Sep 18, 2021
24 mins read
That was six months ago.
I leaned on the railing of a high balcony with my cybernetic arm. It was the kind of day where the sky was practically singing with colour. The clouds were gorgeously full and white, and each one seemed to crackle with a silent energy. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t some dry lightning tonight.
I flexed the metallic fingers of my right hand, and glanced down at it. The sun glinted off my silver arm. Even after six months, it still felt a little strange. But it was surprisingly comfortable. I could feel the cool breeze against it, could feel the railing. I was almost as nimble with my new arm as I had been with my old now. I took in a breath of fragrant, fresh air through my nose, and blinked my eyes closed for a moment.
When I exhaled, I opened my eyes and gazed out across the landscape towards the sea and the mountains beyond, listening to the sounds of the wind rustling through the trees and bushes on the gardens above and below me. There was a lot of bustling down below at the base of the Great Temple, and sunlight sparkled off the ships that hummed across the sky. It was a busy day today, but otherwise just an ordinary one. My furred ears dangled at a skewed angle in the breeze. I glanced at one of the other pyramids of the temple, and for the briefest of moments, I was surprised not to see a great sphere floating above it. In a way, skythers, like humans, could adapt to change quite quickly, even if it wasn’t always easy. But at the same time, sometimes I’d think I was used to something, and then a year later still be surprised by it.
Flapping wings punctuated the air, and my ears twitched toward it. I trained my eyes on a large, orange bird. He landed gracefully on the railing, just a few feet away from me. I’d begun to suspect that it was always the same bird who I saw on this balcony, stopping by to greet me. It made me feel like we had a special bond. I wondered if he recognized me the same way I recognized him.
“Hello again,” I said softly, in Skorali. I tried not to move too much; I didn’t want to scare him off. “It’s good to see you.”
I smiled, taking in the details of his feathered plume, and sharp talons. He surveyed the city with a quiet attentiveness, and I felt strangely akin to this bird. He watched over everyone like a noble sentinel. Then I turned my gaze outward, following his example.
There were no TAU ships in sight. When Astraloth reappeared, the Brotherhood fleet had been apprehended by a TAU force that Joëlle had rallied. I was brought to the Great Temple and my wounds were treated there. K, Jonathan, Joëlle, and Omega all waited there with me, and I granted them safe haven at the temple while I recovered. Keeping their involvement secret at that point would have been pointless, and we were all tired of hiding.
After I regained my strength, I told my story to the galaxy. Everything about the Brotherhood, about Duhrnan, and Ryner, was laid bare before the public. And I argued that, while the creation of bioweapons may be unethical, their right to exist as life forms was no less than ours, humans or skythers alike. And the TAU listened. They abolished the laws that made bioweapons illegal. They pardoned Joëlle for knowingly aiding Jonathan and K, when they all helped me on Viperion. Now, K and Omega were free to be citizens of the TAU. And of course they were free to exist in skyther lands as well.
My eyes darkened a little, thinking about K and Jonathan. She was technically a free citizen, but Jonathan...
“Osax?” said Kaia, startling me and the bird, who took off into the sky. She had a way of sneaking up on me while I was deep in thought. Her red skirt drifted in the breeze. It was a warm day, so we were both topless. I turned to face her, ruffling my chest fur casually, and lifted my ears. Her cheeks seemed to flush a little when our eyes met. We had gotten much closer over the past year since I became King; we spent a lot more time together since I got back from Viperion, and everything changed.
“Yes, Kaia?” I said.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“It’s alright,” I replied. “I was just deep in thought, that’s all.”
She tilted her head to the side. Her ears dangled, and her cat-like nose twitched. Her deep blue eyes met mine. “Were you thinking about Jonathan and K again?”
I sighed. “Yes.”
Kaia stepped up to me, and placed a hand on my metallic arm. I could feel her fingers gently pressing onto my body- it still felt a little strange that the arm was my body.
“You wish they could live here?” she asked.
I turned away from her, and gazed down at the city. “Yes,” I said. My fur shook in the wind. “I understand why Jonathan can’t. And I understand why K chose to go with him. They have three hundred people to look after. But it would be so much easier if they could come out of hiding. I don’t want to have to keep visiting them in secret.”
“Well,” she said, helpfully. “Maybe you can offer them a place on Astraloth. It’s within your power.” She blinked at me, her eyes filled with caring. “The TAU haven’t forgiven Jonathan, but...”
“I know,” I said, meeting her gaze. “The TAU doesn’t control Astraloth.” I glanced back down at the city, and my ears relaxed. My eyes caught sight of the old urban market district. I was happy to see the new corporate restrictions in place. The neon signs and billboards had been removed, and the place was once again a centre for local produce and the arts. The people there, humans and skythers alike, seemed much happier now, with the freedom to give their attention to whatever they wanted, and the newfound quiet of the place. Now it was a place that put life at its center, rather than money. I couldn’t undo that damned root beer commercial I’d been paid to star in, but I could stop it from praying on poor citizens, stealing their attention with the hope of taking their money, too. With the advertisements gone, that was a little bit of skyther culture put back into place.
“It’s not the TAU that are stopping me,” I said at last.
“I’ve offered Jonathan and K a place on Astraloth,” I said. “I don’t care what the TAU think. I know I have friends there who will back me up. And the people of Earth, for the most part, really look up to me. A lot of people have forgiven Jonathan after hearing the story, even if he’s not officially pardoned.”
Kaia put her hands on her wide hips, and breathed in the crisp air. “Then what is stopping you?”
“K,” I said.
“She’s happy,” I said, gazing up at the sky. “Her and Jonathan, they’ve finally found a planet. A place to raise their people.” I lifted my ears, thinking about it. “Jonathan said ‘it’s great, really. Just imagine Earth, but a little smaller. A lot smaller, actually.’”
Kaia laughed warmly, her eyes squinting. “That’s wonderful.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Have they come up with a name for them, yet?” Kaia asked, wondering about the clones.
I shook my head. “The last time I called them, K suggested ‘The Sisterhood’, but I think she was joking. Then she said ‘What about the Blumans? Cause- We- Cause we’re blue! Blue humans!’ She laughed, then shook her head, and Jonathan chimed in with his response. ‘I don’t think that’s quite it but... ah, yes. What about Bloomers? Because, they’ll be blooming, like... ugh... no, that’s not right.’-”
“...It sounds like you’re starting into another story,” Kaia giggled.
I laughed, gesturing with my robotic hand. “Oh. I just meant to say, they’re still picking a name.”
She smiled at me. “Did you have any suggestions?”
“I said to them, ‘Why not just call them “Alphas?”’ K nodded in agreement. ‘Yeah, that’s a perfect name. If they’re anything like me, then we’re definitely alpha.’ Jonathan smirked thoughtfully. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘Alpha, like alphabet. Like K’s name. It makes sense. But we can’t rush into a decision like this...’”
Kaia brushed a loose bit of fur from my shoulder. “You’re clearly thinking about them a lot,” she said.
I smiled. “Of course I am. They’re my friends.”
“More like family,” she said, her eyes sparkling.
I turned around to face her, leaning my back against the railing. “So, Kaia, were you just checking up on me? Or did you have something to tell me?”
She eyed me shyly. She’d been doing that more and more recently, as we became closer friends. “I wanted to talk to you, Osax, because I enjoy your company. But I also wanted to tell you that someone is here to see you.”
I bolted upright. “Is it Joëlle? She’s early-”
“Actually, it’s someone else,” she interjected.
I was perplexed. I wasn’t expecting anyone else to visit today. “Oh. Well, I guess I shouldn’t keep them waiting. Will you show me to them?”
“Of course,” said Kaia. “They’re on the open floor of the temple.
The air blew calmly through my ears, past the pillars that held up the top half of the pyramid. Skythers walked to and fro as Kaia led me, skirt trailing behind her...
I caught sight of the homeless skyther I’d given rations to nearly half a cycle ago in the pouring rain of the market. He saw me, and lifted his ears in joy. “Osax!” he said, stepping up to me. He wore a nice set of clean, fresh clothes, with my old red coat tied around his waist. His chest fur was well groomed, and his face wrinkled with happiness.
“Tallor,” I said, greeting my friend with a bow. He returned the gesture. “How is the temple treating you today?”
“Very well, of course,” he replied, in Skorali. His fingers grasped at the red coat at his waist. I noted that he kept it with him at almost all times, and it made me blush. “And how are you on this beautiful day?”
I lifted my ears, genuinely. “I am well. Quite well.”
Tallor nodded at me, as other skythers bustled about, and Kaia waited. “My friends from the market- I brought some more to stay here at the temple. I hope that’s alright!”
“I’m glad!” I said. “We have the space and the resources. There’s no reason why our people should be going hungry in the streets.” I bowed to him. “I’d love to chat more, Tallor, but I’m going to meet someone. Perhaps another time-”
“Don’t let me keep you, then,” he said, and he bowed farewell. “Thank you again.”
I returned the bow, and continued after Kaia.
A human woman stood alone in the cut out section of the temple, next to a thick pillar. The skythers gave her a wide berth. My mandibles twitched. I thought I recognized her, as she looked up and around the temple with wide eyes, but I couldn’t quite recall her face... I shifted my weight from leg to leg, pressing my feet into the cool stone of the temple.
Kaia nodded in her direction, and so I cleared my throat and stepped up to her. She gazed up at me. I introduced myself in English.
“Hello there. I am King Osax. I was told you wished to see me?” I stood straight.
She looked stunned for a moment. “Oh, your- your majesty...”
She was struggling to find the words, so after a moment, I continued. “I feel like I recognize you, but I can’t remember from where...”
She locked eyes with me, and her expression turned grim. She had dark hair that she wore in a bun. Her clothes were business casual. I didn’t recognize any of the details, yet still she seemed somehow familiar.
“Voren,” she said. “I- You met me on Voren.” She bowed her head slightly. Involuntarily, my ears shot back in defense. She saw this, and sputtered, “I- I didn’t know the base was being run by the Brotherhood. I was never part of that!”
I nodded slowly, my heart rate normalizing. “I believe you.” I waited expectantly.
She lowered her gaze. “Ah. Well, thank you.” She cleared her throat, and I could tell she was nervous. I tilted my head in confusion. Her eyes were wet.
“You were there, in the elevator,” she said. “I wanted to thank you, for saving my life.”
I was stunned. She gazed up at me.
“I... of course,” I said. That was a painful memory... That poor scientist had slipped from my grasp, into the depths of the shaft. I shut my eyes tight. I had done my best, but the failure there had been a great source of self-hate for me. I opened my eyes, vaguely bracing for more of a sting.
“I know you couldn’t save everyone,” she continued, as if reading my thoughts. “But you helped me get out of there, along with most of the others trapped in the elevator.” She chuckled shyly, and looked away. “I didn’t get a chance to thank you. So, after we were all taken back to Olympus, I did my research. My wife, she’s a loro researcher, so I asked her to help me track you down, cause I knew that’s why you were there and I thought she might have heard of you... Then I found out you were the prince, and I doubted I’d ever get the chance to meet you. But here I am!”
My heart eased. I smiled, bowing my head slightly. “I’m glad I was able to help,” I said.
“W- wait,” she said. Then she reached into a large pocket on her leg. “Our son, Steven, he’s a big fan; he drew this picture for you.”
She held up a piece of paper. On it was a crudely drawn skyther, coloured in bright crayons. He wore a black cape and held a silver circle in his hands, which he lifted up above his head. Silver stars dotted the background. My name was written in gold crayon in shaky handwriting. When I saw it, I don’t know why, by my eyes watered.
“Of course, you probably don’t want it, it’s just a kid’s drawing. He’s eight,” she continued. “I had to come by the Great Temple, for a business trip. He asked me to give this to you, and, well, I couldn’t say no.” She held the drawing up to me, awkwardly.
Kaia watched, standing politely still, but I could feel her smile on me. Gently, I took the drawing from the woman’s hands. “Tell Steven I think he is a great artist,” I said, quietly.
Her face lit up. “Oh, he’ll love that! If it’s not too much to ask, would you pose for a photo?” She was already retrieving her camera.
I smiled with my eyes. “Of course.”
I knelt down and held the drawing next to my face, giving my best smile. The woman stepped back a pace, and snapped a photograph. Then I stood up, and looked once more at the drawing, at the skyther’s orange-crayon eyes.
“What was your name?” I asked, looking back to her.
“Julia,” she said. “Julia Gilbert.”
I bowed to her deeply. “Thank you for sharing this with me, Julia Gilbert.”
She grinned. “Thank you for humouring me. And saving my life.” She checked the time on her holo-gauntlet, and hastily added, “I have to go, or I’ll be late for a meeting. The main reason I came to Astraloth!” She chuckled nervously, then waved. “Thank you again!”
“My pleasure!” I called out as she walked quickly away, and down the stairs out of sight.
I turned to Kaia. Her ears were shaking as she struggled to contain herself. She said quietly in Skorali, “That was so sweet. So adorable.”
“Yes. Yes, it was.” I nodded, looking at the drawing of me. He may have been a disproportionate, two-dimensional figure, but he stood with a heroic posture, and I couldn’t help but smile.
In my quarters, I sat on my bed with my knees up, my back against the wall. I was staring at my holo-gauntlet, listening to it beep. I was warmed by sunlight from outside. My ears lifted when the call connected.
A holographic image of K shimmered into view above my arm. She was wearing a tank top and some work gloves. It was still a bit strange to see her in civilian clothes since she used to spend so much time wearing weapons and pieces of armour. Her horns looked bigger than when I had first met her, and it was hard to tell but I thought her muscles did too.
She smirked at me. “Hey, Osax!”
“K,” I said. “Glad you picked up. I just wanted to check in-”
She swivelled her head at the sudden sound of a muffled crash, followed by Jonathan cursing faintly in the background. K grimaced, looking at whatever accident had caused the noise.
“Shit!” she said, before darting away from the communications terminal. I was left staring at a holographic wall for a few seconds before she came back into view, panting. “Sorry-”
“Something wrong?” I asked. “Is Jonathan okay?”
She chuckled and waved her hand dismissively. “Yeah he’s fine, just dropped a crate of supplies.” She scratched behind her horns. “We’re uh, actually pretty busy prepping for tonight.”
I leaned back, and slid down so I was laying on my bed. “Yeah, I’ll bet. Well, if now’s a bad time I can hang up.”
She shrugged. “Yeah... it’s not a great time to be honest. But, you’re still coming, right?”
I nodded. “Yes. Just waiting for Joëlle to arrive, and then we’ll be on our way. It should only take us half a day-”
“Ooh, has the Firebrand got one of those fancy new slipspace engines installed?” She grinned. “I’d love to see it!”
“Yeah, Joëlle was telling me about it. Based on loro tech salvaged from the battle of Astraloth, apparently.”
“Crazy,” she said, shaking her head in astonishment. “To think the remains of that mothership are being put to good use... I’m glad.”
Her orange eyes shifted to the side, staring at whatever Jonathan was doing beyond my view. I got the sense I should really let them get organized, so I said, “Hey, K, I’ll let you go for now.”
She looked back at me. “Alright. Well, don’t take too long, I want to show you what I’ve been working on! Jonathan’s got the food synthesizers set up, but I wanted to try my hand growing something naturally... Yesterday I started setting up a garden!”
“Really?” I said. “That’s great, K. What kind of garden?”
“Well, right now I’ve just planted some flowers I got from Astraloth. Gonna see how they grow. But I hope to start planting food someday. I dunno, I’m really new to this- it’s a challenge not to crush the plants with my hands.” She smirked. Then I heard Jonathan calling for her, asking for help lifting something. She gave me a look, and joked, “Man, Jonathan is so weak, he can’t lift anything.”
I snorted a laugh. “Yeah, easy for you to say. Don’t forget, some of us are just mortals!”
She cackled. “You’re all insects before the almighty god of strength, K! Ha ha!” She grinned, and I stared into her eyes... as best as I could through the hologram.
“Careful, K, you’re starting to sound like a super-villain,” I remarked.
“You’re just scared cause you know I could beat you in a fight. You might be tall, but you’re almost as weak as Jonathan!”
“You always have to bring the insults into it, huh?” I replied.
She grinned. “Hey, you know you love me anyway!”
I nodded thoughtfully. “You’re right.” I smiled. “I do.”
“I know, Osax,” she laughed. “It’s pretty obvious.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “Sometimes though, it’s worth saying.”
“Well,” she said, “I’d better go before Jonathan breaks his back trying to lift a pencil.” She gave me one last look before hanging up. “Love you too, Osax!”
I rested my body, and gazed at the ceiling.
Back in my washroom, I groomed my fur with a tiny comb. The full-body mirror defogged itself swiftly as I gazed into my own eyes with stark recognition, and sighed. My black pupils narrowed slightly, and I brushed one of my ears back as I straightened the fur. I was full of excitement. Joëlle would be here any minute.
Someone knocked on the door, and a nasally voice followed. “Osax. Joëlle is here.”
Hurriedly, I put the comb away and pulled my clothes on. The door hissed shut behind me as I stepped back into my private room.
Omega waited there for me. A year after their heroic sacrifice on Malum, their body had fully regenerated now, and they stood with their arms at their sides. They clawed the carpet with their feet, tail flicking back and forth. Sunlight painted us and the room with a bright glow, pouring in from the glass door that led to the landing pad. I peered out at the dock, which had been repaired months ago. The Firebrand had just touched down, sunlight glinting off the textured hull. Its engines were still fuming with heat.
I grinned at Omega. “What are you waiting for? Let’s go!” I said.
I followed Omega outside. Fresh air filled my senses, and the colours of the city below were full of life. We made our way eagerly across the narrow bridge to the landing pad, where the Firebrand waited. The ship’s exit ramp lowered with a quiet hiss, and Joëlle, hair freshly dyed a striking blue, stepped out onto the pad, waving.
Tonight, I’d be sleeping on a familiar bed aboard the Firebrand, on our way through slipspace toward the planet where Jonathan and K prepared to raise the Alphas. They were going to wake the first few clones soon, and wanted Joëlle, Omega and I to be there with them when it happened. It was a strange situation, but hardly the strangest thing I’d experienced in my life. I often wondered about the spheres of the Great Temple, about what really happened to the loro in ancient history, and, more pressingly, about the future. I didn’t know what the future held. But I knew that, at least for now, things were alright. Good, even.
I folded my arms, and sighed. Sometimes, I wished K would visit me more. Every so often we would call each other, or visit and play games, and talk about life. But it was more than enough just to know that she was alive. I knew she found a calling preparing to raise her sisters. She was eager to help teach them. And she wanted to give Jonathan company while he worked to take responsibility for the life he had created. She told me that once things settled down there, she’d come back to Astraloth. We could take a trip to Earth, and go exploring through the wild lands, searching for strawberries.
I looked forward to that.
Jonathan and Joëlle had worked through a lot over the past half year. They visited each other every couple of weeks. I didn’t really know if they ever were upfront about their feelings... That wasn’t my business. But I was comforted to know that they had forgiven each other for the past. It must have been difficult to do.
And Joëlle and I saw each other every now and then, as well. We reminisced about the past, though we didn’t always have the emotional energy to talk about Duhrnan. I was glad to be her friend, though she chose to spend much of her time these days alone. That was one experience we shared. We’d both learned how to believe in ourselves, and how to be happy on our own. Strangely, I found that made having friends much easier, too.
I sat next to Joëlle and Omega in the cockpit of the Firebrand, with a refreshing glass of soda in my hands. The ship hummed and whirred, and Joëlle fiddled with the controls as we drifted above Astraloth. The Toru nebula coloured the black of space like a luminous purple ink, and I could feel the presence of my mother. My ears perked up, my eyes glazing over as I wondered about the past, and the future. I was eager to see Jonathan and K. I missed them, but it wouldn’t be long before we were all together.
I found solace knowing that I wasn’t alone. Even in solitude, the same energy that gave me life was found all across the galaxy, in countless stars, in countless life forms. And in a way that meant I was always connected to others. Even my cybernetic arm was full of a living energy, in a way. And my friends, the humans, carried a bit of that light in them too. Even Duhrnan had, though I doubt he ever realized it. We can struggle so hard to feel connected to something, when the truth is we always are, and we always have been. Just being alive is enough; it doesn’t matter if you are born or made. We are not merely visitors to this world, but part of it.
Joëlle activated the slipspace drive, and I was brought back into the moment. The Firebrand seemed to yawn as it stretched into slipspace. The smell of Joëlle’s coffee wafted into my nose, and I could feel the warmth of my companions by my side. I leaned forward in my seat, my ears perking up. Clutching the seat with my silver hand, my eyes fixed on the stars ahead. In a flash, they shot back into brilliant streams of light, and we tore off into stars, embraced by the fathomless wonder of the galaxy.