keaalu: Pink square with pink heart for Thursday (Day - Thursday)
[personal profile] keaalu posting in [community profile] memento_vivere
     Blink lost track of the precise point at which staring at a dark ceiling segued into staring at dark trees, but she did finally manage to inch her way into dreamland. Not that her dreamscape was any better than the ceiling – she stood alone and naked in a thick, misty forest of identical trees, the long, draping boughs and feathery leaves forming curtains that prevented her seeing anywhere further than the next few trees along. Thigh-deep snow covered the ground, reflecting the struggling moonlight and giving the forest an unnatural night-time brightness. The chill penetrated deep into her unprotected skin; her limbs looked like they were carved of marble, white and waxy and stiff with cold.

     From somewhere in the distance, but impossible to tell how far away, her unseen pursuers honked again – the weirdly melodic calls sounded flat, muffled by the fog. She had to get up, somehow. Get away. Impossible to try and hide when the snow betrayed every faltering step she made. She forced herself to start running again, stumbling on through the snow, sinking all the way up to her bottom with each struggling step. They’d see her trail, of course, blazed as bright as hot coals in the crisp perfect whiteness.

     She had to find some way of getting off the snow – spread her wings, fly up through the trees – but she was too heavy. Too heavy and too cold and too sluggish, not to mention too tired. Couldn’t get her vanes to engage – maybe she’d forgotten how they worked in the first place. They weighed her down, caught against branches, tipped her centre of balance when the wind blew.

     She had to find shelter. The cold would kill her faster than her pursuers! Blink crawled under the sweeping boughs of the trees, but stray twigs caught in her hair, teasing and tickly.

     Actually-… could the branches be real? Something was-… was what…? The dreamscape began to break up – the trees darkened and the chill of snow faded. Still lost in a haze of broken dreams, Blink swatted at whatever was caught in her hair, and bumped her fingers against something hard. That nudged her the rest of the way awake.

     She looked blearily up to find carefully-dimmed blue optics gazing down on her.

     “Rise and shine, sleepy-head.” Skydash smiled, and teased gentle fingers through her hair once more. “I was beginning to think I was going to need a hammer-drill to get you to wake up. You must have slept well.”

     Blink grunted and swiped a hand down her face. She felt worse than she had before going to sleep. “Not especially. I stared at the ceiling for most of the night, and had bad dreams in the rest of it. Not used to sleeping without the pills, I suppose.”

     Waking up a little, she found that after tossing and turning, trying to get comfortable and get to sleep, she’d at some point kicked off her blanket, leaving her legs bare and chilly in a draught. Small surprise she’d had such vivid dreams. She hastily tucked herself back under the coverlets, burrowing back into the little cocoon of warmth; she wouldn’t have been surprised to find the snow of her dream heaped up in drifts outside the garage doors. “Ugh. Let me sleep just a little longer?”

     “I should say ‘no, we have a busy day ahead of us’ – not to mention, your keem will get cold.” Skydash teased. “But a little longer won’t hurt. I’ll put my alarm on ‘snooze’ for you.”

     Blink mumbled something like a thankyou and concentrated on winding her frozen toes into the blankets. The memory of snow from her dream finally began to melt as her feet warmed.

     As promised, a short while later Skydash gently nudged her awake again, this time helping her sit, and pressing a steaming cup of frothy, milky, spiced drink into her hands. Blink considered asking her to ‘snooze’ again – whatever that meant – but knew that if she did, she’d end up pleading to stay in bed until midday. She lifted the cup to her lips, instead, and breathed deeply of the sweet steam rising from the warm liquid inside. She eyed the little foil-wrapped breakfast bar Skydash had put on her mattress, but decided that she didn’t feel especially hungry. Anxiety had wrapped its fingers around her stomach.

     “So had you thought any more what you’re going to do while I’m aimlessly wandering the streets?” the fessine wondered, over the rim of her cup.

     Skydash snorted. “Stretch my wings is high on my list,” she admitted, flexing her shoulders and wiggling her wings just a little. “I got a little sky-crazy on that sleeper. I figure I can browse their datanet over a wireless connection, and send you information on what I find.” She glanced sidelong. “What was it you wanted to talk to me about last night?”

     “I-… did I?” Blink feigned cluelessness. “I can’t remember. It probably wasn’t important.”

     Skydash arched an eyebrow, in a way that said oh REALLY, but let it lay.

     Blink picked up her spool of bandages. “I better get dressed-” She hesitated, and glanced up at Skydash. “Uh.”

     The femme intuited the problem. “Would you like me to turn around?”

     An odd sense of shame nudged her jittery stomach. “Um. May-maybe. If you wouldn’t mind.”

     It felt ridiculous, to be shy about this. Of all the people that she should have been comfortable allowing to see her nude-… There was just something so ridiculously vulnerable about this body, compared to her old one. It was hard to contextualise. Perhaps she was just ashamed of it.

     Skydash nudged her friend’s cheek with a finger, and obediently settled with her wings spread.

     Blink forced the awkward feelings away, and tried to convince herself that it was nothing to do with Skydash – she was worried about anyone else walking in. That was all. She drew a breath to steady her nerves, shed her nightshirt, and carefully began wrapping.

     It was getting easier to get her bindings straight, but it didn’t make her chest any less sore. If it was going to take much longer to get things sorted, maybe she ought to try and get some sort of underwear designed specifically for the job – but who’d make something like that for a fessine? Where would you even ask, that it wouldn’t get you arrested?

     “Everything all right?”

     Realising she’d gone still, staring blankly at the foot of the bed, Blink looked up to meet her friend’s concerned features, looking back at her. “Tired of having to do this every day.”

     “It won’t be for much longer.”

     “…I hope you’re right.”

     “I’m always right.”

     As Skydash had hoped, Blink managed to find a genuine laugh.

     “Whatever happens, you’re going to need a haircut,” Skydash reminded, ruffling her friend’s hair; it had almost doubled in length while they’d been on the sleeper. “I’ll look up a… hair-cutter?... for you, while you’re out.”

     Blink snorted, uneasily. “Thanks.” Using her fingers, she ruffled her hair into half-hearted spikes. “It’s ‘barber’, by the way.”

     Skydash flapped her hand. “Are you going to take your satchel?”

     “It’s got the transmitter in it,” Blink grimaced. “So I better. They’ll get suspicious otherwise.”

     Skydash caught the fessine’s shoulders gently in both hands, and kissed her brow. “Take care. All right? No getting into trouble by being bold and taking silly risks.”

     Blink felt her ears get warm, and curled her own hands up over the large palms resting so gently against her shoulders. “I’ll be careful.”

     “And be careful of that damn medusi.” Skydash lowered her voice. “I know you think I’m making a fuss over nothing, but she scares me. She’s dangerous. Please, stay away from her?”

     “I’ll try.” Blink let her head rest against one of the big hands on her shoulder, and felt the palm come up to cup her cheek. “Find someone to dump their homing beacon on. ”

     After they’d said their goodbyes, Blink slipped out of the hangar, and into the chilly murk of a new day. No snow, thankfully, but one of Brume’s famously heavy fogs had rolled in overnight, leaving the world shrouded in low white haze that made everything feel strange and muffled. The port’s weather-lifters weren’t yet active, so she could see only a short distance in front of her, maybe twenty paces before the world disappeared in the mist.

     “Rrr,” she said, out loud, exhaling a shuddery cloud of steam. No wonder it wasn’t peak season for tourists – it was too darn cold! The unpleasant damp penetrated deep into her face, quickly making her ears go numb, and the hinge of her jaw ache. She covered her ears with cupped palms, but it only made them hurt more. Instead, she folded her arms around her chest, trying to keep the warmth inside her as she made her way to the exit.

     Her heart sounded inordinately loud in her ears as she passed her carefully-forged ID briefly over to the tired security guard, but without a single word he nodded, handed it back, and waved her out through the gate. So far, so good.

     Brume Spaceport was in a semi-industrial area on the outskirts of the primary city. Anything beyond the wire fences and the flat, featureless parking areas had been swallowed up by the mist, but Blink knew that hidden in the fog were clusters of warehouses and grassy waste ground – which would be of no help in her search. Later in the day, this forecourt would bustle with private conveyances and public transport, whisking travellers away, but right now, just one single lonely shuttle-bus sat with its engine idling, right outside the main passenger terminal and the ticket machines. She made a beeline for it.

     Purchasing a travelcard, Blink flashed it at the bus driver, who gave a bored nod and waved her aboard. She found a seat at the rear of the shuttle, near a warm air vent, and snuggled down on the worn old cushion, trying to will her ears to warm up. When they finally set off, she struggled to pick out any details as the fogbound world passed her window. Mercy, this IS nasty weather; Skydash was right. Blink resolved to apologise for teasing her, as soon as she got back.

     The journey into town was short, but stopped and started so often that Blink knew she could have walked it faster. (It felt like a fair trade, for the ability to keep her ears warm.) The sun had risen and the fog had lifted, a little, by the time the shuttle arrived in the city centre. Now it was a bright chilly mist, instead of a dim chilly mist; she squinted into the glare as she disembarked in the station, and followed the thin stream of pedestrians out of the big exit, into the city.

     Even though Blink knew it was just very, very old, it looked rather like Brume city centre had been designed to appeal to tourists. The pretty cobbled streets wound their way gently downhill, lined on both sides with little boutiques and jewellers, cafés, expensive delicatessens and confectioners. She ignored all the tempting knick-knacks for sale in their windows – even if she’d had time for shopping, she sure didn’t have the funds for it. The elaborate little iced pastries in particular made her stomach growl painfully, reminding her of her meagre breakfast.

     She headed off downhill, still following the flow of other pedestrians, and wondered precisely how easy it would be to find something she didn’t know the slightest thing about.

* * * * *

     Midday rolled around far too quickly. The rising sun quickly burnt off the last lingering traces of mist, and the day had actually grown quite reasonable – although not reasonable for Blink to shed her jacket – since the air cleared.

     “So how’s it going?”

     “It’s not, Dash.” Blink plopped down on a bench at the side of the market square, under the shadow of a large tree, and sighed into her communicator. “I’m chasing shadows. How’s it going with you?”

     “Not much better. I just get… glimpses, almost, of these creatures. I keep thinking I’ve found something, so I follow it, and… there’s nothing there. It either doesn’t go into detail, or it’s been deleted. Seriously, who deletes scientific data?”

     Blink wiped her face with one hand. “Someone who doesn’t want people to know about Them. I’m not sure I like where this is heading.” The thought had been niggling at her all day, after the tourist information centre had been fairly unhelpful when she’d asked. No, scratch that – completely unhelpful.

     Wouldn’t you rather go to these places? They’re much nicer, and really demonstrate what Brume has to offer! The ‘advisor’ had immediately offered, when Blink had asked, unsubtly changing the subject and holding out a handful of information pamphlets. How about these places?

     I’m not here for tourism. I need to talk to Them, Blink had reiterated, but without success. It’s important.

     The advisor had shook his head, and pushed the slip of paper back to Blink. I’m sorry. We’ve been told not to give the information out. Try the library instead.

     Skydash remained silent, cementing Blink’s fears firmly in place.

     “We shouldn’t have come here, should we. You were right – it’s bad luck. They’re bad luck. Dangerous.” Blink slumped in her seat, and stared up at the tree branches spreading shade above her head. “We should have tried to find a way to make it work, with me staying how I am. Your Uncle Star could have found a way of transplanting my brain, maybe. If nothing else he’s probably seen it done before and could figure-”

     “Hey, hush. Less of that.” Skydash interrupted. “We’re not trying to transplant those delicate squishy processors into a new body. We’ll find Them and they’ll reverse what Frond did to you, just as she promised They would. Then we’ll go home.”

     “…and try and fix everything else.”

     “Bee.” Another little noise rather like a sigh, and a subject change. “Any sign of Kainda?”

     “None yet.” Blink turned the little black homing disc between thumb and forefinger. A tiny conflicted part of her wanted to see Lunete again, but she sensed Skydash knew that. “To be honest, that’s what surprises me most about this whole mess. We’ve been here almost a whole day and she’s not sent her spies after me.”

     “Probably struggling to think up an excuse to ‘accidentally bump into you’ in the tourist information centre.”

     Blink laughed, tiredly, and pinched the bridge of her nose. “That wouldn’t be funny if it wasn’t true.”


     “Maybe I should wait here until one of them turns up. At least then they’d know if their little beacon was working.”

     “Maybe. Just don’t talk about it too loud, just in case they’re closer than you think. Talk to you soon, all right?”

     For a while, Blink just sat and watched as shoppers passed by, using the time to try and think what to do next. The quiet pleased her – crowds would have made her uneasy, but since it wasn’t market day, the square was relatively empty, apart from a couple of food stalls. The scents wafting across to her made her nostrils tingle and her stomach protest, but she couldn’t quite summon the energy to actually get up. Not to mention, after being cooped up on the sleeper so long, all the walking had made her feet sore. It was nice to take her weight off them for a while.


     Hearing Lunete’s high, musical voice wasn’t precisely unexpected, but it made Blink jump, anyway.

     “Oh, how wonderful-! I was hoping we’d be able to find each other again!”

     Blink allowed herself a split-second to try and figure out how to look surprised and not just startled, before turning to look over her shoulder. “Lunete? Wow, uh-… what a surprise?” She got to her feet, to watch the fessine approach.

     “I know!” If she sensed the lie, she didn’t outwardly acknowledge it. Lunete seized one of Blink’s hands in both of her own, and planted a greeting kiss on her cheek before enveloping her in a hug. “Isn’t it nice though? And we’re not on that horrible dirty boring sleep-ship, either.”

     Blink echoed the gesture with just one arm, stiffly, and winced as the hug squeezed her already-sore breasts. “I guess. At least it was warm.”

     “How are you doing? Have you found your friend yet?”

     Blink swallowed her envy of the other fessine’s plush, quilted jacket – it looked warm and comfortable, compared to her meagre windcheater. “Not yet. And they’re not strictly a friend, just a contact.”

     Lunete smiled, brightly. “How about we talk about it over food? You look pretty hungry.”

     Blink gave her a hard look. “Is that really a good idea?” At least her stomach behaved, not betraying her confidence by gurgling at the thought of something nicer than those cardboard breakfast biscuits.

     “Yes? Why wouldn’t it be?”

     “You’re married, and Kainda’s not interested in me. Didn’t we go through this already?”

     “Pff.” Lunete flapped a hand, airily. “Why does that mean we can’t go and have something to eat? I’m going to get something anyway, I’ve somehow existed off sweets all morning and I’m half starved – I just thought you might be interested in joining me.”

     Blink dithered for several long heartbeats – she was hungry. The smells wafting up from the food vans didn’t help.

     Lunete tired of waiting. “Look. I know Brume fairly well, I might be able to help you. Let’s go to a café, where it’s warmer.” She seized Blink’s hand, and set off, not waiting to see if the other laima was actually going to follow.

     Despairing of getting the fessine to go away without outright insulting her, and wanting to avoid making a scene in public, Blink sighed and obediently followed her. The narrow side-street street made her edgy – sure, it was pretty and had all the usual expensive shops, but it contained even fewer pedestrians and anyone could be waiting to jump out on them-

     “Plus, I have a book!”

     Blink’s thoughts came back to the present to find Lunete brandishing a tourist guide of alphabetical listings that had magically appeared from one of her outsized pockets.

     “I thought I could lend it to you. You might find it useful.”

     That coat must be equipped with its own subspace, Blink mused, wryly. “Which you just happen to carry around with you all the time?”

     Lunete shrugged, sheepishly. “All right, I brought it with me specially. I wanted to see you.”

     “You did, or Kainda did?” Blink finally extracted her hand from Lunete’s grip, and folded her arms. “Isn’t it a bit of a coincidence that you just happened to bump into me today?”

     Lunete gave her an affectionate glower. “It’s not a big city, Blink. And you already told me you were looking for someone. Where else would you be except skulking around the city centre?”

     The fessine led her friend to a small, comfortable café, a few streets away and off the main thoroughfare. Blink selected herself an unfussy rolled sandwich of spiced meat and roast vegetable, and somehow managed to fend Lunete off long enough to actually pay for it, too, in spite of her pursuer’s protestations. (The fewer debts she had to Kainda’s clan, the better.) They settled at a round table for two in the corner, their view of the street partially obscured by a potted plant.

     Lunete fished the directory out of her pocket. “So where does your friend work?”

     Blink watched as she folded the book open to the map in the centre. “I told you, they’re not a friend. Just someone I need to meet.”

     “Fine, so where does your contact work?”

     “Lunete-… I can’t tell you. I don’t really know a lot about them.” Blink leaned over the map, scanning over it for library. “I have no idea where – if, even – they work.”

     Lunete nibbled the edges off the fruit pastry she’d selected. “Next thing you’ll be telling me you don’t even know their name.”

     “…would that matter?”

     “I-… ugh! Blink!” Lunete actually covered her face with both hands, briefly. “I know Hesger was kind of a backwater, but how do you expect to find anyone if you don’t even know their name?”

     Blink concentrated on her sandwich, annoyed. “You know, I don’t recall actually asking for your help.”

     Lunete shuffled closer around the edge of the table until their chairs met. Her thigh bumped against Blink’s. “We could get you a better price. Save you all this running around.”

     The smell of perfume wafted to Blink’s nostrils. She coughed to clear the lump in her throat, and even then the words came out slightly strangled. “How many times do I have to say this? It’s nothing to do with Skydash-!

     “So you came all the way to Brume to meet someone, that you’ve never met and know nothing about. And you want me to believe it’s nothing to do with your thing.” Lunete gave Blink one of those looks, that said she knew Blink was hiding something but had been being polite about calling her out on it. “If you’re going to lie to me, try and lie a bit better. Hmm?”

     Blink pursed her lips and glared back. “Fine. How does, ‘you don’t need to know’ work for you?”

     Lunete actually giggled, and bumped her head against Blink’s shoulder. “You’re really hard to help, you know that? All right. I promise not to ask again.” She twirled one of her ringlets around one finger. “Today, anyway.”

     The fessine was close enough that her scent filled Blink’s nose – a pleasant mix of light perfume and minty confectionery, but overlaying deep notes of something Blink couldn’t quite pin down, alluring and feminine. It left her feeling like her jacket had shrunk, tightening subtly around her throat. She fought the urge to lean closer and breathe a little more deeply, to figure out what it was leaving her so warm-

     Suddenly very conscious of her heartbeat echoing in her ears, Blink edged just back out of reach. She tried to concentrate on her meal, but she suddenly didn’t feel all that hungry, imagined accusations of betrayal swirling just beneath the surface. Aware of Lunete’s gaze on her, Blink focused instead on the map, and finally spotted the library. She noticed she’d actually been past it twice without realising it.

     After several minutes of strained small-talk, something in Lunete’s bag chirped. She sighed and fished out a handheld computer, and glared at the screen for a second, lips drawn together in a dainty pout. “Looks like it’s time I was back at work.” She banished the pout with a huge smile, and dabbed a finger gently against her friend’s nose. “Don’t be a stranger, Blink. And keep us in mind, whatever you have planned.” She leaned a fraction closer, and let her lips brush ever so subtly against Blink’s-

     Then she was gone.

     Ears burning, Blink stared after her until she vanished from sight, out the door and away down the street. She coughed, and took a sip of her drink, but couldn’t quite shed the lump in her throat.

     It was only after Lunete had vanished that Blink realised she’d left her tourist directory behind, a blatant reminder of her desire to see ‘him’ again. Blink picked it up and frowned, debating leaving it with the employee behind the counter… then changed her mind, and instead slipped it into her satchel. It might be useful, right? It had a map in it. And it wouldn’t hurt to see Lunete again. Would it?

* * * * *

     After lunch, following the map in Lunete’s book (which was infinitely better than the free guide the obstructive tourist ‘information’ centre advisor had given her), Blink finally found the library. Hidden away behind a memorial garden, it was quite small, with a simple one-story design rendered in plain glass and dull concrete, and terrible signage. Small surprise she’d missed it on her last attempt. She pushed through the revolving door, wondering what help would be available…

     …the librarian was ondrai. Blink felt her mouth go dry. As if things couldn’t get any worse, she now had to go and try and lie convincingly to the species most likely to see clear through it. The long, deerlike faces of the ondrai made complex emotions difficult to convey – even for each other – and as a result, they’d evolved a powerful sense of empathy, not quite telepathic but certainly strong enough to pick up emotional states. Blink figured she must be fairly oozing with unease, right now. Only the knowledge that putting it off until later would only make her unease worse stopped her turning tail.

     Blink took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and hoped that since he was a librarian (a profession not precisely known for counselling prowess), this ondras wasn’t one of the more sensitive types. Boldly, she headed over to the main desk.

     He looked up as she approached. Deep chestnut eyes gave her a very brief visual once-over before the head perked and the large ears swivelled attentively forwards. “Good day. How can I help you, sha’heem?”

     Her knowledge of ondrai’i might be limited to one or two words, but Blink at least knew sha’heem meant sir. Her confidence grew by a notch or two. “I wonder if you’d be able to help me identify this symbol?” She held out the slip of paper. “Tourist information centre said here was the best place to come for things like this.”

     The librarian took it carefully, and studied it for a moment or two. “Yes, indeed. I recognise this. What did you want to know about it?”

     “The people that made it? I’ve been looking for them. I was told this was the key to finding them. No-one’s really been very helpful, though. The TIC basically told me to go away.”

     “No, the tourism board don’t like these people, I’m not surprised they turned you away.” He emerged from behind his desk and gestured for her to follow. “Why are you looking for them?”

     Not sure how much she should admit to, Blink shrugged one shoulder. “I just need to find them. I need to talk to them. They paid me a visit a while back.”

     The librarian’s ears twitched, making the tiny chimes on his horns jingle. “Paid you a visit? Mm. I heard that was why the city mayor decided to put a block on the information. People getting themselves in trouble by making deals they probably shouldn’t be making.” He glanced back at her.

     Blink put her hands up, defensively. “They came and found me, I didn’t go looking for them.”

     The librarian inclined his head. “Then I’m sure you’re aware the Gok are cryptic and not often the best to bargain with? But if you’re sure you want to pay them a visit, I can probably find you a map.”

     “Thank you.” Blink followed him across the quiet hall. She resisted the urge to grill him on what he meant by bargaining with them. “What did you call them? I wasn’t aware their species had a common name.”

     A look of transient embarrassment flickered through the librarian’s long face. He smiled – well, Blink took it for a smile – and held up his hands, palms out. “Well, Gok is the Brume word for them. I probably wouldn’t advise you to use it around them.”

     So, it’s a slur? “…what does it mean?”

     “ ‘Gods Only Know’.”

     Blink quietly considered his words, watching him settled by the computer and pull up an archive search. So it’s not just me. Most people really don’t know a lot about them. What am I getting into…

     The librarian twitched an ear. “So, why are you looking for them?” he wondered, with a deliberately offhand manner, waiting for the maps to come online. “They’re not best friendly, right now. Most people avoid them, if they can.”

     That didn’t help the sense of crawling unease that had been building all day. “Really? Why?”

     “We’re not entirely certain. They used to be fairly friendly, but they’ve got… I shouldn’t say hostile, lately, but certainly unwelcoming. Something has got their tempers rankled.”

     Blink resisted the urge to swallow the discomfort in her throat. What if it was my fault?

     The librarian watched her, curious, but if he noticed anything about her manner that made him suspicious, he didn’t say it out loud. “I shouldn’t wonder if they’re not as uneasy as the rest of us at what the kiravai are up to.”

     “…and… what are the kiravai up to?”

     “You really are new around here, aren’t you?” He held out the sheet of directions, and smiled, subtly. “You might want to check the news before you head any further out into the unknown.”

     Blink took the map, which contained surprisingly detailed directions for a place she wasn’t supposed to want to go, and resolved to check the news when she got home. “Thanks. This is really helpful.”

     “One last word of advice, before you go?” The librarian rested his stubby fingers gently on her shoulder. “Be careful around them. Don’t… adulterate the truth too much. They don’t like being lied to, and you have more than enough secrets to keep safe right now.”

     Blink glanced up at him. Did he know…? Of course he knows. He’s ondrai.

     “Good luck, sha’heem.” He bowed his long head, and retired to his desk, to attend the next customer.

     “Thank you.” Blink took the hint, and took her chance. She slipped quietly away outside, and allowed herself a second or two to relax, leaning against the wall and tipping her face up towards the sun. At least that was one obstacle past her.

     Got some good news! She sent a quick message to Skydash, before setting out for the town centre station.

     She found it very hard to sit still on the bus.

* * * * *

     Skydash was nowhere to be seen, when Blink finally got back to their base in the port. For a second, fear prickled against her scalp, at the idea that Kainda had found them while she was out, and that Lunete and her flirting had been an intentional distraction while the medusi stole her… then she noticed the slip of paper on her bed. Written in very small, very precise lettering, it simply said:

     Sun’s out! Gone to fly. Back later.

     Blink realised she’d been holding her breath, and allowed herself to exhale, relieved.

     She settled cross-legged on her bunk, and after freeing her aching chest, bent to study Lunete’s tourist guide, comparing it with the map the librarian had given her. The Gok’s garden was present on both, but cryptic. That seemed to fit with everything else she knew – what the tourist information centre had told her, Skydash’s report of people erasing data, the librarian’s warning about them being unfriendly. She chewed on a nail, uneasily.

     The sun had begun to creep below the horizon when Skydash finally returned, covered in a fine speckling of atmospheric dust. She looked a lot better for having tended her need to fly.

     “Hi-i.” Blink smiled and wiggled her fingers in greeting. “Nice fly?”

     “Very nice. This mud-ball isn’t so bad when the sky’s clear.” Skydash rolled the vertical door closed, muffling the noise of port operations outside. “What have you got there?”

     “Some maps, and a tourist guide.” Blink lifted it up for emphasis.

     “You said you had some news?”

     “I might have a lead. The librarian knew them.” A small grin broke to the surface. “This is it, Dash. We’ve found them. We’ve actually found them! We can go home!”

     Skydash laughed. “Hold up there. We’ve not even checked out if the librarian is right, yet.”

     “Who cares? I actually feel optimistic, for the first time in forever-!” Blink laughed, excitedly, reaching her arms up and out. The instant Skydash got close enough, she surged up off the bed, leaping for her friend’s chassis, and braced herself with her knees long enough to kiss her fiercely on the lips. She couldn’t help purring; a deep, satisfied noise that felt like it came all the way up from her stomach. We can go home. I can be ME, at last. I can finally start to make amends to everyone I managed to hurt. I’ll finish my studies, be the engineer I wanted to be, be productive again. Make things better, make people better.

     Skydash smiled into the kiss, and brought up a hand to support her. “Fantastic.” Her own generator hummed along with Blink’s purr. “We’d better start making plans – make sure we’ve got enough fuel for the journey home. It’s a long way, remember?”

     “I can work, like I did at tiao’I. Maybe the chief engineer back there will put in a good word for me, if I ask? I wasn’t completely unreliable.” Blink slid back to the garage floor. “And if we can’t buy enough of the right type of fuel, then I can try and make a solar collector, so long as you still have one I can copy from.”

     “Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, here. You haven’t even shown me the map yet.” Skydash watched her friend dig through the pile of papers on her bed. “Did you see any of Kainda’s little gang, in the end?”

     Blink hesitated, map in hand, “Uh.” She glanced down at her feet, and used her toes to draw invisible arcs on the floor. “I saw Lunete. She, um. Lent me the book.”

     “I knew it.” Skydash smiled, and brushed a finger over her cheek. “You look… brighter.”

     “Which is nothing at all to do with the map?” Blink waved the slips of paper, ever so slightly threateningly. “And the fact we might be about to find what we came here for?”

     “Not to mention,” Skydash added, innocently, “you still have the homing beacon.”

     Skeida! Blink hastily fished around in her bag. The beacon had slipped all the way down into the bottom, but of course, there it was. “Ah, frag. So much for finding someone to hide it on.” Perhaps her subconscious had orchestrated it in the first place. Disc in hand, she plopped down on her mattress and made it squeak. “I should have let you break it, shouldn’t I.”

     “No, you shouldn’t.” The giant caught her friend’s hand, and pulled her gently closer. She rested her forehead very carefully against Blink’s much smaller one. “It’s not bad for you to be making other friends. It’s a good thing. It’s healthy. And it means that we’ve got a better chance of saving things when we go home.”

     Blink knew her friend was talking about the self-destructive jealousy that had driven them apart in the first place. She avoided meeting her gaze, leaning closer and using a fingertip to draw abstract shapes in the sandy dust that had collected on Skydash’s chassis window. “She’s hardly a friend. She’s just a stalker who wants to sell you.” But she knew she was making excuses.

     You’ll always be family. You can still be trine. I still want you to be my sister, my best friend. And you can find someone else, someone to love, someone who’ll love you back and make you complete.

     As though hearing her thoughts, Skydash spoke softly; “Please. You need to start letting yourself think of a future where you’re happy, and you don’t have to try and make it revolve around me.”

     Blink clenched her fingers to stop them trembling. The words sent a jolt of hurt that made her stomach clench. “But I don’t want to be with anyone else-! I love you!”

     “That’s exactly my point. I love you, too, and I can’t watch you self-destruct again. We grew up together. We used to know each other better than anybody else ever could. We knew what each other was thinking, or planning, or feeling. Rescued each other from so many dangers, so many times.” Skydash vented a sigh of warm air. “Now you daren’t even show me your body, unless you have it covered in layers of fabric. I feel like you’re scared of me, or ashamed of me, or-… it frightens me, a little. Please don’t treat me like a monster.”

     “I’m not ashamed of you. I’m not scared of you.” Blink took her hand back, frustrated. She threw off her shirt, revealing her bare chest and the patchwork of tiny silver scars across her shoulders and arms. The cool air made the hair on her neck lift, sent a hundred excited shivers working through her skin; she squashed the sensation, angry at the way it seemed to be conspiring against her, to prove the point. “I’m ashamed of this weak, badly-made body that won’t do what I tell it, even now. It obeys stupid programming that I don’t want it to run. It breaks down and won’t tell me how to fix it. It’s small and squashy and vulnerable, and I’m ashamed to let you see me.” She shoved the rest of her clothing down over her hips, and stepped out of her trousers to stand on the cold floor in front of her friend, nude, spreading her arms wide for emphasis. “Just look at me, Dash. What even am I?”

     Skydash kept her expression reassuring and level. “You’re laima. You’re tough, you’re brave. You’re a survivor. You’ve walked through the Pit with your armour in tatters, and it’s forged you stronger than ever. You shouldn’t be ashamed of that.”

     Blink shook her head, sighed, and flopped back to sit on her mattress. “Frond remade me as the biological creature that most closely matched the non-biological me. She looked inside me, and knew what I was better than anyone. Short, slow, bland and dull, and lowest of the low. Useful only for following instructions. Even kiravai treat their women better. As a laima, I’m destined for nothing except having babies.” She shuddered. “I only felt like I belonged on Hesger, where no-one’s normal and everyone’s infected-!”

     Skydash held out her hands. “If that’s how you see yourself, then it’s small wonder why she designed your new body the way she did,” she scolded, gently, claiming the limp hands resting against the mattress. “Who cares what your frame looks like?”

     “I care! I want to look normal. I want to fit in. I don’t fit in back home, and I don’t fit in here, either. I don’t want everyone staring at me, trying to figure out who I am and whether I’m still available.”

     “Well if we’re going to do the whole soul-bearing thing…”

     The delicate click of clasps releasing sounded inappropriately loud in the silence.

     Skydash carefully parted her chassis plating to reveal her shielded fusion core and central harmonic – the deepest, most delicate and intimate part of her body. The bright blue, twisting sprite blazed like a sun in the dim garage. It cast a strange, harsh light against Blink’s pale skin, making her scars suddenly eerily pronounced.

     “We grew up together. I understand ‘not belonging’ better than you’re suggesting, and you know it.”

     Blink refused to meet her gaze.

     “When I was little, I didn’t think I’d ever fit into our society, either,” Skydash continued. “I always thought I’d be stuck on the sidelines, unwanted – too dirt-hugging to become a true flier, and just a curious winged novelty for the grounders. And you didn’t care, you wanted to be my friend anyway. Who cared about the conventional, huh? Together we stood up to anything and everything.”

     She closed her chassis, to keep Blink away from the hot components inside, and gathered her friend against her chest. The small body broadcast an unexpected amount of heat against her cold enamel. Blink’s electric field was very dim, barely readable, but she could tell her pump was beating a rapid tempo in her chest. Whether that made her angry or scared or excited or something else, Skydash couldn’t tell.

     “We’ve got through everything else. It shouldn’t be a mech that tears us apart,” she said, softly, into one small triangular ear. “Maybe… maybe it was a mistake to let him get close in the first place. And I won’t forgive myself if I lose you because of it. But I’m not going to just let go of everything we’ve built together, not now. Please. Let’s just give it one last chance.” She nuzzled the soft spikes of her friend’s hair. “I’m not asking you to be intimate. I’m just asking you to try and be his friend.”

     Still not daring to look up, Blink nodded. “Just don’t let me be second best,” she husked, tucking up her feet to sit cross-legged in the big palm.

     “You never were. You never will be. Love isn’t like fuel, where there’s only a limited quantity that has to be shared. Loving him isn’t going to make me love you less. You know that.”

     “…I don’t know why I’m so scared.” Blink rested her cheek against the cool blue enamel, trying to feel Skydash’s electrical field. “It’s like you’re not in there, any more,” she said, faintly. “I can’t feel you at all, in this body. What if this is permanent? What if they fix it and I still can’t feel you? Can’t feel anyone.” Her breath hitched in her throat. “What if this is all a huge nightmare and you’re not who I think you are? You are just a wardrone and I genuinely am a fessine with serious mental health emergency-”

     “Hush.” Skydash flattened one finger over Blink’s lips. “This was supposed to be good news, remember? Not an excuse for you to fall to pieces on me.”

     “Would you-… would you make love to me? Just once?” Sitting in the huge blue palm, Blink stared up into the soft glow of her friend’s optics. The words threatened to strangle off in her throat. “Just this once. Tonight? Please. Just in case. We might never get the chance again.”

     Skydash listened to the way her friend’s words trembled. She could feel the subtle sizzle of Blink’s static field where it intersected her own. Her heart’s tempo had quickened again, and it felt like her core temperature had risen. “Not like this,” she whispered, and kissed her cheek. “I’ll hurt you.”

     Blink closed her eyes. “I’m sorry I’m not him.”

     “I’m glad you’re not.” Skydash smiled, sadly. “Even if he was in your place? I wouldn’t let him, either.” She chuckled softly and bumped their noses together. “Not to mention, there’d be some serious engineering challenges to overcome. And no, that’s not an invitation to experiment.”

     At last, Blink laughed back.

     “I promise, we’ll find a way to make it work. A way to make us work. But we’ll get you repaired first.”

xx,xxx out of 50,000 (to be updated later)

(Two whole posts! I have a lot more written, but nowhere near postable.)