Seli hung naked in the darkness. The darkness was cool but somehow comforting in its vast silence. There was a presence there with her; an immense, loving presence. She could feel its magnificent attention turning toward her like water flowing in from the sea.
The voice, when it came was not a voice, but an intense feeling of compassion and thoughtfulness that reverberated like an ion engine in a humid atmosphere. It rang and hummed at the same time. "Hello Dr. Dryen."
Seli's eyes shot open. She was alone in a glass sphere. Behind her the curved bow of the Moth lit and flickered gently with Kilrov's radiation, a byproduct of quantum level imperfections in the fabric of time/space. The ball, situated on the end of a clear tube that jutted 20 meters off the bow of the ship was ahead of the "framing eddy" created by the insanity crystal and cut off from all gravitational or electrical impulse from the ship.
On the inside, a few blankets and a pair of old Indian rugs were strung up between tension poles, making a 0-g bed. There were also a few books drifting around in the space and a woven wicker hamper full of clothes strapped to one of the poles. Seli's face was old and wrinkled, with deep smile lines around her eyes as she peered out of the bed roll. She was alone in space, her ship behind her and the brilliant, hard arc or the Milky Way before her.
To her right was a brass communication horn connected to a long pipe that ran back down the tube toward the ship. She glared at it. "What?" She barked.
"Sorry to wake you Dr. Dryden." A man's voice came faintly back down the tube. "We've got...." The voice faded into a jumble.
"We got what?"
"We've got...." The voice mumbled incoherently.
"Oh hell," Seli grumbled, reaching for a tie dyed bandanna. "Just turn on the intercom."
Seli felt a tingle in her head as electricity was routed to a small intercom next to the brass horn. Slipping the bandanna over her white hair lessened the tingle some what. "So what's the problem? We didn't hurt those workers did we?"
"No." The man's soft voice came back now over the intercom. "We just picked up a message beacon tagged for us."
"For us? Who even knows we're out here?"
"The Beacon is from the Tranus ma'am, looks like Captain Tiller. Seli groaned. "Oh. Not the anus of Tranus. What does he want?"
"The beacon doesn't say, but there is a ship making one second jumps in the area. It must be him."
"One second jumps huh? That's a good trick. He must be anxious to find us. Fine. I'm coming down. Stop framing, turn on the lights and let him know we're here."
Seli pulled herself out of the bedroll and worked around it to the brass ladder that ran down the long tube back to the ship. As she climbed feet first toward the ship, the Kilrov's radiation faded, the only sign that the insanity crystal was no longer pushing them across the heavens at unimaginable speeds. Instead, a rim of lights came on around the mid-line of the ship, flashing a red and orange greeting into the dark of space.
The climb was easy and 0-g until she reached the very front edge of the ship. Pushing yourself feet first into a gravity pit lined up at 90 degrees from your path of motion felt rather like getting broken in half from the ankles up. The ladder turned at the last second and dropped her in a hallway just inside the front bulkhead.
Inside the hull of the ships, plasma conduits, circuit boards, video screens, and all manner of electronic devices gave a low hum of electromagnetic waste energy that registered in Seli's head as an angry buzz. She adjusted the bandanna. Its fibers concealed a nano wire mesh meant to absorb any stray EM energy that came her way. It worked only partly.
Turning too her right, Seli tromped down ten meters of hallway before arriving on the bridge of the Moth. The bridge was a long oval room that sloped down toward the front. There was an array of video screens at the front, five reclining chairs in an oval with consoles before them and a large aquarium full of green and brown slime at the back. The glass tank was short and wide and open at the top. It gave off a sweet vegetable aroma. Seli tapped the glass as she entered from the back of the room. "Morning Slime." She said.
"Good morning Dr. Dryden." A speaker above the aquarium said in the same voice that had come down the pipe into the glass bubble.
Seli slid into the chair at the top of the room. "Where is he?"
"He's still framing ma'am." The slime replied. "He's making very short jumps so he should see us soon."
"And the beacon didn't say anything?"
"No ma'am. Standard blackout message. I took the liberty of waking the weapons officer. She's on her way."
"Dicer? For Tiller? Please. If his ship had any weapons, he'd blow his own ass out of the sky. Where's my pilot?"
"I'm here." A small, young woman with white hair and black eyes said, coming in the door opposite the tank. "I was helping Dr. Spike with..."
"Yeah, yeah." Seli said with a dismissive gesture. "Get the ion engines heated up. Who knows where Tiller will pop up."
The young woman nodded and slipped silently into the foremost seat.
Seli drummed her fingers and watched the screens at the front of the room. By slipping ships in an out of naturally occurring folds in time/space, the Insanity Crystal gave humans the power to travel faster than light without violating e=mc2. Unfortunately, since the folds were neither stable nor predictable, You just had to throw yourself in the direction you wanted to go and hope for the best. Since the Tranus was only staying in a given fold for one light second, it was only a matter of time before they popped into space somewhere within the sphere of light given off by the Moth's beacons.
"How long have we been lit up?" Seli asked, as a tall woman with a huge mane of jet black hair slid into the chair to her left.
"Six minutes ma'am." The Slime responded.
"Six minutes." Seli grumbled to herself. "Come on Tiller. Anyone can hit a light spot six minutes wide."
"What's the sitch?" The tall woman asked. She was olive skinned, heavily muscled and had high cheek bones and a strong jaw.
"Do you ever comb your hair?" Seli asked in response.
"Yes." The tall woman responded. It is traditional for Su-Finite women to wash their hair once ever solar cycle before the festival of Parummus."
Seli eyed the tall woman cooly. "Dicer, Isn't a solar cycle on Su-Fin about 800 Earth days?"
"So, what you're telling me is that you only comb your hair once every three years."
"Two and a half ma'am." The woman said somberly. "The Slime woke me." She went on changing the subject.
"Oh right. The Anus of Tranus wants something. Charge the lasers but don't arm them. When we confirm that it's him, ripple space out to a distance of a minute so no one can join us."
The woman nodded. "I see them now." She said.
"Ship in frame, .4 light seconds away ma'am." The slime spoke over Dicer.
"Good morning, Captain Tiller." Seli spoke, pushing a button on her dash. "Lovely to see you in our neck of the galaxy."
.8 seconds later the thin, pale, and scowling face of Captain Tiller appeared on the screen. "Need I remind you that blackout protocol dictates."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Seli talked over him. "But I just blew up half of Syrch's only remaining Psyx containment facility. I think everyone in the quadrant already knows I'm here."
Tiller's, brow furrowed even deeper if possible. "You didn't use a rippler to isolate the planet?"
"Ripplers are expensive. Besides what's the fun of blowing stuff up if you never get to tell anyone? New's buoys broadcasting my picture should start popping up any time. You know how much I enjoy that."
"Captain Dryen..." Tiller bellowed.
"Ooop. Can't use my name; blackout protocol. I know, why don't you call me Dumpling and I'll call you sweety." Tiller gulped with anger. "Did you have some business for me sweety?"
Tiller swore. "Yes, damn you. I have co-chair Alisky here. He would like a word with you." Tiller swore again and stomped off screen. He was replaced a few seconds later by a stocky black man with broad swatches of grey in his short hair. "Hello Seli." He said.
Seli softened visibly. "Hello Saul. Unusual for you to go roaming around the galaxy with a low brow like Tiller. I'm not under arrest again am I?"
Alinsky laughed. "No. Not this time. Right now you're not even wanted...on any IDF friendly planets."
"That's always good to know. I hate in when old lovers show up and try to put me in handcuffs."
Saul cleared his throat. "That was a long time ago Seli, and you forced me into it. Can we talk about the present?"
"Maybe. What's on your mind."
"It really is a matter that we shouldn't be broadcasting. I'd like permission to come aboard."
Seli pursed her lips and stared hard the man on the screen. "Am I in some kind of trouble?"
"No no. I just don't want to leave this radio broadcast floating around where anyone can pick it up."
There was another pause. "Fine. Permission granted. Jane," Seli's eyes flicked down to the white haired girl. "engage the ions. Get on the horn with their pilot. Arrange a docking protocol." Her eyes shot back to the screen. "See you in an hour Saul."
"Thanks Seli." The screen went blank.
"Why would co-chairman Alinsky risk an off world trip?" Jane asked once the screen was dark. "What does he want?"
"Oh, I'm sure my ass is in some kind of hot water or another." Seli rose to her feet. "Dicer, you have the bridge."
"Aye aye." The tall woman agreed not taking her eyes off the screen in front of her.
Seli rapped the glass on her way off the bridge. "Slime. Wake me when we get to spitting distance."