Monchar, Garuth's second-in-command, was visibly tense when Garuth arrived on the Shapieron's Command Deck in response to the emergency call. "There's something we've never seen before, affecting the stress field around the ship," he said in answer to Garuth's unvoiced question. "Some kind of external bias is interfering with the longitudinal node pattern and degrading the manifolds. The gridbase is going out of balance, and ZORAC can't make sense of it. It's trying to recompute the transforms now."
Garuth turned to Shilohin, the mission's chief scientist, who was in the center of a group of her staff, taking in the information appearing on a battery of screens. "What's happening?" he asked.
Shilohin shook her head helplessly. "I've never heard of anything like this. We're entering some kind of spacetime asymmetry with coordinates transforming inversely to an exponential frame. The whole structure of the region of space that we're in is breaking down."
"Can we maneuver?"
"Nothing seems to work. The divertors are ineffective, and the longitudinal equalizers can't compensate even at full gain."
"ZORAC, what's your report?" Garuth called in a louder voice.
"Impossible to construct a gridbase that couples consistently into normal space," the computer replied. "In other words, I'm lost, don't know where we are, where we're going, or even if we're going anywhere, and don't have control anyway. Otherwise everything's fine."
"System status?" Garuth inquired.
"All sensors, channels, and subsystems checked and working normally. No-I'm not sick, and I'm not imagining it."
Garuth stood nonplused. Every face on the Command Deck was watching and waiting for his orders, but what order could he give, when he had no idea what was happening or what, if anything, could be done about it. "Call all stations to emergency readiness and alert them to stand by," he said, more to satisfy expectations than for any definite reason. A crewman to one side acknowledged and turned to a panel to relay the order.
"Total stress field dislocation," Shilohin murmured, taking in the latest updates. "We're dissociated from any identifiable reference." The scientists around her were looking grim. Monchar gripped the edge of a nearby console nervously.
Then ZORAC spoke again. "The trends have begun reversing rapidly. Coupling and translation functions are reintegrating to a new gridbase. References are rotating back into balance."
"We might be coming out of it," Shilohin said quietly.
"Stress field not returning to normal," ZORAC advised. "The field is being externally suppressed, forcing reversion to subgravitic velocity. Full spatial reintegration unavoidable and imminent." Something was slowing the ship down and forcing it to become part of normal spacetime again. "Reintegration complete. We're in touch with the universe again. . . ." An unusually long pause followed. "But I don't know which part. We seem to have changed our position in space." A spherical display in the middle of the floor illuminated to show the starfield surrounding the ship. It was nothing like that visible from the Solar System, which should not have altered beyond recognition since the Shapieron's departure from Earth.
"Several large artificial constructions are approaching us," ZORAC announced. "The designs are not familiar, but they are obviously products of an intelligence. Implications: we have been intercepted deliberately by a means unknown, for a purpose unknown, and transferred to a place unknown, by a form of intelligence unknown. Apart from the unknowns, everything is obvious."
"Show us the constructions," Garuth commanded.
Three screens around the Command Deck showed views obtained in different directions of a number of immense craft, the like of which Garuth had never seen, moving slowly inward from the background of stars. He and his officers could only stand and stare in silent awe. Before anybody could find words, ZORAC informed them, "We have communications from the unidentified craft. They are using our standard high spectrum format. I'm putting it on the main monitor." Seconds later, the large screen overlooking the floor presented a picture. Every Ganymean on the Command Deck froze, stupefied by what they saw.