Jadyn loosed a groan, rolling onto his back as the unwelcome interruption roused him from slumber. The couch he’d claimed—a fabulously lumpy and uncomfortable device, not that he’d been conscious long enough to care—now felt soft, warm, and welcoming. Amazing what a good night’s sleep could do.
Curiously new and different dreams had occupied his night, displacing the usual fare. From the more mundane nightmares of a thousand corpses animating themselves on the J’Ruhn and lurching about the corridors to the rather unique exploration of a gigantically exaggerated version of Terac Lun in search of a single blade of real grass, he was certain nearly all imaginary venues had been covered in some way.
That was Ceth’s voice. Not entirely a warm and friendly wake-up call, but his tone carried somewhat less an icy edge than usual. Reminding himself that they tentatively agreed to act minimally civil to one another and only briefly lingering on the curiosity of how the feldaran councilor had gained entry to the private quarters of the Speaker, Jadyn stretched his arms and yawned widely. The deep breath tickled his nose with scents of moist earth and dew-covered plants.“To what do I owe the honor, Councilor?”
“Might I inquire as to why you are sleeping naked in a public flowerbed?”
Cracking his eyes open, Jadyn scanned the distant ceiling. No doubt about it—this was one of the ‘open-air’ parks surrounding a public access stepdisk, not the star gallery he’d fallen asleep within. The artificial lighting continued its night simulation for the flora, but a faint glow in the station’s ‘east’ hinted that the twilight before dawn was approaching.
“I rarely sleep clothed, sir,” Jadyn replied simply, pushing himself to a sitting position to confirm that he was in fact lacking the garments he’d fallen asleep wearing. “Now, as to why I’m napping here? …I’ll need to get back to you on that.”
Ceth coughed up a dismissive grunt. “Pleasantries aside, I wish to speak to you about a conversation held a few days ago with one Doctor Arden Harpahl. He indicated you may have implied some measure of bodily harm.”
“There was nothing implied, sir. I openly threatened to kill him for extending a request to dissect the only known remaining survivors of my homeworld.” Jadyn slid to his feet, shaking the dirt out of his pelt and quite nearly falling over in the process. Only a quick grab of the flowerbed’s raised planter kept him upright. “Must be those shots…”
“Shots,” the feline repeated sourly. “I see. Captain—”
“They were medicinal in nature, sir, not recreational.” That was another oddity. The moderate vertigo was a far cry from what he expected, especially after the huge overdose he’d injected to numb the pain of whatever Tari had done to him. Every last ounce of his self control had taken part in preventing himself from tearing at his own flesh to stop the burning within. The little distance he put between them had helped…just not so much as he’d hoped.
All of it was gone. Aside from the few lingering effects of overdose, he felt better than ever—almost like he’d slept for months.
“Medicinal… Yes. Of course they were,” Ceth patronized.
Jadyn decided it best to just move on. The feldaran would think whatever he wanted to think. “Before you tear into me about what I said to the young doctor, I admit I owe him an apology—”
“I would say so. He seemed quite distraught.”
“Tell me, did he run straight to your office, or did he at least take the time to walk?”
“Actually, I might have missed the incident altogether had he not informed me from inside a holding cell,” Ceth replied, his composure holding steady at a cool neutral. The flickers in his aura, however, hinted in the direction of annoyance. “Station security picked him up after he caused a drunken scene in one of the lower levels. He kept ranting about how he’d been shut out of the long-term cryoscience experiment of a lifetime simply because of a poor choice of words on his part. Tell me, Captain—do you by chance know of any long-term cryoscience experiments currently underway?”
Jadyn pressed his fingers against his temples. “We’ve successfully completed two test thaws, one of which revived the mission’s senior cryotech. She is still reviewing data from those revivals and deciding how to proceed. Waking an individual from cryosleep is a bit more involved than defrosting an entree.”
“I am quite aware of that.”
“Excellent! Then I hope you also understand my reluctance to blindly forge ahead without allowing an experienced professional to examine the results before we bring in a gaggle of relative neophytes for training on very specialized cryogenic hardware. Those who are still in stasis and clinging to life are not laboratory specimens—they are the last of a species that until very recently maintained a confirmed population of precisely one individual. As that one, I intend to protect their right to exist until they can do so for themselves.”
“In that case, I am compelled to ask what exactly you, as their pseudo-official representative, plan to do with everyone that wakes up.”
The blue fox let his breath out in a slow sigh of defeat. “I have a rather truncated list of possibilities.”
A very, very slight smile made the faintest of appearances at the corner of Ceth’s lip. “I believe we should discuss potential options. At your convenience, of course. You are quite understandably a very busy individual as of late. Your AI has informed me for several days in a row that you have been unavailable.”
Jadyn hesitated, eyeing the Councilor—Ceth’s body language indicated the statement itself was in earnest, but there was something else going on behind the words that Jadyn wasn’t sure he liked. “I look forward to it.”
Ceth nodded curtly, moving away through the garden. With a quiet grunt, Jadyn boarded the nearby stepdisk and touched at his unexpectedly bare wrist. Wherever he’d parted ways with his clothes, his bracelet was likely nearby—and that missing item severely limited his travel options.
The transportation network had been adjusted to only allow a select unescorted few onto the J’Ruhn. Since the local sensors weren’t designed for genetic identification, it instead authorized individuals through their unique comm signals. The same applied for the lift to the Speaker’s quarters. Station security could certainly override the latter, but dealing with them while lacking a uniform of any sort… That’s precisely something Pakar didn’t need to hear about this early in the morning.
“VTC Serin,” he finally announced. That destination was somewhat less picky. Anyone who thought to try disking there could certainly ask for it—T’bia found endless enjoyment in bouncing unwelcome guests to a random disk somewhere inconvenient. Repeat offenders found themselves at increasingly strange locations. For the truly persistent, she’d eventually tie up the destination disk with various incoming inanimate objects to prevent outbound travel for a while. A glove, a water bottle, maybe a shovel and few tons of sand… Even known geneprints weren’t always immune.
She seemed in a forgiving mood; the Serin’s transport room blinked into existence without issue. T’bia herself, however, was nowhere in sight. He expected an interrogation about where he’d been and where he’d lost his things along with a lecture about how he couldn’t survive a day without her cleaning up after him. Not that it mattered; he could retrieve his lost apparel as easily as she. A few taps at the transporter console later, a small pile of familiar clothing appeared on the floor. The coordinates indicated they’d been shed on nearly the opposite side of the station from the park he’d just left behind.
Taking only his bracelet from the heap, he left the rest for later and exited to the hallway. With everything else that had happened as of late, a mere incident of sleepwalking shouldn’t have bothered him. It wasn’t the first time, after all. When he was still just a kid, he’d woken up all sorts of strange places around the house, yard, and woods with no way to explain how he’d gotten there. Mom claimed it was just a phase, that she’d done it too and he’d outgrow it. And outgrow it he did. Nowadays when he woke up somewhere strange, he usually could piece together a halfway reasonable explanation for it.
Waking up in a flowerbed on Terac Lun was still lacking that explanation.
“Fancy meeting you here,” T’bia greeted, leaning against the door of the medical bay as she watched him round the corner. “When I noticed you no longer had vital signs, I was briefly concerned. Fortunately, I got distracted by something shiny.”
“You weren’t concerned that I walked out of the suite after taking several times the recommended dosage of your favorite painkilling cocktail?”
“Those four injection cycles were nearly eight times the recommended dosage, to be exact. If I worried about every stupid thing you did, I would need a dedicated second core to handle the load.” She peered at her fingers, producing a nail file out of the air. “Luckily, I only worry when I have idle time. At present I have very little of that to waste on you.”
Jadyn smirked and gestured her to step aside. Instead, she began filing away at her nails.
“I did tell you to leave him be,” she remarked, not looking up.
“I just need to grab a few things. I’ll be quiet.”
“Anything you need out of here will be in that medkit you left in the star gallery.”
“I’m not going to carry around an entire container of tools wherever I go.”
“Take what you need out of it.”
“What?” he scoffed. “You get all sorts of cranky if a kit’s components go different directions. I just want a medical scanner I can keep with me.”
“Get one later.”
“All right.” The AI raised her hands in surrender and stepped away from the door. “I won’t stop you. I just want you to keep in mind all the strange little things you’ve ever asked of me. Remember that I’ve done them without always understanding why you wanted them done. I am asking you as a lifelong friend, as family, not to go in there. I’ll get you whatever you need later on. Please… Don’t unlock that door.”
Jadyn stared at her. “What has gotten into you lately? You’ve had weird streaks in the past, but this is completely off the—”
A curious sensation tickled his thoughts and he instantly stopped, turning to look at the forbidden door. But not exactly at it.
“Alecha asked me last night if I’m capable of lying to everyone,” T’bia spoke, her voice gentle and quiet. “I told her the truth. Sort of. I never actually had to tell you, but you’ve known it for a long time. For some reason I can’t quite grasp, you still trust me despite knowing that I am capable of being completely anti-truthful to anyone I choose. Maybe you know that I wouldn’t do it without a good reason—Well, okay. Maybe not a good reason, but a reason I can defend. …Sometimes, anyway. Come to think of it, I’m not actually sure why you trust me at all.”
Jadyn put his hand on the door, letting the two flickers of life on the far side dance in his senses while he gathered his freshly re-scattered thoughts. Within the confines of this ship there was no way she couldn’t know; therefore, she’d known the very instant it occurred. Why had she kept it to herself?
“Tell me about Kh…” He briefly contemplated the floor, reconsidering the issue’s proper approach angle. “Anolis. Tell me about Anolis. Why do you care so much about what happens to him and his son?”
“He’s a cousin, sort of. We’re related only insofar as we’re both products of Val’Traxan technological advancements. Even with a brain that’s closer in capacity to yours than mine, he’s technically an AI. Thanks to you, I have the right to exist on the same terms as any other citizen of the Aligned Worlds. I wouldn’t have a status as anything more than a piece of annoyingly talkative property if you hadn’t fought for every one of those rights. If I stand idly by without helping protect his right to exist, to live, to die in peace when he knows it’s his time… who else will?”
Jadyn took a step backwards, visually tracing the outline of the door from ceiling to floor. “At some point today, someone is undoubtedly going to inquire about Khamai’s status. Since I can’t seem to get past this curiously broken lock to see for myself, I’ll have to rely on my unconditionally trusted friend and family member to tell me what’s going on in that room.”
“You can tell whoever wants to know that his condition is rapidly deteriorating. He’ll be gone by tomorrow morning.” She pointed at his bracelet; a holographic datapad appeared in his hand. “Khamai did emerge from his comatose state long enough to share a short list of contacts and keywords, but most of the detailed information is still in Sanusin’s possession.”
“Of course it is. It’s something, at least. One other question.” The datapad vanished with a flip of his wrist. “I want to know why.”
“Plausible deniability,” she offered simply, walking through the wall beside the closed door. After a few seconds, she poked her head back through. “Also? Thank you for not actually breaking the lock.”