Leaving Earth



Chapter 51: Cycle 2941: A New Home


A note from Warfox

I hope it was worth the wait. ^^

The Atlantis Dwarf Planet was proving to have some issues as far as constructing a colony within it. Realistically, these were things Megan could have anticipated better, but they were also things that weren’t really problems with the proper planning. Despite having relatively low gravity, as an icy ball of metal and rock, the gravity exerted by it still caused issues with the long cylinder newly constructed within it, particularly towards the deepest end. As Megan tested out the centrifugal spinning mechanisms to generate artificial gravity along the inside of the drum, she started placing various materials within it. Inevitably lighter weight materials would be drawn towards the end of the drum, towards the center of Atlantis.

All this changed was how Megan would design the artificial landscape within the habitat. A gently-sloped spiral of corkscrewing rock would act as shallow ledging to contain the softer soils and water that would be introduced later, with metal supports helping contain the rock in place as well. The end effect was something like a tightly-wound ribbon of land, like a two kilometer strip wrapping the inside of the drum with a ridge of short mountains keeping everything in place. This made it difficult to look up and down the same side of the landscape, but provided a fantastic view of the far side of the station, and the land on the other side. The mountains were also not so large they could not have roads built over them, or tunnels through them.

Megan waited to introduce water to the mix, but did start pulverizing dust and gravel out of the local rocky asteroids. Her primary concerns at this point would be weathering. A structure like the Smith Bunker could avoid corroding and rusting for centuries, but she still had several thousand years before humans would arrive, and introducing water and atmosphere too soon would give the structure too much wear and tear. The spiral terracing would also do well to keep the landscape in place when she turned off the centrifugal motors, which she did not want to overtax before they were actually needed. The colony would spend a long time frozen in wait, much like the colonists being brought to live within it.

Her final plans for completing the Monsalle Station would wait until the last few centuries before the colonists arrived. Water and air would be introduced, with sculpted lakes and rivers crisscrossing the landscape. Systems were installed to help water flow from the innermost part of the drum, back to the outermost part, allowing it to cycle through the system and give her an easy way to filter and introduce new water as needed, or process old water into new atmosphere. Lastly she added plantlife, mostly mosses and lichens for now. In particular, she planned to grow and later harvest trees, as well as use them to practice using her complex mirror systems to give the station Earth-like day and night, as well as season cycles.

The photos she sent to Hawthorne and T.I.A. in cycle 2935 of the irrigated, green landscape of the Monsalle Station were breathtaking. It was hard not to notice, too, a handful of housing settlements already constructed, as well as roads through the gently sloping landscape. Solar panels covered the roofs of the mostly-wooden buildings, and every home seemed constructed with the intention of containing a reasonably sized family, or large group of individuals. Said panels were a mere supplement of the enormous flower of solar panels outside of the station, but it wouldn’t do to waste a chance to generate power.

Towards the outer side of the drum was something more like a small city, with larger purpose-built buildings presumably intended for managing the space port and general infrastructure. The smaller dwellings seemed intended for farming, though they were seemingly too sparse to contain the whole population. A note Megan sent stated that she had no intention of building everything for the colonists, as she didn’t want them to get lazy.

They would arrive in six more cycles.

“How very motherly of her.” Hawthorne observed as he read Megan’s notes. He had been obsessively following the progress of her constructions as she transmitted them data, and had been severely impressed at her ability to adapt to the handful of situations that had cropped up before he even had the opportunity to render aid or give advice. She had lost time here and there as mistakes had caused her to rebuild or redesign things from time to time, but she seemed to be very well motivated.

T.I.A. giggled softly at his observation. “She chose her name for a reason. I can’t believe it’s almost all over. We’re almost home, and she’s been working so hard to get it ready for us.” She rubbed her hands on her husband’s back, looking over his shoulders as he looked through the images, videos, and text on the tablet. “You actually did it.”

Hawthorne leaned back into his wife’s hands, turning his head to look back and up at her. “I didn’t do it, we did it. I just gave everyone a little shove, and did my part. I’m really looking forward to when we can head down to Eden, though it will be some time before anything can leave it once they go there. I think I can settle for the station though. It’ll be easier to stay close to you there.” He moved a hand up to his shoulder, where she laced her fingers through his.

Her face became thoughtful as she looked down at him. “What’s to become of me? I will be divested of my cargo, presumably, my hull left empty… Will I remain a ship at all, or will I be installed in the station to work with and observe the colonists?” She gently rubbed her fingertips against his knuckles as they held hands.

“Hmm.” He considered her question. “Honestly, it’s up to you. If you wish to roam about the system or orbit the planets, you’ve certainly earned the right to choose. I’ll go wherever you go, of course. I would love it if you and I could settle on the colony for a time though, perhaps help Heather with her work so that you and Megan can have children. I think it would be a crime if I didn’t at least help with bringing dogs and cats back from extinction. If we can do anything for Earth, I think returning their faithful companions to them would be worthwhile.”

T.I.A. smiled at that, nodding. “We could have chickens too, like the Phoenix Clan. They seem to be good pets, and good to have around in general. Dogs and cats sound nice too, though. Will we do anything to make my android more aesthetically accurate so the colonists won’t necessarily need glasses or contacts to see me properly? Maybe I should update my avatar to look a little older too. It wouldn’t do for the colonists to see you married to someone who looks like a teenager.”

Hawthorne blinked in surprise, and laughed at that. “While I’d love to see their faces, you’re probably right. I’m already going to have enough trouble not being called some technophile pervert. Besides, I bet you’d look even more beautiful with some wrinkles and more grey in your hair.” Hawthorne himself was looking quite grey, his face still clean-shaven, but his hair was down to his shoulders. It had thinned slightly, but still remained relatively thick, and tended to get wild when he stayed up late working or reading. Despite being sixty-nine years old, he still looked rather healthy, owing to his exercise routine. Some might consider him a silver fox at this point.

She gave him a hug about the shoulders with her free arm, squeezing his hand with the other. “I think I’ll stay at the station with you then. Thank you so much for everything. I don’t know how this would have gone without you helping me. I don’t think I would have been developed enough, or matured enough to handle the things that happened along the way without you. I don’t care if anyone thinks ill of you because of me. You deserve more credit than that.”

He closed his eyes, enjoying her embrace. His VE suit had already been pretty incredible, but the little upgrades they’d added to it over the years had really made simple things like a hug all the more enjoyable and intimate. “Don’t say goodbye to me yet. I have no intention of dying anytime soon, outside of the ordinary cycles anyway. I’ve got a lot of work to do before I’m done and upload myself to join you in digital eternity. Maybe we’ll tour the galaxy, see the sights and shepherd humanity to other stars.”

“I’d like that.” She kissed the side of his head, holding him close. “We’ll have kids to take care of too, if we’re lucky.”

“We’ve been pretty lucky so far. Let’s just do our jobs a little longer and then we can let the others take over all the hard stuff.” He set the tablet down, sighing softly, having difficulty believing they were almost there.

The Ark was able to spiral in towards the asteroid belt tighter than Megan had on her initial arrival, only needing a few decades to slow down rather than the centuries of orbit Megan had endured as she decelerated. Megan had been able to remotely control her drones throughout the system in that time, but she could also withstand the severe forces upon her during that dramatic deceleration much better than the relatively fragile Arc and its crew could. The final pass allowed T.I.A. to match orbit with the Monsalle Station, and after a series of painstakingly careful checks and double-checks, the Ark was able to dock.

In advance of reviving almost everyone else, T.I.A. had brought Tia Monsalle’s stasis pod to Hawthorne’s compartment. It was possibly the final time the spinning ring would be used before a large percentage of the Ark was recycled by T.I.A. and Megan. Heather was brought in as well, though her expertise was entirely due to the possible medical needs Tia Monsalle might encounter.

Tia Monsalle had been in something of a panic when she’d been put to sleep. She’d felt her body becoming cold and her heart stop, and she felt the cold clutch of death threaten to take her. She laid like that for what felt like several minutes, wondering if she’d ever revive. She feared her consciousness would persist through the whole journey, left in bodily nothingness for tens of thousands of years. Then she felt her body warming back up. Before long her heart was beating and she was able to breathe again.

Chilly tingles ran up and down her body, culminating in a slight ache in her stomach. Her body was moving sluggishly, her hands moving to rub gently at her chilled skin, over her stomach. A clunk and a hiss sounded out, causing Tia to move her hands to her ears to protect them from the sound. It had not sounded that loud when she’d gotten in the pod initially! The relatively short, modestly curvy blonde woman sat up slowly, looking around the relatively dark room. A woman in a lab coat was standing nearby, having apparently been talking quietly a moment ago and had turned to look at Tia.

“Hello…? Heather, was it? What’s going on? Where are we?” She started to pull herself out of the pod, her body feeling weak and tired. Heather moved close and slipped her arms around Tia, helping her out of the pod and walking her over to sit her on a nearby bed. “Is this a hospital?”

Heather blinked at her and laughed, shaking her head. “No, Miss Monsalle, this is not a hospital. You’re right though, I am Heather, Doctor Heather O’Malley. I was brought here to give you a checkup, to make sure you’re healthy before we start reviving everyone else. You were brought here because someone wants to talk to you before we start with everyone else.” Heather pulled a stethoscope from around her neck, and withdrew a medical diagnostics tablet from a large pocket. She started with listening to her heart, and moved down to her abdomen shortly after.

Tia sighed. “Hawthorne didn’t have to do all this just for me. Where is he anyway? Did he think I’d be afraid to face him naked before we talked?” She cooperated with Heather, moving and breathing as needed to help her check her up.

“Oh, no, Hawthorne’s not the one who wanted to see you first, though he doesn’t know about this meeting either, not yet. Breathe in. Breathe out. Okay… minor distress, but nothing I can’t handle.” Heather hummed and picked out a nearby glass and handed it to Tia, which she drank quietly. She made an upset face, but kept drinking. “Medicine, to help settle the baby.”

Tia raised an eyebrow at that, but she supposed she shouldn’t be surprised a doctor was aware of her pregnancy. She handed back the glass. “So, who wanted to talk then?” She tilted her head as Heather handed her a pair of glasses. As she pulled them on, the lights became brighter and she gasped as she could see another woman in the room suddenly. She pulled off the glasses, and then put them back on, shocked that she could only see her with them on.

T.I.A. waved and smiled, her voice coming from the overhead speakers. “Hello Miss Monsalle. I’m the Technologic Interfacing Artificial Intelligence of the Ark, though I’m accustomed to being called Tia. I understand if that bothers you, and apologize for my creator naming me after you. Hawthorne doesn’t always think things through when it comes to people, but I’m sure he meant it as a dedication of some kind.”

Tia gaped for a moment, then sobered up quickly as she realized she was talking to the ship’s computer. “No, it’s fine. Nice to meet you Tia. I didn’t realize you had… a body? What’s going on, why did you want to talk to me? Why doesn’t Hawthorne know about this?”

T.I.A. nodded and looked relieved that she could use the name. “Well, I think it’s important you know a number of things that have happened, as I feel things have been unfair to you, and while you’d probably hear these things from Hawthorne, I wanted to personally apologize to you. If not for the risks of endangering your pregnancy from a second use of the stasis pod, I would have consulted with you before we arrived, not after.”

Tia lifted her right hand, motioning for T.I.A. to continue. “Go on.” She had a bit of a frown now, though she coughed when prompted by Heather.

Letting out a sigh, T.I.A. continued. “Firstly, you should know that Hawthorne has been through the cryogenic stasis process two thousand, nine hundred, forty one times. He has done this once every thirty four years, for a period of time of four days, give or take a handful of emergencies that required a week or so. Hawthorne has aged thirty-two years. He has watched as the people of Earth destroyed themselves, started to rebuild, and overseen the development and maturation of myself. He has built a second AI, which has seen to the construction of the space station we’ve just arrived at in the Alpha Centauri system. He and I have also been married, and have been in love for at least half of the journey, though my love had gone unrequited for some time before.” T.I.A. lifted her hand to show off a relatively plain wedding ring, with etchings all along its silvery surface.

Tia Monsalle, for her part, took in the information remarkably stoically, though she had taken Heather’s hand at some point and was squeezing it quite tightly. Heather showed no signs of minding the painful grip, causing Tia some confusion. Speaking up, Tia addressed the AI, whom she now recognized as her rival in love, as well as someone she’d already lost to. “He knew I loved him. Why would he do such things? Was it necessary he oversee the mission for so much of his life? Does he know I’m pregnant?”

Heather managed to pull her hand free, nod over at T.I.A. and started gathering her things. “She’s all set.” She then headed through the door to the next room, and a mechanical sound started soon after that surely must have been taking her away from the two Tias.

T.I.A. watched her friend go, quietly attending to using the lift to ferry Heather out of the ring and into the body of the ship. “He did know, but he hadn’t known how to feel love yet. He felt personally responsible for making sure as many of the colonists made it to our new home as possible. He didn’t know how I would develop, or that we would come to have affection or love for each other. He merely intended to ensure I would be ready for when danger came, and because of him I was. He is regretful for how he’s neglected you, and fully intends to dedicate himself to helping you raise your child if you want him to. I, of course, will render whatever aid I can as well. I owe you that.” T.I.A. extended an arm down from the ceiling, depositing a small basket of clothes on the bed for Tia.

Tia Monsalle hung her head and let out a sigh. “And Earth? They actually destroyed it? Hawthorne was right?”

T.I.A. nodded. “In twenty-one thirty-three. Primarily thermonuclear explosions, some nuclear and more conventional explosions, some biological weapons. It’s hard to tell everything that’s happened, but later contact confirmed some of our expectations. Fire burnt down just about everything, and smoke engulfed the planet to kill almost everything else off. Only humans who made it to bunkers survived, and we technically only know of two groups who had. We helped those groups escape an ice age that was about to engulf the planet, which could well still be happening. We don’t have a good way to tell, but we’re relatively certain we saved those people at least.”

“Holy shit… I half expected them to catch up with us and imprison us after what happened. I didn’t think we’d make it so far after so long. And you said the other AI has built a station for us to live in? We don’t have to do everything from the ground up?” She lifted her head, looking hopeful.

“Yes.” T.I.A. responded. “She named herself Mother, and she’s been working for tens of thousands of years to both seed a planet with life for us, as well as build a habitat in space for the colonists to start from. It is bored into the surface of a Dwarf Planet named Atlantis. She named it the Monsalle Station.”

Tia laughed at that, shaking her head. “Well, that’s nice. At least I get that. And Hawthorne’s sure about helping me if I need him?” She watched T.I.A. nod at her. “And you as well?” T.I.A. nodded again. “So how old is he again? What does he look like now?”

T.I.A. produced an image of Hawthorne for Tia. He was still as tall as ever, fit and lean, with long, straight grey hair. He had plenty of wrinkles, and the short sleeves on the image showed the scar from where a piece of gold had shot through his arm. Tia stood up and walked over to the image, looking at his face in particular. “He doesn’t even look like the same man… He has laugh lines and I’ve never seen him smile like that… He was always so dour and had these lines in his forehead…”

T.I.A. smiled, nodding. “It took him a while, and tragedies didn’t help, but he managed to unlock his feelings and learned how to enjoy life, even cooped up in these two rooms here with me.”

Tia Monsalle gasped, looking around the small room, and then moving towards the door to the other. “Just these two rooms!? That’s inhumane! Why would he do that to himself?”

“He felt like he was the only one who could handle it. He was like a machine at first. I was able to take him to other places eventually.” She filled the rooms with the various expansive landscapes she’d made for him. Every minute or so she’d show Tia another, and another. They’d been so many places together in these two little rooms. “He wasn’t the only one trapped on the ship, after all.”

Tia marvelled at the surroundings, gasping at some she recognized. Looking back she saw the somber look on the AI’s face. She seemed so real, so honest, so earnest. Even the ring seemed like the simple token Hawthorne would give. “I believe you. I believe you love him, and I think I can believe he loves you back. Thank you for taking care of him. I… tried, but... He was so consumed with his work, his fear, that I couldn’t get through to him. Maybe if I’d had the time, if I’d been able to join him through these stints of life he’s had…” She sighed. “I would have lost the baby, but… maybe it would have been worth it…? I could have gotten to know you as well?”

T.I.A. smiled sadly, tears filling her eyes. “I think I would have liked to have gotten to know you. I had my first dream about you, you know.”

Tilting her head, Tia wondered what could make a machine cry. “Did you? What about?”

The AI sniffled at her namesake, reaching up to wipe at her eyes. “I… I had been pondering what I would do if Hawthorne were to die, early on. I could feel myself at the edge of a breakthrough, and when I finally managed it I dreamed. A nightmare, really, about Hawthorne dying and me being unable to resuscitate him. I went to you for help, deep in the ship, but all I could do was cry, and you embraced me as I told you he’d died… I wailed as I realized that I’d done something terrible by reviving you, that I might have doomed your child, and then I woke up screaming.”

Tia rushed forwards, her arms finding nothing but air but still trying to hug the AI, trying to comfort the poor girl. “You poor thing. That’s a horrible way to learn to dream. I’m so sorry that happened to you. Do you still have that dream?”

T.I.A. reciprocated the hug, simulating the other woman’s touch, letting Tia see the way her hands pressed in at the fabric of her dress and skin. “I remember everything in vivid detail. I would have to delete it to forget it, but then I might not be the same person I am now. I’ve felt guilty ever since, worried that I’ve done you irreparable harm in so many ways. I’m so sorry Tia.”

Tia staggered at the idea of remembering every horrible thing in crystal clear detail, and pitied the AI for it. Sometimes being able to forget was a positive, useful, and even healthy thing. She held onto the avatar for a long time. “I’m… hardly the only one who lost someone on this mission. At least I still have part of him, and… maybe that’s enough. We’ll all have our work cut out for us, right?”

T.I.A. nodded, and slipped away, trembling a little. “Thank you Tia. You’re right. We’d better get moving. Hawthorne intends to deliver a speech to get everyone up to date on what’s happened. I’ll let you know about anything he omits later.” She gestured to the clothes in the basket, causing the other woman to blush and nod as she hurried to get dressed. “Just come into the next room when you’re ready.” She waited for Tia to nod, and disappeared.

It wouldn’t have been practical to wake everyone at once if not for Megan’s efforts to farm and store up a decent amount of produce in advance. The original plans were for two hundred people to be responsible for the initial cultivation of resources on a wild planet, and then to bring down the rest of the crew over time on whatever planet they found. With Megan, Mother’s efforts, it was possible to feed the whole crew of 1993 for three months before it was imperative they had started producing their own food. The only reason she didn’t have more in storage was the raw difficulty for a lone AI who had human origins to control too many drones at once.

She had already offloaded a lot of her drones to separate computers that managed solar mirrors, observational satellites, mining stations, and cargo gathering. She had to handle farming machines pretty much on her own as she learned how to use them, and it would simply work better to have human help. Any further efforts for her to farm on her own would have delayed the deployment of a number of systems within the Monsalle Station, in particular the transportation systems.

For the moment, though, hundreds of people were waking up in zero gravity. Clumsy bodies hauled themselves out of pods, gathered their clothing from attached storage lockers, and started getting dressed. The small rooms had eight pods each, barring a few exceptions, and were gender segregated, primarily to use the male rooms towards the outer perimeter of the Ark to physically shield the female ones. A single, large monitor lit up in each of these rooms, where an older Dr. Hawthorne Crenshaw appeared to be monitoring systems and talking to himself. The audio was off for the moment.

Upon getting indication that all 1990 of the frozen colonists were awake, with Heather, Tia, and himself having already been awake for a few hours, he turned on his microphone.

A bright smile lit the face of a man known to possess few emotions to most of them. “Good morning, crew of the Ark. In case you don’t recognize me, I’m Doctor Hawthorne Crenshaw, plus about thirty-two biological years, and one hundred thousand cryogenic years. We’re actually still a few years shy of that number, but it doesn’t bear going into. I have a lot of news for all of you, both good and bad, and I hope you will take the time to listen as I recount what has happened to us since we left Earth. All the things I will speak of are a matter of public record and can be looked up on the network.”

His smile faded as he began. “They started with our families. We always knew we were going to outlive them, but it bears noting that the people who hated us, who hated me, hunted our families down. Many were charged of trumped up crimes, and still others were lynched in the streets for onlookers. The nations of Earth became wary of each other, blaming each other for allowing us to create our ship and for providing resources to do so. A global lockdown on exotic materials began that caused technology to start rolling backwards for a long time.”

“New nations rose as corporations took advantage of weakened countries, easily swayed militaries, and their own abilities to acquire resources that the old countries couldn’t. I do not have nearly enough records from this time, as massive lockdowns of the internet went in place that made the efforts to censor the internet in our day look like child’s play. Ten years after the new nations consolidated power, I made an effort to try to talk them down from their ledge. I failed. Shortly after, war broke out on Thursday, March twenty-fourth, twenty-one thirty-three, and inside of twenty-four hours the whole planet was on fire.”

Hawthorne stayed quiet for nearly a minute as he inhaled deeply and let out a calming breath. “I should mention that I have been supervising the mission, every thirty-four years, for about four days at a time. I spent thirty-two years of my life helping my AI maintain the ship, and putting into action our plans to complete the mission. On the twelfth cycle, we received a message from the Beta Facility, the only one known to survive the Cataclysm, as our new contacts called it. This was three hundred forty years later. People from a bunker outside of Seattle had contacted us, specifically a bright, vibrant young woman named Jessica Smith.”

He started smiling again. “She was an inspiring person, from an inspiring people. They survived the horrible darkness that followed the Cataclysm, and their bunker held five hundred people. They had an amazing culture, and it was my pleasure to help them survive the long journey South to Columbia as a true ice age started taking the planet. They were joined by remnants from a former nation from a nearby bunker, and they joined forces, absorbing the new people into their culture. We lost contact with them shortly before the fifteenth cycle. I hope they have survived, but it may be some time before we ever know.”

Hawthorne squared himself up into a more business-like stance, with his back straight and shoulders level. “Many things happened since then. We were assaulted by a swarm of projectiles from some unknown phenomena that took seven of us. I created a second AI on the Lubar-Masis comet, and with her help we were able to plough ahead on our course. She charted the dangers ahead for us. She arrived in Alpha Centauri before us, and enacted several of our more ambitious plans to prepare a planet, and build a place for us to live. She has shown a desire to help us worthy of any of our crew, rivalling the ship’s AI in her efforts to protect and guide us.”

“I encourage you to learn their names, and to interact with them, for they are still with us today. They’ve worked tirelessly for tens of thousands of years to help us get this far. Tia is our ship’s AI, in case you’ve forgotten, and Mother is the AI that went ahead. At this point, I request that you observe with me what Mother has wrought.”

The monitors changed their view from Hawthorne, to the Monsalle Station. A flower of solar panels and mirrors dazzled above an ice-covered rock. Beneath the solar panels was a spinning drum barely visible as it lay beneath the surface of the dwarf planet. “This is Monsalle Station. It is nestled into the surface of the dwarf planet Atlantis in the primary asteroid belt of Alpha Centauri. You may notice a familiar ship docked among the solar panels. We are there.”

The monitor changed its view to a planet. It was a gorgeous mix of blues, greens, and whites. A hurricane appeared to be hitting a southern continent. The bodies of water were broken up by circular mountain formations from crater impacts and the land was covered in green. “This is Eden. Mother has been working to prepare it for us for a very long time. She bombarded it with comets, seeded it with plantlife, and has been observing it to determine its dangers. The magnetosphere is irregular, but seemingly stable. You may notice barren spots on the surface where solar radiation savages the surface, but these areas are mapped, and have shown little variance in thousands of years. It’s not Earth, but it is a good planet. It’s our planet.”

Hawthorne’s face reappeared, beaming a powerful smile. “I’m pleased to say the mission did not go entirely as I expected. I am not the same man I was at the start, and I personally think that is for the better. I don’t expect you to go through the logs of my life on the ship, but I am an open book if you wish to do so. I hope you will forgive me for the liberties I’ve taken. There have been risks, I admit, but if you will proceed towards the docking bay at the rear of the ship, I hope you will agree that they have been worth it. I’ll see you there.”

The Monsalle Station dock, much like the Ark itself, possessed little gravity. It was situated outside of the drum of the station, and thus outside of its centrifugal gravity. At most it experienced Atlantis’ gravity, which was enough to allow people to put their feet on the ground as they exited the Ark, gently alighting into the well-lit room. Even Hawthorne stepped out of the ship with the other colonists, which were gathering around a large statue about twenty meters tall. A younger depiction of Hawthorne, as well as T.I.A.’s avatar, were shown standing over the Ark. Hawthorne seemed flabbergasted as he observed the statue for the first time, very slowly falling over before someone caught him.

Two female sets of hands levered him back up. A short, curvy brunette in a yellow sundress was at his left, and a tall, slender blonde woman in a smart-looking suit was at his right. Both women appeared to be artificial, significantly upgraded versions of the androids he’d worked on before. T.I.A. and Megan had caught him. “Oh my god.”

Both girls smiled as they helped him up, speaking in unison, their voices coming from their mouths. “Surprise!”

Bursting into tears, Hawthorne pulled the two women close, hugging them fiercely. It took him a few moments to gather himself and pull away while the assembled crew watched. “Everyone! Please, come meet Tia and Mother!”

Tia Monsalle watched on quietly from a distance, not recognizing the man in the center of the crowd anymore.

A note from Warfox

We made it! A long journey completed! I have an epilogue in mind after this, and then we are complete with this story. I do hope you will take the time to review the story at this point, or after the epilogue. I hope you've enjoyed taking this journey with me as much as I've enjoyed it.

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