No one waited for us when we came out of blink space this time. On the other hand, bearing in mind that we weren’t using the jumpgate system anyway, I didn’t feel the need to follow the standard paths through space.
I’d taken advantage of our speed in jump space to allow us to blink in a spot that allowed us options that jumpgates didn’t because they were still too close to planetary gravity wells.
We came out in system 2411 within Edge sector. The numbers instead of a name meant that it had no populated worlds and hadn’t ever had populated worlds during any recent civilization.
What it had was two stars, three gas giants, and an assortment of lifeless worlds. The gas giants were the best part because we needed fuel after that jump and we could skim water off of any of the gas giants. Then we’d only have one jump to go before we reached the colony.
I aimed the ship toward the nearest gas giant, notifying the colonists what I was doing, and let go of my awareness of the ship, setting it to notify me if anything important changed. Snapping back to reality as opposed to a virtual world where I was the ship, I first became conscious of the smells—human sweat, dirt, and something else.
I swung my chair around, noting that Cassie had taken the weapons and shields console next to me in the front. She hadn’t done that before, but that wasn’t the only detail I’d missed. I’d known that Cassie and Jaclyn had brought Katuk, but with everything I’d barely had time to say anything to him.
He looked like any other Xiniti—humanoid but with gray skin, a large, bald head, and wide, black eyes. He wore a silver, form fitting suit made of liquid metal that by all accounts contained powerful weapons.
Another thing I hadn’t noticed? That the plant’s pot was three feet wide and that the plant itself was almost as tall as I was. It had placed its pot next to the wall, but now it floated into the middle of the room with the rest of us.
Tikki sat next to Jaclyn. They’d been talking as I turned. Close to them, Marcus put a sketchbook and a pen back into his bag and looked over at me. “We lost them, right?”
“I think so,” I said.
Cassie shook her head, eyes watching something we couldn’t see. “We lost them. There’s nothing on the sensors. Plus, I checked with the AI. Hal says that if they’d followed us, we’d have seen them by now.”
Then she shook her head and blinked, seeing us instead of stars. “Those implants are amazing. I get the same level of integration with the ship that I get with the gun.”
Katuk spoke in English, his voice so quiet that I wondered if Xiniti ever spoke aloud among themselves. It didn’t matter though. My implant amplified the words in my head.
“We’ve had implants for more than seven hundred years,” he said, not meeting any of our eyes. “We’ve modified our bodies to work better with them than without them. I’ve received additional implants that would rip you apart without severe modifications that we’ve worked into our DNA.”
I flashed back, remembering the Xiniti we’d fought. He’d been a terror. It had mostly been speed, but the way it cut into Bloodmaiden’s armor back then argued for strength too.
Jaclyn nodded. “I can believe it. The Xiniti we fought moved fast. Normal humans can’t handle that much speed.”
Katuk did look up as she talked about the Xiniti we’d fought, but lowered his eyes when she stopped. Interesting. I could see how he might be curious.
“So,” Jaclyn continued, “you’ve been plotting the route. What’s next?”
I smiled a little. “It’s the last jump. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it actually has to be a jump. We’ve been using blinks and they take basically no time at all. I mean, a minute is pretty close to instantaneous when it comes to interstellar distances. The problem is that jumps are a week long for the people inside the spaceship. It’s not always a week, but it’s between five and nine days, so roughly a week.”
Marcus laughed. “A week? Why?”
I shrugged. “It’s complicated, but basically it’s due to gravity. There are too many heavy things in this system to go into blink space and that’s true of all the systems in this area. They’re all a little too dense.”
Crawls-Through-Desert grunted (according to the translator) and said, “I’m going to go dormant. Don’t chew on my leaves.”
Then it floated back toward the wall and began to excrete some kind of sticky goo from its leaves that stuck the pot to the wall.
Someone was going to have to clean that up, and I had a bad feeling that it would be me.