“What was that?” I demanded from the floor of my cabin where I was thrown by a horrendous jolt. Ma-rye-a was still rocking in the wake of whatever it was.
“It is the Maelstrom,” Ma-rye-a said. “It has moved.”
Even for an A.I. she seemed surprised and I didn’t blame her. I ran toward the stairs to the bridge as fast as my heavy spacer boots would allow. “What do you mean, it moved?”
“Either the Maelstrom we all know has moved or there is another one right off our port bow,” she said. “And, it is shifting even more as we speak,” she warned.
I hit the bridge at a good clip, swung into my chair and started reading the information Ma-rye-a was gathering on the stream beside us. “Don’t let us drift in. We need to put some distance between us and it.”
“Every time I move, it alters its course,” Ma-rye-a said. She seemed honestly worried. After all, in her data base was listed all the missing ships that had been lost to the Maelstrom anomaly.
“It’s reading our energy signature. If we shut down will we be able to stay parallel to it?”
“Yes, unless it shifts closer, in which case we will be sucked in,” Ma-rye-a cautioned.
The entity in the stream of the Maelstrom seemed to sense our presence. The fields in and around the stream acted like currents forcing the ship to rock from side to side in its wake. The Maelstrom is a swiftly moving stream in space. It is believed to be created by an entity that feeds off of the energy from the stars at the edge of the stream it creates. The problem was that the Maelstrom that was on my set of maps was weeks away even if you jumped through several windows in order to get there. This one shouldn’t be here.
Some people were crazy enough to ride the stream in order to arrive at their destination faster than any jump through a window, but it was extremely dangerous to maneuver. Very few lived to tell about the ride. If you dropped into the stream too close to the entity it could read your energy and turn on you. Once you were in the stream you had to cut off all power except basic life support and manually keep the ship in the stream. It was like struggling to keep a boat heading into a waterfall. If you lost control while in the stream it chewed you up and spit you out. No telling where you would land and in what condition.
“Shut down, Ma-rye-a, everything except minimal life support. I want to play dead and hope it doesn’t come true.”
The steady hum of the ship’s engines ceased immediately. The instruments and lights on the bridge dimmed. I found myself holding my breath.
Out of the swirling mass of space dust, debris and gases carried by the stream came something both fascinating and frightening. It was spiracle in shape, but dotted with small globules of some foreign matter that glowed neon green. As it emerged further I could see it was dragging battered and broken ships in its wake. Ghost ships.
“I count partial debris from seven ships,” Ma-rye-a said, as she scanned. “I can identify at least four from the I.N.C. missing records.”
“Shut down your scan,” I hissed at Ma-rye-a.
But, it was too late. One of the neon globes detached itself from the main entity and moved slowly toward us. I could see that it was still attached via a long umbilical type cord that pulsed with what appeared to be electric charges or lighting.
“Ma-rye-a?” I whispered.
“It has attached to the hull,” she answered my unasked question. “Orders?”
“Sit still and be quiet.”
I could see the green globe ooze its way over the edge of the hull onto the front portal. It emitted sparks so bright that they hurt my eyes as it glided over the surface. The ship vibrated with pulses from the globe. I could feel the hair on my arms and head rise like I had touched a ‘hot’ wire. I sat oh-so-very still. I didn’t know if it could see me, or even if it cared I was there, I just knew I wanted it to go away.
After making a full survey of the portal, as though it were studying every aspect of the bridge, it let go and floated back to the main entity as the attaching cord coiled tighter and tighter. The larger entity shifted back into the Maelstrom and disappeared. I took the first deep breath I had taken in over an hour.
“Boy, am I going to have a story to tell the guys at Jake’s birthday party.”