Cadet Katy came into the cockpit, sat down in the co-pilot’s bucket, propped her long, shapely legs up on the instrument console and said to Wendy, “I think sometime next week I’m going to throw a mutiny.”
“Hmmmm?” said Wendy. “What was that you said?”
“I used the ‘m’ word,” Katy said, taking a banana from her pocket and starting to peel it. “I’m thinking about throwing a mutiny. You want in?”
Wendy scowled. “That depends. What sort of mutiny do you have in mind?”
“Just against old Cap’n Ryan Baker,” said she. “The Sky Wolf himself.”
“Just the captain?”
“Yep. Just him. He’s getting on my nerves. I kind of like the rest of you humans. Wouldn’t want any harm to come to you guys except for Baker.”
“In that case,” said Wendy. “Count me in. When next week?”
“Whenever he gets back from that jaunt he just went out on. I figure things will probably be pretty pleasant around here until he gets back.” She chomped into the banana and began to chew contentedly.
“Just don’t get complacent,” Wendy said. “He won’t be gone that long. He just went out to check out an anomaly about a light day from here.”
“Drat,” said Katy. She began nibbling on the peel.
Emotionally, it was probably pretty difficult for Katy, Wendy realized. Katy was an Upgrade, the only non-human in the crew. Engineered from simian genetic stock she was close to human, but in the eyes of some not close enough. Sometimes Wendy suspected Katy herself thought she wasn’t really close enough to human.
They were aboard the cruiser Endymion, under the command of legendary Terran Ranger Service Captain Ryan Baker, the hero of Altair IV, the explorer of the Drift of Canopus, the fabled Sky Wolf; in short the greatest living hero in the entire galaxy. And, oh yes, he was a jerk, too.
Wendy sighed. In her three years with the service she’d done well, achieving the rank of lieutenant and the post of pilot-officer. She was fifth in line of command in the ship’s bridge division, though twenty fourth in line of command to the ship itself. Hence the dog watch duty she was on right now. But she was a good pilot, kept her training up to date with single-crewmember craft like explorers and tugs, and liked the people she worked with. She was especially fond of Katy and sympathetic because she realized Katy was having problems.
She’d been on the ship almost eighteen months, half a year longer than Katy. She knew, from what she had overheard and seen, that Baker had objected to having an Upgrade assigned to his crew. He compared them to aliens and said he wouldn’t have one of those in his crew, either. But Upgrades were being placed throughout the military by order of the Joint Chiefs, and the brass in Houston had overruled him. She suspected it was a measure of Baker’s clout that the ship only had one Update. She knew that most other ships of the fleet had at least two, and she could name three ships where half a squadron – mainly mechanics and repair – were Upgrades. Maybe Katy was just lonely.
She was finished with her banana now and was calling up views from various of the ship’s exterior cameras on the screen in front of her, gazing intently at the screen, holding each view long enough to scan it with her wide, liquid eyes. It was the Endymion’s night period. Bridge illumination was cut down, so that much of the light came from the instrument panels and screens around them. The light on Katy’s orangutan face gave her a childlike look as she studied the images. One long finger tapped at her lower lip. Finally, she said, “What’s that?”
She was pointing at a blip on a long range detector screen.
“That’s what the captain went to see about,” said Wendy. “It showed up about two hours ago, ship’s time. Everything was going routinely, so he decided to check it out himself. He hopped in an explorer and took off.”
“It’s an odd one,” Katy said, nodding. She pointed at the readings printed out on the right hand side of the screen. “Really, really odd. Those gravitational flux readings just don’t make any sense.”
“No, they don’t,” Wendy admitted. She had argued with the captain about it, the readings were so strange; and almost no one argued with the captain.
It was not that the captain was quick to anger – he was insufferably understanding, was Ryan Baker. And he was patronizing. He’d given her that smile of his, the one that made his pencil-thin mustache crinkle with avuncular pride in how much his underlings loved him, placed his hand on her shoulder, and said, “Now, don’t you worry Wendy. I don’t plan on going too close to it, and if it looks like there’s any risk involved, I’ll come straight back to the ship. It’s just an anomaly in space, and I want to have a look at it.”
Besides, Wendy thought but did not say, as yet there no space phenomena that’s been named Baker’s Anomaly.
“With readings like that,” said Katy. “I don’t think it’s wise to send just one ship and one person to check it out. Look at those magnetic field spikes. Not to mention the gravitational ones.”
There was probably more that Katy intended to say, but they were interrupted by the radio, which gave a burst of static, followed by,
“Mayday! Mayday! This is Captain Ryan Baker to Star-cruiser Endymion. I need help!”
Commander Parkinson was on the bridge in just seven minutes from the time Wendy alerted her to the emergency, her uniform perfect, down to the ribbons one was not required to wear on duty station. She took one look at the screen and said, “So the old Sky Coyote’s got his hind leg caught in a trap, has he? And he wants us to go get him out.”
Wendy decided she wasn’t diplomatic enough to comment on that.
“Well, I guess we need to send some poor fool ahead of us to take a look at how bad his situation is,” Parkinson said. She was not smiling gleefully, but she was rubbing her hands together. “Do you have a pilot in mind, Lieutenant?”
Wendy said, “It looks like I’m your poor fool, Commander. I’ve tested out most recently on explorer class, and besides, it’s middle of the night. We can get a replacement for me here on the bridge sooner than we can brief a pilot.”
Parkinson rubbed her chin. “Yeah, I guess we can at that. But don’t take the captain’s example and be a complete idiot. Take a back-up pilot with you.” She glanced at Katy. “Is she up to it?”
“Katy? She’s tested out and up to date on everything we have. I was going to suggest her.”
“Then we’ll get two replacements up here,” Parkinson said. Wendy and Katy were already on their way to the explorers’ bay.
There was a school of thought that held explorer boats in something that approached contempt, characterizing them as little more than
satellites, or instrument packages with a drive mount. They were designed to approach an object, assume an appropriate orbit and then scan, scan, scan, ‘till Daddy took the T-bird away. An explorer boat’s superstructure held more types of scanning equipment than most cruisers, and most of the software that drove it was a whiz at solving the problems of how to map anything no one had ever seen before.
But despite the way explorer boats were looked down on by most Rangers, Wendy rather enjoyed them. They were wonderfully responsive, the theory being that if you’d never seen an interstellar object before, whether a white bread rock planet or a flat out anomaly, it just might have qualities that could surprise you. The interior cabin was spacious and well designed and could carry six, and the blasted thing actually had an airlock. Airlocks were a luxury most other boat-sized vehicles did without.
The distance of a light-day was not much by interstellar standards, and the explorer’s drive mount that experienced space sailors were so prone to sneer at, was as adequate in dealing with it as anything else. In less than an hour Wendy had established the explorer’s course and piloting was settled into a routine. They monitored the regular exchanges over the subspace radio between Baker and the Endymion, and every once in a while Wendy would scan all the readouts on her instrument panel to reassure herself that everything was going swimmingly. And it was.
Toward the beginning of the second hour of their trip, Baker reported to Parkinson that his explorer was encountering turbulence. Turbulence in space is never a good thing, and even the old Sky Wolf sounded a tad unsettled. But the problem, whatever it was, subsided and things seemed quiet for a while.
The explorer was capable of traveling the distance of a light-day in about three hours, but inasmuch as they were approaching an area where another ship was known to have run into trouble that wasn’t completely understood, Wendy had plotted a course that would allow her and Katy to come up cautiously and more slowly than Baker had. She really didn’t want to get herself caught in whatever it was that had snared the old Sky Wolf.
During the trip, Katy concerned herself with studying the data that had been collected aboard the ship. It was evident both to her and Wendy that the anomaly did not follow any of the standard patterns to be expected for such phenomena, despite the benign readings it had first given off. As it was slowly studied it became obvious that it was odd; and when it was studied some more, it just seemed even odder.
“You know what?” Katy said suddenly, moments before they were to drop into sub-light criteria. “This isn’t what we thought it was at all. It’s not a magnetic flux anomaly, it’s not a gravity stitch, it’s not a mass/parity contradiction.”
“Then what is it?” Wendy asked.
“A tear. I think this is nothing less than a tear between dimensions.” She gaped at her computer readouts a moment then said, “It’s an opening to another universe.”
“That’s not possible,” Wendy protested,
“That’s what I thought, too,” said Katy, as the ship slip-dropped into normal space. “But just take a look at it yourself.”
She pointed at the viewscreen.
\That’s when everything just went horribly wrong.
On the screen they could see the explorer – or part of it. It was caught in some sort of patch in space – it was seemingly darker than the rest of space – or at least black in an utterly different way. No stars were visible behind the patch. Only about half of the small ship was visible as if its nose were buried in the blackness and hidden by it. The ship was rotating with the patch, describing a circle like a tree branch caught in a whirlpool.
Then suddenly the ship shuddered violently.
Over the radio they heard Baker call out, but he never got to finish his sentence. Something crashed or buckled or snapped over the radio and Baker went silent. Wendy punched the call toggle and repeated Baker’s name over and over, but got no response.
They had a subspace viewscreen link to the Endymion, something Baker, caught in that patch, had not been able to establish. Parkinson had the same visuals and the same close-by readings they had.
Her reaction was typical of her leadership capabilities, thought Wendy. She yelled, “What the hell is going on out there?”
The ship seemed to stop its violent movement, though not the turning with the current of the patch. Wendy said, “I’m going to move in closer for a better look."
“Well, don’t get too close,” Parkinson said, and Wendy thought that the finest order she’d ever been given. She moved the ship slowly and
ponderously toward the patch, keeping her eyes on the telltales in front of her, conscious that Baker had likely done the same thing but gotten trapped anyway. When she was as close as she dared, she set the ship at rest in relationship to the patch and looked at Katy.
The Upgrade was calling Baker’s name over and over again into the radio. Still no response.
She stopped and looked at Wendy. “If he’s still alive, he’s not conscious.”
“And I think we need to assume that ship is trapped where it is, too,” Wendy said. “If Captain Baker couldn’t get it out, we’re not likely to.”
“That leaves just one thing, then,” Katy said. “Somebody is going to have to go over there and bring the captain back.”
Wendy was already unbuckling her harness. Katy put a hand on her shoulder. “It makes more sense for me to go,” she said. “I’m stronger than you are, Wendy, and you’re the better pilot.”
“It’s too dangerous,” Wendy said.
“That’s another reason for you not to go. If something goes wrong, we might need all the piloting skill we can muster. That’s you, Wendy.” Katy was already out of her co-pilot’s bucket and heading back toward the airlock to get into her suit. “We can run a cable and I’ll pull it behind me as I jet over. Then we can pull ourselves back on it.”
She slammed the airlock hatch shut, leaving Wendy by herself and feeling very alone.
Wendy quickly called the Endymion and reported what was going on. Parkinson just listened to her and said, “Keep us posted,” when she was finished.
She could see Katy in her space armor, pulling the boat’s fullerene cable along behind her as the propelled herself with the small reaction jets in her suit. She seemed small and childlike, even in her bulger.
She reached the ship and landed near the tail and the way the ship was rotating it seemed like she would be thrown off. But of course nothing like that was likely to happen. She moved quickly and with great skill, securing the cable with a magnetized safety hob, getting the airlock open and going into the ship. Wendy reported back to the Endymion, even though everything she saw and heard was also being transmitted to them.
Finally, she heard Katy’s voice over the radio. “He’s alive, Wendy. Looks like he just banged his head a bit. He’s in his spacesuit, so I can’t be sure, but he seems to be okay. I’ll have him out of here in a –”
There was a pause.
“Katy?” Wendy called. “What’s going on? Is everything all right?”
“Oh my God, Wendy,” came Katy’s hushed voice. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Not anything at all!”
“Like what?” Wendy asked, practically screaming.
“I was right. It’s another universe. I can see it on the forward viewscreens. And it’s – I’ve never seen anything like it!
“Wendy, the stars are different. A different pattern of constellations. There’s a great nebula nearby, gigantic and billowing ahead of us, alight with orange fire. We’re near a star system. We’re right over a planet, the most beautiful planet I’ve ever seen. And there are ships coming!”
Wendy jabbed the send toggle. “I don’t care how pretty it all is, Katy, grab a firm hold on Captain Baker and get your colorful rump back on this ship. Do you hear me? Get back here now.”
“Aye, Lieutenant,” said Katy. “I hear you. Right away Lieutenant Wendy, ma’am. In just – Holy crap!”
“Holy what?” Wendy said. “Report Katy, what’s going on?”
She was right. The ship shuddered again and seemed to be sliding deeper into the patch.
“I think they got a grapple –”
“Get out of there! Get out of there now!”
“Yes ma’am, Lieutenant, right away –”
And then there was static on the line and Wendy couldn’t hear the rest of it.
But she could see what was on her screen. The ship was slipping deeper into the patch.
Suddenly the boat jerked toward the patch, tugged by the cable. The safety hob’s software decided that was enough and released itself before any damage could be done and Wendy found herself fighting to stabilize the boat. But it only took seconds.
By which time the other explorer boat had disappeared into the patch.
And a few seconds after that, the patch was gone also, leaving not even so much as a jiggle on a readout dial.
The rest of the mission was as routine as could be.
Parkinson convened an investigation committee that concluded the captain’s loss was due to misadventure of his own making. The actions of Wendy and Katy were ruled exemplary, even heroic, and most of the scientific investigators agreed with Katy’s interpretation as to the nature of the anomaly. There was a new spatial phenomenon on the record books and it was duly name Katy’s Anomaly. Wendy and Katy were cited for valor, Katy posthumously, and Wendy received a promotion.
Her career was moving forward. But no one ever heard of Katy and Baker again.
Or did they?
A year after the disappearance of Katy and Captain Baker, an expedition was set up to examine the region of space where it had happened, a scientific expedition consisting of a single ship. Wendy, now a Lt. Commander, was second in command.
Space seemed normal but electro-magnetic and particle-count readings were not quite normal, so it was even likely the expedition might produce some sort of data that would eventually prove useful to science.
One night as Wendy lay sleeping in her small, cramped cabin aboard the expeditionary ship, she dreamed of Katy.
As Wendy sat up, there sat the orangutan Upgrade on the foot of her bunk.
“Hi, Wendy,” said Katy. “Glad you came back.” She indicated the uniform jacket hanging neatly in the open locker. “See you made light commander, too. Congratulations, kid.”
“Thanks … I mean … I’m dreaming. I’m dreaming about you Katy.”
“Is that so strange?”
Wendy shook her head. “Not really. It’s not the first time.”
“You don’t mean that!” Katy said. “No, really? You’ve actually had dreams about me? I’m touched, I really am. I always said you were
the best human there ever was.” Katy ran a knuckle under her right eye as if wiping away a tear. “But this isn’t exactly a dream. I mean, it is a dream, but not in the usual sense. This is really me. Over here, science developed along somewhat different lines from your world, and they know a way of communicating mentally. It’s not easy – it’s all still experimental, which is why they gave in to my request for a chance to talk with you. They wanted to see if they could do it.”
“Wendy, it’s something over here. It’s a whole different universe, or at least a different version of the universe. I don’t have the time to tell you much about it. I just wanted you to know I’m okay. And that I miss you.”
“Then you’re doing all right over there?” Wendy said.
“You better believe it. We Upgrades have a lot more rights over here. We can run things and we get respect.”
“What are you doing? Do you have a job? What?”
Katy grinned. “Same as you. I’m an officer aboard a research ship. Guess what my rank is. We’re investigating the anomaly, too. And I got to tell you, we’re getting nowhere with it, just like you guys, I suspect.”
“Then we ought to compare notes. We got some readings, not much, really, but –”
“Yeah, same as us, I imagine. But there’s no time, Like I said, this is an experiment, and I’ve got to be going. It’s great to see you again, Wendy. Take care.”
She was starting to fade.
“Wait a minute,” Wendy said. “What about Captain Baker? Is he all right?”
“Is he ever,” said Katy. “They let me keep him as a pet.”
And then she faded out of sight with a slight plop.