The relief in place had taken very little time. A short handshake and the previous Vanguard pilots were on their way back to the Scipio for some food and well needed rest. Subtext and Pistol's patrol began as quietly as any other. They remained at the edge of the Scipio's sensor range which, in a clear system, was a significant distance.
The lights had been set to dim. Subtext sat in relative darkness, the dull glow of his instruments barely lighting the cockpit. Other then the quiet hum of the power plant, the Hornet drifted though space in silence. Subtext checked his scopes form time to time, but mostly sat, thinking. He couldn't help but reminisce on Sophine's excitement at the prospect of this sortie, and of course her practically transparent top. He smiled at the former. He wanted her to have the sortie. Although he couldn't refuse the gift, he too thought of his choice as a gift to her, and perhaps a way to discretely show his affection. She was fit, smart and an excellent pilot. A sense of duty and honor to the Empire was the only thing that ever stopped him from talking to her about a relationship. Subtext felt that fraternization within the ranks was a recipe for disaster. He took his feelings for Sophine and literally shoved them deep inside his being, so deep that his conscious mind would be taxed to come look for them again. His eyes scanned the surroundings outside the canopy and dropped to his scopes. Nothing. The space before them was absolutely clear of any form of life, activity or otherwise. Barren. As Barren as he had made his heart.
Pistol chimed in over the mic. “Did you see that?”
Subtext looked over his instruments again. “No, what did I miss?” Just as he finished speaking, the sensors lit up briefly on his screen. “Wait, I did just see something.”
“There it is again.”
Subtext's fingers snapped into action. He diverted power to the sensor array and boosted forward focus. “Pistol, cover me I'm taking weapons offline to figure this out.”
With the narrow scan, he was able to pin point the anomaly. “I got it.” The readings were wild. Something large lay ahead. A massive electromagnetic field that was interfering with most of their sensors. The signal was very random, but a form of distinction came through at certain points. Subtext recognized the periodic pattern. “Pistol, this is a wormhole. It's extremely unstable, but there's a wormhole in front of us right now.” He looked up from the controls and could see the shimmer of the stars bending in the electromagnetic field. “It's massive.”
“How can it be causing distortions this far out from the epicenter?”
“It's the lack of stability that's causing it to be incoherent. The radiation waveforms are so incongruent that they're somehow phasing into normal space without being collimated by a jump drive.”
Farnell frowned. “Wait, you mean we can pass through this thing without a jump drive?”
Subtext shook his head. “It's worse than that.” his fingers tapped across the sensor control panel. “It's devouring foreign material as we speak. It's almost acting like a black hole.”
Suddenly the Hornet jerked. Alarms signaled and Subtext went to work silencing them. “Farnell, we're caught in it's sphere of influence. Reverse thrust.”
The two Hornets burned retrograde at full power but neither of them changed velocity. Their direction and speed continued toward the epicenter of the anomaly.
“Sub, it's not working!”
“I know, I see that.” Subtext switched comms. “Scipio this is Vanguard, we've encountered an anomaly two degrees off your port bow at maximum sensor range. We're caught in a subspace gravitational vortex, a wormhole is phasing in and out of normal space.”
Captain Anderson shot out of his seat. “Helm, increase to maximum acceleration.” He spun to the Traffic console, “Major Jasper, scramble Greyhound Alpha, I want eyes on before we get there.” He pointed to the science console “Lieutenant Kennedy, prep a probe and calibrate the Scipio's sensor array to detect variations in subspace radiation within a resolution of ten thousand units.” Then he turned to the controls on his armchair and punched in a command before speaking again. “Vanguard, we're on our way.”
Subtext's Hornet started to spin. He saw the shimmering stars of the anomaly, then the static pinpricks of regular space and back again. “Scipio, losing control here.”
“Sub, I can't do anything. My sensors are all fucked up. What's going on?”
Subtext tried to maintain a specific heading, but the anomaly's phasing rift was playing havoc with the laws of physics. “Farnell, we can't stop this. We're going to fall through the event horizon eventually and when we do, we'll be pulled into subspace.”
“We can't be pulled into subspace, my jump drive isn't online!”
“It won't come online either, this jump point isn't recorded, nor is it stable. The flux lines of the magnetic field won't allow the jump drive to lock on, there's too much eccentricity. We need to get ready Farnell, once we're through the gate, we'll have some control back, but we'll have to act quickly.”
“What do you mean?”
“We're being forced to manually plot this jump point Farnell, we've got no choice.”
“Neither have I Farnell. Like I said, we have no choice.”
There was a moment of silence on the comms, but that silence did not exist in the cockpits of the Hornets. The turbulence of the anomaly was churning space into a turbulent wash of gravitational eddies. The vibration of the hull scrambled Subtext's mind as they fell further into the center of the disturbance. “Farnell, we're almost there, get ready.”
“I see it! It's happening!”
Before them, light bent inward as if a sphere of liquid had formed in front of them, the stars in the distance warped into the sphere until their light shone in one luminescent cascade.
Flash was finishing his pre-flight checks after already having taken off. He looked over his shoulder to see Cardboard forming on his wing. “Alright, make sure you don't fall into it's sphere of influence, here's the coordinates, lets' go.” The two M50's punched out at full throttle, hissing away from the Scipio with blue streaks of exhaust on their tails.
Captain Anderson heard the muffled and broken communication of the Vanguard Hornet come through one last time.
“Scipio, this is Vanguard, we're just about at the event horizon, we won't be -”
The comms broke into static.
“Sir.” Major Jasper turned to her Captain. “They're gone sir.”
The turbulence felt before they entered was multiplied, Subtext fought with the controls, but the dampening system wouldn't allow him to pull the forces he needed to escape the arching bands of energy within the anomaly. With one hand trying desperately to control the Hornet, his other mashed at the keyboard on one of his consoles, unlocking all safety measures and shutting down the fly by wire system completely. The moment he had done this, the wormhole coalesced, forming a tendril of space-time distortion in his path. He burned dorsal thrusters and felt his entire body slam into the restraints. The g-forces were punishing beyond belief. The comms chattered with static, but every so often he heard Farnell's panicked voice.
“I can't. Sub. It's too fast. Where are you? I – Sub!”
Subtext wanted to comfort him, wanted to tell him how to navigate the anomaly but he had no time, his mind couldn't process speech without relinquishing precious concentration on the task at hand. Briefly, he saw the other Hornet materialize before him, and then disappear just as quickly in the distorted waves of time-space within the rift of the wormhole. A blinding flash of light ignited before the canopy and suddenly Subtext was in normal space, his craft hurtling through a field of debris. Chunks of metal bounced off his hull one after another as though he were grinding against a washboard. Once power stopped fluctuating in his Hornet, the scopes went crazy with contacts, he powered up weapons as quickly as he could and scanned the space outside. Nothing, he looked again at the scope, and it showed multiple contacts. Looking up once more, something blurred past and slammed against his canopy. Subtext jumped as far as his restraints would allow him. Blood remained sprawled across the windscreen. It was Farnell. The contacts where the myriad of parts left over from what was once his Hornet; now just a field of debris. Again, Subtexts systems began to falter, until all but life support shut down. Silent and dark, his Hornet drifted through empty space in an unknown system, accompanied only by the pulverized remains of his wingman's fighter.