Chapter no 71

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars

Kira wasn’t alone. Not yet.

As she moved across the face of the void, four UMC battleships and three Wranaui cruisers trailed behind in close formation. Most of the vessels were damaged in some way: explosion-scarred and soot-besmirched and— in the case of the human ships—held together more with FTL tape, emergency welds, and the prayers of their crews than anything else. Still, the vessels were spaceworthy enough to accompany her.

Admiral Klein and Lphet seemed determined to provide her with an escort all the way to the Markov Limit. Not so much for protection, she suspected, as for observation. Also, perhaps, to give her company. Which she appreciated. If anything was going to do her in, it was the silence and the isolation.…

Once she reached the Markov Limit—which, for her ship, was far closer to the star than for the humans or Wranaui—she would leave her escorts behind. They didn’t have the means to keep pace with her in superluminal space.

And then she would truly be alone.

It was something she’d expected from the moment she’d made her decision. Yet Kira found the actuality somewhat daunting. With Carr and Qwon removed from her consciousness, her mind was a far emptier place. She was an individual again, not a plurality. And while the Seed was a companion of sorts, it was no substitute for normal human interaction.

She had always been comfortable working alone, but even on the loneliest outposts the Lapsang Corp. sent her to, there had been people to talk and drink with. People to fight and fuck and to generally bounce off,

mentally and physically. On the long journey that lay before her, there would be none of that.

The prospect did not frighten her, but it did concern her. Though she felt secure in her self for now, would extended periods of isolation unbalance her the way it had Gregorovich when he’d been shipwrecked? And might that lead to her becoming more like the Maw?

A ripple passed through the surface of the Seed, and she shivered, though she was neither cold nor hot.

Inside her darkened cradle, she opened her eyes, her real eyes, and stared at the curved surface above her: a map of textured flesh, part plant, part animal. She traced the shapes with her fingertips, feeling their courses, reading their paths.

After a time, she again closed her eyes and sent a signal to the Wallfish,

asked to speak with Falconi.

He replied as quickly as the light-lag allowed. *Hey, Kira. What’s up?*

Then she confessed to him her concern, and she said, “I do not know what I may become, given enough time and space.”

*None of us do.… I’ll say this, though. You’re not going to go insane, Kira. You’re too strong for that. And you’re not going to lose yourself to the Seed. Hell, even the Maw couldn’t destroy you. This is a cakewalk in comparison.*

In the darkness, she smiled. “You’re right. Thank you, Salvo.”

*Do you need someone to go with you? I’m sure the UMC and the Jellies would have no shortage of volunteers who would love to jet around the galaxy with you.*

She seriously considered the idea and then shook her head, though Falconi couldn’t see. “No, this is something I have to do myself. If anyone else were here, I’d be too worried about protecting them.”

*Your call. If you change your mind, just let us know.*

“I will.… My one regret is that I won’t be around to watch how things turn out between us and the Jellies.”

*It’s good to hear you use the word us. Klein wasn’t sure if you still thought of yourself as human.*

“Part of me does.”

He grunted. *I know you’re going to be out past the rim, but you can still send messages back, and we can figure out a way to do the same. It might

take a while, but we can do it. Staying in touch is important.*

“I’ll try.” But Kira knew it was unlikely she would hear anything from the League or the Wranaui. Even if they knew where she was, by the time their signals reached her, odds were she would have moved on. Only if the Maw’s avatars led her back to settled space would it be possible, and she very much hoped that wouldn’t be the case.

Still, it meant something to her that Falconi cared. And she felt a measure of peace. Whatever the future held, she was ready to face it.

When they finished talking, she hailed the Unrelenting Force. At her request, Admiral Klein agreed to forward a message of hers (minus any information the UMC deemed classified) back to Weyland and her family. It would have been easy enough for Kira to broadcast a signal strong enough to reach Weyland, but she did not know how to structure the waves of energy so they could be received and interpreted by the listening antennas in her home system.

Kira wished she could wait for a reply. However, even under the best of circumstances, it would take over three months to hear back. Assuming her family could be found … and that they were still alive. It pained Kira to realize that she might never know the truth.

As she hurtled toward the Markov Limit, Kira listened to music sent to her from the Wallfish. Some Bach, but also long, slow orchestral pieces that seemed to match the turn of the planets and the shift of the stars. The music provided a structure to otherwise formless time—a narrative to the impersonal progression of nature’s grandest bodies.

She dozed inside her living casement, slipping in and out of wakefulness. A true sleep was near at hand, but she put it off, not ready to surrender awareness. Not yet. Not until space distorted around her and cut her off from the rest of the universe.

When she arrived at the Markov Limit, Kira felt a sense of readiness within the ship. The fabric of reality seemed to grow thinner, more malleable around her, and she knew the time to leave was upon her.

She allowed herself a final look around the system. Regret, anxiety, and excitement all stirred within her. But her purpose was just, and it stiffened

her resolve. Hers was to go forth into the unknown, to root out the evil seeds and to spread new life throughout the galaxy. It was a good purpose to have.

Then she diverted power into the torque engine, preparing for the transition to FTL, and a deep hum pervaded the flesh of the ship.

Just as the hum peaked, a crackly transmission reached her. It was from the Wallfish, from Falconi. He said, *Kira, the UMC says you’re about to jump to FTL. I know it feels like you’re going to be all alone from now on, but you aren’t. We’re all thinking about you. Don’t forget that, you hear me? That’s a direct order from your captain. Go kick some nightmare ass, and I expect to see you alive and healthy when—*

The hum ceased, and the stars twisted, and a dark mirror enveloped her, isolating her in a sphere no larger than her ship. Then all was silent.

Despite herself, Kira felt sad, and she allowed herself to feel that sadness, to acknowledge her loss and give the emotion the respect it deserved. Part of her resisted. Part of her still made excuses. If she could find the Maw’s emissaries and eradicate them within a reasonable amount of time, maybe she could still return home, have a life of peace.

She took a breath. No. What was done was done. There was no going back, no point regretting the choices she had made nor, as Falconi had said, what was out of her control.

It was time. She closed her eyes, and though the prospect still unsettled her, she at last allowed herself to sleep.

And in that sleep, there were no dreams.

An emerald ship sailed through the darkness, a tiny gleaming dot, lost within the immensity of space. No other vessel accompanied it, no guards or companions or watchful machines. It was alone among the firmament, and all was quiet.

The ship sailed, but it seemed not to move. A butterfly, bright and delicate, frozen in crystal, preserved like that for all eternity. Deathless and


Once it had flown faster than light. Once and many times besides. Now it did not. The scent it followed was too delicate to track otherwise.

The galaxy turned upon its axis for time without measure. Then a flash.

Another ship appeared ahead of the first. The newcomer was dented and dirty, with a patched hull and an awkward appearance. On its nose, faded letters spelled a single word.

The two ships passed each other in a tiny fraction of a second, their relative velocities so immense, there was only time for a brief transmission to pass from one to the other.

The transmission was of a man’s voice, and it said: *Your family is alive.*

Then the newcomer was gone, vanished into the distance.

Within the lonely ship, within the emerald cocoon and the swaddling flesh, there lay a woman. And though her eyes were closed and her skin was blue, and though her blood was ice and her heart was still—though all of that, a smile appeared upon her face.

And so she sailed on, content to hold and wait and there to sleep, to sleep in a sea of stars.

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