“Are you sure you are ready?” Iain asked Cygnus as they dressed for their escape. Iain decided to pull on his leather jacket. He didn’t want to leave it behind as there was so little of his past life that he had been abducted with. He checked his pocket to make sure he had his wallet, keys, smartphone. “Your vision still doesn’t seem that great.”
It had been thirty-six hours and, while Cygnus’ eyes had visibly healed, she still seemed to be behaving as though everything around her was a blur. They’d had a little trouble getting down to one of the unmonitored decks for what they’d intimated loudly to the Skipper, Arc and Arl was a little nookie. Well, they were going to do that, too. Why not?
“Nonsense, I can see perfectly well.”
She was lying, obviously.
As a perfect example, she seemed to be having trouble with her top, and about to put it on backwards. Iain helped her turn the thing around.
“We should wait,” he decided. “Just a few more hours.”
“No, we can’t wait any longer,” Cygnus insisted, offering him that unfocused stare she’d been giving ever since stating she could see again. “This ship is moving at about two hundred cee at the moment. And we are going to only skim the Lesser Xemorian Bubble for a few hours. Wait any longer and it could be years before we pass another inhabited region, maybe decades depending on where this ship is headed. Do you really want to wait decades for your next chance?”
“No,” Iain admitted.
There, her top was on properly.
“I’ll be fine, sweetie,” she reached to pat his cheek, he directed her palm to the proper place. “Really. At least by the time we’re off the ship. Or a week or two at the most.”
She then spent a few moments re-adjusting her top, then held her hands out in front of here.
“How many do you see?” Iain asked her.
“Twelve,” she offered smiling, then looked over at him. “Oh, sorry, how many do you see?”
“Ten,” he told her.
“I guess that’s as good a number as any,” she replied. “Oh, you only have ten. That explains a few things.”
Cygnus got up then and started towards the door, seemed to be veering to the right towards a pod. Iain grabbed her arm to stop her.
“Careful,” he advised. “Are you really sure?”
“Absolutely,” she insisted, and kept going. “But, maybe you should drive.”
“What?” he asked “Drive a space shuttle? I’ve never even piloted anything more complex than a Ford!”
Iain directed her again through an archway.
“Don’t worry, it’s easy,” she told him. “I’ve piloted ones like we saw in the bay. They’ll have an automatic pilot, and the controls on shuttles match to a pilot’s expectations, training, and physiology. You know, it’s not just you when you try something for the third time and it works. It’s the shuttle conforming to you. Those models are supposed to be accommodating. Very accommodating.”
“Supposed to be?” Iain asked.
“Yes,” she replied. “Why else would anyone create synthetic intelligences to be anything other than helpful?”
Iain could imagine a few reasons.
“Then why doesn’t Skipper conform to that and take us where we want,” Iain wanted to know.
“Probably because it’s broken,” she told him. “I mean, a few hundred thousands of years out in the blackness all alone, anyone could lose a few screws, even literally with all the superspatial resonance out here. I bet this ship loses a few kilos into the void every year. It’s a wonder it’s still airtight. Oh, wait just a moment, someone is listening.”
“Who?” Ian asked as she stopped. Cygnus didn’t look around like he’d expected. She just looked up and rolled her eyes, then winced.
“Nobody,” she replied. “You know how some people are just sensitive about their life choices?”
He stopped, stared at her. Was she flipping out? Now? And her voice had changed, almost as though she had applied a bit of a chorus, or reverb.
“Are we going to do this right here, right now?” Cygnus complained, staring down a dark corridor. Then she let out a breath.
“Um… Cygnus,” Iain asked, then moved around to look intently into her face. It didn’t seem like she was looking back at him at all. “Are you all right?”
“Of course we are,” she insisted. Was she talking to him at all?
Then she grabbed his arm, and began walking toward the back of the freezer compartment. “No one in this reality is second guessing us. So don’t worry about it. Come on, we’ve got to do this now. Our window won’t be open long!”
Ian resisted for a moment, then allowed her to pull him along. Clearly Cygnus wanted to get of the Transient Void at least as much as he did. He decided he could go with that. Even if she had her occasional, seemingly psychotic moments. He figured he’d known her long enough to know they weren’t dangerous, just maybe it was her way of dealing with stress. She was an alien after all, he reminded himself. And those moments seemed mostly harmless.
When they reached the shuttle bay, she stopped for a moment, looked like she was trying to focus.
“What now?” he wanted to know.
Go to Chapter Twenty Seven
Go to Chapter Twenty Nine