Chapter 29

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The Seven Hells of Hera is a single system with seven stars - a triple and a quadruple orbit. Hera sector has a legend that anyone who visits the system will go insane.

Apparently, the arrangement of the stars screws up the jump navs for the system, so trying to jump in to take a look would itself be an act of insanity. Making it hard to prove causality in my book, even if the jump were possible. I'd always laughed it off - insanity was just another state of mind.

I wasn't laughing so much now that I suspected I was losing my own mind.

When I entered the command deck, everything was black. All of the consoles were black. The flashing lights were gone, the chirps and bleats. I wasn't even certain they had ever been there. Instead, ghostly shadows hovered over black, featureless consoles. The only light in the deck was a faint blue glow which seemed to emanate from the ceiling. The centre of the room contained a suspended image of the sector, in the same ghostly-grey light. I could see two points of colour. One blue oval and one orange dot.

"Captain on deck." Aunty FEI.

As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I could make out the large shadow of Suzanne at the weapons station. Chase was at the nearest pilot station, and Yael had hooked up his station alongside Chase. There was no sign of Pyke or anyone else.

The wall in front of me flickered and resolved into a view of the outside of Melchi Prime. A glimmer of light behind me caused me to turn around. The rear wall now showed open space. It was as though I was standing suspended between the station and the space beyond it.

"Captain. This is fekking awesome." Chase sounded different. His voice was an octave lower, calm, focused. His hands moved across the black console, intersecting with some of the ghostly beams, covering others, lightly brushing the surface of the console here and there.

"It's amazing." Yael was making similar gestures at his console. The large suspended image in the centre of the deck moved with his gestures, rotating and zooming.

"It's all very... black." Where was I supposed to sit?

"Tactical setting." Suzanne was also moving her hands around what seemed to be a smoky outline of the 'Daya that hovered over her console. I had no idea what possible weapons setting were required at this stage. Presumably we weren't about to open fire on Melchi Prime. The station defences would obliterate us in a heartbeat.

She glanced over at me. Her eyes were still shining. "Close manoeuvre shields are up, Captain."

Uh. yeah. Good. That made sense.

Yael touched his console and a dull blue glow surrounded a station in the middle of the deck, directly in front of the rotating image of the sector. "Your station, Captain."

I moved to the station and sat down. The seat moulded itself around me, locking me in place. The sector image sank lower before me and flattened out into a map on the floor, giving me a clear view of the wall in front of me. There were no ghostly images at my station, thankfully. Just a smooth, black, featureless console. I looked over at Chase. "What's with the AI voice? Aunty FEI says you picked it?"

I saw the gleam of his teeth as he smiled. "I confirmed it. The previous captain selected it. She reminds me of mother."

Grief. "Well, she's Aunty FEI now." I raised my voice. "Aren't you?"

"Yes, Captain. Thank you for my designation."

Pyke's head appeared over my console. "Captain, collar is spun up and drive is engaged for manoeuvres. Systems board is go."

The others responded immediately.

"Weapons is go."

"Nav is go."

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