As the Speroancora passed the orbital plane of the fifth planet in the system, the ship’s passage triggered a buoy to emit a warning. A red light bounced in the peripheral vision of his ocular implant. The Qua’dux felt his attention shift and instantly merged with him to assess the message.
The buoy identified itself as a quarantine beacon, placed by the Unified Sentient Races, the consortium of worlds whose primary objective was to work together against the terror of their common enemy: the Swarm. The buoy warned that trading with Sectilius was forbidden and that going deeper into the system would incur penalties and sanctions. The system was monitored remotely via extensive, redundant relays. The USR would lift the ban when it deemed Sectilius was no longer a threat to the rest of the galaxy. Until such time, it strongly advised them to leave the system.
“Have you ever seen anything like this buoy before?” the Qua’dux asked him.
“Never,” he replied.
“Let’s send in a drone to see if it has any firepower,” she said.
He did. He determined it was just a messaging system.
She didn’t hesitate. “Ignore it. We know the risks. Besides, surely they don’t mean to prevent Sectilius ships from going home.”
They encountered three more such buoys as they drew closer, each one with similar messages. None of them contained ordnance of any kind.
As the distance closed, he could not help but reach out to the full extent of his ability, seeking communication with his own kind. It had been readily apparent for some time that no intact ships were left orbiting either planetary body, and yet he held out hope that some individuals might have survived an oceanic crash landing, to subsist in the oceans of either world, awaiting rescue.
It was soon apparent that was not the case. No kuboderans remained, though at any given time in the past there might have been dozens of his kind in orbit.
The Quasador Dux monitored his thoughts as he searched, her own hopes high. When he abandoned the search, despondent and stricken with grief, she came to him in person.
She leaned her body against the transparent material that separated them and splayed her hand out over the glass, as though she were reaching out to him. She shared his pain.
For a moment it seemed unbearable that he could not touch her, for he wanted to experience the warm twining of bodies that she called a hug. He had observed this behavior among the humans and it seemed so…reassuring and natural. He wondered if wild kuboderans touched each other that way and suspected that they did. That kind of comfort would be welcome now. She smiled at his whimsical thought and promised that one day she would do just that.
She watched him gravely as he wrestled with his emotions. This discovery was another confirmation of loss. Though the deaths had happened long ago, he couldn’t file them away so quickly.
Ei’Brai reached out an arm and carefully laid some suckers over the spot where the Qua’dux’s hand rested. When he refocused on her, he saw a wet trail on her face that had originated in her eye. A uniquely human expression of sympathy. A strange quirk of their physiology, to be sure. Yet saline tears sacrificed for his lost kin seemed appropriate.
She understood him, silently. He was surprised at how much that eased the pain. Sectilians rarely shared such feelings with kuboderans. The former Qua’dux had been an exception. He’d never thought he would find another friendship like this in his lifetime. Yet here she was before him, brought to him by the Providence.
She stayed well past the onset of her discomfort. She communed with him even as her lips turned pale, her body shivered to make itself warm, and her teeth clattered together. Finally he sent her away, and guilt lay over the distress, that he had let her linger so long.
Eventually he set the pain aside, to feel it to its depth later, when there was more time for leisure, and plotted a course to put the Speroancora in geosynchronous orbit around Atielle over the residence of the issue of the esteemed Quasador Dux Rageth Elia Hator.
Both planets remained silent.
As they took up orbit high above the stratosphere, Ei’Brai detected only small numbers of sectilians on both planets in scattered pockets. The populations of both worlds had been decimated.
At this distance they were little more than faint mental signatures. There were a few mind masters who were somewhat stronger, but none who had the range of the kuboderans. He did not detect anyone he had previously connected to, which would have made communication feasible.
He had hoped to be able to use anipraxia to make introductions for the Qua’dux and her crew, but that would not be possible. That could make her journey more perilous. Yet he had faith in her skills and he counseled her to be forthright and straightforward with everyone she might meet. She patiently endured his admonitions, despite the fact that this was her field of expertise. He appreciated her forbearance.