Alarms were going off all over the ship as Maxine shouted “Red alert. We’ve been boarded. Mr.Tellson, grab two masers and come with me. Set them on low stun.”
“Yes Captain.” he replied.
They made their way down the corridors, searching for any sign of intruders.
“How could they get so close without our detecting anything?” said Tellson.
“They must have some kind of cloaking technology. That’s some kind of technology, don’t you think Mr. Tellson?”
“I would certainly say so captain…I think we should get down to engineering right away.”
They jumped into the nearest elevator and descended to the engineering level and when they got there, no one was around. “What’s going on?” she said.
“I don’t know.” said Tellson.
“Look around.” She ordered.
They both gave the place the once over and no one was there.
“Any ideas Mr. Tellson?”
“Then what good are you?”
“At this moment, not a dam bit.”
“I want you to search all the lower decks while I return to the bridge and don’t get lost on me.”
She headed back to the bridge, wondering what was going on and fearing the worst. When she could find no one on the bridge she quickly punched the ships communications.
“Mr. Tellson.” she announced, and received no answer. She sat down for a moment to collect her thoughts. What could possibly have caused this, she wondered, as she sat back and waited for something to happen. Suddenly, the voice of science officer Tellson came over the ship’s communicator.
“I’m on my way to the bridge.”
She felt better that her science officer was headed back to the bridge. Maybe he had discovered what had caused this situation. In a few moments he entered the bridge.
"What have you discovered Mr. Tellson?"
"I think we have encountered our first documented experience with anti-matter. The first quantum theories suggested that anti-matter and matter would annihilate each other but since matter cannot be destroyed, just changed into something else and if matter is changed into something else, what is anti-matter changed to. Is there an equivalent to something else with anti-matter?"
"Slow down Mr. Tellson. As interesting as the theories are we need to do something."
"Yes captain, but we must understand the principals before we know what to do."
"Very well Mr. Tellson continue."
"There must be exact symmetry between matter and anti-matter for one not to dominate the other."
"Symmetry…between what and what Mr. Tellson?"
"Between sub-atomic particles and what their equivalent is in the anti-mater world."
"World Mr. Tellson?"
"For want of a better word."
"I just want to get my crew back. Is there anything we can do about that?"
"Yes captain, we can."
A strange vibration seemed to pass right through us as we stood there. It took us a moment to clear our heads. "What was that Mr. Tellson?"
"It was the shuffling of the layers of matter and anti-matter."
"Shuffling?" she asked.
"Yes captain…the layers are not stable and like a deck of cards they are rearranging themselves."
"And you are sure of this?"
"No captain, this is all new and I must approach everything with theory."
"How will we know if your theories are correct?"
"With every shuffling something happens and since we are both here there may be other recovered crew members. I will check the computer logs."
"Can we rely on the computer under these circumstances, Mr. Tellson?"
"We must. We have no other choice."
"Somehow that's not reassuring." she said, as she looked around.
"Got it! We have three more crew members."
"Where are they?"
"Just outside the bridge. They may have been trying to get in."
"Are you sure it's crew members."
"Yes captain. I'll open the bridge door"
The door slid open revealing the three unconscious crew-members. Both the captain and Tellson helped the crew onto the bridge. They were disoriented and slow but they were alive.
"Captain…we must prepare for more shuffling of the layers." said Tellson.
"What? You mean more of this?" replied the captain.
"Yes, maybe a lot more."
"I wonder if these crew members are the only ones that are back?"
"Yes captain, our computer count says five crew-members."
"There were six of us together, Captain" said one of the crew-members.
"Six of you, Ensign Clark?"
"Are you sure that the computer is right Mr. Tellson?" she said as she turned her head.
"No, but it is our only gauge."
"Mr. Tellson. What is going on?"
"Because of an unprecedented amount of plasma in our present location, a quantum disturbance of the matter antimatter relationship has occurred. Like cards, matter and antimatter are occupying the alternate layers. Matter on the odd layers and antimatter on the even."
"Are you sure of that Mr. Tellson?"
"No. But it is my best guess. We are experiencing something that is unique to us and logic is our only guide,"
"Continue Mr. Tellson.
"Every time the shuffling occurs, those that are moving are not transferred while those who are not moving are. We must inform everyone to not move but communications are out and we can't access the decks through doors."
"How about the hatch access from the central core of the ship?
"I'm not sure, they are not operated electrically, but that is very dangerous."
"Everything is dangerous at this point Mr. Tellson. Is our core hatch open?"
"Yes Captain, and the isolation field is in place."
"I am going to free-fall down the core and try to enter another deck through the core hatch and see if anyone is there."
"We can't tell when a shuffle will take place."
"Mr. Tellson, we must do something before we can't do anything."
"I agree Captain. We must keep in constant communication during this whole process to make sure that we can make sure our activities are appropriate to the phase of the shuffle. I will try to nail down a rough estimate of the timing factors between shuffles"
"You do that Mr. Tellson while I take a trip down the core."
She made her way to the nearest core hatch and hesitated for a moment and then opened the hatch manually. She stepped out onto the observation platform and jumped over the railing. As she moved down the core she reached out and grabbed the handle of an access hatch. She entered the access code and the hatch opened. She entered and looked around. It was dark so she pulled out her flashlight and started down the hall.
"Is anybody there?"
"Yes…is that you captain?"
"It's me, engineer Benson and there are others here."
"Well, come this way, we are going to make our way back to the bridge."
They gathered at the core hatch and she explained how they were to proceed.
"Stay close to the core wall and make your way back by gently grasping the instrumentation. And watch out for each other." For the next few minutes they all followed the captain back to the bridge. They all grabbed the platform and held on to the railing as the bridge hatch opened. They all entered quickly and the hatch closed behind them.
"Is everybody alright?"
"I believe we are captain."
"OK Mr. Tellson…What's the good news?"
"No good news captain, just lots of speculation."
"You are an expert speculator Mr. Tellson so speculate!"
"Yes captain. We have never experienced anything with this when passing through plasma. There is also a lot of cosmic dust mixed with the plasma and that complicates things."
"How is that Mr. Tellson?
"Because we have never encountered this situation before."
"And have you any thoughts on the situation?"
"Yes captain. I think that a strange atmosphere of plasma and cosmic dust are creating a very unstable balance between the matter and anti-matter layers. I have reset all of the on board sensors to help us try and anticipate any change in our surroundings."
"Very good Mr. Tellson. As you are the chief science officer so we must all cooperate and be ready to follow your orders as long as the situation continues. We will all conduct our activities from the bridge since other locations seem to be less stable and since the crew is fully accounted for, we are confined to the bridge. Are there any special instructions that we should be aware of Mr. Tellson."
"Captain, this is the first experience with this condition that has ever been recorded…so it is guess work at best."
"Well give it your best Mr. Tellson."
"Keep talking Mr. Tellson."
"Yes captain. Many theories have been formulated about matter and anti-matter but none to my knowledge have factored in the added elements of plasma and cosmic dust."
"Continue Mr. Tellson."
"Well it appears to me that plasma or cosmic dust by themselves do not have an effect on the matter anti-matter balance but when the two static conditions of electric conducting gas combined with the multiple random ingredient of cosmic dust…nothing can be predicted with any accuracy."
"No captain. But I am noticing a pattern of events that are happening with the repetition of the shuffle and if we respond with the proper actions we just might get through this."
"That's more like it Mr. Tellson. Now I must see to the other crew members."
"No captain. For the next three minutes we must all move as little as possible."
"Did everybody hear that!" said the captain.
Everyone acknowledged and science officer Tellson started a timing program on the ship computer. He applied a program that operated the computer automatically and would interact with the shuffling of the matter anti-matter layers.
"I believe this will buffer and smooth out the effects of the change elements of the alternate layers as they shuffle."
"And that will clear up the problem?" said the captain.
"I believe it is our best chance to disengage from the shuffle."
She turned to the crew and with the most serious tone to her voice gave them instructions for the next few minutes. "Listen up everyone. It is important that our movement be as little as possible when science officer Tellson gives us the nod. You will take a deep breath and do not move for…"
"For at least twenty seconds." said officer Tellson.
"Did everyone get that?" asked the captain. Everyone nodded and officer Tellson continued.
"The shuffle may be quite violent so it is important that everyone use all three restraints on your seats. The less movement the better. Do not move until I give the all clear. Now if everyone will be seated we have just one minute and twenty seconds to go."
Everyone sat and adjusted their belts as instructed and officer Tellson programmed the final computer data and sat back himself and adjusted his seat restraints. In just a few moments he started the countdown.
A rather gentle bump was all that happened and after fifteen seconds, no further ship disturbance could be detected. He waited just another ten seconds and turned to the crew and announced.
"We've done it! We have passed through the plasma!"
Everyone responded with a sigh of relief and thanked him for getting them out of the scary situation. "I would like to propose a toast to our brilliant science officer." said the captain.
"So let's all report to the galley for drinks and well-deserved celebration." They all filed out except the captain.
"I will be along shortly." said officer Tellson. "I must reset these controls for normal ship operations.
"Very well then." she replied. We will see you in…?"
"Oh." he said." About five minutes."
He sat down and began the process of putting the ship's computer in its normal settings. He reset the hyper drive and shut down the main drive to maintain the current course. Then he reset the life support system to normal non-shuffle conditions. Starting to smile as he anticipated seeing the look on everyone's face as he entered the galley, he looked around the deck to make sure that everything was in order.
He then made his way to the galley where he thought he could hear the sound of celebration. He paused before coming into door sensor range. Pride was the unavoidable feeling that consumed him at that moment. The door opened and revealed an empty Galley.
Shocked out of his mind, he turned and ran back to the bridge. The door would not open for him but it opened for a crew-member leaving the bridge. He quickly stepped in and heard the crew talking about the mundane elements of everyday duties and then realized that all of these events took place before the encounter with the plasma cloud.
With all of the events that have taken place while the shuffling process was rearranging reality, it became apparent that the process was endless and no fixed plan would bring things back to normal. It was devastating to contemplate an endless replay of events that could not be altered.
Another shuffling suddenly jarred the ship with a most violent impact. So violent that he lost consciousness.
"Wake up Mr. Tellson…Wake up!" he heard as he regained his faculties and saw that he was in sickbay.
"What happened?" he asked.
"You are in sickbay." said the Captain. We realized that it was not good idea to leave you on the bridge by yourself so we returned when another shuffling took place. We managed to all get back to the bridge but you were gone. I came to the conclusion that we had to get far away so I took a chance and programmed a ship acceleration to correspond to the next shuffling and we were pushed out of the plasma cloud."
"But how did you know that would work?" asked Mr. Tellson.
"I didn't, but I had to follow that gut feeling I had…like you did Mr. Tellson."