There's sopor in your eye. You want to just lie there but you can't, because it stings and it's just impossible to stay still when it's stinging like that. You free your arm to swat it out but you have to disentangle it first and then you remember just what's going on.
She's still here. Here, curled up in your arms, in your room on the ship, her head resting against the edge of the recouperacoon. Her hair is mussed and sticky with green slime, her horns sticking out over the edge. You always liked her horns, and you told her so, but it was an innocent compliment. You still like her horns, but you don't think you could tell her that any more. She's still dressed in your shirt, with the teal mark on it. Hers is… oh, you don't know. She had shown up in the middle of the night, "so that it won't be weird." She had kissed you. You didn't kiss her back until it was the only thing that seemed normal to you any more. She was beautiful, but you don't think you could tell her that any more, either. Now even holding her seems like too much. You try to settle your hand back on her arm but she's so cold. It's the sopor: you know that because she's still warm where she she's pressed up against you, but it's hard to think about that.
What now? No, that's silly. You know what now. What next? You know what the movies say, the books and the magazines and the official protocol. They say everything: everyone with a different fantasies and different realities. She was your moirail. She was the one that kept you from getting yourself killed by going after the Chief. She's the one you pried off of one of your crewmates after they started spouting hemo-racist bullcrap. She's still your best friend. Isn't she? You were one of those lucky ones to have both in the same person, from the slow build up when you first met on the ship and beyond. All your friends from Alternia were gone, separated, maybe forever. There had been no one to turn to and three hundred never-ending hours of orientation and tests to face otherwise alone. She was good at getting through trouble; you were good at keeping her out of it. You guess that's what she did last night, and true to form you wonder if you should have stopped her first. Not that the plan would have changed, it was too late to change the plan. The plan was to face today together, but now you'd have to face tomorrow.
You must have been shifting, because she wakes and sees your eyes are open. She reaches up to brush a lock of hair aside from your face and to slick off the sopor stuck to it. She smiles, the guilty smile she always gets before the plunge. It's the look you got before you both overrode the engine's safety requirements when the Chief was looking the other way, and your ship ended up first in the armada to reach the front. You heard the Captain won a bottle of three hundred year old Oak-Aged Honey-Flavoured Alcoholic Beverage for it, in a bet with the Captain of the Manticore. All you both got was to hide what you had done and to stay up long past sunup drinking swill and laughing until you were both sick. She said you had a smile just like hers, not that you had ever seen it.
Before you even give it a second thought you reach up and cup her face and a different expression takes her, one that you had never seen before last night. It's darker now, not tinged with yellow blood, hot and sensitive and mortified at each new step in her own plan. She's not worried now. Not of you. Not when you dip down to kiss her, and your weight accidentally shifts until you're on top of her again, and there's a lingering, infant passion between you. But there's no confidence, and despite the smile, still fear. When you part, and look her in the eyes, feeling her breath on your lips and not knowing what to say, she reached out and nips at your bottom lip. It's a reassurance. Today will be okay. Tomorrow, we'll see. You don't know if it works, but that she's worried about the same things as you is reassurance enough.
You get up, and you're so sore, from the night before and for lying down so awkwardly. Eventually you find her things kicked under your tiny desk and return them to her so that she can get to the Yellow deck and find her uniform. You don't think you need the uniforms but you understand why she thinks you might. Anything could count: you wouldn't want to be left without, just in case. She hugs you before she leaves, from behind as you get ready to clean yourself up. You turn back and she still has sopor on her face, so you pull it off and you both stare at one another, not sure of what to say. She leaves without a word, not even pulling at your horns like she used to like to do. You get your things. Your roommate is nowhere to be seen. You appreciated that the night before, but you hope he found somewhere to be. His matesprit was here from the Hydra, perhaps he was with him? His matesprit's kismesis worked aboard this ship as well. You met the matesprit the other night and he seemed nice enough. You don't expect that you'll see either of them today.
You head out into the halls and it's deathly still. You're in orbit, so even the engines are running low. It's your job to keep them running, so you can't help but listen to them even when it's quiet, to feel them in the walls or floor as you go, waiting for any sign of warning. But now all you hear and feel is a still hum, barely running, and there is no one in the halls. You pass and salute a Yellow-blooded Legilacerator as you pass down to their deck via ladder, but otherwise don't stall. Your moirail will meet you downstairs, in your kismesis' den in the Orange section. He insisted. You argued until the Commander came on the speaker system and announced that he was taking over for the Captain at the end of the night cycle, and reminded everyone to get some critical rest. At that point, you both agreed to meet at his place with little fuss.
It's not so bad a place, you find, once you arrive. Your ship was constructed under the reign of an Empress that did not care much about the hemospectrum, so the only difference between quarters in the high-blood decks and the low could be measured in half inches squeezed out by Violet shipwrights that knew their blueprints would not be double-checked. And after all, barracks rooms for the newly enlisted are so very small one way or another: two recouperacoons, two tiny desks and chairs and only a wedge of space in between.
Your kismesis is waiting for you there, on his desk with his matesprit by his side: a pretty Orange-blooded girl. Her kismesis is just down the hall, your kismesis says, and his roommate's on the planet with her family. Whatever. You take a seat at his absent roommate's desk across from them. He says he's just explaining how this is going to work, get the stick out of your excretion gap. You sit in silence. You don't have anything to say to this whiny fuckass, he doesn't have shit to say to you. He's too afraid to talk in front of you to his matesprit, you figure. Good. Better, even. He knows his place in your relationship, and that's how it should be. There's barely any room between the three of you: half a step, perhaps. The room stinks of flushed sopor, body odor and rust.
The next arrival is the Blue blood. Your moirail's kismesis. She's dressed in a soldier's dress uniform, so not from your ship. Your ship is built for space combat, and only has a few dozen security officers. This one is probably from an assault landing craft, likely the one that came over two days prior. She says goodbye to her matesprit, another soldier, at the door and you get the impression from what they're saying that they're already done. The logistical challenges involved in these things are unbelievable. She introduces herself to all involved: her greeting to you is longer than for the others, and only polite out of formality. "I've heard so much about you," she says. She must know that you're just the moirail, but she doesn't say. Instead, she takes a seat across at the edge the desk, alone.
Where is she? Of course, your moirail is always late. Never fails. She takes impossibly long to get dressed for someone that claims not to care about her appearance, but how could she care on a day like this? But now you're worried. The halls are still empty and the only sound of footsteps you hear come and then go. No one says a word. A half hour passes.
Finally someone comes to your door, but to your aggravation it's just your auspistice. "Done," he says, off-handily tapping the blue band on his shoulder. He checks on you and your kismesis, tries to rile you both, but neither of you bother to even scowl at one another. Once he realizes he's not having any effect, he tells you he's going to head out. He's allowed to stay, and you almost wish he would. After all, you're all alone surrounded by unfriendly faces. But he's shaking. When he talked to you he laughed, he even made a joke about you and your moirail, but his heart was clearly out of it. He tells you both "Good luck," and then he's gone. His footsteps in the hall are the last thing you hear for another ten minutes.
The next thing you hear is the screaming. It's not many decks above you. Two? The Green deck? It's wrenching, it rattles off the pipes, and it's made worse by the reaction of everyone that hears it. Someone down your hall startles, and a deck below there's another scream, in panic and surprise. Everyone else in all directions are silent, and it helps the sound of the original scream carry and linger. None of you in this room try to hide your true feelings, and you see fear on your kismesis' face for the first time. Where is your moirail? Why isn't she here?
You hear running down the hall, and you're so grateful for the sound to break the silence because it covers the distant sound of tears. As a Troll, you don't hear crying very often, and you don't know what to think or say. The door opens and it's her: it's your moirail. Her eyes are wide. It's clear she ran the whole way, and when she closes the door she falls against it. The door almost muffles the second voice above. He's pleading. He shouts "Please!" And then he's screaming too, a scream that's cut off in mid-breath. You look at your moirail and wish you could just go over to her, to seek some solace, but you're both too paralyzed to move.
Silence reigns again. After twelve minutes pass, your moirail crawls the rest of the way across the floor to sit at your feet, and you hold a hand on her shoulder like it's the only truly stable thing in the room. She knows your kismesis, and even his matesprit, so the only true introduction made is to the Blue blood. They knew one another on Alternia, she says. You've heard the stories. You and the soldier both shake hands a second time, and her enthusiasm and handshake are more sincere this time. Moments before, you were just her kismesis' fool moirail, stuck in this idiot matesprit gambit, whose feelings for her rival were dishonest and cowardly. But now you and she have been cowards together, trapped in that tiny barracks room, and in a strange way you're both ready to trust. Your moirail gives her no such respect. They used to play FLARP together, you gather. They were both just as good. They played honestly, and you used to think that maybe she was just calling a friendly opponent "kismesis" for simplicity's sake. But now it's clear that her hatred for this soldier is more honest than her mating fondness for you. You can't resent her for that. Instead you cling. She's your island, and with a tight hand on yours, you're hers. You couldn't let go.
Then footsteps. They sound like someone settling heavy equipment over and again, every three feet, in a constant rhythm, but you know what they are. Crunch. Crunch. Stop. Two, three, five minutes later: crunch, crunch, stop. The sounds make their way across the Yellow deck above. You think it's at its worst when the sounds pass directly overhead but that's simply not true. It's worse when they stop again just in front of the ladders leading between decks. Then the sound starts the come down the hall. Your moirail tries to hold your other hand but the trembling won't stop, not yours or hers. You don't even bother to look at your kismesis. It wouldn't be right. There's no way you could derive any hating pleasure from watching him squirm when it's all you can do to hold your bowels. The soldier sits straighter than the rest of you, but barely. She's seen worse, perhaps. Like you inferred, she and her matesprit may have been through this already. To do this twice in one day. You can't imagine.
Twenty doors down. Fifteen. Ten. Crunch. Crunch. In a moment of panic – in the quiet, not the noise – your moirail jumps about, to her knees, and pulls you to the floor where she kisses you hard. Everyone in the room knows you're lying. But you kiss her back with just as much intensity. You don't want to be lying. You want to want her. You need to. You think back to the night before with an urgency, and even run your shaking hand up her body but her rapid breathing, hyperventilating, buries any impact.
Then another one screams, just down the hall. It's hideous, but there's no begging this time, like the second one on the Green deck. The shouting from this one's companions is worse. They don't know what to do. It's ten minutes before the footsteps continue. They're only three doors away. You think you hear your kismesis whisper a name to his matesprit, and she grips him to her. You pull your moirail close as well, but there's no comfort any more. She's goose bumps and panic and you're worse. You're not helping: you're doing nothing a moirail should do. The soldier clutches her arms to her chest.
Crunch. Crunch. Stop. And louder now: Crash, Crash. Stop. Crash, Crash.
The door opens. You can't even look up, because its shadow drapes across the floor. It's all shell and spines and bulk, and it fills the door with a silhouette that spills a deep-bred, instinctive fear down your back like you've never known. Its beaked mouth pokes into the room and its beady eyes search. When you look up, it is as though you had never seen them before in your life. Not in film, not online or in your worst nightmares, those terrible ancestral dreams where you were so afraid that you only held your moirail to cut her loose by the throat to escape them. As you cower there at the feet of a real one, you realize you could never have the presence of mind to do even that.
Finally, the thing reaches out a hand and points directly at you. There's no mistaking it: you, not your moirail. The claw is bladed, and sharp, you answer immediately with name, rank, serial number. You tell it that this is your matesprit. You stumble over the word, so certain that you would say "moirail" and doom you all that you don't believe it when you say it right. You identify the Troll across from you as your kismesis. The drone makes further inquiries, and learns that your kismesis' matesprit's kismesis is not in the room, but instead down the hall. She learns from their hissing half-tongue that they'll have to come with them when everyone is finished. She looks for a moment like she's stopped breathing when she hears it.
The lead drone raises its hands and two pails appear out of its inventory. It looks at them and, deciding they've reached capacity, hands them off to its subordinate: a drone with green and orange blood staining its claws. It then produces two fresh pails and belligerently tosses them into the middle of the room; the one with the crude-painted heart falls to its side, and the soldier takes up the other. You take the one with the fallen pail, and you don't know what to do. Between you and your moirail, you work it out, somehow. She starts with you, and then hands the heart pail to your kismesis and his partner before turning to her childhood rival. You wait, and in waiting you feel the worst you've ever felt. To watch your kismesis with his love, to watch your friend, to know the drone is watching you. No privacy, as though you were sure to cheat. You especially.
Everyone hurries. You bury your head in your hands and the soldier has to shake you by the shoulder when she has the spade bucket ready. You and your kismesis are last of all. The drone still doesn't believe you when it's finished. Its subordinate sticks a probe into the meagre contents of each bucket before approving. The leader gestures to the girl across from you as it stores the buckets and she goes out with them. Your kismesis doesn't know what to say to her, and when the door shuts it's as though she's just… gone, and the room suddenly becomes much darker. You wait and listen for them to pass down the hall. In time, they go down the next ladder. The girl does not return. You had never wished your kismesis well since you fell in hate with him, but you still hope that she went straight home.
The soldier leaves first, not even saying goodbye. In the awkward silence that follows your kismesis makes an uncharacteristic gesture of hospitality when he warily finds his voice and offers you both his roommate's recouperacoon in case you wanted to stay. You both shake your heads, and somehow find your way out into the hall. They're still below you, with the gutterbloods and the anonymous. Crash. Crash. Stop.
You return to the Teal deck, because it's farther away. You consider refilling your recouperacoon for a time but stop, because you're still too sore to sleep. Your moirail sits on the floor, so you join her; you have the rest of the day off, but you don't use it for anything but to sit, exhausted, heads bowed. Silence. Crawling just under your skin is the wracking knowledge that she can't make you feel safe or calm any more. It will never happen again. You both should have known. She's the one to break the silence, after an hour, to say "I love you." In two hours, she goes to her own barracks and you change back to your casual clothes. Tomorrow, you'll work together in silence. In a week, you'll both smile again. In a perigree, like a miracle, you'll kiss.
But today, you can't believe her.