Nexus Station, as it was roughly translated, was one hundred and fifty light years coreward of Earth. The Hegemony starship would reach it in a little less than a month. During that time, Caleb split his time between his maintenance duties, additional orientation classes accompanied by Max, and occasional awkward lunches and dinners with Faith.
Obligolkulat rearranged the schedule so that Caleb and Nel were no longer working the same shifts. “I don’t care if you trade fluids,” the heptapode said, “but if you guys get caught in the shafts one more time it’s going to be my hide. You humans are basically along for the ride, but I have an actual job.”
It did not matter much. After the telethreesome with Allie, Nel seemed less interested in Caleb. Or perhaps it was leaving the Earth system. Maybe she only engaged with him because it was new and different, but heading back to the heart of the Hegemony distracted her. He could not tell and was not especially bothered by it.
Max was an ever present irritant, however. The insectoid robot seemed to find him whenever he was between shifts or walking alone in the corridors of the ship. “It is important that you understand the nature of the Spiral Hegemony and your place in it,” he would say, and then go on and on about protocols and bureaucratic processes. The robot seemed genuinely concerned for Caleb upon their arrival at Nexus Station, but Caleb could not bring himself to care. After all, there was nothing in the wide universe he could do about what was to happen there.
Faith was another issue. As soon as they left the Earth system, she sought him out, sitting with him in the cafe but not saying a word. As time went on, she joined him more often, making small talk about the future or life on the ship. She never brought up their romantic relationship. Nor did he.
With only a few days remaining before the ship reached Nexus Station she asked in the middle of dinner, “Do you think we will end up on the same ship?”
Caleb looked up and saw her eyes were wide, wet and, he thought, scared. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think so.”
She took a halfhearted bite of whatever food equivalent they were serving the human crew members that day. When she had chewed and swallowed it, she asked, “Do you want us to?”
Caleb stared at her and something became hot and churned in his chest. “Yes,” he said without truly understanding why.