It had been over four days since the Svetlana dropped out of out jumpspace. Throughout that time, Captain Chevsky had been in periodic communication with the UNA Septimus Directorate negotiating for clearance as we closed on the massive wall of blackness. Now, as we waited only a few hundred thousand klicks from the gate, we could see several ships and small craft flitting about, as well as the approach lights erected by the Directorate, indicating the location of the otherwise invisible dimensional gate. A big modular colony pod was preparing to enter and we would be permitted to enter a few hours later. The maneuvre thrusters on the colony ship fire and it proceeds forward. I watch intently as the colony ship appears to head directly toward a featureless wall so immense that even at this distance, no curvature is noticeable. It's as if one half of the sky is starless and the other sparkles with lights so clear, you almost feel as though you could touch them. I'm told it's because of the combined effects of almost non-existent ambient light and because the space around Septimus is as pristine as the interstellar void. The colony pod picks up speed rapidly. I've heard the gate works best when a ship is doing over a thousand klicks per second. Good thing they put final approach under computer control. Most helmsmen would lose bowel control flying at a solid wall at half a percent of lightspeed. And what happens on the other side? There's a lot of room inside a sphere with a radius of over one AU, but who knows where you pop back into normal space? There's a lot of decel required once inside. Could be a lot of ships finding the inside of that shell coming at them at uncomfortable speeds, especially for those clunky colony pods. Any radical course changes and those pigs turn into a fireworks display for the folks below. I try not to think about it too much.
"There they go," Captain Chevsky says.
I look up in time to see the colony pod approach the gate. It's really just a blur. There's no flash of light and, happily, no explosion either. One second she's there, the next, she's gone. Good luck, folks. You're gonna need it.
We spend the next few hours prepping the ship for the gate jump or whatever it is. I don't claim to understand the physics involved. I'm not sure the big brains understand it either. Again, not something I spend much thought on. I'm a tech, not a scientist. I signed on with Chevsky back on Mars. He was pretty well-known around the spacer bars. It surprised everyone when he decided to retire, he was one of the few independents left in the game. Interstellar freight transport is an expensive business and most small operators couldn't make enough money to stay in it. They just couldn't afford the really big freighters and in space, you have to go big. Chevsky was an exception. He had a way of sniffing out small, high-value cargoes. Most figured he had connections. Government or criminal, who knows? Anyway, he announced he was getting out. He bought out his crew and said he was headed for Septimus. Yeah, I know, Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot? Anyway, he was looking for colonists, young people, men and women, under thirty, no families. I don't know what convinced me to sign up. I was sober, so it wasn't that. I guess I just wanted to be part of something. So here I am, checking the sleepers in the cargo hold. Don't want anyone to bite it because of a faulty relay. If I was flying in a low berth, I'd hope someone would do it for me. After I finish with the sleepers, I'll do a check on the thrusters. Those things never have a problem, but there's a first time for everything. Then I'll grab a sandwich in the mess before heading back to the bridge. Don't want to miss the floor show.
I get back to the bridge with a few minutes to spare. Chevsky has the helm, his wife Juanita is on the comm. The only other person on the flight deck is Ramos, the medic. Everyone else is in the sleepers. We'll need Ramos when we wake up the rest of the colonists. Cold sleep is pretty safe, but it's always a good idea to have a medic on standby in case someone's ticker gives out. As I finish strapping in, the Captain informs us that final approach is about to commence. The impact shields descend over the flight deck windows and the lights dim. The thrusters engage and three gees of acceleration press us hard in our seats. Seconds pass, we must be close. What the hell was I think...
"Pelham, wake up!"
Ahhh, my head is pounding. What the hell happened?
"Pelham, get up. We need you!" It was Ramos.
"What? What's wrong?"
"Sensors are down. We're flying blind!"
"Well, open the shield," I reply as I look around for my toolkit.
"Can't, we hit something. The shield is jammed."
"Damn! Alright, I'm on it."
It took a few scary minutes, but I got sensors back online. Some sort of power surge tripped breakers all over the place. Weird, but reparable. Ramos is checking out the sleepers. Damn, I hope they're ok. Should be, they're well-shielded and each has independent power in an emergency. Chevsky's missus is scanning for debris. I guess something hit us pretty hard just as we dropped back into normal space. Video is still out, whatever we hit probably busted the optics package, but radar and passive EM is working. Why does my head hurt so much?
"Sleepers are ok, thank god." Ramos was back. "Pelham, what happened to you?"
"What do you mean?"
"You lost consciousness. I had to hit you with a stim to wake you up."
"I dunno, but my head is killing me. Maybe hopping across dimensions doesn't agree with me...like tequila." I was trying to lighten the mood, but my heart wasn't in it. Ramos smiled and moved on to check on Chevsky and the Missus.
Time to go EVA and see if I can do something with the optics array.