“By Tanril’s hand… look at the size of that thing, Janil!” Kenlyi says, excited.
“It’s… incredible. I always heard it was massive, but I didn’t expect it to be this big.” We look out the small viewing window to see the massive Aevocar space station. Aevoculenar was built some time ago and has since superseded their home planet of Aevocun as the center of Aevocar operations. The station serves as home to countless millions, and is probably the most highly fortified installation in the known galaxy.
Mer’rel grins. We were born here, actually. Believe it or not, we’ve actually never seen Aevocun. This has always been “home” to us. Although, we do miss our old ship. We, along with all of our parents, were stationed aboard a colony ship for a while. That’s actually where we bonded.
“I can’t imagine that, really. I… need open skies.” Kenlyi says as he shudders.
“You’d adapt in time. Then again… the hive has spoiled me in that regard. There are millions of us who spend their entire lives underground.” I wrap my arms around Kenlyi from behind, resting my head on his shoulder as we both look out.
You two are made for each other. The red-eyed Aevocar grins. It’s been so much fun watching the two of you. It’s been nice to see love in a completely unfiltered way. Mer’rel says with a grin.
“What do you mean, unfiltered?” Ken’s eyes narrow.
We have to always be careful if we’re looking to bond. If we let things grow too much, we become too attached to each other to the point that we can’t bond, because bonding is a form of loss in that regard. Mer’rel looks down, clearly contemplative.
“Ah… I see. It’s a loss, in that case, because the two in love would realize that, even if they were now one being, they can’t actually spend time together anymore, not in how they’re used to. They can’t accept the change.” Kenlyi nods.
Mer’rel grins and nods. That’s exactly it. Kenlyi, you’re… really becoming accustomed to Aevocar thinking, you know that?
I can’t help but to laugh at the comment. “A month ago, Kenyli might have slapped you, perceiving that as an insult. Oh, how things can change.”
“I still can’t believe how shortsighted we were. All of us, every single Camfurdian.” He sighs and looks down.
But you all didn’t know. You’re a product of your environments, the same as almost everyone. Now that you’ve seen more of what life has to offer, you’ve changed. Mer’rel smiles warmly at Ken, and I have to wonder if they’re… attracted to him. Maybe not, but I can at least sense that they’re quite fond of him.
I sense the Elder’s presence and I quickly realize that Ji’sol’gor is broadcasting to everyone here. We’re beginning docking procedures. We will maintain regular shifts to ensure everyone has a chance to see the station. Groyin guests, please report to Deck 2 and the primary cargo dock.
My mind focuses on Kehltanril. He feels lethargic, but he’s at least alert.
As we got farther and farther away from the whole of the hive, all of us Groyin, excluding Kenlyi, began to suffer from the distance. I had it the easiest – it was uncomfortable at first, but the quiet became bearable fairly quickly. The quiet, on the other hand, was unnerving to Kehl and the workers, to the point that the workers had to be constantly settled by others for a while to keep from going crazy. The toll that it’s taken on Kehl is noticeable. He’s tired, as he’s constantly having to ease the workers in this isolation. I do my best, but it’s easier for him.
We’re fortunate that the Aevocar actually understood when the workers started to get riled up. Apparently, sometimes bonded Aevocar suffer similar issues the first time they go far beyond the bulk of the species, which made exploration challenging for them early on. In time, they adapted, and so will we Groyin in time.
Kehl, are you well? I ask concerned. I can sense his mind and his body, but it’s better to hear directly from him, lest my own mind skew my perceptions.
I will be fine, Janil. The workers are my concern. Will you come help me tend to them? This one, he indicates the winged one to me, is particularly distraught today. You seem to have a way with him.
I’ll be there shortly. Indeed, the workers have taken a liking to me. I’ve noticed that they respond particularly well to gentle touch. “Kenlyi? Kehl’s asked me to help him tend to the workers, then we’ll meet up with you and Mer’rel on Deck Two.”
Kenlyi nods, but it’s Mer’rel who’s concerned more. Is everything alright? We know they’ve had a rough time with separation.
“They’ll be alright. Between me and Kehl, we can get them relaxed. They… get really insecure with so little around them. They’re used to billions… not six of us… five most of the time.” I look down and sigh. I still wish I could find a way to bring Kenlyi back into the fold. I reach out and touch his arm before leaning in for a quick kiss. “I’ll meet you there, okay?”
“Okay.” He nods again and I quickly make my way out of the bedroom, through the corridors, and finally to the cargo hold.
That was fast. Kehl chuckles as he approaches me.
I lean forward and kiss his face. “You said you needed help, and I was at least already on this level. Anything for you.” I smile warmly, then turn my attention to the workers, particularly our winged brother. Slowly I approach him. “Hey… you’re withdrawing again. Don’t.” I reach out for him, but he jerks back quickly.
It’s too quiet. It’s too quiet! It cries desperately.
“I know, brother. I know. Take a deep breath. Relax into us. We’re one, and we’ll soon be reunited with the rest of our family. Will you let me come closer?” My words are soft, trying my best to be comforting. It’s times like these that I have a hard time understanding the workers. I… wish they were more capable, but they are what they are. It’s my responsibility, and Kehl’s, to take care of the family.
When I sense permission to come closer, I do so, and reach out for him again. This time, I place my hand on a bit of the soft tissue between the chitinous plates, gently stroking. “It’s okay, brother. We’re going home soon. We’re meeting with more Aevocar today, and they’re going to help us save everyone, okay?”
Anxiously, he nods. Okay. I trust you. We trust you.
“We’re one, we trust. We’re family. Don’t worry. Soon, we’ll feel our queens again. I can’t wait either, but in the meantime, we take care of each other.” I slowly withdraw my hand. “We need to go. The Elder is waiting for us.”
“I… didn’t want to say it with Janil around just in case he got the wrong idea, but… yes. The more I’m around you and the other Aevocar, the more I’m enjoying it. You’re all one big family, that much is clear. The Groyin are, too. It’s just… you all seem so much more… real to me. Closer to home, in a way. The Groyin mind is so beautiful, but it’s so distant now.” I look at Mer’rel and smile.
You know you can stay here, right? With us, that is. We’re certain you’d be granted asylum, you could stay here at the station, or maybe join a smaller work crew on a ship. Maybe a little scout runner, even? Mer’rel gives me a coy smile. The Aevocar nods and smiles. We understand why you didn’t want Janil hearing that. He worries so much about you.
“You really want me to?” I rub the back of my neck nervously. “I… don’t know, Mer’rel. I…” I sigh. Janil treats me like I’m some fragile thing, like some delicate flower. I’m not. I’m not going to deny that this has been so hard. I’ve lost everything and then some, but I’m still moving forward. I look down for a moment, then back at Mer’rel. I don’t know that staying here would solve anything. I’d just be giving up even more.
We’re sorry. We weren’t trying to pressure you. We just… wanted you to know that it was an option. They pause for a moment. We… should probably go.
“Probably… and… thanks. I really do appreciate the thought.”
Good. Everyone’s here. Kehltanril, are your worker friends steady enough for this? We could leave them here if needed. Ji’sol’gor asks me.
The past few days have been hard. As we went further from home, the separation became more painful. Janil… experienced it as well, but not as I did, and certainly not as the workers did. In hindsight, the queen should have come with us, or taken my place. I could have managed the larger hive. I didn’t realize such a small group would be more difficult to manage. They simply can’t cope with the isolation.
We will manage fine, Elder. I can keep them settled, and Janil is excellent at calming them if they panic. Separating us would only cause harm. I take a few steps back to move closer to one of the workers as a show of solidarity. I can feel the pride from the three of them.
We are Groyin. We are one mind. Janil says to us. Very quickly, the five of us are repeating it to ourselves, a mantra within our small collective.
Ji’sol’gor nods and turns to the docking rig. They press a few buttons and an alarm klaxon blares to indicate the pressurization process. After a minute, we each are going through, single file, through a decontamination screen. The small room fills with a gas that seems to irritate Janil and Kenlyi’s Camfurdian skin, but it doesn’t seem to affect us. Once we’re all through, Ji’sol’gor leads us through a series of winding halls.
Aboard the Aevocar ship, I might have passed three or four people at most depending on where I was going. In just a short time, we’ve passed enough that I’ve lost count. Of course, all eyes are upon us. Then again, we’re the oddities here. Four insects and two Camfurdian men sworn to us? Of course that’s going to stick out on a ship filled with short, blue creatures.
We eventually make our way to what appears to be a smaller dining hall that they’ve rearranged to function as a meeting space. Eleven Aevocar, and I can sense it’s truly ten, one body serving as a physical representative of each, sit around this round dining table. The one part of Ji’sol’gor that accompanied us circles around and sits in between two. Janil and Kenlyi sit and look around at each of the Aevocar while I stay between Janil and the workers.
Ji’sol’gor goes around the table for introductions. Lo’sa’rel, Ri’tul’mar’ol, Ka’lia’da’re, Te’ve’ri’bia, Tar’scu’len, Mi’ja’go’ro’bad, Sin’te’le’vari, Tra’se’kwal, Var’an’ja’gen. Ri’tul’mar’ol is just back from an exploration mission, we understand.
The one called Ri’tul’mar’ol gives a small nod. About that, Ji’sol’gor. When this is over, we’d like to speak with you.
So, the Camfurdians have finally bitten off a bit more than they could chew. One of them says rather smugly.
Lo’sar’el, this is no time for bias or grudges. We’ve agreed to this meeting only because it would seem our treaties with the Camfurdians allow such a thing given the circumstances. Still, we’ve received official notice that the Camfurdians are on the hunt for a war criminal who Alim Arahni dubs “Janil the Treacherous,” the Aevocar gestures at Janil, who’s staring wide eyed.
“Alim Arahni made that declaration?!” He asked, stunned. I quickly realize that Arahni is his mother. My heart sinks.
Wanted for the death of Alimari Kenlyi and for aiding the enemy. The same Aevocar replies.
“That’s insane. For one, I’m not dead.” Kenlyi says with a small laugh, but I can’t judge the emotion behind it. I… wish we could still feel him in our mind. Our small collective desperately needs him.
More to the point, this puts us in a bit of a bind. The treaties most certainly allow us to intervene on the behalf of any petitioners that meet our standards for advanced life. The fact that you’re here means that you certainly qualify for that. FTL tends to be the the clearest sign of that. Another one of the elders says.
Where the problem is, now that we’ve received this official pronouncement and request for aid, we’re bound by the treaties to act. One of the Aevocar sighs and shakes their head. If we’re to use the treaties to help the Groyin, it is in the best interest of us and the Groyin to turn you over to the Camfurdians, Janil.
“Absolutely not!” I yell as my mind echoes to them. Janil is Groyin, and he is not some bargaining tool!
Ji’sol’gor shakes their head. Kehltanril is right. Plus, they all asked for asylum prior to us receiving that communique, right? Do the treaties say anything about someone protected that way? We granted the asylum so they could come here and that’s prior to knowing any fugitive status. We can’t just revoke that, especially when they’re fleeing from atrocities!
Atrocities? It’s war, Ji’sol’gor. When we agreed to the treaties with the Camfurdians, we knew the kind of race they were. We knew atrocities would occur. It’s regrettable, but we can’t do anything unless the treaties allow us. We’re risking war otherwise. One of the elders looks down and sighs.
Ri’tul’mar’ol, you know quite well that the Camfurdians will do anything they can for conquest, but we can’t allow what they’ve done this close to our treaty-defined territory! Ji’sol’gor’s getting downright angry at this point. Janil watches on in stunned silence.
What exactly have they done outside of norm? Elder Ri’tul’mar’ol crosses their arms.
Alim Elikel ordered the destruction of our eggs! Over a thousand eggs were destroyed in less than an hour. Elder, your kind understands telepathic links. We are an interconnected hive, and our young begins developing bonds within our hive while still in their eggs. Now, can you imagine hundreds of your kind within your own group mind suddenly and violently ripped from you? That is what happened with us, with innocent life! The blood of our unborn is on Elikel’s hands!
There’s a stunned silence in the room, and even their minds are quiet.
I can see Janil biting his lip. No, Janil. Let it out. Cry if you need. Let them know the grief you feel. I whisper to his mind.
After a few moments, he begins to gently weep as he shakes his head. “He ordered it, yes. Camfurdians are compelled to obey their superiors, especially their yarls. I… tried to resist him, but he forced me, and others.”
We can forgive Janil and Kenlyi. The decision wasn’t theirs to make. The blame falls to Elikel. I hope my plea resonates with them. From their expressions, I believe so.
Janil, you were there personally, so we believe the memory would be strongest with you, in spite of any collective mind. Mi’ja’go’ro’bad whispers to our minds. I know I’m not alone in feeling the anxiousness.
“You… want me to project the memory to you?” Almost immediately, the Aevocar nods.
It is common among our kind and we’ve had success with others doing so. We need to see this as firsthand as possible, and what better way than to see your own memory of it? Ri’tul’mar’ol comments with a nod. Just focus on the memory, and on one of us.
Janil looks at Ji’sol’gor. “Okay. I’ll do it.”
He closes his eyes and I can already feel the pain starting to well up in him. His memory starts to become clear.
“Eli… Yarl… these are… eggs. You can’t seriously be thinking to…”
He cuts me off, his eyes glaring daggers in my direction. “Thinking to what? Slaughter them as they have us? Taking away from them their precious loves? Do not question me, boy. Think of what these creatures have taken from you! Because of them, we will never see Kala’s smile again, or touch his face, or hear his voice. Because of them, dozens others have had their loved ones stripped from them.”
With a fanatical edge, Elikel stands tall, his voice carrying throughout the room. “We will make them pay for taking our loved ones away from us! We will show them what it is like to suffer loss, to feel your beloved slipping away. We will make them pay! Now… scan the room. We need to ensure there are no rude surprises.”
Kenlyi looks across at me and I can sense the apprehension in his mind.
I… this is… I don’t know, Kenlyi… I say, appalled. I know it is a taboo, but I don’t dare voice my displeasure.
He’s your yarl, Janil. He’s the eldest Alim here, too. He has survived all these years because he understands what must be done. We… shouldn’t question that.
Kenlyi is right, of course. I… just swore myself to Eli, who am I to question him such a short time later? No. I will serve, I will carry out my yarl’s will.
After a while, Alim Gouhr calls out gleefully. “Alim Elikel, I am certain Monrenth is right. This room seems completely unprotected.”
A hush falls over the room and my blood runs cold.
Elikel grins and scans the room. All eyes are upon him. “Then let it begin.”
Without hesitation, Monrenth fires the first shot. The eggs, some seemingly more malleable than others, breaks into pieces and a pathetic, pained hiss can be heard from the creature. The second shot kills the insect.
After that, shots begin to ring out. Some take to using the stocks of their rifles as clubs, bashing the eggs open before shooting the creature inside. With each scream, I want to beg for Elikel to call off the slaughter.
I can’t bring myself to do it. With each awful hiss and scream, I can feel their scared minds desperately reaching out for peace, for comfort, for protection. I… can’t be the only one who senses this. I simply stand here, still, fighting back tears.
Do it, boy. Elikel whispers into my mind. I open my eyes and stare at the egg in front of me. It comes up to my waist and is nearly as wide as I am. I can tell that the shell would shatter easily.
Janil, this is my first order to you as my second. Think of Kala. He wouldn’t have hesitated, and he certainly would not have sympathized with them. Do it, Janil.
I take a deep breath and sigh. Yes, yarl.
I raise the rifle and bring the sturdy stock into the egg. As predicted, it shatters. Before me is a small, writhing creature, barely recognizable as Groyin. Its carapace is non-existent. The pitiful pale mass is covered in a thick ooze. It looks around, it’s mind clearly not capable of rational thought yet.
I pull the trigger and immediately begin to cry.
In the next moment, Elikel is spinning me around. A quick slap in the face puts my focus on him, and I instinctively growl.
“They’re monsters, Janil! No tears for the… things… that took Kala from us! No sympathy!” He slaps me again, harder. “Now do it again!” Elikel is screaming at me.
Once again, I strike an egg with the stock. The first hit cracked the shell, the second obliterated it, revealing another infantile Groyin. I pull the trigger again.
The next egg is much larger, yet I follow the same plan. I break the egg open with a few strikes with the butt of the gun. The larger Groyin revealed looks up at me, and I can see the unadulterated fear in its eyes, in its mind. I can almost feel it screaming for help. I pull the trigger. The first shot knocks the being over, but I can feel its mind screaming. It’s still alive and it’s mind is desperately flailing. The second shot ends its short existence.
I drop the rifle, crying again as I fall to my knees.
Strong arms cradle my head. “It’s over, Janil. That was the last of them.”
Hundreds… maybe thousands… of lives snuffed out in a matter of minutes. I can’t help but to sob.
“Kala…” is all I can say.
Elikel squeezes my head tight against him, one hand stroking my head. “You did good, boy. I’m proud of you.”
Janil sobs and Kenlyi is quick to grab him. Janil clings to him and Kenlyi holds the crying boy’s head against his shoulder. “It’s okay, Janil, I’ve got you. I’ve got you, love.”
Be comforted by us, Janil. We forgive you. It was Elikel’s actions that were vile. You had little or no choice in the matter. He might have killed you if you resisted more than you did. Just relax. Let Kenlyi’s touch ease the pain, and let your four brothers here ease your soul. We all love you. Being connected the way we are makes things like this easier. It hurts all of us, but we’re stronger together than any one.
That is… heinous. Ri’tul’mar’ol says and I can feel their shock. This cannot stand even if it risks war with the Camfurdians. In light of this, we call for a vote for consensus within the Voice on whether political asylum should still be extended to Janil in spite of the Camfurdians request.
There is a pause and I can feel the tension in the room building. After a while, Ji’sol’gor smiles. Technically, the Camfurdian’s were hunting a Camfurdian named Janil. In a sense, that person no longer exists. The Janil in this room is Groyin. Secondly, even if that were not the case, given the nature of Alim Elikel’s heinous actions, we cannot hold someone at fault for trying to refuse to commit an atrocity and for trying to make up for Elikel’s orders. Morally and ethically, we cannot justify handing Janil to the Camfurdians.
Janil pulls away from Kenlyi and gives them a nod. “Thank you.”
And what of our request for diplomatic aid? I ask.
“With our solar system being on the border and with us showing that we are indeed an advanced species, surely you have to consider it.” Janil says, still wiping away tears.
Let us seek consensus within the Voice again. We’d already begun considering it based on the terms of the treaty, but the evidence you’ve given us will force us to look at the situation more than just politically. Lo’sar’el comments, their tone clearly favorable now.
It takes a bit longer this time, but they eventually smile. Ji’sol’gor again speaks up. The Voice has come to consensus. We will respond to the plea of the Groyin. It is clear that your kind is technologically advanced, this proved by your foray into FTL. Just as important, your kind is clearly inclusive and peace-seeking. This is apparent due to Janil and Kenlyi, and seeking us out. Considering these things, Alim Elikel’s actions, and the tone set forth by the Camfurdians, we must conclude that the Camfurdians have erred in judgment. We are within the bounds of our treaties to act as arbiters and mediators for the cause of peace.
Ji’sol’gor looks over at Ri’tul’mar’ol. Ri’tul’mar’ol nods and smiles. The Groyin have the support of the Aevocar, as well as our fleets, if necessary.