Rhezerë is not pleased. There’s a niggling sensation, warm through his entire mind, of someone who’s supposed to be there, and nobody told him a new sync would feel like this.
Technically, Ekos wasn’t lost.
Hurtling end over end, nose over thruster through the cold deep in the dying light of a riftspace tidal wave. He only hoped the wave of byte and digit and signal flares he’d worked it in passed all the intended checkpoints.
He felt lost.
He’d destroyed the solar system, shredded riftspace throughout, and left the enemy squadron in smatterings and pieces. His own hull was damaged, engines not firing, adrift wherever he’d fall or riftspace would take him.
Ekos had been alone too long already, but now—
It burned within him coldly, he wouldn’t be found.
He hmmmed in response as he slid into bed, weariness making him slow and a little clumsy. It had been a long day of interviews with military and queen.
Ahure waited quietly. When at last his arm came around her, “What did they say?”
He’d asked to join the home guard—her post. His ship body was still strong despite five years of cold space and only what maintenance he could do in total isolation.
At the memory of emptiness, he shuddered.
Her grip tightened, grounding him, not empty anymore.
It gave him strength to answer.
“They said yes.”
Ahure just about vibrates out of her skin around Isot. It doesn’t make sense. He’s quiet and still in a lying-in-wait kind of way, eyes always tracking with everyone around him, never striking out unless it’s in combat training.
She understands because she lies in wait as well, but she’s anger coiled on a leash, ready to lash out at the slightest provocation, tense as a spring. Isot’s not like that, and she doesn’t know why she drifts toward him always but can’t stop her jitters.
He laughs quietly, and her whole body tenses with the rare sound.
He’s cold. Space closes around his body without the warming blanket of riftspace caressing his hull. He moves a human hand and stares at it, wondering at the warmth of his own body heat and how it doesn’t remove the chill he feels.
Ekos has no pilot right now. He remembers how the temporary sync felt that got them to this solar system, remembers the warmth of human laughter and chatter in the corners of his mind.
They’re gone now. He’s too large a ship to be so empty.
Ekos lowers his hand and settles in for his long vigil.
Ide’a had never been a disappointment to his parents. He had a knack for business, was capable with the technology, software, and processes that kept his extended family firmly in control of the Flux’s mining economy, and knew how to manage business ‘partners’ with the appropriate balance of conciliation and hostility.
He’d never disappointed them until he took mandatory affinity testing and scored too valuable a potential pilot to avoid being drafted.
But when he arrived at his tiny bunk with his two permissible duffel bags, on equal footing with every other candidate, he exhaled his cage and inhaled relief.
Too violent. Too harsh. Too unwilling to use violence until pressed. Willing to use too much violence after.
Reasons to throw her from one complement to another, one look at clawed hooks on her wingtips enough to teach anyone she’d been built at Canaf. Playing nice shouldn’t be her first reflex.
“A diplomatic envoy?” Maru asked, skeptical of her pilot.
“In a war complement,” Taseta said, tossing her braid and grinning. “A permanent post. We’ll serve as point.”
A war complement. They could use both her violence and her restraint.
“You really think it’ll last?”
Taseta shrugged. “At least try.”
The first time Cor saw sand, he ran across the beach with giggles and bare feet, not even noticing the stinging heat and grit. Zana watched with a smile and settled down to build castles.
He came back over, curiously, after her towers began to rise from the sand, looked with wide eyes, never touching. She was raising him at essentially a spaceport. He knew to keep his fingers away from delicate things.
But he was her little brother. She took his small hands and showed him how to shape and pat and firm the walls.
“Our castle,” she said.
A pause, a silent gap stretching out into the distant horizon and over the edge—
“Your parents are dead.”
She closed her eyes, no longer listening to details that only confirmed what she’d already known. Pain, crashing, screaming of metal and flesh rending open to space—
“Queen,” she corrected quietly. She opened her eyes, collected herself, and rose to go find her brothers, dismissing the servant with a gesture. She let her bodyguards flank her down the too empty corridors to her oldest brother’s study.
“King,” she greeted him.
“Queen,” he greeted back.
Ide’a stared long enough that Mihzät finally turned around with an exasperated sigh and demanded, “What?”
“You got your ears pierced,” Ide’a said, gaze flitting between Mihzät’s ears and his face, a flat, almost unreadable expression on his own.
But Ide’a wasn’t truly unreadable, not to Mihzät. There was a little wonder there, surprised faint pleasure.
Mihzät blushed, suddenly conscious that he was finally wearing the earrings Ide’a had given him a year ago and of what such a gift actually meant. “Yeah.”
Ide’a leaned over and kissed him softly just behind his ear, making Mihzät shiver. “I like them.”
You will be my blade.
The words echo in his mind sometimes, a soft-voiced memory, the imprint of a small hand against his hull.
Mihzat doesn’t remember it, but Veset does. Veset, blade, and he looks through log files that predate his integration, digs through memories that are his for all they aren’t.
That quiet voice, You will be my blade.
Is that what you want to call it, my queen? More familiar. Kasuru, the designer of the spaceship, who’d been at Mihzat’s integration when he became Veset.
Rhezere didn’t like to think of memories, instead he made endless plans. But sometimes he dreamed them, waking with screams strangled between his teeth.
Sometimes he woke and muffled the memories until they faded. Sometimes he called Kasuru, who had seen his scars and never heard the stories behind them.
“You did a terrible job of healing them,” Rhezere complained. “When the weather’s bad, they hurt.”
“Ah.” Kasuru could hear everything Rhezere wasn’t saying.
They didn’t talk about the past or about the aches and pains Rhezere claimed to have. They talked about their plans, their work, and the future.
Zana ran Ijeve’s training facility, almost never leaving it, and had since she was a teenage girl, well trained but saddled with a little brother she wouldn’t leave. Her little brother wasn’t little anymore, but a warship who only came home on leave.
But how the messages flew between them!
She knew his triumphs and struggles before the battle reports rolled in, and every infuriating thing she didn’t need to know about his pilot. He knew about her frustrations with each new batch of trainees and which ones she had high hopes for. But they never said, I miss you.
Captain Mikral was rather pleased at how easily they’d slipped past their enemy’s border defense and how many parsecs into enemy space they’d gone. The target was fast approaching.
He should have saved his pleasure.
He barely saw the flash of blue in the ship’s viewer before he saw the hooked blades unsheathing from the tips of its wings, before the entire crew felt them puncture the hull as their velocity ground to zero.
The communications panel lit, then a woman appeared on-screen and her warm voice came through the intercom. “Let’s have a little chat.” She grinned.
Nanere first picked up the knives when she was a little girl. She rammed one into the knee of her mother’s love. When he howled and swung, she slashed his arm.
When he was finally gone, still cursing her, she gently washed her mother’s face and applied salve to her bruises, then fixed her mother’s makeup for her.
“He was our next meal,” her mother slurred.
Nanere thought of the shipyards and dangerous work available for tiny bodies that could fit into the small spaces between mechanical parts. She hardened her face and stiffened her shoulders. “I’m our next meal.”
When most people first learn about integrates and the need for a entire spaceship computer to be able to calculate a safe trajectory through riftspace, they think of numbers and advanced math and a human enabled to think like a machine.
Cor doesn’t bother to correct them, but it’s not like that at all.
It doesn’t feel like numbers or cold calculations. It feels like diving and spinning and swimming through space, knowing with instinct and reflex how to follow the paths that match his affinity and capability. He can do anything, go anywhere, dancing in the headiness of space.
Rhezere’s been staring after Cor from the moment he first saw him.
Kasuru never interfered beyond the reminder that future pilots shouldn’t interact with future integrates. It kept Rhezere from speaking and safeguarded him for the moment they might meet mind to mind.
But he never stopped staring at the way Cor threw himself over the wings and under the bellies of the spaceships he repaired, the way he streamed to practice flights, the way he honed his body in anticipation of his affinity for war.
Cor would be a warship one day, no doubt. Rhezere would be his pilot.