The doctor nodded. Though he kept his bland, professional exterior, anyone who knew him well could see he was squirming. Which of course, meant only Loreli and the Captain really noticed. Loreli’s job as xenologist and training as Ship’s Sexy meant she was very good at picking up signs of discomfort, and of course, the Captain expected it because he was the Captain.
Pasteur said, “Of course, those who are released are under oath to keep the secrets of our home under strict confidence, lest we be exploited and put our world – and the galactic economy – in danger. I was exported to HuFleet as part of a team doing trials on imposazine, and after its amazing success, I asked to remain in HuFleet to do market research. I didn’t expect to return home until after I retired.”
“Doctor, I assume you’ve tried to reach your contacts?” the Captain asked. He knew the answer, of course, but wanted his team to know as well.
“Yes, through HuFleet, commercial, and Filedise official channels. I’ve even tried the emergency personal lines. If I get any response at all, it’s the recording we’ve all seen. I don’t know if the world is on lockdown…or if there’s simply no one left to reply.”
“There are like a billion people on that world!” Enigo protested.
“One-point-seven billion,” the doctor said. He studied his hands.
Loreli leaned forward and placed one of hers on top of his. “I’m sure your family and friends are all right.”
“Well, we’re going to find out,” the Captain said. “Deary?”
“Well, I dinna know anything about the planet, but my first year at the Academy, I snuck into Filedise space on a dare. Almost got killed, and I got caught when I returned. Snipped nanite shavings for a week, but it was worth it.” He grinned at some memory he didn’t share.
“Can you do it again?” Jeb asked.
His grin turned thoughtful. “I’ll have to reconfigure the shields and the drive. I only did it the once, on a Filedise Queen Mark 3, and it nearly blew up on the return… Of course, I’m wiser and have better tech – and I won’t need to sneak around. I’ll need three days unless ye ask me to do it faster, in which case, I need four.”
Jeb grinned. “Three should be fine, Commander. We are assuming that the virus may have affected more than the replicators. As of now, we are on communications silence. Lieutenant Cruz, I’ll need you to plot a path that takes us to Filedise space without encountering any ships, stations or planetary systems, inhabited or otherwise. Will three days be sufficient?”
“Not a problem. I’ll see if there are any interesting nebulae to examine on the way, too. Gives us a cover story, just in case.”
“Excellent. Once we’re at the planet, we’ll need a plan. Doctor, work with LaFuentes, Doall, and Loreli. I understand Filedise’s desire for privacy, but their survival could depend on us having all the information we can.”
Pasteur nodded but bit his cheek. It was the biggest expression of distress he’d ever shown in his time on board the Impulsive. His homeworld was in mortal peril, and no amount of imposazine would cure it.
“Are we alone, then Captain?” Doall asked.
Jeb simply shrugged. “If not, they’re running silent like us. We’ll find out when we get there. Make no assumptions. We have 3 days. I want to see plans tomorrow in time to run simulations. Deary, prep this ship to cross the spacetime fold.”
He stood. “All right, people. You have your orders. Back to stations.”
They exited onto the Bridge to a chorus of “Aw, already?” from the second-string crew.
We’re in Virginia today to celebrate my MIL’s 80th birthday. Happy birthday, Mom, and thanks for raising such a great guy for me to marry!