The next few hours were a whirlwind. Important titles from my home ship were a constant on my comscreen. Each person seemingly more important than the last. And none of them were averse to giving contradicting orders.
“Listen to the counsel of the other ships. They all have questions that need answers.’ was one of the opening notes, the first of many.
“Do not be influenced by the other ship commanders. They all have their own agendas’ came from one of my higher ups, whom I had never seen before.
“Stick to the script, make sure you get answers to every question we give you.” which was accompanied by a script of roughly 400 questions appearing on my tablet. They ranged from ‘How do you eat?’ to ‘What is the coeffiecent of the speed of light as it enters a black hole.’ and even ‘How many apples do you produce each cycle?’ I let them know it was ridiculous. I asked “Is this an interrogation or a fact finding mission?” The answer came back as ‘Yes’.
I was having major second thoughts about this. More so than when I stupidly volunteered for this ‘mission’. I was in over my head just coming to Fleet Conference to talk about grain allotments. Now I was the sole liaison to a mystery ship that was either going to usher in a new era of human space flight, or doom the entire race to die in the depths of a singularity. I needed to find a way to back out of this.
While I was trying to decide how to accidentally break my leg as an excuse for why I couldn’t go, a familiar face popped on my comscreen. It was Barry, my friend and supervisor from the nav deck back on the Cassian. ‘You really stepped in it this time buddy.’ His smile was reassuring as the hologram floated in front of me. ‘I know, I know. I mean, I don’t know. I heard an opportunity and part of me just needed to grab at it I guess’ I was trying to explain my actions to myself as well as to Barry.
‘Well you’re on your way now. Look, I know that they’ve been hitting you from all sides with commands and orders and questions, but I’ve been listening in to the buzz from all over the fleet, hell it’s impossible not to. The bottom line is that everyone just wants to know the answer to one question. Why?’
‘Why? That’s it?’
‘Yeah, Why this matriarch, why now, why do they want to go ? Why should we go? Everything else is beside the point’
‘The matriarch ship says it wants to create a black hole. That seems like it should be near the top of the questions list.’
‘’Darius, I’m going to let you in on something they probably haven’t told you. The math works out. The Botships have been running through sims like crazy as soon as the plan was brought up. They have no idea how a matriarch-ship could compute such complex trajectory formulas, but the numbers that they have all work. So believe it or not, the question of if it can work has already been answered. Now we are more interested in the reasoning behind it.’
I tried to sleep, but it was impossible. With the nerves/excitement of the mission and the near constant comscreen messages with yet more updates to my orders and additional questions added to the already lofty quota on my agenda. I felt like my eyes had just closed when the siren alerted me that it was time to leave. I was told that my pod had been provisioned with enough supplies for 10 days, although they assured me that I should be returning in less than half of that time. Just get the answers and get back. I was also given a secure comset to communicate with the fleet. This way I could report back without matriarch ship listening in. I objected to the clandestine measures but I was quickly rebuked by people with a lot higher rank than I would ever have. I walked toward the awaiting craft and was surprised to see Janna at the landing bay.
‘Come to see me off? I didn’t tag you as the sentimental type, Janna’ I offered as I approached her.
‘Sentiments? Hardly. I can understand why the cult ship asked for you instead of having a milship citizen do the debrief’
‘And why is that?’ I hoped the response wouldn’t be too insulting.
‘Security, of course. You’re seen as less of a threat than someone with my training would be. But I am surprised that it was agreed to by the rest of the fleet so quickly’
‘Well, it was made clear that this is very time sensitive.’
‘Of course, but still, precautions must be made.’
‘I’m just going to ask some questions and return. I don’t expect this to escalate anywhere past that.’
Like I said, less of a threat.’ Janna walked off, leaving me alone with my shuttle filled with supply boxes.
The journey to the matriarch ship was a relatively short hop from the fleet conference. Again, physics did most of the work and the ride was thankfully uneventful. When I landed, I was greeted with less of an entourage than I expected. Two white robed figures met me at the foot of my pod and shuffled me out of the hanger and into a small cylindrical room. Whenever I tried to announce myself or the purpose of my visit, the only response they offered was ‘Decontamination’
I was left alone in the room as it was flooded with harsh blue light. A voice boomed from the walls. ‘Disrobe.’ The tone made it clear that this was not negotiable. Again I stated my purpose. “I’m here on behalf of the Fleet to speak with the matriarch of this vessel.’ And the answer was ‘Disrobe.’
I take off my flight suit and stand as the blue light intensified and a quick flash bathes the room. Immediately I find that I’m now covered in a fine dust as the top layer of by skin is immediately burned off. Strong jets of air blast from unseen ports in the walls and the dust is blown off of my now incredibly smooth skin. I feel cleaner than I ever have in my life. ‘You may re-garb’, emanated from the walls and I quickly put my flight suit back on. A panel on the wall slides open and lights on the floor usher me into the next room. There the two white robed figures stood.
‘Thank you, it is important that you been cleansed of any contaminants before you are allowed to be in her presence.’
‘Sure, but I assure you, this is all more than is needed. I’m only here to ask your matriarch…’
‘She is aware of your purpose here. Please wait in this area.’ And with that, my only companions so far left the room, the panel sliding closed behind them.
I scanned my surroundings, impossibly smooth metallic windowless walls, no outward controls for a door could be seen. I tried everything I could think of from waving my hand around the area the monks left through, to pressing random areas where controls would be in a normal ship, to just walking toward the wall, to see if a door opened automatically. It didn’t. I began to pace while studying the tablet loaded with my questions. It was as if I was doing a last minute cram for a test. But even that could only last for so long. With no outward stimuli, it was hard to tell how long I was in the room. I checked the timer on the tablet, and was shocked when it noted that I had been in this ‘holding cell’ for 3 hours. It definitely felt like I was in a cell. I began to talk to my unseen captors. I had no way of knowing if they could hear me, but the nagging feeling of being watched was so strong that I had no doubt that I was being kept under intense scrutiny. ‘Hey! I’m still in here! The Fleet sent me to discuss your matriarch’s plan! You’re the ones who asked for this meeting!’
Nothing. No response, not a click from some unseen intercom, no reassuring words. Every minute I stood in this featureless room in silence, the more I was sure that I was no longer on a fact finding mission. Instead, I was a prisoner. That was now obvious. My mind raced to the worst possible conclusions. I was locked in a cage on a ship populated by a deathcult headed by a possibly insane leader who probably spends most of her time floating in a vat with wires connected to her brain.
I took a few deep breaths and calmed down. Of course none of that was true. If anything, this was just a powerplay. I’ve been kept waiting outside of an office while a supervisor decides if I’ve sweated long enough to speak to me. This was no different. But it was difficult to completely rule out the wilder trains of thought my brain was running down. I kept trying, yelling at the walls, hoping for some type of acknowledgment.
“Hey! This is bordering on a hostile act! I came here on good faith and if I don’t return safely, you’ll have the combined might of the fleet to contend with!”
‘Well, I hope it doesn’t come to that. It would be a shame to start off on such an adversarial route.’ A voice startled me from behind. I spun around and before me stood, seemingly out of nowhere was a impossibly beautiful woman, clothed in an ornate white gown and flowing shockingly red hair that ended at her waist.