Thank you to my beta and muse, Small Fox, who helped me from 'In the cold of space you find the heat of suns' through to the last chapter of 'Leader' and with this story.
I promised this final story, an epilogue, eighteen months ago. Here it is. If you are hoping that I will ever continue my Naruto fanfic, you may not want to read it.
If you want to know more about other, new stories set in this world, please read the author's note at the end.
This is an epilogue. It needs to be read after 'In the cold of space you find the heat of suns', 'Typing the knot', 'Tales of Tarrasade', 'Iteration', 'Real' and 'Leader'. The precise order of the stories is given in my profile.
Keizo had been the longest lived of Naruto's bright shadows but finally, sixty-three standards after the big litter had been born, he had left them. They gathered in the Great Hall of the Uchiha compound in Tarrasade to sing his song.
It was beautiful.
Sasuke had tried to slip in unseen but he could not control those who chose to stand beside him. Shikamaru was on his left and Kakashi on his right. Behind Kakashi were the remnants of Old Uchiha: Asuma, Choza, Gai and Hamaki. Beside Shikamaru were Sumiko and Aiko.
Iruka would have probably preferred to be at Kakashi's side but, as Head of the Household, he stood on Hoshi's right on the wide dais. Neji, her life-partner, was on her left. In pride of place was Ayame, supported by Izumo and Kotetsu, flanked by her children and surrounded by her grandchildren: Keizo's children; Keizo's grandchildren.
Kei-chan had been a fabulous parent. Like his To-san.
It was always better to concentrate on those who were present rather than the absent. Sasuke scanned the crowd and picked out some of them: Haru with Ran and Haku; Teruko who played her biwa with such exquisite sensitivity; Naomi weeping with Mai at her side comforting her; Moegi and Udon; Shino and Anko with their family; Konohamaru with his children; Sumaru with Sakura and Ino.
Only it was so hard not to think of those who could have been there if Lady Luck had been more generous. Takara lost; there was still no trace of her or her crew. Hikaru killed in a blaze of glory stopping a fleet of pirate slavers. Dan and Rin dead because they were in the wrong place at the worst time.
Itachi and Kisame, their bodies entwined; Kisame dead of a heart attack and Itachi unable to face life without him.
It had been the only time Sasuke had regretted leaving. He had wanted to be there for Haku.
Haru and Ran had stepped up. Over the standards since, the two of them had managed to persuade Haku that respect and friendship could develop into something more.
The singing came to its end and the giant display screens around the Hall began showing images of those who had sent messages of condolence. Some were too far away to make it home, like Shou and Nagato. Others' homes were too far away, like Inari and Tayuya.
Then, that over, there was silence. Into that silence Hoshi spoke of her beloved brother and what he had meant to each and every one of them.
Sasuke could not take in everything she said but he knew that it was beautiful.
Hoshi finished in the traditional way; the Uchiha lullaby*.
to friends in space
and those on ships
with suns and moons
across the seas
of light that rim
Then everyone else joined in; the true voice of Uchiha.
to all who fly
and those who seek
worlds in the sky
from those united
under red and blue
a long and peaceful
calm to you."
As the last note died away Sasuke turned to leave only to be stayed by Shikamaru's hand on his arm.
"Please," Shikamaru begged. "If not for a day, at least until nightfall."
Experience told Sasuke that it was only more painful for everyone if he delayed.
Before he could answer Tsuneo was there. His arm snaked around Shikamaru's waist and pulled him close.
"You shouldn't give Papa a hard time, my love," he scolded. "We will walk with you to the docks, Papa."
Sasuke opened his mouth to object that Shikamaru was too precious to be exposed to such risk only to have Tsuneo raise a finger.
"Everything is in hand, Papa. Sumaru-san is providing six squads of Knives. It will be perfectly safe."
Tsuneo had outmanoeuvred him. Sasuke's escort would be impressive: the Knives; Tsuneo with Shikamaru, Hoshi with Neji, Haru and Teruko. Not Iruka or Haku; Sasuke knew that neither of them could bear another goodbye.
Kakashi and Ran stayed with them.
As they left the elevator and started down the main corridor towards the docks, Sasuke realised why Tsuneo had done it. This could be his last visit. He had only returned when one of his children had died.
Maybe, if he was lucky, it would be. He hoped that Hoshi, Haru, Teruko and Tsuneo would outlive him.
There were no objections raised by the residents who had been cleared from their path by the Knives. They waited silently and respectfully in the side corridors. Sasuke doubted they recognised him; few non-spacers saw past the bard's blue cloak and the biwa case slung across his back. However every person living in Tarrasade knew Hoshi: wise; compassionate; beautiful; the embodiment of New Uchiha.
It was different once they reached spacer territory. To spacers he was The Bard; Sasuke Uchiha was merely part of the myth that surrounded him.
He had not planned it that way. Two standards after Kuuya had stepped down and Hoshi became leader, Sasuke had finally done what he had needed to do since Naruto had left him.
He had handed his life to Lady Luck and walked away.
Twenty-six standards later he was still walking. Lady Luck had yet to desert him. Perhaps she liked his songs.
The spacers were not quiet like the residents. They called out. They stamped their feet to demonstrate their appreciation. They sang snatches of his songs.
Then they were through the spacer quarter and into the docks.
The crews had heard he was on his way. They stood at the entrances to their berths. Some of them were Uchiha; most were not. Sasuke recognised a number of them. He never travelled on the same ship twice so he did not know why they stood there. Respect? Hope?
A youngster caught his eye. There was an air about him that reminded Sasuke of Hikaru.
He turned that way only to be stopped by Tsuneo's arms around him.
"I love you, Papa," he whispered. "You will never leave us because you, like To-chan, live in our hearts."
Sasuke blinked back tears.
Left with little choice, he accepted hugs from Hoshi, Haru and Teruko. Then what he had desperately wanted to avoid happened; he made eye contact with Shikamaru.
Only, this time, Shikamaru's eyes were not pleading with him to stay.
Drawn together as Naruto faded, they had tried to be enough for each other. It had not worked for Sasuke. Naruto's death had left a hole in his heart that could never be filled.
Then Tsuneo had returned to live in Tarrasade. He had pursued Shikamaru with impressive determination and persistence. By the time Sasuke left, Tsuneo and Shikamaru were established as a couple.
Now, with Tsuneo, five children and two grandchildren, Shikamaru was utterly content and completely loved.
Sasuke embraced him, kissing his cheek. When he pulled back, he could see the surprise in Shikamaru's eyes.
"You look after them," Sasuke told him. "And let them look after you."
Then Sasuke walked away; into the cold of space, where the heat of the sun was a memory.
*The poem is essentially Lullaby by Sarah Wilson - from Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Blast Off! Poems About Space. NY: Harper Collins, 1995 – found on the internet at /lit/poetry/space_ #R – apologies to the author for the changes to make it more appropriate to this context.
Some of you know that I started writing the Naruto fanfic on my fiftieth birthday, to get me back to writing stories in the SciFi world I had created decades before. What had been intended to be a few stories turned into a series that I hope you have enjoyed.
I spent the eighteen months after completing Leader writing the first two books of a new series. It is set in my Sci-Fi world. It is not quite the same world as the one you have known because there none of Masashi Kishimoto's characters have ever lived in it.
How does it compare to the fanfic? It is much less explicit; I decided that I did not want to restrict the readership. The plot characters develop more slowly because I cannot assume that the readers have a shared understanding, as they would for a fanfic. Unlike the fanfic, it has been planned from the beginning to be long: three trilogies with each of the nine books having twenty-seven chapters.
Cast Adrift is being published by Click Street as an ebook on 8 May 2015. It can be purchased from the usual sources.
Here is a taster:
Reaching out from the shadows
Extract from Book One, Chapter One
© Mannah Pierce 2013
Jax had to trot to keep up with his escort. The big man's stride was smooth and effortless but deceptively quick. Jax recognised it as one of the many features that dissuaded the honourable from challenging and the dishonourable from attacking.
Other, equally intimidating, characteristics were his height, his muscular bulk and the knife scar that ran down his left cheek.
He wondered what the man's name was. He would not ask, just as he had not asked the other five men who had escorted him over the last three days. They would not remember him; the forgetting pills would see to that.
So this was Carrefour Station. Jax recalled the models of spacestations that his tutor had insisted he study. This type of corridor, ten paces wide with its walls lined with advertisements, was typical of throughways in residential sectors. They passed a media screen. On it was displayed the person Jax used to be; a towheaded, green eyed boy in a velvet jacket. It was a shock. None of the simulations had suggested that his uncle would throw the net this wide this soon.
The reward for useful information had been raised to five thousand credits and the cover story of a kidnapping would be more believable out here than at home.
Suddenly the corridor was wider and lined with shops. Jax realised that they were closing on their destination; the margins of the spacer quarter were where residents sold and spacers bought. Reflected in one of the shop windows was a small, cloaked figure trotting beside a large spacer. Peering out from inside the hood were dark eyes and Jax could see wisps of brown hair.
His eyes and his hair; his mother had made temporary changes and then reprogrammed his nanobots to maintain them.
He blinked back tears. He would never again hear her voice or feel her touch.
There was no time for such sentiment. As his mother had made him promise; he would escape and survive until he could challenge the usurper and reclaim his inheritance.
This day was critical; he had to go through an open recruitment fair and yet end up with the correct crew.
They slowed. The change in pace refocused Jax on his surroundings. The shops had gone, replaced by stalls. Now almost everyone around them was a spacer, identified by their long hair, short jackets and tall boots. Instead of their path being direct, it swerved this way and that; residents scuttled out of a spacer's way but spacers avoided each other.
Then their route was blocked by people standing with their backs to them; the rear of a crowd.
His escort's hand grasped his shoulder and pulled him close. It was a shock to be manhandled; Jax had to stop himself twisting away. No one other than his mother, his father or his trainer had been allowed within touching distance for as long as he could remember.
The crowd was not uniform; it was made up of groups with gaps between them. Jax realised the groups were crews and that they must weave their way carefully between them. Touching a spacer without permission was dangerous; it could easily precipitate a challenge.
His escort made Jax walk before him, a large hand on either shoulder,
Then they were out the other side of the crowd and into the Killing Square. Jax's eyes went immediately to the empty floor around the cross.
It was clean; no blood had been shed since it had been scrubbed at station's dawn.
They joined the queue that contained the younger boys; a few were alone but most had adults with them.
These were those wishing to be cabin boys. Most crews did not recruit cabin boys; they were considered more trouble than they were worth. It made more sense to stick to cats, who were bigger, stronger and old enough to help relieve sexual tensions amongst the crew.
That was how his tutor had put it; relieving sexual tensions. The other men in the household had been much blunter; cats sucked rod and, once they were old enough, spread their rear cheeks for anyone who was interested in poking a hole.
Jax would not think about that. He was pretending to be twelve, which was too young. He would be a cabin boy and not a cat.
Two before him in the queue was a very small boy.
"Age?" asked one of the two recruiters seated at the table.
"Twelve," the boy squeaked.
"Not a chance," the other man said. "Be off with you."
"I'm a hybrid," the boy replied. "It's not my fault I'm this size."
Jax was intrigued. He had never seen a hybrid close up; his father disapproved of them. He moved so he had a better view between the adults in front of him. The boy did not seem to have a tail, which was a disappointment.
He did, however, have whiskers. He also had fangs, which he was displaying to the recruiters.
"You been tested?" the first recruiter asked.
"No," the boy admitted, "but I've got the fee."
Jax wondered where the boy had got the gold credit that he put on the table. There was a silence; apparently the recruiters were similarly surprised.
"Fine," the second recruiter decided. "Name?"
"Ray," the boy replied.
"How do you spell that?" the recruiter asked.
Jax doubted the boy could spell but he answered, "R, A, E," and the man tapped the information into the tablet strapped to his forearm.
Then the gold credit was exchanged for a token and the boy was directed to one of the booths at the side of the square.
The next boy, like Jax, had his test results. The man with him, maybe his father, passed a tape to the first recruiter, who checked it in a portable viewer before taking the boy's details, giving him a token and directing him to the pen.
They suggested that the adult accompanying the boy waited in the crowd until the end of the fair, which was worrying. Jax had thought the adults handed the boys over and left. Certainly his escort would not stay.
Jax was next. His escort pulled down his hood as they reached the table. The two men looked at him with approval, which was more than they had done when faced with the previous two boys.
"Twelve," Jax answered. Neither man queried it. It was as his mother had said; a well-nourished boy of eleven could easily pass for twelve.
He handed over the tape and watched, heart thumping, as they checked it. The last thing he wanted was for them to insist on a retest; the data on the tape had been heavily edited.
"Fine." The second recruiter turned his attention to Jax's escort. "We accept responsibility for the boy Jax until he becomes a member of a certified Traditional crew."
Jax realised it a compliment. It meant that they were certain he would be placed with a crew.
Then his escort was gone and Jax was walking towards the indicated pen clutching his token.
When he got there he took off his cloak, folded it carefully and strapped it to the outside of his pack. Once he had slung his pack across his back, he stood up straight and risked looking at the crews, hoping that one of the men would give him a signal he recognised.
You can buy Cast Adrift as an ebook from the usual sources. You can find out more about Cast Adrift and the stories that will follow at my website, which ends in com and begins with www and has mannahpierce in the middle.