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By´╝ÜJennifer Foehner Wells

Ei’Brai’s consternation grumbled through her. The end of him and the beginning of her was indistinct. He didn’t know why jumping with her was so difficult, but every jump so far had been like this—grueling, with her barely making it to their destination conscious. He blamed it on her inexperience, on her otherness, but he didn’t really know the cause.

He’d never jumped with any species aside from sectilians before he’d jumped with Jane. Human minds, as he often reminded her, were very different from sectilian minds—less organized, more tangentially driven—which under certain circumstances might be construed as a good thing, but not when jumping. It could be that or any of a billion other factors. She might never know.

A ring of stars before them turned to streaks, smudged by the gyre of the wormhole as it moved to envelop them. Through the lens in the center were the distant stars on the other side, many light-years away. She held her breath as the funnel sucked them in. There was a long moment of utter chaos during which no thought could find a place to stick.

Then, relief. They’d arrived…somewhere, anyway.

She sagged back in the oversized command chair, breathing raggedly, one critical question on her mind. She sent the thought to Ei’Brai, who had already receded from her to watch the computer analyze star maps. “Did we reach our destination?”

He didn’t reply immediately. He put her on hold, a mental gesture, as if he were sticking up a finger as he watched data scroll by.

They’d left Earth weeks before to begin a sequence of jumps toward the heart of the Milky Way galaxy. Their trajectory would eventually take them to the Sectilius system and the sibling worlds of Sectilia and her moon Atielle, where Jane would turn over the ship to its rightful owners. When Jane had taken command of the Speroancora, she’d pledged to take Ei’Brai home, and that was what she was doing. Once there, she hoped to find out who had orchestrated the genocide that had killed Ei’Brai’s original crew. She also hoped the Speroancora would be used in the search for the kuboderans stranded all over the galaxy. Jane and her human crew would join in that mission, if the Sectilius would have them.

She’d never imagined the journey would be this difficult but that didn’t matter. She’d gladly face ten times worse for the opportunity to meet sectilians in person. She needed to go to Sectilius like she needed to breathe. She had to see it for herself, meet the people for herself, for reasons she couldn’t fully comprehend.

Finally the strand of tension between herself and Ei’Brai broke. “Yes,” he said. “We have arrived at the target destination.” She felt him go limp, drifting, as he let go of his own anxiety, letting exhaustion take him. She did the same.

* * *

“Jane?” Ajaya’s voice and gentle touch broke through the heavy blanket of sleep.

Jane opened her eyes to find Ajaya Varma leaning over her, her hand on Jane’s arm, with a kindly look on her weary face.

“What?” Jane stammered. “Oh. I…” Her mouth was dry. She needed a sip of water.

“We all fell asleep, Commander,” Ajaya said kindly, in a manner probably meant to obviate Jane’s embarrassment. No one used the sectilian term Quasador Dux or Qua’dux except Ei’Brai, though Ron called her QD sometimes in a jocular way. Only Ajaya used the term Commander. Ajaya would feel the need to dignify Jane’s place as the leader of this ship, but apparently the alien title still felt odd on Ajaya’s tongue, despite the fact that she’d made great strides in learning the language.

Ajaya straightened from her position stooped over Jane and glanced back.

Ronald Gibbs stood behind her, rubbing his eyes sleepily. “Alan must have woken first. He’s probably off exploring Tech Deck again.”

Jane pushed herself up, her body stiff and painful. She’d been slumped at a strange angle in the command chair. She had no idea how long she’d been like that. Too long, judging by the muscles protesting in her neck.

Ei’Brai briefly checked in to confirm what Ron had said. Alan was on the deck that housed the engines, drives, and various electrical systems and water-processing systems. Alan called it Tech Deck, eschewing the longish Sectilius name for it: Tabulamachinium. They could have called it engineering, but Tech Deck was fine. It was probably better than “TMI deck,” which was what she’d been calling it in avoidance of saying the name. She’d thought that was a mildly amusing name. No one else had.

Jane frowned and wiped at her face, hoping she wouldn’t find drool there. She wished Ajaya would call her Jane. Mark Walsh had been the commander, but he wasn’t there anymore. He was safely back on Earth, along with a much-rejuvenated Tom Compton.