hares-recovery

Two Thousand

“… And he tells me ‘It’s hard to say.’ So I ask, ‘You don’t know what it is?’ And Toy promptly replies, ‘No, it’s just difficult to pronounce.’”

Oh, goodness,” Shaytelli cackled, wiping tears out of her eyes. “Don’t ever stop looking for those little joys.

“It’s the only thing that keeps me going. I’ll never forget any of my friends, past or present, but I have to accept that I’m going to lose every one of them.”

I’ve watched many of my own friends pass as well. It is the steep cost of growing old - even though you yourself will never visibly do so. The best way to honor them is not merely to remember their stories - find yourself new friends, share the stories with them. Most importantly, make new stories.

“It’s sort of a strange comfort to finally know that someday, someone might be telling stories about me for the same reason.”

It’s not healthy to dwell on such things. Barring further outside interference, I expect you to bear witness to a great many things no other will ever see before your time in this existence comes to an end.

“Still - Tari gained my healing and lots more from that incident… If she hadn’t managed to put me back together, what would have happened to her? To me?”

Ignoring the fact that the timeline would immediately collapse on our heads? I don’t know. Had she done nothing, she likely would have lived on… Perhaps the Tapestry would have adapted, forcing her into the decision you must eventually make. Sadly, I fear the mental divide your presence so thoroughly aggravated may have driven her mad well before that.” Shaytelli shook her head. “Had she merely failed to complete the transference she would have perished, taking you along with her. It seems that you only retain your healing gift when united with a body, regardless of who it belongs to. Between, you are vulnerable.

“I’ll keep that in mind. I don’t expect I’ll be doing much in the way of body-swapping ever again.” He looked at his hands, tracing his index finger with his thumb. “How long have you known that both Tapri’s scythe and Jadaro’s hourglass can’t touch me by conventional means?”

Back when I was a little girl just finding my way in the Art, I started having nightmares I could never remember while awake. It wasn’t until I stepped into the Sandstorm of Ages on my Mastery Walk that they transcended into the temporal visions that have guided me through all these years. The very first vision I ever had the privilege of recalling when I woke… It was of you. I had no context into who you were - Kieran hadn’t even been born, let alone conceived. I’d only just met your grandpa Adas, rest his soul.

“Can you tell me about it?”

No - because, for you, it has not yet happened. I will tell you that I saw it during my Walk, but that is all I dare relate to you.

“The inexplicable memory loss from the storm didn’t affect you?”

A very precious and rare handful retain their experiences within that desert. I was one of the few so blessed. I knew from that day forth that once I laid eyes upon the one born in Jadaro’s image, planetfall would soon be at hand. And then, there you came, blue as can be. It’s not your fault this happened - you were simply the sole waypoint I was given to guide myself by.” Shaytelli suddenly blinked and looked behind herself, seeing the darkness out the window. “My Goddess, where has the time gone? I’ve taken up most of your day.

“I don’t mind. I’d let you take up the entire week if I could. I’ll never have a chance to talk with you again.”

You never know. As fragile as the Tapestry can be when reaching between past, present, and future, there is still a fair amount of wiggle room in the right places. Still, I must prepare for Tarioshi’s recording. I think I have time for one more question.

“I’d like to squeak in two. You managed to formulate a plan that would involve Anolis finding Tarioshi after all this time, just to get her your instructions on how to put me back together. If I recall correctly, I’ll walk in on you tomorrow morning while you’re finishing her recording, at which time you’ll forbid me from ever using blood magic.”

Yes, I see how well that prohibition worked.

“Just as well as the others. You could have given the crystal to me, or put it in the Serin, and simply timelocked the playback for this date. You took a huge chance in assuming that the timeline would play out exactly as you hoped.”

Indeed. Just viewing the future can change it, in all the seemingly unrelated things we suddenly question and inadvertently change. On the same token, some events are so fixed within the Tapestry that all choices lead to them. Simply put - Anolis and the J’Ruhn did not wind up on your doorstep for no reason. It may not be the reason or the location I had once thought, but there is in fact a reason. Besides! I will not have the opportunity to spoil you outrageously on your upcoming birthday, nor for the next several hundred that follow it between my ‘now’ and yours. I’d best make up for it in grand fashion while I can, don’t you think?

“I doubt Tari’s going to part with it that easily. She’s rather fond of the idea that she now owns the most advanced ship in the quadrant - even if it is in need of massive repairs.”

The ship isn’t your gift. It’s merely the colorful wrapping.” Shaytelli grinned wildly. “I only wish I could be there to see your face… Oh, me… Maybe the Spirits will grant me the chance to at least watch. What’s your other question?

“Technically… I haven’t asked one yet.”

Still a cheater, are we? Fine, go ahead. But only two.

Jadyn bridged his fingers. “I told everyone I was leaving to find Telara, but in truth I couldn’t deal with all the memories, with watching Kish and Anni grow old and pass on as I failed to age another day. The moment I was granted the vision of Anni and Telara’s deaths I turned my back on everything and everyone that was still standing and ran away. Someday I hope I find out what happened in Kish’s life… But for now, I’d be content to hear if enough of the survivors come together to rebuild. Or am I the last true memory of what we were?”

It will never be like it was. It is vastly improbable that Val’Trax itself will ever again support life. The destruction of the atmosphere and ecosystem will take decades upon decades to repair, if it is possible at all. The survivors will be scattered across the quadrant. The very few who manage to group together will have a very hard life ahead of them. Their future is otherwise clouded to me. The only true remaining traces of our technological existence in your time persist solely within the Serin and the J’Ruhn. It is completely in your hands whether a new generation will benefit from what we built, or if it is to be forgotten forever.

“No pressure, hm?” He sighed, gazing into the screen. “There’s so much I want to ask. If I’ve only got one more… I think I’m going to be greedy. Why did you deny my request - and Anni’s, too - to take the Mastery Walk? You did that knowing we would never have another chance.”

The youngest Artisan ever to set foot in that scar with the intent to cross it was thirty-seven. He was comatose for three years afterward.

“What happened to him after he woke up?”

He later became our current Hapiakuen of Nature.

Jadyn started. “Dad was out of it for three years?”

Indeed. He wouldn’t listen to anyone and demanded we let him try. That place changed him in ways I can’t begin to explain. You and Anni both showed such tremendous potential, the youngest ever to graduate to Lopiakuen… I honestly felt it was too soon to push you further. Were we not facing what is ahead, I likely would have relented and granted you both permission to enter the Flats in seven years. Perhaps just after your 25th birthdays.” A wistful smile passed over Shaytelli’s muzzle. “You’ve suffered through far more than the Walk would ever ask of you. I have no reservations whatsoever about granting you a Mastery at this moment.

“I appreciate that, but I’d rather you didn’t. It wouldn’t feel right without going on the Walk.”

Perhaps not… But you may yet have the chance. No - Don’t ask. Just remember this. When you find yourself staring down the Sandstorm of Ages, know that you never truly walk alone in the desert.

Jadyn nodded, his fingers falling on the data crystal. “Any hints as to who gets this next? There’s still a number of files we can’t match to a genome fingerprint to unlock.”

Put it away, forget this crystal even exists. When the time is right, you’ll figure it out.

“Not you, too…”

If you consider the date of this recording, you’ll see that I was the first. T’bia is clearly the copycat.

“I’ll make sure to tell her that.”

Jadyn… A soul far wiser than me once said, ‘Death cannot bring you the solace you deny yourself in life.’ You have friends who care about you and an eavesdropping kitsune who loves you dearly. Remember to take the time to live while you still draw breath. You have my unending respect as a capable member of this Guild… And my love, as my only grandson.

“Love you too, Grandma Shay. Good luck.”

Shaytelli nodded, giving him a smile before the file came to an end. Jadyn tugged the crystal out of the terminal on the desk, peering into its facets. After several minutes gathering his thoughts, he looked up and sighed.

“She did say she wanted a private conversation with me, you know.”

Tari peeked through the archway leading to the bridge’s door. “I haven’t been out here the whole time.”

“Just a lot of it.”

“I’m sorry… It’s not that often you get to listen to someone carry on with a recording made five centuries ago.”

“It’s all right. I really don’t mind.” Peering around at the room, the blue fox grinned. “Your new office is pretty nice. Thanks for letting me use it.”

“I’d give the whole ship over to you in a heartbeat if you asked for it. I hope you know that.”

“And take away your fun? Void, no. You do realize this doesn’t change -“

“That I have to go back to Terra eventually. Yeah, I know. I got a good sense of that doomsday clock in your head while we were conjoined.”

“It comes and goes. I have a bad feeling that when we’re down to the last weeks it’s going to be very difficult to ignore.”

“May have to take me back a bit early and dodge it. Actually… Let’s plan on a month early. That’ll give me a few weeks to give you a proper tour of the place, instead of that random aimless wandering you called ‘research.’”

“We’ll see.”

Tari sat down on the opposite side of the desk, leaning on the surface. “The Tapestry… That’s just another way of talking about our reality, isn’t it?”

“In a way. Kalilyn, the Great Weaver, more often simply the Kshorah of Fate. She’s said to be the keeper of the Tapestry. Doesn’t quite work when you consider all the lives that exist out of our belief system, but it’s an ancient metaphor from before we knew there was anything else.”

“So, ignore that.”

“Every single life is a thread with a beginning and an end. New threads spring forth from the combination of existing threads - children. When someone dies, their thread comes to an end, but the way it has pulled on other threads around it can affect the weave in ways it may not have been capable of doing in life. Huge events that alter a society’s perceptions may appear as tangles, or even complex knots. The entire collection of threads and the way they come together and interact is what we call the Tapestry.”

“It’s a way to look at fate, then, that every event is predestined.”

“We believed that free will can still alter the weave before the pattern is ultimately set. I don’t think anyone truly knows what it’ll look like when it’s done - presuming it actually has a beginning and end.”

“It would have to, don’t you think? The Big Bang or whatever you care to call it, that’d be the beginning.”

“What if something existed before this universe? Was it also in the Tapestry? Will what comes after this be woven there too? Are both events distinctly separate Tapestries from the one we exist in, or is it all the same one unraveled and rewoven over and over?”

“Good point. I don’t think we’re supposed to have an answer. And who’s Jadaro?”

“The Master of the Hourglass, the Kshorah of Time. He was always considered to have a blue pelt - sky blue, not nearly as dark as mine. I think it’s because the sands of time were also thought to be bluish.”

“So that’s the sandstorm thing, a reference to time passing in the Tapestry?”

“No, no.” Jadyn shook his head. “Completely unrelated. There was a scar on our planet called the Jociren Flats. A huge, perfectly round desert a hundred miles wide, right in middle of the most fertile soil of the northern continent. The surrounding farmland was green and lush, full of life. The line where the sand started, the land was dead.

“No land’s ever absolutely dead.”

“Oh, trust me - this place was. Not even a weed would snake a root in. There was no bacteria in the sand, not a spore drifting in the air, not so much as a bug crawling around. No animals would step foot in the place - turn one loose inside and it immediately ran the shortest straight line possible to get out. Birds even went out of their way to go around it.”

“Creepy.”

“Oh, and it gets better. Every piece of technology instantly went inert inside the borders of the Flats no matter how shielded the casing. Started working moments after taking it back out. Satellites couldn’t pierce the clouds above it with any sort of scan. Any sane person who stepped from soil to sand immediately turned around and left, never looked back. I’d never gone in there but it was said that you immediately feel this unshakable feeling of loss, of mourning. Some said it felt like walking across a mass grave.

“The Sandstorm of Ages was an actual storm raging inside the desert’s borders. It had been there for as long as we’d kept written history, never growing or weakening. Within a quarter-mile of the border you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. The Guild decided long before even my grandmother was born that this made the Flats the perfect place to test the determination of young Artisans trying to earn the title of a Dupiakuen, a Master of the Art. You’re allowed to take in a walking stick and your Guild robes. Nothing else.”

“Not a rucksack? No food or water?”

“Nothing,” he confirmed. “It was said that if you’re destined to become a master, the Eight would see you through the trial safely. If not, they’d see you got out safely. In all the recorded Walks, zero fatalities were logged. The goal wasn’t survival - that was basically guaranteed already. It was a test of determination. The Walk had a profound psychological impact on everyone who experienced it, regardless of if they remembered it or not.”

“How could they not remember walking through a desert?”

“Don’t know. Only one in five thousand actually remembered anything between the moment they stepped foot on the sand and the time they were found. Those that did never spoke of what happened. Usually, the walkers would be discovered on the complete opposite side of the desert from where they’d entered. It wasn’t unexpected for people to be unconscious for days or weeks afterward, then wake up perfectly fine and not have a clue where they were or that they’d already completed the Walk. The Guild generally considered walking out of the Flats under your own power a failure.”

Tari smirked. “Why am I not surprised you wanted to go for a stroll…”

“Well, you heard the woman. I might get the chance.” Jadyn snorted, slipping the crystal into his pocket. “I’ll keep dreaming. How’s it going out there?”

“Two shipyards are preparing fabrication facilities. Pakar insisted the workload get spread around after looking at Toy’s ‘short list.’ It’s still going to take them at least three months to get all the parts fabricated.” Tari tapped at a datapad, humming to herself. “Let’s see, what else… There’s seventeen work crews onboard right now. The security division has generally finished the search and seizures they’ve wanted to do. They’re starting to comb through the dump of the core Bee provided them… Pakar’s interviewing Anolis about Khamai in the conference room on the other side of C-and-C… That’s about it, I think.”

“How’s Ness doing, any idea?”

“Fleet Medical insisted he take a couple more weeks off since Pakar has things under control. She said the worst injuries aren’t healing as well as hoped since he won’t sit still. I heard something about a quiet resort near an active volcano.”

“Mount Piroranan, probably… Totally relaxing if you like the taste of brimstone. It’ll be like a little slice of Drekira for him. How long before the first run of parts are ready?”

“It’ll be a couple weeks before the yards are up to speed. Toy’s keeping a quarter of the work crews on-call in the meantime to finish sealing the hull. He’s trying to get life support to all compartments.”

Jadyn nodded to himself, stepping around the desk. “What about you? Everything still sticking up here?” He tapped the side of his head.

“I’ve lost all fluency in Drekiran over the course of the day. Right in the middle of talking with Pakar, it was just… gone. I’m hoping that if I stick to speaking Standard for a while, I might retain some portion of that. I’ll be really disappointed if I forget Kametian, though. Won’t understand a thing on a display around here.”

“If I had to guess, that’d be the last one you’d lose. It’s what I grew up speaking. Drekiran is pretty new to me, by comparison. If it happens, it happens. I’ll help you relearn it.”

“I look forward to your linguistic lessons.” Tari poked him in the chest. “What about you? Think you took away anything from that experience?”

“I’ll be thrilled if I can ever remember any of it. I don’t think I’ve inherited any better grasp on English… Definitely no Japanese.”

“Too bad. I’d love to tote you around back home… Presuming we could actually get you across to show you off.” Tari tapped her fingers together, carefully setting the datapad down on the desk. “You realize that there’s a chance our entire relationship was founded on an illusion.”

“We’re pretending we have forever, when we’ve only got a year.”

“Not that one. We were both so thrilled to see one another all the time because of the link constantly generating that mental happy juice. I’m sure it influenced our emotions toward each other.”

“So they gave us a little push. I think we would have gotten there eventually.”

“You think so?”

“Sure. We’d have a lot more wasted time and unneeded stress invested in figuring it all out, but we’d get there. Hey.” Jadyn gently lifted her hand to his lips. “Talk to me. What’s on your mind?”

“Your grandmother was absolutely right. I’ve never felt anything like this for anyone else, not even the faintest glimmer of it. Even if the link was at fault for getting us where we are, how in the Hell am I just supposed to shut my feelings off in a year and go back to a mundane Terran existence? How can you actually justify leaving me there?”

“I can’t justify it. Void, I can’t even quantify a reason other than ‘because you have to.’ You’ve felt it - you know as well as I do that it’s not negotiable. We knew that this relationship had a time limit from the start. You only get a year here. Maybe in the future the mental doomsday clock will be gone, but until it is -“

“That thing works impulsively, right?”

“Usually -“

“I get sixteen Terran months or so out here, then I go home. Could I come back after a year?”

“Tari -“

“No! I want your gut reaction. Yes, or no? One year back home, then leave for Veloria again.”

Jadyn sighed, closing his eyes. “One year, your time… First instinct says… No.”

“Five.”

“No.”

“Ten? Twenty? Thirty?” She closed her eyes as he shook his head, fighting back tears. “Fifty?”

“This is pointless -“

“Answer me! Fifty years?”

Jadyn squinted, hesitating. “I… don’t know.”

“Forty?”

“No.”

“But fifty…”

“…Isn’t an immediate ‘no.’”

“So whatever thing I’m supposed to be standing on Terra for isn’t going to happen for fifty years. I shouldn’t have to be stuck there the whole time!” she yelled. “It’s not fair!”

“It’s not my choice!” Jadyn yelled back. “We both agreed this was temporary, no matter what happened between us. There’s nothing I can do, Tari. I’m sorry.”

“It’s not fair,” she whimpered, leaning into his neck as his arms encircled her. “I want to spend that time out here, not stuck on that rock waiting for humanity to blow itself to bits…”

“We’ve still got a lot of the year left in front of us, hey.” Jadyn gave her a gentle nuzzle, licking her ear. “Tell you what. I’m going to make you a promise, right now.”

“You’d better be careful with those around me.”

“Fifty years from the date we met seems to be the far side of whatever is setting off this thing in my head. So. In fifty years - I think that’ll be 2050, Terran? - you can come off that rock for good if you want to leave. If it’s to be with me, great, if not, fine - but we have to give it that much time to happen. In the meantime, I can’t be on the radar at all. You won’t see me, and you won’t hear from me.”

“Fifty years… Gods, that’s a long time.” Tari sighed, wiping her eyes. “On the bright side… I’ll have another seven or eight hundred after that to spin cookies in this ship with you cooking me dinner.”

“There’s a lot out there you could take in with all that time to burn. Bee will get jealous if we don’t do an overnight trip with the Serin once in a while, though.”

“Suppose so.” She nodded, squeezing his shoulder. “All right. I don’t like it, at all… But… I’ll deal with it.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m holding you to that, you know - if I don’t see you by the end of 2050, you are going to be in so much trouble.”

A quiet cough came from the hall; the pair looked up to find T’bia standing in the archway. “Yo. Sorry to interrupt. I can come back…”

“It’s all right. What’s up?”

The skunk nodded, stepping inside and handing over a datapad to Tari. “I’ve been keeping an eye on the core’s power output. Having just brought it back online from a cold start and all, it’s good to monitor it for a while and see if its stable, if we’re wasting power anywhere, so on, so forth.”

“And?” Jadyn asked, looking over Tari’s shoulder. A series of graphs depicting power consumption over time dotted the display. “There appears to be plenty of headroom for a small moon. What’s the problem?”

“About ten minutes after the core came online, I started seeing little upticks in consumption every two and a half minutes. I haven’t seen one in half an hour, but overall power usage is up nearly thirty percent from idle. I can’t account for what systems are using it. Whatever they are, the startups were pretty methodical about coming online in a staggered fashion to not overload the system.”

“Does a scan from the Serin show anything?”

“No. There’s massive shielding protecting huge tracts of the ship. Most of it is in areas where we still don’t have life support restored. What’s more, this isn’t a standard GF Juggernaut. Someone did more than tweak the specs when it was built. See? This is the normal layout, and this one here is what we’ve discovered for changes so far on the J’Ruhn.

“Nice. At least the bridge was in the right place. You got into this shielded area, though?” He circled a section marked in green. “What was here?”

“That’s where we found Anolis. Tons of spare cryosleep equipment stored there behind a deadlocked door. Some of it is actually linked into the grid - the one he was in thawed him out when we took down main power.”

“Wait, wait…” Jadyn waved his hands. “I missed the part where anyone mentioned he was a popsicle. What happened?”

“Khamai apparently locked him in one and didn’t bother to set it to use backup power to maintain the sleep. It went into failsafe instead and woke him up using the backup generator.”

His eyes narrowed. “What did the door plate say, exactly?”

“Cold Storage Nine. Uh, that is… You wanted exact wording? Navne kanydeuh heha.

“How many pods?” he asked quietly.

“Two hundred and fifty, maybe. I didn’t really wander around and count. His was the only one active.”

Jadyn leaned back against the desk. It started as a chuckle, deep in his chest, working its way up through uncontrollable giggles before full-blown joyous hysterics overtook him. Tari squealed in her own laughter as he picked her up and spun around with her in his arms.

“Oh, I could kiss that woman! My Goddess! She’s incredible!”

“Jay? You finally succumbing to dementia in your old age?” T’bia asked.

“Bee, I’m the happiest I’ve been in years! Can’t you just enjoy the moment with me?”

“Nope.”

“Good! I didn’t want to share my visions of rainbow puppy unicorns with you, anyway!”

“He’s lost it,” T’bia replied, as Tari’s feet touched the floor again.

“I don’t think I understand this, either,” the kitsune agreed. “But I like the change.”

“Then you’ll love this. Come on!” Jadyn jogged out the door, Tari and T’bia following close behind. “If I’m wrong I’ll eat my own tail. Tzeki to PanLidaefel! I need everyone on your crews to check for any deadlocked door near them. Find me any of Cold Storage One through Eight.”

Got one near me,” Toy replied. “I recognized the symbols for ‘Cold Storage’ but I can’t begin to tell you exactly which one. Why?

“Seems today’s my birthday. Again!”


“Number Five.” T’bia prodded the door controls. “Deadlocked, just like… No, wait. What is this?”

“It’s not just deadlocked. The whole bay has been sealed with the Art. Number nine was the exception - you were supposed to get in to find Anolis.” Jadyn lifted his hands, pressing against the center of the huge cargo door. “Tapri. Jadaro. Kalilyn. Aratin. Zeshar. Joli. Serin. Tarisali. In the names of the Eight, let this barrier stand open once more.”

The door immediately took on an ethereal glow, the centuries-old protections unraveling beneath his fingers. Tari stood back, watching the blue fox work. “Care to share what’s going on yet?”

“You were right outside when she said it, weren’t you? The ship isn’t my birthday present. It’s just the wrapping.”

Pakar crossed her arms over her chest. “While I’m all for parties, this one seems to have a definite lack of cake.”

“I could fix that,” T’bia replied.

“You couldn’t possibly make enough for everyone on board this ship at this moment,” Jadyn observed with a grin.

“There’s under a hundred with all the work crews accounted for. No problem at all. I can even use our kitchen.”

“Better count again. Anolis?” Jadyn asked, his eyes flicking from the door to the petite lizardman. “From what you said earlier… How long have you known?”

“Since just before my forced slumber. I was attempting to help Tieralyene recover her lost memories when I discovered the true nature of the J’Ruhn.

“Which is what, exactly?” Toliya questioned.

A loud THUMP echoed from inside the mechanism as the glow faded away. Jadyn reached over to the controls, thumbing the ‘open’ symbol. As the door slid effortlessly out of the way and the lights came on, row after row of cryosleep pods faded into view below the balcony just inside the bay.

Haropikuen Shaytelli Anastasi, quite possibly the most gifted Guild Master in my world’s history, saw the end coming years before it happened.” Jadyn grinned, leaning on the railing. Through the hundreds of frosted windows, outlines of bodies were distinctly visible. “And she worked around it in the only way she could.”

“What in the Elders…?” Pakar questioned. “J.T., are those..?”

“Cryosleepers. Two hundred and fifty in this room alone. The J’Ruhn is a colony ship, guys. We’ve just inherited two thousand Val’Traxans that probably don’t know they’re refugees.”

“At least the station’s still in orbit,” the drekiran muttered, leaning against the wall.


4 Responses

  1. Derek says:

    These two thousand survivors are in addition to the numbers already outlined in Yesteryear. No one knew they were out there other than Shaytelli, until now.

  2. Tsunari says:

    Heheheh, all your readers knew.

  3. David Fenger says:

    While I may have known the two thousand were out there from prior hints… I did not suspect where they were. This truly is a magnificent gift - a gift of a civilization. Well done, I’m glad to see Jadyn this happy.

  4. Derek says:

    Well, in my comment I more meant ‘in the context of the universe, no one else knew.’ But you knew that. And I know you knew. … And I knew you knew I know you knew.

    Okay, enough of that… :)

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