Day by day, Saturn Rise approached its goal. With every successful jump Athena's freedom grew, at least in practice. Thorn and Spice were supposed to keep up with her movements, but had less time to look after her with preparations for whatever they had planned, and that meant she had more time to herself, checking her text comms and even listening in to some of the Affini broadcasts. “If you feel unsafe you are always welcome among our vines. We take threats and violence towards those in our care veeery seriously. Especially our pets.” The entirely androgynous sounding affini sang. Athena enjoyed her moments like this, but could never keep it on for long at risk of someone checking on her. Listening to Affini propaganda was punished with the airlock. Didn’t mean she was the only one doing it though, where else would the rumors be coming from?
For her it was different though. Unlike those who listened in to feed their paranoia, Athena listened in for comfort. It felt nice hearing those melodic, slightly alien voices that had saved her from her own mind back on the transporter. Speaking of her saviors, Eden had turned out to be one of those girls who when given an inch, would take a mile. Ever since Athena took her new name and all but promised her an attempt at making Athena her pet, Eden had somehow become even more caring, affirming and possessive over the human.
‘How are you holding up, my sweet Athena? I’m glad to hear those naughty mousies aren’t bothering you as much any more. A good girl like you shouldn’t need to worry about nasty bullies like those two. We have already picked out a home for those stinky rats, far away from us. Have you learned anything new about their plans? My little Heroine, my perfect seed, soon to bloom in my care.
It had occurred to Athena that the complete lack of pushback was probably encouraging the affini, but she couldn’t force herself to ask Eden to tone it down. Over the last few weeks Eden had shown her more affection than she had gotten from anyone since leaving Mars. So fuck it, she would indulge herself, and once she was out of here and could confirm she didn’t like being Eden's pet she would just have to find a way to let her down gently. That part would be future Athena's problem. Present Athena sure had enough on her plate already.
‘Nothing new, but I’m starting to get worried the jumpdrive will blow up on us before we arrive. I tried telling dad it’s not safe to jump until the cooler is fixed, but he has literally never listened to me, why start now right? Anyway, we can’t be many jumps away now, unless he has truly lost his mind. Will you be there to welcome me?
Truth was that the jump drive was unlikely to have more than a couple more jumps left in it, all she could hope was it would stutter and die, instead of blowing up on them. But she could hear it roaring to life, engaging in another jump that was not safe under standard Terran military protocol, and all she could do was run one last check to make sure they weren’t about to explode, and escape the metaphorical oven.
As the door sealed behind her, Athena found herself in the enviable position of having nothing to do. The thrusters were in perfect shape, and it would be at least an hour after jump until she was able to go back to her repair efforts. With this newfound free time, and the two goons nowhere to be seen, Athena decided to go for a walk, stretching her legs after hours crouched underneath hot pipes.
Saturn Rise was a bit of a wreck. Her father had always been so proud of his position as captain but since getting aboard his pride and joy she had found herself asking the question: is this it? The jump drive might have been intentionally sabotaged but that didn’t explain everything else. It was all so old, and badly taken care of to boot. From her father's bragging she had expected some amazing high tech ship, not a badly managed hulk from the 2530s.
Athena's dissection of Saturn Rise was interrupted by voices coming from around the corner. “The jump drive is about to fire, and then we are only one jump away from Trofi with the drive near ready to blow.” That was the voice of… Spice?
“Excellent, are the escape pods ready?” Oh shit, that one was definitely her father, but why would they need the escape pods?
“Can confirm Captain. Ready to launch us to safety once we set the thrusters, and we got confirmation from Rotterdam. They are picking us up.” The same voice as the first time.
Athena quickly looked for a place to hide, and dashed into a dimly lit and hopefully unused crew quarter hallway just a bit further back.
“It’s gonna be nice to finally be off this wreck.” Thorn, probably, commented, to a slight growl from her father as they turned the corner.
Athena pushed herself up against the wall to avoid getting spotted as they passed by. “Just make sure that my failure of a son doesn't make it onto the pods, I am sure he will appreciate a second opportunity for martyrdom.” The three of them laughed loudly as they passed by her hiding space. The ship. They were planning to do something with the ship, and from the sound of it they didn’t expect Saturn Rise to make it through whatever they had planned, and for her to go with it. As soon as she was sure the three were out of sight she pulled out her text comms from its hiding spot. She had to contact Eden, before something horrible happened, only to find a message waiting for her.
‘I am already in the same system. I can’t wait to finally meet you, my lovely little sapling, and I can’t wait to catch all those naughty mousies who hurt you.
It was a sweet message, but this was not the time. She still had a few hours before the jump drive was ready again, but Eden and the other Affini needed to know right away.
‘The Rebels are planning something drastic. I think they are turning the ship into a weapon. Is that why they are keeping me from repairing the jump drive properly? This entire ship is an explosion risk. I overheard them saying they are leaving me here. I don’t want to die, Eden.
For every letter her fingers typed the horror of the situation sank further in over her. They had used her, made her keep the jump drive just stable enough to get them to Trofi, and now… what were they going to do? Surely they weren't going to… Her face went white. They were going to engage the overworked, overheated jumpdrive and blow it up. If done right they would deal irreversible damage to the asteroid's structure, likely killing large parts of the population and leaving the survivors as refugees. Was these people really capable of that kind of evil? Was her father really ready to do something that horrendous? She had a hard time believing it, but the sting with which he had spoken still hurt.
Athena returned to the jump drive not long after the jump and was soon joined by her father and the goons. “Bruce. How long until we are ready for the next jump?” It took all of Athena's willpower to stay calm, to not cringe at the use of her deadname, to not scream and yell about their evil plan. But she found her inner strength. “Five hours is minimum, but I have to warn you that-” “We will be jumping in 5 hours, son.” He grabbed Athena by the shirt and growled. “Make sure she’s ready.”
As the door to the Jump Drive opened the searing heat hit Athena like a flood of boiling water. “Fuck! How do you work in this heat?” Thorn comments behind her. The two of them had strict orders to keep an eye on her until the next jump. Athena had her work cut out for her just to make this thing do the last jump safely, and with the two of them keeping such a close eye on her she could only hope her allies had figured out what was going on, and was ready to stop it.
With that thought in mind she got to work. Not that she had much of a choice. Her father would engage the jump regardless of what she did, and if she didn’t do her job everyone on the ship would be destroyed in a blaze of exotic energy, their remains scattered across a distance of lightyears. For a second Athena considered if that would be a good thing. It would remove the threat to Trofi. But it would also result in the death of everyone on board and if there was one thing the affini had made clear it was that they did not approve of wasting life like that. She couldn’t stand to disappoint Eden. For a second it worried her that disappointing the affini was a stronger motivator for her than her own survival, but she quickly dismissed it. This was not the time. She had one job: to make sure they got there safely. Then she could leave the rest to her plant friends, she wouldn’t have to worry about a thing. Now that was a good feeling, a feeling that could keep her going for a few more hours, despite the excruciating heat.
4 hours and 45 minutes later, a sweat-soaked and exhausted Terran stumbled out of the jump drive chamber as the machinery buzzed to life behind them. She had done everything she could. Now her future, the future of Trofi and everyone else on this ship was in the capable vines of Eden and the other affini. She felt a rough hand on her shoulder as she was pushed to keep walking. “We’re heading to see your daddy, Bruce. He has something to say to you.” Athena didn’t say anything. She wasn’t surprised her father wanted to gloat. But they didn’t know that Athena knew yet, and she didn’t trust herself to successfully fake ignorance. So instead she faked a lack of interest, which combined well with her genuine exhaustion.
With Thorn and Spice right behind her, Athena was escorted into the captain's quarters. Her father was doing the last of his packing as they entered, a bag of clothes and personal objects sitting on the bed. Turning to face Athena, Captain MacStruggle's face was covered in a vile smirk. “Here’s my favorite spawn.” He said with such a bite to his voice. It was the same sting as when she was listening in on them, but more pronounced, direct. His focus was all on her and she could see the hatred in his eyes.
“I was so proud when your mother told me I was going to be a father. Me, Harry MacStruggle, a father! Not only that, I got a son. Someone that could grow up to be strong, to be mighty, to continue the MacStruggle family name.” As he was talking, her father had sat down on the bed, staring longingly out the window, thinking of happier times. “But instead I got you. A weak faggot who would rather run around pretending to be a girl and playing with flowers.” His words hurt. Athena had struggled her entire life, trying to please her father, but it had never been enough. It could never be enough. She was feeling the tears start to swell up in her eyes, but she didn’t want to cry, she didn’t want to make it worse.
“I thought the academy might help you, straighten you out, get you in shape and get those delusions out of your mind, but no, I barely got you to enlist and even when I did you had to go do so as a fucking engineer, because little Brucy don’t wanna hurt anyone.” His words were filled with anger, taunting. Athena was shaking, held in place by the two goons, forced to listen to her father tear her down. Tear down her entire life as Bruce MacStruggle, more than a decade of trying to please one man, all for nothing.
“And when you finally get a chance to prove yourself. To be a man and stand up against the greatest enemy humanity has ever seen, you run away and manage to get stuck in the middle of space. But I have good news for you, Bruce.” The captain stood and strode across the room, grabbing the collar of her uniform and pulling her in so close their noses almost touched. “You’re going to get another chance to die in this war, to make a difference, to be martyred for the cause. And the best part is, you won’t have to lift a finger, no need to pull the trigger, like a real man would.” They all felt the shaking of the ship as the jump drive engaged. “Looks like it’s time. Goodbye son, you’re finally going to make me proud.”
Her father threw her onto the bed and stepped past the two goons. He turned back to take one last look, to deliver one last biting comment. Her tears were already flowing, and her father wasn’t one to give up a chance to comment on it.
That was the moment Saturn Rise made her last jump.