Wing Commander Junior Novelization Chapter 4

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Chapter 4
Book Wing Commander Junior Novelization
Parts 1
Previous Chapter 3
Next Chapter 5
Pages 29-34
Source Wing Commander Chapter 4

Dramatis Personae

Part 1

Christopher Blair


Todd "Maniac" Marshall
James "Paladin" Taggart


Devi Soulsong


MARCH 15, 2654
2150 HOURS

Taggart's hatch stood slightly open, and Blair peeked through the crack. If a man's quarters say a lot about the man, then this place isn't talking. Taggart kept only the bare essentials: cot, nightstand, and wide, battered desk. Even the old gray walls were bare.

     Taggart sat at the desk, looking at a collection of ancient star charts printed on real paper. A half-dozen of them lay rolled up and bound by rubber bands at his elbow, along with his coffee mug. "Come in, Mr. Blair."

     Blair entered and suddenly felt strange standing in this most personal of places. He blurted out, "We're holding steady on the beacon. Marshall has the helm." He neared the desk and ran his finger over one of the charts. "These must be antiques."

     "Yeah," Taggart said. "They were made by the first explorers in the sector. Pilgrims."

     "How did you get them?"

     Taggart rolled up one of the maps. "Now that's a story too long to hear."

     "I, uh, before ... I couldn't help noticing the tattoo on your neck."

     "What about the Pilgrim cross you hide under your shirt?"

     Blair's hand went for the cross. Then, realizing he had betrayed himself, he thrust the hand to his side.

     "Don't worry. We all have pasts. And secrets."

     "It was my mother's."

     "May I see it?"

     Blair lifted the chain over his head and withdrew the cross. He handed it to Taggart, who ran his fingers slowly over the semicircle at the cross's top. The glimmer in his eyes grew brighter. He pressed the center symbol. A seven-inch blade shot out from the cross's bottom.

     As he traced the blade with his index finger, he smiled again and said, "There was a time long ago when people looked up to the Pilgrims. They were at the forefront of space exploration. When I was a boy, I knew there was some kind of connection between God and the stars. I think the Pilgrims found that connection." He touched the plate again, retracting the blade, then returned it to Blair.

     "You know," Taggart continued, "since the Pilgrims were defeated, not a single new quasar has been charted."

     Without warning, a sudden surge of acceleration sent Blair reaching for the desk. He caught the edge and balanced himself as Taggart's coffee mug fell and broke.

     "That idiot!" Taggart screamed. He shot to his feet and stormed out of the cabin.

     Blair followed close behind, only then realizing what Marshall had done.

     As Taggart entered the bridge, he shouted, "Get up!"

     Marshall quickly left the captain's chair and moved to the copilot's seat. "That caffeine's killing your attitude, man."

     "Did you change course?"

     "I just boosted the power. Why dog it when we can be at the beacon in an hour?"

     "That beacon is marking a gravity well," Taggart said through clenched teeth.

     Marshall gave Blair a nervous look.

     Swinging the navigation computer in front of him, Taggart's fingers danced over the touchpad until a Heads Up Display lit before them. A green, flat grid rotated and glowed as data bars on each side filled with coordinates. The grid began folding inward, creating a strange, swirling spike.

     Blair knew all too well what a gravity well could do to a Confed capital ship, let alone a rusty old transport.

     Shoving the navigation computer back on its swingarm, Taggart slid another display forward, one that offered multiple views of space through the Diligent's outside cameras. He chose the image from the centerline unit and adjusted the telescopic lens to bring a dim object, the gravity well, into focus. Asteroids and debris plunged into the well, as though into a whirlpool, and disappeared. The Diligent screamed toward the same future.

     Taggart beat his knuckle upona thruster control button, throwing Blair and Marshall forward as retros violently kicked in. "One cubic inch of that well exerts more gravitational force than Earth's sun," he barked at Marshall.

     "I screwed up. I get that. Forget the physics lesson," Marshall responded.

     Numbers appeared on Taggart's nav computer screen. He frowned at them and tapped in new ones. "Come on, come on," he said, driving himself harder. "I I don't realign our entry vector, we won't make the jump."

     "And if we don't make the jump ..." Marshall began.

     "We die," Taggart finished.

     "Have we reached the entry vector's point of no return yet?" Blair asked.

     "Not yet," Taggart said, throwing a toggle to automatically stabilize the now-groaning transport. "She's reaching out for us. Hear that?"

     The Diligent's hull protested much louder, and the gravity well appeared like a shimmering black mouth. The ship's thrusters whined as they fought to obey Taggart's course corrections. Still, the well grew larger, more hungry, and the space distortions now seemed more like hands reaching for the ship. Blair shivered.

     Taggart gestured to the viewport. "Well, ladies, meet Scylla, bane to sailors and monster of myth."

     "What's a Scylla?" Marshall asked.

     But Blair answered for Taggart. "Ulysses sailed between the whirlpool Charybdis and the island monster Scylla. She snatched six of his men and ate them."

     "I didn't need to know that," Marshall moaned.

     Shaking a finger at Scylla, Taggart said, "This beauty's got an even bigger appetite. Hold on."

     Blair got to the navigator's seat behind Taggart and Marshall. The captain threw a pair of toggles, and a bank of afterburners kicked the Diligent onto her side. Blair clung to the arms of his seat as the ship continued to yaw. Every seam and conduit in the old transport begged for relief. Within a few seconds the tremors became so violent that Blair fell from his chair. Marshall lost his grip as well, and thumped to the floor beside Blair.

     Still glued to his seat, Taggart continued adjusting the Diligent's course. The transport slowly rolled upright, sending Blair and Marshall sliding. As the ship finally balanced and artificial gravity readjusted, Blair looked over Taggart's shoulder at the Heads Up Display, which now showed a digital glide path that took them along Scylla's edge.

     "Broken your grip, old girl," Taggart said. "Better luck next time."

     The Diligent now skipped closer to Scylla, avoiding her mouth but coming very close. Space looked blurry along the starboard side.

     Marshall shook his head. "This isn't a normal gravity well. What is this thing?"

     "This thing is a distortion in space-time," Taggart explained. "Pilgrims were the first to chart it."

     "So why is it off-limits?" Marshall asked.

     "Because it's unstable."

     A warning light flashed on the navigation computer, accompanied by a rapid beeping. The HUD winked out. The Diligent suddenly shifted to starboard.

     "Nav computer's off-line," Blair observed.

     "It's the magnetic fields," Taggart said. "Blair. Take the helm."

     "I've never made a jump before."

     Taggart cocked a brow. "Now would be a good time to learn." He rushed toward the hatchway.

     Blair focused on Scylla as she shifted to the center viewport. He shot a look toward the hatchway, where Taggart had pulled off a maintenance panel.

     The gravity well now dominated all viewports, a starving queen at her banquet table. A pair of discarded oxygen canisters collided and exploded on their way into her stomach. Asteroids spun and broke apart, leaving trails of themselves across the whirlpool. Even a comet had strayed too close to Scylla's arms and now painted a streak across the watery blur of her body.

     A proximity alarm blared, and a digital countdown at Marshall's station read 9, 8, 7--

     "Uh, Captain?" Marshall called out.


     "Five seconds to jump."


     "So if you don't get the nav computer back on line, this unstable gravity well is going to pull us in--one molecule at a time."