Science officer Ramirez strained to hear what the argument in the hall was about, certain she had heard her name. Whatever the subject it was unlikely to be good news. Her sentence was far from up; she would be held for treason until they returned to the home station in a year, and only then would she find out the extent of the charges. Execution was likely, with the current political climate. All for what she thought of as a simple question - "Why are we fighting the Karshians over planets that we destroy in an average of three years"? The number wasn't made up; she had gone down the list of habitable, earthlike planets that had been discovered and subsequently destroyed during the war and done the math. Wouldn't it make more sense to declare planets off limits and agree to destroy each other exclusively in space - the planets going to the victor?
The door to her cell slid open, revealing Captain Zoland and his security detail. The official position was that no crew had ever plotted mutiny against its captain, but the sudden appearance of security escorts for all senior officers right after "losing" several ships from the advance fleet had struck many as suspicious. Rebellion was not a concern with Ramirez, however - she simply had never properly adjusted to the shift from Democracy to Dictatorship. She stood at attention and saluted, receiving a sneer in return.
"Ramirez, your presence is required on the science shuttle. This is in no way to be considered a release from your arrest. Is this understood?"
She nodded, and was led to a temporary elevator; an umbilical cord to the science shuttle.
"As you know, we intercepted Karshian communications indicating an experimental planetary shielding system had suffered a catastrophic malfunction. The science shuttle separated and approached the planet to investigate, and there was... an incident."
The hatch opened to a scene of absolute chaos. The rest of the science team was running back and forth frantically, while readouts scrolled past the images of a mirrored sphere of energy that obscured the planet from view. Sloane, Ramirez's former superior, grabbed her by the shoulders and looked at her intently.
"There's a barely-contained singularity where the planet should be. We've destabilized it by trying to look inside, and now we have to get it under control or the energy field will consume every ship here. I need you to align the phase wavelengths and invert the couplings. Do you understand?"
Ramirez hesitated for a moment, then hurried to a console and began typing. Sloane turned to Captain Zoland and pointed at the hatch.
"Captain, you need to evacuate the system immediately. We need to remain close to keep this thing from going critical, and that means we're going to get pulled in. There's nothing that can stop that, but there's no reason to risk anything else. Get everyone away, and don't come near this thing again."
The captain hesitated. "Surely you can do this by remote?"
"I wish I could, captain. The distortion from Hawking waves would create a delay and this takes absolute precision. It's only getting worse; this is going to take every single member of my team. We're all ready to sacrifice our lives to save you, sir - please don't let that sacrifice be in vain."
Saluting the science crew, the captain stepped through the hatch. As the umbilical detached and the rest of the fleet sped out of the system, the science ship dropped below the threshold of the energy field. There was a collective sigh of relief, and the scientists stopped running. Ramirez looked at Sloane. "Align the phase wavelengths? Seriously?"
"I'm most proud of 'Hawking waves' actually." The screens around the room focused on the planet below, sprawling green jungles and white beaches as far as the eye could see. The radio pinged as a transmission was received from the surface.
"This is the ex-Karshian science outpost calling. Glad to see you on our side of the bubble! Assuming your guys bought it like ours did we should be able to ride the rest of the war out here in peace, so that just leaves one question - can you be settled down here in the next thirty minutes? The barbecue is about to start."
Ramirez leaned over and flicked the transmit button. "Save us a table for twelve and pour some booze. We're heading down."