Chapter Thirty-two: Branch

Artificial gravity stabilized. One of the workers calls out proudly.

After a tense few minutes, I let go of Kehltanril and Kenlyi. We all back away, grinning.

The queen’s presence fills the room and we all can sense her elation. Congratulations everyone. We’ve done it. We’re the first Groyin ship and crew to go beyond light speed.

The anxious mood in the hive mind is rapidly being replaced with a warm happiness. Kenlyi smiles at me. “Side by side.”

“All three of us.” I look at Kehl and smile.

“We have definite cause to celebrate, but it took all of the workers as well.” Kehl makes a great point. Without them and their unwavering focus, we might still be waiting.

Kenlyi’s eyes narrow. “How are the engines holding up?”

A worker analyzes an engineering screen. “Engines are presently idle. We’re adrift at 1.46 times the speed of light. Reverse thrusters report functioning, but we will not fire any thruster until there is a need for a course correction.”

“Amazing. Thank you.” Kenlyi approaches the worker and touches the exposed soft tissue between the neck and back. The worker coos graciously.

My mind ramps up, and I feel the same from the whole of the collective.

He should be given the chance to join us.

Yes, he should. The queen responds to the consensus.

I look at Kehl, anxiously. Is his mind open enough?

If he continues letting go of his Camfurdian beliefs, his mind may relax enough, but I don’t think he can ever be as intimately a part of us as you are. His mind simply doesn’t have the telepathic potential. With time, exercises, and the right environment, maybe. Kehl looks back at me and I can see the curiosity filling his mind.

My mind turns to the queen. What might happen if it doesn’t work? If he doesn’t connect the same way that I did?

I do not know. It could harm him, for sure. If he’s exposed to our mind and he cannot cope, it could change him. There are certainly risks, but he should be given a chance. She moves forward on her platform.

“Kenlyi?” She calls out.

He looks up. “Yes, my queen?”

Then there is silence. I can sense that the two of them are having a conversation, but none of us are privy to it.

He swallows a knot of anxiety and slowly walks around and up the platform. “I… want Janil with me, please.”

I look up at my queen for permission, and once I feel it granted, I quickly approach the two of them. He grabs my hand.

“I’m scared.” He says quietly.

“Why?” I squeeze the hand tight.

“I don’t want to fail, and she says it’s not guaranteed to work with me. I… don’t want to be left out.” He looks up at her anxiously. “I’ve given up everything to be here now.”

If your mind can handle it, then you will join our mind. Your willingness is enough to ensure me that you are not going to betray us. Come, Kenlyi. Let me hold you.”

Slowly, he steps towards her open arms. Her four arms surround him, pulling him tight against her. Almost immediately, I hear him crying.

“Shh… you’re safe, Kenlyi. You’re not alone. Tell me what you want, Kenlyi.” She says in an almost seductive manner.

“I want to hear the song, to be a part of the mind. My queen, I want to be Groyin.” Kenlyi pleads. It is clear that he truly wants this, needs it even.

“Relax. Open your mind to me, to us, and I will show you the way.”

For as opposed to the idea as he was before, he is submitting to her, to us now. When he lost the fight with me, something in him changed. It set him free from Alim Gouhr and set him free of any Camfurdian chains that held him down. He became his own person, not simply Kenlyi, second to Gouhr. Now… he is chosing to become one with us. For all that the Camfurdians revere the idea of one family, one yula as Tanril guided us to, they know nothing of how it truly can be.

Kenlyi’s body goes limp and I can see that the queen is holding him up. I can’t help but to wonder if I went limp, too. Yes. The moment you opened to her, the moment she entered your mind, your consciousness left your body. She held you as she holds him now.

I smile as the collective answers my question. For all that she is our queen, she is… like a mother as well. Nurturing and supportive, kind, yet still willing to discipline when needed for the sake of growth. She… she’s perfect.

Her eyes glimmer as she holds Kenlyi’s limp body upright. This… is taxing to her. I can feel her trying to work, to make connections in his mind.

After a short time, I can start to feel his mind. It is… strained, yet… it is there.

I feel the collective stirring and I feel the need to lead them. You are Groyin, Kenlyi. What you were is no more. It may have helped shape you, but it does not define you. Your future is your own, and it is ours. We are Groyin. We are one, and you are with us.

I… am Groyin. Kenlyi projects through the collective and I smile. This is… so beautiful, so perfect. How could I have ever doubted this?

Ignorance, child. You didn’t know any better. Now, you do. You are Groyin. Now… return to your body. I grow weary. I have brought you to this beautiful moment, yet your mind and body must sustain it. The queen says calmly, but firmly, emphasizing her maternal nature.

I’m… scared to. What if… what if it’s not there?

I shake my head. If it isn’t, nothing changes, Kenlyi. You are Groyin. Nothing can ever change that now. You’ve witnessed perfection. If somehow you are separated from us, it changes nothing. You are Groyin. You are family, and nothing can take that away. Return to your body, Kenlyi.

Return to your body. The collective says in unison.

I look at him, still in her arms. He begins to stir and she looks down to ensure he’s stable.

Slowly, she starts to let him loose. I approach and offer both hands to him. “Be careful. The first few steps are… awkward.”

He turns and I can see pain in his face, panic even. He opens his mouth, yet no words are whispered. I can feel his mind starting to slip away from us.

“No, Kenlyi, keep your mind focused on us.” I say desperately. His knees start to wobble as he closes his eyes, and the queen quickly grabs him. I rush to him, wrapping my arms around him, letting the queen ease herself.

“Kenlyi, stay with me, speak to me.”

He opens his eyes and looks pained again. I pull him tight.

“I… can’t keep it…” He whispers in my ear. “I… can’t keep my mind there.”

“Oh, Ken…” I cling tighter. “Relax, I’ve got you.”

I start to feel him stabilizing, his legs strengthening. in the next moment, his mind has disappeared from the collective. He sobs, clinging to me, burying his head into my shoulder, his tears seeping under the soft underlayer of my carapace.

In time, Kenlyi. We can strengthen your mind, enhance your telepathy. We can train you. In time, you will be able to. You are still Groyin. The queen says with sadness in her voice. You belong with us.

I gently stroke his head and whisper, “You belong with us, Kenlyi. You’re Groyin now. Remember the feeling. We’ll find a way to train your mind.”

He continues to sob, clinging to me as if I was the only thing in his life.

I… may be, actually. I bite my lip as the realization hits me that, as he put it, he truly has given up everything to be here. Unlike me… he’s left on the doorstep of a greater existence.

“It’s not fair!” He cries as he squeezes me harder.

“No, love, it’s not. I promise… no… we promise… we’ll find a way to make it right.” I look at the queen. “My queen, I’m… going to take him to his room.”

“Of course. Kenlyi?” She looks down at him.

I loosen my hold on him and he turns his head to see her.

I feel a gentle wave of love, reaffirming, reassuring, wash over both of us. His eyes are wide as he cries still.

He says something, but his voice is so pained and quiet that I can’t understand it.

He swallows and tries again. “I love you too, my queen.”