Note: Aperians are short humanoids who live a long, long time. Atrelle is one who has devoted herself to Chloe.
The Aperian sitting in front of me smiled warmly. “Mistress, I understand your frustration with my people, but too many of them are happy and healthy living under Androsian rule.” Her face was lined with care and her 750 years showed in the form of gray hair on her head and deeply placed eyes.
I nodded at her. “Madame Yrnop, I appreciate all the work you’ve done for me. I know you’ve risked life and limb for a free Aperia. But I can’t free them if they don’t want to be.”
She smiled again. “Yet I will continue to fight the Androsians, even if it is behind the scenes. You may continue to access my computer to gather what information you can. I’m sorry that my people cannot be more cooperative.”
I smiled. “If only they were even remotely cooperative. Even your own staff can’t be trusted.”
Madame Yrnop sighed. “They are loyal to Aperia first and me second. Still, you have been able to hide - how do you say it - in plain sight - for the last five years. I would consider that an accomplishment by itself.”
I lost myself in thought for a moment. “What was Aperia like before the Androsians?”
She half-smiled and then grew wistful. “When I was born, Aperia was only just starting to explore our own solar system. But even then we had the most marvelous curiosity, as a whole. There are few Aperians, even now, who are not curious or enterprising when it comes to exploration. We built cities, just as you see now. We built them everywhere, on the land, under the oceans, in orbit and on our moons. By the time I was 100, we had gone from exploring the solar system to developing our first warp engines. We progressed so fast, but we had no idea what lay out there.” She pointed up.
“We had no idea that the other intelligent species would all be larger than us, and most of them were more aggressive. We had built an economy on our planet where few people were poor. We were never sick. We were all industrious. We all worked hard. I have learned quite a bit about your race over the last five years, both from you and Atrelle. Many of you are as industrious as we are, but not all. Many of you are content to let others do the work. Our people do not understand the concept of retirement. We work hard until we die.
“We traveled to a system outside our own for the first time about 500 years ago. Then we met our first alien race: the Sysrowians. Here we found a race similar to ours, if a little bit larger. They were also industrious, but their customs were different, their languages seemed harsh to our ears. And most importantly, they would not share technology with us. We left them to their own devices and pushed further into the galaxy.”
She sighed. “And that is when we met the Androsians for the first time. We were overwhelmed from the beginning, attacked before we could even start to defend ourselves. I was on that first ship, Mistress. We were captured, we were tortured, and we were raped.”
I reached out and touched her shoulder. I could not drop my antibiotic shield, but I could still feel her pain.
She sighed. “When the Androsians discovered where our home planet was, they not only destroyed our world, wiping out most of my people, but they also attempted to destroy the Sysrowians. But they fought back and very nearly pushed the Androsians back.” She started to cry. “Our people helped the Androsians to defeat the Sysrowians.” She broke down in tears. “And I have been bearing the guilt of that deed ever since. My own father told us that the Sysrowians would not help us, so we should not help them. But when I pleaded with him to not help the Androsians conquer Sysrow, he called me weak. He sold me into sexual slavery with the Androsians, and it was not until he died, 75 years ago, that I was released from that bond.”
She trembled. “And now you see why I must help my people to gain their independence. Why I must help the Sysrowians to gain theirs. I will do anything I can to accomplish that mission, even give my life, though little enough time is left for that. You must make them see that your way is the best way, that a free Aperia can live in peace with its neighbors and still be profitable. I have faith in you, Mistress.”
She touched my arm. “No one should be punished for simply being curious and ingenious enough to follow the stars.”
I nodded. She smiled and stood. I stood also and took her hand. I led her to the door and hugged her before she left. She looked back at me and I could see the pleading in her eyes. “You have the power to make a difference. Let it be for peace!” She turned and walked out the door.
I felt a touch at my elbow. I turned to see Atrelle, her eyes red from crying. I hugged her tightly.