She got out of bed. She was late. Irrelevant. She’d been dreaming of the Hendari civilization. She had walked its halls, run through its broken cities, and screamed for her friends. Her countless friends and family.
It might’ve been a harrowing dream, but Sally had experienced them most of her life, so she shrugged it off literally. Shaking her shoulders out, she soon dressed.
She glanced over at her bedside table. There, lined up in neat rows, was every Hendari crystal the Coalition had once possessed.
She patted one fondly. It reacted to her presence, bleeding a glimmer of light as her finger slid on by. She didn’t allow it to get too bright. Do that, and the Coalition might figure out that the Hendari crystals had never traveled that far – just a few hundred meters away from where they’d once been kept.
Shrugging again, Sally pushed her mind out. Her incredible, unstoppable mind. Or should she say the Queen’s?
Sally had no idea where she began and the Queen stopped. They had been bonded for too many years to be able to tell both of them apart.
She could still recall the moment she encountered the Queen.
It had been down on her colony world. She’d been in a cave, had been waiting there for her friend. He’d never come. And in the cold and dark she’d slipped, right down a cliff. One that should have shattered any small child’s body. And hers had technically shattered. But her mind….
She closed her eyes now, despite the fact she was already late. She let her psyche slip back into that moment. There was no resistance. When her mind wanted to move, it was like water rushing down a raging river.
She stood there in that cave now. She looked down at her crushed six-year-old body.
She was wearing a dress – old, dappled and cheery, white and red and covered with flowers. It matched the blood that seeped out of the deep injury to her skull.
But then, just as the last light went to flicker from her eyes, the floor lit up. This presence grew. It reacted to her blood, sensed an opportunity, and followed it back to its source.
There was no trauma in this memory for Sally. Why would there be? She could’ve died, but she hadn’t in the end. Yes, one of the greatest psychics in all of the universe had been the reason for Sally’s salvation. Irrelevant.
Nobody understood Sally’s personality. She knew what they called her – the maddest recruit in 100 years.
Irrelevant yet again.
Even as her alarm blared in the real world, Sally continued to look at this moment. She smiled at the second she saw the Queen’s energy lift the little Sally off her feet, smiled harder as she saw the wound in her skull repair itself.
To this day, Sally didn’t really know how the Queen had come to inhabit that cave. Even the Queen was unaware.
Perhaps someday she’d find out. For now, she had to ensure the Coalition’s Hendari crystals went nowhere.
She shrugged, pushing her psyche back into the real world as she yawned and headed toward the door.
Her flatmate had already left.
You would think it might be dangerous for Sally to keep the greatest treasure in all the universe stacked up by her bedside. From the wrong angle, you’d be able to see right into her opening door and glimpse the crystals.
But that would necessitate Sally not knowing where her flatmate was at all times. If she wished it, she could track her across the city. Heck. If she wished to, she could track her across the world. Nobody would glimpse the crystals. Not unless Sally wanted them to.
The computer in the main room beeped. “You’re five minutes late for your combat exam. You have already lost five points from the final mark.”
Sally didn’t hurry. She walked straight past the kitchen table, not bothering to grab any food. She paused, angled her head over her shoulder, and stared through the windows at the grounds below. They had been repaired from their ordeal months ago. At the time, every beautiful grand oak tree had been ripped up, their leaves burnt and the grass around them charred. Now she almost couldn’t see the old wounds.
But she could feel them. Every time she passed a cadet or an officer, she glimpsed into their minds and felt the weeping holes in their psyches. They might have won the last battle, but all of them wondered when the next would come.
If Sally had anything to do with it, it wouldn’t.
For untold years, the Queen had lain in wait, just for this time, this rising opportunity. She had one purpose, to destroy the King. And she would.
With that thought thundering in her mind, Sally strode out of her door.
There were other cadets. Maybe they’d overslept, or perhaps they had some other reason for being late, but now they ran down the corridor as if their lives depended on it. One she recognized from her class. It was Serena. She stopped and stared for a second, likely noting the fact that Sally wasn’t rushed. Then Serena rolled her eyes in a very specific way, huffed, and ran.
She called the only elevator at the end of the corridor but didn’t wait for Sally. It would take too long.
Sally simply smiled.
There were aspects of Academy life she didn’t understand.
Here these recruits were, dragging themselves to class, when out there, the Scarax Galaxy waited. Their forces had already pushed into the Academy. Sally was almost certain that there was a god walking amongst the staff now.
She would have to drag them out into the light at some point.
Though she had to be careful. There was a line she couldn’t cross. If she became too involved, it would reveal her and weaken her before the final fight. Nothing – nothing would stop her from killing the King this time.
Sally waited for the elevator to arrive. It took a good two minutes. She casually took it down. When she reached the first floor, she was alone.
Or at least she should have been.
An elevator to her side from one of the higher levels of the accommodation block opened. Out strode none other than Joseph Lance.
He was by far the most popular person in her grade. He was charming, he was witty, and he was also a spacer. Not that she was meant to know that.
She’d saved his life multiple times during the attack on the Academy. Not that he knew that either.
He took a double-take when he saw her. Then he straightened quickly. “Go get to class.” He turned and started running.
When he’d strode through the elevator, he’d been unhurried. Likely, just like her, he didn’t see the point of a combat exam. Also, he was a spacer. If he chose to pluck out his sword and use his power, there wouldn’t be anyone he wouldn’t be able to defeat.
Sally didn’t bother to hurry. But Joseph still paused at the doors, keeping them open as he frowned over at her. “Come on, Cadet. This is the most important combat exam of the year. I know your grades. If you want to stay in the Academy—”
“Shouldn’t you speak for yourself?” she asked directly. Other people might flinch around being direct with somebody as charming as Joseph. Not her. “Your combat grades are hardly amazing.” She said grades, not skills. She was no idiot.
His jaw twitched a little.
She’d seen it do that before – mostly around her. Maybe, unconsciously, Joseph still remembered who she was. She would never let him recall the exact memory until she had to, though.
“Why aren’t you hurrying? You’re a fifth-year. You must’ve joined the Academy for a reason. Now come on. Rush. Every minute you’re late is a point from your final grade.”
“Then maybe I’ll have to prove that I’m the greatest force in all the universe,” she said with a shrug.
“Here we go again,” Joseph muttered. He might’ve tried to hide it, but he rolled his eyes – and it was even worse than what Serena had managed.
“What, you don’t believe I’m the greatest force in all the universe?” Sally asked in a controlled voice.
“No. You’re just a fifth-year cadet. I get that… we live in interesting times, but come on, Sally.”
“I don’t require combat training. Nobody can touch me,” Sally admitted.
For years, she’d told everyone what she was. It was they who chose not to believe her.
She didn’t necessarily use the words Queen or Hendari crystals. But she didn’t hide the fact that she was powerful. Or at least the claim.
Sally couldn’t and would not use her power without reason.
She had to keep it in reserve until the King finally came.
“Come on, Sally. Last chance. I’m not going to keep this door open for you forever,” Joseph huffed.
“That’s the nature of doors, isn’t it? They can’t be open forever. Otherwise they’re not doors – they’re holes.” She looked right at him as she slipped past through the open door.
Joseph reacted. For a microsecond. And perhaps in that fraction of time deep within, he recognized how pointed that statement was to a spacer. But he shrugged it off.
He rolled his eyes again, then rushed down the steps of the accommodation block. He jumped onto the grass, his boots crunching the blades as he turned. Sally took every step slowly.
There was no point in hurrying to class. Yes, there were going to be exams all week. She doubted they would last the week, however. For a god to be amongst the officers, it meant the Scarax Galaxy were planning another attack.
All of this… all of this was nothing more than wishful thinking. Classes, grades, exams – they ultimately wouldn’t matter when the gods came back. Only fighting would.
Sally slowly moved off the last step.
Joseph shook his head, disappointment flaring in his gaze. “The cadets out there,” he jammed a thumb over his shoulder, “don’t need arrogance, Sally. I don’t know what you think you can do. I don’t know why you weave these lies. But at the end of the day, if we don’t watch each other’s backs—”
“The Scarax Galaxy will come anyway,” she said. “Because they are going to come anyway. And we can pretend everything is normal, but it isn’t, Joseph Lance. Your grades will be irrelevant in the end. Everything always is.” With that somewhat haughty statement, Sally turned. She walked away from Joseph.
She could feel his eyes on the back of her head. If she wanted to, she could slip easily into his mind and read his thoughts, too, but she had standards. She was not like some simple psychic. She didn’t get a kick out of invading people’s psyches.
Nor did she use her skills uselessly.
And perhaps that’s what truly bothered her about this entire situation. Here the cadets and the admiralty were, pretending the Academy had to run like usual when they were forgetting that at a time like this, you didn’t waste a single scrap of energy. You gathered every mote of power you had, and you held onto it for the oncoming storm.
If Joseph had been paying attention to her, and hadn’t run past, muttering unkind comments as he went, he would’ve realized Sally forced her hand into a fist. The knuckles protruded hard, catching the early morning sun.
She closed her eyes.
She thought of the Hendari, of everybody that had been destroyed in their quest for the ultimate psychic force.
Joseph might have his demons. She had hers. And hers were much, much larger.