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. That was the only new message since I arrived. There was no fixing it, however. Human or Vilisian. Anything interesting happen? Again the slight delay made Jack feel like he was watching a vid with its video and audio segments out of sync. Jack chuckled. No enemy sightings. Until that last. Tiny servos whirred inside the watch chair, adjusting for his weight as he leaned back, resting his injured arm gingerly on his chest.
Every night before Jack had waved off the suggestion, but tonight the pain was bad. 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. Vilisians appeared almost to float when they moved, and the soft robes they favored only enhanced the effect. 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. It is accurate to a point, although personally I think this is far superior. They lifted away from the skin like flower petals opening to the sun, and Jack caught a whiff of something like peppermint. Chron prefer not to leave survivors.
Peppermint gave way to the odor of burning rubber.
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He sighed as the injury cooled instantly, the pain receding and disappearing like a tide going out. I should have let you look at it days ago. 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. Human-Vilisian relationships were rarely close, since the aliens tended to stay aloof. Personal things.
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. 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. We will. 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. Relays to all in-range craft are requested. Jack had already reached for the Link helmet. 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. The little girl again, this time at a party. 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.
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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. Jack had the impression that the Vilisian pulled his mind from that memory as quickly as he could.
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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. I am sure there was some memory crossover. The attack came without warning at the midpoint of the shift. 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. The soft foam of the seat molded itself to his body, hugging him against the padding and holding him steady.
To anything close enough to get it! Pale streaks of plasma blazed from all guns on the station now and Jack felt slightly less alone. 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.
He steadied himself with both hands, pain sending fiery fingers up his injured arm from the strain. He felt barely-healed skin separate. 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. Fiery light blazed on the port side of the enemy ship. And then it disappeared. No one else can get to the bridge.
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. And little time. You must do this before my brain stops functioning.
Jack punched up the station comm, trying to steady his voice. I need a Vilisian doctor and a Comm, right now! The station was stable, but severely disabled. He was about to lose the only friend he had on the station. And determination. I know. 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. You engaged the scramblers. 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.
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I knew you were getting her. 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.
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Something that lets us hold onto life instead of give ourselves over to death? 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. Within an hour it will be more real to you than what actually happened. And you can get on with your life.
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