Space liners are not meant to fragment into pieces. It’s considered bad form for any sort of space capable vessel to allow its passengers to experience the sensations that come from direct contact to the vacuum of space. That said, it is an unfortunate reality of galactic society that sometimes space ships do not live up to their intended purpose. This was why casters who spent a sufficient amount of time in space frequently earned their environmental certifications.
As an agent of the crown of Abyz, Bo carried certifications for several different hazardous environment. Her training had been undertaken at the personal behest of the Queen who desired that all of her personal guard be able to survive in anywhere she had cause to deploy them. At the time Bo hadn’t seen the point of including “space” as one of those places though. The Royal Guard was rarely called off planet and the coursework for space environmental certification was brutal and time consuming. Quietly, she’d spent weeks coming up with complaint after complaint as to why she should be allowed to skip the pointless certification classes.
Oddly, not one of those complaints surfaced in Bo’s mind as she reflexively cast an instantaneous air shield at the sound of the space liner’s superstructure shearing into pieces. The destruction of the space liner shocked adrenaline into her system, but thanks to the brutal training she’d so wanted to avoid, the magics didn’t waver in the slightest.
That wasn’t particularly surprising of course. She only had to contend with collateral damage after all. There’d been much worse to deal with during training. Usually spaceships failed because someone made them fail after all and if those someones were really vicious they’d make sure any simple personal shields weren’t enough to save the space stranded passengers.
Having secured her own safety, Bo turned to aid the people who were with her, mindful of the dangers a wrecked spaceship was likely to present. Apart from the free floating (and potentially high velocity) debris, there was the presence of the ship’s anima fields to worry about. Freed from their proper conduits, those could be more dangerous to the passengers that the attack that ruined the ship.
With wreckage all around her, it should have been difficult to find the Imperials, Yael and Zyla. The Guardian and her partner though were both glowing like mini-novas. Not twenty feet away, they were bubbled together in a single shield of their own casting, and working furiously.
Zyla was drawing in motes of magic like a galaxy of stars collapsing to a single point in her right hand. The collected power, which had once been the ship’s main anima shields, flared from her and flowed to Yael through their clasped hands.
From the Guardian’s free hand the magics poured forth in a kaleidoscope pattern. There were a thousand sapients on the space liner and in less than two seconds there were a thousand shields to protect them from the ravages of the airless, cold void.
Bo watched as the two casters worked, Zyla bringing in as much of the ship’s scattered magic as she could and Yael connecting the individual shields to allow people to communicate again.
“Can you get the escape pods?” Yael asked over a telepathic link.
“Did they survive?” Bo asked.
“Fortunately, yes,” Zyla said.
Escape pods are built for extra resiliency, but Bo was dubious they would be serviceable after the ship took enough damage to reduce it shattered parts.
Of course, by that argument, people were (generally) less resilient than either escape pods or space liners, so the fact that most, or perhaps all, of the ship’s passengers and crew were still alive seemed to be an even more amazing stroke of luck.
“Thank you,” Bo said to the two fate casters, whom she was fairly certain were responsible for the lucky breaks that allow for her continued good health.
The rescue of the ship’s passengers wasn’t an easy matter. A suitable ship had to be dispatched, and a emergency warp path calculated. Some of the passengers had been injured in the space liner’s destruction and many more were panicked and traumatized by the events that occurred. In the end though, the ship arrived, the injuries were treated and the passengers were calmed.
Most of the passengers.
The Chinuri delegation was united in their agreement that the Empire had failed to protect them. They stormed onto the bridge of the rescue ship while Yael, Zyla and Bo were speaking with its captain.
“We request an immediate return to Nuriana,” the Chinuri lead delegate said.
“We’re closer to the conference site than your homeworld,” Yael said.
“We cannot negotiate with an Empire that does not take our safety seriously,” the delegate said.
“We take the safety of all our citizens and allies seriously,” Yael said.
“How can you claim them when you are not willing to strike against the Red Running Stream still?” the lead delegate said.
“What makes you think we’re not going to strike against them?” Zyla asked.
“You did!” the delegate said. “When we boarded this ship, you said you could not act, that the time wasn’t right.”
“My apologies,” Yael said. “I spoke in a confusing manner there I see. Agent Riverstone, will you brief the Chinuri on the information we have just been discussing?”
Bo looked at the Guardian and then at the Chinuri delegation. Secrecy was a tool the Royal Agent was used to relying on as a standard part of her arsenal. Any information she gave the Chinuri was a potential hole in their plan, and unless she missed her guess, the Red Running Stream would be alerted to those holes minutes after the briefing was concluded.
“Are you sure of this?” she asked Yael via a private telepathic link.
“Completely,” Yael said.
Yael was one of the three principal casters who had rewoven the planet-wide fate spell on Abyz. Zyla was the second. With those credentials, Bo felt willing, if not exactly comfortable, playing along with their plans.
“The Red Running River has been found to be in league with a number of other cults operating within the Empire. As such, Guardian Clearborn has received permission to treat them as an immediate danger to Imperial Citizens,” Bo said.
“We have more than permission though,” Zyla said. Her look of restrained glee was apparent even to the Chinuri.
“Yes,” Bo said. “My investigations have turned up a wide range of connections between the River and a group I was researching. We have a deep list of their personnel, associates and financial holdings.”
The Chinuri delegates were hushed, waiting with discerning expressions for where the tale was leading them.
“So you’ve been supplying our enemies for how long?” the lead delegate asked.
“According to my findings, the River has been the source of many high end spell components for the cult network,” Bo said. “So it would be more accurate to say that the River has been supplying the Empire’s enemies with the tool to cause things like the mayhem we saw today.”
Yael, Zyla and Bo knew that the encounter with the cosmic beast had been only barely related to the Red Running River, but it was still a useful connection to draw on.
“That’s what cleared us to act against them,” Yael said.
“And what action will you take?” the lead delegate asked. “Sanctions and isolation won’t work on them.”
“We have other tools at our disposal,” Yael said. “In an hour, the fast response ship Horizon Breaker will be docking with us.”
“You’re going to launch an assault on them?” the lead delegate asked. “But what of the ones on Nuriana? You cannot assault our homeworld!”
“I think you mean you’d prefer we not assault your homeworld,” Zyla said.
“Your sovereignty will be respected,” Yael said. “The Empire will send no forces to Nuriana. Fortunately for us, the main contingent of the River’s forces are located on the moon of Bleakwater, which is outside of Nuriana controlled space.”
“There are Chinuri scavengers on Bleakwater,” the lead delegate said. “Leftovers from the abandoned colony there.”
“Yes, and a hidden military base, and, on the other side of the planet, the headquarters for the River,” Yael said. “By this time tomorrow, that headquarters will not exist, and everyone found there will be in custody, awaiting trial.”
“I must get a message back to my government,” the lead delegate said. “They might interpret this as the prelude to an attack on Nuriana.”
“You will be given full access to our communication spells both here and on the Horizon Breaker,” Yael said.
“We can arrange for a privacy shielded conference if you wish to discuss this matter amongst yourselves too,” Zyal said.
“Yes, thank you,” the lead delegate said. “This must be properly reviewed.”
The other Chinuri were fanning their hands in agreement with their leader and none of them lingered on the bridge once given the opportunity to escape.
“You know there are spies from the River among them don’t you?” Bo asked after the last of the Chinuri left the bridge.
“At least two if things are going according to plan,” Yael said.
“Two? Well that’s good,” Bo said. “And would you care to share the details of this plan?”
“We can’t,” Zyla said. “We’re working several steps removed from the cores of the problem. The threads we’re weaving are very delicate as it stands and the more people who can see them the greater the load they’ll have to bear.”
Despite growing up on a planet that was nearly strangled by Aether spells, Bo still wasn’t fond of fate magic. It was fantastically useful, but as in the current situation, she couldn’t help but feel like it was perilously close to leaving everything to chance and then claiming victory for whatever parts worked out close to how you wanted them to be.
She held on to that unease like a shield, and greeted the arrival of the Horizon Breaker with trepidation as a result. If things were going to go wrong, it would be one once the Empire proved it was seriously committed to the endeavor. As the Horizon Breaker docked with the rescue ship, Bo knew there was no turning back. The rogue Chinuri would have to act to preserve their forces somehow.
“Welcome aboard,” Mel said, greeting the new arrivals. “Darius will show you to the observation room and we can get underway for Bleakwater.”
Something was wrong.
The Chinuri boarded the ship, seeming eager to be rid of a problem that had plagued them for decades. Some, including the lead delegate were less eager than the others, but that wasn’t what was setting Bo’s nerves on edge.
“The trip will take two hours,” Mel said as the delegates, Yael, Zyla and Bo were seated in a room with a view out from the forward, starboard side of the Horizon Breaker. “Once our forces move in you’ll be able to follow their progress on holo-screens that will be projected at your seats or a composite one projected against this wall.”
Mel turned to leave and Bo followed her.
“You’re looking well,” Bo said.
“I’m keeping busy,” Mel said.
“No, I mean, you’re not showing as much as I would expect,” Bo said.
From the message she’s received, Bo had thought her sister was over eight months pregnant, but she was only barely starting to show signs of being with child.
Bo looked closer and other oddities came to her attention.
Whoever she was talking to, the woman did not move like her sister did. Mel was a martial artist who had trained for decades. As someone with similar training, and who had fought Mel in all-out struggles on several occasions, Bo had an instinctive sense for how her sister carried her weight. The woman standing before her had more weight than Mel was accustomed to carrying but even that didn’t explain the clumsy footwork and body posture that this “Mel” displayed.
“I’m not that far along yet,” the woman said.
“How many months?” Bo asked.
“Five,” the woman said.
Which would mean that when Mel sent Bo a letter announcing her pregnancy six months ago, she would have been writing it one month before the pregnancy actually began.
Something was wrong with her sister.