01+: The Rip

Granted it was old, a late HN class hull refitted more times than anyone could remember, and it’d seen more than its share of odd missions; but it was still going. Last year it went into dock for the ‘conversion’, though what that meant nobody really knew – something about surviving beyond the 9th orbit, or something like that. The ongoing joke though was that ‘conversions’ just meant larger mess halls – full bellies meant complacent crews.

But a boat was a boat and Ivan, after nearly a decade of service, finally made captain. So he didn’t look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth.

The trip out to P96 was uneventful, nothing ever happened in this part of the system. The upgraded plant and drives, something the Company had been splashing out on in order to avoid buying new ships, sped things up, but regardless, P96 was far, far, away. Why there was even a col this far out was always a mystery to Ivan. Dark, cold beyond imagination and if things went south, help was not going to get to you in time – if at all. But there it was, home to several thousand people digging shit up and sending it back in system for processing. The rumour was the AG had labs out here doing all sorts of secret stuff, secret meaning no one was ever going to know about it, so rumour it remained.

Gerard Thomas Illustration - The Rift

A week of rest and prep, if drinking the local brew and ensuing debauchery every night could be called rest, saw Ivan finally pointing the DS Nagano into deep void, that bottomless space that expands beyond the last orbit. Then, at the obligatory one hundred mark, he opened his stage 2 orders – it was nice to finally know just what he was supposed to be doing out here.

Ivan read the orders once. Then twice. Then he sat down – a luxury as they were still on one standard thrust.

Go out beyond the 9th orbit, turn around… and come back?

That’s what it said. That’s ALL it said.

What?

So months of doing nothing, to do nothing? How he was going to explain it to the crew was going to be interesting to say the least. No one expected excitement on a Company boat, but months of boredom for absolutely no reason? That was a big pill to swallow.

This was certainly not how Ivan saw his first big mission playing out…

No matter which corner of the system you were, everyone worked and lived to ‘c’ time. 24 hours in a day. 7 days in a week. 52 weeks in the year, regardless of what the locale was doing. So it was 23.30 when the intercom chimed and the somewhat panicked first officer called him up to the bridge. Seriously, what could be so urgent out here? They were floating through complete, and absolute, nothingness.

Or so Ivan thought.

The first officer, Henry was his name, was in a state. For that matter the entire bridge was in a state. Alarms, red lights, everything going off at once. Henry was franticly pointing to the single manual port the other crew had crowded around as Ivan drifted in. If that’s where the action was, there was little point looking at instruments.

Ivan became very awake.

What he and the three other crew were looking at was not quite clear. It was round, spherical maybe? A giant blowhole was what came to Ivan’s mind. ER bridges existed, but were long ago dismissed for not being stable enough to be visible to the eye; in fact a new paper on the topic was on Ivan’s reading list – being a ship’s captain that sort of stuff interested him. So after what seemed like an eternity of gawking passed, it became very clear to Ivan that the Nagano was drifting right towards the… ‘thing’; which at least explained all the alarms going off at once.

The reason Ivan was captain became obvious. Quietly, sternly, he calmed the bridge down, getting the situation under control. The Nagano’s drift was unable to be arrested, this much was clear. If it was able to be, the ship’s systems would have made it happen by now, thus there was little point fighting it. So the options were limited – either they could continue the drift and see what happens, or take control of what little they could and ride it through.

Considering no one actually knew what they were looking at, it was all guess work.

Gerard Thomas Illustration - The Rift 2

It took five tries but Colonel Spires was finally on the bridge of the Hammersmith, the first successful Transverse System Ship to negotiate The Rip. In all, the cross over was uneventful, if you discounted the fact that it looked and felt like you were passing through Dante’s Inferno. What surprised him the most though was the length of time it took. With no preconceptions, who could have, Spires had thought it’d be sort of quick. But it ended up taking almost a full week to pass through and ended without warning when, abruptly, they were spat out the other side.

Initial scans revealed they were in another system. Five class A planets, two gas giants and a smattering of sub planets all orbiting a Class 1 sized Red Dwarf. The only somewhat alarming thing being that they exited right into a debris field; only a little alarming because the Hammersmith’s hull would not even blink if it was hit, having been engineered for Rip travel.

Strangely, the debris field was coming up as identifiable mixed materials… human made mixed materials. Sp being where they were, doing what they were doing, Spires had little choice but to send out pods to investigate. He didn’t expect too much, the debris were small and of no real form, but he had to make a report – The Board would not be impressed if he did not at least attempt to identify the stuff. So after an hour the pods brought back five pieces big enough to at least stand a chance of being identified.

Spires and three crew drifted around the five pieces, now in the loading deck, in quiet reflection. They all knew the minute they came in what they were looking at, what remained of the markings made it perfectly clear. This is, was, the Nagano. It vanished without a trace 8 years ago and many thought had it fallen prey to pirate boats that supposedly hid out past the 9th orbit.

Spires thought he was the first to take a ship through the Rift but it became clear he was not…

He was only the first to do it in one piece.

copyright 2020 Gerard Thomas

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