Chapter 2: Distress Signal
Nami grabbed the back of the chair as the ship rocked and changed course. She peered over the top of the chair at the man in the pilot chair and saw Treza check the course, then retreat to the bedroom and collapse on the bed. She drew a dagger and approached. It had been almost a day since he’d fallen unconscious, but his silence was a welcome change from before. Two days since she had woken to Adrian’s alert. Since she had stood on wobbly feet to defend him, and found Treza standing over him with a crimson blade. She’d followed as quietly as possible, knowing she couldn’t beat him. But she couldn’t let him get away.
She had focused on the changed Treza who was now challenging Bode. Bode had almost seen her, but Treza had lunged. He had sprinted for the escape ship attached to Bode’s rooms and she had been hard-pressed to keep up, but managed to slide into the airlock just before he took off. Yesterday, he had been heading beyond the galaxy plate and didn’t seem anything like the man she had briefly met. She had hidden in the back of the ship and he hadn’t even searched for anyone else. He had barely eaten in that time, barely done anything except sit in the pilot’s chair. Then the silence, and now this.
Creeping up, she breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that they were heading back to Vega. She checked in the bedroom. Treza’s eyes were closed and his breathing was even. She frowned and leaned closer to him. She could have sworn his hair was dark red, but it appeared solid black in this light. She locked the door to the bedroom and immediately went to the bathroom to relieve herself. She had barely been able to move these past two days but had snuck around enough to get by. Once that was taken care of, she limped to the small fridge and ate some rations.
She plopped down at the pilot’s chair, leaning down to examine her leg. The zigzagging scar across her calf burned angrily but she could now walk. True, her leg was weak and she couldn’t move far, but the operation had worked. Her leg had been shattered over a month ago when she had murdered Prince Aaron of Calib and been exiled. As Ultia, the commander of Calib, she should have been able to get away, but her troops had betrayed her. They had tortured her for hours, days. She didn’t know how long but they had finally sent her into space to die. Bertran had found her and nursed her back to health, or so she had thought. In reality, he had arranged for her surgery to cripple her further and make her unable to walk. She had been stunned when the doctors on Vega revealed what he had done, but Adrian, in an uncharacteristicly magnanimous move, had offered to pay for surgery that might allow her to recover use of her leg. The surgery had worked. It would take months of physical therapy, but Adrian’s generosity would be rewarded after all. If he survived. She might never be able to thank him thanks to Treza.
She studied their path they were on. Yes, they were headed back to Vega, exactly the opposite of the course he had first set. Did he change his mind? Or had something else changed? She didn’t really care, since she was desperate to find out what had happened to Bode and Adrian, both so badly injured by Treza’s attack.
The ship was still outside of the galaxy plate, an extremely dangerous place since there were no maps. Although technically there was nothing outside of the plate, asteroids and comets were not unknown, and the sensors couldn’t function in such an empty area. There was also very little communication, and she was shocked when she picked up a distress signal. It seemed to be coming from Elnor, but the ship must be outside the galaxy plate if she had caught the signal.
She considered the benefits and problems of searching for the distress signal. Elnor was on the way to Vega, mostly, but it would force them to pass through Lohen. Not only was she wary of entering enemy territory, Treza, Lohen’s commander and the man sleeping in the locked room, had been declared rogue. If they were caught, it would be a death sentence for both of them, and probably whoever was on the ailing ship as well. But she couldn’t ignore the signal, and no one else could possibly hear it.
She tried contacting the ship and received only static, then a desperate burst of noise that almost made sense. She got nothing more until she entered the area directly below Elnor. The area around her was completely empty, no planets or stars within range of her sensors, but she turned the sensors on anyway. She ignored their chuggish resistance and scanned in all directions. Nothing. She flew farther and tried again. Again, nothing. She was still receiving the ship’s distress signal, but without any frame of reference, her navigation system couldn’t pinpoint the location.
Two hours passed as she searched, and she groaned. This was impossible. It would be best to return to the galaxy plate and get to Vega, then send someone else to find the mystery ship. She pulled up the map she had been keeping and studied it. Treza had been on a straight path, but she had been forced to change direction frequently while searching. The bottom of the galaxy plate should be below her, to the left. The systems along the galaxy plate were so far apart that it was very possible to fly along the bottom of the galaxy instead of flying towards it.
The ship changed direction and she attempted to visually confirm her heading, but it was impossible. The galaxy was so far away that she couldn’t even see it. Why had Treza been heading here? The course seemed to be set for the far edge of Kreutzer, but why go there? Well, she would worry about that later. Right now she needed to get back to civilized space. She would have to trust to her notes to make sure she returned to the right place. She started getting flickers of communication and switched to the distress call, hoping to get a final reading. It was nearby.
Surprised, she once again added a note to her map and began scanning the area. Almost immediately the scanner found a ship, then another, and another. Nami stared in shock as an entire fleet entered the area directly below the galaxy plate. That was incredibly dangerous. Were they tracking down the distress call as well?
Her scanner found a single ship, not moving, a good distance from the fleet. Well, at least the ship would be found. She continued on her path, feeling more confident now that she had seen which direction the fleet had come from, when the scanner blared and another group of ships appeared, this time flitting out to surround the fleet. It must be Lohen’s troops. She recognized the attack patterns. They were attempting to prevent the fleet from leaving, but didn’t seem to notice the single ship as the fleet drew nearer.
She was far enough away that she didn’t need to worry when the Elnor fleet began firing. No reason to get involved in border disputes between Elnor and Lohen. But after a number of missed shots, she narrowed her eyes. Either Elnor was incapable of aiming, or they were aiming at the ship still issuing a distress signal. A few more shots confirmed this and she flexed her hands against the manual controls. Firing on an unarmed, disabled vessel was shocking, and Lohen didn’t seem to care, they were just trying to prevent the fleet from moving further out into space.
Without giving herself a chance for second thoughts, she increased the gravity to fighting levels and hit the accelerator, speeding towards the injured ship. It might be possible to reach it without attracting Lohen’s notice, but Elnor was so intent on destroying it, there was no way they would miss her rescue attempt. She needed a way to get that ship out of danger.
Suddenly she heard the worst possible sound in the world: angry pounding on the door to the room where Treza had been sleeping, followed by the sound of the door being broken open. He stormed out, but froze when he saw where they were. He stared at her in complete bewilderment and sank into the copilot’s chair.
“What’s going on?”
She glared, but was too busy dodging Elnor while trying to get close to the ship. A shudder as their ship was skimmed, and he seemed to realize what was happening. Before she could stop him, he was typing in codes, communicating with the Lohen ships. The bastard, would he turn her in to get back into his king’s good graces?
But Lohen’s ships simply changed position and began edging between Elnor and the distressed ship. In minutes, they had pushed the fleet back just far enough to be out of range and she pounced, slamming into the little ship with a little too much force but not caring. A quick air lock, no safety check but there wasn’t time. There was movement from the other ship, and then a familiar man crawled through the lock.
He had just gotten through when Elnor blasted past Lohen’s line. She reached to grab Michael’s hand, hoping Treza would be strong enough to shut the air lock after she pulled loose from the other ship. The suction was intense as she tried to remove her ship from the injured one, and Treza couldn’t sever the link between the two.
A blinding flare and intense pressure sucked them backwards out into space. Michael slipped from her hand – but Treza slammed the air lock shut. She didn’t have time to be stunned. The other ship had been forcibly removed by one of Elnor’s guns, and now the fleet was focused on them. Treza pushed up to the main controls and entered another code, again aimed at Lohen. Once again, the ships tried to intercept the fleet, but there weren’t enough of them.
Another blast sent them flying against the wall. One of the windows shattered and thick, sharp chunks of glass and plastic hurled at them. Treza cried out in pain, but the emergency shield snapped into place, securing the tiny bridge against the pressure of outer space. She ignored Treza and glanced at the fleet. This ship wouldn’t survive another hit. She attempted to steer them into Lohen’s protection, but Lohen’s ships were being disabled one by one and she couldn’t risk getting caught in the backlash.
She ducked behind the remaining three Lohen ships just as an entire fleet from Lohen arrived. Outnumbered and already suffering losses, Elnor retreated. As the remaining Lohen ships merged with the fleet and began retrieving the disabled ships, Nami slipped into the galaxy plate, into Lohen. She had wanted to avoid the nation, but with the troops focused on the border, she should be able to get through. After making sure that no one was tracking them, she turned to Michael, kneeling on the floor cradling a heavily bleeding Treza.
Jagged shards from the window had stabbed into his entire abdomen and his left arm. She found an emergency first aid kit. It didn’t have enough to bind all his wounds, but she could at least make sure he didn’t die before they arrived at Vega. Once he was bandaged, she turned to Michael, shocked to see him under these circumstances. He looked likewise shocked to see her.
“What are you doing here, Michael?” she asked.
After her troops had turned on her a second time after Yashim’s death, she had been abandoned on a dangerous planet and left for dead. But what her troops didn’t know was that the planet was frequented by smugglers, and Michael, a smuggler from Elnor who ran the black market that competed with Adrian’s, had rescued her. He had hired her to take over Vega and she had agreed, but unfortunately, her timing had been off and Krosil had already secured Vega with far more troops than she had expected. The smugglers, no doubt thinking that she had betrayed them by giving them failing battle plans, had sabotaged her ship during the battle and she had crash-landed on Vega, barely surviving. She had managed to drag herself to the city and exchanged favors for medical treatment while she waited for Adrian and Bode to return so that she could enter into a deal with them.
However, Michael had always seemed trustworthy and he had mysteriously vanished right before her ship was sabotaged. She didn’t think he knew anything about it, since he had seemed like an honest person beforehand. She rather thought that the person to blame was Michael’s father, Zachary, who had seemed to take such delight in planning Vega’s takeover.
“I tried to warn you,” Michael said. “But they took me away. I’m so sorry for what happened, and I cannot tell you how happy I am to see you alive.”
“So you weren’t involved?”
“Zachary told me what he was going to do to you. Even if you had won the battle, you would have been killed. He doesn’t like loose ends.”
Her lips twisted. He may not have been involved, but he had been the one to recruit her into Zachary’s employment knowing full well what the man was like. Michael was stroking Treza’s face and he looked up at Nami.
“Damien needs medical attention, and fast.”
Nami blinked in surprise. So Michael knew Treza on a personal level. That was surprising. Although perhaps since Michael and Zachary were from Elnor, they had contacts in Lohen. She had learned Treza’s real name from reading Bertran’s diaries. When Sabine had killed him, she had seen a vision of Bertran telling her to seek revenge for his death. She had been in his rooms at the time and had looked for anything that might help her, and she had found ten books that belonged to him. The last one was only half full and she had taken all of them. She hadn’t read them for quite a while and when she finally had, she had learned that he didn’t love her. He had been using her, just as he had been using Sabine. She had finally realized what a monster he was and now she would do everything in her power to bring him to justice, even if it meant siding with Sabine. Bertran had been extremely interested in Treza, though. He hadn’t seemed to realize that Damien, the man about whom he had so many theories, was actually the commander of Lohen, but as soon as Nami had seen the man’s face on Vega, she had recognized him from the diaries. Bertran had drawn a sketch of him when he was a child, and even though he had matured considerably since then, his face was unmistakable. He was half-Lithilien, half-Drakor, a combination almost as forbidden as Sabine’s mixed heritage, and Bertran had seriously considered killing him both when he found him as a child, and also when he had rediscovered him as an adult. But he hadn’t, deciding instead that Damien could be useful, just as she was useful. Another pawn in his scheme to restore the Valeforans to their rightful place in the galaxy.
“We’re heading to Vega,” she said, focusing on the situation in front of her again. “He’ll get attention there.”
Michael paled. “Isn’t there somewhere else we could go?”
“No,” Nami said. “We have to get back to Vega as soon as possible.”
“Vega,” Treza murmured. “Is he… okay?”
“You’re the one who ran him through with your sword,” she snarled, furious at the sincere concern in Treza’s voice. “Or don’t you keep track of the people you kill?”
He struggled to sit up but Michael held him down. “I didn’t kill him. I would never hurt him. I love him.”
She felt tears brimming as she thought of Adrian, and Treza’s blood-soaked sword. “I thought you loved him. He certainly loved you.”
“No,” Treza said. “We have to go to Vega. He has to be alive.”
She remained silent as tears threatened to fall. He sounded so genuine, and he seemed so different than he had been before. Something must have happened to him to make him attack Adrian and Bode, but what?
“We’re going to Vega. That’s all I can promise.”