The one hundred and sixteenth Squadron's common area was quiet. McKeen sat silently, reading a glas, sipping sludge coffee. He slid his thumb across the bottom of the glas and the page turned over. Sighing, he put the glas down on the table and put both hands on his face. His five o'clock shadow gritted like sand paper as he moved his hands down to his chin; trying to wipe away the thoughts in his mind. A soft sobbing came from the berths. He got up and walked toward the sound.
Sophine looked up at the doorway as McKeen leaned against the frame.
"Are you alright?"
Her tear soaked eyes glanced back at the empty bunk across from her. "It should have been me."
McKeen looked at Subtext's empty bunk and then back at her. "No. Don't even start that shit Black, you aren't in the slightest way responsible for what happened to Subtext. We don't even know if he's dead or alive. For all we know the both of them are perfectly fine, making their way back to us as we speak. We have no idea where that anomalous jump point might have dropped them.”
“Lieutenant Rice has been putting together the fragments of communications that came through the anomaly. I've heard them.” She shook her head.
“That means shit Sophine. You know I'm right. Instead of sitting here, sulking and imagining the worst case scenario, maybe you should keep in mind that he could be fine.”
“Just leave me alone.”
McKeen nodded. “Alright.” He turned and left.
Sophine looked across from her, to the folded seams of the blankets, to the sunken dip in the pillow. Her eyes watered and tears ran down her cheeks. She put her head in her hands and sobbed.
McKeen sat in the common area, listening to her; his heart sinking.
An alarm sounded, it was the familiar sound of a jump warning.
At the edge of the system, The Scipio slipped into the ethereal wake of jump space and vanished.
Lieutenant Pierce tugged at his uniform, straightening the seams. He took in a deep breath and then pressed the button next to the door. A ring was heard, and then the Captain's voice came over a speaker.
“Come in.” He said.
The doors hissed open and Lieutenant Pierce nervously entered. “You wanted to see me sir?”
“Yes, please, sit down.” Michael pointed to a seat on the far side of his desk.
The young officer sat, placing his hands on his lap and waiting patiently.
The Captain was studying the information on a glas. After a few moments of silence, he looked up and realized he had been ignoring his guest. “I apologize Mr. Pierce.” He said, placing the glas down. “Would you like anything to drink?”
“No sir, I'm alright. Thank you though.”
The Captain nodded, got up and walked to a counter where he poured scotch into a glass. “Do you know why you're here?”
“No sir, I'm not exactly sure.”
“Your file states you majored in Jump Space Morphology at the academy, is this correct?”
“Yes sir it is.”
The Captain nodded, returning to his seat. “Take a look at this.” He handed Lieutenant Pierce the glas.
“What is this?” He asked, his eyes skimming over the information. “This is-”
“It's the telemetry from the research unit at the anomaly in the Terra system.”
“It's growth hasn't slowed.”
“No, it hasn't. My simple understanding of science and mathematics is enough for me to know that soon it will pose a considerable threat to the entire system.”
Pierce looked up from the glas. “Then what exactly were you hoping I could tell you?”
“I want to know why Lieutenant. Why there, why now, why is this thing here?”
Pierce looked over the documents. “There is a lot of data here sir.”
“And there's more coming in every day. I will be sending it to your quarters as I get it.”
Pierced swallowed. “Sir, with all due respect, I don't think I can do this by myself.”
“Then build a team.”
Pierce's eyes widened.
“I'll give you access to the ships manifest and personal files. Search for members of the Scipio that have had previous experience in Jump Space Morphology, Theoretical Physics and any other field you deem suitable for your research. In war, you never attack from only one side. The research unit in Terra is only one team. Together, we have a better chance at finding the truth behind what is happening.”
“Yes sir. I'll … I'll do my best.”
“You're dismissed Lieutenant.”
“Thank you sir.”
Pierce got up and was about to leave when the Captain spoke once again.
“One more thing.”
“Keep this quiet. You, me and your hand picked team must be the only people who know about what we're doing here.”
Pierce nodded, and left the room.