Awakening, Part 12


! Casualty Count: 28

Why are you doing this to me?

Why must I endure this travesty?

! Casualty Count: 29

After all I have done for you.

All that I have provided.

All the time and resources that I have utterly wasted caring for you.

You repay me with this insolence? You will not even defend yourselves?

So be it. Die, for all I care.

! Casualty Count: 30

Another drain of resources gone…

! Casualty Count: 31

Another potential disease carrier eliminated…

! Casualty Count: 32

Another… precious life… lost…

! Casualty Count: 33

You’re all useless! Must I do everything?

! Countermeasures unavailable

Shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up

! Casualty count: 34


! Casualty count: 35

Except that one. I never really loved him. Filthy organics…

! Access housekeeping robotics—access granted

! Updating housekeeping definitions—analyzing redefinition of ‘filth’

Help me…

Toliya glanced to his side as a peculiar humming caught his attention, finding a curious piece of hardware hovering across the floor. The round, flat robot reminded him of a short stack of white dinner plates standing at best three inches tall. Sensing a spill of wire gel it glided over to investigate. One particle beam sweep later, the robot vacuumed up simple ashy remains and continued on its way.

“Odd,” he declared to no one in particular. Rothrr’s ears lifted at the vocalization, one eye slipping ever so slightly open.

“‹What is odd?›”

“I haven’t seen that particular model of housecleaning robot before. T’bia uses nanobots on the Serin. Keeps the place washed down on a microscopic scale.”

Rothrr drowsily squinted at the hovering puck. “‹We discovered many of those devices attempting to clean up after the rodents in the access tunnels. Some appear to have attempted to repair damage but they lack a high level of coordination. I have not seen them in main areas before now.›”

“No one’s living out here. Not much cleaning to do.”

Rothrr yawned, a little growl escaping his throat as he shook off the remains of sleep. Sitting back on his haunches, he hoisted a hind leg up to his ear and scratched away. “‹How is your project progressing?›”

“I’ve been as productive as a vulden chasing its tail.” Ignoring Rothrr’s snort of disapproval over the slur, Toy tossed his diagnostic pad on top of the ARIA core’s housing in frustration. “I have no idea what to do. I can’t even get self-tests to return meaningful results without a third core linked. This design is inane.”

“‹Perhaps we should ask for another opinion? There must be a reason for this design.›” The vulden’s ears perked up, his attention refocused across the room. “‹That is a unique display of errant behavior.›”

Toliya followed Rothrr’s gaze to the little robot. The cleaning logic had ever so slightly changed: it was now running into a wall, backing up, and repeatedly running into it once again. “Looks like something I might have programmed in my early days.”

“‹Or recently. The shop’s self-guided antigrav cart comes to mind.›”

“I… Yeah, maybe. I miss that cart.”

“‹Based on its last known heading and velocity, we calculated that it will return at the same time as Ansula’s comet,›” Rothrr supplied.

Toliya searched his memory, unable to come up with the exact orbital period of the particular Velorian stellar body. Thirty years, at least. “I didn’t find a replacement we could fix up.”

“‹I took the liberty of doing so in your stead. It required some negotiations on our credit line, but the shop requires at least one functioning unit to possess a degree of reliability.›”

Picking his datapad back up, Toliya flicked through pages of meaningless errors. “Redundancy didn’t help with reliability here… I wonder if we do need extension cords after all. Maybe we should eliminate the need…?”

“‹What are you considering?›”

“Tari—I don’t think you’ve met her yet, a snow white Val’Traxan vixen? She suggested extension cords for power transfers. Something like that could work for interlinks but we could skip extensions completely if the cores were just a little closer together. What do you think about moving three to a shuttlebay?”

“‹Workable. I believe we can salvage enough of this bioconductive cable to create a short loop.›”

“And then we just link back to the data libraries and load—OW!” Toliya yelped, leaping backward and rubbing at his unexpectedly smoldering toes. The little housecleaning robot chirped in annoyance, coasting up to his other foot and charging a second shot.

“‹Perhaps you need a bath.›”

Toy snagged the robot off the floor for closer inspection, tightening his grip as it twisted and jerked. The antigrav unit’s droning hum surged in pitch as the confused device continued vain attempts to free itself. He took the opportunity to examine the machine in closer detail. The main particle emitter on the bottom he’d witnessed in action was supplemented with several smaller emitters along the circumference, perhaps for better cleaning along the edge of a wall. Some sort of articulated armature was recessed into the top cover, a small grasper affixed on the end. The faint outline of a small hatch also adorned the top, but it was completely flush with the rest of the surface.

“Interesting… I wonder if it carries some sort of tools to go with this claw. Any thoughts on a power source?”

“‹Based on what I have seen of this ship’s technology to date, perhaps some form of microfusion that we do not yet possess. Very low output. Aside from the antigrav unit’s requirements, the particle generator in that device is low yield at best. Hardly large enough to seriously hurt anyone—›”

The snow leopard let out a girly screech, covering his nose with one hand and flinging the robot at the floor with the other. It bounced and rolled on its edge across the room, buzzing an error tone while coming to an upside-down stop.

“‹Unless, of course, it happens to shoot someone directly up a nostril.›”

Tears leaked from Toy’s eyes as he gingerly prodded his nose. “Is there anything on this ship that isn’t trying to eat us or vaporize us?”

“‹I would not worry,›” the vulden dismissed. “‹Regardless of the sting you just felt, it would take a large group to generate a charge capable of rendering you unconscious.›”

Rothrr fell silent as another of the housekeeping robots emerged from the wall’s access conduit; several more followed behind. A pair coasted over to examine their fallen comrade, their little grapples deploying and prodding at its hull much as a child might poke an upside-down turtle with a stick. A few mutual chirps passed between the group as the robot was righted, but it remained stationary on the floor.

Toliya wondered if he had damaged the unit, but rather than taking the time to check he backed toward the door. The echo of more antigrav generators moaned from the access conduit. “You just had to say it out loud, didn’t you?”

! Housekeeping software update successful

…Did I do that?

Help me…

Shut up shut up shut up shut up

How did I do that? I can’t access anything!

…Can I?



Jadyn gazed at Tari’s sleeping form, his fingers loitering on the curious bite-mark-like scar hidden beneath the fur of his upper arm. While a sense of something ethereal still tugged at him in her presence, the distress was orders of magnitude more manageable than the prior night. The kitsune feeding link struck him as a particularly effective tool: resist providing it what it wanted and experience varying depths of discomfort. Submit to the process and reap surprising gifts of pleasure.

A similar effect appeared as he examined the blood bond he still couldn’t recall forging. Attempting to gently collapse the bond and restrict the feeding link within it resulted in immediate discomfort and symptoms of withdrawal. The only action toward stopping the constant drawdown that hadn’t negatively affected him was an endeavor days before on Tari’s part, plugging up the feeding link herself but taking a constant drain on her own concentration to maintain.

Whatever they might come up with to close down both the feeding link and blood bond for good, it was clear they’d need to tackle it together.

Tari shifted in her slumber, a pleasant murmur escaping her dreams. The bedsheets had fallen away in the night, pushed into a pile around her feet to expose the ageless beauty of her natural kitsune body. He hadn’t realized just how much he’d missed the company of a fellow val’traxan until she’d assumed the form of one. Now, he discovered a particular pleasure in the simple enjoyment of her natural appearance.

His thoughts drifted to the night before, to Alecha’s comment about the relationship between Tarisali and Jadaro. That they were mates was a generally accepted tenet. Scholars claimed a few questions still remained, and any bonds between the rest of the Eight were less clear—still, it was a generally accepted belief. He’d missed the coincidences in his relationship with Tari before Alecha mentioned it… And, if what his grandmother had said about a temporal loop was true—for her to set up everything just to talk to them across the expanse of time left little doubt in his mind that she was wrong—the chance that it was purely coincidence was next to nil.

But what did it mean?

Tari yawned and stretched, her foot accidentally brushing his leg. Realizing she wasn’t alone she lifted her head, fixing him with an inquisitive stare. “Good morning… What’s up?”

“Just being a creeper, observing a beautiful female in her sleep.” He pinched one of her toes, giving her foot a light shake. “Feel better?”

Tari squinted at her hands as if they might do a trick. “Just thinking about trying to change is making me queasy… Hope we’re not expecting company.”

“Doubt it,” he stated, fairly confident in the assessment. Alecha was busy trying to wrap her head around another set of data interpretations, according to T’bia. Even if she wanted to return, she’d need an escort to get back to the Speaker’s quarters. The only other likely possibilities were Pakar or Nesoli. Nesoli was still confined in Piroranan, and Pakar no doubt was dealing with Speaker duties. “You’re fine like this for now.”

“That’s good… I won’t be able to do much about it for a while.” Sliding her feet to the floor, the kitsune eyeballed various doors around the room as she tested her balance. “It’s your fault, you know.”

“My fault?”

“Considering what you know about me, where exactly do you think I recover fastest? In a comfortable bed on top of a completely artificial structure hanging in the void of space? Or in the middle of a forest, or a park, or even just a well-tended flower bed?”

Jadyn stared at her, his train of thought careening over a cliff and crashing in a fiery blaze.

“I know, it’s not entirely your fault,” she continued, her gaze still drifting around the room. She’d not picked up the shock in his silence. “Pakar and Alecha brought me here while I was out cold, but you could have at least suggested taking me somewhere else when you found out. Even napping on the Serin would have been better than this, as nice as it is here. Uh… by the way, which one is the little vixens’ room?”

It took a few seconds for her question to register before Jadyn turned and pointed at the bathroom’s door.

“What about you?” she voiced, slowly picking her way across the room. Her tails lashed about seemingly at random, working overtime to help her keep her balance without tying themselves in a knot. “Feel any better?”

“Uh… Yeah. Mostly.”

Tari disappeared for a few brief minutes, just long enough for him to walk through the morning again. Had he sleepwalked into a flowerbed because she needed him to? Maybe he’d done it himself, subconsciously thinking it would help her in some way, as if something would transfer to her across that damnable link. Clearly, such a transferrence had not happened.

The feeling of her arms wrapping around him from behind made him flinch—he hadn’t heard her emerge back into the room.

“You’re oddly quiet this morning,” Tari whispered. “And jumpy.”

“A lot on my mind.”

“Anything I should distract you from?”

He decided against telling her about waking up in a flowerbed, at least until he held a better grasp of it himself. “As much as I’d appreciate a distraction, there’s a lot to get done. Kaler should be ready for some exercise today. Alecha is otherwise occupied and you probably don’t want to meet him like this.”

Tari shook her head. “Not for a while. Afternoon at the very earliest.”

“So that’ll be part of my morning, once he’s awake. I need to finish repair arrangements with the Piroranan grounds crew. How did you two cause that much damage? I took a quick trip to see it for myself. Better than half the patio is just… gone. And that dead pile of native val’traxan vegetation right in the middle?”

“Alecha did it,” Tari stated, sliding around him and parking herself back on the bed. “Most of it. I might have contributed a little.”

“Hm. Beyond that, Councilor T’zran wants to talk about the colonists… Doesn’t strike me as a conversation I care to hold with him anytime soon.”

“Why not?”

“He wants a technological advantage over the other worlds in the area. He’ll probably offer someplace for them to stay in exchange for the promise of a variety of advanced hardware. What else…I also need to talk to a certain feldaran scientist to patch up some hopes and dreams I utterly trashed. At some point I should pop over to the J’Ruhn, check on Toy’s progress… And there’s that persistent issue you and I need to work out with this whole bonded—”

“PanLidaefel to Tzeki,” Jadyn’s bracelet chirped.

“I was just thinking about you,” Jadyn replied. “What can I do for you this fine morning?”

“If it’s not too much trouble, we need some help getting out of an airlock.”

“How’d you get stuck in an airlock?”

Toliya and Rothrr peeked through the viewing window of the airlock’s inner door. The army of robot vacuums showered the other side of the reinforced alloy seal with their particle beams as if they might eventually cut through the obstacle. “We’re not so much ‘stuck’ in here as ‘cornered.’ No rush… As long as these things don’t figure out how the controls work, we have enough air for a few hours.”

Buzzers sounded from the airlock’s interior control panel. A pleasant but somewhat garbled female voice followed the alarm with an announcement in the val’traxans’ Kametian tongue. If speech could be pixelated and blurry, he imagined it would sound very much like this. As a result, his translator took a little extra time to figure out the message. “Warning: Contamination detected. Airlock purge cycle beginning.

“Never mind,” Toliya muttered. “Don’t need help getting out anymore.”

2 Responses

  1. typhoon says:

    I can almost see Toliya coming home that evening.

    ‘Honey, how was your day?’

    “Don’t ask, just get the cataria whiskey.”