He remembers singing of the stars, under the night sky filled with fog. White lights strewn across purple sunset, winking promises through clouds. No one patch of sky ever remained clear long enough to count them.
The Elders said the stars were constant, unchanging, beyond the atmosphere. As a nestling, he'd thought if he could only see those stars, unobscured by clouds and undimmed by the moons' light, he would not look away until he'd counted them all and memorized their patterns.
You will never see anything else, the Elders said. If you spend your whole life looking at the sky, you will know only a fraction of the patterns in the stars.
There was laughter in the Elders' voices, and he said no more. But the same inarticulate longing seized him at Velorek's words, and he thought if he could see the night sky unveiled only once, it would be worth exile and far worse.
That Pilot will die no matter what you do.
He'd believed Velorek. But Velorek is gone, has not visited him in three solar days, and the conviction no longer helps. The stars are clearer out here, spread across the black in dazzling, dizzying splendor, but they are as distant as ever. As breathtakingly lovely as he'd imagined, but impossibly far and cold.
Moya has not even acknowledged his presence, after the pain pulses faded and she stopped fighting against him. And he has not the courage to reach to her, in the face of her sorrow at the edges of his mind.
The Peacekeepers have left his den for the night cycle, left them alone with his fear and her grief. Her external sensors pick up a steady stream of comms chatter, half of it encrypted and meaningless. The rest of the armada moves with them in formation, and he can sense their engines flaring in concert.
He could lose himself in her senses.
Ionized exhaust from another ship's engines spreading warmth across her bow, sudden cold as the hangar doors open to space, the scrape of a Prowler's landing gear on the deck. The tread of boots in the halls, the DRDs' wheels whirring alongside. A hundred beings breathing, a thousand tiny sensations washing over him.
Her sensory impulses flood his mind, overwhelming his own. If he doesn't concentrate, he can't feel his own body, can't see what's in front of his own eyes. It's exhilarating and terrifying, and he retreats quickly, focused on his own mind, his own body, the constant tearing pain in his lower limbs anchoring him to himself.
He sees what she sees, hears what she hears, but she holds her thoughts from him. She does not want him.
On his home world he remembers a painting of wild leviathans, young ships skimming a gas giant's upper atmosphere, dipping playfully down and soaring up against the stars. The adults watching the young ones held to no formation, and no black collars crossed their bows. He dreamed once that such a ship would be his life partner, and they would share in the glorious freedom of open space.
As he'd lifted one claw to clasp Velorek's hand, he'd known it was the first truly free choice he'd ever made. Now he fears it may have been the last. He can watch every move the Peacekeepers make, but ultimately they control him utterly, as they do Moya.
He is starting to wonder if it is no more than he deserves.
Another Pilot lived in this den only days ago, and now she is dead. And he is alone, despite the nerve endings painfully grafted into Moya's neural tissue. He has never been so alone.
The Elders were right. He is not ready. And all he wants now is to go home.
"I am sorry," he whispers, barely audible.
It is a light touch, tentative at first, and he doesn't recognize her mind at first. Brushing against his, a faint curiosity blunting the edges of her grief. He looks up, before realizing he cannot "face" her; she is all around him, inside him as he is in her.
The thought is simple, if not framed in actual words: who are you?
He has dreamed of this, has practiced what he would say to his partner when he met her. How honored he is. His hopes for their future. All the positive things the Elders have ever said about him. Now he can remember none of it, and when his mind opens to her he is only a lonely, terrified child far from home.
Sudden compassion floods their link, surprising him. Images flash through their minds, quickly at first, slowing gradually as she tries to shape her thoughts to words he'll understand. Did they hurt you, too?
Her thoughts are warmth and reassurance. What was a dimply felt presence for three days enfolds his mind, woven through with a deep sorrow that is as much for him as for the female he replaced.
He did not imagine this, that he would weep like an infant when their thoughts merged, his carefully crafted speech gone beyond recall, greeting her only with a jumbled mix of emotions. Fear and desperate remorse, misery and confusion, and there's no pride, no walls left between them as she wraps him in wordless empathy.
Late into the night, as most of the Peacekeepers sleep, she sings to him of home.
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Title: . . . And A Star To Steer Her By
Author: Flora [email] [website]
Details: Standalone | PG | gen | 4k | 09/18/04
Characters: Pilot, Moya
Summary: He did not imagine it would be like this.
Notes: Spoilers for season two
Disclaimer/Other: I don't own any of these characters. I'm not making any money off of this, please don't sue.
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