I opened the door leading to the bridge. In front of me a forest path stretched into infinity. I took a step outside stretching out my hand. This part was easy. I had gone inter faster than light often enough that this place had solidified. It was always this path in the forest. To my left was always the soft polished surface of the wooden ledge of the bridges wall. The forest cleared, the trees retreating making space for the stations of the the bridge. The only thing that remained of the forest was the light illuminating the room that had the characteristic shadow and light pattern of the summer sun shining through a forest canopy.
"Pentyl?" I said. As I let go of the ledge moving into the room my hand brushed against Kira's. A wave of emotion crashed over me as I turned around to face her. As I turned the room burst into a fine mist of particles and me with it.
This was new. I have jumped past the light barrier hundreds of times. The one thing that always stays the same, at least for me, is my body. Now however my body was gone. I was just some strange presence in an even stranger space. I was still alive. Probably. At least I very much hoped so. I had no idea how death would be affected by being in superluminal space. I had to take a moment. I tried taking a deep breath, but there I had no lungs with which to breath with. Again I felt a feeling of panic rising. No. The panic wasn't rising. It was starting to crush me, there was pressure everywhere. I felt slowly heating up, like blushing but with my entire being. Blushing that was turning rapidly into painful heat.
"James?" The panicked voice of Pentyl.
I said 'yes'. But without a voice.
"Thank the stars you're still alive!" Pentyl said. "I thought I had lost you when you ship suddenly exploded."
I was suddenly not so sure about being alive any more. 'When did my ship explode?' I asked with no voice.
"When you tried to push your ship past the light barrier. It was all so fast. First you were there in the cockpit asking me if I had ever travelled in a ship that actually went faster than light and then everything exploded and I was out here in space."
That wasn't right. 'We didn't exploded, we actually went past the light barrier. Besides if we did explode during acceleration were is the debris of the ship and much more important where is Saint Saviour.' I asked trying to point towards the darkness surrounding us. Instead of pointing, I had no arms I... expanded?
"But we aren't on your ship any more." said Pentyl.
I contracted. I shifted. I had lost track of my body because I had turned gaseous. 'Pentyl.' I communicated. 'Everything is fine. We past the light barrier, reality broke and you were caught off-guard by that. We are both fine.'
"Oh really? Why are we floating in space then?" she said.
'We are not floating in space. Also look around you. Can you see my body anywhere?' How did I speak anyway? I wasn't making any sounds.
"Now that you mention it... No. But I can hear you and you are present right here in... oh." Pentyl paused. "Ooooooh..." After another pause. "You do make a fine Nebulan, I have to say."
'Many thanks, but this is almost all you. Right now you are filling out the holes in reality caused by us going faster than light. I... got distracted when I went looking for you and I lost grip on my version of reality so I was dragged into yours. I feel weird.'
"That is the feeling of freedom." Pentyl said. "No need for the confines of those ridiculous bodies of yours. You finally get to stretch your molecules James. Dosen't it feel great?"
'It certainly feels unlike anything I have ever experienced.' I conceded. 'Before today I did not know that you could be pushed into being an alien species like this. But as fascinating as this is, we have to return to the ship as fast possible. While it isn't very pressing we need to get back to the ship, staying here is dangerous.'
"If we are still on the ship," said Pentyl who I felt shifting turning her attention to her surroundings. "how are we in danger."
'Well first of all there is the little problem that it is very hard to pilot a ship that has shifted from your perception. What is worse though is that this reality here,' I made an expansive movement pointing out the space around us, 'has not appeared but flows out of your mind. So the things that you are carrying with you, the good and the bad, will find a way into this reality.'
"I think I understand. Are there particular thoughts that are especially likely to break through?" Pentyl said sounding a little bit too nonchalant.
'Hard to say. It's the things that are dominating you unconscious mind, which are not always the things you think they are and sometimes you are confronted with the signifiers your mind uses to represent them. When I am stressed for to long I tend to dream of spiders which are everywhere in my home blocking my way and being generally repugnant. I once had a trip that might have been my last and may have ended with me joining the idle poor. That one pulled the spiders right out of my nightmares and put them all over the ship. That was one fucking horror trip I can tell you that.'
"I'm relaxed. So that shouldn't be much of a problem. How do we get out of here then?" Pentyl asked.
'Well if you are calm it is actually easy, even if it might take you a few attempts. First of all the ship is still there and despite reality being a bit cracked, we are still inside the Void Dancer. So what you do first is concentrate on your surroundings and then try to find a place somewhere in the corner of your eye... we on the edge of your senses that you can connect with the ship. The move slowly towards it and try to find the real bits. Once you do they will pretty much crystallise into being. After that it gets progressively easy until you are back in reality with only small flavourings of what your mind has brought into existence.'
"But there is nothing here. This is just open space."
'Not really. When you pulled me out of my version of things I was on the bridge. I have hardly moved, so I would say that at least the part of you who is talking to me is on the bridge with me.'
"I see the logic in what you say but I fail to feel it." Pentyl said her frustration colouring the air.
'Right. First of all have look around. What ever we are seeing is something that comes from your mind. Look if you can find some points that look familiar to you."
I waited for a while. I felt Pentyl shifting around. Slowly expanding. It was at that point that I realised that I was intermingling with her. Was this how Nebulans hung out together?
"This does seem familiar. This is not place I know but I do fell like I've been here before...."
'That's normal. Usually what you see carries the flavour of a place you know but it shows it in a strange new form."
"I don't dream." Pentyl said.
'Oh, right. Well now you have an idea how dreaming feels like.' I said.
"It's strange and kind of interesting. This feels a lot like home."
'Home?' I asked. Everyone has a home, it just seemed a bit strange when thinking about a Nebulan's home as they just floated in open space.
"Yes the constellations feel familiar so does the the background radiation. It all looks wrong but it does feel right." Pentyl said.
'Perfectly normal. Concentrate on that feeling. That familiarity will help you find yourself in this space. Once you've done that you just have to concentrate on everything that is wrong about it. That will help you break the reality of the situation.'
"OK. I can do that. The stars are all wrong. And the radiation is far to warm. This is like a blend of all the best parts of my home."
'So this can't be your home, right?'
'OK now remember you are aboard the Void Dancer.' I said. I still wondered how I was doing that without vocal cords or lungs.
"Never forgot about that."
'Yes but now really concentrate on that. You are not in open space but inside a space-ship. It is hermetically sealed. You can't simply float into outer space just like that. You are surrounded by alloy walls. Try to feel them.'
Pentyl shivered and started to compress. In the open space around us ships jumped out of hyper-space materialising around us.
'Pentyl? What's happening.'
"They found us! We have to flee James!"
'What? Who found us?'
"The Zohkin Mining ships. They found us James. We need to get out of her before its to late!" there was a hot streak of panic filling Pentyl's voice. Without warning the scenery changed. I felt crushing pressure. I was a in a dark space that crushed me from all sides. The pain was unbearable. There was one small spot where I could decompress, escape the pain... "No." Pentyl shouted. But it was to late a part of me was already rushing towards freedom. Suddenly the part of me that was escaping ignited. I screamed.
"James. Try to hold together." Pentyl screamed, I felt her flowing around me finding the spaces where she could still flow through me, I felt her gripping me trying to keep me in place. but all it did was slow my descent into the fire down.
'What's happening Pentyl? What the fuck is this place?'
"We are in a gas mining station James. You need to stay as compressed as you can. It's your only chance to survive!"
'Pentyl.' I said trying to force my self to appear as calm as possible. "We are not on a mining station." I pressed through clenched teeth. Teeth. My body! "We are aboard the Void dancer. I can actually hear your voice." I could hear my own voice again. "What ever this colony is supposed to represent is not real. Do you hear me."
"It's real." Pentyl said. "'Stay with me. I can protect you."
"Pentyl. This isn't real. Remember how we went pas the light barrier. Even if we did explode there are no gas mining stations around for millions of miles around Saint Saviour."
"No mining." she said.
"No mining. The walls you feel are those of my ship. Also I can hear you so must be in the same room as me. You have compressed yourself through your containment unit. We are on the bridge." my body slowly faded into my consciousness again. I took a few step forwards until I reached resistance. A console probably communications.
"I am on the bridge talking to you only with my voice. Listen to it. It will lead you back."
"Yes. I can hear you. Those are your strange organoid noises you make to communicate." Pentyl said.
"Right and those are the usually charming words you use to describe us organoids. Also even if there was a gas mine nearby they would never try to refine you Pentyl. The war is long over."
"The war." Pentyl said with a voice dripping with grief.
"Long gone. It's been over a thousand years. It had been over long before I was born." I felt around and found a chair. I sat down. That helped. Now I had two anchor points to re-establish reality. My own body and an outside object. Slowly the bridge started to fade into view again, replacing the scalding dark reality of where ever we had been before.
I interfaced with the ship's systems and accessed the light controls. Slowing turning up the light into a blinding flame blue.
"Look how the light changes. That's me doing it. It's not dark in here. It is actually really bright. Can you see the light Pentyl?2 I asked.
"Yes." Pentyl's voice started to sound more relaxed. "Yes I can see it. I can feel the floor... and the walls."
I let the chair turn slowly. No sudden movement that might shatter reality again. Pentyl was behind me. She was completely deformed resembling a burning stick figure, he limbs only an inch or so wide while her gaseous body was radiating light and heat.
"Pentyl you are over-compressing. There is enough space in here for you. Expand. You are safe here." I said.
Slowly Pentyl's body began to take its normal flow again the glow subsiding.
"I can see you. I can see the bridge." she said.
"I'm glad to hear that. From now on you need to concentrate on what's real every once in a while. There will be things that will distract you or things that may frighten you but you need to remain calm. Nothing in this ship has changed since we took off from the spoke. Things may appear strange but they aren’t really. OK?"
Once I was sure that Pentyl had calmed down I went over to the navigation console to check out current course. Our little excursion had taken a day we had just cleared Hadalag and where no blasting towards the next greater galaxy cluster. If I could keep Pentyl calm that would give me a couple of days to train her on the fine art of not going insane during faster than light travel.
Pentyl remained calm, she got herself under control very quickly making me slightly envious as it had taken me months to get used to true faster than light travel. Her training still took most of the time of our voyage which made the time fly. Pentyl was reaching the stage where she could very gently push reality towards a shape that she wanted it to take, one of the most advanced techniques when we reached our destination.
The last day before arrival we both spent with calculations for the breaking process. While it was relatively easy to stop near ones target I intended to get to stop right next to it. Inexperienced faster than light travellers would be happy to stop next to the solar system they were gunning for. I was a professional with a reputation to consider. I was going to slow down and go into a wide orbit around my intended target. While this took a lot of preparation that did ensure that it would look effortless and easy. There are some spectators that you want to impress.
The Void Dancer turned around her aft pointing into the direction we were heading when I activated the engines again pushing them to their very limit and activating both the ships afterburners and repulsion fields. The Void Dancer's deceleration was so massive that the inertial dampers could not completely counteract it. I was pushed deep into my command chair, the only reason I did not black out was because of the high grade medical equipment I had laced into my atomic structure over the years. Poor Pentyl was crushed against the aft walls of the ship while she was pushing her containment field to its limits cursing in several languages not all of them acoustic.
The manoeuvre worked as we were both crushed to the side as the Void Dancer swung into orbit according to plan.
"Captain James Steiner Gutierrez. It's been a while." said the Sentinel fortress the red giant sun dawning on its angular horizon. "It's been to long. It's good to see you again."
"It's good to see you again too Sentinel." I said adjusting our course. The Void Dancer was now in a stable orbit against around the Sentinel Fortress, not quite an easy task as the fortress was the size of a small planet but had the shape of two pyramids joined at their bases giving it a somewhat exotic field of gravity.
"Where's Kira?" the Sentinel asked.
"She... she's gone. I need your help." I said.