Chapter Twenty-four: A Place to Belong

I… could lose myself in this green-grey mist forever. Yet, I know it cannot be. I must live. I can feel my consciousness slowly returning to me, but I don’t want to open my eyes yet. Countless voices and thoughts are rejoicing, congratulating me. I can feel so many minds probing every thought, every memory that I’ve ever had… and I welcome it. They are my family, my yula. They are me, and I am them.

I snuggle against the thick, yet soft flesh of the queen means she squeezes me a little tighter. “Enjoy it, my child.”

“Wait, what? Since when could you speak Camfurdian?!” Kenlyi asks, shocked.

I pull away from the queen in order to face my friend. I speak in Groyin first with a grin, then Camfurdian. “All Groyin know our tongue now, Kenlyi. And… I know theirs. Ken, it’s so beautiful. We have to find a way for you to feel this, to experience this. Of all the things I’ve ever felt, ever done… this is…” I trail off and take a deep breath.

I smile contentedly. “This is stronger than the feeling I got when I submitted to Kalarai.”

Kenlyi’s eyes widen. “Janil, that’s… a big statement. You’re actually a part of the hive mind? Truly?”

“Yes! She described it like a song earlier and that is… the perfect description. So many voices singing so many parts, and I can hear them all. I can even recall memories. It’s… scary, at times. All the pain is there. Every shot the Camfurdians ever took against us, every one of us injured… all those thoughts are still there.” I sigh and look down.

Kenlyi shakes his head. “Janil, you just said ’us’… calling yourself a Groyin.” He looks at me, concerned. I… fear he’s judging me now.

“Kenlyi, I am Groyin. I may not be an insect, I may not have their shell, I may not look like them, but I promise you, I am Groyin.” Yes, my child, you are Groyin. No different than any of the rest of us, regardless what your body may be.

The queen’s thoughts echo through my mind as if they were my own. It… isn’t telepathy, not in the usual sense. It’s more personal, more connected. Then I realize, no, they are my thoughts and they are hers. The two concepts are nearly indistinguishable within our minds now. Kenlyi looks at me, scared and confused.

I take a few slow steps toward him and feel my knees start to buckle. Immediately, I feel four loving hands wrap around me, supporting me.

“Be careful, young one. Your body is having to reacclimate.” I hear her words, but I know they are for Kenlyi, not me. She’s… trying to show that she cares, trying to ease his nerves.

“Janil, I…” He shakes his head. “You are Camfurdian. You are… not the same as them. I…” He stammers and looks around. For the first time since freeing him, he seems genuinely panicked.

“I was born Camfurdian, raised Camfurdian. Nothing will ever change that, Ken. Nothing can take that away. Those experiences help to define my existence. Now… so does this. I promise, you have nothing to fear. Kenlyi, I… still care for you.” Go to him, Janil. You love each other, though it is hard for either of you to admit.

Carefully, I take a few more steps toward him, my legs steadier now. Slowly, I offer my hand to him.

He takes my hand and steps in close, throwing his arms around me and squeezing tight. “I don’t want to be alone, Janil. I was afraid you’d…”

“Never. Nothing changes between us, Kenlyi. When I said we’re in this together, I meant it.” I look deep into his four eyes. Content with my response, he nods.

“I’ll trust you, Janil. I don’t understand what’s going on. Is it like the Aevocar and their strange connections? I just remember all of the edicts forbidding telepathic connections and bonds. It was always made very clear no Camfurdian should ever undergo such a thing.” He sighs, still clearly scared. I… didn’t expect fear from him. I expected apprehension, but not true fear.

He squeezes me tight one more time then pulls away. I shake my head. “No, it’s not exactly like the Aevocar, as I understand it. Well, maybe it is.” I laugh nervously. Trying to put perfection into words is… not easy. Action is what will speak to him most. Until we understand how to show him, words must suffice.

“So, the way I understand the Aevocar, they bond perfectly to their mates. Once they’re bonded, they can hear the Aevocar group mind. So they are small collectives making up the larger group. Their group mind is… loose, whereas this is so much more refined. We already share everything, sort of like Aevocar mates, yet this extends to all of us, not just those we are close to. Kenlyi, we want to find a way to show you.” I pause, grinning. “I want to show you.”

Kenlyi shakes his head. “I don’t know. I’m… scared, but I’ll trust you know what you’re doing right now. I just can’t do that myself. Not… not yet.”

We may can find a way, but we will respect his wishes. This is not something we could or would force. Yes… this is true. Hopefully soon, he will know. Even if he doesn’t, it will not change how I feel about him.

I nod to Kenlyi. “It’s nothing to be afraid of. For now, we have bigger priorities.” I smile and look back at the queen and to Kehl. “We will leave shortly, correct?”

Kehl nods and approaches me and Kenlyi. “Yes. We are inputting the coordinates to the slingjet. We’re going to do something… dangerous.”

Kenlyi’s top eyes narrow as his lower eyes look at me. “I think I need more of an explanation.”

“We’re going to be pushing the slingjet beyond it’s normal parameters. We’ve tested this with smaller objects, and the results have been mixed. We’ve achieved faster than light speeds in some test runs, but the slingjets can’t hold up to the stress. If we can’t time everything just right, there’s a good chance the slingjet will fly apart. And… there’s also the risk that it may rip this ship apart.” I say the last bit with a sigh.

“Nobody said anything about the ship getting torn apart!” Kenlyi’s wide eyes show his justifiable anger. “Could we send a beacon?”

“No. If a beacon gets intercepted by the Camfurdians, then this war continues pointlessly. We have to risk it.” Kehl says as I nod in agreement.

Kenlyi sighs and starts to pace frantically. I reach out and touch his arm. “If we move too slow, it could be months or years before we’re in range of an Aevocar ship. We have to risk it, Ken. Otherwise it’s all in vain. If we fail, if the ship is destroyed, at least the the others can learn from our mistakes.”

“There’s… another thought, Janil. We could send a beacon or a probe… but why don’t we just try talking to Elikel? We could try to convince him before this goes farther.” Kenlyi shuffles nervously.

Kenlyi is a fool if he believes that Alim Elikel will listen to reason now. I nod, agreeing with the consensus of voices within my mind. “Ken, he’d brand both of us traitors, me especially if he learned what I’ve done. At the very best, he just accuses us of being manipulated or brainwashed by the Groyin.”

Kenlyi’s expression tells it all. A flash of shocking realization widens his eyes. “Janil… they… did, didn’t they?”

It’s probably not the right move, but I can’t help but to laugh at the absurdity of the statement. “Kenlyi, they did no such thing. They didn’t brainwash me. I wanted this. I asked for this.”

I close my eyes for a brief moment. What I need… no… what Kenlyi needs from me right now is privacy. I look at Kehl, then the queen for a moment, then back to Kenlyi. “Ken? Let’s… talk in private, okay? Back to our rooms.”

He looks confused for a moment, then nods. I lead him to the lift, down, and straight to his room, closing the door behind us. The Camfurdian shakes his head. “But there really isn’t privacy, is there? You’re… still connected.”

“I am connected, but… they don’t always hear everything. We know everything – pertinent details and such. I’m dealing with… just under eighteen billion minds. Most are simple, some are complex. If every single conversation were directly relayed to the hive, I’d probably already be insane.” I say with a soft laugh, trying to reassure him.

“Janil, I’m not convinced you’re not.” It’s easy to hear the worry and sadness in his voice. I sigh and offer my hand to him. After a moment of hesitation, he takes my hand and squeezes. “All of this… the more I’ve thought about it, Janil, it seems like they were just feeding you what you wanted to hear. I still have a hard time believing they could just forgive everything we did.”

“The truth is, they didn’t.” I pause for emphasis. “But they knew Kalarai’s sincerity. They recognized me, felt the guilt I had over what Eli made me do. Yes, they were opportunistic. They saw me as a means to an end, but an end we all want. We all want an end to this war. I don’t blame them for trying to win me over, but Kenlyi… if we’d ever had the chance to get to know them instead of being forced into war, I… might have chosen this path for my life anyway.” I sit down on the bed and study his reaction.

He shakes his head, not understanding. “These bugs mean more to you than our culture? Our heritage? I understand being opposed to Elikel’s war. I understand opposing Elikel for slaughtering the innocent. This is… something else entirely, though.”

“After everything I’ve seen and had to go through? Yes. They mean more to me than the Camfurdian heirarchy. Don’t get me wrong, I respect it. I’ll always love Kalarai… and even Elikel and Monrenth. I just known that this is a better life for me.” Slowly, I look down, my mind races as I wonder about just what I’ve done.

Don’t worry. Do not stress over these things. You are Groyin. You are valued. You are loved. We would be incomplete without you. But… I’m only one voice in the chorus. I can’t really be that important. Yes, you can be. All voices are valuable, and yours is unique and beautiful. Your voice will help bring peace.

I close my eyes and feel a wave of satisfaction gently roll over me.

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