'The Void Within' Chapter 1
Space on his view screen swelled for a long moment, as if he were watching a balloon inflate from the inside, and then blanked for an instant.
"Looking through history, the tendency becomes to view humanity as a single organism, ebbing and flowing together and towards goals that, at the time impossible to see, become visible to the historian viewing the actions of a population through the lenses of passed time. Still, look closely enough and one finds, without fail, moments where the energies of humanity intersect and therefore hinge on the actions of single individuals."—Excerpt from The Coalition Days, by Herman Setart
The five ships skipped into space instantly, surrounding the Chikubasho. Dren Cairo swore, his hands scurrying in a fury across the manual controls of his ship. Space on his view screen swelled for a long moment, as if he were watching a balloon inflate from the inside, and then blanked for an instant. Blanked—not black, not white, just not. And then the stars were different in their patterns and configuration as he skipped into a different sector of space. He hit the transmit button, but the others were already there, their scrambling fields cutting his message signal to pieces before it could get out.
“Damn,” he muttered, glancing at his fold-bank. He was running low; the Chikubasho didn’t have too many skips left, and he needed to think fast. He had to get his message relayed.
The five Coalition ships had skipped into a containment formation around him, should he try for a less conventional thruster escape. Worthless, he knew, in a world where space travel was instantaneous. The military ships bristled with weapons. There was little chance Cairo could even damage one before he himself was destroyed. As he strained his mind for a solution, his comm chirped.
“This is Captain Othanwa of the Coalition ship The Immutable. You are under arrest, by orders of the State, for the illegal seizure of classified information with intent to breach Coalition security. Drop your shields and prepare to be boarded, or we will be forced to destroy you and your ship.”
Cairo ignored the transmission despite the gnawing fear beginning to creep into his mind, shut down his comm, and brought up a sensor reading of the scrambling field the ships were generating. A diameter of five hundred thousand kilometers. If he could just get outside of the field long enough to transmit. Hell, if he could even get a probe outside the field to send the message before Othanwa and his men destroyed it.
His comm beeped again, wanting his attention. Another hail, this time visual. He answered, and his pursuer appeared on screen.
“Cairo,” Othanwa said, “stand down. I do not want to destroy you.”
“You know I can’t do that, Captain.”
“We served together at Prime III. You’re a good soldier, a good man, Cairo. If you let us take you peacefully, I will do what I can for you.”
“Captain, if you only looked at the files…”
“Those are classified, soldier,” Othanwa snapped, “Shut down your engines, or I will order the attack. We know your skip-banks are low. You know how these Coalition ships are: you can’t out-skip us. You have no other option.”
Cairo stared hard at his former commander. They had indeed served together at Prime III, the infamously destructive battle of the Cluster Wars. Othanwa had been a good leader, strong in battle and protective of his men. He inspired obedience. They had limped their way home afterwards, on thrusters only, the Hols-drive damaged too badly to skip. It had taken them almost a year, and the crew, those that survived, had become close.
“Alright, Captain,” Cairo said as he loaded the stolen data into a message probe and prepared it for launch. “You win. Powering down.”
“Thank you,” Othanwa looked visibly relieved. “Prepare—“
“Sir!” came a voice off-screen, “the Chikubasho is powering its drive. He’s going to skip!”
Cairo ignored the screen and entered in the last commands, his hand hovering over the probe launch initiator. It doesn’t matter, he thought. This information has to get out.
“Reset the computer auto—prepare to follow the moment he skips! Cairo, don’t –”
Cairo hit the probe launch and immediately, almost simultaneously, activated the Hols-drive. His ship blinked out of space just as the probe cleared his hull and instantaneously reappeared at the coordinates he had inputted, the same space occupied by the Immutable. The explosion, as one ship rematerialized within the spatial existence of the other, sent out a cascade of expanding energy, space-time itself stretching and ripping in a fury of light and color while its shock wave rolled through the other four Coalition ships, the crews of which scrambled to initiate evasive maneuvers. In the few seconds it took for the Chikubasho and The Immutable to be destroyed, in the few moments it took for the remaining ships to recover and understand what had happened, the probe Cairo had sent out cleared the scrambling fields and began transmitting the message he had died for.