“But I’ll lose the lock on the star cluster,” he complained, looking back at the main screen. “Won’t I?”

“Keep veering and you’ll be back on course”, she patted his shoulder. “Oh, do you smell that.”

He couldn’t smell anything unusual but a brief whiff of her scent, and the a faint odor of toast. Iain prayed he wasn’t having a stroke. And, wouldn’t they just be going around in a circle if he kept veering left?

“Maybe a blown circuit,” she suggested, patting his shoulder. “Let me check in the back.”

I’m not detecting anything a short circuit, the autopilot stated. All systems are operating at optimum.

“Says the autopilot that can’t do any piloting,” Iain replied sarcastically.

Point taken, the voice said. I’ll run a diagnostic. Would that ease your concerns? Maybe two diagnostics?

“Just keep veering, I’ll find out what’s cooking in the back,” Cygnus yelled at Iain from somewhere behind him.

The shuttle shuddered hard again. He heard another yelp coming from the rear compartment. The image in the rear view screens kept growing larger.

“Veer it is,” he said, and grabbed the control stick and pulled it left, harder this time. The acceleration threw him briefly against the side of his chair. A loud bang erupted from behind him, followed by some loud cursing in a language he couldn’t understand.

“Are you all right?” he yelled back.

“I’ll live,” Cygnus called back. “But could you at least offer some warning next time?!”

The shuttle shuddered again.

“Keep going!” she shouted.

So he did. Iain pushed forwards on the stick, accelerating, then as the shuttle shuddered as the tractor beam locked on again, he veered again, and again, and the seven stars were back front and center. The Transient Void, however, continued to grow larger and larger. It was now filling half the rear view screens.

And then, with all this, the shuddering, the roar of the engines came the distinct sound of Cygnus talking in the rear compartment.

At first Iain only caught snippets, given he was concentrating on trying to shake the ship closing in on them, but her words gradually became clearer and clearer.

“…no he forced me…” she was protesting.

“…I’m trying, but he’s very strong and persuasive…” complaining then.

“…please, I don’t want to die out here…” now pleading.

After another veer, he’d had enough, let go of the stick, and worked the buckle on the straps till he figured out how to release them.

I don’t advise you get up right now, the shuttle’s synth voice offered in a helpful tone. If the controls are release-

“Shut up,” Iain told it.

He then pulled himself up from the pilot seat and headed to the back of the shuttle. He could see Cygnus in a seat turned away from him as she gripped a handle on the rear compartment wall.

“You’ve almost got him,” she was saying in a low voice, “I will be so grateful, you just have to try a little harder. This is just a little shuttle, come on, you can catch it, I know you can!”

“Cygnus,” Iain stated, and she looked up at him with a face he was sure turned from annoyed, to guilty, to contrite and finally to happy to see him.”

“Yes?” she asked. “Are we free yet?”

“Who are the fuck you talking to?”

The smile she offered him was about as insincere as it could get.

“Well, it’s not really a who, so much as a…”

Iain didn’t want to believe it. He really, truly didn’t. Or he wouldn’t have asked his next question.

“Are you talking to the Skipper?!” he demanded to know. “Have you been working with it all along?! What the fuck, Cygnus?!”

Go to Chapter Thirty

Go to Chapter Thirty Two