“Still nothing?” asked Rose, who had just hopped up onto the bridge from the landing of the deck below. Single bounds of five or ten metres were not uncommon for her, and the planet’s lighter gravity had yet to start weakening her compact yet powerful muscles.
“Just lots of weapons carelessly left around,” said Olsein as he ascended the stairwell, dusting his hands off, “hell of a show you and your mother put on.”
“Better than the one here,” Laura scoffed in her chair, “go help Darrick, Rose. We’ve been grounded long enough.”
Rose simply nodded and descended the stairs past Olsein.
Janeth crossed her arms, tapping her foot, looking at Laura expectantly.
“Yes?” said the Captain evenly, “well?”
“You’re forgetting something terribly crucial,” said the ancient woman, in a voice that sounded so young for the age Laura had to estimate Janeth was.
After a long pause and attempting to figure out what it could possibly be, she thought of nothing out of order, aside the entire electrical system. “Enlighten me.”
“You know this,” Janeth shook her head, “you all do. It’s plain under the sun.”
“Just tell me, Janeth.”
“I have had my moments of brilliance aplenty,” Janeth shrugged nonchalantly, “and I know it for a fact you have the intellect required to figure this one out, even in the absence of your engineer.”
“I’m not half the engineer Edge was,” she frowned, especially so in having to admit a fault.
“You have talents of your own,” Janeth hummed, “enough so that you should know what to do.”
“Well it’s not exactly ‘plain under the sun’ as you so eloquently put it!” Laura argued. Slowly, she repeated to herself quietly, “plain under...the...sun. The sun.”
Janeth faintly smiled.
“The sun. Noregite is photovoltaic. Right!” she stood suddenly, rushing to and down the stairs, “I should have known!”
“Clearly, you did know,” Janeth said quietly, staring off into the distance.
“Darrick!” Laura shouted before trotting into the engine room, “Darrick, reroute power intake to draw from the hull!”
Both Darrick and Rose were busily tinkering away on the various circuits behind pried panels in the room. Both Darrick and Rose halted in their tracks upon hearing Laura’s revelation.
“I should have known,” said Darrick with a sigh, the sigh of a man who worked tirelessly for nothing at all.
“So simple,” Rose shook her head, tossing a worn wire coupler aside, “and none of us thought of that sooner?”
“We always had Edge to keep everything running,” Laura leaned on the door frame while the two diverted their attentions to the master power intake above the core, “we never had to think of this stuff.”
Moments later, a few wires were transferred over to the hull feed, and immediately, the ship came to life.
“Yes!” Darrick cheered.
Rose simply smiled at him.
“Don’t stop now,” Laura said as she headed to the bridge, “but good work, you two.”
As she ascended to the bridge, Janeth was already at the console, looking over the various systems coming alive. She kept her eyes more closely on the alerts screen, reading them over and over before finally looking up to Laura, “someone’s trying to call you.”
“Know how to open the channel?”
“Laura,” Janeth shook her head, “someone’s trying to call you. By name.”
Olsein said and did nothing, simply listening. His face emotionless, yet no doubt for Laura, his mind was a rather busy, curious one.
“Patch it into my cabin,” Laura finally stated.
Slowly, silently, she stepped into her cabin and made sure the door was firmly shut before sitting on the edge of her desk, looking up as if speaking to an omnipotent being. "You're reaching Captain Vinfield,” she said aloud.
<You are alone,> said the even-toned Behraanese-speaking female voice, one of seemingly many who seemed to surround Laura’s life, <Good. We need to talk.>
What Laura noticed more than anything was the quality of the transmission. It was as if the person was truly there, perhaps sitting across the desk from her, speaking in the tone expected of a close chat.
“In the cabin, sure,” Laura said aloud, stretching her sun-tanned arms, “you have me alone. Who are you, where are you and what do you want?”
<I’m Elsie Airstrond from the Galactic Council, Constabulary Department. We’re investigating matters that pertain to a Behraanese starship that disappeared on this planet-->
“And where are you?”
<I’m afraid for now, we have to withhold that information,> the voice maintained its even, diplomatic tone, but Laura could tell the woman was older, perhaps into her forties if she was Behraanese, <the Dominion Carrier-class vessel, callsign B.N.S.S. Daunting, had crashed approximately three months ago, last sighted on this planet. According to our records, you were scheduled to be aboard that ship as it departed Behraan.>
“That’s correct,” Laura said slowly, “so what can I do for you, Constable?”
<We were not aware of any survivors,> said Elsie, <when our scouts investigated the crash, we found barely anything left behind, as the indigenous creatures of this world seem to eat metals.>
“That’s also correct,” Laura nodded, <the giith are everywhere.>
<How did you survive?>
“This seems very un-Behraanese of you to ask,” Laura argued, “I understand Dominion Protocol very well. The Behraanese don’t go out of their way to search for their own unless the person or possession is of importance to the Imperator.”
<Perhaps not important to the Imperator,> Elsie replied, <but to the Council, it is of the utmost importance. Permission to come aboard?>
Laura paused, and then spoke, “for that to happen, I’d need to know where you are.”
<Is that to say, Granted?>
Upon the word yes, out of thin air, two plate-armoured but unarmed figures came into being. The effect was soundless, and was as if they simply came into being there. One was a tall, dark-skinned, bald man with a wide, stalky build. The other was a shorter grey-haired woman with light wrinkling and crow’s feet around her hazel eyes, slim and athletic in appearance.
“A charade orb?” Laura asked carefully, her hand halfway to her pistol.
“No, we’re really here,” Elsie stated with a light bow, “I’m Constable Elsie Airstrond and this is Constable Savath Greiken.”
“Hi,” the man bellowed, his hand encompassing Laura’s as he shook it wildly with a near-creepy grin, “a pleasure.”
“Sure,” she yanked her hand back, “so why don’t you tell me what this is really all about?”
“You’re in deep shit!” said Greiken blatantly.
“Easy, Savath,” said Elsie cautiously, looking back to Laura, “but he’s right. Graldica has issued a particularly high bounty on the Skyreign and her crew.”
“What brought that on?” Laura asked, maintaining her stance.
“Defecting is a good one,” Savath bellowed again, “damn, that’s stupid.”
“Not when the TMM have a hit on you already,” Laura retorted, “they didn’t leave us much choice!”
“We know,” Elsie nodded, looking to Savath, the two nodding in concert, as they pulled out their badges from under their armour.
Laura recognized the badges immediately: JAFAN.
“JAFAN,” Laura sighed in relief, “I should have known.”
“No, you shouldn’t have,” said Elsie as she tucked it away, “That’s the idea.”
“So JAFAN controls the Council?” Laura asked suspiciously, “the same Council that works as the police for Behraan?”
“More as a guiding hand to maintain law,” Elsie corrected, “and besides, the Council founded JAFAN, with Behraan as one of its founding members, centuries ago.”
Laura hummed, “I see. So you still haven’t told me why you’re really here.”
“Yeah I did,” Savath disagreed, “you’re in deep shit. I told you already.”
“We understand you have a woman in your custody,” said Elsie, “a remarkably powerful woman who you know as Janeth Sehra. We need to ascertain her well-being, now that she has been found again.”
“If you were part of JAFAN, you’d have known she was on Suragaa this whole time,” Laura said skeptically.
“That’s where the nomenclature confused us,” Elsie sighed, “you see—you know her as Janeth Sehra. We know her as something else. As Jiinahra Sarethael.”
Laura hummed, “those names aren’t too far off from each other....”
“We cannot make mistakes,” Elsie shook her head, “A coincidence is not enough. It took a third counterpart, who is presently in Nywan, to piece it together.”
“And who is he?”
The two looked to each other again, nodding once more before Elsie replied, “Jiinahra’s daughter, Saferon.”
Laura tilted her head, “she never mentioned another daughter. She did adopt Roselii.”
“Jiinahra, or, Janeth, may not be aware,” Elsie continued, “We know of a particular illness that affects most older Aeonians. She can only remember events and experiences up to roughly two hundred years in her past.”
“So her daughter must have been born sometime before then?”
The constables nodded.
“That would make her daughter centuries old, herself.”
They nodded again.
“So, that is as much as we can say for now,” Elsie shrugged, “in short, we have been charged with the duty of defending Jiinahra, you and your crew.”
“Because you’re in deep shit,” Savath reiterated.
“I gather,” Laura cocked a brow, “so where are your ships?”
“Not far,” Elsie smirked, “Just a kilometre to your west.”
“You landed in Giith lands!?” Laura shouted aloud, “don’t bother going back for them. They’re gone!”
Panic filled both their faces. “Savath, take us back!” Elsie shouted.
Savath tapped at several buttons on the keypad in his armcomm, tapping again and again as if it would work by doing so enough times. Finally, he sighed, “nothing. I got nothing.”
“You really didn’t think this through, did you,” Laura shook her head, “you landed over a network of Giith lairs. You’re lucky to have made it here at all!”
“We’re in deep shit,” Savath bellowed sadly.
“We’ll have to make do,” said Elsie with a sigh, barely skipping a beat, “very well then. We will have to fulfill your defence from here. Best we meet the rest of the crew.”
"That depends rather largely on whether I accept you on board," Laura crossed her arms, "I had an assassin on my ship before. That does not warrant having cops sniffing around. Give me one reason I don't leave you here in the sand."
"Because you'll need us," Elsie replied, sitting on the couch on the other side of the room, "Your crew roster indicates you are short two members. I can only imagine what had become of them, but both of us are able crew. We served aboard the Audacity for three years each. I was their chief medical officer but also served in the engine room."
"I was on security, obviously," Savath added in.
Laura looked the two of them in the eyes before responding, “You’ll earn your keep on my ship. I’m in charge. I don’t care if you’re G.C. Cross me, and you won't be able to get out of that armour fast enough when the Giith come for you. Do we understand one another?”
Elsie nodded slowly, “Yes.”
“Fine, fine,” Savath shrugged.
Nodding, Laura opened the cabin door, only to find the whole of the crew waiting outside, as if listening the whole time. Janeth, still beside the intercom, pressed a button which audibly deactivated it.
Savath slowly looked to Elsie, “you didn’t secure the channel?”
“I believe she did,” said Janeth with her arms crossed, “though not overly well. You forget I was an Admiral of Behraan. I have grown accustomed to listening in on others, and averting the attempts of others to do the same to me.”
Laura scanned the crew, left to right, sighing as she pointed to the woman, “Constable Airstrond,” and then to the man, “Constable Greiken. Depending on how much you heard, they’ll be hitching a ride with us for now. They haphazardly left their ships in the middle of the desert.”
“A kilometre away,” Darrick added, “we heard. Must have been above the ridge then. You didn’t land in the lower dunes, or we’d have seen you.”
“What I don’t understand,” Janeth said skeptically, “is why you went to Laura first when you were charged to find and protect me.”
“Needless to say, it makes more sense to speak to the Captain to gain permission aboard,” Elsie said calmly, “we would not encroach upon that relation. And we were certainly not granted a warrant.”
“Council bureaucrat shitheads,” Savath grunted. Elsie jabbed him hard in the side with her elbow.
“We were able to restore power from the Core via the hull,” Darrick added, his tone just a hint higher and his brows raised, “didn’t take long once we started taking power in from the sun. Only problem is both intakes have to be operational for the ship to run on the core alone--which makes no sense, probably just a wiring issue or something. But as long as we leave both intakes operational, we should be okay.”
“So can we fly?” Laura asked.
“We can fly,” Darrick nodded, “the lifters weren’t damaged by the sudden loss of power this morning, but we won’t be getting the engines back any time soon, and we can’t turn back to Nywan for repairs.”
“If we can make it to Pillars, we may be able to find compatible parts there,” Janeth added, “judging by the output the lifters are producing, however, the addition of engines would be, at best, a pleasantry, until there manifested a need for higher altitudes. And seeing as Pillars is under the ground....”
“Fine,” Laura hummed, tapping her chin in thought, looking to Olsein, “you’re awfully quiet.”
“Just observing,” he shrugged, straightening his eyeguards, “when I have a comment, you’ll hear it, with or without anyone’s consent.”
“Olsein?” Savath stepped aside and took a good look at the nonchalantly-postured man, “that you, old man?”
“Old?” Olsein lowered his sunguards and stared right back at the constable, “old enough to flatten you on a whim, boy.”
“That’s Olsein, alright,” Elsie smiled slyly, “my mother talked about you from time to time. Tell me—do you still maintain the arts she taught you, all those years ago?”
“She taught me enough not to answer that,” Olsein grumbled, “good to see you two kids.”
“Kids?” Elsie pulled at a strand of grey hair, plucked it and looked at him, “flattering.”
Janeth looked between the two, “acquainted, I see. Darrick, best we respect Laura’s wishes and carry on, now that the ship is alive again.”
“Probably,” he shrugged and sat down in front of the console.
“Doesn’t anyone find it odd?” Rose said cautiously, “everyone we’ve been crossing paths with knows one of us somehow.”
“Yes,” Laura raised a brow, “Small galaxy. Rose, show them to the two quarters left behind by our former crewmates.”
“Right,” she replied, making for the stairwell, waving the two new members over, “constables or not, by the way, I’m first officer, so you’ll be following my orders. Constable Greiken, don’t make the mistake of putting your hand on my shoulder. You will die.”
Just before she disappeared, she gave Darrick a quick wink.
“You heard her,” Laura gave a quick boot to Savath’s calf, “get going.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintances,” Grace offered a smile and greeting hand to the two constables as they passed by her, “I am Grace Lafiere, and I am the ship’s me—cleric.”
Elsie could not help but awe at the pure goodness of the gesture, and offered her own hand in exchange, “The pleasure is mine, dear. A cleric, you said? Of what following?”
“Not of a deity,” Grace looked to her feet, and then back to Elsie, “my beliefs are far more abstract and philosophical. But the effect is the same. I seek to mend those who ail.”
“That’s the danger of our profession,” Elsie sighed as she began to descend the stairs, “you shall always find those who ail.”
Grace smiled, “Of course. You are a cleric as well. The Airstrond clan has a long history of clerics.”
“Yeah, could you look into my sore knee later?” Savath asked, if only semi-seriously.
“You are aware of the benefits of stretching, no doubt?” Grace said with a faint smile.
Olsein chuckled a little.
“Ready,” Darrick said aloud, easing back in the pilot's chair.
“I’ve placed the coordinates in the computer,” Janeth announced, “just connect the dots and don’t deviate, and we should clear the volcanic chain a few hundred kilometres ahead without too many dangers.”
“Then go,” Laura sat in her chair, “you don’t need me to tell you when you can go, just do it.”
“Just when I was getting used to that beck and call thing of yours,” Darrick shrugged and looked over to Grace, “grab a seat, Grace.”
Without a word, she did so next to Laura and supplicated her hands on her lap.
“By the way,” Darrick shouted back as he added power to vertically lift the Skyreign and retract the anchors, “tell the constables I found their ships. Well—parts of them.”
“Even that won’t be there by the time you tell them,” Janeth waved the notion off, “Just go.”