2947-06-04 – Tales from the Inbox: Seeker's Symbiosis
I didn’t think it worth a standalone text feed item, but Captain Bosch finally responded to my datasphere messages. He cannot give any news as to the condition or disposition of his squadron at this time, but he did suggest that he expected to return to Håkøya soon. Though he could not be specific, he definitely implied there was some yet-unresolved danger to his ships which needed to be overcome before the squadron could return to the near side of the Gap.
If you are a congregant of the United Spacers’ Chapel, and I know there are many in this audience of that faith, consider offering up a prayer for his command. In the message I received, he asked specifically for this audience to remain in prayer for his command and for the whole Confederated Navy. Security concerns prevented his saying more, but the tone of the message was somewhat grim, suggesting some sort of trouble. Could administrative fallout from the Great Purge be affecting the Navy’s ability to supply his ships so far from a primary naval base?
On a lighter note, recordings of Sagittarian ships nosing around on the near side of the Gap appear to have come to nothing. I have seen no reports of further sightings after the first wave, and while reports from the Sagittarius Frontier continue to come in, most of them are months old. Today I want to focus on another tale sent in by Jaska N., a Hegemony-bred spacer whose alliance with a unique xenosapient named Ina has graced this feed before. After some curiosity was expressed on our audience engagement hub about what happened next, he decided to send in more of his story. I have lifted only a portion of the new account which answers some of the most often-heard questions from the community hub.
While Jaska himself does not specifically describe the events of his service with the Hegemony Navy which wrack him with guilt and terror to this day, many veterans of the Confederated Navy bear similar psychic scars, and the kind of event likely to cause such trauma can be easily imagined. A military spacer’s life on the Rimward side of the treaty zone would be all too familiar to our own Navy veterans.
Jaska woke in near-perfect darkness, warm except where cool, hard-tipped fingers rested on his chest and where an arc of blank glassy enigma lay on his shoulder. He had bedded down for the night shift alone, but as was increasingly usual, he had not remained so through the whole night.
“Ina.” Jaska gently but firmly pushed the xenosapient’s head off his shoulder, and a flicker of indistinct light woke behind her featureless mask. “We’ve talked about this. You have your own bunk.”
Ina lifted herself up enough that the thin thermal blanket fell aside, and the cool air of the little ship’s crew cabin invaded Jaska’s comfortable warmth. A series of indecipherable symbols flitted across her face too quickly for him to read, then she lay back down and pressed the side of her head against his ear. “You should not be alone.” Her purring voice, the product of scale-like constituents rubbing against each other like crickets’ legs, nevertheless managed to sound like a human woman’s voice.
“Look, we both know I’m over the rad-sickness.” Jaska wanted to get up and stand apart from her, but he couldn’t do so and still expect an answer more complex than the three letters at a time she could display on her face. “The excuse that you’re concerned about my health expired a week ago.”
“I said that you should not be alone, not that I am worried you continue to be ill.” Ina had of course nursed Jaska back to health after helping her find a radioactive xenoflora specimen nearly killed him. She seemed to have known beforehand of the negative effects the radiation would have on human tissue, and to have experienced something like guilt for some time afterwards, but he tried to keep in mind how little the lithe, feminine humanoid guise reflected Ina’s true nature. “What haunts your sleep, Jaska?”
Jaska shook his head, pried Ina off himself, and rolled out of the bunk, blinking as the cabin automatically brightened. For an alien who had spent more time as a prisoner and curiosity of Rattanai pirates than a traveling-companion of Terrans, she was far too perceptive. “Things that are twenty T-years old. Don’t worry about it.”
Ina, unable to use her voice without pressing some part of herself against Jaska’s ear, sat up on his bunk and let her long legs dangle off the side. Though composed of a few thousands of scale-like individuals working in concert, she didn’t seem to know how to take the shape of anything but an attractive, slim human female. Most likely, her form was reactive to whoever she was around – Jaska’s tendency was obviously to respond best to a human female, so that was what she looked like. It was most likely a simple reflex.
“THA-TLO-NG?” Ina, displaying three letters at a time on her faceplate, queried.
“Just about.” Jaska wandered across the tiny cabin to the controls to check the little ship’s autopilot. They were still on course, with plenty of fuel, atmospherics, and nutrient reserves to make it back to civilization. “I’m all right.”
Before Jaska realized that she had left the bunk rack, Ina’s arms and serpentine, barb-tipped tail were already wrapped around him, and her head was already buried into his shoulder. “I can help.” Her purring voice sent a shiver down Jaska’s spine, and he tried to remind himself that she had almost killed him in pursuit of a radioactive plant whose purpose had never been explained in detail, and that all her pseudo-sexual affection was aimed toward a very different sort of intimacy. If she said she could help, she probably could – but he dreaded learning how.
“Don’t.” Jaska pried her arms off himself. She was far less dense than a human, and under normal circumstances far weaker. She could of course flow her components around his intervening hands if she chose, but that rarely happened. “This isn’t something you can fix so easily.”
The letters “YES” appeared on Ina’s otherwise blank face. “ICA-NTA-KEA-WAY-”
“Nothing.” Jaska finished the sentence being patiently spelled out. “You have permission to take nothing from me. Not even the nightmares.”
“I know in your own way you’re trying to help.” Jaska turned away and keyed the forward display to open its shutters. With bright lights in the cabin, no stars were visible beyond, but he stared out into the void anyway. “We humans help each other by sharing loads, not taking them away.”
Ina remained silent for several seconds. When Jaska turned around, he saw that she had fallen into the pilot’s acceleration couch, one leg slung lazily over the arm-rest. Though she could make no normal expression, he could tell she was waiting for him to say more. To tell the story which spawned his nightmares.
Jaska sighed. He had, after all, suggested it. He wasn’t ready to tell the story, but it would do him more good than to have Ina try to take away the trauma. “I suppose.” Walking past her, he leaned on the back of the chair, looking down at the blank-faced creature which had volunteered to hear his confession.
Ina craned her head to look at him curiously, contorting in an unconscious attempt to look more appealing to his eye. Would she understand why the memory hurt so much? Would it matter if she didn’t?
Jaska took a deep breath, then began. “It all began when I was in the service. We were answering a colonial distress call on the Rimward Frontier...”