Someday, 3010… I think
I don’t typically look at the stars. Actually, I’ve hated looking at the stars for as long as I can remember. When I was young, looking at the stars meant a battle was being planned, and I hated battles and war. At first, I didn’t know why my father would look at stars to plan a battle, but then I learned who our enemy was: the Akuli. My father had to look at stars to figure out the best way to attack the military forces of a planet. Then, of course, being a child, I had the next logical question: why are the Akuli our enemies?
“It’s a long story, K’Iorlo,” my father would say. “But in short, they declared war on us. Now run along to your studies, son.” I would protest, trying to ask the next “why” in the chain, but he always said he had work to do with the Emperor’s generals and the other three Tyalan governors. “Why not go and pester your tutor with your questions?” I always did, of course, but – I used this word a lot then – my tutor told me it was “of no importance to a child. Shall we get back to your arithmetic? You are floundering in multiplication and yet you should be in algebra. What is the matter with you?” I went for many years like this, each time hoping my tutor wouldn’t see me as a child anymore, and I never got an answer. So, I kept hating the stars, even refusing to look at them when it was time for me to learn astronomy, though my tutor made me look anyway.
It wasn’t until seven or so years had passed since I first asked the question that I finally learned the answer for myself. It happened just after I turned fourteen, so it was–oh, 2943, I believe? It was eight years before the war ended, and only two years before it finally dawned on my oblivious teenage boy mind that this “Thousand-Year War” was aptly named. That year, my father had planned and strategized an attack on Akul that he was aiming to be a devastating blow on the planet. He aimed it at the capital of the continent of Ssillis and followed his plan through to victory and the honor our Emperor bestowed on him for it.
I was home studying in my room that day, blissfully unaware of the atrocities being committed in our neighboring solar system, but very fully aware of the seeming stupidity and galactic difficulty of calculus. When my father came home to Tyala, and then home to Iitorlos Island and the Torlos Stronghold, servants were rushing past my room, chattering excitedly about “the prisoner” and how “she’ll make a fine prize for Governor Torlos and Master K’Iorlo.” Hearing the last sentence made me lose what little focus I’d had on the problems before me. My father always had prisoners after a victorious battle and the servants would always talk about them, but that last sentence was never said. I let my studies go and eagerly made my way through the Palace to the Rotunda, wondering who the prisoner was and wanting to see her for myself.
I stood next to my father’s deputy governor in the middle of the room when my father and his entourage or procession attendants – I don’t remember who was with him – came through the heavy doors, trumpets blowing and those with him singing Tyala’s anthem.
But I barely heard the victorious shouts and the triumphant bustle.
I did not feel the boom of the drums or the stamp of the boots.
I almost did not even see my father or our fellow Tyalans with him.
All I heard were silent tears splashing on the floor and the clink of chains.
All I felt was the heavy trudge of a pair of young feet on marble.
Then, amid all the joy and pride around me, all I saw was one Akuli girl, the same age as myself, being pushed along by two Tyalan guards, her coarse burgundy hair hanging dejectedly from her braid, her dark and stormy blue eyes downcast in despair, and her crown lying broken and crumpled on her brow.
She was the heir to the throne of Ssillis, Princess Phiar, a prisoner of war in a war not of her own making and not even of her own choice, and yet here she was, lightyears away from home, from family, and from friends.
I followed her as they took her through the Palace, into the courtyard and gardens, and towards the Northeast Wall with practically everyone in the Stronghold watching or following her joyously while she silently took in the shame they spewed on her, and she spoke not one word.
As we got closer to the wall, which, I realized then, I had never been to in all my time of living at the Stronghold, I finally saw the blood-curdling truth about the war. Along the entire wall were three stories of very small apartments, two windows in each, and anywhere from two to twelve Akuli at the windows of each apartment, looks of despair, horror, and sorrow blanketing their faces upon seeing the Crown Princess of Ssillis come toward them.
I halted in my course to the wall. Nothing had ever been so clear to me in my life. The “slaves” I’d learned about in history were not Tyalans thought to be lesser than others like in ancient times; the slaves were kidnapped, abducted, and captured Akuli. I looked at Princess Phiar in horror and sorrow and shame as they took her into the apartments. She was supposed to rule in her home with her family, not be forced to work against her will on a foreign planet with no one she knew under the scrutinizing eyes of her enemies. No wonder Akul had declared war. We were their enemies first. We were the ones who committed the wrong that, if not committed, could have prevented a millennium of needless and greedy war.
From then on, I abhorred the war and the stars more and more as I learned of increasing Akuli enslavement on the other three continents and even on my own continent of Emiisa. I wanted to put a stop to the war and to the Akuli slavery, but as a young man with no authority, anything I did would not be much and would most likely get me in more trouble than I would be able to make. The best I could do was try to make the life of the slaves in the Stronghold as pleasant as possible.
I often snuck into the Akuli quarters with games or better food to share with them. At first, no one was sure of me. They didn’t take to the games for a very long time and were very wary of the food until I convinced them it was both good and not poisoned. Phiar was more willing to try the games than anyone else even though she usually lost to me. I gave her tips on how to win whenever she lost and every time she got better; she even began to enjoy herself, encouraging the others to give the games a try.
Gradually, they began to trust me and I them. I smuggled sweet-smelling goods from the Palace kitchen and handed every one of them out, making sure that everyone got at least a part of one of the few goodies I was able to bring. When the guards became suspicious of all the joyous activity, which happened many times, the Akuli quickly hid the games and made sure that I was not seen when the guards entered the apartments. There were several times when the guards didn’t even care if they saw something suspicious or not and they raided the apartments just for their own fun, even hurting some of the Akuli, too. During these raids, Phiar snuck me out with the games and always told me not to come back, that I had already done a lot for them, and they were thankful, but they didn’t want me to get in trouble for the good I was doing. The look of kindness in her eyes, though, always brought me back.
“As the Crown Princess of Ssillis, I mean it when I order you not to come back for your own safety,” she would say, pushing me out a door and looking behind her for guards.
“I’m not from Ssillis, and neither am I from Akul. You can’t order me to do anything,” I would say, laughing out the cliched lines. She would always whip her head back around and glare at me with a smirk and a twinkle in her eyes only half-hiding her amusement. Then we would hear the guards and she would shoo me off only for me to come back again.
For years this went on as the Akuli slaves came to see me as a friend, and the princess and I grew strangely close. I learned who everyone was, keeping track in a notebook their names, ages, family members back on Akul, their history, how long they had been a slave on Tyala and whether or not their parents had them on Tyala, what they were forced to do as a slave (i.e. work the gardens, clean the military vehicles, etc.), and every other thing that made each Akuli slave unique in a beautiful way. I dedicated an entire page, sometimes two, to all the details of each Akuli, collecting stacks of notebooks for the 2,380 slaves who lived in that wall, and somehow I came to care for every need of every single person, especially those of Phiar.
The princess was so different from the other Akuli. The others were very gentle in everything they did, even somewhat timid, though they were also incredibly cunning as I learned when they figured out the games. That isn’t to say that Phiar wasn’t gentle because she was very gentle and kind, but she had a latent fire in her that could unveil itself at a moment’s notice and it was not escapable without her consent. It was that fire that taught me how to love the stars. She had thought of them as I had all her life, but when she had been captured, she had seen Akul fade into space, blending into the light of her sun as it disguised itself as a star among many. When she saw the stars then, it reminded her of home and she could gaze at them for hours on end knowing that Akul was out there with her family fighting to get her back or waiting for her to find a way home. I wish either one had happened, and I could have met her family and the High King of Akul.
It was as the war was beginning to end that Phiar and I both realized she’d never see home again. The violence in the war was escalating towards the enemy on both sides and massive weapons of mass destruction were being produced on both Tyala and Akul. The new Empress of Tyala was preparing to destroy Akul and its inhabitants, and the High King of Akul with the six kings of the continents were preparing to destroy every Tyalan home while keeping the Akuli slaves on Tyala alive. It was a massacre of two entire peoples just waiting to happen, and even more so than it appeared.
One month before the genocides were going to take place, my father included me in a briefing on the upcoming last battle. Most of it I already knew, but there was one thing I did not know, and it terrified me. After the briefing, I snuck into the slave apartments, found Phiar, and told her everything. She sat on her bed, stunned.
“I have a chip that was placed inside my head when I was captured that will explode if Akul tries to kill all Tyalans? And every Akuli slave has this chip?” she asked slowly, trying to process it. I nodded, leaning against her bunk bed post very quietly. “Is there a way to get it out?” I didn’t know the answer then, and I still don’t. Everyone in the apartments pooled their knowledge and tried to use what they had to get the chip out of Phiar first, but the equipment needed was not available and the genocides came before we could figure out how to get the equipment. Every Akuli died on Akul and in space, even the High King. Every Tyalan home was bombed from space and every Tyalan died along with every Akuli slave. Even my Phiar died, though I was not there when she passed.
To be completely honest, I don’t know how I survived, or why. I am the only one left in either solar system. Animals and plants still grow and live on Tyala where I am, but Akul doesn’t even have that anymore, and no living soul except my own even knows I’m here. I don’t even know why I’m writing a journal entry. I have never written one before and no one will ever read it. Maybe it is my lifeline now that I am old and without the energy I once had. I am 91 now… I think.
K’Iorlo rested his pen on the page, the light of the campfire glaring in his eyes and dancing between the words on the paper. Rubbing his eyes, he closed his notebook and then looked up at the stars. The constellations of the Tyalan summer night sky shimmered, one star glowing brightly for a few seconds and then blinking out before coming back seconds later. That was Akul's sun. It had been doing that for several weeks now. Must be finally becoming unstable from the gravity of Akul having been thrown off balance. He wondered if it would start to throw the balance of the whole galaxy off, and if it did, would it bring some of those beings that Phiar had talked about from the other side of the galaxy to Tyala? He pondered this as he stretched out on the ground. Those beings had somehow gotten a few transmissions to Akul in the last few centuries. Humans? Was that what they had called themselves?
A bright streak of light blazed suddenly into a constellation, giving the face of a Tyalan warrior an awkward frown. K’Iorlo had not seen the like of the streak in decades. He sat up, his eyes following it as it widened and headed off the coast towards Iitorlos Island. The trail of light behind it suddenly disappeared, but the glow remained like fire as it seemed to engulf an object. Excited, K’Iorlo breathed two words into the still night air: