Chapter One

Four Years Later


Beep . . . Beep . . . Beep . . . Beep . . .

I smacked the alarm clock to turn it off, and woke up. I got out of bed and let out a yawn. The sun shone through my apartment window. I opened the curtains all the way and saw the sunrise. I had gotten used to the lack of sand. It used to be everywhere. We were used to being dirty. But now, it's so clean everywhere. The Taiidan sure do know how to live healthy and clean.

I heard her groan and pull the sheets over her head.

"Hey, we're supposed to go see John off, remember?" I said.

"Oh yeah. Alright gimme a few minutes." she said. Arazis and I have been dating for a while now. I opened the drawer and put on a shirt. I brushed my teeth and that was it. I skipped the shower today we had to get there before he left.

I made a sandwich for breakfast, which I should have done before brushing my teeth as it tastes minty now. Good enough, I'd end up eating in town anyway. We had to squint when going down the elevator. The sun was up now, all bright and blinding. Not as bright as that of Khar-Illume, but being here our eyes have adjusted.

"This is what, his eighteenth time now? The Taiidan seem to be in a huge rush to leave." she commented.

"Think about it. Their new capital world is a planet completely empty prior to the Homeword War. It used to be a small farm world. There's loads of land for a very low price. They see the opportunity to start over far away from any memory of their previous tyrannous empire."

"I guess it's just too much to handle. Knowing so many people have died for this planet that they have no more emotional attachment to."

"What about you? You still haven't told me if you want to go." I said referring to the scheduled departure for Kadesh. John's next mission after this one was to take all of the Kadeshi who want to return home back to the Great Nebula. It will be the first time we return since the War.

"I haven't decided yet." she said as the door opened. We were instantly surrounded in a sweet-smelling breeze. The flowers around the city made it always smell nice.

I left it at that. She hadn't decided yet, so I'll leave her alone about it.

We called for a transport and were brought to the spaceport. It was modeled after the one from Tiir but bigger to compensate up to carrier size vessels. We've implemented a lot of the Taiidan technology into our ships over the last four years. There were four other carriers there who were leaving with him. The port was full of people. Almost all of them Taiidan. A lot of them were happy to see me.

I've become a target of the media after Landfall for many reasons, partly due to my father's fame, partly due to mine, partly due to me becoming the Kiith'sa of the Soban. I've made it perfectly clear I had no interest in basking in the glory of being popular like my father. I wasn't that selfish. There were still a few perks, I could enter any high-security areas such as science labs, top secret research facilities to do with fighter technology, and Karan's apartment. I've become acquainted with her again now. She's not the same as before, then again I only knew her from my childhood prior to the War. It made sense that she'd change. I just wasn't sure if it was the normal passage of time or from being fused with the Core.

I feel bad for her sometimes. She seems very lonely. She misses being in the Mothership. She says the feeling of being an entire ship is the best thing she has ever felt. Being removed was like losing a limb. I tried to imagine, but I just couldn't. That's the reason behind her solitude.

The bridge of the carrier was filled with media people. Cameras everywhere. "What's with the vultures?" I asked.

"Karan was rumored to be seeing off the last of the emigrants for this year." John said.

"She didn't tell me anything like that, I guess it's just a rumor. You hear that! Karan isn't coming so I guess you're stuck with me." a few of them stepped back a bit. I punched a camera man once. And insulted reporters on many occasions. I've been trying to make the media like me less.

"So off to the nebula after this I hear?" Arazis said.

"Yeah, hoping to be on good terms with them. Possibly open up a trade alliance or something. Saiin said he was going back, did he talk to you about that?"

"Yeah." she said. That was news to me.

"Saiin? Really? I thought he loved it here." I said.

"It's his sister." she said. "She's . . . well she's not entirely sane. He's worried about her. Every year he gets worse. He draws some pretty dark things when he's alone unable to sleep at night."

"Well in that case, I hope he's happy back home." I said.

"Where's Fiira?" Arazis asked. She was his second in command during the War, and wife after. It was questionable whether or not they should remain on the same ship, but it was allowed due to their contributions getting us here. They worked better as a team, was the official report.

"In the communications room making sure the other carriers are ready for launch." he said. She walked in a minute later.

"We're all set. The other ships are at a hundred percent capacity. We're ready when you are."

"Launching in ten minutes. All those not wishing to come along should disembark within this time." he said over the communications. The media people had already left.

"I'll see you in two weeks." I said before we left with the crowd.

We passed by Eric and Triikor when we got out.

"Hey!" Eric said.

"How's it been? I haven't seen you in weeks!" I said.

"Better than ever."

Arazis grabbed Triikor's hand. "Is this..."

"Eric, my man!" I said giving him a high five.

"I proposed three days ago, actually."

"The wedding is going to be held on the new capital." she said.

"So you're leaving too then?" I asked.

"Yeah. Everyone she knows is over there. And let's face it, I was a loner before Landfall, and still am now. My book might have made me popular to the readers, but I just don't feel accepted here. My entire clan has gone extinct, pretty much. There's only a handful of us left."

"Seems everyone's leaving." I said.

"So you heard about Saiin then." Triikor said.

"So what brings you here?" I asked changing the subject.

"Jeroll and Natalia left with Caleb and Amelia. She's not really in any position of power, but she knows a thing or two about politics, unlike Elson who dealt with guerrilla tactics. She's going to be an advisor to help him set up his new republic." Caleb was her brother, Jeroll her cousin who was a major leader of the rebellion on Hiigara, and Natalia was his friend who changed sides near the end to help out.

"Your brother has been pretty much always near you these past years. It'll be weird not seeing him around now." Arazis said.

"Well, he chose who he wants to be with, and I'm glad he chose to go. It'll be better for him." she said. I didn't sense any sadness, she really was glad he was moving on with his life. The kid has been through so much. His parents' murder, being involved with the rebellion, having to choose between the future of the rebellion and the one he loved, the daughter of the deceased emperor. It worked out for the better, of course. Natalia was mostly to thank for that.

We went to get something to eat. We stopped and got some burgers at a chain restaurant. Not the healthiest thing around, but we just wanted something quick.

Eric said that they'd be leaving in three months, once the year changed over and the transits started up again. They'd hope that we could make it, and we said we'd make sure we did. Then the media found us.

"So Eric, the last of the Gaalsien sits here, engaged to his long-time love, the only Taiidan of the fleet who bombed Kharak to refuse to take part in the event. So when is the wedding?" He said far too friendly-like. He made me sick. I saw that they were both angry, but they didn't want to seem like mean people. That was my job.

"Hey jackass. No love for the Sa of the Soban?" he looked and pointed the camera to me.

"Well yes, but this is big!"

"No, it's not. They've been together for four and a half years now. It's bound to happen. And you're ruining the moment. You do realize that fighting that war was no easy task? It's emotionally and psychologically damaging to all of us. You were a sleeper. You had it easy, deep within the Mothership's cozy hull while we zipped around in weak little fighters. One, he's not the only Gaalsien, and two, she doesn't like talking about the events that transpired at the time of the Genocide, neither do any of us. Don't spew out your hyperbolic paparazzi nonsense so lightly in the presence of the ones who saved your life. I have every legal right and ability to kick your ass right here and now." the look on his face was priceless. "Do you understand?" I said leaning in closer with a menacing look on my face. He ran out the door.

"Thanks, Mark." Eric said letting out a breath in relief.

"No problem."

We finished eating and went our separate ways. Eric and Triikor were going to the beach as it was a nice day out. We were going to the town market to see Saiin.

It was a ten minute walk, but it was nice. It was also most of the exercise we get now. Alright, I'll admit it. I've gotten lazy now that I don't need to be in top physical condition. My job is to train pilots with Leonard, but I have the next few days off. There's no real hard work involved. Once you're in a fighter feeling the effects of inertia, you'll understand why pilots work out a lot.

We found him in a group of ten or so people who were buying paintings from him. He was allowed to sell right dead center of the capital building's entrance. He made the pattern for the art on the walls surrounding it. I helped of course. I showed him pictures I took of the city. He made the entire city on the far wall so that would be the first thing you'd see once entering, and he made it fade into a black and had the sketch of Kharak on the opposite wall, so it would be what you saw once you left. It was tile art, but you couldn't tell from how far it was. The end result was breathtaking. This building was huge, so it was definitely one of the more prominent features of the Tiir Nova market.

We snuck up behind him and Arazis gave him a light punch on the shoulder. He jumped and nearly dropped a painting. He turned around looking angry until he saw who it was. She liked to pick on him for being physically weak.

"So what you got this time?" I asked.

"Well, I don't always paint in color, but when I do, I make sure it's perfect." he showed us one of the seashore at sunset. There was a wing of Republican interceptors flying overhead. The teal ships and the orange sunset contrasted nicely because of the way it was shaded and blended. He's got skill in this form of art.

"How much for that one there?" someone asked about the one he was showing us.

"This, well take a close look first." he said handing it to him. He was a Taiidan by his hair and eye color. The majority of them had blonde hair and blue eyes. They've manipulated their genetics too much and that was the result.

"I'll give whatever you're offering, this is beautiful." he said.

"Three hundred."

"Sold!" he said making his transaction.

"Why so little? That was probably worth at least seven hundred." Arazis said.

"Well, I saw the look in his eyes, and the emblem tattooed on his arm tells me he's a former pilot, probably turned to a rebel. Triikor has the same one. It'll bring nostalgic memories to him that are priceless. And besides, I'm not going to be here for too much longer and I can't take any of this with me." he said. He got to know the Taiidan far more than any of us. Triikor was one of his closest friends. She told him much about her culture.

"What's that, you're leaving? But you've brought so much culture to us. You'll be missed." said an old lady. Also taiidan. Her hair turned white but her eyes were blue.

"I've got one colored one left. The rest are sketch drawings and you can all have one free." he said.

He sold the last one that was another nebulous one, depicting his white snowball of a home. He painted that one months ago.

"You're selling Second?" Arazis asked.

"I'll be there soon enough, I'll just make another once I'm there." he said smiling. He sold that one for nine hundred. He wasn't letting that one off easy. Then everyone chose one of the sketches until there were none left.

He sat on a bench and faced the imprint of Kharak. "That was by far my biggest challenge." he said pointing to it. "It's also the one I had the most fun doing."

"The black tiles that fade from the brown of the sand really make it look like an impossible work, doesn't it." I commented. We had the same love for art. He's just the better artist. I'm not very good.

"I guess that means you won't be there for the wedding." Arazis said.

"I'd hope so, but I still don't know if they'll let anyone leave the nebula. John might not be able to leave. They'll have a kadeshi inhibitor specialist onboard to negate the inhibitor's effects if it's serious."

"I don't know if I should go." she said.

"Don't. You're happy here. You were banished from your home anyway, remember?"

"Yeah . . ." I could tell she wanted to go.

"Well, I'm going to the park. You two in?" Saiin said. We decided to go along. We had nothing else on our schedule.

The park was a large open field area grass that was perfectly tended to, constantly cut along a hillside. There was a monument there that had been uncovered from moss that was illegal to remove during the imperial reign. Haalt-Nar had the same thing. They were everywhere. Monuments of our past. Scientists have been studying them non-stop since we arrived. They've concluded that they were just that, monuments. They depicted symbols of out past, some were ships, some were animals, some were pillars with names on them. They must have made sense in the past, but now they seem random and scattered, their original meaning long lost to the world, and to their descendants.

You can hear sounds in the wind, sounds of birds chirping, sounds of life. It was one of the first things I noticed after Landfall. Life was all around us.

Families walked around to the residential district on the other end, and children played in the fields. There were many of them, all Hiigaran-borns. No children were brought aboard unless their families payed for them, like in John's nieces case. She was ten now. Also my sister's case. She wasn't a sleeper though until later once there were tubes to spare.

They would never know the sands of Kharak, or the heat and brightness of it's harsh sun. Some part of me is glad, another part of me is sad about it. Kharak was my homeworld. It always will be. I try to imagine the harsh heat, sometimes I take showers in nearly boiling water just to try and remember. Try and remember my past. I couldn't forget, because if I did, Kharak and all of it's inhabitants would remain dead.

We stayed there until we got tired, and then left for home. The Homeworld War was over. Life is peaceful, and we were no longer under the threat of potential death at any minute. It's incredible to feel complete freedom for once.

On the way, we ran into Karan who was wearing a hooded sweater and a wig.

"Why hello there, stranger, where are you headed?" Arazis said.

"Anywhere away from these media vultures. I was actually planning on seeing them off as the rumors said, not that I had originally planned on it, but it seemed to be a constructive thing to do for our Hiigaran-Taiidan relations."

"Then what? I asked.

"Then I was swarmed with cameras halfway there and panicked."

"Your place is far from here, come with us then. You know they won't piss you off with me around."

She laughed and agreed.

Back at our place, I turned on the TV and sat on the couch with my feet on the coffee table. The other two joined me. Karan threw her wig on the table and rubbed her head. The news was generally always useless, but it was sometimes nice to find out things that were happening in the world, and the galaxy. Then a story became relevant. "So you say you saw him there?" a news anchor asked.

"Yes, Mark Soban himself was there."

"So instead of our lady Karan seeing them off he decided to do it himself? I assume he was filling in, but I may be wrong. Rumor has it that she's become ill of mind, lately. Never leaving her house."

The conversation went on but I turned the screen off. The fools. She'd be able to have somewhat of a life if they stopped swarming her every chance they got. The crew of the Mothership showed much more respect than the sleepers. I hated the sleepers while in the War, and I still hate them.

"I don't know what to do anymore." she said. I thought she would start crying.

"Let me make some tea." Arazis said.

"Just do like me. Ignore them. It's hard at first, but after a while, you realize anyone respectable won't mind if you tell a reporter to fuck off once in a while."

"I'm not you, Mark." she laughed again.

"Yeah, I guess that won't work. But still, you deserve better than this."

"Well, they have a point. I barely have a social life. You two and your friends are the only real people I can talk to without feeling completely out of phase. Otherwise it's all business and politics. It's making me sick to be the Sa of Sas. I'm only twenty six. I should be doing normal things."

"Well, it's the media. You're gonna have to give someone the finger eventually. They'll never just let you be unless you tell them you can't take it anymore." I said. Arazis came back with the tea. It relieves stress. And she's gotta be feeling a ton of it right now.

I knew anything I said would be useless. She wanted to keep her powerful stance. People respected her. They thought of her as nearly god-like. There's been some nonsense from religious fanatics who claim that she saw Sajuuk himself while in hyperspace.

"And now everyone's leaving." Arazis said. Nice way to lighten the mood.

"You two aren't, are you? I'll be completely alone if you do."

"We haven't decided yet." I said. Arazis looked at me confused.

"Where do you plan on going, to Kadesh?"

"Hey, I'm not the one homesick. We'll probably wait until it's safe to go there. You know, when we know we'll be able to get back." I clarified. Arazis rolled her eyes.

"Oh. That's fine then I guess. I just don't want to be left here alone." we're the only ones she talks to without the need to keep her strong image. I can't imagine needing to live a huge lie like that with no one.

"We're not going to leave you." Arazis said.