STARTROPICS: FOLLOW THE SOUTHERN CROSS
By Eric T. Lawson
EPILOGUE: SENTINEL OF THE CROSS
"Many years will pass. Your people will cover the planet, and be as the stars, even venturing out into them, into the abyss. But this tranquility will not last, and doom will come again. In your people's darkest hour, I will return. I will not be as I am now, but you will know me by the weapon I hold and the courage in my eyes. You, Sellarus…will be reborn, the last daughter of your line, and I will come to you in that new form. Our love will be adored by the stars, yet pitied…For it will bring your death. Together, we will bring new life to your world. That is my promise."
The Complete Prophecy of the Starseer
July 27th, 1996
Time had no effect on the islands of the Southern Cross; six years had passed in the outside world. The United States had fought the Gulf War, unknowingly pulling themselves into a longer and larger conflict than any could anticipate. A saxophone player and philanderer was President. Telecommunications were entering into their prime, with the beginnings of a thing called the internet.
As the helicopter from Hawaii lifted off of the ground and took off into the northeast, Michael D. Jones thought to himself, with a gentle smile, that none of that mattered.
The sun beat down on him, but with the tropical sea breeze blowing through his short brown hair, it didn't seem so bad. He'd trimmed it back, and it no longer had the same wavy curl in the front that it once had. He'd packed light, unlike his uncle, who had three steamer chests, empty for the moment, ready to go.
"Sun so bright it hurts your eyes to look at it…" Mike mused, recollecting a line from the movie Field of Dreams.
His Uncle Steve caught the reference and chuckled. "Lord, you haven't played that game since you graduated from high school, and you're still obsessed with the culture?"
"You know what they say, doc." Mike countered, scratching at his chin. "It doesn't matter how much time passes. You never forget the game." He drew in a long breath, letting himself feel invigorated. "I'd forgotten how much cleaner it smells out here."
"It would be, yes." Dr. Jones agreed, hefting two of the steamer trunks towards Mike. "Now be a sport and help me with these things. You're my research assistant, after all."
"Right." Mike snorted, rolling his eyes as he picked up one in each hand. "For which I'm being paid a grand stipend of absolutely squat."
"Although you are getting the internship you need to finish up your Master's degree in archaeology." His uncle countered. "Not many people who go into the field can say they have a famous uncle helping them out."
"Not many people who go into the field of archaeology can blow up cars by looking at them funny, either." Mike added, with a visible amount of mirth. "As if I'd ever feel the need to."
"We don't have much time for dalliance, I remind you." Dr. Jones pointed out. "Tomorrow, a seaplane from Australia will be arriving to pick us up, and we'll need to have my laboratory cleaned out by then."
Even at the southern end of the island where the helipad was, the laboratory of Dr. Stephen Jones, world-renowned archaeologist was visible. Like it always had, it jutted out from the northern end of the island, along the dropping peninsula. Mike found himself staring at it, until his uncle, not watching where he was going, ran into him.
"Woah, now! Mike, you stopped walking."
"Sorry, Uncle Steve." Mike apologized, shaking it off and trudging in a westwards direction again with the empty steamer trunks dragging in the grass behind him. "I just…got lost in thought again."
"Yes, you do have a habit of doing that."
"…I just can't believe it's over." Mike pointed out glumly. "You're finally leaving Coralcola…What's going to happen to the lab after you leave?"
"Well, since it was constructed with funds from a grant by the National Geographic Institute, ownership will revert back to them. They'll keep it in good order, and use it as a staging point for other expeditions in the area. If you're worried, though, I have their reassurance that beyond the laboratory, the islands of the Southern Cross will be preserved as they are. No attempt will be made to alter their culture any further."
"Oh, I wasn't worried about that." Mike chuckled. "I was actually wondering what they were going to do with that side-scanning electron microscope you have tucked away in there. Not to mention Sub-C…and R.O.B."
"Aah, R.O.B." Dr. Jones laughed aloud. "My, I haven't thought of him in ages. For a nagivational automaton, he certainly developed his own set of quirks, didn't he?"
"Maybe those future thinkers are right." Mike suggested. "It might be fully thinking robots aren't too far around the corner."
They plodded on towards Coralcola Village, well aware that their arrival would be cause for a celebration. Chief Omoy had gotten married two years before, and now had a little daughter he'd named after his sister; Bana Omoy. If all signs pointed correctly, the Island Chief had spawned the next shaman.
One particular habit of Mike's that he'd never been able to break in his long years was the empty stare he gave off when he was lost in thought. Anybody who knew him well enough could place it, and from there, figure out that something was bothering him.
Ten seconds into his daydreaming, his uncle cleared his throat. "So what were you thinking about now?"
"Just…things." His nephew answered feebly.
Steve didn't need the power of the mind like his nephew had to understand how terrible of an answer that was.
"Just why did you decide to come with me?"
"On this next trip of mine. You knew perfectly well we'd be making a stopover at Coralcola. You haven't wanted to come back here since you were nineteen. Why now?"
The question hit home, because Mike winced. It was an open sore, a wound he'd never really gotten over. Most of the time, he didn't let it bother him. Life, after all, went on after Coralcola, after the Argonians.
"You know, there were some days I tried to convince myself that it wasn't real." Mike spoke up, softly enough his uncle had to strain to hear. "It was easier that way. But this gift of mine, these psychic abilities…made it hard to forget."
"Your Shilivre?" Dr. Jones prodded, and Mike's eyes flickered for a moment.
"Words. Just words." He kept the silence after that, but his uncle had no intention of letting Mike walk away from his past again.
"When the Argonians left, and we were on the plane home, I asked you if you still wanted to come here. You said yes, remember?"
Mike did remember, of course. He just didn't like to talk about it.
"You told me you wanted to come back here every summer, until…" He let his voice trail off, waiting for Mike to fill in the blank. The novice archaeologist never did, though, as stubborn as ever.
"You were waiting for her." Dr. Jones surmised. Mike blinked a few times, not giving much of a reaction…but enough of it had been there to confirm his relatives' guess. "Three summers you spent here, not doing much of anything…and then, one summer, you said no, and stayed home. It was because she never came, wasn't it?"
Mike stopped his walk, setting the empty steamer trunks on the ground as he turned to address his uncle. In his adulthood, he towered three inches above the stout man with glasses. "You're fishing, Uncle Steve. Just stop it." His voice may have been quiet, but the ice in them stung as bad as hot words would have. "I don't regret the choices I've made…and I don't regret moving on. It's what you told me to do, after all. There's no sense in waiting for dreams, when the world keeps on spinning without you. So she didn't come. Fine. They have their planet to live on and recover. Their own world to live in."
A fire burning in his eyes, Mike picked up the empty trunks and started walking again.
"I have mine."
Even with the extra weight, Michael Jones easily outpaced his older, less athletic uncle. It suited the old man well enough, for he carried a heavy heart as he watched his nephew walk on.
"I'm sorry." He whispered, thinking for one long moment how different things would be if he'd never invited Mike to spend that one fateful summer with him long ago. "I wish I could give you your dreams."
Mike was already long ahead of him, though, fully dedicated to his task. Able to read his nephew's mannerisms from a distance, Dr. Jones noted they'd have a small farewell at best for the islanders.
The boy who had once saved a people from extinction now spent all his time doing his best not to remember.
The man he had become had all the power and the weight of his experience…and none of the rewards. Small wonder he held no dreams anymore.
That was the greatest tragedy of all.
The most incredible, most inspiring stories are also the ones that create the most incredulity. It is why legends are just that...legends. It is why so much of the past is rationalized, sanitized. They are the texts by which we lull ourselves to sleep and convince our weary spirits that there's something of dreams left in the world we wander.
I'm 22 now. I graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in investigative history in May of this year. Simply put, I have followed in the footsteps of my Uncle Steve; I'm an archaeologist, a researcher of the past who prefers a battlefield not of the library, or of books, but the musty world beneath us.
My classmates, my teachers...they all struggle with the nature of the world, of human civilization, countless centuries before. But their quest is not mine.
In an age when personal computers had become the accepted norm, and would only increase, Mike still preferred the feel of a pad of paper underneath his hand, and the weight of a mechanical pencil in his grip. Back within his old room in the laboratory, he took a rest after dinner, finally having the time to put things into perspective.
Everything that Uncle Steve needed was packed in his steamer trunks. The rest was stored in archives for later use…And the most precious materials, the ones relevant to the Argonians and that period of history that needed to become nonexistent were locked, safely stored away in the hidden underground alcove which Sub-C had used as its secret harbor for so long. The cavern had never been public knowledge; Uncle Steve had found it only because of Hapo Omoy's assistance, and with the entrance from above sealed off, the secrets of the Argonian refugees would be buried…like Rellini-Uros…beneath the islands of the Southern Cross. He thought about that for only a moment before his pencil lead dashed across the page again, charting out the rest of his journal entry.
Six years ago, I saw something greater. And I was part of a miracle.
But they'd never believe me. Uncle Steve...even he had to temper his findings. Explaining that the ruins at Howduyadocola, before they became unstable and collapsed, presented significant evidence of the same Polynesian culture that would give rise to the Easter Island population and the seafaring nomads won him acclaim, prestige, and further government grants.
But he could not tell them of the Argonians. He could not tell them of the dramatic role of a far distant civilization in guiding our development. Such is the stuff of science fiction, of nonsense. It is the substance of hacks and crackpots. And Dr. Jones is neither.
I saved them. The Argonians...I saved them from their self-proclaimed nemesis long ago. I would do so again. But Zoda is dead. Finally. No more clones. The last of them...Fall of 1990. The return of Hirocon, presumed dead and lost was my last great act as their hero. Even now...with all the power I hold, with my understanding of Shilivre, the might it possesses, I cannot bring myself to believe that I am the Starseer.
He paused again, breaking the stream of consciousness. The next part, his next thoughts, hurt the worst to write down. But the pain was less now. The wound might never heal, but the years had let it scab over. He drew in one last breath, finding the strength to continue on.
I think about Mica the most...Her laugh. Her smile. Her smell. The taste of her lips. They say you never forget your first love.
Mica is my only love. Princess...Princess Seremichaela Argos. But she's gone now. They're all gone. When Hirocon appeared out of the Tetrads I had fought tooth and nail for through the centuries of earth's past, he came with a plan. To restore Argonia to its former glory. To rebuild. True, Zoda's strike had been a mass genocide. But Hirocon had faith in his people, in their resiliency. He banked on survivors. Hirocon was so much stronger than the rest of them, strong enough to reach out to his planet light years away. They were going home.
Mica was quiet at that news. Despondent. Torn. Hirocon knew it, but he needed her. She was the only true heir to the legacy of Sellarus. Without her, the Argonian race would fail. She had to leave. And when she did...she took my heart with her.
I remember what she told me, when she was in my embrace for the last time before she joined the others to leave. "There is one part to the Prophecy I haven't told you, Mike. The Starseer...he promised he would bring new life to Argonia." There was something in her sad smile. Something she couldn't say telepathically. Something she couldn't say aloud. Something.
Then they left. And here I am.
After I graduated, I became the field assistant for my Uncle. It's a role that Giskard would be proud to have, if he were still here. I struggle at times, and Steve's a difficult, but well-intentioned taskmaster. Still, he knows the look in my eyes. The distance. The faraway gaze.
I am here, but my thoughts are not. My heart is not. And maybe I'm still waiting for something. I don't know. I'm on Coralcola again right now; we're cleaning up Uncle Steve's laboratory, because he's moving to a new facility in Australia. He's opted to do some studies on the local aborigine populations there. It's strange to be back here.
Nowhere else in the world feels as different as this does. Nowhere else...feels as magical. It's painful to be here. Too many memories. Too many feelings I've worked long and hard to keep bottled up.
She's not here. She'll never come back. It was a wild adventure...but that time has come and gone, and I have to move on. I have to. But I can't. I don't want to. I don't want to forget.
I never want to forget Mica.
That's another thing about stories and legends...about why my story, if you can truly call it that, doesn't belong in the pantheon.
All true stories have happy endings.
Mine is only unresolved emptiness.
His mechanical pencil pulled back, and he stared down at the page with a distant sort of bitterness. If he'd learned one thing about his powers, it was that strong emotions could cause them to flare up. It had taken him a while to understand that, and to get around it. He became better, after a time, at hiding his unique gift than using it. It was necessary to live in his world, even if it meant denying parts of himself he had taken for granted for so long.
It was why he had given up baseball. It was why he'd turned into such a scholar. Impartiality and careful study were vocations that fit it. Playing baseball professionally, which had been one of his youthful ambitions, ended when he realized that one flareup would be the end of everything.
That mental restraint, however, had exacted a price. Years ago, reading those words would have torn him apart. Now there was just a weary sort of resignation.
But if he was to break from that shell…if he was to, for a moment, remember who he truly was, and cut loose, then it was best to do it here.
On Coralcola, there was still, even if it was a lie, the shadow of something greater than the life he lived. Here, the power he carried didn't have to stay dormant.
Here…as much as he might deny it…He was still a hero.
Long moments passed before his right hand snapped the journal closed, and he walked out towards the living room. Dr. Jones was relaxing in his favorite chair, glancing down at the most recent Tom Clancy thriller through his glasses. The aged archaeologist blinked a few times as he looked up. "Michael? Is something wrong?"
"I was going to take a walk." His nephew answered, after a pause.
"Well, don't stay out too late." Dr. Jones reminded him. "That seaplane will be here pretty early. But go on, then. Do what you need to."
"Do what I need to?" Mike repeated questioningly. Steve Jones smiled, nudging his glasses down just enough to stare over the tops of them.
"Make your peace. I'll be here when you get back. Whenever that is."
Mike's eyes softened. "Thanks, doc." He wandered out the front door, vanishing into the tropical night.
Dr. Jones flipped another page in his book, giving his head a shake. "You're more like me than you know, nephew." He left it at that, and moved on.
The North Shore
July 27th, 1996, 9:57 P.M.
Tempered hands ran along the piece of driftwood he knew so well. The elements had finally begun to wear it down, and the edges were chipped away. He doubted it would still support his weight if he sat down, so he didn't test it.
"Why did I come here?" He muttered, shaking his head. "There was no reason for me to. I could have just as easily taken the flight to Sydney and waited for Uncle Steve."
Maybe because you wanted to come here, that nagging voice in the back of his head suggested. Mike let out a derisive snort.
"Like I'd want to come back here. There's too many memories. Too many regrets. Too much to be bitter about."
But you're not mad at her. No, you never could be mad at her. There were only two things you ever felt for her, weren't there?
Biting his tongue, Mike wandered closer to the shore, letting the surf wash over his bare feet.
He couldn't deny it. The voice in his head, that conscience men often wrote about, was dead on. Sure, there were days he wondered how Marlin was doing, or what Giskard was researching next…but for the most part, if he ever thought of them, he thought of her.
He looked up to the Southern Cross, and felt all the walls the years had made inside of him begin to crumble. "I didn't forget about you." He began softly. The stars shimmered above him, offering no reply. "I waited for you. For three years, I waited for you. I don't know what I was thinking…Just crazy, I guess. Crazy, and in love." He looked down to his palm, staring down at the lines within it. "Still am. Always will be. I don't regret it. And it's not easy, but…"
A lump swelled in his throat, and he swallowed it down, destroying the last of his rage. "I don't blame you." He let it linger in the air, savoring the ring of it.
It's not your fault.
He laughed, if only because he'd waited so long for clarity that its sudden appearance seemed comical. "I still wonder about you all the time, as much as I try to convince myself I should move on. Are you still alive? Is Argonia rebuilt? How are the others? And will you ever be able to come back?" In the starlight, his blue eyes shimmered. "Would you…even want to come back?"
He tore his sight from the stars, looking out over the waves again. "You're lucky, you know." He continued, murmuring. "There's nothing on Argonia that could even possibly remind you of me. But everywhere I look, I always end up seeing you. I didn't forget about you, because I couldn't. But…you've probably forgotten about me. And that makes you luckier than you'll ever know. You were able to move on."
Mike tucked his hands into his pockets. "I suppose that's why I came here. I just wanted to tell you that. Even if you'd never hear it, you deserved the truth. I'm saying goodbye, Mica. I won't ever be coming back to Coralcola again. So stay on Argonia. Stay where you need to be. Stay where you're loved. And for my sake…live. That's the only thing that matters."
The graduate from Seattle, an archaeologist in the making, gave one last sad smile to the stars. "I told you to follow the Southern Cross. You don't have to anymore now. Goodbye, Mica. Goodbye…and farewell."
He was so lost in himself, Michael Jones didn't notice the red-haired woman in a faded patterned red dress walk up and stand beside the driftwood behind him. He didn't hear her footsteps, or pick up her scent, or sense her.
"You can't say goodbye, Michael…" She said, so faintly that he thought at first, the voice was a hallucination. In the night, her eyes shimmered. "I never got to say hello again."
His heart skipped a beat, and he turned around. There she stood, in the red dress that Bana Omoy had given her long ago…But it couldn't be the same dress. She had grown. All trace of her girlish attractiveness had been replaced with a woman's beauty. But it was still her same long dark red hair that blew in the tropical breeze, and it was still her quavering smile he stared at.
"Tell me you're a dream." He uttered, thinking as his eyes began to blur that surely, SURELY, this was not real. He'd waited for so long, his mind must have produced a hallucination of her.
The vision of the girl…woman…he'd promised his heart to years before walked towards him, her sunfaded red dress bouncing around her ankles in its soft sway. She walked straight up to him, and lifted a hand to caress the side of his face. "This is no dream." She promised him. "I'm really here."
Instinct made Michael pull her against him, and in that first hungry kiss, he realized she truly was.
Eventually, he had to ask the question which had bothered him for so long. "Why did you never come back?"
Mica nervously folded her hands down in front of her, falling back into Mike with every shared breath. "I…I wanted to. But that first summer after we left, there were complications. And then the year after that, there was too much to do on Argonia. And the year after that…" She bowed her head low. "Maybe it got easier to fall back on excuses. The more years that passed, the more I didn't want to come back, just because it got harder to think about it. What I'd say to you. What you'd say to me." Her eyes began to mist up at the end. "I was afraid you would have changed, or that maybe I had, and that the love we shared didn't exist anymore."
Michael Jones thought about it for a long moment, then pushed her hair back to look at her. "I never stopped loving you. I tried not to think about it some days, because it hurt too much. I tried to move on. I couldn't. So you never had to worry about that, Mica. You told me to never forget you, and I didn't."
Her lip quivered, and Mike gave her a reassuring smile. "Now what's wrong?"
"I don't know what to say next." She stammered. "I never thought…I'd get to this point."
Mike's hand went down from her face to her hand, and their fingers blended together. "Walk with me." He asked, as gentle as she had always known he could be. "We'll figure out what to talk about along the way."
"Most of Argonia's infrastructure was destroyed by Zoda's attack twenty-six years ago." Mica began, after Mike asked how things were at home. "But my father was right; the Argonian people survived. They hid in the caverns beneath the surface, like our ancestors did when the Star Devils attacked. When we returned, they were ten years into the process of reconstruction. They'd even created a Council of Elders as their new government."
Mike frowned, recalling his own studies of history. "I imagine that they weren't too keen on having the monarchy back."
"It was a sign of the old times…and there were some problems." Mica answered cautiously. She glanced up to the night sky as they walked on. "The Council is still in power, and my family's role has been downplayed. My father did the smart thing by accepting the decision. The royal family's more of a figurehead anymore; we don't hold any governmental power, but people still look to us for support and guidance all the same."
"The power of Sellarus' line, right?" Mike prodded, and Mica seemed to tense up for a moment before nodding in agreement.
"Just so. The nobility was removed as well. Argonia's become a constitutional monarchy, I think you'd call it. We needed every living soul to set things back. But our return's helped matters; a great deal of Shilivre was limited to the noble families, and regaining the royal family and the other children restored that gift. Using our strength, we've been able to speed up the process of recovery." She smiled and shook her head. "Another two years is all we need to make Argonia whole again."
"…So what about you, hero?" Mica asked, teasing him with the name. "What have you been doing these last six years?"
"I finished high school, then I went on to College."
"No, and that's what you're going to think is funny." Mike began hesitantly. "I…Actually ended up studying history and archaeology. I'm working for my uncle now."
Mica giggled. "You're digging through the dirt these days?"
"It's not always glamorous, but it's honest." Mike shrugged. "And while it's not always glamorous…maybe, in my subconscious, I'm just trying to figure out how far the Starseekers spread across earth before Rellini-Uros was abandoned."
"What else? Do you still use your Shilivre?"
The boy shook his head quickly at that. "I've been tempted to…but it would raise too many questions. For the same reason that my Uncle Steve and I have kept your existence a secret, I've had to keep those powers in check as well. As far as anybody cares to know, I'm just a history fanatic who used to play baseball."
"You're still a hero to us, you know."
"I know." Mike agreed, squeezing her hand again. "And the others…How's Marlin holding up?"
"He's been dating one of the Argonian survivors for a while now. His jokes are just as bad, but he's almost entirely responsible for the reconstruction in the eastern hemisphere. He had a leader's heart in him…it just took you, and the confidence you gave him, to bring it out."
"Bakusian kept to himself, for the most part." She added. "He still cooks. He opened up a restaurant in the capital city three years ago. It does well for itself."
"What's Giskard doing these days?"
"The royal archivists were all killed a long time ago. He's taken their place, trying to put together all the documents and lore our people thought was lost. He's made one important addition to the archives; The Starseeker's presence on Earth has been restored in the logs." That made Mike smile.
"She grew up. Having her around eased the transition of the other Argonians regaining us. She's become a symbol of cooperation; a noble who doesn't want to be one. She's almost thirteen now, you know? The sad thing is she's started to notice boys…and there are plenty who wouldn't mind getting to know 'Miss Rozyln' a little bit better."
"I'm glad to hear that they're all doing all right." Mike managed, giving his lost love a weak smile. Mica, however, knew better.
You never asked about Amethyst or Ezilian, she thought to him.
"…I didn't want to." Mike managed. "Your father reinstated your betrothal. You're his wife now, and…"
"I'm not." Mica stated flatly, and Mike did a double take. The princess held out her hand. "Do you see a ring on it?" A quick examination forced him to shake his head. "Ezilian and I got divorced a year after we returned to Argonia…He's with Amethyst now, and they're the happier for it." She smiled at him. "Come on. If I was truly a married woman, do you think I would have kissed you like that?"
Blushing, Mike shook his head again. "But…So you're by yourself?"
There was a strange look in her eyes, not a joking expression, but one which withheld something all the same. "I'm not alone, if you're thinking that."
Michael Jones came to a stop along the shore and pulled his hand back, folding his arms. "Well, we've covered what I've done in the last six years, and what you and the others have been up to. There's just one question left, Mica."
She faced him straight on, knowing exactly what he was going to say.
"…Why did you come back now?" Mike pressed, biting his lip. "Not that I'm not thrilled to see you again, but…Why wait six years?"
Mica closed her eyes for a long moment. "Somebody else wanted to come with me when I met you. Somebody else born on Argonia."
Puzzled, Mike shook his head. "Why did they have to wait six years?"
"To be honest, they only waited for five." Mica answered, giving him another warm smile. "That first summer, she had only just been born."
Mike felt a tug on his blue jeans, and he looked down to see a child, only five years old, looking up at him.
She wore blue trousers and a white shirt…Her hair was a startling dark red. But it was the girl's eyes which made his breath catch.
Blue eyes stared back at him.
"My daughter…Rosella Michelle Argos." Mica said, providing the answer Mike had known instantly.
"My daughter." He breathed. Rosella Argos looked up to him, beaming, and hugged his leg tight.
"Daddy." His fingers traced through her hair, marveling at it. He looked up to Mica, opening and closing his mouth a few times before he could speak.
"How come you never told me?" His voice cracked as he spoke.
Mica looked hurt for a moment. "I didn't…I didn't think you'd understand. It was my choice. The Prophecy, everything had come true except for that, and it wasn't until after…I realized we'd fulfilled it all."
"If I had known I had a daughter, I would have…"
"What would you have been able to do?" Mica accused him. "You were here on Earth. I was on Argonia! Even if I had told you…How would you have gotten to us?"
"I would have found a way." Michael promised her, picking Rosella up and cradling his little girl against him. "If I'd known, I would have done everything in my power to get to you."
Mica's eyes glimmered faintly again. "I was afraid. I was afraid that you couldn't find a way to do it, so I kept it to myself. I trained under my father, convinced him to teach me the same powers to travel through time and space. But I was afraid to come back."
"Mommy thought you'd be mad at her." Rosella explained, in that matter-of-fact way Rozlyn used to have.
Mike hugged his daughter close. "I could never be mad at your mom, Rosella. I love her too much." Mike smiled at her. "God, Mica, she's beautiful."
"She has your fire." Mica agreed quietly. "I'm sorry, Michael. My father…" She bit her lip for a moment before speaking. "My father's dead."
That caught Michael off his guard. "…What?"
"It was a stroke. It happened so suddenly, none of us saw it coming." Mica explained sadly. "That was a week ago. But at least before he died…Ezilian and I told him the truth. That Rosella was your daughter. I expected him to be furious, because…"
"…Because Zodus was half-human as well." Mike realized. He looked down at Rosella, and the little girl gave him a blank stare and hugged tighter to his neck. "But he wasn't mad?"
"No." Mica exhaled, and the last great weight lifted from her shoulders. "Rosella has Shilivre…she's stronger in it than I am, but she has a strong sense of courage. Yours. My father wasn't angry. That's what's changed, Michael. My father is dead. I'm the queen…and Rosella is the princess now. She wanted to come back to see you, and to ask you a question."
Rosella rubbed at her eyes. "Will you come back, daddy?" She sniffled. "I want mommy to be happy again."
Michael D. Jones smiled the brightest he had in years, and started to cry himself as he held her tight. "What about you, Mica? Do you want me to come?"
The Queen of Argonia, twenty-two years old, held an arm against her side. "I love you…and I'm tired of living without you. The request is from both of us. Please, hero…Come home with us. Rosella wants her father…and I need you just as much."
Mike held out his other arm, and Mica rushed into it. Together, the family shared their first embrace, and Mike let out a relieved laugh.
"Of course I'll come with you."
"Isn't there anything that you need to do here first? Details to wrap up? Goodbyes to…"
"I think I can handle those." A new voice spoke up, and they all turned to look at Dr. Stephen Jones, older, balder, but just as cheerful, smiling at them through his glasses. "Michael…I don't believe it. I suppose you will get your dream after all." He adjusted his spectacles. "I'm not saying your disappearance won't cause some alarm…I think the best route to take is to tell everyone you decided to stay on Coralcola, and then if anyone comes looking, I'll have Chief Omoy conveniently explain that you died in a 'fishing accident'."
Mike grinned at the archaeologist. "Uncle Steve…thank you."
"No, no, it was my fault you got dragged into this mess in the first place." Dr. Jones retorted, waving off the gratitude. "You deserve a happy ending, and all the best in life. I almost wish I could come with you, just to study their culture…but I've got obligations here. So that's your job, nephew." His studious eyes twinkled with mirth in the starlight. "Think you can handle that?"
"I think we'll manage." Mike chortled, and set Rosella down. The little girl yawned and rubbed at her eyes again.
"It's really past her bedtime." Mica sighed. "We should get going."
Mike drew Mica in closer, and something catlike shone through his body language. "She may need to sleep…but I think we've got some catching up to do, princess."
"I'm not the princess any more." Mica reminded him, melting into his embrace.
"I'm the hero, remember?" Mike countered. "You'll always be my princess."
Michael Jones turned back to Dr. Jones. "You sure you can handle things here?"
"Earth can take care of itself." Dr. Jones rumbled, lifting an eyebrow. "Mica and your daughter need you. And Argonia needs you. There's just one thing."
Dr. Jones pulled an object from his pocket and lobbed it through the air in an underhanded throw. Mike caught it easily and looked it over, blinking in surprise.
"This…This is my old yo-yo." The red and white design was beaten up from all the fighting it had done years before, but it felt solid and true in his grip.
"You might need where you're going." Dr. Jones smiled. "Here, you're just Mike Jones. But in Argonia, you're the hero of their people. Some might even think you're the Starseer reborn. And heroes have weapons."
"Right." Mike scoffed. "I'm going to protect Argonia with a yo-yo."
"At least until you find something else." His Uncle concluded thoughtfully. "You always did."
Rosella slumped against him, and Mike tucked the yo-yo away. He gave Mica one last longing kiss, then pulled back and nodded. "I'm ready, Mica. Take us home."
As Princess Mica's Shilivre began to glow around her with a faint white and green aura, and extended out to them, she gave her love, soon to be her husband, a curious glance. "You know, you didn't argue about the Prophecy and you being the Starseer this time. Why?"
Mike thought about it, looking to his Uncle, up at the Southern Cross, and then finally down to Mica, sweet Mica, now and forever lost in her eyes.
"Simple." He concluded, as only he could. "The Starseer was a hero who never got his happy ending…Not in his own life. The Prophecy said he'd find it in the next one. And as long as I get mine…I figure I might as well be him, because he deserves his too."
Dr. Jones stepped back from them and smiled as the light of Mica's power enveloped them, like Hirocon's had six years ago.
"First star to the left…and straight on 'till morning." He whispered. In a blink, Mica, Michael, and their daughter, Princess Rosella Argos, vanished from Coralcola in a beam that shot off up into the night sky, towards the Southern Cross, and to a land and a home that would be theirs forever.
With the quiet of night surrounding him once more, Dr. Jones adjusted his glasses and let out a long sigh as he strolled back towards his laboratory. "Hell of a night." He murmured. "I lose my research assistant to the girl of his dreams, and I get the honor of explaining to my brother why he'll never see his boy again."
He meant it in jest, though. His footsteps were lighter than they'd been in years, and he began whistling for no reason. For the first time, he understood what Hapo Omoy meant when the Island Chief looked up to the Southern Cross and uttered that unusual phrase.
The stars are with them.
For the boy who had become a hero, and his princess who had become a queen, the ever watchful skies above fulfilled their ancient promise.
Below, Dr. Jones looked over his shoulder to where they'd disappeared one last time.
"It began with me. It ended with him." Dr. Jones summarized, putting it all into perspective. "And they all lived happily ever after."
They truly did.