Meet The Relatives by Lynda Williams, is the touching story of very Demish Dela's adventures in Red Reach. Illustrations are by Richard Bartrop.
Dela and Rilt
Reality Skimming meant flickering in and out of ordinary existence many times a second. Re-entry caused wear and tear on the body called shimmer. Suffering what lay beyond reality was known as gap exposure, a thing defined by negatives which could leave your body soulless.
"Demish stories spoke of pilots' souls loosening their grip in flight, leading to the Long Night of coma, or worse."
Dela endured by reciting her best-loved poems in a breathy mutter. Rilt endured that with teeth gritted. Dela disgraced herself by screaming when Rilt took the jump to Red Reach without warning. After that, they skimmed on in silence with Dela afraid to provoke Rilt to even worse antics. The trip took only hours, but those managed to feel like forever. Dela developed grainy feelings in places she hadn't thought possible, from microscopic shimmer damage, and the emotional drain of gap exposure was as bad as suffering a very long and devastating lecture by a disappointed parent figure, capable of proving without doubt that her being here was not only ridiculous but a terrible breach of Amel's trust.
She diverted herself with thoughts of meeting Vras's relative. She couldn't even figure out how to speak with Rilt! How ever would she address them? Then there was the problem of becoming mekan'stan. Could Vrellish women ask first? That seemed likely. But what if he laughed at her?
When the questions got too stressful she thought about riding in a rel-ship with a Vrellish pilot whose face looked demonic in the cockpit's orange light, her eyes fixed ahead on the stars. At first it was frightening. But the more she stared the more Dela began to worry abut Rilt. Demish stories spoke of pilots' souls loosening their grip in flight, leading to the Long Night of coma, or worse. If they time slipped, she might emerge into a future in which Vras was gone. Or more likely found himself another woman, even if it had only been a day.
She sucked on a tube of flat, recycled water to wet her throat, took a deep breath, and risked grammatical catastrophes by saying, "It... really is very good of you, Lady — uh, Lord? No, no. Oh dear, Rilt will have to do. Good of you to take me to Vras. Have we far to go?"
The Vrellish woman did not even look at her.
Dela looked around. The cockpit smelled of sweaty leather and the flat metallic bite of oxygen recycled by ship's moss. Behind her was a cargo compartment, empty except for some personal effects and a crate of food. Ahead lay a vista of stars, cold white or slightly blurred and tinted in suggestive colors. Dela's blue eyes gulped and gulped and found no nourishment in any of them. The universe was as inert as it was vast. Only those few, tiny places, that could harbor life were precious. More than life. More than love. Beyond even words!
We will never get there, Dela despaired just before they came upon a space station.