Jianyu kept having to fight the sense that he was sitting in someone else’s seat. He kept looking to his right, expecting to see Sera at the pilot’s station, but instead he was just staring at Mirelle. Captain Dysart had decided to put Jianyu in the empty communications station closest to the navigator’s station, as if proximity to the action was going to mean anything when Mirelle was running the calculations.
He rubbed the center of his forehead, where a throbbing pain had taken up residence. Weyland had warned him that he’d have some strange symptoms, the after-effects of burnout and a direct shock from a stun baton. The headache had started yesterday. At least his senses were returning to normal. He’d spent the first day after waking up tasting sounds and smelling textures.
He looked right again without thinking. Sera caught his eye over Mirelle’s head. She shot him a worried expression. He gave her a thumbs up.
“Take it easy,” Captain Dysart said behind them. “No surprises.”
Of course he’d watched other navigators work before. He’d been the junior navigator on the Benevolence for the entirety of her trip into unknown space, looking up to the more senior members of his team for guidance. He’d travelled all his life as a passenger on ships, never even stepping foot on the bridge of most of them. Putting his trust in other navigators had always been part of his life.
He still felt a sick twist of anticipation as he watched Mirelle plug the cable into her neural port. Even though he’d reviewed the data of her last trip, he couldn’t fully explain what she’d done. The numbers just–worked, when they shouldn’t have. In the combination of euphoria and grogginess he’d felt after waking up from sedation, he’d thought it was brilliant. Now he couldn’t remember what exactly she’d done to move the Benevolence without sweeping the pursuing ship up in the same fold of spacetime.
Math wasn’t supposed to be subjective. Reality was more fluid than it looked, but everything that existed had constants.
Jianyu stared out the window as the starlight blurred. He wasn’t used to seeing this view. At this point in a trip he was usually buried deep in his own head, plotting a route that would allow the Benevolence to take a straight path through the universe’s curves. The way the light distorted and smeared across the clear crystal was beautiful, but it also made his headache worse.
He stood by while Weyland took Mirelle’s readings. “I’d like to review her calculations,” he said.
Weyland shook his head. “You’re off work for at least two weeks. Captain’s orders.”
Jianyu looked up at Captain Dysart, who shrugged and pointed her thumb back at the door. “And I’m standing by those orders. Get some rest.”
“Yes, sir.” Jianyu tried not to sound sullen, but it was a struggle. He went back to his room, sat down on his bed, and scrolled through his com screen looking for a song that fit his mood. The titles swam in front of his vision, the letters nearly as blurry as the starlight. Weyland had warned him that he’d have trouble reading text for at least a week.
Sera came in without knocking and flopped down cross-legged at the foot of his bed. “What’s this noise?” she yelled over the music’s pounding beat.
Jianyu couldn’t remember the band’s name. The singer was Eridani, the lyrics shocking to some sensibilities but tame by human standards. He hadn’t listened to it since he was a teenager. “It’s sort of like Eridani punk rock,” he said when he’d turned the volume down low enough for conversation.
“What does it mean?”
“Uh…” Jianyu listened to the lyrics, trying to remember the general jist of the song. “She’s saying it’s okay to show your elbows in public.”
“Wow, shocking stuff,” said Sera, scratching the scars over her own left elbow.
Jianyu didn’t ask her why she was here. He had the feeling he already knew why she’d decided to check up on him right now. He didn’t want to talk about what he was feeling about not being the Benevolence’s only navigator, wasn’t even sure he could put it into words if she asked.
Sera said, “Have you ever been to the Sol system?”
“Never,” Jianyu said. “I think I have some second cousins on Earth, but I never visited them. My parents moved all over the place for work, but home system diplomacy’s a specialized field.” His parents had preferred to operate in the wider galaxy, beyond the complicated politics and red tape of each Coalition species’ native system.
“I grew up there,” said Sera. “Not on Earth, but not so far away.”
Jianyu had never heard Sera talk about her childhood before. “What’s it like there?”
“The ceilings are low.” She held a hand over her head, mimicking an overhang. “Everything feels taller out here. You’re going to have to get used to ducking.”
“Right,” said Jianyu. “I’ll approach doorways with caution.”
“People won’t be friendly there,” Sera said. She paused, picking at the front of her jacket. “Especially not right now.”
Jianyu said, very softly, “Yeah, I know.”
“You should stick close to me, yeah? Just in case. And I know you don’t like carrying a gun, but maybe you should give it a try.”
Jianyu’s throat felt thick. He looked up at the ceiling. “I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe.”