Then he turned back to the group of us. “Nick might remember that when we talked about my people, I told him that I wouldn’t notice them, but that he would. That’s because I was assuming that they’d be hiding the same way I’m hiding. He’s not. He’s broadcasting his position so that anyone who can sense us can hear.”
I glanced over at him. “Would flipping into near space help? It wouldn’t with a starship, so I’m guessing it won’t…”
Lee shook his head. “It won’t help. Shifting into blink space might work, but depending on who it is, well, that still might not do it. Stay in normal space. Don’t speed up. Don’t slow down. Pretend you don’t feel anything.”
“Okay,” I said. I tried not to think about what might be up there. While Lee hadn’t even ever told me his species’ name, I knew enough. It was near immortal, alien, and that those still living feared all sapient life but themselves. It would destroy Earth if we hinted that Lee had been there teaching people and it would call more of its people to finish the job.
While I’d never been sure whether they sounded more like Lovecraft’s Outer Gods, Marvel’s Thor mythos, Kirby’s New Gods, Babylon 5’s First Ones, or Zelazny’s princes of Amber or Chaos, I knew that I hoped never to meet another.
Concentrating on the controls, I watched our progress toward what I calculated would be the optimal point to switch into near space. It was only a few hours away.
“I know you’re probably all feeling scared,” Lee began, “ and you’ve got every right to be because if they recognize me, you’ll all die. But here’s what you have to remember—they can’t recognize me. All they can do is recognize that you’ve been affected by me, and you can control that—at least a little.”
“I’m game,” Jaclyn said. “It sounds better than dying. What do we have to do?”
Lee grinned. “Put simply? Don’t look up. Because you’ve spent so much time with me, your perception passes slightly into other places. If you look up where I told you I’d watch, you might see something there, and if you do, it will see you. Don’t do that.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jaclyn blink. “I wasn’t going to, but thanks.”
“Great,” Lee said. “One more thing. Nick, if you’re tempted to bring a sword into existence, don’t. You shouldn’t be able to without that gem Amy made, but don’t. Okay?”
“I wasn’t either, but I definitely won’t now.” I thought about that as I said it though. If the thing started chasing us, that might turn out to be a good idea. I decided to ask Lee about it if it came up.
“Good. Now, since you’re going to be at this for a couple hours, why don’t you watch a movie or something? I’ll watch the sensors.”
“I’ve got this,” Cassie said and pulled a tablet out of her backpack. After some fiddling around, the movie appeared in the back of the cabin. That’s literally “appeared.” The video appeared in the air without a screen.
A few minutes in, I looked over at Cassie. “Bring It On?”
“It’s a good movie,” she said and continued to watch it.
Not having much of a choice, I did. It didn’t escape my notice though, that I was watching a movie about cheerleaders stealing routines from each other while trying to avoid the notice of a being that would literally destroy everyone I cared about, starting with us.
Still, there wasn’t much else to do, and, if you want me to be honest, it wasn’t a bad movie. As soon as the credits began to roll, though, I turned back toward Lee. “How are we doing?”
“Not bad. We’re not dead and we’re nearly to the jump point. See for yourself.” He waved his hand at the controls.
He was correct. We were in the middle of infinite inky blackness, stars in the far distance and no planets worth mentioning nearby. This was the ideal spot to transition into near space. With luck I could hit jump around the jump point.
“Transitioning to near space,” I said. The stars stretched in the blackness.
Cassie spoke up. “Does anybody else feel like it’s following us?”
“Oh no,” Jaclyn said.
Marcus said, “I barely feel anything.”
When Cassie had started, I’d been too distracted by the ship to notice, but after? I felt it too. It felt like something big and empty was coming after us.
Lee said, “Remember, it’s trying to provoke fear. If you don’t show any, it won’t know you can sense it. Do what you would have done without it.”
The only good news I could find in that was that I’d always been planning to jump at this point anyway. Even so, I didn’t hurry. I took a couple more breaths, found that we’d reached the point where I normally would have jumped, and jumped the ship.
All the windows showed impenetrable gray, but I could still feel something. Could it have followed us into jump? Was I just afraid? I didn’t know. I’d been planning to blink anyway, so I watched for the right moment. When I changed states, the gray turned to white. After a minute, we were expelled into normal space and a normal star system.
Lee assured me that this one had a planet where the native life was sapient mushrooms. “Or,” he added, “maybe they’re normal mushrooms with hallucinatory side effects when eaten? Maybe both.”
Two near space transitions/jumps/blinks later, we still didn’t feel anything following us. Had we gotten away? I hoped so.