Chapter 1: SCR 1845-6357B
The ship thundered through the cosmic ether breaking all known laws of physics, except the law that allows science fiction writers to make a living speculating about laws being broken. To be precise, the ship was only breaking the laws of classical Newtonian physics, and a few of Einstein’s too. The ship: the Anaconda. Origin: Crete 581d, industrial hub of the known galaxy.
Humans knew little about the known galaxy. Even less was known about the uncharted areas beyond the Orion Arm in the Outer Rim. Unknown unknowns, to borrow a famous phrase popularised a thousand years ago.
How could anyone speculate what was beyond the Orion Arm, only a small fraction of the entire galaxy, when people didn’t know what the galaxy even looked like?
The Milky Way was a barred spiral, a belt of stars thrust through it from end to end like a shrimp on a barbecue. The popular myth of the Milky Way as a splendid, symmetrical spiral persisted long after scientists had contradicted that popular image, proclaiming instead that it was bisected by a barge pole.
Our stellar neighbourhood, the Orion Arm, is home to thirty-nine or forty inhabited planets, depending on whether Pluto counted as a planet. Many wars were fought over this issue, most of them at astronomy conferences where flablets were thrown and Plutologists stabbed with electronic styluses.
All known inhabited planets were within a radius of fifty light years. Except for Betelgeuse, 500 light years away. An ancient warp gate of unknown origin linked it to everything else. Many brains had been assigned to reverse engineer the technology. All had failed. Some disastrously, pulling scientists into unseen higher, or lower, dimensions.
Of course, there was the Outer-Outer Rim, far beyond the frontier colonies. This was myth. Most who ventured beyond the Outer Rim into the Outer-Outer Rim never returned. There were no refueling outposts in the Outer-Outer Rim, no radio relays, no satellite TV.
The Anaconda thudded through hyperspace, well within the Orion Arm. It shuddered through hyperturbulence, heading to Zorge in the SCR 1845-6357 system, although its three occupants didn’t know it.
SCR 1845-6357 was a binary system with three planets, Zorge being the second planetary body from SCR 1845-6357A, occasionally known as Pavlov. SCR 1845-6357B is a brown dwarf orbiting Pavlov, a red dwarf. No one had bothered to give SCR 1845-6357B a proper name befitting a healthy brown dwarf star. Instead, whenever anyone referred to SCR 1845-6357B they had no choice but to call it SCR 1845-6357B. Luckily no one mentioned SCR 1845-6357B, because saying SCR 1845-6357B all the time requires energy, and energy costs money.
The Anaconda cavorted through hyperspace towards Pavlov with all the elegance of a Martian rally driver on his final set of tyres. Gaston Dimble had entered hypersleep with his mouth open. A trickle of saliva caressed his chin. His dreamed about the terrain of Zorge, because deep down he sensed that that was where they were they were going.
He relived the wild events back on Crete 581d.
The Zorgon had some innate power that no one, not even the Zorgon himself, could control. It seemed to manifest under intense emotion. Remarkably, it seemed to have activated the dead core of their hyperdrive. As his subconscious reenacted the moment during the surreal state of hypersleep, he envisioned ethereal energies branching from the Zorgon’s horns straight to the fusion reactor and igniting the drive, but containing any anomalies.
It was a long time since Professor Gaston Dimble had left Crete 581d. If they were heading back to the Zorgon’s home planet, and he strongly suspected they were, this would present the perfect opportunity for a fresh anthropological study.
A violent shuddering shook the ship as it ‘braked’. The emergence from hyperspace and hyperreality into conventional space-time began like an old washing machine escaping its enclave. The spaceship, a Fooolzian Trawler named the Anaconda, extricated itself from the clutches of non-reality and zipped towards a planet that could only be Zorge.
Everyone was asleep, except Zorgeous the Zorgon. The metal-loving chitter, Dimble’s pet, lay on the floor of the repair bay among wires, springs and a busted bag of giblets. They would have to trade these giblets at a discount.
Marley sat with his head lolling over the dashboard. He had just completed his first interstellar jump with no preparation allowed at all. His consciousness flickered between fantasy, philosophy, family. But it was mainly concerned with fantasy. Marley was taking full advantage of the semi-lucid hyperreal state, conjuring in his mind’s eye all sorts of fancy classical hentai erotica.
Hyperspatial travel had different effects on different species. Humans and chitters fell asleep. The pet chitter was the first to wake and quickly became hyperactive.
The loud banging from the repair bay woke Gaston. He perceived Marley muttering to himself in some way-out dream dimension: “Watch without wanting, watch without wanting…”
Gaston roused himself. “Marley. Wake up! What are you dreaming? Are you in some ancient world?” He barely recalled his own recent hallucinations and was already quizzing someone else on theirs.
Marley’s arcane drawl returned to Standard Galactic Standard: “Pass me another goblet, and don’t sit on my…What? Gaston!” Marley blinked. “How do you feel? I bet a scholar like you never dreamed of becoming a traveller, let alone a First Officer.”
Gaston replied, “During the jump you gained access to the hyperspatial moment. If you can remember any details of your dream–”
Marley was incredulous. “We’ve concluded our first hyperjump and you want to psychoanalyse me?”
“Where are we and what are we doing here? We were just going to ship giblets and Prismatic Pizza to Crete 581c, and the next thing we know…”
“I believe that Zorgon we named Zorgeous has taken us back to his home planet. He may be wanted here. Let’s keep him under restraint and find out what’s going on.” Marley sprung out of the Captain’s chair with panache.
The internal communications system began to buzz with the latest solar weather from Pavlov interspersed with hip hop music from another star system. The shrinking of time-space during warp speed had messed a little with the system’s internal clock. They would have to wait until a clear connection was established, and meanwhile enjoy the hip hop.
Marley headed to the cargo hold to check on Zorgeous. The Zorgon stared at him as he approached.
“I appreciate your efforts in bringing me back to my home world. Now if you could loosen my restraints.”
“Our efforts?” said Marley. “We’re here because of you. And you can stay right in the hold until we work out who you are.” He muttered, “and whether you’re valuable.”
“You will find out soon enough. Maybe then you will have second thoughts about restraining me. I sense something in you. Something different and better than your fellow species planetside.”
Marley’s skull faintly tickled. He turned away from Zorgeous. “Don’t try any tricks.”
Gaston appeared in the hatchway. “Captain?” He giggled. “A hauler is on its way up. We’re going to make a 30% profit on pizza and giblets.”
“Not bad Gaston. Should be just enough for some juice to get us out of here.” A sudden drumming obscured the end of his sentence, like popcorn exploding onto sheet metal. “Go and feed your pet chitter some gourmet metal before it puts any further dints in the repair bay.”