Shilo’s call almost seems distant, but you realize upon opening your eyes that it had come out of great necessity, waking you just in time. Standing in front of you, magnetic locks engaged, is a looming figure reaching toward you. In the moment it takes you to register the figure’s pristine red uniform and shaky hands training a small hand repeater on you, you spin weightlessly through the air, kicking that very repeater from his hand, bringing yourself to the deck where your own magnetic locks engage upon command. As you reach up to grab the weapon from the air, however, you register the considerably less shakily aimed heavy repeaters in the hands of similarly uniformed figures standing in the main door to the hold, your dipulse the only thing standing firmly between yourself and them.
Just before you do so, Shilo’s voice sounds off once more in your mind, ‘Don’t put your hands up.’ You comply, instead swiftly grabbing the repeater and pulling the trembling and disoriented figure behind you into a headlock, the small weapon trained on his skull while his body stands between you and the figures in the adjacent ship.
‘Good,’ Shilo speaks into your mind. ‘Now, say exactly what I tell you…’
“This is a Valkyr,” you speak loudly to the figures in red. “The Armada has no jurisdiction here. State your intentions.”
The central figure releases his weapon, leaving it floating harmlessly in the air, and steps forward, his own hands raised. “I am Lieutenant Captain Gildr Khuda’Mundi, and I’m the commanding officer of the TAS Osgord. We picked up your ship on our sensors, and there were no responses to our attempts to retrieve identification. I made the decision to investigate. When we realized what kind of ship this was, further attempts to communicate were made unsuccessfully, so we boarded to see if help was needed. It was upon seeing the two bodies on the deck that I gave the order for weapons to be drawn. It’s my understanding that Valkyr crews consist of only two Valkyries. Furthermore, you’re the smallest warrior I’ve seen in my whole life, and I found your presence and armor suspicious enough to warrant taking necessary precautions. The man in your grips right now is Junior Sergeant Pil’die Carden. He’s a member of my medical personnel, and I’d greatly appreciate it if you would release him, identify yourself, and explain the quite interesting situation we all seem to find ourselves in right now.”
While he waits for you to make your decision, the Lieutenant Captain makes no attempt to move toward you or back to his men, instead calmly standing next to the dipulse, looking at it with a mild fascination, as if you are of little interest to him. Though you commend how collected he is, a simple probing of his mind reveals him to be in a state of immense stress, his thoughts clearly focused on the safety of his men but coolly sorting through the facts. You remove your focus from him, reaching out around you and realizing that your ship has actually been brought into the main hangar of a Minor Carrier, a detail which could have caused the Lieutenant Captain to have seemed more threatening only moments ago.
“I will not disarm, nor will I tolerate any attempted boarding beyond this hold.” You realize upon hearing it that the age of your voice is being masked by the androgynous voice of your helmet’s external comm. “I do, however, expect that you remain armed as well, in the interest of perceived fairness. Your men will return to their normal duties while we go over the details of the situation. If these terms are not agreeable,” you continue as Shilo cues you on, “I take no quarter, Lieutenant Captain. There will be no survivors.”
Personally, you find the words all to be a bit harsh and out of character, even for Shilo. Even so, you wait for the Lieutenant Captain to nod before releasing the Junior Sergeant, who walks as calmly as possible away from you, his shipmates grabbing his arms as he passes out upon reaching them, pulling him back out of the ship and into the hangar. The door closes slowly behind them, hissing quietly as its seals are formed.
The Lieutenant Captain removes his helmet and begins looking around the compartment, leaving the helmet resting neatly in the air. His eyes catch hold of the dipulse, and you can almost see him disassembling it in his mind. “Well, now that we’re alone, would you mind identifying yourself, Valkyrie? I know you don’t have to do so, but I’m putting myself at quite the disadvantage here just to speak with you. I certainly wouldn’t mind knowing what you’re doing here with two dead Valkyrie bodies, either. As a matter of fact,” he looks up at your helmet, as if he can see right into your eyes, “I’m incredibly curious why you’re even in my sector of space. Thor is about a quarter of a turn around Linthia.”
You choose to be upfront with him. “I’m not on my way to Thor. I’m heading to Osgord.”
The Lieutenant Captain gives you a critical look. “I can tell that much, thank you. I’m more curious why you’re going to Osgord with two dead Valkyries in a ship designed to be piloted by two of the same, likely the two that are dead. And you still haven’t identified yourself.” He crosses his arms, and you cock your head a bit at the motion.
“No, I haven’t.” You can’t keep up this charade any longer. “I’m Keria’Ledrii Khuda’Cronell.” You take off your helmet, and the Lieutenant Captain’s eyes widen. “I’m not a Valkyrie yet, but I’m on my way to Osgord to meet someone very important. Possession of this ship has been granted to me through Valkyrie protocol Freija.” The protocol is obscure, but Shilo seems to think its contents are similar enough for the application to be sound. Besides, the Lieutenant Captain is clearly distracted by the revelation of your age.
After a few millidays, though it felt like centidays, the Lieutenant Captain uncrosses his arms and lets out his breath. With it seems to come the burden of trying to figure out what to do with you, and his posture belies an increased state of ease. “Well,” he says, “whether you’re a Valkyrie or not, you didn’t miss a step disarming my medic, and you’ve got their hair, so I’m going to assume you’ve got their powers, too, to some extent. That means that if I want to keep my crew safe, I only have two options.”
Your interest is piqued at this. You don’t remember him having any option other than letting you go on your way. Shilo makes no indication that you should speak, either, so you choose to say yourself, “And what are those options, Lieutenant Captain?”
He eyes you for a few moments, unsure if he should be disturbed by you or not. Finally, however, he speaks. “Well, the first option, which my men would probably prefer as much as you would, I’m sure, would be to let you go.” You cock your brow at that. That implies that he prefers the second option, which you still can’t figure out. “The second option,” he says, “would be to keep you aboard but away from my men. They may be of no safety concern to you, but you’re of one to them, and I need them working. We have a spin on most of the ship. The hangar area isn’t on one for obvious reasons, but something tells me you haven’t been treated for zero-gravity travel, which I suspect is why your stasis pod shows recent use.”
You look over at the pod. You haven’t even thought about it since the boarding started. Surely enough, though, its hatch is wide open, the contents slightly billowed outward, though not spilling due to a lack of gravitational forces. A trail of liquid is hovering in the air where you drifted out of the pressurized pod. Upon Shilo’s advisement, you say, “Well, there is no point pretending I have. You’re obviously not a fool, and I have no need to hide my goings-on. So which option will you be choosing?”
The Lieutenant Captain smiles at you like he would at any other child, and for a moment, you remember that you still are one. “Well, Keria’Ledrii, I suppose I should welcome you aboard the Osgord.” He grabs his helmet, and you do the same, putting yours on just before he opens the main door and waves down the squadron of Glidjumprs waiting on the orher side, continuing to speak as he leads you out. “He’s the only pup in his class. It’s a quite different design from ships like the Deathbringer. This ship is designed with stealth and defense in mind.”
Certainly, it must be. Everything seemed so rounded. The fighters in the hangar all had mirrored surfaces with stealth geometries, the crewman were all wearing auto pressure suits, and the exposed framework had massive cross beams which could likely withstand a fall from orbit on one of the standard worlds.
When you reached the wall of the hangar, you followed suit with the Lieutenant Captain and released your magnetic locks before gliding into a ring which ran along the edge of the hangar. Once in it, you’re caught in a current of air which is pushing you both faster along the curve of the ship and farther forward. Your feet hit the deck, and you almost fall backward as you realize that it’s now spinning beneath you. With a silent cheer, you smile at your first experience with simulated gravity.
You take a few tentative steps toward the Lieutenant Captain before coming to terms with the fact that you aren’t going to accidentally push yourself away from the deck, despite feeling much lighter than you did back home. You remember that Nivlahim is more than twice the mass of the average core planet and realize that this is a simulation of about one fourth standard gravity, just enough to permit the necessary conditions to prevent bodily repercussions from very low gravity with the proper exercises.
About midship, the Lieutenant Captain stops, crouches down, and opens a hatch beneath him before gliding down with an ease only possible in space for most. You follow suit and feel yourself grow heavier when you hit the deck of the wardroom. Looking about, you see officers tensing up as you pass, looking to their commanding officer and trusting his judgement as best as they can. At this point, you’re very glad you put your helmet back on. They can’t see the terrified little girl on the other side of your visor.
The Lieutenant Captain opens a door on one side of the wardroom, and you follow him in. Once inside, you notice the bed and desk, both simple and utilitarian in design. There’s an open door on the other side of the small cabin which leads to the head. On the bulkheads are various connections and nozzles for maintaining life support in case the adjacent compartments are vented. Protruding from the desk is a DPU interface, its screen black.
“This will be your cabin until we reach Osgord. You’re free to roam about the ship, but I ask that you do not inhibit my spacers’ ability to do their work. We’ll be to Osgord within thirty-five days if all goes well, and they’re eager for world leave, so they’ll do their best to make it shorter if they can.” The Lieutenant Captain gives you a smile and begins to head out the door.
“Thank you, Lieutenant Captain Khuda’Mundi.” The words come out in that same androgynous voice, but the tone was heard well enough. You meant it.
“You’re aboard my ship now, little Valkyrie,” he replies. “It’s easier for everyone if you just call me Captain.” The smile on his face grows wider before he adds, “You’ll probably be alright on the Osgord without the armor, too. My spacers have nothing against Valkyries, and the troopers on board are friendly enough. I’d imagine you’d feel more comfortable in clothing more suitable to a young girl’s taste.” Just as he speaks, one of the troopers shows up outside the door with a small box that holds your personal belongings, labeled, “Keri.”
“Thank you, Captain,” you say, taking the helmet off to do so. The trooper blinks a couple times, but there are otherwise no indications of his shock. You smile and take the box from him as the Captain steps out of the compartment.
As he closes the door, a face of realization springs onto his face, “Oh, and there’ll be food in about ten centidays. I invite you to eat in the wardroom with my officers just outside this cabin, in my personal wardroom if you so please, or in the galley with the enlisted personnel. They’ll all be eager to meet you. We’ll make further arrangements afterward.”
The door closes, and you hear a hiss as the airtight seal forms. You set your helmet down and open your box, pulling out a green dress with pretty flowers as you begin to unfasten the seals on your armor.