This Nearspace short story takes place in the year 2127, about 150 years before the events in One’s Aspect to the Sun. Earth and the other planets of Nearspace are embroiled in a war with a mysterious enemy race they call the Chron, about whom little or nothing is known. Although none of the characters in the story appear in the novel, it’s a little glimpse into the history of Nearspace…
Jack stepped out of the lift just as the incoming message alarm sounded on his personal comm.
“Damn!” he muttered, and broke into a run, footsteps echoing in the empty corridor. Shiftchange had been ten minutes ago. The evening crew would be gone from the station bridge, heading gratefully for their bunks as soon as Oléus arrived to take his place at the communications console. They wouldn’t wait for Jack, even though he was officially the Watch Leader. Jack was usually late.
Until Jack arrived, though, Oléus couldn’t do much beyond accepting the message and reading it. So Jack ran―or tried to. His injured arm jostled in its sling with every step, sending bright waves of pain along the length of the plasma burn. Jack gritted his teeth and slowed his pace. Oléus would just have to wait as long as it took him to get there at a fast walk.
Oléus had already dimmed the bridge’s day lights and brought up a pale azure cast to the room by the time Jack arrived. He and Jack had decided the color suited their long nighttime shifts. Jack liked it because it calmed him, helped him forget the fiery moment of agony when the plasma had seared the flesh on his left arm and stuck him here on the station until the wound healed. The alien liked it because―well, who knew why Oléus liked anything? He was as inscrutable as any Vilisian. Except when the neural Link was up.
Jack shivered at the thought.
Oléus already had his face positioned in the message viewer, the pliant neoprene hugging his wrinkled flesh securely. Only the alien’s low, slightly upswept ears remained in view, and his neat plait of glossy black hair hung over one shoulder.
“I’m here!” Jack slid carefully into the well-patched watch chair across from Oléus, holding his arm high in its sling to avoid the armrest. His heart thudded in time with the steady cadence of the air recyclers, and the pulse reverberated painfully deep in the injured arm. The message was probably just a check-in, but there was always the chance that the Chron had launched a new attack.
Oléus reported from the viewer. “Recon Flight Able-Ten reports possible Chron movement in the Beta Comae Berenices system,” he said. “Requesting we relay this report to the next station and all ships in range. Watch leader, please confirm.”
“Go ahead and relay it, Oléus,” Jack said quickly. He glanced at the Link helmet resting on his console, the blue light twinkling on its iridescent surface, but made no move to pick it up. “The Jertenda colonies are in Beta Comae. Millions of people.”
“Jack, you must confirm. Do you need help with the helmet?” Oléus hadn’t taken his head out of the viewer, but obviously Jack hadn’t had time for a proper confirmation.
Jack sighed. “No, I can manage it.” I just don’t want to. Favoring his left arm, Jack fumbled the waiting helmet off the console and awkwardly slipped it on. It enveloped his head and face, and he fought the familiar gasp of claustrophobia as the world shifted from pale blue to black. Tiny neural jumpers nudged painlessly into place all over his shaved scalp. He tried to ignore the pervasive aroma of sweat as he groped for the touchpad on the outside of the helmet and pressed it to activate the Link.
The world of the station bridge sprang back to life again on the inside of his visor, bizzarely altered. Colors he could not name added depth and complexity to the familiar consoles and screens, and heat signatures danced dizzyingly over everything. Most importantly, the words of the message hung suspended before his eyes. Or rather, before Oléus’ eyes, because that was the Link’s function. To let Jack see the world through Oléus’ eyes.
Let’s get this over with. The message was brief and Jack scanned the words quickly. The Link technology worked, but not perfectly. Sure, Jack’s own eyes couldn’t see the message, but he could read it through Oléus’ as long as they were Linked. The downside was that eerie echoes of whatever else Oléus was thinking about slid along the edges of Jack’s consciousness, like ghosts wandering around in his brain. This time it was the girl again. He tried not to notice her, as if she might go away if he ignored her. The Vilisians claimed not to mind this mental privacy leak. Jack hated it.
They also claimed that it didn’t work both ways, but who really knew? Maybe they were just very good at keeping secrets. Jack had only one important secret himself, and he wanted to keep it his own.
It had been a critical military breakthrough to discover that the humans’ new allies, the Vilisians, were not only attuned to higher frequencies of sound than humans, but also adapted for a breadth of vision that humans did not possess―and neither did their common enemy, the Chron. The ability to communicate with allies in a way that enemies cannot possibly intercept is an advantage in any military endeavor. Especially if those enemies have the ability, however limited, to make brief slips along the timeline, and are currently kicking the crap out of your entire race and your few allies.
“Message confirmed, Comm. Relay at once.” Jack pressed the touchpad again to break the Link and gratefully eased the helmet off his head as soon as the jumpers disengaged. The recycled air of the bridge felt dry and cool against his face, but his arm protested violently at all this unaccustomed movement. Jack’s eyes watered.
Of course it would have been better, easier, if the machines could have done all the translation, but hell, it was the middle of a war, R&D time was limited, and they were lucky to come up with something that worked at all to translate vision between the races. Humans had never been the most trusting species, and although no one would come right out and say it, they weren’t willing to give the Vilisians full control over communications, allies or not. By the time they could have worked out all the details of developing new technology together, the two races would have been wiped out.
The foundation for the tech―the Link helmet―was, ironically, a form of Vilisian entertainment. The military put the best minds on adapting it, and the trust issue was solved―not perfectly, but quickly, which was more important at this point. So humans and Vilisians worked in pairs for all communications, neurally linked, all messages viewed and confirmed by both races before they were relayed. It was cumbersome, but it worked and kept both sides happy. If the Vilisians were insulted by this obvious lack of faith, they never mentioned it.
Oléus’ long amber fingers danced over the keypad for a minute or two, relaying the message, then he eased his face free and settled back from the viewer, blinking dark, oval eyes. “Good evening, Jack. That was the only new message since I arrived.”
Every night, Jack thought he would have become accustomed to the slight delay between Oléus’ lips moving and the digitized voice issuing from the speaker around the alien’s neck, and every night he discovered he was wrong. It was so brief, such a tiny asynchronization, that it shouldn’t matter, but it always made Jack twitch with the urge to adjust something, to fix it. There was no fixing it, however. Vilisian voices were pitched too high for human ears to hear, and although the computer translation worked fine, it simply didn’t function as quickly as the organic brain. Human or Vilisian.
“Okay, good.” Jack automatically ran a systems check, a station-wide anomaly sweep, and a defense tracking analysis, using only his right hand to key in the sequences. He wasn’t expecting to find anything amiss, and he didn’t.
“Would you like to see the message log for the last shift?” Oléus asked the same question every night, and every night Jack shook his head. If there was something important, Oléus would tell him. For non-vital messages, Jack didn’t care to undergo the Link necessary to view them.
“No thanks. Anything interesting happen?”
“You could make that assessment for yourself if you cared to view the log,” Oléus chided him. Again the slight delay made Jack feel like he was watching a vid with its video and audio segments out of sync. “It is your prerogative as Watch Leader.”
Jack chuckled. “I’d just as soon sit here nice and still and have you tell me about it.”
“Your arm again?”
“Yeah, it’s giving me hell.” Jack’s grin faded. “Shouldn’t have tried to run in here.”
“The only messages were checkpoint affirmations and automated cruiser scan reports. No enemy sightings. Until that last.”
“Well, let’s hope Able-Ten was wrong and we’re in for a quiet night,” Jack said. Tiny servos whirred inside the watch chair, adjusting for his weight as he leaned back, resting his injured arm gingerly on his chest.
Oléus nodded toward Jack’s arm. “Will you let me take a look at it tonight?”
Every night before Jack had waved off the suggestion, but tonight the pain was bad. “Were you really a doctor before the war?”
Oléus smiled, the wrinkles in his skin thinning and flattening. “Certainly. I still am. And I have learned a few things about human physiology as well. Shall I prove it?”
Jack let go of his hesitation and nodded. Oléus crossed to Jack’s chair with the fluidity of motion that seemed so out-of-place among the humans and dog-footed Lobors on the station. Vilisians appeared almost to float when they moved, and the soft robes they favored only enhanced the effect.
The touch of the alien’s hands was equally light. Jack scarcely felt the sling sliding off, and knew that Oléus had begun to remove the bandages only when they stuck to the wounds on his arm. He drew a sharp breath to keep from groaning, and caught one of the aromas that seemed to drift from the skin of all Vilisians. Some humans theorized that the scents were part of the Vilisian language, but it didn’t seem like anyone was willing to ask the question.
An odd clatter, like a mother’s tongue-click of disapproval, came from Oléus’ speaker. “How long since these were changed?”
“I guess I should have gone down to the medbay yesterday,” Jack admitted.
“Or the day before that,” Oléus suggested. “One moment.” He glided back to the comm and drew a palm-sized, lustrous box from beneath it. At the touch of Oléus’ long fingers, its pearly panels unfolded to reveal an amazingly large storage space packed with healers’ implements.
Jack smiled. “Is that your ‘little black bag’?”
The alien’s thin lips twitched into a smile. “I do know the reference. It is accurate to a point, although personally I think this is far superior.” He selected a tiny vial and applied a few oily drops to the gummy bandages. They lifted away from the skin like flower petals opening to the sun, and Jack caught a whiff of something like peppermint.
“It is certainly an ugly wound,” Oléus commented as he inspected it.
“Plasma cannons aren’t meant to inflict scratches,” Jack said with a careful shrug. “I guess I’m lucky it didn’t take the arm right off.”
“You are even luckier you made it back to a station. Chron prefer not to leave survivors.” Oléus used a thin transparent rod to smear ochre paste over the wound. Peppermint gave way to the odor of burning rubber.
Jack didn’t answer, feeling his gut tighten at Oléus’ words. He sighed as the injury cooled instantly, the pain receding and disappearing like a tide going out. “What is that stuff?”
“Your doctors would probably call it a ‘home remedy,'” Oléus said with a smile.
“Well, I don’t care what you call it, it works. I should have let you look at it days ago.”
“Which, I believe, I suggested.” Oléus closed his medical case and returned to the comm. “We’ll leave it open to the air for half an hour or so, and then I’ll re-bandage it.”
With the pain gone and the doctoring finished, Jack’s mind immediately crept back to the neural Link. Jack would have preferred to think about almost anything else, but the ghostly thoughts transferred during a Link were not easily banished.
The young Vilisian girl who had crossed the Link again wore vibrantly alien flowers in her dark hair. She danced along the side of a stream with aimless joy, stooping now and again to toss a pebble into the current. Her garments were pink and…some color Jack couldn’t name. His own eyes had never seen it, and he’d guess no human eyes could. But Oléus’ had, and now it existed in Jack’s experience as well.
The same girl was frequently in Oléus’ thoughts during the Link. Jack had never asked Oléus about her. Human-Vilisian relationships were rarely close, since the aliens tended to stay aloof. Many long night shifts together had made Jack realize that it was more a natural reserve in the aliens’ nature, which he actually appreciated. Oléus was possibly Jack’s best friend on the station, but they didn’t talk about things like the memories. Personal things. Jack didn’t want to stray into dangerous territory.
“It must have been terribly painful,” Oléus said.
Startled, Jack said, “What?” A hot flush stung his face, as if he’d been caught rummaging through Oléus’ quarters.
“Your injury. I’m sorry, it must have been very difficult for you to continue piloting your craft afterward.”
“It was rough, all right. I barely had the strength after I finished off the Chron to make it to the jump point. Sometimes I guess you just do what you have to do.” It was his standard answer whenever the subject of his Chron encounter came up. Jack had given it so many times now it almost sounded like the truth, even to him. He never made eye contact when he talked about it, though. He didn’t think he was that good a liar.
Oléus was silent for a moment. “Do you think we can win this war?” he asked abruptly.
“Of course we can. We will.” The response was automatic, although it sounded hollow even to Jack.
Oléus made an odd movement of his head and shoulders, the Vilisian equivalent of a shrug. “I hope you are right, but sometimes that hope gives way to fear. To fight an enemy who has never even attempted communications, whose proper name we do not even know…”
“And who can timeslip,” Jack added slowly. “Even if they can’t do it all the time or very well…”
Oléus sighed and reverted to typical Vilisian understatement. “It is worrisome.”
Jack shifted uncomfortably in the worn Watch Leader’s seat, listening to the servos struggle to adjust beneath his weight. They’d never talked about the outcome of the war before; he was always careful to keep the conversation from becoming too personal or serious. It was too dangerous to talk about personal things once you’d shared the Link. How did you keep from blurting out something embarrassing, something that you shouldn’t even know? Everyone said the Vilisians didn’t mind, but Jack didn’t want to test the theory.
The comm alarm buzzed again and Oléus turned immediately to the viewer, ending the discussion. Jack grimaced, relief at the end of an awkward moment mixing with dread at what was to come. He had no doubt another neural Link was in the offing, and the prospect seemed worse than ever in light of the current conversation.
“Chron incursion into Beta Comae Berenices system has been confirmed by three other flights,” Oléus reported, his voice clipped but steady. “Command is rerouting all available cruisers and warships to the area. Relays to all in-range craft are requested.”
Jack had already reached for the Link helmet. It wasn’t a night when he was going to get away from it. He read the hovering words and confirmed the relay. That took a while, because they had to search the region for in-range craft and confirm the message with each one individually.
Jack could sense that Oléus was trying to keep his attention on the task at hand, but random thoughts broke through at intervals anyway. Perhaps they’d been loosened by the conversation. The little girl again, this time at a party. Other Vilisian children, gathered around Oléus as he read to them from a beautifully illustrated scroll. The interior of a large building, quiet and serene as meditating Vilisians sat on ornate pillows and the floor beneath them pulsed with muted light. A brief flash of something that might be Vilisian sex. And a shadowy memory of pain, a wound that Jack could not identify. His arm throbbed in empathy for the space of a few heartbeats. It was the first negative memory that he’d ever picked up from Oléus. Jack had the impression that the Vilisian pulled his mind from that memory as quickly as he could. As deliberately as Jack tried not to think about his…accident.
When the relays were finally finished, Jack tugged off the Link helmet with a sigh of relief. Oléus seemed equally glad to extract his face from the viewer, wiping sweat from the furrows in his brow with a cloth from his medical bag.
“I must apologize,” he said to Jack. “I found it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand tonight. I am sure there was some memory crossover.”
“That’s okay,” Jack said, not meeting the alien’s eyes. “I hardly noticed.”
The attack came without warning at the midpoint of the shift. The Chron hadn’t been timeslipping as often lately, prompting hopeful speculation about dwindling resources. They’d obviously decided to use some on a timeslip tonight, however, crossing from Beta Comae Berenices to the relay station in only seconds. Jack was staring out the scratched viewscreen at the star-dotted darkness when three Chron ships materialized. He had just enough time to hit the alarm with a yell before the first pink-veined plasma bursts erupted from the ships. Lightning-like flashes spiderwebbed across the viewscreen as the station shields absorbed the initial hit.
Jack sprinted for the bridge gunstation, the pain in his arm barely registering. Adrenaline took over―adrenaline and fear and a sickening nausea.
They’ve found us. Is it my fault?
He threw himself into the red gunner’s chair and punched numbers into the targeting computer, forcing the thought away. The soft foam of the seat molded itself to his body, hugging him against the padding and holding him steady. Plasma bursts blossomed silently in the spacedark and Jack let his pilot’s reflexes take over, returning the barrage. The Chron ships were fast, but with any luck, the station’s targeting computers would be faster.
“Jack!” Oléus’ voice came to him over the wail of the alarm. “What can I do?”
“Send a distress code on all frequencies! To anything close enough to get it!” A Chron ship burst apart in a bright swirl of debris. Pale streaks of plasma blazed from all guns on the station now and Jack felt slightly less alone.
“But you’ll need to verify―”
“Forget it! I can’t leave the gun! Just send the message!”
“Just do it!” Jack roared. “I trust you!”
The station shook with the force of a Chron blast and a sharp crash sounded from the access corridor outside the bridge. Jack swore silently. The shields, at least in some areas, must have failed.
Jack’s fingers flew over the targeting computer and the gun whirled on its mount, sending blast after blast at the remaining Chron.
“It’s done!” Oléus shouted. “Help is coming!”
Another hit shook the station, almost hurling Jack from the gunner’s chair despite the clinging foam. He steadied himself with both hands, pain sending fiery fingers up his injured arm from the strain. He felt barely-healed skin separate. Behind him, the bridge reverberated with a series of shattering thuds, and he thought he heard Oléus call his name. The alarm’s banshee wail stuttered, then doubled in intensity. Somewhere, the station hull had been breached.
But there was only one Chron ship left. Jack blinked sweat and dust from his eyes and set the targeting computer again. The plasma bursts from the other gunstations had slowed, and Jack wondered how many of them had been taken out altogether. The last Chron darted into view and Jack’s gun responded. Fiery light blazed on the port side of the enemy ship.
And then it disappeared. Jack swore. It hadn’t exploded, just winked out. It must have had enough power left for one last slip.
Just like before. The thought rose in Jack’s mind and he pushed it down, along with the pain in his arm, extricating himself from the gunner’s chair and striding toward the bridge. The lights flickered, but held. The air recyclers thudded steadily. Maybe it wasn’t so bad…
“Oléus, did you get―” The words froze in his throat as he took in the chaos on the bridge. Half the infrastructure had collapsed, leaving Oléus buried under debris. Jack could just see one amber-colored hand, part of a dusty sleeve. He shoved rubble aside in a frenzy, uncovering his friend bit by bit like some weird archaeological find.
The gravity of Oléus’ injuries was horribly obvious. Coppery stains seeped through the fabric of his robes, and one arm twisted back at an unnatural angle. The characteristic spicy Vilisian odor clotted in the air. Jack struggled to get him into the Comm chair.
Oléus coughed, and his eyes flickered open. “Jack,” he gasped, his voice harsh but intelligible through the speaker. “You must summon one of the other Comms. I cannot―”
Jack glanced toward the access corridor, blocked solid by fallen debris. He shook his head. “Nobody’s getting in here for a while, I’m afraid. You’ve got to hold on. We have to catch any messages coming through or no one will know where the Chron are.”
Oléus shook his head weakly. “My injuries―I know how severe they are. I’m a doctor, remember? Get my…my ‘little black bag.'” He tried to smile, but it dissolved into another bout of coughing.
Jack scrambled through the wreckage, rummaging under the comm until he found Oléus’ kit. He brought it over and pressed where he had seen Oléus touch it earlier. It opened silently.
“Good.” Oléus gestured to the kit. “There’s a round gadget in there. Clear face. Circuitry inside.”
After a moment of searching Jack held up a disc. Oléus nodded. “Same section―some vials of yellowish liquid, and an injector.”
Jack wordlessly found the other items, holding them up for Oléus to confirm.
“Attach the disc behind my left ear.”
Jack did as instructed. The skin behind Oléus’ ear felt cold and leathery. “Is this for pain?”
Oléus began to shake his head, winced, and went still again. “You must put me in the viewer. Give me an injection, one of those vials every hour. Here, at the base of my neck. Put the Link helmet on and keep it on, because I won’t be able to tell you when there’s a message.”
Jack recoiled. Put the helmet on and keep it on? No way. Especially not with Oléus in this state. “Why can’t you tell me when there’s a message? No one else can get to the bridge. We’ll have our hands full here. I’ll have to try and clear some of this mess―”
Oléus grimaced. “Because, for all intents and purposes, I will be dead.”
“That neuronal booster will keep my brain active enough for you to use my eyes. The emergency nanodes in the injection will stabilize my brain chemistry, breathe for me, and keep my visual systems functioning. The Link will function. But that is all.”
Jack stared at the alien while the meaning of the words sank in, then swore. “Isn’t there―there must be something else in your kit. I can’t just let you die!”
“There is no other option. And little time. You must do this before my brain stops functioning.” Oléus coughed raggedly again. “And that will not be long.”
Jack punched up the station comm, trying to steady his voice. “Can anyone get to the bridge? I need a Vilisian doctor and a Comm, right now!”
Faint replies came in from various parts of the station, but all the replies were the same―no one was in a position to help him. The station was stable, but severely disabled.
“Jack? You must do it now.”
Jack turned back to Oléus, fighting the urge to scream. It wasn’t the Link; the Link be damned. He was about to lose the only friend he had on the station. And he had to be inside Oléus’ brain while it died.
He met his friend’s dark eyes, and for once they were not difficult to read. Pain. And determination.
Slowly he helped Oléus get as comfortable as he could. As he was about to lower Oléus’ face into the soft embrace of the message viewer, the Vilisian put a long-fingered hand on his arm.
“Jack. I know. I know what haunts you―that you didn’t make certain the Chron who wounded you was dead before you jumped back.”
Jack stared at him, uncomprehending. Oléus nodded.
“The Link…the leakage does go both ways. But you humans are so fiercely individual. How many of you would Link if you knew the truth? We Vilisians…we keep our secrets. And yours.”
Something rose in Jack and then drained away as quickly as it had come―anger, shame, hurt? He hardly knew, and didn’t care.
“What if this is my fault?” he whispered. “What if they followed my jump?”
Oléus shook his head. “In your heart, you know that isn’t true. He couldn’t have traced your jump. You engaged the scramblers.”
Slowly Jack nodded. “I did. I know that. But still―”
“No. You aren’t responsible. And you’re not a coward. It isn’t cowardly to save one’s own life.”
“It is if it’s at the expense of others.”
“But it wasn’t. You’ve just said that.” Oléus’ voice was faint and breathy now, but he continued to speak. “I can help you. I know you haven’t been able to make yourself accept what happened.”
Jack said nothing.
Oléus nodded and fetched a deep, rasping breath. “Once you’ve established the Link, open your mind to mine. Vilisians have the ability to change our memories. Adjust them to what we want to remember. The old memories are still there, but we keep them…submerged. You humans do it to some extent, but it’s mostly subconscious. You don’t have the same control.”
“I still don’t understand.”
“You saw the young girl in my memories?”
Jack flushed. Oléus had known.
“It’s nothing. I knew you were getting her. That’s my daughter…or rather my daughter as I would like her to have been. She was killed at the beginning of the war. She was only an infant. Those memories are ones I would like to have of her. But they are constructs only.”
“But…they seem so real!”
“They do.” Oléus smiled crookedly. “They have been a great source of comfort to me.”
“But they’re not true. They’re just a story you tell yourself,” Jack said slowly.
Oléus tried to shrug, and winced. “What is real, Jack? Isn’t reality brutal enough that sometimes we deserve something better? Something that lets us hold onto life instead of give ourselves over to death? Once we’re Linked, search my mind for your memory of what happened with the Chron. It’s there. It came through clearly many times. In my brain, you can alter it whatever way you like, and it will go back with you to your mind. You’ll know how. Within an hour it will be more real to you than what actually happened. And you can get on with your life.” He smiled thinly. “Think of it as a gift, my friend.”
Oléus’ body trembled in Jack’s arms. “You must hurry,” the alien urged. “Position me in the viewer. Attach the booster.” His breath came in short gasps, the harsh sound horribly amplified by the speaker around his neck.
Jack moved to follow his friend’s instructions, his limbs heavy, his head thick. Gently placing Oléus’ head in the neoprene mask. Affixing the neuronal booster where the alien had directed. Making the first injection of nanodes to keep the brain working after circulation and natural respiration had stopped. Then he stood with his hand on Oléus’ back as the moments ticked by. The Vilisian robes were as soft and fragile as rose petals under his fingers. He didn’t move until Oléus’ breathing became shallow and precise, controlled by the nanodes.
He picked his way through the debris of the silent bridge and dimmed the lights before sitting in the watch chair. Gingerly he took up the iridescent Link helmet and slipped it on, feeling the neural jumpers slip into place. The world swam, then refocused through Oléus’ eyes. There were no messages, just the now-familiar, completely alien view of the bridge, clouded and indistinct but there. Jack gasped as images from Oléus’ brain flooded across the Link. The nanodes kept it active, but without Oléus to concentrate on stemming the tide, the memories flowed as freely as a river in springtime.
After a time Jack did as Oléus had told him, and let his own consciousness move inside the alien’s brain. It was surprisingly easy to wander there, among memories familiar and strange, real and invented, until he found his own memory of the Chron encounter. He pulled a sharp breath at its vividness. It had lost nothing in crossing the link to his friend’s consciousness. The pain of the pink-veined plasma burn still raged here, the smell of his fear made his stomach clench, the taste of his shame soured his mouth as he watched himself make his jump toward safety.
Still, Oléus had been right. Jack had fought as long as he could. He’d engaged the scramblers before he jumped.
As Oléus had told him, he knew how to manipulate the memory. He dampened the burn of the plasma wound and manufactured his defeat of the Chron, the enemy ship blossoming in silent fiery convulsions under his own plasma bursts, a rain of debris shooting past his ship. Only then did he turn his ship to the jump point and make the jump, only after he was sure it was safe.
It was a great memory.
For a moment he admired it, savoured it, clung to it like a lifeline. The way things could have been. Should have been.
Had not been. After a time he pulled away, left the altered memory in Oléus’ dying brain, grateful for a gift he couldn’t fully accept. His own memory, the real one, would have to suffice. He pulled his mind back to the devastated station bridge, to his dead friend, to his duty. He watched for messages through Oléus’ eyes, relayed them, and waited for help to arrive. It took a long time. Oléus’ life flowed across the Link in spurts and trickles all the while, and Jack received it stoically, no longer afraid of the ghostly impressions that took up residence now in his own mind. Somehow there was room, always would be room for every memory. For his friend.
When help finally arrived, he disengaged the Link helmet and pulled it from his head almost hesitantly. It seemed lighter, smaller in his hands. His face reflected back from the iridescent surface, distorted and oddly-colored, the way things looked to him through the Link. The way Oléus had seen him. Jack looked at it for a long time before setting it gently on the console. He would not be afraid to wear it again.
My novel set in Nearspace, One’s Aspect to the Sun, was awarded Speculative Fiction Book of the Year for 2014 by the Book Publishers Association of Alberta. The sequel, Dark Beneath the Moon, launches in September, 2015. Watch for it! And yes, the first book has Vilisians in it. :)