Shock had taken its toll, and she was wan though her black eyes were as alert as a bird’s. The Legion uniform hugged her body, revealing seductive curves. My love was not for the girl Krix implied she was but for the woman I saw in front of me. -Mik Rile.
Maybe the perception was only my imagination or a wish, but K’seng‘s thrum seemed deliberate and intended for one as I woke back in my cabin under a gold version of foil for added warmth. She cared.
A brown flightsuit, suspended on light in the middle of the room, was probably intentionally conspicuous; Mik feared the girl sensitive was too dim-witted to find it any other way. In that suit, I’d join the crew, just leave behind my life on Visily, my job, my Mum and Dad. The ultimate plans of the Katar remained a mystery, but Mik’s explanations made it clear that wearing the uniform was dangerous.
“K’seng! Don’t you care if I live?” No answer. She wouldn’t easily send a woman to die in a war, so what terrible ethical dilemmas made her act against her own nature?
“I’ll put it on, but I don’t like it.”
My work coverall had been my only clothing for a number of days, how many I’d have to ask because the length of my stay in the infirmary was a fuzzy quantity. Though sick of the baggy garment, it had come from home. With regret, I stripped to my whites and folded the coverall to put away. Instead, I clasped the brown flightsuit, at which the light rings winked out, deactivated by elimination of the suit’s weight.
The skin-slick suit fit like it was tailored for me and may have been. The front seam closed with touchpads and came with an empty gear belt. My old belt had been equipped with a spen. Maybe only a Visilian, living and dying in the same banal job, would get misty-eyed over a lost spen, left behind on the matrix at the spaceport. The spen wasn’t even mine, but I’d used it for the last six years, scanning atomically-encrypted imprint plates to enter serial numbers prior to inspection. We’d grown attached.
There, now I was a regular Katar, garbed in the umber-brown of the Conservative Katar Legion. My Visilian life was the past. If I ever returned, the security issues would haunt me for years. Even if I proved I was Jubilee Wistler and hadn’t voluntarily gone off-world, the suspicion of alien connections would always linger. No one would hire a security tech with that reputation.
I summoned a mirror and stepped back, staring at my head facsimile hovering and rotating in mid-air. That woman was not the same one who’d left Visily. Even with the image reduced to a datastream, the codes suggested illness, injury, and loss. Generating my image quantitatively in four dimensions, the mirror showed a woman who, if dead, would have looked better. What would Dad think of his Jubjub now? Mum would cry.
The door chime sounded, and I leaped from the paneled wall, as frightened as I’d ever been. Mik. I’d never doubt isolationist principles again. Swear! Backed into a corner, I eyed the door panel with dread.
K’seng spoke. “Jubilee, I’m unlocking the door for your Ytar. Don’t be frightened. I’m talking to him in the corridor, explaining that your heart rate is rapid, blood pressure low, and you may need further medical attention. Calmly follow his instructions.”
I had less than a minute to absorb that information before Mik’s broad frame filled the opening. He didn’t step in, just studied me backed in the corner. What did his violet eyes see? The coded colors and geometry of a mirror’s datastream or the real me?
Ten years ago, I wanted to help my government save the sentients from slavery. I hadn’t signed up to destroy the life of an innocent young woman. -Mik Rile
He must have been aware of more than my wild vitals. K’seng had felt something in our reciprocal thrum, must have told him to proceed cautiously, because he was waiting for me to reply before he moved.
“Can I come in?”
“Can I stop you?”
“Not if you need medical attention. K’seng has the infirmary on standby in case you need to return. I only want to see that you’re alright.”
“That’s not why you came here,” I said.
He spread his arms in the portal, grasping the edges, leaning in. “No, it’s not. But this takes precedence. No one wants you to be hurt, Jubilee. I swear that’s the truth. Let me help you.”
Either way was madness. I couldn’t keep him out forever nor bear the burdens he brought. “I want Mum and Dad to know I’m alive.”
“Let me help you, and we’ll talk about it.”
“You’re not going to help me contact them, are you?”
“Jubilee, my information from K’seng requires I enter and help you calm down. Once that’s accomplished, we can discuss contact.”
“Alright. Come in.”
I didn’t leave the corner where my back and shoulders pressed closest to K’seng’s thrum. Mik approached warily. As he passed the datastream, his eyes flicked to the numerical codes for color and dimension, and he frowned. He went to one knee, eliminating his height so he wasn’t looking down at me and I wasn’t craning up.
“Can I help you to the bench? It’ll be more comfortable to discuss your parents if you sit.”
Before we could talk, there was another chime. The medic, the dark-eyed doctor, brought his medkit marked in the exotic iconography becoming familiar to me on the ship. His name eluded my troubled mind. Minx maybe.
“Jubilee.” Like Mik, he went to a knee by the bench. He was tall, too—a lot of the Katar crew were—so it was easier for him to work with me that way. “I’m only going to scan you quickly, make sure you’re alright. If you need an emject, I’ll give that, too, with your permission.”
“My permission?” My voice was squeaky, hysterical. People kept asking my permission when doing whatever the hells they wanted. I had no control over anything, not even the meds injected into my body.
“It will stabilize your blood pressure.” He turned to Mik. “Will you get her some water, please?”
They were going ahead, doing what they wanted, stabilizing me. I couldn’t be stabilized; I was chronically unstable. Mik held the glass out, but my arm suddenly lacked bones. I slumped, the effort of sitting straight too great.
The medic saw the difficulty. “Help her drink it.”
Mik braced his arm around my shoulder and held the rim of the glass to my lips.
Was I cold? Did my head hurt? Would I like more water? How was I feeling now? Perhaps they should oil my joints and calibrate my biofeedback. Probably best not to make the suggestion or they’d make an attempt.
Though my heart was no longer tattooing my ribs, I felt more like a project than ever, a girl kept patched together for delivery to a sentient ship in their war. Did they ever feel like spare parts? If not, they couldn’t understand what the sensitive was going through. They’d never predict or repair the breakdowns she kept having.
The medic—Kinx?—cleared me and dismissed the mirror before he left. That left Mic with me on the padded bench.
“What’s his name?” I asked when the medic was gone.
“Dr. Krixas Linx. He’s one of three physicians aboard K’seng.”
“How come I keep getting him?”
“This time K’seng called him because he’s familiar with your case. He was off-duty. The first times were only chance.”
“I see. Can we contact my parents now?”
“We can talk about it. Perhaps you’re aware of the difficulties. If not, I can explain.”
“Mik…they’ll think I’m dead. They’ll suffer. I can’t stand knowing that. Please…”
“I wish I could offer you more comfort. Maybe, when you get to J’ting, you’ll understand.”
“So I can’t?”
“You remember I told you I tried to get through with an envoy and was rebuffed? Well, that situation hasn’t changed. The Visilian government wants nothing to do with Katar. Even if we tried to transmit a message to your parents, authorities would intercept. The only way is a mission like the one we executed to extract you from the spaceport. If anything went wrong, your parents would be in jeopardy. Do you want us to risk that?”
“Is there no other way?”
“Not that I know.”
Hunching over my knees, I sobbed, heaving with regret, guilt, and sheer sorrow for my parents. They’d never have the closure of my death. They’d always wonder, and there would always be a security taint over my disappearance. Mik was not so cold a man he couldn’t offer me a hand on my back. He patted while I wept, but it wasn’t enough. I missed Mum and Dad and was never going to see them again. Never.