Jubilee could make me feel sixteen again. I tracked her down, specifically to warn her about the time exchange. By the time she left, mad at me, she thought I’d been withholding information. Smooth, Mik, real smooth. -Mik Rile
For two days, meals were delivered to my cabin by an ensign. On the third day, I skipped out on breakfast. My door wasn’t locked, and Mik hadn’t told me I couldn’t, so I left.
In the mess hall, a few people glanced at the wasted, frail sensitive, but no one stared. She was only aboard temporarily, a delay in the ship’s real mission, which no one would have told me. Trying to repair my wraith-like appearance, I’d washed my hair. In K’seng’s Kataran atmosphere, the strands stuck up in dry tufts. I found a table where I sat with my back leaning against the wall. Like an infant drawn to her mother’s heartbeat, craving contact with K’seng’s thrum. Far from home, I was scared and ill.
Halfway through breakfast, Mik found me and pulled up a chair without asking. When did he ever? And joined me with a donut and coffee.
“Feeling better, I see.”
“That’s good because we’re exchanging time tonight, and it can be rough the first few times.”
I looked agog. Had K’seng’s translation failed me? Maybe I was no longer hearing Visilian.
“Hm.” He grimaced. “I guess I have to explain that.”
“Well, we’ve borrowed time to come this far, this fast, and we have to pay it back. The result can be unsettling. Nausea, ringing in the ears. Theoretically, you’re not supposed to feel it, but bioloids tend to notice when they’re inverted.”
“Was anyone going to tell me?”
“There’s an alarm right before it…um, yeh…probably should have informed you earlier. Jubilee, I’ll try to do better. I keep forgetting you’re from Visily and not familiar with what the rest of the Arm is doing.”
“How can you forget something like that, Mik? You kidnapped me.”
“I know, and I’m sorry again. Damn it. It seems like I apologize every time I see you.”
“Yet you have no real feeling for me or what you’ve done. Ytar Mik Rile, you’re heartless.”
My breakfast remained, but I shoved my tray and left. His turn to look agog. I didn’t go back to my cabin. I wandered the shiny corridors, and no one stopped me. Maybe it was standard practice to let a sensitive have run of a sentient ship. I had no idea, just making things up in my head as I went along. Finding myself outside the infirmary, I knew my heart had brought me here, hungry for the compassion Mik didn’t seem to have.
The medic, Krix, was on duty, his dark curls bent over a planar slip that mystified me. At my unexpected entrance, he looked up in surprise.
“Jubilee? Are you alright?”
“Yeh.” I scrambled for an excuse for my visit. “Mik told me about this thing. Tonight. With time. He said I might be sick.”
“You might be. I’ll provide you with an antiemetic just in case. If you feel anything worse, you can contact the infirmary, and we’ll help you.”
“Of course, Jubilee. Something else?”
I was taking advantage of the time to study the dark, smooth skin of his hands and his fingernails, pink and trim. “No.”
“Are you eating like I prescribed? Drinking plenty of water?”
“I have been, but I missed my breakfast.”
“I had those meals ordered. Did they fail to deliver?”
“Oh, the ensign probably delivered, but I went to the mess. Mik showed up.”
Two light-ring chairs appeared, and Krix invited me to stay, which suited me. The stool bobbed to balance my weight.
“Was that a problem, Mik showing up?”
“Yeh, I guess. It doesn’t always go well between us.”
“I’ve noticed that. Is there something we can do to make the relationship smoother for you?”
“If there was none at all, that would work.”
Regarding me a moment before he replied, he looked wise. “I’ll tell you something about Mik. He didn’t start out as Ytar. He was a Lanser before this.”
“What is that?”
“It means he was trained to perform hazardous, military missions, a badass. Then began this trouble with the sensitives, and soldiers like Mik were needed to protect the vulnerable, people like you. Mik trained as a counselor. So that’s the roughness you see in Mik. But, Jubilee, there’s no one who can take better care of you if there’s danger. He may not be the softest man, but he believes in what we’re doing for the sentients, and he’d give his life to ensure yours.”
“Is that my life now? Living with a bodyguard who protects me out of principle?”
“You see it that way because you haven’t met J’ting. Your perspective will shift,” he said.
“Does it have to be Mik? Couldn’t someone else escort me?”
“Mik isn’t just your escort, Jubilee. He’s assigned to you permanently. J’ting requested both of you.”
Biolectric surged. Panels lit like a holiday. The high-pitched alarm sounded. Krix dampened my potential, calming the bedlam with counterlectrics, shutting down the whining alert.
He could quiet my biosuggestions, but he couldn’t quiet me. “That can’t be. I can’t live like this. I can’t.”
I jumped to my feet, and Krix studied me with soft, syrup eyes.
“J’ting must have a good reason. Our ships aren’t only intelligent and sentient, they possess sapience, and we’ve learned to trust their judgment.”
“But he doesn’t care about me. He treats me like a chair. He wasn’t going to tell me about the time share…switch…shift…”
“That. He wasn’t going to tell me, and I would have been alone in my cabin without knowing what was wrong. How can he be that unfeeling?”
“I can’t explain Mik’s behavior, only tell you he does care a great deal about you and wants you to thrive. Nothing would make him happier. Hold on a while longer, and you’ll be with J’ting. You’ll help each other. Through you, she gains depth of self-expression, and she can help you come to terms with Mik.”
All anyone would say was it would be alright when I met J’ting.
“Meanwhile, I’ve been meaning to address something with you.”
Why did he look away from my eyes? This couldn’t be good. It didn’t have anything to do with the fact he thought I was a juvenile, did it? Please, no.
“Your biolectric output exceeds your skill at containment. Did no one ever teach you that on Visily?”
“You’re wild. Your biolectric is roughly twice the average. That’s why it gets away from you when you’re agitated. You should have been taught more rigorous control as a child.”
“My bio…?” Dr. Krix would think I was as slow-witted as Mik did.
“There are techniques to harness and use biolectric for manipulation more sophisticated than flipping switches. You could create with it. On Katar, people with your rating are often artists and engineers.”
“Are you saying I could have been an engineer on Katar?”
“I don’t know why not.”
“Didn’t you see my ID disc? My aptitude scores were too low to study engineering.”
“We don’t issue standardized tests on Katar. They’re useless, and I assume those on Visily are just as futile. If the whole was just a sum of the parts, then the sentient AIs wouldn’t have emerged as they did. We build our ships with rivets and organometallics, but they’re alive now, with moods and desires you don’t find in a metal. You can’t measure inspiration, creativity, beauty, or wisdom. I’m sure you could be an engineer if you liked. You’ve had preliminary training as a technician, and you’re only twenty-four.”
Finally, a good excuse. I rushed forward and wrapped my arms around his waist in a hug, and he stroked my rakish shocks and patted my back. He smelled like cinnamon and citrus.
“Jubilee, you’re a long way from home,” he said quietly. “But your life isn’t over yet. It’ll get better.”