Freedom of the Stars
“You don’t know what you want until you have it. You don’t know what you got until it’s gone.”
Ina never thought that she would consider killing her brother in the same way she thought about it with her father. The temptation ran through her as she watched the smile slithering on the man’s face. How could he be so satisfied? The darker side of her knew that answer. It didn’t matter who was in his way, Ignace wanted a complete and dominant win. She should’ve known better. Today happened to be the day that she was on the other end of that pain. No, not only me. Her daughter felt the brunt of it. Not for the first time today, her fingers danced on the hostler of her gun. “How does it feel,” Ignace asked her, kicking back the chair where he murdered their father, “how does it feel to be free from it all? From the Caldwells, from your responsibilities, from this backwater dump of a planet. I did that. I did that for you. I did that for our people. Tell me that it doesn’t feel a little bit good. You aren’t just a tiny bit relieved. C’mon.”
Times like this, it was better to stay quiet around Ignace. He had this way of twisting words that even a sibling couldn’t work their way out of. Instead, she sat there, boring a hole into his eyes with an unflinching stare. I’m not gonna play this game with you, she thought, keeping a straight face. “I came back ‘cause you said that you fixed it. I should’ve asked how.”
“You’ve never been good at fixing things on your own, sis.”
“And you’ve never been a good person, Ig, but everyone has their faults.”
“Like running away?”
“Don’t you dare–”
“Y’know Kindle came to me right, not even an hour before you came here asking for a ship. As her uncle, I couldn’t turn her down, even gave her a few of my men to at least get her started. She said she wanted to get away from it all, start anew,” Ignace paused, tapping his chin, “that sounds very familiar. Running away from her problems and asking me for help, I wonder where she got that move from.” He laughed. “I really don’t mean to poke fun at you, Ina, I really don’t. But there’s a bit of comedy in all this. Up until now, you didn’t want to be involved in anything but the moment pops is six-feet under, you came running. No one wants to lie in the grave they dug, but sometimes you gotta. That’s how it goes.”
Ina didn’t have anything to say. At the core and through the muck of his mocking, he was right. She hadn’t been there for Woody or Cassie. They lived their lives and she lived hers. They will move on, she told herself. She almost hoped that Woody had found another by now and raised Kindle with that woman instead–not every bringing her up at all. Coming here and saving their lives was a selfish attempt to make things right or at least start to. That wasn’t gonna happen. What was left was a fire she had no clue how to put out. It was all hopes and fanciful thinking by an impulsive woman that didn’t learn her lesson. I wonder where she got that from. Those words dug deep within her. “I can’t forgive this, Ignace. You knew what was gonna happen.” She shook her head. “I hope you’re happy,” she spat the words at him, “I’m gonna check on the ships.” It was the least she could do, kept her busy.
She tried her best not to storm out of the study or show any sign of weakness. Her knuckles twitched, her fist shook, and she forced her mouth into a hard line, but she gave him no quarter. Don’t give him the satisfaction. Rising from her seat, she made a beeline to the door and closed it behind her. A sorta familiar feeling swept over her, nights leaving her father’s presence with heated words on her tongue. Amazing she never noticed how similar her brother and her father was, picking at her with immeasurably harsh words. Ina cursed under her breath and bit her lip. That would’ve hurt him. That would’ve hurt him bad. She thought for a moment to turn around and say it. The only way she convinced herself not to go back was to focus on the task at hand. There were more important things. She quickened her pace.
They had some time to get out of here. Ina hadn’t told them this, but the weather was gonna be the least of their worries. Kindle triggered a protocol known as the Starfall. In short, it was a doomsday clock triggered by the current Shaman or the highest access heir of the bloodline of the C’dar’s natives and the survivors of the Civilization civil war. She was taught that the pact was struck to save both societies, which ultimate melded into one. Starfall was an extreme failsafe in case anything got into the wrong hands. The satellite would fall into the atmosphere nearly destroying everything on the surface of the planet, scrubbing everything clean. A year was the timer. A year before C’dar was nothing more than ash. Pushing Kindle to the point where she accidentally tripped it was a terrible move. One she would have to live with. She deserved to know about that in the same way she learned. If you kept in contact with them, you could warn them. Instead, you were gallivanting across the galaxy. Regret did nothing. She had to look forward.
Ina continued down the twisting paths of her once home manor, down to the cellar and further down into the catacombs. She nodded toward the heavily cloaked servants Exocurios, who buzzed their greetings back. One stood at the gulf of the black abyss, its six arms tucked within the folds of his oversized robes. Zech worked here longer than she could remember. His short body hopped at the sight of her, earning a song from his vibrating throat. Immediately, he began turning on the lights. Exocurios preferred to work in the dark but suffered the light for her sake, turning on the lanterns to their maximum setting. White light bathed the catacombs from creaking wooden stairs she came down to the endless winding stone caves. Zech bowed and led her through the caves, the smell of dank water, grassy moss and eventually a sharp tang of metal. The natural caves gave way to metal corridors, each wall buffed to a chrome-like shine. She knew the way like the back of her hand, but she enjoyed the little creature’s company. He was the only thing she missed in this swamp.
Zech bowed once they reached the massive steel hanger doors. “Thanks, buddy,” Ina said, patting him on the head. He sang a brief song of odd and beautiful chords “You’re welcome” was the best translation. It went deeper than that. The song of gratitude wasn’t given to anyone or anybody. Oddly enough, Zech reserved it for her and her alone. For that, she took the time, even from away from the swamp to learn more and more about them. She added a whistling sound, the best a person could make to imitate their language. Zech hopped in excitement and went to go. “No, please stay,” she added quickly. The Exocurio nodded. She needed the company.
Ina opened the small hatch on the side of the door and punched in a keycode. The green numbers flashed for a second and then red. Incorrect. She frowned. She tried it again. Again, incorrect. Her heart sank. Did Ignace or the Elders lock her out? A burning, terrible wrath coursed through her. She pulled the gun from her side and went to shoot, only stopped by the insistent poking in her leg from Zech. He sang another song, the chords of determination hard in his voice. He hopped from the ground to the keypad, pressing a button with every fluttering winged leap. With the last button, he corkscrewed in midair and landed on his feet with impressive ease. He bowed with his three right arms, the numbers a stable green. The door clicked open. “Ya clever bastard,” she told him. He chortled. The Exocurios weren’t told the password to the hangers. It didn’t stop them from figuring it out though.
She flung the hanger door open. This time she stormed in. Zech hopped behind her.
On the other side the door, she was met with the Elders and the once dormant fleet. Ships of all sizes filled the halls, collection of the Old-World ships that once carried people from Earth to here. In terms of technology, there were some in better shape than others. The retrofitted ones–the cruisers and the warships–was in the top shape and claimed by the village itself. The masked and robbed Elders stood around the largest of the warships, known formerly as the White Falcon. They muttered and whispered under their voices, all turning at once when they saw her storming in. The leader nodded towards her, a lazy half-gesture of respect. “My, what a surprise. The former Shaman graces her with our presence. I swore that we changed the locks.” The man’s voice was one she didn’t recognize, no doubt one of Ignace’s groupies. “Any particular reason you’ve come.”
“I’ve come to make sure you all honor your promises to the Caldwells.”
“We’ve given them some of the ships and already carted them to the mountain.”
“You didn’t specify, my Shaman.” The leader of the Elders laughed. Of course, the rest followed suit. “Perhaps if they can’t figure out how to get one working, maybe they deserve to die on this planet. Just a thought. You’ve always had this weak spot for those…hill folks, Ina. We’ve never truly understood your attachment to them. They are greedy, selfish, and downright a plague to anyone on this planet. But you would go heads over heels for him, especially that big one.” The rest of the Elders nodded in approval. “Remy’s death was a shock to us, yes, but Ignace ultimately is right in this matter. Why should we have to sit here and guard knowledge of things that even this current Civilization cannot recreate? Why do we have to sit by and waste away, hoarding these unspeakable secrets where we could be living a better life among the stars? Isn’t that why you left, to be free?” Ina balled her fist and clenched her teeth. She left Ignace to get away from the mocking, not to find it coming from a different mouth. “The truth is, we’re in a different time. The Bluecoats and the Civilization are going to want their revenge on us after we betrayed them. It’s better that we’re prepared when that time comes, don’t you agree?”
“I don’t care.”
“Of course, you don’t,” The Elder said, tilting his head, “You never have cared about your people. So how about this? You go help those savages get on their feet and leave us alone. That’s what you want, right? Maybe you can find that daughter of yours somewhere in the stars. Last time I heard, she was headed to the Dawn Orbit planets, directly into the heart of the Civilization. Maybe trying to find Major Debenham. Kill him maybe? I don’t know. Honestly, we don’t care.”
“Why are y’all being like this?”
“You. Left. Us. Ina. Who would have thought that it would be your brother that would take us into this new age? So, go. We’ve honored our end of the bargain. Ten Red Falcon Freighter is more than enough for your once lover and his–”
Bang. She didn’t stop herself this time. In a blink of an eye, she drew her pistol and fired her gun. The man howled in pain, falling over and clutching the blood pooling through the black fabric of his robe at his knee. The other members of the council exchanged panicked looks back and forth, taking cautious steps away. “I’m done,” she shouted. “I’m done with y’all. If you want to go out into the galaxy so bad, then do it. You don’t have the Flame or the Shadow binding you here anymore. The pact is done but I guarantee that wide galaxy is gonna eat y’all alive. When that happens, I’m gonna laugh. I’m gonna laugh so hard ‘cause you didn’t know what you had here. You never know what you have until you miss it.” She spat out the words, forced it through her lips. “I’m taking one more ship for them. A good one too.” She peered around and pointed to the Assault Carrier. “I’m taking that one for them and if anyone has something to say about it, I won’t aim for knees next time. C’mon, Zech. Get your friends and family, we’re leaving.”
Zech sang the sharp song of surprise but followed her all the same.
Ina was done with these politics, done with the whole tip-toeing on eggshells. They wanted her to leave. Fine. She stormed through down the docks, the sounds of the metal mesh clunking underfoot. She stood in front of the ship she claimed. It was a massive beast, not as big as a destroyer or a warship, but well equipped with blasters and missiles for a ship of its size. Rusted, battered, and dented here and there, it wasn’t gonna win any beauty contest any time soon. More important, it was a manageable size for a new crew and a new pilot.
Would this gift fix all the trouble she and her brother caused? No, she thought, but it’s a good start.