Riss and the crew of the Artemis have experimented with their strange new understanding of the universe – both physical and emotional. Still far away from Ceres or Mars and unable to contact those who may have been similarly affected by the asteroid, the crew has to find a way to traverse the vast space that lies ahead…
The banging on the door came again. A muffled shout from the corridor side.
Riss opened her eyes. Her feet were firmly stuck to the floor of her cabin. Having forgotten to remove her magboots. She was standing, swaying in place. Yawning, she stretched her arms over her head.
The geist practically fell through the opening doorway. Caught from behind by the navigator.
“Riss, are you, are you okay?”
“Yeah, fine, fine, Coop.” She turned to the fridge unit. “Water.”
The fridge rolled out, door opened. A pack of water came to her hand.
Cooper’s eye widened slightly. He straightened himself, brushing off Enoch’s grasp. “You seem to have everything under control.”
She laughed. “Sorry to make you all worry. Did I oversleep?”
“The opposite, actually,” Sanvi called out. Riss could see her now, leaning against the corridor wall with her arms crossed.
Sanvi nodded at Enoch. “Somebody has been demanding that we try the pitaya experiment again.”
Enoch shrugged. “I got hungry.”
Riss looked between the two of them. Suddenly she felt an enormous bond among them. Her friends. Her crew. It was as if she could see a glow around their rough edges.
She took a deep breath and smiled.
“I have a different idea. Let’s try to make the Artemis go faster.”
“Yeah. We’re still two days out. Let’s see if we can make the ship go faster first. If we can make it go faster, we should obviously be able to make it go slower. Or order the catcher to grab our quantum signature and slow us down.”
The crew looked around at each other. Sanvi looked almost completely at peace to Riss, whereas Enoch appeared typically bemused. Cooper still seemed a bit uneasy.
“Coop,” she said, laying a hand on his arm. He began to pull away, but relaxed. “Coop,” she repeated. “We are all friends here. All in the same boat.”
“Ship,” Enoch put in. He smirked, then put his own hand on Riss’s shoulder. “Captain. Riss. I still think this is all crazy, but crazy and me go back a long ways.”
He looked at Cooper, then Sanvi. “Let’s give it a try,” he said. Both nodded.
Riss gazed at Sanvi. The pilot appeared as if she were surrounded by what Riss could only think of as an aura.
She passed her glance from Sanvi to Enoch. Then Cooper. They all seemed to glow, ever so faintly.
Like the rock in their hold, she realized. Sanvi’s aura shone brightest of all. But even Enoch and Cooper glowed, ever so faintly. Almost as if she were seeing all of them, who they truly were, for the first time. She wondered if they saw the same of her.
“All right,” she said quietly. “What do we do?”
“For starters, I think we ought to sit down,” Sanvi replied. “In our chairs in the command center. Just to be safe.”
“Good idea,” Riss said. “Let’s not take any chances. We’re still new at this, after all.”
Enoch shook his head. “This is nuts, man.”
“For once, we agree,” Cooper grunted. “But you said we should give it a try.”
“Yeah,” Enoch said. “Surprised myself. But I’ll try anything once.”
Firmly strapped in her chair, Riss called up the 3D holomap and checked their coordinates. Still on course for Ceres. No sign of the ship slowing down.
“What’s our ETA, Enoch?”
He leaned forward over his console. “Just under 44 hours.”
“OK, let’s see if we can speed up just a bit and get there in 24 hours instead.”
Cooper squirmed in his seat. “Riss,” he said hesitantly, “I’m not so sure about this. Isn’t this, I don’t know, kind of—”
“Like sorcery?” Sanvi finished.
“We’re simply going to meditate,” she reassured him. “Every belief system has its meditation style. This no different.”
“But we’re different,” Enoch pointed out. “Who knows what will happen?”
“If anything strange happens,” Riss said, “Just concentrate on the ship. Our position in space. Your position in it. And yourself.”
She nodded at Sanvi. “You’re the expert at this. Tell us what to do next.”
“Hold your hands clasped just beneath your waist. Like this.”
She demonstrated. They all copied her.
“Now close your eyes. Gently. Keep your shoulders relaxed. We’re going to breath in and out slowly.”
Eyes closed, Riss heard Sanvi’s continued instructions.
“Breathe slowly. In. Hold. Out. Hold. Feel the space around you.”
Lungs filled. The air seemed stale. Cold.
Out. The hum of the engine rose. Heart beat, pounding.
Breathe. In. Hold. The air contracted, then expanded.
Her body remained still, yet seemed to grow, extend.
She could see the command center, even with her eyes closed.
Breathe. In. Hold.
From a great distance, Ceres came into view.
She saw her navigator spread his wings, become the ship.
The geist flowed like molten rock, became a geode, lava cooling into pumice, crystalline shapes cascading.
The pilot enveloped the ship, pointing ahead.
The Captain’s heart, slowing, rhythmically, matching the engine.
Within her. Without her. In-between and among.
Part and whole. All and nothing. All in one. One in all.
Who was she?
Who was Sanvi? Enoch? Cooper?
Were they separate or the same? Sharing the universe, or the universe sharing them?
The ship spoke. They listened. Heard no words yet heard everything.
There was no ship. They were the ship. There was no space. Space and the ship.
The Artemis pounced.
The Hunter. Her arrows, sharp and pointed. They hunted the stag. It bounded in front, behind, below. Just out of reach. It came into view.
The catcher of Ceres. The part of the Artemis that was Riss reached out to the part that was Sanvi. Mutual understanding. No borders. No boundaries.
The Pilot and the Navigator reached out. The catcher turned.
The Geist withdrew, trembling.
Riss felt his fear. No, she heard herself urge. Stay with us. We are one.
His panic spread. The ship shuddered.
Calm, she thought. Stay. We’re almost there.
The part that was Cooper felt his heart beat, skip, start again.
Breathe out. Hold.
The ship that was Enoch slowed, feeling an end.
Breathe in. Hold.
A great wall arose. Translucent. Shimmering.
Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 26: Ceres (coming, hopefully, on October 9, 2021)