With one minute before the ship self-destructs, while the rest turn inward to use their final seconds crying, praying or smoking in a corner, I slip down the corridor and into a life pod.
Sealed and activated the pod jettisons away from the ship with two seconds until area wide destruction is unleashed. At 100 meters from the ship a one-time, one-way emergency inflation drive fires and carries me to another galaxy in a flash.
I’ll never know what happened back there, but after it exploded there probably isn’t anything larger than a helium molecule for the radius of a light year centered around where our ship used to be.
But where am I? Isolated mountains poke up everywhere. Towers of black clouds without end roil overhead. This place is creepy. There’s some movement on the surface coming this way. Lights, moving strings twisting and stretching. Are they luminous snakes? Oh my God. These living loops of light seem to be alive. Their movements make no sense to me, but they are definitely interacting with each other.
Something’s coming out of the sky, and it gets here fast. Did the intergalactic alien assembly follow me? There’s nothing I can do. This planet may be barren, and I might not be able to survive or get away by my usual trick of going to sleep on one world and waking up on another. Whatever that is that just arrived may be my only chance. But it was so fast. Where is it? Did it land? There’s no sign, no sound…
Then a girl comes walking over the hill before me. A human girl!
“I know you,” she says hopefully. “You’re the pilot of the lost expedition!”
“I am a pilot,” I confirm, equally optimistic. “Not sure about the ‘lost’ part. How did you get here?”
“How are you still alive?” she can’t help but wonder first. “You’ve been missing for 200 years!”
“Do you know the way home?” she begs.
Me? Without that ship’s systems to prompt my memory?
“Let me get this straight. You point out that I’ve been lost for 200 years then ask me if I know the way home?”
“I’m as lost as you are,” she reveals, “I have the means to get us home. But I have no idea which way to go.”
After some commiseration my new friend Tajhata pulls a marble out of nowhere. She tosses it to the dirt and it unfurls into a 200 square foot shelter generating its own power. We go inside and make ourselves comfortable while we figure out our next move.
“You’re so young,” I assume, “why are you out here alone?”
“I’m an explorer,” she claims proudly. “We’re called Tarexia. It’s our job to visit faraway reaches of the universe never before seen. Although Tarexia do not need vehicles to transport ourselves through spacetime, each Tarexian carries at least 3 polytopic structures folded into the size of marbles with their mass stored in the 4th dimension. Upon arrival at destination these polytopes can unfold from tiny hypercubes into vehicles, shelters and even space stations. Are you thirsty?”
“Can you generate Guinness Extra Stout?”
Amazingly to me, she does. I enjoy while prompting her along. “You say I’ve been missing for 200 years. Then you’re from my future. How did Tarexia begin?”
“I’m not good at history, but after the age of the original 12 Tarexians,” Tajhata tells me, “the field of explorers using TAREX expanded to almost a thousand with a few years. As soon as I was old enough, I worked through my difficulties with autism and applied for training at the Francisco compound in Urania. My fascination with the reality surrounding us in the galaxy spurred me on to success. But on my third solo mission of exploration my navigational system failed. Communications became jammed by massive nebulae scattering. Two best-guess attempts to return to the Solar System failed, placing me in unidentifiable regions. I became the first Tarexian to be lost in space-time.”
“Do you know what ‘TAREX’ means?” I ask, getting a nice buzz. Oh no. She’s starting to look attractive.
She thinks about it but has to admit, “No, I guess not. It’s just the term we use for getting across space.”
“It stands for the TARgeted EXpansion of space using the technique of surgical inflation by mixing ambient matter and ambient energy to move bodies across the Milky Way instantly, developed by Dr. Izy Sparrow and her team. But in my time,” I manage to recall, “we were told that we were the first to try it. Who knows? Who knows how many of us are lost out here in the name of experimentation?”
“Well,” Tajhata wonders, “how do you communicate? TARCOMNET is the TAREX Communication Network serving Tarexia wherever we are. Using inflationary expansion, information is transmitted and may be received anywhere within relative moments. Only Tarexia can pick-up or send TAREX pulses. But as noted, my TARCOMNET device was somehow damaged.”
She hands me the device, again from nowhere. I get a good look at the inside. Tajhata’s TARCOMNET device is much more complicated that the inflation-based transmitter-receivers we used on our expedition. It occurs to me that the one aboard my life pod is still functioning.
We activate my pod’s receiver. Within seconds there is a weak signal that I don’t recognize – but Tajhata does!
I can show her the way home.
We barely have time to isolate the general location of the Virgo Cluster in the sky when our search is disturbed by the approach of a massive unknown space carrier commanded by entities calling themselves The Intergalactic Council.
We are captured by a beam and taken prisoner.