Specs: Battlestar Galactica/Babylon 5, 2400 words
There are doors between worlds, you see.
Most doors are no bigger than a pinprick, and all that venture through are dust specks and the occasional ambitious fly. You might walk past one of these doors and feel a shiver, something crawling up your spine, the hairs on the back of your neck standing up. Someone probably once told you that a goose was walking over your grave.
Every now and then, a door might be a bit larger, maybe even the size of an actual door, but these doors aren’t open for very long. A few seconds, if that. Most of the time, the door opens and closes and no one is any the wiser, but very rarely someone is around to see the door. He takes a peek. Maybe the world next door is strange and scary; maybe it’s no different from his own. It’s hard to say. If you’re in the right place at the right time, you might see someone take a peek into your world. He will look insubstantial, transparent. His clothing and hair will be odd; you’ll tell yourself he looked “old-fashioned.” You will probably be afraid of him, just as he is afraid of you. You’ll tell your spouse about the interloper you saw, and together you’ll tell your children, and they will tell their children, and before too long everyone will know about the ghost that lives in your house, even though no one will see him ever again.
Once in a very long time, there will be a very special kind of door. Neither small nor short-lived, these kinds of doors are the most dangerous. If someone walks through, they might never have the chance to walk back.
Jump drives made doors, but not between worlds. Just from one place to another. What would have been a long, long journey becomes a matter of seconds. Flesh and blood isn’t made to jump like that, though. Tissues expand while staying the same size; blood pumps faster while going the same speed; neurons flicker constantly while never flickering at all. It’s a good thing jumps are so short.
Kara thought she knew all there was about jumps. She’d felt the familiar squeeze-push-pull-stretch more times than she could count - two hundred forty-one times in just five days, once, that had been a record. As her Viper fell into the storm, Kara wasn’t expecting a jump or anything else. She was free. “They’re waiting for me,” she told Lee, and herself, and whoever else might be listening. “They’re waiting for me,” she told the gods. She didn’t know who was waiting for her, or why, but she knew, she knew, she had known it since she had held Aurora, known it since she’d climbed into her cockpit for the last time, known it since she was a girl who’d watched her fingers snap in half. She’d always known.
The door yawned open in front of her, colors she had no names for, beautiful, beautiful. Kara closed her eyes. Lee’s voice faded away, the strident beeps from her instrument panel faded away, the pounding of her heartbeat in her ears faded away. She heard nothing but the breath of the universe. Inhale, exhale.
The Viper entered the door.
(When something travels between worlds, it does so not with force but with feeling. A thought, not an action. Kara felt nothing, saw nothing, heard nothing. Behind her, Lee watched her Viper explode. The idea of Kara continued; the reality of Kara did not.)
When Kara opened her eyes again, at first she didn’t know she’d traveled anywhere. Space spread out before her, that perfect sea of black studded with tiny lanterns of light. No nebulae, no swirling mists of red and blue and green. No asteroids, no planets. Just space, clean and pure, the best and only home Kara had ever known. She felt no fear or trepidation. She didn’t worry or fret about what had happened. She just waited, feeling completely different and more like herself than ever. Purged free of everything wrong, everything wicked. An empty vessel waiting to be filled.
Kara came back to herself. Something was behind her - scratch that, two somethings. One was very big, one was even bigger. A planet, and…something else. She reached down and took hold of the controls, brought her Viper around. (A moment to notice that the engines burned smoother than she was used to, everything calibrated just so, but a moment was all, the moment passed, and later she would forget she’d ever noticed at all.) Kara saw the planet first, and her heart skipped a beat. But no - it was a dead planet. Red-brown and dry, no atmosphere to speak of. Dead planets required no further notice, so Kara looked to the other something. It was a space station, though longer than any she’d ever seen before. A couple klicks long, easy. Solar arrays, knobby extrusions, and a gaping opening at the end facing her. A docking bay - even as Kara watched, a little ship scurried inside.
A voice cut through her reverie, blasting out of the speakers in her helmet. Unintelligble, a language she’d never heard before; she could get the sense of the tone, though, just like listening to Taurons speak to each other. Whoever was talking to her now, probably someone from the space station up ahead, was asking a question, and none too gently at that.
“My name is Kara Thrace,” she answered, wondering that she was still so calm. “Request permission to board.” She didn’t expect an answer she could understand, and didn’t receive one, either. Another voice barked out a question at her in a different language. “I need help,” Kara said simply. It was the truth. She hoped they could hear it even if the words themselves made no sense. Static in her ears as her Viper drifted closer and closer to the station; she had cut the engines as soon as she’d seen it. Before too long she’d have to make a choice; inertia ruled the cosmos, no matter what any single man might think.
The original voice spoke to her again. A woman’s voice, though it was deep and matter-of-fact in a way that told Kara that she was speaking to someone in the military. A single sentence, not a question. It could have been anything. Stop or we’ll shoot. Welcome aboard! Prepare to die. Where’s the rest of your people?
Kara took a deep breath, closed her eyes for a moment, thought of the golden figure of Aurora (a fresh start that’s what this has to be they’re waiting for me a fresh start), and kicked the engines back on.
She saw them as she approached the station. X-shaped ships, scattered around in a clear defensive formation. The station’s CAP? Probably. None of them approached, though; they just watched, in silent sentry, their shapes strange and alien and yet despite of that - or perhaps because of that - comforting to her eyes. Kara aimed for the docking bay, just as big as the landing bays on the Galactica, and she’d done enough hands-on approaches over the last five years to not even glance down at her panel. The air suddenly felt very cold blowing across her face, and Kara realized that she was scared. Her shoulders hunched, expecting at any second for one of the X-ships to shoot her out of the sky. But waiting was the word - she waited to see what was up ahead, and everyone else seemed to be waiting to find out who she was.
Inside there were lights, red and blue, and Kara followed the blue ones. She set the Viper down on a pad with flashing blue lights, the only one she could see. No mag lock, at least not that she could feel, but gravity snagged her back down regardless. The bay hadn’t looked as though it rotated from the outside, not in relation to the rest of the station spinning around it. Artificial grav? Before she could think it over any further, the pad was descending and Kara found herself looking into a hangar bay that looked so similar to Galactica’s that for a moment she felt a rush of nausea. It passed when she saw the deck gang rushing up to her ship.
Human, human, human…and then someone who was definitely not a human. Greenish skin, thick and spotted; red eyes; a heavy, protruding jaw. Dear gods, where am I? Kara swallowed against the fear in her throat, her stomach doing a slow roll, like a 10-g turn with a missile screaming in your wake the whole time. She reached shaky fingers up to unlock the canopy.
There were no ladders, and the deck gang didn’t seem to know what to do. They clustered around her Viper, staring up, but their eyes, even the red ones, seemed to broadcast only curiosity. Kara hoped so, at any rate. She thought to pop off her helmet, but just as her thumb dug under the lock at the front, she remembered a red moon. It was a miracle she had an atmo stick in her flight suit, but she did, and she dragged it out. A long beat of red, glowing a bit under the lights, and Kara tasted defeat like old stale algae cakes on the back of her tongue. Then it was green, and she saw the deck gang sigh just as she heard her own. Some things were apparently universal.
Kara took off her helmet, pulled the ear piece out, and stood. A deep breath. Godsdamn. So this is what air is supposed to smell like. Even down in the hangar bay, which was notoriously the stinkiest, foulest part of any ship outside of water reclamation, the air was sweet and clean. Four years on a Galactica with no new air scrubbers, recycling the same O2 over and over and over again, had been like burying your head under the blankets. After awhile, you forgot that air wasn’t supposed to be stale and sodden.
Kara threw back her head and laughed.
She looked back down at the deck gang, and they were smiling up at her - even the red-eyed green creature - and anyone who smiled couldn’t be half-bad, right? Kara climbed down over the canopy and then shimmied down to the wing. She hopped down onto the flight deck, and wasn’t even embarrassed when her legs gave out from under her and she smacked her head into the side of her Viper. She just laughed again, and let the deck gang help her up.
“Good to feel something solid under my feet again,” Kara told them. Wide eyes again, and the looks they gave each other were almost comical. It would have been brilliant if the green-skinned one had understood her, and responded in perfect Caprican. Alas, not to be.
Two things happened simultaneously. A man’s voice rang through the air, gruff and yet not forbidding; the deck gang took their hands away as though she were on fire, and all marched back several steps in unison. Kara looked for the source of the voice - there, walking her way. Three people. Three humans. A woman with long dark hair, scowling in a way that told Kara she scowled all the time; three seconds, and Kara liked her already. A man, hair cut short, probably because he was going bald. He held a gun in his hand, though it didn’t look like any gun Kara had ever seen. There was something cold in his eyes. She’d be careful around that one.
But the man in front, the one who’d spoken, he was the one she’d have to figure out how to deal with. Tall, broad shoulders, dark blond hair, trim in a sleek black uniform. Don’t even think about it, Thrace. (She’d always been a sucker for a handsome man in uniform.) He was the CO, or whatever the equivalent here was. She knew that if she knew nothing else. Warm, frank eyes stared at her - no coy glances away. He had his hands held out and walked toward her slowly. Kara smoothed down her hair, held her own hands out. We’re all friendlies.
The CO asked her a question. Without the static of the com lines interfering and being able to see his lips form the words, Kara realized that she could almost understand him. Which made no sense, but that’s where she lived now, it seemed.
“Kara Thrace, captain, Colonial Fleet.” Furrowed brows from all three, though the woman had a finger up as though she were about to say something. “Where am I?” The woman spun her finger in the air, and Kara was struck again by how uncanny the whole situation was. We can’t understand each other, but I know what that gesture means. If they’re as human as they look, it makes sense that we’d have the same signs and shorthand. The woman was asking her to repeat herself.
“Where am I?” she asked again, slowly, exaggerating the syllables. The woman’s whole face lit up, the scowl transformed to a look of such extreme affability that Kara wondered if the scowl had ever truly been there at all. An answer tumbled out, sounds that made no sense at all, gobbledy-gook that would put a baby to shame. Except…there, at the end, there was a word that cut through all the rest.
Kara threw her hands out, as though the hangar bay were filled with noise; it was dead silent, but even that was too loud. She knew she looked ridiculous - eyes bugged out, mouth hanging open, breath coming in quick gasps. But she knew what she’d heard, even though she had to ask one more time.
“What did you say?” Slow, slow. She made stretching moves with her fingers, like she was pulling a piece of taffy. Again the nonsense words, although one of them sounded like a number…
And then the last word. That word Kara knew, and she felt tears spring to her eyes. The woman understood, and said it again, nodding.
Four and a half thousand klicks away, the door slammed shut.