• Crusader Kings II Expansion Subscription

    Subscribe to the CK II Expansion and enjoy unlimited access to 13 major expansions and more!


  • Paradox Midsummer Sale has arrived! Up to 75% off!

    Enjoy some sun and song this Midsummer, but when the sun goes down, the fun doesn't have to stop! Paradox has a festive sale on plenty of games to keep your summer nights going!


    June 18th - June 30th
  • Crusader Kings III Available Now!

    The realm rejoices as Paradox Interactive announces the launch of Crusader Kings III, the latest entry in the publisher’s grand strategy role-playing game franchise. Advisors may now jockey for positions of influence and adversaries should save their schemes for another day, because on this day Crusader Kings III can be purchased on Steam, the Paradox Store, and other major online retailers.


    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

JackGoose

Corporal
21 Badges
Oct 29, 2011
32
9
  • Stellaris: Apocalypse
  • Stellaris: Necroids
  • Crusader Kings III: Royal Edition
  • Crusader Kings III
  • Stellaris: Federations
  • Stellaris: Lithoids
  • Stellaris: Ancient Relics
  • Stellaris: Megacorp
  • Shadowrun: Dragonfall
  • Shadowrun Returns
  • Stellaris: Distant Stars
  • Stellaris: Humanoids Species Pack
  • Stellaris - Path to Destruction bundle
  • Stellaris: Leviathans Story Pack
  • Stellaris: Digital Anniversary Edition
  • Stellaris
  • Cities: Skylines
  • Teleglitch: Die More Edition
  • Sword of the Stars
  • Stellaris: Synthetic Dawn
  • Sword of the Stars II
I haven't posted here in some time. Some of you may remember me back from when I wrote Charnel Child in 2019. ( https://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/threads/the-charnel-child-fanfiction.1236841/ ). I have been writing a lot since then, but unfortunately I have more or less put that previous story on hold for the foreseeable future. However I have kept writing more that takes place in the same Stellaris inspired setting.

This story, Transcendental Spaces, is probably what I'd consider to be the one most worth posting and sharing here. It takes place several decades after the events of Charnel Child, and follows Inki Kald, Trabb's granddaughter, as chief of security on the Lumirian station of New Metost Orbital, as she finds her professionalism and own identity strained as she comes face to face with a visitor from a parallel universe. This delves into a fair few themes, largely focusing on gender identity and it explores the life and identity of a main character who's transgender.

I would also like to thank my dear friend and editor, LJ, who helped make this possible.


KuBC5CI.png
 
Last edited:

JackGoose

Corporal
21 Badges
Oct 29, 2011
32
9
  • Stellaris: Apocalypse
  • Stellaris: Necroids
  • Crusader Kings III: Royal Edition
  • Crusader Kings III
  • Stellaris: Federations
  • Stellaris: Lithoids
  • Stellaris: Ancient Relics
  • Stellaris: Megacorp
  • Shadowrun: Dragonfall
  • Shadowrun Returns
  • Stellaris: Distant Stars
  • Stellaris: Humanoids Species Pack
  • Stellaris - Path to Destruction bundle
  • Stellaris: Leviathans Story Pack
  • Stellaris: Digital Anniversary Edition
  • Stellaris
  • Cities: Skylines
  • Teleglitch: Die More Edition
  • Sword of the Stars
  • Stellaris: Synthetic Dawn
  • Sword of the Stars II
Transcendental Spaces

------------------------------------


07:05, 9.1.2421 Station Time
Deck 01, Operations

The older, gray furred Lumirian quietly looked over the little golden pastry with curious scrutiny. A firm top with little crumbly bits of sugar gave way to dark red patches of color and flavor below the surface, and out of them came the sweet and sour scents of freshly baked bog berries. A well liked tart flavor back on Mekon and throughout the colonies. Commander Feli gave it a gentle squeeze before she peeled the waxy paper from the muffin’s base and took a bite. Inki watched, standing at attention in front of Feli’s desk as her commander judged her work. With a sip of coffee, she cleared her throat and spoke.

“You know, Lieutenant, you’re starting to aggravate me.” She smiled.

“Sir?”

“You’re making the replicators we have onboard look antiquated. And at ease, Inki.”

“Thank you, sir.” She took a seat across from Feli and her overall demeanor became more relaxed. “It’s something I’ve been working on, I intend on making a batch for the officer’s party at the start of Harvest Festival next week.”

“You know, if you keep this up, all of the command staff will be begging you for treats.”

“I don’t think I can humor everyone, sir.” She took the carafe of coffee on Feli’s desk and poured herself some. “And I don’t think Doctor Elson has liked anything I’ve made. But having your approval helps a lot.”

“Of course. I’m always glad to see my crew getting creative and making things, especially when I can eat their hobbies.” The old girl let out a single dry laugh. “You know how to cook fish too, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’ve been considering taking shoreleave this month, I want to go down to New Metost on a fishing trip. Are you interested, Inki?”

“Yes, sir, though I’d need to check for scheduling issues once you have a date. Though I am not sure I am very good at fishing. Last time I went out I was a kid and I almost drowned.”

“You don’t have to know how to fish, Inki, just how to cook and make me look good.”

“Heh. Sure thing, sir.”

Out behind Feli, Inki caught a glimpse of a gold and blue crescent forming out in the dark field of space as the flare of the distant yellow star inched out from behind the colony world of New Metost. Inki squinted a moment before the window’s transparent metal quickly adjusted its opacity around the star, making it a more tolerable sight.

“Looks like it’s sunrise down there.”

“It’s always sunrise somewhere, Inki.”

“Yes, but unfortunately some criminals got an early start.” Inki pulled out her datapad from its pouch on the side of her belt. “I had to amend the criminal activity report for this morning after there was an assault in docking bay four.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, Mr. Kwat is in sickbay because a drunken Kalcarian merchant struck him in the ribs with a wrench around zero-six-hundred. The offender is in the brig sobering up, though Mr. Kwat has yet to press charges which strikes me as somewhat uncharacteristic of...”

A strange flash of light caught Inki’s eye out in the distant black of space. It was close. Between them and the planet. She squinted, unable to make out what it was. It almost looked like a slipspace event, but it was too close, and hanging there for so long.

“Commander.” She got up and nodded towards it.

“What is that…?” Feli had turned around with just enough time to mutter before a loud klaxon blared through the compartment, repeating it’s screaming and red flashing as the two jumped up.

“Proximity alert, Feli to operations!” The voice crackled through the intercom, adding to the din.

Inki stayed on Feli’s heels as she moved through the blast door of her office and into the central operations and command room. It was buzzing with tension and activity. The large room was lined with screens and terminals and more than a dozen different workstations and control pits where some twelve crew, Lumirians and Humans, quickly took up their alert posts and prepared for combat or a disastrous situation. Inki scanned and crossed the room as Feli stepped down towards the central holotank, trying to quickly ascertain what was happening. Several screens were switched over to show external sensors, traffic control, and spatial monitoring, and Chief Mendoza was quick to make his way over to the engineering console. Some kind of impending issue with a vessel, Inki thought.

“Ensign Koli, report.” Feli stepped up to where the blond furred Ensign sat, monitoring and managing the local sensors and all of the telemetry from nearby ships and the sensor posts throughout the system. The terminal in front of him showed various wavefronts and gravimetric readings of the surrounding space across several complex charts and analysis tables that all suggested a massive spike in activity.

“Sir, a subspace anomaly has formed approximately one hundred kilometers away from the station at zero-one-eight notch two-five-two, well within the proximity danger zone. Possible slipspace event, gravimetric distortions suggest an incoming ship, but readings are erratic. It’s too unstable to be a jump point unless something has gone horribly wrong with their quantum bore or slipspace engines. They are jumping in close, well inside our mass-lock.”

“Are there any inbound ships due?”

“No, sir. Not for another four hours.”

“Our MIDAR should have been able to detect a ship before its breach point got this close.” Inki stepped over and across the room to the tactical station. “Commander, recommend charging weapons and arming defensive systems.”

“Action stations.”

“Action stations, action stations, set condition one throughout the station, this is not a drill. Non-essential personnel to pressure zones.” The officer of the watch immediately called out into the intercom handset.

“Arm weapons systems and shields, Lieutenant, and standby. Lieutenant Watson, order all civilian traffic within three hundred kilometers to move within fifty kilometers of the station and prepare to engage our fortress shields. Order all other civilian ships to move to a safe distance of two hundred thousand kilometers. Launch the CDV Kha Rakari and contact the USS Agamemnon, alert them to our situation.”

“Aye sir, Captain Santana has been notified and the Captain of the Kha Rakari is preparing to release moorings.”

“Very good. Inki?”

“Deploying hardpoints.” Inki cycled through the tactical system screens and began to divert power from the core capacitors to the shield systems and disruptors. She disengaged the safeties on the disruptor banks and torpedo batteries, standing by for an order. “Weapons ready, Commander.”

“Seal pressure doors and activate the fortress shield.”

“Sealing pressure doors.”

“Fortress shield engaged.”

“Commander, a subspace rupture is forming.” Chief Mendoza called out from the sensor station he stood over. “Sensors detecting mass shadows coalescing, we have an object coming in.”

“On screen.”

A large viewer above the central holotank switched over to an exterior view, and a single flickering pinprick of white light pulsed and flashed like a flame in the night. It twisted and warped as she watched it, the familiar yet strange sight sat there in an alien way. Normal exits from slipspace were clean and quick affairs, but this was something that smoldered slowly in the dark. Inki turned from the monitor to her targeting displays. A mass began to form, centered on the breachpoint. A ship quickly flashed into existence a moment afterwards as the anomaly vanished in a shower of sparks as the stars behind the ship warped and flickered from the spacefold. A large black form with bits of red paint and flickering lights that lined the hull that seemed to be venting out sparks and vapor. The ship was badly damaged. Immediately, active and passive sensors started sweeping over the new arrival.

“Commander, vessel leaving the breach point. Appears to be heavily damaged and they are venting atmosphere from multiple hull breaches along their bow.”

“Hail them.” She turned to Koli, who cycled through several communications receivers and transmitters at his station.

“No response, but I am detecting an automated distress transponder. It’s an Imperial Rothaki signal.”

“They crossed the DMZ? How did they bypass our listening posts?” One of the Ensigns asked the room, out of turn. It was a question that drew the Commander’s judgemental glare, but it was still a question they all had.

“Analysis of the ship, Inki?”

“Standby.” Inki brought up her database and plugged the ship’s geometry into the computer. “The hull configuration is… this seems to be the back half of a Rothaki Type 31 cruiser. This portion of the hull was cleanly severed in what looks like a sphere with a one hundred twenty meter radius centered around their slipspace engine. No sign of the forward section on sensors, the debris in the area does not have enough mass to account for it either. Significant buildup of radiation detected onboard, their fusion reactor is flaring. One of their magnetic interlocks is ruptured and their antimatter reaction chamber is leaking coolant. Their secondary cooling unit has their core temperature under control, but for how long I don’t know.”

“How bad, Mendoza?”

Mendoza stepped over to Inki’s console and leaned in over her shoulder, reviewing the data himself.

“At the rate their fusion core is decaying, they’ll lose power for antimatter containment in less than forty minutes. Though the exact time is difficult to say, their reactor configuration is different from any I’ve worked with. I’d suggest moving the hulk away from the station immediately, sir.”

“Signs of survivors?”

“I can’t get a clear reading through the radiation. Standby. Three lifeboats have launched.”

“Standby tractor beam.”

“Tractor beam, aye.” Watson called out from his traffic control station.

“Secure those escape craft and take them into hangar bay two. Contact the Kha Rakari, I want them to tow the hulk to the far side of the moon so the blast won’t hit us or New Metost. Mendoza, coordinate with them and prepare a contingent of maintenance drones and get that reactor secured. I don’t want to send over any live crew until we are absolutely sure that thing won’t explode.”

“Aye, sir.” The Chief pulled out his communicator. “Damage control teams alpha through echo report to hangar one. Active D-Con prepare to launch MSV drones, reactor containment protocols.”

“As if this diplomatic mess couldn’t get any worse.” Feli muttered, turning to the holotank in the middle of the room where she brought up a local system map, eyeing the green holographic representation of their situation. “Now we have a Rothaki ship crossing the DMZ without authorization. Ops to sickbay.”

“This is Doctor Netta.” The intercom chimed to life.

“Doctor, prepare to receive casualties, send a medical team to hangar two, we have three lifeboats coming onboard. Inki, prepare a security team and meet her there. And stand down to condition two.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Stand down action stations, set condition two throughout the station. Repeat, set condition two throughout the station.”

------------------------------------

08:18, 9.1.2421 Station Time
Deck 06, Hangar Bay 02

Vehicle motion alarms blared through the cold air. The alarms were nearly drowned out by the humming electric droning of the massive tractor beam pylons up above the group near the flight control room. They dragged the black and red metal escape ship through the air as if it was nothing. Inki felt the fur framing her face dance and twitched as the beam moved by, the most minute changes in gravity were felt by her. It looked like a gentle wind had passed by the medical and security teams with how their fur moved as if it was shoregrass. Up above them, four blocky D19-H Swordfish 3 dropships sat with their wings folded up in their gantry racks, idlying waiting for usage and filling out the otherwise wide open docking bay.

Inki stood with her security guards as Netta and four paramedics waited nearby with stretchers and medical supplies. She was sure to give Netta a little smile when she looked over. Inki hadn’t seen Netta properly in a couple days with how busy things had been, she made a mental note to find some time where she could spirit her away and cook a lovely dinner. Though Inki had a feeling the next few days would be busy with how this was unfolding before her though. Netta did give her a glance and an ever so subtle smile before returning to staring at the escape ship and waiting.

The scrawny, red furred chief medical officer stood a bit off to her side where a quiet and uneasy eagerness seemed to permeate her frame. She was a professional, through and through. As such Netta was always so serious looking, even in their downtime she had this resting face of tired displeasure finding its way to her expressions frequently. Though that wasn’t how she often felt though. Netta just kind of sat on her feelings and wasn’t the most outwardly expressive person that Inki knew. Smart girl though.

Inki squinted up at the ship as the Lumirian LSO in his orange jumpsuit waved his signal torches, ordering the tractor control crew to lower it down to the deck. The lifeboat slowly descended and clunked against the hangar floor, a sound that echoed through the compartment as the tractor beams shut off. Several knuckle draggers from the flight mechanic crew hastened over to the side of the pod with scanning rigs, decontamination tools, and equipment to slice it open.

“What do you have, Crewman?” Inki straightened herself up and folded her hands behind her back as she spoke.

“One lifeform onboard, sir! Radiation levels look nominal and the electronics are good, no hazardous substances detected. We can pop it open.”

“Do it.”

Inki gave the signal for her deputies to take up positions around the pod door. This Rothaki ship had crossed the DMZ without authorization, there was no telling how the crew would react to being picked up by Lumirians. Even with the political situation improving, there was some lasting resentment between the Rothaki and their former slaves on both sides. But saving lives was the first priority on her agenda, not political niceties. The deck hands cracked the seals on the pod’s blast hatch and the pod hissed briefly as the pressure changed before the hatch crashed to the floor with a resounding bang that made the paramedics shudder.

“Kelso, with me.” Inki approached the hole in the side of the lifeboat with her Human companion, scanner in one hand and her other on her disruptor in its unclasped holster. Whatever was in the escape ship was small according to her scanner, much smaller than a Rothaki. And in rough shape if the lifesigns were anything to go by.

As Inki peered into the pod, something moved fast and grabbed her collar, the sight and feel of it jolting her to full attention as the arm dragged the bloodied body it was attached to up towards her. Even now, with her quickly drawn disruptor poking into the side of this man, Inki was shocked to see that it was not a Rothaki, but a Lumirian. A Lumirian, clad in the black and red security armor that looked a lot like what the Rothaki had given to collaborators during the occupation. Though this man was dripping with black blood from a wound on his side and a wound on his temple. Behind him, the fetid smell of burnt blood and smoke crept up from the dark pod where a dead Rothaki sat slumped over. The twitchy Lumirian didn’t look back at his companion. He stared at Inki with shocked eyes. Eyes that didn’t know just what they were seeing. Neither did Inki. She never expected to pull one of her people off a Rothaki ship like this. And as his dark, desperate eyes locked with hers, she thought, he looked familiar somehow.

“We’re here to help. Just relax. We won’t hurt you. You’re safe.”

“You’re not Imperial… who…?” He seemed to fade somewhat, and Inki quickly hostered her weapon and scooped him up with both arms. His thin body was light, weak, and cold. With how little resistance he had to her touch, she wondered if he had just died in her arms.

“It’s alright, I got you. Doc! Doc, Get over here!”

------------------------------------

10:09, 9.1.2421 Station Time
Deck 06, Sickbay

The Lumirian from the Rothaki cruiser lay on one of the medical beds, bandaged and resting. He was the only living crew from the Rothaki ship they were able to recover. The bodies of five Rothaki and three Lumirians were recovered from the escape ships that the station was able to bring onboard. Some of them had asphyxiated, while others died from other injuries like burns and radiation exposure. The injuries were varied, which suggests that whatever happened they came together from across multiple areas of the ship to use those lifeboats. Inki pondered what could have happened to that ship as she stood in the medical ward, quietly watching the lone living crewmember as he lay there on the medical bed under a warm blanket. A pair of her deputies stood watch at the closest door, and soon Doctor Netta approached Inki from behind with a datapad in hand.

“Hey, Doc.” She turned to Netta.

“Constable.” With a little push she adjusted her glasses. “The patient had minor burns, some radiation exposure, lacerations, and a deep penetration wound on his side caused by a piece of shrapnel, along with a minor concussion. All of them have been addressed, and he just needs some time to recover.”

“Good. So. What do you think?”

“Of what?”

“Of this guy. A Lumirian on a Rothaki ship. Could he be the descendent of some collaborator that made it off world?”

“It seems like a probable explanation for his presence on that ship.” Netta paused, looking him over. “I feel like I’ve seen this man before however.”

“I was thinking the same thing earlier. I wonder if he came up in one of the criminal reports, or is perhaps related to someone who works onboard. Maybe a long lost distant relative of someone?”

Inki stepped up and looked him over again. Pale skin, dark fur that was nearly black. He would probably stand a head shorter than her. He had a somewhat athletic build, but he was still very skinny. He definitely lacked combat gene mods and any overt physical enhancements like cybernetics. The face is what was constantly getting her attention and drawing her eye though. His dark eyes and scruffy features, his well defined little snout. If he were to give her a gentle smile, he’d almost look like her father, Kald. It was an uncanny feeling.

“I’ll run his DNA print through the computer and see if it can get us an ID on him or a relative.” Netta turned around and retrieved a small hypospray from the nearby kit, walked over, and took a blood sample. “It may take a few hours to cross reference the entire government database though.”

“Alright, Doc, give me a call when you get something.” Inki walked with Netta as she made her way out of the ward and to a lab station nearby. “In the meantime I need to talk to Mendoza about what to do with the hulk. This is a security risk waiting to happen.”

“I will let you know as soon as I have something, Constable.” Netta plugged the little vial into the machine and started the scan. “Would you want to do dinner tonight, if we have time?”

“Yeah, assuming this business with the Rothaki doesn’t take all night. I wouldn’t mind some-” There was a beep from the machine. Immediately Netta turned around, surprised, and with a vague bit of frustration on her face.

“Problem, Doc?”

“It’s done already. Apparently.”

“I thought you said it would take hours?”

“I did, it’s only scanned through one hundred and eighty one DNA records so far. The sample says it’s yours, I think I may have had some cross contamination here Let me get another vial.”

Inki watched as the frustrated doctor got up and left the room, coming back a moment later. Inki was surprised, Netta may be messy outside of work but she prided herself and her staff on their ability to run and maintain all this equipment with clockwork precision. Maybe one of her nurses was slacking, or maybe Netta was stretched more thin than Inki realized. Either way this was unacceptable, Inki thought.

Netta took the vial and plugged it into the machine.

“Alright, this vial is properly decontaminated. Now we should have-”

The machine beeped again, and very steadily Netta turned around to look at the results. This time she did not say anything at first, and simply read through the report properly. Inki stood there, leaning on the doorframe, patiently waiting for the doctor’s explanation as to why the bio scanner wasn’t working. But no explanation came and the seconds ticked by, and that worried her.

“Doc? What’s wrong? You’re quiet.”

“The DNA sample matches you, Inki.”

“Your machine needs to be decontaminated.” Netta’s strangely determined face gave Inki pause. “Right?”

“No I mean… this man’s DNA matches your own, your DNA records from before you had your gene mods and your transitional chromosome edit.”

Inki’s demeanor stiffened as Netta spoke. What she said, that shouldn’t be possible. The man they picked up off the Rothaki wreck, he had Inki’s original DNA, her DNA from when she transitioned. She slowly turned, looking over her shoulder, and quietly stared at the man who laid in the medical bed. Suddenly this all made sense.

“No wonder he looks so familiar.”

------------------------------------

11:00, 9.1.2421 Station Time
Deck 01, Ward Room

Inki and Netta were among the last of the senior staff to enter the conference room and take their seats at the large table where the rest of the command officers sat. Commander Feli sat at the end of the table, legs crossed and leaning to one side as she read through a report on her datapad. Chief Mendoza was beside her, just sitting down. Doctor Elson from the science team, an older Human male with fading blonde hair and a stern face, sat across from him with his own datapad. Commander Tulani from Fleet Intelligence had also joined them from the base on the surface. He was particularly stone faced and judgemental looking, like he had already gotten some bad news.

“Ladies, gentlemen.” Feli nodded as Inki and Netta took their seats, the chief of security and chief medical officer respectively. “We need to discuss the Rothaki hulk, this survivor, our situation, and what to do. Chief Mendoza, what is the status of the wreckage?”

“Well, Commander, it’s been towed to the far side of the moon as per your order. Our drones have since been able to stabilize its antimatter reactor and fusion cores. We’ve taken the precaution of draining her antimatter tanks and spinning down their power systems and drive core. The USS Agamemnon will arrive in about fifteen hours and they’ve volunteered to assist us with analysis of the wreckage. A sweep of the ship has failed to find any more survivors.”

“Have we been able to identify the ship?”

“Aye, sir. What shipboard records we have recovered indicate that the ship is the INV Admonisher, a Type 31-C Heavy Cruiser. But this ship was listed lost at the battle at Abaddon's Gate in 2374.”

“Could the military records the Rothaki made public be incorrect or incomplete?”

“Unlikely, given how proud they are of their warships. But this is the Admonisher, regardless of what the records say.”

“This isn’t the only anomaly we’ve found.” Netta spoke up. “Of the Lumirians that were recovered from the escape ships, one of the deceased matches the aunt of Ensign Koli on a genetic level and shares her name, though she is still currently alive and well on Mekon working as a traffic controller in the Capitol spaceport. One is yet unidentified. However the last one...”

She turned to Inki who had her hands folded over each other. Inki had come out only to her friends, Mendoza and Netta just a few months ago. Being trans was something she considered a bit of a private matter, and there was a looming fear of people treating her differently. Mendoza had a good reaction to the news, citing her bravery, and Netta had apparently known for some time due to her being the chief medical officer, though she opted to respect Inki’s privacy and not act on the knowledge. She much preferred a stealth approach to this topic, but unfortunately outing herself felt unavoidable now given the situation. Her chest felt tight, even thinking of this seemed to just drain the blood from her body.

“The last Lumirian we found seems to match my pre-modified DNA. All of you know that as a member of Fleet Security, I’ve had combat gene mods installed to provide me with a marginal increase in endurance, strength, and dexterity. And some of you know that I’ve also had a chromosome edit done when I was seventeen, along with HRT and other transitional procedures. This man, Vilk, son of Kald, shares my unedited DNA and my father’s taken name. We’re assuming that this is his name, considering it was on his uniform.”

“Was Vilk your original name, Lieutenant?” Doctor Elson turned to her. The question hit her in a weird way.

“No, that was not the name I was born with. It was however a name that my father had considered giving to his son, but decided against it. Vilk was the name of my great grandfather, and my grandmother, Trabb, had taken it as her family name.” And under most circumstances a question like that would be rather rude, but this is a strange situation. She gestured with her gloved hand, looking for words. “Not to sound pretentious, Doctor, but my birth name is irrelevant to the situation. Additionally I consider this a somewhat of a private matter and I would prefer not to have this spread around needlessly.”

“Apologies, Lieutenant.” He leaned back and took a drink from his water as he thought. “Could this be a clone, or perhaps a relative or sibling?”

“I’m not sure why they’d clone Lumirians. The Rothaki enslaved us out of convenience, not for our physical or mental traits. As for the other two, it’s possible. Though with genetics, this man would have to be a twin and nothing else. My father told me that I was an only child. I have no reason to doubt him, but if I did have a twin he kept secret from me, why would he be on a Rothaki ship?”

“I don’t think that’s the case, seeing as Koli’s aunt had a double on the ship as well.”

“You know.” Mendoza spoke up. “I have a theory, given some evidence we’ve seen.”

“What do you think, Chief?” The Commander turned towards him.

“When we were draining the antimatter tanks on the Admonisher, our sensors detected that the ship had an abnormal amount of anti-neutrinos in her fuel tanks.”

“Anti-neutrinos?” Inki asked, not entirely sure what they even were. “What do they mean here, and how did they get into their fuel tanks?”

“Well anti-neutrinos can form as byproducts of gravitic weapons, which are largely impractical devices to us given our understanding of them… essentially they create a subspace rupture and could theoretically rend a ship out of existence… crushing it in a subspace vacuole or shredding it with the force of a projected singularity. If a ship was becoming trapped in a subspace vacuole, and tried to engage its slipspace engines and open a jump point, it is possible that it could end up in an entirely different type of space as its quantum bore would begin skipping in and out of subspace. Or it’s been theorized. Experiments with gravitic weapons have been banned in the Federation following the accident at Barnard’s Star.”

“So, this could be what, a ship from a different universe? One parallel to our own?” Inki raised an eyebrow at Mendoza.

“It’s theoretically possible. It could explain a few things.” Doctor Elson spoke up. “However this is the first evidence of such a thing in the galaxy to my knowledge.”

“If they are from a parallel universe it seems very close to our own. There seem to be a lot of similarities, the Rothaki designs and the fact that they seem to have occupied your homeworld, Mekon. But an alternate universe or timeline like this could diverge wildly from our own, or should, given the butterfly effect. Though I have found one key, lynchpin difference. While we haven’t been able to access their library computers, we have been able to access their engineering reports. It seems that, wherever this ship came from, the Rothaki Veiled Lord Brask’Suzika is still alive. His name shows up in the quartermaster’s reports.”

A quiet was suddenly cast out over the room as a feeling of unease seemed to emanate from the Lumirians. The exchanged quiet glances as a bucket of ice was cast across their collective hearts.

“So. The leader of the Rothaki that orchestrated the occupation of Mekon is still alive in this timeline? He didn’t die at Abaddon’s Gate in the coup attempt?” Feli seemed genuinely intrigued by this revelation.

“It seems that way, sir. That could be the event that differentiates our two realities. Or, at least something happened around that time that altered history for them. Or for us. Our reality could very well be the aberration in the timelines. There are other differences, such as Inki’s birth name not being Vilk, so I assume the circumstances of this man’s birth were different from hers. It is possible that there are countless minute differences in our timelines. Aside from the obvious ones.”

“Perhaps our friend in sickbay could shed some light on the situation.”

“Sir.” Inki spoke up. “With your permission, I would like to conduct the initial interview.”

“I am not sure that is advisable, Lieutenant.” Feli gestured as she spoke. “This is a strange and delicate situation. It may be better if you served in a supervisor role here. I’ll bring Lieutenant Gerald in from Federation Security to oversee the interviews directly. Everyone, dismissed.”

The senior staff filed out of the room, but Inki lingered, heading over to the replicator in the corner of the room for a bit more coffee. Her head felt weird about all this. She really did want to speak to Vilk, as uneasy as he made her feel. Maybe if she spoke to Gerald about this, he did owe her a favor.

“Hey, Inki.” She turned around. Chief Mendoza met her with a smile, something she couldn’t help but return.

“Joaquin, something on your mind?”

“I wanted to ask you the same thing.” He reached up and stroked his thick mustache a couple times, trying to over exaggerate his philosophical pondering no doubt. “You seem very tense. Are you going to be okay with this man in sickbay, you know, considering what he is?”

“I’ll be fine, Joaquin. It’s just weird, rubbing me in a weird way.” She turned and leaned up against the wall, and Inki didn’t even know if she was telling the truth anymore. “I’ll be fine. Maybe if there’s time, we can squeeze in that tennis game you mentioned the other day tonight?”

“Sure, if you’re up for it. And Inki.”

“Yeah?”

“You can always come talk to me if you need it.” He gave her a little punch in the arm. “I don’t want to leave you hanging in the wind.”

“Thanks, Joaquin.” She smiled, touching where he hit her arm, wondering if she should actually take a step back from all this.
 
  • 1Like
Reactions:

JackGoose

Corporal
21 Badges
Oct 29, 2011
32
9
  • Stellaris: Apocalypse
  • Stellaris: Necroids
  • Crusader Kings III: Royal Edition
  • Crusader Kings III
  • Stellaris: Federations
  • Stellaris: Lithoids
  • Stellaris: Ancient Relics
  • Stellaris: Megacorp
  • Shadowrun: Dragonfall
  • Shadowrun Returns
  • Stellaris: Distant Stars
  • Stellaris: Humanoids Species Pack
  • Stellaris - Path to Destruction bundle
  • Stellaris: Leviathans Story Pack
  • Stellaris: Digital Anniversary Edition
  • Stellaris
  • Cities: Skylines
  • Teleglitch: Die More Edition
  • Sword of the Stars
  • Stellaris: Synthetic Dawn
  • Sword of the Stars II
------------------------------------

12:50, 9.1.2421 Station Time
Deck 06, Lavatory

The warm fresh smell of soap wafted up through the cold air as Inki scrubbed her paws and claws clean. Her pale skin and dark fur came back out the sink dripping wet, something a quick pass under the rapid dryer mostly dealt with. As Inki wiped the excess moisture on her hands off on the seat of her pants, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and paused. Mentally, she couldn’t help but begin to compare the facial features of herself and Vilk. She found herself staring into her own dark eyes as she slowly wiped her hands. It almost made her feel queasy. Inki shook the thoughts from her mind as she pulled her gloves from her belt and put them back on.

Inki stepped outside and Kelso was there waiting for her. The Ensign was one of the Human crew from the Federation who co-administered the station, making up roughly one third of the crew complement. Ensign Kelso was one of her go-to deputies, been so for the last two years. Good kid, smart, eager, enjoyed life on the frontier of space just like she did.

“Sir, I have a question.” He spoke up as they walked. The two of them made their way briskly through the gray halls, past terminals and sealed bulkhead doors.

“What’s on your mind, Ensign?”

“Well sir, I heard this Lumirian we picked up, I heard he was from another dimension. Is that true?”

“Maybe. It’s a working theory.” Inki folded her arms behind her back as they walked. “I’m no physicist. But it should be interesting.”

“Sir?”

“The man we picked up is yours truly. Or so I’ve been told.”

“He’s… you, sir?”

“According to our DNA records.” The two of them rounded a corner, following a blue marker on the floor that pointed the way to sickbay.

“But you’re not male.”

“That’s, ‘you’re not male’, sir.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Consider yourself lucky I’m the only one with the authority to boss you around, I can’t imagine what your life would be like with two of me ordering you around.”

“That’d be unpleasant, sir.” Inki turned to him, narrowing her eyes and raising her brow in a way that shot an icicle of fear into the Ensign. “I mean, it’d be-”

“Don’t be a shitpump, Kelso.”

“Y-yes, sir.”

------------------------------------

13:07, 9.1.2421 Station Time
Deck 06, Sickbay

Vilk had regained consciousness not long ago. Inki eyed him from inside Netta’s office as she got lost in thought. So this is what she was going to have to figure out, she thought. She had a lot of questions, personal and professional. Why were you on that ship, what was your job, how close to me are you? A parallel universe, it didn’t seem believable really, but this kind of theoretical science was way outside of her field of expertise. She’d rather stick to investigations, security systems, xeno warfare and martial arts.

He sat up and seemed to be weakly talking with Netta, though they were quiet and their words were unclear to her from this distance, the same distance that made reading their lips impractical. Inki had to figure out how to approach this. But the longer she thought about it, the more she imagined she shouldn’t deviate too far from her normal modus operandi. Though considering the recent disaster this man endured, she wanted to approach this with a gentle hand and a personable attitude. She wanted to try. But as she stood there and watched him, she felt something else. Not fascination, not compassion, but something stomach churning. He looked wrong to her. This was a man that she never wanted to see in a mirror. It was a vague notion that she couldn’t shake. She knew that she shouldn’t think of him this way, but she couldn’t help it. It was a cause of unease that seemed to well up in her core.

But she wasn’t about to let her guard down, and she called in Twyg, her Vroonian deputy, to oversee their talks. The large, snail-like crewman was their resident psion and psychic, so he’d be able to help Inki pick through Vilk’s responses. Twyg had proven his usefulness as an officer and psychic numerous times in the past, and she had a lot of faith in his ability to read people and find lies and tricks. He had taken up a position near the entrance to the ward with Ensign Kelso, waiting to read the room. The tall, pale skinned human lacked the psychic skills of Twyg, but had a keen mind and fast hand. Both of them would be able to keep their guest under control easily.

The smell of coffee permeated the office by the time Netta came back. Inki had the replicator make a carafe of black coffee to share with the rescued crewman. It was one of her favorite drinks, maybe Vilk would like it, she thought. She offered some to Netta, but she waved it down. The Doctor made a note on her datapad before turning to Inki as she picked up the tray of coffee with gusto.

“Well the patient is cognizant and seems to be responding well. Cortical scans show he has largely recovered. I also pulled a small, faulty implant from his skull prior to him waking up.”

“An implant? Like one of the CNI laces our officers have?”

“Far from it.” The doctor held up a small plastic bag with what looked like a tiny metal pill in it. “This was installed near his pain editor implant; it’s a self destruct implant used on some slave races. If the right code was sent to it, it would have exploded in his skull and killed him. However it looks like whatever caused the concussion damaged the device, it’s inoperable.”

“I see.” She scooped the bag out of Netta’s hand and looked it over before placing it into her pocket, struggling to balance her coffee tray the entire time. “Is he alright otherwise?”

“Yes.” Her eyes went to the coffee. “I thought Lieutenant Gerald was going to be the one to conduct the interview though.”

“Originally, yes. But I pulled some strings.”

“You… Constable, this isn’t… this situation is somewhat fragile, you do realize that, right? I thought the Commander advised against this.”

“She never expressly forbid it.” Netta narrowed her eyes at Inki as she tried to justify her actions with a little smile. “Doc. There is no procedural precedent for this. I feel I am more capable than Gerald for the task at hand. He lacks my insights into this… person.”

“I am not sure I agree with this. But, are you sure you want to be the first person to speak with him?”

“Just let me by, Doc. I’m the person that has the best idea what he’s going through. I should be able to figure him out, provided you say he’s medically ready.”

“Yes, I feel you will be able to proceed with the interview provided he cooperates. He is agitated.”

“Well I can be very persuasive.” Inki moved to step by Netta, but the Doctor stopped her with a hand.

“Be careful.”

“What do you think he’s dangerous? I can handle myself, Doc.”

“I mean, be careful with your head here. You let your emotions get in the way at times. And this is a strange situation... you need to keep this at tail’s length.”

“Relax, Doc.” Inki gave her a reassuring smile. “You worry too much.”

Netta didn’t say anything, just stared judgingly at Inki as she smiled and awkwardly made her way out the door past her, the coffee tray clicking and clacking as she bumped into Netta. With a little apology and smile, Inki made her way over to the ward bed where Vilk sat. She placed her coffee tray on a nearby table and pulled a chair over. Being so close to Vilk now though, it sent prickly shivers down her spine and tail. There was a disconcerting feeling with his face, like there was some kind of uncanny valley. So close to hers, but it just wasn’t.

“I’m Lieutenant Inki, chief of security onboard this station. I’d like to ask you a few questions. Coffee?”

“Coffee?” He spat the word out, almost as if he was insulted. Small bits of steam wafting up caught his eye as Inki spoke. But his gaze was twitchy, hopping around the room in a manner that seemed to suggest he was searching for danger but trying to be subtle about it.

“A brewed drink made from roasted beans, it’s rather bitter but I find it refreshing. Humans came up with it several hundred years ago, it’s a common drink on their world.”

“I am not sure I want to have any of this Human drink. But if it makes you cause me less trouble, then I’ll try it.” Inki took the carafe and poured both of the silver metal mugs full of it. She couldn’t help but scan his features again as she handed the mug over to him. This was strange. She felt her mind growing tight as he looked at her and took the mug. She felt like she was on the verge of needing to fight or run, like something was about to go horribly wrong. But she couldn’t look away. Vilk speaking shook her from her train of thought. “But I have work I must do. I can’t stay here, if I’ve been cleared to leave I must do so immediately.”

“The Doc will be the judge of that, not me. What’s your name?” She took a sip.

“Sergeant Vilk, son of Kald. I am second in command of the security department onboard the INV Admonisher.”

“Not a name I would have picked but it’s nice.” With one hand she spun the chair around and sat in it backwards, facing him. She buried that feeling of unease in her gut and tried to take shelter behind her personable nature.

“With all due respect, ma’am, I need to get in contact with Captain Sulek’Kal immediately. I need to make sure our squadron alerted Fleet Command to our position.”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible. I am sorry to say this, but the Admonisher was almost completely destroyed during its slipspace jump. We have yet to ascertain the exact cause of what happened to your ship. You’re the only survivor we’ve found.”

“The-” He paused, looking her dead in the eye before turning away a moment. “They’re gone? That’s preposterous. What about the rest of the squadron? We had five heavy cruisers and three times that many destroyers. They couldn’t all be destroyed.”

“We’ve seen no sign of any ship other than your own, and only the rear portion of your ship made the jump. Only three lifeboats were launched and recovered. One survivor.” She pointed at him. “You. I am sorry to say but no one onboard survived the incident.”

Vilk sank into his bed somewhat, briefly turning his eyes to Inki before staring off into space again.

“Don’t be sorry. The posting wasn’t what I’d call ideal.” He took the coffee, staring at it, something was taking up his thoughts other than the shock of the loss of his crew. She didn’t know what. “I... need to make contact with Fleet Command.”

“Were you a slave soldier, a conscript?” He didn’t answer, his mind was elsewhere, dwelling on the loss of his ship and crew, trying to pull answers from the dark reflective surface of his drink. Then he spoke.

“You seem to know very little. I have contingency orders I must enact.”

“I know more than you think.” She reached into her pocket and tossed him the bag with his self destruct implant. “If your orders are to contact your superiors or destroy your ship, I am afraid neither of those is possible anymore. My chief engineer suggests that a gravity weapon was used against your ship. Can you tell me anything about it? Who were you engaged with?”

He quietly picked it up, and to her surprise, his demeanor changed. The question seemed to flow off him like water, and Inki was willing to let that slide for now. No longer was he so tense and anxious as he looked over the little device. Though it didn’t completely assuage those feelings. No doubt he felt somewhat liberated, the dark fear of being killed at a moment’s notice at a master’s will had been lifted from his mind. But still he looked lost, rudderless, no anchor, like a sea opened up before him and he had no course to chart. The feeling of relief seemed to be fleeting though, as he seemed to tense up and look around the room again as a feeling of paranoia crept into him. The brief idea of freedom was washed away like silt.

“Is this, is this a test?” He stammered, reaching up to a spot on his skull. His hand recoiled back as he touched a small shaved patch on his head.

“No. This is not a test.”

And to Inki he suddenly seemed so small. She didn’t want to use the word pitiful in her head, but she did. This man was the incarnation of everything she did not want to be. A small, sad, broken man. Twitchy and aggressive, and alone. She almost felt like his mere presence was something she had to defend herself from. She almost wanted to hate him, but she couldn’t, she still felt this intrinsic empathy like she hadn’t felt before. Maybe she hated the idea of him. But regardless she had to tell herself; he is a victim. She couldn’t forget that, no matter how much he rubbed her fur the wrong way. He seemed to stare into that void in his head for some moment before he spoke again.

“Where are we?”

“You’re onboard New Metost Orbital. It’s-”

“Metost?” He quickly turned, looking almost repulsed. “I’ve heard that name before. That was the location of a labor camp on my homeworld. My grandmother-”

“Trabb.” Inki quietly blurted out the name of her own grandmother on an almost involuntary impulse. She knew Trabb was at the liberation of the Metost camp from the stories she had heard over the years. Gruesome tales. Trabb grew up and fought during the occupation as a guerrilla fighter, she was involved in countless operations, attacks, and bombings. Trabb must have existed for Vilk in his reality in the same way, that would explain the look of reserved shock on his face as she said the name.

“... yes.” Vilk raised his eyes to her again, suddenly growing hesitant. Inki may have just overstepped her bounds here she realized. No doubt this namedrop raised some red flags in his head. He seemed to be evaluating her more intensely now as he spoke. “Trabb was there, she told me about what she saw. She was with the resistance even through the second invasion of Mekon.”

“Second invasion?” There was no second invasion in Inki’s timeline.

“After the first occupation collapsed under its own weight, yes. The Rothaki reasserted themselves following a coup attempt. I don’t understand how you, a Lumirian, don't know this. Have you lived offworld all this time? No, that wouldn’t make sense. Your doctor looks like Scorali’s kid... You’re with the resistance, aren’t you? That’s why you aren’t in Imperial colors.”

“That’s because I’m with the CCA, we-.” Inki trailed off as Vilk became aggressive again.

“What, are you with the Coalition then? Are they working together now?”

“The Coalition? No. I can’t say I’m familiar with them.”

“Oh this is a joke, they’re the single largest unified front against the Rothaki Fell Throne and you haven’t heard of them?” He nearly yelled at her as he spoke, his voice filling with a hollow rage. “What is this nonsense you’re peddling?”

“You’re far from home, Vilk.” Inki sighed, putting her coffee down. “This place isn’t like the one you’re from. There is no Coalition, the Fell Throne isn’t nearly so aggressive, and Mekon is… not under Rothaki control. This isn’t your universe, your timeline. No doubt this will sound like a lot of fiction to you. I certainly wouldn’t believe me at first.”

“What?” He blinked twice. The news seemed to have a profound impact on him. Or the notion of it did, he was searching for meaning or purpose in her words. Inki could see him mentally stutter and stammer to himself as his world view took a hit and forced him to go defensive. “What are you talking about? Is this some interrogation method because it is idiotic.”

“Oh please, if I wanted to interrogate you, you’d know it by now. Mekon is an independent world here, run by the CCA, we’re a non-member observing state of the Federation. The occupation of Mekon collapsed around the time that Veiled Lord Brask’Suzika was assassinated.”

“This doesn’t make sense. What kind of… why are you telling me this? What purpose does this serve?”

“It’s the truth. It serves no purpose other than to be fact. Your ship isn’t from reality as we know it. The death of the Veiled Lord that orchestrated the occupation of Mekon is one of the key differences between our realities. Without him, this entire galactic arm is different. He’s not here. Gone. Killed by his Vizier’s forces at Abbadon’s Gate. The Rothaki fell to infighting for some time afterwards. At least, they did here.”

“That’s… not possible. This is a trick. How can you expect me to believe this?”

“If I was going to trick you I’d make up something far more interesting than a few decades of peace. I don’t have a reason to lie to you, I don’t have an ulterior motive, I am just trying to help you make sense of this. But I am not sure how I can prove it to you.” Actually. Maybe she did. “Though. Wait here.”

Inki got up and made her way back to the office where Netta sat at her terminal.

“Hey, Doc, is he well enough to leave sickbay?”

“Yes, though I’d advise against strenuous physical activity and undue mental stress. Why?”

“I intend on showing him some of the station.”

“Have you ascertained whether or not this man is a threat?” She gave Inki a sideways glare.

“I don’t believe he is.” She pointed at Twyg and ushered him over.

The large Vroonian snail crossed the room as speedily as his large, amorphis mollusk foot would allow. Which was admittedly about as fast as a brisk walk when he tried rushing. The large snail slide into the doorway behind Inki, taking up most of the frame himself.

“Sir?”

“Ensign, what is your interpretation of the patient’s mental condition and attitude?”

“His mind feels anxious, defensive, confused. Not aggressive per say, but reactive. He is saddened by loss and has been left tight from indecision and lack of guidance. He has cold thoughts that I’ve traced back to serious self worth issues. Paranoia may cloud his judgement.”

“I’m not surprised, considering he seems to have been a slave. He’s reserved, hesitant, angry for sure but more frustrated than anything else.” Inki put a finger to her chin. “I think once he sees exactly what his situation is, he may open up some. Twyg, get a security detail to the Upper Concourse on deck seven and have them follow us when we arrive. And get him some clothes.”

-------------------------------------

13:51, 9.1.2421 Station Time
Deck 06, Turbolift Access

Inki rocked gently on her feet, hands folded behind her back as she watched Vilk in front of her as they waited for the turbolift to arrive. They had gotten him out of his medical gown and into something a bit more casual looking, namely a light loose fitting double breasted shirt and coat. Both of which hung on his wiry frame with a lazy weight to them. The skinny Lumirian’s beady little eyes shifted quietly from her to the door and back again. Inki kept a quiet, judgemental eye on him. Being a security risk, Vilk was to remain in the presence of at least one member of station security at all given times, and there were to be other officers nearby unseen. Inki had yet to make the judgement call as to whether or not this man was safe to leave around others unsupervised.

“So, ah, what is the food like on Rothaki ships?”

“Standard protein packs and rations, hardtack and vitamins to keep my kind going. The Rothaki themselves have access to better food though.” He folded his arms behind his back and began to fidget, clearly expecting trouble.

Oh, she thought, that sounded awful. Even military rations in the CCA sounded more appealing than that, and they were a far cry from a real meal. Inki was somewhat of a connoisseur of food, both native Lumirian and alien. Since she was young, Inki had taken an interest in baking and cooking. Her father, Kald, owned a bakery on Mekon in her home holt of Tufel-Met, that’s where she really first took an interest in food. Inki was a dreadful child, and the interest she got in cooking kept her on track and out of detention centers. She wondered if Vilk was as ill behaved as she was when she was younger.

“Would you like some lunch? I can find something better than hardtack I imagine.”

“I can’t argue against that.” He almost seemed to smile there. It was a look that faded quickly, replaced by some serious facade. He looked tired, his mind was elsewhere.

As fascinated by this as Inki was, she did have to figure out just what to do with him. She had to further evaluate him in a social environment and try to establish if this man could be a danger to himself or others here. It was possible, she thought, that perhaps he could be granted asylum. Though, would the law consider him to be a collaborator?

In the meantime she wanted to show him some comforts and see if she could calm his spirit some. He was utterly captivating, unsettling. Haunting. She had admittedly begun to worry that her unease could leak through her professional persona and agitate him further. The doors of the lift suddenly wooshed open after a brief humming sound, and two Lumirian crewmen in CCA blues stepped off and gave Inki a brief greeting as the two groups walked by each other. Inki pressed a button to seal the doors.

“Deck seven, Upper Concourse.” The lift instantly hummed to life. It hummed for a moment before Vilk spoke up again.

“So. If this is some kind of alternate timeline, is that why I feel like we’ve met? Is that why you knew about Trabb?” He snapped at her, immediately turning away when she looked back.

“I guess we may have known each other in another time and place. I’m from Tufel-Met myself.”

“Really?” He didn’t sound convinced.

“Yeah. And no before you ask, I’m not making it up just because you said you were from Tufel-Met.”

“Can you prove that?”

“Well...” She thought for a moment. “I can tell you when I was a kid, me and the other kids would often hide from our parents in this little underwater cave that was off the coast near these-”

“Three big rocks.” He blinked, speaking quietly. Inki realized he was familiar with the place after all.

“Yeah. And inside the cave, there was this little bunch of weird black rocks that I’d sit on and just listen to the waves up above. Someone carved a small family of stick figures onto one of them, years before I found the place I think.”

“Hunh.” He looked genuinely surprised. “That… was there.”

“You’ve been there too?”

“Yeah.” He smiled a little. “Maybe we did meet before. Not many people I know knew about that little cave.”

“It was a good little secret, wasn’t it?” Inki gave Vilk a little smile. “A great way to escape from it all.”

“Yeah.” The two exchanged a little smile. The general air about him seemed to change. He wasn’t as worried, but he was just as pensive. A small weight seemed to lift from Inki’s shoulders, and that unsettling aura of misfortune that had been hanging over those two seemed to have lessened. At that moment, Inki felt content with his presence for the first time.

The turbolift slowed to a halt just before the doors wooshed open into a small semicircle room where a trio of Lumirian crew and a few Human civilians waited near the turbolifts doors. The little lobby had three doors, two for the lifts and one that acted as an airlock for the deck beyond. Out past the turbolift lobby the doors opened up to the Upper Concourse, the largest civilian area on the station. Small crowds of people made their way through the lively street, wandering between small shops and restaurants and leisure areas. Vilk lit up as he gazed up at the vaulted ceiling lined with support struts and decorative banners and the colored lights above each shop. Inki saw his gaze move through the room as his head moved as if on a swivel. The whole place had a warm and inviting atmosphere that was no doubt alien to Vilk.

“It’s so big!” He gasped, looking up at the ceiling and down the hall towards the dozens of colorful shops. He hesitantly stepped out, cautiously looking around. His smile curled down into a frown as he grew worried yet again, quickly scuttling up to Inki with hurried steps.

“And this is just part of our station, New Metost Orbital has a population of about twenty four hundred people onboard.” Inki stepped up next to him and held her arm out, beckoning him to follow her. He did.

“Is this station a garrison?”

“Not at all. While the station does provide defenses to the colony down below, the main purpose of this place is to serve as a scientific and logistical support installation.” Inki folded her arms behind her back as they walked, holding her chin up high as she began to brag about her workplace. “We have numerous science labs, botanical facilities, fabrication plants, and loading docks. Large ships that can’t make planetfall can dock here and offload personnel, equipment, and cargo, which are in turn shuttled to the surface in atmo capable ships. We’re currently in the Upper Concourse, the largest civilian mall on the station. It’s where crew and civilians can acquire creature comforts and spend some of their off time. Most of the station’s superstructure is dedicated to the previously mentioned facilities.”

“I see.” As they walked, Vilk occasionally tracked people as they passed the two of them with idle curiosity. “It seems so peaceful… there is no tension here.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean…” He trailed off, looking over his shoulder. No doubt he spotted the distant security detail, he seemed to shrink into himself. “O-on the Rothaki ships and stations that I have served upon, the air was filled with tension. The only quiet time I’ve had was during our after hours rack time, unless you could prove your loyalty to the Rothaki crew. Having access to a place like this was something I wouldn’t have seen unless I was planet side. To see Lumirians walking around unmolested and baffles me. We all look so out of place. I feel like this can’t be real.”

“We are no longer slaves, Vilk. While the occupation of Mekon is a scar that runs deep, we’ve worked long and hard to recover and thrive in the long years since it ended.”

He didn’t respond.

“It pains me to hear that our people are still so abused where you come from.”

He didn’t respond.

Inki began to reach out to touch his shoulder and comfort him. But as she did, right as her hand was about to touch him, she hesitated. Something rang in her head like nails on a chalkboard. This felt wrong, and as she went to touch him her skin crawled. Quietly and unseen, she reeled away slowly and folded her hands behind her back again.

The two walked in silence for a few moments, Inki giving brief nods and greetings to fellow crew and civilians she knew as they made their way towards the food court. Inki saw the smells getting his attention as they walked. A dozen little restaurant shops lined this part of the concourse, each one of them with different lights and smells coming out of them. About a third of them were Lumirian shops, serving up fresh Mekon cuisine such as seamed skola-fin and peppered noodles or making fresh baked goods like iced buns and salted sweet rolls. Very tempting smells wafted up through the air, even from the xeno shops that had aliens manning their counters and offering up strange and popular dishes, such as one of the local Vroonian snails who had made his home on the station selling frozen treats of varying complexity. Far at the end of the food court area, past the seating, sat the neon lit entrance to Tor Kwat’s bar and holotheater lounge, a very popular place for crew and civilians alike when they sought out some rest and relaxation, assuming you could tolerate the host. And if somehow none of the fresh food was to your liking, there was the self-serve replimat where anyone could have a programmed dish replicated for them from stored proteins and carbohydrates. While not as good as fresh food, Inki often cited the texture was frequently off, it was still healthy and quick, no matter what you ordered.

“Oh wow. This place has so many smells in it. I’m reminded of the officer’s mess… this place is for anyone to eat at though? Even us?”

“Yes. I’ll put whatever you want on my tab.” Inki held her arm out, and the two began to browse with Vilk nervously leading the way, occasionally twitching as someone passed close by. Perhaps he expected to be struck or otherwise hostile.

“Oh now did someone say something about paying?” A voice came from off to their right, one Inki immediately recognized.

Tor Kwat stepped up from where he had been browsing at a kiosk and Inki’s face immediately soured. The Aviran stepped up with a coy smile on his toothy beak as he clasped his hands together. As he did his gold ringed fingers clinked. He was a far cry from the two Lumirians physically; largely related to birds and reptiles, the Avirans were big feathered creatures with pointy talons and long tails lined with bright plumage. Kwat flaunted his colorful body and matched it with an equally gaudy suit clad in purple and pink stripes today.

“Mr. Kwat. You seem to be in fine health considering your injury earlier in the day.”

“Oh honestly that was nothing, a mere misunderstanding over some business arrangement. But enough about me, please introduce me to your friend!”

Kwat moved to step between the two Lumirians, and Inki stopped him with an upheld arm. Vilk seemed to shrink back some, unsure of this new man’s intentions. Inki used her larger stature as a bulwark to protect Vilk.

“I...”

“Why are you bothering us, Kwat?”

“I like making friends, Constable.” He gave an insincere smile.

“Vilk doesn’t have any money, Kwat.”

“I see.” That instantly changed his demeanor and his smile faded. “Well perhaps if you have some credits or a line of credit or would like to take out a loan-”

“Go away, Kwat.”

“Suit yourself, slinky.” The two of them watched the bird make a little elaborate bow as he backed away and retreated towards his bar in the distance.

“Don’t mind him too much. He’s just… Kwat.”

Inki tried to reassure Vilk that Kwat was just a money grubbing capitalist, who has let the success of his holotheater go to his head. Vilk seemed to try to ignore Kwat for the most part, aside from watching with some alien curiosity. She wondered if he had seen an Aviran before. The two restarted their browsing of restaurants now that they were left to their own devices again.

Eventually he settled on trying the Human restaurant, this month they were offering variant Italian dishes made using ingredients that had been imported from the Martian lowlands. Large varieties of strangely shaped noodles were on offer, and an equal variety of sauces and cloned meats that were loaded with spices and herbs. Vilk was convinced by the tall and dark skinned man to try what he called ravioli, which were a type of little pinched pocket of noodle dough filled with cheese and meat and coated in a thick and spicy sauce.

Inki led the pair to a table that was neatly tucked under a spiral staircase that led to the upper levels, out of the way of the small crowds that had been making their way through the area as people got their food and socialized. Vilk sat in a reserved way, despite his excitement, he seemed to compulsively hold his arms close to his body and keep his knees together when he sat. Inki had seen behavior like that before, in people who had spent time in prison. They developed these habits of trying to take up as little space as they could, keeping one’s arms and legs to themselves helped keep the number of injuries they received down.

Vilk smiled at his plate as he delicately cut up his food and started pushing bits of it to the side, Inki saw him mouthing out numbers, mentally counting. He must have been trying to figure out how to ration food like this. She couldn’t imagine herself like this. Vilk was so beaten, so tired, he must have felt like none of this was real. There was that distant look to his eyes the entire time, at least, whenever he wasn’t twitching and paranoidly searching for hidden enemies. When he finally tried some, after seemingly taking his time enjoying the scent, his face lit up in a way that made Inki smile. Seeing him happier was, it was good. And as she watched him, this man seemed like less of a distant enigma.

“Oh by the spirits this is decadent.”

“Mmm, it is good. I will have to ask Neil for the recipe.” Inki took another bite, accidentally dripping some sauce on her chin as she did. Awkwardly she tried to get it with her tongue, and a chuckle from Vilk made her get the napkin instead.

“You can cook things like this?” As he spoke, Inki caught a glimpse of him watching her.

“I hope so. Cooking is a hobby of mine. I like trying out recipes and techniques from other cultures.”

“What else do you do, in terms of hobbies I mean?”

“Well...” Inki leaned back and waved her fork in the air. “Cooking, told you that. I like studying xeno-warfare and games. The latter of those two led me into my rather rough miniature painting hobby. I could do a lot to improve there. Ah, oh, studying xeno-martial arts as well. I guess I’ve always loved reading into other cultures, especially with how they view combat and games. What about you, do you have any hobbies?”

“Well, I whittle some. Whenever I get some spare wood or a particularly large bone. I found it a good way to pass the time, and I have been able to trade some of my little sculptures for rum or extra rations.” They both were into artistic hobbies, Inki realized. “Or I used to be able to.”

“With your crew on the ship?”

“With my friends on the ship.” He put his fork down and started to wring his hands together. “The Rothaki were only friends to their own kind, but there were Lumirians onboard that I got along with. Liked, even.”

“Were you stationed on the Admonisher long?”

“About three years. I had another posting before that, as a guard on an orbital shipyard. And before that I worked a checkpoint on Mekon near the Capitol. Customs specifically. I had to check the papers and manifests for people and things going into the city.”

“What, ah, what is Mekon like, where you’re from?”

“It’s a cold and wet place… gray skies, dirty water… lots of trash and busted things. Some areas I’ve been to are borderline respectable, the Capitol for instance. But most of the outlying holt villages are slums. I grew up, not really knowing any better, but as I saw more of the world I realized how horrid the villages were. Some of the older people would tell me passed down stories about how things used to be back before the Rothaki made planetfall, but it all sounded like make believe.”

As he spoke, it was like he drew a dark curtain across her mind with the images he wove. It was hard for her to ignore the sorrow and dread she felt coming off this man. And she thought it was still in a way her home he was describing. Imagining it in ruins… hurt. Moreso because she knew Mekon had been devastated in the past, in her time as well as his. And Vilk lived through it. Her overall unease and discomfort with his existence shifted more and more into pity.

“You know, if we can’t figure out how to send you back to your reality, or you don’t want to go, the CCA could grant you asylum. You could stay here.”

“Hunh.” He put another bite into his mouth. “Really?”

“The law would allow for it. I would have to get the Commander to approve, though I don’t see why she would object.”

“That’s good. Mmph, this is good. You know, something I can’t stop thinking about, you look so familiar. I swear I’ve seen you before.”

There it was, she knew that was coming. Vilk may have had that same, internal feeling of something being off that she had. It seemed unavoidable really.

“I bet you have. Though I’m sure I look a lot different in my reality than in yours. I would barely be recognizable honestly.”

Inki wasn’t sure how to tell Vilk how they were connected, how he would react, or even if she should. Did it matter, she wondered? Would telling him break his trust in a way, smash his world view? He barely seemed to be able to believe this world was real at times. Would he even believe her? Why was she dancing around this anyways, she wondered. She had an inkling of a thought that had formed in her head when she first saw Vilk, and it was an itch in her head even now she realized. She wanted to know if he felt the same way she did. If he was born in the wrong body too. Was that a selfish thought, she wondered?

“You’re being awfully cryptic sounding.”

“I mean I’m not the same person I was born as, I’m trans.”

“What’s that mean? I’m not familiar with the term.” He spoke with his mouth full, seemingly half paying attention.

“It means I’ve transitioned-” As she spoke she talked with her hands, moving them from one side of her plate to the other to emphasize her point. “-from a man to a woman. To put it bluntly.”

“What?” Vilk coughed and sputtered, nearly choking on his food. “You’re a man?” He practically yelped, mouth hanging open, his eyes going quickly from Inki’s face to her chest and back again as she kept a straight face but reeled some internally.

“What? No, I’m not a man.” Inki half scoffed back. “Well I’m not male anymore.”

“But you, you...” Vilk blinked, and Inki studied his reaction. It was a mixture between shock, confusion, and what she realized was aggravation. “You’re a woman.”

“Thanks.”

“But, I...” The way his eyes and mouth moved as he struggled for words told her a lot, and his hands began to fidget with the fork he held. “...why? Aren’t you in a relationship with that doctor, a woman? I saw how you two acted around each other. Why didn’t you stay a guy?”

“Well first off, that relationship happened after I transitioned. It’s not a sex thing, it’s more like an identity thing. I didn’t become a woman just to fondle women. I could have done that whenever. And second… it's complicated.” Inki picked up her cup and looked at the condensation forming on the outside of it as she looked for words. “It wasn’t some spur of the moment thing I did. Before I transitioned, I felt listless. Anxious. Sad. I felt like I was wrong somehow, like my body didn’t feel real to me. Like I was on the outside looking in. Naturally I was young and I didn’t know how to process these feelings at all, I acted out a lot, I caused trouble, I felt like I wasn’t living my life so I just didn’t care whether I lived or died for a while. The only reprieve I got was errant daydreams where I pretended I was someone else.”

Inki glanced at him briefly as she spoke. There was a distant look in Vilk’s eyes, and Inki wondered if he felt that. It was a subtle look of familiar, empathic sorrow, something that cut through his defensive posturing and vague combative nature.

“It’s called dysphoria I think. Though I am no medical expert so I couldn’t tell you for sure.” Vilk watched her quietly as she spoke, his eyes breaking contact with hers as he seemed to just stare blankly at her in thought. “Where there is a distinct disconnect between the body and the mind or spirit. For the longest time I felt like I was… being forced to only use my left hand. And after a while, I discovered there was another hand I could use. One that felt like it actually worked. If that makes sense.”

“So it… you just knew something was wrong?” He frowned at her, not sounding like he believed her at all. Maybe she was wrong about him.

“Some people just get built differently. I felt wrong. When I was a teenager I think I realized what it was that I was missing in my life, what was wrong with me. So I made a hard choice.” Inki placed her cup back down after she took a sip. Vilk searched for words and reasoning across from her. “And after I transitioned I began to feel confidence, peace, and just like more of a person. I wasn’t festering in someone else’s body anymore.”

“But I don’t understand. If you wanted to be a girl, why aren’t you more…” As he spoke, he awkwardly drew a circle in the air with his fork. “Well feminine?”

“I’m allowed to be how I want to be. I’m Inki and I act like it. So I’m a tomboy who likes cooking and martial arts.” She shrugged and smiled. “Being masculine or feminine has nothing to do with being trans. Not for me anyways.”

“Do you have, um...” Inki turned and locked eyes with him. She knew what was coming and really didn’t want to hear him ask it, but she knew what was coming.

“No, I don’t have any male anatomy if that’s what you were going to ask.” She leaned in and smiled in a somewhat scoffing manner. “Though that should only matter to whoever is in the body, hmm? Besides. I’ve been privileged with a chromosome edit and all kinds of HRT and other surgical procedures to give me this body. Not everyone who is trans has the means or position to become who they feel comfortable being. Some people don’t want to go as far as I did. In the end it’s their business. We can’t choose how we’re made, but we can choose what we make ourselves into. Honestly I think that’s pretty cool. I’m glad I wasn’t born two thousand years ago when we didn’t have all this medical knowhow.”

“Hunh.” Vilk picked up one of his last bites of food and stuffed it into his mouth. “Well forgive me if I sound rude but doesn’t that seem a bit excessive to do that to your body?”

“What? No!” She leaned back in her chair as she spoke, carefully controlling the tone of her voice as she felt herself getting combative. “It’s not excessive, it kept me alive, it let me actually live my life, I wasn’t stuck sitting around being miserable. Why do you even care?”

“I don’t know!” He shrugged and let his fork clatter across his plate as he dropped it. “It sounds ridiculous. You’re a bit fucking extreme if you’re even telling the truth.”

“If I’m telling the truth?” Inki said flatly. “Now I’m reminded why I don’t talk to people about this.”

“Why did they have to give me the weirdest officer they had...”

A twitch of anger shot through Inki. She wanted to speak out and voice her aggravation, she almost did too. Her stern professionalism reined her in, and with a sharp inhale she calmed herself some.

“This was obviously a mistake.” Inki’s voice trailed off into a mutter as the wind was knocked out of her sails.

She didn’t know what she expected. Not this. This kind of reaction had crossed her mind as a possibility, one she was really hoping against. Inki grumbled to herself, mentally. But the lingering embarrassment and frustration of hearing her duplicate say these things and act like this…

Oof, she thought. Just oof.

Inki pulled out her communicator. “We’re done here. Ensign Kelso, pick up Vilk and return him to sickbay.”
 
  • 1Like
Reactions:

JackGoose

Corporal
21 Badges
Oct 29, 2011
32
9
  • Stellaris: Apocalypse
  • Stellaris: Necroids
  • Crusader Kings III: Royal Edition
  • Crusader Kings III
  • Stellaris: Federations
  • Stellaris: Lithoids
  • Stellaris: Ancient Relics
  • Stellaris: Megacorp
  • Shadowrun: Dragonfall
  • Shadowrun Returns
  • Stellaris: Distant Stars
  • Stellaris: Humanoids Species Pack
  • Stellaris - Path to Destruction bundle
  • Stellaris: Leviathans Story Pack
  • Stellaris: Digital Anniversary Edition
  • Stellaris
  • Cities: Skylines
  • Teleglitch: Die More Edition
  • Sword of the Stars
  • Stellaris: Synthetic Dawn
  • Sword of the Stars II
------------------------------------

14:30, 9.1.2421 Station Time
Deck 07, Security Center

Lukewarm coffee. Inki frowned at her mug before taking another sip. Her security terminals buzzed around her as she leaned back at her desk in her back office. On most days she liked to work at the front terminal of the security center, watching and listening to people going by on the Upper Concourse and letting them come in freely to speak with her. But today she remained in her office.

As she browsed through the information Mendoza forwarded her from the ship, her eyes kept going up from her datapad to her terminal nearby. Security scanners from sickbay were set to stream visual data to her there. While any security sensor could be accessed with her codes, she kept these ones up so she could keep an eye on Vilk. He had been there reading for a little while, but Doctor Netta approaching him now caught her attention. The two seemed to be talking. Despite the resolution, the angle prevented her from reading their lips.

With a little click, she put her datapad down on the table and grabbed an earpiece from her desk and carefully adjusted it into place. It buzzed to life with the sounds of the sickbay.

“-n’t like her.”

“You’re quick to judge.”

“I don’t understand how she’s tolerated.” Were they talking about her, Inki thought? Her eyes bounced from one figure on the screen to the other.

Netta approached him with a hypospray in hand.

“What’s this?”

“A hypospray of hyronalin with some mild steroids. I’ve detected very mild lingering radiation poisoning in your body from when we pulled you from the ship. I’d also like to run another biomolecular scan soon.”

“Doctors in this reality are much more eager to stick things in people, aren’t they?”

“I wouldn’t know. I haven’t met a doctor from your home, nor Rothaki doctor.”

“I haven’t met a Lumirian doctor. Why’d you become one?”

“I like helping people.”

“I am sure you do, but I can feel it in your voice when you talk. There’s something else. You feel obligated somehow, don’t you?”

“...maybe. It is something I have the aptitude for, and I don’t intend on wasting my potential.”

“That was worded weirdly.”

“I’d be mindful of what you say, or the next regiment you’re getting will be suppositories.”

“Whatever happened to bedside manner?”

“Hold still, if you move too much this may hurt.”

“Just make it quick.” He rolled up his sleeve.

“This injection doesn’t go in the arm. Stand up and turn around.”

“Oh… I am not surprised.” He got up. “Honestly I- YEEACH! Oh, ouch! Come on, Doc.” That last sentence hit Inki like a slap in the head, that was almost said with her very own inflection. “I am glad there are still some painful things here.”

“Most living things shy away from pain, I am surprised to hear that this is some kind of relief to you.” Inki turned away from the security monitor and towards an inactive terminal, seeing her own reflection in it like some distant ghost. That unnatural discomfort she had with Vilk came back in full. She reached up and touched her throat, the memories and feelings of her gender dysphoria coming back as she watched and listened. Was that why she was so uncomfortable around him, she wondered?

“This all seems so perfect. Like it’s all plastic and fake. None of this should be real, but it is. I simply… feel like this is a trick.”

“I’m sure what to say other than what the Constable has already said to you.”

“I’m not sure I trust her.”

“Why’s that?”

“She’s lying about who she is. Or at least, withholding information.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes. I can read her face well. It's hidden under layers of stringent training and strict control, but I’ve seen her face before and I know she’s afraid of me. I’m some kind of mistake or dreadful thing to her, aren’t I?”

“None of this should be real.” She spoke Vilk’s words back at herself. Her reflection kept staring back at her. Neither Inki nor the copy of her on the glossy black screen wanted to blink. “I feel like this is a trick.”

“I really don’t know what she thinks about you, Vilk. Other than the fact that she cares about your well being. Genuinely, she does. You should consider that next time you insult her.”

“None of this should be real...” Inki spoke again, pausing before finishing her sentence. Then, without really knowing why, she tried speaking with a somewhat deeper voice. “I feel like this is a trick.”

That was it. His voice. She tore the earpiece out as if it was red hot and let it clatter across her desk. It lay where it fell, muttering out inaudible dialogue from sickbay as Inki tried to keep it away with a frightened look.

------------------------------------

18:22, 9.1.2421 Station Time
Deck 07, Holotheater

Inki stretched, bending to the side and pulling her arm far above her head. The fake sun up above shined down on the Lumirian and her striking white shorts and shirt. The weird green painted ground, lined with stripes and markers, was mirrored with a single long net in the middle and surrounded by an empty stadium of seats. Opposite the net, stood Joaquin Mendoza, dressed in white clothes that matched her own. The two of them had made their way up to the holotheater from the changing rooms, smiling and shooting finger guns at the people in the bar. The sight of Inki and Mendoza leaving the changing room in weird costumes was a biweekly sight. For Inki, the holotheater was a guilty pleasure. She enjoyed it enough to put up with the owner, Kwat, on a regular basis. Inki and Mendoza would frequently team up for various holonovels and adventures, or partake in the various period stories. Sporting programs like this were things she was familiar with though, they were pretty popular with the freighter crews who couldn’t make it planetside often.

Eagerly he bounced upon his feet and adjusted his grip on his racket. Inki had not played tennis much, but Mendoza got this program from a friend and had been eager to play it with her. And really, she welcomed the distraction in her off hours. The rules of the game were easy enough to learn, but she had no experience to draw from here. And Mendoza had a smile that she recognized as overly confident. With her combat gene mods, Inki ended up being very well coordinated with some very fine reflexes, no doubt Mendoza was making ready to take advantage of her lack of familiarity with the game. With little huff, Inki adjusted her feet and swung her racket experimentally a few times before she suddenly stopped, moving off to the side.

“Wait, wait, I forgot my sweatband.” She sighed as she started picking through her duffel bag.

“Oh come on, carnal, are you stalling?”

“No I am not.” She jabbed her tennis racket at him, sweatband properly in place as she ran back.

“You know, I keep forgetting Lumirians actually sweat.”

“Just serve it!” She rolled her eyes and groaned.

“Alright alright!” Mendoza tossed the ball up in the air and whacked it hard and it let out a little pop as it shot across the court.

Inki immediately dashed to her right as the blur of a yellow ball shot towards her and bounced up and off the service line. She barely caught it, and sent it right back Mendoza’s way. Inki traced the ball in the air as it moved and bounced and shot back her way. It was fast, like trying to track a yellow snatch finch. Her sneakers squeaked on the holographic floor as she dashed and hit it again. As the two traded volleys and the air filled with the sound of running and swinging rackets and gasps of air, Inki’s mind drifted to other thoughts.

Vilk.

She tried to stay professional with her thoughts. Inki was no doctor, but from what she had observed today he seemed to be in good health. Physically. Mentally Inki had some nagging feelings about him. Something that didn’t sit well with her, but she couldn’t put her finger on what it was exactly. It was a combination of a dozen little things, his attitude, reactions, his little mannerisms. Who he was. And most unprofessionally of all, how he made her feel. She couldn’t get his face out of her head. Everytime she closed her eyes or caught a glimpse of herself, she saw him. It made her so uncomfortable, like when she was younger and saw her face before she transitioned. It was chewing her up inside. Inki tripped over her own feet as the scene at lunch came rushing back to her and with a thud she landed on her flank and bounced once with a loud oof.

“Oh, you okay?”

“Yeah. I’m fine, I’m fine.”

“I mean...” Mendoza had since ditched his game stance and had walked up to the net. “Are you okay? You’re distracted. I know you’ve got some stuff going on.”

“You mean with Vilk?” Inki rubbed her sore side as she spoke.

“Yeah, that Lumirian who’s… well you, but he isn’t.”

“Yeah, it’s weird.” Inki sat up on the ground, folding her legs in front of her as she looked up at Mendoza. “I don’t know what I expected, I guess. I was really curious and eager to evaluate him since Netta told me about his DNA print. Who he is, you know? But while I was evaluating him and touring the station, he wasn’t what I expected. It’s all making me feel so uncomfortable.”

“What, what did he do?”

“It’s not just what he did, but what he is.” She scoffed. “When I see him, it’s like I get a splinter in my brain. I just immediately know something is wrong, my instincts trigger and I can feel myself reeling away from this person in front of me. A person I dreaded the very existence of since I could remember. Feelings are bubbling up, this unease and discomfort I haven’t felt since before I became who I am now.”

“I can see why that’d be so unsettling.”

“The fact I look so familiar to him kept coming up. I didn’t want to say how we were related, but I had to tell him something. I told him I was trans, and I used to be someone else that he may have recognized.”

“Didn’t take it well I guess?”

“Not exactly.” Inki got up and stretched her back. “He seemed confused and repulsed by the notion. Honestly though, Mendoza, as much as this annoys me and gives me a lot of second-hand embarrassment, I feel like I shouldn’t hold it against him. The idea of someone transitioning seems like a completely new concept to him. But honestly I’m mad at him, I am so aggravated, he was such an ass about it. I shouldn’t be… but I am. This and just my natural… the unnatural anxiety I get around him, it’s not a good thing to experience. But I’m still drawn to him, I can’t look away.”

“Well it seems the Rothaki still owns Mekon in his reality. They were not exactly known to be civil rights activists.” Mendoza’s joking smile vanished with one sideways glare from Inki. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine.”

“But, Inki, you need to realize, you can’t keep comparing him to you. You’re not the same person. Even if you are… the same person.”

“That’s not particularly eloquent, Joaquin.”

“I got a job as an engineer, not a poet. So, will you tell him?”

“Tell him what?”

“Who you are.” He tossed his racket from one hand to the other as he spoke. “It has to come up eventually, shouldn’t sooner be better? Pull the bandage off fast, you know?”

“Honestly, I don’t know if that’d help. But it’s becoming a distraction. I can’t seem to shake the thought of him being like me. I just want to help him, somehow. Especially if he is like me. There weren’t many people who were around to help me.” Inki sighed and leaned back. “But you’re right, I can’t keep comparing him to myself.”

“Since you two are, well, you have or had the same body, do you think he feels like you? Like he was born in the wrong body?”

“I’ve had that thought nagging me since it was made clear who he was, Joaquin.” Inki turned up and looked at the fake sun, folding her arms behind her head. “I want to ask him about that, but it feels inappropriate. Though I am sure Netta would want to write a paper about all this when it’s over.”

“Hmm well the way I see it is, well you’re already comparing him to you, right?”

“I guess so.”

“Well consider how scared and nervous you were to even tell me, your best friend, that you were trans. Do you think he’s probably nervous, I mean, if he is like you? You sat on this stuff for years and didn’t tell anyone.”

“I guess that’s true.”

“And consider, you had, have, some close friends who were there to support you. People who love you. He has nothing like that left. He’s by himself, cut off from everything he’s ever known. Though, you could always be wrong about him too.”

“Maybe, Joaquin, maybe.”

------------------------------------

04:50, 9.2.2421 Station Time
Deck 06, Habitat, Lieutenant Commander Netta Scorali’s Quarters

A distant, unknown noise breached Inki’s dream. Vague shapes and faces, ideas of water and the beach and a storm faded from her mind as her groggy reality reasserted itself in a dizzying haze. Warm, fuzzy feelings lined her flank and rested under her arm and between her fingers as she felt the weight of Netta’s body resting on her arm. For a moment, she smiled, taking in that warmth, then another jarring sound made her begrudgingly blink and force herself awake.

Her communicator.

Inki sloppily dragged her arm out from under Netta and got out of bed. The hours of rest having splayed the fur framing her face flat and a sorry display which stayed in place as she stumbled to her feet in the dark room. Netta’s quarters were a mess, discarded clothes and errant storage boxes and papers and data pads were scattered along the floor and tables. One of them keenly asserted its presence by clipping Inki’s toe as she cursed to herself and reached the dresser. She had no idea how Netta could live like this. She was a smart woman with a commanding presence but her quarters looked like a hurricane ran through them. She grabbed her communicator and flipped it open.

“This is Lieutenant Inki.” She scratched her side lazily as she spoke.

“Lieutenant.” It was Twyg. Inki immediately suspected something was wrong when she heard his voice. “Vilk’s escaped sickbay, he’s stabbed Kelso and taken his phaser.”

Fuck. Inki immediately turned to where her uniform and belt was laid out neatly on the chair next to an unkempt pile of Netta’s clothes and started getting dressed. Instantly she was awake and alert, a buzz of adrenaline peeling away the last vestiges of sleep as she moved.

“Place the deck on a level two security alert immediately.” She threw her pants on and stomped into her boots, slinging her holster and utility belt on. “Seal off all egress points and ready compartment force fields.”

“Already done.”

“Good. Where is Vilk now?” She grabbed her coat.

“Last seen headed towards the rec room in block zero four, we are working to narrow down his location.”

“Is Kelso okay?” She buttoned up and grabbed her cap from the desk.

“He’s lost a lot of blood but is stable.”

“Okay that’s one positive… I’m on my way, keep me apprised of any changes. Take him alive, understand?” She pulled her disruptor pistol out and checked the battery charge.

“Yes, sir.”

The doors of Netta's quarters opened, and Inki rushed out with a pace bordering on running. The narrow corridor had an eerie quiet that permeated the tense air as her footfalls echoed off the dull red carpet. Normally this would be a peaceful and quiet hour, it could have been a tranquil walk through sleepy halls as the waiting day loomed, but not this morning. Not now.

Arriving at one of the humming bulkhead force fields, she entered her access codes and let herself through the shimmering barrier of light. Inki couldn’t help but try to swallow the seemingly endless waterfall of disappointment and guilt that was bubbling through her core like crude oil. This may very well be her fault. As Kelso’s face flashed in her mind, she realized she may have been the one to destabilize Vilk. Another thought crept into her head. The realization that Netta had said that Vilk had a pain editor implant like her. The stun setting on her gun may not stop him, and if he had Kelso’s phaser…

She may have to kill him.

“Attention: a level two security alert is in effect, please remain in your quarters. I repeat, a level two security alert is in effect, remain in your quarters.”

A dull security tone sounded through the air every few seconds in block four. Her pace had slowed since entering, and she found herself creeping along near the walls with her disruptor in one hand and her scanner in the other. With ears straining, Inki tried to pick out each little sound that drifted down the corridors and identify them. Something was up ahead, moving around, she could hear it. A rummaging and ripping sound. On her hand scanner she could see security guards near the force field gates nearby, and one other lifeform moving around in the common area some twenty meters away and around two corners. That’s got to be him, she thought.

Exasperated grunting and yelling found Inki before her eyes laid their eyes upon Vilk. That and a repeated cutting or ripping sound. Fabric? Clothing? Approaching the corner, Inki raised her disruptor, already toggled to stun, and peeked in. Vilk stood hunched over one of the couches in the common area, the foam and guts of it having been chaotically spread across its cushions and the nearby carpet as he stabbed at it over and over, gasping and screaming out what little air in his lungs he had as he did. He looked exhausted, wide eyed and panicking, his movements were uncoordinated and erratic as well. Messy dribbles of snot hung from his nose and water clung to his face as he dryly sobbed, having far exceeded the limits of what sadness his body could squeeze out of him. This wasn’t some orchestrated escape attempt. He looked like he could collapse into a mess at any moment.

As Inki watched him in his frantic sad mess, she realized, this wasn’t some opponent, some man she feared becoming. This was the sad and broken person she used to be, in a way at least. Someone who needed help, now more so than ever. He was a victim. It was a thought she had before but the implications of that hit her with full force, then and there. She had wanted to help him and understand him before, but her unease and stress kept her distant and borderline useless. That had to stop if he was to live.

“Vilk.” Inki spoke from in the middle of the hall with her gun up. He immediately gasped and turned to her, practically falling over as he did. “What’s wrong, what’s going on?”

“Inki!” He thrust a scalpel towards her. Despite how it had torn into the couch, it was still sullied with red Human blood. The same blood dripped down and painted his arm and fur and medical gown. Kelso, the only reason he lived was probably because he was already in sickbay. She saw the glint of the phaser in his off hand. “Back off, get out of here you freak.”

“I know I didn’t groom myself this morning but come on.” She shrugged, trying to lighten the mood and reaffirm their social bond. Even as she did, she kept her gun on him. “But this isn’t about my fur, I don’t imagine you’d take that out on the couch.”

“You, fuck you,you don’t understand! Just show me where it’s hidden, I need to know!”

“Where what’s hidden, Vilk, what’s going on?”

“The microphones, I know you’re all watching me, this is some kind of elaborate test or something, some kind of cruel joke!” With a grunt he hucked foam from the cushion across the room. “Stop playing this game with me!”

“This isn’t a trick!”

“Liar!” He swung his arm out to the adjacent wall, gun in hand. There was an electric sounding bang as the bright orange flash of the phaser flooded the compartment with light as one of the bulkhead panels exploded into a shower of slag and sparks. The smell of ozone and melting metal filled the room as the smoldering glow on the wall flickered and Inki adjusted her grip.

“Drop the gun, Vilk! I will shoot you if you make a move to hurt anyone.”

“You don’t get it, do you? This can’t be real. This isn’t real.”

“Why, Vilk, why isn’t this real?”

“It...it’s…!”

“I want to help. I know you’re alone, lost, stuck in some weird place, but hey you’re among people who want to help you, we want to be friends. I want to be your friend. Honestly I thought things were going pretty well. I was ready to clear you, what changed, what’s going on?”

“Oh you don’t want to be my friend, I make you sick. You just want to figure out what I am and if I’m safe to keep around! Sooner or later that doctor of yours is going to want to crack me open and see what makes me different from all of you! Of course I had to be the only one to make it, just me and no one else!”

“You’ve been through a lot, more than I can know. It’s a lot to come to terms with, I know, but this isn’t something that is your fault Vilk. It’s the card you’ve been dealt. We can work through this, just put the gun down, alright?”

“Oh you don’t know what this feels like, so stop patronizing me.” He spat the words out with vitriol unlike Inki had from him heard before.

“Maybe I don’t know exactly, but I did some stuff that cost me a lot, I lost a lot of friends in the past. I don’t have any close contact with anyone I knew on Mekon anymore. I lost an old girlfriend of mine too. This loss and pain, it sucks but it isn’t the end, I know it isn’t.”

“Why, why is that, because you tore yourself apart is that why? Only you had the luxury of putting yourself back together again!” He took a step forward, leaning in hunched over and cocking his head to the side, twisting the knife in the air. “Not everyone can DO that, now can they?”

Vilk’s words stung at her like salt in a cut. He was acting so different than he was just a few hours ago. Inki adjusted her grip and drank up every single detail from Vilk she could see. Raised voice, erratic breathing, erratic behavior, he was sweating a lot, his feet were uneven and his footing seemed to have no sense to it, drool was dribbling from his jaw, his hands were shaking, his eyes were dilated. What did that all mean? Was this a reaction to a drug? The behavior could theoretically be contributed to an acute stress induced manic episode but the physical aspects less so. There was an unknown variable here, which meant that talking him down may not work. There was a creeping fear in her mind, a worry that her sidearm’s stun setting won’t be enough to incapacitate him. That she may have to switch it to combat settings.

“No, not everyone can. Not everyone has the means, I got lucky.” As she spoke, she saw movement behind him. One of her Lumirian security deputies had taken up position at one of the far corners. With a little flick of her ear, she signaled him to hold his position.

“Oh yeah, lucky. Lucky lucky lucky, everyone in this fucking reality is lucky, aren’t they? None of you even came close to even knowing what I’ve seen, do you? Or have done what I’ve done...” His voice trailed off. “You’re all so lucky… that’s why this can’t be real.”

“Would you want to talk about it? What you’ve been through?”

“Oh shut up. This… I’m a mistake.” Almost immediately, the tone he had crumbled and collapsed onto his knees. Vilk just quietly fondled the scalpel, his eyes unmoving from it. “I shouldn’t even be here. This can’t be real, I can’t accept this, I want it to just stop. I should just end it.”

Hunched over, he drew the phaser in close to his chest.

“You know, there was a time where I looked for the easy way out. Even tried it.” Inki took a step forward. “It almost worked too.”

“What?” It was enough to rouse his eyes from the floor.

“I was low, unwell.” She took another step up, taking her gun off him, gesturing with open hands that she meant no harm. “I regretted trying it in the end. And I know you will too. You want the pain to stop and you want peace and rest, that’s something you can get without death, ending it all like this isn’t worth it.”

“And why’s that? What makes you so sure about anything?”

“Because… I know how you think. We’re more alike than you realize.” She took another step towards him, then another. She was taking such a risk now, but she knew this pain. She felt this pain. She went down this path and she wasn’t about to let someone like her do it now. Inki approached and knelt down with him. She pushed past that intrinsic repelling feeling that lingered around his body and she took his hand. She held him, and that strange feeling that had hovered over his body seemed to vanish. The phaser clattered to the floor. He didn’t resist, and she carefully took the knife from him and claimed his gun. He was practically melting in her arms as she wrapped around him, his weak sobs echoing through her body.

“You know… I knew who you were...” He spoke with a hoarse whisper now, his exhaustion becoming apparent and taking over. “Since you mentioned that cave. I had my suspicions.”

“Inki Kald.” She pointed at her chest with her thumb before turning her hand around and pointing at him. “Vilk Kald. We had the same DNA at one point.”

“Figures… I guess you could...”

With a quiet exhale Vilk collapsed into Inki’s arms.

“Vilk?” He felt limp. And worryingly cold. “...Vilk?”

Before she could open her mouth again a tense feeling shot through Vilk’s muscles as he lay in a heap in her arms before he began to violently shake as some kind of seizure took him. With a cuss she lowered him to the floor and kicked away the debris near him as he began to seize and shudder. She stepped back, pulling her communicator from her belt as she looked on with dreadful concern.

“Inki to sickbay, medical emergency deck six, habitat block zero four! Send a medical team immediately!”

------------------------------------

09:01, 9.2.2421 Station Time
Deck 01, Ward Room

Inki looked out the dark windows of the ward room at nothing in particular as the rest of the senior staff filed in. All of them except their CMO, Doctor Netta. She quietly tapped the lid of her coffee mug, knowing that a few decks down Netta was working to save Vilk’s life. Netta barely said a word to her earlier in sickbay when she accompanied Vilk and the paramedics there, instead she was ushered out in a rush. Inki knew where the medical crew was coming from, doctors and medics can’t have distractions, but she wished she could have done something to help. Instead she was stuck as an ostracized bystander. Her eyes drifted from the sapphire crescent of New Metost outside and up to the distant, eye shaped Helix Nebula. Her mind, tired and hollow feeling, felt the strain of the recent events as she had a quiet impromptu staring contest with a cloud of dust billions of miles away. The universe stared back at her, silently.

“Lieutenant.”

“Hunh?” She turned around as Feli spoke. “Ah.”

All the staff had taken a seat save for her. Quietly she moved away from the window and sat down at the conference table with the command crew, ready to discuss what had transpired a few hours ago. The display screen overlooking the part of the room opposite the windows flickered to life, a video transmission of Netta broadcast from inside her office in sickbay

“Doctor. What do you have to report?” Feli spoke for the group.

“Early this morning, the crewman from the Admonisher, Vilk, suffered an acute manic episode and psychotic break before the sudden onset of a seizure a little past oh-five-hundred this morning. His condition has stabilized after use of a cortical stimulator, tricordrazine, and midazolam. However I had to infuse his body with approximately a liter of freshly flash-cloned blood to make up for his degrading red cells, aplastic anemia, and the onset of hypoxia. He is in stable, but deteriorating condition.”

“Deteriorating, Doctor?”

“Yes.” Netta looked off to the side of her desk and grabbed a lighter for the unlit cigarette she had dangling from her lips. “After a complete sub-cellular biomolecular scan I’ve determined that Vilk is suffering from extensive cellular degradation akin to radiation poisoning. The prognosis is not good as of now.”

“He’s dying?” Inki looked up, shocked. “How did this happen?”

“Why did you not detect this before?”

“There were minor instances of cell damage that matched radiation exposure when he was brought in for his initial treatment and evaluation, and I treated them as such. Given the data I had and the fact the data seemed to match radiation burns I had no reason to believe they were anything different at the time. There was absolutely no indication that he was suffering from anything other than minor radiation poisoning and non-life threatening injuries. Needless to say I no longer believe that this is damage caused by radiation exposure from his time on the ship. It is possible that there is a source that is continuing to affect him in a manner similar to radiation poisoning here on the station. I would like Dr. Elson to review my data, but I am concerned that the nature of this universe may be harming Vilk.”

“In what way, Doctor?”

“Well.” She took a drag. “I don’t like guessing, but it could be possible that the background radiation of this universe is different from his own, and it is acting like a poison for his body.”

“Could we put him in stasis to slow the effects?”

“Possibly, but it may not work unless we can completely isolate him, and even then I can’t say for sure if this even is the cause of his cellular damage. His body could be breaking down from the stress from the jump between realities.”

“Can we stop him from dying?” Inki spoke up.

“Unfortunately all I can do for the moment is try to repair the cellular damage he has now. Until I find the exact cause I am unsure I can find a way to prevent further degradation. As it stands I can stabilize him, lessen his pain, and prolong his life for a short amount of time.”

“Do you have an estimate as to how long he has to live?”

“In his current state...” Netta paused, and Inki saw her eyes briefly move and lock with hers. They moved off her and back to Feli before she spoke. “It’s difficult to say. I’d give him a little over four days with adequate treatment, assuming we can’t come up with a way to slow or prevent the damage.”

A sliver of ice slid down Inki’s spine as she heard the words from Netta. That didn’t seem real. Four days? Four days. It was like someone was walking on her own grave. Inki didn’t know what to think. She felt hollow. Shocked. Numb. It didn’t even seem real. It didn’t seem fair. Of course it wasn’t fair, people are fair, life isn’t. Trabb told her that once a long time ago. Despite her wishes…

“Thank you Doctor. Doctor Elson.”

“Yes, sir?”

“Please coordinate with Netta and update me as soon as you’ve made any progress towards finding out what is killing Vilk. The entire medical and science department is at your disposal, Doctors. Do what you can.”

“Thank you, Commander.” Netta looked over her shoulder and into the sickbay ward behind her. “I will do what I can.”

“I’ll review Doctor Netta’s data and join her in sickbay once this meeting is complete, Commander.”

“Thank you, Doctor Elson. Lieutenant, were you able to ascertain how this escape happened?”

That snapped Inki back to reality.

“Aye, sir.” She spoke with a slower and drained sounding tone, one she tried to hide as her mind dwelled on Vilk’s ailing condition. “Vilk was in largely fine condition at the time, and had asked Kelso to accompany him to the lavatory. At some point in the night he got a scalpel from one of the medical kits, that part we haven’t sorted out just yet. But he attacked Kelso when he left the lavatory stall, stole his weapon, and threatened the nurses in the ward to open the doors with Kelso’s phaser. He was found in the common area not long afterwards, destroying furniture and claiming this reality was some type of trick.”

“A trick?”

“Yes, sir, he didn’t seem to want to believe this place was real.”

“Inki, please review the security tapes again and see how he managed to get that knife, I don’t want a repeat of this in the future.”

“Yes, sir.” Inki’s tone remained flat and dry.

“Dismissed. Though, Inki, stay.”

The rest of the senior staff began to file out, leaving Commander Feli and her chief of security standing alone in the quiet room. But Netta remained on the screen, seemingly unwilling to dismiss herself. Feli was silent a moment before speaking. Space loomed behind Inki as she watched her commander take a step forward and retrieve a datapad from the table, looking through it a moment before looking her in the eyes.

“I’m disappointed in you, Lieutenant.”

Inki knew where this was going. She thrust her heels together and stood up straight at attention as Commander Feli rounded the table and approached her. Inki stared at the wall opposite herself as Feli tried to burn a hole in her head with her eyes.

“Sir. I understand, sir.”

“While I understand that I did not explicitly tell you to avoid Vilk, you took charge of his interview and evaluation without my consent. While I value your initiative, Lieutenant, you’ve exasperated a delicate situation and left me a man who had seconds left, seconds, Inki, between the sickbay and the morgue. Do you understand?” Feli’s tone was flat and serious, forceful with how she spoke, it was something Inki felt through her core.

“Yes, sir.”

“You’re lucky I don’t demote your sorry ass.”

“With all do respect, Commander, I don’t think it is entirely fair to level all the blame on the Lieutenant alone.”

“Doctor?”

“If I may speak freely, sir, I plan on including some notes on Inki’s mental state when I write my official report here that should be taken into consideration. I believe her mental state was compromised by the extreme logical dissonance of this unique situation. She has no history of mental incidents, but this stress-induced cognitive dysfunction led to severe errors in judgement that should be considered abnormal for the officer in question.”

Inki couldn’t believe what she was hearing. It was like Netta, someone who was so close to her, was just punching her in her gut when she was down. Was she suggesting some kind of ineptitude or insanity on her part? Could she be right? Inki swallowed it, and kept that feeling inside her, and remained standing at attention for her commander.

“I recommend counselling and disciplinary reprimand.” Netta didn’t even look at Inki as she spoke. “If I may be so bold that is, Commander.”

“I will take your suggestions into consideration, Doctor Netta. You’re dismissed.”

With a short burst of static the screen Netta was on went blank, leaving Feli staring at it a moment before she finally turned to Inki with a dour look on her face.

“Inki, I am going to be amending your service record and attaching an official letter reprimanding you for your actions here. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Do you feel you are still capable of performing your duties as chief of security?”

“Yes, sir. I believe I am fully capable of performing my duties.”

“Understand that any further incidents will result in you being temporarily relieved of duty. If you had any hope of a promotion consider those ambitions put on hold for the foreseeable future. Dismissed. And, Inki… Vilk is right though, you’re lucky, really lucky.”
 
  • 1Like
Reactions:

JackGoose

Corporal
21 Badges
Oct 29, 2011
32
9
  • Stellaris: Apocalypse
  • Stellaris: Necroids
  • Crusader Kings III: Royal Edition
  • Crusader Kings III
  • Stellaris: Federations
  • Stellaris: Lithoids
  • Stellaris: Ancient Relics
  • Stellaris: Megacorp
  • Shadowrun: Dragonfall
  • Shadowrun Returns
  • Stellaris: Distant Stars
  • Stellaris: Humanoids Species Pack
  • Stellaris - Path to Destruction bundle
  • Stellaris: Leviathans Story Pack
  • Stellaris: Digital Anniversary Edition
  • Stellaris
  • Cities: Skylines
  • Teleglitch: Die More Edition
  • Sword of the Stars
  • Stellaris: Synthetic Dawn
  • Sword of the Stars II
------------------------------------

11:19, 9.2.2421 Station Time
Deck 06, Sickbay

“You’ve lost perspective, Inki.”

“Hunh?”

Inki blinked from where she stood in Netta’s office, looking out at the floor of the wards where Vilk lay in a biobed. A pair of nurses were going over some readings and preparing some injections and complex medical equipment Inki didn’t recognize. Vilk just laid there, restrained, looking exhausted and sad. Inki didn’t look much better. The news of Vilk’s condition had sapped her spirits in a way she didn’t anticipate. She tried to push these emotions from her mind, but she failed and the best she managed to do was leave herself feeling hollow and dry without an inkling of wind in her sails.

“What do you mean I’ve lost perspective?” Inki’s tone had since shifted to one of dry judgemental exhaustion. Drained of energy, she didn’t turn around to face Netta, but watched her faint reflection in the glass in front of her. “You mean my alleged mental break? I thought you were on my side in this.”

“No, I never was on your side with this, I was against this from the start. When I spoke up to Feli about your mental state, that was me taking your side. Your career would be in shambles otherwise, don’t you see that? This is an absolute mess now, and you have to realize you’re not thinking straight. Please, please just take a few steps back and look at this from a distance.”

“Netta… I am thinking straight. I had this under control.”

“Kelso was wounded because you failed to enact a high enough security protocol for dealing with this man. You were biased and allowed yourself to get too close to him before you even finished an evaluation. This kind of interaction is unprecedented; you shouldn’t have even gone near him. Now look at the damage he’s caused.”

“Come on, Doc, you yourself said that his episode was from this condition.” She rubbed her eyes, wishing Netta would stop talking.

“Yes, but I would have one less person in sickbay now if you had evaluated Vilk normally or if we had someone else do it instead.”

Inki blinked. Netta was right, Feli was right. She knew that. Whether or not she had admitted that to herself earlier didn’t matter now. She made a bad call and someone got hurt because of it. It was a minor miracle no one died. She was aggravated at the whole situation, and herself.

“I made a mistake, Doc. I’ll be taking responsibility for it.”

“Don’t tell that to me, tell that to Ensign Kelso. He was stabbed in the neck.” The Doctor’s voice, a hoarse whisper filled with nothing but aggravation and disappointment grated in Inki in ways she didn’t expect. Didn’t want. “And what if he was killed? If he wasn’t already in sickbay he may not have even made it here.”

“Stop it, Netta.” She got the point.

“Something you need to understand, Lieutenant. I know people end up in sickbay, it can’t always be prevented. But this time it could have been. You’ve been greedy, you’ve been treating Vilk like a pet, this is absolutely unacceptable.”

“Netta, that’s enough.” The hoarse growl was enough to make Netta pause, make her realize she pushed just a bit too much. It took a lot to break Inki’s personable and patient exterior, but now there was a quiet anger leaking through the cracks. Something that Netta rarely had seen. “I get it. I messed up. I should have recused myself from this assignment long ago. But I didn’t. I was selfish. And now it’s too late to do anything about it.”

Inki finally turned around, glaring into Netta’s eyes with a quiet, boiling fury. She wanted to scream, to just put her fist through the window, to flip Netta’s terminal off the desk and smash it to bits on the floor. She wanted to. She didn’t. She couldn’t. Slowly, the anger faded from her voice and her face softened.

“I’ve been alone in ways you... can’t understand, Doc. I was enamored with the idea of meeting someone who felt like I felt. I never met anyone else who was trans before. Coupled with the fact that Vilk is… similar to me in many ways, I felt like-”

“But you don’t even-” She was cut as Inki firmly thrust a finger at her.

“No, I don’t know if Vilk is trans and it doesn’t matter. Okay? That doesn’t matter. Everything about him is wrong. It made me hate him, and I didn't want that. He was just this constant reminder of what I used to be, how I used to feel. Like he was a piece of me… I wanted to fix him, to heal him. Make him better. I was drawn to him because I wanted someone like me, and because I felt his pain and wondered if it was the pain I felt. I wanted to know if I could be there for someone, like how Trabb was there for me when no one else was at first. My father came around quickly, but my mother... But that was selfish of me to think like I could do that and I let it get in the way of my judgement. Kelso paid for this, I know that and I am going to have to live with that.”

Inki dug her fingers into the bridge of her nose as she turned away. A cold sigh left her body as she steadied her breathing and began to try calming herself down. In the quiet, a pair of footfalls approached Inki from behind, and Netta took her hand and held it in her own.

“You’ve always cared too much about others.”

“Maybe. I thought you liked that about me.”

“I do, it’s a good quality you have.”

Inki stood there, listening to the distant beeping vital monitors, feeling Netta’s fingers in her palm. It felt good, gentle, warm. Her scarlet fur stood out against her dark gloves like an ember in the night. Inki’s mind drifted as she looked up at Netta’s face and brushed a lock of her hair aside.

“Do you remember when we first met, Doc?” Netta’s face calmed her as she looked into it. She was her lighthouse, her beacon in the dark and any storm.

“Of course, why?”

“When you got off that shuttle, and I showed you to your quarters, I remember saying that I heard about your father, that if you needed or wanted to talk I’d be available for you.”

“Heh. Yes I remember. And if I recall correctly, I told you off.” She scoffed. “It was actually very rude of me.”

“Yes, it was rather rude, but you did come around. What was it you called me, aggravatingly talkative, a socially undisciplined buffoon?”

“Why can’t you be a grouchy asshole like me?”

“Was that supposed to be some kind of complement?” She smiled, just barely. “Come on, Doc, you need to be that hardass pragmatist medical genius to balance out my stupidity. Being around you makes me feel like more of a person.”

“It… I’m just frustrated. I’m sorry. Though you are an idiot.”

“Thanks.” She scoffed with a vague smile.

“I hope I’m wrong about all this with Vilk.” Netta turned away from Inki and looked out into the ward.

“About Vilk dying?”

“I’m not often wrong, Inki. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but this is my field of expertise. Vilk may not have long to live, but honestly it sounds like you have a chance to be there for someone who needs it.”

“Thanks, Doc.”

With a dry little laugh, Inki wrapped her tail around Netta and drew her in close, placing her hand on Netta’s head and ruffled her hair a bit. Netta groaned and she just slapped it away with a sigh. Inki was worried, she couldn’t help it. But, if anything happened, she trusted Netta. Completely. But she worried still.

The Lieutenant adjusted her uniform a bit and stepped out into the ward to meet Vilk. He was in a sad state, looking drained and worn down as the energy leaked from his body. The poor guy looked exhausted, like he’d been beaten within an inch of his life. Beeping vital monitors quietly filled the room with a strange life that would leave the place hollow and full of dread should they stop. Off past him, further down the ward, she saw Kelso laying unmoving and bandaged on another biobed. It could have been the morgue where he laid. And as Vilk slowly turned to meet Inki with tired eyes, she felt it again: guilt.

“Hey… Lieutenant.”

“Hey, Vilk.” She tried to give him a reassuring smile. Inki wasn’t sure if it helped though. Inki wasn’t sure of anything.

“Listen. I want to apologize.”

“About stabbing Kelso? You should probably tell him, not me.”

“Well. No that wasn’t what I was going to apologize for here.”

“Well you should consider apologizing for it at some point.” She patted his shoulder as she spoke. “It’s warranted.”

“Right. It’s just.” He sighed and looked away. “I’m sorry for speaking so poorly of you at lunch, and after.”

“You’re fine, Vilk.”

“No. I’m not. You don’t understand… I was not disgusted with you.” His tired eyes slowly moved over her figure. “I think I was… jealous.”

“Jealous?” She cocked her head to the side.

“Yes. Jealous. I think I had kind of a knee jerk reaction... I had trouble taking all this in once you told me what you were. What you’ve done. You have to understand that this idea never crossed my mind as being actually possible. And I got mad that you had the chance… and I never even had anything. I had to make due. I had to settle, and just take the hits as they came. I got so tired of it.”

“You… you feel like me?” Her mouth opened again, searching for words.

“You’re… so different from me. You have a position where you have power, you’re physically superior, you’re confident. You grew up on Mekon and her skies and waters were clear. I don’t know. The things you’ve said sound like thing’s I’ve felt, things that I have memories of. I’ve never felt right. For a lot of reasons. But I never knew for sure what it was… I used to have dreams that I was...” He turned his head and scoffed. “Like you are now.”

“No, no it’s not dumb.” She took a seat next to him, taking his hand.

“I couldn’t bring myself to believe this was anything other than a test. Just a cruel test. Because having this place, all this exist, and you… being how you are here too. It’s cruel. That this whole place just existed without me, knowing that, it’s worse than anything I’ve felt.” A single try sob came as he tightened his grip on Inki’s hand. “You have everything I’ve ever wanted, why, why am I stuck like this? With my awful life. Why did you get it all and when I got nothing? I hate it.”

“I don’t know.” She swallowed a bit of a sob, and tried to hold back tears. “I don’t think it’s fair at all.”

------------------------------------

22:04, 9.2.2421 Station Time
Deck 06, Habitat, Lieutenant Inki Kald’s Quarters

Inki had gotten a case of beer from the market and called Mendoza up to her quarters to relax with her. She needed time to decompress. Inki’s quarters were what she could have called well lived in. They weren’t at all messy like Netta’s, but there were signs of her hobbies and presence throughout the room. Books on xeno-warfare, models of various space cruisers, tiny half painted miniatures and the various brushes and pigments one would expect to find with them. Usually painting took her mind off of things, it was an outlet that let her focus on something singular and productive. But as she leaned in over her tiny plastic tank with her brush in hand and beer off to the side, it just didn’t do it for her. As she felt the worn red carpet under her toes, she put her brush down and grabbed the bottle of Veltaskan IPA she’d been nursing. Dirty condensation, mixed with dark paint residue dripped down and sullied the label with every swig she took. Energetic and grungy music flowed about the air around her as she drank, painted, and listened to her speakers run through Hello Nasty.

Her communicator beeped, breaking her zen, and she put her drink down and wiped her hands off on a dirty little towel she had nearby.

“Computer, pause music. This is Lieutenant Inki.”

“Hey there, Inki. It’s Mendoza.”

“Hey, Joaquin. What’s going on?”

“Hey, Inki, I won’t be able to make it tonight. I have a docking coupler I need to-”

“Listen, it’s fine.” Inki turned in her chair, leaning off the back and looking down at her half painted models and the condensation on her beer. “You do what you need to do.”

“Right, I’ll see you around, Inki.”

“See yah.” She waited a moment until Mendoza hung up before closing her communicator and hucking it at the bed with enough force to send it bouncing into a nearby alcove. She stared at it a moment, before letting out a quiet huff and melting back into her chair. “Computer, resume music.”

There was a creeping feeling of nothing going right that snuck up on her. She sat there, looked back at her little metal and plastic communicator for a few moments before she left it where it fell and grabbed another beer. Then another. On her forth beer the buzzer on her door rang, someone was outside her quarters. With a grunt Inki found herself getting up from her desk and walking on over to the computer panel at her door to toggle on the outer sensor. The sensors showed the hallway and to her surprise, Tor Kwat standing outside her door. Her finger hesitated over the intercom button. She didn’t want to talk to Kwat. He was a businessman at best, and a con man at worst. He was a greedy capitalist who looked after himself first, his business second, and nothing else after that. And Inki, in her mild inebriation, just stopped caring for a moment and pressed the button in an act she hoped she would not regret.

“It’s late, Kwat.”

“Heh, I know that, slinky, may I come in?”

Kwat never visited her unless it was to complain about something, usually someone else he wanted arrested. But he never bothered her at her quarters before.

“Why?”

“I just need to talk to you about something, it’s personal.”

Inki stepped back from the communications panel with an eyebrow raised, and undid the maglock on her door. A couple clicks later and the dull red door wooshed open. Inki was leaning up against the wall when she ushered him inside wordlessly with an exhausted wave. Tor Kwat gave an over eager smile as he stepped inside. With his slicked back crest and his very loud looking teal suit, Inki felt practically naked out of her uniform and just in her tank top and pants. She felt like she may not be able to leverage her normal authority while she was half dressed and drunk. She was probably right.

“Ah, thank you kindly, Lieutenant, for seeing me at such a late hour.” The little stompy bird lizard stepped in and looked around the main room of her quarters, to her bed below the small windows to her desk across it before peaking through the shelves that led to her small mess area. “What a lovely living space! I absolutely love the carpet.”

“What, what do you want, Kwat?” She rubbed her face, leaving a smear of paint residue on her cheek.

“Oh come now, slinky.” He took an uninvited seat on her bed. “I’m here trying to be friendly. I can be a nice guy. I am a nice guy.”

Inki narrowed her brow at him.

“Alright, alright, I’ll get to the point.” He crossed his legs. “I’ve heard some rumors and such coming through the vine, about your friend in sickbay.”

“Is that so?” Inki didn’t like where this was going.

“Yes, and I think I have something that may help.”

“You, wait what?” She drunkenly blinked in confusion. Kwat, help? What?

“Yes.”

He reached into a pocket on his coat and produced a small datapad, handing it off to Inki. She grabbed it, looking it over and squinting at it. It looked like atmospheric data and flight records for New Metost.

“What’s this?”

“It’s weather information for the next two days, along with some flight plans and landing zones along some rather picturesque areas of the coast.”

“For, what, sightseeing?”

“Yes, but not for you. Vilk’s spirit may benefit from seeing a clean sky at least once in his life.”

“Hunh.” She blinked, her frustrations with Kwat suddenly gone once she realized exactly what he was offering. Inki looked down at it again. “What will this cost me…?”

“It’s free, on the house. No strings attached.”

“That seems overly generous of you, Kwat. Why?”

“Because I like you, even if you don’t like me. And if I can do you this one favor and help a dying friend of yours, that’s worth it, isn’t it?”

Inki looked back down at the datapad and gently placed it on her desk.

“Do you want a beer, Kwat?”

------------------------------------

19:04, 9.3.2421 Station Time
Deck 06, Hangar Bay 02

Inki’s day had been completely occupied with security tasks, overseeing schedules, scans, monitoring movement, and performing active patrols of the station. The Rothaki wreck had kept her busy. Between correlation reports and cross checking information from Fleet Intelligence, Inki had been able to muster up at least an inkling of a plan for Vilk. Just a minor thing, but she hoped it would provide him with at least some happiness.

Before he died.

The thought haunted her. It made her feel sick. He deserved so much better than what he’d been given. There was honestly so little she could do now though. His life was in Netta’s hands. As Inki looked up in the cool hangar, she watched as Swordfish E218 was lowered down from its gantry racks as vehicle motion alarms blared through the cool chamber that smelled vaguely of grease.

Earlier in the day, Inki had met with Commander Feli to make a formal request. The usage of one of the Swordfish dropships for a brief excursion down to the surface of New Metost. She was hesitant at first, but Inki explained to her that it was for Vilk. She wanted to show him a clear sky before he died. Feli had wondered why not just use a holotheater, but Inki was sure it wouldn’t be the same. And Feli knew that was true. Simulation is no substitute for a real sky. Despite her frustrations with Inki from the other day, it was hard to say no to offering some minor comfort to a dying man, especially when all it would cost is a couple hours of time and some fuel. It would be better to do it now, rather than when Vilk was much further along where he may not be able to even leave sickbay.

Inki planned the trip throughout the day, recruiting Twyg and coordinating with Doctor Netta. It was easy to bring him up to speed, and give him a few things they could do with Vilk to make the trip more pleasant. Inki wanted to distance herself from the whole affair since her confrontation with her commander, but she wanted to see Vilk off regardless.

With the ship brought down and detached from her umbilicals, Inki took a brief step inside as she stowed a small hard case containing tea and a camp stove. She found herself staring at the case as her mind churned. No particular thoughts came to her as she stood there, only vague feelings of sorrow. She wanted so much to do more for Vilk. This was breaking her heart.

Doctor Netta and Nurse Sephori soon appeared from one of the nearby pressure doors, followed not far behind by Commander Feli. They were pushing a wheelchair with a weary looking Vilk in it, wrapped up in a warm looking blanket. He looked drained and gaunt, like he may already be dead in a way, but she saw something. A weak little smile came to his tired face as he saw Inki standing there, a twinkle in his eye. He knew something she didn’t and it tickled him.

“Lieutenant. It’s good to see you again.”

“Vilk. You managed to convince these two to drag you around?”

“Well I can be very persuasive.”

“Yeah I bet. So. I thought I may treat you to some tea. If you’re interested. It’s nearly Harvest Festival, and I have a blend suited for the end of the Season of Storms. I thought you may enjoy an outing while there was, well… time.”

“Well… I’m not in a position to say no.” He weakly spoke, gesturing to the wheelchair. “Are we going down to the planet then?”

“You are. Down to New Metost, yeah. It’s not Mekon, but, it’s a beautiful world.”

“That’d be nice. But I want to warn you that I am astonishingly high on painkillers, so please forgive me if I say anything foolish.”

“Of course.” She looked past him to Netta. “Excuse us a moment.”

Inki pulled Netta away.

“Doc, has there been any progress on developing a treatment?” Inki spoke with a whisper.

“No, but Doctor Elson believes he has narrowed it down to exposure to the gravitic weapon.”

A dreadful question hung in her mind. “How long does Vilk have?”

“A day, two at best. It’s hard to say. If he codes, I cannot guarantee I can revive him at this point, even in sickbay.”

“What about stasis, cryo?”

“Well,” Vilk spoke up, having obviously heard them. “Doc says that I only have about a forty percent chance of surviving being put into stasis. I told her I’d rather go see a clear blue sky, a sunset, enjoy some tea with you… put my feet in the clean water of a healthy ocean and smell the crisp breeze. As opposed to passing on, asleep and alone in a box somewhere.”

“With me?” Inki frowned a little. “I’m sorry but I am not sure that’s appropriate. Twyg will be here shortly, he’ll join you on the surface and treat you to a fine time with Doctor Netta.”

“On the contrary, Lieutenant.” Commander Feli spoke up. “I met with Vilk, after you talked to him about this little outing. Twyg is no longer needed.”

“Sir?”

“It took some convincing, especially considering the last few days, but Vilk requested to have you take charge of his security detail for this trip.”

“Sir, I am not sure this is appropriate of me to do.”

“Do you want to refuse the request of a dying man, Lieutenant?”

Well, Inki had not anticipated this. Her gaze shifted to Vilk, who had the most subtle smile as their eyes met. Seems he has been getting busy when she wasn’t looking. Inki had no intention of going down to New Metost, she wanted to, but she felt obligated to stay away from Vilk when she was performing any of her duties. Now he’s somehow convinced Feli for her to take him down there.

“Thank you, Commander.” Inki swallowed as she clapped her hands together. “Well let’s go see the sunset!”

Inki got Vilk’s wheelchair up the ramp, but she had to carry him over to one of the seats in the cockpit. He was sadly light and cold, and offered no resistance to being moved at all. His limbs seemed to hang weakly from his body. The chief of security gently carried him through the small passenger and cargo hold of the Swordfish and up to the cockpit. The hangar crew had already powered the ship up, and as such Inki was greeted with numerous green and blue displays in the cockpit as she lowered Vilk down into the ECO seat and strapped him in.

“You know, for a guy who stabbed one of your men, you seem awfully trusting to strap me into the cockpit like this.”

“This ECO station’s disabled. Besides, what will you do in your state, try to fist fight me and steal the ship?”

“I can take you.”

“Sure you can.”

Inki checked his harness before he looked back to where Netta was securing a pair of medical kits below one of the passenger seats. She was going to come along, just in case. Plus there was no shaking her from her patient. Netta secured the hatch as Inki completed the preflight checks as the ship hummed to life around them, the reactor rumbled and roused itself from its sleep at Inki’s command. One by one she brought critical systems online with switch flips, artificial gravity, inertial dampeners, navigational deflectors, impulse drive. All green across the board.

“Traffic control tower, traffic control tower, this is Swordfish echo-two-one-eight heavy requesting departure clearance, over.” She slid the thin headset on and adjusted the mic as she strapped herself in, toggling on the forward MIDAR and scanners.

“Confirmed, echo-two-one-eight heavy.” The wireless sprang to life. “Standby. Marker lights are green, we have a corridor for you. Echo-two-one-eight heavy you have departure clearance, move to flight lane one-seven upon exiting station, over.”

“Confirmed, traffic control tower. Try not to cause trouble when I’m gone, Watson, over.”

“I won’t steal anything, Constable, over.”

Inki watched the green HUD in front of her as blue circles and lines arced away from her ship and off into the distance, painting her flight path out of the hangar. With a gentle hand, she took off and eased out through the hangar force fields and out into open space where the golden sun glittered across the station’s hull before it vanished from view. With a bit of yaw, New Metost’s brilliant blue crescent came into view. She reached up and toggled several of the avionics into entry/descent/landing mode and the HUD changed accordingly.

“We’ll be hitting atmo now. Shields are up so don’t mind the lightshow when it starts.”

A gentle shudder soon rumbled through the ship as heat buildup began to dance across the shields, the Swordfish straddling the distant line between light and day down below. It was an almost unnatural looking divide between day and night below them as she came in right over the horizon line.

“I for one think it looks rather beautiful.” With a glance over her shoulder, she saw Vilk staring out the canopy with a distant look in his eyes. “A glowing amber. Reminds me of a girl I knew.”

“Ah yeah?” Inki smiled, adjusting the descent thrusters as she did. “I didn’t know you had a girl. What’s her name?”

“Belken.” Vilk said the name that Inki hadn’t heard in almost twenty years and it hit her like a punch to the side of the head. It caught her completely off guard. That must have been like when she mentioned Trabb to Vilk earlier.

“I… knew a Belken.”

“Tell me.”

That was an emotional scab. She was something, that girl. There was so much behind that name.

“Before I transitioned, there was a girl who was precious to me.” She looked out at the glowing teal crescent as she spoke, the smell of her came rushing back, the feeling of her amber fur on her paw, the way she tasted. It was all so beautiful, but thinking about her hurt Inki. “Belken. She was something else.”

“Yeah. She really was a special girl.”

“I shouldn’t be surprised that you… knew her. A version of her.”

“Tell me about her, in your universe.”

This was a subject Inki hadn’t thought about in so long. Belken. It was a name that carried with it years of love and pleasant memories, and the stabbing pain of loss and regrets. The flares of heat outside the windows grew to a climax as they breached the upper atmosphere.

“She was-” She let out a hot sigh as she sank into her feelings. And she knew, Netta’s eyes were on her too, but she didn’t care. “My world for a while. For years. She was always there for me when I felt like I needed someone. Always had my back. Always knew how to make me smile. Whenever I closed my eyes I’d see her golden fur dancing in the wind like the seagrass along the dunes. But. But she left me. After I made my decision to transition she began to drift away from me. She loved me. For a while. But I worry she liked me more for my looks than anything else, but even now that thought seems shallow.”

Inki paused, taking a long breath in as she swallowed down a near sobbing feeling of discomfort as the long tendril of the memories tangled itself around her heart.

“But she said, she said she couldn’t be with me if I was a woman, she told me she couldn’t handle the change. So. So she left. That’s when I got this scar.”

Inki pulled the glove on her left arm down, working a bit to part her fur to show a long scar going down her forearm.

“You mentioned that… ” Vilk asked. “Saying I’d regret suicide.”

“Yeah. Like I told you before, I did end up regretting it after the fact. I was young, and the choice I made to better myself pushed the person I cared the most about out of my life. I took it pretty badly, I ended up feeling selfish, like I did nothing but hurt those around me.” A short and uneasy sigh left her body. “But in the long run, I couldn’t stand living in the body I was born with. So, I pulled myself together.”

“It’s sad to hear about what happened. How she abandoned you. I don’t think it was fair how she acted.” The fire outside died down as their ship dropped into the atmosphere. Distant clouds, illuminated and framed by the setting sun, lined their view. Below them, the ocean glittered between the dark islands that lay scattered in lines down below.

“It wasn't. But that was a long time ago. We were both kids.” Inki shrugged and faked a smile. “Mendoza told me she couldn't have really been my friend if she left me so easily. I can’t believe it so easily though. I don’t want to.”

“I was in love with Belken too. My Belken.” Vilk turned a bit in his chair, closing his eyes. “We have actually been together since we met. Still… still are. Were. I guess. There was always some unseen tension though. Probably because… I never wanted to be trapped in this male body. But she treated me good. I’m going to miss her... but It’s awful to hear what she did to you though. It’s not fair.”

“Life really isn’t fair. It falls to people to be fair.”

“Yeah.” The two looked out to the clouds that danced by as the ship rocked in the crosswinds, the ocean and islands growing ever closer. “I want to ask, did you have any regrets about what you did?”

“Regrets about what I did? Maybe about some things I’ve said. Regrets about trying to end my life, yes, all it did was cause my family trauma and cause me harm. Regrets about transitioning? No. I still feel like it was the best choice I’ve made. That I’ve ever made.”

“Do you miss being male at all?”

“I miss being able to piss while standing, but that’s about it.” She nearly laughed at her own joke. It was one she had been sitting on for a while. It sounded better in her head.

“You know you can still do that.”

Inki shot Vilk a disgusted look as they chuckled. She just shook her head.

“No! No one wants that! And I don’t want to wash piss off my boots.”

“Get a funnel!” Vilk had gone from snickering to outright laughing, and Inki was joining in.

“What? Are you for real?” Inki shook her head. “That’s disgusting.”

“Ah, oh, oh I don’t remember the last time I’ve laughed. Thank you for this.”

Vilk thanking her, it hurt. She couldn’t help but feel like Vilk had been cheated out of so much. It crushed her, but at least he was happy.

“I wish I could do more for you. But, I know that things don’t always work out how we’d want them to.”

“You shouldn’t sound so sad. You’re not the one who’s dying. And you have a great life, great friends. I’m… happy for you. You know, you’ve been too nice to me. I don’t really have a way to repay you.”

“You don’t have to repay me.”

“I’d like to.” He gave a slight smile to her as she looked back. “Somehow.” He paused. “Inki?”

“Yeah, Vilk?”

“I… forgot what I was going to say.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“Heh, got me… well. I may as well ask. Did I make you uncomfortable?”

“Kind of.” She looked out along the sea, not sure if she should look back. “You’re what I could have been. I wasn’t sure how to think about you. But, in the end, well, I figured you must feel like me. Or I hoped. Is that selfish?”

“No. And I’m sorry. I never meant to be the way I am. If I could change it...”

“Maybe after all this, you can.”

“That’d be nice.”

They were close enough to the ground now to make out waves breaking along the shores of sandy islands and atolls. Huge swaths of orange sky stretched out along the horizon, and the light from the sun blended into the reflection on the sea in a warm and reassuring way that invoked feelings of nostalgia in Inki.

“Oh that’s beautiful. The sky’s so clear.” He sighed, his voice trailing off.

“Wait until you see the ocean.” Inki smiled, gesturing to a distant island. “We’ll put down there, and I’ll get out that little camp stove I brought with us and boil up some of that Harvest tea brew I had imported from Mekon.” She turned around. “I think you’ll like-”

The universe cheated him out of what little time he had.

There was Netta, standing next to the ECO station, medical scanner in one hand and cardio stimulator in the other, her medical kit open on the ground in front of her, the contents already having been desperately rifled through. Vilk sat there sunk into his seat and leaning to one side as if asleep. Though the sun caught her glasses, Inki could see Netta’s eyes, their distant look of defeat. Even as she continued to work, Inki knew, she knew that it was a lost cause. She didn’t want to believe it. It felt like the hollowness in her opened up into a bottomless abyss. The universe snatched a future of happiness away from Vilk, all those friendships and experiences and stories, smeared out of time and lost forever. Never to be had.

And Inki landed the ship right in the spot they’d planned to have tea and watch the setting sun together. The spot where she’d show Vilk the clear sky and the clean sea that he had been cheated out of. The spot where she’d sit and hope that the scientists would come up with a cure as they waited. The spot where, maybe, they’d plan on what Vilk’s new life would be like. The spot where he’d see the clean ocean for the first time, and the last time. He never got to see the ocean up close.

It was the spot where Inki left the ship without her new friend, and sat on dark rocks near the base of a dune where she watched the setting sun to the mournful sounds of crashing waves and distant birds. It was the spot that Netta came to and apologized for her failings, though she had no need. It was the spot that Inki assured her that it was in no way her fault. It was the spot where the two of them sat in silence for a long time, watching the sun sink below the horizon as the stars appeared in the sky around them. The little flickering lights peeked in from beyond New Metost to gaze down upon the two and wonder what their universe took that day.

And as night came, and Inki watched the waves, she spoke after a long time of not saying anything. It was after Netta had gone back to the ship for the camp stove and the tea. The only real event that served to break up their long and quiet dusk.

“After you’re finished analyzing the body, I want to send him back to Mekon.”

“Mekon?” She asked as she lit the little stove and placed the water kettle on it. She sat down right next to Inki and rested her head on her shoulder. The two looked out over the dark waves, the distant silver moon illuminating the distant cresting parts of the water and turning the shallow tide pools into ghostly mirrors.

“I think that Vilk would want to be buried under a clear sky, on the homeworld he should have had.”

“I think that’s a good idea, Inki.” She sat down next to her, slowly and methodically picking through the sealed bags of tea they’d meant to share. “He would have loved to have gone there. It’s a really heartfelt notion. I’ll do what I can to ensure it happens.”

“It’s funny.” Inki picked up a stone as she spoke, looking it over. It was smooth, having been ground down by the waves and the tide. “I haven’t felt this close to someone in a long time. But, we’ve practically been at each other’s throats for half the time. The other half of the time, I did nothing but feel sorry for him. But you were right, earlier, when you said I’ve lost perspective. There are so many things I’ve done over the last few days that I shouldn’t have.”

“That’s not true. You’ve done so much you should be proud of. You’ve connected with Vilk, you stopped him from ending his life. You’ve given him peace, shown him some wonderful things. I don’t think other people could have helped him the way you did.”

“I feel like I owed him it.”

“Oh?”

“Vilk was his own person. But he was also a piece of me. Something I’ve left in a tiny little box in the back of mind, something I wanted to push away and forget about. And suddenly, this pile of fear and feelings and loathing I wanted to leave behind forever manifested itself in a fully fledged person. I didn’t know how to react.” Inki tossed the stone gently with her hand, watching it land in the nearby water with a quiet plop. “When I was younger, I thought so poorly of myself. Like I wasn’t worth anything. I kept thinking of Vilk like he was something I didn’t want to exist, didn’t want to be. And now he’s just a memory. Just like the piece of me I left behind a long time ago, but still his own broken person… this is hard. I’m sorry.”

Inki dug a palm into her face, wiping out her eyes as she tried to steady her breathing.

“It’s fine.” Netta took Inki’s hand in her own. “I know you don’t like to talk about these things. But I will always be here, if you want to, or if you just need my shoulder. I don’t think I realized just how much you used to hurt.”

“I’ve always had these lingering fears. About people liking me, accepting me. I’m terrified of people rejecting me, for what I am. That’s why I’ve told so few people I’m trans. I don’t want people to treat me differently. But, Vilk. He never even had that opportunity. That is what bothers me so much, when I was that person I was so glad to push him back and finally be rid of him, but I had a future. I had something to look forward to, I had control of my life, I had ways I could make myself better and happier and it was hard but it was so worth it. It was a relief to move on. Vilk didn’t have any of that. He was trapped like I was when I was younger, with no hope and nothing to look forward to. It’s not fair.”

“He had you in the end.” Inki leaned onto Netta as she spoke. “And a lot of strength to endure what he went through.”

“I wish he had more.”

“You gave him what you wanted to give him, and he got something he probably only dreamed of; genuine care and support. It sounds sappy, but, with how much you valued what Trabb did when you were younger, how she accepted who you were, well, Vilk has to have felt the same way with you. I don’t want you to dismiss that so easily. You’ve done good, Inki.”

A heavy sigh pushed some of the sorrow from her chest. As the smell of brine, the gentle splashing of the waves, and the shimmering silver light of the moon on the water dominated their surroundings, Inki sat there and leaned on Netta. And she held up her tired body.
 
  • 1Like
Reactions:

Nikolai

Basileus Romaion
75 Badges
Jun 17, 2001
20.440
2.519
  • Europa Universalis IV: Pre-order
  • Europa Universalis: Rome
  • Semper Fi
  • Sengoku
  • Supreme Ruler: Cold War
  • Victoria 2
  • Victoria 2: A House Divided
  • Victoria 2: Heart of Darkness
  • Rome: Vae Victis
  • 500k Club
  • Cities: Skylines
  • Crusader Kings II: Holy Knight (pre-order)
  • Europa Universalis III: Collection
  • Victoria: Revolutions
  • Europa Universalis: Rome Collectors Edition
  • Mount & Blade: Warband
  • Crusader Kings II: Way of Life
  • Pillars of Eternity
  • Europa Universalis IV: Common Sense
  • Stellaris
  • Stellaris: Galaxy Edition
  • Stellaris: Galaxy Edition
  • Hearts of Iron IV Sign-up
  • Stellaris Sign-up
  • Hearts of Iron IV: Cadet
  • Stellaris: Necroids
  • Divine Wind
  • Crusader Kings II
  • Crusader Kings II: Charlemagne
  • Crusader Kings II: Legacy of Rome
  • Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods
  • Crusader Kings II: The Republic
  • Crusader Kings II: Sons of Abraham
  • Crusader Kings II: Sword of Islam
  • Darkest Hour
  • Deus Vult
  • Europa Universalis III
  • Europa Universalis III: Chronicles
  • Europa Universalis III Complete
  • Hearts of Iron II: Armageddon
  • Europa Universalis IV
  • Europa Universalis IV: Conquest of Paradise
  • Europa Universalis IV: Call to arms event
  • For The Glory
  • For the Motherland
  • Hearts of Iron III
  • Heir to the Throne
  • Europa Universalis III Complete
  • Magicka
  • March of the Eagles
You're back! Excellent! Looking forward to read this. :)
 
  • 1Like
Reactions:

Macavity116

The First Stormbreaker
16 Badges
Mar 1, 2018
951
167
archiveofourown.org
  • Stellaris
  • Stellaris: Federations
  • Crusader Kings III
  • Stellaris: Necroids
Wow.

Just... wow.

I used Natural Readers' text-to-speech engine to convert your story into a computer-generated audio book, then I put in my headphones and went for a bike ride. After the first hour, I had to get off the bike and walk home, because I was so hooked and trying hard to pay attention to every word.

This story is incredible! It may not have the epic action and battles we see in other Stellaris stories, but you've created a very high-quality personal drama. There were a few moments where I was really convinced this story could have been an episode of Star Trek, such as the fate of the Rothaki cruiser as well as Inki’s interactions with the civilian populace of the station.

But I'm getting off track, the best part of this story is the characters! Once Inki’s dilemma was laid out, you had my full and undivided attention. I felt Inki’s pain when Vilk reacted badly to the truth of Inki's backstory, and you had me really worried about both Inki and Vilk throughout everything leading up to the latter's breakdown, and Inki’s struggle to reconcile her origins with Vilk is very believable and totally heart-wrenching.

And I also have to give insane props for the ending. I dropped everything I was doing, opened up the website again, and followed along with the Text-to-Speech reader. I was actually angry that Inki and Vilk didn't get to share tea and a sunset together. You had me cheering for those two by the end, and then you gave me a tragedy worthy of the Greeks. This is the first Stellaris Story that left me downright emotional afterward, and for that you deserve so many props.

A great story, memorable characters, an unexpected tearjerker. What more can I ask for? This is my favorite Stellaris Story by far and away. I'd rank it above any of my own tales in a heartbeat.
 
Last edited:
  • 1Like
Reactions:

JackGoose

Corporal
21 Badges
Oct 29, 2011
32
9
  • Stellaris: Apocalypse
  • Stellaris: Necroids
  • Crusader Kings III: Royal Edition
  • Crusader Kings III
  • Stellaris: Federations
  • Stellaris: Lithoids
  • Stellaris: Ancient Relics
  • Stellaris: Megacorp
  • Shadowrun: Dragonfall
  • Shadowrun Returns
  • Stellaris: Distant Stars
  • Stellaris: Humanoids Species Pack
  • Stellaris - Path to Destruction bundle
  • Stellaris: Leviathans Story Pack
  • Stellaris: Digital Anniversary Edition
  • Stellaris
  • Cities: Skylines
  • Teleglitch: Die More Edition
  • Sword of the Stars
  • Stellaris: Synthetic Dawn
  • Sword of the Stars II
Thank you for giving my story a read! I know it is a bit different from what is usually in here, but this game has really inspired me to do a lot of writing. I am glad to see it so well received too! A lot of work went into this, a few months of writing and editing and a lot of research. The fact I was able to hit the feeling of Star Trek episodes is excellent, I do love how they manage to do such solid character driven writing mixed in with their own moral of the week/exploratory piece... that means a lot, that is a high bar to reach. And I am glad to hear it was so gripping as well! Hearing this really makes me feel like I've succeeded with something special here, thank you again for reading!
 
  • 1Like
Reactions:

slothinator

Major
51 Badges
Oct 20, 2016
644
335
  • Europa Universalis IV: Rule Britannia
  • Crusader Kings II: Reapers Due
  • Europa Universalis IV: Rights of Man
  • Stellaris: Digital Anniversary Edition
  • Stellaris: Leviathans Story Pack
  • Crusader Kings II: Monks and Mystics
  • Stellaris - Path to Destruction bundle
  • Europa Universalis IV: Mandate of Heaven
  • Stellaris: Synthetic Dawn
  • Europa Universalis IV: Cradle of Civilization
  • Stellaris: Humanoids Species Pack
  • Stellaris: Apocalypse
  • Stellaris
  • Stellaris: Distant Stars
  • Europa Universalis IV: Dharma
  • Stellaris: Megacorp
  • Crusader Kings II: Holy Fury
  • Europa Universalis IV: Golden Century
  • Imperator: Rome
  • Imperator: Rome Sign Up
  • Stellaris: Ancient Relics
  • Stellaris: Federations
  • Crusader Kings III
  • Crusader Kings III: Royal Edition
  • Crusader Kings II: Conclave
  • Europa Universalis IV: Cossacks
  • Crusader Kings II: Horse Lords
  • Europa Universalis IV: Common Sense
  • Crusader Kings II: Way of Life
  • Europa Universalis IV: El Dorado
  • Europa Universalis IV
  • Victoria 2
  • Crusader Kings II
  • Crusader Kings II: Sword of Islam
  • Crusader Kings II: Charlemagne
  • Crusader Kings II: The Republic
  • Crusader Kings II: Legacy of Rome
  • Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods
  • Crusader Kings II: Rajas of India
  • Crusader Kings II: Sons of Abraham
  • Crusader Kings II: Sunset Invasion
  • Crusader Kings II: Jade Dragon
  • Victoria 2: A House Divided
  • Victoria 2: Heart of Darkness
  • Rome Gold
  • Europa Universalis IV: Wealth of Nations
  • Europa Universalis IV: Conquest of Paradise
  • Europa Universalis IV: Mare Nostrum
  • Europa Universalis IV: Art of War
  • Europa Universalis IV: Third Rome
Wow, that was an incredible story! I've just finished reading and I'm heartbroken for the characters but also because there's nothing more to read.
The premise was extremely engaging and you painted the characters so well that I'll be thinking of them for a while more.
And it was really cool to see a trans person as a protagonist which is unfortunately too rare an occurrence in, well, most things.
You've written something really special here and you can bet I'll be catching up on The Charnel Child and looking forward to any other stories you might choose to share.
 
  • 1Like
Reactions:

JackGoose

Corporal
21 Badges
Oct 29, 2011
32
9
  • Stellaris: Apocalypse
  • Stellaris: Necroids
  • Crusader Kings III: Royal Edition
  • Crusader Kings III
  • Stellaris: Federations
  • Stellaris: Lithoids
  • Stellaris: Ancient Relics
  • Stellaris: Megacorp
  • Shadowrun: Dragonfall
  • Shadowrun Returns
  • Stellaris: Distant Stars
  • Stellaris: Humanoids Species Pack
  • Stellaris - Path to Destruction bundle
  • Stellaris: Leviathans Story Pack
  • Stellaris: Digital Anniversary Edition
  • Stellaris
  • Cities: Skylines
  • Teleglitch: Die More Edition
  • Sword of the Stars
  • Stellaris: Synthetic Dawn
  • Sword of the Stars II
Thank you! Ah I will have more to read sometime in the coming months, I am working on a story featuring a space battle this time around, it is just dreadfully slow going with work, but it is something I am eager to make. I do hope you enjoy Charnel Child should you read it as well, it is definitely one of the more intense ones I've written so expect it to be a little rough.

I suppose I will also take this post to add in some art that I've done and gotten that's relevant here.

Such as this recent picture of Inki Kald (the Lumirians being largely based on mammalian species #6)
forum_inki_uniform.png


This much older and sloppier picture of Netta and Inki
forum_space_gays_fa_size.png


This nice one of the two from ChuKazoo on twitter
forum_chukazoo_couple_smaller.png


And this dumb thing I made at the launch of Nemesis
forum_nemesis.png
 
  • 2Like
Reactions: