This is the end! I hope ya'll enjoy!
The small group reached the top and instantly, Rune’s keen nose detected a mouth-watering scent. His brows drew together, his annoyance at Eldon’s knowing grins quickly growing. “So,” The sarsh whispered. “We haven’t told Lyris you’re out of the medical bay yet. She’s in for a surprise.”
Rune, despite his frustration and weary body, grinned. He silently gestured for everyone else to stay where they were; he slipped around the side of the building and eased the heavy wooden door open. Lyris didn’t hear over the sound of her meal-making. Then Rune’s ear twitched; his eyes focusing on her willowy frame; it was shaking. Her hand trembled and the cybersoldier’s ears picked up the faint sound of sobs. In seconds, Rune’s amusement vanished. He straightened out of his sneaking position. “Lyris.”
She started, whipped around with a food-covered spoon in hand. When she recognized the young man she’d raised for years, she ran to him and threw her arms around him, sobbing and laughing. “My boy!” She exclaimed, straightening her arms to examine him. Her eyebrows shot up. “You’ve grown.”
Rune smiled. “Why are you crying, Lyris?” He asked.
Lyris dropped her eyes. “Because of everything. For you, for Orlan, because we have a new home. It’s a lot to process.” She released a shaky breath and put her head on Rune’s shoulder, her arms at her side. Rune gently embraced her.
“You don’t need to cry for me. I’m here.”
Lyris smiled into Rune’s shoulder. “You are,” She pulled back, a sparkle in her eye. “And I bet you’re hungry.”
“Indeed, I am, and so is everyone else.”
Lyris cocked an eyebrow. “Everyone else?” She turned as the rest of the group entered, looking slightly sheepish. Lyris laughed and threw her hands in the air. “Let’s eat!” She exclaimed.
When the meal was over, when all the stories had been told, when everyone’s eyes were red, but their bellies hurt with laughter, Artemis motioned to Rune and the sarsh followed him out onto the porch. The cybersoldier could see the serious look in the rebel’s eyes and butterflies filled his stomach. “Artemis?” He murmured. “Is something wrong?”
“I think I’ve been avoiding this question, but I need to address it because it needs to be answered.”
Rune pursed his lips and blinked slowly. He said nothing.
“.. Where did you go?” Artemis finally asked. “For all that time when we needed you?”
Rune swallowed, trying to find a way out of this conversation. He never fully planned how he was going to explain to Artemis, but Rune at least knew he didn’t want his siblings knowing. Not yet; as of right now, they just thought he’d been fighting beside the rebels all that time, and he’d like to keep it that way. But Artemis knew and would not let the subject drop. “You won’t believe me.” Rune stated, with a vain hope that the rebel nod and walk away.
Artemis shook his head. “I don’t care. You disappeared for a month and a half. I need an explanation.”
“Well, we need to go somewhere more private, and you have to promise not to tell anyone, especially not my siblings.”
Artemis’s brow puckered, but he nodded. “We’ll go to the lake.”
The friends walked along the sand, the early sun bathing them in golden light. “So, start at the beginning,” Artemis prompted. “How did you disappear like that? Back at the first battle, I mean.”
“It was a device called the Genesis, capable of transporting people to... Well, other worlds.”
“Yes, apparently, our world, our universe, is only one of many. We live inside a universe, which is nested among other ‘Districts’ as Tyrene calls them-”
“One question at a time. There are barriers between each of our worlds called the Rift, but no one has traveled far enough to reach it; if they did, they would die because the Rift would tear their ship apart.”
“So... That’s a lot to take in. I take you went into one of these other worlds?”
“Yes, where I met an alien named Augen, and then, I met Clint and Keila, the two young friends you met. We were all eager to get back to our homes, but Tyrene had other plans. He wanted us to join what he calls, Project Ignite. And, even now, after having spent months with him, I don’t understand Project Ignite.”
“Well, could you explain it as simply as possible?”
“Basically, certain people’s DNA allow a transfusion into the blood system, which reacts and, essentially creates a new part of their minds which then allows the recipient of this transfusion to become.. enhanced.”
“... And you’re one of them?”
Artemis went silent, his mouth opening and closing as thoughts came and went in his mind. He stopped walking, shaking his head in wonderment. “And you agreed?”
“You’re enhanced? More than you already were?”
“... Like.. Enhanced how?”
“The transfusion, or Ignition, as Tyrene calls it, is like a key to a dormant piece of our mind, it depends on many things what happens, and which Flares we recieve. For instance, our DNA, gender, personality, stuff like that. So, I think males Ignite with invisibility, for some reason. Both Clint and I have it. I mean, there were only three of us, so I’m not sure of the statistics. Tyrene explained it, but trying to understand him is like trying breath underwater.”
Artemis let out a long breath. “You can turn invisible?” He gasped, unable to believe what he was hearing.
“And phase through things.”
“You can phase?” The rebel wheezed. He was silent. “Can I see?” He finally asked, his voice barely a whisper. Rune’s face twisted.
“I don’t think so, Artemis. That’s not a good idea.”
“.. I don’t want my siblings to know. Not yet.”
“What do you mean, not yet?”
“Artemis...” Rune locked eyes with the rebel. “I was supposed to go back in a year.”
“Back to the other world?”
“But Tyrene thinks I’m dead, and I have no way to tell him. I don’t think I’ll be going back, and I’m- I’m just not sure how to tell everyone what happened. I don’t think I should.”
Artemis blinked. He said nothing. “You’re not going to tell your family?”
Rune’s face wrinkled with uncertainty. “I don’t know.” He groaned. “Should I?”
Artemis frowned. “Why would it hurt anyone to tell?”
Rune sighed. “I don’t know,” He said again.
“Okay,” Artemis reasoned, thinking as he spoke. “Do you plan on using these... flares for anything?”
“I’ll train, but they have little practical use.”
Artemis shrugged, his mind too full of information to come up with an answer. “I have to leave, Rune.” The rebel finally stated. “Can we schedule a time to talk more? It can’t be soon, earth is going to be in complete chaos.”
Rune winced, thinking of all the complications he had left behind. “Do you want me to come with you and help?”
Artemis smiled and shook his head. “You have done more than enough for us. Thank you, though. Before I go, I have a few things for you.”
The sarsh raised a pale eyebrow; Artemis produced a book from the small bag he had been holding since he visited Rune in the medical ward. Rune took it, his gaze taking in the worn edges and fraying cover. On the front, proudly lay three words. The Holy Bible. The cybersoldier’s brow furrowed as he met Artemis’s happy gaze. “Thalia told me to give it to you. It was the last thing before she died.”
Rune’s eyes flooded with tears. “I wish I could have thanked her. I don’t think she knew how much this means to me.”
Artemis smiled and opened his fist. Lying in his palm, was a twisted piece of black metal, with veins of purple etched into it. So small and simple, but with enormous significance. “The girl, Keila gave this to me. I’m not sure how she knew you would need it, but she said it might come in handy.”
The cybersoldier’s face was ticking with mixed feelings. Do I really want to go back? The sarsh pondered, but quickly shook the thought off, glancing down at the ring gleaming in the near-midday sun. He lifted his head. “Thank you, Artemis. Goodbye for now.”
Artemis embraced the sarsh like a father would his son. “Thank you, for what you have done for me, for everyone.”
Rune shrugged, cheeks tinging white as his swarthy skin blushed.
Artemis left, and Rune found himself at a complete loss for what to do with himself. He wandered along the beach, imagining the sun reflecting on the water was the man; the cybersoldier strolled through the woods, people greeting him every few seconds. They stared with an awe which Rune found uncomfortable and misplaced. Lost in his thoughts, the soldier nearly ran into someone; he stopped just in time, but he ended up awkwardly close. It was an older sarsh, still sporting the physique of a young man; his dark face bore scars similar to Rune’s own.
“I’m sorry, sir.” Rune apologized respectfully.
The sarsh smiled. “That’s something we never taught our soldiers, apologizing.”
Rune opened his mouth to say something, but halted as his gaze fell on the opposite man’s cybernetic leg, a much less advanced version that Rune’s own. The elderly sarsh smiled wider. “I should have waited to get that leg amputated, and maybe I could have gotten prosthetics as sleek as yours. From what I heard, you deserved the great honor.”
Rune frowned. “I wouldn’t say that. I disobeyed Admiral’s orders and failed my assignment.”
“And yet, in doing so, you saved the life of the man who ended up helping you bring peace to the cold war which brewed for three millennia.”
The young sarsh frowned. “Do you have a point?”
The older cybersoldier shook his head. “You were the one who ran into me and caused this conversation. Did you have a point?”
Rune shook his head, feeling like a child whose parent just pranked them. “No, sir.” He moved to go around the sarsh, who stopped him with a calloused hand on Rune’s arm.
“Do not fret in your mind over the future. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Then the cybersoldier left, disappearing off the path with barely a rustle in the grass.
Rune blinked and shook his head. “Okay.” He mumbled. His head felt like it was going to explode with everything he left like he should do, with every emotion which pressed on him. A million thoughts scrambled for dominance in the foreground of his mind. As he reach the foot of the biggest tree supporting his new home, Rune allowed one thought to rule his mind. Contact Tyrene. The cybersoldier turned the intercomm over in his palm and smiled. Tyrene was in for the surprise of his lifetime.
Tyrene stood over a projection of a dot-marked map, a dozen familiar faces seated in chairs on either side of the table. Amalia stood, her golden eyes gleaming fierce as ever as she watched the room’s occupants converse. A nearly inaudible sound caught the android’s attention and she glanced over at the wall of computers screens. Lying on the desk, was Tyrene’s intercomm he had used to communicate with the Embers. Now, a small green light blinked on the device, indicating someone was attempting to contact Tyrene. Amalia sped over to it, scooped it up, and rushed it back to her creator. “Tyrene! Look!” She exclaimed. He frowned, picked it up and settled it into his ear. Channel 6 live. An automated voice told the stout man. Tyrene’s voice caught in his throat. That’s Rune’s channel. He quickly answered with a strained, “Hello?”
The deep and rough voice responded with a warmth Tyrene had never heard before. “Hey, Tyrene.” The sarsh said with a smile in his voice.
Tyrene swallowed. “Rune?” He whispered.
“I was just checking in to see how things are going,” Rune joked. Tyrene was too busy sputtering to be amused; finally he choked out a strangled laugh, and the dam of questions broke. The cybersoldier waited it out and told the story just as he told everyone else. Once most of Tyrene’s questions were addressed, Rune had a question of his own. “Can you..” He sighed. “Should I tell Clint and Keila yet?”
“You can’t,” Tyrene answered. “They left behind their intercomms just like you did. Following their leader’s example, I guess.”
Rune cursed. “There’s no way for you to contact them? Aren’t you like, a genius?”
“I’m sorry.” Said Tyrene. “Maybe I can think of something. I’ll tell you if I do. I’m beyond relieved you are back, Rune. Try to stay that way, okay?”
The sarsh smiled, detecting a hint of humor in the other man’s voice. “See you in a year, Tyrene.” He said. The connection severed and a buzzing filled Rune’s ear. He took out the earpiece and set it on a shelf; he was in his room of his new home. He took a deep breath, stood, bible in hand, and exited the room with a fearful purpose in his step.
Zenith’s brig was brightly lit; as Rune passed cell 62, a memory flashed before his eyes. A memory of himself, losing his mind inside those four blank walls. The sarsh peered through the window, twisting his head to see the far right wall. He grinned. The dent still decorated the wall proudly, telling a tale of all who held there of the angry cybersoldier who shared their frustration. Rune shook his head, realizing how long it had been since then. Months, but months which lasted years. I’ve come a long way since then. Then the sarsh had no more thoughts, only a thundering heartbeat in his ears. He stopped before cell 11. There were two guards outside, who nodded respectfully to the cybersoldier. Rune smiled, tipping his head to one side as he vaugely recognized one guard. “Did you ever guard cell 62?” The cybersoldier asked.
The guard frowned, then his forehead smoothed and he smiled. “Hmm..” He made the pretense of not being able to remember. “I don’t recall, I hit my head too hard.”
Rune’s mouth twisted into a half smile. “I’m sorry about that.”
The young sarsh grinned. “Not everyone can say they guarded the legendary cybersoldier and then got knocked them out by him.”
Rune nodded. “I promise I won’t do it again.”
The guard laughed, a little hysterical. He stuck out his hand. “It’s an honor to meet you.” Rune shook the sarsh’s hand, making the other sarsh wince a little at the power of his grip.
“Will you let me pass?” He asked. “I’d like to speak to him.”
“He hasn’t heard, you know. Do you want us to come with you?”
Rune shook his head. “I can take care of myself.”
“I bet you can.” The guard turned and unlocked the door, allowing Rune in. Gallas lay on the bed, facing away from the door. Hearing the door open, the Admiral turned over and his reaction was priceless. He swore vehemently and scrambled against the wall like a child facing a wild animal. His eyes were the size of planets. Rune swallowed, a gun barrel flashing behind his eyes. Goosebumps appeared on the cybersoldier’s arm and the scar on his chest ached dully for an instant. He blinked and sucked in a breath, and then he smiled.
“Hello, Gallas.” Rune greeted. “How are you faring? Bored yet? I got bored within a few days.”
“What on earth?!” The admiral whisper-shrieked. Rune frowned, ignored the admiral’s reaction and lowered himself to the ground, sitting cross-legged. He opened the book he held in his hand and smiled as his eyes fell on a verse. Then, he read, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you. I found that verse earlier and thought it applied to you well.”
“Do not haunt me, ghost.” The admiral moaned, pressing himself against the far wall.
Rune assumed an annoyed expression. “I am not a ghost.” He said with some heat. “As you can see, I am living and breathing, right in front of you.”
Gallas shook his head frantically. “I watched your eyes go dark. Your blood spilled on the earth.”
“Yet here I am,” Rune stood. “I just wanted you to know I’m back, and share a bible verse with you. Goodbye, Gallas.” The younger sarsh signaled to the guards and the door swung open; Gallas eyed it eagerly, but slumped when he realized Rune’s frame filled the gap, and there would be no getting past him. Rune slipped out and the door was closed securely behind, effectively cutting off Gallas’s window of opportunity. He glared with the gaze of a determined man who knew he’d lost.
Outside the door, the young cybersoldier took a deep breath, trying to dispel the flash of the gun, the deafening report, the pain and the darkness. He shuddered and slowly caught his breath, forcing himself to think of other things. The youngest guard frowned, concerned. “Are you alright, Lieutenant?” He inquired. Rune glanced at the younger sarsh, trying to hide the trauma in his eyes and without a word, disappeared down the hall. The guard leaned forward, frowning after the cybersoldier. The older guard spoke up.
“He’s probably dealing with some heavy trauma. I mean, the guy disappeared for a month and then came back and died pretty instantly. And then he came back? Yeah, he’s traumatized for life.”
“But he’ll be okay. He’s the most resilient of us. He’s been through a lot and is still running at full speed.” The two guards resumed their positions, sinking deep into thought.
Finally outside the ship, Rune took a deep breath and let the warm sun melt away the icy hand of fear gripping him. “I’m okay,” He whispered to himself. “I’m okay.” His fingers dug into the worn cover of the bible in his hand. His keen eyes took in the swaying grasses before him, the massive trees towering over the planet. His people wandered though the reeds, laughter wafting on the light wind. Joy swirled through the air like a song which no one could resist dancing to.
Rune heard the grasses rustle behind him, and Tycho came shooting out like a rocket; Rune caught him and swung his little brother high into the air. “What were you doing, Rune?” The child asked.
“Reading this special book to Gallas.”
“What is that book?”
“It’s called the bible, it’s a very important book which tells stories about God.”
“Who is God?”
Rune sighed. “I don’t really know. But maybe we could learn together. Come on.” The cybersoldier swung his brother onto his shoulders and pushed through the tangled grass. He was like a magnet to the surrounding people, and soon a small crowd was following him to the beach, where he sat down, Tycho dropped into the sand and eagerly sat in front of his brother. Amarillius and Sharn took their places in the front. Everyone sat down and Rune found himself in front of a crowd of ten people all sitting and waiting expectantly for him to read. The cybersoldier smiled and opened the bible. “I guess we’ll start at the beginning,” He said.
He took in the bright faces before him, each glowing with hope like the bright sun. The wind blew softly, like a whisper reminding him of a holy presence among them. Rune watched his siblings faces, three gifts he’d ignored for too long. Rune took a deep breath, and for the first time in years, he felt real peace, inside and out. Here, with his family, in his home, Rune knew peace and true joy. Then, he turned his eyes to the gold-bordered pages and began to read. “In the beginning...”