“Stay with me,” said K through clenched teeth. “Come on Osax, stay with me!”
I was draped in her arms as she, along with Joëlle and Jonathan, dashed out of the elevator, and through the dim halls. A pulsing red emergency light lit the place, and my ears stung with the sounding alarms. My mind dwelled on the bodies of Duhrnan and Ryner that we left in the core of the base. We were leaving them behind. Soon it would all be behind us...
I wrapped my left arm around K’s waist, and tried to flex my right fingers. But they weren’t there. I could almost feel my arm through the pain, but it was gone. My white ears flapped as K ran.
I clutched K’s vest, and gazed up at her face. “I’m with you,” I managed.
At that, she turned her eyes toward me, and bared a bittersweet smile. “Good,” she said. “Good.” Her eyes were damp, and the orange contrasted vibrantly with her blue skin.
I fought to keep my eyes open as I was jostled, carried out of the base. We ran past Brotherhood computers and cloning equipment, no doubt the site at which most of the current Brotherhood agents were created.
Then we passed through the glass corridor that ran through the center of the valicorr sorting room. The machines had halted, and aside from a low rumbling that came from deep within the base, everything was still. Each pod hung motionless, each mechanical arm stopped dead. I exhaled in relief.
Time passed unperceived, bobbing up and down in K’s arms. We stepped out into the black daylight of Viperion, and as my head rested, draped over her arm, I gazed up at the sky. A great swathe of stars beckoned me back to the center of the galaxy, to my home. The sheer beauty of the galaxy was unbearable, and I was filled with light.
Then heat, light, and sound erupted from the core of the base. The cloning facility shattered, going up in flames. We climbed to the edge of the glass ridge, and I could feel the warmth of the enormous bonfire even from fifty meters away. I stared from K’s arms, Jonathan and Joëlle at our side. A blanket of flames licked the dark sky, stirring up a sighing wind. The planet exhaled, finally free of its burden. The beauty of the Milky Way shone upon the exposed flames, and the evil that was there was burned away. At once, the atmosphere was filled with a whispering peace.
I pulled myself closer to K, and we cried. All four of us. Jonathan took Joëlle’s hand, and they exchanged a wordless stare, smiling and weeping silently. Our hair, and fur, ruffled gently in the fire’s gale. I was reeling with pain and joy and relief. My eyes followed a cluster of glowing ash that flew up to kiss the stars.
Joëlle sighed deeply, and pulled Jonathan closer to her, so she could rest her head on his shoulder with a wide smile and closed eyes. He stiffened his shoulders when she did this, but eventually relaxed, and blushing, rested his head on hers. Hand in hand, tears rolled down his cheek as he smiled. I was so surprised, but so happy to see Joëlle here, and to see them able to express their compassion together. I watched them silently for a few moments.
“You two,” I marvelled. They looked my way, and Jonathan lifted his head, shuffling awkwardly, still smiling. “Joëlle,” I said, looking at her. “You... How did you...”
Joëlle’s eyes seemed to sparkle. “You mean how did I find you?”
I nodded. K and Joëlle looked expectantly at Jonathan, who cleared his throat.
“Well,” said Jonathan, thoughtfully. “When I received your plea for help, I knew I had to come to Viperion and support you, Osax.” He met eyes with me, his robotic aperture focusing on my face. “When a friend asks for help... Well, I need to be there for them.”
I lifted my ears. Their faces glowed with orange firelight as they looked between each other.
“We were eager to help,” said K, baring her tusks in a grin. “Even though coming out of hiding was a danger to us, both being criminals now.” She grit her teeth. “But it was worth it. Of course it was-”
“And we had the transport we stole from the hidden labs on Voren,” said Jonathan. I tilted my ears in curiosity. “I- I guess there’s a lot to explain,” he said, his eyes darkening. “After you left Voren to defend Earth, I loaded all of the stasis pods onto a TAU cargo vessel that was hidden in the snow there. I took the ship, along with all of the clones, including K, and I flew it off world.” He paused. “I knew the TAU would come for me sooner or later, and if they found us there, they would surely arrest me and kill everyone else, just for being associated with the Brotherhood...”
“I thought that was why you left,” I said. I coughed, and my nose twitched.
“In any case,” K interjected, “Jonathan found a remote planet to park the ship, and dedicated his time to finding a way to cure and revive me.” She grinned. “It worked, Osax! He was able to help me!”
“How?” I asked, my ears lifting. “That’s wonderful!”
Jonathan smiled warmly, his coat trailing in the breeze. “It wouldn’t have been possible without your scans, Osax,” he said. “I was able to use the scans, along with my own research, to determine which genes were causing the destructive growths. They were linked to K’s accelerated learning. Then it was a matter of developing a bio-screening system that would neutralize that part of the cell while K was in stasis.” He sighed. “It took me a few months, but I was determined...”
“You dedicated months of your life to trying to save her?” I asked, astonished. I sniffed back some tears. Then I looked up into K’s smiling face above me.
She looked down at me in her arms. “Turns out he’s not a completely shit dad after all,” she said.
“Hey!” Jonathan protested, but he was smiling.
I thought about Jonathan, all by himself aboard a TAU vessel full of frozen clones like K, barely sleeping, pouring over his work to save her. Hiding from the TAU, and from the skyther government...
“That’s why I never contacted you,” I said. “I knew you wanted to hide away.”
“I didn’t want to,” he said, “but I had to. And that’s why I never contacted you either- I didn’t want to put you, or Joëlle, at unnecessary risk by being connected to me.” A shadow passed over his eyes. “It didn’t help that Round Table was put in charge of capturing bioweapons.”
Joëlle frowned, still holding Jonathan’s hand in the firelight. “I... I understand why you wouldn’t feel safe contacting me.”
Jonathan smiled, weakly. “I’m still sorry... I wasn’t sure that you’d want to hear from me, anyway, even if it was safe for us to talk...”
Joëlle turned to me and said, “But he did contact me, after getting your message. He told me everything, even played your message for me. And I knew I had to come help you.” Her eyes fell away. “You know, you could have called me directly, too-”
“I wanted to!” I said. “I really did, Joëlle. But the Brotherhood had already replaced an entire fleet of the TAU with sleeper agents. I couldn’t be sure if they had gotten to you or not...”
I gazed into her brown eyes. She looked deeply disturbed at this. “That does make sense. I understand.” Then she smirked. “So, if you wanted to reach out to me... I guess that means...”
“We’re friends,” I said. “If you want, I mean,” I added awkwardly. “I’m really sorry about what happened back on Earth, how we ended things...”
Her eyes lit up. “You’ve always been my friend, Osax,” she said.
My ears lifted.
“Anyway,” said Jonathan, “K and I wanted to help, but we only had a clunky TAU cargo ship. We needed something more suited for a daring adventure. We needed the Firebrand.” His eyes lowered sheepishly. “And... I wanted to contact Joëlle, even if it was dangerous.”
“Yeah,” said K. “She could have ratted us out, and sent an entire fleet of TAU to arrest or kill us.”
“But I didn’t!” said Joëlle.
Slowly, disbelieving, it dawned on me. “Joëlle, you could be considered a criminal now, for helping Jonathan and K.”
She nodded, solemnly.
Their three sets of eyes were all on me, and I felt myself beginning to shake. “You... you all put yourselves in great danger... just because-”
“For you,” said K. “That’s something we all have in common. We all care about you.”
“And about saving the galaxy,” added Joëlle, helpfully.
“And stopping the Brotherhood,” said Jonathan.
The Milky Way reflected in my eyes, and an overwhelming sense of love swelled inside me.
“Well, we did it,” I declared. “We saved the galaxy.”
K grinned. “Hell yeah we did.” We met eyes. “I’m so glad you survived... when we got your message, I...” She shook her head, eyes watering. “I was so worried.”
I felt myself choke back a cry. “But you-” I began. “You’re alive! I can’t- I can’t believe...” I started sobbing, then winced, snorting out blood. My head started to spin, and I went to steady myself on K’s shoulder with my right hand, but felt it wasn’t there, which made me more nauseated. The stars whirled above me.
“Aw, Osax!” said K, wiping the blood from my nose. “We need to get you to a doctor.” She was so gentle, and despite everything, I felt safe in her arms. Our eyes met once more “I’ll be here,” she said. “I’m with you.”
“Right,” said Jonathan.
“Come on,” said Joëlle. “The Firebrand is this way!”
Then I closed my eyes, and let my friends carry me back to the light.