“Storm says this one will come with us,” Niobe said. “The others will watch and see what happens because they don’t entirely trust what she’s telling them.”
“Who can blame them,” Amanpreet replied blandly. “I’d be distrustful in their position too.”
Niobe grinned at her. “I know what you mean. Storm does too, so she says she’s staying aboard the Fish, at least until we reach Talis.”
“Staying aboar-” Amanpreet hesitated. “Will she be okay here? Obviously they have supplies because of the pilots but…”
Niobe passed the question onto Storm who spread her skirt like wings and bounced in the air before replying.
Niobe chuckled and nodded. “She says it’s better than having to stay in containment on a human vessel and fish soup isn’t that bad.”
Amanpreet wrinkled her nose. The edible secretions produced by Fish were nutritionally complete but tasteless at best. “Maybe not if you’re a Mez, but I’ll never come to terms with calling that stuff food, even if you can live on it.” She hesitated. “But why did it ask us here if it was coming back with us anyway?”
“It wanted to see if we’d come,” Niobe said. “It made it confident to take the risk of coming with us when we did, though apparently the fact you can hear their songs makes them inclined to trust you anyway.”
“How did they know I can hear them anyway?”
“I’ll ask,” Niobe said. She tapped out the question. The first response wasn’t vocal, instead a soft musical note seemed to brush Amanpreet’s skin and the neurons of her brain, telling her the answer even before the Fishâ€™s vocal response came from the walls in the same Mez language as the bubble pilot had spoken.
“Apparently they can hear you reacting to their songs even though they can’t understand you,” Niobe said. “It says you aren’t the only one they’ve sensed but the youâ€™re first they’ve managed to make contact with.” She chewed on her lip. “This is amazing! A communication system that works in hyperspace, rather than just through it, is the holy grail, you know. I hope we can find something to trade with them because it, and their ability to make these havens in hyperspace where sensors and communications work, could make travel much safer.”
“I know,” Amanpreet said. “Ask it if we can start back to Talis soon. The sooner we get back the sooner we can contact the Council and start negotiations.”
Niobe did as she asked and listened to the reply. â€œIt says yes. It will recall the bubble to take us back to the Whisper.â€
“It’s coming back with us?” Kane asked incredulously when Amanpreet and Niobe told them what had happened. “Why?”
“Storm – that’s Umi’s sister – has persuaded them to petition the Council of Planets for recognition,” Niobe said. “Which does make sense.”
Kane frowned to himself then nodded. “I suppose so, but I’m surprised they went for it.”
“Storm seems pretty politically minded and charismatic,” Niobe said. “Of course, for a small morph Mez to get such an important navigation position as she has she’d have to be. I bet some of the more traditionalist Mez hate her. Of course they probably hate the political clout navigators have because you canâ€™t go anywhere without them anyway. I think thatâ€™s why they kept it as a slave position for so long – to stop them getting power.” She caught the the blank looks from the others and frowned. â€œWhat?â€
â€œI get why navigators have a lot of clout,â€ Amanpreet said. â€œBut what has Stormâ€™s size got to do with it?â€
â€œOh!â€ Niobe grinned briefly. “You must have noticed that they’re highly dimorphic – small like Storm and large like Umi. They don’t talk about their biology much, so a lot of humans assume the small ones are the females as they traditionally took the primary caregiver roles, but it’s not actually sex based. Small morph Mez are still the subject of some prejudice in many of their cultures.” She shook her head and laughed. “Add into that the fact that their sex and morph can both change if certain rare hormonal stress triggers occur and pronouns in most Mez languages are a nightmare.”
“I’d imagine,” Mark said before looking over at Amanpreet. “I think we’re nearly back at the point where normal hyperspace rules should reassert themselves. Do you want me to take the dome going back to Talis, Am? You look exhausted after hours in hyperspace followed by all this excitement.”
Amanpreet considered saying no, they were going to have to navigate out of the Spaghetti Transit after all, but Mark’s obvious concern made her realise just how exhausted she was. She probably wouldn’t be able to navigate safely anyway. “Are you sure you’ll be okay navigating in the spaghetti?” she asked instead.
“I should be,” he said. “It looks like the Fish are making us a path.”
“Uh?” Amanpreet turned to look at the screens and saw that two smaller Fish were indeed traveling ahead of them and had already reached the boundary of the spaghetti and were parting it. “That’s good of them.” She yawned and rubbed at her eyes. “I think you’re right. You or Kane will have to do it. I need to sleep.”