Chapter XXIII – Unhappy Endings
Eiríkur's condition did not make any significant changes over the next few days, but Aleksander remained by his side the entire time, refusing the leave the room for any reason. Food had to be brought in to him to get him to eat. Mathias was beginning to worry, because as long as they stayed here he doubted Eiríkur would recover completely. At least for now he was not getting any worse, but how long would that last with their limited supplies, even with help from the police medic?
They had to leave this place, get Eiríkur to a proper doctor of some kind. But Aleksander could not be persuaded to leave their room even to eat, let alone to pilot the ship.
It had been five days now since they escaped the city and gained the tentative cooperation of the remaining two military police officers. They had been plying Eiríkur with painkillers and sedatives to keep him sleeping peacefully, but what they had stolen from the police ship was running low already. Tino, who had been tasked with keeping an eye on the police, reported that they were making preparations to leave, a difficult task with only two crew members, but doable.
With even the police leaving Mathias knew they had to get off this planet before it was too late, so he ventured into the brothers' cabin for yet another attempt to convince Aleksander to leave his brother's bedside.
"How is he?" the captain asked as he entered the rom.
As usual Aleksander was seated beside Eiríkur's prone form on the bottom bunk. Eiríkur lay still and silent, drugged into sleep so he would not feel the pain of his injury. He was tucked carefully under the rough blankets, but his injured arm lay above them wrapped in crisp white bandages that stood out in stark contrast to everything else. The bandages covered everything from his wrist to his shoulder, and were even patched onto his neck and cheek. It was a sight that Mathias was horrifyingly becoming used to. When the captain came in Aleksander looked up at him briefly before turning back to his brother. "The same," he answered. "I can't tell if anything is changing. All he does is sleep, and even when he wakes he's so weak he can barely eat. And if it weren't for the painkillers I'm not sure he could even do that."
"Aleks you need to get some rest," Mathias said. Aleksander did not look up of move from his seat. "And if he's stable for now we need to think about getting him to a proper doctor."
"You think we're going to find a better doctor out here?" Aleksander asked flatly.
"I think we should get him to Alfheim," Mathias said. "I don't know what they can do, but it has to be better than relying on the police and at least he'd be able to have a proper bed and everything. Isn't that better than sitting here on this rock expecting him to miraculously recover?"
Aleksander fell silent, frowning deeply as he stared down at his brother's unconscious form. "Fine," he answered eventually. "I'll set a course to Alfheim, but I'm not sitting in there the whole time. Not while he's like this."
"That's fine," Mathias assured him. "Get us off the ground, set a course, and then land us again. I'm sure that's all you'll need to do."
Aleksander nodded slowly and stood up. "Can we go right now?" he asked, turning around to face Mathias.
"Don't you want to rest first?" Mathias asked in concern.
Aleksander shook his head. "I'm fine," he assured. "If everyone is ready we can go now."
Mathias nodded. "I'll tell them," he said. "Do you want Berwald to stay in here with Eiríkur while you fly?"
"Yes… I'd appreciate that," Aleksander admitted.
When they reached Alfheim Eiríkur was still bedridden, spending far more time asleep than he did awake. At all times someone was at his side; most often Aleksander, when he was not pried away by force to pilot the ship. They landed just outside the city, and as soon as they touched down Tino left the ship, racing into the city to beg help from those who had so graciously hosted them before. Despite being awake more often now, Eiríkur's condition had not improved. He said the pain was less now, but he was on so much medication that it was impossible to determine if that was a good sign or not.
Tino was not gone long, returning soon with Vala and two others bearing a stretcher between them. Berwald carried Eiríkur out of the ship and lay him down on the stretcher, where Aleksander immediately took up vigil at his side again. Eiríkur was asleep at the moment, but appeared peaceful for the time being.
"Do not fear," Vala said gently as they headed back toward the town. "We will do everything we can to assist your brother's recovery. May I ask what happened?"
"There were police that followed us… Followed us almost the whole time," Aleksander said. He relayed the whole experience to her somewhat brokenly. It was difficult to talk about the fight and what had happened afterward, especially with his brother's condition still so unstable.
When Aleksander finished their tale he fell silent. Vala did not comment for a long moment, "I am truly sorry to hear that you faced such hostility," she said solemnly. "And that your search was for naught. We will do what we can for your brother, but you say it has been some time since he was injured. This could complicate his recovery, so I dare not make any promises."
Aleksander nodded in understanding, though he hoped that the people here would be able to ensure his brother returned to health soon. "I understand," he said softly, "Please just help him."
Vala nodded and turned away from him as they reached the town. "While we are here you may use the same rooms you occupied on your last visit. Please rest and eat, I will find you as soon as we have any news of your brother's recovery."
"Can't I stay with him?" Aleksander asked with obvious concern.
"I understand your worry," Vala replied, "But I do not believe that would be best for your brother. Our healers are very skilled, but they will need to concentrate, and we cannot risk any interruptions. Please, stay with your companions and rest. I assure you that your brother is in good hands."
Aleksander was not at all comforted to hear that. The two Alfar carrying the stretcher on which Eiríkur was laid entered a building along the main road from the city's gate, but Vala stopped outside and held out a hand to stop Aleksander from following them inside. He had not left his brother's side for more than a moment, and he did not feel comfortable doing so now even though he trusted that these people would do their best to help him.
"Aleks, come on," Mathias said gently, stepping up to his side and laying a hand on his friend's shoulder. "You should get some sleep. They'll take care of him."
"I assure you, as soon as there is any change to your brother's condition you will be informed," Vala promised.
"Fine," Aleksander agreed reluctantly, and tore his eyes away from the building his brother had been taken into, staring instead at the ground beneath his feet. Mathias wrapped an arm around his shoulders and gently steered him away, bringing him toward the building where they had stayed during their last visit.
"He'll be fine," the captain said while they walked. "He'll be better before you know it."
Aleksander hoped he was right.
As they neared their temporary home within the city Peter came running out the front door of the building, grinning from ear to ear and absolutely ecstatic to see them. He was dressed in garments similar to those that the Alfar wore, but less flowing, cut for much easier movement. It was good to see him again, and cleaned up and dressed in clothing that fit him properly to boot, but not enough to lighten anyone's mood with concern about Eiríkur looming over their heads. As soon as he saw their glum faces Peter's own smile faded and he slowed down, looking up at them with concern. "What's wrong?" the boy asked. He had expected them all to be happy and excited when they came back, not like this. "Where's Eiríkur?" he added after looking around for a moment.
The crew shared a nervous glance, all except Aleksander, who could not bear to talk about it any more today. The pilot pulled away from Mathias and rushed past Peter into the building, nearly knocking the poor boy over in the process. "Aleks!" Mathias called, and took off after him.
"What's wrong?" Peter asked again, watching Aleksander and Mathias run into the building before turning back to Tino and Berwald. "Did something happen?"
Tino knew they had to tell him, but he had no idea what to say. For a moment he floundered, striving to think of something to say that would not seem too uncaring. Then Berwald stepped past him and crouched down in front of Peter to get at eye level with him. Tino was surprised, though he probably should not have been. Peter had taken a shine to Berwald immediately, and maybe the feeling was mutual.
"Eiríkur got hurt," Berwald said simply but carefully. "He's not doin' very well, but the doctors here are takin' care of him."
Peter frowned in worry. "Is it like when you were hurt? Is he going to be alright?" the boy asked.
Berwald was quiet for a moment before he answered. "I think 's worse than when I got hurt," he replied eventually, deciding not to lie to the boy. "But the doctors are gonna do everything they can. M'sure he'll be fine eventually."
Peter nodded slowly to show he understood, but he was worried now, and frightened.
"Let's go inside," Tino said, and placed a hand gently on Peter's shoulder. "We can tell you what else happened while we were away," he offered. "It's not all sad."
"Okay," Peter agreed, and looked up at him with fearful eyes.
"And we should all get something to eat," Tino added, turning Peter around and steering him into the building. "I'm starving."
After finding something to eat, Tino found the room he and Berwald had stayed in last time, and all three of them sat on the bed to eat while Tino recounted their adventure to Peter, embellishing the exciting bits and toning down the boring or decidedly macabre parts. He left out completely how he had been forced to kill two people, instead claiming that they had managed to escape during the fire fight, although that was how Eiríkur had gotten injured. There was no avoiding that portion of the story.
Peter did find the whole tale very interesting, but he would have liked it more if it did not end with the near fatal injury of his close friend.
"Do you think Aleks is okay?" Tino asked softly when the story was finished, glancing over at Berwald. He did not know where the pilot or Mathias had disappeared to, but assumed they were together. Aleksander was, understandably, taking this the hardest, and Tino worried about him as much as he worried about Eiríkur. What would happen if Eiríkur did not make a full recovery? How would that affect Aleksander?
"I'm sure Mathias 's with him," Berwald replied. That was some comfort, thought not much.
"I wish there was some way we could help," Tino murmured, and sighed.
"Eiríkur is going to be okay, right?" Peter asked, staring up at them.
"I hope so," Tino replied. "It took us a long time to get him here, but these are good doctors. If anyone can make him better it's them. Try not to worry too much."
Peter nodded slowly and looked down at the blankets below him; he did not appear very convinced.
"What'd you do while we were gone?" Berwald asked, trying to change the subject to something a little more cheerful. Though he was worried also, worrying would get them nowhere, and he did not want Peter to stay unhappy.
"I just stayed here, it was really boring," Peter said, "Not nearly as exciting as what you did."
"More exciting isn't always better," Tino said. Sometimes he longed for a peaceful and lazy lifestyle, though he was sure he would get bored of it very quickly. "We didn't get to see much of this planet before we left, maybe you can teach us some things about it. I see they made you new clothes."
That did brighten up Peter's mood somewhat, and he smiled a little as he looked down at the outfit he was wearing. It was a loose shirt, belted at the waist, and matching pants, but Peter appeared to have been going barefoot while he was here. "You don't think they're stupid looking, do you?" he asked, suddenly feeling a little self conscious.
"Not at all," Tino assured him. "I think they're great, and they look good on you."
"Thanks," Peter said, his smile widening a little bit. "I've never had clothes this nice before. When they gave them to me I was scared to put them on because I didn't want to mess them up."
Tino laughed softly, imagining the scene. "I wish I had something this nice," he commented. "When we get back home we'll get you more clothes, and ones you don't have to worry about messing up."
"That would be nice," Peter said, smiling. "Where is… home, though?" he asked curiously.
"Well it's," Tino began, but then stopped himself. It was a question that should have had a very obvious answer, but he realized that he did not have one at all. At a loss, he looked to Berwald for an answer. Unfortunately for him, Berwald looked just as confused, and just shrugged when Tino looked at him. "It's…" Tino said again, and frowned as he tried to work out exactly what they called home. "Well, I mean, the Hófvar is home, really, but… But I suppose The Chariot is our sort of base of operations."
"The Chariot?" Peter asked, both curious and a little intrigued. Whatever this place was had a very exciting name. "What's that?"
"Space station," Berwald replied before Tino had a chance.
"What's a space station?" Peter asked in confusion.
"Like a ship," Tino explained, "But as big as a city! This one used to be a government research station or something, but the crew staged a rebellion and took over. Now it's the only thing in the galaxy fully out of the Althing's control. So that's where everyone that doesn't like them very much gathers."
"Like you," Peter said. "So it's a place where you can do whatever you want?"
"Sort of," Tino replied. "We still have rules, just to make sure that people are nice to each other, but there are no police, and there are no politicians, and people can do whatever sort of work they like without anyone telling them how they have to do it or when or where. So you can't exactly do whatever you want, but the rules only apply on the space station itself, once you leave you can do whatever you want."
Peter's eyes were wide with amazement as he nodded, listening raptly to how Tino described the rogue space station. "That sounds a lot better than Svartálfaheim," he said.
"A lot better than most places," Berwald said. "That's why we all went there."
"Are there other kids there?" Peter asked.
"Some," Berwald replied. "Most people came there from somewhere else when they're already grown up. But some people started families an' had kids."
Peter was glad to hear that, he did not want to wind up in another place like Svartálfaheim where he was surrounded by other species and there was no one his age to be friends with. "Do you think they'd like me? I've never had any friends before."
"M'sure they'll love you," Berwald assured him. "And I'm sure you'll have lots 'f stories to tell 'em. Way more exciting than any stories they have."
"You think so?" Peter asked.
"Course," Berwald replied. "Most of 'em have never even left the station. You helped us make first contact with aliens."
"Hell, you lived with aliens!" Tino enthused. "That is amazing, and I'm sure they'll all think you're really cool." Peter grinned, now very excited to get to this space station and try to make friends his own age.
There was no news of Eiríkur, nor any further sign of Aleksander, that day. Mathias, of course, emerged eventually and joined Tino, Berwald and Peter for dinner. He even brought food back to Aleksander, but the plate went untouched save for the few tiny bites he ate to stop the captain from hounding him. Aleksander was sick with worry now that his brother was out of his sight, and that did not change when word finally reached them that the Alfar doctors had finished treating Eiríkur. Although he asked, the messenger who came to bring them the news would not – or could not – tell them anything of Eiríkur's condition. Instinctively, Aleksander feared the worst.
All four of the remaining crew members, and Peter, followed this messenger back to the building the Alfar had taken Eiríkur into what felt like ages ago. Vala was there, waiting for them, her face grim but otherwise unreadable. Beside her stood another of the Alfar, another woman not as tall as their host, with her hair tied back at the base of her neck and dark circles under her eyes. Aleksander swallowed nervously and tried to calm his frayed nerves with little success.
Vala took a moment to look over their rag-tag group – all nervous and frightened of what news they would hear. "I can see that you are all concerned about the boy's condition, so allow me to come straight to the point. The healers have done what they could for your brother," Vala reported, but her voice was solemn and her choice of words put Aleksander on edge. "But the injury was grave; the damage beyond anything we have seen since the fall of Asgard. We are no longer practiced in treating this sort of injury. I will allow Eir, our chief physician, to give you the details, for she has been attending to your brother this entire time." Vala stood aside and allowed the weary-looking Alfar woman behind her to step forward.
Aleksander could not breathe. His chest felt tight, his throat like something was stuck in it, he clenched his hands into fists to hide their trembling. The woman's words barely registered in his mind as she relayed the details. It was the same story that the government medic had told, only with more flowery speech. "In the end, the damage to your brother's arm was too severe, and his body too weak to stave off infection. The only way to save his life was to remove the limb."
The words felt like a knife in the gut. Or what Aleksander assumed that would feel like. He felt sick. He could not speak. If he opened his mouth he might vomit. Or faint. He might do that anyway.
"Can we see him?" Mathias asked when Aleksander did not.
The healer glanced to Vala for a brief moment, and then gave a curt not. "He is still very weak," she warned, "He may be sleeping. If so, I would not advise you to wake him."
Mathias nodded and placed a hand on Aleksander's shoulder. The action seemed to snap the pilot out of his shocked stupor a little. He looked up slowly and met Mathias' gaze. "Come on," Mathias said gently, "Let's go see how he's doing."
Aleksander nodded and allowed Mathias to lead him forward by the arm. He walked as though in a daze as they were lead into the building and into a small room. The only things in the room were a bed and a small table on which a small light glowed steadily. Eiríkur lay in the bed, pale as the sheets that covered him from the shoulders down. For a moment Aleksander's panicked mind thought he was dead, until he saw the shallow but steady rise and fall of his brother's chest. If not for the patchwork of bandages trailing up from his shoulder to his cheek, the teen may have just been taking a nap.
Very slowly Aleksander broke away from Mathias' hand and approached the side of the bed. As he did so he noticed the irregular way that the sheets fell around Eiríkur's body. The empty space where his arm should have been.
Mathias and Aleksander were the only two that entered the room at first. The others hovered by the doorway, looking in nervously but unwilling to get in Aleksander's way. Even Mathias held back a little while the pilot approached the bed where his brother lay, then slowly, carefully, sat down on the edge of the bed. For a long moment Aleksander stared down at his brother in silence, hands trembling with the effort of trying to keep himself together. An effort that was eventually too much to bear. A choked sob escaped Aleksander's throat despite every attempt to keep it in, and he practically collapsed onto his brother's sleeping form, overwhelmed by a mixture of relief that Eiríkur was still alive, and grief that his beloved baby brother had not escaped unscathed.
Lost in his emotions, Aleksander did not hear the footsteps approaching him, and was startled when he felt a hand rest gently on his back. "He's going to be alright," Mathias murmured. Aleksander could only nod, not trusting his voice to say anything coherent through his tears.
When Eiríkur eventually woke up the brothers shared a tearful reunion. The younger could not remember anything that had happened since he was shot, though he had been conscious a handful of times. His physical recovery proceeded surprisingly quickly. In only a few days Eiríkur was able to leave his bed and venture out into the city. The boy's emotional recovery was much slower, however. Eiríkur was even more quiet and withdrawn than usual. He allowed his brother to lead him around and baby him with no complaint. And Aleksander certainly gave him reason to complain; the elder brother hovered and coddled, and never once let Eiríkur out of his sight nor allowed his brother to lift a single finger in any kind of work.
The change in attitude was understandable, given everything that the teen had been through, and the shock that waking up without a limb must have been. Occasionally Eiríkur would attempt to do something – on the rare occasions when Aleksander had not anticipated his every need or desire – something that was second nature and should have been as easy as tying his shoe, and he would forget for half a moment about his new disability. Forget until his brain gave instructions to a hand and an arm that were no longer there. In these situations Eiríkur simply shut down. Whatever action he had been attempting simply stopped, his arm would fall limply to his side and he would stare blankly, helplessly, at what now seemed an insurmountable obstacle.
The others did what they could to help him overcome and adapt to the loss, but it was difficult. Mathias, in particular, often made wild promises about the future. "When we get back to The Chariot we can get you a prosthetic!" the captain had said once. "One of those really high end ones that look real and have feeling and everything; you won't even know the difference! Jan or Eduard will definitely know where to get it. Or we could get you a really cool one with lots of different functions. You know, like the military use. You could put molecular scanners in your fingertips or something." Eiríkur rarely gave any sort of answer, and despite everyone's best efforts, the teen's mental state did not show any signs of improvement.
"We should leave this planet as soon as possible," Tino said, two weeks after Eiríkur had woken after the surgery. He was sleeping now, so the crew had been able to pull Aleksander away from his side in order to have a private conversation about his welfare. "I've seen this exact thing before with soldiers. The sooner we get him a prosthetic the easier it will be for him to deal with this. It doesn't even have to be a nice prosthetic."
"I agree," Mathias replied, and glanced over at Aleksander. "He's recovered from the surgery, and if he's well enough to travel we should get him home. Even if we can't get him a new arm, I think getting him back in a familiar place will help."
Tino nodded in agreement, "It may encourage him to start learning how to deal with this. He needs to adapt eventually, and the sooner the better."
"What do you think, Aleks?" Mathias asked. It was unclear whether the pilot was actually listening or not, but they could not leave without his cooperation. No one else could fly the ship.
"I should never have taken him off Jötunheim," Aleksander said softly.
The others were confused. What did that have to do with anything right now? "What are you talking about?" Mathias asked.
"He never would have gotten hurt if I didn't make him leave with me," Aleksander said. "He'd be safe. Live in a house, go to school, have a normal life like a normal person."
"That sounds boring," Mathias joked, a misguided attempt to cheer him up.
"He almost died!" Aleksander exclaimed suddenly, silencing the captain immediately. "He almost died and it's my fault. Because I made him come with me."
"Of course it's not," Mathias protested. "You didn't force him to come here, it was his choice."
"He's just a kid," Aleksander said, "He doesn't know any better."
"He's not a kid," Berwald butted in. "He's old enough to make his own decisions. Knew exactly how dangerous this was the whole time. Could've stayed behind on The Chariot, or here, but he didn't. Could've even gone home when we were at Jötunheim, but he didn't. He chose to come with us. You didn't make him do anything."
"The Swede's right," Mathias nodded in agreement, a rare sight. "Eiríkur knew what he was getting into, he knew it was dangerous, and he knew he could back out if he wanted to. He could have backed out years ago if he wanted to."
Aleksander fell silent and stared down at his hands, clasped in his lap. They were right, but he could not help blaming himself. After all, he had been the one to drag his brother into this lifestyle, it was hard for him to believe Eiríkur had come to accept or even enjoy it as much as Aleksander himself.
"Besides, he's alive, isn't that the most important thing?" Mathias asked. "I was serious, too, when I said we'll get him whatever kind of prosthetic he wants. Even if we have to steal it from a military base, I'll get your brother a new arm. And it'll be even better than the old one. You'll be jealous."
Aleksander stared at him for a moment, and then let out a scoff of laughter. It was the first time any sort of smile had crossed his face since Eiríkur had been shot, and immediately Mathias felt hopeful that his attempts at making the pilot feel better were working. "You're more likely to be jealous, I think," Aleksander commented.
"Probably," Mathias admitted sheepishly. "So what do you say? Time to go home?"
"Yes, I guess it is," Aleksander replied.
"Good," Mathias grinned. "I'll be another long trip, I'll have to see about getting us supplies. And find out of there's a better way through that asteroid field than flying blind," he said thoughtfully. "Aleks, if Eiríkur's fully recovered from the surgery you should keep him occupied as much as you can. I'm sure he can still do plenty on the ship with only one hand. You two make sure we're ready to fly. Berwald, too. And take the kid, it'll keep him from getting bored."
"I'll help you with supplies," Tino offered eagerly. Anything was better than just sitting around, and he would not be any use getting the ship ready.
"Sounds good," Mathias agreed. "As soon as we're stocked up and Eiríkur feels up to traveling we'll leave. Nice as this place is, I'm sure we'd all go mad from boredom in a month."
They were not able to speak with Vala right away – apparently she was busy with other duties – but when they were finally able to speak with her Mathias got straight to the point. "While we're very grateful for all that you've done for us, especially Eiríkur," the captain said, trying his very best to be diplomatic, "We've decided it's time we head back to our own side of the galaxy."
Vala nodded in understanding. "I expected so," she said, "Though you are welcome to stay, I understand you have been away from home for quite some time."
"We have," Mathias agreed, though as long as they had the Hófvarpnir they were always somewhat at home. "We also think it'll help Eiríkur to be somewhere familiar."
"I too believe that would help his peace of mind," Vala agreed, "I am only sorry we could not do more for him."
"You saved his life, and that is more than enough," Tino assured. "More than we ever could have asked. And I wish there was some way we could pay you back for all the generosity you've showed us."
Mathias nodded earnestly in agreement. They all would probably be dead or lost in space by now if not for the help of the Alfar. "There's nothing we could do to repay you."
"You are correct," Vala pointed out. "There is nothing you have that we need or desire. But you do not need to repay us in material things. My people have enjoyed our solitude, and the peace it brings. We would ask that you help us maintain that by keeping the location of our planet a secret."
"That's easy enough. We can do that," Mathias replied.
"But the others that followed us," Tino interrupted, "They know where Asgard is, and they may even have noticed this planet. They work for our government, and they'll definitely report everything they saw. Even if we keep quiet about your people and this planet, someone may find out about it anyway."
Vala considered this for a moment before replying. "I understand," she said eventually, "And I suppose there is nothing either of us can do to prevent that. However, this region of space has long been considered dead by your people, has it not?"
"It has," Tino confirmed, "For hundreds of years."
"And neither you nor those who followed you discovered anything on Asgard to make you believe otherwise, correct?" Vala asked, though waited only for their nods before continuing. "Any expedition beyond the asteroid belt would pose a huge risk for those involved, with no certain outcome. It would be incredibly foolish to make such an attempt."
"We made that attempt," Mathias said defensively, "And our government can be 'incredibly foolish'."
"Apologies," Vala said, "It is unfortunate, but I believe it is a risk we must take. However, so long as you keep the secret of our location it will be long before they find is, if ever they do."
"I suppose so," Tino said thoughtfully. "They aren't very smart, but they are lazy. It'll be ages before they think it's worth exploring out this far if they don't have anything to motivate them. And I really don't think Asgard will motivate them if there's nothing there to find."
"I guess we don't have to worry about it, then," Mathias said happily. "We just have to worry about getting home."
"We can help you with that as well," Vala offered. "It is extraordinarily impressive that you were able to fly through the asteroid field to get her, but that won't be necessary on your return."
"So you do have a way through it?" Tino asked eagerly.
"In a manner of speaking, yes," Vala replied. "When you are supplied and ready to depart I will let you know what trajectory to take."
"Thank you," Mathias said, "That will make things much easier for us."
"Thank you so much," Tino repeated, "We'll let you know when we're ready to go. It should only be a couple days."
Vala nodded. "I hope you will enjoy the rest of your time here," she said before bidding them farewell for now.
Mathias and Tino returned to their ship, where the others were preparing it for their departure. The vessel had been a little neglected while they were preoccupied worrying about Eiríkur. At the moment, Berwald and Aleksander were running a full systems check to make sure nothing had gone amiss while the ship was left unattended. Peter was eagerly helping Berwald in any way he could, which mostly consisted of handing him tools or cleaning out pipes that Berwald's hands were not small enough for. Eiríkur was meant to be helping Aleksander, but he mostly just hovered around him, watching except when specifically asked to do something. And Aleksander did not ask him to do very much. When Mathias and Tino climbed aboard they gathered everyone in the galley and happily relayed what Vala had told them.
"I'm glad I won't have to fly through those asteroids again," Aleksander said, relieved, "Once was more than enough."
"It was," Mathias agreed. "I guess there's a gap somewhere we can go through, Vala said they'll tell us where when we're ready to go."
Aleksander nodded. "Berwald and I are almost done with diagnostics. So far the only issues are from sitting here for weeks. She's not used to being inactive this long. I've been running life support since we got here to get it warmed up."
"Good," Mathias replied. "How long do you think it will take to get back to the Chariot if we make a straight shot from here?"
"Well, it depends on where the gap in the asteroid field is, and where the station has moved to, but I'd say no more than a week or two at top speed," Aleksander answered thoughtfully.
"Alright," Mathias nodded, "I'll make sure we get at least two weeks worth of food and water, then. You guys keep working; make sure we won't have any problems once we're in the sky."
"That'll be easy as long as you stay out of the way," Aleksander said, and turned to head back to the bridge without further comment.
"You heard him, back to work!" Mathias said, completely unfazed by Aleksander's comment. "We all want to get home as soon as possible, right? So we can tell everyone what happened and become famous explorers, right?"
"Sure, famous, right," Tino said, rolling his eyes.
Aleksander and Berwald gave the ship a clean bill of health just before sundown on the following day. By then the hold was well stocked with more than enough water and stored food to last them until they got back to the more populated regions of space. It was not their usual fair of canned, preserved, or otherwise non-perishable foodstuffs, though. The Alfar were not much for preserved foods, apparently, and had little to offer them in that vein except the largest variety of dried fruits that Mathias had ever seen. They had accepted it, of course, along with a wide selection of breads and enough fresh food to feed them for a few days at least – the longest Mathias trusted it not to go bad even in the climate controlled portions of their hold.
Although everything was ready, they decided to wait until morning to make their departure, and enjoy one last night on solid ground, never knowing when they would next be able to enjoy such a luxury. But first thing in the morning they met with the Alfar just outside their settlement to say their goodbyes and try to express their gratitude one last time.
"We really can't thank you enough for everything you've done for us," Aleksander said, speaking for the whole crew. All of them wished there was something they could give back to these people who had given so much to them.
"It is little trouble to help strangers," Vala replied. "And we see so few these days. We are glad that the first humans to visit us in so many years were as kind and respectful as you, and we hope that the rest of your journeys will be far easier than the one you have taken to reach us."
"Thank you, we hope so, too," Mathias replied.
Vala turned to one of the Alfar beside her and took a thin notebook from them, which she then offered to Aleksander. "In this you will find the trajectory that will take you safely back to your quadrant. As soon as you leave the atmosphere of our planet be sure to follow these instructions carefully."
Aleksander accepted the booklet gratefully. "Thank you," he said again, "This will definitely make our journey home easier."
Vala smiled faintly and looked over the small rag-tag crew and their ramshackle space ship. "If ever you return to this quadrant know that you will be welcome here again," he said.
"We will be sure to remember than," Aleksander replied, "Though I don't think you will be seeing us again."
"Then this must be farewell," Vala replied, and bowed to them very slightly. The crew all returned the gesture a little awkwardly, bid their farewells also, and retreated into their ship.
"Alright, let's get going," Mathias said as soon as the airlocks were closed. "I'm ready for some real work again."
"I can't believe that wasn't enough excitement to last you a lifetime," Tino said, rolling his eyes.
While Berwald descended to the engine room as usual the others followed Aleksander to the bridge, where the pilot took up his usual seat and began starting up the engines. Eiríkur took the seat beside his brother as usual, but did little more than watch and recite readings from the computer as the engines rumbled to life. In moments they were off the ground and soaring upwards, watching as the planet below them grew further and further until they burst through the upper atmosphere and into the void of space. Below them the planet shrank away into the distance, a blur of green and blue. "Alright, what's our trajectory?" Aleksander asked, looking to Eiríkur, who had the slim notebook open on his lap. His younger brother read out a string of numbers that meant nothing to the rest of them, and Aleksander programmed the ship's navigation accordingly. The ship lurched forward suddenly, knocking everyone who was not sitting off their feet as it slammed into full speed, and then, only moments later slammed to a stop again, toppling them again.
"What the hell, Aleks?" Mathias asked, who had only barely managed to remain standing by holding onto the back of Aleksander's chair. Tino and Peter had not fared so well. "What was that for? Did you forget how to fly?"
"That wasn't me," Aleksander said defensively, and began furiously pushing buttons to try and figure out what had happened.
"Then what was it?" Mathias demanded.
"I don't know," Aleksander said, "Are you all okay?"
"We're not hurt," Tino assured him as he rose to his feet and helped Peter up as well, "Some bruises maybe, but we'll be fine."
"Good, sorry, I'm trying to figure out what happened," Aleksander said without looking up from the screens in front of him.
"The stars changed," Peter said suddenly.
"What?" Mathias asked, looking back at him, and then out the window. Sure enough, the stars were different. The constellations had changed entirely. "They did. We've moved somewhere. Where are we?"
"Moved?" Aleksander asked, looking up for the first time. "Hold on, we're…" he furiously began scans to try and pinpoint their location. "We're at the edge of the Midgard system," he reported.
"What?" Tino asked. "That's not possible. We were at the other end of the galaxy two minutes ago. This ship can't go that fast."
"It didn't," Aleksander frowned in confusion as he played with the various dials and switches on the control panel. "We never left impulse."
"What?" Tino said again. "Are you sure? Maybe there's been a glitch."
"There's no glitch," Aleksander insisted.
"You're saying we actually got across the galaxy in five minutes?" Mathias asked. "No ship can go that fast. The only way to cover that amount of space so quickly is…" he trailed off as his brain finally made the connection.
"Through a wormhole," Aleksander finished for him.
"But if there was a wormhole ending here we would know about it," Mathias protested. "Everyone would know about it."
"That's just it, there's not a wormhole here," Aleksander replied. "There's no trace of one anymore, at least."
"What the hell are you talking about? If we just came through then there has to be one," Mathias protested, getting increasingly confused.
"Well there's not, the computers aren't picking up anything," Aleksander said helplessly.
"Then it must have been there only temporarily," Tino concluded.
"But that's not possible," Mathias protested.
"It is if they created it," Tino said.
Mathias stared at Tino as though he had lost his mind. "You're saying…"
"They have a wormhole generator," Tino nodded.
"A goddamn wormhole generator… " Mathias breathed in disbelief. "Son of a bitch."
Eir – A Norse goddess or valkyrie associated with medicine and healing.
That's it! Thank you all for reading and for sticking it out through my long-ass hiatuses! It's been an adventure. If you're interested, please head over to my tumblr (erandir. tumblr) for a nice little reader gift and behind the scenes type stuff. And for news about future sci-fi shenanigans (probably more space vikings, potentially some space mermaids).