Somewhere in our Galaxy, September 20th, 2047
"It's beautiful, isn't it?"
Bjarne was completely captivated by the beauty of the nebula. It was as if the eye-shaped nebula was looking back at him with the same sense of wonder that Bjarne felt at seeing its perplexing beauty, knowing that no human before him had ever laid eyes on its wonder, or if they had it would have been through the result of long exposure telescope photography. This was intense, Bjarne was so close, if this would have been his view from earth, the nebula would have dwarfed the moon in the sky. The moon would have been just a fraction bigger than what Bjarne could only look at as the giant pupil of a humongous eye.
"We are not here for sightseeing, Bjarne," Gwen spoke with the unmistaken attributes of mild annoyance clearly audible in her voice, "Earth; remember! These 'ships' won't be of any use against the Jötnar if we linger at every nebula! For Christ sake Bjarne, what are we even doing here?"
She was right. They needed to get home and get home soon for that matter. There really was no telling how long Gwen's granddad, the crypto wizard, and his apprentice could keep the giants at bay. Bjarne himself was a wizard now. Thanks to a futuristic cranial augmentation that put the power of the quantum trinity at his fingertips so to speak. But then, it wasn't just him. The ship, Sleipnir, was the sentient steed of the gods. A steed that normally no mere mortal man could master and he wouldn't have either, in fact, he hadn't. Bjarne, Sleipnir and the friendly troll-like creature that went by the name of Azraella needed to work together in a constant state of a near perfect and almost symbiotic way. There was a harmony to the way they interacted when in normal flight as if they were one, not three. But then for the M-Brane folding. That part wasn't quite part of the harmony. Where regular flight felt like, the music of a harp concerto by Bach, where Azraella played the harp, Bjarne the violin and Sleipnir the contrabass, creating an M-Brane fold to jump made Bjarne feel like he was interrupting the Bach concerto by blowing hard on a vuvuzela. Bjarne needed to focus now.
"One minute Guen, I need to figure out why the last M-Brane fold didn't bring us back home. Need to figure out where we are right now."
Bjarne took one last look at the nebula, then started orientating himself on nearby galaxies. Hmm, this must be the Helix nebula. It was a bit disconcerting for Bjarne to realize that he knew all the hundreds of thousands of stars and other astronomical phenomena by heart, but couldn't remember a single event from the past half a century. Ok, if this is the Helix nebula, and that galaxy up there is the Aquarius Dwarf then, ….. Yes, that bright double star must be … Beta Aquarii, yes.
Bjarne didn't even need to think about the fold anymore. Just thinking about the coordinates thinking about going home created the spherical distortion in space in front of him.
"Pilot?" The friendly voice of Azraella sounded in his head. The sensuality in her voice and the intimacy of her in his head made it hard for Bjarne to think of her in the way he knew she looks. While he knew Azraella was a short greyish humanoid with a large head who lacked any of the attributes commonly associated with femininity, her sultry voice put images in his head of a woman that looked like Susanna Hoffs from the bangles basically. Gwen probably wouldn't know who the Bangles were. It was painful that even his cultural references had dissipated into history just as his life had been. A life Bjarne remembered absolutely nothing about.
At that moment a star became visible in the M-Brane exit sphere. A yellow dwarf.
"I'm pretty sure it's her Azraella, tell the kids to follow us in" Bjarne spoke in his head to Azraella.
"Imuébï Sleipnir odoûri" Bjarne continued, directed at Sleipnir the living ship in the Hyvala battle language. And the ship started moving towards the sphere that had now turned pitch black. While Bjarne was supposed to be the pilot, when trajectories were simple, Bjarne knew Sleipnir preferred the feeling of being in control. As they passed out of the exit sphere, Bjarne knew he had the correct yellow dwarf. This was the sun. The gas giant to their right was Jupiter, one more jump ought to do it.
Then four of the other ships broke from the group and started flying towards a small planet in the distance. Was it earth? Bjarne wasn't sure yet. While he knew about all the stars and all their planets, he still needed to do the math, and while the Hyvala coordinate system was much easier to work with than the goniometry Bjarne remembered from school, he just wasn't the fastest.
Then the thundering voice of Sleipnir spoke in his head in its always menacing tone: "Ihuùmé Jötnar omwuûkü!" Apparently, the four ships that broke away from the group had somehow picked up the scent of the Jötnar. This while what Bjarne realized was indeed Earth was nothing but a tiny dot. The other ships followed the four in the lead and so did Sleipnir. It seemed like they had just been ousted. Or had they? All sense of hierarchy had dissipated. The ships were a hunting pack now where every ship was equal in the hunt for the Jötnar. Af for Bjarne, Azraella, and Gwen, well, at this moment, as things seemed they had become simply passengers. But then Bjarne realized why he was here. Why he and Azraella formed such a powerful alliance with Sleipnir, an alliance that was in danger of breaking due to pack dynamics right now.
"Inúvùsa omuámü Jupiter" Bjarne spoke firmly in his mind's voice. It would take weeks to reach earth that way for the Aesir, and they didn't even hesitate. If they could throw themselves into Jupiter's gravity, they could pick up speed and meanwhile Bjarne could test out his tactical skills with the M-Brane folds. As Azraella repeated his words for the other ships to hear, the ships all halted. Then one ship launched itself in the general direction of the gas giant. Then the next. After the second one had followed, all the rest followed as in synchronicity. Now would be the deciding moment for the battle. Bjarne materialized a dozen of small spheres in front of his face. He could see them. Hundreds of Jötnar of different sizes. He could see the Wolf. A ship much bigger than any other the other ships, frantically snapping at any Jötnar that came close. Fenrir and it's crew seemed quite unscaled so far, in fact, the wolf ship seemed even more fears than when Bjarne and his crew left the Galaxy to get help, but against such forces, how long could they truly last. There already were half a dozen ape like Jötnar holding on to the underbelly of the giant wolf. John, Robert, and Fenrir needed their help. They needed their help now.
As all twelve ships picked up speed and the gas giant started looking bigger and bigger, dark black spheres started appearing in front of individual ships that one after the other dropped out of sight as the ships plunged themselves into the M-Brane fold entry spheres. Then the last sphere. This one was for Sleipnir. Bjarne allowed the sphere to flicker shortly just to make sure. The image of the underbelly of the wolf, invested by Jötnar sent shivers through Bjarne's spine. Then the sphere went pitch black just before Sleipnir entered it.
Sleipnir did a spin as they passed under the belly of the giant wolf and as he passed, skillfully kicked at six of the Jötnar that had attached themselves to the belly of the wolf. Four of the six were hurdled away from Fenrir, and as Sleipnir tumbled a few times around multiple axes, Fenrir turned its head and while snapping at the white ape-like white hominids, got one and a half of them in his mouth.
An explosion. It was inside of Fenrir's mouth. But Fenrir didn't seem hurt at all. In fact, it looked as if the wolf had just grown a bit. No, that couldn't be right! Bjarne looked around. Some of the other living ships were close by, doing their bit fighting the Jötnar in the debrisphere with all their might.
"What's going on Bjarne?" Gwen's voice suddenly asked. In all the excitement Bjarne had almost forgotten about her, being the only person on the ship not telepathically linked with Azraella, and the exit sphered Bjarne created to oversee the battle were too small for Gwen to get any useful information from her angle.
"I think we are winning this battle Gwen"
At the moment Bjarne said these words, a smaller one of the living spaceships got hit smack in its bear like head by a HEOPS swarm, sending it tumbling.
"Wait, I think we lost one"
At that moment, the bear shaped ship made a few jolty movements before …. "No way!" As the movement of the bear-like ship returned, Bjarne realized the ship hadn't just survived being hit in the face by a HEOPS swarm, the kinetic energy of the swarm seemed to have actually been converted to matter. The ship had grown three, maybe four meters in length. This was antifragility at its finest.
"No, strike that, we are most definitely winning this battle."
Cover art by Keith Draws