The Voulgenathi was secure. The Kelsor’s engineers repaired the Voulgenathi’s power systems to a point where they could maintain stasis around each of the twenty-six-thousand survivors for up to six months. It was unclear how long it would take the Elsheem State or Alliance to rescue them or if they would even try. According to the Fencer’s captain, a prison ship was a month out and would pick up the survivors in the event no one else did. Meanwhile, all remaining damage to the Kelsor was repaired. The medbay was providing medical treatment to the starmen wounded in the fighting including Illeiri who, without an external source of the red elsheem dekacelorn omnium, had sacrificed her own biomatter to attack Taretes. In all, the battle against the Voulgenathi resulted in the deaths of about five-hundred and over thirteen-hundred wounded among the Kelsor’s personnel. The Voulgenathi suffered over fifteen-thousand deaths and many more wounded, but rather than treat them, the stasis would leave them for either the Republic, Empire, or Alliance to take care of.
Kyora saw to the delivery of the ecksivar sample personally. The Kelsor was in such a shape now that it appeared like the battle had never taken place. Still in her combat bodysuit and sparse SIRAC, the Elestan strode across the floor of the omnimology lab. She had long recalled her helmet, showing off the smug expression that she was unaware she was even broadcasting. In her left hand was the opaque canister containing the sample. She held it at the base like a server with a platter. After approaching the pair of scientists, Souq and Namara, the phantom stopped and placed her right hand on her hip. The jump drone was still attached to her back.
“That’s it,” Souq said softly. His face expressed his sudden elation and relief.
Kyora told them, “Seems like the jump drone wasn’t necessary after all.” Namara watched as Souq grabbed the container with both hands. Kyora dropped her arm as the Larissian man set the container on the bench top, interfaced with it, and turned the outer wall transparent. All three of them moved their heads closer to look at the jagged, black crystal within and the eerie anti-light that it emitted.
After being held in stasis for ten hours, Taretes was released and escorted by eight Auroras to the briefing room. His wounds had been sealed by Doctor Iveti, but she had not repaired the damage which distorted his face and hands. His limbs were bound, and two fully-armored Auroras stayed behind with their guns trained on him. Taretes stood at the aft end of the room for five minutes after which the Kelsor’s triumvirate appeared and took their usual seats. Illeiri also appeared at the request of the three, but no one else was allowed to participate.
“Tell me,” Atara demanded, her elbows resting on the table and chin supported by her clenched hands. Her Miri was translated to Avenathi. “What were your plans for the ecksivar sample?” Taretes blinked but said nothing. “Surely it was for your Alliance overlords.” He blinked again and kept silent.
Sesh asked “How did you sneak into Tribesson without being detected?”
Xannissa then asked, “What would motivate the leader of the Elsheem State to participate in this operation?” The triumvirate spent the next twenty minutes in vain, asking questions and receiving no answers. Finally, Atara stood up, walked to the narrow end of the table nearest Taretes, and sat down on its edge and placed her hands in her lap.
“You know,” Atara told him, looking straight into his eyes from less than half-a-meter away, “if it were up to me, you would be a drifting corpse; a piece of space debris. Let me be clear: this interrogation is just a formality. This will show my commanders that I took the time to extract some information from you, because it’s against Federation law to hold captive a head of state of a country we’re not at war with, whether we acknowledge the legitimacy of said leader or not, or the sovereignty of their state. You belong to the Queen of Avenath.” She pointed over her shoulder to Illeiri who was sitting sideways in her chair with one leg over the other. “To be honest, I don’t give a damn whether you talk at all. We already know about your intimate connection to Supreme Executor Evic Redolain of the Alliance. Surely he planned to build an omnium neutralizer using ecksivar.” After a brief pause, she looked at Taretes once more, saying, “I am thankful that, because of you, I was able to captain a ship again.” Atara turned her body toward Illeiri and asked “How do you want to dispose of the refuse?”
“I’m going to release him,” said the elshi.
“What?!” Xannissa exclaimed.
“I don’t want his blood on my hands,” Illeiri told them. “If Taretes remains alive, after all this, his kingdom will crumble. Let him use one of the Voulgenathi’s warp shuttles so he can pay a visit to his master empty-handed.”
“So be it,” Atara said. She directed the Auroras to carry out the orders. The two soldiers quietly escorted the elsheem emperor from the room.
Xannissa and Sesh stood from their chairs, and Atara said, “Illeiri, you may use this room to contact your leaders.”
“Please stay,” Illeiri told them. “Despite the extraordinary aid given to us by the Federation, my subordinates are still distrustful of humans. They need to see the faces of the people who have befriended me and helped us defeat our common enemy.” Atara nodded and the triumvirate was seated again.
“Fiori,” Illeiri called as she moved to the end of the table farthest from the other three. Fiori’s orange figure appeared across the table from her. “Contact Magister Leyondin.”
“Establishing encrypted communication,” Fiori announced. With the Kelsor far beyond the sub-comms range of any friendly relay, Illeiri’s transmission once again relied upon the battlecruiser’s Q-comms uplink with the Fifth Fleet, Third Armada switching station all the way back on Lanan. From there, the transmission was bounced between sub-comms relays across the Greater Federation to the downspin border near Semarah. Once there, the signal was broadcast to one of the large deep space arrays from which it was propelled toward the more neutral reaches of the Orionan Rift that separated the Federation from the Alliance. Despite such great separation between the Kelsor and the Avenathi Commonwealth Liberation Fleet, the transmission suffered from only a five second delay.
“Connection established,” Fiori told them. A wall-spanning lumigraph materialized before the orange Federation Triangle that decorated the aft wall. Instead of piling in front of a single camera, Illeiri’s Avenathi leaders appeared on four separate screens from four separate locations.
“My queen,” they said in unison while bowing. Their Avenathi was translated by the triumvirate’s Accellus. Voice Leyondin and the House Syoness representative were in their usual Assembly robes, but the admiral and general were clad in their new blood red Magus armor.
“Tarates has been defeated.”
Taretes was shuttled back to the Voulgenathi. There, he took one of the warp shuttles and departed for the Alliance territories far downspin. The only thing on his mind was the hope that Thrassus would deliver him from this disaster and that he would spare his life and rule.
After the elsheem captives aboard the Kelsor’s hangar had been transferred to the stricken Voulgenathi, the hangar became a memorial to the Federation starmen who lost their lives in the battle. The recoverable bodies were placed in caskets and held in stasis. Those who were presentable had their caskets left open for fellow starmen to pay their respects within the solemn silence of the bay. For all of the fallen—recoverable, presentable, or neither—, their physical portraits were presented in metallic frames upon pedestals.
Cylenna approached the framed portrait of Tere “Ice” Yowel whose body was unable to be recovered. She thought she had the courage to approach her fellow pilot’s memorial, but the Elestan could only bear to see her face for a moment. She blamed herself for Ice’s death—horrified that her decision to inject chronol into her bloodstream mid-combat was what led to Ice’s tragic fate. Cylenna bowed her head, letting the tears stream down her face and drip to the floor.
Over the next three days, the Kelsor and Fencer remained parked next to the wreck of the Voulgenathi. Teams from both ships examined the enemy battleship thoroughly in an attempt to learn everything they could about the craft, from its construction, to weapons systems, defenses, crew quarters, adjunct system, engines and power systems, and everything in between. The contents of the ship’s central computer were confiscated; its secrets and all other information gathered by the Federation and Republic teams shared between them.
During this time, the officers and crew of the Fencer and the members of Quietus were invited to make use of the battlecruiser’s simulators. Despite being uncommon in the Republic, and unheard of on a Republic Navy starship, the Republic servicemembers were familiar with Federation-style partitioned-reality simulators. Some of them harbored contempt toward what they perceived as the excesses of the Federation Military—being able to take virtual shore leave while underway was a luxury unbefitting common soldiers. But being presented the chance to indulge themselves at Atara’s invitation made them forget their proud devotion to their doctrine of austerity. Those were among the quickest to leave the Fencer and partake in the Kelsor’s virtual worlds.
One such person was Jade. She left on a shuttle ahead of the rest of Quietus. Dressed in the service uniform consisting of a tight white shirt and slate gray pants, she stepped off of the Federation dropship with a bag suspended by a strap slung over her shoulder. The bag contained a change of clothing because, unlike the forward-thinking Federation, the Republic Military still had not made REMASS gear a part of the regular uniform.
Unbeknownst to most of the Kelsor’s crew, the battlecruiser’s designers had taken the implementation of the simulators one step further than they had realized. The officers placed the four large simulators into a networked mode. When Jade entered the simulator, she encountered four times the number of people that those aboard the Kelsor were used to seeing there. Shortly after arriving in the lobby of the coastal resort, the Yeran paused and took in the echoing chatter from hundreds of women (and some of the Fencer’s men), the polished, reflective floor, and the skylights above. She could already smell the salt in the air, and the faint scent of citrus, and as she looked around, she realized that she was one of the more modestly-dressed.
She left the building and looked out from the terrace beyond to find the beach. Once she found it, the excited Yeran flew down the steps and walked along the duralithic path that bordered the sand. The sea breeze whipped her bronze hair as she stopped to look at the sand before her. Jade removed her metallic boots, balanced on one foot as she removed one sock and then the other, placed her socks in her boots and picked them up, carrying them with her as her bare feet hit the hot sand. It had been many years since she had felt the grains of sun-scorched silica give way as she marched across dunes, but one thing that always surprised her when she saw it was the tan horizon yield to a vast field of deep blue outstretched before her. There were no water oceans on her homeworld; only oceans of open desert and seas of dunes.
Jade noted the sunbathers as she marched along—a concept not unfamiliar to her. The Yeran found an empty place on the beach away from most of the activity. She dropped her boots and bag upon the lumigraphic sand next to a single chair shielded from the sun by an umbrella. In accordance with the majority of beachgoers on this bright afternoon, Jade dropped her pants and panties in one go, lifted off her shirt, and removed her bra. With all of her clothing in a pile on the ground, the Yeran took her seat.
Jade looked slowly back and forth across the coastline, watching people—the majority of whom belonged to the Kelsor. She noticed a pair of women nearby create towels in their hands and drape them across the sand. “How do you do that?” Jade yelled to them.
“With your neural interface,” they shouted back.
“I’m not Federation.”
The two women looked confused for a moment, but one of them remembered something. “Just snap your fingers.”
Jade did as they said. When she snapped her fingers, a lumigraph appeared before her. “Thank you! It worked!” she shouted once more.
Time passed so quickly. Jade didn’t even recognize Svalti as he ducked underneath her umbrella. He and Ethis found the red-skinned Yeran reading a book in the nude over an hour after she settled down on the beach.
“You enjoying yourself?” Svalti asked as he peered over her abdomen to see what the book’s cover looked like. Jade tilted the book down to see that it was Svalti who had addressed her.
She dropped the book open on her chest cover-side-up and told him, “There is something to be admired about a good, old-fashioned paper book.”
“Is it because it’s quaint?” Svalti asked. He moved beyond the umbrella so that he could stand up straight and pivot his head like a turret as he looked around.
“It’s because it’s tangible,” Jade said, sighing. “Of course, the irony is that nothing in this world is tangible.” She stroked the sand next to her chair. “But it all feels remarkably real.”
Ethis, dressed in a short jacket, gray skin brightened by the sun and eyes squinting, asked, “Does this make you change your mind about simulators?”
“I’d say I’m more afraid of this technology now than I was before,” Jade expressed, “because when I’m here, I can’t help but think it’s real.”
“Now you just need to convince the Republic to put them on their ships,” Ethis said with a smile.
“I want one,” Svalti said, watching people at the water’s edge walk into the oncoming waves.
“Well, then,” Jade told him, “better enjoy it while you’re here.”
“Oh,” Ethis remembered, “the captain wanted me to invite you and the rest of Quietus to dinner tonight aboard the simulator.”
“Are we eating lumions?” Jade jokingly asked.
“If that’s what you want, sure,” Ethis said. “The rest of us will be eating real food.”
Jade snapped her fingers and made the book disappear. She eased up from the relaxing chair and stretched her arms and body. “I didn’t bring my formals,” she admitted.
“I brought them for you,” Svalti told her.
“Okay then.” She paused before asking, “Where are they?”
“In my bag.”
Jade walked over to and knelt down next to Svalti’s bag. She pulled out the neatly-folded formals on top, including her peaked cap, and said, “Thanks, Svalti.”
“No problem.” Svalti pulled his shirt up over his head and took it off to reveal his Brand of Revenancy across his back and masculine, muscular torso. He walked over to Jade and let the shirt fall next to his bag. Svalti then told the two women, “I want to check this place out. Either of you care to go?”
Evening fell upon the coast. The sun was setting over the ocean, and the seaside pavilion was once again used as a dining venue. The Kelsor’s senior officers including Souq and Illeiri, the Fencer’s own senior officers, and Quietus of Hiracet were seated around the table. Atara sat at the table’s head. On her right hand were Sesh and Xannissa. At the distinguished position at her left hand was seated Captain Raena. The other distinguished position at the long table, the very far end opposed to Atara, was occupied by Rikter Svalti. None of the Federation formal uniforms ever included a cap, but the Republic Navy’s slate uniform did. The Republic officers hung their peaked caps on their seat backs. The virtual sun illuminated the virtual sky with its virtual orange light. The once white northern clouds turned into spectral pillars as the sun dipped beneath the horizon: white at the top, then yellow, orange, red, and then shadow at the base.
Starman volunteers in enlisted formal uniform delivered fresh food upon platters from the fabricators in the mess. Torches and campfires illuminated the beach as Federation and Republic starmen continued to partake of the simulators while dusk fell upon them. As the officers ate their meal, they discussed topics ranging from recounts of the battle to interstellar politics to personal matters.
“I don’t recall the Federation ever making a point of dining before the corpses of their enemies,” Raena said as she sliced her cut of meat with her knife.
Atara looked at Raena as Sesh responded, “I was sure it was a Republic tradition.”
“I’m surprised you know that.”
“I also know it became a common practice in the latter half of the Miridan Empire to celebrate victory on the battlefield.”
After all had finished eating, the parties continued their conversations for almost two hours. When their talking was winding down, Captain Raena rose from the table, bowed, and said, “On behalf of all those stationed aboard the Fencer, thank you for your generous hospitality.” Atara also rose from her chair, smiled, and shook hands with her Republic counterpart. “Once I return to my ship, we will prepare to start our jump cycle and be underway in twelve hours. Can you alert my crew across the Kelsor?”
“Certainly,” Atara told her.
Jade looked out at the fires and camaraderie happening across the shoreline and, turning toward Captain Raena, said in a serious tone, “Captain, I request to stay aboard the Kelsor until tomorrow morning.” Captain Raena turned to look at Svalti who was looking at Jade. Svalti finally noticed her gaze.
“Quietus could use the extra R and R,” Svalti admitted.
“If you’re not aboard when we’re ready to jump,” Raena explained, “you’ll be stuck aboard the Kelsor until Vandos, not to mention….”
“I understand loud and clear,” Svalti said. When the three groups parted ways, most of the dinner’s attendants, save for all of the Fencer’s senior officers, made their way to down to the beach for a night under the simulator’s virtual stars.