Jenna, the pilot, spoke into the ship's communicator clearly and loud.
“Everyone strap in, I'm cutting off all Aether networks aboard ship.”
Steve, Jenna's copilot, was working furiously through on-board computations. The implications of the her announcement reached his face slowly. His fingers paused above their controls. His eyes froze locking the current visual display into place. Finally, his lower lip parted then dropped.
“Y-you can't do that!” Steve stuttered sharply. His head turned with a quick snap to face her, sending his visual display back to it's default.
“I can and I will.”
“But we have at least 1,000 sol, not including all the personal equipment.”
“I am not losing Theta 99 again.” Jenna could not afford to look away from her control panel but instead hoped her tone could carry the icy determination her stare would have exchanged.
The scientific researchers aboard were very fond of her ship, but not in the same way she was. Theta 99's success rates and notoriety had attracted the kind of grants that would be treasonous to refuse. Regardless, she still wished her Captain would deny at least one. The last time research was conducted aboard her ship she had to bend 112 times to escape the EMTs, a space phenomena that only occurred near dark matter voids. At each bend she made the erratic mirror tendrils would reach out and follow the Aether mark her ship left behind. Arguably, there was only a small percentage chance that one of the tendrils would even latch onto an Aether trail, let alone her Aether trail, but she knew this dark matter void very well. It would come for her like it did every other time. It didn't care about numbers, and neither did she.
“But, without the network you'll have to follow the route without any guidance.” Steve was back at his computations with the minute of network time he had left. “And there's no way you could know the Aether has gone chaotic.”
The speakers boomed in announcement as the Captain mimicked Jenna's words, giving further instructions on the impending salvage. Anytime a pilot predicted contact with an EMT the ship prepared for a series of multi-bends, crew and cargo set to be jettisoned at predesignated coordinates.
With the Captain's authority now backing her decision Jenna got up from her chair and walked over to the core. She had to be close for complex piloting, though prevailing theories all asserted distance was not a factor in any Aether use. Aided by the powerful spring of her ankles she pulled herself over the chest high console, sat upright to brush the shoulder length hair from her face, and gracefully slid down into the well on the opposite side. The Core stood vertically at the center of the bridge, filling the concave walls with pink light. The light flickered gently, intentionally filtered by the cylindrical coating of aluminum oxide, only the outermost layer of containment, a multilayer field powered by the very force of that which it contained, force enough to squash stars, slingshot solar systems, or even redirect singularities, the now tame beast of the galaxy, tame only in comparison to the EMTs in which they soon would face. She looked down at her bare hands now exposed to the warm light and took a few quick breaths.
As soon as the Captain's announcement ended Jenna filled the room with a clear musical hum leaving a second's space of silence between command and song. Sitting cross legged, she pressed her forehead against the cylinder, pink aluminum oxide adding extra glow to her red curls. She picked out the few bits of Aether she would need and with a sweeping gesture disconnected the rest. The disconnected Aether would be left behind at the very first bend, data and energy both consumed in the void to come. She let herself smile at the thought of interrupting the researchers. Undoubtedly, they had been transferring to hard data the entire time, but if any of them brought their personal devices they would feel the pain from disconnection.
“Jenna...?” Steve's voice tried compel fear.
“Ignore him.” she muttered to herself.
“What the fuck!” Steve chimed in, “You're still gonna do it with the network down?”
“Look,” she sighed aloud “Those government researchers built that network to study the Aether we farmed. It went chaotic so I'm leaving it behind.”
“But there's still hours left of data.”
“Do you know how much that's worth.”
She didn't answer.
“How do you even know it went chaotic?”
“I just know!” she shouted back to expend the last of her frustration.
She set her eyes back to the core. Her breast swelled as she drew a deep breath, for the second time ready to hum. Her voice rung out again at the same pitch to enlarge and engorge the shield around the ship with the vast amount of energy she held at her fingertips. Filled to the point of bursting she shrunk the shield back down like her slowly collapsing lungs. What remained of the compressed ship was now microscopic, shrunken by the mass of energy that encompassed it.
She pulled out 14 strands of Aether, each one equivalent to a star in terms of power contained. They shone brightly in her mind and blocked out all other sensations.
The Aether strands spiraled outward crisscrossing, outward all directions, outward then doubling back; turning, spiraling, converging at her direction to a point 10 light years away. The brightness in her mind was replaced by a burning taste at the tip of her tongue. The stars in her head exhausted within in seconds, the burning forgotten just as fast.
Taking one more powerful thread she stretched the tiny ship, pulling it, out to and past her point 10 light years away. The stretching was remarkably easy, an object as large as the ship contained in so small a space could stretch forever. As a precautionary measure she took the end of the elongated ship, sine waved it, spiraled and zig-zagged, bent it backward and passed through her point one final time.
“There,” she thought. And then aloud, “Ready on your mark.” Jenna leaned herself back against the slopped wall of the well. She pushed against the pink cylinder with her feet sliding herself into a mock standing position, arms limp at her side.
“All crew jettison ready” the Captain confirmed over the speaker.
She checked her piloting one more time, firmly holding both ends of the ship in her mind with incomprehensible potential energy. Once she let go, the ship would snap back to original size and shape depositing the previously disconnected Aether network, and the thousand of its branches, as false trails for the EMTs. Erratic Mirror Tendrils were an imperceptible sleeping beast within the dark matter void. The beast was unknown, the depths of its pool unknown, erratic could hardly describe the various different fangs it bared at stellar travelers, or wisp like tendrils that caused cosmic destruction no physicist could explain, like gravity wells, infernos, slicing in halves, quints, or simply sucking ships in bending and twisting it's passengers back along the path they used in their attempted escape, only a few of these bite marks showed that anything had happened at all.
Jenna shuddered at the thought of it. She refused to think of this space anomaly as anything other than a beast. Stars, nebulae, black holes all had a distinct sense, a uniformity and causality that could be easily mapped if not easily understood. Yet dark matter voids and the mirror tendrils that stretched out of them couldn't be called anything but wild. One thing they did know about them, in part at least though no one could be really sure as of yet, was that dark matter voids were either made of Aether, contained Aether, or simply bounced back a new and perfect substance when the harvesters shot tiny particles of matter at it. After a use for Aether was finally discovered they named it as a near limitless source of energy; not knowing that thousands of years before, someone else had given this perfect substance the same name. And the beast licked its fangs clean whenever the Aether aboard a ship came close.
“Mark.” The Captain's voice rang through the speakers signaling Jenna to complete her maneuver.
Jenna drew half a breath before she was interrupted.
“That is simply a remarkable bend you've done. I really must have a closer look once we are out of the dark matter's influence.” A smiling round face she did not recognize popped over the circular console above her.
“What the CHAOS are you doing on my bridge!”
She let go and instantly, the ship snapped, the beast roared, the network snared; the Aether worthless, the data priceless, the pilot furious, the first bend was done.
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