Despite her commissioned rank, Shalikova was not a bridge officer, and she did not report to the bridge during the alert. Her place was in the hangar, awaiting orders to deploy in her Diver for battle, and that is where she went, after sternly telling Maryam to stay in her room and out of the way of the sailors and officers.
Not that she believed Maryam would have heeded her.
That Katarran really seemed used to doing whatever she wanted.
Shalikova ran down to the hangar wearing a pair of pants and her sweaty tanktop undershirt, her hair tied up into a hasty, messy ponytail. She found several of the remaining pilots and half the sailors in similar states.
Dominika was dressed in what looked like yoga pants and a sweatshirt; Sameera had her TBT uniform pants with her sleeveless button-down half done up; Khadija had thrown her jacket on over what was clearly a lacy nightshirt, with a pair of sweatpants. Out of the regular crew, Valya was the one wearing the green, brown and black pilot’s bodysuit.
“My, my, look at you,” Khadija teased them. “How did you get ready so quickly?”
“Um, I was already down here.” Valya replied. “I was tuning up some stuff in my Diver.”
“I’ve always just gone out in what they give me. How much do you gain from your tuning?”
Valya looked bashful. “Well, every microsecond counts in a fight, Ms. al-Shajara.”
“Please, please do not.” Khadija raised pair of delicate fingers to her forehead. “Khadija.”
“I’m sorry, Ms– Khadija.” Valya averted their gaze while Khadija shook her head gently.
Murati, the squad leader, was a bridge officer in addition to a pilot and had not yet reported to the hangar, so the pilots were left in the lurch at first. Shalikova looked blearily at the scenes around her, marveling at the scale.
Covering the vastness of the lower deck was a flurry of human activity. Sailors in the dozens ferried parts, power tools and ammunition and pushed weapon racks into place using forklifts, so that the mechanics and engineers would have everything they needed at hand to run the final maintenance checks on the Divers. Mechanics ran hasty final tests on the Divers, checking the joints, the batteries, the internal computers, checking every part of each available weapon on the racks, tuning up the diamond sabres and drill lances, AK rifles and Gepard SMGs. There were a dozen people on and around every gantry and maybe two dozen per gantry moving equipment to and from stations.
Within those tall grey walls, on those bare, wide open floors dotted with splashes of lubricants and oil and grase, underneath the sterile glow of white strips of light; within this enclosure of steel, the six Divers and their gantries were the most dominating presence. All of the workshops and stations around them were like islands that seemed to gravitate around these giants they had bound to the walls. And people moved about those islands like schools of fish, in an anxious panic. Shalikova felt a sensation akin to synesthesia; as if there were colors and sounds and tastes associated not with these people but the feeling of their motion, their activity. As if halos lifted off their heads–
Shalikova shook her head vigorously. She was clearly spacing out.
At that point, the Chief Mechanic, Lebedova appeared as if she had come out from under the floor, suddenly in the middle of the crowds. She raised her hands and shouted over the cacophony in a deep, commanding voice.
“We’ve gotten word from the bridge that a situation brief is coming! Keep at it!”
Though they had briefly paused to listen to her, the workers resumed with undiminished vigor. Shalikova felt stupid standing around in the middle of all this activity, but there was nothing she could do but pilot the damn things. She would just be in the way otherwise, even more so than she was just standing in the middle of the hangar with the rest of the pilots. Her whole body was brimming with anxiety. She had been in combat at Thassal, but she sailed toward the danger with a full account of what she was getting into. In this situation, her imagination was far too free.
Meanwhile her fellow pilots were all seemingly too carefree for her own liking.
“Nika, were you working out? You look good! Flexible! Glowing with strength!”
“Who said you could call me by a nickname? And stop staring at my legs!”
“I just think you have really good definition! Show me your leg routine sometime!”
“As a matter of fact, it’s high kicks. Want me to demonstrate one right now?”
Sameera tried her luck again, but Dominika was having none of it, even in yoga pants.
“To think, for once I managed to fall asleep at 20:00 sharp, and this happens.”
“Do you suffer from insomnia ma’am?”
“Truth be told, I was just bored and lacking for company, or I’d have stayed up later.”
“Oh. Well. I see. Is that so?”
Valya tried to humor Khadija, who kept complaining with a bored expression on her face.
Shalikova wanted to scream.
It was not even just the stupid things they said, but the sheer control of their body language.
How did these sociopaths manage to maintain their composure in this kind of situation?
Before Shalikova got an opportunity to scream, their idle time was finally at an end.
Semyonova’s face appeared on the large screens around the hangar.
Everyone in the hangar received an abridged version of the officer’s discussions.
Soon, Semyonova was replaced on the screen by acoustic predictions of an enemy fleet.
There was a brief pall of silence as the sailors beheld a diagram of the Irmingard class.
However, they were far too busy with their own strict tasks to panic for very long.
Shalikova had no such luck. She felt as if her heart had stopped in her chest.
“When did I become such a coward?” She chided herself internally.
But she still couldn’t help it. And she hated herself for being afraid in this situation.
Especially when the other pilots had much more muted reactions.
Moments later, Murati Nakara arrived from the bridge dressed in parts of her TBT uniform.
“Form up! You saw the brief; we’re going into battle. It’s the real thing.” She said.
She gathered everyone near a wall monitor, which she commandeered for a demonstration. Using a minicomputer, she swiped onto the wall monitor a projection of the enemy fleet, as it was last seen and assembled by the algorithmic predictors. A tight formation, with a vanguard of cutters and two frigates leading the flagship, which was covered by a destroyer. There was a prediction that at least eight Divers would be present as well, but not fully confirmed.
It was this point, when Murati was about to discuss her plan, that Aiden Ahwalia appeared.
He had his arms crossed over his chest, and a disgruntled expression.
Unlike everyone around him but Valya, he was wearing his full pilot’s suit already.
“Lieutenant, can you really look at this sorry ensemble and tell me I’m not ready yet?”
Shalikova rolled her eyes. Khadija practically growled at his appearance.
He seemed to have missed the irony in talking like that to a half-dressed Murati, too.
“Aiden if you interrupt me again during a briefing, I’ll demote you from Pilot trainee to Sailor for a month. You’ll get your chance someday. Listen, observe and build some character, or get ready to swab the hangar.”
Murati’s tone and the disdainful eyes of the rest of the pilots cowed Aiden into silence.
Khadija cracked a little grin.
“I want everyone’s attention on this monitor. Now.” Murati withdrew a laser pointer from the pocket of her button-down shirt and aimed it at the diagram of the fleet. All the pilots turned from gawking at Aiden to the Lieutenant. “Good. Our mission will be to draw the attention of the enemy away from the Brigand, penetrate the enemy fleet formation and inflict some damage on the Irmingard class flagship. Our weapons won’t even scratch it, so we’ll need to plant demolition charges and detonate them to breach the hull. With any luck, even if we don’t sink it, we’ll break enough electronics to keep it off our backs for now. Once the charges go off, we’ll be fleeing immediately.”
Everyone looking at the board waited with eerie silence for Murati to continue.
Shalikova had never seen this rowdy bunch actually stay so still before.
Murati had a fire in her eyes; she was speaking with confidence and strictness.
She was not shouting or overcompensating. It was as if she was in her element at last.
“Captain Korabiskaya is going to parlay with the commanding officer of the Irmingard to buy us a few minutes to deploy and get moving. It’s unlikely the fleet will take initiative without the commander’s explicit say-so, since these all look like old patrol craft from Serrano. So hopefully that will give us some time without big guns in the fray. Once we’re in the water, we’ll close in and engage the enemy in close quarters battle. They’ll have to watch their friendly fire, while we’ll have carte blanche to bring everything we got to the fight. We should prioritize disabling their Divers and any enemy Flak guns, both so we can get in and plant the charges, and so we’ll have an easier time escaping.”
On the monitor, the computer overlayed patterns around the individual ships in the enemy fleet indicating the range and possible traverse of their gas guns as well as the volume of their fire. Flak, an ancient loanword of indeterminate origin, was the term given to 20 mm gunfire from gas guns which would form the primary response by the fleet against the fast-moving Divers. Each of the smaller, slender cutters had two gas gun turrets and a primary 76 mm main gun, providing a limited Flak coverage. Both of the larger frigates had four gas gun turrets to support the covering barrage. The Irmingard had several, but the real danger was the Destroyer. Sitting between Frigate and Cruiser size, the Destroyer bristled with over a dozen turrets meant to ruthlessly defend the flagship from incoming fire.
Every Diver pilot knew to properly respect Flagships, but to fear the cover of Destroyers.
“The Brigand has three 76 mm guns on the aft, but we can’t expect the Bridge’s fire support to do our jobs for us. I’ve got a plan, but it’ll depend on all of our skills for it to work.” She aimed her laser pointer in a straight line to the Cutters at the head of the fleet. “One group will attack the cutters and any Divers around them, trying to maximize damage. That will be up to Sameera and Dominika as the heavy firepower team.” She moved her pointer up in a semi-circle around the outer edge of the fleet formation. “Shalikova and I will attack from higher up on the water table, hoping to draw out the Destroyer and engage it. Valya and Khadija will engage targets of opportunity on the opposite flank. There will be three bombs, carried by Khadija, Sameera and myself. Those are our three shots at the objective.”
Murati dropped her laser pointer back into her pocket and crossed her arms.
“You’re all here because you’re pros. You’ve been around Diver operations or studied them extensively. There’s nothing I can say that will make you ready if you aren’t. Follow the plan as best as you can, trust your instincts, protect your squadmate, and if you see a shot at the objective, seize it! Above all else, make it back to this hangar. Understood?”
“Sounds good to me!” Shalikova spoke up suddenly and sharply as soon as Murati had paused.
As if trying to release all the pressure that had built up inside her, her face lightly red.
There was a brief silence before, all around her, the other pilots nodded in accent.
“Yeah, everything makes sense.” Sameera says. “You even had graphs! That’s so cool!”
“It felt quite, official.” Dominika added in a low voice, averting her gaze from Sameera.
“You’re impressed by the graphs? That’s what’s surprising?” Murati asked, taken aback.
“Oh my, who knows what these two experienced in their backwater assignments.” Khadija sighed, pointing over her shoulder at Dominika and Sameera’s general direction. Sameera seemed not to mind but Dominika was practically glaring at Khadija for the remark. “Lieutenant, it does feel like you really covered all your bases well. And here I was, wanting to tease you the first mistake you made. Maybe next time.” Khadija winked at Murati, who averted her gaze briefly. “Of course, the old adage states that even the best plans are built to fail, so we should be careful.”
Valya merely pointed their fingers in Khadija’s direction as if to silently say, “what she said!”
Shalikova sighed. She felt more and more like she was the idiot among these idiots.
Before long, the pilots dispersed across the hangar, standing in front of their machines, and waited for the cockpits to be released by their supporting engineers. Shalikova had a moment to look up at the suit of mechanized armor in front of her, standing at more than four times her size. She had gotten into and out of machines like this dozens of times now. Whether it was training with real equipment, simulations, or combat at the battle of Thassal, it was the same. This was what she had chosen to do, she told herself. With a deep breath, she tried to ready herself for battle.
Right then, no one else on that ship, but those six pilots, could protect the rest from danger.
One life on the line in one piece of machinery, to potentially save two hundred others.
No one had ever embellished to her, the promise of death that came with piloting a Diver.
Shalikova chose this path knowingly; because it was just, because it was necessary.
Opening and closing her fist, tapping her feet, she examined her weapon to center herself.
This Strelok was very slightly different than the stock models Valya and Khadija had. Perhaps standing partway between the common, simpler shapes of the Strelok and the more extreme Cheka design, all of the armor surfaces complicating the oblong body were sharper, more angular. Its rectangular head, barely more than a box for cameras on the original Strelok, was rounded and flared to disperse water. On the back, there was an additional thruster fed through a newly introduced intake atop the cockpit, the grille almost like a mouthpiece for the head.
She wondered how many milliseconds this would earn her over Valya’s “tuning.”
Moments later, the cockpit plates spread open to admit her.
Shalikova climbed inside the Strelok and strapped herself in.
It was her first time deploying in this machine, so she took some time to adjust the monitors to her preferred arrangement: one in the center, two off to one side and three off to the other. Main forward camera was right in the middle, just like if she were strapped into an actual suit of armor with a natural viewport. She then locked the controls and then tested the tactile feel of the control sticks, the click of the buttons, the pressure on the trigger. Everything was pristine. Nothing like the well-worn training machinery she had used before. Now reasonably certain of the quality of her gear, she unlocked the controls and began the startup procedure along with her engineer.
Shalikova looked with forlorn eyes at the familiar startup screen.
She saw the Union’s standard, a plow and a sword crossed over the opaque dome of an Agrisphere.
“A thousand generations live on in you,” was a saying often paired with that standard.
Most of the time, she thought nothing of it. But in that particularly vulnerable state of mind–
Shalikova could not help but think: “Zasha, are you living on in me?”
Stupid, foolish, fearful sentimentality that was useful to no one, much less herself.
For everyone’s sakes, she had to be stronger. She had to be tough. She could not waver.
Or else, she would really be nothing but a burden on the world around her.
Soon the Divers were armed, released, and made the way to their deployment chutes.
On one of Shalikova’s monitors, Murati appeared in a feed from within her own cockpit.
“Thanks for the support back then, Shalikova. I was actually a bit nervous.” She said.
Shalikova scoffed. “We all were. I didn’t do anything. You– You did fine, Nakara.”
Murati nodded her head and seemed to understand Shalikova wanted no further comment.
Deep down, Shalikova truly appreciated the silence between them as they deployed.
“Can I have a sandwich?”
Outside the door to Shalikova’s room, Maryam Karahailos found a sailor pushing along a trolley full of food.
Having eaten nothing but dried vegetables, cornmeal gruel and vitamin bars in her exodus, her eyes practically shone in the presence of an enormous tray of sandwiches, slick with cheese spread, pickles and what looked like thin slices of juicy protein cutlet. Everything was as fresh as could be cooked on a ship, lovingly assembled from scratch. To her deprived eyes this was a buffet for the senses. Her surface colors turned just a little flushed with anticipation.
“Ah, sorry ma’am, you are–?”
“I’m a VIP, Maryam Karahailos.” Maryam said. She was echoing what the Captain said to refer to her.
In truth, she was not sure what the crew viewed her role as or how they intended to treat her.
Maryam sold herself as a useful informant, but that meant different things to different people. In her travels she had been a soothsayer, a priestess, a matchmaker — whatever made sense for the people she needed to get on her side. Whatever made sense to survive. She was still thinking of what she would tell the Brigands; and with the alert, she did not know when she would be able to meet with the Captain. So for the moment, she was just, vaguely, “the VIP.”
“VIP? Sorry, I wasn’t really informed– I’m just taking these down to the hangar crew.”
“Can I have one? They won’t miss one, right?”
Maryam asked purely innocently. It seemed silly to fight over one sandwich out of a pile.
“Well, we actually counted these, so they would miss one.”
His aura was starting to harden against her.
She could tell his disposition was worsening even if he didn’t show it, she was perfectly sure of it. Aura was an additional feeling that Maryam got from people, that she associated with colors, smells, tastes, and sometimes textures in their space. Like dust in the air, or a distortion of light within fog; perceptible, but hard to describe.
Turning her head briefly, Maryam found the hall mostly deserted.
She turned back to the sailor and stared deep into his eyes.
Something in her brain just clicked.
A sensation, that lay between the purely automatic, like breathing, and actions that were technically driven by choice, but that were so natural that the locomotion surrounding them was viewed as less than deliberate. Like taking a step, or having a cough, or the turning of the eyes. For a moment there was a sense of warmth felt right behind her eyes.
Maryam overcame his mind through the oxygen he was breathing.
Traveling within that tiny current, into his blood, into his nerves, into his brain. She touched what his body interpreted as sensations, facts, thoughts. She could neither see them, nor finely control them. She had not yet perfected such a technique. Instead, she felt them, and influenced them, like a gentle pluck on the cords that sang truth to him.
The ultimate expression of her god-given mastery over the Air.
“I’m really peckish. I think they won’t miss just one.” She said sweetly, compelling him.
“You’re right. I’ll just give you mine, and I’ll come back for something else.”
The Sailor quickly handed her a sandwich wrapped in a reusable polymer towelette.
“Thank you! How kind! You don’t know how much this means to me!”
“Not a problem ma’am. It was nice meeting you. You take care now, alright?”
To make it up to him, she had influenced his aura as she released her control, tinging it soft and blue.
With his morale gently lifted, the Sailor marched the trolley on its way, whistling a cheerful tune.
I’m making people happy. Myself, and others. Isn’t that the godly thing to do?
Maryam giggled and started to nibble on the sandwich. Just as she had envisioned, it was delicious. While that creamy spread was probably less milk than it was emulsified oil and yeast, it was the first “cheesy” thing she tasted in ages, savory and satisfying. With the pickles providing a tiny bit of spice and sweetness, and the pillowy, but firm bread, and the smooth, meaty flavor of the cutlet– it was delightful. That was the best meal Maryam had eaten in months.
Well worth employing her special gifts to obtain it.
“I wonder how many of them are susceptible?”
Though she found it unconscionable (and physically impossible) to use Molecular Control on everyone on the ship, it was useful to have susceptible people here and there. Maryam had not been around enough to get a sense of the potential of the crew as a whole, but there were a lot of folks who felt like they had strong resistance, some who seemed as though they had an actual seed, and very few who seemed to have with no potential whatsoever.
One particular individual fascinated her: Sonya Shalikova. From the moment she saw her.
Firstly, she was very pretty. Those eyes, her soft skin, and that pure white hair–
Her long limbs, the slight curve of her chest, her long, slender fingers–
Maryam’s purple hair and light pink skin started turning starkly red.
She had to make a conscious effort to reel herself in.
Second: she was so funny! Sonya had a sharp tongue and made a lot of scrunched up faces.
Third, she was extremely, extremely dangerous! Her senses were extremely sharp, and she surveyed her environments like a predator at all times. What was she searching for? Her indigo gaze was filled with something deep and intense– was it Lust? Dominance? That manner in which she surveyed everyone and pierced them with her eyes– there was no one like Sonya. Not on this vessel and nowhere in this Ocean. Maryam was deeply taken by Sonya.
“Sonya said not to get in anyone’s way. Well, that’s fine, because no one will complain.”
Maryam happily trotted off from Sonya’s room and up the length of the habitation block.
Ships were ships. Katarrans were born in them and many lived most of their lives in them. Small or large, they were all confining and there was no difference there. While the Brigand was cozy, Maryam was not really terribly impressed. After all, she had served a Warlord at one point. She knew what a truly ostentatious, hedonistic ship could be like. Feeling that there was not much more to see after having walked a dozen meters down, Maryam paused.
It was at that point that she saw someone coming out of a room farther ahead.
“Marina McKennedy! Hello!”
Maryam waved her arms cheerfully. She made her colors a little brighter for Marina’s sake.
“Oh, it’s you. Do you know what’s happening?” Marina said, agitated.
That G.I.A. agent tagging along. A friendless person, tall, handsome, reeking of blood.
Decade’s worth of blood. Her own blood. The blood of her past victims; the blood of loved ones.
Not that Maryam knew much about that. “I think we’re under attack.” She said simply.
Despite the shock in her voice, her aura flashed brilliantly for only the briefest instant and her face returned to its neutral, reserved expression very quickly. As if she could be surprised, but then her cool rationality brought her back as a force of habit. That G.I.A. agent always had a very sorrowful aura around her. Tinged the colors of others’ auras, as if dragging their spirits with her. Whether they wanted to be with her– not that Maryam could really tell.
“I need to go talk to the Captain. Could you do me a favor, Katarran?”
Maryam made no expression but turned her colors just a bit darker in response, to bristle.
“I’d be happy to help if you call me by my actual name and say the magic words.”
Marina crossed her arms with a low grunt.
In front of her, the G.I.A agent took a step forward trying to impose on Maryam’s space.
“Don’t be fucking childish. You’re not doing shit right now, so just help me out here.”
Such an intimidation tactic would not work. Particularly from someone with such pathetic resistance and potential. What would Marina do to her? Try to shoot her? Maryam did not like to brag. But if someone tried to shoot her, she would simply dodge the bullet. Marina stood no chance. And if she tried to hit her, she’d really find out quickly.
Still, there was no sense in returning this antagonism. Maryam needed to lie a little low.
“I’ll do you a favor from a few centimeters farther than you are right now.” She said.
Marina backed off a step. Intimidation did not work. So her dull aura turned gentler.
“Fine. Look. I need someone to make sure my analyst doesn’t get anywhere she shouldn’t.”
“You mean Elen? She looks pretty grown up!” Maryam said. Careful not to let any malice into her words. “Does she really need much looking after? And can’t you just tell her to stay in her room if so? You’re her boss.”
“Look, you and I are the odd ones out among all these commies. We should start developing some mutual respect here, okay? Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours; just go stand in the hall near her room and if she comes out, stick to her for a bit. Act chummy. Given how you act toward me, it shouldn’t be too hard for you. Deal, Katarran?”
“Maryam Karahailos.” Maryam spelled out her name in a slow, mocking voice.
Marina raised her hands in frustration. Her aura shifted wildly through dull colors.
Always a little muddy, like whatever color it was had been caked in blood and petrol.
“Okay, please, Maryam. I’m serious, it would trouble me if she got in anyone’s way.”
“Sure thing Marina McKennedy! I’ll take care of things back here. You hurry on along.”
“Good. Great. Harder than it needed to be, but great. I’ll remember this, Maryam.”
Without another word, Marina brushed her shoulder past her as she continued on her way.
“Jeez, what a deplorable woman.” She really did think she had everything under control.
One tiny breeze of Maryam’s miasma and she would have been completely helpless.
There was no sense in that, of course. Nothing to be gained. Maryam calmed herself.
Using the ability of the Apostle of Air in a passion never seemed to end well.
She had been impulsive with it recently. And it had been silly, very silly, and pointless, and yet–
Maryam had tried to influence Sonya.
She had really wanted Sonya’s help and affection. Or at the very, very least, to foreclose on Sonya developing any antipathy toward her. Whenever she used her ability on someone with a strong resistance or who had a seed of potential, she could feel herself being rejected, as if her limbs had hit a wall or a door had been shut in front of her. Sonya was different. When she tried to influence her, she felt nothing. No sensation whatsoever.
Clearly it hadn’t worked. Sonya was just so powerful it was beyond comprehension.
So Maryam watched her. And thought about her. And made up little scenes with her in her own head.
Never before had she been struck with such a feeling, but she had never seen a girl like Sonya.
“Katarran Warlord” was really how Maryam had started to think about her.
She just felt– superior. Superior was the only way Maryam could describe it.
Sonya was a superior being. There was no way in which Maryam measured up to her–
At that moment she remembered the words that an Old Engineer told her and felt ashamed.
Maryam raised her tentacles and clapped them together against her own cheeks, sighing.
She had to fight the hierarchical thinking that had been beaten into her in Katarre.
And yet, faced with her feelings for Sonya, it was tough to understand any other way.
“Hopefully, I’ll live long enough to sort out all this mess.” Maryam said cheerfully.
Her tentacles fell like hair from the sides of her head, thin and slender, like an extra pair of arms ending in a soft paddle. She looked at the soft little suckers at the end of it. It was easy to think of herself as just a human being, but she was a Katarran Pelagis, born in the southern reaches of Katarre amid its chaotic, centuries-long civil war that had warped everything in that kingdom. She did not look like a stereotypical Katarran, due to her garb and demeanor. So the ship crew did not fear her and so far, had not avoided her like people did to stereotypical Katarran fighters.
She figured then that Marina’s analyst friend would not mind her either.
Putting Sonya out of her mind, for at least a few minutes, Maryam wandered to the far end of the habitation for the officers and found the open door that Marina had exited out from. Inside the room, a girl dressed from her neck to her ankles in only a bodystocking sat on the edge of a bed, wrapped in blankets. Dark-haired, with bright indigo eyes. Her aura was like a soft blue breeze, calm amid the storm. Her body was waifish, almost as ephemeral as that breeze.
Maryam felt a strong sense of weariness from her. Resignation, perhaps.
She poked her head inside the door. For a moment the girl was surprised but responded politely.
“Oh, hello. You’re that girl from Serrano. Maryam?”
“You got it! Did you know we’re under attack?”
“I figured that was the case. What else would prompt all of this activity?”
Elen the analyst raised a hand to gesture around her environment.
A few minutes ago, there would have been red alert lights going off.
“True! You really are an analyst huh?” Maryam said, without a hint of sarcasm.
“I’m nothing of the sort. I was just– I was useless. Marina just drags me around.”
“Did that stuffy G.I.A. agent say that to you? She’s a really demotivating person.”
“She didn’t have to say shit for me to feel like this. Did she send you here?”
“Hmm. You know, the more I think about it, the more I think God sent me.”
Elen looked at her with narrowing, skeptical eyes, like she was crazy.
Maryam got a very special impression from Elen’s aura.
She understood intuitively that Elen was a very special and gifted person.
And like Sonya, maybe someone dangerous– albeit, nowhere near as attractive.
“Pay me no mind!” Maryam said happily. “People tell I’m a little too emotional.”
For the moment, it would indeed be worth keeping an eye on this girl too.
Once she knew enough about her to confirm her suspicions, then she could explain it to Sonya.
Elena stared skeptically at the Pelagis girl trying to make conversation.
All around them, the ship was vibrating, gently, but more perceptibly than normal. Something was happening, Elena thought. Maybe some hatches were opening, or they were speeding up, or there was actual gunfire exchanged. She did not know. And she was not important enough to anyone here to be privy to that information.
She felt so weary. She had meant what she said to Marina in their shouting match before.
It would have been fantastic to be able to sleep until this was all over: one way or another.
She wondered dimly about Gertrude.
She missed Gertrude so much.
From the news Marina had been able to gather as they escaped into Serrano, she was aware that Gertrude was alive somewhere and attending to her duties. Elena had never really seen Gertrude’s ship, and had only a foggy understanding of the realities of warfare. In her mind, Gertrude could have been dead at any moment, because she was a soldier, and there was now, suddenly, a war. She had no understanding of the intensity of the Empire’s internal conflict. Still, if Gertrude was alive, was she looking for her, thinking about her? Had she given up?
She had thought she saw her in Serrano– but that was impossible.
Elena had been tired and far away on an elevator. That woman could have been anyone.
“Your aura is looking really gloomy.” Maryam said.
“My aura?” Elena asked. “What are you talking about?” She barely even wanted an answer.
Maryam giggled. “It’s like a halo around you, but it’s also like a gentle breeze. It smells earthy and flowery and musty. You have a soft heart.” Elena narrowed her eyes further while the Pelagis continued to talk, undeterred by the clear confusion in the princess’ face. “I haven’t really told anyone, but I’m actually a soothsayer! I can read your fortune!”
Elena groaned. “No thanks. If things are only getting worse, I’d much rather not know.”
“They might get better!” Maryam said. “As long as you’re alive, there’s always hope.”
Elena stood up, wrapped a blanket around herself and walked out into the hall, sighing.
She had seen the hall had monitors showing status reports. She wanted to examine one.
Maryam followed along sticking close to her, but Elena paid her no mind.
Outside her room there was indeed a display that had a fleet diagram along with several basic safety warnings.
So, they were indeed being attacked. By whom? Elena squinted her eyes, trying to read the tiny text on the algorithmic diagrams. There were all kinds of things scrolling by, and she reached up to touch the screen and freeze the picture. Looking closely, she saw it: Inquisition Flagship “Iron Lady” on one of the ships in the diagram. An Irmingard class?
Her eyes started drawing wide as she came to understand.
Her lips trembled; her grip closed tight around the blanket held shut against her chest.
Wasn’t that ship– hadn’t she heard that name– her mind was spinning, turning, racing.
“Gertrude.” She mumbled to herself, eyes wide and weeping. “No– oh please no. Please.”
Before her mind was finished processing the events, she took off running.
Maryam shouted after her, but Elena was no longer thinking.
Weeping profusely, her wide open eyes burning as the cold, sterile air of the Brigand’s halls swept over a gaze she could not close. Staring as if through the steel, at the bullets and missiles she could only imagine being exchanged–
No, no, no, no, no! Gertrude– they were going to kill her!