Amaya slipped into secondary command near the end of a long day of testing and failing navigation candidates.
She bypassed the most recent group of wide-eyed testees and approached me as if she had something urgent to share.
“Sir, we’ve got a problem with the Charlie core that could use your attention.”
Sir. Just another crew member talking to a superior officer.
“I’m in the middle of testing,” I said, trying to convey the appropriate level of annoyance while hiding my nerves from the regulator standing guard inside the door.
Her face betrayed nothing. “I understand, sir, but this can’t wait.”
“Would you excuse me for a moment?” I said to the curious testees. “I’ll be back in a moment. Please don’t touch anything while I’m gone.”
I paused before exiting secondary and spoke to the regulator: “There’s a problem with Charlie core I need to check into.”
The regulator made a move to follow, but I held up my hand. “You can stay here—no need to leave your station.”
“Are you sure, sir?” the regulator asked, a hint of relief in his voice.
“Very. We won’t be gone long, and there’s no need to subject yourself to the core’s vibrations.”
I followed Amaya beneath the bulkheads separating secondary from core access. The drone of the cores intensified to a driving thrum as we moved deeper into the bowls of the ship.
“This really will only take a moment,” Amaya said, keeping up her adopted persona.
She ducked through a low doorway and into the Charlie core access. I followed, the core’s oscillations humming through my teeth and creating a sharp whine in my inner ears.
Amaya faced me and tapped her forehead, her request obvious. I powered down my CATO. Amaya moved close and brought up a sound envelope, cocooning us in relative silence. Vibrations still traversed my legs and into my gut, but it was more bearable than the full onslaught.
“That regulator will be here soon,” I said. “You better talk fast.”
Amaya’s worried eyes met mine. “I think someone killed Navigator Black.”
“That core irregularity I found days ago? It wasn’t an accident. It went off frequency for a period of several hours right before Black collapsed. The Chimera’s neural architecture shows signs of degradation. Someone did something to her. It might still be going on, but I can’t be sure—I can’t find any indications of tampering, but this really isn’t my area of expertise. If I’m right, I have no idea who else I can trust, who I can talk to.”
“Why would someone try and hurt Black? Or the Chimera? That’s insane. They’d have to be insane. Or suicidal.”
“Maybe. Or they were trying to do something else and ended up with some unintended consequences. Either way, we better look into it.”
“You’re right,” I said, mind spinning, trying to think of a reason aside from insanity that someone would willfully disrupt a core, jeopardizing the Chimera’s neural network. Only a fool would do such a thing.
“Do you think the Chimera knows?” Amaya asked.
“It’s hard to say—she isn’t like you or I. She doesn’t think the way we do.”
Amaya swallowed. “No. She doesn’t. What if there’s something wrong with her? What if she’s gotten corrupted somehow? We’ll never make it to Elypso. We’ll die out—”
“That’s not going to happen,” I said. “We’ll figure this out.”
“I hope you’re right.” Fear in her voice, fear in her eyes.
“We both need to stay calm, do our jobs, and investigate the best we can.”
Amaya nodded, wetness collecting on her lashes. I’d never seen her come close to crying before. It wasn’t like her. “Are you all right?” I asked, brushing her arm with my hand.
“Yeah. I mean no. I’m not okay. Cycles ago everything was normal, everything moving the direction it should, and then all this comes from nowhere.”
“Everything will be fine,” I said, wishing I felt convinced that was true.
Amaya’s eyes shifted away from mine. “There’s something else.”
My heart dropped. “Something else? Something worse than tampering with the Chimera? Something worse than murder?”
“No, not worse. It’s nothing like that. It’s not even a bad thing, not necessarily a bad thing, depending on if we can find a new navigator …”
“We’re running out of time—if you’re going to tell me, you better do it,” I said, fear fueling the intensity of my words.
“I’m pregnant,” Amaya said, eyes darting to mine, than away again.
My mouth fell open. I breathed out a confused “what?”
Amaya had gained a little weight over the last thirty cycles or so. Not that I minded. I liked her a little thicker, her breasts fuller. And she’d been turning down alcohol at Connie’s. Subtle clues I’d missed, caught up in the stresses of my work.
“How far along are you?”
The wetness on her lashes now streaked her cheeks. “Sixteen weeks.”
“That long? Christ. Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“I don’t know. I kept thinking I would miscarry. Difficult pregnancies run in my family. And I wasn’t sure if you would want … to keep … him.”
Him. A boy. The air seemed to cool around me, a pocket of displacement not unlike the hydrostasis bubble protecting the ship from fractal space. I felt each heartbeat distinct in my chest. Amaya’s dark brown eyes searched mine, her throat quivering. Looking for me to answer. To give her something.
Before I could answer, the regulator from secondary burst into Charlie core access, face and eyes accusing. I stepped out of the sound envelope to face him, the roar of the cores swelling around and through me.
“Your CATO went down, sir,” the regulator shouted.
“It did?” I replied, trying to stall him, to give myself time to process the full weight of Amaya’s dual revelations.
“Your CATO. It’s down.”
“Yes, it is,” I said, sounding stupid. Amaya powered down the sound envelope and stood with her arms folded in front of her chest, lips quivering.
“You’re required to keep it on, sir.”
“Amaya needed to tell me something in private.”
The regulator looked from me to Amaya, suspicion narrowing his eyes. “I’ll have to report this to Regulator Falsgate.”
“I realize that.” I reached for Amaya’s hand. “You can tell her anything you want. And tell her that testing is canceled for the rest of the day as well.”
“You can’t do that, sir. We have a tight schedule—”
“Yes. I can. Amaya and I are leaving now.”
I powered up my CATO and fired a preemptive message to Falsgate. [I have a personal matter to attend to. I’ll resume testing next duty cycle.]
The regulator stomped along behind us as Amaya and I headed for the tram. We took our seats and it slid forward under cerulean blue light tiles. I’d never considered having children while en route to Elypso. Not with my job, my schedule, the unique demands of navigation. But that didn’t mean I hadn’t planned to start a family once we arrived. I’d always looked forward to doing my duty as a colonist, helping to populate a new world. Becoming the father I’d never had myself.
But I’d never assumed that Amaya and I would last longer than the journey to Elypso. Our lives would change in innumerable ways once the pods landed on the planet moon’s surface. It seemed unfair for either of us to ask the other to commit to a life together on an alien world. Or at least it had seemed unfair to me.
With Navigator Black dead—murdered if Amaya had things right—and the ship under regulatory control, Elypso felt more distant than when we first left Earth. If I couldn’t find a replacement navigator the Chimera would accept, we’d spend the rest of our lives in fractal space until entropy completed its work and all of the cores failed.
How long would that take? Twenty years? Two hundred?
“You look afraid,” Amaya said.
“That’s because I am.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have waited to tell you. Then once I started keeping it secret, the right time to tell never seemed to come. Then, after Black’s death … I had to tell you.”
I took a breath, trying to focus on Amaya, on the fledgling life growing inside her. A baby, I thought, trying out the concept, seeing how it fit. I thought of all the other infants born during the journey, some of them big enough to fill the pods with laughter and the sound of little feet thumping against the deck.
Profound uncertainty pulled at me like a strong ocean current, drawing me out into the depths feelings I hadn’t prepared myself for.
“Are you’re angry?” Amaya asked.
I shook my head. “Of course I’m not angry. Scared shitless, yes, but not angry.”
“I’ve made up my mind to have him” Amaya said, “even if that means things will change between us. That’s another reason I waited to tell you. I didn’t want to lose you sooner than I had to.”
Lose you. She hadn’t assumed anything. The realization brought with it a cold dose of regret for having thought of her that way. Amaya never took what was not hers, never overreached, never assumed. When she did want something, she went after it with everything in her. As she was doing now, informing me of her choice, not asking my permission. And if she did ask, what permission could I give? Our son’s life depended on her body, not mine. My ascent would be meaningless. No. Not meaningless. She wanted me with her, if I would come. She wanted us to become a family.
A longing for terra firma hit hard in the reptilian center of my brain. I wanted nothing more than to stand, not on cold decking, but the warm soil of Earth. Or the sweeping grass plains of our future colony moon. I imagined a thread stretched between Earth and Elypso, us near its center. Lost in the folds of the Everything. The flight crew fighting to keep our position, to hold against the chaos. Without a navigator.
I would not let Amaya face that alone. I would not face it alone, either.
“You’re not going to lose me,” I said.
Amaya’s hand found mine and closed around my fingers hard enough to hurt. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“We’re going to have a son,” I said, for the first time the weight of those words taking possession of not just my mind but my emotions—a surge of love bordering on terror in its intensity. I loved Amaya. I did. But contemplating a child who would share my DNA, who I would hold in my arms and cradle against my chest—
“Don’t,” Amaya said, her fingers brushing my damp cheeks. “Don’t do that.”
“We’re going to have a son,” I said again, dimly aware that I’d begun the terrible habit of repeating myself.
Once experienced, some things have the power to overshadow everything that comes before. Driven by the ancient biological imperative to procreate or the wound of never having known my own father, my mind slipped in place, undone by the profundity of Amaya’s news. I would find a replacement navigator. I would bring us to Elypso. Investigating Black’s murder came a distant second to protecting my son’s future.
“You’ll be a good father,” Amaya said.
Despite my doubts, I hoped that with time, I would prove her right.