(All rights reserved. All characters and events are fictitious, any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.)
At the mission brief, the hologramaptix presentation of their destination, the Spiral Galaxy, Quadrant 9756, Sector 4123 or SGQ9756S4123 had reminded Daniel Delacroix of a spiral staircase. A staircase made from silver and sunset clouds, unravelling into space, blown by an unseen galactic wind. In his mind he was transported back to a beach walk as a child, where he had found thousands of small, spiral seashells washed up from a summer storm. That holiday, on the sea planet Undine, in the Kraken Solar System, Third Galaxy, had been one of his last with his parents. Before the drought. Before the famine. Long before he turned to science for answers. In his hands, still wet from the surf spray, the shells had sparkled like jewels as he had run to ask them what they were. They had laughed and said they were little spiral staircases, Wentletrap shells.
After the mission brief, Daniel had loaded the galaxy hologramaptix into the flight nav and, on a whim, renamed the galaxy to Wentletrap. Maybe for luck, maybe to remember why he trained for so long to do this work. They would need luck. With luck, the galaxy would hold some solar systems like Kraken. Gentle water giants. Or like the first galaxy, the Milky Way, abundant with young solar systems spawning green planets. Whatever the Newtrishia astronomers guessed Wentletrap would be like, with their holograms and calculations, he knew the reality would turn out to be beyond imagining, as unexpected as a beach full of shells the day after a storm. Wentletrap would be a spiral staircase to a new heaven or hell and the only way of finding out was by going there.
The wormhole exit is almost as rough as the entry as the lasers power down and the ship is spewed out of the envelope into the real time fabric of a galaxy on the other side of the universe. Daniel can feel a surge of adrenalin through his veins as he wrestles to regain control from the flightnav and bring SATAN to a full stop. Without accurate maps, they were running blind into who knows what. Horror stories of failed missions flash in his mind, ships emerging into meteor storms, the centre of stars, black holes... he pushes these thoughts from his mind and concentrates on one thought, an image of a small spiralling seashell as, slowly, SATAN draws to a full stop under his navigation.
His thoughts are racing as he runs through a post flight check of the ship and systems, apart from a few minor hazard warnings the hull integrity and life support is fine. So far nothing has hit, engulfed or fired at them so he initiates an immediate scan of the local quadrant and the main computers mapping their location. A choking sound nearby catches his attention and, looking across at the crew, he can see Harp choking and spluttering in his suit. Great, just what he needs, a space sick rookie.
Aliya Garcia opens her eyes to see Harp puke into his suit. She groans and unstraps herself from her seat, just her luck to be sitting opposite the rookie. Glancing up at the air monitor and noting it is reading green, she reaches over and unlocks Harp's helmet, turning it over deftly as a makeshift bowl and lets him puke his guts out into it. Experience on the last three missions has taught her the smell is worse than the image and so she keeps her spacesuit firmly sealed. Harp tries to smile his thanks but fails as his stomach gurgles an empty spasm and he retches again, thin shreds of drool hanging from his lips as he tries to keep control of his bowels.
'Space sickness. They don't tell you about it when you sign up. It's a lottery as to who is prone. A bit like old-fashioned travel sickness, something to do with the way the brain processes dimensions. You can go through basic training and never know, not till you hit a wormhole. Be thankful you are just puking. I know one poor soul who dunnied his spacesuit every trip.' Aliya unstraps Harp and gives him a shove in the direction of the suit room. 'Get yourself and your suit cleaned up in there, the quicker you start moving normally, the quicker your brain figures it out, Temporal Brain Dysfunction, that's the proper name for it.'
Harp nods at Aliya's explanation, her voice sounding tinny over the voicecom.
Across the flight deck she can see the Pilot is busy starting to map the space sector they are in. She takes off her helmet once Harp is in the suit room and starts running through the ship diagnostics, picking up a couple of minor hazard warnings, one in the hold and one on the outer hull. Time to get to work.