The two women were in a dark, shutdown data hub. The control panels were dead, the overhead view screens only blank mirrors, and the holographic display units didn’t even carry a resting charge. The only light came from the mandatory hardwired exit sign.
The older woman wore a formal overjacket that carried the insignia indicating that she had the Captain’s Right, inherited from the Master of the Vebiorg itself. In over half the Twisted Skein that made her royalty, but the overjacket covered a single-tiered Haoran sari made of a cheap hemp fibre. “I supported them, you know,” she told her companion in a deep, rich voice, “and I helped them willingly. I believed in them and what they said they were trying to do.” The poor lighting showed her hair was still strong and thick, even if it was almost completely grey, and she held her large, tall frame well without hint of aches or tiredness. She went on bitterly, the pitch of her voice dropping further, “And in return, my assets were alienated from me, my resources consumed without let or permission, my reproductive future was appropriated, and I was confined to a place not of my choice.” She glanced at her companion and added, “Thank you for rescuing me, by the way.”
The younger woman was of a neater, more compact ethnicity and had her finer hair twisted up in braids around her scalp instead letting it fall in rich tresses over her shoulders. Her voice was a low soprano to the other woman’s contralto, “Netham, I could do nothing else. We realised when you disappeared from here that you would never have willingly abandoned us, not to people like your brother and Denos Aggrivlo who cared nothing for our oaths or loyalty.”
The older woman turned from regarding the empty data hub to look at her and ask, “What did he, they, do to you, Erilkar?”
“They took our ships and put us to work on a planet, Netham!” Erilkar was almost crying. “Our ships were our life and our homes. They told us that we would be enriched for our loyalty and these jobs they have given us do pay well, but we are dying of the grief that we can no more pass in the darkness between the stars.” She took a deep breath. “Our elders are almost all gone. Once we have no more Navigators, we will be stranded there at the mercy of the gravity well.”
The older woman blinked hard for a moment before she said, “Gravity sickness? They’ve put you on a world where the gravity is killing you?” She was incredulous. “What are they thinking?”
In a low voice Erilkar answered, “That only the old and the vulnerable young will die and we will be stronger without them. That they need traffic controllers, cargo handlers and ship repairers at their new economic hub. Maybe they think that in time we will forget that our proper place is in a ship between stars and become content to live as their slaves.”
“Or,” offered the older woman, “they have forgotten or never knew that being adjusted to one standard artificial gravity, is not the same thing as being adjusted to one standard gravity, not overall. You are absent without leave from your duties, aren’t you Erilkar Pilot Ojij?”
“Yes, Netham Ladrassa Gassadthir, I am,” the younger woman admitted, a touch ashamed. “I have left others to cover for me, whether they wish to or not.”
“They will need to keep doing so,” Ladrassa Gassadthir answered her determinedly, “because you are going to be busy helping me to fix the world. It will get messy,” she assured the younger woman, “but I believe we can do it, and I know just where to start….”
This is now followed by Ice Queen.