The Twisted Skein

2014 -- Euromadian

The Response Centre was ominously silent when Tango returned. She hesitated in the doorway, looking at her partner’s hunched shoulders. “Did you and Dassie have a fight?”

Nyx jumped, closed a window on the console, and turned. “No; what makes you think that?”

"Half an hour ago, you were belting awful music at full volume. Now you’re ‘ominously silent’.” Tango shrugged, stepped inside, and closed the door. “Something’s up. So spill.”

Nyx grimaced, span her chair back round, and reopened her window. “It’s not Dassie,” she said. “It’s news – from home.”

Tango frowned and started towards her. “You’ve always said your home was long gone,” she recalled. “‘HQ is where I live now’, you told me once. ‘The past is just that – past.’”

“And that’s true,” Nyx acknowledged. “But Ukraine is still where I’m from. And the news is… not nice.”

“Ukraine… that’s down by the Crimea, right?” Tango leaned over her shoulder and peered at the video running on the console. “And that’s… oh.”

“Civil war,” Nyx confirmed in a hollow voice. “Rebellion, coups and counter-coups, secessions, Russian invasions…” She let out a sharp laugh. “I mean, it’s pretty much de rigueur for our neck of the woods, but it still hurts to see.” She tapped the map that filled half the screen. “Right there. That’s the village I was born in.”

“Pretty small war, then,” Tango observed, “if that’s a village.”

“Oh, it’s long since been swallowed up by Donetsk,” Nyx said dismissively. “My house, Granny Else’s shop, it’s all gone decades ago, ploughed under by concrete blocks and tarmac roads. But that’s where it was. And the front line’s just passed through.”

“Hence the ominous silence,” Tango said, nodding slightly. She straightened up and squeezed her partner’s shoulder comfortingly. “But it’s like you said – all that is gone. It’s not your country any more. You have a life here – a job – a husband and two adorable children-”

“Moderately adorable,” Nyx agreed. She closed her eyes for a moment, let out a long breath, then shook herself and nodded. “You’re right,” she said, and closed the window. “I shouldn’t let it get to me. I’m not even sure World One is my world; by the time I knew enough to ask the question, the girls who recruited me were dead. So for all I know, my Ukraine is still at peace.”

“I hope so,” Tango told her. Then her brow furrowed. “Actually, that reminds me of something I’ve been meaning to ask.”

“Always a good sentence to hear,” Nyx muttered, and looked up at her. “Fire away.”

“‘Nyx Nightingale’,” Tango said. “It’s not… a very Ukrainian - Ukrainish? – name.”

Nyx laughed and leant back in the chair. “It’s been so long, I’d almost forgotten about that,” she admitted. “You’re right, it’s not – and it’s not my original name, either.”

“What, another one?” Tango rolled her eyes. “You, Dafydd Illian, Eledhwen Elerossiel… is there anyone in HQ who’s using their real name?”

“It’s not as bad as all that,” Nyx assured her. “It actually is my name – sort of. But…” She plucked a loose lock of hair from her shoulder, tucked it back under her headscarf. “Back when I joined, we didn’t have the Universal Translators yet – not even the old models, the ones that only worked in badfics. So the Flowers got someone to cast a pirated translation spell on me until I learnt English. Only the spell was… a bit rubbish, really.”

“Well, it was pirated,” Tango pointed out. “What did you expect?”

“That the Flowers would know what they were doing,” Nyx replied dryly. “I was a naïve idiot, if you hadn’t noticed.”

“You still are,” Tango said cheerfully, and jumped back from Nyx’s elbow to the ribs. “So how does a dodgy spell lead to a mangled name?”

“It’s not mangled,” Nyx said. “It’s translated. The spell decided that all Ukrainian words, name or not, should be rendered in English. ‘Nyx’ got a pass, because it’s Greek, but ‘Soloveiko’ became ‘Nightingale’.” She shrugged. “By the time I learnt enough English to take the spell off, the name had stuck.”

“Nyx Soloveiko,” Tango said thoughtfully, rolling the word around her tongue. “You know… I think I prefer ‘Nightingale’.”

“You know,” said Nyx, in exactly the same tone, “after all this time – so do I.”

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