Whatever it was, it wasn’t doing anything immediately. If it turned out to be useful though, it wasn’t going to be easy to copy it for the team back home.
“What’s next?” Cassie glanced over at Lee.
“It depends,” Lee said, and then he asked the Xiniti, “What’s the mission?”
“Your mission will be to slow down the Issakass expansion on the galactic rim. Their mission will be to protect some human colonists on the way to their colony and for a few days thereafter. There are other forces on the way to the colony, but they have other duties and won’t be able to keep to an easily predictable schedule.”
It stopped, watching us, waiting, I assumed, for more questions. When no one said anything, it continued.
“You’ll proceed to K’tepolu where you will meet the colonists as well as the fifth member of your group, a Xiniti. Your implants will recognize him. It is also the point at which your mentor will depart.” It looked up at Lee. “We’ll contact you in the normal way.”
“Understood,” Lee said.
Not long after that, we left. We’d had other questions, but the Xiniti’s answers amounted to “Your implants will have those details.” Rather than listening to him repeat that again, we’d agreed to say good-bye.
We left, avoiding the jump gates hanging next to the station in space. Each enormous metal rings had spikes extending outward pointing in the direction of the other two. I aimed our ship under the approach and departure lanes. Ships could come through more quickly than I’d be able to notice much less dodge.
Xiniti ships crowded above and below the gates, all of them shaped like flattened eggs, most of them sized for one occupant.
As if to justify my fears, a long wedge shaped ship came through in a blur. I recognized it as a warship—a small one, probably a corvette, and definitely not a Xiniti ship. It wasn’t surprising. Earth’s gate was a relatively safe one in human space. From all I understood, the Abominators had genetically modified humans into stormtroopers and set them loose in space. For safety’s sake, alien ships around here either were warships or were accompanied by them.
As we reached the other side of the path, I turned the ship to point toward the galactic core. At Lee’s advice, I’d already chosen the route. He’d told me K’tepolu was the destination weeks before we’d even left Earth. He’d also had a few specific spots he’d wanted to hit along the way. I aimed for my intended transition point.
I heard steps and realized that Jaclyn stood between where Lee and I sat. “Hey Nick, I don’t want you to feel like I’m questioning what you’re doing at every turn, but I’m wondering why we’re flying away from the jump gates. I thought you told me once that very few spaceships had the ability to create their own jump points.”
From further back in the cabin, Cassie said, “I’d been wondering about that too.”
Marcus said, “I assumed he was going to fly around the Xiniti space station and come back.”
“It’s kind of a long story,” I said.
“Well,” Jaclyn said, “unless you’ve been holding out on us and there’s another way to jump, we’ve got hundreds of years to hear it.”
“Okay. Give me a second and I’ll explain.”
Jaclyn turned and sat down in the nearest seat. “I’ll be right here.”
I checked the route for obvious potential collisions, set the time for transition and turned my chair around. With my back to the dashboard and a great sea of stars, I faced everyone in the cabin.
We had seats for fifteen and only four people to fill them, so it felt empty. Jaclyn sat immediately behind us, hands folded across her chest. Marcus sat in the second row, drawing on his tablet. Cassie sat in the third row. Her sword and her gun lay on the floor (which was either good or bad since they could both breach the hull). She wore a navy blue costume with the US flag on her chest. Her light blonde hair reached her shoulders.
Cassie leaned back in her seat, but watched me. “Lecture away,” she said.
“The first thing I should mention is that Lee doesn’t want to leave a trail back to Earth and every time a ship uses a jump gate, the trip is logged. That means that if we used jump gates the whole way someone could easily trace us back to Earth. Lee doesn’t want to leave one and he doesn’t want us to claim to be from Earth either—“
“I’ll tell you about that before I go on my way.” Lee turned around, interrupting, but then turned back to the dashboard.
“Anyway,” I said. “There are three kinds of jump space. There’s ‘near space.’ It’s the slowest and it takes about a week of acceleration to reach faster than light speeds. Even so, it can take years to go places. It’s also the easiest to use. There’s also ‘jump space.’ It takes about a week to get anywhere in reach of a jump, give or take a couple days, but it’s reliable. Finally, there’s ‘blink space.’ Conditions have to be perfect, but it takes less than a minute to travel and you go further.”
Jaclyn nodded. “Are you saying we’ve got a jump drive?”
Marcus stopped drawing. “Or a blink drive?”
“Almost,” I said. “It’s more complicated than that. Here’s the thing. Every major system in the League jet was scavenged from alien spaceships and then repaired and improved by my grandfather. He couldn’t find a jump drive that would fit in a hull this small, but he could find a near space drive. They’re all over because you need one to use a jump gate. They don’t have the power to to get you into jump space, but they can keep you there if something else pulls you through.”
I looked them over. They were still listening. “You know how Grandpa repaired and improved everything? Well, he redesigned the power plant to be more powerful and smaller. Then he did the same to the near space drive. Now, if we’re in near space, we can accelerate faster than normal. When we’re at the right speed, I can up the power and jump. After that, if conditions are right, I can throw us into blink space. It’s not as good as real jump drives or blink drives. Honestly, it’s a hack, but it works.”
Shaking her head, Jaclyn said, “Can other spaceships do this?”
Lee turned and answered before I could. “No. Nick and his grandfather are unusual in how they think about technology. All anybody else would accomplish is to go into jump and not come out.”