“Before I tell you what is happening, I need to know exactly what you know. What do you know of the universe outside of your station? What do you know of our struggles and our situation?” I looked at Deran with shame in my eyes. “Unfortunately I must admit that I most likely know nothing. In school we are taught that the Council is here for our protection and that since the migration we must keep Tilverhans and Wilvaroks separate in most every situation. We are taught that Wilvaroks are dangerous and that all stations were required to keep the species separated. The only reason I was allowed to stay on Fortitude is because they were receiving a large sum of money to keep me protected. Honestly, all the Tilverhans on Fortitude were very accepting so I found it hard to imagine that the outside of our station was any less welcoming. I was astonished to find out that turmoil between the Tilverhans and the Wilvaroks had gotten so bad. I was under the assumption that the idea of keeping the species separated was truly in the best interest of both species and that almost everyone agreed with the decision. It is obvious I have been misled and that there is so much more going on than I could have ever imagined, so I will say that I know nothing of what is actually going on outside of Fortitude.”
Deran shook his head with the same horror and disbelief as before. “I think that is a fair and accurate summary of what you truly know. Where do I even start?” He fell silent and the muffled bustle of the restaurant around us faded more and more until his silence was all that remained. I took one of my hands and placed it on his hands, which were resting on the table, and put my other hand on the side of his face, gently raising his eyes to meet mine. “I know this is hard Deran, but I need to know. Just start from when you decided to join the Thorns and why. Let me know what is really going on with the Council. I want to know everything so I know exactly what it is I am fighting against, and more importantly what I am fighting for.” He managed a smile and broke his silence with a deep breath before he began recanting his struggle.
“Joining the Thorns wasn’t what got me interested in change. That happened shortly before meeting Jushara, when I first moved to her station. My mother was a Wilvarok and my father was a Tilverhan as you know.” I interjected, confused. “How would I know that? I didn’t see any of your memories of them when we were connected…” He looked almost startled by my statement. “Have you not been taught about male Wilvaroks?” I shook my head. His tone changed from being almost patronizing to one which had a tinge of pity mixed with sympathy of my ignorance. “Well, I suppose that would require an explanation first, then. The reason you do not see many male Wilvaroks and never hear of them is that we are considered to be mistakes of nature in modern society. You see, the only way a male Wilvarok can exist is if a female Wilvarok procreates with a male Tilverhan, and even then only one of every fifty or so children are born male. Since the Great Migration and the separation of the species, we have become even more scarce. In fact, the only other male Wilvarok I currently know of is Fhandrick.”
“Why would anyone consider you to be an abomination?!” I interjected, appalled by the very idea. Deran paused for a moment before continuing. “Well, because they think it is wrong for Wilvaroks and Tilverhans to mate with one another. We are considered a living symbol of their misdeeds; a consistent reminder that somebody, somewhere thought it was okay for a Tilverhan and a Wilvarok to be together. Right after the Migration, most male Wilvaroks were left to die at birth. Lucky for me and Fhandrick, those practices are a thing of the past. Still, my parents were at risk on the station we lived on, so we
I could feel my blood heating again and tears of anger welling up. I blinked them away and flexed my forearms hard to regain my composure. “Sorry, go on…”
“As I said, my mother was a Wilvarok and my father was a Tilverhan and we had heard a rumor that there was a small group forming on Station 00519 that wanted to see an end to segregation of the species, so they decided it was the only place they had a chance of raising me without being found out.”
“How did they even meet, and how were they together before?” A truly happy smile spread across Deran’s face, but his eyes seemed plagued with a deep, deep sadness as he reminisced about his parents. “My father was brilliant. He was a GECO and was one of the toughest men you could ever meet. He was on assignment at our original station and was in charge of selecting Wilvarokan candidates for a research team the Council was putting together. During his observations of my mother’s classroom, he fell in love. He used to tell me about how he created an entire elaborate ‘one-on-one’ assessment program just so he could justify spending time alone with my mother. He completely changed his recruitment plan to allow him time to spend with her. A brilliant romantic…”
I smiled at Deran, my eyes still misty, “That’s beautiful, Deran.” He nodded his head lost in his own recollection and continued. “During their secret meetings, they got to know one another more and more and he decided that he was going to petition to the Council to allow him to court my mother. He said he could probably spin it with the Council board to be a total-immersion study of Wilvarokan life to help Tilverhans better understand the Wilvaroks. He made up an entire presentation to give the Council. They were sure it would work.”
Deran winced slightly and pulled his hands away from mine. I had been tightening my grip more and more with anticipation without even realizing it. “Fahreet! Sorry Deran. The Council said yes though, right?” His happiness faded and all that was left was the hollow sorrow in his eyes. “If only they had… They denied him his claim and further stated that he was obviously compromised as a GECO and would be required to retire from the position if he did not end his own assignment and relocate immediately. So, he went to say goodbye to my mother and they decided that if they could not be together then they should have me so my mother could always remember him. She was more than capable of raising me on her own and had always wanted a child, so they performed the creation ritual of the Wilvaroks and my father left to get reassigned.”
I slammed my fist on the table, unable to determine if I was more sad or angry. “Why would he leave?! Why didn’t he try to appeal their decision, or why didn’t he just say to the void with the j’karn Council and stay and retire?” Deran’s hand grabbed my fist on the table firmly and he replied in a stern, raucous voice. “Do not speak of what you do not understand! My father was a great man. Do you know what exactly is in the retirement plan of a GECO Sha’ayr?” I pulled my hand back and shook my head without breaking eye contact. “Retirement means they take a knife to your throat and burn your corpse to ash before the blood is even wiped from their blade. Once you get to be a GECO, you belong to the Council. You cannot leave, and you cannot hide, you can only do as they command or die. It is a despicable blood oath. Funny, they never tell anyone that when they are recruiting, do they?”
“I’m sorry Deran, I didn’t know. It must have been devastating for him and your mother both.” The calm returned to his eyes as he continued. “It was, Sha’ayr. Mother told me that she was so grateful that I was born male, otherwise she would have never seen my father again. Once I was born, she knew that she could not let anyone on our station know who the father of her child was or he would be executed. Normally, they would not be so harsh, but with him being a GECO it was the only allowable course of action. She raised me on my own until I was eleven turns and then something happened that forever changed the rest of her life.
The Council sent a group of officers to our station to do a final collection of candidates for the original program my father was recruiting for. They wanted all the officers who had ever been to be in attendance as a show of dedication to the program. My mother did not even know he would be there, but he had heard of a Wilvarok on the station who had a male child and knew that it could only be her. He made certain to ask the right people the right questions so he could find her. When he did and he saw me for the first time he fell to his stomach and embraced me in all four arms. Tears rolled down his face and to my horns. ‘My son… We have a Son Dejha. I never want to leave you two again. I am going to leave the Council. We will go somewhere else, we will find some way to make it work. I should have never left.’ I remember that moment so clearly, Sha’ayr. It was the happiest moment of my entire life, even over meeting Jushara.”
The light mist in my eyes had turned to cascading fountains as I imagined how he must have felt. “That’s so beautiful! Then you left to Station 00519?”
Deran nodded and continued. “My mother had been searching for groups that supported reintegration of the species and had heard of the rumors of such a group at 00519, so we left that day, stowaways on a cargo vessel. We hopped from cargo hold to cargo hold, bribing pilots and workers to help us stay undercover, charting deliveries to try to make it to 00519. It took almost a full turn for us to arrive, and all of our Feryhns. We stepped off of that ship covered in dirt, drenched in sweat, hungry, thirsty, and smelling worse than the dead. But we were happy, we were so indescribably happy.
We met up with the cloaked contact which my mother had researched about and she took us to get settled. My mother was surprised that she sounded so young and yet already so involved in such a dangerous movement. We were taken to a small hobble where no one could see us come and go in the back alleys of the most decrepit part of the city. As soon as we walked in, the Wilvarok who led us there dropped her hood and I immediately felt a lack of breath followed by a sickening embarrassment of my current condition. ‘My name is Jushara and this is your new home, for as long as you desire. All I ask is that you follow the same rules of all other refugees we have here currently and in the past; be respectful of all others and pull your weight. If you are not, we will be speaking, and I am very stern when I have to be.”
“But Deran, I thought that Vea’ayr started the Thorns? Jushara did?” Deran shook his head and proceeded to tell his story. “Jushara was not part of the Thorns yet, she was just one person who knew that a change needed to happen and was fighting to make it so, all on her own. She was only thirteen turns at this point and I had just turned twelve turns, but I knew she was the strongest, most noble woman I would ever meet. We lived there with Jushara in peace for four turns. My father had a job as a transport worker and was responsible for loading and unloading cargo for travelers. It was easy to fit in as a Tilverhan because on the big port stations Wilvarok and Tilverhan relations were so much different than anywhere else. You had groups flying to and from every station in the galaxy, so nobody thought twice about seeing a Tilverhan around town in a Wilvarokan station. My mother wove coats for a clothing company that made clothing for Tilverhans. No one knew how she was so… familiar with the contours of a Tilverhan body and she always blushed when anyone would ask her, but she still kept the secret for a long, long time. A long time… but not forever…”
Deran stopped and began crying. His tears dripped from his cheeks onto the table as he leaned his head down and mine continued to trickle down my face and neck. He made no sound other than breathing, but the tears just kept coming. “Deran, you can wait and tell me about this later if you want, it’s okay.” He grabbed my hands forcefully and looked up, his eyes twitching. “It’s NOT okay though. I can’t tell you later, you HAVE to know. The council is inescapable. They are death incarnate. They are a second shadow in a single-lit room. You will always feel them there and sometimes even see them, but you will never be able to do anything about it. They will destroy anything you love. Blinded juggernauts fumbling toward what they call peace, but their road to peace is paved with the corpse of every single Wilvarok and Tilverhan who dares to think anything different. Yet, they themselves are integrated. Filthy J’karn hypocrites!”
Deran let go of my hands and clinched his fists together tight, unable to contain himself anymore. He began sobbing and did not stop for at least three minutes. I put my hands on his arms and tried to comfort him as best I could. I fought back my own emotions as I relived what happened to my father and thought about how right he was. He reclaimed his composure and, with a few deep breaths, continued on. “One day I had gone out with Jushara. We had been becoming close friends and were tiptoeing the line to lovers. We spent the day out in the cargo docks, helping load and unload for extra Feryhns and using the money to buy materials to help improve the house to possibly hold more families. After all, word had spread in hushed whispers of our refuge and we were already up to seven different families in our small living quarters. We had gotten home and opened to door to tell my parents what he had found, but immediately knew something was awry. The door was not shut completely and as soon as we pushed it open, a stinging silence hit us. Seven families under one roof was never silent.
We stepped in and breathed in. As we did, our hearts sank into our stomachs and our eyes began to well. The scent of fresh blood, especially in large quantities, is something you will never be able to forget or confuse with any other stench. Almost metallic and laced with the traces of the spirits lost. We knew what was waiting for us if we continued inside, but didn’t want to accept it. As we entered we found no one, alive or dead. There were stains on the floor which were obviously places where people were slain, but no signs of where they could have gone. I froze up, unable to move, but Jushara took my hand firmly and pulled me into the kitchen. ‘We have to find out what happened Deran. We have to see.’ Sitting on the counter beside the sink were seven jars. Under each jar was a piece of flesh with the same message written into each one:
Flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood
A natural separation must be understood
Like water and oil, our species can’t mix
The purists are the righteous betwixt
The jars appeared at first to be filled with jelly and water, but they weren’t.” Deran swallowed hard, fighting back another outburst of tears. “Each jar had the pureed remains of one of the family’s hearts, then oil sitting on top to symbolize the separation. Jushara began sobbing and I vomited. She ran from the house and vomited outside. For hours we couldn’t react to what was around us. Then, almost as though a switch had been thrown in both of our heads, we just stopped crying and met each other in the main room of the house. She looked me in the eyes and said ‘We will find them, and we will kill them all Deran. We will do it together.”
I had to excuse myself. I ran to the restroom and threw up. I was fighting back my metamorphosis. I couldn’t believe such horrendous events could take place in our galaxy. Why would anyone do this? HOW could anyone do this? I stayed on my knees in the restroom for a good two minutes, shaking. I heard knocking on the door and Deran’s voice asking if I was alright. I went out the door, trying to wipe the tears away and nodded my head. We sat back down and he finished his tale. “So you see, that is why we joined Vea’ayr. A few cycles after this had happened we received an anonymous note from your sister and it simply said if you truly want revenge, meet me at dock 22 at the end of light. We went, and there she was. She told us that she was going to bring down the Council and the Purists and was forming an army. She said she heard about what happened to our family from one of her contacts on 00519. We went with her, and we trained hard every day to get to where we are now. The proudest day of my life was when she accepted me as an Officer, Sha’ayr.” I nodded my head, my body sore from the emotional turmoil the story put me through. “Thank you for telling me this Deran.” He responded with an almost cold severity. “No thanks necessary Sha’ayr. I didn’t tell you because I wanted to. I told you because you needed to know, because you needed to understand how invested we are. Every one of us has a situation that led us here and most are as horrible, if not worse than mine and Jushara’s. You need to know that you aren’t just fighting for equality, you are fighting for vengeance, for justice, for retribution, for the memories of all those who have perished, for the lives of all those who are being persecuted, and for the potential future of all those who have yet to be born into an integrated world. This fight isn’t about a cause or a belief, it is about the very essence of what it means to be alive. This is an impossible fight that we HAVE to win. That is why I challenged you, and that is why we need to know you can devote yourself to the Thorns. We need only the strongest in our ranks to even pretend we stand a chance.”
“I won’t let you down, Deran. We will get revenge, and we will create a future worth living for all Tilverhans and Wilvaroks. I promise.”
Thorns by Kevin Copenhaver is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.