Kyora stood in the corner with her arms crossed staring into nothing, still wearing her phantom armor. One leg was out farther than the other. Virn sat on the edge of their bed; her upper torso concealed by the short jacket Kyora fabricated for her. The Elestan phantom closed her eyes. The memories were fading like a dream, and she tried to hold onto them as best as she could.
“Kyora, please. The memories will fade in time if you let them. Do not pursue this.”
“Because some questions are better left unanswered.”
“I can’t let this go, Virn! Not after what I saw!”
The Exan slowly stood from the bed. After turning to face Kyora with a countenance of anger, she unfastened the short jacket and threw it away. As she did so, those bright, geometric wings reappeared behind her back, and the jacket’s descent slowed until it was frozen in the air. At that same moment, the sounds throughout the ship ceased. Virn’s body changed again to that metallic gold, and her eyes became brilliant flares.
Kyora turned to face her friend and asked, “What… are you?”
“I am a servant,” Virn thought. “I am the first, second only to Her Radiance.”
“Who is her radiance?”
“Alassura: shepherd of the Sorvankelai, conduit of the Keliafalai.”
“I don’t understand.” Kyora was visibly afraid as she stood face-to-face with this being who resembled her partner in form only.
“I am Veris, archanima. Taste the power that courseth through me and despair.” Veris wrapped herself in pure light and the room blinded Kyora. She tried to shield her eyes but this light could not be stopped by mere eyelids. Every shadow disappeared before the light she gave.
“How!” Kyora yelled as she was brought to the floor.
“There are forces at work in this universe beyond your wildest imagination. It is not a child’s place to know the will of her master.” Veris pulled her friend up from the floor, held Kyora’s face to her own, and said, “Our time has not yet come. Remember this no longer, and be at peace.”
Virn rolled over in their shared bed. Kyora was fast asleep, legs beneath the blankets. The Exan Aurora brought herself close to the Elestan’s body and stroked her light hair. Kyora would have no recollection of the power that Virn could wield, and that was all the better. A new set of Accellus boots sat next to Kyora’s, and Virn wore new bracers around her wrists. Just then, Virn could feel a disturbance, like a pulse, fire off from the ecksivar sample deep within the ship. She left Kyora alone, and she crept out from beneath the covers as not to disturb her partner. After she slid her feet into her boots, she left their quarters and sheathed herself in standard uniform outside the room.
The corridors were darkened to simulate the night hours. She took the nearest lifts and traveled down to omnimology. Virn peered into the OPELs and looked across the dark lab. No one was around this early in the morning. Using her authority as lieutenant colonel of the Kelsor’s Auroras, the Exan entered. She kept the lights off, relying on the lumionics of the outside corridor shining into the lab to see. In the middle of the room, near where the hollowed sphere had been from Namara’s use of the jump drone, the canister sat upon the bench. Virn bent down toward it, made the outer wall transparent, and looked inside.
The crystal within was completely enveloped in shadow. Virn summoned a lumionic light that floated next to her, but the light could not penetrate the field of darkness around the ecksivar sample. That field of darkness radiated out farther from the crystal than it ever had before, canceling out the light that Virn provided. If she just channeled more of her anima energy, she could pull back the shadowy curtain, but seeing it as it was now was enough for her. She realized that things were already being set into motion that could not be stopped. Virn made the walls of the container opaque once again and left the lab, heading back up to her quarters.
Many days later, Naret slowed the synerdrive as the Kelsor approached Mirida’s system. As the star brightened and the system spread out before them, the triumvirate aboard the bridge noticed the significant presence of Federation Navy vessels now stationed there. Most of them were clustered around Mirida itself. Xannissa contacted Kyora over lumigraph and gave the phantom the sensor data, and she was speechless. She and Virn traveled to the bridge as quickly as they could, and they arrived before the Kelsor made it to the gate hub.
“Unbelievable,” Kyora noted as she saw all of the Navy ships scattered around.
Atara said, “It looks like Domina is being put in check.”
“It won’t be that easy, unless you find and kill Deminesse.”
“I guess that’s where you’re going after we dock,” Sesh said.
“Absolutely,” Kyora replied.
Later that evening, the Kelsor floated above that lush moon Lanan—a white starship above her deep blue oceans and verdant green forests. In the distance hung that gentle giant Akos V with its brilliant rings shining in the light of the Akos star. Naret propelled the ship toward Tetra 5, the largest of the orbital stations ringing the moon. Carefully, and with the help of the adjunct, the lieutenant parked the ship next to one of the station’s internal docking ports that was as wide as the battlecruiser’s own hangar bay airscreens.
“Docking confirmed,” came the dockmaster. Upon hearing this, the bridge officers, including Atara, Sesh, and Xannissa, applauded. Rather than join them in their applause, Naret breathed a sigh of relief. She turned her chair around and watched the triumvirate, waiting for any additional orders as a feeling of wellbeing overcame her—her body’s reward from returning from the mission unscathed.
Namara told the group of Auroras, “That ecksivar sample doesn’t leave my sight. Do you understand?”
“Yes ma’am,” said the leader of the group.
Meanwhile, Souq and Lieren walked up to Namara, and Souq said, “Sayn?”
“Quen? What is it?”
“Lieren’s going back with her cadet group,” Souq explained. “I thought we could just say a quick goodbye for her.”
“Come here,” Namara beckoned kindly to the young Larissian, and the two of them hugged each other. “I’m going to miss you.”
“I’ll miss you, too,” Lieren told her.
“Don’t forget to give your father a hug, too,” Souq said, and he and his daughter clutched each other.
“I love you,” she told him.
“I love you, too, sweetheart.” They let go of each other and Lieren walked to the door of the lab, but before she left, she turned around and waved to them. After Souq, Namara, and a couple of the other scientists waved back, she departed the Kelsor’s lab for the last time.
The triumvirate made its way down to the hangar to oversee the safe and orderly disembarkation of the starmen and Auroras from the starship. Those three were always among the last to leave, and they stood there in the midst of the flow of personnel. Xannissa was grabbed from behind by a passing crewmember, and she felt a kiss land on her cheek.
“How is my little sister doing?” Cylenna said, refusing to let go.
“Why are you always so clingy?” Xannissa asked, trying to remove Cylenna’s arms.
“I’m just expressing my affection. You staying here until everyone else is gone?”
“That’s part of the job.”
Releasing her sister from her embrace, Cylenna said, “Would you like to go out for dinner later?”
“If you don’t mind waiting until late tonight, and if you don’t mind having Atara and Sesh along, and Aedan.”
“Aedan lives on Lanan now.”
“Splendid! I’ll see you later!” Cylenna gave her sister a parting kiss before joining the droves leaving the ship.
“I guess we have a dinner date,” Sesh stated.
“We do now,” Xannissa said. “Where would you like to go?”
“I guess I’m fine with anything,” Sesh told her.
“I am, too,” Atara said.
As the triumvirate stood there, they saw Kyora and Virn approach. The two Aurora leaders were seeing their own personnel off. Xannissa waved to the two of them, and Virn brought Kyora with her, forming a group of five.
“Captain,” Kyora said, looking Atara in the eyes, “it was an honor to serve with you.”
“Likewise,” Atara said. She and the phantom shook hands, and then the two Auroras traded handshakes with the triumvirate. “I guess there’s no way I could change your mind?”
“About going after Deminesse?” Kyora replied. “No. I have to end it.”
“I see,” Atara said. “I wish you all the best.”
“Thank you, Atara.” She paused before saying, “I’ve thought a lot about what you’ve said, and I realize you were right. I need to protect Civilized Space from Deminesse, but the only way I can do that is to kill her.”
Xannissa asked, “Will we be able to keep in touch?”
“I’ll let you know when my job is done,” Kyora assured them.
As they talked, a Yeran with crimson skin and black hair approached them flanked by two armored Auroras. Drawing near, she said, “Captain Korrell?”
“Madam,” Atara replied, noticing the rank insignias on her standard uniform.
“It is a pleasure to meet you all,” said the Yeran. “I am Fifth Fleet Admiral Tokeri Keva.” The admiral reached out with her hand, and each of the five women shook it. Atara looked confused, so Keva explained, “I was promoted after the scandal with Musani. On behalf of the Admiralty and the Federation, I sincerely apologize for the grief that Musani and Aesho put you through.”
Atara said, “With all due respect, I want actions, not words, admiral.”
“I understand that, captain. You have my word that I will not let this rest.”
It was now close to midnight, but the sun was only setting, as it would be for the next day or two. Only half of Akos V was immediately visible, shedding light into the oranges of the sky. Aedan and Cylenna greeted the party of three as they stepped out of the gravidyne they hired to deliver them to the tower housing the restaurant. The lumionics of the adjacent towers of downtown Farence shined through the transit hub’s airscreens in Akos’ retreating light. Cylenna, never wanting to miss an opportunity to show off, had been standing with Aedan in her enlisted formals sans her bodysuit—wearing only the white shawl draped over her white vest, and the black tie with its inverted tip swaying above the sparkling stone in her navel. Ignoring her older sister for the moment, Xannissa wrapped her arms around her fiancé. They embraced each other’s actual bodies for the first time in months.
“I’m home!” she told him, gripping his back.
“Welcome home,” he whispered, his arms around her waist.
After greeting one another, the group followed the half-naked Cylenna through one of the open archways toward the restaurant.
“After hearing the charges against you,” said the federal judge in the private courtroom, “how do you plead?”
Musani said, “Not guilty.”
Later that day, Musani met with Aesho one last time. Given thirty minutes to see the blonde Terran from behind a lumionic screen, she said, “Why’d you do it?”
“FedSec found me out,” Aesho told the former fleet admiral. “They found me out after Cassandra. You made me kill my friend.”
“I thought you were loyal to me,” Musani told her. “We’re both going static for this for a very, very long time. We’re going to get out to a changed world.”
“And where’s Cassandra going to be? What about all those people killed before and during Crimson Aegis? We’re getting off easy, you and I. FedSec gave me an ultimatum. Justice caught up to us. It always would. I’ve been promised about fifty years of servitude.”
“So about two-hundred in static?”
“No, fifty. About twelve-and-a-half if I give myself over to science.”
Musani clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. She looked away from Aesho and said, “I was building a better Federation.”
“Keep telling yourself that,” Aesho said. “You might actually have an interesting defense.” After Aesho said this, she stood up from her chair and departed the distraught former fleet admiral.