The Big Picture
As the four women traversed inside the room, Rose took a closer look at one of the Dragonfly fighters perched there.
“Amazing,” said Rose, running her finger along one of the folded wings, inspecting the two feet it perched upon, “no dust or anything. And the air’s not stale like I’d expect. If I didn’t know better, I’d say someone was taking care of the place.”
“Expect anything down here,” said Janeth cautiously as she flicked on the light at the end of her rifle, “if I remember correctly, there’s a door close to where I parked the Silverstar. That door leads to a long corridor. We should be able to find a computer along the walls in there.”
"And hopefully we should find this Sacred Vessel?” said Laura, her rifle light on as well, scanning around.
"What if we're not in the right spaceport?" Rose added.
“It is here,” said Grace, “I know it.”
The Skyreign was still easily visible, its floodlight searching around itself, as the golden vessel hovered in place.
Janeth led them to the old Silverstar, stopping in front of it and humming. “I had plenty of adventure in this old ship,” said Janeth, “For a time, it was my home.”
“You could probably get it running again, mother,” said Rose, “at least from here it looks fine.”
“These old models can take a beating,” said Laura, “I learned all about them in academy. They were flying tanks.”
“This one was no different,” said Janeth, “I had it repainted seventeen times, to cover up all the repair jobs.”
“Was that the door you referred to?” Grace said as she pointed out a doorway, only large enough for humanoids to pass through.
Janeth blinked and looked over, nodding, “yes, it is. I take it you’re not as interested in old ships, eh?”
“Quite the contrary,” Grace shook her head, “there was another old ship I had in mind.”
“Right,” Janeth smirked, “you are right, of course. Let’s go.”
As the four ventured forward, towards the door, Grace seemed to speed up a little. She seemed troubled by something, as if some complex issue resided within her mind that needed to be resolved. Yet she also seemed compelled, almost guided forward, almost walking faster than the others to the door. She would sometimes shorten her stride suddenly in order to refrain from jolting ahead.
“Grace, slow down,” Laura said warningly.
“Sorry,” said Grace, “I really want to see this.”
“We all do,” said Laura, “so don’t get too far ahead.”
“Alright,” Grace slowed her pace.
As they approached the door, Janeth pressed her hands against it, feeling around for something.
“This door looks like it’s shut tight,” said Rose.
“Solid polynanotube,” said Janeth, “we’d empty our rifles before we got through this door.”
“You got through here before, right?” asked Laura.
“I did,” Janeth smirked, as she felt for the crease between the two doors, pressed her fingers in between them, and rallied all her might to part them. She did so silently, hardly panting or breathing heavily, though her arms shook as she pried the two doors apart. Finally, when the doors were open enough for her to fit through, she stepped in, waving the other three over.
“You’re insanely strong,” said Laura, “insane.”
“I don’t see how that sentence works,” said Janeth as she looked about in the hall, “physical might and mental stability are very different things.”
The floor itself was matte-black, solid, yet seemingly padded, soft to the step, muffling footsteps. It felt almost like carpet, but it wasn't quite the right texture or consistency.
The corridor was otherwise a glossy white, as if made of marble or granite. Panels were semeless; interfaces blended in perfectly with the rest of the walls. It was perhaps four metres across, three metres high, and rounded along the floor and ceiling where they met the walls. The hall bent ever so slightly; several interfaces, long-dead, dotted the walls.
“This panel should be accessible,” said Grace as she knelt to a panel underneath one of the computers, with a visible handle recessed in.
“How do you know that?” asked Rose.
“Intuition,” Grace said immediately as she tugged open the panel, exposing a vast array of circuitry and wiring underneath it. She placed the panel carefully upon the floor and stepped aside.
Laura and Rose looked to each other, their eyes filled with suspicion.
“She is right, though,” said Janeth evenly, “we should be able to access the computer here. Rose?”
“On it,” Rose said as she pulled out a smaller flashlight from her tool-belt, and knelt next to Grace. As she looked into the circuitry, she sighed, “the work in here is almost too nice to be Oasiic. Whoever built this spaceport, really put a lot of thinking into it.”
“I can almost see my own reflection in these walls,” said Laura in passing, still getting used to her silvery bangs.
As she looked into the reflection, she looked at Grace’s reflection, as she was hunched over the panel, watching Rose tinker about inside the wall. But one thing she noticed then, there, that she never had seen before in Grace, were two slight bulges in her upper back, over her shoulder blades.
Grace had always stood or sat straight, and worn looser clothing, so that must have been hidden.
Yet Laura had seen conditions such as this before, and knew the meaning of those lumps.
“I never knew you were Skyfolk, Grace,” said Laura, still looking at her in the reflection.
“Kelviki,” Grace replied quietly, “You never did ask. It’s not a fact I’m proud of. A Kelviki, or “Skyfolk,” without her wings, is nothing.”
“I disagree,” said Laura a she turned to Grace, “you’re something to us. And you saved my life more than a few times. You’re a good friend.”
“Notion seconded,” said Rose, with her head still inside the panel. She pulled herself out, with a smirk on her face as she rubbed her hands and looked up to Janeth and Laura, “battery?”
Laura handed a finger-sized, cylindrical battery over to Rose, “one of the fusion batteries Maxis left for us in a trade last month. Should be full.”
“Won’t need much,” Rose grabbed it and stuck her head back in, “from what I can tell, this whole system is positronic. I’ve never seen a building have that kind of circuitry before."
Moments later, the whole of the hallway lit up brilliantly, and the computer screen blinked on without flicker, sputtering lines of text in various scripts.
The fast contrast in lighting forced Laura to shield her eyes at first, though Grace and Janeth seemed unphased.
“Well, that was unexpected,” said Rose as she pulled out again and stood straight, looking to the active computer, “that little battery powered the whole hall.”
“Good battery,” Laura said as she squinted, letting her eyes readjust.
“Good circuits,” said Rose as she watched the screen flick through images of, what appeared to be, points of view of the hall from the ceiling, “and it looks like the security cameras are still working. But I didn’t see them. Where in Bentor are they?”
Laura looked up at the ceiling and let her eyes follow it until it disappeared behind the bend. She glanced at the monitor, showing a point of view where the four women were facing away from it. Laura looked where the camera should have been, and found nothing. “That’s strange,” said Laura, “can you read any of it?”
“Yes,” said both Rose and Grace in concert. Rose shot her a look, seeing that Grace was the most serious she had ever been.
“Well, if you think you can read it,” said Rose, stepping away from the monitor, “read it. Be my guest.”
Grace nodded, her eyes filled with intellect and understanding not present before. She approached the recessed console and placed her hand just over one of the panels. From the panel, a holographic pad extended, the alphabets shifting under her fingers. They stopped on the Oasiic alphabet, a vast array of pictograph markings, each letter representing a syllable. She then began to type into the pad.
The other three watched in awe as Grace easily fixed upon one camera, the one just behind them. She then pointed it out, while not looking, still using her free hand to type in something else.
Laura then looked where Grace was pointing, and there it was. A tiny lens appeared in the wall, its colour so close to that of the wall that one would have had to know exactly where it was in order to find it.
“You can read Oasiic?” Rose raised a brow, crossing her arms.
“In ancient times, we taught you your alphabet,” said Grace, “shortly after the Exodus, if lore is correct. This alphabet was the first one I ever learned.”
Rose took the answer at face value.
“The Oasiians were very influential, granted,” Grace continued as she sifted through random information, “but they had those from outside whom influenced them, as well.”
“Becoming the Bentorii was an outside influence,” said Rose coldly.
Grace then took her hand away from the keys, the pad disappearing. She faced Rose, “are you sure?”
“Yeah, I am,” said Rose, “my people would never let themselves go like this.”
Grace simply nodded and stepped away from the keys, “you’re right. I apologize.”
“No need,” Rose stepped in front of the console, “So you really are Skyfolk? You know, they call you angels in some cultures.”
“A common misconception of our kind,” said Grace with a soft smile, “we have existed for tens of thousands of years, and guided other civilizations through trying times, in the hopes of bringing them out of their self-inflicted darkness. But are we angels? Mythical messengers? No.”
Rose listened, placing her hand over where the pad manifested before, to see it manifest again. The keys shifted over to Oasiic rather readily, “Huh. It’s like it knows my first language. I didn’t say or do anything, and it switched right to Oasiic. Neat.”
“Yeah, neat,” said Laura, “Mind telling us something helpful? Look up the Sacred Vessel? Maybe a map? Something to tell us where we are?”
“Where—are—we?” said Rose as she typed as much.
Before she could finish typing what she wished, the screen immediately switched to a view of their corridor, seen from the top down. The corridor extended what seemed to be well past the page. It showed the positions of the four of them as yellow dots which blinked slowly.
“Voice recognition,” said Janeth, humming, “it seems to respond to voice requests. Such technology is rare, even in Behraan.”
“Is that us?” Rose pointed at the four dots.
The screen then began to bring in text next to the four dots. Next to Rose’s likely representation, the word “Oasiian” appeared. Next to Grace, “Kelviki.” Next to Laura, “Transhuman.” Next to Janeth, “Jiinahra Sarethael.”
“Janeth?” Laura looked to the Queen.
“Laura?” she looked back.
“That name’s come up a few times now,” Laura said, “do you know why?”
“Haven’t the faintest,” she shook her head.
“Funny how it doesn’t tell us what you are, only who you are,” said Rose.
“Thesaal,” then appeared next to Janeth’s marker, as if to answer Rose's question.
Rose looked to Janeth, “What’s a Thesaal?”
Janeth’s eyes were filled with as much confusion, “no idea. It seems to think that I am one, though.”
“Thesaal,” said Grace slowly, “Thesaal. That was a Noregaan race, was it not? From Taan-Thesa. A desert region on that world. Extinct, if I recall.”
“I don’t feel extinct,” said Janeth.
"Makes two of us," Rose added.
“Anyway,” Laura cleared her throat, “why not ask about the Sacred Vessel?”
“Where is the Sacred Vessel?” Rose asked aloud, in Oasiic.
The computer screen replied, in text, “no such file.”
“Doesn’t know,” said Rose with a frown.
“Wait,” said Grace as she leaned in next to Rose, “This is Spaceport Eighty-One, correct?”
The computer did not compute.
“Must not know Behraanese,” said Rose quietly. She then spoke aloud in Oasiic, “where is Spaceport Eighty-One?”
The computer panned their position to the right and placed a representation of the box of a room from behind them, causing it to blink and showing markers next to all the Dragonflies, the Silverstar, and even the Skyreign.
“It seems all the sensors in this area are working still,” said Rose, “just for fun, what are the four people aboard the Skyreign?”
The computer took time to respond, but then made the shape that represented the Skyreign blink.
“Yes, that one.”
The screen zoomed in on their ship, nearly filling the screen, showing the four equally spaced apart near the centre of the ship.
“Must all be in the rec room,” said Laura, “lazy bastards.”
“Behraanese,” came up next to Olsein.
“No surprise there,” said Rose.
“Behraanese,” came up next to Savath.
“Scheldronic Noregaan,” came up next to Elsie.
“Interesting,” said Janeth, “she doesn’t look at all Scheldronic.”
“Unique Construct,” appeared next to Darrick.
“She wasn’t lying,” Laura gasped, “he really is a machine!”
“Who?” asked Rose.
“Darrick,” Laura said.
“No,” Rose shook her head, “that’s impossible. He bleeds and hurts and does lazy things. He’s Behraanese. Isn’t...he...?”
“Ask the computer,” Janeth suggested.
“Why do you think this one is a construct?” Rose asked in Oasiic.
The computer zoomed in on the one representation and gave a long list of chemical composition. Rose knew right away that none of these were those of a living thing. As well, the computer made several notations of the being having a complete composition of nanites in the stead of cells. It then brought up a view of how a single nanite looked, tiny and golden with many arms and joints.
“Holy Kabaiila” said Rose aloud.
“I didn’t think Miya was serious,” said Laura.
“The Trilithe are nothing if not well informed,” said Janeth as words of caution.
“That explains why I cannot heal him,” said Grace, “why he always heals himself.”
“Weird that a body completely made of nanites would take a humanoid form though,” said Laura.
“Could he change that, if he knew?” said Janeth, “Perhaps it is best that he does not know.”
“Rose,” said Grace, “it says the spaceport was to our left.”
“Yes,” Rose replied.
“Then we are no longer in the spaceport.”
Rose then turned to Grace, “yes we are. This is all the spaceport. Right, mother?”
“The computer seems to disagree,” Janeth said, “and it seems to divulge intimate information about all of us at a moment’s notice. At least, I assume what it says about me being a Thesaal is true.”
“You don’t know?” said Laura with contortion in her face, “how could you not know?”
“I have been alive a long time,” said Janeth, “I truly have forgotten my childhood. My earliest memories are of being an adult.”
“Weird,” said Laura, “will I be like that, when I get to your age?”
“If you get to my age,” Janeth said jestingly, “I sincerely hope not.”
“You’re not listening,” said Grace, almost in a snap, “I think I know why this isn’t included as the spaceport.”
Laura stared, stunned, “Why?”
“Tell the computer to zoom out.”
“Zoom out,” Rose said in Oasiic.
The computer complied and shrunk the corridor’s scale, showing more corridors and even other rooms. It made a note that everything past certain points were beyond the range of the powered area, and that the map was as per last time the computer had access.
“More,” said Grace.
The scale became smaller again, revealing more rooms, more corridors and another room the size of the spaceport, directly next to it.
“More. All the way out.”
“Zoom out completely,” said Rose in Oasiic.
The next thing they saw was the corridor they were in shrinking, shrinking, shrinking, until it became completely consumed by other small lines, and a larger pattern appeared. The computer maintained a red line pointing to where they were, as the scrolling continued and continued.
Finally, it stopped, showing a shape that made all four of them completely stop.
The shape, still from a top-down view, was that of a slender, winged vessel, with a long neck, a bulbous fore section. The wings spread out and were curved forwards, with long antennae shooting back from its tips. Arrays of engines dotted the rear section of the fuselage, a fuselage that seemed almost perfectly cylindrical, if not for the graceful curves that stretched toward the wings. There seemed to be so much information pouring in about the vessel that even Rose couldn’t make sense of it.
“The ship wasn’t in Spaceport Eighty-One,” said Laura, almost unable to speak that much, “Spaceport Eighty-One is in the ship.”
“We’ve been inside the ship the whole time?” Rose gasped.
“Terraniia,” Grace said with conviction, “we have found it.”
“It’s magnificent,” said Janeth, “and just massive.”
“Dimensions?” asked Rose in Oasiic.
The computer jotted down several quick lines of text.
“Eight thousand, four hundred and sixty metres from bow to stern,” said Rose, completely ecstatic, “wingspan of seven thousand, eight hundred and twenty metres! Height of five thousand, four-hundred and eleven metres! By Kabaiila, this ship dwarfs the Hand!”
“Looks a lot like the Hand, actually,” said Laura.
“You’re right, it does,” Rose nodded, “wow, just—wow.”
“There’s no way we can power this whole thing up,” said Rose on a more discouraging note, “add to that were at least a few kilometres underground. And the computer doesn’t even know what the rest of the ship’s like right now.”
“It must have its own power source,” said Janeth.
“Locate the ship’s main power source,” said Rose in Oasiic.
The computer zoomed into the central part of the ship, zooming through deck after deck after deck, until it came to one massive chamber, spanning a diameter of one kilometre and a length of two kilometres. Within the chamber existed a massive set of helices, three in all, one inside the other angled in opposite directions to each other.
The computer then began to draw lines from where the four of them were, to the fastest way to get to the core, avoiding any kind of elevators and just utilizing stairwells and tubes.
“According to this,” said Rose, “with this course, we have about three kilometres of hiking to do to get to the core.”
“What kind of core is that?” asked Laura.
“The computer refers to it as a perpetual reactor,” said Rose, “but that can’t be right. Perpetual reaction is impossible. Everyone knows that.”
“They didn’t,” said Janeth.
“Wait,” said Rose, “do we really want to try to start this thing up? If one spaceport has a dozen Dragonflies, I’d hate to know what it’s holing up in the first eighty. Do we really want to release that kind of power?”
“We need to,” said Grace, “to save Nywan.”
“And tip off the balances everywhere else!” said Rose, “this thing could probably level planets!”
“Behraan is already levelling planets!” Grace shouted, “and besides, we didn’t come here for nothing!”
“So,” Janeth looked to Laura, “it would seem to be up to you, which way we go.”
“Not like this,” Laura shook her head, “I don’t feel right making a decision like this with half of our crew not here to have a say. Let’s go back and fill them in.”
“Wise choice, Captain,” Janeth smiled, “I’d say you reminded me of myself in my youth—if I could remember it.”
“Grace, Rose,” Laura said to the two still-bickering women, “we’re headed back to the Skyreign. The others deserve to know about this discovery. They deserve a vote.”
“What do you think, anyway?” asked Rose, “We can save Nywan, but—not like this. Take a Dragonfly or something, I can see that being okay. But this? No. We can’t. This ship ends up in the wrong hands? All hell. All hell.”
“We seem to be the only ones who can,” said Laura, “I haven’t made an opinion yet.”
“Fine,” Rose shook her head and followed quietly. Grace, even more so.