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||Location: Sol System
||Time: Unknown

Poetic. That was one way of putting it. Kir felt like there was some justice to be found in the symbols of slavery paving the way of their ambitious path to bring down the empire and free her people. There was still a flicker of doubt that she was trying to ignore. They were two people, and they needed to inspire an entire galaxy to fight back. Maybe more than that considering the rate at which the empire had expanded its reach before. By now, it could be two galaxies. A lot could happen in half a century… She badly needed to reorient herself and catch up as soon as they hit Kuiper Station. Harrison was relying on her out here; he didn’t know the first thing about navigating the diverse social and cultural norms in the larger galaxy.

Kir finally cleared her throat and said with a renewed smile, “Considering the shape the ship is in, I think I should probably keep an eye on things up front. I don’t think I trust the computer to navigate entirely on autopilot right now, and it won’t be much longer before we hit the outer edge of the Kuiper Belt. There’s not a lot of ship to explore, but I certainly won’t discourage you from letting your curiosity get the better of you. I know how exciting this is for you. Just be gentle with her - she’s falling apart.”

Of course she knew. They’d shared everything, and his child-like wonder was truly uplifting to see and feel. She wasn’t going to squash that.

“You can come join me in the cockpit when you’ve exhausted every corner, if you want,” she added an invitation offhandedly. Kir didn’t feel like it was necessary - he was always welcome in her space considering she’d broken down the most intimate walls of privacy between them now - but she offered the invitation anyway just so he truly understood that.
|| Location: Sol System
|| Time: Unknown

The clang of metal hitting the floor was jarring enough to shock Kir’ion back to reality just in time to hear Harrison. Her eyes snapped up, finding and holding him in her gaze. She took a deep, shaking breath as she tried to digest the gentle way he reminded her that he was there, that she wasn’t alone, a captive…that she didn’t even have to touch the bands.

“Thank you,” she whispered, scrubbing her hands over her face and trying to shake the anxious feeling of pins and needles across her skin.

“I didn’t think…” Kir’s voice trailed off, and she wrapped her arms around herself in a comfort-seeking gesture.

What didn’t she think? That seeing them would send her reeling back? That she would freeze up over something so simple? They were pieces of metal, jewelry really. And yet they weighed more than anything in the universe simply because of their symbolism. She was wringing her hands looking for something more substantial to add.

“Thank you, Harrison,” she repeated, unable to come up with anything else.

Kir sat there feeling utterly stupid and frankly a bit embarrassed for a long moment before slipping off the edge of the bed and floating slowly back down to the ground. She glanced at the glimmer of metal just peeking out from where they’d landed under the blanket when Harrison tossed them to the ground.

Swallowing hard, she managed to find her words and courage again, “I don’t think I can handle those again. It might be better if you did it.”
||Location: Sol System
||Time: Unknown

“Okay, Han Solo,” Kir teased with a smile. “I’m starting to wonder if I’m just dreaming up a bad Star Wars knock-off, and I’ll wake up buried under that mountain like every other day for the last half-century.”

She pushed herself up from the sofa and stretched toward the ceiling with a wide yawn to break the tension she’d been carrying in her body.

“About another hour, give or take,” she responded to his query about how much longer it would take them to reach their destination. “This old rust bucket may only be a planet hopper, but she’s still got what I think you call FTL capabilities. At least it gives us plenty of time to come up with a shopping list. Fuel cells are at the top of that. And an update chip for the ship’s computer - no doubt everything is completely out of date, including the star maps.”

Kir’ion paused looking down at herself with a frown, picking at the thin scrubs she was wearing, “And I need a change of clothes. So do you or we’ll stick out like a sore thumb.”

She made a look of realization, groaned, and rubbed her face with her hands, “And a lot of food. You eat…what? Three times a day? Four? This shopping list is getting more expensive by the second… We’re going to have to scrap every unnecessary system for parts to resell. I wonder if my old-“

Kir’s voice cut off before she could finish, lifting her face out of her hands and without another word, starting off on a beeline straight for the bunks. Her old slave bands would fetch a pretty penny if they were still safely tucked away. The upside to her last owner being a noble was their inclination toward the expensive. Climbing up the ladder to the top bunk, she felt around for the loose panel above the top bunk, pushing in until it gave way. She had to reach almost her whole arm in, feeling around in the dark until she found the blanket she’d bundled them up in.

Pulling them out, Kir unwrapped them and time felt like it stopped around her. Glittering in platinum silver tones, dappled with intricate engravings and jewels were the symbols of her captivity. The weight of them in her lap made her blood run cold in her veins and she swallowed hard, struggling to tear her eyes away from them. They were of no use to her now; she was free. And yet she couldn’t shake the heaviness that she wasn’t really, not as long as the empire existed. Not as long as Harrison lived under threat of being made a slave to his armor, and her along with him. What was she doing sharing her mind with someone bearing the crest of the very system that had brought her entire people to their knees and scattered them across the stars to serve at the pleasure of masters who barely saw them as more than tools? How could she possibly think the two of them were remotely equipped to stand against the empire? Her hands shook with the weight of memory, her breaths fast and shallow with panic as her mind reeled.

What am I doing? What am I doing? What am I doing?

Put them away. Stop looking at them, she tried to will herself.
||Location: Sol System
||Time: Unknown

His idealism was exciting, refreshing even. Kir’ion couldn’t help smiling because she believed him. How could she not? They knew everything about each other; there were no secrets left. She could feel the determination rolling off of him in waves. If he could stir her to action when all she really wanted to do was run to the farthest corner of the galaxy and hide, then there was indeed hope.

And Harrison was right, too. If anyone could stoke the flames of rebellion, it would be a free enforcer and a X’hondrian. Who could deny the optics of a would-be oppressor and an escaped slave standing together against the empire that would see them both stripped of identity and agency, saying, ‘No more’?

”I don’t think I’ve allowed myself to believe in anyone in a long time,” Kir admitted, “But I believe in you. You walked in that door this morning and you gave me hope I haven’t known in over a century. What was it your Star Wars said? ‘Rebellions are built on hope’, I think?”

Admittedly, Kir’ion didn’t know the first thing about sparking a rebellion or fighting back. X’hondrian’s hadn’t been to war in so many centuries that when the empire attacked that there wasn’t even anyone alive at the time who could remember war. It was akin to attacking a planet populated by Buddhist monks. X’hondrians honored the pursuits of knowledge and creation of art. They remained neutral in conflicts and the best minds were often called upon to journey off world to share their wisdom and knowledge with the likes of government officials, nobles, and military ethicists. To harm an X’hondrian was among the greatest social crimes one could commit, so to invade their planet and force them into servitude was obscene. Kir had only rarely allowed herself to consider the outrage that must have come from it. There must have been protests from all the major governing powers across the galaxy. To lose such a repository of knowledge and history as the one X’hondrian’s had accumulated, to remove the wealth of insight they would gladly provide to all who asked was an affront not just to the X’hondrians, but to the galaxy as a whole.

She shook the thoughts from her head, realizing she was about to sink too deep.

“Well, first things first we need fuel cells. We’re barely going to make it to the Kuiper Belt Outpost as it is,” Kir sighed, running her fingers through her hair. “If I’m lucky, there’s still some valuables stashed around the ship that I can sell to get us the money for replacements. After that, I don’t know. Maybe we can pick up some light cargo to drop off as we planet hop. Someone’s bound to have some short hauls they need done.”
The tears weren’t an unexpected response; they were a common side-effect of the depth shared during a X’honnar. Nonetheless, they still startled Kir’ion. Harrison’s empathy and kindness were unmatched when compared to every other human she’d had the chance to meet during her captivity. Without thinking, she pulled her sleeve down over her hand and used it to wipe away at his cheek. Tenderness and compassion were two of the most valued traits among her people, and despite everything she’d been through she was determined to adhere to the tenets of X’hondrian culture before the empire conquered them.

Harrison was full of surprises. The sudden embrace was more surprising than his tears, but Kir relaxed into it all the same. She slowly wrapped her arms around him, considering her answer carefully.

“I will be,” she finally sighed. “In a way, we share more than I realized.”

Kir could already feel the effect of sharing all of herself. Whatever boundaries might have separated them due to the dictates of social norms were gone. In a way, they were now inseparably bound simply by knowing each other to such an extreme depth beyond what anyone else could ever possibly share without the benefit of such a ritual. She hadn’t fully considered the effects of sharing so much of herself with Harrison, but that didn’t mean she regretted it, either. If anything, it felt good to have that connection with another person.

Pulling back, Kir’ion dragged her eyes over Harrison, assessing him, “How do you feel? I’ve never done this with a human. I’ve never done it with anyone except another X’hondrian, honestly… I can’t imagine what it must be like to absorb all of that.”
||Location: Sol System

||Time: Unknown

“Well, I guess it could be worse,” Kir sighed, pushing her fingers through her hair. “I didn’t exactly ‘land’ on Earth – it was more of a forced descent.” She chuckled to herself. “I can tell they put at least some of it back together while they were pulling her apart for research.”

She installed the broken canister and locked it into place for the time being. She didn’t know what else to do with it. Once they had replacements, the dead cells could be recycled at the outpost. When Harrison asked about the Kuiper Belt, it dawned on her he didn’t have any experience out here.

“Of course,” Kir’ion mumbled to herself, surprised by her own forgetfulness. “I owe you a lot of answers. For the sake of time, I only shared what was strictly necessary with you when our minds first touched. Come, let me share the rest with you.”

She led him back out to the lounge, finding a comfortable seat and patting a spot next to her. Kir turned to face him once he seemed settled, “I think the best way to do this is a X’honnar. It’s a ritual that’s like what the Vulcans can do in your Star Trek, but much deeper. I can share everything I’ve seen and experienced, quite literally I can share everything I know. It’s…intimate. It’s like reliving my life through my eyes within a matter of hours.” She crossed her legs and reached out both hands to take his before starting again, “Without your bracelet’s connection to the imperial center, you lack access to the network of information most enforcers would have. Even with our connection earlier, you’re missing about 100 years of my life. By now, most of my knowledge is outdated, but it’s certainly better than nothing. I have no idea what to expect when we get to Kuiper Outpost, but it was independent when I passed through before I hit Earth. At the very least, we can get what we need and move on.”

Taking his hands, she rolled her shoulders and took a deep breath, “It’s okay if you feel strange after this. I’ve only done this twice, and never with another species.” Kir gave his hands a gentle squeeze and leaned her forehead against his.

She let their minds settle together first, quieting them both so that it would be easier to share her essence with him. It started with her childhood – a happy time for her on her homeworld surrounded by loved ones. Kir showed him the glittering white sands and deep blue oceans, the glass spires and vast libraries of an intellectual society. There was art, music, science, history, architecture, politics, language… They were a peaceful people content to exchange knowledge with the universe at large and stay out of conflicts entirely. She was only 10 years old by Earth’s standards when the Imperial warships came. It wasn’t even a fight – X’hondria didn’t have a military. The only weapons were long defunct and only existed as museum pieces. Her homeworld faded away as she was taken from it, instead forced into a life of servitude and passed between owners for nearly half a century before an attack on the vessel she was on presented an opportunity for escape. She stole the ship they were currently sailing the stars in and set off for an independent outpost in the Kuiper Belt. She’d thought to settle on the nearby planet of Earth. The long arm of the empire didn’t reach out that far and she looked human enough to pass as one. The promise of freedom was enough to cloud her judgement, and when she was shot down over the planet, she’d been dragged from the crash and kept buried under a mountain until she met Harrison. Kir let it stop there, knowing he didn’t need a replay of the events that had just transpired.

She pulled away, letting the connection end as she rubbed her temple gently. Her first concern was Harrison, watching him carefully to make sure he came out of it okay. She feared the effect reliving a longer-than-human life as tumultuous as hers might have.

“Are you okay?” Kir asked gently.
||Location: Sol System
||Time: Unknown

Harrison’s joy and wonder were palpable. His enthusiasm about being in space sent her into a peal of laughter. If you’d asked her the last time she laughed like that, Kir’ion wouldn’t have known the answer. It reminded her of the first time she'd left the atmosphere of her homeworld - the excitement and possibilities far outweighed any thoughts of what might actually lie ahead.

“Well, you did just basically give your planet the finger,” she smiled, knowing the thrill would eventually wear off. “I owe you my thanks and most likely my life. I never could have made it out of there without you. I can’t imagine that was an easy choice to make. Thank you.”

As if to remind them it wasn’t over yet, a yellow warning popped up on her screen: unsustainable fuel source. She cursed under her breath and pulled up the warning. They probably had enough to get to the edge of the system, thankfully, but the ship was in pretty sorry shape. The fuel cells probably wouldn’t be the only malfunction.

“Something’s wrong with the engines,” she said as she pulled up a map, looking for the closest trade station. “I’m setting a course for an asteroid cluster in the Kuiper Belt. There should be a station there.” She patted the control panel encouragingly as she stood up, “I’m going to see what’s causing the problem. Do you want to come?”

The ship was small - more like a planet jumper than an interstellar long-hauler. Beyond the small cockpit was the main hold. To the left were the small crew quarters with two bunks, and the right had a galley kitchen and tiny lounge. At the far end were the cargo door and the engine room. The whole place was a mess of tools and half-disassembled pieces of the ship. Kir'ion hadn't really taken the time to assess the extent of the damage when they boarded; she didn't have time. A sinking feeling was settling in her stomach now as she saw what they had to work with.

The engine room was always the warmest spot on the ship and Kir instinctively rolled up her sleeves as soon as they entered. She paused a moment, one hand on her hip, and surveyed the room. They'd practically stripped it bare trying to reverse-engineer the engines. She dragged a hand down her face with an exasperated sigh, looking at the open panels and loose wires.

"No wonder it threw an alert. This thing is in shambles," she bent down and picked up a broken canister from the ground. "She's running on half the fuel cells she needs." She turned to the right where the other canisters were locked into place. Two glowed with a soft blue light, one was dark, and one was the missing piece she had in her hand. "That's not ideal... I can get us to the Kuiper Belt, but she's in worse shape than I thought. They really did a number on her."
||Location: [CLASSIFIED]
||Time: 1023 MST

Kir’ion wished they’d had more time to give him all the answers he was seeking, but the situation just didn’t allow for it. They’d have plenty of time after their escape. She expected they’d be together a while. Anyone who could remove bonded Imperial tech would have to be keeping a very low profile meaning it would probably take a while to track them down. The prospect wasn’t an unwelcome one, though. Freedom and a friend was more than she expected to have by the end of the day.

Harrison took to telepathic communication much easier than she expected. The precision with which his words pierced was untrained but clearer than most beginners. With practice, he’d be able to reach out to her easily with just a thought and learn how to shield his mind from intrusion. Fate must surely have worked her spell over them, Kir thought to herself.

She nodded firmly at his order, taking a few steps to put herself in line behind him. She had grown up around the very tool that gave him his powers, but when the armor materialized, she was startled by it. It was the same armor she knew, but something was off. Kir’ion chalked it up to whatever damages it had sustained that allowed him to control it rather than the other way around. Curiosity almost got the better of her until Harrison shattered the floor, using a shockwave to disable the guards. It wasn’t lost on her that his first choice was non-lethal action. As if on cue, the alarm rang out throughout the entire base. Once the alarm was triggered, all the moving parts went into play and there was no time to hesitate.

Bending down to one of the soldiers, she placed a hand on his cheek and closed her eyes for a moment. “We have maybe five minutes before the blast doors seal and lock us in. There are three security doors between us and the hangar,” she shared what she’d learned from the guard’s nearly unconscious mind. She flipped open the pocket on his uniform shirt and pulled out an unmarked card that would get them through the locked checkpoints. Jogging over to the door, she peeked around to check the hall. It was clear for the moment, but she could hear bootfalls coming. ”Come on,” she waved him over through the door and followed quickly behind him. She kept up with his pace, staying tucked partway behind Harrison’s shoulder to easily duck behind him. She was the only one of the two of them in any real danger; his armor was more than capable of deflecting projectiles like bullets.

As soon as they got to the hangar, she saw her ship nestled amongst all the jets and helicopters. The engineering hangar was a research lab in its own right and they had been reverse engineering her ship for years to improve their own technology. Spurred forward by seeing their way out, she took off at a sprint for the cargo door of the ship.

“Oh, sweet girl, what did they do to you?” Kir muttered, realizing as she got closer that it was partially disassembled. It would have to be enough, though. She threw herself into the pilot’s seat as soon as she hit the cockpit and began priming the engines for take-off. The blast doors at the end of the hanger were slowly inching closed, so they needed to get in the air fast.

“Bypass start-up sequence, ignore all systems warnings, and send full power to engines,” she told the ship’s command panel as her fingers flew over the controls. A melodic chirp affirmed the voice command. “Hold onto something, Harr. This is going to be rough,” she added, turning to look at him for a split second. The ship gave an unsettling mechanical screech jerking her attention back to the flight controls as she murmured a string of soft encouragements. The ship lurched forward onto the runway and she could see what must have been half the soldiers on site running into the hangar.

“Too late, chumps,” she grinned, turning the ship toward the hangar door and launching them out at full speed. They’d be halfway to the moon before air support could be scrambled. As the sky came into view beyond the mountain, she angled them upward and out of the atmosphere.

It was over.

Kir’ion sank back against her chair with a heavy sigh. The sky gave way to stars and everything beyond – an entire universe was unfolding before them. "I missed that view." She turned to Harrison again with a look somewhere between relief and joy, “Are you okay?”
||Location: [CLASSIFIED]
||Time: 1022 MST

As soon as their hands touched, Kir’ion's senses lit up like the shroud around Harrison had been lifted. The connection was easy, and with it the essence of his person. One might call it his soul. He radiated nothing unsavory and there was no sign of Imperial interference. He was clean.

We have to go, she pressed into his mind urgently. They are never going to let you walk out of here with that bracelet, and they’ll send you out of here in a body bag if that’s what it takes to get it off. I can’t get it off, but there’s an entire universe out there and somebody can. I just need you to trust me. We have to get to my ship in the hangar.

She shared a vision of the route from their current location in the rec room to the hangar with all the guard postings she knew. “Those guards won’t be using rubber bullets. Last chance to back out,” she added aloud and the doors opened behind them. The military security stomped in barking orders at Kir’ion and Harrison.

"Hands where I can see them. Take five steps away from each other now!" the commanding officer demanded.
||Location: [CLASSIFIED]
||Time: 1020 MST

Harrison’s response calmed her nerves significantly. There was no hesitation in his answer, except he wanted to keep his limb or at least his life. That seemed fair; no one wants to be maimed even if it is for the greater good.

“Well…” she started, but trailed off. Kir’ion shrugged, a look of embarrassment crossing her features, “I have no idea how to remove it. I could try to disconnect you from it psychically. In theory, it would simply fall off and you walk away without a scratch. Or…you end up catatonic.”

As if no one had ever had the bright idea of stopping an enforcer by psychically convincing the gauntlet the host was dead? She could’ve rolled her eyes at such an obvious lie, but Earth was such a backwater planet that they’d never question the chance of success. If she could link up to him psychically, though, that would open up a whole new world. Literally. She could confirm her suspicions that Harrison’s gauntlet was damaged somehow, and whether she could truly trust him. There was definitely nothing on this planet that could get that thing off without killing him in the process, but if she could explain that out there is a chance…maybe Harrison was her escape route. Even if he was under Imperial control and just playing along with the charade, she could probably cloud his mind just long enough to use him as a battering ram to clear the way to her ship. She had tried and failed before, but she’d always done it alone. This time would be different, one way or another.

“It’s your choice,” she added. “I can’t promise an outcome, and it can feel invasive since humans aren’t familiar with the touch of another mind. I can understand if your answer is no.”

They wouldn’t have much time. She could feel the tension from the other room as they watched it play out. Out of the corner of her eye she movement – orders were going out already. As soon as she and Harrison touched, the link would be established and the whole base would go into high alert. They didn’t take chances, especially with a potential breach. She’d never managed to make it all the way out of the research center, let alone make it to the hangar.

She leaned forward again, offering her hand to shake, “Now or never, Harrison.”
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