthful, and she was pretty sure he was the only person in the galaxy who referred to it by its complete name every damn time.
"My my," Mitré continued, "you are in a mood today."
Lai'i sighed, "You know, you were cute when you first joined my crew, but I think you've convinced me that having a fully computer automated crew would be preferable to this." She would have never called a crew member cute, not enough six months ago. But her last few missions had taken all of the care out of her. Now she just wanted to be done with it all, crew included.
Mitré pouted and looked over at Onzo, "Onzy, you think I'm cute, don't you?"
Onzo glanced up from his holo-com and shrugged, "You're okay, I guess."
Lai'i smiled. She always liked Onzo because he never played along with Mitré. His response wasn't teasing, it was just honest.
Golen chuckled and punched Onzo lightly on the arm, "Be nice, Onz, you know Mitré is sensitive."
Onzo smiled warmly at Golen and gave him a quick peck on the lips, "He needs to toughen up."
Suddenly, Mitré's voice blared over the intercom, "This is a PA about PDA from the navigation officer. Warning to all crew members: Onzo and Golen are being gross."
Golen threw a half-eaten bagel at Mitré's head, and Mitré narrowly ducked out of the way.
"Wait," Lai'i said sharply, "What's that?" She gestured to the holo-screen hovering over Golen's desk.
Golen looked with little interest, "It's just a--" he stopped and looked closer, eyes widening, "No...it can't be."
"Wh-what is it?" Mitré asked, all humor gone from his voice.
"It's the signal," Golen said slowly, "Or one very similar to it. By my reading, we're coming up on the wormhole...two hours ahead of schedule."
Lai'i frowned, "That's impossible...right? Do wormhole's move?"
There was a near collective shrug and response and Lai'i quickly said, "Onzo go find Seela and get her up here. I need intel." As he left the room she asked Golen, "How far away is it?"
"200 kilometers. At current speed we'll reach the anomaly in 2 minutes."
Mitré complied immediately.
Lai'i liked to think that she was lax on her crew because, when the time came, they knew how to do their jobs and follow orders, but part of her knew it was more than that. Just like her annoyance with Mitré was more than just incompatible personalities. I can't care. I can't. Not again.
A minute later, the door to the bridge hissed open and Seela and Onzo walked through.
Seela stood out from the rest of the crew as the only non-human member. Her gray, pebbled skin, while the most clear indication of her Guandi heritage, was not the most unsettling thing about her. No, for Lai'i that had to be the wings. She had never seen Seela's wings, but she knew they were there. Her uniform was fitted with two straps on the back which could be undone to release her wings if needed, but even with the straps, ridged lumps could be seen pressing against her uniform.
Lai'i tried to be understanding, having been gawked at and misunderstood for her brown skin most of her life, but it was so unnatural. I'm just glad we're in space. No need to unfurl those things out here. She hated herself for thinking that and tried to push the thought away.
"What's going on, captain?" Seela asked in a voice that seemed to vibrate as if something was rapidly pounding on her back while she spoke.
"Uh," she hesitated trying to regain her focus, "Golen, fill her in, please."
Golen glanced at her in surprise and then explained the situation to Seela.
Seela pursed her lips and flared her gills momentarily. They were usually only visible when Guandi were swimming or scared. "That is strange," she said and crossed the room to Golen's desk.
As she bent over his chair to look at the screen, Lai'i once again found herself drawn in to her features, feeling simultaneously disturbed and fascinated.
"It couldn't be another wormhole, could it?" Golen asked.
Seela shrugged, "It is highly unlikely. Wormhole's were merely theoretical until a decade ago, when we found the one you were assigned to reach. Another one appearing so soon after would be...highly irregular." She turned to Lai'i, who quickly averted her gaze, "Captain, we need to get closer."
Lai'i looked at her skeptically, "Are you sure? I thought we were sent specifically to examine and launch probes through the original wormhole."
Seela nodded firmly, "Yes. The UGPF will be very interested to know about this new anomaly."
Lai'i shrugged and said, "A paycheck's a paycheck. Take us in Mitré. Just to visual range, no closer."
"Right, visual," Mitré said dubiously, "And what would the visual look like?"
Lai'i glared at him, "Exactly how it was described in the dossier."
"Which...I definitely....did read."
Lai'i rolled her eyes, "You'll know it when you see it. It'll be big, spherical and dark, but with a lot of stars inside."
Mitré shrugged, "Alrighty then...can't wait."
The ship lurched forward and Lai'i watched as the anomaly inched closer on the scanner, feeling an abnormal amount of fear for what was meant to be a regular recon mission.
"There!" Seela pointed at the view screen.
Lai'i's eyes widened as she saw the anomaly come into view.
"Um, is that it?" Mitré asked.
Lai'i replied instantly, "No" at the same time that Seela said, "Yes."
She looked at Seela with confusion and said, "That's not what a wormhole looks like."
"Not a regular wormhole, no," Seela agreed, "But we were never dealing with a regular wormhole."
Lai'i looked from her, back to the view screen, her eyes widening further as observed the swirling circle, filled with glowing purple gas. "How is it here?"
Seela shook her head, "It usually doesn't move this much."
With that, every head in the room turned to stare at her.
"I'm sorry, you wanna explain that last statement?" Golen demanded.
Seela sighed, "I had hoped to prep you in the two hours it should have taken us to get there, but apparently the wormhole had other plans." After a pause to ensure they were all listening, she said "We think it's a wormhole. Ships have gone through, but haven't come back. Probes have been sent through, and then destroyed before they could transmit information back. We suspect that the reason for this is because this specific wormhole does not occupy one space-time, but multiple space-times."
"Multiple space-times?" Lai'i said skeptically.
"Right," Seela said, "A dimensional wormhole. So, when things travel through the wormhole, they are actually traveling to a different dimension. That's why we are unable to receive transmissions from them, or find them on the other side. There is no other side. Not in this dimension at least."
"That's insane," Golen retorted, "There is no evidence to prove that is even possible!"
"And yet, no other explanation makes sense," Seela replied calmly. "Unless you can think of one."
"Uh, guys," Mitré interrupted, "I think it's moving again. Yeah, it's moving towards us."
Lai'i looked at the view screen sharply and saw that Mitré was right. The nearly two-dimensional circle was drifting toward them at an alarming speed.
"Get us out of here, Mitré," she said, trying to keep her voice from shaking, "Full speed ahead."
"No!" Seela shouted, "We have to find out--"
"Sit down, Liaison," Lai'i said coldly. "You may be the spokesperson for the UGPF, but I am still the captain. I won't endanger my crew for your science project."
"It may be a moot point," Mitré said, his voice rising fearfully, "That science project is gaining on us."
"Go faster," Lai'i replied frantically.
"I'm going as fast as I can," Mitré replied. "I'd jump to light speed but we used our energy getting here. It takes time to start it up again."
Lai'i looked around, trying desperately to find an answer, as if the solution would be hiding somewhere in the room. No, no, no. Not me, not now. I'm not ready!
Seela's fascinated gaze turned slowly to fear as the wormhole closed in on them.
One by one, the crew lost their nerve. Lai'i felt very small comfort, as the circle began to engulf the ship and the screams of her crew filled her ears, that she was the last person to fully succumb to fear. That comfort was washed away as darkness enveloped the ship.