He looked over his shoulder wistfully in the direction of the wormhole generator, then strode into the deck-to-deck transport, feeling happier than he’d felt in a very long time.
Ei’Brai’s anxiety was not on par with any emotion that humans or sectilians could understand. It was an emotion uniquely kuboderan, based purely on magnitude alone.
A kuboderan was capable of simultaneously holding dozens of possible outcomes in his or her mind at once. When faced with a dearth of knowledge about an upcoming situation, the possibilities could become overwhelming, even paralyzing. The fact that he was powerless to affect the outcomes, stuck as he always was in his aquatic environment, was something he and every other individual of his kind struggled with when forced to watch his or her terrestrial mind-mates go off into the unknown. Approaching Sectilius was having this very effect on him, and it seemed magnified somehow. It was troubling, the difficulty he was having reining that sensation in.
He was keenly aware that his mental state affected his human crew, so he constrained his apprehension to the strictest measure he was capable of. To that end, he employed rigorous exercise regimens and enforced a strict sleeping schedule, rotating his three cerebrums through rest phases to maintain optimal working parameters at all times. He’d gotten sloppy before, had developed bad habits during his long solitude. That could no longer stand. He must act in a manner worthy of the rank Ei—now more than ever.
The final jump placed the Speroancora at the edge of the Sectilius system. Normally he would have placed them far closer to their destination, but jumps were safest when endpoints were calculated for vast empty space. This strategy went back to an earlier time when jumps were more erratic—as they were with Jane. The distance also gave Quasador Dux Jane Holloway the opportunity to rest and recuperate from the taxing effects of the jump before she and the other humans went down to the surface.
Upon entering the system, they began broadcasting hailing radio signals, according to standard sectilian protocols. No answering signal was received on any channel. He monitored them all. Indeed, even as their trajectory took them deeper into the system, no stray communication signals of any kind were received.
Sectilia and her moon were silent.
Doubts churned in his mind. He was careful to keep them from the Qua’dux’s notice, though he couldn’t truly hide them from her. Was he putting her in abject danger? Could he bear it if she were injured or worse? And if the worst should come to pass, would he find himself stranded once again? He was certain he would go mad if that occurred. But what other course was there? Worse was the idea that he would most likely be forced to give her up. He couldn’t refuse if the Sectilius decided to replace this crew. He’d be forced to adapt or face harsh consequences. He’d experienced significant crew changes many times in his life, but this was so radically different.
He would miss her.
He found some solace in the fact that the humans derived much pleasure from the simple act of observing the sights as they traversed the system. And he too could see them now with fresh eyes after so much time away. But was it fresh eyes, or had he just…forgotten them? Had it been so long that they would feel new? Or had he blotted these memories out during his long solitude to protect himself from the pain of remembering? Something about the disparity in his memory troubled him, but there were too many other anxieties on his mind to single that one out as significant.
As they passed a large hydrogen-helium planet, so critical to the stability of an inhabited system, each of the humans gazed with awe at its swirling surface through the large viewscreen on the bridge. Without compromising more than a few moments of time, and with the Qua’dux’s blessing, he treated them to some of the most arresting views of that planet—its swirling storms and the endless layers of gasses of varying color and density.
Dr. Ajaya Varma gasped when the ship rose up out of the plane of the ring around the planet, displaying the striated band of rock and ice to its best advantage. The entire planet had an insubstantial, ethereal quality to it. It gleamed.
Dr. Ronald Gibbs remarked aloud, “Human eyes have never seen our own gas giants like this. It’s...bizarre, isn’t it? To see this in an alien system when Jupiter and Saturn have only been seen as images taken by drones?”
The Qua’dux and her crew made it a habit to spend their waking hours on the bridge as Sectilia slowly transformed from a pinpoint of reflected light in the distance to a lush blue-green sphere orbited by three smaller spheres, two of which were barren rocks, and the third of which was a diminutive and less verdant version of Sectilia herself—Atielle, their initial destination.