500 years ago.
The Regs Omnigear lays in the crater, steam and smoke coming from the cracks in its metal skin and from its bent and broken joints.
While it is repairable, the same cannot be said of the pilot if she is in similar condition.
Lacan falls through the hatch on the gear's torso, running along the now-horizontal ladder to the cockpit, climbing in.
Lying in the chair is the woman he seeks. Her perfect face marred by her blood, bruised and covered in soot.
He doesn't know how the omnigear ripped her from the cockpit of her flagship, and does not know why. All he knows is that it did, and for that he is giving the utmost thanks to whatever God is listening.
He undoes the straps on the chair, on his knees as he lays her down, rewarded by the sight of her chest rising and falling with slow, tired breaths.
"Sophia?", he whispers, "...Elly?"
She slowly opens her eyes, cracking a slight smile.
He smiles, widely, pulling her up, crushing her against him, tears flowing down his cheeks.
"Thank God," he whispers, "Thank God oh God..."
She rests her head on his shoulder, her mind too cloudy to even respond, simply whispering the one thought in her mind.
"Did we win?"
"Yes. Yes, Elly, we did.", he responds, "Please, don't ever do that to me again. Please, just promise me that."
She moans an affirmative, falling asleep, smiling, in his arms.
He smiles, kissing her on the forehead, picking her up, and carrying her out of her gear.
Fei slowly awakens, lifting his arms above his head and yawning as he stands up from the machine's seat.
The tell-tale chirping from outside the workshed tells him that it's morning, which makes him wonder just how long he's been dozing.
The first things he notices as he steps out into the morning sun is that Weltall is standing in front of the house, Fenrir sitting nearby.
"Good. You're up.", Citan says, walking out from behind Fenrir, "I hope you're alert, Fei, because we're going to Solaris."
"Right. Any report from Elly?"
"Elly broke contact.", Citan responds, "And Bart and Sigurd are on Yggdrasil. So far, the solarians are being polite and no hostilities are apparent, meaning the war ended somewhat differently in this time. Alice is coming with me on Fenrir, by the way."
"Dan is apparently still in Shevat.", Citan responds, "After we leave Solaris, I'll have the Yggdrasil do a full scan for Shevat."
"...right. Not at the snowfields anymore."
Fei snaps his fingers, mouthing something and nodding to himself.
"Alright, let's get a move on.", he says.
"Alice will be back in about an hour. She needed to get some things from the village. I'll catch up with Fenrir."
Fei nods, running to Weltall and taking one leap into the cockpit of the standing gear. Moments later, the engines ignite, and Weltall shoots off into the sky.
"Is he gone?"
Citan turns at the sound of the voice, nodding.
"He is, Alice.", he says, "I told him we'd meet up with him in about an hour."
Alice nods, walking out from behind the house.
"Are you feeling better?", Citan asks.
"Better...better than I did a week ago, at least.", she says with a slight, unnerving chuckle, "Tell me again, Doctor. How many pieces was my body in?"
Citan sighs, walking over. He grips her shoulder, looking her in the eye...and she collapses, fainting against him.
"Cain was a good teacher.", he says, "Especially when it came to hypnotism."
He snaps his fingers, Alice bolting back up, shaking her head.
"I...what time is it?", she asks.
"Time we should get going.", he responds, "I contacted some friends aboard the Yggdrasil, and they say Dan's in Shevat."
"Shevat?!", she demands, eyes wide, "What is he doing there?"
"Apparently studying under Master Gaspar. Fei knew he had a talent for martial arts, and apparently he's been arranging the rendezvous for a while now. But that's just what I've been told."
"I've been worrying myself sick over him, and you're telling me he's in Shevat?", she asks, and smiles darkly, shaking her head, "I'm going to kill Fei for doing this too me."
Citan smirks, faintly, holding up his hands defensively.
"Don't be angry at him. As Elly could no doubt attest, he may be a wonderful person, but he's thick as a brick wall."
"I'm not angry. Just annoyed. How long will it take to get to Shevat?"
"Longer than usual, I'm afraid.", Citan responds, Fenrir walking up behind them, "I have an errand to run in Solaris. And we don't know where Shevat is, but we can find out."
She nods, Citan helping her up as he climbs into Fenrir's palm.
And the omnigear takes off after they're onboard.
It was the best sleep she's had in months.
Not just because Elly was sleeping on the bed she grew up with, or in the room she grew up in.
It was because her mother was sleeping in another room across the house. She felt safe. Not safe like she does when Fei has his arms around her. Safe because she knows that one terrible moment never occurred.
And her father never showed up. Meaning one terrible moment did occur, leaving her with many questions to be answered.
She looks up as she sees her mother walking into the room, Elly quickly climbing out of bed.
She still has uniform on, her hair loose, having not changed since she came in at such a late hour, without telling her friends where she was. Hopefully they put two and two together...but considering what she knows about Bart, probably not.
"Well, good morning," Medina says, "Did you sleep well?"
"I slept fine, Mom.", Elly says, "Did...anyone call?"
Elly shakes her head, sighing.
"Then they're worried sick about me.", she responds, "I should have figured."
She walks past her mother, out the door, Medina quickly following her.
"Elly," she says, "Did something happen between you and Fei?"
"Oh, no. He'll be here in a few hours. He had something to take care of, so-"
She quickly grabs the communicator in her pocket, snapping it open.
"Sorry we took so long. Where are you?"
"At my house. Look, trace the signal and meet me here in fifteen minutes, alright?"
"Aye-aye. Prince Fatima out."
Elly smiles, slightly, putting the communicator back in her pocket. There's something...satisfying...about bossing around the heir-prince of one of the two major land-dweller nations. Just one of those life-affirming priviledges.
Another one of the frequent surprises that Billy has received over the past couple of days is that Emeralda and Kelvana not only know each other. They were friends.
Which never occurred to him before. Although, it never occurred to him that waves of energy could restore Ether to the world or bring back the dead, but that's another story entirely.
He watches as the blind woman and the artificial woman chat, Kelvena sitting in a chair near Emeralda's bed and telling her about how the other Elements have been doing. He doesn't listen. He simply stares at Kelvena's flawless face, the same one that pleaded with him to help her last night.
He'd expect that vulnerability to be gone, to be replaced with no emotions whatsoever, just a sense of duty. But it's not. He still sees that vulnerability, that relief on her face, the edges of tears of joy in her sightless eyes.
The two turn to him as he knocks on the door, smiling to Emeralda and the former Element.
"It's time to get going," he says, "We don't want to be too late at the ruins."
"Of course," Kelvena says, standing, "It was good to see you again, Emmy."
Emeralda smiles, watching Kelvena walk out.
She waits for the door to close before turning to Billy, tightening her hold on her covers.
"She's not a bad person, Billy.", she says.
"I've just learned I have a lot to learn about forgiveness," the Etone says, shaking his head, "Look...did she say anything?"
"No, but sometimes you need to listen for things other than words."
She smiles, faintly, shaking her head.
"You two be careful. Don't get hurt. Either of you."
He nods, turning.
"Same goes for you, Emeralda," he says, and walks out.
Weltall flies well above the surface, jets blazing.
At the controls, Fei silently sits, musing over the multiple problems he's now facing.
Well, not really problems. Relief.
He's waiting for the expression on Dan's face when he and Alice arrive on Shevat…
But he's also worried about Elly's reaction. He knows he loves her…
But he also has those unresolved feelings for Alice, as well.
He sighs, closing his eyes as the ship goes on autopilot…
"Yes, Doc?", he asks.
"Fei, message from Elly. It looks like we might have a problem."
Despite being one of the handful of the most powerful Lambs, on Solaris he's still a Lamb and that means he has to walk across the city section to the Van Houten Estate.
It doesn't help that the last time he was here, it was upside down and on a giant robot, so he's promptly managed to get himself lost. Groaning and swearing to himself, he finds himself standing in front of a large mansion, somehow undamaged like the rest.
"Huh. What's this?"
The door, which is two stories tall and seamless, splits down the middle as Bart approaches it, lights turning on to illuminate a hallway lined with glass display cases.
Bart reaches for his whips, which find themselves flying out of his hands and sticking to the ceiling.
Standing in front of him is a man, and a familiar one at that. Tall, fair hair falling past his shoulders and a headband disappearing beneath it, with probing, intelligent eyes and dressed in a lab coat and tunic.
"Ah, yes," the man says, "Bartholemew of the House Fatima. Welcome. You have entered the personal residence of Krelian. How may I help you?"
On cue, music begins playing. Soft, relaxing music, which makes Bart realize he is standing in a lobby.
"Uh huh," Bart says, and points at the man in front of him, "Are you…Krelian?"
"A nanotech simalcrum," 'Krelian' responds, "Created for the purpose of escorting visitors into Professor Krelian's estate when he is unable to personally entertain them. How may I help you?"
Bart scratches his head and considers his options. The bad news is, he is currently in the stronghold of the man who was everyone's worst enemy a very short time ago. The good news, however, is that said enemy is now either dead or dancing happily in the heavens with scantily clad angels. And not trying to kill him.
"Cool," he says, "What's these tubes?"
The walkways underneath him moves, and Bart finds himself being carried deeper into the lobby.
"These are containers filled with prototype nanotechnology," 'Krelian' responds, "The Professor's interest in nanotechnology began five centuries earlier, when during his travels following the conclusion of the Shevat/Solaris war he came across a wreck of unknown origin containing advanced nanotech artifacts. Studying the abilities and properties of the technology, he laid the foundation for much of his later work."
The walkways stops in front of a tube at the very end of the lobby. Seeing how the other tubes were filled with formless, shifting blobs-like lava lamps-Bart expected the bigger one to be filled with bigger blobs. He was wrong.
The central cylinder contains a woman. She is beautiful-perfect-tall and toned, silver hair falling down to her knees and eyes closed in a dreamless sleep. He can see little imperfections-missing bits of skin by her cheeks and the tips of her fingers, creases on her flat stomach-but the very sight of her makes him catch his breath.
"That is the artifact?"
"Correct. She is mechanical in nature, not organic. The Professor was never able to fully trace her point of origin. She is presumably extraterrestrial, and possibly from the point of origin of the Eldridge."
"You mean the ship that Deus came in."
"Correct. Her life functions have not restarted, although regeneration of parts and appearance have continued."
'Krelian' stands in front of the tube.
"Do you have any further questions."
"Yeah…what do her eyes opening mean?"
And a slender, female fist bursts through the glass and through 'Krelian's chest.
Karen is sleeping, napping on the couch in Fei and Elly's house. So deep is her sleep she does not sense the man standing in front of her, hidden by the brown cloak and hood. Stealth is the least of his skills, but since the end of one life and the beginning of this one…he has learned to make the most of it.
He does not want the world to know he still lives, after all.
He has more important work to do, now that he and the spirit have made their peace.
Turning, he prepares himself to teleport out of the house…and senses it, out of the corner of his mind. Shifting himself, he vanishes and appears outside the cabin, and looks up to see the fire descending…
And within the fire, a craft of aqua blue metal.
"Well," he says, "You've been expecting this?"
The voice within answers in an affirmative.
And smirking to himself, he sheathes his body in the white energies of the Contact and takes off to intercept.