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By´╝ÜJennifer Foehner Wells

Ajaya said, “You were positioned awkwardly, such that your airflow was restricted.” She paused, her lips pressed together.

Jane wondered what Ajaya wasn’t saying. Then Jane’s sleepy brain caught up. Ugh. How embarrassing. She’d been snoring, not getting enough air. She sighed and shrugged at the ache in her neck and shoulder.

Ajaya grimaced. “I felt it would be better to wake you and get you to your quarters and a proper bed where you might get more restful sleep.”

“Thank you, but I think I’ve slept enough. There’s work to be done.” Too much work. She felt an urgency to accomplish as much as she could before they reached Sectilius. She wanted to turn over the ship in the best condition possible.

Ajaya shook her head. “You need to rest, Commander. The jumps are taking a physical toll on you.”

Ron moved closer, a wry look on his face as he rolled his shoulders. “There’s always work to be done.” He came up to stand behind Ajaya as though lending his support to her argument. His large, brown hand came to rest casually on Ajaya’s shoulder.

Jane stifled a yawn, nodded her agreement to Ajaya and Ron, and headed for Tech Deck. She’d rest a little as soon as she finished this next task. A batch of squillae had recently completed production, and she needed to distribute them as soon as possible. These sectilian nanites, programmed to repair and maintain every ship system, made it possible for such a small crew to manage the city-sized vessel. Normally the ship would replenish and distribute the tiny machines automatically, but since they’d been forced to destroy every last one of them to survive, she’d taken on the task of personally dispersing them to the most critical areas herself. It would take a full year to manufacture them to the level they’d been at before she’d obliterated them. It left the ship vulnerable and that wasn’t okay. This was her ship, at least for now, she thought wistfully. She had to optimize its condition.

As she walked through the corridors, the need for sleep pressed on her. She stretched her arms out and twisted her head to one side and then the other, trying to push the sluggishness back, wake up more fully, and get rid of the creaky feeling in her neck that kept making her wince. Duty had kept her on her feet long past the point of sanity.

Her somnolent brain drifted as she went. Echoes of the former Qua’dux Rageth’s memories crept to the forefront. She could see the empty corridors as they were, but also as they had been in Rageth’s time, full of bustling people—a mixture of short, stocky sectilians with corded muscles and willowy atellans from Sectilius’s moon, Atielle. They all shared an angularity—high, geometric cheekbones and froths of bushy curled hair ranging from light gray-brown to medium brown. She wondered what thoughts had been lurking behind their somber expressions. Then she could see those thoughts in Rageth’s mind too, funneled through Ei’Brai’s perception of the crowd. They all had been filled with purpose, just as she was, driven to complete their myriad goals. These sectilians were gone, but surely someone had survived on the sibling planets. She couldn’t wait to meet them.


Alan Bergen ran a practiced hand over the wall, seeking the spot where a light touch would trigger the opening mechanism. Around him there was a barely perceptible hum of machines and that faint, peculiar odor that he smelled only on Tech Deck—wintergreen and burning paper. The odor had come to represent an overall sensation of curiosity, excitement, and frustration for him.

The chamber he occupied was less room and more corridor, though the walls terminated at roughly two and a half meters of height, so that there was a huge volume of shared air overhead. These walls meandered in a maze of undulating lines, arranged with these door-sized drawers set at regular intervals, containing the most important mechanicals on the ship. At first he’d found the layout irritating, but then he realized there was a method to it. It wasted no space and all the turns and cul-de-sacs allowed a kind of privacy that would be welcome when working with complex mechanicals in a busy ship.

Under his hand the mechanism engaged, and Alan straightened, watching the drawer slide smoothly from the wall. In his left hand was a device he affectionately called the Viking. It was an MCA or multichannel analyzer. He was using it to detect a number of things, though his primary interest was gamma radiation, the presence of which he hoped would clue him in to whether or not there was a fusion drive on the premises.

Since the first jump had taken them out of their native solar system, he no longer had the luxury of sending data to Houston to have his compadres look over and verify the conclusions he was making. There was no one to argue with about what was the best next step to take. He was on his own.