Nebula in the Deep

Submitted into Contest #8 in response to: Write a story about an adventure in space. ... view prompt

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Science Fiction

Her muscles seemed to tense with every chime of the warning alerts; proximity, fire, and power failure alarms each ringing in their own distinct tone and pattern. As the captain called out for a report on every station the voices went from stern and confident, to shouting and chaotic.

Venturing into the cerulean and fuchsia mixed cloud, the crew of the ISS Condor had no idea what to expect. The observation windows were useless as the clouds covered the ship like thick cream. The current of plasma that comprised the beautiful anomaly clung to every nook and cranny of the ship’s fuselage, wreaking havoc for the ship’s systems analyst.

Lieutenant Dawson exhaled sharply, shaking her hand at the station monitor. “I’m getting readings all over the ship, everything from hull breaches, power surges, and a fire on C-deck. I’m shutting down automated countermeasures… try to keep her from fixing problems that aren’t there.”

“Do something about those alarms while you’re at it. Do we have anything on perimeter sensors, short range? Long range? Anything from our remote probe?”

The chief turned in his chair facing the captian, his forehead wrinkled, and cracking in his voice. “Nothing consistent. I am getting intermittent contact from the probe. Strange readings, I’ve never seen anything like this.”

The lighting on the control deck flickered as power surges were felt throughout the ship. Alarms blaring, lights flashing and now the ship was rumbling. Dawson gripped the arms of her chair, her knuckles turning white as her fingertips went numb.  The pounding of her pulse in her neck caught her off guard, escalating with every breathe. Nothing made sense, she heard his order to shut off the alarms, but it didn’t register. As if he was speaking a different language.

Glancing from her station monitor to the captain, she saw his jaw tense, eyes squinting, focusing on the forward observation windows. If there was any fear in him at all, he didn’t show it. They were flying blind, but he kept them steadily on course. She had to trust him.

Rattling with increasing intensity, the ship groaned in pain as the bulkheads shed their safety panels. Like the nebula didn’t want them there and fought with constant resistance. What secret was it trying to keep?

Suddenly the ship stopped shaking, the colorful sludge sliding off the forward windows. The captian stood from his command chair, balancing himself on the overhead monitors as he leaned forward to look at the seemingly empty eye of the nebula.

“Lieutenant, I want a damage report as soon as you can. See if you can purge all of our external ports, get this crap off of my ship… And please shut off the alerts!”

Staring at her screen, trying to catch her breath, she unwrapped her hands from the arms of her seat. Flexing her fingers, she disabled the system alerts. As a loud hissing filled the command bridge from the purge, the systems came back online, one by one. Turning in her chair to report the ship’s clean bill of health, she paused, interrupted by deafening silence. Seeing her wide-eyed crew mates looking out of the observation windows, she stood moving from her station toward the center of the bridge trying to catch a glimpse of what had captivated the crew.

The inner wall of the nebula was at a distance, but there was something more. Maneuvering around the captain’s command station more objects came into view, strange t-shaped bodies, made of metal… had to be. Another long cylindrical object that seemed to be rounded on one end with what looked a short thick tower protruding from the side. There were other jagged fragments, and what looked like a mist of dark and light particles. Everything was motionless, floating in the peaceful center of a chaotic cage.

“There’s the probe!” The chief pointed at the window before scurrying to his station.

The captain’s head whipped around. “Can you make contact?”

“Yes, but I’m getting a lot of strange readings Sir. The objects don’t match any vessels on record. The nebula consists of some sort of plasma, it’s chemical make-up is like nothing I’ve seen.” The chief’s voice was high, and he stuttered as he read the data as quickly as he could. “There are trace amounts um, of-of ice, wait, yes crystalized H2O, and, and… this can’t be right.”

“What is it?”

“Carbon, lignin, hemicelluloses… this... Captain it’s particles of wood!”

“That’s impossible!”

“It doesn’t make sense but that’s what it says… Sir there’s something else. There seems to be radiation emanating from one of the objects.”

“Dangerous?”

“No sir, but curious. This isn’t adding up.”

“Chief, keep searching the database, figure out what these things are. Helmsman, bring the ship about, I want you to pull us parallel to the source of that radiation. Dawson, meet me in airlock three and suit up.”

She looked at the captain nodding, acknowledging the order. Her head spinning with the various scenarios that a space walk could present. She’d done this a dozen times before, always making it back in one piece. She couldn’t help but think that one of them wasn’t going to be as lucky this time.

Lieutenant Dawson and the captain checked each other’s suits, making sure that every seal was fastened, oxygen connected, and equipment secured. The captain turned to place the helmet on her suit, she gently grabbed a hold of his gloved hands.

Closing her eyes, taking a deep breath, she exhaled with a light tilting of her head, signaling the captain she was ready. The helmet came down, twisted and clicked, activating the release of oxygen to the suit. The rush of air, and distinct smell of disinfected fabric and plastic switched on her focus. The long hours of training took over. Assisting the captain with his helmet, they approached the outer airlock door.

Looking through the porthole, the long cylindrical object slowly moved closer to the ship. There was something recognizable on the short tower of the object, it looked like an airlock, but strange. No window, docking clamps, nothing. There seemed to be a ring suspended from what looked like a hatch by three thick metal spokes. Her focus broke as the chime from the pressure indicator buzzed and the light flashed from red to green. It was time.

The captain pressed the release panel slowly opening the airlock. After securing their tether lines to the hull of the ship, the captain counted down from three. They gently pushed off the Condor and floated toward the object. The droning of the winch echoed through her suit as it let out the slack of the tether, drifting closer and closer to the object. Gripping the lifeline to her side, taking long controlled breaths, she collided with the hull of the object. The captain landed first, already on his way to the hatch. The magnetic boots seemed effective as she watched him walking on the smooth surface of the object. Activating her boots, followed.

Reaching the hatch at the top of the tower and gripping the wheel, the captain spun it counterclockwise. Dawson looked at the data pad on her wrist, monitoring the object, anticipating what lay beyond the hatch. The door opened with ease and they removed the winch systems from their suits, attaching them to the hull of the object. The captain went in first, climbing past what looked like a ladder. The airlock seemed rudimentary, there was a manual release on the interior, no electronics, no inner airlock, just a ladder that led down to what looked like a command station.

Walking through the dark corridors of the object, they could only see what was illuminated by the lights on their helmets, taking notice of what looked like words written on the bulkhead. The metal grate beneath their feet also had a recognizable design. Everything looked so familiar.

“Captain, do you copy?” The coms link fizzled as the chief’s voice crackled through.

“Yes Chief, we’re inside the object heading toward the source of the radiation spike.”

“Uh… you’re not going to believe this, but I’ve identified at least three of the objects inside the nebula.”

“Well…”

“Two of them are 19th century aircraft from Earth.”

The captain stopped and turned toward Dawson, his eyebrows furrowed. She stared back at him, blinking, trying to awaken from what seemed like a dream. “What’s the third object?”

“You’re inside of it… it appears to be a 21st century Naval Submarine. Virginia Class.”

“We need to leave, these were nuclear powered, who knows what state of decay the reactor could be in. These things weren’t built for space.”

Just then, the submarine rumbled and shook, the coms link fizzling as the chief’s voice frantically warned them of something they couldn’t quite discern. “… anomaly …energy weapons …attack…”

“Chief, come in! What’s happening out there? Chief!” The captains voice had a tone of desperation, something she’d never heard before.

The submarine rocked and jolted violently, they had left their winches tethered between the submarine and the Condor. Rushing back down the corridor to the ladder they climbed as fast as they could. The captain reached the hatch first, flying through the opening, reaching for Dawson’s hand.

Reaching for him she was blinded as a flash of blue light struck him in the chest, knocking him off the submarine. The coms link roared in her ear as the chief screamed for the captain to reply to his call for orders.

Her free hand hung lifeless as if still waiting for the captain to grab it. The other hand gripped the rung of the ladder, fingertips going numb again, the pulse in her neck intensifying as it did before, the piercing plea of the Chief in her ear.

The captain wasn’t there to snap her out if it this time. Closing her eyelids tight and taking a deep breath, she could see the captain staring out of a window of uncertainty. Calm. Focused. The way she wanted to remember him.

Exhaling slowly, and gripping the ladder with both hands, she cautiously pulled herself halfway through the open hatch. The Condor was tethered to the lifeless submarine suddenly taking fire, unable to maneuver and defend herself.

The attacker was dark, shaped like an elongated pyramid, firing its weapons erratically. Flashing blue lights surrounded the Condor as the energy shields deflected much of the fire. The remaining blasts splashed into the colorful milky walls of the nebula, while others hit the objects floating in the eye, disintegrating them into balls of blue fire. The shockwaves smashed into the sub, yanking the leash of the Condor.

While Dawson observed the situation, formulating a plan, she noticed a red orb in front of the Condor. It whirled chaotically as red particles emanated from its center. While slowly growing bigger and bigger, a black center of the orb started to open.

“Captain! What are your orders? What do we do, we’re under attack!”

“The captains dead… I’m in command.” Dawson let out a deep breath.

“Lieutenant what do we do?”

“How are the energy shields holding up?”

“We’re at 70% capacity. Our weapons were knocked offline before I could activate the shields. Who are they? Why are they firing at us?”

“We’re going to be fine. They don’t seem to be locking on to anything, the nebula must have temporarily disabled their tracking system.” Her reassurance fell on deaf ears.

“No, no! We gotta get out of here!”

“Listen to me! Don’t move the ship, you’re tethered to the sub, you’ll rip us apart. We’re going to be fine for now if you don’t move. What’s happening in front of our ship?”

“Yeah… yeah it popped up right before the firing started. It seems to be a displacement field of some sort… I can’t… I don’t know.”

“Chief. Listen to the sound of my voice, calm down. Displacement of what?”

“Ok, ok. If I’m reading this right, it appears to be a wormhole.”

“Good… good. We don’t have much time before they figure out how to get their targeting systems online. I’m going to go back into the sub.”

“No! You need to get over here now, we need to leave.”

“Chief, I’m going back into the sub. I’m going to place a charge on the reactor core. We’re going to fly through the wormhole, the explosion will collapse the displacement field behind us.”

“Why don’t we go through the nebula?”

“We can’t risk it. I’m making a lot of assumptions about this attacker right now. Chief, do you understand my orders?”

“Yeah… yeah I got it.”

Thrusting down the ladder, and disengaging her magnetic boots, she bounced off of the metal grid floor. Stabilizing herself she flew through the corridors of the submarine, grabbing and pulling at anything the walls could offer. Following the tracker on her data pad she found the reactor compartment.

Engaging the magnetic boots, planting her feet firmly to the floor, and gripping the wheel of the hatch door, she jerked it to the right finding nothing but hard resistance. Frantically looking about, she found a piece of pipe attached to the bulkhead. Banging on the steel with her hands it wouldn’t break free no matter how hard she tried.  The sub rattled and shook again.

Pulling the plasma torch from her equipment pouch and flicking the switch igniting the brilliant white flame, she cut through the top and bottom of the pipe, releasing it. Turning off the torch she let it float away, inserting the pipe between the spokes and placing one foot on the bulkhead next to the door. Pulling the bar with everything she had, groaning in pain as every muscle in her body felt like it was on fire from the strain, the wheel finally gave way.

The structure began to rumble more frequently, the attacker must have fixed their targeting systems. Time was running out.

The compartment filled with blobs of coolant escaping the reactors cooling system. It was nearing critical mass. She placed the explosive charge on the side of the reactor’s large cylindrical wall, setting the timer for ten minutes. Gripping the pipe that was used to open the door, she swung it at the cooling pipes, cracking them open, releasing more of the gelatinous substance into the room, hoping to accelerate the meltdown.

Before she could make it through the opening of the compartment, a large explosion of blue light ripped through the hull of the sub. The blast throwing her against the bulkhead. Looking through the hole was disorienting as the sub and tethered Condor were now spinning together in the eye of the nebula. Each vessel pulling and fighting with one another’s momentum.

Working her way to the edge of the hole she timed her leap. Waiting for the sub to spin just right, looking for the tether lines, she jumped from the sub grasping for a line. Eight minutes left. She could do this.

Staying on course, the lines whipped and crossed one another, she had to be careful not get tangled herself.  Blue flashes of energy flew past her. Grabbing one of the lines and pulling herself toward the ship, the second line thrashed across the visor of her helmet, cracking it. Oxygen hissed through the crack, making it impossible to focus on the airlock.

Moving closer to the ship, she activated the remote airlock sequence. The door opened and with a swift pull on the line she spun faster toward the opening. Activating the magnetic boots and landing on the hull, she made quick work of detaching the tether lines from outside of the airlock.

“Chief, I’m on board the Condor closing the airlock now. Fire the thrusters and push us through the wormhole. I’m on my way to the bridge.”

Running as fast as her legs would take her, adrenaline pumped through her veins. Slamming into the captains station she fastened her restraints.

“We have two minutes! Go, go, go!”

The helmsman forced the throttle further forward, pushing the ship’s engines to their breaking point, thrusting them into the blackness of the wormhole. Dawson watched the rear viewscreen, the long dark ship was in pursuit, firing its weapons. The screen went bright white leaving only a silhouette of their attacker… the reactor had gone critical. The wormhole collapsed behind them, crushing the rear half of the dark ship. Secondary explosions radiated from all over busting the attacker into pieces.

Relief of their escape was short lived as a loud tapping rattled the front observation windows. More ice crystals. Where was this wormhole taking them?

The crystals turned to a clear liquid, the alarms blaring and systems going offline. Lunging forward in their seats the ship had moved from full speed ahead to a lurch into the translucent liquid.

“Lieutenant, the engines are dead. Proximity sensors indicate that we’re in a large body of water, but I can’t be sure. Our sensors weren’t built for anything like this.”

“The ship is airtight, we can survive water, getting out of here is another problem. Can we launch a probe to the surface, see where we are?”

“It’ll take some time to retrofit it for these conditions, but I think we can do it.”

Waiting for the probe gave her time to process everything that had happened. Their mission was a success, explore the nebula. Their cost was the life of the captain, and a journey through a wormhole to who-knows-where.

Standing behind the chief, eyes glued to his monitor, the crew’s eyes widened in disbelief as the data rolled in. The atmosphere above the water was oxygen rich, breathable. There were land masses nearby… cross referencing database… They were on Earth, 800 kilometers from the coast of Florida.

“What the… are we in the Bermuda Triangle?”

Swallowing down the lump in her throat, Dawson wracked her brain for an appropriate response. Nothing had prepared her for this. 

September 27, 2019 04:42

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4 comments

18:07 Oct 05, 2019

Ummm Wow!!! I was totally sucked in and kept thinking this needs to be a movie. I need to know what happens next !!!!

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Julie Smith
18:00 Oct 01, 2019

This story is sitting on the edge of your seat captivating!! You getting sucked into the wormhole of adventure:) Such a great job!!

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Bobby Gupta
14:37 Oct 19, 2019

Loved reading this story. I hope you write another chapter of it. I thought maybe you and the former captain would end up together, but oh well. Hehe.

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Sarah Popovich
18:39 Oct 01, 2019

Great descriptions!

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