The sun was high, and the sky was blue and crisp, free of any clouds. I gazed out at the station and the ice fields beyond from my perch on the mountain, my eyes tracing the line where the white below met the blue above. I dug my toes into the snow, and breathed in slowly and fully. The air was fresh and pure. I exhaled. It was clear enough that I could gaze off and see the white mountains far off in the distance. I lay on my back and gazed up at the clear blue sky.
My shoulder and leg were both feeling much better. Last night, after the valicorr retreated, we got the station’s medical wing working. I was lucky enough to have my wounds treated by a doctor who’d worked on skythers before. She gave me some class-6 medical gel for my injuries and it was already doing its job. I was thankful to be alive in an age where medicine was so advanced. I flexed my right arm and hand as I lay there, and felt my strength had already returned. There was still a little pain in my shoulder, but it wasn’t too bad. My leg would take a bit longer to heal, as the cut was pretty deep. But even so, it was incomparably better feeling than it was last night. Getting a good night’s sleep was a bonus too. I’d expected the stress of the attack to keep me up all night, but as soon as I lay down to sleep I practically blacked out.
With the Director dead, and much of the station destroyed, it was agreed that arranging an evacuation transport was the best course of action. Joëlle contacted TAU authorities and had arranged for a nearby cruiser, Kronos, to stop by Voren and retrieve all of the survivors. They estimated they’d be here around midday on Voren. I noticed Joëlle hadn’t spoken to me directly since I left the control room. Captain Orion led his remaining marines through the night, helping out survivors. I’m not sure where Jonathan or Waylon went off to.
K, after regaining her strength, was distant. She spent most of the night away from me, and everyone else. I’m not sure where she went off to, in fact, but she said she wanted to be alone. Actually, she said, “Screw off!”
All the fighting had made me tired, so I went to bed after I heard that the Kronos was coming to pick us up the next day. When I woke up, I went to the showers, but they weren’t working, so I went straight to the kitchen. Bodies lay in some of the halls, since there hadn’t been much time to clean up. I sat in the kitchen alone. Somehow, the root beer didn’t taste the same.
I knew I needed to decompress from the chaos of the last thirty hours, so I donned my thermal gear and found one of the exits that led to the top of the cliffs. I spent the morning hiking up here, to clear my head and get a moment of peace.
I took a deep breath. I still didn’t know why the station’s directive was classified. Maybe I never would know. But I had so many questions about what was going on here.
How had the valicorr known of the base, and why did they attack? Perhaps just as importantly, what caused them to leave? There goal evidently was not to wipe out the station, or they would have seen that through. They easily could have...
My thoughts drifted to the loro ruins, the reason I had arrived at Voren in the first place. I still hadn’t checked the transfer device to see if I’d recovered any information.
I wasn’t sure my brain could handle any more mysteries just then, so I pushed that thought aside. There’d be another time for that.
I closed my eyes, and stretched. When I opened them, I saw a TAU cruiser warp into the sky far above. Tiny dropships were flying toward the base.
I stepped onto the landing pad. The dropship doors were open, and a soldier stood outside in the bright sun, carbine in hand. His face was covered with an armoured helmet, and his helmet was ringed by the fluffy fur of a hood. He beckoned me to come inside. “Looks like you’re the last one, big fella. Come on!”
I took one last look at the inside of the station. My ears sank. It didn’t feel right leaving this place in such a state, but I knew there’d be no use in sticking around.
“Hey, wait!” K rushed onto the platform from inside the station.
The marine jumped back at her sight. “Sorry, I thought the skyther was the last one unaccounted for.”
K stopped beside me, glanced at me, then back to the marine. “Uh, nope.” She shrugged.
“Good to see you, K,” I said.
“Yeah, you were gonna leave without me.” She punched me on the arm, smiling. I cried out in pain.
“No worries.” I said, holding in another groan.
We boarded the dropship, and the soldier followed. I noticed there wasn’t anyone else on the dropship except us.
The ship shuddered and hummed, and began lifting off into the sky. The protective shields were down, so we could look at the station through the windows as we flew away.
“We’ll be docking with Kronos in ten minutes,” said the marine.
K blinked. “It’s that fast?!”
The marine nodded, and we were silent. The station grew smaller and smaller in the distance as we flew. I sighed.
“So, you’re feeling better this morning?” I asked K.
She raised an eyebrow at me. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
I shuffled in my seat. “I mean, you weren’t doing so well last night. Nobody could blame you.”
She put her hand on my shoulder and looked me in the eye. “Sax, I’m fine.” She looked away.
I shook my head. “K, we’ve been over the whole ‘Sax’ thing.”
“We’ve been over the whole ‘me being fine’ thing, Osax.”
“Fair enough.” She was gazing out the window.
It didn’t take long for our ship to breach the atmosphere. K stood up and put her face right up to the window. Slowly, Voren became a giant white orb, shrinking as we flew, and a million stars shone just outside the window, reflected in her eyes. I stood next to K, and we both gazed out at the stars.
“Holy shit…” she said. I smiled, and lifted my ears.
After a few moments, she spoke again. “Makes you just wanna step out onto the ship and stare up at the planet from the hull.” She was smiling in wonder.
The marine spoke up. “Doesn’t make me wanna do that.”
“Shut up.” said K.
He did. Though, I imagine he probably complained about us to his friends some time later when we arrived at Kronos. Rightly so.
Kronos was a Titan-class battlecruiser, named after a figure from ancient human mythology. Our dropships flocked to it, docking at one of its massive hangars. Though it was fitting of the Titan-class, Kronos seemed small compared to the valicorr ship that had attacked the station. It was long and grey, with rectangular shapes on its hull. Blue stripes lined its exterior, and the word KRONOS was painted on its side in black.
The hangar was full of noise and motion as the survivors from the base on Voren spilled out of the dropships. Fighters and other military ships were suspended in the air, ready for launch. Marines and officers in sky blue uniforms ushered us around, organizing us into groups and leading us out of the hangar into the halls of the ship, toward the ship’s various amenities. K and I stuck together; she was gazing around at everything in wonder. Some wounded people were taken directly to the medical bay, others to the ship’s lounge for refreshments and a chance to relax. Most of the people here were still shocked by the attack.
K and I, along with a few other groups, were brought to the lounge. I was happy to be guided around for a while; it meant I could keep my thoughts to myself and I wasn’t put in a place where I needed to make many decisions. But when we arrived at the lounge, which was a wide room with with several tables, a bar, and some computer screens mounted high on the walls, I started trying to determine what to do next.
Two marines were positioned outside the entrance, and the place was filled up with scientists, engineers, and marines from the planet. K and I took a seat together at the bar, which was currently unattended, and glanced out across the murmuring crowd, and beyond the windows into space. I noticed several of the people in the room staring at the two of us. I slouched a little and my ears folded back involuntarily, and I turned away from the crowd.
K was tapping her fingers on the counter, and shot me a glance. “What’s up, Osax?”
I narrowed my eyes a little. “What do you mean?”
She shuffled in her seat and turned her body toward me. “Aren’t you glad we made it out? What’s with you always being so moody?”
“I’m not always moody. I don’t know where you got that impression.”
She raised an eyebrow at me. “You take things so seriously all the time. Why?”
“Not all the time-”
“Whatever, you’re taking what I’m saying and making it dumb. You look concerned. What’s up?”
I glanced toward the crowd once more. “I…”
K waited for me to continue. I faced the bar once more.
“I’m fine,” I said at last.
K nodded slowly, smirking. “Sure. Okay. Fair enough.”
We remained silent for a while. The crowd was fairly tense, but I could sense the relief everyone was feeling from being off the planet and on a well armed and armoured TAU ship.
“I need to know what that station was all about.”
“What?” said K.
“The station, most of its functions were classified. If I never get to find out what that was all about, I think I might explode.”
“Why does it even matter?” asked K. “There’s so much more world out there. Look at the goddamn stars out there; there’s more than I can count. You’re never gonna know everything, so why worry about something you know you can’t know?”
I turned to face her. She was an intriguing person. But she didn’t understand.
“It’s a big deal, K. That installation was impressive, it must have taken the TAU a lot of resources to construct. And the fact that the valicorr didn’t destroy it completely; they wanted something from that base. And whatever it was, they got it. I need to know what it was.”
“But Osax, why? Why do you care about that at all?”
“Because people died!” I said. “And I couldn’t save them! I tried- I tried, but I couldn’t!” I felt tears welling in my eyes, and I continued, my voice breaking. “I failed. I failed at everything.”
Tears streamed down my face, and I put my head in my hands. I noticed the murmuring had quieted, and I felt eyes on me. My ears trailed onto the table.
“Shit, Osax.” I couldn’t see K, but I knew she was still looking at me. “Hey, at least you didn’t destroy the loro ruins.”
I kept crying. I’m sure it was a strange experience for the humans in the room; I doubt many of them had seen a skyther cry before. And there I was, crying in front of all those people.
“Look.” K put her hand on my shoulder. “This isn’t over yet.”
“They destroyed the base. They succeeded at whatever their mission was. The Director is dead, Joëlle’s team is dead, I couldn’t save the man in the elevator, the ruins are destroyed-”
K shook me with a jolt. “But you’re alive! So your life isn’t over. Get it together! It’s not over yet, unless you give up. Or something. Right?”
I took a deep breath, and wiped my tears. I was being told to get it together by the person with the temper so huge they could destroy a temple with a single punch. I figured in that case, I should try to listen.
“Never apologize,” she said. I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I just remained silent.
K noticed how everyone was now silently staring at us, and she turned to face them.
“Mind your own shit!” She aggressively shooed them away, and everyone went back to their own conversations.
I collected myself in the next few minutes. I felt better, having had the chance to release some tension there. But I knew I’d have to talk to Joëlle about her team. Then I imagined K saying, “Well you don’t have to do anything.” But I felt I needed to. Hopefully I’d get a chance to before we parted ways.
A few minutes later, the entrance opened up. A woman stepped into the room, along with two marine guards wearing black and blue armour, with black fabric trailing down from the waist. These were elite guards, and their faces were covered by black helmets with blue visors. They each held a short rifle at their sides.
The woman was wearing a smooth black uniform, with grey cuffs and details, and blue accents. She wore a black hat over her short blonde hair with a large silver TAU emblem on the front. My ears lifted at the sight of her. Her right pant leg was rolled up to her knee, revealing a dark metal cybernetic leg. She only wore one boot, over he left foot; her right one didn’t need protection. Similarly, she wore a glove over her left hand, but her right was also robotic, like her leg. At her side was an E-pistol, and a molecular sabre.
She smiled slightly, and surveyed the room, standing at the head of it.
Her voice was gruff and commanding. “Welcome to Kronos. I’m Admiral O’Kane. I wanted to personally welcome you all onto my ship. I’m sorry about the circumstances under which we’re meeting, but I hope to be as accommodating as I can be while you’re all here.
“We’re heading to the Olympus system; from there, each of you should be able to secure transport to wherever it is you must go. I’ve already contacted Olympus and they’re expecting our arrival. In the meantime, you’re welcome to use the ship’s computer to make calls, and of course help yourself to any food or supplies you need. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to contact one of my crew. All I ask is that if one of my officers asks you to do something, or not to do something, you listen. This is a military ship, and we have to keep things running smoothly in case we do run into any danger.
“If you’re injured, you should have already been led to the med-bay, but if not that’s alright. I can escort anyone there who needs medical attention, as it’s my next destination.”
There was some quiet chatting amongst the survivors. The admiral spoke again. “I’ll be heading that way in two minutes. Don’t be afraid to come up and introduce yourself.”
The conversation resumed, and I stood up from my seat. K gave me a look.
Admiral O’Kane’s eyes landed on me, and she paused. Then, she smiled and stepped forward.
“Well, what do we have here?” she said, extending her arms out in greeting.
I bowed my head slightly, my ears lifting. “A pleasure to see you again, Fiona. I hadn’t known you were promoted to admiral!”
She clasped me on my shoulders. K was staring at her suspiciously.
“Well,” said the admiral, “I hadn’t known the great Prince Talcorosax was still off exploring the galaxy. When are you going to get your life together and head back to Astraloth?”
K leaped from her seat, knocking her chair to the floor.
“Wait- You’re a prince?!”