(The last couple of weekends have fallen through for posting. Just life on the go. All is well. This post is a bit of science fiction mystery and adventure, inspired by too many sources to get into. Like so much of what I do, it needs an edit and tune up. Still, it is fun to write. Enjoy)
Sharing a stateroom was the only way I could afford the trip. Lars Pundel was going to be perfect, though. For starters, he was clean, pleasant and educated. What rounded things out was how much we had in common. Lars had recently retired from a long career as a senior drive technician with the military. I was a class four technician, with my specialty being in navigation systems. Different specialties, yes, but techs are techs. Other than that, the only major difference between us was age; Lars was in his early sixties, about thirty years ahead of me.
It was going to be a unique vacation. Cruising to alternate dimensions remained new after many years of being scientifically possible. The Trailblazer was the first of several ships planned for extra-dimensional tourism. It had been operating for over a year, travelling to another dimension twice a month without as much as a hiccup. Level four techs did not exactly make a fortune, but I was intrigued by this new frontier. What was a bit of money compared to the opportunity for a unique experience?
For safety reasons, the ship was stationed in a remote area, away from settled planets or inhabited stations. Even then, it spent two days travelling from the docking station, just to be extra safe. My trip had been pleasant, anyway, and the anticipation was half the fun. Lars and I spent the evenings chatting in the lounge over drinks, discussing the technical trades, regular space travel and comparing notes on military versus private spacecraft. The days were spent gambling, mixing with other passengers, and, well, more drinking.
When the time for the dimensional jump approached, we were herded to a viewing deck to take in this new dimension; dubbed the Beta Dimension by D-Voyages, the company who owned and operated the tour. The deck was a clear, high density polymer supported by internal shields. The deck gave a nearly perfect view of the surrounding space. Once we were assembled, there was a short safety broadcast about maintaining composure and reporting any nausea or medical disturbances. Another brief message outlined the history of dimensional travel and threw in a bit of marketing and promotional information; sell, sell, sell.
When the hoopla of broadcasts ended the captain issued a final message from the bridge. It was meant to create a bit of drama, I figured, except the passengers around me looked vaguely bored.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the captain said through the audio speakers, “this is your captain speaking. Prepare to be amazed. I will have the dimensional shields raised in a moment. After the shields have stabilised, the dimensional transit module will be activated, propelling us to the Beta Dimension in seconds. After that, you are free to enjoy the sights and sensations of a new frontier. Commander Clarke, engage the dimension shields.”
There was no noticeable change as these shields engaged so we were really just standing around for a few moments. The passengers were generally quiet.
“It makes me wonder if this dimensional travel is some sort of ritual that requires extended broadcasts,” Lars joked.
“I hope not,” I replied. “I forgot to bring any goats or incense.” We must have chuckled a bit too loudly because several passengers shot us unfriendly glances.
The speakers sent us the voice of the Captain again. “Ladies and gentlemen, the dimensional shields have been stabilised. We are ready to travel to the far reaches of existence. Commander Clarke, please engage the dimensional module for final transit.”
This time, there was something noticeable. The air seemed to hum, almost to a buzzing level, before fading. The view into space blurred and faded, slowly turning a light purple, swirling with yellows, pinks, greys and some colours I had never seen before. The interesting part of the experience was that I saw shapes and configurations that I could not describe. The promotional information and client testimonials had mentioned there were certain elements of Dimension Beta that could only be understood by experiencing them; and now I could agree. Holo, video and audio taken in this dimension was always incomplete, sometimes looking like a jumble, when viewed. A popular theory suggested there was an ambient psychic energy or field that permeated even the dimensional shields, altering our perception. My first impression was awe; the second impression was I had made a great choice for my vacation.
“Welcome to Beta Dimension,” I said after a couple of minutes gawking at the incredible, impossible view.
Lars was smiling as he gazed into the depths of this new space; like a kid entering his first holographic action game. “I’ve been to almost every corner of explored space in the last forty years,” he said, reverently, “and I’ve never seen anything like this. Bloody fantastic.”
We sat as the view shifted slightly, suggesting movement. The captain issued another audio broadcast. “Ladies and gentlemen, I have one last thing to mention before our cruise commences, and I promise this will be the final interruption. The view is never quite the same here, so even if this is not your first voyage with us, I advise you remain watchful as we move along. Remember you will experience things differently, even for different passengers, while here. Any questions or concerns can be directed to any of our crew. Thank you and enjoy your cruise.”
“What do you make of that?” Lars said. “I don’t even know how to explain some of this view to discuss it with you.”
“Some of the extended information about the cruise mentioned a group of academics are actively creating new words to address the stuff here,” I said. “Sounded like bunk to me when I read it. Now I understand.”
The cruise experience was new to me, but not disappointing. Food, drink and entertainment were plentiful and available at any hour. Some foods and drinks even tasted different in Beta Dimension. The viewing deck remained the primary entertainment, like an impossible holographic light show. The trip was scheduled to last ten days and I did not want it to end. Unfortunately, things change.
Around day five, I was summoned from a gambling table by a petty officer. The reason for the summons was intentionally vague, even through my drunken haze, though it was clear the captain wanted to see me. The officer led me into an off-limits engineering area. Two officers, Lars and a rather attractive lady passenger were also gathered. Before departing, the petty officer gave me an anti-inebriant spray that cleared my head, ending the pleasant sensation I had cultivated.
“What’s all this about?” I asked.
“I apologise for disturbing you,” one of the officers responded. “The captain will join us shortly and explain things fully. I am Lieutenant Jordan, the acting engineering officer. This is Sergeant Patel, our military officer in charge of security. You are already acquainted with Technical Officer Pundel, retired, so that leaves Professor Xiang. Professor Xiang, may I introduce Technical Petty Officer Terence Lumbsden.”
“Pleasure,” she said, coldly, without even a nod.
“Yeah, sure,” I said, starting to feel a self-conscious wave of sobriety.
“You gentlemen have technical skills that may be needed soon,” Jordan continued. “Professor Xiang is a specialist in dimensional physics at the University of Ulator. She may have input on our…situation.”
“A situation you have refused to explain,” Xiang interrupted, apparently bothered with more than just me. “I would like to know what is happening that required this interruption, or do we need to wait on the Captain for everything beyond introductions?”
“Don’t waste your energy on the poor Lieutenant,” Lars said, looking slightly amused at her outburst. “He is under orders to say little until the Captain arrives. I can speculate that some sort of emergency has cropped up that requires our assistance, otherwise, I would still be swilling gin and gazing into the wonders of Beta Dimension. Nothing else explains it.”
Lars was right, judging by the reaction of the officers. He was right that we wouldn’t get any answers until the Captain arrived. I had also noticed the use of the rank acting engineering officer, suggesting the engineering officer was ill or incapacitated; the gravity of this did not hit me at that moment.
“You have our deepest apologies,” Jordan went on. “I can assure you that we will fully reimburse you for this inconvenience.” This was more discomforting than anything that had been said yet.