Amy pressed the enter key. Nothing happened.
For two long seconds nothing happened. Then the ship slung itself into the chaos of light speed. This time there was more than the mild vertigo they were used to. Everything around them seemed to blur and elongate as the ship was sucked into the spacial rift before them.
“There they go.”, said Lieutenant Groce.
“Wow. Look at them go.” Camereday was staring at his console.
Captain Rice said, “Stay with them. How fast?”
Groce said, “At least twenty percent over what is supposedly possible.”
Rice fingered a button on his armrest. “Commander Stewart. Are you watching this?”
The voice came over the speakers. “I am, Captain.”
“What do you think?”
“They are committing suicide.”
“Can’t be done?”
“Not for more than a few minutes.”
“Can we match them?”
“Now Captain you know I am in command of the engines. You cannot order me to do something I consider a danger to the ship.”
Rice looked disgusted. “I’m not ordering you to do anything. I’m just asking you to do what you can. Can you do anything? They’re getting away.”
“I can shut down nonessential functions and maybe get five percent.”
Groce said, “They’re changing course.”
Amy said, “Course change.” They ship slowed and lurched as the course change overwhelmed the inertial dampers. Then once again came the sickening stretch to light speed.
“Where are we going? Can you tell?”
“I have no idea. I can see the course but I don’t know the destination. Wait. What’s that?”
A glowing white ball appeared on the view screen, rapidly growing as they approached. An iridescent stream of matter stretched out behind it.
Sam said, “It’s a comet.”
“Shields coming up. I think we’re going in.”
“The head of the comet flashed by on their left and they were engulfed in the shimmering track of debris that stretched behind it.
Captain Rice leaded forward. “What’s that?”
“They won’t mess with that.”
“They just went into the tail.”
“Watch them. They’ll come out on a new course.”
“Course change.” The ship rotated to the new course. Amy’s chair started to roll. She caught the edge of her console and held on. The ship burst from the tail as once again space and time were ripped apart.
“How’s the reactor?”
“Showing yellow. Approaching red.”
Groce was concentrating on his instruments. “I thought I saw something.”
“Don’t lose them.”
“Filtering. Yes. There it is. New course.”
“Stay with them. They can’t keep this up for long.”
A nerve jangling klaxon began to sound. “Stay away from that comet.”
“Where are we going now?”
“There’s a nebula ahead. Big one. Maybe we can go around it and lose them on the other side.”
“Or through it.”
“Reactor’s in the red.”
“What are they up to?”
“Heading for that nebula. Maybe go around it and lose us on the other side.”
“Or through it. I’m beginning to think these people have a death wish.”
“There they go. They’re in it.”
“Let’s get around it. Stay alert.”
“Filtering. There’s something. Yes. Got them. I hope.”
They came out of the nebula on their new course. Each course change brought groans from the ship as panels cried out under stresses they weren’t designed for. Each shift to light speed brought the unnerving spacial disarray. And the temperature scale on Amy’s console continued it’s inexorable progress toward the end.
“You got them, Groce?”
“I think so. They’re close to the limits of our scanners. I’m tracking more by inference than a solid signal.”
“Anything on their track that would suggest a destination?”
“There’s a planetary system on the maps that may be on their path.”
Cameraday said, “They’ve dropped out of light speed.”
“Stay a flank speed. We need to gain some ground.”
“They’re heading for the system all right. Going for the fifth planet. A gas giant like Jupiter.”
“What are we doing? Eddie, what are we doing?” Sam was shouting. Eddie didn’t answer.
Amy did. “We’re heading for that big planet, like Jupiter. At full impulse.”
The ship reached standard orbiting distance and bent itself around the planet till it was aimed directly at the star at the center of the system.
Amy was studying her console. “We’re going to light speed.”
“What’s the reactor gauge say?”
“Reaching the end of the scale.”
“Hold onto something.”
They each got a grip on their consoles. Each reached for the other’s free hand. Sam looked at Amy. Her eyes were closed and her lips were moving. He thought that this was a good time to be praying. He would be praying too if he knew how. And who to pray to.
“They’re going to light speed.”
“Inside a planetary system? Can’t be done.”
“Well they did it.”
“These people are crazy. Stay with them.”
Lieutenant Groce’s hands moved rapidly across his console. He looked up occasionally at the view screen. His movements gradually got slower. He stopped looking at the screen. Finally he stopped altogether.
“How do you mean, gone?”
“They either flew into that sun or they were annihilated by a reactor breech or…”
“Or they got away. Whatever happened I can find no sign of them.”
Captain Rice sat back and took a deep breath. “Well keep looking. Get us in close to that sun. We have to know. One way or another we have to know.”
He took a furtive glance to his right. The Scarecrow was gone.