The Looking Glass
Laura awoke, finding herself in her own bed, under several warm red blankets, in her cabin aboard the Skyreign. Her body ached from head to toe, as if someone twice her size sat on her for an hour.
Standing over her, was Grace.
“Grace,” Laura said weakly, feeling her neck and her arms where the skin had been seared from the electric torturing. Those injuries were covered by thick black fabric wrapping, warm to the touch.
“You’re safe,” said Grace quietly, “as is Roselii. Though, as an Oasiian, most of her broken bones—many though they were—should heal within the day.”
Laura felt around her head to find the strands of hair that had turned silver. She became transfixed on them. “You found us,” she murmured.
“You and two guards,” said Grace, “though they could barely be recognized as guards, as Janeth put it.”
“Are we still in Pillars?”
Grace shook her head, “after we broke into the prison, Olsein drove in a ground vehicle and made it to the other side of the city. He set up the beacon, and Darrick activated the leapdrive. We have been following the highway since.”
“So, it worked,” Laura sighed and stared at the ceiling, “good.”
“Not perfectly,” said Grace, “the Skyreign has damages everywhere. We’re still travelling, if slowly.”
Laura struggled to get her muscles to work, enough to sit up on the bed, realizing she was only in a medical gown. “My things?”
“Janeth had set aside some clothes for you,” said Grace, as she made for the door, “next to your bed. I will give you some privacy. I ask only that you try to move carefully while your wounds heal. You were nearly dead when we found you.”
“Grace,” Laura said with returning strength, as she looked up, “I--I decided.”
“Yes,” said Grace, “I know. And you have my complete support for that decision.”
With that, she left the cabin.
Laura stepped out of the Cabin a few minutes later, still noticing the absence of the headaches, the way a bird might have noticed a strong wind subsiding. She was dressed in Janeth’s affairs, finding it strange that they fit better than even her own clothes.
Darrick was there at the console, flying the ship with the nudge of his propped feet with his hands behind his head. He hadn’t quite noticed her yet.
The deck was otherwise completely empty. Burn holes were evident in the floor and even on the sides of the cabin as particle weapons must have punctured the shell. Still, everything seemed largely whole.
Laura expected that, due to the slight lean the ship had to the left, the undercarriage might have seen more extensive damage from whatever combat the Skyreign took part in.
The ship’s ring and at least one of the sails in view seemed intact and undamaged, the Noregite likely absorbing energy fire.
“Welcome back, Captain,” said Darrick as he pressed a few buttons on the console and walked away from it, standing before her, “you look...older.”
“I must have lost years of my life in there,” said Laura as she stared blankly through Darrick.
Darrick’s eyes said more than his words could. That he understood. That he empathized.
Laura then looked up at him, her eyes filled with sorrow, “I’m sorry, Darrick. I am. I—I didn’t understand. I--”
“Easy, now,” Darrick tugged her close and held her as she began to sob quietly, “it’s alright. It’s alright....”
“No, it’s not,” said Laura quietly, sniffing, “you went through that for so long. If you didn’t come for me--”
Darrick simply listened.
"And I judged you," Laura added, "for being a convict, I judged you. You've never steered us wrong."
Darrick listened some more.
Laura then took a deep breath and gently pushed herself away, drying her eyes with the long sleeve of her black blouse, her composure returning.
“I see things so much more clearly now,” said Laura, “I had been blinded all this time. Ignoring obvious truths and overlooking the subtle ones.”
Darrick nodded, continuing only to listen.
“How’s everything?” asked Laura, her tone changing back to business.
“Fine, fine,” Darrick shrugged, heading back to the console, “Rose is...she’s in rough shape. But she’ll pull through, Grace keeps saying.”
“Everyone else?” asked Laura, as she headed to the stairwell.
“Still alive, below decks. Savath got shot in the arm, and Olsein had a cracked rib, but other than that, we’re all alive.”
“And the ship?”
“Ship-shape,” Darrick sighed, “lifters took a few hits too many. Can’t push much more than a hundred kilometres per hour, and one of the spotlights were blown off, but we made it through alright. Janeth says we’re a few hours away from Spaceport Eighty-One at this rate.”
“Already?” Laura gave him a strange look, “how long was I out?”
“Almost two days,” said Darrick, “no sign of pursuit or anything, so we should be okay.”
“Two days,” Laura said quietly to herself.
Darrick nodded and returned his gaze to the dark tunnel ahead.
“Darrick,” said Laura aloud, “thank you. For everything.”
Darrick looked to her, and simply nodded again.
Laura entered the rec room, to see that the rest of the crew, save Rose, were around the table, drinking, eating, talking among each other and relishing their narrow escape from Pillars.
As she took the last step off the stairwell, the conversation subsided as she approached them. All eyes turned to her.
Olsein stood and nodded, “Captain.”
The others stood as well. Janeth stepped forward, looking her in the eyes, glancing at her silvery bangs. She smirked, “I’m glad you’re alright, Captain. Interesting change of style.”
You truly do take after your father, Janeth thought intentionally. Laura heard it just as if the words came through the Queen’s mouth.
“You scared the shit out of us,” said Savath, “we’d be plugged without our Captain.”
“You and Rose, we--” Elsie crossed her arms, “we worried, you know. We all did.”
Laura smiled, if only faintly. “Where is she?” were the only words she could say.
Olsein stepped towards Laura, “In the sick bay Grace set up in the spare quarters. This way.”
Very little differed with the room. The bed and dresser were still in the same place, along with the small lavatory room. However, several new tables were put in place next to the bed and several monitors were stood there, to watch over the lifesigns of whatever patient was in the bed.
That patient was Rose. Rose, who had been sitting up in her bed, hooked up to the monitors and in a gown of her own, but awake and aware, if exhausted. Her hair was down and uncombed, still rough from inside the cell.
“Rose!” Laura exclaimed, as much as her still-weak voice could provide. She rushed to the side of her bed.
Rose smiled and reached over to hold her friend with her free arm, looking to Laura and saying, if weakly, “you alright, Vin?”
“Vin,” Laura pulled back, tilted her head, “never been called that.”
“I won’t make the mistake ag--”
“No, it’s good, Vin’s good.”
“Good,” Rose smirked.
“Rose,” Laura smiled back, then looked down and away, “I’m sorry. I got us into that mess.”
“Not the first Behraanese prison I survived,” said Rose, “know what I was doing before the Academy?”
Laura shook her head, “that never came up.”
“Never will, either,” Rose grinned, “point is, you don’t need to worry about me. But you could do yourself some good watching out for yourself next time.”
Laura still found herself looking at her silvery bangs, “I get the feeling that won’t be a problem.”
“Better not,” said Rose, “who knows what to expect at the Spaceport?”
“That sacred vessel, I hope,” said Laura, standing up, “you—they--in the cell. They didn’t--”
“Rape me?” Rose looked up, “it’s okay, you can say it. And no, one of the guards tried and, well, an Oasiian’s only defenceless if she’s dead. And I’m not dead. Though I’m pretty sure the guard with the zapper is never gonna have children.”
“Oh,” Laura remembered the same guard, flashbacks dominating her thoughts before she reined them in again, “no, probably not.”
“Apparently the two guards killed each other or something,” said Rose, “Olsein told me everything. Weird, huh?”
“Yeah,” Laura nodded, “but you know what’s really weird?”
“I made them do it.”
Rose tilted her head, cocking a brow, “not sure how you mean, Vin.”
“I—possessed one guard. The one with the zapper. Made him shoot the other guard, and then himself.”
Rose stared intensely at her. The news seemed utterly impossible, though in her years of experience, something like that wasn’t impossible at all. Simply highly unlikely.
But it was also unlike Laura, whom she had known for years, to speak of something so paranormal with complete conviction.
“If that’s the case,” Rose smiled, “then thank you. But you’d better let me sleep a little longer. Most of by bones have set alright, but I need a little more time to heal them off.”
“Rest up,” said Laura, “Darrick said we’ll be at the spaceport in a few hours. Will you be ready?”
“Never been so ready,” Rose nodded, “hit the light on your way out, would you?”
Laura did so and slowly walked back towards the rec-room, dousing the lights on the way out.
“Damn it, old man, can you ever drive!” said Savath, glee with a stiff drink in his hand, his other arm in a black cast made up of similar fabric that covered Laura’s wounds.
“I seem to distinctly remember you screaming for your life when we dodged those Wolves,” Olsein said in kind, “and you freaked out like a little girl when I lied about losing the beacon!”
Janeth, Olsein and Elsie laughed heartily at Savath’s expense, though Olsein laughed more lightly, still reminded of his cracked rib.
“Laugh it up, old man,” Savath smiled back, “you cowered behind me when the Behraanese soldiers opened up on us!”
“I did no such thing!” Olsein frowned, “I was being—resourceful, using what cover I could get!”
“Yeah,” Savath lifted his chin up, “yeah, that’s when you started shouting “plug my life! Plug my life!””
More laughter at Olsein’s expense.
“Yeah, well, we were pretty much plugged in there,” Olsein shook his head, “turned the corner, and there they were, waiting for us.”
“Took us women to save the day,” Elsie added, “and we never did hear the thanking, for pulling you off the road in that little car you borrowed.”
“Borrowed?” Olsein scoffed, “Guy gave it to me. Taught me how to drive it and fly it. Nice guy.”
“Yes, I’m sure that is exactly how it played out,” Janeth’s eyes flickered as she leaned on the table, laden with drink of her own.
“Remember that Pillarian soldier that kept making moves on you?” said Savath to Elsie.
“Not my type,” she flashed her brows, “too serious. Not enough of a tan. I can never get the hang of a man with skin so pale it’s translucent. I simply can’t do it.”
“You should have gone to Nywan,” said Janeth, “men and women of all colours live there.”
“Hi,” said Laura, once again receiving all the attention from the four, “mind if I pull up a chair?”
“Grace will probably tell you drinking after a traumatic experience is a bad idea,” Olsein grinned, brandishing a full bottle of something so vile it was potent just to smell.
“Captain needs a drink,” said Laura, swiping the drink out of Olsein’s hand and planting herself into the chair, “so the Captain’s going to drink.”
Olsein raised a brow, then shrugged, stretching out and resuming his drunken merriness.
"Thanks for busting us out," Laura said, sincerely as she could, "All of you, thank you."
"You may thank the Pillarians at some point," Janeth replied, "without them starting an open revolt, we would never have gotten out of that city alive."
"Leave it to you to stir shit up," Olsein slapped Janeth's shoulder.
"Leave it to you to get in over your head," Janeth retorted, grinning as she stretched back in her chair and knocked back another shot-glass's worth of Liquid Sun.
"How strong is that?" Laura asked.
"A strong drink for a strong woman," Janeth boasted, looking at her then empty shot glass, "sixty percent."
"Shit," Savath grinned his toothy grin, "might as well drink engine cleaner."
"Not far off," Janeth added, "the inventor was a mechanic before he got into distilling."
Laura looked at the mostly-full clear bottle of Liquid Sun on the table, then to Olsein's black bottle. She then planted it back on his lap, brushing his rib mostly by accident, and waved over to herself, "I'll try it."
"Ack," Olsein grunted. Then he shrugged again and continued drinking the mystery drink.
Janeth sighed, "Laura, would you like to go back to bed, on the verge of death? If so, please, grab a shot glass."
"I got it," Savath stood and took a shot glass off one of the shelves at the edge of the room, "This, I've got to see."
Laura swiped the shot glass out of his hand and clanged it in front of Janeth, "Pour me, queen."
Janeth flashed her brows, pouring the vile substance into her shot glass--and some more into her own.
Laura then held the glass up in front of herself. She focused on it intently, and the room became deathly quiet. All eyes were on her then.
Then, she looked to Janeth, raised it up to do an air toast, then knocked it back as quickly as she could.
Janeth followed suit, then eyed Laura.
Laura kept her composure for all of five seconds before coughing and lurching forward, shaking her face as if to escape the intense burning sensation all through her mouth and stomach. But it stayed down.
This earned much howling by all around the table.
"Well," Janeth said, trying her best to keep a straight face, "you kept it down, I'll give you that! Savath here--"
"Hey, shut up," Savath frowned.
"I wasn't any better," Elsie admitted sheepishly.
"Smart enough not to try," Olsein added, raising his bottle, "you've got guts, girl."
"Strong drink for a strong woman, right?" Laura grinned at Olsein as she lined up her glass with Janeth's again, "Another."