Chapter 26 Epilog: Melody of Love

Eight Months Later

"Welcome aboard Mister Cole!"

"Good morning, Captain. Thanks for coming to pick me up." He had told Thoma over and over that it was still fine to call him Ian, but as more people called him Mr. Cole every day, he was getting used to it. "The Star Princess has new rails, doesn't she?"

"Yeah, and I've replaced the bumpers as well. Is she looking sharp, or what? I'm thinking of changing the hull, next, giving her a little more speed, you know?"

Ian had wanted the Rugen Institute to buy Thoma a new boat, but Tarlant had objected. "He doesn't want a new boat, he wants to putter with the old boat!" he had insisted, and in the end, Agi and Soreto decided he was the most likely to understand the situation. Tarlant did slip aboard the Princess one night, though, and made some changes to the engine, making it much less likely to explode and kill everyone on board. And they all kept an eye on Thoma and found work for him. He was helping support his family, after all.

The ferry chugged away from Sanceli Island along the mainland coast. "Must be nice to be the director of the company," Thoma said. "You can take a vacation whenever you like, eh Boss?"

"The Institute can get along very well without me. People need to be reminded of that frequently," said Ian. "Especially me."

He leaned on the rail and watched the Eastern Mainland passing by.

"Excuse me, Mr. Cole, would you mind answering a few questions?"

Ian jumped slightly, and stared at the eager young stranger behind him. "Who are you?"

"I'm Wilbur Hutch of the Clairmont Clamor. You're Ian Cole, aren't you? One of the directors of Rugen-Brightwater?"

"If you know that, then you should know I don't give interviews," said Ian.

"Hey! A stowaway!" Thoma said indignantly. "Should I throw him overboard, Mister Cole?"

"Not yet," Ian sighed. "Wait till we're nearer to the shore. All right, Hutch, ask your questions, but I don't promise I'll answer."

"Great!" said the reporter. "Mr. Cole, is it true that some sort of energy experiment at Brightwater's Antarctic outpost went bad and was responsible for the Lost Moment?"

The Lost Moment was what they had called it, that instant when the Zones had come together, and everyone on Earth had blinked. Nobody on this planet knew what had caused it, apart from the three co-directors of the Rugen Institute, but there had been enough accidents and odd occurrences as resulting from the brief distraction to make the Lost Moment a sort of Bermuda Triangle in time.

"I have no idea," said Ian. "We hadn't acquired Brightwater at that time, I wasn't even the director of the Rugen Institute, and the remains of the station are completely burned out and under the Antarctic sea."

"But eyewitnesses say that your benefactor, Damien, was seen on the station that day," said Hutch.

"Damien is a very active man," said Ian. "He goes a lot of places."

"He hasn't been seen lately, though. Any idea of his whereabouts?"

"No comment."

"It's been said that your hair, and the hair of your co-directors, went white overnight. Would you care to tell us what horrifying experience caused that?"

"My hair has been this color off and on all my life," said Ian. "So has theirs. It's a rare genetic condition, one which Damien and Doctor Hawksbee shared, and the Rugen Institute called us in to help study it."

"Speaking of Doctor Hawksbee, it was quite a surprise when she suddenly turned over the company to you and vanished. Some people say she's cryogenically frozen herself."

"Actually, we have her pickled in a big jar in the basement, right between the Weaver twins and the crashed alien spacecraft."

Hutch chuckled. "I believe that a young man, one of the Institute's scholarship students, disappeared the same night as Hawksbee. Is there a scandal there? A May-December romance and elopement, perhaps? Could Damien be with them? A lovers' threesome-"

"Captain Thoma," Ian said. "I think we're close enough to shore, now."

There was a shout and a splash. Ian smiled as he watched the reporter wade toward the mainland. The water was warm here, in the South East Islands. He was almost tempted to jump in himself. If the reporter had the spirit of Bob Cooks (literally or figuratively) he wouldn't let a little seawater dampen his enthusiasm.

When Kuril Island came in sight, there was something unfamiliar about the shape of it.

"What's that?" Thoma demanded. "How did they put up a building that big since yesterday?"

"I think an old friend has come to visit," said Ian.

When he left the boat and mounted the stairs from the landing, he saw a thin, white-haired boy just leaving the Rugen Institute's main building.

"Hasmodai!" he called.

"Agi! Soreto said you wouldn't be here today! It's good to see you. You look…great."

From the slightly pained expression in his eyes, Ian suspected the word that had originally come to Hasmodai was 'older.' Teo's body, of course, artificially preserved, would not age except when Hasmodai was inhabiting it.

"You're looking a little pale yourself," Ian said. "I suppose we should put some sun lamps in the preservation area."

"Soreto's been bringing me up to date on all your news. Congratulations on the, um, amazing algae breakthrough."

"Thanks. What have you been up to?"

"Not much, yet," said Hasmodai. "I'm still weighing my options. It's only been a little over a week."

"Mel and Palza would probably love to have you join them in the Royal Science division."

"Oh, they're not planning to research anything interesting," said Hasmodai gloomily. "Agricultural studies, mostly. Raemos—you remember him? He's heading up this really fascinating project on time travel. But Dumas says he'll pull their funding if I so much as walk in the door."

"I'm sure something you like will turn up," said Ian. If not, well, Dumas was a planetary ruler, after all. He might eventually need a scientist without Palza's rigid ethical scruples, and would know just where to find the man.

"I might take my research skills in a different direction for a little while. I've applied to join the Royal Historical Society."

"Really?" said Ian. "I had some old friends in the Society. Maybe I could get in touch with them, ask them to sponsor you."

"Oh, no," said Hasmodai. "I couldn't let you do that. It would reflect badly on them when I'm thrown out."

Ian opened his mouth to ask, but Hasmodai went on, "Dumas has actually been very good to us all. He's funding that little world tour Hesma and Cooks are on. He even promised me a place in the royal court and a title, if I would give up my work."

"Lord Hasmodai. It sounds good. Are you tempted?"

Hasmodai gave him a reproachful look.

Ian laughed. "So, what are your plans? How long will you be on Earth?"

"I thought I'd stay the weekend," said Hasmodai. "That's fifty-four days. It'll give me time to visit Serena and Rogan, then come back here and do some personal research."

"Where Dumas can't keep an eye on you. What are you up to, Hasmodai?"

Hasmodai smiled. His smiles were full of secrets since his mysterious absence. "I may spend every weekend on Earth. Is that Thoma down by the dock?" he asked.

"Yes it is," said Ian. "If you hurry, I'm sure he'd be happy to drop you off on Natsuna Island. It's not far out of his way. You can catch the train from there."

"See you in a few days, then." Hasmodai hurried toward the boat.

"Hasmodai—Teo!" Ian called after him. "Do us a favor and go somewhere the press can take your picture, before they start sneaking onto the island and digging up the flowerbeds in search of your corpse."

"Will do, Agi!"

"And don't answer any questions! By the way, Future Hasmodai hasn't dropped in yet, so the time travel is probably a dead end."

As the boat left the dock, Ian entered the Rugen Institute, and after a quick look at the algae vats, went up to Mel's old laboratory.

Soreto was there, working at one of the consoles, and she smiled as he entered. "Agi, I didn't expect you until tomorrow!"

"I had an idea about the virtual plasma lens for the orbital telescope and couldn't wait to try it out. How's your project going?"

"The actual concept is complete," said Soreto, "but I'm still running a risk analysis on introducing the new technology to Earth before making a practical model. Tarlant called, by the way. The Rugen-Brightwater team has taken first, second and third place in Robot Wars."

"Why am I not surprised?" Ian asked.

"He says he's just coaching and financing the kids, but…" She shrugged. "Anyway, you've probably noticed the spaceship. Hasmodai's back for a visit."

"I just caught him as he left for home," Ian said. "He seems reasonably happy." Soreto nodded. "Anyway, I'm going to get to work on that lens. I may be working on it all night. Want to help?"

"I'd better not," said Soreto. "My father's been getting worried about the amount of time we spend together. He says we're too young and haven't known each other long enough to get this serious."

They shared a moment of silent amusement over this. "Did you tell him it isn't exactly a romantic relationship?" Ian asked.

"Are you sure it's not?"

And no, when she looked at him that way, he wasn't sure at all.

Habit was a hard thing to overcome, though. Breaking down the barriers they had maintained over so many lifetimes would not be easy, but there must be a scientific way to accomplish it.

The thought of conducting experiments was intriguing.

As a small one, he came to stand beside Soreto and put one arm around her shoulders, looking out the window over the sea. She relaxed against him, her arm going around his waist. It felt warm and comfortable.

The Star Princess was sailing away over waves that sparkled in the sunlight. They could still make out the shape of Thoma in the wheelhouse, could see Hasmodai relaxing on one of the benches, reading.

Together they watched as the ship sailed away.

Another leaf falls from my tree
Another of my flowers withers
Strange in the uncertain light
The confused dream of my life greets me.

Dark is the emptiness that surrounds me
But in the vaulted center, a star of comfort
Laughs through every night
Its path draws near and nearer

Good star that sweetens my night,
That draws near and nearer to my destiny
Can you feel how my heart with silent song
Waits for you and greets you?

My view is still filled with loneliness.
Only slowly dare I awaken to you,
Dare I cry again, laugh again
And put my trust in you and fate.

-Hermann Hesse

Author's notes:

Why?-My third watching of FC left me wanting so much more. Thoma and Helga's story was finished to my satisfaction, but they were not my favorite characters. It was the Children of Béfort who won my heart, with their courage, determination, teamwork, and tragic burden. It didn't seem right that they were just going to forget all those years of effort and friendship and mutual support. Poor Dumas, too, planning to kill himself after finding only the second person in the universe who cared about him. And poor Hesma, his soul trapped in Earth's zone for eternity—I just KNEW he would be doomed to live all his lives as one of those people who feel they were born on the wrong planet. I wanted to know what became of them all, including Gherta, and including Cooks. Then I found the Special Ending in the extras on Disc 6 (I had always assumed it was just a textless version of the end credits from the final episode) and finally got JUST a little more.

Then this story popped into my head, practically complete from start to finish, and I've written obsessively for six weeks, afraid it would fade before I got it down, and wandered around in a fog as my brain pondered conversations, introspections and plot points. Hope you like my version of the FC future. I know there are a couple of discrepancies and canon errors, and my take on their technology is probably way too simplified and primitive.

Special thanks to Girishia on DeviantArt, whose steady readership helped keep me motivated.

Thanks also to my Harry Pottter fanfic readers, who have patiently (TOO darn patiently) waited six weeks to find out what happens to Albert Prince. They will never read this, of course...

Agi—How can anyone not adore him? Strong, loving, spiritual, idealistic. He's a bit autocratic, but he's harder on himself than on anyone else. My prescription: he needed to learn to let go of control a little.

Soreto—Supporting, caring, sweet, and tough enough to kick butt with the best of them. Soreto is awesome in every way.

Agi/Soreto—Okay, I really hate how every time a male/female team works together, they seem to have to be shipped. What's wrong with friendship or a working partnership? But in the end…who is good enough for Soreto but Agi? And who on Earth could Agi marry and have a life with but Soreto? Some mundane housewife type? They deserve each other. Totally. Nobody else could understand what they've been through.

Hasmodai—You have to love him. Sweet, loving, brilliant, literate, sensitive. But with so many weaknesses, so susceptible to temptation. Hasmodai was a lover, not a fighter, doomed to a life which was all fighting with nobody to love. It must have been really hard on his self-respect to keep being rescued. I thought he needed an extremely poetic, slightly tragic love story of his own. He needed someone equally sensitive, but tough, to complement his failings with her strengths. Soreto was out of the question, because she is very self-sufficient, and Hasmodai, I felt, needed someone who needed him. Soreto would just have ended up taking care of him. He needed to be the one doing the rescuing for a change. I would have liked to give Pirya more POV sections (like the conniption she had when she found out Hasmodai was rebuilding the generator—heh!), but that would have destroyed the suspense over whether she might be an illusion or a figment. For some reason, in spite of his sweet nature, Hasmodai strikes me as the kind of scientist whose curiosity is completely separated from his morality. I could see him happily enjoying the challenge of creating a doomsday machine, without the slightest thought of what would happen if it was activated. I have no canon basis for that impression, though.

Hermann Hesse.- Had to look for a poem for Hasmodai, didn't I? Just thought it was almost eerie to find one so absolutely perfect for the moment when Hasmodai went aboard the Atalanta. I looked at other poets for the final poem, but found nothing that felt right, and then came across another Hesse poem so absolutely right it was scary again. The title of the first is By Night (Bei Nacht) and the second is The Beloved (Der Geliebte.) Did the translations myself.

Tarlant – He was always the brat of the group! :D It was fun forcing him into authority a little bit. I thought of having him win the Robot Wars himself (Just to make it 5 wins, a nice round number) but he is supposed to have grown up a little.

Mel/Gherta – It was a little tougher to find a niche for her. She's competent, practical, kind-hearted and as Gherta, used to wielding authority. She can also go ballistic from time to time. Fortunately she and Dumas had their issues to work through. I had fun with that!

Seth & Tina—Sorry, I know, they were just kinda THERE. But they had their story already.

Chitto—I'd have had to have killed him. Early on. He's the only really dull, one-dimensional character from the show, IMO.

Wonder—I originally planned to have her killed in the crash. There was enough tragedy going on, though.

Hesma – I just wanted to get him home. :D I had fun with his little role as the angry genius.

Palza—I think Mel could do lots better, personally.

Dumas—Totally needed to redeem himself. Giving his life for Hesma was the key. If I was really mean, I'd have let him die tragically, but what would Greecia do? And who would stop Hasmodai from accidentally destroying the universe? :D It was really fun putting him and Mel together, too. They just worked...

Belle—Hope she didn't annoy too much! Most kids can't even remember what happened when they were three. There she was, nine years old, still crying and clutching a stuffed toy over her brother's departure. I refuse to believe she was in an abusive situation (Agi would have done SOMETHING) which leaves the option that she's kind of creepy and obsessed. It was fun putting someone totally mundane among all the larger-than-life sci-fi characters. I laughed my head off whenever I wrote one of those Belle vs Soreto scenes. Especially the My Brother Is An Alien section. In the epilog, I was going to mention she's now dating one loser after another, but it didn't fit into the conversation anywhere. Soreto knows Belle is just yanking Ian's chain.

Cooks—I liked him. What can I say?

Thanks for reading!