“I think we should separate temporarily,” Haetara said as they ate. “I want to see at what range Amanpreet and Kyla can hear each other in hyperspace.”
Amanpreet and Kyla looked at each other for a moment then shook their heads simultaneously.
“That’s not a good idea,” Amanpreet said. “It would delay us significantly, since we’ll have to get some distance between us to do it, and I don’t think that’s wise, since the Vaians are probably after Kyla. Wait until we reach Aletheia, then, once I’ve given my evidence about Promise, I’ll take the Whisper out to some distance while Kyla and the Dreamsong stay near Aletheia.”
“She’s right and you know it, Doctor Pareta,” Kyla said.
“For heavens’ sake, Kyla,” Haetara said. “Stop being so formal. You can call me Haetara, you know.” She tutted to herself then nodded. “Yes, separating would be risky if the Vaians found us, wouldn’t it? But I really want to do some testing that doesn’t involve the two of you in the same dome.” She drummed her chopsticks rhythmically on the edge of her plate as she thought. “Ah! Ok, a bit simpler this time… could Kyla use the Dreamsong’s dome while the ships are merged? It’s not much distance but it would be a start.”
“Oh, yes,” Amanpreet said. “That should work. We’ll try it tomorrow if you wan–â€ She broke off as a chiming alarm went off a moment before a shudder went through the entire ship. That would have been bad at any time but given they were in hyperspace… She reached over and tapped the intercom. â€œMark, what–â€
â€œWe’re being attacked,â€ he replied before she could finish. â€œTwo Sticks, visibly armed. They’re trying to force us to drop out of hyperspace. I’m trying to evade them and get a look at their ID at the same time.â€ There was a long pause then he cursed. â€œTag starts VM … They’re Vaian.â€
â€œWell that figures.â€ Amanpreet turned to the others. â€œWe’d better strap in. This is likely to get bumpy.â€
â€œArgh!â€ Kayla exclaimed as she did as suggested. â€œHow did they find us already?â€
â€œThey were probably checking the common routes from Damkina to Aletheia,â€ Kane said. â€œThey’d have figured out where you were going, after all.â€
â€œWe can worry about that later,â€ Amanpreet said. â€œFor now we need to get away.â€ She turned on the intercom again, â€œMark, where are we? Any hazards we might be able to hide in nearby?â€
â€œI already thought of that,â€ he said. â€œThey might be armed but their shielding looks like crap, so I’ve taken us into a vortex to buy some thinking time, but they’ll be waiting when we leave… unless–â€
Amanpreet was glad she’d strapped herself in when the food plates clattered to the wall as Mark swung the Whisper through a 90 degree turn faster than the Stick’s artificial gravity could react. A moment later the plates clattered again as the gravity caught up and the floor became down again.
â€œIs he–â€ Kyla began then stopped as the shuddering in the walls made it obvious he was navigating the Whisper along the heart of the vortex. â€œBloody hell!â€
â€œMark, be careful,â€ Amanpreet said. â€œOur shields can stand a bit of Vortex exposure but they aren’t up to Vortex climbing..â€
â€œA little bit of hyperspace exposure won’t kill people, Am,â€ he said drily. â€œBut I think the Vaians might if they drive us back into normal space.â€
â€œI’m more worried about the Whisper’s response to losing–â€ She stopped as she felt hyperspace begin to scratch across her skin. â€œToo late, you’ve stripped the shields. Try not to kill my ship, please, Mark.â€
â€œIt should be okay,â€ Vanna said. â€œThe Whisper has bloody good specs. She can survive unshielded hyperspace exposure for at least two hours relatively unscathed, and probably a day or so without losing all function. I always thought she was a bit overspeced for trading, but I’m glad of it now.â€
Kyla gave a low whistle. â€œHow did you afford an advanced military grade ship? Vaia is affluent and it still has to upgrade standard grade Sticks for anything larger than the Dreamsong.â€ She undid her straps. â€œI’d best go check her status. She’s not so tough and I don’t want to lose her.â€
Amanpreet chuckled. â€œThe Whisper was a bargain â€“ a decommissioned Damkina Defence Force vessel. They’d removed all but the asteroid buster weapons, but left the shielding. I didn’t know her underlying structure was so tough though.â€
â€œYou should read the manual some time,â€ Vanna said. â€œInstead of just chucking it at me.â€ She grimaced. â€œMy skin is stinging. Is that hyperspace?â€
â€œYeah.â€ Amanpreet unstrapped herself. â€œCan you go with Kyla to check on the Dreamsong. Initiate a full merge to protect it if you have to.â€
â€œOf course,â€ Vanna said. â€œWhat about you?â€
â€œSince we’re running without shields anyway I’m going up to the dome,â€ Amanpreet said. â€œI want to assess the situation myself.â€
â€œI wondered how long it would take you to figure out that, with the shielding down, there was no reason not to crack the dome,â€ Mark said as Amanpreet climbed through the hatch. â€œThe Vaians haven’t followed us, as far as I can tell, but it’s hard to see what’s happening outside the Vortex to be sure.â€
Amanpreet leaned on the back of his chair and looked out. Outside it looked like a incredible lightning storm was going on with constant bolts travelling in the same direction as the Whisper and clinging to its skin. She strained to see beyond the storm into the normal chaos of hyperspace to see if the Vaian ships had realised what they were doing and paced them but, as Mark said, it was hard to see anything. She was about to give up when a large shadow â€“ too large for a Stick â€“ appeared. It was coming towards them and a moment later Promise swam into the Vortex directly towards the Whisper and swallowed them whole.
The sensation of hyperspace ceased abruptly. Amanpreet let out a relieved sigh. â€œSaved! How did it know? And what a risk – the Whisper must be large enough to give it indigestion. We’d best get Niobe to thank it.â€
â€œFrom what it said,â€ Niobe explained, after she’d spoken to the Fish. â€œPromise felt your need when the shields went down. It had engaged the Vaian ships to give us chance to run but it broke off to come and rescue us. It doesn’t think it was followed and says it can handle them anyway since they can’t use their weapons in hyperspace and have to depend on ramming. It also says we’re fine â€“ it was designed to swallow some very large things if needed.â€ She hesitated. â€œIt’s asking about the route to Aletheia from here, since it’s never travelled it before and it can’t just follow us any more.â€
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