Hidden Pages – Chapter 33 – Fitting In


Passing through a Grand Stellar Gate was supposed to be an easy thing. Millions of travelers crossed the galaxy every minute thanks to the gate network, and by and large their trips were safe and uneventful. None of them experienced the same bone shearing turbulence that Beth and her friends did, but then none of their destinations lay outside the reality of the Measureless Stars or in a time long passed.

“Are you sure this method of transit is safe?” Lagressa asked as the spaceship’s cabin vibrated under a buffeting that sounded like it was going to tear them to pieces.

“I told you those coordinates were off spec,” Starshine said, fighting with the control to keep the ship within the eye of the warp storm. She hadn’t been thrilled when the flight computer spit back an error code at the warp coordinates that Beth had suggested they use, but Beth had been able to reassure Starshine that the variables it flagged as invalid were simply plotting a more efficient route to get them where they needed to be.

In face, the coordinates plotted the only route they could travel, and the flight computer wasn’t wrong to question them, since no ship was certified to fly through the kind of maelstrom they needed to use to reach Earth in the 15th century.

Beth wasn’t able to provide them with any additional reassurance though. She was too busy trying to bridge the narrative gap between her father’s worlds and her own.

As a setting, the Measureless Stars covered eons of time, including, theoretically, the entire recorded history of Earth. None of the novels took place on Earth, but a few did mention the possibility of time travel by passing through a sufficiently dense storm in Warp Space. With those pegs to hang her story on Beth had thought getting to 15th century France would be doable. She couldn’t be sure that was where her father had tracked Gilles de Rais to but facing the monster in his lair seemed like the strongest narrative path she could think to follow.

Not that she had any interest in confronting a killer like de Rais in fair and open combat.

Her plan was to take Starshine’s ship above the french countryside, find de Rais’ castle and then bomb it to dust with orbital plasma beams. If he survived that, then she’d let Lagressa and Starshine at him with the hypertech weapons they had on board.

No matter how clever a serial killer he was, or how crafty a swordsman, Beth was reasonably sure a photon lance that could ignite granite would put a permanent crimp in de Rais’ plans.

“Lateral thrusters one and three are going offline,” Starshine yelled. “Kicking in secondary inertics to compensate. We’ve gotta find a path out of here before those run out though.”

“How long will they last?” Lagressa asked.

“A minute,” Starshine said as a horrible crumpling sound came from behind them. “Maybe less.”

Beth could feel what was wrong. She’d chosen the right path, the voyage through the warp storm would take them to Earth, even to an Unread version of it where it was the right period in the 1400s. The problem wasn’t with the path. The problem was with the people and machines trying to traverse it.

“Starshine, do you have a cloaking device on this ship?” Beth asked.

“Of course not,” Starshine answered too quickly. “Those are illegal. Only pirates and smugglers stock them.”

“How about a light refraction system that’s capable of a 180 degree diffraction?” Beth asked, phrasing the same question in a more politic manner.

“Oh course,” Starshine said. “Wouldn’t leave home without it.”

“Engage it! It’s the only thing that’ll see us through this storm!” Beth said.

“There’s no one here to hide from but ok,” Starshine said. “At this point I’m willing to give anything a shot.”

The problem wasn’t with the light that was bombarding them from all sides of the storm. Or at least it hadn’t been before Beth shifted the narrative a bit. The real problem was with the pages of the book her father jumped into.

The Measureless Stars could accept a wide range of possibilities, so long as they had some plausible touch point in technology. History books on the 15th century were less forgiving of things like spaceships appearing above the french landscape though.

Beth had plotted them a course into her father’s world, she was nearly sure of that, but there wasn’t enough space in the Unread margins of history for a mirror bright spaceship to suddenly appear. So the solution was to not appear. History books had very little to say about invisible spaceships and as long as Beth didn’t call for the plasma fire, the historical narrative would move along happily undisturbed.

Beth added that to the narrative she was crafting, removing her idea about pummeling de Rais castle from orbit and felt the shaking ease in response.

“I think we’re going to make it!” Starshine said. “That’s the weirdest exit ring I’ve ever seen though.”

Rather than a stable portal on the other end, the stellar gate that led to 15th century France writhed like a living creature caught in a trap. The edge bucked and jumped, throwing off splashes of color light as the gate ripped and reformed.

“Is that safe to go through?” Lagressa asked.

“It’s going to have to be,” Starshine said. “The engines are redlined already, we couldn’t turn back if we wanted to.”

And with that they dove into a maelstrom that should have shredded the atoms of the ship and everything in it into an expanding cloud of gas.

Instead of pain though there was only calm. The ship wasn’t annihilated.  It was hidden, and floating mostly powerless in space, but it had survived. Beth suspected that the power remained to explain why the cloaking field was still in place, and that they would find the cloaking device had been damaged into a permanently “On” state.

That didn’t bother her though.

Out of the main window, a blue and green marble hung with streaks of white clouds swirling over its surface.

They’d arrived back on Earth, and if they’d traversed the space correctly, Beth had to believe that the jump through time had been successful as well.

The next trick was going to be finding her father. After crossing a galaxy of space and uncountable years of time, finding one person on a whole world didn’t seem that it would be all that daunting.

“All we need to do now is look for wherever the biggest amount of trouble is happening,” Beth said, and keyed in a course to bring them back down to Earth.