Shay sat in a lotus pose beneath the nested glass pyramids of the reducers. From her perspective, the bright white room took on a brilliant ultramarine hue, but to an outside observer the interior of the pyramids would appear to be a deep mahogany red. The pyramids were, of course, clear. It was a curious thing, relativity. Most people preferred to sleep away their time between the stars; a sleep without dreams, unless they were very wealthy. But Shay preferred the solitude of wakefulness within the reducers. She slipped her feet straight out in front of her and leaned forward, feeling a warm pulling sensation in her hamstrings.
As far as the outside world was concerned, she’d been holding that lotus pose for decades.
Suddenly she felt overwhelmingly nauseated. She lost her balance and fell over onto her side. She had already worked up a light sweat, but now she felt a sickening chill and had to place her palms on the floor to reassure her mind she was not spinning. It took her a minute to regain her composure enough to open her eyes.
The reducers were off. Her color-starved eyes mistook the white walls for orange after spending so much time seeing the world through a blue-shifted frame. It was jarring, but she understood it immediately. The ship had dropped out of branch-space. And far too soon.
Branch-space was like a thin soap bubble that surrounded any FTL ship. While you were inside branch-space, you were causally disconnected from the outside. You couldn’t interact with the rest of the universe in any way, and the universe couldn’t interact with you. It meant that if the branch-space bubble had been popped—the thin field collapsed—it had to have been popped from within. But Shay was the only passenger using the reducers. No one else was supposed to be awake.
Supposed to be.
She left the brightly-lit white-walled reducer room for the lightless white-walled corridors of the Aeolus’ Breath, padding softly over the glassy floor panels. A series of spotlights lit her way, brightening as she approached and dimming as she passed. In the long uniform hallways it gave the impression of walking in place, trapped on a treadmill. But she was indeed moving, and eventually reached her goal: the observatory. It was one of the only parts of the ship she had access to as a passenger midway through the journey.
She knew at once she was in grave danger. Through the view panes she saw the unmistakable twin black holes of Rho Cassiopeiae—artificial, both of them; fearsome symbols of the might of the Convergence in this, their home system. The odds of dropping out of branch-space here, of all places, by chance, were effectively zero. Now, not only her own life, but those of her 7,500 blissfully unaware fellow passengers, depended on Shay finding whoever was responsible.
A voice behind her. “What are you doing here?”
It turned out the finding part would be simple. But now, what to do about it? She turned around.