Eden was worried. Her instincts told her that when something sounds too good to be true, that it probably is. Nothing about the aliens had raised any alarms in her mind, telling her that she was in danger and needed to find some way to escape, but she entertained the idea for a moment.
If the Akerbi had malicious intentions, she figured that they might not reveal them immediately. This might just be a show, something they tell every vulnerable alien they come across, to lead them placidly and willingly to whatever unthinkable fate awaits them on their homeworld, Eden thought to herself.
‘Let us help’ would be more effective to an alien invader than ‘resistance is futile’, she figured, her eyes tracing the figure of the tall being standing before her. It could… ‘Not an it, a they,’ Eden corrected herself mentally.
They could certainly take her to their homeworld against her will if they wanted to, but they didn’t. The captain had made a significant effort to keep them comfortable, and didn’t seem to be hiding anything from them.
Eden still had more questions than answers, but she couldn’t yet find any reason to refuse the aliens’ help. Suddenly, an idea struck her.
“Wait a second,” she said, crossing her arms in thought. “We were going to Luyten B when you picked us up, can’t you just take us there?”
“Are you for real?” Jodie interjected, “You seriously don’t want to go to Akerbi-world?” she argued with a playful tone.
“I don’t know anything about Akerbi-world, or the Akerbi, or whatever else might be there! We don’t even know where we are right now, how we got here, or, more importantly, why we aren’t where we were supposed to be. It’s nothing personal against the Akerbi, but I want to go home. I want to know if that’s possible before I let anyone take me anywhere,” Eden finished, fidgeting with her hands nervously.
“Very well,” Suvin said casually, turning to speak with the other aliens. “Keipan, do the human vessel’s data banks include information on the location of their destination, or their origin point?”
“The physical storage medium on which that information is located has been damaged. Fragmentary data could be extracted, but not without corrupting the rest,” Keipan replied.
‘Very convenient,’ Eden thought, but didn’t say.
Unexpectedly, the alien’s attention turned to her. “We have highly precise cartographic data of this entire sector. Based on the knowledge you humans might have of your local stellar group, it should be a trivial matter to locate your home, given your vessel’s limited range,” she said.
“That… could work,” Eden replied after a moment of thought. She had a general idea of what to look for, and since they couldn’t have gone very far, the constellations should still be mostly the same. She was almost confident enough to look for a window and point out the star, nestled in the constellation Canis Minor, as she had done many times before on Earth to impress someone or other.
“Where’s the map?”
“On the bridge, it is not far. If you feel well enough to walk, we will take you there,” the captain replied.
“What about Jodie and the pilot?” Eden asked, slightly nervous. She didn’t like the idea of being led without human company around some oversized alien ship, but she tried not to show it.
“I’m coming with, there’s no way you could keep me away from an alien star map,” Jodie said, “plus, I might be able to help. Another pair of eyes can’t hurt…” she paused for an uncomfortable moment, glancing at the four-eyed Akerbi before her. “Uh… no offense,” she squeaked.
The split mouth at the end of Suvin’s snout bent into what Eden started to recognize as an Akerbi smile. “None taken. You are welcome to join us, of course. Your ‘pilot’ requires further rest to heal his injuries, but do not worry, he will be safe here.” They spoke as if they could sense Eden’s cautious distrust. The captain turned, holding two arms out to gesture towards the open doorway that Keipan had carried her through. “Shall we?”
Eden nodded tentatively, and Jodie swung her legs over the edge of the bed. “I hope these things still work,” she half-joked, hopping onto her feet with all the grace of a baby giraffe. She tested the gravity with a few careful steps and a little hop, to the audible adoring delight of a few of the alien nurses. “Well, they seem to. Lead the way,” Jodie said.
Suvin started for the hallway, motioning for Keipan to follow. Jodie wasted no time, staying close on the heels of the aliens, despite their faster walking speed. Eden gave the sleeping pilot a glance, before joining the group.
It would be okay, she thought.
As they left the medical bay and were escorted by the tall, bipedal aliens across the alien ship, Jodie relentlessly chatted to Keipan.
“How old is your society? Where in the galaxy are you from? How do you power your ship? What’s your top speed? Ooh! How does the engine work!” she talked to the alien as they walked the winding corridors, barely giving her time to respond between questions.
Before she could answer, the group came to a dead end, where an open, cylindrical shaft filled with a humming beam of blue energy connected every deck. Without warning, Suvin stepped off the ledge, slowed and stopped at the bottom of the roughly 5-story descent by the gently humming beam of energy. Eden found herself next in line, her heart slamming as she peered over the vertical drop with trepidation. She pulled sharply away from the drop, facing Keipan. “You can’t be serious. I’m just supposed to walk off the edge?”
“That is correct. It will not harm you, don’t be afraid,” the large creature said, patiently.
‘That’s easy for a species who’s mastered gravity to say,’ she thought to herself.
Unconvinced, Eden took another quick look down the shaft, glowing a pleasant blue hue. She was just about to work up the courage to step in when Jodie pushed past her, hopping straight into lift with a loud whoop.
To all their surprise, instead of gracefully floating to the bottom as the captain had, Jodie bounced a few feet up into the shaft, began to fall down to the bottom deck, and stopped halfway down, suspended in mid-air. She yelped in surprise, her arms and legs flailing wildly as she tried to right herself in the energy beam, shouting up the shaft, “Do something!!”
Eden could see the alien at the bottom floor peering up at the human stuck in the lift, as she and Keipan stared down. “That shouldn’t have happened,” Keipan said quietly, fiddling with the lift controls. “I see the problem! The lifts weren’t properly calibrated for human physiology. I have to deactivate the lift to compensate, so Suvin, you must catch her!” Keipan shouted down the shaft, and the captain stepped into place under the still-squirming Jodie.
“Jodie, do not be afraid, I will not let you fall,” the captain said in a calm tone. “Keipan, I’m ready.”
Trying her best to keep still, even though she’d managed to turn herself upside down, Jodie loudly began to complain, “you sound pretty damn sure of yourse-” before she plummeted down the lift, screaming the whole way.
In an impressive feat of acrobatics, Suvin caught Jodie with a grunt, turned her upright, and softly set her feet-first on the ground in one swift motion.
“Thanks,” Jodie huffed breathlessly, straightening her jumpsuit, trying to play it off.
“You are welcome,” Suvin cooed back.
“If you think I’m getting in there, you’ve got another thing coming,” Eden insistently declared to the large alien standing expectantly by the reactivated lift.
“It is safe, but I understand your caution. If it will help, I will hold onto you, and we will go down together. Combined, we will surely have enough mass, and it will operate smoothly. You must trust me,” she crouched to her level as she explained. Eden would have to tell her at some point that she found that condescending, but there wasn’t much room for conversation.
Hesitantly, Eden brought herself closer to Keipan, who must have stood at least three feet taller than her. “Okay, just…” she lowered her voice somewhat, so that only Keipan could hear her. “Some humans don’t like being lifted and carried around like they weigh as much as a handful of grapes, so don’t get used to it.”
“Despite some loss in translation, I believe I understand, I will respect your agency,” Keipan assured her, and Eden timidly wrapped her arms around the alien’s middle in response, betraying her front of being one of those humans. She squeezed her four arms around her back, just a little less than too hard, and stepped them both into the gravity lift.
Eden was unprepared for the sudden weightlessness, and clung for dear life to Keipan, closing her eyes tight and pressing herself into the alien’s sterile-smelling uniform. A few moments later, she felt her shoes touch the floor, and her weight returned to her, stepping out of the tight embrace.
“That… wasn’t too bad,” she said in a shaky voice, in a poor attempt to sound unfazed.
Taking in her surroundings, she found the group in a wide, round room, lined with tall seats and alien consoles. Some occupied by the Akerbi crew, some empty, and some occupied by… various different alien creatures, the forms of which she could barely conceive of. Through the ceiling-to-floor window which encircled a majority of the room, she spotted a vast star cluster; a hazy turquoise cloud of interstellar gas and dust, densely populated by innumerable points of different colored light, far more beautiful than anything she knew of in local space.
“Welcome to the bridge,” the captain said, leading the group into the room, before taking a seat at the central console. “Give me a moment to access stellar cartography.”
The captain’s chair, Eden took a mental note. She recalled that it was a bucket list item of hers to sit in one, but this was not the time or place.
A bright light filled the center of the room, quickly spreading from a vague shimmer into a 3D holographic model of a vast field of stars, including an impressively detailed rendition of the nebula Eden saw outside. As the captain manipulated the alien interface on their console, the map began to swirl and zoom, and as the stars vanished, a small ship began to grow larger in the room, before Suvin let go of the controls and the image stood still.
“This is where you are now,” they stated, slowly rotating the projection of the impressive alien ship so that they could see, before zooming out again. “This is the local star group within your ship’s range, do any seem familiar to you?” Suvin asked, showing them a cluster of thirty or so stars, none of which she recognized, letting the hologram rotate slowly.
“Can you zoom out some more?” Jodie asked, keenly interested.
Suvin slid her gloved digits slowly down the console and the display expanded, showing them more and more stars. As the hologram grew, becoming more and more complex with every passing second, Eden’s head started to swim. She couldn’t recognize anything. As the hologram’s expansion slowed, and through the dense field of billions of simulated stars, the form of a galaxy began to coalesce, a dark realization dawned over her.
“That’s not right,” Eden said, but it came out in a whisper.
Jodie finished her thought. “Wrong galaxy.”
“I assure you, these representations are accurate,” Suvin said.
“That’s not what I mean,” Eden continued. “I mean, that is not our galaxy. That can’t be where we are,” she asserted confidently.
To her dismay, the captain seemed secure in their convictions. “This is our current location. We have many galaxies charted in this database, if you could describe yours, we might be able to locate it,” Suvin offered.
“Um… it’s a barred spiral galaxy, about a hundred thousand light years across, roughly two and a half million light years from a slightly larger spiral galaxy about a hundred fifty thousand light years across, and about the same distance from another spiral galaxy about sixty thousand light years across. Does that help?” As Eden spoke, Suvin entered the parameters into her console.
“There are…” the captain paused for a moment. “Several thousand charted galactic groups matching that configuration.”
Eden’s heart sank. Staring at the hologram before her, a depiction of a massive spiral galaxy with dozens of distinct arms, colliding edge-on like a circular saw blade into a smaller spiral galaxy with only two arms, she knew for a fact that this was not right. “How did we get here?” she asked, but she didn’t think anyone could answer. “We can’t be here, our shuttle can only go, like, twelve light years!”
There was a long silence on the bridge as the strange reality of their predicament set in. Jodie was the one to break it. “Suvin, where’s your planet? Can you show us?”
Wordlessly, the captain shifted the hologram, zooming away from the colliding galaxies, moving beyond countless others before settling on a small elliptical, far from any other bodies. The display plunged into the disc of stars, zooming further until a lone binary system hovered in the room, with an orrery of seven planets orbiting slowly. Suvin selected the third planet from the largest star, displaying its surface for their guests.
“You’re not from this galaxy either? Then, how did you get here?” Jodie interrogated the captain.
“Our vessel works very… differently than yours, human. It may be difficult to explain,” Suvin replied, somewhat evasively.
Eden didn’t know how to feel about them referring to Jodie as ‘human’, but she tried to reserve her judgment.
“Try, Akerbi,” Jodie shot back defensively.
Eden grinned at her display, the large Akerbi squirming in their seat somewhat.
“Apologies. This vessel uses exotic matter to form a bridge through hyperspace between two selected points in space-time, then forms a rift to the bridge. Once in the hyperspace bridge, the rift is closed, and another is formed at the destination, which makes for rapid long-distance travel,” Suvin said.
“So, wormholes? So, you can travel virtually anywhere in the universe instantly?” Jodie continued, incredulous.
“Any point within range, and not instantly. The farther the distance, the more energy is expended, and the longer we spend in hyperspace. We are limited in our travel range only by our energy storage capacity,” they explained, and Eden began to listen in too.
“How far?” Eden butted in, her curiosity getting the better of her.
“A maximum of several hundred million of your light-years, if the conversion rate is accurate,” Keipan chimed in from behind Eden.
She felt panic begin to rise inside her. “None of this makes sense. Where’s the Milky Way? How did we get here? H…how are we going to get back? Oh God,” Eden held her head in her hands, trying to hide her face and hold back tears as she began to realize how truly lost they were.
She felt a small hand on her arm, and looked up to Jodie. “Look, I don’t know how we got here either,” she related in a calming tone, catching Eden’s eyes with hers. “But we’re here, and by some stroke of cosmic luck, we somehow ended up in the path of people almost perfectly situated to help us,” she continued. “It’s a weird coincidence, but since we’re way out of our element here, we might as well take advantage of the circumstances in our favor, however improbable they are.”
She squeezed Eden’s hand reassuringly, and Eden turned her gaze from Jodie’s eyes, the panic fading.
“I just…” Eden started, “I need to know what’s going to happen,” she relented.
Suvin spoke, and Eden and Jodie looked up to the captain. “I can offer two paths forward. With your permission, we could attempt to extract the information on your home system from your vessel, but the data will likely be damaged in the process. Alternatively, we could bring you to Akerbi, where your vessel may be repaired and a safer attempt at accessing the data can be made. If either proves unsuccessful, then we may need to attempt to locate your home galaxy in our cartographic records, which would be time-consuming.”
“I like the second option,” Jodie declared. “Higher chance of success, and we get to go through a wormhole.”
Eden had to admit that it sounded appealing. “That sounds… okay,” she said, to Jodie’s delight.
A wide grin plastered over the girl’s face, she turned to the captain, asking excitedly, “Can we watch the jump from here?”
“If that would please you. I must advise you to take a seat, however. Travel through hyperspace can be somewhat… disorienting… even to the experienced,” Suvin warned, selecting the planet on the map and working the controls on her console.
Eden didn’t intend to embarrass herself in front of the aliens by passing out in the middle of a wormhole, so she started towards a tall, empty chair at the front of the bridge, closest to the front window. Jodie followed, spotting another empty console right next to the one Eden found.
Thankfully, she only had to jump slightly to make it on the chair, climbing onto the tall seat and settling in, her feet swinging a good few feet above the deck. It had a backing, so if she got ‘disoriented’ she wouldn’t just fall out of it.
Focusing her attention on the view outside the window, she took a moment to appreciate the foreign beauty of the nebula she found herself in. Absorbed in the intricate complexities of the enormous stellar body, Eden almost didn’t notice the low, charging hum filling the bridge.
A small ball of bright, blue-white plasma disrupted the still vista of the nebula, seemingly appearing out of nowhere and rapidly expanding. Both Eden and Jodie were now intently watching, and it took everything in her to stay in her seat, to resist pressing herself up to the window.
She would have to be content to see as much as she could from here, she thought.
The electric hum in the air rose to a crescendo as a narrow beam of crackling orange energy fired into the growing orb of plasma, rapidly forming black, swirling clouds over its surface which dissipated to reveal a shimmering, reality-warping rift hovering silently before the ship.
Somewhere in the bowels of the alien vessel, their equivalent of thrusters fired, and the ship eased forward.
The light from the nearby starry nebula warped around the opening of the rift as the ship approached its shimmering surface. It seemed so close now that Eden believed she could reach out and touch it. She almost tried, but before she could, the front of the ship dipped into the wormhole.
Eden was the first human being in transdimensional space, and Jodie quickly became the second. It was like watching a submarine plunge, if the ocean was an infinite field of shifting geometric patterns, warping colors, and indescribable formless structures.
She couldn’t watch any more, she thought with a twinge of emergency, as a familiar twisting feeling rose in her gut and threatened to push past her throat. Forcing her eyes away from the window down to the alien console she sat at, she saw that the controls didn’t look powered on. The other empty consoles were on, she realized with a quick sweeping gaze of the room.
It was probably a good call, she thought. Humans can’t help but mess with things they shouldn’t, and an alien control console was understandably irresistible.
“Eden, look…” Jodie insisted in breathless wonder, and Eden realized she was still watching the hyperspace bridge. Her nausea had dissipated, so she figured it couldn’t hurt… Eden turned back to face the front window just in time to spot a similar rift to the one they had entered, distant and shimmering and steadily approaching.
Some part of her was afraid, but the near-hypnotic spectacle of hyperspace captivated her, and strangely soothed her. The two humans watched in wonder as the rift rapidly approached, the fabric of the universe wrapping around them and, with a flicker of starlight, normal space returned.
The windows filled with an alien world, and alien sunlight warmed Eden’s skin.