Slave Empire III - The Shrike
found that the
emotion he called love was akin to one the ships had, which
sometimes made them want to mesh wings with a particular friend and
become one, something Envoys never allowed.
    Tarke
sympathised, waiting for its next thought. When it remained silent,
he asked it how it would try to heal Rayne. It replied that it
would have to close the portals in her mind, which would require a
great deal of effort and caution. Once the doors were shut, it
would have to find the one that had swallowed her and bring her
back, if possible. Her state, it explained, was the same as the
Envoy had used when he became dormant, something they had perfected
over the millennia to safeguard their sanity.
    The boredom of
being anchored within another creature, unable to relate to the
outside world except through his host’s senses, had caused Envoys
to evolve this form of hibernation to escape the years of
inactivity that came with their lifestyle. The only difference was
that Rayne had lost control of it, and it had claimed her utterly.
Tarke made his eagerness for the ship to begin its attempt to bring
her back plain. It told him it might take a long time to undo the
damage, if it could be undone at all. Tarke hoped his openness
would convince the ship to try, sensing its reluctance still.
    Scrysalza gave
a mental sigh and withdrew from his mind, which he guessed it did
before it attempted to touch Rayne’s, to spare him the horror of
it. Realising that he still wore his mask, which was growing clammy
in the humidity, he stripped off his gloves and unclipped it,
running a hand through his hair.
    He gazed down
at Rayne. “Scrysalza’s going to try to help you. It’s going to
close the doors and bring you back. Come back to me, please.”
    A tiny flame of
hope burnt in his heart, sheltered from the bitter winds of doubt
by his determination to keep it alive.

 
     
    Chapter Five
     
    Tarke waded out
of the lake, stroking water from his hair after a refreshing bath.
A week had passed since he had come aboard the Crystal Ship, a
strange, but not unpleasant existence. He had grown tired of his
clothes’ hot dampness and shed most of them for the sake of
comfort. Now he wore only a pair of grey undershorts that reached
to mid-thigh. The hardest part was providing Rayne’s needs, keeping
her clean and fed. After the first day, he had shown the ship what
he required, and it had provided the necessary nutrition, albeit in
weird shapes and tastes.
    Caring for a
comatose person was not easy at the best of times, and here it was
a full-time job. Each day he gathered strange food from the little
garden that had sprung up around them and tackled the unpleasant
task of making her eat it. Scrysalza provided tubes of soft paste
to feed her, but, even so, his dislike for forcing it down her
throat had led to her losing weight, and he tried to do better.
    After she ate,
he massaged her arms and legs and stretched her muscles, then
carried her to the lake to bathe her. The daily routine forced him
to overcome most of his aversion for skin to skin contact, and her
comatose state made it easier. When she had fallen into the coma,
his strange longing to hold her had increased, and over the past
five years he had become inured to it. Touching others had never
been a major problem for him, however, although he disliked it. The
real problem would only rear its ugly head if and when she woke
up.
    It had taken
Scrysalza three days to close the first door in Rayne’s mind, and
the entity had struggled to do it. Even the alien’s massive mental
powers were barely strong enough to undo the damage the Envoy had
caused, which the drugs had compounded and Rayne’s suicidal plunge
into oblivion had complicated. The second door took another day, a
third door took two, then the task became easier. After a week it
had closed all the doors, which it also described as portals,
holes, pits or spaces. These spaces, it claimed, were the source of
the terrible blankness that

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