Featured Story: Nervous Stomach

spaceship entering wormhole near planet

Here’s a story written by Thaddeus Howze in response to an image prompt posted on our Facebook page.

“Is there a problem, Ensign,” the captain’s voice rang out over the bustle of the command bridge. I could feel his eyes boring into the back of my head. I knew it had to be me he was talking to, I was nervous, fidgeting, fighting back the urge to run in sheer terror.

“No sir. I have never used a Precursor Warp Gate before. I understand the physics, I think. But its another thing to be heading at one.”

“Gravitational compensation online,” came from somewhere behind the captain. “We have activated artificial gravity shielding and structural integrity. We are ready for descent in P-Space.”

“Does the idea of heading at top speed toward a neutron star disturb you? If it makes you feel any better, Ensign. I have done this at least a hundred times. It doesn’t get any easier.” The captain tapped the comm button on his ear. “All hands, prepare for P-Space Incursion. Make ready all gear, shut down all non-essential equipment. Report to your P-Space readiness positions. Incursion countdown commencing.”

A timer activated on the wall and the bridge lighting dimmed. My stomach flipped. I looked down at my console and the readings were so contradictory, my knowledge of science flew out of the metaphysical window. What these readings reported was simply impossible.

“You’re new onboard the Reprisal, so you get the speech while we plunge toward certain doom. First Officer, would you mind?”

“Not at all. Science is my specialty. Ensign, you are looking at a neutron star. You would expect it to be revolving at hundreds if not thousands of times per second, would you not?”

“Yes, sir.”

First Officer Herrick walked to my station and activated the central holo display. He pressed a few more tabs and accompanying information followed. Gravitational stress information, directional path to intercept, additional bodies surrounding the neutron star and a curious formation of structures just outside of our intercept path. This was the Precursor Gate Technology.

“The Precursor Gates steal the angular momentum from what were once spinning neutron stars to power their technology. In conventional terms, if you could capture angular momentum, it would be one of the greatest sources of energy available from a material object. The neutron star is still spinning, but it spins very slowly, about one revolution per hour; a billionth of its normal rotation rate. The rest of this energy is bound up by the gate system and held for the creation of a wormhole between two gates.”

As he spoke, I could see an anomaly appear on the surface of the neutron star coming into view. We would intercept this in less than four minutes at our present speed.

“We are, in effect threading a very large needle into a very tiny hole through time and space, created by the Precursor Gates and powered by the energy of two dead stars. This gate is one of the most stable in this sector and has been used by the Corvan Hegemony for over ten thousand years.”

“Most stable, sir? You mean there are gates that are less stable or broken?”

Herrick smiled as he looked at me. The smile of a predator enjoying the squirmings of its helpless prey. “Some of the oldest Precursor gates and we are not really sure of how old they are, even the Corvans don’t know for sure, have mass restrictions. We don’t know if the gates are malfunctioning or whether the momentum capture systems are breaking down. What we do know is those stars spin faster and are far less tolerant of massive ships. Only fighters, escorts and frigates can use those gates because they can penetrate the event horizon before the gate rotates beneath them. If we tried to use one of those, our ship would be cut in half.”

My stomach clenched, my mouth had that watery feeling you get right before you vomit. We were moving at .9c toward a gravitational body under any other circumstances we would do everything possible to avoid. “Sir, one more question, if I may?”

“Incursion in one minute.”

Crystal gods

SEE ALSO: The Crystal Gods – a story also written by Thaddeus Howze

“Make it quick, Ensign. I want you to be settled in for your first time.”

“What are all of those objects, planetoids and the like doing around this neutron star? If this were a natural phenomenon, none of them would be there, right?”

Herrick sat down and strapped himself into his chair. He activated his structural integrity field and nodded to the captain.

Captain Lance nodded back and tapped his ear comm again. “Prepare for incursion, sixty seconds. See you on the other side.” He turned back toward the ensign. “You’re right, if this were a natural phenomenon, there wouldn’t be any planets here. The Corvans think they are part of the technology stabilizing the gravity corridor we use when we approach the wormhole. As they decay, torn apart by the forces we can barely understand, they indicate the overall stability of the wormhole. This one has four worlds around it. One of them is crumbling and will slowly fall into the neutron star. As it crumbles the wormhole will grow smaller. When the last world is gone, the wormhole collapses and that gate portal is inaccessible. There are gates which have as many as twenty planets around them.”

“What would you need a gate with that many stabilizing bodies for?” It was clear there were some things they didn’t cover in school.

“To move planets, Ensign. The Precursors used these things to move planets.” I remembered to close my mouth.

“Will it hurt, Captain?” I watched the countdown timer reach ten seconds.

“Like a son-of-a-bitch, Ensign. If I were you, I’d bite down. It’ll feel like forever.”

Damned if he wasn’t right.

Written by Thaddeus Howze. Thaddeus is a writer of multiple genres of speculative fiction. More of his work can be found at Hub City Blues. We’ve featured many of Thaddeus’ stories before, you can see a list here.

Artwork is by Zhaoenzhe, who’s art we also used on the starting point The Tallest Hyperfungus.

  • John H Reiher Jr

    Interesting, this implies that we have a mixture of FTL and STL travel. The Precursor gates are spread out fairly thin I’d imagine, so travel to the nearest P-gate must take years. So the ships must be capable of speeds near C. Sounds a bit like the travel system in Forever War.

  • Steven

    Very good story. Just enough to make it interesting but leaving enough for the imagination. I’m off to hunt up more by this author.

  • Dimitry Siv

    We need people who can write such stories. We’re game startup in which such stories will be transformed into quests in which players decide where to go and what to do. This will give life to such stories!
    Please contact us by email: farawaystation@gmail.com