Jeanette stammered as she said, “S-so is there something wrong with the ship’s screens--O-or are there no stars?”
Captain Tchulik Chreste didn’t answer her, but moved his hands over the panels in front of him. She wanted to yell at him to answer her, but didn’t really want to hear the answer if it was bad.
Finally, though she said in a tiny voice that was worse than a shout, “Please answer me…!”
The Captain sighed an exasperated sigh and slumped his shoulders. “I wish it were an either/or situation. I really do. The Wooden Shoe has been massively damaged: that’s beyond dispute. I’ve just now managed to coax her into repairing herself. But the damage didn’t seem to extend to her sensors. But that’s ‘seemed.’”
Jeanette got out of the executive officer’s chair purely because she couldn’t stand sitting in it any more. Her legs were wobbly--but then she began to feel scarily light-headed. She returned to the seat, now beginning to feel terrible.
“As for the no stars thing, well--our drives are completely down. We won’t be moving for a while. That also means, though, that we’re not in hyperspace. That takes a considerable amount of power simply to maintain. So we might have ‘landed,’ so to speak, in a completely empty universe that’s part of the Wild Reach bundle. Our map does indicate the existence of stars, and completely empty universes are not supposed to exist--but there is a first time for everything.”
That was the last thing she remembered hearing for a while. The next she knew, Senhor Capoeira Capybara was holding a piece of chocolate under her nose.
“That’s the girl,” he said. “Your blood sugar was dangerously low. Make that is. Eat this.”
It was incredibly good: there was caramel in it. She immediately felt better.
“It’s the closest thing I could get the ship’s compositor to make to a Snickers bar, as I understand them. Peanuts seem to be beyond it’s capabilities in this low energy state.”
“It’s better. Thank you,” she said weakly.
She realized that her father was holding her hand. “Dada,” she said weakly.
“It’s an unusual effect,” he said. “To just have severe blood-sugar depletion, but it seems we all have it to one extent or another.”
“Good news, of a sort,” said the Captain. “There don’t, in fact, seem to be any stars in this universe. That’s not the good news. But a truly empty universe would actually be very difficult to get out of. This, however, seems to be a universe at the end of its lifespan: heat-death and all that. Nothing left but an increased level of cosmic background radiation. But that’s enough to let us push off elsewhere, as son as the drives are repaired.”
Jeanette spent most of the next three ship’s days sleeping, and it was just as well: of all the conversations with her father, one of the most dreadful in her memory had been him explaining entropy, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and the heat-death of the universe. She had certainly never expected to get there, but she was glad she wasn’t even tempted to have a look at it.
Finally the tests and dry runs had all been done, and they were ready to push off. It was doing to be a short jump, since it was from who knows where to who knows where part II. Nonetheless it was a ragged leap, and they all got shaken up well.
When the jump was over, Jeanette was happily reassured to see a space full of stars. There was even a broad spread of the edge of a galaxy--a milky way spanning the arc of the star-field.
She came back to sit next to the Captain, since she felt that sitting in her cabin and looking at the outside was not quite as real as looking at the big screens on the bridge. Plus she she now had a feeling that she had earned the position.
“My best guess--actually the ship’s best guess, doing a comparison with our map--is that we’re about a hundred thousand years in the future from the base timeline. My personal guess was that trajectory was a function of one of the hits we took getting in here.There’s not enough confirmed matches to give us a path, but we can take a nice wide swing across a number of universes that will end us up back at our baseline with a minimum of weirdness,” the Captain said to the travelers assembled on the bridge.
Everybody gave assent, and Jeanette nestled down into the X-O chair.
They coasted down into a raised edge view of a galaxy that might have been the same one and might not, and as they slowed, Jeanette could see the floating readout of the map they had gotten back at the Moon of the Moon light up with correspondence points.
Tchulik announced, “We’re still considerably away from our main track, but we can see it from here. We are, however, pretty depleted of power, so what I recommend is a nice close parabola close to a main sequence star so we can get a plentiful dose of energy, and, as an optional bonus, perhaps some heavy elements as well. The one peculiarity I’m seeing is a scarcity of planetary systems, which would be the most convenient, but this will do.”
“I was wondering when we were going to see something that would justify the name Wild Reach,” said Dr. Ransom. “Absence of planets is kin d of thin gruel, but it’s still interesting.”
“Be careful what you wish for, Dr. Ransom,” said the Captain.
The nearest star was about five solar masses, and the Captain set the Wooden Shoe into a comet-like non-powered elliptical orbit. The ship deployed its sailed for the first time, and while they didn’t compare to the elaborate set of the Paradox Swan, it was an impressive and familiar sight.
It was the capybara, the Queen, and (of course) the Lieutenant who decided to join them on the bridge. “It is interesting that the star has a couple of asteroid belts, and a couple of small rocks where planets should be, but nothing larger,” he said.
It was all quite comfortable, with the screens dialing down the glare of the sun so it could be looked at without discomfort. It made the sunspots and the minor flares easy to see.
But as they got quite near to the star, Jeanette saw something that made her cry out.
“There are things coming out of the sun,” she said. “Coming for us!”