Justine: Three Year Reset
Exoimage medical icons leapt out of the darkness to surround Justine Burnelli’s consciousness. She’d seen that exact same set of read-outs once before.
“Oh man,” she grunted in shock and delight. “It worked.” She tried to laugh, but her body was resolutely refusing to cooperate, insisting it had just spent three years in suspension rather than . . . Well, actually she wasn’t sure how long it had taken to reset the Void back to this moment in time.
The medical chamber lid peeled back, and she looked round the Silverbird’s cabin again. Really, again. She sat up and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “Status?” she asked the smartcore. A new batch of exoimage icons and displays sprang up. They confirmed the Silverbird had been under way for three years, and was now decelerating hard. Something was approaching.
“Ho yeah,” she murmured in satisfaction as the starship’s sensors swept across the visitor. It was the Skylord, vacuum wings fully extended.
As it drew close she examined the weird ovoid core one more, still unable to decide if the fantastic folds of crystalline fabric were actually moving, or if she was seeing surface refraction patterns. The Silverbird’s sensors couldn’t get an accurate lock on the substance.
As before, she settled back down in the lounge’s longest couch and reached for the Skylord with her longtalk.
“Hello,” she said.
“You are most welcome,” the Skylord replied.
So far, so the same. Let’s see: “I have come to this universe to achieve fulfilment.”
“All who come here strive for that moment.”
“Will you help me?”
“Your fulfilment can only be achieved by yourself.”
“I know this. But humans such as myself reach fulfilment by participating in our own society. Please take me to Querencia, the solid world where my kind live.”
“My kindred are not aware of any thoughts akin to your species anywhere in the universe. None are left.”
“This I also know. However, I am simply the first of a new generation of my species to reach this place. Soon millions of us will be here. We wish to live and reach fulfilment on the same world as humans matured on before. Do you know where it is? There was a great city there, which was not of this place. Do you remember guiding human souls from that world to the Heart?”
Justine tensed up in the couch. This was the critical question.
“I remember that world,” the Skylord said. “I guided many from that place to the Heart.”
“Please take me there. Please let me reach fulfilment.”
“I will do so.”
Justine was acutely aware of the gravity in the cabin changing somehow. The smartcore reported an alarming outbreak of glitches right across the starship. She didn’t pay attention – she was feeling horribly dizzy. Her mouth was watering as a prelude to being sick; she couldn’t focus on the curving bulkhead wall, it was moving so fast. She hurriedly jammed her eyelids shut, which only made the effect worse, so she forced her eyes open again, and concentrated hard on the medical chamber directly ahead of her. Secondary routines in her macrocellular clusters began to edit the erratic impulses her inner ears were slamming into her brain, countering the appalling vertigo. The sensation began to abate a little. She checked the sensor images. “Holy crap.”
The Silverbird was rolling as its trajectory curved round; it was caught in the wake of the Skylord like some piece of flotsam. The curving patterns contained within the Skylord’s crystalline sheets were undulating wildly as its vacuum wings swirled like an iridescent mist across the gentle glow of the Void’s nebulas. All she could think of was a bird flapping frantically. Then the course alteration was over. The Silverbird’s sensors reported a noticeable Doppler shift in the light from the stars. They were accelerating at hundreds of gees, just as the Skylord had done on their first encounter.
This first encounter, she corrected herself. Or should that be . . . In the end she decided human grammar hadn’t quite caught up with the Void’s abilities.
Whatever strange temporal adjustment the Skylord had made to facilitate their acceleration ended soon after. Ahead of them, the few stars shining amid the nebulas had acquired a blue tinge to their spectrum; those behind stretched down into the red. The Silverbird’s smartcore determined they were now travelling at about point nine three lightspeed. On-board glitches were reducing to acceptable levels, and her vertigo faded away. She let out a huge sigh of relief, then grinned ruefully.
“Thanks, Dad,” she said out loud. Trust him to figure out what to do. Her good humour faded away as she acknowledged that others would be coming into the Void; that damned Pilgrimage would also go a hunting for Querencia. So has the Second Dreamer agreed to lead them? And how the hell are they ever going to get past the Raiel in the Gulf?
Gore had told her to concentrate on getting to Makkathran, so she’d just have to trust that he knew what he was doing, which didn’t exactly inspire her with confidence. He’d have a plan of some kind, but it probably wouldn’t be one she approved of.
No, forget probably: it just won’t be.
Not that she had a lot of alternatives.
Once they were under way, the Silverbird’s smartcore plotted their course vector. Justine examined the projection, which extended a sharp green line past a purple and scarlet nebula shaped like a slipper orchid. The nebula was eleven lightyears distant, and wherever they were heading for beyond that was invisible, blocked by nebula-light and pyres of black interstellar dust.
After breakfast and a bout of exercise on the ship’s gym, Justine sat back on the couch and longtalked the Skylord.
“How long will it take for us to reach the solid world we’re travelling to?”
“Until we reach it.”
She almost smiled. It really was like talking to a five-year-old savant. “The world orbits its star at a constant rate. How many times will it have gone round by the time we arrive?” Then all she had to worry about was if the Skylord even had a concept of numbers—after all why would a spaceborne creature need to develop maths?
“The world you seek will have gone round its star thirty-seven times by the time we arrive there.” Crap! And a Querencia year is a lot longer than an Earth year. Didn’t their months last for something like forty days? “I understand. Thank you.”
“Will others of your kind come into the universe soon?”
“The one your kindred spoke to, the one who asked you to let me in; she will lead them here. Listen for her.”
“All of my kindred do.”
Which sent a slight chill down Justine’s spine. “I would like to sleep for the rest of the flight.”
“As you wish.”
“If anything happens, I will waken.”
“What will happen?”
“I don’t know. But if anything changes, I will be awake to talk to you about it.”
“Change in this universe is finding fulfilment. If you are asleep you will not reach fulfilment.”
“I see. Thank you.”
She spent a further half a day getting ready, checking various systems, loading in a whole series of instructions about what constituted a reason for the smartcore to bring her back out of suspension. In the end she acknowledged she was just killing time. The last thing she did as she got undressed was shut down the confluence nest, ensuring that there would be no more of her amplified dreams leaking out to warp reality with such unexpected consequences. That brought back the one thought she’d been trying to avoid. Her mind lingered on the Kazimir she’d abandoned on the slopes of the ersatz Mount Herculaneum. All that was left of him now was a pattern in the Void’s memory layer. It wasn’t fair, to have lived for such a short time only to be unmade.
I will make you real again, Justine promised her poignant recollection of him. She lay down in the medical cabinet, and activated the suspension function.