Strength of Spirit
Location: Paradise Outpost
Katya stood stoically in the main reception area on the top governmental level of Paradise. She was decked out in her most formal attire - a long black shawl draped over her shoulders, a deep orange gown underneath. She stood regally, hands clasped together with a pensive smile. To her left was her chief of security, Mauricio Arnaldo, wearing his standard black militaristic uniform. He was just as nervous as his Queen, not sure what to expect. They were about to receive a delegation from the Anh'Iran, Katya's home world. A squadron of ships had helped Paradise to fend off a Breen patrol and now they were seeking an audience with the so-called Queen of Paradise. Trouble is, one of those ships was believed to belong to Katya's father, and Katya still carried the heavy trauma of growing up as a female Anh'Iran in a deeply patriarchal, misogynistic planet. Though she had long-escaped her people and created her own burgeoning empire, she still bore the scars of that time as the bright tattoos in neon colours on her skin. As well as the emotional heartache of being sold by her father into companionship and slavery. She was afraid that her father was merely coming to Paradise to force her to go back home.
In the silence, Katya looked to her loyal lieutenant. "You know what to do, Arnaldo?" Katya murmured softly.
"Yes, my Queen." Mauricio dipped his head solemnly. "Snipers are at the ready; they won't make it a foot towards the transports should they try to take you by force."
Katya nodded, casting a curious eye around her. Above in the atriums of the reception area, she could just see the few black shapes in the shadows - Arnaldo's security forces waiting should her father attempt a kidnapping. They had been placed to ensure her total protection, with Mauricio at her side as a personal body guard. She wasn't taking any chances.
"If it comes to it, will you make a fatal shot?" She asked in return, eyes turning back to the doors ahead.
"Yes." Mauricio answered seriously. "For you, I will."
"For all of us." Katya said softly, encouraging him with her words. "Remember, if they take me, everything we have built here - the resistance against the Alrakis Pact - will fall into chaos. The Pact will walk over us like we were just soft earth. You cannot let that happen."
"I will take the shot." Arnaldo affirmed, readying his weapon.
"Good." Katya whispered. "Let us hope it is not necessary."
"Transport cube in bound!" Came an officer's call, sending a chill through the air. The Anh'Iran delegation had boarded the cube from their docking station and were making their final approach to the top of the station. Katya took in a deep breath. She wasn't entirely sure what she would do when her father stepped out of that cube. Whether she would greet him diplomatically, putting her position as Chief of Paradise and the Resistance ahead of her personal issues. Or whether she would assault him for all the pain, anguish, and abandonment she had felt over the years. Both feelings swam around her mind like oil and water, neither the two able to combine into a single decision. She would decide when she saw his face.
The cube approached as smoothly as normal, silently gliding into place at the reception doors and opening immediately. Inside was a delegation of six tall Anh'Iran, notable for their impressive height and larger frames. They were each wearing black cloaks with hoods raised over their heads. This caused Mauricio to stir, as he sent the signal to his people to be on alert and they aimed their weapons defensively.
As the delegation moved forward into the reception area, the light pouring over them, Katya noticed their legs were not covered completely. In between the splits in their cloaks, she noticed bright neon tattoos on their lower limbs. Tattoos that were only given to females of her species. All of them, including the one standing the most forward in the group, were Anh'Iran women.
"Wait." Katya breathed out suddenly, causing Mauricio's brow to furrow.
The lead Anh'Iran reached up and pulled back her hood, revealing an elder female face with a shock of bright orange hair, just like Katya's. The others followed suit and revealed, as Katya had deduced, that the party were entirely made up of strong, fierce-looking women. Katya's eyes darted between all of them, taking in their rich tribal markings with a warm sensation. She looked back to the lead woman and started to recognise the colours and patterns on her face. In an instant, a swelling of emotion rose within Katya and she put her hands to her mouth.
"Mother?" Katya called out between the gaps in her fingers.
"My infant." The woman replied softly.
It took a second for the universal translator to decipher the words to Mauricio and he opened his eyes in shock at the exchange.
"I thought..." Katya began, shaking her head. "You would be someone else."
"Your father?" She asked with a sly tone. "No. He would never come. Though, it is not for him to come."
Katya was trying to process this information. To see a troop of an all-female Anh'Iran delegation, representing their people, would normally be unheard of. This was the male's responsibility. Typically the females would only join the party as accompaniments. She was suspicious that this may been some kind of deception.
"But how?" Katya asked. "How are you present here?"
"Some things have changed, my infant." Her mother responded softly. "Much is still the same, but we have made significant steps since your departure."
"I can't believe it." Katya whispered, "This is impossible."
"Once? Perhaps. Now? ...Not." Her mother simply said. She turned her gaze to the fair-skinned human by her daughter's side. "Is this... your mate?"
Katya laughed, "No. He is my protector."
"Mauricio Arnaldo." The 'He' in questioned called out with a slight nod.
The mother looked him up and down. She replied, "My name is - " and proceeded to give off a long serious of noises, tongue-pops, and apparently letters - none of which Mauricio caught. He blinked at her with confusion, causing the mother to smile. "Do you not understand me, human?"
"Our technology allows me to but that was... a lot." Mauricio said sheepishly.
"I have chosen a smaller name, to assist with such translators." Katya explained to her mother. "Here, they call me Katya. Perhaps, we could call you... Malka."
Shifting her head to the side, Malka frowned. "Should it ease the human's confusion, I shall. But only here." She turned to her daughter, "I hear you have other names, as well."
"Chief of Paradise, Queen of the Expanse, flag bearer of the Resistance." Katya proudly stated, holding her head up high.
"Once a time, an Ahn'Iran woman would found her mouth sewn shut for claiming any title." Malka commented, causing a rise in Mauricio who shifted his weapon forwards. If Malka noticed, she didn't react. She merely happily added, "Those times are over now."
"Good to hear." Mauricio replied, though he didn't release the tense grip on his rifle any less.
"And what title do you hold, then?" Katya asked, looking to the delegation of females around her. "To captain a ship of your own and represent the Anh'Iran people in an official capacity?"
"Alas, I am only here to represent my own faction." Malka said with some mirth in her tone. "Is it convenient to talk here, my infant? Or can we discuss this somewhere with less ears?" She raised her eyebrows to the atriums. "So many ears around us."
Mauricio shifted, ready to give the command for his team to depart but Katya held onto his arm. She looked back to her mother with determination. "No. Here is fine. I need to know, how you have come here and why?"
Malka stared for a moment before dipping her head. "I shall. To alleviate your concerns."
With a nod of her head, Malka ordered her women to completely de-cloak and they did in kind. Each woman had a warrior's armour upon their torso, but bared arms and legs, with weapons neatly stored at their sides. Katya feasted on the image, feeling guilty and excited at the same time. Such a sight would have been impossible to imagine for her as a small child - to see it in reality was stunning.
"We are the Sisters of Anh," Malka explained. "Some time ago, we discovered that the same genetic make-up that allows our skin to be burned with the fire spirits, has also given us a strength and physical ability that can - when properly trained - outmatch those of our male counterparts. So, we were put to use as personal body guards."
Katya took this with great enthusiasm and disbelief. "They allowed you to fight and hold weapons?"
"Not at first." Malka explained. "Originally, women were merely shields for the men, to be used as nothing more than armour. But soon it became apparent that our true abilities could continue to grow and the more we developed, the stronger we became. Physical prowess, speed, stamina. All above the men."
"You say it comes from genetics?" Mauricio asked curiously.
Malked nodded, "The very process that was meant to mark us as slaves ready to be sold as wives and companions, bore us the strength to become fighters and warriors."
"Only a woman can bear the passage." Katya repeated the words once said to her as a child, a scared little girl who did not want to be seared with burning magma. Now it took on a new meaning entirely.
"Only a woman can invoke the fire spirits." Malka said immediately, repeating the new phrase that was common in their customs now. "We had to train ourselves in secret. We created a code, developed resources; built a Sisterhood and finally - an army, which we revealed to the Anh'Iran people. Our presence caused quite a stir, many of the men were up in arms and called it an abomination. But then, two years ago, when the Breen pushed against our borders, they were left with no choice but to accept our assistance. We proved ourselves in battle and the Sisters of Anh was formed as an official, though lesser ranked, military arm."
"I can only imagine the joy," Katya whispered. "For little girls to have this new avenue in life - beyond wives and slaves. To stand as warriors, instead?"
"It has been revolutionary for us. The men still resist, of course, tried to keep us in our place." Malka sighed, "They out-number us, holding onto their government titles, official positions, and financial privileges. But the Sisters continue to train each other, developing weapons and ships that can only be wielded by us." She smiled, hopeful, "The day will come - perhaps in another generation or two, where women are invited to the seats of power. Not as companions, but as deserving equals."
Katya breathed out, "It sounds... fantastic. Mother, I am so proud of you."
"And we are of you, too, my infant." Malka beamed, "We have been encouraged by the stories of your independence and spirit. How you turned this station from a lawless pit into a respected, powerful trading post. How you repelled the Breen occupation and took it back from them. And now, how you continue to gather peoples of the Expanse together to expel the Alrakis Pact from our homes."
Katya bowed solemnly, overwhelmed by her mother's pride. "I have not done it alone. I have had help. The Broot Qaraq, the Federation's Pandora, the Irokari."
"But you have brought them together." Malka insisted warmly. "That is why we have come to you. The men, including your father, were reluctant to join the fight against the Alrakis Pact. They did not wish to get off their comfy chairs or ruin their financial sources. They could not see that the Pact was strangling the life out of the Expanse. They were cowards."
"You defied them?" Katya asked excitedly, beaming.
"We took our six best ships, our Fire Birds, and came to you." Malka replied. Without hesitating, Malka dipped her head and she dropped onto one knee. The women behind her followed suit, all of them bowing to Katya.
"Whoa." Mauricio breathed out. Katya became choked up with emotions, she didn't know what to say.
"We pledge our forces to you, Queen Katya." Malka spoke solemnly. "And I decree that one of our Birds shall remain in your possession, as a token of our fidelity to you. We have named it, The Fire Queen."
Katya was speechless, she looked at the bowing warriors with waves of happiness and astonishment.
"Do you accept?" Malka asked.
Gathering her thoughts, Katya took a step forwards. She held out her hand in front of her mother. "I accept, my mother."
Malka looked up with tears in her eyes as she saw her daughter's warm face. The decision to come had been worth it, the journey had been worth it. She was reunited with her child. Malka took her daughter's awaiting hand and clasped it into her own, placing her lips tenderly upon it.
"We will fly together." Malka insisted. "And burn all those who stand in our way."
"May we invoke the Spirits." Katya replied with a nod, a proud smile on her face.