I wish I could say I remembered those days with vivid clarity. I wish I could say that I soaked in all of the time my mother and I spent together, talking, wandering the city, and sharing stories and feelings. I wish I could say those moments will be with me forever. But for the most part, it was all a hazy blur. There was a looming, foreboding feeling, pressing down on my chest in each slow moment. Every time the sun set, I felt like it was harder to breathe. Every time I woke, I anticipated the day with quiet dread. There was nothing for me to do but wait. We spoke softly to each other. I tried not to cry. My mother never cried.
On our final night together, we stayed up talking and gazing at the stars across the horizon. We sat at the top of the temple on a flat stone surface no more than six meters wide. One of the great spheres floated high above us, but we could see the entire city below, and the horizon stretched on in all directions. We could see both the Toru and Thala nebulas, purple and red clouds of streaking colour, peaking up from the horizon line.
The stars twinkled in a clear sky. It was so clear in fact, and we were high enough from the lights of the city below, that I could see a bright swathe of stars, clustered together, spilling across the sky. It was the center of the Milky Way galaxy. I thought of Voren, of Malum, of Olympus, and of all the other planets in the galaxy. I thought of Earth.
For a moment, I felt so small. One hundred billion stars burned in our galaxy. And I had the nerve to care about the destruction of a single planet that would be eaten whole countless times by even the smallest of them. To think I was concerned about losing a single life… the life of my mother. Or K.
But I was. Of course I was.
Duhrnan had to be stopped. But what can I do against him?
“You can fight,” my mother said, breaking the silence.
A cool breeze whistled through our ears, which dangled in the wind. We sat side by side with our legs hanging over the edge of the platform.
I gazed at her. “Fighting is what gets you killed,” I said. “Yes, we destroy the mothership… but Duhrnan gets away, and you- You die. Sure I can fight, but can we really stop Duhrnan? Can I really stop the Shade Beam? I couldn’t even get Jonathan’s access code, and now it’s lost forever. We don’t have any backup plans. Our whole mission, it’s- It’s probably impossible.”
My mother nearly said something. She closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them and looked toward me.
“Osax, soon you will be the leader of the skythers, as I am now. You must realize the weight of this responsibility.” She paused. “Everyone is going to look up to you. They will look to you for guidance and for answers. Your every word will have the power to change people’s hearts. To change their lives.”
I lowered my head. “I can hardly believe it,” I muttered. “I don’t want to believe it.”
“You must believe. Believe in yourself.”
I was silent.
After a moment, she rested her hand on mine. “I remember when you were just a little boy,” she said, her eyes squinting. “Before you spoke. One day when you were taken to the park by your guardian, something happened. You came back different.”
I looked at her puzzled. “You… you mean…”
“Yes,” she said. “The time when you witnessed a gang harassing a boy.”
I was surprised to hear her talking about that memory.
“It was almost all you would think about, for a while,” she said. “And it was then I knew you were destined to do great things, Osax.”
I frowned. “Why? I didn’t do anything impressive. I couldn’t even stop them.”
“No,” she said. “You couldn’t. You were just a child.” She looked me in the eye. “But you showed something which can’t be easily taught… compassion. Empathy. And a deep kind, at that. I knew then that your life wasn’t going to be an easy one… Those who feel deeply, hurt deeply. But then again, who’s life is easy?” She sighed. “There is so much I wish I could tell you, Osax. So many stories.”
I felt tears returning. “You can, Mom. If you just make sure to-”
“No, Osax. You know that’s not true.” Her voice was quiet and unshakable.
I shut my eyes. “I want to hear your stories, Mom. I want to know everything…”
“And I want to share it all,” she said. “But, even if I were to live for a hundred more years, I’d never be able to share everything.” She tapped her chest with her fingers. “My life is my own experience. And your life is yours, too. Try as we might, we will never be truly capable of sharing it all.”
I slumped. “That’s a sad thought,” I said.
She sighed. “Yes, it may be. But sadness is not wrong. And in sadness, you may find more connection than you know. And in connection, find life itself.” She lifted her ears, and gently placed her fingers beneath my mandibles, lifting my head. Our eyes met.
“We are all made up of stars and cycles,” she said. “The same particles and energies are shared by all things. And there is a constant shifting. Even in stillness, there is motion. The planet is spinning, and gliding around the sun, which in turn weaves through the galaxy in a cluster of stars. And the galaxy drifts through space. And beyond? Who knows?”
She paused briefly, collecting her thoughts. “Even if we are in some way destined to forever be separate, we are also in some way one and the same. Life is paradoxical in that sense.”
I looked away from her. “I don’t know what the point of it all is,” I said. “This causal loop has got me thinking… If everything within it is predetermined, what about life beyond the loop? Is everything already written? Do my choices even matter?” I sighed. “If- If you’re really going to die tomorrow, and there’s nothing I can do about it… I just don’t know. What’s the point in trying at all?”
“If you seek peace, you first must accept that you cannot control everything.”
“I know I can’t control everything,” I said, “but can I even change anything? If my fate has already been decided…”
“Fate is a mysterious thing,” she said, after a long silence. “Neither humans nor skythers have ever come to agreement about whether or not it is real.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“But, we can agree that consciousness is real?”
“I guess,” I said.
“As real as anything,” she said. “And I find comfort in that.”
There was a long silence.
“You remember the stories of our ancestors?” she asked, finally.
I winced. “…Yes,” I said. I knew where this was going.
“When I die, I am going to join them,” she said. “I will be watching over Astraloth with the ones who came before.” She pointed to the Toru nebula’s purple glow. I thought for a moment I saw it shifting. “That is where they reside, remember?”
“I remember,” I said.
She grabbed my hand, and held it gently. “Your life is your own, Osax. But I will always be with you when you need me.”
I tried to contain myself, but broke down into tears, and leaned into her. We hugged for a long time.
“I love you, Mom,” I said.
“I love you too,” she said. “More than you know.”
By dawn, Duhrnan would attack, and we would have to activate the spheres, and our time together would be over. So I tried to force myself to stay up as late as I could. But eventually, my mother told me she would need to be well rested in order to have the focus to save K and I from falling to our deaths. She was so practical about it.
Reluctantly, I wished her a good night. I thought of sleeping in my room, but instead asked if I could sleep on the floor of hers. Of course she welcomed me there, and I was filled with a grateful warmth. Finally, I synthesized some sleeping pills for myself; there was no way I’d fall asleep naturally that night.
In the morning we made our preparations. My mother showed me to a hidden place, deep below the temple, in the vaults. She recovered the golden time ball, and gave it to me. I placed it in a pouch on my leg. Then she retrieved another device; it was a silver sphere. She told me it was the activation key for Astraloth’s defense mechanism. I glanced at the time. We had fifteen minutes.
The time passed in a blur, and my mother and I met up with Kaia on the outside of the Temple, gazing up at the blue sky. I set up my own timer, counting down on my holo-gauntlet to the exact moment that Duhrnan would fire the Shade Beam.
To think at this very moment I was also sipping root beer in the cockpit of the Firebrand, laughing with Joëlle, Jonathan, and K…
The moment came, and Suranos twisted the activation key. The sky turned white, and I lost my balance. When the colour returned, the sun was in a different place in the sky, and I glanced up at the spheres of the temple. Like a dried up sandcastle caught in the wind, they blew apart, dissolving into nothing.
I opened K’s holo-gauntlet and tuned into the Code-Alpha signal.
We had done it. We had travelled to the future.
“Duhrnan’s mothership will be here in minutes,” I said, turning to my mother. “His starship was made by the loro. And apparently they can travel across the galaxy in a matter of seconds, when they want to.” My heart was pounding.
“I know,” she said. “It’s time to deploy the fleet.”
Using her holo-gauntlet, Suranos sent a broadcast across Astraloth, hastily explaining what had happened. Then she asked all combat ready pilots to take to the stars with haste, for in a few minutes, we would be under attack. Even as the entire planet reeled from the jarring time leap, and soldiers scrambled to their ships, Suranos continued to speak into her gauntlet, explaining the situation. I was astonished at her ability to rally everyone so quickly, but perhaps what she said the night before was right. When I became leader of the skythers, perhaps I too would be able to lead people with words alone.
One by one, white starships rose up from around the city, and from landing pads scattered across the temple. Skyther pilots and marines ran to and fro, suddenly aware that something big had just happened, and their queen was calling on them to defend Astraloth. Few questions were asked. Suranos’ message was clear; we didn’t have time to discuss it until our attackers were repelled.
But everyone knew the myths of Astraloth’s defense. And with the sun suddenly shifting in the sky, and the spheres of the Great Temple vanishing, and my mother’s broadcast, they found it surprisingly easy to believe that we had just been sent into the future, even if it all felt like one strange, collective dream.
I found myself on my mother’s personal landing pad, watching her prepare to leave. Clouds had rolled in from beyond the mountains on the edge of the horizon. The air was cool, but the sun was hot.
Hundreds of white fighters and battleships rose to the sky and beyond, not just from our city, but in clusters of tiny shapes rising from every direction beyond the curve of the planet.
Far on the horizon, I saw a faint blue shape, growing slightly larger each second. It was the mothership, hovering far above a distant part of the planet, coloured by the sky. And the fleet was converging to confront it.
I strained my eyes to watch what was happening, but it was too far away for me to make out any details. I forced a sigh, in a vain attempt to expel my nervousness.
I turned to my mother, who waited for a second as the ramp to her spherical, white shuttle extended to the floor. She turned to face me. I found it hard to swallow.
“Well,” she said in Skorali. “It’s time.”
I stepped a pace toward her, and wrapped my arms around her. “Good luck, Mom,” I said. I sounded weak. Not like a King. I felt ashamed of it.
She pulled away so she could look at my face, grasping my shoulders. “Thank you,” she said. “Remember, soon enough you’ll be back with your friends. They will be here for you. Especially K. Whether or not she says it, she cares for you.”
“I know,” I said, awkwardly. “And then we’ll be… doing something. Trying to find a way to stop Duhrnan.”
She lifted her ears. “If there’s anyone who can save Earth, it’s my son, Osax. My son.” She smiled warmly. Then she retrieved the silver activation key, and handed it to me. I took it graciously, holding it with both hands. “Keep this safe,” she said.
I felt my insides beginning to twist. I didn’t know how much longer I could drag this on.
Silently, she nodded at me. “I need to go, if I’m to save you and K.”
“Wait,” I said, “Why don’t you bring anyone else along with you? Maybe if you had a copilot-”
“You saw the shuttle get destroyed,” she said. “I’d only be risking their lives.”
“No, Osax.” She said. “It won’t change a thing.”
“It’s alright,” she said. “I’ve accepted it. I’m happy that my final moments will be protecting you.”
I will not cry, I said to myself. I’ve done that enough already.
Suranos touched my face gently. “Do not berate yourself for crying, Osax. It does not make you weak.”
“Okay,” I said, shakily.
She stepped away, then crossed one arm over her chest to her shoulder. She bowed low, and waved her hand away from her body. I returned the gesture, bowing farewell.
She hesitated for only a second, and I thought I saw her eyes glimmer with wetness. Then, before I could look at her face any longer, she turned away and entered her shuttle, not looking back. A moment later I was blasted with warm air as the engines flared to life, venting heat from slits on the bottom of the shuttle. Shining, the ship thrummed and lifted into the air.
I ran to the edge of the platform, following the shuttle with my eyes. It sped off like a torpedo in the direction of the space battle, but stayed low within the atmosphere.
I stood on the edge, watching until my mother and her ship became too small for me to see with the naked eye.
Then I heard footsteps behind me, and whirled around. It was Kaia.
“Talcorosax… Is there anything you need?” Her eyes were full of remorse, as though she wished more than anything that she could help me. I felt her fingers gently touch my arm.
“I just need to be alone for a while.”
“Wait,” she said, as I began to pass her. She held up a white helmet. “I wanted to give this to you,” she said.
I blinked. “Why? What is it?”
“It was your father’s. He was a great hero to the people before he died.”
“I know he was,” I said.
“Now that you are the last of your family, Suranos would have wanted you to have it,” she said. “But there was too much else going on for her to think of it. So, I decided to bring it to you myself.”
Shoving the silver activation key into my pouch, I took the helmet graciously. It had been kept in great condition.
“I never really knew my father,” I said.
“I know,” said Kaia. “I was young, too, when he died. But you certainly remind me of his memory.”
“Thank you,” I said, bowing my head. “Kaia, in an hour, the Firebrand will return with me and my friends.”
“They’ll ask about what happened, but… Don’t tell them. I’ll do it.”
She lowered her gaze. “Of course, your majesty.”
“Please,” I said. “Just call me Osax.”
She lifted her ears, and her cheeks flushed. Then I walked past her, determined to wander until the Firebrand returned to the temple.