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[personal profile] keaalu posting in [community profile] good_as_gold
(Original post date: November 07, 2008, 22:00.)

     When distressed, the obs lounge had always been Sei’s favourite hideaway, during his first protracted visit to Coalition territory – it was usually dark, the lighting typically ultra dim or off altogether so it didn’t drown out the view of the stars, and quiet, because unless there was something particularly unusual outside worth looking at, no-one really visited. You could see the stars well enough out of any cabin window, to start with, and this was after all a scientific vessel, the crew had seen so many nebulae and comets and stellar phenomena that even those brilliant colours and shapes had grown boring. Ergo… the lounge was a good, peaceful, private place to lose oneself in one’s emotions, Sei had always considered. The shadows let him blend into the background with very little fuss, and his black skin and dark clothing made him very easy to miss, in the gloom.

     Which was exactly how he liked it. He had never liked to display his emotions so publicly as the Ondran counsellors always insisted was ‘good for him’, and would usually find somewhere to tuck himself away, somewhere that his own feelings would not burden anyone else. Self-destructive? Perhaps. But then, maybe that was all he was destined for anyway?

     The strategy didn’t always work, though. People – naming no names, of course – had the tendency to worry needlessly about him, and right now looked like it was going to become one of those times. He glimpsed her reflection in the mirrored surface of the window rail, and hoped for a fraction of a second that she’d not see him loitering in the dark and go on her way… no such luck.

     “Doctor Sei? May I help you, sir?”

     The familiar voice was sweet, but had the finality of a tolling bell, and finally roused him all the way out of his gloomy introspection. He lifted his head from where it rested on one hand and paused his drawing of a highly intricate (if totally invisible) pattern with a fingertip on the low drinks table, and glanced back over his shoulder to find the elongate silhouette of Yolani, the vessel’s Ondraii counsellor, framed in the doorway. Typical. Along came a mindprobe. Although it is probably only with Eri’s assistance she has found me in the first instance. I will have to find a new hiding place. “Good day to you, she’hari,” he replied, politely, inclining his head and trying not to betray any of his emotions. “I do not require assistance, but I thank you for your concerns.”

     She came in anyway, and sat next to him on the floor, legs crossed, gazing out of the vast floor-to-ceiling sheet of thickened, screened crystal that separated them from space. “Then I can just sit with you and be company, all right?”

     Sei smiled, vaguely. “Why is it that I sense that you would come and ‘be company’ regardless of what I was to say, counsellor?”

     “You know me too well, doctor.” She smiled, amiably. “We’ll call it… counsellor’s prerogative.”

     They sat quietly for a little while, staring out at the stars. Sei itched for her to just leave, but Yolani seemed sense it, and stayed on purpose.

     “Yolani? You may find your efforts better directed to helping Eria’dane,” Sei instructed, at last, in that calm I-know-best sort of voice he did so well.

     “What makes you think that?”

     Argh. One of those typical open-ended talk-about-your-feelings sort of questions. Sei kicked himself inwardly, for leaving himself open to attack. At least, he counselled himself, she cannot sense my feelings. One of the few blessings to the synthetic brain. “He is her betrothed. They were to Confirm their Union, soon.”

     “He is also your brother,” Yolani pointed out. “And if I’m not mistaken, your wife is missing, too. I would say you have the greater need for a friendly ear and a comforting shoulder.”

     “No, no, I am perfectly capable of managing this alone. I am better able to cope with the loss,” he explained, amiably. “You have seen my file, I am sure.”

     The Ondraii inclined her head, and flicked an ear, making the crystals in her mane jingle; Sei wondered if it was from the frustration that she couldn’t ‘read’ his computerised feelings while they sat there. “That’s true. I’ve seen your file and your latest psychological assessment, and both are fairly impressive pieces of documentation. Logic is most certainly your forte, is it not? And such an impressive weapon in your skilled hands that some even go so far as to say you are incapable of emotion because of it, correct?” Well, if she was frustrated, she made no further outward indication of it.

     “That is correct,” Sei nodded.

     “If that is the case, sir, then why are there tears in your eyes?”

     He turned his head sharply to look at her, surprised, and dislodged one of the droplets he had been working so hard to hide from her. He swiped the tear from his face, and examined his fingers for several long moments, before finally forcing a smile. “Nothing more than a faulty moisture pump. I had intended getting it fixed.”

     She reached out and let her fingers rest on his knee, gently. “I hope you will forgive me when I say I don’t believe you.”

     “That is your choice, of course,” he looked briefly down at her hand, then returned his gaze to the stars.

     They remained silent for another significant period, the silence broken only by the light shimmer of Yolani’s crystals, or the answering jingle of Sei’s earrings.

     “There are so many,” the dark Siinu said, at last, and he seemed… haunted.

     Yolani gave him a concerned look. “So many…?” she prompted, gently.

     “So many stars. So many systems. So many worlds. So many moons and asteroids and rocks and floating boulders, simple distortions in space, magnetic disruption and sensor baffles…” He forced a tortured smile. “So many hiding places…! How am I ever going to find them? I could spend a lifetime searching, and still never find them…”

     “You do not have to search for them alone,” Yolani reminded him, gently, taking his hand gently in both of hers. “The ICP already have a dozen patrols in the area they were last seen, trying to track down a variety of potential culprits. Some leads are even looking rather promising! We have a dozen suppliers of tricobalt resins in this star system alone.”

     His lips smiled, but it wasn’t echoed in his eyes and he didn’t seem remotely happy. “Regardless. If we have difficulty tracking a person across a single world, what chance do we stand of tracking them across an entire galaxy? We do not even know for sure whether they have left the system!” he pointed out, gloomily. “Even if we had half the population of the entire galaxy looking for them, I imagine they would still slip the net.”

     Her genial smile broadened. “Now now, sir. Whatever have you done to think you deserve to punish yourself like this?” she chided, affectionately. “If, as you so often insist, others do not concern themselves over disasters which are only hypothetical, why is it that you are so caught up in them yourself?”

     Sei’s dark lips curled into a painful grin, and this time his eyes glittered with a grim but genuine amusement. “I see I have been rather backed into a corner, counsellor,” he observed, dryly. “Are you sure you have not missed your vocation in life? You would make an excellent politician.”

     She gave him a smiley sort of frown. “I’m not sure if I feel I should be flattered, or insulted at what you are insinuating, doctor,” she replied, not quite managing to maintain her sincerity.

     Sei just smiled, vaguely, and inclined his head in a shrug.

     “Doctor Sei? This is the bridge.”

     The voice intruded into the calm out of nowhere. Sei looked down at his little personal communicator, and for a full few seconds simply stared at it.

     “Are you going to answer them?” Yolani coaxed. “They will only grow concerned if you ignore it.”

     “Of course.” He picked it up, slowly, as if it might bite him, and thumbed the receive key. “Bridge, this is Sei. How may I assist?”

     “Ah, doctor, quite the contrary – we have news to assist you,” came Pau’s jovial voice. “You have a call on channel two-two-nine-six, from a gentleman who claims to know you. Would you like us to pipe it down to a secure terminal in the obs lounge?”

     “How did you know where I was?” Sei challenged, gruffly, then gave himself a shake and nodded. Who could that be? “Yes, if you would be so kind. I will take the call in here.”

     Yolani was already back at the doorway, apparently satisfied for now that Sei wasn’t about to suffer some sort of emotional implosion. “Remember. My door is always open,” she said, before slinking out, and he wasn’t entirely sure whether she was scolding him, or just worrying about him.

     Sei settled himself behind the terminal, resolving to think about the counsellor’s offer later. Perhaps talking would be a good thing, even if talking about his emotional status was usually furthest from his mind; sometimes it took a fresh pair of eyes to see where mistakes had been made. He took a moment to straighten his appearance, using his reflection in the glossy monitor as a mirror, then opened the channel.

     “Hello there, doctor!” a jovial voice greeted, and a familiar face came into focus. “At long last, I have managed to catch up with you. When you elect to make yourself scarce, you most certainly make yourself hard to track down!”

     “Councillor Brennan.” Sei managed to dredge up a genuine smile for him. He’d not managed to get the time to even merely speak to his friend in quite some time, and it was good to see him again. Brennan – and Victora, of course – had been among his staunchest supporters, down in the Bubble City, had spoken on his behalf in the council and even helped him to escape. And he had repaid the debt by… pretending they didn’t exist, almost. It was something that made him more than a little ashamed. Admittedly, the few times he had attempted to make contact with them was after they had crossed the border into the friendlier Coalition territory, with the rest of the rescued Eumin. Not only was long-distance communication difficult under normal circumstances – it took a long time, even with infraspatial booster beacons, and there were so many hundred timezones it was almost impossible to match things up so both parties werein normal “waking” hours – Kiravai xenophobia meant it was also highly monitored. “It is good to hear your voice again.”

     “And you also!” The Eumin’s broad smile faltered very slightly. “I only regret that it had to be at such an awkward time. Once I found you had crossed the border, I had intended to attempt to meet you during a more… pleasant period of life-”

     “Bren, I do not mean to sound churlish,” Sei cut in, hands raised, and winced, “but if you have contacted me solely to offer your condolences, I should prefer not to hear them. There is every chance my wife and my brother are not even dead, and yet I have endured quite enough of other peoples’ pity lately to last me a full lifetime.”

     Brennan smiled, and wagged a finger. “No, friend, I have not – and since you do not want to hear them, I shall not apologise for it!” He touched the fingers of one hand to his chest in a jovial ‘salute’. “No, I hope I bring rather more optimistic news. I have an inkling about what may have happened to your relatives.”

     Sei sat straighter in his chair. “What? Really?” The gloom that had gradually descended around his shoulders over the past day or two suddenly began to lift. “How is that possible? You have not been here for more than a few minutes, and yet you have leads that we do not?”

     “Ah-ah, do not allow yourself to think that because I have only now contacted you I have only just arrived,” Brennan chided, good naturedly. “If I am completely honest with you, I have been in this system for almost a month, following leads on certain subjects of my own. Which is what has brought me into contact with your good self! I think – although I could be wrong – that we may have a common enemy.”

     Sei gazed earnestly at him. “In that case, Bren, may we get down to business? I have been indulgent in my emotions for far too long, I should like to think I am starting to make headway.”

     “Of course! I have only the one stipulation, and that is, ah… I think I should prefer to discuss it in person,” Brennan admitted, with a humble grin. “If that is not going to complicate issues too heavily?”

     Sei nodded – after having telephone conversations eavesdropped on back in his old home, the man had never really got over his mistrust of long-distance communication, regardless how secure it was claimed to be, and Sei didn’t want to force him. “I do not see a problem with that,” he acknowledged. “Ordinarily I would ask the captain’s permission for you to board, but, ah…” He scratched behind an ear, awkwardly. “First Officer Hauura will have to give her permission, but I do not believe she will refuse it. Is your vessel close by?”

     “Very! You might even be able to see us out of your windows, if you look closely,” Brennan confirmed, with a small nod. “We can certainly see your great vessel from ours.”

     “In that case, friend, please permit me a few minutes to make arrangements. I will contact you again on this channel once things are in place.”

     Time-index:07:02:39.08 local-differential:00:00:00.57

     It’s still dark, here.

     Dark and silent, like I’ve been wrapped in a sound-baffling mush of dark matter. If I didn’t trust my tactile sensors, I’d happily say I was covered in some sort of form-fitting soup of black sludge, it’s so stifling in here.

     This is unbelievably annoying! I never thought such a small thing could raise Kxa’s Teeth in me, but I am already at the point of cursing the whole damn ship of fools to the Abyss and back! Stupid clustering of biologicals, how dare they do this to me! I swear, once I am free, no power on any planet will stop me taking exactly what vengeance I deserve. I will get my vengeance on them, and I swear by all Kxa’s foul names I will make it painful

     … When I get free. Damn them all, how dare such squashy little biologicals succeed at confining me! Don’t they know who I am?

     I’ve worked this damnable contraption for the last hour and my arms are still nowhere near being free. I’m glad I don’t get muscle fatigue, because I imagine this duration of confinement and immobility would likely be painful.

     What do they want from me, anyway? Can’t be money. He said something about an experiment, and I am ashamed to say I find that idea most unnerving. I am not some domestic animal, worthless livestock to be used and abused at will…! What can they possibly want to do to me? He mentioned ‘reprogramming’, which is obviously a lot of old tosh – one cannot simply reprogram Kirasiinu, or they would have fixed that lunatic Tsueih by now – but I am a little… perturbed… by the idea, nonetheless. That they will ultimately achieve nothing doesn’t mean they won’t tear my mind to pieces to find that out!

     I should not be fearful of this. I am a captain in the science fleet, there’s not a day goes by where I do not face down danger in the line of duty! Every time we encounter a new people, a new planet, a new phenomena. And yet… this unnerves me, and I cannot determine why... Is it solely the face it seems so well planned? The dangers we face as exploratory scientists can often be countered, managed, explained by logic and made safe. If we are attacked by people, it is often because we have committed an accidental social indiscretion – trespassed on sacred ground, worn sacred colours, insulted an elder by not observing the correct gestures – and such things can be countered, apologised for, learned from! Tribes that are truly warlike for warlike’s sake are few and far between.

      This unnerves me because it is not something I can readily counter. They seem worryingly well organised, to start with, or I would not have been captured – and remained captured! – so readily. And why, why?

     I am ashamed to say I wish that horrible little man (assuming that is what the voice belongs to) would come back to talk to me. I have been alone for too many hours, and I cannot formulate a plan while I do not know what to expect. I wish he would return so I can perhaps coax more answers out of him! Does not have to be the most obvious line of questioning, now, does it? I can… play off his psyche. Pretend to be fearful, the terrified shivering wreck he desires. Hah. If he believes his plan to be working, he may be more inclined to let details slip, and the more details I have, the better I can plan…
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