There she stood, before the Skyreign crew, dimly lit by the green projections of the battle outside the ancient walls.
There she stood, before Laura. A hero worthy of legend and praise for her numerous years of selfless service to the Behraanese Destiny.
Certainly worthy of legend, seeing as Admiral Sehra was reported to have completely disappeared well before Laura was even born. Seeing as she was declared legally dead.
But it was her, alright. She matched all the descriptions almost perfectly. Yet, it seemed as though there should have been more fire in her eyes than there was. This woman’s eyes emitted a deep, flickering sapphire glow, not one of youth as her contoured, supple face and physique might have suggested. The fire was there, but then, there, it was merely the embers of a fire that had burned a long, long time.
Laura knew full-well that as she read into a page of Janeth’s eyes, Janeth’s eyes would discern a full novel of hers.
“So, you’ve found me,” Janeth said evenly, leaning on the table, her arms crossed, “but while Behraan sent you, they also sent a Trilithe to clean you up. I wonder which of those two missions your Imperator was keener on.”
“Not the Trilithe’s,” Olsein grunted, “Sam here got her good.”
Janeth’s face made no indication whether such news meant anything to her, as she replied simply, “Indeed.”
“Why did you leave?” the young Captain’s eyes were filled of conflicting thoughts, “and how did you become the leader of these natives here?”
Janeth studied the young lady briefly as that puzzled face carried an undercurrent of distrust. Finally she said, “You must feel as if I have betrayed you. I can see that I did leave behind some level of legend, one you among many have taken some example from. You must feel that, in seeing me work alongside these Nywanese Generals, I have become something less than what you were born and raised thinking of me to be. Please—correct me if I’m wrong.”
Laura’s thoughts siphoned directly from her mind. Janeth’s eyes read her whole chronicle.
“And would I also be wrong if I was to say that you have become a lonely, bitter, antisocial shell of a young woman because you pursued my very likeness, as Behraan has portrayed?” Janeth had a subtle smirk, barely visible in the poorly-lit room.
“Take that back—"
“Would I, Laura Vinfield?” Janeth reiterated. As if it were impossible for the Admiral’s eyes to cut any deeper, not only did they begin to sear Laura in such a way that her throat dried, but the very lids of her eyes locked themselves open, and her eyes could not tear away.
Silently, Laura murmured, as the intense stare slacked just slightly enough to let a tear drop from Laura’s left, more agitated eye, “you would not. You were my hero.”
“I was, was I?” Janeth took a silent breath, seeing the infliction she caused the poor girl and deciding to scan the rest, “it would be fair to assume that such a perception is not largely shared.”
“Sure would,” Olsein’s brows suggested more disdain than the usual dose, “been a long time, Jan.”
“A long time indeed,” she acknowledged him, “how’s old Dae doing?”
“Couldn’t tell ya, been a few decades,” he replied with a shrug.
“Got caught up in other things, hmm?” Janeth leaned her chin on her fist, “it shows. You’ve kept up in your profession enough to slow your aging. And yet, I imagine you could have restored your youth entirely, had you stayed alongside her and learned all that she had to teach.”
“I don’t mind, and neither should you,” he glanced away to—anywhere.
“You do know you needn’t ask my permission to seat yourselves, right?” Jan glanced around to the numerous chairs and crates that served the same purpose, noting the whole crew was still standing at the door.
All but Laura broke formation and slouched into their seats. They had all weathered a re-entry gone wrong, several days under the sun with limited resources, a brush with death in the form of a would-be assassin, and another brush with death in the form of a terrible crossfire of a great battle. That battle would periodically remind them of its continuation with subtle rumbles off in the distance.
“May I pose a question?” Grace waited before sitting, “I feel ashamed for this thought not having occurred to me sooner, but—what became of the Dexa family?”
“That’s right,” Laura gasped aloud, not knowing why she completely forgot about the merchants, and noticing similar reactions from the others.
Something was amiss there, but why would the whole crew not have even thought of it enough to say something, until then and there? They should have thought of this back in the prison cell, yet the subject simply never manifested. Why?
“The Dexas are safe, with your help,” Janeth shook her head, eyeing the crew somewhat suspiciously, “did you all only begin to think of them now? Either you’ve been malnourished for far too long, brainwiped, or all equally cared so little for such a grateful family.”
“It was a fair deal,” Laura hummed, looking at her toes, then to Janeth, “they gave us some power cores. We gave them protection until we reached Nywan. Stands to reason that's gratitude enough."
Janeth only hummed, tapping her chin, “did you destroy the Trilithe’s insignia?”
“No,” the Admiral ran her hand through her metallic silver hair in some disbelief, “but no, you could not have known. Their insignias carry an aerosol in them. An amnesiac. It also bears a delayed-time distress beacon, and will jolt the body with ions that would destatify the subject, or, ‘thaw’ it, as it were. I guarantee your former crew member is out there somewhere. I also guarantee you that this is why you did not think of the Dexa family until now. Or Miya, for that matter.”
Laura scuffed at the floor, “well, Kabaiila curse it. Now I know!”
“Well,” Jan crossed her arms again, “we digress. You sought me. What was the reason?”
Laura had indeed digressed, and this moment had waited long enough. “Where is Spaceport Eighty-One?”
Janeth’s eyes began to come alight again at the very articulation of those words, as she attempted to keep an even tone with half the breath strokes, “so he knows that I know. So that assassin of yours was a test, not meant to actually kill you. Tell me—Laura. Did she actually kill anyone?”
Laura shook her head.
“And I’m willing to bet she had this long elaborate speech, too.”
“Grahaamut,” fire could have slipped out of her eyes as she began to pace, then stopping to look at Laura intensely, “that is why I’m here. I didn’t come here looking for someone else to rule. I came here looking for that sacred ground. But when I found it...”
And she did know where it was.
“...what I found there was--an ancient power of such mind-defying awe, that I couldn’t let the Imperator get his hands on it.”
“What sort of power?” Laura stared in astonishment.
Janeth’s many years caught up in her stressed demeanor, though that was countered by the intensity in her otherworldly glowing eyes.
Still, Laura persisted. "What sort of power, Admiral?"
“The sort that can demolish one world and create another,” Janeth replied, the pace of her words a good bit faster than before, “the sort that would tip the scales of power across galaxies.”
“Surprise number three,” Ejjar said slowly.
“What did you find at Spaceport Eighty-One?” Laura continued.
“Exactly what one might expect at a spaceport,” Janeth answered quickly, “a ship. The ship.”
“Ah,” Darrick hummed, “that ship.”
“Terraniia,” Grace muttered.
A long silence stretched on in the room, save for the silent, steady hum of the fans cooling the projector.
"That ship is a myth, nothing more," Laura argued.
"Yet, here you are," Janeth looked Laura in the eye, "sent to find it, knowingly or not. Did you truly think this was all just about finding me?"
Laura subtly nodded.
"The Imperator is particularly excellent at having others carry out his will, without them ever realizing they are doing so," Janeth said, her words more spaced, "when I began to piece together what he really had in mind for the ship--"
“You went into hiding,” Laura concluded.
“I tried,” she sighed, sitting back down on the table, “and for a time I succeeded.”
“Until Haren had to put himself in a situation where I had to save his life from a Carnox.”
“A Carnox?” Sam asked.
“A carnivorous ox, shortly described,” Janeth said quickly, “so—he insisted I come to collect a reward at his hovel within these ruins, before Nywan was Nywan. He happened to be a tribe leader and was in this tribal war with the other Generals you saw. One thing led to another and I ended up tying them all together--”
“So they put you in charge,” Olsein grunted, smirking dirtily, “well, if hiding was your strategy, looks like you’ve plugged up real good.”
After a long pause, Janeth nodded slowly, "That would be in part because of my choosing to reveal myself to you. Perhaps that was a mistake. Perhaps not."
“Miya wasn’t sent to kill you,” Janeth shook her head, “she was sent to get the information out of me to find the Ship. And, she has failed.”
“Have you told anyone?" asked Rose.
Janeth looked to Rose, her face filled with faint joy, “No, my daughter. No other soul knows even that I know, for a fact. Let alone, the location. Thankfully, I have developed some resistance to divination.”
“Thankfully,” Olsein repeated, then turned rapidly to face Rose, “wait, what?”
“Yeah, did I just hear that right?” Darrick studied the two, “Rose, why didn’t you say you were—“
“In all fairness,” Rose stood, with her hands on her hips, “I left home a long time ago, and back then she wasn’t the Queen of anything. I certainly didn’t know she was your Admiral. She adopted me, she was my mother, and that was that. It’s not like I’m keeping secrets or something.”
“But why were you so quiet about it until now?” Laura asked.
“I was going to wait until she and I had a moment alone,” Rose shrugged, “I don’t feel like getting all sappy in front of everyone I practically live with. Sorry I'm not effeminate enough for you.”
“There is the pressing matter of the war,” Janeth sighed, “Rose, I truly am happy to see you again. It has been far too long. But you, more than anyone, understand the stresses upon my mind. I truly wasn’t expecting someone to know about Spaceport Eighty-One. I was hoping he’d forgotten....”
Silence left only the unspoken words exchanged between the eyes of a mother and her daughter, not one long-lost, but certainly, finally found.
“It seems like Nywan’s holding the enemy off,” Sam said astutely.
“Thankfully, you are right,” Janeth tried to smile but could only do so with her eyes, “at least, half-right. The Ma’guul tend to be harriers, at best. It is entirely unlike them to make such an organized attack upon a larger, better-established nation.”
“You think they’ll back off, huh?” Olsein raised a brow again; his skeptic eyes would have normally cut deep into the soul of any, but only glanced off the thick walls of Janeth’s.
“What do your--intuitions--tell you, Olsein?” Janeth said evenly, knowing full well something about Olsein that the others perhaps weren’t privy to.
Save for Laura, who had intuitions of her own.
“Little,” he shook his head.
“Lost your touch, did you?”
“Hardly,” he grimaced, “that part of me went into hiding when the Imperator issued a warrant for the wholesale slaughter of any who--in his eyes--strayed from the Behraanese Destiny.”
“That being entirely possible,” Janeth continued, “why did you remain in service?”
“They targeted the deserters first,” Olsein scuffed at the floor, snarling, hate and rage in his eyes, “plug it, they killed a lot of my friends, the ones who tried to get away. So what was I supposed to do!?”
“Exactly what you have done,” Laura stepped between the two, if cautiously, “come into my employ, and come to a world where the Imperator couldn’t get you.”
Moments later, Laura turned her head, and spoke mid-sigh, “besides, Olsein, Trilithe was onto you. Miya told me you were on the list.”
Olsein cursed deep and guttural, no word distinguishable as any language at all. Finally, he muttered, “figures.”
“Still,” Janeth moved away from the projector and slowly circled it, “it would seem as though they knowingly sent a lone wolf, to do the work challenging enough already for a pack. I believe you were all given your freedom.”
Laura found this somewhat difficult to believe, having stared down the barrel of her own potential demise, just moments ago it seemed. “I don’t follow,” she said after a moment’s hesitation.
“If you were sent to find me and acquire the information on the Holy Ship, let alone, to find it...I would believe they will send a pack. The first wolf was just a decoy, perhaps.”
“Or a test?” Darrick said, “but the kind of test you’re supposed to pass or fail? Or the kind of test you use to gauge someone?”
“Like the first few punches in a fight,” Rose added.
“Yes,” Janeth tuned into that notion particularly, “and the question is: how many will be in the ring? And how many blows will it take to drive them off?”
“All this talk of wolves and packs and who’s blowing who,” Olsein grunted—Edge snickered-- “this Ma’guul tribe. They’re the problem right now.”
“Yes and we have a problem of our own,” Laura added, “we sorted out that we want to do some good for Nywan, but—“
“You want something, too,” Janeth nodded, “of course you do. Your supplies are low, in a ship barely capable of holding itself together. You’re all weathered and beaten. Homeless. Outcasts. Traitors, perhaps.”
“Not to mention, stranded,” Edge threw in.
“Nonetheless,” Janeth sighed, standing again before the crew, “while I could accept your help, Nywan and its people cannot. Needless to say, they are wary of outsiders, most especially those beyond this world, who have only brought turmoil and despair in the past.”
"Pretty rich coming from such an outsider as their Queen," Olsein raised a brow.
“So you’re not going to help us?” Laura said with some irk.
“I didn’t say that,” she made no gestures of any kind, “I can offer you asylum, until the battle subsides. I will give you lodging and rations within reason, while you await that time. You will not join this battle. You will not interfere in any way. You will listen to the Council of Generals when they come to a decision. And most importantly, you will not breathe a word of this to anyone. Should you be questioned by anyone other than the Generals or myself, you will tell them—or Rose will, rather—that you are refugees trying to ride out this battle.”
“That’s not a lie anyway,” Darrick shrugged.
Slowly, Laura breathed, “what about our ship?”
“Our engineers are under immense stress as they maintain our defensive forces,” Janeth shook her head, “no men or resources can be spared until we successfully drive them off—which, we will, before long. I give it a week at best. Until then, sit tight and keep your heads down.
“Do you understand, Captain and Crew?” Janeth’s words must have been heard, just like this, dozens of times in projections played throughout Academy. Captain and Crew. Spoken like the two were the same. It was reasons such as this one, that Laura looked up to this legendary woman.
It was reasons like this one, that Laura felt such disdain for Behraan, then and there, for how far it had fallen into corruption. Only then, there, in the presence of a legend, could she truly see the infernal machine from which she had escaped.
Laura quietly nodded, and the others conveyed their own versions of agreement.
With one final nod, Janeth made for the door, looking over her shoulder, “then I formally welcome you to Nywan. Diinshtago: May the Sun always shine upon you, even the darkest of your days.”