And now, the exciting conclusion…
“Yes ma’am. It’s an honor to serve.”
Sslasl could not believe how calm his voice sounded when every part of him wanted to scream “No!” Yet he calmly and correctly said he would go into battle.
“You should not be so quick to respond, boy. We will be flying longer distances than have been done in many years using experimental fuels and a mixer you yourself said needed improvements.”
Sslasl was torn, it seemed wrong not to look at the General when he responded, but all his training here told him to continue to face the senior person in the room. And that person was clearly Lady Seala.
“Carmel is right Sslasl, this is no small thing I’m asking. There is a very real possibility that you will not return from this mission. If the fleet is discovered, or the fuel mixer fails, or our star charts are wrong. There are hundreds of things that could cause this mission to fail. But it must not fail, and trust me when I say, I know it will not fail.
On the other hand, I have no knowledge of whether or not you personally will survive.”
Sslasl was again amazed at the calm in his voice as he responded.
“Ma’am, General, I appreciate and understand the cautions you have given me. But you are right; no one knows those mixers better than I do. If this is where you need me to be, then that is where I will be. It is an honor to serve.”
As he said it, he knew it was true. He needed to be with the General on this trip. He did not know why, but he was positive this was what he was supposed to do.
“Excellent. Thank you Sslasl. Masl, your apprentice does honor to you and your training. You will both be remembered for your contributions to making this happen.
Sslasl, where are we on the new mixers? Can the development finish without you?”
That caught him off guard. Sslasl’s training kicked in and he paused before responding. The design was complete, and he was confident it would work once they got the electronics properly configured. The engineers Master Masl had brought in were beyond excellent and he had little doubt they would be able to make any adjustments needed.
“Ma’am, the design is complete. We had some defective boards come in that will delay the delivery of the prototypes, but every indication is that the design will work. I have full confidence in the skills of the team and believe they can complete this successfully with or without me.
The only possible issue would be if they discover some flaw in the design that would force us to go back and redesign the entire system.”
He focused and applied his talent to evaluate that possibility and it was clear that would not occur.
“Ma’am I applied my talents to evaluating that possibility and I do not believe there is any chance that will occur.”
Lady Seala lost focus for a couple of seconds and then nodded her agreement.
“I agree, that will not happen. Good work Sslasl, the new design will be critical to the movement of the fleet and my father and I are indebted to you for that effort.”
“Ma’am, it is an honor to serve.”
Sslasl felt the blood rushing to his face and fought to calm his emotions.
“Well, all that remains then is to get your blessing Master Masl. Will you give me permission to take your apprentice and reassign him to the senior master on General Carmel’s team?”
“Yes, ma’am. It is an honor, truly.”
“One more thing, Sslasl. You may need to fight the enemy or defend the fleet while on this mission. For that, I will need to ensure you have certain skills. Will you grant me permission to implant the required weaves?”
Implant weaves? Sslasl had never heard of such a thing, but he had no doubt that if such a thing were possible Lady Seala would know how. He only hoped it was not as painful as the forced growth with the power colors had been.
“Yes, ma’am. It is an honor to serve.”
“No, Sslasl. That is not good enough. This is not Lady Seala asking an apprentice to perform a particular weave. I am proposing to implant knowledge into your memory. This is an invasion of your person and privacy, and I want you to answer as Sslasl to Seala, no titles and no authority. There will be no repercussions if you refuse, this is a choice you must make of your own free will.”
Sslasl felt the weight of her words and nearly lost his nerve. She wanted him to make a conscious decision not based on his loyalty, or training, but his personal desires. How would he make such a decision without considering who she was?
He thought for a few seconds then decided. He focused on the idea of her implanting knowledge into his mind and pushed his talent to see the result.
He saw himself on the bridge of a ship wielding the power with confidence, protecting the ship and the people aboard it. But he also felt great loss as he killed with the power and felt the pain of thousands of people as they died at his hands.
Sslasl felt his knees begin to buckle and pulled back focusing on restoring his balance. Then he focused on the idea of telling Lady Seala that he did not agree to the implant and once again applied his talent. He saw himself on the bridge of the ship once more struggling to reach the power colors as he felt a crippling loss of access to them and smelled the metallic odor that he somehow knew was a witch hunter machine. He felt the pain of thousands of people as they died on board the ship, and felt the despair of defeat and failure. He could not protect them because he had refused to learn how.
Again his knees buckled and he pulled back bracing himself against the desk that he had somehow stepped up to.
He looked up in despair at his lack of decorum and saw a look of approval in Lady Seala’s eyes.
“You have seen. You understand what I’m asking now. Are you ready to render a decision, or do you need some time to digest what you have seen?”
Sslasl had no doubt as he answered.
“No ma’am, I don’t need any time. I would be honored to have you implant the necessary skills.”
“Very well. General, would you please gather Master Nev and secure the office? I will need to enlist Master Masl to feed me and root me as I do this.”
“Lady Seala, would your father approve?”
“I doubt it, but it is necessary and you know it Carmel. Please do as I ask.”
General Carmel moved brusquely around the desk and toward the door.
Sslasl heard the door close behind her and felt his knees begin to buckle again as the weight of what was about to happen settled in.
“Sslasl, please take a seat. This process will likely leave you a little disoriented and almost certainly will leave you pretty drained. We need to dispense with all the formalities now and get down to the business at hand.”
Sslasl felt a chair come in behind him and sat down as gracefully as his weak knees would allow. He never bothered to wonder how the chair had gotten there.
“Okay Masl, I will need you to feed me as much of the power as you can draw. But we cannot involve anyone else, I would not have anyone know that this is even possible, much less that we have done it.”
Sslasl felt the power colors surge toward the two women and was amazed at how much was coming to their call. Lady Seala was rumored to be among the most powerful masters in the realm and he could believe it based on the speed and quantity of power colors responding to her call. Master Masl was very impressive too drawing more than he had ever seen drawn before, but it was not even close to what Lady Seala was doing.
Then she reached for his head and spoke to him once more.
“I’m going to put you into a deep sleep while I work. When we are done, you will know weaves that you have never heard of before, and will be a master at wielding them. To do this, I will have to create memories of long training and practice. You will be able to tell the difference between your memories and those you will be borrowing from me because in mine, you will have the distinct impression that you are female. Do you understand? This is important.”
“Yes ma’am. You are planning to give me your memories of learning and practicing these weaves. I need to be able to tell that they are not my memories so that I can maintain my sanity. And the key to that is knowing that I have memories that are not my own and how to tell that they are not mine.”
“Exactly. You are every bit as smart as Masl said.”
Sslasl heard those words and then felt his mind fade into deep sleep.
…”Sslasl. How are you doing?”
Sslasl heard the sweet voice and it took a moment to place it as he awoke. That was the voice of Lady Seala.
“Ma’am. I’m doing well.”
He tried to get to his feet to pay her the respect due her as a senior master and leader of the realm, but his body betrayed him and he slumped back into the chair.
“Relax Sslasl, it will take a couple minutes for you to recover enough to move under your own power again.”
She sounded and felt tired and Sslasl sent her what energy he could draw as he pulled at the power colors to form a healing weave infused with energy.
As soon as he had the weave prepared, he spoke.
“Ma’am may I have your permission to heal you? You clearly pushed yourself too hard.”
Then memory came flooding back in. She had implanted memories. And the weave he had just formed was clearly one of those memories. He could feel the memory and in it he was clearly female. That meant it was one of her memories.
“Thank you Sslasl, yes, I could use a little boost right about now.”
He lay the weave on her and felt her perk up immediately. Then he formed a second one as he remembered that Master Masl was also part of the effort. He could feel her near him as well and she was much weaker than Lady Seala had been.
“Master Masl, may I have your permission to perform a healing for you as well?”
Her voice was very weak and distant as she answered, but she said yes as well and he proceeded.
“Thank you Sslasl. Clearly the effort has been effective. I know where your training was and you did not know such techniques before.”
“Excellent. Thank you for your assistance Masl. Would you like for me to help you forget what you witnessed so you cannot be held responsible for what we have done here?”
“No ma’am. I am honored to have been of assistance. What you did here clearly takes a skill that is way beyond my feeble abilities. Have no fear that I would ever attempt such a thing, but it is an honor to have been here to assist.”
Lady Seala lost focus for a moment and then nodded to herself.
“Thank you Masl, you honor me, and you honor yourself. I see that you have benefitted from the knowledge that I implanted as well, you will have no problem with your next promotion test. Congratulations.
Now, let us formally promote Miir Master Sslasl. You have the pins and belts here I presume?”
“Yes ma’am, they are in the drawer to your right as you asked.”
Sslasl could not believe his ears. He was to be promoted to the Miir Mastery without even testing for the Jin, Kre, or Lar Mastery, much less the Miir Mastery. He had never heard of such a thing.
“Candidate Sslasl, stand and receive the oath of mastery…”
Minutes later Sslasl, his head still spinning, tucked the pins of office into his pocket and hiked the bundle containing his new belts under his right arm as he bowed and left Master Masl’s office.
He had been instructed to pack and meet General Carmel at the port at lunar rise tomorrow. And he was to tell no one of what had happened, where he was going, or even that he was leaving.
He thought of Daas and felt a deep sadness. He had lied to her and would have to lie to her again or avoid her. He did not believe he could leave without seeing her again, but was not certain he could control his emotions if he did.
He knew she was waiting on him before he rounded the corner. She had been waiting for him for some time and was a little worried.
“Hey Daas. Sorry I’m so late. We had some issues to sort through on the new mixer.”
Daas jumped as he spoke, then smiled and rushed over to give him a kiss.
“How did you do that? I always feel you when you are near. Hey, you have a shield on your thoughts. When did you learn to do that?”
“Huh? Oh, that. I’ve been working on it for a while, just got it perfected today. Sorry.”
He had not even realized he had the shield up, and it took some effort to drop it. He felt a little naked without it up, as though he had maintained it day and night for a very long time. Then he noted the feminine feel and smiled to himself. This was not his emotion, it was Lady Seala’s.
He smiled again as he realized that even with the shield down he was maintaining surface thoughts that were innocuous to hide his inner thoughts.
“You sure seem happy with yourself. Did you solve some impossible problem with the mixer today?”
“No, just happy to see you. It has been a long day and I have missed you greatly. Let me put this stuff in my room and we can go get a bite to eat.”
“Sounds good. What did you do buy a new gi?”
“No, Master Masl just asked me to deliver these things to one of the ships tomorrow morning.”
“Oh, so you are her personal delivery boy now. Should I be jealous?”
Sslasl dropped the bundle on his sleep station and pulled Daas in for another kiss.
“What do you think?”
Daas giggled and pushed away.
“You promised me something to eat first.”
Sslasl feigned despair and then guided her back out the door and down to the dining hall.
…Sslasl gently lifted Daas’s sleeping head and pulled his arm free as he slipped out of his sleep station and moved quietly toward his refresh station.
As he did so, he formed a weave and laid it on Daas to deepen her sleep so he could pack without waking her.
He had already stayed too long in the sleep station not wanting to leave the comfort of her arms.
He quickly went through his morning routines and packed his few belongings in the bag that had been left outside his door sometime after they had entered the previous night.
It was time, he went back to his sleep station and laid the note he had written next to Daas, then kissed her gently and touched her mind briefly to leave no doubt in her mind that he loved her.
Then he picked up his bag and turned resolutely toward the door. She would have a long life with her husband, raising a pair of sons. This was the last time he would be part of her life, and that was for the best. No matter how much it hurt.
He wiped tears from his eyes as he moved swiftly down the hall toward the side door where a transport waited to whisk him off to the starport.
“I’m sorry Sslasl. If there were any other way, I would not have asked this of you. And I never would have shared my burden with you. But this is necessary, and you are doing the right thing.”
“I’m honored to serve ma’am.”
Slaasl felt Lady Seala leave his mind and was amazed at the emotion she had shared during the contact. She truly was sad to have asked this of him. But she was also absolutely positive it was the only possible alternative.
He was somehow reassured by what she had shared and he pushed his own pain and sadness into a corner of his mind and quickly checked his shields as he prepared himself for the journey ahead.
And now, the exciting conclusion…