Burn the Map

...and the atlas and the guide book and the GPS and everything else that thinks it knows where you're going. 'Cause I'll tell you a secret, friend: They don't have a clue.

Welcome, traveler!  Is it a new world you're looking for, or perhaps a very old one?  Either way, your journey begins as soon as you click one of the links to the left (or up above, if you're inclined to the mobile devices).  Think of them as portals to other times and places... I mean, you could think of them as simple navigation buttons, but if you're going to do that, there are zillions of websites you could visit.  But you didn't.  You came here.  So saddle up, suit up, buckle up...  Grab your blaster, your sword, your spellbook...  Basically do whatever it takes to feel ready for adventure and dive into stories where no explorer or mapmaker has dared set foot.  Oh, and I almost forgot...  Where you're going, you might as well burn the map. 

Outside

            Garret knew that a lot of people believed space was cold.  This was a common misconception; temperature, hot, cold or otherwise, was a property of matter, and since space had virtually no matter, it also had no temperature.  This far from any sun, though, most objects shed heat…no, hemorrhaged heat, so fast that Garret Place couldn't be bothered to consider such niggling details of thermodynamics.  As he knelt, magnetically grappled to Blue Nova's hull, only one thought beat through his fatigue-numbed brain, and it was this:  Space is cold.  His suit was designed to maintain a constant temperature for up to four hours, but he had surpassed that limit an hour ago.  His task wasn't complete, and until it was, there was no way his ship could phase-shift back to faster-than-light travel and deliver its cargo on schedule.  No way, for that matter, that his ship could reach a safe place to refuel and make permanent repairs.

            Everything about this voyage had gone wrong since Blue Nova lifted off from New Alexandria's surface.  Sensors had given false readings, life support had inexplicably failed in two compartments (including his own bunk), propulsion systems had underperformed so that ramping up to critical velocity had taken twice as long as it should...and finally several vital FTL system components had slagged when they were exactly halfway to their destination, dozens of light years from anywhere.  Murphy's Law, naturally, ruled spaceflight as much as anything else, so of course every FTL component that had failed could only be accessed from outside, requiring a lengthy spacewalk.  His assistant, Sheila, had contacted him an hour ago, insisting that he come back in for a fresh suit, or at least let her come out there and help wrap things up.  But that wasn't necessary, he'd insisted.  Never mind he was going to start losing a degree of suit temperature every minute, he should be done in five or ten minutes...or sixty...or seventy...

            Finally, Garret reached one last panel.  Cold-numbed fingers coaxed movement from four quarter-turn fasteners, providing quick access to a maze of hoses and wires that only a trained eye could identify as an advanced phase-shift regulation system.  He checked his heads-up-display, looking at three failures in one component on his diagnostic readout, then looked back critically at that same component, puzzled.  Nothing seemed to be damaged; in fact everything seemed to be in better shape than he'd expected, his last overhaul of this section having been some three or four months back.  That was when his communication unit buzzed again.

            “Sheila, can you run diagnostics again?" he asked without waiting for any greeting.  "I don't see anything wrong here.”

            “You hate going outside, Garret.”  That wasn't Sheila's voice.  That snake-cold monotone could only be Drew Richards, Blue Nova's pilot.

            “What's your point, Richards?”  Garret was too frustrated to hide an involuntary shiver in his voice.  He needed to get back inside quickly.

            “I've seen you looking at her.”

            “What?”

            “Never met a woman who didn't love a pilot, but not her, oh no.  She only has eyes for her little mechanic.”

            “Drew, I have no clue what you're talking about, but I'm all done here.  Let me get back inside and we'll talk about this...whatever it is you're whining about.”

            “I don't think so, Garret.  See, pilots can learn to tweak diagnostic systems, too, you know.”

            Garret heard keyboard strokes, and suddenly his diagnostic HUD cleared, showing all systems green.

            “You were too smart with everything else I broke, always found a work-around, always had a way to get at it from inside...but this piece...this I knew you'd have to go outside to fix.  That was all I needed.  By then I couldn't get to it, but as you can see, I didn't really need to.  Goodbye, Garret.”

            A tremor ran through Blue Nova's hull as she started ramping up to phase-shift velocity. Garrett switched back to general comm traffic just in time to hear Drew's convincingly-startled cries.  “Autopilot's re-engaging!  Oh, god, no!  Garret's still outside!  Sheila, help me stop it!”

            Time slowed to a crawl for Garret Place, who knew that he had only moments to live before Nova's extreme acceleration either caused his magnetic grapples to break loose or his body to break apart.  He also knew that all attention would be focused on slowing her down, not that Drew would have been stupid enough to let that happen, so nobody would hear any last words he spoke.  He spoke anyway, though, because a continuous recording that he used to log repair notes would still be receiving inside, whatever else happened…and when it was all over, and Sheila desperately tried to understand how and why he'd died, then she'd hear it.  As cold gripped his brain and ever-increasing acceleration caused blood to pool in places he didn't know he had, he managed to gasp two short words.  “Murdered...outside...”

            And then Garret Place was gone.