Chapter 1 - Sanctuary
Living by last resort has never been anyone’s preference. Yet that first word, "living," restricts my choices. The universe should and will hear the truth from my lips. What happens later? Right now, I hope to get myself arrested without incident.
I manage hunger well enough, but I am also dehydrated, desperate, and unprepared. What Rojen and I know is sufficient to merit a quick, accidental death. To evaluate our few options, we linked our minds temporarily. The beauty of linking minds for a Senta is worth the minor physical pain. For Rojen and I, the consequences could prove far worse than migraines and restlessness of body and mind; yet, linked we were until someday, the connection between us would dwindle away. Our bond has only recently been built; we are untested. Events would bind or break us.
We have nowhere else to go but to the Kanila. They have the strongest defenses in the cluster and are the most likely to support us. In a universe where the enemy of your enemy is your friend, the Kanila have more enemies than most and had legitimately earned every one of their foes.
I struggle to navigate through the asteroid belt, with a reckless, slinging flying style that uses the irregular shapes of the asteroids to fling myself past each into almost greater danger, pushing the tiny ship as fast as it would go. If Rojen were awake, he would advise me to be more cautious when flying under the influence of the last of our fructose and stimulants. No ships from the council followed Rojen’s path after we’d leapt into hyperspace at the last possible moment. He was the better pilot of the two of us, suited to the first part of the journey; being a female would give me the advantage among our new hosts, should they admit us. Thus, the end of the journey was my responsibility.
The Kanila maintain a huge military. As individuals, few of them possess less subtlety than a hammer blow. The trickery we plan to employ in asking for assistance will be using their "savior of the universe" mentality and whatever grudges they possessed to get us back to testify to what we know – or at least, what I hoped Rojen still knew after he woke from stasis.
The Vozimo, our small stolen scout ship, flies toward the atmosphere of K-187; I am not willing to wake Rojen yet. He lay in our only stasis chamber. I will barely have time to open his capsule while he is half-asleep and awaken him properly. Considering what we face, it is wisest to behave as if tomorrow might never come.
Rojen is attractive, blessed with the intelligence our race is known for. Years ago, the Senta were chosen to work with the members of the High Council as liaisons, in the resolutions of minor disputes, in communicating messages and negotiating face to face when leaders choose not to meet. Far too many habitable planets co-exist close together, and a governmental entity is mandatory. We Senta are not the lowest common denominator, but we are the sole race that cooperates with every other civilization, for good or ill. We are capable of empathic touch – not the mere consolation we can provide through physical touch, but understanding others on a deep level. We are no empaths, but read the intent of others and guide them to seek what they are capable of beyond mere self-interest. Touch sometimes grants us access to information.
We Senta have been taught that compassion cannot be limited by our prejudices and judgments. But after the treachery we had witnessed, Rojen and I have come to disagree with our own people. To be vindicated, we must win our case in court. For us Senta, death is preferable to isolation from our people. When we decided to make accusations and bolt from Reta-6, we made a choice few other Senta would have made: not to go along with the flow of the tide, but to fight it at the cost of our lives.
We arrive at the outer force field, and are stopped by a brisk command to halt or face destruction. The Kanila’s vaunted security system’s impenetrability is not the stuff of legend, but of excess – every tale about it minimizes its redundant levels of shields and armaments. The first force field level is visible, tinted a glowing red to prevent a poor pilot from hitting it and becoming vaporized immediately. Below, the blue planet is barely visible; two more force fields and a physical defense system awaited those who passed the first stage of clearance far above the planet.
Our ship is no larger than a large home on Senta, with exposed equipment everywhere, some superheated, others frozen, nearly the temperature of liquid nitrogen – all non-insulated. In other words, this ship, other than its ability to fly like a solar wind, is a fierce little beast. It was the only one we could steal and escape alive.
"Your signature reveals you are the stolen vehicle Vozimo," a deep Kanila voice echoes in my small control area.
"Correct," and now irony, "We will do you no harm. Permit me the opportunity to explain."
Silence, and then a female voice speaks. "Explain? How many beings are on your ship? I read two heat signatures."
"Just two Senta onboard. Rojen Casto and Pash Suni, former mediators to members of the High Council – now officially disgraced. We know of treachery and scandal the High Council seeks to hide. Only the Kanila can help us bring the truth to light."
A male Kanila commander comes on screen. "Show yourself immediately." I stand in front of the fore visual imager. Being a nude Senta before the eyes of a male Kanila is an advantage I use, raising my long arms over my head, swaying my hips as I turn. Understanding the Kanila is fairly simple; they are primal beings who enjoy control and sex, not necessarily in that order.
It takes some time in orbit, despite my protests, for the Kanila to let us into the second level of their defenses, within the yellow tinted force field. I pilot the ship into the damage bay of the large floating island the Kanila used for inspections. The moment we pull into the bay, I depress the seven buttons required to wake Rojen from his sleep.
Finally, the needle retracts; the light inside the capsule slowly glows into gentle infrared, heating Rojen’s sepia-toned skin. His hair and eyes are the same burnished bronze; he is a symphony of soft browns. The small piece of net fabric around his lower torso stretches as he pushes against the padded bench that had contained him for days.
The idea of returning to Reta-6 seems insane to me, but Rojen is determined. "We can prove everything we claim," he has assured me.
And now, here he awakes, stretching his long arms over his head. "Pash," he mumbled, "You must have flown beautifully, Sweet One. So strange that I never knew how talented you are, though I worked by your side." Rojen sits up. "Come closer. Let me greet you."
Concerned that the Kanila would enter in short order, I give him the brief massage of greeting. His exposed neck and shoulders receive the full attention and kindness of my hands. "Welcome to wakening."
He returns the greeting, placing his hand on the naked flesh of my neck, lowers his hands to my shoulders, and massages me gently into greater awareness of my body.
He pushes himself out of the tight capsule solely with the strength of his arms, stretching his torso long and then bending deep.
"Should we dress, Rojen?"
"You should dress minimally." All we Senta despise such restraint of our bodies, yet we know other races’ customs must be respected. A short white robe tied to the side and loose pants are all either gender wears, and I gently push Rojen’s robe over his shoulders. He ties my robe, taking a moment to slide a hand down the exposed area of my thigh.
Our navigation android, a cylindrical, barely responsive unit, evaluates the ship’s prior performance by accessing data through its flexible probe arm before sounding the boarding alarm. The annoying chime leads me to turn the security system and all androids off.
An important question: "Your memory, Rojen? Did you lose any data in stasis?"
"I might have," he admits. "But I recorded my testimony before I entered the capsule. It’s locked into the security system data base. I wish I had time to review all of it before the Kanila charge in here."
A squad of four Kanila males in full battle gear enters the external portal. "All males," I sigh. "Take my robe back off?"
Rojen nods. "Lay it in the stasis capsule. They’ll have no reason to touch you if you’re nude. I’ll read their behavior carefully and cue you if you are in danger."
I rush forward to fully illuminate the entire ship, ensuring there is no question that we have been smuggling contraband. Rojen keeps his eye on the portal and the visual screen as the Kanila, in their black battle armor, seek out his location. Rojen quickly copies our testimony onto a media stick and puts it on a chain around his neck.
I watch from the screen in the main navigation area as the Kanila encounter Rojen. Their tightly woven, shining black armor is as intimidating as their mature faces, which are typically craggy, sharp-featured, and elongated.
The lead male takes off his helmet. "So, Rojen Casto, liaison of the High Council for the Oni and the Feiltana." The male’s angular features, eyes so dark his irises are almost black, and thin stubble of facial hair on the lower half of his face reveal his age as past 25, for he has gone through his final metamorphosis. I observe him carefully on the screen as he takes out a finger probe and asks Rojen to provide a blood sample.
After the probe verifies Rojen’s identity, the typically compulsive Kanila scans his retina with a low-level laser.
"Identity confirmed?" Rojen asks. "Is this when the arrest scenario begins? Not very necessary to check me for weapons, is it?""
The Kanila commander raises one eyebrow and smiles. "I expected nudity from a Senta, but not a cocky attitude. Are you mocking us?"
Rojen shrugs as the stasis area is checked carefully, though the Kanila do no damage. "Where is the female who spoke to us?"
Rojen tells me to go aft. The seriousness of our plight guides my barefooted steps over the soft grids of the short, heavily mechanized corridor and back into the stasis area. I keep my posture rigid and head high. The Kanila commander blinks as he pushes his head back slightly.
"I am Pash Suni, formerly the Council liaison to the delegations of the Bost, the Trian, and the Mepanisti. What is your name and rank?"
I restrain myself from smiling as the Kanila male commands me to turn around fully. "Do you believe I have a weapon attached to my back somehow, Officer?" I ask. "That would be quite remarkable."
Like most Kanila, he is rarely, if ever, amused. "Obviously, I will need the blood sample and retina scan you saw me request of your counterpart while you watched on screen."
I submit my finger and allow him to scan me. "I am Tunit, one of the Prime Defenders of City 6." He rapidly enters information into a flat paneled unit held by another officer. "As I access the data base, I will read the charges against Pash Suni issued by the High Council: theft of a vehicle, espionage, treason, perjury. I assume you will deny all these charges."
I play the game properly. "I deny nothing, Tunit. The Bost would prefer I never speak again, that the Kanila would merely hand me over to the High Council to endure a sham trial and life in solitary confinement. Will you?"
"That would be a waste." Tunit’s gaze betrays a sexual wickedness characteristic of the Kanila. Rojen doesn’t have to cue me as I walk over to the capsule and retrieve my robe. "Are you afraid of me, Pash?" Tunit asks.
I shake my head and throw on my robe. "Merely ready to meet whoever is the next interrogator."
Tunit asks the other officers to remove their helmets and introduce themselves. They are males all from City 1, our assumed destination should we run the force field gauntlet successfully. Tunit takes Rojen’s measure before reading his charges: theft of a vehicle, two counts of assault, espionage, and perjury.
The second in command runs his muscle-mass scanner wand over Rojen as a joke. "Assault? Are you the first Senta to assault anyone?"
Rojen chuckles deeply. "Certainly the only one in the last few years. That amuses you as more than it did me, evidently. Hitting Trians hurt my fists."
Tunit and two other officers smile at each other and speak in Kanilata, a language I don’t translate well. But Rojen’s linguistic training serves us well. He whispers: "They believe we’re harmless and interesting. Good that you mentioned the Bost only in passing."
Tunit returns to speaking in common language. "The Vozimo is seized as evidence. You are under arrest. You will be treated as suspects under the terms of the General Treaty. I have one more consultation to make, and you will remain here until I determine what the Duty Officer demands."
I relax after hearing of my arrest, but Rojen paces. "What are they discussing for this length of time?"
"How much information did your mind cast away?" I ask.
"Assorted fragments. I remembered every document to its last word, but now I can recall only summaries. I must retrieve my memories before the Kanila accuse me of perjury."
A female Kanila enters with sacs of fluid pierced by straws. "Only a little fruit sugar for you two," she assures us, rolling her eyes slightly. "We don’t want you intoxicated." She tilts her head as she looks at Rojen. The female Kanila are more attractive than the males – pleasantly-featured, large-breasted, soft-bodied, yet they are no less fierce, sarcastic, or curious. "Is the rumor about the way Senta touch verifiable?"
He asks for her hand. "Thank you for what you brought us." As he closes his eyes, I know he considers her kindness, but since we’re in a difficult position, he adds mild physical attraction to the mix. He runs the tips of his fingers over her knuckles, flips her hand over and uses his thumb to rub her palm in a soft circle.
If this Kanila female’s superior officer saw her lost in Sentan communion, she would likely be disciplined severely, so when I hear the first tap of heavy Kanila boots, I pull Rojen’s wrist gently. He ends the contact fingertip to fingertip and releases her. The female glows as Tunit returns.
"You may board our shuttle." Tunit scowls at the female as she takes my empty drink sac, and waits for Rojen to complete his.
The female thanks Rojen with a sweet smile, uncharacteristic of a Kanila. Tunit stops her with a hand on her shoulder. He gives her a look of caution, then orders Rojen aboard, halting me with an arm.
"Sir?" I ask. "Have I done something?"
"What did your companion do to Officer Bagna?"
"I don’t know what you mean."
"Yes, you do. Sentan communion. I want to experience it, exactly as she did."
I focus on gratitude for taking us in, and establish pressure on his wrist and the web of veins of the back of his hand. For thirty seconds, I use my right hand’s thumb and two fingers to relieve his tension, and rest my left hand on his neck. His breathing changes in response to my massage.
As I remove my hand, I gently cup his, twist my fingers around his, then release. He sighs.
"Bagna is my female," he explains. "I wanted to know what pleased her, and you Senta are known for your healing touch. I am sure you will be asked by many Kanila to demonstrate this and other alleged abilities during your stay here. I am interested in the legends, as we all are."
"Not just legends. Have you heard anything about how long we might be here, Tunit? Will it be solely dependent on the trial date?" I ask.
"Such decisions are far beyond my expertise," he replies. "I assure you, if you have information which will indict the Bost, you will have protection all the way to the courtroom door. The High Council is already pressuring us to release you to the Universal Justice System, I understand."
I smile. "Please don’t. I have the Bost by the stripes on their hairy asses."
Tunit roars with laughter. "You will amuse my supervisor, Pash. As for your friend, he shouldn’t assault anyone on this planet. It will result in a heavy penalty and a serious ass-kicking."
I assure him Rojen understands, but I target the more important problem, for if it remains unresolved, it will destroy us. Where has Rojen sent his memories for safe-keeping? Within the cloud of stasis, he would have sent his knowledge to another Senta, someone he knows well. The recording he has secreted in the ship and has backed up in the media around his neck may be enough for him to recall every detail. He must support me, for neither of us can stand before the court alone. I could be convicted far too easily.
If we are to testify in intergalactic court against the powers that be, we must be certain and credible. The longer they keep us together, the more opportunities I’ll have to help him remember, not just the facts, but the meaning and importance they hold.