The captain plopped down at the doorstep of Alathea’s ship. Alathea attempted to ignore her for some time, but it proved futile. The unmistakable gaze bore into her.
Eventually, she looked up, meeting the Captain’s eyes. “Captain, how can I help you?”
“Oh, I did not mean to interrupt. Please finish what you’re doing.”
Alathea raised an eyebrow. This was the epitome of passive-aggressiveness. Setting down her tools, she sat next to the captain, eyeing her intently.
The captain glanced at her impromptu worktable and then back at her. “Really, you did not need to stop?”
“While you’re here, sitting, and obviously demanding attention?”
“Fair enough. I will try to be short. I’m bringing you news.” The captain offered one of the ship’s tablets to her.
Alatea took it and switched it on. It started playing a video feed, showing a black hole getting smaller and disappearing in a flash.
“What is this?”
“That’s the wormhole you came through. We left a probe there to monitor it, in case someone else follows you. But twelve hours ago it collapsed.”
“What do you mean, collapsed?”
“It closed itself, it disappeared. Did you hear about Hawking’s law, about black hole evaporation?”
Alathea stared at her. “How can a black hole evaporate? It swallows everything in sight.”
Captain tilted her head. “You know little about astrophysics?”
Alathea shrugged. “That’s not mine to know. That’s the area of the Navigators and Guild.”
Captain nodded. “What if you wish to know?”
Alathea frowned. “Life is short anyway. Why would I waste it learning something that cannot help me in doing my tasks?”
“Because you’re human and curious.”
Alathea blinked. She realized she used the same answer that Bene Gesserit used every time she would ask about stars. As a young girl, she would frequently gaze at the stars, wondering about their composition and why they emitted such a bright light, seeking nothing in return. But no one ever answered her questions. Never, not once in all eleven lives, she got the answer.
“You guys often get curious about things that are irrelevant to your tasks?”
Captain laughed. “Now you sound like Seven. Yes, that’s the advantage of a truly free society. You can choose what your task is, and you can learn about anything that tickles your imagination. And you can change directions in life if you stop liking the previous one.”
Alathea focused on the movie in her hands, playing it again and watching the black hole disappear in the flash. “You said this is the black…, sorry, wormhole through I came here?”
“And it doesn’t exist anymore?”
“Correct. The collapse was unavoidable after your passage. It was a rare event to witness, even for us.”
Alathea played the movie again, warmth rising in her, creeping to her face and making her smile. She was alive, and she escaped the Sisterhood. Her eyes met Captain’s. “I’m free.”
Captain smiled at her. “Yes. You’re free.”
Her eyes got dragged back to the tablet. She played the movie again. All those possibilities the Captain mentioned were now in front of her. She could now really live her life.
“Where can I learn more about astrophysics?”
“Ask our computer, or Seven. She is in charge of astrometrics. But there is something I would like to ask you. About your time travel.”
“You mean, me accidentally ending up here because I entered the wormhole that connected two different points in time?”
“That’s a form of time travel. And you are planning to fix your ship so that you can return to the Empire in this time, presumably before the Duncan Idaho caused the creation of that murderous Ghola law.”
Alathea nodded. That was her plan. But that would barely qualify as time travel.
“What I wish to know is what the Empire’s science thinks about causality. You going to the Empire before you were even born might cause some interesting changes, maybe even something that would prevent you from being born later.”
Alathea blinked. That would not be such a bad idea. If she just had ancestral memories, to cut the chain of events. A nausea filled her. Maybe Mother Superior let her go because she went back into the past and did something that made her worthy of so many incarnations as a Ghola.
“Did you meet someone from the Empire?” she stared at the captain, using all her truth-saying abilities.
“Beside you, no,” the Captain told the truth.
“Then why this conversation? Something to do with time travel?”
Captain said nothing, but her body screamed yes.
“Did you travel in time?”
Captain remained still, a smile appearing on her lips, but her body said yes again.
Another yes. Alathea blinked, letting the silence envelop them both, wondering what happened. Nothing on the ship even indicated possible time travel.
“So, what do you wish to know?”
“What Empire knows about time travel?”
“We think it is impossible. The laws of causation you mentioned would prevent it. There is no sign no one traveled through time, nor the push to discover anything. All exercise is just an empty pondering about certain physical aspects.”
“Yet you traveled through time.”
“You know, I’m clueless about the whole thing. No idea how it occurred, or why it did. Perhaps documents are floating around, but those crafty Bene Gesserit are probably guarding them like a stash of secret intergalactic recipes. I wouldn’t put it past them; they’re notorious for their info-hoarding tendencies.”
Captain nodded. “In our universe, there are loads of time travel, accidental and purposeful. So many that one wonders how causality keeps this universe together.”
“Maybe, just maybe, time travel is the glue that holds your reality together. Perhaps your entire world would be a cosmic no-show without the quirks of temporal shenanigans.”
The very instant those words tumbled from her lips, she sensed she’d stumbled upon the elusive reason the Reverend Mother let her stick around. Alathea’s mission became clear—they slated her for a return to the Empire, armed with a task vital to its very existence. A cosmic responsibility, it seemed. She gulped, shifting her gaze to the distant wall of the hangar. Freedom, it appeared, was but a fleeting illusion. The Bene Gesserit still had her firmly ensnared in their intricate web.
The captain fixed a gaze upon her. “Perhaps.”
Perhaps. Perhaps she should put an end to it all, including her impending future. The empire painted a dismal portrait of society, devoid of happiness for anyone within its grasp. It felt almost akin to that absurdly solemn religious society Voyager had recently stumbled upon.
“Looks like I’ve stirred the gray matter a bit, haven’t I?” the captain remarked.
Alathea shook her head. “Indeed. I’ve often pondered why the Reverend Mother spared my life and gave me a rather luxurious spacecraft.”
“What’s your inkling?”
“I’m in the dark on that one. But my wager is there’s an impending rendezvous with some folks from the Empire in this era. Those Bene Gesserits, you know, they’re the maestros of manipulation.”