I followed Vea’ayr and Brindel through the long hallway until reaching a corridor which angled up through the middle of the ship, directly over the engine room and the garden below it. At the top of the hallway was a wide, open platform in the shape of an equilateral triangle suspended by powerful cables. A long hallways, assumingly identical to the one we ascended, went down in the other two directions from the platform. As we stepped onto the platform there was a flash of red light followed by a loud beep. “Identity scan. To ensure that no one but me or those approved by me try to take control of the ship.” The floor below us jolted upwards with such force my knees buckled. Brindel caught me before my knees hit the ground and helped me back to my feet. “She forgot to mention that you should brace yourself.” I smiled at him and looked upward with anticipation at the light shining through the inevitable destination of our platform.
As we approached the opening, the platform slowed down and came to a stop about two hands from being level with the ground above. It then did a second identity scan, moved the last little bit, then the glass walls encaging it quickly disappeared into the floor. I was mesmerized by the room surrounding me.
The cockpit was a dome sitting directly on top of the middle of the sip. From the cockpit you could look out over the eternity of space around you and see every detail of the top of the ship. The ship was truly magnificent. I didn’t realize this before, but there were two sails, not one, protruding upward and on the outside of each were additional thrusters. I thought they were for only minor adjustments, but as I watched Vea’ayr take control, I saw that by turning the wheel of the ship, these sails pulled in, decreasing and increasing the severity of their angle. They could even push together and both turn in either direction, allowing an endless potential for precise maneuverability. I blinked hard and an overlay of the schematics for this feature flashed in my mind.
Paying such close attention to the ship, I had completely forgotten to look out the windows to see our destination. I immediately regretted the decision. I ran up to the pivoting seat at which Vea’ayr was planted. “Old space… Vea’ayr, we aren’t…” She reached over and grabbed a hold of my hand excitedly, much harder than she had intended. “Everything is fine, I promise.” I pulled my hand away. “TWO black holes Vea’ayr! We are flying directly at TWO black holes!” She reached over and grabbed my arm, pulling me toward her with so much force I almost fell into her lap. “Look, right there!” She pointed and, much to my surprise I saw a speck of light directly between the two black holes. “How… how is that possible?” A proud and determined smile spread across her face. “Remember when I said we were heading toward the gate station I created? I had to create it somewhere the Council couldn’t find. Brindel here jokingly said ‘there’s always Old Space’ when I conferred with him about the location. At first I dismissed the remark due to the obvious sarcasm, but then I started thinking about it and decided to take a closer look at Old Space. Upon doing so, I found two black holes whose event horizons were close enough to distort any attempted tracking radar, but far away enough to where you could put a transport station right in between them. Welcome to The Stem Basin.”
As we approached I saw the familiar spherical pods which a ship must dock to in order to traverse a transport gate. After typing a flurry of commands into one of the numerous multi-boards suspended above her work station, Vea’ayr turned the ship to go toward the top-most pod. The doors to the pod opened and the ship docked gently. “Sha’ayr, as you said you learned about these in school, right?” I nodded my head and she continued, “Do you know how to properly brace yourself?” I closed my eyes and could see the process in my head that I had seen in instructional videos as a child. “We need to confine ourselves in Cryogenic Emergency Stasis Pods, right?” She nodded her head and pointed to the edge of the cockpit. As she did, the outer rim seemed to separate and move down slightly, then slide into the rest of the floor. Pods all around the cockpit came up from somewhere below. There must have been at least twenty small and twenty large pods. They were staggered in an alternating pattern. “These are our primary CESPs, the secondary CESPs are in the lower decks.” I couldn’t help but wonder how many there were total.
I got into one of the pods and leaned my back against the pad, keeping me knees, elbows, fingers, and toes all bent. As I did I felt a strange foam surround my body. I knew I should’ve expected it, but the initial shock of your body being completely encased in a hard foam is enough to make anyone feel uneasy. In the videos, the foam looked much softer and almost comfortable, but in reality it was tough like rubber and applied much more pressure than I could have known. I breathed out, feeling the last compaction of the foam preventing my ribs from expanding again, then felt an abrupt chill run through me.
What seemed like it could have only been a few minutes later, My eyes opened and I was still in the pod, but the foam encasing me had already been dissolved by the CESP recovery solvent. A purple light indicating that I needed to breathe the liquid into my lungs lit up and I did so quickly. I immediately began coughing it back up, but could feel the instant relief from the cold as I did. I had read that this is necessary to shock your body into recovery from a cryogenic state.
As I stumbled out of the pod, my legs felt strangely weak. Apparently, the captain’s pod must thaw well before the others, which would make sense, because Vea’ayr was already waiting for me. “Even through subspace it takes about three rotations to get through Old Space. Your legs may take a little while to adjust to being alive again. Remember, cryogenic preservation is technically a form of death. How do you feel?” I took a few more clumsy steps until my bearings began to return and approached her. “I’m fine, just dizzy and a little disconnected. Is that normal?” She smiled and nodded.
“Sha’ayr…” Her voice had a vacancy to it which made me wonder if she, too, was still feeling detached or if her thoughts were overwhelming her. “This is the beginning of a whole new phase in the revolution. Some may argue that this is the true launch and everything up until now was just prep work. You were the last piece we needed and there is going to be an unfair amount of pressure on you to succeed. I want you to know this outright. The Wilvaroks here will expect more from you than you may be able to comprehend. Remember that I am here to support you.”
“Why, Vea’ayr? Why did you need me of all people?” She grabbed hold of my hands and I could feel an energy radiating from her. “Because with you, I am stronger, better, wiser. Our connection is much more than just being sisters. We are part of one another. If we weren’t, we would have never survived our melding in the garden. Now, come look and see your new home.”
As I walked with her to the front of the cockpit, I heard Brindel’s familiar gallop behind us. “Rhandella, the great ice planet.” Ahead of us was a brilliant white and orange planet, barely visible through the large asteroid belts surrounding it and the fast-moving clouds blowing past in its atmosphere. “It’s beautiful! What causes the orange? I am assuming it is a frozen planet, right?” Vea’ayr decided to answer before Brindel had a chance. “You know about gas giants, right? This is a gas giant, but after a recent asteroid storm, it appears as though the core is absorbing more and more minerals from its inner belts. We have no reason to believe that for the next age the outer rings should be affected though, which is why we chose Rhandella… No one would think to look inside Old Space for our command center, and even if they did there are thousands of asteroids in the outer belts. Without knowing which one to look for, they could never pinpoint us.”
I had been so enthralled by the description of the planet I had failed to realize how close we had gotten. As Vea’ayr pointed out the cockpit, I saw a large asteroid with no visible life. As we got closer, one of the craters on the asteroid opened and a docking arm extended out, grabbing Veasha abruptly. “Get ready to meet everyone. I have appropriate clothing in your closet. It should take about twenty minutes for docking and stabilization to finish commencing. Be aware that the gravity here is lower than what you are used to. It shouldn’t be a problem, but it does disrupt your equilibrium a bit.”
I made my way back to my room and opened my closet to find a sealed bag labeled “docking attire”. I smiled, amused with the attention to detail which Vea’ayr had put into everything, and opened the bag. I was surprised to find a suit of armor made from layered scales of an unknown origin and lined with a treated Wilvarok silk. The armor was much lighter than it appeared and was perfectly fitted to my form with extra padding around my ribs. There was even a helmet included that covered my face with flaps to cover my neck with spaces for my horns to fit comfortably through. As I slipped the helmet on, I noticed that my horns had grown back in a bit while I was in Stasis.
After getting into the armor, I reached into the bottom of the bag and pulled out a belt which had holsters built into it. In these holsters were two blades almost identical to the ones which Vea’ayr had as well as a long, tough cord made of a slightly elastic substance coated in a durable resin. There was a loop on each end which looked like to would fit over a thick stave of some sort. The belt had strange aesthetic embellishments all around it which looked like someone had taken a thick branch and cut it into small pieces, then attached them with strong magnets to the belt.
On the right side of the chest piece, there was a black rose. The stem had nine thorns, each with a drop of blood clinging to the tip. As I inspected my new outfit I heard Vea’ayr’s voice over the ship’s intercom system. “Sha’ayr, we’re all docked up. Get to the bridge and I will introduce you to the crew.” I exited the room and was greeted immediately by Brindel.
“It will probably be less overwhelming if I am with you.” I grabbed his lower right arm and he swung me onto his back. “Don’t worry about me Brindel. I am actually okay. I think I am still in shock with all that is going on, but I know I have to move forward and I will do whatever it takes to avenge my father.”
“That’s good,” he replied with an almost cold objectivity, “but it isn’t you I am worried about being overwhelmed.” With a swift gallop, we arrived at the cockpit. “Good idea Brindel. We want this to go as smoothly as possible. Remember, if there is any resistance, use any necessary means to establish order.” My eyes shriveled from their excited state to a concerned scowl. What was she so worried about?
Nothing could have prepared me for what waited on the other side of the door. When you hear the word revolution, you usually imagine a small group of activists, and even smaller still if this revolt is still in developmental stages. Standing before me was a vast hallway, lined on each side with Wilvaroks and even a few dozen Tilverhan. It was magnificent.
Each Wilvarok, save for two at the door, wore a suit of armor identical to mine in every way except for the rose patch. Each rose I saw seemed to have a shorter stem with only a few thorns. Other than an aesthetic choice, I didn’t think much of it. As Vea’ayr, Brindel, and I stepped off the ship and into the hallway, almost all Wilvaroks and every Tilverhan knelt and bowed their heads. “Welcome back Commander, I see your mission was a success.” Strangely enough, I clearly heard a male voice, but before me stood a fully cloaked Wilvarok. Beside her stood another, who then also spoke in a male’s voice, “Let us get you to the War Room. Will the Lieutenant Commander and General be joining us?”
My heart stopped, and the Wilvarok must have seen the look on my face, for she quickly realized she had said too much. “They will,” Vea’ayr said either ignoring or forgiving the slip, “How is morale Fhandrick?” He let out a deep, bellowing yet nervous laugh. “Well, Jushara is less than pleased with the news, and Deran… well, he can speak for himself.” With that the other cloaked figure stepped forward. “I think you are a j’karn fool Commander to let this bashakai be your Lieutenant Commander over Jushara, and If we somehow survive this I wi__” His words were cut short by Brindel jumping forward and knocking him to his back. The sudden thrust forward caused me to lose my seating on Brindel’s back and fall to the ground beside Deran.
As Brindel leaned down to help me up, I felt the knife on my right side being pulled from its sheath and then being pushed against my neck. In a shriek which barely qualified as words, Vea’ayr shouted, “ENOUGH!” With this, Deran dropped the knife to the ground and put his hands up, backing away. “I was merely proving a point. I have only six thorns, Jushara has eight. She is in every way my superior, yet even I could get a drop on Sha’ayr. You really think your bashakai sister will be able to lead this revolution?” I could hear Brindel’s talons scraping the metal floor as his muscles tensed in anger, but Vea’ayr kept her hands up and as long as she did, not a single Wilvarok made a move.
“Fair enough Deran… If you believe she isn’t capable, fight her.” Deran looked at her, almost as shocked as I was. “Vea’ayr, are you mad? I am completely and utterly untrained!” She looked me deep in the eyes and smiled. “I have every bit of faith in you. Remember, part of me lives in you now, and if your mental aptitude is even half of what I feel it is, he won’t even get close to you.” She pointed to Deran then to the other end of the hallway. A Tilverhan almost as large as Brindel swept Deran up and placed him at the other end of the hallway in front of the two large doors which I could only assume led to the rest of the compound. “Are you ready Deran?” He was slow to respond, and when he did his voice shook. “I… I am. If I win, I propose Jushara be made Lieutenant Commander and that Sha’ayr begins with no thorns and must earn her way up with the rest of us.” Vea’ayr nodded and motioned her hands up. As she did, the kneeling Wilvaroks and Tilverhans stood. “And how many amongst you agree with Deran that Jushara is the right choice? Open floor rights apply.” About half of the Wilvaroks raised their hands. “Very well, that is at least a fifth, the proposal stands. The battle will begin when I drop my hand.”
I didn’t know what to do or think. My mind raced and I didn’t even know how to stand. I shuffled my feet nervously and picked the knife which Deran dropped up and unsheathed the other one. Vea’ayr looked at me and nodded her head, then lipped to me “Use your mind before your body.” With this, I began trying to calm myself and tried to decide how to go about this battle. Before I could really even begin to form a strategy, Vea’ayr’s hands dropped and Deran threw his cloak to the ground.
It was strange to see the muscle structure of a male Wilvarok. Until this day, I did not even know male Wilvaroks could exist. His horns were much larger than a female’s and instead of pointing forward, they curled around themselves and pointed up. He was taller and stronger, but the added weight was sure to make him slower. I expected him to go into a metamorphosis and begin fraying my mind, but instead he fell to one knee and held his hands out directly in front of him, palms up.
As he did, he slammed his wrists together and I saw the segments on his belt shoot out. The notches on them interlocked into one another to form a large dowel. He then reached into his belt and pulled out a strong looking wire. He fashioned one end of the string to each end of the dowel, bending it into an arch. There was a barb on each end which folded over the string to ensure it didn’t slide down the dowel and kept it taught. He grabbed a rib from the armor he wore and ripped it from his armor, placing it on the string, then drawing the string back. As he released the string, the rib came flying at my throat at a velocity inconceivable to the eye.
I quickly shook my head and the severity of the situation caught up with me. Without thinking and without understanding how, I quickly twisted my neck and dropped my hips, causing the rib from his armor to barely graze one of my horn nubs. The rib deflected toward Vea’ayr and she caught it before it hit her and dropped it to the ground. The entire crowd and Deran gasped, then fell eerily silent. I realized his distraction was a perfect opportunity. I went into metamorphosis and tried to make a connection. I did not know if it would even work after the experiment with Vea’ayr, but she seemed certain it would. She was more than right.
As our brains connected I could see his emotional spectrum—flashing lights and pulsing sounds representing his courage, his depression, his love, and his angst. The stronger the emotion, the brighter it would glow, each in its own corresponding color. I quickly estimated which emotion had the strongest grip on him and forced all of my energy into it: Courage.
As I did, I fell to one knee and my head began aching. I looked at the ground in front of me and tried to force myself up unsuccessfully. Apparently this is what a Wilvarok defense felt like. After a few seconds, I forced my head up to see that Deran had quickly closed the distance gap between us. He must have been only six strides at most from me. I quickly threw my thoughts toward him again and saw the map of his emotions. This time, I picked a different spectrum and put all my thoughts into those of love. I assumed the last thing he would expect would be for me to recognize how much love he was feeling.
As the emotional map faded and reality came back into focus, I saw that he was less than a full stride away and his blades were only hands away from my throat. I leaned back and in that exact moment I saw his eyes go from a pale yellow to an almost clear blue. He fell to his stomach and began convulsing, blood pouring from his nose. I recognized this reaction from Ygorn’s death and quickly came out of my metamorphosis. He stopped convulsing and the crowd all stood in silence, every eye fixed on Doran’s body. Ten full seconds of stillness lasted an eterna. Then, the silence was broken by a sudden, spluttering breath. Doran was alive.
Vea’ayr approached us and stood beside me, holding my right hand and extending her right to Doran. I extended my left and we both helped him to his feet. To both my and Doran’s amazement, she wrapped her arm around him and hugged him close to us. He took two steps back and hung his head in shame. Vea’ayr then raised my hand in the air and looked through the crowd quickly, yet somehow still making eye contact with every single person who was present. “Now,” she boomed with absolute authority, “who believes anyone but Sha’ayr deserves to be my Lieutenant Commander?” Every hand in the audience remained still and every knee bent.
Doran’s head raised slowly, blood still dripping from his nose and right eye. “Can you forgive my doubt?” His words were directed to Vea’ayr, but I responded instead.
“You doubted me not because you hated me or mistrusted me, but because you believe in our cause. You do not require forgiveness, but rather to be commended for your bravery.” He forced a smile across his face, which quickly faded into a horrified quiver as I grabbed him by the horn and pulled him close enough that our eyes almost touched. “But call me a bashakai again and I will finish fraying that delicate Gratta Berry you use as a brain. Am I understood?” I pushed him backwards and he almost fell to the ground. “Of course, Zetha!” I looked at Vea’ayr, confused, and she whispered to me, “Zetha is a title of respect given to leaders in Wilvarokan culture. It is used as an informal salute to leaders.” I nodded and looked him in the eyes. “Doran.” he shivered as I addressed him one last time. “Can you lead me to the War Room? I would like to meet the rest of the officers.” He nodded and began walking toward the two large doors on the opposite end of the hall. “Right this way.”
Thorns by Kevin Copenhaver is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.