A Halasin of Secrecy
Kala scanned the dreamlike cloudscape surrounding the ship. The celestial sea that flowed from the white dwarf’s tempest was colorful and teaming with potential. Each wall of cosmic dust was made more beautiful by the elements it contained. What was now a mere sparkling of hydrogen fog might someday become the core of a new star, that would give life to planets and moons and people so far beyond Kala’s imaging that it was a gift to even wonder what they might be. Nebula’s like these were a glimpse into the future and a gateway to the beginning of time; and Kala was standing in the middle of one.
An open deck like this would never be found on a Federation ship, she thought. They had masterful observation rooms of course; whose walls, ceilings and floors were completely and perfectly transparent. You could stand in them and feel as if you were floating in space. But any time Kala visited one, she always felt bubbled, like a fish trapped in a bowl.
Here, clouds that contained the fundamental ingredients for life itself, rolled over the walls of the ship, pooled around your ankles and slipped over the side with a whisper goodbye. Kala put out her hand and watched the particles part around her fingertips. It was something to behold.
Two days aboard the Monoceros had granted her a small sense of comfort in her new surroundings. After frequenting certain sections of the star racer, Kala was glad to find that the ship no longer felt like a stranger. Now theirs was more of a timid acquaintance. Thus far, she had stuck to the top three decks, spending most of her time in med bay with Chi or in the somewhat-privacy of her barrack. If she was inclined to eat, she would take her meals back to her closet-sized cabin and dine alone.
Kala had intended to ignore the Captains rule about everyone using the ship’s gymnasium. Such a requirement felt unorthodox and she didn’t have the appropriate clothing besides. Kala was surprised then, when she found herself confronted by the Calian, waiting outside her door that morning. He’d insisted on escorting her to the gym and showed her where a garment fabricator was located so she’d have the apparel she required.
Kala was still musing over that strange encounter. Cono had opted to use the ship’s VR simulator while she stuck with what she knew and chose a treadmill. Running had always been her go-to. During their workout, Kala kept her eyes glued to the snake-like agility of the Calian as he sprinted, jumped and weaved through his invisible environment. Even on his medication, Cono’s movements then were lightning fast. Despite his earnest congeniality, Kala couldn’t help but wonder if his being there was meant to intimidate her. If Cono was present, running away would not be an option.
Now, freshly showered and with some food in her stomach, Kala was waiting on a summons she’d received from Captain Treta. In the last forty-two hours, she’d seen very little of the Asmurian. As Captain, he clearly had much to attend to. But going from seeing him every day to hardly at all was somewhat confusing. How could she achieve her new goal of learning more about the man behind the legend if they didn’t talk? Kala had tried to ascertain some information from Chi, but thus far the insectoid remained diligently tight lipped.
The sound of the latch on the office door caught Kala’s attention. She turned as Treta emerged and closed the door behind him.
“Afternoon, Doctor. How are you feeling?” He asked, pulling a cigar from his breast pocket. Holding it in his jaws, the captain lit a match, making the cigar tip glow as he gave it a starting puff.
“Fine, thank you.” She replied quietly, eyeing the cloud of smoke.
“What did you think of our fitness facilities this morning?”
Kala narrowed her eyes at him. “State of the art. Did you send Cono to chaperone me?”
A heavy cloud bellowed from his nostrils; the smell surrounded her. “If you won’t attend on your own, Kala, I’ll continue to arrange for an escort. Cono is always looking for an athletic companion, so he’s more than happy to accompany you.”
“That won’t be necessary.” She said turning her gaze back to the starry sea.
“So long as you go, that’s all I ask.”
“That’s all you ask?” Kala said back, her tone mildly challenging and sarcastic.
Treta grinned, his sharp teeth looking even more menacing with the cigar poised between them. “Well, that, and all the other rules you’re required to follow while on my ship.” He winked. “Come. Walk the deck with me.”
Falling in stride beside him, Kala walked with her hands in her jacket pockets. There weren’t many crew members on deck at this time, so the wide-open space felt peaceful and somewhat private. Before Kala could wonder what this was about, Treta addressed her unvoiced question.
“Several minutes ago, I received a CQC from Ursus.”
Kala’s head spun, causing her Talas to swing and clack together. “Veska?! Does that mean, I can talk to her?”
“You may. But first, Kala, we need to discuss what you’re going to say.” Treta stopped walking and turned to face her. They were standing now at the prow of the ship, the bowsprit jutting outward like a javelin into the great beyond.
In that moment, Kala was so surprised and so eager at the prospect of seeing her sister, she might have agreed to anything. But she swallowed and reminded herself to remain strategic.
“Do you want me to lie to her?” she asked, unable to conceal the worry in her voice. As Treta inhaled the smoke from his cigar, his expression softened but remained direct.
“I want you to convince her that ours is the side worth trusting. The Federation believes you’re dead, and in a few days, they will arrive to tell her so. Us allowing you to see her before then spares her the heartbreak, but severely complicates everything else.”
“She’ll have a thousand questions.” Kala said, sensing his direction.
“Which is why you need to be as vague as possible. The less she knows, the better. Lying is far easier when feigning ignorance.” He took another drag from his cigar and glanced at the stars. “Be honest. If the Federation questions her, how likely is she to deny this encounter?”
“If I ask her to, she will.”
He looked at her from the corner of his eye. “Can you be certain of that?”
Kala held his gaze and nodded. “We have a code. Unbreakable for our people. If I invoke the Halasin, you’ll have nothing to fear from Veska.”
At that, his ears perked up, that curious light returning to his gaze. When Captain Treta gave you his attention, he gave it fully. Caught now in the weight of the Asmurian’s stare, she couldn’t help but find his attentiveness appealing.
“You’ll have to tell me more about this code, Kala,” he said. “I’m very interested to learn about your people and customs.”
Kala was surprised. There was something almost vulnerable in such an honest admittance. But he said it so comfortably. It had been a long time since Kala found herself surrounded by people who actually said what they were thinking. Hantae were very open with one another, but the Federation races, they tended to guard every intention and tailored every thought. It was some all-encompassing attempt at civility, but at times it came across as false and misleading.
“Perhaps we could exchange information.” She offered, intrigued by his request. “There’s much about Asmurian culture that I’ve yet to learn.”
A hidden smile played in the corner of his mouth. “It’s a deal. For now, let’s confirm your talking points with Veska.” Putting a heavy hand on Kala’s shoulder, Treta proceeded to convey his plan.
Kala stood outside the massive cabin doors, ringing her hands as she listened to what Treta was saying. She could barely hear Veska’s voice on the CQC. Not being able to see her sister yet was killing her. It’d been half a galactic year since they’d last talked face to face over holo cast. Their written correspondence was almost constant, but actually seeing one another took more time, given the distance for transmission.
Finally, the moment had come. Kala knocked on the door as they’d agreed, and held her breath, waiting for Treta to open it. When he did, she practically ran into him, expecting to enter immediately. But Treta kept one paw on the door and blocked the frame with the wall of his body. Kala gave him a questioning look, not bothering to hide her frustration.
Treta spoke, his voice barely above a whisper. “Remember, keep it short and simple. All will be explained in time. This is for her protection, Kala.” The Captain’s hushed tones and the closeness of his body to hers almost made Kala blush. But she nodded and watched as he finally stepped aside.
The window at the back of Treta’s office had taken the form of a holo screen, projecting a floor to ceiling view of a small cockpit and the young woman therein. From across the room, Kala’s eyes locked with her sister’s and she broke into a run. By the time she reached the Captain’s desk, her tears were already falling.
Despite all her fear and frustration surrounding theses recent misfortunes, seeing Veska again brought a smile to Kala’s face. It radiated with pure love and affection and she cried for the joy of seeing her family and knowing she was well. Once the transmission caught up, Veska was smiling too. Kala felt as if she could sense her, their love shooting across the galaxies and tethering their hearts.
“Ka, you’re crying. Are you alright?”
Kala laughed and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “Yes, Ves, I’m okay. I’m just so happy to see you. Look at you. What on Ursus have you done to your eyebrows?”
“I shaved them? It’s very fashionable now. What happened to your head! Is that a scar?”
“I was in a minor accident. I’m fine though, I just haven’t gotten around to healing it properly.”
Veska’s smile started to dim. Her eyes jumped over Kala’s shoulder to where Treta was standing.
“Kala, what’s going on? Where are you?”
Kala wet her lips and focused on the message they’d agreed upon. “I’m on a private vessel on the edge of the Federation border. In a few minutes, we’ll cross into Deep Space and loose our transmission. We don’t have much time so I need you to listen carefully. A day or so from now, the Federation will send someone to tell you that I’ve been killed. It’s not that they’re lying, they’re simply misinformed. I wasn’t meant to contact you about this, but I insisted. I need you to know that I’m alive and well, and will be for a very long time.”
Veska shook her head. The fear in her eyes weighed like a stone on Kala’s heart. “I don’t’ understand any of this.” She said.
“I know, Ves. And I’m so, so sorry to put this burden on you. But I couldn’t bear the thought of you thinking I had left you.”
Now Veska was tearing up too. The countless conversations they’d shared surrounding Kala’s decision to enlist resurfaced in both of their minds. They had already shared the heartbreak of losing their parents. Kala faced great risk leaving the safety of Ursus to pursue her career. And now, Veska thought, that risk had finally found her.
“When they contact you, Veska, they might say some terrible things about what they think happened to me. Whatever that may be, just know that I will be with you again soon to give you a better truth.”
“Why can’t you tell me the truth now?”
“It’s for your own safety, Veska. The less you know, the better.”
“Then when will I see you again?”
“Soon. I promise. A galactic month at most.” Kala looked over her shoulder at Treta. He nodded and motioned for her to wrap up.
“Veska, we’re almost out of time. You need to be believable when they give you the news. If you’re worried that you can’t be convincing, or if they start to question you, claim a state of mourning. Ursus will grant you solitude and protection.”
“Kala…I love you but, this whole situation is really scary. I don’t know what to believe.”
Kala took a deep breath, readying herself for the promise she was about to make. “I love you too. Which is why I offer you my solemn vow and invoke a Halasin of secrecy.”
Veska’s body language and expression shifted instantly. She met her sister’s steadfast gaze and awaited her words.
“On our mother Tvinna and our father Abbinu and on our family name. This conversation never took place. The last you saw me, was six months ago. Whatever they tell you, you will believe… until I return to you and deliver a new truth. By The One-“
“I accept your Halasin and will await your return.” Veska’s voice was quite but strong. Oh how Kala admired her so. She prayed, to The One and the many, that they would be reunited again. Kala felt her tears returning so she quickly hid them behind a smile. She only hoped it was convincing.
“I love you.” Kala said the words with such conviction. This was her unyielding promise, unbreakable and true.
“I love you too.” Veska said sadly.
“Until we meet again.” And with that, the transmission ended. With the signal cut, the large window became a violent screen of silent static. Kala shied from the visual noise, turning from the glass and shielding her eyes. Treta touched a symbol on his desk and replaced the chaos with the calming view of the nebula sea.
When Kala felt his paw on her shoulder, she shrugged him off and stepped away.
“Don’t.” she said, her voice quiet and heavy with emotion.
“You did the right thing.”
Kala glared at her captor, instantly stopping his words. Through the darkness, her eyes were hot and blazed with warning. He waited for her to speak, but she would not give him her voice again. Kala shook her head, turned on her heel and left, closing the door with the finality of her silence.