Never again. -Mik Rile
Krix and Mik led the way, shoulder to shoulder, leading me to K’seng’s docking bay while I trailed like a reluctant puppy on a leash.
It was the worst cruelty. The ship’s fleet must have been the finest in the galaxy; gleaming, sleek, and tough. AFVs were organized by size and role, a row of big SC-5s followed by smaller PT-3s and -2s in order. To starboard, a row of ship-to-ship class vessels rested on tracks, prepared to launch on command. Rigs I didn’t recognize bristled with unfamiliar weaponry, specialized for battle.
More than a warship, she was a citadel with a spaceport, capable of moving goods and bioloids at any speed, under any conditions of deep space or planetary environment. If she had to, she could probe a black hole or land a kitten on a molten moon. Some of these vessels contained their own power sources. Others had large, exterior emnodes, which meant K’seng powered them with her singularity. They were her babies.
Mik and Krix were taking me from this, from the heart of the sentient ship I’d shared. Spinning on my soles, I gaped at K’seng’s display of power while the two men walked ahead. A crew wearing brown flightsuits combed our AFV with last-minute inspections using instruments much like I’d operated on Visily. I’d inspected plenty of foreign AFVs and could have done their job. If not a mutant, I could have been one of them, happy with K’seng. Irony.
Our vessel was a PT-3, personnel transport, the latest version built on Banga Beta, where the spacecraft industry fueled the planetary economy. Routinely, I’d scanned PT-2s, but this model was new. The hull was emblazoned with Katar iconography, presumably applied by the Katar Legion after taking possession. The men were walking up the ramp extended from the AFV’s port side, but I couldn’t leave without one last word to the sentient ship. She didn’t answer, but was forever listening.
“I’ll always love you. Even if someone takes my place, don’t forget me. I’ll never forget you.”
Mik came down the ramp to clasp my arm. “We have to go.” He tugged me up and back on my heels.
“I don’t want to go! Please let me stay.”
Inside, the hatch closed. I dissolved in a passenger seat and wept. The safety straps closed with touch to prevent activation or damage from a panicked flux in emergencies. I couldn’t see through the tears, and my hands shook. Krix strapped me in. Mik manned the pilot’s console. I expected a jolt, but departure was smooth. K’seng’s thrum died. Shrieking, I clawed at the harness like a small animal in a trap.
Mik looked over his shoulder. “Stop her.”
Hands steadier than mine, Krix was already out of his seat.
“Calm down.” I sobbed against his chest, and he stroked my tufted hair. “You’re going to someone who’ll love you just as much as K’seng. J’ting longs for you, and she’s coming through great danger to pick you up. Hold on, and you’ll be back with a ship.”
“Why did you do this to me? Why did you expose me to the sentients? Why? Why? Please take me back. I can’t live like this, not without K’seng. I’m dead inside.”
“That’s how J’ting feels, too.”
“I don’t even know J’ting. Take me back to K’seng. I mean it. Take me back now!”
“Jubilee.” His voice was mildly threatening, but he didn’t scare me. Nothing was worse than I already felt. “I want to avoid a sedative for the trip. The last one took days to clear, and you didn’t fare well. Be calm for me so we can eliminate the meds.”
“I can’t. We can’t. You have to sit in your seat and wear the harness. It’s for your safety. Do that so I don’t have to sedate you.”
For hours, inconsolable, I cried on and off while Krix tried to soothe me. Nothing he said eased the pain of separation from the sentient ship. Without K’seng’s thrum, the void in my chest expanded like the universe, distending my ribs. My bones would crack, and I’d burst.
If a rebel ship captain could make a sentient accept Jubilee as her sensitive, the rebels might spare her life, and we couldn’t take that chance. -Mik Rile
I woke with my head drooped over my chest. When I stretched my neck, sparkles danced in my eyes. Krix was asleep, his head leaning back on the adjustable chair tilted for comfort. Why did I always do it the hard way?
He looked over his shoulder. “Good morning.”
“Has she contacted us?”
“No, she won’t.” Mik unlocked his harness and swung back into the passenger cabin to free me from mine. He glanced at Krix but left him alone. “She told Captain Pau, after the two of you were together in the exchange field, it was best if she limited contact. She didn’t trust herself and was trying to protect you from exactly what’s happened, this anxiety you’re experiencing.”
“Anxiety? Is that what you think I’m feeling? Mik, I want to die.”
“I know you’re in pain. I’m not that callous, despite what you told Krix. In training, it was called separation anxiety, but we don’t have experience with someone like you.”
“If that’s the reason, then yeh. I can’t say for sure. But I’m not such a clod that I can’t see you’re hurting.”
“I still want to go back.”
“And you still can’t. K’seng made that clear. Even if you go back, she won’t or can’t bond with you.”
“I don’t need a bond. I just want to live in her thrum.”
“What about K’seng? How would she feel with you on board and she couldn’t talk with you? Couldn’t share her feelings with the one person who might understand her? Think how alone these ships are in space. And it’s our fault, the Katar. We build them, and they emerge sentient but with some vital piece missing, and they never feel quite complete. Would you deny K’seng when we find her an appropriate sensitive?”
“I might be that for her, eventually, if you would just give me a chance.”
“How many times do I have to tell you? There’s a ship already waiting for you, one just as worthy as the one you left. J’ting, in her wisdom, has chosen you. You should feel honored.”
“All I feel is dead.”
“J’ting will change that. You’ll see.”
Before I could whine in resentment, an alarm sounded, and Krix snapped awake with a snort.
Mik looked at me accusingly. “Are you doing that?”
Was it my fault Visilians weren’t taught? “It’s not me!”
Mik jumped to the bow and shouted at me to snap my harness. Safety touchpads had become my bane. I most needed to operate one when my hands were shaking and slick. Maybe Katar drilled for releasing the manual straps, but I never had. My heart banged. Another alarm clanged, and the craft juddered.
“What the hells?” Krix called out.
“Sit tight,” Mik grizzled.
Four chimes went off at once, and Mik’s panel lit up like a festival. I yelped. “Mik! That was me! Ignore those!”
“Damn it, Jubilee! Krix, can’t you do something with her biolectrics? I’m busy.”
“Nothing but sedate her, which I don’t want to do except as a last resort. Just switch them off.”
“I don’t have time to dampen her surges. There’s a ship off starboard. I’m scanning hull damage to determine its cause.”
I looked at Krix. “A ship? An enemy? What’s that mean?”
“Maybe nothing. The ship might be a coincidence. We could have hit debris.”
“In space? That’s not a coincidence! I may not have passed my engineering exam, but I know the probabilities! Infinitesimal! That ship and a piece of debris can’t be in the same spot in the vastness of space. Krix, that ship fired on us!”
Krix was unmoved by my hysterics. Did nothing frighten these Katar men? He answered with a composure in direct proportion to my panic. “Unless it was debris from the ship, which increases the probability astronomically. Stay calm and shut down your biolectrics. You’re only increasing the hazards with your lack of control.”
The hull quaked amid a boom like thunder. I ducked my head and clapped my hands to my ears. A storming cascade of crackling light and force waves swept the AFV. Gravity failed, and only the harness held me in my seat. Nausea hit, but vomiting in zero gravity wouldn’t be pretty.
I screamed, “Mik!”
“It’s alright. It’s alright.”
It wasn’t alright. He stroked the control array manually, supplementing rapid biosuggestion to fix our problems. Mik dismissed all alarms, and the cabin went silent, too silent.
Krix spoke like syrup as he caught one of my tears in mid-air, a salty droplet floating in zero-gee, “Oh, Jubilee…”
Mik looked over his shoulder. “Krix, put her out. Make her dead. Level three. I’ve got a destination, but I’m not sure we can get there.”
Make her dead?
“Right,” Krix droned.
The medic unstrapped and lifted lazily from his seat, pushed off in zero gravity, and drifted toward me with his medspen. Calculating a dose, the light of his device swept my body. Incapacitated with dread, I waited for him to kill me. He programmed the control.
“Krix?” I whispered.
Bloody hells, it was quiet. The AFV was as dead as I was about to be. This was the silence of space, no thrum, no life. Mik pulled a small panel off the navigation console and peered in the housing at the dead guts of a modulator, which should have been alive with indicator lights.
Memories stirred. Mum stood crying at Dad’s shoulder as he handed me flowers. Jubjub, we’re so proud of you.
Krix drifted closer. “I’m sorry, Jubilee.”