Chapter no 45

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars

With Itari safely returned to the airlock, Kira headed to the galley. There, she grabbed three ration bars and downed a glass of water. Gnawing on one of the bars, she made her way back through the center of the ship to the Wallfish’s machine shop. As once before, she opened the drawers of printing stock and stuck the stump of her arm into the different powders. Eat, she told the Soft Blade.

And it did.

Metals and organics and plastics: the xeno absorbed them all, and in great quantities. It seemed to be fortifying itself against what might come.

While the suit gorged, Kira ate the other two ration bars, although it was difficult to tear open their foil wrappers with just one hand—and her off one at that. Why couldn’t it have been my left? she thought.

In any case, the inconvenience kept her from dwelling upon darker, more dire things.

When she and the suit were both fed, enough time had passed that Kira felt sure Vishal had finished tending to the wounded. At least, enough to

spare her a few minutes. So, she closed the drawers of stock and headed to sickbay.

The room was a shambles. Bandages, gauze, empty canisters of medifoam, and scraps of bloody clothes littered the deck. Four of the Marines were there: one on the lone exam table, three more lying on the deck in various stages of undress while the UMC medic attended to them along with Vishal. All of the injured men appeared sedated.

But Kira didn’t see the one person she was most worried about. As Vishal bustled over, she said, “Hey, where’s Trig? Is he okay?”

Vishal’s expression darkened. “No, Ms. Kira. I cut him free from the webbing the Jelly placed on him. It most definitely saved his life, but…” The doc tsked and shook his head as he stripped off his blood-smeared gloves.

“Will he make it?”

Vishal removed another pair of gloves from a box on the counter and donned them before answering. “If we can get Trig to a proper medical facility, then yes, he will survive. Otherwise, not so much.”

“You can’t fix him here?”

Vishal shook his head. “The projectile shattered vertebrae here”—he touched the upper part of her neck—“and sent fragments into his skull. He needs surgery of a sort the medibot here isn’t rated for. He may even be needing to have his brain transferred into a construct while a new body is grown for him.”

The thought made Kira feel even worse. A kid as young as Trig losing his body.… It didn’t seem right. “Is he in cryo now?”

“Yes, yes, in the storm shelter.” Then Vishal reached for the end of her severed arm. “Now then, Ms. Kira, let me see. Ah, what have you been doing?”

“Nothing fun,” she said.

Vishal bobbed his head as he produced a scanner and started to examine the stump of her arm. “No, I would think not.” His gaze flicked up toward her. “The men showed me some of what you did on Nidus. How you fought the Jellies and the nightmares.”

Kira half shrugged, feeling uncomfortable. “I was just trying to keep us from getting killed.”

“Of course, Ms. Kira. Of course.” The doc tapped on the end of the stump. “Does that hurt?”

She shook her head.

As he felt the muscles around the shortened end of her arm, Vishal said, “The video I saw … What you are able to do with this xeno…” He clucked his tongue and went rummaging around in one of the cupboards overhead.

“What of it?” Kira said. The morbid part of her wondered how the sight of the Soft Blade killing had affected him. Did he see her as a monster now? Vishal came back with a tube of green gel that he rubbed across her stump. It was cool and viscous. He pressed an ultrasound projector against her arm and focused on his overlays while he said, “I have a name for your

xeno, Ms. Kira.”

“Oh?” Kira said, curious. She realized she’d never told him that the suit called itself the Soft Blade.

Vishal shifted his gaze to her for a moment, serious. “The Varunastra.” “And what is that?”

“A very famous weapon from Hindu mythology. The Varunastra is made of water and can assume the shape of any weapon. Yes, and many warriors such as Arjuna used it. Those who carry weapons of the gods are known as Astradhari.” He eyed her from under his eyebrows. “You are Astradhari, Ms. Kira.”

“Somehow I doubt that, but … I do like the name. The Varunastra.”

The doc smiled slightly and handed her a towel. “It is named after the god Varuna. He who made it.”

“And what is the price for using the Varunastra?” said Kira as she wiped the gel off her arm. “There’s always a price for using the weapons of the gods.”

Vishal put away the ultrasound. “There is no price per se, Ms. Kira, but it must be used with great care.”


The doc seemed reluctant to answer, but at last he said, “If you lose control of the Varunastra, it can destroy you.”

“Is that so?” said Kira. A slight chill crawled down her spine. “Well, the name fits. Varunastra.” Then she motioned toward the stump of her arm. “Can you do anything for me?”

Vishal wobbled his hand from side to side. “You do not seem to be in pain, but—”


“—but we do not have time to print a replacement arm for you before we leave the system. Hwa-jung may be able to make a prosthetic for you, but again, time is very short.”

“If it weren’t,” said Kira, “do you think you would be able to attach the replacement? I can make the suit retract from the area, but … I’m not sure how long I could hold it back, and if you have to cut open the skin again—” She shook her head. Anesthetic wouldn’t be an option for her either. Maybe a prosthetic would end up being the best choice after all.

Vishal bent to check the dressings on the leg of a Marine and then said, “True, true. But the xeno knows how to heal, yes?”

“Yes,” said Kira, thinking of how it had joined Carr and the Jelly.

Sometimes too well.

“Then perhaps it could join a new arm to you. I do not know, but it seems capable of great things, Ms. Kira.”

“The Varunastra.”

“Indeed so.” And he smiled at her, showing his bright white teeth. “Aside from the injury itself, I can find nothing wrong with your arm. You tell me if you feel any pain, and I will look at it again, but in meantime, I do not think it is necessary to take any special precautions.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

“Of course, Ms. Kira. My pleasure to help.”

Back outside the sickbay, Kira paused in the hallway, hand on hip, and took a few seconds to collect herself. What she really needed was time to sit and think and process everything that had happened.

But, as Vishal had said, time was short, and there were things that needed doing. And not all of them were so obvious—or straightforward—as combat.

From sickbay, she headed toward the center of the ship and the lead-lined storm shelter set directly under Control. She found Nielsen standing by one of the seven cryo tubes mounted along the walls. Trig lay inside the tube, his face barely visible through the frosted viewplate. Smears of dark blood still discolored his neck, and there was a slackness to his face—an absence—that Kira found unsettling. The body before her didn’t feel like

the person she knew but rather an object. A thing. A thing devoid of any animating spark.

Nielsen moved aside as Kira walked over and put a hand on the side of the tube. It was cold beneath her palm. She wasn’t going to see the kid again anytime soon. What was the last thing she’d said to him? She couldn’t remember, and it bothered her.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. If she’d been faster, if she hadn’t been so careful to keep the Soft Blade under control, she could have saved him. And yet, maybe not.… Given what she now knew about the creation of the nightmares, letting go was the last thing she should have done. Using the Soft Blade was like playing with a motion-activated bomb; at any moment it could go off and kill someone.

What was the answer, then? There had to be a middle way—a way that would allow her to operate not from fear but a sense of confidence. Where it was, though, she didn’t know. Too much control and the Soft Blade might as well be nothing more than a glorified skinsuit. Not enough and, well, she’d seen the result. Catastrophe. She was trying to balance upon a knife’s edge, and so far, she’d failed and it had cut her.

“Eat the path,” Kira murmured, remembering Inarë’s words.

“It’s my fault,” said Nielsen, surprising her. The first officer joined her by the front of the cryo tube.

“No, it’s not,” said Kira.

Nielsen shook her head. “I should have known he would do something foolish if he thought I was in danger. He’s always acted like a puppy around me. Should have sent him back to the ship.”

“You can’t blame yourself,” said Kira. “If anything … I’m the one responsible.” She explained.

“You don’t know what would have happened if you let the suit act on its own.”

“Maybe. And there’s no way you could have known that Jelly was going to pop up. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

After a moment, Nielsen relented. “I suppose. The thing is, we should have never put Trig in that situation in the first place.”

“Did we really have a choice? It wasn’t much safer on the Wallfish.” “That doesn’t mean it’s right. He’s younger than both my sons.” “He’s not a child, though.”

Nielsen touched the top of the tube. “No, he isn’t. Not anymore.”

Kira hugged her, and after her initial surprise, Nielsen hugged back. “Hey, the doc says he’ll live,” said Kira, pulling away. “And you did make it. Everyone on the Wallfish did. I bet Trig would consider that a win.”

The first officer managed a wan smile. “Let’s try to avoid any more wins like that from now on.”


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