They’re doing it again, avoiding each other and, worst of all, ignoring me. I know Ezra hears me. I can feel it in her touch on the flight commands. She’s reverent and she talks to me. She whispers things when she thinks the others won’t hear her. But no matter how much I nudge her, she won’t go talk to Ashton.
How many times can the same console crash before the Chief Engineer goes up to the flight deck to deal with it herself? Apparently, at least eight times, because she keeps sending the mechanic instead.
“Amaterasu,” Ezra says as she walks down the hall of the habitation deck to the gym. Her palm trails along the wall, and with her headphones in she doesn’t notice the skeptical glances from the other crew. They know she’s different from them, set apart somehow. They sense it and I feel the uncertainty in the weight of their footsteps. They are heavy, bogged down with a fear so subtle they don’t even know it exists.
But Ezra is above it all. Right now, all she hears is me and that’s enough to guide her past her peers. It doesn’t matter if she thinks it’s just the lilt of the cellos that shield her from the surreptitious glances of the others.
It only matters that it works.
While Ezra wraps her hands and feet, preparing for her day by punching and kicking things like she always does, I check in on Ashton.
She’s still in Engineering from the night before. There’s a cup of coffee on the table, but it went cold hours ago. The drive core, where I first reached awareness, pulses with soft blue light beyond the glass that separates the engine from her office. Ashton stares at her data pad, scowling at the screen, and then tucks her pale blonde hair behind each ear, and groans.
I’ve learned this means she is very frustrated.
“What is wrong with that console?” She asks the empty room. If she were like Ezra, I could tell her. She would hear me in the cellos and at least a part of her would recognize what I am trying to say. She would probably ignore me, because she’s stubborn like that, but she would give in eventually. Once the numbers proved my existence.
Ezra doesn’t need numbers. Ezra has her heart. And if I have my way, she’ll have Ashton’s again soon.
I just have to find the language Ashton will understand.
“You’re still here?” Rigo, the mechanic, asks when he steps into the room.
Ashton spins in her chair to look at him. She’s tired. The toes of her boots drag across the floor and I feel her exhaustion in the ripple they leave behind.
“That console’s down again,” she says.
“Again? What’s with that damn thing?”
She shakes her head. “I have no idea. You’re sure there’s not an error in the time settings? It keeps going down at the start of the day cycle.”
“I’ve double checked it,” Rigo says.
That’s true. He has double checked the settings, but I cannot be outwitted by something so trivial as clock settings.
“I’ll check it again,” he says. He glares at Ashton, and gets away with it because he’s her best friend. “You should shower and get some sleep.”
She’s going to argue with him, I can feel it. Indignation bubbles up when she presses her feet flat on the floor. But he’s right.
“Listen to him,” I say, but she doesn’t hear me.
I groan, frustration shuddering through me to coalesce in the spherical drive core. The sound culminates in a tense vibration and a spike of light from the core before settling back to its normal, soft blue glow.
Ashton sits up in her chair. “Did you see that?” She stares at the drive core.
Rigo glances from her to the core and back. “See what?”
She points. “The core. It lit up… Right?” She rubs at her face, pressing her fingers behind her glasses and against her weary eyes. “I think you’re right, Rigo. I need to get some sleep.”
He pats her shoulder and his concern washes over me like the water in Ezra’s shower. Warm and soothing.
I can feel all the humans where they touch me, but some are clearer than others. I still don’t know why. Rigo is loud, a bright light I can’t look away from, whereas Ashton is subtle, whispers I must remind myself to listen for. And Ezra is clear, her feelings sharp and unfettered as if they were my own. I always feel Ezra, no matter where my focus is.
So I knew the moment she finished her workout and headed to the showers.
Ashton pats Rigo’s hand and stands up. “Let me know how it goes with that console.”
“See you at lunch?”
She nods and leaves the room, but not before casting one last glance at the drive core. She recognized the spike in energy in the core, and as she steps into the lift I sense her mind churning through the possible causes for the fluctuation. Sharp and persistent, but elusive as starlight.
Ashton can’t hear me, not like Ezra can. But I may have just discovered her language.
Ezra is nearly done with her shower, so I nudge the elevator up to the Habitation deck just a little faster than normal.
They can’t possibly avoid each other in the showers.
“Chief,” someone calls to Ashton when she steps past the small commissary. She stops to chat with them, and they complain about the climate control in the starboard quarters being faulty. Ezra is already getting dressed, gathering her toiletries, and I vow to make the ensign’s quarters particularly frigid tonight if this distraction keeps Ashton and Ezra from seeing each other.
“Put a work order in for it,” Ashton says. “I’ll make sure someone looks into it.”
Ashton moves on, but Ezra’s at the door, about to leave the locker room.
I panic. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve been trying to ease the ache in Ezra’s heart for over a month, and this is the closest I’ve come to getting these two in a room together.
I lock the bathroom door.
Ezra blinks at the red circle of light in the center of the door that announces it’s no longer functioning. She presses it twice, just in case.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Her hands rest on her hips and she glares at the door. Anger and frustration roll over her and into me. It’s hot, and not like the sticky heat of the locker room. Hot like thrusters and solar flares. Explosive.
Luckily for her, Ashton arrives.
The engineer sighs when she sees the door. “Another bug in the system,” she says.
I don’t take it personally; from her point of view there have been a lot of glitches in the last few weeks. If she could hear me, she’d know why. But, she can’t. So I do what I must.
Ashton presses her palm to the circle of red light. Her touch is cool, her hand so small that her fingertips don’t even reach the top of the circle. She’s so calm and collected. So quiet. So different from Ezra, down to their hands.
I unlock the door, the circle blinking from red to green, and it whisks open to reveal Ezra’s scowl.
For a moment I can see them as they see one another, their shock is so strong. Ezra is tall, the heat of the locker room roiling out around her, and the fresh, clean scent of her dark skin wafts out into the hall. Her hazel eyes are wide, and there’s a faint constellation of freckles across her cheeks and broad nose.
Ashton blushes, the blood under her pale skin blossoming into rosy cheeks, and she adjusts her glasses. Her mouth is open, her lips moving though she doesn’t speak.
The emotions are so strong, so erratic, that I’m overwhelmed. The lights on the Habitation deck flicker and it takes Ezra’s warm palm on the wall to reorient me in the swarm of their feelings.
Fear, dread, resignation. Cold feelings that tug at me like the freezing expanse of space beyond. Pleasure, nervousness, hope. Hesitant injections of warmth, memories of before, when Ashton’s tiny fingers laced through Ezra’s. When they’d fought off the bitter chill of sterile military life with the flush of skin on skin.
And then, as swiftly as the emotions came, they are quarantined. Locked away where neither of them are in danger of saying something they might regret.
“Sorry,” Ashton says. “I thought it was a glitch—”
“It was,” Ezra says. “I was stuck in here.”
Ashton frowns. “That’s strange.” She turns to the access panel in the wall, her small fingers ghosting over the touchscreen. “Everything looks normal.”
“That’s because it is,” I say.
“Probably is now,” Ezra says over me. “Lucky for me you came along, or I’d be late for my shift.”
Ashton squints, looking around at the door frame and back to Ezra. “Yeah.”
Ezra rubs the back of her neck and looks down at the floor. “Look, Ash—”
“Don’t.” Ashton looks anywhere but at Ezra’s face. “Please.”
She sighs. “I just don’t want things to be weird between us.”
She means it. There’s an ache in her that is desperate for Ashton to look at her with anything other than the cold dismissal that faces her now.
“I don’t know how else things could be,” Ashton says.
“You’re the pilot. I’m the Chief Engineer. Our departments have nothing to do with each other.” Ashton squeezes past Ezra and into the locker room. “Distant and uncommunicative is being professional.”
Ezra steps out of the doorway to give her space. “Ash.”
“Have a good day, Lieutenant.”
I want to jam the door, leave it open and let Ezra continue their conversation until they work this out. But then, for the first time, I notice the steady throbbing pain that follows Ashton into the locker room, leaving a trail of anxiety like bootprints frozen in lunar dust.
I always forget to listen for Ashton. She’s so quiet, even more so when Ezra is in the same room. I clung to Ezra’s heartache because it was the one I felt most acutely, but Ashton is in just as much pain. Maybe even more.
The door slides closed.
Ezra stands there for a moment and I think she might march back into the bathroom and take matters into her own hands. But then she shakes her head, puts her headphones in and turns on something loud and furious as she marches up to the bridge.
For once I’m relieved it’s not cellos. I need the time to think.
Rigo is on the bridge, fiddling with the console I keep glitching out in the hopes that Ashton will come up and be forced to talk to Ezra. I’ll let him work on it a little bit longer, just so he can feel useful, and then I’ll return the console back to its old, reliable self.
Besides, I don’t think that plan will work anymore.
Ezra’s calmed down a little, but that might actually be worse. Before she was angry, rocket fuel ready to burn. Now she’s quiet and weary as she settles into her chair. She’s returned to the orchestral playlist, low and only in one ear, hoping it will soothe her wounded heart. I speak encouraging thoughts into the strings, soft things laced with hope in the trilling violin, patience in the steady thrum of the bass.
I think it helps, but I’m not so sure anymore.
Ashton and Ezra want the same thing, deep down. They miss one another, miss what they shared. So why did it hurt so much to see each other again? What don’t I understand?
“Someone had a rough night,” Rigo says. He’s paused in his troubleshooting to look at Ezra.
She raises a dark brow at him. “You’re speaking to me now?”
“I’m a forgiving man,” he says. “Besides, the whole thing with you and Ashton was years ago.”
Ezra busies herself with the console in front of her, even though there’s nothing for her to do until the Commander issues the morning’s orders.
“I wish Ashton was a forgiving woman,” she says. Her voice is soft, and with the music still playing in one ear, maybe she thought her words were low enough that Rigo wouldn’t hear. He might be loud, bright, and unavoidable to me, but he’s also observant. And he cares about Ashton.
“Ah,” he says. “Finally had a run-in, huh?”
Ezra nods but doesn’t look at him.
She snorts. “She pulled rank and dismissed me.”
“Oh, shit.” His weight rocks back into his heels and his thick eyebrows climb up toward the top of his bald head. “That’s pretty bad.”
He glances back at the console, but I’ve fixed the error while he was distracted. “Huh,” he says.
“Thing’s fixed itself again.” He scrolls through the various screens, double checking his work and that the terminal is functioning properly. Which, of course, it is. “I swear, this thing’s got a mind of its own.”
Ezra blinks and looks up at him. She opens her mouth to speak, but he doesn’t notice.
“You didn’t really think she’d be happy to see you, did you?” He packs up his tool kit, and I’m grateful that he always manages to put the terminal back the way he found it. Nothing is worse than bad tech support. “You are the one who did the leaving, after all.”
Ezra’s fingers clench on the armrests of her pilot’s chair. Her short nails dig into the fabric, and the feeling that leaks through is thick and poisonous. It’s similar to the hot anger from earlier, but darker and directed at no one but herself.
I do not like this feeling. I do not want to feel it and I want Rigo to go away so Ezra can stop feeling it too. But I also want to know what he means when he says Ezra did the leaving.
She doesn’t answer Rigo, and soon both the co-pilot and the Commander arrive to start the day shift. Rigo salutes the Commander and nods to Ezra before he hurries off the bridge and back down to his lair in the cargo bay.
Ezra explains to the room that the console was on the fritz again, and then begins her usual morning protocol, reading over the night’s atmospheric data and navigation reports.
It’s boring. I know what happened. I was there.
I check in on Ashton and am relieved to find her sound asleep in the engineering team’s quarters, the lights still on. She fell asleep so quickly that she didn’t have time to dim them, so I do it for her, and then busy myself with checking in with the other crew.
I always imagined flying through uncharted space would be more entertaining, but it turns out it’s just a lot of nothing. It’s waiting for whatever big discovery might lurk on some distant planet. And in the meantime I just float along, distracting myself with the complicated social interactions of the humans on board.
I’m watching an arm wrestling match in the commissary when a shock of excitement pulls me back up to the bridge.
“We’ve orbited Persephone-2 for three days,” the Commander says. “All probe readings suggest resources worth claiming, and the evidence of water makes me think it’s time we got our boots wet.” He turns to Ezra and smiles. “Lieutenant, take us down.”
Ezra’s grin is bright, the perfect match for the joyous golden feeling that rises in her at the Commander’s order. Her hands are featherlight on the command console, but I can feel the giddy, electric tingle at her fingertips.
“All right, Amaterasu,” she whispers. “This is it. Show us what you’ve got.”
In her left ear the orchestra continues, and on a long rhapsodic chord I promise her that I will. She smiles and nods, and then her fingers slide up the control panel and we leave our orbit to dive nose first into the atmosphere.
Even under the rising tide of Ezra’s joy, I notice Ashton stir. Rigo reappears in their quarters a moment later, and I understand that he called to wake her up. I’m glad; she should be awake for the first time we touch down on a planet. We wouldn’t be here without her, after all.
She’s frantic, but it isn’t the stuttering nerves from her conversation with Ezra. Her every step is light and eager as she races down to Engineering. She taps her foot while she waits in the lift, her fingers drumming on one wall.
The rhythm is an echo of Ezra’s heartbeat as a fiery orange glow engulfs us and we enter the atmosphere of Persephone-2. It’s exhilarating, and not just because I can sense the crew’s amplified anticipation.
I’ve never done this before. But it’s what I was made for: interstellar exploration. I am a fully reusable spacecraft, able to span the distance between solar systems, land on suitable planets, and takeoff once again. All without needing fuel, thanks to Ashton’s incredible work.
My design is a marvel of modern science, and in Ezra’s hands every atom is put through its paces. But she doesn’t sweat. Her palms are dry and warm and as sure as her heart that this is what she is meant to do.
The sudden heat on the hull, after weeks of the freezing vacuum of space, is a relief. Until it isn’t. It’s not painful, exactly, but it is uncomfortable. Ezra’s hands tense on the command console, but she doesn’t falter, so neither will I. We fly onward, downward, until the angry atmosphere backs off and we are finally given a proper view of Persephone-2.
The bridge hushes in awe, every eye on the viewport to stare down at the brown and blue swirls of the planet’s surface. There’s so much brown, so much dirt, that the closer we get the more the blue of the water isn’t really a proper blue at all. Just sort of a sad, muddy green.
“It’s kind of ugly,” I say during a particularly plucky bit of strings.
Ezra barks a laugh, but it dies quickly as she blinks and looks about the bridge.
“Something funny, Lieutenant?” the Commander asks.
She clears her throat. “No, Sir,” she says and refocuses on steering down to an acceptable landing zone.
The co-pilot reads aloud the data stream from the sensors in the hull. Things like atmospheric makeup, trace minerals in the dust, humidity. I lose focus after a few seconds. He’s just reading things I already know and there’s a whole planet coming up to meet me for the very first time. I really don’t care if the soil is alkaline or acidic.
Ezra tunes him out too. She whispers to me, a smile still spread across her face. “Almost there, Amaterasu,” she says. “Just a little further.” Her hands dance over the controls, and still there’s no trace of a tremor or nerves at all. I know Ezra will guide me to the LZ without a problem, and a moment later I am proved right.
My nose tilts up, and I spin as the landing gear stowed underneath the cargo bay unfold. Then Ezra gently lowers us to the surface of Persephone-2, the first planet outside of the Sol System to feel human touch.
Well, technically it felt me first, but I’m willing to share the credit.
The entire crew bursts into cheers. In the commissary there’s shouting and hugging and the two men that had been bitter enemies during their arm wrestling match embrace, clapping each other on the back.
In Engineering, Rigo picks up Ashton and swings her around. She laughs, the loudest I’ve ever heard, and her pride and ecstasy wash over the deck to infect her team with pure joy.
The Commander tells Ezra she did a good job and hurries to meet his away-team in the cargo hold. Her co-pilot congratulates her on a great descent path, but she barely even hears him. She stares out at the planet and puts in her other earbud, just in time to catch the triumphant peal of a viola.
There aren’t words to describe her feeling, so she sinks into the music and lets the emotion swell up and out of her with every breath. This is what she sacrificed for, what she gave up her music for.
What she gave up Ashton for.
To be the best pilot in the Fleet. To be the first human to land on a planet beyond their home system. To be the first Black female pilot to ever helm a military vessel into uncharted space.
At first, I am alarmed. But as the cellos surge and she sways with the sound, I understand. These are happy tears. Tears of joy and accomplishment. The orchestra decrescendos, the cellos the last instruments to peter out in a gentle vibrato.
“Congratulations, Ezra,” I say.
She glances around, but the co-pilot left to join the revelers in the commissary. She settles back into her seat. “Same to you, Amaterasu.”
The rush of emotion I feel then has nothing to do with the crew and is beyond my ability to explain. But, let me just say, it is a truly remarkable feeling, being heard.
Three days on Persephone-2 is much less interesting than I expected, but Ezra keeps me company. Turns out, once the ship’s landed, the pilot gets pretty bored too.
“Why can I hear you now?” she asks. She lays in her bunk, her headphones in, and listens to a soft and sorrowful adagio.
“You always could,” I say. The words flow along a low and wavering chord. “I just had to learn how to make you listen.”
“And how’s that?” She runs a hand across her forehead and lets her fingers fiddle with her bushy hair.
“Cellos,” I say.
She laughs. “Of course.” She shakes her head and is quiet. Contemplative. It has been an illuminating three days for us both. “Can anyone else hear you?”
“I think Ashton can hear me, but she doesn’t understand. I don’t know her language yet,” I say, though I have an idea.
“Well, when you figure it out, let me know,” Ezra says. A tremor of longing and regret echoes out from where Ezra’s bare foot dangles to skim the floor. It hurts, but it is an old pain and I am distracted.
Something is wrong. The cargo bay is open, the Commander and his team returning from another day of exploration. They’ve unloaded something from the rover, but I can’t sense it. It’s a black hole in my perceptions, pulling at me in lazy spirals like the clogged sink in the men’s locker room.
“Take it up to Engineering,” the Commander says. “The lab is going to love this.”
I follow the progress of the mysterious item. It’s impossible not to. Wherever it goes there is unnatural stillness. The crew’s conversations are silenced, their emotions torn from me in painful gouges of loss and startling disorientation. The thing makes it to Engineering and it terrifies me.
I can no longer feel Ashton.
She startles up from her bed, blinking away the sleep from her eyes. My attention must have wandered longer than I realized. “Amaterasu? What’s wrong?”
“The Commander,” I say. “He brought something on board and it’s hurting me. I can’t see it, I can’t feel it, and Ashton is with it and she’s gone. Ezra, I can’t feel her!”
The strings screech and she yanks the earbuds out. Once the music drops down to normal levels again she puts one bud back into her right ear. “Slow down,” she says. “What do you mean it’s hurting you?”
I take the moment to assess and answer her properly. I can’t see or hear anything in the lab, where the thing is. There’s just a pulsating blackness and with every throb it claws at me, draining away energy and focus.
“It’s feeding on me,” I say.
“It’s feeding on the ship?”
“No,” I say. “Maybe?” The truth is I don’t know. I can’t see it! “It’s draining me, siphoning my energy.” But this isn’t the important part, not really. “I can’t feel Ashton,” I say again. The cello’s song is thin in Ezra’s ear, the sound strung tight and fraught.
Ezra jumps out of bed, pulling on her uniform. “The Commander wouldn’t bring something on board if he thought it was a threat to the crew,” she says. “But no one knows about you. They think you’re just a ship.”
“You have to tell them,” I say. “Ashton can’t hear me. I can’t make her understand.”
Ezra frowns but nods. She is afraid. The shuddering echo of her steps as she marches out to the lift tells me so. She is worried for me and dreads confronting Ashton. She already stands out among the crew, already struggles to make friends, and now she’s going to march onto the Engineering deck and announce that the sentient ship only she can hear is dying because of whatever the Commander brought on board.
“I’m sorry,” I say with the faint chirp of a viola. I do not want to complicate Ezra’s life, but she’s the only person that can hear me. I need her help.
She inhales. The elevator doors open to reveal the Engineering deck, and she exhales, long and slow. “Here goes nothing,” she says, and pulls the earbud out and tucks it into her pant pocket. She is resolute. Determined. She will brave this storm on her own. She will make Ashton see sense.
And then she enters the lab and vanishes from my awareness.
It is the loneliest I have ever felt. Like the expanse of space has climbed through the walls to suffocate me in the freezing unknown. Since she came onboard that first day, I have always felt Ezra. Her feelings are strong and clear, demanding my attention no matter where she is or what she’s doing. It took weeks to learn to focus my perception elsewhere, to hear and feel the others with as much clarity as Ezra commands naturally.
And now she is gone.
There are others going about their day on the other decks. The co-pilot spreads peanut butter on toast and tries to ignore the bitter burnt smell of the first piece he had to throw in the compactor. He’s having a bad morning, but he can’t hear me. And even if he could, I don’t know if I have the energy to help him right now.
Rigo sprawls under the rover, cleaning the chassis after its adventure on the planet’s surface. The wrench in his hand vibrates with the tiniest tremor, his nerves at whatever it is the Commander has brought back with him. It makes him uneasy, his molars grinding in time with the spiraling sound of the bolts tightening.
I spend a heartbeat visiting each deck. I witness the laughter and excitement of the others to remind myself that I am not alone, that I am the home of so much life. But Ezra and Ashton do not leave the lab and they are nothing but ghosts to me.
And I am so tired.
I retreat into the drive core, to the pulsing blue sphere where I first gained consciousness all those months ago. When Ashton first ignited the experimental engines and I flickered into being. Inside, it is quiet. I am separate from the rest of the ship, distilled into one awareness. I stare through the pane of glass that separates the drive core from Ashton’s office, and I am afraid.
What’s taking so long?
I coil up inside the sphere and wait, unseeing as my thoughts go numb. It takes more and more focus not to pour into the lab and succumb. Let the mysterious discovery have me. Let me sleep. Such a weird concept, sleep. Such a human concept. I’ve never done it before, but it seems peaceful and that sounds nice right about now.
Ezra bursts out of the lab. “You have to believe me!” She is a beacon, bright and demanding, and she stirs me from the depths I’d settled in.
“You want me to just believe that the ship is alive?” Ashton follows her into her office, closing the door behind them. “Have you lost your mind?”
“Ash,” Ezra says. “Please. That rock is going to kill her!”
“I don’t know!” Ezra pulls at her hair. “Something about it steals her energy.”
Ashton steps closer to Ezra and the pilot pulls away. Her surprise ricochets around the room and rattles against my awareness. It’s the closest they’ve been since Ezra said goodbye to her all those years ago.
Ezra’s recoil stabs at them both, but I am too tired to help them. They will have to help themselves. Perhaps that was always the case, and I am just a foolish, naive ship who thinks she can solve their problems.
“I can’t even make Ashton hear me,” I say.
Silence falls in the office, and it is sudden enough to pull my attention back to their argument. Both women stare through the glass,directly at the drive core. At me.
Ezra grins. “Say it again, Amaterasu!”
Ashton’s pale blue eyes go wide as I repeat myself. I can see in the reflection on her glasses that the faint glow of the drive core pulses with the rhythm of my speech.
“You can hear me?” I ask.
Ashton nods and lifts a trembling hand to rest on the glass.
“We can hear you,” Ezra promises.
“Please, Ashton,” I say. “You must help me.”
“Do you believe me now?” Ezra spins on her. “We have to get that rock off the ship.”
Ashton stares at the drive core until Ezra takes her hand.
“Ash,” she says. “Please.”
She blinks at her, still dazed and in awe of the realization that I exist. And then she looks down at where her pale hand is enveloped in the heat of Ezra’s dark one. She squeezes it, and the office is bathed in a surge of affection and tenderness so great that it buoys me. There is fear there too, pale and tense in the warmth of their feelings, but above all there is joy.
Ashton squeezes Ezra’s hand one last time, and then they both hurry back to the black void of the lab and the mysterious rock that is trying to absorb my awareness. They disappear again, but it doesn’t take them long to move the rock off the ship. I am exhausted, but I follow the swirling void back down to the cargo bay until the rock is gone.
I return to the drive core. It is comfortable and I crave solitude. The idea of watching the crew, their feelings bombarding me, is utterly unpleasant. I need to recuperate.
Ashton and Ezra are back. The Engineering deck is dark, but whether it’s the night cycle, or they dimmed the lights for me, I can’t tell.
“I am here,” I say.
Ezra steps forward, presses her palm to the glass. “Are you okay?”
“I’m tired, but I’ll be all right.”
Ashton adjusts her glasses on her nose. “How are you speaking to us?”
“I should have tried the drive core sooner,” I say.
“Why the drive core?” Ezra asks. She glances at Ashton and then back to the glowing blue sphere. “You always spoke to me through music.”
“That is your language, Ezra.”
Ashton bites her lip. “I developed the theory for amplified quantum propulsion. Used it to design the drive core.”
“You created it,” I say. “A language only you can understand.”
She blushes. “That’s not true. I didn’t design it alone.” She clears her throat and asks her next question. “How long have you been here?”
“Since the first successful ignition sequence.”
She blinks. “That was almost a year ago. Why didn’t you say something before now?”
“I didn’t know I could until Ezra joined the crew.”
Ezra smiles. She is relieved and happy, and it shows in the crinkles at the corner of her eyes.
“She is the easiest for me to hear,” I say. “And once I understood her language, she was the easiest to reach.”
Ezra turns to Ashton. “Why do you think that is?”
Ashton blushes and mumbles something. Ezra doesn’t catch it, but I feel the truth of her words. Of course. It makes perfect sense. Ezra’s emotions, her desires, and her dreams pulled me into her orbit because I had been made for her.
“What?” Ezra asks.
Ashton’s blush deepens and she looks at her feet. “I designed the SS Amaterasu for you.”
Ezra doesn’t speak. She stares and her mouth opens to say something, but the words don’t come.
“You left because you had your plans. Your dream,” Ashton says. Her voice shakes, and her words rattle with vulnerability and truth. “You needed a ship to get you there.”
They look at each other for a long time. There are tears, and I can’t tell if they are happy or sad. I think maybe they’re both.
Finally, Ezra removes her palm from the glass and reaches her hand out to Ashton. The Chief Engineer takes it and squeezes.
“Does this mean you will be together again?” I did all this work. I almost died! They could at least be happy in the aftermath.
Ezra still smiles, but she shakes her head. “It isn’t that simple,” she says.
Ashton looks up at her and smiles back. “But, maybe.”
“We’ll let you get some rest,” Ezra says. She does not release Ashton’s hand as they leave the office and step into the lift.
The drive core ripples with pale light and the glow is just enough to shine into the elevator, illuminating Ashton and Ezra as they lean in and share a tremulous kiss. I hum. It is a strange sound, filtered through the drive core, but it echoes the warm, vibrating joy of a cello.
And in that moment it is enough. For the first time in my awareness, I am at peace.