Logbook - Reconnection | Elite:Dangerous | INARA (2024)

Reconnection

10 Jun 2024Kasumi Goto

Author's note - this entry is technically a part of, and the unofficial ending of 'Trails of the Past'. The reason therefor should become obvious as you read the entry itself... I'll be moving on to other Elite writing projects after this, so rest assured, there's still a few more things to come. Three at minimum... hopefully, by that time, I'll have a bit more Frontier story material to do stuff with. If they decide to do GalNet things again by then, hint hint wink wink.
“Your past matters. No matter how much you might try to move on from, or forget about it, it will always be there, and have its role in shaping who you are now. But what is most important is how you choose to continue to let it affect you, and use it.”

May 1, 3310
Error. Navigation data unavailable. Cannot locate system in Universal Cartographics database.

"Kasumi... this system doesn't exist. Are you sure about it?"

To say that Jana sounded skeptical... would have been quite the understatement.

"It exists.", I replied, in a calm, but firm, tone. "I have been there, before... already am here, too. And you have the instructions, on how to find it. On the memory chip, which I gave you."

"Oh. Right, that thing." A few moments of silence passed. "Fine, I got it. f*cking around with my ship's computer system better not get me in trouble."

"It, will not. And you can, always, deinstall this. So it would look like nothing was changed."

"Yeah, I just might. If someone goes through the trouble of hiding that system this much, not sure it's anything I want to mess with. I mean, this is almost right next to the Bubble. But you're telling me it's never been found or raised any questions why nobody could find this star on the galaxy map."

The connection was momentarily interrupted, then I saw her ship drop out by the star, despite the clear disbelief, and maybe a little hesitation, in her voice. Our destination - the singular Earth-like world in the system, not quite unlike Earth, even with a similar moon, but with a few important distinctions. Most notably, its local fauna that was a lot more aggressive... and bigger, despite the system's relatively identical age, as if most megafauna had continued to exist well past when it'd gone extinct on humanity's home planet. The weather was also much more violent and highly erratic, but, as the data provided to me said, the reasons for its erratic nature hadn't been discovered, thanks to the project getting abandoned as a result of my doing.

Still... it was the 'perfect' spot to "test out" a breed of tougher, more resilient humans, in that kind of environment, which turned out rather inhospitable once the superficial similarities were ignored. And, for a time... a few generations, it had worked out, only me somehow finding out it was all a ruse... to then be given an opportunity to tear it all down, when the natural world had provided me with one. But that also meant there wouldn't be a lot left to find down there - my logs from... before 3306, maybe, made a few mentions of it, what I had done here, but a particular debris field of a destroyed station was nowhere to be found. That was when the 'Kira' half of me decided to be helpful and jumped in.

Don't bother looking for the debris field, it crashed on the planet a year ago. Maybe even longer than that. I saw it happen myself.

Oh. I guess... go looking down there, then.

Yes. You should.

She withdrew into the depths of the implant again, though I'd found 'her'... "nestling" into other parts of the brain, too, maybe something to do with fixing them. Not something I could be 'there' for, only observe from afar, within that strangely curious mental space which existed inside me. Somewhere the consciousness could go, but the body didn't... except for an "avatar" of sorts reflecting appearance. So, of course... mine was just as oversized as the real one. While 'Kira' was more normal, even if not small.

I shook off that thought and began the approach to the planet. Given the slightly higher distance - in light years - while I hadn't wanted to move the carrier out here, as it was too obvious... I only had a standard FSD, not one of the fancy overcharge drives. So that approach was a little slower, but nothing excruciating. Jana arrived in orbit just after me, leaving me to go ahead here. I'd tell her about those logs of mine, once we were down on the ground.

"Well, doesn't look terrible from orbit.", she remarked. "What's the catch?"

"Big animals, very angry. And bad weather.", I told her, elaborating slightly further. "Imagine it, like Earth... but if the dinosaurs had never died, and were a lot bigger, while a storm like tornadoes... is more like a strong, hurricane, at its weakest."

"Okay... that sounds a little more sh*tty. And by little I mean a lot. Not exactly an ideal vacation resort, even if I don't know what Earth weather's like."

"It was, not intended as one." I pointed my ship's nose down at the coordinates in the data from the mysterious stranger, currently in broad daylight, and let automated systems take over. Orbital data suggested it was currently some time around spring for this particular world, which would be nice. Now that I was here, I'd gotten back the very distinct memory of the summers just being dreadfully hot even in the more temperate regions. Not particularly useful knowledge, but considering just how much I disliked heat... equally unsurprising that it was one of the things to have stuck around, throughout both times my memory and brain had been devastated. I'd also be spared of the nuisance of insect idiots trying to do their best to fly into my head at every opportunity, despite having nothing of interest to them, bar mosquitoes.

"Well, I can figure why they wiped this place off the records. Can't say I'd want anybody to try colonizing it, from what you've said."

"Yes. It, might be... better, this way."

If only she knew the other secrets which this planet held. And... she would, soon. Both them, and with that the real reason this system officially "didn't exist" in any database, except the one from that "Club", which was definitely different from the Universal Cartographics one, because... all it returned when searching for this star was an error message. And would probably flag you to them, but they would know I would go here, eventually... even, if just, again.

"Are you sure nobody's, like, going to try stopping us from just wandering around in here?", Jana questioned as my ship began its descent, hers following shortly after. "I mean ..."

"I am sure, yes.", I answered, almost cutting her off. "I am convinced, they expect, me to be here. But they did not stop me, when I was here, last time... before I lost memories."

"Okay, right. You just think they're not bothered enough to really try stopping you from waltzing in here... but who's 'they'?"

"I will tell you. Later."

I pretty much signified the end of the exchange there, and remained quiet throughout the remainder of the descent from orbit, watching the flames go across the front of the ship from the high-speed descent. I didn't land on Earth-like planets much, so... this would make for a good change of scenery to the void of space, or mostly, if not entirely barren planets, quite a few not even with any atmosphere. Plus, no need for any kind of protective suit... hopefully. Would still set out in the Scorpion, just in case there was something around which required a... more explosive 'convincing' to back off. It was unlikely I'd be fighting any of them on foot, certainly, with my enhanced shape... in most ways, except for mobility and weight. Which I tried to conveniently ignore for how much I adored being a round and big mess.

Still, I decided to bring my weapons anyway... just in case, whether that was for abandoning the vehicle, or needing to fight my way back to it. This... was something more serious. My past, and probably where I'd be reconnecting to it... in one way or another. I could contemplate the life choices which had led me here as I was now, with such an inappropriate figure, and said figure, later.

Gravity was a little bit higher than Earth's, and I wouldn't be wearing a suit out there, so my body would be carrying its full weight by itself, a particularly stark contrast to being in zero or very low gravity. But that wasn't much of an issue, thanks to being used to it by spending a month or two, possibly three, in Duamta 4's 1.3Gs, that also being the first time I was exposed to proper gravity with this form. And I still remembered nearly being toppled by just how lopsided the weight distribution on my upper body was. Now... mostly, the sensation that stood out was getting pushed into the seat by gravity. Or, rather, noticing it through the sensation of the mass shifting to the sides, because there was so much of it that I barely noticed sitting even on hard surfaces, most of the time.

The first thing that came into view was the ruined remnant of a large city, hidden in vain behind a giant wall... the coordinates pointed here. It had always felt like a prison, more than anything. A tool of, and for, control, not protection. Nothing more. Nobody could leave unless agreed upon, by the...

I hesitated, realizing that this memory was just... there, all of a sudden, at the sight of the wall, without feeling intrusive or conscious of its return. That was different to before.

I continued following it. Nobody had been able to leave, without getting allowed to, and then returning... always, either on the same one, or a few days later. Some "outsider" groups existed, too, yet they had always been off worse. Was their existence allowed on purpose, or just another part of the experiment... I never learned, and would likely not now, either. I was not sure if I really wanted to know. Nothing here really seemed to elicit any positive emotions. Even the giant crater at the center of it, which I knew had to be the one of my own doing.

All of this, it had been isolated from human society. Left to exist in the belief that... spaceflight didn't exist, and this was where humans had originated, but a series of wars led to most of the population existing in pockets, isolated "Settlements", or scattered across the world, trying to survive and rebuild from the remains of the old world. Only, that was as much a lie as the rest, and those "Settlements" were the only thing which ever existed, aside from the small villages built by rebels, or something, elsewhere. Minimal communication between it all, yet still ruled from this largest one, of them all.

I'd even considered joining those, outside... but always been held back by what felt like a lack of knowledge on how to survive in their way of life. Ironically, it seemed, that was likely what had ended up allowing me to survive this. As the only one, or if there were others, from the other sites. I had never learned, according to my logs, but, it... suited me fine, being the only one. Nobody else deserved to live with this kind of background, and looking over this ruin, the buildings inside the wall almost indistinguishable from the old city on the outside... I began to feel much the same way.

And if those wars had been a lie, too... it looked very convincing that they had happened, at hand of many ruins throughout the parts of the world, that I had seen. And I couldn't know for just how long this experiment had been run for, either. Decades? A century? Or longer? How many people had been forced through that hell, just for the sole purpose of creating a "better human"?

Just as I was about to follow the line of thinking more, purely from the memories suddenly coming back, Jana speaking up pulled me out of the solemn contemplation.

"That's... quite a ruin out there. Crater, too.", she remarked. "And you did this?"

"Yes.", I replied, keeping a mostly neutral tone. I hadn't told her, but maybe the connection wasn't hard to make. "We will go, in there."

"You sure? Place doesn't exactly look stable."

"Then we just avoid, the buildings, which do not look, stable." And those parts of the wall that weren't. Some of it had already crumbled, and taken the buildings right with it. "But we will have to land outside."

"No surprise there. So, let's get to it?"

I was getting the impression she didn't feel like lingering here. I couldn't blame her - this place had the allure of a graveyard. And, in a figurative way, it was. When the orbital strike which had destroyed this place, this city, came down, there might still have been some people alive there, in it. And I'd almost certainly killed them with it, judging by the size of the crater at the center of it all, which became all the more evident as the surface closed in. Most of the former city was just dust, or outright vaporized.

There were places for heroes... but this was not one of them, and I was definitely not a hero in it, either. Yet I didn't want to just leave it, either, back then... the memory of whether the two local sites I had destroyed were the only ones left 'active' at the time eluded me. Or maybe I hadn't known, but proven the point enough to leave all this alone. Since I wasn't particularly interested in actually finding if there were other survivors, I just... would leave again as quickly as coming here, once everything was done. For me, this was not a place to stay.

A jolt went through the ship as it came into contact with the surface, the landing gear taking its weight as the thrusters fully shut off. I made my way over to the armory and peeled out of the suit there - all I'd be wearing for this, today, was my usual clothing, plus a hoodie on top. Though, with the matter of precautions and all that, I still packed a personal shield generator alongside the required battery, and a few recharge cells, on a belt, alongside the weapons I wanted to bring. Could never be too careful... then I made my way over to the vehicle bay, already used to the sensation of fully carrying the weight of the body without any support from my suit, again. All that time spent practicing had definitely paid off.

I dropped out of the ship with the Scorpion, which went a jolt through a different part of my body - hopefully, the bra hadn't come loose from that - and... found Jana waiting already. She was definitely faster at it than me, but considering that she didn't have a body of excessive size and curvature to contend with, that wasn't really too surprising. Certainly not to me. Even if I mostly had just lost time fighting out of the suit hugging my curves a little more tightly than the clothes did, albeit not to the 'You can see details in the body' point.

I set off ahead of her. Kind of, instinctively, weaving a path through the moss-covered, overgrown ruins of a city even older than the one I had caused the destruction of. I was surprised any of it even still stood, but the wall, looming overhead like a giant, had to have protected them. Still, I avoided the particularly damaged buildings, as much as was possible with rubble blocking various parts of the former roadways. Eventually, however... we were at an entrance to a subterranean passage, leading into the wall... and, hopefully, still past it.

"I guess... this is the right spot?", Jana inquired, cautiously.

"Yes. It, should be. The coordinates say, and I think, I remember, too.", I answered.

There were several entry and exit points to the wall itself, that I could remember. Or, at least, I had some idea that they existed, but this one in particular stood out to me. Maybe, because it was already open, Or, maybe, it was just the one I'd taken to get out of that hellhole. Either way... now, it was our way in. I turned on the Scorpion's exterior lights and drove forward. A few flickering lights still held on to life, by whatever power possibly remained. If the lines remained intact and some of the things like wind mills or geothermal plants were functional, alongside transformers... maybe it was also still getting sent through to here. Or parts of it, anyway. Not enough to have seen without the vehicle's own illumination, though.

"Not a fan of this. Long, dark tunnel, in an abandoned place... just a bit creepy, you know?", Jana remarked.

"It, will be fine.", I told her. "But, keep an eye, open. Just in... case."

It wasn't the most reassuring thing to be said, but I'd never been too good at it, anyway... plus, I wasn't entirely convinced myself, and kept an eye on the heat-tracking 'radar' of the Scorpion, but it didn't appear to be picking anything up. Nothing that was large enough to register as a contact anyway - maybe the fauna were still avoiding the city, despite the years between its abandonment and now. Light came, and with it, the end of the tunnel, letting out into the city itself. Or what was left... not a whole lot, by all appearances. It was clearly visible how the impact of the high-speed kinetic projectile had scorched a lot of the area, especially on this inner side of the wall. The fact it still stood at all was... quite a surprise. Then again, it almost looked built as if to weather a nuclear bomb going off near it. I drove further inward.

"Where are we going, Kas?", Jana inquired. "To be honest, I'm not sure what you want to find here. There's... barely anything left."

"I... don't know.", I answered, deciding to be truthful in it. Because I really just... wasn't sure. Then we were close to the edge of the crater, and... I decided to stop there, getting out of the vehicle, to step up right to it. Looking down... it had to be several kilometers in diameter, at least. Jana stood to my right, in her usual getup of a red jacket, close-fitted black shirt and looser pants with a red and black, kind of checkered pattern.

"Must've been quite an impact to cause this.", she remarked. "Wonder what it must've been like to watch what made it come in. And when it hit."

I didn't give an answer to that... we both knew that anyone who would have seen it was very likely just dead. But even just seeing the aftermath of it... was an extremely impressive sight nonetheless. Right now, I just had my eyes on her, and how she was a little less tall... also wondering how it was to be standing next to my figure, in her much more ordinary one. Especially in a moment like this, where... it was really not supposed to be the focus. Then my gaze wandered off to the other, distant edges, after I kicked a rock off the crumbling side. And felt Jana poke the side of my right arm, trying to draw attention.

"Look. Over there. That building's about to go."

I followed where she pointed, and saw the broken half of what seemed like an apartment building tilt more and more from its foundation, until it fully went over the edge and collapsed on the crater walls, kicking up a giant dust cloud while pulling parts of the edge it was on with it.

"We probably shouldn't be standing here. Come on."

Jana tugged me by the right shoulder to turn around. She was right, especially between two buildings that weren't looking too stable, but I still looked on for a few more seconds. Like me, this place had been thoroughly ruined, but unlike it falling apart, I at least had the chance to slowly rebuild. This... would likely never see anyone come back to put it together again. As much as the thought... saddened, me, a little, I also understood the reasons for it, and why I couldn't ever come here to live, again. Too much had happened that I would never be able to forget, short of outright wiping my memory out, entirely. And I didn't want that, either.

I finally turned around and went back to the Scorpion, Jana's own not parked far off either. I'd have expected her to be using a Scarab, but maybe not. Just as I was about to enter the vehicle, I felt quite a strong tremor underfoot, enough to cause a few visible cracks in the ground, and for buildings to shake slightly, some of the less intact ones even losing a few pieces.

Warning! Tectonic instability detected.

The built-in SRV systems warning me about it was... superfluous, but maybe not.

"You felt that too, right?", I heard Jana question. "Maybe we should just leave. I don't think this place is stable."

"It... is not.", I said, coming around to a memory indicating this had always been an issue locally, and buildings had been constructed with special stabilizers for that very reason. "But I am not done here."

And I wasn't going to leave until I was. Not unless literally everything started to fall apart around me. I started to drive again, and... likely, subconsciously, ended up in front of one house that looked... particularly, and oddly, intact, a small lawn in front of it, where a few flowers were carefully starting to sprout in the mild spring weather. Like a little safe spot amidst the darkness. I stopped right in front of a pathway leading through it, to the entrance. As before, Jana stood to my side a few moments later.

"This... was yours, wasn't it?", she cautiously asked.

"Yes.", I replied, seeing the memory of it flash before my eyes. The same appearance, shape, everything...

Time had taken some toll on it, but the presence of a larger structure had shielded it from most of the devastation, and maybe those 'stabilizers' had stopped earthquakes from doing much, if any, damage, too. I stepped forward, slowly, wondering. If I should go inside, or if it was better not to... the door, itself, still remained open, untouched after many years. Then it occurred to me... I'd stood in this exact position, before, during my last visit. Just as I had in that exact same spot by the crater, earlier, except alone. And I hadn't gone inside, leaving the memory of when I had abandoned it alone, untouched in time.

Maybe it was now the moment to face it. Even so, it still felt... difficult, but I took the steps forward, through the door frame, just about fitting.

I didn't get far before I noticed the absolute mess inside, as if a tornado had occurred within the room. Nothing like shattered vases or pots, at least none which could be seen from right here, but fallen lamps, chairs that had been knocked over... all that kind of thing. And the next thing that happened, was an overjoyed cat purring loudly and rubbing around my legs. I looked at Jana, my hands raised, a bit lost at the situation. She, meanwhile, seemed a bit amused.

"I think it's yours.", she said.

"Oh. Uh... well ..."

I still wasn't sure what to do. Because I definitely couldn't remember... and how many years had it even been? I was no longer sure. The best instinct I had was to go down on my heels - to then just end up flat on my backside, because I hadn't really pondered the question of balance in that position - and give it a few pets and scratches. They were generously accepted, and then the cat ran off deeper into the house again. Or maybe it was because it had sniffed me and pulled a face before scurrying off.

"Yep, standard cat.", Jana remarked. "Get something from the human, and run right off again."

"I wonder, how it survived this long. With nobody to give it food.", I pondered.

She shrugged. "I don't know. Probably just went out hunting, but I'm surprised there's cats here to begin with. And that it survived what caused the crater."

I had no good answer to that and just wandered after the cat... as best as I could. Standard hallway dimensions definitely hadn't been made with mine in mind, particularly when furniture items occupied some of the space, as they did here. And this did appear to just be a simple one-floor plan for a single person, maybe two people.

Wherever the cat was, now, the bedroom wasn't it. I found a couple of open drawers there, in a larger... whatever it was, that I couldn't find the word for, for some reason. Some of them empty, some contained clothes. Some of those clothes... oddly spacious for the body I had before I just began to grow larger in two specific parts. That didn't elude Jana, and she picked up a pair of the pants which were definitely upsized around hips, and thighs, specifically.

"Well... don't tell me you were already planning to get yourself some larger features while you were stuck down here, were you?", she, quite teasingly, threw at me.

"Uh ..." I stood a bit awkwardly, embarrassed and blushing a little, scratching the back right of my head. "I... don't know. Cannot remember. Maybe... I had. Or, maybe... it was like that at first, for... some, reason."

Because some of those larger ones did look like they'd seen some use, but they were right in there with others, for me.

"Hm... yeah, guess that could also be an option. They do look a bit used." She threw a questioning look at me. "But why get 'rid' of it if you're like this, now?"

I had no good answer. Nor memory, of that. Strangely, none of the shirts were 'upsized' or of custom make, and would have fit perfectly over my original form. Which definitely raised the question ...

"Could you... go look, around, elsewhere? I'd like to, poke around here, for... a moment. Alone.", I requested - because I kind of wanted to see this for sure, only for myself.

"Sure. Keep your secrets to yourself.", she replied, winking at me, and wandered out of the bedroom. Somehow, I suspected she knew the answer even without seeing it.

I promptly began to rummage through some of the other drawers... my typical underwear consisting of bra and shorts, no surprise there, and I found more of the upsized ones, too. Nothing much in the way of personal belongings... seemed I'd manage to grab all of those with me. Then, I came to one with pictures. Quite a few of them. Childhood ones, for a start, some happier emotions associated to them... but no direct memories. Except that my hatred of spiders originated from the very early years of my life. Because... of course, that was a thing I'd remember even while my brain was a complete mess.

Then teenage years, where it was a bit more obvious that I looked less like born into that family and more adoptive. Also seemed to be the time where, around fifteen or so years of age, I'd adopted a similar hairstyle to Jana's right now, with it swept back to leave the forehead exposed, and a little longer to reach the top of the neck, at the back. Always black, though - so it wasn't colored. Also looked to be around that time I'd begun to get a bit of curvature to my body.

Then, at the time of adulthood, if early one... eighteen years, maybe. Following that... I found it kind of hard to miss that, while the rest of the body had settled into place, the hips were... definitely not obeying that and had continued to get curvier for a while, alongside the thighs. It continued for a few, with pictures of just me, one of each year, respectively labelled '19', '20' and '21', each one showing the increase, until I found one with '22' where they were pretty much right at the width of the shoulders. The back of it read 'Stopped here' and 'Docs said it was "natural", but I wasn't convinced'. Another year's worth of pictures followed... quite a few of them showing me with that other woman, and all with that odd hip size. But I was more interested in the other person... had to be quite important to me, if it was the one picture I had preserved out of all these.

As it was, the final one in this folder, of sorts, was... with her, again, and my 'original' original body still unchanged. Had to have done something for it to be smaller... after that one. I quickly hid this back in the drawer, to take with me later. Now I kind of questioned why I had decided to not keep it in that way... and why I was so uncontrolled that it was maybe even twice as big as that. Not that I was good at judging my current 'width' compared to "just" as wide as the shoulders. It would certainly have earned me a few looks, nonetheless.

Well, now you know that part., Kira remarked, in the head. I don't exactly remember the reason for not keeping it, though. Maybe I wasn't into those big hips back then.

But you did live with it, for... a year? Or more., I retorted.

Call it a trial period. Or something. That's my best guess for what I did with that body back then.

Uh... sure.

I kind of didn't feel like going into that further... maybe it wasn't as appreciated due to not really getting a say in the matter of having a body that sizeable, while the rest of it was a lot more average. Now, though, I was unlikely to change much of it, in the near future at least. If ever. Definitely not a thing I'd show to Jana though, because that would just make for endless teasing material, for her to use.

I found her in the kitchen. And, quite surprisingly, poking into a fridge that still had power.

"I... do not think, there is anything edible left, in there.", I said to her.

"Oh, I know.", she replied, closing it off. "I actually just looked at it to see if it still worked. Wasn't expecting it to actually still have power, though."

"Well... I guess, it does." I kind of shrugged. "Did you, at least... empty, it?"

There was the instinctive 'personal space caretaker' activating. Which it didn't always, so sometimes I ended up with a bunch of used packages to dispose of at once.

"Well... kind of. If you can call the mush I found in there as something to be emptied. Not exactly pleasant... and it's clean now, too."

"I should have, hired you. To, clean my things."

"Well, if it means I'd get to spend more time near you, I'd take it." Jana looked around. "You know, I could imagine us here. Just you, and me, the cat... a whole planet to ourselves. We'd just need to bring in food and stuff every once in a while."

I gave her a funny look. "Forget it."

Her immediate response was a throwaway hand gesture. "I'm just kidding. Not sure this'd be a good place to stay, anyway."

"Where did, the cat go?"

She shrugged. "No idea. Probably went hunting. Was in here with me for a while, played with that toy on the floor like it killed someone, then rushed off outside. What are you going to do about it?"

"I... do not know. I do not want to take one, into space, with me... too, risky. But I do not want to leave it alone, either... if it is, mine."

"I guess you could always come back every now and then. As long as you're in the Bubble."

"I... guess, there would be nothing, to stop me."

This was a kitchen... with a table, and some chairs. I pulled one out to sit on, because lugging my weight around did have the tendency to get a bit tiring, even if I wasn't unfit by any means. I just... weighed a lot more, without significant changes to the rest of my body to compensate for all the extra fat I carried, in the right places. The chair creaked a bit as I sat down on it, but otherwise held. For a moment, I found myself contemplating to sit directly at the table, but... I suspected I wouldn't fit underneath it with my big thighs, thanks to just how much higher I sat on the hips. Then, I had a cat on the lap, getting quite comfortable on the ample space which it offered, on top of its softness... and it was trying to arrange it with its paws, too. The latter of those things being quite arousing to me, enough to make my cheeks appear a bit redder.

"Well, I guess you're both having fun with that.", Jana remarked. "Did you get an answer to your question?"

"Uh... yes... I, did..." The cat-induced massage was very much distracting.

"And I can guess what it was." She looked at something else than me. "So, I think, your cat might be named Leo."

"How... do you know?"

"Look at the bowl there, on the ground." She pointed to my right. "It's got the name written on it. Think you'd cleaned it just before you left this place, because other than some dust, it didn't have anything else in it. And, well, I got meowed at when I called by the name."

"Oh. Well. I... guess, it is."

I soon had a ball of cat safely nestled on my big thighs. Probably wouldn't be leaving this spot too quickly... so I began to pet it. At least, this was a lot less distracting than those four paws gently pushing into all of the soft 'material' which they presented. And still pleasant for both sides.

"So... I've been to the living room.", Jana started. "Seems like you had a nice, cozy place to yourself, here. Alone?"

I nodded. "I... think. The memories, have been coming back... as we went. Or, at least, some. But I lived here, alone. To be away from the family, I think. I do not remember them... well, except that I did not like them."

She rolled her eyes. "Oh, yeah. I know how that feels. A shame you had to abandon the place though."

"Maybe... but, for the, better. I would not have liked to stay here."

"I mean, based on what you've told me of the planet, I can get that. But not why there's a giant crater in the middle of what was once a city."

"I am... not ready. Not... yet."

Because there was still one place that I did want to visit. Then... I would share everything I knew with her. I looked out of a window, toward the center of... what used to be town. Whatever happy memories I might've had, of this, they were eclipsed by just... too much that I didn't want to remember. Or couldn't, but there was so little here that was worth remembering, it was probably just another negative thing. This place was one of the few positive ones, and... I was glad, it had survived. The position at the outer 'ring' of the city had likely helped with that.

Some shuffling occurred on my lap, and off was the cat, practically shooting from my thighs to... chase after another shiny thing. This time, it was the toy again. Mostly, because Jana had made the decision to kick it around, which caused the mouse-shaped object to rattle. And no cat in the mood to play could resist that, apparently.

"And now he takes care of himself.", Jana said while grinning.

"Very funny.", I remarked in a dry tone. "At least, I will not need to worry, about getting up now."

"Unless he jumps back on."

There seemed to be little chance of that happening, as now it was crazed cat versus evil mouse action, and it didn't look like the toy was winning.

"There may be other toys, around.", I told Jana. "Somewhere... I think. It would be like me, to have more than one. Something that is on a stick, maybe."

"Ah... I don't know. Maybe another time. Can't say I feel like more than observing right now."

"Speaking, of... another time. Would you, maybe... sometimes, look after the cat, here? I think, he does not mind, you."

"I wouldn't, no. As long as you don't take it as an excuse to be lazy about it."

"I would try, not to."

Leo darted off after the mouse toy, into the living room, prompting another remark from Jana.

"Jeez, that cat's as crazy and restless as I am. No wonder he survived a few years out here. Would have expected him to be a bit more happy to see you, though."

"I... don't, know. Maybe, it is because I look different. And bigger. Or, I may smell funny."

"Could be that Thargoid thing, I guess. Not enough of a bother to not sleep on your big lap, though. Imagine it's probably like a pillow."

"It... could well, be. Not that I can, try."

"I could ...", she let out in a suggestive tone.

I just... gave my answer with a somewhat disapproving look. Then stood up.

"I think, I would like to move on... for now. And I will come back, at least every month, to visit the cat... if I can. And he is here. Maybe, bring some food, too."

"Sure. Remember to say goodbye, though." The noise of playing cat in the living room subsided. Then the sound of 'cat rushing outside' followed. "Well, if he's still here. Sounds like he's done in there."

I couldn't comment on that, but watching a crazy cat was fun. I heard birds fluttering away outside... probably had a connection to the mad cat that'd just gone out. And he was already wandering back in.

Deciding I still had the time, I went off to investigate the living room. It hadn't been affected by the chaos as much, unless it was cat-caused. Because there were definitely more than a few scratch marks on the couches and sofas... plus a well-worn scratching post or two. And a cat tree, which the owner of was currently busy climbing into. He had to be on some of the pictures that I'd looked through earlier. Or... maybe, in another bunch. It seemed right to leave at least some here for those times where I'd come by. But, for now...

"Bye, Leo. Have to... go, again."

I kind of waved at the cat, nestled into the tree by now, and got a 'meow' back, prompting me to go over and deliver a few more pets.

"Good... cat."

My own reward was some happy purring. And being followed outside after I grabbed the pictures of me, where he then sat on the wall, watching me walk over to the vehicle. Had no idea what a cat could be thinking about how I looked now - aside from the white skin, which probably wouldn't bother one too much - but he seemed to be just as happy with me now. Probably even more if I'd brought some cat food over. For future visits. I did feel a bit sad at having to go and leave him behind, watched every second until passing out of sight... but I did use a camera to observe him going back into the house.

Maybe, this planet was not the best place for a cat, but it was better than in space, and then be one of those idiots to lose the animal because of the stupid decision to bring it somewhere dangerous, on the ship. And, somehow, I had a feeling a cat would neither appreciate zero G, nor 'mag paws' to stop it from floating just about everywhere. Until I had somewhere better to settle down, and could settle down, better to be here. I usually would have time to visit every few weeks, anyway, and if not... I had a friend who could jump in, and seemed to like cats, too. Maybe there were even a few more left on the planet besides mine...

Once we were clear of the city - and I was sure no cat followed us, even if he looked well-behaved - I shared the other set of coordinates I had with Jana. That was one I'd found in my logs... but without much context to what it was, only that it... seemed 'important', given it being marked as such. Something to 'Never forget'... yet I had, thanks to the not-so-fun misadventures I had gone through.

"So... I guess that's where we're going next?", Jana supposed. "Looks like a bit of a drive. Nearly an hour."

"I think, we can take the ships.", I replied. "It, will be faster. And maybe better."

"However you like. Might be safer, though - nature seems to be avoiding most of that city, but not so sure about the outside."

"Then, we will take the ships."

Not a hard decision to make. There wouldn't have been much to see during the drive, anyway - either flat plains or mostly rocky terrain. Neither of which were the most exciting except to gaze out on every now and then, if you were just along for the ride on a train or bus journey, or a passenger on a car ride. So, back to the Krait Phantom I went, while Jana went along with her MKII. At least, in that regard, we seemed to have mostly similar preferences. And what would have taken nearly an hour with the vehicles... took maybe a few minutes. But I didn't get any closer than two kilometers, from some... subconscious impulse, which I couldn't identify for why I felt about things as I did.

I covered the rest of the distance with the SRV, Jana following suit without question... on the part that involved leaving the ship some distance away, at least.

"What's out here, Kas?", she inquired, evidently curious. "Seems like we're just driving to the middle of nowhere, other than... near a forest."

"I do not know.", I truthfully answered. "But, it... looks important. It was marked, in my files, like that. And only the coordinates. No context."

"O- kay..."

She'd get her answer soon. And I would, too, as I got to within a hundred meters, and stopped the vehicle... approaching what looked like a tombstone, after getting out. A beautiful purple, maybe violet, flower, was just starting to blossom in front of it. I took a few more cautious steps forward, until I was within, maybe, a meter of the flower, an almost unearthly quiet surrounding this spot in the world. And that was when it hit me.

A flood of memories, but not just them, the emotions, too - anger, hatred, intense sorrow... pain, but not the physical kind. Figurative, mental... this was where she was buried. My sister, or the closest thing I ever had to one. The memory of when it had happened was well and alive within me, a searing wound on the mind, never quite healed, still burning almost like the day I had been forced to witness it, where I had lost the most, possibly only, important person in my life, without any ability to do anything to save her.

Overwhelmed, I fell to my knees, and all I could do was... sob uncontrollably, feeling the tears run down my face, as those deep memories, scars and emotions resurfaced from the void of my mind. That day, a part of my 'soul', as much as it existed, and my heart, had been torn out, never to return, or be returned. Nor had they ever healed, at best... scarred, emerging as something... different, isolated, scared to form new connections, out of the fear of losing them just as I had her. My life had already almost fallen apart due to this loss... and I just didn't know if I could take another one like it, finally... remembering just how badly I had been hit by this.

"Kasumi? Are you okay?"

Jana spoke in a low, soft voice, attempting to be comforting, a reassuring presence. I finally felt the hand she had placed on my right shoulder, and turned my head her way, for... barely a moment, pulling up my nose. Then I just let it hang again, keeping my eyes closed, still unable to stop the crying... having the cat near me would have been of much help, now, too, but... too far away. I vaguely registered her voice continuing to speak, in the same low tone.

"I wasn't sure why you wanted me to come along, but... now... I understand." She paused, it seeming quite significant. "This is your sister's, isn't it?"

I barely managed a nodding gesture. I felt one of her hands in my right one, and... tightly grabbed it. Something about that, just... helped, maybe. She spoke again, keeping to the same tone.

"We don't have to stay here, if you don't want to. Facing this... can't be easy."

"No.", I managed to push out between tears. "I... want to ..."

It took a few more minutes of silence before I had enough of a grip on myself, to be able to speak somewhat properly, even if the tears hadn't fully subsided yet.

"I... wanted to. Had to ..." I pulled my nose up another time. "See this. Face it. I... needed to know."

"Kasumi... all this... who did this? Please, be honest."

"I... need, a few more moments."

That was as much as I could push out. But I did change my position, from on my knees, to... curling up, pulling my knees closer, up to chest height, wrapping my arms around them. It was as much comfortable as protective, depending on the situation. Here... it was definitely the latter. After another few minutes, I felt... "stable" enough to at least say a little more, and not have the words interrupted by sobs every few seconds.

"It... it was, my sister. I had to... watch her die. It broke me, and... " I had to hold back more tears... barely. And my eyes were already red from them. "I did not come out the same. I could never... go to people, the same way. She was... almost, everything, to me."

"I... don't know what to say, Kasumi. I'd like to, but ..."

"You... being here, is enough."

"I... see. But, when you feel ready, can you tell me what is behind this? I think... it's important."

I nodded... knowing what I was about to drop on her might not be something she'd quickly understand. But... I still needed to get my mind, away from... that. The tombstone in front. 'Kira' had remained quiet, throughout all this, but shared the same sorrow which I was feeling. And it really told me... we were the same, sharing the same feelings, emotions, and most often, reactions... too. Yet I was still different in some ways. Something that her side of the mind actively encouraged.

Eventually... I finally found the energy to stand up, again, slowly. And still a bit shaky on my legs, but... I'd remain standing. If this was a test, I had... passed, some, of it. One part still remained... I moved to the tombstone itself. Other than natural dust accumulation, it had... remained clean. Thankfully. I went on a knee and ran my hand over where the name was inscribed... but only part, revealing 'Elizabeth' and 'Lizzie'... I stopped there. That was all I needed to see.

"I am... so sorry. I wish, I could change it. But... I will try to do you right."

I caressed the beautiful flower with my right hand, after that. I had to have planted this here... last year.

"It's a beautiful flower.", Jana remarked, sounding very genuine. "You planted it?"

I turned to face her. "I... think. Yes. For her. Last year... it might only bloom once, in the year, too. I promised myself, and her, that I would come, once, at that time."

And, in some way, despite not remembering until now... I'd stuck to that promise. And, unless I lost my memories again or died, would from here. Whatever it would take, or got in the way. I turned my wrist computer on and selected the files which I had received upon my visit to the place generally known as Salomé's Requiem.

"You wanted to know, what is behind this... here."

I took the device off and held it out for her. She carefully took it and began to read, learning all that I had about this being a project to create superior, genetically engineered humans for colonization purposes, with absolutely no regard to the people they were, how I was a part of it, and how I had been the end of it, too. Yet hadn't been killed, and now... was what I was, on top of it.

"Kira ..." Jana hesitated. What she was reading had to have really upset her, if she was using my real name. "This... this is some really f*cked up sh*t. And this 'Club' behind it... it's... all real, isn't it?"

I nodded "It... is. And a lot worse, than just this. All over, the Bubble. Everywhere... involved, in everything. I... am sorry, if you did not want to know. You would live better, without it... or maybe, you do not believe it. But... there are places, you can visit, which will tell you it is. Where they are... you may learn, in time. Maybe, even, from that network, we are both in... of the people opposing them."

"No, it's not that I doubt, you, but ..." She deeply sighed, handing the wrist computer back to me. "f*cking hell, this is just a lot. Let's get out of here first. You've put yourself through enough today, already. Especially with this."

Her left arm was outstretched toward the tomb. I lowered my head, closing my eyes, then answered. There was no reason to argue back. Not anymore.

"Okay."

I was the one to follow her, this time. The sorrow hadn't gone from my heart, and mind, yet, and I still felt like I had that stone in my throat, the chest constricted around the lungs. There was... just one more, very important thing, that needed to be said between us. I hadn't missed the signs, and just... couldn't leave it unsaid.

"Jana ..."

She simply turned around and looked. For once, I did the rare thing of establishing direct eye contact.

"I am glad that you were here... with me. And for me. Really. But... I just, I am not ready. Not yet."

In turn, she lowered her own head and had her own eyes closed.

"I understand, Kasumi. After seeing... this, today, I was... beginning to think, that. But thank you, for telling me."

Jana turned around again.

"But you can... call me Kira. In private. Or when it is just... us, two."

The only response I got was her turning her head and nodding once, before going back to the vehicle. So that was what it felt like to have a really close friend, who didn't judge or mind, even when there were disagreements. We both got back into our respective vehicles, then ships, and... set course back to the Bubble. I offered to give her a ride on my carrier back to wherever she wanted, once we were there, but she declined.

"I appreciate the offer, Kas, but... I know you don't like where that'd put you, even if just for a short time. You've given me a lot to think about, but it might be things I'd rather want to know. And, for me, that... might be thanks enough.", she told me. "We'll talk about it again later, okay?"

"Okay."

We exchanged goodbyes, after that, and... I watched from the safety of near the elevators as her hangar pad rose to the top deck. I hadn't thought I would need, or be appreciative of, her presence... nearly as much as I was, there, in the end.

I hadn't been able to predict that I'd react in that way, either... or what I would find again, but now I knew again. What my past was... and what I'd lost. Even, found a small positive part of it, too, that I would not have expected to survive.

Now... I just needed to learn how to move forward with it, and not stay stuck in it. Maybe she could help me in that, too. But... the one thing that I already knew, was that I couldn't let anyone know of this. Only her. And nobody else would.

Logbook - Reconnection | Elite:Dangerous | INARA (2024)

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