Stories / Spirals /

Raven

from a serial by Lexi Summer Hale

A quick jolt of pain. The familiar bout of nausea. It lingers for a moment, then passes. I take a deep breath, and wait for the pounding of my heart to slow.

The jump is complete. In the space of a unit of time so small that the most advanced clock in the galaxy couldn’t measure it, I’ve moved from the heart of Imperial space nearly twenty parsecs corewards. An unfamiliar world hangs in space outside the viewport. Tel Casran.

Even from this distance, I can tell it’s different from anywhere I’ve ever seen, ever lived. I’m on the dark side, and there are none of the bright lights of an Imperial worldscape. From space, this world looks dead, even though I know it’s home to millions.

Another deep breath. My hands shaking, I reach for the controls of the ship’s broadcast unit. I have not been transmitting an IFF signal. They likely will not have noticed me yet. Once I start broadcasting, the odds that a jittery defense grid blows me out of the sky are only going to increase.

I turn the switch. Manual broadcast. Analog, amplitude modulation mode. I pray that whoever’s listening still knows what that is. I take a deep breath.

I could have recorded this first, before the moment of truth, but having a file like that around when you’re still at home going through the motions is dangerous. Besides, that would have lacked the dramatic flair I feel like the universe demands when you’re upending your life for a complete unknown.

I thought for a long time about what to say. I composed this script in my head dozens of times over the year I planned this, trying to figure out the exact words. In the end, it doesn’t matter. I wing it.

I take one more deep breath, and reach for the microphone.

“My name is Raven Sunhelm of New Carnelian.”

It occurs to me, briefly, that it would have been better to wait until the computer had calculated a return jump to announce myself, in case I wanted to change my mind at the last moment, or the Society opened fire. I dismiss the thought. It’s pointless now.

“I am aboard the Imperial ship that has jumped into your space. I am a military officer of the Empire. I have come alone and unarmed, carrying valuable intelligence. I surrender unconditionally to the Society of Worlds. You may board in whatever force you deem necessary to take me into custody and secure my ship. You will face no resistance. I have come to...”

The last five words are the hardest. Unexpected emotion wells up in me as I force them from my lips.

“...to defect from the Empire.”

I switch the broadcast unit to repeat, and sink down in my seat. As much as one can in microgravity, at least.

It’s done.

Now all that’s left is to wait.

Half an hour passes before a ship approaches. It does not open fire, and I extend the docking sleeve. Another minute passes as pressure equalizes between our airlocks. I am relieved that our airlocks are compatible. I would not have relished a spacewalk.

Ten soldiers burst into the command deck, armored and carrying unfamiliar rifles. I unbuckle myself from my seat at the navigation console and let myself lift gently into the air.

I raise my hands above my head.

“I surrender,” I reiterate, in Ranuir this time. “Elen afnile.”

You can’t really throw someone on the floor in space, but I can tell these soldiers want to. My hands are pinned behind my back, and my eyes are covered with a secure blindfold. Cuffs ratchet snugly shut across my wrists, the fancy padded kind you use when you don’t intend to take them off any time soon. Two of the soldiers return me to their ship while the rest remain to secure and search mine. (I’ve left some helpful notes around so they shouldn’t miss anything important.)

Taking someone prisoner in zero-G is always an awkward business, but my captors move with an assurance that says they’ve practiced this many times before. I’m strapped into an acceleration couch and I feel the ship’s thrusters kick in. No idea how long reentry will take. I make myself as comfortable as I can and close my eyes - more to trick my brain into relaxing that for any practical reason, since everything’s as black as night already behind the blindfold. My limited cybernetics aren’t much use for entertainment or to keep track of time - I’ve never been rich enough to afford anything with a neural interface, nor have I ever wanted shoddy, opaque corporate code plugged into my brain. But the rest of that trip, however long it takes, that I spend immobile, trapped in the darkness, with no sound but the distant thundering of a plasma drive, makes me wish I had.

I feel turbulence as the ship hits Tel Casran’s atmosphere, and ambient sounds change as we switch from plasma drive to ramjet. As we slow down I begin to feel gravity’s hold again. A short while later, I hear the whine of landing gear descending, and then the ship shudders as we hit the ground. The descent was gentle compared to the military landing crafts I’m used to.

On the ground, I weigh maybe two-thirds what I weighed back on New Carnelian. Sixty or seventy pounds, maybe. So Tel Casran is less massive than my homeworld. Not much information, but it’s more than I had an hour ago.

And hopefully less than I’ll have an hour from now.