In the twilight years of the Long Flight, an aging pilot named Dorian Walker had established a reputation among the Exiles as a reliable and gifted Pathfinder. But his true obsession was the planet Nexus, legendary world of the Eldan. He staked his life following the clues in a mysterious book to the edge of the universe itself, certain that he alone had deciphered its mysteries. But what he found at the end of his journey was beyond anything he or anyone could have imagined...

1658 AE The Discovery of Nexus

Synopsis List
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Part One Beyond the Dark

Wiping away the rime of condensation that reformed every few moments, Dorian Walker tapped the ship’s life-support display. A pointless exercise but at least those numbers changed, albeit for the worse. Of course, there was a bright side. Standing there and watching the numbers fall, it was almost like he was doing something besides waiting to die.

Warning alarms twinkled from every control panel on the bridge of the Blue Horizon, as they had now for over a week in colorful patterns that struck him as incongruously sportive. They certainly beat the view through the ports. While his scanner screens insisted he was surrounded by thousands of stars of every size and considerable brightness, his naked eye saw only unremitting darkness. He had more than a passing acquaintance with the sight, but never till now had it evoked such solitude. This wasn't just a vacant pocket of space but the knife-edge of the universe far beyond the boundaries of the known. He was drifting aimlessly through a void that was endless and absolute.

To preserve his shredded sanity, he'd muted the alarms. But he felt bad for the ship that had served him so faithfully after he'd run her so hard. At least she'd still be salvageable in a week or an eon. Him not so much.

He was down to vestigial wisps of oxygen and crumbs of food that tasted worse than the container in which it was packed. He knew, because he'd sampled both. Just a few drops of water since the hydrator fuse had fried. The only thing in even shorter supply than his potables was ideas.

Dorian stared at the one button that wasn't flashing. The only one that mattered. He had just enough juice left for one more jump, a small one. Then he'd be reduced to fumes. A fitting end, he reflected, to a man chasing a pipe dream.

His weary gaze lit on the ancient, dog-eared tome by his elbow. It made him think of family, which made him think of Belle.

He hoped she'd remember him. Was more than he reckoned he deserved.

But he hoped just the same.

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Part Two Ghost World

After the events at Arboria, the Exile fleet lay in tatters. The majority of its ancient, ramshackle space-hulks were battered and crumbling. Provision stockpiles, always stretched thin, had dwindled to critical levels. Weathering another concerted attack would finish them. But not only was such conflict inevitable, it grew exponentially likelier with each passing jump.

Hour after tense hour slid by as sleep-deprived engineers toiled desperately to patch severe hull breaches and scrape the last dregs of fuel from the drums. Barely concealed despair haunted every corridor. Exile commanders anxiously awaited the return of scouts checking for enemy movements ahead. When half of them returned alive, it was considered cause for celebration.

The oldest and most respected of these was Dorian Walker. Since the start of the Long Flight, Walker had proven himself the luckiest, most tenacious pathfinder in the fleet. Despite this, none knew him well. After having lost his wife to Spacers Plague, he'd grown increasingly taciturn. But everyone knew that his true passion, second only to the welfare of his daughter Belle, was Nexus.

The legendary planet had been a family obsession for generations, even before its patriarch’s acquisition of the rare volume known as the Book of Dominus at the start of the Cassian Civil War. Alizar Walker had gone to his grave convinced that it held the clues to the planet’s location. One passage that particularly drew his attention had been a cryptic reference to “three celestial jewels” and “the river of green fire.” (Dorian had cherished Belle’s response to this divulgence at age twelve: “If they really wanted us to come, some actual coordinates would have been helpful.”)

For years, Dorian scoured ancient star charts and ships logs, combing them for any references, however obscure, to suggestive celestial anomalies. Ceaselessly he grilled smugglers for detailed reports of their most memorable sights. With trinary systems so commonplace and green nebulae nonexistent, it was arduous work.

Then one day he hit paydirt.

It came in the unlikely form of an old spacer named Klegg he found slouchedin a miserable watering-hole on the Gambler’s Ruin. His eyes lit up at Dorian’s diagram of the nebula that he had sketched himself from the Book.

Klegg hadn't recorded the nebulas coordinates—but another drink would likely help him recall the quadrant. Heart pounding, Dorian obliged.

The next day, after scrawling a hasty note to Belle (and a terser, apologetic one to his superiors), Dorian stole the Horizon and soared off into the unknown, certain in his heart that salvation was at hand.

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Part Three An Auspicious Landfall

Dorian's vision began to fade as he slumped over the navigation console. Hundreds of systems still to investigate...Something shimmered at the corner of his vision. Exerting every fiber of his will, he forced his eyes open.

And saw... her.

At first, Dorian was certain he was hallucinating. An ethereal female apparition was floating above the deck, smiling enigmatically. She raised her arm and pointed out the nearest port. Dorian looked, and saw three brilliant lights twinkling where before there had been nothing. When he shifted his gaze back to the figure, she was gone. He returned his attention to the port, and watched in wonder as the three lights flared with supernova intensity, then dimmed out completely, leaving only throbbing afterimages seared into his brain.

Hell, he thought. Even a product of delirium was better than nothing.

Panting, Dorian punched in the coordinates.

The stars exploded. Darkness took him.

Dorian awoke bathed in shafts of milky blue-green light from the moon shining through the cracked viewport. He took a breath, tasted loamy air.

Minutes later his feet squelched in blue mud. Dusk was falling. Forests of bizarre flora cut jagged holes from the sky. He smelled wood and damp metal. He heard water gurgling from a nearby brook.

Towering over him was a massive artifact of alien construction. He stared up at its glimmering surfaces, shrouded in tendrils of mist, and its nearness made something hum in his mind like a swarm of insects. Its indestructible tip had taken a chomp out of his tailfin during landing. Lucky it wasn’t more.

He couldn't help it. His tangled white beard cracked open in a fierce irrepressible grin.

Trillions of miles from home and marooned on a hostile alien world. Nevertheless, he'd made it. This was Nexus. He had much to do: repair the ship, catch up with the fleet, and ready the way for planetfall.

But all he could think about right now was once more seeing his daughter's face.