Ailen Plordell could never have imagined that she would be staring into the empty black abyss of space. Only it wasn’t empty. Beyond the curved meshglass window a grey, lifeless moon hung, bright in the reflected light of its star. It was a moon without a planet and it had taken her a year to reach it.
She had been a simple administrator for the Federation on Teneb then and, aside from a few shuttle excursions to sub-orbital trade stations, she had been planet-bound her entire life. That all changed the day she met the navigator.
Ailen couldn’t remember how he had made it into her office. She had just turned and saw him standing there. Though she had never seen a navigator before, Ailen recognized him immediately by the uniform of the Systems Guild.
“I am Rime,” he said simply. “And I bring you a gift.”
“What is it?” she asked cautiously. Her security system hadn’t activated, which meant the navigator had no weapons or explosives. Nonetheless, she kept her finger close to the security tap.
“Hope,” Rime said.
Ailen startled herself with a laugh. The Federation and the Imperium were at the brink of war. Even the neutral Systems Guild, which controlled commerce between the worlds and supplied both nations with navigators and ships, were powerless to stop it. Hope was a precious commodity, one she rarely enjoyed. As she often did, Ailen cursed her misfortune at being born into such times.
“If the Guild sent you, they’re wasting their time,” Ailen said. “We’re pursuing every diplomatic—
“The ancestors of the navigators once possessed great power,” Rime interrupted. “They could speak and travel with their minds. Knowing the people of ancient Earth would fear them, they hid amongst them until they were ready to reveal the truth.”
“What truth?” Ailen asked, vaguely amused by the tale.
“That they were the next evolution of humankind,” Rime said.
Though she knew little about navigators, Rime’s story couldn’t be true. The navigators were genetic mutations born with a sensitivity to what starship engineers called n-space. Through navigators, ships could travel thousands of light-years in an instant by crossing into n-space and reemerging into realspace. Only they could operate these systems. Without them, humanity would be lost among the stars.
“Some ancestors wished to use their power for domination,” he continued. “In a failed experiment, they caused a cataclysm that stripped them of their power. We navigators are their descendants, left only with the gift to see into what you call n-space and manipulate it through machines.”
If this is true,” Ailen said. “And I doubt every word, why are you telling me?”
“There’s more,” Rime said. “Anticipating the disaster, a small group prepared to leave Earth in a primitive vessel. Moments before the cataclysm, they used their power to cross into n-space. They found a world within a singularity where a thousand years passed on the surface for every year in orbit. There they grew and prospered, moving into greater and greater states of power and consciousness over four million years in their time. Now they are ready.”
“Ready for what?” Ailen asked.
“You will see,” Rime said. “You and the Admiral-Baron.”
“You’ve been talking to Imperium commanders?” she shouted. “I can’t be… You need to go. Now!” She turned her back on the navigator and rushed to her desk to trip the alarm. When she turned, he was gone.
A week later in the capitol dome, the encounter with the navigator was far from Ailen’s mind. She was mired in negotiations, treaties, and diplomatic slights-of-hand all knew were too fragile to keep the peace. At the end of one session, she took refuge beneath a crystal fountain in the dome’s circular park.
“Director Plordell?” a man said behind her. She turned to see a tall, older gentleman in an ill-fitting suit looking at her.
“We need to talk,” he said.
“Do I know you?”
“I am Admiral-Baron Syllonia Angornev,” he said. “It’s about our friend.”
“Come with me,” she said, her mind spinning. “Quickly!”
They skirted the edge of the park into the dirty industrial zome until they finally came to a quiet basement cafeteria.
“I doubted him too,” Angornev explained, abandoning all pretense. “But I looked. The descendants’ homeworld is there. Something with energy we cannot comprehend is there.”
“So that’s why the Imperium is interested,” Ailen said. How could she have been so stupid? “Is this your plan? To build a weapon with this power? I can’t—”
“I do not want this war,” Angornev said. “The Imperium does not know. Only you, me, and the navigator.”
“Why is he telling us this?” Ailen asked. “What does he want?”
“The descendants will only reveal their gift to all,” Angornev said. “We must bring ships of every kind, Imperium, Federation, and Guild.”
“The governments will never agree—”
“Not the governments,” he insisted. “Just a few ships. Some loyal commanders and captains, that it all.”
Ailen had no idea what to think. Nothing made sense. All she knew was that she couldn’t lose the commander. Not now. They took the loop back to the consulate, and with a little creative data manipulation, secured him a safe identity and a diplomat’s apartment.
Back at her office, Ailen struggled to grasp what was happening. A coalition of ships working together for a common cause? It was unthinkable at a time like this. And yet, such a gesture could offer a needed break in the hostilities.
“You will do it, then,” a familiar voice said. She turned and saw Rime standing in the same spot as before. “We must begin at once. There is little time.”
Over the next months, between meetings and summits, Ailen worked with Angornev to build the coalition fleet. There were ships to reassign, battle-weary captains to enlist, and navigation schedules to adjust until finally, a year later, they found themselves here.
“Where is it?” she said to Angornev and Rime who stood beside her. “This great power?” Only the bright moon hung before them.
Before anyone could answer, alarms sounded. In the blackness before them, pinpricks of light flashed as hundreds of ships leaped out of n-space.
“Imperium and Federation,” Angornev said as readouts flashed across the window. “A thousand ships in all!”
“What is this?” she shouted, turning to Rime. “What have you done?”
A burst of light suddenly caught her eye. In the space where the moon’s planet had once been, a star was growing, expanding outward in a blinding sphere of cosmic fire. Then the light faded. In its place shone a beautiful blue-green planet as pristine and vibrant as Earth.
The descendants’ homeworld, Rime said, but his voice was in her mind. A thousand million other voices rose up, all as one, a singular voice, wordless, yet full of meaning.
Our children. We bring the gift of your destiny bestowed to us on our exodus from Earth. The navigators shall guide you. Through them shall we teach. Through them shall your future be revealed. Through them shall you be one.
Ailen wept. She sensed that everyone aboard the thousand ships was experiencing what she was. “Hope,” she said out loud. And it made her laugh.