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The distant sound of the door chime jarred Tyber out of a wonderfully comfortable sleep.
He slowly disentangled himself from Oscar, but before he could even get out of the bed, the chime sounded again.
Tyber quickly pulled on the clothes he had worn the day before, then padded to the door in his bare feet.
"Yes?" Tyber asked blearily as he opened the door. His mind was still somewhat sleep fogged.
"The Holy One asked that you attend him. Events have unfolded in such a way that he believes you should be introduced to our people in advance of our arrival." Audge said quietly.
"Oh, um, do we have time to take a bath and have breakfast first, or does he need us to go right this minute?" Tyber asked slowly as he eased the rest of the way into full wakefulness.
"You should have time to eat and bathe. Tyce asked that I wake you now so that you would have time to compose yourself." Audge assured him, then quietly asked, "Would you like for me to inform Dengarvin that you and 'The Voice of the Gorn' will be ready for your breakfast soon?"
"I'd hate to wake him up if he's sleeping." Tyber said thoughtfully. "We can just go down to the galley and get something for ourselves."
"Please try to understand that Dengarvin feels incredibly honored and blessed to have been given the responsibility of seeing to your needs. Allowing him to do these small things for you brings him joy because for these few days, he's being given the opportunity to perform a service that has significance and meaning. All his service and training to date has been solely in hope that one day he might be asked to do something such as this."
Tyber considered the words, then quietly asked, "Is that how you feel about being with Tyce?"
Audge was surprised by the question, but considered carefully before answering, "In the beginning, perhaps. But my situation was somewhat different. I signed up for ship's service to be a crewman. I suppose that my ultimate motivation was somewhat like Dengarvin's, that being, to be of service to The Holy One and the church. But I never thought it would even be possible for me to ever meet or speak directly to 'The Holy One'. In my wildest dreams, I could only imagine that I might get the opportunity to see 'The Holy One' someday."
"How do you feel about Tyce now?"
Audge gently smiled, then thoughtfully said, "What I feel now goes beyond duty and honor. I have come to know who Tyce is beneath his title and formed a personal bond with him."
Tyber grinned, then nodded that he understood.
"So, would you like for me to let Dengarvin know that you'll be ready for breakfast soon?"
"Yeah. That'd be nice." Tyber said, matching his quiet tone.
"Oluf will call you later to let you know where and when you'll be expected."
"Thank you, Audge. We'll be ready when he calls." Tyber said peacefully, then watched as Audge withdrew.
* * * * *
"It's time to wake up, Oscar." Tyber said as he sat on the edge of the bed.
"It seems too early." Oscar said as he slowly opened his eyes.
Tyber smiled at the sleepy look in the eyes of his young Saurian lover, then moved in to give him a slow, gentle kiss.
After a long minute of sensual kissing, Oscar pulled away enough to say, "You can wake me at whatever time you like if I get to wake up like this."
"I'll remember that." Tyber grinned, then said, "Audge stopped by and said that the Holy One is going to need us for something. We should have time for breakfast and a bath before he calls on us."
"By 'bath', I'm hoping that you mean that I will once again be able to sheath myself in your warmth." Oscar said with half-slitted eyes.
Tyber let his hand drift down and lovingly caressed Oscar's pouch, which was a bit more mounded than usual.
"I think that since it's likely that we're going to be doing official things, at some point we should do some washing up. It seems only proper." Tyber said with a grin, then gently began to massage Oscar's hardness as he continued, "Besides that, I think that feeling you inside me again will help me keep a smile on my face, no matter how long and boring the next few hours are."
"You really like it?" Oscar asked curiously, looking uncharacteristically serious.
Tyber carefully considered how to answer the question, then slowly said, "At first the sensation was strange and I didn't like it all that much. But once I got past that, I started to enjoy the way it felt. But I think what makes it good is because it's you that I'm with. When you're inside me, I feel complete. It's the only time since my dad went away that I feel like I'm not alone."
Oscar leaned forward and kissed Tyber gently for a moment, then whispered, "I haven't ever been as close to my family as you are to your father. I envy you that. Being here with you, sheathed in your warmth and holding you in my arms... I feel peace. It's the first peace I have known in my life."
"Less talk." Tyber whispered as his gentle stroking became more insistent.
Oscar responded by grabbing hold of Tyber's shirt to peel it off over his head.
* * * * *
The door of the bathing room opened but no one stepped inside. Finally, a timid voice from outside the doorway quietly said, "I have brought your breakfast, I will serve it when you're ready."
Tyber lazily smiled at Oscar, then called toward the door, "Dengarvin, would you come in here for a moment?"
The young priest looked cautiously into the room, then timidly walked in and waited for Tyber's orders.
"We're done bathing. We've just been enjoying soaking in the warm water for a few minutes. Go ahead and serve the food, and we'll be out soon." Tyber said calmly.
Dengarvin gave a slight bow and began to withdraw when Tyber called after him, "Be sure to set a plate for yourself, too."
A slight smile of appreciation came across Dengarvin's face, then he gave Tyber a quick nod before hurrying away to work on his task.
"You know, when the Gorn fleet leaves, I'm going to have to go with them." Oscar said honestly.
Tyber looked at Oscar and regretfully nodded.
"If you were to seek comfort from Dengarvin in my absence, it would be of help to me." Oscar said as the concern shown clearly in his eyes.
"Comfort?" Tyber asked cautiously, not entirely sure what Oscar was asking him to do.
"Naked sexual comfort." Oscar said frankly.
"Oh." Tyber whispered.
"We are from different worlds, cultures and species. I expect that circumstances will force us to be apart, regardless of what we might wish." Oscar said in a pained voice, then said more firmly, "I just wanted you to know that I approve of Dengarvin. If he were to share your bed or your... 'bath', in my absence. I would not feel betrayed. In fact, I would feel comforted knowing that you aren't left here, feeling completely alone."
"I'll feel alone unless I'm with you." Tyber said gently, then added, "I may ask him to hug me or hold me through the night, but that will be because you aren't here with me. As far as the sex stuff, I think I'll just save that up for the next time that we can be together."
"Thank you, Tyber." Oscar said with a smile. "In the lonely days ahead, it will help me to know that you won't have to face it completely alone."
"What about you? Do you have someone like Dengarvin on your ship?" Tyber asked cautiously.
"No. But should I feel the need and find someone to fill that role, I'll discuss it with you before doing anything." Oscar said sincerely.
"You don't have to..." Tyber began to say.
"I know." Oscar assured him, then continued, "And I wish we didn't have to consider such things, but having 'surrogates' seems to be the most realistic way for us to deal with the extended absences we are likely to face ahead."
Tyber regretfully nodded, then stood.
Oscar's gaze slowly traveled down his slim, wet body.
Tyber extended his hand and helped Oscar to stand.
"You're beautiful." Oscar said as he began to dry himself.
Tyber looked at Oscar's firm golden body and said, "You're glorious."
Oscar gave a hissing laugh, then said, "That sounds like something a Gorn would say."
"You are." Tyber said frankly.
Oscar couldn't think of any response to Tyber's sincere praise, so he moved in to give him a kiss.
After a long minute of kissing, Tyber whispered, "Breakfast is probably cold by now."
"I'm sure Dengarvin knows us well enough by now to know that we need a little extra time to get out of the bath."
"You're probably right." Tyber chuckled, then held open a robe, offering to help Oscar put it on.
* * * * *
Just as they were finishing an enjoyable meal of delicious food and comfortable conversation, Oluf called to inform them that they were needed on the bridge.
Dengarvin stayed behind to see to the cleaning of the suite of rooms. There were a few strange and guarded looks at Oscar as they walked down the hallways, but none of the crew did anything overtly rude.
"Over here." Tyce said when he noticed them walking onto the bridge.
"What's wrong? Did something change?" Tyber asked as they approached.
"Nothing important. Things are proceeding as expected, for the most part, although a bit more rapidly than anticipated."
"What do you need for us to do?" Tyber asked simply.
"Right this minute all I need for you to do is listen while I fill you in on what's going on. After I'm done, Oscar will need to go back to his ship so his Holy One can cover a few things with him. While he's doing that, we're going to be introducing you to our people." Tyce said seriously.
"Don't we get any say in this?" Tyber asked anxiously.
"I'm asking you to trust me to lay the groundwork so that by the time we arrive you'll already have most of the difficult things done. If we introduce you now, like this, we'll have much more control over the situation than if we made the announcement in person." Tyce said reasonably.
"I don't want to go back to my ship. The Holy One is crazy!" Oscar proclaimed.
"There are things that need to be done right now or they'll be that much harder to deal with later. J'Laad may be crazy, but he knows what he's doing. He's already promised that you'll be able to come back later, once your obligations have been met." Tyce said firmly.
"Obligations?" Tyber asked darkly, then turned to Oscar and quietly said, "As Vincent would say, this sounds like something that's gonna suck." Tyber said darkly.
"It already does." Oscar grumbled.
* * * * *
"The duly elected representative of the Okudai people invited the Gorn to come to Okuda and 'establish a relationship' between our governments." Tyce said carefully as he looked from Tyber to Oscar.
"The only 'relationship' the Gorn have with other species is as their conquerors." Oscar said simply.
"I think we all understand that. But it appears that Malif had received assurances that he would be given preferential treatment in the new order. He was essentially promised that he would be the supreme leader of the enslaved Okudai people for the remainder of his miserable pathetic life." Tyce said with disgust.
"So he was willing to trade the freedom of his own people for the promise of a life of luxury for himself?" Oscar asked to confirm.
"Yes. That appears to be the case. And what makes it that much more insidious is that, so far as I know, he didn't have any compelling reason to do so. It's not like the Gorn had invaded and he was left with no other choice." Tyce said frankly.
"Even if that were the case, it wouldn't make his decision forgivable." Tyber said coldly.
"True. But at least I could see how someone with a weak will could fall into the trap of making that decision. But it doesn't matter because that's not the case here. By all appearances, Malif actively sought out the Gorn and worked to forge a deal with them. Now the Gorn are on their way to Okuda Prime to collect on the promises that were made." Tyce said seriously.
"But they're not really going to do that, are they?" Tyber asked anxiously.
"Certain things have to play out, for form's sake, to satisfy both of our governments. J'Laad and I are reasonably sure that we can guide things so that the end result leaves us in the best political position. But for this to work, we're going to need both your help." Tyce said frankly.
"What can we do?" Tyber asked in astonishment.
"You two are the voices of the Gorn and Okudai people, or the Trach Manjai, if you'd rather. With the situation that we're in, it seems that the best thing that we can do is to introduce you, separately, to the people that you represent. Then, when the conflict between our people seems to be inevitable, the two of you will propose a resolution that both J'Laad and I will endorse, thereby solidifying your positions and showing our people your importance." Tyce said carefully.
"So, do we have to come up with this 'resolution' or are you and J'Laad going to write it for us?" Tyber asked cautiously.
"Don't worry. By the time we get to that point, we'll have something worked out for you to say." Tyce assured him.
"This seems... dishonest." Oscar said reluctantly.
"Manipulative, maybe. But it's necessary to put things in order for what is to come." Tyce said frankly.
"I should go to my ship now, so that I may return here that much sooner." Oscar said to Tyce, then looked at Tyber urgently.
"Can I walk Oscar down to the transporter room?" Tyber quickly asked.
After a moment to consider, Tyce reluctantly said, "I suppose that Oscar doesn't need to know the details about the political upheaval that the Okudai government is going through. I'll cover that with you when you get back. But please hurry, I need to get you briefed so that we can make our announcement."
"Yeah. I'll just walk him down and be right back." Tyber assured him, then walked with Oscar toward the nearest door.
* * * * *
"Did that seem as wrong to you as it did to me?" Oscar asked as they walked.
"Yes. We're being used for Tyce's political games." Tyber said darkly.
"This is not what Eliam described to us. This is not the true purpose of the Trach Manjai." Oscar said firmly.
"But don't we need Tyce and J'Laad's influence to be able to do our jobs right? I mean, how much good can we really do without their help?" Tyber asked anxiously.
"How much of what we do will be of help to the universe if we become embroiled in politics and games?" Oscar countered.
As they walked into the transporter room, Tyber quietly said, "Even though Tyce has said the words, I don't think he really believes them. He doesn't look at me as having the same authority that he does. Before this is all over, I think that both of us are going to have to stand up to our Holy Ones and let them know how things are. The universe is depending on us."
After a moment to consider, Oscar reluctantly said, "Agreed."
"Could you transport 'The Voice of the Gorn' back to the Gorn lead vessel?" Tyber asked the transporter operator on duty.
"Yes. But it will take me a moment to link with their alien technology." The transporter operator informed him.
"Come back as quick as you can. I have a feeling that it's about to get very tense around here." Tyber said frankly.
"Do you plan to confront Tyce now?" Oscar asked with surprise.
"No. I'm not planning on it. But if Tyce suggests something that's contrary to our true mission, I'll find a way to stand up to him and let him know that he is going to have to work within my boundaries." Tyber said firmly.
Oscar slowly nodded, then said, "I know that I am going to have to do the same, however I cannot see my Holy One being accepting of such an arrangement."
"If it gets too bad, just come back over here. I've got a warm place where you'll be safe and comfortable." Tyber said with a grin.
"It's going to be difficult for me to concentrate on what the Holy One has to say while I'm thinking about your 'warm place'." Oscar said honestly.
"We're ready for transport." The transporter operator announced.
"I'll see you soon." Tyber said as he walked to the edge of the transporter chamber.
"Not soon enough." Oscar said as he took his position on the transporter pad.
Tyber watched with an ache in his heart as Oscar dematerialized.
He stood for a long moment, not really thinking, just experiencing the ache in his heart. But finally Tyber collected his emotions and began the trip back to the bridge so that he could be filled in on the political upheaval throughout the Okudai government.
* * * * *
After a seemingly endless barrage of political trivia, Tyber finally interrupted long enough to ask, "You do realize that I lived my whole life on ships and that I don't know who any of these people are, don't you?"
"These are the people who represent you in the government. It's your responsibility to know who they are." Tyce countered.
"They don't represent me. They never have. My dad and all the people that I grew up around are essentially nomads. They have no permanent homes and no one represents them in the government. You're from a very different world than I am. Just because I'm here with you doesn't mean that I see things the same way that you do." Tyber said as he fought to keep his anger in check.
"But every citizen should be represented in the government by people who hold their same values. That's the only way that a representative democracy can properly function." Tyce said frankly.
"It doesn't properly function. At least, not for the people I know." Tyber said seriously.
"Well, now that Treifa is running for office, you and your people will be represented." Tyce said with a smile.
"Maybe... For now... But what other 'invisible' groups of people are going to be overlooked? You're playing to the masses, trying to gain consensus. That's great for politics but it's not how life works. Right and wrong aren't up for a vote. And I'll tell you now that I'm not going to tell people what they want to hear because it's what they expect." Tyber said firmly.
"It's necessary to gain majority approval to get things done." Tyce said reasonably.
"That's funny, coming from 'The Holy One' whose word is law." Tyber said seriously, then continued, "Do what you need to do and say what you need to say, but I'm not going to be a puppet, saying the words that you put in my mouth. I'm 'The Voice of Okuda'. You may have spotted who I was and got me to where I needed to be to get the title, but you didn't 'create' me. I'm here because I'm the right person to do a job that needs to be done."
"When I introduce you, what are you going to say?" Tyce asked cautiously.
"I guess we'll know when I say it." Tyber said simply.
"You need to be very careful. There are a lot of powerful and important people who will take anything that you say and twist it to their own uses. You need to calculate the permutations of your words." Tyce warned.
"No. You need to do that. I need to speak the truth." Tyber said frankly.
"This may turn out to be much more difficult than I had first anticipated." Tyce said anxiously.
"Probably. But it still needs to be done." Tyber said, firm in his resolve.
"Holy One, Chaundra has just indicated that the central church has announced to the citizenry that you will be speaking soon. All is in readiness." Oluf said as he hurried to Tyce's side.
"Will you at least try not to say anything inflammatory?" Tyce asked hopefully.
"No." Tyber said simply.
Tyce agonized over the decision for a moment, but finally looked to Oluf and nodded that they were ready.
"People of Okuda, as you know, I am returning from a rather harrowing adventure." Tyce said as he faced a viewscreen with a teleprompter.
"As a result of the actions of President Malif, the Gorn fleet travels with me. Promises were made and cannot be ignored. Some might say that this is a result of the isolation we have maintained from the rest of the universe. Others would argue that more strictly enforced isolation might have prevented this outcome. I'll leave that for others to debate.
"Be that as it may, it is time for us to have a voice in the universe. Beside me is Tyber, Son of Traiel, who will also be known as 'The Voice of Okuda'. In time we will have elected representatives who will negotiate treaties and settlements on our behalf. 'The Voice of Okuda' will make contact, form relationships outside our system, facilitate the process and pave the way for their eventual success.
"Tyber, would you like to say a few words?" Tyce asked hopefully.
"Thank you, Holy One." Tyber said calmly to him, then turned to the screen and ignored the prepared speech that started to scroll.
"For any of you who are worried about it, I don't want to drag Okuda out of its isolation and start making deals with people. All I'm going to do right now is talk to people and get to know them and let them know that we're here. If I notice that they have something that we might be able to use, then I might try to work out a trade with them... there's this great stuff called catsup that I'd really like for us to get. But don't expect to see alien tourists on our streets or exotic alien merchandise in our shops. All I'm going to do is go out and talk to our neighbors in the universe for you and hopefully make a few friends." Tyber finished with a smile, then looked at Tyce, prompting him to take over.
"Thank you, Tyber. If your objective is to make friends, I have no doubt that you will achieve it." Tyce said with a smile at him, then turned back to the screen and once again began reading his prepared speech.
"One further thing. In regard to the upcoming election, I urge you to do whatever you can to find people of good character to elect that will work for the benefit of all our people. We need to purge the greedy and self-serving elements of our political structure so that we can have people of good will to provide a path for achievement. What you decide in the coming election might well determine if our civilization will ascend or decline in the coming generation." Tyce finished gravely, then waited a moment before Oluf ended the transmission.
After a long silence, Tyber cautiously asked, "How'd I do?"
"I'm not sure how the news agencies will dissect what you said, but I didn't find anything wrong with it." Tyce said honestly.
"Okay. What do we have to do next?" Tyber asked as he looked around.
"It will take some time for Chaundra to gather the commentaries from the different news agencies. I suppose that in the interim, you could have a meal or relax." Tyce said consideringly.
"If you don't need me for anything, I think I'll go down and check on the injured crew from the Dorsa. I promised to watch out for them." Tyber said seriously.
"If you're going to do that, ask Captain Treas for one of her security people to accompany you." Tyce said firmly.
"No. I don't want to be walking around with armed security when I'm trying to tell people that we're proud of them and want them to feel better." Tyber said seriously.
"Given what's happened the past few days, it wouldn't be safe to let you go on your own." Tyce said frankly.
"Then either let me borrow Audge or I can call Dengarvin to go with me." Tyber said reasonably.
Tyce thought for a moment, then cautiously asked, "Is Dengarvin the attendant that Oluf assigned to you?"
"Yes. He may not be big and muscled, but he's so enthusiastic about helping me that I don't think that anyone who tried to hurt me would have a chance." Tyber finished with a smile.
"Oluf, would you summon Dengarvin to attend Tyber?" Tyce asked over his shoulder.
"Thank you." Tyber said with a smile.
"It was mentioned that you and Oscar spent the night in your room last night." Tyce said in a leading tone.
"Yeah." Tyber confirmed.
"Are you two..." Tyce trailed off, reluctant to put his question into words.
"Yeah." Tyber said, reasonably sure that they were both talking about the same thing.
"Due to our isolation from other worlds, this isn't something that's discussed that much, but from ancient times interspecies relationships have been frowned upon..." Tyce began to explain, but was interrupted.
"Yeah. And from what I've been told, so was bathing, eating crustaceans and several other random harmless things." Tyber said bluntly.
Tyber waited as Tyce seemed to be trying to formulate another argument to make his point.
A movement drew both their attention and they watched as Dengarvin scrambled onto the bridge.
"I see what you mean about his enthusiasm." Tyce said absently.
"Are we alright?" Tyber asked cautiously.
"We're fine." Tyce assured him, then watched as Tyber walked to Dengarvin's side.
* * * * *
"The high priest Oluf did not know what duty I would be asked to perform, so I did not know how to prepare." Dengarvin said as they left the bridge.
"All I need for you to do is walk with me while I check on some people. The Holy One didn't want me going by myself." Tyber said honestly.
"Do you believe that you are in danger?" Dengarvin asked with concern.
"That's kind of hard for me to answer. In my head, I know that most of these people are my friends that I've known for most of my life. But I can't help but remember being taken prisoner by them when the Holy One called on our people to rise up." Tyber said distantly as they entered the turbolift.
"Did they hurt you?" Dengarvin asked quietly as Tyber pressed the button to take them to the lower deck.
"They were a little bit rough with me, but they didn't beat me or rape me or anything like that." Tyber said honestly.
"But still, I would imagine that if I were in your situation that I would continue to feel frightened, worried that they might do it again." Dengarvin said frankly.
"Yeah. I still have that buzzing around in the back of my head, but I can't let that stop me. I'm 'The Voice of the Okudai'. Our people need me to focus on what's ahead of us. I'm of no use to them hiding in my cabin." Tyber said passionately.
"I heard what you said... I mean, I was watching the Holy One's announcement and then he introduced you and you told everyone that you're going to speak for us to the outer worlds."
"What do you think I should say to them?" Tyber asked curiously as they stopped outside a cargo bay door.
"From all that I've heard about the pirates and space battles, I think I'd want you to tell them to leave us alone." Dengarvin said frankly.
"I guess that most of that stuff you've heard about is probably true, but you're only hearing about the bad. That makes sense because horrible and shocking things is what most people talk about. I've had the chance to get to know some people from other species and some of them are really good people. I think that I'd like to get to know more of them."
"I'm afraid." Dengarvin said honestly, then explained, "I worried that outsiders will come in and change our world."
"All I can do is promise that I'll do my best to prevent that. I'm going to do my best to establish relations with honorable people of good will. But once I've done my part, there will be others who will follow behind me to negotiate treaties and trade deals. I have a feeling that they'll be the ones who have the most potential to betray our people." Tyber said honestly.
"Is there any way to prevent that?" Dengarvin asked anxiously.
"In the upcoming election we need to be sure that good honest people are chosen to negotiate for us. We also need for the legislators to make laws that will make it difficult for the negotiators to sell us out. Civilian oversight might also help to keep things honest. That's all I've come up with so far, I've got to think about this a lot more before I'm sure about what to do."
Dengarvin slowly nodded as Tyber led the way into the cargo bay that had been converted into a makeshift hospital.
* * * * *
Tyber looked around for a moment at all the people in neatly arranged beds. The sight was disturbing, although Tyber found that he couldn't find a way to put what he was feeling into words.
One patient caught his attention over all the others and Tyber started toward him.
As Tyber approached, he noticed that the man with bandaged eyes was talking to a priest who was sitting in a chair at his side.
Tyber waited for a moment, until the priest looked up and noticed him.
"Excuse me if I'm interrupting, but I just wanted to stop by and see how Mykale is doing." Tyber said cautiously.
"Who is it?" Mykale asked, directing the question to the priest beside him.
"A young teenager and a priest."
"I'm Tyber. I talked to you before, when you were on the Yorktown." Tyber said gently.
"Are you 'The Voice of the Okudai' who was just speaking to our people?" The priest asked cautiously.
"Oh, you heard that?" Tyber asked shyly.
"The Holy One's announcement was played over the speaker system for all to hear." The priest answered.
"Well, yeah. That was me." Tyber confirmed, then added, "I just wanted to stop in and see how Mykale was doing and if he needed anything."
"Oren has been helping me get a list of all the injured and another list of the crew of the Dorsa, so that we can be sure that all the heroes who defended the Holy One will be remembered." Mykale said seriously.
"It's good that you're doing that. But be sure that you don't do too much too soon. You need to give yourself time to heal and recover." Tyber said gently.
"Oren is taking very good care of me. Honestly, he's doing most of the work." Mykale said frankly.
"I wouldn't be doing anything if it weren't for Mykale. Despite his blindness, it's his vision of how to pay proper tribute that's guiding us." Oren said reverently.
"Do you need anything to make it easier?" Tyber asked with concern.
"Too much has changed too quickly for me to answer that. I think that for right now I'd like to keep my focus on the other Dorsa crewmembers. I'll have time to worry about other things once I know that they're being taken care of." Mykale said thoughtfully.
"Contact me if you think of anything that I can do." Tyber said gently.
"Are you really going to contact other worlds and speak on our behalf?" Mykale asked cautiously.
"Yes. But all I'm really going to do is talk to them and see if I can set things up so that we can get a productive dialog going. I'm not going to invite them to come here or try to change our worlds." Tyber gently assured him.
"Going out into the universe, meeting other species... just the thought of it scares me." Mykale said anxiously, then turned his face, as though he could see Tyber and quietly added, "Be careful."
"I will. I promise." Tyber assured him, then turned his attention to the priest at his side, Oren, and said, "You can contact me through 'The Holy One' if you need anything. If it's within my power to provide, you will have it."
"I will. Thank you." Oren said with surprise.
"Mykale, I'm going to go and check on some of the others now. Thank you for what you're doing." Tyber said solemnly.
"We're all doing our part. I'm just glad that there's something that I can do." Mykale responded sincerely.
Tyber glanced at Dengarvin at his side, then started walking.
* * * * *
As they walked among the patient beds, a voice quietly called, "Tyber?"
When Tyber turned at the sound of his name, he recognized the man who was calling to him.
"Jarkin? How are you?" Tyber asked as he walked with Dengarvin to Jarkin's bedside.
There was a long moment of silence as Jarkin carefully considered before responding, "I am comforted in knowing that I continue to have a purpose. But I am frustrated at my inability to work on fulfilling that purpose while being confined to this bed."
"Yes. I can see how that would be frustrating. Is there anything I can do to help you?" Tyber asked with concern.
"To be honest, I don't understand what duties and responsibilities 'The Voice of Okuda' has. But unless it includes being able to speed the passage of time, I doubt that there is much that you can do to aid me." Jarkin finished with a weak smile.
"My job is to talk. Although I suppose that it might seem that I alter the passage of time when I'm telling a long story, I don't think that I actually can." Tyber responded with a grin.
"My husband has been notified about my injury. But I didn't want to discuss..." Jarkin glanced at Dengarvin, then seemed to amend what he was going to say, "...what the 'Holy One' revealed to us. The first order of business upon my return will be to make my unique contribution to the wellbeing of Okuda."
Tyber slowly nodded, understanding what Jarkin was not saying.
"But what of you? If I understood correctly, you are one of the blessed few like me. Do you have plans to make your contribution as well?" Jarkin asked curiously.
"I'm too young." Tyber said automatically, then amended, "While I might 'technically' be able to... contribute. It's still a few years before I should start thinking about doing something like that. Besides, as 'The Voice of Okuda', I'm probably going to be away from the Okudai system quite a bit. That just doesn't seem fair."
"In a perfect world, I would agree with you. But from what 'The Holy One' told us, this is our duty. This is something that we can do for the benefit of all our people. Whether it's 'convenient' or not, whether it's 'proper' or not, we still need to do it. We're the hope of the future of our people." Jarkin said urgently.
"Thank you, Jarkin. I heard what the Holy One was saying when he said it, but I guess that I haven't given it the amount of thought that you have." Tyber said quietly.
"I have plenty of time to think. There's not much else that I can do like this." Jarkin said as he looked to where his right arm and leg used to be.
"Well, it's good for me that you've had the time because I didn't see the urgency in what 'The Holy One' told us. Now that you've told me about it, I'll seriously consider..." Tyber glanced at Dengarvin out of the corner of his eye, then continued, "...making my contribution, sooner rather than later."
Jarkin smiled at the declaration.
"You can contact me through the church if you ever need my help with anything." Tyber said seriously.
"Audge has stopped by to visit several times since we parted company with the Federation vessels. He is very interesting and we've had some good conversations. It wouldn't surprise me if we continued to stay in contact once we reach Okuda." Jarkin informed him.
"From what Tyce said, I'll be staying in the sanctuary at the main church with him, so Audge will be able to give me a message whenever you want." Tyber said frankly.
"Yes. I'll do that." Jarkin said with a smile.
* * * * *
"Would it be easier for you to talk if I weren't accompanying you? If it would be better, I could stand aside, available if you have need of me, but not so close that I can hear your conversation." Dengarvin offered cautiously.
"I'll ask you to step away if I need to have a private conversation for some reason. But I'd rather that you stay with me. I like having you around." Tyber finished with a smile up at him.
"I just wish that there were more that I could do for you. It seems like all I'm doing is following behind you and not really helping you at all." Dengarvin said regretfully.
"Knowing that you're here to help me if I need it is a big help, all by itself. Being named 'The Voice of Okuda' is a big scary thing and I'm glad that I'm not going to have to face it all by myself." Tyber said frankly.
"You seem to be more than capable of dealing with whatever you're going to face." Dengarvin said honestly.
Tyber looked around, then motioned for Dengarvin to walk with him, back toward the door.
* * * * *
Once they were alone in the hallway, Tyber continued to walk toward the turbolift as he said, "I can't tell you all of what happened to me... to us, the 'Voices'... mostly because I don't know all of it. Maybe I'll never know. But I'm not the same person that I was before."
"I don't understand." Dengarvin said honestly as they entered the lift.
"Neither do I." Tyber said as he selected their destination, then continued, "My dad was the center of my universe. I depended on him for everything and never did anything for myself. Now, I'm here, without him. Not only am I doing things for myself, but I feel confident in knowing what I have to do."
"So you somehow changed?" Dengarvin ventured uncertainly.
"If what we were told was true, then there was something about us, 'The Five Voices', that made us capable of assuming a great responsibility. But I think something more happened because I've been doing things and saying things that I know I couldn't have done before." Tyber said thoughtfully.
"Are you afraid that you aren't yourself anymore?" Dengarvin asked as the lift stopped and the doors opened.
"I'm still me. But I'm not exactly like I was before. It's like I have skills and... maturity, maybe. I don't know. But before, I was a kid who let someone else make decisions and didn't worry about much of anything. I didn't have any responsibility. Now I'm... this." Tyber said with difficulty as they walked.
"Is it possible that being given the responsibility has made you rise to the occasion?" Dengarvin asked cautiously.
"I don't know. Maybe. Like I said, I'm not sure if I'll ever know. It just bugs me that I don't know. Now that I have a job to do, I think it's important that I know what tools I have to work with." Tyber said as he led the way toward his cabin.
"If there is anything I can do to assist you, please let me know." Dengarvin said quietly.
"I know that it's your job to help me, and I appreciate that. But I think that the thing you could do to help me most right now is to be a friend." Tyber said frankly.
"Of course I'll be willing to try, but that is a skill that I haven't had much luck with." Dengarvin said regretfully.
"Really? I thought that you'd have all kinds of friends." Tyber said honestly as he took a seat on the couch, then gestured for Dengarvin to sit with him.
"I have been told in the past that I'm difficult and tedious company. I tend to be too quiet. Then, when I finally do say something, I'm either too abrupt in my speech or I babble endlessly. I think my training in the priesthood has helped me, to some degree, but I still have those tendencies." Dengarvin admitted shyly.
Tyber smiled, then said, "You're fine just the way you are. Maybe you aren't skilled at the art of conversation, but people who are, tend to only say what you want to hear or they say nothing at all. I'd rather that you just be yourself. I don't know how things are going to work out, but I have a feeling that with the way things are going that I might be in store for some really lonely days ahead."
"But as 'The Voice of Okuda', aren't you going to be interacting with different species from all over the universe?" Dengarvin asked cautiously.
"Yeah. But right now we're heading toward Okuda Prime and 'The Holy One' has already said that I'm going to have a room in the sanctuary of the main church. I don't know how that's going to work out." Tyber said frankly.
"From what little I have seen, I believe that 'The Holy One' and the priests are dedicated to providing for your needs. If that is truly the case, then I will be attending you for as long as you wish it." Dengarvin said carefully.
Tyber thought about that for a moment, then cautiously said, "That kind of brings up something that Oscar and I were talking about."
Dengarvin looked at Tyber curiously, but didn't ask.
"He's going to have to go back to his homeworld soon and... well, we were talking and he said that if I started feeling lonely and wanted someone to... um, sleep with... I mean, sleep beside, to keep me warm and keep me company, that it'd be okay with him if I slept with you... I mean, that's only if you want to." Tyber rushed to explain.
"Although I have no objection to the idea as you present it, practically speaking, I am an adult and you are a child. Despite how I present myself or what you think of me, I am a sexual being. In such a situation, a number of things could conceivably happen. Therefore, it would not be appropriate." Dengarvin said formally.
"I wasn't asking... I mean, you don't have to do stuff or anything like that..." Tyber stammered.
"If you need to be hugged or held, I wouldn't mind doing that for you. If we were to fall asleep while I was holding you, there wouldn't be any problem. But I think that sharing your bed on a nightly basis could lead to things that shouldn't happen between us. That should be saved for the ones who you bond with in your heart." Dengarvin said sincerely.
After a moment to consider, Tyber quietly said, "Yeah. I guess you're right. Maybe since I saw how Tyce and Audge were, I just kinda thought..."
"Their case is different and should probably be looked upon as an exception rather than a rule. 'The Holy One' has great responsibility and is mature beyond his years. He and Audge appear to be forming a lifelong bond. While I may have an opinion on the matter, it would be improper for me to give it voice. I will only say that I truly hope that they can find happiness."
"Yeah. Me too." Tyber agreed.
"May I ask you a question?" Dengarvin asked cautiously.
"Yeah. Sure. I guess." Tyber automatically answered.
"You say that you and the others only recently went through this... transformative experience. I'm curious to know if you and 'The Voice of the Gorn' would have engaged in the same type of relationship had you not gone through that." Dengarvin asked curiously.
Tyber thought for a moment, then slowly answered, "Before, I was just a kid. Because of the way that I grew up, I knew some stuff about sex and love and all of that, but I never really saw it as having anything to do with me. That was something that grownups did. But now... I don't know... I feel drawn to him. It feels right."
"So, in addition to your increased responsibility and maturity, you might also have had your sexuality awakened." Dengarvin suggested cautiously.
"Yeah. I guess so." Tyber said thoughtfully, then continued, "All I know is that when we were together, all I wanted was to join with him. I felt like I'd be incomplete without him."
"Do you feel that way about anyone else or just him?" Dengarvin asked curiously.
"Just him." Tyber said immediately, then amended, "Well, now that I know what it feels like, I kinda want to feel that again. It was really nice. But Oscar's the only one that I want to go to sleep beside and wake up next to."
"It seems that you, and probably the other 'Voices', are yet more exceptions to what would generally be considered a rule." Dengarvin said seriously.
"Do you think we're being driven to act this way for some purpose?" Tyber asked cautiously.
"Who's to say? But I think that the evidence at hand suggests that you are doing what you're destined to do." Dengarvin said thoughtfully.
"It'd be nice if someone would tell me what I'm expected to do. I mean, we were given the 'big picture' of what's going to happen, but I'd kinda like to know what I'm supposed to be doing in the next hour or so." Tyber grumbled.
"Lunch?" Dengarvin suggested with a smile.
Tyber looked at him with surprise, then said, "Yeah. Lunch sounds nice."
"I will return shortly." Dengarvin said as he stood from the couch.
"Make sure that you bring enough for both of us." Tyber called after him.
Dengarvin paused at the door and gave him a nod before continuing on, out of the room.