All seemed to return to the closest thing the Skyreign crew could call normal.
The crew who had been knocked unconscious came back around without too much of an issue, experiencing symptoms commonly found from mild hangovers. Statification technology, while perhaps once unpredictable and at times ineffective, had a good millennium to mature into a staple means of rendering a target both nonthreatening and unharmed.
Favoured by both law enforcers and bounty hunters.
In short order, Rose had the two new power cores installed in the place of the old one. Without working engines, escape from the planet was still impossible--but they could move much more quickly. They could power shields and weapons. They stood a far better chance than just the day before. The solar sails would still provide a secondary power source to lighten the load on the newly installed cores.
However, the benefit of their vessel being rejuvenated was vastly mitigated by the doom of the knowledge that they could go nowhere with that power. Still out of a sensors array, they had only an improvised compass meant for a handheld weapon, and a captive made to guide them where they wanted to go.
Laura knew that Behraan would consider them an enemy of the state, even if unofficially. She suspected the attempted assassination was not something the Trilithe Masons of Majestia would publicize. She surmised that the two major galactic networks, both Behrnet and Galanet, told the tragic story of the Daunting, and the vessels she carried, falling out of orbit over some distant, ancient world. They burned up in worldfall. No survivors.
She knew that she had been thoroughly set up.
She kept asking herself the same questions again and again: after years of dedication and devotion to the Dominion, after aiding in decisive victories and after even being promoted to Commander—why would they simply toss her life away? What was the point?
Why would her long-time friend, Miya, be the one to do it? Did her grandfather, General Alvoa, have any part in it?
She still couldn’t fathom why the would-be assassin only stunned her crew, rather than outright kill them, especially if she was going to detonate the ship anyway.
Why would she reveal her findings to Laura, for nothing?
Nothing made sense to her. Things did not add up.
Edge was the last to awaken. Bright light first pierced his weary eyes, blurring sight and sound as one, until he could make out voices, then words—those of Grace.
“Mister Levee,” her eyes alone could heal any broken heart, there was such a level of kindness and infinite understanding in her angelic face, “how do you feel?”
“Like a tree fell on me,” he groaned, his tactile senses coming back to him all too quickly. The blanket covering him, and Grace’s gentle touch on his forehead, may as well have been bricks pinning him down.
“Pretty close,” Darrick sat on a chair across from the bed, smirking—Edge could make that smirk out any day, “we found you, statted, under a fallen drum in the cargo room.”
Edge knew what being statted felt like. He remembered the pain from then, too, but he wondered why it dissipated so quickly, and his strength returned with every breath. Yet Grace’s hand remained ever a presence, instead almost attracting his forehead, hot as a coal in a fire, but soothing enough that such a pain was a pleasure beyond all comprehension.
Of course, he knew what this felt like, too.
He stood abruptly, fully recovered...and fully unclothed.
“So who tried to kill me and plugged it up?” Edge crossed his arms, apparently uncaring of the complete exposure he was giving.
“Miya,” Darrick shied away with no subtlety, Grace backing up and taking all things professionally, “she tried to kill everybody. Statted us all first.”
“All save Laura and Sam,” Grace mentioned as she washed her hands in a basin next to Ejjar’s bed.
“Well, great,” he sighed, wandering over to his dresser to pull out some clothes, “so what’s next?”
“Probably a summary cremation, whenever Behraan finds us, I guess,” Darrick kicked his feet up on the newly vacant bed, “orbital delivery. Attending?”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” replied Edge as he quickly donned underpants and brown, carbonlink pants, “where’s Miya now?”
“Laura and Sam--stopped Miya,” Grace said lowly, shaking her head at the half-dressed man.
“Ah,” Edge smirked to himself.
“Now—please, Mister Levee. No sudden movements for—“
“The next eighteen hours, I know,” Edge waved her off, “been there, done that. Thanks for the heal, Grace.”
“I didn’t heal you,” Grace noted as she dried her hands.
“No, I did,” he smirked, throwing on an old brown tunic, “heard that one too, Cleric.”
“Heard it all, have you?” Darrick stood as the newly recovered man made for the door.
“Well, I haven’t exactly been in a hole all my life,” Edge patted his shoulder on the way out, “guess it’s back to work, eh Rose?”
“Speak for yourself,” Rose scoffed, following him out, “I plugged in the cores all by myself, thanks. You can handle the rest.”
“Sure, how about I plug in the other coffee machine?” Edge chuckled as the two of them trailed off.
Darrick glared blankly at Grace, “what’s a Cleric?”
Grace shrugged, “Similar to a medic. Only better.”
Darrick shrugged too, “I can live with that.”
The sun had fully set by the time all the crew congregated on the deck, so the lights on the railing, from the consoles and lining the corners of every dimension aboard, made up for the lack of sunlight.
That light was spared in nights past due to the need to conserve energy, but with power suddenly aplenty, there was no need to be so stingy.
All sat attentively on chairs, railing or crates they pulled up. Whatever was handy. Laura was in the center of their attention, having called the meeting--but not knowing in the faintest what to say first.
For the first time, Laura Vinfield, once a proud ship captain of a proud race with a proud future, finally understood that it was not pride in all of this—but vanity. She felt that these vanities, these former facets of her being, had been imposing upon her from the very beginnings of her life, until it nearly took her life as well.
For the first time, she came to understand that, all this time, she had been working for those who would harm her, just for what she was. Just for some affiliation with a man who might have been her father, but never made a presence in her life.
For the first time, Laura Vinfield realized just how little she knew what to say, or do, or even think.
Yet, as always, the crew expected answers.
Silently. Patiently. They waited.
They all knew what Miya did. None knew the why of it.
Laura could be honest and lead the rest of this voyage running blindly to nowhere, likely to die in the sands of this desolate world.
Or, she could keep living the lie and just pretend she still cared enough to find her childhood hero, Admiral Janeth Sehra--who probably wasn’t even alive anymore anyway. The promise of finding her was probably just a ruse to get them out and away from public eyes, for a quiet execution nobody had to know about.
Behraan could make up any reason for the whole ship and crew to have not returned. No other vessel, no other person, had ever done so.
She always fondled her Behraanese badge when she thought, and never really thought twice about the nervous reaction. Nobody else noticed either, since most of her thoughts were immediate and impulsive. But as all eyes were on her, as she fondled that badge, she stopped to actually look at it.
She then looked all around to her silent crew.
The badge tumbled out of her fingers, the light metallic chinking sound reverberating in her ears over and over again, as if transmitting a message long-awaited by the deepest recesses of her mind.
The first few words that slipped out of her mouth were, “they betrayed us.”
“She was an assassin,” she continued, staring blankly at the badge on the floor, “Trilithe. She was going to kill us all. The supposed crime? That we didn’t fit in the picture of the Behraanese Destiny.”
“Would love to know how,” Olsein grumbled, rubbing his head.
“Yeah,” Laura nodded, looking to the floor, “me too.”
“So why didn’t she?” Olsein asked aloud, clearing his throat, “she had plenty of opportunities.”
“She wanted to banter around before doing the job,” she shook her head, “she had a bomb on this ship. She was going to set it off, but Sam statted her, and now she’s locked up in the spare quarters, downstairs. Still unconscious, I expect. Sam gave her a triple dose.”
Laura’s voice dropped a complete octave, as if having experienced a life-changing event—and indeed, she had.
“Not welcome by raiders,” Laura started, “not welcomed by local nations--not welcome back home.
“Not with this,” she picked up the badge from the floor, pausing. Then she removed her rank pins, adding, “nor these.”
“We’re defecting?” Rose asked, stepping forward with a face full of shock, having known this woman since she was just a girl. Having known Laura for jumping to conclusions, sometimes at a cost.
“Yes,” Laura said softly. Then she raised her voice, rebuilding her confidence, “Yes, we’re defecting. Behraan wants us dead. No. I won’t have it. I won’t swear to an Imperator who wants to stamp out my—our--existence.”
“So--” Rose crossed her arms, shaking her head, “what now? What do we do?”
As if it wasn’t clear enough already, Laura looked her friend in the eye, speaking loudly enough for everyone to hear her, “We know what to do. We hold up our end of the bargain. We escort the Dexa family to Nywan. That is our mission—for now.”
“Just and noble,” Haren nodded in concurrence.
“Cast aside your badges and uniforms,” Laura shook her head, stamping on the badge hard enough to crush it, looking back up to the astounded crew, “we’ll find a new life in Nywan, on this world. Such as it is.”
“I am certain,” Haren said, “that with your defection and your realization and your dedication, you will find a place in Nywan. With certainty, the Dexa family will vouch for you, given we do reach Nywan successfully.”
“Well,” Darrick crossed his arms, “if we’re all defecting, then I owe you nothing. I’m a free man.”
“None of you owe me anything,” Laura shook her head, “so the choice is yours. I ask that you stay with me, at least until we reach Nywan. After that—well--there’s nothing keeping you on board. I can’t make you stay. I haven’t exactly given you reasons to. But if you do stay? We’ll—we’ll work something out. I don’t know what yet, but we will.”
Words so very unlikely to escape the Captain’s mouth.
Darrick looked away as he clearly mulled over the matter.
“No way on Bentor you could keep this bucket of nuts together on your own,” Edge smirked.
“More drink in Nywan, I hope,” Olsein nodded, “but drink is better on a voyage than on land. I’m still on.”
“You’re still my Captain,” Sam bowed.
General approval of the crew.
“Fine,” Laura smiled faintly, “get some rest. We’re not under someone else’s thumb anymore, but we still have a lot of sand to cover in the morning.”
Laura swiftly dotted around the cabin, tidying the room with a vacuum. Sand seemed to reach every corner of the ship, dragged in by the feet of others or by a wind that carried it aboard through the numerous holes in the ship’s faulty defensive field. It found its way into every crease on every item of clothing. It nestled in the window sill, in the door frames, in the meshwork on the floors.
Two knocks on the door. Laura knew it would be Rose, so she called out, “enter.”
Surely enough, there she was. Her attire better represented the world’s natural tones, as she wore a loose beige tunic and a pair of darker beige pants, both bound at her joints with simple cord, and pocketed everywhere there could be a pocket. A solid gunmetal utility belt was the only thing that had any lustre to it, as even the holster for her sidearm, empty, blended in well with her clothing. Steady leather hiking boots, ones seen on many of the Oldworlders, travelled two thirds of the way up to her knees.
“It makes more sense than a uniform that doesn’t breathe,” Rose noticed her old friend scanning everything, and closed the door behind her.
“Sure,” said Laura, who had not changed into anything else as yet.
“I came to check on you,” Rose sat in a chair on the darker-lit side of the room, “that was a pretty huge split-second decision.”
“It wasn’t split-second,” Laura leaned the vacuum against the wall, sitting on her desk, “it was something I began to consider the moment Miya pointed a gun at me. The moment I saw that insignia.”
Rose nodded simply, “We’ll have to figure out what to do with her, when we get to Nywan. Maybe the locals have a prison or something.”
“Do you think I’m doing the right thing?” Laura resumed the prior subject. Her eyes searched for some form of body language that might give her more answers.
Rose crossed her arms, “doing the right thing about what?”
“Everything,” Laura answered quickly, throwing her hands to the side, “how could I have not known that all this time, Miya was sucking up to me, and practically got me my promotion to Commander, just to follow us out and blow us up? Grahaamut—we went to the academy together, and military school before that!”
“Who knows?” Rose shook her head, “but now I know why I had such a problem getting along with her. I knew something was wrong with her.”
Laura stared blankly in Rose’s general direction, nodding reluctantly, “I should have seen the signs.”
“Well,” Rose shrugged, “what’s done is done. We’re not going back to Behraan. Couldn’t if we would, wouldn’t if we could. You asked me if I think you’re doing the right thing. Yes, I do. Nywan’s government probably won’t make a hit on you at the first sign of profit, and I doubt they have racism problems.”
“Racism?” Laura raised a brow.
“I’m not an idiot,” Rose sat on the couch, crossing her arms again, “I know that you know.”
“Know--” Laura remembered her encounter with Miya, “that you’re—but she can’t be serious, right?”
Rose only stared.
“By Kabaiila, she was serious?”
Rose nodded just once.
“You’re an—an Oasiian?”
Rose nodded again.
Laura stared back, blankly, before she looked aside, saying lowly, “I should have known that too. Both of my supposed best friends. One of them tries to kill me, and the other one is some—extinct race!?”
“I don’t feel extinct,” Rose flared her brows, “but then again, I never met one of my kind. Not sane ones anyway. And we don’t look much different, so blending in with the Behraanese all these decades was pretty easy. Nobody knows what an Oasiian looks like.”
Laura still found herself entirely befuddled. Then, she said slowly, “I do.”
Rose smiled that simple smile.
“But then,” Laura widened her eyes, “if you’re Oasiian, that means—that means you never age, right? Is that true?”
“So you’re not twenty-five,” Laura concluded.
“Plug, no!” Rose laughed lightly, “I’d say I wish, but I don’t.”
Rose rolled her eyes, “Laura, why does it matter?”
“Fifty,” Laura guessed again.
“No,” Rose stared evilly.
Laura then paused, and as if Rose spoke the words but not out of her mouth, she spoke the words herself, “sixty-seven.”
Rose’s eyes widened, “Nobody has ever guessed.”
Laura smirked, “but I did.”
“I have no idea how,” Rose laughed nervously, “look—please don’t think any less of me for being what I am.”
“I can’t,” Laura sat next to Rose, “if what Miya said about you is true—then it’s likely that what she said about me is also true. That would mean that I—I’m not Behraanese either. I’m apparently an Aeonian.”
Rose nodded, “I know. And do you know how I know?”
“You’ve never been sick.”
“But sure I--” Laura realized she was simply being defensive, “well—alright, no. Not once. I just thought I was particularly healthy. I kept to a strict diet, I took my vitamins, I kept in shape.”
“But T’pauzi V,” Rose reminded, “everyone got sick. So many Behraanese had died from the indigenous diseases there. Even the best of the best fell to it. But you? You never showed a single sign of illness. No symptoms at all.”
Laura remembered things differently. “My platoon was fine. We were—gunned down, but in the three years we were there, no sickness.”
Rose shrugged, saying nothing more.
“Think joining Nywan is the way?” asked Laura, not entirely comfortable with the subject of T’pauzi V—or herself—or herself on T’pauzi V.
“They’ll take us in,” Rose nodded, confident in her speech, almost nonchalant.
“Who’s to say?” Laura asked.
“Haren, for one,” Rose replied, “you know, you earned some respect from the big guy. Probably more than I did for beating him up.”
“What did he say?” said Laura.
“Only that he was in good with the governors, and that they were--nice,” Rose shrugged, “and I doubt he’d lie. The guy telegraphs big time when he even tries. Anyway, he says he can help us get in their good graces.”
<Uh, Captain,> Ejjar said through the intercom, <I’ve done another assessment on the ship’s engines, and yeah, Kabaiila curse it, they’re gone to scrap. If we can make it to this Nywan place everyone keeps talking about, I’ll look into something we can fix up. Just hope this place is all it’s made out to be.>
“Thanks, Edge,” Laura said simply.
<Yeah, shutting down for the night. Bright and early.>
The intercom died.
“That’s me too,” Rose stood and made for the door, “bright and early, Laura.”
“Thanks for stopping in,” Laura nodded her way, “I’m fine. Really.”
“You telegraph a lot too, you know,” Rose smirked, “I know you’re worried. But we’ll figure this out. I think we’ve been in Academy war games more dangerous than this.”
“Right,” Laura feigned a smile, “bright and early, then.”