One of the first things Master Raychelle had taught me when I joined the Crystal Guardians was the spell to convert my anima shield into an environmental barrier. We spent so much time traveling from planet to planet that running into a disaster in space was almost a certainty. Being able to survive sudden exposure to vacuum was a great skill but it was the kind of thing that you needed a hefty amount of physical anima to pull off.
Normal space travelers relied instead on either non-magical or lightly enchanted space suits which were bulky and uncomfortable to move around in but beat the heck out of trying to breath the stellar void.
Since, as Crystal Guardians, we expected to run into more than our fair share of exceptional circumstances, the battle robes that I wore also carried an environmental shield enchantment on them. That was to cover me for the cases where I either didn’t have the Physical anima to spare or I wasn’t conscious enough to use it.
Despite those precautions though, I still climbed into a combat-grade space suit before we walked out into warp space.
“The engines are gone but there’s all kinds of chop in the sub-aether,” Master Hanq said. “Probably a result of the explosion, so we’ll need to be careful. There’s no telling how much energy the engines dumped into the skein here, or when it’s going to burst out.”
In regular space, explosions behave in reasonably predictable ways. Warp space isn’t quite as friendly as that. Rather than happening all at once, an explosion in warp space can be vented into other dimensions or sent along unpredictable time trajectories so that the force returns somewhere or somewhen else (or both).
The most dangerous aspect of a warp space disaster wasn’t the variable explosions though. It was the kind of things that explosions like that could wake up.
The sapient races of Crystal Empire vary in physiology a fair amount but there are some common elements. Not so much with the things that live in warp space or the strange dimensions that lie beside or beyond it. From creatures that can think and plan and yet have no mind to be affected by Mental anima to beasts so large they blur the distinction between “monster” and “moon”.
It wasn’t often that you ran into things like that, but I wasn’t about to object to having an extra layer of protection on in case we did.
“We’ll need to be careful with our flight packs,” Darius said. “Too much power to them and they may draw out some of the anima that sunk into subspace.”
“We can’t take too long though,” I said. “There’s zero chance the people who are left over there are in good shape.”
“First rule of a rescue operation,” Master Hanq said. “You can’t rescue anyone if you’re dead. We’re going to take this slow and steady. No surprises, no heroics.”
“I’m patched into your central scrying system,” Fari said. “I’ll do my best to make sure the surprises are kept to a minimum.”
“Good,” Master Hanq said. “Now divide up into your teams. Darius, you’re on Blue team with Lt. Hewsgrove. Blue team has the bio-stasis field generator point. We need to be sure we can breech it to get to the people inside without causing a cascade failure and exposing them all to warp space.”
Darius and the other four members of Blue team from Master Hanq’s staff nodded in understanding. They were the first in and would have had the most dangerous job except that they got to avoid the space where the engines had detonated.
“Mel, you’re on Black team with me,” Master Hanq said. “We’re going to find out what happened.”
Which meant we were going to the site of the warp generator core breech. That was dangerous for purely environmental reasons, but in this case there was extra cause for concern.
We knew that a bio-stasis field had been erected around part of the remains of the colony ship. That suggested that some of the people onboard had survived the explosion. The problem was, humans and Garjarack aren’t the only things in warp space that can cast a bio-stasis field. For some of the less pleasant transdimensional species that was how they hunted their prey, or stored their food.
Before Blue team could open a doorway into the bio-stasis field, we needed to make sure whether we were walking into a someone’s larder or shooting gallery.
Master Hanq gave orders to Gold team (the medics, who would come in last) and Red team (the reserves, who wouldn’t come in at all – if 3 teams couldn’t handle whatever was out there, Red team’s job would be to get back and report on what we’d found).
Blue team had the longest flight so Darius and the others went out first.
“Be careful out there,” he said on our private link.
“I’m always careful,” I said.
“Someone else’s version of careful please!” he asked.
“I’ll come back to you if you come back to me,” I said. “How’s that sound?”
“Like a promise I intend to hold you too,” he said.
We didn’t time for chatting after that. Blue team was soaring toward the last habitation module as Master Hanq led Black team out into the weird expanse of warp space.
Where normal space is a black and empty void, warp space writhes with light and gives the not-entirely-illusionary sense that there are shapes and masses passing all around you.
I fed Physical anima into the flight pack and braced myself for the burning onslaught that I’d felt whenever I cast spells recently. The wings unfurled from my back and caught the currents of anima that whipped and twisted around us but there wasn’t even the hint of heat to accompany them.
I was surprised by that but not unhappy with it. In fact, I was kind of giddy to learn that stabbing the flames that had tried to overwhelm me had been the right idea after all. The depths of warp space were a lot harder to navigate than the skies of Hellsreach had been though, so my delight was tempered by the need to focus on staying in control.
Master Hanq was in front of the rest of Black team, heading for a cloud of aurora that was surrounded by a cloud of debris that had once been the colony ship’s engines. He made the flight look easy which was aggravating. I knew he’d been stuck on a planet for most of the last twenty years. Even if he’d been a warp space surfer in his younger days (which no sane people did, but there were lots and lots of crazy people in the galaxy) he should have been horribly out of practice after his time away from it.
Unless, I reasoned, it was less a matter of skillful flying and more knowing how to read the currents of anima that surrounded us. I had to fight through them like a battering ram, but watching him fly I saw that the flourishes he was putting on his flight might have some practical applications.
He looked back a minute later to see me trying with only moderate success to follow the path that he was flying along.
“Pick a single thread as your guide,” he said and gestured ahead of himself.
I flicked a layer of Void anima over my vision and caught sight of a million ghostly filaments of anima surging around us. One bright purple one ran just over Master Hanq though and as I watched he swooped around it’s length allowing it to guide him through the maelstrom.
In his wake the purple thread frayed though, which was why following the same path as he did hadn’t worked out as well for me.
Fortunately there was more than one thread leading towards the spot we needed to reach, so I picked a pale blue one to follow and found my flight grow remarkably less turbulent. The cost for that however was a longer flight path than I’d originally intended to follow. By the time I arrived rest of Black team was already there and setting up shop.
“Ramses, give us a sign when you’re ready to begin the past viewing spell,” Master Hanq said. “Everyone else, form a perimeter. I’m the high side of the sphere, everyone else be 90 degrees from me and from each other with Ramses in the middle. Even if this wasn’t the work of a warp space creature, the explosion may have attracted scavengers.”
We’d already discussed the plan while we were prepping for the rescue operations so no one voice any questions. We simply got into position and waited.
My imagination conjured forth all sorts of horrible terrors that might materialize out of the empty space around us but all that actually happened was that time passed.
Blue team called in to report that they’d reached the bio-stasis field, and then called in again to report that they could safely open a portal inside it.
That left it to Black Team to determine if being able to “safely open a portal” was the same as being able to open a portal to a safe area.
“Ready with Past Viewing spell,” Ramses reported a few minutes after that.
“Fari, can you link in the scrying suite? I want a full scan and recording of what we see,” Master Hanq said.
“Link established, recording has begun,” Fari reported.
“Play the image as an overlay for the whole team,” Master Hanq said. “I want as many eyes on this as possible.”
“Overlay crafted, ready when you are,” Fari said.
Ramses released the spell and it looked as though time was flowing backwards in a ghostly form. I could still see the bright emptiness around us, but superimposed over that was the image of the colony ship. I watched as it rapidly came back together to form a solid whole and then reversed direction away from us.
In the vacuum of regular space anything that’s accelerated will continue in the direction of travel until it encounters something like a planet or a star. Warp space was empty as well, but different physical laws applied. When the colony ship exploded it had slowed to a stop relative to its point of entry due to resistance from a variety of forces. Similarly, the exploded bits of the ship hadn’t sailed off into an ever expanding cloud of debris but had hung, cast apart, where they came to “rest” after the force of the explosion was spent or diverted elsewhere.
Viewing the ships destruction in reverse gave me a sense of how rapidly the event had occurred. What was strange was that for as fast as it was, it still seemed more prolonged than it should have been.
“Coming up on forward time progression,” Ramses said.
“We should be in the engine room now, shift the focus to engine room when the explosion occurred,” Master Hanq said.
With a lurch, the vision shifted into the colony ship and we were in a room that I found quite familiar.
The ship that Verulia Industries used to transport the Common Council colonists was of an identical design as the one Gan Everbright had brought the Garjarack family and I to. The engine room had the same layout as the one that I’d fought in and ultimately melted to slag.
In the vision there was less crazy girl spewing fire and more technicians working on the assigned jobs.
That is until one of the colonists came in.
I wanted to scream and stop him the moment I saw the man walk in the door. I could see the look in his eyes that said he’d entered that room with a lifetime of hate behind him.
One of the engineers had the chance to ask the colonist “What are you doing? You’re not allowed to be here!” before the colonist shot him with a hunting caster.
The other engineers were shocked by that for a moment and that was all the time the colonist needed.
Without saying a word, the man plunged into the central warp transit node. I saw Void anima stab out from the man and shatter the control crystals. A wave of physical anima followed and the warp spell folded in on itself.
The explosion of the field should have destroyed the ship instantly, but one thing prevented that – one of the engineer’s dove into the destroyed transit node and bridged the main relay with his body.
He didn’t last five seconds before the anima burned him to ash, but he bought the other engineers the time to throw up an improvised shield around the entire warp assembly.
“Engineering, report. We’re reading a massive flux in propulsion,” the colony ship’s Captain said over the comm system.
“Catastrophic failure. We’re holding it back. Get everyone off the ship!” the chief engineer called out through gritted teeth as he and the other engineers poured everything they had into containing the explosion.
“How long can you hold it?” the Captain asked.
“Not long enough!” the Chief Engineer said.
I watched the explosion eat away at the shield like no explosion in regular space every could. The energy was looping through time, weaker for it but burning longer than it ever could have on its own.
The clatter of a red alarm sounded moments before the first of the engineers faltered and allowed a hole to open in the shield. The plasma stream that burst out vaporized him and a large section of the hull behind him.
“Chief, teleport out of here,” one of the engineer’s called out.”We’re not going to make it,”
“No we’re not, but we’ve got to buy them time,” the Chief said.
In the end they bought they colonists another twenty seconds. One by one they dropped and were consumed by the unbridled energies of the engine but in those twenty seconds they’d bought the lives of whoever was protected in the bio-stasis chamber.
We watched as the last of them fell and the ship blew apart in the fireworks display that I’d seen in the vision when I touched the fate casting.
There hadn’t been any monsters from warp space on board the ship. The only monster had been a purely human one. Just like the heroes who’d given their lives to mitigate the damage he’d done.