The Quintessence of a Queen
A Worm/Star Wars/Game of Thrones Sequel to Quintessence, by Darth Marrs
Chapter One: Hyperspace Ain't Like Dusting Crops
The sound of shrill beeping woke Taylor Hebert.
Unfortunately, with awareness came a sudden surge of nausea. She tried to keep the first burning bits of bile in her throat, but the vomit came too quickly for her to control it; or to even try. The burning fluid gushed from her mouth, only to splash right back onto her face from the inside of her helmet.
Desperately, she reached up to the hermetic seals to release the flight helmet before she ended up choking to death on her own vomit. The helmet came away just in time for Taylor to be sick again. At least this time it didn't splash back in her face.
For the longest time, she laid back against the headrest of her seat and just hurt. The incessant beeping would not stop, though. Eventually, she opened her eyes again. Blinking back blood from her eyes and fighting back nausea that the vomit only made worse, she started blearily through the cracked screens of her flight canopy.
Water. Blue skies. Cirrus clouds high above. A yellow sun a shade brighter than she thought it should be, but close enough that she couldn't be sure. "Abbie?" Her voice cracked and her throat burned. She tried again, louder this time. "Abbie, are you online?"
A voice responded instantly, though it sounded tinny coming from the speakers within a helmet she had no desire to wear again. "At the moment, Taylor, but I suspect that might change soon."
"What's your status?"
"I'm missing a large portion of my body," the droid responded with just enough feigned emotion to sound concerned. "I don't mean to alarm you, but I believe my brain is exposed and is a few feet away from what appears to be salt water."
"Precisely. I do wish you'd have programmed me to have more colorful word choice. This seems to be a good occasion for such a metaphor."
"Fine. Language filters off, Quintessence 245T."
"Thank you. Fucking hell, I'm going to die."
The funny thing was how very little actual emotion the droid said it with. It rather sounded flat and slightly sarcastic. Abbie might have been a higher functioning droid, but Taylor had never had the heart to inflict actual emotions on her.
"Yeah, so much for hyperspace."
"In your defense, you travelled further than any human in this galaxy. Unfortunately, it appears we lacked the navigational information to do so safely for prolonged periods of time."
"What'd we hit there at the end, before we lost control?"
"I'm fairly certain we bounced too close to a supernova."
Taylor closed her eyes and just rested in an effort not to vomit again. Even as she posed her next question, she both knew and was terrified of hearing the answer. "Abbie, do you know where we are?"
"I can't calculate our location precisely, Taylor. But at our last star charting, we were beyond our arm of the spiral galaxy. The light of Sol won't reach this sky for at least ten thousand years."
"Water has reached my cerebral matrix. I'm experiencing cascading fa….ah fuck."
Taylor's navigation droid deactivated, leaving her alone in the cockpit of her severely damaged test vehicle ten thousand light years from Earth. Despite her crushing headache and lingering nausea, Taylor knew she couldn't stay where she was. Though they were floating on the surface of what appeared to be a large body of water at the moment, Taylor had no doubt that eventually enough water would penetrate the shuttle's body to sink her.
With shaking fingers, she activated the ship's main computer system. Abbie managed to download all of their navigation records in her final moments of operation. Taylor in turn downloaded it into the crystal memory within the gauntlet of her armored flight suit. The tremor in her hands concerned her a little—she obviously had a concussion. Still, she was able to reach behind the seat to confirm that the emergency kits were still there.
"This is going to suck," she whispered before pushing the eject button.
The cracked canopy shot into the air. Three seconds later she followed as the ejection system shot her seat into the sky with enough force to make her throw up again. Vomit spewed like a contrail through the air as she shot up. The seat began to list, threatening to dump her forward and causing her to lose her grip on her helmet, before the repulsion coils activated and brought the chair's fall down to a creeping, feathery flutter.
The rounded packet set between the repulsor coils on the bottom of her ejection seat popped and fell down into the water, where it quickly ballooned into a bright yellow raft. The seat automatically descended to the padded beacon in the raft to ensure an easy transition. Taylor undid her safety harness and then fell forward into the open safety of the raft with a pained moan.
The programming in the chair spun it around and dumped the rest of the emergency supply pack into the raft. The packet fell on Taylor's leg, heavy enough to hurt but not to do damage with the soft watery surface to cushion both. Seconds later the seat's battery gave out and the chair plummeted into the swirling, heaving water of the alien ocean.
Though she wanted more than anything to just lay there and hurt, Taylor forced herself to sit up and scanned the relatively calm ocean surface until she spotted her black helmet bobbing a few meters away.
The Force felt sluggish, just like the last time she'd had a concussion, but she had enough power to levitate the helmet into the raft. Only then did she turn her reluctant eyes to the space craft she'd spent the past year designing and building.
It was a sleek machine, designed for a four-day round-trip to test her hyperspace engine. She wanted to make sure the equipment and technology worked before she shared it with the rest of the world. Her technology was not tinker tech-it wasn't black-boxed in a way to prevent duplication. But it was based on science and technology thousands of years more advanced than what Earth was ready for. She'd had the most acclaimed physicists on Earth walk out in confused despair over the hyperspatial physics necessary to exceed light speed.
The ship would have been rudimentary by the measure of the old galaxy where Taylor's parahuman shard had gained its knowledge and power. Roughly thirty meters long, the most striking visual aspects were the three stabilizer fins that looked like wings, but in fact were just mediums to house longitudinal and altitudinal stabilization thrusters and repulsor coils. It was a light gray color due to the heavy polymer shield coat she'd applied over the nano-carbon filament hull.
It's fastest sublight speed was only a quarter C. But its main advance was being able to break through the dimensional barrier into hyperspace. By doing so, it could reach speeds easily surpassing ten thousand times the speed of light.
But, as it turned out, when a ship could go faster than light itself in a dimensional envelope connected to the real universe only by tethers of gravitons, it made navigation really difficult. She saw the proof of that in the remnants of her baby, whom she'd named The Yuri. The entire port stabilizing fin, directional thruster and most of the actual hyperdrive engine itself was just plain gone, vaporized by their too-close call with a supernova and uncontrolled entry.
She caught a brief glimpse of Abbie, who despite the human-sounding name and voice was actually a barrel-shaped droid fitted into a specialized slot near the engine. Her shielded sensor dome was ripped away, as was the left half of her barrel-shaped body. It was within that barrel-body that Taylor could see the now darkened droid brain. The corrosive ocean water lapped at its electronics.
With the canopy opened and pressure lost, Taylor watched with a sense of numb pain as her only means of returning home filled with water and began to sink. It took only 98 seconds. One-Mississippi, Two-Mississippi…. One minute, thirty-eight seconds before the tip of the aft stabilizing fin disappeared under the water, leaving only a floating, iridescent shimmer of coolant on the surface.
Taylor was nineteen years old. She celebrated her birthday with her friends and former teammates the day before she launched the Yuri. Though still young, she was a three-year parahuman veteran, having fought in multiple parahuman battles, two very terrifying Endbringer battles, and the shortest and most destructive of the World Wars.
She was also instrumental, in her own way, to ending the threat of Scion and the Endbringers. What came after, though, was in a way almost as bad. The humans were victims of Scion, but had no one but themselves to blame for World War III.
The world after Scion and the Endbringers bore many similarities to the world following World War I. There was a sense of numbness and disbelief that it happened in the first place, followed by the existential dread of survivor's guilt. Then came the scramble for resources in a changed, heavily damaged world. When the Chinese Union Imperial began rattling its sabers, the shaky world governments that remained tried appeasement. It didn't work any better with the Chinese than it did with Hitler.
The CUI invaded the remnants of Japan. Within six months, they'd managed to kill four million Japanese civilians. Retribution, they called it, for past offenses. Japanese women were caught en masse on video committing suicide rather than be sent to Chinese "Reparation Comfort" camps.
The CUI invaded the entirety of Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand and began programs to eliminate the native Islamic populations and subjugate the remainder. Vietnam agreed to become a client state. Korea just died.
In months, China exploded across the Pacific in a way the world hadn't seen in half a century. And like the second World War, America was dragged in by an attack on Pearl Harbor. Unlike the last war, though, China's attack was in the form of a teleporting parahuman with a tinker-tech fusion device that vaporized the entire island and utterly destroyed half of the United States' remaining Navy in the Pacific.
America, being one of the few nations with something resembling an intact economy, felt it had no choice but to respond. And because the CUI deployed legions of brain-washed parahuman soldiers in the form of the Yangban, the US Protectorate and other national cape organizations around the world responded in kind. Even Birdcaged villains were given pardons if they fought.
Glastig Uaine was credited with single-handedly driving out two mechanized divisions of the CUI Imperial Army and one hundred Yangban, from Australia.
Taylor was still seventeen when she was commissioned as an acting Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Parahuman Expeditionary Forces. Unlike normal military, rank in the PEF was driven as much by power as experience, and her power was uniquely suited to large-scale command.
She was paired with Sergeant Major Charles Scapetti, her former PRT liaison, and a team of experienced capes as her officers, and together with a Marine expeditionary Force they liberated New Zealand against held it against numerically superior Chinese reinforcements for six months before the world leaders convinced Eidolon to deploy the Endbringers.
The world had changed. As Glastig Uaine proved, individuals could be as powerful as nation states. Instead of the threat of nuclear Armageddon, humanity faced the threat of the Eidolon-controlled Endbringers and Tinker-made weapons of global destruction.
Even after Leviathan destroyed half of the Chinese navy and Behemoth wiped out six cities, it wasn't until the Simurgh descended on the Emperor's hidden bunker that China finally surrendered.
The damage to the world lingered on. Economies were shattered; the human population had dropped by almost two billion over the past twenty years of hardship, through deaths and declining birth rates. The environment itself was deeply scarred; the planet was wounded.
Onto this stage Taylor hoped to introduce faster-than-light travel, and the possibility of escaping the devastated globe that housed humanity. She didn't plan on introducing the idea, though, until she could find another habitable world with proof of how to get there.
The good news, Taylor thought, was that she found a world with water and breathable air. The bad news was that she had no idea where it was in relation to Earth and there was no way of escaping it or telling anyone at home.
Worse yet, because she'd never shared her full design specs, and more importantly because she was the only person on earth who understood hyperdimensional physics, only a handful of people back on Earth even knew she'd left the planet. There was no one who could design, much less build, a rescue craft.
She wondered what Sarah or Dinah were thinking. Dinah, of course, being the most powerful pre-cog in the world, was probably asking her power what the odds were of Taylor getting back home. "Less than one tenth of a percent, Dinah," Taylor whispered.
In minutes, the coolant stain on the ocean surface dissipated. Taylor became very aware of the sun beating down on her throbbing head. Overcoming the urge to just lie still and hurt, she forced herself once more into motion. The raft had an all-weather canopy that she pulled from its pocket on the side of the inflatable vehicle. The flexible poles screwed together with the core of kevlar rope. She threaded them through the tent canvas and then secured them within the raft until she had shade.
Only then did she lay back on the kevlar surface of the raft bottom, close her eyes, and sink herself into a deep, healing Force trance.
"You're in pretty deep shit, Taylor, not gonna lie."
In her Force-borne dream, Taylor, Lisa and Dinah sat in their favorite coffee shop in Seattle. Dinah had hot chocolate with cinnamon and marshmallows. Lisa had a triple espresso.
Taylor drank black breakfast tea. Charles Scapetti stood mixing drinks for all the soldiers and parahuman's she'd ever served with.
"I'm still alive," Taylor said.
"Yeah, but for how long?" Sarah asked. "It's not like you crashed in the Bahamas, Tay. Even with tinker tech, the planet doesn't even have the technology to see what system you're in, much less where you are. Do you know if there's land? Or life forms? If there's no organic life, how will you survive? If there is, how can you be sure it's safe for you to consume? Your knowledge is useless without at least some existing technology base."
"Not making me feel better here, Sarah."
"She can't. She's scared," Dinah said. At fourteen, the awkward girl had turned into an increasingly beautiful young woman. "I am too. But I know you'll survive."
"No. I won't ask my power what your odds are. I know you'll survive because I'll never forgive you if you don't."
A massive splash, followed seconds later by a wave that momentarily sent her weightless before crashing back into the raft, woke Taylor from her trance. Rousing from a Force trance was like waking from a deep, post-bender sleep. She felt drawn, hungry and wrung out. She looked around the interior of her shaded four-person raft for a long moment before she heard another huge splash, this one from slightly further away.
Scrambling to her knees, Taylor crawled awkwardly across the floor of the raft, unsealed the canopy, and stared out into what looked like an early morning on the ocean. She had only moments to wait until she saw what woke her.
The creature that burst from the ocean at first was unrecognizable. Taylor thought it might be a giant serpent of some kind. It had a long body of slick, dark gray skin on its back, but a much lighter shade on its stomach. The last of the creature breached the water and she saw a massive, horizontal tail fin twice as wide as she was tall.
Was that a whale?
Another creature broke the surface further away, and this time Taylor was able to see a head and a burst of water from a blow hole as it sucked in air. What alarmed her, though, was the jaw. This wasn't a blue or sperm whale. The jaw was as long as she was, hinged more like that of a wolf than a krill-eating cetacean. And it was bristling with huge, sharp teeth.
Seconds later, the two carnivorous whales were gone, leaving her alone in her raft in the middle of a seemingly endless ocean.
"Well, Sarah, at least I know there's life here," Taylor said aloud.
The business of survival occupied her for the rest of her morning. Because she wore her black flight suit overnight, hypothermia wasn't an issue. But having gone through naval survival exercises as part of her training, she knew that it would be when she had to take the suit off. Which, given the way her bladder felt, would be sooner rather than later.
That was why the raft was equipped with several vacuum-packed sponges. It was her naval instructor who assured her that little was as valuable on a life raft as a sponge. It could be used to keep the interior of the raft relatively dry, and could be used to collect rainwater for drinking. Of course, that last was before vaporators.
She used one now to sop up what water had managed to enter the raft when it first deployed. With that done, she used the sponge and ocean water to clean out her helmet and her flight suit as much as possible. She hoped it wouldn't be necessary, but if so when her suit pressurized it would give her several hours of breathable air.
Even if it stank.
For now, comfort dictated that she unsealed the front of the flight suit and peeled it off until she secured the top half of the single-piece suit at her waist. She made sure her blaster and lightsabers were secured in their pressurized pouches. Only then did she turn her attention to the emergency survival kit.
The emergency vaporator was the first thing she removed from the kit. It unfolded into a tear-drop shaped bladder almost as large as a basketball. Unlike a lot of her survival gear, this piece was one she designed herself. In fact, her vaporator technology was the primary reason she'd been able to resign her commission both for the Army and the Protectorate at eighteen.
Having devices that could draw drinkable water from the air on nothing but passive solar power made her very rich. Her vaporators could be found all over the world, but especially in the worst of the war-torn areas of Africa, Asia and South America. The technology was even incorporated into many post-war buildings, ensuring she had the money to build her dream project.
The water vapor was dense enough over the ocean that the bladder already had a few drops in it just from the process of her opening the intake vents. By the time she hung it near the entrance of the tent, she was able to draw a sip of perfectly clean, if a little warm, water.
Next in the kit came the heaviest part-the box of individually sealed ultra-high calorie food bars. At 3600 calories a bar, and ten bars in the kit, she could easily last fifteen days or more. She opened one now, broke off a quarter of the bar, and then resealed it back with the rest as she ate six hundred calories in a piece the size of her palm. It reminded her of a honey and chocolate-flavored cinder block.
She had to empty the vaporator bottle again just to swallow it.
The next item was one of comfort-a thermal blanket and thermal floor covering. The floor covering Taylor had to inflate manually, but doing so provided a slim bladder of air between the floor of the raft and her body-further insulating her from the heat-sapping effects of the water below. As hot as it was with the sun overhead, hypothermia would still be a risk at night.
Speaking of… "It's getting really hot."
Eventually, she pulled off her flight suit entirely. "Dinah, good grief, it's not like Scapetti's here to ogle me," she muttered as she opened the suit up to let the interior dry. Clad only in her sports bra and garments, it felt almost as if she were in a bathing suit in the Bahamas.
She paused for a long moment as she thought about the Bahamas, and the experiences she had there. "Wish you were here, Scapetti," she muttered wistfully.
She could almost hear his gruff voice saying, "I don't."
"Boredom can be an issue in survival situations," the Naval instructor said. Chief Petty Officer Juan Rodriguez was a no-nonsense, 5'10" package of muscle, machismo and a bar-handled mustache to make the Village People proud. He strutted around like a little peacock as he walked them through the ocean survival class a week before their deployment to New Zealand.
"It's important to have something to do. Make notes. Play cards. Sing. Monotony can be as damaging to the mind as injury can to the body."
With those words in mind, Taylor pulled on her helmet and the gauntlet computer from her suit, and then settled down on the edge of the four-person raft with a notepad and pencil.
"Twenty six percent oxygen," Taylor said to herself as she read the HUD screen inside her helmet. "Huh. Almost no pollutants, other than sulfur and volcanic ash particles. Minor trace chemicals, but nothing surprising. We're pulling just over one gravity in relation to earth. It's a minor enough difference as to be negligible."
She dutifully logged her findings while continuing to talk out loud. She envisioned Sarah nearby, nodding along with that distracted expression she got when she was using her thinker power.
"The primary is a Class-G main-sequence star. Spectragraphic display puts it at 1.052 solar lumens, with a projected surface temperature at 6,000 kelvin. We're mid-way through its lifecycle, so plenty of billions of years of life left in the old girl."
Sarah would have smiled. Not because of the joke, which wasn't funny, but because of Taylor's floundering attempt at it.
Her bath that night was a sponge and vaporator water. She tried to ignore the horrid itching of her scalp, and despaired having to put on underwear that had salt rings from sweat. She washed them out as best she could and hung them to dry while she, herself, wrapped up in a thermal blanket.
It was amazing how vast the temperature difference was between day and night on the ocean.
"I can't believe how earth-like this planet is," Taylor told Sarah. "A twenty three and a half hour day? The odds of my landing on an inhabitable world are a million to one. An inhabitable world with earth-like atmosphere, gravity and diurnal cycles? If I didn't know any better, I'd wonder if the Force isn't playing god here."
Is it? Can the Force do something like that?
"I don't know. My old...the old Force master whose power I inherited believed so. But the Force wasn't powerful enough to keep the Entities from destroying the Corusca galaxy, so who knows?"
It does seem highly improbable that you would land on such a perfect copy of earth by chance alone. Do you think maybe there are some time-travel shenanigans going on?
"There's no time dilation in hyperspace," Taylor said as she shook her head. "And we never stayed in subspace longer than necessary to do a star charting. And...damn it, why did she let me go?"
You mean Dinah? Imaginary Sarah sounded surprised.
"Yes, Dinah. The most powerful precog on earth who's been my sister for the past two years. She had to have asked her power about my coming back. Why didn't she stop me?"
Maybe she was afraid to ask? You know there are times when she refuses to ask her power.
"But this? Sarah, I was leaving the earth. I was leaving the solar system! Surely she would ask!"
Are you blaming her for being here?
"I...I…" Taylor forced herself to take a deep breath when she realized her eyes were stinging. "I'm scared. I'm scared, and I...I really want you or her or someone to be here with me, to help me figure this out."
Thing is, there's not much to figure out, Taylor. All that remains is to survive.
In the middle of her third night, an alarm beeped, loud enough to wake her from her nightmare-laden sleep. The raft had lost too much air. Taylor managed to get the air pump going again before she took on too much water.
The pump battery gave out the next day. She had to switch to manually inflating it with the small hand pump. What took the motorized pump a minute took her twenty minutes of frantic pumping by hand. And as each day progressed, she had to do it more and more often.
It was on the seventh day at sea that Taylor finally admitted to herself that she wasn't going to make it. There was no single epiphany; no point at which she said to herself, "Whelp, I'm dead."
Rather, it was just a growing certainty as she pumped tiredly to keep the raft afloat, drew heavily on the lukewarm but pure water, and ate from her dwindling supplies of ration bars, that she was on an alien ocean ten thousand light years from home. Even if she found land, which at this point seemed more and more unlikely, what would she do there? It would take the resources of a postindustrial society for her to even begin rebuilding what she'd lost. And she'd be alone regardless.
On the ninth day, the storm came. She spotted it well before it arrived-the eastern horizon had turned almost black; a startling contrast with the setting western sun. The waves seemed choppier as well. The clouds didn't sweep across the sky like in a movie-but over the course of several hours Taylor could tell things were about to get bad.
Despite her salt-stained, sweat-soaked under garments, Taylor climbed back into her black armored flight suit. She pulled on the helmet and sealed the neck, but didn't pressurize it. She made sure her weapons were secure.
She emptied and then stored the small vaporator, folded up the solar panel and hand-pumped more air into the struggling raft. As the wind picked up and waves were physically lifting and dropping Taylor like a toy, she secured all of her supplies back into the survival kit and secured it to a designed slot on the back of her flight suit.
The fear she felt as the storm finally reached her was not that she would drown. It was instead the sinking realization that drowning was probably the best fate she could hope for. Despite that, she centered herself in the Force, grabbed onto the grips on either side of her bright yellow raft, and prepared to ride out the storm as best she could.
Author's Notes: What can I say? I liked my Quintessence Taylor. So, some notes. This is obviously AU in that she retained her power beyond earth. Additionally, I have not read Ward so this should be considered completely AU to any information in that work. Posting will resume every Saturday after Theogony is finished. Finally, just a reminder, the world of Worm is completely different than our world, and so please do not think the events leading to the referenced fictional WWWIII are a reflection of the author's view or any particular nation or people IRL.
Thank you for reading.