Wynken, Blynken and Nod ran into the cabin and strapped themselves into their bunks. They were excited and considerably less than terrified. They threw Jeanette a tub full of snacks. They took them seriously, and Jeanette could count on the tub being full of her favorites.
“So--what’s this a storm of, anyway?” She asked. “I thought we were traveling through a whole lot of nothing, like one atom per cubic meter.”
“Oh, way less than that,” said Nod.
“Okay, I’m still asking the question,” Jeanette said grumpily.
“Well, what it is, it’s kind of...um…” Nod fumbled.
“It’s kind of like when two or more universes bump into each other, and the physical constants and laws and stuff don’t match. You get turbulence,” said Wynken, with only a little more confidence than her sister.
“Most of the time we get it close to an event horizon…” Said Blynken.
“Or a wormhole?” Being a child of the science-fictional entertainment of her era, Jeanette Ransom was very much invested in wormholes.
Wynken Bronx cheered, which Jeanette hadn’t heard since way before the start of her adventures. “Wormholes are the worst. So overrated.”
“Oh?” Jeanette asked.
The ship abruptly tilted 45 degrees.
“Those who just read about them think they’re so easy, but we’ve never been down one that didn’t have four or five different exits. Very un-useful.”
“ANYWAY,” Blynken said over them, “they’re usually brief there, and regular matter tends to tamp them down. If we’ve got a storm, it’s probably going to be a big one.”
“And normally we’ve got stabilizers for this stuff, but the power’s all been diverted to the detectors in the hold. And we can’t shut them down or we lose the trace.”
“CREW TO ME!” The Captain’s voice filled the cabin. The three black girls jumped out of the bunks as eagerly as they jumped in. There was another radical tilt of the ship and they went out half-walking on the walls, leaving Jeanette secure with four tubs of snacks. She began to inspect them methodically.
Captain Ngozi Makena Odile was controlling the ship from her cabin, but she had two datagloves on and a half-helmet vision system on her head. The tilts of the ship, which were now coming more often, were answered with a series of compensatory hand gestures. There were no free-floating readouts, and the cabin was quiet.
That was solved by the entrance of her crew. “All right, settle down. The bad part of this is that our Deep Chaos track leads right through the heart of the storm, and if we try to arc around it, we’ll lose everything. So, no choice.”
The ship did a near total barrel roll, and Ngozi pulled the air dramatically.
“What we’re going to need is portable stabilizers--not synced to central--on the internal cross-bracing. They’re going to have to be monitored live. They’re going to have to be up in ten minutes and monitored for at least three hours. The problem is we’re going to need six placements, and it will be hellishly difficult to monitor two at once.”
Nod raised her hand.
“What,” said the Captain unhappily.
“We have a solution to that.”
“Which is.” Even more unhappily.
“The mice.” And Wynken and Blynken nodded enthusiastically.
“Senhor Capybara’s mice. We’ve been training them: they’re as smart as humans.”
“They don’t have language, but they can operate a trackball or keypad like anything,” Blynken said.
“In ten minutes? You can teach them?”
“Servo helmets. Diotima made them for us. Ten minutes and they’ll be ready.”
“It’ll be great!” Nod said.
“Aboard my own ship…” The Pirate Queen of the Night lamented, without gesture or eye contact, which remained furiously busy.
“There’ll be six of them. Nine will do the job beautifully,” Wynken said.
“There’s no time. Do it.” The Captain said.
Her three daughters cheered and sped out the door.
“Trained mice,” the Captain muttered.
The Paradox Swan now began to shake continually, in addition to its lurches and tilts. “How are we doing?” She asked her crew.
“Beautifully. The mice are aces at keeping the trackball steady. Frame integrity in the green.” one of the girls responded. She looked at the monstrous size of the storm and how the superimposed track from the monitors went right through the center of it. There had to be a causal connection, but she couldn’t afford to devote any attention to those thoughts now. She was going to start losing masts if she didn’t stay focused.
Then she started getting impacts on the hull. What the hell were they? Solid chunks of space-time? There was exotic and then there was impossible. Was this, in fact a storm, or something else?
I am your death, Captain Odile.
It was all just her suggestibility, but maybe it was better to get mad. After all, she had defiance she hadn’t even used yet. And maybe it was time to roar a bit louder as the Swan plunged into the Mouth of Hell.
The impacts and the boost of the engines alarmed every one of the passengers, but by then they had a pretty well unshakeable confidence in Ngozi Makena Odile’s abilities. Still, Jeanette lost all pleasure in her tubs of snacks and shoved them into a secure cabinet. She thought that Diotima’s presence would be welcome as she lay, strapped half-upright, in her bed. And of course, there was her father, but, although she blushed at it, she wanted a warm kittycat more right now than her dada.
There was now a ringing in the ears of everyone aboard ship, though the Swan was still quieter than its shaking would warrant. Then the tinnitus turned into a abrupt dizziness, that made everyone including the Captain to grab a handhold. They all had a feeling that the ship was nosing downward into a steep dive that was quite illusory.
While there had been thumps all along, abruptly there was a furious clatter that was like a hailstorm running down the length of the hull. There were even fewer possibilities than for the thumps, and it was hard to get fewer than zero explanations. The Captain started to move the acceleration up, but noticed that the telltales were creeping up into the orange. Emotional release would have to wait.
The ship started to shake heavily now. The feeling that the ship was coming apart, while erroneous by the numbers, became overwhelming. She called her augmented crew. “How are you holding up?”
“All stations within 2 points of optimal levels. Don’t worry about us.”
“I never do,” she responded.
But the shaking continued, and she wished she had the power for the emergency stabilizers. But the Deep Chaos track was still there, and that was what really mattered.
There’s always a first time for failure, and you are a stupid girl.
Excuse me, I think you may have me confused with somebody else, she said back to the internal voice.
Then there was a screaming that ran down the length of the ship--
--and they were through.
Ngozi threw off her helmet and stood up, shaking her head. She opened her mouth wide so that her ears popped.
“Report,” she said.
“Let’s do that again!” Shouted one of her daughters. “That was radical!”
She let her floating readouts appear around her head. They were at a constant velocity and stable. There weren’t any galaxies that were larger than pinpoints, and they didn’t match any charts. She would have been surprised if they did.
The track was still there.
“All hands may stand down from wearing restraints. Refreshments will be served in the mess in half an hour.”
She sat down and began to let herself relax--when there was a tiny silvery ping audible throughout the ship, accompanied by a spike in the readouts.
“Belay that. Stay strapped in. We’re not out of this yet.”
Well that was just swell. And with all power levels low.
“Anti-matter universe. What more could a girl ask for?”