There's Always Mom

“I swear on the stars and the distance between, I’ll never go home again. I’m tired of my my father’s cruelty; I’m tired of my mother’s dream. I’m going to find the universe’s beauty, and I’ll never go home again.”

-from “Home Again”, spacer song

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The Gatekeeper was a truly massive ship, far, far bigger than the Impulse. It was designed to hold an entire ground force and all of the support material that came with it. She had a sluggish stardrive, and far less aerial battle capability, but she was intimidating beyond compare. The Gatekeeper stationkept alongside the Impulse, both ships a good distance away from the shroud of darkness that covered the nearby star.

The Gatekeeper had been surprised to find the Impulse waiting on her arrival. Because of the lack of communications, the Gatekeeper had been sent along as a kind of insurance. The idea was that if the Impulse, with her greater space fighting capabilities, discovered further information while attacking the “station”, such as the location of a planet, they could leave a message for the Gatekeeper with new coordinates. When both ships travelled to that new point, they could then begin the real work on whatever planet they found.

Of course, it hadn't quite worked out that way. It took very little time to bring the Gatekeeper's command up to date, and from there it was a matter of fleshing out a plan of attack. Sid mostly sat quietly and watched, rather in awe of the calm and rational way the two captains and their command staff decided on a course of action. Captain Wen and Captain Baczynski of the Gatekeeper couldn’t have been more different, but they had an innate understanding of how best to coordinate their two ships.

Next to him, Kino grew more agitated by the second. Sid nudged her, attempting to be a comfort.

Unexpectedly, she tugged on his cassock sleeve, got up, and left the meeting. No one seemed to care, so after a second, Sid nodded his goodbye and followed her out.

The hallway was empty, but Kino pulled him a couple doors down into a small, empty meeting room anyway.

They stood facing each other among a jumble of office chairs in the dark room.

Haltingly, Kino signed, “Do you trust me?” Her face was so still, making the sign feel flat, but he loved her for trying.

He smiled. “What do you need?” he whispered. Clearly Kino didn't want to be overheard.

“We have to stop this,” Kino signed.

“What? No.” Sid squinted at her in the dark. “What are you talking about?”

Kino gave up on sign, her grasp of it inadequate for what she needed to say. “They're in there, calmly talking about how to kill a planet full of people.”

“It's a war. It's what Sandreas wants,” Sid whispered back.

Kino shook her head. Her long braids flopped weakly against her shoulders. “I don't care anymore. I can't-- I can't--” She rubbed at her eyes.

Sid grabbed her arm. “They have Yan,” he said, slightly louder than he intended, forgetting to whisper. “They took her. Who knows what else they've done to her. I don't care about anything else.”

“Then we should get Yan and leave,” Kino said. Her large brown eyes were wide with something: fear, certainty, defiance? Sid couldn't tell what was going on in her head, since he couldn't hear her voice, and her face was so flat. He could usually see her state of anxiety from watching her various fidgets, but she was deathly still now.

“The intel we have says that won't work,” Sid said. “They're our enemy. If we don't do something, they'll keep coming after us.”

Kino shoved Sid directly in the chest, hard. He stumbled backwards, tripping over one of the chairs and falling slightly onto the table. He pulled himself up. Kino was polite enough to wait until he was able to focus on what she was saying to speak.

“Use your brain, for God's sake. That's a planet who only wants to hide. They don't have infrastructure. They don't have ships. They probably don't have any army. It'll be a slaughter.”

“You're the one being an idiot!” He walked forward towards Kino. He tried to shove her back, but she grabbed his wrist. He leaned in instead. “We know they're defended. They can destroy ships in orbit.”

Kino's nails, sharp despite how much she bit at them and used them to pick at her sleeve, dug into his wrist. He pulled it away. “What's the matter with you?” he asked.

“What's the matter with you, that you can just say that you're going to kill a planet full of people?”

“I'm not going to do it, I--”

She pushed him again, but he was ready this time, and fell into it to make her stumble back.

“Complicit!” she yelled, mouth wide and showing her bared teeth, bright in the dimness.

“If you didn't want to be here, you should have never become Sandreas's apprentice.” He was trying to be the calm one here. The rational one. He waited to see if she would take his cue and calm down.

They stared each other down for a second.

“I want to make a difference, not just do what I'm told.”

“You think you're going to become First? You won't, like this,” Sid said. “Save your breath. Go home. Quit.” He was taunting her now. He knew he shouldn't. There was something in her words digging at his brain, but he wasn't going to disobey Sandreas now, not at this crucial moment.

“You're going to give up your soul,” Kino said, very slowly.

“What is that supposed to mean? Even if I wanted to stop this, we couldn't change anything,” Sid said dismissively, not liking what she was saying. “They have orders from Sandreas. They won't listen to us.”

“We have to try.”

“No, we don't.”

“You don't have a spine, or a heart.”

“And you clearly don't have a brain, so who wins here?”

“I'm not going to live the rest of my life knowing I did nothing to stop a planet full of people from getting murdered.”

“Sure,” Sid said. “Maybe you're right.” He shrugged, putting the nagging fear that Kino was correct away into a little box in his heart. “But I've already got blood on my hands, and I've lived with it. I'm going to do what needs to be done.”

Kino was frozen still. “So am I,” she said.

“I'll wait here until you're done yelling at the captains.” Sid waved his hand. “I don't want to be there to watch you embarrass yourself.”

“I wish you could have been better,” Kino said finally, then whirled and left the room, door slamming shut behind her hard enough to shake the floor under Sid's feet.

He felt pretty bad. Not the least of it was the fact that the whole careful, tenuous relationship that he had built up with Kino seemed to have come crashing down. For a while, she had been... Not exactly the only person he had, but a person he could trust to take care of things. He knew she would do what needed to be done if he couldn't. They had even been working well together, almost.

But now she was going to go make a fool out of herself, and he was going to have to go back to the captains and apologize for her behavior, and they were going to go through with all of this anyway. It didn't matter what she wanted, because the course of the Empire's history dictated what they had to do.

Kino had never met the Emperor. Kino didn't know the real root of why every First continued along this same beaten path, no matter how miserable it was. She was right that if he thought about it too much, it would weigh on him, but he didn't have a choice. She wasn't going to win, so there was no point in him joining her in her futile crusade that would only make people angry at the both of them.

He wished he could promise that he would make things right, if, when, he became First. But he knew that the Emperor would weigh on him more than Kino's words would. Sid saw the future stretching out before him like a well lit road, well trod by everyone who had come before. Kino wanted to dive off into the bushes, but there was no destination there, just an endless struggle. Sid knew better.


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Sylva fingered the little bag in her pocket that Iri had given to her. It was the last scrap of their wages from her work as a doctor: the last little bit of Vena that they had held in reserve, just in case. Iri had carried it with them all this way, from ship to station to ship to shore, and now it was in Sylva's hands.

High doses of drugs could stop a person from being able to use the power.

Yan's body still had her physical brain in it, which was still the connection to her mind, off somewhere in the Mother. If it came down to it, Sylva could dissolve a pill in Yan's food. The connection to the Mother would be broken. She could take Yan and run to the unmanned shuttle that they were told was coming.

She didn't want to be on this planet when the real landing force arrived on the ground. She wanted to get Yan out of here and back home. She wanted life to go back to normal. She wanted Yan to be herself again.

This all sucked, so absolutely.

Yan had been distant and sad for the past many days. Everyone knew exactly what was coming, but no one wanted to say it. Sylva had, at one point, considered trying to put the Mother in contact with the ships in orbit, perhaps to negotiate something, but the Mother didn't mention wanting that, and Sylva didn't think that anyone in orbit would listen.

The two sides were enemies, and everyone seemed reconciled to keeping it that way. Sylva had a picture of the Mother as a terrifying, but not outright evil person. People? The Mother had treated Sylva and Iri cordially, though that may have only been because of Yan. Sylva still didn't understand why she had taken Yan in the first place.

It all made no sense, and yet it made a horrible kind of sense at the same time. The Mother was resigned to this fight because it was all she had ever known the Empire to do. The Empire was ready for this fight because at this point they couldn't back down from their crusade. It could only end once every other group in the universe was wiped out, and there was no chance of any of them ever waiting in the darkness, gathering strength, getting ready to attack.

Everything was tied up in the hundreds of years of history that had led them to this point, and Sylva felt close to helpless in the middle of it. All she could do was grab Yan and hold on for dear life. Both metaphorically and literally.

So Sylva worried the pills in her pocket, and she waited with Iri at the radio for a sign, and she watched as Yan grew more distant and tense.


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Yan sat on the ground, legs splayed out, hands limp and flat in the dirt. She couldn't move her head to look up at the sky, so she stared morosely out over the water instead. The sun was going down and the sky looked like a healing bruise. Clouds threatened rain on the horizon, and a too-hot breeze licked the leaves of the trees into a thousand tiny whispers.

Sylva came up behind Yan and sat down next to her. The dying sunlight glinted off the water as it rushed and murmured ten or so meters below them, among the craggy rocks at the shore. Sylva leaned her head on Yan's shoulder, as she had done a hundred, a thousand times.

“You know what's coming, right?” Sylva asked.

“Yes,” Yan said. Her voice was dull and flat.

“We have to leave,” Sylva said. “We can't stay here.”

Yan didn't respond. The majority of the Mother's attention was elsewhere, making last second preparations for the coming disaster. Although it was entirely Yan's presence that had brought this place to Imperial attention, Yan and her friends were now only the tiniest piece in what was about to happen. They were almost inconsequential. The Mother bore no ill-will towards Yan, and that made it all the worse. If only the Mother could have been keeping her prisoner like the Green King had; then maybe this would have been more justified.

Far off in the distance, the Mother dropped her protective cover, for the first time in hundreds of years.

Years from now, Yan realized, she would be able to look up in the night sky of Emerri and watch a star come to life. She would be able to see it from a distance, across the incomprehensible years. She could watch herself, once again, but never return to that image of the past.

Yan watched her future self watching her present self. She was imagining being back on Emerri. She was imagining the future that stretched out before her: a future in which this planet was completely destroyed, existing only as a brief light in the sky. Here with Yan and then gone forever.

It would all be gone soon.

The Mother saw hundreds of things in the sky coming towards her. They were too fast and too many to stop. That was the way to defeat even the most powerful of sensitives. Every action with the power required attention to work, and even with so many minds under her control, working in concert, the Mother could only split her attention so many ways.

She did what she could.

She focused on stopping the bombs that fell, ripping them apart to harmlessly explode in space, or redirecting them so that they sailed far past her planet.

Next to her, Sylva jumped when the first explosions lit the darkening sky. Yan closed her eyes. It wasn't fireworks, and it was all happening too far away for there to be any sound, but it lit the sky in random pulses and waves.

It was all happening far too close for comfort. Compared to the vast expanse that the Mother could cover with her power, the objects flying at her were too small and too fast moving to catch at great distances. That was especially true when the vast majority of them were unpowered, so they gave off neither heat nor radio, and they were painted as dark as they sky itself. They had to approach for her to find them and stop them.

She dealt with them as best as she could.

Whoever had designed this plan of attack had definitely kept the limits of sensitives in mind. There were many projectiles of different sizes, materials, and speeds, spread out over an area that was far too wide for the type of power structure she would need to deflect them all to cover. The only reason that the Mother could hold up her light shield so far out into space was because she devoted so much energy and attention to its singular purpose, and because light was one of the simplest things to deal with. The physicality of metal and rock was far harder. No power structure could save her, not completely, so she was resigned to doing what she could to stopping everything that came down.

That included the shuttles.

Revulsion rose up within her, the first moment she grasped one. She felt like she was reaching with the hand of God. She was back in that tiny dark space, her own shuttle, peering out through Yan's eyes, living in her memory, learning again how to kill.

She ripped the first shuttle in half.

At first, the Mother paid no attention to the wreckage she was creating. She was far too busy dealing with each fresh wave of the attack and coping with the rushes of memory and horror that poured through her minds and threatened to drown her. She didn't care what would happen to all the bodies and scraps of metal as they burned up in her atmosphere. Let them fall where they may.

Except, as her eyes on the ground stared up into the sky, she noticed that the tiny pinpricks of light burning up there were not careening to the ground uncontrolled. No, they stabilized and streaked across the sky, dropping slowly, not burning any longer. She looked more closely, which cost her valuable attention and time.

These landing pods that had come out of the destroyed shuttles had stumpy little wings. They deployed long drogue parachutes to slow themselves down, and they came closer, ever closer, to the ground.

The Mother, feeling even worse now, began to rip them apart, but the clarity and ease of working in space had given way to thick, soupy atmosphere. For as many as she was able to destroy or send tumbling, still more descended safely. In the moments she wasted dealing with the landing pods, shuttles themselves came down whole and complete.

The Mother remembered Halen's lesson from so long ago about target prioritization. That his words should come back to her now felt like a taunt.

She did her best to protect her planet. She did her best to protect herself.

Yan was cold and drenched in sweat. Despite the heat of the night, she shivered and was wracked with nausea. Sylva clung to her, her arms like vices around Yan's chest.

She was fighting with the Mother, at least a little. She hated the feeling of using her own power to rip apart the pods that the Fleet soldiers were coming down in. She hated the killing, she hated that on some level, those were her people, just as much as this planet was the Mother's. So she tried to pull herself away, even though at the same time, that meant that those soldiers coming down would be able to do so much harm here. There was no way to win.

“We'll be able to go home soon,” Sylva whispered. “Soon.”

The choked feeling lived in Yan's throat. What home could Sylva even be talking about? Her lonely apartment in the Imperial Center? Yan barely had any memories of that place, and even if she did, in order to live happily there, she would have to forget everything here. Could Sylva be talking about their little shared life at the Academy? That was a time that Yan desperately wanted to return to, but it was gone, gone, gone. Or the Iron Dreams, further back in the past again, with her real mother's arms around her...

And the Mother realized fully, for the first time, that she needed Yan to leave. There was no point in keeping her here, torn up and incapacitated by being pulled in multiple directions. There was no reason for the Mother to hold onto that thread of pity and indecision that Yan carried inside of her. No matter how much she cared for Yan as one of her own, Yan was not, and never could be, a true daughter of this planet.

When Yan felt this realization trickle down to her from the Mother, she cried out loud. Her fingers dug into the dirt next to her, as though by holding onto the planet she could hold on to that connection. She had never felt so whole except with the Mother. She didn't want to be cast out and alone, again, always again.

She didn't want to stay, but she didn't want to be forced to leave. Not like this. Not like this. Please not like this.

“Sylva,” the Mother said, speaking in Yan's voice one last time. “Give me that in your pocket.”

Sylva's sunburned face paled, but she pulled out the little bag of pills.

Yan fought with the Mother every second, but this was a battle that the Mother would win. Yan's arm shook, trembling as she resisted holding her arm out to take the pills, but the Mother forced her to take them from Sylva, then raise them to her mouth and swallow, and not throw them up, and to sit, staring out at the sea.

The Mother couldn't stop Yan from crying, though. She could feel everything that was happening, and though she tried to fight it, she didn't have the strength.

The Mother could give Yan one last gift. Not the connection that Yan wanted-- she couldn't keep that-- but the blankness of memory that would give her peace. The Mother rifled through the pages of Yan's mind as her consciousness faded, and tied away her time with the Mother behind a thick haze. Now she wouldn't feel as though she needed to return, as her wayward selves always did, and perhaps she would be less haunted by these last few hours.

The Mother didn't touch anything that didn't belong to her; only the memories that Yan had while within the Mother were things she covered with that vale of numbness. Perhaps that was a mistake, she realized. After all, Yan's time with the Mother had been one of healing from everything before, in its way. To take that away, but to leave the original pain, perhaps that was a disservice to Yan.

But even as the Mother changed her mind, tried to undo the work she had done, her connection to Yan grew dimmer and dimmer. Yan slumped down in Sylva's arms, the Vena taking hold.

The shuttles careened down from the sky like shooting stars.

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Sylva did not want to leave Yan unconscious and alone, but she needed to go find Iri who was manning the radio. She resorted to half hoisting Yan's limp body up onto her back, wrapping her arms around her neck and hunching forward to keep her as much off the ground as possible. Even though Yan weighed relatively little (it was actually almost scary how little she weighed, even having seen how much the Mother made her eat), she was very tall, so her legs dragged on the ground behind as Sylva waddled back from the cliffside into the trees.

Yan's breath was loud in her ear, and occasionally she'd murmur something incomprehensible. She breathed shallowly, and her whole body was limp except for her painfully stiff neck, which forced her head to stick out over Sylva's shoulder. It was worrying, but Sylva had never actually seen anyone take Vena before, so she didn't know if it was normal. She would have to ask Iri.

It wasn't a very long walk to the radio, though it went slowly because of Sylva's load and her desire to stop Yan's feet and legs from bumping too much on the ground.

“Gimme a hand, Iri?” Sylva called out as she got close, seeing the light of a small fire Iri had lit flickering through the trees. Sylva heard a little bit of crashing and rustling as Iri stood and came towards her.

“Fuck. What happened?” Iri delivered these lines in a flat tone, seeing that there was no immediate danger. “Did you give her the Vena?”

“Errrr... She took it.”

The much stronger Iri took Yan's limp arms and hoisted her off of Sylva's back. The sudden lessening of weight made Sylva feel like her spine was being pulled up to the sky. Iri carried Yan very tenderly, half draping her over her shoulder.

“We should get going,” Iri said. “The shuttles are on their way down.”

“I saw. Do you have a solid location for the one coming for us?”

“I was waiting to see if it would make it down or if it would get destroyed. It's going to be down to the east.”

“Great. Are you all ready? Are we abandoning this?” Sylva asked, nodding to the gigantic buoy they were using as a radio.

“Obviously. Can you tell them we're leaving and won't be able to transmit?” Iri kicked at her computer, wired up to the buoy.

“You can put her down, you know,” Sylva said, looking at the unconscious Yan. She typed the message out and sent it, traveling through the haphazard and hacked-together wires that linked the two systems. It was a miracle that they had been able to get it to work at all. “Should I take this with us?”

“Yeah. Everything else is in my bag already. Leave the wires,” Iri said as Sylva tried to carefully unplug everything. Sylva complied and abandoned everything attached to the buoy, shoving the computer into Iri's backpack and swinging it over her own shoulders.

“I'll kinda miss this place,” Sylva said as she kicked out the fire, plunging them into darkness.

“You'll get over it,” Iri said. “Let's go.”

They walked carefully through the forest until they came to the eastern beach. It was not that far of a walk, since Iri had carefully instructed the people aboard the Fleet ship to send their rescue shuttle down on the correct side of the mountain.

It was already there when they arrived, sitting dark and peaceful in the water, about thirty meters out, floating easily on two long supports that had clearly extended from a bay on its underside. It was so unlike the way they had come down to this planet, crashing and afraid, but so similar in its own way. Sylva briefly wondered what had come of the pirate shuttle they had crashed down with. Was it still floating out on the ocean? Had it sank to the bottom? It was slightly comforting to imagine that it stayed exactly as they left it, half flooded but floating, forever, though she knew that was definitely not the case. It was probably on the bottom.

But this shuttle wasn't.

“Take Yan,” Iri said, hooking her hands underneath Yan's armpits like a baby and passing her to Sylva, who awkwardly leaned Yan's full from against herself. “I'm going to go see if there's a floater we can use to get her over there.

“What, you don't like the idea of swimming with her on your back?” Sylva asked.

“We don't have time for this,” Iri said. She waded into the water and then swam out to the waiting boat. Sylva watched in the dim light as Iri treaded water and attempted to get in to the shuttle via an access hatch on the side. She managed it, entered the shuttle, and came out a moment later bearing a long, flat board. She dived back into the water and kicked to shore, coasting the last three meters or so in on the slightly rough waves that touched the beach.

The rescue board had some straps on it, and so Sylva and Iri carefully positioned Yan across it and tied her down. Sylva put Iri's backpack on Yan's chest so that they wouldn't have to carry it, and then they both began to swim to the shuttle, each taking hold of the rescue board and pulling it along between them.

“You get in first, and I'll pass Yan up to you,” Iri said when they arrived. Sylva didn't waste energy or breath on talking back. She tried to climb into the shuttle, but the long metal struts that she tried to use as a ladder were slippery and high out of the water. It took her a long and embarrassing moment of struggle, but she made it in the end. She was thankful to Iri for taking the more difficult task of lifting Yan out of the water; it was far easier for her to grab Yan's arms and haul her up into the shuttle than it would have been for her to hoist her above her head while treading water, as Iri was doing.

Finally they were all inside, soaking wet and cold. Iri closed and locked the hatch behind them, and Sylva took a look around. After such a long time among the relatively natural world of this island, the inside of the shuttle was jarring to see, and it had the odd smell that things that spent most of their time in space carried with them: the smell of long recycled atmosphere and perfectly regulated humidity. They both strapped Yan in to one of the passenger seats.

“Should I sit back here?” Sylva asked. She didn't want Yan to wake up from her Vena induced sleep and feel alone.

“Copilot seat,” Iri said. “Might need you to take care of debris.”

Sylva gave another glance at Yan. The stiffness of her neck made her look almost awake, as though she had just closed her eyes and was praying or meditating, rather than in a complete stupor. It was only the way she tilted slightly forward against the restraints, and the way that her arms were loose and uncomfortable looking at her sides that gave it away.

Reluctantly, Sylva strapped herself down into the copilots seat. “Do you know how to fly this?”

“It's all automated,” Iri said. She pressed a few buttons on the dashboard, and Sylva could feel the engine roar to life.

“How long until we get there?”

“How much acceleration can you take?”

“Ugh. Three gravities,” Sylva said reluctantly. Even that might be too much to take for a long time, but she wanted to get out of here as quickly as possible.

“It'll be a while. We're going out beyond where the bubble was.”


“The Mother dropped it. I know because I was finally able to get in direct contact with the ships, instead of relays.”

“Let's get going then,” Sylva said.

Yan woke up at only one point during their long journey, and only briefly. The Vena had worn off, for the most part, and she made a tiny noise, almost a whimper, as she came back into consciousness. They were still accelerating, so Sylva could only turn her chair around to look back at Yan, which made her feel like she was falling down, down, with only the straps of her seat holding her in place. 'Eyes-out' acceleration was truly unpleasant.

Sylva dangled her hand down towards Yan, partially because she couldn't actually keep it at her side under the immense acceleration.

“Are you okay?” she wheezed out, the breath being forced out of her lungs by the weight of her own body crushing them.

Yan looked across (up? though there was a floor, the feeling of dangling that came with acceleration made Sylva's brain not easily comprehend the geometry of the situation) at her, wordlessly. Yan's mouth opened and closed a few times. In the dim light of the cabin, Sylva could see that Yan's face was wet, though she wasn't sure if it was from sweat or tears. Sylva wished she had disobeyed Iri and sat in the back next to Yan, but it was too late now, and there was this gulf between them.

Iri herself was napping, head lolling to the side, and was unaware of this whole moment.

Sylva wished she could reach out to Yan. She wished she knew what Yan was thinking and feeling in that moment. She looked so lost and small, pushed back into her chair with the acceleration, eyes staring wide out past Sylva into the starry sky visible through the windshield.

“We'll be home soon,” Sylva said. “It'll be okay.”

She didn't really have anything better to say. After a long moment, Yan shifted in her chair, closed her eyes, and perhaps fell asleep once again.

A note from javert

I hated writing this chapter lmao. I love Sid but he is not really... a good person... He's a mess in a lot of ways. Kino is also a mess, but in a totally different direction. Anyway I love Kino.

But we have now come completely to the end of Yan's captivity. There's still a bit more to go before the end of Act 2, but we're over the hump. You can take a deep breath and relax for maybe the next few chapters. Or don't. That's your perogative :^)

Leave me a comment telling me what you think! Or give me a 5 star rating, that works too :p

Thank you to Unice for looking over the first scene in this chapter.

Hope you all have a great week. I'll see you on Friday!

update 11/1/19- added chapter title

so hold me mom in your long arms, so hold me mom in your long arms, your petrochemical arms, your military arms, in your arms

About the author


Bio: hi I'm noodle, I studied aeronautical engineering in college, then I taught high school math. now I'm [redacted] and [remainder of message lost].

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