Harrow sulked against her straps as the shuttle lifted from the Drearburh landing platform. From inside, the roar of the engines was reduced to an incessant whine at the back of her skull. That morning Aiglamene had dragged her from her cell to the armoury, taken her old and battered rapier, and forced a newly reforged one upon her. Harrow admitted begrudgingly that Aiglamene had done a remarkable job restoring the weapon—a long blade of black steal, with an intricate skeletal lattice covering the grip. The pommel did irk her slightly though. In typical ninth fashion the original designer had not known when to stop with the skulls, nor apparently, how to sculpt one. The carving looked to her like a skull puking another, smaller skull, but that was open to interpretation.
Gideon’s eyes were wide, her knuckles white on the straps. Sitting across from Harrow, she was determinedly avoiding her gaze. Instead she stared intently into the cockpit, or rather the front window, given that the shuttle was piloted remotely. Harrow noted with some glee that she had forgone the usual sachet of grave dirt, and would therefore be suffering exquisitely all the way to the first house.
Harrow did not feel a sensation of movement, but did see the landing ground begin to fall away outside the windows. Gideon swallowed portentously. Harrow realised she was clenching her jaw. After a few seconds the windows were whited out—the dirty, feeble white of the artificial atmosphere. Then there was the dark of space, and the stars. Harrow had rarely seen stars. From the bottom of the Drearburh pit, behind the thick blanket of atmosphere, nearly nothing could be seen of the sky. Harrow had not expected them to be colourful, once again the monochrome of Drearburh had never given her cause to expect colour. Now, after a few seconds of staring into starry and perfect white, the colour became subtly visible. Sparkling blues, reds, oranges, smothered by the savage ferocity that had propelled the light of these suns across thousands of lightyears and into this shuttle. Peering through that narrow porthole, Harrow couldn’t quite appreciate the millions upon millions of stars that surrounded them. Even then, their sheer density was astounding.
“Close your mouth, idiot”. Gideon had apparently recalled herself. Harrow closed her mouth.
“I see you finally have control over your stomach again”. Harrow snapped back.
“For your information I always had control over my stomach. Space just happens to be a creepy and awful thanergetic void, that’s all”. Gideon had her confidence back, to be able to deliver that line with a straight face.
“I’m sure you’re used to creepy and awful”. Harrow never lost her confidence, and she delivered that with a smirk.
“Very funny Nova. Nothing as creepy and awful as your sorry attempt at face paint, or the pommel of that sword. Is that skull biting the other one?” Harrow laid her hand over the pommel.
“You forced this sword on me Navenarius. My last was perfectly adequate”.
“Sure, and that’s why the leather had rotted off and the pommel was glued back together”.
Harrow turned her face from Gideon, and to the front window, and the stars.
“How long until we reach the First?” She asked without looking at Gideon.
“About three hours apparently. These shuttles use obelisks around Dominicus to cut down the distance. Should be hitting the first in about five minutes”.
Harrow grunted acknowledgement, and both girls fell into silence. Then Gideon spoke.
“You know Nova, we should really get to know each other a little, if we’re gonna’ be fighting side by side and all”.
Harrow ignored her. Gideon sighed. Then the lights turned off.
The shuttle was lit only by starlight, until the emergency power activated, bathing them both in catastrophic red. Harrow began to slowly lift off her seat. Her hair flowed around her temples as if she were underwater. She no longer felt the wait of the rapier against her hip.
“The shuttle’s stopped accelerating. Thats why the gravity just stopped”. Harrow had no way to verify this, but took Gideon’s word for it.
“What the hell is happening?” Gideon said irascibly. Her eyes were beginning to widen, and her hands fidgeted with her straps. Harrow reached down, unbuckled the belt holding her in place, and released herself. This was a mistake. She began to fall forward, her head descending towards the floor as her legs rose. She thrust her arms out in an attempt to swim, but succeeded only in smacking her chair, and careening into the shuttle at an angle. At least Gideon hadn’t burst out laughing at her. She sailed helplessly across the interior of the small ship before bumping into the opposite wall. Fumbling around, she dug her fingers into the crevice of a wall panel, scrambling for purchase. From this tenuous position, she spotted a handle, and grabbed on tightly. Rotating her body parallel with Gideon’s. She was now clinging to a wall, next to the entrance of the cockpit. Following the handholds that led around the interior, she pulled herself over to the small user interface screen below the big window. She didn’t really know what to do with screens, but she had seen them used in comics, so gingerly tapped it. It lit up. Written in unremarkable text was a message.
“Dear Revered Daughter Gideon Navenarius,
It is with great sympathy that we announce your slow and dreadful death in the vacuum of space. We regret that this was necessary, however, you could not be allowed to continue your mission. Be consoled that humanity will find itself in a brighter galaxy as a result of your murder.
Yours with condolences,
Not to be outdone, Gideon had manoeuvred herself alongside Harrow. Looking upon that message, beneath her paint, Harrow saw her jaw slacken, and her mouth fall open slightly. The emergency lighting rendered her orange hair a scarlet wound in the shuttle’s darkness. Gideon looked at her. She looked at Gideon.
“This can’t be it”. Gideon spluttered.
Harrow simply let herself fall back, slowly turning upside down, unable to properly grasp the reality of what she’d just read.
“We have to send out a distress beacon, a cohort ship is bound to pick us up. What about the ship that brings supplies?”
The message on the screen suddenly changed.
“Dear Revered Daughter Gideon Navenarius,
Rest assured that no cohort ship will pass this portion of space before you freeze to death. We have disabled the signalling function on this shuttle. Please take comfort in the fact that your brain function will likely cease before oxygen in this shuttle runs out, rendering your death comparatively comfortable”.
Yours with condolences,
The air in the shuttle began to seem noticeably chillier. Harrow continued to rotate.
“For God’s sake Harrow we have to do something! We can’t just become popsicles out here!”
Harrow remained silent. Her current dominant emotion was overwhelming disappointment. If she had to die, she would have preferred the romantic death of the swordswoman, unyielding and untouchable. Instead her neurones would slowly freeze, in this oversized coffin, her rock-solid corpse bouncing impotently around for eternity. Worst of all she’d be frozen with Gideon, probably the least sexy death-partner possible. Gideon kicked her.
“Nova wake up!” She was yelling. “We have to figure out the communicator on here, there must be some way we can access it directly, bypass the block they’ve put on the controls…”
Harrow knew for a fact that she was spouting bullshit directly from a comic book, because they had read the same comic books. She continued to rotate. Try as she might, she would die as she lived, not strong enough to change a single thing. Not strong enough to become cavalier primary, not strong enough to earn the slightest word of praise from Reverend Mother and Father. Her short, sad life really was tragic. She was dully aware of Gideon yelling at the screen, jabbing at it harder and harder.
Suddenly the shuttle was bathed in coloured light. The screen had changed. Harrow could make out the head and shoulders of a person. She grabbed for a handle and righted herself.
The screen showed a boy. His face was gaunt, the bags under his eyes obvious behind his round glasses. The eyes themselves were a unique and arresting grey. His expression was concerned, suppressing triumphant.
“Hello? Hello? Reverend Daughter can you hear me?” His voice was tinny and strange through the ship’s speakers and network lag.
Gideon grabbed the screen with both hands as if it were the only solid object in the shuttle. Her face was openly desperate.
“Yes I can hear you. Listen, you have to help us, our shuttle-“
“Calm Reverend Daughter, calm. I know your shuttle has been sabotaged, ours was too. My name is Palamades Sextus, Master Warden of the Sixth House. It is my intention to help you”.