Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

The SS Furai was traveling at warp three through the Supaida Sector on a survey mission to look for planets that were suitable for human colonization. A decade earlier, an unmanned probe had passed through the sector and reported numerous habitable planetary systems around two Type G stars, and four Type K stars. Each of the star systems all had at least one terrestrial planet orbiting in the habitable zone, sometimes referred to as the “goldilocks zone.” The Furai’s mission was to determine if any of the planets meet the criteria for human colonization; the plant-to-animal biomass ratio had to be 98.5 or higher, and no indigenous animal species could have an Intellect Potential (IP) above 64.2.

The first two star systems they surveyed were non-viable due to exceptionally high concentrations of animal mass. They were approximately one hour from the third system when the ship unexpectedly came to a dead stop. Fortunately, the inertial dampeners responded instantaneously and prevented any serious injuries. “What the…,” snapped the Captain? He pressed the intercom button. “Chief, why have we dropped out of warp,”

“I don’t know, sir. The warp engines are still on-line. They’re straining like hell too. Did we hit something?”

“Unknown, Chief,” he replied. “Shut down the engines until we figure this out. Ensign O’Toole, any idea what stopped us?”

“Sensors readings are normal, sir. Nothing unusual in the electromagnetic spectrum. Graviton activity is typical. Charged particle density is low. Huh, this is unusual. The quantum chromodynamic sensors show a tiny spike in the strong interaction color confinement. But it’s barely above background. I can’t believe that has anything to do with our situation.”

“We need to be sure, Mister O’Toole,” responded the Captain. “Take a science pod out, and have a look.”

Fifteen minutes later, O’Toole reported in. “Captain, I’m approximately 10 klicks aft of your position. I’ve adjusted my sensors to detect baryon waves. It appears that you are caught in a 2D matrix of some kind. From here, it looks like a large net that extends for light years in the Y and Z directions.”

“Mister Kline, did the probe report this phenomenon?”

The science officer quickly accessed the records. “Captain, according to the logs, Earth lost contact with the probe before it surveyed this corridor. It was presumed lost. However, since the probe had mapped 95% of the sector, Central Command determined that it was not cost-effective to send another probe to complete the survey.”

“What? Protocol requires complete sensor mapping before manned vessels can enter a new system. This is…”

O’Toole’s voice interrupted the captain in mid sentence. “Sir, I’m picking up a huge flux of fermions. The density is increasing fast. It’s off scale. Sir, it looks like the signature for quark matter. But I’ve never seen it this intense. I’m transmitting the sensor data to Lieutenant Kline.”

“Put it on the main viewer, Mister Kline,” ordered the captain.

The viewscreen at the front of the bridge showed an unmagnified image of the Furai entangled in a faint 2D network. Suddenly, a glowing semi-transparent anomaly three times larger than the ship entered the field of view. It moved toward the ship and began to encapsulate it with long string-like filaments similar in appearance to the 2D net.

“Damn. Red alert,” shouted the captain. “Raise shields. Charge the hull plates, maximum intensity. Tactical, bring weapons on-line. Target that creature and fire everything we have. Helm, full impulse power, and initiate a barrel-roll, maximum sustainable RPM. Chief, I need warp engines, now. If we can’t break free of this web, we’re all dead.”

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