A familiar voice, coming from far away. I stirred, raising one hand, then flopped it back down on the blankets.
There was that voice, again. What did she want? It couldn't be as important as sleeping right now. I hurt all over.
Something gently tickled the sides of my head. It felt soothing and inviting, like being scritched by a human. I raised my head, trying to nuzzle into it, and felt it touch the bridge of my nose. It felt just like wearing my glasses.
This time I heard the voice clear and distinct, inside my head. "Mira, it's *Mute. You need to wake up ... "
I opened one eye, groggily. The lights in the White Princess' cabin were a dim amber, and I could barely make out the shape right beside me.
" ... we don't have a lot of time left."
I made both eyes open and tried to focus. Then I saw what the shape was, and sat bolt upright in a panic, flailing my arms and instinctively grabbing and holding onto my plushies.
Holy CRAP, I thought.
*Mute is in bed with me.
What the HELL did we do last night?!
These unsettling thoughts registered in my brain, driving my heart rate up and my breathing faster, before I realized what was going on.
First off, we were both fully clothed. I wasn't even wearing my nightshirt; I was in my red sweater and jeans, while *Mute was in the black-and-blue hanbok she'd worn when I'd proposed to her. And secondly, she wasn't laying down next to me. She was seated on the edge of the bed, because she'd needed to reach me while I was curled up on the far end.
But how did she ... Then I saw Aria's whiskers, floating around her. The crystal-mechanical spheres that were like an extension of me and my spacesuit ... or, in this case, my glasses. They were projecting *Mute in three dimensions, in between them.
The lights were on the other side of her, silhouetting her face, but I thought I saw her give me an annoyed look. "Nice to see you, too," she said, without moving her lips. She sounded sarcastic.
I put my hands to my face, and felt my glasses on it. The tiny pads pressed near my ears were acting like speakers, projecting her voice right into my bones. It was kind of unsettling.
I tried to clear my head by shaking it. "I'm sorry, *Mute ... I guess I'm really touchy today."
"Okay. Fine. That's not important right now, though." Her voice was coming from her now, or at least from Aria. "Listen, there's a problem with the ship right now. Do you remember what happened?"
My heart froze, as I realized what the dim, amber lights meant ... and that I couldn't remember a thing past setting *Mute downloading. I shook my head, slowly.
*Mute sighed. "I didn't think so. According to the logs, you took beta blockers right before the interview-"
"I vaguely remember that ... "
"-and between their side effects and, well, the impact that knocked you unconsious, you've probably lost your short-term memory."
Oh, crap. My heart sank.
I scooted up closer to *Mute, and sat down on the edge of the bed next to her. I didn't want her to think that I was afraid of her. Even though my social anxiety was flaring up big time, now that the beta blockers were wearing off.
She went on while I was trying to make myself comfortable. "So, look. This isn't as bad as the reactor thing on the Mugunghwa, but it's bad."
"How bad?" I asked. Then I squeaked and tried to cling to *Mute, when the lights flickered. I managed to hold on to one of Aria's whiskers, at least.
It unfolded like petals, turning into a hand as *Mute reached out and took mine in it gently. "Promise me you're not going to panic," she said.
I inhaled sharply, and almost panicked right there. But then I felt her squeezing my hand for the first time that I could remember, the crystal surface so smooth, like a worry stone, that it almost felt soft and yielding. And I fought my fear back down into my throat, and tried to make myself be as strong as her. "I w-won't panic," I managed to get out.
"Okay." *Mute took a deep breath. "We, uh, we're going to lose all power in five minutes."
Now I was squeezing her hand, as hard as I could, as she went on fast. "The deflectors weren't- well, it's really technical, but they didn't work right. Okay? So when we went FTL, something struck us, and we lost the reactor."
I gasped. "Is the zero point module going to implode?!"
"No, uh ... " *Mute gave me a weird look, and I couldn't tell if it was because she didn't know what that meant or if she was trying to figure out how I knew it. I'd thought she had wired herself pretty tightly into the computer, so I figured that it was the latter. "I don't think so? I'm not getting an 'implosion' warning. It just says that the battery will be drained in about four minutes."
I started to get up, but she tugged at my hand to keep me seated. "Don't. Worry," *Mute told me, and I managed to look at her face. "I've already sent out a distress signal. The ships in your time are, like, ridiculously fast, and someone's already replied and said that they'll be here in half an hour."
That was about how far it was to Earth, give or take. "Okay ... "
"So. The lights are going to go out for awhile, and it's going to be a bit scary. Moreso for you, since, uh, I won't be around for it." She let go of my hand, and the whisker went back to float next to her shoulder. "Just try to stay warm, and keep calm so you don't use up all the oxygen. Okay?"
I nodded quickly, and tried to stand up again.
"Okay?" *Mute asked more insistently, holding one of the whiskers in front of me.
"Okay, just let me get in the lavatory first." I winced. I had just woken up.
"Oh. I thought ... well, never mind." *Mute looked away, embarrassed.
* * *
She thought I was going to run around screaming and flailing, I thought. Wasn't that what women were expected to do in her society, when things went disastrously wrong? At this point, I had no idea anymore.
I got out as quick as I could and then washed my hands in the basin, drying them off on my pants before sitting back down and trying to compose myself. I still felt kind of light-headed, and when I glanced over at *Mute she seemed to be nervous herself.
"How much longer?" I asked.
"Twenty-nine seconds," she said.
"We'll be okay," *Mute promised me. And then it hit me what that sentence meant, and that we really were an official "we" now.
"Okay ... "
She was so close. I wished I could hold her, and feel her breath on my cheek. I wished she could put one of her arms around me. But I guessed that would have to wait ... at least until we got to Earth.
"I'll see you soon," *Mute said, and her voice sounded shaky.
Then everything went pitch black.