Volume III of Legacy: Black Star, Part 1 - Cover

Volume III of Legacy: Black Star, Part 1

Copyright© 2023 by Uruks

Chapter 26: Scars

The test subjects show extraordinary resilience. The ability to adapt and survive for long periods in a vacuum, as well as an impressive rate of regeneration. They won’t die unless their cerebral cortex is completely destroyed, just like high-level Vampires and Werewolves. They are everything I hoped they would be. I have pushed for my backers to allow for human testing. If I can apply their resiliency to human subjects, our species will become the most durable race in existence. That archaic magic, Elemency, will be obsolete.

“Come home now, Rachel!” repeated Saria for probably the tenth time.

Rachel sat on her bed in her quarters at James’ hideout on Platform 913. She had finally managed to encode the right frequency that allowed her to speak to her grandmother directly without alerting Brocktree. A holographic image of Saria’s face floated above Rachel’s wrist via her communicator. Saria did seem angry, but there was also something a little off about her. She didn’t seem quite as angry as Rachel had expected. This gave Rachel hope that maybe she might be able to sway Saria before she forced the issue and used her authority as Fire Minister to order Rachel back. Not even Rachel would refuse a direct order from her grandmother under those circumstances, but Rachel hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

“Tell Leon that I want you and your team out of there now!” Saria went on, again not quite as fiery as Rachel assumed she would be.

Rachel sighed. She did not enjoy arguing with her grandmother on this, especially with the turn that the mission had taken with the appearance of Luciile. But she had to see this through to the end. Not only for the sake of the Ministry, but for Nirvana as well. James had been telling her some of the problems facing Nirvana under Brocktree. James was...

Nope! Not going to think about that cute face of his, or that cute voice of his, or that cute ... just focus on convincing granny, and don’t you dare mention Jimmy! Oh, crap! When did I start thinking of him as ‘Jimmy’?

“I’m sorry, my lady, but I can’t do that,” said Rachel, keeping her voice respectful.

Saria scoffed angrily. “Do you enjoy countermanding my orders at every given opportunity? Do you just get some sick, adolescent pleasure from rebelling against me, is that it?”

Rachel drew in a sharp breath. “That’s not it at all. This isn’t ... some teenage rebellion thing. I don’t want to disobey your orders, but what we’re doing here is important. You know Leon’s plan is a good one. You know we can save a lot of lives and end the battle for Nirvana quickly if this works. And when Jimmy takes over the station, we can boost the Ministry’s profits by hiring his crew as privateers.”

Saria frowned as she raised an eyebrow. “Jimmy?”

If Saria wasn’t watching her through the communicator, Rachel would’ve slapped herself in the head. “Captain James. The pirate we told you about.”

Saria’s frown deepened, and though the image only showed her face, Rachel could just picture the Minister’s arms crossing in disapproval. “If I order you back as your Minister, will you heed that command?”

“My lady, I-”

“Will you heed that command, Third?” Saria continued, her voice resonating absolute authority.

Rachel drew in a deep breath. She knew that outright rebellion with Saria would be useless at this point. Worse than useless, she knew that Saria would not hesitate to disavow Rachel’s rank as an Elemental, related or not. Saria had made it clear that she does not play favorites, not even with family. In fact, in some ways, Saria was much harder on Rachel because of their relation.

Rachel leveled her breathing, and met her grandmother’s steely gaze. “If you order it, I will return. I cannot speak for the rest of my team. They all seem determined to see this mission through no matter what, but if you order it of me, I will come back to the Ministry and do what I can to bring the others back with me.”

The image of Saria’s face leaned forward, studying Rachel as if searching for any sign of deception or defiance. When she found none, Saria drew back, her features softening ever so slightly. Now was the time.

“However, I’m hoping you won’t order us back,” Rachel continued. “I’m hoping you will look at Leon’s plan, and the arrangements we’ve made with Captain James, and see the value of such an undertaking for yourself.”

Rachel didn’t usually adopt her grandmother’s posh mannerisms, but she knew that her usual brazenness would do little good in this situation, so she kept her words courteous.

Saria’s face became unreadable as Rachel awaited the verdict. Finally, the Minister said, “Send me the plans.”

Rachel almost blew out a sigh of relief, but that might’ve revealed her stress to the Minister. Moving quickly, Rachel keyed in a rough outline of their strategy, as well as the manifesto dictating the terms of their contract with James. She hoped Saria would take particular interest of the manifesto, noting the great deal of profit and influence the Ministry stood to make from such a deal with the Space Pirates. Profit enough, perhaps, to make back their recent financial setbacks and then some.

Saria took a moment to read the plans as her face looked down, no doubt studying the data on her own communicator. After a few minutes of tense silence, Saria looked up and said, “And this Captain James really agreed to such an arrangement? That seems overly generous for a pirate.”

Rachel allowed herself a small smile as she considered Jimmy. “He is ... a very interesting pirate. I think he’s on the level, at least with this. He wants to be the Pirate King, he wants to change things here on Nirvana, and he knows we’re his best shot of doing that.”

Saria’s lips pursed as she considered. Though she still didn’t look entirely convinced. “Rachel, do you believe in this plan of Leon’s? Tell me honestly.”

Rachel hesitated. She had neglected to mention Lucille’s part in the whole affair in her report as per Leon’s request. Rachel trusted Jimmy, but that trust did not extend to Lucille in the least. Even if the Mystic told the truth when she said she was simply working as a mercenary now instead of the Shadow Order, that didn’t necessarily make her an ally. If anything, being an independent entity with her own agency made her even more unpredictable.

Still, Leon seems to trust her. I ... I just don’t know ... but Leon’s my friend. He’s never let us down before. I don’t trust her, but I’ll always trust Leon. I need to have faith in him now, and I need to stay true to the mission for Jimmy’s sake. And for the time being, that means kinda lying to my very powerful grandmother ... who can summon a giant lion spirit and blow up planets if she’s mad enough. Great!

“I ... I believe in Leon. He’s very confident that this will work. Besides that, I’ve ... I’ve really come to care a great deal about some of the people here. I think Captain James really wants to make a difference ... change people’s lives for the better here by freeing them from Brocktree’s reign.”

Saria scoffed. “A pirate with ethics?”

Rachel rubbed her eyes, frustrated as she tried to search for a way to explain her feelings for Jimmy ... without explaining her ‘feelings’ for Jimmy. “Look. I know, alright. I was the same way. But he saved my life. He saved my life and Torsha’s when it would’ve profited him better to just let us die. I think that counts for something, granny ... I mean, my Lady Minister.”

Saria gave Rachel a hard look. In that moment, Rachel knew Saria was not just assessing things as a grandmother, but as the Minister of Fire, a woman that could be considered ancient, even by Elemental standards. A Vessel bonded to the Great Lion Spirit, a being as old as the universe itself.

Feeling frustrated, Rachel raised her hand. “Look! Just give us a chance, alright! Please, just give me a chance to prove to you that I can do this ... that I can be just as valuable as Éclair! Trust me just this once! Trust my instincts! I mean, for crying out loud, they’re just pirates! We’ve been up against worse than pirates at this point! Or did you forget those ghost freaks we fought that even you had a hard time against?” Realizing the slight insolent tone she had taken on, Rachel quickly added respectfully, “My Lady Minister.”

That hard edge stayed on Saria’s face, and Rachel wondered if she had gone too far. However, at some point, Saria’s face changed. It was strange, the contrast. Her face was no longer hard, but sympathetic as she sighed deeply. “Rachel. Let us drop the titles for the time being. For this moment, you are simply my granddaughter, and I am simply your grandmother. Can we do that for a little while?”

Rachel was taken aback by Saria’s soft, compassionate tone. Not really knowing what to say to that, Rachel stuttered, “O-okay. If ... if that’s what you want ... granny.”

Saria gave Rachel a warm smile. That was also unexpected, not only considering that it was Saria, but also for the feelings it stirred within Rachel. A yearning for tenderness from her grandmother that she rarely allowed herself to succumb to. This was the woman she respected most ... a woman that had basically become her mother. Rachel was unprepared for the emotions arousing within her from that one smile.

“You’ve grown a lot, Rachel. More than I’ve given you credit for. You’re a lot like me, and you’re a lot like her ... your mother, Sasha, I mean.”

Rachel felt a lump rise in her throat. Given the unexpected turn this conversation had taken, she didn’t know how to respond, so she just stayed quiet.

Saria’s brown eyes shifted slightly, as if she considered something that made her uncomfortable. “You never met your grandfather, did you?”

Rachel slowly shook her head. “I ... I heard he was a Fourth, but he was killed in action.”

Saria nodded slowly. “Yes. It was a few centuries back when I had a fling with him. His name was Frank Dravis. We didn’t marry. To be honest, the poor man probably dodged a bullet there. I doubt I would’ve been able to make him happy, even if I was willing to make a decent stab at being his wife. The relationship only lasted briefly before we went our separate ways, but I was remorseful when I heard he died in a skirmish with the Earth Ministry over Sun Gem deposits in the outer galaxies. He was a decent enough man, though I admit, I wasn’t really in love with him.”

Rachel jerked slightly in surprise. “Then ... then why did you-”
“I had a falling out with my ... with my true love,” Saria explained hesitantly, not meeting Rachel’s gaze. “At the time, I wanted to make him jealous by having a child with another man. In my delusion, I thought he’d finally stop being so stubborn and ask me to marry him. It didn’t work. In fact, it probably hurt our relationship more than anything.”

Saria’s features brightened as she met Rachel’s gaze. “But I don’t regret it. My time with Frank gave me Sasha, after all.”

Rachel felt her emotions rise once again at the mention of her mother’s name. Before she started crying, she turned away, cleared her throat, and tried to change the subject. “Who ... who was the other man, the one you really loved, may I ask?”

“No you may not,” Saria said gently, but firmly. “Still too much baggage there for me, and I’m not ready to bring you into that secret.”

Rachel only gave a stiff nod, feeling better now that she had her own emotions under control. This is really unlike my grandmother, opening up like this. I’d like to know what brought this on ... but mostly I just want to listen to her story. She never talks about herself. I feel like I’m getting to know her for the first time.

“Now, as for Sasha,” Saria started, but then her voice began trembling slightly. “You once asked me how she died. I never had the courage to tell you. Do you still want to know?”

This time, there was nothing Rachel could do about the tears as they slid down her cheeks. Slightly stunned, Rachel quickly wiped her tears away and gave a silent nod.

Saria took a deep breath and began slowly. “It happened more than seven years ago, as you may recall. Even though I have millennia of experience as an Elemental, I was unprepared for the responsibility of being a Vessel. I had only acted as Fire Minister for a few decades, and already, I was beginning to hate the job. I’ve spent most of my life as a soldier. The life of the politician didn’t suit me. In fact, I never intended to become Fire Minister in the first place. It was Tava who chose me while I was a Wielder on the Council. I only took the post when Za ... when the Prime Minister at the time encouraged me to do so. He maintained close ties to the Fire Ministry in those days. The Council only agreed to my unconventional election because of his backing.”

Saria groaned rubbing her eyes. “Look at me, rattling on and on. I really have gotten old, haven’t I? Well, all that to say that I was fed up with the post of Fire Minister. I wanted a change of pace. And I also wanted ... a little personal time with Sasha. You might recall that I was somewhat disapproving of her marrying a non-Elemental like your father, Doctor Lanchester. We started becoming distant with one another because of that dispute. That, I do regret. I shouldn’t have been so dismissive of Lanchester. He’s a good man. I can see why Sasha chose him now.”

Rachel flinched slightly. That was the first time she ever heard Saria speak so highly of her father. This conversation was a lot of firsts as far as Saria was concerned.

“An opportunity arose, to leave the desk for a little while and enjoy some time with my daughter. In the past when she was a young Elemental, we went on many missions together with me acting as her mentor. I wanted to get that connection back. So, despite the warnings of the Council decrying the impropriety of a Minister going on a mission, I left the Ministry with Sasha.”

Saria paused for a moment. Her face quivered, as if the dam that kept her emotions in check most of the time was about to break. “There were reports of a human trafficking operation on the outskirts of Black Star. Smugglers from Nirvana were working with Mystic operatives, raiding colonies along the Zeta Way Galaxy’s borders, and selling children to be used in whorehouses, or other kinds of slave labor. They were using the reputation of Black Star to their benefit in order to avoid the authorities. Patrollers don’t like to venture into the interior of that galaxy. Only Elementals make regular inspections of the systems surrounding Black Star to ensure the Parasites don’t return.”

Rachel thought back to what she knew of Black Star and the Parasites. She was also startled to find a connection with her mother’s death and Nirvana. But that still didn’t explain why she was never able to find a mission report for the campaign.

As if reading her mind, Saria added, “It was believed that a Senator was secretly funding the operation and profiting from it. That is why the mission remains classified. I am happy to say that the Senator in question was found guilty and arrested afterwards, though we weren’t able to charge him officially for human trafficking. That would’ve caused too much scandal, the thought of a Tarrus Senator being involved in something like that. So, we concocted other charges of fraud, and our allies in the Senate saw to the rest.”

Rachel almost groaned. More and more, she was coming to realize the failings of their system of governance, a system that she as an Elemental was sworn to protect despite the blatant examples of corruption. It almost made her wish there was no government at all. But, of course, there had to be some system in place. Otherwise, everything would be anarchy.

“Well, we found the smugglers and the Mystics,” Saria continued, her gaze downcast. “Sasha and I commanded the warship, Volcana, and after a brief battle, we rounded most of them up. I was actually starting to feel like a proper Elemental again ... started to feel like my old self in the days when I fought as a Wielder alongside my daughter. Sasha and I were even beginning to reconcile her relationship with Lanchester. Everything seemed to be going well.”

Saria’s jaws clenched. It almost looked like she was in physical pain. “But there was one Mystic that got away. Just as we had dispatched or arrested all the parties involved, a single escape pod jettisoned from their vessel with one lifeform signature. I ordered our warship to give chase even though the escape of one single enemy could’ve been deemed as acceptable. The scan showed the occupant to be powerful in Elemency, but I underestimated just how powerful. I don’t know who that Mystic was, but I know they possessed a power thought to be long gone among the ranks of the Shadow Order, an ability not seen since the days of the Dark Dragon Lords.”

Saria met Rachel’s gaze, her brown eyes showing anger and sadness all at once. “In order to escape, the Mystic opened a singularity ... a tear in space commonly known as a black hole. Sasha was alone with me on the bridge at the time when I saw the black hole open. I reacted instinctively and tried to close the rift. With enough psions, a black hole can be closed by a powerful Elemental with certain types of Elemency, but it is extremely difficult ... and extremely dangerous. The ship was nearly engulfed before I finally managed to close the rift. However, I was ... inexperienced as a Vessel. I had no idea the strain it took to contain Tava’s strength. There’s a reason why Ministers are forbidden from battle under most circumstances. Because of my ignorance, my powers became unstable, and I nearly destroyed our ship myself. It was only because of Sasha at my side that I didn’t kill everyone on board. She used her telepathy to connect herself to the bond between Tava and I to calm both of us down.”

Tears started forming in Saria’s eyes, and her tone became more sorrowful than explanatory. “However, even with Sasha’s help, I couldn’t stop myself from releasing an energy discharge that destroyed the bridge. When I finally got my powers under control, there was a hole in the hull, and Sasha was gone. We never found her body.” Saria was sniffling now, her voice trembling. “Your mother died a hero that day ... a hero who saved lives from my blunders.”

Rachel only vaguely realized that tears were pouring down her cheeks even more profusely than Saria’s tears. They just sat there in sullen silence for the longest time, neither one speaking.

After a long while, Saria wiped away her tears and sniffed, her tone becoming more even. “The reason I told you that story ... well, not only is it overdue, but also to impart something to you. You’re growing up. You’re no longer a child. You’re a young woman now. But even that entails danger. Even I, with all my centuries of experience, made a mistake that cost your mother her life.”

Saria then closed her eyes and sighed deeply. “I will allow you and your team to complete their mission as long as you promise you will be careful ... promise you will not overestimate yourself ... and promise that you’ll come home.”

Rachel almost didn’t hear her grandmother. She finally realized that Saria was waiting for some kind of a response. Even though Rachel knew she still had tears in her eyes, she didn’t feel the need to wipe them away as she nodded slowly, and said, “I promise, granny.”

Saria nodded. Rachel realized that she was about to hang up. Something prickled at her consciousness ... a subject that neither she nor her grandmother had raised which required discussion. Just as the signal was breaking off, Rachel quickly realized what she had forgotten. She started with a jerk.

“Wait! Wait! I wanted ... I wanted to ask about my stepsister ... about Éclair.”

Saria paused as she glanced downwards. There seemed to be even more regret in her features, though Rachel wasn’t entirely sure why. “Éclair ... yes. I don’t think I told you all the details. When I returned from my mission with Sasha, the Prime Minister had to go into hiding shortly thereafter. The royal family had just been assassinated save for one surviving heir, and the blame was falsely put on him. He asked me to take Éclair in and forge the documents changing her identity, naming her as a distant relative of the Kaves family. My family is old, and I have many indirect relatives throughout the Empire, so such a thing was believable. We claimed that her family had been killed in a raid by Morlocks in the outer territories who were becoming quite active at the time.”

The source of this story is Finestories

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