Losing focus wasn’t the best description. Distortion of color and a loss of depth perception were what one suffered. One also put up with increasing vertigo. With the scene beginning to undulate it was getting harder to tell which way was up. Add the bucking and rocking and needless to say, it made rectifying the situation that much harder. In all it was a funny thing to expect from an engine imbalance. Technically that was not the right term, but it was easier to remember than a subspace-harmonic-phase imbalance. It was easier to say, too, not that it mattered right now. Even a point two percent imbalance could make for a rough ride. Currently, it was slightly over two percent. At least Cunningham thought so. It was getting harder to see the readout on the small monitor at the helm over four feet away, even though it was at three times its normal size and blinking red like one noticed the problem.
The ship lurched. Cunningham grabbed the arm of his command chair a little harder to hold on. He knew that to the outside observer it would seem if this wild ride had been going on for ten minutes. It felt like it. He knew, however, that it had been only two. That was just another effect. Time and space both distorted in a wormhole. Fleetingly he wondered what Einstein would think of this. Would the great scientist have expected a smooth ride? Another lurch snapped the thought out of his mind as the back of his head hit the headrest.
What made it even harder to concentrate was the cacophony of competing sounds. Wailing Red-Alert klaxon was now heard as an echo. Officers at their stations were desperately trying to keep up with the ongoing disaster. Voices were distorted. Orders and counter-orders flowed from the various departments as some tried to repair damage, some tried to right the situation, and some simply hung on for dear life. Looking forward he could hear Jam’ie at the helm calling out… the ship’s velocity? Cunningham tried to make out what she said. He leaned forward against the acceleration that was no longer being properly compensated for by the inertial dampeners.
“No effect!” her flanged voice carried back. “Warp five point five and accelerating!”
They were racing out of control. At this rate, the ship would fly apart at any minute, their time. A ship’s engine creating an artificial wormhole was extremely rare. It had been over a century since the last known occurrence. The most basic, and heavily overlapped, safety systems were supposed to prevent this. The ship was already at warp three when it happened and was nearly shaken apart. Theorists held that a wormhole past warp four was a death sentence. The breakdown in inertial dampening systems along with the loss of flight stability caused by a wormhole’s gravitational distortions would tear a ship apart. They had slipped past that several seconds, or was it minutes, ago. Whatever the case, time was running out. Maybe the scuttlebutt in the fleet was right; this was a bad-luck ship. He had no time to think about that.
Looking beyond the center consoles to the view screen Cunningham could see the angry red tunnel of distorted space the starship was caught in. Luckily, the only bit of luck so far, there was nothing in front of them on this heading. That assumed, of course, that the vessel was still on its original heading. Precise navigation went out the proverbial window in a wormhole, too.
Another strange effect of the distortion was that it didn’t seem to affect the sense of smell like it did sight and hearing—there was no delay. Cunningham recognized the smell of smoke well before the distorted sound of the explosion registered in his ears. He knew which had happened first, but the altered perception made it seem like fumes from the fire came before the blast. A plasma relay had ruptured somewhere behind him. Now the sound of a scream hit him. He quickly swiveled in his chair to see what had happened. That proved to be a bad idea! The swirling mix of color coupled with the lurch of the ship to port increased his vertigo. He fought back the urge to vomit. He saw the environmental control monitor belching smoke; the young officer stationed there writhing on the floor, half his face burnt. Dammit, he thought to himself, this has to stop soon or we are all dead!
The Captain turned back toward the front of the bridge, more slowly this time. He could see Commander Thurlan trying to stand near the helm. It had become too difficult to hear clearly what he was shouting. Cunningham realized he had never seen Thurlan’s antennae standing that erect before. If they didn’t get the ship under control they would end up so as many atoms scattered across sub-space. He hit the communications button on his armrest.
“Engineering, get the damned engines off-line before we shake apart! She is not answering her helm!” he barked into the mike. Thankfully internal communications were still working. He knew they were desperately trying to regain control. Through the comm, he also could hear some of the chaos going on down there. It had to twice as scary in engineering, if that were possible.
“We’re trying, captain,” came a voice so distorted he could not identify it. “The injectors are stuck! Commander Solar is trying to shut them down manually.”
“Tell him to eject the core if he has to! The structural integrity field is at eight percent.”
“Captain, that could…”
“I know the risk!” Cunningham choked as smoke from the exploded console drifted past him. “We have to risk it. We are getting hull breaches.”
Suddenly, it felt like the floor dropped away. The ship lurched downward. Thurlan lost his balance. Cunningham’s nose now detected the smell of vomit from aft. He choked down his own even harder. It would certainly not be good for everyone to see the captain of the ship getting sick, too. Just as quickly, the floor seemed to rise again. He saw Thurlan hit the deck with a sickeningly distorted thud. It looked as if his first officer hadn’t moved, that the deck rose up and smacked him. The stabilizers were going. When they gave out completely, the ship would disintegrate. That’s it, he thought. They had to eject the core, risky or not while they still had some of the structural integrity field left.
“Engineering!” Cunningham yelled as he tried to hang on.
Suddenly, he heard another explosion, this time from the comm. It was followed by a muffled cry. Then suddenly…
The view in deep space would have been spectacular if anyone had been floating out there to see it. The hazy white of the Milky Way was visible as were several bright stars within a few lightyears distance. Suddenly a warped, undulating red streak of light shot through the darkness. It looked unstable as it corkscrewed through space. It abruptly dissipated. Flying along in its trajectory staggered the USS Enterprise. Normally this large Litorio-class starship was a majestic sight. Now, however, she flew through space tumbling end over end and spinning on her forward axis slightly. Red dust and gas sprayed from the front of her starboard nacelle. Various bits of flotsam followed in her wake. If sound traveled in a vacuum the shriek would have been terrifying. Her crew was thankful that at last she was back in normal space.
Captain Reginald Cunningham pulled himself back up in his seat. Finally, they were back out of the warp-induced wormhole and, more or less, in one piece. At least he hoped so. That last explosion had come over the comm, which meant that something else disastrously wrong had happened in engineering. He would worry about that in a moment. Right now it was well enough to be out of the wormhole and alive. He quickly scanned the bridge, thankful the induced nausea was subsiding. They still had power. That was good! He took a deep breath. Looking around the bridge more slowly he was glad to see that the damage seemed minimal. The environmental console was still smoking. People looked nervous but kept at their duties. My new crew keeps in control under pressure, he thought with satisfaction. Most of the science console was dark. Without surprise he saw that the engineering console registered near-total chaos. Everything else seemed to be okay. He saw Commander Thurlan struggling to get up off the floor. Blue blood was dripping from the old Andorian’s face. Jam’ie was slumped over the helm. She wasn’t moving. Cunningham reacted immediately.
Jumping forward to the helm console he grabbed his first officer by the arm to help him up. He managed not to stagger as his stomach rolled again. He fought it back and continued.
“Thurlan,” he said, “are you all right?”
Coughing and spitting some more blood on the floor Thurlan answered, “I’m okay. As you humans say, ‘I just got the wind knocked out of me,’ that’s all.”
Thurlan stood up unsteadily. He rested a hand on the console. Cunningham then realized that he could feel the ship tumbling. Oh great, he thought, that means that the inertial dampeners are off-line.
“Damage report all stations!” Thurlan barked out as best he could.
Cunningham knew the Andorian would be too proud to show any sign of pain or weakness. His aristocratic upbringing in the traditions of honor simply would not allow it. The unsteadiness in his voice betrayed all the pain that he would not acknowledge. They both heard a moan beside them.
The captain knelt by his helm officer’s seat. “Jam’ie, are you all right?”
Her forehead was bruised, but she showed no other sign of injury. Even with that, her Mohawk-like hair, a natural trait for many half-human/half-Deltans, and brilliant dark brown eyes gave her an exotic appearance. It always seemed incongruous given her shyness.
“I’m okay, sir,” she answered. She self-consciously straightened herself out as she looked over her console. “Main and impulse engines are off-line.” She paused as she tried the helm. “Thrusters are sluggish but responding.”
Cunningham expected as much. He looked at Thurlan again. He was steadier but still hanging on to the console. Cunningham looked back at Jam’ie, “Straighten us out. Bring us to stop.”
“Aye, sir.” Jam’ie began working her console as Cunningham looked about the bridge. The environmental control monitor was still smoking, but there was no fire. The bridge’s environmental system was clearing the smoke away. Good, that meant it was still working. The young ensign assigned there was lying on the floor being attended to by a medic. An acrid smell still hung in the air but was fading. Thurlan, still bleeding, was standing over the engineering console. Several other screens were now flashing or dark. Some systems were shutting themselves down automatically until repairs could be made. No doubt about it, Cunningham thought, it could be much worse. But still, it was a terrible start to a new mission and a new command.