“That’s not quite accurate. I doubt that very many ships can do this, but the main reason ships have near space drives is so they can hitchhike on larger spaceships. If you’ve got a near space drive, you can get close to a larger ship and get pulled into jump space with them.
“After that, you can stick with them or go off on your own. You can do the same thing with a jump gate—stick with the registered destination or choose one. So we won’t stick out that much.
“The plan is that we’ll use abandoned or uninhabited systems to get to K’tepolu and after that we’ll use the gates like everyone else. The great thing about K’tepolu is that it’s a crossroads. It’s in range of so many jump gates it’s impractical to trace them all. On the way back, we’ll use one of the K’tepolu gates and then disappear on our way home.”
I turned back to the dashboard and checked the sensors as well as the view from the window. We weren’t in danger of hitting anything.
Lee turned back to everyone. “Let me tell you why we’re making this so complicated. Remember how Nick used a magical connection to me to create a flaming sword out of nothing? When I do it, it’s no big deal, but Nick’s not me. We don’t know if that got my relatives’ attention, but we can’t leave it to chance. I’ve set up a series of distractions in a number of universes and it’s time to make one here. So, I’m combining the Xiniti job with my own errand since they coincidentally need me to be in roughly the same place.”
He grinned at us. “My people probably won’t check the jump gate logs, but it’s best not to risk it.”
I continued to check our sensors, reading information from the fusion power plant as well as our relationship to the gateway. We were on our way to putting Earth between any jump gate user who might be watching us.
Once we’d done it, I activated the near space drive. The ship hummed and then the stars outside blurred and stayed blurred. In the screen on my dashboard, Earth blurred as well with a few bright lights glowing on the surface. Similar bright lights glowed among the stars.
Marcus said, “Everything just went weird outside. I take it we just jumped?”
“Technically,” I said, “we transitioned. You transition into near space because we didn’t actually jump anywhere we changed states.”
“What?” Marcus asked. “Was I supposed to know that? Or were you laughing because Nick said ‘transition’?”
Oh, I realized. That could get confusing.
Cassie said, “No. The gun was talking. It hasn’t been off the planet in few thousand years and it’s looking forward to shooting people in space again.”
Marcus laughed out loud. “Didn’t it get to kill enough things when the dinosaurs invaded? The way I remember it, you were burning down hundreds of them at a time.”
Cassie didn’t laugh. “I don’t think he’s got a limit. He loves his job.”
“I’m so glad we give homeless homicidal weapons a forever home,” Jaclyn said.
For the next couple hours we watched the blurry stars begin to stretch—not much, just a little, but enough for Marcus to say, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Star Trek out there.”
I shrugged, “Well, the near space drive will pass light speed. It’s just that it’ll still take years to get anywhere. Still, it is cool.”
I checked the dashboard. “Actually, it’s time for another transition—this one into jump space. We’ll move into blink space almost immediately after that.”
“That’ll be interesting.” Reflected in the window, Marcus leaned forward.
I tapped a button. The engine hum grew louder and then faded. As it began to fade, the blurry starscape of near space faded into endless gray.
“Or not,” Cassie said.
“Yeah,” Marcus said. “People stare at that for a week?”
As I checked the dashboard again, Jaclyn stared out the front. “That’s what he said, but it’s not all gray. I think I see patterns. Don’t you?”
“Shh,” Lee held his finger to his lips. “They might hear you.”
She gave a sidelong glance. “Do you mean that?”
He brushed a lock of long black hair back behind his ear. “Eh, maybe, but people see strange things in jump space. Physics get weird and all. You know what I mean.”
Jaclyn turned to look at him directly. “I’m betting you’d know more about it than the rest of us.”
“Transitioning into blink space,” I said as the windows all darkened. Even so, it was obvious that the gray had turned bright, bright white.
It didn’t last long though, maybe thirty seconds at most and then we dropped into normal space again. Let’s put that more accurately—we dropped into ruins in normal space. The screens showed no planets, only asteroids. It also showed spaceships, some of them the size of small moons, all of them broken.
Jaclyn gasped as the jagged remains of a particularly large starship passed in front of us. Tumbling after it came either a mech or a space suit for a race of giant aliens—this one had ten limbs and reminded me a bit of an octopus or possibly Cthulhu. It was hard to say.
It wasn’t the only one.
Since I couldn’t find the system’s star visually, I checked the astrogation system. It had a star. It was a white dwarf, and I’d been wrong about not being able to find it visually. It was there. It just wasn’t very bright.
“As I told you earlier,” Lee said, “you’re best off traveling through normal space till you get past the star and the inner orbits. Make for the open spot.”
Marcus stood up and walked over to the windows on the left side of the ship. “What happened here?”
Jaclyn had gotten out of her seat at about the same time and stood near the front. “Are you going to tell us?”
“It’s the site of a battle, one of the many between the Live and Destroy factions. I commanded Destroy’s armies and fleets in the fight and they won. It was a difficult battle, taking place in multiple universes at the same time. I coordinated troops between them as well as with versions of the battle where the time stream ran faster or slower.”
He looked up into the darkness above the debris. “It was probably my greatest moment in their service. I came back here afterward too, but then only to think. I’d pick a spot up there and look down at the mess. Now though, it’s just a dead place with many jump points—which makes it an excellent place to sneak through.”