Today's offering is a collaborative work between the very talented Patricia Stewart and myself. Normally I would post the finished version here, but that's already been done at 365 Tomorrows.
Instead, inspired by Patricia posting the first few revisions, I'm putting up the penultimate version, from before Patricia put the final touches on it. That way we have the first two and last two, so interested parties can observe the growth of the story.
The crew took their positions in the prototype spaceship Hermes, named for the Greek god of flight. The first manned ship capable of exceeding the speed of light, its maiden voyage was scheduled to be a short three light-minute jump from the Naval Construction Station orbiting the Earth to the Space-Dock on Phobos, Mars’ largest moon.
Systems check completed, the Hermes left the Station and aligned itself with Mars. With a mixture of apprehension and excitement, the captain gave the command to activate the Alcubierre Drive and the computer announced that a warp bubble had been formed, dragging the ship toward Mars at just over the speed of light. The timer counted down, but after three minutes the ship continued to accelerate toward the outer solar system. "Bridge to engineering, the warp drive didn’t disengage. Can you shut it down manually?"
Chief Engineer Travis "Slim" Wheeler, who had helped design and install the propulsion system replied, "The drive itself is off, Captain. The warp bubble is somehow sustaining itself!"
"Chief, we just passed the asteroid belt and we’re still accelerating. If you can’t shut the drive down, can you at least turn us around and keep us in the solar system?"
"Negative, sir. Once the warp bubble is created, the ship will move in that direction until the bubble collapses. It doesn’t matter which direction we’re pointed; we’re just going along for the ride. Unless..." he added as a crazy plan formulated in his head, "I’ve got an idea. If we turn the Hermes around and create a new warp bubble going in the opposite direction, the warp fields should cancel each other out. That, or tear the ship apart. To be honest, sir, it could go either way."
"We’re already at the point of no return," stated the captain as he stared at the updated navigation screen. "Accelerating like this, if we can’t stop the ship in the next minute we'll collide with Jupiter." The captain gave the signal. Turning the ship around, the pilot activated the Alcubierre Drive for a second time... Nothing happened. Chief Wheeler mumbled something about safeguards, grabbed a three-quarter inch box wrench, and straddled the Alcubierre Drive like a Brahma bull. Closing his eyes and saying a prayer, he tore off the cover plate and jammed the wrench between the power transfer coupling and the high voltage terminal.
The ship seemed to twist and the cabin was filled with a terrible screeching noise - and then there was silence. The main lights and gravity had cut out, but as the emergency lights flickered on the monitors announced the ship's return to normal space.
The captain looked down at a flashing red light indicating a sudden drop in air pressure in the engine room. He scrambled toward the rear of the ship and was blocked by the sealed vacuum doors; through the viewport, he saw nothing but loose wires floating lazily in the center of the room. Slim and the Alcubierre Drive were gone, leaving the walls completely intact.
As he watched the wires drift past the starboard porthole, they sparkled in the bright sunlight. "Sunlight?” questioned the captain. “There shouldn’t be..." Something had gone wrong, though the only person who could hope to understand what had vanished. Somehow the new warp bubble had flung them back toward the inner solar system before collapsing. "Damn," he said, and watched a solar prominence arch past the ship just before the Hermes plummeted into the fiery furnace of hell.