He led me down into my room and sat me on the edge of the floating hammock. "Stay here. I'll be back."
I reached out, but he was already moving toward the door. He looked back at me. "I promise. Just stay-" He broke off and tensed.
"What is it?" I asked.
"Stay here," he said. "You can't do much right now." He slipped out into the hall, closing the door quietly.
I strained my ears to hear what was going on, but everything was silent. I watched him move like a shadow all the time, and I still didn't understand it.
But suddenly I knew that we were not alone.
I called for him silently, as if by thought alone I could warn him. And maybe I could. Maybe we were linked.
But if someone else was here, he had certainly known before I had, and was better prepared for it. Still ... A deep uneasiness settled into the pit of my stomach that I couldn't shake. I didn't know whether I was afraid for him, or me. He certainly was not defenseless, despite the fact that he had looked it when I found him, lying there malnourished and fading. He'd been unable to override the locks that automatically closed every door in the building, and once they were deactivated he was too weak to move. I had been bringing him food for two weeks before he had the strength to tap into his reserves.
I just hoped those reserves would hold out now.
But he was better now! And if half the rumors about what Areihi at their full strength was like were true, I didn't have anything to be afraid of.
Several minutes passed. The stillness was so complete that it seemed like time had stopped, and the silence was an unyielding wall that would not give up its secrets. It was the master of this place from which the sound of life had fled, born of death and life and the time just before dawn. The Silean night had fallen as quickly as usual, and the day gave up its place with a sigh and slipped quickly away.
I stood in the silky, unmoving darkness, torn with indecision, straining to hear the faintest sounds, even the sound of jjhaey. Had it been late enough for them to emerge when he had left me? It was spring, and warm enough for them to leave the generator building, but I couldn't remember now how high the sun was when he vanished. The memories could have taken hours. I had had no sense of time then. And I had none now, standing here with no sound to tell me. It was like sensory deprivation, and if something didn't happen I'd go mad.
I refrained from thinking anything. Something, yes, but not anything. Fate likes to take your thoughts very literally, when it notices them. If it does. I had never been superstitious. Occasionally I took an odd turn of phrase, but until Silea fell silent, I hadn't had many strange tendencies.
The air crackled with tension, so much like the pressure before a storm that I physically had to breathe through it. I was turning toward the door, reaching out for the handle, ready to bolt, and then-
There was a crash from somewhere far below. I flung the door open and raced into the hall, taking the steps two at a time, rushing dangerously down into the black lower floors. I ran, my feet pounding out a staccato beat on the tile floors in counterpoint with the rhythm of my heart, not caring that I made too much noise. Wherever he had gone, I had to find him.
A wall of pain slammed into me, and for a moment I thought I had been hit. I let out a strangled scream, clutched desperately at my side, and fell, immobilized with agony. I lay with my face pressed to the cool tiles, listening to the pained stillness and trying to breathe. It wasn't working, it was only getting worse. My body was a mass of fire, and with every breath I felt it anew. But ... something was off.
And then I realized that I wasn't bleeding. Forcing my hands to move, I pulled back my shirt, exposing the skin of my left side.
And there was no mark, not even a pinprick, not even a scratch, marring my skin.
I forced myself to think. That day in the generator building, my injuries were so bad that I should have collapsed. But I'd had an Areiha giving me instructions telepathically the whole way out. And their pain tolerance was said to be unbelievable.
Then, I had been infected with jjhaey toxins-but I had not gotten sick. And an Areiha's immune system is said to be one of the best in the known universe. Surely that couldn't have been from a few minutes of contact. Surely ...
I was out. I came to, and I asked him what he had done. And he had replied slowly, "That ... was interesting."
The second link, I thought. And something else clicked in my mind.
"I met with Saanhirien three times," he said, "and the third time was the merger."
He had asked me to understand, and I had not. I had failed him.
But today ... Shouldn't that have been the third link? And he didn't seem old. He was as ageless as any Areiha. Only another of their kind could discern one's age.
But wasn't that the whole point? He could be centuries old, and I'd never know. I had thought Saanhirien had been born after the occupation, but perhaps he had lived through it, fought on the front lines, and after T'heyan Independence he could have been part of the peace treaty. Snatches of my endlessly boring history professor's voice came back to me: "We never seem to know their names. Some of them persist through millennia, but an individual doesn't live that long. There was a Saanhirien who was an instrumental figure in Independence. The Saanhirien that recently came here can't be the same person-there are no immortals," to which there had been half-hearted laughter.
Maybe it was because I was human. Maybe the link needed to be reinforced three times. Fear and uncertainty froze me. What would it be like, if that link was completed? Having someone else in my mind, having to share control of my body. But he had said "merger." He hadn't said anything about me being some kind of host. Perhaps there was a difference.
"There is no need to go on the defensive," he had said. "I am not interested in using you for some selfish purpose of my own."
Oddly, I felt betrayed. I had taken that in confidence, not thinking that it was a lie despite my paranoia. He had helped me, in his odd way supported me, and in his even stranger way he had comforted me as I faced the thought of an end beyond the scope of my comprehension.
I rolled over slowly. I could hear them now, moving through the hallways without bothering to be quiet. They thought they had killed him. But surely I'd know when he died. He hadn't given me away. He hadn't told them I was here.
Why shouldn't I go with them? I recognized human voices, ordinary Galactic speech. I knew these were my people. I could go home with them. I could be free. The link would fade with distance and time, because I was human. He had betrayed me, lied to me, manipulated me. He was an evil Areiha.
I could escape him. I could go home ...
But a sorrow that was not my own held me still with indecision. Yet even as I discerned that it wasn't mine, I realized that part of it was. The feeling of betrayal echoing back at me was not only my own reaction, either.
I was confused and hurt, and suddenly furious. How could he? He knew that my people would take me and kill him. And he was going to attach himself to my mind and become some kind of parasite? Gods all knew what sort of world-dominating scheme he had in mind, using me so that no one would suspect?
They were almost here. I forced the pain off, knowing it was not my own, and stood up.
But this time it was a different kind of pain that hit me. Betrayal, loneliness, and a sadness almost akin to grief flooded through my heart and I staggered backwards, leaned against a wall to keep from falling, and wept bitterly.
Even if I was going to leave him behind, I had to know why, how. How could someone be so heartless? How could someone be so unfeeling?
This is an Areiha, I thought. Quit projecting human thoughts and behaviors on to this scheming, evil, undying creature.
I gritted my teeth, braced myself, and let my thoughts open. I reached out, into the pain, into the emotions. I know it was clumsy, but I let him guide my body to him, away from my searching people.
I found him in a spreading stain of bluish blood, in a small chamber off the main hall. He looked at me, expressionless as usual, and said in his simple, soft voice: "Believe what you will." He took a rattling breath. "But ... let me show you something ... before you leave."
Of course he already knew. I considered just turning away and leaving. But I could not be as heartless as he had been to me. I knew, in a purely practical part of me, that I owed him nothing at this point. I didn't need to prove anything to an Areiha.
"Stop ... being ... ridiculous," he said, "and listen."
I bent down beside him.
"The ring you wear ..." he said, "let me see it."
"What?" I looked down at it. It was amethyst, set in a gold band, with a snowflake obsidian crescent on one side and onyx on the other. My grandmother had made it, "warded it," she said, "from what could break you." It was a simple but cryptic statement. It wasn't the prettiest ring, but, "it's functional, and that's what matters," she'd said.
"Why?" I asked.
"No time," he muttered. He gingerly reached for my hand, and I noticed the film was gone. Slowly, I removed my ring and bent down beside him. His hand was hot and slick with moisture, and I could feel his pulse in it, fast and irregular. He took the ring, cupping it between his hands, and his eyes closed.
For a moment there was complete silence, and then his eyes flew open, and he made a horrible rasping, rattling sound, a wet noise that no breath or voice should make. He let his hand fall, and I took the ring from his hot, damp palm.
He took a breath, and it made a sick, rasping sound. His eyes closed in pain, and the mental command came into my mind. Come here.
I bent down beside him, reaching out for him. His hands found mine, and he rasped, "... tried ... to save you ..."
Stunned, I realized that he knew what the link would do to me.
Carefully, I pulled him up into a half-sitting position, propped partly against me and partly against the wall behind us. I felt along the curve of his side until I found the tear in the crystal silk. I dug in my pockets, pulled out my flashlight and shone the light on the wound.
Slowly, I turned the light off and slid it back into my pocket. "I'm sorry," I murmured, "so sorry ..."
The wound was terrible, certainly too deep for me to treat. I had nothing that could help him with me.
A violent shudder racked his slender frame, his head dropped forward, and he was still. The connection gave a dying flicker-it was like a light going out in my mind-and he fell sideways against me, his face falling into my hair.
I pushed him back into a sitting position as gently as I could. He was not dead yet.
"The third link," he murmured. "The first ... just contact. ... When I saved you ... the initiation ... today ... reinforcement ..." He coughed and spat blue blood.
I never realized how fragile his body really seemed. He was physically much stronger than I, when he was at his best. He carried himself with a certain quiet, dignified air, looking out at us from some distant place he had made out of what I'd only just come to realize was shyness. He spent his whole life assaulted by the thoughts of unshielded minds, avoiding people because of the pain they didn't care that they caused him. And they blamed him for all of it.
Lying here half-propped against a wall, he was suddenly so terribly fragile. When he had been weak before, he had been too alien to me for me to see it. He still was. I would never understand him.
He looked down at me and said in a faint, slow voice, "I believed in you because ... so many still desperately believe in change ... because I believe in it."
"I don't understand," I said.
He smiled wanly. "You will."
This time, I believed him.
His body stiffened, a spasm racking his fragile frame. "Look at me!" he said, and there was a terrible urgency in his voice. I turned my face to him, and he lifted his shaking hands and pressed them against either side of my face, holding me, forcing me to look into those ancient, haunted eyes.
"Thank you," I said, "for saving my life ... Saanhirien."
"I ..." he began. But you showed me how.
The pulse I could feel through his hands sped up and his entire body shook like a leaf in a high wind. A tide of thought washed across my mind, and his lifeless body pitched backwards, away from me.
I screamed with the pain of contact. The tide of his mind lifted me and flung me away, taking my soul by storm. I scrambled backward, sobbing incoherently, the pain more than I could possibly bear, and I fell. I never felt the ground.
They found me in the doorway, my hands stretched toward the distant light of dawn, my face pressed against the floor, senseless and mute. After a while I recovered my voice. I spoke, screamed, sang, cried-all in a language that had not been my own. It was too blurred for them to recognize, not to mention they were human. Humans never bothered to learn about another culture besides their own.
They made me sign a sensitive government agreement. Saanhirien was a casualty of war. They had saved my life. It was all very tidy, just as I had known it would be, just as I-that-was had said it would be, when I-that-had-been had had doubts. And I-that-is kept quiet, because no one was to know of the Legacies. My Continuity was finding a new way to live and die.
I went home to T'heya, supposedly to deliver the body of I-that-was, before my Continuity acquired its new incarnation. I considered myself fortunate that humans were so ignorant. Blood ties meant little to nothing to my people. The body would be burned, and there would be no mourning. But they did not know this. There, I would begin to institute my change.
The I-that-had-been was still not fully integrated into the Legacy structure. There was a way to do it quickly, but this one would take time. This one was special. We needed her. We would bring her to us. She would be safe.
Saanhirien-that-is spoke to what remained of me through the haze in my mind. Wake up ... wake up ...
Where am I? ...
Safe. With me.
I sighed quietly, beginning to sink away.
Wake up ... he sang to me.
I surfaced, slowly, and the thoughts embraced me, and I became them, and they were me. It wasn't two minds. It wasn't a we. It was I-that-is, made new.
My last thought to Saanhirien-that-is whispered out of the final parts of the mind that had been me: What ... am I?
I responded: I am immortal.
Life in the galaxy was changing again.
A/N: OK, so this is part of what might become a much larger book. Tell me what you think-things to explain if anything needs explaining. I know the chapters are broken up badly, but if it becomes a book, it will have chapters differently.