This story is by Elizabeth Stuart Lacey and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
The sensation of a shudder woke Ana. She turned over to go back to sleep, half consciously assuming a low flying jet had shaken her building. But then she noticed the lime green lights round her hatchway. Ana jolted upright. She was not home, and lime green was the last color anyone ever wanted to see on a star ship, even a sardine can like the Fingerling. Ana wondered why there was no corresponding ‘whoop-whoop’ splitting her ears as she wriggled into her standard issue coverall and hurried up the short corridor to the bridge. That is, until she got there.
The rest of the crew were all transfixed by the view on the star screen. Brilliant explosions dotted the space where, just hours before, the fleet had hung in formation. Beyond the white-hot billows were great back hulks that Ana didn’t recognize, pulsing fire that shone a particular shade of blue, a hue that should not have been there, one Ana’d never seen outside a test site.
“Who is it, how’d – “she started to say, only to be shushed by Captain Beyer.
“Not a sound,” she whispered. “Not until we know the Stealth is operational.”
Ana was astounded and tried to catch Meade’s eye. They weren’t due to test any of the experimental tech until they’d cleared the solar system. And the Stealth was just something Dr. Veer had stuck on board for them to play with while they cruised. Did the captain actually expect that toy to work? Meade wouldn’t meet her glance, his face distorted by a scowl of horror mingled with fury. He just shook his head as he stared in disbelief as one by one the remainder of Commander Peter Kane’s much vaunted fleet of star ships exploded into clouds of blinding white vapor.
The sight was like nothing Ana had ever seen in even the most advanced simulations. Where was the debris? Their little vessel should have been buffeted to bits given the pulverizing taking place just beyond their vantage. But all she felt were repeated reverberations like the one that had wakened her. She wasn’t the only one looking on with incomprehension, though the rest of her team didn’t seem quite as confused as she was.
And Captain Beyer didn’t look even surprised, nor did the handful of regular Navy in charge of keeping the ‘science tub’ safely moving through space. They all looked grim, but not remotely mystified.
A low horn sounded over the inter-ship com, followed by a three-beep signal that coincided with a cessation of the strobing lime lights.
“Stealth in force,” came Programmer Murphy’s voice, split with a slight tremor.
Captain Beyer turned immediately to Meade. “We got to bounce and soon. How long ‘til you’re ready?”
“Meade, what’s he talking about? Who blew up the fleet?” Ana cringed as her voice come out a squawk.
“Shouldn’t we be tracking for survivors?” Dr. Isley didn’t sound much more dignified.
“I thought you said it was going to be Russians — there’s no way they coulda gotten that far in advance of us without our knowing,” blatted Adept Boyd.
The rest of the team began talking at once until they were all shouting.
Captain Beyer pierced the din with a sharp whistle blast. “Enough! It’s Russians all right. I told you Kane sold us out.”
“Those don’t look like any Russian gunships I ever saw,” said Boyd, unmistakably derisive. “And shouldn’t that be Commander Kane – thought you regular Navy were sticklers for protocol.”
“Well of course they don’t – they’re from a hundred years on. This double cross has gone down the way it did before to the last instant. Kane’s a traitor and a backstabber from back yonder, from the time we were at the Academy together,” said Captain Beyer
“How’s that possible?” said Ana, looking at the 30-something captain with dismay. “Commander Kane’s in his 60’s.”
“No time to get into it now, young’un,” said Beyer. “Meade, you want to tell your junior what we’re really doing here?”
“What do you mean, what we’re really doing here?” said Ana, glancing around at the rest of the R &D team, who were mostly looking at their shoes.
“We were going to tell you, Baby Junior,” said Meade. “I just didn’t count on this.” He gestured out at the leviathans gradually nearing through the phosphorescent fuzz that appeared to be all that was left of Commander Kane’s famous fleet.
Ana winced. She hated the designation, despite its technical accuracy. Just because she was the youngest Advanced Adept ever to sign on to a space faring science voyage did not mean she liked being called ‘Baby Junior’. Especially not in front of the ship’s crew, especially the guy who called her ‘squirt’ and pinched her when no one was looking.
“Tell me what?”
“The Fingerling is the known universe’s first time-ship,” said Captain Beyer. “Or will be, if we can slip Kane’s clutches.”
Ana felt like she might faint. “That was just theoretical,” she stammered. But then she recalled the diversion of the fabrication team, the odd requisitions and shuffled manifests, the documents swept out of her view, and the hours she’d been set configuring “speculative” design equations. “You mean, it’s real?”
“As real as the thousands of deaths Kane just unleashed on his own fleet.,” said Captain Beyer, her face gone granite. “This time, we prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt, but only if you all succeed in making the jump before those behemoths reach clench distance.”
“Right on it — Baby Junior, watch and learn,” said Meade. “Here we go.”
Ana experienced the strangest sensation she had ever yet to endure, and was never afterward quite able to describe it, as the Fingerling left time behind.