<We have arrived,> said the voice of Grace, the voice of the Sacred Vessel, <Altitude from Titan, Thirty-seven thousand kilometres. Orbital tolerance acceptable. Powering defensive systems throughout. Lifting the blast shield.>
As she said so, the shutters in front of the massive windows lifted up, showing nothing but the vastness of space.
Janeth looked endlessly into the void, saying quietly, “I had forgotten. How beautiful it was out here.”
“The crew is awakening,” said Grace as quietly, as she slowly floated up, carried by the cables from above and below, “The Terraniia has a command crew. I estimate they will arrive here in two minutes. The Captain, Verner Wilhelm, will be interested in seeing you again, Admiral Sarethael.”
“We need to let the others know what’s going on,” said Janeth, “and please, stop calling me that.”
“As you wish,” said Grace, “channel is open.”
“Laura, are you still there?” asked Janeth aloud.
“For now,” said Laura, “but I hear people coming. Hold on--”
The channel remained open, enough so that Janeth could listen in.
“Accessing camera 3-4-6,” said Grace.
In front of Janeth, a screen as wide as she was tall appeared, showing her a view of the core control room containing the Skyreign crew. All of the crew had turned towards the door, from the opposite side of the room from the camera. Laura was at the door, Rose at her side. Clearly, a number of people were on the other side.
“I can’t make anything out.”
“Accessing Camera 3-4-5 and 3-4-7.”
Two images appeared to the left and the right of the image, with a better view of the twelve soldiers in the then-lit hallway. Better audio was also included, and one soldier at the door, brandishing a small, one-handed pistol, spoke firmly towards Laura.
<I don’t understand you,> said Laura.
<I don’t know the language either,> said Rose.
“Translating,” Grace stated.
<Intruder! Identify yourself!> the soldier’s mouth did not move with the words Janeth heard, though his voice was perfectly emulated, as was his tone of voice.
“Fascinating,” Janeth whispered to herself.
<I’m Captain Vinfield of the Skyreign,> Laura started, <this is my first officer, Roselii Khental. These are my crewmates.>
<How did you get aboard this ship?> the Soldier’s tone remained firm.
<We found it,> said Laura, <people have been looking for this ship for thousands of years.>
<I do not believe you,> said the Soldier, <you speak in strange tongues. You wear strange outfits. We are not in current of your faction.>
<We came in peace,> Laura insisted.
<That remains to be seen,> the soldier nodded to the rest of his platoon with him, <take them into holding.>
“Technically,” said Grace, “you do have the authority to belay that order.”
Janeth glanced over to Grace, who also watched the cameras and listened, if she even needed to anymore.
“Belay that,” Janeth said aloud, “stand down. These people speak the truth. They escorted me to the ship.”
<Admiral?> asked the soldier aloud, as the others froze in place, <Admiral Sarethael?>
“Y-yes,” Janeth shook her head, “I am she.”
<You trust these strangers?>
“I do. They have protected me. Stand down. In fact—bring them to me. None must come to harm.”
<Very well. It is good to have your guidance with us again, Jiinahra.>
“Uh—thanks. You too.”
<On behalf of the Admiral, I apologize,> the soldier continued with Laura, <please. Come with us to the Bridge. She would ask for your company.>
Janeth walked away from the screens, and Grace quickly unsummoned the screens and audio.
“You truly do not remember,” said Grace quietly, “do you.”
“This must be some strange coincidence,” Janeth shook her head, “how could I not remember being a whole other person?”
“You are genetically the Jiinahra Sarethael,” said Grace as she stepped onto the floor, walking away from the pedestal and into the bridge, “The Sarethael Family was of nobility on your world, Noregaa. You are a Thesaal. History dates you to have been born in the year 133 BUV—Before United Valleys, Noregaan time. You were reported to have died 67 AUV—After United Valleys, Noregaan time.”
“I find all of this hard to believe,” said Janeth quietly.
“The Sarethael Family had a history of a genetic disease that limited the amount of one’s life the member of said family could remember. In fact, your affliction is rather mild in comparison to the rest of your bloodline.”
Janeth sat in one of the many chairs in the room, “Around what time does 67 AUV work into the rest of the galaxy?”
“My databanks have you first appearing in Earth Year 1867 A.D. --Anno Domini, or, Year of the Lord. A former religious reference, pay it no mind. You have been making appearances since then under various aliases, until you re-assumed your true name in the year 2417 A.D. This was almost exactly two hundred years before this ship was completed--and then shut away from the rest of the galaxy, upon your command.”
“That cannot be right,” Janeth stood again, pacing angrily, “none of this can be right!”
“You knew of this affliction before,” said Grace, standing before the ancient woman, “you kept journals so that you would never truly lose what you had forgotten. And, you had stored information into the greatsword you always had nearby—the Waylander. A key, of a sort.”
“So--” Janeth tapped her chin, “if that is the case—how old am I? Really?”
“The records are not perfect,” said Grace, “but if my calculations of time are correct, if even an estimate, you would be nearly five thousand Earth years old.”
“Yes,” said Grace, “while it is difficult to believe, you must. Consult the ship’s datalinks another time, if you so wish. All information is open, here.”
“Grace,” Janeth stopped, her eyes jotting left and right as if absorbing words that appeared before her, “you said something of my bloodline. Do I have—relatives?”
“One,” said Grace, “You may find this also difficult to believe, but you had a son and a daughter, on Noregaa. Only the daughter survives. One you named Saferon.”
“Saferon,” Janeth whispered, then tonguing the word without a sound, “That sounds like a lovely name.”
“If my own memory serves,” said Grace, “she was a member of the Galactic Council. A constable, in fact. This information was as recent as last Behraanese year—for which there is hardly a difference from an Earth year. Constables Airstrond and Greiken mentioned a Saferon—it is likely the same one.”
“She’d be an old woman by now,” Janeth stated.
“She has your blood,” said Grace, “add to this, she only left Noregaa a few Behraanese years before, and so the amount of time that has passed for her, is far less than that which has passed for you. She likely knows exactly who you are, regardless if she carries your affliction.”
“Saferon,” said Janeth, “it sounds so....”
“Here come the bridge crew,” said Grace, “and the Skyreign crew shortly behind them.”
At the far edges of the room were wide pedestals, almost the size of the one that shuttled the Skyreign down from the ancient tunnels back on Suragaa.
One such pedestal ascended to their level, filled with perhaps fifty people. All of these individuals were as different from each other in race and appearance as the Nywanese were, though only a few of the fair-skinned ones had the tans from years of sun.
The one thing that tied them together was their simple green-on-black uniforms with a seven-pointed star on their shoulders, and a smaller badge similarly-shaped on their chests, one side or the other. They wore tall black boots, as per typical naval footwear. Some had rank pins under their badges. Some had larger belts, or holsters filled with various weapons. All were well-groomed and far more professional in appearance than Behraan’s navy ever was. Their eyes were all filled with at least a minimal level of intellect. A minimal level of wisdom, even among the youth.
Janeth did not recognize any of them, yet it seemed all eyes locked on her, as if they recognized her. As if they all just spoke the day before.
A fair-skinned, taller man with blonde combed hair and piercing blue eyes approached Janeth. The other bridge members marched forth, their unified footsteps thundering in the room.
That man before the rest stood exactly two metres from Janeth, the others standing exactly two metres behind him, as seemed customary. He placed his closed right hand on his badge over his left chest, and bowed a short bow, while maintaining eye contact with her, as he spoke, “Respect for our Admiral.”
The other women and men spoke in kind, though it was clear many of their mouths moved differently from what words were actually projected—in this case, Oasiic. Yet they spoke as one.
“Wilhelm,” Janeth replied to the taller blonde man, also in Oasiic, “Sleep well?”
“Like a baby,” said the Captain with a faint, professional smile as he lowered his hand from his chest, “I hope you have not forgotten about us.”
“I’ll get up to speed before long,” she looked back to Grace with a wink, “we are currently orbiting Titan, as was the plan.”
“You do not remember the plan, do you,” said Wilhelm, “but no matter. We knew this might happen. How long have we been in hibernation?”
“Three thousand years,” said Grace, as she walked towards Wilhelm, “I am Grace. I bound myself to the ship, in replacement to Phetolaa Ionis.”
Wilhelm looked to Grace, then to Janeth, “What of Ionis? Why did he not report in?”
“Unknown,” said Grace, “though I hope I may be a worthy substitute.”
“I assure you, she is,” said Janeth, “she is a Kelviki cleric.”
"A Kelviki without wings?" Wilhelm craned his head back.
"I have wings now," Grace replied.
Wilhelm silently approved this answer with a nod and crooked grin.
Then it dawned upon him.
“Three thousand years,” Wilhelm said slowly, speaking words to himself that the ambient translator could not decipher, “Kelvik remains still. Good, good. Behraan? T’pauzi? Oasiia? What of—what of Earth?”
Janeth stared blankly at him, “Earth? That is just a synonym for soil, is it not?”
By this time, Laura and the rest of the Skyreign crew ascended to their level, guided loosely by a security detail in heavier armours and weapons.
“Janeth!” Laura said aloud, “what’s going on?”
Wilhelm gestured to the detail dismissively, and they quietly backed away.
“Some ship,” Olsein said as he looked up and around, “and I guess we’re not on Suragaa anymore. How does a ship this size, this old, leap out from a hold, underground, and end up millions of kilometres away? Explain that one to me.”
“I would be happy to go over the details with you,” said one of the female officers, a tall Kelviki with flowing blonde hair and a wide white feathery wingspan.
Laura then stepped next to Janeth, looking to her and then to Wilhelm, “What did we miss?”
“Captain Laura Vinfield,” said Janeth, gesturing to the taller man, “meet Captain Verner Wilhelm.”
“A pleasure,” Wilhelm placed his hand over his chest and bowed slightly.
“Same,” said Laura, “It’s amazing that we can understand each other like this!”
“Three thousand years, and this technology no longer exists?” Wilhelm said, bewildered by the idea, “how sad.”
“I’m lucky enough to be bilingual,” Laura laughed slightly.
“Verner, Laura is the one who flew us here. She commands a ship called the Skyreign.”
“Rare for such youth to command a ship,” said Wilhelm, “no person under thirty has ever commanded a Unity vessel.”
“I’m a rare youth,” Laura cocked a brow.
“Indeed,” Wilhelm nodded, then looked to Janeth, “Jiin. My question still remains. What has become of the Earth?"
“Earth is a myth,” said Janeth, “a fleeting thought.”
“Is that what people think?” Wilhelm looked back to his crew, pointing to the open posts. As they scattered to their positions, he looked back to Janeth, Laura and the Skyreign crew, “Jiin. Laura. Everyone. Allow me to straighten something out for you. Earth is not a myth.”
All those present were silent, listening.
“I don’t know what you call the planet we just left. But that was Earth. This ship was laid down on Earth. Constructed, on Earth, by Earthlings and all of their descendants and offshoots. The very name of the ship means, “of Earth.”
A minute of stunning silence passed as jaws dropped, faces became contorted with inner conflict.
“Holy shit,” said Savath at last.
“The Motherworld?” said Laura, “we’ve been on the Motherworld, the whole plugging time, and we had no idea?”
Wilhelm nodded, "Motherworld, eh? Fitting."
“Suragaa is a desert world,” Laura shook her head, “Earth was a paradise world, taught in some religions and prophecies to be the source of all living things. But that was all just legend, wasn’t it?”
“Oh, no,” Janeth said, her face flushing until her skin turned white, as she looked out into open space, “I see now.”
“What?” Wilhelm placed his hands on her shoulders, looking into her eyes, “Tell me. What?”
“Now I see what the Imperator wanted with this ship,” said Janeth, “he plans to destroy evidence contrary to the Behraanese destiny. What could be more evidence than the Sacred Vessel?”
“Behraan is a mining colony,” Wilhelm smirked, “they stand no chance against the Terraniia or her fleet.”
“Behraan is far different from what you remember,” Laura warned, “they’re known as the Dominion, now. They’ve been toppling other empires for centuries.”
“The Imperator gave the nudge to me,” Roselii stated, “I got your Admiral here to take us to this ship. And Behraan’s been protecting this planet for a long time.”
“Not the planet,” Janeth replied, looking to her foster daughter, “the rest of the galaxy.”
“Now I know why nobody leaves,” said Olsein.
“If the truth gets out,” said Elsie, “the effects will ripple throughout the known galaxy. Uprisings would happen everywhere.”
“Maybe he doesn’t want to destroy the Terraniia,” Darrick said aloud.
Janeth slowly turned to Darrick, “continue.”
“Maybe—maybe there’s a reason he left the Hand up there. Maybe he was giving it up to the Bentorii or something. Maybe he’s trading up.”
“There are two million crewmates and civilians on my ship who would have it otherwise,” Wilhelm said firmly, "this--Imperator of yours may want whatever it is he wants. But we will not simply let him take it. If his Dominion wants to destroy or capture this vessel, only to withhold such a monstrous lie, let them try. But if this is a galaxy in which even translators no longer exist, I would have to be sympathetic for the sorry captains of their sorry ships that come for us!”
“I think you would like my friend Winnibahn,” Janeth smirked.
“That’s all nice,” Laura smiled as well, then put on a more serious face, “but there’s something else. On Sura—Earth--there are two surviving nations on it. One’s already been occupied by Behraan for years. The other, Nywan, is under attack by combined forces, some of which work for Behraan. We promised that we’d find the Terraniia in order to help Nywan fend off the attackers--”
“And you weren’t expecting it to be already full of its own crew, were you?” Wilhelm finished, crossing his arms, “it would seem we are all in for surprises. You said Earth is a desert?”
Laura nodded, “but it wasn’t always, we figured that out.”
“No,” Wilhelm shuddered, “no, not always. We suspected something might happen. That was part of why this very ship was laid down to begin with. It is not primarily a warship. It is a colony ship. A seed ship. A ship for the future. Though—I did not expect to be awakened this far into the future.”
“Everyone seems so cool-tempered,” said Janeth, “they must have already come to terms that everything would be different.”
“Empty space is empty space,” said Wilhelm, “Titan is still Titan. I expect that the problems will come when we see the Earth with our own eyes. But—how much of a desert is it?”
“All of it,” said Laura, “the whole planet is stripped clean of water. Anything we spill out into the open disintegrates. But underground, it’s not affected.”
“All?” Wilhelm gasped, “ALL!?”
Laura slowly nodded.
“Oh god,” he pulled away, pacing nervously, “oh god. How?”
“We don’t know,” Laura said quietly, “before we landed there, we knew nearly nothing about the planet. We knew something scrambled sensors and pushed water away. Some of it reformed in a ring around the planet, and there’s also a ring of junk. But that’s it.”
“The death toll must have been in the billions,” said Wilhelm, “unless they evacuated the entire planet. But all the wildlife—everything--”
“There are still biodomes in Nywan,” said Janeth, “likely created by people in your own time. We maintain them now.”
“That must be funny,” Wilhelm said, weakly, “or perhaps fateful, that after three thousand years, you forget everything, but you still manage to end up on the same planet. Still manage to find us. But you did say, “we.” Who is “we”?”
“I’m the Queen of Nywan,” said Janeth, “I have been for a few decades now. The Skyreign crew are Scarab agents, assigned to escort and protect me. But Laura is right. We do need your help. Especially now that we know that Suragaa is, indeed, the Motherworld.”
“A planet to unite planets,” Rose added.
“Captain!” shouted one of the bridge officers, a shorter male with short black hair and fair skin, “our long-range sensors detect two-hundred and fifty-seven leap signatures, leaping only just above lightspeed. Unknown insignias. I detect weapons, lifesigns...they’re Behraanese.”
<Battle stations!> Grace said automatically over the intercom, ship-wide.
“You heard her,” Wilhelm yelled aloud to the bridge crew, “shields up! Have weapons at the ready, but do not fire until they do!”
“Yessir!” said the fire control officers in their console sectors.
“Captain Vinfield,” Wilhelm said more quietly to Laura, “you and your crew have done us a favour we cannot repay. I hate to ask you to help us again, yet ask I must.”
“My ship is barely in one piece, sitting in Spaceport Eighty-One,” said Laura, “It can barely hover off the ground, and it never had working engines for very long.”
“E.T.A.?” Wilhelm barked to Grace.
Grace looked to Wilhelm as she spoke, “Behraanese signatures originate from high orbit around planet Earth, on the other side of the Sun. I estimate fifty-eight minutes at their present course. They know we’re here.”
“I imagine the whole system knows we’re here,” said Janeth, “that core puts off more power than the whole grid on Behraan.”
“Three hundred and fifty-two percent more, to be more precise,” Grace added.
“Fifty-eight minutes," Wilhelm nodded, "That gives our mechanics enough time. We will repair your ship that you may join the fray--”
“No,” said Laura, “I’m sorry. No. I’m not putting my people's lives on the line until we get what we need. We already went through Bentor trying to get here. We came here to protect Nywan. That’s exactly what we’re going to do."
Wilhelm stared, listening intently.
“I gave one of my crew up to wake you up,” Laura reminded, “so I’m already short-staffed. You can’t repair lost crew.”
“Captains,” said Grace aloud, “long range sensors detect not all of the Behraanese signatures are headed here. Numerous vessels are making planetfall, over the North American Continent. Trajectory: Megalopolis, Ottawa sector. Known now as Nywan.”
“Time’s up,” Laura shook her head, “we’re about to be under attack. I get that. But could you—”
“Wait,” said Rose as she stepped forward, looking to Laura, “let me.”
Laura looked to her long-time friend, and quietly stepped aside.
“An Oasiian,” Wilhelm tilted his head, “so Oasiia still stands.”
“Not in the sense you think,” said Rose, “enough small talk. You want to repay us? Give me a Maak. I’ll go buy some time for Nywan. Meantime, I don’t think Behraan will stop until this ship is theirs, and I don’t think they give a crap how many people disagree. So you’d better find a good place to hide this ship until we all know what to do.”
“We will not run from petty miners!” Wilhelm retorted.
“Those petty miners are now the most lethal force in the Galaxy, you idiot!” Rose shouted, “You’ve been under a rock for three thousand years. I get it. But you’re not under a rock anymore. Get with the times. You’ve got civilians aboard, Kabaiila be cursed! Think about that! Actually—don’t think about that. Just plugging run for it.”
“Where?” Wilhelm shook his head, “we have been under a rock for so long, we know nothing of--”
“You go to Theyradaas,” said Rose, “go to Theyradaas. Marioch territory. Safest place you can be. Normally they shoot outsiders on sight. But when they see you coming, they’ll make an exception.”
“Theyradaas,” Wilhelm looked to one of the bridge crewmen, “Do any of you know it?”
“I am aware of it,” Grace replied, “it is an artificial nebula complex six hundred and twenty-one point two lightyears away. It spans hundreds of AU, and is the only nebula known to have an atmospheric condition fit for life throughout it. Roselii is correct in that it will hide us well. Even if we are known to be there, Behraan will not pursue.”
Wilhelm sighed, looking down to Rose, then Laura, “Hell of a crew you have. Fine. How soon until we can leap again, Grace?”
“The leap-drive’s main capacitor has never been used,” said Grace, “to sustain leap state, it will need approximately one hundred and eighty-two minutes--”
“Three hours,” Wilhelm shook his head, “Behraan will be here in one. We’ll have to hold out until then.”
“Nywan’s been holding out for days,” said Laura, “I think you’ll manage. But trust Rose. I do.”
“Admiral,” said Wilhelm to Janeth, “you’ve been awfully quiet.”
“That is because the Skyreign crew has taken all of the words I had, out of my mouth,” Janeth crossed her arms, “standardize the Skyreign. Give Roselii a Dragonfly fighter. It is clear that with Behraan coming, we cannot directly help my people. And the planet has become far too unsafe to have the Terraniia anywhere near it right now. You do not know enough about this time to defend yourselves properly.”
“Just as they do not understand our tactics,” said Wilhelm, “but I see your point, Jiin. We will of course do as you ask.”
“That’s good,” said Janeth, “prepare to leap to Theyradaas. And—one more thing.”
“What is that?” asked Wilhelm.
“Search for all subspace frequencies in and around the system. Specifically, capital ships. Find the Ophelia on beacon frequency of one hertz. Establish contact with them, video and audio if you can.”
“Get to it,” said Wilhelm to his crew.
“Sir!” said the blonde Kelviki, “The Ophelia has hailed us!”
“Open a channel,” Janeth ordered.
Immediately a large screen became manifest, and on that screen was a single individual, with black hair swept back and silver streaks beginning at his temples. His eyes were a deep blue. His face was weathered, but still full of life. He had a black-and-white stubble across his face, well-kept and even. His outfit was red-on-burgundy, loose, with plenty of pouches and straps.
Janeth knew the face. Darrick knew the face. Olsein knew the face. Elsie knew the face.
And Laura knew the face. How could she not?
“Zodiac!” said Janeth joyously.
“Terrance!” said Darrick and Olsein.
“Father?” said Laura, her face paralyzed with surprise.
He opened his mouth to speak, puzzled by the numerous responses, before speaking, his voice nearly as grumbly as Olsein’s, <Well—yes. I am all three of those things. But that’s not why I called.>
“We were about to contact you,” said Janeth, “what is it?”
<That ship you’re in, Janeth,> said Zodiac, Terrance and Laura’s father, <that’s an awfully big ship. You just stole the spotlight from—everywhere. It’s all over the media. Behraan’s already making claims to it. Make yourselves scarce, would you?>
“I always hated the media,” Janeth uttered, “the Galanet never is just the truth.”
<I’d help you with the Behraanese fleet headed your way,> said the Ophelian leader, <but there are bigger problems on Suragaa, not just with Nywan. I managed to draw the Hand away for now, and it leaped away. I don’t know where it went. But now Behraan’s coming in to clean up. Worldwide. We can’t cover Nywan and Pillars. Apparently, you started some shit up there, Janeth. Well plugging done.>
Janeth simply smiled, “It seems that’s all I’ve been doing as of late.”
“Laura,” he called out, “please. Come forward.”
Wilhelm decided to remain quiet throughout the conversation, then stepped away and started speaking to his own crew, making sure everything checked out. Three thousand years was a long time for nothing to have gone wrong.
Laura slowly nodded and even more slowly stepped towards the screen.
“I’m sorry we never spoke,” he said, “that I never looked after you. I am. Those are years I will never get back.”
Laura did not respond. With all her might, she held her composure, and her tongue.
“We are mounting efforts to evacuate both cities, and any neighbouring tribes that value their lives,” he continued, “we have mapped the safe routes and altitudes at which the Giith will not attack, so we can continue that operation free of harassment. But we need more help at Nywan. Behraan has started an offensive there, and we don’t have enough forces to handle them all.”
“The Skyreign is in no fighting shape, Father,” said Laura coldly, “no engines, barely a core, half of the lifters, and the hull’s been through Bentor and back. Perhaps you forgot it was originally supposed to be a luxury yacht!?”
“Please, let me continue,” said the man, “The Bentorii have attacked as well. The Hand had been captured by the Bentorii. We drew it away, but there is still a large contingent surrounding the final perimeter of Nywan’s defences.”
“I still don’t see how I can do anything about that.”
“Darrick,” he beckoned.
Darrick slowly stepped forward, “old man. Thanks for letting me rot in prison, by the way.”
He did not respond.
“Awkward,” Savath said aloud.
“I didn’t let you rot,” he said at last, “we liberated prison planet after prison planet, looking for you. We had no idea where to start. Our spies couldn’t get anything. We tried. Forty-five people gave their lives while we tried, Darrick. I am sorry we could never find you, but if you have to blame anyone, blame Behraan for putting so much effort into erasing millions of prisoners from existence.”
Darrick crossed his arms, “figures. What do you want?”
“Your expertise,” he replied, “The Skyreign is made primarily of Noregite. I need you to tie the hull into your sensors jammer, and flood the frequency of fifty-five kilohertz. Normal jammers only have a certain effective range, but that should amplify its effective range as well as its strength.”
“What’s so special about that frequency?” Darrick said skeptically.
“We believe it’s the signal frequency that’s uniting the Bentorii and forcing them to fight. The Nywanese fleets are too badly broken to continue emitting the signal, and the perimeter’s jammers are breaking down.”
“Couldn’t you just destroy the source of the signal?” Darrick retorted, “last I checked, the Ophelia wasn’t poorly off.”
“Every ship bigger than a fighter emits the signal,” said Zodiac, “and anyway, we have our hands tied on the other end of the planet with the evacuation of Pillars. We’ll get there as soon as we’re done.”
Laura nodded as her sole response. Darrick didn’t respond at all.
“Add to that,” said Zodiac, “the Bentorii are literally forming a sphere around the jamming bubble Nywan created for itself. The collateral damage of spatial strikes would be far too high upon our friends down there, whom have already lost too much. We won’t win this by more combat. Flood that signal, and the Bentorii will be disconnected. The Nywanese already have a plan they can execute to take care of the rest, with the help of one of the Galactic Council constables apparently.”
Laura looked to the rest of her crew, then back to the screen, “give us a moment.”
“Right,” he nodded, and the screen went blank.
“Janeth?” Laura asked.
“I am needed here for now,” said Janeth, “I will need to command the fleet. I know Behraan better than Behraan knows itself. And almost better than the Imperator, in ways. These people. They’ll need my guidance.”
“Nywan needs your guidance!” Laura retorted, “they’re your people too!”
“They will have you,” said Janeth, stepping towards her, “Laura, in the past few months, you’ve been growing in leaps and bounds. Your actions have set in motion great things in the galaxy. Were it not for you, perhaps the Earth would never have been rediscovered. I cannot think of anyone being more capable, as a formidable Captain, than you. I had put my life in your hands. And I was right to, for you have brought me all the way here. You have completed your mission, Captain Vinfield.”
“Captain!” Rose smiled widely, “Laura, that’s a huge honour!”
“An honour I’m not ready for,” Laura shook her head, “I’m twenty-eight years old. Nobody wants a woman my age telling them what to do. My own crew can barely handle it.”
“Nobody sees a youth when they look upon you,” said Janeth, “people had spoken before all of this. They respect you. Greatly. You had Winnibahn’s admiration for being able to command a whole vessel so early on in life. And keep in mind, I have screened tens of thousands of people personally while serving Behraan. I did not come to this decision on a whim. You are ready, Laura.”
“She’s right,” said Olsein, “I thought I’d be the last one to say it. I thought you were some stupid bitch when we first set off. Mutiny crossed my mind more than a few times. But you came around and you made this all happen. You deserve this. And I’ve got your back.”
“As do I,” said Darrick.
“And I,” Elsie added.
“I always had your back,” said Rose.
Savath stared blankly off, daydreaming, before Rose jammed her elbow into his side. “Oomph! Oh, yeah, right, me too! Heh.”
Laura could feel Grace smiling, that being sign enough of her support.
“It does have a nice ring to it,” said Laura at last, “okay. Battlefield promotions aside. Darrick. Can you really use the hull to flood that signal?”
“It’s a low enough signal,” said Darrick, “though it might disable our own protective field in the process.
“I can take care of the Behraan problem,” said Rose, “not the ones coming, but the ones above and on Suragaa—Earth—there. That place. Might surprise you to say this, but it’s not the first time I’ve flown a Maak. They will never see me coming. I’ll let you know when the coast is clear.”
“Nothing from you surprises me,” Laura quipped, “right. Then there’s getting the ship from here to Earth.”
“Do we take the hour to get fixed up?” asked Olsein.
“That means we’d have to get through Behraan, and we wouldn’t stand a chance,” Laura shook her head. Then, as if an idea smashed into her face, she flinched, her eyes lighting up as she looked to Janeth, “will you ever be flying the Silverstar again?”
“Not likely,” said Janeth.
“If they're still working, we could use the engines,” Laura noted, “see if we can grab anything else at the same time. Transfer over lifters. Get the engineers here to help us save time. Cut the repair time in half, and the parts are already compatible. Same size and class of vessel.”
“That would be fine,” Janeth agreed, “I cannot guarantee its components will be serviceable after half a century, but you’re welcome to them.”
“A new core would be nice, too,” Laura added, “alright. That base is covered. I hope. So—I guess it’ll be just the five of us. Grace is here, Janeth is here, and Rose has her own death machine.”
“I’ll be coming back,” said Rose, bumping playfully against Laura with her shoulder.
“You’d better,” Laura grinned.
“Yeah,” Darrick added.
“Well,” Laura looked around one last time, “beautiful ship. Hope we’ll live to see it again. Put my father back on the line.”
Shortly thereafter, the Ophelian leader reappeared. “Hi,” he said simply.
“We’ll take care of the Behraan problem over at Nywan,” said Laura firmly, “and we’ll flood the signal as you proposed.”
“Good,” he said, “after this is all over, you should come to the Ophelia. We can make that ship better. Give it what it was meant to have when we laid it down. And—you and I have a lot of catching up to do.”
“Seems so,” said Laura, looking away from the screen.
“Take care, Zodiac,” said Janeth, “we’ll be headed to Theyradaas in three hours, once the leapdrive is fully charged.”
“We’ll take the refugees there as well,” said Zodiac, “We’ll arrange everything. Over and out.”
Verner Wilhelm came back to the crew, hands behind his back, “I heard you are leaving soon for Earth.”
“We need some help in Spaceport Eighty-One,” said Laura, “help us move some parts from one ship over to the other. Darrick will tell them where and how to install it.”
“Uh—right,” said Darrick, startled, “right, yes, I will!”
“We’ll make the necessary arrangements,” said Wilhelm evenly, “and you’ll come to meet us at Theyradaas thereafter?”
“Good. Thank you again for everything. Kabaiila watch over you,” he placed his hand over his chest and bowed.
“And you,” Laura imitated the gesture, looking to her crew, “Come on. We have a lot of work and not half the time we need.”
“We will meet again,” said Janeth, smiling, “I promise you that. It seems as though bringing out the Sacred Vessel has saved Nywan, in that the majority of Behraan’s attention has been drawn away. The fate of our nation, thereafter, lies in your hands, Captain Laura Vinfield.”
“I feel sorry for the nation already,” Laura said as she turned away, “let’s go.”
The crew followed without a sound, more spring in their strides than ever before.
“And Grace?” Laura called out.
Laura could feel her attention.
“Don’t let your new state make you forget who you are now,” she stated.
“I will not,” Grace said, “thank you.”