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A note from Seb Woodland

Hey readers! Seb here...

I wanted to say that I'm planning to start uploading a new chapter every day from now on until the story is fully released. I might not manage to do it every day, but that's my goal. So look forward to daily updates!

I also wanted to say thank you for reading! If you're enjoying the story, please let me know with a comment! What's your favourite part so far? Who's your favourite character?

If you want to support me you can do so by buying me a coffee or joining my membership here!

With all that said, on to the story...

Osax and K


We had been out in space chasing down Duhrnan’s mothership for days when we received the signal. The day had been rather uneventful until then; I had been giving K her “medicine” each morning and she seemed grateful. Jonathan seemed wary of me doing so. I wasn’t sure why, but he seemed very protective of K. All the while, Joëlle was acting a bit more cheerful than she had been before staying at Astraloth. Once a day she would ask me about my relationship to my mother, but I felt so tense that I always avoided the question. It just wasn’t what I wanted to be spending my energy on at the time. I hadn’t really realized she was just trying to bond with me, something which she hadn’t attempted since before the attack on Voren.

We were in the overlapping hours of our sleep schedules, and all four of us were awake, sharing a meal in the cockpit.

Joëlle smirked at me in the silence only broken by the sound of my slurping straw.

Why root beer?” She asked.

I lifted my ears away from the straw. I had been entranced by the sounds of the root beer in the glass and straw. “What do you mean?”

Why do you always drink root beer, isn’t that unhealthy?” she asked, brushing aside a lock of purple hair.

K leaned forward in her seat, taking a big bite of a sandwich and mumbling through her mouthful. “Yeah, I don’t think I’ve seen you drink anything else since we met.”

Jonathan chimed in, sipping a cup of coffee. “If a human were to drink that much root beer, they’d be unfit for missions, to say the least.” He relaxed in his seat.

I exchanged glances with all of them, laughing and raising my ears. “I just like root beer. And while sugar is destructive to human physiology, it’s actually pretty healthy for a skyther. Liquid sugar is an essential part of our diet… unlike humans we metabolize sugar much more effectively and-”

Maybe so,” said Joëlle. “but I keep seeing you with your ears down, practically surrounding your glass when you drink, or when you pour yourself a glass.”

Jonathan turned to her, saying “It’s probably ASMR.”

Joëlle and Jonathan started laughing, and K and I locked eyes.

What is that?” I asked.

Autonomous sensory meridian response,” Jonathan replied. “Essentially, it’s a calming reaction to sensory input, usually a gentle kind of stimulus. It means certain sounds are pleasurable… maybe even make you feel tingly.” He was smirking.

Joëlle shot me a glance. “It’s just… kind of cute.”

Cute?” I said, tilting my head to the side. I admit, certain sounds and sensations did make me feel tingly.

Jonathan said, “It’s something experienced in humans fairly regularly, but-”

It’s cute to see a skyther experiencing it,” said Joëlle. Her smile disappeared in a flash and she covered her mouth with her hand. “Oh- I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to be… I wasn’t trying to...”

K glanced between them with her hands raised. “Look,” she said, before swallowing a bite. “He just likes root beer. Does he need to explain why?”

It’s fine, K,” I said. I sipped some more root beer, savouring the taste and the sound. “It’s just something that helps me relax and slow down my mind.”

Jonathan glanced to Joëlle. “Not sure about skythers, but I’m pretty sure there are countless studies which would suggest the opposite of that is true.”

They shared a warm laugh as K and I shrugged to each other.

Sudden noise drowned out the laughter. Unease rippled out through my body. My ears twitched. A screeching signal cut into the cockpit, and I saw my companions start in surprise. The communications console in front of Joëlle blinked urgently.

Eyes locked to the console, I placed my drink on the counter beside me and stepped from my seat. I reached to answer the call.

I paused as Joëlle’s hand gently touched my outstretched arm. Her eyes were full of concern. “Osax… wait.”

K mumbled through a mouthful as she put her sandwich aside and leaned in. “What’s going on? What’s that noise?”

My heart rate was steadily rising as the significance of this sudden event began to sink in. The sound kept screeching throughout the cockpit.

Jonathan’s mechanical eye flickered and he quickly raised his fingers to it. “It-” he said, distracted as he fumbled with his prosthetic, “It’s the alliance Code-Alpha signal.”

K frowned. “What alliance?”

Joëlle slowly retracted her hand and her gaze fell. “The alliance between humans and skythers. Between the TAU and Astraloth.” She grit her teeth, and I understood why she had stopped me from answering the call. None of us wanted to hear the broadcast.

I found myself breathing heavily, but I tried to speak anyway. “It’s not just any emergency, K. This signal represents the highest level of threat to our civilizations. And the only people who have the authority and the means to use this channel are the Cardinal of the Terran Astral Union, and the Queen of-” My voice choked up as I thought about my mother, and what kind of situation she would have to be in to use the Code-Alpha signal.

After a brief moment where none of us spoke, Jonathan pointed his hand toward the row of consoles in front of us, beneath the wide windshield. “Answer the call, Osax” he said sternly.

My muscles tensed. Joëlle’s mouth formed a straight line and she held her breath, closing her eyes. Jonathan lowered his hand and frowned. K blinked once, looking my way, and smirking as if to shrug, but without moving her shoulders. I lowered my left hand to the metallic console in front of Joëlle from which the lights and sounds of the alpha signal emanated. My finger traced the plastic button that would answer the call, allowing us to hear the emergency message in full. I applied some gentle pressure, but not enough.

I glanced to my side at the navigational system. With the help of my mother’s quantum extender our scanners could track the valicorr mothership to a solar system anywhere in the galaxy, and right now it was in an inconspicuous star system far away from any notable human or skyther settlements.

I could feel the blood pulsing through my finger as it rested on the button. Only the sound of the signal beeping and screeching filled the room. I drew a slow breath.

We don’t know what he’s done with the Shade Beam,” I said. “It could be anywhere.”

Jonathan twisted his jaw, his lips firmly closed. K frowned. Joëlle looked up at me, and I saw a flicker of hope in her eyes. She grabbed my hand, and decisively pressed my finger into the button.

The screeching stopped, and was replaced by the sound of calm music. Joëlle sat in the central seat, with K seated next to her on her left. Jonathan left his seat and stood behind them, leaning in over their shoulders, and I hunched beside Joëlle as she clutched my hand. The blinking light faded and a holographic projector flickered to life.

I felt Joëlle grip my hand tighter, and gasped. Duhrnan’s unmistakable grin plastered his face as he spoke, and shimmered in the glow of the hologram.

K spat. “How the hell is this bastard on here? Didn’t you just say only the leaders of-”

Yes,” I managed to force out through clenched mandibles, “he shouldn’t have access to this channel.”

This is being broadcast to every quantum communicator in the galaxy that can tune to this signal,” whispered Joëlle. “What does he want?”

Duhrnan was speaking to us from the same dim, purplish room we had seen him in before. He rested his long muzzle on two fists, his remaining two arms gesturing casually as he spoke. Behind his chair I could make out something moving in the darkness. A creature of some kind, large, playing with something, like a canine with a bone. I leaned my ears forward, trying to listen to Duhrnan’s words, and the freakish growling of the monster he seemed to keep as a pet.

...is not important.” His voice seemed to slither out through his teeth. His eyes were wide slits, and he watched the camera in a way that I could only describe as predatory. “All that matters is that by now, most of you should be tuned in and listening. Hopefully watching as well, though I understand not everyone has access to visual communicators.” He laughed to himself. “Now it’s rude of me not to introduce myself, so I’ll waste no more time.”

Duhrnan stood up out of his chair, and waved his hands in an exaggerated human greeting. “I am Duhrnan, emperor of the valicorr.” He bowed, his fangs stretching wide across his face. He wore dark coloured robes, accented with solid black armour plates. The reds, browns, and purples of his attire all mixed together in the haze of the hologram. When he stood back up he nearly shouted. “And as of this moment, emperor of this galaxy!” He lifted his top set of arms to the ceiling as if he had just won a prize, while his bottom two began clapping.

K clenched her fists. “You’re not my emperor!”

Jonathan tapped her on the shoulder. “You know he can’t hear you, this is a one way broadcast.”

K scoffed. “Yeah.”

I tensed, closing my fingers around Joëlle’s. The creature in the back rolled into view. It was furred and built like a massive elongated wolf, sporting an extra set of legs. Its fur was black and blue, with a few red accents. Its tail was tipped with a razor-sharp barb, and its eyes were white and soulless. In its snarling jaw it chomped at something fleshy, tearing and stretching it with its plate-sized claws.

You all must be thinking now, ‘oh no, but this isn’t an emergency! Doesn’t our new emperor understand that the Code-Alpha signal is only to be used in dire situations which threaten our very existence?’” Duhrnan was a bad actor, but he was having more fun playing his role than any performer I had seen before. He struck a pose with his mouth hanging open and his eyes wide in feigned surprise, his two left hands covering his mouth as he brushed his forehead with the back of his right hands.

I didn’t know I could hate someone this much.” I felt the words coming straight from my mouth as I heard them repeated in K’s voice. We glanced at each other, and somehow, despite myself, I was able to feel a tingle of amusement and comradery. But it was like a drop of water in a vat of oil. In a second it was indistinguishable from the black, volatile fluid that was coursing through my veins.

Duhrnan dropped his pose and his smile faded too. His gaze fell to the floor, and his shoulders drooped as he shook his head, suddenly sullen. “This gets boring very quickly,” he muttered, before he perked up. “Alright, onto the point.” He reached out toward something beneath the camera, and the image changed.

The broadcast was now displaying a view from the hull of a spacecraft of some kind, looking at a beautiful planet.

Duhrnan’s voice came in through the speakers. “This, for you humans who don’t know, is Astraloth, home of your friends the skythers.”

I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to find something in the image which proved that he was wrong, but every detail on the planet’s surface, the moons, and the nebula behind it confirmed that he was right. We were looking at Astraloth. I only noticed my hand was shaking when I felt Joëlle struggle to keep me still. My thoughts spiraled to my mother, Suranos.

Wait-” said K, getting up out of her seat. “He’s not… that’s not the-”

We’re looking at this beautiful planet from the hull of the Shade Beam!” Duhrnan exclaimed.

Oh no,” I said. “Oh no no no no no…”

He continued talking, but I began to lose focus on his words. Joëlle turned to me, but my eyes were glazing over with tears. She was saying something. K was speaking too, yelling even, but everything was just becoming noise. I slumped onto my knees, gazing straight into the hologram with limp arms, one hand still resting on the console, held by something.

...to demonstrate my power, courtesy of the TAU government.” his voice continued.

I felt like my heartbeat was a ticking bomb, and I could feel each second as it passed me, but once it had it melted into ambiguity as I struggled to keep focus.

Is there nothing we can do? We can’t jam the gun somehow?” asked K.

We’re light years away,” said Joëlle, “and even if we had some way to get a signal from the Firebrand to the Shade Beam, I have no idea what we’d have to do to neutralize it.”

We have to try, dammit!” K screamed. She slammed her fist on the weapons console in front of her, and a chunk of metal snapped off and onto the floor with a spark.

Joëlle spun to face K, and raised her voice. “K, there is nothing we can do from here!” Vaguely, I noticed the feeling of her hand still pinning mine to the console.

I realized Duhrnan had been silent for several seconds. The silence continued, and it gave me a chance to try to return to my senses. All I could manage to do was close my eyes and breathe.

I apologize for that interruption.” His voice was sharp in the silence. “As I was saying, this weapon was courteously constructed by the TAU. Why? I don’t know and frankly it doesn’t matter. They are what has allowed this moment to happen. In exactly twenty seconds, I will fire the Shade Beam at Astraloth, and it will be disintegrated, ceasing to exist.” His voice was calm. “I’ll start the countdown. Twenty.”

No,” I said as his voice droned on.

K turned to me with frantic eyes. “Osax, it’s going to be alright, okay?”

Seventeen.”

No,” I said, shaking my head as the tears began to obscure my vision again.

K walked around to my right side and grabbed my free hand. “Suranos was telling me about the spheres of the temple,” she said enthusiastically.

Fourteen.”

Joëlle was staring at K as she continued to speak. “Osax, they’re for the defense of the planet, right? She said they could protect Astraloth from invaders. They could save Astraloth from destruction, when it was most necessary. She was telling me about the secret defense system.”

Five.”

I clenched my mandibles as tears streamed down my face. K was crushing my hand, but I could barely feel it. “It’s just a myth,” I said, staring down.

Three.”

K’s face contorted in shock. “What?”

Two.”

She lied,” I said, looking up at the hologram. My home.

One.”

There was a flash of dark energy from the hull of the Shade Beam, a firing mechanism which was out of sight. It almost looked as though the planet vanished before the energy even struck it. And then it was gone. Silent, and gone.

I’ll be firing this at Earth in exactly seven days,” said Duhrnan. His voice was cold. A timer appeared on the hologram. “Try to stop me.”

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About the author

Seb Woodland

Bio: I'm a writer, game developer, artist, and musician. Just a creative guy working on art and trying to make his way in the world.

-There is always hope-

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