As Flynn piloted Mirna Loy through the rift the controls felt hesitant. The ship seemed to know its destination, and had no desire to get there.
“You ain’t alone girl,” Flynn murmured, petting the console.
An instability in the rift rocked the whole u-boat. Flynn chewed on the inside of his cheek. The Professor stepped over to the controls. He asked if there was anything he could do.
Flynn said, “Not unless you’re willing to give this up.”
Seamus and Katie shared a porthole. Katie rubbed the crooked weld marks from where Flynn inexpertly installed the hole. She tried not to wonder if the thing might burst open at any second.
She asked, “You ever been to the Maw?”
Seamus clenched his jaw, “Once, by accident. Smuggling run ten years ago, trying to ditch the cops, just tearing through timelines without thinking twice; we punch into the rift, and there it is.”
She asked, “Is it as bad as people say?”
He shook his head, “Nope. It's worse.”
Outside lightning cracked the rift. A swirling eddy sucked in a timeline where Ireland invaded England, beginning the 400 year reign of the Green Iron Fist. This caused the timeline to collide with another wherein Earth possessed two moons but only inhabited one due to prevailing superstitions. The realities tore each other apart in a chaotic nightmare -- the scream of universes dying echoing throughout the rift. The shredded remains of the two histories floated through the rift like a chum slick.
Seamus stepped away without saying a word.
Katie snorted, “Cry baby. Happens all the time.” – she watched a wisp of what once was drift by the porthole, saw a city rise and fall.
Flynn announced, “Alright everybody. Here’s where it gets weird.”
Rift-runners call it The Devil’s Maw because it swallows everything. There’s a part of the rift where time flows into something almost like a black hole. Into this void time spills, and erupts out in a stream of energy as yet uncategorized. Some speculate this is the force that moves time. However, all attempts to understand this chrono-quasar have resulted in catastrophe. Every scientific vessel which tries to examine the phenomena vanishes. Most rift-runners would rather get an amputation than fly anywhere near the Maw.
Easing back on the throttle Flynn chuckled. He hummed a few bars of the Danse Macabre. The closer they got to the Devil’s Maw the more the view screen lit up with myriad warning signals. Flynn flipped off the augmented view, settling instead for the plain nightmare of the Maw alone.
Mirna Loy vibrated, the whole ship trembling as she pushed through the turbulence caused by the stream of energy jetting from the void. The length of a galaxy, the torrent threw out unpredictable instabilities, commonly referred to as the Devil’s Teeth. None of them on their own could do much, but piloting the u-boat felt like trying to fly a paper airplane straight in a hailstorm.
On occasion instabilities drifted through the ship instead of hammering against it. Spectral moments from histories came briefly into view: Confederate soldiers strolled with Boston ladies in evening wear; a Japanese man stood at a blackboard discovering E=mc2; a Belgium housewife sat on the couch reading a magazine in 1902; the book shop manager in Peoria, Illinois hung a sign announcing a Fourth of July sale; Jimmi Hendrix put the sax to his lips; cows mingled in a field.
The Professor pointed to a spot on the view screen saying, “Head towards that.”
“Aye, aye,” Flynn saluted while he steered.
Katie stepped over. Eying the screen she saw what appeared to be a ship orbiting the Devil’s Maw. The vessel skated the edge of the void's accretion disc, cruising along timelines torn into grains of sand.
Katie said, “They must be nuts.”
The Professor said, “We’ll find out when we say hello.”
On screen another vessel erupted into view. It lingered a few seconds before speeding off, punching out of the rift into the nearest timeline to escape the Maw. Seamus frowned.
“What is it?” Katie asked.
Seamus replied, “That was me.”
The Professor said, “There’s no telling how warped time gets in this part of the rift.” -- as he spoke the thought crossed his mind there’d be no way to know how the Maw affected people. Rift-runners went mad being around ordinary time. Warped time could only be worse.
Suddenly the turbulence ceased. Mirna Loy no longer rattled under the steady onslaught of the Devil’s Teeth. Flynn released the controls. The vessel sailed on, drifting with the current as it were. Static crackled out of the com panel.
A metallic voice said, “Mirna Loy this is the Occasus. Hold your present course, and prepare to dock with us.”
Flynn asked, "Anyone else worried they know who we are?"
Katie sneered, “What makes them think we’re docking?”
Flynn flipped the augmented view back on. Pointing at the screen he said, “That.” -- the view showed a multitude of weapons systems activating and locking onto Mirna.
The Professor folded his arms across his chest, “Looks like we’re going to have company.”
Katie cocked an eyebrow, "Whether we like it or not."
PART 6: Without hope, Without Fear