When Garjah said he planned to stay with me, I hadn’t realized exactly what that meant. I should have. His quarters were bigger than mine but not that much bigger. There was no extra bunk to unlatch from the wall, and he wasn’t about to roll a bed in from the corridor.
No, when Garjah came out of his bathroom facilities in a pair of extremely brief and tight shorts, he helped me in there. They’d changed me while I was out, so I was in a much looser pair of the same shorts and a loose shirt. Exhaustion weighed on me, so I didn’t hide my surprise very well when he settled me onto the bed and then climbed in beside me.
“What are you doing?”
“If you wake and hurt, I will be close to help you. The bed is big enough.”
I’d thought the bed was enormous until he’d climbed into it. Now it was barely big enough. Garjah sprawled on his back, one pair of arms tucked under his head and the others folded across his flat stomach. He’d settled me on my side with my healing arm curled up on the pillow I’d liked so much. I was trying not to look at the hive of activity. It looked like a shimmering glow, but the idea it was tiny bots spinning metal to replace the missing pieces of my body made my stomach heave.
“Can we turn off the lights?” Maybe that would help.
“If you wish.”
Garjah lowered the lights. I couldn’t see more than the vague outline of his features. I blinked and sighed. My arm was numb, but that beat the pain. Garjah’s breathing filled the silence, and the heat radiated off his body.
“One time when I was sick, my nurse sat beside me all night. I think I had a fever because all I remember is her telling me all these stories.” I smiled at the memory. She’d stuck around the longest, and I’d picked up a lot of unconscious speech patterns and habits from her. My parents hadn’t liked that.
“Do you want me to tell you a story?”
“Oh, I wasn’t asking for that.” My face heated. “But, I was wondering…?”
“There’s no kids on the ship. You said everyone has racial memories, but are those just triggered for more specialized skills later in life? Are you raised by your family, like your parents, or do you have communal family clusters based on your future careers?”
“Children are precious. They are protected. Most memories are easily triggered, the ones that allow us to function as we grow. We only leave our groupings to train in our roles with those of the same affiliation once we have gained maturity.” He paused. “Well, close to maturity. And some are more ready than others.”
“You are hard on Seedrah.”
“He comes from an old line, almost as old as mine. We have the honor of serving on this exploratory vessel. We are given missions of the utmost importance. It is our duty, our privilege, to keep all those who serve the Kardoval.”
Another new term. “Okay, who or what is Kardoval?”
“Kardoval is… the all. They can see and understand all affiliations, can guide anyone in need. They have skills to encompass our entire society, so they lead us.”
“So, like our galatic rulers. They are in charge of everyone else. They make the laws, have the final say.”
“The Kardoval do not make laws, but they do have the final say in all things. We consult them or they issue orders for missions, suggest research, entreat with other cultures on our behalf.”
I rubbed an itch on my cheek away against the pillow. “Is there more than one?”
“A male and female.”
“Are they a couple?”
Garjah’s voice was aghast. “As in a sexual pairing?” He sounded as if the very idea was blasphemous.
“Um, yeah? A lot of people in the same careers, or at least similar ones, are together. They have more in common, they can understand each other.”
“No,” Garjah said emphatically. “We do not pair bond with those in our own affiliation.”
Maybe it was my exhaustion. Or just a stupid slip of the tongue. “So you could pair bond with Timok? You spend a lot of time with him.”
“Pair bonding is not approved for security members on the ship. It would be dangerous if I were to feel the need to protect one person above all others.”
“And you’d feel that, if you were bonded?”
“All who bond do. It is… intense. Don’t humans?”
I yawned. “No. I don’t think so. My parents didn’t. It’s about love and caring about a person, but not some sort of special protectiony thing.” I shrugged one shoulder, though he probably couldn’t see it. “Sounds kinda nice though.”
“Timok shared the cultural information on your species. Your bonding is done with documents, ceremonies. We have ceremonies, but pair bonding is biological. Especially once offspring is involved, there is no going back.”
“Mating for life. There are other races who do that. And lots of animals.” My shoulder twitched and I winced. “What happens if one dies?”
“If the offspring has matured, the other will follow.” Garjah’s voice dropped low and quiet. Sad, if I had to give it an emotion. He didn’t show many, so it stood out.
“Did that happen to you?” As soon as the blunt words slipped out, I wanted to snatch them back. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” The muscles in my neck crawled, and I twisted my head on the pillow.
“Are you hurting?”
“No…. I don’t know. My muscles keep twitching. It’s like… ants.” I didn’t like it.
Garjah ordered the lights up, and I flinched. He rolled out the bed and smacked a spot on the wall. “Medical to my quarters immediately.”
Want more flash?
Want more flash?