She crashed. Krix had warned me about her condition. If she died, it was my fault. -Mik Rile
“You mean you’ve assigned me to J’ting, a ship I’ve never met, and I have no choice. I really am a prisoner?”
“Jubilee, in the two years I’ve done this, I never had to take anyone like I took you from Visily. I’ve had a chance to explain and escort the sensitive to a ship without incident.”
Mik patted the cushioned bench, asking me to sit. My pacing probably annoyed him. A lot of things I did irritated him, like not answering the door or adjusting the chair.
“War has changed the situation.”
“You say that word a lot,” I said.
“Unfortunately, it always seems to be a bad situation, not a good one. In this case, it’s the sensitives who suffer the most. They’ve become a target of the rebels.”
“What? You brought me into your war as a target?” I leaped up and started pacing again. “Are they going to kill me? Am I bait? How can you do that to a person who’s not bothering anyone? I never hurt anyone worse than a bruised ego.”
“Sensitives are the most vulnerable part of a ship. It only makes sense to kill them.”
“Do you do that, too?”
Mik watched me pace. “No, we don’t although it’s been discussed. After all, we’re firing on the sentient ships. It’s not a great ethical leap to target the sensitive.”
Chilled, I stroked my upper arms. “Sometimes, on Visily, I doubted isolationism. I dreamed of traveling space. All that time, this was here, war, killing sentients and the sensitives who care about them.”
My fire died, and I stopped pacing…so cold. I crossed my arms, holding my elbows, trembling with something between anger and revulsion.
“Your opinion and the reality of the situation can’t coexist in a sane mind,” Mik droned on. He was as cold as the cabin.
“Situation again? War is not a situation. It’s tragedy.”
“That’s why I came to find you for J’ting. She’s fighting for her life, and she needs you on her decks.”
In biolectric silence, I tapped the temperature control. The shuddering started in my arms. Before the heat kicked in, my teeth chattered.
Mik clasped my shoulder. His hand was plasma against a chill descending on me like a winter storm.
“Shit! Jubilee! What the hells?”
“Co…ooo…ld.” With a shudder, I bit my tongue. The blood dripped warm on my lips and down my chin. K’seng stepped in.
“Ytar Mik Rile, I detect a sudden plunge in Jubilee’s body temperature. She has increased the heat in her cabin, but it is inadequate to compensate. She is in danger of entering shock. Proceed immediately to the infirmary. I have alerted the medic on duty.”
Mik plucked me off my feet and raced down a gleaming corridor, carrying me. If I hadn’t been on the edge of losing consciousness, I would have been impressed by these feats of strength. The thrum intensified. K’seng hadn’t abandoned me. Though I was only a nascent sensitive, in those few moments my hand was in her exchange field, we had one heart. I loved her. Afraid to love me as much, she still did not want me to die.
Those were the worst moments of my life. I’d just found her and now she was dying. -Mik Rile
In the infirmary, a padded slab hovered, dipped, balanced the distribution of my mass, and settled. In my state, the motion was nauseating. I wasn’t an engineer and could have designed better. Of course, I always thought so until I tested for engineering school and didn’t come close to the score needed to enter. That’s why I got my scanning tech certificate and worked at the docks, where I was close to ships though only superficially, poking their lavatories for contraband.
I was attended by the same medic with molasses-brown skin and tiny, shiny ringlets of black. His eyes were like a stag’s, large, dark, and limpid.
“Jubilee, can you hear me?”
He flashed my eyes with a medspen. Bloody hells. The light on the ship was already bright enough to blind me. Did he intend to send me into seizures?
I jolted, and Mik growled, “Shit!” He was standing out of the medic’s way. The dark medic had tossed silver foil over me as soon as Mik set me on the bobbing slab. There was probably an injection, too, though he hadn’t asked my permission because I couldn’t answer through chattering teeth, and his ethics required he save my life.
“Jubilee.” His hands pressed the carboflex on either side of my shoulders as he leaned. I saw miles into his dark, brown eyes. “Are you with us? Say something to me.” And break this spell? I was sure if I licked his skin, it would melt on my tongue. In the background, Mik’s voice was a hiss. “Shit, shit, shit, shit…”
I was ruining his plans for war by dying, but the medic wouldn’t let me. At the central obelisk he adjusted the instrumentation manually, augmenting his biolectric commands. The edges of my vision blurred, and the medic dwindled in the distance until he was small. I wished, before I dwindled away, too, that I knew his name.
When I was thirteen, I was sick and missed a span of school. I was two days in the hospital, but the rest of the time I lounged in bed, read slips, drank fizzy ale, and ate crackers while Dad stayed home from work with me. My dad worked facility maintenance at a solar array; he was a janitor. It was a good job because he brought home a steady wage every span and had benefits like sick days so he could take care of me if it ever came up. That was the only time I remembered being sick in twenty-four years. Now, I was in the infirmary for the third trip, this time with more than wonky vitals.
I was awake but couldn’t open my eyes. My eyelids were petrified. My lips were blubber. Only the medic’s voice, molten like syrup, eased my panic.
“So you told her about the sensitive killings, too? Umar beats her up and now this. I’m beginning to wonder if it was such a good idea to have your kind in the Ytari Corps.”
“My kind?” That was Mik, gruff and resentful.
“You know what I mean. Maybe they should have trained the sensitive counselors as Lansers instead of trying to train Lansers as counselors.”
Mik was defensive. “I can be cuddly.”
“And I’m an assassin. Next time I warn you about her dipping electrolytes, don’t send her into shock. You shouldn’t have told her about the kamikazes until she was with her ship. She’s homosensitive, for fuck’s sake.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll get her to J’ting in one piece, still functioning.”
“Listen to yourself, Mik. She’s not a mechanical component you’re delivering. She’s a girl.”
“A woman, you mean.”
“What the hells does that mean?”
That’s what I wanted to know. Of course, I was a woman. I was twenty-four years old, graduate of the security scanning program at the Visilian Institute of Technology, and I’d worked the spaceport for six years. I had my own flat! And a bird. I wasn’t a little girl.
“Patient-doctor confidentiality,” the medic said. “Just have a care with her, that’s all I will say.”
“Well, that’s mysterious, Krix.”
Mik read my mind. It was a mystery to me, too. Oh, was that the molasses medic’s name? Krix? It sounded short for something, maybe another title like Ytar that K’seng couldn’t translate. When I wasn’t paralyzed, I would ask.
“So be it.”
The doctor wasn’t going to explain why he deemed me a child. Was I so unfeminine? From icy depths, frightened, I’d peered up to find refuge in the warmth of the medic’s caring eyes and imagined he returned my tender feelings. Now, I learned he saw me as a girl, a hysterical girl. I was crushed.