Skyreign: Forgotten World

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Two Sides

With the coming sun of the next day came the Skyreign’s revival. Every night it died, and every morning, it was born again.

It took little to no effort to shove off the sand dune it nested into the night before, pull up its anchors and sail off in the previous direction: south-west-west. Darrick, having also had nearly no sleep, seemed to pick up just like the ship, completely recharged, warmed by the sun and completely content in its glorious warmth.

The others, and even Laura, had slept in. But Darrick knew the routine, even if the others didn’t follow it. He would start the ship up at dawn, set her down at dusk. He would only alert the Captain if he spotted someone in the distance. This would be the parameter for as long as it took until contact was achieved.

He secretly hoped that would never happen, fully happy with this easy existence.

He felt, for the first time in decades, truly free. Had the mission gone as smoothly as his young Captain hoped, he would remain a slave to Behraan, whether as a prisoner or as a soldier.

He wanted to never find this Admiral. And, chances were very high that they would not.

Grace, was the next to step onto the bridge. She would casually take notes of his condition simply by visual inspection. She did so from the side where, she wouldn’t obstruct the view of the path Darrick was constantly keeping as he negotiated dune ridges and larger stones protruding from the desert. She noted that while he should have been experiencing severe fatigue for being in the sun all day and resting only at the short nights without proper meals, his vigour never faltered.

When Laura came out, the diagnosis was very different. She had beet-red sunburns on her face, and a little waver in her stride as she seemed to take poorly to the heat and lower gravity. The shell that covered the deck reflected most of the sun back, but not all—and that couldn’t be any clearer than in Laura’s condition.

While the signs of fatigue were present in Rose and Olsein, they both clearly spent enough time under hot suns on strange worlds to shrug off the harsh effects of Suragaa’s unforgiving climate. However, as Miya and Sam surfaced, the effects on them were reasonably normal and expected, not unlike Laura’s.

Thus, the three of the afflicted were made to drink a greenish test tube-shaped vial to alleviate the sunburn, as well as restore alertness. The effects of the strange concoction worked within minutes.

“Unorthodox, but effective,” Laura noted and continued onto her duties.

“What’s orthodox is relative to the choice of orthodoxy,” Grace replied with a smile.

Ejjar, one who felt most comfortable in the confines of an engine room, didn’t have the same problems the rest of the crew shared, though he did spend at least ten or so minutes on deck in a day--if only to show that he was still alive.

But without the right spare parts, and no signs of life aside from themselves, the Skyreign’s clumsy journey across the endless sands began to seep into the shut-in engineer, making him more reclusive and more dependent on his vices--not the least of which was coffee.

Satisfied only temporarily by the discovery of Roselii’s true nature, Olsein found himself next casing the other crewmates. He was something of an unusual inquisitor, in that he never asked questions, or even spoke to those he investigated. He simply planted himself in their presences and learned everything about them by the way they spoke to others, the way they walked and, when permitted, the way their thoughts translated to actions.

All too soon, however, this perfect environment he so wished to study and learn from, had gone through a sudden paradigm shift. The usually lethargic Darrick stood suddenly from his console, placing his hand over his eyes and tracking something particularly carefully. His eyes did not have the usual shift or raised brows, as if wondering what it was he was looking at. He knew for a fact what he saw.

Naturally, Olsein followed Darrick’s eyes and, with some squinting, locked onto a wake of sand following a lustreless stone-grey object lumbering off in the distance. Its course would pass narrowly by theirs within mere moments.

Darrick’s next reaction was equally sudden, as he free-fell into the chair and shifted the vessel’s nose up a few degrees to slow the Skyreign to a halt. His hands flew all around the controls and consoles like two fighters in a desperate dogfight. He deployed the anchors, fully retracted the blades and eased back the lifters to settle the ship in a controlled haste, nestling her into the base of a dune, as if in hiding.

Hiding was, indeed, the intention. It was a long shot, and he knew it, but he still had to try.

As the power ceased to course through the ship’s veins, the steady rumble of a hovering vehicle could be heard only a few hundred metres away.

Whatever it was, Darrick seemed to reason to himself that he had to act fast and not waste the precious time to alert anyone else. But for Laura, the sudden landing was alarm enough, as she ploughed through the cabin door onto deck, not in the slightest impressed.

“Why on Bentor have we stopped!?” she piped, completely uninterested in whatever the prisoner was about to say, unless it involved getting back under way.

“No time to talk,” he motioned to the stairwell, “the shell’s reflectors are down with the power. Get under deck, now, before they see us!

“I will not be told by--”

He shot right past her and down under deck, shouting something to the others, clearly with something urgent in his booming voice. Miya and Sam, the current gunners on deck, quickly followed his lead.

Olsein ducked below the guard rail surrounding the deck, drawing a miniature pistol from his bootleg. He stared at Laura and silently mouthed the word, “down,” with his finger motioning toward the ground.

Finally, her pride subsided enough for her to key in on the growing rumble coming up and over the edge of the immediate dune. She then ducked for cover behind a turret.

Moments later, the other vessel’s engines were no longer muffled by the walls of sand, as it crawled hastily down their own dune. It made no effort to be stealthy, bombing down the hill with its roaring, booming, crackling lifters propelling it along.

Yet, just as quickly as the rumbling emanated, it dissipated over the dune behind them, and faded in the distance.

Below deck, all of the crew were deathly silent and still, not wanting to be heard or otherwise detected by whatever was coming their way. Darrick stopped the ship on a dime in hopes that the passing tank would ignore the ship as if it were a random derelict. It certainly looked the part, being in less than ship shape.

All were relieved by the fading of the unidentified war machine’s rear thrusters.

With the threat gone, Laura once again pursued the pilot, with a mild rage in her eyes, shouting, “tell me what that was, Ensign Walson, and tell me why you stopped the ship!”

“If you got a solid look at it, Captain,” Darrick crossed his arms, “you’d have seen the telltale armour plating and long-snouted barrels of an armoured war vehicle. A tank. Friendly or not, I couldn’t risk them seeing us and opening fire. Not while we’re damaged.”

“Who’s to say they’d have done that at first sight!?” Laura exclaimed.

“Given we may still have some Behraanese identification beacons,” he retorted, “they probably would have.”

“We don’t know that,” she argued.

“Captain,” Rose stepped in, trying to make peace, “we are badly damaged. We could not have run the risk of tangling with them if they were hostile. If we are to deal with the native factions here, we ought to do so on fair terms, where we can survive any of the outcomes. But they could have been anyone. They could have been bandits. Or raiders. Or worse.”

“She’s right,” Edge added as he stepped out of the engine room, “all we have is our guns. The fields would hold the air in, but they won’t hold a lot of weapons fire out, not without a reactor to power them. If that was a tank that passed by, one well-placed shot would have been the end of us. And I was kind of getting used to the idea of staying alive, if you don’t mind my humble opinion.”

After a few long seconds of her distributing her deathly glare to almost every crewmate in the room, her legs buckled slightly, as did those of the others, at the blast of such a cannon, not metres away from the downed Skyreign.

A second blast sent the crew grabbing the walls for support and lowering their heads instinctively, as the sound of waves of sand colliding with the golden hull bombarded their ears.

Laura knew that those shots were too close to be randomly decided, but too far to do harm.

Warning shots.

It came as no surprise to Darrick that, despite his best efforts, whatever crew manned that tank, were not complete idiots, and could indeed see something right in front of them. He surmised that they likely saw everything he did.

“Grahaamut,” Laura swore in undertone, “I really hope you--”

Whatever she said thereafter was cut off by the booming voice of the natives from the tank, as they gave incomprehensible commands over a megaphone.

“What are they saying?” Laura glared at Rose expectantly.

Her ear turned up to the stairwell as the message was repeated more fiercely. Finally, she hummed and spoke, “they are demanding we come out and give ourselves up. Or they will destroy us.”

Rose knew how Laura reacted to threats, and hoped she would not repeat the pattern.

“Man the guns--”

“No,” Rose shook her head, looking to the crew, “if you value your lives, don’t do anything that could be even regarded as hostile. That tank only has to make an adjustment of half a degree and we’ll all be dead.”

“Not if we can power up fast enough,” Laura retorted, turning to Edge, “maximize the fields.”

“Belay that!” Rose stood in more, “We’ll have to think of an alternative to going down in blazing glory.”

The message blasted over them another time, this time more urgent. “they said it’s their last warning,” Rose translated.

Olsein took a deep breath as he slid down onto the bench below him, slouching in defeat. A similar, grim visage came to all of their faces.

All but Rose, for Rose suddenly had a plan. A plan she could not explain, only execute, and execute alone.

Abruptly she made her way down the stairs, headed for the bay door.

“What are you--” Laura stopped herself short, befuddled by Rose’s first argument to remain calm and logical, followed by an abrupt shift to doing something seemingly chaotic.

“Buying time,” Rose shouted back quickly, as she could be heard running across the metal floor, opening the bay door and running down the ramp onto the burning sands.

“Rose, no!” Laura called after her, but to no avail. Thinking the worst of Rose’s last words, she ran up to the deck, only to see that she had already ascended the first half of the dune. Her tracks were already being swept away from the light breeze blowing in.

At the top of the dune stood six men, all clearly heavily armed and lightly armoured. While Laura could not make out any more than the jutting of their pauldrons, or the snarling snouts of their rifles, Rose identified their tribe almost immediately, judging by the circlets they all wore, and the shabby vermilion cloaks that protected their backs from the sands, winds, hot suns and cold moons.

These were the Kulu’jai, or “Two-side” in Nywanese. She had only encountered them twice in her past life. The first time, one tried to kill her; the second, one tried to hit on her. While both attempts were not without a long and vigorous effort, both failed miserably, and so while she did see the clan as two-sided, she also saw them as overall feeble and witless—if perhaps persistent, maybe even dedicated. Sometimes disciplined.

Thus, she was prepared for any kind of encounter between the last two extremities she was forced to bear.

“Should we go after her?” Darrick suggested, watching from the deck, “she’s as good as dead if they decide to make use of those big guns they’re holding.”

After a few moments of watching her stride easily up the sandy hill, Laura’s attention drew to the fact that she was, in fact, buying time. Already, the six natives were looking to each other and turning left and right, clearly confused by the unusually direct approach Roselii was assuming.

“No,” Laura said firmly, crossing her arms, and smirking ever so faintly, “I have a feeling they’re in more trouble than she is.”

Rose showed no sign of stopping, either. In fact, the larger, bulkier Kulu’jai found himself admiring how easily she made her way to them, showing no fear. If anything, he detected some sort of condescension in her eyes, as if she was more plainly annoyed than anything.

“I’ll bet she’s gonna give herself in to save her crew,” one of the raiders said in Nywanese tongue.

“About time we had the company of a good woman,” another joined in. The rest laughed greedily.

But the larger man waved them off, as if to silence his chattering, perverted men. Scratching his short, trimmed beard with his heavily-plated robotic hand, his eyes narrowed in on hers. Her face made subtle scrunches as his men joked about, as if she understood them perfectly, even from some distance away.

“Enough,” the leader barked in undertone, “she can understand us.”

“You’re plugging right I can!” she scowled, standing nearly toe to toe with the leader, her eyes darting erratically to all of the stalky figures before her.

All but the leader seemed both amazed and ashamed that she understood everything. It was clear that she was not of their world, yet it was also clear that she had spent some time on it, enough to speak their language better than even they could.

“Forgive my men,” he glanced back to them, “swine though they are.”

“Pretty well spoken for a two-faced Kulu’jai,” Rose’s arms were crossed, “you plan on telling me why you’re holding my crew up?”

“Only as soon as you intend to divulge the intentions of Behraanese soldiers on Suragaan sand,” the wizened, black-skinned, bald and white-bearded man spoke evenly.

“Just looking for one of ours,” Rose replied.

“You will tell us the whole truth,” he narrowed his eyes on her, “not the fractions thereof that your kind offers.”

“Well,” she hummed, glancing once back as if she could afford to, “since that’s not going to happen, and since you won’t budge on your own story, we ought to leave each other alone and go our separate ways.”

“If only it were that simple,” he smirked slyly.

“It is,” Rose’s eyes narrowed, “your men want us alive—particularly us women. You pigs. So when I walk away from you, none of you are going to dare shoot me.”

“We have other ways of bringing you down,” the man maintained.

“You’re welcome to try,” she spun on a foot and trod down the hill. She didn’t even look over her shoulder, but the Kulu’jai leader seemed to get the impression that she really didn’t need to.

“Koal,” the leader nodded to one of his men, as if ordering him to make good on these other ways he spoke of. Quickly, he slung his gun over his back and chased after the smaller woman who, in her nonchalance, made no attempt to outrun him.

And it quickly became apparent that she had no cause to hurry, for upon entering a leg’s range from her person, she quickly swept him off his feet with an efficient low sweep kick, her arm coming down upon his chest in a wide arc, as if adding some flair to her immediate counterattack.

Koal was hardly injured, but knew better than to get up right away.

“Still have any doubts, Walson?” Laura smirked, knowing that her friend was hardly even making an inch of effort.

“Um,” he tried not to let his jaw drop, “n--no.”

The second raider, not to be bested by what he perceived was a petite and inferior female, charged at her. Subtly, her pace even slowed more, and the leader watched carefully. He secretly knew already that his men would all be defeated, and that she would even be a strain on his own martial skill.

Sure enough, the second raider went down about as quickly as the first, his full hundred kilograms being tossed cleanly over her body from the tip of only a few of her fingers. She exhibited inhuman strength, the likes of which he had seldom seen in his lifetime.

“Starting to have doubts, sir?” the second-in-command Kulu’jai came up from the tank just over the edge.

“Not yet,” the man maintained.

“Good,” his officer grinned, “I’ll bet she’s no match for you.”

“You should stop betting,” the leader glared at him, “it is a filthy habit, betting on the life of another.”

Somehow, he knew that Rose heard that, even while busily handling his cohorts.

The third man was the first to receive a real strike, as Rose grabbed him by the belt and slammed her elbow under his jaw, and then spin-kicked him in the temple, shuttling him into the dune with a broken everything. He was unconscious well before he hit the sand.

Laura knew that even still, Rose was untested by these would-be assailants.

The first two managed to climb to their feet and warily make their way back to the ridge, taking their shame with them.

They hated how right she was, for she was no good to them dead.

The leader hated how she saw right through their bluff, and started rethinking his strategy.

Four and Five decided to go for her at once, immediately smoked in the face simultaneously as she leaped into the air, flipped upside down, split-kicked between the two of them, and completed the flip and landed sturdily on her feet, as they stumbled off their own.

“They can’t all be so well-trained,” the second-in-command assured--not expecting a whole rifle to be flung his way and smash squarely into his chest, winding him out and leaving the one leader alone on the hill, amidst all the downed fools.

It truly was up to him, even though he knew this sad fact all along. It almost wasn’t worth the bolts it cost him to pay them, if not for that he needed some sort of maintenance on his tank.

The masterful fighting woman then re-assumed a more casual posture, glancing back to the lone leader with one unmoving eye. Noting that he made no effort to continue the fight but simply watch, she dusted herself off and made her way back up to an earshot’s distance from him.

“Fine fighting,” he said, subtly impressed, crossing his arms, “fine fighting. What form is that? I cannot tell.”

“I haven’t really had enough time to show you,” she replied, completely emotionless, “and I’d rather not have to.”

“Afraid you’ll be humiliated in front of your friends?” he made note of the onlooking crew.

“When you have nothing to lose the way I do, you’ll find yourself impossible to humiliate,” she said softly, “we may serve Behraan, but our mission is very specific, and it has nothing to do with your Two-Sides.”

“Are you asking us to leave you alone?”

“Us?” she glanced left and right to the faltering members of his petty gang.

“Are you?” he reiterated, less patiently.

“Actually,” she looked back to the Skyreign and crew, then back to him, “do you have a working sensors array?”

“Does Behraan not supply you with such simple technology as this?”

“It blew out during worldfall,” Rose retorted, “do you have one?”

“Not beyond the one in our vehicle,” he shook his head, “and of course, you cannot have it.”

“I wasn’t asking for it.”

“Plan to take it, then?”

“Wasn’t planning on any of this.”

“What, then?”

“Look,” she sighed, as if letting out all the tension caused between the two, maintaining her calm and poise, “all I’m asking is, primarily, that you don’t destroy our ship. Secondarily, if you’re willing, could you guide us to where we need to go, or give us a map?”

“All of a sudden, your very specific mission does in fact have something to do with our Two-Sides.”

“Only if you’re willing,” Rose nodded.

“And what do you think would make me willing?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she hummed, looking back to the ship, “we have foodstuffs, water generators, weapons--”

“Water?” his brow rose.

“Yes,” Rose smirked, stepping closer to him, “Behraan has the technology to make water from nothing.”

“Only nothing comes from nothing,” the man said cautiously, crossing his arms, “and besides, we have all that. This resourceless world only favours the resourceful.”

“I’m open to suggestions,” she, too, crossed her arms.

“I will tell you what,” he grinned, “your martial form is unique, and we clearly lack a good melee capability. So let us wager on...a duel.”

“A duel?”

“Not to kill, of course,” he smirked, “you are still more valuable alive than dead.”

“You have a strange value for life, to send your useless minions at me,” she smirked, looking behind herself at the few who could pick themselves up, “alright. So a duel, then. The wager?”

“I care not for your weapons or your water or your ship,” he said evenly, “but that form can make my men and I stronger, faster, more cunning in combat.”

“You can’t teach cunning,” she argued.

“You will teach us nonetheless if you lose the duel,” he growled.

“And when you lose,” she dropped her hands to the side, “you will take us where we need to go?”

“Yes,” he nodded, “though I am surprised you wouldn’t simply take from us what you pleased.”

“We don’t have the room in our cargo,” she shrugged, “and besides, it might take days or even weeks to rig your sensors to our ship, and then figure out how to make it work.”

“And you’d trust us not to lead you astray or into a trap?”

“Just as much as you’d trust me to teach you a technique you could actually use.”

The two paused, their eyes reading and sizing up each other.

Subtly, the two nodded.

“Those two have been talking for quite a while,” Olsein hummed, scratching at his stubble.

But then, the two figures took steps back and seemed to assume fighting stances, facing each other and beginning to circle each other on the dune top.

“Talks are over,” Laura replied.

Rose threw her jacket aside, revealing a black, form-fitting, short-sleeved carboncloth shirt, paired with black baggy leggings. The jacket was too cumbersome for her dexterous self, and she knew she would need all the agility she could squeeze out of her body, for surely, she was not as strong as this hefty individual. Her stance, however loose, was steady and unwavering, her eyes narrowed and vigilant.

The Kulu’jai leader simply circled in kind, his hands in front of him like a common brawler. But even a common brawler of his size was a worthy adversary.

This circling felt like many minutes, though it lasted all of five seconds before Rose made the first test attack, trying at the man’s reflexes, cadences and striking range.

He did not react. And she knew it was not out of ineptitude, but intelligence. Intelligence not commonly seen in some gang leader.

Having that platinum-coloured cybernetic arm also told her the story of loss in some bloody combat in his past.

A second test with her extended kick did get a reaction: his machine fist extended, as if spring-loaded, striking her cruelly in the floating rib and tossing her a good two metres down the ridge. Still, she landed swiftly on her feet--barely. The fist then returned to its socket.

“She took that well,” Darrick leaned in to get a better view.

“Very,” Olsein added.

“I cannot watch,” Grace walked away.

Rose rushed up the hill, diving past the next sprung fist and sweeping low to high with her kick, giving him an unpleasant surprise to his jawline. He could not recover his balance long enough to escape the next low sweep that uprooted his feet from the sand, hurdling him prone.

She then moved swiftly down the hill, toward him and his tank and his beaten men. She pressed the attack even as he scrambled to his feet to block the next flurry of imprecise attacks, and though he slowly backpedalled, he did not drop his defence or give any indication that he would surrender. He simply weathered the storm of fists and feet and elbows and knees.

His men, though beaten, still had enough bravery to draw rifles and shout in their native Nywanese tongue, “be still!”

But she knew full well that they would not fire if they could jeopardize their own leader’s life, and so did not heed their feeble cries. Weapons had no place in this duel.

“You’ve gotten pretty far from your ship,” the man said between her attacks and his counterattacks, as he constantly blocked her with the broad side of his metal arm, while she deflected his blows with her palms and used the inertia to strike back.

All the while, her rib and surrounding muscles throbbed from that first strike. Her carboncloth shirt absorbed most of the impact—that time. She doubted it would absorb another hit like that.

He hid his own wounds, namely that on the mid-section of his jaw, beginning to swell from bone bruising, and his calf demonstrated similar reactions, stiffening with every step. As they fought on, he noticed his armour loosening at his waist and a few of the harness straps, realizing only too late that she wasn’t trying to damage him directly, but she was sundering his defenses. Even his rudimentary shieldbelt had already been crippled, as he felt it sagging on one of his plated hips. His arm was also starting to freeze up as her palms and heels intentionally smashed and bludgeoned it, little by little wearing him down. He wasn’t putting up a defense He was handing it to her.

What amazed him was that she could incessantly break metal and carbon with her bare hands and the heel of her boot, and that she drew no blood typically found in such otherwise senseless sundering. But she also drew none of his blood, proving that her flurrying and seemingly senseless onslaught was in fact very careful and precise.

His grunts made futile attempts to bring the wild woman down with the butts of their rifles, only to be easily swatted aside by an off-side kick or elbow strike. She didn’t even bother to look their way. She was surrounded, but still had all the advantage.

Such ferocity, such agility, such persistence and stamina, could not be harnessed by Suragaan nor by Behraanese, the man thought to himself. The more and more he could study her, the more he noticed the slight differences of her proportion, mostly in her face. The eyes were too wide, the ears pointed down some and her jawline was too soft, even for a woman.

Yet perhaps she was just very different, since he’d never seen anyone else like her. It was unlikely she was of some other race. It was possible, he thought, that she was augmented or enhanced by the Dominion she served.

Finally, with one swift palm, she struck into the arm’s computer at the base of the shoulder, disabling it and making it fall limp. A second palm from her other hand terminally smashed the principal harness, allowing the front chestpiece of his armour to drop easily into the sand.

And to his inconvenience, that stiffening in his calf travelled up to his thigh, as if that initial hit was paralysing him. He knew he had lost.

However, this gave the surrounding men time to aim their weapons and have a clear shot at her, and all her agility would not help her there. So, with few options, she slowly raised her hands in surrender.

“It would appear you have shortsightedly fallen into my trap,” said the beaten man, self-assured even while panting from the gruesome clobbering.

“Oh, I see,” she crossed her arms and looked past him, past the gang, past the tank--to the Skyreign, as it lined its nose up to the flank of their vehicle. And right on time, three of Rose’s friends--Olsein, Sam and even Laura-- were lined up on the dunetop with rifles bearing down on the backs of the Two-Side soldiers.

One torpedo streaked out of the bow of the ship, blasting sand in each and every way, even shaking the tank as it just missed it. Just after, Darrick’s voice boomed over a megaphone, though none of the raiders understood the words.

“He says for you to surrender,” Rose lowered her hands, “and I suggest you listen.”

He clued in completely when one of the green laser sights flickered across his eye, drawing his attention to Laura, who had her eye and arm steadily trained on him.

“And, if we refuse?” the man retorted between breaths.

“And shoot me?” she shrugged nonchalantly, “that’ll get you pretty far. You’d die first. Then two of your mates get one in their backs. And sometime during all this, a barrage of torpedoes do in your fancy tank, and gunners tear up whoever’s left. Yeah, you refusing would be pretty spectacular—in a ball-of-fire sort of way.”

After a long stare, he looked to his men, “lower your weapons, men. This is not worth our lives.”

“And by the way,” she stepped forth toward him in that commanding, condescending way she had before, completely ignoring the grunts, “you owe me directions.”

“That is correct,” he slowly restored his proud posture, glancing to the armour and scowling at his disabled arm, “I will send my men elsewhere, while I guide you to wherever you need to go. I will serve you, for a time, in this manner alone.”

“Fine by me,” she nodded, “and if you behave, I’ll have my friend Edge look at that arm for you, mister...?”

“Hakrum,” he said, “Haren Hakrum.”

“Well, pleased to beat you, Haren,” she smirked, “I’m Rose. I’d shake your hand, if it worked.”

“The sentiment is mutual, I assure,” he said simply. There was no regret or malice in his voice, as Rose expected there would be. It was as if by beating this man, she earned his allegiance. His respect. This was all fine to her, though she remained naturally cautious.

At this time, Laura and her two entourages made their way to the base of the dune, their guns somewhat lowered. The Kulu’jai did not resist them as they passed by toward Rose and Haren, as she asked, “so now what, Rose?”

“Captain, this is Haren Hakrum,” Rose introduced, “he leads these ones--”

“I gathered,” she nodded, looking the beaten man up and down, then to Rose, “good work. So now what?”

Rose introduced Haren to Laura.

“Do you speak Behraanese?” the Captain asked, her words slow and well-pronounced, as if speaking to a computer with a bad audio receiver.

“Some,” he said simply.

“Okay,” she looked again to Rose, “so what was the point of all this?”

The man spoke some words to his crew, and they carried themselves into the tank and drove off shortly thereafter.

“Haren’s going to be our guide,” Rose explained.

“And where shall I guide you to then?” he spoke in Suragaan to his victor.

With a short hesitation, as if juggling the next word between her lips, she uttered, “Nywan. We must go to Nywan.”

The man’s facial expression was complex with surprise, curiosity, caution and more, for he knew the nation well. It was one of two civilizations on this barren world to attain and retain its grasp on nationhood, rather than the many, many tribes that followed the herds of desert animals, travelled the caverns for water, or fought each other for the scarce resources of the world.

Yet Haren knew, that the resources within Nywan were anything but scarce.

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