by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
For the rest of her life, Yash Zarlengo would replay that last night in her mind, going over each and every detail, looking for something different—a clue, perhaps, a missed signal.
She never found one that satisfied her.
Yash and Jonathan “Coop” Cooper had been sitting in their favorite bar in the Ivoire. The bar was really just an extension of the main commissary, but the ship’s designers had gone all out. The bar had twenty-five tables, organized in small groups, some with counters running behind them, and plants shielding the patrons. The tables were made of brass and some teak-colored wood. The chairs matched, except for the comfortable brass-colored cushions.
Alcohol bottles lined the two interior walls. The wall that was easiest to reach had what had been the alcohol that was easiest to find in that particular sector. The wall behind the recycler cleaning unit had upper cabinets filled with bottles that were mostly one of a kind. Although, technically, everything in this bar was now one of a kind.
Yash tried not to think about that. Instead, she stared out the floor-to-ceiling windows that revealed the vastness of space—or whatever planet the Ivoire orbited. The windows could be shuttered, then shielded, and often were when the ship was traveling from place to place.
But at that moment, the Ivoire was docked at the space station that housed the Lost Souls Corporation. A woman who called herself Boss in that bastardization of Standard everyone spoke in this time period had started the corporation to discover more about something she called “stealth tech,” but which really had more to do with the Fleet’s anacapa drives.
Boss had found the Ivoire. In fact, Boss had accidentally rescued the Ivoire. She and her people had inadvertently activated the equipment in a decaying sector base. That equipment had pulled the Ivoire out of its trap in foldspace, bringing the Ivoire and her crew five thousand years into their future.
As a cadet—hell, throughout her career—Yash thought she could deal with anything. But the loss of everything she knew—from the Fleet itself, to the language her people spoke, to the history that was just yesterday to her and so far in the past as to be unknown to these people—was overwhelming. Some days, she thought she wouldn’t make it.
But going through this with the crew of the Ivoire, all five hundred of them, made it easier. She wasn’t going through this alone.
She took comfort in that.
Hence the drinking sessions with Coop. They would meet in the bar not quite nightly, put their feet on the tables precisely because that wasn’t regulation, and drink some of the old whiskey, the kind that they had brought from planets they would never see again, in a time period they couldn’t return to.
After the first few sessions, Coop and Yash didn’t get drunk. Usually, anyway. They sipped and stared at the edges of the space station and the edges of the sector beyond. Planets Yash still didn’t recognize, nebulae that gleamed against the blackish-blueness, the red star so far in the distance that it looked like a pinprick of blood.
She wasn’t coming to love those things, but they were becoming familiar. Anything could become familiar, given enough time.
That night, Coop was staring at his whiskey, not drinking it at all. He was looking through the glass at the view, in an unusually contemplative mood.
He had been everyone’s rock. A solid, broad-shouldered man who seemed even taller and broader-shouldered since they had arrived, he now had a few more lines on his face, a hint of silver in his black hair. He had stopped wearing any kind of uniform a few months ago and had said nothing about it.
He now dressed like Boss’s people, wearing black pants and a black or gray T-shirt, quietly moving his association from a Fleet that probably no longer existed to Lost Souls Corporation and its vague connection to something called the Nine Planet Alliance.
He was shedding as much of the past as he could, and making it okay for the rest of the crew to do so. Some were already thinking of leaving the Ivoire permanently, taking jobs inside Lost Souls or becoming planetbound somewhere in the Nine Planets.
Yash couldn’t contemplate any of that. She still wore her Fleet clothes as well, although some of them were getting worn. She would have to replace her regulation boots soon, and she didn’t want to. They were comfortable.
They were also coming apart.
“Hey, can anyone join this little party?” Dix Pompiono, the Ivoire’s nominal first officer, spoke from behind them.
Yash tensed. Coop stopped swirling the liquid in his glass. His expression hadn’t changed, a sign that Coop didn’t want anyone to know what he was feeling.
But Yash knew exactly how Coop felt. Neither she nor Coop wanted to deal with Dix right now. This was their relaxation place, not a place for histrionics. And Dix had been all over the emotional map ever since the Ivoire arrived here.
Dix had actually suffered some kind of breakdown a few months ago after a mission Coop ran to Starbase Kappa to shut down a long-malfunctioning anacapa drive. The mission had nearly failed because of Dix. Coop resented that deeply.
Yash hadn’t told Coop that she had found the mission joyous, in its own way. Yash had felt useful again, like she was back in the old Fleet, with a proper goal and a future.
Of course, after that mission, the Ivoire’s crew had nothing to do. And, in some ways, that mission had been the Ivoire crew’s last gasp. The mission had brought up too many conflicting feelings for everyone, not even counting what had happened with Dix.
“Gotta pour your own.” Coop sounded welcoming, but the pause before he spoke probably told Dix more than enough.
Behind her, glasses clinked. Then she saw movement reflected in the windows before her. Dix had taken a tumbler out of the cabinet near the recycler. He had grabbed the whiskey bottle and was pouring himself a drink.
Coop let out a sigh so small Yash wouldn’t have heard it if she hadn’t been sitting next to him. Yash patted his arm, not as comfort, but as agreement.
Coop glanced at her, blue eyes hooded. Then he shrugged ever so slightly with the shoulder closest to her, as if to say, What can you do?
She mimicked his shrug, so that he understood that she identified with him. The nice quiet evening they’d been enjoying would be quiet no longer.
Dix rounded the table nearest them, carrying a tumbler of whiskey two fingers full. He stopped, looked at the view, then took a sip.
He was gaunt now. He had always been too thin, and abnormally tall for someone who ended up as bridge crew. His hair had gone completely white in the last year, and his cheeks were sunken inward.
The last time Yash had seen him, his hands shook as if he couldn’t control them.
But they weren’t shaking now.
“There’s the future,” he said, looking at the sector they still hadn’t explored. “It’s been there all along, hasn’t it?”
He sounded like the old Dix, a little wry, intelligent, and maybe even a bit hopeful.
Yash couldn’t believe that Dix was hopeful. He’d been the most distraught of all of the senior crewmembers, the one who had been least able to contain his heartbreak when he learned they could never ever go back.
Indeed, his completely insane meltdown on Starbase Kappa had come from some cockamamie scheme he had developed to send the Ivoire back to its own time period—and Coop had thwarted him.
Dix had barely spoken to Coop since.
Dix sipped from his tumbler, tilted his head back—clearly savoring the whiskey—and then swallowed. He turned away from the windows, and set his glass on a nearby table. But he didn’t sit.
Instead, he continued to stand, the light from the space station illuminating half his face, leaving the side closest to Yash in shadow.
“I owe you guys an apology,” he said.
His voice had strength, which she hadn’t expected. The last time he had used the word “apology” in her presence he had said, I suppose you expect an apology, and his tone had been as mean as the words.
Now, Yash didn’t answer him, but she met his gaze. He still seemed sad, as if sadness had leached into his very soul. She wondered if someone who knew her well would think the same thing of her.
Coop didn’t even move. It was as if Coop hadn’t heard anything.
“I’ve been thinking about it,” Dix said, glancing at Coop, then looking back at Yash. “I’ve been acting as if this just happened to me. It didn’t. It happened to all of us.”
Yash hadn’t wanted to react to anything Dix said, but she couldn’t help herself. She nodded.
He gave her a faint smile, took that nod as an invitation, and sat down to the left of Coop. Coop rested his glass of whiskey on his flat stomach, and continued to stare at the Universe beyond.
“I can make excuses,” Dix said, “and I did. I know I did. The loss of Lenore made me crazy.”
Everything made you crazy, Yash thought, but didn’t say. She didn’t dare speak out at all, because everyone had lost family and loved ones, even her. She would never see her parents again, or her twin sisters. She hadn’t had a lover at the time the Ivoire left on its last mission for the Fleet, but she had had an entire cadre of friends, all of whom had not served on the Ivoire.
She would never see them again. She would never again see anyone she loved who hadn’t been on the Ivoire.
“Sometimes I think if we could access records of the Fleet, learn about what happened to everyone, I’d feel better,” Dix said.
Yash stiffened. She’d had that thought. So had Coop. They’d actually looked through the information they’d pulled from Starbase Kappa, but it was minimal. Maintenance records mostly. No history of Fleet personnel, not even personnel who had come later.
As was proper. No information about the Fleet should have been available in any closed Fleet outpost. None.
“But I keep turning it over and over in my mind,” Dix said, “and I realize that discovering that Lenore married someone else, and had kids with him—or didn’t marry anyone and died alone—that wouldn’t help me. It’s not just the loss of the people, selfish as that is to say. It’s the loss of the future. The expected, imagined future.”
Coop let out a small sigh. His fingers wrapped around the glass, but he didn’t take another drink.
“How do you do it?” Dix asked. “How do you get through each day? How do you accept that you should put your uniform away, and say good-bye to the Fleet, when the Fleet has been our entire life?”
Coop stiffened. Yash did too. Yash hadn’t ever had that conversation with Coop, although she’d had others. About the Fleet. About where it might be now, five thousand years later. About whether or not it still existed.
About whether approaching it if it did exist was a good idea.
“You don’t want to talk about it, do you?” Dix asked. “That’s how you’re coping. You’re denying what’s in front of you.”
A surge of anger ran through Yash. Coop wasn’t denying anything. Neither was she. They were moving forward each and every damn day, just like they’d been trained to do.
She swung her feet off the table, sitting up, about to speak, when Coop lifted one hand from his glass, forefinger out, stopping her.
“I’m using my training,” he said to Dix. “You should too.”
“Training?” Dix made a sound halfway between a laugh and a sob. “None of us were trained for this.”
Coop’s lips thinned. He sat up, then put his glass on the table in front of him.
Yash tensed. She would step between them if need be. The crew was still on edge; they didn’t need to hear that their captain had physically fought with Dix.
Then she swallowed, thinking about her own reaction.
Coop wasn’t a violent man. He had never hit anyone on his crew, rarely hit someone who had attacked him. He was the calmest person she knew.
That hint of violence in the air? Was she imagining it? Or had it come from her?
She shifted slightly, saw Coop’s posture. No. She knew him well. He was furious. He was past furious. He was barely holding himself together.
“We are all trained for this, First Officer Pompiono,” Coop said, enunciating each word precisely. He was using the captain speak he used only with the most recalcitrant crewmembers, the ones he would dump at the next port after dozens of write-ups. The hopeless ones.
Dix raised his eyebrows. “I never heard any of my instructors mention that foldspace could catapult us five thousand years in the future, making us lose everything, cheating us of our own march through time. Making us abandon our families—”
“Then you weren’t paying attention.” Coop handed his glass to Yash, as if she were his second in command, not Dix. And in truth, she had become Coop’s second in command. She had been at his side for the entire year they’d been stuck here, working on the Ivoire, figuring out the way forward. Dix had been wallowing in his own losses and breakdown, and Yash had been working. Hard. Like most everyone else.
Yash set Coop’s glass next to hers, out of the way.
Dix leaned back just a little, but there was something in his eyes. A kind of triumph, maybe? Relief that he had finally gotten an obvious emotional reaction out of Coop?
Coop laid his hands flat on the table’s faux wood surface, as if he were stretching them, as if he were pushing the table down so that he wouldn’t do anything harmful to anyone.
“Our training,” Coop said, “was about this, and only this.”
Dix frowned, opening his mouth to speak, probably to disagree, when Coop continued.
“We were told that DV-Class ships ventured out alone. We could get lost. We might never come back. We often had no one to rely on but ourselves. I don’t know about you, but my training included years of role-playing those very things, plus going over historical incidents of lost ships, coping with hundreds and hundreds of scenarios in which this very thing occurred.”
“It’s not the same,” Dix said.
“It’s exactly the same.” Coop spoke softly, but used as much energy as if he had shouted it.
Yash was holding her breath. She made herself release it.
“It’s not the same,” Dix repeated. “In those scenarios, we would have had hope.”
“Hope?” Coop spoke the word as if Dix had been using Boss’s bastardized Standard. “What kind of hope are you talking about?”
“Hope that we could return.” Dix was calm, like the Dix of old. The man that Coop had made First Officer.
Yash could remember when Dix inspired confidence in everyone, when he knew the exact right words to say. When he really was an extension of Coop, understanding exactly how Coop would approach something, and then anticipating it, so Coop never even had to give the order.
“You lack that hope now?” Yash asked. Because she didn’t. She was still searching for a way back, even though she knew it was a long shot. They had gotten here, hadn’t they? That meant returning was possible as well.
Coop turned his head slightly, as if he had just remembered that Yash was in the conversation.
Then he shifted his body, almost blocking her view of Dix.
“You think all of those scenarios,” Coop said, “the hundreds and hundreds of them that we learned, would always have hope?”
“Yes,” Dix said.
“Ship destroyed, crew scattered, the Fleet never notified before it happened, you think those kinds of scenarios had hope?”
“Steal a ship, buy one, get back to the Fleet,” Dix said.
“Without an anacapa drive,” Coop said. “Not possible.”
“But the hope—”
“Is a myth, Dix. You were in the same classes I was. You had the same training, the same instructors. Did you miss the parts about ships getting lost forever in foldspace? Do you think those crews had hope?”
“Until they died, yes, I do,” Dix said.
“Did you have this kind of hope when we were stranded in foldspace?” Coop asked.
“Yes,” Dix said calmly. “I was convinced we’d get home.”
Coop harrumphed. Yash thought back to those horrid weeks just over a year ago. She hadn’t allowed herself to think about getting back to the Fleet. Nor had she let herself think about foldspace as much more than a theoretical problem. The Fleet used foldspace as a tool to travel long distances. The Fleet believed that the anacapa drive created a fold in space, so that ships could cross it quickly.
But Yash hadn’t been sure that they entered a fold in space. She thought maybe they had traveled somewhere else, a different sector of the Universe, somewhere far away. Or maybe they had entered some kind of interdimensional portal. She had kept those thoughts to herself when the Ivoire was trapped, because she needed to fix the ship, figure out what had gone wrong, to create some kind of chance—
“I wasn’t convinced we’d get back to the Fleet,” Coop said.
“But you said you were.” Dix sounded surprised. Apparently, he had trusted in Coop’s words.
Yash had too. She had thought Coop amazingly calm throughout that entire ordeal—as much as she had paid attention to him. She had spent so much time in engineering that most nights she had even slept there.
“I said I believed we could escape foldspace,” Coop said. “One problem at a time. Remember, Dix? It’s part of the training.”
Yash nodded. She was rather astounded that Dix had to be reminded. One problem at a time was a core principle of the Fleet. She had been operating on that very principle when the Ivoire had been trapped in foldspace.
“And I was right,” Coop said. “We escaped foldspace.”
“We didn’t do anything to escape,” Dix said. “These people we’re stuck with, this Lost Souls thing, they got us out.”
Yash clenched a fist. How dare he? He knew how hard everyone worked to get out of foldspace.
She finally spoke up. “You’re mistaken, Dix.”
His head swiveled toward her as if he had forgotten she was there. Coop, too. He frowned at her in surprise.
“We fixed the anacapa drive just enough,” she said, “so that when a signal came from another anacapa we had the energy to assist in the pull from foldspace. If that signal had come one week earlier, we would still be stranded there.”
Dix’s eyes narrowed. “You believe that.”
“I know that,” she said.
Coop nodded. “One problem at a time,” he said. “That’s what we did in foldspace. We worked the problem.”
Dix’s lower lip trembled, making him look like a little boy who got caught in a lie.
He squared his shoulders, then said, “So what’s the current problem? Getting back to our time period? Getting back to the Fleet?”
If he had actually been doing his job the last year, he would know what everyone was working on, and how they were coping.
Although not everyone was coping. And Coop was managing those people as well.
To his credit, he didn’t say that. He leaned forward, putting more of his weight on his flattened hands, then peered at Dix, as if unable to believe that Dix had no idea what was going on.
“We’re five thousand years in the future,” Coop said. “Five thousand years of technological advances. Five thousand years of changes. Five thousand years of Fleet history.”
“Technology is backward here,” Dix said, interrupting Coop’s flow.
“Here at Lost Souls, yes,” Coop said. “It is. But we haven’t found the Fleet yet. And once we find them, if we find them, we have no idea if they’ll believe us, help us, or work with us. But I don’t care. One problem at a time, Dix.”
“We’re searching for the Fleet?” Dix asked.
“We never stopped searching for the Fleet,” Yash said.
Dix shifted slightly on his chair. “And you think that when we find them—”
“If we find them,” Coop corrected.
“You think they’ll help us get back.” For the first time in a year, Dix sounded almost joyful.
“No,” Coop said. “I make no such assumption. One problem at a time.”
“But the new technology, as you said.” Dix was smiling, but his smile was that intense weird smile he had had on Starbase Kappa. “Their technology will be better than Boss’s. They’ll know how to get us back.”
“A lot of assumptions in that,” Yash said. “We don’t know if the Fleet still exists. We don’t know if the Fleet of the present—if there is one—has better tech than Lost Souls. We don’t know if they’re going to want to send us back, because it might cause all kinds of problems. There are time lines—”
“And alternate realities, and yeah, yeah.” Dix waved a hand. “I believe in that less than I believe in foldspace.”
Whatever that meant. He had gone off the deep end after all. Somehow, after the apology, Yash had hoped the old Dix had come back. She missed him. Before the Ivoire got lost in foldspace, he used to sit in this bar with the two of them, and work shipboard problems as if they were nothing.
The man in front of her only resembled that man. The man in front of her had Dix’s shell, but not his courage. And she was beginning to think he didn’t have Dix’s brain either.
“Are we going to even try to get back?” Dix asked Coop.
“When?” Coop asked.
“What do you mean, when? If we get a chance. Are we going to try?”
Coop looked away, focusing on the windows. Yash looked too, saw the lights of a small ship as it left the space station, on a mission she probably would never know about.
Coop took a deep breath. “One problem at a time, Dix.”
Dix slammed his hand on the table, making his glass jump and spilling just a bit of the whiskey. “I need to know, Coop. I need to know we’re trying.”
“Getting back to the Fleet and to our time period is an extreme long shot, Dix.” Coop spoke softly. “And I’m not sure it’s worth attempting. Because—the training, Dix. We’re trained to make the most of the situation we’re in, not to wish we were somewhere else.”
The color fled Dix’s face, leaving only two red spots on his cheeks, almost as if Coop had physically slapped him.
“I lost the love of my life,” Dix said.
“Most likely,” Coop said, and Yash tensed at the bluntness. Although she knew that was part of the training too. No use sugarcoating anything, because that didn’t help anyone deal with change.
Better to face it straight on.
“But you would have lost her if her ship got damaged in some battle,” Coop said. “You would have lost her if we remained stranded in foldspace. Hell, Dix, you would have lost her—or she would have lost you—at the end of your lives. One of you would have had to die first.”
Dix pressed his lips together. His eyes had filled with tears. “You’re a mean son of a bitch, you know that, Coop?”
Coop gave him a languid, sideways look. “I never pretended otherwise. You don’t get to be the captain of a DV-Class vessel by being kind, Dix. I thought you knew that.”
Dix ran a shaking hand over his face. “I didn’t know anything.”
Yash frowned at Dix in surprise. Of course he had known what it took to be captain. He was on the captain track. There were personality tests, and stress tests, and a willingness to do exactly what Coop had done: disregard someone’s feelings to get that someone back on track.
Had Dix forgotten that? All of it? Or had he tested well, only to perform poorly in the field?
Coop folded his hands together, as if he had to hold them in place to prevent them from—what? Grabbing Dix and shaking him?
Because Yash wanted to do that.
“Remember who you are, Dix,” Coop said. “Use your training. You’re second in command on this ship.”
“Not any more,” Dix said bitterly. “You sidelined me.”
“You need to face forward, Dix,” Coop said, ignoring Dix’s accusation. His accurate accusation. “We need you to work the problem.”
“The problem, the problem,” Dix snapped. “As if it’s something minor.”
Yash glanced at Coop. His expression was calm, but he was gripping his hands together so tightly that his knuckles had turned white.
“DV-Class ships never deal with something minor, Dix,” Coop said. “You know that too.”
“They don’t deal with something like this, either,” Dix said.
“How do you know?” Yash asked.
Both men looked at her with surprise. She shrugged. She had been thinking about this a lot.
“Dozens, maybe hundreds, of ships have disappeared forever, lost to foldspace. Those are the ones we know about, the ones that were actually observed entering foldspace. But we lose a lot of ships because they never return from some mission, and we can’t track them down. We don’t know how many other ships, how many other crews, how many other captains have dealt with this very thing.”
Dix stared at her, his eyes tear-filled, his nose red. “And that’s supposed to make me feel better?”
“We’re not here to make you feel better,” Coop said.
Dix turned that hideous gaze on Coop.
“None of us feel better,” Coop said. “But most of us are working.”
“Yeah,” Dix said. “Working every angle. Sleeping with that woman who found us. Must be nice to have her to warm your bed.”
Coop’s impassive expression vanished. In its stead, he gazed at Dix with compassion.
“I know you lost Lenore,” Coop said, clearly trying a different tack. “And I know you loved her more than anything.”
“I won’t replace her,” Dix said. “I won’t try.”
“I’m not suggesting you do,” Coop said.
“You have no idea how this feels,” Dix said.
Coop nodded. “You’re right,” he said. “I don’t.”
Yash frowned. She hadn’t expected him to say that. Was this another attempt at calming Dix? Or was this just Coop, tossing away any attempt at caution?
“I don’t know if I ever will know what you felt for Lenore,” Coop said. “They tested me. They test all candidates for captaincy. We’re less likely than other members of the Fleet to have long-term romantic relationships. When have you ever heard a captain use the phrase, ‘The love of my life’?”
“Are you saying I’m not captain material?” Dix asked.
Good God. Everything was about him. That wasn’t the point, and if he had been listening—
“It would have depended on how you tested out on other things,” Coop said. “But a willingness to sacrifice deep human connection in favor of the right decision for the ship, a certain bloodlessness, if you will, or, as you said, a willingness to be a mean son of a bitch, that’s damn near the number one requirement.”
“So you’d leave Boss for the Fleet?” Dix said.
“You’re under a misapprehension,” Coop said. “We’re close, but we’re not in a relationship.”
Yet, Yash thought. But they would be.
“If you were.” Dix’s tone implied that he didn’t believe Coop’s denial. “Would you leave her to go home?”
Home was an interesting word choice. Although Yash empathized with it. That was the thing: the Ivoire felt like home, but this time period did not.
“Yes,” Coop said. He relaxed his hands. They were still clasped together, but loosely. “Here’s what you miss, Dix. I would leave a loved one for any mission, if ordered to do so by the Fleet. I would, and I have.”
“Even someone you thought you could spend the rest of your life with?” Dix asked.
“Yes,” Coop said.
“And never see them again?” Dix asked, voice trembling.
“That’s the risk,” Coop said. “That’s what we all agreed to when we joined the crew of this vessel. I thought you understood that.”
Dix blinked and looked away. A single tear hung on the lashes of his left eye. Yash stared at it, wondering if he knew it was there. Wondering if he cared.
“We lost everything,” he whispered.
“Face forward,” Coop said. The words were brutal. His tone was brutal. “That’s what the Fleet does, Dix. Forever forward. You know that.”
Dix nodded. The tear fell, landing on the edge of the table, and falling out of Yash’s line of sight.
“I forgot,” he said, his voice thick with tears.
“I know,” Coop said gently. He put a hand on Dix’s shoulder. Dix jumped. “Drink with us. Yash and I have been talking about all of this since we got here. We’ll catch you up on our plans.”
Dix’s Adam’s apple bobbed—a nervous swallow.
For a moment, Yash thought he was going to stay. For a moment, she thought they would be able to reclaim the team that they had been just over a year ago.
Then Dix shook his head. “I have enough to think about for one night.”
He stood, reached out one hand toward Coop.
Coop took it.
“Thank you,” Dix said. “You clarified things.”
“Good,” Coop said. But he didn’t add, as Yash might have, Glad I could help. It was almost as if he didn’t believe the conversation made any difference at all.
“Join us tomorrow?” Yash asked, partly because Coop didn’t. Partly because it seemed like Dix expected it.
He smiled at her, and the smile was warm. “I’ve missed these moments,” he said.
“Me, too,” she said.
He picked up his whiskey, knocked it back, then carried the tumbler to the cleaner/
“I am sorry,” Dix said.
She nodded. “We know.”
Then he waved his fingers, a small good-bye. He left the bar.
Coop picked up his own drink, put his feet back on the table, and leaned back in the chair. He still didn’t take a sip.
Yash watched until she was certain Dix was gone. Then she settled back into her spot, although she didn’t feel as relaxed.
“He did apologize,” she said.
“He did,” Coop said, as if it didn’t matter.
They sat in silence for a long time. Then Yash said, “He’s not the man you thought he was, is he?”
Coop finally picked up his glass. He peered into it, then—finally—took a sip.
“He’s the man I feared he was,” Coop said. It was, in its own way, the closest Coop had ever come to saying he had picked the wrong first officer.
Yash finished her drink and thought about getting another. This night, it felt wrong to get drunk. Maybe she was past anesthetizing herself. Maybe she had moved to another stage.
“He’s right, though,” Coop said.
“About what?” Yash asked. She braced herself. She hadn’t ever expected Jonathon “Coop” Cooper to talk about loss.
“I’ll never know how he feels,” Coop said, and finished his drink.
* * *
The next morning, Yash arrived on the Ivoire early to run the monthly systems checks. The Ivoire didn’t need that many checks, but they made Yash feel better.
No one knew how often she came here, not even Coop.
She walked onto the bridge, lights coming up as she entered. No matter how many times she’d come here since they had arrived in this strange future, she still felt uncomfortable on the empty bridge. It had been built for activity, with dozens of work stations, and the captain’s chair in the very center, waiting for someone to take command. A door to her right led into a small conference area, and a line of storage cabinets covered the wall beside that door.
She always glanced at them, afraid someone had tampered with them. She didn’t trust everyone at Lost Souls, even though none of them should have had access to the bridge.
The bridge felt even more uncomfortable than usual this morning, and she couldn’t quite put her finger on why. The hair on the back of her neck had gone up the moment she’d stepped into the main part of the bridge.
The only anomaly she could see were the screens. They had been shuttered, blocking the view of the docking bay she had seen just the night before.
She thought that odd; she liked having the portals open, liked seeing everything in real time. The shuttered portals were how she knew she hadn’t been the last person up here. That too was odd, but she didn’t think too much about it, because Coop had been on the ship with her last night.
They no longer lived on the Ivoire, taking larger berths in the converted space station, but a handful of crewmembers still did. Coop did not discourage them. He wanted someone to continue manning the ship. He probably would have done it himself if no one else had volunteered to stay.
But he was gradually easing his grip on the past, and moving off the Ivoire had been one of those steps for him. Just like it had been for Yash.
She actually liked her new apartment better now. She liked the extra bedroom, which she had cluttered with equipment. She liked the large kitchen, and the bathroom was a religious experience.
She, too, apparently, was easing her grip on the past.
The conversation last night, the apology from Dix, had buoyed her mood. Maybe others who were having trouble moving into the future would do so if Dix did.
She had gone to sleep hopeful and had awakened with even more hope. She was humming as she went through some of the start-up routines.
As she saw it, one of her duties as chief engineer was to make sure each system activated and functioned. She had developed a cycle in the past year, a way of working through each system, checking it and its readings against the readings made before the Ivoire got trapped in foldspace, and also against the readings made after the Ivoire had come here.
The only system she hadn’t worked on a lot was the anacapa drive. She had repaired it in foldspace, just like she had told Coop and Dix, but she hadn’t cycled it on much here. They had used it when Coop had taken them to Starbase Kappa, and they had used it again on a few “fact-finding missions” as Coop called them, searching for the Fleet.
But Yash had been tense each and every time. She used to trust the anacapa drive a little more than the rest of the crew did (which was to say, not that much), but she no longer trusted it at all.
If she was being honest with herself, she was a bit afraid of it now. The change had been large for her as well.
Still, on her monthly scans, she checked the anacapa drive’s controls, to make sure they functioned. She also checked the drive, to make sure no one had snuck onto the ship and tampered with the drive or activated it remotely.
Not that that would have been easy, particularly since she did not have the drive in assistance-needed mode. But she worried about it.
Since arriving here, in this time period, she worried about everything.
She worked her way across control panels and through the bridge itself, checking each system, just like she always did. There was an odd smell on the bridge, something coppery and slightly foul. She checked the environmental systems, and saw nothing amiss, although she didn’t check all of the records to see if someone had spilled something. She would do that if the smell lingered after she had moved through the bridge.
The environmental system activated at different levels, depending on what was occurring on the bridge. Since nothing much had happened here in the last few weeks, the system had remained on low.
She rounded the corner of one of the stationary control panels and stopped. Boots jutted out from under the console.
Boots, attached to legs, legs wearing an older dress uniform, black with silver piping.
That foul, coppery scent was stronger here.
She didn’t even have to look to know what she would find. A body. The question was: whose?
She moved to the side of the console, next to the large container protecting the anacapa drive.
Dix was wrapped around the container, clutching it like a lifeline. Blood had pooled near his head, and one of the bone knives he had received as a gift after successfully negotiating an agreement on Colashen was on the floor, not too far from his neck.
He had slit his own throat.
His hands gripped the container, though, palm prints everywhere, palm prints in blood.
He hadn’t tried to clutch the wound closed. He hadn’t sent for help. He had clearly intended to do this.
His face was whitish gray. She had always heard the term “bloodless,” but she had never really seen it. Not like this.
His eyes were open and dull, his mouth slack.
He had done this deliberately. He had planned this, the bastard. He had known he was going to do this last night, and he had come to say good-bye.
That little finger-wave, that half-smile. It wasn’t because he was getting better. It was because he knew he was leaving.
He was getting out.
No. He was quitting.
She clenched her fist. She had this insane desire to kick him, to take his blood-covered hands off her anacapa container, and fling them away. To fling him away.
It took every ounce of control she had to remain still. The bastard. What did he think this would gain? This show he had put on. Had he expected the bridge to contact someone to help him, to prevent the actual death? If so, then why had he slit his own throat? He had cut the carotid artery, which was guaranteed to bleed him out in minutes, long before anyone could get to him.
Although there was equipment on the bridge that could be used in an emergency. Tools that would seal wounds, that would actually fly to the side of the injured and bind the wound until it could be repaired.
She glanced up, saw that nothing along the medical wall had been disturbed.
The fact that the medical wall was untouched meant he had actively shut off the assist controls before he had slit his throat.
And he had called Coop cruel.
She took a deep breath, willing herself calm.
First she had to preserve the scene.
She leaned over the control panel, and made sure the information that the bridge recorded as a matter of course—who arrived, who left, the footage from the security cameras, the changes in environmental controls, and the record of the changes she had made since she’d arrived here—were archived.
She had brought a data strip and set it on the control panel. The strip copied data off the control panel, so she could remove that data from the Ivoire. The strip was unique to the Fleet, so that the control panel knew it could share the information. She would place that information in her second bedroom, with information she had taken off all of the Fleet ships that Lost Souls had found.
Then she froze.
Had Dix tampered with anything? More specifically, had he tampered with the anacapa drive?
He had tampered with the anacapa on Starbase Kappa, in a fruitless attempt to get back to their time period. What had stopped him from doing so here?
She swallowed hard, her heart hammering.
Nothing had happened yet. If he had done something, it would have to be on a timer, as something that would happen after he died.
She needed to contact Coop. Then she needed to look.
* * *
“I need you on the Ivoire.” Yash sent through Coop’s private command channel. “I need you on the bridge stat.”
She hoped he was still hooked into the comm. So many members of the Ivoire crew had decided to go untethered—as they called it—removing the tiny communications devices that they normally wore when they left the ship.
“Problem?” Coop asked in that tone that told her he didn’t want to be interrupted.
“I’m not saying any more,” she said. “Get here. Now.”
He was changing. The Coop of old would have been a lot more professional, less annoyed.
He probably thought there were no problems on the Ivoire that couldn’t wait.
He was wrong.
She walked around the console, looking at the anacapa controls. It didn’t seem like anyone had touched them, but she had to be sure.
She wiped her sweaty palms on the back of her shirt, then took a deep breath.
Before she did, she activated a voice log, giving the date in both the timeline of Lost Souls and also in the ship’s time, as if the Ivoire had never left the past.
Then she said, “I am making this recording in case I find something awry. For the record, I have found the body of former First Officer Dix Pompiono . . .” and she paused.
Coop hadn’t officially removed Dix from duty. Coop had been following procedure, more or less. He had wanted to document everything that Dix had done wrong, and the medical attention Dix had probably needed.
If Coop had demoted Dix, Dix wouldn’t have been able to access the bridge.
“Dix killed himself. At least as far as I can tell without touching or moving him. The medical team will have to confirm. The reasons I have activated a voice log are twofold: I am alone on the bridge, and will remain so for several minutes more as I wait for Captain Cooper to join me.”
She let out a breath. She sounded calmer than she was. Not that she was panicked. The fury had her shaking. Goddamn it, Dix.
“The second reason is that I found Dix with his arms wrapped around the anacapa container. Dix had lost control of himself on a mission to Starbase Kappa three months ago and had tampered with an active, if dying, anacapa drive. I am concerned he has done something similar here.”
But why would he? He had planned to kill himself. And he wasn’t so far gone that he would believe that the anacapa needed blood to activate.
She smiled grimly at the very thought.
“I do not know what I’m going to find. I have already set the bridge controls to record everything occurring on the bridge at full levels, but I still need to make sure that the record is clear. Which is why I’m going to narrate my investigation. I will not go into depth, unless I need to.”
She didn’t want to go into depth, to think about the proper wording of every phrase. Not yet anyway.
“First,” she said. “I need to check the anacapa controls.”
She was not going to explain why. Nor was she going to mention how her right hand shook as it hovered over the section of the console that activated the controls quickly.
Sometimes she saw that section of the console in her nightmares, her fingers inputting codes, then her palm, slamming against the console, giving it permission to execute the commands she had just placed—commands that had sent the Ivoire into foldspace.
Commands that had led to the ship ending up here.
It didn’t matter to her nightmares that at the very same moment, Quurzod ships had fired on the Ivoire, causing serious damage. It didn’t matter to her, even though she knew that something in the Quurzod ships’ weapons had interacted with the anacapa drive. The drive had been damaged: she had seen that in foldspace, and she had felt it that day.
She hadn’t shut off the drive.
She probably should have shut off the drive.
She slowly brought her hand down on the smooth surface. The controls rose, responding to her touch.
The anacapa only worked for select personnel. She had no idea if Coop had restricted Dix’s use of the anacapa drive. She would have. And she should have suggested it when they came back from Starbase Kappa, but she had been too busy, thinking about that mission. Too busy thinking about all the implications for their new future.
The controls looked normal.
She let out a small breath, then reminded herself that it didn’t matter how the controls looked. They had looked normal after they had resumed their cycle, that day the anacapa drive had malfunctioned.
Still, she verbally noted that the controls seemed fine, and then discussed how she was going to dig further, to make sure that what seemed fine actually was fine.
First, she had the system show her any unusual activity, no matter how small.
What she found wasn’t small at all. Dix had tried to access the anacapa drive, but he hadn’t been able to.
Coop had done exactly what he should have done. He had removed Dix’s access to sensitive systems.
Yash nodded as she saw that. Coop had figured Dix would test to see if he could still access the bridge, but had gambled that Dix wouldn’t try to access sensitive systems—important systems.
Yash almost looked to see if Dix had tried to access other systems, but made herself stop. She needed to investigate the anacapa drive first. That was the one Dix was most focused on.
At Starbase Kappa, Dix thought he could recreate the circumstances that had sent the Ivoire into foldspace, and then five thousand years into the future. Dix had believed he could use that recreation to reverse what had happened.
Yash still had no idea how Dix believed that would happen. To her that kind of thinking was as filled with magic as trying to active the anacapa drive using blood.
But Dix hadn’t been in his right mind, no matter how he had seemed the night before.
The first hurdle crossed. Dix hadn’t tampered with the anacapa drive controls. But she needed to examine more. Because of who Dix was, and how he had become First Officer.
Coop had always trusted Yash more than he trusted Dix. Coop had actually told Yash that on a few occasions. But she had never been on the captain track that first officers usually followed. She had been really honest with Coop from the beginning: she didn’t want to become a captain. She loved the engineering work. She liked design and tech as well.
Being captain, being in charge of all these people, would have gotten in the way, even if she had been good at working with people, which she was not.
So she had been Coop’s advisor on choosing among his first officer candidates. Coop had had reservations about all three candidates. Dix had been the most well rounded of all of them. He had known DV-class vessels better than anyone. People liked him and, more importantly, they listened to him.
And, Coop had said—Yash had said—Dix had an uncanny ability to find the holes in a system. If there was a back door, even if it was unintentional—especially if it was unintentional—Dix would find it.
She was looking now to see if he had found anything here.
The unusual activity she had called up should have shown something like that, if he had done so. It would also have shown if he had tried and failed.
And he had.
He had spent hours after leaving Coop and Yash, searching for something, a way into the anacapa drive. But Dix hadn’t found it, at least not from the console.
She looked down at Dix again, his hands on that container. The console should have showed if someone breached the container. Coop should have been notified if someone had.
But Dix, with that ability to find ways around systems, might have shut off the notifications.
She crouched, looked around the blood at the container’s edges and the seals. They seemed normal, as normal as anything with blood smeared on it could be.
She couldn’t entirely tell though. Not with a quick glance.
She stood up. She didn’t want to open the container, not without Coop here. Not without help.
Dix could have set a trap. He might have set up something that would ensure the entire ship would blow up if she tried to open the container.
Her mouth had gone dry. She couldn’t believe she was thinking of this, that she was mentally accusing Dix—someone she had known for years—of doing something so nasty.
Of course, this suicide was nasty, and she hadn’t expected him to do that either.
But setting the Ivoire’s anacapa to blow, that required a special kind of nasty. Had he been crazy enough to believe that if he didn’t want to live in this new time period, no one else did either?
And how would she know if that was the case, without opening that container?
After voicing her suspicions for the recording she was making, she turned back to the console and made herself look at the notification system. She was looking to see if he had shut off the notifications that would have brought Coop here—or her, or someone else—if anyone touched the anacapa drive.
As far as she could tell, Dix hadn’t touched the notification system. He hadn’t touched any of it.
But did he need to? Would the system have notified her or Coop if Dix had touched it? Because he might have been authorized to do so.
Had she been careless enough to make it easy for the first officer to touch an anacapa drive, particularly a first officer like Dix, a man who had no real knowledge of the drives? She didn’t know, and didn’t remember what she had done. There were standard settings which allowed bridge officers access, and those were supposed to be altered once the main bridge crew was established.
The Ivoire’s main bridge crew—the crew that had been on the bridge that horrid day over a year ago—had been together for years. She didn’t remember everything she had done a year ago; she certainly couldn’t remember what she had done more than a decade before.
She thought about accessing the notification records to see what she had set up, but she wasn’t sure that was worthwhile. She usually did things properly. Should she trust in what she had usually done?
And did it matter?
Because Dix might have hidden what he touched.
Dix did have the ability to do something like that.
She closed her eyes. With all those paranoid thoughts, she was becoming as crazy as Dix. He was turning her into a crazy woman, and he was dead.
One step at a time. Or, as Coop had said last night, one problem at a time.
She opened her eyes. She needed to find out exactly what Dix had accessed. As she did that, she needed to assess what that access meant. Then she would have to see if he had executed some inexplicable activity or performed activity he had tried to erase.
She didn’t look at Dix’s body. She couldn’t. Not any more.
She couldn’t think about him. She decided to approach this like a math problem rather than an emotional problem. Tiny discovery after tiny discovery, keeping track in her head, making sure she understood whether or not the things she discovered could interact with each other in such a way as to make something new.
“I’m here. Now what?”
She jumped, her heart pounding. Coop had spoken from behind her. She had been expecting him, but she had gotten so deep into the work she hadn’t thought of him in—however long.
She raised her head, turning until she could see him.
Coop stood near the entrance to the bridge. His hair was mussed, as if he had been sleeping. He wore the same kind of black T-shirt and pants he had worn the night before, and she found herself wondering if he had even gone back to his rooms.
Not her business. What he did in his own time was personal. She didn’t have a right to know.
He was scanning the entire bridge, probably seeing the empty workstations and the unattended captain’s chair just like she had. He would note the changes since the last time he had been here, including the shuttered screens. He probably hadn’t noticed the faint scent of death, though, since he hadn’t entered. He wasn’t stepping into the bridge just in case the problem was internal, and going inside would cause even more problems.
That calmed her. His presence calmed her.
She wasn’t working this alone any more.
She held up one finger, then explained her thinking in the recording, just so that she would remember.
Coop frowned as she spoke. She didn’t mention Dix as she talked to the recording, didn’t mention anything except her findings and her supposition on the ways those findings might work together.
When she finished, her gaze met Coop’s. He looked both calm and serious, like he often did in the middle of a crisis.
He was someone she could rely on. She valued that more than she had realized.
She swallowed hard, gulping a little air as she did so. She had no idea how to tell Coop about Dix.
“Can I enter the bridge safely?” Coop asked.
“Yes,” Yash said. “Come to me. You need to see this.”
It was better to show him than to tell him.
At the same time, part of her didn’t want him to know. She had no idea how Coop would react to this. They both had seen a lot of death among the crew—in battle, in the normal course of things like illness and aging. They had lost friends and colleagues from other ships. But they had never lost someone to suicide.
Coop walked slowly toward her, as if he was worried that something was going to go wrong near the other consoles. She directed him around the console she was working on, so he wouldn’t get in her way.
Then she pointed at Dix’s body, still wrapped around that anacapa drive.
Coop stared. His expression didn’t change. Then he crouched, but didn’t touch.
“The blood’s tacky,” he said.
“Yes,” she said. “I think he’s been here for hours.”
“Have you called anyone from medical?”
“No,” Yash said. “Not yet. I’m making sure Dix hasn’t tampered with the anacapa drive.”
Coop’s head moved ever so slightly, as if he had started to shake it, and then stopped himself. He had placed his hands on his thighs, elbows out. Then he leaned forward just a little more.
“I don’t see anything obvious,” Coop said.
“Me neither,” Yash said. “But he chose to be here, and he touched that container in a variety of ways before dying.”
Coop nodded, but didn’t look at her. He was studying Dix’s body and the container itself.
“I’m checking everything I can think of,” Yash said.
Coop stood, glanced at the console she was working on, and frowned. He looked disturbed now.
“I revoked all Dix’s clearances except the one that allowed him on the bridge,” Coop said. “I should have revoked that one too.”
A tiny thread of anger, barely discernable, in the deep timbre of his voice.
“No blaming,” she said to him, like he had said to her when she discussed that anacapa freeze with him one of those drunken nights. “We get lost if we blame. It takes us in the wrong direction. Move forward.”
Coop’s lips twisted as if he had swallowed something sour.
“All right,” he said. “Let’s deal with what we have. What Dix presented us with.”
The annoyance was clear in Coop’s tone. His gaze met hers.
“Brief me,” he said.
She did. She told him all she knew, and all she had done.
When she finished, she pointed at the container. The blood on its sides was turning black.
“The container concerns me,” she said. “I have no idea if he breached it.”
Coop followed her finger, staring at the container. “What could he have done if he had breached it?”
Coop made no secret of the fact that he was not an anacapa engineer. He had never wanted to learn how to do more than the basics on that drive.
Yash could think of a million things that anyone could do to tamper with the anacapa, but she knew that wasn’t what Coop was asking.
“I mean,” Coop said, still focused on the container—or maybe on the body beside it—“if he wanted to send us back into foldspace or into the past, wouldn’t he have stuck around to see if it worked?”
That was when Yash knew that Coop still hadn’t accepted how far Dix had deteriorated. Or maybe that kind of deterioration was unfathomable to Coop. It certainly didn’t happen much among high-level DV-class officers.
Yash wasn’t sure it had ever happened before.
“At first, I too thought he was going to use his skills to send us back through time to our Fleet,” she said. “Then I rejected the idea entirely.”
Coop frowned at her. “But you still think he tampered with the anacapa.”
She nodded, the movement small. “Suicides are angry people, Coop. Anger turned inward sometimes, but not always. Sometimes the suicide turns the anger outward as well.”
Coop frowned at her as if he was trying to make sense of what she was saying. She didn’t want to be more explicit, especially since she was still recording, but—
Coop cursed. “I almost said that Dix would never do anything like that, but I would have thought that Dix would never have done anything like this either.”
He snapped his hand toward Dix’s body, the movement revealing that Coop was as furious at Dix as Yash was.
“You think he tampered with the anacapa,” Coop said.
“I don’t know,” Yash said. “He certainly tried, but I’m not sure how far he got or what his intentions were. I would have said that he killed himself after realizing he couldn’t get into the system, but the bone knife belies that.”
“Bone . . . oh.” Coop crouched, and looked closely at the knife. Apparently he hadn’t noticed it before. “That is part of a set.”
“I know,” she said.
“Those bone knives he got are the sharpest knives on the ship,” Coop said.
“I know that too.”
Coop looked up at her, then rose, slowly, his knees popping with the movement.
“You have a concern you haven’t told me.”
“I do,” she said. “I’m afraid that he did something that would overload the anacapa.”
“But nothing has happened yet, and he’s clearly been dead for some time,” Coop said.
Yash nodded. “I’m worried that he booby-trapped it.”
“You think he would put this destruction on a timer of some kind?” Coop asked.
“That’s one way.” Yash peered at the body. She hated seeing Dix’s hands still pressed against the container. “There are a lot of other ways to accomplish the same thing. Most of them use a trigger, not a timer, but they would have the same effect. They would overload the anacapa.”
“From the tone of your voice,” Coop said, “you have a specific vision of what an overloaded anacapa looks like. I understand it’s bad. But either I don’t know or never learned the details. Throughout my career, I was told that we needed to avoid it, and so we have. Except when we went into foldspace after the Quurzod weapons hit our ship.”
Yash was shaking her head before he even finished. “What happened to us that day wasn’t an anacapa overload. Those Quurzod weapons augmented the energy from the anacapa drive, altered it in some way, and that alteration destroyed a part of the anacapa as it was activating.”
Coop was frowning. “So, what happened to us . . . that’s not it. You mean something different when you say overload.”
“I do,” she said quietly. “I mean that everything explodes.”
* * *
Coop turned away from the anacapa container, away from Dix’s body, away from Yash herself. He peered at the open portals.
Yash knew what he saw. The edge of the station. The other ships occasionally going by. The dots and light and blackness that all combined into this sector of space.
She also knew what he was doing as he looked away. He didn’t want her to see his reaction.
But she had, already. He hadn’t believed her when she’d said that everything would explode. He clearly needed a moment to think about what she had just said.
“Everything.” He wasn’t asking for clarification. He was repeating her word. Her unbelievable word.
“The anacapa has a lot of power, especially one this size—”
“You’re talking overload.” He spoke slowly. She recognized the tone. He was working it out for himself. “You mean one of those chain reactions, this anacapa drive will send the wrong kind of energy to the other anacapa drives nearby, triggering them, which will then cause this massive explosion, obliterating everything.”
Technically, he was wrong. There was no “wrong kind of energy.” But the effect was the same and the effect had been what she was talking about.
“If this anacapa drive overloads,” she said, “then it could do many things. It could obliterate the ship. It could send us all back to foldspace, maybe in pieces. Or it could initiate those chain reactions you were talking about.”
“Which would destroy the space station, the other ships, this ship, and everything in the vicinity,” he said.
“Yes,” she said quietly.
“Including every single human being.”
She could only see the side of his face, but that impassive expression was back. The one that most people thought so calm, but which she knew was actually a cover for very deep emotions.
“You think Dix is trying to murder us all?” Coop asked.
“I think he was pretty angry about being here. I think he believed none of us belonged here. I also think he hated Lost Souls and what Boss is building.” Yash swallowed hard again, wishing her mouth wasn’t so dry. “So, yes. I think Dix might have been trying to destroy everything. I’m not sure he would think of it as murder. More as setting things right.”
But what did she know? She wasn’t a psychologist. She was an engineer.
Coop squared his shoulders, as if he was adjusting to a new weight that had just fallen on them. “How do we figure this out?”
“That’s what I was doing when you arrived,” Yash said.
“Do we touch the container?” Coop asked. “Do we remove it? Should we deactivate the anacapa remotely?”
Yash licked her lips. All of those things were possible, and all of them were predictable. If she could predict them, then Dix would have been able to.
“Should we bring others here to help you?” Coop asked, and something in his tone made her realize that her silence was frustrating him.
“No,” she said. “Not yet. I worry that they’ll trigger something. I won’t be able to monitor them.”
“I don’t have the deep knowledge you have of the anacapa drive,” Coop said. “I don’t know how I can help you.”
Yash nodded. Her heart, which had been pounding hard, had settled down. She felt calmer. Was it Coop’s presence or was it because she had finally gotten a handle on what she feared?
“Dix picked this spot for a reason,” she said. “He was sending us a message. He could have killed himself in his quarters. He could have fallen asleep and made sure he never woke up. There are a million ways he could have harmed himself, and none of them would have been this bloody or this obvious.”
Coop turned, a slight frown between his eyebrows. Even though he was trying for the calm expression, he wasn’t entirely managing it.
“I believe Dix wanted us to respond in a particular way.” Yash took a deep breath. From this moment forward, clarity and honesty were the two most important parts of the conversation. “I believe he wanted you to respond in a particular way.”
Coop nodded, and glanced at Dix’s body. Then Coop nodded again.
“So, you need to imagine I didn’t arrive first,” Yash said. “You need to tell me what you would have done if you had been the person to discover Dix.”
Coop folded his hands behind his back, head down, clearly contemplating. “And what if someone else had found him? Someone other than me? Wouldn’t Dix have thought about that?”
“He would have,” Yash said. “But he didn’t know I visited the bridge a lot. I’ve never told him, and he wasn’t usually here. So it didn’t matter if someone else found Dix. Whoever it was—except for me—would have contacted you after making sure Dix was dead.”
“But you did contact me,” Coop said.
“After I ran through some diagnostics,” Yash said. “Besides, if you didn’t show up right away, I could take action. No one else could. Or rather, no one else would think to.”
Coop’s lips thinned. “All right,” he said. “You want me to go through each step?”
“I need scenarios,” she said. “If you found him, then what? If someone else did, then what? And work from there.”
“You’re betting that he used a trigger, not a timer,” Coop said.
“Well, no,” Yash said. “First, I’m going to go over everything he did on this panel. I’ll find the timer if he placed one here. If I’m even right about the fact that he set a booby-trap at all.”
“You are,” Coop said. “You’re right about the message. He and I argued endlessly about using the anacapa again, trying to get home. I finally told him I was never going to try.”
“When did you say that?” Yash asked.
“I said it repeatedly,” Coop said, “but he didn’t hear me. Not until after the debacle on Starbase Kappa.”
“He heard you then?” Yash asked.
“Not entirely,” Coop said. “He kept trying, kept thinking I didn’t understand what he meant, how we could recreate the circumstances that got us here, and that recreation would send us home.”
“I never thought it would,” Yash said.
“Neither did I,” Coop said, “and that was what we argued about first. Finally, I said I wasn’t going to try. I was done trying. We weren’t going home. Not ever. And nothing he could ever say would change my mind on that.”
She could hear the forcefulness behind Coop’s soft words. She could imagine how he had said that to Dix. Coop would have used that command voice of his. He would have spoken with hard and clipped authority, and he would have gotten through to Dix.
“When?” she asked. “When did you tell him that?”
Coop winced. “Last week.”
Yash nodded, wanting to say she was unsurprised. But she wasn’t. She was surprised that Coop was still taking Dix seriously as recently as one week ago. Dix had caused a serious crisis on Starbase Kappa months before, and Coop had still been trying to work with him?
Usually Yash didn’t question Coop’s judgment, and she didn’t say anything now. But Coop’s refusal to accept Dix’s mental failures was not like Coop. Had he been playing a longer game? Or had he seen something of himself in Dix? Had the Psychological and Emotional Stress Department been involved? Or had Coop simply been trying to talk Dix down on his own?
“The next time I saw him after that conversation,” Coop said slowly, “was last night. And I thought—I guess I was hoping—with that apology, that last week’s conversation had worked.”
“The discussion was tense,” Yash said.
“It was,” Coop said. “But he apologized. At the beginning, and at the end.”
I owe you guys an apology. And I’m sorry.
He never said what he was sorry for.
“I thought—I hoped—he was going in a new direction.” Coop shook his head. “I wanted to believe he would improve. I always wanted to believe he would improve. With logic, with time.”
Yash nodded. Time. What had Dix said about time? He had looked out the window and had said, There’s the future. It’s been there all along, hasn’t it?
Yash had thought he was looking forward, finally, taking those steps toward leaving their losses behind.
She had believed in Dix, too. Maybe not as much as Coop had, but she had wanted Dix to rejoin them. The third leg in a once-sturdy stool.
“But Dix said ‘this’ had happened to all of us.” Coop frowned at her. “Did that mean he thought we all were as despondent as him, unable to live in the moment? Didn’t I disabuse him of that?”
Clearly, Coop hadn’t disabused Dix of anything.
“He was apologizing in advance for what he was going to do here,” Yash said. “Not for his behavior in the past. But for this.”
“And now we need to figure out what he’s done,” Yash said. “I’m going to finish here. You’re going to give me scenarios.”
“Yeah, I will,” Coop said. “But not yet.”
He moved to a different console, then pressed his palm against it. The screen lit up. His fingers danced across it, but Yash couldn’t see what he was doing.
She needed him to focus on the anacapa drive. She needed those scenarios if she was going to figure out how to use the data she was slowly deriving from Dix’s actions.
A holographic screen popped up in front of Coop, and Yash recognized it. Communications.
“This is the captain,” he said. “Evacuate the Ivoire immediately. Do not gather your things, do not search for a friend or family member. Proceed to the nearest exit and leave now.”
The screen glowed red. He touched something on it, and the red blinked three times.
He wanted the message to repeat, but only three times. Yash had no idea how long the people on board would have before there were more repeats.
“What’re you doing?” she asked.
“Saving lives,” he said.
* * *
While he waited for the thirty people on board to evacuate, Coop opened another screen and talked through all the scenarios he could think of.
Yash listened with half an ear. She was still pulling up more data. Dix had spent a lot of time on the bridge before he had killed himself.
She was becoming more and more convinced that her paranoia had been justified; Dix had done something.
She just hadn’t figured out what yet.
The message repeated twice before Coop stopped talking. Yash looked up, startled. He hadn’t finished the first scenario yet, let alone gotten to any others.
He was bent over the console, the screen in front of him still glowing red as the minutes ticked down before the announcement repeated.
A second half-screen floated over the console to his left, and she recognized that screen by color. It showed all the heat signatures of every living creature on board.
As she watched, five left the Ivoire. She scanned the entire map of the ship, just as she had been trained to do, and saw only two remaining heat signatures—hers and Coop’s.
“Computer,” he said, “check the entire ship for life signs.”
His fingers brushed the side of the half-screen, creating yet another half-screen. That one showed the environmental system, calculating usage of air, based on human usage. She had taught Coop that trick years ago, as a way of going outside the system to see if anyone hid on board.
She had learned that trick from Dix.
And then she made herself focus and returned to work.
She got deep into the data, only dimly aware that Coop had moved away from the console to the main navigation console. Then the floor hummed beneath her feet, catching her in a familiar vibration.
He was starting up the ship. Of course he was. It was the only smart play.
If Dix had rigged the anacapa drive to overload and cause a cascade effect with the other anacapa drives nearby, then the best way to handle the crisis was to make sure only one anacapa drive exploded.
Coop didn’t need the anacapa drive to move the ship. The standard engines would be able to get the Ivoire far away from the space station in a matter of minutes.
Yash tapped the console, making sure that there was no change in the anacapa drive as Coop started the ship. If the readings on the console were correct—and she had to assume they were—then the anacapa drive was just fine, at least at the moment.
She was banking a lot on the fact that Dix was using a trigger, and not a timer. But to Dix, who wanted to make a point, a trigger made more sense.
A trigger guaranteed that someone found his body, saw his protest or whatever the hell this was, and had a chance of understanding his point.
A timer would make sure the anacapa explosion occurred, but if it occurred at the wrong moment and obliterated everything, then no one would ever know about Dix’s suicide and his damn message.
She needed to concentrate. Because what she knew and what she guessed were two different things. There were no real studies on what happened to a ship when an anacapa overloaded. There were theories, not true knowledge.
The Ivoire would probably be destroyed, but there was a chance it would travel, damaged and unusable, into foldspace.
And then there was the chance that the Ivoire would explode, and all of its pieces, including its human crew, would be forced into foldspace. The crew would die, unprotected and alone, in the vastness of space.
Right now, its human crew numbered two—herself and Coop.
There was no way to protect him and Yash, except to find the problem and disarm it. She wasn’t even going to put on an environmental suit. If the ship exploded, and she and Coop were thrust into foldspace—alive—all an environmental suit would buy them was two or three days of agony, waiting for a rescue that would never come.
If Coop ordered her into an environmental suit, she would put it on. Otherwise, she was just going to continue working.
The air shifted, adding just a bit of oxygen like it always did when the ship was in motion, designed to keep the crew alert. The extra oxygen was a bit excessive, designed for a full crew complement.
Instead, Coop was piloting the Ivoire alone. The ship was designed for that, but it wasn’t recommended. And he almost always used a copilot.
Instead, he let Yash work.
So she did until he spoke up.
“We’re clear of the space station and the shipping lanes,” he said. “If we blow, we go alone.”
In more ways than one. But she didn’t say that. She didn’t say anything.
Instead, she nodded.
“And,” he said, “I don’t know if you heard what I was doing, but I managed to finish the scenarios you asked for.”
Perfect timing. She had done just about all she could with the bits of the data that Dix had touched. All she had been able to figure out was that he had come into this bridge with a clear plan. He might have even had a list—do this to misdirect here; do that to misdirect there—because none of what he had done, in the order he had done it, made sense otherwise. Of course, she was following the trail of a crazy man who had ended up committing suicide. There was always the chance that he had done all of this out of order because he had been out of his mind.
She wasn’t going to assume that. He had seemed rational enough the night before.
“All right,” she said. “Let’s give those scenarios a go.”
She needed to listen first, see if there were similarities in the scenarios, things that Dix could have predicted. And then she had to correlate those similarities to whatever he had done—even though he had done those things out of order.
She nodded to Coop, and cleared a small screen before her, ready to listen.
Copyright © 2018. Dix by Kristine Kathryn Rusch