Disclaimer: This story contains elements which some people may find offensive. If that is the case, they are invited to leave. The author also holds no responsibility for possible illegalities committed by the reader in their presence here. All people and events in this story are fictional. Any resemblance to anything real is purely coincidental. Copyright 2010 Devon Keene: firstname.lastname@example.org
|the Enigma of Flatness|
The shuttle glided through the cloudless sky, wind catching its wings and rocking its three passengers. Sabrin leaned back against the headrest and squinted at the sheer brightness of the planet outside. He had never seen so much blue before in his entire life. It pressed down on his chest, making him want to say or do something uncharacteristic, giddy. He'd been to other planets before, but apparently this was what that his mind had been waiting for, to finally give him the revelation that he was on an alien world.
They landed at a gleaming white complex nestled into the forested hills that bound one side of the capital city. Sabrin unbuckled himself and was following their pilot Durois out the side hatch before the engines had even cycled down. His first step outside though had him reeling back inside the cabin with an arm over his eyes, knocking a startled Tallas back into his seat.
However bright he thought Mnemosyne was before, it was ten times worse without the protection of the polarized shuttle canopy. And the heat...on Astral-Ishasa, the sun was a distant little thing and the temperature inside the dome was the same in light or shadow. Here, it was like an open oven right in front of his face. Sabrin blinked furiously as his vision tried to adjust. Somehow it did and he saw Durois standing unperturbed in the sunshine, smirking at them.
"You two spacers? Never been on a real planet before?"
"We're from a planet. Just under a dome," Sabrin replied defensively, making sure to hold his hand over his brow on his second exit from the shuttle. Tallas did the same.
"Same difference. It's still living in a terrarium." Durois pointed up at the twin suns. "Welcome to the natural human condition."
Sabrin frowned at that as someone else arrived to take them off her hands. The shuttle had taken off again by the time they reached the blessed shade of the main building. They passed through a checkpoint that saw them relieved of their comlinks, before being escorted to a utilitarian but massive office far more imposing than the man who occupied it. Admiral Edward Sufh was short and bald, his tanned skin so smooth for a man his age that he resembled a wax sculpture come to life.
"Payne, Anderholt." Sufh cracked a wide smile once the door was shut behind them, offering his hand and the two armchairs in front of his desk. "That was outstanding work out there. The pirate organizations in the sector are in disarray, and those here who doubted my initiative to supplement our forces are eating their words. I had half a mind to hand out medals, but you can be assured that I do respect your request for privacy."
"Thank you sir." Sabrin found himself slipping easily into the aspiring soldier he'd once been. Sufh eyed him shrewdly, as though his face had changed to reflect this history.
"That said, I'm sure you wouldn't mind indulging my personal curiosity. Why did you pursue the Sudree Ahns into Dvesh when you realized she was missing?"
Sabrin recalled the strange hint of desperation in Dreamer's voice when faced with the prospect of being barred from the Near-Solar Community and Polaris, Mnemosyne's unofficial ally. "It was our duty to safeguard the convoy."
"That duty would've been superceded when Captain Matare put you under arrest. Surely there was more."
The meeting had turned into an interrogation much too fast for Sabrin's liking. He tamped down his nerves as he matched Sufh's gaze. "We were responsible for the twenty-two people on that freighter. Matare wasn't going to jump to Dvesh, and it would've taken too long to consult with command. We did what we had to, sir."
"Because it was the right thing to do?" The neutral expression on Sufh's face offered no hints.
"Interesting." There were too many unknowns about the situation for Sabrin to interpret that word, so he waited and hoped he hadn't made a mistake he didn't comprehend. After a few slow seconds of scrutiny, Sufh relaxed his expression. "Well said, captain. I believe I may understand better why you command the Dream of Dawn."
Other than being the closest warm body at the time somebody asked? Perhaps the Admiral would see fit to enlighten him.
"The reason I called this meeting was to make an offer, to you and your crew," Sufh indicated both of them. "The Republic of Alya is prepared to grant you asylum and independently contract your services. There will be fewer restrictions on your movements and privileges than what you're currently subjected to. Should you do well by us, we'll also be open to discussing alternate arrangements in the event of the unforseen, or should any of you ever choose to disassociate from your ship."
Sabrin was sure Tallas' look of shock matched his own. Sufh had offered them a sea change in their lives -- they could stop running; hell, they might even be safe, though Sabrin's mind couldn't broach that possibility just yet. But what did Sufh mean by unforseen, or dissociate from his ship, or had the constant paranoia gotten to him? "That's...very generous sir. But, why would you put something this big on the table, when we've been in-system less than three weeks?"
"Let's not overstate things. I agree our offer's generous but it's hardly unprecedented," Sufh seemed amused, and it occurred to Sabrin that the Admiral perhaps didn't know how hunted they were. "Considering your records and circumstances with the Dream of Dawn, there's every reason to believe that you'd be assets to us."
"Excuse me sir, but that's twice you've dropped the name of our ship," Tallas interjected, "Are you familiar with the Dream?"
"The only A.I. ever to resign from any navy of the NSC, who vanished only to return after three years. Are you surprised that I am?" Sufh arched a thin eyebrow when it became apparent that they were. "Sufficed to say, that ship's notoriety ensured that more than one of us made a point to become 'familiar' with him."
Sabrin had basically pieced together what Sufh said already, but it was still disconcerting that the Admiral knew more about Dreamer's past than they did. Worse, they were dangerously close to spilling that fact when the Admiral's esteem for Dreamer seemed to be the main thing floating the Alyans' proposal. Now that was something he couldn't afford to dismiss, even if it didn't turn out to be completely on the level. "The Dream's definitely an exceptional ship. All of us count ourselves lucky to have found him."
"Well, assuming you're interested in our offer, let us discuss the details." Sufh slid two pads across the desk. Sabrin took his with a smile, his mind spinning with possibilities.
Flashing lights and thundering music stirred up Fennic's memory, sending heat crawling up his neck. He had decidedly mixed feelings about being back at the Rise nightclub on Edoch -- Dreamer's idea, naturally; he had all but herded the lot of them, minus Ky, to the tether hub as soon as it was late enough. Five minutes past the bouncer, he and his sister had taken onto the dance floor and effortlessly drawn half the room into their orbit, leaving Fennic to sulk from his lonely perch to the side.
Dreamer wasn't going to ask him to dance this time, not when he had given every indication that he actually believed Fennic's feeble claim of their kiss being an accident. Not because he actually did, but for Fennic's benefit. The bitter irony of that washed out anything Fennic might have tasted from his drink.
On the dance floor, a huge new arrival closed in behind Dreamer and ran a suggestive hand down Dreamer's raised arm, over his flank, to the sliver of exposed hip between painted-on shirt and low-slung jeans. Fennic hadn't quite processed the audacity of that move when the man leaned in to whisper in Dreamer's ear, and received a wink and grin in return.
He jumped at the touch of a hand on his shoulder, realizing that it was Lirelle and that he was on his feet. "Fennic?"
"I'm not doing anything!" Fennic pulled his attention away from the dancers, trusting the darkness to hide his flush. He snatched his half-full glass off the table and downed the rest of it, almost choking. "I was going to get a refill."
Lirelle looked at him askance, but dropped her hand with a nod. Fennic pushed his way to the bar and waited for one of the bartenders to look his way. Before any did he heard, "Hi stranger, don't think I've seen you here before."
Were they talking to him? Fennic debated internally and ended up turning halfway towards the source of the voice, a dusky young man with black hair curling about his ears. "Okay, I admit that was kind of a lame line," he said, "but there was an opening and I couldn't let it slip. Hello, I'm Prajit."
Fennic figured this was where he gave his own name, though what came out was "Opening?"
"Yeah, I didn't pick up the friendliest vibe over there." Fennic followed Prajit's line of sight to where Lirelle sat, sipping her cocktail. Oh. Two men had approached Lirelle shortly after they entered the club; Fennic didn't hear what she'd said to them but there haven't been any since, and they did share a table. "Are you and her together?"
He and Lirelle? "No," Fennic shook his head with a laugh, which Prajit took as encouragement to lean closer.
"I didn't think so, not with your eyes tracking that tall vision of lovely out there." Prajit's elbow made contact; it was warm and not unpleasant, but nothing that made Fennic want to sink into the touch so he shifted away, unresisted. "Not that I blame you. I know his type though," Prajit said with a note of disdain, "He won't be taking any of his admirers home tonight. He just likes to see them reaching."
"Reaching," Fennic frowned. Dreamer would be going home with him tonight, but all that meant was that he was stuck in orbit worse than any of the toned bodies out there. They will have forgotten about Dreamer by tomorrow and he'd still be spinning along, always falling but never getting any closer.
"Me, I'm not interested in playing those games," Prajit leaned in again, apparently not minding that Fennic had a less than commanding grasp of the common language. This time, Fennic met his eyes, "What's your name?"
"Fennic. It suits you," Prajit said with a smile, attractive and earnest. A bartender arrived and he put a hopeful hand on Fennic's empty glass. "Let me buy your next one?"
"No thanks, sorry," Fennic pushed away from the bar and headed for the dance floor. He felt guilty at Prajit's crestfallen expression, but they were never having the same conversation, if his part of it could be called that at all. What had he promised himself at Dvesh, when the guns had been drawn and all their fates teetered on a knife's edge? He wouldn't be someone who just let things happen. He would be stronger, the person that Dreamer had once called amazing.
Contrary to Tallas' expectation, Sabrin asked that the Alyans drop them off in the middle of the capital, with an appointment to return that evening for transport back to the Dream. Following Sabrin out of the shuttleport, he relished the sensation of having solid ground beneath him and squinted at the sky. The suns weren't so bad when they were standing in the shade.
"So Tal, I got us a couple hours. What do you wanna do?"
"You mean you didn't have a plan when you asked me on this date?" Tallas teased as he shrugged out of the stifling jacket, leaving just his tank top. He was still wearing too much for the warmth, though the slight breeze felt good on his bare shoulders. Tallas caught a glimpse of color on Sabrin's face before he looked down at the interactive map.
"Nope, sorry." Sabrin rolled up the reader and started walking. "Let's go this way."
The silence wasn't awkward, and Tallas was content to trail Sabrin for a while, taking in the sights while the other man worked through his thoughts at his own pace. Mnemosyne was settled long before there was even an Orion Empire, when faster-than-light travel was still new. Tallas often found himself reaching out to a creeper-covered wall, awestruck that the stones beneath might have been standing for hundreds of years.
Tallas learned that the city's founders apparently loved water, as their street crossed several canals before emptying onto an esplanade flanking a great, glittering ribbon of water. Braving the suns, Tallas moved to the railing separating them from the river and settled on his elbows, slowly taking in the earthy smell, the gently swaying boats and the hazy line of buildings on the opposite bank.
"This river's called the Diasca, or the Fourth Sister," Sabrin read off the map, also leaning on the railing but with his back to the water. "They built this city across six rivers, all coming together about fifty K's upstream."
"It's amazing." Tallas glanced at Sabrin, who was scanning the smattering of people around them. "Thanks for bringing us here. I would've thought you'd want to head back up ASAP, with Dreamer's sister visiting and all."
"I definitely got the family resemblance between them," Sabrin quirked the corner of his mouth. "We haven't had a lot of time just to ourselves lately so..."
"Definitely no complaints here." Tallas turned back to the water; there was a pause before Sabrin spoke again.
"I should call though, brief Dreamer on the meeting and our return time."
Tallas figured the Alyans had already given the Dream their schedule, and surely the ship was tracking their positions via comlink and would've made contact by now if he wanted an update that badly. Or hacked the links to eavesdrop, assuming that was possible. "When we're ready," he said, hiding his expression when Sabrin scrunched his brow suspiciously.
"Why're you being all zen over there?"
"I'm not. I'm giving your brain time to finish."
Sabrin seemed to think that over. "Thanks." He flipped the reader from the map over to a copy of the contract text. "I don't know why I'm stressing so much. No matter what we decide here we still have to talk it over with the others before anything gets signed."
"Because you think it'd be your fault if they followed your lead and it turned out to be wrong. Which is ridiculous, by the way, since you keep saying that you're not in command of anybody."
"Right," Sabrin sighed. "What do you think we should do?"
"I think we should say yes."
"Yeah. I mean, what's the downside? We get a better deal," Tallas nodded at the contract in Sabrin's hands, "and it's not like that'll tie us down if we need to run again."
"Put it that way, it all sounds so simple."
"Maybe it is. Or maybe it isn't." Tallas rather suspected the latter because that was just the way the universe worked, though voicing it wouldn't have been helpful at all. He bumped Sabrin's shoulder and pushed away from the railing. "That's your department. I'm gonna go see if that girl'll take our picture."
They walked along the river until Tallas felt the first beads of sweat trickle down the back of his neck; he wasn't sure how Sabrin was managing to still be wearing his jacket when he was semi-seriously contemplating stripping off his pants. They had lunch at a place with a neon outline of a leaf, or possibly a fish, on the front window, where they completely embarrassed themselves trying to figure out the automated ordering system. All the while, Sabrin fed him more information on history, geography and culture from the tourism bureau, albeit plainly not as enthused reading it as Tallas was hearing it.
Afterward, by unspoken agreement they kept to the shade, making their way along a tree-lined canal. Tallas found himself stopped in front of a set of stone steps that disappeared beneath the water.
"Uh-uh, you're not going in there."
"I'm not," Tallas was already halfway down, stopping and sitting when the water lapped at the soles of his boots. The reservoir on Astral-Ishasa was nothing but a distant memory, but his body missed that first slip into liquid on a visceral level, the even, cool press everywhere. With efficient motions, Tallas undid the snaps on his boots and pulled them off, followed by his socks.
"Would you relax Sabe? This is as far as I'm going." Tallas rolled up his trouser cuffs and sank his feet in past the ankle, shivering a bit at the sudden chill and letting out a long, delighted breath at the same time. He sensed Sabrin hovering close behind, probably on a hair trigger to tackle him if any other part of his body so much as twitched towards the water. "Sit down. You're making me nervous."
Slowly, Sabrin complied, his eyes fixed on Tallas and bluer than the sky. "Don't bitch to me when you have to go around the rest of the day wearing wet socks."
"I'll wipe off with the jacket." Tallas propped himself up with his arms behind him. His skin felt flushed, over-sensitive from the morning's sun, which coupled with his full stomach made him drowsy. He'd just about zoned out when he was startled by Sabrin's not-insubstantial weight settling against his chest and shoulder. His left arm automatically snaked around, putting his hand on Sabrin's hip. Sabrin's soft hair tickled his neck and cheek and wow, over-sensitive didn't begin to describe how he was then.
Tallas kept quiet, indulging in the scent that was the shampoo he also used and something completely different but equally familiar. It was so rare that Sabrin would physically entrust himself so completely, even with him, that he intended to enjoy it. When Sabrin did speak, softly like he was talking to himself, Tallas didn't quite catch it: "...like this, it wouldn't be bad at all."
"What wouldn't be bad?"
"Let me get used to the idea of having one first," Tallas joked, then sighed when Sabrin failed to respond. "Okay, you're obviously putting too much on what happened this morning."
"Heh, I didn't mean this specifically," Sabrin made a vague, all-encompassing gesture, "I meant...you know, eventually when things settled down and we could stop, start building a new life for real. I wasn't planning on living on the Dream forever, at any rate."
"Same here," Tallas said, though honestly he'd never been able to see past being on the Dream with the rest of their little group, one step ahead of their foes. He tried again to go farther this time and instead came up with himself and Sabrin in that trashy show Mira liked, with the house, the yard, the garage, the dogs...
Sabrin chuckled when he described it. "No offense, but I don't love you enough to want five kids that are clones of you."
"Clones of you then? Or maybe three and two? I'm always open to compromise."
Sabrin elbowed him, and to keep him from doing it again Tallas wrapped an arm across Sabrin's chest to pin both his arms. Sabrin didn't exactly struggle, and it occurred to Tallas that he believed in Sabrin's idea of them settling down together even if he couldn't see that future himself. "It wouldn't be bad at all," he said, and knew that Sabrin was smiling.
"Hey Tal?" Sabrin shifted and said casually, "I want you to fuck me when we get back to the ship."
Heat rushed over Tallas' body, all the way to the tips of his ears like he'd grabbed a live wire. Obviously he'd thought about it, but not that serious since he'd been more than satisfied with what they have been doing. He managed to say "Will do", just as he recognized that Sabrin's body was trembling trying to hold back snickers. That pretty effectively dispelled his shock, if not the rest of his...reaction.
Putting on a tiny and slightly evil smirk of his own, Tallas gave Sabrin a firm squeeze while returning his gaze to the endless sky. Oh, laugh it up now Sabe. Just you wait.
By the time Fennic reached Dreamer the large man from before was gone, along with Selene; he figured one had to do with the other and sent her a grateful thought. Dreamer didn't seem to notice the loss, grinning when he caught sight of Fennic and drawing him closer. "Hey bud, havin' fun?"
"Yeah, definitely...how about you?" Fennic winced a bit, awkwardly trying to copy Dreamer's moves. His eyes fell helplessly down the delicate lines of Dreamer's throat, to the dip between the collar bones and the barest hint of the "V" tattoo.
"Hell yeah, I'm havin' a blast. Can you feel it?" At Fennic's puzzlement, Dreamer swept his eyes over the crowd. "Y'all are glowing. So incredibly alive."
Not giving himself a chance to second-guess, Fennic reached for Dreamer's shoulder, putting his thumb in that dip. There was no sweat under Fennic's palm other than his own, just smooth cloth and warm flesh and power thrumming underneath, instantly reined in and totally still. "You're the one who's glowing, Dreamer."
Dreamer smiled in a way that was not a smile at all. "Let's...step aside a bit." Fennic's hand was taken and he was led out of the spotlight, past a line of sound suppressors into a shockingly intimate nook by the wall. There was a pressure on his chest, getting worse because Dreamer's face was remorseful and his body knew why even as his mind clung to denial. "For whatever it's worth bud, I'm sorry. I guess part of me was hopin' that you'd get past this on your own and this conversation wouldn't have to happen but...I can't give you what you want, not now or ever."
Fennic's knee-jerk reaction was to deny he'd ever wanted anything, and he only stopped himself because what he felt meant too much to be lied away so blithely. Why was Dreamer's hand still there? He never imagined that Dreamer would be cruel. "I understand Dreamer," he managed, "I--"
"No, you don't understand, and you need to, please," Dreamer's grip tightened, "You're gonna think that this has somethin' to do with you, like somehow you're not good enough. And that's not true at all."
"What does that matter?"
"It does, even though it might not feel like it right now," Dreamer said quietly. Despite himself, Fennic ached for the sorrow in Dreamer's voice; something of it must have showed as Dreamer gave him a weak, grateful smile. "Don't think less of yourself because of this, Fennic. Think less of me for leadin' you on."
Not so long ago Fennic had woken from his nightmare and saw Dreamer's kind eyes, promising that it was over. "I can't."
"You are so special Fennic, you've no idea," Dreamer said, "But you don't know the people I've hurt, the ones I've gotten hurt." He hesitated, "Years back, I met a boy named Caleb. He was a bit younger than you at the time and just about out of options. I helped him get a better life, and he ended up joinin' the Fleet and my crew. And at some point he'd fallen in love--" Fennic flinched at the word he didn't get a chance to say, "--and I knew it."
"When he finally 'fessed up about it I told him what I told you, that it wasn't gonna happen, but the honest truth is that I never tried that hard to shut off that little glimmer of hope I could see him holdin' inside. Because I really did like him, and because it's a great feeling, being loved, and I missed it so much." Dreamer's tight gaze pinned Fennic down, cracked him open. "When I quit the Fleet to follow a road that dead-ended in Orion space, he of course wanted to come too. I didn't stop him 'cause I knew I could use him. And it got him killed...I killed him."
Dreamer released Fennic's arm and stepped back. "Caleb was one of the best people I've ever known. He deserved better than to waste his whole life wantin' something I couldn't give him. And so do you. That's why I'm tellin' you this now. So you can move on."
"I'm sorry," Fennic said numbly, because that was what one said to console a loss. The incessant thumping coming from behind was giving him a headache and he didn't want to think. Not about this wonderful boy he had no idea existed, or about how he apparently didn't come close at all to knowing who Dreamer was, or about what he needed to hear that Dreamer still hadn't managed to say. He was too raw, and the noise. "I want to go now."
Dreamer ran a frustrated hand through his hair. "Right, fine, lemme round everybody up--"
"Alone," Fennic snapped. Funny that, on top of everything else, he hadn't realized how angry he was. It wasn't like he could get lost with the tether hub less than fifteen minutes away. "You should stay. You were having fun." Inside he pleaded. Don't fight me now.
"Okay...I'll see ya later then."
Fennic felt Dreamer's eyes all the way to the door. The shaking started once he was outside, though the night was as pleasant as any other in the climate-controlled colony. Fennic clenched his teeth and started walking. He told himself the pain wasn't anything, obviously. Not when he knew the sound his bones made when they snapped. Even if Dreamer had sliced into a place no one had reached before, or sliced himself out of the place that had been built for him, and Fennic wanted to crumple into the wound.
He'd barely made it halfway to the hub when he registered someone following him. After the initial jolt of fear, he dared a glance and, seeing Selene, didn't know to be relieved or annoyed. "I don't need a chaperone!"
"Maybe I do." Luckily there was no pity to be seen or Fennic might have done something stupid, like run into one of the many dark alleys. As it was, he huffed and kept going. He didn't object when Selene sat one seat away from him in the hub waiting area, or on the nearly deserted transit cab.
"It'll get better, and it won't take as long as you think," Selene said softly as Edoch dwindled beneath them. So that was her plan -- wait until he was trapped. Fennic bit his lip and kept his eyes on his hands on his lap.
"I can say that 'cause I've lived many years and seen as many hearts broken. Time makes you gain perspective."
She didn't know anything about him. Dreamer saved him, protected him, gave him a home and a purpose. Fennic didn't have another perspective, and he didn't want one. What would he have to choose from? Kion'Seg and those damned "doctors", who broke him apart and put him back together over and over looking for El Dorado? They were dead and buried, in real life and in his memory.
"I love him," he murmured, almost defiantly. His confession didn't sound so profound out in the world.
"Nothin' wrong with that," Selene assured him.
"Except he doesn't think I should," Fennic having a hard time appreciating Selene's efforts, because she didn't either. He covered his eyes with his right hand. He wasn't crying; crying didn't accomplish anything. "That's why he told me about Caleb."
"But what he didn't say was why he couldn't. It was all about me," Fennic dropped his hand and glanced wearily at Selene. "Is it because I'm human? Is that what he didn't want to say?"
A conflicted look came over Selene's face. After a short pause she said, "It is very hard for humans to really get what it means to be an A.I. Most can't, especially if we have an avatar -- But, that hasn't stopped A.I.'s and humans from tryin' before and it definitely wouldn't have stopped Dreamer. So no, that's not it."
Selene sighed. "It's all tangled up in his past. And it ain't my place to talk about it."
No, Fennic didn't expect so, nor did he expect to have gotten answers out of Dreamer had he asked back at the club. Once, he had thought that Dreamer didn't talk much about his past because he wanted to cast it away and forget, like him. Now, he was starting to realize that it was actually the exact opposite, that Dreamer constantly held the pain in his past close and under guard. Fennic turned his eyes back to his lap; nothing was better.
The rest of their journey was spent in silence. Fennic contemplated not going back to the ship at all, petulant as that would be, but with Selene alongside he all too quickly came within sight of the familiar airlock.
The ship thankfully let him in without comment; maybe Dreamer wasn't watching. There was no sign that Sabrin and Tallas were back. Fennic felt hollowed out, incomplete like when he first woke up on Kion'Seg. He'd known how to walk, how to eat, how to speak, but it was all flotsam scattered over a blank void. He never had a chance to pull the pieces together, weave an identity for himself, not until the Dream. And now he was adrift again.
The airlock hissed shut and Selene disappeared with a sympathetic squeeze to his shoulder. Fennic looked both ways down empty corridors, and picked right.
Ky was in the galley, the sleeves of his button-down shirt rolled up as he rinsed vegetables. Apparently Dreamer hadn't warned him about what happened, as he flashed Fennic a brief smile, "Hi, I didn't expect you guys back so early. Did you have fun?"
"I left early. I...wasn't feeling well." Fennic didn't quite know what to make of Ky, and he had the impression the feeling was mutual. The Kinjori man always seemed slightly wary when he was around -- Fennic noticed the quick glances Ky made from the corner of his eye despite resuming his task, and the subtle tightening of his shoulders when he stepped closer.
"Oh, sorry to hear that. I can make you something." Ky didn't look dangerous at all, just tired like he hadn't had enough sleep. Not that Fennic had forgotten Lirelle's warning.
Telepathy, she'd once told him, was like looking through the window of a house; the person inside had absolute control, and could reveal as much or as little as they wanted. Compared to that Ky wielded a sledgehammer, and could smash not only the window but clear through to a mind's foundation. Fennic didn't want his existence to start and end with the Dream anymore, but he had nothing else but Kion'Seg, had never managed to recover even a single shred of who he was before that lab.
Fennic grabbed Ky's wrist.
He could sense Ky somewhere, struggling to pull back his monstrous instinct. Fennic instead urged it on, forcing down his own reflex to fight and escape. The alien force lanced deeper into his mind, a hideous pain like fingers of ice prying open his synapses. Then it snapped, and part of him went with it.
Fennic found himself spawled on his back on the deck. It felt like he was bleeding out, from everywhere, as if the ship had jumped and left half of his body behind. Only a frantic check reassured him that he was whole. His sternum throbbed -- Ky, now sagging against the counter with red lines encircling his wrist, must have shoved him away.
"Emder," Fennic whispered, the first thing that came to mind as he saw Ky's pale face, "You...damaged him."
"WHAT IS THIS?!" Fennic flinched and turned to see Lirelle, looking like a stranger for the amount of hatred blazing on her face. Selene was holding her back and Dreamer had also appeared, on the monitor on the far wall.
"I ASKED YOU A QUESTION!" Lirelle struggled in Selene's implacable grip as Ky shrunk back, staring with desperate, hunted eyes.
With a start Fennic recognized them, he and Lirelle and Ky, the second incarnation of their terrible little triangle. Ky would let Lirelle kill him. Not just now but back then. "Stop it!" Scrambling to his feet, he stepped in front of Lirelle and blocked Ky from her sight, "It wasn't him, it was me. I touched him."
Lirelle made a visible effort to gather herself, touching trembling fingertips to Fennic's shoulder, his cheek. "Fennic. You don't understand. This man--"
"I'm not Emder! Don't try to make me into him!" The words flew out before they even registered. Fennic barely had time to regret the stunned hurt washing over Lirelle's face when some other part of him was shouting to Dreamer, "and I'm not Caleb either! I'm..." He clenched his eyes shut and jammed the base of his palms against them. Little by little, his mind put itself back together, sequestering the pieces that didn't belong. "I'm..."
The void in his memory remained, mocking his attempt to use brute force. Unable to face the others any longer, Fennic headed for his quarters. This time, no one followed.
The Dream was utterly still when Sabrin and Tallas returned and fell into separate beds. That had not been the plan, but unfortunately anything involving the two of them crammed into a bed together had become impossible after Tallas was made painfully aware of a condition called sunburn -- which no one on the planet or the ship thought to warn them about.
Sabrin stirred reluctantly to sound of his name being called. The pathetic-looking silhouette in the doorway to Tallas' quarters asked, "Hey, could you get me something to eat?"
"Now?" Sabrin rubbed his eyes and grabbed his watch, wincing at the hour.
"You owe me."
Sabrin failed to see how it was his fault that he'd inherited an ultraviolet resistance gene or two. One in six people did, according to the clinic nurse. Still, he only grumbled as he rolled upright and reached for his pants.
The mess hall was deserted and there were no leftovers to be found. In fact, the whole ship seemed as quiet as the night before. After a quick internal debate, Sabrin was setting out across Edoch Port's docking hub. There weren't many places open yet; one was a shop that sold bread twisted into various shapes. On the way back, he heard his name called and was surprised to see Selene heading for him.
"Mornin'! I was hopin' to catch ya before I left."
"Selene, hey..." Sabrin tightened his grip on the takeout bag, not sure if his nervousness came from the strange familiar unfamiliarity of her being a friend's family member, or from her being Dreamer's sister in particular. "Sorry that Tal and I weren't here yesterday; we were meeting the Alyans planetside--"
Selene waved away the apology, "No worries, Dreamer told me what you guys were up to. Congrats on that, by the way. You're doin' good work, takin' down those pirates. Wish I'd been there."
"Besides, now that Dreamer's back from the boonies I'm sure y'all will be seein' a lot more of me. Especially you, captain. After all, big bro's very particular about who he'll accept command from."
"People keep acting impressed that some paperwork has my name on it. But I don't 'command' Dreamer. Nobody does."
"You really think that?" The question was accompanied by a raised eyebrow and a demure smile, and Sabrin had no idea how to interpret either one. "Lemme tell ya something. Dreamer's gone through more captains than any other ship in the NSC, and it's not like some great mystery why, either, no matter what he says." Selene rolled her eyes, "I will give that he's always had great taste, and he likes you."
"I'm not sure if I should be flattered or scared."
"Yeah." Selene grinned. "One piece of advice, A.I. who's known Dreamer a long time to newbie captain: Dreamer knows his shit most of the time, but don't let him walk all over you."
Sabrin waited, and thanked her when nothing else seemed forthcoming. It was too early to try and guess what she was referring to specifically, if anything, and they already had a full plate of vaguely looming threats.
"Just keep it in mind babe," Selene clapped him rather hard on the shoulder. "My flight's boarding. Nice meetin' ya, Sabrin Payne. Give your boyfriend a kiss for me."
"For you, right," Sabrin said under his breath as he watched her leave. Must be some weird family thing. He stuffed a piece of buttery goodness in his mouth and resumed his walk home.
He was outside, in a bright and warm place filled with young people. Some laughed and played on the grass, or lounged in the shade provided by the many wizened trees. Others, like him, carried books and satchels and walked with purpose. Laughter surrounded him and the sun was warm on his skin, yet he felt...bitter, betrayed.
Fennic jerked awake, to the darkness of his quarters.