Something's very, very wrong. I don't need to hear Ed jump, swear, and scramble for the controls to know that. We were supposed to be jumping to Epsilon Eridani. I was expecting orange light to fall across us as we arrived in the εEri system at a relative speed small enough to make it appear that we were at a standstill.
Instead, my first instinct is to duck as a blueish star whizzes over my head at phenomenal speed.
Whizzes over my head?!
"ED! WHAT THE-" I begin, but he holds up a hand. Serious concentration is on his face. I've only seen that look a couple of times before, both times in extremely dire situations I think we're lucky to have escaped alive.
Stars - all blueish - are clustered ahead of us. They shoot past us like rockets. We're plunging headlong into the heart of a galaxy or something. We're gonna die. We're gonna hit one and die.
Ed finishes typing coordinates and slams a button. For a millionth of a second, scintillatingly bright yellow light and hideous amounts of radiation bathe the Ed Rocks - then, we are over Earth, and motionless.
There is a lengthy, shaky pause.
"We didn't get to Epsilon Eridani," says Ed.
"No kidding, MacPherson."
"We missed. Our trajectory line was off or something. We went past Epsilon Eridani and kept on going until we next intersected a gravitational field. Do you know how empty space is? Neither do I. Nor what happens when you miss your target. We could have circled the universe for ever for all I know. I've no idea what could have happened. It's just not something I investigated. The targeting antenna is the single most precise, fault-tolerant and infallible device I've ever constructed - it's capable of hitting our Sun accurately from anywhere in the observable universe. We were supposed to hit Epsilon Eridani and I thought there was no chance of error but it turns out there was.
"I think we ended up in what used to be a quasar."
A quasar. Quasars are astoundingly energetic galaxies of the order of tens of billions of light years away from Earth. Compare that with Epsilon Eridani, a mere eleven light years distant. Quasars exist on the observable limit of the universe and are so far away that they have been outlived by their own light. They no longer exist as quasars - in the aeons it took their light to reach us they have collapsed to ashes, the ashes have re-ignited and they have begun to shine again as "normal" galaxies.
Quasars are bright. Quasars are a long way away. Quasars are old. But there's one other thing - relative to our galaxy, all quasars are moving outwards, rushing away at significant and ever-increasing fractions of the speed of light. That's the expansion of the universe in action. That's the cause of red shift.
That also means that when a spaceship from our galaxy accidentally tunnels to a galaxy twenty billion light years away, while retaining all its original momentum, we arrive at anything up to ninety percent of light speed relative to that galaxy. We streak across their galaxy at insane speed - stars we see around us are relativistically distorted, clustered directly ahead of us and blue-shifted as we move towards them. Ed scrambles for the controls, somehow manages to get a lock on our home galaxy, and gets us home as quickly as possible before we cannon into something hot or hard at relativistic speeds.
"We could have been killed," says Ed, after explaining this. "I don't know what caused the fault - it only happened once, because we were able to tunnel home. But I'm going to land and find out what caused it." He takes the controls and begins to move us into a steady descent.
"We can't jump straight back into the basement?"
"I don't want to risk it again, and besides, we're too high up. Equipotentials, boy. Equipotentials. Don't worry. I'll get to the bottom of this."
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