Cash Wayne grabbed Dr. Hua’s arm as she strode out of Med Bay. “How’s the Captain?”
“How do you think he is?” she retorted angrily. “He was slammed against the bulkhead at high G. He’s got a concussion, a pounding headache, and double vision, all of which will at least keep his mind off his three cracked ribs. But he should recover, if you can fly this ship sanely for a while.”
“Hey!” Cash protested. “That high G turn of mine saved our asses. If I hadn’t done it, he wouldn’t be in pain, because he’d be dead. We’d all have been smashed to powder by that asteroid. He should be grateful. Everyone on this ship should be grateful.”
Hua snorted. “Grateful that you insisted on plotting a course that took us through an asteroid field? I don’t think so.”
Cash shuffled his feet against the deck. “We’re low on dark matter. I didn’t have a choice.”
“And we’re still no closer to finding any,” Hua returned. “The monoliths always point the way, but right now we’re without a path.”
The bulkheads vibrated with the blare of the collision alarm. Cash rushed to the nearest screen. “There’s nothing there. It’s just black. There aren’t even any stars shining through it.”
Bree Mitney came up behind him, touching his shoulder. “It’s not black, it’s dark, dark matter, a lot of it. We can fuel the ship, Cash, if we don’t kill ourselves doing it. “Khim, can I talk to the captain?”
“You can try,” Hua responded, “He’s conscious, but I don’t know how much sense he’ll make when he talks back.”
Captain James Raaker shook his head to clear it as two Bree Mitneys approached his bed in Med Bay. When that only resulted in a band of titanium alloy compressing his skull, he just closed his eyes. “Go ahead and talk, Bree, I’m listening, but as pleasing to the eyes as you normally are, two of you is one too many.”
“Do you want the good news or the bad news, Captain?” his engineer asked.
Raaker pressed in on his throbbing temples. “The good, please.”
“We’ve found what appears to be an unlimited fuel supply,” she reported.
“I don’t need to open my eyes to see a ‘but’ coming. What’s the bad news?”
“If I’m off by even the tenth place in my calculations for magnetic containment, the dark matter will miss our fuel intake and destroy Spectrum.”
Raaker opened his eyes again, forcing the striking images of his engineer to coalesce. “Is that all? When have your calculations ever been off about anything? We would have been intergalactic dust a long time ago if they were. If it makes you feel better, have Ketheria check them, isn’t that what omniscience is for? But I trust you. If a captain can’t trust his engineer he might as well get out and walk. It’s Cash I’m worried about. You can do the calculations but he still has to follow your instructions and that’s something in which his skills are sorely...,” Raaker moaned as his ribs reminded him that Hua had warned him not to move. “Lacking,” he finished.
“I can handle Cash,” Bree assured him. “When the flightpath gets narrow, there’s no one better. And this one will be about as narrow as it gets.”
It took Bree six hours to set up the equipment to transfer dark matter to the ship without creating an overload that would destroy the shielding around the engine and suck the life energy from anyone aboard. When she and Ketheria were finally satisfied, the process began. It had been close to a year since the fuel reserves had been full and Bree was feeling pretty smug until the ship was rocked, throwing everything not bolted down to the deck.
Hua returned to Med Bay on a run to check on Captain Raaker, who had already made the passage from his sick berth and was demanding to know what the hell happened.
Cash’s voice came through the intercom. “We’ve been fired upon. Unidentified ship still alongside.”
Pain overpowered by a flood of adrenalin, Raaker quickly made his way to the bridge where their attacker was displayed on the screen above the control panel. “Where did it come from Cash? How did it take us by surprise?”
“Captain, it came out of the dark matter.”
“That’s impossible!” Raaker exclaimed “Nothing survives in dark matter.”
“Nothing we know of,” Bree interjected, coming to grasp the back of Cash’s seat, “but dark matter is more than half the universe. We have no idea what or who may be hiding within it.”
“Well we have an idea now,” Cash pointed out. “And they don’t like us much, unless that energy beam was their idea of a love pat.”
“Can you get us out of here?” Raaker asked.
“He can’t, Captain,” Bree put in. “The baffles on the propulsion system were taken out by that hit. If Cash tries to move the ship, we’ll all be reduced to ions --- widely dispersed ions.”
Raaker cradled his forehead in his palm as his brain threatened to leak out his eyes. “Do either of you have anything positive to report, anything at all?”
“Our internal systems are all online. Life support is at full strength.” Bree offered.
“So until they blow us out of the universe we’re fine,” Raaker responded. “We need some way to communicate with them. Ketheria is supposed to know everything. She must know something about this. Where is she?”
“She’s in the engine room, Captain,” Bree replied, “recharging her energy aura. Spectrum has never had this much power.”
“Great,” Raaker groaned. “All gassed up and no way to go. I’ll go talk to her.”
“Captain,” the diminutive Scion began without introduction as the captain entered, “they must be afraid.”
“Who? Of what?” Raaker demanded. “They’re the ones who just blasted us.”
“We have contaminated their water hole.” Katheria explained.
Raaker scrubbed a hand over his eyes. “Maybe it’s the concussion, but I have no idea what that Scion mind of yours is trying to communicate.”
“We are at the border of two islands in the universe, Captain.” Katheria continued. “Both our ships have come to drink at the stream. We drink of the dark and they drink of the rarer treasure in the universe, the light. It is the source of their power, their lives. They view themselves not as aggressors, but as defenders.”
“So what do we do?” Raaker questioned.
“Nothing,” Katheria replied. “If you attempt to attack, they will be convinced we are dangerous. If we are quiet and make no threat, they will drink of the light as we have drunk of the dark, and depart.”
“Can you at least send Heshen out to replace the baffles our light seekers pulverized?” Raaker wondered.
“No,” Ketheria declared. “We must be still until they depart. You must be still too. Your body requires replenishment as well. Sleep, dream your dreams, and all will be well.”
“How am I supposed to sleep when my ship is helpless?” Raaker protested, grabbing his ribs as pain seared his chest.
Hua entered the engine room, an injector behind her back. Meeting Ketheria’s eyes, she pressed it to Raaker’s neck and slowly lowered the limp captain to the deck. “I’ll get Bree to help me put him on a stretcher.”
“No need,” Ketheria responded. “I’ll have Heshen take him to Med Bay. When he awakens, the light seekers should be gone.”
Raaker opened his eyes to the familiar if infuriating view of the Med Bay ceiling. The vibration he felt, rather than heard, told him the ship was underway. He had torn the covers away and pushed himself up on his elbows when the ship bucked and the wail of renting metal split the air. He was thrown backwards, this time the padding on the bed beneath him absorbed most of the shock.
Cash Wayne’s voice came through the intercom. “Nothing to worry about, just a micro-meteor shed from the asteroids. Well maybe not so micro, but the electro- magnetic field will keep the atmosphere from escaping until the breach is sealed. Everything will be fine --- I think.”
“Damn it, not again, Cash!” Raaker swore. “This time I really will see you in hell!”