They slept in shifts. The Vestal curled up in her seat, a blanket across her lap. Palladius’ snores filled the cabin, his legs stretched out to block the aisle. Micah escaped into the cockpit for a few minutes, where the pilots assured him that they were still on course and still running dark.
“Passive sensors only, lictor.” The pilot on his left twisted around to look up at him, her long blonde braid looped over her shoulder. “We’re well off the usual routes to Venus, so we’ve detected only a few craft at the far edge of our sensor range. Everything else has been debris.”
“Good.” He nodded. “Let me know when we switch to active sensors.”
Micah returned to the cabin to find Palladius still snoring. Niobe glared at him to no effect. When she kicked the back of Palladius’ seat, he rolled slightly to the side and began to snore even louder.
Eventually, Ravan dug the meals out of the kitchen and passed them around. The Vestal awoke, rubbed at her eyes, and led the other lictores in a brief prayer of thanks to Ceres, Abundantia, Diana, and Vesta. Micah offered his own private thanks to YHWH. Before she ate herself, the Vestal carried two meals into the cockpit for the pilots.
Micah rose and watched from the doorway, even though there was no danger here. He watched as she blessed the food, graciously passed it to the pilots, and thanked them for escorting her to Venus. He watched, and wondered what he would do if she did not renew her vows, if she left the order, if he could not see her every day.
They slept some more, and played dice, slept, and ate and exchanged embarrassing stories (Ravan won at both).
When the pilots called him back to the cockpit, he handed the dice off to Niobe.
“Active sensors back online, Dominus.” The pilot ran her fingers across the board in front of her, while her co-pilot adjusted their flight path. A dozen semi-transparent displays floated against the bulkhead in front of them: Venus as a whole, her skies faintly red, her oceans garnet; close-up shots of the massive orbiting station; courses and identity tags for dozens of starcraft; and three bright blips hovering high in the atmosphere near the pole. “We should — yes. Our escort is waiting. Three atmo-craft at the northern pole. Shall I hail them?”
“Negative. Wait until we enter orbit. Time?”
A pause as the pilot consulted her instruments. “Twenty-seven minutes, Dominus.”
“Any other contacts?”
“Yes, Dominus. We’re monitoring communications. Most craft are heading towards the orbiting station. The rest are going planet-side: Mons Murcia, Rosa, Urania, a few other cities.”
“Anyone noticed us, yet?”
The co-pilot shook his head. “Negative. No hails and no chatter.”
“Good. Let’s hope it stays that way until we reach the escort.” With a nod, he returned to the main cabin. Virgo Vestalis Camilla looked up at him expectantly. “We are approaching Venus and should arrive in approximately twenty minutes.”
She sighed, apparently in relief. “You were right, lictor. The Virgo Secundadid get me here safely.”
“Contact. Two craft on approach.”
Micah spun on his heel and bolted back into the cockpit. “Identify!”
The co-pilot shook his head, pointing at one of the displays. Bulky craft, weapons arrays lighting up as the Secunda’s sensors swept across the approaching ships. “No call sign from either vessel, Dominus, but they are heav — ”
“Evasive maneuvers! They’re g — ”
“Contact! Four missiles inbound!” The pilot hunched forward in her seat, hands flying across her console. “Launching countermeasures!”
“Break silence — and get us to those escort craft!”
Micah lunged back into the cabin. Camilla’s eyes were wide with fear. Niobe was on her feet, hand resting on the pistol at her hip. Ravan looked grim, Palladius excited. Micah reached for the Vestal, grabbing the safety belts in her seat. He hastily wrapped them around her shoulders and waist. He felt the heat in her hand when she grabbed his arm.
“Ambush.” His voice was low and grim. He would not lie to her.
For a moment, the fire in her chest flared. It reached out, eager, angry. Startled, he realized that even her eyes seemed to burn. He flinched back as the flame stretched out. The ship suddenly heaved to port and he fell to his knees. His helmet tumbled off his seat and across the floor. There was shrieking in his ears as they hit the atmosphere and the craft shuddered.
“Contact! Two missiles inbound!”
He grabbed the bulkhead and pulled himself back up.
Camilla was starring straight ahead, eyes still aflame. Her voice was an inhuman hiss, like molten metal hitting water. “Treachery. My daughter has betrayed me.”
Micah gaped at her.
Panic spiked the pilot’s voice. “Countermeasures failed!”
The ship screamed.
[End Part Six. Continue to Part Seven.]
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her published poems and short stories can be found there.]