Well, this is it. The final chapter of my first novel-length fanfiction. We've come a long way. I can hardly believe that I've been working on this story for over two years, and that it's finally come to its end. I wanna cry. T-T

Well, about the only thing left to show is what happened to Alister after he failed to meet up with Kaden, so here it is. Hopefully after reading it everyone who's been keeping up with the story will understand and sympathize with General Azimuth the way I do, and will dicscover a greater respect for the tragedy that unfolds at the end of A Crack in Time.

Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him.

Let him bury his face in the dust—there may yet be hope.

Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace.

For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.

For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.

Lamentations 3:29

« ... »

Curse the space pirates. Wretched, heartless, selfish little beasts.

Alister had one chance to reunite with his best friend. One chance to redeem himself to Kaden. And just like that, it was gone. Just because, of all times, a pirate envoy decided to raid his ship while he was on his way to the rendezvous point.

Curse them, and any other race that would consort with Percival Tachyon. They could all go carpet the Devil's floor together.

If only the damage to his ship after the battle hadn't taken so long to repair. He might have still made it. But once again, 'if only' was a cruel and useless wish—the mother of bitter regret. For when he arrived at the promised place, Kaden wasn't there.

The next few months had passed in a dizzying blur alternating between unbelievably fast and agonizingly slow. He searched for Kaden without rest; but with nothing to go on, he might as well have been trying to catch dust in the wind. Narrow escapes from Tachyon's forces became routine for him, but they never got easier. Each time he faced a new squad of Drophyd soldiers he was weaker and less alert. Every day he wondered if this was the day they would finally get the best of him.

Alister took to wearing a cloak and mask whenever he had to enter a public setting and kept to the dark lawless places where suspicious folks tended to gather and such attire was common. However, regularly spending time in places full of desperate characters carried its own set of problems. You didn't have to be a Lombax for someone to want to rob you, and if you did happen to be a Lombax the danger was even greater. Alister had to stay on his toes every waking second, and sleep was a hard-earned prize in these perilous months.

Lady Luck gave him a ghost of a smile one day when he was refueling his ship at a secluded spaceport. He stepped inside a seedy bar to find something to take the edge off another horrible day, and instead found something better—a lead.

"I'm tellin' ya, this Lombax was the gutsiest thing on two legs I've ever seen," rambled a deep, accented voice.

Alister froze in his tracks and snapped his head around to see a lanky blue alien sitting at the counter, hunched over a drink and talking to the bartender.

"Wasn't wearin' no disguise or nothin'! Even pointed his blaster right at me." He tipped his cowboy hat and smugly added, "I still got a pretty good deal out of 'im, though."

Alister flew over to him and smacked both hands on the counter. "Where did you see this Lombax? What was his name?"

The still small voice of reason was already scolding him for his tactless approach, but he was deaf to it. Hope had dwindled so much these past few months that any chance to rekindle it was more than he could resist.

The stranger looked at Alister and raised an eyebrow at his odd getup. "What's it to ya, friend?" He held up his right hand and rubbed his thumb and fingers together as he suggestively added, "Or rather, what's it worth to ya?"
Alister was tempted to beat it out of him right there, but the voice of reason spoke loud enough this time that he was able to restrain himself. With a sigh and a roll of his eyes behind his mask, he reached into his pocket and greased the opportunist's palm with some bolts he'd lifted off the last bounty hunter who had tried to capture him for Tachyon.

"Now let's see," the guy muttered in a mock innocent tone that made Alister want to punch him. "The gentleman didn't give me his name and he wasn't stupid enough to tell me where he was headed, but he was the type of character you don't forget. He was either a genius or a nut. I could've sworn I heard him talkin' to his ship at one point."

Alister's heart skipped a beat. "What business did you have with him?"

"Oh, I don't know if I should tell you that, friend; might be a violation of buyer-seller confidentiality."

Alister growled under his breath and shoved some more bolts in the crook's face.

"Well, now, can't argue with that logic," he sneered, stuffing the bolts in his own pockets. "Kid sold me a modified gyrocycle. Beautiful thing, too. Runs like a dream, and is it ever fast! Great for those times when you've, uh—just gotta get away."

Wait—Kaden had sold his gyrocycle? That didn't make any sense. Why, in this desperate situation, would he trade a piece of useful technology that could help him survive for something as worthless as money? "Was he in the market for something in particular?"

"Well, now, I don't know anything for sure, but an associate of mine recently told me about a similar experience he had with the same Lombax—least we think it was the same one. Says the little furball bought a covert software interface utility from him. He let it go cheap on accounta it was waaay outta the depth of any of his regular customers, but he said the Lombax was confident he could handle it. Said he seemed like he had something specific in mind."

The alien leaned his scaly head in close to Alister's face and whispered, "Interestingly enough, right after that was when Fastoon got abandoned."

"What?" Alister exclaimed, a little too loud.

"Haven't you heard? A while back Tachyon had all his forces withdraw from Fastoon. Something about the planetary security grid goin' down. Whole planet's been deserted ever since."

The stranger leaned back and took a casual swig of his drink.

Alister just stood there, his mind reeling. Kaden, you didn't...

The anxious Lombax turned tail and made a beeline for the exit.

"Good luck finding your friend, friend," the mysterious stranger called out, but Alister didn't stop to acknowledge him.

« « « « « ж » » » » »

It was perplexing how the view of Fastoon from space had hardly changed at all while the surface was hardly recognizable anymore. Alister gazed about the ruins of the Capitol and swallowed hard, his gorge rising at the sight. No matter how hard he tried to suppress his emotions and focus his thoughts, he couldn't stop himself from reliving the day it all came crashing down. Flashes of fire, peals of screaming, explosions, buildings crumbling, blood everywhere.

Alister shook his head hard and clasped his hands over his ears as if doing so could drown out the voice of the past. He forced himself to control his breathing. Inhale deep, hold, then repeat, just like they'd taught him in the academy. Eventually his heart rate slowed down, and he was able to focus again.

Aphelion's signature came up on radar as he approached the Capitol, and minutes later he landed at the source of the reading and found her remains. The ship was badly damaged. Clearly she'd been in a firefight. The domed roof of her cockpit was hanging wide open. It took Alister a moment to work up the courage to step forward and look inside, but when he did the cabin was completely empty. No scratch marks, no blood—Kaden clearly got out before the ship had crashed.

Alister breathed a sigh of relief, but it was too soon to celebrate. He had to find out what happened to him after he abandoned ship.

He was about to leave, when a sparkle caught his eye, and he took a closer look into the cabin. On the floor, just below the pilot's seat, was a small, round metal bauble reflecting the light of the sun from the one small edge of its surface which stuck out from behind a shadow. Curious, Alister reached down and picked the trinket up. In his hands it looked like some sort of old-fashioned timepiece. He'd seen them occasionally in period holofilms. He fumbled with it for a moment, trying to get it open, and finally the two halves of the thing separated and fell open like a book in the palm of his hand.

Alister's heart stopped, then immediately sped up when he saw what was inside. It was the picture. The one Kaden had taken of the two of them years ago. He could hardly believe he had held onto it until now, after everything that had happened.

His eyes began to sting, and he closed the watch quickly, before he could start to cry, and stuffed it in his utility belt.

If Kaden ejected before the ship crashed, there was only one place he would have gone. Alister dashed back to his ship and took a flying leap into the cockpit. He was already punching in the course before his hatch had even closed.

« ... »

Seconds before he would have arrived at the Court of Azimuth, Alister stopped his ship dead in its tracks. Flying low to the ground, he noticed something out of place in this deserted stretch of open plain: signs of a battle. Anywhere else that would have been normal, but this was the backyard of the Court. It led to nothing but undeveloped desert for at least five hundred miles. There was nothing to conquer out there, and certainly nowhere to hide where one could survive. By all rights, it should've been the only spot in the whole Capitol that didn't bear scars of battle. And yet, there were black streaks and disturbances in the sand characteristic of an aggressive pursuit, connected by a faint line that looked like... hoverboot tracks.

Alister wrenched his joystick into a hard 90 degree turn and kicked his engine back into gear. He followed those tracks at the highest speed that would still allow for analysis, reconstructing the chase in his mind second-by second as he pressed further into the wild frontier of Fastoon's untamed desert. It didn't take long before he reached the end of the trail, and his heart rate charged with fearful curiosity.

A large clearing at the base of a canyon was clearly the site of a mighty one-on one struggle. A maze of Hoverboot tracks and machine-made prints looped and crisscrossed everywhere, but Alister's gaze was shortly drawn to something in the center of it all. He landed his ship in a hurry, and climbed out, then rushed to the center of the battlefield, where he gasped at what he saw. A pang of deep worry racked his soul as he reached down and picked up a small pair of hoverboots. There was no doubt about it; they were Kaden's.

Frantically Alister looked around the area for some sign of what had happened after Kaden had lost them, and got his answer all too soon. A patch of dirt near one of the canyon walls was stained with the deep scarlet of dry blood. Sickeningly enough, Alister found drips and streaks of the same blackish red trailing away from the source. Horror gripped tighter on his heart with every passing second as he slowly followed the trail of blood to its final destination.

Alister squeezed his eyes shut and fell to his knees, clenching his fists until his knuckles turned white against the sand. He choked on the sobs that rose up in his throat from the pit growing in his stomach. There was no longer any reasonable hope that he could be mistaken. Kaden was gone. Drowned in the waters of his own homeworld, by a creature Alister had empowered to do so.

He couldn't take it anymore. The guilt, the heartbreak, the unspeakable self loathing. The only thing keeping him going these past few months had been the frail possibility that he might be able to help his friend—to undo even the smallest measure of the unforgivable damage he'd done. Now, even that hope was gone. There was nothing left for him now.

He whipped his blaster from its holster, set it to full power and pressed its barrel up against his chin. He deserved to die. No, he deserved worse than that. He deserved to wallow in his misery for all eternity, never again to feel the of warmth of another's touch, or draw comfort from the presence of someone who cared for him. But, selfish coward that he was, he didn't have the strength to face such justice. He couldn't bear the weight of his sorrow any longer. He had to end it.

Tears and memories flowed freely like blood from a fresh wound as he began to squeeze the trigger. Councilwoman Ulima had been right. Time was cruel...

"So what you're saying is, you think somewhere out in space there's a clock that can control time?"

Alister gasped, and he froze just shy of following through with his resolve. That memory... Where had it come from? The voice of the speaker came back to him after a moment's thought. It was Hadrian, Kaden's long-time rival. He had said that on the day Kaden had presented his time-travel hypothesis to the Council.

"That's my theory, yes," had been Kaden's response. The whole memory was flooding into his mind now, as vibrantly familiar as something that had happened yesterday.

"Time is a living, breathing thing," Ulima had stated in response to Kaden's suggestion. "Powerful, beautiful—oftentimes cruel. It can humble the strongest army, shape mountains to its will, and turn entire oceans to dust. If a machine that can manipulate it in any way truly exists, it's not the sort of thing that should be made known. Someone with your imagination should understand why this is so."

Turn entire oceans to dust...

Alister looked out across the surface of the tranquil pool that was now his best friend's grave.

What if he had been right? What if such a thing actually existed? Truly time was a beast as powerful as it was cruel, but what if it could be tamed?

Alister gazed long and hard at the surface of the water, so calm after such a horrible crime had been committed in its very body, and hope slowly began to fill his heart once more.

"How relevant is the past..." he murmured distantly, "if it can be changed?"

He lowered his blaster, got up, and headed for his ship. With each deliberate step he stamped out the memories, pain, and anger, and allowed them to feed the fire of ambition gradually lighting up in him once more.

If there was a way to take it all back, he would find it. He would dedicate his life to it, and would seek nothing else until his dying breath. He swore a wordless oath within the recesses of his soul, and buried all his pain in raw determination.

Nothing would stop him. No one would get in his way. He would find that Clock if it was the last thing he ever did.

Author's Notes:

- Geography of Fastoon— Yeah, I can barely handle geography for Earth, let alone some made-up alien planet. ^^' I'm sure I got some stuff wrong, but what can I say? Have I mentioned I don't have much free time?

- Theme Song: "Sound the Bugle" (Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron OST)— This is pretty self-explanatory.

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The General and Kaden has represented a lot of firsts for me as a writer. This was my first tragedy, my first 'space opera' (XP), the first story I've written with two main characters, and the first time I've ever actually killed a main character in the end. T-T It's been a tremendous experience, and I've learned a lot from it, both about myself and about writing in general. I'd like to give warm thanks from the bottom of my heart to everyone who read and/or reviewed the story all these years. Your gentle critique and strong encouragement have meant a lot to me and kept me going. I now feel like I'm ready to take the next step with my original fiction, and that's what I'll be working on almost exclusively for the next few months. Thus I want to let my subscribers know that I probably won't be posting any fanfiction, except maybe a few scattered oneshots, for quite some time. My goal is to be officially published by the time the Ratchet & Clank movie is released next year, and my hope is that this will make the two-year wait feel like no time at all. :P

Oh, and I hope everyone who read this story will check out the oneshot I just posted entitled 'Standing Still.' It's sort of a short spinoff of TGaK designed to help take the edge off the ending. I think anyone who liked The General and Kaden will like Standing Still as well. :)

Bonus! Fun Factoids about TGaK:

- The General and Kaden was originally intended to be no longer than ten chapters. #_# Don't ask me how I thought I could pull that off, because I have no idea.

- Many of the canon characters who made an appearance, such as Aphelion and The Plumber, were conceived into the story as an afterthought, and I often had to change my plans for the chapter in order to work them in. ^-^

- Nayeli's father was renamed shortly after his introduction when I realized that the name I chose had already been used earlier in the story. *~* I got the name 'Dezmond' from a Barbie movie. It was the first half-decent name to pop into my head, and I've never really liked it. ^^'

- If you remove all the Forewords and Author's Notes, the total length of the story gets cut down by almost 9,000 words! O.O My next writing project should be an autobiography entitled, 'The Chatty Writer.' :P