The Fire Queen
Location: Paradise Outpost
The transport cube was making its journey from the Government level back to the docking ring, with Katya and her guards, accompanied by her mother and the Sisters of Anh.
"I can't believe you are here." Katya said glowing to her mother.
Malka smiled as she looked to her daughter. "I always knew this time would come. I am only sorry it took us so long."
Mother and daughter had been reunited after Malka arrived at Paradise and pledged her faction in support of Katya's resistance. Malka was part of the Sisters of Anh, an all-female warrior group secretly created within the patriachal Anh'Iran society. Once an inherently misogynistic people, the Anh'Iran females had discovered an innate physical strength and fighting prowess and developed the Sisters of Anh as a skilled subset of the Anh'Iran defence forces. When the men in power refused to stand against the Alrakis Pact claiming sovereignty over the Expanse, the Sisters of Anh separated from them and came to Paradise to help the fight. They brought with them a squadron of specially created ships called the Fire Birds, and gifted one to Katya, the Fire Queen.
Now they were on their way to show Katya her new ship and start training her on how to fly it.
"These ships are powerful, my infant." Malka spoke as she watched the decks of Paradise pass by their view. "You will need to practice with them."
"I will." Katya beamed. "They will assist greatly in our defence of the Outpost."
"They will." Malka nodded, "So long as you train your mind and allow the Fire Birds to move freely. They are not like conventional craft you may have used before; they require skill but they will flow with your movements."
Katya took this in and nodded; even more excited to learn. "Thank you, again, for the gift."
Malka smiled again, "I only wish it were more." She shrugged, "Perhaps, it could be more in the future."
"I still cannot fathom how Father and the other men are dealing with your departure." Katya commented. The thought gave her a sinking moment of fear. She had worried when the Anh'Iran ships arrived that it was her domineering father onboard, come to drag Katya back to Anh'Iran after she had left decades before. There was no underestimation of an Anh'Iran's male's sense of entitlement over their women; it was something they would definitely do. For Malka to be here on Paradise was an act of defiance that had once seemed impossible to Katya. Her fear came from the possibility of retaliation against them both that could still occur.
"He has no choice in the matter." Malka merely replied. "They cannot fight the Alrakis Pact and the Sisters of Anh at the same time; yet their unwillingness to move against the Pact leaves them incapable of doing either. They remain stuck."
"Cowards." Katya hissed.
Malka shrugged slightly, "Do not forget, my infant. Anh'Iran is much closer to the Breen Confederacy's border. They could over-run our system in a matter of weeks with enough forces and we would be enslaved once again. Any moves we make will have to be calculated and precise."
Katya took this in, and she asked, "And what of our other women? Those not within your group?"
Her mother frowned then looked down for a moment. "I'm afraid, they are being used to supply the Alrakis forces with... accompaniment."
"They are being sold to the Breen and Tzenkethi?" Katya asked, looking to her mother with a mixture of fear and anger. "And the Ravagers?! How could they?"
"It is why the Pact have left Anh'Iran unharmed for now." Malka replied sadly. "We provide them with exotic pleasures, they don't ransack our resources and cut off our trade businesses. Our economy remains strong."
"And our women remain slaves." Katya said pointedly.
Malka turned to Katya and placed a loving hand on her shoulder, a smile forming. "The Sisters of Anh are not just warriors, my infant. They can take many roles in service of our sisterhood."
"What does that mean?" Katya questioned, looking to her mother.
"We'll see." Malka grinned.
At that moment, the transport cube arrived at the docking ring and the doors parted. Though confused by the conversation she had just had, Katya was keen to see these new ships. Looking through the round view windows of the corridor, she could see the fleet of black and red ships attached to Paradise, each one looking like a ferocious creature that was quietly sleeping. The Sisters of Anh left their leader's side as they each went to their respective vessels, with Malka guiding Katya to the end of the corridor where the Fire Queen rested. Katya took in the ship for the first time, mouth agape in amazement.
Two sharp wings jutted out forwards from a long central body, with a shorter fanned tail at the end. On the underside of the main body was a large, central cannon with a wide mouth. The weapon was dormant right now but looked like it could cause significant damage. The cockpit at the front had two black windows on either side, like the eyes of a trained hunter. The ship mostly had a shiny black coating with red accents across all of the wings and forward cockpit. The Fire Queen spanned 12 metres across and at least 30 metres long down the full spread of the wings. Despite being larger than a typical Federation fighter or shuttle, it was noticeably thin and agile; the wings giving it a sense of swift aerodynamic manoeuvrability.
"She's.... beautiful." Katya whispered as she stared at the ship. "I don't believe I've seen anything like it."
"All of our Fire Birds are impressive creations." Malka nodded, "But it is up to the pilot to fly her correctly. All of this means nothing in the hands of a novice."
"Warp?" Katya asked, moving closer to the window to get a better look.
"Seven at full power, usual speed of five." Malka answered, "These are typically short-range fighters. The journey here was long and uncomfortable. But worth it, of course."
"Fire power?" Katya continued.
"Ultra-Plinian canon utilising a mix of plasma energy and magma essence from Anh'Iran." Malka raised her eyebrows, "The intensity of the burst is determined by the captain of the vessel. The entire ship is powered through this method, and it is all at your fingertips. You have to know when and how to use it."
Malka was honing in on the training required, constantly peppering the conversation with reminders for her daughter. She would be given the Fire Queen as a gift, but Katya had to learn how to fly it. Moments later, Malka and Katya were walking through the ship; Katya seeing the red and black panelling throughout with a glow of orange light surrounding them. She marvelled at the sleek internal design; others would find it cold but she found it clean and practical.
"What is it made of?" Katya asked, running her hand across the panels.
"A metallic alloy discovered in the Old Magma Rivers," Malka answered, "We found it has strength properties ten times that of our strongest materials, with an increased ability to absorb heat and radiation. We're calling it Spiriticus, a gift from the Fire Spirits."
"She seems so light and agile, though?" Katya asked curiously, "How is it stronger?"
"When applied in thin layers, the tensile strength is spread across the craft. Around eight times the durability. It doesn't require heavy plating to retain strength." Milka shrugged, "We tried a thick plated craft but it was too slow and heavy. What we lose in strength from thinner layers, we make up for in manoeuvring."
Coming to the cockpit, Katya saw it was an oval-shaped room with six stations surrounding a central platform. Malka moved to the centre where there were two spheres on either side of the platform.
"These are your control spheres." Malka announced, indicating for Katya to come over. She did with curiosity, still taking in the whole scene. "My infant, only an Anh'Iran woman can pilot these crafts. They are specifically designed for our hands."
Katya nodded solemnly, feeling the weight of the gift upon her. "I understand."
"Good. But, just because it is made for us, does not mean it is easy." Malka continued. "Before we can allow you to take possession of the Fire Queen, you must train yourself on it. Our Sisters usually spend weeks in preparation for the flight testing."
"I don't have weeks." Katya answered seriously, "The Pact is the shadows right now, waiting to pounce."
"Then you will need to focus all of your energies on learning this craft right now." Malka replied, "Can you do that?"
"Yes." Katya nodded firmly. "I will."
Malka tapped on the spheres and the top half opened, revealing a bowl of fiery red energy, which swirled and blazed inside. Malka held Katya's hand gently and slowly lowered it into the sphere. The intense heat burned sharply, causing Katya to flinch and want to pull out. Malka gripped Katya's arm tighter and continued to lower her daughter's hand down into the energy.
"Remember, our skin is tough." Malka whispered as Katya whimpered. "It is strong."
"It burns." Katya hissed through gritted teeth. The tattoos on her skin began to glow brightly, starting from the submerged arm and rising to her chest and neck.
"Only for a moment." Malka said soothing, placing a kiss on her daughter's cheek. "You have been gone from our home world for too long, you are not used to invoking the Fire Spirits any more. You must re-acquaint yourself."
Katya nodded and bared the pain. After a while, the searing feeling died down and she was able to breathe out.
"It will get easier each time." Malka instructed, caressing her arm gently. "You will not even feel it in time."
Katya understood. She looked across to the other sphere and held her hand above the fiery energy. She knew it was going to burn, it was going to hurt, she was trying to prepare herself.
"Will you help me?" Katya asked hesitantly. She wanted to do it but she was getting nervous, knowing what was to come next.
"Of course." Malka replied, moving herself over to Katya's other side. She took her daughter's hand and gripped it within her own, before lowering them both into the bowl. Katya called out as the searing pain hit her again.
"Ah!" She gasped, tears welling in her eyes.
"Ssshh." Malka whispered gently. "You are made for this. Only an Anh'Iran woman can invoke the Spirits."
Katya's skin was now glowing all across her body, the neon tattoos brightly shining as the energy passed through her. Katya felt the machinery of the ship spring to life around her; the cockpit lighting up too. Through her eyes, she could see outside of the Fire Bird into space, as the ship's vision became her own. She was finally able to relax once more, releasing her held breath again. Her entire body felt like it was covered by an intense heat; she felt uncomfortable and like she needed to move away. It was a feeling she would have to endure.
"Now," Malka smiled after a moment, "Are you ready to proceed?"
"I... guess so." Katya answered. Her voice was shaken but her willingness prevailed.
Malka stepped away and moved to one of the consoles at the front of the cockpit, taking her seat. She started tapping on the control panel. "Ship operations are executed by the six stations around you. Weapons, navigation, power, engines, shields, communications. You, in the central console, use your hands, vision, and energy to determine the ship's movement and actions. The stations are there to follow your commands and anticipate your needs. One cannot work without the other; you are a team. I will be giving you a crew of my best Sisters, they will be able to assist you as you train."
"I have never actually flown a vessel before." Katya remarked, as she got more comfortable with the sensations around her.
"First lesson, my infant. Once you connected, it is no longer a vessel." Malka replied, "You are now the Fire Bird itself. You must move and act like it. The ship and your crew will respond to your actions and your intentions. It is a matter of controlling yourself and allowing the Fire Bird to follow."
Katya took this in and nodded. She smiled at the prospect of it, feeling the intense power of the machinery around her. But she had a moment of doubt. "I will have a crew?" She asked.
"Yes." Malka answered, turning back to look at her daughter. "They are a part of the Fire Bird, Katya. Part of you now. Do you understand?"
"I do." Katya nodded. "We are one."
"Good." Malka grinned, returning to her console. "Are you ready to fly the Fire Bird now?"
"Yes." Katya smiled as well. "But mother?"
Malka frowned, "What is it?"
"Remember," Katya said. "It is the Fire Queen."
At this, Malka laughed and Katya couldn't help but do so too. They would have a long day and night ahead of them as Malka trained Katya on her new ship; but Katya was determined to learn how to fly it as soon as possible and Malka knew she had made the right decision by coming to Paradise.