Chapter Twenty Nine

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It was time. The Addax's engine had recovered, and so had its people. Somewhat.

Jaquan was well enough to sit upright with the aid of painkillers, Herdis had found the time to treat Bers's latest injuries more properly, and Kiris had had enough rest to be willing to grapple with the engine with some oversight.

And then there was Gaylen himself.

He stepped out of the engine room, leaving Jaquan, Herdis and Kiris there. He took the steps up to the second floor slowly and stared at the site of the yesterday's... event. He could have used the hatches to enter the cockpit, but no. He was going to face this.

Everything looked exactly as before, just as it had the other times he had passed through here since yesterday. But then he'd had things on his mind besides the next leap.

It was the red he remembered with most clarity. That deep, profound and confusing red. Everything else, up until the effect lifted... it was...

Gaylen did his best to analyse his own mind and correlate all its contents. Had he simply not been in any state to form clear memories, as if drunk? Or was he somehow getting in his own way, trying to have it make logical sense?

He took a few more steps in, and looked to where he'd first seen the thing. Roughly, at least. The red had been so confusing. And the ship's dimensions had seemed bigger.

Stories of monsters were nothing new. Old spacers, familiar with the outer lanes, would tell stories of maddened violence during long leaps. Long leaps on old ships, with old-style reactors and cramped conditions that wore away at one's psyche. And then there were the odd conflicts in the galaxy's more isolated corners, far away enough that strange stories would have been spun by the time they reached the core.

Bers sat over by a wall, mending the new holes in his chest piece. The axe rested against the wall next to him. After a little while he looked up and met Gaylen's gaze.

"Something wrong?"

There was a gleam in the man's eyes. Gaylen interpreted it was amusement, but it really was just a guest. He took a few steps closer to the man.

"Bers. What happened?"

The fringer held his gaze for a few silent seconds, while letting his hands continue their task.

"You have eyes, dagi. Have brain too."

"I do have those things," Gaylen replied levelly.

He took out his knife and unfolded it. He'd done so multiple times since the incidence, and it still looked immaculately clean. The memories may have been hazy and jumbled, but his arm remembered the impact of the thrust.

"Not flesh," Bers said. "Not from here."

He just held Gaylen's gaze for another silent period.

"You've seen this before," Gaylen said, just for the sake of getting the obvious out of the way. "You're aren't this calm because you've heard stories; I've heard stories too. You're calm because of experience."

"Flying many years," the man said, repeating a part of their first conversation. "All long Mandik Arm, Tivin Expanse, out and back."

Something shifted in his eyes, his posture, his thoughts. Gaylen caught a hint of dark memories.

"Old places. Empty. And dangerous. And home..."

The man chuckled a bit and waved a hand dismissively. Gaylen was reminded of Ayna's loving hatred for her homeworld.

"Home is hard."

Gaylen didn't really know what to say.

"Galaxy... na kava... not all as you thought?"

Bers chuckled again, now at his expense.

"Yes, well, thanks for taking care of it," Gaylen said, and ended the conversation by turning around.

He walked into the cockpit. There awaited his chair and the controls, both intimately familiar. He'd long, long since lost count of how many times he'd sent a ship into leap. His hands went through the motions as his eyes checked readings, and the ship responded as expected. There was nothing strange. Nothing unexpected.

The reactor fired up and reached full charge. His hand hovered over the leap-switch for a moment, but it wasn't wise to leave a charge hanging. And he couldn't very well stay out here in the dead of space.

"Going into leap," he announced on the intercom, then made good on his words. The Addax entered the Other, and his screen again filled up with those beautiful, haunting strands of light.

Gaylen's eyes wandered to the switch that would let him close the viewscreen. Then they wandered back to the display in front of him, and he made the first slight course adjustment.

He felt a resolution build within: He would not let that incident ruin the Other for him. Maybe there was some kernel of truth in the stories. Maybe there was danger in the endless corridor of lights, besides course failure. But it was the same with living. It was the same with big cities, or a gorgeous wilderness. The Korokis Effect was a well known, if poorly understood, phenomenon. He'd done thousands of leaps, and only one had resulted in... that.

Gaylen stared on ahead, and allowed himself to enjoy it.

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