Day 35. 64 pages, 30,257 words.
Happy Gretchen practically had to lock her arm plates to prevent herself from reaching out and clutching Belerious for comfort. It was one thing to meet aki’Drednanth of a playful bent for commerce or a friendly fight. This one was another matter entirely.
The docking airlock cycled smoothly and slid open to reveal the great shaggy form of the aki’Drednanth. Jadis had come without an envirosuit as a sign of trust in their hospitality, although Happy Gretchen would have been surprised if she hadn’t brought one with her in her little ship’s cargo hold. She was, however, sporting her own specialised augmentation – a huge, gleaming-obsidian gauntlet, all ridges and spikes and glowing blue highlights that turned her enormous right paw into a claw of lightning. The armour extended up to her shoulder. It was, Happy Gretchen knew, a piece of a full envirosuit of the sort aki’Drednanth wore on Damorakind worlds.
Jadis’s gauntlet was more than just an affectation, and more than just a necessary augmentation to allow her bestial native speech to be translated into Xidh. Indeed, Six Species aki’Drednanth had transcriber gloves built into their envirosuits so the movements of their fingers could be translated into words. This was neither necessary for Jadis – the Damorakind suit transcribed her subvocalisations directly from the base of her throat and cast them from a transmitter on her shoulder – nor possible. Her right arm was missing from the elbow down, a souvenir of the savage fights aki’Drednanth litters undertook in order to determine which newborn survived. The gauntlet, therefore, was a prosthetic as well as an enhancement.
Aside from that, Jadis looked much like any other aki’Drednanth. Vast, muscular, covered in shaggy grey-white hair and topped by a huge heavy-jawed head with a row of thick yellow tusks. Her eyes and ears were practically vestigial, tucked away down at the junction of jaw and shoulder. Aki’Drednanth didn’t need sight or hearing, although Happy Gretchen knew both were still appropriately acute. Jadis knuckled forward, deceptively swift and light on her feet, and snuffled briefly at Belerious and Happy Gretchen with a mild prodding of tusks.
“You are taller, I think, than you were when I last came to this place,” she declared, angling her massive jaw to peer at Happy Gretchen with a glittering crystalline eye.
Happy Gretchen inclined her head. “I upgraded the boosters in my lower legs,” she said, and shifted her own sturdy feet on the freezing floor. “I was as big as Cryos when she came to visit … but you are larger than Cryos.”
Jadis studied Happy Gretchen for a moment longer, then turned to Belerious.
“Belerious,” she said. The voice from her transcriber was neutral, and she didn’t have a convenient set of indicator lights to show shat sort of mood she was in the way Six Species envirosuits did. Still, it was easy enough to tell when Jadis was in a good mood. “It is good to see you again.”
“Jadis,” Belerious said politely. “We appreciate your visit.”
“Please,” Happy Gretchen said, and waved them both away from the blister. “We have refreshments … all your favourites … and your chambers are prepared. The field is – I think you will find it quite pleasing, if you wish to run. If you wish to hunt, we have-”
“Perhaps first I should see to your Bonshoon,” Jadis demurred. “I have come a long way. And I do not feel the presence of a Molranoid Dreamscape in this place,” she added.
“We don’t know what sort of abilities Pod 9 – our Bonshoon child – possesses,” Happy Gretchen said, “that is part of the reason we asked you to come. He may not be capable of anything but the occasional accidental spike. You would be able to find out better than we have, I’m sure.”
“We are reasonably convinced that he has killed,” Belerious said. “Twice.”
“Yes,” Jadis replied, “your message said as much, although it was only once, then. He has killed again since?”
“There has been another death,” Belerious said. Ever cautious, Happy Gretchen reflected in amusement. “Pod 9 was present.”
“It is … interesting,” Jadis said. “Bonshooni do not have the mental discipline, many believe, to even approximate telepathic ability. Not even after a lifetime lasting millennia. And yet this is a child – but at the same time, perhaps, an ancient. A study in contradictions. Very interesting.”
The three strode swiftly through the freezing hall and into the deserted, equally cold spar-corridor. Happy Gretchen tapped on her communicator with a lower hand.
“Have Pod 9 stuffed into a thermal and brought to Jadis’s chambers,” she instructed.
“Bring one or two of the broken children as well,” Jadis instructed. Happy Gretchen nodded and passed the order along. “Of the forty you acquired, thirty-three survived awakening?”
“Yes,” Happy Gretchen replied. “And thirty of those were restored to minimal function. One awakened to an unexpected degree but still died, and three awakened to an unexpected degree and lived.”
“Your Pod 9 is one of them,” Jadis said, “what of the other two?”
“Pod 22 and Pod 23, siblings,” Happy Gretchen said cautiously. “They have not exhibited this manner of … functionality … thus far, although I would be grateful if you would examine them as well.”
Jadis grunted deep in her chest.
“We shall see,” she said.