hares-recovery

Awakening, Part 2

“It makes sense,” Jadyn pointed out, holding Tarioshi close. They’d moved outside to the porch, parking on his swinging bench and watching the sky. “The timing tends to drift through the years, but the first is almost always during the winter or early spring.”

“It’s late autumn,” Tari countered. “First snow flurries in the forecast next weekend, in fact.”

“But nearly March on Terra, right? That’s what your chronobiological rhythm is still synced against. You haven’t been here long enough to fully adjust.” Planting a lick on the back of her neck, he took a deep breath of her scent. “Can’t quite smell it on you yet.”

“Stop that,” she protested weakly, slapping his leg. “Tickles.”

“Mm. If you insist.”

“I feel like I’m on the edge of a precipice, the ground under me giving way as I slowly lose my mind…”

“The price of who we are is that we occasionally do. We’re an advanced, intelligent race, blending science and elemental energies to create remarkable technologies… And twice a year we lose all semblance of sanity and self-control when mating urges take center stage.”

“‘We?’ I don’t see you going through this.”

“You’re going to drag me along for the ride. You don’t have to put yourself through this, you know. It may be a fact of the val’traxan life cycle, but you have the benefit of not truly being one of us. Shift out for a few days, let the clock tick past.”

“I feel like I should experience it if I’m going to keep using this form out here. It’s not fair if I shed this body simply because it’s suddenly inconvenient. All the females on that ship have to go through this throughout their lives, right? What gives me permission to think I’m allowed to skip it and keep pretending I’m one of you?”

“It’s completely your call. One small suggestion, if I may? Don’t fight it. It’s ancient genetic instinct - you’ll lose, and you won’t enjoy a moment of it.”

“I don’t see how any of it would be enjoyable. I’m a little scared, honestly. I don’t like losing control of my faculties.”

“I’ll be right here with you.”

Jay,” T’bia paged. “Alecha’s delta wave patterns indicate she’s about to wake up.

“Already? How’s that even possible?”

Don’t ask me. She shouldn’t be anywhere near consciousness yet. I expect you’d like to be here.

“I think it’s more important I spend tonight with -“

“Go,” Tari whispered, giving him a resigned smile.

“Are you sure?”

Nodding, she slid off his lap. “Take your time. You should be one of the first to greet her.”

“Come with me.”

“I don’t think it’d do me any good to see you chatting with an old girlfriend right now.”

“Oh, no no - she’s not - No. That’s a little creepy to think about. She’s nearly four and a half times older than I am - Er, that is, she was. We were never involved like that.”

“I know that, and you know that, but some part of my head isn’t going to believe either of us. Go,” she repeated.


Alecha groaned, blinking off her slumber and stretching. Her muscles were stiff, but not overly so; not terribly worse than the cryo test-run she’d been put through. Security forces took a variety of low-power particle beam hits so they knew exactly what they were inflicting on others with stun settings. Cryotechs were frozen for a week to better understand exactly what their charges would go through on revival.

“That wasn’t so bad,” she murmured, sitting up and gazing around. Her head swam a little with the effort, suggesting she might not want to move off the bed just yet. The lights were low, but plenty of illumination still filled the room. The J’Ruhn’s medbay was just as it had been the last time she’d been here -

Medbay? Alecha took another glance around, noticing she was alone. No other recovery bed was in use. I shouldn’t be in medbay… The pod’s supposed to take care of the full revival cycle…

“Tier?” she called out. “What’s happened? Why am I here?”

“Hello!” A mefiritan stuck her head around the corner from the office, grinning from underneath what had to be a clown’s rainbow wig. “You’re up and awake? I wasn’t expecting that for quite a few hours. Like, twelve. How are you feeling?”

“A little stiff, lightheaded… Who exactly are you…?”

“Ah, right. Tieralyene is offline, I’m sorry to report. I’m T’bia Halio, your medic-du-jour -“

“Halio…” A deep frown set upon Alecha’s brow. “Wait. That can’t be right. That was Hapiakuen Tzeki’s AI.”

“My Goddess!” she yelled at the ceiling. “Seriously! Will no one let me have any fun? Why don’t we just stick a big glowing ‘H’ on my forehead and be done with it? Spirits, anyway…”

“So… You really are? What are you doing here?”

“At the immediate moment? Pretending to be a medical professional. Now, let’s talk about you, instead.” T’bia walked to her bedside, scanner in hand. “You’ve been out of extended cryo for two hours. I consider myself an expert on everything, but I admit I have very little personal experience with post-revivification cryosleepers. Were it you standing here, looking over a former popsicle, is there anything specific you’d check for?”

“A whole suite of things. May I?” Alecha took the scanner, turning it on herself and giving her entire body a once-over. “Mm… You used formula three on my airways? No wonder I’m feeling dizzy. Two units of trioxaline, please.”

The medication landed in her hand not a second later, to her pleased surprise, and she pressed the injector against her own neck. An approving chirp left the scanner as the compound entered her bloodstream, gently bringing up her dissolved oxygen levels.

“Better?” T’bia probed.

“Yes, thank you. Schedule another dose in two hours. Didn’t my file tell you about my minor allergy to formula three? I realize it’s the most effective aerosol medication to seal and heal the mucous membranes during revival, but you should have used two or four in my case.”

“Well… That’s the rub.” T’bia scratched along side her nose. “You see… Actually, no. I should wait until my CO gets here. He’d be here but he stopped to change clothes before coming up from dirtside.”

“Dirtside…? Where exactly are we? The techs were supposed to be woken first, then the engineering crews to build the first round of shelters - Oh, Goddess.” A knot formed in her throat. “Did something happen to me during revival and I got put back under right away? Is that why I’m in medbay?”

“Whoa, whoa. Calm down. Okay, look. Things did not go according to plan, and I say that with great confidence not even knowing the plan. The greater portion of the computer core is filled with encrypted data that we can’t crack. We don’t have a sleeper manifest, or a mission, or a destination, nothing -“

The sound of the door actuators interrupted T’bia; they both looked up as a blue fox in the flowing robes of a Guild Adept strode in. “I’m sorry, am I interrupting?”

“…Jadyn? Little Jadyn Tzeki?

A smile graced his muzzle as he nodded. “It’s been a while since anyone called me ‘little,’ Lady Rutemin.”

“By the Spirits!” she laughed, looking him over from her seat on the biobed. “You never would stop calling me that. And now you’re all grown up! Melichanni must just adore the man you’ve turned into. How is she?”

The smile immediately left his face, a sad longing briefly touching his gaze before he looked to the floor. “She… She’s not… Ah, that is -“

“She’s dead,” T’bia announced, as though she were telling someone the time of day.

“Bee!” Jadyn yelled.

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me! I just saved you at least ten minutes of uncomfortable waffling around the subject and you have the audacity to glare at me for a wholly generous and considerate assist?” Letting out an incensed hiss, T’bia threw her hands in the air and stalked out of the room. “Whatever. I’ll be in the medical office. At least there I can be unappreciated alone.”

He waited until she’d left the room and shook his head. “The worst part about that is she’s totally right. She saved me a ton of time.”

“I…. ah…” Alecha scratched behind an ear. “I’m sorry, Jadyn.”

“You just came out of cryo. There’s no way you could have known. As far as I’ve been led to believe, it was unexpected and quick. I doubt she suffered.”

“Well… Small comforts, at least.” She gazed at her hands, hesitant to make eye contact with him after her gaffe. “So. I take it we’re back home.”

“Not exactly.”

“But…” Her brow furrowed. “I’m certain you weren’t on the sleeper manifest. T’bia definitely shouldn’t be here.”

“How much did she tell you about what’s going on?”

“Just that someone was coming up from dirtside and that something went wrong.”

He nodded grimly, stepping to her bedside. “This is going to be a rough couple of hours for both of us. Let me preface that, before your imagination runs with the possibilities - you’re the first sleeper we’ve made any attempt to revive. All the other pods we’ve seen still appear to be active and functional.”

Alecha bit her lip, watching his face. “Then what’s happened?”

“A lot.” Jadyn turned around, leaning back against the edge of the medical bed, his eyes clamped shut. “Everything I’m about to tell you is the Goddess’s honest truth as I know it. I swear that to you on my Guild Oath.”

In the moments before his assurance that the rest of the sleepers were still under, a tremendous sense of loss shook her as she considered the possibility no others had survived. An irrational fear, of course - she knew that even as the panic touched her. But the mere shadow of a chance that she’d lost Cait, and Isol, and Kaler…

What truly made her blood run cold was the news that slipped from Jadyn’s mouth. Had it been anyone else relating the tale she wouldn’t have believed a single word. It just wasn’t possible. Their friends, family, colleagues, everyone she’d ever known, dead? Val’Trax was gone? Ludicrous. Inconceivable. It couldn’t be real. But the pain so heavy on his posture and even stronger, nearly a tangible sensation darkening his aura… He’d been there, seen it happen. The scars the slavers left on him ran far deeper than flesh.

“How…” she started, after he’d fallen silent. “Can I ask how Anni died, if she made it back with you?”

“We parted ways in the short time after we found our way back to the remains of home. I went looking for my sister, hoping she was still alive out there.”

“Telara…”

Jadyn gave a brief, single nod. “An explosion took both their lives years later on another world. I wasn’t there. I’d been there, months before, the very spot where they were killed… Something granted me a vision of their deaths a short time after it happened. Seeing that… It pushed me to come so far out here to get away from everything… And of course you don’t know where here is just yet.”

He drummed his fingers on the side of her bed as he considered the situation, turning to face her. “Can you walk?”

“Sincerely doubt it. Not any distance, at least.”

“All right. Bee, site to site, if you please.”

“Hm?” The skunk stuck her head out of the medical office. “You dare remove my patient from medbay without asking?”

“That was me asking, just now. I’ll bring her back.”

Alecha chuckled as she found herself lifted into his arms. He really had grown into quite a stunning man - the last time she’d seen him, she’d been working for his father in the Guild Hall. He’d been a mere teenager, struggling through that awkward time between too young to qualify as a respectable adult, and too old to be a carefree child. Add to the discomfort of adolescence one part of the awkward colors of his pelt, and one heaping part the pressure of everyone knowing the Guild’s Grand Master of Nature is your father and the Guild Master herself is your grandmother… She didn’t envy him one bit. Somehow, the stress had done him well.

“Twenty minutes, not a femtosecond more. No leaving the ship. Her immune system’s still stuck in low gear.”

“We’re just going to the Commons.”

“Only? And you expect me to waste energy on that short of a transport?” T’bia snorted, walking away. “Whatever. Incoming.”

The vixen gasped as their scenery shifted. Visible outside the window was a planet she’d never seen before. Granted, she’d never laid her own two eyes on another planet at all - the J’Ruhn departed directly from Val’Traxan space on course for its target. Holographic imagery from file data, she’d certainly seen - but generated images just didn’t do the real view justice.

“Down?” Jadyn asked, gently placing her into a chair.

“What’s it called?” she probed, gazing upon the blue-green marble floating in the darkness.

“Veloria. Native population are vulpinoid, generally similar to us in form. They’re part of a space-faring alliance of planets in the area. A lot more active in it than we were in ours - the ruling body is housed in that station right over there.” He sat down across from her, leaning his elbows on the tabletop. “Planetary gravity is a little less than home, year is shorter, climate zones are pretty similar.”

“Socially?”

“They’re good people. A lot of our core values are the same, but some of the specific social customs don’t line up. Pants are more than pockets.”

“A modest bunch, eh? That’s deeply unfortunate. Are we to be tagged as refugees then, instead of colonists? Integrate into this new culture and adapt to the fact home’s not there anymore?”

“I’m really sorry. It’s breaking news for you and the others, but in my head it’s ancient history.”

“Ancient…? Jadyn, just how long have we been asleep?”

“You’re not going to believe me.”

“Say it anyway.”

“You’re on the opposite side of the galaxy, Dysto Quadrant. Ninety-thousand lightyears.”

Alecha frowned at him. “While that’s certainly disturbing, it’s not what I asked. What is today’s date?”

“Today… is the eleventh of Baern. 2765.”

Her jaw fell open. “You can’t be serious. Three and a half centuries on ice…? We all should be dead from freezerburn…”

“Freezerburn?”

“Cryonecrosis, sorry. And you! Just look at you. I wouldn’t peg you at more than forty, and that’s me being mean.

“Three-sixty-four. Lived every day of it… Well, I take that back. I’ve had my share of dirtnaps, a few longer than others.”

“Well, I can tell just by looking at your aura that you’re not lying to me… Still, you’ve nearly beat the average by double. What is it? Some anti-aging ensorcellment you’ve discovered?”

“One I was born with and can’t shut off. Bear with me, there’s no simple way to do this explanation other than by demonstration.” Reaching into his pocket, Jadyn lifted out a small dagger. Laying his left hand on the table palm-up, he didn’t even flinch as the metal pierced his flesh and deeply sank into the tabletop, blood pooling underneath his arm. “Eight months after finding my way back to what was left of Val’Trax, I was attacked and murdered in a private shuttlebay. I died where I fell, felt the release of mortal bonds… The Light took me in, held me, and let me go. The Void’s grip found me, just for a moment, and released me as well. And then I was thrown back.”

Alecha stared at his palm as he pulled the knife away. Jadyn worked his fingers, the puncture wound ceasing to bleed on the outside of a minute. It was noticeably smaller after two, the flesh gradually knitting itself shut.

“That’s impossible,” she whispered, grasping his wrist. “I can’t sense you channeling a thing… Unlikely an illusion, either, the scent of the blood is too real… Nanobots certainly don’t knit flesh this fast. Void, I don’t even think a dose of your high-grade distilled Life could do this.”

“Ever since I woke that first time I haven’t aged a day. I don’t stay dead for long. And as you can see, I regenerate faster than medical technology can provide. One of the costs is that I can no longer heal others through the Art. I’m not sure if that’s because I need that energy for myself, somehow, or if I’m simply not allowed to touch it having briefly left this existence. I haven’t been able to channel elemental Life since the day I revived. My days as a medical elixir supplier are long since done.”

“Incredible.” Releasing his hand, she eyed the small pool of blood left on the table. He felt her draw forth a thread of Air, lifting a small portion of the liquid for closer examination without the need to touch it. “Have you by chance checked -“

“Please… I’ve been poked, prodded, examined, scanned, burnt, shredded, folded, spindled, mutilated, you name it. No one’s been able to find a reason why I’m like this. I’ve given up looking for an answer.”

“Never give up. As I recall, from some conversations with your father… You can’t sire, correct? Might the two be related?”

“Maybe,” he conceded, wrapping his hand with a piece of cloth. “Look - Bee has quads and quads of data filed away from all my bioscans since before I was even born. If you really want to look into it, I’ll give you access and even submit to new scans or whatever you need. Before any of that, there’s just shy of two-thousand others that deserve our attention, and I for one need information about the intended mission before I can even begin to deal with any of you.”

“You really have nothing?”

“Nothing. Where were you supposed to wind up?”

“A star system designated as ‘Arvus.’ Stellar cartography listed it on the range of thirty-seven thousand lightyears from home, a quadrant away. The J’Ruhn’s designing engineers didn’t think the ship’s engines could handle full-time full speed for the entire distance without maintenance, so the route planners capped us to 750-C maximum. Better to arrive late than wind up stranded far from home.”

“Fifty years asleep, then. The plan was just to set up an outpost colony?”

“The first truly Val’Traxan colony, further out than any local world ever tried to set up a home away from home. You were on board for Tier’s initialization, weren’t you? I thought I’d heard they sent you to do it. No one told you anything about what was going on?”

“No. I just assumed it was another exploration juggernaut with the first production TBIA core. Hung out here in the Commons until they were ready, did the Elemental Life infusion, went back dirtside and had lunch. Sat at this very table, in fact.”

“You were way out of the loop, then. The AI, Tieralyene, was designed as the failsafe for the main computer. If anything went out of spec she was supposed to wake and deal with it. If she couldn’t deal with it, she was supposed to wake some of us so we could deal with it. Myself, the lead engineer, the project head…” Alecha shook her head. “But she didn’t. Wonder what went wrong.”

“You weren’t still around for the whole nemaqi incident, were you?”

“The what?”

Jadyn rubbed the back of his neck. “I’ll explain the gory bits later. Suffice it for now that there’s a lizardman metamorph aboard who is here because my grandmother needed him here. Tier had no memory of her mission when Anolis happened across the J’Ruhn. By the time he figured out exactly what he’d found, one of his cloned sons stuffed him in cryo and took over the ship. That kid made a real mess for us - we’re still cleaning up after him. No one knew any of you were onboard except Anolis and maybe that wayward son, until a day or two ago.”

Alecha quietly sighed, staring at the planet again. “Shaytelli personally selected me for this ‘colony effort…’ I think she hand-picked the other Artisans as well. It was her way of sending out a lifeboat, wasn’t it?”

“I think so. She knew the end was near and there was no way to stop it. The few survivors of the massacre… There weren’t enough of us in one place to rebuild a thing. We were sentenced to extinction the day the first bomb fell. Shaytelli won an appeal against that sentence through this ship. If we’re meant to exist again, you’re the way it’ll happen. You and the others.”

“No pressure.” She took a deep breath, blowing it out through her teeth. “What about you?”

“What about me?”

“If there’s really so few of us left… We’re going to need everyone we can get. You included.”

“You know I can’t contribute in that fashion. Even if I could, the breeding trees are already mapped for the first generation, aren’t they?”

“You can still be a mentor when the next generation starts to arrive.” She eyed his ring, surprise touching her face. “Only Lopiakuen? How’d you never tap a Mastery?”

“She wouldn’t let me take the Walk before planetfall. Thought eighteen was too young for it.”

“I’d agree with that. I was forty-seven before I dared set foot in that place. The last thing I remember is signing the form. Next thing I knew, I was in the Guild clinic. Lost an entire month.”

Idly twisting his ring, Jadyn’s attention briefly changed focus to the planet below them. “How many of us are there?”

“Six from each discipline.”

“Only forty-eight in two thousand… Well, at least it’s a better ratio than the natural average back home. I hate to even ask, because I really don’t want to think about it… What did they quote as a revival estimate?”

“Half.” Alecha shook her head. “I’ve been trying not to think about it, too. That was the calculation for only fifty years of sleep. I’ll honestly be surprised if we save a tenth at this point. It’s bugging me - a revival from three hundred years should have taken over thirty hours, if not several days. T’bia said I’d been out of the pod less than two hours when I woke up. It’s definitely worse than my training week - that I could at least walk away from. It honestly doesn’t feel like three centuries worth. I shouldn’t be able to sit upright on my own, let alone carry on intelligent conversation yet.”

“Well, I suppose you’d like to see the rest of them. Bee - how’s life support in the sections near the last two bays?”

Should be up and running in about two and a half hours, last I heard. I’ll double-check. By the way, it’s been twenty minutes and I do not see my patient in her bed.

Alecha snorted. “T’bia, if you were half the genius you claim to be, you’d have noticed that my bracelet has a biomonitor in it you can access to keep tabs on my vitals. I’ll come back to medbay after I see the cryobays first-hand.”

“There were ribbons tied on four pods,” Jadyn noted. “Yours was yellow, and three others were green.”

“The yellow was so I could find mine without thinking about it. I was one of the very last to sleep. I put the green ribbons on the pods of my family - my mate and co-mates.”

“Bee, I believe that means -“

That you are a filthy cheat. Halio out.

Alecha gave Jadyn a puzzled look as he lifted her back into his arms. “What was that about?”

“She lost a bet.”


He gave her the grand tour, walking her through two of the six open bays so she could check on her family. They happened across Toliya and a small work crew while moving from one section to the other. To their credit, the mostly-male crew remained totally professional despite the fact a very attractive vixen wearing nothing but the fur she was born in congratulated them on their repair efforts and encouraged them to keep up the good work.

The final two bays were ready for unlocking a full hour early.

Alecha, however, elected to wait. The little physical exertion she’d made had absolutely exhausted her. T’bia gave her a check-over upon their return to medbay, administering a trioxaline booster before giving them their privacy - as well as a scowl for thoroughly abusing her allotted ‘twenty’ minutes.

“What’s going to happen to us?” Alecha questioned.

“I don’t know yet. I have to talk to the Velorian ruling council, find out if they are willing to take on everyone… It’ll be hard to negotiate a place, not knowing if we’ll have a thousand or two hundred…”

“Assume the worst,” she recommended. “All two thousand wake up.”

“Isn’t that assuming the best?”

“Not if you’re the one finding places for all those refugees.”

Jadyn chuckled, giving her hand a squeeze. “I should let you sleep.”

“I’m all right. I just needed to lie down. Have a seat. Unless, of course, you have another pressing appointment. You look anxious, like you want to be elsewhere.”

“I really should be. I’ve this this wonderful young woman living with me… who’s just on the edge of coming into her first estrus cycle at the ripe age of a hundred and fifty.”

Alecha gaped at him. “My Goddess, what kind of suppressants has she been on?”

“None. I expect the moment you lay eyes on her for the first time, you’ll completely understand. Actually - any suggestions you’d care to pass on to her? I know what Anni told me about her own experience from her point of view, and what it was like for me.”

“Then you’re pretty well covered in what her needs will be, beyond the obvious. How long until she’s fully on heat?”

“A day, maybe two.”

“In that case, take a shower before she smells me on you or she’ll probably rip your throat out. I know I tend to not want to eat anything. Make sure she gets plenty of water and electrolytes. Beyond that… Tell her to relax and take the time to enjoy it. As she looks back she’ll definitely appreciate your taking care of her.” Alecha pointed at the door, grinning. “Now, stop wasting time here and go home, young man.”

“As you command, Lady Rutemin.” Jadyn dodged the pillow she chucked in his direction. “Hey! Don’t blame me. It’s how you were introduced.”

“Kieran was being a sarcastic ass! Go on, your mate’s probably still up waiting. No matter what, her needs come first over the next few days. About the only free time you’ll get is when she’s asleep - and you’d better sleep then, too. I won’t expect to see you until afterward.”

“We’ll see. Good night, Alecha.”

“Night.” The vixen leaned back on her bed, staring at the ceiling. “T’bia? Are you still around?”

I’m actually not, took a quick jog down to Engineering to give Toy a hand. What’s up?

“When you have time, could you bring me a datapad with local stellar cartography data? If these Velorians can’t or won’t take us in, I’d like to have some other options to present to the colony lead when we wake him.”

Catch.

Alecha held out her hands, grinning as the datapad was transported in. “Thank you.”

Sure thing. Just holler if you need anything else.