Chapter Twenty-two: Stardust

“How’d the tour go, Janil?” Kenlyi sits up in the bed. I’m rather surprised to see that he’s actually stripped down.

“Quite well. I learned a bit about their ships, their navigation system, that stuff. They’re still in FTL development, which is why those slingjet things are so important. It’s… a good thing that Elikel didn’t figure that out. We knew that they were important, but we didn’t realize their space exploration is dependent on them.” I sigh and start stripping. “Kehl says that the data should be compiled in a few hours.”

“Then come on to bed.” He smiles, but I can see the pain in his face.

I lay down next to him. “What’s wrong, Ken?”

“This… has got to get easier, right?” Kenlyi asks me as he clings tight against me.

“I think they already are. The Groyin are trying their best to help us.” I grab his hand, locking our fingers together.

“I meant… being apart from everyone. I miss my yarl. I miss my yula.” He squeezes tighter, and I know he’s wishing that I was someone else.

It’s… understandable. I can’t fault him for it. “I know. I miss Kala… and I miss Elikel, in spite of everything. I miss Monrenth, too, but Kenlyi, we’re doing the right thing. Try to take comfort in that.”

Truthfully, I’m saying that as much for my own good as I am his.

“I just… can’t bring myself to hate Gouhr.” He sighs.

“You think I hate Elikel? No, Kenlyi, I don’t. I… can’t. I am disappointed in him, though. He crossed a big line, he did something unforgivable. Alim Gouhr, though? He could’ve stood up against Eli, but he didn’t. That’s the only sin he committed. That’s… hard to fault any Camfurdian with.”

“I see where you’re coming from. So, what was going on earlier? You looked like you were in orbit when the Groyin queen was talking to you.”

I pull away from Kenlyi and roll over to face him. I can’t help but to smile uncontrollably. “Kenlyi, it was amazing. When she spoke to me, it was the softest, most gentle thing, almost as if her voice had always been there. As she spoke, I could feel her thoughts and emotions just washing over me, like a great rain even.”

The look of confusion worries me. “I don’t understand, Janil. You know how dangerous telepathy can be. Are you sure she wasn’t just toying with your mind?”

“I’ve never been more certain of anything. If she’d have had an ulterior motive, I would have known. In a strange way, she was almost completely open to me, and she commented how open I was to her.” I wrap my hand around him again. “Maybe… just maybe she can have you experience it, too.”

“Janil, I don’t think I want to feel that. I can’t imagine letting someone feel and influence my mind to that extent.” Kenlyi looks at me with fear in his eyes. I sigh.

“I swear she means no harm. She’s… special, Ken, I promise.” I squeeze his hand tight.

“I’ll… trust you, Janil. I just don’t know I want to feel that.” He swallows anxiously. “Janil… I…”

His lip quivers, and I can tell he’s too scared to say it. I shake my head. “You don’t have to say anything, Ken. We’re in this together. I swear, I will never abandon you. As long as you’ll stand by my side, I’ll stand by yours.”

“Janil, that’s… a vow. A proper vow, even if we’re taking things differently.” He starts to breathe fast and shallow, clearly fighting tears.

“Yes, it is. I mean it, I swear. It’s just you and me here, two outcasts trying to do the right thing. I swear, I’ll stand by you.”

“I… swear it, too. We’ll stand side by side. We’ll build a life together, somehow.”

In an instant, we’re tangled up in an embrace, our arms and legs twined around each other. After a while, we’re both crying.

We’re both scared, not knowing what might happen, or what to do. As long as we cling to each other, we’ll make it through, right?

Finally, it happens.

His lips reach for mine.

Our eyes open and we stare longingly as we kiss. Gently, our tongues dance and our bodies press closer and closer. Slowly, he begins to grind against me.

I pull away from his kiss. “Are you sure? You were… unsure earlier.”

“I… think I need it. Just to know if it’s the right thing. If… you don’t want it, I’m certainly not going to force it.” He swallows a throatful of anxiety again.

Without a word, I roll over on to my belly and rise up on my knees, exposing my backside to him. I look over my shoulder at him and nod.

He… is a gentle lover.

When we’re finished, we both clean up, taking advantage of the several jugs of water the Groyin brought. Kenlyi smiles at me. “Thank you.”

“Thank you. That was… fun, and far more relaxing than I would’ve thought.” I laugh quietly.

“You feel a lot more at ease, too, don’t you?” I nod to answer him. “Good. I… feel a lot better. Side by side, Janil. I promise.”

“Just remember, we’ve got to meet back up with the queen here soon. We need to go over those charts. All we need to do is get close enough to Aevocar space.”

“Janil, is that all you’re concerned about?! I just… bared everything with you.” I can see the hurt in his eyes.

“No, damn it, Ken. I… wasn’t trying to brush you off or trivialize this. I just… didn’t want to get walked in on.” I extend my hand to him.

He takes it and nods. “Okay. I… am sorry for overreacting.”

“It’s alright. We’ve both got a lot going on in our heads. I just… well, didn’t want us getting caught with our pants down. Or our dicks out.” I chuckle playfully, and Kenlyi smiles.

Moments later, we’re both getting dressed. We can nap in our leathers if necessary, but we want to be prepared.

We curl back up together on the bed, and within minutes, we’re back asleep.



My eyes stay closed as a gentle voice eases me awake. As if my body were gently dipping into a warm bath, the queen’s presence surrounds me.

Yes, my queen?

I told you earlier that I do not expect submission. I do not expect you to give yourself so blindly.

I know, but… I’ve had time to think and to reflect. Feeling you is… unlike anything else. It’s almost perfection. I thought about what you said, about being able to hear the song of the Groyin. I haven’t been able to get that thought out of my mind.

Oh? Did my tease intrigue you that much? Janil… were you to tap into us, it could change you forever. I can’t guarantee I can bring you into the fold, but if I can… I can’t guarantee I could ever separate you from it. This is a decision you can’t make on a whim.

I… have nothing left, ma’am. Nothing except Kenlyi ties me to my old life. The moment I help you find the Aevocar, I’m sealing my fate with my kind. It’s not a whim, at the point. Now it’s simply choosing. I feel disgusted by what my kind has done, and I’ve found the Groyin to be morally superior. I’d be honored to stand among your kind.

Very well said, Janil. This… tells me you’ve considered the long-term consequences of your choices. I still cannot guarantee anything, but I promise you, we will try.

Thank you, my queen. I… just want to know what is possible.

Soon, then. Sooner rather than later. In the meantime, prepare yourselves. The one you’ve dubbed Kehltanril is on the way to you. Soon, we will analyze these readouts together.

Alright, I’ll be ready.

Afterward, we can see what can be done. It’s such a shame that your friend is so closed to us.

I don’t understand. What’s different?

You are. Without being more familiar with your species, it’s hard to tell, but you are simply more receptive to our mind. It could be upbringing, if you were trained to use your mind more as a child. It could simply be genetics.

I don’t know the difference. I… know that I have an easier time with telepathy.

And you are far, far more empathic. These traits are likely what set you apart.

My mind races as she mentions empathy. I… could feel those babies. When Elikel ordered the slaughter. It was then that I knew I couldn’t stand up for him.

I… we do not blame you for that, Janil. Your master made his choice, and gave his order. You’re making up for it as best as you can. If… fate allows it, you will be of one mind with us soon. There is no way we could judge you.

Thank you, my queen. Thank you.

The door opens and Kenlyi jumps, startled. I simply smile at Kehl. He looks at me and sees the expression on my face. He knows I was speaking to the queen.

The queen wants us to analyze those charts now. The sooner we move, the better.

Kenlyi gives a tired nod and rolls out of bed. Slowly, I start to stand. Carefully, I focus my mind solely on Kehltanril. She says after we finish with the star charts, she’s willing to try to dial me into the Groyin mind.

Are you scared? He paces a bit.

Yes. I… don’t know what to expect, but I want to know. I need to know. I stretch and look over at Kenlyi, who’s oblivious to our conversation. I’ve already chosen your kind over my species. I’ve seen how honorable you all are, and how loving and free you can be. Everyone has worth, everyone has a place. Kehl, I want to belong. I want… to be Groyin.

Then we will let the queen find a way, my friend. If it is possible, she’ll find a way. Come… let’s go.

“You ready, Ken?”

“I suppose. Honestly, this shouldn’t take long, especially if we have sensor data from when our ship first arrived.” He smiles at me, then looks at Kehl. Oh, sorry. I was telling Janil that this shouldn’t take long, especially with the data from when our ship first arrived.

Good. We’re prepared to use the slingjets as soon as we have coordinates. Come on then, let’s get started.

Kehl motions for us to follow. We head up the lift to the operations area, and approach the queen’s platform. Between us is a holographic display showing a map of the star system and some nearby celestial features.

The queen looks down at us. Tell us what you need, and we’ll adjust the display accordingly.

Kenlyi looks at me and I give him a nod. Okay, first, can we get the sensor data from when our ship first entered Groyin space, leading up to the first skirmish?

One of the workers quickly begins to input commands into one of the consoles. A line appears showing the route that Elikel’s ship first took as it entered the system. It enters in a straight line towards the farthest planet, then begins to lazily loop. On the other side of the holographic display, another line appears, showing the Groyin craft and the route it took to meet Elikel’s craft.

I heave a sigh as the marker indicating the Groyin craft disappeared. So, that’s how this mess began. How many lives were lost?

Kehl sighs and shakes his head. One higher, but far too many workers.

Elikel entered and began making demands. There was no chance of avoiding conflict short of surrender, and that wasn’t an option. The queen says, frustrated. If only he would have given us a chance, we could have forged a beautiful relationship. You two have proven that.

Kenlyi looks up at the queen, his eyes sad. Then, he looks at me. What do you see?

I want to make sure Kala remembered right. Kalarai said Elikel had come from Aevocar space. After their restock, they went into Focuri territory, which is on the border of Aevocar and Camfurdian space. Are there any scans when Elikel retreated to resupply, or when we came back?

Both. Kehl says proudly. Both times, they flew past slingjets, which recorded their trajectories.

The worker inputs a few commands. It shows Elikel’s ship orbiting one planet, then moving on to the next, then retreating in a straight line. The holographic image seems to shrink to show how far the ship was tracked outside of Groyin space.

Moments later, it shows a second Camfurdian ship entering the region.

That’s Alim Feruhn’s ship. They stayed scouting while Elikel resupplied. Kenlyi comments. They’re a light scout ship, not equipped for seige. Follow it’s path to it’s exit if possible. It would’ve gone back to strict Camfurdian space. Kenlyi grins and nods as he watches the ship making fast loops around the assorted planets.

Finally, Elikel’s ship reappears, coming from a slightly different direction than it left. It passes the second ship and the second ship leaves, veering off at first as if it were heading toward Focuri space. At the last moment, it banks, heading into Camfurdian space.

Perfect! I grin and point out a few spots. Okay, overlay any deep space scans you have here.

Moments later, an assortment of star systems appear.

Highlight this region. I look back at Kenlyi as I make a sweeping motion to point out a rough area of Camfurdian space.

Yeah, that looks about right for this region. That’s definitely home territory. Kenlyi motions around another section. That makes this the Focuri region.

The area highlights next. I motion to one more area. Here. This is the outer edges of Aevocar space. Note the overlap in the Focuri region. The Aevocar had explored the region, but didn’t interfere with the locals. So the region is sort of… neutral ground. We’ve got to make it past there, and we’ll be straight into the heart of Aevocar territory.

Proudly, I embrace Kenlyi. “Good job, my friend.”

He smirks. “Just friend?” He brushes my cheek with his hand, then chuckles. “We did it together.”

Thank you both. Janil, Kenlyi, you’ve done a great thing for the cause of peace. A sense of warmth washes over me as the queen’s voice rings through my mind. I try to fight back a soft moan from the sensation, but Kenlyi notices. Kehl simply grins.

Damn, Janil. Maybe… maybe it would be nice to feel that. Kenlyi says with curiosity.

Young Kenlyi, I… have tried, but I simply cannot broadcast to you the way I can him. Please know that it is not a personal slight. For what you have done, I’d happily offer anything to you as well. Instead, all I can offer you is our gratitude and an honored place always among us. The queen’s voice is sad, sorrowful even.

Janil, we spoke earlier and if you are truly wanting to hear our song, I will do my best to let you hear it. I cannot make any guarantees as to what will happen. It could be dangerous if your mind cannot handle the load of billions of voices. It may not work at all. Or… it may work for a time, and fade. Or you may be bound to our mind for the rest of your life. We’ve never had an outsider touch our mind before, but for what you are trying to do for us, you at least deserve the chance. The queen motions me up the platform to her.

I look back at Kenlyi. He shakes his head. “Janil. I wouldn’t do this if I were you. I’m curious, yes, but the thought of being permanently tied to them scares the hell out of me.”

I shake my head in disagreement. I’m worried too, but I’d forever regret it if I didn’t try. These people. Kenlyi, are our family now. One large yula. We’re already a part of them in that regard, but I need to see how far this can go.

I won’t say I understand, Janil, but I won’t stop you. Just be sure this is what you really want. He says sadly.

Kehl comes alongside me, offering a hand to me. If you’re ready, come with me.

I take his clawed hand and slowly he leads me around to the ramp that leads to the queen’s platform. When we reach to top, he releases my hand. I walk around the queen, her giant body so much taller and wider than me and any other Groyin. When I’m facing her front, I look up at her.

Her great eyes shine like gemstones as she looks down at me. Embrace me, Janil.

I nod nervously as she opens all four arms wide. I approach her, and lean into her. Surprisingly, the tissue in this area isn’t a hardened carapace, but a soft, warm hide of sorts. I lay my head against her as she wraps her arms around me.

Are you ready?

Yes, my queen. I… want to hear the song of the Groyin.

Then relax, and open your mind to me.