On good days, Sanua would find her captain and best friend in her room aboard the GCS Heltra. If they were in the mood, they would spend the evenings curled up on her couch, watching old holotapes until they fell asleep. On bad days, Sanua would find her instead curled up at one of the local bars.
It was in Tarlo's Tavern, one of the nicer establishments offered at their main port of Nadul, that she found Bori tonight. She had come to this bar first; it was a favorite among the better-off members of the Galactic Study Association, an aesthetic Bori replicated whenever she could, though she was paid not much better than Sanua and certainly much less than her brother, Sarti, had been. Though Bori was captain of her ship, and Sarti only a new recruit on his, Bori was in charge of a cargo ship; members of Sarti's research vessel were paid handsomely for their work, cargo crews much less so.
It took a while for Sanua to make her out - the bar kept their lights dim, for 'atmosphere', as Bori had told her, and Sanua's eyes were not the sharpest on the crew's, nor was Bori making it any easier on her with her dark clothing. But eventually she found her, bunched up in a corner booth, nursing a large glass of something that looked untouched and watching the room with tired, red eyes. Sanua believed she had been crying, but it could be difficult to tell for sure with humans. Their faces were just so alien to her, so hard to read. Sanua had been working with Bori for the past ten rotations, and she still learned something new about her every day. Humans were remarkably surprising.
Bori was in her street clothes, a simple gray tunic and thin leggings; she never wore her captain's garb to bars, even those frequented by employees of their company. Her thick, dark braid was tucked neatly into the back of her belt, the way she usually wore it when it got long. In between excursions, Bori grew her hair out. She cut it close to her head, like Sanua's, in the weeks prior to going out to space, to make it easier to wash and pull up into her suit's helmet, but when she was off-duty she grew it long and tied it up. It was a testament to how Sarti's disappearance had affected her, and how long it had been since she had shipped out, that her loosely plaited hair now rested just below her waist. She was swirling her glass in her hand, but did not seem to be drinking it.
Sanua approached the table cautiously. Bori could be jumpy even when she was not in a dull mood, but with the anniversary of her brother's disappearance on the GRV Cosmos rapidly approaching, Sanua expected she would be even testier than usual. She suspected that was what had drawn Bori to the bar to begin with.
Bori turned her way and caught her eye. She sighed, seeming to resign herself to companionship, and waved Sanua over.
"Sanua." She greeted her with no warmth, but Sanua was not deterred. Had Bori been truly upset to see her, she would have made it glaringly obvious.
"Bori. I had been looking for you." Sanua bubbled, sliding into the booth, across from her captain.
"Well, you found me." Bori rolled her eyes and turned back to the room at large. Sanua could not tell if she was looking for something specific, or was just trying to distract herself.
People-watching was a favorite pastime of theirs, one developed after many boring hours of downtime on the dock, waiting for their ship to be unloaded and restocked. They would watch the many, many people crowded on the docks, rushing to their destinations, or ambling through the port town on break. At first they would only ask each other about the people they saw, wondering where they had been, where they would go, what had brought them here. Eventually they had started making up stories for fun - the well-dressed and clearly well-to-do gentleman running through the streets had spent the night with his mistress, and was now late to his anniversary dinner; the small group of young Boltrax were orphans on the way to their newest foster home, where they would find danger, mystery, and the pressing need for a new guardian; the Galdra girl standing at the corner was actually Sanua's long-lost twin sister, who had come to Port Nadul looking for love and a chance at money, but would find family and a new beginning instead.
Sanua nudged Bori's foot under the table, prompting her to look back at her. "You are upset?"
Bori was fond of scathing remarks to obvious statements, but she had always been patient with Sanua, who had never been good with facial cues and was still learning human expressions. "Yes, Sanny. I'm upset." She frowned into her glass. She set it down on the table with a thump and stared out at the room again.
"I keep thinking I'll see him."
So that was the problem. Sanua sighed and followed Bori's gaze to the crowded bar. "You do not know that he is dead, Bori."
The headlines had been surprisingly optimistic - all the stories remarked on the strange disappearance of the ship, but treated it like a mild inconvenience, only a set-back in the GSA's forays into the outer reaches of the universe. Aside from the ship and crew going missing without a single trace, they reasoned, there was no evidence of any foul play, or an attack. Perhaps it was possible that Captain Weaver and her crew would reappear, no worse for wear, laughing about a ship malfunction or mistyped coordinates. But it had been two years with nothing to show for it, and no other research team was willing to follow the Cosmos' path to the far side of the Reela Nebula.
Like many of those kin with the Cosmos crew, Bori's family had held a funeral, though they had no body to shoot into space and no knowledge of where Sarti could be or what could have happened.
Sarti had been assigned to the research vessel straight out of school, a fact largely celebrated by his family. Sanua knew that Bori experienced much jealousy at that fact - it had taken her several rotations after school to even make it onto a ship, and many many more to become captain of her own crew. Bori's hotheadedness had been what kept her from the position for so long, but Sanua had discovered early on how to keep her in check. With Bori as captain and Sanua as commanding officer, their cargo ship, the GCS Heltra, had quickly become the best in the Association. Their reputation at being willing and able to transport absolutely anything made them popular with everyone.
Sanua was as proud of Bori as she was of her younger brother, but the Sharns had not been nearly as excited to have a cargo ship captain for a daughter as they had been to have a research vessel scientist for a son. Still, envy aside, Sanua knew that Bori loved her brother; she had supported him at every turn, helping him with learning to pilot a ship, with his applications to school, with his interviews with hiring crews. She was immensely proud of the young man.
"He's dead." Bori gripped her glass tight between her fingers, staring at the purple liquid within. She wouldn't meet Sanua's eyes.
Sanua sighed. Bori tended towards what she had heard humans call 'bull-headedness'. This, coupled with her desire for realism over optimism left Bori with a very dismal view of the world. Sanua did not want to get her hopes up for a reunion that was unlikely, but she thought it couldn't hurt to have some hope for the future.
"Perhaps he -"
"Sanua. Stop." Bori glared at her.
Sanua stared right back, refusing to drop her gaze. "Captain."
Bori cringed at her tone and her eyes fell. She blew out a long breath, calming herself. "I'm sorry, San. It was uncalled for. I just . . . I just don't want to talk about him - about any of that right now."
Sanua nodded, satisfied. Of the two Sharn children, Sarti was the nicer. Bori was kind, in her own way, but she was also no-nonsense and prone to locking her emotions away. With Sanua's guidance, she was becoming more open and straight-forward about how she was feeling - it was necessary, to a degree, in conversations with Sanua.
Sanua ran a tense hand through her close-cropped curls. She didn't know what to say. She was ill inclined to step on any toes, especially when the toes in question were her captain's and her dear friend's. She reached out and pulled Bori's hands away from her drink, lacing their fingers and rubbing the backs of her hands with her thumbs.
"Would you care to return to the Heltra? We do not need to speak. We can just sit."
Bori stared at her for a long time, then nodded slowly. "Let me finish my drink first, San. Then I'll let you drag me out of here."
Sanua began to nod, when her ear twitched; she had overheard part of a conversation and a word caught her attention.
"- the Cosmos. It's a damn shame, what happened to her crew." The man speaking was sitting a few tables across from theirs, in the middle of the room. He was speaking just a little too loud, probably drunk, and had a good sized audience. "All those fresh recruits, dead. One of our best captains, too. Damn shame."
"Bori, I think maybe we should go." Sanua laid her hand on Bori's wrist to grab her attention. She didn't want her overhearing whatever the man was going to say. Conversations about the Cosmos tended to turn ugly when Bori was around to hear them.
It was no secret that in the GSA, Sarti was the more well-known and beloved Sharn sibling, and many people were happy to let Bori know they would have preferred her ship disappear. She and her crew were replaceable to them, Captain Weaver and her team of skilled researchers less so. Sanua could see the logic there since cargo pilots were a dime a dozen in the Association and they could pull almost anyone to make up the crew. She knew, though, that humans, and Bori especially, could be touchy when talking about their worth and though she knew Bori privately agreed with many of her coworkers in which Sharn sibling was the better, she would still fight anyone who spoke badly of her.
Even worse, many other people blamed the crew itself for the GRV Cosmos' disappearance; with no evidence of an attack, it was easy to believe. Bori was fiercely defensive of her brother and his team, though, and had ended up in several violent encounters with people who had had less than kind things to say about them.
Whatever this man was going to say, it would be good for Bori to be not there when he said it.
Bori let Sanua pull her to her feet, protesting all the way. They would have to pass the man's table to exit Tarlo's. Perhaps if they hurried, they could get by without Bori hearing anything bad.
"'Course," the man was saying, swirling his drink in his head and affecting what he must have thought was a wise air, "if they hadn't stocked the ship fulla' fresh meat, it prolly wouldn't have vanished." His audience grumbled their assent. It was a well-worn complaint - much of the ship's crew had been highly skilled, but young, fresh from the academy, and largely untested, like Sarti. Some people believed the bizarre tragedy was at least partially caused by the inexperienced workers.
Bori stopped immediately, her whole body tensed in an instant. If Sanua could have made a human groan of frustration, she would have.
Bori jerked herself away from Sanua and marched over to the man, Sanua on her heels. This close, Sanua recognized the human - Bellows. He was a rotation below Bori and Sanua, and one of the cartographers passed over for the GRV Cosmos' crew. He was nothing but a bitter drunk, but she knew Bori would not care.
"What did you say?" Bori pushed Sanua's reaching hands away and planted herself over Bellows. Sanua stood tall behind her, hoping her height would intimidate Bellows into silence.
"What's it to ya'?" Bellows knocked back his drink, then looked up. He ignored Sanua, but his eyes widened when he saw who she stood behind. "Oh, shit. You're Bori Sharn!"
Captain Bori Sharn, Sanua corrected him mentally. It didn't do anything, but it mattered to her.
"One a' the kids on the ships was your brother, right? Sucks."
He seemed genuinely sorry. Sanua hoped that would be enough and they could avoid an altercation for once. She lay a hand on Bori's elbow, but she shook her off. "I asked you a question, boy." Bori's tone was danger, and advertised threat, but Bellows ignored it.
He smirked, hearing the challenge in her words. "I didn't say anything that wadn't true, girlie."
The people around them tittered, but most of them were keeping out of it. Tarlo's was a popular stop for GSA employees, including higher-ups. Sanua could guess by their subdued reaction that there were some here now, and scanned the room.
"The crew wasn't the problem," Bori growled. The words dropped slowly from her mouth, venom evident in each one, but either Bellows was worse than Sanua at picking up cues, or he was angling for a fight.
Bellows leaned forward in his seat. "Seems to me we've only had one ship outta' millions ever disappear. And seeing as that one ship was stocked fulla' fresh faces, the answer as ta' why is pretty glaringly obvious. Dontcha' think?" He placed his empty glass on the table and waved towards the bar for a replacement. Bori's hands curled.
Sanua stepped forward. She gripped Bori's wrist tightly. "Not here," she hissed desperately. Her intuition had paid off. She gestured with her eyes to a group sitting several tables behind Bori's current adversary. Gathered there were a few high-ranking members of the GSA, the organization that owned all the ships piloted for the Federation and commanded their crews.
"You're already on probation, Bori." She didn't feel the need to add that the only reason she had gotten probation and not been immediately fired was because Sanua had claimed it was grief from Sarti's death that caused her actions; she would not get so lucky again, two years later.
Bori growled and pushed Sanua off of her. Bellows smirked again, one eyebrow lifted imperiously. "I really think you oughta' listen to your CO there, Captain."
Bori slammed her palms to the table and pushed her face up to Bellows'. "Or what, scribe?"
Bellows leaned his arms on the table. "Or the Association might finally get their excuse to get ridda' ya'. Or," he grinned coolly, "someone else'd have to put you in your place. It'd be a shame, wouldn't it, both Sharn kids . . . gone?"
Bori reared back, fist pulled back, her face contorted with rage. Sanua moved as quickly as she could and had Bori's wrist locked in her fist before she could swing it forward.
"Careful, tispe," Bellows drawled, leaning back and stretching his arms languidly across the back of his chair. "Ya' might do something ya' regret." Sanua saw his hand drop down and instinctively began to move.
A flash of light hit Sanua's eyes - reflection off the hidden blade being drawn - and without thinking she grabbed Bellows' wrist, too. All Galdra were touch empaths, and though she didn't like to use her more manipulative abilities, there were times when she had to. Holding Bori's and Bellows' wrists tight, she focused her mind on calm thoughts, loose muscles, and fading tensions. Bori realized what she was doing and tried to pull her hand away, but Sanua held tight to her wrist. She locked eyes with the man in front of her, more a risk than Bori, his free hand still behind his back.
Without looking away or blinking, she spoke, pouring as much command into her voice as she could. "Put the knife away, sir. We do not need to resort to violence. We have had a small disagreement, but we are leaving now and will no longer bother you." He hesitated, trying to look away, but Sanua tightened her grip until he flinched, and repeated herself.
Finally, slowly, he slid the knife back into place. Sanua relaxed her hold on him and started toward the door with Bori, going slowly backwards to keep her captain behind her and her front to Bellows. "Thank you for your clear-headedness here tonight, sir."
He nodded slowly, dazed, and sank back into his seat. His friends all stared silently, transfixed. Without physical contact, she could not directly influence their emotions or compel them to do anything, but directing so much focus and power at Bori and Bellows had created a ripple effect, and the people nearest them were calmed, too.
Once she and Bori made it to the door, Sanua turned and pulled her down the street. When they had gotten a good distance between themselves and Tarlo's, Sanua whirled on Bori. She grabbed her shoulders, forcing eye contact.
"What were you thinking!?" She let her fear translate to aggression in her voice; if that was all that would get through to Bori tonight, so be it.
Bori puffed herself up, trying to improve on her five-foot stature. With Sanua sitting pretty at over seven feet, it was a laughable effort. Any other time, Sanua would have teased her for it, but now she was furious with her.
"I was -"
"What, Sharn? How could you possibly have thought that was a reasonable course of action?"
"He was - He was talking shit about Sarti, about -" Bori waved her hands in frustration. "- about his crew!"
"And?" Sanua didn't shake her, but it was a close thing. "You are the captain of a damn ship, Sharn. You are supposed to be responsible, clear-headed. Where was that?"
Bori flushed, furious. Good. Let her be.
"How dare you? I am captain, and you are my subordinate. You do not have the right to -"
"He had a damn knife, Bori. What the hell would you have done if he had -"
Bori scoffed. "It was Tarlo's, Sanua. He wouldn't have done anything in public."
Sanua blanched. She had seen too many people die on the blade of that fool idea to believe that Bori could possibly think it was true.
Sanua sighed, all the fight drained out of her as the adrenaline coursing painfully through her body wore itself out. She was tired of having to protect Bori from herself, and tired because she knew that nothing but death would stop her from doing it. She deflated, dropping Bori. "You damn fool." Bori huffed and turned on her heel. Sanua stalked after her.
They stormed past lines of ships docked up against the side of Nadul. Port Nadul, like all port cities, sat on the top of a giant structure that kept the city high up in the air, to more easily service its heavy flow of spaceship crews away from inland civilians. There were ships of every imaginable shape and size lining the docks. Gorgeous, sleek crafts in shining silvers, diplomatic ships; small, fast-looking skiffs usually used for joyrides; tiny research ships with no sharp edges, meant to look as nonthreatening as possible.
All the ships belonging to the Galactic Study Association were draped in reds, the GSA's color of choice. All but three of the boats had red somewhere on them. The Association owned all ships but those meant for personal use, and it was trying to own those, too.
Towards the end she could just begin to make out a giant, boxy tub with the Association's red insignia emblazoned on the sides, their Heltra. She wasn't beautiful, but she got the job done better than any ship Sanua had ever seen and Sanua loved her for it.
Normally, walking the road down the docks was soothing to her. The ships would sway in the dark, creak up against their holdings, their riggings and flags flapping in the wind. She had a private place in Nadul she loved to go to to relax, but this path was a close second. It did nothing to alleviate the tension now, though.
Sanua trailed Bori down the road. She expected she was returning to the GCS Heltra, where she would storm up the plank, stomp down to the captain's quarters, and slam the door in her face, refusing to speak with her until they made up the next morning. Instead, Bori turned suddenly down a side street, a few jumps before they reached Heltra's mooring.
Sanua stumbled. She strongly considered just walking on to their ship and letting Bori get into whatever trouble she could find. She sighed and pulled her hands down her face. Bori was going to be the death of her, or at least the cause of her sleep-deprivation. She followed her.
Bori stomped aimlessly through the streets, muttering to herself. Sanua followed her deeper into Nadul. It didn't take long for Sanua to realize they were going in circles. She caught up with Bori and took her hand, stopping her. Bori tensed but didn't pull away, so Sanua took the lead.
She took Bori to a small square surrounded by squat, flat-roofed buildings, old disused warehouses built too far away from the docks to be of any worth. She came here often, when they were in Nadul, to sit on the roofs and watch the stars in peace and quiet, away from the chaos of the ship. She led Bori to the side of the building nearest them, where she knew there was a ladder that went straight up to the roof.
Bori followed her up silently, sufficiently shamed. Sanua helped her off the ladder at the top, an olive branch that she took gratefully. Neither of them liked to fight with one another. Bori strode over to the edge of the roof and sat. Sanua watched her go, organizing her thoughts and trying to think of something to say that would not dissolve into another argument.
Bori turned and looked at her. All the earlier anger was gone from her face, and she looked as sad and lost as she had at the beginning of the evening. She extended a hand to her, and Sanua moved to join her.
Sanua lowered herself gingerly down next to Bori, letting her legs hang over the lip of the roof. Galdra were typically large, much taller than humans and carrying more muscle, and Sanua was no exception. It was difficult for someone of her size and girth to move with any speed; she was the undisputed brawn of Heltra, but she wouldn't be winning any footraces.
She hovered a hand over Bori's shoulder, but didn't touch. She was still relatively unsure on how to comfort humans - she knew some liked to be hugged or given other methods of physical reassurance when they felt upset, but others hated physical contact, or got angry when they were treated with pity. Bori's reaction always seemed to be different each time, leaving Sanua to mostly guess and hope for the best.
"You will be okay," Sanua droned in what she hoped approximated for a reassuring tone. "Humans are resilient creatures. You are all remarkably strong."
Bori dropped her head to Sanua's shoulder, surprising her. She was not the type to usually initiate physical contact, unless it was violent. Sanua took it as a positive development, and let her hand fall to Bori's shoulder, careful to keep any empathetic connections closed off. She squeezed, then started rubbing small circles into Bori's back, something she had seen humans do before to comfort one another. In fact, she had seen Bori do the same for Sarti several times.
"I don't want to be strong." Bori whispered. "I want my brother back."
Her voice made a strange noise, changing pitch in the middle of a word. Sanua understood this meant it was possible she was going to cry. She hoped she would; Sanua knew that crying could be highly beneficial to humans grieving, but Bori typically refused to display any emotions that were not related to anger. Sanua thought it might be good for her to cry for once.
Sanua still could not find the words that would fix this. Nothing she did could find Sarti, alive or dead - she was just the second-in-command of a cargo ship - and she had nothing to say that she had not already tried telling Bori several times over.
"Bori," she tried, "do you truly believe that Sarti is dead?"
This close to her, Sanua could feel the jolt that went through Bori. She turned to her, mouth open and aghast. "I -"
Her face crumpled.
"I don't know. I don't know." Her breathing grew heavy, and she started to shake. Sanua made soft clucking noises and continued to rub her shoulder, pulling her into her arms.
"I don't know what I want to be true. If he's alive - if he's alive, Sanua, where is he? They could be hurt, the crew could be dying, he could be all alone." Sanua pressed her face into Bori's crown and held her close. "I don't know what happened." Bori wailed, gulping down big breaths of air.
Sanua let her sob into her shoulder, pleased that, for once, Bori was not bottling up her emotions, but desperately sorry that Bori's life had led to this moment. She wished she could make it better for her. She held her close, and hummed some old song in her ear. And she made a promise to herself. Whatever it took, she was going to help Bori. Whatever she needed. And if what she needed was to find her brother, then so be it. Sanua would do it. Dead or alive, at least finding Sarti would give her closure. Sanua nodded to herself, decided.
They sat on the roof of the abandoned building for many hours, long after Bori had cried all the tears she had, long after the rest of the port - even the crews on shore leave - had gone off to sleep.
When Sanua saw stars start to wink out, the first hint of dawn on its way, she carefully pulled herself up, then offered her hand to Bori and pulled her up. She pressed a light kiss to her forehead, then held her shoulders and looked her in the eye. Bori wouldn't meet her gaze. She looked to their feet, over Sanua's shoulder, just slightly to the left of her face, anywhere but her eyes. Sanua sighed.
She cupped Bori's face gently in her hands and rubbed her thumbs beneath her eyes. "Let's get you home."
Bori nodded dully.
That night, Sanua placed a few calls to some old friends. No one special, but people who might have heard something, anything, about the GRV Cosmos. Rumors, tall tales, old information, she wanted it all. She recorded it all in an old paper journal, hungry for any connection she might see. She was going to find the ship. She would find out what had happened to Captain Weaver's crew and she would find Sarti. And she would give Bori the closure she needed.