I hadn’t understood about the engineering before. It wasn’t as if we’d talked as friends before either. But if it was important to Jubilee, it was important to me. -Mik Rile
When I woke, Krix reclined, asleep in the passenger seat next to me, warm under gold shelterfilm. The lights were out except in the bow where Mik worked over a console. Creeping from my chair, I went to ask Mik if he’d made any progress. His face was shadowed with whiskers, and his dark hair stood on end because he’d run his fingers through in worry so many times. I’d never seen him unshaven as now, even that night he dragged me from the vomit in my cabin on K’seng.
“I don’t know.” Frustrated, he tossed his spen on a console in disgust and leaned back in his chair, rubbing his eyes.
Quietly, so I wouldn’t wake Krix, I asked, “Did you sleep yet?”
“Briefly, to clear my head, but I still can’t fix this damn thing.”
I lowered my seat so my feet touched the floor. Whoever had been co-pilot before had longer legs than me. Despite fatigue and frustration, Mik noticed and grinned.
“I doubt that chair’s ever been that low, Jubilee, but it suits you. You have an explorer’s heart. You should have been a pilot.”
“I wanted to be an engineer.”
“What Krix told me, you still can be.”
“What about being a sensitive?”
“That’s part of my job. To help you live a normal life and still work with J’ting. She has duties, too, which will pull her away from you. It’s healthy for you both to maintain your independence. You could go to school while aboard J’ting.”
“What about the test? What if I failed again?”
“There are tests, but not a single fail or pass exam, and they’re not the only means of assessment.”
“Could I work as an engineer with J’ting?”
“Absolutely. She’d love that.”
Surely my heart shone from my eyes. My parents would be so proud.
“Well, how do we get there?”
“Someone will find us even without the comm. As soon as we’re late, they’ll look and won’t stop looking. J’ting will make sure of that. The problem is we’re small, and we cruised a long while before this star got hold of us, then this giant, then this moon.”
“And space is big?”
“Yeh, but not that big. If they look long enough, they’ll find us.”
“But it would be better if we could signal.”
“It would, but I can’t find the problem, let alone fix it.”
“Can I look at it?”
Krix appeared in the wash of light at the bow. “Mik, why don’t you try to sleep?”
“I did. Until this comm works…” He reached for the spen again.
“Mik, maybe I can help.”
“Let her look, Mik. Her tech certificate trumps your Lanser training in this instance. And she’s got…skills. Remember?”
I hadn’t worked on transmitters specifically but knew how to inspect them for unauthorized communications. The unit on the AFV produced radio waves typically useful across the vast distances of space. Radio was simple to generate and modulate, which was why Mik was baffled and so frustrated. While Mik shrugged, leaned back in the seat, and closed his eyes, Krix showed me the unit mounted under the console, and we borrowed Mik’s spen.
Even in safari pods, I’d never been more than a few meters from dozens of emnodes my whole life, and Katar used the same tech. In the AFV, I constantly skimmed nodes in a wind of sensation like fingertips trailing across a reactive surface. With a nudge, switches reacted and currents flowed, altering the environment; a light, a temperature increase, a chime, or the modulation of a radio frequency.
When the spen showed nothing but dead nodes and switches, blasted by the EM pulses that hit the ship, the same readings Mik had seen for hours, I reached with biolectric. The problem hadn’t been in the radio equipment, only an emtech relay controlling flow through biolectric suggestive charge. Handing the spen, which was blind to biosuggestion, back to Krix, I flipped the switch.
Not quite that easily, but it looked like it to Mik and Krix, which was immensely satisfying to the young woman who’d failed her engineering entrance exam and had her girlhood dreams shattered by a single, standardized score. Mik heard the whine of the transmitter as it initialized and sat straight in his chair, eyes wide as any night-dwelling marsupial. Krix tipped back his head and laughed, round and deep like a warm mug of choco.
Krix was wrong. She might not have appreciated her femininity, but she was no little girl. -Mik Rile
The ship that shot at us had inadvertently increased our speed, not a problem in frictionless space, but our pursuers hadn’t kept up, especially once the star’s gravity grabbed us. Without propulsion, Mik only had mechanical baffles with which to pilot, like putting sails up in a wind.
Impressed, Krix explained what I’d missed while dead. Mik exploited the star’s solar wind and the planet’s magnetosphere to slow us then shunted the craft to the surface of the only body in the system that wouldn’t crush us in its gravity.
Krix said Mik had found it by rolling down the window and sticking his head out. I didn’t know what he meant by rolling a window. The windows on the AFV were variable-reflectivity alloy, variflec. The adjustable index determined the transparency. It’s what I wanted to do, decrease the index, so I could see the moon’s surface. I might even see the planet.
The radio equipment was intact and the switch worked now, but we couldn’t immediately send a message. Mik said a protocol must be followed. Like the one Mik and Krix followed when they made me dead. I was still unhappy about that.
Though I didn’t know why Mik wouldn’t roll down the windows, I knew why he didn’t send too loud or clear a signal. We’d escaped the ship that shot us down, but they might still be looking. What Mik sent, as I watched his eyes while he worked and enveloped him in biolectrics, snooping, was an odd kind of code, not much different from the background emissions of the planet and star.
“Is that how you got onto Visily?” My resentment, a luxury of the wronged, lingered.
“Something like that, Jubilee. Now quit watching what I’m doing. You’re making the hair on my nape stand up with your charge.”
“It’s called a hackle. Animals do that, too, raise their hackles when they’re excited.”
“I’m not excited. I’m being electrified. Shut down your fields. Didn’t you learn any manners at all on Visily? You shouldn’t be touching me like that.”
“With your…tendrils, Jubilee!”
Sitting back in his passenger chair, Krix chuckled at Mik’s loss of composure. He leaned forward and propped his elbows on his knees.
“Jubilee, on Katar, biolectric, it’s um…well, we don’t touch each other with it, not unless we’re…”
Krix coughed into his hand, and Mik rolled his eyes.
Krix leaned back. “You tell her Mik. You’re the one it’s bothering.”
Mik raised his voice. “You’re the physician!”
I repeated, “What?”
Again, Krix leaned forward; he’d decided to explain. “It’s sexual, Jubilee. On Katar, we touch each other with biolectric during sex.”
I drew back my biolectric with a snap. “Sorry, Mik. I didn’t know.”
“It’s alright, Jubilee. Now you know.”
I stumbled from the co-pilot’s chair back to my seat, curled my feet up under me, and pressed my face against the back of the chair. Blindly, I groped for the gold shelterfilm, which had fallen to the floor, and yanked it up, hiding my head.
“Jubilee, I said it’s alright,” Mik called from the bow.
“Leave her alone, Mik. She doesn’t want to talk about it.”
What had Mik thought when my biosuggestion brushed his skin? I was sexually interested in him? He must have quickly realized I didn’t understand, was only naive. Worst of all, I didn’t know whether Visilians used biolectric like that or not. Oh, I knew the essential mechanics but not the finer points because I’d never had sex. I was as naive among Visilians as among the Katar.
The cabin’s hush loomed over me like a monster reading my mind. I curled tight in the seat, afraid to touch another bioloid with my tendrils. Tendrils twice the normal magnitude. All this time Mik and Krix knew I had this excess potential. Krix had said I had skills. Had he implied sex, too? The monster mocked me.