Advertisement
Remove


Oof!”

I landed on dirt and dewy grass. Dull pain shot from my back. My eyes were blurry, and I felt the blood pumping in my head. I chose to take a moment and catch my breath, blinking until I could see again. I raised my hands up above my face. The time ball was gone. Beyond my fingers the stars shined brightly against a deep blue sky. I was bathed in light from two of Astraloth’s moons.

I sat up. I was surrounded by small trees. Each breath I took filled my nostrils with a fragrant, invigorating scent of the flora surrounding the city. Pushing against my knees, I stood, and dusted myself off. The pain in my back subsided as I stretched my muscles. I wasn’t sure exactly where I was, but I knew I must be near the city.

It worked, I thought. It worked!

I roared with laughter, startling a flock of birds from their perch in a nearby tree. It was too late to go back now. My fists shot to the sky.

WOO!”

I couldn’t believe the relief I felt as I realized I had just bought myself time to relax. Quickly, I signed into K’s holo-gauntlet and tuned into the Code-Alpha emergency signal. There was no transmission. Nothing.

I sighed deeply. I hadn’t realized just how much that timer had been bothering me. Of course, I knew that my feeling of freedom was superficial. Inevitably, Duhrnan was going to attack, and I’d be prisoner to those feelings of anxiety once more. And I still had a time limit, albeit a new one.

I deactivated the gauntlet and clenched my fists, lifting my eyes forward. I had to get the access code from Jonathan, or we’d be relying too much on luck to stop the Shade Beam. And I had to do it before the Firebrand left in the morning.

Putting one hand in front of the other, I climbed halfway up one of the nearby trees. From there, I caught sight of the massive, floating spheres of the Great Temple. I had my heading.

 

I ran through the forest and made my way to the beach that edged the city. My feet kicked up sand as I ran, and the orange glow of distant streetlights and buildings came into view. I slowed to a walk, suddenly feeling self conscious. If I ran into anyone, I didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself. I glanced across the water as I walked carefully along the edge of the beach, heading toward a hill in the distance which would take me up into the city. From there, I would make my way to the temple, I thought. I pulled the black hood over my head, and caught sight of the crimson nebula which coloured the horizon. The Thala nebula.

That’s where it was made, I thought. The Shade Beam. And suddenly, I remembered the mysterious shape that our scanners had picked up behind the Shade Beam when we were in the nebula. It must have been a massive ship, that much I already knew, but I finally realized what ship it was. The Silencer!

I stopped, staring at the nebula. It finally made sense, and I was happy to have an answer to that lingering mystery, even if by then I had almost forgotten it. Ryner and Duhrnan must have coordinated their meeting in the nebula. And if the Silencer was there at the attack on Astraloth as the other me had said… well, it made sense that it would be hiding in the Thala nebula, close enough to strike out at Astraloth at a moments notice. Duhrnan had probably outfitted the Silencer with a loro slipspace engine... And Ryner had sped to Duhrnan’s aid when the mothership attacked the planet as well; it must have been using the nebula to hide from any unwanted attention.

I lifted my ears in satisfaction, remembering the chunks of the ship falling to Astraloth, utterly destroyed. I was glad I’d never meet Ryner. The sound of the waves gently crashing against the beach was like a soothing melody for my ears.

Then my gaze fell to a figure swimming in the water, and I froze. Adrenaline pumped into my veins. It was me!

G-” I mumbled. I had to say something. He’s looking right at me! “Great night for a swim!” I called out.

But I had only misread his silhouette. Osax, you idiot, he wasn’t looking at you before, but now he is! He started swimming closer to me, trying to get a better look. Act casual, I thought.

Yes...” I heard myself say, hesitantly. “The water is quite nice tonight.”

I didn’t want him to realize it was me, and panic. So I tried to lower my voice, and sound as friendly as possible. Slowly, I began to back away from the edge of the water. “Not many people come down and swim here this time of year,” I declared. “I admire your spirit.”

Th- Thank you,” he said.

He was getting closer, still gazing at me. I began walking away, but since I started a conversation, I felt like I had to keep it going. “So many people these days, too caught up in machines, and the future and the past. Nice to see a fellow present-liver.” I had no idea what I was saying. “To live so carefree, swimming in the calm of the night… Must be a good life.”

I could barely make out the gleam of moonlight in his- in my- eyes. And I remembered everything that was going through my head that night. I had felt so exhausted, so wound up and anxious and concerned.

He had no idea what he was about to go through. So I paused, and pondered what to say.

At last, I spoke simply. “Enjoy this moment, alright?”

He kept gazing my way, but I spun around, and made my way quickly up the hill. When I was sure I was out of sight, I exhaled a sigh of relief.

 

I left the sea breeze behind and wove through the streets of the city, conscious now of another time limit. If I was going to sneak into the Firebrand and find Jonathan’s holo-gauntlet, it would be much more difficult to do so without being spotted once the other me returned to it. I couldn’t remember exactly how long I had spent that night in the water, but I guessed I had about thirty minutes.

I made it to the base of the Great Temple, and craned my neck toward the red sphere which loomed above, floating at its point. I scanned the temple as I climbed the steps, passing water canals, and paths which branched off of the stairs leading into the temple. Off to my right, several floors above me, I saw the Firebrand landed on a docking platform which stuck out from another staircase. That’s where I needed to go.

I glanced up the staircase I was climbing, and noticed a patrol of guards. They had clearly seen me already. I slowed my jog to a walk, trying to look casual. I removed my hood, and lifted my ears, trying to smile at them.

Good evening,” I said in Skorali.

Prince Talcorosax,” said one of them, bowing their head. I bowed and waved as they passed, saying farewell.

As soon as they were behind me, I put the hood back on, and kept running.

Once I had climbed to the same height as the Firebrand, I paused. There was no convenient path from here to the landing pad on which it rested. I would have to enter the temple, or else climb across the rooftop gardens.

Then I heard K’s unmistakable laugh bellowing from above. I glanced up, and caught sight of her, Joëlle, and my mother, Suranos, descending the steps above me. I felt hollow at the sight of her. Without any more hesitation, I jumped over the edge of the stairs into the rooftop garden, ducking behind the trees and bushes. I waited breathlessly as they passed, unaware of my presence. I knew I had to warn my mother about Duhrnan’s attack… but I didn’t want to do it before the Firebrand left the planet, in case it changed how she interacted with Joëlle or K.

“…But how can those balls protect the planet?” K asked. “They’re just balls. Giant balls, I admit, but still.”

My mother laughed. I tried to be grateful that I could see her once more. The sound of her laughter was so familiar and so comforting. But I knew the times I had left to hear it were numbered, and I felt like I was being stabbed in the stomach.

She said, “I wish I could satisfy your curiosity, K, but that is a secret I must keep for myself.”

Aw, can’t you trust me?” K said.

They passed by the bush I was hiding behind. My mother looked so graceful and strong as she led K and Joëlle down the steps.

After they passed, I realized a flaw in my logic. If the causal loop meant everything up until the moment I travelled back in time was already determined, then did it even matter if I stepped out onto the stairs and told my mother, right then and there, of the attack? I could warn Suranos whenever I wanted, and it wouldn’t change a thing. According to Joëlle, there was no way anything I did could change the outcome.

I shut my eyes, feeling a headache coming on. If everything within the loop was predestined, did any of my choices matter? I pondered this for a moment. Did it mean that even my thoughts were already decided?

I tried not to think about it. I could hardly believe any of this was happening, but I had to press on.

I turned away from the stairs, toward the Firebrand, and started making my way across the rooftop garden, ducking under branches and over roots of great trees. A water canal rushed below me to my right. Soon enough I had made it to the platform with the Firebrand, and after making sure there weren’t any guards nearby, I pulled myself up onto it, panting in the cool air.

There were no other ships docked here, just the Firebrand. Curiously, the ramp was open. Maybe Jonathan had gone out? This was the perfect time to search for his holo-gauntlet!

 

I crept inside the starship, leaving the ramp open. I tiptoed cautiously deeper into the ship, and entered the kitchen. The light was on, but there was no one there.

I entered the hall which led to his room, and found the lights on there as well, and his door ajar. My heart rate began to increase. Silently, I crept up to the doorway and peaked inside. The bunks were empty. The bottom one had sheets which had been tossed about haphazardly. I scanned the computer desk for his holo-gauntlet, but it wasn’t there.

My eyes fell to the bedside table. It was a small box with multiple drawers; every one of the Firebrand’s crew’s quarters had one. Unfortunately, the holo-gauntlet wasn’t atop it either, but he might have been storing it inside. I bolted into the room, and knelt by the drawers.

Holding my breath, my ears dangled against the bedside table as I opened the drawers, looking for the holo-gauntlet. They were stuffed with random gear, which looked to be mostly Joëlle’s; there were things like batteries, and tiny devices she kept but didn’t know where to store. But I also saw Jonathan’s sleek black pistol and holster, and next to it, an intriguing silver device.

Curious, I reached my hand into the drawer, and held it up between two of my fingers. It was only a few inches in size, a small ball-like structure suspended in a metallic plate. I recognized the aperture design in the center of the ball, and realized I was holding Jonathan’s cybernetic eye.

Something moved in the hall. Then I remembered Jonathan wouldn’t have left the Firebrand that night at all; he was too afraid of his mind being read by Suranos and his allegiance being revealed. I must have been the one who left the ramp open.

Panic hit me. Jonathan must still be inside the Firebrand. He’s in the hall!

I stood up, slamming the drawer closed with my leg. I knew there was no way I could leave the room in time, so I stepped away from the drawer, and said, “Jonathan?” as though I had been looking for him.

Just then, he turned the corner into the room, and jumped with surprise.

Ah!” He wasn’t wearing his signature black and white long coat and gloves. Instead he wore a light blue set of pyjamas. But when my eyes scanned his wrist, to my dismay, I saw he was still wearing his holo-gauntlet. The thin device was securely strapped to his wrist.

His eyes were wide with shock; both eyes, including his prosthetic which glowed a clear red. I fumbled with the eye in my fingers, tucking it behind my back. It must have been a spare.

What are you doing?” he demanded.

I- Sorry!” I exclaimed. He entered the room, and I exchanged places with him, standing in the doorway now. “I was looking for you-”

Why were you in my room?” he snapped. His lip formed a straight line, his brow creased. His cybernetic eye twisted, focusing on my face, taking in every detail.

I felt myself begin to perspire. “I- The, uh… Ramp was open?” I hesitated. “I was just concerned about you, I thought something had happened…”

He ran both hands through his hair, breathing slowly, with his eyes shut. “I was just using the bathroom. You probably just forgot to shut the ramp when you came in.”

I grabbed the door frame with one hand and leaned into it casually. “When I came in?”

When I got up, I noticed you were gone. You weren’t in your room, or the kitchen. I assumed you were out,” he said.

Oh!” I said. I chuckled. “Yep, you’re right. I did just come back a minute ago… Ha ha… yeah, you- You’re probably right, I probably just forgot to shut the ramp.” I shook my head at myself. “I sure can be… silly.”

He eyed me suspiciously. “…Right.”

Well!” I said, standing upright. “Since you’re good… I’m gonna try to get some sleep.”

You don’t seem tired,” he said, in a low voice.

Well…”

Hey,” he said, pointing at me.

I was paralyzed. A drop of sweat dripped down my mandible. “Yeah?”

He stepped up right next to me, looking up at me. He reached out his hands toward my arm. I was still gripping his cybernetic eye, and I twitched the hand that held it away from him, keeping it behind my back. I could feel his breath on my chest.

He grabbed my cloak, rubbing it between his fingers. “Isn’t this Joëlle’s cloak?” he said.

I took a step away from him, and replied. “Oh, yeah, she’s letting me borrow it.” She didn’t give me the cloak until after we left Astraloth. He looked at me strangely. “Isn’t… Isn’t she the best?” I added, trying to keep my smile genuine.

His cheeks began to flush a little, and his gaze lowered. “…She’s a good leader.” Then he frowned, and looked haggard.

Hey, if you think so, why don’t you tell her how you feel?” I said. “She’ll probably appreciate it.”

He smiled weakly. “Maybe you’re right, Osax.” He waved at me dismissively, clearly exhausted. “Have a good sleep…”

He shut the door behind himself. Somehow, he didn’t suspect anything! Or, at least he didn’t bother pursuing me any further.

Then my ears drooped and my spirits sank. I missed my chance! There was no way I could get his holo-gauntlet now. Even if he took it off, he had it locked in his room. And even if I could find a way to sneak in without waking him, pretty soon the other me would return to the Firebrand. And hatch the brilliant idea to cure K with placebo, I thought, feeling embarrassed for myself. There’s no way I wouldn’t have noticed if another me was sneaking around the Firebrand. By dawn, K and Joëlle would return, and after breakfast, the ship would depart. And I knew I had to stay on Astraloth to warn my mother about the Shade Beam, which meant once they left, that was it. I briefly considered stowing away aboard the ship and waiting for the opportune moment to download the access code. But the ship was too small for me to stay aboard undetected for days. Besides, I thought, I need to make sure Astraloth is safe.

 

I stepped outside of the ship, and caught sight of a figure exiting the temple. He turned onto the walkway which led to the landing pad. It was a skyther, dripping wet, with relaxed ears, gazing up at the night sky as he walked.

My heart skipped a beat and I bolted behind the Firebrand’s ramp. It was me again!

I heard the ramp rattle under his feet as he stepped inside. I chuckled to myself, realizing I had nothing to worry about. I had no memory of seeing myself that night, which meant that I couldn’t be noticed by him now, according to the nature of the causal loop.

Everything within the causal loop happened, and will happen, because of itself. You can try to think your way out of it until your brain hurts, but it won’t help. Joëlle’s words echoed in my brain. I needed to remember that.

My thoughts spiralled back in time to when I made K’s pills. Well, technically it was forward in time, by a few minutes, but it was a while ago in my memory. I cursed my previous self for spending tonight synthesizing those damn sugar pills for K. At least I had been well intentioned…

It gave me an idea. It wouldn’t help me get Jonathan’s access code, but maybe I could solve another issue.

I remembered the conversation between Jonathan and K. If Jonathan had my scans of K’s brain to assist him, he might be able to help her and stop her from dying… I didn’t know what to do with the data, but Jonathan was the one who created her. Maybe he could use it better than I could.

The ramp closed, and I walked away from the Firebrand. I hopped off the platform onto a lower level of the floral roof, and nestled myself in there. I activated K’s holo-gauntlet, and got to work.

Using K’s computer, I remotely opened my own holo-gauntlet, which I remembered leaving in my room while I was in the kitchen working on the pills. Our holo-gauntlets were paired, so I would have no trouble downloading all of the scans of her brain to K’s gauntlet. But that would only include the scans I took before we left Astraloth.

So I scheduled a file transfer to take place in five days. It would copy the folder of K’s brain scans to a hidden folder on her gauntlet. That way, more of the scans would be saved than if I had just downloaded the data which my computer had tonight.

My ears perked up, and I checked K’s gauntlet on my wrist, searching for the hidden folder. There it was, and all of the scans I had taken of her brain were intact, successfully transferred in the past without either of our knowledge. Or, the future, technically. My eyes narrowed and my ears lifted. I felt pretty clever.

Advertisement

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-

Achievements
Comments(0)
Log in to comment
Log In