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Chapter 7

It took me a few seconds to catch my breath. And even then I could hear my heart pulsing in my ears. I tried to focus on my tablet to ask the questions I was sent here to get answers to, but I was finding it impossible to draw my gaze away from her. I stammer the first few words I can make out and I immediately regret it ‘I, um, the Fleet needs, uh, to know how many apples you produce per year’.

‘Ok,’ Her voice was cool and strangely soothing, ‘I produced and delivered to the populace 8 million, 404 thousand. 7 hundred and 10  apples in the previous year, a surplus of 4 thousand 3 hundred and 12. Will most of your questions be produce related?’

I struggled to take in everything that was happening and make sense of it. The person in front of me looked like she couldn’t have been much older than a teen. Surely this can’t be the all powerful matriarch in control of this vessel. The question escaped from my mouth before I could decide if it was the right one to ask. ‘Are you the matriarch here? I’m here to speak to the person in charge.’

Her answer was quick and to the point ‘Yes.Although it’s a fairly archaic and outdated way of addressing me, Matriarch is an adequate term’

She stood about  5 feet 8 inches tall if I were to guess. Her gown was loose but it still denoted a slight form underneath. Her bright red hair fell to her waist in waves. Her eyes were wide and alert. I believe it must have been a trick of the light but they seemed to shift from green to gray to light blue from moment to moment. She was mesmerizing and it realized that it was difficult to concentrate on the matter at hand.

‘What would be a more suitable way of addressing you?’ I asked just as I was startled to find that I hadn’t noticed that she was flanked by two robed figures. They may have been the same ones that had greeted me earlier, but they were so nondescript in comparison to her that I couldn’t tell. When they spoke it was with a matter of fact tone that lacked any of the subtle cues of the woman before me. ‘‘She is the Ship.’ voiced the attendant.

’Yes, thank you Eldroth, I am the Ship’, the tone of her voice was calm and commanding all at once.

‘So you’re the leader of this vessel? Is there a council or some group…’ I pressed for answers. It seemed unlikely that the young woman in front of me would be the only leader of a vessel. My home ship had a group of 25 elected officials to govern it. Milships have a heirarchy spanning dozens of officers. Even bot ships were actually clusters of AI boxes splitting up the millions of decisions that need to be made. That all of that was being accomplished by this young girl was not feasible.

‘She is the Ship’ insisted the other robed figure’

‘Again, correct.’ This time I felt like I detected a slight annoyance in her voice. Still, I focused on the job I was sent here to do.

‘So there is no one else? I was given an extensive list of queries about a very severe navigational change that was brought up at the Fleet Conference. And the commanders are expecting…’

‘She is aware of your purpose here’ said Eldroth, cutting me off.

‘That I am. Please continue with your questions.’ Her gown was so light that it rippled from some invisible breeze.

I scrolled my tablet back to the beginning of the interrogation list. ‘The fleet would like to know the purpose of this navigational request’

‘It is not a request. It will happen. The only outstanding factor is will the fleet join us on the journey’

‘This is an extremely unorthodox situation. It’s doubtful that anyone would voluntarily fly into a black hole as you’re proposing unless they had a death wish.’

‘As the calculations show, the black hole would immediately collapse into a wormhole, and that is what will allow travel unharmed to the other side of the galaxy.’

‘But still, that’s only a theory. You can’t truly expect others to blindly follow you in this.’

‘There is nothing blind involved. And the theory, as you put it, is tried and tested mathematical fact. It’s no more theory than an Ion engine, or the heat from a fire.’ There was definitely more than a hint at annoyance in her voice now.

‘I understand, Miss…er..excuse me but it seems odd to refer to you as The Ship. Would it be acceptable for me to call you by your given name?’

‘The Ship is my given name’

‘To be fair,It’s more of a title than a name. For example, my name is Darius’

‘And my name is The Ship’, she was very matter of fact in the statement

‘The time.’ One of the handlers prompted.

‘Yes, I’m aware, Elthron’

‘Ok, maybe this will be simpler if I just go down the list starting from the top. If you don’t mind’ I scrolled to the beginning of the pad. ‘How long have you been in control of this vessel?’ I could tell this meeting was veering off course. This was my last ditch effort to salvage some useful data from the encounter.

‘There has always been a matriarch at the helm since my launch’

‘I think the question is, how long have you personally been in charge. When did you come to power?’ All of a sudden I felt like I was jumping through metaphorical hoops for the simplest of answers   

‘At the retirement of the previous matriarch 4 years, 3 months and 14 days ago is when I ‘took charge’ as you say. Your journey has been long and I’m confident that you must be very tired and in need of rest. We will resume after a suitable sleep cycle for you has concluded. I will send for you when you are ready to continue’ She turned to leave and as she approached, the wall that was previously impossibly smooth parted into a doorway.

‘Just 4 years ago? May I ask, how old were you at the time you became the matriarch?’, in desperation I tried to maneuver in one final question.

‘My age at the time was 18 years, 2 months, and 10 days’ and she disappeared through the doorway which also slid closed as seamlessly as it had appeared.

I was left alone with the two robed envoys and they quickly ushered me out of the opposite side of the room.

‘We have prepared quarters for you that you should find suitable.’ Eldroth said, guiding me out of the chamber.

‘Where did she go?’ I asked as walked through a corridor.

‘That is none of your concern. Your stated task was to gather information about the navigational change. Please limit your queries to that path’

I was still reeling from my encounter with the matriarch and failed to take in much of the sights as I was taken to my quarters. From what I was able to absorb, this section of the vessel seemed industrial in nature. It was sparsely manned, and when I did see someone who I assumed was a worker, they were dressed the same as my white robed escorts. There were no outward signs of rank or position.

I was taken via an elevator that slid open directly into my quarters. My two guides stood at the entryway as I stepped into the room. ‘Eldroth and Elthron, right? When should I expect you to come and get me in the morning. I’m assuming it will be you two, correct?’

‘No, you should not assume. You will be summoned when the Matriarch deems it appropriate.’ Elthron said and the door slide shut. I was left in room that was tidy but spartan. There was a bed, a wash area and a window. I stood and gazed out over the view and was greeted with a beautiful lush sea of green. I must have been at least 50 stories high because I could see for what seemed like miles. In the distance was what appeared to be the outsirts of a town, with a few buildings springing from the land. The view was dominated by what seemed to be a large orchard filled with trees and crops. If I squinted I could make out what looked like farming equipment working the fields. The sky was the same pale gray as it was on most large city ships. Like every other citizen in the fleet I had never seen a sky that wasnt artificially created along with clouds manufactured from the ventilation systems of the vessels. At least in that since, this ship reminded me of home.

.I sat on edge the bed and got to work. With a quick series of inputs, I initiated the secure comset mode on the tablet and it immediately became the most secure communications device in the fleet, thanks to the milship tech that had been embedded into it. Not only were transmissions encrypted, it also shielded me from any listening devices that may be eavesdropping on the conversation. Theoretically, I could speak freely and the only people to hear me would be the person on the other side of the comset, somewhere deep within the fleet. The tablet itself was also a recording device and monitored and saved every word spoken near it. With a press of a button I sent a copy of the day’s events to my superiors back at Fleet. It’s was mere moments before the first response appeared on the holomatrix.

‘She’s only 22?”