labingi: (Ghanior)
[personal profile] labingi
This is a Continuation story that is properly a side-story of the The Dying Cycle, but I'm going to start posting it as a standalone, mainly because I fully intend to write a crossover in which 'Eblia meets Charles Xavier. But of that odd psychological space, more later. Many thanks to Jamie and Jodi and [livejournal.com profile] louderandlouder for the excellent critiquing.

Mercy
by 'Eblia Te'Zhano Yoq


Dedication

'Ghanior, this is my love letter to you. It's for posterity too, for while this account can't be published in the current political climate, it might be of some historical value when these events have been forgotten. You and I know from 'Hasha's writings that love and history are not mutually exclusive. So here it is: my love for you--and for 'Shoan.



Chapter 1

I registered the signs but did not respond to them. In the month since Qer'yem had left me, she dominated my thoughts. I went to work in a fog, navigating by force of habit, and when the scenery changed, I noticed without noticing.

I was a spy then, an "Eye-man," in our language. (In Ash'torian, women are Eye-men too.) My partner, Chi'anové, and I served the Trae'dah Eye as field agents, he the tracker and I the reader. He would Walk in first to scout the assigned location. I'd follow in the guise of an attaché and listen in telepathically. This is against international law, but our government, for a warrior people, is remarkably discreet.

I've said Chi'anové was a Walker and assumed that you, my future readers, know I meant. Do you still have Walkers in your time, those adventurers implanted with a device that lets them enter the dimension called Jana and punch a line through it to instantly travel anywhere in our known planets? If you've never heard of this, it must sound like an incredible power. And it is. Yet I took it for granted, as I did Chi'anové.

Our assignment was routine, the kind we'd played dozens of times as smoothly as a high hand in fast-tac. But as soon as we were in the hall, Chi'anové said, "Damn, but you could smell the photo fear at that briefing," the fear of being held accountable.*

And I said, "Yes," because I'd felt it too, and thought no more about it.

In retrospect, it's clear they wanted to nullify my hypertelepathy. As an HT, I made a good spy, in part, because my telepathic skills are so sensitive that thoughts leak to me even through blocked minds, and since I don't have to reach out to read them, few sense the intrusion. But this could be as much as hazard for our handlers as for our marks. In this briefing, our handler had oozed unease. I was too preoccupied to care.

So much for my obtuseness, but what of Chi'anové? Later, for a time, it puzzled me that he wasn't more mistrustful. But it isn't hard to fathom. Covert intelligence is a fabric so famously woven of lies that lies become its honesty. They lied, he thought. We all do. Information, perversely, thrives in obfuscation. Insects call in the grass because on a slab, they'd be eaten. And so we grasshoppers sprang dutifully out into the meadow and into the waiting mouth.

***

We prepped as we had for the past nine years. I met Chi'anové in his quarters, their spartan beigeness evoking, as always, an emptied closet: chest of drawers, a console, and the large capsule-bed that occupied a third of the floor.

Chi'anové had been a Jana Walker since he was twelve. Like many who started young, his body radiated jae-shift energy. It concentrated in his hands so that if he touched someone bare handed, he would give them a slight shock. To alleviate this, he wore protective gloves. The rest of his body was less affected, but to maintain a stable energetic state, he needed to dissipate the jae shift, and so the Eye had supplied him with the capsule-bed. He'd climb inside as if into a life capsule and sleep while the bed drained the shift. This is all his room was for. He slept in it and kept his few belongings. The rest of his life was Walking.

He strapped on his travel pack. "Check in tomorrow at 13:50 hours, I wonder?" Ash'torian has several question registers; we'd settled in the plain-polite, like friends.

"13:50 should be plenty of time," I confirmed. "My ship should arrive on Sham'tab before 12:00."

"There's heavy surveillance in the conference center, so I doubt I'll be able to tell you much there."

"Yes, I know," I said vaguely.

"Yoq." He called me by my Clan name when he wanted my attention.

I gave it, making myself concentrate on his small, fair-haired form.

"Sharp eye now."

I nodded. "Sorry. I'll be on form."

"I'll see you." He tapped the jae-band embedded in his wrist and disappeared.

***

I locked his room behind me and went to my lightship. Though I'd had promised him alertness, I was soon back in my fog. The loss of Qer'yem permeated me like an infection. Pieces of her floated through my thoughts: our hours debating translations of the tales of Abte'nyq, discussing her thesis on 'Naqlem as a motive force in advancement of women's power in old 'Aejdar; the letter she sent me, which I foolishly accessed while sitting in the hallway awaiting debriefing, in which she agreed that our lives had diverged. I, of course, had meant no such thing. My fault for blocking her out of my thoughts.

I had registered the signs but had not responded.

She'd been complaining of my distance for months. As an HT I can't help but see into minds; those closest to me accept that, but that I block my own thoughts like a normal person she saw as hypocritical. I agree, in part, and though my work bound me to secrecy, that was an excuse. I joined the Trae'dah Eye so I could use my hypertelepathy, but working for the Eye compounded my failings. My need for privacy--professional, personal--had bitten me again. The bitterness of that realization, each time I repeated it, drove me further inward. I should quit the Eye, I kept on thinking. To be honest, the only thing still binding me was Chi'anové.

One of my fathers, Hasharah'yah, once told me, "The universe is no respecter of past pain. It cuts scar over scar over scar," or words to that effect. I remember feeling some indignation that this revelation should come from him, a man who to the best of my awareness--and my awareness of him is uncomfortably extensive--had not been abused out of the common order. What right had he to talk to me about scars over scars? Yet sometimes an agony laid him bare, almost like illness setting fire to his nerves. I've seldom known what motivated such attacks of soul sickness. They come to some and less to others, very rarely, for instance, to Mae'joq, my other father.

***

We never reached our assignment. I had just made lightspeed when my rippling control shorted. The safeties cut in, and I jolted into drift in empty space. Oddly, I didn't suspect sabotage, probably because I'm from Me'mib, where the sand frequently gums engines.

Per protocol, I began my routine checks, but had only got past life support when the second stage struck: an alarm blared, a light pulsed, the computer announced a contaminant; my head swam.

I awoke to the alarm, now warning imminent crash. The cockpit screeched yellow. I remember hearing wind, though I know I couldn't have. I remember clouds rushing past though my ship had solid walls. As I found later, the ship was fully functional; only the automatics for achieving orbit had been offlined. If I'd had my wits about me, I could have easily landed it. But groggy as I was, I barely managed to deploy my crash padding and curl in a ball before we slammed down.

***

*Footnote: In Ash'tor, the public circulation of people's images is illegal to protect privacy. "Photo fear" is a play on this concern; it means one is afraid to be held accountable on record.

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