Chapter Three: Teisha

I was thrilled when Sa’lok asked me to stick around. I’d never gotten the chance to be this involved in a mission.

That’s why I’d gotten involved as an auxiliary flier in the first place. Of course, the auxiliaries don’t actually do anything exciting.

I’ve been mostly dropping off food and supply packages to remote outposts.

It was rewarding work, to be sure, but ferrying Sa’lok back and forth was my main thrill in life.

I was aware of how sad that was.

Now I had a chance to do something real, something even more meaningful than being a glorified delivery woman.

And I didn’t mind getting to spend some extra time with Sa’lok, either.

When Sa’lok handed me a datapad filled with carefully translated notes, I was ecstatic.

“Is this as good as delivering supplies?” Sa’lok asked.

“So much better.” I was too excited to even joke with him right now. “You’ve basically given me the key to a toy shop on Solstice.”

“Is that a good thing?” Sa’lok asked.

“A very good thing.”

If he wanted to talk further about human metaphors, we’d have to find time later.

Right now, all I wanted to focus on was getting caught up in this wonderful puzzle so I could join the others in the next room.

I found a comfortable corner of the lab, which wasn’t an easy feat, as laboratories are notoriously uncomfortable places to lounge.

I flipped through the datapad, glancing at all the materials I could read over.

“How many times has this been translated from one language to another?” I asked Sa’lok. “If I had to guess, I’d say three.”

“You’d guess right,” Sa’lok replied. “It’s a language the team found not long ago. Remember I was telling you about the incident at the dig site?”

“But you didn’t finish,” I replied, “which is a shame. Descriptive narrative is a strong point of yours.”

“Thank you kindly,” Sa’lok smirked. “When I was a kid, I liked the idea of becoming a wandering storyteller.”

“What stopped you?”

“Realizing that wandering is expensive and storytelling pays nothing,” he grinned.

“Yeah, that’ll do it,” I chuckled. Funny guy, for an engineer. “So, what happened out there?”

“A lot. But what’s important right now is that the first language was found on the walls there. The Urai translated the  runes, though it’s really more of an approximation than an exact translation, and then General Rouhr had them translated into something you humans can read.”

“I’ll have you know I’m getting really good at reading K’ver.”

“Is that so? Pronounce three words in it then,” he challenged with a wiggle of his brow.

“I said read, not speak.”

Truth be told, I hadn’t a clue how his language worked phonetically, and he knew it. I suspect he just wanted an excuse to tease me about it.

“Worth a shot,” he shrugged, confirming my suspicions.

“Yes, you’re very funny. Now leave me alone to read,” I waved him off.

It took only minutes to fall into my old habits. I deeply loved languages and learning about how they fit into different cultures. I truly loved working in the linguistic field. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it.

I wouldn’t give up my current job, though.

On the whole, it’s much more practical. It was what the planet needed. More so than linguists, anyhow.

Except for maybe now.

“I see what you mean about memories being an important theme,” I said after a few moments. Or, at least, I believed it to be a few moments. One glance at the timepiece told me I’d been reading for the better part of an hour.

“General Rouhr is convinced memories are a solution,” Sa’lok said. “So am I.”

“Do you really think it’s possible?” I set the datapad aside and leaned forward in my chair. “To make chemical memories, I mean.”

“Honestly?” Sa’lok gave me a strange look. “There are other things I’d sooner believe.”

“That’s not very optimistic of you,” I frowned.

“Optimists don’t make scientific breakthroughs,” Sa’lok said. “Realists do.”

“Oh please,” I rolled my eyes and tried not to laugh. “You didn’t know what an optimist or a realist was a year ago.”

“Not true,” Sa’lok protested. “I didn’t know the human words, but I was familiar with the concepts. My people have our own words for those, not that you’d be able to say either of them.”

His smirk made my blood boil, but it also wanted to make me burst out laughing. Sa’lok had that effect on me.

“How long have you two been married?” a passing lab tech asked.

I nearly choked on my breath, heat flooding my checks.

Sa’lok fumbled with the datapad in his hand.

“We aren’t married,” I said at the same time he said, “We’re not together.”

“Really?” the tech blinked, “could’ve fooled me.”

“We’re friends,” I said, even though that must be obvious to the tech.

“Focus on your work,” the head scientist of the Glymna lab ordered, looking up. The tech nodded and quickly scuttled out of the room.

“Nothing on that datapad suggests how to make memories, does it?” Sa’lok asked me, turning the topic back to what was important, but with an odd catch in his throat.

“Not that I’ve seen so far,” I replied, pulling my attention back from wondering what being married to Sa’lok might be like. “I might be able to clarify some of the text, but I won’t be able to tell you any new information yet.”

“Get clarifying,” Sa’lok smirked.

Right. It would be annoying.

But only sometimes…

“Perhaps I might be of assistance?” A calm, layered voice took me by surprise, interrupting my thoughts from going places they shouldn’t go.

“When did you get here?” Sa’lok asked, good humor bleeding through his voice.

His gaze was directed at what was, essentially, a standard plant pot. Blooming from it was a rich green plant that looked like a tangle of vines.

“Is that the Puppet Master?” I gasped.

“Indeed,” the voice came again.

From the plant.

“How’s he talking like that?” I pointed at the pot like an idiot. “Didn’t you say the Puppet Master talks into people’s minds?’

“He frequently does,” Sa’lok replied. “However, it was easier on him for us to figure out a way to project his voice. We used tech similar to the speech pad we made for Fen, the Urai. Look at his pot.”

Now I noticed the pot sitting on some kind of dark surface, different from that of the lab table.

“That’s basically a speech pad modified in a way the Puppet Master can use,” Sa’lok explained. “The pot has no bottom. It’s just meant to keep soil from spilling everywhere.”

Behind the table was a tangle of vines that lead into the sandstone wall. A hole had been carved into the wall, I suspected for this very purpose.

“I’m so pleased to meet you!” I gushed as I approached the plant. I reached out my hand as if to shake someone else’s, and quickly felt silly.

Before I could snatch my hand back, the Puppet Master reached forward with a vine and wrapped it around the width of my hand.

“Pleased to meet you,” he, it, the giant entity said. Him. Going with him.

“How can you help?” Sa’lok asked.

“As you know, I can forge a connection with the minds of other sentient beings,” he explained. “Part of that is accessing memories. I can see your entire life in the span of a moment. I do not do it often, as I find it to be a violation of privacy. However, I am willing to make a global exception if it means defeating the Ancient Enemies.”

“Thank you,” Sa’lok nodded. “We don’t have much right now. We’re hoping you can help with that.”

“How may I assist?”

“We have no Gorgo-infected humans here in Glymna,” Sa’lok continued. “However, there are plenty in Einhiv. If you can, I’d like for you to seek one out. Find a subject, reach into its mind, and restore the happiest, brightest, memory you can. We’ll work out the next part once you have that.”

“I can do that,” the Puppet Master replied. “What is the purpose of the happiest memory, might I ask?”

“It’s my theory that happy memories are stronger than sad ones,” Sa’lok said. “Though I’m not an authority on human psychology. What do human brains prefer?”

I realized Sa’lok was speaking to me, but the lead scientist answered before I could.

“Surely it’s sad memories,” he said. “The chemicals that create the sad ones are potent.”

“I respectfully disagree,” I said. “Dopamine is a hell of a drug.”

“I don’t think a linguist has much authority in the matter,” the scientist said smugly.

Seriously?

“We can figure that out as we go,” Sa’lok gave me a warning look. He knew my temper was about to snap all over that condescending asshole. “Let’s start with a happy, dopamine-filled memory.”

“I can do that. Allow me a moment,” the Puppet Master said before going silent.

“No!” the scientist barked.

Sa’lok and I stared at him, confused by the sudden outburst.

That’s when I saw it. His eyes looked…wrong.

They were glassy, not like a mirror, but like an incredibly clean window.

Sa’lok had told me of this before. It meant a Gorgo was present inside the human. The head scientist had been taken as a host.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” the scientist went on, tugging at his own hair as he chanted.

“No, what?” Sa’lok prompted.

He beckoned for me to come to him, so I did.

He pushed me behind him, keeping himself squarely between me and the mad scientist.

“No!” the scientist screamed, and dashed right toward us.

“I’ll keep him busy,” Sa’lok said. “You need to run.”

“Are you kidding?”

Sa’lok grabbed me by the waist and shifted me away from the charging scientist. He careened into a lab table like he didn’t know it was there. Glass beakers and vials shattered on the floor.

“Do I sound like I’m kidding?” Sa’lok snapped.

“I’m not leaving you here to deal with that,” I insisted.

The scientist charged again.

While Sa’lok drew it to the opposite side of the room, I grabbed a shard of glass from the floor. It wasn’t big. It certainly wouldn’t do any lasting damage, not unless I was really lucky.

I couldn’t just stand there. I had to do something.

I sure as hell wasn’t going to leave Sa’lok to deal with this by himself.

I was in a lab, for fuck’s sake.

Labs are insanely dangerous places. There had to be something I could use. I glanced around, looking for something to use as a proper weapon.

I smiled when I found just the thing.

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