“The armor looks damn good on you, Kenlyi.” I tell him with a smile.
“Thanks. I… hadn’t expected to have it for this.” He rubs the back of his neck and looks down.
I shake my head. “She was going to make damn sure of it. Our queen wants you to look the part, after all.” I grin and pat him on the shoulder.
He nods and smiles. “I’m glad. I’m glad she’s not rejecting me, even with how I’ve been thinking about leaving.”
“No, she can’t reject her own, Ken. You are Groyin. You are one of us, even in spite of everything.” I smile and give him an affirming nod.
“I guess it’s time, isn’t it?” Kenlyi asks me.
“Yeah. I guess it is. I know it’s Elikel and Arahni, but I don’t know who else they brought. I know they brought three men for security, one other in the delegation. Probably Kelimn or Monrenth. I’d bet Monrenth… no better way than to try to humiliate me even more than to have both my surviving yula and my mother railing against me.” I sigh and adjust the Groyin gauntlets. Hopefully the Aevocar can actually help. “Kehl’s going to meet us there. The Aevocar delegation and the Camfurdians are already there.”
“Well, let’s not keep them waiting. I want to get this over with.” Ken says as he grabs my hand. As I squeeze his hand, I can’t help but to feel a sense of dread, wondering if the worst might happen today given Eli’s temper. Then, I feel a sense of calm from the hive.
You are safe, and our guards will ensure that the Camfurdians stay in line.
I nod slightly as I smile at Kenlyi. “Let’s go.”
After a few minutes of walking hand in hand, we find Kehltanril waiting outside the door for us.
Are you ready, my dear Janil? He asks.
I give a small nod. As ready as I can be. After you. I motion toward the door. Kehl nods, presses the button and leads us in.
Ah, there you all are. We were starting to wonder if we’d need to send someone to come get you. One part of Er’in’gal tells us. Please be seated as we introduce ourselves for matter of record. You already know us, but for the record, we are Elder Er’in’gal. With us, representing the Aevocar in this matter, is Mer’rel, part of our first contact team and an experienced pilot, and Del’sha, the oldest member of security on this ship.
One Aevocar is busily typing a record of this. Curiously, I can tell that it’s in Camfurdian.
“For the record, I am Alim Arahni, representing the Camfurdians.” My mother says as I start to take a seat. Curiously, I only see her and Elikel. Their third seat is empty. “With me, my yula.”
My jaw drops when she motions to Elikel.
“My name is Alimari Elikel.” He looks me dead in the eye as he says it.
Then, I hear Kenlyi gasp as another Camfurdian comes into sight. The man sets a pitcher of water next to Arahni, then sits. “I am Alimari Gouhr.” His eyes widen as he sees Kenlyi. “Ken… I thought you were dead. You… never responded.”
“I… didn’t want you to know that I failed you, sir.” Kenlyi looks down as his eyes start to fill with tears.
Ken, focus. Remember why you are here. I tell him, whispering to his mind with the weight of the hive behind my words.
“I am called Janil.” I say to continue with the formalities. It’s an easy way to distract from the situation between Ken and Gouhr.
“I am called Kehltanril.” The Camfurdians are shocked when the words are said perfectly in their tongue. They’re scandalized by both the name and the language.
“Kehltanril, really? You’d dare sully such a name with this creature?” Elikel scowls.
“We named him together because he was perfect for it. One person, an outsider no less, trying so hard to unite us all as one family? He earned his name, Elikel.” Shockingly, Ken’s words are firm as he looks at the reporter. “I am Kenlyi.” He sighs as he looks at me and Kehl.
I look at my mother and shake my head. “Gouhr and Elikel?”
“She offered me a chance to have meaning again… and she said she knew Kenlyi was alive. I didn’t believe her, but I had to take the chance.” Gouhr says as he looks at Kenlyi. “Kenlyi… what have they done to you?”
“They’ve done nothing to me, sir.” Kenlyi lowers his head submissively. “They’ve treated me with kindness, respect. They’ve protected me.”
“Protected you from what?! I tried to protect you from everything, Kenlyi, or did you forget everything I’ve done for you?” Gouhr yells at him from across the table.
Alimari Gouhr, you will restrain yourself or you will be removed from these proceedings. We understand that there are personal tensions here, but we cannot allow that to detract from the reason we are gathered here. Elder Er’in’gal tells all of us firmly.
Ken shakes his head. “No, sir. I… can’t forget what you’ve done for me. You helped shape me in so many ways in the time we were together.”
“Then take your place. Come to my side, Kenlyi.” Gouhr motions off to the empty space beside him.
Arahni looks at him with a smile. “Rest assured, all will be forgiven if you yield.” Slowly her gaze turns to me. “And yes, son, that includes you, too.”
I shake my head. “No, Arahni. I am Groyin. My place is here, with Kehl and Kenlyi, in this armor.”
“What is it, a gift from your new masters? They parade you out here as if you really are one of them.” Gouhr says with a scowl.
“We are Groyin, sir. Our queen made sure of that, and nothing can take this away.” Kenlyi says with conviction. “The armor is a symbol of who and what we are. We may have been born different, but we were reborn into something else. This armor,” he pats his chest with his hand, then runs it across the ridges of each segmented area, “represents our connection to them. We wear it with pride, sir.”
My goodness… I’m proud of him. I… was worried he might falter, that he might cower. Instead, he is standing tall.
Elikel simply stares on in silence, which… makes me nervous.
Enough. You can settle your personal differences in your own time. This time has been designated for these discussions. Now, either we get down to discussing the matter at hand, or we will begin removing those in the way. Er’in’gal snaps again.
After about thirty seconds of silence, Er’in’gal nods. Very well. Janil of the Groyin, would you care to explain how it is that you came to seek the Aevocar?
“Yes, Elder. Just over two weeks ago, I was captured, along with Kenlyi, by the Groyin. This came after Elikel,” I motion with my hand, “ordered the systematic destruction of over a thousand Groyin eggs. The Groyin, stunned, fearful, reacted quickly and took me prisoner. Kehltanril,” again, I motion with my hand, “explained that they had hoped to capture one of us so that we could actually talk. Very quickly, he removed my restraints and we had a civil discussion about the war.”
I look at Elikel and realize he knows what I’m about to say next. I turn my attention back to Er’in’gal. “During a battle, my yaruel, my dominus was mortally wounded. Kalarai, before he died, realized that the war was a pointless endeavor, a waste of life. The Groyin that took his life tried to comfort him in his last moments. Kalarai told this Groyin to seek the Aevocar, that they would be the key to ending this war. When Kehltanril told me this, I knew he had to be telling the truth – there was no way that the Groyin could have known about your kind, Elder.”
Elikel sighs and simply shakes his head.
First, let us ask this, Alim Elikel. Er’in’gal looks at him.
“Alimari.” Arahni says flatly. “He is mine now.”
Pardon our mistake. Alimari Elikel, did you order the destruction of defenseless eggs? The Elder asks plainly.
“Elder, this is not a trial.” Arahni interrupts Eli. “It doesn’t matter what he did or did not do during the course of a brutal war. What he did or did not do is not the subject matter for this proceeding.”
But it does matter! Mer’rel says, a tinge of anger in their eyes. They pause for a moment to take a deep breath. I can sense the queen’s presence around them, strangely enough, and I know she’s comforting them.
It does matter. The treaties lay out certain conditions. In this case, when territories could be considered disputed, how they are allowed to be colonized or settled. In the event of an intelligent and advanced species, the treaties are quite clear that we Aevocar are allowed to operate, and our terms specifically state that in the event that a new species is discovered and they are considered an advanced species, there is to be no military action by either us or the Camfurdians unless attacked first. Elikel, your reports indicate that you were the aggressor, and you’ve clearly shown a pattern of aggression to the point of atrocity!
With each word, Mer’rel seems to become more incensed. I want to grin, but I know I can’t let them see my reaction.
Arahni looks ahead, stunned. After blinking a few times to compose herself, she looks at Elikel. “I was there when these treaties were agreed upon, and I do not appreciate them being used to make a mockery of someone in my yula. Explain this, Elikel.”
“I’ll tell you the same thing that I told my yarl. The things that we killed were not intelligent! They were barely formed organic weapons of war! You should have seen how many they pointlessly threw at us. Wave after wave we gunned down and it was clear these beings weren’t anything more than fodder! You want to speak of atrocity? Tell me, ‘Kehltanril,’ how many thousands of mindless drones did you and your ilk send at us when we were hunkered down desperately trying to evac? How many of our wounded did you put down when we finally have to abandon our position?”
Er’in’gal looks concerned, but shakes their head. Again, the purpose of this meeting is not to debate the atrocities of war, but to assess whether the Camfurdians were in possible violation of treaty due to engaging in military action in border territories.
“It sounds to me that you’ve already made your decision in that regard, or at least your colleague there has.” Gouhr remarks snidely.
We do have to agree with Mer’rel’s assessment. Do you have a direct point to counter their stance?
Gouhr looks at Elikel, then Elikel looks at Arahni. Her gaze narrows. “How can you claim an area is disputed when you admit that you did not make contact with the Groyin until now? Or does the treaty differentiate between border territories and actual disputed territories?”
It specifies both for just this sort of event. Mer’rel folds their arms and smirks.
“And just how do you define an advanced society, anyway?” Elikel asks.
For centuries, we have defined an advanced society as one that has shown a consistent drive toward technological advancement. The development of faster-than-light travel is considered an automatic qualifier, though if a species has shown a steady trend in that direction, exceptions are made. Er’in’gal comments as they pour a glass of water.
“The Groyin showed no such capabilities based on our scans. In fact, we witnessed them using those machines in orbit to even facilitate travel from planet to planet. Unless they somehow managed to scrap the FTL drive that we scuttled, there is no way they were capable of FTL!” Elikel slams his fist on the table.
Quickly, Arahni grabs him by the throat and his eyes widen. “You will mind that temper, Elikel.” Her finger traces his throat as she releases him. Seeing that sends a disgusted chill down my spine.
The bottom line is that they found a way to be capable of it, and they asked for help. Not military help, diplomatic help because they are not interested in carrying on with your war. Given the treaties and the circumstances, and given that your kind has shown no reason to rule otherwise, we cannot stand by. Mer’rel says before motioning to Er’in’gal.
Given the circumstances, we must ally with the Groyin. Behind the strength of the treaties between our people, we demand that you cease all hostilities involving the Groyin and their star system. Failure to do so will result in consequences, and our fleets are standing by. Er’in’gal’s tone is calm but confident.
If there’s one thing I know, it’s that threatening either Elikel or Arahni is a bad idea. They generally think a few steps ahead, and they always have a backup plan.
Arahni nods. “We have detachments deployed. It will take some time for us to reach them.”
You have three days. After which, Aevocar forces will be establishing a presence in the system. Any remaining forces will be considered rogue elements. They will be given a chance to surrender, and if they do not comply, they will be fired upon. Calmly, Er’in’gal sips their water. I can hear one of the Camfurdians growling, but I can’t tell who.
“We do not take kindly to threats, Aevocar.” Arahni says with a malicious tone as she glares at Er’in’gal.
And we do not take kindly to your imperialism, and yet we have somehow managed to maintain peace for fifty years. As you pointed out, you were there when the treaties were ratified. You know why they were signed in the first place, because both of our kinds knew that any war between us could result in billions of deaths. Your kind has maintained an air of smug superiority with your delusions of nationalistic exceptionalism. If there is to be a peace between our people, Alim Arahni, you will withdraw your men and leave the system as soon as possible.
As calm as can be, Er’in’gal sips their water again. I can see Arahni, Elikel, and Gouhr absolutely seething. It’s hard for us Groyin to keep our composure seeing Arahni defanged.
“There is one more matter, Aevocar.” Arahni points to me and I feel my heart sink. “He is to come with us. The treaties explicitly stated that we are to maintain mutual rights for extradition. He is wanted for desertion and treason!”
Kenlyi growls. “Janil is going nowhere! He couldn’t abide by this maniac’s,” he points to Elikel, “vile hatred! He is Groyin, not Camfurdian and your ridiculous notions do not apply to him!”
“Watch your tone, boy!” Gouhr snaps at his former second.
I see a look of panic in his eyes. He starts to lower his head, an instinctive impulse. After a moment, he sighs and simply looks down, shaking his head. “Janil is not leaving.”
Kenlyi is right. Janil and Kenlyi sought asylum as Groyin. Their minds are altered, and they are as Camfurdian as we are. We cannot authorize extradition, Arahni. Er’in’gal shakes their head.
“Perhaps you didn’t hear me. I said, he is coming with us. That wasn’t a request, it was a statement.” Arahni stands. Immediately, it’s a standoff. The three Aevocar security personnel are pointing weapons at the Camfurdian delegation. He Camfurdian security team has weapons trained on the Aevocar security. The Groyin security has moved closer to us, ready to charge at a moment’s notice.
Then… it happens.
The first pop resounds throughout the room. Elikel jumps to his feet, his eyes wide, and I can feel a legitimate flash of fear from him. Next, we hear a gurgling sound coming from Er’in’gal. A second pop clangs off of the wall, a clear miss. The stalemate is broken, but I can’t tell who fired the first shot. The guards, all of them, open fire.
Janil, get down! Elikel’s voice screams into my mind with a desperate and fearful tone. I lunge underneath the table along with Kenlyi. I wince as I feel my brothers fall… the three guards. There’s a wet thud as Kehl falls on to his side. I can’t sense him. I can see Mer’rel crying next to Er’in’gal and Del’sha’s fallen bodies. Almost as quickly as the firefight began, it ends.
An unusual metal clang resonates throughout the room. I can see a metal grating, a vent cover of some sort, on the floor. Then, there’s a thud, and I can see a pair of feet. That’s who fired the first shot. Not one of the guards, but someone in hiding.
“You may as well get out from underneath there. We know who’s alive and who isn’t. Janil, Kenlyi? Get up.” Arahni calls out. “You too, Aevocar bitch.”
Slowly, get up. Janil, I promise, I didn’t know she was going to do this, please… believe me. Elikel’s voice whispers into my mind. I… don’t respond.
I look at Kenlyi and he gives me a nod. Slowly, we rise up from underneath the table, Mer’rel as well.
Arahni is standing with her arms crossed, smugly grinning. The door to the room is guarded, and the control panel is blown off. Elikel and Gouhr are on either side of Arahni, and both look just as shocked as me and Kenlyi.
My eyes widen when I see the gunman. Monrenth is standing just off to the right, grinning, a collapsible Camfurdian rifle in one hand. “I’ll give it to you Aevocar, you run a pretty tight ship, at least in the hallways.” He smirks at Mer’rel. “I had to climb through every duct and utility tunnel on this ship. I felt like a rodent in a maze, but… I suppose I got my treat in the end.” He laughs as he looks at Mer’rel.
We’ll kill you! Mer’rel starts to charge towards him, but stops short when he aims the still-collapsed rifle at their head, still holding it with one hand. The terrifying beauty of Camfurdian design is that the weapon can be fired as a long rifle or as a carbine when collapsed. It’s all a matter of preference and stability.
“One more step, blue. I fucking dare you.” He grins.
“That’s enough, Monrenth. You’ve made your point.” Arahni snaps at him.
“Yes, ma’am.” He lowers the weapon and lowers his head toward her.
She looks at one of the guards. She points at one, then at the table. The guard nods and comes over. She points Monrenth at the table next, and then the two of them are moving the table out of the way. Arahni walks across, and a few moments later, we are face to face.
“Elikel submitted to me because he knew that I would do whatever it took to see you brought home.” She smirks and gives a playful laugh. “I just never told him how I planned on bringing you back. Now, Janil… you can do this one of three ways. Either you come with us willingly, or you die, either quickly or slowly. If you come willingly, there’s a small chance the council won’t have you put down like a rabid animal.”
Elikel growls and glares at her. She looks back and shakes her head. “Don’t act so surprised, Eli. I beat you every step of the game, this is just the final move.”
“And you, too, Kenlyi. You showed such fire defending these creatures. You’ll suffer their fate as well, if you do not surrender.”
Gouhr growls. “Touch him, Arahni, and I’ll flay your hide and wear it to the damned council!”
She turns to face him and takes a few steps away from me. “Alimari Gouhr, are you truly going to threaten me, your new yarl?”
“Gouhr… don’t. Just… yield. Please, dominus.” Kenlyi pleads, but I can’t tell how serious he is about using the term.
“Dominus?” Arahni laughs. “So you’d still bend knee to him?” She turns with a grin. “And I thought you were Groyin? What happened to that?”
“It… doesn’t mean I don’t care for him. I still love him, but…”
She steps closer to Kenlyi. “But what?”
Suddenly, Gouhr charges toward her. I hear the sound of metal and plastic hitting the floor. Monrenth roars as he lunges at the older man, tackling him to the ground. Quickly producing a knife from his belt, he thrusts the blade deep into Gouhr’s throat. Gouhr takes one pained gasp, then Monrenth slashes, bringing the blade violently across the man’s throat.
“Yarl!” Kenlyi screams as he runs towards them, but Arahni catches him with a knee, sending him tumbling to the ground. Mer’rel rushes to his side and pulls him back away.
Monrenth wipes his blade off and sheaths it, stands, and retrieves his rifle with a sigh. “Pointless death. Idiot.”
“Fuck you!” Kenlyi growls, but Mer’rel holds him back.
“Fine, Arahni. Just… stop.” I say with a sigh as I lower my head. “I yield.”
“Oh?” She turns back to face me.
Stay calm, Janil. I didn’t know this was going to happen. I promise, I’ll find a way to get us out of this. I… didn’t know Monrenth would…
Elikel’s voice enters my mind again and…
I trust him. Eli… I need you.
She’ll pay for this, Janil, I swear. I’ll get us out of this, I promise. Janil… I still love you.
I swallow back a knot of anxiety building in my throat. I love you, too.
Arahni steps closer to me, now face to face with me. “You slandered my name by turning your back on what we stand for. You threw everything you had away and everything you could have been, foolish boy.” I wince as she slaps my face. I glare at her.
She smirks. “So there’s fight in you now. I guess these disgusting bugs have at least instilled that in you. Clearly, Elikel couldn’t. Tell me, Janil, what went through your head? Were you trying to get back at me for pressuring you? Were you trying to get back at Elikel? Or did you realize you just didn’t have what it took to be Camfurdian? You were always a sniveling child, I still find it hard to imagine that you’d have the guts to do something so extreme as turning traitor.”
I look down and my gaze falls to Kehl. My lip quivers as I fight the urge to cry.
My mother laughs. “Love?” The amused laugh turns into a maniacal cackle. “You actually cared for these disgusting cretins? These bugs?”
“They cared for me far more than you ever did! They gave me a place, purpose!” I glare at her.
She glances back at Monrenth. “So you fell in love with a pretty face, did you?” She says mockingly. “Monrenth, my dear. Fix that pretty face.”
Monrenth laughs. “With pleasure.” He approaches Kehl’s body and I make a move toward him. He points the gun at me as she grabs my throat. “Don’t make me shoot you in front of Eli and your mother, of all people.”
All I can do is growl helplessly. Elikel stares on, still in quiet horror.
Monrenth points the rifle at Kehl’s head.
Kehl moves. The shot instead hits Kehl’s chest, brown ichor spraying from the wound as he bucks up and swings a foreclaw. Monrenth’s head hits the floor before his body crumples, and suddenly Elikel is on the move.
Shockingly, he lunges at Arahni, and the three of us are knocked to the floor. I roll off to one side in time to see Elikel grab her head and slash at her throat with his clawed hand. Over and over, he rakes at her throat, blood splattering with each tear.
Kenlyi rushes toward Kehltanril and I crawl toward Elikel as he continues to ravenously tear at her. “Eli, it’s over. It’s over! Stop!” Keeping my distance as much as I can, I reach out and put my hand on his shoulder.
He gasps and stops. His outstretched arms tremble as he takes a deep breath. He turns to me and we embrace, both of us crying.
Kenyli shouts, “Kehl’s alive! He’s hurt bad. We’ve got to get him to the ship!”
I pull away from Eli and look toward Kenlyi.
There’s a crew trying to bypass the door. Someone, probably that Monrenth guy, cut the power to the door and jammed the manual override. They’re going to have to cut the door open. Mer’rel informs us as they rush to a compartment built into the wall.
“I… will be okay.” Kehl says weakly. Quickly, me and Eli rush over to him.
“Eli, help me roll him over. We need to get pressure on the wound.” The rush of thoughts and memories within the hive flow through my mind, giving me access to the knowledge I need to tend the wound, at least at a basic level.
With a heave, the two of us roll him over. Mer’rel rushes back with an Aevocar first aid kit. It isn’t much, but there’s antiseptic and gauze. We can at least try to treat it this way.
I nod. “It’ll work, thanks.” I open the bottle of the antiseptic rinse and work as best as I can to irrigate the wound. Within a few minutes, between me and Mer’rel, we manage to get a makeshift dressing made, and Kenlyi holds pressure to it.
I look at Elikel. “You really didn’t know did you?”
He shakes his head. “No, not like this. She… lied to me, Janil. Manipulated me. I never thought she’d turn Monrenth against me, either. He… I… I don’t understand, Janil. She told me she was going to make you out a misunderstood hero. I didn’t see it going down like this. I just wanted to keep you safe, Janil. I’m sorry. My goodness, Janil, I’m sorry for everything. I didn’t mean to cause all of this.” He sighs and buries his head in his hands. “I just want to make it right.”
“I don’t know if anything will ever be right, Eli.” I say with a sigh.