Even as we tainted her mind with the knowledge of war, her heart remained innocent. -Mik Rile
I learned why K’seng executed the time exchange when she did; we were slowing down, so she’d dumped us back into Standard Polm Time, the calendar used in our arm of the galaxy. At home, we haughtily measured time in Visilian hours and were barely aware methods existed to turn me atomically inside out and shift the universe on a local scale to sync timelines. But that’s what she’d done, and my parents and I maintained our respective ages. I was grateful. I still hoped, somehow, to let Mum and Dad know I was alive.
Mik called me to a large, shiny cabin―Katar lived in a perpetual, violet-white glare. When I walked in, Mik summoned three chairs from the gleaming panels. I took the one with three rings, and he explained about the ship slowing down. Then he idled, knitting his fingers while resting his elbows on his knees and hanging his heel on a light rung of the stool. So Mik. But why were we waiting?
A whoosh of air and biolectric current accompanied the silent slide of the door panel, and I turned toward Dr. Krixas Linx. The coffee-eyed medic settled back more at ease than Mik on the carboflex seat of the third stool.
“So how far have we gotten?” he asked, and I assumed he was talking to Mik.
“I was waiting for you before I told her. I explained why K’seng exchanged last night,” Mik said, talking past me as the two men often did.
“Right. Well, I’m here now. And I’ve got a lot to do before we leave, so talk.”
I sat stiff, eyes like an owl, curious about these mysteries. What was happening to me? Again?
“Jubilee.” Mik gave me all his attention, and he had mine. What the hells was going on?
“K’seng still has her mission to perform. You have to understand she’s a warship now, not a passenger liner, and she’s needed elsewhere.”
They were taking me from K’seng. Futile words leaked from my lips on their own. “No…please.” The Katar would do whatever they intended, and I had no power to stop them. I was only a tiny part of their big, war plans, a fuse to be delivered to a single ship. My shoulders slumped, and the rings below the carboflex bobbed to shift with my weight, bringing me into balance. I averted my face from Krix’s gaze, because his look of sympathy would make me cry, and waited for Mik to describe the details of my fate.
“We’re flying an AFV to a waystation where we’ll rendezvous with J’ting. She’s being pulled from the front to pick us up.”
“Why can’t K’seng and J’ting meet?” I asked plaintively.
Mik grimaced and explained basic military principles to the Visilian girl ignorant of war and battle. “Jubilee, we can’t put two of our finest ships in the same space. If we lost both at the same time, it would be devastating. No, this responsibility is J’ting’s, and K’seng has come as far as she can with you. But we’ll get you to J’ting safely. I’m sworn to do that, and I will.”
“I’m coming along,” Krix said. “I requested the transfer, and homeworld consented to my reassignment to J’ting. We care about what happens to you.”
“So I won’t get broken? So I’ll be functioning when we arrive?” I stared at an empty, organochrome wall, avoiding his liquid eyes.
Mik clasped and unclasped his fingers. “We all feel that way sometimes, Jubilee, like pieces in a bigger picture. But what we’re doing has merit. We’re freeing these magnificent ships from brutal slavery.”
“I could stay with K’seng.”
“You could, but it wouldn’t be the same for either of you. We believe there’s a reason for J’ting’s request though there’s no sensitive to help her negotiate the intricacies of her mechanical sentience, no one but you.”
“But why doesn’t J’ting already have her own sensitive? Why doesn’t K’seng?”
“They lost them, Jubilee.”
Krix’s chair drifted closer to mine until the pads bumped, and he stole my hand. “That won’t happen to you. That’s why you have Mik. Those other two didn’t have Lanser-trained counselors like I explained to you. We’re training Lansers as fast as we can, but you see the difficulty a Lanser sometimes has adapting to this job. Not all of them can do it. Whatever Mik may be lacking that you need, he’s not lacking in the skill to protect you.”
I looked at Mik, and he looked at me. He was sworn to this, and he believed in his cause, and he did have compassion for both sentient and sensitive. To him, winning the war was the only way to preserve the lives he cared about.
“When do we have to leave her?”
“Tomorrow,” Mik said. “We’ve got a tight schedule. J’ting is big, easy to spot. We don’t like to leave her in one place too long. And our transport craft is small and vulnerable. We want to move fast.”
“Where do we meet J’ting?”
“It’s a waystation, but it’s better if I don’t tell you names, times, and places, Jubilee. That’s just how it is.”
Despite a deep breath and a valiant effort, my voice quavered. “In case someone asks me?”
“Just in case.”
Krix was still holding my hand, and he gave me a firm squeeze when I sniffled and swiped at my eyes.
When she called me in the middle of the night, I wanted to go to her, tell her how I felt. But what could I offer? I was the man who’d taken her from her home and was now taking her from the ship she loved. How could she ever forgive me? -Mik Rile
I knew little of space travel but some about ships. After all, I was trained in scanning ships landing at the Visilian spaceport. Mik had said AFV, which meant we might visit a planet, moon, or asteroid with enough gravity to hold an atmosphere. I might see an alien planet, maybe even a city. Despite the danger, that prospect enticed me.
If I ever got to contact Mum and Dad I could tell them, and they’d be glad I had the opportunity to see an exotic world like I dreamed as a kid. Maybe it was stupid to hope I’d see my parents again, but it was hard to let go. No matter how old I was or how many experiences I had, I’d never outgrow Mum and Dad.
As I mulled over Visily and the trip, an uncertainty struck me. Would I be able to speak Visilian with Mik and Krix? Or would I be alone and confused? How long would the transport take? Mik wouldn’t tell me that.
“K’seng, please. I’m scared.”
An orange light appeared in the dark with Mik’s comm frequency. So she wouldn’t talk to me even on the eve of departure. That’s how much she feared bonding with a sensitive bound for another ship. If it scared her, as big and powerful as she was, then it should scare me a thousand times more. I didn’t bother to get up, just pinged the frequency, and waited for a reply in the dark. The orange light faded and winked out.
“Jubilee? What’s wrong?”
“Mik, I have to ask you something.”
“You know it’s oh-one hundred, right?”
The comm picked up his heavy sigh. “What is it?”
“How will we talk on the AFV? Does Krix know Visilian?”
“No, he doesn’t. Neither do I. But K’seng’s taking care of it for you. She downloaded her translation matrix to the AFV so you won’t have any interruption in communications.”
“Oh. Thanks, Mik.”
“No problem. Now get some sleep. We’re leaving in a few hours.”
I spent the entire night awake. When Mik appeared in my doorway, I’d just dispelled the replicated image of the ghoul looking back at me. The colors of my bruised cheek had faded to green and yellow with spidery, red veins. Thanks, Umar. I was surprised Mik didn’t step back in horror when I turned, hollow and haggard.
“Ready?” His cheerfulness sounded strained.
I had one thing to pack, my coverall from Visily, folded small in my hand. “Ready,” I whispered.
“It’ll be alright.” He patted me on the back as we walked along in the glare.
It was the best he did, and I should have appreciated the effort but didn’t have the courage to spare humoring a military badass playing teddy bear. Not bred for war, raised to pacifism, commended all my life for compliance, courage was not in my repertoire.
“Yeh.” I was noncommittal, kept my eyes forward and my biolectric close like a tiny ion storm. I might open an airlock that would spit me into space or signal a rebel attack or stop my own heart. There was no end to dangers my mutations presented.
Mik gave it up, and we walked in stiff silence until we met Krix carrying his medkit. He nodded encouragingly, but my icy mood chilled him, too. Both men were reserved, probably wary of the sensitive freaking out in transport, initiating a biochemical cascade that would send her to the infirmary, delaying our departure. Mik had said the schedule was tight and so were their smiles.