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vol v, issue 1 < ToC
Sycamore
by
Laura J. Campbell
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From theCosmic Dance
EditorAeternum
Sycamore
by
Laura J. Campbell
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From the
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Cosmic Dance
Aeternum
Sycamore
by
Laura J. Campbell
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From the Cosmic Dance
EditorAeternum
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Cosmic Dance
Aeternum
Sycamore  by Laura J. Campbell
Sycamore
 by Laura J. Campbell
Go here," Sahlynn Slan ordered, pulling her brother into the door of K'cir's Café.

"Here is not a good place," Dr. Trition Slan objected.

"Here is where we should be now."

Sahlynn looked at him with her large eyes. She had cat-like elliptical pupils, a distinguishing feature of those who had the genetic manifestation known colloquially as Eloquence. Her ears, hidden beneath her brown wavy hair, had points to them, like an elf. Her cheekbones were high, her forehead broad. The Eloquent were extremely introverted individuals, a trait associated with limited social development. But they also possessed the ability to sense the underlying fabric of the universe. That made them terrifying to some people.

"A bar at a space port," he grumbled. Not the place for his naïve little sister.

The bartender, an android (as most space station bartenders were) looked up at them as they entered.

Sitting near the back of the bar, a woman with long white hair and violet eyes also noted their entrance. As did the android bouncer and a number of unsavory looking men sitting at a table near the woman.

Trition distrusted their instant notoriety. "Here looks bad. Very bad."

Sahlynn sat down. "Snacks and a soda," she commanded. She looked at the woman across the bar. The woman looked away.

"Okay," Trition acquiesced. "But we need to get to our ship very soon. We need to get to my new job."

He approached the bar. "Cheese-chips and an orange soda for my sister, please."

"And you?" the bartender, bearing a badge that identified him as ‘Horse,' asked.

"Wine. Pinot Noir."

"A glass?"

"The bottle." Trition placed a credit coin on the bar.

"You strike me more as an aged scotch man," the bartender said, getting their order together. "I have a bottle of rare Thian Whiskey open."

"I don't like drinking from opened bottles in space port bars," Trition said.

"I find that somewhat offensive. I run a clean shop. No watering down or slipping a mickey in the beverages. We aren't that kind of establishment."

"No offense to you. I have to make sure that I can take care of my sister."

Horse looked at Sahlynn. He consulted his internal databank of knowledge. "She has Eloquence. They stay youthful and are extremely introverted. They are called the ‘blessed,' because they reportedly have the ability to see things we can't. Not many of the blessed born due to their perceived ‘imperfections.'"

"Sahlynn is perfect," Trition replied. "I'm glad my parents chose to have her, even with Eloquence. She doesn't need any medications. She is self-sufficient. She is love."

"All babies with Eloquence are mandatorily aborted on Earth. Earth wants everyone to be—how do they put it?—Functional. You have to be on colony to bear a blessed one. Which colony are you from? You do not look Martian. My guess would be Triton or Enceladus."

"Enceladus."

"A Herschel Project colony. A live free or die philosophy."

"We Enceladans live free," Trition noted. "We're not into death."

"Hence your sister lives," Horse noted.

Trition looked at Sahlynn, who was immersed in her own world.

Horse took her a bowl of crispy treats and the bubbling soda, just to get a close look at her. To acquire data to put in his files. He might never see another like her ever again.

"You don't seem to be planning to stay on Selenium Station long," Horse observed.

"I'm a veterinary biologist, on my way to the Zoological Conservatory at Eiko."

"You're a zookeeper?"

"Yes." He looked at the bartender's nametag. "How did you get your name?"

"My primary programmer was a classical music buff who liked an old song entitled ‘A Horse with No Name.' When my manufacture was completed, I was an android with no name. So, he named me ‘Horse.'"

The men sitting at the far table began to move. They encircled the woman with long white hair and violet eyes. She was trying to ignore them. They became violently adamant that she leave the bar with them.

Horse noted the brewing confrontation; he looked to the bar's bouncer. The bouncer was already assessing the situation.

The men circling the young woman became much more aggressive towards her. One abruptly pushed her shoulder with significant force; another tryed to restrain her. Trition discreetly pulled a small globe out of his jacket pocket. The globe glowed a deep oceanic blue.

Before Horse could gesture to the bouncer, one of the young men pulled out a pistol. The weapon was old fashioned, the type armed with bullets. "You're just as good to us dead or alive," the man said, aiming the gun at the woman's head.

The young man began to squeeze the trigger.

A wave of blue light erupted from the deep-blue globe in Trition's hands, instantly flooding the bar in powerful illumination.

The bullet fired from the gun clattered to the floor, stopped in midflight.

The man with the pistol reacted with violent frustration.

Trition was now his immediate target.

The man aimed the gun at Trition.

The woman with the white hair jumped up, tossing a grenade-shaped object onto the floor. Thick black smoke instantly filled the bar. Trition couldn't see anything.

He felt a hand slide into each of his hands.

He could see that Sahlynn was at his left side, the woman at his right. They started to run, pulling him along with them.

The woman with the white hair led, guiding them quickly into a side alley.

"What is that thing you used to stop the bullet?" the white-haired woman asked.

"An anti-poaching device," he explained. "Designed to stop any projectile-style weapon. It's integrated into my nervous system. It works faster than any human or android can respond. I have a surprising amount of combat training in my profession. Who are those guys?"

"Bounty hunters," she answered. "My name is Alira Huntoon. I'm a pirate."

"A pirate?" He had heard only terrible things about pirates.

"There are video recorders in that bar. You were recorded, aiding and abetting a criminal." Her tone was contemplative.

"Then you must help us now," Sahlynn commanded Alira. She honed her cat-like gaze on the pirate.

"Sahlynn!" Trition exclaimed. Demanding anything of a pirate could be very dangerous. "Please excuse my sister. She meant nothing by it."

Alira looked at Sahlynn inquisitively. "It's a collective world, isn't it? The one she lives in? All those with Eloquence—they share the same weird unseen space?"

"You are familiar with Eloquence?"

"I have heard about it," Alira replied. "Your sister is correct. I do owe you. You saved my life. The ship I serve on—the Sycamore—can get you off station. Away from any repercussions you may face here. It is the least I can offer as repayment."

"I already have passage booked on another ship."

"Not anymore you don't. You helped a pirate. That's a crime. Whatever you had planned is now unplanned."

"I'm just a zookeeper, on my way to Eiko. I didn't want any trouble."

Alira looked at Sahlynn. "What do you see, blessed one? Am I friend or foe?"

"Friend," Sahlynn beamed, hugging Alira.

"I've never seen her do that before," Trition said, amazed. "She usually avoids all physical contact with anybody."

"We need to get to the Sycamore. Now," Alira urged. "The penalty for piracy is death; the penalty for aiding a pirate is twenty-to-life. You have one moment, Dr. Slan, to choose between berths on a pirate ship or spending your life locked in an eight-by-six foot cell on an ice planet. Who will help your sister then?"

*     *     *
The pirate ship was clean, bright, and very modern. Not what Trition was expecting when he thought of a space pirate vessel. Before boarding the vessel, he had been thinking that the ship would be made of dirt and decaying technology, filled with the smells of liquor, overextended mechanical oils, and human sweat.

This vessel was equipped with the latest technology. It was comfortable and welcoming. It smelled like mint-scented disinfectant and lavender.

"You mentioned trouble was following you?" a man asked, greeting them as they boarded and secured the hatch. He was five-foot-nine-inches tall, just a little on the heavy side; his hair was styled in a high-and-tight haircut and he had a neatly trimmed beard and moustache. Salt and pepper liberally sprinkled his formerly black hair. His silver eyes looked like they were carefully poured mercury.

The man looked at Trition and Sahlynn. "And what have we here? I'll assume not the trouble, since you brought them aboard."

"Dr. Trition Slan and his sister Sahlynn. They saved my life. Jehannah and his men—they're here and they tried to kill me."

"Gehit," the man spat.

Trition didn't know the term.

"Gehit is a Thian word," Alira explained. "It means those-men-are-lower-than-clam-shit, only it takes less syllables to say. The Captain is part-Thian. Hence his silver eyes."

"Captain Francis L'Arrolin," he introduced himself.

"Dr. Trition Slan," Trition introduced himself.

"You save a pirate's life. All pirates are now indebted to you, Doctor. You and your house are forever welcome aboard all of our ships, with nary a penny to ever be paid." He looked at Sahlynn. "She is Eloquent?"

"Yes, sir," Trition replied.

"No calling me ‘sir,' Dr. Slan," L'Arrolin replied sternly, but with a comforting smile that dispelled any concerns about his temper. "I work for my living."

"Then likewise no calling me ‘doctor,'" Trition insisted.

"Done. I did not catch your specialty, Trition?"

"He is a zoologist," Alira answered. "A veterinary doctor."

"Well, fate favors the pirate," the Captain replied.

"We should leave now, Sir," Alira urged.

"I have no desire to be a gehit's payday," the Captain replied, turning towards the bridge.

Alira led the Slans into a bright white-metal walled hallway with blue carpeted floors and soft golden lighting. The ship's Jolly Roger—a white sycamore tree under which a skeleton rested and sipped from a goblet, all against a black background—was incorporated into the décor of the corridor wall.

"'Sycamore' hardly seems a fear-inspiring name for a pirate vessel," Trition noted.

"Ra!" Sahlynn blurted out, her tone effervescent.

"What?" Trition asked.

"The ancient Egyptians said that two sycamores were planted at the East Gate of Heaven," Alira replied, knowing that Sahlynn was practicing her second sight. "They said that Ra, the Egyptian sun god, appeared between the sycamores every morning. Did you know that ancient Egyptian coffins were carved from sycamore wood, and protective sycamores were planted by the tombs of the dead? We pirates are all adjudicated dead by the Earth courts; so our ship is figuratively our coffin. Hence our ship's name."

"The name seems darker now," Trition said.

"Whimsy," Sahlynn whispered. "Pro...." her voice trailed off, as she could not find the word she needed.

"Protection," Alira finished for her.

Sahlynn nodded enthusiastically. "Protection!" she sang the word.

"I've never heard her this vocal," Trition noted.

"She sees many things we do not," Alira reminded him. "Had you ever heard of the sun-god Ra before today, Trition?"

"No."

"Yet your sister recognized the connection instantly. Never discount her gifts. God and angels are visible to her. The inward sight of the Eloquent is without our limitations. Blessed be, sister."

Sahlynn smiled a knowing smile. "Blessed be."

*     *     *
Alira met Trition outside of his quarters.

"The ship is underway in neutral space," Alira reported.

"I didn't even notice it take off. Is Sahlynn okay?"

Sahlynn had been given her own opulent stateroom, as if she were a visiting dignitary aboard the ship.

"Your sister is fine. Do not worry. Our ship runs silent and deep. Follow me, please. The Captain has something to show you."

As they walked Trition saw Sahlynn sitting at a large wooden table in a briefing room. The room was edged in soft blue lighting. Her workspace was illuminated by a golden overhead light. Sahlynn was coloring, using crayons to cover pages of blank paper.

"The ship's robot is sitting with her. It will protect her and get her anything she needs," Alira told him.

A small box-like robot stood sentinel next to Sahlynn.

"How many of you are aboard?" Trition asked, as they passed the room and continued walking.

"A crew of ten. Six are in deep-sleep. Currently on duty are the Captain, me, our navigator Veserelli, and our weapons and security officer Iniriq. All of us except Iniriq are at least part Earthling. All of us—except Iniriq—were Earth Navy."

"How did members of Earth Navy end up pirates?"

"We each have our own story. The Captain, for example, got tired of being overlooked for every promotion he was due for. Overlooked because he was part-Thian. So he made himself a Captain."

"You have all been sentenced?"

"Earth has declared death penalties over all ten of us, for the crime of piracy," Alira replied. "If we are ever captured, Earth Navy will recognize our prior service by allowing us to choose the method of our execution. They're the good guys, after all."

The Captain was waiting for them outside of a metal door. He put his palm against a biometric reader and the door slid into its pocket in the wall.

The smell of animals wafted from within the room.

"Of all the people to send to save us, God sent a zookeeper," the Captain said, gesturing into the room.

As he entered the room, Trition detected motion from a large glass cage filled with verdant foliage and a small recirculating artificial stream.

Numerous small mammals—with bodies like cats and faces like mice—ran around inside the enclosure. Their fur was dark with blotchy white patches; they were about 60 centimeters in length, including their bushy 20-odd centimeter tails.

"Eastern Quoll," Trition said, recognizing the animals. "Their population has ebbed and flowed on Earth for millennia. How can you have these on board?"

"We are fulfilling an order from a former Uoy warlord, living on a planet called Haven, located just inside Uoy space. He is assembling a private zoo."

"The Uoy are our enemy. Simply entering Uoy space is a crime. As is transporting Earth animals without a permit—which I will assume you don't have."

"We are pirates, Dr. Slan. Being a pirate is not all sitting around singing space shanties and drinking rum. Breaking Earth laws—that's a pirate's job."

Trition watched the little mammals play in their large cage. "They seem healthy."

"We were given provisions for their maintenance and instructions regarding their care. But we aren't animal specialists. But you—you are a veterinarian."

"Did you set me up to force me to come aboard?" Trition asked. He felt suddenly targeted for his expertise.

"A legitimate question," the Captain replied. "So I will give you a legitimate answer: No. It was divine favor. Alira has already lit a candle and asked Saint Sir Francis Drake to take our thanks to God, both for her rescue from the hands of the bounty hunters and for God's provision of a zoologist for this journey."

A number of the Quoll ran up to the glass, looking expectantly at Trition.

"Awww. They like you," the Captain noted. "Welcome aboard the Sycamore, Dr. Slan. For this trip, you are an honorary member of the crew. Who knows, you may decide you like being a pirate. I can promise that when we finish our missions, we do indeed indulge in singing space shanties and drinking rum."

He left Trition with the excited furry marsupials. They looked towards a corner of the room, where numerous boxes and barrels were neatly stacked and labeled.

"Guess I may as well feed you while I'm here," Trition sighed.

*     *     *
Alira stopped by the room where Sahlynn sat.

Sahlynn looked up for a moment, then returned to her art.

Alira sat next to her. "What are you drawing?"

"Present," Sahlynn replied.

"A present for someone? For your brother?"

"No, silly," Sahlynn giggled. "Present. Present time."

Alira knew how uncharacteristic it was for an Eloquent to be concerned with the present. They existed in past and future, knowing things that others could not know about both.

Alira looked at Sahlynn's drawing. It was a simple landscape, with a red heart made of stars. Clouds littered the sky. A number of the clouds drifted down to the ground, where they formed a tall arched gate. A star was leaving from the gate, traveling upwards.

"Is that a star?' Alira asked, pointing to the object.

"No. Stellate. Star like."

"Why is it going up into the sky?"

Sahlynn looked directly at Alira. "To find us."

Alira's blood froze. She quickly exited the room, communicating with the Captain en route. "Our problem may still be following us," she told him.

"How so?"

"The Eloquent one—she drew a picture of the heart nebula—the Malotte 15 cluster in Cassiopeia. And of the Flaminian Gate on Terni V."

"Terni is the bounty hunters' home base. Giving access to Hangman's Fold."

"The Hangman's space-folding portals are capable of transporting ships thousands of light years in minutes. It sprawls out in all directions, giving the bounty hunters access to almost any point in space within 7500 light years of Terni V. That includes our present location."

"What else?"

"She drew a star leaving the gate. She said it is coming to find us," Alira replied. "I doubt that Sahlynn Slan has ever seen a bounty hunter Stellaram vessel. But she knew exactly how to draw one."

"Jehannah and his gang are coming after us to finish the job they started on the Selenium Station."

"We are in neutral space. They can't attack us here."

"Neutral space means nothing to Jehannah. He will bring our dead bodies back and say he killed us within Earth Navy jurisdictional boundaries. Our silent mouths will be incapable of refuting his claims," the Captain reminded her.

"Do we go to battle stations?"

"No. That might upset the Eloquent one. Give her whatever supplies she needs. See what else she draws. For now, she is our early warning system. Where is Dr. Slan?"

"He is the proud new papa of a dozen Eastern Quoll. He has his hands full," Alira added. "We are three hours out from Haven. We will be at the Euphrates space fold in about thirty minutes. Once we have entered the Euphrates, we'll be safe."

"Jehannah can use the Hangman's Fold to get to our position in twenty minutes," the Captain calculated. "Time is on their side."

*     *     *
"What are you drawing?" Trition asked, sitting next to Sahlynn. He had finished feeding the quolls and was checking on his sister.

She did not reply.

"I'm sorry I dragged you into this," he told her.

"Destiny dragged us into this," she replied. "God orders steps. We walk. Sometimes, we have no idea where we are going, or why we are walking. There are strange paths. Sometimes we have to be strange walkers."

"Do you like it here? On board this ship?"

"This vessel carries destiny."

"This is a pirate ship, Sahlynn," he said. He leaned in close, conscious of the robot in the room. "These people are criminals. They do bad things sometimes. Do you understand?"

"We all do bad things sometimes."

She began drawing verdant foliage, rejoicing in the variety of shades of green supplied by the crayon box.

"Have I done bad things?"

She began to draw little blotches of black and dark brown at the base of the foliage. "Sometimes good and bad. To know which, you have to know what you are doing and why you are doing it."

"I wanted to save Alira from those men, back at the Station. I only saw men who wanted to hurt her. Was that the right thing to do?"

"It was. Do not tire of doing right things, Trition. Mama told us that."

"For in due season we will reap goodness," he remembered. "I think it was difficult for her, raising us on Enceladus. Especially after Dad died."

"Difficult because of me," Sahlynn said sadly.

"The only ‘because' of you is good things. Momma loved you. Daddy loved you. I love you. Never doubt that." He hugged her. "You are blessed. We are blessed to be around you."

Sahlynn was adding white blotches to the little animals she was drawing. They had mouse-like faces and furry tails.

"Those are Eastern Quoll," he recognized, not surprised she knew to draw that specific animal here and now. "Do you want to see some real ones?"

"I was wondering when you would let me."

"Come with me."

He led her down to the animal room, where the quolls scampered about in their enclosure. They clamored to the glass to greet the zoologist and his sister.

"Cuties!" she exclaimed.

Trition went to a small doorway and coaxed one of the marsupials towards him. He gently scooped it up and closed the door. He sat next to Sahlynn on a small bench in the room.

"You can pet it if you like," he told her. He was not overly concerned with the marsupial's predatory nature; it was well documented that no animal of any species had ever attacked an Eloquent. The Eloquent had a calming effect on even the most vicious, frightened, or hungered of creatures. The only creature an Eloquent needed to fear was a non-Eloquent human.

Sahlynn gently ran her fingers along the back of the animal.

"We'll be okay. All of us. Even these." Sahlynn nodded to the Quoll.

The Quoll and Sahlynn looked at each other. The Quoll stood up on its hind legs and sniffed her.

Sahlynn said nothing, retreating again into her quiet private world.

Trition gently picked up the Quoll and placed it back into the enclosure.

He sat next to his sister. She was silent and motionless. Then she turned to him abruptly, sudden fire in her eyes. "You are needed on the bridge."

"Why?" he asked.

"Do not question. Go."

He nodded, urged on by the stern seriousness in her cat-like eyes.

*     *     *
"Three Stellaram," the Captain said, gesturing to a projected screen that indicated the location of Jehannah and his cohorts.

Alira sat at her station on the Sycamore's bridge.

There were two other crew-members manning the bridge, their helmsman and navigator Veserelli Zea'nati and their weapons expert Iniriq "Iri" Xeegrey. Veserelli was concentrating on evading the attackers; his amber eyes were intent upon the three-dimensional images of three star-shaped ships following them.

Iniriq was without gender; when necessary, Iniriq preferred the pronoun ‘she,' although it was merely a formality. Iniriq was from a planet called Gauge; their appearance was similar to human, with short black hair, gray eyes, and androgynous features.

Iniriq was focusing an external artillery piece on the closest of the incoming vessels, named the Guinevere; Iri was a very good shot. Jehannah and his gang knew that.

"You're on Gun Three, Alira," Captain L'Arrolin ordered. "Aim on the second Stellaram, the Lancelot. The third ship, the Merlin, is my target. Veserelli—evasive maneuvers."

"Aye, captain," Veserelli said, manipulating the ship into an unpredictable course.

"Guinevere is in my sights," Iniriq confirmed.

"The Guinevere is an armed drone," Veserelli reported, looking at data streaming across the displays in front of him. "Designed to draw our initial fire—it is quite capable of taking us out, but in forcing the Guinevere to be our first target, the Lancelot will have time to position itself to attack our portside, while the Merlin pivots to attack us from the rear. They are betting that we can't take out all three of them in the slim window we have to strike. The odds are in their favor."

"The Merlin is Jehannah's ship," Alira noted. "I have unfinished business with him."

"Which is why the Merlin is my business," the Captain ordered. "Lancelot is yours."

"Guinevere entering weapons range," Veserelli announced. "I'm giving you preferential firing field, Iri. Three, two, one ..."

The stellate-shaped Guinevere sent out a barrage of fast-moving hull-breeching rounds aimed at the Sycamore.

Iniriq focused their weapon and fired, sending out counter-rounds to stop the hull-breeching shots before the mines extracted their lethal damage on the Sycamore.

Iri then directed an explosive round towards the Guinevere. Multiple protective devices accompanied the explosive, intended to prevent the Guinevere's counter-weaponry from destroying the detonating bomb before it reached its target.

Alira watched nervously, as the Lancelot and the Merlin swept by, positioning themselves for a dual-headed attack. A countdown started on her displays: Twenty seconds until the Lancelot would have direct firing sight at the Sycamore, and thirty seconds for the Merlin. Her own weapons would be locked in on the Lancelot as she sighted properly in on the enemy vessel. Time for her fire in 18.5 seconds. It was a very narrow window.

Fifteen seconds passed. There was a wave of energy that moved unfettered in all directions through space as the Guinevere was destroyed. "The drone is done," Iniriq announced. "Alira, Captain—you're on."

Alira aimed, anticipating the movement of the Lancelot into her sights.

Abruptly, the Lancelot stopped moving.

"It stopped," Alira announced. "Just outside of range."

"Our range or its range?" L'Arrolin asked.

"Both," she reported.

"The Merlin is right behind us!" Veserelli exclaimed. The enemy vessel had used the precious few seconds earned by the Lancelot's sudden and distracting stop to accelerate its attack.

"The Merlin has a lock on us!" Alira exclaimed.

L'Arrolin fired, knowing the shot was a desperate attempt and could not impact the Merlin in time. The round exploded far short of inflicting any damage on the enemy.

"They have us dead in their sights," Veserelli declared grimly. "Fellows, it's been nice to know ya ..."

Then there was another wave of energy: An unexpected wave. The Sycamore jostled.

The Merlin exploded, then imploded, without any immediate explanation. A weapon fired from the Sycamore had breathed death into the star-shaped vessel.

"What the?" L'Arrolin asked, not understanding how the Merlin had just been destroyed.

"Take the Lancelot out now!" Trition exclaimed, as he stood over an open weapons console.

Alira fired her weapon on his word.

The round she fired destroyed the Lancelot.

The crew sat in silence for a moment, acutely aware that they had narrowly escaped death.

L'Arrolin looked at Trition. "I didn't even notice you come on the bridge. But thank God you did. Where did a zoologist learn to fire like that?"

"Anti-poaching training," Trition replied.

"That was impressive marksmanship," Veserelli noted. "You're not a Naval agent, sent here to bring us in, are you, Mister Slan?"

"First, it's Doctor Slan," Trition replied. "Second, no, I'm not a Naval agent. And third—you learn to defend yourself and your kin when you live on a colony. Especially when your kin is Eloquent."

"Even if he were a Naval agent," L'Arrolin noted, "he just destroyed a bounty-hunter's ship to save a pirate ship and crew. That makes him a hostile agent now. Hostis humani generis. Latin for ‘enemy of mankind,' so you understand the term, Dr. Slan. You're officially crew now."

"Your sister Sahlynn was the one who tipped us off to the bounty hunters' pursuit," Alira added. "That makes her crew, too."

"Crew," a soft female voice said from the entry to the bridge.

"Sahlynn!" Trition said, rushing towards her. "How long have you been here?"

"Long enough," she answered, as her brother hugged her.

"The Slans are Sycamore," Iniriq noted, facing Captain L'Arrolin. "Their lack of intent to become pirates is irrelevant at this point. As you mentioned, Jehannah tried to kill us twice in one day; Dr. Slan stopped him twice in one day. Indeed, thanks to Dr. Slan, Jehannah will stalk us no more. Dr. Slan is now my favorite pirate. Protect them, Captain."

"I intend to protect them," L'Arrolin promised. "Hopefully at least as well as they have protected us."

Sahlynn walked with a steady, almost regal, gait towards Alira. She stood before Alira and placed her hand on Alira's heart. "We are safe, sister," she said.

"I know," Alira replied. "Thanks to you."

"I wasn't speaking to you," Sahlynn answered.

Alira's brow crumpled into an expression of shock and grief.

"Tell them," Sahlynn commanded Alira. "Tell them why you quit Earth Navy. None of them know. Time to tell." Sahlynn stood resolute, an imperceptible font of energy feeding power into her being.

Alira was compelled to comply. "I am umpteenth generation Navy," she began. "My family's Naval heritage goes back through Earth Navy, Alliance Navy, American Navy, Confederate Navy, American Navy, British Navy, Roman Navy, Greek Navy, Phoenician Navy. The Sea Peoples, if you believe the family lore. I think my bloodline crawled out of the deep blue sea and instantly regretted the decision. My mother was Earth Navy. She became pregnant while she was a junior officer; her husband, my father, was a Thian intergalactic admiralty law specialist."

"Go on," Sahlynn ordered.

"My mother was pregnant with twins. When I grew up they told me that my twin had died in utero."

"I'm sorry," Trition offered.

The rest of the crew sat in reverent silence.

"When I was commissioned and assigned to my first ship, they gave me an extra-intensive physical examination," Alira continued. "More detailed than the examination of any of my shipmates. It was like they were looking for something. I was curious, so I snuck into the medical officer's quarters and stole a copy of my classified medical record. What I found out from my records was that my twin did not die—she was selectively aborted. On orders from Earth Navy. My twin—she was Eloquent."

"Tell them truth. Whole truth," Sahlynn said.

"I still feel my twin," Alira confessed. "In my mind. In my heart. In my soul. In my core. There is something of her, hidden deep inside of me. I know it. That is what the Navy was looking for. My twin's presence, protected inside my non-Eloquent body. Who knows what they would have done if they had found that part of her, hidden inside of me. What experiments they may have performed on me. Becoming a pirate was a matter of self-preservation. I wanted nothing more to do with Earth or Earth law. Earth law had already killed a part of me. So, I found a pirate ship of decent reputation—this ship—and signed up." She paused, taking a moment to reflect. "The Eloquent know things. They have access to power that can change the very fabric of the universe as we know it at a moment's notice. They scare the hell out of me—and I carry the remnants of one of them inside my own being."

"I heard your sister's call to me," Sahlynn said, placing her fingertips on Alira's temples. "She warned me about Eiko."

"What about Eiko?" Trition asked.

"The Uoy will burn Eiko to the ground," Sahlynn said. "In just a few days. An unprovoked attack on a civilian world. The spark that will ignite a long and terrible conflict. We would have arrived just in time to find our graves, brother."

"We need to warn them," Iri stated.

"They will not listen to the premonitions of pirates and Eloquent," Sahlynn said, her tone laced with finality. "But the planet you serve, Haven, is a warlord's reconciliation to the universe. He was compelled to create a sanctuary as penance for his past. This ship is needed. To smuggle those about to die to life. You had it wrong, Alira. This Sycamore is not the guardian of the tomb. This Sycamore is the guardian of the cradle."

"You say this?" the Captain asked.

"Me and Alira's sister say this," Sahlynn informed him. "You are a pirate, Captain. Do pirate things. Much hope has been placed in your disdain for Earth's laws."

She turned around, speaking to her brother. "You are a zoologist. Do zoologist things. Much hope has been placed in your love of all living creatures."

Then Sahlynn walked away, to go and sit in quiet solitude in her stateroom.

Trition stood next Alira, still visibly distressed from her commanded confession. It was in his nature to comfort the living. "I've never seen her interact with another Eloquent," he said.

"Another?" Alira shook her head gently. "For them, there are no others."

Alira felt a part of her go to sleep inside, a deep restful sleep where the dreams of many wove one vision.

And she knew why Earth feared its newest children: No matter how mighty, the tomb could never overpower the promises of even the most vulnerable cradle.

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