Captain Brecht stood just outside the bunk module of the Veneration. The terminator line split Jupiter in half beyond the crystalline viewport. The massive body now blocked line-of-sight with Earth, and the tumult of its magnetosphere scrambled any stray signals. They were on their own. Time to tell the kids.
She entered the bunks, dialed up the lights, and firmly told the crew she needed them alert. Their drowsy confusion turned quickly to alarm. This was a most unusual awakening. It was 3:30 AM ship time. The eight would-be explorers focused on Brecht, standing in the hatchway, like a parabolic lens, but she felt coldly confident. She had things under control. She’d known from the start.
“I regret to inform you that, as of this moment, you’re all dead. The Veneration never emerges from radio blackout, and it is presumed an instrumentation failure led the craft to burn up in the Jovian atmosphere.” Her delivery was clinical, which helped to keep everyone’s emotions from spiraling into panic. She continued, “In a few hours your families will be notified, and then the leaders of your respective countries will make a joint statement acknowledging the loss of the mission and noting your brave sacrifice in the pursuit of knowledge. And they will believe it themselves, because your true mission transcends the interests of nation states and the oversight of their officials. We depart the Veneration in six hours.”
At last, someone mustered the sense to speak. It was Havershire, no surprise. “Depart to where?”
“The Veneration was built to take us to the Kuiper Belt and back, as advertised. She’s a fine craft, but the Alpha Dawn can take us where we need to go. She’s been waiting here behind Jupiter for some time, and we don’t want to keep her waiting any longer. We’re going to dock, transfer supplies and personal effects, and then deorbit the Veneration.”
“But where are we going?” It was Pak this time. They were starting to come around, their brains catching up to their adrenal glands.
Brecht took a sharp breath. There would be time for this later, but they would focus better if they knew a little more. “The Great Attractor. It’s a gravitational anomaly in intergalactic space pulling on everything in the Laniakea Supercluster.”
“Did you say intergalactic? How far are we going?” Murmurs rose like a tide.
“Okay, okay.” Captain Brecht sat at the foot of the nearest bunk. “We’ll be making use of several classified technologies, including cryonics, and traveling at over 99% the speed of light. Even so, the trip could take 250 million years.”
She held up a silencing hand. “The Great Attractor is no longer a mystery. It’s a wormhole. But it connects two points in two separate universes: ours, and theirs. Whoever they are, they’re harvesting matter and energy from our universe and transferring it to theirs. Ultimately, this will lead to the heat death of our universe. That makes it a direct attack against us, and an act of war. As far as we know, we are our universe’s first combatants.
“Now, I fully expect that future missions will be sent after us with vastly superior technology. In all probability, they will either pick us up en route using faster-than-light travel so that we all arrive together, or they’ll simply fly on by and go win this war without us. But there’s still a chance that we’ll arrive first, and perhaps there will be no other missions behind us. Look around. Consider your backgrounds and piece it together. But damn well be ready to depart the Veneration.”
She stood. “No more questions until the Alpha Dawn is on its way. If you don’t like it, by all means stay here.” She passed through the hatch and shut it behind her. It was only then Captain Brecht realized she’d been holding her breath, and she greedily took in the hyper-filtered air with a gasp. That had gone pretty well. But all the hard work was still to come.