I don’t remember waking up, I only remember an indescribable pain. I couldn’t see or hear and all I could taste was my own blood. My head throbbed and I felt as though my veins could burst through my skin at any moment. After ten minutes of this pain, my vision began to fade back in and I saw Vea’ayr standing, her mouth contorted into a scream, holding her head. Over the course of the next hour the pain eventually wore off, my vision returned, and my hearing slowly came back. Vea’ayr grabbed me and hugged me close. “Are you okay Sha’ayr?” I pushed her away from me. “What the stars Vea’ayr? A little warning would have been nice!” She almost fell, still dizzy from the experience, and shook her head trying to force herself fully coherent. “If you would’ve tensed up it would have increased the risk of permanent damage. It was better you didn’t know the details of the process. Did it work? Let me try to read you.” She faced me and closed her eyes for a few seconds. “Nothing. Nothing at all. Try reading me Sha’ayr.” Hesitant, I closed my eyes as well. I couldn’t hear anything at all. “Vea’ayr, are we broken? What did you do to us? What were you thinking?! I thought you would just meditate holding my hands or something, I didn’t know you were going to kill me! You’re insane!” She looked at me, scared and as much in a panic as me. “We need to find Brindel, now!” She took off running toward the entrance to the garden and I stumbled as best as I could behind her.
Once we reached the door we got on the platform and I slapped her in the face with more force than I realized I could. “Vea’ayr, you better fix this.” She lowered her gaze and began to sob. It was actually even more off putting to see her in this condition than it was to witness her usual severity. “I’m sorry Vea’ayr, I am just scared. Are we going to be alright?” Her eyes darted up desperately. “I don’t know Sha’ayr, I don’t j’karring know!” As the door opened we were surprised to see Brindel waiting at the door. “Sha’ayr! Vea’ayr, what happened?! Your horns!” I had almost forgotten they were gone, but once he mentioned it, it was all I could focus on. It felt so strange for them to be gone. My head felt so much less secure and like it could roll off my shoulders at any moment. “We are okay Brindel,” Vea’ayr said in an unconvincing stammer, “just get us to the Med Bay.” Without a second thought he grabbed both of us and began sprinting toward the Medical Bay where I had first woken up.
He arrived at the medical bay in less than a minute. Tilverhans were much faster than Wilvaroks, and the conveyor seemed to propel him faster than us, most likely due to the fact that four legs have more stability than two, thus the floor does not have to compensate as much for balance. I was puzzled by how quickly my brain processed the situation and came to this conclusion, but didn’t think much of it past a mere curiosity.
Brindel threw the doors open with his two free hands and tossed us both on gurneys as gently as an anxious Tilverhan could. “Vea’ayr, what do you need?” At first I was a little offended that he was more concerned with my sister than myself, but as she responded I realized that I had misinterpreted his inquiry. “Grab the gauze in the third drawer down on the left side of the sink. Then, three rows over in the upper cabinet is a salve labeled ‘pitrinioul exherethine’. Bring me that immediately then soak the gauze in the draxanine ethylene on the table. Here Sha’ayr, rub this on your horns.” She threw me the vial of pitrinioul exherethine and I began rubbing it onto the stubs where my horns used to be. They began to tingle and I could feel them rounding. “After about a cycle your horns should be back to fruition. Now Brindel, bring me the gauze and…” she hesitated for a moment, grasped her bleeding stomach with a loud groan, then sighed deeply and continued, “…and the silver nitrate pads.” His eyes widened but he did as he was told and she shivered as an unseen cold crept through the room. She took out two pads and handed the box to me and motioned for me to do the same. “Sha’ayr, this is not going to be pleasant. Put one of these pads over each hole in your stomach then let Brindel help wrap your torso in gauze. Hurry!”
Nothing could have prepared me for what I felt next. I didn’t know what silver nitrate did, nor did I realized that my wounds were as bad as they were. As soon as I pressed the hard, dried pads against my stomach they began to soften and sizzle. I let out a scream and could feel myself going into a metamorphosis, but didn’t direct my energy toward anyone or anything. I just screamed. I could feel the gauze wrapping tightly around my torso and then felt Brindel’s hands on my shoulders, pushing me down to the gurney and forcing me to lie still. I writhed in pain for what felt like thirty minutes to an hour. Once the pain began to subside, I looked over to Vea’ayr, worried. She had already put the pads on her own torso and wrapped it herself. Her resilience to pain was astounding. She sat on her gurney breathing heavily. She looked at me and force a smile. “Well sis, how do you feel?
I was too angry to respond and turned my head back, looking at the ceiling. I saw Brindel dart toward Vea’ayr’s gurney and heard a loud crash. I sprung up from the bed, which I immediately regretted as my gut reminded me of the reason I was there to begin with. Brindel had Vea’ayr by the neck with his top two hands and his bottom two hands wrapped around her torso, his thumbs pressing into the wounds in her stomach. She began crying but he didn’t loosen his grip. “What were you j’karring thinking Vea’ayr?! You could have killed her! You could have died yourself, or worse you BOTH could be dead! How the void am I supposed to lead an entire revolution by myself? I need both of you! Do you understand me?” Vea’ayr looked truly frightened for her own life and nodded her head frantically. He dropped her with little concern of a soft landing onto the floor and turned back to me. I opened my arms to hug him, but he just glared at me. If I didn’t know him better, I would say he looked as though he were disappointed in me. “And you…” I couldn’t tell if it was the remainder of the silver nitrate or his gaze, but it felt like his eyes were burning through me. “You agreed to this? Do you have ANY idea how dangerous this was?” Apparently I didn’t know him better, or I did and just didn’t want to accept that he could actually be upset with me.
“I’m sorry Brindel, but we will be okay. I made this choice to try and help whatever this is that we need to accomplish.” Tears swelled up in his eyes and he let out a few long, forced breaths before returning to a calm state. “Okay. I am just glad you are both safe and survived this.” Vea’ayr stood up and patted Brindel on the shoulder of his front leg. “Thanks Brindel, I don’t know if we would’ve made it here without your help. Sha’ayr, how do you feel?” I was still quite upset about the way she went about this process, but I did agree to it and realized it was unfair to blame her for my lack of understanding. “Sore and tired. I know I just slept for an eterna, but I would really like to take a nap.” She smiled and nodded her head. “Can I join you? I feel exhausted myself.” I nodded my head and forced myself onto my feet, almost falling in the floor as soon as I put my weight on my feet. “Aaah, I didn’t realize how much I use my stomach just to move.” Brindel’s arms grabbed my ribs, above my wounds, and he helped stabilize me.
“Luckily our rooms are just next to the Med Bay. Brindel, can you help us there?” He nodded his head once and walked us to the door. As we exited we took a left this time and the floors moved much slower, ensuring we didn’t get knocked off balance. Just two doors down, Brindel turned and opened the door to his left. “Here is your room Sha’ayr.” I walked in and immediately smiled as I saw it. The whole side wall overlooked the space outside. “Special glass that filters harmful UV light, allowing you to see the stars without fear of retinal damage or skin damage, regardless of how close we are to them. Also, if you use your hand motion downward, a wall will descend to block the light. Then, if you want absolute darkness to sleep in, flick your hand down quickly and all lights will turn off. Just audibly state how long you want to sleep and the lights will slowly turn back on to simulate a light rise. Sleep well.” Brindel walked out the door with Vea’ayr and just as he was about to shut it, I shouted out. “Brindel!” He quickly turned and poked his head back in. “Yes, love?” I smiled. “Once Vea’ayr is settled in, will you come back and lie down with me?” He nodded and replied, “of course,” then continued out the door and took Vea’ayr to her chamber.
I lay there awake, staring at the stars and occasionally wincing in pain for about twenty minutes until Brindel came back in. “Hey Sha’ayr.” I turned my head and smiled. “Oh, hey. Took long enough, I thought you forgot about me.” He approached the large mattress which was spread on the ground by the window. “Sorry, Vea’ayr wanted to do some preliminary tests to make see if the procedure was successful.” My curiosity was piqued. “Well, was it?” He fell over on his side next to me and I curled up against his back. “It was. She will fill you in on the hypothetical details when you both wake up.” Just as he finished his sentence, I felt myself drift off to sleep.
My dreams were extensive, intense, and vivid. I dreamt of worlds I had never seen and science I had never understood. I saw the planet in person which was on the cloak which Vea’ayr had given me. I stood beside the beasts of Yvarrhiln as equals; as friends. I overlooked the fertile lands that seemed to stretch on forever and on my other side stood Brindel. All across the lands we could see Tilverhans and Wilvaroks intermingling with the beasts and even some Wilvaroks riding on their backs. It was beautiful.
Then, my dreams would shift to me standing in a room full of Wilvaroks, all armed with blades much like those Vea’ayr had on Fortitude. They were listening to me, intently, as I gave them a motivational battle rally. At the end, they applauded and yelled, “Thorns of the Rose!” then went through metamorphosis and stormed out the doors behind me. As I turned to follow, the scene outside the doors was all blood and ash. Their bodies mangled and burnt, large sentient robots crushing and igniting them. I went to run out myself but was tackled. As I turned to look who had tackled me I saw Vea’ayr, but she was smiling. I turned to look at the door I was just gazing through and instead saw a cheering crowd. Above us were contrails of a massive craft, close enough to kill anyone who it may have hit. I looked in the direction of the contrails and saw a huge, unrecognized ship in a burning pile. The remains of the robots which had been killing the Wilvaroks in the previous dream were scattered around the craft. “What happened here Vea’ayr?” She smiled at me and replied, “We did, Sha’ayr. We did.”
The rest of the dream continued much in this same way, jumping from strange scenes to even stranger ones with flashes of schematics for weapons, robots, space crafts, and medical procedures flipping through my mind. It was like a flip book, but as if they just put a random schematic in every tenth to twentieth page; not enough for you to even focus on, but enough to break your concentration and to subliminally soak in to your mind.
I woke up some time later to an interesting and intriguing smell. I reached over to hug Brindel, but found that he was no longer beside me. I got up and walked to the closet in my room. As I reached my hands out to stretch, I remembered my injuries and quickly pulled my arms back down as to not stretch my stomach too much. When I did I pushed my elbows against where my wounds were accidentally and much to my surprise felt no pain whatsoever. I slowly lifted my arms and stretch and could not feel any pain at all in my stomach. I decided to unwrap my gauze and, somehow beyond my understanding, there were scars already formed where Vea’ayr’s horns pierce my torso.
I looked through the closet and found a plain black, form-fitted shirt and some loose-fitted pants. I suppose since Vea’ayr was my twin, she could easily stock a closet for me. The pants were loose on my legs, however, since my muscle tone was nowhere near as defined as hers.
I left the room and followed the smell, left, a few doors down the hallway and on the right hand side. As I entered I found a large, industrial kitchen attached to a huge dining hall. I saw Brindel cooking in a flurry, all four hands going and six eyes burning on the stovetop. He heard me enter the room and spoke over his shoulder, not breaking concentration on what he was doing. “Ahh, good you’re awake! Vea’ayr said you were quite fond of the Gratta Berries so I have reduced them to a sauce using some herbs and spices we have grown. I am serving it with the eggs of a large land-fowl from one of the inner planets. See all this?? It is from just ONE egg!” He pointed to a frying pan with enough scrambled egg in it to feed at least four Tilverhans. “These creatures are amazing! There is a male and a female roaming in the garden if you want to see them. They keep to themselves and are quite docile, luckily enough. If they weren’t their talons could probably kill any one of us. Sit down, I will have you served in a moment.” I looked over at the first table in the dining hall and saw Vea’ayr sitting, studying a multi-board intently. She didn’t even notice me sit down directly across from her. “Vea’ayr.” My voice startled her and she sprung out of her chair, dropping the multi-board hard on the table. “Sha’ayr! You’re up! Feeling better I presume?” I rubbed the scars on my stomach and nodded. “How though? That should have taken cycles to heal, not hours. Or was I out for longer than I thought?” She looked at me and a strange look came across her face. “Sha’ayr… you’ve been out for two turns.” My heart sank, and just as I could feel tears welling up Vea’ayr began laughing. “I am only joking, you were only asleep for about ten hours.” I reached across the table and slapped her playfully. “Thanks for the j’karn heart attack sis.” She and I smiled at each other for a moment before she went into her explanation
“Well, as you know, during a normal mating ritual, Wilvarokan horns are used to heal the wounded provider of DNA, be it male or female of any species. Our horns do have healing medicinal powers and by breaking them off inside our stomachs, they broke down and help replace the organs they damaged.” I looked confused for a moment but nodded my head, somehow understanding this strange concept. “So now, we share DNA beyond just having the same mother. We are actually part of one another, right?” Vea’ayr seemed a little surprised at my comprehension of the idea, but nodded her head and continued. “Yes, precisely. I was hoping that this would give us both one another’s memories and talents and abilities but it doesn’t seem to have worked that easily. True, it did work to an extent, but not to the extent I was hoping for. Think about it as you have inherited my inert talents and I have inherited yours, however, they are both newborns. It will take turns upon turns to fully develop these talents and abilities but we will both be stronger for it.”
I looked at her, and pseudo-sarcastically responded, “Well, I have my Clairvoyance and my supercharged metamorphosis. What exactly did you give me?” She turned her head back to her multi-board and handed it to me. On it was a complex mathematic equation on it. It was well beyond anything I had ever seen in my studies and did not even know how to begin looking at it. “What is this supposed to mean to me Vea’ayr?” She pushed the multi-pad closer to me and said, “Don’t think about it, just solve it.” I rolled my eyes and shook my head slightly, then looked back at the equation. Suddenly and much to my confusion, numbers and symbols started to light up on the page and the formulas began to make more and more sense. I continued to stare at the equation for a long while until finally I looked up and said, “42.” She clapped her hands and slammed them down on the table. “So I was right!”
I smiled and replied, “So I have your intellect now? That would explain the weird dreams. When did you go to Yvarrhiln?” Her laughter halted with a haunting swiftness and her hands grabbed mine tight. “I didn’t. Did you see it too?” I realized that this place may just be a figment of her imagination. “Yes, I did. You made it up, didn’t you?” Her grip loosened and she sighed, “I don’t know Sha’ayr. I keep dreaming about this land and these creatures and through the dreams I have explored the planet every night but it seems to stretch on forever. It is so much larger than any of the planets we have seen. I don’t know if it is real and I am having some sort of vision or if it is just something my mind created. I want it to be real, but I can’t say for sure.”
“Breakfast ladies!” Brindel’s voice boomed through the otherwise empty dining hall. He came in, all four hands holding huge serving bowls and set them on the table. After a second trip, he had utensils and plates for us along with cups and a carafe of water.
The food was astounding. The eggs were fluffy and airy and the sauce he had made had a nice tart sweetness to it which really accented the flavors in the eggs. He had an array of vegetables all mixed together into a colorful medley and served with thick slices of some type of meat. Everything was delicious.
As we ate, I told Vea’ayr about my dreams and she told me about hers. Our dreams had become small windows into the thoughts of the other and as we discussed them it helped us both understand the other better and more deeply. Brindel sat, mesmerized by the tales both of us recapped. When I got to the part about the war we were fighting, I described the robots to Vea’ayr and she said she too had seen them in her dreams, but never in reality.
After breakfast, Brindel told us to have some more time to ourselves and said he would clean up. We sat in the dining hall and continued discussing what it was we were setting out to accomplish. “During the dream, the warriors said ‘Thorns of the Rose!’ What does that mean?” Vea’ayr looked at me with a heavy burden weighing on the back of her neck. “It is the revolution Sha’ayr. You know how I told you there are problems with the Wilvarokan stations and even with the Wilvaroks on the Capitol? We are in the midst of a civil war. As talks on reintegrating Tilverhans and Wilvaroks continue, both sides are becoming more and more agitated, sending GECOs in their groups to the homes of opposing groups to take newborns and leave them to die, if the newborns are lucky. Otherwise, they will hold them for ransom if the family is powerful enough to have influence, or in the absolute worst case put them in storage as returns.” I gulped hard, working up the courage to ask a question I most likely did not want to hear the answer to. “What do you mean returns?”
“Whenever the Purists want to send a message to the Harmonists or vice versa, they will sometimes take the children for a full turn until bringing them back. When they do, the children are often malnourished and on the verge of death and rarely survive a full turn past. I have heard cases where they will even have a recording of the baby crying and put it under the crib, only to return a festering corpse for the parents to find the next rotation. It is a brutal and disgusting act that both sides are guilty of.”
I could feel my skin getting hot as my eyes began to twitch. “What is the point of all of this?!” Vea’ayr squeezed my hands and continued. “The Purists want to keep Wilvaroks and Tilverhans separated because they realize that Wilvaroks pose a threat. They want to limit the number of Wilvaroks allowed to reproduce and want to ensure they remain observed. Harmonists believe that the races need to integrate as much as possible and the only way for there to truly be peace is for both races to try to accept one another and to work together to build a future. The Thorns of the Rose are symbolic. They show that they beauty of the flower does have its dangers, but they grow regardless. Wilvaroks and Tilverhans alike will continue growing these beautiful blooms, even though at any time they can be pricked by the thorns. The thorns are just a reminder that everything we have has a price and that price is often blood. The Thorns of the Rose is the name of our revolutionary group. We are that reminder. We are that assurance that yes, blood will be shed and be shed by us, but it is necessary if we want to see the blossoms on the other end of the bloodstained stems. We sympathize with the Harmonists, but we also support the rights of groups to voluntarily have stations which they keep as Wilvarok and Tilverhan only, allowing each member of the station to decide on their own any time after their fifteenth turnrote whether or not they want to stay. We have an entire charter outlining what needs to be put into place to make this galaxy work, and we want to free the forbidden planets. If we don’t act fast and if we cannot find a resolution, I am worried that within the next twenty turns the tension between these two groups will become too much and a full-fledged civil war will occur. If this happens, we will become extinct. There is nothing in this galaxy more dangerous than an angry Wilvarok with the proper training. I think you saw a bit of that evidence back on Fortitude.”
“So, we have to start the war and end it quick. How do you propose we do that?” Vea’ayr looked at me and smiled. I don’t know if it was planned or if the timing was just a coincidence, but at that moment an automated voice came on throughout the ship. “disengaging autopilot mode in two hours. Captain, please make way to the cockpit and prepare for docking.”
“You are about to find out.”
Thorns by Kevin Copenhaver is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.