Chapter Twenty: Rendezvous

Janil?

Yes, Kenlyi?

I… can’t sleep.

Come over here so we don’t have to use telepathy.

I stretch out in bed while waiting on Kenlyi. A few moments later, he steps inside. “Oh. Your armor…” He looks down, embarrassed.

“I took it off after Kehltanril left. I wanted to be as comfortable as possible.” I shrug casually. It’s uncommon for Camfurdians to be seen in anything less than leathers, even among their yula, except in rare circumstances or mating.

“I… suppose I understand. Janil, I’m scared. We’re in over our heads here.” He shakes his head and I can tell he’s on the verge of tears.

“We’ve committed ourselves to this path, Ken. You know it’s the right thing, but trust me, I know how hard this is. I feel it too. Hey…” I study him closely. I know I’m going to catch him off guard, but I’m hoping it’ll help.

“Kenlyi? Would you… lay down with me? I’m comfortable exposed to you. I hope you trust me the same.”

He fidgets and squirms a bit, but ultimately nods. He begins to unclasp the latches on his armor. “I trust you, Janil.”

After a minute or two, he begins stripping off his leathers. I study his nude body with a small smile. He blushes, and I pat the spot next to me on the bed. “No secrets between us, okay? No hidden agendas. No lies. Total honesty, both of us laid bare, okay?”

“Okay, Janil.” He says with a sigh as he crawls into bed next to me. “I trust Kehltanril. I… guess I trust the rest of the Groyin now. I’m scared of failing though. What if we can’t find the Aevocar?”

Ken’s arm slips around me and I close my eyes. The last person to hold me like this was Kalarai.

“We’ll find them. This is our destiny, I believe. This is what we were meant to do. When we get those star maps, we’ll figure it out. I know we will.” I wrap my hand around his.

He squeezes me tight. “And what do we do when we eventually are faced with Alim Elikel and my yarl?”

I squeeze his hand. “They’ll hate us. We know this, and there’s nothing we can do. I… don’t know how I’m going to react. I know we’re doing the right thing, but Eli… knows how to speak to my soul. He can make me melt with just words. I just… can’t let him. Not now. The eggs were too far.”

“It was. And my yarl is complicit, for sure. We’ve both said it, but it’s worth repeating. We’re in this together.” His body pressed up against mine. I’m not sure if it’s a suggestive gesture or if simply symbolic.

“You… know I’m… attracted to you, right? I mean, I didn’t try to hide it.” I ask plainly.

“Of course I knew. But given the circumstances, and that you were in another yula, I think we had to stick to innuendo.” He laughs playfully. “No secrets? Yeah, I am attracted to you too.”

“Ken, I… think we’ve become our own yula now. A new family.”

“You’re not wrong.” I feel his face nuzzling against the back of my neck. “What does it make us? What… do you want it to mean?”

“I could never be your yarl. I know that.” I pull his hand up to my chest, letting him feel my heart pounding hard.

“I couldn’t be yours, either.” He says plainly, if not with a hint of sadness.

“Then we’re equals. Partners. Neither of us superior to the other.” It’s… an almost blasphemous idea, totally counter to accepted Camfurdian culture. Such pairings are reserved for a yarl and their spouse, always a heterosexual pairing. Yet, at this point, we’ve already gone so far outside Camfurdian culture.

“We’ll see how this… arrangement grows, okay? I care about you, Janil. And yes, I think this is how it should be for us.” He squeezes me tight again. “We’ll grow together, Janil.”

“We will.” I raise his hand up to my face and kiss his hand. He brings his hand back across my chest.

“We’ll take this slow, one moment at a time. Let’s just…”

“Let’s just stay like this as long as we can, then.” I interrupt him. He says “yes” by gently kissing the back of my neck.

It doesn’t take the two of us curled up together to fall asleep.

A while later, we’re awakened by Kehltanril. Our friend steps inside the room, a curious look on its face. Am… I interrupting? I sensed the two of you here together, but I didn’t expect this.

Kenlyi, embarrassed, hides behind me as best as he can. I laugh softly. “Settle down, Ken. It’s okay, Kehl.” It’s okay, Kehl. He’s a bit shy, but I trust you enough for you to see me like this. No. You’re not interrupting. Is it time to meet with the queen?

Kehltanril nods. Yes. She is aboard now, and she is excited to meet you two. She is pleased that you two are helping us. If you two… need a moment to get ready, I can give you that.

To make a point to Kenlyi about how much I trust Kehl, I pull away from him and stand, still nude. I shake my head. We can get dressed very fast. I’m only going to be wearing my leathers, anyway.

Kenlyi looks over at me, shocked that I’d expose myself to Kehltanril. I simply smile as I begin getting dressed. I make a motion toward his leathers.

Reluctantly, he slips off the other side of the bed and begins to get dressed.

Hopefully you two were able to rest some. Kehl comments.

We did, actually. I… came in here with Janil and we went right to sleep. Kenlyi finishes slipping on the rest of his leathers, then he looks back at me.

“I’m not putting the full armor back on. This… is home now, and these Groyin… are our people now.” I tell him, trying to muster as much confidence and conviction as I can. He hesitates, then nods in agreement.

Kehl, is there anything we should know about the queen? I… get the feeling that there really isn’t special protocol or anything. I’ve never dealt with royalty before, but I’ve read about how some cultures operate. Monarchs and ruling families are often treated as mythical beings. These Groyin seem more… realistic, though.

No. Just treat her with the same respect that you treat me. Queens are rarely seen taking a hands-on role, but this is too important of a mission to not have our best involved. If you two are ready, follow me. She’s waiting in the operations area. Kenlyi nods to me, and in turn, I nod to Kehl. The Groyin flashes a smile at me and we follow the larger being out and to the lift.

I… want to impress her. I tell Kehl privately.

She is simply concerned about results, Janil. Impressing her isn’t going to really change anything. No matter what, we’ll take care of you two. Kehl presses the button and the lift ascends toward the top deck.

Also, when we have some downtime, I’ve some questions to ask in private. I look down, trying to clear my mind.

Of course, my friend.

The lift door opens and we follow Kehl again. On a raised platform in the center of the operations area, a Groyin junior queen looks down upon us.

She’s built similarly to Kehl, though nearly twice as large. Four short, thick legs hold up the large rounded body, curving upward at the front. Instead of having a set of foreclaws midways up the trunk, she has a second set of fully functioning clawed arms.

Her face is long, a pair of glowing, faceted eyes sit on the top of the head like glistening gems. Her mouth, or maw, is angular, the same as most other Groyin, but the sheer size of her body makes me wonder if she could chew through iron.

Her body, like the others, is covered in a thick, segmented carapace. Unlike most Groyin, hers seems smoother, more refined, and has an almost iridescent sheen to it.

Put simply… it’s clear that she is the pinnacle of the species. She’s… terrifyingly beautiful.

I lower my head submissively, letting my body language speak to her first and foremost.

These are the ones who dubbed you Kehltanril? The Camfurdians we are to trust our fate to? She asks Kehl, but her words ripple like water. It’s… such a strange sensation. I look at Kenlyi, who looks at me puzzled.

Yes, my queen. The one on the left is Kenlyi. Janil is the other. Janil was Kalarai’s mate. My heart skips a beat hearing them mention my Kala.

Kalarai was brave enough to try to lay a foundation to end this senseless conflict. Tell me, are you willing to follow in his footsteps? She asks me, her voice echoing through my mind in a way that’s almost intoxicating.

Instinctively, I lower to my knees. I will. I will do everything in my power to make this right, and to see this war ended peacefully. We must find the Aevocar.

You needn’t bend knee to me, boy. You do not know me, and I do not expect fealty to come blindly. Rise. I stand, still keeping my head lowered. She smiles and nods. Much better. Your friend, the one you’ve dubbed Kehltanril, has told me we need to analyze the stars.

Yes, ma’am. Kenlyi and I should be able to put us in the right direction if we have time and adequate charts. It’ll be right on the edge of Camfurdian space where it meets Aevocar territories, most likely. If we meet Camfurdians, I plan on using my family as leverage. Hopefully, we will come across Aevocar first. I… just want to help however I can.

I watch her anxiously, and after a moment, I can sense that she is pleased. We will proceed toward the farthest of our slingjets. We will analyze the data from it, compare it to historical data, and perform our own independent scans as deep as we can.

I’m no astronomer, but I studied the mission briefs enough to have a good idea what’s what. Is there any sensor data from the slingjet from when Elikel made first contact? Me and Kenlyi can probably get even better coordinates if we have that information. I anxiously await her response. I don’t understand it, but when she speaks, it’s as if she’s speaking directly to my heart, my soul even. It’s intense, but pleasurable. I… never want to know what it would feel like if she were displeased.

Her glistening eyes seem to zero in on me. Then do not displease me.

I jump and Kenlyi looks at me strangely. “What the hell’s going on? Are you okay?”

“I’ll… tell you later, Ken.”

I look up at her, wide eyes, stunned she could so easily read my thoughts.

You are in my domain, Janil. Of course I will read your thoughts. You, unlike your friend, are completely open to us. Consider it an honor. To me, you are only slightly different than the other highly functioning Groyin, even if you are an outsider. She takes a step closer to the edge of the platform, her eyes still locked on to me. Perhaps, young Janil, you may get to hear our song, to feel our mind. Time will tell.

A wave of pleasure rushes over me with her words. She… wants me to hear them? Their hive mind? Is that even possible? I… can’t imagine what it might be like, to hear thousands, or millions or more voices simultaneously. Is it just noise? Or is it more focused than that, with only the highest minds being heard? I… want to know, but it’s a terrifying thought.

Time will tell. She says one more time before turning her attention to Kehltanril.

In a split second, they seem to have an entire conversation, thanks to their connected minds. She backs up on the raised platform and appears to ignore us.

Kehl smiles and looks back at me and Kenlyi. She’s asked me to see to your needs, and to continue enjoying your company. To answer your question from earlier, yes. We have all kinds of sensor data. We will present all relative findings once we have gathered all of the data. In the meantime, you may do whatever you wish.

“Honestly, I might go back to my room and nap. I’ve not got nearly enough sleep.” Kenlyi says with a sigh.

“I… might join you later then? I’ll tell you what was going on earlier. I’m thinking I might explore the ship some.” I look back for permission from Kehltanril, only to realize I spoke verbally. I’d like to explore the ship some while Kenlyi rests, is that alright?

Of course. Might I join you? Kehl takes a half step toward me and I can sense the excitement.

You two have fun. Janil, I’ll see you later. Kenlyi gives a submissive bow toward the queen. It was a pleasure meeting you, my queen.

She grins and I can sense her amusement from his choice of words. “My queen,” as if we are bound to her already. While she quipped at me that fealty shouldn’t come blindly, she’s amused by it coming from him. I… don’t understand why, exactly.

I shake my head, trying to bring myself back into the moment. Kehl, would you show me around the ship?

Of course. I suppose we could start here in operations. I… doubt it’s as impressive as what your kind has access to. Kehl leads me away to an empty station.

Not necessarily. Quite often, species are more advanced in one regard even if they’re lagging in others. I look at the screen. It’s currently showing an overview of the ship itself. The input panel seems straightforward enough, not that dissimilar from our own keyboards. The big difference in just the station is that it is meant for a Groyin. I’d have to stand if I were to use the device.

Kehl moves around to the front of the device and types a command. With the right access codes, any terminal can have administrative control. This allows a ship with just one highly functioning Groyin to be able to control the ship through any terminal, since we can overlay our consciousness atop any lower functioning one.

My eyes widen. That’s… scary, yet fascinating.

Lower functioning Groyin lead simple, highly directed lives. When we overlay our will atop theirs, it’s a way for them to see the world in a greater way. Quite often, we do this recreationally. It’s a means of enriching their lives, even. The Groyin inputs another command and pulls up a series of technical diagrams.

I sort of pity them. I start studying the engine schematic, but it’s far beyond my comprehension, even if I could understand the language.

Don’t. They’re happy in their existence. We do our best to not treat them as slaves. We value them, and try to make sure their lives are ones of ease and joy. Kehl looks at me and smiles.

And… are the only females the queens? It’s a simple question but one I’ve been wandering for a while.

Yes. In our society, gender only matters when it comes time for reproduction, in which case, certain higher functioning males may be chosen for certain traits, but I mentioned this earlier. I’m… hoping to be chosen to mate with a queen someday. He looks down with a coy sense of embarrassment.

I grin and laugh softly. So, you do have a drive. I had wondered just how any of that might work.

Oh, we certainly do have drives, but only a few of us will ever actually mate each year. He looks back over his shoulder and I know he’s admiring the queen.

She’s… beautiful. Even I’ll admit that. Those eyes… that shell? She’s very striking. And… what is the trick she does… that just hearing her mind is… intoxicating? I ask nervously, hoping that it wasn’t all in my mind.

Kehl looks back at me, grinning. That is what she meant! She said your mind was open to us in great ways, and she could touch your mind as she does ours. I wasn’t sure the full meaning of what she meant, but now I do. She can give us pleasure and pain with a mere thought. It’s one way a queen helps guide us, but it’s also how she shows affection.

It felt… incredible, unlike anything else I’d ever felt. I’m… glad I didn’t imagine it. I can’t help but to smile remembering the sensation. She… even said I might could hear the hive mind someday.

Only a queen would know how to bring an outsider in, if it’s even possible. It… would be nice to feel your mind that way. I have to say, I’m quite intrigued by you. Kehl smiles warmly.

We’ll have plenty of time to see what will come. I… can’t wait to find out what’s possible.

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