Chapter 1

He woke up to the emptiness, white pinpricks blazing in a seamless black void.

He drank some water as he tried to remember where he was. Slowly it all came back to him, and with it he felt his worry grow again, maybe he was losing his mind. He had been drifting for more than three weeks now. The suit was still good, and the way it recycled gave him at least a couple of weeks, maybe more.

The worst problem was the water supply but that was what the suit-induced sleep helped him with, or maybe it would be closer to the truth to call it an induced coma. That way he could sleep the most, only wakening at certain preprogrammed intervals helped him minimize his needs, to be checked by his suit just as he had to recheck its systems. But slowly he could feel himself giving up, there was just no way they were going to survive this.

He remembered the implosion, the sound of metal crumbling like so much cheap paper, and his frantic run to the survival chamber. The emergency sphere was made to take almost anything up to an atomic burst. But it hadn't held at all, he considered himself damned lucky to have gotten into the suit before the final decompression.

Startled he remembered, her ladyship? How was she? He looked for the other suit to find it still tethered to him, by the thinnest of cords. And as his telemetry searched her connections he could see her in there, so fragile looking and too young for this, he thought, still sleeping peacefully.

She had fast become his sole reason for coping with it. Without her he doubted he would been able to stay sane for this long. They had survived against all odds but her ship, the Janelle I, was gone and with it her parents and everything else she had cared about.

Checking on her suit he found her relaxed, her face smooth and without that worried frown he had gotten so used to see. Suddenly he felt almost happy, seeing her even though unable to find any reason for it. Maybe it was that he wasn't alone, he though? Although, the odds for anyone locating their beacon had to be, at best, infinitesimal.

They were so far away from the star-lanes traveled by mankind. The Count constantly searching for new territory to settle. And he had just been the cook's apprentice, lucky to get work too, as he understood it. In the society he had lived in before only hierarchy ruled, people more or less born to their lives toil.

It was a very stable society where few questioned their place in life. But being outside had started a lot of thoughts in him, some questioning it all. As he checked the beacon he could see the indicators glow, a steady green, telling him that it still was working, lending its energy from subspace itself, and they were indeed lucky to have been out from hyper as disaster struck.

If it had happened there he doubted he would have stayed sane and the beacon would have been useless. His thoughts started to drift again as he remembered how he had gotten this first work.


"Stop the thief"

The enraged scream of the proprietor echoed through the market as the young man started to run. Some few did make halfhearted attempts to stop him, but most ignored it. The guards didn't, though, and as Jeff ran he could hear them organize the hunt through his earphone.

He considered himself lucky to own it, it had helped him out of more than one tight spot, and he hoped it would help him out of this one too. 'Why couldn't he have kept sleeping?' he swore to himself as he took a too tight turn around the corner, hitting a burly man straight in the stomach.

"Sorry, sir" he gasped, as he tried to move past him.

The man reacted too fast for him, though, getting a good grip on his arm.

"Why running, boy."

"Let me go, please."

He could hear the guards coming now, their search closing in on him. He looked up at the guy holding him, 'Too big and strong, ' he thought, as in vain he tried to get free. Pretending to give in, he relaxed his arms, then stomped as hard as he could on the man's foot.

But the foot wasn't there anymore, and the pain shouting up his leg made his eyes water as he instead stomped uneven gravel.

"So, on the run are we? Heh"

The man mumbled it for himself as he fugitively looked around to see if people had noticed. His master had sent him to buy, or rent, a new page. He shook his purse thoughtfully as he looked down at young man he held.

"Your name, boy?"

"Jeff, sir, please, let me go."

"The guards after you, boy?"

"No, my sister is sick, sir. I'm on my way to get the Doctor, sir..."

"Good, we wait for guards, they'll help you."

Damn, this idiot was not going to let him go.

"No, the guards wants to stop me, please, let me go. They'll brand me this time."

The man nodded thoughtfully as he looked around, finding a calash passing, he called to the footman to stop it.

"Come."

As the hood closed down over them the man adjusted the settings to opaque, so as only to see out but not in.

"Spaceport, make haste, driver" he called imperially in Aldrian. He had found his helper, feeling all the better for keeping the money. The boy would do fine with some proper training. As Skemp looked out at the traffic seemingly without order and the people running in all directions, he muttered under his breath

"Bah, newlings, thinking they know it all." Turning to the boy he deftly caught his wrist with his other hand slapping a thin armband over it.

"Boy, you will follow me. And behave." he ordered. "You are now a member of a lord's household."

Jeff stared down at his wrist. The armband seemed to pulsate, and as he touched it he almost felt as if it was alive. 'Must be worth something, he thought, as he surreptitiously studied the man. He had no intention to be part of anyone's household. He hadn't escaped from the slave pens to become someone's property again. He had been lucky there he thought. Normally there was no chance of ever getting away once they placed you, and as an orphan already in debt through his parents, his chances had been slim.

If the caravan hadn't been attacked by Morgs, he would already been accounted for and marked electronically. His had been a narrow escape, and getting into the town even harder. If it hadn't happen so close to it he would probably already have been dead. They didn't call it slavery, of course, only indenture, but in reality it was the same. In some ways it was worse, as you had this obligation to pay it all back before any release could be arranged. So even if your owners would like to release you, they couldn't do so before that debt was paid. All indented went on the tax of those 'taking care of you', so the state made a handsome profit on each one.

'I won't become property again' he promised himself as he started to look around.

They had come out of the inner quarters now, it seemed heading for the gates, and he wondered where they were going. The man had said something but he had been to busy to listen just then, frantically trying to hide as he saw the guard arrive. Maybe it was some big landowner, a lord, he had said?

He tried to remember who it was living outside the town's perimeters, but he was shamefully ignorant of what lords there could be. Whoever it was, he had to be powerful, Anglia was your typical border planet, newly settled by Mines Inc, consisting of a few strongholds at strategic places. Anyone that could afford to live outside had to be strong indeed, especially considering the native Morgs that seemed to find it a favorite sport to hunt and kill humans.

The cook could see how the boy started to tense, and he smiled as he pretended to nod off to the swaying and rocking of the calash, he didn't like lizards, but the pair seemed well trained and the driver seemed competent. The boy was going to get a lesson soon. As Jeff studied him he saw the man seem to lose interest in him closing his eyes. He knew he had to get off before they reached the gates.

Outside, his chances would be much worse, and with it the added risk of guards demanding identification. 'There' he thought, as he saw the calash reach the corner. Ever so carefully he reached for the button to release the hood, then throwing himself off the seat out from the calash. He didn't even reach the ground before the pain hit him, it was as if every nerve in his body was on fire.

He had had a bad tooth drawn when he still lived with his parents, this was the same but worse, he couldn't even see. It was as if everything became a tunnel. He didn't remember how he got back into the calash, but as he came too the man looked at him with a small sardonic smile.

"Want to try again, boy?"

Jeff shook his head, that pain had been too much. Even if he could stand it, which he doubted, he was pretty sure he wouldn't be able to do anything more than just that.

"No, sir."

"Good" The man nodded satisfied.

"We will make a man of you yet."

Jeff looked down at his wrist at the copper colored wristband, wondering how he could get it off. He had no doubts of it being the reason of his pain, as he looked, he thought he could see it pulsate slightly as if adapting itself to him, and suddenly he felt something he hadn't felt in a long time. As if someone actually cared for him, comforting him. That feeling scared him even worse than the pain had.

"What is it." he asked, holding up his wrist and looking at the man.

"Argel." came the answer. As Jeff shook his head incomprehensibly the cook decided to explain.

"Don't worry, boy. The Argel is a gift, not a punishment. Treat it right and it will help you. But remember that its first loyalty always is towards the family. Don't ever try to run or lie, be true and all will go well."

'An Argel? Some sort of alien lifeform, was it?' He studied it again with new respect, feeling it sending out those waves of comfort, relaxing his aching muscles.

"Can I talk with it?" The cook looked at him with newfound respect. The boy was quick, not an altogether good thing.

"He will feel you." he answered. "They don't talk, they bond."

Suddenly Jeff got an image in his head of thin threads growing, spreading and connecting with him. It was as if he could see it, an intricate fractal network of nerves connecting and growing together. It was a most unnerving experience, and he felt the Argel battle his nausea as the bonding grew and grew. The cook looked at him, not without sympathy, as he saw the boy turn a sickly shade of gray. He knew how strong it could hit those sensitive to the bonding.

The Argel were known for the way they bonded with one family, also making them ultimate guardians of their honor by those rich enough to afford them. The cook had been born to the Count's service, and so had never been in need of one. But as the Count had enemies, strong and ruthless ones, when he had sent out the cook he had given him the armband, instructing him to use it if feeling the slightest doubt.

In its own way considered a sign of valor, they were rare beings normally used only on those chosen, for whom value was considered greater than their faults, but he doubted that the boy would see it that way. Not yet at least, looking at him, he wondered. There was said to be an almost mystical bond created sometimes between the wearer and the worn.

But that was more of a rumor than anything he knew to be true. Most carrying them only had them for a short while as the conditioning set in. A very few became, as the saying went, assimilated, and those cases most often resulted in an early death, but for those surviving it?

That was where the myths came from. But it was extremely rare. He remembered someone telling the Count, no, he hadn't been snooping, he was a loyal retainer but overheard if you like, the man stating that "No need to worry. Only one in a hundred thousand, my lord, get assimilated, and of those unfortunates, only a half percent may survive the ordeal, at the very most, my lord. In one lifetime I doubt one will meet even one assimilated."

'For being a lord and master he was almost too soft, ' the Cook thought complacently, not for the first time congratulating himself on his exquisite taste of household.

As they arrived at the gates the Cook leaned out, calling for the Captain. He knew that the Count already had arranged it, some nicely placed baksheesh generously spent, 'but one couldn't be too sure' he thought as he dug in his purse, at last finding one of the barbaric little gems that made for the local currency.

"Greetings, Captain, I trust all is in order." he said, as he slipped the gem into the waiting hand.

"No problems, sir." answered the Captain, turning to his men.

"You, and get Derson, too. You escort them to the port and make it snappy, ensign, try to stay sharp, will you."

Jeff missed the view outside the wall. The wristband was already working some more magic on him without him noticing. He was in a deep sleep as they navigated the narrow clefts leading to the spaceport. If he would have been awake he would have been fascinated at all the otherworldly colors.

Most of them were filtered through the multicolored vines hanging as a canopy over their heads, purple and red, with small twinges of a yellowish green, throwing weird shadows as the light from the weak, slightly red, dwarf sun scattered all over them. But he missed it, in fact he slept through the takeoff too, not waking until they already were far outside that little binary system he had learnt to call home.

The Count found himself somewhat nonplussed at the behavior of his new retainer. He made it a habit to know those in his service, as far it was possible, and he had very little love for the indenture system. That was also the main reason for visiting that misbegotten planet. He had wanted a firsthand impression of how the system worked. Finding out about the Cook's slight deception, he felt more pleased than angry, but the boy was still something of a mystery to him.

The Count had recently bought into Mines Inc, and was now, through some slightly shady manipulations, the largest stockholder there. He had plans for Mines Inc, but he also wanted to make some things better. The problem was that there was a lot of money invested in the indenture system.

Whole space economies were turning to the indenture system, and he knew he had to step carefully indeed. 'There seems to be a sick allure to owning your fellow man, ' he thought, somewhat disgustedly. 'We've come so far, and still behave as if we're just out from the trees' he mumbled to himself as he reflected over it, not for the first time and certainly not for the last.

"They won't like it.", e mumbled reflectively as he considered his plans.

"Who won't like it, dear?" asked a voice.

It was his wife, Eleonora. He turned around to admire her graceful moves as she carefully planted her newest find, a strange looking purple bush, anchoring it deep down in the wet earth. She loved her gardening, and would have made someone a damned good gardener, but she made him an even better wife. He went over, giving her a kiss as he bent down to help her.

She had found a great joy in the planets they had visited so far, being a born explorer, and insisted on taking samples and seeds from each one. After being on the move for almost nine months, with as many planets, she still seemed to feel the same enthusiasm for it, making the whole ship start to feel as a garden in the process.

Although the garden mainly was due to her own efforts, it seemed she has succeeded instilling some of the same enthusiasm in her own retainers, leaving the ship to have become one of the most intriguing botanical gardens the Count ever had seen.

"You know, the stockholders wanting their status quo. It will be a fight."

"Yes, you're right, dear, but it will be worth it." she answered, sounding totally sure of herself.

He went over to smell the bush she had planted.

"Exotic smell, what is it?"

"Don't go too near, dear, it's actually a carnivore." she answered.

"It's been fed and is dormant now, but it might wake."

"Carnivore?"

"I didn't know until I already had sampled it." she answered somewhat shamefacedly. "But I couldn't let it die, could I?"

He smiled at her. "Of course not, dear." he answered, again thanking his father for the sure hand he had shown in helping him choose his wife.

"Just go and see her, Dosar, nothing more." his father had said. "You will like her, I did."

So he had, and much to his surprise he found he did, and so did she.

With their bonding, two great fortunes, and families, were joined, marking the Count and his bride destined to become one of the most influential families in the ten spheres, second only to the Kansler himself. And that man was one of the main obstacles in the Count's way, the Kansler.

He was firmly set on a lifetime assignment as the chancellor of the throne, and by a vote of the congress no less. Or until the king came back, but the King was lost, the Great War had made sure of that. The Count couldn't help sighing as he took his wife's hand in his.

"Those dimension-wars destroyed so much, Eleonora."

"You're thinking of the King again, aren't you?" she murmured, knowing his thoughts as her own by now.

"Yes. I just wish there was some way." he mumbled, almost as if to himself, as they left the room. "But that door is closed with the war ending, its secrets gone." And it was true, the secret to operating the doors was lost, only known to a select few, it had been what held the Kingdom together.

But with the new portals, and the terrible devastation following as strange new lifeforms had established themselves in the human sphere, the secret to their workings had been lost. The war had been won, but to the price of losing contact with more than half of the spheres. What portals still were open was only so for the time being, if something went wrong or one broke down there was no saying how to repair them again.


It had taken Jeff quite some time to acclimatize himself to the ship. It was big, very big, with hallways and corridors everywhere. It had been a very confusing couple of weeks before he got his bearings. And it hadn't been anything as he had expected. Somehow it felt more like as if he had found a home, than as if he had been indentured, but then again, who knew how much his ringlet had to do with it?

He had found himself starting to think of it as a being, and as all beings should have a name he had found ringlet to suit it well. He looked down at it trying to probe it mentally, but the only response was this weird feeling of wellbeing. The Cook had informed him that he wouldn't need to have it on soon.

"Two weeks is the usual amount, boy. It will leave you soon." the Cook had said. The funniest thing was that he wasn't sure that he wanted it to? In some weird way this bonding went deeper than anything Jeff ever had experienced. It was a little like having his own special friend, a blood brother, not that he ever had had any. He couldn't even explain it to himself, but that was what he felt.

"Don't tell anyone, but I'm going to miss you." he mumbled to it as he stood in the corridor trying to remember which turn was which, Finally deciding, he turned to the left and came at last to a door. Everything on the ship was made in materials that reminded him more of wood than of metal, and this door was no exception. Suddenly unsure if he was at the right place, he hesitatingly started to open it finding that someone on the other side was doing the same.

"Who are you, and what do you think you're doing?" came the surprised voice from a girl, coolly blocking his way.

"Jeff, eh, you wouldn't know where the kitchen is?" he asked, feeling himself redden. "I seem to have gotten lost." 'again' he thought as he looked at her.

"I know who you are, you're the new kitchen help, isn't you?" she said, relaxing a little. "Sure, come with me, I'll show you."

As she walked away, him trailing behind, he wondered who she was, there were so few young people on the ship, and he hadn't meet anyone as young as him yet. 'She's very sure of herself' he thought as he looked at her small form leading the way.

'Wish I was that sure.'

He muttered to himself, feeling stupid and slow, and for once, pretty downcast. It was just too much to take in, and the language lessons he had been forced to take made his head ache, even though they were in his sleep.

As she turned around to point to the right corridor, she realized that he seemed fatigued, as if in a daze.

"What is it? you okay?"

"Sure, it's just a headache." he muttered, as he tried to ignore the sudden swaying of the ship.

"You look sick, hey..."

That was the last words he remembered. As he came too again she was leaning over him shaking him with two small, but surprisingly strong, hands.

"Are you awake? Good, just stay there, don't try to move, I called for the doctor."

He tried to speak, but it just came out as a garbled noise. She looked at him concerned, as she sat down beside him.

"Rest your head here." she told him, sounding very businesslike and efficient.

Gratefully he tried to lift it from the floor, and with her help he at last succeeded. As he lay there he found himself looking into her eyes, gray with strange flecks, almost golden, in them. 'Unusual eyes.' he thought as he passed away again, a new spasm hitting him.

She had noticed too. His were blue, or maybe green? She couldn't decide, as they shifted color with the light. But his were looking right into hers, a strange yearning look on his face making her suddenly feel very aware of herself.

"Don't you go dying on me." she whispered, nervously waiting for the doctor to arrive. And as she watched him being carried away she had this odd feeling, as if something important had happened? It was a most unnerving sensation, but she couldn't shake it off.

The next week was hell for Jeff, although he only remembered a little of it afterwards, what he remembered was a nightmare. In it he was meeting people, faces, some laughing at him, some friendly, but most rejecting him, tormenting and degrading him for their own twisted pleasure. It was as if being placed in all the worst households there could be, and all at the same time. And his body screamed too, it was as if there was something eating it, some disease that just wouldn't let go.

"He's being assimilated." the doctor answered his Count.

"There is nothing we can do, I've tried to sedate him, but that only made it worse. The only thing that seems to help."

he stopped, hesitating, then continued turning to the Count's wife.

"The only thing helping, My Lady, seems to be your daughter's visits."

Seeing her flinch ever so slightly, he hastily added. "It's all innocent, My Lady, seems she felt a responsibility for the boy as she was there when he first got ill, but all innocent, I assure you, My Lady."

"My daughter." echoed the Count, surprised. Suddenly thinking of her safety, sharply asking "And why didn't you stop her? What if it's transmittable."

"No, it's not transmittable." he heard his wife's voice.

"The Argel is not a disease, love. But are you sure it helps?" she asked, turning back to the doctor. He just looked at her, helplessly shaking his head.

"Yes, he becomes calmer when she comes. We don't know why, and please don't ask me how it's possible, but we've noticed the effect even before she arrives?"

He looked at them, seeing that the Count, though still looking worried, was now acting calmer, no doubt helped by the presence of his wife.

"I know it's not my thing to ask, but the young man needs every little thing that helps him through. So my Lordship, If you will allow it?"

"Of course he will, Doctor. And I doubt we could stop her even if we wanted." She turned to her man.

"Don't worry, we had a similar case at home when I was young, and there was no disease transmitted then, either. I still remember the screams, though. If our daughter can make it easier on him?"

Turning back to the doctor, she smiled graciously as she said. "Go ahead, but make sure that she is safe."

Reluctantly the Count found himself agreeing. He didn't like it, and if it was his decision she would be allowed nowhere near, but by now he had realized that it was out of his hands. Looking at the physician he more stated than asked

"Your life on her health, Hector?"

As the physician reluctantly nodded, Eleonora had the final words.

"Come, love, let's talk with her."


As Jeff woke up, for once free from his fever, he found her sitting beside him reading out loud from an old book. He could tell it was a book because they had forced him to learn how to read those old fashioned things. 'Those sleep-courses were good' he thought dreamily, 'strange but good.' He stole a glance at her again, out of the corner of his eye, wondering who she was while trying to remember what he had done to end up there.

'Sleep courses, wasn't those only for the rich?'

He had some vague memory of going through a maze guided by someone or something, telling him countless things, more than he ever had wanted to know. And there had been a town in the mountains, hard to reach, that he had understood, but filled with people trying to be free? What was it they were trying to free? As soon as he thought he could remember, he felt it slipping away again, only leaving him with this grinding headache.

It was then she chanced to look up, and as their eyes meet the magic happened. Someone had once said to him that the eyes were the portals to the soul, seeing hers, he knew it had to be true. He awkwardly gave her his best smile as he realized that she knew that he had wakened, needing a small eternity to see that she actually seemed pleased.

She was too lovely for him, no ordinary serving girl he though. He wondered what Lord had taken him in, suddenly finding himself suspicious anew of her and everything he could see. It was seldom for good purposes Lords interested themselves with lowlifes like himself.

"You awake?" she said.

"Yes. Thank you" He was surprised over how weak he sounded. He cleared his throat and tried again.

"Yes, I am."

"Here, have some water."

He found that he needed help lifting the glass. Somehow his hands couldn't stop shaking, and he felt really embarrassed as she took it away from him, to help him drink. But she didn't seem to notice his embarrassment as she shook his pillow, acting almost as if she was some professional nurse. As he looked at here he tried to guess her age, fifteen? No older than seventeen, anyway, but so assured.

"Miss, where am I?"

"In sickbay."

"Yes, but where?"

"You don't remember?"

"No."

"What do you remember, then?"

He tried to think back, but it only made his headache worse. Of course he knew who he was, he was.

"I can't."

"Why can't I remember?" The last coming in a whisper, as he tried to sit up.

"Don't." she said as she hurried to his side. "You're still a very weak puppy and you've been really sick, I'm sure your memory will come back."

All as she gently pushed him, forcing him back down onto his bed.

That was what the doctor kept telling him too, and that nurse, but by now it had gone more than a week and he still was no closer to remembering.

But he had found a holo from his parents at least, he was sure they were his parents, somehow it felt just right looking at them, smiling at each other.

But he also felt this terrible loss, as if something had been taken from him, something priceless. And then there was this feeling of some purpose, like a promise made. But he remembered no such thing. At least he didn't think he had promised anyone, but he couldn't be sure, could he?

And then there were those tests the doctor had scheduled. And the strange reverence everyone seemed to treat him with, as if he was someone to envy, at the same time as everyone seemed to shy away from him, as if he had become contagious, except for her Ladyship? Or Janelle, as her name was.

At least he now knew how he had come to where he was, and also where he had been before. And there was this strange bond, somehow he could feel where she was, and also what she felt.

Also his dreams were becoming increasingly weird. They all seemed to be about this place, this mountain, and the people he met? It was so strange, they were more than just people. More like gods they were, swept in shadows.

But they talked with him, and even though he could make no sense of what they said, he knew that there was a struggle. Like he was being torn in two by their demands, having no will to resist.

The only respite being those short moments when she was there, reading from that silly book. Although he had started to found it interesting, much against his will.

'It was about a magician, a fairy tale for children, ' he thought, but as he had told her, so she had seemed quite upset.

"No, you're wrong. It's a heritage, a gift from my great aunt, and the story is true." she curtly answered, sounding hurt.

He instantly apologized, pointing out that he was just a simple guy, no lord as her father was. Listening to his lame excuses she calmed down, in the end giving him a forgiving smile as she told him.

"It's all good, Jeff. It's only your fever speaking."

He in vain tried to remember if he ever had been that naïve, and he doubted it was his fever making him think so.

He didn't have to be sick to find her book seriously weird.

The next time he woke it was the alarm.

At first he, against all sense, thought it was a ship, but then he realized it was her Ladyship's suit. As soon as he could get his suit to it he could see the warning telltales flashing, some of them into their last stage of violet, signaling the suit's utter state of malfunction. And there was nothing he could do, nothing. If it had been the model he had trained with maybe, maybe, he might have been able to do something, but her suit was a Royal, state of the art, and so different from anything he had worked with.

But his suit seemed to know?

Suddenly he found it moving, closer and closer, at the same time as it started to unfold something that most reminded him of a giant plastic wrap. Circling the other suit, it more or less wrapped the suit up, then stopped as if considering its next move. Jeff was surprised, but thinking of it, it made sense. Probably all suits had some sort of emergency program coded in for the possibility of some other suit malfunctioning. And her suit was after all a Royal, all lesser suits slaved to its system.

Maybe it was the suit that was directing his, too?

All of a sudden the wrap started to inflate forming a corridor into which his suit moved, sealing it off behind itself. And then the suit started to talk, instructing him in what to do, explaining that the wrap now was air filled and a temporary chamber. After listening to the suit, Jeff swore softly to himself.

Yes, there was a way, but it involved cannibalizing his own suit, leaving only hers. For a short moment he didn't know what to do, it was not that he was scared, as much as he just wasn't prepared. But to his own surprise his hesitation was over almost before it had started.

Leaving the suit's protection and under the supervision of it, he started to strip down the malfunctioning power pack from hers. It was hard work, and as the suit had told him there was a time limit to the wrap, he tried to move as quickly as he could. As he was working he could see her eyes start to move, Janelle slowly waking up from her self-induced coma, and hurrying even more he just barely finished as she opened her eyes to look at him, questioning his presence.

"Jeff." she said questioningly, her eyes a golden sheen in the weak light reflected from the wrap.

"Your highness?"

"Are we saved, then?"

"My Lady, no, sorry, just a minor malfunction, don't worry. I'm already done. And your suit is as good as new."

He tried to smile reassuringly as he picked up the tools, turning back to his own suit. There wasn't really any use telling her the truth, was there? Their chances had been astronomically slim at best, and his, less than that now.

His suit would still be able to function after a fashion, but on a vastly reduced power count, meaning that it was just a matter of time before the cold would start to creep in, turning the air into a condensed liquid, and him into a corpse. But he knew the suit would see to him before that. He waved to her, smiling again as the wall once more closed upon him, watching how the suits, now in tandem, sucked in what air there was left, leaving nothing to space, the wrap melting away into a nothing.

"Suit."

"Yes, Jeff?" It had a dark contralto voice, almost as if belonging to some classical opera. Jeff had been introduced to opera by her highness, and although he found it mostly boring watching them on the Tri-D, he hadn't really had the heart to tell her, instead forcing himself to suffer through them with a smile. After all, she was only trying to entertain him, not that he could understand why a highborn such as her would take such an interest in him.

'A valkyria' he thought, almost pleased.

"Don't tell her about what happened, it won't help. And increase both our sleep cycles to maximum. And one more thing, don't wake me unless you think there is something I can do, please."

He wondered if the suit would understand, maybe he should have expressed it clearer.

"Yes, Jeff, unless you can make a difference I will not wake you up. And Royal agrees to your conclusion."

So they were talking, were they? He wondered just how smart those suits were, sometimes it felt almost as if it was a human he was talking to. He didn't know why, but found himself adding. "And suit, you have done a goddamned good job keeping me and the Lady Janelle safe, thanks for everything."

"No problem, Jeff. It's been my pleasure working with you."

'Yes, ' he thought 'as good as human those suits, and if his was this smart, how smart then was hers?'

He looked down where his ringlet once had sat. There was still a small discoloration where it had been, but it was gone, assimilated they told him, and he missed it. The Argel had been his friend, the closest to one he ever had known. And as he felt sleep come over him his thoughts started to wander again.

'Maybe death wasn't that bad' he thought drowsily as he felt himself slipping under, not if he could dream it away.

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Romantic / Fiction / Science Fiction / Slow /