Rokk stood in the hallway, trying to figure out his thoughts.  He finally turned to walk away when the door opened behind him.


~Rokk?  What is it?~  Imra asked.


He smiled, having been ‘caught,’ “I was just looking for Garth, and then remembered that he was supposed to go out with Ayla this afternoon.”


~Come in.~  Imra said, placing her hand on his shoulder and tugging him gently towards her room.  It didn’t seem like she was falling for his story.


Rokk allowed himself to be led into her room and just stood there, not knowing what to say.


~You and Jath have been having problems since Venegar, haven’t you?~  Imra urged.


“Yeah.”  Rokk admitted, grudgingly, still refusing to meet her eyes.


~You *can* talk to me about this, Rokk, if you want to.  I didn’t really like Jath at the beginning, but I respect how much she cares for you, and that’s all that matters.~


“It’s just not the same.”


~She stuck a sword through you, Rokk.  We all know it wasn’t her fault, but she doesn’t seem like the sort of person who will let that go.~


“Every time my shirt is off, I catch her tracing that place with her fingers.  I know there isn’t a scar, but it’s like she memorized the spot, and ends up drawn to it.”  Rokk looked up finally, “I can’t really explain it.  She’s like a force of nature, and I feel like I can’t even breath, like I’m drowning in her.  But since Venegar, she’s been…”


~Holding back?~


“Yeah.  Like she’s afraid of hurting me again.”


~Maybe she’s afraid of *being* hurt again, Rokk.  It seems to me that she cares for you so much that seeing you like that felt like she was being cut open as well.~  Imra paused for a second, considering her thoughts, ~Kathooni Warriors take matters of strength and weakness very seriously, and for the first time, her feelings for you felt like a weakness.~


“I have no idea what to do, or say, to make this work…”  Rokk admitted.


~It seems to me that any sign of hesitation or doubt is only going to reinforce any hesitation she has.  If you want this to work, you have to surrender to it.  If it doesn’t work, don’t let it be because *you* gave up, ‘Kid Cosmos.’~  Imra thought with a sly grin.


“Okay, even *I* can recognize child psychology, Imra…”  Rokk said with a half-hearted grin.  “I’m supposed to surrender, but not give up?  How does that work, exactly?”


~The same way you’ve been doing this from the start, Rokk.  Years and years of focus and dedication and *control,* always ruthless control, first from the years of competition, and then even harsher control from the year of rehabilitation.  And you met Jath, the ‘force of nature’ that you could not control, and you surrendered to her.  You let her take control of you, and make decisions for you and a part of you that was so tired of always being in control relished that freedom, relished that act of surrender.  You need to remember that feeling, and at the same time, you need to be confident and sure, the same as you’ve always been.  It sounds like a contradiction, but it’s who you are and I think it’s what you’ve been looking for all your life.~


Rokk just looked at Imra, unable to frame a response at first.  Finally, he nodded, “Yeah.  That sounds about right.  It seemed like the only time I could *really* rest was when I was with Jath.  When the nerve damage was at its worst, I was afraid to sleep, afraid that my heart would stop in the night, that the machines would fail, that I had to stay awake, keep concentrating on each and every heartbeat.  I was terrified of letting go, of letting the machines take over for me.”  He shook his head, “Garth was right, you really do know your stuff.”


Imra shook her head with a smile, ~Garth was the one who explained this to me, Rokk.  I was still stuck wondering what you could possibly see in Jath, and he said, ‘She’s the one place where he doesn’t have to be in control every minute of every day.  She’s the one place he can rest, and let someone else take charge for a little while.’~


“Okay, maybe Garth is the smart one, but don’t tell him I said that.”  Rokk quipped.




“Sixteen remote attempts to gain access, one physical intrusion.”  Dox reported.  Nux was wearing a chameleon suit, so you can’t see her on the monitors, save by this distortion, which I have enhanced.”  He pointed a slender tool at the holographic representation of the T-access in the Embassy basement, and sure enough a very faint outline of a humanoid form could be seen.


“It’s been eight hours and she’s already tried to break security seventeen times?”  Ayla said disbelievingly.


“And here,” Dox continued, as if she had not spoken, “viralware has infected her sensenet, convincing her that she has completed her mission, and that the package she carries now includes my central processing unit.”  The image shifts and the blurry figure can be seen finally unfreezing from its position by the doorway and sneaking back away from the monitor’s visual field.  “She will return to Colu immediately, under the false impression that she is under pursuit by the Venegarian Champions.  Any discrepancies in her sensefeeds will be rationalized by damage suffered from electrical and magnetic assaults on her person by Champions Ranzz and Krinn.”


“And that buys us what, another day, tops?”  Ayla asked.


“At minimum.”  Dox said, looking around to make sure that he and Ayla were alone.  He looked to her and his face was deadly serious.  “Between yourself and I, Colu may have bigger issues to deal with than a single rogue Five.”  His fingers danced over the monitor and tapped into United Planets security feeds, where two dozen UP representatives were in extraordinary (and, presumably, private) session, discussing whether or not to send a ‘fact-finding mission’ to Colu to investigate the status of the Fives.


Ayla looked impressed and leaned closer, “Between yourself and I, you’re going to show me how you did that.”


Dox ventured a smile.