Chapter Nineteen: Exit

I still don’t know how you managed to fall asleep on the back of a moving Groyin! Kenlyi says to the youngest Camfurdian, Janil.

I tried to move as smoothly as I could for both of your sakes. I smile softly as I transmit my thoughts to them.

I… guess I was just that tired. I mean, it really wasn’t the greatest sleep, no offense, Kehl.

None taken, Janil. Carefully, I study the young Camfurdian. There’s so much we do not know about their kind. Hopefully, these two brave young men will be the key to changing that. Workers aboard the ship have been preparing sleeping quarters for you two. Once we are at least in orbit, you two can have a chance to properly rest.

Kenlyi nods. Good. Thank you.

I can feel Janil’s mind wrap around mine in such a way that lets me be sure that only I am receiving his thoughts. It wasn’t the softest surface, but the contour of your carapace actually made laying forward quite comfortable. I don’t think Kenlyi was comfortable completely letting his guard down around you.

His young mind is… soft, curious, and eager. I’ve learned in a very short period of time that he longs to please others. I focus on him intensely, reciprocating the privacy. I hope we can earn his trust in time.

Old habits are hard to break, and most Camfurdians tend to be a little on edge just by nature. He shrugs.

You do not seem to have this shortcoming, or at least not to the extent that he does. My mind begins to wander, and I can sense myself trying to read his passive thoughts as I would one of my own kind. Obviously, lacking the hive connection, I cannot without more invasive prodding.

I trust you, Kehl. There’s something special about you that I’ve noticed, that I’ve felt. You… remind me of Kalarai in some ways. Gentle, yet you’d do anything to help your people. Open-minded, willing to think outside the box. These are admirable traits, Kehltanril.

It… feels surprisingly good to hear him say this. Groyin that are like me, capable of more independent thought and will, tend to develop in our own unique ways. We are never really complimented on our very nature, so to garner such praise from an outsider is quite pleasant.

Thank you, Janil. He smiles warmly at me, and I can’t ignore a gentle anxiousness in my chest. I’ve… never had this kind of sensation before. I can feel the higher order within the collective mind is amused by this, but I do not quite understand why. Their reasoning seems to be disconnected from me. Perhaps they are trying to keep my perspective untainted by theirs.

Kenlyi looks at us strangely and says something in his native tongue. Janil looks surprised as he shakes his head. He appears to be trying to explain something. I can only guess this based on the body language and gestures that Janil makes. Regardless, I have a feeling that I’ve upset Kenlyi somehow.

Before either of them explain what’s going on, I broadcast to both of them. Kenlyi, if I have offended you, I promise you that was not my intention. I apologize.

He’s just… pointing out precisely why Camfurdians look down upon telepathy. He could tell that we were having a private conversation right in front of him. Janil looks down, embarrassed.

Kenlyi’s expression is blank. I didn’t mean to cause a stir, but it just felt unfair. I felt left in the dark, and I thought we were trying to keep everything open. Trust, communication, those things.

I lower my head to the other Camfurdian. I apologize, my friend. I meant no harm. I was simply… enjoying the conversation with Janil. It was not my intention to cause you to feel neglected. He looks a little embarrassed, so he deflects by brushing a light brown lock of hair out of his face.

I smile as I feel a sense of satisfaction from the collective. The ship is prepared for takeoff, and your quarters are prepared as well. Hopefully, the rooms will be to your liking. Come, let us board.

I make a gesture with a foreclaw, telling them to follow me. I start making my way up the ramp to the ship. This particular ship is a smaller, more maneuverable. It’ll have a smaller crew, but more sustainability in the long run. The hatch opens and I lead them inside.

The halls and corridors are quite roomy for our kind, which means the Camfurdians will have plenty of room to move around. The largest of my kind is at least as tall as them, and easily three times wider. Our new friends will not have any issues with comfort so long as I can help them.

We proceed through the airlock, which connects us into one area of the main operations center. We pass by a half a dozen other Groyin, each dutifully attending their stations.

These… are so much smaller. I didn’t realize there were Groyin smaller than us. Kenlyi says, genuinely surprised. I can sense Janil echoing the thought.

I start leading them through the operations area and the bridge. The three of us pile into the cargo lift and I press a button to take us to the second deck. We come in all shapes and sizes. Not all of us are born to be warriors. Some of us are workers or scientists. Some are bred to promote the arts. Then there are some, like me, who are bred to be more independent, influenced by the collective rather than completely controlled by it.

Wait, did you say arts?! That’s… something I’d like to see. Janil says with amusement.

Artists blur the line between my caste and the lower caste. They have as much independent thought as my type does, yet they are pressed hard by the collective to create. It is also quite common for them to… ascend to a higher caste as a result of their will. We consider it a beautiful, joyous occasion. I smile warmly. I hadn’t expected any Camfurdian to have an interest in art, yet… Janil seems pleasantly full of surprises.

There’s so much we have to learn about each other. Kehltanril, thank you for this chance. Janil touches an exposed part of one of my primary arms, a gesture of support and appreciation. His warm hands feels surprisingly good against me.

The lift door opens and I start to lead them down the long hallway. The second deck is comprised of multiple cargo holds, and the main cargo bay at the end of the hall. It was trivial to convert the smaller bays into quarters.

I open the first door. The first converted cargo hold is adorned plainly. We created a soft, raised pallet to function as support for them, including raised areas to support their heads and necks, as requested.

Kenlyi looks at Janil and nods. This… will do nicely. Thank you.

Yes, this is perfect. Janil says.

We’ve prepared two rooms. We were unsure as to your preferences. Since it was just as easy to prepare two rooms, we did. I move to the door opposite this one, pressing a button to reveal the second improvised bedroom, laid out identical to the first.

Wow, that’s great, Kehl. Thank you. I think after all this time, stretching out sounds really good. Janil looks back at Kenlyi.

I’m pleased that these accommodations are sufficient, friends. One of the junior queens is going to be joining us on this mission. It’s… a rare thing to see any sort of mission directly headed by one of the queens. We’re going to rendezvous with her ship, and then we will see about venturing into uncharted territory with your aid. Now may be the best time for the two of you to get some rest. Is there anything else that I can help you two with? I pause, waiting for their response. My mind thinks back to the last time that I saw a queen in person. It’s such a rare treat to see the highest, greatest minds that our kind has to offer. I hope the Camfurdians will be pleased with her.

Kenlyi gives a firm nod. Food and water would be nice. We haven’t eaten in quite some time, and it’d be nice to have something other th-

The Camfurdian’s thought immediately trails off.

“Kenlyi!” Janil says aloud.

I cringe as my mind fills in the blanks. That’s… horrifying. I… yes… I’ll bring some food for you two. A chill passes through me and I go ahead and start back to the lift, leaving the two of them to their rooms. I… know this is war. I know they’re simply doing what they felt they needed to do in order to survive, but the savagery is astounding.

I suppose I can’t fault them. They seemed surprised by the fact that I am more intelligent, that I function higher. It makes me wonder if they simply chose to eat our kind out of convenience, or if it was indeed meant to be a savage display, intended to demoralize us. Regardless, they’re with us now.

The lift lowers and I slowly make my way through the deck three common area. The single large room is about thirty percent capacity, my off-duty brothers resting. Unlike the Camfurdians, my kind can sleep anywhere at any time, and we require very little rest. The common decks on any ship serve as a dining area, a rest area, and even as a waste disposal area. While there are no distinct divisions built into the room itself, we tend to naturally divide the room accordingly. A small area is designated for waste, almost always near one of the disposal airlocks. Then the eating and resting areas tend to be larger, more open.

Our dining areas are simple. There’s always an attendant on duty. Aboard ships, our food is a nutrient-rich balance of plant proteins, reduced into a slurry. I’m not sure that the Camfurdians will find it as appetizing as we do, but it will at least be nutritious for them, as long as their nutritional needs are even remotely similar to ours.

I approach the attendant and, without a word being said, the attendant prepares two large containers filled with our nutritive slurry. Using my smaller foreclaws, I take the two containers and work my way back to the lift.

How are they going to fit in? Their lives are so incredibly different, so much more convoluted, more complex. Are they going to know to to respond to the simplicity that can be Groyin life?

Janil… he will adapt, I think. I’m not so certain about Kenlyi. Perhaps he will as well, but I am certain about young Janil. His mind and emotions are flexible enough that he will adapt.

Kenlyi seems a bit more set in his ways, but the fact that he’s cooperating with us shows us that he isn’t totally closed minded. I approach his door first.

Kenlyi? May I enter? I’ve brought something for you.

I feel his tired mind start to perk up. Please, come in.

I press a button to open the door, and immediately step inside. He’s sitting on the edge of the bed.

I’m not sure what your diet normally is, but this is the standard meal aboard our ships. It may be bland for your tastes, but it is highly nutritious. I stretch out a foreclaw, offering the container to him.

He takes it and studies it, clearly unimpressed. Thank you, Kehl. I… uh… am sure it’ll at least keep me full. He sniffs at it skeptically, then takes a small sip of the warm drink.

He blinks a few times and shrugs, saying something in his native language. Thank you. It’s… actually not as awful as it looks. The Camfurdian laughs. I appreciate it.

A worker should be by soon with a container of drinking water for you, in case you require more liquids than the meal replacement can provide. I move back toward the door.

Hey, Kehltanril? Thank you. I’m sorry if I’m still nervous, but I’ve… never committed treason before. It’s a new experience. The Camfurdian laughs and I have to grin at the humor.

Hopefully, the greater part of your kind will see it as a necessary act and not betrayal. Thank you for being here. I know the queen is looking forward to meeting you two. Now, if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to deliver Janil his meal.

He nods deeply and I can sense deference about him. I leave and immediately head to Janil’s door. Janil? May I come in?

I can sense his drifting mind, but there is no response.

Janil, my friend?

Oh. His groggy mind seems quite pleased to sense me. Kehl. Please, come in.

I press the button and step inside. The young Camfurdian is sprawled out across the bed, looking up at me.

I brought something to fill your belly. I’m sure it isn’t the same as the food you’d have back home, but it’ll at least fill you. Kenlyi seemed to enjoy it. I approach him and he sits up, taking the container from my foreclaw unhesitatingly.

He takes a sip and nods. It reminds me of a vegetable soup that the Focuri make. I’d get it from the street vendors in the town square. What is it?

The simple answer is mixed vegetables, fungii, and other plant-based matter, carefully balanced to provide complete nutrition for my kind. I’m glad you like it. I slowly start to back toward the door.

You… don’t have to go. I was hoping we’d… maybe… have a chance to talk. Privately, unlike before. His face begins to flush, a gentle red staining his pale cheeks.

I’d… like that. Was there something in particular that you wanted to discuss? Slowly, I approach the side of the bed, dropping down into a resting position.

You. I mean… I want to know about your people. There’s so much we both want to know about our kinds, right? But… I also want to know about you. You as an individual, as much as you are. He rolls over on his side and I can’t imagine that the armor he’s wearing is comfortable in that position.

You’re probably curious if I was always of a higher mind? He nods and I give a nod in return. Of sorts, yes. Some of us are bred for this. With the right combination of genetics and an older queen, we can reliably breed Groyin that function higher. The clutches are smaller, so there is a distinct downside, and too many higher voices in the hive causes cacophony. I was bred this way, but I wasn’t completely… awakened, you could say, until I was about a year old. At that point, I was nearing physical maturity, and my mind was rapidly maturing as well.

He smiles. That’s fascinating, Kehl. I didn’t realize it worked like that. Your kind… has to strive for balance, right?

Without balance, everything would fall into chaos. The lower minded workers would be aimless, or would deal with conflicting information. Us higher minded ones would lose focus on the greater good. Our kind is desperate to keep balance. I close my eyes, my mind hating to even conceptualize such a disaster.

Our kinds have more in common than we thought. Most Camfurdians see our conquests as a means of obtaining balance. I… don’t know how much of that is really true, especially now, but I can see the parallels.

I can as well, though the approach is far different. Tell me, Janil. We have heard these titles appended to names, what are their meanings? Alim, Alimari, and so on. I hope I am not trying too much, but it is something we’ve been curious about since we first heard them,

They’re social structures. An Alim is a person who no longer has a dominus, but has someone who submits to them. That person, the Alim’s second, is called an Alimari. If an Alimari becomes a dominus, their submissive is an alisar, commonly called a lesser. It’s… a fairly complicated arrangement. He scratches his head out of frustration.

I have time, please, explain.

So, it might be easier just to give examples. My family, or yula, is headed by Alim Elikel. Eli had two seconds, Alimari Kalarai and Alimari Monrenth. I was a lesser, submitting to Kalarai. Officially, I was Alisar Janil. Now, all those names? Those would be what others would call us, or if we were using formal titles for reference.

Within the family, the titling is a little different. Elikel was our Yarl. Kalarai, being a second himself, therefore couldn’t be my yarl. Instead, he was my yaruel. Like I said, it’s… a bit convoluted, but it is tradition, and our kind obsesses over it.

Janil sighs and I know the weight of his actions are already taking a toll on him. Before you… found me… I had submitted to Elikel, and I became his second, formally. I… didn’t see all of this happening.

Before I “found” him? He… could have thought captured or kidnapped. Instead, he used found. You were scared, weren’t you, Janil? You didn’t know what else to do, so you did what you thought was expected of you?

Instantly, Janil begins to cry. I thought I was doing the right thing until he made me destroy those babies. Those little babies didn’t deserve that. I… felt like a monster, Kehl. I am a monster!

I stand back up and reach for him. He crawls towards me, burying his head against me. I embrace him as he cries.

Janil, you aren’t a monster. If you were, you wouldn’t be doing this right now. My friend, you’re making your own path in life now, and you’re doing the right thing. You’re doing the morally right thing. Given everything you’ve told me, I know it isn’t easy. You’re bucking deeply engrained traditions, but you’re doing so because it’s the right thing to do. Be proud, Janil. I’m proud of you.

The young Camfurdian gently backs away, looking up at me. You are?

It takes a strong person, of mind and heart, to do what you’re doing after what you’ve been through. Yes, I am proud of you. I know my queen will be too. His expression is mixed and I can’t read his emotions.

He nods. Thank you. That… means a lot, actually.

No, thank you, Janil. You’re laying down a path for peace. Without you, peace would just be a dream. Get some rest, my friend. Things will be busy soon enough, and we need your mind sharp. Gently, I reach out and touch his hand.

He grabs on to me and smiles, as if the action was a great relief to him. Alright, Kehl. Thank you.

For everything.