Wing Commander (novelization) Chapter Five
MARCH 15, 2654
JUMP POINT SCYLLA
"This antiquated vessel is riddled with structural flaws," Merlin said, appearing atop the copilot's console. "In my opinion, it cannot survive the jump."
Marshall shouted the final countdown: 'Three…" Taggart shoved a protein chip into place—"… two…"—then jiggled a wire. "… one!"
The navigation system snapped on, panels warming to their normal glow, coordinates spilling across four screens in front of Blair. Snap.
Everything went dark. Snap. Everything came back. "Come on!" Marshall shouted.
After a tiny spark and loud hum, the HUD returned with a suggested trajectory marked by a thick green line through Scylla. Blair read the coordinates and studied the course, but something deep inside him said the computer was wrong. He couldn't explain the feeling, but he had felt it before, at the academy, during blind navigation simulator runs. The feeling tugged on his mind, his heart, and something even greater.
"Plot your course, Mr. Blair," Taggart said.
Mother? Father? Be with me now. Blair pulled out his cross and squeezed it. Then he obeyed the feeling as it told him to close his eyes. His fingers glided over the touchpad as though it were a musical instrument hardwired to the quantum level. Then he opened his eyes and stared at the upper left screen: COURSE PLOTTED.
Drawing in a long breath and holding it, Blair steered the Diligent into the gravity well. The viewport grew darker as Scylla robbed more and more starlight. Shuddering again, the ship pressed harder against the barrier of space-time that lay at the singularity's core.
Marshall released a long howl over the cacophony of rattling consoles and conduits.
"As I was saying before I was so rudely cut off," Merlin cried, "I would calculate our chances of survival at twenty-seven point two percent. I implore you…"
Blair glared at the hologram as the screens shook so violently that he held them, fearing they would snap off their swingarms.
Three, two, one and the Diligent pierced the barrier Though his eyes remained open, Blair could only see a dark void speckled occasionally by flakes of yellow light. He turned his head. The void surrounded him. He cried out to Marshall. The pilot did not answer.
Then Blair realized that he hadn't heard himself call out, that all of his senses had been shut down, replaced by…
Never had he felt it so strongly, a connection to the universe that made no sense, that made perfect sense. The subatomic particles of his body had never belonged to him in the first place. They had always belonged to the universe. He understood at least that much of the feeling now.
Scylla's gravitational forces caused matter to have infinite density and infinitesimal volume, while also causing space and time to become infinitely distorted.
But Blair's coordinates somehow broke those rules.
The Diligent's bridge reappeared as quickly as it had vanished. But life still hung between seconds, between particles, frozen. Taggart stood immobile on his way toward the bridge. Marshall leaned back in his chair, in midscream. Merlin pointed at the gravity well and bit his lower lip. And Blair somehow observed this while feeling as though he could move his body, but seeing that he could not.
His moment of inexplicable peace, silence, unity, continued for one minute, for a thousand years, for infinity, the distinctions became irrelevant.
Yet at some point, a point Blair could not single out, a nova-bright light engulfed the Diligent as she shed Scylla's arms and plunged back into normal space.
With his senses recovered, Blair recoiled from the still-rattling ship and Marshall's screaming, from the stench of frayed wires, and from the pain in his hands at keeping such a tight grip on his displays. The return left him feeling empty, as though he had forgotten part of himself and needed to head back. The others would not appreciate that desire.
"Stop this madness," Merlin demanded. "That man is quite probably insane. He'll kill us all." Merlin looked over his shoulder at Taggart's approach. "Oh."
But the captain shifted past the hologram to level his gaze at the nav computer's display. He opened his mouth, looked at Blair, started to say something, then just stared.
Unnerved by Taggart's odd look, Blair asked, "What happened?" Taggart held back a laugh. "You just plotted a jump through a gravity well in under five seconds. A NAVCOM can't do that." His gaze averted to Blair's chest.
Seeing this, Blair gripped his cross for a moment before slipping it under his shirt. "I don't know what to say. I guess I just felt something back there."
"You didn't use the nav computer's trajectory. Why didn't you trust it?"
"I don't know."
Marshall, his face still flushed, turned to Blair and nodded. "Who cares how he did it? That was one hell of a rocket ride. Not bad for the second-best pilot at the academy."
"Shut up," Taggart barked, turning to Marshall. "The next time you fail to follow my orders, I'll dump you with the rest of the garbage. You read me, Lieutenant Marshall?"
Tensing, Marshall kept his gaze forward and replied, "Yes, sir. I read you clearly, sir."
Satisfied that Marshall had been duly reprimanded, Taggart redirected his attention. "Plot a course for the Tiger Claw, Mr. Blair."
Taggart rubbed his eyes, sighed loudly, then walked off the bridge. The flush that had filled Marshall's face during the jump lingered, fueled now by the young man's anger. He looked after Taggart until the man moved out of earshot. "That guy has some serious issues."
"He's all right," Blair said quietly.
"You heard me."
Marshall snickered. "Yeah, I guess he likes you 'cause you kinda saved his ass."
"Kinda saved yours, too."
This time Blair snickered. "Fortunate for you."
"So, did you find out anything about his tattoo?"
"You find out anything about him?"
"He knows a lot about history."
"Whose history? Ours… or the enemy's?"
"Let's not talk," Blair said, piloting the Diligent toward the distant carrier, ETA: fourteen minutes.
"Well, thank God we're almost rid of the man. Imagine having him for a wing commander? He wouldn't last a day."
"Or you wouldn't."
Marshall raised his lip in disgust. "Like you said, let's not talk."