CHAPTER 8: SEA OF STARS
The sun was setting by the time Vigilantia prepped her ship, reserving space and stocking provisions for the three amazons who would accompany her to the Palace at CygniCity on the distant Homeworld of Alpha Cygni.
Deesha and Aysheia waited for the ship to be readied, and sat together in one of the Mansion's rose gardens watching the setting sun.
"Are you feeling a little better, my Captain?" the big woman inquired.
"I still want to die," she replied, her hands shaking so badly that Vigilantia had removed her from packing duty because she dropped every item.
"I can remember when you wanted to die once before," Deesha said solemnly. "Remember?"
Napolipolita nodded. "My mother had been killed, along with every person I ever called a friend. I didn't say a word for months."
"That's right. But when classes started for you, your written communications were nothing less than brilliant. At armaments, you were amazing. At ship design, you did your instructors proud."
"Ah," the former Captain sighed. "But I screamed in the throes of nightmare every night, didn't I?"
Deesha Dakina-Azawa nodded. "Even considering that that pig Tarim Chitai had attacked you for disturbing her sleep, it was her abuse that gave you your voice back."
"I still hate her, even though she's been dead for years and at your hand. I can't thank you enough for that, Dee."
The ex-spy nodded. "Well, it was no less what she would try to do to you, years later! She was the one who ended up in the starbase crematorium chamber instead of you. Or me, for that matter."
"Thank Cybele for that."
Napolipolita now remembered how CygniCity Space Academy cadet Tarim Chitai – whom Terrans would call a sociopath due to her total lack of conscience – had picked on her from the start.
Aysha had been devastated by her mother's death and her father's desertion. Theram Avaris had never returned for her after the funeral, in spite of his promise. In fact, he deserted his post and left for parts unknown.
She had been placed at the Academy for lack of a better place. She ate little and said nothing. Her bad dreams kept her up at night, robbing her of much-needed rest. Often, her weeping woke others around her. All the girls were kind to her, especially that big dumb farm girl named Deesha. They smoothed her hair and patted her shoulder and let her cry it out.
It had been only Tarim Chitai who'd shown annoyance rather than empathy. Truth be told, Tarim had never been acquainted with the concepts of kindness or tolerance. Thus, it had been easy to turn her anger into a little campaign of harassment that had gone on for months.
Keeping her eyes on any nearby instructors or senior cadets, Tarim would wait for their heads to turn before she would jab the fragile thirteen-year-old in the ribs; or punch her in the arm hard enough to leave purple bruises; or rip her books out of her hand, flinging them down the nearest flight of stairs. Through all this, the child spoke not a single word.
Not that Chitai wasn't confronted.
"How did Cadet Napolipolita get those bruises, Cadet Chitai?" Academy Headmistress Falizia Tiu had once demanded of her.
"I didn't do it," the big teenager had whined. "I swear to the Mother. You're always picking on me! How can you punish me for something I didn't do?"
Tiu had eyed the two other cadets who had witnessed the assault in question. But alas – neither would tell the truth in fear of facing sure and swift reprisal.
Aysha, of course, wouldn't speak at all. Tiu knew it, but wanted to go through the motions for the girl's sake.
The girl stared at the floor.
"That will be all. Thank you, girls," Captain Tiu said smartly, dismissing everyone but Tarim Chitai.
She turned to the beefy girl, whose lips were curling up in a smirk. "I know that you lie. I also know that you are a coward to pick on a girl who's lost everyone in her life – her parents, her friends, and her starship home. However, I cannot prove it. I can only assure you that your conduct has been noticed, and I earnestly hope that it will stop. In the meantime, stay away from Napolipolita. She's suffered enough."
"Thank you, Headmistress," Chitai had fawned. "I should tell you that it's Cadet Dakina who's hurting Napolipolita, not me. In fact, I saw – "
Captain Tiu had shut off her words before she could continue her calumny. "I don't believe a single word you say, Cadet. That is all!"
As it had happened, all Tiu could do was to station the Academy instructors and her in the places where Chitai's surreptitious abuse customarily took place. Unfortunately, the adults couldn't be everywhere all the time.
The next day, Chitai had pushed Napolipolita into an empty room, slamming the thin child against a visi-screen. "You think you know so much. I'm twice as smart as you and got the lesser score because you cheated!"
Aysha looked at her, amazed at the boldness of the lie, yet realizing that Tarim believed it.
"I got three hours' sleep last night because of your caterwauling. Who do you think you are, coming here and messing up my life?" Chitai sprang upon the girl, doubling her over and twisting her left arm upward so that the bones grated. Napolipolita remained silent as she tried to wrestle herself from much-bigger cadet's grip. Grinning, Tarim increased the upward pressure on the girl's arm, then jabbed a knee into her kidneys.
"Are you going to cry, you little bitch? Are you going to snivel and beg for mercy like your mother did before the Kirlians used her for fencing practice?"
At the enormity of the slander upon her valiant mother's name, Napolipolita's tongue unfroze. The girl then shrieked the only words she had said since she'd found her mother lying dead on the bridge of the Pana Gaia.
"Not true! Not true! NOT TRUE! NOT TRUE!" Slipping out of Chitai's grasp, the green-haired cadet had whirled around to face her attacker.
She heard the pounding of feet and the whoosh of a door opening behind her.
"NOT TRUE!" the girl shrieked over and over, even after they carried her to the school infirmary.
The sun had nearly set, coloring the evening sky with pink and blue.
"I don't think you truly want to die, Captain," Deesha said. "Remember what they told us as cadets? 'Prepare for change, for change will come unbidden.'"
"Then why do I feel so dreadful?"
"Well, in addition to losing Hikaru and recovering from poisoning yourself with booze, I think you're frightened at the prospects of a future here on Earth," the ex-spy responded.
Napolipolita nodded, then remained silent for a long while. Finally, she spoke. "I would reign over my empty house as a wealthy queen with an empty heart. Hikiri and Athenia would be on their own in a few short years. My children would visit occasionally. The social elite of Graviton City would continue to cluck their tongues, saying what a shame it was for Hikaru to pass on, but wouldn't bother following their heartfelt condolences with an invitation to dinner."
Dee smiled, enjoying the beginnings of her former commander's rant.
"The National Perspirer would continue slapping my face on their front covers with headlines such as "Brokenhearted Widow Slashes Wrists", or "Brokenhearted Widow Takes Death Dive into Pool", or "Brokenhearted Widow Has Wild Fling with Somebody-or-another"; their readers could fill in the blanks. It could be a series, a different lover every week! That would perk up their circulation!"
Dee laughed out loud. "You'd die of boredom within a year."
The green-haired alien pondered this. "Nothing holds me here. My husband is gone and my children no longer need me in their daily lives. Biko is running the zaibatsu quite well without my help."
Dee took hold of her friend's bony shoulders, turning her towards herself.
"Then take to the sea of stars, my Captain," she said.
Napolipolita allowed herself a half-smile at this. "Imagine me as the oldest active line officer in the Space Navy!"
"I can imagine that just fine."
"Imagine me as an old bridge bat with her gray hair in cornrows, like the Adrymachidae women on the Homeworld!"
"Nah. How about one of those spiky short cuts? Retro is 'in', from what my old student Buyabah tells me. The snobs around here would pitch a fit!"
"That would be good," the ex-captain replied, grinning. "I could dye it purple, just to aggravate them."
"Or, dye half of it purple and buzz-cut the other!"
"Dammit, Deesha," Napolipolita declared, slapping her hands on her knees. "I do believe I like your thinking!" The two old friends shared a laugh, but Dee suddenly became serious as she looked over Napolipolita's shoulder.
"Uh – Cap'n. You have a guest," the big woman said, standing up. "I'll go inside and see if Vigilantia needs any help." Before Aysheia could even look behind her, Dee was halfway down the cobble-stoned path toward the Mansion.
"Excuse me?" said the male voice behind her.
Napolipolita spun around.
Commander Hagio Triado Atola (Ret.) stood before her, resplendent in a white and gold tunic, his long silver hair glistening in the evening light. He placed the other hand on his breast, bowing in the traditional Thessalonikan manner.
Atola was the father of her second daughter and had unceremoniously dumped them both, more years ago than Napolipolita wanted to think about. Yet here he was before her with a bouquet of cut flowers in his hand, grinning like a monkey as if all was well and everything was forgiven.
"For you," he said, presenting them.
Wordlessly, the bereaved widow stood and decked him with a roundhouse punch.
"You kakamatandis," she growled, stepping over his prostrate form and making her way back to the house, ready as she'd ever be to begin her mission for Queen and Empire.