Before the Plunge
Laura informed the four other crewmates, being Savath, Olsein, Darrick and Elsie, about the revelations presented to them. However, she kept those revelations relevant to the ship, as she eyed Darrick once or twice.
A good minute passed before any of them could respond. Their faces were full of complex implications, rampant thoughts, and multitudes of repercussions.
“What?” Darrick said finally.
“What do you mean, “what?”” said Elsie as she craned her neck, “it’s the Sacred Vessel. There’s so little information on it, so what were we expecting? A golden pleasure yacht?”
Laura shot Elsie a dirty look.
“Well, shit,” said Savath, “how many more spaceports?”
“Enough to make my answer easy for me,” said Olsein as he stood, “My answer is no. We leave it here. If it were up to me, I’d blow it up. Before Behraan gets their hands on it.”
“How barbaric,” said Grace, her tone as cold as ice, “destroying what you fail to understand. Shame on you, diviner.”
Olsein gave Grace a strange look, “What—what’s gotten into you, Grace? You aren’t yourself at all.”
“He’s right,” said Laura, “ever since we showed up, you’ve been acting weird.”
“I’m fine,” said Grace as she took a deep breath, “I’m fine. I apologize for stepping out of line. But this is the Terraniia. This is Nywan’s only chance at Salvation. Perhaps it’s the Galaxy’s only chance at redistributing power.”
“And who are we to think it should be up to us where power is distributed?” Olsein argued.
“We found the vessel,” said Janeth, “and may I say, it is in remarkably good shape for as little as we’ve seen. The decision can be made by no others because the ship has not been discovered by any others. Not even the one who came and went with a Dragonfly could have known about the vessel. No other signs of prying were present.”
“I agree with Olsein though,” said Rose, “who knows? Maybe the Imperator was waiting for us to find the vessel and free it, so that it would be less work for him to take it for himself.”
“Maybe,” said Grace, rubbing the back of her head, “though there is something else I saw that perhaps none others did. I remember the ship scrolling through numerous floors and sections it labelled cryonics. It stated populations, overall status, and power intake.”
“Wait,” Laura swivelled about, “you just decided to tell us now?”
“She didn’t know before,” Janeth glared at Grace, “the ship. It has been speaking to you, hasn’t it.”
Grace’s eyes widened as she pulled her hand away from her head again, “no, no, nothing of the sort--”
“Grace,” Laura crossed her arms, “you’re surrounded by constables and telepaths. All of whom are your friends. And all of whom can tell a lie when we see one. So—please--tell us what’s going on.”
Grace sighed and sat on the bench at the far end of the rec room, “Very well. If you must know, I was part of a top-secret program, thirty years ago. Advanced Neuronics Astrogation Mastery Initiative--”
“ANAMI?” Janeth’s tone was filled with startle, “you were part of ANAMI? That program ran well over thirty years ago. I remember it well. That chip you keep rubbing must be part of the program. Allows its host to connect directly with vessels that are adequately equipped to do so. Applied to some fighters, gunships, frigates and even a few capitol ships. Quite remarkable.”
“It was,” said Grace, staring blankly at the table in the centre of the room, “though some of us went mad with power. My—myself included. I--I hurt a lot of people.”
“So, you became a cleric,” said Laura, “I heard about that program. Scrapped, ten years ago, when too many of those augmented went mad and stole all sorts of ships. Most of them were killed. Executed, rather.”
“I alone survived, I believe,” said Grace, “I realized the error of my ways and fled to Kelvik, my home. I swore never to harm another being again, and my life as a cleric began. Behraan never contested that, and allowed me to serve years later as a medical officer. That is how I came to be of your service.”
“Then,” Laura said, tonguing the words as if testing them internally before speaking, “if you left that life behind, why do you feel so strongly about this vessel?”
“Don’t you?” Grace retorted, “but you do have a valid question. As you might be able to tell, I’ve been quickly learning this ship. And the ship has been—learning me as well. I have a question about it, just a fleeting thought that crosses my mind, and the ship answers it, almost happily. I don’t know how to say it, but it this ship had a soul, it would be a kind one. And I do not believe it is a warship, despite its inherent destructive capabilities.”
None spoke. They only listened.
“I believe this was a colony ship,” said Grace, “though not one to colonize other worlds. One—to recolonize this one. However, that is as much as the one computer can tell me. Apparently, I would need to connect to the mainframe.”
“Where’s that?” asked Darrick, “I can help out.”
“I would have to get to the bridge,” Grace said, “we are a good three kilometres from there and numerous floors below it. But from there, the computer says, I could access everything.”
Janeth crossed her arms, “You don’t sound sure.”
“I am not,” Grace continued to stare, “I changed my life for a reason. Even if this ship was not designed for war, it could still fight one. The technology is far beyond anything we have today. I could lose my mind again and—and--”
“Say no more,” said Janeth calmly, “I understand your concern.”
“Do you?” Grace looked up to Janeth, “I feel I may have to connect. The computer had told me that in order for this ship to run, it needs a host. And I do not believe anyone else here can be one.”
“Not completely true,” said Darrick, “I could do it.”
All eyes turned to the pilot. Laura said lowly, "Say again?”
“I said I could do it,” said Darrick, “I’m not stupid, you know. You’ve all been walking around me pretending you don’t know something about me. I’m a machine. I know why I don’t eat much and why I can work all day and night. I know why I look like I’ve never spent a day in prison or why my hair never grew or why all my injuries healed themselves. Why I don’t get dehydrated like the rest of you do.”
Laura tilted her head, “You knew the whole time?”
“Um, again, I’m not stupid,” Darrick crossed his arms, “I’m self-aware. I might look and feel just like a Behraanese man, but I know that I’m not. I always knew. I don’t talk about it much because I don’t see it making a difference.”
“It sure doesn’t,” said Rose as her lip twitched.
“Point is,” said Darrick, “I ‘connect’ easily to ships too. There’s a reason I always know what to do about the sensors. Why I always know where to steer and what to avoid. I’m not just a pilot. I’m the epitome of a pilot, by design.”
“So, are you offering to go in Grace’s place, then?” asked Janeth.
“If we do this,” Olsein retorted.
“No, I’m not,” said Darrick, “I would, Grace. I really would. But I’m needed here. This is where I belong. On the Skyreign.”
“Well, since we’re all talking about deep stuff,” said Savath, “I’ve got something to say.”
The crew turned all eyes on the bigger man, their eyes and faces bracing for a grim truth of some kind.
“Actually no, I’ve got nothing,” he cracked a smile and a chuckle, “the looks on your faces! Can’t put a price on that!”
“Oh nice,” Laura scoffed, “but that’s enough joking around. This is serious. We need to come to a decision.”
“I think we should do this,” said Darrick, “and Grace would make a fine host. I’ve shared a ship with her for several months now, and while I know she can’t do anything for me, no soul aboard is kinder and more caring.”
“I’m still hesitant about this,” said Olsein, scratching at the stubble where there was once a beard, “but plug it all to Bentor. What choice do we have?”
“If Grace is right about the frozen population, and they’re still alive,” Rose started, “then that makes the ship harder to take over. They’ll be thankful for waking them up. How many people were frozen, anyway?”
“The computer estimated two million people,” said Grace, “though it cannot account for any cryogenic failures since its last connection to the mainframe.”
“Grace,” Rose continued, asking more softly, “Any—any of us?”
Grace simply smiled that honest smile.
“Are you still undecided about connecting?” Laura asked Grace.
“No,” said Grace with certainty in her voice, “In a way, I am connected already. I would be deeply honoured to be connected to this holy ship.”
“Are you sure?”
“Laura,” Grace stood, “my friend. I have never been so sure about anything in all my years. I—feel like this is my calling.”
“Then it’s settled,” Laura nodded to Grace, then looked about the room, her eyes meeting all others, “we will activate the core. Wake the crew. Connect Grace.”
“We will have to reverse the order of some things,” said Grace, “for according to the computer, only the Host may give the command to awaken the crew. And for me to be the host, the Core must first be started.”
“Which begs the question,” said Janeth slowly, “whatever did happen to their host?”
“One Phetolaa Ionis was meant to connect,” said Grace, “though he never appeared. And there are no hosts registered in the crew that were frozen here.”
“Strange,” said Janeth, “That would be one hell of a job to not show up to.”
“Killed, probably,” said Olsein.
“Yeah,” said Rose as she stared blankly at the table, “probably.”
“Everyone is coming this time. Take thirty minutes to prepare,” said Laura, “bring water. Food. Power packs. Limited weapons. Shield belts only for protection. If we run into anyone in this ship, we want to appear as explorers, not raiders.”
The crew then dispersed, Janeth staying behind.
“Behraan doesn’t know what a brilliant leader they lost,” said Janeth.
“I think they do,” said Laura, “the guard I possessed was under the impression that I was a high-profile defect. A great loss to Behraan. A shining star, in some of the news articles he read. I remember. I remember everything that went through his mind. Including a bolt of plasma.”
“You’ll have to teach me that sometime, Captain,” said Olsein as he passed by.
“Not a moment I’m proud of,” said Laura to Janeth, “I know I’m capable of doing that. I know I’m capable of...extending out of my body, and affecting things around me. But I don’t want to have to do something like that again.”
“The same hammer that drives a nail can bludgeon a living being,” said Janeth, “the same tool, a weapon. We all have certain tools in our lives. It is up to you to choose how to use them.”
“What’s your tool?” asked Laura, turning to the silver-haired enigma, “what’s your talent?”
“Live long enough to collect more tools,” said Janeth evenly, “same as you have.”
“How old are you, anyway?” asked Laura bluntly.
“Not the kind of question one asks a woman,” Janeth said with a smirk, “but since I doubt it will change your thoughts about me...I honestly don’t know how old I am. I assume around two hundred years old, because that is as far back as I can remember. But I could be older. Perhaps far older. I truly don’t know. Nor do I allow that unknowing to consume me.”
“But—don’t you wonder?”
Janeth gave Laura a long look, as she said more quietly, “Every waking day.”
Darrick was in his own quarters, preparing his things. No food or water was necessary, so he filled his backpack strictly with power packs, lights, clips for his plasmar, an extra shield belt if needed.
As he did so, he heard the door behind him shut. He turned around, to see Rose there.
“Shut up,” said Rose as she walked, almost rushed to him, jumping up and grappling him between her legs, as she raised herself up to kiss him as deeply as she could, before he could even react.
The packing would have to wait.