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The Choices We Must Live With

“There’s no home like the one you’ve abandoned, no home like the one you’ve scorned. No home like the one you’ve left riven, twisted, and torn. There’s no arms like your mother’s, there’s no calm outside her storm. There’s no ship like the one you were born on, and there’s no comfort when you’re on your own.”

-from “Abandoned Ship (My Brother’s Keeper)”, traditional spacer song

yan banner

As soon as the First Star was done jumping, Yan abandoned the bridge, leaving Kino behind, and ran as fast as she could to the shuttle bay. When she arrived, she was extremely relieved to find Iri and Sylva looking a little rumpled but otherwise none the worse for wear as they climbed out of the shuttle. Yan couldn't exactly say the same for herself; in the twelve or so hours since she had sustained the injury, her head wound had stopped bleeding and had crusted over, but she knew she was a filthy, bloody mess.

Mess or not, they were all alive, and that was the biggest relief she could have asked for.

Sylva pushed forward off the side of the shuttle when she saw Yan come in, and crashed into her, sending them both scooting backwards through the air of the bay. As Sylva wrapped herself around Yan, Yan dragged her feet on the ground to bring them to a stop.

“I'm so glad you're okay,” Sylva said, speaking directly into Yan's ear, her head nestled in the crook of Yan's neck. “I saw the wreck you made of the streets, and all the shit they threw at the airfield, I can barely believe you made it out in one piece.”

“I'm glad you're okay too,” Yan said. “Halen didn't hurt you, right?” Yan looked over Sylva's shoulder at Iri as she said this, watching Iri lock down the shuttle.

“No, just threatened us. It was a long shuttle ride, though.”

“Where's Kino,” Iri asked.

“I left her on the bridge.” At Iri's raised eyebrow, Yan added, “We're already jumped. It's not like she can do anything.”

“And what kind of state is she in?”

Yan pulled away from Sylva and considered the question. “Functional,” she said. “But I don't know if her hand can be saved.”

“Sylva can take a look at it,” Iri said.

“What? No,” Sylva replied, turning around to glare at Iri. “I absolutely will not.”

“Don't be a fucking baby,” Iri said. “You're the closest thing to a doctor we have.”

“But I hate--”

“Your personal feelings don't need to enter into it at all,” Iri said. Sylva looked at Yan with a pleading expression. Yan hated being caught in the middle, but Sylva was just going to have to live with it. Like it or not, Kino needed a doctor, and Sylva's prior experience was as good as they were going to get at the moment.

“For me?” Yan said, looking at Sylva. “Do it for me?”

Sylva pinched the bridge of her nose, rubbed her eyes, and looked down at the floor. “Fine.”

“Bridge is this way,” Yan said and led them out of the bay.

“I know,” Iri said. “I've been here before.”

“You really did a number on these doors,” Sylva commented as they passed a few places where Yan had needed to force an entry.

“I'll fix it later,” Yan muttered.

On the bridge, they found Kino seated, asleep or passed out. Iri and Sylva glanced at each other, and Yan shook Kino's shoulder to get her up. A dull pain leeched through the contact, but it was nowhere near as potent as it had been earlier. Perhaps this was just a tired sleep from Kino, rather than being unconscious in pain.

Kino blinked and looked around, and Yan dropped her hand off of Kino's shoulder.

“Iri and Sylva are here,” Yan said, in case Kino was confused as she woke. “Sylva's going to take a look at your hand, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Iri, do you know where the medical suite is?”

“Follow me.”

Yan helped Kino to her feet and they all trooped through the ring. Iri led the way, Yan walked uncomfortably in the middle next to Kino, and Sylva fell far behind them in the back, making her reluctance clear. Now that they were all walking together, it struck Yan just how empty the First Star was. They felt like the only four people in the universe.

The medical suite was small, as everything on the ship was, but it was very well stocked. Yan wouldn't have expected anything different from Sandreas's personal ship. Sylva looked through all the cupboards and drawers at the supplies, and Kino sat on the exam table. Yan found a stool and perched on it, while Iri leaned against the wall. Sylva washed her hands and put on gloves.

“Better stocked than the Warrior. And better organized,” she said.

“That surprises you?” Iri asked.

“No.” Sylva came over to Kino, bearing a tray of disinfectant wipes and other implements. Kino was paler than usual, and sweating, but she didn't flinch when Sylva reached for her wounded arm.

“You should give her anesthesia first,” Iri said, stopping Sylva before she unwrapped Kino's makeshift bandage.

“Who's the doctor here?” Sylva asked.

“No one,” Iri said. “You didn't give her anything before, right?”

Yan realized that no, she had not given Kino anything for the pain, even when she very easily could have. Kino hadn't so much as asked. Yan's stomach twisted up on itself with guilt, or anger, or remembered pain, or something, and she shook her head.

“You might as well give her the painkiller now,” Iri reiterated, voice absolutely calm.

Sylva huffed and put down her tray. It clattered loudly. She returned to the cabinets, then searched the back room. While she was out of the room, Yan looked between Kino and Iri. She wished she knew what was going on in their heads. Iri stared at the back room where Sylva had gone, and Kino studied the floor, her mouth moving almost imperceptibly.

Sylva returned. “Local or genera?” she asked, looking at Iri.

“I'm not the one you're about to operate on,” Iri said. With visible reluctance, Sylva turned to Kino and held up the two options.

“Local,” Kino said, still looking at the floor.

“Fine,” Sylva said. She put the vials she was holding down on the counter next to Yan and looked for a syringe. “Can you get your shirt off or do I have to cut it?” she asked, still rifling through the drawers.

“I think you should cut it,” Yan said, cutting in. If she could do anything to lessen the tension in the room by answering for Kino, she would.

“Hold this,” Sylva said, passing Yan a full syringe. Yan took it gently, not wanting to break the delicate and unfamiliar object. Sylva found a pair of scissors and held them up triumphantly. Their blades glinted in the light. This time, Kino closed her eyes as Sylva came towards her.

“Can you lift your arm?”

Kino held her arm out away from her body, and Sylva deftly cut away Kino's cassock and shirt at the shoulder. Yan used the power to grab the pieces as they fell to the floor, and she placed them in the garbage. Sylva swabbed Kino's arm below the elbow, then took the syringe back from Yan. She jabbed Kino's arm with it, and Yan couldn't tell if she was placing it intentionally or just randomly. Considering that Sylva was not a real doctor, it probably wasn't worth worrying about. As long as it worked, it was good.

“This should take effect in like, ten minutes,” Sylva said. “Can I take that off?” she asked, nodding at the filthy bandage wrapped around Kino's hand. It had been loose before, but Kino must have tightened it at some point, because it was no longer falling off.

“Yes,” Kino said. Sylva held Kino's arm above the wrist, and laid it on the side table next to the exam chair, palm up. Cautiously, she pulled on the edge of the bandage. When it refused to budge, she picked up the scissors once again and cut through the bandage, pulling it apart.

Bile rose in Yan's throat, but she swallowed it down. Kino's whole hand was covered in thick, half dried blood, and her pinky and ring finger were missing. Her middle finger only extended to the first knuckle, and bone stuck out, hard and white, from the mass of destroyed flesh.

Sylva lifted Kino's hand up, placed a clean white towel underneath it, and began to flush the whole hand with water. She got enough of the blood off that the areas where Halen had carved into Kino's palm and the fronts of Kino's remaining fingers, which Yan hadn't even seen before, became visible. The towel grew pink with water and blood very quickly, and Iri grabbed a new one to hand to Sylva. When the whole hand was clean and dry, Sylva went in with actual disinfectant on the wounds. Kino, who had thus far been completely silent, barely even breathing, let out a pained whimper.

Quickly, Sylva finished disinfecting and tossed down her tools onto the tray. She stripped off her gloves, tossed them in the trash, and jerked her thumb at Iri and the door. “I need to talk to you,” she said. “You,” she said, pointing at Kino. “Let me know when that's numb all the way.”

Iri followed Sylva out, leaving Yan alone with Kino. It was just the silence of the room, Kino's stuttering breaths, and her mangled hand sitting there between them. If Yan listened closely, she could hear the conversation that Iri and Sylva were having outside. Sylva wasn't exactly quiet. It involved Sylva's fears and her wish that she had made Kino sleep for the operation. Yan tuned it out and focused on Kino in front of her.

“I read your letter,” Yan said. She didn't know why that was what she was starting with, but she had to say something.

“I didn't want you to come get me. I didn't ask you to.” Kino's voice was thick sounding.

“You told me that I should do what I had to.”

Kino shook her head. “Not like this.”

“I know you meant that if I killed you,” Yan said. “I gathered that from you saying that you forgive me.”

“I thought you would.”

Yan twisted her hands together. “It's one thing for you to forgive me. It's another for me to forgive myself.”

“And another for God,” Kino said.

“Yeah,” Yan said with a frown. She was, as Kino had said, still not on speaking terms with God at the moment, and wasn't sure if she ever would be again. She didn't know if she wanted to be. That wasn't true. She desperately wanted to return to being the person who could blindly commune with the universe, who felt secure if not in her place, at least in the knowledge that there was a place for her.

“Do you forgive me?” Kino asked.

“I can't talk about that right now,” Yan said. “I don't know.” She shook her head, then looked at Kino's hand.

“Why are you doing this? Why are you throwing away your life for me?” Kino asked. “You could have been First.”

“I--” Yan began, then stopped. She knew exactly why, but she was having trouble putting it into words. There were so many reasons: the feeling that she somehow needed to repay Etta for her own rescue, the revulsion and deep terror she had felt when she had heard Halen say that he was torturing Kino on her behalf, the creeping feeling that Kino had been right all along. It was all tangled up inside her, and each of the three prongs led down dark roads that Yan was afraid to tread.

“I just had to,” Yan said finally. “I couldn't live with myself if I didn't.”

Kino closed her eyes. “Maybe we understand each other, then.”

“I'm sorry I didn't give you painkillers before,” Yan said. “I should have.”

Kino shook her head. “No one gave you any.”

“It isn't a fucking competition,” Yan said, suddenly angry. She didn't want to feel sorry for Kino, and she certainly didn't want to feel sorry for herself.

“I'm sorry,” Kino said, but that only made Yan angrier.

“It would be better for both of us if you weren't so fucking sorry!”

“Okay.” Kino shrank and retreated back into herself, hunching her shoulders as much as she physically could.

Yan stood up from her stool and paced back and forth in front of Kino like a caged animal. Six steps forward, six steps back, her body working in a familiar rhythm. She didn't want to be acting like this, not when Kino was so-- so-- so--. Blood was still leaking out of her hand onto the towel it was laid on, slow and sluggish. Her remaining fingers were curled in on themselves.

Yan hated herself for being angry, and was angry at herself for that, too. She took a couple deep breaths, trying to steady herself. Some of the anger bled away, or stored itself inside of her for later. She was right to have said that she couldn't talk about forgiveness right now. She had to be pragmatic and present here, but that didn't mean she had to be anything more than that. She could still hear Sylva and Iri talking outside, though as usual it was more of Sylva yelling.

“I can't make this right,” Yan said, choosing her words very carefully, taking the bitterness as much out of her voice as she could. “Neither of us can. But I'm trying to make it better.”

Kino looked up at her, eyes shiny and bright.

“What can I do?” Yan asked. She didn't know if she was asking Kino or herself or God. She looked up at the ceiling. There wasn't an answer for a moment, then Kino spoke.

“Can you hold my hand?” Kino asked, voice barely above a whisper. “I'm scared.”

Kino's uninjured right hand curled up in her lap, and she looked so small and pathetic. Yan's heart rose up into her throat.

“Please?” Kino whispered. “Please?”

Yan hesitated for a long moment, then dragged her stool over next to the exam table. She perched upon it once again, and took Kino's right hand in hers. There wasn't any more leaking pain from Kino, for which Yan was grateful. There wasn't anything except a tiny bit of the tension leaving Kino's shoulders, and the nagging, incomprehensible grief taking an even stronger hold on Yan's heart.

Sylva and Iri came back in a moment later, and though Yan may have tried to take the bitterness out of her actions, Sylva had no such compunctions. She looked at Yan holding Kino's hand with barely disguised disgust.

“That numb yet?” Sylva asked, jerking her head at Kino as she washed her hands and found a new pair of gloves.

“Yes,” Kino and Yan said simultaneously.

Sylva wrinkled her nose. “Guess we can get started then. Don't blame me if I fuck this up. I'm not a real doctor.”

“Okay,” Kino said.

“Anything is better than nothing,” Yan said.

“Sure,” Sylva said, sounding unconvinced. “I'm just going to stitch it up and hope for the best.”

There wasn't any more talking as Sylva settled herself in front of Kino, sitting over the table where Kino's hand lay like a dead thing. As Sylva took out her implements, Yan had to close her eyes and turn away. There were some things that she didn't have to bear witness to.


After it was over, Sylva found some more painkillers in the cabinet and handed them to Kino, who tucked them in her pocket and held her heavily bandaged left hand to her chest.

“Where are the bedrooms on this ship?” Sylva asked. “I'm about to pass out.”

“I'll show you,” Iri said, leading them out of the medical suite.

“I'll be on the bridge,” Yan said, excusing herself. “I need to jump the ship.”

“It's been eight hours already?” Sylva asked.

“Small ship, only takes six,” Yan said with a yawn. “But there's no point in me sleeping until after I jump it.” That was still a couple hours away, and she was approaching or already past a whole day of being awake, but she had no desire to sleep at the moment, no matter how tired she actually was.

Sylva frowned at her. “You should get some sleep. Come pick a room with me.”

“I'll be there in a bit,” Yan said. “You go ahead.”

“Yes, Captain,” Iri said in a tone that brooked no disagreement from Sylva. She turned and started off down the hallway.

It took half a second for the weight of Iri's words to actually hit her, but by time she did realize what Iri had said, she was already steering Sylva down the hallway by her elbow, with Kino trailing a few forlorn steps behind. Yan was left standing in front of the medical suite, watching them go. She turned the other direction and headed for the bridge, Iri's words ringing in her head.

Captain.

That was certainly something, and she didn't know how she felt about it, really. On one hand, it was almost every spacer kid's dream to be a captain someday, and Yan had been no exception, but it had been idle daydreaming for the most part. On the other hand, she was a pirate now, well and truly, and that certainly made her feel confused at best.

The hallways of the First Star were so empty. It was an empty country, but she was its king.

She found herself on the bridge almost without thinking about it, and she passed by the ruins of the door and sat down in the captain's chair. Her chair. She pulled up the status monitor and watched the slowly changing numbers that showed the ship's life support, and the timer ticking down until they could jump again. Idly, she opened up a star chart and began working on the calculations for where to jump them. She didn't have a destination in mind, but it was good to keep moving so that they were less easily tracked.

There was something very comforting about the ship. With the acknowledgment that she was its captain, she felt a possessiveness and protectiveness towards it that made no sense. The feeling of the stardrive in the power was warm and buzzing.

She was yawning quite a lot, and ended up mostly staring up at the big display, with just empty space and stars far, far in the distance. Iri came in, almost silently, but Yan could smell the cup of coffee that she held in her hands.

“Thanks,” Yan said when Iri handed it to her. “You should go to bed, too.”

“I think we need to talk for a while before I do that,” Iri said, taking a seat next to Yan and stretching her long legs out. She looked up at the stars on the display as well.

“Where did you give Sylva and Kino rooms?” Yan asked, trying to push back whatever Iri wanted to talk about for another few seconds at least.

“I put Sylva in the captain's suite. I assume that's where you will want to be,” Iri said. “I gave Kino the guest room.”

“And you?”

“Staff quarters.”

“Okay,” Yan said.

Iri pointed to the screen where Yan had been plotting their course. “Where are we headed?” Iri asked.

“Nowhere in particular,” Yan said. “I think we should keep moving, though.”

Iri chewed her lip for a moment. “I think you need a plan, Yan.”

“I don't have one.”

“I know. You don't need one right this second, but I don't think that running and hiding is what you want to do for the rest of your life.”

“What do you think I should do?”

“I think you should find somewhere to ditch Kino, give her back to whatever people want her, and then you should go beg Sandreas for forgiveness.”

Yan's hands stroked the legs of her pants. “I can't.”

“You could. Halen would take you back.”

“It's not that,” Yan said. “I mean, it's partially that, but--”

“But what?” Iri asked.

Yan was silent for a long time. Iri waited patiently.

“Do you think that Kino was right?” Yan asked.

“To betray you? No. God, no.”

“Not that,” Yan said. “About the Empire. The Fleet. What's going on on the Mother's planet.”

“What is right?”

“I'm not asking for theology,” Yan said. “I'm asking if I have the responsibility to stop the Empire from killing people.”

“Look at me, Yan,” Iri said. Yan obligingly turned towards her, and Iri put her hands on Yan's shoulders. “You have a responsibility to yourself. You have to make choices that you can live with. That's all you have.”

“Then why are you here?” Yan asked, looking into Iri's eyes.

“I feel responsible for you,” Iri said. “I owe you.”

“You never owed me anything,” Yan said. “And even if you had, that debt would have been paid a hundred times over when you came to find me.”

“Maybe I'm just a loyal fool, then,” Iri said. “Maybe I see something in you that I think is important and worth protecting.”

Yan shook her head.

“I make the choices I think I can live with,” Iri said. “And I hope I don't live to regret them.”

Yan was silent for a moment longer. “If I go back to Sandreas, I don't know if I would be able to do the right thing.”

“Why not?”

“Have you met the Emperor?”

“Not the same way that you have,” Iri said.

“I think I would lose myself again.”

“You stood up to the Emperor already, just by doing this.”

“I think we each get one mistake, and the Emperor will teach us a lesson,” Yan said, thinking about Sid's punishment, and how the Emperor had talked about Sandreas. “This is mine. But after that, I don't know if I'd be able to defy them, if I went back.”

“So you have made up your mind about right and wrong, and what you would want to do,” Iri said. “And you're just worried about not being able to go through with it.”

“I don't know.” Yan felt pathetic. “I don't want the universe's problems in my hands.”

“You wouldn't have accepted your apprenticeship in the first place if you didn't think you could handle the universe.”

“I wasn't thinking anything at the time,” Yan said ruefully. “I might make a different choice today.”

“No, I don't think you would,” Iri said. “You're far stronger than you give yourself credit for.”

Yan frowned.

“Whatever you choose,” Iri began, “Sylva and I are going to follow you.”

“You shouldn't,” Yan said.

“The same reluctance you feel at me leaving my whole life behind is the reluctance I feel to watch you make that choice,” Iri said. “But I can't stop you, and you can't stop me.”

“Do you think I should go back, really?”

“I think you'd have an easier path if you did,” Iri said.

“What do you mean?”

“Even if you do want to change the course of the Empire, you might have an easier time rationalizing what you do if you're in charge.”

“I don't want to rationalize things,” Yan said. “I don't want to pretend like it's all not happening and has nothing to do with me anymore. I don't want to not think about it.”

She remembered the many, many times when she had read some Fleet report that made her stomach turn, and every time she had put it away and ignored it. She remembered not saying a word in support of the Mother's planet when she was aboard the Impulse. She remembered blindly turning away from things that sickened her because she just couldn't bear it, and she felt all that weight in her hands now. Complicit, that was what Kino had said in her memory. That was what Yan was, and complicit was all twined up with guilty.

“If you really don't want to go back,” Iri began, “are you ready for the consequences of that?”

“I don't know,” Yan said again.

“You'll be a target. Halen let you get away, but I don't think that Sandreas and the Emperor would let that happen again. Your family might be a target. You'll be lying in bed with the same people who did this to you,” Iri said, touching the back of Yan's neck. Yan shivered at the touch, but leaned forward towards Iri. Iri stroked the back of her head, fingers catching on Yan's curls, hand traveling back down to its original position on Yan's shoulder. “You'll be a pirate, or something close to it. You'll be giving up everything you've ever known.”

“Not everything. I'll have you and Sylva and Kino.”

“Yes,” Iri said, smiling, though it didn't reach her eyes. “You will have us.”

“I have to think about it,” Yan said, though as she had been hashing out her arguments with Iri she felt she had half made up her mind. “And I have to talk to my family.”

“That's a good idea. Don't do anything irreversible at the moment,” Iri said. “Not until you're sure.”

“I won't.”

“Good.”

“How come you're so calm and good?” Yan asked.

“If I'm not the voice of reason around here, I don't know who would be,” Iri said. “I don't trust Kino, Sylva's pissed off beyond belief, and you... I do trust you, but you could use some advice.”

“What's Sylva mad about?”

“You need to talk to her,” Iri said. “I don't think you realize what your actions look like from her point of view.”

“What do you mean?”

“I'm not saying that Sylva is being rational, but you rescuing Kino and treating her like a friend makes Sylva feel like you're putting Kino above her.”

“What? No.”

“Sylva is here because of you, because she loves you,” Iri said calmly. “She hates Kino because Kino hurt you. In her mind, it's a betrayal of her love and everything she's done for you that you don't also hate Kino.”

“That doesn't make any sense.”

“I'm not saying it does. But I am saying that you need to work that out with her, or she could let it fester into something nasty.”

Yan slumped backwards in her seat. “Fine.”

“It doesn't all have to happen today. As soon as you jump this ship you should go to sleep.”

“I will.”

“I'm sorry that all this has happened,” Iri said.

“Don't you start apologizing too. I can't handle it from Kino, and definitely not you.”

“I'm not apologizing. I'm just saying that I wish everything had been different.”

“Don't we all?”

“Yeah.”

“How long are you willing for it to take to meet up with your family?” Iri asked. “We can go the slow and safe route, or the fast and slightly risky one.”

“Let's get it over with as quickly as possible. I need to talk to them before I decide what I'm going to do, if they are going to become a target.”

“They might already be,” Iri said. “Do you know what their route is?”

“They should be coming to Byforest station pretty soon,” Yan said. “When I checked the schedule, that was where they were supposed to be next.”

“Then we should go there, and wait for them to show up.”

“That is risky.”

“You're the captain of the second fastest ship in the universe, and the fastest doesn't have any reason to chase after you. We jump in a fair distance away, you run us cold, and we leave a message beacon for the Dreams to find. When they get it, they can come to the designated meeting place.”

“And what's the slow method?”

“We leave a message for your uncle with a slightly questionable contact that Sylva and I have,” Iri said. “Could take months for the message to arrive, depending on the schedules of ships.”

“I guess I prefer the fast way, then,” Yan said. “I don't love it, though.”

“You're an expert at making things invisible, so I've gathered. You should be able to keep us undetected.”

“Byforest station it is, then,” Yan said. “Not so far away.” She pulled the computer towards herself and began to reprogram the jump.

“I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to stay with you until you go to bed,” Iri said.

“I don't need a babysitter,” Yan said. “I'm feeling fine now.”

“It's for my own peace of mind.”

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A note from javert

I did warn you that this chapter would probably get delayed until tuesday. Sorry about that, but such is life. Friday's chapter should be normal.

I was originally going to have a several chapter interlude going back to the past, but then I realized I didn't have the appropriate PoV banner prepared, and I was too lazy and crunched for time to make one, so we'll just have to find a better place to stick that interlude in somewhere else.

You may have noticed that I've been adding chapter titles to chapters. It's an ongoing project. If you have a suggestion for any chapter titles, feel free to leave them in the comments of either this chapter or the one you want to title. I just think that chapter titles are kinda fun, even if they're not exactly "professional", which was my reluctance before. But you know, at this point, maybe we've long passed the boundaries of professional.

Iri is like, "I will force Sylva to behave with basic human decency, so help me God." Can't really blame Sylva for being kinda a dick to Kino though, because who honestly wouldn't? 

Hope you all have a good week. I'll see you on Friday!


About the author

javert

Bio: hi I'm noodle, I studied aeronautical engineering in college, then I taught high school math. now I'm [redacted] and [remainder of message lost].

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