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I awoke on a warm bed, unaware of how long I had been unconscious. My eyelids gently opened, and I blinked several times. My body felt stiff, my vision was blurry, and I was breathing through a mask. I tried to lift my arms and glanced at my hand. The loro suit had been removed but I was still wearing my armour underneath. Whoever had saved me didn’t have time to change me into more comfortable clothes.

A wizened looking skyther in a skintight jumpsuit peered over me, blocking the bright overhead lights. His ears were gently tied together with a white ribbon behind his head so they didn’t brush against me as he inspected me, but they lifted, and his eyes squinted when he saw me open mine.

Oh, thank goodness,” he said to himself in Skorali. His voice was soothing and gentle. “His highness is alright,” he said, smiling.

Where-” I murmured in English, then switched to Skorali. “Where am I?”

He looked me in the eye, his face lined with wrinkles. His ears tilted forward slightly. “You’re aboard Aquiloss. One of the skyther battlecruisers. I’m the head medical officer-”

My eyes shot open, and I sat up, looking around in panicked confusion. “Where’s K?! Is she alright?!”

The doctor tilted his head to one side. “I- I’m sorry, your majesty. I don’t know.”

Images and memory washed into my mind. The feeling of the cool glass of K’s stasis pod. Jonathan’s silent tears, streaming down his face. My mandibles hung open in shock. I felt my eyes becoming wet, and my gaze drifted down, as I remembered. She was gone.

The doctor helpfully placed a hand on my arm. “Talcorosax,” he said warmly, “you may feel a little disoriented for a while. It’s a completely normal part of recovery.”

Oh...” I mumbled. “Okay...”

A door hissed open to my right. My mind absently pieced together the medical equipment that adorned the white room as my eyes traced a line to the open doorway.

Osax!” Joëlle squealed with relief as she rushed into the room. I barely had time to lift my ears before she wrapped her arms around me in a tight squeeze.

Oh, be gentle, please!” The doctor spoke English now, and lifted his hand hesitantly, unsure if he should break up the moment.

Joëlle’s cheek pressed against mine, and I shut my eyes, smiling. Warmth filled my heart, and I began to chuckle faintly. She pulled away, grinning, and I wiped my eyes.

Joëlle... Did you...” She looked at me shyly from the side of my hospital bed, and the doctor cleared his throat.

Your friend saved you, Talcorosax. She pulled you aboard her ship and brought you here for recovery.”

I turned back to Joëlle. “You saved my life,” I said. I bowed my head in reverence. “I am indebted to you.”

All you owe me is a new sword.” She laughed.

My face hurt as my eyes squinted in a smile. “Oh, right. Sorry, Joëlle.”

Don’t worry about it, I’m only joking,” she said. She couldn’t contain herself, smiling ear to ear. “Without your help we wouldn’t have been able to save Earth. After the Shade Beam was destroyed, the valicorr were disoriented. Our fleets were able to destroy most of the remaining ships. I thought it only fair that you might want a chance to visit the planet again, after you worked so hard to save it.” She winked at me.

I lifted my ears. “We... we really did it.” I let myself flop backwards onto the pillow, and gazed up, relaxing my muscles. My heart was beating calmly. Duhrnan had been stopped.

I would like that,” I said, my head spinning. “But maybe... not right away. I feel kind of dizzy...”

The gentle doctor smiled. “You were drifting through space for at least a minute. A human likely wouldn’t have been able to survive that long, but-”

...But it’s a good thing you’re a skyther,” said Joëlle, smiling.

I laughed. “I can’t help being me,” I said. I met her brown eyes, and reached a hand over to her.

And I’m glad for that,” she said. “Only you would be so crazy, and only someone so crazy could have freed that missile.” She grabbed my hand gently in both of hers. “We did it, Osax.” Her eyes seemed to sparkle.

I shut my eyes. “We did it.”

 

You know the rest, I’m sure. Cleanup on Earth is still ongoing, even six months after the battle. There was plenty of debris that fell to the planet from the destroyed ships. Most of the major damage was cleared up in just a few weeks; humans are resourceful, and I had my people help as well. My coronation happened just a week after the battle of Earth, and in my first weeks as the king I wanted to make sure to uphold good relations with the TAU.

I supposed some of the slowness can be attributed to the protests and rallying that have been going on there. Now that the Shade Beam is destroyed, people are wondering why it was even made in the first place. Of course, the Brotherhood’s involvement in it was brought to light, and everyone who worked at the base on Voren, (plus many others in the TAU) were investigated, and charged if found guilty. The base itself was investigated weeks after the battle, as part of the TAU’s response to the public backlash. I had hoped Jonathan would still be there, but... he had disappeared along with the stasis pods, as you mentioned earlier, investigator.

I was asked to comment on the events but, well, to be honest I didn’t have the emotional energy to dive into it all so soon. I shared the important details, about the Brotherhood, and of course I shared my discoveries about the loro with the research community, who in turn made the findings public. I turned in the loro nano-suit for research, and brought in an entire team of loro archaeologists, humans and skythers, to gather the debris from Duhrnan’s mothership on Astraloth, and begin their research. If we’re ever able to replicate the loro’s slipspace drive, space travel would become nearly instantaneous...

But I digress. When the research community went public about the valicorr’s connection to the loro as bioweapons, and word got out about the Brotherhood’s experiments with people such as K, and when the public found out the Shade Beam itself was a bioweapon, petitions to make bioweapons illegal came flooding in. The TAU, to make amends for the wrongs they had done, recalled all bioweapons, ceased any experiments with them, and made their very existence illegal. I complied, of course, and so it became part of our treaty... I could see the benefits. And I didn’t want to cause any conflict with the TAU.

And people started telling stories about the battle of Earth. Joëlle and I became renowned heroes. Everywhere I went on Earth, people would cheer and thank me for what I had done, or ask me incredulously if the stories were true. I was approached by companies seeking endorsement, charity organizations, and all sorts of people just wanting to speak with me. Some people even said that I was proof that the TAU needed to change, because they’d needed a skyther to save their planet. I reminded them that Joëlle, a human, was the one piloting the Firebrand, a ship who’s name also became renowned, and that she’d also saved my life. I heard sales of the Ranger-Class gunship skyrocketed. I started seeing Firebrand themed craft beers, adorned with art of the black and red ship, and Firebrand t-shirts with a skyther standing on top, and the words “Stronger Together” written on the bottom. That was a popular design... though nobody ever asked me if I was okay with it being made. I was, so it didn’t really matter, I guess...

 

Anyway, I was invited to a ceremony by the Cardinal of the TAU to be held on Earth. I’m not sure if you were there; thousands of people attended. It was a memorial for those lost in the battle of Earth, and also an award ceremony. As the King of Astraloth it would have been rude to say no.

Joëlle and I stood on a platform surrounded by thousands of people. The Fleet Admiral droned on about our exemplary service. The other admirals stood in line, watching us. Fiona nodded to me, smiling with approval.

The Fleet Admiral gave us each a golden medal, symbolizing our valour and thanking us for our service. I had to duck for them to fit the ribbon over my head. It was meant to be somewhat of a solemn ceremony, with restrained clapping if anything, but when the Admiral gave us our medals the crowd roared with cheers and whistles. It was all too much.

Some time after the ceremony, Joëlle and I sat silently at a quaint café. I grabbed a glass bottle of root beer from the soda cooler, and paid for it at the counter. Then I squished into my seat next to Joëlle, and we gazed out the window at the humans wandering the street.

It feels wrong,” I said, sipping my drink. My eyes narrowed.

Joëlle looked at me, puzzled. “What feels wrong?”

We got medals. There was a whole ceremony and everything. But Jonathan and K got nothing. No recognition. They were... they were our team.”

Joëlle sighed. Quiet rock music played over the café’s speaker system. “I’m trying my best to just forget them,” she said, and took a sip of her hot chocolate.

I felt betrayed, and a pang of anger simmered in me. I glared at her. “How could you say that? They risked their lives for us, more than once. They risked their lives for Earth, and for Astraloth. They-”

Osax, will you cool it?” she interrupted, agitated. “Jonathan betrayed us. He was part of the Brotherhood. That’s not gonna change. And he could have done something to stop the Shade Beam before Duhrnan got hold of it-”

You don’t know that,” I said. “Maybe there was nothing he could do. He made mistakes, but he did the best he could to make up for them.”

She shrugged, and her eyes darkened. “He never even contacted you... or me, after the battle. He cared more about his experiments. He just vanished with them, after all.”

My mandibles twitched. “He couldn’t contact us. He’s considered a criminal now. It would have been dangerous for him.”

She frowned. “But he- He could have tried. Even if he- I just thought he-” She shut her eyes, and sighed in frustration. “I thought he liked me. And then he betrayed us. And maybe someday I could forgive him for that, but... I was starting to come around to your perspective Osax, but he...” She closed herself off, her face hardening. “He vanished without a word. He didn’t even contact me.”

My ears drooped, and my eyes narrowed. “I’ll bet he was trying to keep you safe, by not contacting you. I think he liked you too-”

She whipped her hand toward me. “Don’t you even say that, Osax! Implying he cut contact with me because he cared?!

I placed my hands on the table. “It’s not like you gave him much reason to call you! He was going through so much shame and guilt for what he had done, offering insider information on the Brotherhood, which we needed to stop the Shade Beam, volunteering for suicide missions and apologizing every chance he got, just to make up for his mistakes, and you spat in his face at every chance! You didn’t see what he was going through. You weren’t there in the cave on Malum- You weren’t there on the mothership-”

No I wasn’t!” she cried, tears forming in her eyes. She stood up from her seat. “I wasn’t, because Jonathan betrayed me, and I was taken hostage on my own ship! God, Osax! I had to fight for myself! I had to do it all on my own, because of him!”

I stood up too, slamming my chair behind me. “Fine! But what about K?!” I shouted. “I’m just saying she deserves to be remembered for the good she did, not for the intentions of her creators-”

Oh, you mean Jonathan’s intentions?” she spat. “Yeah, the reason K isn’t remembered as a hero is his fault, too-”

No!” I said. “He stayed behind on Voren to help her! He wanted to figure out how-”

Settle down you two!” said the owner of the café. “Or take it outside! This isn’t an arena, and I won’t tolerate fighting.”

I glanced his way, then turned back to Joëlle. I grabbed my things hurriedly, and spoke quietly. “I can’t believe you hate him so much.”

Well I can’t believe you can’t see how much he hurt me! He left you, but you’re still defending him.” She crossed her arms defiantly. “I’m your friend, and I’m still right here with you. Why can’t you see it my way? Why can’t you let go of him?”

Because he’s my friend, too!” I said, shooting her a glance.

He left you, Osax.” She shook her head. “He abandoned you too.”

You don’t understand-”

I understand that you’re holding onto an image of Jonathan that is false, and it’s putting a wedge between us-”

I looked her square in the eye. “If that’s what you believe, then maybe we can’t be friends after all,” I said, darkly.

She blinked, her mouth hanging open for a second in shock. Clearly she was hurt. Then she shut her mouth. “Fine,” she growled. “At least being alone, fending for myself taught me that I don’t need anyone’s help,” she said, sarcastically. “That’s one thing I can thank him for.”

I locked eyes with her. “Well, if you really don’t need people, then why am I here with you?”

She frowned at me. “Wait, Osax, please. We’re friends.”

I thought we were,” I said, and stormed out of the café.

And that’s the last time I spoke with her.

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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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