Chapter Thirty-nine: Farthest Stars

The shuttle ride was nice and fast. Kehl watched Mer’rel as they piloted the craft, and we quickly became familiar with the basic operations of the craft. It… still surprised me how quick one can actually learn within the hive mind. Even the three workers seemed to understand the concepts. I just wish Kenlyi’s mind were with us. I know it’s going to take time.

“How are you feeling, Ken?”

He looks up at me from his seat and nods. “I’m okay. Not… spacing out as much. I just have to keep focused on something or else I start to zone out.”

It was like that for us. It was like falling into a pit, being surrounded by your most depressing thoughts. That’s part of why we have a system in place for people who fail bondings or lose mates. Mer’rel responds as one part begins the docking procedure. The other part looks back at Kenlyi.

“A system?” He asks, confused. I shrug, just as confused.

We call it Mourning. We keep a section of our medical wings, at least a room or two, set aside for it. We provide counseling, psychological help for those going through this, usually people who have experienced this themselves. Sometimes it takes months, sometimes more, but it’s the best thing that we can do to rehabilitate people. Honestly… it might do you some good, Kenlyi. The red-eyed part of Mer’rel watches Kenlyi for a reaction.

“I… will talk to you later about that, okay?” He looks down, clearly bothered. I reach over and put my hand on his leg. He puts his hand atop mine and smiles.

Feel free to ask us about it later. They turn back around. There’s going to be a small bump.

The shuttle seems to drop with a small thud and within a few seconds, the ramp begins to lower again. The workers file out first, one going to the right, one to the left, and one staying just a little left of center. I motion Kehltanril forward, then Kenlyi. Mer’rel walks along side me behind him.

Three Aevocar are waiting for us as we come down. I can sense they’re each separate beings. They simply… feel more complex, as if their telepathic minds are constantly active. Kehltanril looks at the Aevocar in the middle. I am known as Kehltanril. You… are Ji’sol’gor, correct?

I focus on the one in the middle and realize that Kehl is right. The Aevocar nods. Indeed. On my left is Bi’stev, our primary medical doctor, and on the right is Nab’os, one of our security specialists. Welcome aboard.

We’re pleased to be here. We look forward to working with you. I say politely. Have the Elders at Aevoculenar been contacted already?

Yes, they have. They’ve told us that they are poring over the details of the treaty, but they are confident they can help. In spite of our… hesitancy earlier, we can promise that we’re more than happy to find a way to help. The Camfurdians have run roughshod for far too long, even if they’ve kept things in their defined territories so far. Come with us. We’ll discuss things a bit more while we show you to your quarters. Ji’sol’gor smiles politely and waves for us to follow. Tell us first, do you require anything special as far as sustenance, or are there any concerns as far as quarters?

Kehl quickly speaks up. The Camfurdians have been able to eat our food, so it is likely anything that they can handle, we can. As far as quarters, a cargo bay may be sufficient for myself and our three workers. Kenlyi and Janil will likely prefer standard quarters. I look over at Kenlyi and he nods approvingly.

Do you two require separate quarters? Nab’os asks.

No. We’re perfectly comfortable sharing a bed. Kenlyi says with a small laugh. I smirk at him. It’s good to see him smiling some.

If that’s the case, they could share my quarters. The other bed has been empty since Ve’lau transferred to Elder Ri’tul’mar’ol’s ship. Mer’rel comments.

I look at Kenlyi. “What do you think?”

“I’d like that.” He says softly and see Mer’rel smile.

Well, that certainly makes arranging things easier. Ji’sol’gor says with a smile as they lead us through the apparent maze that is the Aevocar ship.

I take the time to study the ship itself. The walls are plain, an unpainted gray metal or perhaps a matte clear coat on top. Each door has a symbol on it, something in the Aevocar language no doubt. Every few doors, there’s a console on the wall. It doesn’t take long for me to realize just how plain and utilitarian the Aevocar ships are.

Camfurdians are often quite utilitarian as well, but not to this extreme. Camfurdians enjoy trophies and conservative decorations at least. Still, Aevocar are known for their artwork and even music. For them, everything has a dedicated space, I suppose. My brief time with the Groyin has reminded me far more of the Camfurdians in this regard. I have distinct memories through the collective mind of artwork hanging in the rooms of higher functioning members, music being played throughout the halls, and so on. Truly… before the Camfurdians showed up, before my former yarl showed up, the Groyin were in the midst of a cultural and technological renaissance.

We arrive to the first of the quarters – the cargo room for the workers.

Fortunately, my species does not require bedding. We can simply lower down and sleep as needed, practically anywhere. Kehltanril smiles as we enter the room.

You’re certain this is adequate? It is… plainer than even our quarters, and that is saying a lot. Ji’sol’gor asks amusedly.

Trust me, it is just fine. Kehl approaches one of the workers.

We are always together. Should any of us have needs, we all will respond. We are one family. We may be split up for a time, but it does not change what we are.

I smile as the hive reassures me and everyone else.

The workers settle in and almost immediately lower down on their legs. The only winged one of the group leans forward, tucking his wings in a bit tighter as he lowers.

Bi’stev watches curiously. Could we perhaps run some body scans on any of you? We would love to learn more about Groyin physiology, and one of our nurses is also an entomologist. Between the two of us, we could learn a lot.

Kehl looks back at me. I nod and face the workers. “Should they come back by, allow them to perform any tests. Speak up at any signs of discomfort. I trust them to treat you three kindly.”

The three workers seem amused, even curious about the idea. Kehl grins. I will be here as well. There’s plenty of room here for me, so I will volunteer as well. This should give you a wide range of Groyin physiologies to test.

Our shared mind tells me that he’s volunteering not just because it amuses him. He’s volunteering because it is a means of getting to know them, as well. He can ask questions the same as they can. Plus, he isn’t wrong about a wide range of physiologies. We are all Groyin, but there are many body types among us. One of workers is winged. Winged workers are built the same as other workers, only lacking the set of foreclaws that most other Groyin have. Some queens are winged, others are not. Kehl is built closer to your average worker, except larger. Some other Groyin with high functions do have wings, but they are smaller than Kehl. There’s also a few that are better designed for heavy digging, large sized and possessing two sets of foreclaws.

And of course… there’s me and Kenlyi.

Bi’stev cheerfully nods. Thank you! This will be most fascinating!

Bi’stev, if you wish to call Re’vi over in order to do that, feel free to stay here, and Nab’os? You may resume regular duties. Elder Ji’sol’gor speaks up. Bi’stev happily complies and steps further into the cargo hold.

Nab’os looks a little unhappy. Elder, are you certain?

We are absolutely certain. We’ve felt enough from them in these few minutes that we feel perfectly comfortable giving them access to the whole of the ship. Security precautions are nice, and most certainly necessary. However, there’s a time and place for them. We trust our instincts, and as a result, we trust our new friends. The Elder smiles rather wryly. Now, go about your normal duties. We do not need a security escort.

Yes, Elder. Nab’os nods to the Elder and quickly leaves. Mer’rel snickers.

“You didn’t have to humiliate him.” I say softly to the Elder.

Them, not him. Ji’sol’gor gives me a gentle scolding. I had not remembered that it was a taboo to attempt to gender an Aevocar. Something about Nab’os struck me more masculine, and the word simply slipped. Humiliating them was not our intention. We sensed their apprehension and wanted to make our point absolutely clear to everyone. We are all friends here.

The Elder leads us out of the room and Mer’rel now takes the lead. We’re going to be traveling for at least a week unless we can convince a delegation to meet us halfway. They seemed pretty adamant about us coming there, though.

Elder Ri’tul’mar’ol’s ship is on its way back from its deep space exploration, apparently. They suffered losses, and are looking to repair and find new crew. Ji’sol’gor sighs and I get the distinct feeling that they know this Ri’tul’mar’ol person quite well.

We hope Ve’lau is alright. We wish they could’ve stayed with us, but Ri’tul’mar’ol wanted some of the best doctors available. Let’s face it, patrolling the border isn’t normally this interesting. Mer’rel comments with a rather curious laugh, a high pitched trilling that almost makes me laugh just hearing it.

The Aevocar, having devoted themselves to purely telepathic communication, lost the ability for complex vocalizations in the course of their evolution. This fact always makes Camfurdian and Aevocar communication rather strained, but it also is one of the reasons the treaties between the two people were discussed at great lengths. Put simply, the Camfurdians wanted to make sure they weren’t being mislead. Fortunately, for the sake of my people now, the Aevocar left a lot of wiggle room in certain aspects of the treaties.

We’ll likely have a chance to see Ri’tul’mar’ol and their crew. From what we’ve heard, and we can’t confirm anything because they’re not close enough to have rejoined the rest of the Voice, they have taken on one of the aliens as a crew member. Ji’sol’gor comments idly as we proceed to Mer’rel’s room.

Kenlyi’s eyes widen. I thought, with the exception of those exchange programs your kind is so fond of, Aevocar ships were exclusively Aevocar?

Elder Ri’tul’mar’ol is… unconventional at times. Yes, we try to keep our ships exclusively Aevocar, save of course needing to transport others like now. Ji’sol’gor gives a faint laugh.

At least the exchange programs have been successful. There are a few Aevocar among a Camfurdian ship, and we have a few Aevocar serving with the Cymali people, too. Mer’rel’s comment makes me wonder. Just how would a group of Groyin fare with the Aevocar? And would the Aevocar fit in with us? I think it would be a nice match.

Cymali? Kenlyi asks.

They’re on the other end of Aevocar territory. They’re just breaking into space exploration, which is how we found them. They’re… unique. The prominent members of their society have some kind of physical and telepathic symbiosis with one of her other species on the planet. We’ve never met one personally, but there are two of them serving on one of our ships. Mer’rel stops at a door and presses the button.

I suppose this is home for a little while then. I look over at Kenlyi and he nods as both parts of Mer’rel step inside. We follow behind them, and the Elder behind us.

The room is tiny. Camfurdians are consistently about two feet taller and a bit wider than Aevocar. The room is about five or six times long as it is wide, so it’s a rather tight fit for me and Kenlyi.

Bathing facilities are here. Mer’rel points to a panel on the wall and I can just make out the outline of door that sits almost perfectly in the wall. The meal replacement beverage dispenser is tucked over here. They point to another panel, but this spot in the wall is easier to see.

Damn, more liquid meals? Kenlyi’s mind broadcasts, though I don’t think it was intentional. I snicker.

“Shit, you heard that?” He looks down, embarrassed.

The Elder laughs as quiet as they can. Kenlyi, we all did.

“Shit…”

Grinning, I pat him on the back, then approach the other half of the room. Two beds, each large enough to fit three people are built into the architecture. Drawers line the bottom of the bed frame and a small set of drawers divides the two beds at the head of the bed. Which one is ours? I ask.

Either. And if you’d like, we can requisition a pair of Camfurdian sized jumpsuits, should you choose to be a bit more comfortable. We know how Camfurdians tend to be with their armors. Mer’rel gestures at the beds, showing no preference.

We aren’t Camfurdian anymore… but we are both accustomed to armors, yes. I think we’ll pass. I say while trying to still be polite.

Actually, I… would like one. I mean… if it isn’t too much of a problem. Kenlyi says meekly, much to my surprise. Mer’rel and Ji’sol’gor look back at him equally surprised.

We’ll see to it that you have one within a few hours at most, Kenlyi. Ji’sol’gor says as they pace around the small room. If you two are satisfied with your quarters, we are going to go check something in engineering as we get underway.

Kenlyi shakes his head and so do I. No, Elder. Honestly, I think we’re going to be fine. Neither one of us has had a proper shower in far too long, so I think that is going to be high on our priority list. I chuckle playfully.

Oh, and Kenlyi? If you’d like something other than liquid food, Mer’rel can show you to the dining hall later. Both Aevocar laugh as the Elder leaves.

Oh, thank Tanril. The Groyin liquid meal isn’t bad, but I’ve been craving some real food. A slab of meat, some roots, vegetables? Yes, please. My partner grins at the thought of food, but I have a duty to him.

“Um… Kenlyi? I, uh… hate to tell you this, but Aevocar are strict vegetarians.” I try to look dismayed, but my grin peaks through.

“You’re shitting me.” I can see his heart break as he looks at me with sad eyes.

He’s… serious. The only time we ever eat meat is if it’s a matter of desperate survival or if it’s a matter of culture. Mer’rel’s comment comes out surprisingly serious.

Well, shit.” Kenlyi sighs and looks back at Mer’rel. I… suppose just vegetables is an improvement? It’s better than a liquid diet, for sure.

Rimatan root is often sliced into thick cutlets and grilled or roasted. Lots of meat eaters that try it say that it’s comparable, so you might like it. Mer’rel shrugs, but seems somewhat sympathetic.

I stretch and yawn. Thank you for sharing your room with us, Mer’rel. I… think I’m going to go take that shower. Kenlyi, want to join me?

Much to my surprise, he shakes his head. “No. I’ll shower afterward. I… want to talk to Mer’rel for a little bit.”

“Okay.” I approach him and gently kiss his lips. “I love you.” I focus my mind on him, hoping to keep the conversation private. I’ll meditate with you later. Maybe I can help you tap into things as she did.

I’d like that. He says with a smile. I nod, then head to the shower.

———————

So, we… assume you wanted to talk about mourning? The Aevocar asks me plainly as their two parts begin to strip.

My eyes widen. “Ah… what’re you doing? I hardly know you…”

They laugh, both parts echoing in a bizarre harmony. Kenlyi, it’s alright. Nudity is not a taboo with us. We just forgot that it is with the Camfurdians.

I sigh. It doesn’t matter what I do. I can’t run away from how I was born, can I?

“Nevermind. I’ll… adapt.” Another small sigh slips out.

We apologize. We didn’t mean any harm from the comment. We should’ve perhaps said Camfurdian culture to give some distance between you, your identity, and your racial heritage and upbringing. The red-eyed part of them turns to face me as the other crawls into bed.

It’s… okay. I… know I’m caught in the middle somewhere. I make eye contact with them, but it doesn’t take long for my eyes to start to wander.

It’s the first time I’ve seen an Aevocar nude. They are beautiful, fragile looking beings. Their androgynous beauty makes me wonder if they were touched by the hands of all that’s divine within the universe. How else could a being of such physical perfection come to be? They smile as they realize I’m studying them, admiring, even. I start to turn away out of instinct.

It’s okay, we promise. Were our situations reversed, we’d be doing the same. They give a small giggle.

I can’t help but to study between the being’s legs. The absence of genitalia is… fascinating and horrifying at the same time. Sex is such a major part of Camfurdian culture. It’s used for procreation, obviously, but it’s also used as a means of dominance, or to show submission. To be completely emasculated, or rather, utterly devoid of sexuality is a thought I simply can’t comprehend.

Finally, I give a nod, indicating that my eyes and brain have seen enough. You are welcome to get as comfortable as you’d like, but we will not pressure you.

Reacting, not thinking, I begin to peel myself out of the leather top. Their eyes seem to light up.

Your tattoos are… so intricate. Aevocar only get tattoos to indicate the loss of a mate. May we ask about your tattoos? They look at me inquisitively.

I swallow down a knot of anxiety. They’re another reminder that I can’t escape my past. I nod to them.

This side represents my birth and my blood family. These markings show that I was a second child, the son of a second mating with his yarl’s wife. This shows my mother’s name, this one is my father. This small section shows that I was born on settled lands, not conquered. My hand points to each detail. After a deep breath, my hand switches sides and I feel dread. Still… it is a part of me, and I must acknowledge it.

This side indicates my yula, my second family. I gave myself to Alim Gouhr, so this part shows his name, title, and shows his wife. This part shows my alir, my brother, or rather, fellow second. He… died early on in this war. This mark here shows an earlier second that he had, but he died before I was around. That’s… the yula markings.

My hand comes to my chest now, pointing out a small series of markings. Chest tattoos are to tell personal stories, or to show accomplishments. This one shows my first kill, taking down an enemy in midair with a semiautomatic weapon. My yarl thought it was quite a feat and suggested I get the tattoo when we had our first respite. I… regret it now.

The Aevocar winces. It was a Groyin, wasn’t it?

I nod and sit on the edge of my bed. If only I knew then what I know now. The Groyin are so special, Mer’rel. I’d have never harmed any of them had I understood. Yet… I’m still on the outside.

Mer’rel sits, still watching me. Would you like to talk about it?

It hurts to, but… I guess you might understand. I sigh. I feel hollow. Cut off. My mind can’t stay connected to them and it just hurts. They try to treat me no different than Janil, but we are still very different. I don’t know how I feel really, other than lost.

That’s… like it was with us. I was Tyarel. The red-eyed Aevocar pats themselves on the chest. My understanding is that the only time a bonded Aevocar refers to themselves in the singular is in a past-tense sort of manner. They were Meralun. We grew up together, and from the time we were maybe twelve, we both knew we were going to be mates. We waited until we were fourteen, which is a little on the young side, but… we knew we could do it. At least… we thought we could. The red-eyed Aevocar looks down and I can tell just how difficult it is for them to talk about it.

What’s considered mature for Aevocar, anyway? I know you live up to what, about two hundred years? I ask curiously.

Yes and no. Unbound, we age rapidly. By fourteen or fifteen, we are considered physically and mentally mature, in most cases. If we remain without a mate, we live only to about thirty-five or forty years. As a result, we’re encouraged to find our bond mates as soon as we can. That usually happens between fifteen and twenty or so. If we bond early enough, anywhere from one-fifty to two hundred years is common. Those that manage a third or fourth mate young enough might make it another twenty-five years or so. So, for us to try at fourteen was… maybe a bit premature. They look back at their sleeping mate now. It still baffles me that one can sleep while the other can be awake when their minds are perfectly intertwined.

We tried it, and… it went disastrously. Meralun was comatose for two days, and Tyarel was… maddened, unable to communicate. Once Meralun recovered, I… Tyarel, was able to calm down. Our mourning period lasted longer than a lot of others. We were encouraged by our Elder at the time, Al’id’ia, to try to pursue others instead of trying again. Well… like fools in love, once we were deemed recovered, we sneaked off and tried it again anyway. It… didn’t go smoothly. In the middle of it, Meralun pulled away. The closer we got, the more their head hurt. We vowed to push through, and… well, it worked. They laugh softly.

We thought Al’id’ia was going to strangle us for going against their guidelines, but they were just happy for us instead. That period of recovery, though? It was… bad. We tried so desperately to reach out to each other, but we were both so hurt by the incident that we couldn’t. We both felt alone, isolated, afraid. Tyarel felt like an impostor, like they didn’t belong among our own kind anymore. Meralun kept having headaches, but they refused to tell anyone except Tyarel. It wasn’t until after we bonded, we found out that they were affected by an incredibly rare genetic anomaly. It’s so uncommon among us that it’s not even a part of routine testing. We were lucky.

Damn. I look down and sigh. I didn’t realize bonding was that dangerous. I thought it was just… a common thing for your kind.

It is common, obviously, but we spend our entire youths training for it and for the lives we’ll have afterward. You probably were brought up similarly, in a way. They shrug.

You’re not wrong. Camfurdian boys are raised preparing for the day they offer themselves to their yarl. We train skills of all sorts to try to impress them, and hope we find a match. I guess… you’re not wrong in that comparison. Still, nothing prepared me for what I felt with the Groyin. I don’t know how to recover from that. I just… well, like you said, I feel alone alone, isolated, and like an impostor. I sigh and bite my lip softly, trying not to break the skin.

It takes time and support. If you want, we’ll introduce you to the person in charge of mourning here. One of our medics, actually. They might can give you a few pointers, and we’ll try, too. Meditation goes a very long way for us, maybe it will work for you.

Mer’rel smiles at me and I feel… warmth from them. Genuine care and concern just radiates from the Aevocar. I return the smile. Thank you.

———————————————

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