“I’m scared, Kenlyi. This could get ugly if the Camfurdians decide that the treaties just aren’t worth it.” I sigh and look out the view port. It’s an empty void, tinged with distant lights of far distant stars. “You know half of them never liked the Aevocar anyway.
“I know, Janil. Still, I can’t believe that Elikel would risk war with the Aevocar. I never met your mother, but I can’t imagine she would either. There’s too much to risk for the entire race, not just them. Anyway, I guess that’s why the Aevocar sent the second ship along with us.” I look back at Kenlyi. He rolls over on the bed to face me. “It’s a shame Ji’sol’gor didn’t get the chance to come with us, considering they did help broker this.”
I nod in agreement. A day into our stay at Aevoculenar, Elder Ri’tul’mar’ol requested that Ji’sol’gor transfer over. Apparently, Ri’tul’mar’ol’s mission had not gone as planned, so they were requesting extra personnel, and even a couple of extra ships. “I’m sure we’ll see them again, though. I’m sure they would’ve liked to have been here to see it through. At least Mer’rel is still here.” I look over at the empty bed belonging to Mer’rel. We’ve continued to share quarters with them.
An impish smile slips on to Kenlyi’s face and he looks away. I can’t help but to laugh. He looks up at me, surprised. “What?!”
I grin. “Just that look you get when you’re around Mer’rel… or even when I just mention them. Ken, you know that’s an awfully disappointing crush, right? I mean, I’m sure they’re great at cuddling, at least.” It’s fun to tease him, but the more we’re here, the more both Kehl and I are seeing that Kenlyi is comfortable here.
The past two weeks have been rough on him. He still craves the connection of our hive, and he’s been able to tap into our minds, albeit briefly. The few times he has, it’s been exhausting to him, requiring all of his focus and energy, for just mere seconds of contact. Instead of clinging desperately to me and Kehl, he’s been interacting more with the Aevocar. I’ll admit, it’s been a little painful. Not because I feel jealous, but because when he’s been able to touch the mind of the hive… it’s been perfection with him. In the end, I want him to be happy, and the more time goes on, the more I wonder if he might be happier elsewhere.
Kenlyi laughs at my joke about cuddling, but shakes his head. “I like them, Janil, but I don’t think I’ve quite fallen for them, okay? And… it wouldn’t be about sex, regardless.”
“It’s okay if you have. I just want you to be happy, okay? Me and Kehl have both wondered if you might stay with the Aevocar when all of this is through.” There’s a hint of sadness to my voice and I know he heard it.
“I’ve… thought about it. I don’t want to be without you and Kehl though.” His mouth opens and he starts to say something else, but stops suddenly.
Gently, I bite my lip and nod. “What about the rest of the hive?”
He sits up in the bed and his expression answers my question before his words do. “I want to feel them, Janil. I really do, but…”
I give a small nod as I look down. I… feel disappointed, but in the end… he has to make his own choices.
“It’s just a cruel tease. I’m handling it right now because, well, it’s only five of you. It’s nothing you all have done; you’ve done so much to try to help me fit in with you. You’re like another family, but it’s… painful at the same time.” He stands and approaches me. “Don’t get me wrong, Janil. I love you.” He gives a small laugh as he shakes his head in exasperation. “I love Kehl, too. I just… don’t know if I can stay with you all.”
I wrap my arms around him and squeeze. He embraces me and we hold each other without a word for minutes. I close my eyes.
He’s… one of them completely. Through and through, any part of him that was Camfurdian is gone now. Hell, he even smells like them now. I’m not sure why or how, but he does. There’s a soft earthy scent, slightly sweet as I cling to him. It’s probably from being around Kehl and the workers so much. I love him, but it hurts being around him now.
I feel him starting to pull away and I see a blissful look on his face. He opens his eyes and smiles wide. “We’re almost home. The ship we left is in range now. I can feel her again, Ken.” The smile turns into a grin.
I smile and nod. “I’m glad. I know you missed it. I…”
As I look down now, I realize the truth. I can’t stay with them. It hurts too much. Of course, the moment I think this… I feel the queen broadcasting to me.
The hive has missed you. She whispers to my mind.
I… missed you all, too. My queen. It hurts, though.
We know, Kenlyi. You will have to make some very hard decisions very soon, I think. I know you are torn about things. Know that our minds will always be open to you. We hope that someday your mind rejoins ours.
A sense of calm gently flows over me. I close my eyes and soon feel Janil’s hand on my face. “Someday, you’ll rejoin us. Someday, we’ll be inseparable.”
I nod as a few tears roll down my cheeks. “Someday. Until then… I think I’m going to stay with the Aevocar. Once… once all this is over, at least.”
“Stand with us as Groyin. Even if you stay here, no, hell, even if you bond with one of them somehow… you’ll always be one of us.” Janil smiles.
“Always. Trust me, I could never forget those beautiful moments.” I return the smile as I wipe my face dry.
The door opens and Mer’rel steps inside. Elder Al’sar’con’mel’s corvette has deployed the beacon. If the Camfurdians are in Groyin space, it won’t take them but a few hours to get here. Tell your queen to position their ship between our two. Elder Er’in’gal wants your queen to come aboard. We’re going to parley on this ship.
“Why here? Smaller crew, smaller ship… wouldn’t it make sense to have it on the larger ship?” I ask, concerned.
“No, think about it. If the Camfurdians act out… if they try to do something, the smaller ship is the more tactical option. If whatever security forces are on this ship can’t manage to subdue a handful of Camfurdians, then the next option, as drastic as it sounds, is to disable the ship. It’s going to be far easier to disable the little patrol ship rather than a corvette.” Janil says calmly.
He looks at Mer’rel and shakes his head. “No. Our queen will not leave our ship. It matters not who the Camfurdians speak with. Even the smallest worker’s voice will carry the weight of the queen’s will if it is necessary. Our original party stands. Should the Aevocar wish to meet in person, we suggest sending a representative to our ship.”
From the slight monotone, I can tell that the queen is already heavily influencing him. Mer’rel nods and shrugs. We’ll tell the Voice. Actually… we might volunteer for that. We’ll see if Er’in’gal will let one part of us go to your ship while the other is at the meeting. We… really want to meet her.
I can’t help but to smile and wonder. What would it be like for an Aevocar to hear the song of the Groyin? Could they? Would their “Voice” hear it as well? Or would it simply be chaotic dissonance, the Aevocar group mind battling it out with the Groyin collective consciousness? Perhaps someday, we will know.
“She’s… unique. Special, really. Her presence is… magnificent. I still hope to meet more of them, the queens, I mean.” I say still smiling.
Mer’rel nods. We can’t wait to feel firsthand.
Janil grins and mouths silently to me. “Three, two, one.” I grin devilishly, knowing that the Aevocar can’t understand. They rely on empathic projection to understand verbal languages they aren’t trained in. Janil closes his eyes.
The Aevocar’s eyes widen and I know the queen is enveloping them as she did me earlier. They stammer, a series of strange warbling vocalizations slipping from their mouth. After a few moments of wide-eyed blinking, they smile. That was incredible! We can do something similar, but that was… so intense!
“That’s just her saying hello.” I grin.
Janil gives Mer’rel a warm smile as he begins to put his armor on. I… still hope they’ll give me the armor that they were making me.
“They still don’t know I’m here, do they?” He asks as he adjusts the armor.
No. We thought it might be best to simply surprise them with you two, though they suspect. Arahni keeps asking. She’s sent probably a dozen messages, some on private lines, some military. Elikel has as well. The Aevocar paces a bit around the small room. Are you two actually ready to be confronted by them?
I lock eyes with Janil and shake my head.
He sighs. “I think I am. I don’t think they’ll do anything out of line with you all here. They won’t risk war.”
It won’t be easy confronting your mother, or your former yarl. Mer’rel watches him close, no doubt judging his expression. He frowns and nods in agreement.
“It won’t be easy, but they don’t control me. Not anymore. I… still love them both, but my loyalty is to my real family, my Groyin family, my billions of siblings as one. I am Groyin, and that is all that matters.” With each word, he grows more confident, his pride showing.
It… stirs within me, too. In this moment… yes, I am Groyin.
I nod as I feel my heart flutter. “I am Groyin.” I say softly, echoing his sentiment. He looks at me and smiles.
Mer’rel’s gaze goes distant for a little bit. Confirmation already received from the Camfurdians. They’re en route, estimating a one hour arrival time.
“For them to be that close to the border ensures they were on the right track. We’re lucky they didn’t find our ship.” I say with a sigh. “It would’ve been devastating to lose a queen.”
“That’s precisely why we’re not going to bring the Camfurdians anywhere near her.” Mer’rel nods in response to Janil’s comment. He pauses for a moment and nods. “The queen wants us to switch off our escort. The three workers brought with us were here in case we needed any sort of assistance, not as guards. She wants three guards brought with us instead. I know damn well that Elikel will insist on having guards, and if my mother’s with him… she’ll have her own guards as well. I guess you might have that chance to go over to see the queen after all, if the Er’in’gal allows it.”
Mer’rel nods. We’ll inform Elder Er’in’gal and get a shuttle prepped. Have your three workers meet us in the shuttle bay. We need to get this handled fast. The Aevocar nods to me. Our other part is on the way to the shuttle.
Janil looks at me and nods. “I’ll tell the workers to prepare.”
I look down and give a small sigh. “Part of me wants to go with them.” I pause and look back up at him. “Part of me wants to stay, Janil.”
“The queen told the truth. When this is over, you’re going to have some decisions to make. I promise, Kenlyi, you’ll always be one of us. You are Groyin, and you have a home with us and a place in our hive. Always.” Janil embraces me again.
“Thank you.” I close my eyes and rest my head on his shoulder.
Elder? We want to escort the Groyin workers back to their ship. We’d like one part of us to go with them and stay aboard so that we can meet one of the Groyin queens.
You’re simply fascinated with these creatures, aren’t you? Good! It’s wonderful to see such curiosity. They seem very headstrong, though, are you certain they won’t mind?
No, Janil didn’t object, and the queen… well…
Our mind recalls the intense pleasure that the queen gave us with just her presence. We focus on the Elder and try to transmit the memory as best as we can.
That seemed… intense, Mer’rel. Are you sure that it wasn’t a means of manipulation? Or were you already interested?
We were. From the moment we got to know Kenlyi, Kehltanril, and Janil, we wanted to meet one of the queens. Their culture… their lives seem so unique. A full-blown hive, and yet one that still has a number of individuals within it. It’s beautiful. We smile thinking about it.
Do we need to be worried that we’re going to lose a crew member? The elder says with an amused tone.
No, not at all. On the other hand… we’re probably going to be gaining a new crew member soon. Kenlyi… has expressed interest in staying here.
Really? We know he’d been interacting plenty, but we weren’t expecting this. If he wishes to stay among us, he is welcome. In the meantime, you have work to do.
Yes. Thank you. We will let Kenlyi know that he is indeed welcome to stay, should he choose to.
Much to our surprise, Kehltanril is leading the workers toward the shuttle bay. We catch up to them with a quick sprint. You all move fast for your size, wow. We say with amusement.
Kehltanril looks back at me. We have limited time. The quicker we leave, the quicker we can get back and ensure that everything is set up properly. Our guards will want to see the layout of the room, familiarize themselves personally in addition to syncing with each other.
We give an understanding nod as we open the door to the shuttle bay. Knowing we’d need to handle this fast, we had some of the technicians begin prepping the shuttle for takeoff. We rush ahead to go over the preflight preparations.
So… what do you think about Kenlyi? We ask Kehltanril.
I assume you’re referring to the possibility of him staying with your kind. He is a free man capable of making whatever decisions he wants. I… would rather him stay with us. I’ve grown quite fond of him, and we all want his mind with us. We sense a bit of angst in him. Though… we feel that he will leave us. If he does, it matters not. He is Groyin, and the hive will always be a home for him.
Your people aren’t going to be mad at us if he chooses to stay? We ask as we finish the last of the pre-flight checks.
Not at all. We have no right to be. It changes nothing. We look back and Kehl has made sure all of the workers are in. He reaches out and presses the button to raise the ramp. We’re ready to leave when you are.
It takes us less than ten minutes to land in the Groyin docking bay. The workers are the first off of the shuttle and they quickly disperse after a quick goodbye. Kehl turns to me and we can sense his glee. Are you ready to go meet her?
We bite our lip, then smile. We can’t wait. Let’s go.
He turns and leads us off the shuttle. We follow closely. The halls of the ship are strangely empty to us. The halls are wide, but we don’t pass anyone the entire way to the lift. Kehltanril motions us on to the lift, then steps on himself. He presses the button and we start to feel a bit of nervousness. We pace around the lift as it brings us to the upper level.
“Be calm. She’s gentle, calm, and beautiful.” Kehl looks back at me, clearly smiling as much as any Groyin can articulate.
We’ll see soon enough. What we felt earlier… it was unreal, Kehl. What are we saying… of course, you already know!
Kehl’s laugh booms through the small lift. Smiling, we laugh and put our hand on his back. The lift opens and we follow him out.
Almost immediately, we see her… and Kehl’s right. She’s… stunning. We didn’t expect her to appear so different. Clearly, she’s still very Groyin, but the extra set of foreclaws and the iridescent appearance of her smooth carapace is… so very different. As we approach the raised platform that she stands on, we lower our head respectfully.
She smiles down at both of us. “Welcome, Mer’rel.” Her voice is smooth, low pitched, though higher than Kehl’s.
Thank you. We… are glad to finally meet you. We look up with a smile. Once again, a wave of pleasure runs over us. It’s a curious physical sensation, and even more curious that even though it’s originated due to telepathic stimulation, it only seems to affect our part that is in the room. Honestly, that shows a level of telepathic control that is… unheard of.
Our part aboard the other ship looks at Janil wide-eyed. She’s… unreal, Janil. How… how is her mind so powerful?
Janil simply smirks.
She grins. Queens are responsible for billions of lives. Being able to influence such things as physical responses through telepathic means is trivial when it comes to dealing with an open-minded and willing individual. Your mind intrigues me.
We… didn’t expect you to read our thoughts so easily. Our eyes widen a bit, impressed. Were we not so fascinated by her, we’d consider the act almost hostile. Instead, we know she means no harm. Then… we realize it’s not that she read our mind, but we spoke to Janil.
Janil’s mind is mine. My mind is his. You are quite aware of this concept. Even if you didn’t speak to me indirectly, it would not have been hard to read your mind. You seem to… think out loud. We do it as well. Tell me, do I meet your expectations?
We nod rather timidly. Yes, you do. We’re so glad we came aboard.
She’s as magnificent as you two said. We say to Janil and Kenlyi.
Kenlyi nods. “Tell her… tell her that I miss her.”
Kenlyi says that he misses you, queen. He’s talked so much about you. We… understand why he’s so conflicted about what to do. As we start to relax, we reach back and touch Kehltanril’s back again.
“We miss him. There is an absence among us where his mind should be. He is free to make his own decisions, but as you’ve been told, he always has a home here. Let it be known, if we can maintain peace, your kind will have a home among us, too.” She smiles.
Kenlyi looks at us anxiously. We nod to him. She says there is a void where your mind should be. She misses you, Kenlyi.
Almost immediately, we see tears welling in his eyes, a strange sight for such an imposing physical figure. Janil wraps his arms around his lover. “It’s okay, Ken. We’ll see her soon. After all of this is done.”
On that note, we’ll be setting up the dining hall as our conference room. Feel free to go there and see the layout. We may need your input as far as what to expect with the Camfurdians. We tell them both. Janil nods.
“We’ll check it out here in a minute then.” Kenlyi says through fighting his emotions.
The queen smiles down at our part on the Groyin ship. “When this is over, yes, I want to see Kenlyi. In the meantime, you should return to your ship. We have limited time, and I want proper guards with them.”
We nod to the queen, then look behind us as a smaller Groyin worker approaches us. He’s carrying a pair of large bags, clearly Camfurdian. We look back up to the queen. What’s this?
The worker hands one bag to us and we throw it over one shoulder. It’s fairly light and makes a distinct clack, metal and plastic perhaps. As we throw the second bag over our other shoulder, we’re even more confused. This one is far heavier.
One bag contains the weapons we confiscated from them. The second bag? It’s a promise. Bring it to Janil.
We look at her skeptically, but nod. Yes, queen, we will.
“We should probably get going.” Kehl says. We nod.
May… we come back? We would love to see how things work here first-hand. We as, curiously.
The queen nods. You are welcome, of course.
“She… missed me. I didn’t expect to actually hear that. I can’t wait to see her again, Janil.” Kenlyi comments as we head to the dining hall.
I look back at him at smile. “Why are you surprised? You are Groyin, and you were beyond her reach. Of course she missed you.”
“It’s this sort of thing that’s making the idea of staying with the Aevocar difficult.”
“I understand, We just want you to be happy, to grow. You can always come back even if you do leave. But… I’d hold those thoughts until after we inspect this. I already told the Elder what to expect from the Camfurdians.” I press the button and step inside the dining hall.
The Aevocar converted their dining hall into a meeting room. I can’t help but to think about how many meals have been shared in this room in good spirit and faith. The table in the middle of the room is round, but the arrangement of the seats clearly designates three sides, two sides with three seats, one side with two and a gap in the middle. My guess is that it’s going to be Arahni, Elikel, and Kelimn, then Er’in’gal, Mer’rel, and someone from Aevocar security, and for us… me and Kenlyi seated, Kehl between us.
My instincts are screaming that this is dangerous, but it must be done. My heart desperately hopes for peace. Perhaps… we all can turn a new page. If Elikel can bury his hatred and spite, if my mother can bury her fear and resentment, perhaps we can all find something more than just a truce.
Kenlyi touches my shoulder. “Nervous?”
“Yeah. We’re only going to get one chance to make this work. Hopefully the Aevocar can pull this off. I can’t imagine Eli will risk war with the Aevocar.”
Kenlyi shakes his head. “No, I don’t think he will.”
I put my hand on top of his. The tension hangs in the air as we both look around the room, empty all but us and a couple of Aevocar setting up. It’s clear the room is going to have heavy security.
“Come on. Mer’rel and the guards are almost back. Let’s meet them at the shuttle bay.” I say, but I can’t control my grin. “We should give the Aevocar time to finish up anyway.”
Kenlyi looks at me oddly, but he nods. We leave the dining hall and make our way through the corridors and down to the shuttle bay. After a few minutes of waiting, the room divides behind a shutter. The shuttle lands and the two parts of the room equalize pressure. The shutter retracts and we approach the shuttle as the ramp lowers.
We both nod as the three guards exit the craft first. The guards, each about Kehltanril’s size, give us a courteous nod in return. Kehl is the next off the shuttle.
I do believe Mer’rel enjoyed meeting our queen. He grins at me and Kenlyi. The comment was more for Kenlyi rather than me. Ken, no doubt knowing this, grins and nods.
“I knew Mer’rel would. Who wouldn’t, though?”
“I’m not convinced Elikel would.” I scoff. “But I don’t think he’ll ever have the honor.”
Mer’rel is the last off the shuttle and I notice the two packs immediately. Your lovely queen asked me to give you these. They hand me the first bag, and I recognize the weight of our rifles immediately. I put on the backpack and nod. They offer me the second pack and then turn my attention to Kenlyi.
“Here, I’ll take one of those. No sense in you lugging both.”
I grin as I pass him the pack. “Look inside, Ken.”
He opens the top of the pack and looks inside. His eyes grow wide with each passing moment as he realizes what’s inside.
“Ah… armor! I… it’s perfect!” Like a boy unwrapping a birthday present, he begins pulling the pieces out. “I… want to go back to the room and get changed.” He keeps digging and pulls out four odd pieces with an opening in each one. He realizes they’re some sort of hand armor when he notices there’s two lefts and two rights. “Janil, what are these?” He slips one of the gauntlets on and studies the odd series of mechanisms at the thumb.
I reach over and grab one, slipping it on to my left hand. “See this at the top? Flip that part down and pull in with your hand…”
Suddenly, a blade extends from the underside of the gauntlet, rather than up top like many claw weapons. The design, a combination of chitin and metal, is clearly based on Groyin talons. Mer’rel’s eyes widen as they see the fierce looking weapon. Kenlyi simply grins.
“She wants us prepared in case it’s necessary.” I say calmly. “I assure you, Mer’rel, we have no interest in violence.”
Ken nods in agreement. “They’re… more symbolic than anything, I think.”
I nod. “Yes. She… wants the two of us to be as close to the rest as possible… and that includes even in our means of defense. The rifles will stay in the room, though.”
They’d better. We don’t need the appearance of looking to start a fight. We’re trying to stop a war, not escalate one. Mer’rel comments with a sigh.
Mer’rel, I assure you…
I hear the queen in my mind, but I know she’s speaking to the Aevocar.
She continues. I assure you that my gifts to Janil and Kenlyi are to bring them closer to the other Groyin. We don’t just want this war to end, we need it to end. We’ve lost far too many to come this far to simply make it worse. This conflict must end.