Zabet wonders some days if Rada has any imagination at all. (Rada does, but she’s learned to throttle, stomp, squash, and otherwise discipline that wayward facet of her make up. Otherwise she’d never sleep again.) After all, one would think that Rada ni Drako would find better uses for a time machine than laboring as an overworked, dragon-pecked version of the Azdhag postal system’s parcel delivery service. She could charge large sums to take tourists to see great events, to carry scientists forwards or backwards to observe phenomena and creatures, and stuff like that. Instead she sells genuine antiques, does same-day interplanetary delivery, and gives Zabet the stinky eye when the reptile gushes forth with her latest idea.
You see, the problem is that Zabet doesn’t understand time travel. Rada knows it all too well.
To use a Trader or Wanderer timeship demands two things: temporal sensitivity and the willingness of the equipment to cooperate. One is genetic and an individual has it, or doesn’t. Rada has it in abundance, enough so that she can actually sensitize those with weaker Gifts (like Rahoul Khan, who can sense the near future albeit in a vague way.) The Wanderers possessed the talent for many, many generations before a scout, her name lost to time (and corrupted data files), chanced upon a strange predator in the swamps of a planet well inside the spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy. The ur-symbiote resembled a giant salamander, but with a stubby tail. When the scout stepped on it by accident, the creature startled and jumped sideways and back in time a few seconds, pulling the scout along. For an instant the scout saw herself stepping on the creature. The rest, as they say, is history and selective breeding (Rada would say too selective. The ‘Dark Hart would probably agree with her.)
If you were to ask Rada how it works, she couldn’t give you a good answer. Because she doesn’t know except on the instinctive level. For one, for reasons of politics and control Trader pilots are not trained in theory. For two, there are only four languages that even have the vocabulary to express the ideas behind time travel. For three, Rada fled the Traders before she reached the point in her instruction where she would have been instructed in the mechanics of time travel. Rada says that she links minds with the creature in the Dark Hart and together they look at the time threads, lines of temporal energy that cover the universe like threads in a piece of cloth. Gravity distorts the threads as can certain activities, and half of a Trader pilot’s training is learning what to avoid and how to work around gravitational singularities and the like. The creature uses temporal energy to move the ship around it from place and time to place and time. It consumes that energy, as well as more conventional food, which is why Rada can sense another Trader timeship even when it is not moving, through her link with the Dark Hart. There’s a little weak spot in the timethread where the other ship’s creature is nibbling.
The Wanderers and Traders also established the Laws. It is Rada’s firm belief that in so doing the Traders expended the last bit of common sense and wisdom contained in their genetic materials, but she’s also a touch biased. To use Rada as an example, she cannot go forward in time past the point of her latest future. I.e. she can’t look ahead of when she fled the Traders, ahead of her “now.” There are also certain places and events that absolutely cannot be touched, because they will affect the Trader’s own development and past. That rule was extended to cover known civilizations, so Rada can’t take RSM Richard Chan back to Vienna to assassinate that postcard painter with the funny mustache, no matter how often Chan asks. She’s also not supposed to introduce late-time technology to an early-time location, a rule she bends on a regular basis, but very carefully. The Dark Hart can and will step in if she gets too close to the line, something she discovers the hard way.
The Dark Hart is not supposed to be able to do that. But it does. In fact, Rada has stumbled onto something only one or two other Wanderers ever realized: the symbiotic creatures are fully sapient. Her father noticed it, but speculated that the Dark Hart’s beast was the only one, perhaps a mutation or chance development. But his connection to the Hart was much weaker than Rada’s is (the only reason the ship survived his death). Rada’s conditioning will not let her accept that the creature has a fully developed mind of its own, and it’s not going to tell her outright, for reasons.
If the creature wasn’t sapient, and hadn’t chosen to bond so tightly with her, Rada could never get the Dark Hart to go where she wants/needs it to go. On her own, her gift is on a slightly different wavelength (literally) from a Trader’s temporal sensitivity. That’s why she can’t see the future, only sense the presence of possibilities and probabilities. She can sense timethreads only weakly unless she clears her mind and really focuses, and the transit of another timeship makes her queasy. If she were a pure Wanderer, she’d handle the transits without difficulty and be able to identify the ship. As it is the symbiote has no qualms about letting her know what it wants from her, even if it works indirectly. And after this long, the two truly are symbiotic. After the events in A Cat at Bay, both Rada and the creature need time to recover, something she doesn’t quite realize is slowing down her return to what passes for normal.
Because of all these things, and because Rada is, to be kind, about as sociable and outgoing as most jaguars, she refuses to play tour director. She’s found a business, one that she’s good at, one that makes enough money for her and Zabet to live comfortably. Exploration is not Rada’s cup of tea. She doesn’t want to go to new places and meet interesting people, because that usually leads to someone shooting at her, or vice versa. And she’s trying to avoid the attention of the Traders. She’s done well thus far, especially since the Rowfow and other temporally-active species have agreed to pretend she doesn’t exist, should the Traders inquire. The Dark Hart doesn’t care to be found either. For reasons.