“Whoa,” Shady said after a long moment, his eyes wide. “More Belgrave stuff?”
“It would appear so,” Milton said as he picked up a towel and dabbed at the red wine stains on his shirt.
Jeth glanced around the room, looking for more damage. He’d thought they were safe here, so close to the border, from whatever strange phenomenon had caused the damage to the Donerail. But it seemed he was wrong. Haunted. They’d been talking about it all along, the things people said about the Belgrave, but it was the first time the thought actually crossed his mind. Jeth didn’t know anymore if that was true or not, but something was out there, all right. Something that had either grown more powerful in the days since they first crossed the border into the Quadrant—or that had followed them back.
Jeth shivered once, then glanced at everybody in turn. “Everyone okay?”
“Just wet,” said Celeste, fear undermining her casual tone.
Jeth’s gaze landed on Cora. She wasn’t laughing anymore but looked terrified. Ignoring his own fear, Jeth forced a smile. “It’s okay, Cora. We’ll be out of here before you know it.”
From the expressions on all the faces staring at him, he knew it couldn’t happen soon enough.
SO MUCH FOR A PARTY. ALL THE GOOD VIBES AND celebratory spirit had vanished from the room.
“Shouldn’t we leave the Belgrave now?” Lizzie said, looking first at Jeth and then at Sierra. “Aren’t we in danger of more weird stuff happening if we stay?”
“By weird, I think you mean dangerous,” said Flynn.
Sierra turned her gaze to Vince, and the two shared a silent exchange.
Finally Vince said, “I’m not sure this is the same as what happened before. Seems more like a parlor trick than the full-on magic show we got deeper inside the Belgrave.”
Jeth considered the idea. Disappearing glass did seem a little less ominous than the holes. But still—it might be somebody’s hands or head that vanished next.
“Seems risky enough to me,” said Shady.
Sierra pursed her lips. “Yes, but if the nav isn’t ready, we’ll risk even more if we move outside the Belgrave.”
Jeth ran his hands through his hair. He was tired of these between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place scenarios they kept getting into. But Sierra was right; they couldn’t risk getting picked up outside the Belgrave. He faced her. “What if we move closer to the border or just somewhere further down from here?” He glanced at Flynn. “The recalibration only has a few hours left, right?”
“Sure, as long as nothing goes wrong with it,” said Flynn.
Jeth ignored the implication and fixed his gaze on Sierra and Vince. “What do you think?”
“Moving certainly won’t hurt any,” said Vince.
“Okay,” Jeth said, not as reassured as he would’ve liked. “I’ll move us down a ways, and we’ll try to wait it out until morning. But if anything else weird happens, we’ll reevaluate our options. All right?”
Everyone agreed, and while the others started to clean up, Jeth left for the bridge. As soon as he sat down, he heard footsteps behind him. He turned, surprised to find it was Milton. Jeth frowned at the unopened bottle of whiskey tucked beneath his arm.
“When you’re done, come down to sick bay,” Milton said, his smoke-broken voice oddly low, as if he feared being overheard. “But wait until everyone has gone to bed, and come alone.”
“What’s up?” Jeth said.
“I need to show you something.”
A strange prickly sensation slipped over Jeth’s arms and the back of his neck. He didn’t know what Milton would show him, but he knew it wouldn’t be anything good. In his experience, good things rarely needed to be kept secret. “Okay.”
Milton patted his shoulder, then turned to leave, opening the bottle of whiskey as he went.
Jeth returned his attention to the front window, taking hold of the control column. As always, Avalon came to life in his hands, her engines a soft rumble, like a gigantic metal cat set to purring. Jeth didn’t know if moving the ship would help at all, but he sure didn’t mind the excuse to fly her.
He piloted Avalon as close to the border as he dared and then he flew her alongside it, following the energy border on the readout like a trail through space. He didn’t stop for nearly an hour. Not until he heard someone come onto the bridge behind him.
He smiled automatically as he spotted Sierra and Cora.
“She wanted to kiss you good-night,” Sierra said, letting go of Cora’s hand as the girl came forward, opening her arms for an embrace.
Embarrassed, but not ashamed, Jeth pulled her onto his lap and planted a kiss on her forehead. She giggled then turned his head so she could kiss his cheek.
“Good night, sweet girl,” Jeth whispered.
“Good night.” Cora slid down and then walked back to Sierra.
“See you in the morning,” Sierra said, and then the two of them left.
Only four days until they’re gone, Jeth realized. I’m going to miss them. He ignored the thought and the tight squeeze in his chest
He flew on for another twenty minutes before deciding he’d taken them far enough. Nothing amiss had happened since dinner, and he was feeling better about their chances. Besides, as much as he dreaded what Milton had to show him, he was anxious to find out what it was, too. He anchored Avalon once more, and then stood up and stretched before heading down to the passenger deck. He could tell at a glance that everyone had turned in.