Notes: Incorporates the prompts gathered from Prompt Post 0. I only half covered Lyn’s as I didn’t manage to incorporate the dialogue line she gave me but did cover the prompt.
And now, without further ado, here’s the first installment. Comments welcome here or at Dreamwidth/LJ where this is crossposted.
Someone was shaking Amanpreet. She didn’t want to wake up; it hurt too much. She was vaguely aware of muttering to herself and curling up but that just made the shaking intensify.
“Captain! Wake up!” That was Niobe’s voice, wasn’t it. Was she crying? “We need to crack the dome. Kane’s still in there.”
Amanpreet groaned but opened her eyes to find herself lying on the floor of the Whisper’s pitch-dark bridge. Cautiously, she sat up and tried to figure out what had happened. They’d been in hyperspace, a routine jump to take supplies to the archeological dig in the Talis system when… Her body went rigid as the a memory of noise and light hit her. Something had hit the Whisper hard.
“What the hell was that!” She pulled herself carefully to her feet. It was too dark to see much but her fingers found the edge of the communications console. Somehow she had been thrown all the way from the captain’s chair. She was fairly sure that the impact hadn’t done that so Kane must have dropped them out of hyperspace in a hurry. At least she hoped he had. “Are we back in normal space?”
“I think so,” Niobe said. “Vanna is checking, but we have to crack the dome. Kane’s still in there and he’s not answering.”
Kane was still in the dome? Amanpreet’s stomach flipped. She couldn’t think of any reason that he would have left the dome shut that wasn’t some sort of disaster. She took a breath and then another one. She was still groggy but she had to pull herself together. It was up to her to get them out of this â€“ if there was any possibility at all of getting out of it.
“We can’t,” she said finally. “Not until we’re sure we’re in normal space.” Of course if they were still in hyperspace without a navigator they were really screwed, but she decided not to say that.
“We’re in normal space,” Vanna said calmly and Amanpreet breathed a sigh of relief. “But I need to check the dome’s integrity before we can crack it. We may need to wait for it to repair itself. First I need some light.” There was a soft hum from the Whisper and the light levels gradually came back up. “That’s better. Ah good, doors are back too.” The engineer looked over at Amanpreet. “You’d best get to medbay, captain. You were out for a while. I’ll call you as soon as the diagnostics are done.”
“You’re luckier than you should be, Captain.” Nevin wasn’t a doctor, Amanpreet couldn’t afford to hire one, but he was a very well-qualified Nurse Practitioner. She could only even afford him because she’d picked up his debts and agreed to write them off if he’d work for her at her normal crew rates. “Only a few bruises and no concussion. I’ll want a doctor to check you over once we reach Talis but everything seems fine. Do we know what happened yet?”
“Not yet,” she replied. “Hopefully Kane will be able to tell us once we’re able to get into the dome.” She swallowed again. “Hopefully.” She looked around as the intercom chirped. “Yes?”
“The dome is intact, Captain,” Vanna said. “Shall we open it?”
Amanpreet got to her feet hurriedly. “Of course. Nevin and I are on our way.” The door slid open as she approached and they sprinted down the softly glowing green corridor to the bridge arriving just as Niobe and Vanna carried Kane, the Whisper’s first navigator, out of the navigation dome. He was unconscious but, much to Amanpreet’s relief, still breathing. Nevin brushed passed her to check him over.
“He’s fine,” he said after a long moment. “Just exhausted from hyperspace exposure combined with stress. Should I wake him up for a few minutes?” He was preparing an injection even as he spoke.
“Please do,” she said. “We need to find out what happened.”
“That’s what I thought.” He rolled up Kane’s sleeve and injected him. A few moments later Kane’s eyelids fluttered open and he groaned. “Better talk to him quickly; he needs to rest so I only gave him enough for a few minutes.”
Amanpreet nodded and waited until Kane’s blue eyes cleared before speaking.
“How do you feel?”
“Like crap,” he said. “I got us back into normal space before I passed out, then?”
“Yes,” she said. “What happened?”
“It was a Fish,” he said. “And it rammed us deliberately. And captain, it didn’t have any signs of accommodation or doors. I don’t think it had any crew.”
Amanpreet stared at him, aware her mouth was open. She’d heard the yarns of wild Fish attacking vessels in hyperspace but it was ridiculous. There were no wild Fish – they were artificial creatures and they couldn’t traverse hyperspace without a crew.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“I’d tell you to check the sensor logs but hyperspace.” He gave a wry smile. “I know it makes no sense but it’s definitely true.” He shook his head. “And I swear it backed off when it realised we were a Stick rather than a Fish. I don’t think I could have got us away if it hadn’t.”
Amanpreet winced. “We’re going to have to report this, aren’t we?” she muttered. “We’re going to be a laughing stock.”She looked over at Vanna. “Is the hull intact?”
“A few scratches but nothing major. It shouldn’t compromise our hyperspace worthiness.”
“Good. Kane get some rest. Mark is still resting from his last stint in the dome but we need to get back under way.” She steeled herself and headed for the hatch to the dome. She hated navigating. “I guess I’ll have to do it.”
“Prepare for transition to hyperspace.” Amanpreet lay back into the chair in the Whisper’s navigator’s dome. “Seal the door to the dome and retract the shield around it. I’m planning this skip to be about four hours.”
“Yes, captain,” Niobe said through the intercom. “Only four hours?”
“I’m not stressing myself to travel faster.” The shielding on the dome slid back to reveal the darkness of interstellar space. “Four hours is long enough for Kane to recover for his next stint in the dome. Commencing transition in five, four, three, two, one. Transition…” The navigation instruments around her went blank, showing only a starless black void. Her skin prickled as the Whisper jumped out of normal space into the roiling light and storm of hyperspace. “Hyperspace achieved.” She called up a map of hyperspace and began comparing it to the few static pools of light in the chaos outside. She needed to identify at least three them to use as references to plot their course.
The nearest two, so close to each other they were one for navigation purposes, were Ishtar and Damkina, and it didn’t take her long to locate Terra either. The Ishtari had been using the Terra pool as a hyperspace beacon for decades before they actually made contact with humanity. It took her a long moment to find a third she was sure of — a Mez settlement around a nearby red dwarf that she’d traded with once or twice. Triangulating using them, she was able to work out the heading for Talis and code it in. The Whisper responded to her commands and began to move. She let out a soft breath and wished, not for the first time, that someone would develop biosensors and biocomputers that could detect hyperspace. It was ridiculous that here in the interstellar age they were back to navigating by eye and brain.
A week later, they slid out of the final hyperspace skip and into orbit around Talis. A barren world with a solely unicellular life and water oceans, it had been selected as a candidate for human bioforming and settlement until the secondary surveying team had found the Rune. In an instant, Talis had gone from potential colony to archeological site. As Amanpreet stared at the bridge screen while they waited to dock with the orbital station, she was unsure how the initial survey team had missed it. It was burned into the bare rock of the eastern third of the equatorial continent and from space it was so obvious it may as well have punched you in the eye..
Her reverie was interrupted by a message from the station.
“Whisper, you are next in line to dock. Please have your identification documents and cargo ready for inspection prior to docking.”
Amanpreet rolled her eyes and sighed, but didn’t complain.
“I bet you have more to worry about with people smuggling artifacts out than anything in,” she said later to the inspection official who’d boarded to check the cargo.
The woman laughed.
“Oh, it’s not smuggling we’re worried about, captain,” she said. “We just don’t want to allow anything through that might contaminate the biosphere — such as it is. It might mess up the site, so we have to be careful.”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll find that my papers are all in order,” Amanpreet said. “And my brother told me what we shouldn’t bring.”
“Ah! You’re Doctor Singh’s sister? He’s been worried. You were due in a couple of days ago.”
“I know, we had an … um … incident. We’ll need to report it.” She sighed. “I really thought he’d be here to greet me.”
“He was called to the surface urgently,” the woman replied. “He’ll be back up this evening. What sort of incident? I can take the report too.”
“We were attacked in hyperspace about a week ago,” Amanpreet said and was surprised by the sudden tension in the woman’s shoulders.
“By an uncrewed Fish?” she asked tensely.
The woman started swearing. “Not again. What the hell is going on?” She sighed and shook her head. “Do you have environment suits? The Mez have requested that people reporting Fish attacks be referred to them.”
“We do,” she said. “Will tomorrow be soon enough? I’d like to rest and catch up with my brother.”
“Of course. Everything seems in order so I’ll assign you and your crew quarters. Why don’t you use the communal baths? You must be bored of space showers. Not that you smell or anything,” she added hastily. “They’re just relaxing after a journey.”
“Bath? On a station?” Amanpreet stared at the woman. “You import water from the planet? A bit extravagant, maybe?”
“Maybe, but it helps morale a lot,” she replied.
“I haven’t had a bath in months,” Niobe said after Amanpreet relayed to her crew what the official had said. “Let’s get settled and go and find them.”
“I agree, Captain,” Kane said. “Showers are all very well for keeping clean but who doesn’t love a bath? I need to soak the ache of hyperspace out of my bones. I’m glad to hear that it’s finally time to get a nice hot bath.”