Nathan Regal was dead and Jenna couldn’t make herself forget. All she could do was run. She stumbled down the dark alleys of Chrysanthemum, throwing away her high heels. Through the tears and the bitter shame, she couldn’t know if anyone chased her. She was a mess when she reached the hideout. They told her to sit down, they told her they could hide her. She did as they asked, but the memories were always there, like a ringing bell in her ear.
Why did that lame kid playing detective have to be with the expeditionaries? Why did he have to look at her like that? Why couldn’t they have met differently?
But Nathan Regal was dead, and she couldn’t hide.
So she ran instead. She threw herself into her work with the organization. She retrieved dead drops, planted listening devices, extracted operatives; nothing helped. But the espionage taught her things, made her strong and crafty.
But Nathan Regal was dead.
So she ran again, requesting a transfer far away. Jenna fled into the dark night sky hoping against all odds she could get away from an inescapable truth:
Nathan Regal was dead.
She fled to a city on a distant world and made her way to it’s deepest depths. Then she went deeper, fleeing into the dark places far below. She found a great city there. An under city.
She felt at home among the monsters and madmen.
Nate bolted awake in a cold sweat. They were a week into their voyage to Relic and he had woken up the same each morning. He couldn’t remember his dreams, but he remembered her eyes. Smokey eyes in the dark.
Somehow he knew a terrifying reality. She was far out of his reach, in a place he couldn’t follow.
He knew he couldn’t chase her like he wanted, and that left him empty.
Milah entered his room to comfort him, to nurse his wound, and to tell him that everything would be okay.
She said she would handle everything, so he let her.
Annie was growing frustrated with her toys. They were stubbornly refusing to be like they used to. There was something missing, some spark of energy that they used to have. Miss Star Mole and Mister Void Cat were little more than pieces of fabric filled with clumps of Mars-fiber right now. She frowned, this had been happening more and more lately. When she was with Becca though, it was different; the stuffed animals came alive just like they did when she was younger. Now that she was alone, however, the magic wasn’t there.
She decided to try it again.
Annie’s hand guided the stuffed mole towards a plastic rocket ship.
Her other hand forced Void Cat to follow.
“Don’t leave,” she said in monotone, shaking void cat to indicate that he was speaking.
“I have to go. I’m very busy.” Annie shook the little Mole.
“Why can’t you stay?” The cat flopped back and forth.
“I’ll come back when I’m done.”
She scrunched the two creatures together in a hug. She felt… nothing.
Annie scowled. She felt like throwing the childish things against a wall, but Becca had told her that your dolls and animals should be your friends, and you can’t be mean to your friends.
Annie liked talking to Becca. Some days she wanted to just stay in the spires forever, just so that she and Becca could have more time.
But, though she loved Becca more than anyone else, Annie could never resist the pull of space. She was born for a life in the stars. Literally, as her first mate liked to tell her. But there was the matter too of her family. Something in her heart told her that she needed to find where they went and what they were doing. The ships records had all been destroyed nine years ago when the Nightingale was nearly destroyed. Nav seemed to know more, but he had behavioral locks on what he could say about previous captains and their missions. The Armada had been paranoid like that since earth went missing. Information was a dangerous thing. The Nightingale was an Armada ship, and Annie supposed that made her a member of the Terran Star Armada due to her role as captain. They had never contacted her, however, and she was unsure if she would obey if they ever did. Annie had suspected the Armada to be mere myth made up by desperate freedom fighters hoping that the earth fleet had survived the Contact-Blitz. The recording from her father had told her differently, however. That was why she needed to find him, and the crown. That was why she needed to leave Becca behind. But Becca was the only one who could ever pull Annie back from the stars, if only for a few short days. It hurt Annie to leave her behind each time she traveled out into the sky, but it hurt worse to stay.
She decided it was worth a final try with the dolls.
The little mole tread on heavy feet towards her spacecraft. Her little boots splashed in the puddles.
“I wish you didn’t have to leave,” a voice called behind her.
She turned, looking Void Cat straight in the eyes. The rain matted the cat’s fur, but he stood firm.
“You know I can’t stay,” said the mole. “I have something to- there’s something I need to do.” There was a silence. For a long moment, there was only the pitter-pattering of the rain against the concrete tarmac. Star Cat broke the gaze first.
“Why is this so important to you? Why can’t you stay here with… with…” his words trailed off.
There was so much the mole wanted to say, but she couldn’t do it. How could she possibly tell her friend how much they meant to her? How could she tell the cat that she needed to go in order to feel whole? She didn’t have the words she needed.
“I’ll always come back,” she said instead. And she meant it. She would always come back.
The little Mole turned away reluctantly and boarded her ship, not daring to turn around, lest the Cat change her mind.
That was more vivid than usual, but it didn’t make Annie feel any better. The dolls weren’t what she needed right now.
There was a knock on her door.
She wasn’t terribly perturbed; it felt like playtime was over. She gently placed her dolls on a shelf and then answered the door.
Her engineer stood there, looking nervous. The girl had convinced Nate’s robotic manager to dye her hair a wild mess of blue, green, pink, orange and red. Annie didn’t have a problem with it provided that it was properly tied back. It was not.
“Ponytail, bun, or chop it off.” She stated firmly to the scavenger.
“The ship is-” She started.
“Ponytail. Bun. Or cut it off.”
Kaori took a moment to decide what to do before pulling a filthy looking elastic from a coat pocket and securing her tangled hair into a messy tail. She seemed to be bouncing like she had something important to say.
“Speak,” Annie ordered.
“The ship might have been sabotaged.”
Annie’s eyes bulged.
“Sabotaged?! What’s happening?”
“Fuel’s been emptying really fast. I checked the engines and someone set up a siphon on our fuel cells.”
“Tell me you fixed it?”
“Where were they siphoning the energy? Can we get it back?”
Kaori seemed hesitant to answer.
“Out into space, it’s all gone now.”
“Well at least you caught it, we should still have enough spare cells to get us to Relic and-”
Kaori shook her head vigorously.
“What do you mean gone?”
“All stolen. Gone.”
Annie kept herself calm as best she could as she arrived on the bridge. They had all paid extra to have their ships in a private dock. No one could have gotten inside except for the other expeditionaries. Annie had no doubt in her mind which expeditionary was crafty enough to sabotage her ship.
“Ashur, you bastard, get on the comms,” She said, speaking at the large communications screen she had in the bridge. It flickered to life and the jackal creature came into view, grinning terribly.
“Little humanling! To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Don’t play coy Ashur. What did you do to my ship? Where did you take my fuel cells?”
Ashur’s eyes twinkled dangerously.
“Well isn’t that unfortunate? Little girl can’t keep track of her things.” His eyes were glowing with joy. “Looks like you’ll be calling the Spires for a rescue barge won’t you? You’ll be rescued and on your way in, oh, maybe three weeks? We’ll miss you on Relic!”
Annie’s fists clenched as she stared at the smug alien. She’d kill him.
“You smug son of a-”
Ashur’s screen flickered as an explosion rocked his ship. The Akkadar stumbled until he caught a railing. Smoke filled the room.
“Put out the fires! Find the cause,” he shouted to his little robots. They scurried off his body and frantically raced across the bridge.
“You didn’t sabotage the Nightingale, did you?” Annie said into the screen.
Ashur stared daggers into the monitor.
“No, I did not. You didn’t happen to plant a bomb on my ship, did you, girl-thing?”
“No, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who did.”