"You rarely consider security I see."
I vaulted clean out of my bunk. Landing on my feet, I found myself facing the woman I had rescued. Panting a moment, I waited for my heart to stop pounding. Looking her over, I said calmly, "You might consider a simple thank you in this case."
Nary a sign of reaction crossed her face. She gazed about my cabin, her hand idly touching the door frame. I tried to discern her thoughts, to no avail. We stood for several minutes, staring about. Finally my patience gave way and I asked a simple question. "Could I possibly get your name?"
"Lady Alitaian Seilirz Danteirnd"
I tried mightily to sound out her name. Muttering to myself, I sounded like I was making gibberish. Shaking my head, I opted for the easiest route out of this. I hope, I thought worriedly, she surrenders gracefully to this one, sans beating me senseless.
"A pleasure to meet you Ali, "I smiled as her eyes suddenly locked onto me. "Sorry, but saying that full title and name requires more effort than feasible."
Ali maintained her gaze upon me, spurring another attempt to decipher her thoughts. Alien she was, I thought I detected something in her demeanor. Processing the little I know of human psychology, the answered floated out of reach. Perhaps, I thought darkly, tallying her in the massive mystery I faced would be the only option.
Ali seemed to make a decision. Speaking in a tone approaching wonder, she began, "Failing an outlandish explanation, I feel no sense of you."
I smiled sheepishly. Knowing that was not the first time I heard a similar statement, I simply couldn't help myself. I looked intently at Ali, saying, "Indeed there exists a reason. The explanation, however, sounds fantastic. How willing are you to listen?"
Ali hesitated a moment, her gaze losing focus. I tilted my head in contemplation, smiling faintly. My amusement fully faded as decision colored her tone.
"My people believe in the power of story."
Sliding into the navigation seat, I smiled at my baffled guest. I studied her, taking note in her observational skills of my extremely alien (To her.) flight deck. In scant few minutes she surmised 30% of my controls. Returning her attention to me, she said in wonder, "I have never seen such a ship. This alone proves you alien."
Nodding, I said simply, "I hoped seeing this would spare me the long and detailed story telling. I am as alien as they come to your galaxy."
Alarms sounded, right as Ali and I flew off our feet. I skidded clean to the viewscreen. Cursing furiously, I dragged myself to the navigation console. Seeing Ali scramble for the nearest chair, I yelled, "Bloody well hold on!"
Gravity waves pounded the Stellar Rush. Impressed by the magnitude, I realised this should not be happening in hyperspace. Punching in commands, the ship lurched mightily as she dropped from hyperspace. Sighing relief, I hurriedly called out for a scan of space. Damage control processes checked negative, allowing a sigh to escape me as the deep space scans popped onto the main viewscreen.
Whistling, the readings showed exceedingly minimal gravitic disturbance in normal space. The whistle forced out of me for the magnitude of gravitic disturbance in hyperspace. Punching data, I compared these readings to the data on the phenomena that brought me here. Some of the readings washed out similar, but most to my dismay registered vastly different. Calling up the star charts, I frowned as they told me nothing.
"Ali, "I motioned her to me, "could you pinpoint where we are if I show you a star chart?"
Nodding, she focused her attention towards the main viewscreen. Punching commands, I transferred the chart, adding reference markers from what data I acquired. I located the points I remembered, making a mental note of my voyage.
"We are in the ShadowZone. Roughly, 'she said in thought, "500,000 miles in."
I waited for a punchline. Looking at Ali, I detected amazed wonder radiating from her. My patience wore thin quickly. Sudden chanting from her threw me for a loss, more so when she stopped abruptly. Looking down at me, she spoke quietly.
"I will admit to total surprise. No ship, "seriousness dripping from her voice now, "ever has penetrated the ShadowZone. All ships entering, no matter the means, simply explode."
Impressed by that statement, I began to ponder. Logically, I mused to myself, I should turn tail and run. My curiosity, I knew, held other plans. Tapping a finger in a vague beat, I felt a plan slowly form. Tapping into the computer, I set it to track a probable source location for the gravitic waves. Turning, I punched up the data I collected, and searching for information on this 'ShadowZone'. After turning up nothing, I faced Ali.
"I find no mention of it in the data I collected. So mind explaining to me what you know?
As she thought of a way to explain this, the computer beeped. Punching the display up, I smiled. I forwarded it to the main viewscreen, saying to Ali, "Apparently we are not the only ones to be here." Punching in maximum scan, I processed the info for Ali to interpret. Amazement chased across her face, as I relaised she recognised the ships well. Without hesitation, I plotted a parallel course, using my superior detector system to the full advantage. Ali looked at me, nodding in apparent approval.
As we followed the ships, my mind took off wondering. Was there an explanation in this space that would help?. Was I leading myself farther and farther away? Why flashed by a million times, no answer ever forthcoming. Looking over the readings on the ships, I was baffled by their slow progress. More questions arrived to torment me, causing steam to blow from my ears.
"I hope you enjoy long trips Ali. Our friends are not in any hurry."
I stumbled to the flight deck, blinking from being quite asleep. Ali's summons scared me, but was a good thing. Before decided to pass out, I let her work on the tutorials on the ship. In those five hours, she learned much. Rubbing my eyes, I glared at the main display. Ali vacated the navigation chair, allowing me to slid in. I noted with amusement she already dropped our speed.
Scan registered a planetary system. The three ships we tailed entered orbit around the fourth in the system. Growling at the detector readings, I halted the Stellar Rush. Moving any closer doubtlessly would alert whoever was on the planet. Thinking a moment, I turned to Ali, asking, "What is this ShadowZone?"
"The ShadowZone represents a region of space where nothing exists. "Doubt now colored her words for explanation. "Over the last 300 years, no ship or probe has penetrated the Zone. The thoughts concerning the Zone's composition and the like stretch volumes."
I nodded, pointing out to her, "No mention of this ShadowZone exits in the data I acquired. The information I pulled from came from public sources."
A shadow crossed Ali's features. She spoke darkly, "This represents another instance of the Imperium dictating knowledge."
Knowing Earth's history well, I understood. Too many times, one individual or group attempted deciding for all. In the end, the damage was generally undone. No matter what occurred afterwords, I mused sadly, the lasting impression remained. Shaking myself, I returned to reality.
Glaring over the readings, something caught my eye. Peering at the sensor read out, I asked the computer to data match. In seconds I had an answer. The answer stunned me visibly, forcing a gasp from me. I felt Ali move to peer over my shoulder, doubtless wondering at what forced the noise out of me. I hurriedly double checked what the data match showed.
I turned to Ali, saying excitedly, "A structure near the system is emitting spatial distortion similar to that which dragged me here. Not exactly the same, but I daresay they are working on a artificially creating the same effect."
"The ships and base register clearly as Imperium. I sincerely doubt, "Ali said with sympathy, "asking them for assistance will be a good idea."
My silence confirmed her thought on the matter. Waving her to bed, I sat staring through the main viewscreen. Something was missing, I thought dejectedly, about all this mess. I wondered if I might ever locate it. Pouring over everything I possessed, I searched for a missing clue. Hours passed, leaving one solitary burning question as I found a parking spot in a dust cloud.
What precisely was the intentions of the Imperium with this project?