Today's Reading

"What do you mean, private? How is this more private than any other room?" Mallory asked.

"Unless you squirreled them away in your pockets, the Sundry couldn't have followed you here, correct?" Mrs. Brown asked, referring to the insect-like alien that made up a hivemind that had taken a marked interest in Mallory.

"Oh. You're right," Mallory said. No insect could fly through that frigid methane nightmare. "But why keep stuff from them?"

"I don't know. Eternity suggested it. When I ask her why, she says everything is fine." Mrs. Brown shook her head. "I'd say she sounds like my grandmother when she was angry, but Eternity has never shown passive aggression before. I wanted you to know I was leaving, Eternity didn't want the Sundry to know, so this cave was her solution."

"Won't they know when you leave? They know pretty much everything that goes on around here."

"They won't know where I'm going," Mrs. Brown said. "Eternity felt strongly about this."

"That's so weird," Mallory said. "So where are you going?"

"A planet called November. Apparently it's an area of the galaxy where the sentient stations are born. I need to go there to learn more about all this." She gestured vaguely to the walls of the cave. "It's not just a matter of learning more about her. Eternity is still acting sickly after that disaster from a few months ago. I don't have the understanding to fix everything, so I'm heading to November. They tell me I can learn more about host relationships when your best friend is the size of a moon."

Mallory's gut sank. "Won't Eternity freak out again if you leave?" The scars, both internal and external, were still fresh from when Eternity's host had been murdered. In a confused panic, she had killed or injured many people unfortunate enough to be in her way. The thought of what the station would do if she lost another host terrified Mallory.

"Not if you help," Mrs. Brown said. "While I'm gone, Eternity will take a little nap." Seeing the look on Mallory's face, she smiled. "Oh, don't worry. Her life support and other necessary functions will be just fine, but she won't be able to communicate much. I need someone to look after her. I need you."

"You're hiring me to babysit a space station?" Mallory rubbed her forehead. "There has got to be someone else aboard who's got more experience with all of this. Hell, Xan would be better than me. Why don't you ask him?"

Xan was like Mrs. Brown; he was a human connected symbiotically to Eternity's daughter, the sentient spaceship Infinity. Both humans had deep mental and emotional communicative experiences with the aliens, which Mallory envied. She, too, had a symbiotic relationship with an alien race, but it wasn't nearly as healthy.

"I need Alexander for something else," Mrs. Brown said primly. "I want you for this."

Mallory shook her head vehemently. "No way. I don't know how your relationship works, or even how the station works. All I know is what goes wrong when she loses her host, and it's very bad."

"But she's not losing me. I'm going away for a bit, and then I will be back. She'll be asleep, mostly." She cocked her head curiously. "You really don't know why I'm choosing you?" 

Mallory shrugged. "No, honestly."

Mrs. Brown clasped her hands together like a preschool teacher about to tell a story to a wiggling class. "Something's off with Eternity. The need for this cave, and saying 'it's fine,' and worst of all, wanting to steer clear of nosy insects tattling to their hivemind. She can't tell me what's off. So, I need someone to watch over her and keep the Sundry out of it."

"Why is she suddenly worried about the Sundry? I thought they got along," Mallory asked, extending her hands to the fire. The cave itself was quite warm, but her fingers were still red with cold.

"You don't seem to have done any research regarding the Sundry's role in the universe," Mrs. Brown said. "This surprises me, considering your experience with them. In fact, I thought they would have told you themselves."

The Sundry. A brilliant, complex hivemind that had come to Earth when Mallory was eight and stung her, giving them a human's eyes to look through, and giving Mallory an inexplicable ability to be drawn toward pockets of high probability of murder. She had left Earth because she was tired of murders, but it seemed that death had followed her to Eternity. On Eternity she had learned about her connection with the Sundry, which had explained her curse/gift a little better. But she hadn't agreed to the connection, and the hivemind terrified her. She had touched it mentally only a few times, and the deluge of data had been overwhelming. So, while Mrs. Brown and Xan had friendly connections with the station and a ship, Mallory was symbiotically connected to a scary hivemind of bugs she was allergic to. Not the ideal relationship.

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