If Krix hadn’t been there, I would have kissed her when she woke. -Mik Rile
Vibrations stirred me. A masculine baritone rumbled through my empty chest, an echo in the cave I’d become in the absence of the thrum. I was back from death to another one, but alive. And paralyzed. Krix had left me in limbo again. Mik was either insane or talking to the medic, cataloging damage to the ship.
“There’s no comm, no propulsion. We glided down the gravity well while I controlled her angle manually. No one had used those sticks in years. We’re lucky K’seng’s got a good maintenance crew or they would have stuck. We’ve got life support, but it won’t last forever, and we should conserve heat, power, air, food, and water from the start.”
“Not for Jubilee. She was already suffering withdrawal, and the contingency protocol hasn’t done her any favors.”
“Right. Jubilee’s life comes first. Then yours. She needs you,” Mik said.
“You’re not going anywhere. We’ll fix comm. If we don’t, someone will find us.”
“I’m addressing the worst case scenario so we agree on what’s to be done. So you understand. That’s how I want it. Help Jubilee reach J’ting.”
My fingers were stone. My tongue, bone. I wanted to prove I was alive, deny the death in my hollow chest. Like Mik, I cataloged the damage and discovered I could open my eyes. A soft ping sounded, and Krix and Mik turned their heads toward me propped like a corpse. At least, Krix had thought to tilt the seat.
“Jubilee?” Krix leaned down, flashed the medspen at my eyes, and spoke over his shoulder to Mik, “She’s awake but only has autonomic so far. She should be able to talk in a couple of minutes. She’ll need water. Food after that.”
“Can she hear us?”
Mik joined Krix in my line of sight. “Jubilee, you’re safe.” Damn, that was sweet of him.
“We landed the AFV on a moon of a gas giant. We have gravity, roughly point eight. We’re repairing the comm, and we’ll contact the waystation. We’ll get you out of here as soon as we can and onto J’ting just as we planned.”
An interlude commenced in which I couldn’t move or speak but was aware of the two men kneeling on either side of my seat. Krix took my hand, and Mik took the other. Their hands were warm. Krix squeezed, gently reassuring me, and Mik stroked his thumb across my curved knuckles, lax in paralysis.
The AFV was more dead than alive, and the cabin was quiet. If there was atmosphere or wind on this moon, we couldn’t hear it inside the ship’s soundproof hull. We were a sturdy capsule, a pod, a womb. I felt safe with the two men, who would do anything in their power to help me.
I didn’t feel guilty about that. They’d taken me from my peaceful homeworld, exposing me to danger against my will. If that moral indignity was not to be in vain, I must reach J’ting.
My tongue moved uselessly against my teeth. Krix reassured me. “Take your time. We’ve got a lot of it. As soon as you can, we’ll help you drink.”
“I thought…,” I croaked, “…you killed me.”
Mik’s brows lowered, and he looked away from my eyes, leaving Krix with the burden to speak. “There’s a protocol to be followed, and we were at stage three. It was only to make you appear dead. Mik and I hadn’t given up yet, but there wasn’t time to explain.”
“What stage do you really kill me?”
“Who decides when it’s stage four?”
“Those decisions have already been made by the CKL. All Mik and I have are the guidelines, and we follow them. We’re sworn to service, and we can’t do otherwise without betraying Katar and the sentients.”
“I understand. I’m sorry.”
Krix curled a finger and stroked my cheek. “Don’t apologize. You have every right to want to live, and no one ever asked you if this was what you wanted. Mik and I know that.”
Mik raised his head, and our eyes met. That time, neither of us looked away; I’d forgiven him for what he’d done to me.
The longer we were thrown together in that stranded AFV, the more deeply I cared for her. She was funny, clever, and so damn precious. I was pissed off at the universe because I couldn’t tell her how I felt. -Mik Rile
There was not much to do while Mik tried to fix the communications issue. I wanted to see outside, but he refused to alter the reflectivity index of the portholes. He said there was nothing out there but rocks anyway. But I’d never been on another world, not even a moon, and I wanted to see. He told me I could look once we were rescued. Why was he being so disagreeable?
After about three hours of his surly attitude, I was ready to open the hatch and brave the lousy atmosphere just to get away from him. The AFV had environment suits, and I could walk on a moon! I really thought about it, but Krix diverted my attention. He asked me to look at a spectral scanning device, damaged with everything else when the EM pulses swept the ship.
Scanning was my area of expertise, my only area unless training a myna bird to talk counted. My bird had learned to say good morning and how was work? though it just as often said good morning when I came home in the evening as it said how was work? when I woke up in the morning. My myna was the only thing I hadn’t worried about because I knew Mum and Dad would go to my flat with their keycode and take my bird to their house.
Meanwhile, I pulled a panel free from the floor of the AFV, opened the protective housing, and stared at the raw collectors. The spherical receptors should have been pristine under protection of a translucent film.
“Unless we’ve got factory-direct replacements for these.” I waggled my finger at the blackened, pitted orbs. “This is unfixable. The film’s fried.”
“Is that the technical term you learned on Visily, Jubilee? Fried?”
“Are you mocking my security scanning certificate, Dr. Linx?”
“No. I’m sure you were good at your job. Just hoping to lighten the mood in here.”
“Good, because I could point out a few things you might do better, Dr. Linx.”
“Oh, Jubilee? Such as?”
“Well, you could stop paralyzing me while I remain conscious for one thing. For another, you could refrain from attempts to initiate convulsions with your medspen in my eye. I’m Visilian, you know, and I don’t need thirty-two hundred lumens to see like Katar do, and I prefer my wavelength around five hundred and eight nanometers, not four hundred. Did your people evolve in a cave?”
Krix grinned as I lectured grumpily, but Mik raised his voice to butt in from the bow. “They evolved exactly where yours did, Jubilee. You’re the one with mutations.”
“Fine, Mik! But I’m seeing this moon! If it’s too dark out there for you to see, that’s too bad!”
With that idiotic announcement, I popped a storage hatch and jerked out an environment suit, fully intending to wear it. Tranquilly, eyes dark like coffee and twice as addictive, Krix remained on an arm of the seat from where he’d watched me throw my fit on the floor. After a moment of his languorous gaze, I dropped the counterpressure suit in defeat. They wouldn’t let me go. If I did go, they’d never forgive themselves if anything happened to me and not because of oaths sworn to the Legion.
He hadn’t said a word, but I did. “Sorry, Krix. You can flash violet light at me if it helps you see.”
“No, you’re right, Jubilee. I’m not a very good physician if I don’t consider the race of my patient. Your eye and pineal gland will react more normally to the yellow light. Part of your health issues may be due to the wavelengths to which you’ve been subjected.”
He waved me forward to sit in the chair, and I went meekly, humbled by kindness. As soon as I sat, the light over my head shifted from violet-blue to yellow and decreased in intensity.
“Doctor’s orders are for you to sit and sorb. It’ll do you good. When you’re ready, we’ll turn it down so you can sleep. It’s been fourteen hours since any of us did. Our biorhythms are significantly disrupted without K’seng’s day-night cycle.” He looked toward the bow and aptly reprimanded Mik, “…and our moods.”
Mik grimaced and looked away as if too busy to worry about biorhythms and maybe he was. If he didn’t fix comm, we might be here a long time. But only until we died.