Darius looked at the rainbow array of crystals on the flight control panel before him. He’d been rated as “Flight Capable” since he was six years old. Originally it had been flight under his own power, thanks to his natural talent at Energetic Anima. Being able to soar through the air like that was an awesome experience but not without its downsides.
Bugs, for example, were not tremendously fun to fly through at a few hundred miles an hour. The same was true of rain storms. And, with rare exceptions (one of which was snuggled up next to him taking an unplanned but much needed nap), flying like that with others involved a lot more lifting and carrying than Darius was comfortable with.
That was why he’d learned to operate as many different sorts of flying craft as he could, an interest which had led to his current role as the team’s warp space pilot.
For a normal flying craft, you needed to worry about only three dimensions. There were controls for pitch, and yaw and while the experience of moving through the air wasn’t one humans had an inherent talent at, it was something they could learn with practice.
Warp flight was a rather different story. The benefit of warp space was that it was both cotangent with regular space but not co-equal. That meant distances in regular space which were measured in light years were sometimes measured in miles in warp space. And sometimes not.
In general, the less mass there was present in an area in regular space, the more condensed the area was in warp space. Or in other words, big empty distances became tiny little gaps.
The problem was they didn’t become tiny little gaps consistently and they didn’t stay tiny all of the time either. In some cases the changes were predictable, in others a potential traveler simply had to react to changes as they occurred.
That was why Darius had dozens of controls in front of him, rather than the handful he would have needed for a flight in regular space. Each smooth polished wooden lever and cool gleaming crystal button controlled a different aspect of the ship’s trajectory. They offered an unbelievable amount of control but at the price of being more than a single human could keep track of.
In that sense, Darius was lucky. He couldn’t have flown the ship alone, and thanks to Fari he didn’t have to. She supplied the navigation and signal processing that a full team was usually required to perform. He, in turn, supplied the physical conduit to the ship and the moment to moment reflexive adjustments while they were in flight.
Together they made a good team.
“How’s it going?” he asked the translucent blue girl, keeping the communication purely on their telepathic link to avoid waking Mel.
“We’re making excellent time,” she said. “We’ve almost entirely around the event horizon for the black hole in the Velar system and after that it’s clear sailing till we reach the spaceport on Nova Helios.”
Blackholes, despite being singularities in regular space, cast huge shadows in warp space and were an inordinately common problem to stumble across (at least compared to the chance of running into one in regular space). Fortunately for travelers they also tended to stabilize warp space in their vicinity, so while they were dangerous to encounter, venturing near them was often safer than following other paths.
“And how about this trip in general?” he asked. “You seemed a bit reluctant when Mel was dragging you out of the planning room, and I can’t imagine the Frog God made this any more appealing.”
“It wasn’t so bad for me,” Fari said. “I didn’t have to deal with getting slimed after all.”
“That sounds like you’re coming around to enjoy this little vacation,” Darius said.
“I have to admit it’s got its appealing points,” Fari said.
“You’ve got holos recorded of the whole frog-thing don’t you?” Darius asked.
“Don’t worry, my blackmail rates are very low,” Fari said.
“Is it wrong that I’m tempted to get into a bidding war with Mel so that Black Team can see the frog holos of her?” Darius asked.
“Only if you win and can’t make your payments,” Fari said.
“I suppose I might have trouble with that,” Darius said. “What with Mel killing me before the holos could get out.”
“Then I’d have a bidding war over who gets to help hide the body,” Fari said.
“I’ll claim a posthumous cut of the proceeds,” Darius said.
“That’s the worst get rich quick scheme I’ve ever heard of,” Fari said.
“I’d say I was a prodigy at making bad plans, but I think this one here,” he nodded at the still sleeping Mel who was slumped against his left arm, “she’d probably try to contest that.”
“Funny how her terrible ideas tend to work out well so often though isn’t it?” Fari asked.
“Yeah, I may be part of ‘Team Engineering’ but I’m pretty sure I don’t have the cleverest brain on this ship,” Darius said.
“You’re brilliant though!” Fari said.
“So all of my test scores claim,” Darius said. “But what you and Mel can do is scary smart.”
“I think I’d rather I wasn’t so scary,” Fari said.
“Is that why Mel dragged us out here?” Darius asked. “Still worried you’re not a real girl?”
“No,” Fari said. “Maybe.”
“You’ve struggled with that for a while haven’t you?” Darius asked.
“It’s a hard question to answer,” Fari said. “There’s so much I can do, but so many things I can’t do too.”
“Do any of them matter?” Darius asked. “I mean who you are isn’t defined by your capabilities.”
“Sometimes I feel like I’m defined by the function I was created to fulfill more than anything else though,” Fari said.
“I see why we’re out here then,” Darius said. “And why Captain Hanq was so eager to have us leave.”
“He thought we were a danger to the ship?” Fari asked.
“He thought the ship was a danger to us,” Darius said. “Or at least to you and Mel, and he knew I’d be miserable without you two around.”
“We tend to get in a lot more trouble away from the Horizon Breaker than we do when we’re on it though,” Fari said.
“Yeah, this is more the danger of burning out,” Darius said. “Neither of you have had a break in years, you’re long overdue for one.”
“That makes sense, but I have to confess, I kind of feel like we’re still on a mission,” Fari said.
“I guess we are, somewhat,” Darius said. “So maybe it’s important that we define the mission parameters well.”
“The original plan was to learn about festivals through first hand experience,” Fari said. “And we’re only a few hours away from the next one Mel had on her list.”
“On a scale of one to ten, and bearing the Frog God in mind, how much are you really up for going to another festival?” Darius asked.
“Honestly?” Fari asked. “Maybe a one, or a one and half.”
“Kind of what I thought,” Darius said. “New destination then.”
“What? Where are you taking us?” Fari asked.
“Do you trust me?” Darius asked. “Because there’s still time for me to get back on the original course if not.”
Fari started to speak, caught herself and then sighed.
“You know, for better or worse, I do,” she said.
“I’m glad,” Darius said. “I spend so much time focused on Mel, that I think I forget to tell you how much you mean to me too.”
“That’s ok,” Fari said. “Sometimes I think I siphon away too much of her time, especially on crazy quests like this.”
“There’s nothing crazy about that taking care of you,” Darius said. “And you know, I’ve never minded the time you two spend together.”
“Why is that?” Fari asked. “I mean, I feel the same way with her and you, but I wasn’t sure if that was just more of my programming.”
“Well, for me it’s pretty simple,” Darius said. “She loves you. Being with you makes her happy. You’re family to her and that’s something she’s needed all her life I think.”
“But you’re her guy,” Fari said. “You’re the one she really loves.”
“The one she ‘really’ loves?” Darius asked. “Have you met Mel? Do you think she’s really only capable of loving one person in the whole galaxy?”
“I don’t think there’s much of anything that’s beyond her,” Fari said. “In the thousands of years I’ve been…whatever I am, I’ve never known anyone like her.”
“Maybe that’s why you two are so well matched,” Darius said. “Because I don’t think there’s anyone as amazing as either of you. And not because of what you can do. There’s lots of people with phenomenal amounts of power. You both have something more than that though. Even without any of your powers, I’d still be blessed beyond measure to have you in my life.”
“What if I’m just a reflection of her though?” Fari asked. “Before I met Mel, I wasn’t…kind.”
“Before you met Mel, you were literally bound in terms of what you could think and do,” Darius said. “I’ve read the reports, even the classified ones.”
“How did you get those?” Fari asked.
“I’m not the brains of this team, but I’m not exactly slow either,” Darius said. “Remember, I grew up on a war planet where slicing into the other sides protected files was considered required subject matter for five year olds.”
“Then you know the kind of things I did,” Fari said.
“And I know the kind of things you’ve done since you gained the ability to chose for yourself,” Darius said. “So I stand behind my assessment. You’re as wonderful as Mel is, and neither of you is a copy of the other.”
“Thank you,” Fari said. “I don’t know why, but that means a lot somehow.”
“You’re welcome,” Darius said.
“But that still leaves one question open,” Fari said. “Where are you taking us?”
“I have no idea!” Darius said.
“How can you have no idea?” Fari asked. “We’re drifting back towards the event horizon of the black hole!”
“That does seem to be the case,” Darius said. He slid an amber crystal a quarter turn clockwise, increasing their displacement from the real space gravitational plane. The ship rumbled in response as it’s hold on warp space grew more tenuous. On his shoulder, Mel grumbled and stirred as well.
With the choice of waking up his beloved when she was likely to be in a cranky state or risking being devoured by an inescapable singularity, Darius made the choice that experience and wisdom agreed was the only viable option.
“We’re closing into a peek slingshot orbit,” Fari said. “I don’t have enough data to plot where we’re going to wind up except to assure you it’s going to be at least halfway across the galaxy.”
“Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?” Darius asked. He wanted to keep the mischievous smile off his face but that it was too hard to fight that and the blackhole’s devouring maw at the same time.
It took a mad genius to handle warp space navigation under most circumstances. The one exception to that rule was when you didn’t care where you ended it. In that case all you needed to be was mad.
“How is being lost somewhere random in the galaxy perfect?” Fari asked.
“Because then we definitely won’t have any missions to work on!” Darius said.
Fari started to object and then paused. Outside the window of the ship, the weird swirls of warp space contracted into impossibly dense coils with the paths beyond them unpredictable by any science, magic or math that she knew. A slow smile spread across her face as a sense of freedom spread through her.
“You know, you just might be on to something,” she said as their ship passed the slingshot point and was hurled away, across the light years, to a place they’d never planned to go.