“Talk to me, San.”

“Half of the armada has been rendered adrift. The remainder of the ships are retreating. Sensors indicate their biotech components have been permanently disabled.”

Tari gave a slight nod. “Good. How’s our team?”

“The Serin appears to have suffered superficial damage to biohull components due to proximity to the neural pulse. Regeneration should properly repair the damage. Several Fleet vessels have sustained varying levels of damage but I have overheard no casualty reports. Orders, Captain?”

“Stand down. Prepare the stepdisk network for linkup with the Serin. Invite them over for tea.” Tari leaned forward in the command chair. “I’m almost afraid to ask, but… Damage report?”

“Shields are offline. The core has been throttled down to idle and is stable. However, the internal power grid has been severely compromised. It will take many weeks of repair work to restore, presuming a properly trained maintenance staff and a stockpile of replacement components. Since neither staff nor parts are readily available… Perhaps a year, if at all.”

“Toy’s resourceful. He’s kept the Serin flying. He’ll find a way to do the same here. I can’t convince you to stay online and help?”

“No,” he replied. “I am deeply sorry, but I do not believe it is safe for anyone on board should I remain running. I am flagging myself as non-executable, just as I was before Khamai reactivated me. All command and access codes have been granted to you. Until such time as you decide otherwise, the J’Ruhn is in your hands. Miss Tarioshi… Please help Khamai.”

“We’ll do everything we can.”

“Thank you.”

“No, Sanusin. Thank you for trusting in me. We’ll find a way to bring you back, if I have to personally spend the next eight hundred years learning what makes you tick.”

“In that event, I look forward to meeting you again in the future. ARIA AI personality Sanusin, now shutting down. Goodbye.”

“Tari!” T’bia exclaimed, glomming onto the vixen in a tight hug in the center of the J’Ruhn’s bridge. “I bet you have one Void of a story to tell.”

“You’ve no idea. Toy, how are you?”

“I’m well, thanks. This ship… It’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen.”

T’bia punched the leopard in the arm.

“That is… Not… quite as good as -“

“Too late,” she growled. “You’re off my friend list. You hear me? You are unfriended. You’re not my friend, buddy!”

“You haven’t seen the half of it,” Tari replied. “It’s going to need a lot of help, though. The power grid is absolutely fried after covering Terac Lun’s ass. There’s problems with the internal sensor network, and an eighth of the ship is closed off by internal bulkheads because the other side hasn’t had life support in at least two centuries. I figured overseeing a project like this is right up your alley.”

T’bia squinted at the vixen. “You all right? You don’t quite seem… yourself.”

“That’s also a long story. As for you - Khamai is in a life support pod. I had Sanusin transport it down to Azainte Medical for storage at the same time we let Khris and family off to be checked out. Part of Sanusin’s condition for handing over the ship’s command codes to me was that I’d ensure Khamai got whatever medical attention you could provide. If you can’t save him at this point, you can’t. I promised him you’d give your best effort, and we do not renege on promises.”

The skunk eyeballed her for a long second before giving a shrug. “Okay. I’ll have him transported up to our medbay and take a look. I’d like to run you through a full physical, too.”

“He’s in critical condition. Do what you can for him first -“

Something is wrong.

Tari squinted as her fox’s voice came through. “Oh, what now…”

Look around. Where is Jadyn?

“Tari?” T’bia asked. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s nothing… Little headache, is all. Uh… Where’s Jadyn?”

“He’s… taking a well-earned nap.”

Tari raised an eyebrow. “What happened after he used the blood magic?”

The skunk blinked. “How’d you know he -“

“Bee, I need you to tell me everything that happened, right now.

“This is bad.” Tari took her fingers off Jadyn’s forehead, placing her palm on his chest. “So very, very bad… Gods… What airheads we three are…”

“I tried to talk him out of it -“

“I wasn’t talking about… Never mind. How long has he been like this?”

“Since just after the vial broke and sliced up his hands.”

His blood mingled with ours, just as we began drawing his energy… the spirit spoke. This is even worse than you think.

“I put him on life support three hours ago,” T’bia was continuing. “Didn’t need it yet, just precautionary. I’ve never seen anything affect him like this. He’s not even healing like himself anymore. I don’t know what else to do.”

“Your priority right now is Khamai. I’ll do what I can about Jay.”

“But -“

“Get to it,” she ordered. T’bia seemed taken aback, but nodded. A flare of green light appeared in the back half of the room, near the surgical station; three off-colored copies of T’bia’s avatar in medical assistant’s uniforms quickly closed in on the life support pod. T’bia herself wandered back to join them, a surgeon’s gown appearing over her frame.

Tuning the four of them out as she looked at Jadyn, she turned her focus inward. That wasn’t just an imprint you ate.

That alone would explain why I have not yet regressed back to a mere shadow in your mind… And may very well be the entire reason I became more.

Tari’s perceptions shifted. The medical ward blurred somewhat around her, distorted by the vision of her dreamscape. Opposite her, on the other side of Jadyn’s body, her two-tailed kitsune form stood looking down at him.

“You care for him,” her spirit spoke, gazing upon his face, her fingers drifting inches away from his cheek.

“As should you. He’s been giving you…” Tari shook her head. “No… No, I can’t blame this entirely on you. He’s been giving us a gift he did not agree to share since the very moment we met. Why’d we even feed off him in the first place?”

“I was not independently conscious at that time - my memories are yours. As such… I suspect we did not have enough reserves after the several days of cross-country travel to heal the injury when you called upon my power. The forest around us was too far into dormancy to supply even the barest minimum… He would have been the only choice.”

“Stealing another’s life energy is not a choice! I would never have willingly done that! I don’t even draw deeply from plants without asking permission!”

The spirit-vixen’s ears flattened back at the scolding. “I do not have an answer for you. All I can tell you is that, had he been anyone else, we would have drawn only enough to cover the magic you attempted to invoke. The feeding link would have collapsed on its own when we ceased to draw upon it. His nature prevents that. You have sensed it, even if you do not yet recognize it - he literally overflows with energy. His body and soul paired as one generate far more than he would ever require for himself. When we have been in his presence, we did not draw upon him - energy has streamed freely to us across the link. We ‘took’ nothing until our captivity drove us beyond starvation.” She sighed. “Breaking this bond may require the assistance of a Nine, now that it has been so deeply seared into each of us…”

“We can’t break it until we can put back what we stole from him. You let flow far more than just his life energy this last time - and I know damn well you were starting to act independently by then! You pulled down his entire soul through the blood link he forged!”

“That was not my fault! Had our blood not mingled with his, it surely would have been no more than a feeding. True, he may have lingered near death… But he would not have been drained so completely as this.” Her spirit grimaced. “It will not be such a simple task to undo what has been done.”

“There has to be a way. Can’t you think of anything?”

“I have very little more understanding above your own about what we are and what we truly can do, Tarioshi. Despite our current situation, at our core we are not separate entities - we are halves of the same whole. I do not fully understand the nature of my sudden existence, but I believe I am at this moment a manifestation of what you would be without your mortal soul. You, on the other hand, have always been what I would become with one. We cannot survive independently of one another. I learn as you learn. Sadly, you have possessed little desire to learn more than the very basics of controlling our gifts.”

“Then what was that whole lecture about properly bonding with you to find out what we can do?”

“I was… upset, after having been ignored for so long. Having found a voice, I felt the overwhelming need to… express myself.”

“Bravado. Every word.”

“Generally… Yes.”

Tari growled, rubbing her eyes. “Okay, fine. What the hell do we do?”

“I do not know.”

A hand fell on Tari’s shoulder, drawing her mind back to reality. As the medical bay came into focus her spirit fox remained on the edge of her senses, faintly visible to her in the room.

“You all right?” T’bia asked. “You’ve been over here mumbling to yourself for a while.”

“I’m fine. Just frustrated with myself. I have to be able to fix what we’ve done… I just don’t know where to start.”

“What ‘we’ve’ done?”

“My… Right. You can’t see… Oi.” She sighed, peering at her ghostly alter ego. “Bear with me - I’m having a bit of a dissociative identity moment. When Jadyn forged a link between us and mixed our blood, my kitsune side drew down all the life energy she could consume… and took out far more than just his energy.”

“Ah, an essence smash-and-grab. That would explain why I keep hearing him in your voice.” T’bia scratched her forehead. “I’m sadly not going to be of any help with this kind of thing.”

“Maybe you can be…” Tari tapped the side of her muzzle, looking across at the spirit. “We learn together, hm…?”

“Whuh?” T’bia voiced.

“Not you.” She turned to face the skunk. “But. You pillaged every scrap of data you could get your hands on from Terra, didn’t you?”

“I did.”

“Have it indexed?”

“Mostly. What do you need?”

“Everything you know about me.”

“When you said that place was a mess, I didn’t realize you were grossly understating the conditions.” Toliya grabbed a bowl of soup out of the Serin’s replicator, parking at the common room’s table. “The thing hasn’t had any maintenance for at least half a century. Probably longer, by the grime on some of the hardware. I honestly can’t do this alone. It’d take the rest of my waking days. I’ve got a number of folks I’d trust around your tech that I’d like to bring in to help. They’re well-trained on the most advanced Alligned hardware… There’ll be a steep learning curve for this stuff, but they’re still the best I know.”

“Bring on anyone you need.” Tari glanced up from a pad. “I realize there’s a lot on your plate over there. If you happen to get bored, I’d like you to tear into one of the two AIs and check out his decision-making subroutines.”

“Why’s that?”

“He was archived a long time ago for making poor choices in a crisis and eventually was replaced. I’d like to know if that’s because of a minor error in his software, or if he’s truly corrupted beyond repair. He believes the latter.”

“Mm. Well, it won’t be super soon, but I’ll take a look when I can. You said he was replaced? As in, there’s another AI over there?”

“Yes. I don’t know if she’s even salvageable at this point. Sanusin said she was based on a production version of T’bia’s core, but the virus he used on T’bia was tested on her and apparently did a lot of damage.”

“Mm… All right. I can’t in good faith bring up an AI when the power grid’s as bad as it is. Could cause permanent damage. It’ll be a while before I can look into either one.”

“No rush.”

“What are you so engrossed in?”

“I’m trying to find a way to wake Jay up but it’s pretty slow going. Lots of research to do before I can even make an attempt. If you need a hand over there with something, let me know… For the time being, I know as much about all this tech as he did. Can’t guarantee what I’ll remember after I get him back where he belongs but I can at least be useful in the interim.”

Toy squinted at her. “If I got out of that half of what I think you just said… I don’t think I understood it.”

“Yeah. That’s been my entire life as of late.” Tari glanced at the door, noticing her spirit self suddenly standing beside it. “Enjoy your lunch. I’ve got to check on something.”

“See you later,” he voiced.

Tari watched her clone out of the corner of her eye as they walked down the hall. “This wouldn’t be half as weird for me if they could see you… or if I couldn’t.”

“I believe it is your fault I am here in the first place. You created a divide in your mind to keep me from drawing us both into madness. The fact his donation -“

“You mean, ‘our theft.’”

“Whatever the case. His energy exacerbated the divide and gave me substance in your thoughts.”

“We need a name for you.”

“Is that truly necessary? I am you.”

“It’s a little weird trying to get myself to call you my name. How am I supposed to know if I’m talking to you, or just to myself?” Tari squinted. “Did that come out right?”

The spirit grunted. “After we replace his soul, it will no longer matter. I will return to the way I was - the passive partner in this lopsided relationship.”

Tari stopped in her tracks, staring at herself. “What did you say?”

“I said I will revert to nothing more than a wisp of impulses and instincts, the way we have existed since my traits began dominating your former human ones.”

“No… You said… Lopsided. My gods…! I’ve been treating you no better than Khamai treated Sanusin…”

“I doubt I would go so far as to describe it such. These last few days have not been an optimal experience for either of us. I do not ask much, Tarioshi. You have for the most part always covered my general needs and desires as they always have been your own. The only thing I do not presently receive is your respect. I sense there is still a small part of you that loathes what we are. I am only as much a monster as you make me out to be.”

“That sounds a little bit like Sensei Toshiyuki’s words,” Tari spoke, pausing outside the medical lab. “The problem I’ve always had is that you remind me of my mother. I have no desire to be like her, whatsoever.”

“And we are not. She would not be concerned over the loss of one life to ensure her own survival. We clearly are, as evidenced by our current situation.”

Tari sighed. “I suppose so.”

“We will find an answer for this. Keep looking through our public history. If I notice anything, you will be the first to know.”

Nodding, Tari palmed the door control and stepped inside. T’bia glanced up from the surgical table, giving her a nod.

“Have a good chat with yourself?”

“I… Was I talking outloud?”

“Oh yeah.” T’bia passed a surgical tool to one of her assistant-selves, receiving a different one in exchange. “You’ve done it every time you’ve been in a room alone since you got back. I’m a little concerned. You never did it before you were spirited away… Ha, ‘spirited.’ But really. What’s going on?”

“It’s because of Jay. Sort of. Consuming his essence has given my kitsune side a voice of her own. She’s never had one before, and I think she’s enjoying being able to talk while she still can.”

“Well… If you really think you’re okay I won’t worry about it for now. You are getting a complete physical shortly after I’m done with this surgery.”

“All right.” Tari stopped at the edge of the sanitary field, peering inside the surgical area. Most of Khamai’s body was covered in a sheet; while his head was not directly facing her, it appeared a small section of his skull had been delicately opened. “How’s it going?”

“Not well. There’s very little I can do for his body. He will undergo the same deterioration his brother did - there’s already too much cellular damage to repair. I do believe I’ve corrected the problem that affected his mental state, however… Chameleon placed an implant in his brain stem as part of the copy protection workaround. It’s been malfunctioning for quite some time.”

“How long will he have?”

“A few weeks. Maybe a month. Enough time to come to terms with everything he’s done if he regains consciousness. The Council will probably want to put him on trial for his crimes, but given his health they may just write it off since he’ll die before proceedings can even start. That’s not my call, though.” T’bia nodded toward Jadyn’s bed. “How’s your project looking?”

“Stalled. I don’t think I’d have a problem if he still felt like a separate entity in my head… Could just funnel him back out. He was conscious for a brief time after it happened, actually - long enough to spout off an old Guild authorization code at Sanusin. Didn’t work, but it really got some attention.”

“Mm,” T’bia voiced. “And now you’re walking around with a split personality and all his memories?”

“I wouldn’t say his memories are available to me… His instincts. I’m feeling little gut reactions to things that I know are different than what I’d normally get. I’ve even been able to read and speak Kametian and Velorian Standard. I bet if Pakar came by I’d suddenly find myself spouting in Drekiran.”

“She wants to talk to you when you have the time, by the way. I’ve told her you’re recovering from post-traumatic stress. Speaking in tongues would strongly support that claim.”

“All right… I’ll see if I can’t get in touch with her this afternoon.” She exhaled slowly, running her fingers through her hair. “I can feel the clock ticking down on me, too.”


“Hm? No! Not like - Not like that. The fact I have to go home in eight more of our…” Tari pinched herself between the eyes. “Damn it. See what I mean? ‘Our.’ Eight of your months. I never realized how strong of a compulsion it was in his head to get me back home.”

“Be grateful you haven’t felt it doing any other demands.”

“I’m amazed he can even look at me. Every time I come in here and see him, that countdown clock pops up in the back of my mind and won’t go away.” Tari padded to Jadyn’s bedside, sitting down beside his unconscious body. “We may need to make a trip to Terra to help him. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do anything without my people’s assistance.”

“I’m sure you’ll come up with something. There’s still a lot of data on that pad for you to peek at.” T’bia gestured; her assistants vanished. “All done. If he’s going to wake up at all, it won’t be for at least a week. I’m not hopeful, though.”

“Thank you.” Tari glanced over at the surgical workstation, giving a start as she looked at the cart of tools. “Is that what I think it is?”

“The armory’s missing bomb, yeah. He surgically implanted it into his body and tied the detonator to his cardiac nerve. His own heartbeat kept the timer from activating. I’ve disarmed it… Removed the antimatter capsule and properly disposed of it. Completely inert now. I think it’ll make a lovely doorstop.”

“Man… He had more problems than I thought. If San and I had put him in stasis instead of on life support…”

“Think of what would have happened if he’d died in the hospital, dirtside. Bad mojo. Listen, if you need anything at all… Just ask.”

“I’ll do that. Did you want to run my physical now?”

“Let’s do it later. I’m more reasonably sure that you’re of sound mental condition now. Toy needs help hammering out a repair schedule, so I’m going to be working over on the J’Ruhn for a while. There’s some sections he needs me to check out without the need to breathe getting in the way, too. He’s already got my bracelet over there to save me the time walking. Oh - we might need you after while since the command codes are tied to your genetic fingerprint.”

“All right. Just let me know.”

“I will.” T’bia patted her on the back, then vanished. “By the way.


I recommend ‘Viraneivo’ for a name. Wasn’t that what Jay called you before he knew yours?

Pakar placed a cup of tea in front of Tari, sitting down beside her in the Speaker’s office. “So he’s in your head?”

“I can’t hear him or anything like that, but somehow there’s a bond there that’s giving me access to some parts of his psyche. The stuff’s just there. I’m not even trying.”

“Which explains why you’re suddenly as fluent in Drekiran as he is.” Pakar smirked. “Exactly his same accent, too.”

“I’m not getting anything else he knew, not really. I mean, I can walk around the J’Ruhn and the Serin now and have a solid feeling for what everything does and where every corridor goes - here too. I feel like I’ve known this place forever, but I still don’t have any other memories of it than my own. I can’t look at you and remember anything except what I would otherwise know - our days shopping on the Tamar, walking down to the basement after the bomb blast, that stuff.”

“That’s probably for the best.” Pakar tapped the side of her coffee mug. “Thank you for the report on your time as Khamai’s captive, by the way. I did have some questions about it, but what you’ve just told me covers most everything I didn’t have a grasp on.”


“There’s some lingering concern about ownership. Aligned Fleet policy covers ship salvage based on an old Velorian nautical law. If a vessel has been abandoned, anyone can lay claim to it and salvage whatever parts they wish, or repair the ship outright and return it to service under their command. If there is crew alive, even one, the ship remains in their custody until such time as they release it to salvors. It’s a little more detailed than that, but that’s the general breakdown.”

Pakar placed her mug on the desk. “Khamai is alive, for the moment. Based upon your report he was for all intents and purposes the J’Ruhn’s captain. While he is innocent until proven guilty, I don’t think there’s a single courtroom in a thousand parsecs that would find him innocent with the evidence and testimony we already have prepared against him. Basically… Custody of the ship now falls to you as the last non-AI legitimately in command who isn’t nearly dead or facing prison. You can do with it as you please - keep it, sign it over to someone, whatever you care to do. I’m certain you could buy several planets for yourself if you decided to sell it.”

“There are several people very important to me that wouldn’t appreciate my doing that.”

“No. I’d personally have you committed if you even tried. We have the slight problem that Khamai used that vessel for activities that were a direct threat to the Aligned Worlds. The ship may contain evidence of his acts, details on his contacts within the pirate clans, precise lists of what materials were traded… All sorts of things. I could obtain a search warrant and impound the ship… I’d prefer to simply obtain your permission to dispatch several security teams to search the vessel. We will undoubtedly require a copy of the main computer archive to sift through.”

Tari rubbed her forehead. “If I say no?”

“You’d be well within your rights, and I’d probably be forced by the security committee to get a warrant. I should tell you that repairing a ship like that is very expensive… and we’d be willing to foot a very large share of the bill if you agree.” Pakar’s face softened. “I really wish this didn’t look like me trying to back you into a corner, Tari. I’m sorry that you have to be the one to make the call… I realize you’re more than a little out of your element in all this, even if there is a fragment of J.T. in your head helping you sort through everything. I can’t tell you what he’d do in your place. I will promise you that we will not abuse your generosity.”

“You might want to rephrase that.”


“If you overtly promise me something like that, everyone you’re covering with that oath has keep to your word. A quirk of my maternal heritage compels me to deal with broken promises… in the most uncomfortable manner I can think of at that particular moment.”

Pakar grinned. “Then I stand by my words. I’ll personally ensure that no data that can lead to reconstructing the tech is kept on file, and I’ll make sure T’bia is apprised of everything our teams are taking. Anything we can return after the fact, will be returned - which includes the bombs in the armory, so they can be safely disposed of.”

“Hnn… Fine. Make sure they check in with Toy or Bee… They’re going to be the best judge of which sections of the ship are safe right now. You’ll probably need her help with the computer archive, anyway.”

“Thank you. Toy’s also already put in requests for several hand-picked maintenance teams to assist him in repairs. I’ll ensure they’re cleared to go.”

“Thank you. Question for you, now - unless there’s something else you need to know?”

Pakar shook her head. “What’s on your mind?”

“Well… Hypothetically speaking, of course. Let us presume that a ship like the J’Ruhn is brought back to an up-and-running state, and it needed a crew that would treat it like Jay would expect someone treat the Serin in his absence… What would you suggest?”

Pakar smiled. “We occasionally have been known to lease exceptional vessels from their private owners. I will… quietly investigate that option, if you’d like.”

“Please do. I won’t be able to find a proper place to parallel park it when I return to Terra. It’d be nice if it didn’t just sit dark in a shipyard until I got back.”

“I think we can find someone who’ll shower it with the respect it deserves, once it’s up and running.”

“Thanks for coming over,” Toliya spoke, not looking up from the bridge controls he’d torn open. “I need… I need a bunch of things from you, actually.”

“Sure thing.” Tari leaned against the wall, watching him work. “What can I do?”

“For starters - ow.” Toy sucked on a finger that was suddenly smoldering. “For starters, I need main power taken offline for a while so I stop zapping myself every time I reach into one of these. This bucket needs someone with command access to do it.”

“All right.” Strolling up to the engineering console, Tari skimmed the displays. “Main power… provided by… main engine core. Shut it down?”

“That’d be the ticket, yeah. Should be a pair of fusion generators that supply backup power. Leave them on - I can bypass those at each section myself. They also don’t hurt quite so much.”

“Okay.” The lights flickered briefly overhead. “Main engines… Offline. Backups stable. What else?”

“We need the deadlocks on the emergency bulkheads cleared. We’re going to have to restore life support beyond them one section at a time, check for leaks as we go.”

“Deadlocks….” Tari slid the engineering display aside with a flick of her finger, quickly calling up security controls in its place. “Here we go. All deadlocks disengaged. You should have free access everywhere.”

“Perfect.” Toliya popped off a wall panel, crawling inside on his back. “Last thing… Can you remove the access lockouts on… Hm.”

“What’s up?”

“Oh, just not the fasteners I was expecting. There’s a set of wrenches in my toolbox, middle drawer? Be careful, the -“

“Ow,” Tari spoke, sucking her finger. The heavy taste of iron flowed over her tongue.

“The handle has a sharp edge,” he finished. “You okay?”

“Just a little cut.”

“Dermal regenerator’s in the bottom drawer. Always pays to carry a med-kit with that thing… Ah, yes, that’s the wrench set. Thanks.”

“Yep.” Tari drew out the first-aid kit, popping open the lid. Taking her finger from her mouth, she paused. Where are you getting the energy to heal that?

I have done nothing.

Vira -

I do not have an explanation.

Tari shot a glance at Toliya; his attention was focused entirely on the inside of the wall he was disassembling. Setting her jaw as to not cry out, she grabbed the sharp handle again, wincing as the jagged edge sliced easily through the fleshy pads of her fingers. Within seconds, her blood had ceased oozing out; a quarter of a minute later the cut was closing, all on its own.

“You find the kit?” Toy called.

“Uh… Yeah. Thanks.”

“Sure. Before you go, I need the bridge control access lockouts lifted. Don’t worry - I won’t take your ship for a joyride without you.”

2 Responses

  1. Tsunari says:

    That’s not a vast amount of new info on Tari’s little split personality.

  2. Derek says:

    Vira is the result of Tari’s own mind protecting her from herself… Buuuut, she may have had a little help. I couldn’t work in all the details just yet, and I’m sorry - but here’s a little more exposition.

    Kitsune cannot be kept in a captive state against their will. It will drive them beyond the edge of insanity. Had she remained ‘whole’ before the theft of Jadyn’s energy, she likely would have walked out an airlock to find some very short-lived freedom.

    Instead, a partition formed in her psyche, partially separating her rational thought processes from her baser kitsune instincts to help keep her from doing something dangerous. As the divide deepened the kitsune side suddenly found a path back to a food source it had already claimed (via the feeding link to Jay) and enjoyed a fabulous meal. This essence began integrating with the kitsune partition and granted it a semblance of self-awareness. Since the partition is not (and cannot be) a complete cut between the two halves of the whole, some of what was absorbed has crossed the line between the two.

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