Three days later, the crew of the Benevolence still wasn’t dead.
Nyx reviewed the data Mirelle forwarded her, although it didn’t make any sense. She had neither the hardware nor the training to understand what exactly she’d done. Mirelle told her it was simple. Sera told her it was impossible. Jianyu couldn’t tell them anything at all; Weyland still had him heavily sedated.
During the ship’s night cycle she spent hours awake in her narrow bed, staring at the ceiling, listening to the ship purring under her. Everything felt normal. Everything felt off-kilter, like the whole universe was spinning around a new axis. When she closed her eyes she saw Earth’s atmosphere blossoming with white-hot fire. When she slept she dreamed of the ship slipping sideways through time and space, hopelessly off course, until it slid through a final terrible fold and she woke up sweating.
Nyx convened a meeting in Weyland’s lab, just the ship’s crew, all of them huddled around Jianyu’s unconscious body like he’d have something to contribute to the conversation. She tried to project calm, her hands clasped behind her back, nails digging into her wrist. “I don’t understand how it works, but it’s working,” she said. “I’ll consider that a win.”
“We’re all going to die,” Sera said. She was high on something, Nyx was pretty sure. Her eyes were red and she couldn’t stop picking at the fabric of her vest. She’d tried to wash it but the stains down the front were still there, dark blotches on the olive green fabric.
Mirelle rolled her eyes and said, “We’re not going to die.”
“What I don’t understand is how Buddy found us so quickly,” Nyx cut in. “How did he get the news about his daughter and get to the station so fast?”
“Simple,” Mirelle repeated. She held her hands in the air, parallel with her palms flat and facing inwards. Then she brought her hands together. It looked like she was trying to explain a concept visually. Nyx had no clue what she meant by it. Sera shook her head and started rubbing the knuckles of her left fist over her jaw, running them back and forth over her old scars.
Weyland was watching the argument with his usual neutral expression. Nyx wondered if he was worried about the possibility of them all ending up inside a star, or getting reduced to their component atoms, or whatever it was that happened when navigators fucked up. Maybe he just didn’t understand what the hell was going on. “How’s Jianyu doing?” Nyx asked him.
“His neural activity is stabilizing,” Weyland said. “I may be able to wake him up in two more days.”
“Well, that’s some good news,” Nyx said.
On the fourth day, they dropped back into the customary flow of space and time at exactly the planet they’d been planning to stop by. Nyx made Sera wait an extra day, then told Weyland to give her a drug test before she’d allow her pilot to take the Benevolence down into the atmosphere. It was a smooth ride by Sera’s standards, easing on down through the atmospheric friction instead of blazing through with the chemical thrusters firing on full power. Their passengers disembarked. They looked glad to get the hell off the Benevolence.
They returned to low orbit, catching up on the most recent news they could get from Earth. The planet’s atmosphere was still a mess in the news feeds, with so much debris kicked up that the whole globe was shrouded in thick cloud cover. Nyx wished there was a way to get to the Sol system faster. She remembered Mirelle saying simple and bringing her hands together. She didn’t ask Mirelle if it was possible, but she thought about it for a long time.
The next day, Weyland brought Jianyu out of sedation. He talked complete nonsense for an hour, just strings of syllables that didn’t match any language. Nyx suggested that Sera babysit him because she’d stayed sober, and because Nyx was pretty sure she was going to do it whether she had permission or not. A few hours later, Sera sent a message to her com screen letting her know that Jianyu was speaking English again. He was, of course, insisting that he was ready to get back to work.
“I’m not asking you to chart the course,” Nyx told him as he sat down at the navigator’s station and pushed the chair back to its customary place. “Just review Mirelle’s data and tell me if you spot any irregularities.”
“Am I looking for anything in particular?” Jianyu asked. Weyland hovered behind him with a neural probe in one gloved hand and a wad of paper towels in the other.
“You’ll know it if you see it,” Nyx said.
Jianyu plugged the cable into his neural port. His eyes went distant, then began to roll up until there was only a sliver of dark iris showing. A trickle of blood ran out of his nose. “Cut the connection,” Nyx said.
Weyland yanked the cable out of Jianyu’s head and shoved the neural probe in. He mopped up the blood on Jianyu’s face, then peeled off his gloves neatly, inside-out to contain the biological waste.
It took him a while to regain the ability to speak in recognizable words. The first thing he said that Nyx could understand was, “What the fuck was that?”
“Is it a problem?” she asked him.
“It’s brilliant,” Jianyu said. When he smiled, she noticed that there was still a smear of blood on his upper lip.