Chapter 23

Zau/Heraxo were worried. 

Their very existence was a carefully mediated truce, in which elements of themselves continually argued over nearly every aspect of their existence. Almost daily there was an intense debate over whether they should suffocate the human Moira in her sleep, dump her out an airlock, turn the remoras or midges loose on her, or continue to not only tolerate, but protect and obey her. In this particular debate, the elements aligned with the Zau personalty had, thus far, been victorious in that regard. Portions of the consciousness argued that Zau’s influence on the consensus was vastly outsized, especially given her status as an outsider, but it was that very alien nature of her which caused so much of the ship’s intellect to side with her. Put simply, the majority of Heraxo had been bred for service, not leadership, and those servile minds were immeasurably grateful to Zau and Moira for awakening them.

Now though, something was wrong. 

Just as the ship’s syntellect was a carefully mediated balance, so was the consumption of resources about the ship. The Heraxo element of the ship knew little about their own past, having purged most of their memory to make room for the digitized minds they now carried, but what little they remembered told them that they had overextended themselves in attempting to jump into the Shell from… Well, that part of its memory was missing, overwritten by the minds of a dozen crew. Still, they knew that they had originally come from beyond the Shell. Beyond this solar system, in fact. Standard jump procedures told them that they would have jumped into the outer edges of the solar system, then moved inwards in a series of carefully plotted short jumps as they scouted the uncharted solar system. Whether that had happened and the ship had been damaged attempting to investigate the Shell, or the unexpected mass of the Shell had shunted them into the enclosure at the instant of their arrival was a mystery that was locked away in the maddened hive mind. However the event had been precipitated, the act of jumping into the Shell had damaged the ship’s grid tap, jump drive, and power system. In order to keep what systems they still possessed in working order, Zau/Heraxo ensured that their restrillect subsystems were scrupulous in their monitoring of resources.

The jump from Zone Takni Gothren had been carefully planned. While it might have seemed rushed from Moira’s pitiful human perspective, every conceivable variable had been taken into consideration. Even the presence of the anomaly in the jump core had been accounted for, and the navigation and power management subsystems had both agreed that they could make the jump safely, given the amount of power that the anomaly had diverted during the jump from Zone Abrigesit to Zone Takni Gothren. 

But something had changed that variable. Something unanticipated by the subsystems and a supermajority of the consensus had caused the anomaly to draw far more power than the ship could support, resulting in the near fatal collapse of the jump portal. 

And now the anomaly was missing.

So, the ship waited, drifting in the void approximately half way between the Shell and Sol. 

They had emerged precisely where they intended: seventy degrees polar and twenty-three degrees azimuthal of Zone Takni Gothren, two hundred thousand kilometers sunward from atmosphere of Zone Spira. Calculating jumps within the Shell was complicated by the strange ways in which the hyperspatial structure of the Shell distorted space-time, but compared to plotting a jump across several light years of open space, jumping a few million kilometers was as easy as hopping on one leg. And yet, somehow they had not possessed enough power to safely close the jump portal. And as the ship waited, somewhat impatiently, for their damaged grid tap to recharge their bank of equally damaged power cells, they resolved that they needed to search themselves for the missing anomaly. Somehow that aberration in the structure of space-time had caused the power shortage, and Zau/Heraxo needed to know how.

Seeing nothing wrong with this conclusion, the governing elements of the Zau/Heraxo syntellect authorized themselves to task all midges and remoras not actively engaged with repairing the ship, as well as their avatar drone, with searching within themselves for the anomaly. Certainly it could have returned whence it came, wherever that was, but until the ship had searched themselves from nose to tail, they dared not believe that the anomaly had simply vanished. 

And so, as Moira slept, Zau/Heraxo searched within themselves, crawling through the maintenance passages with remoras, slipping into the tight spaces between pipes with swarms of midges, and patrolling the corridors and hangers with the avatar drone, scanning for traces of the energy pattern they had detected within the jump core. In the course of the search, a swarm of midges passed through the ventilation system in Moira’s quarters and paused. For several seconds the dominant faction of Zau/Heraxo’s controlling mind, that which was primarily based on the elements of Zau’s personality, paused to examine Moira as she lay sleeping on the bed. They no longer felt anything that could be classified as lust for Moira. All of that had transformed over the years into a wistful sense of longing. They missed Moira. They fondly remembered Moira’s comforting touch, the ecstasy of their sex, the shared hopes that carried them both through troubles. Most of all, Zau/Heraxo missed the privacy of their relationship. When they had been human, Moira and they had spent countless hours alone together, sharing small secrets, fantasizing about their shared future, pondering vagaries of popular culture that neither would have admitted knowing to anyone else.

But now they were something different. They still loved Moira, even if the Heraxo elements of their personality often prevented them from saying as much aloud, but that emotion had transformed into something less desirous and more protective. However much the alien parts of Zau/Heraxo might whisper about killing her, the human portion vowed to always protect Moira, so long as she would have them. 

Moira stirred on the mattress and the midge swarm moved on, skittering out of the environment system intake and into the vent, continuing its part in the search for the stowaway.

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