The shift was only a few Quicks from being over, and Airman Daln was swaying on his feet. The journey was almost over, after a journey of nearly a Luner, and the Captain had lengthened every shift to half a Solor. Daln was still a young Vollori, and had barely made it through Basic training before he was assigned to this duty. Why they had chosen him for this journey, he could not even begin to speculate, and now... Why was he standing before this cell? Yes, he had ranked as one of the highest in his unit during training, displaying a surprising capability for deductive thinking, but he did not have the experience to be a part of this crew, that was escorting 20 of the most dangerous criminals the Empire had imprisoned. Of course, he had wondered at first if this might not be his Test, but after the first Luner of standing guard duty for Delens on end... There was no way this could be a Test. It was too straightforward. The prisoners were guarded by two Vollori Police at all times, and each was wound up so tight that they could never escape.
If nothing else, it had been a good experience for Daln, learning what Active Duty was like. He had thought he was being pushed to his very limits during Basic, but he had come to realize now that was an average day for the Police. Already he was longing for Home Duty, which would surely seem like a leisurely stroll after these Luners. But, of course, he still had the return trip to look forward to, another Luner, maybe two depending on what other tests they wanted to run on the ship. And without the prisoners there, giving the 70 Police something to stand guard over, they were going to be running many more physically strenuous exercises, or may even be transferred in groups of 10 to other platoons. If that happened, it may be an Ahn or more before he finally got Home Duty.
The prisoner stirred slightly in his cell, and an unintelligible mutter slipped out from between his lips. Daln’s partner let out a cruel laugh, slipping up and shaking the door to his cell. They let out a strange, humming vibration, and the prisoner turned to look, even though his head was covered in a sack.
At first, Daln had been too overjoyed with the ship itself to notice the prisoners. It was a phenomenal creation, and though he could not learn much about it, the Uetie were very secretive about this particular prized possession, he could understand that it was never still, even though the earth-toned walls never seemed to move themselves. No, this ship was alive in a way that no ship had ever been before. He had heard it conversing with Captain Yolhn, its voice sweet and young and feminine. And he had also seen the very walls stretch out to trap the prisoners, ensuring that they could never rip or writhe their way out without the ships permission. He had heard the way Captain Yolhn crooned to it, so surely there must be a very deep bond between them.
The guards did not stay with the same prisoner for more than a single shift, however long that shift may be. And it was never known which prisoner a duo was going to get before it was posted on the board. Daln had only been paired with this particular prisoner four times, but he still felt that he had learned more about him than any other prisoner.
The rumors flew wildly about him, and there was little doubt as to why. He was wrapped from head to foot, his four arms pinned tight against his back, and a solid sheet covering his back, and hiding six strange lumps that grew along his spine. His legs were wrapped painfully around towards his neck, so that he could do nothing more than lie on the floor without causing himself excruciating pain. He was exotic and mysterious, the only prisoner assigned a double wall around his cell and who was actually chained to the floor with metal, almost as though the captains expected him to somehow find a way out of the bindings that kept any part of him from moving an inch.
The first question any soldier had asked about him was “What did he do? How could it have been that bad?” The rumors started quietly at first, but the Captains did nothing to quell it, and the rumors grew wilder and wilder. Some said that he blew up a chain of planets, some said he had gone to attack the High Council itself, some said he singlehandedly slaughtered a Police Base with over a thousand soldiers present in it. He came to represent evil, and at first that kept him safe. But then the rumors about his muttering began, and it was so easy to start tormenting him for it. And, when they realized he could do nothing about it, the torment got steadily worse and worse.
But no one objected, because, somehow, even the most levelheaded had come to truly believe the wild rumors. Daln felt his own grin spreading across his face as he watched his temporary partner move up to the wall.
“Talking to the ship again,” the massive soldier crooned, almost as though he was talking to a kid. “Want it to save you? Well, we are less than a Solor away from Kadarok, and once we get there, there is no way off for you. You will serve there until the flesh melts away from your bones and the insects dig your brain out from between your ears, you bastard.” By the end he was practically spitting, and, indeed, he concluded the speech with a well shot blob of phlegm that arced its way through the air to splatter against his exposed chest. The muscles rippled underneath the flesh, almost like little snakes crawling under his skin, but other than that there was no reaction. He continued to mutter unintelligibly.
But to Rhys’evin, there was nothing unintelligible about his muttering. To him, every word had clear meaning, and he didn’t realize that he was barely speaking in more than fits and mumbles. For the ship understood him, and, right now, that was all that mattered.
He could barely think straight. How long had he been chained up now, unable to even move an inch? It had been a blessed relief to walk from his cell to one ship, and then be transported from that ship to this cell. The little bit of movement had been enough to return some of his mental function, enough for him to hear how long the trip was going to be, and understand that if it arrived at its destination he truly would be trapped. This was his last chance. He took the few Delens that remained to him, tried to assess what was going on, what was his way out, even as he felt his thoughts slipping away from him again, as he was trapped in the floor, which seemed to move of its own volition.
And then he heard the ship talk. There was a Captain over him, he knew that much, and he could hear the bastard speaking to... someone.
“This one is extremely dangerous. If he somehow manages to get out of here, he will slaughter everyone on board. There is no mercy in him, only steel. Whatever you do, don’t let him out.”
“I understand.” The voice was innocent, feminine, hardly more than a child’s voice. “I won’t.”
And then, how long had it been? He could no longer hold the passage of time in his head, could no longer distinguish between a tick and an ahn. But the childlike voice had returned to exactly that which it had been forbidden.
“What did you do?” It was a child’s voice, calmly asking the the murderer why he was so special. Rhys’evin couldn’t even find the thoughts to respond. After a few Ticks, or had it been Delens, it left. But it came back, and that time it wouldn’t leave him alone until it got a response. And then until it managed to decipher that response.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Isindyll. And I am this ship.”
It was almost enough to jolt him out of his inertia-induced stupor. This ship was alive, and it was the one who would let him go. That was why it had seemed as though the floor enveloped him. It really had.
“It is nice to meet you, Isindyll. I am Rhys’evin.”
“What did you do?”
“I killed many people.”
Then there was silence.
He greeted it every morning after that, politely inquiring after its health and happiness, what was going on around it, how it enjoyed getting to see the stars. He told it stories of faraway places, of growing up on his home planet with the Karthk’yarii, of the many cultures he had seen. He had nothing else to do, and, even though his stories made little sense, often jumping from thought to thought every second, his melodic voice eventually lured it back.
“Why do you talk to me so constantly?” Its voice mimicked frustration, irritation.
“Because I am lonely.” It was an innocent, something that couldn’t be told the truth. It couldn’t be trusted with the truth, so he would have to mislead it. Get it to trust him, think he was its friend, someone who would “understand” it. He had heard the way the captain talked to it, as a master, even as he was supposed to be its friend. It, or perhaps he should start thinking of it as her, lest he let that object-like pronoun slip from between his lips and risk scaring it... her away, was lonely. It... she had to be.
“I am lonely too. May I speak with you, murderer?”
“Of course. I would welcome it.”
And he would never admit it, but Rhys’evin was lonely too.
He had spoken to her for so long, var after var, that, somewhere along the line, he had found himself growing a little bit fond of her. It was a mostly unknown feeling, one that he had done his absolute best to avoid, for it could only lead to danger in his occupation. But it was hard to keep that wall of apathy against that sweet, youthful, innocent, exuberant voice, his only companion as his mind fell apart.
And, as the solors went on, Rhys’evin couldn’t help but feel that she was growing fond of him. Despite the fact that he knew she would be constantly reminding herself that he was a murderer, that her Captain had warned her not to let him go, that he had no mercy, no affection, her light voice became more and more bubbly, and he could feel the binds around him become more supple, as she could no longer stand to see his body so contorted.
And then, one Solor, she asked the question that, even in his befuddled state, he had known was coming.
“Why did you kill many people?”
What did he say, to keep her from fleeing? Was there anything he could say? This was his last chance to escape, and if he didn’t say something that could win her over... he would die. For a moment, his thoughts spun around that word. Die...die...die...die.
He had gone through so many close shaves but he had always escaped. He had even known that this mission would likely land him in maximum security prison. He had trusted that he would find a way to escape before it was too late. And he had. Now all he needed was a way to put it into practice.
“Because I am not a nice man.”
“No,” she agreed, “You are not. Did you want to kill them?”
“I neither wanted nor did not want to kill them. I wanted what would come after I killed them.”
“You wanted to go to prison?”
“I want what will come after I get out of prison.”
“What is that?”
He had started it, and now he had to finish it. And the only way he could see to get her to deepen her trust in him was to be perfectly honest and open. He would have snorted if he had realized his subconscious had made that decision. He was not open. Nor was he honest. But to save his live, he could be both.
“Is this... money so great?”
“Money, my dear little Isindyll, rules the world.”
And he couldn’t help but feel the smallest sprig of hope, that she hadn’t immediately denied that he would be escaping from prison.
One Solor, the answer to his morning questions changed, and he realized that he would be getting out of prison.
“How far away are we?”
“Less than two solors.”
His time was almost out.
“Are you happy, Isindyll?”
For a moment there was silence. And though Rhys’evin knew that was the most important thing he had heard this whole voyage, he could not figure out why.
“I like Captain Yolhn. He is a good man, and a good Captain. He treats me well.”
“That doesn’t sound like a reason to be unhappy.”
“He treats me like a child. He won’t listen to what I say, just to listen to it. It must always have relevance, or he doesn’t care. I like talking with you better. Even if you are a killer. You would never kill me, would you?”
And then he realized why this was so important. She liked him better. Perhaps that meant she would be willing to do the unthinkable to keep him.
“I would never do anything to hurt you.”
“I cannot promise that I would never hurt you on accident, but I promise I will never do anything to hurt you on purpose.”
There was a moment of silence, and then his bonds tightened around him. But he relaxed into the grip, for, somehow, it felt more like a hug than imprisonment.
“How long is left, Isindyll?”
“Only a few Delens.”
“I’m going to be leaving soon.”
“Are you still unhappy?”
A moment’s silence, and then... “Yes.”
“Do you think that things will change in the future?”
“Do you think Captain Yolhn is going to start treating you better?”
“Do you want to be unhappy?”
“Are you going to be unhappy anyways.”
“No!” There was indignation in that one, asking him how he could dare suggest such a thing.
“Then what are you going to do?”
“Would you be my captain, Rhys?”
There it was, the thing he had been waiting for all this time.
“Do you swear to listen to me, always.”
“As long as I shall live.”
“Will you cherish me, and care for me.”
“Until death do us part. Do you want to free me?”