When she was in need, she called for me. -Mik Rile
Gradually, the tension eased. Maybe Mik forgot I was rolled in a ball, mortified at the core. He made a comment to Krix, and Krix answered.
Krix nudged my shoulder. “We’re eating now.”
The dark-eyed medic tugged the heatfilm from my head. I squinted like a sleepy cat and winced at the harsh light. My ration was in a cup with a spoon. I fed the monster with silence, but Mik and Krix ate their soup while discussing the probabilities of their code being received, by whom, and if anyone would understand. They talked about our supplies, the efficiency of water reclamation, oxygen generation, and waste management. They didn’t talk about biolectrics or sex. They wouldn’t. I envied them their ability to shrug it off. I was embarrassed because I’d been embarrassed.
Winds shifted in the sealed cabin. My feet tapped the floor for the first time in hours, and I sat up in my seat. I dropped the cup with the food, and the contents might have splattered across the floor of the cabin. I didn’t know.
“I’m here. What is it? What’s wrong?”
His hand was at my elbow, steadying a wavering waif. “I think I feel her.”
“I don’t know. I feel something. She’s big.”
Mik pushed past me to the bow and the radio unit.
“Mik, is it her?”
We didn’t have slip readouts because we’d lost the slipset in the EM surges. Mik was using a spen to receive the broadcast. If I was brave, not so shy, I might have found a way to use biolectric to alter the output to provide Mik with audio for decryption. I was too timid to try. If I touched Mik inadvertently… I didn’t have the nerve to repeat that mistake.
I felt it again, the seeking, the presence, the mind. “J’ting. I’m here.”
I slid into the co-pilot’s seat next to Mik. “Can she hear me? Does it work that way? Please, tell me. I think she’s there. Please…”
“Jubilee, I don’t know. I doubt it, but we’re getting an answer. The spen might decrypt the signal though it’s not designed for this. You know as well as I how a spen’s reflexion operates. I’m trying to separate the paths and use only the inward. It’s taking time. Be patient.”
“It’s her, Mik. She’s responding. She doesn’t want to give away our location, but she’s coming.”
“I believe you.”
“Why wouldn’t you believe me? It’s J’ting. I know it’s her.”
“There’s no way she could be close enough for you to know that. Not in my experience. But I didn’t say I don’t believe you. I do.”
Krix watched me curiously with a medspen, painting me with his light.
“Krix, Do you think she can hear me? Is that true J’ting is too far? You believe me, don’t you?” He didn’t answer fast enough. “J’ting, if you hear me, I’m alright. I’m waiting for you. I need you. Please hurry.”
Krix and Mik had a way of talking past my head in silence. Krix urged me to a seat then tattooed me with the medspen, taking readings and muttering about the lack of equipment.
Born of space, at home in the cold, she was a virtuoso of time and speed. She cast sticky strings like a spider’s silk seeking me. I was caught in her net. Like a fly, I might fall prey, might be drained. That’s what Mik was here for, to keep me sane.
Dew hung on J’ting’s web like translucent pearls. Each drop was a crystal, a lens. Peeking through, I saw Krix, a fascinating synchrony of matter, energy, and psyche in undulating waves, his ancient thrum before he was a man and what he would become.
“Krix,” I said. The calm was J’ting’s. “What does the medspen say about my physical state?”
“Answer me—her. She’s worried.”
Krix cleared his throat and went to a knee beside my chair. “You’re doing well. Vitals are strong and electrolytes stable. There are unusual patterns of brain activity but nothing alarming. Serotonin is off the chart, normal with sentient-sensitive contact. Production of the sensitive protein is extremely high, and your bloodstream is saturated. There may be a variant, but I need your—the ship’s—equipment to know for sure. The medspen’s reading is only suggestive. Liver chems are within norms, and the protein metabolism rate is concomitant with the excess. I don’t see any problems.”
“Thank you, Dr. Linx.”
“You’re welcome, Jubilee…J’ting.”
“Krix.” Perception shifted. She’d left me. He was a man again, a vital, intelligent, charming man with molasses skin, tight curls, and coffee eyes, but as fascinating as he was to me, he was more through J’ting’s lens. That brief vision with her eyes was a gift. “You’re so beautiful,” I breathed.
Krix grinned. “You’re not going to ravish me with biolectrics are you?”
Krix tipped his head back and laughed. “Don’t worry, Jubilee. I won’t tell anyone what you did to Mik, and I’m sure he won’t either.”
I never saw a star as lovely as the one I saw with Jubilee. -Mik Rile
I was asleep under gold foil when Mik nudged me awake.
“J’ting is in orbit around the gas giant.”
“She came for me?” I sat up alive, and the foil slipped to the floor.
“Just for you. I expected an AFV, but she came herself, and she’s sending a transport to pick us up. It’ll be here any minute. We have to wear the counterpressure suits to disembark.”
“I get to walk on the moon?”
“Yep. C’mon now. We’re in a hurry.”
I fumbled with the seals on the suit. Mik grew impatient with my fumbling and snapped me in himself. Krix kept grinning.
“Really, Mik? You’re not teasing me? We’re going to walk across to the other ship?”
“I have no reason to give you false hopes. The other ship’s hatch is the same style as this, designed for a surface landing. We can’t dock ship-to-ship. We’re not going exploring. It’s only a few meters.”
“But I’ll be walking on the moon, Mik! The moon!”
“Is it night or day?”
The reflectivity index of a square meter of the hull was suddenly reduced. Mik had rolled down the window. Theoretically, the planet and star were below though, from the perspective of the moon, the bodies were in the sky. The planet, naturally, was closest.
“Oh, Mik! It’s beautiful! It’s…!”
“Yeh, she’s a beauty.”
Nothing in the Visilian system could compare with the gas giant. The only phenomena reminiscent were Visilian sunsets and dawns, spawned orange and pink from our daystar, yellow Riana. The planetary events below were magnitudes greater.
Elements crossed through the atmospheric temperature zones, pressures, and gees, ascending from the surface in plumes, changing hue and physical state as they flew. Winds sheared gases in streaming ribbons, feathers, coils, and spirals that spun. Colored dusts stormed. Elemental ices cast rainbows. Gases crystallized, glinted like mirrors, descended, and winked out. To the right of the giant’s shoulder hung a young, blue-white star, pristine in the fathomless night.
“C’mon. Enough gawping through the port. Let’s go see for ourselves.”
We waited for the airlock on the AFV, then we were really on the surface, red rocks and dust just like Mik had said. The landforms were queer. Reduced gravity and unfamiliar environmental forces had shaped a fragile landscape, alien to my Visilian sensibilities. Rock formations were too high and narrow, needle-like. Stones were pitted, porous, and balanced on pinpoints, not jumbled in masses. A strong Visilian wind might have whirled the red stones adrift like sand though some were as large as our craft. I pointed toward the star, which, for no explainable reason, was more stunning to my naked eye through an antiglas mask than through variflec.
“Mik, it has a heartbeat!”
“It’s a pulsating variable.”
“Does it have a name?”
“Just a number, PV520.”
“It should have a name. It’s like a living gem.”
“It’s also emitting a lot of radiation, and this moon’s atmosphere doesn’t protect us. We need to get into the other AFV. You can see it from the port once we’re aboard. You can call it whatever you like.”
He nudged me forward. The other AFV and her crew waited, and J’ting was in orbit. I had to go, but I’d finally been here, the galaxy, another star, another planet, a moon, and they were more than I’d imagined. Picking my way across, the surface rubble shifted under my feet like a pit of oddly-shaped balls. Travel vids didn’t include details like that, and a holo of a numbered star was just not the same.
“I can hear you.”
Krix could hear me, too, and the crew of the other AFV, but not J’ting. We were maintaining silence across space because J’ting hadn’t located the ship that shot us down.
“Thank you.” If he hadn’t snatched me from Visily to bring me to J’ting, who needed me, I would never have seen these wonders for myself or looked forward to fulfilling a dream. It was a lot to say in two words.
“My pleasure, Jubilee.”
We brought Jubilee home to J’ting, and a new life began for her, for both of us. I was still in love with her, and she still didn’t know. As long as I could work alongside her, share her struggles and joys as sensitive, her excitement at the worlds in our galaxy, her pride in learning engineering, I could accept that she did not return my love. It was enough she considered me her friend and a man to trust.
Then Gunner Brade Janes came aboard, and the situation changed. -Mik Rile