Syreen escaped from her prison, but she’s still deep in enemy territory. Her enemies are countless, and their master turned out to be one of her own people. Shaken by her findings, she must find a way back to her ship and her few allies, with an entire hostile navy searching for her. Will she be able to cover her tracks better this time?
But the enemy master has a few more tricks up his sleeve.
I am a Navigator. As far as I know, I’m the last surviving female of my People, the only one capable of controlling a living ship. I know, because I found one.
When I listen, I hear the songs the stars are singing to their planets. I hear their lonesome, never answered lament. Their songs guide me through space, let me find the smoothest way through hyperspace.
My enemies are score, and their master is of my People, too. He is searching for an ancient relic to give him power over a living ship. He is a male, though, and thus will never command. The relic he needs is a female Navigator—that’s me, only he doesn’t know that yet.
When he caught me, he regarded me as nothing more than a defiant obstacle, a minor hindrance to his plans. He didn’t recognize the reason for my mental resilience. He had me tortured in order to break me. He failed.
I control the minds of the lesser races. I make them ignore me or follow my orders. By feeding on their blood, I gain power or heal my injuries. Such are the ways of my People, and such I did to my torturer, before I left my enemy master’s lair.
That’s me, Captain Ishtar Gryf. That’s the name and role I adopted in order to escape Nysa, the Association’s home system. The Association, commanded by their master, sent out ships in search for the relic. They came to my home world, the Duchy, and wiped out our fleet, our orbital stations, our planetary defenses, and every civilian in their way without declaring war. In my eyes, such action counts as piracy, and thus every single member of their forces is fair game for me.
“Yes, Flag Captain?”
“Would you like to assist Ensign Torres with his jump calculations?”
This is a request I can never reject. I’m a Navigator, and navigating is what I do.
Syreen had to be careful not to give herself away. So she walked over to the navigation dashboard on the battle cruiser’s spacious bridge and silently watched the ensign entering his parameters. When he was ready and looked up, she gave him an approving nod. There was no flaw in his setup for this easy jump.
However, when he reached for the button to release his five-sigma solution, she said, “Wait.”
He turned to her again with a puzzled face. “Captain?”
“There is no flaw in your solution, Ensign. But why didn’t you look for possible refinements? There’s no pressing need to jump, as we haven’t even reached jump speed yet.”
“Uh, what refinements, Captain?”
Syreen had to fight with herself not to roll her eyes. What did the Association teach these young officer candidates?
She wouldn’t teach her tricks to the enemy, but she couldn’t let such an outrageous lack of knowledge about the most elementary procedures stand. “Recall your parameters.”
“Good. Now call up the trims.”
“That scales symbol, top right.”
He tapped it, and a new set of controls appeared.
“See? Now you can adjust your solution. The colors tell you where you can expect improvements. Note that there may be good reasons not to change certain parameters too much, depending on where you want to go, but you can try and compare several settings. Go ahead.”
The candidate started to change settings.
“Note how the colors on the other controls change. Some of your changes will offer you more options, others may narrow down good choices—which means it’s an overall tighter solution.”
Torres nodded and moved a few sliders, shook his head, reset them, and tried others. Only once did she cough slightly, which quickly made him reset his last change.
Syreen patiently watched him pick three variations, compare them, and arrive at one new solution.
“This is better, I’d say.”
This time Syreen nodded. “How much better?”
The ensign checked again and blushed. “Oh. Almost a sigma level.”
“Captain Gryf?” Flag Captain Munoz’ demanding voice saved the young man from his embarrassment.
Syreen turned around. “Yes, Sir.”
“Are you dissatisfied with Torres’ solution?”
“No, Sir. We just arrived at a very good result.”
“Submit it. I need to check it myself.”
“Yes, Sir.” She nudged her pupil, and Torres released the refined solution. “You have it, Sir.”
The commandant made a grim face and tapped his panel. His eyebrows rose, his lips opened to a silent “oh,” and then he smiled.
“Six-sigma, indeed? Who taught you that, Torres?”
The ensign rose. “Captain Gryf did, Sir.”
“In just the past five centicycles?”
“Yes, she did, Sir.”
“Remarkable. Ensign, you did an excellent job on this. Captain Gryf, I’m grateful for your lesson. Would you assume command for this transit?”
Syreen smiled. “Yes, Sir.”
Munoz returned the smile and rose. “I thought so. Take my seat.”