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The inner doors now sealed, the bay doors hiss and disengage, opening to reveal the edge of the comet cloud, her people only sparks of potential among them, too distant now to make a true connections. She falls forward onto her forelegs so Pipra, in his spacesuit, can clammer up onto her back, hands gripping the roughness of ridges along her neck, feet tucked against her hindlegs. She flaps her wings, experimentally and when Pipra isn’t dislodged, she rears up, a second test, then takes to flight - she can hear Pipra’s mental exclamations, and she’d smile if she could, but as it is she simply allows his mental connection to flow along with hers, a song in the silence.

With one long spasm of muscle, they’re beyond the bay doors and out into atmosphereless space, closing in on the comet cloud. Once they reach the edges, the mournful inner voices of her people arise, brushing the edges of her consciousness, and she begins to see pictures of the long years from their eyes, the times of her childhood, her adolescence, and the years they waited for her return. They held out a spark of hope for her, though so few of their kind returned once they’d left, lost to the ages or the cruelties of the worlds beyond the cloud. Chiela glides deeper into the cloud, sifting through different voices, of the view from different eyes, until she finds the one she’s looking for, deeper and deeper in the cloud. She lets one long mournful note echo through her mind, reaching out to Aditi who reaches out to her in return, her voice stronger than all those surrounding her, rich and low.

As Chiela draws closer, she sees Aditi’s form coalescing on a comet, reared back on her hind legs, her wings flaring out wide, voice growing louder and louder as Chiela approaches, not mournful, but welcoming. Aditi grows larger and larger as Chiela flies closer and closer, until Chiela lands on the long bare valley of the comet before her, totally dwarfed by her mother-queen. She stretches her body into a bow - at which Pipra gives a mental, “Whoa!” and slips slightly down her back before righting himself - then walks to rub her flank along Aditi’s so the deeper connection can form; Pipra places one hand on Aditi’s side as well, and Chiela takes in the rush of his memories, as well as the memories of those whose minds he’s glimpsed and all those voices become indistinguishable:

The wail of sirens through the night and terrible sound of metal rending upon impact; the sorrow of a dying planet calling out, calling out, hot-house flowers wilting and dying, withered grass on the plains, and trees splitting and falling, uprooted, a planet unable to even breath in, scars down to bones, the pain of woman’s slow, sucking death, unable to voice her pain, dragged under and watching light glint against the surface; bodies lying in the streets, in the valleys, in the forests; the sight of another ship cresting the mountain, another ship coming for them, the blare of sirens at the first impact, ground cratering, building’s crumbling, a destruction so rapid, that they simply cannot mount an equal defence; another planet, another planet, the pictures repeating, deserts where there had been grasslands, sickness where there had been vitality, rubble where there had been cities, empty streets where there had been city crowds; the stink of fear and sweat, the dead and the dying, and the last hope of those people, a hope invested here.

Aditi lowers her head and nudges Chiela’s side. Lead me, little one. Chiela rears back on her hindlegs and, with one long contraction of muscle, takes to flight. She circles the comet once, letting her mournful voice echo out and out to her brothers and sisters, before angling herself towards the ship, giving long, hard flaps of her wings, until she glides into the bay doors, Aditi crowding in behind her, barely fitting, her back brushing the ceiling and her head bent low. Chiela can sense others of the Lacerta circling the ship but none attempt to enter, and then the bay doors slide shut, and the inner doors hiss open. Pipra slides down from off her back, pulling his helmet off and immediately gushing that, “Oh my gosh, that was so totally cool!”

Chiela snorts because, of course, Pipra didn’t have to carry his own heavy ass, then allows her form to shift, scales retreating, wings withdrawing, claws shortening and disappearing, her human body emerging, and the change never stops feeling weird no matter how many times she goes through it. At her side, Aditi’s shifting as well, though her form remains impressive, taller even than Dioscorus, heavy-boned, her hair a thick tangle around her face, skin dark and eyes deep, pregnant bellied and stark faced.

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