keaalu: Yellow square with yellow flower for Friday (Day - Friday)
[personal profile] keaalu posting in [community profile] memento_vivere
      When Blink next remembered opening her eyes, it was to find watery morning sunlight spilling through the small windows in the huge garage doors, and she realised it was morning. How had that happened? She didn’t even remember going to sleep. At some point in the night, Skydash had put her to bed, tucking the blankets carefully around her, although she had no idea at what time her frazzled brain had finally decided to offline. Overworked emotions left her still feeling drained and flat.

     Blink groaned, and hid her head under her blanket. “Sorry.”

     Skydash glanced back at the muffled word. “What for?”

     “Being embarrassing last night.”

     Skydash smiled, fondly, and peeled the blanket back off her face. “You shouldn’t be apologetic.” She stroked the wide nose with a gentle finger. “You weren’t embarrassing. Just stressed.”

     Blink tucked her nose back into the covers. “I don’t know what came over me. I-… have no idea why I thought attempting interfacing was a good idea.” Her face suddenly felt very hot. “Can we forget I mentioned it.”

     Skydash helped her sit, and slotted a pre-packaged breakfast into her hands. “Forget you mentioned what?”

     Blink frowned and opened her mouth to reply, but just in time realised her friend was trying to save her from any more awkwardness. She diverted her attention onto her food instead, gratefully. Even those cardboard breakfast biscuits didn’t seem so unappealing, today. Perhaps it was the knowledge that she’d never have to eat them again that made them taste better.

     Breakfast finished, Blink bent to do battle with her disguise. Skydash watched from the corner of her eye, privately relieved that the fessine finally wasn’t insisting she turned away. “So today is the day that this terrible stage of your life finally comes to a close, eh?”

     “Couldn’t come soon enough,” Blink agreed, finally satisfied that her bindings were square before putting her shirt on. “This is never going to be fun.” She stuffed her pockets with her maps and communicator, and after a second or two of internal debate, plucked the homing device from its pocket in her satchel, and slipped it into her jacket as well.

     “You’re not taking your satchel?”

     Blink sat and looked at it, for a while. “No. I don’t know what I’ll encounter when I meet up with those creatures. Safer for me to leave it here – if you don’t mind looking after it?”

     Skydash nodded. “You took the beacon out. Won’t she get suspicious?”

     Blink gave her an ironic smile. “Do you seriously believe Kainda thinks we don’t know about her beacon? I better take it with me, so she doesn’t come snooping around here, looking for me, and bump into you.”

* * * * *

     The map led her far from the tourist circuit and its pretty cobbled streets and boutiques. She soon found herself walking down vehicle-choked urban streets, weaving in and out of the pedestrians laden with their weekly groceries. Even the shops quickly dwindled in number, turning into rows of office blocks, then residential apartments, and finally houses, lining the gentle slopes of the hills surrounding the city.

     The Garden was easy to find – a tall, impenetrable leafy hedge, through which curls of mist tumbled onto the street. Blink followed the hedge until she finally came to the gate; a simple wrought iron affair, tall enough to come up to her chin, set into a wooden arch made of trellis and thorny flowering plants.

     She braced her fingers against the cool metal, and gazed up into the mist. The low cloud behind the hedge might not be as thick as the fog she’d encountered yesterday morning, but it was incongruous and out-of-place compared to the rest of the clear, sun-washed city outside. The garden disappeared uphill, all ponds and rocks and artful gravel, hidden stairs and clever terraces, and small standing stones like shrunken monoliths. Dramatic trees dotted the way, like self-contained waterfalls, their boughs laden with slim, silver-green leaves that draped all the way to the ground.

     …they looked like the trees in her dream. Blink licked her lips, uneasily. ‘Superstitious’ wasn’t usually part of her makeup, but something about all this seemed too convenient – maybe portentous? – to just be a coincidence. She wouldn’t have put it past the creatures to have invaded her dreams, for reasons only they understood.

     She backed up a step and gave the hedge a quick visual appraisal. Was she even allowed in? There were no signs indicating it was private, and the librarian hadn’t said anything about not going in when she’d explained she needed to talk to them… but then he’d also said they didn’t like visitors. Should she dare? Perhaps they just relied on their reputation to enforce their privacy?

     Or perhaps they relied on other methods. Her pulse quickened, ever so slightly.

     After a quick glance stolen up and down the street, Blink pushed hesitantly at the gate, making its hinges sigh softly, and slipped through onto the well-worn flagstone path. It felt like the air had cooled a few degrees inside, and her over-active imagination lent the cold, damp stones a strange, slimy feel, as though she were walking on the leathery hide of some monstrous seacreature.

     She folded her arms around herself and tucked her chin down towards her collar. The hair on the back of her neck prickled – although Blink wasn’t sure if it was solely because of the cold. The mist lent the place an oppressive, heavy atmosphere. The graceful boughs of the exotic trees remained completely motionless. Even the ponds barely rippled. It felt like the quiet, still air itself was watching her.

     She focused on the wet path, and began walking. Patches of gravel crunched beneath her feet, sounding more like a hundred gunshots to her over-strung nerves. The route zigzagged slowly up the hill, winding past the ponds and rocky gardens. Blink hoped she might find a building, or a shelter of some sort, but strained to see anything in the mist. There had to be some way of attracting their attention, even if she couldn’t find whatever it was they called a home. The idea of yelling a greeting into the oppressive quiet made her uneasy.

     Movement flashed in the corner of her vision, making her jump, but when she turned to look, there was nothing there – just a tall, white monolith, partially obscured by the boughs of one of the drooping trees. She swallowed her nerves and inwardly scolded herself, for jumping at nothing.

     Another shadow moved in the periphery of her vision, and she realised it must be one of Them. They knew she was there. They’d probably known ever since she pushed the gate open. Why weren’t they coming forwards?

     “Hello?” Blink said, quietly, looking hopefully in the direction of the movement but seeing nothing. “I’d like to talk to you? Please?”

     Granted, she wasn’t expecting an echo, but it was as though the mist swallowed her words entirely. It felt strange and flat – like being in a padded box. She swallowed again, but her chest remained tight, uneasy-

     “You should not be here.”

     The unexpected voice spoke from right next to her ear, firing her hair-trigger nerves. Startled, she leaped to one side, and landed on her aft, a miraculous second away from falling into one of the ornamental ponds. Carefully tended gravel scattered away from her feet, plinking into the water and shivering the surface into a million rippling circles.

     Blink looked up at it, and caught her breath. Like Frond, it had chosen to represent itself as a laima, but it fairly loomed over her – tall even for the species, pale and hard, it looked almost like a statue carved of pure white stone.

     “I-I’m sorry.” Blink hurriedly got back to her feet, swiping dust from her sore behind. “I didn’t know if I was allowed in, but I couldn’t see any other-”

     “You should not be here,” it repeated, although its lips did not move. The change of emphasis lent an odd sense of threat to the statement. “You are not welcome in our garden.”

     “I didn’t mean to intrude. I was just following-… Frond said… I was to come and find you?” Blink held out her palm, unable to keep her fingertips from trembling.

     “You are not welcome here, Sees-Us,” it said, much harder than before. “You must leave now.”

     “Can I not just-”

     “No.”

     Blink felt rather than heard the voices – subtle whisperings among the leaves. She glanced towards the trees and saw tendrils of mist – or was it smoke? – twining around their branches, making the foliage shiver and whisper threatening messages.

     Because of you, she died.

     Murderer!

     Because of you, she is gone forever.



     “But you don’t think I-… no! No, I don’t have the power.” Blink stammered, feebly. “I couldn’t have hurt her. I wouldn’t have hurt her! She was my friend!”

     The statue came closer, with a weird ghostly flickering movements of its pale limbs, like a living stop-motion animation. “You sealed the holes that allowed us passage into your world.”

     “Because you told us to! Frond sealed them. I only helped her-” Blink backed away, a step or two.

     “Now we find our strength only in the centre, where the great and terrible energy of the core weakens the borders between dimensions.” The creature pressed its advantage, continuing to push forwards and drive Blink stumbling backwards away from it. “When you ran from your troubles, she followed you – to the furthest reaches of our galaxy, far from home, where distance makes us grow weak.”

     Executioner! the voices whispered from the trees, increasing in intensity.

     She came to find you to help you, to bring you home.

     She was weak and fading, and still thought only to be selfless.

     Could have left you to die, but used the last of her life energy to save you.



     Blink was used to the confusing way they talked over each other, but their voices seemed to have a physical presence this time – not just volume, but a weight and force that hurt to try and resist. She backed off, ears hurting. “But I didn’t ask her to do this to me-! She chose to do so, I didn’t ask it of her! I-I only ask that you reverse it-! Please?”

     Ungrateful!

     The wind picked up through the trees, making their boughs groan and creak. The voices grew louder, a feverish cacophony of anger. Blink clapped her hands over her ears, stumbling backwards. She could feel the heat of her own blood against her palms.

     Saved your life and you cannot even offer thanks!

     Gave you the greatest of gifts and you want to throw it away!

     Your kind are always the same!

     See only what you can get from us, use us and enslave us!

     Your kind are ALWAYS the SAME!

     The sooner you all kill each other, the better for us-!







     The statue moved closer, its outline flickering like mist, and pushed her backwards. “You live the rest of your days in the body she gave you. Her greatest gift to you was your life! Be glad we let you keep it!”

     Blink stumbled back the last step and lost her footing through the gate, tumbling backwards. She threw out her arms to catch herself, but the floor was further away than she’d anticipated and she landed hard on her backside, pain jangling up her back and both arms.

     Sitting on the street, she could only watch, dumbly, as the gate swung closed. The impact as it struck the frame made the whole hedge tremble. The statue glared down on her until finally it melted back into the mist, and disappeared.

     “W-wait-!” Blink lurched to her feet. “Please, let me explain-” She scrambled for the gate, reaching through it as though to appeal to their better nature.

     The wrought iron of the gate twisted as though it too were alive, curling and growing like aggressive vines, with long sharp spines that cut into her flesh and forced her to stagger away, bleeding.

     Blink backed off, trembling. The enormity of it refused to sink in. It wasn’t possible. They couldn’t refuse to help! They were the ones that had cursed her, they should be able to reverse it, easily-!

     Except it wasn’t to do with being able, was it. It was to do with wanting to, and they didn’t. This was a punishment. She’d expected something cryptic – back in Surkea, Frond had been the only one that had ever made an effort to make herself clear. Perhaps because she was young, wanted to make friends with the other youngsters on her patch.

     This hadn’t been cryptic. It had been simple, comprehensible, and horribly, terribly final.

     They’re not going to help you.

     Blink finally managed to get her feet moving, stumbling woodenly back in the direction from which she’d first come. She felt… numb? Too shocked for despair. They’re not going to help you. All this distance, for nothing. All this hope, for nothing. She’d have grown old, died and crumbled into dust before Serendipity had even reached her third-instar upgrade. Before she’d even had the chance to say goodbye to her.

     Scenarios flashed through her mind as fast as the vehicles passing her in the road. There had to be something in all this, something she could use to persuade them. Frond had given her the key to cure the worst disease the galaxy had seen, and her friends on Hesger were making incredible progress with it. She wasn’t a bad person.

     She’s still dead, though.


     Maybe this is just what the librarian meant. Something has scared them, put them in a bad mood. All you have to do it wait a while, then ask them again when they’re more relaxed.

     How long will that take, though? You may still have got too old and rusty to be saved. And where are you going to go while you wait, you can’t expect Dash to stay here and you can hardly go home with her.


     You’ll be waiting a long time before they forgive you, too. They’re already angry, vengeful since you closed the holes. They don’t understand monodimensional creatures, and they don’t care enough to want to try.

     She could feel the distress beginning to catch in her breath. Her knees began to wobble. She wasn’t going to get home in one trip. Had to find somewhere private, to sit for a moment while she caught her breath and got her emotions under control. A remote park bench, maybe. A café.

     On the corner of the park she spotted a small, flat building – public conveniences. Not fantastic, but certainly private. She stumbled through the entrance, and ducked into the cubicle at the far end, closing the door behind her before her trembling knees lost the ability to keep her upright.

     They’re not going to help you. The only ones with the power to do so, and they won’t. The ones who put you in this position aren’t going to help you fix it.


     She sagged against the wall, and slowly slid down it to sit on the floor. Nausea bubbled in her throat. Her nose itched, and she could feel tears threatening, her face growing taut around her eyes.

     Dash. Have to call Dash, before you lose the power of speech.

     Blink misdialled three times before managing to co-ordinate her trembling fingers well enough to punch Skydash’s frequency. She clung to the handset, clutching it to her chest while she tried to wrangle her emotions and claw back the sobs.

     Keep it together. Just for now. You can blub all you like once you’ve passed on the news and got back to safety.

     She heard Skydash’s voice issuing tinnily from the small speaker, intelligible and muffled by her clothing. It took several more seconds to force any words out. “S-Skydash?”

     “Blink? Hey. How are things going, did you find them?”

     “I f-found them. They, uh. They. I found them.” Her breathing had turned to little hitching gulps, making it barely possible to breathe let alone speak.

     “Blink? What is it?” Skydash chased, fear growing in her voice. “Talk to me.”

     Blink forced the words out in a rush, in a gap in the hiccups. “They’re not going to help me, Dash. They’re leaving me like this forever.”

     The silence lasted an uncomfortably long time. When Skydash finally spoke again, she sounded like she wasn’t sure if she should believe what she’d just been told. “What? What do you mean?”

     “They won’t help me. They threw me out and told me to go away.” It felt like two huge hands were closing on her throat, choking the words inside her. “I only ever imagined that we’d not be able to find them, not that we’d find them and they wouldn’t want to help-!”

     “But Frond promised, didn’t she? She left her mark on your hand so they’d know, so they’d help you. They do know she was your friend, don’t they?”

     “They know. They blame me-” The words throbbed in her ears. Executioner! Murderer!

     “But she did it voluntarily! They-they can’t blame you for something you didn’t ask for, that was beyond your control-!”

     Blink wiped her face with a trembling hand. She didn’t really know what to say, any more. Because of you, she is gone forever. Her greatest gift to you was your life. Be glad we let you keep it!

     I’m sorry, Frond- If I’d known, I’d have stopped you.

     “Bee? Blink, please talk to me, don’t go silent on me.”

     Blink struggled to gather her scattered wits. The more she tried to rein in the sobs, the gaspier her breathing grew. “I’m here. I’m here.” She swiped uselessly at her eyes with the back of one trembling hand. “I’m suh-sorry. I can’t think so straight, right now.”

     “Come home. We can think about what we do now when you get back. We won’t give up, I promise-”

     Blink almost laughed. “They’re not going to help me. What else can we do?”

     “We’ll figure something out. We’re not going to let this drop. We’re not going to let them get away with this sort of cruelty-!”

     Blink let her head rest against the handset. Maybe it was just exhaustion, making her hands tremble. Murderer. “We can’t. They’ll target you, too. Y-you’ll end up in the same ridiculous mess as me.”

     “…just come home, Bee. Please? We can think what we’re going to do next when you’re safe.”

     “Right,” Blink agreed, even though she wanted to stay where she was. She managed to swallow the tears just long enough to finish her sentence. “It’ll take me a while to get back to the shuttle. I’ll see you soon. I love you-”

     The tears finally bubbled free – hopeless, helpless sobs that wrenched their way all the way up from her stomach and hurt her throat, leaving her curled and shaking in the corner.

* * * * *

     Eavesdropping in the next cubicle along, Lunete sat on the toilet’s cistern and stared at the cubicle door, disbelieving. Shock and disappointment left her feeling cold.

     Blink was female. The shy, sweet little spur that had got her so excited, so determined to befriend? Wasn’t a spur at all. Was just another fessine, like her.

     Lunete felt like simply getting up and going home, right now. Abandoning it all. What was the point, any more. All that effort and all those raised hopes, dashed. Hope and excitement shattered into nauseating disappointment, rising like acid in the back of her mouth.

     She’d already been close to giving up yesterday. Kainda had been positively fuming that she’d not bothered following Blink back to the airport and figuring out where his bolt-hole was - useless little girl, why can’t you think from somewhere other than between your hips, for once? Was anyone really worth being insulted over? Find him yourself! she’d wanted to snap, but she’d swallowed the protest and just nodded humbly. I’ll try again.

     Determined to prove that she wasn’t just a brainless little bit of fluff, and could carry out Kainda’s plan without spoiling it for the sake of a pretty face to ogle, Lunete had struck out early, as soon as Blink’s signal became active again. The matriarch had made it clear she was only interested in what the little spur had brought to Brume with him, and wanted to persuade him over to her own base of operations to discuss the potential for a ‘hostile takeover’, but Lunete had another plan brewing. It was clear Blink was interested in her, much as he tried to protest he wasn’t and she was married so he shouldn’t.

     If she could talk to him some more, see if she could perhaps wiggle a bit of information out of him over a drink? Maybe even persuade him to come along of his own free will? Kainda might have to admit that she was wrong and Lunete had a brain in her head, too.

     She’d known something strange was going on as soon as the trail headed away from the town centre, but precisely what it was left her baffled. She’d followed the strange, meandering signal all morning – Blink had gone all the way out of the town centre and off towards a residential area, at one point. Perhaps his contact was a private investor?

     They almost bumped into each other, close to the park. Lunete ducked out of sight just in time, and watched the little spur duck into the multi-species conveniences. Something had gone wrong, it was clear from the distress etched into his face. Seizing her chance, Lunete followed him, and quietly took up a spot in the next-door cubicle to eavesdrop…

     Finally finding out the truth made her stomach go into free-fall. That pretty face, soft voice and delicate, slightly effeminate build? Because he was female. It had been so ridiculously obvious, it felt like a punch to the stomach. How had she never noticed? She’d sat close enough to smell him- her, yesterday. He’d had a nice, subtly musky smell, of machinery and hard work and lots of walking. She’d never imagined that it was a fessine underneath it all; scruffy and dirty and roughened by hard work, but still just a fessine.

     Lunete dreaded the told-you-so she knew would come from Kainda’s lips the instant she found out.

     She felt halfway inclined to run, pretend she’d not seen him-… her. Her mouth felt dry and papery. The watery, stifled sobs coming from next door made her own throat hurt. Part of her wanted to help, to see what had gone so terribly wrong. Faking one’s sex was a serious crime, in laima society, so it must be one desperate fessine that felt driven to do it. But another part of her feared getting involved, in case she was accused of aiding and abetting a criminal. So instead of getting up and running, Lunete stayed perched on the water tank, clinging to her handheld computer, desperately trying to figure out what she should do.

     The sound of tears began to dwindle, replaced by the shuffle of laima claws against tiles and the ruffle of paper. Blink was getting ready to leave. Lunete leaned her ear against the partition; heard the low clunk of the bolt being drawn back-

     Lunete finally realised her handset was vibrating, and squeezed the receive button. Kainda’s irate voice blared from the headphone, straight into Lunete’s ear, almost startling her clean off the cistern and into the toilet.

     “-are you, Lunete? What is wrong with you? Do I have to come down there and shake an answer out of you?”

     “Uh.” Lunete coughed, trying to clear the shock from her head. She tiptoed to her own door and peeked out; Blink didn’t seem to notice, passing by with her head held high and her jaw aggressive and tense… but her eyelids were swollen and her ears folded hard back against her head. Dull purple smears of what looked like blood stained her pale hair and collar. “Sorry, I-I just got some news. Give me a moment?”

     Lunete watched as Blink vanished out of the exit, turning in the direction of the town centre, and trotted to catch up before she lost sight of him. Her. Whatever.

     “You’ve been out there since breakfast and you haven’t given us a single update, Lune. How many more moments do you need?” Kainda sighed. “Did you find him?”

     Lunete hung back, watching as Blink moved slowly down the path, through an avenue of trees and back towards the town centre. “I, uh. Yes, I found… him?”

     Kainda’s tone changed, suspicious. “What is it?”

     “Blink-… he’s not a spur. He’s a-a-… she? Fessine?” Lunete closed her eyes and leaned back against the wall. “Paksha.”

     At the other end of the line, Kainda remained silent.

     “Inda, what do I do?” Lunete clung to her handset. “Inda?”

     “Hush a moment, Lune. Let me think.”

     Lunete peered around the doorway, and watched their target continue walking, slowly. She was almost up to the main road, but didn’t look like she’d be difficult to catch up with, her toes dragging.

     “Carry on with the plan,” Kainda instructed. “The fact Blink isn’t who we thought he-… she was… doesn’t mean that machine she stole or built or whatever has stopped existing. In fact, this works nicely in our favour. We have some leverage to use to persuade her that she wants to give it to us. Use the pink if you have to, and call Egils when you’re ready to be picked up.”

     “But she looks like someone hurt her-”

     “Do it, Lunete. We can discuss everything else later.”

     Disappointed and deflated, Lunete emerged from the toilet block, and headed in the same direction that Blink had taken. She didn’t have to go far to find her target – the fessine had collapsed on a bench, just outside the park, facing away from the street, with her head propped on both hands, elbows on knees, shoulders trembling.

     Lunete dithered, uneasy about approaching. If Blink was genuinely in trouble – serious trouble, the sort that could only be escaped by faking who you were – she didn’t want to get dragged in herself. Or drag the rest of the family in, because mercy that would be traumatic, her life just wouldn’t be worth living. No technology, stolen or otherwise, would be worth that.

     Finally she found the courage she was looking for. Lunete crouched in front of the bench, in Blink’s line of sight. “Hey, Blink? What happened? Is-… everything all right?” She held out her hand, and uneasily picked up one of Blink’s. It left her feeling conflicted and reluctant, and not just because of the smears of dried blood on the palm.

     Blink stared down at her, hazy. Her eyes looked sore. “Hey,” she croaked, softly. “You took your time today.”

     “You don’t make yourself easy to find.” Lunete tried for a small smile. “Are you all right? You look like someone attacked you. Do you need me to call the police?”

     Blink shook her head and let her gaze drop back to the ground.

     “Did you find the people you came here for?”

     Blink graced it with a single nod in reply.

     “Were they not interested in the thing?”

     Not even a nod, this time.

     “Come on.” Lunete tugged on her hand and gently coaxed Blink to her feet. “I know you don’t wanna talk, but let’s at least find somewhere warmer and more comfortable to sit, and get a drink. I can clean up your ears. They look like they must hurt.”

     Blink stood swaying for a second, looking precarious enough that Lunete worried she was about to fall over. Then she found some momentum from somewhere, and fell into step behind her – following quietly, docile, like a lost child.

     Lunete led her to another of her favourite cafés; fairly small, cheap and friendly – and more importantly, busy. Hopefully, busy enough that everyone would be far too interested in their own business to pay attention to two quiet fessine sitting on the sidelines.

     Lunete shooed Blink towards a table against the wall, out of the way of the bustle of hungry patrons, before joining the queue herself. The short fessine obeyed woodenly, only just barely managing to plant her backside on the seat before her legs gave up wanting to support her weight.

     While she waited, Lunete watched her. Any attempt to be a convincing spur seemed to have fallen by the wayside. Blink sat with her head propped on one hand, staring blankly at the tabletop, unwiped tears clinging to her eyelashes.

     Eventually it was Lunete’s turn to be served. The vulline behind the counter gave her head a little jerk in Blink’s direction. “S’everything a’right?”

     “My friend has had a hard day,” Lunete explained, with a little smile. “There’s been a death in the family. Could I have two keem, one with extra sugar? And a cup of just plain hot water, please.”

     The vulline handed over a tray with Lunete’s purchases, and gestured at a selection of condiments at the end of the counter. “Help yourself to the sugar.”

     “Thanks.”

     After a quick glance to ensure no-one was watching – everyone was far too busy serving the demands of their own stomachs – Lunete dipped her hand into a pocket and extracted a clear cellophane packet containing two familiar pink capsules. She rolled one of them between her fingers, loosening the cap from the body, and in one move tipped the contents into the keem. She dropped the empty shell into one of her enormous pockets, stirring briskly to get the extra sugar (and the drugs) to dissolve.

     After giving Blink her cup, Lunete set about cleaning the dried blood from Blink’s hair and ears, using the warm water and a stack of napkins. In a small way, it was a blessing she was dressed as a spur – long, pretty, curly hair like Lunete’s would have been a horror to clean. Blink just sat uncomplaining, blankly stirring her keem round and round in the cup.

     “Hey.” Lunete leaned a little closer, and brushed her fingers briefly against Blink’s hand. “It’ll be all right. We’ll find whoever did this to you. I’ll come with you to the police this afternoon.”

     Blink barely registered the touch, barely looked up from her drink, certainly didn’t acknowledge the words.

     Lunete drew her hand back, uneasy, and resumed work. Blink wasn’t a spur, after all. Just another fessine. Disappointment made her mouth dry and uncomfortable. It didn’t mean that she should be happy lying to her either, though. She could almost hear Kainda’s snort; Go to the police. Hah! Sure we will. Just not for the reasons you’re implying.

     She watched Blink lifted the cup, and sip the sugary mixture of milky spices. The small woman didn’t seem to notice the faint acrid taste of the sedative – or didn’t care. Lunete wondered again what had happened to her. They’re not going to help me, she’d heard. They’re leaving me like this forever. The words didn’t make sense.

     With each sip, Blink’s head sagged lower and lower towards the table. Soon she was mostly asleep, responding dopily to Lunete’s questions, if she responded at all. She almost dipped her head in her almost-empty cup on multiple occasions.

     Lunete carefully arranged Blink’s arms against the table, and encouraged her to pillow her head against them. Then, she dialled her husband’s frequency, speaking softly into the microphone; “Egils? Could you come and get us? Blink is almost asleep, here. Sh-… He won’t be able to walk on his own, soon.”

     “Sure. I followed your beacon, I’ll be outside soon.”

     Lunete sat and quietly watched the café’s patrons continue to come and go around her table; everyone politely ignored them. Her gaze kept straying back to Blink, dozing on the table. Pretty darn mean of you, Lune, her conscience scolded. Taking advantage like this, of someone who’s had such a traumatic day. She fiddled with the strap on her bag. Guilt weighed her stomach down. Shouldn’t have had so much keem.

     Not too long later, Egils arrived. “Come on, son,” he said, picking up Blink’s free hand. “Let’s get you home.”

     Blink mumbled something incoherent, feet dragging in spite of her efforts to stand on her own.

     “You’re never gonna make it outside under your own power, are you?” The spur scooped Blink’s arm across his broad shoulders, and gently lifted her. None of the patrons spared them a second glance as they headed outside.

     Egils had parked just off the main street. Lunete watched as he settled Blink in one of the vehicle’s rear seats, and strapped her in; the fessine was asleep before the belt was even closed, her head lolling.

     “Here.” Egils held out his hand; between his fingers was a small black disc. “I guess we don’t need this, any more.”

     “Right,” Lunete murmured, reluctantly. She pinched the disc between both thumbs and forefingers, and flexed it. It snapped with a crack that made her flinch, shattering irregularly and spitting out a thin shard of black plastic. She pulled the halves apart, morbidly fascinated by the way the circuitry inside unspooled like the intestines of some poor little dead thing.

     Egils leaned out of the driver’s seat. “…so are you coming today, or what?”

     “Sorry.” Lunete took her seat, settling primly on the back seat next to Blink, her hands in her lap. The other fessine had slumped down, chin dropping to her chest; her breathing was heavy, raspy.

     Egils met Lunete’s gaze through the mirror. “Second thoughts, Lune?”

     Lunete didn’t smile back. “I don’t want to do this any more.”

     “Because she’s not who you thought she was?”

     She shifted in her seat. “Because we’re going to get her in trouble. Can’t we just drop her off at the port and say she escaped?”

     “Inda won’t buy it. You gave her a dose of sleeper drug.”

     “She didn’t drink it all. We could say she woke up and ran away.”

     Egils returned his attention to the traffic in the main street, pulling out carefully to join it. “Would you be so concerned about this if Blink was still a spur?”

     “It wouldn’t matter, then, would it. Because if he wanted to back out, he could. If he wanted to go to the police about what we’ve just done to him, he could.” She gave in to temptation and straightened Blink out of her awkward slouch. “She’ll be the one arrested if she tries to go to the cops, now – even though we’re the ones that abducted her!”