Trigger waring: depression and suicidal thoughts
Back when the shuttle was still considered the pinnacle of space travel technology, Shuttle AE-912681 was dubbed the Imperza by its original crew and captain after his beloved ex-wife. The ship had since passed through many hands, and now, the old Cajaran-made shuttle traveled a dry ten-month route from the boonies of the Lond solar system to the bustling hub of Nol’s capital, occasionally making a stop on Zental and Ceis if chance allowed. Their route was so remote and obscure that the large passenger ship was always far under capacity, and this trip followed a similar trend. Save for the crew and five passengers from Granda, the ship was unoccupied, making Liza’s job as a hostess incredibly easy and horribly boring.
She had accompanied the Imperza forty times on its long-suffering journey, attending to a variety of passengers. Most were young intellectuals from Granda hoping to gain deep knowledge by wandering the galaxy, some gourmets from Frild searching for their next delicacy, and once, a reserved and quiet Dargeian. There were never any passengers going from Central to Lond, at least not on the Imperza. Anyone traveling from the galaxy’s hub of power to Lond would be wealthy enough to own a private vessel or to afford the popular cruise shuttles with live performances, large private suits, and silver-plated food. The Imperza could only offer its passengers patchy sheets, stale bread, watery soup, and a communal holo-screen by a bar that served cheap alcohol.
Liza sighed as she removed the sheets from the carrier auto-server and put them into the cleaning system. Typically, such a menial task would be done by another auto-server. Her job would be to manage them and serve as the front-facing representative of the crew to the passengers, but with the meager sum that the ship made, buying a more advanced auto-server was unlikely to ever happen. In fact, maintaining the ones they had now was only possible because she had a background in engineering and robotics, which was the reason Sumarin, the captain, had given for hiring her all those years ago. That, and the fact that she’d agreed to work for free.
She sighed again as the now empty auto-server kept banging itself against the wall without course correcting and going through the door just four inches to its left. She nudged it with her foot, and it beeped twice, then went through when the door automatically opened for it. It would now go to each of the passenger’s rooms and collect any trash they had. Well, hopefully, it would do that. More likely, it would get stuck again somewhere else. Liza irritatedly brushed wisps of her dark hair away from her face, then started to follow after the auto-server to complete her other tasks. She stood in front of the door, and right before it opened, she caught sight of her reflection in the old polished metal, and her breath caught. It was her usual dull black hair, green eyes, and pasty skin that was beginning to wrinkle from hard bygone years. Her antenna, drooped like limp vegetables, had lost most of their natural glow. All this she was used to, but in that brief second where she saw herself at that specific angle, she was struck by her resemblance to her mother, and the effect of it almost brought her to her knees. If her mother saw her now, she… Liza closed her eyes, let out a breath, and walked out.
She walked through the corridors that had been her home for eighteen Standards with familiar ease and an underlying and growing disdain. Over the long years traveling on the Imperza, she had grown weary and tired ancient shuttle’s drag, its loose panels, peeled paint, uncontrollable temperature fluctuations, faulty gravity modulator, and the incessant whining noise from its bowels that seemed to weep in mourning of its former glory. She was still fond of the crew: Jumin, the bartender. Ardon, the chef, occasional shuttle technician, and navigator. And, of course, Sumarin. Their meeting had been pure coincidence, or maybe fate.
The Imperza had needed some repairs, and Sumarin had happened to choose the workshop Liza was apprenticing at to have the work done in. He’d chosen it simply because it was the only one in orbit, and so he wouldn’t actually have to land the ship planetside. Liza, on her part, had chosen to work in that particular garage because it was in orbit around her home world, which by then she could no longer stand to be on. She had wanted to leave the system altogether, but she couldn’t bring herself to take that step. In any case, the ship had pulled in, and Sumarin, in all his decadent and unrefined glory, had stepped down. His deep green scales glistened, but even then, the dullness of age had begun to set in in some areas. His long tail swung behind his back, and the deep red fur coat he wore drew every eye, especially because it paired so badly with his neon pink shorts. It was the first time in a long time that Liza had felt anything, and what she felt was annoyance. Liza smiled as she remembered their first contentious interactions.
She would never have guessed then that he was such a kind soul and that he had immediately spotted that she was on the verge of losing her will to live. Now that she knew him and his past, she understood how obvious her feelings must have been to him because, in spite of the differences between species, grief was easy to spot. Yes, if not for the crew and captain that had taken her in all those years ago, she probably wouldn’t be here today, but now she felt an itch in her heart that signaled she had lingered too long. The air of the ship had become stale, and frustration clogged her throat and dimmed her sight. What made it worse was that everyone could tell and made efforts to help her through it, but to her, what it all was – from the very beginning- was delaying the inevitable. Her time on the Imperza had not healed her in the least. It had only held back, for a time, the unavoidable fall.
Her depression was so severe that even when Sumarin announced that they would be making a rare stop on Ceis, the first time in all the years she’d been on the shuttle, it did nothing to lift her spirits.
“It’ll be exciting,” he said, scratching his now gray scales. “And the passengers will love it.”
“Oh, for sure,” Jumin added, “I’m going to bring out the expensive stuff, you know, the draft we got from Ionil. I’m sure our wonderful passengers will be willing to open their pockets now that this has turned into a… a….” He scrunched his face, and his pink eyes rolled upwards.
“A spectacle?” Ardon offered.
“Yes. That works. A once-in-a-lifetime spectacle to see Ceis.”
“I’m not sure what’s so exciting about it. It’s not like we’ll actually get to land on the planet,” Ardon said as he braided his hair into two braids, one pair of hands working on each side.
“Well, no one can land on Ceis, so this is as good as they are ever going to get. If I knew our course would align with Ceis’s orbit, I would have charged more.” Sumarin said, then laughed.
“If you had listened to me and updated our navigation systems, you would have known,” Ardon grumbled.
Sumarin smiled and rolled his eyes. “Of course, of course…” he said, then his yellow eyes turned to Liza. “…and what do you think, Liza?”
Liza was leaning her head on her hand and staring absently into the waves of light that flowed through dimension Pillsin. The travelers’ dimension, as it was commonly called, allowed shuttles to bypass lightspeed travel limitations through the galaxy. She didn’t look away from the window as she answered.
“It’s just another stop,” she said. Sumarin started to say something, but stopped himself, and the three continued the conversation amongst themselves, while Liza just watched the moving lights.
She had no doubt it would be a novel experience, something she could tell people, although the only people she spoke to was the rest of the crew, so really she would tell no one. The energy throughout the shuttle lifted significantly from the news. The passengers talked animatedly and discussed theories and ideas about what ceisites were like. To them, the watery soup suddenly seemed flavorful, and the old ship was now quaint and charming. A certain lightness and anticipation filled everyone aboard the Imperza, and to Liza, it only served to highlight her own lack of feeling about the whole thing. It was just another stop. In another time, she may have shared their excitement; after all, seeing Ceis was so rare, and the unimaginable powers ceisites were said to have was something she knew herself as a child would have been filled with joy to discover. As she was now, she simply continued to do her job as usual.
# # #
It took a month to arrive at Ceis, and by then the mood had shifted. What should have been a fun story to tell around drinks, soon became something else entirely when Sumarin received word and announced that a passenger would, in fact, be boarding the ship. The passengers who had been chatting excitedly about the observations and sketches they would make, while getting drunk at the bar, soon fell into hushed whispers. They looked over their shoulders as though some invisible being were listening in on their conversations. Even the crew had grown tense, jumping at the smallest sounds. For Liza, an irrational and silent terror had crept into her heart. None of them had ever encountered a ceisite, but the rumors of their wise and peaceful natures, went hand in hand with those that spoke of infinite lifespans, and powers that could unravel the universe. Yes, she was feeling jaded with the ship and her crew, but the thought of this unfathomable being known only through stories coming into her home, and doing who knows what, caused her to shake in fright. She tried to play it off, but she knew very well that if there was potential for something to go wrong, it would. It always did, and good things were fleeting. Now more than ever, she wanted to be far from the ship and all the people on it.
Unfortunately, leaving was not an option, and soon it was time to welcome the passenger. Liza’s skin crawled, and her breath came out in short gasps as she and Ardon stood in front of the shuttle doors and began the opening sequence. With each unlock protocol completed, panic filled her lungs. She could feel herself begin to hyperventilate. What would this being do to them? Why would they choose the Imperza of all ships to board? If they were so powerful, why couldn’t they just teleport where ever they wanted? Why…
She jumped as she felt two arms around her shoulder and waist. “Liza! Are you okay? You look like you’re about to faint.” Ardon said, holding her up as her knees buckled.
Her eyes snapped to Ardon’s face, and she saw his four blue eyes widened in shock. “I…” she started to say.
“It’s okay, just relax… Actually, it might be better for you to go to your room. I’ll take care of things here.”
“No, no…” she shook her head and brushed his hands off, then stood up straighter and quickly wiped the sweat off her face. Her antennae were buzzing wildly, and she tried to calm them. “I’m fine, don’t worry.” She tried to smile but, by the look on Ardon’s face, it was unconvincing. “We can’t keep the passenger waiting,” she said, then flicked her fingers over the glyphs on the door’s control panel to complete the unlock sequence.
“We really need to talk after this, all of us. Something is wrong, and you need to tell us so we can help… Liza, are you listening?”
“I am, and I’m fine,” she said bluntly, but the only thought in her head was the fear of what the ceisite could potentially do to Ardon if she left him here alone. She knew it was irrational. All these fears were as likely to happen as Nol suddenly going supernova and destroying the entire galaxy, and yet she couldn’t control her mind.
The pressure of the airlock was matched with that of the air outside, and the doors began to open. Liza held her breath, and felt Ardon tense up beside her. Together, they watched the old doors slowly slide open. Soon the figure of the Ceisite was fully revealed, and they looked exactly like the holograms and pictures Liza had seen in Basic Education. A torso-only body with three thick trails, almost like tails of a kite extending from it. Their body was a pale yellow that looked like stone one moment, and metal at others. Their arms were long, ending in large five-fingered palms, their face… well, they had a head, but where the face should have been, was a small gray slab with some symbols or text on it. From their head, two long horns extended upwards, surrounded by long gaseous hair that billowed out like a nebula, they floated about a meter off the ground, and that was it. Yes, they looked different, but no more alien than any other race in the galaxy. Liza released her breath and waited for some sort of effect from the ceisite to hit her, some aura of power. Nothing happened, and after a while, the silence became awkward with her and Ardon staring at the ceisite.
The ceisite tilled their head, and Liza quickly stepped back, pulling on Ardon’s shirt to drag him back with her, but nothing more happened, and the situation became even more uncomfortable. Ardon glanced nervously at her, then nudged her shoulder. She nodded. Forced her still lingering fear down, and then stepped forward. She spread her hands outwards as if she was about to give a hug, then dropped her head forward slightly. From what she’d researched, this was the way ceisites greeted each other.
“Welcome aboard the Imperza Sof. Aleion,” she said, remembering their name from the information that was sent with their booking, and hoping she pronounced it correctly. “My name is Liza, the hostess, and this is Ardon, our… technician.” She continued, choosing to introduce him as a technician instead of chef as that seemed somewhat more appropriate for the situation.
“Thank you,” Aleion said, returning the gesture. Lana felt her throat dry up at the ceisite’s voice which seemed to come roughly from their chest area. The sounds they made were spoken in a language she’d never heard before, but somehow she understood it perfectly. She felt goosebumps rise on her skin, and glanced at Ardon, who seemed similarly affected.
“Sorry,” the ceisite continued with their strange sounds, a mixture between grunts, chirps, and melody. “I’ve never been off Ceis, so I don’t have a good grasp on standard speech, but once I spend some days with you all, I will pick it up quickly. For now, I am directly transmitting my meaning to your minds.” They made a squeaky sound, which was translated in Liza’s mind as a laugh. “The sounds are just for effect!” Somehow Liza understood their amusement and the impression of a smile.
Contrary to the ceisites cheery tone, no, even more so because of it, Liza felt bile rise to her throat but tried to keep it down. This was clearly mental manipulation! Not only were such powers rare in Nol, but there were strict laws about their usage. The first and foremost was the request for permission before touching people’s minds in any way, and yet this ceisite was blatantly disregarding all that and taking joy in it.
She saw Ardon clench his fists and step forward. “Sof. Aleion. I…um, that is… I understand you don’t know how to speak standard, but you must know that manipulating people’s minds is illegal. I know you are trying to communicate, but perhaps using your auto-comm for translation would be a better option, especially with other passengers.”
Liza was impressed by Ardon’s bravery, but as the ceisite continued to remain quiet, Liza was worried that they had angered him. Finally, they tilted their head – it seemed to be a common body language- and began to speak, still using the same method.
“Mind manipulation?” confusion was evident in the impression that Liza received. “I know the Galactic Union edicts and laws, and I assure you I am not breaking any of them, this….” They gestured with their hands, “This is how all ceisites communicate.”
The chirps, and grunts, and nonsense sounds that were being made before with each communication had been stopped, and so in pure silence, somehow, Liza was understanding what the ceisite was ‘saying,’ and it made it all the more creepy.
Aleion continued. “As you can see, we don’t have vocal cords or organs that produce sound. All communication is done through impressions and mind-to-mind communication. Absolutely no manipulation is happening. My ‘words’ are simply being impressed on your mind, and I’m making that happen in reverse for your words on mine.” They raised up their hands, palms facing down, and Liza immediately understood that they were practically pleading at this point to not be misunderstood, but everything they were saying, only made the situation more frightening to her. “The sounds from before was me manually vibrating the molecules in the air.”
“I see…” Liza mumbled, trying to remain professional, although a part of her wanted to immediately send an emergency help request to the GU. “I think when dealing with races that are… Uh… Less… psychically gifted, well even in general, it is considered best practice to always request permission before such mind-to-mind contact.” At this point, Liza just wanted to run away. This was all too much. It was one thing to know that for some races in the galaxy, her mind was as easy to read as the words in a book, but to be faced with the almost callous way in which such power was being displayed, left her feeling vulnerable and exposed.
“This is unexpected, but….” Aleion paused, and Liza could tell they were considering something.
While they spoke, Ardon had begun preparing the ship to un-dock from Ceis’s ITS. Liza almost asked him to stop, still retaining some hope that the ceisite would change their mind and return to their planet. It seemed unlikely as the door was resealed, and he signaled Sumarin that there were all set to take off.
The ceisite carefully began again. “Communicating with the auto-comm is not easy for ceisites… the artificial brains in them are not sophisticated enough to clearly pick up and decipher our form of communication, and all the nuances involved…a better idea would be….”
They hesitated. “Well, if one of you would simply allow me to actually access your minds in a real sense, I can quickly grasp the language. This was what I was planning to do anyway, in small bits, with each person in the shuttle… although I sense far less people than I assumed would be on such a large vessel. This was all to be done with permission, of course, but I’m starting to see that it might not be taken as lightly as I expected.”
“You want to read our minds?!” Liza said and took a step back.
“No,” Aleion said, and she sensed a mild spike of annoyance, quickly tapped down. “No, I simply want to access the language, some memories may leak through, as language is obviously tied to some degree with your memories, but it will be small things. This would be avoided if I could sample a bit from everyone, but this way is faster.”
Her memories… Aleion made it sound like a trivial thing, but nothing about this was trivial. There were no memories that she wanted to share with this person, or anyone else for that matter. She could feel herself mentally retreating. Maybe it was better to just let Aleion communicate however they wanted to, after all, it was normal for ceisites. So what if it makes everyone uncomfortable? It would be a spectacle! A great event, an experience they could tell their friends about. That’s what they had wanted, right? Why should she be the one to deal with this?
A small beeping sound broke her out of her thoughts, and she looked to Ardon, who had pulled out his auto-comm. “I have to go work on tonight’s dinner…uh,” he glanced at the ceisite, then back to Liza. “Can you handle things here?” she could tell he was glad to get an excuse to leave, and she resented him a bit for it.
“Yes, thanks. Go get dinner ready.”
She nodded, then turned back to face Aleion. She heard Ardon shuffle out of the room. “I thought he was a technician,” Aleion asked.
“He is, and he is also the chef.”
“Interesting… I find it strange how much fear is being emitted from everyone. I assume I am the cause of this?” She sensed a hint of an emotion, not quite sadness, but similar.
“Yes,” Liza answered bluntly. It wasn’t that she wasn’t scared of the ceisite anymore, but emotion, in general, was becoming too exhausting, and she could feel her heart growing numb to it all. “Please follow me, and I’ll show you to your room.” She turned and began walking.
“How odd. Why would you all be scared of me?”
“Most people haven’t met a ceisite before.”
“But still, we don’t have a violent reputation… We shouldn’t anyway.” Aleion seemed contemplative, and Liza was finally getting used to their soundless communication.
“Not violence, but power. Apparently, your race is incredibly powerful. The oldest race in the galaxy and, according to some, the most powerful… That kind of stuff scares normal people.”
“Sof. Liza, I think of myself as a ‘normal person,’ as you put it.”
Liza glanced at them. The words did not carry any impression of an emotion, but the absence made it obvious that Aleion was hiding their feelings.
“I’m sorry if I offended you, Sof. Aleion. It’s just in the face of the powers you’ve so effortlessly displayed, it’s hard not to think of you as extraordinary.” She said, then suddenly felt tears welling up. She should have known that wasn’t an appropriate thing to say, especially to a passenger, but her mind seemed to be underwater. Her emotions were erratic, fluctuating by the second, numb in the next. She took a deep breath and tried to do some calming antenna vibrations her mother had taught her as a child.
“I was not offended, so no need for apologies,” Aleion said. Liza could immediately sense that they meant it. She had to wonder how ceisites lied to each other when the way they communicated was so direct. Well, it was obvious they could control to an extent the degree of what was shared, but still, it felt too raw. She wondered what sort of emotional impressions Aleion was getting from her. Probably nothing good.
They arrived in front of the room she’d prepared for Aleion. She’d picked one as far away from the crew’s and other passenger’s rooms as possible, and she felt a bit silly for doing that now. She keyed in the master code into the door, then set it for calibration. “Place your hand over this light here,” she said, pointing to a blue, circular spot of light on the door. Aleion did as she directed, and a small burst of light flashed and logged Aleion’s mana signature.
“Now, place your auto-comm in front of the same spot.” Another burst of light, and the necessary biometric data stored on the auto-comm was keyed into the door. Now the only people who would be able to get into the room were Aleion and the crew members with the master key, her and Sumarin.
“Ok, That’s all. The map of the ship should have been sent to your comm, but feel free to message me if you have any issues. I prepared the room as best as possible, but we’ve never hosted a ceisite, so let me know if anything needs to be changed, and we’ll accommodate for that.” She waited politely for Aleion to respond. When they said nothing, she turned and was glad to be finally done with the whole situation, but a tap on her shoulder stopped her.
“You have a question?” she asked, trying her best to remain polite.
“Yes, it’s about what I mentioned earlier. Have you considered allowing me to learn standard speech by accessing your mind briefly?”
Liza had very deliberately not considered it at all, but even in the brief moments she’d spent talking to Aleion, she knew they were not some cosmic monster aiming to torture and destroy them all. At worst, they seemed ignorant and naive. While she was still uncomfortable about the whole mind-to-mind situation, it seemed to be something very trivial to ceisites, and well, she felt guilty for the assumptions she’d made of Aleion and ceisites in general.
She closed her eyes and took a calming breath. “You’re definitely not going to intrude on anything deeper?”
“I give you my word, nothing but the hint of your surface thoughts should be passed to me.”
Liza considered it for a moment more before finally agreeing to it. “Fine, what do I need to do.”
The moment she agreed, she felt an emotional impression from Aleion’s mind. It suddenly felt like her body had been exposed to the warm sun of her home world after years of cold winter. Her mind felt clear for the first time in years, and she could almost see the bright purple sky with white leaves blowing in the wind, hear laughter, smell the nutty scent of warm kural, feel the texture of the wrapping paper between her fingers. Liza’s throat immediately clogged up. Her hearts clenched so hard she felt like she was dying.
This was the result of the impression of Aleion’s joy on her mind. The ceisite equivalent of a bright smile translated by her brain as one of her happiest memories. Memories that were now tainted by everything that happened after.
“Oh, this is wonderful. Thank you, Sof. Liza!” Aleion said excitedly. Each word punctuated by another burst of joy that brought up a new memory, followed by the tragedy that tainted it. She couldn’t hear anything he was saying. She was drowning in memories she’d tried so hard to bury. “You don’t have to do anything. I’ll start now!”
Before she could finish her sentence, she felt Aleion’s power lightly brush her mind. Aleion had mentioned surface thoughts, but as a result of Aleion’s expression of joy, all her surface thoughts were now her most painful moments. It could only have lasted a couple seconds, but in that short moment, the lethargic depression that had been an ache in her soul was enhanced to a crippling pain. Every potent memory she had ever felt was brought to recollection:
She recalled her fourteenth birthday, which for Mulians, was significant as it was around when their antenna blooms began to form, and their limbs began to pigment. Her mother bought her the young inventors kit she’d been asking for. It wasn’t anything they could afford, but her mother had always believed in her. She’d never once doubted that Liza would achieve her goals, so what if their finances were stretched thin that month. She recalled how bright the sun was that day as they sat beneath the large ykan tree in their garden and drank iced kural made from the nuts that grew from it. She had saved that wrapping paper and kept it until she left Mulia.
Next was the memory of when she got accepted into the Cajaran college of space engineering. A renowned college that was near impossible to get into but fully supported all its students financially and even offered them stipends. It had taken her fifteen tries to get in. She was still young, mid-thirties, and the moment should have marked the beginning of more good things to come in their lives, and for a while, it did.
She met her partner, Firon, at the university, and they got married after just a few months, too young and too soon by most standards, but such was their love. This was the peak of her life. Her academics were excellent. She had entered the ranks of Elect Scholar and was about to start an apprenticeship at Uwilian Corps, a reputable auto-server and artificial brain developer. Five glorious years had passed since she’d met Firon, and she was due to have their first child soon. Her life was saturated with joy, so saturated with it that the only option was for it to begin to leak away.
Firon died in an accident testing a new shuttle engine.
She had fainted from the shock and woke up in her mother’s arms. Her mother had been weeping, and she didn’t understand why until she realized the mammary glands on the side of her stomach had deflated. She obviously hadn’t given birth.
That should have been enough, but the universe always wanted more.
Two years later, she smiled in resignation as she poured her mother’s ashes, along with any false hope she had for future happiness, into the ground under the ykan tree.
# # #
Liza opened her eyes at the shout. She looked up and met the gray slab on Aleion’s face. She screamed and threw herself backwards, landing on the ground. The tears began to fall before she could stop them. Blue liquid burst from her eyes and the sobs wracked her body. She screamed like she never had before, and all the emotions she’d tried to bury deeper, and deeper, and deeper, revealed themselves to be sitting right under the surface. Everything felt raw. She banged her fists against the ground, over and over again, until the skin split, and deep blue blood began flowing from the wounds.
She didn’t know how long she had cried for. She was shaking and sniffling, and her hands were beginning to hurt badly. She let out a few more sniffles, then rolled herself into a ball, and laid on the carpi-tile floor.
The whole time, Aleion seemed frozen, and watched her breakdown from a safe distance. She imagined they were taking in her meltdown to tell other ceisites about it later when they discussed their first trips off-world. She sighed and held herself tighter. Here she was, a grown woman, lying on the ground, crying in front of a passenger she was supposed to be assisting; once again proving that no matter how low one fell, there was always a level lower to fall to.
“Did you see them?” She mumbled, accusation thick in her tone.
“Your memories?… I did.” Aleion said after a moment’s hesitation. It was an actual voice or their manipulation of molecules or whatever. It was a voice speaking in standard speech. Obviously, whatever the ceisite did worked. “I’m sorry, it’s usually not like that at all… it’s like your mind has no psychic guards at all… for one slight graze to pull so much…how do you….” They stumbled on their words.
Liza scoffed. The ceisite was wondering why a regular person like herself was not better equipped to handle a ‘slight’ brushing of minds. This is why we have laws, she thought.
Aleion continued after a moment. “I won’t make excuses. I promised I would not intrude on your mind, and I failed. I’ll compensate you in any way that I can. Anything within my power.” She could hear the sincerity in their voice.
Anything in their power, she thought. Anything in a ceisites power. Liza sat up and leaned against the wall, thankful that she had picked a room so far from everyone else, so her meltdown did not have a larger audience.
She glared at Aleion’s face, trying to gauge them. When she spoke, it was quiet and deliberate, in a hoarse voice. “Can you bring them back? Can you bring my family back to life?”
Aleion took only a second to consider it. They turned their palms down in the same pleading or placating gesture they’d shown earlier. “I can not.”
Liza closed her eyes and exhaled slowly.
“No. That is illegal.”
She sneered at them. How convenient to bring up the law. If it was law they were talking about, she was sure she could sue the entire planet of Ceis just based on this fiasco.
“Then…” She hesitated, and she felt tears begin to well up again. Sumarin’s gray scales flashed through her mind. “Then, can you make Sumarin, Ardon, and Jumin immortal?”
The pause this time was long. A minute passed before Aleion answered. “I can not.”
“You can’t, or you won’t.”
They said nothing. Liza laughed and stood up. “You can’t do anything, you’ve looked into my memories, dredged up things I never wanted to consider again, and all you can do is say sorry and make more false promises.”
“I’m…” Aleion made a sighing sound. “These are things I simply can’t do, or am forbidden from doing. Except for very specific situations, to tinker with the lives and existences of sophonts is simply not allowed.”
They both remained quiet. Various creaks and groans echoed from the ship, and that ever-present whining seemed louder than ever. A small buzzing sound came from down the hall, and Liza and Aleion watched as the carrier auto-server, with sheets piled in its hold, floated down towards them. It maneuvered itself to Aleion’s room door, and then instead of triggering the door to announce its presence to whoever was inside like it was supposed to, it just bumped into the door, moved back, and bumped into it again. This repeated for a fourth time before Liza walked over, turned it, and nudged it to go back the way it had come. She waited for the auto-server to turn a corner and disappear from sight before she spoke again.
“Why are you going to central?”
If Aleion was surprised by the change in subject, they didn’t show it. “I want to see the galaxy, particularly trees. I’ve seen them in holo-pics and videos, and they seem fascinating. Especially the giant ones. After GU Central, my first stop will be Bist, where the whole society is built on the world-trees.” She could hear the excitement in their voice, and she could bet that if they were still communicating mind to mind, that excitement would probably have sent her into another emotional fit. She shuddered.
“How long do you plan on exploring?”
“Hmm, until I’m done, or I get bored.”
She gave an exasperated sigh, “And how long do you estimate that to be Sof. Aleion.”
Aleion desperately made the palm facing down gesture again, and she rolled her eyes, but couldn’t help but smile a little.
“Maybe five thousand years? Not long enough to get boring, but not so short that I won’t be able to give enough attention to everything. If something else catches my attention, then who knows, it could be up to fifty thousand years?”
Liza’s eyebrows rose at such numbers. She herself had maybe two to three thousand years left to live, if nothing unexpected happened. The entirety of her life span plus a couple thousand years was the period of a brief amusement to the ceisite. She smiled a true and unburdened smile for the first time in a long time. Some people may have felt resentment over the unfairness of it all, but in this one instance, she was glad that nothing in the universe was given in equal measure.
Her smile fell. She knew what she was about to ask was just another attempt at running away, another attempt to delay a tragic end to her life, but she would take it, and she would take it without shame. She couldn’t allow herself to be there when Sumarin died of old age, or when some freak accident took Jumin or Ardon away. The reality was that she was not just tired of the Imperza and its drag, noise, watery soup, and stale bread; she was also terrified of its comfort, its warmth, and familiarity. Terrified of the bond with her new family that she could already see coming to an end. She was in a constant state of fear because they too, could soon be taken away, and she would be alone and even more broken. Here before her was a being that was infinite. The idea of Aleion seemed so steady and permanent because she knew for a fact that she would die long before they ever tasted the bitter poison of age.
“Here’s my request. If you are really sorry for what you’ve put me through, take me with you. When we get to Central, take me with you on this journey or whatever it is you are doing, and I’ll stay with you until I die or until you get fed up enough to put me out of this misery.”
Liza did not need to feel Aleion’s emotions to know that they absolutely hated the idea, and who could blame them. Just based on what she’d shown of her personality in this short amount of time, it was no wonder they weren’t thrilled at the thought of spending a couple thousand years together.
“Sof. Liza… I think you should reconsider. I’m not sure you will enjoy my company or topics of interest. Also, since I don’t need much in the way of comforts or sustenance, I actually do not have much wealth. It will not be a convenient few years. You are talking about your entire life… perhaps therap….”
Liza’s laughter cut Aleion off. She didn’t stop laughing until she started coughing. “You don’t need to worry about all that. I have more credits than you think,” She didn’t mention that the relatively vast wealth she had was from the compensation she had been given after Firon’s death.
She sighed and allowed herself to remember his deep black eyes with those odd flecks of green in them, and the way he smiled every time he cracked a rupin shell without damaging the nuts inside. She turned away the memories then continued.
“As for therapy, I will be getting some, so don’t worry about that. Who knows, I might develop a love for trees as well… my… my home world Mulia has wonderful trees…” she could practically feel Aleion’s energy perk up. “Yeh, we can go there one day… Eventually.” She murmured. “Anyway, I know what I’m asking for, and I know what I’m getting into. Besides, if I find that it’s not for me, I’ll just leave. But you, you’re not allowed to leave me.”
Aleion was silent, and Liza was prepared to resort to threats of legal action, but then they condensed.
“Fine. I’ll agree to this as a way to show my remorse for accidentally intruding into your mind.”
“Yes, ‘accidentally,” Liza mocked.
“It really was….”
“I know, I know… I’m just teasing,” she said, mimicking the ceisite downward gesture, then she turned serious. “I want you to swear on something meaningful that you won’t abandon me. Swear on your true name.”
She knew there was some significance to ceisite’s true names, but she didn’t really know any details. It was just one of those rumors, but by the way Aleion reacted, she knew there was truth to it. The air seemed to stand still, and Liza felt her heart beat slow. The moment passed, and Aleion floated backwards to put space between them.
“You don’t even know the significance of what you are asking.”
“It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s significant to you.”
Aleion began pacing and making gestures with their hands, but whatever they were saying, or thinking was not projected out loud. Finally, after what Liza considered a dramatic— which was rich coming from someone who had a full-on breakdown minutes ago — hand raise and fall, they turned to face her.
“Give me your hand,” they said in a reserved voice.
Liza hesitated, and for good reason. “Sof. Liza, I’m fine if you don’t want to go through with this,” Aleion said eagerly.
Liza clenched her fist, then exhaled and stretched her hand forward. Aleion grasped her hand in theirs, and it was fascinating just how large their palms were compared to her own. It practically covered her whole forearm. Liza watched Aleion, and they watched her back.
“I’m going to use mind-to-mind communication. My true name cannot be spoken out loud. Are you okay with that?”
“First, I’ve made a sight shield around us, just in case someone passes. My Ceson will change to reveal my name.” They said, pointing to the slab on their face. The impression of their words was filled with caution, and a bit of fear.
A soft white glow spread from their clasped hands. The grooves on the slab on Aleion’s face began to glow and shift slightly. The shifts were so slight that if she didn’t watch it happen, she wouldn’t have noticed the change. Even now, she had a hard time telling what exactly was different.
“I, Aleion of Nebula Drilorian, true name *********,” A heavy impression began to seep into her mind. Her brain could not even process the words of Aleion’s true name, but she felt something heavy, and rich with life, something that shifts with the seasons, a thing that grows and nurtures. There was a wash of green, some yellow. A sound like bells, and birds, a rough feeling on her fingers, and a soft touch on the shoulder. The scent of home, of fresh leaves falling on wet ground, a resonance equal part joy and fear, and finally, a deep and welcoming embrace.
Liza gasped and tried to catch her breath and work through all the sensations contained in the singular name, and Aleion continued the oath. “…swear to never abandon Liza Aruilia….” There was no point asking how they knew her full name. “… As long as she remains by my side, I will protect her existence to the best of my abilities. I swear this upon the name crafted by Rikinal of Nebula Drilorian and Yuvania of Nebula Tifilan who formed my existence.”
The soft glow expanded outward like a ball of steam from their clasped hands and then dissipated. Aleion, let her hand go, and on her palm, she saw a glowing mark that mimicked the one on Aleion’s ceson. It stayed lit for a second longer, then seeped beneath her skin.
“That’s it then?”
“Yes.” There was only resignation in Aleion’s voice, and Liza felt a bit of guilt. She knew this definitely wasn’t what Aleion had expected to happen when they’d left Ceis, and she felt bad for derailing their trip, but the guilt didn’t linger too long. Her time with them would be a blip in the long life that Aleion would live. She was sure they would get over this mild irritation after a few thousand years at most.
“I look forward to our time together, Aleion.” She spread her hands out and tilted her head forward, giving the ceisite greeting once more.
Aleion returned the greeting after a moment’s hesitation. “I welcome the company, and hope the time we spend together brings you peace.”
Liza closed her eyes, and silently wiped the tear rolling down her cheek.
# # #
After its exhausting journey, the shuttle landed at Galactic central to deposit its five passengers,
and Liza left the Imperza with Aleion. There were some tears from Jumin, and mild disapproval from Sumarin and Ardon, but it was obvious to them all that she needed a change, and they hoped one day they’d all meet again, somewhere along the Imperza’s dry route from the boonies of Lond to the bustling Galactic Center.