Rose awoke with the sun poking through the small window of her quarters, wondering if everything that transpired the night before was real, or just a dream.
She began to consider both possibilities—until her eyes quickly glimpsed something sitting on her dresser.
The receiver. Namely, the receiver that Jehran Cyan had clearly pocketed before leaving.
As she gained more awareness, the signs of last night’s scuffle became more obvious. She could only barely remember fixing her bed frame and remaking her bed before getting into it again.
Peeking out the window, she noted the hangar was mostly empty. One or two mechanics went about their business on the other airship inside, their stances casual enough to tell her that the work they were doing was routine, at best.
Casual. The Nywanese always had purpose in what they did, but always did so casually.
Quickly throwing on her tunic and matching pants, boots and gloves, she then grabbed the receiver and dashed out the door, up the stairs and on deck.
Darrick, who was under the console, worked away at some coils and wires that either transmitted power or information. He slid out from under and gave Rose an odd look of curiosity, “you’re up early. Even for you.”
“You’re still working on the sensors?” She said with some effort to hide the urgency in her very being.
“Yeah, you know me,” Darrick shrugged, wiping some of the bluish insulation gel off his hands and onto a rag stuck into his pocket, “naps here and there, but I don’t sleep much.”
“I know, but that thing was supposed to be fixed by now, right?”
“Yep,” he grinned, “and it’s fixed. I was just--you know—tinkering. And stuff.”
“Tinker with this,” she tossed the receiver over to him, deciding to omit the events of the night before, “I found it on my dresser when I woke up this morning.”
Barely catching it, he opened it and recognized the frequency immediately, “Behraanese military frequency.”
“But that line is heavily secured.”
Rose nodded again.
“And you--found this--on your dresser,” Darrick squinted at the receiver, “that’s creepy.”
“What, that someone made it into my room without me noticing and left it there?”
“No,” Darrick hummed, listening to the frequency with a grimace on his face, “sounds like a massacre.”
Darrick pronounced the words soundlessly, looking to Rose, “that’s impossible. They’d never make a hit that big.”
“Listen for yourself,” Rose crossed her arms.
“I know, I know, I am,” he shook his head, standing up, “okay, okay, maybe not impossible, but—“
“Relax,” she stopped him with her hand on his chest, looking up at him, “can you tie that receiver into a projector? Because if we can, while they’re too busy fighting, they won’t notice us hacking into their sensor network with our own de-scrambling frequency. We should be able to extend the range of our own sensors—“
“Yes but that opens us up to back-hacking,” he shook his head, “that’s insane. We’ll stick out like a sore thumb, visible from space.”
“I get the feeling we’ll have some time,” Rose listened into the more and more intense battle-chatter, “and I bet by tonight, that battle will be visible from here.”
The words then stopped, as her eyes met his, her hand still on his chest.
“Uh, mornin’,” said Edge as he stepped aboard, “don’t let me—“
The moment was gone. Rose backed away almost too abruptly.
“—distract you,” he shrugged, looking over to the open console, and then listening in on the receiver, “what on Bentor?”
“You mean, what from Bentor,” Darrick replied, “c’mon Edge, I need your help. We’re gonna hook this thing up to the system and get a better view on things.”
“Do I want to know where that ‘thing’ came from?” Edge scratched his head.
Rose remained dreadfully silent.
Edge wasn’t much for inquiry, and simply shrugged, “okay pal, let’s get it done.”
“So it is true.”
That voice again. That dream. That silhouette of a cloaked figure, standing with her on the rooftop, on T’pauzi V.
“So what is true?” she asked in kind, though her lips never moved.
The figure seemed stunned. Was it that she understood, or that she spoke back, that stopped him in his place?
Finally, he spoke again—and this time the entire dream no longer seemed scripted. In fact, it seemed that time altogether had come to a halt. “I have been awaiting this moment for a long time, Laura Vinfield.”
She looked around, completely lucid and able to guide her own thoughts and actions. She looked below herself, to see that her platoon was somewhere between standing strong and falling over dead, frozen in time. Bolts of plasma were suspended in place—even the particulate matter that followed them like comet trails remained where it was.
“This isn’t the dream anymore, is it,” Laura concluded, still never actually speaking, “this isn’t a memory.”
“Your perception serves you well,” the figure replied. Originally, it was some sort of malice she detected in the dream, just before she fell off the edge. But this time, it was curiosity. Even some level of respect.
“Who are you?” Laura asked brazenly, “why do you continue to haunt me?”
“Haunt you?” the figure seemed to be confused by the notion, before stepping forth. As it did so, the silhouette revealed itself in full detail.
Laura gasped, the first movement her mouth had made, as she stared in astonishment at the approaching figure.
“I am you,” the figure replied, in her own voice.
It was indeed her, only, she appeared considerably older. Not older by physical age, but by a certain level of wisdom she could detect within this seemingly future version of herself.
“You’re not the figure I saw on the rooftop,” Laura argued, “he or she was—well—larger.”
“You’re correct,” said the figure, so disturbingly similar to herself yet with a voice that seemed more akin to Janeth’s, “I’m not that figure. That is because there was no figure. There was never anyone there with you, aside from your fallen comrades. You fabricated that figure in your mind.”
Laura was silent, attempting to understand it all.
The figure’s hair was slightly different from her own. Namely, silvery bangs stood out from the rest of her black hair, and was tied back neatly in a wind-braid. Her attire was of some professional military sort she had never seen before, complete with a long blue coat, a mat black leathery top below that and matching trousers, long black combat boots, several belts, bandoliers and pouches—and a silvery sword and golden, round shield on her back.
“Are you a fabricant as well?” Laura asked, weakly.
“In a way, yes,” the figure replied, looking over the edge of the roof to the battle below, “I am all that you bury away. I am the reality that you will not accept. I am the future that you regret. I am a you that will never happen.”
The figure smiled, a smile more honest than Laura could muster, “perhaps not never. After numerous attempts to communicate with you, you have finally listened.”
“But isn’t this a sign of--”
“Madness?” the figure turned to Laura, “This is not a hallucination of some kind. I’ll tell you what is madness, Laura Vinfield. Madness is barring trueness to yourself. Madness is knowing that you could do more, be more, yet choosing to suffocate that potential with your own version of what reality ought to be. Madness is not listening to your inner voice—one which every living being in the universe is gifted with.”
Laura stood, inert. Her thoughts, for a time, seemed just as inert.
“How do you think you never miss your targets?” she looked at Laura’s rifle, still in her hands, “you never miss. Ever. You think of a target and you put a bullet there. Every time. Do you think you’re simply lucky?”
“You did this?”
“Laura,” the figure shook her head, “you did this. You’ve been doing this, all your life. Do you think the Trilithe cares that you were some pirate lord’s long lost daughter? Do you think the Imperator cares for blood ties?”
Laura never thought about that matter. Never thought there could be some ulterior reason for her attempted assassination.
“He knows your potential,” she continued, coldly, “better than you do, clearly. He had his reasons to be rid of the rest of your crew, but he wouldn’t even tell Miya about the real reason he wanted you dead. Think about that for a moment.”
She was right. Laura could not deny that fact—and certainly not, since it came from her own rendition.
“Something is amiss,” the figure then said suddenly, looking away from Laura, up to the sky, as if her eyes locked upon something. Then, she looked back to her, nodding the once and saying, “this dreamscape has served its purpose, Laura. I—have served my purpose. You will have a choice lain before you. You will know when—and what—it is, when the time is right. But even at that time, the choice will still be your own and your own only.”
Laura awoke in the hovel, earlier than usual. The sun had just passed the Ring for the first time.
But it was the first time she awoke, at least in some time, feeling something was amiss. She hadn’t felt that way since she arrived in Nywan those months ago.
At first, she simply stared at the ceiling, going through the thoughts of chores in the end of the day before. Did she shut off all the lights? Seal the water constructors? Close the shutters? Did she lock the doors? Did she forget something on the ship?
None of these. Laura was thorough and concise in her life, and made sure all these precautions were met. Power in Nywan came from the Sun and the ground, water from air and earth. But only so much could be extracted. Only so much could be used by every person, not because bills or money were to be paid, but because of the reliance all other souls of the country had on the technology that made living there possible.
Certainly, it was true that the scrambling field had its gaps, and in these gaps, water, thus plants and animals, did exist. But even these creatures were highly carnivorous, feeding off trespassers and each other. Their hunting territories were kilometers wide and high.
There were bastions of life. But Nywan was one of very, very few bastions of civilized life, a life about giving everything taken and taking everything given. A harmonious exchange that would ensure the future of many generations of Suragaan and Nature to come.
But something was amiss. And it was not any of these things.
She threw on her surplus military outfit, bandoliers, rifle and plasmar—no, a laser pistol issued by the Nywanese militia. She left the plasmar behind like her old life.
Stepping out her door, she noticed Olsein leaning against the wall in the hallway, his shades on and his hair braided, wearing a long and tan-colored trenchcoat, a long, golden staff in his hand. “You sense it too?” he grunted.
“Sense what?” Laura asked defensively.
The old man peeked over his sunguards, raising a brow, “do not take me for a fool, child. You either stepped out of your quarters seeking combat, or sensed it coming.”
Laura simply stared at him, short on answers. She did not enjoy being called a child, but compared to his age, she must have seemed so. She let it go.
“There’s something innate within you, Laura Vinfield,” Olsein scratched his bearded chin, “much like your father. He always knew when and where the storm would come.”
“You knew my father?” Laura pursed her lips, pondering the matter, “was he always a pirate?”
Sighing, he straightened his sunguards before speaking, “he was never a pirate. The last time he and I spoke, he was a part of the Ophelian Fleet.”
“The Ophelians are pirates, Olsein.”
“The Ophelians are rescuers, Laura,” he growled, “They relieve those who would be besieged by the various rulers of the galaxy, including Behraan. They build their vessels based on resources donated to them, by the worlds they protect. And when they can no longer protect the worlds, they protect the people, and find them other inhabitable worlds to live on.
“You should be proud of what your father represents,” he shook his head, “he’s a good man.”
“He abandoned me.”
“No, your mother abandoned you,” Olsein sighed, “I know your story better than you might be led to believe. Haven’t you ever wondered why I signed on to your crew? It certainly wasn’t for your manners.”
Laura simply listened, again with no answers.
“Your mother left Terry, feeling he was off on some fool’s errand, believing her Behraanese friends in the Military. They told her that he was some pirate, raiding around the galaxy. And she took you from him. She then put a restraining order upon him, which disallowed him from contacting either her, or yourself, for as long as he lived.
“And then, she abandoned you. Drugs got the best of her, and she disappeared one night, never to be seen again. Probably overdosed on something. Then, you were left to the military life in Graldica, well-secured and away from Terry. So what was he supposed to do?”
Still no answers.
“Been hunting you down ever since,” Olsein continued, “had to keep it hush-hush. Small steps. Didn’t want Behraan catching wind I was helping your father find you, so I couldn’t outright dig you up in the databanks. I waited until you’d come up in the right place, at the right time. When you started making a name for yourself on T’pauzi V, I trailed you. Trailed you to your meeting with General Alvoa, in Graldica. And, well, you know the rest.”
“I don’t, actually,” Laura glared at him, “you haven’t told me why.”
“Why?” Olsein humphed, “I owe Terrance a favor or two. You’re important to him. Which means you’re important to me. He can’t be here himself, so I’m here until he can be.”
“I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself,” Laura retorting, squinting her eyes, “no thanks to anyone but me.”
“Yeah, I know you are,” Olsein shrugged, “but he asked. And like I said: I owe him a favor or two.”
Laura then let up, deciding it wasn’t worth arguing.
“Well,” Olsein stood straight, “now you know. And you know what else?”
She continued to stare as he made for the front door, looking back one last time over his shoulder.
“One of the worlds the Ophelian Fleet protects is Suragaa Three. Wouldn’t be surprised if he swung by some time soon.”
With that, he stepped out.
Still feeling as though something was horridly wrong, more confirmed by Olsein, she raced after him, before the door could close. She tread through the sand, shouting out, “so what happens now?”
“You’re the Captain, Captain,” he shrugged as he continued toward the local dome, “what happens now, what choice you make, is your own and your own only.”
Strangely familiar. “I’m going to the ship then,” Laura decided hastily.
“Good idea,” he waved her off and kept going, shouting back for the last time, “go with that hunch of yours!”
Grace woke up before Sam did, his body wrapped around her, as she heard the commotion just a room or two down the hall. Slowly wriggling out of his gentle grasp and carefully dressing, she then stepped over to the door to see what was going on.
Shortly after, Sam woke up, mumbling, “Grace?”
“Laura and Olsein have gone out early, it seems,” she said softly, turning to him and smiling, “I’ll see what the matter is. Stay and rest, love. You’ve had a long night.”
“Not long enough,” he grinned as she went her way.
A short while later, he, too, got dressed and locked the place behind him on the way out. He didn’t know why, but he felt it might have been a good idea to check in on the ship.
When Laura found her way to the deck of her ship, she noted Ejjar and Darrick scurrying around, adjusting this and tweaking that, not even noticing as she watched.
“How’s that?” Darrick shouted into Laura’s cabin through the open door, as he finished coupling some wiring.
“Even I can’t make that out,” Rose shouted back, “I think you’re overfeeding the array!”
<Yeah, she might be right,> Edge said over intercom, <I’m reading three watts, but that device only needs one and a half!>
“Can you lower the output?” Darrick asked aloud.
<Already on it, just give me a few seconds.>
“Dare I ask?” said Laura, clearing her throat.
“We’re trying to tap into the Behraanese military frequency,” Darrick stated, backing away from the electrical panel, “some stranger left a receiver on Rose’s dresser, which was tuned into that frequency and somehow beat the defensive coding. We’re wiring it into the sensors and projectors right now, so that we can see what they see, but with the de-scrambling code of our sensors.”
Chewing on the slew of information, Laura asked simply, “Why?”
“Yeah, why, Rose?” Darrick repeated, looking to Laura, “I never even thought to ask, but she is the second in command.”
“I have a hunch,” she shouted back, “that device wasn’t left there for nothing.”
Sighing at the fact that the crew went behind her back to do all this, but seeing no reason to disagree with the operation, she wandered into her cabin to see the progress.
The progress lit up the whole room from the desk projector, but gave no actual imagery. Lowering the power input made a clear difference, but only in the brightness and not in the actual refinement of the image.
She then spotted the frequency reader: 9.62ghz. “That’s the audio frequency,” Laura corrected, “visual frequency for B.M.F. is 11.95ghz.”
Rose tilted her head, “how do you know that?”
“I was a Captain, wasn’t I?” she smirked, yelling over to Darrick, “11.95!”
“That’s a hell of a high frequency,” Darrick replied, “but I’ll get it there. Give me a minute or two. Edge, I’m gonna need that power back!”
“He will,” Laura said quietly in agreement.
Rose simply smiled, her way of thanking Laura for her help.
Moments later, the image began to flicker, as the lights arrayed around the room became more and more constant and focused, until discernible objects appeared.
These objects were all manner and size of spacecraft, in high orbit it appeared, fighting off a constant onslaught of another faction of some kind. The first were clearly Behraanese; the rest were so varied it was impossible to tell.
“Those are the Bentorii attacking,” Rose pointed out the stream of ships coming from around vector three-thirty, and then pointed to a larger, more ancient vessel Laura recognized instantly, confirming, “that’s the Hand.”
Laura gasped, her hand slapping over her mouth, “this can’t be real.”
“It is,” Rose shook her head, “There’s overwhelming proof. We should start seeing some of it make planetfall tonight.”
“I’m going to get a ground scan,” Darrick announced, as the image flickered out again.
Moments later, completely different objects appeared on a completely different scene. Forces on the ground and in the air, congealing and pooling together. Meters along the far edges of the projection suggested a distance of just over four hundred kilometres away, barely beyond normal Nywanese sensor range, where the world’s scrambling field overpowered any of their signals.
They were closing. Congealing, pooling and closing.
“The Ma’guul,” Rose said hatefully, “they were so easy to find because their weapons and vehicles all carry Behraanese signatures. They were helping them. And it looks like they’ve been forcing other tribes into submission, too. I never remember them being this big!”
“You can’t be saying—“
“I don’t want to say it,” Rose stood suddenly, “Nywan has hours. Hours, before they attack again. This time, Nywan is gonna have a problem.”
She then left hastily, running down the stairs and hustling out of the ship.
“We’d better go with her,” Laura commanded, “I think I know where she’s going.”
“I think we should keep working on the ship if they’re coming,” Darrick argued, standing before her, “we could have her up and running for when you get back.”
“Just come with me, please!” Laura asked somewhat weakly.
“Why?” he asked, clearly confused.
“Because we’re better off sticking together,” she said in half-truth. She truly didn’t know why she felt so compelled to have everyone leave the Skyreign.
After trying to find a reason to stay beyond those mentioned, and coming up short, he nodded, “okay, fine. Edge, you heard all that?”
<Already at the ramp,> Edge chimed.