“Alright, the beginning. I am telling you this in confidence and secrecy with a level of trust you do not yet understand, so please give me your word that what I tell you will remain between us and only us.” I looked up at him and very authoritatively said, “You have my word.” He reached one of his hands into his satchel, pulled out a canteen, filled it from the surprisingly clear pond beside him, and took a long drink.
“All right, I will tell you about me, but please wait until I get all this out before asking questions. I do not want to respond to anything out of context and give the wrong impression. My name is not Brindel, but I must always be called that. In fear of you accidentally repeating my first name in conversation or a Wilvarokan reading you, I will simply say it is O. My last name, however, you have heard many times before. My name is O Tridealle. My father is Councilor Ygorn Tridealle, first in line to the Tsar and probably the most well-known member of our government. He does not claim me, however, and so I was sent from the GEC station to another station to be raised as O and was not allowed to return until my eighteenth turnrote. Even now I am not allowed to speak publicly of Ygorn being my father, though the entire council already knows. He has decreed that speaking my name validates my existence and that such an act would be punishable by death.
My childhood was not easy, but made me who I am. I was raised on a military base as a soldier, but spent most of my time studying neurobiological/electrical integration. Though Wilvaroks and Tilverhans are at peace, this is a field of study thought to be the best way to create a weapon against the Wilvaroks if they ever did decide to attack a Tilverhan base. By the time I reached my twelfth turnrote I had become the youngest Tilverhan to ever publish an article in a scientific journal. Upon doing so, I immediately started receiving messages from one keenly interested Wilvarok who told me her name was ‘of little concern’ so I just started calling her Olico. It started as a joke but seemed to stick.
Olico requested that I send her all of my study notes on NBEI and, in exchange, she would send me her notes on the practical implications of such technology along with a frighteningly large sum of Feryhns. Deciding it best not to question why she wanted my notes or why a mysterious eight-turn Wilvarok had such a large sum of money at her disposal I agreed, not even expecting her offer to be honored. The next rotation the Council Director called to interrogate me as to the nature of a multi-million Feryhn transaction from an unallocated account. Now, signing your name ‘of little concern’ is illusive enough, but GECOs cannot even get accounts untraceable by the Council. I explained that a scientist who wished to remain anonymous had paid me for my research and for research assistance and I would be unable to explain beyond that. Given they Council cannot legally seize any assets unless direct evidence of a crime has taken place, they left the issue alone at that point and told me to ‘tread lightly’.
The next morning I found a new multi-board in my chambers with the word ‘Brindel’ on the back. It had all of my study notes organized and filed and all of Olico’s notes as well along with the linkcom for a private transfer circuit. She had gone above and beyond any sort of research I could have come up with on my own. She had schematics, diagrams, study charts, spreadsheets, and scenario-based field test results. It was astounding that someone who was only eight turns could come up with so much.
I read through the data again and again. I committed the notes to memory and the formulas burnt into my very soul. I could take data, plug it in, and figure out the likelihood of success for NBEI concepts off the top of my head. For three turns we never met and communicated solely through a private console or multi-board. We took the science world by force and before long even Wilvarokan scientists were asking for my assistance in projects. I made more money than the Chancellor himself doing these projects and helping Olico. Exaggeration aside, by my fifteenth turnrote I had acquired no less than two-hundred million Feryhns.
On my fifteenth turnrote, a peculiar message arrived on my multi-board. ‘We must leave at once. I discovered a breakthrough, prep for surgery.’ I found this a bit odd, but disregarded it as one of Olico’s weird games which she was fond of and kept studying. Moments later four military escorts showed up at my door to take me to the docking bay. Upon arrival I saw a shrouded Wilvarok, only the tips of her horns and bright orange eyes visible. Without argument or hesitation, I boarded her ship. I had at this point never met a Wilvarok and had only heard the horror stories told by the Elders, so I thought it wise to simply consent.
She did not talk to me, even when I attempted to engage her in conversation. We traveled until we were past the edge of station radio frequency and military jurisdiction. ‘So do you trust me?’ she said over her shoulder. ‘I have a project for you, a revolution.’ I nervously nodded and she asked me to sign a consent form. My scientific curiosity swayed my better senses as usual and I signed. The next thing I knew I was unconscious.
When I woke up I was strapped to a table and paralyzed. Unable to move my neck, I shifted my eyes around erratically trying to get a general idea as to my surroundings. I began to panic as I saw my wings had been ripped from me and were suspended like an exhibit at a museum above me. Strange wires held them in place and what looked like frayed tendons dangled from the bases. I began to cry silent tears and knew my end had come. Realizing I was awake, Olico walked back into view and petted me on the neck or side. I couldn’t feel it so I am not sure which. ‘Don’t worry O, soon enough your wings and skin will be reattached. Oh, right. Yeah, your skin is peeled up too, I needed access to your muscular and nervous systems.’ I desperately tried to scream but my vocal chords had been paralyzed as well. ‘I had to paralyze everything other than your brain, otherwise the nerves would try to reject integration. That was the issue, what we couldn’t see! However, if my theory proves to be correct, boosting the electrodes once the process is complete should not only reboot your nervous system but automatically repair your severed spine and from thereon overpower the electrodes with glucose.’
Oddly enough, hearing her talk about all of this calmed me down immensely. I thought back to all of the conversations we had shared on NBEI and realized she was, in fact, correct. In theory, according to our research and our formulae, it is plausible that such actions could work. We had never even considered it before, not once, but it had a certain potential and once I was able to process and understand what was going on, I became excited about the experiment.
Seeing the relief in my eyes, she knew I shared her vision and set up mirrors so I could watch her work. For at least a cycle she pumped sustenance straight into my stomach and worked tirelessly on making intricate wire-weaves reinforced with her own silk dyed a dark purple and green. She worked them into my muscles, my tendons, and my wings. As she worked she displayed the blueprints of what she was doing on a monitor directly in front of me. It was brilliant!
Once she got all the weaves finished, she reattached my wings and showed me that the electrodes, if the process worked, would not only erase all my scars, but prevent me from easily sustaining any future wounds. She then walked in front of me again, looked me in the eyes, and injected me with some sort of tranquilizer. The last thing I remember is her saying, ‘You don’t want to be awake for this O,’ and then everything going black.
What seemed to be cycles later I woke up from a series of wild, erratic dreams. Upon awaking, I stood from my bed, still lightheaded. At first it didn’t even occur to me that I was standing after all that had happened. It was almost as if my body felt like it was just a dream, an illusion, a fabrication created by my obsession with my research. Once it set in that I was standing again I shouted excitedly for Olico to come back to the room. ‘It worked Olico! Look at me, I am alive and can move every muscle just as before, I just feel stronger and healthier and…oh stars, I want to try it out.’
‘My name is Vea’ayr. You trusted me with your life and, whether or not you realize it yet, I am now trusting you with mine. I am relieved to see you survived the procedure. I hate to say it, but even I was nervous about the outcome.’ I turned and saw her standing there with her hood down. She looked like you, but had a much different personality and a certain fire in her eyes. It wasn’t hatred or even anger, but a driven sort of rage that to this day still gives me chills. She had tattoos resembling thorny vines in detailed patterns across her face and down her arms.
She did some cognition tests on me, asking me what my turnrote was, where I was, what rotation I boarded her ship. Everything checked out. In fact, my memory was better than it had ever been. I realized I had no idea how long I had been out so I asked her to see a display. She showed emotion for the first time in any conversation we had ever had. ‘You almost didn’t make it. The process proved to be too hard for an average body to handle. Luckily, your upbringing gave you extra muscle mass needed to take to the process.’ Annoyed with her evasion of the issue, I asked again. ‘It has been three turns O.’
I was unable to even fathom how that could be possible. No wonder I felt different, I was a full three hands taller than I was when I boarded. My hair had grown long and she had braided it, I suppose for fun since Wilvaroks do not have hair. ‘Your name is Brindel now. You can never go by O again, do you understand? We are on our way to station 000402, locally known as Fortitude. There a secret Tilverhan training is taking place and you will become part of this training regime. It is a new style of combat that will tailor you into the perfect warrior. Seeing as how you are already well ahead of the curb as far as studies go and you are already eighteen turns now, you will be enrolled directly into the training program. You are the first outsider to be accepted into the group. I will come back once every few cycles to check on your status. Knowing you would accept this task, I deposited another hundred mil into your account. You will be the richest Tilverhan of the station. Oh, there is a Wilvarok there too, adopted apparently. Weird, but of little concern.’
I could not turn down the offer. Being a soldier, training and studying was all I knew and she had already paid me such a generous sum it seemed like the thing to do. So that is how I got to Fortitude. Once I was here, I noticed you almost immediately. You were fourteen turns at the time. Unable to muster the courage to so much as approach you, I stayed near the upper levels and just avoided seeing you for the first cycle I was here.
Vea’ayr returned to Fortitude one cycle to the exact rotation of my arrival to check on my progress. I told her about my progress then told her about you. I told her that I didn’t realize all Wilvaroks had orange eyes and ’ayr at the end of their names. Suddenly my head started pounding in agony and I found myself keeled over on the ground. ‘What was her full name Brindel, tell me or I swear to the stars I will melt that sorry tumor you call a brain.’ Through screams of agony I shouted ‘Sha’ayr!’ and my headache dissipated immediately. ‘So she is alive.’ She didn’t speak much of our research for the next three turns, only said that she had a different project she was working on and had to study a lot of history to do so. Every time a Wilvarokan ambassador showed up, it was actually just her coming to check on my progress.
About two turns ago she showed up with her eyes glowing white and asked me to go somewhere private. I had actually just finished the construction of this little masterpiece we are resting on and took her here to talk about whatever the situation was. Even she was impressed with my ability to fly. It takes a lot to impress Vea’ayr. When we got here she said she needed to assign me a new task and said she would pay anything necessary. I refused to accept without knowing the details. ‘Sha’ayr is my sister. She doesn’t know about me and she will not until I deem it necessary. If I catch wind you have told her I promise you I will destroy this entire station and not even lose rest over it. I need someone to watch over her and protect her if need be, hopefully it will not come to that. I found out some disturbing information and need her to be guarded. Please, be discrete about it and try not to make yourself noticed if at all possible. What is your price Brindel?’
Before you get the wrong idea, I did not accept any money for this task and told her that you seemed to be interesting and intelligent and that I would do it for the mere satisfaction of ensuring you are protected. That is when I started watching you to make sure you stayed safe. I didn’t really know what I was waiting for or looking for, but that is how it all happened. That is how I got here, that is who I am, and now you know I already know your sister even better than you do. I probably know more about you than you do, but Vea’ayr asked me not to tell you anything about your life, she wants to be the one. She knows everything I do, and that is why she gave your father the necklace. She knew he would give it to me for safekeeping. She also knows how good of a man your father is.”
He looked down at me and saw the tears streaming from my eyes, running down his arms. I tried to force his arms off of me, but he just squeezed tighter holding me in place. “You j’karn bashakip! You knew for FIVE TURNS that I had a sister and never even told me! You STALKED me for two turns and never even as much as approached me! You are disgusting, let go of me!” I screamed and tried with all my might to force his arms apart but I couldn’t. I could feel my skin turning red and my eyes turning white. Instead of forcing it back, I threw myself into metamorphosis.
Snapping my head back, I looked into his eyes. Just as I was about to start fraying his mind apart, I felt a tear hit my skin and instantly morphed back. “I am so sorry Sha’ayr. I wanted to tell you, so bad, I wanted to approach you. I couldn’t though. Not because of some stupid agreement, but because Vea’ayr told me how detrimental it was to your safety that I didn’t. If you want to hate me, I understand, but you have to understand that after watching over you for two turns, this night is the first time I have been able to tell you everything I always thought you deserved to know and it is the first time I haven’t hated myself for all of this. I can’t let you go, you will fall and die or starve up here alone, but if you want I will take you home and never speak to you again.”
My heart sank into my stomach as I saw this powerful, masculine Tilverhan sobbing, his soul dripping down with every tear. He trusted me with all of this when he could have remained quiet forever. Much like he had with my sister, he entrusted his very life to me and here I was getting irate with him… and for what reason? Simply because I was incapable of handling the details he had divulged to me. I let go of his arm and started petting his neck.
“Brindel, let me face you.” His arms loosened reluctantly and I stood and turned to look him in the eyes. Both our eyes were full of tears which shone like diamonds in the dim light emitted from the main part of the station. I reached my hand up slowly and ran my fingertips across his cheek. His eyes dropped out of line with mine and I gently yet sternly said, “Look at me Brindel.” Our eyes met again and I leaned forward slowly, kissing him on the cheek opposite my hand. Slowly I moved my lips up, just below his ear and kissed him again. He lowered his head a little more, and I let his earlobe part my lips. “I love you, Brindel.”
“And I, you Sha’ayr.” His lower hands grabbed my waist firmly and his upper hands ran gradually up my cheeks and over the top of my head, his pinkies pressing against the base of my horns. He pushed lightly at the base of my horns, softly coercing my head to tilt back. My heart pounded with anticipation and longing. I bit my bottom lip and let out a whimpered breath. His head turned slowly, deliberately, and he leaned his body in, closing his eyes. Unable to contain myself any longer, I grabbed onto his neck and pulled myself up, pushing my lips against his. As his lips gently forced mine apart, his tongue ran smoothly across my gums, then the tip of my tongue, then the roof of my mouth. A blind wanderer driven by sheer ambition and unreserved eagerness, taking care to note each and every minute detail as he maps a new found paradise. I, too, could not help but explore. I surrendered my inquisitive mind to my experimental body and soon became lost in blissful indulgence.
After a timeless, fervent kiss, I ran my hands down his neck and across his chest, not resting until I came to his lower shoulders. Lightly pushing on his arms, he loosened his grip on my waists, allowing my body to flow softly through his hands. As my feet touched the ground, I lost my balance and began to fall down. My legs were still shaky. To stop from falling completely, I grabbed hold of Brindel’s hand and pirouetted, falling instead with my back against his warm body. I wrapped his arms around me again and rested my head against his abdomen. My heart was still pounding furiously in my chest, my lips still moist and a little salty from the tears tasted off his cheek. I sucked on my bottom lip, savoring the intimacy of the moment. I closed my eyes and absorbed the tranquility that had filled me.
The next thing I remember was Brindel gently nudging me awake. “Hey Sha’ayr, you fell asleep. We need to get back soon, it is almost lightbreak.” For a moment I wondered if the kiss was all just a dream, but as I stood up, turned around, and stretched, Brindel placed his hands on the bend of my back, leaned forward, and kissed me again. I wrapped my arms around him and whispered in his ear, “Thank you for trusting me.” I could feel the muscles in his cheeks contract as he smiled and he squeezed me tightly, lifting me slightly off the ground.
He took hold of my hands and placed me on his back, harnessed me in place, and leapt upward. At the arc of his jump, we began floating weightlessly for a moment. “Um, Brindel…” He quickly realized why I was surprised and interjected, “Oh I forgot to answer one of your first questions! This is a large hover platform I designed. Normally, as you know, it would not be capable of sustaining itself in the gravity of the free fields, but the design of the fields allows for a thin layer of gravitational optimization. Since the gravity in the free fields is flipped, allowing us to see the fields from inside the station, there is a spot a hundred hands from the glass that allows for a strong enough gravitational pull to keep things stabilized but a weak enough draw so that, with enough time and hard work, that hover platform can maintain height. Right now, we are just barely within the gravitational pull of the free fields and soon we will start our descent.”
Soon was right. Within seconds we began to fall, slowly at first, but exponentially faster to the free field’s gravitational pull of fifty hands per second per second. Brindel’s arms squeezed tightly around me and my fingertips clinched firmly around his upper biceps. As the ground grew closer, Brindel spread his wings and dropped his hindquarters, causing us to sail forward swiftly. Instead of returning to the waterfall, we sailed instead to the public entrance of the free fields. “Restaurant closed a while back, so the pod is no longer open.”
As we reached the landing platform, Brindel touched his feet to the ground and began galloping, slowing himself down with every step. Soon the gallop turned to a comfortable trot, then to a halt. “So Brindel, how did you get the restaurant to build that special room for you?” He rubbed his hand on the back of his head and tittered, “I, uh. I didn’t exactly get them to build JUST the room. I got them to build all the rooms, the platforms, the tables, and everything else. I financed the entire restaurant and even helped in the design. The fountain robots were a side project I made when I was a teenager to keep me from having to go get drinks during my studies. Your sister actually helped with the design quite a bit, mainly the gyroscopic aspects. I always struggled with those concepts, I guess since Tilverhans have an awkward sense of balance to begin with.”
“Oh. Well, where did you come up with the name Rivystrrome? It sounds very elegant, but is a little odd to say the least.”
“Well,” he replied, “You know that light rumble from the waterfall along the outside wall of the restaurant?” I nodded. “The distant thunder reminded me of the storms spoken of occurring on planets before the Great Migration and the idea of lightning and whatnot has always enticed me, so I named it Rivystrrome, an anagram of Stormy River.” I couldn’t help but to be impressed. “You are rich, beautiful, strong, and intelligent. How did I get so lucky as to win your affection?”
“You didn’t win anything, you earned my affection. You are the only individual in this entire station whom I feel I could actually learn from. Also, I find the beauty of Wilvaroks to far surpass that of Tilverhans. Furthermore, you are the only person here who has ever truly made me laugh. How could I not fall for you?” He turned his head and began galloping, bounding, and soaring to my chambers.
Once we arrived at my door, I jumped off his back and stepped in front of him. He knelt, lifted my gently, and kissed me. “Goodnight Sha’ayr. Can I see you tomorrow?” I snorted as I laughed and covered my face, embarrassed. “Sorry! I just thought that was funny. I mean, you know, how could you not see me?” Realizing the irony of his statement he began chortling as well. There we were, in one another’s embrace, laughing maniacally at a silly play on words with not a care in the world. “Tell you what Brindel, how about you just keep an eye on me by spending time with me. I don’t have class tomorrow and I am sure you will be close by anyway, so just swoop down, pick me up, and we can hang out wherever you please. Sound good?” With a final kiss on the forehead he lowered me to the ground and replied, “Sounds perfect. I love you Sha’ayr.”
“And I, you Brindel.”
Thorns by Kevin Copenhaver is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.