As Linnea guided her ship out to jump radius, with Iain's
ship pacing her own, she let herself look back at Santandru. Through the close
neural connection to her ship, she saw her home world slowly receding, a thin
sunlit crescent of blue and gray and white. Even the ship's sharp "eyes" showed
her no visible lights on the nightside of the planet: The tiny fishing villages
were lit by fading power plants, or only by oil.
That was her world. And she might never see it again.
With an effort, Linnea turned her eyes and her thoughts
away, remembering Iain's words this morning: Do nothing that makes you feel
emotion. You must always be calm when you face otherspace.
Linnea's mouth twitched in a bitter smile. She knew Iain
had not followed that rule last year, when they finally made their escape from
the contaminated ruins of Nexus. He'd tried to hide his grief, then and in the
long months since. Don't feel—always safer not to feel. The custom of the Line, the
custom his father had taught him. That she'd hoped she was finally beginning to
She'd tried that way of living for a while—she'd thought
it would numb her to the pain of memory, of what she had suffered in Rafael's
hands. But, in the end, only Rafael's death had let her do that. That and time.
And her happiness with Iain.
She checked her distance from Iain's ship—steady, of
course; they'd flown together so often. She must do this exactly right: She
must prove to Iain that she was capable of piloting safely. Or, thinking to protect
her, he would take away the last freedom that mattered to her: the freedom to
use her piloting skills to fight the Cold Minds. Instead, she would become
something else he had to protect. A burden. Useless.
Iain's voice spoke in her ear, relayed from his own ship
but sounding as close as if he lay beside her in her piloting shell. "Radius
achieved. Are you ready for jump?"
"Ready," she said.
"Focused? The way I taught you?"
Shut down, he means. "Yes," she said, her voice tight.
She heard his quiet sigh—knew he was forcing himself not
to say more, not to make it worse. "The mark is Paradais," he said, "minimum
radius plus twenty thousand, nightside. Pilot, have you the mark?"
"I have it," she said, visualizing it. She had never been
to Paradais, but her shipmind stored multiple images of all standard jump
points, and she had studied this one last night.
"Calm," he said. "Remember that, Linnea."
She did not answer.
After a moment, he said, "Engaging jump. Follow in five,"
and the green-circled mark of his ship vanished from her sight.
Linnea caught her breath.
Her mind flexed, and the universe vanished. Her body vanished. For the
first moments, in the utter absence of sensory input, she felt the usual
prickle of panic. But she knew it would pass. She reached out in her mind and
found the input from her ship, the shipmind an insentient but comforting
presence, ready to respond if she "spoke" to it. Iain was beyond her reach now,
of course; there could be no communication between ships in otherspace.
Be passive, Iain had said that morning. Let otherspace come to
you. Don't seek it.
But she could not help seeking it. She stilled her mind,
knowing that the body she could not feel would calm as well. It was like
straining to hear a faint skirl of music carried on a night wind. Like the
brushing touch of silk. Like the cool damp breeze before dawn.
And then otherspace was around her, enfolding her as she
sailed through it, filling her mind and her senses and her heart. She stretched
herself out, farther, farther, reaching for the beauty, for the soaring sense
of freedom. Beyond anyone's reach. Joyous. Alone—
A ghost-touch seemed to slide along the back of her neck.
A physical sensation that she should not, could not feel.
But this had happened before.
With it came, again, that sense of an other. Another mind—out here. Not
Iain, not the familiar, beloved presence she knew from jumps where they had
been linked in the same ship. This was the faint, unfamiliar edge of a mind she
had never known. Except here, once, twice before—sharp, questing. She knew what
was coming, and braced her mind for it.
This time it came as a wash of emotion—the fear of loss,
a longing for—something. Hope?
Longing and command. Wordless, but the meaning was there:
Come to us.
Come to us, find us, we are here.
We are still here.
Then her inner sight filled again with an image like the
others that burdened her dreams. This was a new one, a still image of a
waterfall of incredible size and height, plunging in a deep wide U into a misty
blue abyss. A big yellow sun hung low on the horizon beyond, rising or setting,
touching the mist of the waterfall to a veil of gold. She felt again the knot
of another mind's grief in her heart. Lost to us forever, the other mind said. Clearer
now. Gone into the cold.…They're killing us. We need you. Hurry. Come. Come
No. Linnea pulled back into herself, in terror. No. She was nowhere near Paradais
yet, with long days to go even in the jump; but the call had never been this
strong before. As she struggled to focus and quiet her mind, more images
bloomed and flickered in her inner sight: blue mountains impossibly tall. Then
a rocky coastline, with bright water shading light blue to blue-green to
Then a broad tan desert covered with tall plants with
thick, curved branches.
Then ice, ice like home on Santandru—but burning white in
hard pure sunlight. Not like home. Not like anyplace she had ever seen.
No. She reached out unthinking, calling for Iain, seeking
the familiar, seeking safety.
The wordless call again, carrying meaning somehow: Come.
You must come now. Soon it will be too late.
A jump point, forming in her mind, a strange one: a world
faintly banded in cold blue-green, no white at all; a globe of mist, half-lit
by a dim sun she could not see. It was not any world she knew—a gas giant
hanging alone among cold stars, bare in blackness, frigid, dark.…
Here, here. Nearer, louder, triumphant now—
No! Desperate, blind, alone, Linnea flexed her mind again.
Dropped out of otherspace.
Silence flooded her mind, as the clouded glory of the
stars of the Hidden Worlds flooded her ship's eyes. She seemed to be hanging
motionless among the silent stars and nebulae. Too far away from anything for
any motion to be visible.
Alone in the dark of her piloting shell, she took a
hissing breath and swore. A stupid trainee's mistake. She had panicked. And now
it would take her half a day, more, to recalculate her present position, find
the correct reinsertion vector for Paradais, make her way on along the
hyperdesic to safety.
And it would take her more time than that to think of
what to tell Iain. How to tell him.
How to tell him, in a way that would not make him certain
she was mad, that now otherspace was speaking to her.
She took a breath, trying to slow the pounding of her
heart. Someone was speaking to her in otherspace. Someone had summoned her. A
human mind had summoned her.
Summoned her—it had to be—to Earth.
Iain sen Paolo stretched out his limbs again in sequence,
in the familiar routine used by pilots confined too long in their shells: to
ease his stiff muscles and, he hoped, clear his mind. His fingertips brushed
against the smooth inner walls of his own shell. Weariness fogged his brain,
swirled queasily in his stomach.
Two days he had spent here, in his ship orbiting the
small, bright world of Paradais—ever since he had emerged from otherspace to
find no sign of Linnea. No sign then or since. She had not appeared at the
Again fear prickled along his skin. Again he took a
calming breath, forced his mind back to hope—a stone he had worn nearly smooth
in these two days.
She will come, his mind told him, stubborn, disciplined as always; it
was only his body, only his heart that feared. He would overcome it as he
Once more he assessed the space around the ship. He was
linked in; its eyes were his, and through them he could see in all directions.
He turned his attention out-orbit, then in-orbit, scanning the bright limb of
Paradais, thick clouds swirling over shining ocean. Then around to nightside,
where the lights of a few small cities glowed.
His ship's systems would spot Linnea's jumpship before
Iain could, but still he searched. Still, again, he saw only the familiar
stars, the veils and folds of surrounding nebulae bleached pale by the nearness
and brightness of Paradais. This world had little orbital traffic, and nothing
was moving now. Only his own ship. Paradais had no orbital port where he might
have waited in greater comfort, still within quick reach of Linnea when she
The voice of Paradais groundside spoke in his ear again.
"Pilot sen Paolo? You didn't respond."
Iain sorted through his mind for the words that he had
last heard. They still wanted him to land, eat, rest. The commander of the
Paradais orbital patrol thought he'd been up here too long.
Best remind her who was senior. "It is not your decision,
Ground," he said. "I will remain in orbit."
There was a pause. He knew she would not give up. She had
responsibilities, and if anything happened to him, she would certainly have
trouble with Terranova Central.
Her voice when she spoke was cool, measured. "If—when
Pilot Kiaho arrives, our patrol ship can reach her just as quickly as your own
ship could, and we can help her just as efficiently."
"I must be there as well," he said, and took a breath of
the sour air inside his shell, released it slowly. Brought an image into his
mind, the flame of a candle, a quiet tongue of light in a dark, still place. Focus.
"Sleep at least, Pilot sen Paolo," the woman's voice
urged him. "You can sleep. Your ship will wake you if there is any change in
"I note your advice with thanks," he said, and broke the
Though he could not see the dark interior of his shell
while his vision was linked to the "eyes" on the hull, he could smell his own
stale sweat. All the time in otherspace on the jump from Santandru, and the
days in orbit.…The ship, as always, continued to sustain him with fluids and nutrition—and
stimulants, until the shipmind had begun refusing his demands a few hours
ago—but the shells weren't designed to be used for long periods in normal
space, where the pilot could sense his surroundings.
Yet only in here, linked in, could he share his ship's
eyes. Only in here would he be able to instantly spot and instantly assess any
Which would be Linnea's. Logic said it would be. Must be.
He closed his eyes just for a moment, to focus, to think—drifted. Drifted.…
A windy beach, in a vast, flat, empty landscape under
a gray sky. He saw Linnea—he knew it was Linnea: a dark figure far away, so far
he could not call to her, but he sensed her restless spirit, the stubborn
courage he loved. She stood gazing out to sea, her back to him.
Then he saw her begin to walk toward the water—white
surf that foamed and churned in eerie silence. He must reach her, touch
her—stop her.…He saw a wave break around her ankles, far ahead. But he could
not run. His feet dragged in the sand. She was moving away, moving deeper—he
was losing her. He could not catch her. He would have to follow.
Iain jerked awake, the quiet new-signal alarm chiming in
his ear. He forced his mind to alertness, scanned the sky. There, out-orbit,
right at the chosen emergence point, he saw it: the orange ring the shipmind
placed to mark an unidentified ship, too distant to see but visible to the
ship's sensing systems. Then the ring flicked green, flagged with familiar call
Linnea's ship. He caught his breath.
And then he let his shoulders sag, let himself feel how
tired he was—dizzy with relief. That was Linnea's voice, giving her name and
call sign to Ground, requesting permission to land. He heard the weariness
under the routine words.
He opened the private link between their ships. "Linnea.
It's Iain. I'm in orbit. Are you all right?"
Another burst of communication interrupted before she
answered, this time from Paradais Ground—assigning Linnea a landing site,
speaking words of formal welcome. He heard exhaustion echoing his own in the
flatness of Linnea's response. But she was following procedure. So far.
"Linnea," he said again on the private frequency. His
voice was unsteady. What had happened? He would not ask her yet—he wanted to
see her, see her eyes. Judge her condition. Know the truth, whatever it might
Again she did not answer him. He dug down into the anger
that had built over the past hours and days, used its strength to make his
voice cool and even. "Pilot," he said, senior to junior. "Report." If that new,
insufficiently tested ship had given her trouble, he would—
Now she answered. "I'll explain groundside." Which was no
answer at all. And still he heard that sinking exhaustion in her voice.
Before he could respond, the vector codes attached to her
ship's symbol shifted, flickered to new values, and he realized that she was
beginning her landing sequence. Which effectively cut him off from speaking to
her; one did not interrupt a pilot during a maneuver, no matter how routine.
"Groundside, then," he said tightly, and broke the
Iain settled his ship into its landing cradle at his
assigned site beside Linnea's. It was night at the skyport, but the high
yellowish field lights burned bright. He saw Linnea's ship steaming faintly as
drizzle struck its hot skin. Then he cut off his connection to his ship,
removed the sensory leads with careful urgency, disconnected himself from the
support systems in the shell. For these few moments he could not see outside,
could not see her ship. As he pulled a black coverall over his sweaty, aching
body, he realized that his hands were shaking, his breath coming hard.
Fear flamed into anger. She'd had no right to do this, no
right to risk herself. Her life did not belong only to her. It hadn't for years.
Dressed, booted, Iain dilated the hatch and climbed out
onto the hard field. The warm mist fogged the lights, gave an eerie yellowish
cast to the dark, shining pavement, the two or three off-duty patrol ships
locked down and empty. He started toward Linnea's ship. His legs felt rubbery
after the long jump, the many hours waiting in orbit, but he forced himself to
walk steadily. Two ground crewmen were already helping Linnea's ship link to
fueling lines, ground power, but no one had tried to open the hatch; it was not
done, a pilot's ship was his domain. Her domain.
Never mind that. Without speaking to the crew, Iain
slapped his hand onto the control plate next to the hatch, tapped out a pilot
instructor's emergency override code. The hatch dilated, and Iain blinked as
light spilled out. Without another thought or word of formal request he boarded
and passed through into the piloting compartment.
She was there. She stood staring at him, clutching the
coverall she had been about to put on. Her dark hair twined around her
shoulders, matted and oily, as was to be expected after a jump. Her eyes were
wide, dark. "Iain," she said.
In two strides he reached her, but stopped short of
embracing her. He set his hands on her shoulders, looked hard into her face.
"Are you all right?" Again he heard the raggedness in his voice, heard his own
fear for her.
She looked away. He slid his arms around her, drew her
closer. "Tell me."
She dropped the coverall, set her clenched fists on his
chest. He felt the tension in her bare, slender shoulders ease slightly, but
still she kept her eyes down, on her hands. "There was—I felt—" She broke off, and swayed
against him. He caught her, steadying her.
Then she pushed away from him, picked up her dark blue
coverall, and stepped into it. He saw her hands fumble with the front seal but
did not reach out to help her. Covered, she ran her fingers through her hair
and stared up at him. "How quickly can we refuel?"
Iain blinked at her. "We'll settle that after we've both
rested, had some real food and a good night's sleep—"
"I don't need any of that," she said. She turned and
leaned over her ship's status board, studying the readouts. "Just full fuel
tanks, full supplies—"
"We're heading home," Iain said. "You don't need full
She turned her head, and he saw the opaque reserve in her
eyes. "Just in case."
Iain set one hand on the bulkhead, let it shore up his
exhaustion. "Linnea—it was worse this time, wasn't it?"
"Better," she said distantly. "Clearer. I even—Iain. I
saw a jump point. He, they, showed me a jump point."
Iain could not speak at first. Then he took a breath and
said, "Let's go find our quarters." He took another breath, to keep his voice
from showing his fear for her, or the grief for what he knew he must do. "We both
"I only want—"
"If you love me," he said, and he knew she could hear the
edge of fear in his voice, "please—come and rest."
She looked at him for a long time, considering, and the
band of ice tightened around his heart. But then she shut down the board with a
sharp wave of her hand, straightened, came to him.
She came to him.
As he took her into his arms, his throat aching, he
wondered if it would be the last time.
Neptune Penumbral Space
Esayeh moaned. Always so hard to wake, to return, always
so hard. He turned over and over, blind, knowing he was twisting the piloting
leads plugged into his skull behind his left ear.
No matter. This time he'd done it: clear, definite
Through the sparks of his joy his mind sent him a wandering
melody, and he sang it, the words clear in his mind: Out of the deep have I
called unto thee—
Familiar hands caught him, her hands, as they were always ready
to do; her dry voice, Pilang's voice, the beloved friend of years and
wandering: "Blasphemy, Esayeh?" Her hands pulled his rotation to a stop,
uncovered his eyes, and he blinked hard in the dimness, all music fled.
"I did it," he said. "Connection. Connection, Pilang!"
"Oh, no doubt." She was unlinking him, snap, snap, snap, from the piloting plugs.
"No," he said, against the rising weariness; after all
her patience, patience of years, he wanted her to see, to share this moment. "I
made contact. I reached another pilot's mind. A pilot from the Hidden Worlds,
Now she floated with her back to him, pretending to
fumble with folding the leads into storage. She would not let him see her face,
but he knew. She did not believe him. "I did it," he said stubbornly. "The
first rope across the chasm. The way is opening."
She was silent for a while. "And you believe that now
they will come? Just because of this—connection?"
"Now, at least, there's hope of it," he said. He caught
her ankle, made her spin to face him. "Someone has to try," he said to the
brightness of the tears in her eyes. "Or—"
She closed her eyes. Nodded. A bright tear floated free.
"Hope," he whispered, to her, to himself.
To all of their people.
Image by David Landon—see more at his deviantART site.