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||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 By now, most of my knowledge is outdated, but it’s certainly better than nothing.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.”
||Location: [CLASSIFIED]
||Time: 1015 MST

Harrison’s kindness was refreshing. Normally Chef was only of the only friendly people around. He wasn’t willfully ignorant, or at least not blind to the unfairness of her situation. She let out a mirthless laugh, “I’m hardly dangerous – I don’t have a violent nature nor any interest in harming innocent life forms. You know they have an entire bound rulebook for this place? They make all the newbies read it before their first day. The commanding officer usually gives them a pop quiz during the tour. Rule number 1 is no physical contact because they figured out a way to cut my powers here so I can only make a psychic link though touch. Something about the soil here, I think. It’s why I haven’t seen the sky in fifty-three years.” Kir surprised herself with how easily the worlds just tumbled out. She realized how long it had been since she’d had a real conversation with anyone.

Shaking her head as if to dispel the thoughts, Kir’ion leaned forward to rest her elbows on her knees to get a better look at the bracelet. It was sleek and beautiful, and to the untrained eye it could easily be mistaken for a fine piece of jewelry. She wasn’t untrained, though. She’d know the symbol carved into the band anywhere. That was an Imperial control armor, no doubt about it. It was modified from something else, probably some kind of local relic. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously and her mouth went dry immediately.

Just the presence of that bracelet was enough to make Kir rethink the purpose of this exercise. An internal debate raged – was he doing this on purpose to get to her? If he was part of the first wave, it would be much easier to just steal her from the humans than to have to import another X’hondrian. Then again, he was missing the normal attitude of the enforcers – cocky, self-righteous, and still somehow bland thanks to the mind control. She couldn’t feel the same psychic waves that typically rolled off an enforcer, either. Even without a proper link, she should have felt something. The bracelet obviously wasn’t broken since it was permanently bonded and he had access to at least some of the features, but something was wrong with it because every indicator said he had no idea what it was or what it was capable of. She pursed her lips, then pressed them together in a thin line as she turned over the possibility in her head. As far as she knew, there was no such thing as a free enforcer or a faulty gauntlet. But…there’s a first time for everything.

Kir’ion met Harrison’s gaze with a serious expression. Without a psychic link and so many eyes on them, she needed to choose her next words carefully. “Our word for the device doesn’t translate,” she lied. It translated just fine, but from what she knew of the humans she didn’t want to give them any ideas. “Its gifts come at a price. The only way your planet survives is if that thing is destroyed.” That was not a lie, that was a warning.
||Location: [CLASSIFIED]
||Time: 1000 MST

Kir’ion’s whole body was thrumming with excitement when the door opened. Scientists came into her spaces, military came into her spaces, but never visitors. They wouldn’t have allowed that initially, which means someone, somewhere picked a fight about it and won. Maybe it was him.

As a humanoid species – and considering where she was from, inter-species relations weren’t given a second thought – she could appreciate how handsome he was. He seemed almost like the direct opposite of her pale and delicate appearance. However, it was the way he carried himself proudly, and how he scanned the room like he was rapidly putting the pieces together in his head told her all she needed to know about where he stood morally. She stood up from the bench seat by a disappointingly fake “window”, keeping a measurable distance from Harrison. Kir checked the observation window near the door – the room was full of labcoats and clipboards. Sometimes it was truly dehumanizing the way they watched her like a lab rat.

“It’s a pleasure, Harrison,” she smiled. “I’m Kir’ion. I’d shake your hand, but they have rules about physical contact. I’m honestly surprised they let you in here. They must really want to know what’s stuck to you.”

Her eyes darted back to the observation window before she lifted her hand in an open gesture and settled her gaze on Harrison, “I’ve read the file, but it’s mostly redacted. Show me?”
Yes, I feel sure my CS throws a wrench in some things. I’ll hold on until you’ve had a chance to gather your thoughts and PM me. No biggie!
||Location: [CLASSIFIED]
||Time: 0800 MST

Unnatural yellow and orange light slowly crept up the walls from floor to ceiling – a simulation of the sunrise meant to wake her up as if she weren’t buried under miles of Earth. Kir’ion rolled over in the bunk and surveyed her sterile surroundings. Fifty-three years on Earth and she still hadn’t seen a real sunrise. The LED lights they’d installed a few years ago were a weak substitute for the real thing, she assumed.

“Rise and shine,” an overly cheerful officer chirped over the speaker by the door, “Today is your big day.”

Right. They were bringing a human in with an alien device attached to him for her to identify. A mix of excitement and dread settled in her chest – this would be her first chance to meet a human not directly involved with research or the military. Sure, she had access to a steady diet of media – books, TV, movies, theatre – but that was hardly a replacement for the real thing.

The buzz and then click of the lock on her door jarred Kir from her thoughts. It was time for morning vitals. Outside, two soldiers stood at attention while a bald man in a lab coat pushed a cart across the room. The rattle of the metal cart laden with everything from vials for a blood draw to a simple stethoscope was almost unbearable as it bounced around the chamber. Kir knew the drill well.


Morning vitals sucked, but what came after was always a treat.
X’ondrians only occasionally need to eat – their slower metabolism was an effect of the environment on their home world, granting them a longer life. However, Kir’ion had become quite enamored with the food on Earth. In fact, the research team had managed to convince whoever held the pocketbook to employ a full-time gourmet chef. The food was entirely different and they managed to justify the expense as part of the biological research into her digestive system. According to them, learning how different foods affected her had been invaluable. As a result, Kir’ion had taken up the habit of eating small meals twice a day rather than larger ones at less frequent intervals.

This morning, Chef – one of her favorite humans – had made her favorite: poached eggs on toast with sausage, a yogurt parfait, and a few chunks of pineapple. Pineapple was particularly destructive to her system, but she loved it more than any other fruit so they let her have it on special occasions.


They made her wait in her recreation room after breakfast, guards posted outside the doors in case she got any ideas in her head. There were clocks everywhere in the base and she knew exactly when everything happened. The military ran a tight ship. The hour hand was just shy of 10:00, which she’d been told was when they’d bring in Harrison. Well, not [i]in[/in] because they never brought outsiders all the way in, but at least to one of the many observation windows where they could communicate through a microphone and speaker setup. Kir stared at the clock, willing it to strike 10:00 faster. This short, and likely very closely controlled, interaction would probably be the highlight of her year.

“What a sad thought,” she considered quietly to herself. “I may not have been free, but at least I went places and had friends before.”
And thus it begins...
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