Chapter Thirty-five: Forging Bonds

“Just relax, Kenlyi. I know it’s probably impossible, but, just try to think about anything else. You need to get some rest.” Gently, I help him into bed. His body is still so weak after the ordeal.

Damn. Can we truly train his mind? Is it still just… subconscious conditioning? At first, the queen said I was just so different than him, but she became adamant about him joining. What changed?

His mind changed. Drastically, even. He was so closed off before, but something deep inside of him changed when he realized he was free of the bonds of his oppressive culture.

Yes… that is the truth of it. We… have to get him back. Somehow.

“I… miss him.” He says in a mousy whisper.

“Gouhr? After everything?” I remove my chest piece and set it aside before crawling into bed next to him. Who am I to question him, though? I… still miss Elikel.

Yes. You do. That is acceptable, but only because you do not miss what he stood for. We cannot know where Kenlyi stands.

What Elikel stood for? He was authority. He was a father figure. He was… a role model at the time. My goodness… I saw him as a role model. What… would I have become given time?

A monster, the same as him. You recall his sensitive moments. You know he was a strong telepath and empath, the same as you and Kalarai. You two were cut from the same cloth. You all bear the same traits. Elikel was hardened into the monster he is now, but he shows his underlying traits from time to time. Your memories tell us Kalarai was the same way, simply far more gentle. In time, he would have been as Elikel. In time, you would have been, too. Instead, you are Groyin.

Could… we save Elikel? If… it is possible for Kenlyi to change, could he be saved, too?

We do not know, other than he would have to be willing to change.

Kenlyi turns to face me. “I miss my friend, my lover. I miss his confidence. I miss the security I felt around him. I… do not miss my yarl, if that makes any sense?”

“No, that makes perfect sense. I… was just thinking the same thing about Elikel. And… I miss Kalarai. He should be here with us. He… would’ve fit in with us, with the Groyin. He… we… could’ve been the start of a new generation of Camfurdians. We… me and you, that is, still could be. Camfurdians interconnected as Tanril wanted, unified, for if we could be one with the Groyin, we could be one with everyone, right?” I nuzzle against him.

“It’s… an ambitious thought, but I can’t see more than a couple of us being willing. That doesn’t even account for who might not even be able, like me.” Kenlyi squeezes me.

“We’ll get you back, somehow. You are Groyin, and we need you, okay?” I kiss his lips. “I love you. We love you. You submitted to us all, and we’ll never forget that.”

He simply smiles, his face still wet with tears.

I feel Kehl’s presence, and realize I’m being summoned. “Ken, love, I need to go check in with Kehltanril. Is it okay if I leave you to rest?”

He nods. “Just… come back when you can, okay?”

“I will.” I kiss his lips again, then roll off the bed.

As I walk to the lift, I can’t help to wonder more about Elikel, though. If… I could get him and Monrenth alone… could I explain everything? Would they, out of respect for what we at least once were, give me the chance to? To have Eli’s mind with ours… would show that he isn’t a monster, right? How would I even begin to get him to let go of his hate?

I sigh and press the button. Moments later, Kehl is waiting for me. You mustn’t dwell on Elikel. He… is probably a lost cause. He’d have to want this, and he is so self-absorbed. I can’t believe that he could let go of his traditions.

I know, I know. I just… would love to be able to. I step off the lift and gently brush a spot on his arm, carefully between the start of the chitinous scales on his arm and his shoulder. I can feel the satisfaction radiating from him.

That… feels nice. He turns and puts a hand on my bare back. I’m surprised to see you without your carapace.

I shake my head and motion downward. “I’d laid down with Kenlyi for a little bit to try to help him unwind. When I felt you, I came up immediately.”

Still with his hand on my back, he leads me over to an empty work alcove. To my surprise, there’s a set of small crates stacked in order to give me a seat. Thank you.

We thought you might want personal access to our systems, so we made a makeshift seat. We’ll construct a proper chair for you soon. Workers will see to it. But… the reason I brought you here… He grins and motions to the seat. I sit and look at him curiously.

You need to practice transference. You know you can overlay your consciousness over a worker, it is time to practice it. I… want you to feel what it is like to live in a Groyin body. This is an understanding that must come first-hand.

I smile. I want this, yes.

At Kehl’s request, a worker slowly approaches. I stand back up and lovingly touch its face, running my fingers down the ridge as I’ve done with Kehl. It makes a soft sound.

Its mind reaches out for me. You are to share my body?

Yes. It will be my first time, so I apologize if it is… different. I tell the worker, but it seems unconcerned.

You are higher. It is an honor to share my body with you. The worker lowers his head, smiling. I sit back down.

Kehl grins. You feel his mind. Now, feel his thoughts, his emotions.

I close my eyes. “He’s… excited. Eager. Nervous, but it’s because he doesn’t want to let me down.” I open my eyes and look at the worker. “Relax. You won’t let me down. We’re one. I’ll… share my mind and thoughts, my drives with you as you share your body. We’ll do this together.”

Kehl touches my arm and I can feel his mind trying to lead mine. He’s relaxed, eager. Take his body, Janil. Simply… take it. Imagine seeing through his eyes. Feel my memories and you’ll understand.

I close my eyes and follow his lead. After a minute, I can feel my mind, my consciousness enveloping the Groyin worker. I can still feel my body, but it’s distant, an afterthought.

With my Groyin eyes, I look at Kehltanril. He grins wildly.

“How does it feel?” He speaks in the Groyin tongue.

I take a moment to try to articulate. Then I realize, I need only let the worker himself guide me. We share this moment. “It feels amazing.”

I take a few awkward steps, adjusting to the four legs, the foreclaws, the elongated body. Yet, the more I move, the more natural it all feels. Yes, Kehl… this is amazing. This… is what I should be, not that… two legged monstrosity.

Janil, do not shame your body. Your body matters little compared to your mind. Your body doesn’t define you, your mind does. You are Groyin. Kehl’s words… help. They always do.

I love you, Kehl. You’re right. Awkwardly, I approach him, looking him over with Groyin eyes. I then look at myself… my Camfurdian body.

Seeing myself through another’s eyes is… disconcerting. As my consciousness adapts to the Groyin body, seeing the Camfurdian husk in front of me simply makes me long for a true Groyin body. I know, as much as I want it though, my body will always be Camfurdian.

I look at Kehl and nod. Is… leaving easy?

Just relax. Let go of the body, and focus on your own. Slowly try to control your limbs, your eyes, your senses. Gently ease yourself back. Kehl explains simply.

Slowly, carefully, I do as he says. Over about a minute, I gently ease myself back to my body. I look back at the worker and motion him closer.

He approaches and I can feel the sheer bliss he’s feeling. I smile. “Thank you, brother.”

No, Janil, thank you. He says happily.

“In time, it’ll become easier, and faster. As you work at it more, it may be possible to, if allowed, to do the same with higher functioning Groyin. I was able to do it with you, obviously.” The worker leaves and Kehl moves just a little closer to me.

“I’ll practice, especially knowing they’re so… eager to share like that.” I smile softly. The thought of something like this happening among Camfurdians is… terrifying. It’d never be allowed, so it’s still an adjustment for me to realize they’re not just willing, but eager.

“In time, you’ll be able to do it in a less taxing way, where only a small part of you overlaps with them so you can focus from your body. There are a lot of variations, lots of subtleties. You’ll get there.” Kehl reaches out and touches my arm. I put my hand on his, then turn to face the monitor.

Drawing experience from the collective, I input a few commands. “Excellent. Thrusters are handling nicely even at these speeds. We just have to keep our eyes open and hope we see an Aevocar ship before we see a Camfurdian one. We’re right on the border now.”

“These Aevocar… from your memories, they seem akin to us. Peaceful, curious…” Kehl comments.

“There are similarities. Their minds are quite different though. In the end, my Kala was right. They’re our best hope. We can’t deal with the firepower of the Camfurdians, even with our numbers. Our technology just isn’t there yet. The Aevocar are our best chance.” Kehl wraps both arms around me, and I can feel his chitinous chest press against my back. In spite of being surprised by the gesture, I lean back into him.

I know you miss him. He whispers to my mind.

I do, but I know I have to move on. I’ll never forget him, and I’ll always love him. It’s… a fortunate thing that Camfurdians aren’t raised to be monogamous. Our heirarchy ensures that. It’s… a blessing in that regard.

I imagine. It’s… different for us. Queens choose their mates for the needs of the hive, not romance. Often times, queens do become fond of their mates, and may prefer some over others. Beyond that… I may be the only Groyin in centuries… “to… be… romantically attracted to someone…” I look up at him smiling. The sense of shy embarrassment radiating from him is… amusing.

“I wish we could do more about it, but it’s just not… feasible. Well, at least not sexually. It… doesn’t mean we can’t still have a relationship, Kehl. It’ll just be different, asexual.” He wraps his foreclaws around me and squeezes.

The monitor flashes and there’s a beep. I tab over to the sensor display.

Unidentified craft approaching at high speeds. The collective reports.

Put the craft on the viewer. Engage reverse thrusters, but keep us above light speed. The queen orders instantly.

I grin when I see the ship. “It isn’t a Camfurdian ship! It’s Aevocar! Bring the ship down to low speeds, we don’t want to have to chase them!”

The queen quickly confirms my order, and the ship’s thrusters fire furiously and bring us down to a slow cruising speed.

I start typing a command, drawing again from the knowledge of the hive. Eventually, I manage to find the Aevocar’s generic recorded broadcast. As usual, they list a radio frequency to use. I tune in.

I close my eyes, focusing the hive, bringing their attention to me. “Aevocar ship, we are Groyin. Months ago, the Camfurdians, led by Alim Elikel, began a relentless invasion of our solar system. They have slaughtered over a hundred thousand of our kind in an incredibly short time, even taking to destroying over a thousand eggs one by one. We are desperately seeking assistance. Focus on my mind, and our collective will hear.”

You say you are Groyin, yet you speak Camfurdian. The Aevocar says skeptically.

I, individually, was born Camfurdian. My name is…

Alimari Janil, second to Elikel, son of Arahni. Is that correct? The Aevocar asks and my heart skips a beat. How… did they know? Unless…

The Camfurdians reached the Aevocar before us.

Oh, no…

Did… we lose our one chance?

I sigh. Honesty is our best option here. The Aevocar can sense lies in strong telepaths, so lying would be a bad idea. If they mean to capture us, we’re already captured. There’s no way any Groyin ship could ever outgun even the smallest Aevocar ship if they meant to attack.

Yes, I was once Alimari Janil. After my yarl, Alim Elikel, ordered the destruction of over a thousand eggs, I… couldn’t bear the thought of being his second. I was captured by the Groyin and willingly submitted to their hive mind when I realized they were the victims in this pointless war.

Janil, we are Elder Ji’sol’gor. We… intercepted a series of Camfurdian communiques and heard about your… denouncement.

So… the Aevocar weren’t formally contacted! My first dominus, Alimari Kalarai, second to Elikel, suggested the Groyin seek out the Aevocar. Simply put, Elder, we need help. We aren’t looking for military assistance. We’re looking for peace, and we know the Aevocar are a peaceful people. We need an advocate, someone to stand by us and denounce the Camfurdians and their violent imperialism.

Our policy on Camfurdian expansion has been defined by our treaties over fifty years ago, and it includes a strict policy of non-interference. To help you, we risk outright war with the Camfurdians. I can sense the frustration in Ji’sol’gor’s thoughts.

I’m well versed in the treaties, Elder. My mother was present during their ratifications. If you could provide me with copies of the treaties, I can show that there is a lot of legal gray area when it comes to an advanced species independently requesting aid. Additionally, Groyin space is on the outer edges of both Aevocar and Camfurdian territory. Given the fact that we aren’t a low-tech society, that changes a lot based on the treaties. It’s a long shot, but the truth.

The Camfurdian-Aevocar treaties discourage, though not forbid, the Camfurdians from establishing a military presence in systems with advanced civilizations. This has typically been defined as space-faring, but especially capable of faster-than-light travel. With us barely touching the border of Aevocar space, we stand a chance within the treaties.

The Elder’s mind races, I can feel their apprehension. Our other concern is… if we grant you asylum, we’re effectively harboring a Camfurdian war criminal, based on the communiques. You know exactly how well that would go over with your people.

Elder, I’ll say this once. My people are the Groyin. I may have a Camfurdian body, but I am not Camfurdian. I am Groyin. If an alien bonded with an Aevocar, would you not view them as Aevocar?

Anyone who hears the Voice is Aevocar. They respond quickly.

And anyone who hears our song, our chorus of billions, anyone who gives their mind to the collective is Groyin, regardless of their body. As an Aevocar, you should know that the mind is far more important than the body. It’s a borderline insulting comment, but it’s blunt in a way the Aevocar can appreciate.

That is very true. They pause for a moment. Officially… the Aevocar have not been informed of your wanted status. Therefore, we cannot be held politically liable for granting asylum right now. I sense amusement from the Elder now and I smile at Kehl.

Follow us back to Aevoculenar and we’ll hold a meeting of Elders to decide where to go from here. The Elder comments and my blood runs cold.

“How in the hell…?” I sigh. Elder, we’re… not necessarily capable of doing that with our ship in its current state. We simply aren’t capable of the speeds.

We just saw you in FTL speeds, what do you mean?

Our FTL run just now was an experiment. It was a last ditch effort that made this a one way trip unless we found your people. Our ship’s engines aren’t capable of FTL. We adapted some of our existing technology in order to have a one-time boost to FTL speeds. I sigh and shake my head, worried.

“The Aevocar seem sensible so far. I can’t believe they will leave us like this.” Kehl says plainly.

We’re not capable of towing a ship the size of yours at FTL. We’re left with two options then. One, we will stay on a slow course further into Aevocar space and send a message along our relays requesting a tow. Or two, we bring a small delegation aboard and bring you to Aevoculenar ourselves. Of course, this leaves your ship relatively unprotected. The choice is up to you.

I look up at the queen on her platform. “Ma’am, what do we do?”

She paces back and forth without a word, the only sounds being the gentle clack as her clawed feet shuffle about. We effectively have three high functioning Groyin here. Myself, Janil, and the one Janil has dubbed Kehltanril. For the sake of stability, we cannot consider Kenlyi, since he cannot stay tied into the hive yet. As you’ve no doubt noticed, our hive mind is weakened the further from everyone else we get. Our strength is in numbers. If we split, I must remain here to ensure the viability of our family.

But going at a slow speed almost ensures the Camfurdians find us before the other Aevocar ship gets here. Kehl comments, frustrated.

My queen, we’ll do as you will. I lower my head submissively.

Janil, Kenlyi, the one called Kehltanril… you three will be the voice of the Groyin. I will assign three workers with you. If these Aevocar are to be trusted, this is a more than adequate contingent. She says firmly, but I can detect a bit of worry.

Yes, my queen. We will serve the collective. Kehl and I say simultaneously, and we realize just how tuned into each other we are. We look back at each other grinning. My adaptation to the hive is going well.

We will proceed on a course deeper into Aevocar space at our maximum speed. If the Camfurdians come after us, I assume they’d be violating jurisdiction agreements. I’m not certain they’d care, but it is a risk we must take. The queen lowers down, stilling herself on the platform.

Elder Ji’sol’gor? We would request a shuttle to dock with our ship, preferably the largest you have. We will be sending a party of six to travel to Aevoculenar with you. I say anxiously. We will open the docking bay once the shuttle departs.

Very well. We’ll prepare a shuttle and notify Aevoculenar.