top of page



The trick with the portal was, it wasn't always visible. To be more precise, it wasn't always there.

Kal maneuvered the ship in the shadow of Saturn, facing the locus of space where the portal should be.

It needed to be now, or they had wasted months of travel and close to a trillion dollars.

She knew she'd find it. It lurked there, a presence, waiting to be seen. She had been better at getting through the first portal, Freya, than any other pilot. The second portal had never been her mission, luckily, as it turned out. Maybe if she'd been there, it wouldn't have gone wrong. The less said about that disaster, the better.

Her gift for bringing a ship to and through a portal was the real reason she was here, piloting the Ocean, years before her time.

This was the furthest mission to inhabit a planet ever conceived.

The crew wouldn't be able to see the swirl of infrared color, the aura around the portal, until they were so close there was no going back.

"Activate helical search pattern," she said. "Lock on infrared signature."

Because of their proximity to the portal, they were already in dark phase. No transmission possible, to Mars or to home, which made communications quiet. It was easier to concentrate.

"Rai, angle of approach?" Kal said.

"Two degrees short to starboard."

Kal made an adjustment.

The ships' AIs no longer attempted to pilot through the portals, since the starship Carys. Feel had something to do with it, and feel was something even a sophisticated iteration like their AI, Rai, didn't have.

Captain Sasha Sarno sat in her chair, center of bridge, strapped in, as all the crew were for the jump. Seven passengers; seven crew. The passengers were strapped into one of the escape pads with one crew member, just in case. One pod had made it back to Earth when the starship Carys disappeared in the second portal.

That job, being the sole crew member strapped in with the passengers, separated from the rest of the team, was not a coveted one. It implied a lack of faith, a lack of commitment, that no crew member wanted to appear to embrace. The volunteer was consequently viewed as heroic.

Noor, mission specialist and analyst, had offered. Kal wished Noor were here on the bridge with Sasha and herself. They had become a triumvirate of sorts, in the loop de loop past Venus, Venus again, then Earth and Jupiter, taking the gravity assist needed off the planets for the best shot to Saturn. After their long winter's nap in hypersleep, post slingshot, it didn't feel like time had passed, despite the months spent under. Even so, they hadn't quite recaptured the banter and ease from before. Maybe after the portal. After the hairiest moment in a trip full of dangers.

The infrared layer was on, covering the whole of the curving window at the front of the bridge. Infrared lit the space around them with strange lights and colors and threw Saturn into brilliant relief, layers of color reflecting the heat signature of each part of the ringed planet, like a slice of an archeological dig into strata of rocks from different eras. The view became magical, touched with fantasy, another way to see space they weren't usually privy to.

Of the three portals discovered, Wóhpe was the most recent. The Aldortok Consortium had sole rights to it so far, and this would be the second jump through.


Thanks to entangled quantum particles on the Land and the Ocean, they knew they were a go. That was all they knew.


Though little was yet known or understood about the portals, they were believed to have been created millennia before, by an unknown intelligence. One that liked to jump around through systems with habitable planets, and had the advanced knowledge to make it possible. That was the theory.


The seven passengers had been in hypersleep since Earth, unaware of any of the tension of slotting the ship into the mere four hundred kilometer window near Venus to grab the correct trajectory. It was the best for them to leave Earth in good shape and have none of the stress, and not get in the way, until it was time to jump the portal on the dark side of Saturn.


In anticipation of the jump, the passengers were now awake. Everyone would rather be conscious, when it came right down to it, if they were about to blink out in the portal. By unspoken consent, they would all rather know the end, if it was to be so, and not sleep their way into another kind of unknown.


Most of the crew had jumped before, through Freya, as part of the ongoing exploration and establishment of infrastructure on the Earth-like planet in that system.


The second portal, Physis, the one no one liked to mention, hadn't been so trustworthy. The story of what happened to the Carys haunted everyone, and no one could be said to approach this jump with anything other than an equal mixture of excitement and dread, except for the captain, Sasha, who didn't get rattled by much of anything.


Kal felt her heart rate bump up. She couldn't see it yet, the spray of light radiating out from a center of deep black, but she could feel it. She could feel they were close, as if the cells in her body shifted their contents toward a source of attraction, a gravity created from inside the portal itself, just ahead, drawing her to it.

The inevitability of it--waiting for her eyes to tell her all choice was over--gave her whole being a charge, as if sparks could shoot from her fingertips, rays from her eyes, waves of heat from her brain, all visible in the same infrared that allowed the portal to be seen.

Their ship, the Ocean, the twin of the Land already on Demeter with the skeleton crew of biohab builders, was large enough to transport many more passengers. Although on this jump the total count, including passengers and crew, was small, the ships would transport vaster numbers in future, if all went well.

The ships' elegant design, practical and imaginative, made these two sisters the finest in any fleet, in Kal's opinion, experimental or not.

Kal thought the ships deserved a voyage this far, this uncertain, to prove themselves. She deserved it too. Whether her mettle would be as worthy as the Ocean's remained to be seen.

"Power down inessential systems," Sasha said.

Kal wondered if Sasha could feel the proximity, too.

"Power down inessential systems, confirm," Gunn, systems engineer, repeated.

"Employ stabilization boost, thirty percent. When portal lights become visible, up to seventy-five." Sasha's voice was calm and even. She spoke clearly, with enough volume for all those on the bridge to hear her. In the occupied pod, they had transmission of all that was spoken on the bridge, in case a last minute order to eject was necessary.

Gunn echoed her.

Sasha said, "Pod one: Noor, all set?"

"Aye, Captain." Noor's voice was confident. Strong for the passengers.

As if a veil had been lifted from another reality, the swirl of lights from the portal splayed into view. Radiant, enticing, forbidding: a small gasp from the six on the bridge couldn't' be disguised by their cloak of professionalism. It was too beautiful.

No more time to turn back, even had they wanted to. The belonged to the portal, now.

"Stabilization boost, sevety-five percent," Gunn said.

Sasha spoke. "Rai, cede all control to Kal barring mission critical failure or loss of consciousness by Kal and myself. Kal has the helm."

This directive had a somewhat dampening effect on the bridge, as Kal was sure it did in the pod. She imagined Noor's wry smile. If Noor were here, they would have exchanged glances.

"Take a breath, everyone," Sasha said, her voice now light. "We made it this far. Keep breathing and we'll celebrate on the other side."

The smile in her voice lifted the lull, and Kal felt herself smile, facing this deepest, darkest, most enchanting circle of blackness, the heart of the portal, and now she felt with her whole being that, yes, she wanted to dive into it, with all of her mind and body. She had never jumped this portal.

Her hands rested lightly on the console, eyes automatically sweeping the mechanical dials, switches, and buttons, a system backup this ship designer always included in case of a shift into low power mode, as well as the latest screened and holographic image processes. Redundancy, a back door in case the front door shut, was such a key part of their survival prospects this far out that the analog was never completely dismissed in favor of the digital or biomorg.

Now Kal was on her own version of autopilot. Her mind was in the trance it went to when she had to be the ship, to navigate it as herself from one difficult spot to another.

"Deploy oxygen," Kal said. They all put their masks on.

"Estimated thirty seconds to entry," Kal said. Her voice was a monotone.

Her heart beat slow. The lights gave the illusion of rushing towards them, reaching out to enfold them, spatters of gold embracing the ship in forgiving splendor, welcoming them to whatever their fate would be.

"Captain?" Gunn said.

The captain was behind Kal, so Kal couldn't see her face.

"It's all right, Gunn," Sasha said.

A brilliant, blinding flash of light.

The light was gone.

The flash an imprint on Kal's retinas.

The only light the remnants in her eyes.

Darkness, incomprehensible.

A compression, emptiness--where time should be.

Kal felt the months of hypersleep stretch inside her.

Her mind hadn't know the passing of time, but something had recorded it.

This place.

Now she knew, the lost time was still there, inside her.

It was here, inside the outside, within the portal.

Here she met time and its absence.

They were lost here, forever.

There was nothing to fly. Her hands were empty.

Smooth and powerless.

A heart-tearing leap, guts on the floor.

The pinpoint, themselves, a universe bursting out of Kal's chest.

A blink, elsewhere, a hand the size of a galaxy.

Light like a resurrection.

Spatter of unfamiliar stars, a planet with rings like Saturn, not Saturn.

They were on the other side.

Had she left those months in the portal?

bottom of page