candygramme: (Jensen It's okay)
[personal profile] candygramme
Title: Aldebaran
Artist: [livejournal.com profile] expectative
Author: [livejournal.com profile] candygramme
Pairing: Jared/Jensen
Warning: Weirdness
Link to the artwork: Here
Rated: R
Notes: Aldebaran is a star cluster with a white dwarf and a red sun. There seems to be a planet too according to Wiki. This story is weird, but was totally inspired by the gorgeous artwork. Thank you to [livejournal.com profile] expectative for the pretties. Please go to his page to see them.





~JENSEN~

Jensen was only two days into his furlough when he received the summons. He sighed as he studied the small, studded box the summons had arrived in and turned it over in his hand before thumbing the seal and waiting for the holo to play.

There was a sting as the sensor pierced his skin to take his blood to verify and then the light sprayed from around his thumb, causing him to remove it sharply. He sucked it as he watched the summons take shape.

It was Supreme Commander Pellegrino, of course — as if it could be anyone else so close to his return.

“Glad to see you looking so much better, Ackles.” The Commander had always been one for theatrics. Jensen snorted, knowing just how long he’d spent in the cryotank after his recent failure of a mission. “I know it was touch and go there, but we managed to rebuild you. You look almost human.” There’s a pause and Pellegrino gave a brief chuckle, which Jensen imagined was more to indicate that he’d made a joke than that he’d found any real humor in his words.

“I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t mind dropping by my office this afternoon. Shall we say 1300 hours?” The holo faded and Jensen stood frowning, still sucking on his thumb. There it was. It might have been couched in the most informal language possible, but he would have to go or face the consequences. He closed his eyes momentarily, knowing he was going to be sent back out to face the flames, to do whatever the scientists had dreamed up in their efforts to stop the sun on its path of destruction.

Sighing, he stood up from his couch and went to find his uniform, tossing his comfortable sweats onto the floor as he went. The uniform had been delivered along with the summons, and hung on the hook in his closet, ominous to him as he reached for it, messages of blood and flame and inadequacy lingering in the fireproof fabric.

He looked down at his newly repaired flesh. With all the technical advances the medics had developed, they still hadn’t been able to rid him of his freckles, and they stood out now on the whiteness of his flesh, evidence of his own imperfection. He shrugged. He knew that he was imperfect, but hopefully he would be enough for whatever was needed.

At 1300 on the nose, uniform pristine, he was presenting himself to Alaina, the Commander’s secretary. She showed him into the briefing room to await Commander Pellegrino and his fate.

He was still waiting, some 15 minutes later, and was beginning to feel uneasy at this unusual occurrence, when the door was flung open and Pellegrino rushed in, looking more disheveled than Jensen had ever seen him. He was followed as ever by his service bot.

“Ackles! Sorry to keep you waiting,” he said as Jared rose to attention. “Easy, man, easy.” The Commander flopped down into a chair and waved at Jensen to do likewise.

“You seem to be in a hurry.” Jensen was bursting with curiosity at Pellegrino’s unusual behavior, but he was also attempting to stave off information about any upcoming missions, knowing — or at least believing — that the next one would be his last. He’d barely survived the last, and he knew he’d spent several months in cryostasis while his skin and extremities were regenerated.

“I’ve just come from the Senate briefing,” said Pellegrino at last. “It doesn’t look good. Even with you and your team’s valuable efforts the sun is becoming more and more unstable. The latest reports show that it will go nova in the next 6 months, and Calidor will be incinerated.”

Jensen said nothing. What could one say about a message like that?

“There’s a possible solution.” Pellegrino rose and went to the serving hatch at the back of the room, fielding a bottle and two glasses before returning to pour them both a shot of thick, heady liquor. “But, to be honest, I wouldn’t blame you if you said no.”

He snapped his fingers for the bot, and it wheeled to his side so he could thumb the projector on the top. Abruptly, the room was filled with a holo of the most immediate regions of space. Jensen recognized Alpha Centauri, and Calidor, his little planet, pathetically circling its ever more ominous sun. Beta Centauri, its huge, red companion, glimmering beside it. “See,” said the Commander, interrupting Jensen’s thoughts. “Between the two there’s an anomaly. A disturbance that seems like a distortion in the fabric of space.”

There was a pause. Jensen had no idea where this was going, so he said nothing, but his mind was racing.

“Dr. Dinwiddie believes that there is some kind of rift there which we can use to escape the flare that is coming. She’s propounded a whole new concept in stuff I not only don’t understand, but which makes me feel really stupid, but the bottom line is that we... I want you to go investigate it and let us know back here whether or not it will help. Will you go? The worst that can happen is that you escape the sun going nova and lose your world. The best is that you might save us.”

Jensen wasn’t sure what he’d expected, but this was really nothing like it.

“Of course I’ll go.” He gave Pellegrino a smirk. “When did I ever turn down a hopeless mission?” That got the laugh he wanted, and he judged it safe to continue and ask for the answers he’d been unable to get from the cryotank staff. “Just who is left of my crew?” he asked.

“Yes.” Pellegrino nodded. “That was my next item. I’m afraid that Olsson didn’t make it.”

Jensen closed his eyes for a moment, remembering Ty’s sacrifice, when all had seemed lost. A flare had chased them as they patched the incinerated edges of the screen where the sun had burned through. Despite his best efforts, it had caught and engulfed them, almost reducing them to charred memories until Ty, burning, screaming and yet able enough still to punch in the flight path that had gotten them far enough away from the hell of the rogue flare and had enabled them to limp back to Alpha Tau.

“He saved us.” Jensen’s voice caught. “I couldn’t. I think I was almost cooked through by then. If it hadn’t been for Ty...”

“He will be remembered.” The Commander bowed his head for a moment. “Cassidy has been home now for a day or so from her stay in the vats. Hodge is due to be released tomorrow. If it’s okay with you, I’d like to offer you our best new graduate. He’s not a replacement for Olsson of course, but you’ll find he’s a good man. His name is Abel. Ensign Jacob Abel. I’ll let you meet him, of course, but please be aware that we have little or no time to waste.”

Jensen nodded. If the Commander vouched for him, he’d be good. “Okay, boss. What time do we take off?”

~JARED~

Lying behind such cover as the huge ice-crystal gave him, Jared snapped off a shot at the rime-rider that was attempting to storm the gates of the main cave. The thing was huge, its segmented body gleaming in the low light from the failing sun.

A hissing screech signaled that he’d scored a hit on the thing, and he risked a peek around the edge of the crystal. In a flash, the creature was upon him, mouth full of jagged teeth wide, acid drool leaking from the bifurcated lower lip.

“Shouldn’t have done that,” he grunted, rolling onto his back and aiming into the creature’s rapidly descending maw, desperately throwing up his arm to cover his face in an attempt to avoid any of the corrosive saliva spattering him. The thing’s head blew apart from the explosive charge, and it toppled forward to fall across him, pinning his body to the ice.

“Guys?” He waited for his backup to come and help lift what had to be 600 lbs of dead weight off him enough for him to scramble free, but there was no response.

He tried again, shouting through his comm unit. “Hey, guys? A little help here if you don’t mind?” There was no response, it seemed as though the others had left him here to face whatever might come, and Jared began to get angry. Fumbling to reach his belt for augmentation didn’t help. The creature had well and truly stymied that with its huge, chitinous bulk. Jared was sweating now, because night was coming, and within a few minutes there would be more rime-riders out to discover where their comrade had gone. At that time it would be too late for him to do anything save use his blaster to blow his own brains out. Rime-riders liked to digest their prey before consuming it, and that would be a slow, agonizing way of dying indeed. Certainly one that Jared had no wish to pursue.

His blaster had only expended a couple of charges, and that was in his hand. He thought for a moment and then adjusted the beam until it was pencil thin and trained it on one of the weak points between segments, hoping against hope that the charge would hold out.

Slowly, very slowly, the creature’s segments began to separate, until there was only the lower layer of membrane holding them together. With a huge heave, Jared managed to scramble out from beneath the body that was pinning him down, and only just in time. As he made for the safety of the cavern and the huge, warded gates, hurriedly calling up the warding spell, a group of six rime-riders crested the horizon, and he could hear their hissing communications as they spotted him and accelerated to try and catch him.

For a moment he thought that the gates wouldn’t open to admit him, but after a tense waiting period during which time the rime-riders drew ever closer and in the distance he could see the tracks of three approaching ice wyrms. The gates opened just enough to allow him through and then sealed themselves shut, setting up a stronger ward than he’d ever seen before.

He stood in the gate room for a moment, allowing his breath to calm, then shook himself and turned to look for his disappearing backup. They were nowhere to be seen. Instead, a legate from the imperial guard stood, blaster aimed.

“You are to accompany me.” The guard’s sweet, high voice betrayed that he had been altered in his youth and was one of the elite, robbed of their manhood and given instead the supreme fighting skills that only the unmanned knew.

“Uh, why?” Jared frowned. “Am I to be arrested? What’s the charge?”

“My orders are only that you accompany me,” was the measured response. The legate gestured with his blaster. “And there was no demand that you should be alive upon arrival.”

Frowning, Jared moved in the direction indicated, and heard the legate follow behind him. “So you can’t tell me what this is all about?”

“I serve my master. I do not question his decisions.”

His... thought Jared. So not the Senate. I wonder who this master of his might be.

The legate still followed, offering directions in the same, childish voice. Jared, still covered in ichor from his battle to free himself from the rime-rider, felt filthy and unfit to meet any of the ruling class. “Listen, I just had a battle to free myself from the clutches of a rime-rider. Surely your master would prefer that I come before him clean and well-groomed? I should visit my quarters and change at the very least.”

“If my master wishes, then so it shall be,” was the legate’s response, and Jared found himself growing more and more angry, however, within another minute, the pair had reached an archway guarded by a further pair of legates. He’d never been past the archway and had no idea what lay beyond, but he was beginning to feel anxious now. As far as he knew he had done nothing worthy of disciplinary action. Shrugging his shoulders, he stepped between the two guards and felt rather than saw them raise a ward as they passed through.


They followed a passageway that held niches where guards were stationed every few yards and it seemed like forever before they arrived at a pair of huge metal doors. The legate stopped. “Enter,” he said.

“I don’t get it,” muttered Jared. The doors were of dull grey metal, heavily riveted around the frame and embellished with a gleaming golden emblem designed to portray the sun as it had been before it had begun to die. The image was split between the two doors, designed to part in the center. As he gazed at it, the doors began to open, noiseless and smooth despite their heavy appearance.

“Enter,” said the legate once again, and Jared sighed, stepping forward towards the widening crack and jumping as they clanged shut behind him.

Before him lay a room that was much smaller than he’d expected. It was almost filled with a projection of their world, the red sun looming above at ceiling level, a red, angry eye. Jared caught his breath as he gazed at the image that was suspended before him..

“Is it not impressive?” The voice came from behind him and made him jump. He spun around.

“Oh, man! I didn’t hear you. Where did you come from?”

“We are always here.” The man who spoke wore red robes, and his face, although lined, was youthful. He had dark hair that was turning white at the temples and a well trimmed beard that also showed grey. He was grinning, his teeth white and his eyes twinkling with good humor.

“We?” Jared’s eyes widened as he saw the two figures who had come to stand behind the one who had spoken to him. “Oh, Gods! The Triumvirate.”

All through his life Jared had been told stories of the Triumvirate. They ruled Tenebros. They were watching him. They judged and passed sentence. They were the highest mystery and existed without being seen. What he saw didn’t fit his mental image of the Triumvirate, but he felt a chill trickle down his spine at the thought that he was here with them. Was he to be judged?

“Yes, indeed.” The man — The Priest — spoke again. “We’ve watched you with great interest recently.”

There was nothing Jared could say in answer. For the first time in his life he was completely without words as he thought madly. Had he transgressed in any way? Was he now to be judged and somehow found guilty?

“You’re afraid, but you needn’t be.” The speaker this time was a tall woman with dark hair that curled out from beneath the bandage that covered her eyes to fall in clouds around her shoulders. She wore purple, and she was beautiful, with full red lips and skin the color of coffee with cream. Her voice was rich, deep and musical, and held a note of amusement that helped Jared relax a little — at least until she spoke again. “Or at least, not about us. I’ve seen into you, and you’re the one we’ve waited for. That’s what should scare you.”

“Duly noted,” he murmured, and the third man threw back his head and laughed, making him tense up once again.

“Come on.” The third wore metallic coverings and a helmet that hid his hair completely. He was stocky and muscular, and had a short beard that gave him the look of a soldier just returned from war, and with a shudder Jared realized that was exactly who he was. This was indeed The Triumvirate, The Soldier, The Priest and the Judge. He swallowed nervously, but then followed The Soldier around the globe of the world to where a small sitting area was tucked at the back of the room.

The three took seats, and Jared stood nervously, still aware of his filthy armor and his grimy hands and face. Finally, the priest shook his head and told him, “Sit down. You make the place look untidy.”

The command acted like a severing of the strings holding him upright, and Jared collapsed onto the couch behind him. The woman nodded.

“There. That’s better. Don’t worry about the furnishings; they’ll be okay. They’ve seen a lot worse than rime-rider spit.” Jared frowned. Maybe he was delirious. Maybe the rime-rider had poisoned him after all and he was hallucinating prior to being dissolved by the thing’s saliva. He hadn’t heard that this was an effect, but then he really wouldn’t, would he?

If it was a hallucination, he’d take it while it lasted and hope that the pain, when it came, would be fleeting.

“I’ll be honest with you, Jared. We need you.” The Priest gave him another of his charming smiles. “There’s a prophecy. There’s also a crisis.”

“What do they have to do with me, your... worship?” Jared was completely at a loss. He had no idea why he was being considered for anything at all, and he wasn’t quite sure how to address these people who seemed to know so much more about him than he did about them.

The Priest laughed at that. “Call me Jeff,” he said. “That’s Lisa, and he’s Richard. We can’t be serious if you’re going to go all formal on us.”

“And believe me, we’re going to be serious.” That was Richard speaking as he lolled back into the corner of the high-winged chair he was occupying and allowed his legs to dangle over the arm of it. “We’ve seen the end of the world as we know it approaching. You can’t get more serious than that.”

Lisa took up the tale as Jared frowned. “It’s been coming for years. We’ve put stronger and stronger wards out as the rime-riders become more active, but we’re getting to the stage that they are more powerful than we are.” She shook her head. “I would say that before the world undergoes another passage of the moon, they will have succeeded in breaking through the wards, and we won’t be able to stop them.”

“Once they break through, the ice-wyrms will follow, and there will be nothing left of us.” Jeff added his comment, face suddenly solemn.

“But that’s where you come in.” Richard nodded. “Even I could not have accomplished what you did today. You defeated the enemy and when you were encumbered you broke free.” He clapped his hands a couple of times. “But more than that. We held the re-entry ward as fast and tight as we could, and still you broke through. As Lisa has already seen, you’re the One.”

“Are you telling me you guys deliberately locked me out to see what I’d do?” Jared sounded somewhat ticked.

“That’s exactly what we did,” said Jeff.

“What if I’d died?” Jared asked, understandably outraged.

“Then you would not have been the One,” said Lisa with a smirk.

“What one?” Jared was getting impatient with non-answers. “Are you telling me that today was some kind of test?”

“It certainly was, but only to convince these other two fools that I was right,” said Lisa. “There’s the matter of the prophecy. It states that the Seers will know when a warrior will come and break the spell, find the golden one and restore the sun. As head of the Seers I see you, Jared, and I know that it’s you.” Her voice turned teasing. “My esteemed colleagues here were doubtful, but I was certain, and so I arranged a little demonstration of your abilities. You are the One. They agree with me now, even though you would think that they should know better than to argue with a woman.”

Richard rose to his feet, all nonchalance gone from his posture. “Let me show you the task that must be undertaken if we are to survive.” He moved over to the globe. This is where Tenebros is,” he said. He indicated a valley on the equator of the icy planet. “And this is where we believe you must go.” The place where he was pointing was situated at one of the poles of the planet, and Jared could see that there was some kind of disturbance going on around the location that distorted the immediate area.

“The prophecy says that a soldier will come who will command the wards with blood. He will break through the barrier and find the Golden One.” Lisa’s voice had taken on a hollow quality, as if she was in fact prophesying. “Once that happens, and the two become one, the barriers will fall, the sun will be restored, and Tenebros will become Aurora. Then we will be able to accept the seekers that the Golden One will bring.”

Jared moved over to look over Richard’s shoulder, analyzing the distances, the topographical problems and the time it would take. “You need this to happen within a single moon?” he asked. “It’s a hell of a long way to go, and I’m going to have to sleep sometimes.”

“Not a problem.” Jeff stepped up to stand between the two of them. “We have developed a sled powered by wards in anticipation of this day. It can travel very rapidly, and it will allow space for your team. We estimate that if you are able to travel at full speed it will take you around 15 days to reach the anomaly here. Once there, we can’t tell how much longer it will take, but our seers have been able to tell what will happen.”

“I get a team? Well that’s something.” Jared looked at Lisa, and didn’t like the smile she directed at him. “I suppose you’ve preselected them as well,” he grumbled.

“You’re psychic,” she said and giggled. “We have indeed selected your team.”

“I will be one,” said Richard, stepping around Jeff and offering his hand. “I will not let a volunteer face peril and almost certain death without offering myself.”

“If you fail, there will hardly be need for a triumvirate,” murmured Jeff. “It makes sense that you take the best with you.”

“Your second will be Sebastian.” Richard announced his selection as if Jared should know who that was. “We asked him to bring you to us,” he added.

“You mean the eunuch?” Jared shook his head so fast he was sure it would come loose from its moorings and fly off his shoulders. “He was going to shoot me. I don’t know that he’d be very reliable in a battle.”

“You will grow to appreciate Sebastian’s skills with a blade,” laughed Richard. “I’d bet him against even me in a fight with blades.”

“Do I get any picks for this junket?” Even as he asked, Jared was sure that the answer was no, but when Lisa giggled his heart still sank.

“Sorry, darling,” she said. “Although the last is a friend of yours, I believe. It’s Murray.”

“Oh, fuck me. Chad?” Jared rolled his eyes. “You think Chad’s going to tear himself away from the delights of Tenebros to face the cold, the dying sun and monsters of all kinds with their only desire to make me and my pals into brunch?”

“I know so,” said Lisa. “He has already agreed.”

“Oh, Stars!” Jared shook his head. “Now I know that this is just a hallucination. I guess the rime-rider got me after all.”

“Enough.” Jeff clapped him on the shoulder. “You should go and pack. You leave at dawn.”

~JENSEN~

Pellegrino had told Jensen to be ready to leave in the morning, since it would take a little while to render the new FTL ship ready for take-off. He’d gone to bed early, still suffering the residual aches and sensitivity of too-new skin covering recently damaged bones. He was startled to consciousness by vigorous pounding on his cubicle door, and as he dragged himself fully awake he recognized the voice yelling his name.

Stumbling to the door he pushed it open a crack, not sure if he wanted to let Katie, his navigator and full-time nag in to interrupt his final few hours of rest.

He had no choice. She had her foot in the door and was muscling through it before he succeeded in shaking himself awake enough to fight back.

“What the fuck, Ackles?” He could barely see her in the dark of his room, but her voice was high, tense, and he could tell that she was scared to death. She rained down a flurry of blows on his chest. “I only got out of Cryo this morning. I can’t... We can’t...”

“At ease, Katie, for God’s sake.” Jensen succeeded in grabbing her hands and holding them, more by luck than judgment, and he pulled her in close to him, holding her in an attempt to stop her struggling. “We have to go out, but we’re not going to the shields this time.”

She stopped trying to hit him and froze. He could still feel the fine tremors running through her slight frame, but she made no attempt to escape his hold. “We’re not? Where then?”

“Out into the unknown, my girl. One of the brains thinks there’s a wormhole or something that will save us. Pellegrino said that the sun has started its final stage towards going nova, and we’ve only got a few weeks unless we do something, so they’re giving us an FTL ship and we’re gonna go find this wormhole and save humanity.”

She suddenly sat down on his bed, her hands covering her face. “What if we don’t...”

“I guess if we don’t, we’ll see the show from a safe distance, and it’ll be all over.” Jensen shook his head. “Let’s not borrow trouble. Let’s just go find this wormhole thing and hope to God it isn’t full of things with tentacles that like to eat human flesh.”

“Oh my GOD shut up!” She threw his pillow at him as he snickered, pleased that he’d managed to divert her fear even if only for a moment. “If I get eaten by a tentacle beast, I’m blaming you with my dying breath.”

“Duly noted,” he replied, shoving her over as he climbed back onto his bed. “But get some sleep now. We have to go spring Aldis first thing tomorrow and tell him he’s going straight out again. Also, we’re going to be introduced to this new guy, Abel. He’s taking over Nav.”

“Abel?” she thought for a moment. “Do you mean Jake? I met him at one of the socials. He’s fun.” Her brow creased. “I guess he’s Ty’s replacement.”

“Nobody will ever replace Ty. He’s the new navigator, that’s all.” growled Jensen, yawning. “Get some sleep now.”

He didn’t object when she snuggled down beside him, and within moments he was sleeping once more.

~*~

Morning came soon enough, with the sky sour and brassy as they climbed topside. The sun was a searing reminder that their planet was in danger, and Jensen felt queasy as he remembered their desperate attempts to escape its reach.

Pellegrino was waiting for them as they emerged from the gatehouse into the heat of the day. They’d collected Aldis from his sojourn in the cryolab a bare half hour before, and he still had the cryopatch over his left eye, indicating that his healing was not yet quite complete.

“Good to see you.” The commander saluted them briefly. “All three of you are heroes, and you bought us at least a couple of weeks of desperately needed time with your selfless actions. I’m sorry we have to ask one more mission of you, but you are the only ones that can save us.”

He turned away from them, leading them over to where a glassite dome, opaqued with coridonium, stood at the far end of the pathway. “We’ll meet with your new crew member in just a moment or two, and Dr. Dinwiddie is going to show you how the new ship functions.”

Jensen looked around himself, committing the view of Calidor to memory. There was little or no vegetation left. It had all been burned away as their hostile sun had grown ever closer, ever hotter. There were skeletons of trees on the horizon, and as he watched, he could see smoke rising as one patch of ground caught fire and began to smolder. Love it or not, he knew that this was the last time he would gaze on his home planet.

The inside of the dome went a long way down from ground level, and held a small, oddly shaped ship at its center, surrounded by a scurrying army of engineers, all wearing the Spaceforce uniform, each with his or her own task. Somewhat behind it stood what seemed to be a large doorway with an ever changing series of flickering symbols above it and to the side. Several people were working on a panel at the left hand side of it.

As they entered someone called out, ‘Company! Eyes above!’ As a man, the bustling came to a halt and there was a definite shout of ‘Hurrah’ from the assembled workers, followed by a burst of applause as the Commander and his three companions began to descend the long flight of metal steps to the floor of the hanger.

As he reached the foot of the steps, Pellegrino turned to face them. “It seems fitting that this will be my final act as your commanding officer.” He cleared his throat. “No matter what befalls us, your loyalty and heroism will serve to inspire us all until the world is nothing but cinders.” He gestured to a nearby soldier, who came forward bearing a large box. From it, Pellegrino took three medals and moving from one to the other, pinned them onto their uniforms.

The three hadn’t been expecting anything of this kind, but each summoned up the presence of mind to salute as they received the medal, although Jensen reflected that it really didn’t mean anything.

Finally, the young man who had brought the commander their medals was introduced to them as their new Navigator, Ensign Abel. They had only the briefest moment to greet him before they were led over to where the entrance to the ship gaped open.

“She’s ready to go. Abel’s been briefed on the destination coordinates. Once you arrive somewhere viable, Dr. Dinwiddie will assemble the gate, and we’ll hopefully begin to bring everyone through.” Pellegrino gestured at the hatchway, where a tall, exotic looking woman dressed in fatigues was waving at them. “She’s going with you. It’s her plan, so I’ll let her tell you all about the gates,” he said. “Just hurry. It’s getting rather warm down here.”

“You truly believe that this will be successful?” Katie had never been particularly tactful at the best of times.

“I have to, Cassidy. I really do.”

~*~

The ship was elegant, its controls simple, and it wasn’t long before Jensen was satisfied that it wouldn’t be a problem to pilot. Aldis and Dr. Traci Dinwiddie had taken a tour of the engine, and Aldis was bouncing with enthusiasm at the simplicity of anti-grav and FTL engine that powered her.

Katie was examining the armor and firepower she had and cooing over the computer system that would, in her words, make frying those tentacles into calamari a breeze. Jake, as he’d told the others to call him, was getting their flight path locked into the system and ready, referring over and over to a commtab he had strapped to his belt.

“Twenty four hours,” he said to nobody in particular. “It’s only going to take us twenty four hours to get there if all goes well.”

“All done?” Jensen looked around and as each member of the crew nodded their assent, he picked up the controller and spoke to the command deck down in the hanger. “We’re ready to go,” he said. “Just let us know when.”

“Stand by.” Pellegrino’s voice was loud and clear.

Everyone was finding their seat, strapping themselves in ready for the take-off, and what was apparently the ship’s maiden voyage. It seemed to Jensen that they were guinea pigs as well as an exploratory expedition — wild goose chase — and that if they exploded with a bang their world would probably be no worse off.

The roof of the hanger rolled smoothly out of their way, and Pellegrino murmured a final, “Good luck. Off you go!” Jensen cut in the engine.

He’d expected a sound — the traditional roar as the engine did its work to nullify gravity. Instead, there was silence and the ship bounced upwards, light as a soap bubble. They were almost free of the atmosphere, when he suddenly realized they were underway.

“Okay, Jake, where are we heading?” Jake said nothing, merely flipped the switch that brought up the flight path. “Thanks,” murmured Jensen, turning the ship to head away from the marauding sun and into the vastness of space.

On to Part 2
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